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Archive for July, 2013

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV).

Last time I started sharing with you my personal journey toward a deeper faith.  The first steps I shared about included studying God’s Word to figure out what His thoughts were, and then a shift in my attitude which led to me speaking in faith about the situation.  Today I want to finish up with the last two steps that took my faith from a small mustard seed to a healthy harvest.

The next important step is defined by action.  Faith requires action.  Your health will improve, especially if you take actions steps toward it.  Eating healthier and getting adequate rest are two actions steps I can take to help my body in the healing process.  God made our bodies so intricately that when given the right conditions, they can heal itself.  Think about when you get a cut.  A normal basic cut (break in the skin) in a healthy individual, given time, will regrow skin and the cut itself will disappear, proving healing has occurred.

In some instances, it’s wise to take the view of a marathon instead of a sprint.  Most good things in life take time.  More than likely, the sickness didn’t come on suddenly.  Usually the illness started undetectable and gradually grew over time until symptoms presented themselves that something wasn’t right. You may or may not receive an immediate miracle of great health, but making wise decisions and healthy choices for your overall wellbeing builds strength over time.  God can perform a miracle and heal you with a word, a thought, a prayer.  However, sometimes there’s a deeper lesson He wants learned along the way.  In order for true faith to take root and grow, we need to put it into action, even (or especially) if we don’t see results right away.  Not only will it grow our faith, but then when the time is right and God is ready, we’ll be prepared and ready.

The last important step in my faith journey, to date, has been a period of silence.  The amount of time differs from person to person, but most people usually experience it at least once.  In my opinion, faith needs to be tested in order to truly be faith.  A great friend reminded me of Abraham’s faith journey.  He was known in the Bible for having great faith.  When Abraham was an old man, God came to him and promised that he would have offspring more numerous than the stars (Genesis 15:5).  Abraham believed God even though many, many, many years passed before that promise was fulfilled.  My friend lovingly reminded me the Bible isn’t clear whether or not God frequently reminded Abraham of His promise.  There were probably many years in between the promise and the granting of that promise where God was silent.  Abraham had to continue to believe and trust that what God promised, He would deliver.

Abraham is just one example from the Bible.  If you want to truly be inspired by some great men and women from the Bible, read Hebrews 11, lovingly referred to as the faith chapter.  We can learn a lot from the examples God provides of people who have lived before us.  What was true hundreds of years ago is true today.  If God has spoken to me, and I have checked the “promise” against God’s Word and it doesn’t contradict God’s teachings, then there very well may come a time when God is silent.  During that period, I need to continue to speak in agreement with the promise, walk in the direction of the promise, and believe (attitude) that the promise will be fulfilled.  Without those elements, it’s not really faith God is producing in me.  It’s just God blessing me.

Growing faith can be very difficult.  God doesn’t get upset with us when we start out with small faith.  God wants to help us grow our faith.  As God answers the little things, our faith muscles grow and we are quicker to have faith for the bigger challenges.  That ultimately is what God wants.  He wants us to trust Him completely with our lives.  Growing in faith allows for bigger results – not just for our lives but for His Kingdom.

I am finding as my faith grows stronger in one area (healing), it’s growing stronger in others.  When I learn to give God my heartache regarding healing for a loved one and find true peace in that major faith challenge, falling sound asleep at night during a storm that would have normally terrified me doesn’t even register on my radar.

I will leave you with one last thought.  I have found it very helpful during my latest, most challenging faith journey to date to journal all the blessings God has provided along the way.  That way, when the discouragement comes (and it will), I can look back on ways God has answered spoken and unspoken prayers and feel encouraged, inspired, and hopeful again.

Where are you on the staircase?  What other steps has God been working with you on in your faith journey that you want to share with us?

I am going to enclose a link to a great post I read the other day from a friend, Caye Siller-VanZandt.  She used the example from the Bible about the ten lepers and I gained even more insight and encouragement from her perspective.  It was yet another way God was blessing my pursuit in growing my faith regarding healing.  When we honestly seek God and want to understand Him and His Word better, He always answers.  I pray that you’re as encouraged and blessed by this post as I was: http://cayeser.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/the-walking-dead.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1-2 (NIV).

