Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fredericksburg - Belle Grove and Port Conway

We ended up with no firm commitments one day this week so we took a drive to Fredericksburg, Virginia, about thirty miles south of us.  We visited some interesting shops in the old part of town, including an excellent Made in Virginia store, and bought a few fun Christmas gifts.  We made a quick stop at the Fredericksburg Heritage Library (genealogy) but did not find any new family history data there.  The coolest thing we did on this jaunt was to visit the Belle Grove Plantation, which is now a bed and breakfast.  Belle Grove was owned by the Conways (Lezlie's ancestors) for 120 years.  They ran one of the two main tobacco warehouses and ports in Virginia for a while  (Port Conway) President James Madison was born in the house because his grandma was a Conway.  It is a beautifully restored mansion right on the Rappahannock River.  The lady who runs it with her husband has researched the history of the house, so she knew a lot about the families that had owned it.  She and Lezlie shared all kinds of Conway genealogy information and discussed ways to find that one missing link we have with the Conways.  She gave us a tour of the whole place.  They have done an amazing job restoring it and turning it into a beautiful bed and breakfast. She was a wonderful tour guide, telling us story after story as we moved through the house.  We may have to go back there again.  We also got to see Port Conway, a port established by the Conway family to export their tobacco.  We had a pretty drive home through beautiful Virginia farm fields and forests. When you get away from the traffic clogged highways Virginia is a gorgeous state.  It was a nice day off from the work, and we felt relaxed and refreshed after our little trip.

We did some additional training at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  We actually filled the spot of Client Service Assistant (sort of like the receptionist) together.  Neither one of us is officially qualified yet, but we wanted to get some more training time in so with management's okay we signed up to work the CSA job together.  It went very well.  We helped several marines get checked in, had to tell a reserve marine we could not help him (it was sad but NMCRS only helps reservists on extended active duty), and answered multiple phone calls.  We gained more confidence as the morning progressed, and we ended up doing a pretty good job.  It is humbling to see these young marines that have worked so hard and dedicated themselves to serve the country get into financial problems.  They do not get paid a whole lot, and a many of them are young and earning their first real paycheck.  So they go out and buy hot cars and elaborate entertainment systems, which their pay just cannot support.  I will be glad to get into the budget sessions where you can really discuss ways that they can better control their money.  After some good training time at NMCRS we were fortunate enough to be able to help out a young marine mom who has four small children.  Her husband is away at a school, she has movers coming late this week, and she was ill.  We went to her house and played with the younger children and cleaned house for two hours. She was able to take a nap for an hour and then get some packing done.  It was nice to be able to help her out, and her little girls were fun to play with (the other two were at school).  But it did make us miss our own grandkids.  Finally we went to the home of an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel to give a family home evening lesson.  He has a fascinating job working on the Air Force nuclear weapons program at the Department of Energy in DC (Dan enjoyed comparing notes about working with DOE).  This was the biggest family we have done a lesson for thus far – eight kids between ages 4 and 14.  That is a lot of kids!  But they could not have been better.  They minded their folks, were respectful to us, and participated appropriately in the lesson.   Every one of the kids thanked us for the lesson and treats, and the older boys came to the door and shook our hands goodbye.   It is so uplifting to see a family like this.  You know these kids have a great start in being responsible citizens and good people.  It was a pleasure to share the evening with them.  We also visited several other military families throughout the week and helped out with a variety of things.
We held our last family home evening with our great OCS class.  We had the best attendance ever, with 16 eventually showing up.  It was a fun evening.  They have only 5 days left until graduation, so they are feeling pretty good.  Basically all the hard stuff is over for them.  Lezlie gave a superb lesson on obedience, an adaption of our obedience lesson for children using the pictures of our dogs in various obedience events.  It went over very well, with lots of great discussion.  When we rolled out the treats of butterscotch chip chocolate brownies, muffins, milk and juice they downed every morsel of food & drink quickly.  There was a lot of great conversation and joking around.  You can tell they are just feeling that graduation right around the corner.  We feel very close to this group of kids and are glad we will get to see them for 6 more months as they navigate  through The Basic School. 
We also experienced our second transfer day, one of the busiest days that routinely occurs in a mission.  Every 6 weeks about 30% of the missionaries get transferred. These missionaries pack up all of their belongings the night before, travel to Richmond for a transfer meeting, travel to their new assigned area, and meet the new companion that they will live and work with for six weeks.  So early this morning we picked up two elders and transported them 30 miles south to Stafford.  There were about 30 missionaries there, some waiting to be picked up and others just saying goodbye.  Finally a huge van followed by a pickup and trailer pulled in.  Tearful goodbyes and high-fives followed, and luggage was rapidly loaded.  These kids get to know and love each other quickly because they work so hard together.  One of the young elders that we took to Stafford had been in Woodbridge for 6 months, which is unusually long for the average missionary.  You could tell it was emotional for him to leave.  As we pulled away he said, “I have ridden my bike up this street 5 or 6 times a day for the past 6 months and I can’t believe I won’t be doing it anymore.”  However, he was also excited because he gets to serve in West Virginia next.  There is a small sliver of West Virginia that is in our mission, and it is a favorite spot among the missionaries.  Those that have served there say it is a slower paced area with much less traffic than other areas of the mission.  It is a mountainous region, basically an extension of the Appalachians, so the missionaries drive jeeps there.  This young man was very excited about getting to drive a jeep.  So another transfer day has come and gone, and we will start meeting several new missionaries tomorrow.  We have about ten more transfers to go on our mission.  

