A Little Story About Faith

Photo credits Ashley Smith 
For most of my life I feared that I lacked faith. Faith in God, faith in humanity, faith in my own ability to make good decisions and trust my own judgment.  When we are a person who grows up in a faithful home… I think it can be even more terrifying to admit insecurities especially pertaining to our spiritual life. 

About 3 years ago, my own life took a bit of a turn. I began suffering from debilitating panic attacks. Even though I rationally know up to 30% of the population will experience this at some point in their life… it can still be a hard thing to speak of publicly. But, I feel like it’s time to tell my story of Faith. Before those of you who suffer begin to throw your hands up. Please keep reading. 

When Faith was a young girl, she often felt afraid of things that no one else seemed understand.  It wasn’t typical things… Faith didn’t fear the dark, or the woods, she didn’t fear her parents, or even social interactions. But, sometimes when Faith least expected it… she had an overwhelming fear that raced through her and would shake her to her core. 

As Faith grew into a young woman she had many happy peaceful times. She fell in love easily and could totally throw caution to the wind when it came to romantic endeavors. She married and had children… and always felt confident in caring for them and making choices pertaining to them. However, randomly and without warning… Faith would feel a sense of impending doom. Her family and friends would worry and try to help her, but nothing seemed to ease her excruciating internal pain. A pain that even she couldn’t describe. 

As Faith grew older, her anxieties grew and grew. She tried so hard to fight them and overcome them. As if it were her against her fears, a battle to be won. But, as time went on Faith became weak, she became tired, worn, and sad. She felt like a failure because the enemy had won. Faith no longer had the courage or the ambition to stand up to her fears and she felt deeply ashamed…. because Faith had been taught by a culture she lived in that she could overcome anything if she wanted to. Since she couldn’t this it was her fault. She had only herself to blame. She spent weeks in agony, barely able to leave her home from sadness, fear, and pain. 

What Faith hadn’t been taught was how generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can take over your life. Faith hadn’t been taught that panic disorders existed and were as real as cancer, or other diseases that we identify as nothing we can prevent, but are a part of nature. 

As Faith learned of all these things… she felt  a sense of cautious relief. She got some help with her doctor because her loved ones didn’t give up and begged her to–and a therapist because at this point she would do anything for relief. 

Faith was incredibly fortunate that she had family and friends who loved her and believed in her more than she even believed in herself during this difficult time. As the days went on… Faith grew. She grew spiritually in ways she before could not have imagined. She grew in friendships, developing relationships to a level she didn’t know existed. Also Faith grew as an individual. She began to trust her judgment and love herself. She began to trust that she was “fearfully and wonderfully made” and deserved to be loved, especially by herself. Even when she was not perfect. Maybe, especially when she was not perfect. 

Now, Faith is overall much better. Some days are still a challenge, but aren’t they for everyone? Faith has some hope now though. She has overcome her struggle with anxiety and she has won. However, Faith did not do it alone. She had to learn to trust herself and her heart that even if she were not perfect, she was still worthy. Worthy of love from her family, friends and God and even herself.  

There are so many scriptures about faith. While I don’t doubt the power of faith in God and the teachings of Jesus for one minute, where are we without faith in ourselves to make good choices and do what’s best? As children of God, we should have some faith in our own abilities to strengthen our works in ways that will promote the gospel. 

In the world of traditional Christianity are we making an easier path for Faith? Or, are we marring progress by outdated ideas that should be re-evaluated because they don’t work. 

If anyone who reads this identifies with Faith’s struggles. I hope you don’t feel like you’re alone. Reach out to people who understand. Talk to doctors seek therapy… and don’t feel like a failure in doing so. This may be the very test of your faith… that can elevate you to the next level of hope and faith.

Xoxo-

Brandi 

Part 1: Reflections from study, God and the Gay Christian

Growing up deep in the bible belt of the Ozarks can create a challenge for Christians who strive to pursue spiritual growth.  It seems that a common theme within this particular culture, is to teach children the obvious rules that are laid out in the Word.  I too have followed suit to a great degree in this area, crediting scriptures such as Proverbs 22:6 to support that case.  I think that many positive outcomes can come from teaching children principles taught directly from the Word. However, in reflection of the current society we are living in, I also have noted that sometimes as Christians we have created new and ever evolving ways to sin, through a focus on our own abilities to aspire for a level of perfection that quite frankly, doesn’t seem scriptural. 

