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We witness tender mercies and mini-miracles every day as we find joy in pressing forward. We are immensely grateful for our time of service as missionaries in the Georgia Atlanta North Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Life and opportunities continue. See our missionary and life story in pictures by clicking here: http://rayc.shutterfly.com/

Sunday, November 25, 2012

For Thy Bounteous Blessings

We love Thanksgiving and the stately cadence of many of our thanksgiving hymns. A favorite is the Primary round For Thy Bounteous Blessings:
(1) For thy bounteous blessings,
(2) For thy wondrous word,
(3) For thy loving kindness,
(4) We give thanks, O Lord.

The words of this round pretty much summarize our deep gratitude for our many blessings and for the grace and teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We just finished Thanksgiving Week, and we have much to be grateful for.  Among the most important are our testimonies, our mission, each other, ours sons, Michael and David, our daughter-in-law, Wendy, and our grandchildren, Faith, Hailey, Noah, Ammon, and Elizabeth (Lizzie).  Then we can continue on to brothers, Ron, Thyce, Kenneth, Michael, and Jeffrey, parents, aunts; all of the extended family. Add our dear converts and investigators and friends here in Georgia and back home in Utah. We can't leave out our health, this country, and the beauties of nature. The list goes on and on, and it includes scriptures, prophets, revelation, temples; again, on and on our blessings go. All of them come to us through a loving Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our blessings and activities the past two weeks have been many and varied. Each and every day in the mission office is a blessing. We love serving the elders and sisters. We've had a big baptism month, and we experienced a slight change in the schedules for Transfer Week. Because of Thanksgiving, the released elders went home on Tuesday morning, the same day we picked up a new group of elders in the afternoon.  That meant two trips to the airport with the cargo trailer behind us. We were fortunate to avoid the heavy holiday traffic which seemed to jam in the opposite directions we traveled through downtown Atlanta during the day. Elder Williams, one of the Assistants, was among those departing. We look forward to working with Elder Edmunds (from Ogden, UT) who will now work with Elder Hanny. More changes lie ahead this week. Elder and Sister Bolt, our volunteer missionaries from Lilburn, who have been the Finance and Housing coordinators, will be released at the end of November (after extending for 7 months!)  Elder and Sister Hall from Orem arrived in Georgia on Friday. They are a delightful couple, and we know we will enjoy working with them. There will be training this week, and then we'll bid the Bolts farewell. We will miss their talents and Elder Bolt's "tales."  But since the Bolts live in the Lilburn Ward, we will continue to enjoy their good company. We hope they can slow down a bit and will be able to now spend weekdays at their ranch in South Carolina and weekends at their primary home with their ward family (it's been the opposite during the mission and very tiring for them.)

We took the Halls to dinner on Friday evening to Dos Hermanos, our favorite authentic Mexican food restaurant, and helped them settle in a bit. On Saturday we introduced them to their assignments as we met a U-Haul truck at the Mission Office. It was filled with furnishings for missionary apartments donated by the Collins Hill Ward, about 15 miles east. We escorted the truck to the mission's commercial storage sheds and helped with the unloading. The three storage units are pretty much filled, and we are accepting donations from five stakes over the next five Saturdays and anytime donations from the Lilburn Stake as they arrive. Why all the donations?  President Wolfert has been working with the six stake presidents in the mission on strategies for integrating 70-100 additional missionaries in the next 6 months. Potentials include 70 new sisters; we now have only 14. What does a potential 60% increase in missionaries mean? Lots of new apartments and furnishing and supplies for them, additional vehicles, increased correspondence, paperwork, and mail, creation of new mission areas, nearly every missionary becoming a trainer, and logistics for leaders at ward, stake, mission, area, and Church levels to anticipate and administer. It's going to be great fun! As of today, however, our January arrivals are at normal levels.  Where do we store all the "stuff" in the meantime?  When will we know for a certainty how many, who, and when? We smile as we ask these questions and look forward to 2013 with anticipation and a commitment to work together.

