Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A More Meaningful Thanksgiving

Leslie Basham: Christmas ornaments are fun. They can also convey a lot of meaning. Here’s Barbara Rainey.

Barbara Rainey: I have a real burden for us to return the celebration of Christmas to a focus on Christ. So many of us are adorning our Christmas trees with cupcakes and teddy bears and footballs and a gazillion things that have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, November 25.

Believe it or not, Christmas is one month from today. The time between now and then could either be a rollercoaster of busyness or a meaningful time of focusing on Jesus. Nancy’s going to talk about it. But first let me remind you to be praying for Revive Our Hearts during a really important time.

You’re hearing my voice today thanks to listeners who believe in Revive Our Hearts and support the ministry financially. We wouldn’t be here without donations from listeners like you. Over 40% of those donations arrive at the end of the year. So we’re asking God to work through our listeners to provide in December.

In the days ahead, we’ll tell you about a matching challenge that will allow you to double your gift to Revive Our Hearts. But today, will you pray that the Lord will supply all the needs of the ministry as we near the end of 2013? Your prayers mean a lot to us. Thanks.

Over the next few days, Nancy wants to help you make the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons more meaningful. Here she is to introduce today’s guest.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I was having dinner with some friends in their home the other night. They have four little children. They said to me in the midst of the conversation, “So, we’re trying to figure out what in the world we can do to keep Christmas Christ-centered.” And we started talking about all the activities in the weeks ahead and with their little children how to make it not all about getting gifts but about giving and Christ. I was so glad to have that conversation as a preparation for the conversation we’re having today with my long-time friend, Barbara Rainey. Barbara, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Barbara Rainey: Thank you, Nancy. It’s great to be here.

Nancy: It’s great to have you here in our studio in Michigan.

Barbara: I know. It’s wonderful. I haven’t seen it before today.

Nancy: I’ve been so many times in the studios at FamilyLife which is where you and your husband serve. In fact, you and your husband were the co-founders of FamilyLife. And we recorded Revive Our Hearts for the first eight years in your studios there in Little Rock. So it’s really fun to be able to host you in our studios here in Michigan.

Barbara: It’s fun to be here. 

Nancy: You are like the queen of making holidays special and meaningful. I’ve followed you over the years as you’ve tried to invest in families and kind of sounded a trumpet for not just letting holidays be meaningless or secular but having them be really Christ-centered.

It’s just so timely as we’re heading into Thanksgiving now, one month from today is Christmas. These next several weeks for so many families are going to be just a lot of activity, running around, and you end up January 1 saying, “What happened? What did we do?” And we’re exhausted and broke and at each other’s throats.

I’m so thankful you’re going to be able to help us as we talk over the next few days to think through what we can do as individuals, as families to really have a meaningful holiday season.

So, Barbara, you’re a mother of six grown children, and now how many grandchildren is it?

Barbara: Actually, nineteen. It’s a bunch of kids.

Nancy: A bunch of kids. So you’ve had a lot of holiday celebrations, a lot of Thanksgivings and Christmases with your family. What first got you thinking about how to make those holidays really a significant time in your family’s life?

Barbara: Well, I first started thinking about this when I was a mom and I had a houseful of kids. My kids were running around, and they were all excited about the holidays. They would hear from their friends all about Santa Claus and all of these different things. I remember thinking, Now, wait. It’s not all about Santa Claus. How can I teach my kids that it’s all about Jesus?

So we tried some different things through the years. But we never, I never found, personally, as a mom, the kinds of resources, the kinds of products, the things that would help me communicate the depth of truth that I wanted to communicate to my children. The most we were able to do was make the manger scene the center point of Christmas. That was the focal point of the decorations that we put up.

We worked really hard, Dennis and I did, to help our children focus on giving and what they were giving to one another and to us and to whomever rather than on what they were getting. But as far as having something that helped me teach my children who Jesus was and why He was born, why He came and the importance of that, I couldn’t find anything that helped me communicate that in a way that my children could understand.

A lot of the reason that I didn’t do anything then is because I was just so busy being a mom. I was so overwhelmed like most moms are today. I was overwhelmed with Christmas and the parties at school and things that had to be done. For me to take the time as a mom and create something that I could do with my kids, it just wasn’t going to happen. So now in my empty-nest years, I’m really enjoying creating products and resources that moms and dads can use during the holidays to teach their children the truth about Christ—things that I wish I had had. It’s just really been a delight to be able to do this.  

Nancy: And you have produced some beautiful resources. What I love about them is not just that they’re beautiful to look at, but they’re accompanied by great teaching tools and getting families into the Word. We’re going to talk about some of those resources and how to use them over the next couple of days.

