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Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

Relationships/Marriage: The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

SOURCE:  Kyle Benson / The Gottman Institute

After studying more than 3,000 couples in his Love Lab over the last four decades, Dr. John Gottman has discovered that the most important issue in marriage is trust.

Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset?

Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?

Can I trust you to respect me?

Couples that trust each other understand that a good marriage doesn’t just happen on its own. It needs to be cultivated.

These couples express appreciation for each other. They brag about each other’s talents and achievements. They say “I love you” every day.

Even in the heat of conflict, they consider the other’s perspective. They are able to empathize with each other, even when they don’t agree, and they are there for each other during times of illness or stress.

They understand that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. As Neil Barringham says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”

Building trust

Trust is built in very small moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

One single moment is not that important, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually and very slowly.

When this happens, the story of your relationship begins to turn negative. You begin to focus on your partner’s flaws. You forget about their traits you admire and value.

Eventually you start making what researcher Caryl Rusbult calls “negative comparisons.” You start to compare your spouse to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.”

Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship, of trashing your partner instead of cherishing them, and building resentment rather than gratitude.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains this phenomenon in dating.

Building trust and commitment requires intentional effort. Here are fives ways to invest in your relationship.

Turn Towards Bids for Connection
Bids are the building blocks of lasting love. In one study of newlywed couples in Dr. Gottman’s lab, couples that stayed together turned towards each other 86% of the time, whereas couples that eventually divorced only did it 33% of the time. That’s a big difference.

When bids fail, as they inevitably do in all relationships, seek to repair. Remember that repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples.

Flip Your Internal Script
Negative thoughts cause you to miss 50% of your partner’s bids, according to research by Robinson and Price. This makes it difficult to build trust.

Learn to separate specific relationship problems from the overall view of your partner. Make an intentional effort to replace negative thoughts with compassion and empathy.

Ritualize Cherishing
The best way to keep yourself from making “negative comparisons” is to actively cherish your partner. Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about each other rather than thoughts about someone else.

Think about the things you appreciate about your partner and tell them. Thanks for being so adventurous with me. You’re such an amazing cook. You’re such a great dad.

Learn to Fight Smarter
Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and what they need, not what they don’t need. They are gentle and they give their partner a recipe to be successful with them.

Schedule a weekly State of the Union meeting to discuss areas of concern in your relationship.

Create We Time
It’s easy to find excuses for not dedicating time for your relationship. We’re too busy. We work a lot. We’re always with the kids.

Find time go on dates, ask each other open-ended questions, and continue to create rituals of connection that allow you to connect emotionally. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Choose each other, day after day.


This Is Why Your Kid’s Not Listening to You

SOURCE:  Stephanie Loomis Pappas /The Gottman Institute

I’m awake earlier than usual and hiding out in bed for a few precious minutes of reading time when a wail interrupts me mid-paragraph. My three-year-old opens my door and throws himself at the bed.

I reach out for a hug. “What’s the matter?”

He ignores me and screams louder.

“Why are you so sad?”

He screams louder and swipes at me.

“Well, I don’t want to spend time with someone who is screaming at me.” I get up and walk into my bathroom.

He follows, screams echoing off the tiles.

But I should really know better than to ask why my son is sad, because the book he just interrupted – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s timeless “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” – warned me off asking why when dealing with an upset child.

Kids’ feelings are real feelings

In the foundational chapter of their book, originally published in 1980 and more recently in a 30th Anniversary Edition, Faber and Mazlish demonstrate the many ways in which parents minimize or reject their children’s feelings: A child complains about being hot, and a parent responds by telling the kid to put on a winter jacket. A child whimpers about a paper cut, and the parent dismisses it as no big deal.

For Faber and Mazlish, these brushed-off feelings are an early breach of trust between parents and their children. The bedrock of Faber and Mazlish’s approach to parenting is acknowledging children’s feelings. Not dismissing. Not minimizing. Not jumping to explain, or blame, or problem-solve. Just acknowledging.

