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Archive for May, 2014

I am Not a Nurse

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Matthew 14:14 (NIV)

Recently we took our littlest into the doctor.  I do fine when there for a well check or my child is “medium” sick.  However, this last visit he was lethargic, pale, and being watched to determine if we needed to go to the hospital or back home.  You know it’s serious when the minute you arrive, you are ushered back to a room after one glance at your child’s face.

I’ll admit, while he was triaged by the nurse, I started to cry.  She was just taking his vitals, but I started to lose it.  Her mixture of sympathy toward him and needing details of his symptoms, coupled with seven hours of sleep in the last 48 hours did me in.  Later that day, when he was sitting on my lap as the lab technician was trying to draw blood out of dehydrated veins, I again had tears streaming down my face while my little one stayed dry-eyed and brave.

It was after that experience I realized another truth about myself.  I am not a nurse.  There is a reason God didn’t allow me to go into the medical profession.  In college, I had applied to be a 911 operator, but was turned down because of my class schedule.  I was disappointed because I thought responding to emergencies and being able to keep a calm head sounded like an exciting adventure for someone single, childless, with lots of freedom.  However, instead I took a job checking ID’s at the college gym, which transitioned into a job at a tuxedo shop, which turned into the job at the residential home where I was “mommy” to many troubled children, a job much more suited for my personality.

 I am not a nurse (Lauren)

I have a lot of respect for those in the medical field.  I also highly regard those who can respond to emergencies with a calm head.  However, I have realized over the years, someone who cries at commercials, while reading great books, or watching TV shows or Disney movies, I’m probably not gifted in that area.  My kids will pass me lounging in our special chair, sniffling, and their off-handed question is, “Is it the book?”  I also cry almost every single week in church.  My husband doesn’t bat an eye anymore…he just holds my hand and lets me wipe away my tears.

I often wondered why God created me to respond in such a way.  And then I realized that with my quick tears comes empathy.  I feel deeply for those who are hurt, mistreated, or have experienced pain in their lives.  I’m drawn to taking care of children and loving with my whole heart whether or not they are my own.  As I spoke about in the previous post, we are all gifted in different ways and each of those gifts work together to serve a distinct purpose for God’s kingdom.  I’m so grateful there are nurses out there with compassion and dry eyes to look for signs and symptoms I would miss in my sick child.  I’m thankful there are 911 operators who keep a calm head in an emergency so first responders can arrive quickly and save lives.

I have to say, overall, I’m thankful for my tears.  I’m able to teach compassion to my children, show empathy toward those who are hurting, and share a box of Kleenex during a fun family movie night.  Yes, I was the only one who cried while watching Frozen with my family.  Maybe I do need to grow a little tougher backbone.  It was a musical, after all, not a drama.

(Thank you to my cousins for supplying this picture as well.  They are firsthand first responders and I am so grateful they do what they do.  Love you guys and thanks for serving our country as well as those who are in trouble.)

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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Here’s the Noose

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7 (NIV)

Last week was difficult.  I had writing deadlines, part-time job demands, extra responsibilities and appointments, and the normal craziness of chauffeur, cook, and housekeeper. I woke up late on Tuesday and began running down the list of things I needed to accomplish that day, out loud. I remarked to my husband I was starting six feet under.  I didn’t know how, but trusted everything would work out.  I was filled with a peace about it despite feeling the crushing weight of all the responsibilities I had to manage.  Wednesday morning started out harder than Tuesday.  Working on only four hours of sleep, I was dealing with a very tired four-year-old and a daughter sick with the flu.  The noose around my neck kept tightening.

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Thinking the worst was behind us, Thursday morning came with only four hours of sleep and simultaneous vomiting from two children.  In between one child vomiting every 10 to 20 minutes, I tried to finish my devotions.  And I realized I was peaceful.  Despite the lack of sleep and the pull between having to work but wanting to take care of my kids, I knew I could give the “noose” that was resting on my neck over to my Father and He would take it from me, no questions asked.  It was then He gave me a word picture.  I envisioned handing Him the burdens that seemed so heavy for me (lack of sleep, writing and work deadlines, sickness, finances) and realizing they felt like a feather in His.  What seems so heavy to me is nothing for Him. Not only does He know how everything turns out, He has the best solution.  He was just waiting for me to hand him my noose, the one built from worry and fear.

Just like the issues that my children face seem unsurmountable to them, as their parent, I have the wisdom of having already experienced similar problems. I know from past experience it really will work out.