We also got to visit a young woman from our home ward who lives in this area.  She is in training at the FBI Academy on Quantico and is training to become a fingerprint specialist.  It is interesting to hear her talk about her training.  Reading the fingerprints is only a minor part of her job.  They have to know the history of fingerprinting.  They must understand all the biology behind why no two fingerprints are the same.  They must understand the science about why fingerprints are left on surfaces and how to lift them.  And they also must be trained at public speaking under stress, because they will have to testify at federal trials to support their fingerprint work.  It was fascinating to hear about her work.  She is doing pretty well here but seems a little lonesome.  We enjoy visiting with her and hope to get to see her again.  It is fun to see someone from home and talk about things back in Richland.
One young family gave us a lesson in looking at the bright side of things.  We visited this young marine and his wife and noticed that he had on a USNA t-shirt.  We asked him about his connection with the Naval Academy, and it turns out that he went to the Naval Academy for 2 years and then left for a mission.  When he came back the academy was swamped with students and they were not able to readmit him.  He said they had midshipmen sleeping in enlisted men’s quarters they were so overcrowded.  So he finished up his schooling at BYU.  This, he said with a smile, was meant to be because I met my beautiful wife at BYU.  His wife is a Chinese gal that came to the US to study, ended up in Utah, joined the church, and met her future marine husband there.  They were a fun couple to talk with.  It was a great example of how God sometimes leads us down unexpected paths, but something good always turns up.  So we must always look for the bright side.

We also had  the privilege of attending a baptism of a 35 year old man named William.  He has been studying and investigating the Mormon church for a couple of months and we have met him at church in our Sunday School class several times.  He is a great guy.  The baptism service was wonderful, with about 30 ward members showing up to support him and welcome him to the congregation. There was a wonderful spirit there.  The talks were superb, especially the one from the sister that introduced him to the church, Nicole.  She works next door to him and got to be his friend just because they saw each other so often coming in and out the doors of their offices.  He was not at work for several weeks, and she was worried.  Finally one day she saw him walking out of his office very slowly looking like he was in great pain.  She got him to sit down and talk to her.  He told her his story of several difficult family and medical challenges.  It turns out that he had just suffered a stroke and while in the hospital his heart had actually stopped.  The emergency room doctors were able to revive him.  But his recovery was slow.  He seemed defeated physically and mentally.  Nicole told him, you need to learn about our church.  Will you come to my house for dinner tonight and meet the missionaries?  He did, and now several months later, he is a newly baptized member of our church. What is amazing is that this lady and her husband just joined the church a year ago.  Yet they helped teach William.  After the baptism itself William spoke, and it was an amazing talk of gratitude and conversion.  His countenance was bright as he spoke to us.  Afterwards a group of us went out for lunch together at an Indian Restaurant, where we talked and ate and got to know William better.  It was an excellent afternoon.

We attended out last Sacrament Meeting with our OCS group.  How we have come to love these young men and women!  They will graduate from OCS in two days.  We had all of our core LDS folks plus a couple of visitors.  Our fellow OCS lay leader gave a great lesson based on President Gordon B. Hinckley's 6 Be's (Be Grateful, Be Smart, Be Clean, Be True, Be Humble, Be Prayerful).  He related the Be’s to the nine marine corps principles of leadership.  It was an excellent lesson and totally applicable to marine officers.  During refreshment time we got to mingle with the group, listen to stories about their recent OCS adventures, and hear about their plans for the future.  They are all very excited about graduation but a bit anxious about starting The Basic School (TBS) in winter.  At TBS they spend a lot of time outdoors so they know they will be cold often.  It was wonderful just to visit with them and think back to when we first met them ten weeks ago.  We have learned as much from them as they have from us. We are so excited that our candidate Davis received the Gung Ho Award for the most spirited marine, which is a big deal here. They are a wonderful group of people.




Sunday, November 17, 2013

Simple Acts of Service

Nov 11 – We started by doing a fun job for a marine wife.  Her husband is gone for extended training and she is very pregnant with a very high risk pregnancy. She has wanted to hang a huge heavy mirror a friend had given her some time ago, but they have never been able to hang it.  Last week when we visited her, we helped her hang her other pictures, but we didn't have any equipment to hang the mirror-  I figured out what was needed and bought an inexpensive stud finder and some big nails.  So first thing we drove to Stafford to her home, about a half hour away.  It just so happened that her husband was home for Veterans Day weekend.  He and I did a lot of measuring, stud finding, adjusting, and finally hammering.  We were able to get two large nails into the studs and hang the mirror in the dining room.  The sister was just delighted, as having the blanket-wrapped mirror out of the living room made her room a lot bigger and the apt really looks nice now. She is having family come for Thanksgiving, so she was excited to have things settled looking.  It was a great start to the day – using my tools to make someone happy!  Then after some planning and studying we headed out again.  We provided dinner (pizza, salad and pop) to a family with 4 children.  The dad in this family is also away at school, but he was home for the Veterans Day holiday too.  So we brought them dinner and then did our obedience FHE.  It went well and was great fun.  The kids were younger than a lot of the other families we have done the lesson for, but they like all the dog pictures so it went well.  Then we went to visit a young couple that has been a bit less active.  We were glad to get an appointment to go see them.  They are a very nice young couple, both just 20, with a lovely Australian Shepherd that we really enjoyed.  It was fun to get to know them and let them get to know us a bit too.  Her sister and new baby are moving in with them so they are moving out of base housing. We discussed this with them a bit.We played a lot with their dog and had fun with him.  Finally we gave them a short spiritual thought.  It was a very nice evening and we felt pleased with both visits.  We felt blessed today to be involved in several simple but important activities.

Nov 12 – Today we had a mission conference led by a Seventy.  We were visited by Elder and Sister Sitate from Kenya.  They joined the church in Kenya in 1986.  A fellow student at the university had attended college in the U.S. and had joined the church there.  He told them about the church and after about a  year they joined.  In 2009 Elder Sitate was the first general authority called from Africa.  He and Sister Sitate were very sweet, genuine people.  We enjoyed them immensely.  Sister Sitate taught an excellent lesson about getting along with your companion.  She said if someone goes home from their mission and feels like they did not learn what they should have or change the way they could have that it is not their fault, it is the fault of their companion.  She also said that learning to live and get along with a companion 24/7 is good practice for the rest of your life.  She had a calm and down-to-earth manner that was enjoyable and persuasive.  Then Elder Sitate spoke about the Mission Purpose statement in great depth.  He had many wonderful points and engaged the Elders and Sisters successfully.  He also was very humble and down-to-earth.  We enjoyed hearing him.  Lunch was provided and we got to meet a new senior missionary couple that is just about 30 miles south of us.  We enjoyed chatting with them.  Their job is to work with a large Young Single Adult branch, so we enjoyed telling them about our experience in that area.  We exchanged contact information so that we could get together for dinner some time.  We had previously been asked by President Wilson to take Sister Sitate to the airport after the conference.  She was returning home to Salt Lake while Elder Sitate was flying somewhere else for church business.  So they were leaving from different airports in Washington DC.  We drove her directly to Reagan National Airport, which is about 45 minutes north of here.  She was delightful to chat with in the car, and expressed the same type of joys that we do in talking about her children and grandchildren.  Although they live in Salt Lake, most of their children and all of their grandchildren live back in Kenya. Lezlie had been working on her knitting in the car, and she said that it is against the law to knit in a car in Kenya.  Apparently someone had been killed by a knitting needle when they were in a minor car wreck.  So Lezlie put the knitting away. She was very kind and friendly, and thanked us profusely for the ride to the airport.  It was an assignment that we enjoyed very much.  It was a heavy traffic time when we returned home, so instead of the freeway we drove down the George Washington Parkway.  It is a winding, tree lined road that follows the Potomac River south from Washington DC all the way to George Washington’s rural home, Mt Vernon.   It was very pretty and a most enjoyable drive.  Although it took a bit longer we did not have to fight with traffic until we got close to home.  So another different type of day sitting at the foot of a Seventy and being taught with a hundred or so young Sisters and Elders.  And then getting to chat with an amazing woman from Africa to top it all off.  It was another wonderful adventure.

Nov 13 – The bulk of our day was taken  up by our training at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS).  They do very detailed training before they let us work on financial issues with any clients.  Even after we finish the training we have to shadow other trained workers before they turn us loose with clients.  This is an important service for these marines.  They do not get paid a lot, and when emergencies come up sometimes they just cannot pay for them.  Also, some of the really young marines that are out on their own and finally earning a paycheck just overspend on cars, tvs and stereos.  We learned a lot about how the system works and how to work with the clients in a positive but mentoring way.  The training was long but good.  We actually have some homework tonight, but that is a good sign.  It means they take the training seriously.  After a visit to the doctor (still trying to deal with my itching) we took 4 young Elders out to a Chinese buffet.  One of them is Canadian Korean and had been bemoaning the lack of good Asian food.  It also turned out to be the 19th birthday of one of the Elders so it was nice we took them out.  We had some wonderful Asian food including some delicious Mandu.  But we ate too much.  Ugh.

Nov 14 – Today was day two of our NMCRS training.  It was even better today.  We did a run through of a full budget, just like we will do for marine clients.  It is a fairly complicated process, but we started getting the hang of it after a while.  We also have gotten to know several of the other volunteers and they are really nice folks.  It is interesting to hear their stories of being involved with the military all over the world and why they volunteer at NMCRS.  We finished our training successfully and now just have to shadow others for a while before we are fully qualified.  Next we did a Christmas shopping trip at the Marine Corps Museum.  They have every imaginable Marine souvenir you could imagine.   It was fun to try to find things for the grandkids there.   Then we made two important visits to inactive marine families that we have been trying to get to know better. One young sister has an inactive husband and so struggles to get to church and activities by herself.  They have 3 children,  4, 2 and 4 months.  The 2 year old was born with a malformed eye and has no real eyeball on one side.  She has had multiple procedures and she is having eye surgery in a couple of weeks to put a ball inside.  This is not really a fake eye, it is just a plastic sphere that will help keep her face from deforming while it is growing so fast for the next couple of years.  When she is about 4 they will put in a real fake eye that they can increase in size as she grows.  Anyway, she has a lot to go through at such a young age, and her mom is dealing with a lot of it alone.  She is a nice gal, but she is tired and somewhat stressed.  I got to hold the baby for a while, and we got to visit with her and get to know her better.  We think that she will call on us if there is anything we can do to help.  The second family, had a very premature baby that had all kinds of complications.  He was in the hospital for about 6 months.  He has had multiple medical procedures as well,  and the mom had to deal with a lot of it alone while her marine husband was away.  Now things are better. They have nurses that come in and monitor the baby at night.  Apparently with real premature babies they can just stop breathing in the middle of the night.  The baby is about 10 months old but looks like he is about 2 months old.  So we got to know her better and offered to do what we could to help.  We hope she feels welcome to call us.  We were very glad to get to visit both of these families.  It was humbling to see these young moms dealing with these significant health issues.  We feel so blessed to have healthy family members. 

Nov 15 – Today we got some more training related to our service at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  We were actually shadowing the Client Service Assistant.  This is the person who first sees marines and families that come in for service.  The CSA greets them and gets all the paperwork started.  The CSA is also approved to grant quick loans of up to $500.  The NMCRS developed these loans to try to overcome the payday lenders outside of base that charge exorbitant rates.  So we got to watch the CSA give a $500 check to a marine that was in dire straits, and he was happy and appreciative.  The CSA also answers all incoming calls.  So next week mom and I will have our first stint as the actual CSA, but we are going to do it together so there is less chance of goofing something up.  After out training we stopped by to see a family that just had their first baby about two weeks ago.  She is a member and he is not.  But he has taken lessons from the missionaries and said he might be interested in getting baptized.  They are a great young family, and we really hit it off with them.  They are from Washington (she has a UW Husky flag on the front porch) and they love dogs too.  They have a lovable bull dog .  Anyway, we were having a nice visit with them and I casually asked if they were planning on having the baby blessed.  The mom said“Well, we were just wondering if you could do the baby blessing.”  Before they had been talking like they were going to have her dad do the blessing when she goes home for a visit with the new baby in early December.  But the husband cannot go, due to work, so he would miss the blessing.  So they did not want the dad to miss it, so they want to do it here in Virginia.  And she asked me.  I said yes, of course.  I am totally honored and will be happy to do the blessing for them.   We then got some needed shopping done including a bit more Christmas shopping.  We decided we needed to get ready for shipping several packages, so we began doing some wrapping and packing.  Other than this it was a calm day.

Nov 16 – We decided we needed to have a real P-day ( preparation day) today. We both had several lessons to prepare, some housework, chores, planning and resting today.  So we got our talks and lessons ready for tomorrow, did some family history, reviewed and studied some materials, practiced knitting, and got a good rest.  We need some down days like this occasionally because we really do get tired on those days that we drive 100 miles and visit 5 or 6 families in one day.

Nov 17 – We had a great meeting with our OCS group early this morning.  It was so delightful to see our great OCS friends after two weeks.  We missed them last week because they had a field exercise and they had church in the field.  They are so happy to be nearing graduation in just 10 days.  So far all of our LDS OCS candidates have made it. In addition, we were pleased to hear that our Stephen Davis won the Gung Ho Award.  This is an award that is voted on by the others candidates for the most inspirational and positive candidate on the company.  It is pretty cool since it is voted on by peers.  He was pretty proud of himself.  This is the one that told us he might not make it back at week 2.  Today they were all talkative, sharing stories and experiences and providing excellent discussion during the lesson.  We had a lesson on courage that went over very well.  They had liberty and 3 of them hung around for a while just chatting.  When I asked if Sister Couch and I could be a temporary part of their family and attend the family day activities that take place the day before graduation, they all said yes. We were happy to hear that our less active candidate was accepted into the same school where his platoon mate will be attending graduate school. He said they would keep in touch.  They ate a phenomenal amount food as usual. Lezlie made some candied walnuts for them at their request and they were pleased that she remembered.  After resting at home for a bit we went to our regular church meetings.  We had some nice talks and music that were inspiring.  Lezlie was the substitute for the Gospel Essentials class today.  The lesson was about what happens to your spirit when you die.  At the start of the lesson there was an African lady that came into class.  We met her but did not get to ask much about her before class started.  Lezlie taught an excellent, thought provoking class lessons about what happens to our spirits when we die.  At the end of the lesson this little African lady said she wanted to make a comment.  She said that a year ago today she had lost a loved one and had grieved for a long time.  She said that this morning, the morning of the one year anniversary of her loss, she decided she needed to go to church somewhere and find out some answers.  She came to the LDS church all on her own even though she had never been before.  And she said she had good feelings about the lesson and what she had learned.   She said she had felt the spirit of God.  Mom gave her a big hug after the lesson.  It was quite touching.  The sister missionaries talked with her and set up an appointment to go visit her.  It was a remarkable experience.  We have had several remarkable experiences this week. We are learning that when we let loose and allow the Spirit to guide us we are guided so some pretty remarkable experiences.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Interview with the Mission President

We had the experience of going to our new dentist Monday morning. After going to the same dentist for almost twenty years in Richland we were not looking forward to it.  We thought it might be a hassle to go over all our dental history and fill out lots of forms. But we were pleasantly surprised that the transfer was easy.  The staff and dentist were very friendly and were polite and supportive about our mission.  It turned out to be a lot easier than what we thought it might be.  Later we provided our obedience family home evening for a family of six children.  We were a little worried that things might be chaotic as the kids ranged downward from age 8.  But not so.  They were so well behaved and they paid attention to the lesson.  They asked good questions, were polite, and made the whole evening great fun.  One thing that I have noticed from these marine families is that the children in general are very respectful to us.  We hear a lot of sir and m’am, and they are not afraid to talk to adults.  After the FHE we got to visit a nice young marine couple that is investigating the church.  Since they are military the young missionaries made a point of introducing them to us at church.  We felt some déjà vu.    They are in their mid twenties, have two small children and are investigating the church, just like we were some 35 years ago.  So we asked the young missionaries if it was okay if we visited them solo, and they said yes.  We had a nice chat, just getting to know them and telling them a bit about ourselves.  Then we just said, “Listen, 35 years ago we were in exactly the same position as you are and if there are any questions at all about church please feel free to ask us.”  They asked us a few questions but nothing very deep.  So we hope that they feel like they can use us as a resource.   It was our first real visit all by ourselves to meet with investigators.  It was fun and we think we made a nice connection to this young couple. 

The Tuesday activity was largely related to interviews by the Mission President.  He has a hectic schedule of interviews and things were running late, so we had to sit and wait for a while.  But we got to visit with some young missionaries we did not know, so it was time well spent.  Finally we went in together and had a nice chat with President Wilson.  We were a bit surprised because the first thing he asked was if we were considering multiple missions.  We said maybe, but that we just wanted to do well on this first mission for now.  He said that he and his wife were planning on going on two or three missions and said we should think about doing the same.  We feel like this is something we are not nearly ready to think about right now.  We just want to do a good job on this mission and then see how we feel and what happens when we get back to Richland.  He asked about how our family members were doing while we were gone and were there any concerns in that regard.  He also asked us how our work was going.  Then he thanked us for everything we are doing, from teaching military families to hauling missionaries around.  He is a great man, very friendly, open and laid back.  We think he is a great mission president.  You can feel his warmth and love.
At our district meeting  a young sister gave a wonderful spiritual thought on Ether 12:4, “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”  We do feel like our hope and faith in God provides us an anchor.  And we do always hope for a better world.  We had to duck out of district meeting early for our Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) volunteering.  We finished all of our initial training and even answered the public phone once.  We each got to sit in on separate budget counseling sessions with qualified volunteers, which was quite interesting.  The poor young marine family I was with had a combination of some bad money decisions and bad luck.  Their budget projection showed that they had 9 dollars clearance each month after all their bills and expenses.  That is not much.  It was sad, but nice to see the NMCRS helping.  We now are qualified to serve as the receptionist, the person who answers the phone or greets people when they come in to ask questions.  However, next week we will get the intense training that qualifies us to do actual budget counseling and make decisions about whether or not someone gets a loan.  Right now it is a little scary, but we know we can get the hang of it.   After our training we dashed home and put the finishing touches on a batch of Sloppy Joes.  Then 4 young elders came for dinner.  It is so much fun, as well as inspiring, to be around them.  It is a combination of being around wholesome young people that are working hard at something they believe in as well as observing their dedication, faith and obedience.  And they are so respectful and appreciative of every little thing we do.  We just love being around these young missionaries.  After multiple sloppy joes, Pringles, cheetos, servings of apple salad, and slices of pumpkin pie were consumed, the young elders left for their evening appointments.   It was great fun.  One of the Spanish speaking elders is leaving in 3 weeks, so it was especially entertaining to hear all of his stories about things that have happened to him over the past two years.  Like the time he ate 4 Thanksgiving meals in less than 5 hours because he did not want to offend anyone by saying no to their invitations. 

On Thursday we were especially happy we were able to offer service to our TBS officers in Stafford.  We first visited a young sister that has 3 young children and her husband is at Marine Lawyer training in Rhode Island for ten weeks.  He will not be finished until just before Christmas.  When we arrived the kitchen and family room were pretty messy, with toys spread from one end to the other.  We tag teamed by cleaning and playing with Max, her 2 year old son (the baby was napping and the 5 year old was at kindergarten).  We kept Max entertained and helped her pick up and clean both rooms.  Then I vacuumed with Max riding on the canister and Lezlie did some dishes.  You can tell this mom is lonesome – she talked nonstop as she and Lezlie worked together.  It was almost two hours of hard work, but we felt good after we finished.  After an excellent lunch at Panera Bread (we’re talking really good bread and soup), we visited another sister who has a 4 year old boy and is pregnant.  Because of a chromosome issue she has, it is difficult for her to carry babies full term, and she has had several miscarriages.  So she has to take it very easy.  Once again we tag teamed, helping her with some things and playing with Lliam.  He was a nice but curious little boy.  He had a fascination with washing machines.  The first thing he wanted to do was show me the family’s washer and dryer.  He climbed up on top of them and explained the spin cycle, heavy rinse, fabric softener drawer, etc.  Then we went and played laundry where we put small towels into his toy washer and dryer.  It is the first time I have met a child that is fascinated by washers and dryers, but he was a great little kid and fun to play with.  It made me not miss playing with my grandkids quite so much.   We were able to hang a bunch of pictures for her and Lezlie gave her advice on what pictures would look good on certain walls.  While Lliam and I were playing she had a long heart-to-heart with Lezlie about her chromosome disorder.  She understands things like that medically and loves to talk about health issues, so they had a good talk. This sister said it is hard to talk to folks about it because they just don’t understand medically what she is going through.  Anyway, it was a good visit and we helped her a lot.  Lliam was very sad when we left, so I guess he had a good time too.  Finally we visited another great young marine family.  They just have a baby girl, and I got to hold her for a long time and really enjoyed it.  We did not have to do any work there, just visit.  But they fed us dinner, and it was excellent.  This young man went to the Naval Academy so it was fun to talk to him.  He was a prior enlisted marine who had served in Iraq, so the Naval Academy was easier for him than some others.  It was wonderful to visit with this young family that is not only faithful to the marines, but faithful to the church.  We then stopped by for our TBS family home evening and once again no one showed up.  It is discouraging, and we are sad when we drive so far and spend time getting a lesson and treats ready and no one attends.  But we know they are busy students.  Thus ended a long and wonderful day of being able to serve others. 
Saturday was our day to haul missionaries to Richmond.  They have a meeting they call Return and Report about every 3 months.  When brand new missionaries arrive they are assigned to a more senior missionary who is called their Trainer.  After the brand new missionary and the trainer have been together for 3 or 4 weeks they attend this meeting to let the Mission President know how things are going with the training and with the new missionary adjusting to mission life.  So we took down two Sisters and two Elders.  It was great fun to be around them.  As noted before, they are inspiring and humbling because they work so hard and are so dedicated and obedient.  It was delightful to see them try to flirt with each other but not be too obvious about it, because that would be against mission rules.  But they were 4 great kids that we enjoyed getting to know.  It is about 95 miles to the building in Richmond, and everyone talked all the way down.  The Sisters were from Provo, Utah and Greely, Colorado and the brothers were from Texas (can’t remember the town) and Draper, Utah.  After dropping them off for their meetings we went to the Virginia Historical Society library and did some genealogy.  Lezlie got some good information on a different line of hers that traces back to Virginia.  It was a pleasant afternoon.  And we found a Chick Fil A nearby for lunch.  When we first picked up the Sisters and Elders they were all excited about the meeting and the good lunch they had.  But within about 15 minutes all four of them were asleep and taking well deserved naps.  We hit some nasty traffic on the way back, so it was a long slow drive.  But we eventually got everyone back home and collapsed in our little apartment after driving 200 miles in traffic between 7am and 4pm.   

This morning we got to sleep in a bit.  We had no OCS services today because they were out in the field.  They were going to hold religious services in the field so that the trainees could have that experience.  The Chaplain was concerned about what to do with the Mormons.  Since there are 4 returned missionaries in the group we were not concerned about them teaching each other. So we just told the Chaplain to give them a corner of the field where they could meet and they would take care of themselves.  Lezlie and I gave talks at church today, and all went well.  We were assigned to speak about talks from General Conference, mine a talk called “Ye Are No More Strangers” by Gerald Clausse and hers “Come Join With Us” by President Uchtdorf.  Poor mom had lost one page in the middle of her talk.  But she recovered nicely, and we both had some nice feedback.   Other than that it was a normal Sunday, with some nice lessons and talks throughout the day.  We are getting to know a lot more folks in the ward, and we feel more and more an integral part of the ward family each week.  We have an interesting week ahead without too many slow spots, so it will be a busy but great week. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween Week

We did a lot of baking for Halloween Week- I am finally getting the hang of the chocolate oatmeal no bake cookies. I made a few batches of them, and pinched ears on them, put m&ms for eyes and melted choc chips to draw an iris to make them look like cat eyes, and then used a choc chip for a nose. They turned out to be very cute black cat cookies, which I used as refreshments throughout the week with little Clementine oranges with jack-o-lantern faces on them arranged with caramels and candy corn.

Monday night we had family home evening with a family that has 4 children, 8, 6, 3, &1.  They were all very well behaved and it was fun. We have been trying to get around to a lot of the military families with FHE because it often falls by the wayside when Dad is gone a lot or deployed or comes home at irregular times. We use the dog slides and Dan has an obedience game and relate it all to gospel principles and we provide the evening treat. It is fun and different and it has been appreciated and enjoyed every time we go. And we enjoy interacting with the families, and are able to commend the parents for the diligence and hard work they are putting in to raising their families. It has been a good opportunity to get to know the families with young children, and the children always come up and say hi at church after we have been to their house. 

Tuesday we took Elder Wray and Elder Brooks, who is from Jamaica and will be going home soon, to a Jamaican restaurant nearby. It was relaxing and enjoyable as Elder Brooks told us about his life in Jamaica. We had tasty oxtail and curry goat and brown chicken, and some interesting mango and coconut soft drinks. Wednesday Elder Brown had surgery, so we were in contact all day with the other Sr. couple here who stayed at the hospital during surgery. We had to take a sister to Stafford and switch roommates, and then hurry back to Quantico for our NMCRS budget training.  We spent about 3 hours doing computer training, and almost finished it. It will be interesting when we start getting to work with real people. We came home, ate dinner and quickly returned to Quantico for the OCS FHE. We were delighted that our entire little group was still there. After a very nice lesson by MacGraths, we went home and got everything packed up for the next morning and went to bed so that we were able to get to seminary at 5:30 AM. The kids were great and happy we rewarded their good answers with Halloween candy, and enjoyed the cats and pumpkin treats. We have such admiration for the kids that get up and participate so well at this hour in the morning. They  left to get to school, and we went home, regrouped and then drove out to Prince William to see how Elder Brown was getting along, and took his whole house some Halloween treats. We had returned home and were packing up to go to TBS, when Elder Dalby ( 6’4”?)called and had cut his head on a backboard when he was trying to dunk a basket. He wanted me to come and see if he needed stitches. So we drove back out to Prince William.  Both Brown and Dalby were doing better, so we left feeling that all was well.   Friday we had a zone meeting and Dan provided transportation for many elders and then stayed with Elder Brown so that the  other Elders could all come, particularly since Pres Wilson,  the Mission President was there from Richmond.  I went to the meeting and filled him in.
Saturday we went to Arlington  and stopped at Chris and Reba Orton’s home, where Marianne and Bob and Beth were visiting before helping move Beth back to Washington. It was short, but fun to touch base and see them all. We then went to Frederick Maryland to work on the illusive Virginia ancestor, but again without much success. Frederick was a delightful little town, and we had a lot of fun- the autumn colors were at their peaks, so it was a very pleasant day.

Sunday was particularly busy- After a particularly moving lesson at OCS at 7:30, we stayed in Stafford and attended another Ward in which we have TBS marines. We met with the Ward Council and met the bishopric of the Rock Hill Ward. Although our marines did not show up it was very productive, and the missionaries there let us know of additional members that were marines that we did not know of or have on our list. This communication is critical as they often move in and out so fast that they do not know where to go or no one knows they are here. We then went with the Woodbridge missionaries to give our obedience lesson to a family they were teaching. It went well and was very enjoyable.  It was a good week.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Inspiring People, Reflection by Lezlie

Nov 3 – This week we did not have any extraordinary events that we have not already described, so we decided to simply discuss, think about and write about why this mission is so amazing.  Lezlie has captured it really well in the reflection.

Dan asked me the other night why it is so rewarding to work with the people we are working with, and we have both been reflecting about this a lot.   Basically we are working with several groups of tremendously inspiring people right now.
Our assignment is LDS Marines on the Quantico Marine Base.  Specifically this calling is to serve officer candidates and young Marine officers in The Basic School (TBS).  However, we also are liaisons for any LDS person who is assigned to Quantico. This includes single adults and enlisted and officer families. Because those who do not live in barracks on base attend LDS Wards off base, and because they then are the “responsibility” of those Wards, we also interact with the bishoprics and Ward Councils in 5 different wards - 4 in the Stafford Area and the Quantico Ward which is in Dale City, near Woodbridge where we live – to keep track of and help these folks as well.  Since the Stafford Wards are in a different Stake, we also interact with two Stake leaderships.  In addition, we are serving in the Virginia Richmond Mission, which is coordinated by the Mission President in Richmond, Virginia, about 1 ½ hours away. His job is to take care of 256 young missionaries, whose job it is to invite the world to come unto Christ. Because we are in the mission and do not have the rigorous rules the young missionaries have, we are often asked if we can help with them. Although our military jobs take precedence, a lot of our time is spent hauling young missionaries and helping care for them.

So the bottom line is we see a lot of really optimistic, idealistic, dedicated, good people acting on their beliefs in a very positive way. Not just complaining about what is wrong with the world, but trying to fix it, and still believing they can.  It is very contagious.
The marine officer candidates and young officers in TBS are some of the finest young men and women you will find anywhere.  Although the ones we work with are mostly LDS, many of them are not, and they come to our services with their friends.  All are intelligent, deep thinking men and women dedicated to freedom and peace.  They understand the gravity of their job, and are dedicated to be good and moral leaders of the military.  They are prepared to die for their beliefs.  They have pushed themselves beyond limits that most people cannot even imagine, both physically and mentally. They are both confident and humble. They serve and depend on each other – the Marine Corps is well known for its camaraderie, but it is impressive to see it in action.  At our sacrament meeting Dan taught about the dichotomy of being LDS and a Marine. Although LDS have always served in wars, we are a peace loving, family oriented religion, and certainly killing is not in any way looked upon lightly. As a result, there are not a large percentage of LDS marines. But the ones who do choose the military as a career are some of our best. These young women and men are excelling- we have not lost one. In OCS more than half the women have dropped out or been dismissed, and the men usually lose 25%.  But each week so far, all of our LDS candidates have returned stronger and more confident than the week before. Were I in the military, I would feel honored to serve with any of them. There is none of the cynicism of the world, but they are very worldly- they have all graduated from college, two spent two years in Brazil and one spent two years in Hungary, one was in the enlisted ranks for 3 years before deciding to become an officer, and one has an impressive high tech job waiting him when he finishes (he will be a Marine Reserve officer).  They come to us at 7:30 or earlier in the morning (depending on the week) when they could be sleeping, sometimes after running 3 miles for time or hiking 10 miles with heavy packs. They come in and sing, and pray sincere and amazing prayers.  Every one of them thanks each of us individually for our lessons and refreshments (yes, they thank us for the lessons, too).   Two of them have small children and wives they have had to make arrangements for during this time.  Each one of them (and their families) has made huge sacrifices in order to complete this program.  But there is no whining, no complaining, and no blaming. They are totally responsible for who they are.  It is refreshing and inspiring.  They also are responsible for their own successes, and this is where their confidence comes from.

The other military men and women we work with remind us of the sacrifice that all of our military make on our behalf.  Having gone through it, and been away from it for a while, I can see it from a much broader and objective perspective.  The hassles and sacrifices they make for us are their lives- they take it for granted. But having been out for so long and looking in on it, I can feel it even more vividly and know what they have given up; people who have worked hard for 20 years and still have never had a home of their own; working a schedule and a life around a 24/7 job that can change at any moment; facing months and months of family separation.  As I have said many times throughout this blog, it is very humbling, and makes me appreciate my life out of the Navy even more.
And then there is our interaction with the 18-22 year old missionaries. Since they lowered the minimum age to 18 (males) and 19 (females) rather than 19 and 21, the missionaries are much younger, and most have never been away from home before. This is not an easy way to leave home. For anyone who does not know what these kids sacrifice to go on missions it is incomprehensible to most 18 and 19 year olds- even to 60 year olds. The girls go for 18 months; the guys go for 24 months.  During that time they must follow rigid rules, keep up a hectic and busy schedule, and spend the great bulk of their time sharing their beliefs with anyone who wants to listen.  They have no social life and almost no free time.  They do not watch tv, read novels, or surf the internet. 

