Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Ideas for a More Meaningful Thanksgiving

Dannah Gresh: Sometimes the prayers of our children just make us smile.

Woman 1: When my seven-year-old was like four—he’s so funny—he prayed, “Lord, can You make me as brown and cute as my daddy?”

Woman 2: One of our younger boys had carved a pumpkin, and the pumpkin, the part that he had carved, caved in. So that night he say, “Well, doesn’t Jesus answer our prayers? Can’t God do anything? Why can’t we pray that He’ll heal the pumpkin?” It was one of those things where I thought, I don’t know what to do with this!

Woman 3: “Dear Jesus, thank You so much for how hard Daddy works, and thank You for how Mom does her thing.” I think everybody at the table was, like, “Well, how’s Mom going to react to that!”

Dannah: Recently, a mom named Susannah shared a way she’s working to instill another level of gratitude into her family.

Susannah: We’re reading the Psalms, and we’re digging deeper into who God is and what has God done for us.

Dannah: She says that the daily habit of reading God’s Word together is helping the whole family get ready for Thanksgiving in a more meaningful way.

Susannah: It’s growing their vision of their understanding of God and growing their prayers and just seeing what God does for us and who He is and His character. That’s been good for our family to grow our hearts and our understanding of God.

Dannah: Today we’ll hear from more listeners like Susannah. They’re sharing creative ideas with us and ways to make Thanksgiving go beyond just a big meal and a football game.

Leslie Basham: This is November 22, 2019, and you’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: Okay, friends, the holiday season is starting in earnest, and I don’ know about you, but sometimes the crazy busyness of it just causes me to let another season slip past. I don’t have much time to really make it meaningful, but Thanksgiving is a huge opportunity for us to just pause, reflect on God’s provision, and set the tone for a season of thankfulness.

Today we want to help you prepare for that, to prepare your heart and to prepare your home for a meaningful Thanksgiving.

So how do you do that? Well, Nancy asked a group of listeners who were here for a Revive Our Hearts recording session. Let’s listen together.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Let’s talk about Thanksgiving, since that’s around the corner. A special Thanksgiving memory you have or a difficult Thanksgiving memory and then anything you or your family or someone you know has done to help make Thanksgiving a more special time.

For example: I pull out . . . when do I do this, Honey, sometime in October? . . . the fall decorations in our house?

Robert: Early October.

Nancy: Early October, let’s say. I like having the leaves and the colors and the candles, but I build them around thankful themes. So we have little “Be Thankful” napkins that we use for snacks and hostessing, and a tray in our kitchen that says, “Give Thanks.” Actually, above our table there is a big, kind of metal sign . . .

Robert: A wooden cutout.

Nancy: Yes, that says, “In everything give thanks.” So we try to make this a year-round thing in our house, being grateful.

So, anything. You don’t have to say all those things, but anything along the lines of Thanksgiving. All right, Linda. Let’s give Linda the mic, Hayley.

Linda Lee: My name’s Linda Lee, and one of the fun things we did a couple years ago: Out of construction paper, we made a tree—green on the bottom, brown, and then branches. And everybody at the table had a leaf, and they were asked to write what they were thankful for. And as they read them, they put them on the tree. And then we kept it up the whole holiday, through Christmas. It was fun.

Nancy: So did you do that on Thanksgiving Day?

Linda: On Thanksgiving Day, around the table.

Nancy: And did you do it at your main meal there?

Linda: Yes. It was a lot of fun.

Nancy: Did you have multiple generations there?

Linda: Yes. One of the craziest ones was, my daughter works at a prison, and her husband said, “I’m so thankful my wife’s in prison.” (laughter)

Nancy: Because God’s using her there. Neat. Thank you, Linda.

Holly Brudent: This is Holly Brudent, and I kind of look at the holidays a little differently. We started on a journey about five years ago with our daughter Allison and her husband Josh are fostering children to adopt. They had a case that looked like they were going to get the children, and right before Thanksgiving, the children were put back with the mother. This was about two-and-a-half years ago, right before Christmas. It was a child they had had for over 2 years. I mean, it was a week before Christmas and was taken back to the parents.

