The Best Christmas Gift of All

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I wonder what Mary was thinking about along the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

In her last month of pregnancy, Mary spent over a week on the back of a donkey as she and Joseph journeyed the 80 miles to Joseph’s homeland to register for the census.

You’d think that Cesar might cut the girl a break and let them mail in their registration. But, no.

Eighty miles on an unpaved, primitive road riding on a donkey!

So often we think of Mary as a woman having a child. But, she was little more than a child herself, around 13. If a 13-year-old gets pregnant these days, it’s scandal. For Mary, the only scandal she faced was her swollen abdomen before the marriage was sealed. That’s a pretty big “only.” The man she had vowed to be faithful to for the rest of her life could have stoned her to death.

“But before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Mary often gets all the credit, and let’s face it, she should. If you’ve birthed a child, you know it’s about the hardest thing a woman can do. But, Joseph is kind of a hero here too. He must have been so angry and hurt and confused and dejected. The hours in between finding out his future wife is pregnant and a visit from an angel must have been agonizing.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

He was going to divorce her quietly. He finally decided. He would spare her life, and write her out of his. I wonder what he was doing before the angel came to him in a dream. Was he still nursing his wounded ego, or had he thrown himself into his work?

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

What a guy. What faith it took to believe something so outlandish. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It had to have been the craziest thing Joseph had ever heard. But, he took her home, only to find out he had to take her, eight months pregnant, 80 miles away to Bethlehem.

I wonder if the trip was awkward at first. “So, thanks for not stoning me…” Did they talk about parenting philosophies or discipline methods? They didn’t have to think of what to call him. “His name shall be Jesus.”

Eighty miles on foot. Under the best conditions they could cover 20 miles in a day. But so many things could have slowed them down – weather, terrain, pregnancy. It likely took them over a week.

What was Mary thinking about this whole time? She accepted the angel’s message without hesitation. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered, “May it be to me as you have said.” Was there ever any doubts in her mind? Was she scared?

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.”

A 13-year-old girl stood in a stranger’s stable, about to give birth to the Savior of the world. With every pang of birth pains, she knew there was no going back. Did she want to? Was she ready?

“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.”

Was it one of those fast, easy births I’ve heard rumors of? Or did she labor for hours? Ever since becoming a mother myself, I’ve wondered about the details of Jesus’s birth. How did Mary feel about birthing her Savior in a barn? As she looked at her son for the first time, was she instantly captivated by him? Or, did it take a while for the bonding process like with some mothers and children?

There are so many unknowns about the birth of Jesus, so many details I hope I’ll hear about in Heaven someday. But, there are some things we do know — important things. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Do you need to hear that again? He will save His people from their sins. From your sins. From my sins.

My friends, He did what He came to do. It is finished. You have been saved from your sins.

The love of Jesus is unconditional. He gives it freely. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to be “good enough.” You, in whatever varying state of sin you find yourself in, are loved.

Praise the Lord!

Just as you are. Just where you are. He’s waiting for you to turn your eyes and look full in His wonderful face. He’s waiting for you to accept the gift He’s been holding out to you. Take it. Don’t be shy. Accept His love. Accept His sacrifice. Accept your Savior.

Today, as you unwrap presents, fellowship with friends and family, and partake of the bounty of blessings you might have, do so with the full knowledge that your Savior came to this earth for you. He was born so that you can live forever with Him. Your heart is the most precious gift you can give to Him. Won’t you give yourself to Him today?

**To read the story of Jesus’s birth for yourself, look in the book of Luke, chapters one and two. You’ll also find stories from Jesus’s life and ministry on Earth, as well as His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. The Bible is available for free online and in the app market for smart phones.**

(This is an encore blog post. It was originally written and posted by Cas Anderson on December 25, 2013.)

50 Ways to Show Jesus’ Love this Thanksgiving

I have gone through several pretty major transformations in my life:

I was physically limited or handicapped for most of my life. A hip replacement four years ago has been so freeing. I’m able to do things I never thought I’d be able to do — like hiking long distances with no pain and finishing a race.

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Most of my life I hid my unsightly teeth behind closed lips. When my braces came off I couldn’t wait to smile — but it was hard at first because I had never smiled with my mouth open!

