Creating Advent Traditions in Your New Family

LARABETH MILLER

Advent has always been a season that puzzled me, especially when it came time to create my new little family with my husband. Lent has always been so clear to me because it involves serious contemplation and structure. The challenge with Advent is being able to make time for happy contemplation, while distinguishing the spiritual and material aspects of the season.  

  Photography:    Leah Muse Photography

When I spent my first Christmas with my husband, I had no idea what kind of traditions I wanted to create. I did want to keep a few from my own family, but I had every chance to build something of my own. I wanted to incorporate details that would leave lasting impressions on my children as they grew up. But I also wanted these details to shape how we interacted with one another and the Church as we developed as a family.

It's been a work in progress, especially with a toddler who doesn’t even know what Advent is, let alone Santa Claus. Last year was the first time went spent Advent and Christmas away from family, so we haven’t had much time to experiment. I wanted to share a few of the thoughts I put into my Advent planning this year.


Personal prayer time


It’s a new liturgical year, which means it is a time for me to approach God’s mercy once again and examine my relationship with him in a deeper way. Primarily, I view Advent as a time for me to consider God’s will for me and to do so with patience, since this is the time of waiting. How does he want to shape my heart this year? What sufferings and challenges can I accept? What new efforts can I make in order to be open to his voice? This is the most important part, not only because it nurtures my soul, but also because I want Christ to make me into a better wife and mother for my family.


A celebration with my spouse


When it comes to my husband, I want to be intentional about creating moments for the both of us, especially since we have already seen how life sweeps us in all directions. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is by putting extra care into our lives during Advent. I incorporate more comfort food into our menu and buy little Christmas decorations to cozy up the house. After our baby goes to bed, I’ll surprise my husband with a batch of cookies and we eat them in front of a movie. It may seem like nothing, but after the general chaos, it really holds so much value. I use these goals to draw myself out of my crazy Christmas plans for everyone else to show my husband he is the most important person at the end of my day.


Together, we are still figuring out Advent as a couple and as a family. For now, we both look forward to each Sunday, where my husband  lights the Advent candles before dinner. Even that simple act makes our prayer more meaningful and draws us both into that time together. Whenever we talk about building on this, we consider the best memories from our childhoods and remember  details that highlighted past seasons.


For him, it was revisiting the family Advent calendar, especially when it yielded chocolate. For me, it was setting up the nativity scene, with the exception of the baby Jesus--who was usually hidden in someone’s sock drawer until Christmas Eve.


Feast days


One of the best things about Advent is its abundance of feast days. Even if you cannot observe each one, they provide ample opportunity for pre-Christmas celebrations. If your family has cultural ties to certain feast days like Our Lady of Guadalupe or St. Lucy, it can make this time extra special. For me, this was usually the time when our parish would come together for a celebration. Depending on your region, many parishes plan events around these feasts. This is a perfect time to be involved in the Church community. For our family, I know it will be worth the effort to experience the special Masses and practice the traditions attached. Our plan is to learn about one feast day each year and to incorporate our favorites as our family grows.


The best advice I can give for this season is start small and simple. These traditions are supposed to hold special meaning for the new family you make with your husband. They are there to provide the comfort of familiarity and togetherness. Most importantly, they are there to point each member’s hearts towards Christ. You don’t have to do everything. Even one small thing means everything if it is rooted in Advent graces.


This is the very thing we want to build on as our family grows; just as the joy and anticipation of Christmas grows with each flame that is added to the Advent wreath.


CIRCLE HEADSHOT Larabeth.png

About the Author: Larabeth Miller is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. She is the owner of Graced by Color. Read more


On Advent and Waiting

ALEXA DONCENCZ SMITH

 

It’s no secret: Advent is a time of waiting.

As a kid, I always looked forward to the week at Mass when the Little Blue Books would appear in the vestibule for Advent, free for the taking. In the weeks that followed, I was diligent in reading the reflections each night before bed, carefully absorbing every saint quote or nugget of spiritual wisdom. I was kind of a nerd, truth be told, but I loved the aura of waiting and preparation that always surrounded the weeks leading to Christmas.

