A Big Star. A Big God. And Our Little Selves.

More nights than not, we gather ’round the table before bed time with a snack, a story, and a Scripture. As the kiddos munch and listen, we share tales and talk Truths. It’s been our routine for as long as I can remember and though it isn’t always orderly or easy, it’s one of my favorite times of day.

I love the slowness of the moments before bed time, and I love the stillness it brings to the ears and hearts that gather. Before the lights dim and the dreams start, we spend those last moments together. And I like that. I like that a lot.

So tonight as it was my turn (daddy and I share this special time of story-telling and shepherding), I read from our devotional, Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God and Science by Louie Giglio.

Tonight was all about the biggest and baddest stars in the solar system. As we talked about Betelgeuse–a star that could contain 262 trillion Earths inside of it–we marveled at the big-ness of God.

To be honest, I was having my own set of shock-and-awe emotions as I read. In astonishment, I semi-rhetorically asked, “Isn’t it amazing that the God who created the biggest of stars is also the same God that cares about our little selves?”

The kids nodded with mouths full of ice cream.

And then I followed up with another question.  To be honest, I assumed they wouldn’t have an answer for my question. But alas, they did. And like always, it was better than anything I could have shared from my mama-mouth.

My question…

“Why do you think it matters that we serve a God that is the creator of such BIG stars?”

Immediately, Caden piped up and said, “Because if He’s big then we can trust Him with everything in our lives.”

My 35 year-old self was blown away by his 7 year-old response.

Isn’t that the hard-fast Truth, friends?!?!

Because He is BIG, we can trust Him.

And as I let those words flood over me, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. But before I had time to really marinade in the minute, Caden immediately followed up with a set of words that hit my heart even harder than the first.

“Mommy, isn’t it super cool that God created BIG stars so far away and also comes down and is so near to us?”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!??!?!?!

I am pretty sure I gave him a “deer-in-the-headlights” look as I nodded my head in absolute agreement.

I’m not sure how long it took for the words to form, but I said something along the brilliant lines of, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Yes, son. YES! In His BIG-NESS, He still pursues near-ness.

And for me, that’s exactly what my little soul needed to hear. I needed to be reminded that God is BIG…AND YET…He still draws near to my little self.

And maybe you need to hear it too?

God is BIG, and He is NEAR.

As I have sat and thought about the profound and Spirit-led words of our son, I can’t help but remember the sweet words of Peter 4:19–words that have been both honey and water to my tired and thirsty soul.

So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good. 

Did you catch that?

When we suffer while we doing good, we can entrust ourselves to WHO?

A FAITHFUL CREATOR!

The God who created those BIG, ‘ol stars is not only the same God that draws near to us in the middle of our “hard,” but He is also the same God who can handle all of that “hard.”

Friends, the God who created the star that can hold 262 trillion earths is the same God who comes down to our little earth, takes up residence in our little selves, and then empowers and refreshes our little, weary souls with His BIG SELF.

I don’t know about you, but that is comforting. WAAAAYYYYYY comforting.

There is nothing “too big.”

There is nothing “too hard.”

And there is nothing “too much” for the BIG God who draws near.

Let us then with confidence [confidence in the FAITHFUL CREATOR] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace [when He draws near] to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

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Books, Books, Books: An October Give-Away

Since I have been getting over a terrible flu/cold/virus/germs from the pits of hell, I am going to make this introduction short and sweet because my fingers hurt and it’s time for some more meds.

Ready for this?

Happy Fall Ya’ll!

The end.

So what book am I giving away this month? 

I am giving away TWO copies of God Made Me and You: Celebrating God’s Design for Ethnic Diversity by Shai Linne.

And why am I giving away this book?

  1. Because it’s AWESOME!
  2. Because this book does a beautiful job of articulating God’s glory through His varied creations in a way that little hearts can understand!
  3. Because this book does a wonderful job of highlighting the Gospel-centered reasons for why we should celebrate diversity and why the curse has affected our celebration of diversity…again, in a way that little souls can digest!
  4. Because our big and little hearts need to read, speak, share, and think on these truths!
  5. Because the entire amazing book is written in a RHYME! NO JOKE! It’s amazing!