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Becoming a mother was a difficult transformation. Two traumatic births and months of postpartum depression later, every rough moment was worth it.

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But by far, the most dramatic transformation I’ve gone though was not a physical change. I was raised in an atheist/agnostic home, and the day I accidentally stepped into a ministry of Walla Walla College, I began the hardest, sometimes very painful, and most beautiful transformation of my life. Little by little Jesus called me out of a world of sin and into a world of love and grace. During this time temptations were stronger than ever, and the devil tried hard to show me all the best of his world. But, one glimpse of glory and I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Today, even though I sometimes still struggle with the temptation of alcoholism, I give that desire to God in prayer, and I let Him be strong when I am weak. Even though I struggle with the temptation to voice negative thoughts, I go to Jesus in prayer and let Him renew my mind with His love. Even though I struggle with the temptation to dwell on the poor and hurtful choices in my past, I thank God for giving me a future with Him.

Oh God, you truly have made me a new creature. You truly have taken the hurt of my past away. You truly have healed me of scars on my heart, so deep I thought they would never stop hurting.

During the season of Thanksgiving I find myself wanting to share my many, many blessings and shout from the rooftops how thankful I am for the changes in my life.

Walking into that ministry wasn’t an accident — it was a calling.

And, today I am called still.

I often get asked how I went from being an atheist to a missionary, and I’m probably a little too eager to share my story. But, the short answer is always the same: From a life of sin to a life of grace, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do than to share God’s love with the world. I wanted everyone to know that if God’s grace could cover my sins, which were oh-so many, He can cover yours as well.

Now a homeschooling, missionary mother of two, I work hard to instill in my children the goodness and grace of our loving God. One way we do that is by having service day once a week. During the fall season teachers and parents are often trying to find ways to teach our children to be thankful, and today I’d like to share my list of 50 ways to be intentional about showing Jesus’ love to others and meeting practical needs during the Thanksgiving season.

50ways

  1. Smile. Smile at every cashier, every stock boy, every cart retriever, every frazzled parent, every Scrooge. If you do or say nothing else, at least smile.
  2. Thankful game: In the car when you pass a house with a pumpkin on the porch, everyone say one thing they’re thankful for.
  3. Rake leaves for someone who cannot rake.
  4. Stop and listen — to anyone who is talking to you. It’s amazing what you might have missed if you didn’t stop and listen.
  5. Invite someone new in town over for hot soup.
  6. Leave a basket of tea or hot chocolate at someone’s door thanking them for something. Don’t sign your name.
  7. Pay for the person behind you at [your favorite place to get a hot drink].
  8. Take soup to someone who isn’t feeling well.
  9. Thankful game: Find a leaf that is falling, see who can name the most blessings before it hits the ground.
  10. Keep a journal and write down everything you are thankful for. Bonus points to keep a family journal as well.
  11. Tell others what you’re thankful for — and ask them about their blessings.
  12. Send a physical, paper thank-you card to 10 people. Don’t sign your name.
  13. Make a thankful tree/garland/jar.
  14. Thankful game: Go on a walk and for every neat rock you find, name something you’re thankful for.
  15. Invite a single mom over for tea.
  16. Every time something positive happens in your family, stop and talk about it.
  17. Instead of leaving a voice message, sing a song. You’ll feel silly, but it will make the hearer smile all day.
  18. Send someone fall flowers.
  19. When someone does something you appreciate, tell them how much it means to you.
  20. Thankful game: Everyone count as many kinds of pies as they can think of. Then say that many things you’re thankful for.
  21. Leave notes for your family complimenting them for things they might not see as awesome in themselves.
  22. Read books about being thankful and blessings.
  23. Join social media trends and post something you’re thankful for each day in November (or always — this could be good journal material).
  24. If someone asks you to pray for them, stop and pray right then and there with them.
  25. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
  26. Shovel show for someone who isn’t able to.
  27. Thankful game: Pick up trash on your road and say something you’re thankful for for each thing you pick up.
  28. Spend quality time, without media, distractions, work, phone calls, etc., with your family.
  29. Host a game night and invite people you want to get to know better.
  30. Read about the plan of Salvation. Thank Jesus.
  31. Buy groceries for someone struggling financially.
  32. Concentrate on what you have — not what you don’t have.
  33. Start using the alarm on your phone as a reminder to pray for someone.
  34. Say “Thank you!” as often as you can. Better yet, say, “Thank you for [fill in the blank with something specific].
  35. Memorize scriptures about thankfulness.
  36. Volunteer at a school in the poor part of town. Get to know the students.
  37. Thankful game: In the car, everyone say their favorite color. Each person say something they’re thankful every time they pass a car that color.
  38. Print out pretty thankful artwork from Pinterest [search “free thanksgiving art”] and hang it.
  39. Spend $5 to get a small gift for someone to let them know you’re thinking about them.
  40. Put a chalkboard or whiteboard in your house and write something new you’re thankful for each day.
  41. Go to a thrift store and buy nice sweaters and coats. Take them to a homeless shelter.
  42. Make artwork for people.
  43. Thankful game: Sit in a circle and in turn each person name one thing they’re thankful for. See how many time you can go around the circle.
  44. “Adopt” a grandparent in your neighborhood or a retirement home who doesn’t get many visits.
  45. Take a meal to a family who is struggling financially.
  46. Offer to use your talents: fix someone’s car, take family photos, install a new garbage disposal, clean their gutters, etc., etc., etc.
  47. If a family you know has had a new baby, go clean their kitchen and bathroom for them.
  48. Thankful game: Buy a pack of thank-you cards and every person write a card (or two) and mail or deliver them.
  49. Leave a thank-you note under someone’s windshield wipers. Don’t sign your name.
  50. Take extra non-food items to share with children on a plane or train, such as crayons and paper, wiki stix, play dough, stickers, etc.

