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The Best Christmas Books You Need in Your Home

We love reading together all year, but a few books are so touching and special, they've become part of our family Christmas traditions every year.

Do you love reading with your children? It is one of my favorite times to share with my daughter. I I especially love sitting around the tree with Christmas music softly playing as we read together as a family.

One low maintenance tradition we celebrate each Christmas is the 24 books of Christmas.

Wait – I though you said LOW MAINTENANCE?!?!

I know 24 books doesn’t SOUND low maintenance, but this really is pretty easy. I buy one fairly large gift bag and a package of tissue paper. While some people prefer to wrap a book for each day, I found that I just wasn’t the kind of person who will keep up with that.

While my daughter is busy, I take all her Christmas/Winter themed books from her room a few days before December 1. I am always amazed how she opens each book as if it were new and truly enjoys the magic of rediscovering her favorites even if she is a bit too old for some. I add a couple of new books each year, so she has a couple of real surprises.

After she goes to bed, each day I wrap one book in tissue paper, put it into the bag, and put the bag under the tree.

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She is getting too old for some of the books from the first year we did this, but can’t quite bear to part with them.

(to keep this affordable, the first year I did a dollar store toy or Christmas coloring book every other day and only purchased 12 Christmas/Snowy day books)

There are a couple of our Christmas books that are just for fun and light-hearted tales of reindeer and sweet little children (or mice!) and we enjoy the beautiful illustrations and seasonal stories.

But there are a few stories that have become as much a part of our Christmas traditions as decorating the tree and setting up the nativity.

The first book that has become treasured in our home is The Carpenter’s Gift. I give this to my daughter the day we watch the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center (which I DVR so I can pick a convenient night). The Carpenter’s Gift is a fictionalized story based on the first Rockefeller Center tree and focuses on the kind of sacrificial giving Christmas is really about.

I generally get teary-eyed at the ending.

I won’t ruin it, but the best gifts are the ones we give away.

Another favorite, is the Nutcracker. This version is perfect for younger readers. It is beautifully illustrated and keeps the story very simple. Reading it always builds excitement for our annual Nutcracker date.

This year, we weren’t able to afford tickets to the big area production, but one of our family friends was in her dance company’s production. I purchased tickets and put them in the bottom of the bag under this book. We read the book together first. Then she found the tickets, she was so exited! And thanks to reading this book, she was better able to follow the story of the ballet.

Price: $16.14
Was: $17.99

This year, my husband has shared more of our reading times than he usually does. His time in the army is winding down and his responsibilities have decreased allowing him more time at home.

He was able to share one of my favorite stories with us for the first time. It was emotional for us all. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is set 100 years ago, during the Great War. It’s about a soldier who is called to serve before Christmas and isn’t sure he’ll make it home in time to provide the church with the tree he promised.

The little girl in the story is a sweet angel in the church pageant and has simple wishes for Christmas, a doll and her daddy. Her mother moves mountains to give her daughter the things she can, but can’t bring daddy home faster.

As a wife and mother who has missed her soldier too many times at Christmas, I struggle to get through the last few pages, but the story is beautiful and meaningful.

One of my favorite books as an adoptive parent is Holly & Ivy about an orphan girl and a Christmas doll who just want to find a family.

It’s hard to read without getting emotional as Ivy proudly declares she is going to see her grandmother (who does not exist) over the Christmas holiday from the orphanage. She randomly searches for a family, but when she finds Holly all the details seem to fall right into place.

The other points of view are Holly, a beautiful new Christmas doll who dreams of being loved by a little girl for Christmas, and a childless couple aching for a daughter.

All three of these characters is searching for the others. My heart aches along with them as I read this sweet and tender story to my daughter. We both hug each other a bit tighter knowing the twists and turns that God used to bring us together too.

Lastly, If He Had Not Come and God Gave Us Christmas are such a good books that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

If He Had Not Come paints the picture of what our world might be like if Jesus had not chosen to come. It helps us realize how much of the goodness in our world is reflections of Christ in us.

