My grandmother (Betty Jones) believed that every family—especially hers—should gather around the dinner table together, often. So, she put up homegrown vegetables all summer for our weekly family dinners. If she hadn’t, well, we might have had to settle for mere store-bought produce.

She made homemade mayonnaise because the kind in the jar just wouldn’t do. And she always kept delicious desserts and hand-pressed cheese straws on hand—just in case company were to drop in unexpectedly, of course.

Almost every week of my life until I went to college, I had the privilege of eating at Grandmother’s table. (her dining room & table are in the picture above)

Her meals always included multiple starches and homemade biscuits (just in case we didn’t get in our carbs for the day). She prepared fresh vegetables from the garden and delicious pies made from family recipes that had been passed down for generations.

And I’d give anything if I could go back and sit at her table, one more time.

The family dinner table—whether we realize it or not—provides us with so many rich blessings. And I confess I’ve often taken my own family dinner table for granted.

This year, as Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations roll around, I don’t want to make that mistake.

I’m thinking you might not, either.

So, to provide both you and me with needed perspective of how beautiful a family meal can be, here are 7 rich blessings that my family dinner table gave me:

The Blessing of Belonging
I could always count on sitting down with my family for dinner. 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. No matter what, I belonged. Grandmother’s meals functioned as a magnet that drew our family together. And when Grandmother wasn’t cooking, rest assured, my mother was.

Mama saw (and still sees) the family dinner table as her God-given role in life. She provided a sort of haven there for us, with all kinds of wonderful foods. I remember that often, we’d go around the table, sharing one thing about our day. It was such a blessing to have people to share with. And it made us feel like we were a part of something greater than ourselves.

The Blessing of Simplicity
While Grandmother’s table was hardly simple, I learned that the beauty of the table doesn’t lie in how exquisite the dinner is. The true beauty lies in coming together. Sometimes, I tend to make getting together with my family too complicated. This often keeps me from inviting them over. I hope to do better over the holidays.

Even if you don’t cook well, take the time to sit down with your family for a meal. Just keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be fancy or turn into an all-day cooking extravaganza (that’s why they make crockpots). Just do it. “Put on a spread” to spread the rich blessings.

The Blessing of Appreciation
I learned to appreciate having good food on the table. Maybe it was because my parents told me about the starving kids in China, or maybe it’s because I often had to do the dishes and help with the cooking, but I learned that family meals take effort. And I watched both my Grandmother and my mother consistently make the effort to gather the family. I appreciate what they did. I want to make that kind of effort for my family, too.

The Blessing of Storytelling
As a child I remember how my dad (Ray Jones), who is also a writer, told stories. He held us spellbound with all kinds of rich, colorful tales. If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a storyteller, myself. I learned a lot from him.

Of course, I went through phases when I didn’t want to be with the family—years when I’d rather be eating 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 is, indeed.

The Blessing of Not Always Getting What You Want
When you’re at a restaurant or shopping for yourself at the grocery store, you get to choose exactly what you want to eat. But if you sat down at our family dinner table, you had to learn to eat what was put in front of you. Although I wasn’t always happy about it—especially when they passed the turnip greens—this was a valuable lesson for me to learn because in life you don’t always get to choose what you want.

If I’d grown up getting exactly what I wanted every night for dinner, I would’ve missed out on the joys of fried okra, fresh summer tomatoes and zucchini sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Even if I couldn’t eat what was put before me, my parents taught me to refuse it politely. Again, this was an important life lesson and just one of the many blessings of being at the family dinner table.

The Blessing of Hospitality
Growing up with family dinners, as a way of life, gave me a love for having my own family around the table. Since my children are grown and gone, I don’t cook as much as I used to, but there’s something very satisfying about serving a wonderful meal to those you love.

This week they’re all coming home. And as I’m shopping at the grocery store and making extra snacks and their favorite desserts just to have on hand, I can’t help but think of Grandmother. Somehow, I know she would approve (she certainly wasn’t much on dieting). I appreciate the blessing of her hospitality.

The Blessing of Sharing the Lord
Our family never sat down to eat a meal without prayer. Not once. We shared our faith by giving thanks to God as a family. When I remember our holiday gatherings, I now realize that Grandmother displayed God’s love by nourishing us at her well-laden table. It’s a faint foreshadowing of the eternal feast we will one day share around the abundant table of our Father, God Almighty. What a awesome family dinner that will be!

As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, remember all of the rich blessings that the family table can provide. Make the effort to get your family together. If you don’t have any family, find a friend. Practice hospitality. Cook up something special. Or order it. But whatever you do, don’t miss the wonderful blessings of gathering with others to eat, share, bless and love.

Happy Thanksgiving!