Good Deed Manger

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7 (NKJV)

This December we are renewing a Christmas tradition we began long ago, the Good Deed Manger. It all started when our oldest two children were little and I was reading Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.  One story was about a mom with four children who was having trouble with them arguing and fighting during December.  So, she began a Good Deed Manger.

The story was a real tear-jerker and hard for me to finish reading aloud to my family.  But we read it each year, nonetheless, and made our own Good Deed Manger.  The first year, Kallie, Jacob and their Daddy built the manger you see in this picture, it was a little crooked, just like in the story.  Some family members went outside to collect dry grass or straw to put in a bucket near the manger.

Then we all wrote our names on slips of paper and put them in a Christmas hat.  We took turns drawing names until everyone had one.  It was a secret, so no one could know whose name we had.  That was the person we would do good deeds for all week, without them seeing us.  Each time we did a good deed, we could put a straw in the manger, trying to make a soft bed for baby Jesus.  Every Sunday night we would draw new names and continue with the good deeds.  On Christmas Eve we put a baby doll in the manger to be the Baby Jesus.  We hoped the bed was soft enough for Him because of all our good deeds.

And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:12 (NKJV)

Today’s TEA CUPP:  Make a Good Deed Manger with your family this December! If you can find Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul at your library, look for the original story  (p. 68 “The Last Straw”). and read it aloud together. Better yet, read the the story of our Savior’s birth in Luke 2. Then have a blessed Christmas season, surprising everyone with good deeds.

 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:16 (NKJV)

If you enjoyed this devotional activity, you might like to read my other Christmas Devotions, another favorite of mine is My Heart Inn.

Scripture from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

My Home School Story

home school

Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

The other day I realized, we’ve been home-schooling for 20 years!  This is 2016, and in 1996, when our daughter was in first grade, we began to home school.  There have been many ups and downs these 20 years, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  This story is how God called us to home school our children.  Perhaps He is calling you, too, and you are wondering how to get started.  I hope my home school story helps you…

We have four children on earth and three in heaven.  When our oldest two kids were ages three years and four months, we moved to a new state.  We were blessed to meet other families with young children who all had the same question for us, “Are you going to home school?”

I hadn’t even considered home school! But when the third person asked me, I thought perhaps God wanted me to look into it.  Our daughter attended preschool at our church when she was four. That whole year we prayed about whether she should go to kindergarten the next fall, or not.  When August rolled around, we still didn’t have an answer.

A friend was hoping to build a new house and told me the story of seeing a double rainbow right over their property; she took that as a “go” sign from God.  I prayed for God to give us a sign about school for our daughter. The next Sunday at church, the pastor announced that the new principal at our daughter’s school was a church member.  We took that as the sign, and sent our daughter off to kindergarten.  It was very hard to put our sweet, curly-haired girl on the school bus, just two weeks after her fifth birthday.

Our daughter attended a large rural school, where students came from all walks of life.  The teachers did their best to help the kids succeed, but they only had so much time for each one.  It seemed we were doing more with our daughter on the afternoons and weekends than she was doing during her school hours.  We would read stories, paint pictures, go for nature hikes, visit the zoo, write our own stories…I wasn’t sure why I needed to send her off on the bus each morning.  So, at the end of her kindergarten year, we decided to home school.

I remember my dad asking how long we would be home schooling.  I didn’t know at the time, but I thought a few years, at least. I often wondered why God wanted us to have that one year in public school, and perhaps it was to solidify our decision. Now, 20 years later, we’re still home schooling and about to start our four-year old on the journey, as well.  What have I learned in these 20 years?  Let me share a bit with you…

I’ve learned I’m not cut out for this!  Seriously, that’s what so many moms tell me, “I could never do that.  I don’t have the patience.”  My family will tell you I run out of patience, too.  But I keep on going because this is God’s calling.  If you’re going to home school, you really have to jump in and do it and never quit.  There will be good days and bad days, good years and bad years.  But in the end, you will be so glad you stuck with it.

I’ve learned that kids grow up way to fast, and home school is the best way to spend time together.  Yes, it’s true.  Our daughter is now 25 years old, a college graduate, working on a masters degree and expecting her first baby.  Our oldest son is now 22 and finishing a degree in mechanical engineering.  We are so thankful to still have our 15-year old son and our four-year old son at home!  The times I cherish the most are when we sit on the sofa together and read stories.  There is nothing cozier and more special than that!

I’ve learned that Daddy is a great help with home school.  Yes, moms, be sure to get dads involved.  Many times I was sure the kids learned more from doing a wood-working project or science experiment with Daddy, than all the months of book work they did with me.  It is so good to have Daddy on board and supporting the whole home school.  We like having Daddy help us start each day with prayer and devotion at breakfast before he heads off to work.  Often he’ll come home early to do a project, giving me a break, too.

