Thanksgiving Reflections – 2019

There is a lot to say each and every year in my annual Thanksgiving reflections, because I truly do have a lot in my life to be thankful for.  I used to fear redundancy or repetition in how this communique sounded each year but at some point I stopped worrying about such, recognizing that the whole point of Thanksgiving is to be perpetually and repetitively thankful for the blessings you have in your life.  I suppose if a given blessing you were thankful for was no longer present it would make sense to “remove it from the list,” but to the extent blessings themselves re-surface year over year it makes sense to repeat one’s gratitude for such year-over-year.  This year there are a lot of repeat mentions and plenty of new occasions for thanksgiving.  It is my favorite one to write ever, because I am as thankful for the blessings in my life that I have ever been.

I am sending this year’s reflections from the Caribbean Sea where I have been on a cruise with my wife and three kids for a Thanksgiving week getaway all week.  I have been in our desert house for so many years in a row that it felt weird writing this from my own little early morning table of this ship watching the sunrise, taking in the beautiful morning waters.  This cruise with the kiddos may not be the ideal vacation for mine and Joleen’s preferences, but it is a joy to see the kids basking in the moment having so much fun.  I have a beautiful and healthy family, and I view the latter as the most underrated blessing one has in life, and the former as just pure icing on the cake.  My kiddos are barely kiddos any more, as eldest son, Mitchell, is now in high school (more on that later).  He is intellectually inquisitive, he is opinionated, he is sharp, and he is a delightful human being who I believe is going to shock the world some day.  He truly is a capable, impressive, sincere, earnest young man, and I could not be more proud of him.  My daughter is a goal-focused workhorse, and her devotion to her dance is a sight to behold.  Not only is she insanely talented, but she is committed and focused beyond words.  I can’t recall the last time I saw her where she wasn’t holding some dance pose and bouncing around in a new routine, and I can’t recall not looking at her with total awe and admiration.  Graham is my baby boy, and somehow at age nine has held his squeaky little voice and constant barrage of cuteness-utterances – all things I know are going away any time now, and that I am trying as hard as I possibly can to just squeeze every ounce of presence out of.  He is a fierce competitor, a snuggle-bug, and as active a boy as God saw fit to make.  I love all three of my children beyond words, and I only wish that they could be as blessed in a father as he is in his children.

Joleen and I celebrated 18 years of marriage a couple months ago, and we seem to take every calendar year as an opportunity to prove that we can press even harder than the year before.  Joleen is the wife I always prayed for, but in the actual reality of marriage and life I have learned that that means so much more than I ever really appreciated.  She is fiercely loyal, devoted, and passionate, and she has a significantly higher capacity for the enjoyment of people and relationships than I do.  She is a people person through and through, but without remotely sacrificing capability for tasks and production.  She loves me, she gets me, and she supports me, and I know that God made us for one another.  I am thankful for her because without her I do not know what my life would look like, and I love our understanding of each other and desire to support one another for the long haul.  Thanksgiving abounds in my marriage.

I won’t bore everyone with my thanksgiving for my work.  I do not view my business as this thing that exists out there apart from me – it is embedded in my DNA and a huge part of my identity, calling, and passions.  The Bahnsen Group “defected” from Morgan Stanley nearly five years ago, a team of nine people with roughly $600 million of client capital we were managing.  We now sit with over $2 billion of client capital and will enter 2020 with 25 people on the team.  I wrote here of my gratitude for my team and clients.  But for our reflections here allow me to just say that God made me to work in capital markets, to work to find and devise solutions for clients who face the need for such, and to lead this company to that which we were destined to be.  It is a mission, and it is a source of unlimited blessing that I get to wake up every morning so excited for what the day will hold.  I love my work now as much as I ever have, and I love my TBG family.  And yes, we really do have the greatest clients any wealth management business could ever dream of having.

The last several years have tested my faith in political engagement and in a movement focused on ideas and principles.  I have worked through the disillusionment of finding out so many you thought were with you were not really with you, at least not in the way you thought they were.  My belief in the inevitable victory of the right ideas is not movable no matter how tested it finds itself in present times.  I have close friends who are both an intellectual encouragement but also a personal supportive encouragement in Andrew Sandlin, Brian Mattson, and Jeff Ventrella of the Center for Cultural Leadership.  Jonah Goldberg and David French have been heroic (now at The Dispatch) for their unwillingness to capitulate to the pragmatically easy path.  And the entire cabal at National Review are standing tall decades after Buckley asked us all to stand.  The various friends I have inside these groups are both ideological partners in the case of liberty and truth, and also friends – an encouragement in a time where sometimes encouragement is needed more than anything else.  Call it a remnant, call it what you want, but history is on our side.