When I saw that the worries I give to God aren’t worries to Him at all, but just minor inconveniences or paths to teach me something more important, it made the situations we were facing as a family seem manageable.  The peace He had initially given me was built stronger.  I wasn’t peaceful because I could give God my problems and “He’d have to worry about them.”  No, I was peaceful because I was able to hand off the worries I felt, which seemed so heavy to me, knowing they weren’t worries at all to the God of the Universe.

Having that image changed my focus.  Did it mean my day magically got easier?  No, we had doctor’s appointments, blood draws, and the threat of an ER visit, but I was able to say, “Okay, God, You got this.”  Why? Because the noose was gone.  The problems were still there, but the heaviness had disappeared.  I find that when I give God all the craziness in my life, taking my hands off, He manages to get the important things accomplished and fills me with unexplainable peace. I’m still tired, I still have to do the work, but it’s so much easier without a rope around my neck.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.” I Corinthians 16: 13-14 (The Message)

We had the opportunity to watch Captain Phillips as a family a few months ago.  What a great movie!  While our four-year-old dreamed of fighting bad guys in the bedroom, we watched the movie inspired by the actual events of a real-live hero who fought off pirates in 2009.

While watching the movie, I was amazed at all the ways the captives were able to defend themselves or hide or use the knowledge they had to stay alive.  I kept telling my kids while we watched the movie, “Watch this.  Wasn’t that clever?  I wish I could think to do things like that.  That’s the way to keep yourself safe.” I also realized one more important truth.  I am not a fighter.  My husband served in the Navy.  While we watched the movie, he was sitting peacefully next to me taking in the action while I was squirming and tense, jumping at every little sound, gripping his hand so tightly I’m surprised he didn’t suffer permanent disability. I definitely grew a deeper appreciation for all that he went through and experienced during his time serving our country.

 I am not a fighter (david)

I don’t have those skills.  I don’t think quickly on my feet.  I don’t know how to defend myself let alone keep a whole crew alive and protected.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try, but I don’t think my brain was made to make quick life-saving decisions that way.  I’m better at taking instructions and helping to carry out someone else’s great ideas.

However, I realized another thing.  God made me the way He did on purpose.  He didn’t choose me for the role of having to defend others, think quickly on my feet, or have to protect large quantities of people.  He didn’t give me skills to debate, argue, or come up with rationale for why something is right or wrong, complete with examples and points.  I wouldn’t make a good lawyer or judge either, and I hate every time I’m called for jury duty.  I’m too sympathetic for each side of the case.

God made me with compassion, the mindset to empathize with others, and to feel deeply about things.  He gave me my own set of skills and abilities and as a result, He has His own purpose for my life that doesn’t involve combat, self defense, or martial art skills.  I’m so glad God gifted others with those abilities and while I will do everything I can to assist them, I will let them handle the tough decisions.

So while I am embracing the gifts and talents God did give me, I’m okay with the fact I’m not a fighter.  However, if someone tries to hurt someone I love, especially my children, don’t think “momma bear” isn’t going to come at you with claws out.  I may not be a natural fighter, but I think God breeds those instincts into every momma bear and trust me, you don’t want to mess with those amazing skills.

(Thank you to my cousins for supplying the picture and for choosing to serve our country.  Love you guys!)

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

 

 

 

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But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Ephesians 4:7(NIV)

 Yesterday we talked about three important lessons I learned from my kids.  Today I want to talk about how those lessons were learned from Jesus originally and apply to all of us.

The first lesson talked about respect.  When Jesus was ministering to others and living His life on earth, he showed compassion, love, and respect to those around Him.  Colossians 1:16 tell us, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (NIV)  Therefore, if anyone should have a sense of entitlement, it would be God. However, the Bible depicts Jesus as demonstrating the opposite.  He shared everything He had, especially the most important gift He could give – salvation through Himself.  It’s a choice we have to actively make, but Jesus gave it freely.  John 3:16-18 says it best: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” (The Message)

Secondly, Jesus was perfect.  He was sinless.  Hebrews 4:15 explains “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (NIV) Jesus doesn’t expect me to attain perfection, but the Bible is clear that as His child, it’s my responsibility to work toward becoming more and more like Jesus, using His life as a guide for how to live my life.  The Message Bible paints such a beautiful picture of how this happens in II Corinthians 3:16-18: “Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” Therefore, when confronted with areas of sin in my life, I want to be quick to confess and make things right.  Not out of a sense of obligation or judgment but because of the intimate relationship I have formed with my living, breathing Savior.