So what are a few of my favorite line(s) from this book? 

“Rachel and Billy; Keisha, Abigail, Todd-you’re wonderfully made in the image of God. Carlos, Jennifer, Tyler, Sean, Corey–God made you; you exist for His glory.”

“And now, because of the presence of sin, people hate for silly things like color of skin.”

“At the cross, we see what God’s love is about, There’s no type of person that Jesus left out.”

So how can you win a copy of this book? 

In the comment section below, share a fun, fall idea with me and at 10 PM (EST) on Thursday, I will randomly choose TWO of you to win a copy of this book!

Happy Fall, Happy Diversity! 

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Loving From Inside the Tub

Listen, mama friends…

I know we read ALL of the books and magazines that tell us ALL of the best ways to parent our children. And I know we see ALL of the Pins and Insta-posts that highlight ALL of the glamorous ways mothering could look. And I know we hear ALL of the best ideas on TV of how to raise ALL of the well-adjusted, high-functioning children, but can I just be honest?

Girl, you can parent from a bath tub and STILL be rockin’ it. 

And THAT is exactly where I found myself today.

With my 3rd cup of coffee in my over-sized owl mug, I found myself sitting in a tub of hot bubbles while a pre-school’er was running in and out of the bathroom, playing her own game of “find and seek,” and a baby was on the bathroom floor with a towel wrapped around him and a pile of toys in front of him.

There was no craft. There were no snacks.

There was no lipstick. There were no ankle boots.

There was no scheduled activity. There were no lessons being taught.

There was no park. There were no play-dates.

There was no “big fun.” There were no “exciting trips.”

Girl, I was naked in the tub with a baby on the floor…rockin’ a fever and fightin’ a virus. 

I was doing nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

And guess what?

There was NO “mom-failing.”

Why?

Because my kids were safe and loved, and I was sane.

Mamas, I don’t know where and when this mom-trained de-railed itself, but it seems to me that sometime between 1983-2018 (things have changed since Bryan Adams was cool, and I was a baby), we have come to believe that better is best and simple is slacking. And I think those thoughts are for the birds.

We have bought into the lie that we have to always be busy–planning this and going there.  

We have bought into the belief that we have to always be doing–making this and creating that. 

We have bought into this nasty notion that “making fun” and “doing exciting” is our primary goal as moms. 

We have bought into the distortion that yoga pants, messy buns, and last night’s mascara falls desperately short of being “put together.” 

And though I wish I could say that I’ve always been successful at resisting this “super-mom epidemic,” I haven’t.

Because if the truth is told, I’ve felt like a failure when there were no Pinterest plans. I’ve felt “less-than” when there was no scheduled, extracurricular activity. And Lord knows I’ve battled feelings of insecurity and inferiority when showering, organic snacks, and Montessori-activities were M.I.A. from both our home and routine.

And though there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with being or doing any of the activities listed above, I’ve battled comparing myself with the magazines, other mamas, and my own expectations of what it means to mother. I’ve fought the urges to be more and do more. And I’ve fought the tendency to believe that my identity is wrapped up in being a mom…specifically a “super one.”

Truly, I do not write this post without my own set of battle scars.

So this morning when I rocked the mom-life from inside the tub, I had to smile and thank the Lord for my refusal to believe that I was failing because I wasn’t performing or producing. Because honestly, parenting kids isn’t about producing or performing, it’s about loving. And mamas, there are a million and one ways to love your child(ren). Some are found in the books and some are not. Some are seen on Pinterest and some are not. Some are viewed on TV and some are not.

So whether you love your kids with a hug, an omelette, or from inside a tub…remember, you don’t fail when you love.

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Grace, Grit, and the Quitting Days

If I’m being perfectly honest, there are days when I want to quit, throw in the towel, hang up my jersey, and head for the locker room.

I get tired out on the field; I get weary of playing; and I get downright overwhelmed by the toughness of the game.

MANY days, I find myself begging for 4 Quarters of rest and a large drink labeled “comfort and ease.” It’s true; I do. And this past week was filled a bunch of those days.

