Winter Storm Jonas

After our Christmas break, during which all of our soldiers went home on leave, we are back in the saddle again. January has brought more unseasonably warm weather. Sure there has been some rain, but temperatures have generally been very mild, sometimes in the 60s and even close to 70. In January.

Well, the weekend of 23 January ended all that. Winter is now officially here. Newport News was spared the worst of Winter Storm Jonas that dumped record snow along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. We were returning from our district meeting (a weekly missionary training meeting) in Williamsburg on Friday as heavy snow began to fall. We made our way cautiously along I-64, a road that leaves much to be desired when it is dry and sunny. We saw several large SUVs and giant pickup trucks littering the median and coming close to the woods on the shoulders. We had seen similar vehicles passing us at speeds at which I wouldn’t want to be traveling. I’m not sure why drivers of these vehicles think that the laws of physics don’t apply to them. More than a few got a rude awakening that the laws of the land may be optional, but never so the laws of nature.

We made it home safely and braced for the two feet of snow that some forecasts had predicted. It was not to be, at least in Newport News. The temperature rose to the high 30s and the snow changed to rain. Lots of rain. While Washington and Baltimore were getting pummeled, we just got wet. On Saturday afternoon, the temperature dropped and the rain turned back to light snow. We picked up around an inch, but now it was on top of ice. We read in the paper this morning that the greater Hampton Roads area has more traffic accidents than anywhere else in the state. We figured out how to avoid that – don’t drive.
With the slick roads, church was canceled today. We were able to text all of our soldiers and let them know. We got a text from other missionaries living in our apartment complex asking if they could come to our place and have an abbreviated sacrament service. They had received permission from their various local ecclesiastical leaders. Two elders and four sisters came and we blessed and passed the sacrament. Then we shared testimonies and watched a DVD of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word. It was a spiritual uplift for all of us. When the weather makes travel hazardous, the missionaries get a “no wheels” day, meaning that they can’t drive or ride bikes. For these high-energy young men and women, that makes for a pretty boring day.

We had planned to take a group of soldiers to the Washington DC Temple on the 23rd, but wisely elected to postpone that for two weeks. Traffic in Washington, even on the Interstates, is a mess that can try the patience of Job when the sun is shining and the pavement is dry. An inch of snow is enough to snarl traffic for hours. Two to three feet of snow and that place is closed. So, we’ll try again on 6 February.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

UH-1 Iriquois Huey at Seay Plaza3

UH-1 Iriquois (Huey) on Seay Plaza at Fort Eustis, VA

December has proven to be an interesting month for us. Our group of soldiers has shrunk from around 35 in August to 18 currently. We had five graduations this month. While we are sad to see them go, we know that they are much happier to be reunited with families and out of the confines of the training environment. We are hopeful that when we have our next in-processing on Monday, 4 January, that we will get some replacements.  The Army closes down training and offers the soldiers leave during the holidays. It is the only time during training when they are allowed to take leave. All of our soldiers opted to spend Christmas with families, so we have been “on vacation” since 19 December. In spite of that, it seems like we have been very busy.

One of the things that we looked forward to is enjoying the Sabbath with no responsibilities. Every Sunday, we have to worry about assigning prayers, getting priesthood holders to bless and pass the sacrament, assigning an instructor for our joint Priesthood/Relief Society meeting, selecting hymns, assigning talks for sacrament meeting, setting up the chapel, cleaning up the chapel, preparing meals, transporting missionaries, and a dozen other details to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Although rewarding, it’s still a lot of work. The thought of just sitting in a regular congregation (and letting others worry about all those pesky details) seemed like heaven.

We attended church in the Newport News 2nd Ward. This ward includes Fort Eustis. There is also a Newport News 1st Ward, Newport News 3rd Branch (Spanish), and Newport News 4th Branch (inner city – they meet in an old bank building downtown). We really like Bishop Jeff Beck. He frequently comes to our mid-week religious study (FHE) and talks to the young soldiers about being deployed in a war zone (he has served in Iraq and was the LDS Group Leader in Baghdad). After around ten years as an NCO he became an officer and is currently a major in the Army Reserve.

