Hello Again

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog post here! But it has been on my heart to pop back over here and say a little something. I’ve missed the community here, and think of you often, but there are a few reasons I haven’t been so active on this blog any longer. They are not necessarily the generic reasons one might expect, like writer’s block or being too busy or too ill. It’s true that I’ve been very sick, and that it interferes with writing just as well as the rest of life, making it difficult and painful. As my fellow spoonie Meg said, “I want to be able to do a lot, desperately so, but I live in a body that’s temperamental and if we’re going to be frank; a body that can’t really handle commitment.” It is challenging to write with M.E., let alone on a schedule like bloggers are expected to. But writing is one of the beautiful gifts that allow me to process living each day with such severe illness. It’s something that I love and enjoy. I’m always writing, even if I’m not sharing it. And so, I can’t simply give a reason like this for my absence. Truthfully, it’s been more of a matter of reflecting, of introspection, of observing.

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Another Side of Growth {Through Chronic Illness}

This week, I’ve happened across two posts from some very sweet bloggers, Kaylie and Kelly. Although the content of their posts were not meant to be connected, they came together as one very tender thought deep in my heart. Kaylie shared a powerful yet graceful call to people in their twenties to live intentionally. Kelly shared a tender confession via vlog of how painful it is to be chronically ill and unable to live out ambitions, laced with beautiful hope that our worth is so much more than our productivity. In their contrast, one ached over the burden of able-bodied young men and women who live immaturely and wastefully, and one ached over the burden of physically incapable young men and women who are spiritually and emotionally mature as well as very driven, but physically limited. Their words stirred up the question so familiar to anyone young with a severe chronic illness, “Why is it that we cannot do what we’d love to do, yet others waste the energy we would so dearly treasure?” There’s so many sayings out there that tell me others have faced similar questions. “Life is not fair”, an expression that can be both cold or caring depending on the tone. “Life is not a wish-granting factory”, Augustus Waters painfully says in The Fault in our Stars. And we know these things to be true, but they do not satisfy the aching question deep within. As I pondered the question, opening my heart to Christ’s companionship through the aching, a simplicity washed over my heart reminding me of what it truly means to grow, mature, and live independently — something truly nourishing to reflect on.

The truth is, we have so many opportunities to grow into adulthood, even with the physical limitations and tremendous pain. Some of the most important parts of being an adult are the things that come within. It’s the drive that matters, at the end of the day. Anyone of reasonable age can accomplish physical tasks. It’s something that can be done almost automatically. But truly growing into an adult, embracing the person you are, and living intentionally — that’s something that takes work. And the good news is, it’s work that we can do!

Quite a few things spilled into my mind last night. The more I thought about it, the more that kept flooding in! Continue reading

10 Spoonie-Themed Gifts for The Holiday Season

I thought I’d put together a little something for those of you who are shopping for a spoonie this holiday season (or those of you who want to treat yourself to a little spoonie something!) It’s all in good fun! Here are a few spoonie themed gifts I’ve stumbled across 🙂

P.S. If you are wondering what the term “spoonie” means or where it came from, please check out “The Spoon Theory”

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5 Things I’m Learning in a Relapse

1.) The objective is to nurture and care for body in its suffering, not to “fix” it

What I’m learning most of all is our need to be compassionate with ourselves. Our pains and illnesses are our body sharing with that there is something disruptive going on inside, and it hurts. We need to tend to that cry, not panic and desperately searching for ways to silence the pain immediately. It’s like a hurting friend who wants to share their burden with you. Sometimes they need you to listen and respond with love. Because much as we want to fix it, we often set expectations beyond our control, search tirelessly (or more accurately, tiring-ly!) for the right treatment plan and cure, and find ourselves hurt and disappointed when that treatment plan doesn’t completely restore us to a state of complete balance and restoration. We end us putting more stress on ourselves than we had before rather than taking care of ourselves and keeping on our attention on how to soothe, restore, and heal our bodies. And sometimes, we even believe the lie that there’s something wrong with us as people rather than seeing ourselves as a whole people who are suffering with something out of their control. The objective is never to give up, or to stop trying new things, but to nurture, care for, and gently uplift the body rather than mute the pain.

