A Hair-Raising Story

I don’t know how safe New Delhi’s bus stops are for women these days, but once upon a time they were about as safe as shark-infested waters are for scuba divers. This is because New Delhi’s bus stops were haunted by a breed of predatory fiend known as the chain snatcher. If you heard that a woman had had her gold chain snatched, you could safely assume that the crime had been committed at a bus stop.

In those days, women who wore gold chains and used public transportation were a particularly high-risk group in New Delhi. Inside the bus, they could expect to have the private areas of their anatomy shamelessly groped by strangers. (This in a country whose pledge of allegiance describes its citizens as brothers and sisters.) Outside the bus, the part of a woman’s body most at risk was her neck.

My late aunt Joyce, who called India’s capital city home for nearly five decades, once told me about a woman she knew who’d had her chain snatched while waiting for a bus. The chain snatcher returned to the bus stop at the same time next morning. He had with him the stolen chain.

If you guessed he’d come to return the chain, you are right. But it had nothing to do with repentance.

Before long the woman arrived at the bus stop, as was her custom on weekdays. Being an honest and responsible adult, she paid her bills by working at an office across town, not by stealing other people’s property.

The moment the chain snatcher spied his victim from the day before, he stepped forward and bestowed upon her cheek what my late father would have called “one tight slap.” Then he flung the chain at her and stalked off with this parting shot:

“You should be ashamed of yourself for wearing fake gold.”

This is the story that came to mind when I saw a clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a press conference on September 2, two days after her trip to a San Francisco salon.

A reporter informed the Speaker that a certain barber thinks she owes the service industry an apology. After all, she’d had her hair washed and dried indoors while salons in California have been ordered to conduct business out of doors. But instead of tendering an apology, Pelosi replied:

“This salon owes me an apology for setting [me] up.”

Unlike the chain snatcher in my late aunt’s tale, the House Speaker had not committed a crime. As long as indoor salon trips are not prohibited by law, she was not guilty of a legal infraction. But her actions did violate a social and moral code of conduct.

As Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi commands a large, national stage with an audience of over 330 million, not counting the foreigners who follow American politics. Her audience includes many women who aspire to reach the top of their respective fields, as she has done. Surely setting a good example must trump setting her hair?

PHOTO VIA IMDB

(c) 2020 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

Seven Years Later

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the day one of my oldest, most cherished dreams came true: the dream of becoming an author.

My first book, Pioneer Boulevard: Los Angeles Stories, was released on June 29, 2013. I chose this day because it was the only weekend my older nephew/godson could make it from Canada, where he was an undergrad at Waterloo. His presence that day meant more to me than I’ll ever have the words for—more so because the poor guy went from the clement climes of southeastern Ontario to the fiery furnace of Southern California without a word of complaint.

June 29, 2013 remains among the hottest days I can recall in LA—and I’ve lived here 21 years now. But even the blazing sun could not dampen my joy as we drove to the book launch. The venue happened to be the very building where the idea for the book was born back in 2005, a few months after I became a US citizen.

Citizenship

LA Convention Center, April 2005

At the time I was working at a small publishing company that had its head office in the aforementioned building. And although the term “side hustle” had not yet come into popular use, I had a side hustle. It was (and still is) that of an editor.

One evening I stayed back after work to finish a manuscript with an impending deadline. I was in the middle of doing something prosaic with my red pen—probably replacing a semicolon with a comma or changing the location of an apostrophe—when this idea dropped into my mind: I should write a collection of stories about Indians in Los Angeles.

Like Hamlet’s opening words, momentous ideas sometimes make their appearance without fanfare. For the first 64 lines of Act I, scene ii, the Prince of Denmark has been standing quietly on the side, his inky cloak blending in with the royal tapestry as Claudius addresses the affairs of state and the state of affairs. Suddenly the king seems to recall that his cousin Hamlet is now his son and he says something to this effect. In response Hamlet utters the first of his many words: “A little more than kin and less than kind.”

But that was an aside. Let me return to my story.

After that momentous first thought about the collection of stories, I had another thought and then another, and before I knew it I was writing “The Lavender Dress.” At the Iowa Summer Writing Festival the following year Bret Anthony Johnston suggested I reconsider the title, and since I’d learnt so much in Bret’s class on heroes and villains, I took his advice.

The renamed but yet-unpublished story got me accepted into the master’s program at Keele University, where I would write Pioneer Boulevard. During the first of our unforgettable tutorials my tutor, novelist Joe Stretch, told me that when he read the opening sentence of that story, it said to him, “Pleased to meet you, I’m a writer.”

