Thursday, January 30, 2014

Visiting Families

We made many visits to military families over the past week and a half.   We love these young families and feel fortunate to call them friends.   We are in awe of the sacrifices they make to serve our country.  We love to visit them.  A lot of them are pretty routine - we say hello, drop off some treats or something from Church, and possibly sit down for ten minutes to visit and share a spiritual thought.  At one house, however, it was a tender visit.   We were invited in and had a nice chat.  This is a young family that we worry about and pray for always.  They have a little boy born almost 5 months premature, and he has multiple medical problems.  At one year he weighs just 16 pounds.  They are getting daily nursing help.  In spite of his problems their little boy is active and smiling.  So they have some hope.  He will need a kidney transplant at age two.  The dad told us he is going to be the donor and is being tested to make sure he is a good match.  Donating a kidney is not trivial.  This little family has gone through so much and they still have more to come.  But they are plugging along and doing the best they can.  We wish we could do more to help them, but about all we can do is stop by occasionally and try to boost their spirits.  The wife very seldom leaves the house because the son is very susceptible to infections.  So she always seems to appreciate our visits.
We went to our first movie on the base.  Tickets were $4.00!  The movie started with the playing of the national anthem and everyone stood reverently.  It brought back fond memories of attending movies at the Yongsan Base in Korea.  We saw “Saving Mr. Banks”, the story of how Walt Disney convinced a reluctant author to let him make a movie of her Mary Poppins books.  It was excellent and we enjoyed the experience.  They show the movies in a large auditorium, and although there were about 50 people attending it seemed very empty.  It was great fun.

What was to be a very busy Tuesday turned out to be quite different.  There was a winter storm with lots of snow, wind, and frigid temperatures.  Our Mission President was supposed to come to Woodbridge for interviews, which included us.  But he cancelled.  We were to drive several elders to that meeting.  Also, we were going to have a big family home evening with our TBS group.  The entire Quantico Base was closed, so we had to make calls and send messages to cancel that activity.  With the wind howling and the snow swirling, we were grateful this night to be indoors in our warm and cozy apartment.  I (Dan) completed one minor but fun hardware project.  When we drive farther than 10 miles Lezlie’s routine is to face time with her mom.  This has allowed us to stay in close touch with her parents.  Lezlie has mentioned that her arm gets tired holding the cell phone out in front of her face while riding in the car.  So I did an Odyssey of the Mind project.  Out of a plastic loaf pan lid, duct tape, Velcro, and a rubber band, I built her a cell phone holder.  It straps onto her visor.  It works really well, and Lezlie has been able to have long “hands free” chats while we are driving. 
We worked a good shift at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society on Wednesday.  Lezlie gave out a couple of Quick Assist loans and I (Dan) got to do my first solo case.  A young marine came in needing funds to get his car repaired.  He was a nice young man and actually handled his money pretty well.   But he owned a BMW, and when a BMW breaks down it is expensive to repair.  So we worked up his budget and it appeared that he had enough margin to be able to pay NMCRS back.  So I got to give him a check for $2300.  Wow!  I was very proud of doing my first case totally on my own, and I believe I did a good job.  The client was sure happy.  In the evening we got to meet with our solo Officer Candidate School student.  Our family home evening with him went very well.  Lezlie gave a lesson based on an LDS video called “Flecks of Gold.”  The thought is that small things, like tiny flecks of gold, can add up to be something great.  Although each of us may only be able to do small things, those many small things can add up to something large and impactful.  We had a plate of cookies, large enough to feed several in case we had visitors, and a bowl of strawberries.  We were amazed that this young marine ate only two cookies and about twenty strawberries.  He said that they got very little fresh fruit in the mess hall.  He just gobbled them up as fast as you could imagine.  Like a chicken eating grains of corn!  I had an interesting epiphany.  He thanked us profusely for driving all the way to the base and preparing an FHE just for him.  Mom and I discussed this afterwards, and we did not even have a single bit of hesitation about doing the FHE for just one person.  We know that he is important, even if it is just him alone.  We know that he is a faithful and dedicated young man, but we also believe that any outside support he receives will help him make it through this difficult school.  We know that his parents are grateful that someone is looking out for his spiritual welfare.  We know that in a similar situation we would be happy and grateful that someone was looking after our son.  We are simply humbled and inspired to be working with this dedicated and hard working young man.  The fact that there is just one person in attendance at OCS this time really is unimportant.

