The greatest man I ever knew

He is the greatest man I ever knew.  Mike Simonson is the finest journalist I have ever known; he stood up for ethics in journalism and always did what was right, not what was easy or popular.  He had a deep passion for journalism and he instilled that in every one of his students.  No one has ever had a bigger impact on journalism in the Northland than Mike.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a rookie reporter in Mike’s  studio, Wisconsin Public Radio. General Manager John Munson recruited me from one of his classes, as he thought I would make a good reporter.  It was John’s idea, not Mike’s,  so our first meeting was one I will never forget.  

As I was nervously reading the weather live behind the microphone in the KUWS studio – Mike burst into the room, not exactly thrilled that I was in his space. But it didn’t take long for this farm girl from Ino to make a connection with this hard-working, hard-nosed journalist. We quickly became best friends and he guided my career the right way.  Not only did he teach me old-school journalism and how to do it right; he drilled home the importance of ethics and credibility, and that we must stand up for ethics in journalism, no matter what the cost. He became family.  

While the world saw Mike, the Northland’s most decorated and respected journalist, the man who was larger than life, I saw a man whose heart was larger than life.  He had the deepest level of empathy, compassion and dedication.  

I saw the man who adored his wife, respected his parents and was dedicated to his community.  The man who had the most prestigious awards in all of journalism, yet he remained forever humble.  The man who, on your worst day, could make you laugh — a great big deep belly laugh.  

And no matter how busy he was and how close he was pushing a deadline, if you came to him with a problem, he would put everything aside and pay attention to you, as if you were the only person in the world who existed.  

He was the voice of the people, the most trusted voice.  And he was brilliant. In a world that is growing increasingly fast-paced and no one ever has time to have a discussion, Mike took the time to talk and really listen.

He could have been extremely busy, he could have been working at the network level, and he could have been making six figures and living in a fancy mansion. but he chose to live a better life.  He chose to stay in the Northland and serve the people he loved.  He chose the most amazing woman to share his life with in his wife Jennifer. He chose to live right next to his beloved parents at his favorite spot on the St. Louis River, and he chose to enjoy and cherish every moment, every breath he took.  

He was always available, any time I needed to call him. We had millions of conversations that lasted for hours. Now, at this time of heavy grief, the one person I want to call is him, but I can’t.  So I’ll try to continue to breathe, to put one foot in front of the other and keep on living.  

I’d give anything for one last “bear hug” from my favorite person.  But instead I’ll go home, hold my kids tight and remember to cherish every moment, every breath.  Then I will go back into work and continue to fight the good the good fight. I will continue to do journalism the right way.

It’s what Mike would have wanted.  

Mike had a strong faith and we ended every conversation with him reminding me that “God’s got this. And everything will be alright.”  While I feel the world of journalism is changing and the good people of this world are few and far between, I am blessed that I knew Mike Simonson.  I have never known anyone like him.

The world not only lost one of the greatest journalists who ever lived, we lost one the greatest men who ever lived.  The greatest man I ever knew.

 

A man of few words

 

He’s a man of few words.

My father, Joe, is a farmer and a cowboy. He can be a very intimidating man. And that came in handy when I was a young teenage girl.  He said very little to my friends, and even less to any boy who came to take me on a date.  He had a way of putting a bit of fear into all the teenagers in my world.I didn’t understand it at the time.

Now, looking back, my father knew exactly what he was doing.  I am raising two children, 6-year old Joey, named after my father and my 2-year old daughter Josie.

When you have children, you begin to look a lot closer at how you were raised.  And my father got it right. When I was a little girl, I lied about something small; to this day I do not recall what it was.  But I do recall my father making it very clear that you must never lie. That day, I learned the value of keeping your word and telling the truth.

As a young girl, my father had me work hard on our family farm — milking cows, picking rocks and making hay. That is when I learned the value of a strong work ethic. And one time, a young man arrived to pick me up for a date, he honked the horn for me to come out to his car. But my dad told me to stay in the house, and that I would not be going anywhere that night, since the boy did not come to the door.

That night, I learned about respect.

And when my brother Jeff was a teenager and he had to undergo heart surgery, my father, in the hospital waiting room, prayed so hard he broke his rosary.

That day I learned about the importance of a strong faith.

And when Jeff married Sarah, on their wedding day my father quit smoking, cold turkey, so he would live to see his grandchildren.  That day, I learned about strength of character and willpower.

And when my mother had cancer, my father stayed by her bedside and would not leave. That is when I learned about dedication.

