Thursday, December 30, 2004

Some Raw Feelings 

I got into a conversation with a friend tonight and it hit a pretty raw nerve in me. The following is an excerpt from that conversation and it's about how I'm feeling right now.

I can't help but look at X, Y, and Z, and see my three of my best friends. And I see them all married, with bright futures ahead of them. And I see them all moving on to a new part of their life, and I'm left in this other more liminal stage of uncertainty. And that causes me lots of pain sometimes. My three friends, the men with whom I used to do everything, have all gone on to do something else, and left me in the dust. They share the joys and pains of married life with each other and all of a sudden don't understand me as much when I talk about getting excited about a new girl or something. Pretty soon, I bet some of them will start having kids, and then they'll have that to talk about and I can't even get in on that conversation. It's like a club I've been kicked out of man. And I want it. But I don't have it and I wonder why. Why has God ordained that my life should be so different from theirs or anyone else’s? Why has God called me out of that mess that I now want to something else, to this other mess called "Ordination track". Why has God called me to serve him in this way? I mean, do you know what it's like to try and meet someone socially and see that strange look in their eyes when you tell them, proudly, that you're in seminary? What it's like to look at a person you've loved for years and have them look back at you like a sister? You're too holy for them. You can't be for them. You're for God. The Romans may have invented that whole celibacy shit to save them from this kind of struggle. It's tough man, and I struggle with it. But deep down, beneath the struggle and the pain, there is a deeper and abiding sense of faith and I don't know what that will bring me, but I have to trust in it, because its what I have now.


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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Preparing a Sermon 

I've been asked to preach at my home parish on Sunday and up until late last night, I've had only the vaguest of ideas about what I was going to say. It's a hard day on which to preach, as it is the church's commemoration of the Holy Innocents, but armed with the knowledge from my preaching class, I feel like I can rise to the occasion. But, what to say? Yesterday, I was over at a friend's house and we were basically just shooting the bull for several hours when the conversation turned towards the church and my seminary experience. Now, these friends are not particularly religious nor do they have much time for anything to do with the church, but they seem to find what I am doing at least worthy of the occasional query. I mentioned that I had taken this preaching class and was really excited about all I had learned in it. They wanted to know how I went about getting a sermon ready and I told them that we were taught to prepare to preach with the Bible in one hand and the day's paper in the other. The conversation drifted hither, thither, and yon, eventually turning away from ecclesial and homoletical matters and after some time I went home. Round abouts 6 am I awoke, much to my chagrin, and got up to get a drink of water. On my way out to the kitchen the gears in my brain started turning and I grew frustrated because I knew that if I could not stop myself from thinking it would be a while before I could fall back asleep. I slaked my thirst and got back in the bed, but failed to prevent the ole neurons from firing. I was thinking about my sermon. I thought about how Taylor, Kate, Bunny, and I had discussed preparing to preach earlier that night. And then it hit me. I didn't even have to get up to look at the paper. I laid there for awhile discovering turns of phrase that would work their way into the sermon somehow and eventually fell back asleep. The next time I woke up, I went to look at the paper and there it was, right on the front page where I knew it would be. "Death toll soars above 55,000." The tsunami. Holy Innocents. The world into which the Christ Child was born. A world still in desperate need of a Savior. I knew on what I was going to preach.

"Tears are falling, hearts are breaking,
how we need to hear from God;
You've been promised, we've been waiting.
Welcome holy child.
Welcome holy child."
~ "Welcome to Our World", Michael W. Smith

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Monday, December 27, 2004


I went with my family to my Grandmother's for Christmas and it was nice. Now I am home and am rather uninspired to blog, but I wanted to let you know I am still here. Have a blessed St. John's Day.


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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Joys and Sorrows 

The past several days have been difficult all around, even in the midst of some very joyous occassions. It was my pleasure and honor on Sunday night to attend the Ordination to the Priesthood of my good friend Doug Scharf. Doug and I have known each other from our high school Happening days when he was the rector of Happening #39 and I of Happening #40 in our diocese. We worked together through each of those weekends and supported each other in prayer as we both entered "the process" towards ordination. Now, his long journey is complete, and an even greater and longer journey begun. The service itself was awe-inspiring - not just because of all the clergy present to lay hands on Doug, not just because of the obvious presence of the Spirit, not just because I felt that I am unworthy to have all this happen to me in two years, and not just because our Bishop has an awesome voice for proclamation, but because I knew that many more of my friends around the country were being ordained the same day. For fear of not remembering all of them, I will just say congratulations and thanks be to God for all of you.

For each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the midst of the excitment and joy leading up to and during Doug's ordination, several of our brothers and sisters departed this mortal life. My dear friend Lauren's grandmother passed away after a long bout with cancer; the service is later today and I'll be attending. A gentleman from my home parish who was on my discernment committee, Frank Hammond, was driving the other day when a dump truck ran a stop sign, broadsided him, and sent him to the hospital with such brain damage that he would never be able to recover. His passed away on Friday. After a long history of health problems, Cliff's brother in law Delane, died on the 17th. You can read more about that here. Pray for those who have died, that they may have their rest this day in peace and rise one day in glory! Pray for the families and loved ones who will miss them, the Tripp's, the Hammond's and the Sykes', that they may know the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Pray for all those who will miss loved ones who have gone before them during this holiday season. It is always hard. Pray also for me as I struggle with my own calling and all the hoops set before me. Pray.


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Saturday, December 18, 2004

An Le 

An Le
An Le,
originally uploaded by whitleyrr.
Graduates of Fort Myers High School from the past twenty-four years will likely have no trouble remembering the smiling face of An Le, Custodian. Yet, Custodian was not all he was or is. If you remember An Le, then you likely remember his story and if you don't know who this is, then listen closely because it's an amazing tale. For those who knew him, we knew that he came from Vietnam after the war and we knew that in Vietnam he was a math professor. Yet, his lack of English speaking skills prevented him from teaching in the USA when he arrived, despite the fact that, by their own admission, he was smarter than the majority of the math faculty. He quickly scooped up the custodial job at FMHS so that he could be around educators and students. We also remember that he had a Masters degree in mathematics and may have been the most overqualified custodian ever. But he never let that get him down and he never let life's unusual turn of events wipe the smile from his face. Always with a kind word of encouragement for the students who traversed the Greenie halls, Professor Le was a fixture at this institution of learning, despite wearing a blue shirt and carrying a squirt bottle and rag. Now, twenty-four years after arriving in this country and after twenty-four years of faithful and hardworking custodial service, An Le is retiring from the FMHS staff. At 62, he well deserves it. But, he's not stopping there. No, that would not suit his tireless character. His retirement comes because he's been accepted, finally, into the Florida State University's doctoral program for mathematics!! His retirement party featured all the past principals under whom he worked as well as a variety of gifts - a letter jacket from the school and FSU gear with which to send him off. What I did not know about Prof. Le until I read the article in the paper was that during the war he served the South Vietnamese army as a Captain and later was held in a labor camp for three years. He fled to America after the fall of Saigon. So, to a man whom I remember well with great fondness, and who has my deepest respect, congratulations and three cheers! To the future Dr. An Le - Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!


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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dance, Boy, Dance! 

Write "postulant" in place of "boy" and you'll get the gist of what I'll be doing for the 'process' for the next year and a half. I had an extremely informative meeting today with the priest in my diocese about everything I have to do now in order to get candidacy and then ordained. It is really quite a lot of things. First, I need to get all my forms into them: CPE completion certificate, Safeguarding God's Children and God's People completion certificates, and then a letter from the C.O.M. saying they reccommend me. Now, that last point means a meeting with them, which is the big time issue right now, because when that will take place, I've no idea. It seems likely that I will have to come back down to FL during reading week of Winter Quarter to get that meeting done. That will be a frustration, but I'll be glad when it is finally done. Then, I found out today, the diocese does in fact have summer plans for me. I was informed today of the diocesan policy that during the second summer of seminary we are expected to "work with youth", which means working the diocesan summer camp. Now, inherently, that is not a bad thing; I've worked that camp before and it's a blast! However, I have an apartment in Chicago that needs paying for - summer camp salary doesn't cover it. So, I'll have to figure that out. I'll also have to lay to rest my plans to apply for the Caux Scholars Intern position and hopefully it won't interfere with the Lambda Chi Alpha reunion some of us are planning for the summer too. Once I am a candidate, there dance begins again and I have to reapply for the diaconate. Needless to say, today, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated that all of this isn't written down somewhere on a list that I could see and check off as I go along. This does eventually come to an end, right?


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Monday, December 13, 2004

Finished Books 

Well, since I've been home I've finished two books so far, so the relaxation thing is going pretty well. Yes, Susie, I know, I'm a dork and read too much. In the novel department, I wrapped up Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Seville Communion. It was really, really good (though I think it suffered a little on account of the translator who needs a longer list of adjectives with which to work). His descriptions were so real, bringing Seville right off the pages. The story was that of a Catholic priest sent to investigate some suspicious circumstances at the Seville parish church, Our Lady of the Tears. Someone had hacked into the Pope's computer and left a message begging for help because someone was trying to destroy the church. Now, as much as I like stories that display the sanctimonious and politically corrupt nature of the higher up Roman Catholic hierarchy, Perez-Reverte resisted as much as he could from portraying them that way. Sure, they had their flaws and character idiosyncracies, but they were fairly portrayed. None of the characters fit into an easily definable role of good or bad; no one was really free from the stain of corruption and sins (greed, lust, lying, and pride all feature prominently). They were just a bunch of real people mixed up in an all too real situation, which made it an enjoyable read. The descriptions of the emotions of the main clergy character were so amazing - "a lone pawn fighting his own personal battles in a forgotten corner of the chess board" - that I was often able to identify with. Anyway, I'd reccommend to seminarians and non-seminarians both - an enjoyable read and a pretty interesting mystery.

Next on the docket is Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth; figured I'd stick with the church theme for now. This epic novel is about the construction of a cathedral and all the people who work on it. Apparently, there is to be quite a dose of intrigue, greed, and suspense, but on page 12 as I am, I've only met a mason named Tom who has none of those qualities.

With regard to non-fiction, I finished Jeff Lee's introduction to the Book of Common Prayer, Opening the Prayer Book. It was quite good, I thought. When discussing it with my professor of Liturgics, she asked if I thought it would be helpful to read it in Liturgy class because I said after reading it, I understand a lot more of what we discussed in Liturgy better. I said, yes, I thought it probably would be helpful. She responded by saying the reason she hadn't assigned it was because she felt it was a bit too basic. I said, yes, it was, but in a good way. As much as my youth gives me energy and being right out of college gives me good study habits and academic training, I am still a young Episcopalian, despite the fact that I'm a cradle one. This all means that when it comes to experience in the tradition, I've probably only got about 10 years worth of time in which I really payed attention in church. So, this book, helped me to understand a lot of the things we do much better that someone with more time spent in the traditions and practices might have picked up intuitively. Next in this department I intend to read Vicki Black's book called Welcome to the Church Year: An Introduction to the Seasons of the Episcopal Church. This will also help me in understanding the tradition that someone with 5o+ years of experience in the Episcopal church will just have in their blood. It's a fairly short one, so should be a quick read.

Now, on to a dilemma for which I'm seeking advice. On Sunday I will be attending a friend of mine's Ordination to the Priesthood - the soon to be Fr. Douglas Scharf. It will be the first of several I attend, I'm sure, but I do not know what to bring as a gift. So, to those out there with more experience in this department than I, what makes a good ordination gift for a new priest about 27 years old?


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Saturday, December 11, 2004

Home for the Holidays 

I arrived safely tonight in Fort Myers for the holiday season. So many things to do while I'm here! On Wednesday, Gregor (a junior at Seabury from my diocese) will be traveling together to the diocesan office for a meeting with some members from the C.O.M. (commission on ministry). Tomorrow morning, my Dad will be going to the diocesan conference center for the first meeting of the Bishop Coadjutor search committee. Mason's uncle, The Rt. Rev. Clay Matthews will be guiding them through this hectic process, so I know they're at least in good hands. Tomorrow, I'll start putting in order all the things I need to do while home, which include several church visits to various parishes that have financially contributed to my seminary education. Hopefully, that way, I'll be able to keep my head about me.


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Friday, December 10, 2004


Tonight was the celebration of Fr. John Dreibelbis' ministry as Professor of Christian Ministries at Seabury and it was a festive occasion. Lots of alumni showed up to honor him and I think he was really touched. A great professor and a wonderful example of Christian life and work, John represents what many of us aspire to become. When I first met John, I referred to him as "sir" and he looked around and responded by saying, "Who are you talking to?" That was last year. Last week, by force of habit, I referred to him as "sir" again, and he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eye, smiled, and articulated, "My name is John." He then told me how a few years back he had another student from the southern part of the U.S. who "sirred me all the way up through graduation." We had a nice chuckle about that and I promised him I'd try to do better. That is just a small testimonial to what kind of guy John is; we sure will miss him. Fare thee well, John, and may the blessing of the God whom we serve be with you always.

Tomorrow, I'll say farewell to the state of Illinois for about three weeks as I once again board a plane - I'm starting to get to know the people at O'Hare by first name - and head down to Florida. It will be a busy, but fruitful, time off as I have several meetings scheduled with various people to talk about the next steps in my process as well as, oh, yeah, Christmas. The host of our traditional New Year's Eve party is fleeing to Maryland this year to see her boyfriend, so we'll have to come up with an alternative plan for that event. Camping has been mentioned, which I think would be a fine idea.

Finally, I said farewell yesterday (really, this is a stretch of the word) to N.T. Wright's little treatise For All the Saints?. It was really, really good; quite the worthwhile read, I must say. His basic premise is that current practice doesn't match up with current theology surrounding the way we talk about and commemorate Christian dead. Focusing on the outmoded doctrine of purgatory and the celebration used to highlight it (All Soul's Day), he posits that because we no longer believe in purgatory it makes no sense to pray for the people suppossedly there. He looks at what we say about Heaven and reenvisions that as well by stating that Heaven, biblically, was never the final goal of the Christian hope, but just the penultimate. Rather, the Kingdom of God, when Heaven and Earth meet after the last day and the faithful are bodily raised to life everlasting, is the ultimate hope. He concludes by rewriting the common prayer for the dead to reflect his new ideas so that is says, "May (x person) and all the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory." Amen to that.


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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Letter 

My internet has been down recently whenever it seems I need to use it, which has been annoying, but what can you do? That is the primary reason for the lack of postings, but I was also busy finishing up my final theology paper on altar rails.

Anyway, earlier in the week, I found a letter in my school mailbox. Upon opening it I read that it was from the faculty of Seabury-Western and that they would be recommending me to my Bishop and C.O.M. (commission on ministry) for candidacy. Candidacy is the final level to which you must attain before you are ordained - in order, it goes aspirant, postulant (what I am now), and candidate. Then after you are approved for ordination, you become an ordinand and then you are ordained. But the last major step is candidacy. So, it was a good letter to get, prefacing my Middler Evaluation which will come in late January, early February. Receiving that letter, though, was somewhat bittersweet as I discovered not everyone in my class got a letter with the same wording. Some letters were not happy, which is a serious blow and my heart goes out to those who must now think hard(er) about their future. Basically, what that means for them is that unless their Bishop wants to override the recommendation of the faculty (not unheard of) the process will stop here for them. Yikes...


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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Benedictus Qui Venit 

In my quest to learn about and experience more Anglo-catholic liturgy, I worshipped this morning at the Church of the Ascension in Chicago. I attended their 11am Solemn High Mass and it was glorious. The church nave is smaller than I imagined it being, but it exuded a warmth that larger churches cannot. The high altar was East facing against the wall and was flanked by cherubim. Outside of the sanctuary there were two shrines on either side, one to the Blessed Virgin Mary and one to their patron saint, Michael. All the service music and propers were sung beautifully in latin (BrotherBeal, you would have loved it!) by the choir on behalf of the congregation, which, I admit, is not my favorite thing, but it was so gorgeous that one could helped but to be moved. English translations were sometimes sung after the latin, but were always printed in the bulletin. I'm assuming that they began with the Penitential Order because it was Advent, but perhaps they always use it. I doubt it though. The vestments and altar frontals were glorious, a deep purple trimmed in black and gold. The presider wore a cope over his cassock, alb, and stole, and the deacon and subdeacon wore dalmatics, with the Deacon sporting a maniple as well. They held out the cope for the presider as they processed and move about the sanctuary so it appeared as though they were one person instead of three (symbolism?). During the procession there was a moderate amount of incense and the presider blessed the people with the aspergillium. The first reading was done by a lay person from the congregation, the second reading chanted by the subdeacon, and the Gospel chanted by the Deacon. After the Gospel, the presider, Fr. Higgenbotham, delivered a sermon with excellent content but lacking in presentation. The prayers of the people were read by the Deacon, "according to our charity", to which we assented by saying, "Lord, have mercy." Immediately before the Sacrament of the Table, the presider was changed out of his cope and into the chasuable. I say "was changed" because the Deacon and Subdeacon did it all for him, he did not touch it. The Mass was chanted facing the Altar while the thurifer raised our prayers to God in ample clouds of smoke. Sanctus bells rang out indicating the most solemn moments of the prayer and the Subdeacon preceded the presider during the distribution of the Body, holding a paten down low so that there was no chance of dropping the Host as you received. Each of the hymns we sang during the service with full choir support were carefully selected to fit the season and particular Sunday (Hymnal 1982 - #54, 76, and 73). As I looked around the congregation after the service ended, I noted at least four Religious women of at least two different orders, 4 priests, and one bishop in attendance. To me, that speaks volumes about the church. I believe I will go back again after I return from the holiday break and continue to experience the Anglo-catholic tradition. Besides St. Paul's-by-the-Lake, and St. Luke's in Evanston, does anyone know of other parishes in the Anglo-catholic tradition in the Chicago diocese that I could try out and see how they do it? I've become very interested in this and want to learn more about it. I experienced all the things I reported above and was blessed by them but, with the exception of a few, I do not know the why behind the beauty. That then, is my goal.


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Saturday, December 04, 2004


It's been some time since I watched a movie (and by some time, I mean relative to how I watch movies: 2 weeks), so I decided after dinner tonight that I'd pop one in. Of the three I currently have from Netflix, "21 Grams" (del Toro, Watts, Penn) was the most attractive to me. What a screwed up tale that jumps around more than "Memento"! I originally thought the title would refer to the weight of an amount of narcotics, because that was how the movie was billed to me, but that is not the case. In fact, it is a reference to an urban legend that the human soul weighs 21 grams, based off the "scientific" work of Dr. Duncan Macdougall. It turned out to be a pretty neat flick that had a story which, in many ways, took me right back to CPE. For those who know, the story makes a whole lot more sense if you catch the name of the author of the book that Sean Penn's character finds the polaroids of Naomi Watt's character's family in. I'd recommend this movie if you have the patience for this kind of film - non-linear - (meaning not a Whitley family movie). I've come to realize that all the movies put out by Focus Features are really, really good. In my opinion, they're some of the best thought out, engaging, creative stories on the silver screen today.


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Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Preaching Experience 

Our class was split into two groups, one which preached in the chapel and one which preached in the lounge. I was in the chapel and I thought my sermon went well, not perfect. But, it's a learning experience. I was nervous before I got up to preach but once I was up there, as per usual, my theatre training kicked in the the nervousness was absorbed. What did I learn today? I learned I feel constrained by pulpits and distanced from my congregation while in them. I learned I should not keep my hands behind my back. I did that becuase I often times don't know what to do with my hands, which can have a life of their own, so I stifled them. My classmates and professor both agreed that I should not do that and that I should avoid pulpits. I learned that my voice has more power in it than I am aware and so need to learn how to use and channel that energy. Warmth came from me when I softened my voice, but it did not lose the power, so the trick is to learn how to harness that ability. Anyway, it was a good experience. The lessons assigned were those lessons from Proper 28, year A and they are:

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29

Here is the sermon, as best as I can remember it (cause I didn't have a manuscript).

