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.