Sunday, November 30, 2014

Billings' Thanksgiving Visit

Our Saturday began with a long drive to Tappahannock, Virginia.  There we attended a senior missionary activity.  It was great fun.  We always love to be around the other seniors and to be inspired by the stories of their work.  Each senior couple shared a short spiritual thought, and they were all very inspiring and strengthening. Then we headed south to meet our daughter Anne and Rex, Leah, Alex, Brenna, Eli and Zach on their drive to our home.  It was great fun because we surprised the children.  We parked at a McDonalds and texted Anne our exact location.   Then Anne and Rex just drove into the parking lot next to us.  The grandkids  were so surprised! Then we got to drive back home with them and have a nice visit in the car.  Even though it was late everyone talked all the way home because we were all excited to see each other.  We had a quick tour of the apartment – it doesn’t take long for a 2 bedroom place – and figured out how to bed everyone down in our small home.  It was tight but we worked it all out.  And the apartment was alive with the sound of happy children.

On Sunday we got to take all of the Billings to our ward here, the Quantico Ward.  Things were made a bit tricky by a flat tire on their van that we discovered as we were loading up for church.  But we made two trips, got everyone to church, and things worked out fine.  It was so nice to have them meet some of the folks we have told them about.  Everyone was very nice to all the Billings.  Each one of the kids had a good time at Nursery/Primary/Young Womens.   After a quick lunch at home most of us drove to Manassas.  Lezlie stayed home with Zach, partially because he was sound asleep taking a nap but also becaus we only had one van.  Everyone enjoyed walking around the beautiful fields at Manassas.  But they were also respectful in that they knew it was a battleground.  We saw a movie and read all about the two Civil War battles that took place at Manassas.  Alex and Rex read every single historical sign.  It was great for eveyone to learn about history and see some of the background of the Civil War.  In the evening we had a pumpkin bread baking frenzy.  Lezlie and Anne, with the help of Leah, Alex, Brenna, Eli and Zach, made about 40 loaves of pumpkin bread, wrapped them in saran wrap, tied a ribbon around each, and added a Thanksgiving spiritual message to every one.  It was quite a production.  They did a great job. Here are the grandkids helping with the bread.  

Monday morning could have been a disaster. But it was not.  Actually things worked out quite well.  We were able to pick up the Billings’ repaired van tire at 7am and get it onto the car by about 7:45am.  Rex had a dental issue that was troubling him, so we walked into the dentist that Lezlie and I go to at 8am when it opened.  They welcomed Rex as if he were an established patient and told him they could see him within the hour.  By 9:15am Rex’s dental issue was fixed and shortly thereafter we were headed for our visit to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  It was a gorgeous day for late November, up in the 60s.  We had a wonderful visit.  Rex loved the history, the grandkids loved all the statues and monuments, and Anne loved hearing my stories of being a midshipman.  We saw the chapel, museum, Bancroft Hall, the midshipman store, the midshipmen's noon meal formation, the dining hall, and the 7th wing where I lived for 3 years.  It was a great visit, and I was proud and happy to show off my alma mater to family members.   Who knows, maybe someday one of the grandkids will go there.  All of them have seen USNA now.  The pictures are Zach inside a cannon, the grandkids at the Class of 73 bench, and us watching the midshipmen at noon meal formation. After an unbelievably quick drive home through Wash DC traffic we went to a nearby seafood restaurant located on the Potomac River.  Everyone got to try some local crab and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  We had to do an urgent missionary visit after that.  A dog who belonged to one of our dear friends at the Quantico Ward died in the morning.  This man lives alone and his dog had been with him almost 14 years.  So we really wanted to go see him and provide some comfort since we understood what he was going through because of our dog background.  So the Billings family went home and we went for a visit.  He cried in our arms as he talked about his sweet little dog.  It was kind of a sad ending to an otherwise joyful day. He will get lots of support and comfort from the ward, though, and we know he will be okay eventually.  When we returned home we had a Family home evening with our family about teamwork.  We then used teamwork to make trail mix to take with us on our future excursions.