 I have shared a lot about faith versus fear in the past eighteen months.  Lately God has taken that learning I have achieved and turned it up a notch.  It’s not so much about the fear anymore.  I haven’t conquered that area, but I am seeing victory more often than feeling the effects of defeat.  Now, God is challenging me in the area of growing my faith from a small mustard seed to something quite a bit larger.  I’m realizing through my study that there are multiple layers of faith, or different steps, as though on a staircase.  It’s not enough to just “speak it,” but in order to receive the blessings God has in store for my life, I need to live it, breath it, and let it soak all the way through me.

In order to explain what I mean, I’m going to use an example that deals with healing.  This is a topic that touches many people’s lives.  Either they themselves are dealing with debilitating (not always life threatening) and certainly life changing illness, or someone they love is and therefore they ache for complete healing for someone close to them. From reading God’s Word, I know God didn’t give the sickness since God doesn’t give people disease.  Therefore, healing and health are the promises God gives but it’s our job to receive it.  However, maybe like me, you aren’t sure you really know what that means or how to go about claiming something that’s the opposite of what you see and feel on a daily basis.  Your mind tells you God has promised healing whereas your body shows symptoms of an illness that is physically present.

The first step on the staircase referenced above would be to study God’s Word on the topic.  I had always heard this statement: If you want to become wealthy, study what God has to say about riches.  If you want to be a good parent, go to the Bible and find out God’s view of how to raise your children.  That’s great advice, but I wasn’t quite sure how to put it into practice.  I didn’t have a study Bible and I didn’t know where to begin.  However, I found when I want something badly enough, I’ll do the work necessary to get the answers I seek.

It’s much easier today than twenty years ago to search out Scriptures.  I can Google “healing verses in the Bible” and get a huge list or go out and buy a study Bible that will show me where to begin reading.  For this particular subject, I felt God leading me to start reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  Those books of the New Testament talk about Jesus’ life here on Earth. It was during that time period He physically traveled around and healed people.  Once I started reading the specifics of how He healed people, it was encouraging and filled me with hope.  I think the main reason I felt that way was because of the knowledge God doesn’t play favorites.  What He was willing to do for people when He roamed the Earth, He’s willing to do for people in 2013.  And that’s exciting!  What peace to know that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Once I began to read what God said about healing (and continued to study His lessons during my journey), the next step on my faith staircase dealt with my attitude.  Once I truly believed God’s Word to be true, and that healing was mine as God’s child, my attitude played a huge part in whether or not I accepted healing would actually take place.  I’m not saying don’t take medicine if needed or ignore doctors just because I have faith God is going to heal, but I am saying attitude about the condition/obstacle plays a huge part in the degree of success I will achieve.  God can work through a variety of avenues (doctors, medicine, prayer, or an unexplained miracle) and it’s not up to me to decide for Him how He wants to perform any specific healing act.  I’m saying I’ve learned God rewards not just obedience, but He rewards faith.  God wants us to put action to our faith.  We please Him when we come to Him in complete faith, trusting in the promises He has revealed to us through His Word.

For me, the next step on the staircase encompassed speaking in faith.  Instead of giving in to all the internal doubts (I still feel lousy, I’ll have to take medicine for the rest of my life, there’s no hope for me), I needed to start speaking aloud what I wanted to see happen.  Change, “I can’t” to “With God’s help, I will.”  For me, it was very powerful to first say it aloud, and then to take it to the next level.  Instead of dwelling on the negative things I saw, I started to envision and get excited about the reward that was to come.  Extra energy from a body free of disease or trips our family could enjoy with time and money we were able to save.  The best for me was to focus on one thing our family has always wanted to do and to start saving money ahead of time, believing in faith that God will grant that blessing with complete health.  Taste it, see it, experience it so when discouragement comes (and it will because when God is growing your faith, Satan isn’t going to be happy) focusing on something positive instead of how you are currently feeling helps to shorten the negative feelings.  God’s Word is truth.  Feelings shift continuously.  Feelings can’t be trusted; God’s promises can.