I’ve learned to use the library.  When we first started home school, we had a very small income with no room for extras.  I took my two little ones to the library every week, where we checked out a huge stack of books.  We would spend the week reading them together.  Sometimes we would have a theme such as Africa or the circus, but other times it was just a random collection of stories.  You don’t need “real” curriculum until the kids are in fourth grade.

I’ve learned there is math all around.  Our most favorite thing to do for math is to bake cookies.  We double the recipe or use the wrong size measuring cup, just to do a little more math in our heads.  All my kids know how to make cookies!  There is also math on the calendar, the clock, the thermometer, the speedometer, the ruler, the calculator, the grocery store, in counting objects, and the list goes on!  I start my kids on Saxon Math in 4th grade, but before that we just work on facts, telling time, making up word problems, and an occasional work book from Walmart :-).

I’ve learned 4H has great lessons for kids.  From animals to sewing to cooking to wood-working to mechanics to photography to robotics to electricity…you name it!  If your kids join a local 4H club, they can sign up for any of these activities and receive detailed activity books.  Youth in 4H also learn great life lessons such as record-keeping, organization, goal-setting, community service and leadership.

I’ve learned what works for one might not work for all. But I still might use it, because I like it! There are certain books I love that I use for all our kids.  Pathway Readers and The Millers books have some of the best family stories and lessons. Other curriculum, such as Jensen Grammar for high school, I gave up on the third child.  Sorry, Mr. Jensen, we just couldn’t do grammar any more!

I’ve learned to ask friends for ideas.  Our town has a loose-knit home school group.  There is probably a group in your area, too.  In bigger towns, families get together to share lessons in a co-op fashion.  Our group passes around used books and shares tips on Facebook.  One friend and I used the same high school curriculum, and cried on each others’ shoulders every quarter when it was time to send in the school work.  It’s good to have a home school friend!

I’ve learned to make Jesus first and last.   Our days begin with prayer and an Our Daily Bread devotion at breakfast.  Our days end with the kids being tucked into bed with a prayer, too.  We know we aren’t perfect, but we ask Jesus to guide us in our lessons and activities throughout the day. Start and end your days with Jesus, and let Him fill your moments in between, too.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18 (NKJV)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

I Did Nothing

tea cup for bookmark - UYou were loving and kind,

I did nothing.

You were merciful and saved me,

I did nothing.

You washed away my sins,

I did nothing.

You renewed me with Your Holy Spirit,

I did nothing.

You justified me by Your grace,

I did nothing.

You made me Your heir,

I did nothing.

You gave me the hope of eternal life,

I did nothing.

I only had to believe in You.

Dear Jesus, I believe!

Today’s TEA CUPP:  Dear Friend, what is your story?  This verse below from Titus reminds me how I did nothing.  Jesus did it all, I only had to believe.  I pray that you also believe in Jesus and share in His forgiveness and eternal promises.

The song “Glorious Day” by Casting Crowns says it beautifully: “Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away. Rising He justified freely forever.  One day He’s coming, Oh, Glorious Day!”  Use this song to worship Jesus today.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (NKJV)

New King James Version (NKJV)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

The Sweet Forever…My Story to Come

The Big BlueI would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NKJV)

The Sweet Forever is in my dreams today. So many times in the “U” part of My TEA CUPP Prayers, I focus on Understanding my story in the past.  The above verse would take me to a sad time in life, reminding me of when I almost lost heart.  One day when reading this passage I realized, I need to focus on seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!  “My Story to Come” is what I must remember.  Oh, hallelujah, what a glorious day that will be!

What will heaven be like?  The Bible tells us…

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  John 14:2 (NKJV)

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  2 Corinthians 5:1 (NKJV)

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  Hebrews 11:16 (NKJV)

They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelations 7:16-17 (NKJV)

Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.  Luke 10:20 (NKJV)

At church recently we sang this beautiful old hymn about the land beyond the river. I want to remember this each moment…how I will see my Savior Jesus’ face when I cross the river someday.  This is “My Story to Come” that I long for me, for our children, for all my family and friends.

 There’s a land beyond the river
That we call the sweet forever
And we only reach that shore by faith’s decree
One by one we’ll gain the portals
There to dwell with the immortals
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

When They Ring Those Golden Bells for You and Me

Today’s TEA CUPP: My dear TEA CUPP friend, do you think of that day when you will pass from this life into the next one?  If you believe in Jesus, you will live eternally with Him in heaven.  That is why I spend time each day with Him having TEA, so I can get to know my forever Lord better.  Won’t you do the same?

