Sunday, June 29, 2014

Happy Fourth of July

The first part of our week began with escorting the mom of one of our The Basic School (TBS) marines to the temple.  Our female marine’s mom is visiting from San Diego for her graduation.  We picked her up first thing in the morning and took her to the Washington DC temple.  We had a nice visit with her in the car and learned a lot about her daughter.  We then went back to the base and met Melanie and a few of her friends that she had recruited to help her do a demo of the obstacle course.  She wanted to show her mom how she could do it.  So we tagged along and watched too.  We were totally impressed by how athletic and fit these young marines were.  It was amazing!  Here are a few pictures of three of our marines running through the obstacle course.  We next met all of our TBS marines for our last family home evening with this big group.  We had a great meeting reviewing the lessons we have shared over the past 9 months.   We asked thought provoking questions related to those lessons.  For example, “How did your testimony help you get through OCS and TBS?  What was the hardest thing about being LDS during your training?”  We had some good discussion about these thought provoking topics and it was a wonderful last night with these marine friends.  Lezlie made an exceptional cherry pudding cake that we served with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.  It was enjoyed by all.  We were also thrilled to have a new LDS gal show up.  She is a new athletic trainer at TBS.  She is just like the trainers on professional sports teams that give immediate first aid for injuries, wrap ankles and knees that are sprained, and provide therapy to help heal injuries.  She said that she goes right out into the field with the marines and helps them recover from injuries.  She was a great participant on her first night and it was good to have another attendee.  After the graduation of our large class of LDS marines we will have some small family home evenings.   We cannot say enough about this great group of young people.  Of the six marines and wives we worked with, 4 are returned missionaries.  We feel tremendously blessed to have known them and worked with them. 

On Wednesday evening we attended the graduation ceremony of our outstanding group of marines.  It was bittersweet.  We were so happy for this great accomplishment and proud of each and every one of them.  But we were also terribly sad to say goodbye.  We got photos of most of them in their Alphas – their best dress uniform. And did they look sharp!


Friday was a Zone Training meeting day.  It was our first meeting since transfer day so we got to meet all of the new missionaries that were assigned here.  Great fun!  As usual these great young people provided some excellent training – inspirational and informative.  We visited two families on the base and had some good conversation with them. Finally we took one of our young bachelor marines out to dinner.  We had an excellent chat with him and got to know him a little bit better.  This young man is trying to find himself again after a sad divorce.  After serving a mission he came home and married his childhood sweetheart.  After 5 months she left him saying she did not want to be married.  He was totally surprised and completely devastated.  He is just starting to seem a little more cheerful and positive.  He is a really nice young man and we hope he can recover from this sad event.

Our Saturday has been slow.  Lezlie has a cold and so we wanted to take it easy today.  We did a large stretch of baking.  We are making 4th of July plates for about 25 marine families, so we got started early.  Lezlie does most of the baking but I did mix up the sugar cookie dough and did all the clean up.  We are a good team.   We also have a nice 4th of July spiritual message about liberty in which we thank them for their service in the military.  I will take a picture of a completed plate and add it once we make a few plates. This cookie delivery may seem like a small thing.  But we have had so many wonderful conversations and so much sharing when we drop off these treats.  It often leads to other things too, like the family that finally let us in to do a family home evening, then had their 9 year old daughter baptized and started coming back to church.  We delivered a lot of treats to that home before any of that happened.   Anyway, we love doing it even though it is a lot of work.  After our baking and cleanup we cooked a ham dinner for two elders that live in our apartment complex.  They were interesting young men, and we enjoyed getting to know them better.  After a nice dinner they left for their appointments and we got ready for our Officer Candidate School service tomorrow morning.  We are doing Little Smokie sausages in a blanket and a large fruit plate.  We are now officially tired and will probably go to bed early.  But we are happy tired.  You know what I mean?