We were lucky that an Officer Candidate School (OCS) graduation parade took place while Anne’s family was here.  We loaded up early Tuesday morning and arrived at the base just before the parade started.  All of the grandkids were impressed by the marching marines, the excellent band, and the loud cannons.  It was quite a spectacle for them.  After the parade we got to greet several of the marines that we had befriended at our weekly services, and it was such a joy to see them on this important day in their lives.  We got several hugs and many thank yous, which all helped Anne and Rex get a better understanding of what we do here.  Next we toured the Marine Corps Museum, and everyone really loved it.  It was great to see the grandkids learning so much about our country’s history and about the marines.  It just so happened that we were still there when the OCS commissioning ceremony took place.  So we all got to hear the new 2nd Lieutenants from OCS sing the Marine Hymn.  It was very cool.  Next we traveled back onto the base and showed the family our Navy Marine Corps Relief Society offices, which is where we spend a lot of time volunteering.  It was fun to show them where we work and introduce them to our friends there.  Then we split up into two groups and delivered about 30 loaves of pumpkin bread with a Thanksgiving spiritual message to almost all of our marine families.  The kids really enjoyed it especially since they had helped prepare the loaves of bread.  It gave them a small insight into one of the things we do here on our mission.  We ended the night with our TBS family home evening.  It was a small group but it went well.  We had a lesson on gratitude and the kids helped by holding up pictures about the lesson and reading scriptures that were written on the back.  Since Zach can’t read we had him hold up a picture of Marine Captain Herrera, an injured marine whom we discussed in the lesson.  Zach was just supposed to say, “This is Captain Herrera.”  But Zach likes to pretend he is reading.  When he heard the other kids read scriptures he pretended like he was reading scriptures.  So he said, “Behold Captain Herrera….”  and then made up some words that sounded like scriptures to him. He stopped and started about 5 times, and each time he would say, “Behold Captain Herrera.”  It was quite funny and cute in a very innocent way.  The kids seemed to enjoy the family home evening, and it also helped all of the Billings see a little bit of what we do here.  It was a long, tiring day, but it was also a wonderful day.  These photos show us greeting some of our marines at the OCS graduation parade.

We had planned to go to Washington DC today, Wednesday, and Mt Vernon on Thanksgiving Day.  But the weather forecast called for rain, snow, and cold wind.  So at the last minute we switched our plans and went to Mt Vernon instead.  We were lucky to be able to do so because we had tickets for Mt Vernon as well as things in DC.  But we successfully switched everything around.  It worked out really well.  The bad weather kept the crowds small at Mt Vernon.  We did not have to spend too much time outside, and luckily there was a lull in the rain when we were out.  And we spent a long time in the excellent museum.  The grandkids had a ball at the there with the many videos and hands on exhibits.  It turned out really well and we were so glad we could visit George Washington’s home.  Even though the restaurant there, the Mt Vernon Inn, was supposedly full we were able to get a table for lunch.  We had a great meal and fun time there too (see picture).  To start the holiday season we watched Elf that night after we got home from Mt Vernon.  It was great!

Thanksgiving Day is an excellent day to tour Washington DC.  There was very little traffic and we found things quiet downtown.  We were able to park right near the mall and see even more things than planned.  We first found a parking spot near the Lincoln Monument and got to walk around it for a few minutes.  It is always spectacular.  We even got some picture without a bunch of other people in the background. We then had a great drive around the National Mall so that we could see most of the monuments and famous building.  While Rex and I parked the cars everyone else got to tour the National Art Gallery, which they enjoyed.  Next we saw the National Museum of Natural History.  Everyone’s favorite area was the gem stones.  We loved the diamonds, rubies and gold.  And the ladies and girls really loved the fantastic jewelry.  After a good lunch at the museum cafeteria we went on to the National Museum of American History.  Our favorite exhibit there was the original Star Spangled Banner.  Eli, our 6 year old grandson who loves patriotic songs, sang the Star Spangled Banner while looking at the flag.  It was very touching.  We also enjoyed the Presidents exhibit, especially the first lady’s dresses and the president’s timeline.  We finally made our way across the mall to the Washington Monument.  Anne had reserved tickets for us, and we got to step onto the elevator almost immediately after we arrived.  It was spectacular.  We had a clear day to see the view, and we really enjoyed it.  We could see from the Reagan Airport to the Capital Building and way out into the Potomac River.  We finally made the long trek back to the car, detouring right past the White House for a good view of that.  We had an easy drive home with almost no traffic.  We then enjoyed a turkey breast we had cooked all day in the crock pot.  Rex was even able to stream the Seahawks football game, so we wound down the night watching a little football.  It was a long and tiring day, but boy was it fun. 

