Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Blessing of Thankful Leaders

Thanksgiving is the attitude of the life that acknowledges the contribution from God, from others, from life.
- C. Neil Strait

Paul Harvey tells the story of an old man who walked the eastern Florida coastline every Friday night around sunset until his death in 1973. You could see the old man walking, white-haired, bushy eyebrows, slightly bent. In his bucket was shrimp to feed the gulls and to remember the sacrifice one gull made many years before that would drastically change his life.

Many years before in October of 1942, the old man, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere flying over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month the men would fight the water, the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable; starvation. Eight days out their rations were gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. Rickenbacker recalled that on one particular afternoon, “Captain William Cherry read the service, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

What happened next was nothing short of a miraculous answer to their desperate prayers. Rickenbacker added, “Something landed on my head. I knew it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food if I could reach it.”

Captain Rickenbacker caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. And that is why, many years later every Friday night, Rickenbacker would walk the shores with a bucket of shrimp to feed the gulls in remembrance to the one, on a day long past, that gave itself without a struggle.

The story of Rickenbacker reminds us that the answers we search for can come in unexpected ways. How the answers come may be a mystery to us but not to the One from whom they come. Our duty is not to question, but to trust. Our thanks is grounded in a belief that we are not alone on our journey and in our darkest moments a sea gull is closer than you can imagine.

As you gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, pause to remember and give thanks for all of your blessings. With a sense of renewal and purpose, forge ahead with the understanding that what you have to be thankful for most is not the bottom line of your business; but the blessing of family, friends, health, and faith.

One of my great passions each week is to write on the topic of leadership. I am thankful for my readers across the country whose kind words continue to inspire and encourage. I trust that your Thanksgiving Day will be filled with much joy and love as you share the day. In closing, I would like to leave you with this poem to reflect upon.

How To Observe Thanksgiving

Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count you joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.
-Author Unknown.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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