FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Thanksgiving Traditions

with Dennis and Barbara Rainey | November 4, 2019
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Dennis and Barbara Rainey remind us how important it is to give thanks to God for all His good blessings, not just at Thanksgiving, but always. Hear suggestions of how to keep thankfulness at the center of your Thanksgiving celebration.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dennis and Barbara Rainey remind us how important it is to give thanks to God for all His blessings– always. Hear suggestions of how to keep thankfulness at the center of your Thanksgiving celebration.

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Thanksgiving Traditions

With Dennis and Barbara Rainey
November 04, 2019
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Bob:  If you want to be intentional about discipling your children, there are dates on the calendar that just jump out at you and make it easier for you to be intentional, even with your adult children. Here's Barbara Rainey.

Barbara: I think the holidays are natural gathering points for families. We just get together around holidays, and everybody expects it; everybody know it's coming. It's on the calendar at the same time, year after year after year. We don't stop and think: “How can we intentionally make these hours or these days really make a difference for our family?”

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 4th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. As you start thinking about your Thanksgiving menu for this year, what are you including that will provide spiritual nourishment? We're going to talk about that with Dennis and Barbara Rainey today. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.

Dennis: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. [Laughter]

Bob: Wait, wait, wait, wait. [Laughter]

Dennis: Will you look here?

Dave: And welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Dennis: Look, an expert is joining us.

Bob: Look at what has happened—[Laughter]—here in/in my studio—look at what has happened in my studio. [Laughter]

Ann: Awesome.

Bob: It's very disorienting.

Dave: Nobody knows who's talking right now; do they?

Bob: We have got the two of you [Dave and Ann] sitting where you normally sit.

Dave: Who's “the two of you”? [Laughter]

Bob: That would be Dave and Ann, the hosts of FamilyLife Today. And then we've got the two of you sitting, where you don't normally sit—and that would be Dennis and Barbara Rainey—who are back on FamilyLife Today for the first time since February.

Dennis: And that's why I was welcoming people to the broadcast. [Laughter] And welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Bob: You were doing that out of force of habit; that's what you were doing. [Laughter]

So, welcome back to FamilyLife Today!

Dennis: It's great to be here!

Barbara: Yes, thanks!

Dennis: It's great to be invited back.

Bob: We want to know what you've been doing for the last several months. Can you give us highlights of the year?

Dave: I can say this—he came in on a walker. [Laughter]

Barbara: It sounds really bad until you know it's because he had knee replacement; yes.

Dennis: It's knee replacement.

Barbara: It's not old age. [Laughter]

Dennis: You don't want to know how that surgery works, yet. [Laughter]

Dave: I do not want to know.

Dennis: Because you're bone on bone on your knees, too. [Laughter]

Bob: And let me just say to folks—we talked, for years, about you needing knee replacement surgery.

Dennis: I put it off until I was out of the seat.

Bob: You said, “I can't run the ministry, and be on the radio, and do all of that—

Ann: —“and be on a walker.”

Bob: —“and take six weeks off,” basically; right?

Dennis: Exactly. And the rehab for this is rather challenging.

Bob: Yes; alright. You've got a brand new titanium knee. Is that the highlight of the year for you so far?

Dennis: No; no. [Laughter]

Barbara: Definitely not!

Dennis: You share what you've been up to, and then I will.

Barbara: I'm still working with Ever Thine Home®;I'm still writing for the blog. We've been spending some time with our kids over the summer and in the early fall. We're trying to figure out what new normal looks like—that takes a while, when you've had one kind of job for 40 years and then—you just don't flip a switch. We thought you'd flip a switch, and it's not just flipping a switch.

Bob: The time with the kids—you're making up for some lost time.

Barbara: Well, we're trying to.

Bob: Yes.

Barbara: We're trying to; we're trying to spend more time with them.

Bob: The busyness of your life over the past three/four decades meant you had to allocate just little bits and pieces of time, and now you're getting to spend maybe a week at a time with kids?

Barbara: Well, we're trying to get more chunks; and that takes planning ahead, because all of our kids live away. We don't have any live in town; so we have to be very intentional about going to see them and planning ahead; and some of them—buying plane tickets.

