Last Sunday I got to teach a lesson in High Priests group and talk about being a senior missionary. I just opened the floor for questions about senior missions, and was flooded with questions. They asked all about the application process, the rules for senior missionaries, the costs, the training at the MTC, and on and on. It was good interaction and I could tell many of them are seriously interested. After a short rest at home we picked up two of our marines and one new member. We took them to the Washington DC temple for a Festival of Lights concert. It was still daylight on the way to the temple, so Lezlie pulled out the bells and we had some ringing Christmas carols in the car. Those bells are loud in the confined spaces of the car! The Christmas lights and displays are always beautiful at the temple and our guests seemed to enjoy everything. The concert was given by Jenny Oaks Baker, a violinist with a small backup orchestra. I am in no way a big violin fan, but she is just fantastic. She played several Christmas songs that were just superb. We were close enough to the front to see her facial expressions and her movements, and it is obvious she feels the music deeply. A highlight was a number by her four children. Their ages are 7 – 13 and they played violin, cello, piano and guitar. They were excellent too. I can only imagine the amount of music practice that goes on in that household. One of my favorites was Amazing Grace. She explained that although it was not really a Christmas carol that it expressed her testimony of Jesus Christ. When she played we surely could feel the spirit there. Our entire group really enjoyed the concert. We took food in the car and everyone enjoyed chatting about the show and eating on the way home. It was a delightful evening, and we are so glad we could take some guests. Our two young marines are from small towns in Utah and they said they had never been to a big concert like this before. It was so humbling to be able to take them. We got a couple of nice pictures of the temple, one just as the sun was going down and another with all the lights.
We had a great lunch with one of our single marines on Monday. This is the young man that had three serious surgeries. He has just recovered enough from his final surgery to enjoy going out for lunch. We had a nice time, and were delighted that this young man feels so much more at ease with us now. He works on the President’s helicopters and told us he was going to arrange a tour for us. We were overwhelmed. That would be so cool. To see how far we have come with this young man who would barely talk to us when we met him a year ago is simply amazing. It is through no skill of our own, but rather the promptings of the spirit guiding us in what we should do to help this young man. An added tender mercy of the day was really the icing on the cake. We ate at Panera Bread and each ordered soup and sandwiches. The bill was about $30. The cashier that was ringing us up was a trainee and the manager was helping her. At the end of the transaction he stepped up the register and started punching in some keys. We thought he was just helping the trainee. But then he handed me a receipt and said, “Thank you for your service Elder, you are good to go.” I looked at the bill and it showed a zero balance. He smiled and said, “I am a church member. Thanks for taking care of some of Heavenly Father’s children.” I explained that the young man was a marine that was under our stewardship and he said that is what he had guessed. I thanked him profusely. What a blessing to be recognized by someone and thanked. His words meant as much as the $30 donation. We were so touched. It is so true that we receive many extra blessings as missionaries.
In a followup story to our lunch with our bachelor marine, one of the things Lezlie asked him is what he would miss about not being home for Christmas. He said that every year his grandma made spudnuts and homemade root beer at Christmas and he would really miss that. You could just see his whole countenance light up as he talked about this tradition with his grandparents. When we got into the car Lezlie said that she had a revelation that she was supposed to find his grandma, get the recipe for the spudnuts, and make some for this young man for Christmas. We knew that one set of senior missionaries was from the same town as this young marine’s grandparents and we knew their last name was Bauer. But we knew this was the last day of their mission! We called them anyway and reached them somewhere in West Virginia, as they had already begun their trip home. They said they knew a family by the name of Bauer and got us the phone number. Lezlie called these Bauers. They said they were not related but they thought they knew of the right Bauer family. Lezlie called them and it was the uncle of our Bauer! He gave us the grandma’s phone number. So with about 3 phone calls we found the grandma! Lezlie had a nice conversation with her and told her how fondly her grandson spoke about her. She said that our marine was her oldest grandchild and that she had always felt close to him. She said he has had a hard life and she worried about him. She also told Lezlie that she was currently battling cancer but had not told our marine because she knew he was going through serious medical issues himself. She said she was doing okay but that the chemo treatments made her very weak. This was going to be the first Christmas that she was not able to make spudnuts for her grandchildren. Lezlie told her not to worry, that she would make spudnuts for her grandson. Lezlie and she both cried. So, she is sending us the recipe today and we will make the spudnuts, buy some fancy root beer, and give them to our young marine on Christmas Day. He is coming to our apartment for a Christmas brunch.
We had a wonderful end of the year family home evening with our The Basic School group. They will all have two weeks off, so we will not meet again until January. We went all out on treats. You can see the evidence in the below photo. Lezlie made toffee, pistachio pudding desert, and chocolate mint brownies. They looked beautiful all laid out on the table. We were a little sad this night because we knew it would be the last time we saw our gal from Moldova. She is leaving for California to finally join her husband at his marine base. We are happy about that. Anyway, we had a great lesson about gifts we can give, and talked about non-material gifts we can give to others – patience, love, understanding, forgiveness, joy, friendship, and on and on. There was a great spirit at the meeting and we all enjoyed it so much. We then did several carols with the bells, which they loved. One of our gals is a percussionist and she brought several items for us to use with the bells – tambourines, shakers, rattles, etc. We had so much fun! All of them were laughing and joking. Then as we were ending up the meeting our gal from Maldova stood up and said, “We all wanted to thank you for your great service to us so we got you a small gift.” They gave us a beautiful snow globe. It shows a book inside and on the book is a beautiful poem about friendship. They also had it inscribed with, “TBS Family Home Evening, 2013 – 2015, Matthew 25:35.”For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. On top of that they gave us a beautiful framed picture with 4 of our long term family home evening attendees at the temple. They had gone to the Festival of Lights together and arranged things so they could get the picture taken. Needless to say we were quite overwhelmed and many tears were shed. We feel so overwhelmed with gratitude just to associate with these young people, and to have them give us a gift was very humbling. We feel like we have done some good with these folks. Here is a picture of the kitchen after the treats were prepared and then one of how they looked on the table at TBS.
Our main activity today, Wednesday, was attending the chaplains briefing for the new The Basic School class. The chaplains briefing is where all of the religious lay leaders get to introduce themselves, including us. This class consists largely of the group that just graduated from Officer Candidate School in November. We had a large group of visitors that attended out family home evenings at OCS. So today we had about a dozen of them come up and say hello and thank us for our service to them at OCS. Once again we felt totally humbled by their words. We feel like we get so much out of this work that we should be thanking them for letting us be a part of their lives for their short time at Quantico. It was just delightful to see them again and we simply felt overwhelming love for these good young folks.
Our Thursday began with a long shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society. We have been crazy busy there the last few weeks and today was no exception. On an average day I might do 1 or 2 budgets. Today I did four. I was running and hustling the whole time. But it is good to help these young marine families. We always love our work at NMCRS. I also finished a project for the NMCRS office. The front door of our office trailer does not face the parking lot and we did not have a sign on the parking lot side of the trailer. Some folks had trouble finding us. So I made a sign to put up on the parking lot side of the trailer. It was not complicated, just a plastic logo sign on a white board. But it was fun to do a little project with my hand tools. It turned out well. We were schedule to take two young people to the Washington DC temple to attend one of the Christmas concerts. But one of them cancelled out and the other was late. By then traffic was so heavy we were not going to make it in time for the concert. Instead we took the young marine out to dinner. He wanted to go to a fancy sub shop that he knew. We were not thrilled to go out for submarine sandwiches as we eat at Subway once or twice a week. But that is what he wanted so we went there. It was an excellent sub shop and we did enjoy the food. But even more important than that, our young marine loved it. He liked the food but he was also happy to introduce us to a new restaurant and tell us all about it. He used to go to this chain of sub shops back home in Chicago with his dad, so it was nostalgic for him too. So even though the concert did not work out we had a good time with our marine friend.
On Friday we did a lot of Christmas preparations. We are so excited that Aaron is coming to visit for Christmas. We have been trying to make extra special preparations to make sure we have good activities and good food. We would also like him to experience a little of what we do on our mission. We also got to deliver four more sets of Christmas goodies. We were especially happy to find one of our bachelor marines working on the front gate so we delivered his treats there. His coworker was pretty happy too. We also caught up with another hard-to-catch bachelor at this barracks, which made us happy. That leaves one family among all of our marines that we have left for a Christmas delivery. We are hoping to catch them Sunday evening.
On Saturday we attended our Senior Missionary Christmas party. It was held at the mission home in Richmond. This is where the Mission President and his wife live. The other senior missionaries here, the Andersons, rode with us. We love the Andersons and are so sad that they are leaving in mid January. We have been to the mission home a couple of times but had never before seen the entire house. They gave us a tour this time. In the basement are enough beds for 12 young elders. Upstairs there were enough beds for 10 young sisters. The first and last nights on their mission are spent at the mission home. It is a beautiful big home and we enjoyed being there. They had lovely Christmas decorations including two trees. For dinner they served us ham, scalloped potatoes, broccoli and rolls, and then a delicious trifle for desert. Then we sang some carols and had a short Christmas message from President Wilson. Finally we did a white elephant gift exchange that was great fun. Lezlie and I ended up with a jigsaw puzzle and a scarf. It is always inspiring and strengthening to be with the other senior missionaries. They are a bunch of competent, friendly, and dedicated folks, and we feel it an honor to be a part of the group. Here is a picture that was taken at the party.
Our Sunday sacrament service was excellent. We had lots of music including the choir and a special piano, violin duet, all excellent. Each of the members of the bishopric gave a short Christmas talk. Everyone was dressed in their best Christmas clothes, so there was a lot of red and green sprinkling the pews. We helped a young marine with his children in primary for the 2nd hour and were about to walk out to go to our 3rd hour classes. A member of the bishopric grabbed us and asked us to teach the 4 year olds as their teachere was absent. So with no prior notice we made up a lesson for four 4 year olds. Lezlie made up some questions about Christmas and we asked what gift they would give to Jesus for Christmas. We had them make some small ornaments and them Lezlie drew a large stable on the blackboard. The children drew in all of the nativity people and things. It went well and we enjoyed being with the kids. We made our final Christmas goodies deliveries Sunday evening. We had one new marine that we just met last week. He and his wife of six months are here for The Basic School. We got to meet her and their sweet little dog. It was a nice visit.
We wish all of you, our family and friends, a wonderful Christmas full of joy and peace. We also wish you a most Happy New Year. We hope to see all of you in 2015.