And God Gave Us Christmas is part of one of my favorite series. Narrated by a polar bear telling her daughter about how God gave us Christmas, the story reminds that we have fun traditions like presents, but that the gift of Jesus is the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

We added one special book this year that I just know will become of our favorites. Each day is a character quality that will help us all be more Christ-like. It’s called a Character-Filled Christmas Book and we’re really enjoying it. It is all about the kind of heart and service we should strive for all year, but especially during the Christmas season.

Lastly, we read the Bible Christmas story, because it’s the greatest story ever told and God’s best gift for the world.

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The Importance of the Lost Art of Sacrificial Giving

Sacrificial giving is a lost art in our #blessed culture. Too often, we'll give from the overflow of our closets rather than of our hearts. We can give better.

Is sacrificial giving something that weighs on your heart like it does mine? I find myself torn because so many causes seem worthwhile, but giving sacrificially is so much more than just donating. It’s having the right heart in the process.

Sacrificial giving is a lost art in our culture built on abundance and wealth. Too often, we’ll give out of the overflow of our closets rather than the overflow of our hearts.

Or we pay all our bills and then see what’s left for the Lord and charity. Or give away items we’ve loved just a bit too long.

Sacrificial giving is a lost art. We give out of the overflow of our closets rather than the overflow of our hearts. Click To Tweet
(Heaven not Harvard is a participant in affiliate programs including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

And I’m guilty! I’ve chosen to give away things that in retrospect would shame me if I were accepting them.

We really don’t do this maliciously. We think, this has some value left, someone with nothing would appreciate this. It’s better than throwing it away. 

And sometimes we’re just too tired and overly busy to take the time to decide what to do with things that might help someone, but might not. . . and thinking donating is better than trashing, we bag them up and haul them to the nearest charity.

But my scripture reading has really been challenging me to think more about my giving . . .

And about the person receiving my donation. Will they be blessed by my gift? Will my gift remind them of their worth and value, show them they are loved?

My old pair of sneakers doesn’t say any of those things, if I’m honest. While a pair of shoes I’ve barely worn might actually be useful and appreciated, the Bible’s themes on giving have changed my perspective on how our family practices tithing and giving.

I've changed how I think about donating. Will my gift tell the person receiving it that they are valuable and loved? Because it should. Click To Tweet

Give First

Set aside your tithes and charity gifts from your budget as a hard line item. Then work your budget from there.

Proverbs 3:9-10 ESV Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

He wants our best and first.

But God doesn’t need anything we have, so why does it matter what we give or how?

Because He wants us to give for us.

Because when we give rightly, our hearts acknowledge Him. We bask in humility knowing it is by grace alone we have things to give away, and that we rest in sure salvation with the promise of eternal life.

Those are the gifts we’ve been given, and when we give rightly, we reflect that John 3:16 kind of love. God’s love for us cost Him. When we give it should cost us, too.



Give Sacrificially

Giving doesn’t have to be hard and painful, but it should cost the giver something, even if just our time. Because our giving isn’t really for the orphans in China or to build a well, our giving is really a right response to God.

While not technically about how we are to give to the needy, one Bible story always comes to mind when I think about giving.

David was making atonement for his sin and building an altar to worship God. But when he found the place where God wanted him to build the altar, the owner of the threshing floor offered to give him the place, grain, animals he needed for the sacrifice as his service to the king.

In 2 Samuel 24:24 (cross referenced 1 Chronicles 21:24) But the king (David) said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

And neither do I want to offer God gifts that have cost me nothing.

This week our home has practiced sacrificial giving. We gave some things that we loved and some that cost us financially to help friends in need. But we also gave away something very precious that no amount of money can restore.

I will not offer gifts to my Lord that cost me nothing. This lesson from David echoes in my soul when I think about sacrificial giving. Click To Tweet

And I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I can write about it in a way that encompasses what this meant to me, but I’ll try.

