Annual Thanksgiving Reflections – 2018

2018 has bucked the trend in a lot of ways as far as one serious, far-reaching cliché that I have been deeply pulled into for many years: This is not a year that has “flown by.” I believe as people get older they almost universally start saying things like, “I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by,” and I am certain I said it each of the last 7-8 years or so – because it was true. But as I have reflected this morning on 2018’s reflections of Thanksgiving, one thing that is clear to me is that 2018 did not “fly by.” It has been a delightful year, and one that has created (yet again) so much material for this year’s Thanksgiving piece. But wow – has this year taken a long time …

A year ago as I wrote these reflections my kids were a few days away from beginning life at a new school in New York City. Our family had taken an apartment in the city that summer and lived there throughout, and my work needs in the city were picking up, not dropping off. The “bi-coastal” nature of our living throughout 2018 may be one of the reasons the year took so long to transpire, but I know I speak for myself and Joleen when I say that I have immeasurable gratitude for the year my kids lived in New York City (and the fact that Joleen and I still commute back and forth for one week per month). It is the greatest city in the world, and the experiences and memories we made there are irreplaceable and unforgettable. I suspect there are countless people who at some point in their lives say, “I wish I had gone to Manhattan just for a brief period in my 20’s.” Joleen and I didn’t have to say such with regret – in our 40’s we got to live that dream, and are still living it, making the suburban life of Newport Beach more tolerable knowing we will soon be back in New York City walking the streets and eating good food. =) (No, the suburban life of Newport Beach is nothing to complain about, but I have learned to detest driving my car pretty much anywhere, and I am certainly not nearly as excitable about dining when I am at the home base). Besides the pedestrian lifestyle and the great food (as if that wouldn’t be enough), there has been a family dynamic we just treasured in New York – from a truly special church (Church of the City), to a togetherness in our beautiful apartment that doesn’t quite hold in our large Newport home, to a spirit of, dare I say, adventure that permeates that great place. Our 2018 time in New York City was extraordinary, and quite literally serves as a source of huge Thanksgiving.

Another thing that happened in 2018, yet feels like it was many years ago, was the release of my first ever book, Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It. The book was the result of many years of reflection, contemplation, and development, and its message meant the world to me. It remains a shock to me to hear that anyone ever felt compelled to read it, let alone enjoy it, but the book not only was received beyond my wildest imaginations, I have been overwhelmed with people testifying to me of how they applied the core tenet of the book to think differently about culture, and to seek a deeper flourishing in their own lives. If just one person was impacted for the better because of the book, it is cause for Thanksgiving. But frankly, the entire book experience was a real joy, and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to write it. I thank my publisher, Anthony Ziccardi and the entire team at Post Hill Press, who have always understood me more than I could have hoped for. And I further thank Jack Fowler at National Review, who became an evangelist for the book, and for whom there is nothing in this world I would not do. (Jack’s mention is getting fit in this paragraph because I am so thankful for all he did to support the book, but I will anecdotally add that he is an angel from heaven, no matter how much he pretends otherwise. And he couldn’t shake me as a friend if he tried). My thanksgiving for the book experience also pours over into thankfulness for Brian Tong and Glen Hall, for pretty much everything; for Peter Van Voorhis; for Annie and Meghan at PACE; and for Terry Green (my brother-in-law), who, if nothing else, wrote me so often and so passionately to reiterate the urgency of the book’s message. It lifted me up, repeatedly.

2018 was a significant year yet again for The Bahnsen Group, my business that I have utterly poured myself into for most of my adult life. I wrote a special Dividend Café yesterday listing the year’s Thanksgiving reflections as it pertains to the company, so I will let you click to that rather than re-hash it all here. But I will say – at least as it pertains to me – it is very hard to fathom a bigger reason to give thanks than for the gift of waking up every morning ready to fulfill one’s calling. Had I ever been granted three wishes from which I could create a career and professional life, my three wishes would have under-shot the life God has given me in my business. It is a joy, blessing, and privilege to do what I do, for whom I do it. Thanksgiving, indeed.