For the last day of Billings’ visit we toured Colonial Williamsburg.  Even though we had a mini-crisis because I forgot the tickets, we got it all straightened out and had an impressive tour of Williamsburg.   Some of the grandkids’ favorites were the blacksmith, the tailor, the jewelry maker, and the gun smith.  They really enjoyed asking the historical actors questions.  We had an excellent lunch at one of the old time inns, and some got to tour the Governors Palace.  The kids got to try out some colonial era games too.  Although it was a bit cold, we did have a clear and dry day.  We all really enjoyed Williamsburg and learned a lot about colonial times.  We all spent the night in a hotel nearby and had a nice evening just relaxing in our hotel rooms. 

After a quick breakfast Saturday morning and lots of packing up the Billings headed south for Houston and we headed  north for Woodbridge.  It was sad to say goodbye, but we have much missionary work yet to do in our remaining three months.  So after a long, quiet drive home we spent time putting things away and regrouping to get ready for our weeks’ activities.  The apartment seemed sadly quiet after having two extra adults and four energetic children here all week.  It was a wonderful, wonderful visit.  We are so grateful to Anne, Rex, Leah, Alex, Brenna, Eli and Zach for all the energy, time and resources they spent to come here and visit us.  We loved every minute of it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Happy Veterans Day

Besides a good checkup at the dentist this Monday we had a wonderful family home evening with a marine family.  We developed a new Power Point lesson on Teamwork.  It went very well and the children behaved nicely.  They enjoyed it too.  For a teamwork activity we took our bells and had the family play several songs, which they greatly enjoyed.  For a teamwork snack we gave each family member a small paper bag of some sort of trail mix food.  Then each of them dumped their bag into a large bowl, we shook it up, and then we had trail mix.  That was great fun too.  This was a very active church family and it was such a nice time being welcomed into the home, the family participating fully, and having such a warm and peaceful setting for our lesson.  Being with this family made us realize how long we have been here.  We recall one of our first visits with them and she was pregnant.  Now their little boy is over one and is almost a toddler rather than a baby.  He was a joy to watch. So we had a wonderful time and felt like the family home evening was successful.
Our Tuesday morning was filled with zone training.  Half of our zone, about twenty elders and sisters, got together for some small group training with the Mission President and his wife.  It went well and there were some good training lessons.  After taking some elders to lunch we dashed down to the base.  We had developed a short spiritual message appropriate for Veterans Day.  We decided no treats this time since we just did Halloween treats and will soon do Thanksgiving ones.  So we just taped our message on the front door of each of our marine families.  We stopped at twenty front doors.  That was fun.  In between times we also texted about a dozen of our past marines that are all over the country now.   Finally we visited the home of a less active marine family and provided our teamwork family home evening.  It went very well, even beyond what we had hoped for.  They loved playing the bells and kept asking to do just one more song.  They really enjoyed making the trail mix and eating it.  As we were getting ready to leave their five year old girl said, “When are you going to come back?”  We just laughed, but the dad said we have to come back again next month for another FHE.  We were so pleased about how well this visit went.  We just love this family and want them to experience all of the blessings available to them if they just get back into coming to church. 

We spent much of Wed morning day baking.  Lezlie made several dozen of her no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies and I baked a double batch of snicker doodles.  We are glad we did extra baking because we had 29 at our Officer Candidate School family home evening.  There were widely varying emotions tonight.  About half of the students were elated and smiling because they have 12 days left and they know they will make it.  Many other were very concerned because they have to appear before a review board because of poor academics or leadership.  At the board the OCS Commanding Officer will decide whether they stay or are dropped.  If they are dropped they get them out of there very quickly and within hours they are headed home.  So we tried to offer a lot of encouragement and good wishes.  We had an excellent lesson by Lezlie on obedience and it went very well.  In this lesson she uses pictures of the candidates that she gets off of the OCS website.  The Marines always love to see themselves up on the screen.  As we have said before we have only 2 church members that attend our mid-week family home evenings.  Tonight I had about ten of the non-members thank us for our services.  They said things like "we love coming here on Wednesday nights”, “thank you for your lessons that were very helpful to us”, “we appreciate all of the wonderful food you provided”, “thanks for your encouragement,"  and so on.   It is overwhelming to us that we can be a part of this pivotal period in their lives.  We do not feel like we are doing anything extraordinary.  We are just trying to look after these young people like we would want our own children looked after in a similar situation.  We learned a lesson about turning things over to Heavenly Father tonight.  We checked the traffic conditions online as usual, and the map said it would take us 30 minutes to get to the base.  We added some margin and left 45 minutes early.  The traffic was terrible and it took us an hour and 5 minutes to get there.  We thought that the group would all be there waiting for us and we were worried about getting everything set up quickly.  But it turns out they were about 5 minutes late so we had plenty of time to get our computer and projector set up and get all the refreshments ready.  This is the first time they have not been there early.  God knew we had made our best effort to get there on time and took care of the rest.  We need to have faith that when we make our best effort God will make sure everything works out.