Faber and Mazlish offer four ways that parents can acknowledge their children’s feelings. Parents can simply look at their children and listen. They can offer short acknowledgments like “I see” or “Uh-huh.” They can identify feelings. Or they can give their children their “wishes in fantasy,” like “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could wear shorts in the winter?” or “I wish we could build a paper cut healing machine!”

Kids may not understand their feelings

Faber and Mazlish add a special caution against “why.” Although some kids can explain their feelings in the moment, many cannot. For those kids, asking why just makes things worse:
in addition to their original distress, they must now analyze the cause and come up with a reasonable explanation. Very often children don’t know why they feel as they do. At other times, they’re reluctant to tell you because they fear that, in the adult’s eyes, their reason won’t seem good enough. (“For that you’re crying?”)

What kids need, Faber and Mazlish argue, is for their feelings to be understood and respected, not questioned.

Imagine you get a call from someone you’ve known a long time, maybe a sibling or a dear friend. Just their tone of voice leads you to say things like, “You sound tired,” or “Oh no, you must not be feeling well,” or “You sound like you’re having a great day.”

But when talking to your child, who is in the room with you and offering plenty of clues as to how he’s feeling, you ask, “What’s the matter?” or “Why are you crying?” Even though we are trying to communicate empathy, these phrases make it seem as though we’re not really hearing our children.

Did I need to know why my son was sad in order to understand his feelings? I knew he was sad, but I didn’t acknowledge his feeling. Instead, I reflexively swooped in to solve the crying with whatever explanation fit his situation this time.

Maybe my son was crying because he was woken by the neighbors. Maybe he was crying because he’d had that nightmare with the turkey. Maybe he was crying because he was too hot or too cold. Maybe he was crying because that’s what kids do lots of the time. In reaching out for him, I was clearly trying to comfort. But did my “why” add to that? Did it matter why he was crying, or that he was seeking comfort from me?

“Why” sounds like an accusation

Once I started listening to myself, I realized that I often ask some version of “why?” in response to almost all of my child’s emotional outbursts. What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Why do you feel sad? Why are you laughing?

In our worst moments, “why” can become a parent’s accusation. Why didn’t you tell me you needed help with your homework? Why did you break all your pencils? Why didn’t you remember to take the dog out? Why did you do that to your little sister?

These kinds of why questions, Faber and Mazlish argue, put children in an impossible position. They either identify as inadequate or start getting defensive, placing blame on others. Neither position helps children solve their problems.

Turning off “why”

After reading Faber and Mazlish’s suggestion to avoid asking why, I resolve to start acknowledging my son’s feelings. My next chance comes later that morning when he runs into the kitchen and yells, “It’s raining!” before collapsing into sobs.

“Why are you sad it’s –” I catch myself and switch course. “You’re sad it’s raining.”


“Sometimes the noise of rain can be scary.”


My son dives in for a hug and asks if we can read a book. I pick Mo Willems’ “Are You Ready to Play Outside”, which seems appropriate given my son’s mood about the weather.

Turning “why” on ourselves

Faber and Mazlish make a compelling case for not asking “why” when our kids are wrestling with negative emotions. Although their focus is on children, their book also suggests even more important “why” questions:

Why are parents so quick to dismiss or minimize their children’s feelings? Why are we made so angry or uncomfortable by our children’s displays of negative emotion?

It’s incredibly difficult to consider the reasoning behind our own parenting decisions. People spend years in therapy answering that question. But it’s likely true that many of us are wound up in our hopes and dreams for our children. We want them to be happy, fulfilled, and successful. Their negative emotions seem like evidence that they are not thriving.

If we don’t want our children to crumple at the slightest provocation, to in fact flourish despite the difficult times, we need to help them identify and address their emotions.

Family Systems Change

SOURCE:  Prepare/Enrich

I’ve always been interested in how my family operated.