As for Pioneer Boulevard, I suppose it says, “Pleased to meet you, I’m an author.” How good of an author, you must decide for yourself once you have read my book.

Seven years after my childhood dream came true, I can only say one of the few Latin phrases I know. Soli Deo gloria.

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Artesia Library Author Talk, March 2014

Tapping Into Faith

It’s interesting how Facebook has been reminding me of my memories in such a well-timed manner of late. Either my phone’s spying on me (pshaw!), or God knew something one year ago that neither Facebook nor Apple did.

I am right now in the midst of replacing my kitchen tap — a multistep process in my world — and voila, here comes this notification:

What’s more interesting than the timing is that my new kitchen tap is similar to the one in this image, except that it is wall-mounted. (The American word is faucet, but I am using the Indian word so the title can have a little pun. Every now and then, the title must have a little pun.)

I remember spending a fair bit of time searching for an image to go with that post last year. In fact, it took longer to find the image than it did to write the post — and I don’t type fast even on my phone.

I was delighted when I finally found the right image, because I liked what I saw both inside and outside the window. What I didn’t realize then is that God was also giving me a vision of my new tap.

My kitchen tap dance — or should I call it a Facebook anniversary waltz? — reminds me of how God typically speaks to us and how we hear Him. Here are four principles I’ve learned:

1. God often speaks to us ahead of time, and usually in symbols rather than directly.
The Holy Spirit didn’t tell me, “One year from today you will have a kitchen tap like this.” He simply planted a picture of the kind of device He would lead me to pick when the time was right.

2. We must ask Him for what we need.
I did not get God’s communiqué about my kitchen tap automatically. I had a part to play as well — and that was to ask. I asked God to lead me to the right image last year and to the right tap this year, and both times He did. As Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7). And again, “Ask and you will receive” (John 16:24).

3. We must continue to walk by faith.
As we walk by faith, God gives us a vision of the things He has for us in the future. And as we continue to walk by faith, we reach the place of being able to receive the things He has promised. The faith chapter of the Bible makes this very point about Abraham, the man of faith: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went” (Hebrews 11:8, emphasis added).

4. God knows our needs before we do, so we can trust Him with the future.
When I wrote that post last year, I didn’t know I would need a new tap — but God did. He knew before I knew, let alone before I asked. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8, emphasis added). And of course, this verse immediately precedes what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

My kitchen tap is a small thing compared to the Kingdom-related things God has for us — like sharing the good news with others and overcoming obstacles in our own lives. But we learn to have faith for the big things by having faith for the small things. As I say in The Blessing of Melchizedek Devotional, maturity is mastering the basics.

Finishing Well

Trust my errant muse to ensure that my first post of the decade is about finishing and not beginning. But I’m grateful to receive a visit from La Muse at all, so let me not complain.

On January 21 I saw a Facebook post about the recent death of a friend’s wife. I had met this couple — I’ll call them Ashok and Jaya — many years ago in my hometown of Pune, India. When I read the condolence message someone had posted on Ashok’s page, I had the memory of a tall, gracious woman with a serene smile. I tried to recall something Jaya had said to remember her by, but I couldn’t even evoke the sound of her voice.

Then I read Ashok’s comment under that condolence message, and I found the thing by which I will remember Jaya. This is what Ashok had written:

“She finished her race well.”

The comment stayed with me for the rest of the day. At one point, as I was sipping elaichi chai in my kitchen, I remembered that January 21 was the day my maternal grandmother had died. This is Nani, in whose house I was born and who had led me to be born again.

Nani’s is the first death that hit me as a death. I do have memories of Nana’s death, but at four I didn’t fully grasp what death was. As I looked at my grandfather’s unmoving body laid out on the slab of ice, with Mummy holding her beloved father’s head and weeping, I didn’t know I would never see Nana again in this life. But the word “death” became real to me for the first time that day, as I heard the sad-faced, teary-eyed adults say it in hushed, respectful tones.

Nani’s death five years later hit me very differently. I never saw her body. She died in New Delhi and we didn’t attend the funeral. But at nine I knew that death was final, and I grieved accordingly.

A couple days after we got the telegram informing us that Nani had died, a parcel arrived in the mail. It was Nani’s Christmas gift to us. She had mailed it well before December 25, but it had apparently traveled all over the Indian Subcontinent before showing up at our door (thankfully unopened and in one piece). The gifts Nani had so lovingly chosen meant that much more to us because it was the last time we would receive something from her.

