As We Gather
About the Guest
Photo of the FamilyLife Today recording table in the studio.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Barbara Rainey shares fresh ideas to help families focus on being fully present with one another as they gather at the Thanksgiving table.
As We Gather
Bob: If you’re having extended family or friends in for the holidays, do you feel the pressure that your home has to be done up just right?—that it has to be perfectly decorated? Barbara Rainey knows that feeling.
Barbara: That’s a real trap that women have always fallen into, but I think it’s even worse today because of Pinterest® and because of Instagram®. We see so many images of what other people do. It’s really hard for women not to go: “Oh, my home is not as good,” “My table is not as good,” “My decorations aren’t as good. I should be more like that, but mine’s not as good.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Your home does not need a lot of fancy decorations in order for it to give off the aroma of Christ during the Thanksgiving season. We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I almost thought there was going to be a turkey in here when I walked—it kind of has that ambience.
Dennis: It’s a ways away, Bob.
Bob: Well, it’s still a ways away; but you look at how our—
Dennis: He’s running for his life right now! [Laughter]
Bob: You look at how our studio / our broadcast table—and we should tell our listeners—they may not realize that for all of the years we’ve been recording FamilyLife Today, we have done it around a dining room table.
Dennis: You know what let’s do? Let’s put a picture of the table on the web so our listeners can see. There’s a reason for this—because I just want to display what our engineer, Keith Lynch, has just lost sleep over—[Laughter]—he has tried to convince us to get a first-class either marble top—
Bob: Something that would not have the ambient properties of a dining room table—that’s what he was looking for.
Dennis: Did you buy this originally?
Bob: I did. I found this table at an antique store.
Bob: Yes; believe it or not—
Dennis: I just want you listeners to know—Bob is notorious, here on FamilyLife Today, for having decorated the first studio with purple carpet on the walls.
Bob: I’m under contract with HGTV to do a whole series called Poor Decorating Choices, with Bob Lepine as your host. [Laughter] It’s going to be a smash reality show.
Dennis: Some of our listeners just exhaled, because they thought you had all the gifts—but no; he does not have that one.
But he bought this table, and—I don’t know—what is it? Is it walnut, Keith? What is it?
Keith: It’s a combination of oak—
Barbara: It has a veneer on the top.
Keith: A birch veneer.
Dennis: It’s kind of creaky.
Bob: We got the table initially and said, “We’re going to put this in the studio,” because we knew we’d have a lot of people joining us on FamilyLife Today who weren’t used to doing radio regularly. We thought, “It will feel better for everybody if they’re sitting around a dining room table to have a conversation like we want to have.”
That’s why we’ve recorded everything at the dining room table for the last 24 years; and why, today, our dining room table is decorated like a Thanksgiving dining room table.
Dennis: There’s a reason—there’s a reason! Barbara joins us on FamilyLife Today! [Laughter] What do our wives do but bring order out of the chaos and make it welcoming and festive?
Welcome again to FamilyLife Today, Sweetheart.
Barbara: I’m glad I could spruce up this table.
Dennis: You’ve spruced me up for years, Sweetheart. [Laughter]
Bob: Part of the reason you went to decorating this table is to send a message to our listeners through us. Let’s just be honest—if it was left to Dennis and me, we probably would not talk about sprucing up a dining room table.
Barbara: That’s correct; you would not.
Bob: That would be—on our list of priorities for your home—sprucing up your dining room table would not be something we’d spend a whole lot of time on.
Barbara: Most assuredly. [Laughter]
Bob: But you think this is an area where some attention being paid makes spiritual sense.
Is that what you’re saying?
Barbara: That’s what I’m saying. Gathering—with your family and friends, neighbors, loved ones / whoever—is a very important activity that mirrors what God does with us. All throughout Scripture there are verses where God talks about gathering His people / gathering His children—bringing us together. I think there is more to that activity of gathering with a group of other believers than we realize in this fast-paced culture—where we eat take-out; we sit in front of the TV; we may eat together, and everybody’s on their smartphones the whole time, and there are no conversations.
Thanksgiving is a great time to go back to the way we used to eat all of our meals—which is around the table in person—and to focus on being present with one another, together, and create an experience around a meal.
Bob: You can be gathered and still not be present.
Bob: And I think we’ve all been in situations like that, whether it’s—I’m thinking about an anniversary dinner, where I was checking my phone more than I should have been checking my phone. That was duly noted by the other person attending the anniversary dinner that particular time. You can be present without being fully present.
Barbara: That’s exactly right.
Bob: And what you’re saying is—we need to recapture a sense of what being fully present feels like in a family.
Bob: If you don’t, there’s erosion.