Yesterday, Veterans Day, we sent messages and emails to many or our marines that have moved on from Quantico.  We wished them all a Happy Veterans Day and sent our best regards. We received some humbling responses that brought us great joy.  We are including some of these notes below.  We share them not to claim any credit, but just to let you know how wonderful it is to be a Senior Missionary and to be an important part of these young lives for a short period of time.  Here are a couple of the best notes.
Elder and Sister Couch,
I got your text today and just wanted to wish you a happy Veteran's day and thank you for your service in the military also. It's always inspiring for those of use who are currently serving to see the example of people like you who provide examples of both faithful gospel living and military service. 

I also realized I never thanked you for your gift at graduation, I've been using the book during my personal study and am enjoying it.  I also wanted to thank you for everything you did during my time at OCS and TBS, it was a huge support to me.  I don't know that you realize how much I appreciated seeing you that first time at OCS, knowing that I would have a connection to the Church was a huge support to me and I always looked forward to Church and FHE to break up the challenges of training and provide perspective as I was going through OCS.  I will always be grateful for the rest of my life that you two chose to serve a mission so that me and the other Marines like me would have that support during the challenging adjustment to life in the Marines.
I hope you're doing well and that the Marines at TBS and the candidates at OCS are doing well.  I've been good, I'm currently in Salt Lake City, working with the Officer Selection Team.  My MOS school starts in January in Camp Pendleton, so I'll be headed down there then.
Happy Veterans Day to you as well Brother Couch.  You and Sister Couch were our saviors on Mount Zion throughout USMC training.  Thank You. 

During our six hour Thursday shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society today Lezlie gave out $2000 to marines.  She was busy.  A lot of marines were happy when they left our office. 
We were able to take a marine wife out to lunch on Friday.  We took out our gal from Moldova out.  She has been struggling lately with decisions about her career, both civilian and in the Army Reserve.  So we had a long talk with her about making sure she stays close to God, prays about these issues, and seeks answers in the scriptures and in the Temple.  We just love this young lady and want her to find happiness in her situation, but there is not much we can do but be there for her and pray for her.  We also got to take out one of our bachelor marines for dinner.  This young man is the one that married his high school sweetheart and she divorced him 3 months later.  He was heartbroken and year ago when he told us about this.  But today he even made a joke about it, so he is healing.  He is an outstanding young man and we had a great time visiting with him.  Much to our surprise he bought dinner for us.  He just slipped his credit card up to the cashier when he rang up the bill and insisted on buying us dinner.  We were surprised and very grateful.  He said he appreciated our support and wanted to buy us a meal this time.  It was great fun to be with him. 

Another of our young bachelor marines has been struggling a bit lately.  He is a fairly new member of the church and is a great young man.  When he first moved here a senior marine sergeant took him under his wing and gave him a ride to church every week.  But then the sergeant moved away and our young man kind of got lost.  He had not been answering our calls or texts.  We stopped by his barracks on Veterans Day and left him a card thanking him for his service.  He contacted us and thanked us for the card so we invited him out to lunch.  He seemed happy to see us and talked about all sorts of things.  He also ate a large lunch that he really enjoyed.  We invited him to come to church with us and he said yes!  So we were very happy that we got to spend some time with this young man.  We also had another great experience.  We were able to visit our young bachelor marine that is having major surgery at the end of the week.  We also invited another young bachelor marine as well as his hometeacher.  We all met at  his barracks and we gave him a blessing.   He seemed to appreciate everyone stopping by and has a good attitude about getting through this last surgery.  It was a sweet visit and we were so glad everyone we invited showed up.  Finally we got to take two young Elders out to dinner.  They said they had been dreaming of some Mexican food so we took them to a nearby place and had an excellent dinner.  As usual it was very enjoyable to spend a little time with the Elders and get to know them a little better. 