I have forgotten everything we found in the parcel, but I remember there were three necklaces, identical except for the colors. The colors were different so my sisters and I could share them. Mine was yellow, and the others were brown and red. I cannot remember what became of my necklace, though I do recall the fate that befell my younger sister’s red one some years later.

My sister was dressing the Fabled Dachshund in a sari, and I suggested that she add a necklace to complete the attire. The Fabled Dachshund had long ago refused to wear his collar, and I thought he might find a necklace more to his taste. As it turned out, the Fabled Dachshund didn’t care for necklaces either.

The moment my sister had fastened it to his neck, the Fabled Dachshund bent his head in one forceful jerk and the string instantly snapped. As the red beads bounced all over the living room, the Fabled Dachshund slipped on them. He didn’t have far to fall, so the effect was comic rather than tragic.

My sister and I shrieked with laughter, which brought Mummy into the room. She scolded my sister for being careless with Nani’s gift, and my sister was kind enough to credit me as the brains behind the brawl.

For using my brains, I was immediately rewarded with a spank or a dirty look, I forget which. It was probably the dirty look because I have no memory of an aching butt. On the other hand, I have so many of memories of an aching butt that it is quite possible I was spanked on this occasion as well. And my parents being so very generous when it came to discipline, it is equally possible that I received both.

But I digress. I was telling you about Nani’s death. My aunt Joyce, who was with her at the end, told us that Nani’s last words were the same as Jesus’ last words on the cross:

“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Nani ran a good, long race, and as I think about her last words, I can confidently say what Ashok said about Jaya: that she finished her race well.

Someday may someone say this of me.

When Christians Walk Away – Part 3

When Christians walk away, they are walking away from Jesus Christ, not just from Christianity or a local church. After all, when they became a Christian, they had entered a relationship with a Person, not a religion or a church.

I’m talking about becoming a Christian in the true sense. There is such a thing as cultural Christianity, where one may celebrate Christmas and Easter, perhaps even attend church regularly and partake of the Lord’s Supper. I’m not talking about that. And netither were Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson, back when they called themselves Christians and wrote books and songs expressing their love for Jesus.

In the aftermath of these men’s very public walking away from Christ, here’s another question the rest of us must ask: Can a Christian who walks away from Christ walk back to Him? 

The short answer is yes, potentially. But the odds aren’t in their favor. In fact, the odds are completely against them, as we learn from one of the Bible’s most explicit passages on the topic.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6). 

This is the passage that convinced me that Paul is the author of Hebrews, because no one else in the early church could have written with such severity. Peter, perhaps, but he was not schooled enough to have written the rest of Hebrews.

*****

The heavenly gift referred to in Hebrews 6:4 is the gift of salvation. Paul describes salvation as a gift elsewhere too, as in these verses:

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

And in one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, Jesus Himself tells the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

Salvation, as Webster so succinctly defines it, is deliverance from the power and effects of sin. And the good news, the gospel, is that it is free.

Like any gift, God’s free gift of salvation can be spurned, or received and then returned. Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson did not spurn God’s gift when it was offered to them at some point in their history. They received it, enjoyed its benefits for a season, and then returned it. Tragically, there are many thousands who treat the heavenly gift in this manner.

*****

According to Hebrews 6:4, those who walk away from Christ do so knowingly, because they had once been enlightened. Whatever their reasons for walking away, ignorance is not one of them.

Christians who walk away know what it is to have the darkness in their souls illumined by the light of Christ. They know what it is to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and to feed on the Word of God. They have experienced the Father’s love and at least some degree of a transformed life. This is a foretaste of the age to come, when we will see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and never again battle the sinful desires that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).

Jesus died a bloody, brutal, shameful, innocent death so we could enjoy these benefits. To walk away from Him is to deem His sacrifice worthless, which is to crucify Him all over again and drag His name through the mud. This is why Paul says it is impossible for those who walk away to be brought back to repentance.

*****

The phrase it is impossible in Hebrews 6:4 is one word in the Greek: adunatos. Apart from “that which is impossible,” adunatos also means to lack the ability or power (dunamis). From this we can infer that those who walk away are unable to repent and return.

By the same token, those who stay are able to do so because God gives them the power. In other words, it is possible for a Christian not to walk away!

It is possible, but it is not easy. The Christian life has rightly been described as a war, and war is never easy. Ask any vet.

We are in an all-out war with “the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12), but Jesus has won a comprehensive victory on our behalf. He “disarmed the [demonic] powers and … made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And His resurrection sealed the deal.

