By May Patterson, Crosswalk.com
“Every family, especially MINE, should eat together often,” my grandmother used to say. And she worked really hard to make our family dinners special.
Almost every week of my life until I went to college, I had the privilege of gathering with my extended family around Grandmother’s table.
Grandmother was particular. For example, she didn’t like serving mere store-bought produce, so she put up homegrown vegetables all summer to serve at our family dinners.
She made homemade mayonnaise, because the kind in the jar just wouldn’t do. And she always kept homemade cheese straws on hand—just in case extra company dropped by, of course.
And I’d give anything to go back in time and sit at her table, once again.
Christmas dinner at Grandmother’s was my favorite: roasted turkey and dressing (in the South, we don’t make stuffing) and hot, buttery yeast rolls with jelly made from the plums in her orchard.
And just in case we didn’t get enough carbs, Grandmother served caramel cake with Christmas custard for dessert. Her custard was made from an old family recipe that has been passed down for generations.
This week, as I pulled out Grandmother’s handwritten custard recipe, I felt so blessed. Family gatherings—whether you realize it or not—make your life so much richer.
But honestly, sometimes I’ve taken my family get-togethers for granted. I’ve overlooked their significance. And failed to grasp the gifts family gatherings can provide.
Maybe you’ve done that, too. Perhaps you’re even dreading getting together with your family this year. I get it.
Hopefully, the following list will help you (and me) embrace the gifts of family gatherings.
8 Rich Gifts of Family Gatherings:
1. The Gift of Hospitality
Grandmother’s good cooking inspires me to cook special meals for my family. Since my children are grown and gone, I don’t cook as much as I used to, but when I do, it’s very satisfying.
Soon they’ll all be home for Christmas, and as I’m shopping at the grocery store and making extra snacks and desserts, I can’t help but think of Grandmother.
Somehow, I know she would approve (she certainly didn’t care for dieting). I’m thankful for the rich gift of hospitality she gave to me.
2. The Gift of Not Getting Your Way
At family gatherings, you don’t always get to choose what you want to eat. When you eat at a restaurant, you can have it your way. But at a family dinner, you have to eat what the host chooses to serve.
This taught me a valuable lesson. If I’d grown up getting exactly what I wanted every night for dinner, I wouldn’t have learned to enjoy fried okra, fresh summer tomatoes and artichoke casserole. Of course, there were things I just couldn’t learn to love—like beef liver—but this taught me how to refuse food politely.
Not always getting your way teaches you to appreciate the treasure of another’s perspective.
3. The Gift of Gratitude
“There are millions of starving kids in China, so be grateful for your dinner,” my parents used to say. (Maybe yours said the same thing) This taught me to be thankful for the food on our table, even if I didn’t like it.
Helping in the kitchen taught me to appreciate those who cooked. It showed me how much effort and love family meals require.
I want to extend that same kind of love by cooking for my family, too, even though it may look a bit different (I can’t make yeast rolls). That’s the great thing about serving those you love, you can do it in a variety of ways.
And hopefully one day, my family (and yours) will appreciate our effort.
4. The Gift of Love
Grandmother enjoyed using fine china, crystal, and crisp, white linen napkins. And while her table was beautiful, the true beauty came from the sincere love she extended to each person.
Sometimes, I make family get-togethers so complicated that I lose sight of my purpose: making each person feel loved.
Even if you don’t cook well, take the time to sit down with your family for a meal. Fine china isn’t necessary—just keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be an all-day cooking extravaganza (that’s what takeout is for). Just invite your family to share God’s abundance with you, and try to make each one feel loved.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Ezequiel Garrido
5. The Gift of Community
Every holiday, I could always count on gathering with my family. Although I never once received an invitation, somehow, I just knew I belonged. Now, I see what a stabilizing anchor this was in my life. Like a magnet, Grandmother’s meals drew our family together. And when conflicts arose, she worked hard to keep the peace.
Every family gathering is an opportunity to build stronger relationships. At your next gathering, try to set a positive, accepting tone. Recall a funny memory, together. Laugh.
Go around the table and ask each person to share something interesting about his or her year. Use the occasion to foster a sense of loving community.
6. The Gift of Memories
I remember when my great-grandmother laughed hard, her top denture sometimes popped out. When it did, our entire table would howl with laughter—especially her (she had a great sense of humor).
My dad, who is also a writer, held us spellbound with his rich, colorful tales. And one time, my brother accidently spit hot chocolate all over Grandmother’s white tablecloth. We covered the chocolate with our dishes so she wouldn’t notice, but she noticed, anyway.
Of course, I remember times that weren’t so happy. We had our share of disagreements. And there were some years I’d rather eat with my friends, but that’s part of being in a family, too.
Even if we didn’t feel like being together, we got together anyway. And now I realize what a rich blessing that was, indeed. As much as you can, try to give the gift of joyful mealtime memories to your family.
7. The Gift of Sharing Your Faith
Our family never sat down to eat a meal without prayer. Not once. We shared our faith by thanking the Lord as a group. We paused from our chaos to honor Him. This helped me recognize that our faith, family, and food were blessings from God.
As you gather with your family, make sure you pray together. Pause for a few minutes to honor the Lord. Include God in the conversation, if you can. Memories of shared faith make a lasting impression, especially on children.
8. The Gift of Hope
As you gather around the table with your family this year, think of it as a symbol of your hope. If you are a Christian, then one day you will gather around a bountiful table in your Father’s kingdom.
Jesus said, “Many people will come from the east and from the west and will sit and eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 8:11 NCV).
What a blessed family gathering that will be!
Even with life's many distractions, make the effort to get your family together. If you don’t have any family, gather with your friends. Make rich memories. Practice hospitality. Cook up something special, or order it. But whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the rich gifts of gathering to eat, share, bless and love.
May Patterson has been writing and teaching Bible study classes for years. Recently she released her first book, Seeking a Familiar Face. Now, she has just released its companion Bible study workbook. May trained in small group dynamics for over ten years with Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for various magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, and is a sought-after public speaker. May is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. Read more from May by visiting: http://www.maypatterson.com.
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