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Should Protestants Participate in Lent?

Should Protestants participate in Lent? It's Fat Tuesday & people are deciding what to give up & debating about participating. Maybe we're missing the point?

Should Protestants participate in Lent?

It’s Fat Tuesday and people are racing to decide what to give up for Lent. In Christian circles, I’ve seen a lot of debate over how to or who should participate in Lent. While my initial answer on this will be clear as mud, hopefully it will make sense to those in the same place I am spiritually.

The answer is yes and no.

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No, they SHOULD not. The Bible doesn’t outline Lent as a requirement of the faith. We need to be cautious in adding things to what the Bible says salvation requires.

John 20:31 ESV But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Some Christian denominations have made Lent an ostentatious ritual that secures salvation or God’s blessing in our lives. This kind of thinking is not based in scripture. The book of John alone contains so many verses explaining that our belief in Christ is all God asks of us for salvation.

We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do will impress God. As Romans explains, none are righteous, not one. We all have turned away from God in our sin. In John, Jesus teaches that it is through the Father’s calling that we come to Christ. God draws us to Himself.

We choose to listen and obey His calling, but we cannot earn salvation.

Romans 3:28 ESV For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Our faith justifies us. No participation in rule-following (or in Lent) justifies us. Our belief informs our actions, so our works demonstrate our faith, but do not save in and of themselves.

When we say SHOULD Protestants participate in Lent, we risk making it a requirement.

We humans do such a good job of taking the things of the Spirit and boiling them down into a set of rules and ruining them. Some things cannot be codified into a set of humanly discernible guidelines. They have to be known in the heart. We can’t always look at someone and instantly recognize their level of spiritual maturity based on an external behavior, but God sees their heart.

We are always wanting to measure our spirituality or level of good ‘Christianness’ against some external measuring tape, and too often, we run rampantly over the Gospel.

I’ve seen Christians taking good ideas and creating separation within the body of Christ. We create this mental list of things good Christians do or don’t do.

Good Christians:

  • Don’t have pagan Christmas trees, but only Jesse trees
  • Attend a small or home church exclusively
  • Don’t pay for cable television
  • Homeschool
  • Don’t celebrate Easter, but Resurrection Day
  • Participate in Lent
  • Don’t do Santa or the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.
  • Celebrate the Jewish festivals in addition to our Christian holidays
  • Learn Greek and Hebrew words for Biblical study

I’m sure the list could go on and on what “good” Christians should or should not do in our minds, but very few of these things are in scripture.

Oh wait, NONE of them are.

That’s right, we’ve taken some meaningful, deep personal convictions of some and turned them into a checklist of behaviors that were never meant to be rules! None of these are bad things. Some of them are even very good things, but they are not required things.

When we take a spiritual conviction and make it into a ritual, we make it a fleshly requirement. My daily Bible reading or devotions can become dry and dead if I see those things as a fleshly requirement of my Christian checklist instead of an spiritual opportunity to bask in the presence of God.

So, should Protestants participate in Lent?

Not necessarily, But we CAN.

Within Christ we have the freedom to do anything that honors Christ and does not detract from another’s walk.

If we approach the season of Lent as one of fasting in an effort to draw closer to God, then we have the blessed freedom to participate in Lent. Fasting can be a way to break strongholds in your life and demonstrate total surrender to Christ.

Some Christians might still see Lent as a denominational ritual, but if God is pressing into your heart to fast, go ahead and fast. Fast from fatty food. Fast from processed sugar. Even fast from television or coffee or Facebook or pizza.

Last year, I chose to give up something a little strange, but it was a powerful reminder who is ultimately in control of my life if I am taking up my cross daily.

If the purpose in your fast is to lean into Christ, to honor His sacrifice by sacrificing, then go for it! God’s word is full of scriptures telling us to fast. There are many documented spiritual and physical benefits to fasting.