Lisa Kotter, the Ward Relief Society president invited several investigators and new converts who did not have other family plans to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. Many of their children are friends, and it was a great fit for the families. (Lisa is the daughter of Elder Cornish of the Seventy.) The Clarks headed with the Obers to Texas for dinner with their son's family. After talking to the Stowells, a wonderful senior couple serving in Jonesboro, we decided to invite them to share Thanksgiving Day with us. They, too, couldn't find a good "we'll cook dinner for you fit", and had hit that point where a change of view felt welcome to them. So they became our Thanksgiving project. Rather than cook a meal, we spent the morning at Stone Mountain Park.

The park was not as crowded as it may have been on an earlier fall weekend, allowing us to enjoy a few highlights, some photos, and the tram ride to the top of Stone Mountain. We definitely need to take one of our Saturday exercise outings to take the hike to the top! We then joined the senior Kotter family (all 35 of them) for dinner. It was a full house, but the feeling was relaxed and informal. We then parted to our various apartments to connect with family by phone. Mike and Wendy and the kids were enjoying dinner in Arizona with Wendy's sister's (Jacque) family. Dave didn't return our voice message until Friday. He spent Thanksgiving alone at home - resting and giving thanks and finally posting online some enriched comments and pictures for what I'll explain next about Canguro Racing's November achievement.

I'll use David's words to tell the history of Canguro Racing: Canguro Racing formed somewhere in the mountains of Northern Utah. Or maybe amongst the saguaros of Baja, Mexico. It might just have happened on the slickrock mesas of Moab. The truth is that there is no exact date when Canguro Racing was created. Ten years ago the six of us were complete strangers. Through a shared love of the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser we all became friends. Each of us has been active in the off-roading community for over 15 years, traveled thousands of dusty, washboard miles and have served in local and national leadership positions for various volunteer organizations. Sometime over the past 18 months the timing finally worked out so we could join together for our Baja 1000 adventure. We’re excited for what lies ahead of us and are grateful to all our friends, family, and supporters, without which this would never happen.

Dave and our mutual friends, Ryan Davis, Darren Webster, Kurt Williams, Marc VanTassell, and Dave Helm (sitting in for original team member, Will Carroll) completed their goal to run and cross the finish line in the 2012 Baja 1000. The race:  Started about 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, November 15; about 200 miles for each driver; 1100 miles in all; 42 total hours; one broken power steering belt and voltage regulator; rough track conditions from rain and hurricane damage; sheer joy in their faces in the photos on the grandstand. Only one in three starting cars finished the race - the longest off road event in the world. We watched (when we could) by checking in periodically on the internet to see the marker for car #1404 (Mathilda) move along the tracker application's map route. The GPS updated their location about every two minutes. We held our breath when they stopped at places other than check points; we cheered after check point stops and as they changed drivers and continued on. And we did all this while we slept and did our mission work. Somehow in our periodic checking we hit the highlights of their movement even though we missed hours at a time.

We were at a soccer game with the Clarks (Izzie's last game of the season) on Saturday morning. We watched Mathilda jump to the finish line on our cell phone's browser about 8 a.m. The Clarks were mildly appreciative; they were much more engaged in the soccer game. But we knew what a big deal this was; a difficult challenge physically, mentally, and financially. It was the culmination of the hard work of dozens of friends. And these men are our friends, too. They finished - safely and successfully! It was cold and windy at the soccer game; Linda lingered in the backseat of the car after the others stepped out to watch the game. They thought I was hiding from the wind; I was actually crying a prayer of gratitude for the accomplishment and for the competitors and their families that I love. Our prayer (many prayers) for their safety and success were answered.  There will be much online chatter and pictures about their adventure. We'll miss most of it; but hopefully we'll be able to catch up when we get home (or watch them do it again another year!)