As we sat down to enjoy our first sacrament meeting in the ward, Bishop Beck called us to the stand to share our testimonies with the ward. Then our Sunday School teacher kept asking us questions in class or asking us to read scripture passages. Ditto in priesthood meeting, but I think Mary Lou came out of Relief Society unscathed. So much for our peaceful day at church.

Christmas Goodie PlatterMary Lou has been baking up a storm. She has been making these incredibly good platters of cookies and sweets to brighten the holidays. She made some for our neighbors here in the apartment complex. She made some for our local church leaders. She made some for the staff of the Army pharmacy where we do volunteer work each week. She made several for chaplains and chapel staff. Finally, she made some for the young missionaries with whom we work.

One of the tasks that we have is to inspect missionary apartments each quarter. This quarter, it got away from us and we were doing it in December. We inspect for cleanliness, orderliness, safety (checking on smoke alarms, CO detectors, fire extinguishers, etc.), that everything is in working order, and that there has been no damage to the property. Although our experience has been good, 18-21-year-olds do have the ability to do some stupid stuff from time to time. Not everyone understands about cleaning the mold out of the bathtub or the need to not leave a sink full of dirty dishes. We help educate them on these things.

One thing that every missionary is expected to do is render service to our fellow man. Selfless service is one of those things that helps change the world a little bit each day. We decided that we wanted to do something that would benefit those in the military. We decided to be volunteers at the McDonald Army Health Center at Fort Eustis. It used to be a full hospital, but with the administrative consolidation with Langley AFB, it was downgraded to just labs and clinics. The hospital at Langley AFB was much larger, so it was the surviving entity. For particularly complex cases, they send the soldiers to the Navy hospital in Portsmouth, which is even bigger.

To be able to be volunteers, we had to be certified by the American Red Cross. They ran background checks on us, gave us online training, and finally, after several months, approved us to be volunteers. The Red Cross is not a particularly efficient bureaucracy. The application process was cumbersome enough that it made us think that they really didn’t want people to volunteer. Once we were approved, then the Army took over the task of discouraging us. We had to go through all the same training as a new hospital employee would do, including safety training, emergency training, sexual harassment training, blood tests, and a bunch of other stuff that we have already forgotten. The worst was HIPAA and Privacy Act training covering medical records confidentiality and all the different, really bad things that could happen to us if we ever broke the rules. It was an on-line course in seven parts, all of which were long and boring, followed by much testing. But we slogged through it and are now official Red Cross volunteers.

We were assigned to the main pharmacy at the medical center. We help with counting pills (common drugs that they go through really fast, like industrial strength ibuprofen come in boxes of 10,000) and have to be placed in more useful size containers. We also scour the shelves for expired medications (of which there are a surprising amount). We help with receiving new inventory when there is a large order (such as always happens at the end of the fiscal year). Lately, we have been scanning paper prescriptions into a database and then sorting them in numerical order. That task is really an ordeal. The one good thing about this volunteer work is that we never have to wait for our prescriptions (and the wait can be long at a military pharmacy).

We also rendered service to our young missionaries. We had a senior missionary get-together at the mission home in Chesapeake. There we assembled gift bags for the young missionaries, had a nice potluck luncheon, sang Christmas carols, and then shared our favorite Christmas stories. There were some tears and emotions showing after some of those stories, along with some laughter. It was a great day.

Temple1

Washington DC Temple at Christmas

Old Folks by the Visitor Center1

Elder and Sister Diehl on a Warm Winter Night

We took the opportunity to go the temple in Washington, DC. At Christmas, there is extensive lighting of the grounds (with around 700,000 lights), a special crèche display, a large outdoor nativity scene, and lots of things to see at the Visitor Center. The Center was crowded with missionaries, local volunteers, and visitors. The Church had a Christmas campaign this year, “A Savior is Born.” There is a short video at http://www.christmas.mormon.org by that name. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth your time. We have pictures from this trip following.