I can remember specific times in my life where I could see how I thought my family system was about to change. As a 14 year-old, I wrote a paper about my perspective on my sister’s upcoming wedding. I clearly remember stating my point of view that I was not losing a sister, but gaining a brother. Eight years later, while in college, I lost my grandmother unexpectedly, and I watched my entire family figure out how to handle the new void in the system. And now, I write this newsletter as I await the birth of a new niece or nephew. I know this new baby will again change our family system.

The thing is, change isn’t bad. It’s inevitable though.

Family systems theory, the basis of many counseling programs, sees the family as an emotional unit. When one part of the system changes, the system needs to re-calibrate. Changes in the system also happen when the functioning of a family member changes. The connectedness and reactivity within the family unit make the functioning of family members interdependent. The same happens when a family member is added or removed from the system. Sometimes this transition happens over time such as adding family members through marriage, adoption, or birth. There are other times where it is not planned, like a death in the family.

While change is hard, it can also be beautiful.

Adding family members allows the opportunity to create new bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. But, it’s important to acknowledge that the transition can be bumpy. Some family members won’t be welcoming, some won’t like the change, and others may wish it was like the “old days.”

Don’t feel like you need to combat these feelings.

We have some tips for how to manage when your family system changes:

  • Hear them out.  Listen, listen, and listen some more to your family members who are having a hard time adapting to the “new” dynamics. Their feelings are valid and its crucial to not outcast them in the transition process.
  • Give it time.  Don’t expect your family or yourself to be completely comfortable right away. It’s natural for some time to pass before a new “normal” sets in.
  • Encourage openness.  Embrace change yourself and model for others how to be open to changes that happen in the family system.
  • Establish new bonds.  Identify new family traditions or “special” moments with that new family member. This can be as simple as an inside joke with your new brother-in-law or a special tradition you create each time you have the birth of a new baby.



11 Qualities Every Truly Happy Relationship Has In Common

SOURCE:  Brittany Wong/Huffington Post

Marriage therapists share their top relationship must-haves.

Chemistry and physical attraction may have brought you and your partner together, but you need more than a spark to maintain a happy, lasting relationship.

With that in mind, we asked marriage therapists to share the one quality they believe couples need to develop in order to stay together for the long haul. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Compassion

“You have to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Compassion toward your partner allows him or her to feel respected, appreciated and cared for and it fuels the connection, intimacy and partnership. Think of it as the essential food that every healthy relationship needs.” ― Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist in Sherman Oaks, California 

2. Compromise

“So many couples believe that a lack of problems, or the ability to anticipate and avoid them, is a key to a happy relationship. But in my experience, it’s not so much about avoiding problems so much as it is about being able to solve them together. Problems are always going to happen, just as life does. Knowing you can face them together keeps a relationship strong and healthy.” ― Alicia HClark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.   

3. A sense of humor

 “The strongest couples I’ve met have the capacity to laugh at themselves. When a partner can laugh about their own messiness or their wish to have the table set in a certain way, they can communicate what they want without turning their partner into the enemy. Laughing at ourselves instead of judging makes the journey entertaining instead of a constant battle.” ― Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California

4. Trust

“As a specialist in infidelity, I can tell you that trust is the most important thing in a marriage. It takes years to build and a second to break. But it’s more than just sexual fidelity. A spouse is trusted with so much: fears, vulnerabilities, painful wounds from childhood. In a good marriage, a spouse discloses these innermost thoughts and trusts that it won’t be used against them in future arguments.” ― Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist and the author of After A Good Man Cheats: How to Rebuild Trust & Intimacy with Your Wife  

5. Positivity

“We all need to be praised and appreciated but we so often get the opposite ― criticism ― even from our partner. Positivity is needed in relationships, especially ones that have grown past the honeymoon stage. Whether it’s a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ or a specific compliment for something done, we all need to hear it. When we praise our partner we strengthen our connection, bond and love.” ― KurtSmith, a therapist who specializes in counseling for men 

