Behold the Lamb: Merry Christmas!

It's the week of Christmas and I can hardly believe it. I'm here with my parents, my brother and his wife, and my husband in California. When you live on the other side of the country from family, being together is the greatest gift. It feels extra special that we're here ON Christmas this year! Today we're in Napa showing my husband the wineries since he's never been. We'll drive home later today and then tomorrow we will go to the Christmas Eve service at church and have family over to our house for Christmas Eve. On Christmas day we wake up and open our stockings, devour the delicious egg bake and coffee cake my mom prepares, then open gifts. In the afternoon we'll head to my grandparent's house to see the extended family. It's a day of fun and celebration! 

Why do we gather and celebrate? Why do we spend time picking out gifts for our loved ones we hope they'll enjoy? Why do sit around the table with our people and eat delicious food? 

We do these things to mirror what Jesus did for us. We celebrate because the Lamb of God has come to take away the sins of the world. We give gifts because Jesus was the greatest Gift. We gather with our families and friends, however that might look for you, to celebrate that the God of the universe saw fit to send his one and only son, Jesus, to earth to walk as a man without sin, then die for OUR sin, in our place, and offer us eternity with Him in Heaven forever. We gather to remind each other of these truths, because I'm not sure about you, but my heart needs the reminding!

Behold the Lamb. He's here, friends. Let every heart rejoice!










 Lincoln says "my parents are embarrassing me!" ;)





 Lincoln's face in this one kills me ;)
Ashley Slater Photography




 "God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice, for our sins." 1 John 4:9–10

Merry Christmas from my little family to you, sweet friends! I'll be back in January!
xoxo
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When the Holiday's are Hard: How to Encourage Friends Who are Hurting


There are so many things I love about the holidays. The decorations, the warmth, the music, the cheer, the family, the gifts, the cookies! But for some, the holidays can be a particularly tough time of year because it puts emphasis on things or people they miss. It can often magnify wounds, even if they thought they were dealt with or seemingly fine during other parts of the year. My hope in this post is to share some ways that you can come alongside your people during the holidays and either encourage them in their struggles or know how to care deeper for them. I've asked some of my dear friends who have walked through grief or hardship to share some thoughts on this below. Some of them have lost babies or loved ones, have experienced broken engagements, or are single mamas just trying their best every day. Each is a little different and I pray this inspires you to reach out to your friends who might be having a bit of a harder time this season.

I've learned so much from these friends and family of mine. Not only about what it looks like to trust God in the midst of pain, but also how to care for others when they enter difficult seasons as well. Many years ago I had a friend who lost her twins at 23 weeks. I had only had one friend walk through miscarriage or loss at this point in my life and I felt ill-equipped to be a friend to her in this time of such deep loss. I asked God to help give me the words (or not-- sometimes listening is best), and He taught me so much about what being there for someone looks like. The main thing I learned was just to show up, say their names, be there for her even if I didn't know what to say and treat her like a normal person. I learned great joy and sorrow can coexist. A couple of years ago my husband lost his father to cancer and after trudging through that grief more personally, I realized through our own experience that people don't really know how to walk alongside someone in pain. Usually they don't want to bring it up, so they shy away from the subject all together. We have the chance to really make a difference in the life of our friends and family when we enter into their struggles with them. 



I'd like to introduce you to some of my friends and their stories below. And I'd love to hear from you in the comments if you have helpful things to add. We're all in this together!

***

 The holidays are synonymous with joy and happiness, but when you're going through a tough season of life it can feel anything but. Last year, I miscarried our son days before Thanksgiving. To say it was a hard holiday season would be an understatement. It was unbearable. The thought of plastering on a smile and making small talk with acquaintances seemed impossible. -- Casey

Here are some of the ways I coped through the holiday season...

- RSVP "No" and don't feel bad about it. It's perfectly fine if you want to opt-out of family parties or work parties this year. Focus on only doing things that lift you up. If that means staying in for a month and watching old movies...do it (that's exactly what I did!). 
- If you're battling infertility or miscarriage, the same goes for baby showers at any time during the year. Send a gift, but don't ever feel obligated to put yourself in that tough situation.
- Get out of town. My husband and I took a trip to Quebec City after Christmas last year. Having something to look forward to was helpful during December and we also had something happy to talk about as we planned our trip.
- Talk to someone. When we experienced our miscarriage, we immediately found a therapist. This was incredibly helpful to validate our feelings and learn coping techniques for getting through each day.

***

My dear friend Lauren’s daughter, Madelyn Faith, was born into the arms of Jesus in January 2018 at 19 weeks.

- One of the most meaningful things for me is when a friend mentions Madelyn’s name. I think about her every day, and it means so much to know when my friends are reminded of her too. 

