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My husbands folks and two of his million siblings live in Southern Utah, and we always love being able to go visit - and my oldest daughter now knows that Nana's house is where all the fun happens. His other siblings are split between California and Texas with all of their significant others. It is a very very rare occasion when EVERY sibling gets to be back in Southern Utah at all, much less for a holiday. This year it happened. And thanks to my sister in law's planning, we even got to do a photo shoot!

This family has been through a lot. The five years that I have been married to my husband, I have heard countless stories of great love and great pain. From his parent's divorce when the kids were young to his father's death in 2015 and our sister in law's sudden death a few months ago. Then thinking back on his mother's remarriage to their step-dad who, at only 23 years old, joyfully took on the role of caring for his new wife's 6 children as his own. Not to mention all the ups and downs in between.

I didn't grow up in a big family. So to be a part of this great multitude has been an experience I didn't even realize existed. With 7 siblings, the personalities are all so different, yet so similar. The phrase "Sarcasm is our love language" rings so true in this family. The jokes and sarcastic remarks fly as often as oxygen gets converted to CO2, but beneath the phrase "You're an idiot!" actually lies a fond and heartfelt "I love you."

Typically, when I do a family photo shoot, I send out some instructions beforehand about things to wear and colors to try. However, this time the theme was simply "Get everyone out of the house relatively on time, with all of our sanity intact, and together for at least ONE picture of everyone." So that meant, "Wear whatever. Just freakin' smile for the picture, please." I think we succeeded.

"Family" has a different meaning for everyone. For me it meant a mom and dad and an older brother. For my husband it means a mom, a dad, a step-dad, an ex step-mom, five full brothers, two full sisters, three half brothers, three step brothers and three step sisters....for some it includes the family they were adopted into, the military branch they served with, the church they attend. For others it might be all of the above.

The bottom line is, no matter who you call family, you experience life, love, death, pain, hope, fear, joy, gratitude, heartbreak and vulnerability like you won't with anyone else. You are known and loved not for what you can do, but for who you are. You are accepted not because you're exactly the same, but because the differences you contribute bring greater beauty to the painting you create as a family.

Family means you feel every feeling as deeply as the one who is going through it. Family means that no matter the hurt, you work it out. Family means that whoever you are, you are loved no matter the mistakes you make, the trials you face, or the darkness that tries to overwhelm you.

Sometimes, in the end it doesn't matter that you match, but just that you are together.

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