Proverbs 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

The more I study, and strive to develop my spiritual life, the more I feel that these methods are what breeds a lack of faith throughout the world of Christianity. As an adult Christian I feel a deep and personal desire to question main stream ideas that are easily accepted by the masses.  At times these questions have developed due to personal factors such as my divorce at a younger age, or conflict within a church congregation. In recent months, I’ve become more interested in topics that in some ways it might seem don’t apply to me, my family, or my life.  However, what I have continued to come back to is this… all topics pertaining to Christians will always apply to me if I am in fact a Christian too.

One particular area of concern that I’ve personally felt compelled to delve further into is the topic of same-sex relationships, specifically from angle of families and individuals who are members of the lgbt community, who also strive to follow the Word and develop spiritually in Christ.  It seemed that at church or school, the topic of gays/same sex marriage/ gays in the church/ has often seemed to be discussed as an “us vs. them” type discussion. The level of contempt and disdain that is often promoted toward the lgbt community is in my opinion without rival.  For whatever reason, I have just never been able to FEEL that contempt, like I’ve often observed in the religious culture around me. As I was younger I attributed it to Proverbs 14:12:

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

So when my feelings about the topic didn’t seem to line up with the main stream… I tended to push it to the back of my mind. Recently it’s just become too much  to keep pushing back… so it was time to address the topic personally. 

One of the books used in a study I recently attended is God and the Gay Christian, by Matthew Vines.  I’ve been taught to be somewhat skeptical of published materials that are not the actual Bible itself, so I always tread cautiously when opening the work of man.  This book so beautifully addresses many of the questions that have long plagued my mind on the topic of lgbt rights, specifically within the world of Christianity. Vines systematically addresses each passage in the Word which pertains to same-sex relationships.

The further I read, the more obvious some basic common themes became.  While my views on same sex relationships have developed, the thing that struck me most was how much information that we have been missing as Christians. By taking six passages from the bible, and creating a justification to feel disgust, with a topic that many people are uncomfortable with there are several principles that have often gone unnoticed it seems. I have compiled a summary of thoughts… these by no means will do this book justice so please read it for yourself.

In the scriptures that pertain to same sex relationships there is an element of sexual violence. Probably the most well known scriptures that speaks of homosexual activity is the story of Sodom found in the 19th chapter of Genesis.  This story has long been associated with the justification of abuse toward those in the lgbt community (something that just never added up to me).  When we really dig deeper into the chapter and also note the reference to Genesis 13 when Lot moved near Sodom we can see that there are references about how sinful this city was.  However, it isn’t noted of what particular sins were prevalent in city.  It is often assumed that the city of Sodom was full of sin from same-sex behavior.  This is likely due to the situation Lot experienced while trying to protect the angels who were sent to destroy the city.  However, as Vines points out there are many references to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Old Testament:

  • In ancient Jewish literature, such as the Ethics of the Fathers and the Talmud, there are many references to Sodom. The phrase “middat Sdom” was used. It may be translated as “the way the people of Sodom thought”. It meant a lack of charity and hospitality towards others; ignoring the needs of the poor, etc. In the Middle East, a person’s survival could depend upon the charity of strangers. To help strangers was a solemn religious duty of paramount importance. See Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:35, 38 and 43.
  • Isaiah 1; The entire first chapter is an utter condemnation of Judah. They are repeatedly compared with Sodom and Gomorrah in their evildoing and depravity. Throughout the chapter, the Prophet lists many sins of the people: rebelling against God, lacking in knowledge, deserting the Lord, idolatry, engaging in meaningless religious ritual, being unjust and oppressive to others, being insensitive to the needs of widows and orphans, committing murder, accepting bribes, etc. There is no reference to homosexuality or to any other sexual activities at all.
  • Jeremiah 23:14:”…among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.”   
  • Ezekeiel 16:49-50:”Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

Murderers, oppressors of the poor,thieves, prostitutes, idolaters, sexual violence… there are many examples of sinners in various sorts listed in reference to the cities. The more I looked into the topic the more sense it makes that the evil being done in these cities may have much less to do with same- sex relationships,  and more to do with a variety of evil doing, some in the name of religion.  I do  not believe that the same-sex behavior that is described in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, is representative of committed same-sex relationships.  