We did an extra shift at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this week.  They were short one day and the director called and asked us to come in.   I (Dan) did a sad case with a young marine family.  They had a 3 year old and a newborn that had been born with brain damage.  He was having lots of seizures.  They have to take him to the large Navy hospital in Wash DC, which is about 50 miles away.  They simply could not afford the gas or the overnight hotel bill.  Their financial situation was not good, and they actually owed the NMCRS a couple hundred dollars from a loan several months ago.  Normally this would disqualify them.  But the director looked over the case and decided we would give them a grant of $200.  Almost all of the cases we do result in interest free loans.  But the director can authorize grants up to a certain amount in difficult cases.  The young couple was nervously waiting for me to return wondering if they would get a loan.  They were ecstatic when I told them the director had authorized a $200 grant.  It was humbling and gratifying to be a part of helping them.  It made me appreciate the fact that all of our family is in excellent health.  We had our The Basic School (TBS) family home evening, which went well.  All of the marines have been out in the field for two weeks.  When they are in the field they either sleep in their sleeping bags on the ground, or if it is too cold they hike about 5 miles back to the barracks, clean up their gear, and get about 4 or 5 hours of sleep before they march back out.  So we knew they would not be at FHE.  But our two marine wives came, and we had an excellent meeting. 
We had a delightful evening with some friends from home (Richland, Washington) this week.    We met Krystal Watts and her mom Jan for dinner.  Jan is in our ward at home and Krystal, who used to be in our ward, is a young lady who is in a fingerprint specialist training program at the FBI Academy here.  Her mom is visiting from Washington State.  We had a wonderful dinner with them, talking about mutual friends back home, sights they visited around Washington DC, and Krystal’s training at the FBI Academy.  It was all great fun.

We had a nice interview with President Wilson this week.  He always asks how our family is doing, so we got to show him pictures of new granddaughter Abby.  His main concern for the senior missionaries is our families back home, and he always wants to make sure things are going okay.  After talking about our family we were able to tell him about our work with the marines and all the small miracles we have experienced.  It was a good interview and a good morning. 
We had a long Sunday this week.  After arriving early for two pre-church meetings we went into the chapel.   As we sat down for our sacrament meeting to start I noticed a middle aged man limping in.  He took a seat all by himself and he did not look at all familiar.  So I walked over and introduced myself.  He said that he was a baptized member but that he had not been to church in a long time.  He just felt the need to come back.  So Lezlie and I sat with him and stayed with him throughout all the meetings.  He was a nice young man with a sad story.  He had a stroke when he was 30.  So at a young age he became permanently disabled.  He lives at home with his parents and collects a minor disability income.  He said it is hard for him to read, so his main activity is watching television.  But he was cheerful and optimistic during his time with us. We introduced him to the bishop and several ward members who will make sure he can get to church each week.   I sincerely hope this man does keep coming back to church.  I know it will help him.

On another day this week we visited our two TBS wives in Stafford.   One helped Lezlie set up a facebook page “LDS Quantico Marine Base.”  We hope to use it to link up the single marines and let them know about activities, church locations, etc.  We then had a most interesting visit with the second TBS wife.  Her husband is not a member, but is friends with our LDS group in TBS.  So she found us through her husband’s LDS marine friends.  We had never been to her home before so we arrived with brownies and a dog toy for her Australian Shepherd.  She is a very interesting lady who comes from Moldova.  She came to the US for school, joined the Army, and got her US citizenship.  While in boot camp she joined the Church, and has been a member for 3 years.  She is now an Army reservist, supporting her husband while he becomes a marine officer.  When we arrived she was busily cooking.  She asked if we could stay a bit and chat while she was cooking.  She was making a fancy dinner for the two young Elders from her ward.  Then her husband called and said he would be late.  So she asked us to stay a little longer so that the missionaries could come over at the appointed time.  (The young missionaries are not allowed to be in a house alone with a single sister. ) We said sure, so we visited some more.  Then her husband called again, and he said he would be even later.  She asked us to please stay for dinner so that the missionaries could eat as scheduled.  We said sure.  The young elders arrived soon and the five of us sat down to dinner.  It was a fabulous meal.  She had basically cooked all afternoon, preparing homemade barley and mushroom soup and a squash bread pudding.  They both tasted outstanding.  All of us complimented her on the amazing food.  As we were just about done with dinner her husband and his marine friend arrived home and joined us.  Both were excellent guys, a lot of fun to talk to.  So a twenty minute drop by visit ended up being a two and a half hour stay with an excellent dinner.  We never know how some of these visits are going to turn out.  Sometimes we receive the most unexpected blessings, such as this great dinner and visit this evening. 
A highlight of the past ten days was our successful TBS family home evening.  The TBS students were not out in the field this week.  We had 8 attend, almost all of our marines that we first met at OCS, two wives, and one non-member husband that came to be with his wife.  Lezlie made spectacular apple dumplings, which they ate in record time.  One of the guys was actually scraping the pan with a spatula at the end to get all of the last morsels.  We have begun going over Preach My Gospel, which they requested.  We had a wonderful lesson/discussion about why the gospel is so important for families.  The goal of an eternal family is important and wonderful, but the gospel also helps parents with their families right now.  It was so much fun to have this whole group together.  They are so much more relaxed and talkative out of the OCS environment, and they have insightful comments and amazing experiences from their missions and marine training.  It was a joyful meeting.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Child Care and Temple Cleaning