And one Christmas, my father drove my mother to tears with simple gift: A cassette tape. And when she played it, it was my father singing all of their favorite love songs. He had never sang to her before.

That’s when I learned about true love.

And once a year, on Easter, my father quietly pulls out his accordion, sets up in the corner of the living room and plays music, starting with “Little Peter Cottontail” followed by a few polkas, and my entire family joins in singing and dancing. Then, his grandchildren line up and play along with him, completely out of tune. The entire time, he plays and looks at his grandchildren with complete pride and love.

What no one knows is he practices all year, just to perform for us on Easter Day. And that’s when I learned the importance of tradition and how much my father loves his entire family.

And on my wedding day, before my father walked me down the aisle, he showed me what he was wearing under his tuxedo shirt.  A T-shirt with a photo of me as a little girl. And as the tears welled in my eyes, I knew. That day, I learned how much a father loves his daughter.

And years later, when the marriage ended and my heart was broken, we didn’t talk about it at all. He simply knew his daughter, knew I never wanted a divorce and knew there must be a good reason.

That day, and every day, the man of few words said it all.

The ultimate mother

I sat by her hospital bedside, praying that her suffering would end, yet wishing we had more time with her. The room was packed with loved ones, people who flew in from all over the nation, all there to spend as much time as possible with Grandma before she passed away.

It was just so hard to believe that this strong woman, the rock of our family, would be leaving us so soon.

Beatrice Trautt is the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. She loved unconditionally, she was completely selfless and her entire life was dedicated to her family. I’ve never seen two people more in love than her and her husband, Robert.

They raised 11 children on a small, humble farm in Iron River, Wis. They both worked hard to provide for their family and never complained.

Never.

Grandpa always had a smile on his face and a glimmer in his eye, which shined even brighter every time he looked at Grandma. It was heart-breaking when Grandpa died of cancer in 1999 and now the thought of living without Grandma was too much to bear.

She had a gift. She was a genuine reflection of what true love is. When you spoke, she really listened, and she cared. She was happy for you when you experienced joy and when life knocked you down — she was the first one there to pick you back up.

Grandma and Grandpa lived in the same small farm home for 60 years. They didn’t have indoor plumbing or a phone. Grandma washed all of their clothes — and all of her children — in the old wash tub.

Her home and her yard were my favorite places in the world. It was peaceful place, where everyone was welcome and loved, and no one was judged. We got together there all the time for huge family picnics and gatherings.

And, she raised her children well. My aunts and uncles are incredible, giving, hard-working people who would give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it. And when the Trautts get together, we talk a lot, laugh a lot and we dance.

Trautts love to dance. We’ll break out in dance anywhere, even in the front yard with the music blaring from the car stereo. But there was nothing better than watching my Grandma and Grandpa dance. The way Grandpa looked at Grandma, with such love, always filled my heart with joy.

Grandpa and Grandpa Trautt had very little, but they were the richest people I know.

My favorite photo of them was taken at a family reunion, where they’re surrounded by their huge family of 63 grandchildren, 100 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. My daughter, Josephine Grace, is Grandma’s 100th great-grandchild. It’s an honor I am very proud of, and I plan to raise Josie, teaching her all the values that Grandma taught me. I only pray that someday I am half the woman my Grandmother was.

God called my Grandmother home on Mother’s Day, 2012. It’s the ultimate compliment to the ultimate mother. I know Grandpa was there to take her hand and finally have that dance with her. The waltz they’ve both been waiting for, for a long time. She waited 13 years to be with him again.

As I stood by her graveside, my family asked that I read her final words to her 11 children, which simply stated “I had a good life, and I’m glad I got to spend it with all of you.”

It’s been two years since Grandma joined Grandpa in heaven. She died at age 89. A Mother’s Day will never go by without me thinking of my Grandmother Beatrice.

The ultimate mother, the ultimate blessing, the ultimate example to our family of what a mother should be.

The dance

I dropped the phone, ran out the door and fell to my knees, gasping for air. I received the phone call no one ever wants to receive – the call saying that a loved one had been in a bad accident. The man I had dated for three years, my best friend, had been airlifted to the hospital, and he was not expected to live.

He was only 34, and so full of life. When Todd walked into the room, he brightened it. He helped make the world a better place. He always put others before himself. His heart was overflowing with love. And his smile was contagious.

Todd Setzke was my high school crush. He was a senior, I was a freshman. I’m not sure we even talked in high school. He was handsome, fun-loving and charming. He was the guy every girl wanted to date.

