Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Back to back blogging days! Quite the rare occasion around here!

Today's a special day....Sarah is 17!

It just doesn't seem possible that it was 17 years ago today that we held her in our arms for the very first time!  The day she was born was very much like today....beautiful sunshine. I spent the day relaxing on the deck watching Mike, Andrew, and Jon play in the yard. They were 6, 4, and 3 at the time. I had contractions all day long 10-15 minutes apart but I was totally relaxed, not at all thinking that it was the "real deal" because I had an appointment to be induced two days later.

At 7:30 that night, I laid down on the couch to snuggle with Jon and, to my shock, the contractions went to 10-15 minutes apart to 2.5 minutes apart! By 8:30, we were at the hospital, and at 9:55 Sarah was in my arms! 

And we never let her go!!!

Andrew was in love with his baby sister!
The feeling was mutual!
When Sarah could talk she called him, "My Enew". (melt<3)

Sarah brought so much joy and healing to our family after losing Therese the previous year. She continues to bring lots of joy...and a little sass;)...17 years later!

Kate: "I want to be like Sarah when I grow up. 
Sarah is sassy! I want to be sassy like Sarah."

Sarah is a very motivated, faith filled young lady. She has big ideas and wants to change the world! Sarah is incredibly passionate about the subjects that are important to her, particularly anything pro-life! She loves to sing, completely overload her academic schedule(4 AP courses this year..5(!) next year), read, sew, paint, and snuggle any baby she can get her hands on.

Kate insisted that I add this slightly fuzzy picture bc it's Sarah holding her when she was a baby!

Sarah has lots of love to share...which often comes in the form of cookies or pies to her friends and family. She's no pushover, though...she did survive growing up with 3 older brothers!

Sarah has a boyfriend for the first time. His name is Dan and he is a really nice young man. He's a Senior this year and Sarah is super excited for prom next week!

Sarah is working at a local summer camp starting in June and is hoping it will add a little something to her college applications in the Fall. Sarah's goal is to become a Speech Therapist and work with kids with special needs, particularly Autism. Sarah has a real gift with anyone with special needs. She has a genuineness and patience to see through the disability and connect with the "real" person. I've seen it firsthand with not only her brother, Peter, but anyone with a disability that she meets out in the community. It's definitely a special gift!

Jay and I are so proud of the person that she is, and we're excited to see what the future holds!(Although we wish we could keep her home with us forever!)

Happy Birthday, Sarah! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Peter Victory

IEP meetings can cause a lot of anxiety for parents. We have been blessed to have mostly positive experiences. Today was probably the best IEP meeting we've ever had.

Back in the fall, we decided to change Peter into a different program. There were multiple reasons for our decision. The other students in his classroom had aged out and he was the only one left. His main classroom teacher was on maternity leave until Thanksgiving. The program he was in was located in a Middle School that had very limited opportunity for any kind of inclusion beyond art and music...neither of which Peter really liked.

Jay and I  toured another classroom within the collaborative Peter attends that was located in a high school two towns over. Even though the classroom was full, the teacher agreed to take Peter in for a temporary placement to see if he would be a good fit. The classroom was perfect for Peter, with 8 friends and an awesome program that had multiple nuerotypical high school students rotating in and out of the classroom multiple times a day. Peter fit right in!

Today at his IEP meeting, the psychologist was present to go over the  psychological testing Peter had as part of his three year review. The psychologist had also done Peter's testing three years ago, and she was amazed at the difference she saw in him. Three years ago, she had to give Peter constant breaks and redirection to get even the minimal testing done. She had to currently address negative behaviors that came up because he was doing a non-preferred activity, which was the norm for Peter back then. 

Not this year! This year, she got all of his testing done in two sessions with no breaks! He was able to complete all of it. He even scored in the average range and close to the average range in a couple of different categories. That's a huge improvement for Peter! 

I can't say enough about the team that we are blessed to have for Peter: From the psychologist who celebrated the gains Peter has made and reminded us that Peter is much more than any result of a test, to our home therapist who has helped us through so many bumpy times and continues to push Peter forward to help him reach the highest levels he is able, to his classroom teacher who has had such a positive influence on Peter all year and has helped him work through his clothing quirks and helped him to really bloom into the teenager that he is, to the aides in his class that give him so much love and positive attention, to his speech therapist who totally gets the direction we hope to go in and the gains in true conversation for Peter that we are praying for, to the director of his program  who is always so positive and the director of our Special Ed Department, who was brand new this year and supported us and helped to find Peter a classroom that fit him so well!  