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  2 Peter 1:10-11 (NKJV)

New King James Version (NKJV)The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

My Hiding Place

WebYou are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.  Psalm 32:7 (NKJV)

 The website I use for clip art has hundreds of pictures on most topics.  It is handy to find photos that are just right for my articles.  When I searched for “Hiding Place,” though, it only gave me one photo…a dog burying his bone.

I had to laugh, because Jesus is my hiding place.  I’m not sure if I’m the bone and He is the hole in this picture?  Some days I just want to hide from the world, get away from the hurts and pain.  I pray Psalm 32:7, You are my hiding place, Jesus, You protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Let me hide in You today, Lord!

Or, I might pray one of these verses…

Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 17:8 (NKJV)

 The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
He will thrust out the enemy from before you,
And will say, ‘Destroy!’
  Deuteronomy 33:37 (NKJV)

There have been several times in my life when I’ve needed these verses.  I remember the day I was taken away in an ambulance.  It was the first time I lost a baby and we almost lost me, too.  I was so scared until the ambulance people put me in a stretcher.  The stretcher was U-shaped fabric, hugging my body as they carried me out the door.  I continued to feel that hug for the next month.  God’s everlasting arms must be like that.  Though I do not like troubles, the feel of having the Lord so close, being in His hiding place, is one I always treasure.

Today’s TEA CUPP:  Are you going through a rough time?  Sometimes the holidays remind us of past sorrows, and can bring sadness rather than joy.  Please look to the Lord, dear friend.  Curl up in His Hiding Place, read His Word, sip a TEA CUPP with Jesus each day.

You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in Your word.  Psalm 119:14 (NKJV)

New King James Version (NKJV)The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Always a Reminder

Easter & pumpkins    Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:10 (NKJV)

Last spring when we were putting away the Easter decorations, I missed one little egg and basket. I did not want to dig my Easter Rubbermaid container from the bottom of my closet, under the baby swing and infant car seat which our toddler no longer needs.  So the Easter egg sat on our window sill through the planting of our garden, Fourth of July sparklers, and school books opening again on the kitchen table.

The pumpkins are now turning orange and I actually dug into that closet to retrieve the fall cornucopia.  But still I did not put away our little egg.  Why not? Because all summer it gave me a reminder of Easter, the happiest holiday of all, when we rejoice in God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  My green oval friend repeats for me the promise of new life we have in Christ and the eternal life we will have in heaven someday.

Even God set reminders before His people.  He commanded His chosen people to celebrate the Passover each year, to remind them of His miraculous deliverance from Egypt.  When Jesus had His last supper, He was celebrating this very Passover.  Yet He gave a new way for His followers to remember, sharing with them the bread and cup.   

 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”
Luke 22:19-20 (NKJV)  

As moms it is important for us to always keep reminders of Jesus in our homes.  We can use such objects to tell the story of Jesus to our children and grandchildren.  A cross on the television reminds us to watch only shows Jesus would approve.  Bibles in the kitchen and by our beds keep God always in our midst.  Wooden puzzles with Bible stories give even the toddler a reminder of Jesus.  A Bible verse by door lets guests know we love the Lord…

Today’s TEA CUPP:  God calls us to remember and teach our children about Him.  What reminders do you have in your home to point your family and guests to Jesus?  If you need an idea…just leave out your Christmas Nativity scene this winter or an Easter egg next spring!

You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  Deuteronomy 6:9 (NKJV)

 Easter & pumpkins1New King James Version (NKJV)The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

We can’t always Understand

Abstract 3d letter with stone wall texture - UAs you do not know the path of the wind,
    or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
    the Maker of all things.  Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NIV)

The “U” part of My TEA CUPP Prayers is all about UNDERSTANDING our stories, so we can share how God has helped us with others.  But as I read this verse in my Bible one day, I realized we can’t always understand.

There are some parts of His Plan that I will never comprehend until I see Jesus face to face, and perhaps by then it won’t matter anymore.  For now I struggle with un-answered prayers, seeing children from church leave God’s path for a time, babies dying…I just don’t understand.  But I can pray for God’s peace and for me to do what is right. Instead of having a testimony to share, I can be a testimony in these tough situations.

Our church sponsored a village in the Philippines as a mission project.  The day I was writing this, an earthquake of 7.2 magnitude rocked their little island.  People are dying, buildings are destroyed, century-old churches lie in ruins.  And it is hard to understand.  Can God use this great tragedy to bring more people to His Kingdom?  Can our church be a testimony yet in this tough situation?  Yes!

