Chicago Trip II

November 17, 2009 at 11:24 am (Real Life, Spiritual, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Part I

Well, I’m at work again and should be working on a paper, but my brain is still too fuzzy. Having this opening shift on Tuesday is not my favorite. Anything that requires me to wake up at 6:30 and brave the cold is not my idea of fun. But, that’s okay. I’ll make it through the end of the semester. So, since I don’t want to work on homework, I ought to work some more on all the Chicago stuff. It was such a great trip, and I really enjoy the processing of information that comes as I write this.

Well, I ended last time at the mosque. By then we were running pretty well behind schedule and needed to get back into the city to visit our last location of the day. This time we were on our way to a Soka Gokkai information center. Soka Gokkai is a branch of Buddhism that is centered around chanting and contemplation of the Lotus Sutra. We were greeted by a band of flag waving members, a victorious song playing in the background. They clapped and cheered, welcoming us to the center, and ushered us into a comfortable room to sit and learn. Two young guys came up to begin introducing the beliefs and quickly moved on to their chants for the evening. The main part of this chant is the repetition of a single phrase, “Nam myoho renge kyo.” They use something that looks like rosary beads in order to engage the sense of touch, and at various times strike a metal bowl to produce a beautiful ringing. The chanting is hypnotic, but a little unsettling as well. After a short while. the two men stood and closed the golden doors that housed a page of writing, revered as the Gohonzon. From there, another man joined them to further explain the beliefs of the Soka. Each gave his testimony, to borrow a typically Christian term, of how this chanting had caused positive change in their lives. By doing so, it awakened the inner Buddha nature and allowed the self to accomplish more through this determination. One man told the story of how he had gotten into college despite being from the wrong side of Chicago, how things had fallen in place to clear his debts. Hearing this, all I could think was that this chanting had so little to do with it. This religion, while appealing to many, seems to unfulfilling to me. There is nothing more than who you are, no source outside. Any benefit comes solely from the self, and so there seems little purpose in all the chanting. The main task is to create good causes, by chanting and doing good for others. That is admirable and I will never discourage someone from helping others, but it seems like religion without any real sacrifice of the self. In the end, it felt more like a relaxing, meditation than religion.

That evening, we had some time to spend in the city, though only a few hours. I went with some friends to the Hard Rock Cafe and spent way too much on delicious food, but it was a time for fun and fellowship. We discussed a lot of what we had seen and it was obvious that most of us were still figuring everything out. Soon, we had to head back to the hostel for devotional. There, we sang songs to praise God and then had a chance for anyone who wanted to, without comment, read a passage of scripture. It was very uplifting. Exactly what we all needed after hearing so many different viewpoints and having so much to think about.

Saturday came early, though we did have a little more time to sleep. We still had to be on our way bright and early to see all we had planned. We began at a Synagogue for Sabbath worship, where we met some of the nicest and most informative people of any encounter. It was obvious that they were more than happy to explain to us what they were doing, why they did it, and what it all meant, and it was definitely helpful that i knew the story of Judaism as well as I did my own faith. The two are forever intertwined. They sang mostly in Hebrew, explaining throughout in English for all the visitors. After numerous songs and passages, the Torah was brought out and read from for a fairly long time. After more songs, the rabbi stood up and presented a lesson about culture and Judaism that was very interesting and, fortunately, in English. Worship, a two and a half hour process, ended with a song led by the children, announcements, and then a reception. They had prepared cakes and drinks for us, and we all ate and talked before returning to the auditorium to ask questions. Our friend there was more than helpful and gladly answered any questions we had. He was a amiable, kind man and it was a pleasure to hear him speak and articulate so well the answers.

These two different meetings contrasted so sharply in my mind. Both are ancient faiths (though Judaism is the older by far), and both spent most of their time in a language that I was hopeless to understand, but they were really so very different. Soka Gokkai says the power is within the self, the inner Buddha nature, to accomplish all. Judaism relies on God among the whole of Israel to provide and save. One had very few guidelines, another has many times been defined by their multitude of regulations. In Judaism, I see people who have sought and found something everlasting, but I cannot say the same for Buddhism. Those in the Soka temple were looking for temporary relief in this world through inner strength, but Judaism finds comfort in the Lord. I do not know the Lord’s intent for those practicing Judaism today, and I would feel very arrogant trying to determine the Lord’s mind and will for anything, not to mention something so huge as the eternal fate of His once-Chosen people, but I do know that, if I had to choose one religion of these two, one would be fulfilling and provide something that I could truly call religion. Not that I would convert, of course, because I think Christianity is the way, but in a purely hypothetical realm.