But again, there is no should here. Participating in Lent should be a response to a quiet calling of the Spirit in your heart to set down something that you’ve struggled to believe you could let go, or abstaining for a season from something that has taken your focus and attention from Him.

But any fasting should be primarily between you and God.

Matthew 6:16-18 ESV “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

God sees how we live in secret. It is there the fast draws us to Him. When we share about our fasting whether for Lent or another time, it should be for the edification of others and the glorification of the Lord, not to earn any earthly praise.

I share my fast because I love how God lays just the thing on my heart each year on Fat Tuesday what He wants from me, what lesson He has for me to learn.

My fast this year is from delivery pizza.

That may sound ridiculous, but in my heart, I am surrendering to a new call in my life.

My husband started a new job this week. He is working longer hours, later nights, and won’t be home to make dinner anymore. While I am a stay-at-home mom, I also write and work and homeschool, so I’m busy all day, everyday. And my husband loves to cook. In cooking, he can express himself and play with recipes. He is really talented!

However, I want food to magically appear on the table at 5:30. I don’t enjoy spending hours to make something that will be devoured in twenty minutes. I literally lived on Lean Cuisine the last time he was in Iraq.

But, if I can set down my selfishness and embrace this change to our family routine, joyfully do more of the cooking and meal planning, as a way of supporting my husband in this new chapter of his career. Giving up delivery pizza reflects an acceptance of my responsibility to plan our meals, even if it’s frozen pizza and salad.

And I’m embracing the role of serving God through caring for the family He has given to me. Serving others doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’m always willing to drop everything and listen, encourage, instruct, but not always make a meal.

And learning to serve others outside of my gifting and preferences has to begin in my heart and home before my ministry can truly flourish.

Should Protestants participate in Lent? If God calls you to do so, you have the beautiful freedom to decide for yourself.

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Important Peace Verses to have the best New Year

Peace is my word for the new year. I'll face many changes, trials, & joys. Resting in these peace verses will help me stay in God's perfect peace this year, as part of putting on the armor of God each day, no matter what it brings.

Peace is my word for the new year. I’ll face many changes, trials, & joys. Resting in these peace verses will help me stay in God’s perfect peace, putting on the armor of God each day, no matter what it brings.

After a couple of difficult years, I’ve learned to stay in God’s word and keep important verses written on my heart so I am prepared for the difficulties life throws at me.

The word that I want to carry into 2018 is Peace.

Last year, I wrote about the challenges of the prior year, hoping that 2017 would be less challenging, but that wasn’t God’s plan for my family. I spent most of the year facing a debilitating recovery, but God used my circumstances for His glory.

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Truly difficult years have clarified that life is a roller coaster. While crisis follows crisis, surprising joys sprinkled our days as well. None of either were things I could control or plan.

I can only control how I react.

So I want to have the kind of peace that never changes no matter what I’m facing.

Psalm 23:4 ESV Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

So I want to have the kind of peace that never changes no matter what I'm facing. Psalm 23:4 ESV Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This fall, we had an unfortunate circumstance that affected my husband greatly. Without going into a very long detailed story – hunting is his most favorite thing to do in the whole world, and he lost the privileges to hunt at our local military base due to a GPS miscalculation. He is devastated.

My soldier is finishing up his active duty service. What he has seen during his military service has changed him. Hunting has been what gave him a center, an identity, and he was absolutely heartbroken.

My reaction to his reaction was fear and panic. How would he cope in the long haul? How would this affect our family? our marriage? our finances? Because he provided all our meat through hunting.

But I realized my panic meant I wasn’t trusting God or His plan for our lives.

I had to realize God’s plan doesn’t mean everything works out my way. God’s plan doesn’t mean I never face difficulties. It doesn’t mean that the lives of those around me go smoothly.

And God’s plan is something I can trust because He has demonstrated his faithfulness. Even in the midst of the physical and emotional pain of dealing with my slow (and ongoing) recovery, God showed me that He was using it to bring my husband and I to a closer stage of emotional intimacy.

But it’s all easier SAID than DONE.

