Sunday, September 28, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

After we published our blog last week one of our marines sent us this picture with a nice note.  He is back home with his family after almost a year in marine training.  He thanked us for our help, but we felt like we got as much from him as we gave.  It was an honor to be a part of his life as he went through some very tough training.  He and his family were wonderful to interact with.

On Monday we drove to Stafford for a family home evening with a wonderful marine family.  We just finished developing a new family home evening lesson on teamwork and cooperation, and this was our first trial run.  It went well.  The children in this family are really well behaved and it was a joy to spend time with them.  The finale in the lesson is to work together as a team to make microwave caramel corn.  It was good!  We had a great time with this family, and it seemed that they enjoyed the lesson and the treat.  We found a couple of glitches in the PowerPoint presentation that we will fix, but overall it went well.  It always feels like a great reward to visit the active families that welcome us in and are thrilled to receive a lesson.  It is not usually that way with the less active families.  So it was a fun evening.  Here is a picture of the family except for the dad – he was at the base doing his marine training.  They were enjoying the caramel corn we had just finished making. 

Wednesday worked a good shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  But it was pretty slow.  We always take other things to do when we are there so that we don't just waste our time sitting and waiting for clients.  Besides our volunteer work we visited 3 marine families and attended a The Basic School graduation.  It was good to check on these families – two of them are inactive church members and need a lot of loving.  One of them that we have been visiting for about 6 months is getting out of the Marine Corps and moving back to Utah.  So we stopped to say goodbye and wish them well.  We also got to stop at the home of a marine couple that just moved in, and they were great fun to get to know.  He will be very busy in The Basic School for six months and she is not planning of working.  So we may spend time with her so she doesn’t get too lonely.  The TBS graduation was wonderful.  Two of our marines graduated (see pictures).  We feel really close to the single guy that is standing with us here.  We saw him through OCS and TBS too.  So we have met with him once or twice a week for 9 months.   The shot in the auditorium shows the honor graduates standing in front and all the rest of the class in the front rows of seats.  Our guys were not honor graduates.  They were  just h appy to be graduating. 


This evening (Thur) was our first meeting with our brand new Officer Candidate School class.  We had two LDS students attend.  First was a young lady from New York City.  She had many cousins, uncles, and other family members that had been in the Army, so she wanted to serve.  But she chose marines because she felt they were the best.  We also had a young man that was a former enlisted marine.  He was enlisted for four years, during which time he served in Iraq and Korea.  He got out, finished college, and began working in a bank.  But he and his wife thought working in a bank in Utah was a boring life, so he applied to be a marine officer.  We had a nice discussion with them and a short lesson about having the courage and faith to Stand Alone.  We asked them to invite some friends next week and they said they would.  Since this was our first chance to meet with this new class we had no idea how many would be there.  So we took brownies, cookies and fruit to feed twenty.  We had a lot of leftovers!  Although the two of them ate a bunch, there still was a lot left over.  So we sent a huge plate of cookies home with the chaplain, who had 8 kids, and we froze the rest for future missionary dinners. 