One evening this week we both attended a Relief Society activity, Lezlie for the activity and me to provide child care in the nursery.  Lezlie enjoyed the meeting where they discussed setting goals and played some games to get to know each other better.  I enjoyed being in the nursery.  It was not hard duty as we had only 3 children, a 2 year old boy and two girls, each about 8.  We put on the movie “Tangled” and fed them some snacks, which entertained them for most of the evening.  The most interesting item of the nursery shift was getting to know the other man that was helping.  He works at the U.S. Patent office in Washington DC.  He is one of the engineers that reviews applications, tests the actual item, and decides whether or not it gets a patent.  How cool is that!  He is an electronics engineer and works a lot with iPhone type technology.  He told me about a patent he had approved for a large pharmaceutical company.  They actually put bar codes on their pills, but they are invisible to the eye.  He said that bar code readers and iPhones can read about 1000 shades of gray.  So they bar code the pills with shades of gray that are not visible to humans.  They use this not only for tracking inventory and sales, but also to help investigate thefts and illicit sales of prescription narcotics.  It was thoroughly fascinating to talk to this man, and the 3 children could not have been better.  What interesting people we are meeting here in Virginia.
On Wednesday of this week we heeded a call for some temple service.  The Washington DC temple is closed right now for annual maintenance, and our stake was assigned to do some cleaning.  We headed out at 6am and made our way through the heavy DC rush hour traffic on Interstate 95.  About 50 people were there to participate in the cleaning for the day, many of whom were full time temple missionaries.  It was fun to chat with several of them about their experiences working at the temple and living in Washington DC.  Lezlie and I did several different jobs throughout the morning, including moving furniture back into areas that had been cleaned, cleaning mirrors, dusting floor molding and paintings, cleaning doors, and polishing drinking fountains.  We got to wander through all parts of the temple, which is a large one.  There are actually 7 floors.  It is a beautiful temple, and we enjoyed looking at all the excellent art while we cleaned.  It was inspiring to see all of these good people working hard to clean the temple, and we enjoyed being a part of it.  That evening we took dinner over to our young friends that have the new baby boy – the one I (Dan) blessed in December.  She is a member who has been less active and he is not a member.  But they have been trying to get involved in church.  We had a great visit with them over Kentucky Fried Chicken.  We had some good discussion about attending church, how the gospel helps us with families, and the blessings we receive through obedience.  We really love this young family and have them in our prayers frequently.  We can just see how much the gospel would help them in their young family.  It was wonderful to spend time with them, especially since I got to hold the baby. We were thrilled they showed up at church Sunday!

Ft Belvoir, an Army base, is located about 15 miles north of us and we have become friends with the military relations couple that serves there.  This week we met them for lunch at a Great Harvest Bread Company that is located nearby.  We had a wonderful time chatting about the various activities we each do on our respective bases.   They then took us on a short tour of the fort, and it was enjoyable.  We were a little jealous, because this fort is much more modern than Quantico.  I can’t believe the Army has more money than the Marines!  Their building, roads, and surroundings were in excellent condition, far out shadowing our base.  They also showed us their ward’s church building, and it was quite unique.  The building is very near to Mt Vernon, George Washington’s home.  The church building is built in the same style as Mt Vernon, with beautiful white columns in the style of Southern mansions.  It is quite unique as far as church buildings go.  But the most spectacular part is the amazing view of the Potomac River.  The building sits on small rise just across the street from the river, and it is a gorgeous view.  What a beautiful setting for a chapel.  After a couple of enjoyable hours with our senior missionary friends we returned home to get ready for our TBS family home evening.  Although we knew that our marine officers would be out in the field this evening the two wives that attended last week indicated that they would like to get together.  Although it was a small group we had an excellent meeting.  We gave a short lesson on good things coming out of adversity.  Then we just talked to get to know each other better.  The one lady is originally from Romania.  She said growing up there life was pretty Godless.  She came to the U.S. to go to school and later joined the Army.  When she was in boot camp she found things quite difficult and decided that if there was a God she really needed His help there.  She looked around all her fellow boot camp attendees, and was impressed by one young man because of his positive attitude, kindness, and friendliness.  She knew he went to church, so she went with him one Sunday.  It turned out to be the LDS services that were being conducted by some Senior Military Relations missionaries.  A short time later she joined the church and she has never looked back.  That was just 3 years ago, and here she is attending our services at Quantico.  The other lady told about a calling that was both difficult and rewarding.  She was called to be the Sunday School teacher in her Young Single Adult ward.  She was quite nervous because she had actually never taught a church class before.  She said she prayed and prayed every week that she would be able to teach what the class needed to hear.  And she said that after nearly every class she had one or two folks come up to her and say, “That lesson was exactly what I needed today,” or “Your lesson was an answer to my prayers.”  It was wonderful to get to know these two great young ladies.  We are in awe of how well they are doing in supporting their husbands during this demanding marine training.    
One of our highlights this week was dinner out with Richard and Katherine Wick.  Richard is the brother of my older sister’s husband, and we met before many years ago.  He and his wife live only twenty minutes away from us.  We had a delightful dinner with them and got to know them better.  Richard and I talked about old, old memories, like the wedding of my sister and his brother fifty years ago and the time my sister and I visited his family in New York City to see the Worlds Fair. My sister and I were just teenagers but our parents put us on a bus from St Louis, Missouri to go to New York City and visit Richard and his sister Irene.  Those two really showed us New York City, from riding subways to playing skee ball on Times Square, from the Empire State Building to the Worlds Fair, and from the Statue of Liberty to Central Park.  It was an astounding trip for a couple of young kids from a small town in Washington State.  So I had very fond memories of Richard, and it was great to get to visit with him after so many years.

