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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Blessings and Tender Mercies -- Part 2

The biggest blessing of the mission has been serving with my very best friend.  Younger missionaries serve with several different companions over the course of their mission and are transferred to different areas every few months.  We are based in Jacksonville for the entire 18 months and, gratefully, do not have to adjust to a new companion.  

Another blessing of being a senior missionary is that the rules for us are not as strict as for the younger missionaries.  We can text or call home whenever we wish and our families can come and visit.  All but 5 of our 19 grandchildren were able to visit us last year, along with their parents.  A couple of friends from 40 years ago who live on the East Coast also stopped by for a visit. Then in September, we made a flying trip back to Salt Lake to attend the wedding of our oldest granddaughter.
We can use our own computers, ipads, smart phones, etc. and can have a TV if we choose.  We decided we didn't want the expense or distraction of a TV, and I have to say it has been quite restful without it.  We keep up with the news by reading it on the internet.

November 28, 2014 we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary by taking a short trip to Washington D.C. (pictures below).  We have several high school and college friends who also celebrated 50 years in 2014.  How wonderful to know so many couples have stayed together.  An interesting side note, we celebrated our first anniversary here at Camp Lejeune, NC, and completed the circle by spending our 50th here, also.

(Bob wants to know how the couple on the left "metamorphosized" into the couple on the right.)

We were thrilled to attend the DC temple.  It is so beautiful and has a mural inside that I have always loved.  To make it even more special, the night we arrived the Christmas lights were turned on on the temple grounds.

In the visitor's center there were nativities from 90 countries on display.  Such a special treat!  For those of you familiar with "The District", we were able to watch "8 Stories", a video display of before, during and after of the 8 missionaries featured in "The District." Loved it! So much growth and change during and after their missions.
We took a bus tour of Washington -- the Capitol, White House, various monuments, and Arlington Cemetery.  Sorry no pictures as it was very rainy that day.  We decided we would never want to live in Washington because of the traffic.  It was horrendous. We also took our first ride on a big city subway or metro, which was a little scary for two old people originally from rural Arkansas.

 One of our fun assignments is working with the Young Single Adults, some of who are Marines. We got to chaperone the New Year's Eve dance with about 40 YSAs from around the area.  The theme was "Here we glow again," and as you can see, neon shirts, glo-sticks, beads and glasses were very popular.  I texted my kids back home at midnight and they were all impressed we had managed to stay up so late.  When they were little. we would set the clocks ahead and ring in the New Year at 10 o'clock.  After all, it was midnight on the East Coast!

On New Year's Day, after eating Hopping John, greens, and cornbread, we took a drive to Swansboro and sat in a swing in a little park at the edge of the water.  This entire mission, I have been trying to see a dolphin in real life  People keep assuring me they are frequently seen, especially in Swansboro as well as near the beaches.  Well, so far we have seen zero.  This was yet another attempt as the dolphins supposedly play near this park in the late afternoon.  We bombed out on seeing dolphins, but did catch a beautiful sunset and some interesting wildlife.

We are enjoying the milder winters here in North Carolina.  Our daughter, Shannon, who is staying in our house in Salt Lake while we are away, called last week to tell us it was -2 degrees with a wind chill of -11 and that the hot water pipe in the kitchen had frozen.  Brr!  Meanwhile, in NC we are in a rainy season which means lots of parking lot swimming pools and overflowing ditches, but temperatures in the 50's and 60's most days.  We often wake up to fog that it is eerily beautiful -- and the moisture is great for my skin.

We hope to make the best use of our final three months.  We have several projects we are trying to  complete and we want to leave things in good shape for our replacements. This has been an awesome experience!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blessings, Tender Mercies and Small Miracles--Part 1


Gas prices have been falling  In less than a month prices have dropped by 50 cents a gallon.  I know other parts of the country have prices below $2.00, but we are thrilled with our cheaper gas prices and hope the decline continues.  This has been such a blessing to us as we drive A LOT in our daily tasks.  We have driven 55,000+ miles during the past 15 months. Our car has held up well and we have had no major problems with it.


It is amazing how green North Carolina is even in the middle of winter.  In addition to all the pines, there are leafed trees like live oaks, white oaks and magnolias that stay green year round.  Then today as we were driving back to our apartment after a meeting, I saw these two trees blooming with color the last day of December.  Does anyone know what kind they are?  