We have long been planning to go to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, this fall.  We did not want to go over the summer because of the heat and large numbers of tourists.  And we wanted to go before it got too cold.  So we found ourselves with no scheduled appointments, lessons or classes today, Friday.  We invited the other senior couple from here, the Andersons, and we set out for Monticello at about 7:00am.  Most of the 2.5 hour drive was through the back country of Virginia, so we saw many beautiful trees, farms, and hills. We went through Orange County where the Conways lived.  There were some gorgeous horse farms along the route.  Our visit to Monticello was excellent.  It is a beautiful spot, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that runs the place does a superb job.  Everything was well organized, tours, movies and shuttle buses were on time, and the grounds were immaculate and beautifully landscaped.  Besides the old growth trees and shrubs, there were many flowering bushes and plants that were in full bloom even in late Sept.  We had a delightful tour of the home.  Jefferson was a brilliant man, and he loved to learn about anything and everything.  So there were items in the house from many different avenues of his learning – artifacts from American Indians, things Lewis and Clark had shipped back to him on their journey, dinosaur bones, many beautiful paintings, both European and American, a telescope, maps of all kinds, busts of famous people in history, musical instruments, writing tools, furniture from all over the world, and thousands of books.  There were many clever devices invented by Jefferson, like serving carts with wheels, a lazy-susan type shelf that rotated so that food could be passed into the dining area, double doors that closed together when you just pushed on one, dumb waiters, and many more amazing little inventions.  The house is on the top of a hill, so the view of the surrounding Virginia hills was spectacular.  He was an avid gardener who was continually trying to get a higher yield and grafting plants for better varieties. The gardens were magnificent.  We have never felt so comfortable, or that I would like to live at such a place more. It was a house of learning. There were some beautiful things, but it was not pretentious.  It was totally designed and arranged for comfort, convenience, functionality and learning.  And it was very aesthetic as well. We wanted to sit down and play the games, read the books, study a new language, and ride one of Jeffrerson’s horses down the hill through the beautiful fields. It appeared that in spite of much personal tragedy, Jefferson truly relished and took advantage of life and every possible opportunity he had.   It occurred to us that it was truly a house of learning. A safe and comfortable and beautiful place to rest his soul and to experiment with anything he wanted. It was delightful.  However, after the house tour, one of the more sobering parts of the visit was the slave tour.  The guide took us to the area where Jefferson’s slaves lived.  Although he spent his life working for liberty for the American people and professed to dislike slavery, he still followed the norms of the time in Virginia and had many (nearly 200) slaves to run his farm.  The tour guide told us many stories about the two sides of Jefferson – the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal” but who used hundreds of slaves to take care of his farm.  He said that Jefferson’s slaves were not treated any better or any worse than most Virginia slaves at that time. He also discussed slave children that Jefferson fathered with his deceased wife’s half sister who was a slave. All of the children were freed or disappeared mysteriously, but their mother was not freed, even at his death. And much of her family were sold to pay his debts. It is interesting to evaluate such dichotomous circumstances in historic context and the contrast between the enlightened Jefferson willing to give so much for his country and the common man.  And the Jefferson looking out for his personal welfare by owning, being so dependent on for his wealth, and taking advantage of other human beings led to some good and reflective conversations on the way home.  After our excellent visit to Monticello we met up with another senior missionary couple that is serving in Charlottesville (the Wares) where Monticello is located.  We really like this couple and had a great visit with them.  We had a nice Mexican dinner at an outdoor seating area in the university district, which was really fun.  The weather was spectacular, about 75 degrees with a slight cooling breeze.  The couple that lives here teaches Institute at the University of Virginia, so they took us on a great tour of the “grounds.”  UVA was founded and designed by Jefferson, so it was a nice follow on to our tour of Monticello.  He wanted UVA to be new and unique, so there are many things that are different than a regular college.  For example they do not call the area the campus but rather the “grounds.”  Students are not called freshman, sophomore, etc., but rather first years, second years, etc.  The campus was designed so that the students lived among their instructors, with many public and recreational gardens and areas. The architecture on the campus is outstanding, and some of it looks a lot like Monticello.   So our tour was great fun too.  After a long drive home we finally got back into our apartment about 9:30pn.  We were pretty tired, but oh what a great day we had.  We feel privileged to be able to take a day and see some of the amazing historical sights in Virginia. The above picture is the front of the house and also the rear.  Below is the rear view of Monticello that is on the back of the nickel. It was a wonderful day and we are so glad we got to visit Monticello.  It is one of our favorite spots we have seen in Virginia.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gifts of the Heart