"Is my son dead?"

It was with these words that I was greeted when I came on-call one weekend this summer during CPE. I had just walked into the Emergency Room, laid down my bags, said goodnight to the chaplain whom I was relieving and heard what he was passing off to me. A trauma had just come in. A 21 year old young man who had been seriously injured in a high speed automobile accident. The other chaplain had not had time to greet the family, who had just arrived, and so I walked out into the waiting room wo have this woman look at me and say, "Is my son dead?"

I told her that I didn't know, but when I got the information, I would be with her immediately. Family and friends sat down, uncomfortable, and waited expectantly. 4 hours later I knelt with that same woman in the hallway outside the OR after the neurosurgeon had just delivered to her the news of her son's emergency surgery. His chances for recovery were bleak. The injury to his brain has caused to swell beyond any chance of healing. It was a dark, dark night for that family, and it lasted throughout the week.

But in that darkness little lights began to shine, and as they shone together, they grew. Nurses who could no longer care for the patient began to care for the family. Friends dropped by every day and shared with them their own tears, embraced one another, and told stories, already ritualizing the inevitable. Families of other patients in that intensive care unit gathered this family up and held them, held each other in that darkness. God was at work! The light of Christ shone through those people as they embodied that which they were called ot be - the children of light. They made that which was unbearable a little less so.

Each of us has within ourselves that potential because God has created us as the children of light. Each of us will have moments of darkness that may last a minute or carry on throughout a week or beyond. When that happens to you, it is my hope and prayer that the light of Christ can shine through me and illumine you. When I am faced with my own bleak times it is my hope and prayer that the light of Christ can shine through you and illumine me. It is in community that we bear one another up and it is in community that our lights shine strongest in the darkness of our world. We only read through the tenth verse of that section of Thessalonians today, but the passage continues in the eleventh verse, saying, "Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing." It is in community that our lights shine brightest.

The thief came for that family that night to steal, and he stole dearly from them. The thief will come for each of us when we least expect it and rip from us that which we hold most dear. But, that is not the end of the story for us! We have each other to bear us up and to hold us when we have fallen the lowest. We are all the children of light.


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Wednesday, December 01, 2004


We lost. Hard. 91-73 was the final score but at one point Wake was down by thirty points. We were outplayed, pure and simple. Defense was not available apparently and our offense was just not producing. I think they were intimidated a bit and probably horrified by the Illini's coach's jacket. How do you leave the house like that? "Honey, does this look too much like I'm Bob from Bob's Barricades? No? Ok, great!" Anyway, it was sad. But there was one really cool great awesome part of the evening. We're all over at Jeff's place and the buzzer rings with this voice saying, "It's Erin". And who should walk through the door but my old acting friend Erin from Wake Forest! (Better known as E-Wade or Princess in those days.) I knew she lived somewhere in the Chicago area cause Kate was talking about her a while back, but she lives really close by! It was so good to see her again; she's two years older than I and so I hadn't seen her since she graduated in 2001. It was lots of fun to catch up and make plans to hang out again. I love it when stuff like that happens. It makes me so happy.

So, tomorrow is the big day. I'm preaching in Preaching class for the first time and I'm a little nervous. My preaching professor seems to think highly of my preaching potential (and indeed, one of my personal goals for seminary/life is to become a great preacher), which is just a little bit of added pressure. Also, I will not be preaching from a manuscript as I have most often done in the past. So, we'll see how it goes. Julia gave me some great encouragement tonight by saying, "Ryan, I already feel like you're a great preacher just by knowing you and I've never heard you preach." So, with that thought in my head, I get some early shut-eye tonight and be energized for the event tomorrow.


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