Having a daughter was my dream. I imagined playing with her hair, learning to braid it, trying cute styles. And then I had this kid whose hair does-not-grow. She was nearly bald until she was almost two. By the time she was three, she needed her first real trim, but I was letting her hair grow after that so I could enjoy having those little girl moments with my daughter.

But that all changed in October 2015 when my best friend’s two-year-old son was diagnosed with a down syndrome related form of leukemia.

Very early into his treatment he lost his hair. My daughter, who was five at the time, grew very sad imagining all the little girls fighting cancer who would lose their hair as well. She promptly asked me if there was some way for her to give them hers. I was very moved. We began to research ways to donate hair.

We grew our hair for more than three years before this picture and our donation. We learned that sacrificial giving matters to God because what it teaches us.

While we understand there is a gigantic cost in creating these specialty hair pieces, we decided to donate only to companies that provide their wigs free of charge for the recipients. And my daughter was set on donating specifically to children, so we chose Wigs for Kids.

We both had already gone about a year between haircuts when we decided to donate, but our hair had to be 12 inches to donate, so we wanted to grow it a bit longer.  I thought it might take six months.

We grew our hair for another two years!



For myself, I was getting fed up with taking care of it!

I can’t tell you the number of times I accidentally trapped myself on the bed by laying on my hair!

Drying my hair took forever! And drying hers was starting to be a nightmare between dealing with tangles and a squirmy seven-year-old.

Drying my hair and hers was taking forever, but giving it away was harder than I thought it would be. I learned a lot about sacrificial giving!

But I loved my daughter’s long beautiful hair.

I was finally learning to French braid, and I had truly enjoyed watching her hair grow. Seeing the sunlight glowing in her auburn locks helped me better understand when the Bible describes a woman’s hair as a crown of glory.

When it came time to donate, I tried not to be maudlin, but the moment was very bittersweet. As slowly as her hair grows, she will never have these little girl locks again. She’ll be almost ten before it’s this long again.

Cutting twelve inches off her hair meant giving up on a silly, selfish, but very natural MOM desire of playing with her hair.

Sacrificial giving is a lost art in our #blessed culture. Too often, we'll give from the overflow of our closets rather than of our hearts. We can give better.

This fall, as I struggled with taking steps to finally cut our hair, my dear friend’s older son was diagnosed with brain cancer. He is fighting his own battle with radiation and preparing for chemo in the new year. I couldn’t know that we would be donating in honor of both her boys, but was glad we had waited.

We proudly filled out our donation forms, one for Will and the second for Jon.

Happily, a very talented photographer spent an afternoon capturing the memories for us which made it a little easier to finally schedule the appointments knowing we would always have pictures.

The day of our salon appointment, I was talking with my friend. She felt a little guilty that we were cutting her hair. But I stressed that the giving had to cost us something to be a sacrifice. Then, we were both tearing up.

The best part of our sacrificial giving is that we both ended up more beautiful - on the inside and out!
The best part of our sacrificial giving is that we both ended up more beautiful – on the inside and out!

And it only took a few snips to let go of what had taken years to grow, but the lesson it taught us both in giving was priceless.

While I learned to let go of her hair, another mother is struggling with the idea of letting go of her child. Precious bald heads are fighting battles I can only pray over and dare to imagine if it were mine.

In a few weeks, another mother may stroke my daughter’s hair on her daughter’s precious head, treasuring those sweet moments more tangibly than I ever could.

Our gift will allow some little girl to shine like the sun with her new, sun-drenched locks. That sweet young woman will feel beautiful and treasured.

Just like God SO loves us.

John 3: 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

And he gave us this sweet lesson just in time for Christmas.

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Free Yourself from all the Christmas Expectations this Year

Do you need to free yourself from all the Christmas expectations this year? Reclaim joy before December rushes by in a miserable haze of disappointment.

Do you need to free yourself from all the Christmas expectations this year? Are you starting to feel like December slides into January in a miserable haze of rushing around and the “not enough” voices echoing in your head?

Where does all this pressure come from?