Dave: And you've got a couple of grandkids—one or two; right?

Barbara: Just a couple. [Laughter]

Dave: How many do you have?

Barbara: We have 24 now.

Dennis: Bob, all of them were at Orange Beach, Alabama, where we had a vacation, where we rented three condos—four bedrooms; four baths in each one; so you can count it—12 bedrooms; 12 bathrooms. You've got to have it when you've got almost 30 people for a vacation. We bought the groceries, and we're still paying that off. [Laughter]

It's been, really, an interesting journey. I've been speaking some—spoke for YPO in Washington, DC.

Bob: Explain to folks what YPO is.

Dennis: Young President's Organization. Barbara and I have done a number of things for them over the years. We spoke together on “Lessons from 46 Years of Marriage.”

Bob: Can you tell everyone who you interviewed while you were at YPO?

Dennis: Well, they kicked off the event; and I had the privilege of interviewing Vice President Pence as the meeting started. I got a chance to ask him my favorite question—

Bob: —“What is the most courageous thing—

Dave: Oh, I know what that was.

Barbara: You know what that is, so—

Dennis: —“What's the most courageous thing you've ever done?” He's a man of faith; and Bob, you know that we've never taken any kind of political stand, here, on FamilyLife Today. We minister to people across the aisle—whatever aisle that is.

Bob: Right; okay.

Dennis: We're all about wanting the gospel to go to people, and so I wanted to find out how Jesus Christ had changed his life and Karen, his wife. It was a fascinating interview and a lot of fun. We've spoken for Trail Life USA;  we've done some things in the orphan care area over the past year.

Frankly, turning a corner now to do two things: one—steward what we've created; secondly—steward who we are.

Ann: And Barbara, you've probably had more time with Dennis in these last few months than you've had in a long time. How's that been?

Dennis: She can speak to that, trust me. [Laughter] We've got a subject we want to talk about, here, on the broadcast.

Barbara: That's a great question.

Dennis: That is not the subject of what we want to talk about. [Laughter]

Barbara: Yes; we could talk about that probably for a whole broadcast—that's not our topic today. It's been good in a lot of ways. It's been fun; it's like when we were first married—it was just the two of us and no kids. But it's also been challenging; because I had my routine in my house, and he didn't have a routine in our house; and he was office-ing out of our house for a long time until he got an office.

We had some adjustments to make and challenges just because life was different. It wasn't just a two-week break at Christmas or that kind of thing. It was months, and months, and months; but we've learned a lot, and we have found all kinds of new ways to trust God for who we are and what we have in our marriage. We've grown through it.

Dennis: One of the things we take great delight in is—the three of you—how you guys are interacting and ministering to people. We're hearing from folks, all over the country—just absolutely thrilled that you're doing well and you're knocking it out of the park. I knew you would; Barbara did, too.

It really is fun to be invited back. I think there's a lot of founders, who are never invited back to the ministry that they helped get off the ground; and that's sad; because there are still some things left that we want to say on occasion; [Laughter] and we won't say them all here, obviously. It's been a privilege to make a hand-off to David Robbins—to see how well he's doing as the new president of FamilyLife®, and Dave and Ann Wilson, as the new hosts. Three cheers to everybody.

Bob: This is a time of year when you guys start to get very active and very busy. A lot of that relates, Barbara, to the work you've been doing with Ever Thine Home. The last two months of the year—you think are significant for families.


Barbara: Yes; I think—and I have said this before on FamilyLife Today in previous broadcasts—that I think the holidays are natural gathering points for families. We just get together around holidays, and everybody expects it; everybody knows it's coming. It's on the calendar at the same time, year after year after year after year.

Are we just going to celebrate the holidays in the way we always have?—or are we going to look at the calendar opportunities as ways that we can teach our children the truth about who God is?—ways that we can create meaningful conversation and get to know other people in the family? Are we going to use them to get to know God?—because He's the One who's behind all of our holidays.

I think, a lot of times, we just get on auto-pilot when the holidays come; because they happen year after year. We don't stop and think: “How can we intentionally make these hours or these days really make a difference for our family?”