So the amazing journey of it all is they currently have several children now—they have four children. In about a four or five year period, they’ve had about nineteen or twenty children in their home. And it’s such a joy and a privilege to love these children.

So Christmas and Thanksgiving and all that kind have taken on a whole new realm for us.

Nancy: So you’ve had some hard things associated with those holidays.

Holly: Really hard, yes.

Nancy: And how did you walk . . . I know your family loves the Lord and trusts Him, but it’s still hard.

Holly: Yes.

Nancy: Were there any things that the Lord used to encourage you in those seasons or help you be able to encourage her?

Holly: Clinging tightly of course. I get the call, and I’m the one that conveys it to the rest of the family. My child’s screaming and crying and praying through Ephesians 6, praying for the armor, praying for the truth to permeate our thoughts and feelings and actions. You have to choose to behave in a certain way versus letting it just all fly.

The amazing thing is—the good—is that I cannot tell you in how many ways and how many circumstances the Lord has opened more opportunities for sharing God’s faithfulness in the midst of this, whether it’s taking them in at the beginning or having them, or giving them back, or whatever. They’re not ours. They’re not our children.

Nancy: Even if you birthed them.

Holly: We totally get the privilege to just all-out love them. It’s been a tough journey for sure, but what an opportunity to pray for these broken families and just daily focusing on the truth, being in the Word, choosing to believe that God’s goodness and sovereignty and all rights have been laid down in all this.

Nancy: It’s also a reminder that during the holidays, there are a lot of families who are in chaos and who can’t parent the children well, who don’t have the resources or two parents, or don’t have Christ.

Holly: Yes.

Nancy: So while we are mostly enjoying even our hard times, being in Christ is just so different than those who are going through these hard family times and don’t have Christ.

Holly: Right.

Nancy: So what an opportunity at this holiday season to be mindful not just of, “How’s it going for me?” but, “Who are the people God’s put around me who are needy? Whose families are broken up and are really in great distress?”

Holly: It is so humbling having those children walk in your life, and it’s humbling to have them go on. But what precious memories.

Nancy: Yes. I love that.

Someone else? Thanksgiving memories? Right over here. I’m forgetting your name. I’m so sorry . . . May!

May: Yes.

Nancy: I got it!

May: When I was living in Bloomington, Indiana, I worked for a pizza place. On Thanksgiving for three or four years, we closed down the door, and employees would volunteer to just do up a whole big dinner for anyone in the community who wanted to come. So students from the university living close by who were from a foreign country, or people who didn’t have the funds or the time to travel back home . . .

But we had something called a “pilgrim pie.” It always brought so much joy to people. It was not a cheap pizza place either. It was, like, “Come on in. Get your dinner.” And then after that, many of us didn’t have family locally, so we would gather at one of our friends’ places and have a “Friendsgiving.” That was always, really, a blessing.

Nancy: I love that! Cool. Thank you, May. Kelly?

Kelly: I’ve been a teacher for many, many years. For all the years I taught, the biggest things that I learned from my students every single day, and the biggest joy in my career, if that every Thanksgiving I would do the Thanksgiving-what-are-you-grateful-for with the kids. 

I make it into the shape of a leaf, and then they write and draw what they’re grateful for. These are second graders, and it’s amazing what they come up with. (I wish I still had all the copies.) 

Then I’d make a family book for them to take home for their parents about the whole class, because you become a family when you’re with all those students for a year. And they would take them home, and they would read them to their families at Thanksgiving. And the parents would come back and say how neat and that it’s something they’ll keep.

But it’s, again, humbling just how society isn’t heavy on them, people aren’t big, and God isn’t small yet in their lives, and they’re just so eager. It’s just beautiful. I wish I had all the copies now, but that’s something that’s been very good in my life.

Nancy: So a teacher, influencing those children in ways that are good for them, but also that encourage you.

Kelly: Yes.

Nancy: I love that. Julie?

