In 1999, everyone in her family wrote her a letter. 17 years later, she finally read them.

When Abby Van Metre turned 18, she wanted an iPhone. Instead, she got ... a box?

She remembers plopping down on the living room floor of her Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home a few days after her birthday, next to her dog, and staring at the aged brown container. It had been her great-great-aunt's jewelry box. It was over 100 years old and had been passed down to Abby's grandma and, now, to Abby.

But she didn't know what was inside.


Her parents explained that the box was a time capsule filled with letters and keepsakes from Abby's 1st birthday. It had never been opened.

All photos via Abby Van Metre, used with permission.

Instead of gifts, everyone in her family had written young Abby a card or a letter. They also stuffed the box with some newspapers from 1999 and other keepsakes. Then, her parents tucked it away for 17 years. Abby never even knew it existed.

As she started to go through the time capsule's contents, including letters from close relatives who had since passed away, Abby was overcome with emotion.

"I started crying. It was happiness. It wasn't sadness at all," she said. "It was sheer happiness that I got one more conversation with loved ones, one more 'I love you,' one more piece of advice."

One letter, from her uncle who was killed in a car accident three years ago, hit Abby particularly hard.

"It was just a very visceral thing for me, and the moment I started reading it, I couldn't handle it. It was like I was talking to him," she said.

Other letters were lighthearted glimpses into the past.

Abby said one of her cousins — whom she describes as a "big burly Marine" — was 7 when he wrote her a letter for the time capsule.

"In his letter, he attached his favorite Pokemon card, and in his letter he says, 'When you open this, can I please have that back?'"

Abby's mom filmed the whole thing and posted it to Facebook, where it quickly went viral.

"She said, 'Don't worry, it'll just go to my 300 Facebook friends,'" Abby recalled.

When they checked a few days later, the post had racked up millions of views, shares, and comments from around the world.

Letters from Heaven. This week Abby turned 18. For her 1st birthday we asked all our loved ones to write her a letter...

Posted by Susie Aldershof Van Metre on Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"It really put things in perspective for me," Abby said.

"Like, sure, I'd love to have 100 boxes of presents to open and expensive things. But, in reality, I wouldn't trade this gift my parents gave me for anything."

Right now, the box is in Abby's kitchen, where she said she's still going through the letters, two or three at a time, to make sure she's absorbed every word and every ounce of love.

And for the rest of us who wish we'd thought of this ourselves, Abby's story serves as a powerful reminder that, years from now, what we'll value most is the time we shared and the memories we created with our loved ones.

Even if the only place we have to keep them is our hearts.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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Jeff Bridges photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikicommons

An image from Jeff Bridges' personal note on his website

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