I have spent a significant amount of my adult life deeply involved with the Lincoln Club of Orange County, and for most of those years I have served as a leader and passionate advocate of the organization’s cause. This year was my last year in the organization, as I left to focus on different pursuits in other organizations that I believe I am more aligned with at this stage of my political and cultural engagements. But despite the difficult decision I made to move on, I maintain friendships and relationships that make the entire experience well worth it, and then some. Al Frink has been a mentor and friend, and a constant source of encouragement and advocacy. He has learned how hard it is to shake me, and I thank God for Al and his love for me. I continue fighting the good fight for good government in Orange County and California, and I will still work alongside so many friends in doing so.

Many friends have served to make 2018 a special year, and I think to the longstanding friendships I have had essentially my entire life that are as strong today as they have ever been.

From Eric Balmer, Luis Garcia, and Aaron Bradford – who I have known since the very early 1990’s, and who are not just friends, but brothers

To my Viva boys (the founders – Jim Nelson, Gary Sully, Bobby Wallace, to the long-timer, Merv Simchowitz, to newer additions, Joe Corigliano and James Felton) – the reunion this year was not just special, but the way things are supposed to be in the universe

To the Dennee brothers, Ryan and Darin, who even in text and electronic communications remain not just dear and intimate friends, but also remain the two funniest people on God’s green earth)

To my CCL crew, Andrew Sandlin, Jeff Ventrella, and Brian Mattson – just a few guys all trying to stay multi-perspectival, and who won’t let the culture fall apart without a fight

To those who have poured into me over the years, and remain on the list of people I know would always have my back – Tom Bonds, Brian Tong, Mark Corigliano, John & Michelle Somers – whose character and loyalty are needed in the world just to keep the place still turning.

I really could go on and on. I have new friends this year (Ben and Heather Grizzle), old friends I still love and am blessed to regularly see (Paul Murphy, Brian Harrington), a new pastor this year whose preaching inspires me every single week (Jon Tyson), mentors that I am as indebted to as I have ever have been (Larry Kudlow, Nick Murray), and ideological warriors fighting the good fight with me each and every day (Jonah Goldberg, David French, Father Sirico, Will Swaim, Bob Loewen, Tim Busch). Just two names or so from this list of people is far more than I deserve to have in my life. The quality of people I get to call friends is a serious reason for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of the good fight, I am so unbelievably thankful for what God has done at Pacifica Christian High School. Baugh, Carlson, Hill, Moore, Anderson – I love you all, and I know we were meant to do this together. Chris Stratton bringing the vision of free markets and a free and virtuous society to the Faith and Culture class warmed my heart this year, and made just about every tear I have shed for this school worth it. And David O’Neil is not just a Head of School – he is a servant, a leader, and a visionary whom I treasure as much as anyone I have ever met. And we will do great things, because that is what God wants us to do.

I close out this year’s Thanksgiving reflections with the heartfelt realization that the mediating institution so sorely lacking from too much of our society is the same institution that has been my glue, my core, my love, forever. And that is my family. My wife, Joleen, is my soulmate, a talent you would not believe, and a lovely treasure of God’s creation who serves as a daily reminder for me that I am surrounded by that which I do not deserve. Mitchell is becoming a young man, a curious, inquisitive, resourceful, stunningly smart and capable guy who I carry in my heart daily. Sadie is a princess, a glowing beauty, and the hardest working little Bahnsen I have ever seen – seriously, do not mess with her. Graham is in trouble, because he too is growing up, but I am going to fight it and resist it with every ounce of breath in my body. He is my baby boy whether he likes it or not, and the day he stops calling me “daddy,” a part of me will die.

My family extends beyond the five of us who live together. From my Colin/Monica Robertson family to my Jon/Julie Bahnsen family to my Brad/Vicki Bahnsen family to my Todd/Joclene White family to my Uncle Mike Dogg family, I have been blessed. I miss my father, like every single day, but I have been blessed (and forgive me Dana, Bucky, and others for not elaborating more on you – but you are special people and I am thankful).

So 2018 has left my family more prosperous, more grateful, and more tired. =) It also has left our country more divided, more disillusioned, and more desperate. 2018 has been a frustrating year in that sense. I am thankful there is a remnant who will not let America slide away easily. And I am thankful that I am not fighting the good fight alone.

The fight I refer to is the cause God put me on earth to fight. I have a purpose and a calling because of Him. I will soon begin making my annual turkey feast (the one day a year I get to cook). And as my family breaks bread tonight and laughs and shares and cries, I will be humbled in Thanksgiving for the life I have, the people I have in my life, and yes, the purpose of my life that drives me. 2018 illuminated that purpose even more profoundly.

Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.