Sunday, March 23, 2014

Inspirational Young People

Our previous post began with a dismal report about our bout with the flu.  I am glad to state that we are totally over that illness and are back at full strength.  We are ready to get back to work!  Our week began with an excellent Stake Conference.  This was a stake conference broadcast from Salt Lake to the whole Northeast United States region.  We had some excellent talks.  We saw a lot of ward friends at the conference and there was a very nice spirit there.  Late in the evening we got to go on another teaching visit to one of our favorite young families with the sister missionaries.  This is the family for whom I blessed their new baby boy.  It was an outstanding visit.  We love this young family so much.  We had a good lesson about prophets and especially about Joseph Smith.  As converts to the church Lezlie and I are able to add our perspective on these things, and we had good discussion with this couple.  We were kind of winding up and getting ready to go when the husband said, “Now if I wanted to join the church in May or June do you think we could work that out?”  We were all surprised, but in a good way.  He had never mentioned joining the church before. The sisters said yes we could arrange that, with great big smiles on their faces.  He is going on a business trip for 2 weeks, but we will see her this week and him again as soon as he gets back.  Then we will try to set up a schedule of lessons to lead to his baptism in May or June.  The reasons he wants to set that as a goal is because they are getting transferred in mid June, and he really would like to be a member of the church before he moves.  We are so happy for them and excited to be a part of their spiritual journey.  Lezlie made a heartfelt statement to them that even if we weren’t missionaries we would love them, would want to spend time with them, and would want to help teach them.  We told them if he joined, and if a year later they get sealed in the temple, that we will make every effort to travel to their home in Arizona to go to the temple with them. 

We are on daylight savings time, it is late March, we live in Virginia, and Spring is only 4 days away.  But we still woke up on Monday morning to about 6 inches of snow.  We are tired of this snow.  This is Virginia for goodness sake!.  This has been a record snow year for northern Virginia.  The locals say it is the worst they have seen in twenty years.  We just want the real spring weather to arrive.   We know that July and August will be hot and humid, so we are looking forward to the warm and pleasant days of spring. Our only big activity today was to provide dinner to two wonderful young sisters that live in our apartments.  They are both from Utah.  One is a music major at BYU and the other just worked for two years before her mission.  She is not sure what she will do when she goes home, but thinks she wants to be a hairdresser.  These missionaries never cease to surprise us because they do not fit any mold.  We have met some that want to be doctors and engineers and some that want to be mechanics or just work in the family business.  We had a great time visiting with these two young sisters and getting to know them better.  Lezlie made a scrumptious pavlova desert.  (You would have been proud Rex, it was magnificent.)   Happy St Patrick’s Day to all!
We also spent two full days in training for the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  The society just got new computers with Windows 8.1 and updated Microsoft Office products.  And the computers are touch screen.  It is really cool.  We had excellent training on the touch screen features as well as the upgraded programs.  It was fun to get to play with the laptops and the new software.  As part of the training we were treated to lunch at the Quantico Base Officer’s Club.  They serve an excellent lunch buffet, and it was great fun to compare stories with the other volunteers. 

On Tuesday we had a wonderful dinner at the marine family with the new baby girl that I helped bless.  It is always fun to visit with this family, play with their 4 year old boy, and hold baby Charlotte.  They fed us an excellent beef stew and we had carrot cake that Lezlie had baked.  Yum.  It is such a joy to see this young family.  Three months ago they were so concerned about the health of both mom and the unborn baby.  It is so good to see them healthy.  We held our normal Tuesday night family home evening for our Basic School marines.  We had a smaller turnout than normal because a couple of guys were on duty.  But we still had five enthusiastic attendees and we had an interesting discussion on apostasy.  We covered both the great apostasy and also how to avoid personal apostasy.  It is fascinating to initiate these discussion with this group because they all are so intelligent and well versed in the scriptures.  They have amazing insights and comments.  They all loved the carrot cake and German chocolate cake we provided.  It a very long day, but we were happy and full of a wonderful sense of accomplishment when we arrived home. 
On another evening we had two young elders over for dinner (see picture).  It was great fun.  The taller Elder is a Tongan from Hawaii and a very interesting young man.  He told us about his adventures in Hawaii and about his large Tongan family.  The other Elder is from Utah and is one of our favorites that lives in our apartment complex right now. We enjoyed the dinner and visiting with these great young men. 

