Thirteen.

Thirteen years. Sounds like a lot and a little all at the same time.

When we spent our very first anniversary moving, renovating, and hugely pregnant, we should have guessed that the majority of the ones to follow would be commemorated while doing one or more of those same three things.
I guess when you love making homes and you love each other, you end up with a plethora of broken houses and babies.

We sometimes joke with couples who are young and freshly in love that they probably shouldn’t do what we did. We say all sorts of foreign-sounding things to them like “wait” and “travel,” and “date nights,” and “family planning,” and “maintenance-free apartments.”

Some evenings we talk and dream about what our life would be like if we had just done a tiny bit more “normal.”

But the more we’ve talked and lived, the more we’ve realized the limitations of “one-size-fits-all” types of advice. We’ve made some naive and crazy decisions, and have a bad habit of biting off way more than we can comfortably chew, but I just can’t imagine we’d have the same marriage if we’d lived such a different life.

There’s something about saying “I do” and immediately jumping blind-folded into the deep end, young and barely knowing how to swim that can do crazy things to two people.

You either sink or you ungracefully cling to each other with everything you’ve got. And sometimes the whole becoming one flesh thing happens seamlessly almost by accident. Not because we were good at it, or read the right books, or knew what we were doing, but because it’s the only way we could keep from drowning, and God is good and full of grace.
And while I don’t necessarily recommend that approach, I don’t regret it either.

Because I wonder if we’d have figured out how to love each other so deeply, and fiercely, and necessarily, if we had cautiously eased in. I’m a pretty independent, self-reliant, never-ask-for-help type when I’m not drowning.
But God is big enough and loving enough to use these tsunamis we probably keep bringing on ourselves, to show me we’re so much stronger in our clinging and togetherness than we’d probably ever have pulled off on our own or if we’d cautiously eased our way in.

And here I am four babies, seven renovations, ten houses, twelve bathroom remodels, and thirteen anniversaries into this whole marriage thing and to be completely honest, I am still drowning. We’ve been living out of suitcases for over a year and are more unsettled than we’ve ever been. But while life and marriage can be hard, being in love with this guy can be just so easy. He has a kind heart and really strong shoulders. He loves me so patiently and practically and thoroughly.

The great thing about learning how to be in love when you’re gasping for air, is it’s just that much sweeter and appreciated to be able to do it when you finally catch your breath (even if just for a moment).

And man, I can’t wait to do just a little more normal and slower and settled together.

“If it’s half as good as the half we’ve known, here’s Hail! to the rest of the road.” ~Sheldon Vanauken

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The Ugly Snapshots

I tend to write what I’m learning. What I am being convicted of, or truths God is putting before me over and over until my slow processor at long last recognizes the patterns and repetitions as the pictures they were meant to be, or in the very least that they are pictures. Sometimes beautiful pictures, sometimes ugly ones — ugly in that they capture weakness or brokenness or messiness. Though stirring I suppose, in the way that they are snapshots of something real and unfiltered and I am grateful for the glimpse of something as it is, rather than how I’d like it to be.

I then attempt to study and organize and string together these various snapshots into clear and meaningful strands that convey something truthful and useful and practical. It helps me attach meaning to those raw segments of life and emotion. It motivates me to seek God for answers and look for his providential thread being woven in my life. It excites me to share those fragments all sensically strung together in the hopes that others might appreciate the masterpieces God is slowing weaving in my life and more easily identify the ones being woven in their own.

It’s a craft I enjoy and see the utility of, but the more I do it, the more I’m starting to realize the limitations of it. I’ll have seasons and bursts of productivity when I feel as if I can barely write quickly enough to capture and properly organize all the pictures God is putting before me, like one of those old-fashioned slide projectors being advanced way too fast to really savor and experience the fleeting images. And then nothing. Though nothing isn’t quite the right word, because so often I’m thinking and feeling more than ever, but I feel as if I’m staring at a messy pile of snapshots, that aren’t particularly lovely or related and I just can’t quite figure out how to string them together into something logical or useful. Not as a lack of transparency, or a desire to only show the pretty things, because I’ve never been one to shy away from sharing my hard things or my struggles — more so a desire to share them in the most useful way possible. Isn’t it what we do with those ugly things that makes them beautiful?

