MANETTE -- For the Houston family, this Christmas will be one of joy and one of sorrow. There will be plenty of smiles and celebrations, but also some tears.

Almost a year ago, Craig and Emily lost Lemuel, the youngest of their 13 children, in a drowning accident at the their Manette home. The family has spent much of 2017 mourning the toddler, but buoyed by their Christian faith.

"There are some things that you don't get over," said Craig Houston, pastor at Westside Baptist Church. "But God will get you through."

The same year brought a surprise: A new baby boy, Gabriel, born about a month before Christmas. It would not quell their grief but it was an unquestionable cause for joy in the family, from Naomi, 23, down through her 11 siblings.

"Definitely not a replacement of Lemuel," Emily Houston said. "But a salve to our open wound that we have."

An ornament bearing Lemuel's photo hangs from the Houston family Christmas tree. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)
An ornament bearing Lemuel's photo hangs from the Houston family Christmas tree. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)

In early January, Lemuel fell into a container of water that had once held one of the family's Christmas trees. Despite efforts by the family, emergency responders and staff at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma, he died two days after his first birthday.

The family says its belief in Christ and a Heaven above got them through the darkest days.

"It's been harder this year but it's also been peaceful knowing he's not in pain," said Lemuel's brother Michael.

An outpouring of support from the community helped the Houstons get through the tragedy. That included thousands of dollars raised through an online fund and time for a "sabbatical" so the family could collect itself through the loss.

The younger children began asking their parents a curious question.

“Our little ones were saying, 'Can we pray for another baby?'” Emily said.

Their parents have followed a simple mantra when it comes to having children: "To trust the Lord, leave it in his hands."

Craig and Emily Houston with their 1-month-old son Gabriel. Lemuel Houston, who was 1 year old, died in January following an accident at the family home. The family welcomed baby Gabriel in November. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)
Craig and Emily Houston with their 1-month-old son Gabriel. Lemuel Houston, who was 1 year old, died in January following an accident at the family home. The family welcomed baby Gabriel in November. (Photo: Larry Steagall / Kitsap Sun)

When the time was right, Craig and Emily subtly revealed to their children that they would, indeed, have to think about "the baby" — another sibling.

"It's a blessing and an unexpected one," Houston said.

For the holidays, the family decorated a Christmas tree with an ornament that includes Lemuel's face. A portrait of the boy hangs on a wall nearby. He was known for loving having his picture taken. His brothers and sisters well up with tears when talking about him, but they also take solace in their belief he's in a better place now.

"Lemuel is with the one who started Christmas," his brother, Ezekiel said.