Thursday, June 11, 2009

Emotional Purity and Broken Heart Syndrome

See also:

Emotional Purity and Broken Heart Syndrome

Betrothal and Emotional Purity: is it Biblical?


The Way of a Man With a Maid

Bill Gothard and ATI

The following is a quotation taken from my book The Way of a Man with a Maid on the subject of "emotional purity" and "broken heart syndrome" from an experiential perspective (chapter 10 deals with the same subject from a Biblical perspective). The book can downloaded for free by clicking HERE.

'Emotional Purity'

“Purity…” writes John Thompson, “means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval.”
[1] Now it is one thing to argue against physical affection prior to ‘God’s approval’ - which in Thompson’s phraseology refers to parental authorization – but no romantic emotions? Yet, like it or lump it, that is exactly what is meant by emotional purity: complete absence of romantic emotions, thoughts, desires or aspirations, until the father says ‘Go!’

I have a friend named Emily who had always accepted the teaching about emotional purity and believed that to have a crush on a boy amounted to nurturing an idol in her heart. However, when Emily actually found herself being attracted to a young man, she was helpless to know how to handle it. Nor were matters helped when friends began to come up to Emily and say, “Don’t you know that you are committing emotional fornication? You’re being promiscuous and I think you should be careful to save yourself totally for your future husband.”

In another instance, a lady named Katie told me about the time her father gave permission for emotional bonding after her courtship period had been officially entered. The problem was, Katie’s father did not give permission for her emotions to be released completely, only somewhat. Katie was still supposed to guard her heart to some extent and not get too emotionally attached. (Katie confessed to me later that she had difficulty figuring out where the line was, but apparently her parents felt she had crossed it.)

Typically, Jonathan Lindvall manages to find scriptural justification for this odd behavior in the most unexpected parts of the Bible. He appeals to the example of Adam. When, through naming the various animals, Adam realized that he, alone among all the beasts, had no partner, God put him to sleep. Likewise, argues Lindvall, when we get to the age when our interest in the opposite sex is stirred up, God asks us to "go to sleep emotionally!"

The goal here is emotional virginity, so that when the marriage finally occurs, both people will not only have never had physical relations with anyone else, but will also be emotional virgins, having never felt anything towards anyone else. “Not only are we to be physically pure,” says Lindvall, “but we need to be emotionally pure in our hearts.”

Just because a person feels an attraction that will not culminate in marriage does not make those emotions impure. “Emotional purity” is therefore a bad term since it presupposes that there is something impure or wrong about these emotions, as if to have such feelings defiles a person in the same way as sexual promiscuity.

It must be understood that this ideal of “emotional purity” does not simply mean that young people should reserve the expression of romantic feelings until paternal authorization, but that the emotions and thoughts themselves must be stifled. As Lindvall clearly states,

"I have concluded that God's best for me is to teach my children not to allow themselves to cultivate romantic inclinations toward anyone until they know God has shown them this person is to be their lifelong mate...Ideally they don't even allow themselves to dream about romantic relationships. Certainly there will be struggles, but to the degree that they allow me to protect them from the emotional scars my wife and I bear, they will be spared the regrets we suffer."

Lindvall explains, always with enthusiasm, his success in imposing this idea on his own daughter.

"At age twelve, I took Bethany out to dinner one evening and presented her with a golden necklace with a heart-shaped pendant formed like a padlock. There was a small keyhole and an accompanying key. I presented the pendant and necklace to her and asked her to "Give me your heart." (Prov. 23:26) 1 explained that I wanted to keep the gold key as a symbol of her trusting me with her emotions. I specifically asked her to not entertain romantic thoughts toward any young man until she and her mother and I together conclude that he is God's choice to be her husband. (There is scriptural precedent for the young people involved to be consulted and consent to a marriage arrangement.) I explained that at the beginning of her marital engagement I would give the gold key to her betrothed, and that although she might not yet love him, she would then be free to aim her heart toward him. Bethany unreservedly entrusted the symbolic gold key into my care, and with it, her heart.