And that’s often my problem, for as deeply as I think and feel about so many things, I’m hopelessly practical — even utilitarian at times. As if I’m stuck at the extreme ends of all the personality profiles and can’t figure out how to consistently migrate to the middle of any of them, which is where you feel like everything is supposed to mesh and all the magic happens.

Like when you realize you haven’t posted on Instagram in ages, and you flip through your photos and all you seem to have are utilitarian screenshots and grocery lists and things you’re selling on craigslist, or else those blurry shutter clicks of weeping babies or shattered coffee mugs sitting in puddles of never-sipped coffee, merely meant to quickly communicate life as it’s happening to your husband at work. In ways that effortlessly convey the depths of your emotions at that very second without necessitating words you don’t feel like (or probably shouldn’t be) forming. And you realized you haven’t documented anything in weeks that isn’t either sterile or blubbering — no feelings or all of them.

But I’m starting to realize that maybe I’m missing out on the value of trying to see God in those individual and unrelated snapshots. Maybe those micro-moments in life are meant to be lessons in and of themselves, and while I don’t know for sure, I do know that the uncertainty and unknowingness of it all is doing things to me that I think I need, even though I can’t quite articulate exactly what they are yet.

Perhaps I should start writing more often without having outlined exactly where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. Maybe I need to practice and learn how to look and listen for God and his truths in all the little moments when I haven’t yet figured out the point or the lesson, or if there even is one.

That one paragraph I’ve re-read five times, in the book I’ve been trying to read for weeks but keep getting interrupted.

Those intense discussions about politics that bring out so many thoughts and so few answers.

The moments when I hate these culturally tumultuous times for revealing so much ugliness in the body of Christ, and yet I catch glimpses of realness and truth and feel like something better is just maybe beginning to emerge, albeit slowly.

That great dinner date I finally get to have with my husband where we at last share some food and drinks and excitement that God must be doing big things, but we can’t figure out for the life of us what they are.

Those conversations that are equal parts hard and frustrating and deep and true. And I can’t tell if we’ve moved forward or backward.

That acknowledgment that I’m struggling in so many areas of parenting, and I’m ready to make big changes, but can’t quite make them stick.

That realization that we’ve been “moving” for six months now and still have no forwarding address and still can’t figure out what God has for us in a town I don’t really want to be in, but I know it’s just gotta be something.

Those moments when I profoundly miss the community and ministry and relationships I had to leave, yet I know I’m being purposefully altered by the deep lessons God is carving out in my soul in all the quietness.

Those days when I have to fall to my knees over and over again because my ugly sin keeps re-surfacing and my knees are sore and I’m tired, but I feel profoundly impacted by all that time I’ve spent before a holy God.

Those few words of scripture that will pierce my soul unexpectedly, though I couldn’t even tell you why.

Those hours that string into days and months, and I live them feeling as if nothing is happening and nothing is changing and yet I feel like a completely different person than who I was half a year ago. Maybe in good ways, but I don’t feel quite ready for that adjective yet — more so, deep ways.

And if our God is the Lord of our lives, he’s also the Lord of our minutes and our seconds.

He already sees every single snapshot of my life from beginning to end. From the time he called me into this world to the time he’ll carry me out. And even the times I am unable to picture how they’ll all fall out into lovely arranged collages, or identify the chapters or even guess tomorrow’s pages, I know they are not haphazardly placed. Each one has a story and an aim and significance, even if only for the fingers that placed them there and the one who was with me as it was taken. There is value right then and right there in the things not fully understood, regardless of what is made of them later.

And I find comfort in words written long ago, reminding me of our wise and loving God who is directing all these mixed up snapshots of my life, as he soothes my heart into patience, lifts it in hope, and floods it with courage for the times ahead, whatever they may be.

