Monday, January 30, 2017

Churchgoing Americans

 My heart hurts. My head aches. My soul is torn.

I am just not sure what to do anymore, or what I can handle to know, read, or talk about.

I don't fit a mold. I never have. I'm not conservative, but I'm not that liberal. I'm certainly not a Republican, but I definitely wouldn't call myself a democrat either. I have voted four times in my life, for Bush, Obama, and Gary Johnson twice.

I am a Christian. Call me evangelical, I guess. Born-again, I guess. I've never understood the labels, just like I've never understood denominations. What are you? Methodist? Lutheran? Baptist? Church of Christ? No. I'm a Christian. There was one church that was established after Jesus' ministry, and I don't align myself with a denomination of any kind because there were no denominations in the Bible. I'm trying to live a faith not through tradition of the way that feels comfortable to me because that's the way I've always done it, but by reading and determining for myself what I think the Bible means. I am no scholar or theologian. I didn't go to a Christian college or seminary. I don't read Greek. I don't know all the answers to all the questions.

But I know the answer to one of them. What is the greatest command? "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-38.

Jesus converted people with his acts of compassion. To the woman at the well, who had slept around her entire life, to the woman caught in adultery, to the children, who were faultless but seen as nuisances. To the blind man, the deaf man, the lame man and the ten lepers. To the man who would betray him moments later, leading him to death on a cross.

Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5, what good is it to love those who love you? Even the pagans do that. "But I say love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt 5:44)

I have been praying for Donald Trump. With tears streaming down my face, I have prayed. I have prayed that he make wise decisions. I have prayed that he lead our county well. I have pray that his heart be softened.

I have prayed for my own heart to be softened. To not become angry with those I disagree with and don't understand. To not jump to conclusions about why someone voted a certain way and that their vote automatically means they believe in something I stand against. I have prayed that I can use words that make sense and actions that prove my love and devotion to mercy. I have prayed that Christians of both political parties act like Christians. Mahatma Gandhi said he liked our Christ, it was our Christians that he didn't like. Marching for women but excluding women who believe in the sanctity of life at conception isn't tolerant. You can't be tolerant for everyone except conservative Christians. And assuming that pro-choice equals pro-abortion isn't fair and isn't an intelligent stance to take, because it's a much more complicated situation than that. Both sides have it wrong when it comes to understanding, loving, and extending grace to each other.

I have been praying for all those who feel marginalized or bullied, for whether real or perceived, the pain is no less.

I have prayed to be able to decipher fact from fiction, to remove emotion from rational decisions.

I have prayed to not be angry, then changed my prayer, and instead  prayed for my anger to be righteous. Jesus overturned the temple tables when he saw money changers working in the house of God. And he was completely right in doing so. There is such a thing as righteous anger. Anger in itself is not sinful, and if Christians do not react to injustices of ALL the world (racism, xenophobia, homophobia, rights of the unborn) who will?

I have prayed that I know when to be quiet and when to speak. I have prayed for my anxiety to be removed. All I want to do is talk to others about how I feel a Christian should act, but not more than ever, I feel that I'm an outsider looking in, a more liberal Christian, not fully belonging to either group, as if liberal and Christian are destined to be opposites. Even growing up in a conservative, Republican household, I always felt that being a Republican was more opposite of being a Christian than being a liberal was. In high school I started wrestling with the ideas of big business, big banks, more money, more military, might makes right, majority rules, America first, and these ideas just didn't jive with Christianity to me. They still don't.

I have prayed for the courage to ask  people who voted for Trump and are Christians to tell me why they did. I want to understand. I want to so desperately understand.

But, I also understand how people more right wing than me question how I can be a Christian and vote or believe the way I do. I'll do my best to be transparent and explain:

God gave us free will. He also gave us His word to guide us through life's challenges, joys, successes and sorrows. So in my mind, there is a balance between doing what I am expected to do or not do, while not forcing others to believe or do the same as me. God did not create us as robots. He doesn't want forced affection and obedience, He desires sincere worship.

It is in this light that I find myself politically pro-choice and pro-gay rights. There, I said it.

Now brace yourselves, because it's about to get tricky.

I believe that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. "In His image, he created them. Male and female he created them", Genesis 1:27.

