Monday, February 23, 2015

Goodbye Mission and Goodbye Virginia

Monday was a day of changes because of the fickle finger of weather.  We started out our morning with a great walk at the mall.  We had been keeping tabs on the weather forecast because a big snow storm is on the way for the evening.  We had planned on holding our The Basic School family home evening at our house so that participants did not have to drive too far in the snow.  But the forecast got worse and the snowfall began earlier than expected.  So we had to cancel the FHE.  It was a sad way to say goodbye to our last two faithful attendees, but it would have been dangerous for them to be out driving around in the heavy snow.  We also were going to have dinner with our niece who is visiting Virginia, but we cancelled that because of the snow too.  We did, however, have a delightful lunch with some dear friends in the ward.  They are an older couple that served a senior mission several years ago.  They kind of adopted us.  Our very first Sunday here they invited us over for dinner.  They also had us for dinner a couple of other times, including on Mother’s Day. They are in their early 80s and are active and involved with many things.  They are kind or our role models of how we would like to be in 15 years.   We had a great visit with them at lunch.  We will miss them a lot and it was a hard goodbye.  Other than that we have been packing boxes, cleaning cupboards, and throwing things away.  It is tiring, but we are making good progress.  We can hardly believe we will be leaving in just a few days.  Eighteen months goes by fast, but it is long enough to make dear friends.  It will be hard to drive away.  But every minute has been worth it.  This is what the snow looks like outside our back patio. 

It snowed and snowed last night.  We were planning on staying home most of the day anyway to pack and clean.  We did have a very enjoyable dinner with our niece and family.  We saw them once last summer when they came through here.  They are settling in Eastern Tennessee and were visiting friends here.  It was fun to talk to them about their adventures.  We then visited the home of the couple that are serving as part time service missionaries for military relations.  They will take care of things here until the new senior couple arrives in mid April.  We turned over about six bags full of military scripture sets, notebooks, paper goods, and baking goods for use with the marines.  We had a good meeting to discuss all the families we have been working with and feel good about them taking care of things.  Just as we were about to depart the brother, who was the bishop of our ward here until about 6 months ago, got very sober and said he owed us an apology.  He said that when he was bishop he just took us for granted and did not realize all the things we were doing for the ward and the marines.  He said he was sorry he was not more supportive because he now knows that we have been doing yeoman’s work and have touched the lives of many ward members.  We were so humbled and grateful that we have been of some value here.  It was especially touching to hear this from our previous bishop.  We feel that since he has been working with us a service missionary he has really seen all that we do, so a compliment from him was very poignant.  

Lezlie was gone all day Wednesday to attend the Sister’s Training Meeting.  She got a ride down with two sets of young sister missionaries so I had all day to clean house and pack.  I was getting a lot done and moving along just fine when I got an email from the Officer Candidate School Chaplain about noon.  The frantic note said that the OCS director had changed the schedule at the last minute and they would hold the informal OCS services tonight, just a few hours away.  I assumed the other couple could handle it since they were planning on doing the service tomorrow night anyway.  But when I got in touch with them they said no, they could not do it tonight.  So I had about 3 hours to come up with a lesson and prepare some treats so that I could do the family home evening by myself.  Lezlie was not expected to get back until too late.  I made up our last batch of brownies, although I had to unpack one whole box to get to the baking pan.  I dressed up a lesson I had done before on Liberty Jail.  And I went to OCS alone.  To my surprise 7 marines walked in.  Our lone LDS guy had brought 6 friends, which was great.  We had a good lesson and some excellent discussions about what you can learn from adversity.  Although the treats were a little short because I was not expecting that many, they each appreciated getting a couple of brownies and some fruit.  What a great bunch of guys they were.  They all said they would come back to the next FHE, but I had to tell them I would not be there.  We will be in Florida by the next time they meet.  When Lezlie got home she was very enthused about the training meeting.  She had been pondering and praying about some big concerns that that she is having, and she felt like she got direct answers.  There were several different mini-classes, and she said each class gave here specific insight into how to approach her issues.  It was a testament that prayers are answered. 

Thursday was our last shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  We had a slow day, but that gave us a chance to visit with some of the other volunteers.  It was nice to talk about things with them, and share our memories and good experiences volunteering there.  We will miss it very much, and we have felt good about helping out many marines and their families with NMCRS loans and budgeting advice.  We will especially miss the director, as she has become a good friend.  She and Lezlie had a lot in common, and they talked a lot during our time there.  We are so glad we decided to volunteer there and feel like it was an important part of our mission.  We will never forget it.  After our return home we plunged in to more packing and house cleaning.  It is amazing how much cleanup a small apartment needs!

Friday was our last District Training Meeting, and essentially our last association with our young elders.  We had a good meeting and enjoyed being there.  Lezlie and I each gave a short training session on attributes of Christ.   Hers was on knowledge and mine on charity.  They went well.  We also had a training talk by a young elder on “listening with charity,” which was an excellent talk for us to hear.  As we dropped off that second set of elders they handed us a note that thanked us for our examples and service to them as part of the district.  It was quite touching.  We will sure miss our association with these outstanding young men and women.  The rest of our day was consumed by more packing and cleaning.  I think we will be packing and cleaning until the moment we drive away.  But we are getting closer to being ready.  Late in the evening we had an unexpected visit by the two sister missionaries that are in our ward.  They were trying to help a newly baptized couple get some names ready to take to the temple for baptisms.  But they were not sure of all the steps.  So Lezlie got online with them and coached them through it.  They will be able to help the couple tomorrow.  It was fun to see the sisters one last time.  We will see them Sunday at church, but it was nice to chat with them in our apartment for a few minutes.