And next time I will conclude with the trip, speaking about the Hindu Temple and Sikh service. Both were very interesting and inspiring, in their own way, but that must wait for a later time.
Until then,

God Bless.

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The Chicago Trip 1

November 11, 2009 at 10:36 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

I know it has been forever since I’ve posted, but time has never coincided with something worthy of sharing. Finally, I have time to sit and type. In fact, it’s almost all I can do. My new job as a computer lab attendant leaves a lot of time left to sit and stare at a computer monitor. Homework out of the way, I figured I could put the time to good use.

I recently had the chance to go to Chicago. Sadly, after fourteen hours in a minibus, there was little sightseeing done and I will one day have to return to see the beautiful city. Sightseeing wasn’t our purpose, though, and so the trip was still immensely valuable. The trip was organized through my Bible class this semester, Living World Religions. IN the course of the semester, we have studied numerous religions that span the globe, and this trip was a chance to experience firsthand the cultures and people that our textbook had only hinted at.

Last Thursday, during the early morning, 105 students including myself packed up and left Harding’s campus for a long day traveling across Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois. We arrived safely after a few bus problems, all a little tired and sore after so long. It took fourteen hours, as I said earlier, to reach the city, and by then we were ready to say goodbye to this day and sleep away the few hours we had until it was time to go again. Five o’clock felt like midnight, and by the time we reached the city at ten, most people were barely awake.

Friday came early in the hostel and I awoke to hair dryers going off at six in the morning in preparation to leave at eight. Sleep was apparently not high on the priority list for the week. Now, I suppose, would be a good time to confess that I had not been particularly excited about the trip. I was missing a lot of things going on back at campus, and it also required me spending about one hundred dollars I was not expecting. Friday morning, I was content to just stick it out and suffer through the long weekend. Always a little late, we left downtown Chicago and headed out of the temple towards a Baha’i House of Prayer. It was a magnificent structure. White with delicate, lace-like supports and walls, it had nine entrances, each surrounded by gardens and ponds. The morning was cold and, not surprisingly in Chicago, windy, and so the decorative outside was bypassed in favor of the warm interior.

The Baha’i faith is an interesting one. I can see the appeal, but I also can see the flaws. I do not doubt that a follower could easily explain some of them away, but I also do not feel like that is possible without belittling my faith and misrepresenting it. See, Baha’i believe that all major world religions are, actually, the same. At the core, they claim, each religion holds the same beliefs and teachings. It is the social laws that set them apart, and so many different teachers have appeared in order to “update” the religion for a modern era. The most recent was their prophet Baha’ullah, and another is not predicted to appear for one thousand years. They teach the unity of all faiths, and believe that anyone faithfully following these truths will be rewarded by learning skills necessary to use in the next world for drawing closer to God. One disturbing idea explained to us was of the afterlife. A soul never reaches God, but only strives for His perfection. There is no existing in the presence of God, for this would mean equality with God. Instead, the eternal soul continues developing skills to draw closer and closer, while still always being apart.

After this very interesting experience, we were again on our way. This next stop was one I was very curious about, and a little nervous as well. We arrived at the mosque a bit late for the prayers, but fortunately they seems to be running a bit behind as well. The women in the group walked upstairs for prayers while the men stayed below. Everyone removed their shoes and, after a devotional thought was brought by one of the men of the assembly, the noon prayers began. I must admit, I was somewhat confused. I had begun sitting in the back of the group to allow the worshipers the front to see the imam, but soon a Muslim woman came and ushered us to the front few rows. Once it was time for the prayers to begin, they quickly shuffled us off to the side to stand and watch. Later, one young lady came and told us that it was because they could pray towards no one but God, and so we could not be seated in front of them. Watching and hearing the prayers was an experience. These people are very devout, very sincere and loyal to Allah. I was touched by the sight of a woman weeping during these prayers. So often I feel that we portray Muslims s the worst kind of lost people, those seeking only to mislead and destroy. In fact, they are so much like us, it is startling. The religion is different, and I believe that our loving God wants to be Father and not a distant and exalted figure, but there is no denying the sincerity these people have in worship. After the service, we put our shoes on and rejoined the men downstairs for an explanation of Islam by one of the leader of the mosque.