As is typical for a Monday, which is the young missionaries’ preparation day (p-day),  I ( Dan) drove several elders to the grocery store for their shopping trip.  It is always fun to be with them and they are so appreciative of any little thing we do to help them.  We made a few key treat deliveries on base – one to a less active mom that runs hot and cold, and today she was very friendly; one to a fairly recent convert that has been undergoing some major health issues – he loves peanut butter cookies; and finally a large basket of fruit and cookies for our young marine that just got back from his surgery.  All of these short visits went well and we felt successful.   The transition that takes place in our relationship with these folks is amazing.  At first we are visiting them because we are missionaries and it is part of our job.  But we very quickly come to know and love them as dear friends.  Like our young marine that just underwent surgery.  We have been seeing him for a year now, and he seems like a grandson rather than an assignment.  We just love him to pieces.  Our next task was to drive a young woman from our ward to Richmond.   She is going to be serving a full time mission beginning in October.  The Stake President decided it would be a good idea for her to serve a mini-mission to prepare for her full time mission.  She is bit of a slow learner so he thought it would be a good test run for her.  Today was the scheduled day for all of the new missionaries to arrive from the Missionary Training Center.  The first thing they do when they arrive from the airport is to meet at a church building, fill out some paperwork, and have dinner.  So we took the young lady from our ward to Richmond to meet up with and join the new missionaries.  But it was more than just a transportation chore.  We also stayed to help serve the new  young sisters and elders their dinner.   The two senior sister missionaries that work in the office prepared the dinner and we served it, carrying out the full plates of food, clearing empty plates, and serving the desert.  It was great fun getting to interact with these brand new missionaries.  They are nervous but also eager to get started in their work.  After a long drive home (185 miles round trip) we are tired but happy.  That is usually our state of mind at the end of our great missionary days here in Virginia.  

Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS)  had a long training session today.  We were in a classroom from 9am to 3pm.  It was pretty good training and we really like all the other volunteers.  It was fun to spend time with them.  We were able to make some successful visits after our training.  We met a family that just arrived on base, an Army officer and his wife and two children.  The Marines hold a large class each year that is specifically designed for mid-range officers.  There are slots open for inter service officers.  So this young Army officer got selected to attend, which means he must be a pretty good officer.  It was enjoyable to get to know his family a little bit.  They are from Florida real near where grandmother and papa Douthitt live.  Finally we held our weekly family home evening at The Basic School.  We had only two in attendance, a young male marine and a female TBS staff member.  She is an athletic trainer whose job is to get the marines back into training as soon as possible if they get injured.  Even with just two we had a great discussion and lesson.  When there are smaller groups like this we get a chance to know them better. 

We served a long shift at NMCRS.  Some of the other volunteers could not work today because of the long training session we all attended yesterday.  So Lezlie and I were the only volunteers there.  We took care of a lot of marines.  I handed out my largest check ever, $4500.  A marine and his wife had missed several mortgage payments and the bank was starting foreclosure proceedings on their house.  They missed the payments because his wife has Multiple Sclerosis and could not work for 3 months.  They had been using her income to pay their house payments.  It was a complex case, but we worked through it and got him his money.  We were able to make a couple of family visits on base, both to less active families.  It is a bit sad doing these visits.  We can see so clearly how living the Gospel could help these young families with the challenges they are facing in their lives.  But they have to see that for themselves.   We hope that the thin connection with church that we are trying to maintain helps them at some time in the future.  This evening we had a most enjoyable dinner with a marine.  He is a senior enlisted guy, a Master Sergeant.  He is retiring next month.  His wife and two children have already moved to San Antonio, Texas so that the kids could start school there.  So he is a bachelor this month.  We took him out for a nice dinner, and it was great to get to know him a little better.  His formal retirement ceremony will be early in October, and his family will return for that.  We were thrilled to receive an invitation to his retirement ceremony and an open house to say goodbye to the family.