Our Sunday morning began poorly.  After preparing the mini-sausages in a blanket late last night, we had 4 crescent rolls left.  We decided to cook them up and have them for our dinner today.  When I pulled the crescent rolls out they were not quite done so I stuck them back into the oven – I had already turned the oven off so I just left them inside.  Early this morning I stumbled out of bed and turned the oven on to preheat it for our sausages.  When I got out of the shower I knew something was wrong since I smelled burnt something.  Our poor crescent rolls looked like overripe little bananas, all black, shriveled up and hard as rocks.  But the oven was preheated!  So I got the sausages in and thought all was well.  Not having ever been schooled in proper placement of multiple cookie sheets in the oven I placed them side by side.  After the prescribed time of 10 minutes they were not even close to done – but I had timed it to the last minute and it was time to leave for the base for our OCS services!  Lezlie told me that my placement of the pans inhibited the circulation of air so they did not cook.  We nursed the sausages along and when they were finally done we dashed out to the car knowing we were going to make it to the services just in time to set up (I was teaching today).  But just as we were pulling out of the parking lot Lezlie said, “Wait, I forgot the notes.”  The notes from parents and girlfriends are a big deal, so she ran in and got them.  Whew, that only took 2 minutes, we still should make it.  Half way to the base Lezlie said, “Did you get the fruit?”  I FORGOT THE FRUIT!  She had made a beautiful fruit plate of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, grapes and fresh pineapple.  The OCS gang just gobbles up any fruit we bring.  But we were already just barely going to get there on time.  So we devised a plan whereby we would go to the base, I would haul all of our stuff in and set up, and Lezlie would go back home to get the fruit.  The other couple we work with were getting a little nervous because we are always there twenty minutes early.   But we did get everything ready and started only a couple of minutes late.  Just at the end of my lesson Lezlie walked in with the fruit.  So in the end all was well.  They loved the lesson, the sausages in a blanket, and the fruit.  We next had a new experience.  Our ward mission leader is a stereotypical Italian guy.  He is a great guy, very friendly and outgoing.  He always has tons of family and friends coming and going from his house.  And food is a big deal there.  We have heard stories about the famous dinners they serve the young elders and sisters but we had never been there.  Today we were invited to attend a breakfast missionary correlation meeting so we went.  First of all, it was a gorgeous house.  At times we miss our own home, and it is very enjoyable to spend time inside a house while living in this small apartment.  As we walked in we could smell bacon cooking.  Bacon!  We have not eaten bacon since we got here.  We were invited into the kitchen as our mission leader’s wife was putting on the finishing touches.  This was a classic full breakfast – bacon (lots of it), French toast, eggs, blueberry muffins, and orange juice.  We had a lovely meal with him and his family as well as the two elders and two sisters that work in the ward.  Then the family left and we had a good correlation meeting.  We went to sacrament meeting next, but we did not stay for all of our meetings.  Lezlie has a rotten cold and was sneezing and coughing, so we came home.  We both rested a bit (as in naps) but got most of our 4th of July cookie plates ready.  Below is an example.  We will be delivering about 25 such plates in the next 3 days.  It looks like another busy week, but we love it.  Thanks to all of you that support us being senior missionaries.  We love it.  So, although our day began at 5:30am with burnt crescent rolls it is ending at 10pm with perfectly cooked joy.  

We wish all of you a happy 4th of July.  As you celebrate please remember the young men and women of the military that give so much to ensure our protection and freedom.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunset Marine Parade

On Monday we had a highly successful day of visits.  We had found about 6 additional families on our ward roster that lived on base so we decided to track them down. Lezlie baked several batches of brownies and cookies, and we headed for the base.   Although 3 of them had moved the other 3 were there and were friendly and happy to get a plate of brownies.  In addition we spontaneously decided (after prayer) to visit a few other families and those visits went really well.  We caught one family just before they were leaving on a two week vacation, another dad was home early from work so we got to chat with him, and we delivered brownies to a young single female marine that we had not seen for several weeks.  It all went very well.  Then we did our family home evening on obedience for one less active family and it was well received.  This mom of two is home without a husband or car, while he is away for two months of marine training in South Carolina.  We mentioned before about the young bachelor marine who had the serious surgery last week.  On the spur of the moment we called him at this barracks and asked if we could stop by and say hello.  He said yes.  We had never been inside his barracks before and it was interesting to see.  We had to sign in at a security guard desk and then our young friend walked us to his room, which was very nice.  It was a two man room, but it was pretty large and set up with some shelves in between the two halves as a divider.  It was also very clean and well kept.  The marines do field day every Thursday after which their rooms are inspected.  We had a nice chat with this young man, and Lezlie gave him a big hug as we left.  He had never acted warm enough before but tonight she just spontaneously hugged him and told him how happy we are that his surgery went okay.  It was an excellent visit.  He has future challenges to overcome since he has two more surgeries to reconstruct his bowels.  But he seems to be facing the challenges with confidence and optimism.

After a morning of preparing we headed to the base on Tuesday.  We first visited our dear friends who are leaving in just a few days .  This is the family where I blessed their baby boy and baptized the dad.  We had a nice visit with them and reminisced about the 8 months we have been visiting them.  We were able to give them the address, phone number, and bishop's name for their new ward in Arizona.  We got a really nice email from the ward clerk of their new ward saying that they had a lot of marine members from the base there and would welcome them with open arms.  Our time with this family is almost over, so we are a little sad.  But we are also very happy for them because they really wanted to be assigned to the base that they got.  We feel so blessed and fortunate that we got to be a part of their lives for some important events, like baptism and baby blessing.  We were also just happy to be their friends.  We departed their home and did a few errands, then loaded up on Subway sandwiches and chips.  The next stop was to pick up a group of our The Basic School (TBS) marines.  We had planned an excursion to see the Sunset Parade, which is a performance by the Marine Drum and Bugle corps and the Silent Drill Team.  They hold this parade at the site of the Iwo Jima monument at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a beautiful setting.  We had told the marines that we had to leave at 5:00 pm to make it through the traffic in DC and arrive on time for the parade.  At 5pm nobody had arrived yet.  Their company commander was giving some kind of speech and it took forever.  But finally, about 5:10, they all showed up.  They enjoyed sandwiches, chips and a plethora of cookies that Lezlie had baked on the ride into DC.  We made it just on time.  The parade was wonderful.  The band was excellent and the silent drill team was simply amazing.  Their maneuvers were crisp, precise and in perfect synchronization.  And some of them were dangerous!  They had bayonets on their rifles, and many moves involved tossing their rifle into the air or catching another person’s rifle.  And it was all done in silence.  Our young marines really seemed to enjoy it, and they were proud tonight to be a part of the tradition and heritage of the Marine Corps.  Afterwards we got to meet the serious girlfriend of one of our marines.  She seemed like a great person and we told our marine so.  Maybe we will get to go to a wedding before the end of our mission.  They all talked and laughed all the way back to the base and offered many thanks for the outing.  We likely will only get to see this group one or two more times.  It will be very sad to see them go, as we have been working with them since the second week of our mission.  They have been a true inspiration to us.  

