Friday, September 30, 2011

30 Days Hath September...

How could it be the last day of September already? This week has gone so fast that there wasn't an hour anywhere to write our thoughts on our blog. But today our thoughts have turned to the spectacular joy we had a year ago today of witnessing our last (and youngest) daughter's marriage. What wonderful memories. Happy First Anniversary, Emily and Josh!

The last day of September means it's General Conference this weekend, too. Yippee! Can't wait! I always feel like my batteries are recharged at the end of the weekend. Love. Faith. Energy to go forward with new enthusiasm. You can find it anywhere in the world at

September also brings to mind one of my favorite flowers - sunflowers. I had to give a talk to all the sister missionaries in the Washington D.C. South Mission this past Monday (hence, no blog that day). Here's a small part of what I said about sunflowers:

"If you've ever been in the West or the Midwest in the U.S.A. in September, you've probably seen sunflowers. They're native American flowers that grow by the side of the road, on hillsides, in fields, in gardens, and in gigantic sunflower farms in several states. They grow like weeds. Sunflowers are big, bold, bright yellow flowers with gold centers. Some grow on small, spindly stocks and their blooms are only a couple of inches wide. Others grow on strong, sturdy stocks that reach 12 - 15 feet in height. Their flowers can be a foot or two in width.

"I love sunflowers. They make me happy. They give me hope. They also give us sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, but that's not why I love them. In the fall in Utah, I go out on a hillside by our house and pick a big armful to take home and put in a vase. Their warm, sunny faces cheer up the whole house. But, mostly, I love seeing them in ditch banks and on the side of the road when I go for a morning walk with friends. I am fascinated by how sunflowers follow the light of the sun. Regardless of anything else going on around them - car traffic, bikers, walkers, animals, bad weather, or fire engines screaming past - those sunflowers have their faces turned toward the sun from sun-up to sundown. No matter what.

"Each fall, sunflowers remind me that I should keep my face turned toward the Son - the Son of God. Just like those sunflowers following the light of the sun, I am happiest when I am following the light of the Son. No matter what else is going on around me, I am O.K when my face is turned toward my Savior, Jesus Christ. I have a sense of hope and trust that keep me centered. No matter what.

"Hope in our Savior, Jesus Christ, gives us reason to rejoice even when we are struggling. Like the sunflowers, if we keep our faces turned toward our Source of Light, we receive the strength, the direction, the perspective and the blessings we need to overcome all trials that come our way. Our hope and our deliverance are in Christ. He is the only one who knows fully how to help us in our trials and struggles, because He already suffered each one of them in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows us intimately. He is always waiting to help us if we will ask.

"Faith and hope in Christ overcome fear and despair. Because of the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can hope and be assured that the final result of our lives will exceed our grandest expectations. In I Corinthians 2:9, Paul bore testimony that 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'

"I have learned many, many times in my life that these words are true. Even though the help has not always come in the way or at the time that I wanted it, it has always come in the way and at the time that was best for me. It always begins with a feeling of peace.

"Hope is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill his promises to us. When we have hope we can work through our trials and difficulties knowing that we are not alone. Things will work out if we ask Christ to walk through them with us.

"Don's (Dad's, Grandpa's) and my favorite scripture has always been Proverbs 3:5-6: 'Trust (or hope) in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.'

"With all our hearts and in all our ways -- in every part of our day, in every situation, in big challenges and in little irritations, even on cloudy, stormy days when the light is hiding behind the clouds, we can turn toward the light of the Son, like sunflowers." ~Pat~

Monday, September 19, 2011

Making Choices

"When you have a choice to make, how do you tell the difference between promptings of the Spirit and your own thoughts?" This is a question Pat was asked yesterday in an email from one of our students.

It's a good question, and with Pat's permission I'd like to share her response. She wrote: You have a question that most people face at one time or another. It is hard to discern the difference sometimes, even when you've had some practice. I've found a couple of things to be helpful. The most important thing to me is whether I am feeling increasingly calm or concerned. The Spirit brings a feeling of peace. Usually, when I have a decision to make, I pray about it, then go forward and make the best decision I can, based on what I think I am feeling from the Spirit. Then I give it a couple of days to settle. During that time, if I still feel calm and peace, I continue in the direction I have started. I've learned that this is walking by faith. If, however, during that settling time I begin to feel more anxious or troubled or worried, I come to understand that something is not right with the decision. Either the timing isn't right yet, or the decision needs to be revisited. Over a period of a few days - or longer, when possible - the promptings become more clear.

There's a lot more that could be said about making choices and discerning the promptings of the Spirit. Maybe we'll blog about that again sometime. For now, let me just say that the students we teach have a lot on their minds, particularly with choices to make about careers, where to live, and who to marry. It's a tough and sometimes lonely time of life for many of them. In truth, life is a series of choices for all of us. It's through making choices that we learn and grow - an important part of God's plan for us.