“The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain; but its groans shall not disturb the music of their life, nor its travail cloud the brightness of their little day. In contrast to this Pagan temper the Christian method is to look elements in the face, and see in them the promise of blessing. Christianity does not simply declare the inevitableness of sorrow, or merely lay down rules for lessening its bitterness. It discovers a wise and loving God directing all the mixed processes of life to a beneficient issue. And thus it soothes the heart into patience, lifts it into hope, and floods it with courage.” ~T. Hammond

 

 

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Let’s Teach Our Kids ‘Beautiful’

Originally published HERE on www.desiringgod.com

On a recent vacation, I sat on the beach enjoying a sliver of one of those exquisitely designed days: clear sunny sky, warm breeze, the Atlantic Ocean that stunning mix of clear and steel blue.

My four kids were content and un-requiring (for once), so I sunk into my chair to take it all in. Almost immediately, a child walked into the expanse of sand between me and the sea. I watched as he aimlessly wandered up and down the beach, cell phone in hand, eyes squinting at his little screen, completely oblivious to everything around him.

It made me think about parenting — not this particular kid or his particular parents — but my own parenting.

Oblivious to Beauty

Vacations tend to provoke all kinds of ideas about life, work, balance, and everything you want to do differently when you get back. The quietness and loveliness contrasts real life so much it begs for some recalibration. You realize, at some point along the way, you may have started heading the wrong direction.

It hit me as I watched this wandering, distracted kid, mesmerized by a tiny handheld device, oblivious to the glorious beauty stretching in every direction. Are the things I am consistently putting in front of my children helping them see and enjoy God, or are they blocking the view of him? It’s easy to simply focus on what not to put before them, but forget to show them beauty, or forget to teach them about beauty when they’re exposed to it.

Children Learn to See

My one-year-old was new to the beach this year. It wasn’t enough for me to plop her down in the hot sand, and tell her to have fun. I had to teach her how to experience and enjoy the beach — carry her to the water and help her begin to dip her toes in the waves. I had to point out the shells, and show her how to rinse the scratchy sand off her hands.

My five-year-old is a bit further along. She knows how to dig for sand crabs, and points out how the ocean changes shades of blue from day to day. My older boys can now swim out to the sand bar and catch waves. The oldest notices cloud formations, warning me there will likely be an evening storm. They’re each learning to see and savor the beach. Just like I am.

Five Ways to Teach Them Beauty

As I watched this all unfold, I realized how badly I want them to be able to experience and enjoy God. I want them to see him in ways I was oblivious to for such a huge portion of my life. My eyes were glued to lesser things that seemed so big and wonderful at the time, until I finally exchanged the poor shadows and reflections for the true and full source of all beauty.

And yet so easily with my parenting, I slip into rules and lecturing that (in the words of my 10-year-old) “make God sound like a grumpy old man.” I hide the beauty and the wonder.

How do I avoid this? Here are some resolutions I’m working through as a mother.

1. Put before my children what is true and lovely and excellent.

Saturate their lives with God’s word and God’s creation. What I put before them is often more important than what I am not. It’s so easy to surround them with what’s mediocre, flashy, and dumbed-down, and then wonder why they don’t respond to excellence when finally confronted with it.

2. Parent them like God parents me.

Am I parenting from God’s strength and grace, or from my emotions? My ultimate goal should be that my children desire to do what is good and right and excellent because that’s who God is, not just because I say so. Yes, children need to learn obedience and boundaries before they can enjoy freedom, but they are never too young to learn beauty.

3. Teach them and show them how everything points to God.

Teach them about beauty that makes our soul soar, and about ugliness that makes our soul ache. It could be the sunset, or an artistic masterpiece, or Greek mythology with its capricious and temperamental gods, or a musician singing about sorrow or longing, or a movie that make us laugh, or well-written literature about the triumph of good over evil. It all points to God.

And don’t waste the ugliness that ends up before them, because it can make the beauty that much clearer. Point it out if needed, and talk about it with them. The goal isn’t developing cynicism, but identifying truth and valuing beauty. If we’re regularly showing them beauty and excellence, it quickly becomes easier to identify a counterfeit.

We might talk about why an overheard word is wrong, or why acts of violence in our world are so contrary to God’s character, or what that TV commercial is trying to sell us and how. The light shines through far brighter in the darkness. Use discretion, but make sure they understand that it’s the gates of hell that shall not prevail against Christ and his church — not the other way around.

