Embracing the Tears



Lately I’ve been crying a lot. Due to some imbalances, I can’t help it… over the sock in the hallway, over the episode of Jane the Virgin, over the youtube video…

(Don’t you think Brandon’s world is just wonderful right now?!)

Here’s the thing… Crying at silly things makes me mistrust my emotions. My assumption is that my tears are (probably) unreasonable and (most likely) not actually “real.”

And it makes me feel like a crazy person.

But, recently, I decided that I was done with judging the validity of my tears. If I’m going to cry, I might as well embrace it.

And, friends, I began to see some beauty in that brokenness. Being quick to tears isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I began to see my tears as a gift.

This week I cried during worship.

I cried over a story from my son.
I cried as my children snuggled on a hotel room bed and watched a cartoon.
I cried when I saw pictures of devastating flooding in Louisiana.
I cried when I hugged my Nana.
I cried when I said goodbye to my brothers and when I saw my niece for the first time.
I cried as Eliza screamed for almost an hour on a road trip.
I cried as I looked with despair over the mounds of laundry and the mess in the living room.
I cried when my son accidentally kicked my shin.

And, with each moment, I became more comfortable with my emotions. Because some of these moments were worth stopping to feel. Some of these tears drew my attention to a moment that needed to be savored.

Sure, many of them were silly. But, as I learn to see my excessive tears as a gift, I begin to see moments that I (probably) would have missed.

I’m hopeful to gain some sanity back with some new treatments. I’m already seeing more ability to regulate my emotions.

It will be nice to not break down in tears while reading a children’s book (with my son looking at me like I’ve gone insane!)

But, honestly, I’m not ready for the tears to totally go away. I don’t want them to disappear.

They truly are a gift. And I am learning to enjoy them.

My Husband is not the One for me.


It’s true.

Now, before my friends and family start worrying about the future of the O’Briens, maybe I should back up.

When I came to college, I was determined to meet “the one.” I was on the lookout for the man God created for me. The man who would be my partner for life. The only one in the entire universe that I could be happy with. The one who had been formed and molded in his mother’s womb in order to someday be my husband.

But, after a few failed relationships I came crashing into the truth that there was one problem…

This man. This “one”…

Well, he didn’t exist.

I was dating Brandon at the time that I finally came to this realization. A few weeks after a very honest conversation with a professor, I said yes to Brandon’s proposal. And a breezy 11 months later (long engagements are the absolute WORST), we were married.

10 years later, I have never been more in love with my husband. I plan to be married to him for the rest of my life. I love the life we have created. I love our family. I love my partner.

But, I don’t believe that God created him just for me. I don’t think he is the one my whole life was leading to.

Brandon is just a man. He’s a very good man. A smart man. A creative and resourceful and caring and encouraging man. He’s loyal and honest and tender and compassionate. He is absolutely hilarious.

But he’s just a man.

I firmly believe that Brandon could have been happy with any woman he chose.

I believe I could have been happy with any man that I chose.

(assuming, of course, that they were equally committed to their faith)

We aren’t together because the universe wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re together, because we chose one another. We love God deeply, we are committed to serving Him our entire lives, and we see in one another the possibility of doing that together.

We fell in love and we love doing life together. God is active in our midst, in our home, in our family. But it’s not because this is the only way it could have been. No, it’s because this is just what God does. He takes two imperfect people who are committed to one another and he makes a family.

Okay, so now that I have that out of the way, I have something else I need to get off my chest.


I do not believe that my children were created in order to be my children.

We weren’t destined for one another.

And I can’t even count how many times people have said this to me.

Here’s my beef…

I do not believe that my God caused my children and their birth families pain in order to give me a child. Similarly, I don’t believe that God gave me infertility in order to teach me a lesson.

Instead, I believe that God brought something beautiful out of the pain. What a world marred by sin meant for bad, God used for good.

What a body devastated by brokenness couldn’t do…God did in a way that only he could do.

And here’s my point in all of this. I believe the beauty of our God is that He brings beauty out of ashes. He brings victory out of failure. He brings wholeness out of brokenness.

Our family is whole. But not because we were always intended for one another from the beginning.