But now we’ve got Thanksgiving right on us. That’s become a pretty secularized holiday as well. I know when your kids were growing up, you put a lot of focus on the attitude of gratitude and how to use Thanksgiving as a time to really express gratitude to the Lord and to each other. Take us back to those years when your children were little. What did Thanksgiving look like in your home?

Barbara: Well, I remember, again, this was another holiday when I wanted to communicate to my children the truth of what it was all about which is being thankful and being grateful. And I’ve discovered through the years that holidays are really prime teaching times for families. I think our children intuitively know that there’s something important, otherwise, why are we celebrating? They sense that there’s some meaning behind this thing called “Thanksgiving.” There’s something important behind this holiday called “Christmas.”

Nancy: That’s it’s more than just a day off from school.

Barbara: Exactly. So I think their hearts are perhaps more open than at other times of the year in the ordinary, daily-ness of life. And I sensed that about my children. I sensed it was true about me. It’s a teachable moment that I think parents all too often rush by because they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to connect with their kids on a meaningful level. They want to. I think all parents want to but they don’t know how.

So I began years ago. Our youngest was probably only two or three at the time. Because I’m a history major in college, and I love history and I love our heritage of our country, I found some stories that I could read to my children that would teach them more about what the holiday meant and why we celebrate Thanksgiving in this country.

It was pretty simple what I did. But I would just read those stories to my kids. Dennis and I would take turns. But we would read them around actually around the breakfast table. We didn’t do it around the turkey and the dressing and all of that because that was when we gathered with extended family and it was just too many people, too much chaos. And so we did our little Thanksgiving morning “service,” so to speak, around breakfast just with our immediate family.

Nancy: And that was a tradition in your home for years and years.

Barbara: Well, it started and it became a tradition because I felt like I was doing something to impart truth to my kids. I felt like we were teaching them something about gratitude by doing that, by having that little family breakfast where we read the stories. Then each person had a card or a sheet of three-ring notebook paper. It didn’t really matter what it was. Each of us would write down five things for which we were thankful.

Nancy: You did this before you ate or after?

Barbara: We did it before because I always made this big breakfast casserole. And while it was baking in the oven, we would sit at the table, read the stories, and fill out our cards. Then we would each go around the circle of the table taking turns sharing what we were thankful for or what we had written down.

Nancy: Was it something like from the past year?

Barbara: Yes. Name five things that you’re thankful for from this past year.

Nancy: And the little ones did this, too?

Barbara: Yes. What’s really fun is I have the very first one that Laura, our youngest, did when she was about three. It was a piece of three-ring notebook paper with lines all over it. And just these crayon scribbles all over it. But I remember I must have said to her, “What are you thankful for, Laura?” Because in my handwriting over the scribbles she would point to this one scribble and she said, “My blankey.” And so I wrote, “My blankey.” “What else are you thankful for?” “My family.”

Nancy: Sweet.

Barbara: So I have that. It’s one of my favorite things. Over the years we’ve collected a whole scrapbook full of cards. So that was in the late eighties, early nineties. For the past twenty-some odd years, I have cards from every Thanksgiving where we have recorded what we are thankful for over the past year.

Of course, as our children grew older, their statements of gratitude became more meaningful, more profound because they understood more what it was all about. And so those cards have become a real treasure.

Nancy: Did you ever find that at certain ages that some of the children weren’t so eager to participate this?

Barbara: Oh, of course. I mean, kids are always going to give you the eye roll. I mean, especially in the teenage years. Or they may just be having a bad day, and they go, “Do we have to do this again?” But moms and dads have to persevere, because moms and dads are in charge, not the kids. If you let the kids dictate it, it will never happen.  It’s a by faith exercise. So much of parenting is a by faith exercise.

In trying to do something meaningful at Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holidays is also a by faith exercise. I’m saying to my kids, “You need to learn about gratitude.” I’m not literally saying those words, but in my heart I know what’s best for them. They, like I, need to learn about being grateful. And so, “We’re going to do this whether you enjoy it or not.” So some of those years when they were not too eager to participate, they might write a one-word answer. God. Family. Friends. 

Nancy: Not real profound.

Barbara: Yes, they didn’t really want to think it through, but that’s okay. I mean, it’s who they are. It’s where they are. It’s a process of growing together as a family and allowing them to be in a funk if they’re in a funk. But you don’t stop because your child’s in a funk or because they’re giving you the eye roll, because you as a parent know this is important.