A Garden of Lights1

A Garden of Lights

Visitor Center Entry

Visitor Center Entrance

Inside the Visitor Center2

Crowds Inside the Visitor Center

Outside the Visitor Center1

Outside the Visitor Center

Our mission had two “Christmas Conferences” for all missionaries. One was held in Virginia Beach and the other in Kinston, NC. The missionaries gathered for a movie (they are not normally allowed movies or TV during their missions), the Muppet version of A Christmas Carol. We then enjoyed a catered lunch. We had a new senior couple show up, having just arrived in the mission. Elder and Sister Golightly will be serving as military relations missionaries at MCAS Cherry Point, NC. Doug knew him from his AFROTC days at BYU. The rest of the day was spent in a devotional that showcased the musical talents of many of our missionaries. We were also blessed to receive instruction from Elder Dudley of the Seventy and his wife. It was a great day.

Christmas Day started for us with a devotional (over the phone) with all those serving in our mission. President Alan Baker and Sister Mary Kay Baker shared both their feelings about the holiday and their testimonies of the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Several other missionaries had been invited to do the same. It was a great way to start the day.

Christmass Stockings

Official Missionary Christmas Stockings

Then we 0pened the gifts in our stockings and had a simple, but tasty, breakfast of waffles, bacon, and sausage. Outstanding. We then opened the presents under the tree. A note about the tree – this is the first time in our marriage that we have not had a natural Christmas tree. We

Fake Chinese Christmas Tree 2015

The Fake Chinese Christmas Tree

ventured forth on Black Friday and  picked up a modest, pre-lighted tree (made in China, of course) and spent a whopping $8 at Dollar Tree for ornaments, icicles, a topper, and a skirt. It turned out amazingly well. We will leave all this with the apartment for the couple that replaces us. Our gifts to each other are mostly books and DVDs, which is what each of us likes. We also got some very nice gift cards from family members.

 

Weather has been unusually warm and mild through November and December.  The screen shot below of our home weather station on Christmas morning at almost 70 degrees!

Weather Station at Christmas 2015

Christmas dinner in the Diehl household is always a big deal. It is not because it is a feast, but because it a collection of individual feasts. Everyone in our home on Christmas gets to have whatever they want to eat, even if that means fixing separate meals for everyone. This year was fairly simple. Mary Lou wanted a chicken Alfredo pizza with green onions and garlic. It is the best. Doug went with the more classic New York strip steak. For dessert, we had discovered that there is a Cheesecake Factory in Virginia Beach. We stopped by there after the Christmas Conference and got a slice of chocolate mousse cheesecake for Doug and Snickers cheesecake for Mary Lou. It is hard to imagine a better ending to a great day than with cheesecake.

New Year’s Eve is also something of a production with the Diehls. Each year, we invite another couple to join us for a fondue dinner (both Fondue au Fromage and Fondue Bourguignonne). We serve ours with five sauces for dipping the meat – béarnaise, blue cheese, garlic, onion, and a traditional steak sauce. We like this meal because it is slow (due to the cooking time of the meat) and it encourages conversation. This year, we invited Ray and Lisa Campbell who have given us a lot of help with making meals for the soldiers. For dessert, we had a Mexican fried ice cream dessert from a recipe that our daughter Julianne sent us. It has become one of our favorites. It was a very pleasant evening. We didn’t stay up to ring in the new year, as New Year’s Day is a regular work day for missionaries and we had to be up for a zone training meeting to attend in Williamsburg.

Bad Blogger

As has now been pointed out to me, I am a bad blogger. I apologize to those who are following the blog, as there hasn’t been much activity for a while. Some may even have wondered if we are still alive. Rest assured, we are. There have been a lot of things that have occupied our time and blogging just wasn’t one of them. As interesting things occur, we shall share them (and promptly!).

One thing that I will share is a trip away from our mission. It is unusual for missionaries to be allowed to leave the mission boundaries during their period of service. We just returned from New Jersey, and it wasn’t for a happy occasion. Our grandson, Kyle White, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of October. He collapsed and was unresponsive when medics arrived. He was taken to the hospital and placed on life support. Various tests were performed over the next few days and (in accordance with a fairly extensive protocol in New Jersey) he was declared brain dead. Since he was an organ donor, his body was kept on life support until they were ready to remove the organs. He was 21 years old.