No, I think this whole thing could have worked out very differently and still just as sweet.

Our family is whole because that’s what God does.



But am I enough?


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The past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted. It’s been one of those seasons. Every night I’ve been woken up 2-3 times. Sometimes for my baby just needing a quick pat. But, more often than not from my almost 4 yr old having night mares.

He’s scared and calls my name. I go and pat him and sing to him and pray for him. Then I get back in bed in a heap of exhaustion. And eventually, at about 5 a.m. he ends up in bed with me. I swore I’d never be that mom. But, when your child is terrified, you do what comforts them.

And, in the end, when you’re waking up every 2 hours, you do what allows you to sleep.

So, the past few months I have gone to sleep exhausted.

That is, when I’ve been able to go to sleep.

But I haven’t been able to fall asleep. Despite my exhaustion, my mind and my body are conspiring against me, and sleep does not come. I lay there for 2 hours awake. Thinking, imagining, praying…

(Disclaimer: Before anyone offers any medical advice, there are valid, medical reasons I can’t fall asleep. My doctor knows. We’re working on it.😉 )

In these painfully quiet, frustrating, and exhausting moments a question circles my mind.

Can I do this? Am I really enough? 

Jamie has needed me more lately. He’s needed more attention. He’s needed more affection. He’s needed more time. He’s needed more discipline. More boundaries. More snuggles. More eye contact. More mercy. More compassion.

He’s needed more me. 

And I fail continuously. I fail to see the need behind the tantrum. I fail to see the desire for connection behind the disobedience. I fail to hand out mercy as much as I hand out consequences.

I fail. And, as I lay in bed for a few hours every night, tears fill my eyes and I wonder if I have the strength. If I can be all that he needs.

Am I really enough? 

Until last night.

Last night, I got in bed. I laid awake. I cried. I got discouraged.

And then I heard another voice. A voice that had been missing. A voice that I desperately needed.

A voice that has felt distant, separate, far away.  

A still, small voice that simple said:

I see you. 

And as I got up early with my alarm, earlier than my tired body wanted, it echoed.

I see you. 

As I sat under a blanket and drank my coffee…

I see you. 

As I read my Bible (we’re in Leviticus these days)

I see you. 

And, as I heard the pitter patter of little feet come down the hallway…

I see you. 

Friends, I don’t have some grand treatise this morning on motherhood. No advice for those who are in similarly exhausting seasons. No grand theologies to carry us through.

Just this simple truth: Our God sees us. He knows us. He’s with us. He’s in the messy. He’s in the complicated. He’s with the sleep deprived and the well rest. The encouraged and discouraged. He’s there in the mundane and the knock your socks off.

If I’m honest, there’s a lot of life right now that has me questioning whether I am enough. It’s not just motherhood. And I need this truth more than ever.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 

He sees us.

(And He also gave us coffee.😉

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A New Dream for the New Year…Kind of.

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It’s January 10th and I’ve been struggling with how to process this new year. In so many ways I am eager, excited, encouraged and energized for the coming year. I sense God’s leading in ways I have never before. I see his steps for me more clearly than I have known before.

But, if I’m honest friends… I’m exhausted. Absolutely, exhausted. Tired…could fall asleep at any moment…just. beat.

(Parenting young children can do that to you.)

But it’s not just the kids. When we first moved to Conway I wrote about how I was trying to learn to live fully and completely here. Brandon and I felt convicted to stop making plans of what our future could hold and start living fully and completely in the now that God has given us.

And we have begun to see God’s hand in amazing ways.

But, while God called us to live fully and completely here. He hasn’t let us settle. He keeps directing our attention to something else. Something beyond our imagination, something we can’t even see yet. I believe God has given us a godly restlessness. A restlessness which allows us to both live fully here and ready for what’s next. A restlessness that, if we’re paying attention, points us toward the Giver of all good things.

But, a restlessness, that’s kind of exhausting.


2015-12-31 10.10.35Brandon and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary on December 31. For maybe only the second time in our marriage, it was just the two of us. It seemed appropriate for us to dream about what our lives would look like 10 years from now.

And, honestly, neither of us had much of anything to say.

