Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homeward Bound

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."    
- Dr. Seuss

Packed up and ready to go

It was a whole week of good-byes, starting with our classes at both George Mason University and Annandale  on Wednesday, November 16th.  The next day it was our lunch class in Crystal City and our evening class in Centreville. Then on Tuesday, the 22nd, it was more good-byes to our last evening class in Crystal City and our awesome CES supervisor, Brother Devin Toma. That night, we were presented with a very special scrapbook of photos and individual tributes that we will always treasure. Bittersweet moments, to be sure. We've mentioned before how attached we are to our students. We hope our paths will cross again. We hope to hear where they go, what they do. (Kristen asked me a few days ago how we will ever leave the people we meet in London after two years there. Good question....)

The hardest good-bye was to Amy and Colin. Yes, they are where they should be and yes, they're doing what they should be doing with their lives. Yes, we'll talk, text and Skype, and we'll see them at Christmas in a few short weeks. Doesn't matter. We'll miss them anyway. We had the best times together!

That's the thing about good-byes. There wouldn't be any if there hadn't been a "hello." How grateful we are for all the people we met and the experiences we had on our mission. They are all cherished memories we can keep forever. We don't have to say good-bye to the memories.~Pat~

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We have really enjoyed our trip home as we've talked about the Institute students we met, the work we accomplished, the historic sites we visited, and the many blessings we received during our mission. Driving across the Continental Divide today, Pat and I discussed some of the things our mission taught us.  We learned that:

  •      Two minds and hearts working together can accomplish               more than one.
  •      The Spirit is a powerful gift when we need guidance and             inspiration.
  •      We can make lasting friendships in a short time.
  •      We are greatly blessed when we live by faith instead of fear.
  •      Five months goes by really fast.
  •      Trying new things when you're old gives you new life.
  •      Missions require sacrifice and hard work.
  •      There is great joy in full-time missionary service.
  •      Family ties grow sweeter when distance separates us.
  •      Washington, D.C. has more orange cones and crowded                 roads than we've seen anywhere else.
  •      The majority of Young Single Adults in the Church are                 strong, competent, and faithful.
  •      Warm cookies melt hearts.
  •      Our love for Jesus Christ and His gospel has increased!

We feel very fortunate to have lived and served in the Washington, D.C. area. We learned much and we're grateful for the opportunity.    ~Don~

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Now we're almost home. We've been on the road for six days seeing some new parts of the country, visiting Don's cousins in Oklahoma, and taking an extra day or two to get home via the southern route. We can't wait to see our family! We're excited to be home for the holidays!   Our challenge will be to collect and pack everything we'll need for two years in England so it can be shipped by the middle of December. Then, we'll celebrate Christmas (joy!), spend as much time with our family and friends as we can, get all our affairs in order, see all our doctors (including Pat's last post-cancer check-ups!) and more. It's going to be a fast five weeks until we leave again.

So... this blog post is the official last entry our the mission in Washington, D.C.   We plan to be back online with new adventures to post at the first of the year. We enter the Missionary Training Center again on Monday, January 9, 2012.                                        ~Don and Pat~

Thursday, November 24, 2011

In A Spirit of Thanksgiving

We are feeling greatly blessed today. Our mission ended just yesterday, so on this Thanksgiving we are basking in the joy of having given all we had to give to the Institute students of Northern Virginia. We received far more than we gave -- from the students and from the Lord. This is a Thanksgiving of abundant blessings. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are ten of the things we're most grateful for today:
1. To spend Thanksgiving with Amy and Colin in Alexandria.
When we arrived at their front door this afternoon we were met with the most delicious smell coming from their kitchen -- and a big bear hug from Colin when he opened the door. He gives the best hugs! He had just driven home from seven weeks of training at Wright-Patterson AF Base in Ohio (two weeks to go). Susi Carpenter, our niece, joined us and we had a spectacular feast.
Amy roasted a brined turkey, which has just become my favorite kind of turkey ever.
Amy baked four different kinds of pies in different shapes and sizes, then put together a presentation fit for Martha Stewart.
I have now decided - finally - that having all grown children is a great blessing. It's hard to watch them all leave home, but it is a delight to see them use their talents and abilities to create a new life and a new family.
2. The ways all of our daughters, their husbands and our grandchildren have become involved and encouraged us on our mission. Phone calls, cards, drawings, Skype, visits, and taking care of our home, to name a few. Their help and support truly strengthens us.
3. Challenges that give us chances to grow.
4. The opportunity and means to serve a mission. Service can bring love into your life.
5. Increased time to study and teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ together, gaining greater faith, understanding and testimony.
6. Knowledgeable, faithful Young Single Adults who give us hope for the future.
7. The health, energy and safety we need:  a great blessing we never take for granted.
8. Friends old and new.
9. The diversity and beauty of the different regions of this great land and it's people.
10. The values, goals and inspiration that led our founding fathers to establish the democracy that has guided our country for 235 years.

