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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas in North Carolina

Christmas Memories 2013

Notice the famous Olympus 2nd Ward
snowflakes in the window.
Our amaryllis bloomed on Christmas
Day.  What a treat











Cards from friends and family.
Not a great picture, but the small tree
is made of baby food jars.and tree
lights.  It was given to us by one of
the members who wanted to make
sure we had a tree.


We see mistletoe all over.  The traditional
way for Southerners to gather it is by
shooting it out of the tree with a rifle
or shotgun.







We were invited to spend Christmas Eve with some ward members with young children.  One woman's husband is currently deployed to Spain and the other woman's husband just returned from Afghanistan.  There were 4 children between the two families--ages 6, 4, 2, and 1.  After a fabulous dinner, one of the mothers used a "Candle Nativity" to retell the story of the First Christmas.  As she read the verses from Luke 2 she lit the appropriate candles and we sang various carols to go along with the verses.  The blue candles represent Mary and Joseph; the short white candle, the baby Jesus; the tall white candle, the angel; the 3 green short candles on the right, the shepherds; and the 3 purple ones on the left, the wise men.  The kids were mesmerized and really "got" the story and retold it several times afterwards.  At the end, all the candles were blown out (the kids helped and LOVED this part) except the candle representing Jesus.  I thought this was a wonderful way to share the story of Christmas and made the evening very special.

The Jacksonville 12



Our Jacksonville 12 (missionaries) traveled to Fayetteville for a Christmas Zone Conference.  There were about 100 missionaries there and you haven't heard singing until you hear that many missionaries singing with gusto.  We had training in the morning and then a musical program put on by the missionaries themselves after lunch.  The Stake Relief Societies in Fayetteville prepared a delicious Christmas feast for us all. New from the last district missionary photo--2nd from the left, top row is our new district leader, Elder Roberts; bottom row, 2nd from the right is Sister Fowler, a newbie from Conway, Arkansas.  I've got to remember to take off my glasses when we take pictures outside.


Hopefully, when you click on this video you will see our zone singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" complete with actions ala President Bernheisel.  It was hilarious.

Christmas Breakfast Chef

This is a somewhat contrived picture, but I keep forgetting to take pictures when things are really happening.  Bob and Elder Abney were in charge of the breakfast burrito/omelette bar at the Christmas morning breakfast at the ward.  The sisters were responsible for a waffle bar.  In addition, there was juice, cinnamon rolls, and clementines.  Actually, I use the term "juice" somewhat loosely.  We asked the young elders to bring juice and they brought fruit punch and Sunny-D and were delighted when some was left for them to take back to their apartments.  In addition to the missionaries from both wards, we had about 10 Marines that were not able to go home for the holidays.  After breakfast (and, of course, some basketball shoot around) we played a table game.  On the tables we had piles of all different kinds of candy (Warheads, Twix, Peanut M&Ms, etc.) and a pair of dice.  When a person rolled a 7 or 11 or doubles he/she got to choose one of the candies.  The next person who won could either choose a new candy or take one from someone else.  It got pretty heated with the Peanut M&Ms, but a good time was had by all and everyone went home with some of their favorites.  We even had two Marines we had never met wander in asking if there were church services on Christmas (they had seen the cars) and they stayed for breakfast and we got their contact information.  One of them was from Tremonten, Utah.




During December we tried to visit each family with a deployed Marine and took them a little gift and made certain they had someplace to go or someone to spend Christmas with.

The "snowman" is really a Hershey candy bar and the CD of Christmas music was provided by my daughter, Shannon, who sent us several copies to hand out.








We were able to make special arrangements to take Marines in training at Camp Johnson off-base to attend the YSA Christmas dinner at the ward.  The Marines enjoyed being in a non military, more informal setting, and, like most young men, they loved eating the home-cooked food. We hold Sunday services and Family Home Evening on Monday nights in the chapel on base, but we like to bring the Marines into some special activities at the ward when we can.
















 4 of our Marines at Camp Johnson graduated on the 20th of December.  The two Marines on the right in the first picture are ours. The one with his back to the camera in the other photo placed second in his class and is receiving special recognition. (It is hard to take pictures from the back of the room).  All three of these Marines were reservists and will be going back to their home towns.  The other Marine, we did not get a picture of, but he will be going to Camp Pendleton. We will miss these young men and hope they will do well in whatever comes next.  We have several new Marines coming to Camp Johnson after the first of the year and we look forward to getting to know them.

As we have noted before, as senior missionaries we don't get transferred to new areas like the young missionaries, but those we work with move on after training and so it is just as hard.  You become so attached to them and then they leave for a new assignment.