And, that sounds terribly unromantic and depressing. But, I’m not saying we are unhappy. Or that we don’t have ambitions and dreams.

No, Brandon and I are wonderfully content and happy with each other.

And we have more plans for our future than most people, I think. (Planning the future is my love language. )

But, here’s the thing…

We could never have dreamed what we are doing now. We could never have written how our family would come together. We couldn’t have planned the course the last 10 years would take.

No list could have gotten us here. No strategic plan could have articulated the reality that we live in.

In fact, as we looked back over the past 10 years we laughed that almost every single one of our plans didn’t work out the way we planned it.

So, moving into this new year. Moving into our next decade together. We’re not making many plans.

Now, we’re continuing to study. We’re continuing to minister. We’re continuing to enrich. To professionally develop. To be mentored and to mentor others. We’re working to grow in our faith, to make plans for our children. We’re continuing to budget, to schedule, to discern, to parent… We’re going to Europe in June…

But, we have no idea where the next year, 5 years or 10 years will lead. We just don’t know. And, we’re learning to be okay with that.

We’re learning to move forward with our hands open. We’re learning to trust when things don’t look how we wanted. We’re learning to plan expectantly for the unexpected. To dream for that which we could never imagine.

And, we’re still learning how that works. But, each and every year, we are loving it more and more.

Happy New Year, friends.

Year of the Bible

Our church (newlifechurch.tv) has decided that 2016 is the Year of the Bible. What does that mean exactly? It means that everyone is going to be reading through the entire Bible in 2016. And everything–sermons, life groups, Little Life, Kid Life and youth–everything revolves around the reading.

I’m incredibly excited about it all. And I’m incredibly excited that I get to be a small part of helping families do this together.

And, if I’m honest, I’m more than a little bit daunted by the task. What do I mean? I’m a mom of two young kids. Finding 45 minutes to an hour for extra reading every day…well it can seem less than possible. (I’m currently writing this post while my 3 yr old sleeps on my shoulder🙂 )

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And, if I want my family doing this together… well I’ve got to be creative. Right? My three year old can’t exactly read through Leviticus with me, right?

Which brings me to my topic for today. How in the world does a family read through the Bible together?

Being a parent is hard. It’s exhausting on the good days and it can seem down right impossible on the bad days. If you’re anything like me, you wrestle with a lot of guilt associated with your parenting. Am I disciplining them correctly? Do they have the right car seat? Is this pediatrician best? Should I have made them keep taking piano lessons?

And, when it comes to spiritual things, I think a lot of us struggle to know where to begin. I know I do.



You see, one of the challenges of parenting is that we major in the mundane. And it can be hard for us to feel like we are instilling anything terribly important.

And now we’re being asked to read the entire Bible this year and to do it as family. And for many of us that seems just intimidating enough that we don’t even want to start.

And this is where I want to meet you today. Over the next year we are going to be throwing lots of great family ideas your way. We’re going to be giving you suggestions and we’re going to be letting other families show you how it’s going for them.

But I’d like to back it up and keep it simple today.

Here’s what I want you to know: There is beauty in the mundane and you can do this. Your child can do this.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to start a little messy and uncomfortable. But you can do this. We can do this.

One of the best things you or I can do for our children is to actively pursue our own relationship with God, and let our children watch us do it.

So, in the month of January, I’m going to give us one job. The hardest thing about this goal is establishing the habit. So this month, we (as parents) need to establish this habit of being in the word. Being diligent.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: How does this fit into my family life?  Choose a time that you know you can keep. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning, maybe it’s at night before bed or during nap times. It may mean waking up earlier or turning off the T.V. Maybe you need to find audio recording of some books to listen to when you’re driving or working out. Find whatever works.

Establish the habit.

With one special instruction: Let’s do this in a way that our children can see. It would be easy for us to do our reading when our children aren’t around to distract us. And we do need those times.

But our children cannot ask about something they don’t see. And we can’t expect them to develop a habit we don’t show them first.

So, January is all about us establishing the habit. But with our children in mind.

Want to go further? 

