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Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember

As my children grew up, I was determined to make this holiday a time for celebrating faith, family, and freedom.
By Barbara Rainey

I've heard many people say that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday. Is that surprising? Though it's a holiday sandwiched between the increasingly popular Halloween and the overwhelmingly merchandised Christmas, Thanksgiving remains the holiday of "coming home." It's a holiday of rest—in stark contrast to the frenzy of obligation and spending that threatens to destroy the essence of Christmas.

Our national observance of Thanksgiving is unique. It is both distinctly Christian and exclusively American, a holiday for celebrating faith, family, and freedom.

Having majored in history in college, I've been concerned for years that "we the people" don't know and understand what Abraham Lincoln referred to when he began his famous Gettysburg Address with the statement, "Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty … " I was determined that my children would hear the stories of the courageous men, women, and children who lived honorably and, through faith in God, made enormous sacrifices to secure freedom for us all.

I wanted them to understand God's sovereignty at work in the lives of our forefathers and His providential direction of their circumstances. For the Rainey family, Thanksgiving was not going to be just eating, hours of TV, naps, and leftover turkey sandwiches—followed by a stress-filled Friday of frantic Christmas shopping at the mall.

With my husband's help I initiated some new traditions into our Thanksgiving Day. The two more important ones were the reading of stories about the Pilgrims' journey of faith from England to the shores of Cape Cod and the recording and sharing of our family's personal blessings. As believers in Christ, we have so much to be thankful for; and as Americans, God has abundantly blessed our nation.

During the years when all our children were still at home, our family would travel to my parents' home for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Before we left our home, however, we enjoyed another tradition—a special brunch. Everyone dressed up for the meal. The children made place cards, decorated the table, and set it with special plates and glasses. The brunch always included a special French toast that requires 45 minutes to bake.

While this meal was baking in the oven, we gathered around the table and began reading about the Pilgrims. I've always been impressed by the faith the Pilgrims demonstrated when they held the first Thanksgiving festival. Though they had suffered much while starting a new life in the new world, they also recognized that God had clearly and miraculously guided their steps. Though they had suffered much, their experience was remarkably better than others who had attempted to colonize on the American shores. Plymouth had lost 50 percent of its numbers, but Jamestown in Virginia had lost 90 percent. The Plymouth settlers had successfully built a little community and grown crops to provide for themselves, while other colonies were totally dependent on supplies from England. Yes, God blessed them abundantly, and they sincerely offered Him their thanks and praise.

Just before our family began eating our Thanksgiving brunch, we would all write (on special place cards) five things for which we were thankful to God. On each of our plates were five kernels of corn—a reminder of the Pilgrims' daily ration during one of their first difficult winters. As we ate, we passed a basket around the table, and each person placed one kernel of corn at a time into the basket and told of one thing for which he or she was thankful. The basket went around the table five times.

I've saved all of these place cards as reminders of how God has worked in our lives. Here are some of the things our children wrote a number of years ago on one Thanksgiving:

"I'm thankful for being able to have a family."
"I'm thankful Ashley got to come home from college for Thanksgiving."
"I'm thankful for having a big sister."
"I'm thankful for God in my life."
"I'm thankful for my ministry at my high school."
"I'm thankful for my sisters and all they've taught me about relationships."
"I'm thankful I got to shoot a deer!"
"I'm thankful for a great brother."

Dennis and I were thrilled to hear the kids actually thank God for each other! After so many years of arguing and fighting with each other, they were finally beginning to show each other the affection that has continued throughout their adult lives.

That year we also were touched by something our son Samuel wrote: "I'm thankful for my muscular dystrophy." He had been diagnosed with the disease earlier in the year, and we had been through some wrenching, emotional months. While Dennis and I had prayed aloud many times, thanking God by faith for how He would use this disease in all our lives, this was the first time we heard Samuel express this sentiment.

It was a big step of faith for him. And it provided another sign that our children were truly learning the authentic spirit of Thanksgiving.

As you plan your family's Thanksgiving this year, you might want to try something like the simple routine I've described. To help you, I've written a book called Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember that helps tell the story of the Pilgrims and their faith in our sovereign God. It is written so it can appeal to children of different ages.

Part of this article was adapted from Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, copyright © 2002.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.

You might also enjoy these resources from Barbara Rainey:

Meet the Author: Barbara Rainey

Barbara Rainey is a wife, mother of six adult children (plus three sons-in-law and two daughters-in-law), and "Mimi" to nineteen grandchildren.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1971. Her husband, Dennis, whom she married in 1972, is the President of FamilyLife, a ministry of Cru that is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Barbara has published articles on family-related topics and is the author of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember and When Christmas Came.  She speaks at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences and is a frequent guest on FamilyLife Today®, a nationally syndicated, daily radio program.  She and Dennis are the coauthors of several books, including Growing a Spiritually Strong Family, Starting Your Marriage Right, Moments Together for Couples, The New Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem, Parenting Today’s Adolescent, Rekindling the Romance, and Moments with You. She co-authored A Mother’s Legacy with her daughter, Ashley Rainey Escue and joined Dennis and their children Rebecca and Samuel on the book So You’re About To Be A Teenager. Barbara has also co-authored Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, with close friend Susan Yates, and A Symphony in the Dark, written with her daughter, Rebecca Rainey Mutz. And Barbara has written a series focusing on character traits for families, including the titles Growing Together in Gratitude, Growing Together in Courage, Growing Together in Forgiveness, and Growing Together in Truth.

Having faithfully served alongside Dennis for more than 30 years, both in ministry and at home, Barbara has recently launched a new endeavor called Ever Thine Home™.  This new line of products, including Christ centered ornaments for Christmas, teaching tools for Lent and Easter, and beautiful additions for your home for thanksgiving and year round makes it easy to express faith at home in a way that is both biblical and beautiful.  Her heart for Ever Thine Home is based on the familiar Old Testament instruction:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:9, ESV)

You can read more about Barbara’s work at

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