Wednesday “Service Day”

Last month I wrote about the process of including one day a week dedicated to a service project into our homeschool schedule.

Our theme for this year: Be intentional about showing Jesus’s love to others, and meeting the practical needs of others.

This month, I’m going to share what this looks like in our family in a simple, but practical, way.

The first thing we did together as a family was to sit down and make a list of service projects that worked for our family. You can find a plethora of ideas on Pinterest. Here is our list (which is ongoing and added to whenever we get an idea).

Service Project Ideas:

  • Give poor people food and water.
  • Give people hugs and kisses.
  • Visit old people and make them happy.
  • Give medicine to sick people. (Maybe pay for it? Maybe tend to sick people? The 4-year-old is not a pharmacist.)
  • Pick up trash on the road.
  • Cheer up sad people.
  • Make bread and take it to people.
  • Make cookies and take them to people.
  • People to take bread and cookies to fire station, police station, library, offices, bank, nurses, neighbors, sad people, etc.
  • Pick flowers for old people.
  • Collect clothes for poor people.
  • Give people Bibles that don’t have one.
  • Leave something special in the mailbox for the mail lady.
  • Pay for the car behind you in the drive-through.
  • Send military care packages.
  • Leave quarters in machines.
  • Give out balloons to kids at a park.
  • Leave books with notes in a hospital waiting room.
  • Donate to animal shelter (food, toys, etc.).
  • Pick up litter in a park.
  • Donate good toys to a poor family.
  • Offer to weed for a neighbor.
  • Make “Blessing Bags.”
  • Make a meal basket and leave it on a doorstep.
  • Pray for and with people. Ask, “How can I pray for you?”
  • Collect stuffed animals for cops to give to children.

Once we had our list, we started in on it!

Week One: Pick up trash on the road

Our whole family went together to do this. We didn’t get very far before our trash bags were too heavy to carry. We went a half mile up one side, and then back down the other.

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Week Two: Cookies for local heroes

We had friends over and had a cookie-making party together. While the cookies baked, we made cards and decorated plates. Then we delivered to our local fire stations (2) and police station. I had one plate left over, so we took it to the library and thanked the librarians.

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Week Three: Raising money for the homeless

Part One – Raising money: We have a local women and children’s shelter in our community. I wrote them and asked what their needs are. They sent me a list of what they need. The kids and I set a goal of $100 to raise.

What I didn’t know … is that Jesus had something for us all to learn. By bedtime, my children had raised more than $320! Millie made artwork, and we took it around the neighborhood to trade for donations. She got $72 from peddling artwork. The remaining $250 was from online donations on the GoFundMe page we started.