This week, we read a statement made by General Robert E. Lee at the end of the Civil War. Even though it's been almost 150 years since then, it's a timely reminder of everything we hold dear and to whom we owe our thanks:
     "Knowing that intercessory prayer is our mightiest weapon and the supreme call for all Christians today, I pleadingly urge our people everywhere to pray. Believing that prayer is the greatest contribution that our people can make in this critical hour, I humbly urge that we take time to pray -- to really pray. Let there be prayer at sunup, at noonday, at sundown, at midnight -- all through the day. Let us all pray for our children, our youth, our aged, our pastors, our homes. Let us pray for our churches. Let us pray for ourselves, that we may not lose the word 'concern' out of our Christian vocabulary. Let us pray for our nation. Let us pray for those who have never known Jesus Christ and redeeming love, for moral forces everywhere, for our national leaders. Let prayer be our passion. Let prayer be our practice."                                ~Pat~

Sunday, November 20, 2011

That We May Remember and Give Thanks

Due to our location of the Washington, D.C. South Mission, we've spent a fair amount of time on our weekly free day over the last few months visiting memorials...  monuments to heroes past. It has given us much to be thankful for. 

World War II Monument flag ceremony

This past week was no exception. When friends Duane and Shawnda Bishop came to town, we decided to take in the Veteran's Day ceremony at the stunning World War II Memorial on the Mall about halfway between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Aside from the fact that we nearly froze to death, it was a beautiful morning. It made me cry to see the World War II veterans being honored that day. They reminded me so much of my dad. He and my uncles who served in the war are all gone now. It's sad that so many WWII vets were too old or too infirm to feel our country's appreciation and visit the memorial by the time it was finished in 2004. We owe them all such a debt of gratitude.

World War II veterans with escorts
A veteran and a tribute

During the same weekend with the Bishops, we walked through Arlington National Cemetery once again. So many, many acres honoring war heroes and veterans from every conflict since the Civil War. I am always sobered as we pass Arlington on the way to our Crystal City classes each week. How do you wrap your mind around 612 acres of graves? It is fitting that over 4 million people come to pay their respects each year.

On this day, however, two scenes were permanently engraved on my heart. As we were walking between the Arlington House and the Tomb of the Unknown, we noticed an older man out in the middle of one of the large sections of headstones. He was sitting alone, on a little camp stool, next to a grave. His head was bowed and his hand held a white handkerchief. One can only imagine his pain, multiplied by hundreds of thousands....

From there, we walked quite a distance to the area of the cemetery where those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been buried. A funeral had just ended and a group of friends and relatives were still standing nearby. As we looked down the rows of graves, we were deeply touched by the little stones and mementos left on many of the graves by children. Reading the inscriptions on the headstones, we were reminded that in these conflicts, as in all wars, it is generally the young men who are taken because it is the young men who volunteer (or in some wars are drafted) to serve. Each one a son, a brother, a friend, and often a husband and a father. Arlington is now home to their final sacrifice for our freedom.

Our nation's capitol, the seat of our government.

The Iwo Jima Memorial

Honoring those who lost their lives on 9-11-2001
Just two days ago, we followed one last trail of heroes before we return home. It is something I have wanted to do since I was young, but we weren't sure we would have time to do it. Our mission president told us to go and have a good time, so we picked up Amy and all three of us took a day trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. What a great day! For those of you who have been to a Civil War battlefield, you know the profound sense of reverence and gratitude that attends a visit there. For those of you have haven't been there yet, go! when you can. We learned about the heroic men who fought for both the Confederate and the Union Armies during a troubled time in our country's history. I could write a page about the education and feelings we gained at Gettysburg, but suffice it to say that God guided those Union troops who put an end to slavery and knit this country back together. Our lives would not be the same without their dedication and courage and their willingness to sacrifice all for what they believed in.

