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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.

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Will you take the BOLD 30 days without complaining challenge?

Going without complaining has been my annual November challenge the past few years. Nothing sets my heart on thankfulness more than going without complaining.


30 Days Without Complaining???

Going without complaining is hard enough to do for five minutes much less 30 days, but I’ve learned that the secret to thankfulness is changing my heart from the inside out.

Between October 30 and November 1, already the thankfulness and gratitude challenges have begun popping up in my newsfeed.

While there’s nothing wrong with having gratitude or doing thankfulness, I’ve found that people post about being grateful in one post a day, but spend the rest of their day complaining.

Posting one #Grateful #Blessed #Thankful post a day wasn't changing anyone's heart. Click To Tweet

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Posting one #Grateful #Blessed #Thankful post a day wasn’t changing anyone’s heart.

I wanted to do more than spend five minutes considering what I’m thankful for.

Being thankful comes out of a true sense of humility regarding the gifts that God has given us, which sometimes, include suffering because it is preparing us for eternal glory in Heaven.

2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

In recent years, I’ve learned a lot about different kinds of suffering: financial struggles, physical challenges, marital difficulties. And I’ve learned that being thankful in the midst of all my challenges changes how I face them. People around me see what’s happening in my heart and my life and are encouraged.

Just today, my friend Rebekah shared my episode of her delightful podcast about Trusting God in Adversity.

020: Trusting God in Adversity with Jennifer Defrates

The past few years I’ve been doing this 30 days without complaining challenge I started it in 2014. It has become my annual November tradition.

Will you take the bold 30 days without complaining challenge?

Pledge to go 30 days November 1-November 30 without complaining. Ask your spouse and besties to hold you accountable. Ask your kids to hold you accountable. My seven year old is on it!

WHY take this challenge? 

When I cannot complain, I find ways to choose joyfulness that I might not if I weren’t taking the challenge.

Going without complaining helps me be more intentional with every word I speak. Intentionality really changes the tone of my home. In fact, doing this challenge for the last couple of years has been a tremendously helped in changing the way I speak, think, and feel in general.

God has used this challenge to convict and restore me to a gentle spirit. And, it’s been a very powerful in my family as we celebrate the harvest season and prepare our home to celebrate Christ’s birth.



So what does it look like to go without complaining?

I take it to a really extreme level. For example, I do not say things like I am hungry but that I would like to eat. By making positive statements instead of negative, I am being proactive rather than reactive.

Going without complaining makes me aware of how often complaining is the first attitude I have. This morning, half awake, I stumbled out of my bedroom door. Looking around the disarray leftover from a busy couple of days I said, “This house is a mess.”

I quickly clamped my hand over my mouth. My husband asked me what I had said. Chagrined, I replied, “I need to straighten up today.” Shoot, I didn’t even make it to the coffeepot.

But being willing to take this challenge does not mean that you will be perfect. It means that you will strive to reduce your complaining. Changing your vocabulary is only the beginning.

Spending time in praise and reading God’s word will change the overflow of my heart so that my default emotional position becomes one of praise and thanksgiving in a powerful way.

Can you think of a better way to begin the holiday season this year than celebrating a true heart of thankfulness, recognizing that life is difficult and challenging and yet it beautiful and wondrous gift?

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Why and How to Celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Your pastor may get a lot of attention on Sunday morning, but what he really does is mostly behind the scenes.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Your pastor may get a lot of attention on Sunday morning, but what he really does is mostly behind the scenes.

Sometimes, people think pastors just preach on Sunday morning. Who wouldn’t like a one day a week job?

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However, in addition to sermon preparation which takes hours of writing, researching, editing, and practicing, most pastors are responsible for leading the staff, organizing events, ministering to those who are sick or hurting, and making a multitude of decisions each week about everything from children’s ministry to plumbing problems.

While your pastor’s Sunday morning sermon might be the most visible thing he does each week, it is probably the smallest portion of his actual responsibilities and an even smaller portion of his ministry.

This fall, my online ministry has become more physical as I’ve been recovering from my surgery and better able to be back in the land of the living. I co-facilitate a marriage group at PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel).

We are reading a book that is extremely convicting and challenging, but will produce amazing fruit in the marriages of these women. I know just from a discipleship standpoint, it has helped me find places for growth.

However, I’ve learned tangibly that leading a ministry is more than just showing up once a week. In addition to teaching preparation, there is real need for ministering to the wives inside our class. Prayer requests that break my heart seem to come daily. I’ve been up at 2 a.m. messaging women in crisis several times.

I can only imagine the challenges of ministering to even a small congregation and truly taking the time to be present for people, even just on the phone, via email, or prayers takes real time and energy.