Because we have done this every year for Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving has become the holiday that is most important to our family—much more so than Christmas. Thanksgiving is the one where we all, our immediate family, gathered every year and where we had that meaningful exchange about what we’re thankful for. That experience has cemented us in a way that simply watching football and feasting on turkey would never have done.

Nancy: You do those things, too?

Barbara: Yes, we do those things, too. Oh, yes we do. When we get together with extended family later in the day, that’s when we have our big turkey dinner, and we all watch football in the evening and on into the next day because all of our kids by then were starting to go to college and that was important to them. We watched it with them.

Nancy: By the way, back to breakfast, the breakfast casserole was called . . . 

Barbara: Well, actually there are two. One is “Company French Toast” and the other one is just an egg casserole—so we got some protein. We had to have some protein.

Nancy: We are putting the French toast recipe up on our website. So our listeners can go there. Go to ReviveOurHearts.com. Maybe even three days from now when you get to Thanksgiving Thursday morning, you may want to make one or both of those casseroles. Certainly, you may want to take the idea about having each person go around the table and write down or express things that they are grateful for.

I’m curious. Now that your children are grown and most of them are married and have their own families, are any of them continuing that tradition?

Barbara: I think they are. You know, I don’t know for sure because so often a lot of them come home, so we’re just continuing to do it at our house. Our kids come home for Thanksgiving more than they do for Christmas. So on the Thanksgiving holidays when they’re not there, I’m not a hundred percent sure what they’re doing.

Nancy: So when they are with you, then you’ve got grandchildren doing it with you, too?

Barbara: Yes we do. So I’ve got a stack of cards now that we go through every Thanksgiving. But I think the tradition is cemented enough in their experience that when they stop coming home, I think they’ll be doing it.

Nancy: Now I seem to remember something about kernels of corn.

Barbara: Well, one of the stories that I read to the kids is a story that can’t be proven historically. But the tradition tells us that on that winter—the first winter that the Pilgrims spent in the Massachusetts colony (what became the Massachusetts colony)—their food rations ran out.

So Governor Bradford and the other leaders decided that if they were going to survive the winter when they obviously couldn’t grow anything and there were no stores to be had . . . There was no place to buy food. All that they had was what they could catch on the end of a fishing pole in the bay. If they were going to survive, the food supplies that they did have would have to be rationed. And tradition says that each person was limited to five kernels of corn.

And so we, on Thanksgiving morning, when we sit down while the casseroles are baking, everyone has five kernels of corn on their plate. So as we go around the circle sharing what we’re thankful for, we each drop a kernel of corn in the little basket and then read number one off of our list. Then it goes around two, three, four, and five.

Nancy: And I think those symbols can be so important.

Barbara: I think they can, too.

Nancy: Nothing huge about a kernel of corn, but it’s a word picture. It’s a picture in a child’s mind that is going to stay with them.

Barbara: I agree. I think it’s good for kids to look at that. And whether or not they literally had five kernels of corn or not, it’s a good reminder for them to go, “Wow. They didn’t have much, even if it was ten.” It’s hard to sustain life on so little. And yet, Governor Bradford and others wrote stories about how they continued to praise God and thank Him even though they had almost nothing to eat. Even though many people were dying from disease, no one died of starvation. It’s so remarkable to me that in the midst of such harsh difficult circumstances, these people every day were praising God. So it’s a wonderful, wonderful lesson to cement in the minds of kids.

We have read those stories every Thanksgiving morning for over twenty years now. My kids know them by heart. And now the grandkids are starting to know them. If you skip a line, the grandkids go, “You forgot about the . . . whatever.” I love that that they know those stories so well because that can be a reminder to them that if they can be thankful in those harsh conditions, then maybe I should be thankful in my situation that’s not nearly as difficult.

Nancy: You’ve now developed some resources connected with several holidays, including Thanksgiving. I think the Thanksgiving one may be one of the first.

Barbara: It was the first one that I did. Yes, I took all those stories and wrote a book containing those stories that can be read at Thanksgiving.

Nancy: I hope that you will really seek the Lord about whatever your season of life is how this Thanksgiving can be a particularly celebrative and thankful time for you. I live alone, so I have some of my own Thanksgiving traditions. I’m generally with a family at Thanksgiving, but my mother, years ago—many, many years ago—had a beautiful singing voice, and she made a Thanksgiving CD singing songs of that season. It was a cassette tape. I have it of course now on CD. One of my Thanksgiving traditions is I play that CD not every year, but often.

And of course, the Psalms are so full of gratitude songs, thankful songs. Whether you are by yourself or you and your mate or a roommate or a family, read some of these Scriptures, like Psalm 103.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits (vv. 1–2).

