Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Story of God's Providence

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Leslie Basham: Here’s why Barbara Rainey loves the story of Thanksgiving.

Barbara Rainey: It causes my faith to grow because when I see what God did for these men and women and children who risked their lives to start a new nation, I say, “God can do that for me. I can believe God for great things too.” It’s a great inspiration for us to trust God more with our daily lives.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, October 28.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Christmas is still nearly two months away, and yet chances are you’ve already seen Christmas decorations up in your local stores. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it, how long Christmas has gotten stretched out?

One of the things that has happened as a result is we’ve lost track of a holiday that comes before Christmas that I think is one of our most important and precious holidays of the year. It’s the Thanksgiving season.

So this week we’re going to start preparing our hearts for Thanksgiving. We don’t want to miss Thanksgiving because if we miss that, we miss some of the joy of what God has for us. One of our huge responsibilities is to give thanks to the Lord.

I’m so glad to welcome to Revive Our Hearts this week to help us on this whole subject of preparing for Thanksgiving our guest, Barbara Rainey, the wife of Dennis Rainey. Together they started FamilyLife Today many years ago. Barbara’s been a guest before on Revive Our Hearts. Thanks so much for coming back today to help us get our hearts and our homes ready for Thanksgiving.

Barbara: I’m delighted to be here, Nancy. Thanks.

Nancy: Barbara is a long-time friend. Barbara had such a sweet impact in my own life. I love your heart. I love your heart for home. You’re the mother of six children and how many grandchildren?

Barbara: Currently eight, which is amazing to me.

Nancy: So your tribe is growing.

Barbara: It is growing.

Nancy: I was talking with one of your daughters this morning, and it was so sweet to see. She looks like you. She sounds like you. And to see your heart being reproduced in your children and now in those grandchildren is a really precious thing.

Barbara: It is sweet.

Nancy: I’m so thrilled with this book that you’ve written called Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember. It’s a beautiful coffee table book. It’s got beautiful four-color illustrations in it, many of which are your own water color drawings. You are trying to help us salvage and rescue and revive, if you will, the whole Thanksgiving season. What gave you a burden for that?

Barbara: Well, there are a number of things, Nancy, that did that. One was I was a history major in college, and I’ve always loved history. Another was that I wanted my children as they were growing up to really understand our biblical heritage as Christians in America. I knew they weren’t getting it in school, and I knew there weren’t very many books or products or things that would help me explain our Christian heritage.

So I began to do some research and some reading; and the more I did, the more I discovered how great was God’s involvement in the founding of our country, and His sovereignty was so evident. It was really fun to begin to teach my children about this incredible heritage that we’ve been given.

Nancy: If you go to normal schools today, that’s a part of the story that you’re just not going to hear.

Barbara: You’re not going to hear it. You’ll hear about the Indians, and you’ll hear about a few things that are just little hints. But you won’t hear anything about what God did in providing and leading and delivering. It’s really a very amazing story.

Nancy: In fact, increasingly, you may not even hear the term Thanksgiving.

Barbara: That’s right.

Nancy: It’s so important that we as Christian families retain that story and that sense of our heritage and our connection to the goodness of God.

Barbara: I agree.

Nancy: So you decided in the Rainey household no matter what the schools were or weren’t doing, you were going to be intentional about the celebration of Thanksgiving. So how did you begin to make this an important part of your family’s life?

Barbara: When our kids were quite young, one of the things that I wanted to do, if nothing else, is I wanted to teach my children to be thankful. It’s so easy in our country for kids to grow up complaining and griping and talking all the time about what they don’t have and what they’re missing out on. I thought even if we don’t do anything else, on Thanksgiving Day I’m going to have them write down what they’re thankful for.

So when they were quite young, my youngest was only two, we just had coloring books or construction paper or even some notebook paper. I have one that’s written on just lined notebook paper. I asked my kids on Thanksgiving morning to write down what they were thankful for. Of course, in those early years they were thankful for their blanky and their toys and those kinds of things.

Nancy: That’s a great start though.

Barbara: It was a great start because I wanted them to begin to think, giving thanks. So that’s where we started.

Nancy: And your two-and-a-half-year-old, of course, couldn’t write.

Barbara: No, so I wrote for her. But I asked her, "What are you thankful for?" And she’d tell me, and I wrote it down. I don’t have all of those. I wish I had kept them because I wasn’t really trying to start a tradition so much in the sake of keeping things as much as I wanted to teach my children to understand the concept of giving thanks and being grateful.

Then from there as I began to do some reading and research, I came across some writings of Governor Bradford and his original journals. I began to get more of the story of our Christian heritage that started Thanksgiving that was really sort of the precursor to the actual first Thanksgiving.