Abe and friend

Meeting Confederate re-enactors from New York

Gettysburg National Military Park
Earlier this year, before we left on our mission, I learned that I have a 2nd great-grandfather who fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many in my dad's family already knew about it, but nobody ever told me! (So now I'm putting the word out to the rest of my Dana cousins....) When we visited the Manassas Battlefield just after we got here in August (it's only 8 miles from our townhouse), I had the opportunity to request some information on him from a Civil War records company. I received it in the mail a few months ago, but was too busy being a missionary to even open it up and take a look at it. 

Nathan Nye Coy
Now that we only have one last class to teach before we leave in a few days, I decided, following our trip to Gettysburg, it was time to take a look at the information I had been sent. Imagine my surprise when I read that the Shenandoah Valley battles that he fought in are only about an hour from where we live! Yesterday, we took a few hours and made a beeline for those battlefields. I felt like the movie stars whose ancestry is uncovered in Who Do You Think You Are on T.V.  It was so exciting!  I discovered that Nathan Nye Coy fought in some of the most decisive battles of the Civil War -- and he lived. I saw some of the places he saw. I walked a little of the ground he walked. I understood him a little bit better. And the Civil War became personal for me.

Visiting the site of the Third Battle of Winchester in Virginia

The Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, October 1864

Cedar Creek, Virginia, November 2011
There is a "spirit of place." It is a feeling that you get when you visit a place that has a history. Somehow that history comes alive when you are there. The time, the place, and the people become real.

I am so very grateful for the tender mercies that sent us to our mission in the very area where my great-great grandfather sacrificed so much. I'm glad I discovered that information before we left to return home! And I'm so grateful for the greater understanding that I have gained about the price of the freedom that we all enjoy. I will have much to give thanks for this Thanksgiving.                              ~Pat~

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life Is What Happens To You...

...while you're making other plans.

One of the first things we learned while we were in the Missionary Training Center in July was "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape."  Been thinkin' about that over the past few months....

It's official and the word is out. We'll soon be off to London. Don has been asked to be the director of the London Temple Visitors Center for the next two years. We return to the MTC on Monday, January 9th, then fly out on Friday, the 13th (yeah, it's our lucky day).

Last June 22, just two weeks before we were to leave for Washington, D.C., and in the midst of the packing and planning, we got a phone message that someone in the Missionary Department at the Church Office Building wanted us to come in for an appointment. We didn't sleep much that night wondering if they had decided to send us somewhere else, change our assignment, or even keep us home. We had no idea what to expect, but we never would have suspected what was about to take place. A new calling; a privilege; a blessing.

It didn't feel like that at first, though. We left the COB the next day in a state of shock and surprise. We had decisions to make. We headed for our car, then found our way to the Draper Temple. We spent several hours in that most peaceful, beautiful place of refuge pondering the call we had been given and our choice:  we could go ahead and serve the mission that we had planned and prepared for, or we could accept the assignment approved by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve.  Hmmmmmmm.

Understanding from long experience that when we let the Lord direct our lives He makes much more out of them than we can, the decision, ultimately, was easy. We rejoice in the covenants we've made. We try to honor them. It is always a privilege to serve the Lord. We trust Him and want to follow His path for us. Even though 2 1/2 years (the sum of both missions) sounds like a very long time to be away from our family, we will go to London in January -- gladly!

Realizing that we had already cleared everything off our calendars for the rest of 2011, and knowing that there was no way a new CES senior missionary couple could take our place in Washington, D.C. on such short notice, we asked if we could go ahead and serve one semester of our first call. We were thrilled when the missionary department said yes. It's been a great privilege and opportunity.  But, now, instead of finishing this mission next July, our mission will end Thanksgiving weekend and we'll be coming home for Christmas.  We'll have five weeks to unpack, pack, celebrate the birth of our Savior, and prepare to be gone for two more years.

Judging from the things we've learned, the ways we've grown, and the opportunities we and our family have had while we've been in Washington D.C. these past several months, we are looking forward to this challenge. In fact, we can hardly wait!