In my human weakness, I forget. I freak out. Sometimes, I panic.

I need to have God’s truths to remind myself that God is in control. These are some of the peace verses I cling to when face with the chaos of a fallen world.

I can't control the circumstances of my life. I can only control how I react. Reacting in panic means I'm not really trusting God. These #peaceverses help me focus on His truths. Click To Tweet

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

While, Jeremiah 29:11 is overused by pretty much everyone, that verse IN CONTEXT is a good reminder that even disaster can be a part of God’s plan when the plan encompasses eternity. The enslavement of the Israelite people was part of God’s plan to ultimately redeem all of us.

We may see a tragedy in our own lives on a monumental scale, but in God’s scale He sees how we cope with the tragedy, how we are faithful in the midst of the chaos, and how that ripple can affect and change the lives of others.

John 11:4 ESV But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

God may be ultimately glorified through difficulties that hurt and grow us. I continually wish it weren’t the case, but I haven’t often grown through easy times as much as I do the ones that test and stretch me.

But God doesn’t promise to give us what we want. He promises what we need, and what we need for His glory and purpose.

Philippians 4:19ESV And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

But over and over He has shown that He supplies exactly what we need when we need it. When we had a vandalism issue and our water bill was $120 over budget, the next day I got a rebate check from an insurance policy we had cancelled years earlier for $122. I hadn’t even remembered the policy had existed.

I know God doesn’t always supply magical checks out of nowhere. But remembering and sharing our testimonies is an important part of maintaining peace.

As my husband prepares for retirement, we face a great many unknowns. While military life is hard, the steady income and benefits were secure, and we have lived well. But I know God will provide for us.

It might be less. It might be different. But it will be what our family needs.

When God clothes the lilies in such splendor, will He not do more for us? #PeaceVerses

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …

So I’m facing this coming year challenging myself to rest in God’s peace.

Philippians 4:6-7ESV Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

When I remember to trust in Him, the peace is perfect, even if my emotions are difficult.

In that moment of panic, I ask myself three questions:

  1. Do I believe God is real? Yes, I do. I’ve spent months studying apologetics and find more and more evidence to support our faith. 
  2. Do I believe God is good? His word says so.
  3. If God is good, do I believe He will be good to me? God’s word promises He will, and I’ve seen the results in my life. 

1 Peter 5:7ESV  Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

His idea of what I need might be different than mine, but His ultimate goal is for His glory and the salvation of as many as will believe. I have to believe that whatever I face is part of refining me and bringing more to salvation. Another reminder to focus on Heaven not Harvard.

2 Peter 3:9ESV The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

I am encouraged that God’s ultimate goal is to bring all of us to repentance and salvation. It’s easier to have peace when I try to see glimpses of the ripples of my trusting in God and having peace.

John 16:33ESV I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Troubles are part of the package; we’re reminded in many places through the scriptures.

But by holding these peace verses close to my heart, I remember who my God is, His faithfulness, and how He loves me.

I don’t know what my new year will hold, but I will have hard days. In those difficult moments, I will pray to keep my mind focused on God.

Isaiah 26:3ESV You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

When I keep my mind focused on Him, I remember that I am saved, the trials of this life are temporary.

And my eternity has already been purchased by my Lord, Jesus Christ.

1 John 5:13ESV I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

With that perspective, I know I have nothing to fear.

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Solving Family Conflict in a Christ Pleasing Way

Family conflict can be especially hurtful. When family conflict surfaces, we are often deeply wounded. And don't always solve it in a way that pleases Christ.

Family conflict is especially hurtful. We know the world at large will hurt us, but expect our family to be a safe place. We hope our family loves, respects, values, treasures us. So when family conflict surfaces, we are often surprised and find ourselves deeply wounded.

But when we are hurt, we usually don’t respond well. Our first instinct is to get defensive. Our second is to wound back or withdraw. Neither response strikes at the heart of the conflict or reflects Christ.

And families often gather at already stressful times: weddings, funerals, holidays. Emotions are already running high. One careless word can ignite a firestorm if we don’t focus on solving our family conflict in a way that pleases Christ first.

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I can’t speak for you, but my selfishness is something I battle minute to minute. I really prefer to have things my way and struggle to relinquish the illusion of control. In the heat of the moment, selfish behaviors I believed long dead can still rise to the surface.

I see the world through only my flawed, human perspective. And when I let my hurt feelings take over, I think the worst of everyone and function from fear.

So handling conflict takes focusing on my new nature as a Christian (Romans 12:2).

I need to seek God’s perspective on the situation over my own.

So what is God’s perspective on family conflict?

First, He loves all the people in the conflict equally. God’s desire is for all to come to the life-giving-salvation Jesus provided on the cross. PERIOD.

Even if you’re the only believer in your family or the only one who seems to be walking by faith right now, God doesn’t love you more or better or think you should get your way because you’re a Christian.

Plus, how we handle the conflict might be more important than the actual resolution.

Is the issue at hand more important than anyone’s salvation?

My petty bickering with my husband really pales in comparison to thinking about his salvation being on the line with how I conduct myself.

Solving family conflict should start with being more concerned about our witness than getting our way.

While some conflicts are very serious and might require setting boundaries or seeking professional help, using the standard of the other person’s walk/salvation keeps us from elevating even the most difficult issues above our witness as a disciple of Christ.

When we focus on our witness over our way, God is glorified.

Is this family conflict more important than their salvation? When I focus on my witness over my way, God is glorified. Click To Tweet

If you have unsaved family, how you deal with hurts and conflict might be the best witness you ever have because how God asks us to live humbly and gently is so counter-cultural.

It takes a deep change in our hearts to give up taking offense, but I’ve never taken a hurt to Him and not received a verse or perspective shift that has allowed me to begin the process of forgiveness.

But we have to be willing to let go of our anger, which is easier said than done. Sometimes being angry feels like a right. Someone has mistreated us and we feel we deserve to be hurt, angry, indignant. We let that anger blossom in our chests like fire unfurling.

We let it roll around and grow into huge hurts, grudges, bitterness because we are so focused on ourselves. But that only hurts us and damages our relationships which doesn’t please Christ at all.

Secondly, God asks us to think less of ourselves and more highly of others.

Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

If we remove the rivalry and arrogance from our hearts and fill ourselves with humility, we’ll take less offense at the unkind words and attitudes of others, realizing that there are many dynamics to consider before responding.

To handle conflict, I have to be in right relationship with God first.

The more like Christ I become, the more I realize how far from Him I truly am. But seeing myself accurately is a gift from God. When I can see how desperately I need God’s grace, I have the humility of heart to offer grace and forgiveness to those around me.

I learned a lot about focusing on my own relationship with God in marriage (and all relationships) in the book I just finished using to lead a small group.

Before my emotions take over, I try to pray. Then I seek to understand the heart of the other person.

For example, my husband walked through the door, grumbling. His tone was sharp and he had a stompy attitude (You know, stomping around the house, slamming drawers while bitterly mumbling).

Deep breath – honey, you seem upset. Is something bothering you?

The wonderful bureaucracy that is the army had thrown a curveball into his day. It had nothing to do with me. While I didn’t appreciate his stompiness, I didn’t have to be hurt by his inability to cope with frustration. I could love him instead. I asked what he needed and let him have some space.

Even when the other person’s behavior is wrong, unkind, even abusive, we need to recognize their need for Christ. Letting their sin surprise us is where we go wrong.

I’ve learned to expect sinners to act like sinners. Even wise, obedient, mature Christians sin. Taking offenses to God in prayer before reacting from hurt is always the best answer.

I’ve found the closer I draw to God, the more sin grieves me for others than for how it affects me.

But I still struggle with entitlement: I think, deserve to be treated better!

But that isn’t really how Christ handled it. He expected to be rejected and abused, but responded rightly every time. Some instances, He exhibited righteous anger. While at others, He suffered quietly, allowing the silence to convict more loudly than words ever could.

Righteous, loving silence and the Holy Spirit can convict more loudly than any words. Don't react in surprise to the sin of others, but respond in peace. Click To Tweet

And he never told us to stand up for ourselves . . .

Matthew 16:24 ESV Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Ok, so that is super hard. Painfully so. But when I hold up my fist and demand my rights, I end up more angry and do more damage to my relationships.

Sometimes, I still struggle with getting sucked into this vicious cycle. I’ll start having a conversation, but if the other person responds poorly, I begin to feel unheard or disrespected. If I don’t step back to let God work in both of us those emotions run roughshod over reason. I’ll talk myself into a tizzy trying to fix something that needs me to be quiet.

Being quiet invites. We can gently ask questions and listen.

  • Your reaction surprised me. What hurt your feelings? I didn’t mean to hurt you. 
  • That sounds like it might be a painful topic for you. Want to talk about it?
  • That hurt my feelings. I’m sure you didn’t intend to, but I’m sensitive about that.
  • I’m not sure I understand. Can you tell me what you wanted to communicate?

That gentle heart assumes the best of the other person’s intentions and heart.

We hear the words people use, but don’t take the time to really understand what they were saying. People are messy – especially family members with whom we have so much history.

Proverbs 15:1 ESV A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We make judgments and decisions based on twenty years of knowledge not just a single conversation. That’s not really fair, but it’s human nature. Assume the best and answer softly.

Try to see from their perspective.

Maybe your mother criticizes your husband because she worries about your happiness. She might be showing it in a terribly destructive way, but maybe that’s her reason for saying the things she does.

It’s so much easier to keep from getting angry when we recognize the humanity behind hurtful actions or comments. Maybe she misses the closeness you had before you were married or resents how far you have moved away from her.

Hurtful actions come from hurting people. When we love them, we can start to heal their hurts and our relationships.

The aunt or cousin who offers unsolicited parenting, marriage, housekeeping advice might be feeling unappreciated, unnoticed, or might simply be concerned about you.

The mother-in-law whose offers to help feel like backhanded attacks might be worried about how you are loving her child. She wants to see him happy.

Hurtful actions come from hurting people. When we embrace them, we can start to heal their hurts and our relationships. Click To Tweet

Don’t react, respond. Put yourself second and love the person whose comment or action hurt you. Why did they do that? What made them say that? How can you respond in a way that puts their needs and feelings above your own?

  • I know you worry about me. Thank you for your concern, but I prefer to talk about all the ways my husband cares for me instead of his mistakes. I sure make enough of my own. 
  • Oh, I do hate mopping. What have you found that works? 
  • Homeschooling isn’t the only option, and I your concerns are ones we’ve really thought and prayed over. I love that you love my kids and want what’s best for them! 
  • It’s really frustrating that this recipe didn’t turn out like Grandma’s. How do you make it? 
  • The way our marriage works is different, isn’t it? But your son is such a blessing to me. He is a good provider and father. 

In those hurtful moments, if we speak to their hurting places, we can better offer grace and work through the conflict.

What if you caused the conflict?

What if you thought light-heartedly teasing your cousin about being a terrible cook was no big deal, but touched a soft spot for struggling young wife. Or something you did years ago has become a bitter sticking point for a sibling.

Don’t let it go. Own up to it immediately. Apologize as if you had offended Christ. Because when we don’t love each other the way He commanded, we have.

John 13:35 ESV By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We won’t always get it all perfect. Expect to fail. Expect to need to apologize. We hope to get along with our families, but navigating personalities, emotions, and sensitive topics is a minefield.

As we demonstrate Christ’s love in our witness, people will see our faith.

My prayer for your family is the same as for mine, may the unity of Christ govern all we say and do because His love solves conflicts where our human nature would leave chaos.

Colossians 3:14 ESV And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

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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
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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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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.

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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.