"Some young man is going to come to me and say, 'I believe God wants me to marry your daughter.' And I'll pray about it. And if God shows me the same thing, I'm going to give him that key, and I'm going to say, 'You are authorized, and I'm going to help you woo my daughter, as she will be your help mate forever.'

"In that conversation I asked Bethany to take it a little further. I asked her to commit to me that she would not be friends with any fellows. I asked her not to even be friends with boys."

Lindvall started a trend here, and now there is a website that sells “Heart Necklace with Key” designed for this very purpose. According to the website, “This is a meaningful symbol of a daughter giving her dad the key to her heart until he gives it to the man selected to be her future spouse. The inscription on the heart is ‘He who holds the key can unlock my heart.’”

One gets the feeling from all this that romantic emotions are something that can be turned on or off like a light switch. While there can be no denying that our will plays a part in the process, very often the romantic feelings, crushes, and infatuations that young people experience are things that, to a large extent, cannot be controlled by the will. What can be controlled is how the person responds to these feelings that can come and go like the wind. To try to tamper with the emotions themselves, however, is bound to be unproductive. The only way to prevent such ‘unauthorized’ emotions from happening would surely be to build monasteries and nunneries to house our youth. When the time for wedding vows does arrive, the vows can directly follow the introductions.

As a young adult I went to a Bible college where the ideas of emotional purity were strongly advocated. I was one among only nineteen other young adults under the burden of over a hundred written and unwritten rules. One such rule was a universal taboo on anything to do with romance. The staff of this school did their best to prevent the young people from anything that might excite them romantically. Every cassette and CD that a student brought to the school was carefully previewed, and if any love songs were found then the album or the song would be banned. The administrator of the school encouraged us to make fun of kissing when it appeared on videos, even mocking the act with disgusting lip noises like prepubescent boys tend to do. When springtime came the young men were given special instruction to be extra careful, as this was the season when nature causes the hormones to play up (“the mating season” and all that.) There was a ban on private letters and phone calls across the sexes, and Lindvall’s lectures were often played at the beginning of term. If one of the staff members noticed that a man and woman were spending too much time together, they would step in and do something. In one such case, where two people actually fell in love, the staff decided this young man and woman shouldn't be allowed to communicate at all with each other, even from their homes during the summer holidays.

The result of so much concentration on not being tempted by love was interesting. The young women often seemed to treat romance as if it was a big joke and were frequently flippantly flirtatious. The consequence of not treating love and romance seriously in the right way, meant that it was treated flippantly in a totally wrong way. I found that there was not the appropriate care taken by the girls concerning how their actions might hurt the males. On the other hand, whenever any interaction with the opposite sex was at all serious, it was pregnant with self-consciousness, introspection and guilt. A psychotherapist noted that the percentage of sex abuse cases among those who had been to that school was phenomenal - far higher than the percentage among the average non-Christians sector of the population.

Why did these problems arise among those who are instructed so intensely to view romance so cynically and negatively? A similar question might be asked concerning the huge sex scandal that rocked Gothard's Illinois based organization and nearly forced Gothard into retirement.

I believe part of the answer lies in the way these concerns were handled. The devaluation, even the mocking of romance prior to the appropriate time, led to a general misconstruction of attraction, love and sexuality in general. It was very easy to treat these things - whether consciously or unconsciously - as things that were sinful. We tried to bury them in a dark closet and hope they reemerge as infrequently as possible. Often when a person has undergone this kind of unhealthy repression, it causes the thing that has been repressed to be displaced onto another area of his or her experience, so that the thing that was repressed reemerges with a new shape - a shape that the person does not recognize as stemming from the very area they thought was killed.

Another factor at the school I attended was the false dichotomy between the things of the spirit and the passions of the body, as if they are in competition to each other. You didn’t pursue romance because that took your mind off Christ. We thus had no idea how to give the Lord control of these areas because we expected Him to take them away. These areas were not as important to God as things like Bible memorization, study and prayer meetings and if God was interested in them at all, it was in helping us overcome them.