The satisfaction in David's voice was tangible as we talked to him after Thanksgiving. Our feelings of gratitude for the race success was stronger than we expected. It was not what we anticipated would be a 2012 thanksgiving highlight. But it is. It's more than pride in achievement; there is something noble about the friendship, and sacrifice, and determination that was part of the effort. Like the sacrifice and dedication our son, Michael, gives and receives in his role as husband and father, it is evidence of God's gifts to his righteous sons. Good comes in many forms; we see and hear of God's love every day. It's important that we acknowledge, both privately and publicly, our "bounteous" blessings.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Lord is Ever With Us

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and there is much to be thankful for, including the Lord's watchful care over the past two weeks. Let's start at the ending.

Aeriel Chase, Matthew, and Victoria were confirmed today, two weeks later than expected. Unexpected illnesses led to emergency room visits and sidetracked them on two Sundays. After their baptism they moved into a rental home near the Lilburn building, but it was exhausting for them. First mom, then Matthew and then Dad all fell ill. We learned today talking to Mom that Matthew (extremely dehydrated and not able to walk while in the ER), was telling everyone he was a Mormon and sharing his disappointment that he was supposed to receive the Holy Ghost rather than be in the hospital. He is a natural child-missionary! The entire family was so happy today. In Gospel Principles class, Brother Chase testified about the blessings that have come to the family since they committed to the Savior and His church. And Sister Chase was laughing with a happy smile when she explained that they had to get ready for Church at grandma's house because their septic system backed up yesterday. You can see the joy of the gospel  in their faces and understand why Elder Williams felt so happy at their baptism. We're excited to be able to continue to get to know and help them more. We're already thinking about a way to enjoy a family experience with them during the holidays ahead. The other happy event from today was to turn around in the hall after Sacrament Meeting and see Dana Roca, our beloved convert who left Georgia in an urgent situation, leaving no contact information. We wondered months ago if we would ever see her again. She's back, doing well, and attended Church while in New York. What joy filled our hearts. No one in the ward knew she was back until she appeared today! The Lord has been with her. Today was a joyful end to a busy week.

The week before last, Ray had a bout with the flu. Halloween came and went quietly (we shared our candy with the Clarks so they could give it out). Hurricane Sandy hit the upper Atlantic Seaboard; we donned our Helping Hands t-shirts and helped several dozen Lilburn Stake members at the Tucker Bishop's Storehouse to pack food boxes for relief efforts. It's wonderful how willing hands work so quickly to help the Church to be ready in advance. The hurricane was so devastating, and yet a sense of resilience and determination surfaced, too. On Saturday morning, we learned that two elders had been in a serious accident about 9 p.m. on Friday night. A woman, DUI, collided with them nearly head on; both vehicles were traveling nearly 50 mph. Another set of elders were traveling in the next lane and witnessed the accident. The woman's car went airborne after the initial contact, rolled on its side, and ended upside down. The four elders got back to their apartments about 4 a.m. after Elder Jones was checked out in the ER. Fortunately he was okay. It was a miracle the elders were not more seriously hurt. The Lord was with them.

We began our Saturday morning with housework, raking leaves and mowing the lawn (exercise felt so good). We then enjoyed an hour watching Cami Ober play soccer, and we got to know her father, Blaine Ober. Blaine came home for a week from Dubai (happens about once a year). Jackie and the girls were so happy to have him home. It was good to see them all together, even Alex flew home from BYU to spend time with them. After the soccer game we drove down to Jonesboro to see Elder Jones and Gisseman.  President Wolfert was at their apartment when we arrived; letting the elders call their parents to assure them they were okay. After a prayer of gratitude for the missionaries' protection and a plea for blessings for the reckless driver, the president left and we took the elders to dinner. They looked tired but were excited for a good meal. Unfortunately, Elder Jones, the driver, was on some medications and had to take most of his dinner home. It was only 7:30 p.m.l when we dropped them off, but we assured them it would be okay to go to bed after an exceptional 24 hours. We saw the elders on Tuesday at Zone Conference, and they are doing well. What a blessing!