I didn’t want to do Foster Care anymore; I wanted to be done.

I didn’t want all of the visits. I didn’t want all of the appointments. I didn’t want all of the calls and all of the e-mails. I didn’t want the constant advocating. I didn’t want the continuous stress of navigating delicate situations. And I didn’t want all of the time and all of the travel that it all requires.

Multiple times. Multiple days. I felt DONE.

I was over the serving; I was over the loving; and I was WAAAAAYYYYY over the “baby stage (been in that stage since June of 2017 when we got our first foster baby). Truly, I was feeling D-O-N-E.

And on one of those days when I was tempted to throw the ball to the ref and head for the bench, the Lord brought me to Exodus 13 and 14.

Because God (in His impeccable timing) knew from the beginning of time (mind-blowing) that I would be studying the book of Exodus during this season of life, and He knew that I would need to hear the very words from these two, specific chapters that He inspired thousands of years ago. AMAZING.

In short summary, Pharaoh has given the Israelites the “boot” from Egypt, and the people are in the middle of the wilderness. And where does God take this large group of newly, delivered slaves?

It says in 13:17, “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near…But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness.”

He could have taken the short-cut, but He doesn’t.

Why?

Because He says in 13:17, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.”

Did you catch that? He KNEW that the people would see these sword-wielding, war-hungry giants (recall flannel graph Goliath) and become scared.

And so instead of taking them on the “quicker walk,” He takes them on the “longer walk.” Why? Because He knows. 

And where does He take them?

He takes them to an absolutely vulnerable place…a place where they were exposed–a place where their backs were against the sea–a place where they had no place to run and no place to hide. Truly, it would have been viewed as a massive, military mistake.

Exodus 14:3 says, “For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ ”

Very literally, God leads them to a place where Pharaoh would think, “What a bunch of idiots!” And because he does think this, Pharaoh takes his big men with their big swords in their big chariots, and he goes after these trapped wanderers.

So God takes these people (the ones He claims to love and treasure), and He leads them the LONG WAY AROUND to a VERY SCARY PLACE.

Sounds loving, huh? Well, the Israelites certainly didn’t think so! Which is exactly why they unleash their furry and fear onto Moses in 14:10-12, making all kinds of accusations and claims against God.

Why have you taken us here to die? What have you done to us? It would have been better if we had stayed slaves! Did you take us out to the wilderness to die because there were no graves left in Egypt? Leave us alone! 

Seriously, read it for yourself. These people were red-hot scared.

And what does the Lord say to the people about why He took them the LONG WAY AROUND to a VERY SCARY PLACE?

He says in 14:13, 17: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent…I will get the glory…and they shall know that I am the LORD when I gave gotten glory.”

He took them the LONG WAY AROUND to a VERY SCARY PLACE because He wanted them to know His power, His provision, and His person! 

Friends, he brought them out so that He could bring them into worshipful-relationship with Him!

And just as Pharaoh and his army of men are approaching, the Lord does exactly what He promised.

Exodus 14:19 says, “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them…and the LORD  threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea…but the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the seas, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”

Did you READ that?!?!

The God who was going before them (leading them out) moves to the back and leads them in! Very truly, He does exactly what He states in Psalm 139:5, “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”

It was God that was going before them in the LONG WAY AROUND and to the VERY SCARY PLACE, and then it was God who went behind them! Never leaving their side, never removing His gaze…He fights for His people, delivers His people, and saves His people when their backs are against a wall of water.

And as I read those words on one of the many days where I was questioning the long-hard journey to the very-scary places of foster care, I felt a peace of joy rush over me.

Jessica, I won’t lead you where I won’t go before you, and I won’t lead you where I won’t go behind you. 

And then I went back and read the words of 13:14, “By a strong hand the Lord brought us out…”

It is the Lord’s journey, and it is the Lord’s battle. And it will be the Lord’s strong hand that wins the battle and moves the waters. And when He does (in His timing), I will know that the deliverer was ONLY HIM. 