I know the media does its fair share of applying the pressure to create a magical holiday for our families.

The problem is that even those perfect holiday movies aren’t perfect. Just watch one of the military themed ones with my husband, he’ll tell you all about it!

(Heaven not Harvard is a participant in affiliate programs including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

After the media, the commercialism of the holidays is a major factor.

America starts celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier each fall. At this rate, I’m pretty sure the decorations will hit the shelves the weekend after Labor Day next year. Santa Claus was sitting next to Jack o’Lanterns as it was!

via GIPHY

Then, we see the decorations and subconsciously begin to craft the perfect holiday in our hearts and heads. Our imaginations conjure a Christmas that would put June Cleaver to shame.

And we set ourselves up for failure, robbing our family and selves of so much joy.

Too many of my friends and family are feeling the weight of Christmas expectations already. We’re only five days into December, but the pressure is so high to make the entire month spectacular, to fill each day with magic and meaningful moments.

Even amongst Christians, we succumb the idea that we’re supposed to be celebrating advent, volunteering, giving, learning more about Jesus in some super serious, dedicated manner. And we’re heaping tasks on ourselves that Jesus never meant us to have.



Set yourself FREE of those Christmas Expectations right now!

One, manage your own expectations. Be realistic with what you can do while having peace and joy.

I guarantee you that your family will enjoy your peaceful, joyous heart more than a million seasonal activities.

Have a kid fighting cancer? Christmas magic isn’t the priority this year. Give yourself a break.

Even if you are just having a normal year, in 24 hours, you sleep 8 (I’m being optimistic – go with it), meals take about 4-5 hours a day between prep, eating, and clean-up (longer with toddlers or nursing), subtract at least 3 more for hygiene and parenting (double that for each kid under five), which leaves 8 hours or less for work, housework, grocery shopping, bill paying, etc.

That doesn’t leave you much time to make Christmas magic.

Choose your battles!

You can’t do everything. What are the most important parts of the holidays for you that are manageable? Hot chocolate, candy canes, and Christmas movies are pretty magical with very little effort. Add some whipped cream to that cocoa and you are super mom, I promise.

Decorations don’t have to be HGTV worthy the day after Thanksgiving (or ever). We’ve tackled one task a day for the last week. My tree was half-lit for 24 hours. I had a sinus infection and thought I was dying. Trying to stand long enough to decorate the tree wasn’t going well. We finally finished today. And it’s not perfect, but I have my twinkle lights and candles which are my two favorites.

The year my husband was deployed, I was on my own with a colicky infant and working full-time.  I put up a two foot high, slightly tacky Walgreen’s tree from a box. And it was enough. My daughter’s first Christmas was magical because of family, not because my house looked like Martha Stewart was my decorator.

That pesky elf might be really important to your child, but everyday doesn’t have to be a huge deal. Make it harder to find instead of an elaborate production each day. My daughter has the most fun when she can’t find hers and has to really search.

Play your favorite Christmas music as often as possible. Everything is more magical to an amazing sound track. Even if life is hard, Josh Groban singing Ave Maria takes my breath away and reminds me why we celebrate at all.

Manage your expectations for your children.

When you do summon energy to plan and organize something special, the kids will often not cooperate. They’ll be too young for your favorite holiday movie or hate the music you cherish.

They will miss naps and have too much sugar. Company throws everything out the window.

Expect your kids to be the tiny maladjusted tyrants they are when their schedules get disrupted.

via GIPHY

It’s okay.

Take time to recognize the magical moments that happen naturally, like laying on the floor coloring our advent color calendar together listening to Christmas music.

Your children didn’t get the memo this is supposed to be fun/amazing/magical.

Consider their attention span, energy level, and interests in your planning. My daughter REALLY wants to see the Nutcracker but the production at our local theater is three hours plus an intermission. There is no way I’m spending $100 to take her to that for her to spend three hours fidgeting in her best dress and trying to jump out of her seat. But her friend is in a shorter dance company version, and we can still enjoy the holiday classic and support her sweet friend.



