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Holiday Traditions from Friends

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I grew up in a family of traditions, especially around the holidays. This is partly because I grew up in the church with both grandfathers and my own father serving as pastors, so annual church traditions such as candlelight services and Christmas pageants became our own family’s traditions as well. Sometimes that meant added stress as we frantically ran out the door, dragging coats and hats, complaining about another choir practice, crying that we couldn’t find our other shoe, begging our parents to let us stay home. But mostly, the memory of these traditions represents connection, family and stability when–looking back–many of those things were just beginning to fall apart for us.

While the meaning behind many of these traditions were obvious and shared with many other families, there are some traditions whose origins are a bit unclear, like the chocolate covered cherries. For as long as I can remember, every Christmas gathering with my dad’s side of the family, we would huddle in a big circle–one that once fit in my grandparents’ living room but eventually grew to the conference room of a Holiday Inn where we all stayed overnight. We sang carols, listened to little cousins perform piano recital pieces and passed babies from lap to lap. Eventually, the evening would come to the part where my grandpa handed out envelopes of money to every family member (which my dad would always open and yell to his brothers, “Did you get cruise tickets too? Oh my gosh! Thanks, Dad!”) and begin calling the names of the daughter-in-laws and granddaughters, one by one. When your name was called, you walked up and took your wrapped box. The contents of the box were always the same–chocolate covered cherries. I don’t know that anybody ever even ate them or liked them, but the gift had nothing to do with that. It was about belonging to a family. My grandparents never had a daughter, but by the time they passed away, they had a family of women who loved them–women who married their sons and the daughters their sons raised. This silly tradition was simply my grandpa’s way of telling us that we belonged and we were loved. As grandsons grew, dated, became engaged and eventually brought their fiancees to the family Christmas, hearing the name of the new Cryderman woman called for the first time to come receive her box of chocolate cherries from Grandpa became a celebrated welcome to the family, followed by hoots and hollers of aunts and uncles. It’s been over ten years since my grandpa passed away, and while the large family gatherings don’t happen as much anymore, the cherries find their way in to our traditions now and then to remind us that we are connected and loved. In fact, I packed a wrapped box in my suitcase for Chicago last weekend and pulled it out to give to my cousin when we met up.

“I almost forgot, I have something for you.”

She smiled as soon as she saw the box. “I bet I know what’s in here.”

The cherries, most likely, got tossed–that sugary slimy goo that holds them together always the deterrent. But our love for our grandpa, the family he created, and our support of each other is remembered. We are loved, and we belong.

We have continued with several other holiday traditions we grew up with–Christmas pajamas, following a string to Santa’s “big gift,” cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning–and have started many new traditions for our own family like setting up a reindeer runway in the driveway and a big family swim party Christmas day.

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The only rule we have about traditions is that they can’t cause stress–no worries if we skip it, no pressure if it fizzles out. And we don’t force ourselves to continue a tradition just to continue a tradition. If it doesn’t mean something, if we aren’t having fun with it, let it go (can’t tell you how many years we’ve skipped getting a picture with Santa because we were over it). We use traditions and rituals to inspire us, to bring us together and to deepen the grooves of a message we hope our kids know well–that no matter what they do, where they go or what happens in their lives, there are comforting constants as sure as the sun above, amid all the things that change–and that is that they are loved and they belong.

I am inspired by the different ways my friends celebrate holidays–some bold and colorful; others quiet and calm. All of it is good, and I feel so lucky for the ways the online world has allowed us to connect, celebrate together and learn from each other. I’ve asked some of my fellow bloggers, writers and friends to share a favorite tradition or moment from the holidays, and I’m so happy to have their words and photos in this space today. I was looking at this little collection of women this morning and feeling so grateful for each of their spaces online and the way they’ve inspired me. If you don’t follow them…give yourself a little Christmas present and add their hearts and words to your input list.

