Monday, January 27, 2014

Home Run!

We've covered all the bases. In July 2011, we were called to serve two missions, and at that time 2 1/2 years seemed like a very, very long time to be away from our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our home, and the life we knew. With a fair amount of anxiety, we left home plate and we ran the bases, and now we're back where we started again, feeling the thrill of a finishing the challenge, having done the best we could. Could we have done more? Of course. Are there things we could have done better? Absolutely. But did we serve with all our heart, might, mind and strength? Yes. It's an exhilarating feeling to look back now, with love and gratitude, on all the amazing experiences we had. God has been so good to us these past 2 1/2 years. Having hoped our service would somehow begin to "repay" Him for all He had previously blessed us with, we are now only further in His debt.

We LOVED both of our missions! It was one of the best decisions we ever made to get out of ourselves and let God direct us to go where He wanted us to go. We felt His guidance. It's a habit we hope to continue for the rest of our lives, because we've experienced the joy that it brings to anyone who will trust Him and serve Him.

In many ways, our hearts are still in the United Kingdom. Not a day goes by that we don't think about all the people and places in England that we love. We catch ourselves wondering what is going on the the Visitors' Centre throughout the day. Sometimes we even find that we have to remind ourselves that we're in the U.S.A.  It still surprises us once in awhile. When we watched Downton Abbey this week on TV (a luxury we occasionally indulged while we were on our mission) it seemed really weird not to be sitting in England where the drama takes place. We lived just twenty minutes away from the train depot and steam locomotive that are used in the filming.

Although a part of us hasn't arrived home yet, we've already been home three weeks now, and we are LOVING being home again. Everything we cherish about our family and our home seems sweeter after our absence. We aren't taking anything for granted. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for every little thing. It's a joy to spend time with our family. It's a joy to move back into our house (though we've found we don't need half the stuff that's in it after all). It's a joy to be able to pick up the phone and call an old friend without wondering what the time difference is and dialing 25 numbers to get an oversees rate on the call. It's a joy to know where to find products we're familiar with in the grocery and/or drug store. It's a joy to find out that we can still drive on the right side of the street (I was afraid of that adjustment) though we have to consciously think which side of the car to climb into. And it's a joy to be able to talk to our daughters any old time we want to!

We are still adjusting, trying to create the next chapter of our lives. It may take some time. In the spirit of several previous posts, I would like to offer some advice about returning home from a senior mission.  Here are some of the things we've learned so far about L.A.M. (or Life After Missions):

#1 - Part of our hearts haven't come home with us. We still care about the people we learned to love so much and we think about them Luckily, technology works in the opposite direction. Those same connections that helped you keep in touch with family during your mission will help you keep in touch with new friends after your mission.

#2 - Things here have changed. There are a lot of physical changes all around us. Even though everything is familiar, nothing is the same. It's another full and complete international move, though not nearly as stressful as starting over again. Re-entering the world at home is much easier than finding your way away around your mission field when you first arrived. Time moved on without us and we are just working to catch up. People have changed, too. Two years makes a big difference in the appearance of others (which makes us wonder how much older we look). Children have changed the most. We find ourselves searching for some familiar feature that will identify them on their much taller frames. Exciting!

#3 - It's time to de-junk. It's quite common for returned senior missionaries to discover they don't need nearly as many belongings as they thought they did. A lot of what we left behind is still in boxes and will stay there for a few more weeks until we sort through and give/throw a lot of it away. If we didn't need it for 2 1/2 years, we probably don't need it now. A fresh start in an organized house is a good thing!! We plan to have a big garage sale in the spring and sell or give away what we no longer need. There's no doubt it will take that long to go through all our stuff and sort it.

#4 - It's easy to over plan when you first arrive home. So many people to see. So many things to do -- like doctors' appointments, driver's license renewals, setting up insurance, and changing, fixing and updating things you own. After a whirlwind homecoming week, we both came down with bad colds. Time to consciously slow down a little. Too bad we didn't figure that out before our bodies called it quits :)

#5 - Our most important focus is on the people we love. The projects may have to wait. Good advice anytime.

#6 - Friends and family are precious! We really cherish every moment we have with them right now. Even if you think you already appreciated your blessings, they will mean even more when you come home from a mission. We aren't taking anything for granted now. We feel so much love and appreciation.

#7 - There are only a few things that are really important in life. To have the knowledge and perspective that the gospel of Jesus Christ gives about what is really important is a blessing beyond measure. It is a source of peace and strength, no matter what happens to you in life. Our understanding of truth, commitment to our Savior, and love for Him has grown so rich and deep as we have served. We will continue to serve, for that is how we learn to know Him better.