  • Blessings. Each week, choose a few verses to use as a blessing over your children. Pray it over them at bedtime or before school. Tell them where you found it.
  • Let them read with you! For older children and youth, consider having them start this habit with you. They probably can’t read it all, but they can definitely do a part. Whether it’s the Old or New Testament, Psalm or Proverb, lead them to start a small piece. In the coming weeks, we will be point you to some great resources for your kids. If you are at a New Life Church campus, talk to your kid’s pastors. They’re going to have some great suggestions.

Friends, I think we can all do this. And I’m going to put my own family on the hook. The O’Brien family is all in. We’re eager and excited. I don’t expect it to go beautifully every time. In fact, I expect it will be a little rocky. But we are committing to do this as a family and to let you see it. Which means we will be posting the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout the year at #yearofthebible

And we’d love for families from every campus to join us. Let us see how it’s working for you. And let us be encouraged by your diligence even when it doesn’t go well.

At the end of this year, our children may not be Bible experts. But my prayer is that they will know without a shadow of a doubt that the Bible is life-changing. That it’s worth reading for a lifetime.

So, dow does a family read through the Bible together? We just do it.

And we trust the Holy Spirit to take care of the rest.

(For more information about resources throughout the year: http://www.newlifechurch.tv/daily/)

A pair of basic brown flip flops.

Today, dear friends, I suffered a loss. One month ago, we brought home a new dog from the shelter. She’s awesome, her name is Romy and we love her.

Before you worry, she’s still alive.

But, today she chewed up my favorite pair of flip flops. Obliterated them, rendered them useless. After 8 years of wearing this more than any other shoe in my closet, they’re gone. I’ll be honest, I was definitely bummed and a little sad. The struggle is real.

Now, while most of you may not understand the depth of my grief over this beautiful pair of basic brown flip flops, I’ve got someone in my corner. Jamie, our 3 yr old, really felt where I was coming from. He hugged me, patted me on the back, and talked about how sorry he was that my shoe was gone. He was sad. Truly sad.

And this got me thinking. I think we could learn a lot from Jamie’s response. Not about shoes, mind you. I mean, it’s a pair of shoes. And, if I’m honest I loved them so much because they were cheap AND lasted 8 years. But they will be replaced. They’re no big deal.

So, if not about shoes, then what?

What I loved about Jamie’s response is that he was sad purely and completely because I was sad. He has no attachment to the shoes. (If he had his way, I would wear my bright red heals every day.) No, this wasn’t about the shoe for him.

This was about his mama. His main love.

When someone around us is grieving, we often try to first put ourselves in their shoes, in order to muster up a reason to grieve. Or, we offer commentary on the validity of their grief. Or advice to avoid it in the future.

Whatever we do, why isn’t our first response to just feel sad. Why? Because someone we love is sad. End of story. Who cares about the reason? Who cares if we understand?

In the end, isn’t this what the grieving among us really want? They just want you to come alongside, admit that this sucks, and allow them to cry. Will there be time for advice? Sure (though not as soon as we often think). Space for empathy? Absolutely. Room for commentary? Well, probably not.

But the first thing that needs to happen is grieving with those who grieve. Mourning with those who mourn.

And our preschoolers among us, can probably show us exactly how this works.

One of those days…

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Today wasn’t my best day of motherhood. I was impatient, my words were unkind, I was distracted and not terribly merciful.

There are many evenings that I sit down and am exhausted. Tonight, I’m absolutely exhausted and a little bit defeated.

Parenting is hard. There’s no way around it. Kids, even little ones, can push buttons you didn’t know you had.

This week has been short on sleep. Jamie had a nightmare early on and the nights sense have been complete with 2-3 hours awake trying to calm him.

No sleep for any of us makes for impatience for all of us. Jamie hasn’t been his normal, flexible, full of joy self. And Brandon and I are not at our best.

And it’s in these moments that I am so thankful for new mercies every morning. It’s in these moments that I am longing for a chance to try it all again.

And I’m learning to be okay with imperfect days. Because as discouraged as I am about my record, I am so incredibly thankful for the gift of my two munchkins. So thankful for their silliness, their laughter, their intelligence and flexibility. I love how they run and hide when i chase them and how they love to tackle their daddy. I love their thick curly hair and endlessly long lashes. I love the shade of their skin and their bright eyes.