We have already seen this false divide between human emotions and the things of the spirit in Gothard's treatment of loneliness. We also find this false divide between the earthly realm of romance and emotions vs. the “spiritual realm” throughout Lindvall’s teaching. In Lindvall’s newsletter he once shared a letter from a young man who confessed to “struggling with thinking about a girl” whom he might marry. The man wrote,

I have prayed that God would take these thoughts from me, and have tried to stop thinking them myself, once I become aware that I am thinking about her again…. I am just frustrated, and am feeling powerless against these thoughts. (Even though my mind tells me that I'm wrong, and I do have the power to control them).

Lindvall’s advise to help this man achieve ‘victory’ was that he turn totally to Jesus, fast, pray and try to channel his emotional energy into reading and memorizing scripture. Additionally, Lindvall quoted Colossians 3:2: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."
[8] Since the world of romantic emotions is seen as belonging to the inferior realm of “things of the earth,” it is at variance with our pursuit of heavenly things above. A divided field of experience ensues in which a false competition is set up between the spirit and the emotions.

As I found at the Bible College already mentioned, this fragmented and compartmentalized view of our humanity meant that Christ was not Lord of our entire person, and consequently the area of our passions remained outside of His Lordship. Because we were made to feel guilty for even having such emotions, we tended subconsciously to assume that there must be something unclean, dirty, naughty, or impure about this area of life, or else treat it clinically as mere animal instincts. Romance and passion were not viewed as something in which our whole person participates, but treated instead almost like a ‘thing’ external to us that we take on and off. It is always dangerous when life is divided into compartments like this since Christ’s Lordship should permeate all areas of life.

Broken Heart Syndrome

One of the great benefits of courtship, I have been told, is that it minimizes, as much as is humanly possible, the ‘broken-heart syndrome’ so many young people experience. The need to avoid ‘broken-heart syndrome’ is actually one of the primary motivations behind many families pursuing the courtship method. But to what exactly does ‘broken-heart syndrome’ refer?

This term, ‘broken heart syndrome’ was popularized by Lindvall to describe the painful side of romantic emotions when a person feels that their “heart is broken.” Like the term ‘emotional impurity,’ it is a pejorative description that unfairly typifies certain experiences. If the courtship advocates can get us to think of emotional heartache as a ‘syndrome,’ then they have nearly won the argument, in so far as a ‘syndrome’ usually implies neurosis.

When romantic love comes under censor, the next step is to take a dim view of the experience of heart broken-ness. For what does a broken heart signify other than that one has made the fatal mistake of being disappointed in one’s hopes, of extending oneself too far and putting too much hope or confidence in another person.

Similar reasons have led counselors in the secular climate to despise broken hearts. The self-centered consumerist mentality of today has no understanding for an experience which signifies the capacity to feel disappointed or to have hopes which have not been realized.

Sharon Thompson tells us that many girls are unhappy with the casual sex they are expected to have. The reason for their unhappiness is because they are still “condition[ing] sexual consent on romantic expectations.”
[10] When one girl was so traumatized by her first experience of premarital sex, the girl vowed to save sex until marriage so she could be sure the relationship meant as much to the man as it did to her. Thompson concludes that by this decision Tracey “had gone the very same convictions that had set her up to become a victim of love in the first place.”[11] In other words when we enter into sexual experiences with romantic expectation, we become a victim of our own illusions. As a solution Thompson suggests girls learn to treat love as something ephemeral and play the field with the kind of emotional detachment that will save them from heartbreak. This is called 'unencumbered sex.'

Although the context is different, the motivation is the same as we find in much of the courtship movement. Those who push courtship begin the discussion of broken hearted-ness at the same point as Sharon Thompson, namely, the need to avoid being a victim of the heartache and disappointment that romantic expectation can foster. The solution of the former is to encourage all manner of loose behavior without the expectation or need of a secure exclusive relationship; the solution of the latter is to try to eradicate any emotions that might lead to romantic expectation prior to the security of marriage. In both cases they are trying to avoid what Capon refers to as “the ultimate risk of giving oneself to another over whom we have no control.”