I don't like seeing gay parents. I think it's confusing and damaging to the children, but, when I think about it, no more damaging than heterosexual couples that divorce or never marry in the first place. Or what about the loveless heterosexual marriages, those who stay together because they might as well, or stay together "for the kids". None of these are healthy examples of family, but are all prominent in our society.

 I believe people are born with homosexual tendencies, but that they can and should be fought, as we fight to resist all sin. I've got a good friend from college who confided in me that he has struggled with homosexual thoughts his whole life, as I have struggles with anger and cursing, as some struggle with porn or alcohol or drug abuse. But, being a believer of what the Bible says about homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22- Do not have sexual relations with a man as with a woman. That is detestable), he is still a faithful church goer with a wife that he IS sexually attracted to and loves, and the two of them even have a child together.

I also abhor abortion. I believe it's a sin. I believe that it's murder. I could never imagine myself considering having an abortion.

Oh wait, yes I could. 2003-2005 was no cake walk, and I did a lot of stupid stuff with a lot of stupid people. Had one of those actions lead to a baby, which you know it could have, you better believe I would have been one of those people who still felt abortion was a sin, and yet still felt like that it would have been my only way out.

So I ask this: Do we put ourselves in others positions enough?

If I had inclinations to be more attracted to women, I can imagine life being really difficult and people being very hateful to me. By people, I mean Christians. Because how often is the first word out of our mouths as Christians, "Well, you know that the Bible says..." Yes, of course we need to preach and teach the gospel, but no one listens to someone who doesn't appear to love them. Love and grace MUST come first. Would I fight it and feel judged and like I was living a lie with my Christian friends, or would I give in and be happy with people who accept me? Satan makes it a really easy choice, and just because these aren't your weaknesses doesn't mean you can look down on those who struggle. What if you were them. Really. What would you do?

I worry about the hatefulness that churchgoing Americans throw on the homosexual community and Planned Parenthood. If I had ever had an abortion, I would never consider coming to church again. Clearly, the church, and therefore Jesus, hates me. This is the message we are sending when we picket and threaten and call people "baby killers". Is it murder? Yes, I believe so. Is it wrong? Yes, I believe so. Do I think abortion clinics should be legal? Yes, I do. Think of how many more women and children will die without them, because they will turn to coat hanger abortions in shady street corner shops.

I shed tears over how crimes towards those who identify as LGBTQ+. Sometimes I don't understand it. Pan love? Like, I can fall in love with anyone or anything no matter what they identify as? What if I fall in love with a chair? It's bizarre. But just because I don't understand doesn't mean I can't and shouldn't try, that I can't and shouldn't show people real love, the love of a Savior.

I am not patriotic in the slightest. I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I do not pledge at all to anyone and anything other than my God. I recognize that God can use all leaders, even evil or misguided ones, to do great things or bring a stir in the people to act justly and return to what is important. God told the Israelites they didn't need a king, but they insisted, and had to live through the reign of King Saul to get to King David, a (flawed) man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13- 2 Samuel 5). So I will absolutely recognize that Trump is our president. No doubt about it, under current laws of the country, he won the election. But I believe the Bible gives us permission- no, commands us to follow God before we follow man (Acts 5:29).  Should they ever interfere, God's law trumps (no pun intended) man's laws.

I can't stand by while foreigners in our land are treated as criminals. I refuse to live in fear and anger. I won't carry a gun, and I won't support keeping people out of our country. I hate that the laws to become a citizen are so difficult, and I wish that would change.

But what it boils down to me is this: do I believe in nationalism? Do I believe that God blessed America more than any other country in the world? That we were meant to prosper while others were destined for death? No, not for a second. Monetarily, we have been blessed, and we keep it to ourselves. Numbers wise, no, I recognize that Americans do give millions in foreign aid, to charities and the like. Still, I can't help but think of the woman with two mites. She had basically two cents to her name, but she went to he temple and gave all she had. It was laughable compared to what the Pharisees has been giving, and yet Jesus said she gave more than anyone (Luke 21:1-4).

America. We are the Pharisees.

And I'm tired of it. I'm hurt when I hear people complain that their taxes are going up so "illegals" can go to school. When people complain that healthcare got more expensive because now there are populations that didn't have access to proper medical care before that now have it.