BUT THE BIBLE CLEARLY TALKS ABOUT THE SINFUL MEN WHO WANTED TO RAPE THE ANGELS??

I do not argue or suggest  that a gang rape by sinful men isn’t evil.  It is also important to remember historical and cultural factors associated with behaviors.  In ancient times especially during times of war, men would overtake each other sexually as a means to show dominance. For these men to sexually assault the guests of Lot, would be an attack on Lot’s masculinity and authority as the “lord” of his home.  Lot offers his two virgins, but the men reject them. For the men to have had their way with young women would not have accomplished the task of emasculating Lot. During this period women were still viewed as property, and men typically carried on sexual relationships outside of marriage with both women and men.

In Part 2, we will look at the historical factors of pedestary, sexual violence, and excessive lust that was prevalent during ancient Roman times.

There is a great deal more to take away from the study than this one story… but for the sake of wanting to address several points I have decided to make this a three part post.  Within the next few weeks I will discuss my ideas that are further developing on the topic of same sex relationships based on the Bible.  Thanks for reading!

  References:

Vines, M. (n.d.). God and the gay Christian: The biblical case in support of same-sex relationships.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/hombibg193.htm

Controversial Sexual Habits in Ancient Times. Egypt, Rome, Greece

He ate with sinners.

Photo taken at Parks Bluff  Campground near Johnson Shut ins. (Totally Recommend) http://parksbluff.com/

 

This morning I sat in church waiting to hear the message… The opening referred to the fact that it was an election year… (I stiffened a bit– although that was my wrongdoing).  The speaker went on to note that during times of much divide within our nation, it can be a challenge create sermons for all the varying members in attendance.  It was obvious from that point on that the speaker’s motive was to convey the message of Christ in an effort  to edify the congregation, and he did so beautifully.

This morning the speaker addressed the story found in Luke the 15th chapter.  As I titled this post ” He ate with sinners”. The religious leaders of Jesus time did not like the fact that Jesus ate with sinners.  The Pharisee Simon seemed disgusted at the fact that Jesus consorted with a sinful woman during dinner in his home.  The love that the sinful woman showed to Christ was more important to Jesus than what sins she had previously committed. This isn’t the only verse that reflects Jesus showing love toward those considered sinful at the time, there were many more accounts, I’ve listed a few below.

The typical take away from this lesson is that we shouldn’t look down on others, be self righteous, or unempathetic.   But something nags at me that there is a bit more.  Jesus made a point to spend time with those that were noted as being sinful. He ate with them.  He listened to their story.

The example Christ set for us is that it is important to listen to others in a non judgmental and loving way.  I don’t think that example is a coincidence.  It has been my experience that the more my faith has grown, the more comfortable I have been to branch out and develop relationships with people that once might have made me uncomfortable.  Through those relationships I have learned and grown as a Christian.  Which is why I feel it is important to really consider a deeper meaning of why Christ himself reached out to those who weren’t considered appropriate friends at the time.

Thanks to the fellow in the pulpit this morning! I admittedly have a difficult time learning audibly, and probably fall under a clinical diagnosis of ADHD.  Your sermon sparked an interest with me that caused me to study throughout the day… and I’m sure some more days in the future.

 

John Chapter 83 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with [his] finger wrote on the ground, [as though he heard them not].7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.9 And they which heard [it], being convicted by [their own] conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, [even] unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Romans : 19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Luke 7:39-50New International Version (NIV)39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”“Tell me, teacher,” he said.41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”Footnotes:Luke 7:41 A denarius was the usual daily wage of a day laborer (see Matt. 20:2).

 

Mark 2:13-17New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

 

Sunday afternoon thoughts…. Digging deeper than the fluff.

Earlier this week I came across a meme on Facebook. It read:

        “The church should be seen as a hospital; a rehab clinic; a place of refuge. The church is NOT a country club. Stop treating it like one. The person smoking outside the church doors; the woman in inappropriate clothing; the man with whiskey on his breath; these are children of God, not excuses to pass judgmental glances at.  Ask them their story. Buy them coffee. Really listen to them. That, is the gospel… Not telling them to get their act together.”

