Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whispers and Echoes

Westminster Abbey

Last month we had the opportunity to walk through the storied halls and chambers of Westminster Abbey   across the street from the British Parliament and Big Ben.  It was sobering to ponder the lives and epitaphs of both the famous and infamous etched on the tombs, walls, and marbled floors of this historic place of worship that now honors the dead.  Here the names of common men are chiseled in stone among those of the Kings and Queens of England, archbishops, and mighty warriors.  Sinners and saints surround the poet's corner, where many great artists, musicians, and literary lights receive tribute.  For a brief moment, time stood still as the whispers of mankind seemed to echo through the Abbey and across my limited mind.

Joseph Addison, following his visit to Westminster, wrote:

"When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of  grieving    for those we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates  of mankind. When I read the several dates on the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider the great Day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together."

The many names at Westminster Abbey, together with Addison's thoughts, cause me to consider the  purpose of life, how we spend our time, and what might ultimately be recorded in our own book of life.  I have no desire to have my name or epitaph etched in the walls of Westminster Abbey, or in the halls of any other edifice or building. I just want my life to matter to God, to my wife and family, and to those I may meet and try to help along life's path. In order for my life to matter, I must continuously address questions like:

          What can I do with my time on earth to make life better for
                someone else?
          How can I make a difference today?
          Is there a cause good enough for my very best efforts?
          What battles are worth fighting for, and which should I just
                 leave alone?

When I stop to consider that over five billion people now populate the earth, I realize how blessed Pat and I are to have been called as missionaries.  Our opportunities are great, and they surround us every day.  We teach the restored gospel of  Jesus Christ, so that people can add to what they already know, understand the true nature of God our Father, and prepare to return to Him by following the teachings of the Savior.  Ours is  the joyful blessing of bringing people to Christ. There is no greater cause and no better way we could spend our time while we have the health, means, and privilege to do so.              ~ Don ~


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer in Southern England

It's true! We are experiencing some official summer weather here in southern England. I am one happy camper! It seems that Mother Nature decided she should be on her best behavior during the Olympics. Up until then, it was cold and rainy most every day. Sweater weather, for sure. However, the beginning of the Olympics ushered in a string of warmer, sunnier days that we are still enjoying. O.K., it's usually overcast and a little foggy in the mornings, but nearly every day since July 27th that damp beginning has morphed into a warm and beautiful day, complete with a clear blue sky. It has been 70 - 80 degrees every day, and actually hit 85 degrees yesterday. Wow! With humidity anywhere between 65% and 80% every day, that's pretty warm, but you won't hear me complaining. I'm loving every minute of it.

Our work at the Visitors' Centre doesn't leave us much free time. We try to take a day or two with family when they visit, and once in awhile we take off for an afternoon to run errands or take a driving lesson (required before you can take the driving test for your British drivers' license). This summer, one of our favorite places to visit has been Hever Castle. It's only a 20 minute drive east of the temple and the drive is half the fun. We wind around all over the countryside on little roads that are literally paved cow paths from the past. Some are so narrow that if a car comes from the opposite direction one car has to pull over so the other car can scrape by. Nevertheless, the scenery is breathtaking this time of year. Sometimes, on P-Day, we take a picnic lunch to the castle and just spend some time sitting by the picturesque lake for an hour and  feeding the ducks.

Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry VIII's wives. Henry VIII often visited there and brought his entourage of 250 servants with him when he came. After he had Anne put to death, King Henry gave the castle to one of his later wives. Nice guy....  Regardless of the history, the castle is in a serene setting, with gorgeous gardens. It was purchased and restored and improved by the Waldorf-Astor family during the 1900's.

A few weeks ago, I took some photos. They really don't do justice to the magnificence of the English countryside or the beauty of the castle grounds, but here are a few of the best:

Walking across the bridge at Hever Castle

The moat

Hever Castle in all its glory

Yours truly

One of the ornamental gardens

Don - out standing in his field

Rose Gardens

The private lake

What a view...

Leaving the rose gardens


Walking toward the jousting field

Is there anything more serene than this?

Even though we love to explore this part of England, there are weeks that we don't get off the temple grounds at all, except to do some grocery shopping. We're never bored, though. We are surrounded by beauty everywhere we look. Things are always changing on the temple property. Whether we are taking walks in the early morning, working in the Visitors' Centre, or heading over to the Mission Office for something we need, I am always grabbing my camera to capture a beautiful sight on the grounds. We never get tired of the splendor.