Years after high school, when I was working as a television reporter, I met Todd again, working on a story. And all those “high school girl crush feelings” came rushing back the moment he smiled at me. We wound up dating, falling in love and staying together for three years.

I spent as much time as possible with Todd and his two amazing little girls, Jessica and Bailey. We did everything together as a family – trips, slumber parties and make-up parties, fishing trips and picnics. But our most precious moments came at the most unexpected times.

Julie with Todd Setzke and his two daughters, Jessica and Bailey.

Todd fully embraced life and always surprised me and his girls with his fun ideas. One of our favorites occurred after dinner. Todd would turn up the music, and we would all dance. We’d have a “dance party” right in his living room. The girls loved taking turns dancing with their dad and having him pick them up and twirl them. Their giggles and laughs were beautiful.

When I received that call, those two little girls are the first thing that came to my mind. I rushed to the hospital to find that the love of my life, my best friend, had been in a four-wheeler accident. His head injuries left him brain dead.

It was one of the worst moments of my life, as my sister and I held Todd’s two little girls in our arms in Todd’s hospital room as they sobbed. Their father, one of the greatest dads I had ever known, was leaving us.

It was unbearable.

I led the girls to the hospital chapel, and together we prayed, as he was being removed from life support.

His family asked me to give the eulogy at Todd’s funeral.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I knew I had to do it, for Todd and his girls. As they looked up at me from their pew in the front row, I asked God for the strength to remain strong for them.

I talked about how their daddy fully embraced every moment of life. Todd didn’t just live life, he truly lived it.

I talked about how his smile lit up the room and how much he loved to dance with his girls. How he would play music and twirl his princesses around. When he looked at them, it was with real love. The deep, unconditional, magical love a father has for his daughters.

Then I did what Todd had asked me to do.

He had told me that if the worst ever happened to him, if he left this earth too soon, he asked me to play a song for his daughters.

And so I played “I Hope You Dance.”

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger

May you never take one single breath for granted

God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean

Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens

Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance

Never settle for the path of least resistance

Living might mean taking chances, but they’re worth taking

Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth making

Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter

When you come close to selling out reconsider

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.

Losing Todd taught me that life is a gift, and time is so precious. Why waste one minute worrying? Why waste one moment complaining?

Thank God for all you have, no matter how much or how little. Spend as much time as you can with your children and the ones you love. Hold them tight. Tell them you love them. And put some music on and dance.

Julie and her son, Joey. Photo Courtesy: Sternberg Studios Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Todd, I want you to know, I love my children. I hold them tight. I start every day in prayer, and hand it all over to God. He leads my path. I try hard not to worry or complain. And I dance with my children, every chance I get.

My birthday wish for my son

Following the most grueling, painful and difficult hours of my life – came the single greatest moment of my life. The day my first child, my son was born. From the moment our eyes met, my life would forever change. I never fully understood the love of a mother, until that moment.

I never fully understood God’s love for us, until that moment.

March 27, 2008, is the day Joseph arrived in this world. He blessed my life beyond measure and the lives of every person in this path.

For the past 6 years, my son has brought me more joy than I ever thought possible. It has also been the most challenging six years of my life. Being a mother is wonderful, difficult, amazing, painful, incredible and heartbreaking. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is the single best thing that has ever happened to me.

The greatest honor of my life.

As I look back at the past six years – and look forward to the future – I have a birthday wish for my son.

Dear Joey,

You are the most amazing, loving, kind-hearted boy I know. I am so proud of you. I would not change a single thing about you. You are a blessing, a gift, my son.

My birthday wish for you is simple. As you continue to grow, I pray for your continued safety and protection. I pray you never care about what others think, only what God thinks. I hope you can hold onto your good heart, your kindness and your love.

Once you become a grown man, my wish is also simple.

It’s not that you get the best job or make a lot of money. It’s not a wish that you accumulate a lot of “stuff,” win the most awards or become incredibly successful. My wish for you is this; I pray that you will hold onto your childlike faith and love of God, for the rest of your life.

I pray that when you sing “Jesus songs,” you will continue to sing them with the same enthusiasm as an adult as you do now.

My wish for you is that you continue to relish in the joy of life, the happiness in the simple things and that you hold onto your nonjudgmental way of looking at people.

Your way of loving everyone in your path.

I pray that when it comes to your strong faith and your love, that it remains as strong as it is now at age 6, as when you are 60.