We all need help in making wise choices. The ongoing message of our Institute classes is that if we study things out in our minds, pray with faith, and put our lives in tune with the Spirit, we can find personal revelation and answers to prayer, often through the words of ancient and living prophets. Then we have to have the faith to act, walking one step at a time, sometimes into the unknown, based on the principles we understand and promptings we receive from the Spirit.

This week in class we will discuss one of the biggest decisions most of our students will face - choosing someone to marry. Last April, President Monson spoke to the Young Single Adult men: Brethren, there is a point at which it's time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity. If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness. Exercise faith. Find someone with whom you can be compatible. Realize that you will not be able to anticipate every challenge which may arise, but be assured that almost anything can be worked out if you are resourceful and if you are committed to making your marriage work.

Discerning the promptings of the Spirit. Seeking counsel from the scriptures and modern prophets. Making choices based on true principles. Having the faith to move forward with your decisions. Honoring commitments. These are all part of the tried and true formula for
lasting happiness.

How thankful I am for the choice I made more than 44 years ago to marry Pat. It was a decision made with much thought, prayer, and faith, but also because I was deeply in love. It's been the best decision I ever made, and I am thankful every day that she accepted.

This morning UPS delivered certified copies of our marriage certificate, which we need to obtain visas for our next mission assignment in January. As I looked over the document, I saw that it was signed by Pat and me, her father, and my father. Most importantly, it was also signed by James L. Varney from the Los Angeles Temple Presidency, who sealed us for eternity. Today I feel very blessed and very lucky. I can scarcely take in how fortunate and grateful I feel. ~Don~

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Week At A Time

O.K., I promised last week that we would talk about our first week of fall Institute classes, but first I just want to mention the wonderful concert we were able to attend tonight at the Temple Visitor's Center. There is a "Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C." that performs at various events around the District. It is made up of members of several stakes (all volunteers, of course). Tonight, they performed a musical program in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The music was stirring and the remarks thought-provoking. Elder Bruce A. Carlson of the Quorum of the Seventy spoke. As an Air Force General, he was in his office in a different area of the Pentagon when it was hit by the third plane. Living here, it is easy to imagine the terror of that day and to be grateful that nothing resulted from the high terror alert here this weekend.

In the Wakefield Ward, where we attended Sacrament meeting today, the bishopric counselor who was conducting admonished everyone to make a stop at the meetinghouse library for a copy of the ward's emergency plan. Said he, "Now that we've survived the earthquake and the hurricane and the flooding, we hope you'll be sure to pick up your folder before the locusts arrive." We all laughed -- but not for very long....

On a happier note, we LOVE our Institute classes and especially the students. We have had a fifth class added to our weekly schedule, so our week goes something like this:

SUNDAY - We have been told to ward hop (unlike the young single adults who have been told to stay put...). We are usually in a different building every week, meeting new people and spreading the word that there are Institute classes available for young single adults.

MONDAY - We add audiovisual materials and put the
finishing touches on our lessons for the week. We also put together food for "munch & mingle" activities after three of the classes.

TUESDAY - We meet with our CES Supervisor for an hour or two in a staff meeting during the morning. By 5 p.m., we are on our way to Crystal City, near the Pentagon (a 45 minute trip), to teach our first class of the week. The "23rd Street Chapel" is a refurbished office building that was just dedicated this past spring as the meetinghouse for three singles wards. There are three Institute classes taught there every Tuesday night. In our class, we have about 30 Young Single Adults, most of them pursuing graduate degrees or working for the government or in government-related occupations.

WEDNESDAY - We teach two classes. First, we travel about 20 minutes east to George Mason University to teach a class in the Student Union Building. It's a "brown bag" affair for students on campus. Everybody brings their lunches and we meet for an hour between noon and one. We have about 10 students, including a pair of missionaries who are the first set of elders assigned specifically to the campus. They've been on campus about a month and have three investigators already. We hope they will accompany the elders to class. In the evening, we travel about 30 minutes in a different direction to the Annandale Stake Center, where we teach about 20 young single adults who are still mostly living at home, working, or commuting to various college campuses in the area. They are a sweet, humble bunch of students.

THURSDAY - We make the 45 minute trip back to the 23rd Street Chapel to teach a lunchtime class to about 15 students whose schedules allow them to spend an hour with us in the middle of the day. Some work from home or at a near-by business, some are going to school. Then, in the evening we drive just 10 minutes from home to the Centreville Stake Center (in our home ward boundaries) to teach our last class of the week to 20 or so students who are working locally or attending area community colleges while living at home.

FRIDAY - We spend the morning catching up on cleaning, grocery shopping, etc., then devote the afternoon and evening to lesson plans for the next week. If we're lucky, we sometimes take an hour or two off to go out to dinner.