Peter is still profoundly affected by Autism. He will never be even close to functioning at the same level as his age appropriate peers. It's gotten easier to hear his teachers and therapists talk about focusing on academics that will give him life skills. Our focus on helping Peter be the very best version of Peter that he can be. To be as independent as possible in life and to have the skills to have fulfilling relationships with family and friends. Peter's life will look different from his siblings, but it can still be filled with happiness and fulfillment.

Life with Peter has definitely had its challenges. There were so many years when we could not leave him alone for 5 minutes...literally! (One time, when he was about 6, he had been in his room for less than 5 minutes without me checking on him and he had crawled out the window and it took us 10 minutes to find him. He had gone down the street three houses and was sitting on a neighbor's ride on lawn mower in his driveway.) That kind of behavior was the norm, not the exception. There were years filled with 24/7 anxiety to keep him safe. There were YEARS of dealing with his horrible sleep issues...when 3-5 nights a week he would wake up for 2-4 hours in the middle of the night and be wide awake. There were years of hearing teachers tell us, "He is very bright and has lots of good skills, but it takes so much effort to control his behaviors." 

If there are any moms..or dads...of kiddos that have special needs reading this, take heart! Because somewhere along the way, something clicked. Peter finally started sleeping better. Peter finally stopped moving, climbing, and impulsively running off at every moment. I feel like we have finally started to enjoy who Peter is, rather than use all our energy to just keep him safe.

This year...Peter has finally stopped having all of the behaviors in the classroom and is opening up opportunities for himself to learn and grow friendships at school. Part of it is his ability to self regulate. Part of it is that he has matured. Part of it is the location of his program being at a high school that is very supportive of their special needs peers...especially the reverse inclusion AND the inclusion opportunities that Peter will have next year! That's something Jay and I have wanted for him since he was at the Elementary School level and I'm SO excited for Peter for next year! Last but CERTAINLY not least.....a BIG part of Peter's success this year are due to his teachers, aides, and therapists creating an environment for him to grow into the best Peter he can be!

I am beyond grateful!

Friday, May 13, 2016


Quick Take Friday...TGIF! This has been such a busy week..and it felt SO long! I loved the warmer, sunny weather! It looks like Spring has finally arrived!  :)

#1: One of My Favorite Things
Two weeks ago, Sarah was part of her high school's production of The Sound of Music. She played a nun and a party goer. (The party goer had a different outfit. ;)  This was part of  Sarah's Bio: "Sarah is a junior. She loves nuns and so is happy to be one, if only in a musical." When I read it at the play, I LOL'd!

#2: More From the Stage!
Sarah isn't the only family member performing this month! Mike was invited to be in a local theater Group's Production of Snow White! Mike played "Doc"....which is EXTRA comical considering he is 6'4". All the dwarfs were on their knees when they were on stage! He did a great job...and has already been asked back for their next play! Kate really loved it...Luke, too!

....Except, maybe for this one, which ended
up on the theater group's Facebook page!

The only time in years that my parents have been taller than Mike!
#3: All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth...
Well...I don't think he will have to wait until Christmas! But, Luke is now missing both of his front teeth! It's such a cute look! I'm not looking forward to those big grown up teeth taking up space in his mouth! I don't want my little boy growing up!
#4: Mother's Day
I was completely spoiled throughout Mother's Day weekend! Luke came home with the sweetest card and flower pot that he made for me at school!! The card is definitely going into the "pileofspecialthings" that I WILL get into a scrapbook someday!!

"I like it when me and my Mom go to Captin Bones.(Captain Bonnies)
I like it when we make chicinpi.(chicken pie)
I like it when my Mom tacs(takes) me to popparc.(Pope Park)

This picture just makes me melt!
Luke is such a sweet little boy!
Bonus "she said":
Kate: I don't like that picture. It doesn't have me in it!
Luke:(talking with his hands and an animated voice): Kate, my teacher told me to draw a picture of something I like to do with Mom! NOT something I like to do with Mom AND my sister!
Jay completely spoiled me for Mother's Day! He got me a Lindor chocolate bar, a chic flick, a gift card to Panera and Barnes and Noble, and my own green cell phone charger!(The white ones always disappear mysteriously...we're pretty sure Jon or Mike will find a stash of them in their rooms eventually!) PLUS...Jay made a frame for our giant family canvas pic and hung all the pictures that have been in a pile in our room for quite some time!

I was spoiled by all of my older kids, too! Mike got me a gift card to a yummy local breakfast restaurant, Andrew brought me home a quart of one my favorite Acushnet Creamery ice cream(Cranberry Harvest..and there's even some left!), Jon made me delicious chocolate covered strawberries(which I forgot to get a picture of before I ate them all!) and a funny card with an offer to take me out to dinner sometime in the next week or two, Ellie made me a super sweet card and did lots of extra chores so I didn't have to, and Sarah sorted through our big bins of pictures and organized them into different categories to make it easier to get them into albums!

Mother's Day was a great day! We did brunch at our house with both our families and then had a lazy afternoon by ourselves! It was perfect!

#5: Sarah, Sarah, Sarah!
 It's been a super busy time for Sarah! In the last 2 weeks, she's had lots of rehearsals, 4 AP tests, SAT's, The Sound of Music, and, on Tuesday night, she received the Pope St. Pius Xth Award! 

Sarah and her boyfriend, Dan.
Aren't they cute together? He made her cookies to congratulate her. (Aww) :)
On Wednesday night, Sarah was in the Spring Concert at her school. She is part of the Acapella Group. (Just a quick note about one of the things we love about Sarah! Sarah takes after the Hamel side of the family and has extra long arms and legs. It makes shopping for more modest dresses challenging since so many clothes are too short to begin with! Sarah is crafty and has taught herself to sew. So she added lace to the bottom of this dress to make it a better length! #<3)

#6: Super Sister #2
I would be remiss to not mention how super helpful Ellie has been the last few nights! She has helped with dishes, bath time, and even made cookies on Tuesday night.(Which are completely gone!) Ellie has a big week coming up herself! So stay tuned! :)  And, just in case my older boys are reading this, thanks for helping with watching the littles the last couple of nights! You were helpful, too! ;)

#7: Baseball
Despite the fact that I swore we would not put Luke in baseball...Jay and the boys wore me down and Luke had his very first instructional game last night. The league is a lot different now compared to when the older boys played baseball. The season is MUCH shorter. It's over around July 4th now, which is SO much better than the late August/early September ending when Mike, Andrew and Jon were little! Plus, Jay isn't coaching, which makes it much easier for me! Luke is so excited to play, and all the older boys and Jay have been helping him practice and teaching him some skills. Luke did great! He hit the ball all three at bats and even made it to the base safely once.(The other two times he was too busy watching the ball to run!lol)

Luke and his cousin Brayden are on the same team!
Brayden had a great first game, too! :)

Have a great weekend! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Love in the Details

I read several blog posts the day that definitely made me think. For all of my fellow 80's lovers..."Things that make you go Hmmm!"

Christy Fitzwater, a contributor for Club 31 Women, wrote a post entitled "One Secret to Making It to Your 25th Anniversary". Since Jay and I will be celebrating our 24th Anniversary in the fall, I was really curious...and definitely had to agree...on what Christy had to say. Particularly these few lines:

"The secret to 25 years is in seeing to the details.
Early on in a marriage, the details drive you NUTS. Like when Matt would hang the towel up with the tag showing. Come on. Or for him, it was when I would go to the bathroom and not close the door all the way (this guy has a thing about closed doors, I can tell ya.)
But somewhere along the way the details changed from an irritant to an opportunity. It was the sign of a deep growth of the heart, from selfishness to service."

I love that..."seeing to the details"! It's so true. Life does have it's share of exciting and momentous occasions, but the majority of our days are spent in the everyday, humdrum moments. The laundry moments, the washing the dishes moments, the cooking dinner moments, the driving your kids to practices and appointments moments, the snuggles with littles moments, the talking with teenagers get the picture!

There are so many 'little', seemingly insignificant, things that I try to do most days because I know that they please Jay and will make him feel loved. They are really my own version of "seeing to the details" that Christy talks about. Yet, it's in those little moments that gives us connection and nurtures the love between us. (With all the distractions in this world, the love in everyone's relationships need as much nourishing as they can get!)

Every couple's "details" will be different, When I read Christy's article, I couldn't help but think of some of the everyday ways that Jay and I try to love and serve one another. For instance, Jay completely lives up to the saying, "The way to a man's heart is through his his stomach". Jay enjoys a good meal. If he's had a tough day at work, one of his favorite dishes waiting for him when he gets home is a form of therapy for him! He certainly doesn't expect fancy 4 course dinners, but hearing we're having homemade chicken pie or Guiness shepherd's pie is sure to put a giant smile on his face. You can just see the stress of the day melt away as those comfort foods fill his belly!

Something I try to do each day...and the key word is to have at least the living room picked up  when Jay walks through the door. I know that Jay really appreciates a place to relax at night that is free from visual clutter. So, even if the rest of the house looks like an episode of hoarders(!), the kids and I do a quick clean up about 30 minutes before Jay gets home from work. This way, after dinner and bath time, he has an enjoyable place to unwind for a few minutes before he falls asleep on the couch. ;)

There are other little things that don't really mean much, but make his life just a little easier and more convenient. Jay likes to take his work shirt off as soon as he comes in the house and throw it in the washing machine, and then shower and change and run all of his work clothes in a load.  I try to make sure that the washing machine is empty so that he doesn't have to switch the load to the dryer first.
....Not that he ever complains about switching the load, but it's a little act of love on my part! He's been at work all day and it's nice if he doesn't have to worry about "doing" anything when he first walks in the door.(at least until bath time after dinner!;) 

Then, there are some really small, hidden things that I do. I pray for Jay, (and each member of my family), as I fold their laundry. I put Jay's laundry away before I put away my own pile. It's a really silly thing, but it's a (very small) act of putting him before myself.  "Offered up" as a sacrifice, no matter how little, injects grace into a mundane act of housekeeping. (If only I could stop messing up on the "bigger" opportunities of sacrifice God frequently puts in my path! Thankfully, He keeps sending more to give me extra chances to get it right!) :)

All marriages have different seasons....and even the best marriages have their challenging moments! I think that "seeing to the details" helps to build a foundation, (and helps to fill spots that might be weak and need some extra grace), to have a fulfilling marriage. 

In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, "Merit does not consist in doing or giving much, it consists in loving much."

We need to love our husbands in the details.

Friday, April 29, 2016

On organizing the (emotional) Mess!

Quick Take Friday: On organizing the (emotional) mess!

#1: Organize
One of my friends, Ellen, has a jar filled with virtues, (written on paper). Around New Year's, she offers to pick a virtue for you and message it to you. This year, I got "Organize". Which is something I really need. Originally, I had this idea that "organize" was going to be a year of decluttering and,  (God Willing), the ability to FINALLY figure out how to print and scrapbook/put into albums the thousands of pictures I have in manila envelopes, on memory cards, and stored on my computer. Being the memory keeper is important to me and it's a sore spot for me that I can't seem to figure out how to start organizing all of these photos!  Four months into 2016, and I'm thinking God has more in mind. (Doesn't He always..and yet, I'm still surprised every.single.time!)

#2: How to Reconfigure and Organize Life
Looking for tips?, too! I think step one is accepting that you have an organizing problem. Trying to balance life is a continual see-saw battle!

Battle cartoons, Battle cartoon, funny, Battle picture, Battle pictures, Battle image, Battle images, Battle illustration, Battle illustrations

#3: Acknowledge the Un-Organization in Your Life
I've been a little lost lately.
Maybe more than a little.
I think it has a lot to do with turning 40 and being at a real cross roads of change in life. Some of the other smaller "issues" in life that were themselves manageable, all of a sudden morphed into much less manageable weights that make some days hard to function through normally.

You know those times when you think of all the things that have to be done, you calculate the time it will most likely take to do it, and you realize that even if you worked without sleeping for days that you could probably STILL not be able to finish it all? And you just want to give up before you even start?

There have been quite a few days like that.

Bill Watterson

#4: "Focus Danielson"
I'm picking a couple of areas to start on because a complete overhaul would just be too overwhelming! So...I think I'm going to focus first on getting our financial life more organized AND trying to add date nights into our month. That sounds counterproductive, doesn't it?!? While going out for dinner occasionally is a nice treat, I'm thinking that our couple time will be going for walks and grocery shopping together on Friday nights. (That counts, right?!?) AND...I need to come up with a plan to tackle the picture backlog problem and schedule time to implement it!

#5:  Just Start Somewhere
I know for myself, I want it to be the perfect scenario with the perfect plan mapped out from a-z before I even start something, That's all well and good, but some projects are so overwhelming that you just have to jump in and start somewhere. In the words of Maria Von Trapp, "Let's start at the very beginning... a very good place to start." (and not worry about how long it will take to get to the end!) All forward progress counts!

#6: St. Catherine of Siena
On a completely different note, today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena! She is one of my favorite saints! She was a total "bad butt"! Small but powerful! 

#7: He Said/She Said
Jay: (talking to Kate) Hi, honey, how was your day?
Kate: I went to the doctors and got a shot and it really hurt! Then, mommy took me out for lunch and we had chicken hands.
Jay: Do you mean chicken feet?
Kate: No. Wait a minute. I mean chicken fingers...we had chicken fingers!

Happy Weekend!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Journeys Into The World Of A Teenager!

Birthdays are a frequent occurrence when you have a big family....but it's an extra special day when you get a new teenager in the house!

1. Not Our First Rodeo
Ellen is our 6th teenager! Of course, her three oldest brothers have wandered into the land of young adulthood..(shudder)..., so we only have 3 teenagers in the house right now. "ONLY 3"...seems kind of a funny thing today. We've done 4 teenagers in the house at one point, so 3 should be easy...Right?!?

2. Those Eyes!
Ellie has the biggest, bluest eyes out of all our children. When she was a baby, those big, blueberry blue eyes drew all the older ladies over to my shopping cart whenever we were out in public!

Considering Jay and I both have brown eyes, recessive genes made an appearance quite a bit in our family!  Mike had blue eyes until he was 12 and they changed into more of a green color. Andrew and Peter both had blue eyes until they were two and then they turned to hazel.  Ellie and Kate have blue eyes, although Ellie's are the truest blue. 

Ellie was SO excited that Kate had blue eyes! Ellie told us after Kate was born that she prayed and prayed for a baby sister with blue eyes just like her. So sweet!
Our very own Cindy Lou Hoo!

#3: Speaking of Sweet...
Ellie is one of the sweetest people I know! If I had to pick one word to describe her, "sweet" would be the one! Ellie has such a big heart. She loves and gives with all she has. Her big heart is right there in the open...which makes her a very sensitive person. Her personality is a lot like Jay's Mom. 

The "sweet ones" at Ellie's Kindergarten graduation

#4: Except On The Court...
One place Ellie is NOT sweet is on the basketball court! Basketball suits her well since she is 5'7" at 13 and the doctor thinks she still has several inches to go! It's good to be tall. :) 

Bending over so she doesn't tower over everyone!

#5: Daddy's Girl
Ellen is definitely a Daddy's Girl! She always has been! All of the girls have Jay wrapped around their fingers! 
Always a Daddy's Girl!

#6: The Little Sister, Big Sister, & Middle Child
Ellie is our true middle child. She's not as old as the "big kids", the little kids are quite a bit younger than her(Luke is 6 years younger, Kate is 8 years younger), and because Peter's cognitive/emotional age is so much younger because of his disability, Ellie is stuck in the middle!  Sometimes the older kids act more like parents than siblings...and no one wants that many parents!

In the past year, I've noticed a really big difference in Ellie's relationship with most of her older siblings. She has definitely started to be more connected to the big kids...especially Sarah. It's really special to see them together...or hear them talking and giggling in the bedroom...during their frequent "girl time". I hope they will always be close!

Of course, Ellie is frequently sought after by Kate and Luke, too! She is great with them. Kate loves to play "dollies" with her and both Luke and Kate love to play Legos with her. Ellie is "super sister"...she learned well from her older "super sister"!(Well done, Padawan!)


#7: Happy 13th Birthday, Ellie!
We love you bunches and can't imagine life without you! :)

Friday, March 11, 2016

All About Sarah

Sometimes Sarah will comment that she doesn't get mentioned much on the blog space. So every once in a while, I make sure to dedicate a whole blog post just to Sarah. (Of course, once the limelight is on her, I'm not sure she always appreciates it! C'est Le's tough being a teenager!(and the mom of a teenager!)

This has been an exciting week for Sarah!

1. Twitterpated

I'm probably going to be in lots of trouble for that pic, but I couldn't resist! Sarah has her first boyfriend! Dan is very nice and a good kid. The best thing is that Sarah is his first girlfriend, too! They both feel a little awkward trying to figure out all the "rules" of dating. It's really cute! 

#2. Puzzle
Sarah is a junior, but Dan is a senior. On Sunday, Sarah went to Dan's concert.(He plays viola in an orchestra.) Afterwards, Sarah went to dinner with Dan at his grandmother's house and got introduced to some of his relatives. Dan had a surprise for Sarah! It was a cookie puzzle he had baked. When Sarah put it together, this is what it said...............
...she said yes! (of course)

Shopping for a prom dress is going to be tough! Sarah got added to a facebook group at school where girls are posting the dresses they chose. 1/2 dresses are more like it! Thankfully, Sarah is very good about picking out clothes. I'm sure we will find a dress that is beautiful and classy...just like her!

#3. Award Number 1
There was a pro-life Mass for the diocese today with an awards ceremony afterwards to celebrate the pro-life essay winners for both the junior high and high school students and the John Cardinal O'Connor Youth and Adult Awards. Sarah won second place in the high school essay contest. The first and second place essay writers for each age division read their essays after Mass. I wish that I had recorded Sarah reading her essay! She is SO passionate about the pro-life cause, and she did a really great job on the essay. (I will share it at the end of the post in case you're interested!)

#4. Award Number 2 
 What Sarah didn't know was that she was also chosen to be the recipient of the John Cardinal O'Connor Youth Award! Jay and I knew, along with a handful of teachers, but they asked us to keep it quiet and surprise her during the ceremony. Well....surprised she was! 
I took this picture when the head of the prolife office for our Diocese mentioned her name!
Sarah is a very passionate person...and pro-life issues are one of the areas that mean a lot to Sarah. She is co-president of the Pro-Life Club at Stang(Dan is the other co-president. A perfect match!), she loves attending Pro-Life Bootcamp each summer, she has coordinated and participated in multiple drives to benefit pro-life pregnancy centers both through school and through our parish. It's a subject that is near and dear to her heart! Jay and I are very proud of her!

Sarah with Bishop DaCunha

with Jay's parents

Sister sass

Sister smiles

With mom and dad (and one of the little guys I babysit)

Sarah with Mrs. Tarentelli, who nominated Sarah for the reward.
Photobomb by Kate

Our Pastor, Msgr O'Connor, con-celebrated the Mass 

#5. Super Sister
Sarah was born into a gaggle of boys! Surrounded by three older brothers and then flanked by a younger brother 2 years later, she learned to hold her own. But she's always had a sweet and girly side, too. 

Sarah is crafty....and loves having girl time with her sisters. She's a great example to Ellie, who's another great super sister!

#6. Goals 
Sarah is a very smart girl(in the top 10 of her class) and is interested in learning about everything! We are frequently teasing her about being a nerd. (She reads a book on the brain for fun...she brought it on herself) ;) Science and Math are her favorite subjects and she often talked about being a biochemist or some other kind of scientist and trying to find a cure for Autism.

More recently, she has been thinking about going into speech therapy in order to work with special needs kids. Obviously, having a brother with Autism has made a big impact in her life. She is really good with all kids, but especially kids with special needs. Sarah has a very big heart, and she shares it with everyone!

One specific example that I witnessed happened during a grocery shopping trip a couple of months ago. We were at the check-out and there was a young high school boy working as a cashier who had a stutter, and the bagger was a mildly handicapped young adult. Sarah was just being Sarah...talking super nice and asking them questions. She waited patiently for the cashier to speak through his stutter and by the end of our 5 minute check-out, he was barely stuttering because she was so patient with him and made him feel comfortable and the bagger was beaming from the attention.(I'm sure the fact that she's a pretty girl had something to do with it, too!) 

Sarah and Pete sharing a goofy moment...

 #7. Blessed
We are so proud of Sarah...and so blessed that she is our daughter!

 (scroll down past the pictures to find Sarah's Essay!)

Sarah's Pro-Life Essay
Each life tells a story. Some are long, some are short, but each is valuable. You determine your own story, but you also influence others' on their journey. You are the main character, the supporting character, and the strange acquaintance. And every story you are in would never be the same without you.
Every life tells a story. Some span the length of a century; others last less than a year. Some stories cannot be told on Earth. Others are spread freely and often. No matter the story, each is worth telling and each is worth living. Every life is valuable; it is given to us by God for a purpose. We were not meant to wander aimlessly on the Earth, but to perform a certain mission, the path of which is already known by God.
Every story is worth telling because every life has value. We all know many stories, but we tend to appreciate those that are glorious and heroic. This is good, but not everyone can be like St. Joan of Arc or Martin Luther King Jr. With people such as this, the value of their lives is clearly seen, for they changed the world. But, is life only precious when it is well known or accomplished much? No. Life cannot be valuable for what it does, it is valuable for what it is. 
Mother Teresa once said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." Mother Theresa spent her life among the poor, serving them as Christ and loving them individually. In her every action, she sought to comfort the heart of Christ, to satiate the longing of His heart by loving Him in the form of Calcutta's poor. She experienced extreme spiritual desolation for years. Yet, she still loved every soul as if they were Christ and cared for each person she encountered. Mother Theresa's life is clearly important and astounding, though she was hardly a celebrity. But Mother Theresa's story tells more than just about the value of her life; it also describes and highlights the value of the life in every human being, even the sick, unborn, and dying. They are worth caring for, giving up out life for, and she did just that. One does not dedicate their entire life to something useless or valueless.
St. Therese of the Little flower is also well known for her deep love of Christ. She was not known for grand actions, but for her little way. She said, "Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them." A life lived to the fullest, then, is a life spent loving our Lord with a burning heart, longing to be ever close to Him and loving Him in others. St. Therese was known by very few at her death, but her writing filled with simple love is why she is a saint today and millions look to her for guidance. 
One of my favorite stories was very short. Therese Elizabeth Hamel was born on May 20th, 1998. She died sixteen days later. What did she accomplish? Not much. She never ran a marathon. She did not sway the hearts of millions. She never even spoke a word. Why is she important? She was and is my sister. 
Our world is not the end all, be all. We exist body and soul. My sister is in heaven. She is not here, but she never left me. I hold her name and she is my saint. I pray to her when I need help. Sometimes I just talk to her. She watches over me and my family and she protects us. I miss her. I miss her a lot, but she will always be there for me. 
Her life lasted less than a month, barely two weeks. But she still left her mark on this Earth. If life is only valuable for doing great things, then she is among the many useless bodies, but if life is an invaluable gift from God, then she is among the celebrated multitude who lived. We live. If we are alive, then we exist for a purpose. Some simply fulfill theirs sooner than others. Then God calls us home, and we run to Him, He who stands with open arms waiting to welcome us into His Kingdom and the wedding feast. Our loving God longs for us; He gives our life value, for we are created in His image and likeness. He considers us infinitely valuable, so who is anyone to detract from that? The intrinsic value of a life cannot be diminished, cannot be detracted, cannot be destroyed. The almighty, ever living, omnipotent God who loves us with a heart that burns for us, who suffers when we do not ask for His mercy and love, who died so that we may live with Him forever, this God has given us dignity and a human life. Who can say that any life has no value, has no meaning, or has no purpose? That was never ours to determine! God does not make mistakes; there are no accidents. Everyone was created for a reason that He knows, and to love Him. This is why the pro life movement exists, because every life is valuable and worth protecting from conception until natural death.
Every life is a freely given gift from God. He created us, cares for us, and holds us in creation by His infinite love for us. He sent His only Son to suffer unimaginable and incredible pain, to die for us, so that we may have life and have life abundantly. He did not suffer and die for some or a few, but for all, whether their lives lasted an instant of a century. We have been redeemed by a God who longs for us and wants nothing more than to have us love Him back. We do not choose whether or not our life means anything, for that is not up to us to decide but for the one who created it. And so every life is worth living because every life has infinite value given to us by our loving God and Father. We were made in His image and likeness; we were made to be like Him. He has a plan for every one of us, and so our lives are each great stories that are worth being lived out to their glorious conclusion, their final battle, and into eternal life.