Sunday was bitter sweet- most of our  candidates that thought they would be going home did get dropped. We really become attached to these fine young men and women, and they put so much into being here it is really heartbreaking to see them get hurt, and disappointed. We were excited to have 2 bachelor marines coming to church with us, but the active one got called into work, and the inactive one, just said he couldn't make it at the last minute. However, church was good, and there were some folks there we hadn't seen for a while, so all ended well. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Grateful to Be Here

We had a very gratifying experience on Monday morning.  One of our marine wives recently told us about a friend of hers that had been asking her some questions about the Mormon Church because her church had offered a class on Mormonism which  had some very interesting concepts which were very interesting, but very far from what we believe. The marine wife asked if we would talk to her because she was not sure how to answer all of her friend’s questions.  So we did.  We prepared as best we could and loaded up our bag with pamphlets, books, and our scriptures.  She turned out to be a very, very nice lady.  She was not hostile or confrontational at all, just curious.  She told us all sorts of outlandish things she had been taught in the class about Mormonism, and we helped to clarify what the real story is inside the church.   We were pleased that we were able to answer all of her questions and we realized how much we have learned on our mission.  She was anxious to hear our story of converting to the LDS church.  We gave her a Book of Mormon and some other things to read, and she said she would read them.  Although she was just  curious rather than interested in joining the church, we felt that we taught her truthfully and represented the Church well.  It was a very good experience and we had a very pleasurable discussion about religion in general .  We told her we would be glad to meet with her again if she wanted.  At least we know that she no longer believes we are a secretive, cultish people that worship Joseph Smith and do not allow anyone in our meetings. We also got to go out with our young female friend  from Richland that is here at the FBI Academy.  We ate at a Bahama Breeze restaurant, which was a new one for us.  It was great fun with excellent island music and delicious Caribbean food.  She just completed her FBI certification as a Forensic Scientist as a fingerprint specialist.  It is fascinating to hear from her how they do their work.   Her certification program was really long and hard, which is as it should be since the FBI is the best.  She is a great gal and we have really enjoyed getting to know her better here. 

We worked a long shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this week.  It was an interesting day.  I had a case with a retired Navy woman like I have never had before.  She had numerous loans for thousands of dollars from NMCRS, and had recently defaulted on two loans.  Her story about her needs did not add up and she had no documents to prove it.  So I had to sit down with her one-on-one and tell her no.  She was very angry.  It was one of the worst cases I ever had.  But my main feeling for this young woman was sadness.  She blamed everyone else for her troubles but did not want to do the real work needed to help herself.  In contrast I had a very nice young male marine from Montana.  He did not want a loan but just wanted to work through a budget so that he could figure out how to save some money.  He was pleasant, respectful and grateful.  Quite a contrast from the lady I dealt with.   Today we got a copy of the performance statistics for our NMCRS office.  We are proud to be a part of this office and we think we did some good work over the past year.  So here is our data:  Total cases – 829, loans given - 609, grants given – 78, and total amount provided $498, 604.  We helped a lot of marines this year.  

We got to teach another Temple Preparation lesson to our friend from the ward.  He is always a joy to visit, and we had a nice time.  We will be excited to see him go to the temple.

On Thursday we attended a Zone Conference.  This is the zone meeting when our Mission President and his wife attend and give training.  This one was a little different because it involved two zones.  So instead of 40 missionaries we had about 80.  We had some very good training, especially from Sister Wilson who taught us to be happy in our work.  One of the Sisters that works in our ward sang a sweet version of I Believe in Christ.  It was pretty spectacular and the feeling of the spirit was obvious.  When she finished there was absolute silence.  President Wilson paused for a moment before he stood up to speak and it was a delicious moment.  The strength of the spirit was enormous.  Some women from one of the local wards prepared an excellent lunch for us – various soups, salad, rolls, and brownies with ice cream.  As is traditional we all stood in a semicircle around these sisters and sang Called to Serve to thank them.  It is pretty overwhelming to have 80 missionaries surrounding you and singing with zeal (see pics).  All of the ladies were crying as the missionaries sang.  It was pretty touching.  In the evening we fed dinner to our two elders in the Quantico Ward that are also our zone leaders.  We love these guys and really enjoyed feeding them and getting to know them better.  The senior companion has been here for six months so we know him well.  He has been here for dinner several times.  The other Elder is a new zone leader.  He is the black Elder from Louisiana that we have mentioned before.  He is a very bright and articulate young man and we have enjoyed being trained by him very much.  It is always a delight to feed the missionaries and we had a good time