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Lastly, Jesus was generous with grace.  He didn’t condemn people who messed up.  He freely gave grace and through loving them, helped them want to change their behaviors.  The first aspect of receiving grace is confessing our wrongdoing.  I John 1:9 reassures me of that: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (NIV)  Then, after I’ve confessed that I sinned, I am free to fully embrace the grace that God so generously gives.  Ephesians 4:7 tells me, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (NIV)

Yes, my children taught me so much more than not to lie about eating Thin Mints.  They showed me that you don’t have to be a certain age to model the way Jesus lived on earth many years ago.  I can’t wait to see what they’re going to teach me next.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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Look at what’s coming with plenty of time to order for Father’s Day:  Available Now!

Spoken from the Heart: Parenting 101 Vol. 2

The perfect companion to Parenting 101.

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You can buy both at Amazon.  Here’s a link to make it easy:

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“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” Psalm 145:8 (NIV)

Last night my little one came up to me to ask me a question and I smelled Thin Mints on his breath.  I knew the only Thin Mints we had were his sister’s, ones she has received from a friend.  I also was sure he didn’t ask before he ate one.  I called him back after he had scampered away with the question, “What did you eat?” His surprised look revealed the fact he didn’t realize his sweet-smelling breath gave him away.  He decided the lesser of the two evils was to confess to me, “but I don’t want to tell her…she’ll be mad at me.”

As I sat there explaining about honesty and “I won’t be mad if you tell the truth,” I was suddenly convicted.  I’d stolen two Thin Mints earlier that day.  I hadn’t confessed either.  I had a choice.  I could hide the fact I ate them (nobody knew, so why confess now?).  Or, I could admit my wrongdoing in front of not just my son and my daughter, but also my husband who was sitting next to me on the chair. Normally not a big deal, but I’d committed to him I would give up all junk food for a set period of time.  So I not only stole, but I lied too.  Ouch.

I ate humble pie.  I admitted to my daughter that I was wrong and had eaten two of her cookies without asking during the day and would she please forgive me.  Her response? “Oh, I don’t care.  You can have the rest if you want.”  Then I explained to my son he needed to admit to his sister what he did wrong and she would probably forgive him too.

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I realized three important lessons that night.  One, my children deserve as much respect as I do. I would be upset if they took something of mine without asking so I need to give them the same respect.  I think sometimes I have the mentality that “we buy it all anyway, so it’s really mine and that makes it okay.”  No, we don’t buy it all.  Our kids are starting to earn their own money, buy their own things, and get gifts as well. What is theirs is really theirs, no matter who buys it, not an extension of what’s mine. Just as I don’t own them, I don’t own their stuff.  They deserve respect.  As a parent, I reserve the right to withhold it for a period of time if needed, but I can’t steal it.  That’s just wrong.

The second lesson I realized was I can’t hold my children to a higher standard than I hold myself.  This piggybacks the first lesson.  I need to hold myself to a higher standard than I do them.  They’re still learning, as am I, but I need to be further along on the learning curve so I can properly guide them, which means modeling making things right when mistakes are made.

Lastly, I was given grace.  Not just from my daughter’s response, but from my husband.  I wasn’t belittled or made to feel judged or guilty for eating what I shouldn’t have by either of them.  Guess what? Grace feels good!  Our son was granted the same grace from our daughter and from us, his parents, when he finally chose to admit his wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness as well.

I love when my children teach me through their actions important life lessons.  I’m definitely going to think twice before taking something that doesn’t belong to me.  I want to be the best role model I can be…even when I mess up.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man     whose quiver is full of them…” Psalm 127: 4-5 (NIV)

I’ve wanted to be a parent for as long as I can remember.  In fact, I was blessed by a special woman, Linda, who saw my “mommy heart” at the age of almost 11, and allowed me into her heart and home to help her with her three girls – a three-year-old and infant twins.  I was privileged to help raise her children for three-and-a-half years before my dad’s job called us out of state, too many miles away.  I had bonded so closely with her girls that when we would be out and about shopping or having fun, I was sometimes mistaken as the mother of whichever girl I was holding at the time.

Most of the jobs I’ve held have had to do with caring for children in one form or another. At the ripe old age of 20 or 21, I was a “mother substitute” to two boys in a residential home. It was my responsibility to buy their clothes twice a year and take them out for a fun activity once a week, to help them acclimate to social situations.

As with any form of motherhood, each interaction isn’t always pleasant.  I remember one particular shift at the residential home when my co-worker and I had taken all seven of our young charges out for a morning of fun.  We had promised them an ice cream cone from McDonald’s before heading back to the home if they behaved.  All was going well until we actually got to McDonald’s.  I don’t remember the inciting incident, but we ended up at a table with six children happily licking ice cream cones while one child was in timeout hurling words that sailors would be embarrassed to use.  We were seated in the back but also happened to be next to a table of two elderly couples. I felt badly for interrupting their meal, but we were choosing to ignore the behavior of the child, as trained, while maintaining his safety.  The couple, quite loudly, chose to teach us how to parent that day.  “If you would just give him an ice cream cone too, he would be fine.  No wonder he’s carrying on like that, being denied a treat like his brothers.” However, my coworker and I knew that giving him an ice cream cone would just teach him there are no consequences to breaking the rules. We cared more about his recovery and teaching lifelong coping skills than we did about the slight discomfort he experienced being denied one ice cream cone.