Is not all we have from God? Then how dare we act as if it is our own, and that we deserve it more than others. I don't believe that God loves me more than a mother of two in the fifth ward of Houston or Aleppo, Syria. To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

It is not easy to step out of the rat race. I give about 10% of what I make to various organizations. If I really trusted God, wouldn't I give more? Would I give all? If I really loved my neighbor as myself, would I give away half of my possessions? A 50/50 split between my neighbors and myself?

I don't know. I find myself daily doing one of two things: researching tiny houses so that I can give away nearly all in own and live a simple, God-focused life, or watching House Hunters and designing my giant dream home full of every comfort I have always wanted, including a wall-length bookshelf and media room. I struggle with giving away possessions to Goodwill now, because I think someone could use them, and then wish I still had them because I think they may benefit someone in the future. If I someday have a huge house with lots of resources, I could house foster children or a refugee family or a single mother struggling to get things right. I am completely torn.

As I read what I have written so far, I know that I've angered or offended every person that I know. But I have to be transparent right now, and I'm so confused and hurt that I don't know who to talk to. If I talk to liberal friends, I may be perceived as the hypocritical Christian I so desperately don't want to be. If I talk to my conservative friends, I run the risk of being shamed as sinful. So I'm hateful and judgmental no matter who I talk to or what my views are, when all I'm trying to do is love. I can't win.

I am sorry. I have beliefs, and I have convictions. I also have doubts, and I have sin in my own life. I have experiences that leave me more sensitive to some issues and less to others. There are no two people in the world who are exactly alike in looks, thoughts, actions, religious views, or political parties. I cannot please everyone. All I can do is try to please my Lord, and I will continue to pray and study to find out what that best way is. Thank God for grace, because I get it wrong, but I try. My eyes are focused on the prize and I am trusting that Jesus knows and loves my tender heart despite my angry mouth, and that with help I can improve.

My goal for the future: I want to be known and defined as a Christian. A Jesus-follower. Not a Republican. Not a Democrat. Not a Baptist. Not a Methodist. Not a woman. Not a man. Not straight. Not gay. Not anything but a Christian, and absolutely not just a churchgoing American.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Death and Really Living

This is my cat.
Her name is Sasha. She turned 13 in October.

Sasha is dying.

Blah. That sucks to write. But, it's true. She has polycystic kidneys, and I've known for the past 7 years that eventually she would succumb to renal failure or die from complications relating to that.

The story of how I came to be in possession of Sasha is an interesting one. I was 17, a senior in high school. I had a group project for our AP English class to work on, so four of us met at a girl named Kathleen's house on a Sunday. I was very stressed because senior year of high school was rough, to put it lightly, and I guess it all came down to this: I was having a hard time feeling loved. I vaguely remember having a fight with my parents that morning or the night before, probably about missing church to work on a school project. I was stressed over our project, and at the fact that I felt lazy because I couldn't put as much effort into it as the others, because I had to work from 12-5 at the mall. It was a busy day at Build-a-Bear (yes, I worked at Build-a-Bear- this deserves multiple posts later), and I snapped at a co-worker who was having no patience with me. I ended up bawling in the backroom and questioning my whole existence in life. After work, I went back to Kathleen's house, where her mom gave me a tea pot to try to make me feel better (she had learned that morning that I didn't drink coffee, and felt we had bonded over that). As I sat at my computer crying, she sat down next to me and said, "Do you want a cat?" She proceeded to tell me that her other daughter had found two stray cats outside and had been nursing them to health. I wiped my tears and said, "Yes. Yes I do." My boyfriend attempted to tell me that this was not a good idea, since I was having trouble at home anyway, bringing home a surprise animal, especially when my parents had two dogs, probably wasn't a good idea. But, I DO WHAT I WANT! So, Sasha became mine.

She was so small on that day in October that she fit inside the palm of my hand and rode halfway home inside my purse. She couldn't have been more than 6 weeks old. And judging by the size of her brother, she was the runt.

Fast forward to 2017. Three weeks ago, our vet advised that we place Sasha on a special renal diet, potassium supplements, blood pressure medication, a phosphate binder, with the possibility of an ACE inhibitor and a one-day hospital stay to get her system flushed out.