If we are in Christ we are already on the winning side. But if we are to avoid becoming a casualty, we must do our part. That’s why the Bible urges every believer: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

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FLANDERS, AUGUST 1917. AP

(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved. 

When Christians Walk Away – Part 2

The walking away of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson has raised a question that inevitably surfaces when such things happen: Can a Christian lose their faith?

Christians regularly sidestep this question by saying the person who walked away was not a real Christian in the first place. That’s essentially what Franklin Graham did when he told Fox News he doubted whether Harris and Sampson “even had a faith at all to begin with.” Maybe they don’t have a Christian faith now, but does that mean they never did?

Every serious believer must wrestle with this question, and it’s one for which we can have only one answer. Either we believe that Christians can lose their faith, or we believe they cannot and that those who do were never truly Christian to begin with.

Let me explain my own position through two illustrations. The first is drawn from contemporary American culture.

The #WalkAway movement is made up of people who have walked away from their former progressivism. Try telling one of these folks that they were never progressive to begin with. All their activism will rise to the fore as they convince you why they were indeed progressive and what has changed. 

*****

My second and more important example comes from the very beginnings of Christianity. It’s the chilling tale of the first disciple who walked away.

Judas Iscariot had walked with Jesus from the start of His public ministry. He had spent three years at close quarters with Jesus. He had heard Jesus teach. He had seen Him perform miracles. He had traveled in His company. He had even worshiped Him. And yet he walked away.

To say that Judas was “not a disciple to begin with” would be to contradict the Bible. Each of the Synoptic Gospels mentions him in the list of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:4Mark 3:19Luke 6:16). And even though the Fourth Gospel does not include this list, John 12:4 refers to Jesus’ betrayer as “one of His disciples.”

It is sobering to remember that Jesus was not betrayed by a stranger but by a disciple who had walked with Him for the entire duration of His ministry, all the way to the Last Supper.

*****

Although I have never renounced my faith in Christ, I have experienced many faith crises over my four decades as a Christian. Some of them were severe enough to make me consider ending my life. Sadly, my mother knows this is true.

Having battled the temptation to walk away once and for all, I can say this one thing with certainty: We have an enemy who is fully committed to destroying our faith, and a Lord who is fully committed to saving it.

But here’s the rub. Neither God nor the devil can impose their will upon us against our will. Yes, they each try to convince us to believe or not to believe as the case may be, but neither can make us stay or walk away.

Back when I struggled with the temptation to walk away from life, my mother and a few others (including myself) prayed that God would give me the grace to make it one difficult day after another. But I still had the choice to receive that grace or to reject it.

Jesus has done all that is needed for our salvation, and prayer works wonders. But at the end of the day, we can choose to listen to God’s voice or the devil’s. Our actions are ultimately the consequences of our own decisions. That’s the terrifying power of choice.

*****

The decision of a longtime Christian to walk away from their faith does not happen overnight. Like any major decision it’s a process, a series of smaller choices leading up to the big one. If it were possible to examine each of the smaller choices Joshua Harris made in recent years, we would see the trend towards the big decision to kiss his faith goodbye.

The terrifying power of small choices is why we must constantly keep our lives under the searchlight of the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist prayed:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

The good news about small choices is that it cuts both ways. Just as small wrong choices lead to bigger bad decisions, so also small right choices lead to bigger good decisions.

Yes, Judas walked away, but all of the other eleven followed Jesus to the very end. And so have millions of Christians down through twenty centuries. And so can we.

As we daily choose to receive Christ’s enabling grace, as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power and remain in the Father’s love, we will finish our race without falling by the wayside. And finishing well is what the faith marathon is all about. That’s why the Bible urges, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

To be concluded. 

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PHOTO VIA UNSPLASH

(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

When Christians Walk Away – Part 1

As an intercessor I am privy to all sorts of secrets, and I thought I had lost my capacity to be shocked. And then along comes a brilliant writer and shocks me in a way that brilliant writers are expected to do in their books. But I wish I’d read what he had to say in a novel and not on Instagram.

I’m referring of course to Joshua Harris.

I was living in Mumbai when Harris’s extraordinary first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was released in early 1997. A friend introduced me to it that summer, while I was visiting the US for an RZIM conference in Atlanta. I was overawed, by the quality of the writing and especially by the content.

A few years later, now in Los Angeles with a failed marriage behind me, I read Harris’s second book, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Once again I was overawed, and for the same reasons.

After keeping the books in my possession for well over a decade, I gave them to a young man with this facetious remark, “Thy need is greater than mine.” He promised to read them and pass them on.

Cut to three weeks ago.