So what do I need to do as I follow Him the LONG WAY AROUND into the VERY SCARY PLACES?

I need to trust…to be still…to follow…to obey…and to watch.

Because though He doesn’t promise an easy, fear-free journey, He does promise to be our strong arm of salvation.

Friend, I don’t know what road you are walking and what weary you are facing, but may I encourage you to play the GAME with His power, with His provisions, and with His person? Because THAT is something we can rest in…THAT is something we can hang our hats of faith on…and THAT will be the very thing that gives us both the GRIT and the GRACE to keep on, keepin’ on!

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It’s HER Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want To

I don’t know about you all, but preparing for friend, birthday parties is hardly a bucket of sunshine and rainbows in our house. LIKE EVER.

Picking out the gift for our friend…we have a smidgen of jealous, sad feelings.

Wrapping the gift for our friend…we have a dash of frustrated, angry feelings.

Finding out that your mom bought your BFF a package of 8, fun-scented lip balms on the morning of the party…we have ALL THE FEELINGS.

And that’s exactly where we found ourselves this morning at 8:30 AM.

Coming down with Barbie Mermaid in tow, I inconspicuously held the package of lip balm underneath the gift bag.

Why?

Because truth be told, I KNEW it was going to be a THING. And truth be told, mama-bear didn’t want to do NO THING on a Saturday morning before her first sips of coffee.

But in the way that only that Holy Spirit can do, He nudged my heart.

Jessica, you are avoiding an opportunity to shepherd her heart because it’s hard. DO THE HARD THING. 

UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

With a lot of reservation and a twinge of fear, I grabbed for the lip balms and threw on a happy face.

“Hey Evie!!! Guess what I bought Leah?!?!”

Running over, she had eyes the size of pumpkins and with a less-than enthusiastic response, she simply said, “What?”

Pulling out the package of Sprite-scented, Grape-Fanta, Cherry-Coke (and friends) lip balms, I said, “I think she’ll love them! What do you think?”

And immediately, my four-year old said the words I feared (but only with large, disappointed tears immediately falling from the corners of her big, blue eyes), “But I don’t have those!!!”

Calmly (even without coffee), I explained to her that we don’t always have to have the same, and that it’s okay to gift someone something we don’t have. And as the words came out of my mouth, a giant-sized light bulb flashed in my head.

Wait a minute! This is exactly why it wasn’t hard to buy the birthday gift this time!

OH.MY.WORD.

That little girl bought her friend the exact Mermaid Barbie that she had. Not because she genuinely wanted her friend to have a matchy-matchy Mermaid Barbie but because she didn’t want her friend to have something she didn’t.

My heart sunk and yet…my heart resonated.

Because let’s be honest, it’s hard to be excited about THAT which we DO NOT have. 

She has the baby…I want the baby.

She has the job…I want the job.

She has the clothes…I want the clothes.

She has the husband…I want the husband.

She has the house…I want the house.

She has the friends…I want the friends.

She has the time…I want the time.

She has the adoption…I want the adoption.

She has the confidence…I want the confidence.

She has the skills…I want the skills.

She has the health…I want the health.

She has the parents…I want the parents.

She has the leadership role…I want the leadership role.

She has the flexibility…I want the flexibility.

She has the freedom…I want the freedom.

And on and on it goes.

In all truthfulness, it’s a whole lot easier to rejoice in the “same” because contentment is hard when “different” abounds. 

And like my little girl, I think it’s safe to say that many of us find it a little (or maybe a lot) hard to celebrate “the things” we DO NOT have but REALLY, REALLY want.

I get it and maybe you do, too?

Kneeling down on the floor, I gave her a hug and encouraged her with the following words:

“Evie-girl, I know it’s hard, but let’s celebrate the opportunity to gift Leah with something that you really, really like.”

Nodding her head and wiping her tears, she sincerely said, “Okay, Mommy. She will really like these and maybe some day I could get some, too.”

“Yes. Maybe some day. And if not, we can still be excited for Leah now.”

Friends, I don’t know what you want that they have, but can I suggest that we do a little Romans 12:15 and “rejoice with those who rejoice” and celebrate with those who celebrate?