We had a second full day of training for NMCRS.  Today was more of a personnel training curriculum – how to deal with different personalities, how to improve the office, how to deal with conflict, etc.   At our meeting today we heard some pretty impressive statistics.  Last year NMCRS did the following; provided assistance to 65,358 Navy or Marine personnel, both active and retired; provided $48.6 million in loans and grants; employed 170 paid staff members and 3,791 volunteers.  We are proud to be a part of this group that is helping so many young marines, sailors and families. 
I (Dan) got the chance to teach a lesson with a young elder today (Friday).   His senior partner had to interview some folks for baptism and they also had this lesson scheduled.  So they asked me to fill in.  The young elder was quite nervous.  He has only been out for 8 weeks and this was the first time he had ever been the leader for a lesson.  We taught a man from Ghana who is about sixty.  He was very kind and open, and was quite interested in learning the gospel.  The young elder did a great job and invited the man to be baptized in 3 weeks.  He asked him not to answer immediately but to think and pray about it for a couple of days.  He took the invitation very seriously.  I contributed a few stories to the lesson that seemed to add to the topic.  It was an enjoyable experience. 

Our Stake has an annual event called “Gifts of the Heart.”  Essentially this is a giant garage sale but everything is free.  For many months prior all the local members are reminded to save things that they would take to Goodwill or get rid of.  On Friday night folks drop off their donations.  Lots of donations!  We had to drop off a van load of stuff for members and we worked a shift as well.  The donation drop off was amazingly well organized.  There were signs, traffic directors, and barriers all over the parking lot that directed you into two lanes by the back doors.  There were about 100 youth volunteers there, and as soon as you stopped they swarmed over the car like locusts.  The car was empty in about 2 minutes.  Volunteers worked late into the night to sort items into various categories and distribute them around the church building.  Lezlie and I spent two and a half hours sorting clothing.  The gym had about thirty tables, each with a helium balloon hanging above.  The balloons were labeled with the type of clothing – Men Large, Women Medium, Boys, Infants, etc.  We sorted about a twenty large bags of clothing.  It was amazing to see all of the donations and all of the volunteers (see pictures).  It was a tiring but rewarding night. 

When we got home tonight we found a very nice note on our door.  It was from the Elders that we helped today with the lesson and a ride.  It was touching and humbling to receive their note of thanks.  For your information, Mark 8:34 says, “ And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Saturday  was another opportunity to serve at the “Gifts of the Heart” event.  We had only planned to work the shift last night.  However, a young marine  wanted to work a shift today and asked for transportation, so we said yes.  Unfortunately, Lezlie has come down with a rotten cold and did not want to be sneezing and coughing on folks.  So I took our marine by myself.    One of the advantages of senior missions is that you can split up if it makes sense.  So we today we did.  The marine was appreciative and happy to go help out.  We did not have to work as long as we thought because there were so many helpers that they got things done faster than expected.  But we did help somewhat, hauling out boxes of trash, putting bags of left over items into trucks to be taken to Goodwill, breaking down boxes, and moving chairs back to classrooms.  There were many young elders there and some of them needed rides home.  I left my marine friend with a group of 8 missionaries and they all had lunch together at a nearby spot while I took some other missionaries home.  Our marine is a new convert and we think he needs all the interaction with church members he can get.  So it was great for him to spend some time with the missionaries (see picture).  After taking some more missionaries home I took our marine friend back to the base.   