Embrace JOY

Celebrating this season means recognizing the grace that heaven sent to walk among us. Grace that we lose touch with when we heap faulty and impractical expectations on ourselves, our family, and on the holiday.

At the end of the day, Christmas wasn’t the day Jesus was born, not really, and the hype is over in less than an hour of torn paper, gleeful screeches, and disappointed “socks” groans.

Having joy in Christ should last all year long. Do the things this Christmas that leads your heart closer to His.

You don’t have to spend an hour a day journaling or mapping each verse to have quiet time that counts. Even if your Bible time is listening to the audio version on your phone, having the right heart is all that matters.

We are reading a Character-Filled Christmas by Megan Ann Scheibner together, learning about having a heart for giving, service. We’re learning that giving matters most when it costs us a little something. (Check back later this week for our next post!) We add to our list of Christlike character each day after reading a Christmas themed book and opening the door on our advent calendar.

Release yourself from the trap of Christmas expectations this year. Let yourself embrace the joy in this messy, beautiful life without worrying about the perfect tree, daily magical excursions, or any of the craziness we are led to believe everyone else is doing. 

The only expectation that really matters is the expectation of Christ’s coming and just resting in His love is always exactly enough.

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My Cyber Monday Gift Guide

Cyber Monday is HERE!!! You can keep all the craziness of Black Friday! Give me my laptop and credit card. Here are my choices for online shopping today!

Cyber Monday is here!

I don’t know about you, but this is MY shopping day! You can keep Black Friday and all the bickering and busyness.

I want to shop from my couch in my jammies and have Christmas delivered to my house!

Whether you’re a homeschooler, grandparent, spouse, or just want a few things for yourself, this list covers it all.

(Heaven not Harvard is a participant in affiliate programs including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

Some of these are not my referral links but are great deals that I have found for my own shopping use today!

Mindware is one of my favorite shops for Christmas gifts. Their products are always creative or educational. We keep the toys coming into our home focused on either using her mind or creativity, and Mindware has lots of great toys that do both. Last year, we got Twangled which is a really fun team building game. No one loses and everyone wins with the crazy twists and knots everyone get into.

This year she really wants to paint her own stepping stones for our garden and the Family Charades sounds like a fun family game we can enjoy for a long time to come. Since coloring is one of her favorite things, I also want to get her a map she can color of the USA for American history this year.

Mindware’s Cyber Monday Deal is Free Shipping on orders over $50 and $20 off an order over $100 or $10 off orders over $50.

If educational gifts are your priority as well, I love subscription box services like Kiwi crate. They have so many choices for all ages and interest levels!

60% off first month of any KiwiCo line

One of my go to sites for ALL my shopping is always Christianbook.com ,and their Cyber sale is ALL WEEK LONG!! Free shipping on orders over $35, just use BOXOFJOY17 at checkout!

I use ChristianBook.com for everything from homeschool resources to the Baptism gift I got my daughter yesterday. She LOVES her new ICB Glitter Wings Compact Bible!

 

311194: ICB Glitter Wings Compact Bible for Girls ICB Glitter Wings Compact Bible for Girls

Specially for little girls, our shimmery ICB Bible closes with butterfly wing design and features clear beaded handle with floral accent trim. In coolshades of lavender/blue/pink, with sparkle detail, this contains the entire text of the International Children’s Bible and comes in window gift box; with presentation page; 7″ x 5″ x 1.25″ not including handle; pink satin ribbon page marker.

I love the Women of Faith Mixing Bowl. It matches my kitchen perfectly and would make a perfect gift for the chefs in your life.

 

566640: Woman of Faith, Mixing Bowl - Teal Woman of Faith, Mixing Bowl – Teal

Women of Faith mixing bowl with Scripture trim; features handle and convenient pouring spout, safe for microwave, and dishwasher. Oven-safe ceramic; eight cup capacity, for batters, mixes, salads and more.