As an adult, waiting can be a bittersweet subject. While anticipation breeds excitement, waiting for the things we desire isn’t always a pleasant feeling--especially if their eventual arrival isn’t guaranteed. Waiting for anything--from a vacation, to a promotion at work, to meeting one’s future spouse--is filled with a vulnerability that can give way to doubt and discontentment.

After spending a bit of time reflecting on Advent, it seems like no coincidence that the Church dedicates a whole season of the liturgical calendar to the meaning and purpose of waiting. Though it may not seem like it, waiting can be a blessing in disguise that can help guide us along the path to Heaven. Here, five ways we can benefit spiritually from this season:

Waiting provides the space for God to work.

Life can get so busy that it becomes easy to get caught up in our own plans, wrapped up in a universe of which we are the center. We have our days scheduled down to the minute and our calendars booked up for weeks, so it can definitely be frustrating when the unexpected comes in and messes with our carefully laid plans.

With our days are booked solid, spent constantly running from one obligation to the next, this doesn’t leave a lot of room for God to work in our lives. We might even find when we’re too busy, our meaningful attempts at prayer fall to the wayside. While God is always present, he often chooses to speak to us in the silence.

And if there’s no silence, or if our lives are just too hectic, we may miss our chance to hear him. Waiting has a way of slowing us down. The resulting pause can produce a helpful reorientation of priorities.

Waiting is an invitation to trust.

When our plans get stalled and things don’t happen how we think they should, it can cause disappointment and even helplessness. This is an opportunity to humble ourselves, remembering God is in control--not us). That there is a greater plan we cannot see; even if we’re confused about how things are going to play out, we know that the one in charge loves us and always wants the best for us.

Waiting forces us to be present.

Frustration with waiting can indicate that our minds or hearts have gotten ahead of us, and we’re trying to live in the future. Two years ago--ironically, during Advent--I was not-so-subtly waiting on a proposal. My fiancé and I had been dating for several years, and we’d had countless talks about moving toward marriage.

We both agreed getting engaged was our next step. But I felt this to the extent that I failed  to appreciate our relationship in the present moment. I had myself convinced nothing more could be accomplished in our relationship or preparation for marriage until we were officially engaged.

Waiting pulls us out of our daydreams about the future (sometimes not so gently), and challenges us to ask, what does God want me to do right now? 

As I  anxiously awaited my proposal, I believed--whether I realized it or not--that engagement was the next thing God wanted me to do in life. But maybe engagement and marriage were a few more bullet points down on the list, and he had other gifts and blessings in store for me first.

I could have easily missed how God was working in my life during that time because I had unconsciously tuned out the present, preoccupied with what I thought should be my next endeavor. Waiting can be a gift that keeps us living in real time.

Waiting is a reminder: our time is precious.

When we’re stuck in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic, we have two options. We can either grumble and complain, letting our annoying situation get the best of us, or we can remember those very minutes are an irreplaceable gift from God. It might be challenging to view being trapped bumper to bumper on the highway as a gift, but these instances serve as a reminder that all our time is borrowed: it all belongs to God, and we should always use for good the moments of life he has given us.

Waiting gives us hope for a bright future.

When we are so stuck on achieving certain desires that we end up devaluing entire periods of our lives, or we begin to feel as though we are killing time to get to a particular accomplishment or milestone, we are called to remember something: God’s plans are higher than our own. God can give us gifts we never would have dreamed of. And yes: they’re even better than the things we’re pursuing for ourselves.

The feeling of waiting sometimes indicates our timeline doesn’t quite match up to God’s. Rather than giving ourselves over to despair, this is an opportunity to realize that God may be saying no or not yet to our prayers.

Because he might be about to give us something even better than what we imagined.


About the Author: Alexa is a 2013 graduate of The Catholic University of America, where she earned degrees in biology and psychology. Since 2014, she has served as the Assistant Coordinator for Youth, Young Adult and Family Ministry for the Diocese of Allentown. Alexa and her husband Patrick got engaged in December 2016, and were married in June 2018. Together they’ve enjoyed Cracker Barrel breakfasts, long walks around Barnes & Noble, and deciding which bridal expos had the best cake samples. Alexa's hobbies include writing, photography, and drinking coffee. 

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Newlywed Life | How to Plan a Honeymoon Staycation

Are you and your beloved unable to go on a honeymoon immediately after your wedding?