Love,

Your mom.

Last year, Joey did something at his birthday party that rendered me speechless. He surprised me with a birthday present on his birthday.

As tears welled in my eyes, I looked around the room at the parents, who also had tears in their eyes.

They knew.

What Joey did was amazing, thinking of others on his big day. But little does he realize, I never need another gift the rest of my life – because the greatest gift God ever gave me was him.

My daughter, my princess

Josie came running into the room, distraught. She couldn’t find her tiara and amulet, or her pixie dust. Whatever would she do?

I understood completely.

I stopped what I was doing to help my sweet 2-year-old daughter locate these important items. I understood because a princess is not complete without her crown, jewels — and of course, pixie dust.

I remember the day the doctor told me I was going to have a daughter. It was a dream come true. I had a son, and now I would have a baby girl. I knew I was truly blessed.

Since Josie was born, it has been even better than I ever imagined. Because when God gives you a daughter, he gives you a princess.

Josie’s smile brightens a room, and she’s full of love and energy. She enjoys everything about life — from appreciating the beauty of a blade of grass, to the pure joy of bouncing a basketball, to being a princess, complete with her gown, tiara and amulet. Whatever she does, she enjoys life to the fullest. And she’s opened my eyes to the beauty around me, in the simplest things.

I pray as she grows up that she always remembers she is my princess. I don’t want her to ever forget it. Not when the world tells her otherwise. I want her to remember that in the eyes of God, she is a princess, a child of God. That she’s a strong, beautiful, intelligent, loving, caring, all around amazing girl. That she can and will make a difference in the world, no matter what the world tells her. Even when they are mean, with harsh and hurtful words. It doesn’t matter what mean words kids may say or mean things they may do — I will remind her; you, Josie, are the child of God.

You, Josie, are a princess.

Once we located her crown, what Josie did next took my breath away. My tiny baby girl motioned for me to lower my head, and she took her time, putting the tiara perfectly in place. Then, she looked at me and smiled. She had been distraught and searching for her tiara because she wanted to place it on my head.

It brought tears to my eyes because as the mother of the princess, you feel like a queen. And in that moment, it doesn’t matter what the world says or how mean the world has been to you.

Because in the eyes of this little girl, I am worthy of a tiara.

It’s small moments like that when I’m reminded, that God comes to us, to show us he is there. He comes to us through our children. And it’s moments like that I will cherish for the rest of my life. She is my daughter, my princess, my blessing.

Surviving the storm

I could feel the metal crushing down on my head; it was a severe pain I had never felt before. With each roll of the car, the metal crushed down more. All I could do was put my hands on top of my head, in an attempt to protect myself. And I prayed to God.

It was March, and my shift was almost done. I was a young reporter at the ABC TV station in Duluth, Minn., and there was a story they needed someone to chase. So, my boss chose me. As my photographer was driving, we realized the roads were very slick. It was another winter storm. We were on a major highway, when suddenly our vehicle started to swerve. I remember it all as if it happened yesterday.

We swerved to the right, then the left, then back again. By the time we hit the ditch, our vehicle had a lot of momentum. And we rolled. With the first roll, my side of the car came crushing down on me. But it was only the beginning.

We continued to roll seven times. Every roll was in slow motion. I remember praying to God to spare my life. I was only 32, and I had so much left that I wanted to do. With the final two rolls, something amazing happened. I could feel that I was being held. And a calming feeling came over me that no matter what happened, I was going to be OK.

Once the vehicle stopped rolling, we were upright. The roof had collapsed on my head and the glove box was in my knee. I could not move my head or neck. But I was alive.

My photographer fared better than me; he was bumped, bruised and shaken up. But overall he was OK. So, he dialed 911, while strangers rushed into the ditch to help. I remember dozens of emergency workers at the scene; they got me out and onto a stretcher. With ice pelting down, these rescuers were like angels, as they stood in line, passing me along to the ambulance. Each one of them gave me words of reassurance, telling me, “You’re going to be OK,” which made me feel so much comfort, when I was in so much pain and unable to move my neck or head. I will never forget those angels who helped me feel better.

It was a long road to recovery, but I survived. God spared my life. And I’ve learned so much from that experience, and many more along the way.

Life can be so hard. Painfully difficult sometimes. You don’t have to be in a car crash to know the pain of life. It can toss you and turn you in ways that hurt, that no one can see. The loss of a loved one, losing your job, the pain of hurtful words, a bully in the workplace, financial difficulties, heartbreak and the list goes on and on.