So in the hurry and scurry of whatever is going on in your household this week, what a great time to recount the Lord’s benefits. “Count your blessings. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Even as I say that, I realize that Barbara, in your family and in mine and in any life, there are seasons when Thanksgiving falls at a hard time. Maybe there’s just been the loss of a loved one, or there’s somebody not at the place at the table where they would have been, maybe a prodigal son or daughter. Maybe your eyes are more filled with tears than with joy this Thanksgiving.  

But then what a time in the midst of the tears and the loss to lift our eyes up and say, “Oh, Lord, You are still faithful. You are still merciful. Your faithfulness towers over us, as the Scripture says. Your loving kindness endures forever.” So in even those sad times we offer up a sacrifice of Thanksgiving. I hope that whether it’s a happy time or a sad time for you in this season of life that you will be counting your blessings and giving thanks to the Lord. And what a great way to be training and discipling your children.

Now we’re coming into the Christmas season. We’re going to be talking about that a lot more the next couple of days. But I just want to set the stage because people are starting to think ahead about that. I think the Christmas decorations have already been in the stores.

Barbara: They’ve been up for months.

Nancy: For a long, long time. But Barbara, you’ve developed some really terrific tools and resources for celebrating Christmas and pointing your own heart and your family to Christ. And one of those we’re going to feature over the next couple of days is a set of Christmas tree ornaments called “Adorenaments.”

Barbara: That’s right.

Nancy: How did you come up with that name?

Barbara: Well, the name “Adorenaments” we just kind of created because Christmas is about worshiping Christ. One of our favorite hymns says, “O come let us adore Him.” So these ornaments are not only to adorn your tree but they are to lead us to adore Him. We have created the first in a series of ornaments actually. And the first series is called “His Christmas Names.” And this is a set of seven ornaments that are the names of Christ that we most often associate with the Christmas story.

So they come out of the Luke 2 passage. There’s a passage in Matthew where He is named Immanuel, and out of the Isaiah passages, too, where He is called Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace and Mighty God.

We took those names and we executed them in beautiful fonts. They’re lightly glittered because I have a burden for us to return the celebration of Christmas to a focus on Christ. So many of us are adorning our Christmas trees with cupcakes and teddy bears and footballs and a gazillion things that have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Since the mid-nineties, so it’s been a long time, I have been watching every year when ornaments are put up in stores all over the place. There will be an occasional ornament that is about Christ. You can find crosses occasionally. You can find holy families. You can find a few stars. But there really isn’t anything that takes you from that ornament to a place of worship.

So we’ve created seven ornaments we’ve called “His Christmas Names.” And with that set, that box of seven comes a small, really beautifully designed booklet. In that booklet there is a two-page story on each name. So why is He called Wonderful Counselor? And what difference does that make to us? Why is He Mighty God? It was declared before His birth that His name would be Mighty God. That’s a really significant statement. We need to understand why that name and the others were chosen to foretell Him as opposed to all of His other names.  

Nancy: We’re going to talk more about some of those names, what their significance is to us, and why they matter. We'll also talk about this set of ornaments called “Adorenaments” over the next couple of days.

If you go to our website, ReviveOurHearts.com, this whole set is available. You can purchase it. It comes with some great teaching materials. And in addition, we’re offering one of those ornaments. I have it in front of me. It says “Prince of Peace.” It comes by itself with some teaching material that will help you teach this name to your children. It will help you focus on the significance of this name. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

But that ornament, “The Prince of Peace” with the companion material that comes with it, if you contact us and make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Now, as you make that donation, you’re helping this ministry continue to reach out into women’s hearts and homes, not only in the United States, but around the world by means of the Internet.

So give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. You can make your donation that way and let us know that you’d like “The Prince of Peace” ornament. We’ll be glad to send that to you as our way of saying, “Thank you for your contribution to this ministry.”

You can visit us online if you’d rather make your donation that way, ReviveOurHearts.com. Let us know what amount of donation you’d like to make, and for your gift of any amount we’ll send you that very special, that very beautiful ornament “The Prince of Peace” with the companion materials.

And again, if you’d like to purchase the entire set of “Adorenaments” go to our website, ReviveOurHearts.com, and you’ll see how you can order it there.

It’s such a delight, Barbara, to have you with us on the program today. I want to encourage our listeners to join us again tomorrow as we continue this discussion on how to approach the Christmas holidays. They’re right on us. And what can we do over these next weeks to guard our own hearts and those of our families and to really celebrate in a meaningful way what this Holy day, this holiday is all about. So join us again tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

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

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