If Vaneice Lincoln had one wish for her baby girls, it might be simply to have the world view them with children's eyes.
"It's a joy to see it through their eyes. They don't come with a lot of the hang-ups of adults, " Vaneice says, as her three older children play freely with her 7-month-old twins.
Mikayla, Troy and Annelise Lincoln see only baby sisters when they look at, well, their baby sisters - Kathleen Faith and Charity Mae, born seriously conjoined in February at the University of Washington Medical Center, their abdomens and pelvises intertwined.
The older children barely seem to notice the joining. They grin at how Charity hogs down most of the baby formula while Kathleen manages to gain most of the weight.
They enjoy making a lot of clattery noise (dropping a cookie pan, for instance) and watching the babies erupt into giggles.
Mikayla, 9, and Annelise, 3, especially like playing peekaboo - which sets Kathleen grinning and waving her little arms. Troy, 6, likes to make faces and flap his arms, to the delight of Charity.
Mikayla has already commented on Kathleen's laid-back, affable nature (doesn't apply herself diligently in physical therapy) and Charity's observant, more active nature (therapist's pet).
What the children don't see are two oddities, two medical challenges, two question marks.
"We've really enjoyed having the children involved in this. To them, this is their sisters and everything is going to be all right, " says Vaneice, 30.
That everything is going to be all right: It's a fresh, hopeful breeze in an otherwise tense and hectic time for the Lincoln family, as Charity and Kathleen move toward a complex surgery with a none-too-certain outcome to try to separate them.
The surgery was set to begin Saturday at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle.
"We've had a very busy few years here, " dad Greg Lincoln says, in a masterful show of understatement. "It can seem overwhelming at times. Where do you start?"
For Greg and Vaneice, it started in Idaho, where they met and married in 1990 while both attended college - she studying education at Boise State University, he studying accounting and considering the ministry at Northwest Nazarene University.
Greg, now 32, had grown up in a large family in Rainier; Vaneice, 30, is an Idaho native.
After college, Greg worked in accounting - he now works at the Angove and Co. CPA firm in Centralia - but also spent time working on a church magazine. His pursuit of ministerial studies and work kept the growing family moving from Thurston County to Idaho to Oregon and back to Thurston County.
Vaneice worked hard at being a mom - Mikayla was born in 1991 in Centralia, Troy in 1994 in Olympia, and Annelise in 1997 in Idaho.
The family returned to Thurston County in the late 1990s, partly because Greg had developed Crohn's disease, which causes deep inflammation of the intestines similar to ulcerative colitis. As in Greg's case, the disease can frequently require surgery.
The family also returned to the area to rejoin their faith community, which is considering building a church in the county.
A family of deep faith, the Lincolns attend the Church of God in Tacoma, a Seventh-day Adventist denomination.
It was their strong faith that guided Greg and Vaneice when they learned their unborn twins might be conjoined.
Vaneice was eight weeks pregnant when a routine ultrasound picked up the possibility.
"We had to wait four weeks to know for sure, " she says. The next test confirmed it.
The astonished parents had a life-and-death decision before them, but it did not take long to make.
"We want to do what we believe God would want us to do, " Vaneice says. "I don't think we ever thought of not having them. They're your children and you love them, and you give them the best chance."
As she talks, Greg holds the twins propped in his lap, with various sizes of buckwheat-filled bags around his arms and the babies to help support them. Charity reaches out and tangles her fingers with Kathleen's. Kathleen reaches out to touch Charity's face, and Charity swats the hand away.
The parents smile.
"We've caught them on tape. Kathleen will be sleeping and Charity will reach out and take the pacifier out of her mouth, " Vaneice says. "One of them will have a fever and the other won't. They have different blood sugars."
Greg shakes his head.
"I feel it's not my choice to make, who's going to live and who's going to die, " he says.
"When you hear of other conjoined twins, they're healthy and they're happy and they want to live. I have to believe that even if (Kathleen and Charity) had to live their entire lives like this, they'd still want to live."
Before the twins were born, Greg and Vaneice and their large, close family prayed for a miracle, for either the babies not to be conjoined at all, or not as seriously as doctors suspected.
But the miracle was not to be.
Greg saw Charity and Kathleen first after their Caesarian section birth, while Vaneice recovered from surgery. "I was shocked, " he admits.
The babies' abdomens and pelvises were so intertwined, "I didn't see how they could ever be separated, " he says. "I think it took me months to get over the intense anguish of it all."
It was his job to go to Vaneice and tell her, "It's bad."
Both parents' hopes sank for a while as they tried to understand what it meant, and how to care for their rare daughters, how much struggle and pain lay ahead for the girls.
One day early on, Vaneice tried to move the babies into a different position, but "one turned pale and the other turned red, " she says. She quickly put them back and "I thought, 'Well, that's the only position they can be in.' "
Fortunately, it wasn't, and physical therapist Andrea Wheeler, from Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice, helped show the parents how to hold and move the babies safely.
Specialists with Children's Hospital helped Greg and Vaneice feel more comfortable caring for the babies, who've had painful problems since birth because of a shared bowel and somewhat mixed-up intestinal tract.
Physicians began intensive testing early to see if Kathleen and Charity could safely be separated.
"We told the doctors we did not want them separated if they couldn't both live. We wouldn't want to, for lack of a better phrase, part one out, " Greg says. "But if they could both live, we wanted them separated."
Since it became clear from tests a separation was very possible, the family has swung into high gear, learning complex medical realities, preparing the twins through procedures at home and in doctors' offices.
Meanwhile, the girls continue to grow in size, awareness, and into their own personalities.
One evening a few days before the surgery date, Greg sits on a chair in his living room, his baby girls sitting in his lap, chewing on opposite ends of his watch. He admits he is feeling a great deal of stress and concern for them. Vaneice, sitting near him, nods her head.
The Saturday before the attempted separation, the Lincoln family drives to Rainier for a prayer gathering arranged by Greg's mother and father, Lorinda Lincoln, 54, and Bob Lincoln, 58.
It's at the farm where Greg grew up, the farm where Mikayla, Troy and Annelise have spent more and more time lately, while their parents spend many hours on the freeway between Lacey and Children's Hospital.
"This is like our second home, " Mikayla smiles, as she plays outside with her cousins and children from her church.
Inside the house, about two dozen adults sit quietly in prayer. The twins aren't the only focus of communication with God - just a few days earlier, Lorinda was notified by doctors that treatment for her metastasized breast cancer was not working. She may have only a few months to live.
The family and friends pray for her healing, for God to transform the cancer inside.
Then the twins become the center of attention. Adults circle around them holding hands, and pray emotionally for a successful separation surgery, for little pain, for no infection, for peace to come to Greg and Vaneice.
The group asks God to help Kathleen and Charity not to be afraid, to have "a special measure of understanding beyond their years, " one woman says.
Another woman says God is like an artist. "A true artist never knows what they're going to finish with. But we know it's going to be spectacular, " she says.
Greg prays, admitting he felt a little forsaken at the time of their birth, but he understands now that trials are a part of life, a part of faith, that God is still with his family and his baby girls.
"God, just bring them through it, and bless them, " he asks quietly, as Vaneice stands watch over her daughters, propped sleeping in their stroller.
Greg mentions a Bible passage that he finds simple and profound, and particularly true this day:
"To bear one another's burdens is to fulfill the law of Christ, " he says to his family and friends. "I thank you for praying for Kathleen and Charity and us."