A Giving Heart

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James always sits on the rug separating the kitchen from the living room and snoozes while I cook breakfast.


It cracks me up.  :)  Dogs are great.  I am pushing for a THIRD one, actually.  I see the disadvantages (more dogs = more work), but I still want one (more dogs = more love).


I made a savory breakfast today:


I hardly ever use “meat replacements,” but the Husband picked up a box of Morning Star “fake sausages’’ and DANG – they are delicious!


I had a mini whole wheat bagel with a fried egg and a fake sausage.  All I need was CHEESE, but I remembered too late.


Plus, fruit:


Operation Beautiful Book Contest Update


A few months ago, I ran an Operation Beautiful submissions contest.  I was looking for 125 wonderfully creative notes to include in my book (which will be published in August).  The winner of the contest, Sarah Sheppard, received a $100 Spa Finder gift certificate.

I can’t show you Sarah’s submission (because it is an exclusive for the book), but it was an awesome entry and definitely stood out from the 150 others I received.  It was clear that she deserved to win the contest and the spa gift card.


A few days ago, I received this e-mail from Sarah.  It really touched my heart, and I wanted to share it with you all. 


For a while I contemplated getting a nice haircut or a facial, but could never make up my mind. Recently, some events have occurred in my life that have put everything into perspective and I think I’ve finally figured out what I’m going to do with that gift card.  


On December 15th, the day I came home from NC State for the last time (I’ve transferred to JMU back home in Virginia), I had expectations for a long, relaxing, peaceful winter break. Those plans quickly turned to dust when, shortly after I pulled into the driveway, my mom sat me down and told me that 5 days prior, my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. From that moment on, the world became one big roller coaster and we have experienced every single twist, turn, up, and down with full force. On December 24nd, Christmas Eve, they finally had a definitive diagnosis for my dad of metastatic (aka rapidly spreading) lung, kidney, and bone cancer, and he’s been given roughly three to six months to live. I’ve been angry, sad, and confused, but for the most part we’ve forced ourselves to look past those negative feelings and focus on the positives as a family. We have no time to waste, and spending these last months angry equates to wasting in my mind. Once my daddy has passed we will have plenty of time to mourn and mope and be sad, but I want these final memories to be filled with smiles and laughter, not tears and frustration, you know? 


If I rewind a little bit back to November 10th, my grandma (mom’s mom) passed away at the age of 94. She’d been slowly and peacefully dwindling for a while, but managed to hold on until the day of what would have been hers and my grandpa’s 67th wedding anniversary. We thought we were prepared for her passing, but you’re never really prepared. As expected, my mom was very upset to see her finally go but at peace with the fact that she was able to spend the anniversary reunited with her husband in heaven.  


Exactly one month later, after not nearly enough time to recuperate and get back into the swing of things with work and life in general, my mom was smacked in the face with another tragedy in the form of the love of her life’s diagnosis with terminal cancer. 


As hard as this winter has been for my family and I, it’s been a real eye-opening experience. I’ve always been an optimist and seen the "half-full" view of the world, but now I have learned even more to stop sweating the small things. Every day is a new day and a new twist on the roller coaster, but we’re dealing with what we’ve been dealt and staying as positive as we can. 


So, as far as the gift card goes, I cannot think of anything else but to surprise my mom with a fabulous massage. She needs it and deserves it. I have no idea what it’s like to lose a mother (and I don’t want to know for a very long time) AND find out your husband has a terminal illness all within a month’s time frame. She is my absolute best friend, my rock, my idol, and my hero. I don’t know how she’s done it thus far and I don’t know how she will do it in the coming months, but I have absolute faith that she… no, that WE will make it through.






  • Sara January 20, 2010, 9:06 am

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you Sarah, and your family!

  • Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete January 20, 2010, 9:07 am

    That is so sad. Sarah, you are so strong with the way you are handling everything. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family…

  • zestycook January 20, 2010, 9:08 am

    Thoughts and prayers are with you Sarah! The breakfast looks delicious.

