Before we all become caught up in the hectic commercialism of "The Season," beginning with that most uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving, I thought it would be useful to consider the things for which I am thankful.
First, I am thankful for a God who loves me, watches over me and gives me what the Bible calls "a peace that passes all understanding." This was at the core of the first Thanksgiving celebration in Colonial America, as red men shared their bounty with white men, and early Americans gave thanks to Almighty God for the gift of life.
I am thankful for my bride of 39 years, a woman who has born my troubles and my children, who has been a partner and a prayer warrior, a counselor and a friend. As always, I offered this year to purchase a ready-to-eat Thanksgiving dinner at the local supermarket, but she will not hear of it, preferring instead to rise early on that day to prepare the traditional home-cooked dinner for the family she loves.
I am thankful for my sons. Both of them grew up far too fast, and as they went out to make their own way in the world, they left behind a trail of memories for their mother and me. They will be here at our table on Thursday, along with the grandchildren they have given us, and we will rejoice in their company and marvel at the gift they are to us.
I am thankful for the warmth of a wonderful old home, one filled with character and history, built by my wife's grandfather in February of 1915, on land that has been in her family since before the Civil War. The story goes that the frozen Nebraska topsoil had to be blasted open with dynamite, and that the basement had to be dug using a team of mules. Since then, the home has never been out of the family. In the corner of the living room sits an antique rocking chair with a similar history. It came from my side of the family, and it has rocked five generations of Pattons.
I am thankful for the people in my life who know me well and still find it in their hearts to love me. They include my family and my closest friends. As I once told one of my sons, the people who love us will still be here long after the people we try so hard to impress have forgotten our names.
I am thankful for the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, who risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor that I might be born in a free country. When I consider the odds of having been placed here in this nation at this moment in time, I cannot do the math. With so many millions of people in this world who live in political, economic or spiritual bondage, I am in awe of the blessing God has granted me.
I am thankful for the Declaration of Independence, which acknowledges that my rights come from God, not from man, and for the Constitution, which forms the basis for a system that maximizes economic opportunity by emphasizing liberty. Because it is a system implemented by fallible human beings, it will never be perfect, but it is the best anyone in this world will ever see.
I am thankful for President George W. Bush, who, despite unprecedented partisan criticism, has had the courage to lead in this post 9/11 world, the wisdom to discern that the murder of 3,000 of our neighbors was but a warning, and the vision to proclaim "freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation."
And I am thankful that in this land I love, power is transferred peacefully, following free and open elections. Although I did not vote for him, I will pray for Barack Obama as he enters the presidency and takes on the weight of the world's largest job. When possible, I will praise him. When necessary, I will be a fierce part of the loyal opposition.
There is much for which to be thankful. May God richly bless this nation.