Nearly half-way through our fifth academic year, Pacifica Christian High School of Orange County continues the righteous endeavor of teaching kids to think well and live well.  This project can’t ever receive the Thanksgiving it properly deserves as God has been smiling on it from day one.  I think back to the blood, sweat, and tears of 2013, 2014, 2015 getting this off the ground, and I am blown away by how much has been accomplished, how many obstacles overcome, and what significant fruits this labor of love has produced.  I am eternally grateful to my partner in crime on this, Keith Carlson, and to our Head of School, David O’Neil, both of whom have become two of my very best friends, both of whom I trust implicitly, and both of whom are in the business of building up lasting institutions, which is not something many people can say these days.  I am thankful to the entire rest of our board – Scott Baugh, Matt Anderson, Lucie Moore, and Mike Hill – who are friends and loyal laborers in this cause, and people I have learned a great deal from.  I am thankful to all of our parents, donors, and supporters.  I am thankful to our extraordinary faculty – especially that Humanities department that is all standing between these high school kids and the soulless secularism of college.  And finally, I am thankful to Kobe Bryant for selling us his building, setting us up for a multi-generational campus reality that is going to change the world.

I’m overwhelmed with friends who remain near and dear.  In some cases many years go by, and when I see them it is like we saw each other yesterday.  Darin and Ryan Dennee, Eric Balmer, Luis Garcia, Aaron Bradford are all in this boat – 25+ years and they are my brothers for life.  There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, and nothing they wouldn’t do for me.  I’d add Tom Bonds, Paul Murphy, Mark Corigliano, and the Viva Boys to this list.

I mentioned National Review earlier, but must also mention my friend, Jack Fowler.  He’s a pork-chop eating, train-hating ball of love, and everyone in his life knows it.

Will Swaim, my podcast partner at Radio Free California, is a testimony to intellectual and moral courage.  We’re not going to rest.

My entire family is a blessing to me – where decades of memories are stored, and decades of love built up for the future.  My brothers, cousins, aunt, uncle, in-laws, nieces, nephews- you’re loved, and Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for my life, my liberty, and for the freedom to pursue happiness.  I am thankful for an understanding of happiness that transcends material prosperity, and for a deeply entrenched care for the good life.  I am thankful that God has spent 20+ years not only giving me an insatiable passion for the idea of human flourishing, but instilling in me a more holistic understanding of what it means.  The book I recently wrote on Elizabeth Warren profoundly impacted me as I wrote it more than it will any who read it.  It’s not political tribalism for me – it’s not sport – I care deeply for the principles enshrined in our Declartion of Independence, and care deeply that others be given all avenues for human flourishing possible.

Had I succumbed to a mentality of victimhood in 1989, 1990, 1995, 1999, or 2001, all at various points I was pushed into such a spirit of dignity-robbing downtroddenness, my life would look unrecognizable to what it is today.  This is not because I did something remarkable or noteworthy; it’s because there were no enablers telling me the challenges in my life were someone else’s fault.  At every crossroads I’ve been presented with a clear and unmistakable decision – to choose joy, or not.  Those who would bring with them legions of followers celebrating victimhood are parasites and soul-crushing vermin.  God gave me a kryptonite for such people, and I am thankful for such every day.

And I’ll close this year’s reflections by thanking God for the memory of my dear friend and brother, Brian Harrington.  Few people have ever had a friend so complicated, so intelligent, so earnest, and so real.  Brian is now at peace, something he longed for on this side of glory and struggled to find.  But he was a part of some of the most meaningful parts of my life for 13 years, and I will miss him profoundly every day for the rest of my life.

Thank you, God, for your grace and mercy.  And thank you for your daily provisions, which I will never take for granted.  Another year has passed, another year of daily treasures in memory and mind and heart.  This life is a blessing, and I lack the words to adequately say, Happy Thanksgiving