Whether due to work, financial, or other limitations, if a getaway isn’t in the cards for you right away, the first days of your marriage can still be an elevated experience and sacred time. Consider planning a honeymoon staycation over a three-day weekend or, if possible, a longer period off from work. Here, our suggestions for making your staycation distinctive from the everyday.

Allow yourselves leisure.

When you’re staying at home, particularly right after your marriage, there are temptations everywhere to do: open gifts, organize belongings, clean, write thank you notes. Don’t forget, however, to be: this is a vacation, after all! Consider designating a time of day to end working on projects and chores, spending the remainder in a state of carefree timelessness.

Make specific plans.

A staycation is ideal for exploring areas of your city you might not otherwise prioritize: plan a day trip, make brunch and dinner reservations at new and special spot, visit the natural or cultural sites you love or have dreamed of seeing. Creating an informal itinerary cultivates the getaway feel and brings structure to your time.

Consider a local overnight.

If your budget allows, spending a night--or two--in a nearby hotel or Airbnb feels distinctively special and set apart from your everyday.

Dream together.

If your “actual” honeymoon is months away, enjoy the anticipation! Page through travel books for your destination, dive into Yelp, and begin planning your forthcoming trip.

Add a spiritual component.

Take advantage of time off from work with daily Mass, Adoration, and a self-planned retreat or pilgrimage. Find more here on planning a spiritually significant honeymoon.

We love hearing the stories, insights, and surprises of your newlywed lives. If you and your beloved had an abbreviated or local honeymoon, or are planning to, share your own tips and experiences in the comments and on our social media. See the Spoken Bride team’s handpicked honeymoon essentials here.

Starting Your Christmas Shopping? 5 Gifts Perfect for Newlyweds

ADA PIMENTEL

 

One of the options for the blessing at the conclusion of the wedding Mass reads, May you… have solace in your friends and enjoy true peace with everyone.

 As friends and family of a newlywed couple it is our job to help them throughout their marriage and on their way to salvation. Of course, the majority of the work is up to them, but there are still many ways we can offer support-- one of the most tangible being through gifts.

The purpose behind wedding gifts is to provide the newlyweds the things they need to start their life together, and while everyone does need sheets and towels and dishes, these don’t necessarily support your friends in their actual marriage. Here, a few ideas for meaningful gifts to help them along the way.

A date night in

Common wisdom says, “Never stop dating.” Give your friends some treats to enjoy at home, while they relax in each other’s company. A two player game or a book of Mad-Libs, some snacks, a nice bottle of wine, and voila! The perfect date night in.

A date night out

After planning a wedding, budgets are often tight, which means luxuries often get cut out for a few months. A gift card to a nice restaurant or tickets to a concert or movie can be a great excuse for a night out without breaking the bank. Consider planning with several friends to splurge on an event the couple would really enjoy, but which may not be in their budget. Of course, you may have to ask ahead of time whether their calendar is open!

 Practical religious items

When I got married a friend sent an Advent wreath. I had never had one before, but it set the tone for a prayerful first Advent together. A small nativity scene, family Bible, or some holy salt for blessing their home are all good options. Consider including a small booklet of prayers or a note about how you celebrate different occasions throughout the liturgical year.

Words of wisdom

The best gift my husband and I received was a simple note that read, Welcome to marriage (or as we call it, The Eternal Sleepover). Don’t forget to get cocktails together. Our friends’ humor and advice were exactly what we needed during our jittery period of anticipation before the wedding. Consider passing on the best wedding advice you ever received or a book that had a major impact on your marriage.

 A Polaroid camera

After all the wedding hubbub has died down, and all the photos have been posted to social media, people often forget to document the silly, happy, or even mundane moments of their lives. A Polaroid (or a few disposable cameras) is a great way to remind newly married couples that the adventures are just beginning, and that these new memories deserve to be cherished.

Over the years married couples rely on friends for many things: solace in hardship, companionship in good times, and a support network through all the little highs and lows. A small token of your friendship on their wedding day lets your friends know you care for them and that they are assured of your friendship in the years to come.