Bob: Have you stopped to realize that the Wilson routine for Thanksgiving every year included a football game?—because for three-plus decades, Dave was on the sidelines—it was always a home game in Detroit; wasn't it?

Dave: In Detroit, it's a tradition to play at home; and it's somewhat tradition to lose at home. [Laughter] Yes; our Thanksgiving, and even Christmas—because the season usually went beyond Christmas—was always around a sporting event, which was sort of interesting. We created a family event around it—we just did it later. I went to the stadium early in the day and then came home, because we were the first game of the day; so I was home by 4/5:00, and we'd celebrate.

Ann: And now, all of our kids are married. Our kids are juggling her parents and us; and so that can look a little different, too. Sometimes we'll have Thanksgiving celebrating at our house—maybe a week later.

And yet, Barbara, you've always been so passionate about bringing beauty and Jesus into our homes and really being centered on Him during this holiday season. Our table looks a little different in the recording studio today because you bring beauty and a little piece of your personality wherever you go. What's happening with our table setting here today?

Barbara: I know; it's a little different; it's a little crowded, too, because there are five of us instead of three of you.

Dave: I was just going to say: “Bob never does this.”

Barbara: Oh I'm sure Bob doesn't do this. [Laughter]

Dave: Never this kind of beauty—bags on the table. [Laughter] We've got—I don't know what we've got—I can't wait to find out.

Barbara: Well, the thing about Thanksgiving—it's one of my favorite holidays and always has been. Actually, football's a big part of our family Thanksgiving, too; because all of the men, and most of the women, really like watching the games. I think most families in America are that way. You're fixing your celebration to balance with these other things that are in your life—a lot of it does revolve around football.

It's taking those moments that you do have—whether it's in the afternoon, or the next day, or the next week—and making something meaningful that's memorable for the whole family. So, at each of your places—Bob, and Dave, and Ann—you have a napkin. Because of the microphones, we don't have room for a full place setting or I probably would have done all that.

On your napkin is a ribbon that's tied around your napkin, and each of those ribbons has a question. This is something that we developed, several years ago, with FamilyLife, where we created this spool of ribbon with questions. We've [received] some amazing comments through the years—that just this one opportunity to have a meal with your family and to ask questions, that get below the surface, made all the difference in the world for their families.


Ann: I've done this—

Barbara: Have you?

Ann: Yes, with these questions at our table. At first, they're like: “Mom, what do you mean? Take your napkin ring off and read it?” [Laughter] And yet it was really beautiful and deep. We did exactly what you said—we went a little deeper in our relationships, and we were very intentional.

Dave: I  can add—sitting there, and then Ann pulls out the napkin and says, “Okay, here's what we're going to do…” I've got to be honest; my first thought was, “Seriously? We're going to…Can't we just eat and go in the family room and watch the next game?”

And yet, every time/every time—and she's the queen of this; I know she learned this from you, Barbara—is: “Seize the moment; make a memory.” It becomes tender, and it becomes beautiful; and it becomes something you remember with your family—celebrating Thanksgiving. The core relationship/the things that are shared is powerful.

Dennis: So, each of you have a napkin and one of these questions wrapped around it. Read yours, Dave, and answer it.

Dave: Alright; it says, “Describe a friend who has influenced your life for good,”—just one? [Laughter]

Barbara: Yes; just one.

Dave: I thought of my buddy, Rob, who I actually met when I was speaking for Athletes in Action at a conference when he was a college kicker. We bonded there. I met two friends that day—Jeff Schulte and Rob Houghtlin. Both of those guys have influenced my life for good.

Rob ended up moving to Detroit—he and his wife Michelle have been some of our best friends. They just married off his last daughter last weekend. Rob has been that guy in my life, who will look me in the eye, regularly, and ask a Dennis Rainey question, which is: “Are you clean? Are you a man of integrity?” He sharpens me; I sharpen him. It's been a blessing and a gift from God, who has transformed my life for good.

Dennis: I think about that question/your answer—you could have family members be at that Thanksgiving table for decades and not know who had influenced their life. Now, that wasn't threatening; that was a simple question.

Ann, I want to hear your answer to your question.