Because as Paul urges in Romans 12, “the act of love” takes on many different forms and can be displayed in many, different ways. And in that list, “rejoicing with those who rejoice” is par for the course when choosing to love, honor, and live peaceably with one another.

Celebrating others is loving others. 

So as the gifts were brought to the table and as the birthday girl unwrapped her presents this morning, my mama-heart beamed in gratefulness as my little girl chose love–celebrating BOTH of the gifts she brought (the one she had and the one she didn’t).

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Books, Books, Books: A September Give-Away

Guys!!!

It’s September, and it’s still too-hot in Ohio for this October-born soul! 82 degrees on September 14th is bordering on “almost unacceptable.”

But hey September, I guess Fall doesn’t officially come for another 8 days and 9 hours, so I guess you have a smidge-bit of time to get your act together!

And while I wait for those cooler temps and colored leaves, I am clinging to God’s promise found in Genesis 8:22…

“While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Friends, FALL will come because God SAID IT WOULD!

And with that beautiful PROMISE in mind, let’s talk about the book I am giving away this month!

So what book am I giving away this month? 

I am giving away TWO copies of God Always Keeps His Promises: Unshakable Hope for Kids by Max Lucado.

And why am I giving away this book?

  1. Because Don is doing this devotional at night with the kiddos (“Daddy’s Devo”) and he is LOVING it and so are the kids!
  2. I think adults AND kids need to know and remember the promises of God.
  3. Knowing and remembering God’s promises (both fulfilled and yet to come) helps root our faith when trials come and hardships abound.
  4. And lastly, I think it’s important for kids to know that their word/promises matter because God’s word/promises matter. God doesn’t speak something that cannot be fulfilled and neither should we. When we are committed to our words/promises, we reflect His image!

So what are a few of my favorite line(s) from this book? 

Since I haven’t read it in its entirety,  let me simply highlight the structure of this really-neat devotional!

  1. The book contains 25, specific promises (from God’s Word) that can be done in one or even two sittings.
  2. Each devotional contains a promise, a Bible story to highlight that promise, verses throughout all of Scripture to reinforce that promise, and then a section that allows kids to think about their promise back to God (in light of His promise to them).
  3. Some of the promises included are: God will work in you; God will meet your needs; God is always with you; God will hear you; and God will make everything new.

So how can you win a copy of this book? 

In the comment section below, share a promise from God that you are clinging to and claiming and at 10 PM (EST) on Sunday, I will randomly choose TWO of you to win a copy of this devotional!

Happy September! 

 

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9/11: Son, May You Never Forget

Caden,

When we named you, “spirit of battle,” we started praying (even while you were in the womb) that God would do battle for you, and that He would use you to do great battle for Him and His kingdom.

So tonight, as you asked Jesus to save you from your sins, it was no surprise to your daddy and I that it was surrounded by a battle.

But before I write the end of the story, let me start at the beginning.

Tonight started like any other Tuesday evening in our home. Since I didn’t have to work and since we fight to keep the calendar clear on Tuesdays, we had dinner around the table; we talked about our days; we cleaned up; and then you asked your daddy and I to sit and watch a “performance” that you and Evie had created earlier in the afternoon. Tonight, you were pretending to be a professional photographer who was taking pictures of a celebrity (Evie), and you were interviewing her with a variety of questions. My personal favorite, “Why did you decide to wear all blue tonight?”

As you interviewed her, we continued to laugh–marveling at your constant creativity. And we laughed until we were no longer laughing. Why? Because as is also fairly typical, you got upset with your sister’s inability to follow all of the “instructions,” and it only spiraled from there.

What turned into a warning about your tone turned into a consequence. And then the refusal to humbly accept that consequence turned into another one…and another one…and yet another one. There was disobedience, disrespect, and a slew of hurtful accusations you threw my way. Truly, it was a spiral of sin that landed you an early bed time of 6:45 PM.

I was upset, hurt, and incredibly disappointed.