4. Stop relying on someone else to do the majority of this for me.

God has not given this particular job first to teachers, or Christian radio, or even our church. God entrusted these sons and daughters to my husband and me. Teaching them should be a constant, intentional, organic process in our home and outside of it — at times, requiring surprisingly few words.

Point out God’s handiwork in how plants grow and in the beauty of nature. Pray together and often, and about lots of things. Read God’s word, and memorize it together. Lead them to the source. Resist the urge to lecture or package it up into entertaining little child-friendly snippets, while underestimating the power that simply God’s word and his creation can have on a child over time. Let the Holy Spirit work. Allow them to experience the wonder and joy of God as he wants them to see it, not the weariness that can so easily come when I hit them over the head with God’s truth as I want them to see it.

5. Enjoy God in my own life and allow them to witness it.

Don’t focus so much on my children’s souls that I neglect my own. How can I point out beauty to them if I can’t see it myself? Why would they yearn for the joy of knowing God if that joy is not evident in me? My life needs to revolve around Christ, not my children. I can parent far better when my heart is set on him first.

I’m slowly learning this in my own life. I’m learning how to see and savor God in the peaceful moments, as well as in the chaos. But knowing God isn’t a journey we begin once we’ve hit adulthood; it’s one we embark on the second we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch.

My children belong to God, not to me, and they were created to know and enjoy their Maker in the same way I do. We are on that journey together. My job as their parent is to point them to their Father, teach them to truly see him, and help them grasp their need for a Savior. That is why we teach them “beautiful” — because there is nothing more beautiful than the cross and the One it purchased for us — the One whom every other beautiful thing reflects.

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The Finer Things Club

Every day at 2:30pm, the 10-year-old, and I drop whatever we’re doing and he makes us each a cup of tea. I clear off the kitchen counter and we sit. Usually we flip through art books, listen to music, or talk about books we’re reading. And we chat.

Today it was about The Wind in the Willows, Manet, and our NCAA brackets.
Hands down, the nerdiest thing we do. I love it.

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A 4-year-old’s List for Her Future Husband

4-year-old and I hanging out in the kitchen:

Nora: “So Mommy, what should we talk about? I know, let’s talk about husbands!”

Me: “Sure, what about them?”

N: “I wanna talk about how I’m going to get one. You know, in some more years.”

Me: “What do you think he’ll be like?”

N: “WELL. He’s going to be kind, funny…grateful. Tall like Daddy but more hairs. Not sprinkles like Daddy’s hairs. He’ll build things, like houses. And sometimes he’ll give me rings when I DON’T even ASK for them! And I’m going to get HIM presents on Amazon. As long as he doesn’t look at them first. He’ll hug me ALL the time and he’ll be strong, and caring, and…delicate. [Pause]…Hm, is delicate the right word?”

Me: “Delicate means kind of, fragile.”

N: “No. That’s not right. My husband will be sturdy. …Are you writing all of these down?”

Me: “Um, no. Would you like me to?”

N: “Yes. Write them on a list, please. Then when I find the man who will be my husband, I’ll send him over to your house and you can give him my list.”

I can’t handle this.

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My Brazil-Bound Baby

My husband, Kevin, went to Brazil for the first time 9 years ago when my oldest, Caleb, was one. I was pregnant with my second and could barely get out of bed or keep anything down. To top it off, Caleb came down with a stomach bug while Kevin was gone (with the rest of my family)…and it was rough. My heart was ugly and I remember laying on the floor watching my baby toddling around needing things from me I couldn’t provide.

I never imagined that almost a decade later, this same needy baby boy would be confidently boarding a plane with his Daddy, passport in hand, to finally meet these people he’s grown up hearing about and seeing and watching and praying for. His Brazilian family. People we’ve known longer than him and have watched grow up and have kids of their own. People parts of my own family now live amongst. A remote little corner of the globe that by the grace of God, looks so very different than it did over a decade ago.