We had a pretty routine Sunday, except that Lezlie missed church.  She has been battling a nasty cold and had too much sneezing and runny nose symptoms to go to church.  I attended alone, and boy did that feel strange.  Everyone noticed and asked about Lezlie and wished a speedy recovery.  After she slept about 12 hours she has felt much better this evening.  I am sure in a couple of days she will be fine.  So we spent a quiet day reading and preparing lessons for the week.  We are going to have a new adventure teaching the temple prep class to a young man that was baptized about a year ago.  He has become a friend or ours here.  He is the man that we have mentioned before that has significant medical problems. And even though he is not a marine, we try to help him out whenever we can. The ward is not planning on teaching temple prep until November and our friend is anxious to take it.  So we get to go into his home and teach the lessons.   We received a wonderful note from Carrie today.  She said,” We miss you so much. But sometimes I am so overwhelmed with gratitude because of the blessings that seem to be directly related to your missionary service it makes me want you to stay on a mission forever.  Not really. Please come home. Just know that we are greatly blessed. The Lord is mindful of us and takes care of us.”  We were so thrilled to receive this note.  As senior missionaries we have been promised that our family will benefit and be blessed as we serve. This note as well as other things we have heard from the family confirms that this promise is being fulfilled. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Senior Missionaries Can Dance

We started our week with a successful set of visits on the base.  We saw four families that we have missed at church for a while.  We provided them treats, informed them of the time change for our meetings (9am instead of 1pm), and invited them to come to church next week.  We love these young marine families and worry about them like they were our own children. We just want them to have all the blessings they can receive by coming to church.  Later we had a great family home evening at The Basic School.  We had a good discussion about the creation.  These young people are so intelligent and thoughtful.  They had amazing insight into and thoughts about the creation.  We learn more from them than we teach them at every lesson.  They enjoyed a delicious cheesecake prepared by Lezlie. 

Late on Tuesday night we heard from the two senior sister missionaries that do visits at Walter Reed hospital.  Our young marine recovering from surgery there took a turn for the worse since we saw him Sunday morning.  On Monday evening and Tuesday he could not keep any food down at all.  They had to insert a stomach tube to keep him from throwing up.  So we changed our original plans for the day and drove to the hospital first thing this Wednesday morning.  Our poor  young marine.  He looked miserable.  It is difficult and painful for him to talk with the stomach tube down his throat, so it was hard for much communication to take place.  The senior sisters were there too, and the four of us visited him for a while.  There were a lot of shrugs and nods from him.  We left soon, though, because our patient was getting tired.  We had a short visit with the sisters and then met our marine wife that works at Walter Reed hospital.  This is the young lady that is originally from Moldova.  We took her to lunch in the hospital cafeteria.  She is going through a lot of changes right now and is trying to figure out her path forward.  She has concerns about being a marine wife and wants to have her own career.  So she kind of poured out her heart to Lezlie.  We really love this girl and wish we could provide more help.  But she has to figure out things for herself.  She is going away for a month for some Army reserve training, so we will not see her for a while.  We just listen and remind her to pray and stay close to God as she is making these big decisions.

Once again our  main activity of the day  was to visit our marine  in the hospital.  However, this is not a trivial activity as it takes at least an hour to drive to the hospital and more than that if there is any traffic.  As you can see from the photo here of Interstate 95, there was traffic.  We were totally stopped several times on the highway.  We were happy to find our patient in much better shape than yesterday.  He had the stomach tube removed and talked up a storm.  He said he was feeling so much better.  His only complaint was that he was very hungry but was only allowed ice chips.  They will start him back on liquids tomorrow.  After a nice chat we gave him time to rest and left the hospital.  We located a nearby Barnes and Noble so that we could buy him some hunting magazines.  He is a big hunter back in southern Utah.  His family owns a thousand acres outside St George so they hunt on their own land.  After procuring the magazines we went to the temple.  Our plan was to do a short session of temple work.  However, as we pulled in we remembered that there was a young couple from our ward getting sealed (married) in the temple today.  We hurried inside and managed to find them just in time to attend their ceremony.  It was very nice, and they seemed pleased that we made it.  It was touching to see them and their family sealed together for eternity.  We then made a late afternoon visit with our young marine.  He had even improved since the morning.  He was quite pleased with the hunting magazines, and talked to us a lot about his work, his hunting, and his travels with the marines.  If he is discharged medically from the marines he wants to live in Washington.  He has a favorite aunt and uncle there.  So we talked to him a lot about living in Washington State.  Our visits were very good today, and we were so pleased to see him looking and feeling so much better. 