Ashley Ann 

Blog: Under the Sycamore,  Instagram: @underthesycamore

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Every year when we pack up our stockings, we each write out our hopes and goals for the coming year on little slips of paper and slide them into our stockings. The little papers are to be pulled out again when the stockings are unpacked the following November. Tiny papers filled with hopes for pregnancies, adoptions, job changes, traveling, etc…and then the dreams the kids add like dancing everyday, learning to read, camping with friends, running a 5K, and so many more. As kids grow, the hopes and dreams evolve and we’ve spent many November nights laughing, crying, and celebrating as we pull out those little strips of paper.

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Erin Loechner

Blog: Design for Mankind, Instagram: @erinloechner

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We have a fairly minimal approach to traditions in our house — less is definitely more! Instead, it’s the everyday stuff of the season we seek after – the lingering puzzle, the Bing Crosby album, making candied pecans for neighbors – and we do our best to integrate those small treats all season long. I find that what my family appreciates most about the holidays is a stronger sense of togetherness, so we’re often rejiggering something special for whatever life stage we’re all in. Our current “tradition”? Making a massive cardboard fort (city?!) from the influx of Amazon boxes this time of year!

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Kari Jensen

Blog: Living Life’s Moments, Instagram: @livinglifesmoments

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This time of year, we tend to live out various traditions that invites magic into our home. But I have to say my favorite is making lefse with my grandmother, my mom, and my three daughters. The past couple years especially, it’s grown to be even more special and savoring. My grandma is 88 years old and is teaching us her trade so that we can continue to enjoy this tasteful, meaningful, tradition for many years to come.

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Jessica Honegger

Instagram: @jessicahoneggger

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It’s been really helpful for me to be asked the question of what holiday traditions and rituals I cherish, because to be honest I struggle with finding rituals that make sense for my family during this busy season. Although I admire ritual and tradition, I’m not much of a ritualistic person—I love to change things up. Add that to our nomadic holiday ways (visiting family in the Midwest, other parts of Texas, Florida, etc) and it makes it difficult to establish traditions that stick. But there are some things we love to do that have added meaning to the holiday season for us. Last year for first time, we created an “advent calendar of kindness” as a family. Each day of advent, we brainstormed a way we could do good for others. We baked and took cookies to the local fire station (which we had never visited before), paid for the person behind us in the drive-thru, donated financially to an adoptive family and called them up to encourage them. It was so fun for us to do as a family, and kept us focused on the “reason for the season.” We also have started a semi-tradition (if you’re crazy inconsistent with it does it count as a tradition? I sure hope so!) of having a big holiday party at our house and passing the hat for International Justice Mission, to aid them in their mission of freeing people from slavery around the world. We do it up big, with paper invites and everything! Working in the retail industry can make the holiday season (also known as “Q4”) a crazy time for us, but as a family, we are feeling our way along and finding the rituals and traditions that make the holiday season feel special and meaningful.”

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Shauna Niequist

Website, Instagram: @shaunaniequist

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I’m pretty terrible at traditions—I get an idea, and then I do it twice and then forget about it and then at some point, my kids are like, “Wait, what about that thing? That elf? That calendar? That ornament tradition?” OOPS. Routines and traditions are not my best things, but there are a couple that I work hard on, and one is the Advent Book. Each day you get to open a new door, and every page has one short part of the Christmas story. We keep the book under the tree, and every night in December, we sit by the tree before bed and take turns opening the doors and reading the pages. We each pick our favorite doors, and anyone who comes over gets to join us in the reading—grandparents, friends, houseguests. If you come to our house in December, get ready to snuggle up and read the Advent book.

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I love reading together at the end of the day—that’s something we do all year round. And I love hearing the words of the Christmas story, a little more every night. In a season that can get overrun with stuff and stress and expectations so easily, I love that the reading of the Advent book is a grounding point every day: simplicity, physical touch, the light from the tree, the heart of the story.

Casey Leigh Wiegand

The Wiegands@caseyleighwiegand

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Holidays and events are such a sweet way to bond with your little ones, make them feel special and create lasting memories. It’s such an opportunity right there at your fingertips to make them feel extra special, to pull out the magic. I can still remember the way I felt as a child each year, each holiday with my family all around. My mom always went above and beyond- it has been something that I have desperately wanted to pass on to my own littles.