Our pastors give so much more of their time and heart than we ever realize. They drop family plans in an instant to tend to a hospitalized congregant or tend to grieving families. Our pastor even spent the night in Atlanta in order to take a member of our church to have surgery because she needed a specialist.

So celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month by recognizing the depth of his ministry.

He is doing God’s work in ways that consume his time, energy, and emotions.

How can we celebrate our pastors?

Check out free tools and tips to help you celebrate Ministry Appreciation Month in DaySpring’s #ReturntheBlessing campaign.

Prayer – take up the challenge to pray for your pastor specifically every day through the month.

Volunteer – While we’re all in different seasons of life, try to find a place in which you can serve. I don’t know any churches that don’t need more volunteers!

Thoughtful gifts may also be appreciated. Try to think of things that remind him of his purpose, remind him that his ministry matters to you.

Is he an avid reader? I know I can’t have enough money for books. I bought three books on apologetics this week! And I’ve got a wishlist a MILE long. There are so many great books by deep thinkers and amazing theologians. If you’re not sure which authors are his favorites, a gift card is a great way to support his reading habit.

You can also ask which books he likes to use for pastoral counseling and purchase a few for the church.

Does he spend a lot of lunches at the church and would appreciate a mini-cooler? Would he appreciate a coffee mug? Would your worship pastor like fun guitar picks?

By the way, I love this husband-wife set for the pastor and his wife. What a cute way to remember that she serves too. While she may take more or less of an active role in the church depending on her gifts and season of wife/motherhood, she graciously gives of her husband’s time.

Remember the wives during Pastor Appreciation Month

Much like a soldiers’ wives,  pastors’ wives sacrifice so much family time, but they accept this as part of their family’s service to God. However, that doesn’t always make it easier emotionally. Plus she may often feel isolated because people put so many expectations on her that she struggles to make friends.

Finding time for hobbies is hard for most pastors because there is so much important work to do, but ministry takes a lot of energy. And recharging is crucial. You can’t refill others from an empty cup. If you know your pastor well enough, try to support his hobbies.

Our pastor spends what limited time he can playing golf, sometimes with people who wouldn’t normally come to church. He sees them where they are and loves them. It’s amazing how just living Christ’s light can draw people.

Gift cards towards his hobbies are a great way to encourage him to take the time to enjoy himself. Pastors can really struggle with spending money on non-essentials, especially since most of them do not make large salaries.

Our pastor also does woodworking part-time. While I wouldn’t know what to get him for his shop, a gift card to Lowe’s is always a good idea. And I like the idea that our pastor is a carpenter and so is his boss!

But most of all, take a moment to truly just thank him (and his often unsung wife!) for all they do for the church. Kind words go a long way to encourage and uplift.

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Convicted & Inspired to have a Childlike Faith

What does it mean to have a childlike faith? Jesus said we won't enter heaven unless we learn how to become more like the children. So what does that mean?

Have you ever wondered what have a childlike faith means?

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Jesus taught some pretty serious lessons regarding children in the gospels, lessons about how precious children really are in His sight, and how the angels of children always have His Father’s ear.

One of the most simply stated and most challenging was to have a childlike faith and be like the children.

Matthew 18:3 ESV And said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Become like children? Often when we consider Jesus’ command, we think, I don’t want to have a childlike faith. I want a mature faith, a sturdy faith based on wisdom and understanding, consistently walking with the Lord.

But when we think about a childlike faith as immature,  we’re missing the point Jesus was making.

One point of this passage became really clear to me over the past few weeks.

I’ve been listening to Pastor Shane Idleman who preaches on fasting often. It’s not my favorite topic. While my father fasted a few times when I was a child, it wasn’t discussed in our perfectly polished suburban churches.

I have never attended any churches that spoke on it at all, and in my spiritual immaturity, fasting seemed out of step with a modern faith.

Until I grew some in discernment and wisdom, then I could see that the scripture clearly calls for fasting, but I didn’t want to fast.

I have a food problem. While I do overeat some, I mostly eat the wrong foods for my body. I let laziness choose my meals more than my desire for good health. I’d rather eat healthy foods, but not have to cook or prepare them. I just want easy. Making meals is not my happy place. (So if I ever cook for you, know you are well-loved.)

Additionally, I’ve struggled with eating disorders. While never long-term, I have certainly skirted with anorexia in an attempt to be thin. Struggling with body image has been a lifelong issue.

And all the fun stuff seems to happen around food.

But, over years of listening to Pastor Shane discuss the numerous times that fasting appears in the scriptures, I’ve realized fasting is an important component to spiritual warfare. I certainly have strongholds I am praying over. I have sin in my life that I need to defeat.

But I fight it. I don’t want to give up a meal. I don’t want to turn off my television. My flesh says in its sneaky, slithering tongue, “psshaw, it’s not that important. You don’t have to give up eating. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re faithful to God in so many ways. Does He really need this one too?”

And that voice has won more times than I care to admit.

This is where the childlike faith of a seven-year old convicted me.

A couple of weeks ago at church, my daughter’s Sunday school class was learning about following God, learning to recognize His voice and direction.

I didn’t even know that fasting was discussed in her lesson on obedience until the next day.

Mom, we need to fast today,” she said while I was making her breakfast.

Okay, why?” I know God’s been bringing up fasting to me over and over, so I was a bit taken aback. God was REALLY trying to get my attention.

Because I need more of God and less of me.” (She was referring to John 3:30)

She didn’t argue with what she had learned. She just obeyed.

We skipped lunch that day. We spent lunchtime praying and worshiping. It was pretty powerful and convicting.

She didn’t know that she could debate with God or rationalize away a conviction. She just obeyed.

That’s it. Simple.

So what about a childlike faith are we called to have?

  • Humility
  • Obedience
  • Trust
  • Belief
  • Love

My sweet seven year old just blesses my socks off. She knows God’s word and lives it as well as she knows how.

A childlike faith doesn’t ask who is my neighbor.

Yesterday, her team won the challenge in Sunday school. She got two pieces of candy while her friend didn’t get any. When my daughter’s friend was sad, she let her have the that candy was her favorite.

Her teacher was blown away by how my daughter exemplified generosity. She didn’t just share, she gave her the first choice. I’m humbled by that example.

She seeks knowledge and wisdom.

My daughter asked a question that STUMPED me last week.

“If God knew Adam and Eve would choose sin, and sin would cause so much hurt, why did he make us at all?”

Um . . . I don’t know. Because he wanted to? She’s seven, y’all.

I thought and thought. I couldn’t think of any scripture to clarify my answer. Then, I prayed to God for an answer.

My Bible reading Saturday was in Isaiah 43.

Isaiah 43:7 ESV  Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

It was just one verse, but it did answer her question. After consulting our pastors, who confirmed this was a good answer, I took my daughter to lunch and we had a chat.

“God created us for His glory. We may not know why or what that means in full on this side of heaven, but when I prayed for an answer to your question, this verse was in my Bible reading.”

“Okay, Mom.”

I asked her if she needed a better answer. “No, Mom, I think that answers it. Remember, if you pray for wisdom, God is faithful to give it to you.”

I really struggled not to cry.

In her childlike way, she demonstrated a spiritual maturity well beyond her years. The same child who struggles to obey me, taught me how easy it is to follow Jesus.

Love God. Love people. Believe what he says is true. Obey.

We adults make it so much more complicated.

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Exposing the Powerful Truth about Women and Conflict

What is it about women and conflict that destroys relationships? Through a massive perspective shift on relationships, I've found a new freedom in my life.

What is it about women and conflict that so easily destroys a friendship or builds division within a church or group? It’s taken a lot of spiritual growth for me to see conflict and women with a fresh perspective. Through this shift in my heart and attitude, I’ve found a new freedom in my daily life.

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I really long to be understood,  known, respected, and treasured by the women in my life. Having at least a handful close friends who really “get me” is really important.

While my feelings are valid, without a strong foundation in my identity in Christ, I was vulnerable to conflict in ways that were destroying my tender heart. Feeding into those conflicts by carrying hurt feelings, holding grudges, or even just allowing rejection to keep me from serving Christ is not how Christ implored us to behave.

John 17:21 (ESV) 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Learning how to live in this kind of unity is hard, but I felt compelled to find a way to better handle the difficulties of conflicts between women, especially within the Church.

Because we can’t live in a perfect bubble in which all the women in our lives perfectly honor God in every interaction.

What is it about women and conflict that destroys relationships? Through a massive perspective shift on relationships, I've found a new freedom in my life.

One powerful truth about women and conflict is that we don’t always handle it well.

Women are relational beings. We seek harmony and closeness which makes us amazing mothers and friends, but the strong emotions that help us build relationships can run away with us and cloud our judgment if we don’t stay grounded in truth.

Often, we react from hurt, anger, or fears before we respond from a place of peace, especially if we feel criticized or hurt.

Don't react to conflict from hurt, respond from peace knowing your identity in Christ. Click To Tweet

Don’t react from hurt, respond from peace.

I had to start recognizing myself as a sinner, saved by God’s grace, adopted as a co-heir with Christ. In those truths, I’m reminded to demonstrate humility in my relationships because we are all lost sinners without Him. And I have a firm foundation in His great love for me, which sent His son to earth and kept Christ on the cross – for my sins.

Poor communication and a lack of grace can turn tiny slights into relationship destroying mountains when we don’t see each other person with the proper perspective. We assume we know what she thinks, or we give what she thinks too much weight.

Additionally, we don’t control our own thoughts.



Because, you’re probably wrong about what she thinks.

When we assume someone’s thoughts, we’re presuming we understand so much about them. People process everything through past experiences, emotions, personalities, and even their mood or inner dialogue at the moment.

Making correct assumptions that take into account all those things is nearly impossible in the closest of relationships – ask my husband.

And we’ll use really crumby evidence, like an irritated facial expression or poor wording in a message, to support our negative thoughts which are often based in our own insecurities.

What is it about women and conflict that destroys relationships? Through a massive perspective shift on relationships, I've found a new freedom in my life.

A few weeks ago at Bible study, I spent the evening with a group of women talking about how as sisters in Christ, we often feel judged and criticized within the Body.

We began to talk about how we felt in specific situations within our study. And the more open we were, the more we realized that what we were feeling wasn’t even close to what the other people had been thinking.

For example, a couple of years ago, I would worry my house wasn’t nice enough when people came over but never complimented my decor. Joanna Gaines, I am not. Then a friend told me that my spotless house made her feel like she could never invite me over. She looked around my house and felt totally inadequate.

When I did go to her house, I was shamed by her willingness to be less than perfect, her bravery to be honest with her mess.

Lies we assumed the other person was thinking had held us both captive and divided our budding friendship.

We learned that messy, real brokenness built more bridges than any pretense of perfection. 

This is what we do to ourselves and each other when we try to guess what someone else is thinking.

Honestly, what she thinks of you is none of your business. 

What she thinks is her responsibility. I have to do the best I can to represent who I am in Christ and let the rest go. I can’t control how people perceive my behavior. A tiny look could be completely misinterpreted. I can’t live my life afraid to make a face! I’d need a truckload of Botox! 

I am responsible for the condition of my own heart.

That is the powerful, freeing truth about women and conflict that finally let me stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.

I can only control myself. I can only take responsibility for myself and my actual actions.

Trying to control what everyone thinks will often backfire completely. A lot of my close family and friends are in different places with their beliefs than I am. I want nothing more than to be a witness to them for Christ.

However, trying to control every interaction and perception made me frantic. Unintentionally, I was so tense that I pushed away the very people I was doing my best to love.

I finally gave up and said this is the best me I have today, with the spiritual maturity I have at this moment. I should try to be kind and loving, but only God’s opinion matters at the end of the day.

If someone misinterprets who you are, keep reaching out, keep being genuine. Give opportunities to her so she’ll want to reevaluate who she thinks you are, but don’t let it get to you.

What is it about women and conflict that destroys relationships? Through a massive perspective shift on relationships, I've found a new freedom in my life.

One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is if someone doesn’t want to be close with me, let them go.

Another powerful truth is . . . sometimes, it’s not me.

The other person’s perspective on who you are is based on her biases and experiences.

Sometimes you have to leave someone’s heart up to God. The most genuine kindness is can be misinterpreted by someone without spiritual maturity whose heart isn’t right with God. And we can’t take responsibility for that. 

Right now, there is a woman I see often who seemingly goes out of her way to avoid saying hello or even making eye contact. But I’ve never had more than a ten minute conversation with her. Any perspective she has on me is superficial and likely faulty. 

And I honestly have no idea what she feels about me. She might think I don’t like her. She may feel I’ve judged her somehow. What I’ve had to do is really lay it at God’s feet. Instead of feeling hurt and rejected, I have begun to pray for her and for opportunities to love her.

Because what is my responsibility, is what I think of her.

My responsibility is not what she thinks of me, but what I think of her. Do I think judgmental, hurt feelings at her? Or do I give her the grace and benefit of the doubt I would want from her? 

My responsibility in conflict isn't what she thinks of me but what I allow myself to think of her. Click To Tweet

I can choose to control my thoughts about her. When I have a negative thought or feel rejected, I pray for her and our relationship.



Three things to think about her:

First, she is beloved of God, and He is chasing after her heart just as much as he ever chased after mine.

Secondly, God calls me to love her more than I love myself. Instead of focusing on how her behavior affects me, I choose to demonstrate love for her in every interaction.

Lastly, God knows the deepest most secret places of her heart. In those places, God knows who she will be, not just who she is, not just her facial expressions or what she even says. I cannot know that identity. I can’t even get close unless I’m close to her heart. So, I need to treat her based solely on my relationship with Christ.

Because, that is how Christian women deal with conflict.