Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Festival of Lights

Early this week we had a long baking day since we had multiple plates of Christmas goodies to deliver and refreshments to provide over the next several days.  Lezlie baked and baked while I took a young elder to the doctor.  He is an interesting young man from Canada.  He is quite bright.  He graduated from high school at age 16 and then completed two years of college before his mission and got early acceptance to dental school.  However, he gets impatient with the other missionaries that do not have his capacity to memorize and catch on to things as quickly as himself.  We have seen him be impatient and he has mentioned to us getting so frustrated that things move too slow for him.  So he has had to learn to be more humble and patient.  We have talked to him about that a couple of times, and it seems to be something he is learning.  But he is a great young man and we just love him.  He had to have a large planter’s wart removed from his foot that was painful when he rides his bike.  Although it was not the best of circumstances, it was delightful to spend some time with him and get to know him better.  He did get his wart removed successfully and is ready to hit the streets with his bike again.
Our outstanding Christmas activities this week were two trips to the Washington DC temple to attend the Festival of the Lights, an annual holiday event.  The DC temple has a large visitor’s center.  They decorate the temple and visitor’s center grounds with hundreds of thousands, of spectacular lights.  Inside the visitors center was a room filled with nativity sets from all over the world, which were very beautiful, unique and interesting.  There were tons of people there all dressed in holiday best, and there were many young missionaries escorting folks around and answering questions.  Each night, from Dec 6 through Jan 1, they have exceptional entertainment in the visitor’s center auditorium, which seats about 500.  On our first visit were able to get into the last concert of the night.  It was a violinist named Jenny Oaks Baker (daughter of Dallin Oaks) and a singer from Ireland named Alexandria Sharpe.  They were backed up by a small orchestra and some singers.  It was an exceptional concert.  They played all Christmas music, and the quality level was very high.  We are not big violin fans, but we do love any type of performance that is done really well.  And this was.  The violinist played amazing and beautiful songs, and her fingers moved across that violin unbelievably fast.  We Googled her afterward and she has a Masters in violin performance from Julliard.  She previously was the lead violinist for the National Symphony in Washington DC.  The biography said she had cut way back on performing to spend more time with her family.  One of the highlights of the night was when Jenny introduced her four children – girls 12, 10 and 9 and a boy 7.   They did an outstanding medley of Christmas songs that had been specially arranged for them by the conductor.  The girls, oldest to youngest, played violin, piano and cello, and the boy played guitar.  They were good beyond their years, and you could tell they were raised by a professional musician mom.  In addition to playing violin with her siblings in the quartet, the 12 year old girl also played percussion with the orchestra, and did a great job there too.  We enjoyed watching her play mini-cymbals, bells, tambourine, triangle, and many more things, always perfectly on the beat. The singer was excellent too, and did a wonderful version of “Breath of Heaven” as well as “Silent Night” in Welch.  Another highlight just before the final number of the night was when Jenny bore her testimony of the gospel, and told how blessed she was to play her violin to celebrate the birth of Christ and praise him.  It was very moving.  The final number was an outstanding version of Ding Dong Merrily on High.  It was an exceptional performance, made more so by the fact that these are all church members that just volunteered their time to perform for the Christmas season.  We later bought the violinist’s CD.  Christmas CD and it is outstanding.   Our second visit to the temple began with a separate errand.  One of our young marine friends called us the night before he was to fly home for Christmas leave.  It turns out his ride fell through and he needed a ride to the airport. When we picked him up at Quantico Base he was in a great mood because he was heading home for Christmas.  He was also very happy to get a break from the marine school and see his family after 4 long months of training.  It took us a full two hours to make a normal fifty minute drive to the airport.  The holiday traffic, with folks trying to get out of town or get to the airport, was awful.  But we finally made it.  It was fun to chat with him and get to know him better.  He was all smiles as he headed into the airport.  From there we fought the traffic for another hour and a half and finally made it to the Washington DC temple.  We went into the temple and had our dinner out of the vending machines in the basement.  It was an interesting experience.  Although they used to run a cafeteria in the temple basement, it was not cost effective.  So they installed a kind of a vending machine cafeteria, with all kinds of entrees you can heat up in the microwave.  So after an excellent dinner of pot pie, pizza, and cookies, we went to the concert of the Washington DC Bell Carillon.  This bell choir was excellent.  They did a superb version of “Ring Christmas Bells” and all of their other songs were great too.  After a quick peek at the spectacular lights we headed home after a long and tiring, but exceptional, day.