The first of three Zone Conferences was held in Lilburn on Tuesday - election day.  It rained much of the morning, making car inspections fun. We experienced the same rain and colder air on Wednesday in Marietta. Ray followed the Assistants to the Stake Center in Marietta; they leave about 6:30 a.m. to be there by 8 a.m. Without traffic, it's a 45 minute drive; but there is always traffic in Atlanta. Thursday was a beautiful, but cold day for the last conference at the Sugar Hill Stake Center in Suwanee. We scraped serious frost from our car windows in the morning; a first for us in Georgia!  Ray enjoys the associations and messages at Zone Conference and also speaks during a session. The Bolts made presentations, too, so Linda was left alone at the Mission Office until they returned about 4 p.m. each day. On Tuesday evening we subbed for Don and Zaza and taught Mission Prep class.

We averaged more than 10 hour days at the office the past week. So when Saturday arrived, we did a quick housecleaning and started a loop through Cleveland, Helen, and the mountains to do some shopping for some locally produced gift items. We realized that Christmas is around the corner. We learned Cleveland is the home to Cabbage Patch, so we figured it was time to visit the Cabbage Patch Hospital to pick up a newborn for our granddaughter, Lizzie.

The fall leaves had peaked, but we did catch one breathtaking moment as we rounded a corner on the winding road to see brilliant red and yellow leaves glittering in the sun and gently dancing in the breeze like a soft veil along our path.  The Lord was blessing us in those few seconds.  It was a nice afternoon drive and we missed the crowds that clogged the roads the weekends before. We have now traveled the beginning of the Appalachian trail and highway.

Ray's hands have been getting worse, and the discomfort and frustration is wearing him out. The fear that he was having additional problems with his neck keeps nagging at him. He's back to doing his computer work with one finger typing. He felt impressed to again call Dr. Smalley, the Area Medical Advisor, to seek counsel. Dr. Smalley is an orthopedic physician and we met him at Zone Conference. We obtained a copy of Ray's pre-cervical fusion MRI from Utah. It was good to hear from Dr. Smalley after he looked at the MRI. He feels surgery is not needed and is convinced something other than pinched disks may be causing the tremors and weakness. In the short term, Ray is trying medications for muscle spasms, and in the one day he's taken them, they seem to help. He's also going to schedule another nerve conductivity test. The Lord is helping us stay here in the mission; he is with us!

The 2012 Presidential elections have been both intriguing and exhausting. Georgians like to talk politics - conservative politics. As missionaries we try to keep our conversations neutral and short, but it was hard to avoid talking about the events. Often it was a conversation starter about the Church; but so much of the talk felt like doomsday, either, or. As a precaution, mission presidents were counseled to sequester or move missionaries in areas that could be prone to possible rioting if election results caused controversy. We moved a few of our missionaries and asked the others to stay in their apartments for the night. Throughout this political year, we stated and prayed with faith that the Lord would direct the election outcomes in His wisdom for what we, as a nation, need to receive and learn. Who should we trust more than the Lord?  We will come to learn and see His hand by looking back in the future. We certainly came to respect the Romneys as individuals, even more than candidate and family. They showed such great fortitude and character in the cause.

There is much talk of the "Mormon Moment" in the press. Will the momentum continue?  Has it peaked?  The SE Area Mission Presidents were recently counseled by Elder Rasband. He affirmed that the Lord is in charge of His work and will move it forward.  We have been told to expect a 50% increase in our missionaries by mid-year 2013.  Missionary applications increased ten-fold in the weeks following the General Conference announcement that elders can now serve at age 18 and sisters at age 19. We are excited to do our part to prepare for, welcome, and build up those missionaries. Elder Rasband explained that sometimes we simply need to get out of the way. The words spoken by Joseph Smith - the Standard of Truth - say it all. The same knowledge and determination should be ours, because the Lord is and will ever be with us and directing His work.

"The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”