The solution is neither to reject romance nor to embrace a sentimental romanticism. Debbie Maken put it well when she wrote:

I’m not fighting against romance; I am fighting against what I call reckless romanticism, the kind of romanticism where we think we will be overjoyed with spontaneous surprises, one after the other. The danger of such recklessness is that little in the relationship matches any of our hopeful and grandiose expectations. Romance is vital for any lover’s relationship, whether courtship or marriage. At its core, romance is not flowers or candy or a good candlelit meal; it is the feeling of being pursued by your love. It’s what we see in the Song of Songs.

Emotional Sterilization

Lindvall draws our attention to the fact that in the typical dating pattern when a person enjoys a series of temporary dating relationships, each relationship must endure a breaking up process before moving on to the next. “However,” he writes,

As their hearts are wounded, and then heal after each episode, they develop emotional calluses as a defense against the depth of grief that would be useful in motivating married couples to shore up the performance of their union.

The more often they experience this [breaking-up], the more scared their emotions are, and then we wonder why when we marry we have a difficult time becoming vulnerable and open with our husband or our wife.

Israel Wayne [who I have become good friends with since writing the book from which this quotation has been drawn] has argued similarly, comparing the emotional pain of breaking off a relationship to sticking on and then ripping off a piece of tape on your arm: at first it hurts, but eventually, if you repeat the process long enough, the hairs that originally acted as pain sensors eventually cease to register pain to the brain. Similarly, it is argued, the more we experience the emotional pain of breaking up a relationship, the more desensitized we become. Eventually our emotions become hardened as an instinctive defense against future pain. “It may seem good to have our emotions hardened,” Wayne writes,

but this doesn’t work very well in a marriage. Who wants to have a spouse who is uncaring, unfeeling, and guards themselves so they won’t be hurt? We all want spouses who can freely give and receive love.

The solution that both Lindvall and Wayne give is not merely to reject the typical dating pattern of in/out relationships. Instead, they say, we should also pursue emotional purity. Emotional purity guarantees that you won’t get hurt since you don’t release your emotions until it’s safe.

Not for the first or last time, Lindvall and Wayne have presented us with a false dilemma. The choice they give us is between a series of in/out dating relationships vs. shutting down the emotions completely until it is ‘safe.’ This gives them the perfect platform to persuade young people to be emotionally ‘pure,’ since the young people they are addressing already have an antipathy to the typical pattern of irresponsible relationships. Forced into this false choice, the model of emotional purity is clearly the only option for a biblically-minded young person or parent. However, this solution not only excludes irresponsible dating but any romantic emotions or desires outside the betrothal paradigm. They are teaching that romantic feelings, emotional desires and expectations are wrong if felt at anytime while there is still a risk that the object of those desires may not become our future spouse. We must safeguard our life against the potential of any emotional pain in the very first place.

It is interesting that this basic argument hinges, not on an appeal to scripture, but on pragmatic and utilitarian concerns, as it promises to maximize the agent’s future happiness in marriage. Even with these pragmatic concerns, however, the shoe is on the other foot. We are being told that marriages will be happier and more emotionally liberated if both parties have practiced these principles prior to engagement. We would do well to question this basic assumption. Surely those who go through youth trying to avoid emotional pain, trying to prevent the possibility of suffering, trying to protect their emotions, are not as a result suddenly going to be emotionally vulnerable and open as soon as they get married. If anything, they will be the ones who have developed the emotional hardness and unable to respond appropriately to emotional conflict and pain within marriage because they have been trained in the art of emotional detachment.

Imagine a young girl who is first learning to walk on her own two legs. The father notices and realizes that there might be falls and the potential of physical pain, before she can finally walk without error. Suppose the father, wanting to prevent his girl from the possibility of this pain, comes and offers her a wheel chair for her to sit and be pushed around in until she is nine. At nine years old, he thinks, her mind will have developed a level of control and sophistication to enable her to learn to walk without the errors that invariably confront the toddler. Now if a father really did that, what would happen when the girl finally reached the day where she was authorized to walk? She would be a cripple since her legs, through continual neglect, would have lost the ability to function.

In a very similar way, a father who successfully disallows his daughter or son from experiencing natural human emotions until he or she is able to do so without the possibility of hurt, will very likely have damaged their very ability to experience normal emotions. If an adolescent is influenced to greet the arrival of romantic emotions with suspicion and guilt, they will likely find it difficult to experience these emotions properly when they are suddenly told it is legitimate. The positive side is that the Lord is able to heal and make whole, but this can be a torturously difficult process if one has years of opposite brain patterns to contend against.

The Trade-off

Parents who have this destructive mentality will not only prevent guilt-prone youths from falling into the 'sin' of having a crush on someone, or of admitting it if they do, but they will prevent that child from the natural healing of that broken heart. Parents who are trying to tie up their youth's emotions are not, at the same time, able to help their children come to terms with their feelings, to face them, accept them, grow from them, and grow out of them within the providence of God.

I am not saying that having a broken heart is an inherently good thing because we can grow from it, or that we should try to get our hearts broken in order to learn lessons. Far from it! A boy who is learning to ride a bicycle will likely have a few falls to start with, and learn from the painful experience of falling how to properly manage the bicycle. It would be stupid, however, if the boy took this fact and fell off the bike on purpose in order to learn from it. The parent who says his teenagers mustn’t have friendships with members of the opposite sex because there is then the possibility of the emotional pain of a broken heart, would be like a father who didn’t let his son learn to ride a bicycle because of the physical pain of falling off.

I am saying what is true of any kind of suffering, that although it is not something that we should go out of our way to try to experience, neither does God always want us to go out of our way to try to prevent it.
[17] Creating a plan for life that will safeguard us from pain, from our own emotions, and those of others, does not help us grow. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants a relationship to end in tears, but if that does happen, does that automatically mean we were sinning? Does that mean we should make sure we protect our children from such an experience by attempting to exercise tight control over their emotions? Does it mean we should allow fear to turn us into something like a computer that automatically backs itself up at every point?

It is the job of a parent to nurture growth in the Lord and His ways, not to dictate it, to help young people approach relationships with integrity and honor and to help them if things go wrong. It is the job of parents to help young people grow from their suffering and broken hearts, not to try to artificially create situations to prevent any possibility of heartache. The only way to prevent the possibility of a young person getting a broken heart is to prevent that child from ever feeling love, and that is the most tragic thing a parent could do to a child. It is not sensitive and caring when Lindvall talks about wanting to spare his children the suffering of a broken heart, for if you want a heart that cannot be broken, what you need is a heart that cannot love. C.S. Lewis puts this well.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness... We shall draw nearer to God, not be trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

When the New York Times did a front page feature on the courtship movement they quoted from a “betrothed” man who said, “I can begin to emotionally connect because it’s safe.” Safe? What in life is really safe? If these people are looking for an emotionally safe existence, they need to go a lot further to guard themselves. Hell is the only place where you are perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love, as C. S. Lewis brings out in the passage already cited.

With regard to the particular pain of a broken heart, if this must be avoided at all costs, why stop at a prohibition on relationships with the opposite sex? Why not also prohibit all friendships with members of the same sex since it is always possible that someone we have grown to love - perhaps a best friend that we have shared our heart with in a special way - may die, may change, or may do something that leaves us hurting?

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center my wife, Esther, was talking to a woman about it. The woman mentioned that she had heard on the news that a boy had telephoned his mother from the airplane just before the crash to tell her that he loved her. Esther’s friend said that she would not have been able to cope with that sort of thing if she was a mother. She has chosen not have children in order to avoid the potential pain. It's certainly true that if you're not prepared for the possibility of a broken heart, you shouldn't have children. After all, children may die, they may suffer, they may go through experiences that make the parents weep.

In the end, if we really want the security of knowing our heart will not break, if we really want a life that is emotionally safe, we must carefully guard our heart from becoming attached to anyone - man, woman or animal.

If all that is being sought is some formula for a mistake-free, pain-free life, then the message these teachers are preaching is that mistakes are sin, and pain is sin, and we must not allow either a place in our lives. This is not the gospel that produces a lightness and freedom and trust in God. Instead this places such a huge burden of responsibility on a person to get every detail right one hundred percent of the time that to fail is weakness, and weakness is despised. The emphasis is placed on our control, not God's. The emphasis is that the fewer mistakes you make the more pleasing you are to the Lord. The implication of this is that we are loved for what we are rather than for who we are? If we feel that that is the way God 'loves' us, then we will never understand true love in our human relationships either.

The Shoe is on the Other Foot

It is a paradox worth considering that although these proposed solutions to “broken heart syndrome” are meant to reduce or eliminate emotional pain, in practice we often find the reverse operating. When young people do “slip” and express themselves romantically, the persecution and “discipline” that is often levied upon them is certainly a far greater source of broken hearts than any hypothetical effects that pre-engagement romance is supposed to have in future marriage. To illustrate this I’d like to share what happened in one church that was progressively taken over by followers of Gothard and Lindvall.

The sad incident I am about to relate concerns a young man (whom I will call Mark) whose parents were hard-core Gothardites, and a young women (whom I will call Rachel) whose parents were not so legalistic but still had strict standards when it came to relationships. Events transpired whereby Mark and Rachel developed a relationship. They never went further than to hold hands on one occasion for a few minutes. However, when Mark’s parents found out that they had held hands, they were horrified and said that they had both committed spiritual adultery against their future spouses. The parents of Mark decided to follow the advice for such situations, namely to make sure that all ties between the two were severed. Never again would their son be allowed to speak to Rachel. I do not mean that Mark was not allowed to speak to Rachel for a period of time; I mean that Mark was permanently banned from ever having anything to do with Rachel for the rest of his life! Rachel’s parents were horrified, especially since she was being treated like an adulterer.

Think of this and all the other broken hearts that this teaching has caused, and it becomes ironic that this teaching is being propagated on the grounds that it will reduce emotional pain. Surely the shoe is on the other foot.

[1] John Thompson, “God’s Design For Scriptural Romance Part 1: Rediscovering the Timeless Truths”, op cit.

[2] Jonathan Lindvall, The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance, Hope School Digest, ibid.

[3] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[4] From the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, (Springville, CA: Bold Parenting, 1992).

[5] Jonathan Lindvall, from the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, ibid

[6] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[7] Shamefaced Romance, ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] From Bold Christian Living E-Mail Newsletter, Issue #99.

[9] Susan Schaeffer Macaulay is very good on this idea of the Lord permeating all aspects of life. See, For the Family’s Sake, (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 1999), especially p. 34.

[10] From Sharon Thompson's study, Going All The Way: Teenage Girls Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995) Cited by Shalit, op. cit., p. 64.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cited by Rodney Clapp in "What Hollywood Doesn't Know About Romantic Love: Celebrating Valentine's Day in the spirit of the Song of Solomon". Christianity Today, Feb. 3, 1984 issue.

[13] Debbie Maken, Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006) p. 169.

[14] Bold Christian Living catalogue, article titled ‘Do Teen Dating Practices Prepare Young People For Marriage or Divorce?’ (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[15] Jonathan Lindvall, from the taped lecture, "Scriptural Betrothal: God's Design for Youthful Romance." (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[16] Israel Wayne, “Don’t Kiss Before The Wedding!”, The Link: A Homeschool Newspaper, Volume 4, Issue 2.

[17] Edith Schaeffer is very good on this point, and I would highly recommend her book Affliction (Hodder and Stoughton, 1978), particularly chapter eleven where she addresses the temptation to abort affliction.

[18] C. S. Lewis, op. cit., p. 279.

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