6. Intimacy

 “Sexual and emotional intimacy is the bright shiny star of relationships. Intimacy is the difference between your relationship with your barista and your relationship with your spouse. You build intimacy over time. Intimacy is the feeling of belonging and being loved. It’s the feeling of being known and understood. It’s the feeling of being accepted and appreciated. If you have ever experienced or heard someone describe their relationship as hollow or empty, it’s probably because it’s lacking intimacy.” ― Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

7. Mutual respect

“Life tends to throw some unexpected curveballs along the course of a relationship. The one quality that consistently helps couples through adversity or tragedy is mutual respect. Self-esteem is essential to feel secure and satisfied with yourself so it makes sense that a high esteem and respect for your partner is an essential ingredient in a lasting relationship, both in joyous and challenging times.” ―  Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center

8.  Presence

“Being present is more than just putting down your devices and paying attention ― it’s showing that you’re deeply interested in the inner life of your partner and want to make their world better in any way you can. Being present means freely giving your partner the gift of your full focus and being there for them in a way that’s deeper than just being physically present. It means seeing things from their point of view and not just your own.” ― Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia

9. Love

 “You need to love, honor and cherish one another. These vows are what keep people together happily over the long term. Here’s a brief rundown on what each mean: ‘To love’ means you demonstrate your love. Love is a verb ― an action word. There is no other way to show your spouse you love them except through action. We love through physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. ‘To honor’ is to respect the one you love. You approach them in conversation in a way that shows you want the best for them and don’t want to harm them. ‘To cherish’ means to show your S.O. how much you value them. You treat them as the special person they are – your one and only.” Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas  

10. Understanding

“There’s no problem you can’t resolve when you’re listening to each other and acting like a team. Create regular times during the week when you can talk uninterrupted and don’t let a week go by without a date night. Keep listening and understanding each other. Every ounce of listening effort will pay off tenfold.” ― M. Gary Neuman, a psychotherapist based in Miami Beach, Florida

11.  Friendship

“Couples who are good friends know each other well, give each other the benefit of the doubt and are fond of one another. When you take the time to strengthen your friendship, you’re more successful long-term. Making friendship a priority will help you weather any storm that comes your way.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois


8 Signs You Have Not Done Everything You Can to Save Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Every marriage struggles. And in most troubled marriages that are on the brink, one or both spouses often say something like “I’ve done everything I can, and it just isn’t working out.”

While a spouse may feel like they’ve done everything they can, in reality, they may not have. And the stakes are too high to claim you’ve done all you can when you maybe haven’t. Before you call it quits, there are some important questions to ask yourself, as I’ve blogged about before.

But it’s time now to test your heart and your actions to see if you really have done all you can. Here are some signs that you haven’t yet:

1. You’re not willing to see a counselor.

Counseling can be expensive and feel intrusive. But believe it or not, even healthy marriages sometimes need counseling help. Susan and I have seen a marriage counselor to help us through various issues in our marriage and it has really helped us. It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength to admit that another perspective could be helpful. If you have resisted this step, you’ve not done everything you can.

2. You’re not willing to work on or give up your bad habits.

Whether it’s porn, constant criticism, crushing comparisons, toxic words, or other bad habits, these type of patterns are hard to break, and are hurting marriages every day. For the sake of your health, your kids and your long-term prospects as a family, you need to be willing to let go of these things. If you find yourself saying “I can’t” or “I won’t” then you’ve not done everything you can.