This is what our “packing up” looks like.  I hope all the boxes fit into the van!
The whole week has been a little bittersweet because of the weather.  The snow and frigid temperatures have put a damper on our farewell week and we missed several “lasts.”  We had to cancel our last The Basic School family home evening because of heavy snow.  The weather caused the Officer Candidate school to change the night for informal services at the last minute.  Lezlie was in Richmond at a sister’s training meeting, so I had to go do FHE all alone.  Today, Saturday, it has been snowing most of the day.  Then tonight the snow changed into freezing rain.  So tomorrow we will not be able to go to OCS for our last sacrament meeting as it was cancelled.  Also, we were to give our testimonies in our ward sacrament meeting as a last farewell.  But the weather is so bad that all church meetings have been cancelled tomorrow.  Bummer!  However, we totally understand the situation in cancelling church.  The roads are really treacherous and it will be below freezing all night.  It will be bad first thing in the morning.  Sunday it is supposed to warm up to about 40 degrees by about 1:00pm, so the roads should be fine by the time we need to leave home. But we did have some very nice email goodbyes from our Quantico Ward family.  The Bishop wrote:
Elder & Sister Couch, although we won't be able to do it in person tomorrow as planned, on behalf of the Quantico Ward I want to express our love and appreciation for all the service that you have provided to us and, in particular, our military members during your mission.  Godspeed on your way home!  Warm regards, Bishop Rollins

Today, Sunday, we will leave Woodbridge, VA.  We will drive to the Mission Home in Richmond for dinner and to spend the night.  Then early tomorrow we head for Atlanta.  Since church was cancelled because of the snow it has been a slow day.  We have been doing touch up cleaning and final packing and loading.  Lezlie came down with a cold and sore throat.  Because she does not want to be contagious we went to the CVS minute clinic.  That took a long time, but the nurse found no major illness.  It is more like a bout of asthma.  So mom got a new asthma inhaler and some basic cold medicine.  It is hard for us to believe that we have been here for 18 months and are now leaving.  We have loved serving as senior missionaries.  At times we have almost felt outside of ourselves, as if we are observers of activities and accomplishments that are not really our own.  And we know that they are not.  When we were set apart as missionaries we were promised that we would receive the guidance, courage, and wisdom to be able to accomplish our work.  And we certainly did receive those things.  We feel that we have received so much that the minor inconveniences seem small.  We have learned to move forward with faith, knowing that good things will happen.  We have learned to rely on prayer.  We have received a greater and deeper testimony of the Book of Mormon.  And we have learned to follow the promptings of the Spirit right away.  Our experiences have been exceedingly rewarding.  We can’t wait to get home and share them with family and friends.  To all of you that have given us such tremendous support in many ways, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

We had a marvelous evening at the Mission Home with President and Sister Wilson.  They fed us a wonderful salmon dinner and we had a great chat about our missionary work.  We shared many stories about the marines and young missionaries we worked with.  Then we had our formal interview with President Wilson.  He asked us to provide 4 highlights from our mission.  It was hard to stop at 4.  We had so many amazing spiritual experiences.  We are glad we kept a journal to record them.  Then he thanked us as our Mission President for our service.  Then he also said as your Mission President I also thank you for Heavenly Father.  He is well pleased with your work.  We were pretty teary eyed.  Then we got to participate in the unofficial departure ceremony.  In this event you remove your scarf and tie, write your name and your dates of service on them, and then tie them to the banister on the stairway.  Every couple of months they remove them from the banister because it gets too full.  Some ladies in their local ward are making a large quilt for President and Sister Wilson out of those ties and scarves.  So that was very fun to participate in this tradition.   Here we are with the Wilsons and hanging our scarf and tie on the railing.

We got to sleep in the bedroom they call the General Authority room.  Whenever a church leader visits to provide a mission conference or whatever they stay in this room.  So it is very well decorated and furnished.  It had a very comfortable king size bed and did we sleep well!  What a great night at the mission home.

Today (Monday) we drove from Richmond, Virginia to Atlanta, where we are visiting our niece Jessie and her husband Rob.  That is another story, but I had to report one last thing about out mission.  This evening at 9pm Eastern we had a call with our Stake President.  He read our release letters from our Mission President, which were very nice.  We felt flattered and humbled.  We had a nice chat during which he asked us all about our mission and what we did most of the time.  He had to stop us because we kept telling more and more stories about the miracles we got to witness and participate in.  Then he asked each of us to bear a short testimony about what we had learned on our mission– we talked about faith, prayer, the Book of Mormon, about getting out of the way and letting the Lord be in charge, and listening to the Spirit.  Then he thanked us for representing the Stake and our Ward well and honorably released us from our mission.  We took of our nametags and shed a few tears.  So now our mission is really over!  We feel so grateful that we were able to have these 18 months working together and serving others all day every day.  It was rewarding in ways we could not have imagined.  We loved being Senior Missionaries and feel that we got much more than we gave.  It will take a while for us to get over the shock of not being missionaries and return to our normal life.  We hope that we will be able to use the things we have learned to do a better job being good people and good church members.  We love you all and thank you for reading our mission blog and for your wonderful support.  Goodye to all.     