The antics of our backyard squirrels and the birds that visit our feeders have kept us entertained.  Cardinals are my very favorite bird, although the mockingbird is a close second.  I will miss them (and the dogwood tree outside our kitchen window) when we return to Utah.  


I don't know if you can read the smaller numbers on my Fitbit printout, but I have been able to walk 2 miles or so a day or 5,000-6,000 steps.  Some days I have reached 10,000.  Yay me!  I still need to use the one arm crutch because of a weak SI joint on the right side, but my knees have given me absolutely no problems and I am enjoying walking again. Stairs are a challenge and I am not setting any speed records, but I feel good.  Bob and I have been blessed with good health and have not had a single day missed because of illness.  The pollen, mold, and pet dander (every home we visit seems to have several rather large pets) sometimes cause our allergies to flare up, but we have been able to keep these under control.  Now if we can just make it through this flu season.


Serving a mission can, at times, be exhausting, overwhelming, and discouraging.  Things do not always work out as planned.  But along the way there are lighthearted moments that make the hard times easier.

Whether it is learning the actions to "Twelve Days of Christmas" from President Bernhisel. . . . .

enjoying a district meeting with elders in elf costumes. . . . .

or sharing a laugh with some of our crazy members, we have found joy in the journey.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shepherds, Lost Sheep and Super Heroes

When we first arrived in North Carolina we were instructed to have business cards made with our contact information to pass along to those with whom we worked.  We chose this picture to go on the card to remind us how important each individual is to the Lord.

The picture also reminds me of one of my favorite stories about a man visiting Morocco as part of an official government delegation (true story.)  He was in a caravan of black limousines traveling through the beautiful Moroccan countryside at considerable speed, when suddenly, the limousine in which he was riding stopped.  The man could see there had been an accident up ahead.

An old shepherd, in long, flowing robes, was standing near the lead limousine in conversation with the driver.  A small flock of fifteen or twenty sheep stood nearby.  The king's vehicle had struck and injured one of the lambs belonging to the old shepherd.  The driver was explaining to him the law of the land.  Because it was a vehicle belonging to the king that had injured the lamb, the shepherd was entitled to one hundred times its value at maturity. However, under the same law, the lamb must be slain and the meat divided among the people.  The interpreter explained that the old shepherd would not accept the money, that they never did.

When asked why, the interpreter replied. "Because of the love he has for each of his sheep."
The old shepherd reached down, lifted the injured lamb in his arms, and placed it in a large pouch on the front of his robe.  He kept stroking its head, repeating the same word over and over again.  The interpreter explained that the shepherd was calling the lamb by name, that each of the sheep had a name.

Just as the interpreter had predicted, the money was refused, and the old shepherd with his small flock of sheep, with the injured one tucked safely in the pouch of his robe, disappeared into the desert.

As I studied a little more about sheep I learned several interesting things.  First, lambs have a propensity for getting lost.  They can be helpless against predators.  And they are gregarious, social creatures that do better in numbers.  The parallels with those we are  called to serve in Jacksonville are not lost on us.

Fortunately, we are blessed to have many shepherds and super heroes here that are constantly reaching out to help and lift others.  Let me introduce you to a few of them.

Missionaries Are Awesome

It is amazing to me that there are over 88,000 LDS missionaries currently serving around the world.  Most are young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have put school, work, sports, and romantic relationships on hold while they serve the Lord. They, or their families or friends, pay their way and they live frugally without TV, video games or many of the conveniences that most people today take for granted  In addition to their youthful exuberance and energy, they show a genuine caring for the people they teach and serve along with a maturity and understanding beyond their years.  We have worked with some outstanding young men and women during our stay in Jacksonville and have learned much from them.  I hope you can see in this picture of our two current sister missionaries with a recent convert between them that they have an inner light, a glow, about them.  People often comment that it is that glow or sparkle that makes them want to know what makes these young people different.  They have perpetual, beaming smiles and seem to find joy and humor even when riding bikes in a downpour or when an appointment falls through.  As one family expressed it, "We love for the missionaries to come to our house.  It makes our home a happier place when they are there." 