I have experienced all of these and more. And as my two children, Joey and Josie, grow up, I hope to use all of these experiences to help them. I’ll teach them what I know. The only way to survive these difficult times is to pray. Give it all to God. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting him to guide your path. You may have no idea what he has planned for you, but trust in him. Also, trust in others.

Talk to and lean on your friends and family. God put these people in your life. Be thankful for all the kind things they do to help you along the way, from prayers, to a simple hug and kind words. It all helps. And know that the storm will pass. Keep breathing in and out. Keep going. Stay strong, have hope and believe.

The storm shall pass.

It may takes hours, days, weeks, months. Sometimes even years. Yes years. But it will get better. Just never give up.

Someday you will look back and realize, these are the moments that make us better, stronger, more compassionate people. These are the moments when God draws us closer to him.
Looking back on that accident. I am overwhelmed and humbled by that final moment, that final roll of the car, when I could feel that I was being held. And I’ll never forget that moment when I knew that everything was going to be OK, no matter what happened, whether I lived or died. Whether I could walk again or if I was left paralyzed.

I know for certain that God was with me. As he is every day. Just as he is with everyone, every single day of their lives. You can’t get through the pain alone, but with God, you can. With God everything is possible.

One note bears a deep message

I was rushing out the door, stressed, exhausted and running behind for work. Lately my 2-year old has been getting up in the middle of the night, and while the “night shift” for a parent isn’t easy, it’s also some of the most precious moments I’ve had with my children. I love snuggling, singing and rocking Josie back to sleep. But it means, the next morning, I am tired.

 

The past few weeks, I’ve been getting too stressed at work. As news director for a TV station, you hear many complaints and very few compliments. It’s a demanding, stressful job – but it’s the job I love. I love serving the public this way. I love being the voice of the people, informing them of the news of the day and telling wonderful stories about their friends and neighbors. I especially love local news in smaller communities. But being a mother and news director can sometimes take its toll.

Lately, I’ve been trying to do too much myself, and I’ve been too worried about things that are out of my control. I realize it’s time to let go and rely on God. So here I was, a stressed-out mommy running for the door, and saying a quick “goodbye” to my sweet Josie, when my tiny 25-pound girl stopped me in my tracks. She insisted that I wait; she had something she wanted to give me. My first thought was, “no, I can’t wait, I have to get to work.” But I knew it would be wrong to leave, I could tell it was important to her. So I waited.

Josie walked over to the fridge and took down a piece of artwork she had made the day before with the babysitter. It’s a simple piece of paper, with paint splotches all over it, that simply says “I love you.” Josie insisted that I take it to work. And she walked over to my work bag and tried to put in for me. I took it, and gave her a big hug. I decided being a minute late for work would be just fine. So, I hugged her again, gave her a kiss and said “thank you.” That moment with my sweet Josie made my entire day. Actually my entire week.

God comes to us in the most amazing times. Quite often when you least expect it. And if we move too fast, we may even miss those life-changing God moments. I nearly missed mine that morning. I’m glad I didn’t. That piece of paper now hangs proudly on the wall in my office at work. I plan to frame it to keep forever. It will serve as a reminder of how much my baby girl loves me and how much God loves me. And it will serve as a reminder that I need to slow down, stop worrying, trust God and enjoy my life much more.

The Sunday marathon

It’s total silence, as I walk into the room with Josie on my hip and holding Joey’s hand. I say a silent prayer, hoping my children will be quiet for one hour, knowing it will never happen. Then we sit down in the pew and the “Sunday marathon” begins.

I love going to church on Sunday, I always have. When I was young and single, I spent many Sundays on my knees, praying to God to give me children. He answered my prayers. I have two adorable, kind, caring, sweet children, 5-year old Joey & 2-year old Josie. But they are not quiet. They are talkative, energetic and strong-willed, just like their mother. Plus, Josie is a toddler, she thinks “no” means “yes,” and she thinks “shh, be quiet” means “talk louder.” I love how they both sing, and talk all the time. But for one hour on Sunday, I look around the room, and I’m pretty sure my two children are the only two making noise. And while I watch kids sitting nicely and in complete silence on their parents laps, I start to worry that I’m doing something wrong. Why can’t I keep my kids still and quiet? Even though it’s not easy, as a single mom, taking my two little ones to church alone, I do it every Sunday. God is the center of our lives. We talk about him and pray to him daily. So going to church is something I’m determined to do for my little family. And those moments, when I feel like a complete failure as a parent because my children aren’t sitting quiet and still, small amazing moments happen. Life changing moments. Like when we say ‘Our Father’ and I watch as my children hold the hand of a stranger and pray. My heart overflows with joy when it’s time to shake hands and say “peace” and my children go out of their way to shake the hand of every person in sight.