We had another excellent morning making three deliveries of gifts and goodies.  We had a commitment in the afternoon that precluded Lezlie from attending a baby shower for two ladies in our ward.  One of them is the mom of the baby boy Cooper that Dan blessed a few weeks ago.  So we delivered small stuffed bulldogs as baby gifts in lieu of attending the shower.  The bulldog is the mascot of the marines.  We delivered the 3rd bulldog to another mom we visit as often as we can.  She has a premature baby with several severe medical problems and she is struggling right now.  All the moms were very pleased to receive the bulldogs and were sorry Lezlie could not attend the shower.  We then attended our second Chaplain’s Briefing at The Basic School (TBS).  About every three months a new TBS class of about 250 marines starts the course, and during their second week the Chaplain has a meeting with them.  He invites all of the lay leaders and then gives them a few minutes to introduce themselves and what they do.  Our first such meeting took us by surprise, because the other lay leaders sort of gave competing mini-sermons (my beliefs are cooler than yours and you should attend my services).  We decided this time to just play it very low key, so we just introduced ourselves, where we were from, why we are here, and announced our Thursday evening family home evening.  Sometimes meekness is appropriate.  After the meeting all 5 of our LDS OCS gradates came up to say hello, and 4 or 5 of the marines that were visitors to our services at OCS stopped by to chat too.  We even had two Washingtonians stop by to say hello because we had mentioned Washington State in our introduction.  They asked us where we lived in Washington and wanted to know all about why we are here.  It was a very happy, joyful interaction with these good young marines.  And it felt like validation too.  None of them had to come up and greet us, but they all did.  One gal who was a visitor to almost all of our services told us that our Sunday and Wednesday services were one of the things that got her through OCS.  She said they all so looked forward to those precious hours when they got to relax, discuss important things, and just be regular people.  It really was touching for us.
On one day in the middle of the week we left home at 7:30am and returned at 7:30pm  – what a busy day!  After stopping at Target to get some baby toys and some dog treats, we had an excellent visit with a sister and her 10 month old twins (and her two Beagles Snoopy and Charlie Brown).  This was a great visit because we have had a hard time getting in touch with her.  We were concerned that she was just trying to drop out of contact with church and church folks. But she was very welcoming and friendly.  She said between her job and the twins she has been kept very busy.  It is really hard for her to take the twins to church without her husband, who is off in Marine training.  We had fun playing with the twins and they loved the little stuffed Beagles in Santa hats that we gave them.  This Sister was even able to get a little work done while we played with the twins.  Next we visited the pregnant sister with the little boy who loves washing machines.  We stayed for an hour,  and I played washing machine related games the whole time.  This Sister, who has a chromosomal disorder making it hard for her to carry babies full term, loves to talk to Lezlie about all of her medical issues.  She gave us a huge box of chocolates and a handmade ornament with a meaningful sentiment on it.    We took this as a huge compliment.  As we left she thanked us and gave Lezlie a spontaneous hug.  It was touching and rewarding.  We also contacted another mom whose marine husband is away, and she said that she and her 3 kids were all sick with the flu and she did not want us to visit.  But she did say she was out of chicken soup and it was about all any of them could keep down and it w.  So we took her chicken soup, crackers, and gator aide.  She did look really sick, but was also very appreciative of the food.  Next we put in our 4 hour shift at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  It was a very busy day, and we were answering the phones, filling in data sheets for clients, and helping with all sorts of things.  Dan had a rewarding case.  He helped the Director take care of a young marine who needed emergency leave.  His father has a disease that damaged his kidneys, and he is on dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant.  He is terribly sick.  Yesterday this young marine’s parent’s house burned down.  He is going home to help them take care of the insurance stuff, clean out the home, and find a place for them to live.  We got him a plane ticket home to Huntsville, Alabama, and $200 for miscellaneous expenses.  He was a really nice young man, very concerned about his folks.  He had been on duty all night and had been worrying about his folks the whole time.  He was grateful for the assistance and anxious to get home to his folks. It was nice to help him.  After getting off of our work there at 4pm we headed out with 5 plates of Christmas cookies and candy.  We found our Bishop and two military families home, delivered our treats and wished them all Merry Christmas.  The other two families were not home.  We could have driven home and called it a night, but instead decided to eat dinner in that area and try again.  After a delicious meal at Panera Bread – they make great soup and sandwiches - we found one of our two remaining families at home.  They were happy to see us, invited us in to see their tree, and chatted for a few minutes.  That was our last delivery for the night, but we decided we needed some things at Costco before tomorrow.  So we detoured on the way home and made a Costco run.  Finally, after unloading the purchases and bringing all or our “stuff” in from the car we were able to put on our comfortable clothes and sit down for a few minutes.  It was a busy but rewarding day.  We are grateful to be able to serve folks and help them out when they need it. 