  • Jessica @ How Sweet January 20, 2010, 9:09 am

    That gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. Sarah, you are amazing!

  • Jessica @ Jessica Balances January 20, 2010, 9:11 am

    Wow. What a sad, but hopeful story. I am so sorry for your pain, Sarah and I hope you are comforted during this difficult time. You are handling your situation so well… I admire you and wish only the best for you!

  • Lisa January 20, 2010, 9:13 am

    This story really touched my heart. My mom has been battling ovarian cancer for 11 years, and her oncologist recently told her there is nothing more that can be done to fight the cancer.It has been a very rough couple months for my family as well. It’s SOOO true what Sarah said. You will have plenty of time to mourn and be sad after they are gone, while they are here you have to relish every moment!! Thanks for the great story Caitlin!! I love your blog!!

    • caitlin January 20, 2010, 9:15 am

      i am so sorry about your mom. my prayers are with your family, too.

    • Angela January 20, 2010, 10:56 am

      Lisa ~ My prayers are with you and your family.

  • Caitlin January 20, 2010, 9:13 am

    Wow, that note from Sarah is so touching. God bless her and her family.

  • Tonyne @ Unlikely Success Story January 20, 2010, 9:13 am

    Wow, that really puts things into prospective. My thoughts are with Sarah and her family. What strong women.

  • Rachel January 20, 2010, 9:14 am

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I cannot imagine what you’re going through. Thank you for the reminder to not let the small things matter.

  • Runeatrepeat January 20, 2010, 9:16 am

    Sarah, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. You are a strong and amazing woman. Hang in there

  • Angela (Oh She Glows) January 20, 2010, 9:20 am

    Oh wow this totally made me cry. Sarah my heart goes out to you and your family. xoxo

  • Danielle (Coffee Run) January 20, 2010, 9:21 am

    Sarah, you are amazing. My prayers are with you and your family

  • Lee January 20, 2010, 9:22 am

    That definitely made me tear up. Sarah, you sound like an amazing person.

  • greenbean January 20, 2010, 9:24 am

    Sarah, you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Laura @ FindingAHealthyBalance...after a 100+ POUND weight loss! January 20, 2010, 9:25 am

    Yummy, breakfast….I have heard MorningStar was good, I will have to try it.

    What a touching email, very sad but an amazing outlook on what is going on in her life and anyones for that matter! Life is just to short to “sweat the small stuff” and to not appreciate all you have…….my heart goes out to her!

  • Shannon (The Daily Balance) January 20, 2010, 9:26 am

    prayers for Sarah…. xo

  • Haleigh January 20, 2010, 9:26 am

    Sarah, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  • brandi January 20, 2010, 9:27 am

    wow, what an amazing note. Thank you Sarah (and Caitlin!) for sharing!

  • Stephanie January 20, 2010, 9:27 am

    Oh my goodness this story just gave me chills… prayers go out to you, Sarah, from a fellow Virginian and JMU alumni in this time of need for your family.

  • Lo January 20, 2010, 9:27 am

    that email gives me chills. it just shows we need to make every day worth while. thanks for sharing, sarah!


  • katherine January 20, 2010, 9:28 am

    What a beautiful letter from Sarah. It brought tears to my eyes and she and her family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Morgan @ Life After Bagels January 20, 2010, 9:30 am

    Thank you for sharing this Sarah and thank you for posting Caitlin.

    Sarah my thoughts are with you.

  • Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg January 20, 2010, 9:30 am

    Wow…this brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing girl. Thanks for sharing, Sarah…you are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Tammy @ Defining Wellness January 20, 2010, 9:33 am

    Wishing Sarah and her family so much love. They are in my prayers. My mom went through a similar situation last year . . . she and my dad got divorced, and my mom was finally starting to feel happy again with a wonderful boyfriend. Her boyfriend was then unexpectedly diagnosed with prostate cancer and passed away within a few months. It was a sad and difficult time, but like Sarah said, as a family, we all got through together. Family and pets . . . what wonderful blessings.

  • Jamie January 20, 2010, 9:34 am

    Wow, that was such an incredible letter; thanks for sharing! And James looks pretty cute too 😉

  • Erin (Travel, Eat, Repeat) January 20, 2010, 9:38 am

    What an incredible letter. God Bless you and your family, Sarah.

  • Julie @savvyeats January 20, 2010, 9:38 am

    Sarah’s story is so heart-breaking! I admire her and her mother’s efforts to make these last few months filled with joy for her dad. Sarah, our thoughts are with you!

  • Mary (Food Fit & Fun) January 20, 2010, 9:38 am

    I’m glad Sarah decided to write you a letter. Sarah and her family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Karla January 20, 2010, 9:39 am

    Thanks Sarah and Caitlin for sharing this touching story. I really teared up. It’s so easy to take for granted the important things in life. My thought and prayers are with Sarah and her family.

  • Carrie...On The Cheap January 20, 2010, 9:43 am

    Wonferful post. This has really inspired me. Thank you and I’ll keep Sarah’s dad in my prayers.

  • Megan January 20, 2010, 9:44 am

    Whoa, that email gave me goosebumps. What a wonderful idea! My thoughts are with her family…

  • Megan January 20, 2010, 9:51 am

    Thank you so much for this story… it completely made my day and puts everything in perspective.

  • Megan January 20, 2010, 9:51 am

    Thank you so much for this story… it completely made my day and puts everything in perspective.

  • Gwen January 20, 2010, 9:51 am

    SUCH a touching note. Thanks for sharing Caitlin. Lots of thoughts going out to Sarah and her fam.

  • JAG January 20, 2010, 9:53 am

    That brought a tear to my eye, thanks for sharing it. And to Sarah, if you are reading, my thoughts and prayers go to you and your family.

  • Kelly January 20, 2010, 9:59 am

    Wow, way to make me start crying at my desk. Sarah- you have such an amazing attitude for someone who is going through so much. I hope your mom enjoys the spa and I am so happy someone like you won that prize, you obviously deserve it!

  • Melissa January 20, 2010, 10:03 am

    Gosh, that email made me very teary-eyed here at work!! That was very touching and sounds like a hard thing to go through.

  • alli January 20, 2010, 10:03 am

    sarah-what a great outlook. i hope and pray for a miracle for your family that you will get more time with your dad. my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  • Lily @ Lily's Health Pad January 20, 2010, 10:12 am

    This email brought tears to my eyes. Sarah, I wish the best for you and your family, and you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Heather @ Side of Sneakers January 20, 2010, 10:12 am

    Oh that is such a heart-breaking story, it brought tears to my eyes. What a strong strong person to be able to think of somebody else in a time of such difficulty.

  • Sarah @ See Sarah Eat January 20, 2010, 10:14 am

    That is an amazing story. God bless her!

  • Julie January 20, 2010, 10:14 am

    wow, what a lot to have to bear. I’m thinking of you and your family and hoping that you get some moments of happiness and peace in these upcoming months.

  • Freya @ foodfitnessandfreya.wordpress.com January 20, 2010, 10:22 am

    Oh poor poor Sarah 🙁 what a strong girl to cope with all that, she definetly deserves to be in your book 🙂

    GET ANOTHER DOG!! You can never have too many pets 😀 LOVE James’ face there lol..they’re so pretty 🙂 Have a great day!

  • Shelly January 20, 2010, 10:24 am

    Sarah, I am so sorry about your grandmother and dad! I will be praying for you and your family!

  • Stephanie January 20, 2010, 10:25 am

    That story put me to tears. I wish her and her family the best and to stay strong.

  • laura dishes January 20, 2010, 10:26 am

    Sarah, thank you for sharing your story with Caitlin, and in turn, with us. It made me tear up and really put things into perspective. I admire your strength and my thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time. <3

  • Nicci@NiftyEats January 20, 2010, 10:27 am

    prayers for Saraha and her family.
    I do love morningstar sausages…they are yummy.

  • Paige (Running Around Normal) January 20, 2010, 10:33 am

    Sarah, you are so strong! I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother and your father. That is SO sweet of you to give the spa cert. to your mom.

    I teared up reading your story! Better go regain composure since I’m at my desk at work.

  • Sara January 20, 2010, 10:33 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. I will pray for you as well.

  • Nicole (dishin') January 20, 2010, 10:34 am

    Thank you for sharing that. I feel for Sarah and her family. She has a great attitute about facing her family’s current situation and it’s really an inspiration. When I get annoyed at the traffic during my commute or the gross weather reading something like this really puts things in perspective for me. We all need to learn to not sweat the small stuff and enjoy every moment.

  • Katie@ Two Lives, One Lifestyle January 20, 2010, 10:40 am

    Such a touching note from Sarah, a little choked up over here. I can’t imagine what her family and mother are going through and yet her outlook is as great as it can be. Sarah- your mom is blessed to have a daughter like you!!

  • MelissaNibbles January 20, 2010, 10:48 am

    My thoughts are with you and your family Sarah.

  • Meg @ Be Fit Be Full January 20, 2010, 10:48 am

    Oh my. I am crying at my desk right now. Many thanks for sharing Sarah’s note. I will be praying for her family!

  • Jenn @ Livewellfit January 20, 2010, 10:54 am

    What an incredible note. Sarah, you are an angel! Know that our thoughts are with you and your family. Embrace every moment that you can!

    Thank you so much for sharing Caitlin!

  • Gracie @ Girl Meets Health January 20, 2010, 10:56 am

    Wow. What a story. I’ll definitely be keeping Sarah in my thoughts and prayers….

    It’s stories like that that show me how much I take life for granted. Life is so much more than the daily routine we get so used to and consumed by. It reminds me to cherish every relationship and time spent with my loved ones…

  • Heather (Heather's Dish) January 20, 2010, 10:57 am

    sarah, you’re amazing…what a sweet and giving heart you have 🙂 my prayers and thoughts are with you and your family

  • Angela January 20, 2010, 11:01 am

    Sarah ~ what a powerful story and a wake-up call to us all. You are so strong! I am so sorry to hear about your grandma and Father. You and your family are in my prayers. I know how it feels to lose a grandma and the love of your life. It’s hard but with the Grace of God, lots of tears and the help of family and friends you and your family will make it through. In your darkest moments is where you will find your strength…that may not make sense now but one day it will. {{{Hugs to you}}

    @Caitlin Thank you for sharing this with us all.

  • Matt January 20, 2010, 11:01 am

    Looks like a good sammie! Def needs cheese!

  • Jasmine @ Eat Move Write January 20, 2010, 11:03 am

    wow. That really brought tears to my eyes. I simply cannot imagine… My thoughts are with you Sarah.

  • Guen January 20, 2010, 11:03 am

    That is so terribly sad. This must be very difficult for Sarah, and I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for her mother. There aren’t adequate words to express the pain they must feel, but atleast Sarah and her mother have each other.

  • Kathleen January 20, 2010, 11:05 am

    I broke down in tears when I read this…my thoughts and prayers are with Sarah and her fam as she goes through this time. I have to say that I am so inspired by Sarah’s generosity and her selflessness,though!

  • Julie January 20, 2010, 11:06 am

    Oh wow, my heart goes out to Sarah and her family.

  • Katharine January 20, 2010, 11:06 am

    It sounds like Sarah was the perfect choice. What a horrible thing to be going through; my heart truly goes out to her and her family. What an inspiring outlook they have! Thank you for sharing this.

  • *Andrea* January 20, 2010, 11:06 am

    i just started bawling! so sorry sarah 🙁 life is unfair sometimes. i’m glad she won the contest and i hope she can lean on her family and friends during this difficult time (and bloggers!)

    on a happy note – i ADORE morning star veggie sausage patties and the veggie burgers – so meaty flavored and delicious in eggwiches

  • Allie January 20, 2010, 11:10 am

    thank you sarah- this is a beautiful message you let caitlin share with us. cherish each day you have with your father- he will always be there with you.

  • Megan January 20, 2010, 11:12 am

    Sarah – I am so sorry to hear about this all. You and your family are definitely in my thoughts and prayers. My dad was diagnosed with gastric cancer two years ago. He was also given 6 months to live. Sadly, he had even less time than that. But my family and I tried to do exactly what you are doing – staying strong and trying to enjoy the good times! And I think that my dad really appreciated it
    Stay as strong as you can during this horrible time. I will pray for all of you.

  • Erica January 20, 2010, 11:13 am

    How beautiful. This completely has me in tears. I know EXACTLY what she is saying. We have lived with this mindset for a year and a half now, to live for every moment, and remember that each day is a gift and NOBODY is promised tomorrow. I admire her so much to draw strength from her pain and I will keep Sarah and her family in my prayers. Thank you for sharing, Caitlin.

  • Angela January 20, 2010, 11:18 am

    My prayers are with Sarah and her family. I lost my best friend 4 years ago in a similar way…..we spent the last few months of her life “living it up”….may this time be filled with happiness and memories and may you all have peace.

  • Dena January 20, 2010, 11:27 am

    Oh wow. My heart breaks for you, Sarah, but you are obviously an incredibly strong woman. You and your family will be in my prayers.

  • Amanda (Two Boos Who Eat) January 20, 2010, 11:33 am

    What a touching story. Sarah and her family will be in my thoughts.

  • skinnyrunner January 20, 2010, 11:34 am

    i cant wait for the book!

  • Janna (Just Flourishing) January 20, 2010, 11:35 am

    Welp…now I’m crying.

    Sometimes we forget about the truly important things in life. Thank you for reminding us Sarah.

  • Darci January 20, 2010, 11:36 am

    my heart goes out to sarah! but how awesome that she’s staying positive…i’m sure her mom will LOVE the massage!

    PS I had a wonderful breakfast sandwich this AM too!! MmmmMmm!!

  • Morgan @ Healthy Happy Place January 20, 2010, 11:41 am

    What a touching story!! I’m praying for her and giving her positive vibes through the bloggie world!!

    A friend of mine just passed from colon cancer on Monday. He was only 35 years old and a newlywed. His wife is one of the strongest people I know. She’s only 25 years old and the majority of her marriage was spent caring for her terminally ill husband. I can’t even imagine being a widow at my age, but she is holding her head up high and showing maturity and strength beyond her years.

    We can all take some lessons from these women!

  • Mandy @ University Cooking January 20, 2010, 11:47 am

    My heart goes out to Sarah. She is handling everything so well.

  • Angela (The Lady Loves to Eat) January 20, 2010, 11:57 am

    wow what a touching story. my mom battled breast cancer all last year and it was the hardest time in my life, the only thing you can do is stay positive and enjoy the time you have. My heart go out to you and your family!

  • Jessica January 20, 2010, 11:58 am

    my prayers are with Sarah, God doesnt give us anything we can not handle…She has a strong family.

    Side note,
    when will your book come out?

    • caitlin January 20, 2010, 11:59 am

      August 🙂

  • Beth January 20, 2010, 12:03 pm

    Sarah, you are in my thoughts and I wish your family strength and courage. My mother lost her mother at a young age, was diagnosed with Parkinsosn’s disease by agge 47 and then my father died of metastatic lung cancer… all before age 60. While this has been devestating to our family, we have found ways to carry on. You will too. From my experience, the best advice i can give is to FIND HUMOR because life is not perfect and we all know it is temporary. Laugh at every chance you can.

  • Niki January 20, 2010, 12:17 pm

    Stories like this make me also decide to not sweat the small things and to get out and LIVE a little, life can be gone in a second. I want to make my life worth it. Thinking of you and your family Sarah!

  • Steel Springs January 20, 2010, 12:29 pm

    Sarah sounds like a wonderful person with a great attitude and a very giving heart. She has an amazing message for all of us. Thank you for sharing this. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, Sarah.

  • Ashley @ Good Taste. Healthy Me January 20, 2010, 12:44 pm

    Wow, this seriously made me tear up. I can’t imagine the loss of a family member and fortunately haven’t dealt with much loss in my life. My heart goes out to you and your family Sarah. You’re a beautiful person.

  • Jessica @ The Process of Healing January 20, 2010, 1:12 pm

    That was so incredibly touching… and SAD! But my prayers and thoughts are with you Sarah, you and your mom both (and your dad) are a huge inspiration.

  • Jenny January 20, 2010, 1:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing that email Caitlin. I hate that everyday I take so many moments for granted. And I hate that it sometimes takes tragedy to jolt us back to reality.

  • Christy January 20, 2010, 1:27 pm

    That email brought tears to my eyes — I can’t imagine what Sarah is going through. She is a strong girl.

  • Penny January 20, 2010, 1:35 pm

    I am so sorry for the struggles you and your family must endure. My father died after a long battle with cancer when I was 12 years old. (He was only 45.) It is a rough experience and my heart goes out to you and your family. God Bless you.

  • sarah (shep) January 20, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Thank you all so much for your kind words. It means so much and we are so thankful for each and every prayer. And thank you, Caitlin, for posting this and allowing us those extra prayers! xoxo

  • Cassie @ A Very Busy Mind January 20, 2010, 1:52 pm

    Oh my goodness, I started to tear up reading that e-mail! I mean, I consider myself somewhat of an emotional person anyway…but I didn’t expect to get tears in my eyes.

    I was just having a conversation with a friend this past weekend about how when I really think about the things I worry and care about, I feel ridiculous. There are things that are so much more important than the trivial stuff my mind is occupied with, and I should really focus on how blessed I am.

    Sarah, I have a mental “list” of people I pray for everyday, and I’ve added you and your family. Thanks for the reminder to not sweat the small stuff.

  • Amandamoo January 20, 2010, 2:17 pm

    Thanks for posting this story, it makes me remember what’s important in life.

    Between that and you talking about the dogs, I think we’ve just let the husband talk me into getting another one… that will make two (we’ve been a one dog household for 2.5 years). How hard is the transition from one to two dogs??

    • caitlin January 20, 2010, 2:26 pm

      I think one to two was really easy. I think three might make us feel outnumbered. LOL

  • Kristin January 20, 2010, 2:41 pm

    Way to start out a morning in tears. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve experienced a tragedy recently but it can’t compare to what Sarah and her family is going through. It really does bring your life into perspective…

  • Ali @ Food, Fitness, Fashion January 20, 2010, 2:50 pm

    WOW! That is really difficult. I will keep her family in my prayers. What a sweet thing to do for her mom, I am sure she will love it!

  • Lynne January 20, 2010, 3:25 pm

    Sarah, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  • Kristine January 20, 2010, 3:45 pm

    This story is so wonderful and inspirational. I really feel like I could have put myself in her shoes. Thank you so much for sharing. She sounds like an amazing woman!! The gift of giving is better than anything else! 🙂

  • Gab* January 20, 2010, 4:58 pm

    Thinking of you Sarah, and your family. You sound like a beautiful, thoughtful person.

    Caitlin – perhaps you need a baby rather than a third dog? 😉

  • Faith A January 20, 2010, 5:23 pm

    More thoughts and prayers for Sarah and her family – what a loving and awesome thing to do for her mom.

  • caronae January 20, 2010, 6:58 pm

    I’m so sorry Sarah. But what you’re doing is wonderful. Stay strong. sending you wishes of peace durin a time of sadness.

  • Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) January 20, 2010, 10:33 pm

    Sarah is a great girl – that is awesome!

  • TorontoGirloutWest January 20, 2010, 11:18 pm

    I cried as I read this. Sarah and her family will now be included in my daily prayers!

  • Joelle January 21, 2010, 12:24 pm

    I am so sorry to hear Sarah`s bad news, and am so glad she won that gift card so she can use it in such a positive way. Thinking of her and her family right now

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