We worked a good shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society on Wednesday.  I had a complex case that I worked on for over two hours, and we still were not able to resolve things and help the young marine.  He is returning tomorrow with more information and he should be able to get some financial assistance then.  Our NMCRS shifts have been getting more miserable as the days go by because the air conditioning is not working.  They are remodeling the entire heating and cooling system in the building.  They gave us some fans and portable air conditioners, but they do not do a great job.  So it can get very hot there!  The humidity is really starting to climb, which makes things even tougher.  It brought back many memories of our life in the military! But we are coping.  We dashed home, had a quick dinner, and then packed up two huge platters, one with fruit and the other with many cookies.  We had a record turnout at our The Basic School family home evening – twenty-one.  We crammed everyone into our small room (see pics) and had a wonderful time.    Lezlie gave her superb presentation on how we can see God in nature and in all of God’s creations.  When the marines are in the woods working hard they can remember God by looking at the beauty of nature.  The lesson went very well and the marines said they enjoyed it.  They loved the fruit and cookies and consumed hundreds and hundreds of calories in minutes.  But they need it!  It was a fantastic meeting with our beloved marines. 

What a great Thursday.  We had a wonderful lunch with the wife and family of one of our marines who is leaving soon.  She is staying in a hotel for a week with 4 small children, so we thought she might need some time away from the hotel.  We had lunch with her and the kids at a Chik-fil-a with a playground.  The kids played and played while we sat and visited.  I think it was a needed break for her.  It was fun to get to know her better.  We then visited another one of our TBS marine families in the newer TBS class.   We had an excellent visit with her and the kids as well.  Finally we stopped and made an appointment with another marine wife so that we can visit them when the dad is home.  We were very pleased because the wife, who has been a little shy with us before, was very friendly and made an appointment for us to come back next week in the evening.  The weather has become very humid and the days are usually up in the high 80s or low 90s.  It really saps our energy to be out in that weather much.  And today was an exceptionally hot one.  So we find that we cannot do quite as much away from home.  After 3 or 4 hours of driving around and visiting folks we are quite tired and ready to come home, which is exactly what we did today.
On Friday we worked an extra shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  It was a very slow afternoon with only a few phone calls and no clients stopping by.  But after that we met Butch and Catherine Wick for dinner.  Butch is my sister’s brother-in-law that I have known for years.  We had a wonderful steak dinner with them in Manassas.  It was delightful to visit with them and have a great meal. 

Our whole Saturday was taken up by two activities – Temple and Stake Conference.  Today one of our marine wives,  went to the temple for the first time.  She had to go up to the Washington DC temple very early.  So we picked up her husband, who is not a member, a little later and drove up to the temple with him.  He is a really great guy and was so easy to talk to.  He and I dropped Lezlie off at the temple and she went in so that she could go to the temple session with his wife.  Then he and I headed out to spend a couple of hours together while the women were in the temple.  We decided to drive to a nearby mall to grab something to eat.  Along the way we saw a farmers market set up for the day.  I remembered he had made a comment that he liked farmers markets.  So we made a quick, unexpected stop there.  We got some honey, fresh corn and broccoli, and he bought some pickles.  We then went to the mall, had a nice walk, and stopped for a drink and snack.  Once again he was very enjoyable to talk to and very easy to be with.  We went back to the temple and spent an hour touring the visitors center, where I got to teach him a lot about church and what went on in the temple.  Finally we waited just inside the door to the temple in the family waiting area.  Soon the girls emerged and we were all reunited.  She seemed to enjoy her first visit to the temple and was happy that her husband  had been there to support her even though he could not go inside. We stopped for a late lunch at Great Harvest Bread in Lorton.   Shortly after arriving home we headed out for our Saturday evening session of Stake Conference.   It was very good, and we heard several excellent talks about “Hastening the Work.”  The Stake President was given a goal to grow the Stake large enough to split it before he is released.  So he talks about missionary work a lot in order to grow the Stake. Our Ward is certainly doing its part... We have had 19 bapsms in the last 5 month!.  It was a good meeting and we were filled with joy as we departed.  Our day was not quite over though.  We had to spend time getting ready for Officer Candidate School (OCS) at 0730 tomorrow.  I have the lesson so polished it up a bit.  Lezlie worked on a beautiful fruit plate and organized the muffins and sweet breads we will take.  The sweet breads came from Great Harvest Bread Company, the last of our gift card generously provided by our children (Thank You).   

Our Sunday began with our service at OCS at 7:30 AM. However we have to leave our home at 6:15 in order to get there and get set up in time.  Although we had a smaller group (9) because they have liberty now, we had a great service.  As soon as liberty starts the non-members seldom come on Sunday since they can sleep in instead.   But we still had a good meeting.  We talked about courage today and they had some insightful comments.  They loved the fruit and bread, and even the small group ate up almost every morsel.  We then picked up a marine wife and her two children to take them to Stake Conference.  Her marine husband is away at a school for two months and she does not have a car.  So she hasn't been able to get to Church for the last few weeks. So we picked her up and took her to the meeting.  It was a good stake conference session, but I must confess I had trouble staying awake because of getting up at 5:30 am this morning.  Still, it was really good to be there and see all the faithful members of our Stake.   In the evening the couple that works with us at OCS hosted a dinner at their house for our group of marines that are graduating from TBS next week.  It was bittersweet.  We were happy to see them together socializing and talking about all of their experiences in training here.  They have supported each other tremendously and have truly become friends.  But it was sad because it is about the last time we will all be together.  There was plenty of good natured teasing and reminiscing about the hardest things that they had done during their training.  We enjoyed seeing all of them in a casual social situation, but all too quickly we had to leave for home.  We will be proud to see them at their graduation, but it will be very sad to finally say our last goodbye.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day