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While our babies grow and things change…..the family holiday traditions that matter stay the same. The moments in the kitchen making the sugar cookies, the way it makes them feel…..the memories and the music while we decorate their rooms and the little ways that we can make things special all throughout the month.

Nici Holt Cline

Blog: Dig This Chick, Instagram: @digthischick

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Every year, on the eve of the Winter Solstice, I sew nightgowns for my daughters. They wake in the dark, cold morning and have a little hunt to find their new pjs. I love sewing for my kids and my approach has changed over the years…at 8 and 10, it is no longer a given that they will love my creations.

This last Summer Solstice, I again made nightgowns (because Tradition!) even though my eldest doesn’t like nightgowns. She wore it but it didn’t bring her joy because it wasn’t her style. I had dug in to my tradition, ignoring the reason I have the tradition…time to shake up.

So this Winter Solstice, I included my kids in the fabric and pattern selection. And, you know what? It was better than ever. They still woke to new pjs, still felt surprise and now, they also feel a sense of creative ownership.

My kids are my favorite teachers and this year I am learning that our rituals need to evolve if we are to remain present and appreciative, if we are to truly understand the importance and purpose of tradition in the first place.

Tiffany Gray

Instagram: @thegraygang

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My favorite family tradition goes down in the wee hours of Christmas morning – usually before the sunrise. My kids awake to find their stuffed stockings hanging by the doorknob of the door belonging to their bedroom. This is something that my mother passed down to me. Then they all gather, armed with their stockings & hot coco, into our bed. My husband reads The Christmas Carol; as a child, we would watch the film every Boxing Day. It was always my dad cry – so in a way, this is a small tribute to him. Then they open their stockings and get all the predictable things: chocolate coins, fuzzy socks, glow sticks, playing cards, model clay —  but in each one of their stockings is a teeny-tiny piece of wrapping paper – and its that wrapping paper who tells them which gifts belong to them under the tree as I don’t label them. Its the best of times and my heart is 2.2 seconds away from exploding…these are the moments I will miss the most when I am old & grey & gone.

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Claire Bidwell Smith

Website, Instagram: @clairebidwellsmith

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My mother died when I was a teenager, so the holidays are always especially poignant for me. Getting to share the same traditions now with my two young daughters that my mother started is particularly meaningful to me, and evokes her presence in our home and hearts. While there are so many traditions we carry on, my favorite one involves taking a moment at the end of each night to turn off all the lights of the house and stand in the quiet glow of the Christmas tree, for just a moment, before going to bed. My children do this with reverence, and I almost always feel like my mother is with us when we do.

 

Favorite Tradition from the holiday? This is my jam. DO TELL.

For Elizabeth and Luke

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Friends.  Tonight I’m sharing someone so dear to my heart with you.  I’m inviting her into this space to tell her story, but first I’m putting down lots of pillows and blankets and asking you to come and sit and listen with open hearts and minds. 

I don’t know that I can type an intro that is worthy of the love behind my friend, Elizabeth.  The way she loves her children is magic, but the way she loves the world around her makes me want to be a better person every day.

I met Elizabeth through my blog.  I don’t even remember exactly how it happened, but sometime after Nella was born, someone connected the two of us, we started e-mailing which then led to texting and phone calls, and now here we are a few years later, good friends.  To me Elizabeth is defined by her heart, the way she loves her children, her faith, her wit, her brilliant medical advice, her passion for orchestra, good yarn, teaching Sunday school and exploring the world around her with an open mind.  She also happens to be the mother of five children–one with CP, one with Down syndrome–and she’s been fighting breast cancer for five years.  Five years of surgeries, radiation and chemo. 

I asked Elizabeth last week if she’d be interested in sharing her story here.  October is both breast cancer and Down syndrome awareness month, and I knew if anyone could beautifully represent both of these, it was Elizabeth.  She lives both of them every day.

