“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

I have an uncle who is mentally handicapped. Uncle Melly was born in an era when people like him were sent to live in institutions and kept from the public. There were no group homes, government services, or programs available. My grandparents’ only option was to raise him or to institutionalize him. They chose to keep him at home and raise him. That meant my grandmother’s life changed.

Uncle Melly’s home was his world—and, therefore, it became my grandmother’s world. He was not able to go to school, and there were no supports that came to the home. There was only my grandmother (and his 6 siblings as they got older) to help care for him and engage him. My grandmother was a godly woman and an extraordinary example of being a living offering and sacrifice. She cared for him 24 hours a day, without much reprieve.  She modeled a purposeful longsuffering that impacted how her children grew in compassion and tenderness.

As my uncle aged and my grandparents became more frail, my parents and several of his six siblings looked for ways to take care of them all. Two of his siblings even gave up marriage and remained single, committed to being the primary caretakers for my grandparents and uncle. My mom and the other siblings would step in to give them reprieve. Our family would invite Uncle Melly to our home for a weekend or week, take him out for rides in the car, buy him puzzles and teddy bears, all of which he named “Smokey.” As a child, my siblings and I learned a great deal about compassion, acceptance, and not fearing those who were different.

But what impacted me most was the example of my grandmother, my parents, and my aunt and uncle who gave of themselves over many years. There was often hardship and pain. Their lives were impacted as they sacrificed personal agendas. There was no personal return for them. They simply provided what they had to give for the wellbeing of another. They imitated Christ by how they lived out their faith. When I read Ephesians 5:1–2, I think of the example my family members set. These verses have become a way I think about how to live in relationships. Let me explain.

When the apostle Paul encourages us to imitate Christ, he uses the image of the Old Testament sacrifices. Offerings were sacrificed upon an altar and, as the fire consumed it, the aroma was pleasing to God. When Christ “gave himself up,” his sacrifice was pleasing to his Father. Likewise, as God’s children, we are called to imitate Jesus and give of ourselves (an offering) and to die to ourselves (the sacrifice). Why? There is no walking in love without some degree of dying to ourselves. It is not enough to receive God’s grace for ourselves, without also extending ourselves to others.

It is through our willingness to bear the sufferings of others that people will see Christ. As we do, we become a pleasing aroma to God and the ones we love. The prevailing aroma of Christ pours forth in and through us.

These grace-filled movements toward others flow out of our identity as dearly loved children. We are deeply loved and connected to a bloodline—to Christ’s bloodline—and he gives us power from his Spirit. We must cling to our loving Father who equips us with what we do not naturally have within us.

I am thankful for the example I’ve witnessed in my family. As they gave themselves to Uncle Melly, it was not only a pleasing aroma to us, it was also a fragrance of Christ that drifted down to several generations after them. They left a legacy, one that impacted each of us in a multitude of ways. Lord willing, it is a legacy we will pass down to our children and our children’s children.

May we cultivate an atmosphere in our relationships that displays the sacrificial love and grace we’ve received from Jesus.