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Making Final Preparations to Go Home

We had a unique experience Monday evening.  We contacted the Stake Executive Secretary for an exit interview with the Stake President.  The way things worked out it was easiest for him to stop by our apartment.  So the Stake President showed up at our door so that he could interview us before we leave.  We had a great talk with him.  We discussed several suggestions and ideas about how to take care of the good marines here.  He was very complimentary and gracious.  We were so humbled to be recognized by the Stake President.  We had a wonderful chat with him and felt a good closure about our work here.  We know he cares about the military folks here and will make sure that the Stake looks after them.

Since Tuesday District Meeting was almost our last one we splurged and took all of our little district out to lunch.  It was great fun visiting with four young elders and learning about their lives.  We had some very good training.  One of the elders told a particularly touching story about why he came on a mission.  He said early in high school he was quite depressed and felt very lonely.  He had been raised in the church but did not have much of a testimony of his own.  He decided he needed to read the Book of Mormon for himself and really decide what he believed.   He said that reading brought about great changes and blessings in his life.  He found friends, his depression lifted, and he developed a testimony.  But then as a junior in high school he started spending time with some bad friends and he went into a downward spiral that led to another deep depression.  After a while he realized what he was doing to himself and that he had distanced himself from God.  He repented and changed his ways, and felt peace and joy again.  He said that his experience of repenting and claiming the blessings of Christ’s atonement were very powerful.  He wanted to be able to share the power of the atonement with others so he came on a mission.  I did not do his story justice, but it was a sweet moment and the spirit was felt strongly during his remarks.  All of us got tears in our eyes. 

Quarterly the head chaplain on the marine base has a meeting for all of the religious volunteers.  Everyone gets a chance to discuss what their group is doing and the chaplain describes all the upcoming chapel activities taking place on the base.  Today was our last time to attend this meeting.  We explained to the group that our missionary service was ending and said goodbye to them.  We received a lot of nice feedback and expressions of thanks for our service on the base.  It was humbling and flattering.  We will miss these good folks.  After that we got to stop and visit several of our marine families, deliver Valentine treats, and say goodbye.  The goodbyes are sad, but we again got some nice feedback for our efforts.  Finally we went to a graduation for The Basic School and got to congratulate one of our marines.  He is a Naval Academy graduate from Hawaii.  I had fun visiting with him about the academy at our many family home evenings.  Here he is in his dress uniform. 

We had a wonderful going away luncheon with our friends at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  It was great fun to get to visit with all of the other outstanding volunteers we work with at NMCRS. We received a nice certificate of appreciation from the President of NMCRS, a retired Admiral.  We also got very nice feedback from the Director, in red in the picture, about our service. All the other volunteers were so nice in thanking us for our service and wishing us well.  We will really miss this group.  We were touched by the kindness of the lunch party and it made us sad to have to say goodbye to so many friends.  After the party we did some personal work at the library on the base, which is a beautiful library.  Then we took another of our bachelor marines out to his favorite submarine sandwich shop.  We had a nice visit with him, but we worry about this young man.  He had not been to church in a couple of months.  He told us he basically did not like to be out in crowds in the public.  But when we saw him at church before he was very friendly, outgoing and social.  We think it is just an excuse.  We invited him to come back to church, but we will be gone so we don’t know if it will happen.  We did have a nice visit with him and he was pleased with the Valentine Cookies we gave him. 

What a busy Friday we had.  We both had doctor’s appointments this morning, nothing major though.  Lezlie had to see the dermatologist and I went to see the doctor about some shoulder pain.  We then had a very enjoyable lunch with our marine that had the intestinal surgeries.  We feel very close to him because we have been with him during his whole year of difficult medical challenges.  We visited him in the hospital in DC multiple times and gave him blessings before each surgery.  He is doing really well and looked healthy and happy.  He is so changed from the man we met 18 months ago.  We talked about our shared memories of things we have done together, like the having the spudnuts on Christmas morning.  He told us of his ongoing medical board that is deciding his future in the Marine Corps.  And he told us that if the med board keeps him in the marines he is hoping to switch from helicopter mechanic to explosive ordnance disposal – the guys that blow up things and defuse bombs.  It sounds crazy to us, but he wants to try it.  Anyway, we had a great time with him.  It would have been a really, really sad goodbye.  But then he promised us he would come to church our last Sunday when we will be sharing out testimonies.  That will be very special if he is there.  We later had a wonderful dinner at the home of one of our marine families in Stafford, VA.  We love this family and their four beautiful children.  We had a great visit and an exceptional meal.  The children were so polite and friendly.  We know that was our last visit with them, so it was very sad to say goodbye.  Finally, in the evening I went over to the hospital to get an MRI on my shoulder.  The doc decided that since it had been bothering me long enough and had not improved with anti-inflammatory drugs that she wanted to see what was going on inside.  So we shall see what is going on there.  I hope it is minor.  (Note:  The MRI showed I have a torn shoulder muscle.  Not exactly sure how I did this.  It is painful some, but they said if I take it easy on my shoulder it should heal just fine.)