There’s another thing about Elizabeth that’s important to know.  She is a woman of strong faith.  She talks about it a lot, she loves her church, she breathes her faith into every e-mail, every conversation.  In fact, I was certain I wasn’t “faithy” enough to be her friend at first and thought maybe we wouldn’t be the best match (my judging, not hers).  But she never treated me like I needed to be saved.  Ever.  She knew we shared the same God, and she respected me and my differences.  I told Elizabeth recently that she’s a big part of my faith journey.  She’s loved me through every bit of it, always treating me like my truth was just as right as hers even though it was different.  That acceptance, that spiritual equality, that love–it’s restored a lot of my belief in church. 

I’ll stop rambling because Elizabeth’s words are more important here.  But more than that, I’ve asked her to pick a child who needs help and told her I’d ask you all to be a part of this.  You see, anyone who knows Elizabeth knows that one of the ways she’s made it through the past five years is by helping others–specifically children with Down syndrome who need families to adopt them.  So you’ll meet Luke at the end of this post.  He will melt you.  We can help bring him home.

The story of my friend Elizabeth with the Very Big Heart:

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My name is Elizabeth, I am a 47 year old wife, mama, fiber artist and retired MD living in North Carolina. The current chapter of my story sort of started when we lost our fifth child, William, about seven years ago. William had Down syndrome, orthopedic issues, prematurity, a precipitous, complicated breech delivery, and we never even got to bring him home.

We were beyond joyful when we got pregnant again the next year. In early ultrasounds we saw some signs of Down Syndrome. I was totally fine with that. We had lost a son, and God was giving us another one. I just wanted a baby we could keep, and hold, and love, and bring home to our other children. We named him George and did everything possible to keep him (and me) healthy as long as possible. The preterm labor got serious at 30 weeks but we hung in there until he stopped thriving just past 34 weeks. Because our fourth child has CP and a metabolic disorder, I was pretty desperate to avoid a C section (how do you care for a non-ambulatory tube fed child on oxygen and monitors after a C section???) so we had a long talk about risks and benefits and decided to try an induction. We had a few scary moments, but our OB never left my side for 15 hours and we had George a little after midnight on December 19, 2007. He did indeed have Down syndrome, and we immediately fell in love with our son.

George was small, weak, jaundiced, unable to figure out how to suck swallow and breathe at the same time, and we all thought he was the most amazingly wonderful baby EVER. There were some really tough times. For example, I wanted more than anything to be able to breastfeed him. I had nursed all my others at least through toddlerhood, several well into preschoolhood. George deserved that, too. The lactation consultants all gave up. But we found a speech therapist who specializes in infant oral motor issues, and after months of pumping, he finally figured it out. By 6 months of age he was exclusively breastfed and gaining weight beautifully. I sure was tired, though. Four other children, including one who is VERY medically fragile and complex, homeschooling, way too many outside activities, other challenges too numerous to mention, and a husband who worked a zillion hours a week… it was hard. But we all loved George to the moon and back.

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People would ask me why I thought God would give our family such challenges, two handicapped children, losing William… and I was never sure how to answer them. I have friends who are really smart about theological things. They know huge chunks of the Bible from memory. They can answer complicated life questions with passages from scripture and quotes from important thinkers. They can dissect doctrinal issues and defend their faith with confidence. Me, not so much.

I believe that God gave us all life as a gift to be loved and cherished. I believe that all sacraments give grace, and that participating in the Mass makes me happy. I believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And you know what? I believe that the rest of it is pretty much just details, and I figure that God can manage the details. I think that’s why I have been teaching second grade Sunday school for almost 20 years. In our church, second graders usually make their First Holy Communion. And to teach second grade, you don’t need to be able to explain complicated things, you must simply share the beauty of the sacraments, the joy of the Mass and the miracle of the Eucharist. That’s sufficient. I can do that. The hard and complicated parts? Just details.

Then our family’s life got even harder and more complicated. When George was eight months old, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma. Just two months after finally mastering breast feeding a baby with Down syndrome, I would have to have a mastectomy and a big axillary dissection. They gave me six weeks to heal from that (and yes, I managed to continue to nurse George on the other side for those six weeks) but then we had to wean over just a few days for chemotherapy. My biggest meltdown ever was in the baby formula aisle at Target. Here I was, after pumping for months, working so hard to get my premature baby with Down syndrome to nurse, and now I had metastatic cancer and just had a major surgery and was about to start chemotherapy and then radiation and I still had five children to take care of, two of whom had significant special needs… and now I had to wean my wonderful precious baby when I worked so hard to get him to nurse?

