All your family members have come together for a Thanksgiving feast. As you enjoy delicious food and engaging conversation, you look out across the table and think of how thankful you are for this experience. It would be absolutely perfect, except for one thing.

It’s not real.

No matter how much you may wish for an idyllic Thanksgiving and how hard you may plan for it, year after year you discover that the holiday you actually experience falls far short of perfect. When your expectations are crushed by the weight of your disappointments, there’s only one good thing to do. This year, don’t carry any of your expectations with you to Thanksgiving. Just leave them behind, so you’ll be free to enjoy what actually happens. If you go into Thanksgiving with an open mind, the surprises that come your way won’t ruin your holiday. Instead, with God’s help, you’ll learn something valuable from them.

Here are some all-too-common scenarios that can burst the bubble of unrealistic expectations at Thanksgiving – and what you can do if you encounter them:

Schedule conflicts: It was supposed to be the Thanksgiving of a lifetime. My brother-in-law’s father had rented a large house at a posh ski resort and invited all four of his sons, their wives, and the grandchildren to enjoy the holiday together. But then a major blizzard hit, canceling flights and stranding family members. By the time the frazzled family all arrived, it was two days past Thanksgiving, and all they wanted to do was get some sleep.

Maybe a snowstorm hasn’t blown your Thanksgiving plans apart, but something else has. Perhaps a relative you’d hoped to see will miss the meal due to having to work on Thanksgiving.  Maybe you’ve been divorced, and must navigate through the awkward logistics that come with sharing custody of the kids. Perhaps you’ve just been married, and trying to figure out whose parents’ home to visit on Thanksgiving is causing a huge amount of stress.

Whatever schedule conflicts you encounter this Thanksgiving, let them remind you to be grateful for the gift of time. Choose to focus on the people you are able to celebrate with, and use your time with them well. For example, if you haven’t seen Uncle Earl in a long time, ask him some open-ended questions to learn more about him and what’s been going on in his life lately. Take the time to really listen to what he has to say; the time you share with him may lead to a closer relationship. Use your time to relax, as well. Let go of the stress you felt figuring out your Thanksgiving plans and decide to be content with what you’re doing this holiday. Ask God to surprise you with moments of joy as you let go of your own agenda and live in the present moment.

Embarrassing Moments: When my cousin’s husband (who works at a funeral home), was busy carving our Thanksgiving turkey one year, he commented on how well-stuffed the bird was – and how much it reminded him of the skill it takes to fill bodies with embalming fluid.  Suffice it to say, none of us ate much turkey or stuffing that year.

Who hasn’t had some kind of embarrassing moment intrude on Thanksgiving?  Maybe someone stops the conversation by telling an offensive joke. Perhaps someone drinks too much wine at the meal and starts acting foolish. Maybe someone makes a snide comment (“You don’t really want that pumpkin pie while you’re trying to lose weight, do you?” or “Wow, I’m so impressed by how you actually cleaned your house before we came over.”) Maybe one of your kids gets carried away by the excitement of Thanksgiving, runs around grandma’s house, and breaks a family heirloom.

No matter what embarrasses you this Thanksgiving, let it help you appreciate God’s grace more. Remember the many times you’ve messed up in life, only to have God keep loving you and forgiving you when you turn to Him. Let your gratitude for God’s grace motivate you to forgive others who do or say something embarrassing this Thanksgiving. Know that your forgiveness will show them Christ’s love in action and possibly move lost family members closer to a relationship with Him. And if you’re the one responsible for an embarrassing moment this Thanksgiving, forgive yourself and move on in the freedom of knowing that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved.