It's not that I have to be thankful. I don't have to be. It's not a requirement of survival. It's that I'm incapable of ingratitude. I can try not to be, but it's baked right in. And this isn't some statement about how wonderful I am. The exact opposite, really. It's a statement of just how abundantly blessed I am. So blessed am I that any person with just a shred of human emotion and decency would be unable not to feel a deep sense of thankfulness in response.
Here's a brief list of the more outstanding blessings in my life for which I'm thankful:
|This is almost everybody. Wish Don could've made the trip.|
- Family: At age 52, I find myself in a relatively unique position among my peer group. My entire immediate family, including my parents, are still living. Not only that, we all still love each other and enjoy each other's company. Family events are joyful gatherings, not tense affairs in which everyone walks on eggshells and guards their words. I'm more and more aware of the fact that this is not something to be taken for granted. Specifically, my parents have been such a powerful blessing to me. They took me in without hesitation in my time of need and continue to do so on a daily basis. I can't express in words how much that means to me. So for my family, I am thankful.
|I hope you guys realize that you've saved me.|
- My Other Family: I don't mean my extended family, though that is something for which I have reason to be grateful. I mean my spiritual family, and, more specifically, my close circle of friends. I've written about these folks so many times that I hope you guys who read this don't find it boring, but I can't overstate how powerful a positive force these folks have been in my life. Keith and Jennifer and Jonathan and Maria are family to me just as completely as if we had all been born blood relatives. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are brothers and sisters in a more specific way too (though they're all nearly young enough to be my children). They have been my port in the storm. I can text or call or show up at either of their houses without notice and they'll take me in. They love me unconditionally and I them. In the years since my marriage dissolved, they have kept me upright with their undying support. And on top of all these things, they are without question the most fun people I have ever known. I can't be around them and stay unhappy. So for my other family, I am thankful.
- My Work: Somebody somewhere said that the ideal job is the intersection between your greatest passion and the worlds' greatest need. Sadly, a lot of people can't say they make a living at that street corner. Their job is a way to make a living but has nothing to do with making a life. It's nothing more than a paycheck. Yes, we can learn to make meaning wherever we are, but I am doubly blessed in that I have a job that I actually enjoy that gives me the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of literally thousands of people. I get the privilege of helping to show generations of young people that they are loved and they matter and that they can make a difference in the world. Who could not be grateful for that? So, for my work as a teacher, I am thankful.
|Many times through the years, my students have felt like my|
family. In a couple of cases, they've become my permanent
children. I love you so much Jenna and Poonam. Could you
have ever guessed you would become sisters?
- My Other Work: When I sat down that first day to write that first book, I really had no idea at all how joyful a journey I was embarking upon. I may never get to a point where I make a meaningful amount of money doing this, but I've found that money is pretty much the least important form of compensation. I'm compensated in much better ways, like through the friends I've made and the places I've gone and the fulfillment I've felt every time I've finished a book and felt good about the story I've told. Writing, like my family, has been my refuge, my sane place. During those times when I'm writing and I'm the brave, smart, young, talented Harry Shalan instead of just plain old Joe Stephens, all is right with the world. After that, sales are just gravy. So, for my writing, I am thankful.
Finally, for each of you who take time to read my blogs and books and follow my life as a writer, please know that I don't take you for granted. Sometimes I question whether you're out there, but never for very long because one of you inevitably comes along at just the right time with an encouraging word that sends me back to my keyboard to keep on writing. So, for you, I am thankful.