Mr. Dogar was an older man from Pakistan who spoke with a heavy accent and a great deal of authority. He explained the origins of Islam, the basic tenets, and how Muslims followed Christ better than Christians. He left us with a packet of information to support this claim, citing the fact that Jesus had a beard, wore robes, and never touched the opposite sex outside of miracles and ministry as evidence of a Muslim superior loyalty to Christ. He was an interesting man who intimidated me, but not a malicious character of any sort. In fact, the congregation (I suppose the term can be applied to any gathering of people) had cooked all 105 of us a meal. It was a very delicious taste of Indian/Pakistani food and after a lot of fast food already, a very welcomed break. Of course, we were still behind on our schedule and it had to be a very brief visit, but it was still nice. I was surprised by the hospitality. I cannot say that, should a group of Muslim school kids ask to come by many of the churches I know, they would be met with such hospitality and openness. We tend to see our only mission to beat the Bible’s truth into people before we ever offer to build a relationship with them or even explain who we really are. I think that’s part of the reason so many misunderstand the purpose and desire of Christianity.

I will continue with the trip later. There are, in fact, four more religions that we visited, and each had something new to add in my growth over the weekend. This post is long enough and I know that any readers I might have will not want to stare at the computer so long. Until later,

God Bless.

Part II

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Wait Wait Wait…You Mean I Don’t Have to Wake up at Six?

August 7, 2008 at 10:37 am (Real Life, Spiritual) (, , , )

How thankful am I for that! It’s 11 and I have yet to leave my room. I’ve been awake, organizing pictures and whatnot, but still in my pajamas. It’s wonderfully relaxing.

It’s hard to imagine that twenty-four hours ago I was still in San Salvador. It’s almost impossible to believe that a few hours on a plane can change everything that much. I miss them all so much. Every year, a little more of you stays behind. I wonder what happens when all of you is there?

Everyone met us at the airport, as usual. It was a little easier to say goodbye, still drained from last night. For the first time in two or three years, I actually got to say goodbye to everyone. Then it was through security and back to the life I had put on hold.

Honestly, it’s a different world down there. It’s almost impossible to think of it as a part of my everyday life. It almost seems like there are two me’s. There’s the one writing this now who gets fifty-one weeks a year for whatever, but takes a nice vacation for one. And then there’s this person who sleeps away most of the year, but wakes up for one week in order to work so hard so that she can sleep for another fifty-one. Because, while I know it doesn’t, it always feels like time stops for a while until we get back to El Salvador. The same people are there, we do the same things. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s hard to see both realities in one frame of consciousness.

It was nice to get home. Like I said, once you’ve said goodbye, I’m just ready to get back to everyone I miss. There weren’t any major problems, except for Darrin. He caught the little bug down there and spent the entire trip knocked out with medication. It’s better to sleep the whole way (and by sleep, I mean unconscious. He had a wheelchair everywhere we went) than to spend it throwing up everything you’ve ever thought of eating.

But, we made it back safe and sound.It was a good week and I feel like a lot of good was done. We’ve planted the seeds and will return in a year to see what God has done with them. He’s the best gardener I know, so I can’t wait to see the harvest. One year done. Now let’s start planning next year.

And if anyone is interested in the things I didn’t get to see, Waverly had a blog of their very own! So, for more information on some of their jobs and mnistries, go to http://missiontrip08-wavcoc.blogspot.com/

See you all later!

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Days 5-7: The Universal Language of Sweat

August 5, 2008 at 11:55 pm (Real Life, Spiritual) (, , , )

So, as you probably haven’t noticed, I’m a little behind in the blog. It’s been a long few days, and today has been just as exhausting, but I don’t have to be awake quite so early, so I’ll try to make up for lost time.

Sunday was church and sightseeing– a relatively easy day by all standards. We woke up and went to chruch at various places. Waverly’s group went to San Mauricio with Jorge and his congregation; most of the youth stayed at the hotel to hear Billy preach; the reast went to El Centro where Mo was the predicador. It was all in untranslated Spanish, but I did pretty well keeping up. Enough to get the gist of the lesson. There were four baptisms after worship, which was a beautiful thing of course! It was a lovely Sunday morning.

From there we went back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the Una group. Everyone was hungry and ready to do something, so we headed to the mall for lunch. I ate at some crazy Mexican place there. It was pretty good, but it’s really almost too hot to eat here. Anyways, the mall was a very short trip and we made our way to the ruins. I had never been to the Mayan ruins here- we had tried once or twice without success- but this year we suceeded. It was pretty incredible. Everything was pretty well-preserved, so I was shocked. There are, obviously, tons of pictures. At the ruins, there was a Mayan guy selling some trinkets and whatnot. He went on about the country’s heritage and the people’s heritage. It was pretty crazy. He kept switching between as Mayan dialect I won’t pretend to spell and English, so it was interesting. Occassionally, I couldn’t tell which was which.

We left as the park was closing (only around four. Weird), and traveled out to the artisans market fir a few minutes. We saw Waverly as they were pulling out of the parking lot. So, we shopped around there for about half an hour. I had seen everything many times before, so I just kinda wandered in and out of the stalls. It was all good, relaxing. Peaceful. After that (everyone was beginning to close up shop then), we went back to the hotel for dinner and devo. It was all good. After waiting and waiting to pay, the youth spent some time wandering around, looking for a good place to play cards. We finally found (and illuminated) a deserted ballroom, but quickly decided it was too hot and went to the lobby.

And that was Sunday, quickly and in a nutshell. From there, it was anearly seven a.m. departure to El Chaugiton. It is a small village only a few miles from the coast that we have dubbed “The Hottest Place on Earth.” It truly is scorching, even when it’s relatively cool elsewhere. We had the usual there- glasses, food, and VBS- and then loaded back up for the two hour trip back. There and back- and to the following location- was some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. It was utterly breathtaking. I took tons of pictures, but a still photograph can never induce the same awe and breathlessness that seeing it face to face did.

Everyone was alseep as we made the  long drive across the countryside. It was about a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive. About twenty to thirty minutes out from Zaragosa, right when I had nearly fallen asleep, the bus was declared to heavy and we all had to switch to the other bus. There wasn’t much room, so I ended up crammed on a seat with the Webbs. But, at least I had a seat. A few of the guys had to stand.

We survived with both buses intact to the second location and repeated the process from earlier. Zargosa and Chaugiton were only different in the amount of heat. Chaugiton is near the coast and hot; Zaragosa in towards the mountains and cool…er. So, we worked quickly, finished up, and began to get loaded. As we were getting ready to leave, we were informed that the church had made us dinner. They had made subs for all of us, washing eveyrthing in bottled water and taking special care. It was chicken ( I think), tomato, lettuce, mayonaise, and bread…obviously. I didn’t feel very risky, so I opted out. besides, I’m really not a lettuce, tomato, mayonaise kind of gal. I picked at the bread so it would look like i had eaten, and then we loaded up. Since there haven’t been too many deadly outbreaks today, I’d say the food was safe. Still, it wasn’t worth a miserable plane ride tomorrow for me.

We went to the mall for dinner, at least those of us who wanted to. Waverly hadn’t been yet, so they got to see that. It was fun. I hung out with most of their kids, shwoing them around and helping hem find some stores. Josh and Darrin had the great idea to by Alexito and Jorito a game for the PS2 bradley donated at some point. It was a lot of fun.

Joseph had devo. He spoke on blessings and it was really great. He said we should ask for blessings, but never take the most simple and everyday for granted. Though we wake up every morning, we should never overlook that first breath that gives us another day.

Today was another early morning, so I went to bed relatively early. I was pretty tired, hence no update. But, we woke up and loaded the last of the food bags onto the bus and prayed it wasn’t too heavy. But, with 300 twenty-pound bags loaded on, it was definitely a miracle that it made it the whole way. Yesterday, as mentioned, it didn’t. Sadly, Papa Don wasn’t quite as fortunate as the bus. He had to head back to the hotel with the stomach bug. But, we made it to Huizucar. The same old stuff was repeated again. VBS while someone preached, then food bags, and finally a glasses distribution.  It was over quicker than we expected, so we zipped into Camperos for some lunch. Which was nice since we never have lunch.