Here are a few photos I've taken on temple property with my trusty little point-and-shoot during the last month:

Always a plane nearby....

Sometimes we wonder if pilots just want their own close-up
view of the Angel Moroni and the temple grounds


Looking heavenward

Near the David O. McKay oak

The view from our living room (here, it's a "lounge")

The Reflecting Pool

Pato and his growing family

Our home away from home.

Last Monday, as we were finishing an activity,
we came outside and were greeted by this full rainbow.

Hooray for summer!                                                    ~Pat~

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Success Is Not Always Rewarded With A Trophy

On the Thames

Great Britain has certainly had the Olympic spirit these last two weeks. Everyone talks about the London Olympics. While we haven't attended any of the events, we catch glimpses of the games on TV newscasts and occasionally at noon or during dinner time. I've been thinking a lot about these fantastic athletes from so many different countries.  What an honor for them to be here in London! They are the world's best at what they do.

We had to go to London on Monday and walked through Hyde Park, where some of the rowing, distance swimming, and triathalon competitions are being held. Large grandstands have been erected just for the Olympics, and huge outdoor screens were installed so that thousands of people without tickets could participate in Olympic celebrations.

Olympic volunteers waiting to help tourist
London Victoria Station Olympic signs

This way to the Olympics

"Bobbies" and friends in Hyde Park

The Olympic venue at the Serpentine in Hyde Park
Ready for the Women's 10K swim competition

Olympic Logo - London 2012

Sunday, the London Summer Olympics 2012 will end and the winners will go down in history. Tonight, however, watching some late television, I saw a British relay team disqualified for running outside the lane. I saw a false start that had to be called back. I saw a woman sprinter fall down on the track in the middle of the race.  And I watched a pole vaulter fail on his final attempt to achieve a medal.  Not all Olympians receive medals.  Only three medals -- bronze, silver, and gold -- can be awarded in each event, when three or four times that many or more athletes  may enter.  All are winners, though, just having been there and participated.  They have practiced, competed, qualified and been selected as the very best to carry the hopes and flags of their home countries before the world. There are no losers in the Olympic Games. Some didn't achieve they way they had hoped, but no one was booed.  Even coming in last in the Olympics is an honor.  There is great respect for all who enter, compete, and try.

Athletics can teach us a lot about life.  In the end, it's not about the competition, it's not about the race. It's about showing up and doing our personal best, no matter where we are or what others are doing.  Beyond athletics, history records many examples of successful people, some who had failed many times before finally succeeding -- Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, and even Winston Churchill, who asked the British in WWII to "never give up, never, never, never, never give up."  I appreciate the example of people who keep trying and won't give up. They enrich and bless the world.

Consider the short life of Joseph Smith. He had many false starts that didn't work out -- the Kirtland Bank, Missouri, and Zion's Camp.  He was thrown off course many times, tarred and feathered, jailed on false pretenses, and even deserted by some of his trusted friends.  But he never gave up.  He knew what he knew.  He knew what he'd seen and experienced, and he knew what he had been called to do.  And he endured!  Because of his faith, obedience, effort,and endurance, and through the grace of God,  the Lord blessed him with many revelations and he became the prophet of the restoration.  The world needed Joseph to restore the gospel, and they still need his message. Without Joseph Smith, we would not know who God is or his true nature. We'd be tangled up in the creeds of the third and fourth centuries now central to the beliefs of Catholic and Protestant churches. Without Joseph Smith, the Church of Jesus Christ would not have been restored.

I love Joseph Smith for his faith, for his obedience and persistence, and for giving his very best to what was asked of him. I respect and admire every person who works hard and does his best, including the many remarkable and outstanding athletes who have gathered in London the past two weeks.
Not all the athletes will take home medals from the Olympics.  In fact, most will not, but they are nevertheless heroes for giving their best. Few people can compete at their level. I certainly can't -- not even close. But there are many things I can do, have been asked to do, and I should try to do my very best.

It matters not to me if my children or grandchildren are Olympic athletes. I just want them to try hard, be happy, and do the best they can at what they do.  We can all be winners if we choose well, don't give up, and try our best -- and that's good enough!  We can find joy in the journey, and we don't need the medals.
Success is not always rewarded with a trophy.               ~ Don~