Part 2: Reasons for Gathering
In the last post I introduced you to three different women: Kelly, Amy, and Marcia. While very different, they all valued gathering their families together. Because I was interviewing them just before the big holidays, I assumed the family gatherings that we would be talking about would be for the holidays. Partly yes, but not wholly. And… some of their “family gatherings” were not with traditional “family” (see my post, Where to Find Family) And… while they all highly valued family gatherings, they didn’t all gather as often as the others.
In my conversation with Kelly, Amy, and Marcia, we focused on just one gathering each. Here are some of the other ways they gather with “family” that we didn’t focus on at all:
- Work outings (this must be a close-knit team to have this make the list of family gatherings)
- Quarterly tea & crafts with girlfriends
- Family vacations (grandparents, kids and spouses, and grandchildren)
- Impromptu gatherings
- Family meals (where family members bring people that need family)
My conclusion: Family gatherings should meet the need of the family involved!
The family gatherings we did focus on are these: Weekly dinners, family reunions, and Christmas gatherings. How large are these gatherings? 14-20 people, 50 at the reunions. Yes, even the weekly dinners (and that’s in the smallest house)! Intrigued by how they do this? That’s in the next blog post (strategies, tools, tips, and ah-ha! moments). Wondering at least what these gatherings look like? Let’s dive in right now!
Psst… If you haven’t met these women before, read about them here.
Kelly’s gathering is the weekly family dinner. She said it started after her oldest son moved out and they felt the need to stay connected. He didn’t move far – in fact, he stayed in the same city. Perhaps that is part of the challenge. When we have long-distance family, we make it a point to schedule time with them. When we have in-town family, we assume it will be easy to stay in touch, but then time slips away – first the days, then the weeks, and so on. Kelly noticed that happening and made a plan to stop it. She wanted her family to stay connected!
What started as a weekly family dinner with just her immediate family soon expanded. Grandma was coming, and then Kelly’s sister, her brother-in-law, and then family that relocated from out-of-state… Pretty soon she had a small crowd of 14-20 people every week. Thursdays, to be exact. Everyone would gather and eat… and then disappear into their phones… just like they would at their own homes.
Kelly remembers looking around her house (of course, no one knew she was looking at them because they were looking at their phones) and thinking, ‘There must be some way to make this more purposeful.’ She started asking herself what need they all had in common that she could help meet in addition to dinner. As she looked around, person by person, she realized that everyone in the room was on a faith journey of some kind. Several family members had not grown up in the church and needed a safe place to explore truth in addition to attending their own church. Kelly started asking if everyone would be interested in adding a Bible study to the weekly dinner. She was humbled at their excitement for the idea. And so started a weekly Dinner & Devotions.
Let me help you picture what this looks like for two reasons: 1) I’ve been to Kelly’s house. I had trouble picturing where 14-20 people would eat and study at! 2) I want to stress that this series is about real families, so I want to take away any magazine-perfect picture that’s in your head and show you how this works for this family. My whole point is this: Your family doesn’t have to be perfect to gather together and it doesn’t have to look perfect. Just gather!
This is what it looks like for Kelly’s family. They arrive after work for dinner. Some of them have been working out in the extreme weather all day. Some of them have been doing monotonous work. Some of them have been studying. Some of them are balancing work, school, and planning a wedding. So when I say they arrive after work for dinner, I mean they arrive weary after work for dinner. Kelly has a hot meal and a warm hug ready for them when they arrive. Her sister told her, “Kelly, you don’t know how much we look forward to Thursday because we know it’s one thing we don’t have to worry about.” As many of them that can fit around the table do. Some lean up against the limited counter space in her kitchen. Others sit on the couch with a TV tray. The rest balance their plates on their knees using pillows, steps, or the floor as their perch. They talk about the day with mouths full, filling Kelly’s heart full as they connect with one another.
As the food disappears, they move into the time of Bible study. This time is what Kelly has been preparing all week. Dinner doesn’t take her that long to prepare for, but her heart and mind are in the Bible study and how God is going to meet the needs of her family. And, remember, her family has come weary to her home. Kelly said sometimes she’ll look around and people are sleeping. She’s ok with that. Life is hard. Work is hard. And they aren’t always sleeping. But sometimes, that’s what they need the most.
Kelly also isn’t dogmatic about doing the Bible study. She is passionate about her family staying connected and knowing what’s going on in each other’s life. She wants each of them to know how special they are, so if someone has a birthday, they’ll all celebrate it together. If someone (you know who you are!) has recently gotten her CNA certification, everyone will celebrate that. If someone has pressing struggle, they’ll spend time of encouragement and prayer. Is it all working? Yes! Her family members are reaching out to each other individually to follow up with prayer requests and dish out even more encouragement throughout the week!
How Pinterest-worthy are these weekly family gatherings? “Ha, ha, ha!” Kelly laughed. “One.” Then she paused. “Food and decorations are very low on the Pinterest-worthy scale – I just do whatever is easy because that’s not the main point. However, I would give myself an eight to ten for purpose and participation. Sometimes I’ll even theme a game based on the devotion.”
Is it worth it? In her own words Kelly says, “Oh, absolutely… Absolutely! It blesses my heart! I had a vision of people gathering in my living room, and I always thought it was for the neighborhood. My family was gathered one night and God said, ‘This is it.’ And he has grown my teaching gift through it. To see growth in my family – it has blown me away.”
In talking with Amy I said, “Pick your favorite gathering.” “Christmas!” she replied quickly, and just as quickly added, “And impromptu gatherings! And… All of them!” In reviewing my notes, I determined that it doesn’t really matter why Amy’s family gathered, because there are several ways that it looks the same every time they gather. The reasons could be birthdays, family reunions, or the holidays. Whatever reason is on your heart, put this gathering in that context.
The biggest reason for families to cancel gatherings, that Amy has noticed, is because there is no good location. That’s not a good reason to cancel, though, so she has become the queen of making any location work – no matter the size of the group. She’ll host a family reunion of 50 people at her house in the fall and a Christmas gathering of 30… in Ohio! Do you know what that means? You can never guarantee the weather!
Amy’s biggest hallmarks of a family gathering are 1) indoor and outdoor activities, 2) a place for kids to have fun, 3) dietary-conscious menu so no one has to worry, and 4) always have something new to do. I could add a fifth hallmark after talking to her – she always has a back-up plan! I’m just amazed at how much she thinks of! “I will plan and prepare all the way up to the event so that I know everything has been thought of, because I don’t want to miss the event as it’s actually happening,” she explained.
What do these hallmarks of her family gatherings actually look like? Well, they all start with anticipation. Think of something you are anticipating. You can’t wait for it to get here. You count down the days until it’s realized. I sometimes fabricate things to anticipate when I’m in the doldrums of life to help get me out of the mire. Anticipation is the foundation of Amy’s family gatherings. She anticipates it with glee, which gives her joy and fuel in the planning and preparation. Family members anticipate it because (whether or not they are consciously aware of how it happens), they always know there will be something new to experience, laughter to share, and memories to be made.
The outdoor activity is usually a bonfire because you can be in any temperature and enjoy a bonfire – you just need to come more bundled at times. If there is really inclement weather, a portable fire pit or large space heater in the garage can supplement the outdoors. When snow is a factor the outdoor activity instantly becomes sledding (on hills or behind the tractor)! Why is there always an outdoor activity? Outside people tend to talk to each other more!
Secondly, there is always a place for kids (indoors and outdoors). At the last family reunion there was rain in the forecast. It didn’t deter the adults from sitting around the bonfire (bundled and with umbrellas, obviously), so Amy set up a nearby play zone in the garage for the kids with giant building blocks and sidewalk chalk. She also got extra umbrellas out and rubber boots in case they wanted to splash around in the growing puddles. The puddles won the day! Amy will also reinvent spaces to meet the needs of her family, even if it’s not at her house. She told me that some gatherings are held for hours on end at a church, but the children’s sections of the church are locked. This past year the outdoor temperatures were at a record high – too hot for small kids to be playing outdoors. No problem! She and her husband loaded up the back of their truck with her grandkids’ play kitchen, scooters, and other toys to haul to the church. Why go to all that effort? To make sure the kids grow up enjoying coming to family gatherings.
Amy is always conscious of the dietary needs of her family, which is one way that she can create a worry-free zone for their gatherings. Even if there are traditional recipes that everyone grew up with, she’ll find a way to create a twist on the tradition so those with celiac disease or heart problems can savor the flavors.
Finally, like Kelly, Amy wants everyone to be participating with each other. She’ll find all kinds of laughter-inducing games to play that take little-to-no skill (think “minute-to-win-it” type games). Being silly with each other often eliminates the natural desire for comparison and puts everyone on common ground. With so much worry in life, laughter combats that – even if just for a day.
I should mention, Amy is not the person in the family that is reputed for being the best cook or having the cleanest house, nor the least clutter. Amy is not Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines, and she doesn’t have to be. She’ll try a recipe to meet a need – and serve it, even if it’s a glorious failure. She’ll shove everything to the corners of the garage and park the cars in the mud if that gives people a space to gather. She’ll do whatever she needs to for her family to gather, because that’s what is most important to her.
“I’m just trying to keep traditions alive,” she explains, and I can’t read this out loud without tears. “Because what my mom did, and Grandma, and my Aunt Nevah – those are all my favorite memories and doing this brings them back to life. Getting together and remembering the times we’ve been together brings me so much joy. That’s why I do it. If I can pass that on to make memories for my girls to always have…” She trails off to gather her emotions. “It’s important. It’s not a chore for me. My dad taught me: You make traditions because that’s how you create history.”