Please join me next time when I explain about the last two steps that were important during my journey toward stronger faith.

Have you experienced similar struggles, joys, or challenges during a period of time when your faith has been tested?

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 (NIV).

There are many things I want my children to learn.  There are many things I dream for my children to become.  There are many things I hope my children achieve.  There are two things I pray my children know to the depths of their soul:  First of all, that they have committed to a personal relationship with Jesus their Savior and know without a doubt where they will spend eternity.  Second, they were born into a family who unconditionally love them simply because they are.  There is nothing they can do to earn that love and there is nothing they can do to have that love withheld.  They are loved just because.

There are many ways to demonstrate love.  Thankfully, our children give us multiple opportunities throughout the day to choose a loving response.  For example, while writing this blog post, my three-year-old gave me another chance to show him unconditional love.  Lately he wants to help around the house, with his first love being dish water.  Our youngest is attracted to water in all forms.  My job as a parent is to foster his love of pitching in without criticizing every aspect.  My patience has been tested multiple times from my “water boy.”   Since my office is located in the kitchen, he was being supervised but I was continuously being interrupted.  We’ve had two minor flooding incidents, and multiple requests for things he cannot age appropriately do.  I could allow myself to be irritated by the constant interruptions to my train of thought, but instead I choose to see it differently.  My little one is learning age appropriate skills such as cleaning up after himself when the flooding occurs as well as learning science lessons of depth and volume and other things I don’t understand, but keep him entertained for hours.  I hope he is also grasping the fact no one is perfect and the best way to find out about the world around us is to keep trying until we get a more favorable outcome.  Lastly, the most important concept I want him and his siblings to embrace fully is we are a house accepting of a little clutter, chaos, and a little confusion.

Do I always make the right choose?  Unfortunately not.  I was given the opportunity that same week to choose between a pair of shoes and my son’s feelings.  I made the wrong choice.  However, I was able to learn from that mistake and later that same week make the right choice between the same son’s feelings and the same pair of shoes.

However, even in my mistakes I hope I show my children that despite bad days, wrong choices, or flooding incidents in the kitchen, they will always ultimately be more important to me than a pair of shoes.  After all, forgiveness of mistakes is another key element which helps construct a house built on love.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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Playing Fair

“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” II Corinthians 4:2 (NIV).

Approximately a year ago I wrote a blog explaining how I tend to be competitive when I play games.  I also talked about how God convicted me my daughter’s spirit was more important to preserve than winning.  I’m pleased to say I’ve been working on that for the last twelve months and I have definitely improved.  My competitive spirit isn’t gone, but I’m more concerned about the feelings of others than winning.

That insight was brought to my attention when my daughter and I were engaged in our morning ritual of playing Golf before she headed off to school.  These times are precious to me because we have one more year before she graduates to middle school, when she will leave with her older brother and this era will be over.  I noticed while playing we could’ve approached the game two different ways;  the first would have been to “show no mercy, every man for himself” and the other was how we were playing.  Even though we’re in competition with each other, we were doing what we could to help out the other while in turn trying to win ourselves.

You see, there are two ways to win at a game.  You can play hard or you can play nice.  Either way will get you to the finish line, but only one has peace at its core. Some will argue the second way isn’t as much fun, but I beg to differ.  There’s still an ultimate winner, but instead of being pitted against each other, we were supporting one other in our individual quest to be the best.

I started thinking about how playing a game can be compared to parenting children.  There are two ways to parent:  The “cut throat, every man for himself” method or the “I’m here to guide you, and I’ll play fair.”

My husband and I make a great team when it comes to parenting effectively.  We have three children who span a nine year age gap.  While I excel teaching the basics and having endless patience for temper tantrums, potty training accidents, and stating the same direction multiple times for the little ones, my husband’s strengths are reasoning, balancing responsibility with natural consequences, and teaching necessary life skills with our older kids.