One other note.  Our doctor is a lady from Iran, who is a Muslim.   She is one of the friendliest and most compassionate doctors we have ever met.  Lezlie related a conversation she had with the her in the lobby while I was back waiting in the exam room.  She told Lezlie that she had enjoyed us as patients and really appreciated our service in Virginia.  She explained that many years ago she had worked for Doctors Without Borders and had gone to El Salvador after an earthquake.  She said that there were many LDS volunteers helping with things, including medical personnel.  She said she was very impressed by how hard they worked and how much service they provided.  So she knew that we must have done good service in Virginia too.  She said she had a lot of respect for the LDS people.  It was heartwarming to hear this.

Feb 14 – Happy Valentine’s Day!  We had an outstanding Senior Missionary activity today.  We were up early and driving to Richmond.  We met at a Young Single Adult center that is next to Virginia Commonwealth University.  The host couple had set up nice Valentine decorations.  We had a nice program where each couple told the story of how they met and then shared why they came on a mission.    Lezlie and I had practiced our little talk and it went well.  We double teamed it – I talked, then she talked, then I talked.  It went well and everyone enjoyed our story about how Marvin Eggleston acted as matchmaker for us.  Here is what we said about why we chose to serve a mission.  First, we feel we have been greatly blessed in our lives.  We have experienced good health, we have a wonderful family, we have always had good homes and jobs, and we have had the anchor of the gospel.  In order to show our gratefulness and pay back a little for our tremendous blessings we wanted to serve others.  Second, we really wanted to be an example of service and missionary work to our children and grandchildren so that maybe they would follow in our footsteps.  Third, we wanted to challenge ourselves spiritually, physically and mentally by doing something totally new and different.  We knew that we would learn and grow by doing so. (AND WE HAVE!)  And finally, we do have strong testimonies of the gospel and of the divine leadership of the prophet.  He has asked for more senior missionaries, so how could we say no.  We really enjoyed all the talks by the couples and had a great time visiting with everyone during our excellent Virginia brunch – ham, biscuits, sweet potatoes and pie.  We were sad to say goodbye, especially to the couples that have been here almost as long as us.  We feel as if we got to know them really well and will miss them greatly.  Here is our group at the party. 

Sunday morning was supposed to be our last lesson for Officer Candidate School.  But it was not to be.  We were there all ready to present our lesson when our marine showed up and said he only had twenty minutes.  He was ordered to do field day and had to beg his sergeant to have twenty minutes off to go to Sunday services.  So we quickly passed the sacrament and fed him some bread pudding.  We spent about two minutes summarizing our half hour lesson.  But at least we got to see him and bolster him up a bit.  He also asked for a blessing, which we gave him.  He seems to be doing pretty well, but he is only at the halfway point and still has a lot of hard things to do.  Today was our second to last meeting at Quantico Ward.  Everyone pretty much knows that we are leaving soon so we had a lot of nice feedback from ward members.  We have been asked to bear our testimonies next week at the end of sacrament meeting.  That will be hard.  I will probably just stand up there and cry.  But we are also very, very excited about starting our journey home and getting back to family, friends, and home (and dogs).    

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Happy Valentines Week

We had a couple of excellent lessons with our marine at Officer Candidate School this week.  At Family Home Evening  Lezlie gave her lesson on nature.  She has set about 180 beautiful pictures of nature to clasical music.  She talks about how marines are always out in nature and that they can feel close to God and gain strength by observing His magnificent creations.  It was excellent and our marine really liked it.  On Sunday we talked about Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled.  This is basically a lesson about how a Latter Day Saint need not fear that he is violating his faith by being a soldier.  It is a pretty deep lesson and we had some good discussion.  We have only a couple more meetings with our LDS man at OCS, and we are missing him already.  However, we will probably not miss getting up at 5:30am to get ready to go to OCS meetings!

Thursday was our Navy Marine Corps Relief Society shift, and we had a good day there.  Lezlie was very busy with many phone calls and multiple quick assist loans.  I had only one case, but it was a good one.  We loaned a young marine $4000 so that he could get his truck repaired.  He blew his engine, but it should never have happened.  It happened just beyond the end of his warranty period.  He left a happy man with his big check.  We are sad to think we have only one more shift of work there.  Later in the evening we met our young woman friend from Richland, the one that was in our ward years ago and was in Lezlie’s young women’s class.  She took us out to dinner as a farewell present.  We ate at an amazing steak house and she spoiled us with a large and delicious dinner.  The steaks were amazing.  She is the girl that is a finger print scientist at the FBI.  It is really interesting to hear her stories about working there.  We had an excellent discussion with her about why she has not been attending church.  It turns out that in the past some people have done some things that really put her off and hurt her feelings, so she backed off.  It made us sad.  But she said she still feels close to Heavenly Father and prays and feels very blessed.  That is good.  We were sad we had to say goodbye to her.  We have really enjoyed getting to know her here

We had an excellent lunch date with our single female marine.  She surprised us by saying she loved sushi.  She is kind of a country girl from a small town in Utah, and we did not think she would know anything about sushi.  We knew of an Asian restaurant in Quantico Town that has sushi, so we took her there.  She enjoyed her sushi and we had regular Chinese food.  This girl works as a security guard at the president’s helicopter base.  She was excited that she finally got her top secret clearance.  That means she can now actually go on trips with the president’s entourage.  It was very enjoyable to visit with her about her job and her family.  Her dad is from India and she lived there for two years as a little girl.  It made us think of Korea.  We have greatly enjoyed her and it was another sad goodbye.  After our lunch we made 4 visits to marine families and delivered our first round of Valentine Day treats.  We made sugar and chocolate cookies and Lezlie decorated them with the meringue icing that makes the pretty decorations.  They are delicious and beautiful.  So we said goodbye to four families, although we will likely see some of them at church over the next few weeks.  Our saddest goodbye was with the family that has the little boy that was born very premature.  We have visited them a lot and come to know them pretty well.  They have been through so much tribulation with their little boy.  He recently had to be in the hospital for a week because his brain shunt came loose and they had to install a new one.  So it was tough to have a last visit there and say goodbye.  We got these nice pictures with them.  I was hoping they would let me hold their little boy, Atticus. I was glad they did.

We attended a very sweet baptism this Saturday morning.  A couple aged about 50 were both baptized.  They were so happy and bore simple but sincere testimonies afterwards.  It turns out that the sister missionaries saw them carrying several bags of groceries to their car and offered to help.  The couple asked the sisters who they were.  When they explained and asked if they could stop by their house to teach them about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they said yes.  It is two months later they and they are now baptized.  This couple was so strong in their new found faith that they purchased quad scriptures even before their baptism.  It was a very nice service.  We finished up some additional Valentine Cookies and made deliveries to four marine families.  We have to say goodbye when we see these families this time around, and it is very sad.   But we had some good visits and received some touching thank you’s.  And everyone loved the cookies.  Here is a photo of our cookies.  Our Valentine Message is below.

After our regular ward meetings on Sunday we had a nice interview with our bishop.  It was sort of an exit interview.  We reviewed our list of families that we are most concerned about as we depart.  We had a good discussion about them.  He then thanked us for all the work in helping take care of the Quantico Ward and said we would leave a huge hole when we departed.  It was humbling and rewarding to know that our efforts to help others and our whole purpose for coming on a senior mission have been realized.  We love our ward family here and it will be terribly sad to have to say goodbye to them.  Sunday evening we had a wonderful experience.  One of our The Basic School marines is graduating in 3 days.  So the gal that comes to our  family home evening invited him, our other marine at TBS, and us to dinner to celebrate.  She is the one that is an athletic trainer on staff at TBS.  She lives about a half hour away from us in a nice townhouse.  It is always delightful to get to visit a full size house – I think the apartment feels smaller the longer we are here.  She served a delicious lasagna dinner.  Mom provided pistachio pudding desert.  It was good food and good conversation with some outstanding young church members.  The marine who is graduating from TBS is a Naval Academy grad, so we have fun sharing stories about Annapolis.  It was an enjoyable evening and we will miss our TBS.  Here is a photo of the group at the dinner table.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Starting to say Goodbye

We have had several excellent family home evenings and sacrament meetings for our sole Officer Candidate School student.  Lezlie gave a good lesson on the church video called “Flecks of Gold.”  It is about the philosophy that small things done faithfully and consistently can add up to something that is great.  We also had lessons about “Remember Who You Are” and about “Courage.”  We had excellent discussions on all of these topics.  Our marine is doing well in this difficult training.  After one of the lessons our guy asked if Sister Couch could help him with a little sewing job.  He had a hole in his uniform and had no clue how to sew it up.  The marines had given him a nice little sewing kit, but he did not know how to use it.  So Lezlie got him started and showed him how to thread a needle, sew up the hole, and tie a knot.  It was fun to watch that interaction (see picture). 

Our most recent Navy Marine Corps Relief Society shift was a bit unique.  For a large part of the shift we were there alone.  The Director was out sick and only one other person came in for part of the day.  We were able to help out two marines with loans for basic necessities like rent and food.  It was a long day but we were very happy to help out a couple of marine families.  We were also very proud that the Director trusted us to take care of the office by ourselves and that we handled it well.  We gave out about $2000 on our own!

Our busy Friday began with a zone meeting.  The young elders and sisters are always so impressive.  They give good training and handle their responsibilities with a maturity beyond their years.  We feel fortunate that we get to interact with them so much.  It is one of the great blessings of our mission.  It was a bittersweet meeting because it will be our last zone meeting.  We went from the meeting directly to the base to pick up one of our bachelor marines for lunch.  He is a great young man and we have enjoyed getting to know him.  He is actively attending one of the Young Single Adult wards and seems to be enjoying it.  He shyly told us that he had a date tonight with one of the girls from the ward.  He seemed to be looking forward to it.  After returning home from an excellent lunch with our marine we began preparing a nice dinner for two sister missionaries.  We really enjoyed them a lot.  They were both very personable and down to earth, and were so easy to talk to.  They live in our apartment complex but this is the first time we have been able to have them over for dinner.  Before they left they gave us a great spiritual thought about using the Book of Mormon to find answers to some of life’s great questions.  It was excellent.  They will come back tomorrow for a family history lesson with Lezlie, and she is looking forward to that.  So it was a full, busy day.  But as always on our mission  it was a rewarding and enjoyable day too.

Our one big activity we were looking forward to today (Saturday) fell through.  We were going to take a bachelor marine to the temple.  He called about twenty minutes before we were leaving.  He had to cancel because the Marine Corps decided the platoon needed to work until 5:30pm on Saturday.  He was very apologetic, but we just laughed it off.  This has happened multiple times.  We know that the Marine Corps owns them right now, and the Corps doesn’t really care if their personal lives are inconvenienced.  Things like this are the main reason that they only send ex-military folks on military relations missions.  We have lived it so we understand.  Instead we were able to spend some time with the young sisters in our apt and show them how to use some new programs to do genealogical research so they can help other people. It was a lot of fun, as they found pictures of ancestors on line they had never seen. 

Our Sunday began with an early morning service for our lone OCS marine.  Later at our ward Lezlie bore her testimony and accidentally said, “This will be out last sacrament meeting.”   She meant to say this was our last testimony meeting.  Because of her slip we had numerous ward members come up and say nice things and wish us well, and we had to tell them we will be here 3 more weeks.  It was kind of funny and kind of nice.  After our own services we went to the FBI Academy, which is on Quantico Base.  Last night a student there called us.  He is attending FBI agent school for 5 months and left his wife, 2 children, and car behind in Utah.  We took him to the ward nearest his barracks on base.  Everything worked as we hoped.  We introduced him to the bishop and several ward members that promised they would make sure he got a ride to church every week.  After getting him plugged in at the ward we came home.  We were tired after 3 sacrament meetings.

Last Monday was one of many “lasts” we will have.  We attended the chaplains briefing for the new The Basic School class.  This is the meeting where all the various lay leaders get to introduce themselves and tell what type of services they hold.  We have done this about a dozen times now so we have come to know the other lay leaders pretty well.  We had to say goodbye to them and to the chaplain.  It was sad.  And there were no LDS students in the new class.  We have enjoyed our association with the TBS lay leaders and chaplain and will miss that part of our mission a lot.

On Tuesday we had a delightful trip to Wash DC.  We went up to the temple.  Although we were not able to go to a session we did some shopping at the distribution center.  We also had a chance to browse and shop at the LDS bookstore.  We finally decided we needed to leave right away because we were spending too much money.  There are so many nice things to buy there.  We then had lunch with our dear friends the Colsons, who used to live next to us in Richland.  They are on a mission in Washington DC.  We had a great time remembering old friends from our ward in Richland.  They told us all about the amazing mission they had in Jordan.  They got to mingle with Jordanian royalty.  In distributing wheelchairs and hygiene kits they enlisted the Jordanians to help them and thus taught them about service.  Proselyting is not allowed in Jordan, so theirs was purely a humanitarian service mission.  We had a great lunch at Ruby Tuesdays.  After returning home we prepared for our TBS family home evening.  We had only one attendee, which made me kind of sad.  Nevertheless, we had a good lesson about ordinances and covenants.  We have enjoyed so many excellent lessons with our TBS students, and we only have two left!  We will be sad to give that last one in two weeks. 

We had a surprise call from the mission president.  They invited us to their home in Richmond (the Mission Home) for dinner our last night in Virginia.  Not only that, they also invited us to stay overnight there.  They were aware we are driving south so they knew it would give us a couple hour head start on our drive the next morning.  We said yes of course!  The Mission Home is a huge, beautiful house.  All missionaries spend the first and last night of their mission there.  In the basement there are enough beds for about sixteen elders and on the second floor for about a dozen sisters.  So there is plenty of room.  It will be a wonderful send off to spend that last night in the Mission Home.  We love our mission president and his wife and will miss them a lot.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Visit to Montpelier

This week was our Stake Conference.  President Wilson, our mission president, spoke.  We had not heard this before, but in giving his talk about providing service as missionaries he mentioned that two young missionaries had lost parents while here on their mission.  They were both elders and they lost their moms.  They both chose to remain and complete their missionary service because they knew that is what their moms would have wanted.  We are always in awe the dedication and sacrifice of these young missionaries.  They are so impressive and inspirational.  We feel it a great honor to work with them.

We received permission from our Mission President to be released a week early.  Our official end date was March 1 but he is allowing us to leave Feb 23.  We thought we needed to spend more time with mother in Florida to help her get things under control there before we head back west.  We are planning to stop in Atlanta, Venice, Florida, Spring and Alpine, Texas, and Pagosa Springs, Colorado to see many family members.  Yay!

We had a good Officer Candidate School family home evening.  Our lone LDS marine was the only attendee again, but he is a really great guy.  He told us all about how hard the first week has been and we gave him encouragement and praise.  We had a good lesson about integrity and leading by example.  He loved the chocolate cake the other couple brought and ate two huge pieces and about 3 glasses of milk.  We are sad there are not more LDS students this time, or at least a few non LDS visitors.  But we know this young man needs all the support he can get, so we are glad to hold our meetings just for him.  It is pretty funny, 4 of us old folks giving a lesson and treats to this individual marine.  But it is always a privilege to work with these young OCS students.

We had a Senior Missionary activity on Saturday to tour Montpelier, so we traveled to Orange, Virginia on Friday.  Montpelier is the historic home of James Madison and it is located about 5 miles from Orange.  Lezlie has ancestors that settled in Orange County, so we decided to spend a day there doing family history research.  Well, Lezlie did the research and I did some reading and tv watching. She visited two different libraries and tapped out all the resources on the Conways.  It was a good day and she found some additional details she had not known before.  However,she did not find the big conclusive evidence about James Conway she was hoping to find.  Even though it was spitting snow we drove outside of Orange and found the land that the Conways settled- it is now a wildlife preserve that sponsors bird dog trials, a horse farm that raises endurance horses, and a large plant nursery. Orange is in the foothills of the Shenandoah mountains and the rolling countryside is beautiful, even in the winter. We saw some of the most beautiful horse farms.  We had a very nice dinner with the senior missionaries that live in Orange at an interesting local restaurant that had been a silk mill during the Civil War and WWI.  It was called the Silk Mill Grill- delicious crab cakes. This couple is going home next week, so it was fun to talk to them about finishing their mission and their plans for when they get home.  They have been here almost as long as we have, so we feel like we know them pretty well.  We talked about how hard it will be to say goodbye to the great new friends we have made here in Virginia.

On Saturday we had a great Senior Missionary Activity at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison and his wife Dolley.  Many years after the Madisons died it was owned by the DuPont family and became a horse farm. It is a national monument now, but it still sponsors cross country steeplechase type horse shows and fox hunts. There are beautiful rolling hills with horse pastures and a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the front. We met at the visitors center and had a short but very spiritual meeting.  Since it may be the last time we see all the seniors we got a chance to bear our testimonies.  We talked about how much we have learned on our mission and about how blessed we and our families have been since we arrived here.  We have learned a great deal about faith, prayer, and about following the spirit.  We then got a special group tour of the mansion, and it was wonderful.  We had a superb tour leader who knew a ton of history about the home and the Madison family.  She even told a bit about James Madison's mom, who was a Conway. You might remember us mentioning that James Madison was born at Belle Grove, the Conway mansion.  He was born there because his mom went home to be with her mom when she had her first baby, James.  We stood in the room where James mom taught him his basic arithmetic and ABCs.  The guide was very dramatic and a great story teller.  So in addition to seeing the beautiful mansion and grounds we heard some great stories about James Madison, his wife Dolley, and about U.S. history.  James was an amazing man who had a huge intellect.  He studied the governments of the world in his home library for six months before the Constitutional Convention.  He evaluated why they failed and developed ideas about how to avoid those pitfalls in a government.  That is one of the reasons he was able to write most of the constitution all by himself when he attended the convention.  We had a very enjoyable day at Montpelier.  We are grateful that we have been able to see so many amazing U.S. History sites in Virginia.  We said goodbye to most of the other seniors as we may not see most of them again.  This was sad, but we are so grateful we got to know them and serve with them.  All have been wonderful examples to us.   The picture above is Lezlie reading on a bench with James and Dolley.   Below we are standing in front of the front porch at Montpelier.  Finally there is a picture of all of the senior missionaries from our mission that attended the activity. 

Today was a triple sacrament meeting Sunday.  We were busy!  We began by getting up early to bake muffins and get ready for our 7am sacrament service on base.  We then drove all the way to the base and provided the sacrament meeting for our lone LDS marine currently enrolled in Officer Candidate School.  We had a great discussion on courage.  We have enjoyed getting to know this young man and think highly of him.  We get to love these young people so quickly and we just want all the best for them.  I think it is part of the missionary spirit that you can develop such a love for folks so soon after you meet them.  I supposed we should try to be more like that all the time.  Next we drove all the way back to Woodbridge and attended our regular church meetings in our own ward.  Our schedule is currently 9:00-12:00.  Our meetings were excellent and we enjoyed spending time with our dear Quantico Ward family.  Immediately after our meetings we headed for the Rock Hill ward in Stafford, which is south of the base.  We met a young marine family that are not members of the church.  She is a marine at The Basic School.  We first met her at OCS where she attended our services several times.  She contacted us and said she would like to take her family to an LDS church service.  So we met her, her husband, and her two children at a ward near them.  It was a really good experience.  Their children, two and four, had never sat through a church service like this before, and they did great.  They were well behaved. Many, many ward members came up and said hello and we think they had a nice time.  We are going to wait a few days and see if they want to come again or if they want us to stop by and teach them a lesson about the gospel.  We were happy to be able to facilitate them coming to church and were pleased with the way it turned out.  Upon arriving home we both kind of collapsed for a nap.  We do not handle these early, early mornings as well as we used to.  But it was an excellent day and we were grateful to be busily engaged in our work. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