Barbara: Well, and I think we miss what God wants us to experience. I think we all long for connection / we all long for meaningful conversation—we want to feel like we belong. We all have this innate desire to belong, which is why people join clubs and kids in the inner city sometimes join gangs. I mean, belonging is an essence of the way God made us.
When you belong to a family—and you gather with just your immediate family or extended family—or you bring in friends, there’s a sense of connectedness / there’s a sense of belonging that mirrors what God wants for us and what He will do for us one day when He gathers His people to Himself one day at the end of the age, and we’re all living in heaven.
Dennis: He made us for relationships. One of the ways we experience relationships is around a dinner table. Thanksgiving can be a phenomenal time to be very intentional about gathering your family together and not just doing what you always do. In fact, I just jotted down, “What are some of the things that compete with us gathering together around Thanksgiving?”
I’ll just reflect on my own upbringing—it wasn’t technology back then / it was a sporting event or maybe taking a nap in the living room. We didn’t do much of anything from a purposeful standpoint around Thanksgiving.
Bob: Now wait. Both of those are pretty purposeful for me—a football game and a nap.
Dennis: There you go.
Bob: Those are pretty big deals.
Barbara: But they’re not very relational.
Bob: Well, that’s true.
Dennis: They aren’t; and at the end of the day, it’s like, “Were you really together?”
I’d say some of my fondest memories of my dad were leaning up against his arm—against my little face and feeling the hairs on his arm against my face—and watching the game of the week on TV. But I think for Thanksgiving, the purpose of the holiday is so elevated for families, it ought to be a time when we truly get intentional and connect.
Let me just share some other reasons why I think we’re not connecting well. One is—we’re afraid. We’re afraid everyone’s not going to be happy if we try something—if we have some kind of purposeful question we ask at the dinner table / if we talk about what we’re thankful for—somebody’s going to grouse about it / somebody’s going to gripe about, “Do we have to do that again?” I just have to say—it feels safer to be isolated.
Barbara: Well, it feels safer to do nothing, too; and I think that’s the trap we fall into.
Because, yes, people will be unhappy; and yes, our children complained a lot of times about the story we read or the questions we asked; but they got something out of it—we had a meaningful conversation. Everybody doesn’t have to like it—that’s okay—but if you wait for everybody to like it, you’ll never do anything.
Dennis: But what you’ve done through your Ever Thine Home® line of resources for families is to help moms set the table. I’m not talking about necessarily, physically—but that can be a part of it—to help families truly connect, not just go through and gobble down the turkey, and the dressing, and the gravy—it all sounds great; but it’s like, “There needs to be something of meaning around the holiday that draws us together and binds us together as a family.”
Bob: I think part of what you have in mind here, Barbara, is that—with how you decorate a table and a home during the holidays, you can either invite or you can detract from what can be a very meaningful relational connection.
Barbara: Correct; and it’s not just inviting—I really agree with you—the way a table is set / the environment that a woman creates—and it’s mostly women who do this—those are really important, but I think it’s also inspiring. I think—when you make something beautiful and you take the time to pay attention to the table and to set it in such a way that it’s out of the ordinary—now, you can still use paper plates and have it be out of the ordinary—because our Thanksgiving dinner is always on paper plates because there are thirty-some odd people—
Bob: Paper plates at Thanksgiving?
Barbara: Yes; yes. We do paper plates at our family Thanksgiving, because there are so many of us. Who wants to be in the kitchen for hours afterwards?
And yes; you can still elevate and make a statement around the table—or the multiple tables, as we have—that inspires people and makes them say: “There is something meaningful about this gathering. There is something important going on here. It’s worth me paying attention and investing.”
Bob: Yes; I think this is important, because I think some of our listeners are wondering if you’re saying: “If you don’t do the Pinterest thing or the Martha Stewart thing—if you don’t get Southern Living out and say, ‘This is what my Thanksgiving is going to look like,’”— and maybe I said Southern Living because we live in the South / maybe it’s Western Magazine or some of these other—New England Magazine—“If your dining room doesn’t look like it belongs in a magazine, you have failed to achieve what you need to achieve.”
Barbara: And that’s a real trap that women have always fallen into, but I think it’s even worse today because of Pinterest and because of Instagram. We see so many images of what other people do. It’s really hard for women not to go: “Oh, mine’s not as good,” “My home is not as good,” “My table is not as good,” “My decorations aren’t as good. I should be more like that,”—and we fall into that trap.
What we’re trying to communicate on this broadcast and through what we’ve created with Ever Thine Home is—you just make the effort to create meaningful conversation.
You can use our “Untie Your Story” ribbon questions, or you can write your own questions. But if you take the effort / you make the investment, there will be some rewards. You will have kids who are going to roll their eyes, but it’s still worth it in the end; because everyone will appreciate the fact that you took the time and tried to make the effort. I think God honors that / I think God rewards that—when we intentionally gather and try to create meaningful moments with our family.