Brother Scriptures/Captain Moroni

One of the first members we met after arriving in Jacksonville was Josh Alexander.  As he describes himself he is a retired Marine, student, construction worker, husband, father of 2 and a rescued lost sheep who wants to help others like himself.  He posts a blog on Facebook called "Brother Scriptures" where he shares personal experiences, inspirational quotes and scriptures.  His latest project is to post each of the 180+ short videos from Mormon Messages and explain how they relate to his life.  He is a lover of all things Scottish and plans to compete in the Highland Games next year. He thinks all men should wear beards and own a kilt. 

Brooke, The Smile That Never Stops

Brooke is one of our not so secret weapons.  She is like a people magnet.  People are drawn to her positive attitude and radiant smile.  She is a great example to other young women in the military that you can be good at your job and still maintain your standards.  Last year she was twice selected "Sailor of the Quarter."

She is always inviting others to come to activities and makes certain everyone feels accepted and included.  She loves doing service projects such as building homes with Habitat for Humanity, helping in the soup kitchen, and while serving in Spain, helping nearby schools and orphanages.  And she is marvelous baker and is known for her tasty cookies. 

The Energizer Bunny Member Missionary

This beautiful woman is like the energizer bunny missionary extraordinaire in our ward.  Whenever we encounter a less active or part member Marine family we can pretty much count on this woman already being their friend.  She is funny and caring and compassionate and makes friends wherever she goes.  She accepts others just as they are, while encouraging and supporting them to grow in the gospel.  Or by just letting them know she is there for them if they need help.

I met her mother when she came for the blessing of the newest baby and she told me that her daughter sometimes felt sad that she hadn’t served a mission like some of her siblings, but, that in actuality, this daughter and her husband had brought more people into the gospel than the others put together.  The power of one dedicated and loving person has made a difference in many lives.

Special Helpers That Go Above and Beyond

That Glenda Good Witch in the picture is our Relief Society President with her family at the Fall Festival.  The baby "lion" was borrowed from another family for the occasion. This incredible woman accepted the calling to be the RS president even though her Marine husband is deployed overseas and she has two special needs children at home.   Like RS Presidents around the globe she carries a very heavy load, second only to the bishop, and does her level  best to see that the needs of individuals and families in the ward are met.  In addition, she works with the missionaries providing meals, transportation and acting as a companion when needed.   At the very time she could easily ask for help for her own family, she is reaching out to help others.  

The guy with the white shirt and big smile is our Gospel Essentials Sunday School teacher.  Each week he manages to prepare a lesson for a class composed of investigators, new and/or returning members as well as long time members well versed in the scriptures and he still makes it relevant to each one. As a Marine Sergeant he also is a great example to the younger Marines.  Like so many of the ward members he goes out of his way to welcome  each new Marine or Marine family, remembers their names and makes certain they feel "at home." He is a very active and effective ward missionary,

John is  former Air Force, now working as a civilian contractor with the Marine Corps.  He has military ID which allows him to come on base and he has been a wonderful support to us at Camp Johnson.  He comes to our Sunday meetings there and relates well with the young people.  Having served  in Afghanistan he has street cred and can give them sound advice about how to stay strong spiritually in the military and pitfalls to watch out for.  He also helps us with our ARP meetings.  Having an additional "body" at our small meetings is nice.  He attends Institute and is very knowledgeable about the scriptures and adds a lot to the classes.

There are so many others I could write about, but, hopefully, this gives you a taste of the awesome people we work with.  As each person uses his or her unique talents we see miracles happening--which is the subject of my third post in this series, coming soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's About the One

Serving the One

On Sunday morning before regular services in the ward, we go to Camp Johnson to hold what is sometimes called "Battlefield Sacrament."  When Marines are unable to attend the local ward because of training or schooling, we hold a shortened service on base.  In our case, we meet at 8:15 in the base chapel in the kitchen while the Protestants hold their services in the main room.  Our attendance varies.  We have had as many as 8, but we average 2 or 3.  With the military budget cuts there are fewer and fewer Marines being recruited or accepted overall, and thus fewer Mormon Marines coming to Camp Lejeune (Camp Johnson is one of the smaller bases within  Camp Lejeune).  Today we had only one young man at services.  But to support that one young man there were two elders (young missionaries), an instructor who is Mormon and teaches at Camp Johnson who comes before going to his ward meetings, and Bob and me.  