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Week Four: Finding service opportunities on vacation

My husband had to travel to Alabama for some continuing education, and the kids and I went along. Our goal was to keep our Wednesday Service Day going.

Service Day went like this: We woke up, dropped my husband off at his class, and went on to spend the morning at an alligator sanctuary, where a very kind man gave us an act of kindness! What fun to be able to feed the alligators!

By supper time, we still hadn’t been able to complete a service project. And then — sitting eating supper outside Chipotle — a fire truck pulled up, and three firemen got out. Amelia and I were ready! We jumped the line and spoke to the cashier. I asked her to tell the firemen that their meal was paid for, and covertly went and paid their bill for them. It was so fun to hear them be surprised and try to figure out who paid for them! They’ll never know our secret!!!

Week Five: Homeless shelter, part 2

We turned off the online donations page, got out our shopping list (provided by the shelter) and set out.

First, we shopped. It was a lot of fun picking things out for the women and children! We wanted to buy really useful things, and Amelia picked out some hair pretties. By the end, we had two carts (or buggies, if you live in the South) full of very useful items!

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WalMart was so kind as to give us $50 towards our purchase (that was 10%). When we were checking out, we had the most surly checker! She was grumpy and rude. She was asking me why I was getting a discount, and so I shared Amelia’s quest to help the homeless and how she had raised more than $425. The woman was so touched by the act of a 5-year-old that her whole demeanor changed! There was a physical change in her!

When the women behind us in line saw and heard all this, she asked me to repeat it — and then handed Amelia $20! It was a very special check-out.

Once our car was loaded up (the guy helping me push the carts out was skeptical it would all fit, but I’m a professional packer), we headed over to the shelter.

How fun it was to surprise them with so much! Amelia told them how she raised the money, and she got to meet some of the women at the shelter. It was more of a blessing for us than it was for them!

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When we began this journey we call Service Day, I had no idea what would happen. I didn’t know if the kids would fight it or become disinterested. I didn’t know if we would stick with it. I just didn’t know. But Service Day has changed us.

Service Day has taught us that we need to make it a priority to help others, when we are busy, when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t have money. It felt awkward at first, but the more we move out of our comfort zone, the more we want to move more out of our comfort zone!

Amelia is now raising money for an orphanage in Zimbabwe. She wants to buy them Bibles and other things they need. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us!

 

So Many Plans!

Sometimes, when I’m homeschooling, I get a little caught up in the work. Math is probably the most fun subject in our house (math nerd raising little math nerdlets here). After that, reading and writing. Science tends to be pretty exciting too, and so we want to make sure we can do as much science as can. Of course, then there’s history, that seems important too. And Spanish. And art! Oh, and we can’t forget the 10,000 other possibilities out there.

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Learning is fun… but it can also become a burden.

This year is our first year of homeschooling “for real” — “for real” as in, we’re actually trying to have school everyday. Stick to somewhat of a schedule. Buckle down and fly right. Or something like that.

This year I have one in first grade and the other in no grade. Or Preschool. Depending on his mood.

When I sat down to plan (gah! anatomy or astronomy?) the year, I made a list of all the things I wanted to teach my children. Some things were pretty clear, “reading, arithmetic, Spanish,” and some things were more abstract, “kindness, empathy, willingness to help.”

Then, I sat down with each of the children and asked them everything they wanted to learn this year. I hope I have the good sense to do this every year, because it was pure gold:

First Grade Learning Goals
(a sampling of answers from the first-grader, answering the question, “What do you want to learn about this year?”)

Foxes and dogs

School buses

How to do a marathon

How to work the computer

All the kinds of nuts

Legos

Baby Jesus

How to build with wood

Why sugar is bad for you

Food

Preschool Learning Goals
(a sampling of answers from the preschooler, answering the question, “What do you want to learn about this year?”)

Tractors

John Deere vehicles

How to feed a baby

Space ships

Trucks and cars

Human heads and strong people

Christmas

Maybe not overly helpful (although there were some recurring themes), but hilarious! I don’t even know if she knows that a marathon involves running.

I took my list and their lists and made notes. Which things will teach what I want them to learn and what they want to learn? I began to make a plan.

So many plans.

I wrote out a schedule to accomplish said plans.

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My kids were all set up to be the best-educated children ever.

And then.… Reality.