The last stop of the trip was at Santo Tomas, where Paz and family live. We skipped the VBS, instead having solely the food and glasses distribution. My arms were very thankful. Holding up those puppets for nearly an hour is definitely not appreciated by my body. While we were waiting to leave, four VERY drun guys wandered up to sing and entertain us. They were so far gone; it was absolutely hilarious. But, we got on our way back to the hotel. I’ve been feeling a little less than ideal all day. Not the nasty stomach junk, but a little heat exhaustion and annoyance at the constant changes in elevation. So, I tried to sleep on the way back. But didn’t. Of course.

We stopped at the Hotel to clean up and then went to Pizza Hut with everyone who had worked with us. It was a full house, but a blessing as always. I laughed until it hurt, which is kind of a great feeling. Of course, everyone knew what was coming. Well, the first-timers had no idea, but the veterans were ready with tissues. Okay, so I never carry tissues, but you get the idea.

We had the last night devo. The floor is simply opened to anyone who wants to speak about the trip. It is always very emtional, this year especially. With all the drama and tragedy going on, there were many things to say. It was insane. I haven’t cried like that in…a good while. So, I feel a little empty now. We hugged everyone, and then I came up to the room to rest and hopefully feel better before the plane trip. We’ll see.

We leave in the morning for a long day of travel, but 9:00 will find us right back in Nashville, the place we started this journey a week ago. It’s strange how a few hours in a plane and eveyrthing is different. Well, tomorrow is for tomorrow. Now is for goodnight. And so I say,

Buenas Noches.

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Day Three and Four: Con Dios, Nosotros Somos Uno.

August 2, 2008 at 10:35 pm (Real Life, Spiritual) (, , , )

So, I was wiped out last night and forgot to write until…I laid down to sleep. And by then, I was not getting back up to type. So, here’s two days worth!

Thursday morning, we had VBS at El Centro. It went really well with about 150 kids in attendance. I did my part for the puppet show and then wandered around downstairs while we waited for the extra beans to arrive and all the kids to clear out some. After that, Waverly went out to San Mauricio to work on their own, leaving on the Una team to pack the remaining bags. We finished up the last 600-700 in about half the time it took us the night before. Which was nice. I was baggng rice and tying up the bags. My fingers were a little sore afterwards, but it’s the price I pay. And it’s worth it!!

Well, then we had a chance to go to the Children’s Hospital. Those who have been on the trip know what an experience that is. We took bags with crayons, a coloring book, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a small toy. Mainly little stuffed animals in the hospital with a few toy cars for the little boys. It’s a lot of fun to hand it out and see the little kids pull out the coloring book or toy or whatever catches their eye. And then we have Bibles for the parents. It’s a good work, in my opinion. Who needs to know someone is thinking of them more than people sitting in the hospital with their sick children?

We had some more downtime after that. A few of us went to the store across the street and bought a papusa from the lady cooking them outside. It was tasty, and that’s all I have to say. We then returned to the hotel incredibly early to wait for Waverly to get back so we could go eat. After we waited for an hour or so, they called to say they would get dinner on their own. So, we went to Biggest, a fast food/burger place. It was, as always, delicious. i discovered these addicting ranch french fires. I could have eaten those forever…Then it was off to Jungle Snow. That is some of the best ice cream ever! I got some chocolate watermelon concoction that was delicious. We played Apples to Apples while we waited, and then went home for devo.

After devo, we decided we had to get to know the Waverly youth that was there with us. We all went up to the roof and sat there getting to know each other, Pretty much, we went around in a circle and told anything we wanted to about ourself, and then commented freely on whatever. It was a lot of fun. But, we eventually had to go to bed, what with such an early morning today. Sadly, I couldn’t sleep and only got about four hours for today.

Today, as I said,was early. We left the hotel at seven and headed to El Centro to pack up food bags and VBS bags for San Mauricio. We got that together and headed out. I distributed eye glasses during the VBS. We take reading glasses to hand out to everyone when we’re there. We test them using a primitive eye chart and then give them a strength that we think will work. Usually, that process is repeated many many times. It helps out a bit.

From there, it was back to Centro to hand out food and glasses at the Widows’ Day. All this little old women balacing food on their head and getting new glasses. One lady pushed the chart away and pulled out her Bible. That was what she was concerned about seeing. So, we made sure she could read the tiny print in there, and she was on her way. They are so sweet, so kind, and so grateful. But everyone knows we take away so much more than we give to them.

As soon as the widows had left, it was time for the youth rally. Bradley, Brant, and Joseph had the lessons for it and did an incredible job! We played a bunch of games, ate some pizza, and got to learn about Love, Faith, Cooperation, Communication, Respect, and many other concepts. That’s where this entry’s title comes from. They handed out bracelets with that phrase on it. Translated, it means “In God, we are one.” It was very well done, talking about how we are all a family, all one body. No matter what, we are one in Christ. That’s important. Something we have to remember, but is so easily forgotten.

Almost as soon as that was over, they started the Gospel Meeting. I opted to sit downstairs and play cards. It wasn’t translated, so i didn’t want to sit and try to think that much when I was so tired. We all played Spades and had some fun. It ended quicker than we were willing to believe and we all got to go and get Papusas. Waverly left again to do some work on their own and returned right after our devo tonight.

Brant had devo tonight and talked about hugs. It was short, simple, and to the point. Hugs are nice, but simple. And sometimes we all just need a hug from God. I had to smile.

Tomorrow is church and sightseeing. Sunday is always easy and laidback. But, Monday and Tuesday promise to be busy enough to make up for all the down time. Well, I’m going to bed shortly. So, goodnight!

 

🙂

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Day One: Safe and Sound in San Salvador

July 30, 2008 at 9:36 pm (Real Life, Spiritual) (, , , )

Well, the video refuses to work. The risk of trying to use a computer running old programs. I should have brought mine, but I didn’t. So, I learned a lesson. I just don’t have the energy to fight it anymore. Maybe I’ll post some pictures later, but given the speed of this computer, I would be here for months. So, I’ll probably just wait and get back to my nice, working computer.

We had a good day. I’ve been up entirely too long, but that’s okay. The flight’s went well. We met a group leaving Atlanta that was going down for mission work as well. They were a Baptist/Methodist group from NC heading up into the mountains. It was a lot of fun to talk to them. And then I sat next to Margaret, an older woman from College Park, MD, who had set up Mental Health teams. I thought that was pretty cool. She left these people going into the school systemns and counseling and whatnot. It was a lot of fun. cause it’s something i could actually do one day.

We got here and got loaded up in the van for today. It ran out of gas and the group following us had to run and get gas. But, we made it to Santo Tomas and saw Paz and Priscilla. Fancisco was at school at the university, but he’ll be around later.

We left to go and buy food (after dropping our bags at the hotel), but discovered that our work was done for us when we got there. So, we stared at the piles and piles of food, and then wandered into the market. It was pretty crazy. People yelling, selling everything imaginable. So many people. It was pretty much a sensory overload. But, I thought it was pretty exciting. A new place.

After taht, we headed back to Centro, then decided to grab some dinner. Dad, Mo, and me. We were going to meet Udi, but after waiting thirty minutes or so for him to show up, we decided to go on to La Unica. I had four papusas, each as delicious as the one before. It was nice. And now I’m sitting very sleepy in the hotel. So, I’m going to say goodnight.

Mom, I really liked what I read of taht book so far. I didn’t get very far because they played 21 as the in-flight movie and I wanted to watch it. It was pretty good too. Daddy’s staying pretty calm, but tomorrow is when it’ll get a ilittle crazy.

Justin, Dad is telling everyone about your concussion. I know you probably aren’t reading this, but someone will pass on the message.

Calea, I miss you. I want to have coffee with you once I’m back. Oh, and Logan sent me a message about a room in Kendall. Don’t know if he sent it to you as well, but someone might want to call. I don’t think it’ll do any good, since there’s already a waiting list, but who knows.

Sam, I miss you lots and lots and lots and lots. I can’t wait to talk to you again….

To everyone, love you and miss you. I’ll try to write something every night, but it depends on how many days are as long as today. So, for real this time, goodnight!

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