It can be hard at times to balance wanting to support your child with allowing them some degree of failure in order to help them grow.  However, I’ve found there are two ways to do that.  The first is to belittle and criticize (outright or subtly), but the second involves building their self esteem during the process.  Each approach will reach the goal of the child attaining a new life skill; however, only one will empower your child for the next time he is faced with a life challenge.

I once read a powerful message from another mother who explained a great strategy she used to help her children feel empowered and part of a team.  She reminded them often who they belonged to, where they came from, and how they were expected to behave based on the first two answers.  When we remind our children they are first and foremost God’s children and completely loved just for who they are, it relieves a lot of pressure of having to constantly achieve some measure of worth.  They are worthy and dearly loved simply because they have asked Jesus into their hearts and are part of God’s family.  Second, they are part of your family, and when your family is known for laughter, acceptance, warmth, and love, they will associate your family name with positive feelings.  Not only will they be proud to carry the family name, but they will be willing to share their positive feelings of family with their friends, etc.  By establishing the first two messages consistently, then when your children are faced with temptations, challenges, and difficult choices, the prayer is they will be less likely to make a negative choice because they know you believe in them to make the right choices.  However, when bad choices are made (and they will be from time to time), hopefully your children realize despite being disappointed in their actions, your love for them will never disappear.  They will be able to approach you and ask for help to make things right.

I will admit.  I have parented with the “cut throat” method in the past.  When I’m stressed and feel overwhelmed, it seems so much easier to bark out orders and expect complete compliance without considering the “why” behind the action.  Is my child being deliberately defiant or is her reaction based on fear or a feeling of not being heard? Are my expectations too high or not age appropriate or do I need to hold firm with this rule/boundary and teach my child the importance of follow through? 

My husband keeps bringing me back to asking myself these questions before barking orders or pulling the “cut throat” card.  By focusing more on the reason behind the behavior instead of just the surface actions, I can better come alongside our children to guide them through the process of growing up.  Another aspect of playing fair involves choosing which battles are worth fighting over and which ones should be let go in order to ultimately win the war as a team.  Having a clean room is important, but doesn’t need to be white glove clean or able to walk through it without tripping and breaking a leg?  Color of hair, style of dress, or in the case of our three-year-old, how much clothing he finds appropriate on a given day are all things I have to consider: Is this worth digging my heels in to “win” or should I wait and fight for the important stuff:  Attitude, values, and moral issues such as lying?  

Just as God curbed my competitive tendencies last year and helped me realize my daughter’s spirit was more important than me winning another game, I trust God will continue to help me regarding this aspect of parenting as well.  When we play fair, then ultimately everyone wins.  It may not work that way in a board game, but thankfully it can with a family.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4 (NIV)

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always had some qualities that resemble Eyeore.  I’ve been drawn to people who are hurting and in college pursued a degree in Psychology.  I wanted to change the world and make a difference with those who had been hurt.  I worked for a while at a children’s residential facility and before that, assisted my dad when he was a hospital/police chaplain.  My parents are in the helping field as well, so listening, comforting, and being there for others was second nature.  Whenever I see a friend hurting, I want to bake them some brownies, send an encouraging card, or somehow let them know I care.

After I got married, I was a foster care/adoption worker for five years and would bring home the sorrow of the children’s situations with me.  Even my present job as a medical transcriptionist sees a lot of sadness.  I type about children who have been abused as well as people facing terminal illnesses.  However, I realized that unless I balance out the sadness and burdens that my friends (or my own family) are experiencing with pleasant memories and fun-filled activities, I begin to imitate Eyeore.  And Eyeore isn’t much fun to be around.

A couple months ago we pulled out some home videos from about ten years ago and I realized I used to be Tigger; happy and smiling with an infectious laugh.  I wondered when Eyeore had permanently moved in and Tigger was kicked out.  I realized I missed Tigger, and it was my responsibility to find him again.  It was possible, but I would have to actively look for him.