What a busy day Saturday was!  We began with an appointment with a young marine family that is investigating the church.  Although the husband was not able to attend at the last minute because he had to work Saturday morning (the marines don’t really have weekends), we had a delightful visit with the wife and two small boys.  She had learned a lot about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but she and her husband are taking their time about deciding whether to actually join.  It would be a big change for them. We were able to answer some questions and suggest some activities that might help them make a decision.  We got some groceries, and as we were driving away from the base we got a text message from a bachelor marine that we have been trying to reach for a couple of weeks.  He was asking if we could give him a ride to church tomorrow.  We said yes, and although we were on our way home we felt inspired to invite him to lunch.  He said yes so we turned around and headed back to the base.   was going through a sad divorce. We could tell he is still really hurting, so we just let him talk and talk.  We were glad to get to know him and be of some service, and will be happy to take him to church tomorrow.  We dashed home and put away the groceries – we actually had some ice cream in the car which was nearly soup by then – and then quickly headed out again for a baptism.  It was for a nice young man we met at church just a few weeks ago, and it was a sweet baptism.  Next we were able visit a family that had just moved into the area.  They were active Army and the military relations couple at their base told us about them.  We were able to find them at home, welcome them to Woodbridge, and give them the name and address of their ward here.  Finally we drove back south past the marine base and met a marine for dinner.  We have been helping his wife, who is undergoing a difficult pregnancy.  He has been away at training a lot, so we have visited her several times to help around the house.  Now she is away, staying with her sister in Connecticut where her doctor specialist is until the baby comes in a couple of weeks.  She is going to be induced, so he will go up there for the birth.  However, for now he is home alone and was out in the field all week sleeping in his sleeping bag on the COLD ground.  So we took him out to dinner and had a nice chat with him.  We felt satisfied with a good day’s missionary work.  One other highlight of the day!  In a previous post I mentioned a young marine to whom I gave a blessing.  He had just arrived on base and had to take a difficult field test to get into the marine Infantry Officers school.  It is an extremely challenging test physically and mentally, and not everyone passes.  If they do not pass they are immediately dropped from the school.  So this young LDS marine was nervous and wanted a blessing to calm his soul and give him confidence.  We were so happy to hear that he did pass the test and is now enrolled in the school.  Hooray for him! Our other IOC marine also passed and they have already met and can support each other.

Last week we reported that the new Officer Candidate School had begun but that no Church members showed up at our meeting on Sunday.  We decided that we should go back to OCS this Sunday just to make sure that there had not been a miscommunication about our services.  Today is the earliest Sacrament Meeting on the OCS schedule – 6:40am.  So we packed up all of our treats and materials and headed for the base at 5:50am.  We got set up and waited.  And sure enough, at 6:39am a young marine came down the hall with his sergeant yelling, “Where is the LDS service?”  We ushered the young marine into our room and away from his crusty sergeant.  He is from Atlanta, served a mission in East LA, and graduated from BYU with a double major in Comparative Literature and Economics.  He interned in a bank in DC already and has a job waiting for him there.  But he always wanted to be a marine.  So here he is.  The three of us had a very nice, intimate sacrament meeting.  We took chocolate chip pumpkin bread from Great Harvest Bread Company (thank you children for the gift certificate!), fresh fruit, and milk.  He at half the loaf of pumpkin bread, drank about 4 glasses of milk, and ate a bunch of fruit!  He was a delightful young man and we are looking forward to getting to know him better.  He said he would bring friends next week. 

This Sunday evening we close another week on our mission and say again that we are greatly enjoying our work here.  We feel like we get to be a part of something that is so much bigger than us – families making choices that will bring them eternal benefits, single marines choosing to live the gospel under trying circumstances  and being blessed for it, and young missionaries dedicating themselves every day to helping people in any way they can.  We are humbled and inspired that we get to be a tiny piece of the big puzzle.  We miss our family and our dogs greatly, but we know we are doing what we are supposed to be doing during this part of our life.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fitness in the New Year

We have been given a fitness challenge by the Mission President’s Wife.  We are supposed to exercise "vigorously" for 30 minutes 5 or 6 times a week and get bonus points if we lose weight (except for the really skinny missionaries).  So we have committed ourselves to doing a better job at eating right and exercising.  Several times this week we drove ten minutes over to Potomac Mills Mall and walked two or three miles during the morning walking time.  It is very enjoyable, with lots of friendly folks and good music.  It is much more pleasant than walking outside in this weather. 
 Early this week we had the sister training leaders over for dinner and we had a nice meal and a fun visit.  One of them has been here as long as we have, and she was one of the very first missionaries we met.  She works at our ward, so we see her a lot and have become very close to her.  We will be sad the day she goes home in just 6 weeks.   They have a kind of wisdom that is well beyond their years.  I (Dan) was humbled to be asked to give the one sister a blessing of comfort, which I did.   It was a good experience.  We both enjoyed spending a couple of hours with these outstanding young ladies. We  feel privileged to be a substitute "grandma and grandpa" to so many excellent young people.   The very next day we stayed in most of the day today, working on lesson plans and organizing our lists, maps and charts.  It was extremely cold with a high of 19 degrees and strong winds, so we did not really want to be out at all.  We did have a delightful dinner with another set of young sister missionaries.  They live in our apartment complex, and we usually try to have each set of missionaries that live here over for dinner at least once every 6 weeks.    One of them  is a choral music major at BYU.  She must have a good voice because she was in the BYU women’s chorus, and said the highlight of her choir experience was when the women’s chorus got to sing at a church General Conference.
We worked two shifts at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this week and got to have a lot of excellent interactions with young marines.  We also got to talk to the director of NMCRS, a very nice lady close to our age.  It was late in the shift and we were not busy, so she just came in and sat down to chat with us.  Somehow she got to talking about her family and told us about the very painful loss of her son  at age 24.  It was 14 years ago, so she can talk about it somewhat dispassionately now, but she said there are days and moments when it is still very painful.  We have noticed how tender hearted she is about helping these young marines, and this helped us understand why.  It also helped us remember what a tremendous blessing it is to have four healthy, whole children, not to mention healthy children-in-law and grandchildren.   All of the volunteers we have met there are great people, donating their time to help out the young marine families.  As we were walking out to the car after our shift at about 3:45pm we were discussing what we should do for an hour because we had another appointment near the base at 5pm.  It turns out that the Lord had plans for us for that hour.  As we got into the car I noticed a voice message on my phone.  I had missed the call a short time earlier.  It was a young marine that we had only introduced ourselves to via email.  The two Senior Missionaries that we got to know the best at the MTC are serving in Corpus Christi, Texas, where they met this young man.  They work with the Young Single Adults there and had met him at the YSA branch.  They notified us before Christmas that this man was a marine officer who was being assigned to Quantico.  They did not know what he was going to do here or exactly when he would arrive.  They just knew he was coming sometime in January.  They sent us his email address, so right away we introduced ourselves via email.  It turns out that he was here to attend the marine Infantry Officer Course (IOC).  At the beginning of IOC the students must pass a difficult ordeal called the Combat Endurance Test (CET).  We are familiar with the CET because another of the young LDS marines we have worked with had taken the CET in Sept and failed it.  We were surprised by this, because he is a very fit, strong young man.  So we had some indication of how hard the CET was.  He did so well on everything else that he was asked to return in January to retake the CET to get into the next IOC class.  Anyway, back to young man that called us.  The reason he called is that he was taking the CET the next day, and he was quite nervous about it.  He had just arrived on base and did not know anyone yet, but felt that he needed a blessing to calm him down so he could do his best.  He remembered the email we had sent him, which had all of our contact information.  So we were able to meet him nearby on base, take him to the home of one of the marine families in our ward, and give him a blessing there.  He was also pleased to hear that there was another LDS marine taking the test as well, and hoped to get in touch with him right away.  We are so grateful that we sent that introductory email to this young marine and that he felt comfortable enough with senior missionaries to call and ask for a blessing.  We felt like this was yet another of the small miracles we experience every week. 

We had a full Thursday afternoon and evening.  We left home right after lunch and headed for the base to pick up flowers and additional treats for our marines.  After Lezlie arranged small vases of flowers we visited two marine wives and delivered Happy New Year flowers.  We also visited a marine wife with 3 young children whose husband has been gone for training.  We gave her a housewarming plant because they had just moved into a new home.  We also entertained the children and helped her with some moving in chores.  After a nice dinner at our favorite Bob Evans restaurant we headed to the base for our Basic School family home evening.  We were a little concerned that we might have light attendance because everyone had been gone for Christmas leave for two weeks.  However, our concerns were needless because all but one of our group showed up, and she could not come because she had duty.  We had 4 marines and two wives, and we had a fun lesson and activity.  A friend of our daughter in Bellevue had sent us the recipe and ingredients for Fancy Rice Crispy Treats.  They are deluxe rice crispy treats with toffee, chocolate and pretzels mixed in.  The marines loved them.  After a great visit with our TBS gang we headed to another part of the base. Another one of our young female marines is a sentry on night shift, working 6pm to 6am, and we found the gate where she was working.  We delivered a large plate of brownies and all the guards were very excited.  We finally made it home about 9:30pm, tired but fulfilled.  Just before bed we got to have a great phone call from our son and his wife from Colorado.  


Our early Saturday morning activity was for Lezlie to provide some puppy consultation to a family that got a new Cocker Spaniel for Christmas.   A friend in our ward has a close friend in another ward that was having trouble with their new puppy-biting their 3 year old in the face...  So since she had seen our FHE on obedience starring our dogs, she called Lezlie, and we showed up bright and early for a puppy lesson.  Lezlie gave them a lot of good puppy training techniques and worked with the kids on how to train the dog.  It was quite successful.  We then drove to the Arlington, VA  where Marianne Orton, who is a good friend of ours, was visiting her son, Chris's family.  We had an excellent day with her, visiting the Bull Run battlefield and a Virginia genealogy library in Manassas, Virginia, where we all had some success.  Upon returning back to their home, Chris and his wife Rebecca served us a wonderful dinner.  It was nice to have a day off to visit with a dear friend and get out of the apartment for the afternoon.  
We were quite excited that Sunday services were scheduled  to start this week for the new Officer Candidate School (OCS) class.  We had heard that this was a smaller class and that it was all males because the marine corps does not enroll females in the winter OCS class.  So we arrived at the OCS building at 6:45am in anticipation of meeting some new members of The Church.  But as the minutes drug by and we heard marines entering the building, no one showed up in our room.  At about 7:05 the other man that works with us to conduct these services tracked down the chaplain’s assistant.  He confirmed that they had announced anyone wanting to go to services for the Mormon Church was to come to our room.  By 7:15am we knew nobody was coming.  so we [packed up all our materials and treats and headed home, sad that we were not able to have a sacrament service of OCS students,  We will show up again next Sunday just to make doubly sure that there are no LDS folks in this class.  Then if no one shows up we will know for sure we have no one in the class and we will stop traveling to the OCS campus on Sundays.  The next classes start in late May, and we have been told that the summer classes are the largest.  From May to Sept there are 3 different classes that go through OCS.  So we are expecting several members of the Church in those groups.  It was a special day at church.  The Mission President and his wife were invited to attend our ward.  They gave excellent talks at the sacrament meeting .   Then we got to be part of a special occasion.  A man that was just recently baptized received the priesthood.  We attended his baptism and have become good friends.  He invited us to sit in at the priesthood ordination, so we did, and Dan was in the circle.  Then during our 3rd hour President and Sister Wilson spoke again.  They gave some more excellent training and it was once again very enjoyable and inspiring.    We had one amusing occurrence at Church.  In December we visited one family that had just moved onto the base.  The husband had been here alone for several months waiting until they got base housing.  As soon as he got it in mid December he moved the family in.  We had met him at church before.  On Christmas Eve afternoon we stopped by with a plate of treats but only the husband and one of the kids, a 5 year old boy, were home.  We gave them a big plate of Christmas cookies and the young boy was very happy to see them.  Then this week we stopped by with a large plate of brownies, hoping to meet the wife.  After we knocked the little boy we had met before peeked out through the curtains.  Slowly the door opened a crack and it was the boy.  He said, "My mom is in the shower."  We asked him to take the plate of brownies, which had our card on top, and he said sure.  Then on Sunday we finally met his mom.  She said that before she saw the brownies she had to scold her son a little bit for opening the door to strangers.  Pointing to the plate he said, " But mom it was the missionaries and they brought food!"  We all got a big chuckle out of that.  It is interesting for us to scan the audience at church each week.  It is really easy to spot the marines by their distinctive short haircuts.  So we often find ourselves walking up to a new single guy or a couple and saying, “Are you a Marine?”  During our meetings before church and during church we ended up with about 10 small assignments - to make some telephone calls, to visit some folks, and to deliver some things to families on the base.  So we had a big planning session Sunday afternoon to figure out how to get everything done this week.  It was a pleasant, productive, and enjoyable Sunday, which they usually are. 
Our full and busy Monday started out with haircuts.   After our successful trips to our respective hair cutters we made our way to the base.  We delivered two sets of invitations to the Primary Baptism Preview.  The Primary here has a meeting for all the up-and-coming 8 year olds and explains baptism to them, including a tour of the font.  We delivered a couple of the invitations to less active families on the base.  That evening we had dinner for two young missionaries that live in our apartment complex, one from Blackfoot, Idaho and one from  Salt Lake City.  Of all 8 of the original missionaries that lived in our apartments when we arrived, only two of the originals remain.  So we wanted to make sure to give them dinner at least one more time before they leave.  The young man from Idaho is one of those originals.  We had a good dinner and excellent visit with these two outstanding young men.  The Blackfoot Elder was active in choir and musicals in high school and plays the piano well at all our zone meetings.  They are both over 6 feet tall and were three sport lettermen.  The Idaho elder gave us an excellent spiritual thought about small things done diligently that make a big difference.   And then he gave us a touching example.  He told us about a cousin that is his same age.  They grew up together almost like brothers, participating in sports, scouts and church activities all through their youth.  He and his cousin went to the MTC at the same time, with his cousin going to Jamaica for his mission.  Last Friday he got a call from the Mission President telling him that his cousin had been hit by a car while biking and was in critical condition with a head injury.  They had to do surgery to relieve swelling on the brain.  Of course there were many prayers said for his cousin.  To the amazement of the doctors and visitors, his cousin woke up Sunday night and said hello.  It was a huge miracle in answer to many small prayers.  It was a very touching story, and this sweet elder had tears streaming down his cheeks and he talked about his beloved cousin.  We feel so blessed to be able to associate with these good young people.  They are going to be amazing spouses, moms, and dads when they return home.  When we were finished with our meal both of the elders stood up and took their plates over to the sink and helped clear the table.  Lezlie said how proud their moms would be.  So in a moment of inspiration, she got their mom’s email addresses.  After they left she wrote to each of their moms a note telling them what outstanding young men they had raised.  I am sure there are a couple of happy moms in Utah and Idaho tonight.  

We have to close with just one more thing.  This is a picture of our beautiful new granddaughter Abby.  Although we have not held her, touched her, or seen her in person, we love her a great deal.  And as hard as it is not being there to get to know her and help her parents, we know that we are doing an important work here. We are grateful to all of the folks who have helped Carrie and Matt while we are gone.  We know that we are needed by both these young marines and their families and the young missionaries.  We are grateful to be a small part of this work of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.  We are lucky to be here.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Best New Year's Gift Ever

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  It has been an amazing, momentous year.  We cannot believe all that has happened this year that has led us to our mission in Virginia.  At this time last year we were still working on getting our mission papers submitted.  And now we are well settled on our mission and doing the work.  Amazing!  One of the most important events of the year happened on New Year’s Eve.  It was the birth of Abigail JoAnn Hong to Carrie (our youngest child) and husband Matt.  She was born at approximately 9:30am on Dec 31st (about two weeks early) and came in at 7lbs 4oz and 19 ¼ inches.  Carrie and Matt are doing fine, but were pretty exhausted. ( Matt ran a practice marathon the morning of Dec 30th, a full 26.2 miles.)
   Lezlie and I had taken a marine to lunch, and she was quite entertained by the texts and pictures coming in from Carrie and Matt at the lunch table.  The crying photo is Abby after her first bath.  She did not like it.  Don’t Carrie and Matt look great for having just stayed up all night bringing this little girl into the world!  And how proud the big brother and sister look!  My dog does not look all that excited about Abby though.  We had mixed feelings in processing the news and seeing all the photos of Abby’s birth.  We are very happy, thrilled for Carrie and Matt, and so grateful that everyone is healthy and whole.  What a huge blessing – a healthy baby.  But we were also a little sad that we were not there helping Matt and Carrie and holding this precious new little girl.  However, we know we are where we are supposed to be doing what we should.  And we know that we will be an important part of Abby’s life even if we are far away for this short period of time.  When she is older it will be fun to tell Abby where we were and what we were doing when she was born.  Welcome Abby!  We love you!


On New Years Eve we had a great lunch with a young female marine from Salt Lake City.  She is a friendly and fun young lady, about twenty, who joined the marines 6 months after high school.  She is a security person at HMX, which is the unit that flies and takes care of the President’s helicopters that are stationed on Quantico Base.  She w asthe middle of five sisters and was a high school basketball player.  We really enjoyed visiting with her at lunch.  She does not have a car, so we took her to the exchange on base for some shopping.   After returning home we pretty much lazed around for New Year’s Eve waiting for baby Hong updates.  We did some planning for our next few months, listened to some good music, and caught up on our studying and writing.  For New Years Eve we had a wonderful face time session with Carrie and Abby.  It was so good to see this new grandbaby!  We got to see her up close and marvel over her beautiful hair, toes, and fingers.  Carrie unwrapped her from her blanket so we could see her little tummy, and Abby did not like it.  She squealed until she was wrapped back up.  We also watched a movie to celebrate the holiday, Forest Gump.  Of course we had seen it before, but it was fun to watch it again – a great movie.  We watched the ball drop in Times Square via live stream on the Internet, but we could barely stay awake.  It was a very nice New Year’s Eve, and we are ever so grateful for a new, healthy granddaughter. 

On New Year’s Day we had lunch with one of our bachelor Navy guys.  He is a Hospital Corpsman.  The marines do not have their own medical staff.  That is all provided by the Navy.  So he is a corpsman for the marines at the OCS school, where we provide sacrament meetings and family home evenings.  He told us all kinds of interesting background information about the OCS school (our next class starts in one week). 

We worked an excellent shift at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this week.  We both got to do Quick Assist loans today.  Lezlie gave a young marine $300 who got overcharged on her insurance and was out of money, and I gave a marine $400 to get to Boston to attend the funeral of a marine from his unit that had died in combat in Afghanistan.   Well, we didn’t give it, NMCRS gave it.  But we processed the applications, filled out all the paperwork, and handed them the checks.  It is a good feeling to be able to help out these young marines.  They are so dedicated and hard working.  But sometimes they do not manage their money well.  We both got to work on full budget cases too and the director actually decided that I (Dan) was qualified to do full budget cases now on my own.  So next week may be my first solo case.  Lezlie does not enjoy the full budget work as much as I do, so is not in a hurry to get qualified to do them.  She enjoys the Quick Assist loans and other work though.