One of our ongoing jobs is to inspect the apartments of the young sisters and missionaries.  The Church leases all these apartments and wants to make sure they are kept up.  Also, these young missionaries are engaged in serious spiritual work, and they need to have a wholesome, bright atmosphere in their apartments so that they can study, plan and work well.  The apartment inspections are always a fun assignment and not too difficult.  We found mostly very clean apartments.  They were very conscientious about fixing things from the last inspection.  We heard several comments like, “Hey Sister Couch, did you check out those blinds this time,” or “We have the cleanest microwave in the whole mission today.”  One of the sets of young elders had a bad apartment last time, but this time it was excellent.  So we told them they had the most improved apartment and took them out to a nice lunch.  Afterwards we spent some time completing our assigned apartment inspections.  One of our most impressive apartments was the one that belonged to the two Elders we just had over for dinner, pictured above.  As mentioned, the one Elder is from Hawaii.  When we walked in there was some soft Hawaiian music playing.  They also had two scented candles burning and offered us a piece of candy.  Besides this, their apartment was simply immaculate.  We were generous with our praise.  Not only was it a nice, wholesome apartment in which to live.  But the cleanliness and order made it seem like a spiritual place to live.

Saturday we were pleased to be able to attend a senior missionary activity.  We have thirty senior missionaries in the Virginia Richmond, and we get together every 2 or 3 months.  Our mission president happened to meet an older couple in one of the wards he visited.  The couple told him that they had recently returned from a mission to Paris.  They went on to explain that they owned a restored plantation mansion that they had converted into a bed and breakfast.  They offered the use of their place for a senior missionary activity, so that is where we met.  Although it was a long drive, about 2.5 hours for us, it was a delightful get together.  It is so great to chat with the other senior missionaries and compare stories and experiences.  We always enjoy visiting with the couple from Pasco, Washington (their mom used to go to our ward), as well as the other military relations couple that serves on an Army Base near Richmond.  We had a short training and information meeting, and then had a wonderful lunch prepared by the owners and their helper – ham and potato casserole, homemade bread, fresh fruit, grape leaves with rice, and cherry cobbler.  The owners told about their experiences on their mission in Paris.  They had worked at the church visitor’s center in downtown Paris.  They said that one way they could get people to come in was to leave the door open and play the piano.   People would wander in to listen to the music.  So as we gathered inside the mansion to begin a tour the husband sat down and played a couple of wonderful piano pieces.  He was a retired doctor but sounded like he could have been a retired concert pianist.  His wife had studied art history, and covered the walls of the mansion with hundreds of beautiful paintings.  It was a magnificent home and we enjoyed the tour greatly.  It was a great get together.  On the way home we stopped at the Sailor’s Creek Battleground Park.  This was the location of the last battle between Robert E Lee and Ulysses S Grant.  The Union army decisively beat the Confederates, wiping out about a fourth of the rebel army to casualties and surrenders.  It was just 3 days later that Lee surrendered at Appomattox, just a few miles away.  It is always interesting to see these Civil War sites, but also sad and sobering to think of all the soldiers that died there.  It was a long drive home, but we thoroughly enjoyed the activity.