Even in speaking those thoughts out loud, Amy had an ah-ha! moment. She’s often struggled with what impact she is making in life. Is she making a difference? Yes! This is how! Being an organizer is not very glamorous, but in seeing the impact it’s made in her life and how she can impact her family’s life there is a resounding yes to the question of making a difference. We laughed and sighed and called it “memory therapy.”
Marcia raised boys. And one daughter. Back to the this – Marcia raised boys. I married into a family of just boys, so I can really not emphasize enough – Marcia raised boys. I think what impresses me so much about Marcia is she’s kept true to what’s important and fun for her while completely respecting the personality of her family overall.
I mentioned that Marcia is a DIY mastermind. Just browse her Facebook page and admire her skill with pretty things. She has a finely-honed gift when it comes to rehabbing old furniture, pulling a room together, redesigning the curb appeal of her house, and even putting dead sticks in a basket in a such a gorgeous way! I know other moms of boys that are like this, so I’m excited to share about her family gatherings with you.
Marcia gathers her grown and growing family to her home about three times a year for the major holidays. When it comes to Christmas (they gather Christmas Eve and, those who can, Christmas morning), everyone’s mouth starts watering when they anticipate the hors d’oeuvre at her house: Beef rolls, barbeque, cheese ball, and… the list does go on a bit longer! These recipes have been passed on to the kids because they are so loved and anticipated. As the only girl in my house, I’m starting to understand how much food plays a roll (pun intended) in a boy’s life. You know! “What’s to eat, Mom? I’m hungry,” or “Can I have a snack?” and they pull everything out of the pantry! “What’s for dinner?” they ask with mouths full of aforementioned snacks. They really don’t care about the vegetables or the sides, nor the dessert (at least my husband doesn’t). They want the main thing! And so Marcia gathers her family around the food.
I have also learned that boys don’t like to talk about emotions, decorations, or watch sappy holiday movies, or even talk much. They like to grunt, make fun of each other, and play games where something is hitting something else. Marcia knows this better than me! She told me when the weather is warm, the family will go outside to play corn hole or skeet shoot, but for the winter holidays they stay indoors and grunt occasionally. When I asked her if she does anything special to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves, she laughed as she answered. “Babs, I just let them be Petersons! I’d have to fight them for anything that requires participation! We pretty much sit around. Us women chit chat and the guys just ramble around. It’s a mad house after we open gifts with all the kids, so it’s pretty chaotic!”
That’s perfect! She knows and loves her family exactly as they are. She doesn’t aspire to have someone else’s family – her family is far too precious to her to let go of in pursuit of something else! She loves that they come home, that they have traditions, and that they let her have her own outlets for emotions, decorations, and sappy holiday movies.
There is something incredibly special that Marcia does for every Christmas gathering – something that she plans ahead for and looks forward to more than the menu. Every year she comes up with a different way to talk about the meaning of Christmas with her family, particularly with her grandchildren. She puts a lot of weight on this part of the Christmas gathering because her faith is very significant to her. Passing along family recipes is nice, but without the faith behind Christmas it’s all very bland and empty.
Marcia scores her gatherings highly on the Pinterest-worthy scale when it comes to decorations and the meal, because she loves doing those things. She has a healthy perspective when it comes to participation. But is it worth it?
“Oh, yeah… Yeah…” she answers thoughtfully. “These next few years are going to go by so fast. As we age it’s inevitable that it’s going to change. These are the moments to make the cherished memories for the little ones to look back on. For me, my mom died when I was 28 years old. My kids didn’t get memories with her, and I want their kids to have these memories!”
What Did I Learn
After hearing these stories of how these beautifully real women are gathering their families, I started to identify some excuses that block me from gathering family more. Marcia and I talked about the gift of hospitality. We both said, “I don’t have it.” Then we started talking about what we perceive that gift to be – effortlessly hosting large groups of strangers in our homes. I have a dear friend in Jerusalem that can do that – even before she had a proper dining room table to host around! Someone challenged me once that hospitality is making people feel welcome in your presence, offering what you do have. I can always offer a cup of water, no matter how limited my budget is. There’s always some place to sit and listen to their heart. There’s always the outdoors to wander out into with them.
And then it comes to family. If I can reasonably practice hospitality for strangers with this new perspective, then how much more can I do so with the family that I already know and love!
I also started looking at ways we do gather that maybe don’t make Pinterest boards, but are special nonetheless. Canning applesauce, family work days for grandparents, or impromptu gathering because someone has come to town from a very long way away. These gatherings are probably less stressful, too, if you’re prone to comparison; you don’t have to measure up to the Hallmark Channel! You just have to be you!
In the next post I’ll get down to the nitty gritty of how these women plan their family gatherings, including some tips and tricks that you’ll want to use! Until then, linger here for a moment and see what ah-ha! moment settles into your heart. Feel free to share it with me!
See you soon!
- Posted by hellobabs
- On November 15, 2018
- 0 Comment