In 1939, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving should be moved up to the next to the last Thursday of November.

Since tradition at that time prevented retailers from promoting Christmas before Thanksgiving, Roosevelt hoped that, by changing the date of Thanksgiving, he might extend the pre-Christmas retail season, increase sales, and boost the depressed economy.

However, he didn’t have the power to mandate the nation’s holiday schedule. That year 23 states celebrated Thanksgiving on the third Thursday in November, while 22 states celebrated on the fourth Thursday. Texas celebrated both Thursdays as holidays.

Roosevelt’s action became known as “Franksgiving.” I wonder what Roosevelt would think of the more modern tradition of retailers promoting Christmas items even before Halloween.

No matter which day we celebrate on, Thanksgiving give us the opportunity to take stock of our blessings. We gain a wider perspective on our lives and see our losses in a broader context of all that we do have. Most of us are thankful for the same things—our faith, our family, our health, our community, food and shelter, and the ability to help others who are less fortunate. The list mirrors our priorities in life. We could take it one step further. Let’s take some time to review how well we are nurturing what we value most in life.

•  Do you spend enough time with your family to truly connect?

• How do you nurture your spiritual life?

• Are you taking care of the body God gave you with good food, exercise and enough rest?

• Do you treat others with a love and compassion consistent with the faith or virtues you profess?

How we live our lives determines the state of our personal wealth—our spiritual capital. Taking time to consider how we might strengthen ourselves and build upon our blessings is something all of us can do to positively impact our lives, our families and our community.

We may not control Wall Street, but each one of us has a sphere of influence, a life to lead. Roosevelt was well-intentioned in trying to help our economy recover, but let’s not miss why giving thanks is important in the first place. Let’s not forget why President Abraham Lincoln first declared a national day of giving thanks to God for the blessings of our country. Lincoln’s only motive seems to have been a desire to give our nation, fractured by the Civil War, a chance to take a deep breath, share a meal with family and friends and be grateful.

This Thanksgiving, let’s pause to give thanks for our lives and our other blessings, but let’s also make plans to nurture those blessings and make the most of them, for ourselves and for others.


Commercial Diagnosis

The next time you sit down to watch the evening news, pay attention to how many commercials there are for pharmaceutical companies.

It’s amazing. Do we really need to address topics such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence through television advertising?

Patients are showing up in record numbers fully convinced they suffer with the afflictions advertised on TV. My father questioned his own judgment when he said, “I have to get up to go to the bathroom now two or three times a night. I thought that was just part of aging, but now I’m thinking there’s something wrong and maybe I need to take something for it.”

The result can be the same as what happens to many medical students—the more they know about diseases, the more likely they are to diagnose themselves with a drastic, if not terminal, illness. At 24 years old, they will believe that it was not the pizza they ate causing their discomfort; it’s a heart attack. It’s not the fact that they are studying so hard that they’ve forgotten to eat that has prompted their weight loss; it is some kind of leukemia.

But why are pharmaceutical ads effective?

For one, I think we’ve been taught that there are certain things we just shouldn’t talk about. We’re afraid we will be less attractive, even to those who love us most, if they know. Instead, the TV ads broach these awkward topics for us. Many people have a very difficult time talking to their doctor (or even a family member or significant other) about embarrassing physical problems. I often inadvertently discover that a patient is suffering from hemorrhoids, incontinence or a sexually transmitted disease. It’s not uncommon that I have to ask a young man who tells the nurse about his hurt leg if the real problem is something more private.

I think we often do a poor job of communicating with and about our bodies. We don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us, whether it’s good or bad news. That leaves a lot of room for the power of suggestion—and TV ads are very persuasive.

God created the human body and declared it good. Therefore, no one should be embarrassed about seeking help if something goes wrong with any part of his or her body. God did not create any “dirty” body parts. The human body is part of the beauty of God’s creation. Hopefully, we can learn to trust our family doctors and those closest to us when we need help with a personal issue. It’s not enough to pray to God to be healed. God expects us to seek out help when we need it, so that we can best care for the wonderful gift of our bodies.

Heartbreak Healthcare

By the time Ralph arrived at my healthcare clinic, his prostate cancer had metastasized to the point where the only “treatment” was to place him into hospice.

The 58-year-old construction worker didn’t have health insurance, so he avoided regular check-ups. As a result, his cancer went undetected and now all he can do is pray.

As a Methodist minister and physician, I have witnessed heartbreak in our medical system for the last 20 years.The stories of the uninsured or the underinsured have not changed. If anything, they have only gotten worse. It is heartbreak health care all over our country.

And, in some of the poorest cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where I live, everyone from the top city officials to small-business owners to corporate executives knows stories like Ralph’s. We see their faces every day.

So why is this situation so difficult to address? To me, healthcare cuts to the most fundamental issues of our lives—literally whether we live or die and who we include and exclude. These issues are never easy for us to address. The current discussion surrounding health care reform highlights our most neurotic, selfish tendencies. As Congress debates healthcare, individuals still wonder about their own access, their own co-pays, and ultimately their own well-being. Lobbyists are debating how much of a financial hit the hospitals, doctors, and drug companies can take.

This sounds absurd to the millions without health insurance.

My faith tells me to care for the least of these. In today’s world, I see more than 46 million people without healthcare coverage, and it breaks my heart. We cannot sit idly by as millions lack basic care. We are destroying lives through over-priced emergency room visits and unfair billing practices. We need to stop the financial bullying of the uninsured and provide access to basic healthcare for everyone in the United States. This step would immediately create a healthier system and population.

Yet access alone will not address the deeper dysfunctions of the system head-on. We need to change our view of healthcare. It is not about technology, pills, or money. It is about people. It is about making sure that people stay healthy. We need to reform the reimbursement system to concentrate less on technology and more on actual outcomes.

If we are not making people healthier, then we should not receive generous compensation. More testing and more pills are not the answer to good health outcomes. Active living and good diet are crucial.

Right now, the healthcare system is more invested in using the newest technology and prescribing more pills than in addressing the root causes of diseases and conditions. This cycle needs to end.

Such change will be difficult and messy. It is the just course of action, and this road is never easy. I hope that the current reforms will create a new system that cares more about people.

Such a system would treat Ralph’s condition early on, emphasizing preventative measures on all counts. It would provide access first and foremost. It would shift the focus to making people healthier in the long run. It would give us healthier people to work in our offices, factories, and restaurants. It would end heartbreak healthcare in our country once and for all.