We tend to think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, and in many ways it is. In 1620 a group of English Puritan separatists, after taking temporary refuge in Holland, made their way to the new world on the Mayflower in search of religious freedom. They established the second English settlement at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. These settlers, known as Pilgrims, brought with them the European tradition of an “after harvest” feast. The natives of the region also had a tradition of celebrating the end of the harvest season. So, in 1621, history tells us that they feasted together, giving thanks for their crops. But who did they thank?

While the native Americans worshiped the spirit of their ancestors or the gods of the earth, the Pilgrims gave their thanks to the God of Abraham. Every year since then it has been the offering of thanks to our Creator that has made Thanksgiving a very unique and special day throughout America.

Amid all the anger and demonstrations we see everyday on television, and the constant political finger-pointing and accusations by our political leaders, all Americans should step back for just a moment and acknowledge that we are privileged to live in the most prosperous nation the world has ever known. We must also remember that our prosperity is due to the fact that our nation was founded on a faith in God, not in men.

It is hard to argue with those who express their growing concern over a general decline in America. This trend can be traced to our gradual shift away from our foundational belief in a supreme Creator, to a growing trend toward self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and self-admiration.

As we celebrate the tradition of Thanksgiving, all Americans would do well to rededicate ourselves and our country to the traditional principles that gave birth to our nation; the God-given rights of freedom and liberty. Our Thanksgiving prayer should include the words Abraham Lincoln spoke nearly one hundred and fifty years ago on the battle field of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

We are all Chicken Little Sometimes

Last night I flew from DFW to Chicago to visit my surrogate son. He had just undergone a highly specialized surgery to revise the above the elbow amputation of his left arm. Four years ago, at age 20, Chase was working as a firefighter and suffered a major burn ultimately leading to the loss of his left arm and right leg. Yesterday’s procedure was a complex nerve to muscle transfer performed by Dr. Greg Dumanian at Northwestern University hospital and it promises to greatly enhance Chase’s functional capabilities in the coming years. (See video here

After landing at Ohare I took a taxi to the hospital downtown. The driver was a pleasant young man, about 35 years old, of Bahamian origin. As we got on the freeway headed southeast we were met by one of the most vivid displays of cloud to ground lightning I’ve ever seen, and living in Texas I have seen more than my share of supercell thunderstorms. As we grew nearer to the city, a few large, random raindrops began to fall on the windshield, but in the distance I could see what appeared to be a dark gray curtain across the road. Soon the raindrops began to increase in frequency and were now accompanied by a few pea-size objects, which made a distinctly different sound as they struck the roof of the minivan.

If you have ever been in a hailstorm you know they can be pretty scary. I recall a few years back a major line of thunderstorms rolled through Fort Worth, Texas during a Mayfest outdoor gathering. It pummeled the crowd, their vehicles and the vendor’s tents with softball-size meteors, which had everyone literally running for their lives. The pictures on television the next day showed destroyed trees and smashed car windows, and looked like a scene from the movie “Armageddon.”

Last night, as the hail fell with increasing frequency on my taxi, I could see the stones had grown to about golf ball size as they collected on the street. Having been through similar events several times I wasn’t really concerned for my personal safety, but the same couldn’t be said of my cab driver. As the sound of the icy bombardment grew to a deafening roar the only thing I could hear over it was the wailing of the cabbie. “Oh God save me! Oh Jesus have mercy!” he shouted over and over. He was obviously convinced this was the end of the world, because to him the sky really was falling. When later I discovered he’d never before seen hail, I understood why he was so frightened.

When confronted with something frightening that we’ve never encountered before, each of us can potentially be overtaken by “the sky is falling” syndrome. As a surgeon I see this frequently when patients are preparing to undergo surgery for the first time; sometimes even when it’s their second, third or even tenth procedure. Typically what I hear is “It isn’t the surgery I’m worried about doc, it’s the anesthesia.” But obviously the real issue is their loss of control. That loss of control is the principle force behind our reactions, whether as “backseat drivers,” a “fear of flying” or the paralyzing anxiety before undergoing surgery. It can occur any time we are compelled to put our trust in someone else to bring us through what we perceive to be a life and death situation.

While it may sound trite or old fashion to some, I’m convinced the only way to cope with life’s uncertainties is to put your trust in God. Over the years I have had countless patients tell me just before their surgery, “My life is in your hands,” and then they quickly add, “yours and God’s.” My response is always to emphasize to them that God is the one in charge and he works through all of us. I know this is true based on a lifetime of experiences, both as a surgeon and as a father.

Last weekend I had occasion to share with a new friend the story of how Chase and our youngest son Ryan were both literally on death’s door at the same time four years ago. The same day that Chase sustained his 56% total body burn, 16 year old Ryan was on a ventilator fighting for his life against the rare Hanta Virus Pulmonary Syndrome, which carries a 50% mortality risk. As I was describing the helplessness of both situations my friend chimed in with, “I don’t know how anyone can possibly deal with the major stresses of life without faith in God.” I agreed, and was reminded of that statement again yesterday when I heard the cab driver crying out for divine intervention when confronted with a situation that was out of his control. Then again today, watching Chase recover from still another in a seemingly never-ending series of operations, I realized he would not be here were it not for the power of prayer and the grace of God.

As you may know, this blog is typically filled with many of my personal frustrations, anxieties and yes even fears about the declining state of healthcare in America. But, on this occasion I wanted to inject a ray of hope into the discussion rather than more dismay. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this weekend let’s remember the motto that made her “that shining city on a hill,” In God We Trust. The next time you feel like Chicken Little because you realize that you are not in control, which is pretty much everyday for me, don’t run around in a panic crying “the sky is falling.” Simply understand that God is there to protect all those who call on him. My wife and I were particularly comforted during those hours of extreme fear four years ago by God’s message, which is stated very clearly in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 43, Verses 2-3: “When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”