We are thrilled to be able to serve on the grounds of the London Temple. There is no more sacred building on earth than a temple. It is a place where heaven meets earth, where eternal truths are taught, where spirits are lifted, where sacred ordinances for both the living and the dead are performed, and where families are sealed together forever. It's a place where faith, hope and love abide. We look forward to sharing that message with others.                                                                           ~Pat~

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Still Holdin' On

It's hard to believe how fast our time in the Washington D.C. South Mission is passing. Our heads and hearts already have scrapbooks full of memories stored -- and there is more to come. It's been an unbelievable blessing and opportunity.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so we thought it was time for a walk through our mission in photos. Looking back now, it's easy to see how we've
  •  fallen in love with all the students we teach.
  •  gained deeper testimonies and greater love for Jesus Christ and his gospel.
  •  mastered D.C. traffic and freeways (well, almost), even during rush hour.
  •  had some terrific opportunities to visit historic sights on our free day each week.
  •  gained new respect and learned a lot about our country's history and government.
  •  enjoyed every minute of our visits with friends and family.
As you check out the photos, you can see that one thing has remained constant through our time here - we're still holdin' on -- to each other.                                                       ~Pat~

On our way...
to the MTC
Our Cookie Factory -
I think I've made over 1500 cookies
since we've been here. Phew!
13949 Big Yankee Lane -
Home Sweet Townhome

The Mount Vernon meetinghouse - Amy & Colin's ward
on original Mt. Vernon property. What a view of the Potomac!

The Slades' moving day
Chillin' in our family room

Our first visit to the Washington, D.C. Temple -
before the tips of the spires broke off in the earthquake.

On our day off each week we usually head to the National Mall.

First stop:  the Lincoln Memorial

To infinity and beyond - heading into the new Udvar-Hazy
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles.

Checking out the space shuttle Enterprise

Senior Missionary Couple dinner at President and
Sister Albright's home (Pres. Albright second from left)

Centreville Stake Center - 5 minutes from our townhouse.
Our Thursday night Institute class in Centreville - missionaries included!

The Annandale Stake Center - home to our Wednesday night Institute class.
Annandale Institute class

The new Crystal City YSA meetinghouse
Our Thursday noon Institute class in Crystal City.

Institute Display at George Mason University
George Mason University

GMU Institute class on Wednesdays at noon.

GMU Student Union Building where we meet.

The beautiful Washington, D.C. temple - again.

The Christus statue in the Temple Visitor's Center

From the balcony of the Newseum - what a fascinating museum.
You could wander around there for days.
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 
Baltimore National Aquarium
Friend or foe?
Fallen heroes

Arlington National Cemetery

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Our fast-paced weekend with Iain and Jenn - can you see the blisters?

A temporary exhibit in the Museum of Natural History...

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Susi, Paul and Gertrud Carpenter

Amy's first day of  grad school at GMU
The Air Force One hanger at Andrews Air Force Base
We took a driving tour of Andrews AFB. Thanks, Colin!
We got to spend a day with Kristen and her kids on the Mall.

Josh and Emily came to town for the weekend to dance with BYU.
Brunch at our house :)
Mr. Lincoln at his post.
The World War II  Memorial

The Viet Nam Memorial

The Korean Memorial

Emily and Josh had a couple of free hours to tour the Capitol


We got to introduce Janet and Kim's family to Mt. Vernon

What a beautiful place.
President Washington's tomb

A 2-year-old rolled down the lawn at Mt. Vernon
and did a face plant right in front of us.

Best friends Pam and Mike Hannan came for a weekend.
Retired Delta pilots get around.

The new Martin Luther King memorial was dedicated
just a few weeks ago.

George had a little help crossing the Delaware

Shenandoah State Park -
a beautiful drive in the fall
Manassas Civil War Battlefield -
10 minutes from our home

Manassas Battlefield

A trip to the temple with dear friends Shawnda  &  Duane Bishop

Brother Devin Toma - our fantastic CES Supervisor - with the Bishops

A few last looks at our comfortable home away from home

Ridin' the Metro. One of our favorite things to do!
Something we're definitely not going to miss --  D.C. traffic at a standstill!
They say it's the worst traffic in the entire nation. Who knows how many hours
of the time we've served  here during the past four months has been spend in TRAFFIC!  :)

It doesn't matter. Virginia is still an
incredibly beautiful place to be!