So tomorrow morning I will make muffins, I will hug and kiss boo boos, soothe worries, comfort my anxious child, play with my babies, enjoy my children and do my best. I’ll read parenting books and blogs and try all the things.

But for tonight, I’m going to sit in the sadness. Honestly, I think we run from sadness all too quickly. Like I said up above, parenting is hard. And if we don’t embrace all the feelings that come with it, then I wonder if we’re in danger of missing something.

I am hopeful that tomorrow I will do better.

And for now I am going to continue to watch old videos, cry a little, watch Arrested Development and hug my babies before I go to sleep.

Good night, friends. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon. A few things have been brewing and I’m eager to share them.

A whole new kind of family

One year ago today we woke up in our home as a family of four for the very first time.

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Eliza was born early in the morning on June 28 and it took a week for the state of Oklahoma to let us leave. It was a stressful week with a lot of the unpredicted things coming up.

But I don’t think I’ve ever written how it ended.

The state of Oklahoma had been giving us lots of conflicting information. We had all of our paperwork done and completed, but after Eliza was born they asked for brand new paperwork and told us of requirements they had never mentioned before. My long suffering, incredibly patient husband had just about had his full.

At the end of the week, on Thursday, July 3, the state of Oklahoma tells us that Eliza’s birthmom (J) needs to go before a judge. This was a one more requirement they had never mentioned before. And we had to find someone get it done before the holiday weekend.

Through some very kind individuals we are able to get an appointment with an Oklahoma judge for 2 p.m. that day. J and her dad met us there.

At this appointment J held Eliza while the judge asked her if she understood her decision. I couldn’t take my eyes off the two of them. J looked at Eliza most of the time as she gave her statement. Then we went into a court room to wait and the judge said everything was done. J hugged Eliza one more time. Her dad did the same and then we said our goodbyes. A few minutes later we got official permission to leave the state and return home. That night we were home.

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This image has been forever burned in my mind. J knew what she was doing. And she did it out of love for her child. The state of Oklahoma gave J and her parents a lot of extra things to do. And they did them all.

There is a misconception about adoption that if a mother loves the child, she wont go through with it.

Adoptions get disrupted all the time for a multitude of reasons. And many mothers change their minds and make the decision to parent. And they have every right to do so.

(And there are many adoption situations that arise out of abuse or mistreatment. I’m not talking about those. )

Both the decision to parent and the decision to place your child for adoption can be loving decisions.

Many people have asked us about our relationship with Eliza’s birth family. And they don’t often understand what it must be like. If we’re honest, we don’t really either. We’re all figuring this out as we go. But the fact is, these people have become our very own family. We love them. They are a part of our daughter, they love her deeply and so they are a part of us. But it’s not just Eliza, they also love Jamie. We keep in touch and they are just as eager to hear how he is doing. They love him. They love me. They love Brandon.

We don’t know when Eliza will get to see them all again. We are praying for wisdom to know when it’s time.

But we are so incredibly thankful, honored, privileged and humbled that they would entrust our sweet baby to us.

Adoption is a beautiful and incredible thing. It’s hard. It can be uncomfortable. It’s messy and unpredictable. It’s full of brokenness and heartache. But the grace is so very rich. The mercy is overflowing.

And I love it.

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Shut up and listen!

In the week since the Charleston shooting I’ve been trying to find words. Honestly, for the last several years, as black lives have been taken and communities shattered I’ve been trying to find the words. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty to say to friends and family around me.

I’ve been angry, frustrated, sad…and angry all over again. I’ve looked at my son, my beautiful brown son, and I’ve been scared of what future many of my own family members think he deserves.

But I’ve struggled with what to say publicly. As someone who frequently pours my heart out in blog posts, I’ve been puzzled by my inability to write about this.

I’ve been inspired, humbled and amazed at the response of the victims of Charleston. As my white friends have argued about a flag, our black brothers and sisters have been showing us Jesus. As the tragedy was still fresh, wounds not healed, grief immense, they have offered forgiveness. They have shown love. They have extended grace.