Friday was Stake Temple day so we spent a long afternoon and evening at the Washington DC temple.  We traveled up to the temple with the other senior couple here in Woodbridge, the Andersons.  We have come to be good friends with them and love to spend time together.  We attended a nice temple endowment session and then had some time before a special stake meeting was to be held.  We had barely enough time to leave the temple to go out to eat, or we had plenty of time to go to the vending machine cafeteria in the basement.  We chose the latter.  Although it sounds bad, the vending machine cafeteria is pretty nice.  They have packaged dinners, pizzas and sandwiches with several microwaves.  The nice thing about eating there is that it gave us plenty of time to just sit and visit.  We greatly enjoyed getting to know the Andersons better.  They are interesting and accomplished folks.  He was an agriculture professor at BYU-I and she was a nurse.  I don’t know if we mentioned this before, but in one of those amazing coincidences we discovered that our daughter Carrie and their son Seth were on a program together in China about 10 years ago.  Carrie dug into her scrapbook and found this picture of them together in China (Seth is 2nd from the left and Carrie is on the right).  And to think that these many years later his folks and us are serving together as senior missionaries!  Pretty remarkable!  After our delightful chat with Andersons we attended a stake meeting held in a special assembly room on the top floor of the temple.  It was a beautiful room and we had some powerful speakers.  It was great to see so many people we knew from our ward at the meeting.  We finally journeyed home via a Wendy’s for some ice cream.  It was an excellent temple day. 
Our Saturday morning we attended a very pleasant baptism.  A sweet young girl, about 12, that has

Down ’s syndrome was baptized.  In cases like this the Bishop does a very careful interview to make sure the person is capable of understanding what they are doing and what they are accepting.  He did so in this case and determined that this girl was capable of understanding what she was doing.  She was very happy and smiley the whole time.  When she came up out of the water after the baptism she had a huge grin and let out the most joyful laughter possible.  Everyone was moved by it.  At the end of the service she bore a short but very sincere testimony that she was happy to follow Jesus.  Every baptism is good, but this one was very special.  After that we traveled to Mt Vernon (George Washington’s home) where we met Jerry Hong, father of Matt Hong, our daughter Carrie’s husband.  Jerry was in this area for a business trip and called to ask us out to lunch.  He is staying near Mt Vernon so we met there and ate in their cafeteria. We had an excellent time discussing our children and grandchildren.  It was fun to share some stories about Danny, Kaylee and Abby that the other had not yet heard.  We very objectively agreed that we have the smartest, kindest, most beautiful grandchildren in the world.  After Jerry left we took advantage of our season passes and did a short tour of the Mt Vernon museum.  We scoped things out so that we can be all ready to take Anne and all her family through when they visit us at Thanksgiving.   It was a quick but enjoyable tour.  What an amazing man – George Washington.
Sunday morning began with a service on the base for our dear Officer Candidate School students.  We do love being able to meet with them.  We had a good discussion today about faith.  We only had four females today, and they are all still worried about finishing.  Even though they have only two more weeks there still are some hard things left.  We talked about having faith in themselves to accomplish this hard goal.  Our one LDS gal is quite worried because she has had trouble with academics.  She has not scored well overall on her written tests so she has an academic board this week.  She asked for a blessing and of course we gave her one.  She cried but we know she left feeling better.  Although there were only 4 young ladies there today they ate almost every bit of the fruit and muffins we provided.   One of the best times during these meetings is the last 30 minutes when they have eaten their fill and are just sitting and talking with each other.  They share their triumphs and challenges at OCS and buoy up each other’s spirits.  It is wonderful to see.  We feel so grateful that we get to work with this wonderful group of young people, and we are continually inspired by their dedication and effort.  After OCS we have to go directly to church for our regular meetings.   Today the speakers all followed the topic of gratitude.  A young marine couple that is new to the ward spoke, and they gave exceptional talks on this subject.  We have visited them and they are in a tough situation right now.  He had some sort of injury so cannot do his regular marine job.  He is being evaluated by a medical board for discharge.  They were transferred here from Japan and they have not yet received their shipment of household goods.  So their home is almost bare and they have only a suitcase full of clothes.  But they stood there and talked about how grateful they were for their family, their health, prayer, the earth, and their faith.  It was very heartwarming and moving.  We were so glad we were there to hear this humble marine family show such tremendous examples of faith and gratitude.  It made us remember how grateful we are for our many, many blessings.  Right now we are grateful for our mission here in Virginia.  We are also very grateful for all of our family and friends that have been so supportive of our mission.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween week