Friday was our monthly zone meeting.  This took up most of our morning and early afternoon because we transported 8 missionaries to and from the meeting.  We always learn something from these young missionaries and we love being with them.  We then had two elders over for dinner.  These two elders are in our Zone Leaders and they are also in our ward.  So we work with them a lot and we feel close to them.  We had a good meal and visit with them.  We love to get to have personal time with these great young men.  It is so much fun to get to know them better.  Finally we got to attend a very nice reception for the couple that was married in the temple yesterday, mentioned above.  It was a wonderful gathering with many attendees.  The decorations were beautiful and there were some delicious refreshments.  A nice talk about temple marriage was given and then they played dance music.  We danced, and I think it may have been the first time that many of them ever saw missionaries dancing.  But senior missionaries can dance.  We had fun!    

Saturday was a great day!  We had a fun senior missionary activity.  After our long drive to Fort Lee, an army base that is about 120 miles away, we met at the base chapel.  After some visiting and catching up we had an excellent training session.  In addition to a great lesson from our mission president each of the senior couples got to stand up and talk a bit about what they are doing and how it has built their testimony.  There were about 25 missionaries there, and it was fantastic to hear about all of the work they are doing and blessings they are receiving.  We heard story after story about the miracles and tender mercies everyone is experiencing and the blessings they and their families are receiving.  It was quite overwhelming to know that each of these senior missionaries are having real and positive impacts on many people’s lives.  And to think that there are thousands of senior missionaries doing similar things all over the world!  We just feel humbled and blessed to be a small part of Heavenly Father’s work in taking care of his children.  After this enjoyable and uplifting meeting we ate lunch nearby and then toured two fine museums on the base.  First was the Quartermaster Museum.  In the army the quartermasters take care of all sorts of things, all the way from supplies to training animals (like horses and dogs), to sewing flags and driving fuel trucks.  It was an interesting museum that showed how important these behind the scenes people are to the military.  The Army Women’s museum was fascinating too showing how women were integrated into the army.  There was an interesting story about how women in WWI were contracted by the army so did not get any veterans benefits.  So after that a woman in congress spent years trying to get women directly integrated into the army so that they could get veterans benefits.  She was finally successful and by WWII women were officially part of the military.  Two pictures below are from the women’s museum – Lezlie as a WAC and me sitting with a WAC figure.  After the museums we visited a very unusual Civil War site.  Late in the war the Union army had basically surrounded Petersburg, Virginia and were trying to starve out the Confederacy.  The two sides had established strong lines and were dug in about 100 yards away from each other.  There was a section of the Union line that was held by a Pennsylvania regiment, mostly coal miners.  Their commander was a mining engineer.  They came up with a scheme to dig a tunnel underneath the confederate lines and come up behind them.  They were highly successful in digging their tunnel, which was an amazing feat.  It was 510 feet long with several ventilation shafts, and the confederates had no idea there was a tunnel underneath them.  But their use of the tunnel was not as successful.  They decided to blast their way to the surface at the end of the tunnel and wipe out some confederate artillery in the process.  The explosion created a huge crater.  After recovering from the initial blast the confederates lined the rim of the crater.  As union soldiers would rush out into the crater from the bottleneck of the tunnel the confederates would shoot them.  The union soldiers eventually had to retreat back down the tunnel after losing over a thousand soldiers.  So we got to see the actual crater.  We are standing in front of it in the below picture.  After the crater we made the long drive home.  It was a long drive but worth it.  We had a great day with the other senior missionaries. 

Today, Sunday, we found out that our marine in the hospital was discharged and made it safely home to his barracks.  We were very happy for him.  After church we delivered two meals to marine families on base that are having some illnesses.  Our church time had changed to 9:00am so we are enjoying our late afternoon at home.  And we still love being senior missionaries.