About the Author: Ada Pimentel studied English at the University of Dallas and currently teaches elementary school. She married her college best friend in November 2017. When she is not teaching, Ada can be found contemplating classical education, redecorating her apartment for the hundredth time, and reading British novels.

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Readers Share | The Saints Who've Shaped Your Relationships

This week as the Church celebrates the dead, the communion of saints, and all souls in Purgatory on All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, respectively, we invited you to share the holy men and women who’ve interceded in your spiritual lives and relationships on our social media.

For inviting us and others into your deep joy, for fostering hope in God’s faithfulness in women still awaiting their love story, for witnessing to abandon and reckless trust in the Father, thank you. Your responses were too many to list in a single post--let alone to list every woman who cited Our Lady, Saints Therese, John Paul II, or Louis and Zelie Martin as favorite patrons! We read every single one and find each so uniquely, personally beautiful.

Here, a selection of your stories of saintly intercession:

St Gemma - for many reasons! My husband is a pharmacist, I was seeking employment when we were first married and we both recently lost our fathers. She’s the patron saint of: Pharmacists, children who have lost parents and those seeking employment! - Danielle

Blessed Emperor Karl of Austria and his wife, Servant of God, Empress Zita. They were a beautiful Catholic married couple and have been a great role model for our marriage. - @danielleduet

St. Michael the Archangel. His battle courage was inspiring to me, and helped me in my own spiritual warfare. Like St. Michael, I was able to cast my own demons out. - @_desirita_

St. Therese and St. Zelie Martin. I’ve struggled with finding and being content in my vocation, and through their intercession have received many graces. - @thebrownebunch

St. Raphael. I met my soon-to-be fiancé through Catholic Match and Raphael's intercession throughout our relationship has been so influential. He's the patron saint of their website and the hero of our relationship. - @violetsheabee

St. Therese has had (and continues to have) a profound impact on how myself in relationship with my fiancé. Long distance has required a lot of humility and trust on both of our parts, and I've leaned on her Little Way to help me do small things that benefit our relationship with each other and with God. - @meganboes

St. Joseph! The St. Joseph novena played a big role in both our individual discernment journeys. As a couple, any time we have a difficult situation and don't know what to pray for, we say his novena, and always receive exactly what we need, and then some! Plus, all the men in my family have Joseph as their middle name, and so does my husband! - @acrgripshover

Our Lady of Angels. - @i.marie.daly

St. Anthony. - @vegan_wannabe_81

I got engaged on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, by the grace of God and through the intercession of St. Joseph, Mama Mary, and St. Anne. - @meganaosborn

St. Thomas More, Mother Mary and St. Joseph. - @marie_xavier_felix

St. Maria Goretti. - @paigealexandrahussey

St. Therese, St. Faustina, and the Holy Family! -@becca_from_texas

St. Josemaria Escriva. - @akeeshers

St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Cecilia! My senior year of college, while my husband and I were still dating, I felt a call to a religious vocation. I was so confused about it so I prayed countless novenas to Therese--I didn’t hear an immediate response, but I eventually did. That spring break, some girlfriends and I drove to Nashville for a retreat with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (Cecilia is one of my faves because I’m a musician). While I loved it there, I felt a peace within my heart that I was called to marriage. Two years later, my husband proposed. - @josieweisenberger

St. Gianna Molla and her husband, Pietro! We named our first born after her! - @thetinymangia

Our Lady and St. Louis de Montfort. - @maddy__anne__

St. Joseph! My parents did a novena to St Joseph to pray for a husband for me and weeks into the novena, [my future spouse] came along! And we got engaged on May 1, the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. - @rachelgmz

St. Therese of Lisieux! Ever since I was a young girl, I have been praying novenas to her in the hopes of finding my future husband. She is my patron saint, and my fiancé's favorite. We asked her special intercession for our relationship on a recent trip to the National Shrine in DC, and he proposed on her feast day this year, along with a beautiful white rose! - @whateverisgracious

Our guardian angels! - @ann.elissa

St. Ignatius of Loyola. My husband and I would pray his Prayer for Generosity while we were dating and it was a constant reminder to serve the other person. - @jessie.dupre

St. Elia. - @soulachreim

St. Monica, St. Anne, and St.  Michael...mother Mary above all. - @scenescerity.images