Blessed is a woman of seasoned prayer, generous spirit, and overflowing love..for she shall be called a Woman of Faith.

Around the rim with floral trim: Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.2 Timothy 2:22. Boxed.

Honestly, I could probably spend WAY too much money on this site. I love their family plaques with lots of Bible verses to know and center our lives around. I love the prayer shawls and coffee cups of course. The magnetic bookmarks are ones I use all the time.

Christianbook.com is having their BEST SALE of the year – up to 87% off! thru 12/4 coupon code BOXOFJOY17

If you’re planning ahead for Advent, they have all sorts of resources for you and your family.

Dayspring is having a HUGE sale today!

One Day Only! Take 35% off sitewide in DaySpring’s Cyber Monday Sitewide Sale. Use code MONDAY17.

Of course, I’ll be shopping Amazon today. I have a list of great ideas that I’ll be picking up. But this Cyber Monday deal is a steal!! Under $100 for a product normally $219. And any home with pets or kids (or husbands) must have a good carpet cleaner. It has saved my sanity more times than I can count.

Buying gifts for my young adult boys is really tough this year, but I have a few ideas that seem perfect for my on the go guys!

My oldest stepson loves fishing and country music, but keeping headphones in his ears while fishing can be a challenge, this hat serves a dual purpose in keeping his head warm and music close by while he fishes.

In fact, this might be a good gift for all my guys! If I buy 2, I get an extra 10% off! I know my husband would use this while he rides his new dirt bike, fishes, or hunts!

If you’re shopping for the family or yourself, these are some of my favorite finds on Amazon today. The baby monitor is over 50% off and most nursery items are a minimum of 30% off today. The instant pot is 38% off! If you do a lot of cooking, this product is the hottest thing to save time!

Also, this herb garden is 50% off and a great idea for the chefs in your life. Who doesn’t prefer fresh herbs to dried?

And Lego builder sets are on sale 30% off. Have you seen the price of Lego lately? These classic builder bundles are on sale. Lastly, my daughter has caught the rock painting bug sweeping the nation. The Crayola set is on sale today under $20!

I have so much shopping to do!

Another of my favorite sites is Hammacher Schlemmer. They have some of the neatest gifts. And I love their 100% Lifetime guarantee, seriously no hassle! They are offering free shipping today on orders over $100. I order at least one thing from them every Christmas. The battle tanks and compact binoculars were huge hits last year!

We all know that the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with the gifts under the tree, but if you shop, I encourage you to be a wise steward of the money God has provided your family.

Happy Cyber Monday, let Christmas season commence!

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Ways You Can Support a Family with a Premature Baby

Supporting friends caring for a premature baby can be such a Godsend during an already difficult time. Here are some great suggestions how you can help.

I wasn’t prepared for a premature baby when my daughter was born 6 weeks early. Since we were adopting, some of the normal concerns of pregnancy just weren’t on my radar.

And because we were matched so late into the pregnancy, we’d only had a few weeks to prepare at all before being thrust into parenthood with the emergency of premature birth.

(Heaven not Harvard is a participant in affiliate programs including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

Today, November 17 is National Prematurity Day. According to WHO, each year more than 15 million babies are born prematurely, that’s more than one in ten. And these numbers are increasing! Chances are someone you know will have a premature baby.

They will need help & might not even know what they really need.

Looking back, I realize how difficult that time really was. It was kind of a whirlwind, so we weren’t able to process much in total survival mode. However, our friends did a few things that made life easier. And there were a few things that would have been extremely helpful.

Having a premature baby may mean an extended stay in a NICU far from home.

Our daughter was born three hours away. It was unlikely we could move her before we were able to bring her home. We were there for the duration, which potentially could have been until her due date.

Offer to house sit or pet sit or babysit.

In a matter of minutes, we had to pack for an indeterminate period of time three hours away without knowing what we would really need. We didn’t have time to think about preparing the house, setting lights on timers, pausing mail delivery, etc.