#8 - It's time for another goal planning session. As we flew home, somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean, we took some time to talk about what is really most important to us and what we want to accomplish as we head into this next chapter of our lives. We've learned firsthand that when we set goals together and write them down, we tend to accomplish most of them, even if we misplace the paper we wrote on. We've been known to find a list of goals ten or more years later and marvel at the way we had already accomplished them just because they were commitments we had made to ourselves, each other, and to God.

#9 - All that time that went so slowly on our mission seems like a bleep on the radar screen now. It makes us realize that we must consciously live each and every day - in day-tight compartments. Good days come and go. So do bad days. Concentrating on the day at hand is the only way to get the most out of it. One thing is always certain:  This, too, shall pass.

#10 - We get to keep everything we learned and experienced while we were gone. All those people, places and experiences that we were a part of have changed us. We are not the same people we were when we left. The memories are ours to keep, and they'll go with us wherever we go from now on. The same is true for the people, places and experiences that lie ahead. It's wonderful to look back, but we also look forward to the future.

President Gordon B. Hinckley summed it up for us several years ago. Oh, how we miss him!  He could sure put things in perspective. He spent a lot of time in England, too - but he was referring to life in general when he quoted Jenkin Lloyd Jones: "Life is like an old time rail journey... delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally with beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.  The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."

Thank you, Lord!                             ~ Don and Pat ~

Our growing family - January 2014


Monday, January 13, 2014

Mission Accomplished

There's No Place Like Home, There's No Place Like Home... but where is home???  We wondered off and on while we lived in the U.K. how we would adapt to returning to the U.S. after being away so long. To live away from home for 2 1/2 years means that your new home becomes home, and your old home isn't anymore. It didn't take a week to build our second nest in England (see Aug. 1, 2011 and Jan. 23, 2012 blog posts), but build it we did and we settled ourselves in and wrapped our hearts around the whole United Kingdom.We were comfortable and content in our new life. Though we were excited to return and see our old friends and family in Utah, in the end it was really hard to let go of the people and places in England that we have learned to love so much.

Looking back, I am convinced that it was harder to come home than it was to leave on our mission! We always knew that, God willing, we would be with our kids and grandkids again, but now we have a whole new group of people who we love dearly and we don't know if or when we will ever see them again. For many weeks before we left England, it felt like part of our hearts were being ripped out. It was rough!

I shouldn't have worried! Texts, Skype, emails, Instagram and Facebook to the rescue! We are already finding that leaving England doesn't mean that we have to leave those we love after all. All those technological advances we relied on in England will work just as well when we're home as they did with our friends and family while we were gone. And now our lives are filled with many more people to love. What an amazing blessing it is to live in the 21st Century!!!

Now we are home! It seems like a dream! During our mission, especially during the first few months, I looked forward to the end and how it would be to go home to our family, but when the end actually came, it was surreal - like we were watching it on an old newsreel in a theater. It happened soooooo fast! It is true that a mission starts out slow, but every day of a mission goes a little faster, until at the end it seems that everytime you blink it's a new day.

Heathrow Airport

After our "Why I Believe" fireside on Sunday night, the Adams and the Horsleys were kind enough to drive us to our hotel near Heathrow Airport. Our flight Monday morning, January 6th, was so early that we didn't want them to have to get up at 3 a.m. to get us there. Turns out, we could have taken our time. Our flight was cancelled! After spending 6 hours in the airport Monday morning listening to updates, we were informed that our flight was cancelled due to a malfunction in the plane's weather radar system. We were rebooked to fly out the next day. Actually, I thought United Airlines handled the whole experience really, really well. We were all given rooms in the Radisson Hotel nearby, with vouchers for lunch, dinner and breakfast the next morning. Coaches were hired to take us back and forth with our luggage. (This was definitely not a good flight to take with 6 pieces of luggage and 2 backpacks between us, but oh well....) I have to say that we were completely exhausted and really needed another good night's sleep before taking off for home, so it turned out to be a bonus for us!

Leaving London in the rain...


Tuesday morning, January 7th, we finally flew out of London and arrived at Dulles outside Washington, D.C. just before noon.  It was FABULOUS to walk off the plane and see Amy standing there! We drove with her past our old stomping grounds from our first mission - the Centreville Stake Center, the apartment where we lived, George Mason University, and into Washington, D.C.  After a stop at their new apartment in Alexandria, she took us with her to pick up Colin at Andrews AFB, then we drove back to Alexandria to meet Corby, Suzanne and Megan Campbell for dinner. Such fun!! So much to talk about in so little time!

Wednesday afternoon, January 8th, Amy dropped us off at Reagan National for the final leg of our trip. We joined three tall, handsome young elders returning home to Salt Lake on the same flight.  All of us were trying to come to terms with the reality that our missions were ending and real life was about to begin again. Such mixed feelings of sadness, anticipation and excitement!