One of our newest members with Sister Bush and Sister Fowler. 

We had 3 baptisms in our district in December.  It has been so awesome to see the changes that have taken place in the lives of those who were baptized and the happiness they radiate.  

The Addiction Recovery Program is going well.  We will be doing presentations in adult classes at church soon explaining what the program is about and who might benefit from it.  We have had some referrals from the local bishops already. We would like to have a group for wives and/or family members affected by addiction, but we are not there yet.  We went with the J3 sister  missionaries this week to visit a mother and her adult son. The mother is trying to quit smoking so she can be baptized (hence, why we were invited along).  She is a very caring person who has had a lot of challenges and heartaches in her life. I hope something that we shared may be of help to her. 

The Last Judgement
Before I close this blog I wanted to tell you about our Open House at the chapel earlier in December.  We had about 50 attend and it went very well.  A lot of work went into the preparation and a lot of ward members helped out.  We took small groups of 10 or less on a tour beginning in the Primary room where they were greeted and one of the bishopric explained that this is the room where young children are taught about Heavenly Father and Jesus.  A group of Primary aged children sang "I Am a Child of God" and "If the Savior Walked Beside Me." Then the group went to the baptismal font where two of the elders talked about the covenant we make at baptism.  The tour included brief stops at the Family History Library, the Scout Room (where the scouts had set up a tent and a very realistic looking fake fire) and the room where early morning seminary and teen classes are held.  In the Relief Society room were pictures of the temple and Elder Abney explained why these are sacred buildings and answered questions.  In the foyer other missionaries talked about some of the art work on the walls and how they relate to our belief in Jesus Christ.  In the chapel proper the bishop spoke briefly about the sacrament and what that means to Latter Day Saints.  In the other foyer, Bob and I talked about the art work there.  The picture above was one of ours to talk about.  It is a reproduction of the painting of the Last Judgement that hangs in the Washington DC temple.  I learned several things about the painting which I shared with the tour groups.  First, the artist put himself and his family in the painting.  Second, there are no little children on the dark side as little children under the age of 8 who die go to the Celestial Kingdom.  Third, one of the visitors pointed out that Christ is making the American Sign Language signs for good and bad with his hands (open and turning upward for good, the other turning down for bad). Fourth, the artist painted he and his wife in both the light and the dark sides as he wasn't quite sure where they would wind up.  The tour finished up in the Cultural Hall with cookies and treats.  There was a TV playing Mormon Messages (very short inspirational videos produced by the church) and a slide presentation in another area with pictures of the inside of several temples as well as pictures of temples across the world. Even the members felt it was a special night and several commented it made them see the building in a whole new light.  



Sunday, December 8, 2013

Working Hard, But Having Fun!

A Special Wedding Anniversary

Thanksgiving was our 49th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a scrumptious dinner with the other senior couple, the Abneys, at the home of the Cunninghams.  The Cunninghams had been less active for some time, but are practically genealogy/family history) professionals, so we talked to the bishop about calling them to staff the Family History Center in the Jacksonville Ward one night a week.  We have become good friends and enjoy their family a lot.  They live on a beautiful wooded lot in the country.  If you remember the 500 year old white oak tree from a previous post, it stands right in front of their home.  Behind is a creek and lots of wildlife as well as pecan, black walnut and fruit trees.  Anyway, we had a most enjoyable meal and a fun time.


The next night, Friday, we decided to go to Swansboro for our "Date Night" to a seafood restaurant that had been recommended to us and continue our Anniversary Celebration.  When we arrived in Swansboro we noticed a lot of streets were blocked off but we didn't think too much about it.  It turns out the day after Thanksgiving the town sponsors a Christmas Flotilla, like a Christmas Parade on the water.  As luck would have it, the restaurant we were going to sets right on the waterfront and we were seated by a window overlooking the pier.  We had a front row seat!! First came the spectacular sunset.







Then as darkness fell, the flotilla arrived. Not only did we enjoy fresh seafood, but we also were able to watch 17 decorated boats parade across the harbor.










We liked the Holiday Lights on the streets, too -- shells for the nearby ocean and swans in honor of the name of the town. Although, I'm not sure there are actual swans there. The town was originally named Swannborough, after Samuel Swann, an early resident, and was later shortened to Swansboro.

Christmas Parade in Jacksonville / Advertising Ward Open House
 Last Saturday was the big Christmas Parade down Western Blvd., one of the main thoroughfares in Jacksonville.  There were 5 marching bands and 10 or so floats plus lots of cars with local VIPs and police and fire vehicles. It went right in front of our ward building, so we missionaries set up a hot chocolate stand and gave out free hot cocoa (as they prefer to call it here) and let people park in the parking lot and use our rest rooms.  The parade was over an hour long and the air was nippy so we had lots of takers.  I think we gave out over 200 cups of cocoa.



