Last Sunday I (Dan) had a relapse of a cold I thought I was over. Feeling pretty lousy, I went to the doctor Monday morning. I had bronchitis. Thankfully I got antibiotics right away and recovered pretty quickly. I am so grateful we have established ourselves as patients of a nearby doctor, that we have good medical insurance, and that there are amazing medicines that can make us better so quickly.
We did not schedule anything early in the week because my throat was still sore and I did not feel like talking to anyone. But I did feel good enough to go for a drive. So on Wednesday we spontaneously decided to go to Orange, VA, which is about an hour and a half drive. Orange is the county seat for Orange County, the home of many of Lezlie’s ancestors. There is a library and also a family history center there and Lezlie has been wanting to do some genealogy research there. So about mid morning we headed out and drove to Orange through the rain. There was some beautiful rural scenery – lots of farms, beautiful flowering trees, and lush Virginia forests. The flowering trees here are spectacular in spring – white, pink, and purple blossoms in the middle of deep stands of hardwood forests. Beautiful! We spent some time at each of the genealogy spots and Lezlie did find some additional clues and information about her Virginia kin. Unfortunately there were no major breakthroughs. We found that we were very close to Montpelier, the home of one of our founding fathers, James Madison. So we took advantage of it and toured the visitor’s center and mansion. It was a spectacular home and we had an exceptional tour guide. He told us a lot of interesting historical facts and figures spiced up with several personal stories about Madison and his family. When we arrived it was pouring rain so we almost cancelled our plan. You can see the rain in the first picture. But we used our trusty umbrella to get into the visitors center and stayed mostly dry (thank you Aaron). Towards the end of the tour it stopped raining so we got to walk around outside the home as well. I did not know much about James Madison, but he was one of the key writers of the Constitution. He could read about 7 languages, so he read every book he could find about different types of European governments before the constitutional convention. It sounded like he was a very intelligent man. So he was well prepared to help write the constitution, adding the best parts of the most successful governments in Europe. It was a good tour and we enjoyed it very much. After a safe drive home we tucked in for the night because of the pounding rain.
Our monthly zone meeting was held on Friday. As is usually the case the young Elders and Sisters gave some excellent training. One of the most touching was a Spanish speaking Elder from Mexico who is finishing his mission in a week. He gave a touching testimony. He told about his conversion, along with his family, when he was a young teenager. He gave a heartfelt testimony about how much he loved being a missionary and that it was a wonderful two years. He was sad that it was ending, but also excited to get on with the rest of his life. Sometimes when we attend these meetings we find it hard to believe that this is a bunch of twenty and twenty-one year olds teaching eighteen and nineteen year olds. It is amazing to experience. In the evening we had two elders from our apartment complex over for dinner. It was great fun. These two elders are great young men. The larger young man is from Hawaii, and he told us about his life there. The other is from Blackfoot and knows some of the relatives of our son-in-law Matt. We had a very enjoyable time visiting with them. We are sending a copy of this picture to their moms with a note about how well they are doing.
I also had time to do one hardware project this evening. Lezlie got several plants to put onto our little patio, but they were hard to see because they were down on the floor. About a month ago I made a goal to build some kind of plant shelf without spending any money. The apartment complex has three large trash dumpsters in different areas. We found out that when people move or get new furniture, they just put their old stuff out by the dumpster. Anyone that wants the old stuff just takes it. We see tables, chairs, beds, and all sorts of things at the dumpsters. I felt that if I just kept watching I would see something I could use as a plant shelf. Yesterday I noticed some louvered window shutters at the dumpster, so I picked them up. By using some wire and hooks that I already had I was able to construct this shelf for Lezlie’s plants. I was pleased and happy I actually did this with no money. Hooray!
Saturday was our special missionary conference with Elder David A. Bednar, one of the Twelve Apostles of the church, and it was spectacular. Along with Elder Bednar were his wife Susan, Lynn Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Dean M. Davies- 2nd counselor in the presiding bishopric. All of them gave short talks that were superb. Of course Elder Bednar did most of the teaching, and he was simply outstanding. He was so humble and down-to-earth. When he looked out at us and said, “We love you and we thank you,” you really knew he meant it. He did not mince words and talked very plain and straightforward. When I say he did the teaching, I do not mean that he gave a talk or lectured us. He taught in many different ways, but primarily he asked questions of the Elders and Sisters. He began by telling us not to try to write down everything. He explained that in the Book of Mormon there are the large plates, which describe the secular history, and the small plates, which describe the spiritual history of the Nephites. He said too many members take notes at conference and at meetings by trying to write everything down that is said by the speaker – large plates. He said rather we should write down what we learn that is not said, the things that inspire our spirits and touch our souls – small plates. About two weeks ago we were given copies of three talks that Elder Bednar has given over the past couple of years and asked to read and study them. He simply asked, “What did you learn from the talks you read?” Many Elders and Sisters described what they had learned. He then would ask follow on questions and would repeat what he thought he heard them say. He was so encouraging and full of praise. “That was a great thought.” “You expressed that very well.” He used many of the responses to give mini-talks on whatever point that response had made. A few examples - faith is active, and we must act on our faith to receive power and knowledge. We can’t stand at the edge of the darkness and wait for light to come. Rather we must step into the darkness and we will find that the light then comes from God. Teaching is primarily listening not talking. We must be an agent and not an object. An agent acts upon others and an object receives the action of others. Make your prayers be prayers of action. (Lord we plan on doing this and that and we ask for your help and blessing.) Get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit teach. After he did a session of asking for input on what we had learned by reading the talks, he then asked, “What have you learned by the pattern we have followed this morning – of you giving input, me listening, and me giving additional input.” Then the Elders and Sisters came up with all sorts of amazing observations about how to teach – by listening, by rephrasing and giving feedback, being humble and respectful, by finding out what your students understand and what their concerns are, and by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead the way. He then answered several questions from the Elders and Sisters, which was also amazing. One of my favorite answers was when a sister asked how we could best support the apostles as members and he just said, “Love Him.” There was nothing about the Church, the leadership, etc. They are all working doing their jobs just as we are doing ours. Everyone is doing it for the advancement of Christ’s teachings- of love, of kindness, of forgiveness, of progression and new starts. It is all for the honor and glory of God and Christ. He then gave us an assignment to write down two questions and then to consider them later and write down our answers. 1. Based on what I have observed, learned and felt today, what will I do? 2. Based on what we have observed, learned and felt today, what will we as a companionship do? Then he talked for just a few minutes as a summary in which he thanked all of the Elders and Sisters and encouraged them to keep on with their good work. Then was one of the most moving and powerful parts for Lezlie and me. I will try to capture his words as best as I can. He said, “I would like to address all of you senior missionaries for a moment. We thank you for your service. We thank you for missing graduations, soccer games, blessings, baptisms and births. I promise you that your absence from your family will have a profound effect on them, far greater than you can ever imagine. Your grandchildren will remember that they missed you on those occasions and they will remember why. Your sacrifice will have an impact on them and will make them more likely to stay active in the church and to serve a mission. Your service will do more good for your family than your attendance at any one of those events would ever have done.” I think almost every one of the senior missionaries had tears in their eyes during this part. After Elder Robbins and Davies bore their testimonies, Elder Bednar bore his. Besides a sweet, clear, and emotional testimony he gave us an apostolic blessing. He promised great rewards and lifelong blessings due to our service as missionaries. It was a powerful and moving meeting and we knew we were being taught by an Apostle of the Lord and by the Holy Spirit. It was an amazing and moving experience to be taught by an Apostle of the Lord. It was a great day!
Sunday was a momentous day at the Quantico Ward. Our Bishopric was changed. The previous man was the bishop for 6 and a half years, so he was due to be released. He and his counselors have been so supportive of us. They really helped us get going that first month or so. We know all of the new bishopric pretty well. The 2nd counselor is one of our military guys. He is a high level Sergeant in the Army who works at the Pentagon. The 1st counselor was a fellow bass in the Easter choir, so I got to know him at practices. The one we know the least is the new Bishop, but he seems like a great guy. Last night we were at a baptism and the man that is now the new bishop was there. On the way to the baptism Lezlie was speculating about who the new bishop might be. When we got to the baptism and this man came over and shook our hands and asked how we were doing. When he left Lezlie immediately said, “I bet he is the new bishop.” The way he walked over and shook our hands seemed very bishop like, and she was right. He was called as the new bishop today. Once again we marvel at how smoothly and easily this transition of leadership takes place. By priesthood the new Bishopric had all been set apart by the Stake President and the new bishop led the opening of priesthood without missing a beat. Everyone supported him, thanked him and congratulated he and his wife. And there was not anyone complaining or talking bad about the new bishop. It is a miracle. It is another testament to me that this is truly God’s work.
We realized it is now eight months since we entered the Missionary Training Center. Wow! It is hard to believe that much time has passed. While we miss everyone at home, we love being here as well. It is going to be hard to leave when our 18 months are up. We truly feel like we are doing some good here. Some days seem slow, and we wonder if we should be doing more. But then we have another day when we are going non-stop and when every visit, lesson, and plan goes even better than had hoped. That is when we know why we are here and that we are doing some good.