This young man who was the one in attendance today has faithfully attended every Sunday while at MOS school and has expressed how much it has meant to him.  He will be graduating in November and currently is ranked second in his class, which is quite an honor.  When he completes his schooling he will return home and be assigned to a reserve unit.  He has asked for and received a waiver to serve an LDS mission.  The Marines will allow him to put his reserve service on hold until he returns from his  two year mission.

We are often asked if it is worth the effort for so few.  Our response is that each one is so important.  Trying to maintain a testimony and live the gospel while serving in the Marine Corps is quite a challenge and if we can be of help and offer encouragement to just one person at a critical time, we feel our time is well spent.

We provide Sunday Sacrament and Monday Family Home Evening on base.  Some of the Marines we have worked with have said that before coming to meetings they felt like they were the only Mormon, or perhaps the only Christian, on the entire base.  One of the reasons we invite the Elders and the Sister Missionaries to come with us is to give our Marines a chance to be with someone their own age who also loves the gospel.  One Monday night a month the whole YSA group from the ward (about 15-20 young people) come out to Johnson and conduct the Family Home Evening.  We have great treats and then games -- the favorite this sumer seemed to be Ultimate Frisbee on the field next to the chapel.

Madison -- Camp Pendleton 
Isaac -- Reservist, Southern Calif.
Plans to go on a mission.

 These are a few of the most recent 
Marines who hold a special place in our hearts.  They faced difficult challenges and sometimes struggled, but came out on top.
Colby -- Beaufort Air Station, SC

Chad - Okinawa, Japan

Kira -- Reservist, Southern Calif.

Pictured below are two of our Marines who are currently or will soon be serving LDS missions.  I think they must call Marines to the most challenging missions because they figure they can handle tough situations.

Nate waiting to start his mission
(Nate is the one in dress blues in the middle. :-)

Luis --serving in Bangledore, India

 One righteous and faithful person can influence many others.  This young Marine stood firm in the face of ridicule and temptation.  Luis (pictured above) was a personable young man with a strong testimony, but he also wanted to be friends with his fellow Marines and he wanted to be seen as a team player.  Although he was harassed for not drinking or using tobacco, he tried not to appear judgmental and explained this was his own personal choice, just as their choice to use was their personal choice.

Members of his platoon made plans to celebrate the birthday of one of their friends and invited Luis to come.  He asked what their plans were and was told they were going out to eat and then to a hookah bar.  He accepted the invitation to go to dinner but said he would just return to base afterwards.  To leave and return to base he had to have a battle buddy, who naturally would need to return to base after the dinner with him.  His buddy agreed and all looked fine.  However, after dinner, the group decided to go to a strip club instead and while his battle buddy wasn’t interested in the hookah bar she was curious about the strip club.  Dilemma.  He couldn’t return to base alone and he didn’t want to go to the strip club. 

He chose to stand outside and wait for his buddies in the cold.  After a few minutes his battle buddy came to stand with him and they called a cab to return to base.  His example inspired me, and I know it has touched others who either knew Luis or heard his story from us. His fellow Marines selected him as the most inspirational and motivational student in his school and he received this honor at his graduation ceremony.


We worked with another young Marine who, at first glance,  seemed an unlikely hero. He was of a slight build, shy and didn’t have much to say.  I wondered in the beginning how he had ever survived basic.  He was the only LDS Marine at a remote part of Camp Lejeune where he was in school for his military specialty—repairing generators.  It was a 45 minute ride for him to attend the ward, but each week he wanted to come.  We had a lot of opportunity to visit with him as we picked him up and took him back each week and we came to see that our first impression was deceiving.  Although not the typical muscular, rough and tough Marine, he had a fierce determination to succeed as a Marine and as a Latter Day Saint.  One of our first encounters with Kyle was when he requested a blessing of comfort to help him deal with the suicide of a Marine in his barracks.  The Chaplain on base offered his counseling service, but Kyle insisted that he would be fine, he only wanted a priesthood blessing by the senior missionaries.  He instructed the chaplain on how to contact us, and Bob and the other senior missionary elder met him at the base chapel to give him a blessing.  Kyle then proceeded to help other Marines deal with the tragedy.