The reality is, I love planning and organizing. It’s fun for me. Writing out a schedule? Pure bliss! I’m really good at these things. Following through and sticking to a schedule…is another story. I always have really good intentions, but then my kids wake me up four nights in a row, and all I want to do is eat ice cream and watch the History Channel.

Knowing this, I prayed over my schedule and asked God to help me figure out what was realistic for our family.

And as I prayed, I began to schedule less days for subjects, or to cross them off the schedule altogether.

 

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As I prayed, the recurring thought in my mind was, “If it’s not about Jesus, what’s the point? If they’re not learning to be like Jesus, what are they learning to be like?”

So I began to try to have a theme in mind for everything we learn. There are some skills that aren’t about Jesus (like math), but are skills we still need to learn to function in a world where we’re called to represent Jesus. Let’s represent well.

Our theme for this year: Be intentional about showing Jesus’s love to others, and meeting the practical needs of others.

This means we’re not just going to try to be kind, we’re going to go out looking for opportunities to do what Jesus did best: love people.

Every month I’ll be writing an update for this blog, sharing how we are doing this. We are currently in the U.S., but in October we will return to our adopted homeland of Guyana. That’s when the “meeting practical needs” part will get real.

Until then, our schedule looks like this: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday we do regular school days (morning and part of the afternoon with lots of breaks), Friday is morning only, and Wednesday is our service day. Of course, if we can meet a need on any other day, our schedule is flexible.

I invite you to add weekly service projects to your homeschool. Go out looking for ways to be like Jesus. Be intentional. And be real.

The Most Important Class

Pop quiz, parents.

What is the most important class you teach your children?

Hint: It’s also one of the hardest to teach.

Math? Nope. English? Nope. Although, I’m teaching my kinder how to read and can I just say – the English language – who’s idea was that anyway? Hopeless.

You might be thinking, “Bible class, duh!”

But I’m going to offer to you something even more important than learning about the Bible – learning to know the Author.

Now, I grew up in a home that didn’t teach about the Bible. Not only did we not have a Bible in our house, but I didn’t even know what the Bible was. True story. Fast forward a bunch of years and here I am now a Christian, married to a Christian man, raising Christian children, and living as a Christian missionary.

I have no idea what this is supposed to look like.

In recent years I have been blessed with older, wiser mentors to help me through this journey, and while they did a great job of raising their children, I didn’t actually get to see it in action. I wish I did. Reading about it just isn’t the same as experiencing it.

What does this have to do with homeschool? I’ll tell you.

One day some months ago a friend stopped by to watch my kids so I could do some work on the computer for her. I told her I was going to just take 10 minutes to have some devotional time because let’s face it – the struggle is real when it comes to finding time for the Bible when there are people in the house under 3 feet tall.  Almost immediately one of the children came in to ask me something and I answered with my standard response, “Mama is having Jesus time, please wait until I’m done to ask me questions.”

Since the kids were used to this, they said OK and went back in the other room. Later, my friend came and sat down next to me while I was needing a break. I could tell she wanted to tell me something.

Her: “Cas, I just have to tell you something. I think what you did was really great.”

Me: “Hmm?”

Her: “When I was growing up I never once saw my parents have devotion time. I always assumed they did… but I never saw it. And because I never saw them do it I didn’t really know how to have devotional time as a young person.”

Me: “Oh. I wasn’t trying to teach them anything on purpose, I just have a hard time getting up before them.”

Her: “Well it is teaching them, a lot. I wish my parents would have done that…”

Parents, the most important class is the one that teaches your children how to know Jesus. Not about Him, but to really know Him. The class that teaches how to spend time reading His word. How to be still and listen for His voice. How to run into His arms when they are hurt or scared or angry or sad.

Do you really want to be challenged in this area? I did. For the first time in my life I have been waking up at 5:30 so I have an hour and a half every morning to spend with Jesus before the children get up. I’m reading the entire Bible chronologically in 90 days. I’m 29 days into this journey (I started January 1) and I’m wishing I would have been doing this since the day my kids were born. (Well. Maybe a month after. You know, moms.)

If you want to really teach your children to live and breathe Jesus I challenge you to practice what you teach. Spend that time with Jesus if you aren’t already. Read your Bible in front of your children. Act like Jesus every chance you get. Because what’s more important than Jesus?