Julie: This isn’t us personally, but our church does this. You wouldn’t think you’d want a pancake breakfast on Thanksgiving, but the men’s ministry makes pancakes. There’s open mic, and everyone can just come up and tell what they’ve been thankful for that year. God’s grace and mercy to them and their families. It’s really a powerful service. I mean, it’s not really a service. It’s just a time of thanksgiving.

Nancy: Are we all invited?

Julie: Sure! (laughter) It’s very informal. It’s not fancy. It’s not like the women would put on. It’s very low-key because everybody’s having a meal that day. But to hear the people that you worship with and the things that they’ve gone through in the year . . . We have a pretty large church—500 or so—and you can’t keep up with everyone. So to hear how God has been working in your church in ways that you had no idea, it’s pretty powerful.

Nancy: It sounds like a sweet time. Sarah?

Sarah: In our adult life we have never lived close to our immediate family. What we started doing, even before our children, was praying about who God would have us have for dinner on the holidays. It didn’t matter whether it was Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, but those times were always really special to us. And our kids would get so excited—our two girls (they’re adults now)—about who was coming to dinner because they loved to have company. But it was such a blessing.

And for me, the thing I think that really struck me was, we would sometimes invite couples from church who we would think, These people have all these families around the, and certainly they have things going on, and they’re not going to want to come.” But it’s amazing, like you said, we don’t really know sometimes what’s going on in the people we’re going to church with in their lives. (Dysfunction exists there as well as in the world.) And I think so many times we were blessed by what people shared with us when we had them around the table.

Nancy: And that’s the heart of Christ, isn’t it? I mean, He came to this world and opened His home to us when we were without family and needy. So when we use our homes in that way, open our hearts and our homes to those who don’t have a place to go or don’t have family or have special needs, we really are just being an extension of the heart of Jesus in their lives.

Susannah: I’m Susannah, and I have three boys at home. This year we started something new in preparing for Thanksgiving. We always prepare for Christmas and have the Advent for that, but I found just a simple, reading different Scripture, mostly the Psalms.

So every day we’d read a Psalm, and then there’s some questions. (I think another homeschool mom wrote it.) But it’s been so good for my kids, and for me, because they’re good at, “Thank You God for my toys and my brothers and my mom”—the stuff little kids are thankful for.

But we’re reading the Psalms, and we’re digging deeper in who God is and what has God done for us. I feel like it’s growing their vision of their understanding of God and growing their prayers and just seeing what God does for us and who He is and His character. So that’s been good for our family to kind of grow our hearts and our understanding of God.

Nancy: I love that.

Susannah, that reminds me of just so many of the Old Testament festival celebrations. Some of them were just a day, but some of them were a week long. People stopped their work, and they came together, and they fasted or they feasted, depending on what the nature of the holiday was. They were holy days.

These were times for people to recalibrate their hearts. I think they were also Sabbaths, in the sense of just a break from the routine and there were sometimes days of rest. There were also days of celebration and contemplation of God’s goodness and His faithfulness and talking about the things of the Lord.

And just in the ordinary rhythms of life, we should be doing more of that anyway, but we don’t as much as we could or should. So to be able to have those times where we just are intentional about stopping and talking and preparing our hearts—and not just as an extra day off we get or this is time we do extra eating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to infuse meaning into not only the celebration but what leads up to it.

Many believers over the years have done more to celebrate the Church calendar. So the Day of Pentecost, the seasons in the Church calendar that come around every year. Some churches actually observe those in their services and in their rhythms. We don’t, in my circles at least, I don’t see a lot of that happen today. So I think we kind of need to create some of those markers, those memorials, those memories, those communities, those coming-together times.

It’s hard. You have to go against the flow because the busyness and the craziness and the expectations and the . . . holidays can be exhausting. I’m not saying that’s all wrong, but I love what you’re talking about there. Saying, “Look, let’s prepare our hearts. Let’s focus. Let’s recalibrate. Let’s put even gratitude in the context of who God is and what He has done for us. We’re celebrating our redemptive history.

