Another great achievement this month was the 100th birthday of Ray's Aunt Marcella. We called last Sunday to congratulate her and were happy to hear her cute voice and the sound of nieces and nephews in the background who were gathered for a celebration in her home. We pray the Lord's continued blessings to all three of our aunts, the last of their generation in our families.
We celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary on July 30 in two ways. On Saturday, we traveled about an hour north to visit Amicalola Falls State Park. A steady group of visitors were there to take the short hike to the base of the cascade. Linda continued up the 175 stairs to the base of the full waterfall.
We then drove the winding, steep road to the lodge parking lot at the top of the falls. There we met some of the families who hiked the additional 250 stairs to the top. Maybe we'll try it next spring when the falls are roaring, and we're in better walking shape. Coming down would be harder at our age of stamina and balance. We have let our daily exercise go a bit as we stay busy in the evenings with other activities. We returned home from our outing to mow lawns, and we woke the next day with stiff legs, but feeling energized. On Monday evening, we invited Don and Zaza to go out to dinner with us. They recently celebrated their 52nd anniversary.
Our most joyful celebrations of the past weeks, however, have been for the Howard family - Dad, Jerry, Mom, Marcy, children Dale, Miriam, Nicholas, and Autumn Rain, ages 13 to 9. The elders have been teaching them for several months. I remember sitting by Marcy the first week she attended Relief Society. She was nervous but curious. Since that time, we have come to love the family dearly. We have visited their home, and even weathered some entertaining bumps in our relationship. Two weeks ago we invited them to celebrate the 24th of July with a picnic at the park. On Sunday we talked about the time and place. After calling several times on the 24th to let them know where we would meet them and not getting a call back, I called the teaching elders to confirm the Howard's phone number. I had a wrong digit, so called again with the right number. With still no reply, we went to the park and waited at the location we had communicated on our voice message. The Howards didn't show up. After waiting 30 minutes, we drove around the park for another 20 minutes, never finding them. We prayed and hoped we had not "stood" them up. Perhaps Jerry had to work late unexpectedly (happens frequently) and their phone was not working. Upon arriving home an hour after our agreed upon meeting time, Marcy called. They had arrived a bit late and could not find us! We had been tailing one another around the park but never connecting. We also found out that the elders had again given us a not-completely correct phone number. Our many voice messages had been left on a stranger's phone. The Howards graciously agreed to try again on Tuesday. With relief and renewed connection that day, we spent a delightful two hours eating and visiting on our second try. The Howards are truly an earnest and humble family who quickly recognized the truth as it was taught by the elders. Mom is strong; Dad is committed and truly loves his family and takes his leadership and provider responsibilities seriously. The kids are curious and energized by new friends and discovery. After our meal, we explained a bit about the pioneers and why the holiday is celebrated in Utah and gave them a Legacy video and a Tabernacle Choir CD we had intended to give them at their upcoming baptism. Instant friends!
While the Howards still have much to learn and Jerry has a tobacco challenge to totally put behind him, it was no surprise that the room was jammed with ward members on July 29 when the family was baptized after Church services. (Wards and branches within our mission have baptisms on both Saturdays and Sundays. In the Lilburn Stake, baptisms are on Sundays, with the confirmation in Sacrament Meeting the following Sunday.) Mom and Dad watched so intently as each child was baptized; the children were excited to watch their parents' baptisms.
Yesterday, the Saturday after their baptism, the Howards all showed up to assist with the Lilburn Stake Clothing Fest. It's an annual event in which the Stake Relief Society donates and collects clothes, organizes them, and opens the Stake Annex to the public for an exchange or pick up of "free" clothing. The Howards helped collect clothes and serve during a busy morning. Elder Connors and I arrived at the end of the event to help clean up. The young elders and sisters had been there during the visitor hours to meet potential investigators. Marcy and Jerry and family stayed until the last minute of cleanup. Marcy mentioned that she had never in her life imagined herself participating in such a large service effort. It's amazing how the witness of the Spirit changes lives and puts people in situations that bless them.
Today the members of the Howard family were confirmed. They invited the missionaries and ward members who had taught and mentored them to do the confirmations. Elder Connors had the privilege of confirming the youngest, Autumn, in turn after Elders Astel and Hanny, Bishop Baron, Brother Elison, and Brother Adam Kotter. It was quite a wonderful way to begin a Fast and Testimony meeting. The significance of the gift the Howards received today was emphasized with the times-six confirmation. The spirit was strong again. There will still be challenges for the Howards. We're grateful we can continue to fellowship the family for another year. We have invited them to prepare for the temple. The Lilburn Ward family has been touched by the family as well, and we pray for their continued learning and spiritual growth. They have such great membership and eternal potential.