I really like the sentiment behind the meme, and one perk of sharing things like this on social media is when someone comments in a positive way.  Sometimes, such as in this instance, those comments cause me to think further, challenging me to dig deeper than the fluff.  (I’ve never been fond of fluff). A commentator on the post said “The church is the people, not the giant cathedral”.  I too agree with this, and it caused me to reflect on thoughts I’ve had in recent years concerning the decline in attendance at church buildings.

“The church is not a building, but a body of believers with a specific nature and purpose.” (Robert Velarde). 

Studies have shown that in recent years church attendance has been declining.  Although, those who profess Christianity has held stable. While it saddens me that overall attendance seems to be on the decline, in some ways I’m not surprised.  It seems as if the “church” has become so accustomed to fighting a war against satan, that it has forgotten what the Word states will bring people to God.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:44

God will draw his people.  According to other scripture, God’s people will not be afraid. Except for this… what Christians attending services weekly typically hear, are fear filled.  Fear of government, fear of sin, fear of things they are either willfully ignorant of or lack the capacity to understand. Fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

How much time is spent during church services teaching the perfect love of God to his children? I don’t think enough based on this fact… if it were so attendance would not be declining.

As human beings that are all full of sin, we are going to have to change our ways in order for the work of the church to be successful.  For me, that begins with me.

Showing the love of God to others is what Christians must do in order to do the work of the church.  Whether inside the building or out -making a lifestyle of compassion and service to all God’s children is what is expected in order to see growth in the church. The body of Christ.

Christians, do we have enough faith to stop preaching so much… and show more love? Or, are we going to continue to be led by fear?

Have a good week! xoxo

http://www.dailyrepublic.com/news/locallifestylecolumns/church-attendance-is-on-the-decline/

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/the-study-of-god/why-study-god/what-is-the-church

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Bible Journal Entry 3/29/16

My heart has been in Florida today…

Since I learned of the horrible attack that occurred in Orlando, I haven’t been able to get my mind off the victims and their family members. I’ve had more time than is good for me yesterday and today to listen to NPR and read various reports about the attack, the shooter, and the people who witnessed the terrible events that transpired early this morning. 

The events of Sunday morning’s attack have caused me to dig deeper into what I believe in regards to spirituality. As a Christian, I have accepted the role of being one that will promote the Gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:19). So today I reflected on the examples that Christ put forth in how to spread the gospel.
In the 23rd chapter of Matthew, Jesus himself addresses the topic of positive Christian leadership. This example highlights that strong Christian leaders will be exalted through humble service. Jesus is comforting the people he is addressing in this passage as well, he states that the religious leaders of the time “they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” The religious leaders were hurting the very people that Jesus came to serve and protect. As his brothers and sisters, he calls on us to do the same in his name. Jesus gave us perfect examples of how to serve in God’s name, yet it seems that as humans, one of the biggest struggles we face is putting forth the effort necessary to serve those who we feel are lost.
It hasn’t worked and it won’t work in the future, because it isn’t what are instructed to do.

As Christians, we will never promote the Love of God to others if we continue to try to do it “our way”. Jesus made a special attempt to make sure that those who were vulnerable were not persecuted in the name of Christianity. During these very difficult times I hope I can remember to follow his example of service, and that those who are in pain whether it be physical or emotional will find some comfort through Christ.
John 4:18 has captured my heart today, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” I hope all those who are mourning in the coming days, weeks, and months feel the perfect love that God has for them, and that his children have for them as well.

I just had a conversation with my family…

And this conversation was one that I hoped I would never have to have.
My gorgeous daughter is 14, and in my eyes as innocent as a girl can come.
She is beautiful, sassy, and smart all at the same time.
She has two fathers, and grandfathers, and two brothers,  that have doted on her since her birth…. And today… Today! I had to tell her how to reduce the likelihood that she would be raped. Because it is STILL nearly legal in our country. The United States of America.

Today 25% of women will be raped before they graduate from college.  If I understand correctly… Only 13% of those rapes will be reported. As of today I have to say I don’t blame those who don’t report their rapes. But I hope that changes soon.

Today I have worried about the rape victim at Stanford more times than I can count. When I think in terms that there are other women across our nation that have endured the same circumstances today, that  we don’t even know about, I can become overwhelmed. That’s why I knew I had to talk to my husband, sons, and daughter today.  So I did.

Please. Talk to your yours too.