St. Jude. I began his novena and on the last day saw [my future husband] Wesley, and knew I should see where things went with him. After that we have prayed to him every night and I began seeing St. Jude everywhere. Now, Wesley and I are getting married [this fall] (2 years after I began my novena)! - @rach_whalen

Our Lady Undoer of Knots, Saint Joseph, Saint Anne, Saint Anthony, Saint Michael, Saint Jude Thaddeus, Saint Raphael, and Saint Dymphna. I keep adding them! - @edna_songz

Saint Veronica. She has inspired me to wipe my husband’s face as he carries his crosses. She reminded me what we are called to do as brothers and sisters in Christ and had a profound role in shaping our relationship. - @brittbritt_ottens

Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese’s parents. The man who is courting me and I had to go two months without seeing each other when we began our relationship. He sent me a talk about sanctification in marriage, which focused on their lives; since then, we have continuously asked for their intercession as we discern marriage! They have become a major influence for me and we are thankful to have another beautiful couple to look up to! - @alynacampero

Saint Therese of Lisieux; she is always reminding us to give ourselves fully to each other and to never seek anything in return. She teaches us how (in Story of a Soul) to live life in a way that strives for selfless love and complete humility. And her parents guide us in how we will want to raise our kids someday. - @maddie7548

To each of you who responded to or have been moved by this question and its answers, we are grateful. If you have suggestions for future reader-sourced topics, be sure to share them with us for consideration!

Images by Lionhearted Photography, seen in Amy + Jake | Midwinter Mountain Wedding

Our Perspectives on Learning to Pray with Your Beloved

We’ve been asked recently to share tips for establishing a prayer routine with your spouse--intimacy and time together both change from engagement to marriage, and the desire to establish dedicated spiritual habits in your life together is a worthy one. But where to begin? Or what if the habits you set out to establish don’t feel like they’re working?

Like any language, like any habit, prayer is learned. Give yourselves permission to try different times and methods of shared prayer time and to change your routine if necessary--if, for instance, tiredness makes bedtime prayer more an obligation than a grace, try a week of praying over morning coffee or when you and your spouse come home from work, instead.

Know yourselves, and the means of worship and dialogue with the Lord unique to each of you, and how you might join your voices together--through Theology or Scripture, spontaneous prayer, the divine office, Praise and Worship, the Rosary, or otherwise. Be open to your spouse’s spiritual inclinations, even if they’re new or different from your own--love for each other, and for the Father, goes beyond feelings and even beyond comfort. Our call to step outside the comfortable doesn’t end in discomfort--it ends in communion.

Here, honesty and reflections from our team on establishing and growing a prayer life alongside your beloved.

Jiza

My husband and I do well with the occasional novena, seasonal prayers, or fasting together. But as for praying regularly, his frequent travel for work means we are often in different places, literally. Routine isn’t feasible, and once we do get comfortable in one, God uproots us. I realize we aren’t called to be comfortable, so it’s probably edifying in itself.

Andi

Just do it. I often feel a nudge from the Holy Spirit at bedtime but because my husband and I are so tired, most nights we just pass out, forgetting to pray together. Lately I’ve been trying to reach out and say, “hey, do you want to pray?” He always responds, “Sure,” and leads us.

Stephanie

In our current season of raising young children, it’s easy for me to compare the prayer life my husband and I shared in the past (Bible studies, holy hours, day trips to cathedrals and holy sites, frequent Rosaries) to the one we have now, involving far less freedom with social events and uninterrupted time. While the demands of family life don’t mean we’re less responsible for our spiritual lives, we have had to cultivate peace with the opportunities we do have, and to recognize that even if our prayer is less community-centered and more rooted in our home, this is the mode in which the Lord calls us to live out our vocation in the here and now. We are definitely a work in progress in this area! I’d also encourage couples to continue calling each other on in their personal spiritual lives, as well. I find it such an act of generosity and good will when my husband encourages me to go on my own to Adoration or confession.