As we were eating on Monday morning, after having walked two miles at the mall, the phone rang.  It was not a typical time to receive a call.  It was a young bachelor marine that we have come to know and love.  He is not active, but we have taken him out to lunch and dinner about 5 or 6 times.  We often wonder if this is enough with these young marines.  But we feel that we are at least a connection to church for them, however small that link may be.  Today we realized that link is important.  We may have mentioned this young man before.  He told us the last time we met that he may have to have surgery to have part of his intestine removed because of an auto-immune deficiency that is causing his intestines to deteriorate.  We knew his parents would not be able to afford to fly out here, and we asked him to please let us know if the surgery got scheduled so that we could help him out.  The call was from him, informing us that he was having surgery tomorrow morning.  In fact he was in the car on his way to Wash DC to check in to the Navy hospital there, the Walter Reed Hospital.  We checked our schedule had important responsibilities here for the next two days that we could not cancel or delegate.  So we put our church connections into action.  First we contacted a marine wife we know (her husband is a student on base) that works at Walter Reed.  She immediately texted us back and said she would find him and make a connection.  About 3 hours later she texted that she had found him right after he checked in and had a nice talk, promising him that she would check on him periodically.  Second we contacted the Washington DC North mission, which encompasses the hospital.  It just so happens that some old friends of ours from our hometown of Richland, WA are the senior missionaries that work in the mission office there.  So we called them and they jumped right on it.  Several hours later we were informed that two senior sister missionaries that are assigned to work with folks at Walter Reed has already visited our young man and had arranged for two elders to visit and give him a blessing.  Around that time we got a call from the young man’s mom who understandably was worried.  However, he had given her our phone number and told her we were his acting grandparents here at Quantico.  We reassured her that there were a lot of good church folks that were already looking after her son and we gave her contact information for the sisters that visit folks at the hospital.  Needless to say, we were making many phone calls and exchanging multiple texts all day long.  But this evening we know that several missionaries and church folks that have good access to the hospital are looking after this young man.  We felt blessed to be able to put all the right folks in touch with each other.  Another part of our Monday was spent visiting a couple of marine wives.  One mom, who has five children under 7, recently lost her mom and has been struggling a bit.  While Lezlie chatted with her I entertained the 5 kids with treasure hunts and balloon games.  She talked and talked, kind of unburdening herself.  The kids seemed to have fun, but my it was tiring.  Her husband has PTSD so we had to put all the balloons away so they wouldn't pop when he got home.  We visited the last wife just to check on her.  Her husband is away for 2 months of training, but she just has 2 children so has things pretty much under control.  Finally, we took another young bachelor Navy guy out to dinner.  We had to say goodbye to him, as he is transferring to Japan in July so is leaving next week.  We had a good visit and we gave him a little going away gift.  This is another young man that does not attend church, but we still provided that small connection that may be needed some day.  We sent all of his contact information to the military relations senior missionaries at his new base, so they will look after him while he is in Japan. 

Today (Tuesday) is our 41st anniversary.  What cherished memories we have of all those years!  It is hard to believe.  It goes faster than you think.  Don’t Blink!  We celebrated our anniversary a couple of weeks ago with our trip to Chincoteague Island, so today was a missionary work day.  About one minute after I started doing my morning workout two elders called me.  They are the zone leaders, so they have a van.  They had gone out to their car to drive somewhere for their morning exercise and had a flat tire.  They had no idea how to change it or find the spare.  They knew my van is just like theirs, so asked if I could come help.  So at 7am the three of us were jacking up their car and trying to get to their spare.  We decided it would be just as easy for me to run them and the tire to the Firestone store.  About an hour later they had a new tire – their old one was totally shot.  After that unexpected chore we had to hustle to make it to District Meeting on time.  Lezlie and I gave a training lesson and it went well, so we were pleased.  Our next activity was to visit our marine wife that has the new baby girl.  Her husband is away at training.  I played with her 4 year old son while mom helped her with the baby and a few household chores.  Finally we met with our wonderful The Basic School group.  In attendance were all of our original Officer Candidate School gang that went to TBS together, and it was great fun to meet with them.   We have seen them once or twice a week almost every week for the past 9 months.  They graduate in two weeks, so there will be some tough goodbyes.  We taught a lesson on families and marriage, which was pretty appropriate on our anniversary.  We said a lot of good things about how well our children had turned out!  It was a great discussion and we really enjoyed the group.  Mom made an outstanding banana pudding that was devoured by the marines.  We feel enriched for having been involved with these good young folks for these past 9 months. 

Wednesday was unusual since Lezlie and I were apart most of the day.  First thing in the morning she drove to Richmond with some young sisters to attend an all day training meeting.  Meanwhile I stayed home and baked brownies for our upcoming OCS family home evening.  Using the car of the sisters that Lezlie took to Richmond I went to the base and worked my shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  It was a pretty good shift.  I got to give one young marine a check for $1300 to get him out of some financial trouble.  Was he happy!  Upon arrival home some unexpected trouble arose.  I had tried to bake too many pans of brownies at the same time.  The pans on the bottom got burnt, and the ones on the top were raw.  Since time was running short I immediately loaded up everything for the OCS family home evening and drove to the store.  I bought about 9 dozen cookies for our refreshments and met Lezlie as she returned from Richmond.  The OCS FHE could not have been better.  The new company of 10 week trainees arrived, and we had a total of 18 at our meeting.  About half of them are church members and half visitors.  What a great bunch of young men and women!  We had a short lesson and spent most of the time with introductions and just getting to know them.  We had announced that the other man from the ward and I could give blessings.  One young man, not a church member, asked what a blessing was.  Another marine and I explained it, and the other marine asked if he wanted one.  He said yes, that he had been really missing his wife and kids and was an emotional wreck.  We found an empty closet and the other marine gave him a beautiful, peaceful blessing.  The marine that received the blessing had tears in his eyes as he thanked us, and we all exchanged hugs right there in the closet.  It was a sweet moment.  All too soon they had to depart, with their Gunnery Sergeants yelling at them to get in line, stand up straight, quit looking around, and on and on.  We were thrilled to have 18 folks there and were happy to get to know this new group.  We feel so much joy at working with these young people.  And we think that what we do helps them make it through this difficult marine training.
As mentioned before one of our young bachelor marines had surgery at the Walter Reed Military Hospital in Wash DC on Tuesday of this week.  On Thursday we journeyed into DC to see him.  We tried a new transportation method.  We drove to the closest metro stop, which is about 25 minutes from our house, and then took the subway all the way to the hospital.  It was a long ride, but we were able to sit for the whole trip so it was not bad at all.  We got a bit lost in the hospital.  It is a huge complex of about ten buildings with bridges and basements that connect them.  We finally found our young marine and visited with him for about an hour.  He was in some pain but generally was in good spirits.  He told us his doctor had said that the surgery went well.  However, the doc also told him he was going to need two more surgeries to fix the whole problem.  We departed the hospital en-route to meeting up with our friends the Colsons.  They used to live next door to us in Richland and were members of our ward for years.  As mentioned before, they just happen to be the office administrators in the Washington DC North mission where the hospital is located.  So we had a nice lunch and visit with them.  It is always great to catch up with old friends.  After the long subway and car rides home we headed right out to the base.  We taught a new member lesson to the family in which I just baptized the dad.  They are leaving in about ten days, so it was bitter sweet.  They have been a huge part of our mission experience thus far, and we will miss them a lot.  But we are happy they are getting transferred to the place they most wanted, and glad that they will be in a good ward there.  We had a great day, but after the long trip to DC we were very tired.  We both headed to bed much earlier than normal for some much needed rest.

On Saturday we attended a Senior Missionary Training meeting in Richmond.  We had a fairly short training session, but it was very good.  Several seniors that are going home in the next month talked, and there were some emotional stories.   One of the couples was from Pasco. WA and the other couple lives in Woodbridge with us, so we are close to both of them. All of us know how hard it is to go back home at the end of one’s mission.  It is the leaving that is hard – leaving this place where you have made new friends, developed a new ward family, and experienced so many miracles and tender mercies.  I think that once folks actually depart and start heading home that it is okay, because then they are thinking about home and family.  But in the days leading up to that point there must be many mixed emotions.  We did hear some sweet stories from these seniors that are leaving soon.  After the training session we had a nice lunch and then headed for the Richmond Canal.  We took a 45 minute boat tour during which the boat driver/guide told us a lot about Richmond history and the building and sites we were seeing.  It was relaxing and fun.  And I always love to be on the water.  Our drive home was pretty miserable, stuck in massive traffic under a hot sun.  It took us an hour longer than expected because of all the stop and go traffic.  Anyone that has ever driven I-95 in Northern Virginia knows what I am talking about.  But we have come to expect traffic delays, and we had a great day and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with all the other senior missionaries in spite of it. The below pictures show Lezlie (in red) with other senior missionaries waiting for the boat.  The 2nd one is our mission president and his wife on the left and another senior couple with them.  

We had a wonderful Sunday.  It began with a sacrament service for our amazing Officer Candidate School group at 0730 (that’s oh-seven-thirty).  We had 14 at our service today.  It is always so good to spend time with these officer candidates.  We are their refuge from the storm they undergo as part of their training.  Once they have attended a couple of times they know that they can relax as soon as they come in the door.  They immediately start smiling, chatting with us, and comparing notes with each other about the training.  There are many different types in this group – a young dad that is missing his two sons like crazy, a husband in law school that aspires to be a Marine JAG lawyer, a young woman of only 19 that grew up with lots of brothers, several returned missionaries, a visitor that heard we had treats, another visitor that came with a friend, and so on.  But once we start giving a lesson they are all right with us, wanting that spiritual nourishment and mental renewal. They also love the food nourishment after the services, but treat time is a great time for them to unwind and talk to each other as well.  We had a great service and gave another blessing to a marine afterwards.  Many of the marines wished me a happy Father's Day.  It was sweet.  We then went directly to a second sacrament meeting in Stafford.  We wanted to attend this ward to meet the family of one of our TBS marines.  He is the one from Texas that has four children.  His amazing wife drove all the way from Texas with four children under 7.  She came to participate in some of the activities leading up to graduation, although they will have to leave for his next school before graduation ceremony.  It was excellent to get to know his wife and children a little bit.  We stayed through Sunday School with them.  A great family.  After an hour break to eat sack lunches we went to our own ward and got to see another young family that we love.  This is the family of the Navy guy that I baptized last month.   They are leaving in a week so this was their last time at our ward.  It was so good to see them there but sad as well.  We had them meet with the ward clerk so that their records could be sent to their new ward.  We came home early because we were so tired and worn out from going to 3 different wards today.  It was a nice Father’s Day – I got cards/phonecalls/Skype from all of my children, which was wholly enjoyable.  Thank you everyone for your nice sentiments.   Lezlie fixed me a yummy Father's Day dinner of turkey burgers, mushroom gravy, rolls and broccoli.  Ahhhhhhh........

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Great Birthday

After a slow Monday morning we baked a couple of batches of brownies, said and prayer and decided which marine families to see.  We visited a less active family that has been trying to get back into things.  They were excited to talk about the visit of grandma and grandpa when their nine year old will get baptized late this month.  We visited a family that just had their 7th child, a boy, on Friday and gave them a baby gift of a blue Bulldog sleeper.  The Bulldog is the mascot of the marines.   We stopped and saw the family with the premature baby boy that has multiple medical problems.  Lezlie planted some bulbs in her garden.  We visited a marine wife with 5 children under ten.  Her mom died unexpectedly a month ago, then last weekend her grandma passed away.   Needless to say she was grieving.  She was also stressed about the kids so we chatted with her for a bit and left with a prayer and a promise to return soon.  Finally we visited a brand new marine family and took them to dinner at Chik-fil-a.  He is a marine lawyer and they will be here a couple of years.  They have 3 children and one on the way.  They were a great family and we really enjoyed visiting with them.  She is a tough gal that took care of those 3 kids while he was away on a tour in Afghanistan.  We finally arrived home about 8pm, once again tired but full of joy because we got to help several marine families.  It is great to be a military relations missionary.

Our Tuesday morning began with an excellent District Training Meeting.  Our District Leader, is a distance runner.  After being asked he modestly told us that his best mile run in high school was a 4:05.  Wow!  He was recruited to run track at BYU.  So he knows something about discipline and hard work.  He organized a short but excellent set of training lessons and music that were powerful.  We appreciated his efforts to be on time because we had told him we had an appointment in Stafford at 1pm.  After dropping off elders following the meeting we drove to Taco Bell, picked up some tacos, and took lunch to the home of the family with the new baby girl that came after a very difficult pregnancy.  Her husband is away at marine training for about two months and she is struggling with the two young children and is lonely. So we spent two hours with her, Lezlie mostly just letting her talk and me playing with her 4 year old son.  It was tiring but fun as well.  The visit seemed to cheer her up a bit.  We left her with a prayer.  We then met one of our The Basic School marine wives for a first course of dinner (salad) at Panera Bread.  This is the lady from Moldova that joined the church at Army basic training.  She told us of some of her challenges and struggles in her personal life.  She is also facing some challenges right now.  So we sat with her and just listened for an hour.  Then later we met a second TBS marine wife for the main course ( soup)  at Panera bread.  We had originally scheduled to have dinner with both of these ladies but the first one had an interview scheduled with the Stake President.  She is going to the temple for the first time in two weeks.  So we just had salad with the one and soup with the other.  It was pretty refreshing to visit with her because she did not have any major problems or challenges right now to deal with.  She was just happy and enjoying life.  She is pregnant with their first child and is excited about becoming a mom.  It was delightful to visit with her.  So go our days.  Visits with marines and their family, efforts to cheer them up or listen to their joys and accomplishments.  It doesn’t seem like much, but we know that we are helping out these folks.  It feels wonderful.  Being a marine wife is not easy and we are happy to help.

What a Wednesday.  We worked a good shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and helped several marines.  We have come to be good friends with the Director.  We always chat with her during the lulls.  She seems to like to talk with us, maybe because we are the only volunteers that are about her age.  She loves doing genealogy, so she and Lezlie talk about that a lot.  After catching a quick dinner we went to our first Officer Candidate School family home evening with our new group.  We had 7 attend the service.  Only 3 of them were church members.  Some of the others were 2nd year OCS students.  There is one set of courses where they go for 6 weeks over two consecutive summers while they are in college.  The 2nd year guys, or seniors as they are called, had attended the LDS service last summer when they were here and said they liked them.  So they came back.  Another guy came with his LDS friend.  Another guy from Hawaii came because he had a lot of Tongan LDS friends in Hawaii and really liked them.  It was great to meet and get to know them a little bit.  What a great bunch of young people.  Once again we feel humbled and inspired to be working with these great folks.  We mostly just talked and had introductions, but the other couple that works with us gave a nice, short lesson on prayer.  Then the OCS gang inhaled dozens of brownies and cookies, and drank a gallon of milk and two quarts of apple juice.  And there were only 7 of them!  We really look forward to getting to know them better. 

For my birthday on Friday we had a wonderful adventure away from home.  We traveled to Washington DC and did a short session of work at the Temple, which was enjoyable.  We stopped at the LDS bookstore nearby and did some shopping there.  Next we stopped at Tysons Corner mall, a huge shopping mall near the interstate that loops around DC.  We did a little shopping there and had a nice Chinese lunch.  A movie was next on the agenda, and mom let me chose the genre I like.  So we saw the new Tom Cruise adventure movie, Edge of Tomorrow, and I liked it.  The popcorn was good too.  After traveling home we had a nice dinner and I got to open some fine gifts.  Thanks to everyone, I really liked all of the thoughtful presents.  Lastly we traveled to the base to teach a lesson to our friends whose husband was just baptized into our church.  It was great to see them and we had a good discussion.  They are being transferred to the Marine Air Base in Yuma, AZ.  Lezlie has been working on a going away gift for them.  It is a picture of their baby boy.  He is sitting on the floor and their big bulldog is seated beside him.  The little boy had reached up and put his hand on the dog’s back as if to say, “This is my dog.”  Lezlie did a fantastic job on it (see below). So we gave them the above picture as a going away gift.  They loved it, were in awe of the talent shown, and thanked Lezlie over and over again.  It was delightful to be able to give that to them.  We will miss them when they leave for AZ. 

On this Sunday we held our first Officer Candidate School church service for our new group.  We had 8 attendees and only 3 of them were LDS.  The others heard about our services and knew we were a small group with treats, so they came.  We had a great discussion with all of them today.  It is so absolutely humbling to work with these dedicated young people.  And they thank us for what we do.  We feel like we should be thanking them for allowing us to be a part of their lives for this short period of time.  But out whole senior mission is like that.  While people thank us for various things, we feel so thankful for the amazing experiences, blessings, and miracles.  We have found that as senior missionaries we receive much more than we give.  Anyway, we had a wonderful early morning church service with the young marines in training. (See pics below)   We then attended our ward’s ward council meeting.  It was a pretty typical meeting.  We have a brand new bishop and everyone is getting to know him and his style better.  The meeting ended and everyone was kind of hustling out because it was a few minutes late.  The bishop waded through the crowd and sought us out in the hall.  He said, “I have been hearing your name a lot.”  When we asked him what he meant he said, “Well I talk to a lot of folks in the ward and I keep hearing that the Couchs  did this, the Couchs visited us, the Couchs gave me a ride.”  He said he just wanted to thank us for our quiet, behind the scenes service that was important to many people.  It was very touching and humbling.  While we try to work hard here and do our best, we do not feel like we are doing anything extraordinary.  We know that the small things are important and we try to do the best we can.   But it was a very sweet moment, and the bishop and Lezlie and I all got a few tears in our eyes.  Lezlie and I each taught a lesson today, she in Gospel Essentials class and me in High Priests.  Our lessons went well and it was enjoyable for both of us.  Finally we took our friend William Hatcher to visit his mom at her retirement home.  He had become a good friend and he is going through some tough times.  We are glad to be a part of his life right now.  So at the end of a lovely Sunday we are grateful to be involved with so many different people, thankful for the opportunity to be here, and continue to love being senior missionaries.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chincoteague Ponies

On Memorial Day.  We created a card with a Memorial Day message and an appropriate scripture on it.  We then made several dozen blueberry muffins and made up multiple plates of muffins.  We stuck a small toothpick-mounted American flag on each plate.  We then delivered the messages and plates all over the marine base.  I think we made about 14 stops.  So we had a busy day.  But it was wonderful to find many of our marines home on this holiday.  It was good to be able to tell them happy Memorial Day and thank them for their service.  These are a bunch of great folks. Sandwiched in with this we also visited our ward friend William the artist, who is helping Lezlie with a drawing.  He is still having some medical issues and cannot drive.  So we gave him a ride to and from the nursing home where his mom lives, and we got to meet his mom.  It brought back many memories of visiting my folks in their retirement home.  William was please to see his mom as well as help Lezlie with her drawing.  Finally we had two elders for dinner.  They are Spanish speaking elders, and they told us many great stories about working with the Hispanic community here.  We gave them cheesecake for desert, with small American flags mounted on top.  We sent a copy of this picture to their moms.  We typically try to do that as well as send a note to the moms telling them what a great job their children are doing as missionaries.  It is a fun little service to do for these young missionaries.  We wanted to tell our family members about something that typically occurs when we have elders or sisters into our apartment for dinner.  We usually ask one of them to say a prayer before they leave.  Almost every missionary says something like, “..please watch over and bless all of the Couch family members while Elder and Sister Couch are away from home serving as missionaries.”  It is always very touching, and we wanted to let you know that a lot of missionaries have prayed and are praying for your welfare. 

On Tuesday we had our The Basic School (TBS) family home evening with a lesson on “Enduring to the End.”  We had great attendance, with seven of our group showing up.  They were lively and we had an excellent discussion on how to endure to the end.  We talked about the word endure.  It can mean just hanging in there and taking whatever comes your way, kind of like a person huddled in the cold and standing there shivering but not doing anything.  It can also mean strengthening yourself and taking action to deal with difficult situations.  Instead of standing and huddling in the cold a person could walk or exercise to warm up.  Anyway, we had a good, practical discussion about what we really need to do to endure to the end.  They loved the Smore cookies Lezlie made.  We had a marshmallow theme because I showed them the Mormon channel video called “Patience.”  In case you have not seen it, this video reviews a study on patience done by a university.  Four-year-old children were seated at a table and a marshmallow was placed in front of them.  They were told that they could eat the marshmallow if they chose, but if they waited 15 minutes they could have two marshmallows.  Very few were able to wait.  The study was done in greater depth than just the marshmallows and it concluded that those who developed patience when they were young were more likely to succeed in their careers than those who did not.  So the Smore cookies carried out the marshmallow theme.  It was another enjoyable meeting with our outstanding group of young marines.  The only down side was the thunderstorm that arrived just as we were leaving.  Although we had our big umbrella (thank you Aaron) we got drenched by the torrential rain and wind as we walked through the 6 inch deep puddles in the lightning.  But we were laughing about it as we drove home.  We knew we had dry clothes and a warm apartment to go home to.