One Sunday Kyle told us he wanted to bring a friend to church, a young man from his platoon who was interested in church.  We were, of course, delighted to provide a ride.  Kyle, the LDS Marine, took it upon himself to talk with the base chaplain to arrange for him and his friend to leave base and attend Institute (Scripture study class) on Tuesdays so Kade (the friend) could have lessons Sunday and Tuesday with the missionaries. It is not usual that Marines in training can leave base during the week so I’m not sure how he managed this, but he did.  He also arranged for the missionaries to have use of a room in the base chapel when needed.  He answered his friend’s questions and encouraged him to go forward with his baptism—which took place after Kyle had already left for Camp Pendleton. His quiet persistence and his steady faithfulness made a difference and his example will be something I will long remember.

Like a pebble dropped into a stream, the influence and example of one person echoes through the lives of many others.  It has been amazing to watch how the Lord uses one to reach the one.  So to those we spoke about at the beginning of this blog who wondered if we were ever discouraged, no, we are not discouraged.  If we help only one person, it will have been worth it.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

One Year Gone!

Jacksonville District Missionaries, October 2014

It seems impossible, but we have been on our mission a little over a year.  Once we hit the half way point, time has just flown.  We have very mixed feelings about returning home.  We, of course, look forward to being with family and friends, but we will so miss being in North Carolina.  We have loved the area and the people.  It has been such an honor and a joy to work with such outstanding sisters and elders. They are truly incredible and I have seen miracles happen here.

We have learned so much and now that we finally have a handle on what to do and how to do it (at least to some degree), it is almost time to leave.  One of the advantages to being senior missionaries (we think) is that you get to serve your whole mission with your best friend and you don't change areas.  The downside is that we get very attached to and care so much for the people we teach and work with and then they get deployed, transferred, or go home.  They go.  We stay.  But we carry each of them in our hearts.

We have seen many amazing things happen during our time here.  In fact, we sometimes refer to Jacksonville as " Miracleville." My next post will be about some of the inspiring individuals we have come to know and love and some of the blessings and "tender mercies" we have experienced.  So this post will be more general in content.

The Mullet Festival (the fish, not the hairstyle)

The day started with a parade. I love small town parades, especially Southern ones. Of course, there was an Elvis in a pink cadillac to lead off.  Swansboro has a vintage 50's diner on main street that is totally devoted to Elvis and Marilyn Monroe posters and memorabilia,  There is even a life-sized cardboard cutout of Elvis in the corner of the women's restroom that greets you as you enter with, "Hi. I'm Elvis. Glad to meet you."  A little freaky the first time you encounter it.

Being on the coast, there were several floats of ships and pirates.  The pirate Blackbeard often used the inlets near here to land his ships.  One of his ships laden with treasure sunk in the waters off Morehead City, not far from Swansboro. It was recently discovered and they are in the process of  salvaging the cargo. People here are very proud of their pirate heritage.

What is a parade without a good marching band. Being loyal members of the Marching Razorbacks while at the University of Arkansas, Bob and I were pleased to see that marching bands are still a big deal in the South with lots of marching competitions and half time shows at local football games.

 And, of course, there were lots of beauty queens riding in convertibles.  Tiny Miss Swansboro, Little Miss, Young Miss, Teen Miss and then the official Miss Swansboro.  Remember "Toddlers and Tiaras"? Pageants are big below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Interesting Facts About North Carolina

I read that there are 39 different kinds of spiders in North Carolina.  Most are not dangerous, but they can be huge and sure look like they could cause harm.  This is a garden spider, very helpful in controlling insects.  It weaves a beautiful circle web with a zigzag design woven in.

Lots of snakes here but mostly away from populated areas.  This corn snake might look like bad news, but is very helpful to farmers in keeping down the population of rats and mice.  There are more poisonous snakes in the South than in the rest of the country.  In addition to rattlers, there are cottonmouths, water moccasins, and coral snakes (very deadly). 

How many states can claim a state ship and a state sea shell?

Scotch Bonnet

Thought for the Day:

Serving, learning and growing in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission.