Thanksgiving is about gathering together to remember God's many blessings. Barbara Rainey and Tracy Lane talk about what they do on a typical Thanksgiving holiday. Lane fondly recalls the annual reunion at her Nana's house in Oklahoma, and Rainey remembers the fun her family had reminiscing about their favorite teachers and other things at the family dinner table.
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Thanksgiving is about gathering together to remember God’s many blessings. Barbara Rainey and Tracy Lane talk about what they do on a typical Thanksgiving holiday.
Bob: —that’s what matters.
Tracy: But we did have to play those in our piano lessons. My mom made all of us play the We Gather Together song, and it sounded terrible!—
—we were not good at piano. It was like [mimicking musical notes], but I know what you’re talking about. We praised the Lord through our bad piano playing! [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, Barbara, you’re really calling families to, once again, focus on the concept of gathering. I watched you kind of circle this word, and Tracy’s nodding her head too. Why the word, “gather”? It seems like it’s a word we take for granted; maybe you need to just revisit it for a moment.
Barbara: Well, I’ve discovered that “gather” is used in the Bible over and over again. I didn’t really know that before. You see “gather” stitched on pillows and you see it used in marketing or in the fall; but I realized it’s not just a great marketing word—it’s a biblical word. God uses the word, “gather,” throughout the Old and the New Testament, primarily to talk about how He longs to gather His people and how He will gather His people. The concept of bringing them from all over the globe, together again, is a picture of a Father’s heart, I think.
He wants His children to be together, because He loves His children.
I like that; because, as a mom, I love it when my kids come home and we gather together at home, especially around Thanksgiving, because we get to be together, and we get to love one another, and we get to enjoy one another and have a great time together.
Bob: Well, stop and think about this—of the major holidays, maybe only Christmas has more gathering power than Thanksgiving—because families may get together on the Fourth of July if they live near one another; they may get together at Easter, although we spent Easter with people from church and with none of our kids—they were all back home with their families. But there is something about—is it November? Is it—it’s three or four weeks before Christmas; and if they’re coming for Christmas, why is it that Thanksgiving is a gathering time?
Barbara: Well, I think there’s something to coming home.
I think a lot of families—and this is true in our family—a lot of families spend Christmas with their nuclear family. Our kids all spend Christmas with their kids in their various locations around the country. Because none of our children live at home—they all live in different states—Thanksgiving is the easiest time for them to come home. They don’t have to bring packages / they don’t have to bring snowsuits, because it’s not that cold yet.
Thanksgiving is much less encumbered. It’s easier to gather together as a family—and play games, and visit, and conversation—without the complexity of gifts and all of the things that are associated with Christmas.
Bob: Tracy, you’re in the middle—with your own children but, also, with extended family and parents—what’s typical for your family at Thanksgiving?
Tracy: What’s really fun is that, even though we have two young kids now, at Thanksgiving, it’s the one holiday where we still do what I did when I grew up—so, we still travel—Matt and I pack up our little girls.
Bob: Over the river and through the woods?
Tracy: We do! And we sing that song too. [Laughter] We drive about six hours to western Oklahoma, and we visit my grandmother. She just turned 90 in September, and we still all go there every Thanksgiving.
Bob: Okay; but aren’t there times in late November when you go: “Let’s—we should just cancel it this year. I mean, there’s so much going on, and it’s a six-hour trip. The weather may be bad,”—all of that! Have you had those thoughts?
Tracy: We have; and that’s when my five-year-old Audrey says: “But, Mama! We have to go to Nanaw’s house!” And that’s when I remember why we do it, because that was me when I was a little girl: “But, mama, we’re going to Nanaw’s house; aren’t we?” And now—just to see that we’re passing that on to my girls / that’s what we want to do—just that legacy of gathering together, and the importance of celebrating, and honoring my grandma.
Dennis: And I just want to throw out something, as folks think about heading home for the holidays over Thanksgiving, because it’s not cluttered with a lot of materialism—there’s not nearly as much commercialism around Thanksgiving.
I’d like to challenge every dad / every mom, who’s listening to this broadcast—and maybe a kid or two—to, when you head home or as you host your family coming home, decide what you’re going to do: “What’s going to be the focus of the Thanksgiving?”—just one big idea. Maybe it’s to spend time honoring “Nana,” or “Papa,” or grandma for the role she’s played in the family—give her tributes / give her honor—take letters back and read them back to her—but go on purpose. Take a little something with you and give some gifts this Thanksgiving season that, perhaps, you’ve never given in the past.
Barbara: Well, one of the things that I would suggest, in light of what you just said, is for families to try the “Untie Your Story” product that we’ve created at Ever Thine Home. It’s a spool of ribbon, and the ribbon has questions printed on it.
It’s a great way to have meaningful conversation with people who are the most important people in your life. It’s so easy to have trivial conversations about the football games, or the weather, or whatever—politics / things that we can talk about at any time of the year.
But when we’re gathered together with the people who mean the most to us—which, again, as we talked about earlier, is a picture of God gathering His family together—so when your family gathers together, take something like this with you and have a conversation that you’ll never forget with aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandmothers—even your own family / your own husband, or your own wife, or one of your kids—you might learn something about them that you didn’t know by answering these questions around the table.
Dennis: This spool that I’ve got is called “Untie Your Story: Memories.” It has—it says, “Twelve napkin ribbons; twelve engaging questions.” So, you actually pull this off the spool—
Dennis: —pull out a pair of scissors, and cut them into 12 individual napkin ties.
Dennis: And then place them around the table, and go around the table and let people answer them; right?
Barbara: Yes; and we’ve done it with our kids. We had so much fun with one of these questions at Thanksgiving a year or two ago. One of the questions says, “Tell about your favorite teacher in school and why.” [Laughter] My kids / our kids started talking about some of their favorite teachers. We never got to any of the other questions, because we had so much fun laughing about their memories of different teachers that they had. I remembered who those teachers were, and they all remembered because some of them had the same teachers. They would say, “Do you remember how Mrs. So-and-so did this?!” “Do you remember this?” It was really, really fun. We laughed so hard for about two hours, just about that one question.
There are other questions on there that are maybe more meaningful, but the point is that you’ll have conversations that you’ll never forget. That’s what we all long for as families.
Bob: The purpose here is to make sure that your time has some meaning / has some intentionality—
Barbara: Yes; yes.
Bob: —that it’s not just squandered. When you get the family together, one of the things you want to do is create some memories. You want to drive memory markers into the fabric of your family; but you’re also wanting to make sure that you’re having focused conversations on things that are eternally important, not just things that are casually important.
And I do think—I mean, having a conversation about who your favorite teacher was—those are fun conversations to have, and there’s laughter, and all of that. But there’s also an opportunity to talk about: “What was it about that person’s character?” or “What was it about what they taught you?”
Barbara: Yes; yes.
Bob: “How did you see Jesus in them?” that can really bring the whole thing back to where it belongs, which is thanks to God for His care in your life.
Dennis: And, if you haven’t read Psalm 100 recently, I just want to read it to you; because this is a great Psalm to think about as you enter the Thanksgiving holiday. This really talks about being intentional. Psalm 100, verse 1:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Now listen to these two concluding verses:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
And his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
And his faithfulness to all generations.
It’s speaking to families—families need to celebrate who God is and give thanks, looking back over the past year, for what He’s done in your individual lives and in your family. There may be some great stories that need to be told, that no one knows anything about, all because you entered His gates with thanksgiving.
Bob: And, by the way, if you go to a church—and it’s been more than five years since they’ve sung the 100th Psalm—you know that one, too; right?
Bob: “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord a cheerful song.” Then go to your worship pastor and say: “Could we sing this? This is an old favorite of mine.” Then just nudge him a little bit; okay?