And I haven’t known what to say. And I think I know why.

White friend, relatives, countrymen: it’s time that we sit down, shut up and listen.

That’s it: Shut up and listen! Starting now.

Our black brothers and sisters have earned the right to speak. [We should have been listening better long before now. ]

So, instead of defending ourselves, distancing ourselves from the hateful shooter, debating the meaning behind the confederate flag, excusing away the actions of police officers or posting ridiculous facebook memes that try to suggest that our country isn’t nearly as racist as this hateful, racist act has suggested…

Shut up!

Shut up and listen.

The time will come for us to speak. And, it’s not that you don’t play a role in moving forward. You do. I do. We do.

But right now, it’s not our turn. If we are to be a part of necessary change, we’ve got to take time to understand the suffering of the African American community. We’ve got to take time to understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America. We’ve got to stop putting words in their mouths and taking away their voice.

We’ve got to stop.

We’ve got to listen.

Jesus is on display right now. And if we can be quiet, look around and pay attention, we just might see what He’s up to.

A child of my very own


As an adoptive family, we get lots of questions and comments. They provide for lots of awkward moments but they rarely keep me up at night.

Except one. One eats away at me and it comes in many forms.

The other day in the grocery store, it was just me and Jamie. Jamie was being his normal, silly and inquisitive self. As she was scanning my groceries, the checkout lady looked at him and then looked at me and simply asked, ‘Is he yours?” When I responded that he was, she followed up with “Is he adopted?”

I get this question a lot, so I had an answer. I knew the drill. But there was something very different this time.

This time Jamie was listening. After our exchange, Jamie looked at me and very innocently asked, “What did she say?” And when I told him, he immediately asked, “Why?”

As I looked at my precious boy, my heart broke. As I responded politely to the woman asking the question, I felt tears in the back of my eyes. And as I told Jamie a better version of what she had asked, I realized that I need to teach my children how to handle this question.

And the question comes in many forms:

Is he/she yours? Are they adopted? Do you have any children of your own? Are they real brother and sister? Are you their “real” mom / dad?

In addition to teaching them to brush their teeth, go potty, ask polite questions and pick up their shoes … In addition to family dance parties, group hugs and Lego building … I need to teach my kids how to handle someone questioning whether they belong to me or to their daddy or to each other.

I need to help prepare them that people will ask questions in such a way that it will call into question everything they have always known.

I need to prepare them.

And I’ve got to start now.

I know that this woman and the many, many others who have asked don’t mean any harm. I tend to assume the best of people, and this case is no different. And, most of the time, the comment I get most is about my children’s eye lashes and beautiful smiles.

I don’t blame that woman. She didn’t know me or my children and she was making polite conversation.

I’ve been wrestling with this blog post for some time. Adoptive families will tell you that this is a constant theme, especially if your family is very obviously formed by adoption.

And I’ve written lots about this subject. Some I’ve published, others are still too intimate, too personal to let the world read.

In the end, here is what I want people to know. Questions aren’t bad. I’m a teacher. I love questions. If you ask one, I will feel compelled to answer.

But, I need you to understand something. This is personal. Asking questions about our adoption story is like asking someone for their birth story. It’s not necessarily as graphic, but it is just as personal.

So, here’s my unsolicited advice: If you are interacting with an adoptive family that you have no personal relationship with, think about the question before you ask the question.

(For help knowing if a question is appropriate, I suggest you watch this.)

And, if you’re never going to see them again, don’t ask. Instead, squelch your curiosity and simply say, “they’re precious.” And leave it at that.

If you have a relationship with the family and are sincerely curious, my best advice is to admit that you don’t know exactly how to ask the question and proceed from there. As I said earlier, Brandon and I are very open and we love answering questions in the context of a personal conversation.

But here is my one request. Do not (I repeat) do not ask the question in front of the child. Just don’t. They hear more than you think and, even if they’re 18, they probably wont enjoy the question.

So, seriously, don’t.

In conclusion, here are my very own children, a very real brother and sister, at around the same age taking a bath. They both have beautiful curls and the kind of eyes that cause (and convey) all sorts of feelings.

Aren’t they beautiful?
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