That’s when I came closest to questioning God about all of this. I knew deep in my heart that I had so much to be grateful for. I could spend all afternoon bragging about my sweet husband. And my children. I have five children, who even though they all love George best, really like each other and are kind to each other. We have excellent health insurance, the best specialists around, and family, neighborhood and church support beyond what anybody could hope for. But still…. I struggled with the whole thing. Why a mama who obviously had so much to do to take care of her children – all of them, not just the special needs ones – would get this terrible terminal disease?

So then I started chemo. And I never figured out the why part , but I have gotten some amazing glimpses into how all the rest of it is supposed to fit together. Like this: God TOTALLY knew what he was doing when he gave me a baby with Down syndrome and breast cancer at the same time. There is NO WAY I could have been chasing a typically developing toddler while on chemo. Well,I didn’t have to chase George. Despite all sorts of therapy, he really wasn’t interested in or able to go anywhere. So we snuggled and and sang songs and spent countless hours on the sofa just loving each other. A few months later when I had to have another mastectomy and a hysterectomy, so we knew that we’d be unable to have any more children, we realized how nice it was that our last baby would truly be a baby for a little bit longer than the others….. See, God knew that I needed a baby to get me through cancer, and not just a regular baby. I needed the world’s most amazing baby… a very happy child who made everyone around him happy. An easy baby who basically stayed where you put him. A good sleeper. A baby who brought joy to his older siblings when they were under great stress because of my cancer and my surgeries and chemo…. There is NO WAY this was some sort of random accident. Even if I’m not good at the details, God was. So he gave us George. (Who is still everybody’s favorite, by the way…)

One thing that happens when you have a baby with Down syndrome is that you sort of realize that the world would be a better place if every family got to experience the blessings that we have because of George. So I was thinking about that one night, and talking to another blogging friend, and learned about Reece’s Rainbow.

That’s about when I started blogging. The basic concept was that I was blessed with this HUGE support system of family and friends who were all afraid to call me on the phone to see how I was doing lest they perhaps wake me or George up from a nap. We thought that if I blogged about this cancer journey, everyone could stay up to date, and besides, it would be a record of our family’s story for my husband and children for the future. Little did I know that my blog would connect me with the most amazing mamas ever…. some T 21 club families, some faith-filled homeschooling mothers-of-many, some ladies who are as passionate about spinning and knitting and fiber arts as I am…

But anyway, back to the story. One thing that happens when you have a baby with Down syndrome is that you sort of realize that the world would be a better place if every family got to experience the blessings that we have because of George. So I was thinking about that one night, and talking to another blogging friend, and learned about Reece’s Rainbow.   Reece’s Rainbow is a non-profit organization that finds families for international orphans with Down Syndrome and other disabilities. In many other countries, when a family has a child with Down syndrome, they are strongly encouraged – some say forced – to never bring their baby home, but to give the baby up, to put them in an institution. And this institutional life, in many cases, is very brief and very grim. Reece’s Rainbow also helps with advocacy and fundraising for families who are trying to adopt children with Down syndrome. I was amazed at what a perfect idea this is! Only certain families get to have a baby with Down syndrome, and this isn’t fair. So Reece’s Rainbow fixes this by matching up families with children. And then, not every family is ready to adopt a child with DS, or maybe they just can’t, for whatever reason. That’s not fair, either. So Reece’s Rainbow helps them by letting everyone participate in saving these lives, by advocating, or praying, or contributing financially.  No exclusions.

We obviously can’t adopt. I would give anything to welcome more babies with Down syndrome into our family, but these children need a mama without metastatic cancer. There are, however, healthy mamas with so much love in their hearts who don’t have the spare cash to fund an adoption. So it’s time to confess about my secret. We call it the DeHority Distraction principle. Late at night, when I am feeling really bad, or scared, or worried, like when they have to cancel my chemotherapy because my white blood cell counts are going down, I get on the Internet and go on the Reece’s Rainbow website and find beautiful children. Some already have families working to save their lives, some without families yet. And then, after reading about them, saying a prayer for their health and safety, and learning about their family if they have one, I anonymously make just a little donation into those children’s sponsorship accounts. It’s especially fun when they have a family trying so hard to raise money to rescue them, and all of a sudden this cash appears in the account. So they post about it on their blog or on Facebook, and often it inspires other people to contribute, and instead of watching my numbers go down, I can watch beautiful children’s numbers go up.

This is Luke.  He is currently living in an orphanage in Asia.  He has been matched with a wonderful loving family, waiting to raise the funds to bring him home.  We’d love your help in bringing this beautiful boy home to his family sooner.  You can read more about Luke and donate to Luke’s fund here.  Can you help?  Can you give even just a little bit or share Luke with others who might be able to give?

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I want to hug him.  I want to tell him that soon, soon, he will have a mommy and a daddy and a place to call home.  I want to watch from the sidelines when this boy is held in the arms of his family and finally brought home to where he will be loved and nurtured for the rest of his life.  Our family is making a donation to support Luke, and I hope you will consider giving anything you can to bring him one step closer to home.

Elizabeth is one day past chemo.  I know what that means.  She’s waiting and watching for numbers to go up, up, up while she rests. 

As always, thank you.  Thank you for being a part of this space.  For listening and contributing and caring.

Love to you all tonight.
And Elizabeth.  I know you are reading.  I love you so.

A Picture of Our Family

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In the archives of posed family photos from my childhood, there are stories buried in 3 x 5 prints and the occasional Olan Mills 8 x 10 splurge. Stories range from “Dear God, why were my lips always chapped?” to “Turtlenecks Are Awesome” and “Argyle is the New Black.” But less obvious and more important, were the other stories buried in those photos–we were trying to hang on, sometimes for dear life, to what we knew was the greatest thing we had…family. I wonder how many of those photos were taken during the rough times–when, without a clue of what else to do, our parents curled our hair, coordinated some outfits, dragged us to Olan Mills and paid for a 5 x 7 that would be framed and put on their night stand so that they could look at it every morning and think “that’s it right there–that’s why I’ll stay and that’s why I’ll try harder.” That and they needed something to put next to our name in the Free Methodist Church directory. Our family didn’t end up staying together–rightly so–but I wonder if that break-up–the years leading up to it and the hard ones that followed–could have been softened if there wasn’t so much pressure to fulfill the image of what a family is supposed to look like.

For our own family now, it’s been over a year since we’ve had an organized family photo. It’s just harder to make it happen with grown kids and two different homes and busy schedules. But as a photographer and photo-lover, I believe in documentation and capturing love in all our different places in life. And there are some walls in our home that beg for big prints to remind us “This is it right here.” So the stars aligned last week and a quick photo shoot was organized.

For all the pretty pictures I share–that anyone shares–there are accompanying stories. It’s easy to believe that those stories are all glossy and perfect and cozy, but I know better than to assume that. In fact, part of what I love about following friends even with the most breathtaking photos where life seems nothing but light-filled scenes of dreams–is knowing that those moments are earned through unseen moments of really hard work. There are so many stories we don’t share–stories of humor and heartache and beauty and joy and messing up and fixing it and hoping and trying and love…lots of hard work.  That’s the real beauty of family.

So here we are. Our Family. A blended mix of pasts and presents, figuring out a little more each day how to make it. Sometimes it’s really hard. But we love each other and that means everything.

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And I may have tried to coordinate outfits for a somewhat cohesive look, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: life doesn’t follow your coordination plans.

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But bring your color anyways. Show up. Make it interesting. Tell a story. Love the ones who have been given to you.

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We’re not perfect, but we show up. And that’s all it takes for a perfect family photo.

I love these people.

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And my favorite photo in the whole bunch…

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Top that, Olan Mills.

Thank you to Heidi for capturing our family…and for always showing up.