Ann: “Death and loss are a very difficult part of everyone's life. Share a loss that, in the end, brought great meaning to your life for which you are grateful.” I lost my best friend and my sister. She was 45 years old; and she died of lung cancer, leaving her four sons, ranging from 20 years old to 9 years old—the greatest tragedy of my life.

The reason it stands out for me now, and I'm grateful, is because I had to really deal with God and really talk to Him about: “Why would you do this? Why would you take this amazing woman, who led me to Christ, who is impacting people?” and “I thought You would heal her.” God spoke very dramatically to me and said, “I did heal her. I healed her now; she's healed. And she's free, and she's free of pain.”

It made me realize how important it is to build a foundation of who Christ is and the Word of God—of how that is our foundation and what we place our life and hope on. I think that is the greatest tragedy in my life, and yet it also became a real indicator of what is really important; and this, who Jesus is—who He says He is—what He's done so that we can all have eternal life. It puts a little part of me—it’s like, “I want to share that good news to everyone I meet.”

Barbara: See, by answering that question, all of us are encouraged by your faith because of what you learned.

I think—I'm just picturing your table; and I'm thinking about your sons and their wives, sitting around your table. If they heard that—because all of us pray for people to be healed; all of us wonder, when it doesn't happen: “Why did God do that?”—but to hear you sit there and say, “I learned more about God, and I trust Him more because of that experience,” gives them courage when they face those situations, which you and I know/we all know they're going to come.

Bob: And at the Thanksgiving table, instead of just having casual conversation, you have just a few moments of some substantive conversation. Sometimes, it becomes more than just a few moments because, sometimes, one person will share and then somebody will say, “I want to add in to that;” and it becomes an hour of more substantive conversation.

That's what—Barbara, the whole goal here is to say that: “We've got an opportunity. Let's take advantage of the opportunity; let's have some spiritual input and focus here and not lose this moment”; because these moments come few and far between; let's not just have it all over and go, “That was nice that they came home,” but reflect back and go: “Did you hear what she said?” or “…how she shared?” “…what he offered?”—and some meaning brought into the conversation.

Ann: I think there are times—like I've lost grandparents, as all of us have—but don't you wish sometimes—I wish I would've known them more, or better, or deeper. This allows us to be able to do that—to really know the people. My frustration is: “Do we have to talk about nothingness the whole time?” [Laughter]

Dennis: Yes; exactly. [Laughter]

I had a friend, who came to me and said: “I can't get my dad to come to Father's Day lunch at my house. He's aggravated at us. He's kind of becoming embittered as he gets older. He's going to let my mom come, but he's not going to come.” I think he was in his late 70s, and his wife was as well.

I said: “You know what you ought to do? Take Barbara's “Untie Your Story”—tell your dad you're going to have a Father's Day that he'll never forget and to come to your home.” They unwrapped these things; sat around the table. He [friend] said, “I watched my dad melt.” His heart began to melt as they answered the questions and as different ones shared things. They did that all the way around the table, one time with these questions; and then, the second time around, they said, “Tell Grandpa what you like best about him on Father's Day.” On the way down the sidewalk to the car, the old man turned to his son and said: “That was really fun. That was really a great Father's Day gift. Thank you.”

I think we all have members of our family/extended family, who are contrarians; they're not easy to get along with. Some of them—we're out of fellowship with—I think that occurs in families, too; and it goes on for decades. It's not the way it was intended to occur. And you're looking for some way—not that you're going to have one question that's going to thaw the relationship—but you know, if you don't get beyond the surface

and get to something of the heart, how will you ever be able to reestablish that relationship and enjoy the other person? That's a real tragedy; life's too short to go to your grave, distant from family members.

Bob: You all have had some Thanksgivings, in the last couple of years, where nobody was coming home; it was going to be a solo Thanksgiving for you, which was—or Christmas, maybe, where nobody came home. You get to a certain age, and the rhythms of family change; or maybe somebody's facing a Thanksgiving, and it's the first time that a loved one's not going to be at the table with them.

How do you prepare yourself for that day/for that moment?—because these days are pregnant with meaning and with emotion: “How to you prepare for what's going to be an abnormal celebration?” It's not going to feel like a celebration if somebody's not there or if the kids aren't home, like they always were in the past.”

