Annual Thanksgiving Day Reflections 2016

Some traditions are “have-to’s,” and some are “get-to’s,” and my annual tradition of penning Thanksgiving reflections is something I really look forward to doing each year.  It not only gives me a chance to publicly articulate various things on my mind and heart which warrant gratitude, but it gives me a chance to privately contemplate these things, and in that process, grow in my Thanksgiving.

These annual musings can be awkward to write, particularly if I over-think how it may come across.  There is a difference between saying, “I am really thankful for my new Ferrari” (I don’t have a new Ferrari, by the way), and saying, “Hey, I wanted you to know I have a new Ferrari.”  And yet, I can see how it may be easy for a writer to type the former, as a way of expressing the latter.  And while I do not have a Ferrari, and am quite sure my readers care as much about my cars and toys as I do (which is to say, not one iota), it is difficult to not let one’s Thanksgiving reflection on material blessings transition into an inventory of, well, material blessings.  Joleen and I were married in September of 2001 fresh off of me “off-loading” a company I had worked tirelessly on the first seven years of my adult life, and fresh off of me entering the world of financial services and investment management, a business that “boasts” a single-digit success rate for those entering it (fortunately, no one told me this when I first signed up).  I had owned a beautiful ocean view condo in Newport Beach when I was 25-years old, and yet my new bride and I were starting married life in a 2-bedroom rental apartment, and me taking an 80% pay cut to “reinvent” myself.  To say we endured struggles and obstacles and challenges and uncertainties would be fair, though I also hesitate to overly dramatize this tale (it is a disservice to those whose struggles were far greater than ours).  So now 15 years into this “reinvention,” it is true that my mind and heart are just constantly overwhelmed with nostalgia and appreciation for what this journey has been, and it is true that much of that is memorialized or highlighted through various material manifestations.  But while Joleen and I are daily grateful for the comforts and blessings of the life we now live, there is nothing, and I mean this from the absolute bottom of my heart, nothing, I am more thankful for, than the journey itself.  The path itself and all of its pits and falls and hurdles and glories has been an utter joy, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  We really, really love the house we built in 2016, but we love the journey that brought us the house so much more.

Mine is a brutally stressful line of work, and not one that affords me a great deal of “down time,” or “work-life balance,” or other such cute expressions generally reserved for folks of a different DNA than mine.  But one thing my work has granted me is an excitement to wake me up each day – to engage the markets and my clients – to never let my guard down – and to never have to think of my “work” as a chore or a “have-t0.”  Like writing these reflections, I “get to” do it.  Thank you, God.

2016 has, in a lot of ways, been the greatest year of my life.  While much of the election and political environment this year created angst and dissatisfaction, it was a learning experience I will never forget.  Certain friendships may have suffered (though as for me, my commitment to politics never, ever, ever getting in the way of any friendship or family relationship whatsoever, is stronger than ever), and certainly my own assessment of certain people I previously respected in a different way has definitely diminished.  That was a healthy experience, though, in hindsight, and for every person who I felt somewhat disillusioned by, the truth is that there is someone else who has emboldened me and encouraged me in their integrity, conviction, and truth-seeking.  Like a lot of people, I am not really sure what I would do if the principles that drive my daily life (let alone my political ideology) ever became universally accepted.  For now, it is just so nice to know there is indeed a remnant of truth-seekers, of courageous men and women who will fight to their last breath defending those things they love and believe in.  This is both a personal and institutional comment.  I couldn’t make it without my friends like Andy Sandlin, Brian Mattson, and Jeff Ventrella (as non-exhaustive examples), but I also couldn’t make it without organizations like National Review and Acton Institute (also non-exhaustive examples).  There is Thanksgiving in the friends and groups of my life that form a remnant fighting for truth.  I am thankful for their encouragement, their example, their labors, and most of all, the totally assured promise that we are going to win, because the truth always wins.

The other arena in which 2016 has been such a wonderful year is in my marriage.  I love Joleen dearly, see in her a beauty and goodness that I wish the entire world could see, and truly cannot believe that God gave her to me.  We have learned to understand each other and appreciate each other in ways that are profoundly different from how we once went about such endeavors.  I am thankful that Joleen single-handedly quarterbacked our dream house being built, and that she carpools our three kids all over Orange County every day, and that she so faithfully does all she does in the day to day grind of her life as a mother and wife.  But not even those things – far from trivial or small feats – capture what I am most grateful for in Joleen: That she has a capacity for the good life – a yearning for peace and joy – a true connection to her friends and loved ones – that is just all too rare in this world.  She loves people, and I love her.