Tracy: Or, you could just go to Nanaw’s house. My grandma—who, as I said, just turned 90—we’ll be there in a few weeks. She has her pump organ; so she gets her legs going—
Barbara: Does she really?!
Tracy: Yes! Her voice isn’t as good as it used to be; but she makes us sing those songs still, to this day.
What you were talking about—His faithfulness goes on through all generations—my daughter asked me, not long ago, “Mommy, how did you know to tell me about Jesus?” It was just the sweetest thing, because what I got to tell her is, “Well, my mommy told me; and her mommy told her—and that’s Nanaw.” So we still go and celebrate Nanaw, who’s the matriarch of our family, and has passed on God’s faithfulness to all of these generations.
Bob: Okay; I just need to ask you guys: “What do you do if the family dynamic is not the happy family that we’re talking about here?”
Dennis: Oh, Bob! I want to answer that! You still do it!
Dennis: You don’t know what’s going to happen when you ask a meaningful question that forces people to think. I know of a guy, who actually stepped out and did this with his family. He brought a relative to his home for Thanksgiving—and he thought, “This is a gamble.” They went around the table, and did “Untie Your Story,” and reflected back on their memories. At the end of the dinner, as the relative was walking to the car, he said, “This has been the best Thanksgiving I can recall in my life.”
Barbara: I think we have this idealized image of what Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and other holidays look like; because we want them to be happy / we want them to be meaningful. We want them to be something where everyone goes home and says: “That was so great! I can’t wait until next year.”
But the reality is—we’re all sinful people. The reality is—kids are going to be unhappy; Aunt So-and-so’s not going to be pleased with the way the casserole was made, because it wasn’t made her way; whatever it is. Or you might have someone who’s sick. I remember, a couple of years ago—because we always gather at my mother’s house for Thanksgiving. One year, we were all there; and one of my nephews got sick. It went to two or three people after him—within 24 hours, we had a whole bunch of people sick. I mean, it was bad sick too!
So, you know—it is life! It’s just the way it is. You’re going to have those people who are unhappy people, or the kids who are unhappy, or someone who’s sick; and that’s just a part of it. It’s also a part of the memory, because we’ve never forgotten that Thanksgiving when half of us got sick. [Laughter] But it is a part of being intentional. As you said, Dennis, we intentionally get together; because we love one another and we’re committed to one another in family, even if we’re not always happy.
That’s the bottom line—is that we’ve chosen to be together, because we are committed. It doesn’t matter—we’re not going to stop going just because it’s not perfect.
Bob: Some people are thinking back to last Thanksgiving and going: “It got angry; it got scary; it got loud. We hated it! We drove home, saying, ‘We’re never golng back.’” What do you do in those moments?
Barbara: Well, I think I would evaluate what made it get scary, and angry, and loud. Was it because last year was an election year, and everybody was talking about what had just happened?—[Laughter]—and people just got out of control? I mean, it could be that it was the topic of conversation. Maybe, what God wants you to do is to be the one to steer the conversation and direct the time together so that it’s intentionally focused on things that will be meaningful.
Bob: And I do think if you go home / go to the gathering with the intention: “I’m here to bless.
Bob: “I’m here to love. I’m here, in the midst of the disruption, to turn the conversation in a different direction—
Bob: —“to affirm / to say positive things—
Bob: —“to point out the things I see in my relatives that I can—that are praise-worthy / to give thanks for them.” You can go into it with the right mindset; and at the end of the time, you can say: “You know what? Mission accomplished. I came to do what God would have me do, which is to love and to be an agent of grace in the midst of this place.” Maybe it gets hurtful for some reason; but you just remember that you’re there, first of all, to please the Lord and minister to the folks that God’s given you to minister to at this holiday.
Tracy: I think it goes back to what you said in the beginning, Barbara—gathering is not our idea; it’s not something we came up with; it’s not a consumeristic thing—it’s God! He’s the One who is that example for us.