We wrote about our fun Senior Missionary activity last weekend.  One of the other sisters sent us this nice picture of the group.  The man on the far right of the top photo is our mission president, President Wilson, from Minnesota. Unfortunately Sister Wilson was taking the picture.  There were about 8 senior missionaries that did not make it to this activity.

We have done a lot of baking recently.  Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal no-bakes, peanut butter, chocolate brownies.  Whew!  We did make it to the base and delivered our Halloween treats to 6 marine families.  All were happy to see us and we had some good talks with folks.  We also saw our ward friend Will to whom we are teaching the Temple Prep classes.  We had an excellent lesson with him and a good discussion.  He is a good man and seems to just soak up the things that we are discussing.  

Tuesday we attended a Navy Marine Corps Relief Society training.  We drove the other 4 attendees down to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, about 90 miles.  It was an all day training session so it was a long day.  The big event was our talent performance.  The theme of the meeting was about talents, so during the lunch break they had a mini talent show.  Ahead of time they had asked the various groups of volunteers from different bases to perform or display any talent.  Our director had remembered our bells from last Christmas.  So we dusted off the bells, and Lezlie wrote down the notes for the Marines Hymn and Anchors Aweigh.  We had a few minutes of practice in the car but that was it.  But we did pretty good considering there was essentially zero practice.  At least everyone recognized the songs.  The training was okay but a little irrelevant to Lezlie and me.  But we enjoyed visiting with new folks, getting to know the other volunteers from Quantico a little better, and supporting our director.  We also had our The Basic School family home evening and our 5 faithful attendees were all there.  We had a superb discussion based upon a recent General Conference talk, “Which Way do you Face.”  It is basically about the choice between facing God and obeying His commandments or facing man and doing what he wants you to do.  We had a wonderful discussion and the spirit was felt strongly.  Those young people are so smart and in tune.  It is a delight to spend time with them.

We experienced a busy, busy Wednesday, leaving the house at 10am and returning home at 9pm.  We first attended the Para Chapel meeting, which is a get together of all the religious service volunteers on base.  We got to hear from the head chaplain and talk about our programs.  We then had a few minutes to deliver some Halloween goodies to one family before our next meeting.  This was a family with 7 children, and the mom’s sister, who has 3, was visiting.  So we had 10 kids bunched around the front door oogling the plate of cookies.  But it was great fun.  We attended a chaplains briefing at The Basic School, which is the time when we get to introduce ourselves to the new TBS class.  But we did not have any LDS in the class.  Boo!  We next had our Officer Candidate School family home evening, and we had 30 attendees.  I know we have said over and over again how wonderful it is to be a part of this group.  We get to be one of the bright spots in their week, and it is supremely rewarding to give them encouragement, advice, and a shoulder to cry on.  It is so humbling to be with them.  We try to cheer them up and encourage them in any way we can.