My friends remain the same folks as they were last year and the year before that, etc., etc., as I continue in my life’s goal of keeping my friends, and being a friend.  I fail in the latter sometimes but somehow have done well at the former – celebrating in some cases 20-25 years this year of friendship with some of my closest buddies.  From my high school friend Ryan Dennee, to his brother (and best man in my wedding), Darin Dennee, to Eric Balmer and Aaron Bradford and Luis Garcia, these are guys I have known my entire adult life (and then some), and that I still regularly see, talk to, and break bread with, and besides some pounds we are all carrying, do so with very little having changed in the years we have known each other.  I am thankful for Brian Tong, who I cannot imagine my life without, who I met 22 years ago, and now has joined my business as a revolutionary force.   Brian Harrington and Paul Murphy, my Manhattan eating buddies, have become two brothers to me from across the country, not merely for the ribeyes we enjoy at Del Frisco’s, but for the hours upon hours of conversation we enjoy edifying one another.

I have friends that are lifetime friends, and that is a treasure worth more than anything I have.

I am thankful for the family God has given me, for the experiences I share with them (and have shared with them), and for all they have taught me and continue to teach me.  Somehow it has worked out that both of my brothers are still in Orange County, and that both of them are still my brothers and homies.   We love USC football, we love food, and we love Vegas.  They are a blessing to me in countless ways.  My Uncle Brad and Aunt Vicki, along with my cousin Monica and her beautiful family (husband, Colin, kids Tate, Auden, and Lucy) are the only extended Bahnsen family still around, and I’ll take em’.  We share holidays together, memories together, conversation and laughter together, and through the loss of my dad 21 years ago and then my grandparents in the decade after that, we have forged a bond that is at the height of my reasons for thanksgiving.  So much so, that I will make them a turkey dinner later today.  =)

Speaking of turkeys, I am blessed in ways only a parent could understand with Mitchell, Sadie, and Graham.  They are my life’s treasures, and I would love heaven and earth to see them live lives of fulfillment and flourishing.

Pacifica Christian High School is a lifetime dream of mine which has turned into a total reality, led by amazing men and women of faith, courage, principle, and commitment.  We are teaching kids to think and live well, and that alone is cause for amazing Thanksgiving.  Keep your eyes on this school; you have no idea what it is about to do for our community, and for the world.

I am thankful for Larry Kudlow, who models a civility, sobriety, intelligence (and wardrobe) I find infectious.  He is a dear pal, and has changed my life for the better.  I am thankful to have begun a friendship with Jack Fowler this last year, a servant like few I have ever met, and who is behind the most important organization in the conservative movement (National Review).  A walking display of humility and grace, and now a friend of mine – Jack is a reason for Thanksgiving.

Forgive me for converting from the big categories of work, family, and friends to the less obvious reasons for my Thanksgiving this year.  These more nuanced things warrant mention, because they are at the core of the live God has given me, and I am not intentional enough in expressing gratitude for them.  I am thankful for back bay in Newport on which we now live, and the incomparable mornings I now enjoy there whether running the trails with my baby boy, Graham, or just staring at the sunrise before work.  I am thankful for a library/study in my house filled with the books that have shaped me ideologically, and that is a reflection of how much my wife loves me.  I am thankful that for every restaurant I have lost this year and in years past, new ones have magically appeared to fill their void.  I am thankful that I can see well enough after six eye surgeries to read in bed without my glasses.  I am thankful that I wake up so, so early every day, and that the years the locusts have eaten are being restored to me each and every day.  I am thankful that I barely ever have to drive on a freeway, and can mostly avoid traffic in my life, as I, well, do not like traffic.  I am thankful for USC football, the entire sport of college basketball, the opening round of March Madness, and the fact that 2017 will be the 20-year anniversary of my guys’ trip to Vegas (Viva, Jim, Gary, Merv, etc.).  I am thankful for steam rooms, hot tubs, and coffee.  I am thankful for all five of the places I have to regularly workout and exercise, even the ones I have never been to.  I am grateful for my iPad, iPhone, Surface Pro, and desktop computer complex – because technology gets way too bad a rap these days, so I’m just going to say “thank you,” and go on my way.  I am thankful for music.  I am thankful for golf (most of the time).  And I am thankful for my tie and pocket square closet.  I think I will close this paragraph with that one, because it is a super awesome tie and pocket square closet.

And yes, I am, above all else, thankful for the God of heaven and earth who made me and takes care of me, who lifted me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay.  I kid you not, friends and readers, that I wake up each and every day singing a new song, grateful for the life God has given me.  My life has seen a few challenges that have ended up being the first steps to the greatest blessings of my life.  That is the miracle I just cannot get over – the story of redemption – the story of God taking really awful things that happen and turning them into things of beauty.  He saved a wretch like me, provided for me plentifully, and has given me a joy and peace that I spent years and years searching for.  I have every reason in the world to celebrate Thanksgiving, and I wish you and yours the same, both today, and every day year round.