Dennis: We’re not just talking about a pretty table.
Dennis: What Barbara’s doing is elevating the meal and the time around the table so that it’s intentional around building relationships. You know, it is one thing to have the Pinterest look; but if you’re not going somewhere / if you’re not inviting people to get to know each other and find out what’s taking place in their lives—you’ve run by this real quickly, Barbara—but I think “Untie Your Story” is a great tool, because it’s a napkin ribbon. On each ribbon is a different question that you would ask at the dinner table of each person around the table.
You know there are going to be up to 12 different questions that could be answered at the table by the guests. What family member doesn’t love for someone to ask him or her a question that’s not just: “What kind of day did you have?” or “How did our favorite football team do last weekend?” or the weather. You’re talking about going beyond the surface, down to some of the most meaningful questions you could ever ask someone—reliving a great Thanksgiving: “What’s a Thanksgiving that was most memorable to you?” and then, “Why? What made it that way? What happened there?”
In the process, you’re building relationships; because you’re not just gathering—you’re gathering intentionally around a purpose. I think one of the reasons why people aren’t doing this today is they’ve lost the art at the dinner table, for one reason; and secondly, they don’t know what to do.
They don’t know how to move it beyond the surface discussion down to questions; and it feels really, really risky. I’m saying, “Risk it!” because what you’ll experience—I can almost promise you—is going to be positive.
Bob: Well, and let me say that, if listeners would like to see some of the stuff you’ve been busy creating, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to see the Ever Thine Home resources you’ve been creating. Your goal with all of this—whether it’s the napkin ribbons or—now, you have placemats? These are placemats; right?
Bob: Each one with a different Scripture passage on it—all related to gathering.
Barbara: Yes; correct.
Bob: So there are four different placemats?
Barbara: Four placemats and they each have a different verse about God gathering His people.
Bob: I’ll just say—you can kind of see what we’re talking about if you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and you click the link to look at it. But I want to remind listeners—your whole motivation in this / your whole goal is to find ways to make it easier for connection to happen.
Barbara: Yes. Speaking of the placemats, for instance—to sit down at a table and to see Scripture in front of you, even if you don’t talk about it together, as a family—to see this placemat in front of me that says, “With great compassion I will gather you,” and to think about God wanting to gather me.
You think about hugging one another—that’s a form of gathering. We all want to be enveloped / we all want to be hugged. We all want to be brought close, because we feel that connectedness. So to think about God saying to me, “With compassion I want to gather you”—imagine someone in your family sitting down, and that’s the verse in front of them or this one that says, “Where two or three are gathered together, I am among them,”—all of a sudden, you’re thinking, “Oh, there are five or six of us here,” or “Oh, there are ten of us here; God is present with us.”
I think we need these biblical reminders of God’s presence, and who He is, and how He feels toward us to turn our heads toward Him / to turn our hearts toward Him during these holiday moments; because it’s too easy to be distracted by the games and all the shallow conversation and our devices.
If you sit down and you have this Scripture in front of you, it makes one pause, I think.
Dennis: I think what Barbara’s really recommending here is a practical way to fulfill Deuteronomy 6—it talks about the command, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you shall instruct and teach your children to do the same.” Then it talks about writing His commandments and these reminders on the doorposts of your house and on the gate and as some kind of headband on your forehead. Those were all, culturally, the way they decorated, back in those days.
We have different things today, and a placemat—I can just imagine somebody sitting down and reading this placemat and saying: “‘I will gather you together.’
“What does that mean—that God will gather us together? How has He done that?”
Well, in our case, I’m thinking of soon to be 23 grandkids, 12 adults, and Barbara and me. Wow!. You know, 44 years ago, there was just Barbara and me. He blessed us—as a couple, and our children, and we have grandkids surrounding this table—He has gathered us together: “We’re not just anybody; we’re here on purpose. What’s that purpose?” And then talk about it at the table instead of just working your way through the sweet potato pie, and the mashed potatoes, and gravy, and all. Instead, have some conversations around the spiritual meaning of Thanksgiving and how He has impacted you and your family.
I don’t know that I’ve ever really stopped to consider this—but the environment we walk into / we step into does adjust how we think and how we feel about where we are. Some environments will create a relaxed feeling—people will be more open. Some environments are formal and stiff, and you feel like you have to be proper. The environment a woman chooses to create—again, we’re saying this is primarily something women do—that environment is setting the thermostat for what the engagement is going to be like.
Barbara: I think the atmosphere in our homes is very, very important; because if you think about it—think about this verse, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there,”—so if we have a believing home, Christ should be present in our home. That should be an awareness that everyone feels, or is aware of, or is reminded of every time they walk in our door.