I was searching the internet for something when a headline about Joshua Harris caught my eye. I read the Instagram post where he announces, in so many words, that he is walking away from his marriage, his views on sexuality, and his faith in Christ. And to my shock I realized that I have not lost my capacity to be shocked.

I was not shocked that a Christian could walk away from Christ, from their marriage, and from the views for which they are best known. Christians do it all the time, regrettably. I was just shocked that the Christian in question was the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Close on the heels of Harris’s revelation, another influential Christian went public with his doubts: Marty Sampson, a songwriter and worship leader at Hillsong, Australia. “I’m genuinely losing my faith,” wrote Sampson (also on Instagram), “and it doesn’t bother me.”

Sampson’s announcement was less shocking to me personally, because I had never heard of him until I heard of his loss of faith. Unlike Harris’s announcement, it did not conjure bittersweet memories of a younger, better looking version of myself from two decades ago. Still, it is no less disturbing. Sampson is a worship leader who lost his faith, and there once was a worship leader in heaven who lost his faith.

*****

Harris and Sampson’s announcements have sent shockwaves across the Christian world. The reactions veer between two extremes. On the one end, there is nothing but gooey sympathy. Thanks for being so brave, honest, and authentic, say these softies, many of whom don’t mention the person this is really all about: Jesus Christ.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who roundly castigate the Christians who have walked away. One such reaction comes from Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In an interview with Fox News, the late great evangelist’s son said, “These are very young people, and I doubt whether they even have a very strong faith, or if they even had a faith at all to begin with.” He added: “Why are they making it so public? I think they just want publicity.”

I appreciate Franklin Graham’s passion for the gospel and I admire his boldness to speak out about controversial issues that other Christian leaders won’t touch with a barge pole. But his assessment in this instance comes across as simplistic.

For one thing, these two men are not “very young.” Sure, they are younger than both Graham and myself, but they’re in their forties. That’s not the same as having a crisis of faith in your teens and twenties. And when they made these announcements, the men were not young believers either.

Harris had almost a lifetime of Christian faith under his belt. That’s no safeguard, of course, but it’s more difficult to walk away from something you’ve believed all your life — especially when you’ve written books and preached sermons about it, as Harris had. And although I don’t know much about Marty Sampson’s story, I doubt he’d have made it as a worship leader had he been a new believer.

*****

Another thing I find disconcerting about Franklin Graham’s statement is that he says these men “just want publicity.” Only God and these men know whether they did it for publicity. While it is necessary at times to judge people’s actions, especially when they are public figures, we cannot judge other people’s motives. In fact, we are in no position to judge even our own motives!

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. It’s only the Lord who can “search the heart and examine the mind” (v. 10). And as Proverbs 21:2 says, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Perhaps Joshua Harris felt he owed it to his readers to tell them that he has kissed Christianity goodbye, so they had it straight from his lips. Whatever his motives, publicity was an inevitable byproduct. When the author of two bestsellers on Christian courtship and romance announces that he is leaving his marriage and his faith, it is bound to garner publicity. Franklin Graham has lived most of his life under the glare of the public eye. He of all people should understand that publicity often comes unsolicited.

To be continued. 

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PHOTO VIA UNSPLASH

(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

 

Nothing to Wear

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Ladies, how often have you looked at a closetful of clothes and said, “I have nothing to wear”? I have said it more times than I can count — and anyone who has helped me move knows I have plenty to wear.

As women we know that when we say “I have nothing to wear,” we mean “I have nothing I FEEL LIKE WEARING.” If men understood this, it would nip many a marital quarrel in the bud.

But even if men understood that “nothing to wear” means “nothing I feel like wearing,” few men realize that very often behind that statement is a cry that has pierced every woman’s heart since Eve realized she had nothing to wear.

Eve’s realization came the moment she and her husband did the deed that “Brought death into the world, and all our woe,” as Milton puts it. Ever since, the cry that at one point or another has pierced every woman’s heart is this: “I don’t feel beautiful.”

Matthew 6:28 has the answer not only for those times when we have nothing to wear but also for when we don’t feel beautiful.

When Jesus says, “Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,” He is saying more than “Do not worry about what you will wear.” He is giving us a key to spiritual growth. The clue is in what He says a few verses later: “Your heavenly Father knows you need these things” (Matthew 6:32).

Spiritual growth comes not by toiling and spinning and other forms of fleshly striving. It comes by being secure in the knowledge that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and is taking care of us. In other words, spiritual growth comes by faith and is an evidence of faith.

(c) 2019 by Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.