I pray that my worries will be overshadowed by my joy. The kind of joy that comes from sending my child off to a place where so many people already know his name and have likewise seen pictures of him growing up. Where God has done big things that I’m praying he’ll see and understand. Where he can meet and squeeze his new little baby cousin who one day will probably help him learn a language he wasn’t born speaking.
And though I’ll miss him and his Daddy like crazy, I pray these people will teach him and change him and become HIS people too by the time he makes it back to me…

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Ode to My Fresh 10-Year-Old

Happy birthday my Caleb! The only thing crazier than my eldest turning 10 today, is the fact this also means we’ve been doing this parenting thing now for a whole decade.

I had to take months of behind-the-wheel before they gave me my license. I had to sit through four years of classes and exams (on top of the thirteen I already had under my belt) before I could get my degree and diploma to prove it. I had to interview with like six different people, intern, and hand over countless references before my first company hired me. I had to go through almost a year of forms and questionnaires and more interviews about all areas of my personal life before someone in the government decided I was responsible and trustworthy enough to handle sensitive documents and info for my job. Eight weeks of waiting for a passport. A month or so of applications and interviews before adopting our first dog. And then…

…I waddled into Fairfax hospital at the age of 23, and Kevin and I walked out shortly after with ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. To keep. I’m not sure they even asked us any questions to really make sure we knew what to do with the needy 7-pounder that was now ours. Mercy. …And guess what? WE HAVE KEPT THAT CUTE LITTLE GUY ALIVE FOR TEN WHOLE YEARS.
And not to say it hasn’t been a bumpy road, or that parenting isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but there is no question this freshly turned 10-year-old has changed my life.

Oh Caleb. He’s 10 going on 75. He’s an old soul who knows what he wants. Sometimes I feel like I’m raising a mix of Ron Swanson and Steve Jobs. He prefers classic literature and 50-year-old chapter books. He watches documentaries, cooking shows, and “This Old House.” He loves real estate. He has a notebook titled, “My Business Ideas,” and can turn a $2 investment into $54 in an afternoon or two out in the neighborhood. He’s the kind of kid who enjoys putting money into his savings account (yet he’s surpringly generous when he is confronted with a person in need). He loves sports. Playing, watching, discussing. The day we let him join our Fantasy League is a day our lives were forever changed 😉 He prefers homeschooling so he can get his work done, cut out the fluff, and get outside. He really likes being around people, but isn’t particularly sentimental. He reads history textbooks for fun as he goes to sleep. He knows a trillion more facts than me, and doesn’t let me forget it (and frequently questions whether or not I even went to school). He likes coffee, and games, and likes to cook. He’s incredibly useful and capable and smart and independent. He says whatever immediately pops in his mind. He doesn’t really care what people think. He is not a follower.

He is going to do big things, and my prayer is that he will do those big things for the glory of God. I love watching this kid grow, and growing along with him!

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My June in December

Happy birthday June bug. I’ve been keeping you alive, and growing you, and getting to know you for a whole YEAR.

You have so many fans. Loud and dirty ones, but lots of fun. And they may fight like crazy with each other, but they are convinced that YOU are the most adorable tiny thing to ever grace this earth and everything you do is either amazing or hilARious. There are benefits to being the youngest.

I’m sorry you’ll never know what peace, and quiet, and personal space are. I’m sorry we didn’t do anything for your birthday, because we knew you’d have no idea. I’m sorry you were born smack in the middle of the craziness that’s Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m sorry I named you June when you were born in December.

It’s just that June is my favorite. It’s that exciting time when you feel like you’ve been doing hard things for way too long and you’re so ready for the next season. After all that cold, and school, and rain, and dreariness, it’s that indescribable feeling you get as you walk out into your first day of summer break and you have the entire summer in front of you. I’m still like a crazy, hyperactive little kid on this day. And you’re a tiny bit sad because you know you’ll miss some things and nothing will be quite the same again. It’s not that you hated the winter, it’s just that summer, or more the anticipation of summer, is just so GLORIOUS.

And that is you. Our last little babe. The one God surprised us with because he knew I wasn’t quite ready to graduate yet. Apparently, I still had more to learn. And it was kinda like being in summer school there for a bit, but now you’re ONE and we’re both pumped to move on to the bigger and different things ahead of us. And I’m a tiny bit sad, but a whole lot excited and so very thankful for my sweet little June and the gift you are in the middle of this crazy season…

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Introvert Raising an Extrovert

Starting my day with the 4-year-old:

N: [Morning wakeup call, 3 inches from my face]….
SURPRISE!! Good MORNING, Mommy! Were you so surprised? Huh, were you?

