Thanksgiving. It’s not a uniquely American holiday. For thousands of years, people across the globe have held harvest festivals to celebrate the bounty of life and to give thanks to God for His blessings. The American version, though, was first celebrated in 1863, during the American Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln established a national holiday in the United States as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” Coming on the heels of the Union’s pivotal victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, as well as Lincoln’s own Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s proclamation declared that all the nation’s blessings were “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

So today we look back at, and give thanks for, our blessings, paying special attention to those we have been given in spite of, rather than because of, our actions. On the global stage, for example, we are still alive and, for the most part, well, despite determined efforts by many to the contrary. Pakistan hasn’t self-destructed, the U.S. hasn’t invaded Iran, and North Korea hasn’t attacked anybody. Yet.

In the United States the economy seems to be muddling through in spite of a catastrophic meltdown in the subprime mortgage market. The war in Iraq finally appears to be winding down, albeit far too slowly for those with loved ones in harm’s way. And on the political front, our long, national nightmare, self-inflicted no less, is finally coming to a close.

But it is on the personal level that our blessings, and our thanksgivings, mean the most. To be honest, a lot of people might say that I personally have little to be thankful for. It really hasn’t been what most people would call a good year for me, and even now, when things are on the upswing, I’m still unemployed, homeless, and destitute. So you might be inclined to think that I wouldn’t be very grateful this Thanksgiving. But you’d be wrong. In fact, I believe I’m more grateful for the blessings in my life this year than at any other time in my life. And I’ll tell you why. All the extraneous stuff, all the dead weight, all the things I thought were important, but really aren’t, have finally been stripped away. I am able to focus on what’s truly important because, let’s face it, that’s all I have left. Things like:

  • I’m grateful to be alive. Sounds simple, I know, and I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but given the year I just had, it was not a foregone conclusion that I’d see another Thanksgiving. Ice storms, homelessness, police, blazing heat, and a few botched attempts at my own life made things look bleak for a long, long time. I’m not back yet, but I am still here, and that’s a blessing.< /li>

  • I’m grateful that I’m grateful to be alive. I’m not trying to be clever with this one. I spent the first 43 years of my life being depressed and suicidal to varying degrees. But in the past few months I’ve been putting a lot of effort into the spiritual part of my program, and I’ve seen those thoughts and feeling just melt away. Truly a blessing beyond measure.< /li>
  • I’m grateful that my wife and son are alive and well. I’ve basically been out of commission for the past year, meaning no gainful employment. Although a few leftovers from my earlier career have helped out, it’s been a lean year for my wife and son. Still, they’ve made it through by making do or doing without, and are happy and healthy today thanks to God’s blessings and a few kind people.< /li>
  • I’m grateful that my wife and son have a roof over their heads. A few weeks ago that looked to be in doubt. My wife was staying with her mother, which was difficult enough given the knock-down, drag-out fights the two would have. Add to that the fact that her mother was facing imminent eviction, and I was freaking out. Before, I would have cut a check and been done with it. Now, all I could do was to ask God for help. His answer? “I brought you back from the brink of death, didn’t I? I can deliver your family from this. Trust me.” My response? “I don’t see how you’re going to do it.” He said “You don’t have to.” And I didn’t. Three weeks ago, seemingly out of the blue, my wife found a position as a live-in nanny for a family in Glen Allen, just north of Richmond. There are five boys for John Tyler to play with, lots of space in the backyard with tons of toys, and they’re safe. This blessed family even invited me to Thanksgiving this year. I’m sitting in the back yard right this moment watching my son and two other boys digging a hole in the backyard with their Tonka trucks. Three weeks ago, I would have told you that was impossible.< /li>
  • I’m grateful that my wife and son still want me in their lives. So many guys at the Healing Place have done so much damage to their families that they aren’t welcome anymore. Thank God my wife still wants to see me, and my son eagerly asks when he will see me again each time I’m dropped off back at the shelter. Last week, my son said “Hold ya” with outstretched arms as I opened the car door to leave. After I hugged him, he said “Kiss” as I pulled away. So I kissed him. Then he said “I love you Daddy.” Four months ago, when I was sleeping outside under a tree, drunk and insane, I couldn’t have imagined that would ever happen.
  • I’m grateful for the Healing Place. I had never heard of it before I came to Richmond, and the only reason I’m there now is because of a kind and gracious nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital. In my last days out there, I couldn’t imagine life without drinking, but I couldn’t imagine going on the way I had been, either. I didn’t know what to do or how to stop, and the Healing Place has truly been the answer to a prayer.
  • I’m grateful to be clean and sober. 121 days today.
  • I’m grateful that I can hear that still, small voice again. Enough said.
  • I know I could focus on what’s been lost this past year. My new friends at the Healing Place sure do, on my losses as well as theirs. Human nature being what it is, it’s difficult not to. But I’ve been blessed with a mindset that seems to look easily towards the positive, and to what I have been given rather than what I have lost. And for that I am truly thankful.

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