- Write down important dates and reach out on their birthday, anniversary, etc.  

- Give a gift - Last Christmas our dear friend gifted us a special ornament to remember Madelyn. It was engraved with her name, birth date, and a verse we had chosen for her. Other gifts I’ve received are a birthstone necklace, a blanket with a personalized message, Christmas ornaments, small handmade baby blanket. 

***

Less than 2 years ago, I experienced profound grief after a broken engagement. Over time, I’ve gained a better understanding of why the grief shattered so many layers of my heart. The healing process continues. -- my Aunt Carol

Reflections on what promoted healing:
1. I love books. God pointed me to authors who became companions. In each of the author’s lives, prior to their loss and grief, they were deeply rooted in their faith.  Their vulnerability in sharing experiences of what felt like God’s abandonment resonated with me. Reading through the pages of how their journey ultimately brought them back to the goodness of God, brought hope in my pain.Although their losses were deaths of loved ones, I also lost someone who held my heart and was no longer there.
Perhaps these books might be helpful for another:
The Other Side of Grief by Elizabeth Fitch (especially her Reflections at the end)
A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
 
2. Elizabeth Fitch helped me choose to move toward God, even on days when I didn’t feel like it. She said: “Sooner or later grief comes to everyone. Pain causes us to hide and we can choose our hiding place, either by throwing the full weight of our grief on God or on yourself and the places of isolation where you choose to hide.” On the days I choose to move towards God, I gained a deeper understanding of why His presence was a comfort. He had been here before at the cross, feeling rejected and abandoned. He showed up at times in unexpected ways- through an unexpected phone call, a flower delivery, a card or text with just the right words, or a friend offering a future hope and vision I desperately needed.
 
What Did Not Help Promote Healing:
Hearing cliches like “time heals”, and “this will only make you stronger” made me feel worse. Though well intended, I also resisted hearing familiar Bible verses such as “All things work together for good to those who love him”.  While I believe God, in his sovereignty, is working out HIS purposes in my life for the  best (to become more like Him) at the time, nothing felt good about it. 

***
My good friend, Jess, is a single mama to two daughters she adopted through foster care and she continues to foster children, providing them with a loving home. Being a single mom comes with exhaustion, financial strain and many more emotions. Here are some things she told me are encouraging to her:
- When friends check in with us or include/invite us in/to things, I feel really seen and loved. Seeing my friends and family pour into my daughters' lives, especially good men since I am single, warms my heart. 

- Sometimes people just tell me that I'm "super mom" or they "can't believe how I do it all". This isn't helpful. I'm just doing what I feel called to do. What IS helpful and encouraging is when friends are willing to listen to and acknowledge the hard parts of being a single mom and foster mom without judgement. When people step up to really listen and then help when they can, that is humbling and so impactful to me and the girls. 

***

My husband and I have walked through the loss of 3 precious babies through miscarriage in the past year and a half. We have learned a lot about working through and processing grief and how each person needs something different. -- my sweet friend from church

Things that my husband and I found unhelpful and helpful vary because we relate differently, so I put them into “His” and “Hers” categories:

Unhelpful to Him:
  • When people would make it about themselves - they would try to relate by sharing something similar (but not the same), but it would just feel like they were trying to share their sadness and that they could relate, instead of entering into your grief with you. 
Unhelpful to Her:
  • When people said silver lining phrases like “well you can always try again” or “at least it was early on”. Those kind of statements really invalidated my pain and made me feel guilty or weird for grieving. It also made me sad because they were forgetting that I wanted to know and raise THAT baby and I would never get that chance.
  • Sometimes people would suggest things that could be wrong with my health or things that they had figured out about their health; that would make me feel guilty and like it was my fault that this had happened in the first place. If you’ve had a miscarriage you are already struggling with those thoughts, so you need people to speak truth and not contribute to those lies.
  • It was tough when people avoided asking me how I was or what I was feeling. I think this was particularly difficult because grief is meant to be entered into, just like joy is meant to be entered into.
Helpful for Him:
  • It was helpful to neither avoid it or push him into talking about it. It was great when friends would ask him if he wanted to talk or if he would rather not and just spend time with him instead. 
Helpful for Her:
  • It was so helpful for me when people would acknowledge our loss and would ask me what I needed that day or week. Each day was so different for me; sometimes I would want to talk and process and others I was too deep in grief. But when friends asked, I felt loved.
  • When friends gave little gifts to encourage my heart. One friend gave me a beautiful necklace to help me remember my baby by, and she also included a gift bag with other sweet things.
  • Meals were so helpful for the first few weeks when I was in pain physically and very emotional.
  • It was so helpful for friends and family to enter into the grief with me; especially my husband.
  • Remembering and being reminded where my babies are - free from pain and with Jesus.