2.) Rest is productive

This is a big lesson for a little sentence. How can we rest when we feel that little voice telling us that we should be doing something, working on something, achieving something? I’m learning that sometimes all it takes is a deep breath and the voice of love to respond with a plain and simple, “Rest is productive”. Oh, it is well with our souls. When our bodies and our minds are exhausted, swimming in pain, and just can’t find the strength to “do” something, pushing it our of pride will only deteriorate our wellness and set us back even farther. Rest is productive. Rest restores us. Rest replenishes us. Rest gives us a break from the hurry and the lies of success and reminds us of what it truly means. Rest lets us recuperate so we can be of true service rather than pouring out a watered down and weary version of our love and light. Rest gives us a break from the noise of who we should be so we can be refreshed again and reminded of who we truly are. And rest, my friends, rest is sometimes the bravest thing you can do, because rest is faith that life can be beautiful and dreams can come true right here, without striving to be someone or somewhere else.

3.) Reflect on and celebrate improvements, even the tiniest of them

This lesson is a fun one! How sweet it is to stop and celebrate the tiny steps forward and see how far they’ve brought us. It can be easy to look ahead, seeing how far we have to go or all the places we wish to someday be, but oh, how very important it is that we stop and reflect on all the wonder and love and recovery happening right here, right now.

4.) Everyone has a breaking point

It’s easy to think we “should” be able to handle more. It’s easy to be hard on ourselves or begin to grieve when we feel old symptoms resurfacing, have an emotional breakdown, find ourselves in an unpleasant mood, or return to a bad habit long conquered. But the truth is, we all have a limit to what we can take, and we all have a breaking point. It’s part of being human. We can only be pushed so far, and the perfect combination of stress can deplete absolutely anyone, sick or well. We all have a breaking point, a point where our bodies crash on us and can take no more. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but certainly something to be tended to. It’s our bodies’ way of letting us know it needs some serious rest and recovery!

5.) Listen to your body lovingly

I think this last little lesson wraps the rest of them up. Listening to our bodies is key. Our symptoms will only get louder and louder until we listen to them, and we surely must do it with love and with a message of hope.

 

I hope these little lessons sit well with your soul if you, too, are in a harder time with your illness. Please feel free to comment and let me know what lessons you’re learning (or have learned)!

Pain, an Invitation to Hope

I’m compelled by the beauty of those who have walked down broken pathways but still lift their eyes to a horizon of hope before them. I’m compelled by the people that have shaped their scars into stories that tell of a merciful, loving, compassionate God in the midst of a weary and broken world. Their light humbles me, because it shines the light of a love that’s far greater than anything life could hand us. It’s something grown, something tended, and something far greater than anything we stumble upon. Yes, it’s far more than that, it’s something formed.

Pain changes things. Even more, pain changes how we see things. Pain, I’m learning, can be the greatest invitation to hope that we’ve ever received. Pain is loud and its presence cannot be overlooked, but it’s amazing the way it responds to hope. Pain doesn’t scream and shout in the midst of hope, it speaks kindly of a healing and redemption and love. Pain heals when it meets hope. Pain isn’t the completion of things, pain isn’t the end of the story. I see it in the light of those who walk through dark valleys but know they’re only passing through. I see it in the light of those who are not afraid when the winds and waves rush through their lives, for they know that love can never be shaken or taken or diluted. I see it in the people who use their scars as invitations to others with fresh wounds, letting them know that healing exists even in the midst of brokenness and pain. Pain, I’ve found, isn’t always lifted this side of heaven. But pain is never useless. It’s not the pain itself so much as the way it’s shaped our stories. It’s not the pain we feel so much as the lessons and the growth and the healing that it opens us up into. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that some of the greatest fruits –compassion, and forgiveness, and love, and hope—are the things that are not found, but grown. They’re rare because of the process we must grow them through. I’ve found that heartache and loss and sickness and grief don’t stop there, they grow to become empathy, and compassion, and love, and gentleness, and patience, and understanding, and generosity, and selflessness, if only we let them. And when you stumble upon a person who lets them, my goodness, they will take your breath away. You will be knocked off of your feet in the midst of their beauty, because they are shining the beauty of our Lord.

Hope and a Future {Coffee for Your Heart}

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Today Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart writing prompt was about encouragement that our hearts need to hear. It’s so sweet and so special to me that as I sat to write a post about hope for a future, Holley’s post was on the very same thing. With such special timing I can’t help but pause and savor the sweetness of the moments God reminds us we never walk alone.

Today I’m reminded that we must fight to keep our eyes before us, always waiting with a gracious hope that believes in the light even when it only flickers from a distance. Today I’m reminded that we must look to the horizon instead of the raging waters. There is a bright future beyond a gloomy place; there is a hope beyond this aching. It’s easy to believe that things will always be this way, but today is fresh and new and leading us to a place that once again blossoms. Today may look an awful lot like yesterday, but it’s brand new and even if it frightens us to the core, we can bravely look at the day unfolding and say with faith, This is the day that the Lord has made, and I believe He will fill it with the wonders of His love.
He draws near to us with tenderness and compassion, in the aching and in the unfolding. Though we may not see how, there is a future full of hope and full of love unfolding for us day by day. May we find the courage to believe this today and always.

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A Flurry of Natural Skincare and Cosmetics :)

I’m sneaking an extra post in this week! This lovely Saturday seems like a nice night to share a flurry of natural skincare and cosmetics. As someone with severe chemical sensitivities, I’ve spent much time in search of truly natural products to use. It was very challenging at first to find any products without harsh chemicals and dyes, but with much time (and a pinch of patience, too), I’ve come to find some truly wonderful brands. I’m so excited to share this post with you, and I hope it helps you in your search 🙂 All of these products are also cruelty free, which is of equal importance in my eyes! I hope you enjoy taking a peak around.

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100% Pure (Made in the USA). This little shop has been such a blessing in my journey. It’s my go-to place to shop! They carry just about every skincare and beauty product you can imagine, and all of their products are completely natural. They’re even dyed with fruit-pigments instead of synthetic dyes! I find them to be a wonderful, wonderful company and I cannot recommend them enough. My favorite facial-care products from them are the Carrot Scrub and the Brightening Night Balm. My favorite make-up items are their lip glazes, cream sticks, and tints (not to mention how cute the packaging is!), Black Tea Mascara, and their Healthy Flawless Skin Powder (which is so soft and light.)

EOS (Made in the USA) is a brand you’ve probably heard of, as they are becoming so popular! They are the creator of the smooth sphere. My favorites are the Blueberry Acai and the Summer Fruit flavors.

Honest Co. (Made in the USA) This is a lovely company founded by Jessica Alba, filled with wonderful natural products from cleaning supplies to personal care. Not only are the products fantastic, but the packaging is adorable! Staying with the theme of this post, my favorite skincare items are the Sweet Orange Vanilla Shampoo + Body Wash, the Sweet Orange Vanilla Conditioner, and the Face + Body Lotion.

Hurraw! Balm (Made in the USA) is my favorite brand for lip products, I must say! They have such wonderful lip balms that are fair trade, to boot! My favorites from them are the Mint, the Vata blend (an Ayurvedic blend for Vata doshas that smells like sweet almond and cardamom), and the Vanilla Bean flavors.

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Indie Lee (Made in the USA) is a truly inspiring woman who overcame a battle with a life-threatening brain tumor. When she learned that environmental toxins likely contributed to her condition, she set out to begin a line of natural products. Her company was one of the very first companies I found in my search, and I’m so glad I did. My favorite product from her was a very gentle bar soap that is currently discontinued, but my next favorite is her Brightening Cleanser that smells deliciously like fresh strawberries! (Her site also has very helpful resources for “Good Ingredients” and “Ingredients to Avoid“)

Kora Organics by Miranda Kerr (Made in Australia) is an incredible line of natural and organic skincare products. A bit on the pricy side, but there are a couple of products I find to be worth the splurge! My favorite products are the Cream Cleanser and the Exfoliating Cream.

Josie Maran Cosmetics (Made in the USA) is a organic line of some considerably harsh-chemical-free products. Josie uses pure, Fair Trade Argan Oil as her signature ingredient, which is grown and harvested responsibly by co-ops of Moroccan women who earn a living wage. She also uses eco-friendly packaging. My favorite product from her is her Argan Matchmaker Serum Foundation. It works more like a tinted moisturizer than a foundation for me, but I like that! It’s very light, soft, and gleaming.

Pacifica Perfume (Made in the USA) This shop is the only place I’ve found that carries fragrances that don’t trouble me. They have some delightful, natural, delicious smelling products! My absolute favorite (and certainly my favorite smelling thing on all this whole list!) is their Hawaiian Ruby Guava body wash, body butter, and perfume.

Tate’s  (Made in the USA ) is another wonderful brand of natural products. My favorite is The Natural Miracle Conditioning Lip Balm.

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For inner beauty, these teas are lovely!

Tea Forte has a line of skincare teas called Skin Smart that are so pleasant. My favorite is the Cherry Marzipan.

The Republic of Tea also has a delicious herbal blend for skincare called Get Gorgeous.

I hope you find this list helpful! Feel welcome to share what your own favorite are! Are there any products missing on here that I should know about? Let me know!

Peace to you,

Rachel

P.S. Always remember to check for coupon codes! They make it all the sweeter 🙂

To The Ones That Inspire {Coffee For Your Heart}

This week Holley shared a writing prompt for a post on who inspires her readers most. While Holley is certainly high on my list, I thought this would be a very lovely opportunity to share a post about some of my dear friends and partners through the battle of illness. They inspire me every day with their brave and tender hearts.

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Kathryn is easy to write love letters about. She’s faithful and silly and sweet and gracious and kind. She’s the kind of person who can send you a card or a text at just the right time with just the right words, so perfectly warm and timely that it feels like she just gave your heart a big, warm hug, even if she’s miles and miles away. She’s spunky but in the sweetest and softest of ways. Her spirit is so faithful, kind, cheerful, and upbeat despite overwhelming pain. I wholeheartedly adore her. Something she says that touches me and reiterates in my heart each day is, “The worse it gets, the greater the redemption will be.” No matter how much pain she faces, she finds a way to believe it will make the healing even sweeter. Her courage and bravery inspire me every day.

Kelly is so full of life that she glows with joy and kindness. Her smile is as bright as her love. She’s the kind of person who sparks smiles and warms hearts. Her faith is strong and her trust in God’s plan is radiantly clear! She’s authentic, honest, and genuine. Despite her battle with severe illnesses, she’s shared the little energy she has to spare with fellow sufferers. She shares her story through her blog and creates upbeat and encouraging videos on topics that sufferers struggle with, and she’s been completely transparent about the dark sides of chronic pain, too. That is something so brave to do. She even has a cute little Etsy shop where she sells her handmade heating-pad covers, key chains, spoons, and jars of hope. Kelly is a true inspiration for those around her. I’m so thankful to have crossed paths with such a beautiful soul.

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Fiona has such a faithful heart. She has devoted much to serving others despite her own trials with chronic illness. She is an administrator for a large online community group for Christians with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although that is task enough, she also connects individually with other suffers and supports them in loving kindness. Experiencing this is truly touching. Reading Fiona’s words is so revitalizing. She shares encouragement in a very clear and trustworthy way. I admire her strength in staying true to Biblical roots and sharing empathy with those around her.

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{You can join in the Coffee For Your Heart fun at Holley’s site! Stop on by with the picture-link above 🙂 }

You’re Not Alone {Coffee For Your Heart}

Holley has the sweetest little link-up going on on her blog right now, it’s called Coffee For Your Heart. Every week, readers and bloggers and friends meet together sharing posts about a topic Holley picks to prompt us to write encouraging words to others. It’s magical to see people come together sharing encouragement, love, and kindness each week. This week, her Coffee For Your Heart topic is “You’re Not Alone”. It’s really a beautiful thing to talk about, something I don’t think we say so much as assume sometimes. “You’re not alone” can be one of those unspoken truths, whispered in the embrace of a loved one of the laughter of a friend or the smile of a family member. It’s even gently spoken in the wagging of a puppy’s tale. But it’s something we can forget to say to each other. This week I’m remembering just how far a thoughtful card, a call, and even an email from a loved one can go. There’s enough love in small gestures to brighten a gloomy day, to bring a smile to a face and to a heart, and to let someone know you’re along side them. It’s a gift to give and to receive such loving kindness. I think we’re made to share love, not just on special occasions but on Wednesdays, too. Holley asks us to write about what we need to hear when we feel alone. I think what we need to hear is sometimes unspoken. We need to hear laughter, a heaping mix of our own and a loved one’s. We need to hear songs that are brave enough to break the silence and sing about hope in the midst of pain. We need to hear the phone ring. We need to hear the doorbell ring. We need to hear the voices of loved ones. But there are words, too, and I think that they are this: We are more loved than we can understand by a God big and bold and beautiful enough to fill our every loneliness. He sees our emptiness and longs to flow through those places with eternal love. We are loved. We get stuck in moments and feel that they define us, that they tell us who we are and where we are going, but we are part of a bigger story. Hope is bigger than this moment. In time this aching will pass and when we look back we will remember the joy and love and friendship that traveled with us. It will shine brighter than the memories of pain. Gratitude will shape us. Redemption will win. We can rest knowing God holds not only our hearts, but our lives too. And while we are on this side of heaven, we are given a family. We are all in this human experience together. We’re here together on this roller-coaster ride of life. We all ache in the shadows of loneliness and we all beam with delight in the presence of love ones. We’re made to share life together. We’re not meant to strive for a life of independence; it hardens our hearts to our needs and the needs of those around us. We’re made to be sincere and tender and authentic, even to our neediness. We’re made to share. We’re made for the warmth of embraces and the jokes of friendship and the joy of companionship and the heart-healing grace of fellowship. We’re made to give and we’re made to receive. It’s okay to ask for help. Life isn’t something we’re meant to walk through alone. I pray that you won’t believe the lie that you should be tougher, that you should be able to experience life without aching in loneliness. Your tenderness and love are sweet treasures. They deserve to be met with love and light from God and others, and I pray that you will see that illuminating you each and every day. You’re not alone in this. There are people who feel the things you feel, they have empathy and compassion and tenderness for your wounds. Please don’t hide away in the shadows. There is sunshine for you, turn to its warmth.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;

~Isaiah 40:11

 

{If you are feeling alone and in need of support, InCourage Community Groups are hosting two online community groups for chronic illness, HOPE for Chronic Illness and Living With Chronic Illness. Take a peak! You never know what gift may come out of a special group. If you’d like to read Holley’s You’re Not Alone post, you can by clicking here.}

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10 Small Ways to Make a Big Difference

Hello all! I want to wish you a Merry Christmas full of warm love, bright joy, and the celebration of God’s most precious miracle. The lead up to the holidays has been keeping me so busy that I’ve hardly had time to keep up with writing! This season must be keeping you all so busy, as well! There are so many festivities ahead! I hope you have found peace during this busy time and been able to keep up with the tasks rather than feel drowned by them. Since I have a few plans coming up, I will be taking taking a little break from writing here until January. It has been such a gift to connect with you this year and begin sharing our journeys together. I feel truly blessed to have gotten to know you all more deeply and connect with you in the midst of our struggles. Thank you for being a part of this blog. I am looking forward to posting more here in the upcoming year! Have a beautiful season, dear ones. God bless.

In the spirit of the season of miracles, I think one of the most precious little miracles of all is gratitude. Gratitude certainly changes our perspective, and in the sweetest of ways. Oh, what a breath of fresh air and warm embrace of peace. Gratitude is something I pray we’ll carry with us in our hearts. Something I’ve noticed about gratitude is that the more thankful we are, the more willing we are to give and share freely. There is such freedom to knowing we are cared for! It can be difficult to find ways to volunteer and donate in the midst of severe illness, so I thought I’d share a collection of ten small ways to do so. Like Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” It’s the small things that make a difference. It’s the small things that whisper hope and joy to aching hearts and lonely days. It’s the small things that build in us a greater compassion, love, and generosity. Let’s live in this today.

  1. Each day, you can support charitable efforts towards hunger, breast cancer, animals, veterans, autism, diabetes, literacy, and the rainforest by clicking the free donation buttons on the Greater Good website! Each time someone clicks, sponsors fund these causes. You can also shop at this site, and each purchase directly funds the cause of your choice (for example, the purchase of one item can fund 25 cups of food). You can visit their website by clicking here.
  2. Freekibble is another great free-donation resource. Each day, they post two questions, one about dogs (at Freekibble) and one about cats (at Freekibblekat). For every person that answers, 10 pieces of kibble are donated (So if you answer both, 20 pieces are donated!)
  3. You can help remind our troops we care by giving them a gift subscription of Guideposts Magazine for $10. Guideposts is filled with inspirational, heartwarming stories 🙂
  4. You can make blankets for local animal shelters or All Girl’s Allowed Baby Blanket Ministry. Some time ago, a girl in one of the chronic illness support groups I’m in created a post about ways to make a difference while sick, and she shared such a sweet idea. She would knit blankets for the beds at local animal shelters. I came across a program for a charity called All Girl’s Allowed that allows volunteers to make and donate blankets to their Baby Shower program. You can click the link above to find out more!
  5. Saeed Abedini is an American pastor who is serving an 8 year sentence in one of Iran’s more brutal prisons for sharing his faith. You can join the international community as they petition his release by signing this petition (here) and follow updates from the ACLJ (here). But one of the the most precious and valuable things to this family is your prayers for him, his family, and the persecuted church during this time.
  6. On the note of the persecuted church, you can purchase 5 New Testament Bibles for $25 through the organization Open Doors for people in the most persecuted and high guarded countries.
  7. Boycott Uggs (and Ugg alternatives). One of my cousins shared a link of Facebook not too long ago about the truth behind Ugg boots. The article explained how inhumane this company is towards sheep, and how while many people mean well by buying knock-off boots, those companies are also inhumanely harvesting other furs. Peta advocates this cause, but if you choose to look into it, I truly and deeply recommend just reading articles and not upsetting yourself by watching videos. You can understand the issue quite well without graphic evidence of the abuse. For this small way to make a big difference, replace fur or leather boots with cruelty-free options.
  8. Use items that aren’t tested on animals. Peta’s Beauty Without Bunnies and Leaping Bunny’s Compassionate Shopping Guide are two great resources to use to find companies that don’t test their products on animals.
  9. Shop fair-trade and items made in your home country. I made a list of Fair-Trade and American-made gifts that you can view here. There are plenty more great places to shop! One of my favorite places to shop is Etsy, a host for handmade shops.
  10. Above all, the greatest way to make a difference is to give our hearts to Christ. The greatest way to share is to allow Him to grow His love, peace, and grace in our hearts in a way that entirely awakens our souls to the beauty of life in Him. It’s through Him that we are moved to love and service. It’s in Him our hope is found. Commit your heart to His love and He will love through you in the most miraculous, exciting, refreshing, brilliantly beautiful way. It’s a joy that cannot be explained, not this side of Heaven anyway 🙂

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’ ~Matthew 25:34-40 (NLT)