So I began to read selected portions of that story to my kids. I especially picked out the parts that I thought they would remember or that they could identify with as children. So that’s kind of where I started, and it just grew as the years went on.

Nancy: So your children grew up hearing year after year the Thanksgiving story. You know, this isn’t a novel idea actually. It is maybe in our era. But you go back to the Old Testament and the Children of Israel and of course they had oral tradition. That is how they passed on the works of God.

And God told His people each year there are some feasts you’re supposed to celebrate. These are times to stop and recount the goodness of God and rehearse what He has done. Remember. And the point was tell it to your children, so they can tell it to their children, so they can tell it to their children. That’s really what you were modeling after.

Barbara: Right. I knew enough to know that repetition is the best teacher and that they wouldn’t get it all the first time they heard the story. But if we told the story year after year after year, it would not only become a tradition, but they would remember more of it year after year.

In many ways what I would like to see happen is I would like for Christian families to read the Thanksgiving story every year as a part of their family yearly traditions just like families often read the Christmas story out of Luke, chapter 2. They read it every year.

Nancy: We have a lot of resources available for Christmas. We have Christmas music. We have Christmas cards, Christmas books. But there really isn’t a lot out there about Thanksgiving, which, by the way, has always been one of my very favorite holidays. I just love Thanksgiving for some of the same reasons that you do.

Barbara: I do, too.

Nancy: What you have done is a great service by producing this wonderful resource—this book—Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember. We’re going to talk about it through the course of this week. We’re airing this series several weeks before Thanksgiving so that parents, families, can get a hold of these resources and can be ready for Thanksgiving week, Thanksgiving Day, to share this with their children.

So the book includes actually the Thanksgiving story, and you’ve done it in a couple of different ways so it’s adaptable depending on the ages of your children.

Barbara: That’s correct. I want this very much to be a read-aloud book. I know it’s a beautiful book because that was important to me, too. I wanted it to be a very pretty book, that kids would be fascinated by the pictures. But I really want it to be a family thing where mom or dad or older brother or sister, somebody, reads it out loud.

Actually, in our family we take turns reading it because I want my kids to engage, and you tend to engage more if you’re reading it. So I want it to be a read-aloud story.

So I wrote it in actually two sections of the book, so to speak. Actually, they’re not sections, but it’s written in two different formats so that if you have younger children, there’s a shorter version. And if you have older children, elementary school through adults, there’s a little bit longer version that has more of the detail. So it’s meant to be adaptable for any age family.

Nancy: So to read the shorter version for your younger children, that’s in the larger print. How long would that take?

Barbara: That would take about 20 to 25 minutes.

Nancy: You’re telling the different parts of the pilgrim’s journey over to New England and their first and second Thanksgiving feasts that they observed. So it’s about a two- or three-year period that you’re covering there. But if you want to add in some more details about the background, how long would that take to read the entire thing to your family?

Barbara: To read the entire book out loud to your family would take about 45 minutes. The book is divided into five or six different chapters, so to speak, so you could even read a portion each day. If you wanted to read the whole thing but you didn’t have a 45-minute chunk of time, you could read a couple of pages each day.

Nancy: So Thanksgiving week—you could make a week of Thanksgiving.

Barbara: Exactly. You could make it sort of like devotionals and read a piece each day. But if you want to read it from beginning to end, which is what we did for years, it would take about 45 minutes.

Nancy: Then there’s some wonderful additional material on the sidebars, and it’s just so attractively done. It’s a beautiful book, Barbara. But it gives some other background information. How did Thanksgiving come to be a national holiday? Some little known facts about the background of Thanksgiving presented in such a compelling way.

In fact, I have to say I was up in the middle of the night last night reading this book from cover to cover. I grew up in a Christian home, Christian school, so I did hear many of these stories growing up. But I’m embarrassed to tell you how many of them I had forgotten.

If you had asked me about some of these names of Squanto and Massasoit and some of the story here, I don’t think I could have told it to you. So it was a great refresher for me, and that’s why we need a tradition like this where we’re rehearsing this story over and over again.

Barbara: It really is. I think what happens in the lives of our children and even in our own hearts, every year when we read this story, I’m just moved to give thanks to God for what He did, and it causes my faith to grow.

Because when I see what God did for these men and women and children who risked their lives to start a new nation, I say, “God can do that for me. I can believe God for great things too.” It causes us to trust Him more when we see what He’s done on our behalf through the lives of others. So it’s a great inspiration for us to trust God more with our daily lives.

Someone might wonder, well, of course, everybody knows the Thanksgiving story. Why do we have to make a big deal about retelling it. But you’re aware, Barbara, as I am, that people are telling the story in ways today that are not historically accurate.