For Christmas Lezlie bought me a Waltons DVD.  It has all of the season 1 episodes.  So we have started watching an episode on evenings when we have time.  Much to our surprise we immediately discovered that that the Waltons show takes place in Virginia.  We did a little research.  A man named Earl Hammer grew up in the mountains of western Virginia.  He always wanted to be a writer.  He got his degree and found work writing for television in its early days.  He became well established and had written for several successful tv shows.  He wrote and helped produce a special made for television movie called “The Homecoming,” which was the very first show about the Walton family.  The family and experiences were based on Earl Hammer’s childhood in rural Virginia.  The special movie was a huge hit, and so they began producing the television show.  So we are especially enjoying these Waltons episodes because they are set in rural Virginia only about one hour from where we live. 

One day this week the weather was frigid, with a forecasted high of 27.  So we planned on staying pretty close to home.  However, we did want to get some exercise in so went to Potomac Mills Mall, which is about ten minutes away, to walk.  We had heard about a walking club there, so we went over during the official walking time (8-10am) before the mall opens.  We signed up for the club and had a good walk in the pleasant mall environment – warm air and good music.  A full lap around the perimeter is 2 miles.  All the club does is keep track of your mileage and encourage you to walk.  We enjoyed the walk there and will try to go again when the weather is bad.  Then we stopped at Global Food Market, a very interesting international grocery store.  It has very unique sections with Hispanic, Asian and African foods.  It was great fun to look around, and at times it felt like we were in Chung Hwa market in Korea.  We stumbled onto a small Asian restaurant inside the market and found that they had stone bowl Bi Bim Bop, so we stopped in for lunch.  It made us feel like we were back in Korea with the smell of Korean food, men speaking Korean next to us, and the restaurant looking like it could have been in Itaewon.  And the food was excellent. 

Our Saturday began with a fun activity at the ward.  In January the tradition here is to have a breakfast for the primary kids where they get to meet their new primary teachers.  So Lezlie and I went to the church first thing in the morning to help set up.  We did all sorts of things, like set up tables and chairs, pour juice, carry food, and play with primary children.  We were impressed by the organization and hard work of the primary staff.  There were a bunch of great kids and they really seemed to enjoy the pancakes (which included pumpkin pancakes and chocolate chip pancakes).  A lot of the children greeted us by name because they remembered the family home evenings we gave at their house.  Lezlie and I even got to have a couple of pancakes ourselves, the first time we have had pancakes since arriving here.  

What an interesting Sunday we had.  Saturday evening we were once again thinking that we would have a slow, calm Sunday because we had no extra meetings or assignments.  Then we got a text message saying there would be a missionary correlation meeting in the morning.  A short time later we got a call from the bishop stating that there was a young female marine on base with no car that wanted to come to church and could we take care of it.  We called the young lady, who was from Portland, Oregon, and got things worked out to pick her up.  She is attending a 6 week school to become an embassy security guard.  It is a difficult school to get into and the embassy assignments are pretty good duty for marines.  We drove a half an hour to pick her up on the far side of the base and transported her to church.  She was a delightful young gal, and we enjoyed getting to know her.  We shared a lot of stories about Portland with her and about our love for the Northwest.  We discovered one of those “it’s a small world” facts with her. She told us that she was stationed in Hawaii and had met a young girl from BYU Hawaii that wanted to become a marine.  She had talked to her a lot about the marines.  She thought that this BYU student was going to apply for OCS after college.  We said, “There was a girl in the last OCS class that went to BYU Hawaii and her name was Melanie.”  She said, “That’s her!”  And then to make it even more amazing, Melanie showed up at our ward today.  It is the first time she has ever been to our home ward, and she only came because she had missed a plane yesterday, had to spend the night at the airport, flew into DC early today, and had someone from the ward pick her up.  So the two marines got to catch up with each other at church.  Also, one of our other OCS marines showed up at our ward with his brand new wife.  They just got married on Dec 31.  So we got to chat with them a bit as well.  In anticipation of the possibility of inviting someone over we put a big pork roast and vegetables in the crock pot before we left this morning.  So after church, we had 3 of them come over for dinner.  We had a delightful time getting to know them better and having a good meal.  They all said it was the best meal they have had for a while because they have all been traveling for several days.  After an hour or so of talking and eating the couple had to depart, and shortly after we drove back to the base to take our embassy girl home.  It was a delightful day, and much better than the calm, uneventful Sunday we thought we might have.  It was so amazing to see these young marines connect with one another and buoy each other up as LDS marines.  They talked about how hard it is to be different inside their marine units because they don’t swear, smoke or drink like so many of their comrads.  But they knew that they gained strength and were able to be better marines because they live the gospel.  We felt humbled and blessed just to be a small part of their world today.