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I’ve carried those same principles over into parenting my biological children.  I love them so much I would rather deny them a small pleasure immediately while teaching a lifelong principle than give them a comfortable life in childhood but not prepare them for adulthood.

If you ask my kids the following question, this is the answer they will give you.  “Is your mom your friend?” “No, she’s our mom.” It’s no secret to my kids, but I didn’t become a parent to be their friend or to feel loved.  That isn’t their responsibility and friend isn’t my role. I’m the one that chose to be a parent and God is the One who blessed me with these particular children.  My children’s mission is to learn to obey, respect, and grow into responsible adults.  My goals include getting my needs for friendship, love, and security elsewhere.

My kids know that someday, when they are grown and on their own, I’d love for them to call me “friend.”  For now, though, while it’s my job to train and guide them, friendship isn’t part of the equation.  Mutual respect, listening, and compromising – yes.  But as a parent, there will be times when a hard decision will have to be made and it will be up to me and my husband to make it.  We will have to say “no” to things they would rather we didn’t, and “yes” to other things they would rather avoid.  It’s easier to say no as a parent to a child than as a friend to another friend.

There is still plenty of laughter and fun and memory making going on in our house.  It’s just not as friends getting together mutually enjoying each other.  My kids are encouraged to make friends and learn the ins and outs of friendship with people their own age.  My husband and I also have plenty of friendships with people our age…and our kids get to see us model what friendship looks like with our parents, their grandparents.

Someday I look forward to being able to share that type of relationship with our kids.  I can’t wait for mother-daughter shopping trips where we stop for coffee (or milkshakes) and share mutually what’s on our hearts, or mother-son dates where we go see a movie or share a bike ride, adult to adult.  We still do those things now, together as a family of five or individually with one or more child.  However, it’s done within the guidelines of parent and child…moving toward the goal of eventual friendship.  Until then, though, we’ve been given a job to do and we take that job very seriously, while sprinkling in some laughter and maybe an ice cream cone or two.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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I Am Blessed

Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to take the time to honor the women in my life who have helped shape me into the person up to this point I have become.

My mom: memories from childhood include lots of laughter, the gift of making work “fun,” and the overall sense of love in our home.  Her faith in our Heavenly Father was an example I watched, wanting to someday imitate myself. However, in her wisdom, she knew imitation wasn’t the goal but instead guided me toward my own personal relationship with God.  She knew from personal experience it was my own faith that would help me withstand whatever trials came my way. Even today, she is quick to encourage my own growth as a Christ follower by pointing me back to God’s Word, sharing books that have spoken to her, and most of all, covering my entire family in prayer.  That is the legacy my mom continues to leave…love by example.

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My mother-by-marriage: from the first time I met her, while newly dating my now husband, I was welcomed into the family and embraced as though I belonged.  My mother-by-marriage doesn’t know a stranger.  My friends, our kids’ friends, her friends, or even friends of friends…her motto is, “everyone’s welcome, the more the merrier.”  She has taught me about giving oneself unselfishly, with joy.  She continues to leave a legacy of unconditional love. Not just to her children and children-by-marriage but to her grandchildren as well.  I know that her gift of unselfish love will continue to carry on for many generations as a result of her wonderfully living it out on a daily basis throughout her entire life.

My sister: “my other mother.” I was the baby in the family and my sister took the role of protector very seriously.  Not only did she take care of me when we were kids, but opened her home and her heart to me after she was married. I moved in with her and her husband the month they found out she was growing the gift of parenthood inside.  I stayed for six years and continued the role of “other mother” to her two children.  We created deep roots of love that only come from sharing daily life together. God made us sisters but through love we have tightened that bond to mean much more.

Aunts, grandmothers born by blood and grandmothers born from the heart, as well as one very special woman, Linda, have all been “mothers” to me at some point in my life.  God has allowed each and every one of these special women to invite me into their lives to help me grow into the woman He created me to be.  I’m so very grateful they listened and shared their love and hearts with me in their own unique way.

So, today, on Mother’s Day, I want to encourage you to think about the love.  Who in your life has blessed you with that gift? And who, in turn, will you choose to be a blessing to?

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3 (NIV)

One night, several months ago, I was tucking our four-year-old into bed and lovingly told him how much I enjoyed it.  “That’s my job…one of my favorite jobs,” was my reply.  Fast forward to a different night last week when he repeatedly got out of bed for silly reasons, each time asking me, “tuck me in again. mommy.”  I must have sighed exasperatedly because he replied, with the kind of impish smile only a four-year-old can give, “But, mom, that’s your job.  Your favorite job.  You said so.”  As I tickled his belly and spread a million kisses on his neck, pulling the covers up to his chin for the millionth time, I replied, “Yes, a job I love but not ten million times in one night.”  He laughed his big belly laugh, I smiled, and we both went to bed happy.

This year has started out crazy busy with extra deadlines, multiple snow days, and schedules that have been anything but scheduled.   I won’t allow life to get in the way of me spending time with my Heavenly Father since I can’t do life successfully without first getting strength from Him.  I also don’t ever want to get so busy that I forget my most important earthly job – to be the best wife and mother I can possibly be.  There will be seasons when I will have to work harder and longer and get more creative with my free time, but I don’t ever want my kids, and especially not my husband, to think work ever takes the place of spending time with them.

 

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My husband and I had a conversation about these strong beliefs while we were engaged. I had the choice to take one of two jobs:  A job with less income but more personal satisfaction since it aligned with my gifts and talents or a job with more income potential but had nothing to do with anything I enjoyed.  I remember telling him that I would never allow a job to take the place of being the best wife and mother I could.  I also issued him this challenge: If he ever saw that happening to please let me know and I would quit, taking a different job to help pay the bills but keep my focus where it needed to be:  As a wife and mother first. Five years after accepting the job I loved, I turned in my resignation because, for me, I knew I couldn’t continue to be effective in that career without neglecting my family.  Others have the personality to handle both very well, but knowing my limitations, I knew I needed to make a change to keep my family a higher priority than my employment.

God blessed that personal decision and I’ve been able to help with the income while working from home the last decade.  Sometimes it feels crazier trying to juggle three kids and at one point three jobs from home then leaving the work behind in an office at the end of the day, but I wouldn’t trade it.  God has me where He wants me and I get the privilege of raising our family while contributing to our income.

It makes my heart happy to know my four-year-old knows where his mom’s priorities lie, even, or especially, if it means tucking him in a million-and-one times in one night.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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Always Moving

“All our decisions either move us closer to God or further away from God. All it takes is one decision to move back to God.” Doug Baker

Lately I’ve felt very out of balance. Yell at the kids too much.  Don’t clean the house enough. Not enough time with my husband. Wasting too much time at the computer thinking I’m working hard.  Little sleep. Too much caffeine. Nonexistent exercise.

When I first heard the above quote, my slowing changing perfectionistic-self tried to pile on even more guilt. The choices I was making above were definitely not moving me in the direction I wanted to go.  Instead of feeling God’s peace, I was feeling stress.  Instead of experiencing God’s joy, I was feeling anger or hurried.  Instead of resting in obedience one step at a time, I felt like I was letting down not just God but also my family.

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However, the last part of the quote, and the way I believe Mr. Baker meant it, offers hope and encouragement to everyone, no matter what choices have been made. Encouragement to the one who has been steadfastly making the right choices in all areas of your life – a way to say, “Well done, keep going, you’re doing great.”

And, hope to those who have let life get the best of them and made less-than-stellar choices lately in whatever area of their life that needs help.  Because the above quote tells me this. I’m only one decision away from turning back to God and doing it His way.

When I mess up (big or little mistakes – it doesn’t matter), God always invites me back one decision at a time.   He doesn’t want me back already fixed.  He wants to do the fixing for me.  And, I’m living proof that when I’ve allowed God do the fixing, my problems get taken care of much better than any fixing I could’ve done on my own.

I’m getting better at remembering this lesson.  I used to wait a long time, trying to fix myself so I was worthy to stand before God and say, “I’ve messed up.”  Now, I’m much quicker to go to Him and say, “God, I’ve made another mess.  Please fix it for me,” and then wait patiently for Him to show me what steps He wants me to take.

I’m so glad I have a relationship with a Father who is so personal.  He not only knows I’m going to mess and how, but He’s waiting for me to say, “help” so He can come in and rescue me.  All I have to do is keep moving…one decision at a time, back to His loving arms.

And as I love saying, what He’s willing to do for me, He’s waiting with open arms to do for you too.  I’m not special…I’m just His daughter.  It’s your choice.  You’re always moving in one direction or another…He’s waiting to call you son or daughter too, but He won’t force Himself on you.  You have to decide.

© Cheri Swalwell 2014

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