Last Thanksgiving there was an editorial that appeared in the Washington Times called “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Let me just read you a segment of this article. I think it will horrify you as it did me, but it shows what we’re up against here. This writer said,

Only 51 of the 102 who arrived aboard the Mayflower survived the first harsh New England winter. Now the question is whether the Pilgrims can survive political correctness in the 21st century. As Americans prepare for their annual commemoration of the first Thanksgiving feast, actually held in October ’61 to celebrate a bountiful harvest, the Pilgrims are persona non grata in Plymouth, Massachusetts. [Which is where they had that first feast.]

Two years ago the city’s board of select men erected plaques at Plymouth Rock declaring, "Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture."

The anti-Pilgrim agenda is now national policy. Schools that celebrate Thanksgiving with classroom skits about Pilgrims and Indians do so in violation of federal curriculum guidelines.

One of those guidelines actually says—this is a teacher’s guideline, “At Thanksgiving shift the focus away from reenacting the first Thanksgiving.”

Barbara: Interesting.

Nancy: So this is what we’re up against. And this is why what you have done, Barbara, is so important in recounting the story as it actually happened, not as revisionist history professors would have us believe it happened. Saying God had a hand—a huge hand—in the founding of this nation and in why we celebrate Thanksgiving. So we need to make sure that we know that, that our children know it, and that they know it so well that they can tell it to the next generation.

Barbara: That’s right. That really is a very popular thinking in our country now. Because every time I do an interview on this subject, someone asks that question. What’s so interesting is that during the early years, the first 50 years that the Pilgrims were in America, there wasn’t any genocide. There was peace between the Indians and the Pilgrims, and it’s because of the Pilgrims’ faith.

It’s because they saw themselves as missionaries, as those who were taking the gospel to these people who didn’t know Christ. So in the very beginning there was peace. The atrocities that did occur many, many, many, many years later were not perpetrated by Pilgrims, but by those who didn’t know Christ who had different agendas.

So the story that we celebrate at Thanksgiving about the Pilgrims is true and it’s worthy to be celebrated. All of those issues that are being brought up, there is some truth to that. We need to understand what really happened in Plymouth with the Pilgrims so that we can know that all of this that’s being bandied about every year during the holiday, even though there may be some truth to it, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Pilgrims and their faith and their founding of our country.

Nancy: Right. So let’s talk about who the Pilgrims were because we just assume people know this but many don’t. Where did they start, and how did they end up wanting to come to this country?

Barbara: The Pilgrims were a group of people who actually were Englishmen and women and children who came from England. They were being persecuted in the Church of England because they wanted to worship God in a free way. The Church of England was very coercive and had certain expectations, and they were not allowed to worship freely.

So they first fled to Holland to escape the religious persecution in England. They were in Holland about—if I remember exactly right—ten or twelve years. During that time they began to see the influence of the secular society in Holland which is so interesting because it’s still that way.

They felt their children were being corrupted by the loose standards in the Dutch society. They thought, "We may be free to worship, but this environment is not healthy for our children. Maybe God would have another place for us to go where we can worship as we wish, and we can also raise our children in a way that would please God."

So the process began of praying, "Where would You have us go, Lord?" And the answer was, America. Of course, there had been many, many expeditions to the New World, and there had even been some settlements begun in the New World. But none had been begun for religious freedom. None had been started by believers who were seeking to establish a new kind of country, a new way of life.

They were all started by fisherman or those who were out to find gold because there was still the idea that there was a lot of gold. It was all for selfish reasons that many of the expeditions and settlements had been started on the Eastern seaboard of what is now the United States.

So this was a totally different approach, a totally different reason for sailing the Atlantic and going to the New World.

Nancy: Yet in spite of the fact that their goals were so noble and faith-based, the trip they took over on the Mayflower was far from easy.

Barbara: That’s right.

Nancy: They wanted to please the Lord, but it wasn’t easy for them to do that. Describe for us some of the conditions that were a part of that journey.

Barbara: Well, this is one of my favorite parts of the story to read to my children, at least especially when they were younger, because I think my kids had an easier time understanding this part of the story because there were so many children involved. The conditions on the ship were very, very cramped. They didn’t have individual cabins or state rooms.

Nancy: This was no cruise liner.

Barbara: Exactly. They didn’t have a chef downstairs in the kitchen cooking for them three meals a day. They had to take all their own food on board, and they had to pay for it all ahead of time. They had to raise and save money to buy barrels of biscuits and different things to eat on the voyage over.

They encountered two different problems with the ship in which they had to return and have repairs made. They encountered a very, very severe storm which cracked the main beam on the ship that had to be repaired. All of those delays left them running out of food. People were getting sick from the voyage. It was really, I think, beyond our comprehension what kind of conditions they lived in.

Nancy: As I read the story as you’ve written it in your book on Thanksgiving, they couldn’t even come up and get fresh air much of the time.

