This is my second year in a row typing these Thanksgiving reflections from the desert house we bought in 2014, a house where all of my impulses for Thanksgiving reach their apex. I had a lot of gratitude in my heart before this house was part of my life, and it really isn’t the material blessing of the house to which I refer when I say “thanksgiving reaching its apex”. All I mean is that when I spend an early morning here there is a sort of an amazing peace that comes over me, a peace that is quite frankly hard to find in Newport where I live (just because of the hustle-bustle that takes place there), and in that peace I get the chance to be still, to listen, and to reflect. All of that listening and all of that reflection lead me instantly to a place of gratitude and thanksgiving. The house is a blessing to have, and the ability to find pockets of calm and solitude is indeed worth being thankful for. The surrounding view of which I wrote last year is a mere reinforcement of the great joys in my life: For there is a God, He has made a beautiful and awe-filled world (if you don’t believe me, come look at these mountains that surround the deserts of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage), and He has seen fit to provide for and meet the needs of His people. My life has no logical explanation for enjoying the blessings it does today. Peace and calm should not be readily accessible. There was a God who, despite my best efforts, instilled in me an awareness of His truth, beauty, and goodness, and now this Thanksgiving morning here in my favorite respite, I am thankful for this awareness.
Maybe one year I will use these reflections to write more of my personal biography. I doubt it. Most of you reading this have had difficult moments in your life and most of you have had wonderful moments. Joyful people generally seek to turn those difficult moments into wonderful ones, or at least they believe that it will eventually happen with or without their efforts. That is the belief God has put into me – that through the most difficult moments in our lives, the stage gets set for the most beautiful and satisfying moments to become possible. I pinpoint the three greatest blessings I have enjoyed in my life as being the result of the three worst things that have happened. There is so much room for Thanksgiving when one realizes God’s plans are not to harm us, but to prosper us. During the harm, or what seems like harm, it is hard to focus on the glory and prosperity that awaits. But that hope and that faith are what I am thankful for this morning. I truly believe it is a gift to know in the deepest parts of your core that regardless of the difficulties life brings, God is faithful. I am not just thankful for this reality itself this morning, but even for the hope of the reality. It is hope that gives us the strength we need. Thanksgiving abounds.
We all want to have loving and supportive families. It is an innate desire, a human one, and a good one. I have no fear of sounding too cliché or stereotypical here because it just is what it is: Regardless of the chaos that life in a family is, I won the family lottery. My wife, Joleen, is my best friend, a beautiful and remarkable woman, totally committed to me and our children, and a partner in all we have set out to achieve in our lives. Over the last 12-14 months I asked her to endure my role in founding a significant high school program, the transition of my large business at a hyper-large firm to its own independent business, the sale of our Newport house so we can buy a different Newport house and then rebuild it (a rebuilding that she and she alone is quarterbacking all on her own), and our role in countless business-related endeavors and various extra-curricular endeavors. And so on top of managing the building of our dream house project, supporting me as I brought The Bahnsen Group independent, accompanying me on what sometimes seems like a nightly political event, charitable event, work event, or whatever, and generally just knowing that we go pretty hard 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, my wife also has the small, easy, simple little task of, um, getting three kids between age 5 and 10 ready for school every day, to school every day, home from school every day, in their countless extra-curricular endeavors, fed, clothed, bathed, and even sometimes, behaved. I drive very hard all day, every day, but she is like a force to be reckoned with, and I am so thankful for her love, support, and capability. We are a good fit. And yes, things will one day settle down a bit. Just a bit.
Those kids are themselves a blessing beyond words. They are a handful, and Jo and I often reflect on how much more work parenting is than we thought it would be (ok, than I thought it would be), but Mitchell, Sadie, and Graham are the joy of our lives, and no greater motivation is necessary in my life than to work, stay productive, stay faithful, stay on the straight and narrow, than my love and gratitude for these kids. I want what every parent should want for their kids – for them to be happy, to have a better life than I did, and to grow up equipped to live healthy and productive lives. Along the way, these kids make me laugh, they make me cry, but they mostly make me laugh. I am thankful for the fact that I get to see them grow up, that I learn from them, that I often see myself in them, and that through all their strengths and weaknesses, they are so precious, and they are mine.