And they continue shaking hands, even when that part of the mass is over. And then, just when I almost gave up hope, wondering if the mass would ever be better for us, my 5-year old son does something I’ve never seen before. As I was receiving communion and the children were being blessed by the Priest, Joey reached up, touched Father on the shoulder and said “Jesus loves you.” And after mass, little Joey walked out to the manger scene, knelt down and bowed his head. He did it for baby Jesus lying in the manger. He did it all on his own. Later, Father told Joey that he made his day, when he said “Jesus loves you.” Father put his hand on his heart and said, “I’ve never had any child do that before.” In that instant I knew the “Sunday marathon” is worth it. My kids aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. And it’s okay. Because we are perfect in the eyes of our Father in Heaven. So we will keep on going every Sunday, because it is making a difference in our lives, it is having an impact. And I know someday I’ll look back and miss these days. When my hair is gray and my children are grown, I’ll give a look of reassurance to the mother who is juggling two children in church and trying to keep them quiet. I’ll give her a nod and a smile, letting her know that I understand and that to me it isn’t noise, or disruptive. To me it’s the sound of a mom who is trying her best to teach her children what is most important in life.

The importance of family

As I held my baby girl in my arms, I didn’t know what to do. She just wouldn’t stop crying.

What was wrong? Was she teething? Did she have an ear infection?

I tried everything, snuggling her, singing to her, carrying her around. I offered her water; I asked her what was wrong. But all my 2-year-old daughter, Josie, could do was cry.

So, I laid her down in my bed next to me, and I prayed.

I asked for an answer. And it came.

I pulled out my cellphone and starting showing my sweet Josie pictures and videos of our Christmas vacation we had just had back home, with our entire family, and she stopped crying.

She stopped crying.

And her eyes lit up, she got a big smile and she even started to laugh, her sweet Josie laugh. She was thrilled to see video of her cousin, Charley, who she adores, who is only five days older than her. And she clapped her hands and smiled wide when I showed her photos of her cousins, Grace and Ava. And she wanted to see lots of photos of Grandpa.

Josie is “Grandpa’s girl.” (All the kids in our family are “Grandpa’s girl or boy.”) Then, it hit me, my little girl, this tiny little 2-year-old girl was homesick.

She was sad the Christmas season was done and she was missing her family. I know I shed tears every time I leave after Christmas. It’s hard on me leaving our family. But I never thought how difficult it is on my children.

Here’s the order of importance in my life: God, family, friends — then work. Sometimes, I get off track and put work ahead of everything. But I pray daily and do my best to keep my priorities straight. So, whenever I’ve received a job offer from far away, I’ve turned it down. I have committed to staying within driving distance of my family.

When we moved to East Grand Forks, this is the furthest I’ve ever lived away from my family in Wisconsin. It’s a six-hour drive, but I make sure to take my children home to see our entire family once a month.

Commitment to family isn’t easy. It takes hard work, time, patience, compassion and forgiveness. And as I watched my sweet little girl go from tears to laughter….it hit me. God created families for a reason.

We all need family. Everyone needs love. Everyone. We spent a whole week at our family farm in Ino, Wis., with my parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and extended family. My mom always goes all out, with a big beautiful tree and the whole house is decorated beautifully.

We cherish it all, celebrating the birth of Jesus, from the Christmas carols to the cookies, long visits and hugs. And the Moravchik family loves Santa!

Each year, we say, “That was the best Christmas ever.” But as I was driving back to East Grand Forks, I decided we could wait a little longer for our return trip, maybe six weeks or eight. The drive isn’t easy or cheap.

But after seeing my baby girl, I realized I was wrong.

Time spent with family is never time wasted. I will stick to my plan to bring my children to the farm once a month.

As we looked at photo after photo, Josie finally laid her head down on the pillow and started to close her eyes. She fell asleep with a smile on her face. And she slept well all through the night.

It’s amazing how, at the least expected moments, God makes things clear. In the middle of the night, with my crying baby girl, God reminded me of the importance of family. And no matter how far away they are, or how difficult it is, it’s important to do all you can to remain close with the ones you love.