 We experienced a wonderful Sunday here in northern Virginia, with sunny skies and soft breezes.  But Spring is struggling to get out of the gate.  Although we have had a few sunny days, snow is again in the forecast for Tuesday.  Ugh!  We have had more than enough of that here.  We had some exceptionally good talks today- from a young marine couple that are moving next month.  He is a marine and she is an ex-marine.  They actually met at marine Officer Candidate School when she invited him to attend church.  He was eventually baptized and they got married.  They both gave talks on forgiveness that were simply excellent.  They talked about how lack of forgiveness usually is worse for the person holding the grudge than for the person that did the wrong.  So true!  We had very good lessons at the rest of our meetings as well.  After services today we had a linger longer, which is a post church service potluck (see picture).  We have these once a month, and this one was very well attended.  We have come to know and love the great people here.  We were looking around today and we were amazed that we knew the names of almost everyone in the room.   We have sure come to love these people, and we already realize how hard it is going to be to say goodbye one day.  We will always have a very warm spot in our hearts for Virginia and the good folks here.  We surely love our missionary work here.  We feel grateful to be involved not only with our great ward family, but also with two groups of exceptional young people.  We feel totally blessed to be working with the marines and the young missionaries.  They inspire us and not only make us feel younger but very confident of the future of the world.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Virginia Flu

Unfortunately our last ten days have been dominated by the flu, which is why we did not add a blog post last week.  We got sick on a Thursday and by Friday morning both of us were chilled, feverish, achy and coughing.  Luckily we have established a good relationship with a nearby family doctor, and she got us in right away.  She gave us some good medications to help us with the symptoms and coughing and told us to stay home for at least 3 days, which we did.  We were able to do a few activities the days after that, but mostly we stayed home and napped a lot.  This Virginia flu was nasty and really knocked us out for longer than we expected.  But now, after 10 days, we are almost back to 100%.  We are grateful for good doctors, effective medicine, yuja cha (Korean orange tea), a warm and cozy apartment, and understanding folks that expressed concern and support. 

The day before we started feeling sick we worked a good shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.   I (Dan) worked two interesting cases.  We had one young marine that had a very sad situation.  His finances were a mess and there was no way he was going to be able to pay NMCRS back if he got a loan.  But in some special cases the director is able to approve a grant where we give the marine the money with no payback required.  I suggested this to the director in this particular case, and she agreed to a $1900 grant.  I got to present the check to this young man and he was almost in tears, something unusual for a hardened marine.  He was so thankful and relieved that he had a way out of his difficult financial crisis.  I also got to give a retired female marine colonel a check for $4100 so that she could get an emergency root canal done.  It is the biggest check I have seen yet.  She was quite happy and could not wait to get her tooth fixed.  After our volunteer work we walked into Quantico Town for dinner at an Asian restaurant.   Quantico town is the small town that is surrounded by the Marine base. It is about two blocks from where we do our volunteer work.  We were planning on attending the start of the TBS graduation, which took place in the same building where we volunteer, so did not want to lose our good parking place.  When they have major events at the auditorium the parking lot fills up quickly. We had to go to our Office Candidate School family home evening that night, so we were not able to stay for the actual graduation ceremonies.  But we were able to see our two TBS graduates and their families.  Here is a picture of  one of the 2nd Lieutenants and his son with us.
 We gave both of them congratulation cards and wished them well and dashed off for our OCS family home evening.  It was a good meeting.  Our LDS student had expressed some concern last week about whether or not he had made the right decision about coming to marine OCS, and he was actually considering dropping out.  His dad had even emailed us to express his concern and wanted us to let him know how his son was doing.  So we had been thinking about him and praying for him a lot.  He was in a good mood and said he had decided to go ahead and finish the school and accept his commission as a marine officer.   We talked about his decision for a while and then Lezlie gave a great lesson on obedience.  He also loved the peanut butter brownies and ate about ten of them, along with a pear, and orange, and about half a quart of milk.  We sent his dad a nice email after we got home.  We are so happy to have been a part of his journey through OCS and can’t wait to meet his family at the upcoming graduation. 

We did have a couple of fun dog activities during the tail end of our flu recovery period.  We have started working with a dog group called Veterans Moving Forward.  This is a non-profit group that trains dogs and places them with veterans that have mental or physical disabilities. We are going to try to volunteer a bit with this group.  On two different days we drove to Fairfax, Virginia to do Canine Good Citizen tests for six month old puppies, both Golden Retrievers.   The puppies were delightful and both passed the test.  The VMF people were pleased with us and the way we conducted the test.  It was fun.  We hope to do a bit more volunteer work with this group.  They are fairly young and have only about a dozen puppies in their pipeline right now.  But they seem to have their act together and have a dedicated group of volunteers.  They have been able to get enough donations up to this point, but they are thrilled to get us as free Canine Good Citizen evaluators.  This is one of the puppies we evaluated.

We got to participate in a lesson for a young Navy family on base.  This is a part member family where she is a member and he is not.  But she had been less active until she got pregnant.  That made her reconsider and she wanted to start going to church again.  And he has been taking lessons from the sister missionaries.  This is the young couple for whom I blessed the baby boy and with whom we have become close friends.  We had a great meeting with them and talked about how important and useful it was for them to pray as a couple.  It really touched their hearts, we could tell.  We love this young family and hope that one day he will join the church. 

We got to attend both Family Day and the Commissioning Ceremony held as part of the Officer Candidate School graduation.  We got to meet the family of our sole LDS guy in the school.  They were great.  It was fantastic to meet his mom and dad and his two younger brothers.   They thanked us for helping their son and gave us a gift of some Georgia honey (they are from Atlanta).  Our young marine was so happy that the school was over and he had made it. The marines really know how to do ceremonies and this Commissioning was no exception.  The band plays, the Chaplain gives a long prayer, patriotic speeches are made, and then the candidates are officially sworn in as 2nd Lieutenants in the Marines Corps.  At the end the Marine Corps Hymn is always sung - you know “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli…”  The way they do this is that the band starts the song but only plays about 3 measures before dropping out.  Then the 100 or so candidates sing the song loudly and with much gusto.  Some of them really get into it, and they are almost screaming the song.  They sing all 3 verses.  Then the crowd cheers wildly at the end.  It is a pretty moving way to end the ceremony.  Here is a picture of the whole group and also a picture of our guy.  Sister McGrath, of the couple that works with us at OCS, is also in the picture.  The commissioning ceremony is held in the large atrium of the Marine Corps Museum.  So those are real tanks and airplanes in the background.

We ended up our week by attending Stake Conference.  Although we are not 100% recovered from the flu and still have scratchy throats, we joined the missionary choir and sang lightly at the Saturday evening meeting.  It was a very good experience.  All of the young elders and sisters from the Woodbridge Zone sang, about 40 of us. And we made a good choir.  What we lacked in talent was made up for by the enthusiasm and the spirit of these young missionaries.  They were wonderful, and it was a joy to be a part of it.  We sang “Called to Serve,” and a “Sisters in Zion/Army of Helaman” medley.  It was an excellent meeting, and all of the talks were devoted to missionary work.  One of our young sisters gave an excellent talk and her enthusiasm and love of the work was contagious.  The Sunday session of conference was excellent as well, and we got to list to Elder L Tom Perry from Salt Lake.  It was a good conference and a good start getting out and about after our battle with the flu.  We are ready to get busy again this week!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Baby Blessing and Senior Party

This week I began working on income taxes, and it is very complicated.  As missionaries there are multiple things we can deduct for charitable contributions – mileage, food we give to marines, supplies we buy for our work, etc.  So I am buried in receipts, mileage logs, and notes to document everything as I enter it into Turbo Tax.  Several of the other senior missionaries I have talked to hired tax accountants to do their taxes while on their missions.  I guess I am just a little too stubborn and think I can do it myself.  But if things go haywire I will hire a tax accountant next year.  One thing that is interesting about this process though is that reviewing all of this data for the taxes makes us realize all that we have done in our first little period here.  We did a lot in October, November and December - loads of refreshments, treats and meals; many, many trips to visit folks or haul missionaries around; multiple family home evenings and lessons; and attendance at numerous training meetings.  Wow, we have been busy!  But it is a good busy.

Our only scheduled activity on Tuesday was the Family Home Evening for our The Basic School (TBS) group.  We had a great turnout, and one marine even brought a friend.  The friend was from the embassy school.  He is going to be an embassy guard in Malaysia, and is very happy about that assignment.  This TBS group is so full of energy, friendship and optimism that it is just wonderful to associate with them.  All of them are doing well in TBS, both in the classroom and in the field.  We are in awe when we hear about their experiences.  “Well, this week we hiked twelve miles with our 60 pound packs, slept in the snow and got up at 4am to do a hundred pushups and situps the next morning.”  They talk about such training exercises as everyday norms.  Lezlie made a wonderful cheesecake, and we also had Costco mini-cream puffs with chocolate sauce and a bunch of fruit.  As usual they gobbled it all down.  We had an excellent discussion about prophets, and they all had insightful and spiritual comments.  These TBS meetings are one of the highlights of our week, and tonight was no exception.  We feel fortunate and blessed to work with these young people and have come to think of them as family.  
On Wednesday we had a sweet visit to our marine family that just had a new baby girl.  This is the lady that had a difficult pregnancy.  I played with their 4 year old son while Lezlie held the baby and the mom cleaned house.  The little boy and I played “washing machine” again, his favorite type of play.  He is just crazy about washing machines.  This gal has in-laws coming to visit for the baby’s blessing, so she was getting the apartment ready for that.  I have been invited to participate in the blessing and am very honored and excited.  After a while we switched and I got to be with the baby while Lezlie played with the little boy.  The weather was sunny so we both took him to the apartment playground.  He ran, climbed, slid and jumped, and really seemed to enjoy being out of their small apartment.  But it was a little colder than we realized, so we quickly returned to the apartment.  Following a nice lunch at the Honey Baked Ham cafĂ©, we got a call and our 1pm appointment was cancelled.   So we traveled to the Virginia family history library in Fredericksburg and got some genealogy work done.  After our arrival there we had another cancellation.  A young bachelor marine that we were to take out for dinner had to work late, so we rescheduled him for another day.  We decided to do a little sightseeing.  We stopped to see the Chatham Mansion, which was also owned by some of Lezlie’s distant relatives, the Fitzhughs.  It was a gorgeous estate on the banks of the Rappahannock River.  It was also the site of a major civil war battle.  I have been reading a comprehensive history of the civil war so I was excited to see this site.  The history just comes alive when you get to visit the actual sites.  We enjoyed touring the mansion and its grounds, but did so quickly because it was cold outside.

A zone meeting took up most of our Friday.  This was the first zone meeting since transfer day, so it was fun to get to meet all of the sisters and elders that are new to our area.  We looked around at the meeting, and there is only one elder that was here when we arrived.  Everyone else is newer to the zone than us.  We have been out for 6 months!  It is hard for us to believe.  The time has gone by fast, but when we think that we have another year here that seems like a long time.  Anyway, we had a nice zone meeting and we were once again impressed by the maturity, depth of knowledge and spirituality of these great young people.  We had some excellent lessons and discussions.  In addition a fairly new young sister, who is a music major,  sang an outstanding solo.  She has a crystal clear soprano voice that was so enjoyable to hear.  Following our zone meeting Lezlie baked and baked (and I cleaned and cleaned).  Coming up we have to provide desert for a senior missionary get together tomorrow, refreshments for a post-baby blessing open house on Sunday, and treats for our OCS guy on Sunday.  So a lot of brownies and cheesecake are flying around the kitchen.  We were pleased to be able to attend a delightful baptism to end our day.  A young marine we have come to know recently baptized his sister-in-law.  At that time the rest of his in-laws got interested, so this evening his wife’s mom, dad and other sister were baptized.  The entire family was so happy and full of joy.  The feelings of love, companionship and hope were tangible.  Two of the newly baptized members bore simple, heartfelt testimonies that moved us all.  We could not have asked for a better end of the day activity.
On Saturday we attended a get together for all of the Senior Missionaries in the Virginia Richmond Mission.  There are about thirty of us.  Typically we only see the other two senior missionaries that are in our zone, so it was great fun to get together.  The party was held in Richmond, about a 90 mile drive for us.  This party was originally planned for the day after Valentine’s Day but it got snowed out.  So it followed the Valentine theme anyway.  We had red decorations and place settings, with a tiny little basket full of Valentine treats at each place.  The organizers had everyone send in pictures of themselves as young adults.  As they showed them one at a time everyone had to guess the identity.  As their pictures were shown each couple had to explain why they went on a mission and how they first met.  There were some very touching and also very humorous stories told.  After a great lunch of bread, salad, stew and various deserts they played music from the sixties and seventies and we had to guess the tune and artist.  We spent about three hours there and had a grand time.  It was a morale booster to associate with all these other seniors that are missing their kids and grandkids just like us, but working hard to be good missionaries all the same.  We were scheduled to take a young marine out to dinner, but when we arrived on the base from Richmond we were an hour early.  So we just parked in the exchange lot and took a short nap.  Fortunately for us Carrie faced timed with us because Abbey was awake and smiling.  It was wonderful to see that beautiful little girl.  We then picked up a young LDS marine and took him to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  He was a friendly and engaging young man, but has kind of a sad story.  He and his wife were both born in the church, but it seems like they have been less active.  When he was assigned to Quantico about a year ago they decided they could not afford to have his wife and two young daughters move here until they got base housing.  So his wife moved in with her mom in Utah and he has been here alone.  He chose not to come to church or follow church standards, and he admitted as much.  But his wife apparently got active in church back in Utah and now is moving out with the girls since they just got base housing.  Suddenly he has decided that he needs to clean up his act so that they can all go to church together.  He seemed sincere and we hope so.  His wife will be here in two weeks and we hope to see them all at church right away.  He said that he knew his wife and girls would give him strength to be a better church member.  We will keep him in our prayers and try to meet with him and his family often.

On Sunday we had the privilege of attending the blessing of Charlotte, the baby girl born to our marine wife that had a difficult pregnancy.  It was an honor and joy to help bless this healthy little girl that so many of us were worried about.  She was an answer to prayers.  All went well and it was a very nice blessing. Charlotte’s grandma and grandpa were there, and several friends.  Afterwards they held a small open house at their apartment, which was so joyful and fun.  Everyone was happy and friendly, there was good food, and the few small children there were playing nicely.  I even got a turn holding Charlotte, which is tough when the grandparents are present.   Her middle name is Rose, so Lezlie made brownies with small icing roses on them – delicious and a big hit.  Following the open house we dashed back to our own ward building to attend choir practice.  We had avoided choir up until now because we really do keep busy, and do attend other wards often.  But they had made a special request for men as the choir prepares for Easter.  So we attended and it was fun.  The director is a lady from South America, very smart and funny, and she really knows music.  It should be fun to work on Easter music with her.  Immediately after choir we hurried home and made a green salad in about five minutes.  Then we were off to the base for dinner with a young marine family.  This was also most enjoyable.  We really like this young family and it was great fun to spend time with them.  They had invited a single female marine who was also fun to get to know.  We finally arrived home for the night and got settled in for yet another major snowstorm on Monday.  The weather channel says there will be freezing rain, snow, and heavy wind.  The unfortunate thing was that we had to cancel our Monday interview for the service dog organization- too long a trip in unknown weather on dicey roads.... Otherwise it will be nice to just have a day to stay home.