As I explained to you in the middle of your room, I really look forward to these “family nights,” so it broke my heart to follow through on the promised consequence. As I closed your door, I simply said, “Caden, even if I have to put an end to the family time I really love, I love you too much to not follow through.”

Finding your daddy in the kitchen I simply said with weepy eyes, “I can only hope that these really-hard consequences lead to a repentant heart,” and we moved on. Your daddy took Evie out to the playground to play, and I grabbed my phone to return some texts.

But less than 10 minutes later, you came flying out of your room and ran to my side. Wrapping your arms around me, you simply said, “Mommy, I was so wrong. I sinned against you and Evie, and I am really, really sorry.”

Knowing that this was incredibly uncharacteristic of your behavior (usually you simmer and/or boil with anger after the consequences have been received), I knelt to the ground and simply said to you, “Buddy, you need a Savior–someone who can rescue you from these spirals of sin.”

Immediately, tears ran down your face and you said a series of words I will never forget.

“Mommy, I need to ask the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and help me with my sins.” 

Grabbing you into my arms, I asked if you wanted me to get your daddy. Nodding your head up and down, I grabbed my flip-flops and headed for the backyard. Waving my arms and yelling his name, I called for your daddy.

I know there is a good chance you will remember tonight (I can still remember the Sunday afternoon I asked Jesus to save me on my polyester, fuchsia-colored comforter) but just in case you don’t, I want to share a few more details.

Huddled on your blue carpet, you sat in your daddy’s lap, and we held your hands. Asking you why you wanted to be saved, you simply reiterated your need for a helper.

And then very quickly, we rehearsed the truth of the Gospel. Going back and forth, your daddy and I shared the beauty of the Gospel.

We are all sinners, and we all need a Savior.

Being saved doesn’t mean you won’t sin, but it does mean that you’ll have a helper to do battle for and with you against your sin. 

Salvation is something you continue to grow in, and is something that can never be taken from you. 

Asking God to forgive your sins means that He sees the red-blood of Jesus and not the black-covered stains of your sins. 

And then I quoted 1 John 1:9.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Nodding your head, you cried again. Truly, I have never seen you more broken over your sin. EVER.

Bowing our heads, we held your hands and you prayed…

“Dear God, please send the Holy Spirit into my heart to help me with my sins. Forgive me because I need a Savior.” 

It was nothing long and nothing fancy, but EVERYTHING wonderful.

Giving you hugs, we celebrated your salvation and reminded you that the angels were in heaven rejoicing over a new child of God.

And then your daddy shared the story of the Prodigal Son, highlighting that even though the son had sinned and squandered away his blessings, the father welcomed him home with wide-open arms of grace. Daddy then explained that though there are consequences to our sin, there is also abundant forgiveness and undeserved grace. And then he simply said, “Tonight, we want to show you grace like the father showed the son…like God showed you…and so we want you to put on your clothes and come play at the playground with us. We want this to be a reminder of God’s complete forgiveness…of His unconditional love.”

Immediately, you burst into tears again and simply said, “We all need a Savior.”

Caden Paul, I am writing this on the anniversary of 9/11–17 years since the day the Twin Towers fell in NYC….17 years since your daddy sat in a NJ classroom…17 years since your mommy sat in a PA classroom..17 years since we learned the terrible news of an awful attack…17 years ago when you were never a thought in our minds. But 17 years ago, God knew what would come tonight–what battle He would win.

As is often quoted when talking about that terrorist attack in 2001, “May we never forget.”

Caden, may you never forget September 11th, 2018. 

May you never forget the night the Spirit moved in your heart. May you never forget your recognition of sin and your awareness of your need. May you never forget the joy you found in repentance and the forgiving love you experienced in confession. May you never forget the night (sitting on the blue carpet) when you asked the Spirit to come into your heart and help you battle your sins. And may you never forget the words your daddy rehearsed before your bed time tonight.

“God will win the battle, Caden, and He won the battle tonight. What Satan meant for evil, God meant for good.”

Son, He is faithful to His Word; He is faithful to His promise; and He is faithful to do battle for our souls.

May we never…EVER…forget that.

Love,
Mommy and Daddy

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