When we arrived in Salt Lake, one of the flight attendants made an announcement welcoming us back home after 2 1/2 years out of the country. (Thanks, Iain!) Iain (Jenn's husband) was waiting for us as we stepped off the plane into the jetway. Hugs and smiles all around! It helped our anxiety level to walk the long distance from the plane to the baggage claim area with him! And then we were there at the top of the escaltor where we have watched so many returning missionaries before us descend to their families. It was a great moment!!!  I thought I would sob, but all I could do was grin! We were just so happy to see everybody standing there waiting for us!

They made us cross their finish line and there were posters and balloons everywhere and hugs all around. A moment in time that we will always remember!

Love, love, love this family (+Amy and Colin).

When I was in my 20's, I made a little handwritten sign that read, "This, too, shall pass."  I posted on the fridge and it stayed there for several years. At the time, I was struggling with infertility and it would be many years before that pain was healed, but the day eventually did come and even though it truly seemed at times that the struggle would never end, it did.

Everything eventually passes.

We LOVE being home again. We LOVED both of our missions! It was one of the best decisions we ever made to get out of ourselves and spend our time serving God and serving others, though I'm not gonna lie. There were days when it was too hard, we were too tired, or too overwhelmed, or too sick, or too homesick to appreciate the blessings at the moment. In the balance, though, all those hard times combined with all the joyous times made for a spectacular experience! Missionary work is a front row seat to daily miracles. Miracles for us, for our family, for other missionaries, and for the honest seekers of truth we met and came to love so much. We loved sitting on the front row and watching it all unfold.

Don and I are so grateful to God for the opportunity to serve two missions. There were times when our health would not have permitted it and we wondered if we would ever be able to fulfill the desire we had had since we were a young married couple, but after much patience and great blessings, we were able to go. It has been a gift from God to be able to serve, and we give God all the credit. It's a curious thing to watch what happens when you try to give something to God. You think you are serving to give something back to Him and show your appreciation for all He has given you - but then He blesses you even more. You can never get even with God!                                                    ~Pat~

Monday, January 6, 2014

Post Script

Our hearts were full of gratitude and a fair amount of angst last night as we prepared to finish our mission and leave the London Temple Visitors' Centre to return home. It was so difficult!

We could write volumes on all of our emotions during those final hours there, but as we wait for our flight today, we are short on time and will just say that we were so grateful for the well wishes and send-off we received. We couldn't begin to leave all the people we have grown to love so much - missionaries, members and friends - if we didn't know our family is waiting for us on the other side of the pond. We feel like we are leaving our hearts in England, though, and that we're taking so many wonderful friendships with us as we go. They will be a part of us wherever we go from now on. We anxiously look forward to to the time when we will meet again - whenever and wherever that may be!

We spoke last night at the "Why I Believe" fireside in the Visitors' Centre. It is held on the first Sunday of each month. We appreciated so much the love that was shown us and the Spirit that was there. Our sister missionaries sang a beautiful medley at the beginning of the meeting. Sister Ylisaari accompanied them. As they sang, we couldn't help feeling they represented all 26 of the amazing young sister missionaries we have served with during our mission. We love them so much!

Unbeknownst to us, our good friends, Brent and Chris Wade, were snapping photos they emailed to us today.

At the end of the fireside, Sister Walmsley and Sister Stewart sang a song that they wrote just for us. It will be forever etched in our hearts. Thanks to St. Grant (Neale), we can include a YouTube recording of it in our blog. He recorded it Saturday night at a gathering we had with President and Sister Millar, the Neales, and ELSM missionaries from the Visitors' Centre and Mission Office.

Words cannot express our love for those we leave behind and our appreciation for the privilege of serving at the London Temple Visitors' Centre for two years.

With love, Don and Pat

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Thank you, England!

On Wednesday this past week, we welcomed in the new year in London at Parliament Square with a view of the fireworks and Big Ben as the clock struck 12:00. It was so much fun! Elder Arthur and Sister Pam Brooks, who direct the Hyde Park Visitors' Centre, invited us to join them and Peter and Wendy Wilson, senior missionaries, to celebrate the occasion with several million of their closest friends. I doubt we would have braved the crowds without their invitation - but we're glad we did! 

Ready to celebrate!

Parliament and Big Ben

People crowded into Parliament Square outside Westminster Abbey.

Happy New Year texts and photos to kids and grandkids

It's almost midnight.

Plastic cups and sparkling apple juice all around. Cheers!


Thank you, England! For us, the evening marked the joyous end of something very wonderful. We thought the fireworks made the perfect celebration for our last trip into London! We have completed our two-year mission, giving our hearts, might, minds and strength to this calling, and now head home for a long anticipated reunion with our daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, extended family, and friends! Somehow, the New Year's Eve celebration turned out to be a personal celebration for us - signaling that it is time to stop bemoaning the fact that we have to leave England, and instead, look anxiously ahead to the coming weeks, months, and years. Dr. Seuss got it right when he said, "Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened!" How could we be anything but grateful for the experiences we've had and the people we will always hold near and dear? Yes, it will be hard to leave We will miss England and our life here terribly - but we are content. 