We have some friends in Virginia Beach we had hoped to visit while we were here, and we decided to take an early anniversary trip.  So early on Thursday we headed south for a three hour drive to the southern coast of Virginia.  We first visited an old family friend of Lezlie’s family, Sharlee.  The lady was a close friend of Lezlie’s mom.  They were friends from grade school through high school, and even roomed together in college.  We had a nice visit with her and her husband, and they fed us a delicious lunch.  Lezlie used her iPhone to face time with her mom so that the two of them could talk.  From there we went to the home of a Naval Academy classmate of mine.  We had a terrific time visiting about our families, hobbies, and adventures in the Navy.  This man was a career guy, staying in the Navy for about 28 years.  He had a lot of very interesting jobs, including being CO of a submarine.  It was great fun to hear his sea stories.  They had lived all over the world during their Navy career, so their home was a showcase of international decorations.  It was very interesting.  They totally spoiled us with dinner.  They fed us chips and dips while we visited, then grilled chicken wings as an appetizer.  Then they put steaks on the grill, which we ate with an excellent pasta salad.  Finally they brought us brownies with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.  We were happily stuffed at the end of that feast.  We spent the night at their home and had a good rest. It was comfortable and warm.

After taking our friends out for breakfast Friday morning, we drove north to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  We crossed the Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel, which is an amazing engineering feat.   It is a 17 mile long bridge that crosses the bay with two deep tunnels that allow for the passage of ships over the top.  I thought it was very cool to drive over this amazing structure.  We then drove on to Chincoteague Island.  This is the island that is famous for its wild ponies that live across the channel at Asateague Island.  To control the size of the herd they sell off some of the foals every summer.   They accomplish this by driving the entire herd to swim across the channel.  Then they separate out some of the foals and auction them off.  The whole process was made famous by the book “Misty of Chincoteague.”  This is a book that Lezlie loved as a little girl.  Huge crowds flock to the island every summer to see the ponies swim across the channel.  The ponies are auctioned off for thousands of dollars to buyers from all over the world.  We drove around both islands a bit and saw beautiful beaches and forests.  We debated about taking a nature tour on a bus, but finally went ahead.  It was well worth it.  We got to see dozens of the wild ponies that walked right up to our bus.  They were so fun to watch.  We were fortunate to see the ponies this time of year because there were many foals.  The tour also included many, many interesting bird sightings.  Our favorite was the Oyster Catcher, that can pry open oysters with its bill.  After the bus tour we had an excellent seafood meal at a restaurant recommended by our bus driver.  We even got to our hotel in time to watch a little live television, something we can’t do at our apartment because we did not buy cable.  It was a great day at Chincoteague Island.   Below Lezlie is posed in front of a statue of Misty and then with a real Chincoteague pony.



After visiting one last gift shop at Chincoteague on Saturday morning we drove up the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland.  This is a huge peninsula that sticks down from the mainland and is primarily farming land.  It was beautiful to drive through, and it was an easy, pleasant drive.  We did not have too much traffic, which always makes things more relaxed.  We stopped at one farmers produce market where we browsed the store and fed some pet goats.  We arrived home safe and sound by 4pm, tired but joyful over a great trip.  We did one last thing Saturday night, which was to attend the baptism of a man into our ward.  It was especially nice, because all of the other members of his family had been baptized over the past couple of months.  He was the last one, and his wife and children were very happy about it.  The spirit of joy was obvious in the church. 

We had a very nice Sunday.  We felt it was time to visit some of the wards in Stafford where several of our marine families attend.  It turned out we were needed there.  After attending the first ward, the Aquia Ward, a man stopped to talk to us.  He said he was the assistant director of the Marine Band, and that he had two band members that were interested in the church.  He had known the previous military relations couple, but then had been traveling when they left and we arrived.  He did not know how to get in touch with us, but has been wanting the senior missionaries to meet these folks.  So he told us about his friends and took our number, saying he would call us for dinner when he could have them over.  We noticed that one of our marine families that we expected to see at church was not there.  So instead of attending Sunday School we went out to find them.  Elder Bednar taught us that when someone is missing from church you don’t just pray for them you go find them.  We found the mom home with some sick kids. The dad had duty so was away.  She was glad to have someone to talk to for a few minutes and we had a nice visit and cheered her up a bit.  After that we went to the Accoceek Ward.  We were expecting at least one family to show, the lady with the difficult pregnancy who had a little girl.  Her husband is away for two months in training.  At the start of sacrament meeting she was not there.  Then about ten minutes after the meeting started she showed up. Immediately after she sat down her baby started to cry, so she took the baby out, leaving her four year old alone in the pew.  We immediately went into action.  Lezlie sat by the little boy and I went out and held the baby so she could go back into the chapel and take the sacrament.  We felt good that we were in the right place to help out.  It turns out she has been having some major challenges, and she wanted to talk to us.  So I took her little boy to primary and then played with the baby while she and Lezlie talked during Sunday school time.  She is having a tough time, and we think it helped her just to talk.  We set up a mid week appointment to visit her and take lunch for her and her son.  I am sure she will want to talk to Lezlie while I play with her little boy.   It is challenging being a military wife with small children.  So for both of the wards we visited, it seems like there were people that needed to see us.  It was a good feeling.  And it was not coincidence.  We know that we were doing God’s work today.