It occurred to me Wednesday morning, while thinking about the Thanksgiving holiday, many of my social media friends and real-life friends know me well and have heard some of my philosophies many times, but most of you are just getting to know me for the first time. At this time of year there are always a couple of things I reflect upon and center myself to make sure my thoughts and actions are reflecting who I want to be in the eyes of my wife, my children, my community, and the man in my mirror.
My Mom taught me from an early age how to pray. Over the years there have been times where I prayed often and times where I probably didn’t pray enough, but when I return to prayer things always seem to return to their proper perspectives and improve. This is no accident, to that I am sure. It seems to me whether you believe in a particular God or religion or not is really less important than believing in the power of prayer. All of the religions and even the non-religions and science share the belief that quiet meditation, affirmations, inner-reflection, and visualization of what matters most to us will improve our focus and our effectiveness. It is mentally healthy, and it works for everyone. What strikes me most is how things workout when I pray the way my Mom taught me, rather than just any ol’ way.
My Mom taught me to pray anywhere, anytime, for any reason, and not to forget to listen for the response. It might come as a spark or an idea in my own head, kind words from a stranger, wise words from someone I trust, or maybe just a feeling of peace that my issues are in better hands after articulating them to a higher power. Over the last many, many years, I have learned there is something else, something maybe more important than the answer. When I pray the way my Mom taught me, my issues are suddenly smaller or non-existent, because she taught me to always give thanks first. By the time I am done giving thanks, my problems fall into their proper perspective which is much, much…. much lower on the priority list. When I am done giving thanks, I realize I don’t have nearly the problems I thought I had. Most often times, by the time I am done giving thanks, I have nothing left to pray for myself. Instead, I only pray for my family, my friends, and my community.
I grew up in the most rural of places, Webb City, MO, the “City of Flags.” These iconic hands were erected on Route 66 by J.E. “Jack” Dawson, a couple of years before I was born, and just down the road from my home. They were a staple I saw every day of my life growing up. They didn’t mean as much to me back then, except for the days my Dad would take us “mountain climbing” and we would picnic in their shadow and climb around on the hills and left over gravel piles surrounding them from the old strip-mining days. Still, I never forgot the motif emblazoned on my mind from their symbol and these words. “Hands in prayer, world in peace.” I’ve always believed, together we can make a difference in our world.
Nowadays, I know I pray less often than I should, and I know when I do pray too often I don’t pray the way my Mom taught me. I make it quick, I have an immediate concern, or a quick thought. More often than not, the prayers are for someone else, a passing ambulance, a sad person in a store or restaurant, or an angry person in traffic. Still, I don’t stop first and give thanks for my many blessings. I don’t set aside the time I should to be truly humble and grateful for the opportunities I have been given, the love of my family, the barriers that changed my direction in life which often looked like obstacles or disappointments at the time, the friends I’ve made, the strangers who’ve said something profound, the era we live in, or my health even when it was distressed. When I remember to find a quiet place, and truly reflect on the things for which I should be grateful, it begins to snowball. The blessings I recognize just build on top of one another, and it moves me. It makes me emotional to realize all the ways I have been blessed, and all the ways I too often take those blessings for granted.
This Thanksgiving holiday, I humbly remind everyone to truly give thanks first. Give thanks in ways you might never have thought of being grateful. And then go enjoy dinner and family and everything that makes the holidays special.
I love you all, and I truly mean that, although I might never have said it so freely if it weren’t for an answered prayer and a chance encounter a couple of years ago with a man who says it to everyone he meets without fail, and who ultimately led down this path of public service.