I started by realizing who I imitate has a lot to do with my choice.  If I fill my life with only sadness (reading sad books, watching sad “Made-for-TV movies,” listening to sad songs, dwelling on the negative in my life or watching too much of the news), I tend to imitate that spirit and I’m not very fun to be around.  However, when I come alongside others but refuse to join them in their sadness, encouraging and listening, then I am less an Eyeore and I begin to see glimpses of Tigger again.  When I take care of myself by planning special fun family times (hiking for me includes both family time and communing in nature, thanking God for his creation) or even taking some time for myself with a relaxing bath or curling up with a great book and a cup of coffee, Tigger emerges again and I have more balance.

In addition to the types of things I focus on, the words I choose to speak play a big role in whether Eyeore or Tigger sticks around.  What we say we are…we become.  What we believe about ourselves…eventually becomes truth.  It wasn’t until I became a mother and started to see some of those same Eyeore traits emerging in my children that I realized I needed to start modeling more positive speech.  Now I’m realizing that like many others, I make mistakes, I don’t always get it right, but I’m God’s child and I’m moving in the right direction.  When my default button emerges and I start to put myself down, I stop and rephrase the sentence, not just for the example I’m setting but to keep things in proper perspective.

Some people are born with the tendency toward being an Eyeore (pessimistic) and others gravitate more toward Tigger (optimistic) thinking.  Just because we have a certain tendency doesn’t mean we can’t change.  I myself realized that I was born with a Tigger attitude but had allowed life to get me down and therefore Eyeore emerged and thought he was invited to stay.  When I stopped focusing on what was wrong in life and started instead focusing on all the blessings I truly do have (and we all have many more than we realize once we start listing them), Eyeore wasn’t welcome anymore and Tigger came back.

It boils down to this:  We all have a choice.  Sometimes life stinks.  It’s true.  However, our circumstances are always temporarily and feelings are fickle.  If we choose to look at the positives even when the negatives are pushing for more attention, Eyeore can fade into the background and Tigger can again take center stage.  And you know what I’m learning:  Laughter really does make you feel better, even when bad things happen.  I want to leave a legacy of endless energy and enthusiasm for my children instead of being known as the donkey who was always looking for his lost tail.

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Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wittenrich

Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:21 (NIV)

The other day my eyes caught sight of my garbage can and I was reminded of a Biblical truth.  That may seem strange, but I was admiring my simple, black garbage can.  My husband had just gone out and bought it for our family.  It was the perfect size and had no extravagant parts that would break with five people in the house who aren’t the easiest on garbage cans.  You see, our previous garbage can with the fancier foot pedal and flip-up top had broken a while back and we had been using it like that for a few weeks because, honestly, I was too cheap to go out and replace it.  The Biblical truth I’m learning from my garbage can is this:  Bigger, brighter, more expensive isn’t always better.

Sometimes I think we can spend all our time rushing around trying to own the latest and greatest gadgets, either to keep up with everyone else, impress our friends, or just because they glitter and look awesome.  However, if we’re on a tight budget, we have to ask ourselves this:  Is that new gadget really worth the time and money that will be involved if and/or when it breaks?  I was talking with a friend the other day and couldn’t believe how much it cost to replace the on/off switch on her cell phone.  I have no idea if it would cost significantly less for a cheaper phone, but I was shocked.  In addition, what about the fancy car where everything is digital and high tech?  I can only imagine the price tag that comes with that when one piece of equipment fails.

God talks a lot in the Bible about being content with what you have, that all blessings come from Him, and also about spending wisely – how we spend our time, our talents, and our income.  If we’re living an obedient life and God has richly blessed us, there’s nothing wrong with going out and enjoying something bigger, better, and brighter once in a while.  However, if our lifestyle doesn’t measure up to God’s standards, then maybe it’s time to readjust our priorities.