Tell your husbands about privilege- and how even if they abhor rape,  many men can’t even identify what it really is.

Tell your sons about what consent means.

Tell your daughters what puts them at risk. Because even though its ridiculous that in our “CHRISTIAN NATION” they have to worry about that. THEY DO.

Yes, this girl at Stanford admitted she had drank some… What if she had been drugged? Will anyone really ever know…? What if she has a medical condition that is more pronounced during times of exhaustion? Will we really ever know?  Does it even matter?

The bottom line is this.. a court in our nation THISWEEK decided your right to safety as a young female (in our nation) was NOT as important as a young males right to freedom.
Young women. Please take a moment to digest that and prepare yourselves for the future.
Young men. Please take a moment to digest that and decide which side of history you will be a part of.
Adults. Please read all of the linked information, and decide how to educate your children.

Christians. Please educate yourselves, and decide based on Scripture, the best way to educate our youth.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154894227086509&id=5550296508

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1166452323375784&id=618786471475708

Missouri, not a good place to be born poor.

There are too many things that I love about where I live (Missouri) to name, but here are a few:

I love how the seasons change, even though I don’t love winter, I would never appreciate the first warm days of spring without it.

I love the beauty of the rolling hills and farmland that surrounds quiet little towns.

I love how the clean rivers rush over my feet while I sit in the sun and read.

I love that I can send my children outside to play for hours, not wondering if they will be lured by gangs or drug dealers in our quiet little neighborhood.

These are just a few of the things that I love about living in rural Missouri, however, there are some things that I don’t love so much….

I don’t love how our region which is nestled in the bible belt continues to fail in caring for the least of these. In the name of Christianity.

The 8th congressional district is considered among the poorest in the United States, and is the poorest in Missouri. This district is home to the poorest counties… Some of which have SNAP (food stamp) eligibility of 50% or more. If you are born in Oregon, Shannon, or Howell county there is approximately a 50/50 chance that you will be born into generational poverty.

Generational poverty refers to families who have lived in poverty for more than 2 generations. Situational poverty exists when a middle class family falls upon difficult financial times due to circumstances like illness or divorce (Payne, 2013). The rate of generational poverty in the state of Missouri is high. According to the Missouri hunger atlas, counties in the 8th district score very high in the area of hunger, compared to other regions in our state.

According to Jordan Browning , Ozarks food harvest SNAP coordinator, Missouri ranks in the top 5 states in the nation of being difficult to apply for and receive benefits that help alleviate hunger. He also said in a recent presentation that over 1million dollars per year gets returned back to the federal government in undistributed SNAP dollars. Yes you read correctly, our state isn’t distributing all of the funding available to Missouri citizens.

The tax rates in Missouri are fairly low. Which is what makes Missouri a great place to live…. If you make a lot of money. However, if you are one of the families that suffer from generational poverty, your likelihood of escaping poverty isn’t promising as of today.

Our current state legislators are more concerned with protecting the wealthy than with allowing the federal government to care for those who are less fortunate. The saddest of all is the fact that so many citizens do not realize the benefits that the Missouri  legislature has refused to use therefore continuing to put the health, education, and overall well being of Missourians into jeopardy. This is often done in the name of Christianity.

Year after year, the same folks who have put our state into an embarrassing economic situation are elected and re-elected. In my lifetime, I have watched as the poorest counties slip farther and farther into the grips of poverty. The children become harder to educate. Mothers become tired of trying, and fathers slip further away from their family units.

Folks, it’s time to do something different in Missouri. Following the same path that we have for the past 35 years, isn’t working and doesn’t make sense. It is time for voters and citizens to speak up in Missouri for legislation that promotes a better quality of life for the “least of these”. Throughout the new testament, Jesus gives examples of helping the poor and most vulnerable. Are we really electing individuals in the name of Christianity, when little is being done to educate, feed, and keep our most vulnerable healthy? Don’t be deceived. If you are a Christian educate yourself on how to help the “least of these” in our state.  Missouri.

http://biblehub.com/matthew/25-40.htm

Missouri Poverty Facts

http://m.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-platform/editorial-poverty-is-not-a-punch-line-in-missouri-s/article_f320f4f9-4750-5382-90bc-f4adc4a6bb43.html

Payne, R. K. (2013). A framework for understanding poverty: A cognitive approach. Highland, TX: Aha!