Having grown up in a Midwest culture where you don’t ever share anything you believe because you might be infringing on someone else’s beliefs (if –they- wanted- to- know- they- would- ask), missionary work has always been an enigma to me.  Of course I realized that God had prophets and Christ had missionaries from the beginning, and I know that most all churches have missionaries.  However, my experience before becoming a Mormon was that missionaries were people who went to talk to the heathens so they could become Christians and be saved. They always did this in some exotic and primitive place far enough away that they didn’t bother anyone in the congregation.  And when they came back they would ask for support and give an interesting travel log of the foreign places they visited and lost souls they were saving.  I remember feeling good about contributing some coins toward the cause after a missionary supper one time, but that was the extent of my participation in missionary work.
The LDS missionaries have put their schooling, their dating, and their own personal lives on hold for this time.  Although missions are certainly encouraged, and this creates some pressure from families and home wards, no one is forced to go- there is no way someone could last without a personal conviction of why they are there (and some don’t).  As a matter of fact not all young men and women are eligible to go - they must first pass a vigorous interview that is very challenging for most 18 & 19 year olds, they must be following the LDS Word of Wisdom (no drugs, alcohol, tea, coffee, smoking etc), there may be no pornography and no sexual relations of any kind, they must be paying full tithing, pass a health exam, and meet a variety of other expectations. During the mission, in addition to these rules, they may not call home except twice a year (they can email once a week and write letters and receive the same), they cannot have personal access to a computer (they have to go to a library to email), cannot listen to popular music, watch any TV, participate in any dangerous sports (including swimming, boating or contact games such as football),  and may not leave their small mission area without special permission.  They are to spend all of their time searching for people to teach, and finding those who want the Gospel in their lives. They are organized into Districts which are organized into Zones and then Missions.  They report to, are organized by, and taught by their peers, young missionaries that serve as Zone Leaders and District Leaders.  These leaders are at most a year older than those they lead, and often are younger.  The young missionaries have one day off a week, a preparation or P-day, on which they may tour local sites of interest (museums, zoos, historical sites, etc. ) or play sports that are within the rules.  But they also have to do all their grocery shopping, laundry, emailing, and other personal business on this day.   On a bike that can be a real challenge.   I was reminded of the Indian tribe that used to stake their young men out facing the sun as a rite of passage……

Until our daughter Anne participated in this (she served a mission in Japan about 18 years ago), I really did not understand it at all.  Couldn’t people just call the LDS church if they wanted to know more?  I sort of got it when Anne served her mission, and had to learn to speak Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese.  But I am really getting it now!
Allowing 18-19 year olds to fully represent not only your church, but your beliefs, requires a lot of faith by the LDS leadership.  The program requires a great deal of structure. These young missionaries have little experience living on their own, speaking to strangers, or being adults.  The great majority of these kids are really nice people who are trying their best to act on what they truly believe. Just as the Marines, they want to change the world. They know what has made them happy in their lives, and they want to share that.

But here is what I did not see when I saw white shirted pairs of young men with helmets and badges peddling around everywhere. They get experience that will serve them the rest of their lives in everything they do.  They learn their religion backward and forward. They have to.  It is constantly challenged and criticized. They have time away from school, television, the internet, movies and other distractions to search the scriptures and pray and depend on God. As a result, they see miracles. They interact with all types of people. Good people of every culture and religion.  Also really nasty people of all types.  They see successful families, and families struggling to survive. They see people with God, with non-spiritual gods, and with no God, and they learn from their observations and experience.  They see lives changed by what they have to offer, and they realize, even if they think they knew it before, that it works. They learn to feel and rely on the Spirit of God- heeding promptings and calling on it for strength, endurance and courage to do things, just as the Marines, things they never thought they could do.   And also as the Marines, they find that they can.  They develop the faith to act and the humility to pray.  They develop a real knowledge and love for God and for Jesus Christ.   I know this because I see their lessons and hear their prayers.  They have an amazing knowledge and understanding not only of the scriptures, but what they mean and how they apply to them personally.  They learn to appreciate and love their families and friends even more.  In addition they develop a love for the people they work with and become non-judgmental and look at people on the inside instead of the outside. They develop an appreciation for discouraging hard work that is infrequently, but well, rewarded.  They understand the importance of cooperation and teamwork and the value of personal virtue. They learn leadership skills, working with different companions every 6 weeks, and how to live with another person whether you like them or not.  They learn how to get along in spite of their differences (what great marriage prep).
This is unbelievably difficult and challenging work for these young people. But they are positive, enthusiastic, optimistic, obedient and dedicated.  They never complain, and they are always very appreciative of our help and grateful to Heavenly Father for any of their successes.  It is inspiring.  They do not get paid for this. As a matter of fact, they pay for their food and living expenses. Many save money for years to be able to go on a mission.  Again, it is extremely humbling.

The Church leadership is also inspiring.  Although we have been involved in all aspects of church leadership for years it is interesting to watch it function from a missionary’s point of view.  We have received in every Ward not only cooperation but the extra mile.  Our bishop has driven down to the base at 6:30 AM for 4 weeks to counsel with one marine so he can get married in the temple in Dec.  He joined the MacGraths (the couple we work with at OCS) to take two of the candidates to the temple in Washington DC., and then took them out to dinner, arriving home after midnight and then attending our early morning service the next day.   This in addition to the 300 people he serves in his regular Ward.  The Bishops in the other wards have given the TBS families callings and visit them regularly.  They have had the Relief Society send child help or food to sisters whose husband is deployed or with other special challenges. For example, among our marine families one child has birth defects and one child has severe Autism, a toddler and a new baby, whose fathers are gone on deployment. The ward families and leadership are always very willing to jump in, even though these families may be here for only six months.  None of these folks get paid.
So the bottom line is that we are associating with good people who are working hard at doing what they feel  will make the world around them a better place, and in the meantime, they are becoming amazing people.  They work so hard often with little or no recognition.  But they really are making the world a better place.  We feel inspired and humble3d to work among them.  We are learning a lot just from observing all of them, Marines and their families, young missionaries, and church leadership alike.  Every day we feel extremely humbled and inspired by these people we work with.  And it makes us want to work harder and do more for others in any way that we can.