In the hierarchy of holidays, I've often felt like Thanksgiving gets cheated. Christmas decorations and ads are springing up earlier each year, and it seems like the world wants to rush past November and get right to the carols, lights, nativity scenes and gift giving. Don't get me wrong; I'm the one who drives people in my house insane with Christmas music, beginning the day after Thanksgiving and lasting until January 6th, which marks the Epiphany and concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas.
It's just that there's something special about sitting around the dinner table at Thanksgiving with family and, at times, dear friends, reflecting on our blessings and thanking God for them.
Every Thanksgiving, I like going around the table and asking my wife and kids to recite what they're most thankful for this year.
This Thanksgiving is going to be different, though. My wife has described this year as the worst of her life, and that brings me such sadness because it's my circumstances that are responsible for her pain.
For practically all of our married life, I've been employed and earning a steady paycheck and, until two years ago, each job I took came with an increase in pay. Moreover, if I left a job, it was always my decision and I always had a place to land.
All that changed three years ago, when I was laid off for the first time in my professional life. Since then, I've been laid off twice more, and I had to take a five-figure pay cut in order to get hired for my last job.
I haven't received a regular paycheck since March, when the contract on which I was assigned ran out of work for me, and I went without work for nearly two months before they finally laid me off. These circumstances led me to end my campaign for the Maryland Senate, ending a quest that began four years ago with my first run for elected office in 2006.
This is the longest stretch of my adult life I've endured without a regular paycheck, and I'm now self-employed, taking whatever work comes my way, no matter how much it pays. I just signed a significant consulting agreement with a Virginia firm, and I'm hoping this will help get us back on the road to recovery.
I'm not sharing all this to elicit sympathy, but to illustrate the power of gratitude in our lives. The Bible is pretty clear about how Christians should express thanks. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." David declared in Psalm 34:1, "I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips." Paul told the church at Ephesus that they should be "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20)."
Thanks in all circumstances? At all times? Always, for everything? That's a tall order, especially this year. But I discovered that it can be done, and when it's done, great joy and peace can come from it. The trick is to not allow negative thoughts or feelings to enter into your reflections and professions of thanks.
That said, I have much to be thankful for this year.
I am thankful for good friends who reached into their savings and helped us when things were darkest, and for their patience with us as we struggle to regain our financial footing so we can repay them.
I am thankful for the small jobs that came my way throughout the year, because even a little money is better than none.
I am thankful that we still have our home and have yet to go hungry, which puts us well ahead of so many others in America during this great recession.
I am thankful that we have enough in retirement savings to help us keep our home for now.
I am thankful for the time I found available to me after I was no longer employed or running for office, because it enabled me to finish and publish my first book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom's Porch.
I am thankful for Susan Carleson of the American Civil Rights Union for making it possible to get my book published, and Anita Crane, my editor and contributor who, because of our collaboration, is now a friend for life.
I am thankful for the families in our church small group, even though each of them is enduring their own struggles, because they've been there for us in practical and personal ways for so many years, and we are inseparable.
I am thankful for my home church, which is a sanctuary for me and my family in the midst of these stormy times, and overflows with love and grace for us.
I am thankful for my wife, who is enduring the bad part of "for better or for worse" but is still here with me.
I'm thankful for her job, which provides us with health benefits and a reliable source of income.
I am thankful for my children, who understand our predicament and have adjusted beautifully, and whose achievements bring us many moments of happiness.
I am thankful for the gift of writing and the ability to share my views, and for the thousands of people who find my words have value for them.
I am thankful for the friends who believe I have something to offer the world, and who continually encourage me and promote me without regard for what they might gain from it.
I am thankful for being born and raised an American, and for the right not only to live in liberty, but to fight to preserve that liberty for myself, my wife and children, and our descendants.
I am thankful for Lori Roman, the founder of Regular Folks United, David Noss, the editor of Southern Maryland Online, Judson Phillips, the president of Tea Party Nation, Chip Hanlon of Red County, Randy Shea and Peter Shinn of Pro-Life Unity, and so many others I'm sure I'm forgetting, for giving me an online platform to write and share what I wish.
I am thankful to you for making this column a part of your day, whenever you're able to read it, and for the notes and compliments you take the time to send to me.
Most of all, I'm thankful to the God that allows me to draw breath every morning and, in that simple act, reminds me that He still has work for me to do.