Jesus tells us in Mark 11:22, “Have faith in God!”  Jesus continues,

 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  Mark 11:23-24 (NKJV)

I might not UNDERSTAND, but I can BELIEVE!

Today’s TEA CUPP:  Is there an event in life you are struggling with right now, something tough you just don’t understand?  Jesus understands.  Give it to Him during your TEA CUPP prayer time today.  Believe that He will bring good out of it all.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

 

New King James Version (NKJV)The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

My Cup

coffee_mugO Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.  Psalm 16:5 (NKJV)

You may have heard it asked before, “Is your cup half full or half empty?”  If you answer “half full” you are an optomist.  If you answer “half empty” you are a pessimist, or so they say.

My cup is full of my family…I thank Jesus each day for them…Kent, Kallie, Jacob, Kevin, and Joel.  I love them all!  But with two graduated and moving, I might feel my cup is becoming half empty.  Perhaps they will return with spouses and children and my cup will be full again :-)!

What about my TEA CUPP?  This is my time each morning with Jesus, when I read my Bible and pray to Him.  If My TEA CUPP is half full or half empty, I’m not doing my job!  Did I oversleep and skip my Bible reading?  Did I neglect to pray for those on my list?  Oh,  I want My TEA CUPP to be full to overflowing, so that when I am finished, my cup overflows to others.

I’m reminded of the old days when my parents would drive their car to a full-service gas station.  “Fill it with regular, please,” my dad would say.  While the attendant pumped the gas, he would also wash the windows and even check the oil.  Our prayer time should be like this.  When we sit down with Jesus each morning, we should first pray, “Fill me up, please, dear Jesus.” Then we open our Bibles.  While reading His Word, we are washed clean and given a tune-up for the day ahead.  My TEA CUPP is full and I’m ready to serve Him.pump_gas_03

…My cup runs over. Psalm 23:5  (NKJV)

Today’s TEA CUPP:  How about you?  Is your cup full?  Read your Bible each day, asking Jesus to fill you up.

New King James Version (NKJV)The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

 

Worth Every Drop of Blood

In Whom we have redemption through His blood,the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:14 (NKJV)

The day after our sweet baby Joel was born, I was propped up in my hospital bed, trying to read my One Year Bible while the rest of the family was at church.  It was hard to concentrate after being poked by nurses all night long.  I prayed for Jesus to show me something in His Word. There were many verses of Jesus’ healing, and suddenly there was something there for me!

God showed me the story of Jesus healing the woman hemorrhaging for 12 years. As the lady reached out to touch Jesus, He felt power go out from Him and she was healed!  Just the day before, I also had been bleeding too much; so much the doctor told me this is how they used to lose moms in the old days.  I wondered if the Old Testament Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died from bleeding after Benjamin was born?

Baby Joel’s birth was the second time I had bled too much. The first time was when I miscarried our baby Gloria Anne. At least this time I had the joy of holding our sweet baby for an hour before painful contractions began again.  Joel’s daddy cradled him and went to the waiting room to see our older three kids.  I wondered if they were on their own then, as a team of nurses and my doctor took charge to save my life.  I kept praying, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.” Psalm 118:17 (NKJV)

Jesus sent His power into that delivery room.  Two nurses appeared at my head to calm me (God bless Ruth and Judy).  Another nurse gave me a shot in the leg to reduce bleeding.  God sent extra nurses to start another IV in case I needed a blood transfusion. They couldn’t find a vein, so ended up poking my arm in five places before succeeding.  Those painful pokes reminded me of the nails Jesus endured for me.  More nurses were pressing on my stomach.  And as I prayed between sobs, the doctor removed a blood clot from me that filled the palm of her hand, and I was healed.  Thank you, Jesus.

As the pain ended, I thought, “I can’t do this again.”  But now, when I look into the face of our precious Joel, I tell him, “You are worth every needle poke and drop of blood I endured.”  Just as when Jesus looks at us He says, “My precious child, you are worth every nail hole and drop of blood I shed for you.”

Jesus blood and the power that went out from Him to heal the bleeding woman remind me of an old-time hymn. The chorus proclaims…

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb. by Lewis E. Jones, 1899

Today’s TEA CUPP:  Read the story of the bleeding woman with fresh eyes today.  Thank Jesus for the healing He has done in your life.  Claim the promise of His power to help you through any healing you need right now.

Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.
And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?”
When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”
But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”  Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.
And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer;your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”  Luke 8:43-48 (NKJV)

New King James Version (NKJV)Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Understand: I would have perished

Today’s TEA CUPP:  Praying God’s Word.

Here’s another verse to help us UNDERSTAND our story, as we pray and share TEA with Jesus today:

If Your law had not been my delight,
   I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92 (NIV)

New International Version (NIV)Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica