Thursday, February 11, 2016

Giving Up the Crutch of Comparison - A Valentine's Day/Lent Challenge to Love Yourself


If comparison is the thief of joy
then the root of comparison is a deep need for trust...
and the courage to love ourselves.

If I asked you to make a list of things you love about yourself, I bet you'd struggle to come up with more than just a few.

But, if I asked you to make a list of the things you dislike about yourself, I bet you could fill up the page lickity-split.

If your pen is stuck in place on the "what I love about myself" list, then you're not alone. I'm right there with you. And, I'd venture to say that most women in this world are, too.

Why is that? Why do we feel this way about ourselves?

I started asking that question a couple of months ago, when I was up in the middle of the night, sitting on the living room floor keeping company with the dust bunnies and Christmas ornaments that had been ejected from the dilapidated tree earlier that day.

I was too angry and too frustrated to sleep, and this was not something that Netflix and a gin and tonic was going to fix. Although they're my favorite band-aids, they're not so hot at healing.

The feelings of grief and frustration had been building up inside of me for weeks, and as hard as I worked to stifle them behind a smile and a busy schedule, they could no longer be contained. I was tired of feeling irritated, tired of losing sleep.  It was simply time to deal with it.

How long is too long to wrestle with an interior burden? A few days, a few weeks, what about more years than you can count?  Ever since I can remember I've been dragging around the weight of comparison, a weight that has bruised my flesh, battered my heart and beaten me at every single mind game I'd every played against it.

For whatever reason, that very restless night I decided I couldn't take it any longer, and I wasn't going to leave the living room until I figured out how to fix it.

What I discovered, after about two hours, was that I couldn't fix it, not on my own, anyway.  God was going to have to fix it in me.  And, I had to trust Him, to do so.

Comparison never walks into your life alone, it brings along with it self-doubt, insecurity, and the disillusioned belief that every other mother, woman, wife, and friend has got it together - everyone except for you. (I've only been duped by that lie a thousand times, how about you?)

In the two hours that I was hunkered down with the dust bunnies I wish I could tell you that something radical happened, like I saw a light, heard a voice, or that the angel of reason appeared to straighten me out. Sorry, but no.

What did happen was more of a stirring than a strike of lightening. Isn't that just how God works?

I started to think about why it is that I feel like trying to be more so much more like others is better than being myself, the very person God made me to be in the first place.

Because, isn't that what we do when we make comparisons? When we measure ourselves against others?  It's a slippery slope.  Once we give in to those feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, because we believe that there's someone out there that we should be more like, we completely lose sight of who we are meant to be.

The truth is, there are better people out there - people with more talents, more skills, more opportunities, more friends, and more energy. There are prettier people, smarter people, funnier people, stronger, fitter, skinnier people, people with better ideas, better social skills, better marriages, better jobs...

Maybe they are our neighbors, our family, our friends, people at work, or people we just "know" online. Whoever they are, when all we can see is their "grass is greener" life on the other side of the fence, and we use that as a measuring stick for our own personal sense of purpose and well-being, we cannot possibly love and appreciate the person that God has created us to be.

Even more, how can God do a great work in us, when all we can see is everything everyone else is, and everything that we're not?

Looking at ourselves and the world isn't just blindness, it's madness.

How many times have you read a blog or walked away from Pinterest feeling like you're just not enough?  I see this play out all of the time on social media.  Women, you and I, announcing just how tired we are of how "this post made me feel this way or that," or, "she thinks she's such an expert," or "I'm tired of people telling me how to feel or what to do."

No one.  No one is telling us how to feel or what to do. We are the ones who allow it.  If we're going to open the doors of our hearts and homes to social media and the internet, then we'd better realize and accept that the internet is one big fat naval-gazing pit of opinions.

If what you read online motivates you in a positive way to become more virtuous, then read away my friends! Just realize that everything we give our time and attention to, be it the opinions, blogs, or the seemingly perfect pictures of others has an effect on us.

Those virtual experiences can either make us bitter or better.

Unfortunately, most of the time they can leave us feeling bitter.

How do I know? Because I see post after post of women apologizing, defending, and explaining in great detail exactly why we do certain things.  Why we homeschool or why we think homeschooling is lame, why we breastfeed why we think breastfeed is scandalous, because by golly everyone needs to know what we think, and hopefully, fingers crossed, someone out there will approve of us.

And just a little approval, just a little solidarity, might take the edge off of the stings of worthlessness and self-doubt, yeah?

Wouldn't it be nice to jump off of that roller coaster of comparison? To be free of those negative feelings toward ourselves? Well, I'll tell ya, it's not going to come from abandoning the web, although, that's not a bad place to start (at least try scaling things back a bit).

Roots of comparison run deep, so you gotta be ready to dig 'em up.  And that isn't easy, but it's possible, so very possible.

Do you want to know how I kicked the comparison crutch to the curb?

Simple.

I decided to trust God. (Sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear, but it's the truth, y'all.)

There in the darkness, in the middle of the night, I embraced the truth that:
He made me.  And He loves me. A lot.

What would happen if I really allowed myself to trust that love?  And what if I loved Him back by letting go of who I think I should be (according to my little world of comparisons) and instead found rest in the truth that He knows better than I do.  That He does not make mistakes.  That He does not need me to look at everyone else to see who I should be, but look to Him instead. To please Him instead.  To let His approval and love for me be my source of confidence.

I want to challenge us - you and I - this Lent and this Valentine's Day to do something totally different than we've ever done before.

What if this year, for Lent, instead of giving up chocolate and Netflix, you joined me in giving up the crutch of comparison?

That means loosening your grip on self-doubt, self-criticism, and a shattered sense of self-worth. (See how all of those burdens begin with "self?"  That's pride, my friends, and pride is no good.)
That means finding the courage within ourselves and daring to believe that it's OKAY leave those burdens behind to make room for something better.  Something like real love, God's love for us, and an authentic love for ourselves.

Lent is a time to think less of self and more of others, especially more of Christ, right? Do you think if we take our focus off of ourselves and and put it on Him, that His love, His approval, His plans for us can be enough?

I do.

Now, how about Valentine's Day?

What if this year, for the first time ever, you decided to love yourself for a change? Um, err...what?  Self-love. Yeah, it's not as simple as it seems, is it?

To love ourselves doesn't mean following the "you deserve to be happy" mentality that the world promotes.  It's not about taking a fancy trip or buying a designer purse. It means loving yourself enough to look in the mirror each and every day, faults and struggles and sin and all, and choosing to believe that you are a child of a gracious, loving and merciful God who can make you better.

It means being patient with yourself and then extending that patience to others.
It means seeing the good in yourself, and then striving to see the good in others, no matter what your differences may be.  It means being okay with not being the best or even great at everything, but being just right at a few things, and using those just right gifts to serve others.

Today I woke up to the sound of my beautiful, happy, chubby baby calling out my name.  We strolled to the kitchen together, just the two of us, and stuffed our faces with blueberries and toast.  With purple lips he grinned and me, and his eyes sparkled with the most pure affection.  He loves me.  Just as I am.  And, that love is the Lord reminding me that my value rests not in being someone the world approves of but in being a child of God. Now that, my friends, is where my my courage and my confidence, not my comparison, should come from.

Amen?

{Looking for a little written encouragement? I have found this book to be very helpful.}

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Eye Roll Like No Other - Jophis and His Mother's Genetics

Oh, Jophis.

Sweet, sweet, Jophis.

Jophalicious. Jo-Jo. Jofestival. Bananajo. Jo-da-man.  

All these crazy names we use with great affection to describe you and your big personality, yet none of them quite describe this:
Now that the baby of the family is rockin' close to thirty pounds, he thinks he's way too big to sit in his high chair and prefers to stand up and eat.  The other day, I gave him the serious look and told him in very slow, specific terms, 
Sit.......Down......Joseph.....William.....Karol (gives the ol' one eye stare).

Did he cry at my firm command? Nope.  Did he whine? Nope.  Did he growl? Nope. Spit his carrots? Not even.

He eye-rolled.

He stinkin' eye-rolled me.
Oh, this one was really good.  Practically all whites there.
Then, the moment comes when he knows we're all watching our little owl perform his optical tricks.
He's got us all in stitches.  His brothers, especially are wailing with laughter!
And, there it is - the grin - Mr. Blue Eyes cracks even himself up! 
Look at my teef! 
If there's anything sad to be said about this delightful little aspect of Joseph's personality, it's that his gift for the roll comes from me.  100%, no doubt about it. 
;'
With the birth of every one of our boys, I've completely accepted that they will all most likely inherit their father's masculine traits.  But, deep down, I've also hoped that maybe they would also get a little something good from me. (Besides that rather large bite you see above.  What can I say, dentists love us.)
Like my love for music, for instance.  No takers yet.  They're pretty good shower singers, though! Or, maybe my affection for writing, reading, gardening, or running. Still waiting on those to bloom, too. 

To Joseph's future wife:  I'm sorry.  The eye-rolling.  I know, it's just...well, it just is.  Bad service at the Taco Bell drive through and annoying or unreasonable behaviors tend to set it off, just FYI. 

My best advise? Just roll with it. Ha! 

{{crickets}}

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Angels to the Rescue - Climbing the Mountain of Mold Toxicity Part II

This is the second of a two-part series that I have written concerning our family's experience with mold toxicity. While this blog is a place where we share our personal family stories, it is also a place where I hope others can garner help and encouragement from those stories. I am sharing this information with you not to put you to sleep with details, but so that our words might reach anyone else out there who might be struggling with mold toxicity as well. You can read part one here.

Why do we do the things we do?
Because we love...and for the man who holds us all up on his shoulders, I would do anything.
It was during the boys' Classical Conversations classes three weeks ago that it all finally hit me...

I decided to slip out of Henry's classroom, to take moment to call my parents whom I had yet to correspond with (besides by e-mail).  After hashing through all of the details of what our family was facing, we said a long good-bye, and then everything I had shared with them came rushing over me.

With a sudden break in the adrenaline, which had been keeping me steady up to that point, fight was turned to flight as I slid down against the wall to the floor and buried my head in my hands, praying that no one would find me hovering in the corner of that room falling apart.

Two weeks ago we moved out of our home so that the remediation specialists could get to work without us being in the way. Steve's parents generously opened their home to all of us, which was an enormous comfort, as I cannot imagine trying to juggle everything from a hotel room as home base. That was really the start of what has been a long, exhausting journey toward what we are hoping will be a healthier home, and more importantly a healthier daddy.

First, the move out of our home, then the overwhelming number of questions - what do we throw away, what do we keep? Can we even keep anything? If we do keep some things, how do we clean them? How will I help the children understand what's happening? How long will it take before we can move back in? How will I teach school and shuttle the boys to practices and feed them and be attentive to them all while climbing the mountain of absolutes that must be managed in order to make our home a safe, clean place for our family to return to? 

Looming over everything was the possibility that the former home owners were aware of the water leaks before they sold us the house (without disclosure of the problem).  I dreaded that phone call too, but we needed to know for certain if there was any place else in the house that might need to be torn into before the cleaning began and new carpet laid.

Nonetheless, no matter what the previous owners could tell us about the condition of the home prior to us moving in, I had to stay focused on our battle plan for recovery.  After countless conversations with mold experts (the people at Real Time Labs, a woman named Kathleen in particular, were extremely helpful and supportive) all over the United States, we decided that creating a toxin-free environment for Steve would include:

:: A complete remediation: remove all mold, and reconstruct damaged areas
:: Air ducts and vents cleaned
:: Furnace taken apart and cleaned
:: Floors HEPA vacuumed
:: All carpet and padding replaced
:: Every clothing item, towels and bedding properly laundered* or dry cleaned
:: All mattresses, upholstered furniture, draperies, pillows discarded
:: All paper and cardboard items discarded (including anything in a box, such as food, medicine, etc.)
:: Entire interior of the house and remaining objects (EVERYthing!) cleaned with Sporiciden
 * We were instructed to soak all of our clothing in a solution of Borax (1/2 cup for an average load) an warm water, rinse and then launder.

This process of remediation and cleaning was a prudent decision for our family, because the amount of mold found in our home was minimal. I can imagine that when one thinks of mold being in a home that it would be easy to envision mold everywhere and on everything.  Some homes do contain a substantial amount of mold, and those suffering from toxicity due to the mold have to walk away and never return.  This is not our situation. And, when I talk about cleaning the home, I'm speaking of cleaning up the micro-toxins that are emitted from from the mold spores, not the mold itself. The objects in our home, specifically the furniture and mattress, did not have mold growing on them, but were contaminated by the toxins from the mold, and the toxins are what Steve is terribly sensitive to.

I cannot possibly describe to you just how enormous the laundry, cleaning and sorting through every single item we own has been - my children are mini hoarders, so they have learned some pretty significant lessons about discerning what is valuable and what is not.  Repeating the words, "If our house was on fire, is this what you would take with you?" really helped them decide what to keep and what to throw away.

While the grandness of the entire cleaning/remediation endeavor has been more difficult and arduous than I imagined it would be, through it all I have been surrounded by ANGELS. So many truly generous and supportive family and friends have dedicated their time and energy to help not just me, but my family as well, and we will forever be grateful to them!

I wish I had more photos (see pics below) of these angels in action cleaning, washing and folding laundry, delivering meals, pulling up carpet, hauling away trash, making phone calls, running kiddos to school and wrestling practice, picking up groceries....I will never, ever forget the smallest gesture of love that has been shown to our family over these past few weeks.

Even the messages we have received via e-mail, texts and social media lending prayers and support have been a great source of strength to us.  This is the true meaning of the Body of Christ.  We share our struggles with others and, in their desire to help us, grace enters in in a very powerful way, leading us all to live not only more virtuous lives, but lives that are focused no on self, but others. This is Christ at work in such a beautiful, powerful way within us all!

If you're wondering what it's been like to lessen the contents of our home by half, I will not sugar-coat it for you. Having to part with so many of our things has not been an easy task.

Having to acknowledge and contemplate the value or simple necessity of every single item in your home has a way of teaching you a lot about yourself and your family. You see before you, in tangible objects, what it is that you treasure, what things you may be hanging on to that aren't necessary, or even truly special, what simple things you take for granted that you can no longer keep.

Facing such a material giant has certainly of adjusted our focus, it has deepened the meaning of detachment in our hearts and minds, and taught us to hold on to people not things.

As for Steve, after spending two weeks undergoing evaluations and treatments at the Hansa Center, we are hopeful that he will make a full recovery from the toxicity his body is fighting.  While his doctors have given Steve many reasons to feel encouraged in the healing process, they have also told him that it will be slow, and that it is up to him to follow closely their dietary advice and supplements recommended to him.

Thank you for your prayers, notes of encouragement, and sincere concern for Steve and for our family. Keep those prayers coming! They are truly sustaining us through these days while we wait in hope for Steve's health to return.
My sister-in-law, Jennifer and her friends, Kim and Lori, spent an entire day at the laundry mat laundering all of our clothing, bedding, and towels.
They set a new record for the most number of loads done in a day - 120!
Both of my parents have come up to help and thankfully my mom agreed to step in and keep school going, so that I could manage everything at the house. My dad has been the best errand runner, baby holder, card player and frisbee thrower ever!
Our neighbors have been very patient with us, as our driveway has been piled up with bags of discarded goods, mattresses, furniture and carpet for the past couple of weeks.  This has all been very humbling for us, to say the least.
A blurry, flurry of activity - I wish I had better pics, but I guess snapping photos is the last thing you think of in the middle of a mini-crisis.  Kathy deserves the mother-in-law of the year award.  She has done so much for all of us.  I promise to post a photo of her celebrating when all of this is OVER!!

Valuable Resources:
1.  Beating Lyme Disease (includes valuable information on recovering from mold toxicity)
2.  Mold Warriors
3.  Wired for Healing
4.  Real Time Laboratories 

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, 
who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

Thursday, January 21, 2016

In All Things God Works For Good - Climbing the Mountain of Mold Toxicity, Part 1


{Source}
Being careful not to let the door slam behind me, I tiptoe out the front door into the early single digit chill, the sun peeking up above the horizon just enough to light my path.  Stupid winter, I curse, the steam from my words hanging in the air in a cloud of frustration that only I can see.

The current morning routine of starting up the van in the dead of winter, so that it can warm up for a few minutes before I run Andrew to school, is not my favorite way to start the day.

But today's morning didn't end with cursing in the cold, today was different.

You see, my world, our world has been turned upside down these past few weeks. And, while I've done my best to keep the children and my husband in a happy little bubble, hoping they will float unscathed through the storm of life we're in, being the protector of that bubble has not come without a hefty mental, emotional, and physical cost.

As I turned the ignition key, the dash lights flashed and just above the rumble of the engine a voice on the radio came streaming into my ears, breaking through all of the attention I was giving to hating the cold. A woman's voice, filled with emotion spoke, "Romans 8:28 says,


 'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, 
who are called according to His purpose.'

This was the answer to the prayers I had prayed the night before.
  
I am tired, Lord.
Why is this happening to us?
Why are you asking this of me? 
And, why have you allowed such a heavy cross to enter our lives while my husband is sick and I am pregnant?
Please speak to my heart, give me Your word so that I have something to hold on to.

For months we have known that Steve has been suffering from mold toxicity (in addition to Lyme Disease), and his lab results have proven it to be true.  His symptoms are specifically neurological in nature (the feeling of electrical frequencies in the head, memory loss, brain fog, inability to concentrate and track conversations) which are some of the most difficult to endure, and are evidence of later stages of toxicity, which can be very dangerous.

{You can read more about the symptoms of toxicity here and here.}

Trying to find the source of mold in our home has been very difficult, because we have not had any known water leaks at any time since we moved in two years ago.  Two different specialists have come out to inspect our home.

The first one found nothing, the second, after digging for an entire day, finally (by random chance) found a small area in our basement storage room, high up on the wall near the ceiling, where behind insulation he uncovered a very small area that was just damp enough to produce a mold growth.

For mold to survive, it has to have 3 things:
1. A constant water source
2. Oxygen,
3. A host (in this case it was the plywood on the wall.  The mold had literally eaten through the panel!)

The source of water (presumably rain) had dripped down between the exterior brick and interior wall from a window (which appeared to be perfectly sealed) in the guest bedroom just above the storage room.

The funny thing is, there was no visible damage to the window, nor the walls or trim in that room which would lead us to believe that this could potentially be the source of the problem.  So, initially when we went searching for the mold, we could see no evidence for concern.

It is literally a miracle that we were able to find the water source and mold growth without having to tear the entire house apart.

Let me tell you again, because if anyone in your home should happen to have any symptoms that could potentially be mold related, it only takes a very small amount of mold to make someone who has a sensitivity to mold extremely ill.

{Mold is all around us - it is literally everywhere - but some people are more sensitive to it than others. For someone who is sensitive, whose body cannot naturally rid itself of mold toxins, prolonged exposure to those toxins is what eventually causes varying degrees of illness, even death.}

Thankfully, no one else in our household is sick.  Steve is the only one who has extreme sensitivity to the mold.

Without overwhelming you all with too many details, I will mention that it is not the mold itself that Steve is reacting too, but the microscopic toxins that the mold exhibits through it's spores which can easily be spread throughout the house. (The specific toxin that is making Steve ill is called trichothecene.)

Once the mold source was discovered, Steve was advised to leave the house immediately. Within a few hours he had packed his bags, moved in with his parents (who thankfully live close by), and I was left alone in our home with our children, gripped with worry over what the days ahead would hold for all of us.

After a week of being separated (which was terrible!) We were all instructed to move out of our home, so that the team of remediation specialists could come in and begin working to restore the integrity and safety of our home.

While the past couple of weeks are ones that I hope we never have to live through again, we are not despairing. God is good.  He has not left us to wonder through this trial alone. He has strengthened our resolve and blessed us with the wisdom, knowledge, and resources to finally conquer this mountain we've been climbing for the past two years.

And we believe that He truly is working for the good for those of us who love Him. 

More about the remediation, 
the angels who have come to help us, 
and Steve's journey to the Hansa Center to come in Part 2.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Five Days Better Late Than Never - Husband Family Highlights of 2015

I am in complete denial that my children's educational careers will resume tomorrow.  The Loony Tunes band-aid we've all been wearing for the past two weeks to cover up the painful reality of commitment to organization, early bedtimes, and serious brain activity is going to hurt just a tad when it gets ripped off with the 6 a.m. alarm.

But, onward we trod.

Most of of you are probably already into the swing of the new year, maybe even planning your snacks and crafts for Valentine's Day, but I kinda still have my heels in 2015.  I had solid intentions to write a Christmas letter this year, but alas the intention never materialized.

I could probably blame the lack of sentimental expression on the ridiculous amount of time it took me to untie the toddler, who was captured and tied to the Christmas tree, or the mountain of cereal bowls that perpetually pile up at the kitchen sink, but truth be told, it didn't get done, because the one and only time I had to sit down and write the letter also happened to be the exact moment that the house was (almost) quiet, which resulted in mommy *accidentally* falling asleep on top of the laundry that I was contemplating folding.

So, really, if we want to point fingers in blame, point 'em to our 21 week old baby who makes me really, really tired.

If the baby happens to be a girl, Perpetua Fatiguia would be most fitting.  If it's a boy, Maximus Exhaustius.
Anyway, for all y'all who can't get enough of a good Christmas letter, and for myself, who often needs to be reminded that life is indeed about more than laundry and keeping the pantry stocked, this reel of 2015 highlights is for us!

{Click on the countdown titles for more on the stories.}

Husband Family - Best of 2015

This boy is living a whole new life, thanks to an incredible surgeon at Denver Children's Hospital. He is more energetic, able to focus in school, and more cheerful all around (yay!).  Never, ever take for granted the gift of being able to breathe, because it is just that - a gift.

Okay, so this may not be something most people would consider a highlight to their year, but it's something I don't ever want to forget, because it taught me some pretty valuable lessons, a few of them being that people are good (really), nothing in this world is really ours anyway, and back your stuff up.

Sometimes a mama just needs to sneak away for a weekend.  And, on that weekend, make new friends, wear some crazy shoes, relax, laugh, think, pray, and be told by the kindest hearts that she really isn't failing at this whole motherhood thing (even though she may feel like it). 

There's a little reason why farmers don't vacation during the summer, and it's called feeding the world. So we make the most of the little get-aways here and there throughout the rest of the year. Going to the lake over labor day with family is becoming an annual favorite!

One of the personal goals I set for myself last year was to run a marathon in 2015.  Chicago has been on my bucket list since college, and since I would turn 40 the same month as the race I thought it would be a fitting way to celebrate the ushering in of a new decade!  

6.  A Surprise Visit From Switzerland
Our entire family was blessed with a tremendous surprise last fall when my sister, Sara, called us and told us that she was coming for a visit with her eldest daughter, Elisabeth.  We had a wonderful time relaxing, visiting, eating, sipping on wine, and watching the boys delight in Elisabeth's presence, loving her like a sister.  Living with an ocean between us never ceases to be difficult, but it sure does make the time that we are able to spend together a precious gift.


And Another Son Flies the Homeschool Nest
We said from the first day we jumped into homeschooling that we would take it one day at a time, one child at a time.  That philosophy was really put to the test a couple of years ago when we made a prayerful decision to send Benedict to Catholic school.  It has proven to be a very fruitful decision, as he is flourishing in so many beautiful ways.  I'm still trying to wrap my heart and mind around the reality that he's a Freshman this year! His younger brother, Andrew, is following in footsteps, and so far is enjoying the journey very much.

Mid May-ish our family will welcome a new little Husband.  While this precious life has come as a bit of a surprise to us (a future post for sure), we don't doubt for a moment God's goodness, His graciousness, nor His perfect plan for our family.  We do doubt, however, whether these walls can hold us all in for much longer.  House hunting is in full force!

9.  We Like Big Vans and We Cannot Lie!
And...eight plus one means we've officially outgrown the suburban.  After discussing the pros and cons of all three van choices available to large families, we settled on the Nissan NV.  Master Deal Tracker Daddy found our party wagon clear out in West Virginia. Thank you, Craigslist! 

10.  Quoteworthiness
Charlie (age 4):
Do you know what this is, Mom? 
It's an axe (read: "ask")! I made it for you to put in your tool box! 
You can use it to chop up things, or kill spiders or snakes, but probably not bears, 
bears would not be scared of this (ask) axe.

If our boys aren't eating, playing sports or pranks on each other, they're usually telling stories, and from those stories come the funniest quotes.  I like to share many of the funny things they say on my Facebook page, because who doesn't love a little boyhood humor?

Finally, thank you for visiting our family here at our little spot on the web.  I know that the frequency of my posts continues to diminish as I am meeting the more important callings of family life, but I want you to know how dearly I value your questions, kind responses, and generous love toward our family.  (A list of this year's top stories below!)

Here's to a New Year, my friends!