Barbara: That’s correct. Most of the time they were not even allowed on deck because the sailors were busy working the sails and the lines and the ropes. With the ship pitching in the water, they didn’t know how to stand on deck. They might have fallen overboard. So for their safety, the sailors wouldn’t let them out.

So they were cooped up below deck. They didn’t have bathrooms and sanitary facilities. When people would get sick, they’d just throw up in a pail, and it smelled, and it was just—I mean, it was awful.

Nancy: And then some of these sailors were profane men themselves.

Barbara: That’s right. On top of that, the sailors really had fun making a mockery of the Pilgrims. They criticized them for singing their psalms and their worship and their prayers. They had never seen people like that. In fact, they often didn’t have passengers, especially women and children. So this was unusual in and of itself to have women and children on board.

The sailors took great pleasure in ridiculing them, teasing them, poking fun at them, trying to get them, so to speak, to crack, and the Pilgrims never did. The Pilgrims continued to suffer with grace. They continued to be kind to the sailors in spite of the ill treatment. They continued to give thanks to God. When I read that—every time I read that, and I’ve been reading this for 15 years—I just think, “Oh, Lord, I would not be that way.”

I mean I’m so used to comfort and ease in our country and to think of living in those conditions with my children throwing up and no games and no toys and no bedrooms to send them to when they disobeyed. I mean, it’s really beyond comprehension the conditions they lived in and the fact that they continued to have faith and to praise God and to worship in the middle of it all. It’s really very remarkable.

Nancy: It’s as if their reflexive reaction was to pray and sing psalms.

Barbara: Exactly. And we have strayed so far from that because our response, our reflexive reaction is to complain and to gripe and to blame somebody and to try to find a way of escape rather than giving thanks.

Nancy: So when they finally arrived in the New World, it was the second week of November, 1620. Some of our listeners who live in New England or have traveled there know that that’s not the time of year you want to be landing in New England with no homes, no place to live, going into the worst winter season.

Tell us what it was they did as a first act as they got to the new land.

Barbara: Well, the very first thing they did, which was so typical of them, was to give thanks. They all paused and got down on their knees and thanked God for the safe voyage and for their arrival in the new world.

Then they began to draw up an agreement for how they would govern themselves because they realized in the course of their voyage, the storms and the winds had blown them off course, and they did not land where they intended to land. They landed in what we now know as New England, of course—Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bay. But they had intended to land in Virginia, much farther south.

So they realized that they were no longer under the governing power, the governing regulations of the Virginia company. Here they were in a place they hadn’t quite intended to go, and they needed to have some kind of rules of conduct for themselves. Knowing the sin nature of man, they knew they needed that. So that was how the Mayflower Compact came into being as these men discussed how should we live? How should we govern ourselves in this place where we have no authority?

Nancy: We’re going to continue with the telling of that story, how they survived the ordeals of that first horrible winter and then came to that first celebration of Thanksgiving in the New World. But I know many of our listeners will want to be able to read this story for themselves. If they’re like me, they may have forgotten some of the details of the journey over on the Mayflower, the Mayflower Compact, how they began to make a living and a home for themselves in this new land.

You have written a story that is great for reading aloud to your family on Thanksgiving Day or Thanksgiving week. That’s why we’re airing this series a few weeks before Thanksgiving so our listeners can have a chance to order it, to get ready for Thanksgiving Day, to be intentional about teaching your children and your grandchildren the ways of God and the works of God, the wonders He has done on our behalf.

This is a resource you may want for your own family, or you may want to get it for your grown children so they can share it with your grandchildren. It would even be a great gift for some friends or co-workers or neighbors who may not know the Lord personally. As they read this book, they’ll encounter the incredible deeds of the Lord and see the power of the gospel as it was first lived out by those early Pilgrims.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Barbara Rainey about Thanksgiving. The holiday provides some rich opportunities to pass on biblical truth. We want to help you prepare by sending you the book you’ve been hearing about.

When you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember, by Barbara Rainey. To make your donation and get more details, visit ReviveOurHearts.com or call 1-800-569-5959.

Now imagine the family is gathered around for a Thanksgiving dinner. You appear before your hungry audience with a large tray of . . . oysters and eels? That’s what was served the first Thanksgiving. We’ll talk about it tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. To close today’s program, here’s Nancy.

Nancy: When we think of the first Thanksgiving meal, images of Pilgrims eating pumpkin pie probably come to mind. But perhaps we should go back a lot further.

Man: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat. This is My body.’ Then He took the cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant.'” (Luke 22:19-20, paraphrased).

Nancy: You may have heard the Lord’s Supper referred to as the Eucharist. In Greek, that word is closely related to the concepts of grace and gratitude. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we’re showing gratitude for the grace that He’s lavished on us. Of all the things we have to be thankful for during this season, none is more important than the cross of Christ.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.