Thanksgiving StoriesRachel Indorf
Typically, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with extended family to enjoy food, fellowship, and perhaps some football. But could it also be a time of sharing life-changing stories from those gathered at our tables?
When my wife, Jude, and I became parents, we received some unusually helpful advice from our friend, Sibyl Towner. She encouraged us to tell our kids stories of people (especially family members) who overcame great challenges.
As Sibyl explained, many parents today are overly concerned about the comfort and safety of their kids, which can rob them of the opportunity to develop the biblical character traits of courage, perseverance, and endurance.
“When we sent our kids off in the morning, I wouldn’t say, ‘Be safe.’ I’d say, ‘Take a risk. Reach out to someone. Go sit by that kid who’s all alone. Ask a question in class.’”
Sibyl’s encouragement to live boldly was born out of her incredible family story. Her mother was an American who traveled to Germany to study architecture in the 1930s. While there, she married a German who was later killed in World War II. After their family home was bombed, her mother took Sibyl and the other siblings to a refugee camp in France.
When the war ended, they made their way to America. After a few years, her mother remarried, but her new stepfather could not find regular work for a very rough three-year period.
Sibyl remembers how groceries often appeared on their front doorstep — anonymous acts of kindness from neighbors and friends who knew of their struggles.
“That had an impact on me. There were people who were kind to us. It made me ask, ‘Are there people we’re called to be kind to?’”
Early in her marriage to Dick Towner, Sibyl’s mother and stepfather both died, leaving her five younger siblings without a home.
“The circumstances didn’t send us over the edge,” Sibyl said. “They sent us to the Lord.”
Still, their home simply could not accommodate four additional teenagers. The ensuing house search led to a home that was more than adequate, and a very atypical price negotiation. Upon hearing about their situation, the owner simply accepted what Dick and Sibyl could pay.
Seeing it as God’s provision, for the next 25 years, as a room would free up, they made it available to other young people who would become part of their extended family. In that home, they raised Sibyl’s brothers and sisters, cared for her grandmother, raised their two children, and at one time or another provided a home for 67 others.
To make Thanksgiving especially meaningful for your family, Sibyl suggested we tell the story from 1 Samuel 7 — how Samuel led the Israelites, how the Lord helped when they came under attack, and how Samuel responded.
“Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer (which means ‘the stone of help’), for he said, ‘Up to this point the LORD has helped us!’” (1 Samuel 7:12).
Sibyl recommended having a container of stones on the Thanksgiving table and encouraging everyone to take one and tell a story of how God has helped them. Especially encourage the older people at the table to tell stories from their past — stories of overcoming, and of seeing God’s purposes in the trials they’ve faced. As your children or grandchildren hear such stories, Sibyl says they will learn that “within their DNA is the power to persevere, to endure, and that God has a purpose in each of life’s challenges.”
So, this Thanksgiving, enjoy the food, fellowship, and football. But tell some stories as well!