While the senior missionaries manned the hot chocolate stand and walked rest room patrol, the elders and sister missionaries handed out flyers advertising our Open House at the church to be held December 9th.  We also had signs in front facing both directions.  I wish they could have been a little bigger, but we have a limited budget. The smaller signs say "Find Your Roots" inviting people to learn more about the Family History Library inside the ward building.  We are hoping to have a good turn out and do a little PR as there are still a lot of misconceptions about the Mormon church here in the South.

Lots of Graduations

Each week we attend graduations of any of our young Marines who have finished their training.  We take pictures to send to their families.  We also find where they will be stationed and notify the missionaries there to watch and welcome them.  The Marine on the right is called a Mustang --meaning  he started out as enlisted and then went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) and qualified to be a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was at Camp Lejeune for Financial Management Training for about 6 weeks.  He was named Honor Graduate and also was picked by his fellow classmates to receive the "Gung Ho" award for having the best attitude.  The Marine on the left is a returned missionary, recently married.  He just finished his MOS in Supply Training and is to be stationed in California.

It is often hard on our young LDS Marines.  Many of them join right out of high school and as one of them told us, "I've always been surrounded by my family, my friends, and my church.  I took it all for granted.  I never knew how much I needed to take the sacrament until I was in a place where it was not available (on maneuvers in the field)." They also have talked about how hard it is to remain spiritual while being surrounded by foul language and vulgarity.  Even our returned missionaries who later join the Marines sometimes falter.  I so admire the ones who do manage to make it through and keep trying to pray, read their scriptures, and attend church.

We have encountered some issues at Camp Johnson that have made it more difficult to serve the young LDS Marines based there.  Because of some problems with a few young Marines in training going off base in Private Vehicles (POV) and getting into trouble, the ruling now is no private vehicles can pick up Marines in training at Camp Johnson, which, unfortunately, includes us.  We had, prior to this, been picking up any young Mormon Marines that wanted to attend services in Jacksonville and taking them to the ward.  We also brought them in to some YSA activities, such as the Thanksgiving Dinner.  Now we must arrange to hold any regular meetings on base in the back room of the Chapel there.  It is not ideal, but at least we can hold Sacrament Meeting on Sunday morning (45 minutes) and Family Home Evening on Monday nights.  We are also able to  communicate with them by text or facebook.

We have three young men attending services at Johnson who plan to go on missions as soon as they finish basic training.  They will go into the Reserves and have a special arrangement allowing them a 2 year deferment while on a mission.

Elder Abney compares what happens to many young Marines in the military to the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon.  There are a lot of "conversions" in basic training.  The challenges are so intense that they are literally humbled and look forward to any kind of spiritual nourishment.  Several have expressed to us that prayer and weekly church meetings were the only things that got them through boot camp.  Then when they go on to MCT (combat training) and MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) they get more freedom and things are not quite as intense and they start losing that closeness and dependence on the Spirit and other things can seem more important in the moment.

Having Too Much Fun
One of our ward members ( the husband in less active family we have been working with) had a heart attack early Monday morning. (No, this is not the fun part!  Read on.)  He had a large aneurism in one of the arteries in his heart and he was very lucky it had not ruptured.  The doctors put in a stent, and, amazingly, he was able to come home Wednesday.  We went  to the hospital in New Bern (about an hour away) as soon as they called us that Monday morning and Bob and Elder Abney gave him a blessing. When he got home from the hospital he was worried about all the yard work that needed to be done so we decided to see how we might help.



 Sister Abney and I picked up branches and larger sticks while Bob mulched leaves with the riding mower. Some of you may know that Bob has long wanted his very own riding mower, so this was like the next best thing. Of course, now he is convinced that we REALLY need one for our yard in Salt Lake.  I told him to dream on. Elder Abney decided to prune some dead limbs from a large cedar tree. He likes the challenge of heights, so this was right up his alley.  I don't know if you can tell, but he is at the top of a very tall extension ladder.














The past two days we have spent any spare time cutting and folding snowflakes to help decorate for the Open House Monday night.  We have snowflakes hanging all over the house awaiting transportation to the church.  Lou (Bitner) told me you shouldn't lay more than one or two on top of each other or they will get crushed, so we have been creative in finding places they can be hung without getting knocked down as we walk around the house.  I understand that Lou is claiming that the Olympus 2nd Ward snowflakes are now famous coast to coast and we are doing our part to support that claim.



Who knew a senior mission could be this much fun!