On Wednesday, I brought Sasha back to the vet for follow-up blood work, and admitted to my doctor what Brandon had forced me to realize: we are paying to keep her alive. Even if all of these medications helped, it would extend her life for what, weeks? Months, if we're lucky? She doesn't like the diet food very much and has already stopped eating her normal food, too. She doesn't eat period if I administer the phosphate or blood pressure meds. I told our vet I wouldn't pay to put her in the hospital because I really don't have funds for that. What our vet said next was so simple and yet so poignant.

Dr. G said, "You just want her to be a cat."

Yes. I want her to be a cat. Not a patient. Just a cat.

So, I've been giving her small bits of turkey and ham, because deli meat is her favorite thing in the world. I've been allowing her outside, where she hasn't been since we moved to our house in 2013. I've stopped giving her dry or renal diet cat food and bought Fancy Feast gravy lovers. And, I'm not giving her any medication.

This is how I want to go.

If I get diagnosed with a terminal disease, I don't want to be a patient, I just want to be me. If I'm going to pass on, I want my last days to be spent anywhere else but in a hospital bed. I don't want to be pumped full of medication that will make me sick and inhibit my appetite. I want to be able to enjoy my favorite foods without worrying about how they're going to affect me. I want to be able to spend my final days with the people that I love, making memories, enjoying my life. People say they want to live like they were dying. I want to really live, even while I'm dying.

I want to live my last days like Craig Sager, celebrated sportscaster and journalist, who passed away in December of 2016. He was diagnosed with Leukemia twice, and passed away less than 3 years from his first diagnosis in 2014. He missed the entire 2014 playoffs for chemo and radiation, and when it was determined that he was no longer in remission, but had 3-6 months left to live, he received one last bone marrow transplant. After that, he was done. Not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, he had had it. Once, he sneaked out of his hospital in Houston to attend a Rockets basketball game. I can remember seeing him in the stands being interviewed, asking him what he was doing there. He came to countless Astros games in between his treatments, often against doctor's wishes. When the medical staff surrounding him was saying he needed to be wearing a mask and staying in bed, he said he just couldn't live like that, and went to the nearest sports arena, where he felt the most enjoyment away from home. How often do I quit because it's too hard? How often do I stop fighting and resign myself to whatever sadness and pain must be coming my way? Craig challenges me to keep doing what I love no matter what the circumstances, because that's what life is for.



I want to live my last days like Alyssa Ferguson, world-changer from my church, who passed away from brain cancer on Thursday. She, along with her mom and sister, have a disorder that makes them more susceptible to cancers, and her mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Alyssa was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, when she was 12 years old. In the three years of her fight, she stayed cheerful and optimistic. She wore a smile on her face and stylish hats on her head. She used her life for others, spending her "wish" not on herself for a trip to Disney World, as I would undoubtedly do, but to build a well for a small village in Africa that had never before had clean drinking water. Christian recording artist Matthew West wrote a song for her, entitled "World Changers". Listen to it here. A month ago, Alyssa was given hours or days to live, and was placed on hospice care. The Ferguson family even began plans for a memorial service for Alyssa to be held at our church on January 8th. Alyssa beat the odds and stayed on hospice care for an entire month. She was able to be moved to hospice home care and enjoy her 15th birthday surrounded by friends and family, eating a stack of 15 pancakes topped with candles, and a snowball fight outside. She loved life, and she kept living, even when she was given a death sentence, and she was handed that sentence more times than I can count. How often do I just give up because the way seems hopeless, only to feel embarrassed at how childish and faithless I acted? Alyssa challenges me to really live.



So, some people may think I am being cruel to my cat for not giving her the medical attention she needs. I don't. I don't want her to be a patient. Craig didn't want to be a patient anymore, neither did Alyssa, and neither do I. I want to live. Not physically survive, but thrive. Enjoy life. Really live, until death comes. And it will come for us all. So, what's your choice? Try to fight to live forever, but in a state of misery? Or live with passion and fire for what this life has given you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Holy Missing Blog Posts, Batman!

When I wrote, 'Continue blog' on my to-do list yesterday, I had no idea that I hadn't written anything since 2014! Holy missing blog posts, Batman indeed!

Why have I been adding things to my to-do list? Why did I decide to blog again? Why the cheesy superhero reference? Glad you asked. Brandon and I bought the entire 1960's Batman series for Peyton's birthday, and the kids are obsessed. We watched 4 episodes tonight. It is a riot!

Many of my past posts concerned my weight-loss journey. The last weigh-in I posted after Peyton was born was that I was down to 142.6 pounds. Then I stopped blogging for a few months and came back to say that I was starting over. That was almost two years ago.

Now I weigh 193 pounds. And I'm 5 foot 1. With shoes on.

So, naturally I picture myself like this:
Actually, I look like this:
(I'm the one in the dress.)

Not half bad, really. Just bigger than I need to be.

Anyway, I've tried a variety of theories, methods, practices, what have you, in trying to become healthier. I rejoined Weight Watchers. But then I stopped paying for it, because budgeting. So, I started to count my points on my own. Except, I'm a big cheater and wouldn't keep track of everything. And I just could not, for the life of me, figure out why the numbers on my points tracker looked, well, on point, and the scale just going up (reread that sentence with sarcasm, if you didn't catch that the first time). I've made promises and broken them, made plans and foiled them on purpose. I bought an exercise bike and rode it while I watched TV, but then realized that I was only breaking even if I ate Pop Tarts while I rode (Yes, this really happened. Ask my husband), I even read a book called, "Made to Crave", where the premise was to pray or read scripture whenever I felt like eating junk food. It worked great, until I finished the book. It went on the shelf, and Snickers went back in my belly. And here I am, over 50 pounds heavier than I was over two years ago.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I traveled to North Carolina with my parents for my cousin's wedding. Immediately when we arrived, snow began to fall. I rode to our hotel feeling like I had not entered Durham, NC, but Bedford Falls. Merry Christmas, you old building and loan! We feasted on Oreo truffles instead of grooms cake (EXCELLENT choice), and nearly every time we entered the hotel, I grabbed another snack from the lobby's snackery (This is a word. I have just made it such). You know, Muddy Buddies, Twix, M&M's. All things chocolate for me, because if there's one thing I can't get too much of, it's chocolate.

Except, my throat started hurting as I scarfed down my beloved M&M's. I endured the pain, because, chocolate. Are you understanding my love affair? It goes deep. I flew from Raleigh/Durham to a connecting flight in Orlando, where I bought some chocolate fro-yo to help ease my throat pain, which had gone from annoying to throbbing. I arrived home in Houston hours later, and since my --mind *always* goes to worst case scenario, I actually had throat cancer and needed my tonsils out also. I had never felt such throat pain in my life. I check in the mirror, and there it is: a huge, yellow canker sore. ON. MY. UVULA. You know, the little dangly thing. Yes, I know you had to go reread the word. No, my woman parts are in ship shape, thank you very much. But my throat was another story.

I immediately gave myself permission to get a Whataburger chocolate shake, which is, undoubtedly, the tops when it comes to milkshaking. Then I got an urge to do a little googling to see what else might benefit a canker sore in literally the worst place in the mouth possible. It was then that I read it. The most likely cause for canker sores on tonsil tissue? Allergic reaction.

Background information: I never drank milk as a kid, because it's super gross, but I loved chocolate. I loved ice cream, but not vanilla ice cream, because it tastes like milk, and milk is super gross. Do you follow? I never liked butter, sour cream, or cheese.

I'll give you a moment to let that sink in. I never liked cheese.

I even went through a phase starting in maybe 2nd or 3rd grade when I didn't like pizza, then I was like, "Wait a sec- who doesn't like pizza?", so I tried it again around 6th grade and loved it. Fast forward to summer before junior year of high school, and I get sick as a dog during the busiest summer of my life. Stress surely played a part, but that didn't hide the facts from my food journal. I only got sick when I ate dairy products, so I laid off them and got better. Best I can figure, all those foods I didn't like as a kid probably made me feel sick at one time or another, but chocolate never did, or at least I never noticed enough to stop eating it. The past few years, dairy hasn't been a huge issue for me. I still don't like cheese, but I love me some pizza. I felt like I was becoming a little more sensitive in recent months, and then BAM- M&M's give me throat cancer. Not really, but they probably helped cause the sore.

All this to say that this was finally a push that I needed. It has been two weeks since I have had any chocolate, save for one chocolate chip that I nibbled off of a cookie. BUT THAT'S ALL. I've lost 4 pounds and have had no more throat pain. And weirdly enough, no real cravings for chocolate either. I feel like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, being now adverse to the thing I once loved so dearly. Seriously. I smell a Reese's cup and feel like I'm going to vomit.

So, I decided today that I'm ready to knock something else out of my diet: fried sides. I can't be totally unrealistic. I will never give up fried chicken. EVER. But fries, tots, onion rings? I can do without those. I can now add fried sides to the new list of 'foods I need to stay away from'.

And then it hit me. Why couldn't I have success before? Why didn't the bike, the book, the points tracking, and all that work? It worked the first time, you say. Yeah, I was nursing that time, so it took NO effort to lose weight. To think, I've contemplated having another child just so I can birth them, nurse them, and get thinner again. SO EASY. But, then I'd have another kid. So... yeah, I didn't go through with that plan.

I realized it today as I was reading my sweet friend Brittnie's book. I read all about her battle with anorexia and search for control, but it wasn't until I read about how the road to recovery starts with baby steps that I got it.

I can do this if I go one step at a time. I've failed to lose weight and get healthier because I get overwhelmed at all that goes into it. It's not simply, "losing weight", it's exercising, it's reading food labels, it's cooking, it's arguing with my kids about making them eat the same food, or else struggling to eat my tofu or whatever when their Bagel Bites smell sooo good. And it's for months. Forever, really, if I want to change my lifestyle and not just diet.

I struggle with eating because I struggle with anxiety and depression. I even have some OCD tendencies that I can (usually) brush to the side, but that sometimes pop up to wreak havoc when everything else has gone to pot. When I have a to-do list that is a mile long, I can't bring myself to pick one thing to do and do it. I just resign myself to failure and take a nap instead. So, when I think about getting healthy, every thought rushes through my head at once: my sweet friends who do Whole 30 and other transformation food plans. The help that you offer just makes me feel inadequate. I don't even know how to pronounce some of the things you cook. The videos with #nevermissaMonday makes me want to cry, because I can't even get up out of bed to shower some mornings, let alone work out. So, I eat. I eat for comfort. I eat because it all feels lost anyway, so screw it. THIS is anxiety and depression, ladies and gentlemen.

Baby steps are the only way to get on the road to recovery. Step one: don't eat chocolate. Wow. Wait, what? Have I actually accomplished something? Seriously? I've gone two weeks without chocolate now. I think I'm ready for a second baby step. And maybe after two more weeks, I can take another, and in another two weeks, another. I will not rush myself this time around, because I know the downward spiral it will cause.

This may seem crazy to some of you, but this is the only way for me to keep all my marbles. I can do this, but I have to be the tortoise in order to reach the finish line.

Even before I had these realizations about my physical health, I recognized that my mental health needed some tending-to. These same principles, baby steps, work with mental health, too, you know. I have always been meticulous about to-do lists. Kept them everywhere, wrote down every little thing I needed to do, crossed them off to feel successful. If I was unable to finish anything on my list, I would write "shower" and "lunch" so I could cross them off. I only felt accomplished if I saw that had been slashed through.

Step one: move my to-do list to my phone. Erasing has a much different feel than crossing through. When you mark through an item on a written list, there are remnants. You see what was there, because it's still there, staring at you from underneath an accomplishment line. Erasing, on the other hand, leaves no trace. My jobs vanish, leaving me no enjoyment from seeing the long list of strike throughs. I struggle vehemently with myself, though I know it is for my good.

Step two: create three to-do lists. One for today's to-do's, one for general things I need to do when I get a chance, and one for odd jobs and projects that I'd like to do if I have time for something fun. See, I used to keep them all together, so things like "laundry" and "cut t-shirts for quilt" were on the same list, stressing me out because there was just too much.

So, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

I can't do nothing anymore. I can't give in to anxiety, depression, and a food coma. I'm going to go on one day, one bite at a time.