There are many standards that God gives to us regarding money but I’m only going to touch on three today.  The first way of using our money is to help out those around us.  When we see a need and we’re capable of filling it, God wants us to help out.  Deuteronomy 24:19 says, “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”  (NIV).  We may not harvest fields in 2013, but there are many ways we can practice this principle.  Giving away our children’s outgrown clothes to a single parent, making an extra meal for someone who is sick, financially supporting a foster care agency in the community, or buying presents at Christmastime for families who are having financial hardships.

The second guideline God gives to us regards leaving an inheritance for our children and their children and so on.  Proverbs 13:22 tells us, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” (NIV).  I don’t think God is only referring to monetary inheritance here, but as I spoke about above, God instructs us on how to spend not just our money but our time and our talents.  As nice as it is to leave a monetary inheritance for our children and their children, it’s even better to leave a spiritual legacy of faithfulness to our families, serving in our community and churches, and helping out those less fortunate than us, piggybacking on the guideline we talked about above.

Now, I’m not suggesting we deprive ourselves of all fun.  I Timothy 6:17 talks about that very thing.  “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (NIV).

When we have lined our spending up with God’s principles and guidelines (taken care of our debt, helped out those in need, and are working on leaving an inheritance for the future of our family), it’s nice to save some money and spend it on something we’re going to enjoy.

The purpose of this post is just to remind us all to take a few minutes and explore the reason behind our decisions.  Before purchasing something on the high end, are we considering our expenses and how they line up with our income, the need versus want factor of our desired purchase, and the why behind it – is it to impress others, to keep up with our friends, or just because it’s something we have always wanted?  When our priorities and most importantly our heart is where God wants it, then we can feel free to indulge ourselves once in a while guilt free, which is much better than cringing every time the mail comes for fear of the credit card statement.

All this because I was admiring our less involved, simple garbage can.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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Teaching the Basics

“A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children…” Proverbs 13:22 (NIV)

As parents, we leave a legacy.  We either can intentionally leave a positive one that encourages and equips our children for adulthood or we can unintentionally leave a negative one, especially if we fail to teach necessary skills or values.

There are lots of skills we intentionally teach our children:  Physical safety, personal grooming, household chores, and financial wisdom.  Then there are the values we want our children to learn:  Kindness, generosity, courage, responsibility and patience to name but a few.

However, as much as the above is a full-time job itself, have we as parents given much thought to instilling spiritual values in our children so when they are adults living on their own, eventually possibly having kids of their own, they are equipped to continue to grow in their faith and teach the next generation?  What about subjects like faith, fasting, tithe, communion?  What about regular personal quiet time,  the values of a small group or accountability partner, mission trips, or serving at church and in their community?  The best way to teach these values is to first understand them yourself and second to have your children witness your participation in them.

Don’t worry if you are still growing in some of these areas.  That creates a great opportunity because if you engage your child in the process with you, age appropriately, they can learn the value of digging deeper in their faith as well.

Quite a few of the above principles my husband and I practice regularly.  However, I realized recently as our children get older, I need to actively engage them as well.  It’s important they learn the reasons behind tithing, fasting, regular quiet time, prayer, and communion.  It’s necessary to teach them what Jesus says about prayer, faith, and the topics of healing, self control, wealth, purity, and outreach to others.

It’s important for our kids to observe us participating regularly.  However, our children need opportunities to experience these activities in order to really grasp the “why” behind the spiritual truths. A child can begin the act of tithing by giving 10% of his allowance to God.  Fasting can begin to be observed from kids of all ages giving up dessert or “snacks” for the day and eating only healthy food.  When started at an early age, we are giving our children an advantage in their spiritual walk.  We are helping them learn how to hear God’s voice for their lives and for their own concerns.

Just as we all want our children to have a solid foundation in the areas of a good job, a nice house, and someone to love, how much more do we want our children to take a solid spiritual foundation with them when they begin their adult journey out of our house?  Ultimately, it’s our child’s choice whether or not they embrace God, but it’s our job to offer them many opportunities to grow in their spiritual journey ahead of time.

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Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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