Anybody can be thankful. There are Hallmark cards for Thanksgiving. I think gratitude is good no matter who has it. But there’s a distinctively type of Christian gratitude that flows out of our understanding of the redemptive story. If we forget that and we just survive the day and the family . . . I know some moms—I’m looking at one of them right here, and many in this room—holidays are really a busy time because you’ve got kids and grandkids coming in, and you’re planning. It’s just hard work. And let me say, there’s value in that, too, in just the family being together and moms and grandmoms who make those kinds of sacrifices.

I have a dear friend who’s in her, probably late eighties now, who I just learned this week is hosting—again—for Thanksgiving her three adult children and their families and kids and grandkids and great-grandkids. She’s hosting it in her home! Well, I say, “Bless her!” That’s a lot of hard work for a woman who’s not in great health. Others will help her, and whatever, but she sees the value in that family legacy, the family being together, the family celebrating Christ together and worshiping together. So she goes to that effort to have her home ready for that and do that.

That’s not to say that if you don’t do that in your home that you’re less godly or wonderful, but those sacrifices, I think, that a lot of women make to be able to have their families together and their homes open, and even those who don’t have families who say, “I’m going to have my heart and my home open to connect with people in meaningful ways around the holidays and even leading up to the holidays.” These are things that help us to breathe grace in so that through the rest of the year we can breathing grace out. So I’m glad you’re doing that.

Hayley?

Hayley Mullins: When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of hospitality. My mom definitely has the gift of hospitality. When we were very young, she and my dad put their foot down and said, “We’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house. You’re welcome to come. We’re not going to run everywhere. We want our children to be home, but anyone that wants to come is welcome.”

So all growing up we had tons of people at our house—extended family, boyfriends, friends from school. And my mom was always good to get us very involved in cooking the meal and was never really, like, controlling about the whole thing. One year my sister made the turkey and used beef broth instead of chicken, and that just became a family tradition that now the turkey is always made with beef broth because it tastes better that way. (laughter)

And another year our oven went out on Thanksgiving Day, and my mom, unflappable, just went to Meijer and bought herself a turkey roaster. We had the turkey roaster and about five crockpots and the microwave, and we made do. And just the fact that she was still willing to host that, even though everything wasn’t going to be perfect, really made an impact on me.

And this will be my second year not going home for Thanksgiving. (I go home for Christmas instead.) Last year I went to my pastor’s home, and that whole concept of having people over for Thanksgiving—opening your home just kind of amplified for me. They probably had forty or fifty people crammed into their ranch-style house. Everyone just brought something, and it was the most precious time because it’s like, okay, this is the family of God. Even though I can’t be with my biological family for the holidays, this family is here for me, and we can have fun and laugh and be crazy and play games and sing hymns and just enjoy life together.

This year my roommates and I have the opportunity to do the same thing—to host the entire church over for Thanksgiving, and that’s going to be amazing and fun. We’re three single women, and we get to host—I don’t know how many people—but it’s going to be a great time. Just being able to perpetuate that legacy that my mom instilled in me of hospitality is just really a beautiful and precious gift.

Nancy: Beautiful. Thank you. And it makes me think, Haley, there shouldn’t be, in the Body of Christ at least, anybody who isn’t included at somebody’s table—at holidays and at other times as well. It can be such a lonely time for singles, for single moms, for families that are in distress. God can use loneliness in our lives, too. He does as part of the sanctification process.

But if all of God’s people . . . That doesn’t mean everybody has to open their home to everybody every year. Your pastor did it last year. You’re doing it this year. Somebody else might do it next year. But it says there’s a bent to want to bring people to our table, to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

I think that can include . . . It doesn’t have to always be people who know Jesus. Sometimes this is a beautiful gift that can be given to international students, people who are away from their family, people just in a lonely season, bringing them to the table as Jesus does us to His table—right?

If you need some encouragement on the subject of hospitality, go to ReviveOurHearts.com and listen to the recent interviews we did with Rosaria Butterfield, and her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. She’s fabulous. She lives this out. I’ve seen Haley live this out. And I know many in this room, Helen does, as others. It’s a beautiful way of seeing God open people’s hearts to be loved, to be received, and to move forward in their walk with Christ.