Me: Ugh.

N: Yes? Did you say yes? What did you say? I can’t hear you. You said “yes,” right?

Me: Yes.

N: Great. Scooch over, I need covers, I’m cold.

Me: Because you’re only wearing underpants.

N: Clothes make me itch. Lift up your head, I need that pillow. It’s my favorite. Did you have a lovely sleep? I did. Let me tell you all of my dreams.
Can I wake baby June up? I want to squeeze her and talk to her.

Me: No. She’s sleeping.

N: I think she wants to get up though. She loves me. I think I hear her… I did! She said “Kevin”! You just missed it. She definitely said it though. Call Daddy. Tell him to come home. June really wants to talk to him.

Me: She can’t say “Kevin.”

N: I think she said it in Spanish. Or maybe it was Pork-a-jeez. Mommy. MOMMY. Wake up your eyes. I can’t see them.

Me: Child. Stop touching my face. Please.

N: I’m snuggling your face. I love it so much. Mommy, turn back around. I don’t want to snuggle your back. It is NOT beautiful. Turn over. Please. Can you? Can you turn over? Can you turn over now? Right now?

Me: Okay. But don’t snuggle my face so hard.

N: I won’t. I’ll just kiss it. You love when I do that. …Mommy. I don’t like your air.

Me: Well. Your air isn’t the greatest either. Maybe we shouldn’t smooch until we’ve both brushed our teeth.

N: I’ll just snuggle your legs. They smell lovely. Why are they so sprinkly? They itch me when I rub them up like this. But not when rub them down like this. Mine don’t do that. Are Daddy’s legs sprinkly or just his face? Did you call him yet? Call him. I want to snuggle him and tell him June said “Kevin” in Spanish. Mommy. WAKE UP YOUR EYES.

….This was just the first 10 minutes.

It took me having children to realize that I did not even KNOW MYSELF. For example, I did not fully understand the depths of my own personality, until I had a kid whose love language is so much touching and so much talking. Then I realized mine must be the opposite of all those things.

It’s funny (also not funny) how God clearly gave me each of my kids to stretch me in very different and specific ways. It’s so not subtle.

Like just in case I started thinking I could somehow find peace and quietness of my soul apart from him, he gifts me with offspring that ensures that could never happen. Ever. Yet as much as these tiny people (who seem to be genetically comprised of the hardest parts of each of us), drive me to my knees praying for quiet moments to make thoughts inside of my head and a personal force field that restricts being groped for five minutes…..I am utterly in awe of them.

They struggle with things just like I do, but they also have all of these strengths I just don’t have. I’m in love with that fact that while Nora overstimulates me liked nobody’s business, she can be so tender and sense when I truly do need a hug. She has no problem speaking her mind. She could not be more confident. People energize her. It is virtually impossible for someone to make her do something she doesn’t want to do. She is a leader.

Dear Lord, please help me pray far less for peace and quiet, and far more for this dear child’s future husband…

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Sweatpants Anniversaries

What anniversaries look like when you accidentally have too many kids, and leaving the house just feels hard…

Plan B= Putting your myriad of children to bed at 6pm, and dining on Thai food takeout while we reminisce about the last 11 years and pretend we’re not wearing sweatpants. And loving it.

Because this guy has my heart. Whether we’re honeymooning in Costa Rica, unpacking moving boxes for the 7th time, listening to our babies’ first heartbeats, remodeling our 12th bathroom, watching the sun rise over the Chesapeake, scrubbing little boy pee off the side of infinity toilets, sharing a bottle of wine over The Office re-runs, navigating IKEA, or daydreaming about traveling the world together… He’s just it.

The graciously strong and kind guy, God graciously and kindly gave me because he knew I’d need pushed forward, pulled back, and held up. And he knew I’d need someone as hilarious as Kevin who could somehow make all that incredibly fun.

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