Barbara: Well, for me, I think of the verse, where we're instructed to give thanks in all things; because there was a time when some of our kids weren't coming home; and I remember thinking: “This just feels wrong; it just feels like—it's just not right because everybody's not here.”

Ann: And it's worse when you see all your friends on Instagram® with their families together.

Barbara: And it appears that they're all together, and all happy, and all loving each other. [Laughter]

I just remember—it was kind of a defining moment for me to learn to give thanks in what God provided and to give thanks for who came and to not be focusing on who wasn't there—now, we have not yet faced a holiday, where we were missing someone because of a death—that isn't just give thanks in all things; but for me, what we've learned is—we've just come to a place, where we're so grateful for anyone who comes and for as long as they can stay—we're just thrilled to get them. We've learned to give thanks, because we know that life is short. I don't want to be bemoaning the fact that everyone couldn't come and miss the joy of who did come.

Dennis: And just to underline that, I think these are days when our families need to be filled with grace. We've got 12 adults, in addition to us in our family—six kids and their spouses. We've got 24 grandkids—so that's a herd of people. To think you're going to get everybody together every year is a Norman Rockwell painting—you know, it’s something that occurred, perhaps, back before the earth's crust hardened. [Laughter] You know, it just doesn't happen every year.

And Bob, you know—your family—you have to struggle to get together, so you've got to be ready to live out the gospel. It's not the way God relates to us?—doesn't He give us grace for how we disappoint Him? I think families ought to be filled with grace, especially in this culture, because it seems like we're becoming a hardened culture. Families ought not to be a place, where we take it out on one another.

Bob: I'll save my question and answer until the very end, but I want to let listeners know

that these are napkin ties that you've created. They come on a spool—you can get the spool, and what are there?—a dozen of these napkin ties on the spool—

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: —each with a different question.

Barbara: Correct.

Bob: Our listeners can go to our website,, for more information on how they can order the spool and have these questions and napkin ties for their Thanksgiving table, or for Christmas, or for their next family get-together; because this is not exclusively a Thanksgiving item; you've mentioned using it for Father's Day, Dennis. This is something you can do any time the family gets together; and you just say, “Let's have a little more meaningful conversation.” And then you can use the same ones the next time—just let different people have different questions; right?

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: Again, go to for information on “Untie Your Story”or other resources available for Thanksgiving from Ever Thine Home. There's a link on our website that will connect you with all of this.

Again, go to; and then we've got a free download available—something we're calling ”The Family Gratitude Plan.” This is a way for you to engage with your kids in the days leading up/the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to help cultivate a sense of gratitude. We have things like Thanksgiving Bingo; there's a Thanksgiving paper chain you can make; there's some frame-able Scripture art that the kids could color in. Go to and download “The Family Gratitude Plan.” It's available for free on our website; again,

Now, I promised my question and answer. My question is: “Describe a change God has made in your life and why you're grateful for it.”

Dennis: Yes, I'd like to know that. [Laughter]

Bob: I was thinking internal as opposed to external. You know, I could look at external changes, like moving from San Antonio to Little Rock and helping to start FamilyLife Today.

Dennis: That took faith.

Bob: That did take faith.

Dennis: I'm a witness to that.

Bob: It's one of those things you look back on and you go, “You know, God's hand was in that; and I'm grateful for that.

Dave: And so are we!

Bob: I was thinking, though, about the internal changes—and I think the ability to recognize pride when it's welling up in me, and ego, and wanting to be the center of attention—and say, “No, just pull back.” You guys wouldn't want to know me if that check was not in place; right? So, I'm grateful for God giving me some spiritual radar to say: “No, just pull back. You don't have to step out and be the center of attention. Just because there's a microphone, doesn't mean you have to be in front of it.” [Laughter]

Dennis: And respectfully, I can say I've witnessed that, too.

Bob: Well, appreciate that. Good to have you guys back; thanks for being with us today.

I hope our listeners can join us back tomorrow when we're going to have a little “Ask Dave and Ann” fun. I've got some questions from listeners—we'll toss one of these, or maybe two of these, your direction and see where you want to go with it tomorrow. I hope our listeners can tune in for that. That ought to be fun; don't you think? [Laughter]

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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