When someone comes into our home, I hope that they will feel welcome; I hope they will feel relaxed; I hope they will feel at ease; and I hope that they will be aware of the presence of Christ, because our home is a reflection of Him. We are His containers, so to speak—He lives within us—and so I think we have an obligation to create an atmosphere in our home that reflects who He is. You can go into homes where you don’t feel comfortable / you don’t feel welcome—it feels stiff.
But think about how you feel when you walk into a cathedral. If you’ve ever been in a cathedral in New York City, or in the cathedral in Washington, DC, or the cathedrals of Europe—when you walk in that door, there is an incredible feeling of God’s presence / of the majesty of God, of His power, of His greatness, of His beauty—just because of the way the building is constructed and the way you feel when you walk in the door.
I think, in a smaller sense, our homes should communicate something similar. When someone walks in our home, something about the environment / something about the atmosphere—the way we display our faith—should communicate a taste of that same experience—that people are aware of God’s presence and they sense something is different about us and about our home.
Bob: I know we said that Pinterest can kind of drive people to a level of distraction here that may be unhealthy—
Dennis: And an obsession, too, Bob—
Bob: Yes; exactly.
Dennis: —trying to get everything so perfect you’re forgetting the people that the table’s being set for.
Bob: But I’ve seen a few of your resources getting pinned on Pinterest. There are women who are noticing and sharing what it is you’re doing.
Barbara: That’s right; there are good uses for that.
Barbara: Because I want to inspire women to make statements about what their faith is in their home. So there are good uses for it; I agree.
Dennis: Do you have a favorite memory, Bob, of how you gathered together at Thanksgiving, either growing up as a boy or with your family—you and Mary Ann with your kids, growing up, or even as adults?
Bob: I was trying to think about specific Thanksgiving memories, because I don’t have a whole lot from my childhood that I can pull on—other than I can still see the fancy China, and I can still see the normal food things that we got. We never did stuffing. I didn’t even know what stuffing was until I was a young adult and still think it’s an odd kind of a thing. But we had a particular Jell-O® that my mom made at Thanksgiving. So, I’m remembering food and I’m remembering tables.
Dennis: Why am I not surprised that it’s a memory about food? [Laughter]
Bob: The more dominant memories for me, though, are from when we had our kids at home and when we would go over to my mom’s house; because she would often be the one who cooked the turkey.
Even when our kids had started going to college, Grandma took the responsibility to cook the turkey at her house. We’d often go over there and crowd into her small house as the place where we had Thanksgiving dinner. We did not have enough table space for everybody to sit down at the table, because her kitchen and dining area didn’t have enough to seat our family.
Dennis: Right; right.
Bob: But I have specific memories of that—the smell of the house, the feel of just all being together, coming in from a cold day into a warm kitchen, which is a part of what you feel like at Thanksgiving. So, yes; all of that comes to mind in kind of setting a tone or an ambience for what the holiday feels like.
Dennis: And you know, Bob—since we’re talking about Thanksgiving, I know both Barbara and I have been reflecting—over the past 11 months because this is FamilyLife’s 40th anniversary—just how grateful we are for all the people that make this ministry possible—
—the ministry of FamilyLife Today, the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, our resources like Passport2Purity®, Passport2Identity™, Ever Thine Home—all the various things we provide for families to make their marriages and families successful. I just want to give a shout-out and a big hearty “Thank you!” to the donors, who are a part of this ministry / Legacy Partners who keep us on the air.
If you’re not one, I’d invite you to join with us. That’s who basically makes it possible for this broadcast to be broadcast on this station and more than 1,100 stations and outlets around the United States, and even more internationally.
At this Thanksgiving time: “Thank you! I’m grateful to God for you for standing with us, and I hope your family feels appreciated and feels thanked.”
Bob: Well, if you’d like to help with a gift today to help strengthen marriages and families / couples all around the world, it’s easy to do.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com—make an online donation—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make a donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
By the way, when you make a donation today, you can request a resource that we’ve put together to help you and your family keep Jesus at the center of your Christmas celebration next month. It is a dozen ornaments designed for preschool-aged children or early elementary kids. Each ornament represents a different name of Jesus. The set of 12 is our thank-you gift when you help with a donation today. We look forward to hearing from you; and “Thanks,” in advance, for your support of this ministry.
Let me also encourage you to get more information about the resources Barbara Rainey has been working on for your Thanksgiving table. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out more about the “Untie Your Story” napkin wraps, or about the “Gather Me” placemats that she’s put together, and the “We Give Thanks” banner.
There’s a lot that Barbara has been working on—all of it available in the FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information, or call if you have any questions at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
I hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to continue talking about Thanksgiving and how, in your home, you can use the holiday to plant spiritual truth in the hearts of your kids. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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