Some years I probably use these reflections for too much talk on the gratitude I have for my work, and some years maybe I don’t cover it enough. This year I am simply going to say that while the last year was absolutely the busiest of my life, I can think of nothing I’d rather do from 4:00am until 6:00pm every day than what I do. The work I do, the people I do it with, and the clients I do it for, are all a dream come true. This year that dream was accelerated into hyper-gear as I left Morgan Stanley after eight years and launched The Bahnsen Group as an independent boutique wealth management firm in affiliation with the good folks at HighTower. The move required insane levels of planning and preparation, and after the launch it required insane levels of execution. But we not only pulled off one of the most successful transitions I can imagine has ever taken place in our business, we landed on the other side with the exact life we have always wanted. It is and always been existential for me. I believe there is a daily calling in the work that I do that is tremendously satisfying, and frankly, intrinsic to who God made me to be. Knowing that our alignment as a business is right, that the freedom is there to operate exactly how we want, and that the opportunity is there to be the most informed and industrious practitioners we can be – these things are ample cause for Thanksgiving. And I am sure I speak for Joleen too when I say that it is so nice to not be spending THIS year’s Thanksgiving holiday planning the big migration. We are here, and we are thankful.
It is an ever-growing reality in mine and Joleen’s life that our friends are an unbelievable joy and necessity. My parents are long gone and Joleen lost her father the year we met. Friends come in from all different angles to be that substitute family in our lives. On a personal level, I have developed some friendships around the country that give me the ability to sit with certain guys two or three or four times per year, sometimes for hours upon hours, and just share in each other’s lives. These guys are by my side, and I am by their side, and I wouldn’t last one day without them. Brian Harrington and Paul Murphy have literally spent hundreds of hours with me over the last ten years grudgingly enduring some tired steakhouse in midtown Manhattan (or, engulfing one), and I treasure those times immensely. Andrew Sandlin and I have taken to carving out a day or two a year to meet up in the bay area or in Orange County and just talk, share what is happening in each other’s lives, and discuss the causes we hold dear. My long time book club pals but also my best friends, Aaron Bradford and Eric Balmer, are brothers in the truest sense of the word. We are now coming up on 25 years of shares experiences together, we have progressed through a remarkable intellectual and spiritual journey, and not insignificantly, we literally read the greatest books on the planet together. They are amazing. I only get to see Ryan and Darin Dennee once or twice a year now, enjoying some golf, some Diamond Club Angel baseball, and some breaking of bread, but when I do, it is literally as if we see each other every single day. No group of friends could carry more memories than we do, and what a source of Thanksgiving it is that we still have each other. In 2013 the land was laid for what would become Pacifica Christian High School, which opened its doors just three months ago and which I believe will be a multi-generational coup for the Newport Mesa community. This dream of mine came with some side benefits – not only did we launch what we believe is the premier high school vision in Orange County, but we became brothers – brothers in this cause, but brothers to each other. Luis Garcia (my long time friend and brother) joined the fray, and I made new friends with Keith Carlson, David O’Neil, Mike Hill, Scott Baugh, and Matt Anderson as well. I used to joke that I had closed the file on adding new friends – the list was complete – but then you meet guys like these and you realize that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We enjoy each other, but we also have a bond that is a true source of thanksgiving – a shared vision to impact culture through the cultivating of the hearts and minds of high schoolers. I don’t want to leave out my other confidants, brothers, and friends to the death. From the Viva crowd of Gary, Merv, Joe, Jim, etc., to the man I would go to war for, Tom Bonds, to one of the best support systems a man could ever hope for, Brian Tong, I am surrounded by friends for whom I am thankful.
The sun is now rising above the mountains here and I have been typing for an hour. It’s time to go take in the view from the hot tub, a particular material blessing that really is worth listing for Thanksgiving accolades. But from my family to my friends to my career to Pacifica, I not only have abundant reasons to be thankful this gorgeous fourth Thursday of November; I have a God who has perfectly orchestrated all of it, who has made the sun and the stars all come together in my life because He loves me, because He wants me to prosper, and because He did not give up on me when I was acting like I had given up on myself. There was only one who had that power – that one was God, and I found Him where and when I needed Him. He restored to me the years the locusts had eaten, and turned periods of mourning into dancing. These are not insignificant things to me; they are miracles. They are the miracles reserved only for a God who does recovery and redemption for a living. Beauty from ashes. Peace from distress. And this Thanksgiving morning I wish for all of you, from the bottomest part of my heart, that it be well with your soul.
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God … No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” – President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 26, 1863