This Little Girl Will Blow You Away

There’s nothing like a mother’s love to give you the strength you need. When Courtney and Evan Westlake found out they were expecting their second child, they were over the moon. Their son Connor was very excited to have a little sister, and the small family waited eagerly until the day that they would grow by one. However, when that day came, it wasn’t what anyone expected.

When little Brenna Westlake was born, she was covered in a viscous yellowish film, had sores all over her body, and was running a dangerously high fever. Doctors were not sure what was wrong with her initially, but they knew she needed intensive care right away to survive. They eventually diagnosed her with Harlequin ichthyosis, a disease that causes her skin to grow at about 14 times the normal rate. It’s incurable, and usually fatal. Courtney and Evan both knew that their new baby would require a lot of special attention and care, but they were willing to give her the best shot they could.

Each day they have to gently but firmly wipe away Brenna’s extra skin. She’s constantly peeling, which gives her a red, swollen look all the time, and her hair growth is limited by the disease. Courtney says the hardest part for both her and Brenna is the negative reaction of other people, not just children but also their parents. “When a child asks their parent why Brenna is red and swollen, why can’t they just be honest and answer, “I don’t know, but it’s not very important how someone looks. We’re all unique, right?” Still, Connor adores his little sister and Brenna’s parents are incredibly proud of her fighting spirit as well. If you’d like to learn more about Brenna or Harlequin ichthyosis, you can check out Courtney’s blog Blessed by Brenna, or her book A Different Beautiful.



The Key to Happiness

Everyone chases the secret to happiness. After all, there can be many goals you have in your life, like getting paid more, travelling, doing work you’re proud of, etc… but all of these are meaningless if you haven’t found a way to be happy with yourself and your life. Everyone arrives there from a different path, but if you don’t know how to start working on making yourself happier, there is a ton of advice out there to get you going!

Freedom of the open road.

One of the most relevant and simplest ideas we’ve come across is from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book full of good ideas for people who don’t know why they are dissatisfied with their lives. This one is easy, once you think about it a bit: make a list of 12 commandments for yourself to follow (okay, it doesn’t have to be 12), rules that aren’t so specific that they can’t be applied to several situations, but that are unique and individual to you. Now, these aren’t set in stone (so maybe commandments is an odd name); you should feel comfortable changing them as you use them.

These commandments should be things that you know make you happy, a roadmap of ideas or ways of conducting yourself that allows you to be proud of your actions and that lead you to what you want. For example, one of Gretchen’s commandments for herself is “Do what ought to be done.” In other words, act justly and fairly and bravely… and perhaps in a timely manner. But it’s not all about obligation; she also has “lighten up” and “enjoy the process.” We can assume from these that Gretchen is a little bit of a procrastinator, but that she also has a hard time letting things go and behaving too seriously. This is probably a major key to happiness: knowing yourself and your common pitfalls, and being able to avoid them.


When It Rains, It Pours!

Sometimes, when it rains, it pours. And that can be a good thing or a bad thing, as the case may be. Take the story of Alexis and Gabe, who debuted their story on a show called The Doctors. The couple had been married for a while and had been trying to get pregnant for four years, with no luck. Alexis received four rounds of fertility treatments herself, and the couple tried expensive in-vitro fertilization, which also didn’t work.

Both of them are young and healthy, but that didn’t stop them from visiting many doctors to see if there was anything they could do to improve their changes. Alexis even changed her diet, but nothing helped. Alexis didn’t understand why it wasn’t working, and after years of struggling and two miscarriages, the two turned to adoption, only to find heartbreak there as well. “While a lot of people jump to adoption right away, and I think it’s a beautiful option, it is just as difficult and painful as struggling with infertility,” Alexis explained. As anyone who has gone through the adoption process knows, it can be a long, costly, and emotionally draining journey to receiving a child. Alexis and Gabe were once told that they had a baby waiting for them, only to have the adoption fall through at the last minute.

This is where their first story on The Doctors ended, but Alexis and Gabe returned for an update,  and this time their luck had completely turned around. Not only had the pair been approved to adopt a new baby, but Alexis had recently found out that she was pregnant! Though their struggle was long and tiring, the couple never gave up hope. “I’ve never thought that we wouldn’t be parents,” Alexis told the show. “That thought never crossed my mind.”


9 Yr. Old Asks For Unusual Birthday Gift

Addison Kapustiak has had a harder childhood than most. When she was just a baby, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Associated Periodic Syndrome or “TRAPS”. She has been in and out of hospitals her whole life, including three brain surgeries before the age of 2. She can experience pain in her chest, muscles, and stomach, fevers and swollen eyes, and painful rashes.

Any one of these symptoms would be enough to make us cranky and unfriendly, but that’s not how Addison chooses to behave. Though she has to visit Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Florida every two weeks for a dose of steroids and anti-inflammatory medicines, she smiles through it all, and at the end of every treatment she gets to pick out a new toy from the hospital’s toy closet. It’s a ritual that makes all of the children happy, but one day Addison noticed that the closet was running low on cool toys. She said there were “just Happy Meal toys and stuff. Like, baby toys and stuff that I don’t like.”

So she decided to do something about it, in true selfless fashion. She said that she couldn’t bear the thought of children being disappointed when they opened the closet, so instead of asking for presents for her 9th birthday, Addison requested that people donate to the toys closet! Her selfless act garnered a lot of attention, and she eventually started a charity called Sending Smiles that makes sure the toy closet at her hospital is always stocked! This year, the little girl was recognized as a Lightning Community Hero of Tomorrow, a designation that comes with a $50,000 donation! Half goes towards her college fund and half goes towards the hospital, a gift that Addison appreciates very much! She deserves it – to have such empathy during so much pain is an incredible accomplishment!

Woman Joins Street Performance and Kills!

Sometimes, when you hear the perfect song you just have to jam out, no matter what you’re doing. Street musicians (called “buskers”) are often ignored by busy passers-by, but when you stop to listen to their music, sometimes you can get transported in that magical way that only live music can create.

That’s what happened to a woman in the crowd at this busker’s performance in Brussels, Belgium. The performer was putting on a lively performance of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (often remembered as “Don’t Worry About A Thing”), and from the video you can tell that everyone around was really feeling his talent. Perhaps no one more fits this bill than the the woman who approaches somewhat reluctantly around the one minute mark. She’s in business casual dress and looks like she was out for lunch on a workday, but that doesn’t stop her from swaying and singing along to the music, until the busker does the unthinkable and brings her up to his mic!

Clearly she’s a Bob Marley fan though, because she knows all the words and has an incredible voice! They two perform like they’ve been doing this for years, and the crowd goes wild when they realize that this is less a performance and more a demonstration of how music can really bring people together. That’s an idea of which we’re sure Bob Marley would have approved!