SATURDAY - It's our day to see the sights! We often take the Metro from the Vienna station into the District and explore all the wonderful sights we have hurried through when we've been here before. This is the day we have time to go to the temple and to see Amy and Colin. We have taken some trips together to some great historical sights. Our mission president and our
CES supervisor have both told us to take one day a week off, and we love it!

We're keeping busy, but it's been great. We are so glad to see our students each week. We've definitely wrapped our hearts around them. All-in-all, our students are very diverse in their cultural backgrounds, in age (anywhere between 18 & 30) and in the life goals they are pursuing. It's a great challenge to adapt the subjects we teach to their individual needs, but we are loving it. Lots of work, lots of fun. ~Pat~

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Trusting God

It's been a sobering week for us as we've contemplated some of the events that are taking place in our neighborhood at home. Our hearts have been reminded once again how very fragile life can be - and how little influence we really have over God's great universe.

Our friends, the Southwicks, lost their daughter-in-law, Cami, in her sleep last week to a suspected ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Cami was a 30-year-old wife and mother of four very young children. As young-marrieds, Ryan and Cami lived in our neighborhood for awhile. Our hearts go out to the entire Southwick family.

For Don and I, this hits very close to home. Why, in possibly very similar situations, was he spared and Cami taken? In our estimation, there could be nothing more important to God than to allow a faithful, loving mother to raise the four sweet children He gave her. Couldn't He just have intervened with a simple miracle to make sure that happened? What could be more important than that?

It's been a year since other friends in our neighborhood, the Calls, lost their son, Griffin, in an unexpected and tragic accident. We still haven't made sense of that experience, either.

As we began the fall semester this week, teaching five new Institute classes, we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell a little about our background. One of the things we felt impressed to share was both our brushes with death: Don's from his aneurysm and brain surgery, mine from cancer. We remembered the visits the Southwicks made to be with us in the hospital when Don was fighting for his life. It gave us reason to revisit the whole issue of why some are permitted to live through illnesses and accidents, and others not.

And then, over Labor Day weekend, we welcomed our Jenn and Iain for a three-day visit. It was so wonderful to have them here for a few days and to spend some time exploring the District together! Interestingly, our first stop was the deeply moving but heart-breaking Holocaust Museum. We hadn't been there for a long time - since before we met Esther, the beautiful 82-year-old Auschwitz survivor who told us her personal experiences in that death camp when we met her quite by accident there, in Poland, in 2008. The Holocaust Museum was much more personal for us this time as we thought of her and her family - those who lived through Auschwitz and those who did not.

We also happened onto a temporary exhibit of artifacts from 9-11 on display in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History during our weekend with Jenn and Iain. Another sobering memory of a day some lived and several thousand did not.

A long walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery reminded us yet again of the price of war in American lives -- over one million three hundred thousand courageous lives lost, beginning with the Revolutionary War.

Life can be so fragile. This is when I am grateful that I KNOW without any doubt that there is a God and that He loves us and He is in charge and He will make all things right and fair -- and worth what we go though. He loved us enough to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to take all the sins and pain in the world upon himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows how to help us conquer the trials we face because he has already carried them for us. We can put our lives in his hands. We can trust him. He knows us better than anyone else ever will. He rejoices with us in our happiness and He sorrows with us in our darkest hours. We can turn to Him when we are on top of the world. We can turn to Him when we are broken and worn out and afraid. He has already born our grief and carried our sorrows. With the benefit of 64 years of experience, I have weathered enough trials to know that if we will turn to Him and humble ourselves and keep His commandments and listen for His guidance, no matter what we face, no matter what happens, in the end it will be O.K.

President Howard W. Hunter put it best when he said, "If our lives are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and His teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right." It's true. Trials are never easy, but they are all temporary when we lean on our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We like to think we are in charge of our lives. We make choices; we take control. But things can change - and in the end, we are not really in charge. Just witnessing the power and force of nature here in Washington, D.C. the past few weeks has reminded us of that. Earthquake... tornado... and today... torrential flooding and a high terror alert due to the 9/11 anniversary Sunday. We changed our route home from an Institute class we were teaching near the Pentagon at noon to avoid the roads flooded out by massive thunderstorms during the past three days. Tonight it's still raining... hard. We pray that Sunday will be calm -- throughout the nation.

But the sun will shine again. It is easy to forget the many days of sunshine when we are watching claps of lightening overhead during a massive thunderstorm. It's easy to think the rain is never going to stop, but it will. And life will return to normal. Roads will dry out. Hearts will heal. There will be more good days. In the meantime, we will keep our eyes focused on the source of light and truth - the Son. ~Pat~

Post Script: Next week we promise to tell about our fun first week of Institute in the new fall semester.