3. You’re not willing to give up your hobbies.

Fishing, Facebook, horseback riding, football games, golf, poker, book clubs, etc., all these things can be fine in and of themselves. But if you put these things above your marriage, you are being shortsighted. Don’t make your wife a football widow by being unwilling to turn the game off. One young man used to call golf his mistress in the early years of his marriage and decided to quit for the sake of his marriage. His hobby became an idol, and he knew his marriage was more valuable than his handicap. If you haven’t been willing to sell off your collection, stop your activities, or even pause them for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

4. You’re not willing to let anyone challenge your assumptions of what your marriage is.

You may think that marriage is just a 50-50 partnership, a contract and if your spouse is not holding up their end of the deal, then you have a right to get out of the marriage. But marriage is actually a 100%-100% give-it-all-you’ve-got relationship.  And as I shared through my blog, 3 Things to Remember Before You Call it Quits in Marriage, is a life-long covenant between God, a husband, and wife.

5. You’re not willing to change the priorities of your life.

Reprioritizing is crucial to navigating choppy waters in marriage. Sometimes you need to step back and reassess where you are, where you’re headed, and what you need to do to get back on the same page. Perhaps you’ve put your job ahead of your spouse. If so, you’ve got some changes to make.

6. You’re not willing to move or change jobs.

Big changes are sometimes necessary for the sake of marriage. Jobs come and go. Houses can be bought, sold or burned to the ground. But ending your marriage will make any of those seemingly drastic changes seem like child’s play. If you aren’t willing to accept drastic changes like moving or changing jobs for the sake of your marriage, you’ve not done everything you can.

7. You’re not willing to admit that you’re part of the problem.

The famous British author G.K. Chesterton was once asked by a journalist of the day what was wrong with the world. His reply letter was brief but poignant: “Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” Very rarely is a marriage truly a one-sided problem. If you refuse to acknowledge your own shortcomings and issues, you’ve not done all you can.

8. You’re not willing to listen.

Usually, in a troubled marriage, one or both spouses are exasperated because they don’t feel heard. A bad listener makes for a bad friend, co-worker, or spouse. In every area of your life, being a good listener is critical to healthy relationships. Listening takes effort, but it can do wonders for your marriage. If you haven’t tried to listen better, to learn how to listen better, you’ve not done everything possible to save your marriage.

The bottom line: Don’t give up. There are lots of strategies you can choose to help your ailing marriage. Start by being honest. Have you really done everything you can to save your marriage? 


Phrases That Make Arguments and Fights Worse

SOURCE:  Brandon Specktor/Readers Digest

When you argue, you are at your most animal. Your brain literally enters fight-or-flight mode, your heart-rate escalates, and logic and reasoning physically shut down. It’s little wonder you usually say a lot of bonehead things you end up regretting in the morning. Don’t worry: We are all guilty of the same stupidity, and sometimes the key to a painless argument is what you don’t say.

For starters, here are six research-backed phrases proven to make any bad argument worse.

Don’t mention getting calm — “Calm Down”

According to parenting experts and hostage negotiators alike, the biggest mistake most people make in an argument is denying the other person’s feelings. Think for a moment if the words “calm down” have ever actually made you calmer. More than likely, they’ve only ever made you feel more annoyed—Why does this person think I’m overreacting? He doesn’t understand me at all! Telling a person to calm down assigns them a negative emotion (be it anger, anxiety, stubbornness, etc.) while denying their actual feelings. This seeming lack of empathy can be detrimental to reaching a mutual understanding, which is a far more important outcome than “winning” an argument. So instead of telling your companion how to feel, seek first to understand how they feel. Step one: listen.

Don’t try to quiet their emotions — “Shut Up”

Always let the other person vent, no matter how long or loud that venting may be. “If the emotional level is high, your first task is to take some of the emotion out,” says Linda Hill, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “Hold back and let them say their piece. You don’t have to agree with it, but listen.” Often times, just talking honestly about a problem is enough to make a person feel better about it (hence, therapy). And as an argument participant, know that every word your companion says is a step toward mutual understanding. Just be careful how you approach it.

Don’t fake-empathize — “I Know How You Feel”

This stock phrase almost always comes across wrong; you may be trying to say, “your emotions are valid,” but the other person will more likely hear, “I get it—so stop talking.” Instead of merely saying you understand someone’s feelings, show them by doing what FBI negotiators do: paraphrase. “The idea is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them,” says FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. “It’s kind of a discovery process for both sides. First of all, you’re trying to discover what’s important to them, and secondly, you’re trying to help them hear what they’re saying to find out if what they are saying makes sense.” If everyone’s on the same page, you can start moving toward reconciliation.

Don’t tell someone how to feel — “You Shouldn’t Feel That Way”

It may sound to you like you’re acknowledging the other person’s feelings, but by adding a “should” or “shouldn’t” you are condemning and judging them just as much. Psychologists call this subtractive empathy—a response that diminishes and distorts what the other person has just said, often making them feel worse. Instead of judging a feeling, try giving it a concrete name by saying something like, “You sound pretty hurt about [problem]. It doesn’t seem fair.” That’s what psychologists call additive empathy—it identifies a feeling, then adds a new layer of understanding that can lead to a potential solution. Think you have a solution? Be careful how you phrase it.

Don’t tell someone what to do — “Here’s What You Need To Do”

When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, power becomes deceptively crucial to us. Telling someone what to do takes away their power; if they listen to your advice, they may feel less smart or less autonomous, and they will resent you for that. What’s more, insisting that an answer depends solely on the other person changing their behavior removes personal responsibility from the equation, and that’s no way to make friends or learn from your mistakes. The superior phrase: “What would you like me to do?” This handy question leaves the other person with their autonomy, and proves you’re willing to meet them halfway. It also moves your brains away from fight mode, and closer to the land of logical compromise.

Don’t force a resolution — “We Need To Settle This Now”

Never fret if you can’t settle an argument in one shot. According to relationship psychologist John Gottman, PhD, 69 percent of a couple’s problems are perpetualthey will never be resolved. “By fighting over [inherent] differences, all [couples] succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage,” Gottman says. While this may sound depressing to anyone new to a serious relationship, it’s meant to be liberating. Once you realize some arguments can never be won, it makes them that much easier to drop. You fight. You make up. You move on with life. Despite what your fight-or-flight brain chemistry is telling you, “winning” doesn’t matter; most of the time, it isn’t even possible. However, pay attention to these red-flag warning signs of a toxic relationship or signs of a toxic friendship.


Doing “Honest Business” With God

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

The First Step to a Clear Conscience

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT, second edition).

The first step on the path to a clear conscience is to take a personal moral inventory or a personal spiritual assessment.

You need to sit down with God in a quiet space by yourself when you’re unhurried and say, “God, I’m going to do business with you. I’m going to make a list of anything that’s between you and me that’s wrong in my life. Help me to see the things that I know are wrong and the things that I don’t know are wrong.” Ask God to clear your mind and reveal your sins.

You can pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT, second edition). You’re saying, “God, turn your spotlight on my inner self. Find the stuff in me that’s entangled me and that’s holding me back.”

It’s important to take your time. Don’t rush it! Don’t say, “God, I’ve got five minutes for you to reveal every sin I’ve ever done.” Take your time. Write it all down.

Why is it important to write it down? Writing makes it specific. Thoughts disentangle themselves through the lips and the fingertips. You speak it, and you write it. If you haven’t written it down, you haven’t really thought about it.

Let me ask you a very important question. How serious are you about wanting God’s blessing on your life? Enough that you’re willing to be gut-level honest? Are you willing to be honest with God? Are you willing to be honest with yourself? Are you willing to be honest with other people? Or are you just going to live in denial? Denial and God’s blessing do not go hand-in-hand.

If you’re serious, then you’re just a step away from liberation! You are one step away from a feeling of joy and purity that you’ve never experienced. You are so close to freedom from the habits and hurts and hang-ups that are messing up your life.

Don’t procrastinate. There is nothing more important in your life than to have the blessing of God. Take time today, get alone by yourself, and do a personal spiritual assessment. It will change your life!


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