A dear friend and her husband volunteered to take our rescue pup while we were out of town, which was our largest concern about being away from home for an extended time. Also, our sweet neighbors watched over our home, brought in packages, and made us a welcome home banner and a sweet bundle of gifts.

Taking care of things at home meant we could focus on just being at the hospital, worrying about our new baby, and learning our new roles as her parents.

If your friends have other children, do what you can to help with the older siblings. If the parents have to be in one city with their premature baby while their other kids need to go to school back home, can you keep them overnight? pick them up after school? walk them to the bus stop? Offer to help grandparents navigate an unfamiliar area if they come to help? Whatever you can do to help will be one less worry for your friends.

Give or Send them Restaurant Gift Cards.

Without time to plan, we didn’t take any food or even know where grocery stores were. We were living on whatever restaurants were under 5-10 minutes away from the hospital. It was not economical at all. We had two hours between each NICU visit, so we would race out, grab something, and be standing at the hospital NICU door when we could next get in to see her.

If you’re tech savvy, you might be able to use Google maps and find out which restaurants are close and send them email gift cards.

Even if they are close to home, they will probably not have time to cook for weeks. Those gift cards will save time and money even after baby comes home.

Prior to my daughter’s birth, I had totally given up caffeine. After one day in the NICU, I was a Starbucks fanatic. Coffee gift cards are likely going to be welcome! Newborns are brutal on sleep as it is, but the NICU is just an additional trial with scrubbing, gowning, feeding schedules, and worry.

Financial support is often necessary

You can always start a GoFundMe or something similar to help offset hotel and living expenses as well. We never considered that we might stay more than overnight if she were full term, so we hadn’t budgeted for it. Needing to be close meant staying at the hotel nearest to the hospital which wasn’t the least expensive option.

While no one expects help with financial concerns, you can’t know the myriad of expenses that stack up quickly and help in this area can mean so much.

If you can, even call the hotel and pay for a night.

Depending on location, parking costs may be outlandish. Large cities can charge $25 a day to park at both the hotel and hospital. An extra $50 per day, plus meals can add up quickly.

We also didn’t bring enough clothes for ourselves or her. All our baby clothes were for a large full-term infant since she had been measuring very big. We had to run to buy the tiniest preemie things for her and a couple of things for us.

While we had zero medical expenses due to medicaid and our military insurance, it still cost over $2000 for the expenses of staying out of town during the NICU stay.

Sadly, raising money might also be helpful if the baby’s medical care is beyond insurance coverage or if the baby was just born too early to survive. No parent plans for a funeral. Over one million premature babies die each year. The grief of losing the baby is already going to be devastating. If you can help with expenses toward the arrangements, it can take an additional stress away from an already distraught family.

Be present however you can while they care for their premature baby.

Over the phone or in person, be willing to listen and pray with them. Sometimes, all the medical stuff can be daunting. Being able to fuss and worry and vent without judgment would be very meaningful.

If the baby is really struggling, they may not want to leave even to eat or sleep. Think of ways to be a help, volunteer to bring pillows and blankets or fresh clothes from home.

If you can come sit at the hospital or call, do it. Being far from home, scared and stressed, is isolating. I know hearing from my friends helped me talk through what we were facing and process my emotions.

If you are a co-worker, do whatever you can to bring them work or email. If you can take care of some of their workload, it is a huge relief. I was teaching full-time and knowing I had friends coordinating with my substitute let me focus on my daughter.

Lastly, if you don’t know what they need, ask and offer some tangible suggestions.

Offer something, even mowing the lawn, watering plants, grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning house. When people say “If you need anything . . .” , it’s hard to know if they really mean it. But when you make a specific suggestion, they can reply with something similar they need or remember your offer in the future.

Having a premature baby takes the fear of parenting a newborn to a whole new level. Medical concerns and worry and sleepless nights can make new parents feel lost and helpless. But even seasoned parents need support.

The friends who stood by our side made a difficult time easier and we’ve never forgotten those who supported us in that emotional rollercoaster.