On another day we had a lengthy transportation job.  We drove 4 Sisters to Richmond (90 miles) for a special training meeting.  We had not had much interaction with these 4 young ladies before, so it was fun to get to know them.  What amazing young women.  They all left behind school, good jobs, family, and even some boyfriends to be here for 18 months serving others.  Since the meeting and their lunch took about 4 hours we spent some time at the Virginia Historical Society Genealogy Library.  Lezlie got a few more clues about her Virginia ancestors the Conways.   We picked up the Sisters and got them home safely.  We then spent the late afternoon getting ready for our Thursday evening family home evening with our Basic School marines.  Lezlie outdid herself on treats.  There were beautifully decorated Christmas sugar cookies, chocolate mint brownies, peanut butter cookies with red M&Ms on top, shelled pistachios, and some toffee.  We also had hot spiced cider and cold apple juice.  Our five LDS members in the class all showed up and were very happy.  This was mostly because tomorrow they start their Christmas break.  Classes do not start back up for them until Jan 6.  But we like to hope they were happy for our family home evening too.  Lezlie gave a great lesson on giving gifts.  We talked about giving gifts to others and to God – not just material gifts, but gifts of our time, kindness, and help.  It was a good lesson with lots of interaction by our group.  Then we pulled out the bells.  These tough, young marines played every Christmas bell song we have.  They laughed, made fun of each other, and kept asking for one more song.  We were a little concerned that they might think the bells were too childish, but they had a great time playing the bells.  We fed them all the treats.  What they didn’t eat they took back for their platoon mates or to eat on their plane rides home.  Finally we bid them Merry Christmas and goodnight.  So it was another long day with a lot of driving, but also a very rewarding day.  Some nights we return home exhausted, but we are so uplifted and fulfilled by working with these outstanding young people that the exhaustion is joyous.

Late this week we got to attend a Sing Your Own Messiah event at a nearby church.  It was held in a small Lutheran church.  There were not as many singers as we had experienced sometimes in the past, but it was a quality group, and produced excellent, uplifting music.  As a prelude there was a group of about ten young violinists (ages about 5 – 12) that played multiple carols.  They were REALLY good.  Prior to the Messiah the choir sang several carols.  We really enjoyed that music.  Finally the orchestra conductor and soloists were introduced and we began.  It was like putting on a favorite piece of warm clothing.  Those songs of the Messiah that are so familiar to us now, just resonate in our souls.  And they feel like Christmas.  It was not the largest group of singers we have ever been with, but the spirit of Christ was definitely there.  Afterwards they had a nice set of refreshments, so we had a couple cookies to end the evening.  It was greatly enjoyable for us, and we felt so fortunate to have the Messiah as part of our missionary Christmas.
On Sunday the ward choir did an enjoyable Christmas program of music and narrative.  We really enjoyed it.  Sacrament meeting ended with a single talk, and the man gave an excellent, moving Christmas message.  It was a really good Christmas meeting.  After the rest of our meetings the ward held a “Linger Longer,” which is what the ward calls their post church potluck supper.  We sat with two men from Liberia in our ward, and it was quite interesting to talk to them about their country.  During one of our early meetings on Sunday we became aware of a man, recently baptized, who was having some personal mental struggles and was temporarily staying in a half-way house.  We had attended this man’s baptism and got to know him a little bit.  We felt urged to go and visit him.  So on a cold, rainy night we set out for Manassas, a town about 30 miles east.  We found the place easily, and knocked on the door.  It is a regular residential type house, but is set up for low risk patients with problems that just need some care and attention for short periods.  Although we had not prearranged the visit, we had about an hour visit with this man, and it turned out to be a good, good thing.  He really wanted to talk, and he unburdened himself to us.  He told us a sad, sad story.  He really seemed to need to talk, and we just let him.  We expressed our love and the love of all the ward family for him. We left him with hugs, a bag of Christmas treats, and a nice prayer.  We felt humbled by this man and how he has fought to overcome his extremely difficult family trials.  We felt rewarded that we got to provide him a small bit of light and hope tonight.  We are continually amazed by the interesting, varied, and uplifting experiences we are able to have on this mission.

Although we are a little sad we are not with family this Christmas we feel greatly blessed to be serving the savior this holiday season.  We believe the greatest gift of all was the gift of Jesus Christ.  We will have a quiet holiday in our little apartment, and as you can see we have been showered with multiple gifts from friends and family.  We wish all of you a wonderful Christmas.



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