Looking for more practical tips on praying together? From the archives, our favorite past posts on the subject:

The learning curve of combining your spirituality with your beloved’s | 4 Tips for creating a prayer space in your home | Working through spiritual differences when you feel “unequally yoked” | Suggested patrons for your relationship and a selection of the most beautiful novenas and prayers to the saints | A guided meditation on praying with your wedding vows using lectio divina | How to plan a personal retreat for you and your beloved | How learning to communicate as a married couple is like learning to pray together, and why it’s okay to struggle | Spiritual book recommendations for brides | Our tips for a bathing your honeymoon in a spirit of prayer | How and why to consider bringing examen prayer into your relationship

We share our imperfections hoping within them, you find freedom. Constantly we are striving for accountability, vulnerability, and--above all--a deeper relationship with the Lord, offering ourselves and our spouses to him. If a lie has crept in that every other couple but you has it together, with a perfectly dedicated prayer life to match, know we are there beside you, always chasing holiness by way of our call to marriage.

Editors' Picks | Vol. 14: Catholic Home Décor

At Spoken Bride, we love a good book, a good meal, a standout statement necklace, a heel you can dance in, and the list goes on. And when we make those discoveries, we want to tell everyone. So every month or two, we're sharing our latest and favorite finds in everything engagement, wedding, and honeymoon-related.

Did you know the Spoken Bride Vendor Guide has a Gifts & Home Décor section? In addition to the artists and creators whom we’re proud to partner with, today we’re also sharing additional items that inspire beauty and prayer in your home (non-sponsored).

  Framed artwork: Spoken Bride Vendor Michelle Arnold Paine

Framed artwork: Spoken Bride Vendor Michelle Arnold Paine

Stephanie, Co-Founder & Editor in Chief

Vatican Gift Icons: Iconography has been my favorite type of religious art for a long time; I love the immersive nature of the images for both artist and viewer and their many deep, beautiful layers of prayer and symbolism. Icons purchased through the Vatican’s online gift shop can be blessed by the Holy Father at your request--if you and your beloved aren’t honeymooning in Rome, items like these are a wonderful option for acknowledging your unique call as spouses within the universal Church.

Consecrate This House print: To celebrate your first home as husband and wife is to accept the invitation to make the home a domestic church and school of love. This elegant print from a Catholic-owned shop (one of our brides!) inspired by Scripture is a reminder “of God's presence within our homes and that He will never abandon us.”  It would take on a wonderful significance in your entryway, dining space, or another area of your home where your friends and family gather.

Wrought Iron Advent Candle Holder: I’m drawn to simple design for my home and love the clean styling of this candle holder, which could be dressed up with scattered greenery during the Advent season and would fit well with minimalist, rustic, or modern decor.

 

Jiza, Co-Founder & Creative Director

Monastery Icons: This company offers a wide variety of sacred art, including sculpture, jewelry, and, of course, icons. All icons are written by a religious brother in the U.S.

Lily Porter Niederpruem Art: It’s beautiful when the concept of “Catholic” art extends beyond the literal. For the abstract art lover, Lily Niederpruem describes her colorful, Impressionist-style oil paintings as an invitation to contemplate the spirituality of God at work in the natural world, “because nature shares an intimate relationship with the sacred.” Graphite drawings and watercolors are also available. I have a print of her Luminous Mysteries painting, and I love it!

 

Andi, Business Director

Sick Call Crucifix: Our dear friends gave us a crucifix similar to this as a wedding gift, along with holy water, beeswax candles, and instructions on how and when to call a priest for the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Although I generally don’t want to even think about needing to use this kit, I do like acknowledging this sacrament in our home and having necessary items ready. It’s like having an emergency kit for our souls!

Outdoor Statues: When my husband and I first bought our home ten years ago, I stumbled upon an Our Lady of Grace statue at a local outdoor shop and immediately brought her home. She’s lived in various places in our backyard ever since, usually with white roses nearby.

Sacred Heart Enthronement: The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart is a ceremony led by the Legion of Mary, wherein a family makes a formal entrustment of their lives to Christ. My family participated several years ago, and it was beautiful. We love having the image of Jesus’s Sacred Heart right on our mantel, under Our Lady of Guadalupe. Jesus is right there in the heart of our home, watching over us as we play, read, watch movies.

We love the sensory nature of the Catholic faith and the ways it invites us to contemplate the love of God in tangible ways—including those that can be experienced daily in our homes. Be sure to share the items that draw you into contemplation and beauty in the comments and on our social media.