It’s not separate from the gospel. It’s part and parcel of it. Go through the Scriptures and see how many times Jesus sat down at meals with people, how many times He hosted meals—including on the beach when He had to miraculously come up with some fish to eat there in John 20 or 21. He’s the Master Host, the Great Host, and He invites us to His table. So we’re just reflecting His heart when we open our homes and our tables to others.

Anybody else?

Helen Jones: Well, I’m Helen Jones, and when you were talking about how busy it is—it is hard. And somehow, at our house, our kids all end up in the living room talking and talking and having all these great discussions. I’m in the kitchen, and all the grandkids come in the kitchen. “We want to help, Nanna! We want to help!” And so I can’t hear the conversation out there.

For a while I was feeling sorry for myself, but it’s really fun to work with those kids and to teach them how to do some things in the kitchen. We worked together. I figured out that the cleaning up part—you know where everybody can disappear—but last year I started the with the two and three year olds. They can gather silverware and put them in the dishwasher. You have to break things up into tiny little things, and everybody has a job, and it’s done.

So, if you’re doing it all by yourself, don’t. (laughter)

And then, also, we got an idea from your family, from you and Robert, at your wedding, about a family song. Robert’s family picked a family song, and they sing it every time they’re together. So we really wanted to do that. And we went back and forth and back and forth about what song do we pick. We wanted it to be one with really, really good theology that all of us could hang onto and that the kids could hang onto for their whole lives, and grandkids. So we ended up picking “How Deep the Father’s Love.”

Jones Family Singing:

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.
That He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away.
As wounds which marr the chosen One, bring many sons to glory.

Behold the Man upon the cross, my sins upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, calling out among the scoffers.

And so my Lord my life I bring, in service for Your kingdom.
Your Name proclaimed through all the earth, Your glory and dominion.

I will not hold to anything, no prize this world can offer.
But I will cling to Christ my King, and worship Him forever.

How deep, how deep, how deep is Your love for us.1

Helen: All the kids know it—some of the littlest ones don’t—but probably everybody from age three or four on up knows it and the verses. We’re a little rusty because we’re not together all the time. But I think it was last Thanksgiving that we got to sing it for the first time with our family. It’s been really fun, then, to hear from our kids how their little ones, even a three-year-old, they hear it on the radio and go, “That’s our song! That’s our song!” We’ll sing it probably three or four times over the Thanksgiving season or Christmas. I think it will be sung at weddings and funerals.

Nancy: You could hardly have chosen a better one. That’s such rich words.

Helen: I love the words to that.

Nancy: And didn’t you guys make up a stanza or two or you found another one?

Helen: There’s a fourth verse that a missionary wrote that nobody else knows about, but it kind of solidifies, it’s a response to the first three verses.

Dannah: Wow! Well, I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is full of music, worship, friends, and a deep sense of gratitude.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Revive Our Hearts listeners who are helping you prepare for Thanksgiving next week. And as you know, once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas comes very fast.

So I hope you’ll also prepare for the Advent season by getting a copy of Nancy’s brand-new devotional book, Consider Jesus. It’s a daily devotional to use during Advent to help keep your eyes on Jesus and off of all that busyness and the distractions that are part of this holiday season. Nancy will keep your focus right where it needs to be with devotional thoughts about our Savior, daily Scripture readings, and journaling prompts.

We’d love to send you Nancy’s new 31-day Advent devotional called, Consider Jesus, as our way of showing our gratitude when you help make Revive Our Hearts possible. When you donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com, you can just let us know you’d like the devotional, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. Call with your donation and ask for Consider Jesus.

Next week Nancy will begin a new teaching series all about genuine praise. I hope you’ll get into God’s Word at church this weekend, but then come get into God’s Word with Nancy on Monday.

I’m Dannah Gresh. I hope you’ll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, helps you to make each season more meaningful. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

1"How Deep the Father's Love for Us," vv/ 1–3 Stuart Townend Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music (Adm. by Capitol CMG Publishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, songs@integritymusic.com). Fourth verse by Shannon Panjwani.

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