My husband and I both agree that being helpful comes down to knowing and talking to the people in your life that are grieving on a regular basis, to know what they specifically need at that time. Also, just being there to love and listen to them makes such a difference.

***

My dad passed in 2015 and my mom passed in 2017. The holidays never get “easier” without them and I will always wish they were here. What keeps them alive are the conversations my siblings and I have about our holiday traditions and memories. We laugh, cry and reminisce as we attempt to establish new traditions that blend with the ones we grew up on.

It means so much to me when people ask questions about my parents’ lives rather than shying away from the topic because they’re not here. If you’re unsure of how to approach to topic of loss during the holidays (or in general), here are a few ideas that you could use to support someone who is missing a loved one. -- Georgia Mae

Kind gestures around the holidays:
  • We had a family friend that sent us a bunch of stocking stuffers since it was the first year my mom wasn't there to do that for us
  • A friend had a tree planted to honor my dad around the holidays
  • Friends rallied together to treat me to get my hair done
  • People sent meal deliveries, movie tickets or gift cards to restaurants for us to spend time together 
  • Simple, thoughtful texts that they were thinking of us during the holiday season (even years later this still means SO much)
Questions to ask around the holidays:
  • How can I support you this holiday season?
  • Can I help your family set up for the holidays? (maybe there is something their loved one did like string the lights that you can relieve for them)
  • What were some special traditions you shared with your loved one? 
  • How are you feeling as the holiday season approaches? 
  • What's most difficult this year regarding the holidays? (if their loss was more than a year ago)
  • What is your favorite holiday memory with your loved one? 
  • If you knew their loved one, share one of your favorite memories you had with them
***

For my husband, he says he most appreciates when people naturally bring up his dad, mentions something that reminds them of him, or ask him questions about what he was like. He feels like this shows the people haven't forgotten about him, because he certainly hasn't. I make an effort to let him know when something he does reminds me of his dad or share a memory (like going to the tree farm) with him and his dad and how special that was to me. His dad's birthday is around Christmas, so we always do something to celebrate his life. This year he went to dinner with one of his brothers (the rest of the family got sick) and they reminisced about their favorite memories. Usually we will also get together on the day he passed away to honor his life and again, remember who he was to each of us. 

One thing my husband said isn't helpful is when people go on and on about how sorry they are for him, especially someone he doesn't know well. He never wants someone to feel really bad for him. He says it's nice to hear someone's condolences and acknowledge his dad's death, but he'd rather not have people dwell on how hard this must be for him. McCann will talk to me or his close buddies to process grief and sad moments, but he never wants to feel like someone is pitying him. Obviously it is hard to lose a parent, but he'd rather discuss the really hard parts on his terms. 



***

I think remembering that each person's grief or struggles are different and so we have to treat them differently is important to remember. What one person finds helpful might not be considered helpful for someone else. In order to enter into someone's pain, we need to try to know and understand them. I think some of the best takeaways for me as I read through my friends' words and try to improve on this myself are the following:

- Just show up for your people. If you feel prompted to reach out or do something for them, do it. Don't put it off. They probably could use your support!
- Don't shy away from saying names of loved ones who have passed away or tell a mom you're thinking about their heavenly babies. They want to know they aren't forgotten.
- Grief never just goes away, but people will learn how to cope with the loss or struggles as time goes on. You're never too late to step in and encourage someone or ask someone how you can support them.
- Asking questions (like my friend Georgia Mae outlined above!) is healing. Not invasive questions, but questions that prompt your friends or family to share memories of their loved ones.
- Reminding friends of Gospel truths while walking through hard times trumps all. Saying cliches like "time will heal" or "everything happens for a reason" probably won't help; in fact, they'll probably make the person feel like you can't ever understand their pain. But telling them that you're praying for them and that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them and sees them and there is hope in Heaven...that is solid truth worth reminding them of. 

I hope this helps you walk with your friends or family through life's valleys or if you are going through a hard season right now, I hope you read this and felt seen. You are not alone in your suffering. Please reach out if you need prayer this holiday season (or any time!)

xoxo 









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Our Holiday Home Tour

Can you believe it? We're just 10 days away from Christmas! I feel like it came so fast this year, but I probably always feel that way ;) Today I'm showing you around our home for the holidays! Welcome to our Christmas home tour...

Living Room

It was so fun to decorate our builtins this year!



You can see more of our tree here.

It was a little tricky getting the builtin styling right since the tree is in front of the left side. In order to balance out the weight of the tree on one side, I put 2 small yarn trees on the right of the TV and did our nativity scene on the right side since it's darker in color. On the right, I put my favorite decor in sight and still styled behind the tree in case you see it from a different angle. 

I kept it fairly simple with a couple poinsettias, Christmas bowl full of candy (my grandma gives me a new piece of Spode Christmas serveware every year, so it's fun to display a couple items.


On the right side I did some of the white and glitter houses I had, the manger scene, a Christmas bell, poinsettia, and a bowl of pinecones I sprayed white a couple years ago. 

I found these adorable trees at a local store and I just love them!


Our manger scene is made of olive tree wood and was bought in Israel by a friend of ours-- she gave it to us for our wedding gift and I absolutely love it!







Look at that face ;)

In the kitchen I changed up our chalkboard, hung a wreath on our vent hood and added a couple other touches here and there.


I love these rosemary trees from TJ's! I get one every year and put lights around it.




Our dining room buffet just got a hint of Christmas with a frame, plant and another Christmas bowl from my grandma.


I went wreath crazy this year ;) This hangs in our dining room window.


I put string lights on our headboard and some fresh greenery on our nightstands in the bedroom!




I hope you enjoyed the tour; thanks for stopping by! Tomorrow I leave for my parent's house in CA and I can't wait to spend some time with them for the holidays. There's no place like home :)


If you're doing any last minute shopping, here are my gift guides!
+ For the Home 
+ For Her
Gift Guide: Beauty 
Stocking Stuffers for Him & Her


xoxo



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Stocking Stuffers for the Ladies & Gents

This gift guide is my favorite every year!! Stocking stuffers are so fun and my mom always nails our stockings. Often our favorite gifts were tucked away in there! Usually this is where we'd get experiences, like sporting events, concerts, or when I was younger, my dad would get us tickets to the ballet for our dad & daughter dates. So special!! My mom usually tucks in undies, something beauty-esque (polish, scrub, hair clips, etc.), a book and a couple other trinkets. 


Ladies first!






one: my favorite Lemongrass Body Scrub and Body Butter. The smell is so fresh and the scrub gets your hands and feet so soft! On sale until Wednesday!
 two: I always get socks in my stockings and for good reason-- I love being cozy! These are so soft.
 three: if you're not using a foundation brush to do your foundation, you should be! These fit perfectly in a stocking.
four: I love these soft hair ties...no more ouch!
 five: 3 different, yet equally amazing mini face oils. On sale now!
 six: Growing in Gratitude-- I got this book in my stocking last year and it was so, so good. Highly recommend!
 seven: Recipe cards for the one who loves to cook and bake.
 eight: I think this velvet clutch just might fit in a stocking and you could fill the clutch with some fun littler items! It comes in a bunch of colors.
 nine: love this portable wine mug...and monogram it for a special touch!
ten: tortoise shell hair clips, practical and cute!
 eleven: I tried these North Face mittens on last week at the mall and they were amazing...promptly added to my Christmas list ;) I think mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves. The inside is all fuzzy polar fleece.
 twelve: monogram purse pouch. So sweet and vintage!
 thirteen: my friend recommended this hydrating mask the other week...it goes on this deep green color. So fun! It's made in Kauai, one of my family's favorite places on earth, and it's all safe!



Filling my husband's stocking is so fun for me! (Not sure if he feels the same about putting mine together...ha!!) I always do Christmas boxers, his favorite candy, a bag of coffee beans, maybe a pair of gloves, a hat or something wintery that he needs, and a couple other fun things. This year he's getting a new silicone wedding band because his recently broke and he likes to wear that kind the most...go figure! ;)




one: we've wanted this Ring doorbell camera for a while. I think it'd be great in a stocking! Under $100.
 two: some tech savy driving gloves.
 three: Air Pods are at the top of my husband's wishlist! They'll make such a difference in experience for someone who likes to work out a lot. 
four: beautiful and functional wood and marble coasters.
 five: this Charcoal Cleansing Bar is great for ladies and gents (it's for your face), but I think it's a perfect stocking stuffer for the guys. It will last upwards of 8 months!
 six: if you have a hubby with a beard, this beard oil is awesome!
 seven: we got the Meater+ for my dad this year! He loves to grill meat and this thermometer connects to your phone so it keeps you posted on how the meat is doing and when it'll be done to perfection!
 eight: my dad swears by these Tiles-- you connect them to your keys or a suitcase, or whatever you don't want to lose ;), and then you can find it through wifi. If you lose your keys then you can use the app on your phone to make the tile sound so you can find it. If you lose your suitcase in travel, then you'd use the app to locate it's location. It's so cool!
 nine: like I said, I always get McCann Christmas boxers in his stocking. I love these and for under $10...yes!
ten: this is a great gift for the ski lover. It is padded, so it protects your skiis while they travel!
 eleven: a handy little speaker so your guy can blast his music wherever he goes ;)


Is there an item you ALWAYS get in your stocking or put in someone else's?! I want to hear!

Happy Stocking Stuffing, friends!




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