These are the tags we've been wearing for the past 2 1/2 years (counting the ones we wore during our CES mission in Washington, D.C.). As we are released, return home, and take off these tags, it will seem like something is missing! There is no experience quite like full-time service in  the work of the Lord.  It is hard work, but in the end it brings incomparable joy, peace, and satisfaction. A mission takes your mind off yourself and your things, and makes you extend yourself to others. That's a good thing in this competitive world of me, mine, and my entitlements. We are so grateful to have had these two years together here in England. We feel blessed -- that we have gained more than we have given.
There is so much fear, heartache, misunderstanding, and lack in the world. Many feel lost and lonely, even in the midst of vast crowds of people. From what we have learned, felt, and experienced, we know that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers and truths that will calm troubled hearts, cast out fear, and bring lasting joy and peace. We have seen the light of the gospel change many lives. We have learned that true peace and happiness are not the absence of trials or conflict, but the presence of Christ in our lives.

If our feelings had to be reduced to one word at this time, that word would be gratitude.  How grateful we are to have been called to serve -- and to be blessed with the health, means, opportunity, and family support to be able to leave home and serve with full purpose.    

Tomorrow we will leave England to return to the U.S.A.  So many memories and reflections swirl around in our minds and hearts. This has been our home for two years. We love England! The surrounding countryside is majestic. The temple grounds are peaceful and beautiful. But mostly we will miss the people -- our sister missionaries, missionary couples, the office staff and temple missionaries, the good people of England, members, friends, and investigators. Our mission has been challenging and rewarding, difficult and exciting, draining and exhilarating. It has also been miraculous and inspirational. Thank you, England, for everything you have given us.

Americans, and people of all nations, owe a lot to the British people. Many of the basic freedoms, human rights, rules of law and our legal system are rooted in English soil. The Magna Carta (great charter) was issued near where we live in Surrey County in 1215 -- the first document forced onto a King of England by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons. This document led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world and became a model that influenced early New England settlers as they developed their own constitutional documents, including the U.S. Constitution. Some of its language can be found in the Bill of Rights. Four copies of the Magna Carta exist in the world. The one best preserved is found at Salisbury Cathedral, which we visited early in our mission.

We are also indebted to the British scholars John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, who fought for freedom of religion and translated the Bible into English. Wycliffe, educated at Oxford, taught that the Roman church, without priesthood keys and authority, should not maintain political power over the people. Tyndale studied at Oxford and Cambridge and pushed to bring the Bible to the common people. Access to the Bible exposed the false teachings of religious leaders and weakened their unrighteous control and domination. A religious martyr, Tyndale was burned at the stake and executed in 1536. Without the great sacrifice and efforts of these British scholars, the world would not have been prepared for the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel

We have been overwhelmed by how much there is to learn about the rich and varied history of this country -- from Roman ruins to factories and mills, from castles and manor houses to majestic cathedrals and humble cottages, from civil wars to world wars, and from the royalty of Buckingham Palace and Windsor to Parliament and the Houses of Lords and Commons. Americans have a hard time thinking back much more than 200 years, while England seems to have a history that can be traced forever! It boggles the mind. History is everywhere. There is so much history in the massive British Museum or Victoria &Albert that your mind quickly shifts to overload. We've learned how little we know, and how much there is to learn.

We have gained new appreciation and respect for our British ancestors in the Carpenter, Dana, Romney, Shore and related lines, and have chronicled our trips to their places of origin in earlier blog posts. These trips have meant a lot to us, as we have come to understand the hardships they endured to leave home and loved ones to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, tame the West, and establish new lives in a foreign land.

Additionally, we are grateful that our daughters and their families have been able to visit us in England during the past two years and participate to some extent in our missionary life. We have loved their letters and pictures, and enjoyed Skyping with them on a regular basis.  The active and visible support of our family at home has made a big difference in our mission.  Oh, how we love and appreciate each one of them!

As we anticipate our transition from missionary work to the real world, it seems that we have one foot in each world right now. Our bags are packed. We're almost on our way. There's only one thing left to do:  we will be speaking at tonight's "Why I Believe" fireside in the Visitors' Centre. Following the meeting, we will head for Heathrow Airport and a few days in Washington, D.C. before we head home.

Next Sunday, January 12th, we will be almost a half a world away from England, reporting our mission during Sacrament Meeting in the Draper Corner Canyon 3rd Ward at 1 p.m.  Is it possible for your heart to be in two places at once?  Oh,Yes!                               ~ Don and Pat