Today was another day to deliver Halloween cookies and visit several families.  Our main focus today were our off-base families in Stafford, which is a bit farther away than the base for us.  We were able to visit 3 families and found that a 4th family was on vacation in Oregon.  But we had some very nice visits with some excellent marine families.  We also had an enjoyable lunch with our single female marine.  This is a young lady that works as a security guard for the president’s helicopter airfield.  She is from Southern Utah and had not eaten much seafood before.  So we took her to Tim’s Crab Shack, a very eclectic restaurant on the Potomac River near us.  We only found it through a recommendation because it is way off the beaten path.  We had a great lunch of hard shell crabs, crab cakes and clams.  She really enjoyed learning how to get the good crab meat out of the shell and she ate a dozen steamed baby clams like a veteran.  It was great fun and we had a really good visit with her.  We finished our evening with one last visit on the base as we headed back home.  There is a new family that is in kind of a sad situation.  The husband had some kind of accident and is injured.  He has to use a cane to walk.  He is undergoing a medical board, which is a long drawn out review of his situation.  The medical board is important because they decide whether or not he will can stay in and have limited duty, be retired with full or partial pay, or just discharged because the accident had nothing to do with the marines.  So he is in total limbo status right now.  And the worst thing is, they moved here from Okinawa and their furniture and stuff will not arrive for another month.  There house is almost bare except for a small kitchen table and their beds.  But they are doing their best to be optimistic about it.  We felt very blessed to live as comfortably as we do when we saw this young family struggling with medical issues and living in a bare house.  It was another long day of visits and talking with marines and marine families.  It was great.  We feel so grateful to be here.

We had a good zone meeting on Halloween day.  Lots of good training and testimonies.  The other senior missionaries and us decided the young elders and sisters needed something for Halloween.  So we made tangerine jack-o-lanterns and they made tootsie roll pop ghosts.  The elders and sisters seemed to enjoy them.  After finally getting all of our riders delivered back home we finally got back about 2:00pm.  We had many chores to do at home so we just stayed in the rest of the afternoon.  After delivering about twenty plates of Halloween cookies in a week it was good to have some down time.     

Our big activity on this Saturday was to take one of our bachelor marines out to lunch.  After a few problems finding a place for lunch, one was overcrowded and another was closed, we ended up at Ricky’s Chicken.  We had driven past the place before and decided it would either be a dive or a hidden gem because it looked a little sketchy.  It turned out to be a hidden gem.  They had Peruvian style rotisserie chicken, and it was excellent.  Our marine found a drink he liked, something like “Horchati.”  It is a Mexican rice  milk drink that has a cinnamon flavor.  He had been looking for somewhere to get it so he was pleased.  So our chicken sandwiches were excellent as was his steak and cheese sandwich.  We were so pleased to be able to chat with this young marine.  He is our guy that has had two major intestinal surgeries and has one more to go.  He has really opened up to us and was talking about all kinds of things.  He even was joking and poking fun at us, something new and enjoyable.  In the past he has been pretty quiet.   He talked about what will happen after his last surgery, which is a full medical board or evaluation.  That will determine whether or not he will be able to stay in the Marine Corps.  We greatly enjoyed our time with this marine and felt like he enjoyed it too.   In addition to our nice outing with our bachelor we were able to visit one marine family that we missed Halloween week.  Except for two families that were on vacation out of state we delivered Halloween treats to every one of our marines and families. 

We had a small but excellent sacrament meeting with our Officer Candidate School marines this Sunday morning.  We had 5 attendees, which allowed for lots of good discussion.  They are undergoing such challenging trials, mentally, physically and emotionally.  So they really have to dig deep to find strength and resources to get them through.  That makes them so open to talking about things like courage, hope, confidence, leadership, and so forth.  We had a great talk.  Also, they have only three and a half weeks left, and graduation is starting to seem real to them.  They actually are starting to believe they will make it.  One of our gals, is very worried about her academics though.  After half of the written exams she has a 72 point average, and she needs an 80 to graduate.  So we did what we could to encourage her and help her feel more confident.  We have to rush from OCS directly to our ward meetings, which were very good today.  Our lesson is the High Priests Group was especially good today.  It was based on a talk Elder Holland about pursuing happiness.  He said, “The best chance for being happy is to do the things that happy people do.  Live the way happy people live. Walk the path that happy people walk. And your chances to find joy in unexpected moments, to find peace in unexpected places, to find the help of angels when you didn’t even know they knew you existed improves exponentially.”  I thought that was pretty good advice.  We have found that this chance in our lives to spend most of our time focused on helping others has brought us great happiness. 

We mentioned before that we got to visit Shenandoah National Park and see some beautiful scenery.  Although it was wonderful there we have decided that our heavily wooded Quantico Marine Base has just as beautiful Fall colors.  Here is my favorite tree, one that we drive by almost every time we are on the base.