Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I Can't Not Be Thankful

When I used to teach underclassmen, I emphasized the rules of writing that were unbreakable. Now that I teach Advanced Placement senior English, I enjoy letting them in on some secrets about effective writing, one being that every rule can be broken if it's for a good reason. Hence the title of my post. It's a double negative, which is strictly prohibited. But it's exactly what I need to say, and when we have to decide between following a rule of grammar and communicating exactly what we want to, always choose the latter.

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.

    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 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.

  • 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.
I could go on for quite a while, but who wants to read that? Before I close this, I want to point out that all of these things for which I'm thankful are from God, the giver of all good gifts. So, rather than having a separate point for that, I want you to see God as shot throughout everything I've said. My prayer is that you can say the same about your life.

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.


  1. A wonderful and post full of great truths. Doris

  2. Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy your blog and getting to see the other side of writing for a career (writing court decisions isn't always creativity at its finest). It also let me feels like I can keep up on everything, even if I am five hours away. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving!

    1. Writing of any kind is a noble profession. I'm glad you enjoy my blog. Happy Thanksgiving!

    2. You're in Maryland? Did I remember that?

    3. We moved in September 2014. I took a federal government job writing for judges all over the country. Much better work/life balance, which means much more time with Luke and Mitch. Definitely worth it. :)

    4. I don't remember when you graduated, so I don't know if you knew Poonam Mathur. If you did, you might be interested to know she lives there now too.

  3. My heart!!!!!!! You mean so much to Jonathan and I both! Love you!

  4. My heart!!!!!!! You mean so much to Jonathan and I both! Love you!