In Memory of Papa

We have not posted a blog update in a few weeks.  This is because Lezlie’s dad, Glenn Douthitt passed away on January 2 and we were away.  We received a phone call informing us early in the morning from Lezlie’s sister-in-law who lives in Florida.  Although he was 88 and in bad enough health that we knew this day was coming soon, it was still a shock and very sad news.  After multiple phone calls to Lezlie’s mom and other family members, many rearrangements of our schedule, and a quick job packing our suitcases we flew to Sarasota, Florida that afternoon.  We arrived in the evening and began doing all we could to comfort Lezlie’s mom and help take care of all the administrative issues associated with a death in the family.  Lezlie and her sister went through many files and made multiple phone calls to insurance companies, pension plans, etc.  Meanwhile I did the shopping, errand running, and handyman chores that needed doing.  Lezlie’s mom was blessed by having many family members visit to provide comfort and to attend the memorial service.  Lezlie’s brother and his wife and her sister and her husband were all there.  Seven of her eleven grandchildren attended and even a couple of great-grandkids were there.  Although it was a somber event that brought us together, the cousins all enjoyed visiting with Grandma and with each other.   Glenn was an Army Veteran, so he was buried in the National Cemetery of Sarasota, Florida.  We had a very nice outdoor memorial service there.   Three Army soliders were present.  When we began the service they marched in and placed the urn with Glenn’s ashes and an American flag on the front table.  Carrie said a prayer and Anne read a scripture. Then Lezlie read a biography of her dad.  Several of the children and grandchildren sang a song that Lezlie’s sister had written several years ago for Glenn and Connie’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.  Finally one of the soldiers played taps and the other two performed a very nice flag ceremony.  They presented the flag to Connie and on behalf of the President of the U.S. thanked her for her husband’s service to the country.  It was a very nice service and many tears were shed.  We then all gathered at the home of Lezlie’s brother David and his wife Liz.   They provided a wonderful meal and we had an informal sharing service where we all got to talk about our favorite memories of our father, father-in-law, and grandpa.  He was a great man, and we all had plenty of wonderful stories to share.  Many memories centered around his marvelous talents of art and music.  Some time in his forties he decided he wanted to learn to paint and he taught himself to be an excellent artist of land and seascapes.  Every child and grandchild has some of this art in their home.  We all remembered his skill at the organ, also self taught.  Every family get together was not complete until he sat down at the organ and played song after song.  There were also many memories about his kindness, his love of family, and his enjoyment of life.  It was a special afternoon where the tears were interspersed with laughter and contemplation about the good life of Glenn Douthitt.  We honor him and will miss him greatly.   But we know that he is now free from the pains and worries of mortal life, and that his spirit lives on.  We know that he is reunited with loved ones in heaven.  We are grateful to have known him and been a part of his life.  He was a great man who has left an outstanding legacy.  We honor his memory.  Here is a picture of Lezlie with her dad when she was about two.

We got some nice photos while in Florida.  Here are Abby and her 6 month old cousin Austin, son of Lee and Laura Douthitt. 

Here is a nice picture of Abby with her great-grandma as well as a four generation shot of Abby, mom Carrie, grandma Lezlie, and great-grandma Connie.

At the end of December we had a pleasant surprise.  We got the chance to see our nephew Michael Parsons and his fiance Alexis.  They were in Washington DC visiting friends.  They were visiting the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport on their last day in DC and invited us to visit them there.  We did and it was a wonderful visit.  We enjoyed chatting while we walked around and saw the amazing planes, rockets, helicopters, and anything else that flies.  They both know a lot about aviation and space.  We got to see the Space Shuttle Discovery and Michael showed us the engines he worked on.  Very Cool!  We really enjoyed getting to know Alexis and thought she was a wonderful girl.  They really seemed happy with each other.  We were flattered that they invited us to spend time with them.   

We recently talked with the Church Military Relations Department.  We were sad to hear they do not have a couple lined up to replace us yet, at least not that will be here when we leave.  It will make us sad if we do not get to turn over these wonderful marines to another couple.  The soonest anyone would be here would be mid April, so that would mean about a 6 week gap.   But that is better than no replacements at all.  We will have to leave a lot of information for the new couple so that they can quickly come up to speed.

Lezlie had a delightful phone call with the grandma of our young marine friend – the spudnut grandma.  She was delighted to hear that her grandson had enjoyed spudnuts on Christmas morning.  We assured her that they were not as good as her spudnuts.  She and Lezlie had a good laugh and a nice talk on the phone.  We were so delighted to be able to make that surprise work out.  It was a blessing for our marine as well as his grandma.

After a slow Monday of catching up from our trip to Florida we went out to dinner with our senior missionary friends Kevin and Mala Anderson.  They have served here in Woodbridge for 6 months and we have greatly enjoyed working and socializing with them.  They are leaving tomorrow, so we took them out to dinner.  It was fun but bittersweet because we are sad to bid them goodbye.  While they were here we visited Monitcello and Mt Vernon together, went to the temple, shared several meals and got together in each other’s  apartment several times.  It has been wonderful to become close to another senior couple and talk about our missionary work.  We will sure miss them.
We had a great experience one evening last week with a marine family.  One of the female marines that frequently came to our Officer Candidate School classes and who is not a member of the church filled out a religious survey form at The Basic School.  She put down that she was interested in attending LDS services.  The chaplain sent us her information.  So we went and visited her family and got to know them a bit.  She has two young children and a husband who is very nice.  He is a retired marine.  He said that he had several close LDS friends in high school so know something about the church.  We are taking them to sacrament meeting at the ward near their home this Sunday   It was exciting to talk to them and get to know them just a little bit.   We are happy to get to take them to church.

We have actually begun sorting through some of our closets and shelves here. We have just a little over a month left. Some things we will leave here, some we will ship home, some we will give to Goodwill, some we will give to the young missionaries, and some we will take in the car.  You can really accumulate a lot of stuff in 18 months, so we have a lot to go through. 

Friday evening was our first meeting with the new Officer Candidate School class.  We had only one show up, but he was a very nice guy.  He is originally from Utah, but has lived in Portland for the last couple of years.  So it was fun to talk to him about Oregon.  We had a nice lesson about having the courage to Stand Alone.  He had some excellent comments.   The other service missionary that help with OCS and I were able to give him a blessing.  He is not worried about handling the physical stuff, as he is in really good shape.  But he is worried about getting injured.  So we gave him a nice blessing. The chaplain told us he thought that there were a couple more LDS folks that might show up next time.  We will just have to wait and see if there are others.