He gathers us as His children. If that’s something that He does; and we can imitate Him in that way, it’s worth doing. We can ask His Holy Spirit to empower us to do what we need to do in loving our families well and getting them together.
Barbara: Yes; and God doesn’t wait to gather us until we’re perfect; He gathers us when we’re imperfect. He loves us when we’re sinful, and when we’re not happy, and when we’re not obeying, even. I think He—it’s a great reminder to remember that God calls us to imitate Him and to love, even when we’re not loved in return.
Bob: Romans 5:8 says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Bob: God’s love was demonstrated when we were still His enemies.
Bob: So Christ-likeness is demonstrating love, even if they’re still enemies.
I want to read here—can I read this? This is the last verse of our hymn; okay?
Bob: So in the hymn, Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, the first verse is calling everybody to come for thanksgiving.
The second verse is all about how the harvest season is a picture of the spiritual harvest that God is engaged in. The third verse is a verse that says there is going to be a day of harvest coming when God will gather all His children in. And then the last verse is this:
Even so, Lord, quickly come,
Bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There forever purified,
In Thy garner to abide;
Come with all Thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.
Bob: Pretty good; huh?
Dennis: It’s good!
Barbara: Really good!
Bob: Yes; and if they’re not singing it at your church this Thanksgiving—[Laughter] No; I’m done; okay? That’s all!
Dennis: Well, Jesus said in John 14:3—just to kind of finish this up—He said: “Behold, I go to prepare a place for you.
“I will come again, and I will gather you to Myself.” The gathering you’re singing about, Bob, is when time will end. We’ll all stand before God; and we will be truly in His courts, experiencing thanksgiving in person.
I just want to encourage families: “This Thanksgiving—be intentional”; would you? And one last thought: “Take a family picture / get a picture of your family; and then blow it up for all of the families that are represented there, and send it to them as a gift.”
I was standing in front of the gallery in our kitchen. I wish you all could come to our kitchen and see how Barbara has created a little bit of a—I don’t even know how to describe it—it’s like a photo gallery of our grandkids / all of the families—
—of her family and the extended family that gathers together every Thanksgiving. I just was standing there, looking at it. It’s amazing—just looking at a picture and going: “Man, Grandma’s hanging in there—almost 92! Man, she’s in a lot of pain, but look at her—she’s loving it! She’s surrounded by her family, gathered together.”
Be intentional about it this year.
Bob: Yes; and if we’re going to be intentional, we’ve got to make our relationships, as a family, a priority / make them central. We need to make sure that our spiritual convictions are central to our gathering together as well.
Barbara, I know what you have been working on—in creating a Thanksgiving table collection is really a whole lot less about decorations and a whole lot more about spiritual purposefulness and spiritual intentionality.
Bob: I’d encourage our listeners to go to our website to see what’s included in your Ever Thine Home Thanksgiving table collection: the “Untie Your Story” napkin ties, the “Gather Together” placemats, [and] the Thanksgiving banner that you’ve created. There’s also a do-it-yourself project that you can download a PDF—and just read through it—think about how you can be more intentional as your family gathers this year for Thanksgiving.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on the resources Barbara has created. You can order them from us online. The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call if you have any questions: 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can order by phone—the number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, we get to this time of year, and it’s good for us to stop and just reflect on: “What are the things that have happened to us this year?”—things for which we’re thankful / things in our individual lives, and our marriages, and our families. Here, at FamilyLife, one of the things we always reflect on, when we stop to consider the things for which we are thankful, is those of you who listen and those of you who expand the reach of this ministry every time you support the work of FamilyLife Today. Your financial contributions make it possible for us to reach more people more regularly with practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families. We’re grateful for those of you who have, in the past, partnered with us. Those of you who are regular, monthly Legacy Partners—thank you for your faithful commitment to the work that God is doing through FamilyLife Today.
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And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to, once again, talk about how we can be more purposeful and intentional during the Thanksgiving season—how we can keep pointing our families back to Christ. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you Friday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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