Kyle White 2010

Kyle White in 2010

Why does a seemingly healthy and active 21 year old collapse and die? We don’t know the cause of Kyle’s death. One of the things that medical professionals check immediately in young people is for drugs. They ran a tox screen twice, and both times it came out negative for any drugs in his system. Kyle was an organ donor, and we do know that his heart was damaged and not suitable for transplantation.

We finished the Sunday services that we conduct at Fort Eustis and then drove the seven hours that it takes to get to North New Jersey. We stayed with our eldest son, Jeff, and with Jon, our youngest, who was staying with Jeff. It was wonderful to get to visit with both of them, though we wish the circumstances could have been different.

The funeral was held in Branchville, NJ on Monday, 2 November. There was a viewing from 4:00 to 7:00 and then a service following at the funeral home. This was really a tribute to Kyle and his parents, Jennifer and Shane White. For three hours, people filed through the funeral home to pay their respects. There was never a break of more than a few minutes, and it was quite crowded. It was graphic evidence of how much impact they have had on their community and how much the community thinks of them. One of Shane’s cousins, who is a minister in Lynchburg, VA, provided the eulogy.

Death is not inexpensive, which is why many people have insurance. It is my understanding that Kyle’s arrangements cost around $9,000 for a fairly simple service. That’s a pretty big hit that most of us couldn’t take out of petty cash. A web site had been set up by friends to collect funds to help offset the cost. The members of the small, rural community where Jen and Shane live had donated that before the service was over – another tribute to how well they are regarded.

We used this opportunity to get the family together for the first time since Jon’s wedding. Julianne flew in from Phoenix and stayed with Jennifer and Shane. Elizabeth came from Houston and stayed with Matt and his family. Jon, as mentioned before, stayed with Jeff. We took the opportunity on Tuesday to go out to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, followed by a trip to Cold Stone Creamery. It allowed us to take our minds off of the sad reason for which we had gathered, and it was really a wonderful time together. We all realized that we needed to do this more often.

This served as a reminder to all of us that our time here on earth can be short and is fleeting. If there are tasks we need to perform, we cannot delay, for none of us knows how many heartbeats we have been allotted. There is a “good news-bad news” saying that goes, “The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot.” Each day we make choices on whether we will use our time for good or ill.

While losing Kyle makes us sad, our knowledge of God’s eternal plan for His children brings us joy and comfort. Kyle’s spirit still lives and, through the grace of the atonement of Jesus Christ, will be reunited with his physical body in the resurrection. The sealing ordinance offered in temples throughout the world allows families have the opportunity to be sealed together for eternity through the power of the priesthood. Further, God has given us the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, to bear us up in times of despair and reiterate the assurance that all truly is well. Mary Lou and I bear witness that these things are true and can bless you as they have blessed us in our lives, and we do it in the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

To the Temple!

An important part of worship to Latter-day Saints is the temple. You have probably seen one near you, as more and more have been constructed around the world. With the recent dedication of a temple in Cordoba, Argentina, there are now 144 operating temples, with another 30 or so being planned or under construction. These beautiful buildings are not used for normal worship services and entry into them is restricted to faithful members of the Church who have kept their covenants with the Lord by living lives that are clean and unspotted from the things of the world. One doesn’t have to be perfect to enter the temple, but one does have to be striving for perfection in all areas of one’s life.

Inscription at Raleigh Temple Entrance

Inscription above the entrance to the Raleigh Temple

All temples have one thing in common. Above the entrance, carved in stone, is the pronouncement that this is the “House of the Lord.” It is a sacred place. It is where church members receive instruction on God’s plan for us in mortality, enter into covenants on how they will live their lives, and come to understand the blessings that come from keeping those covenants. It is a place of sublime peace. It is a place where we commune with and are susceptible to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is a place where we cast off the cares of the world, if only for a few hours, and contemplate eternal truths.

One of the covenants that we make in the temple is the marriage covenant. Unlike marriage in the world, a temple marriage doesn’t have an expiration date (“’til death do us part”), but is for time (during our mortal journey) and all eternity (our eternal destiny). It is correctly called a “sealing,” signifying that this relationship is entered into with the intent that it will be sealed both on earth and in heaven. Being sealed in this relationship is very precious to Latter-day Saints. We were sealed in the Oakland Temple on 30 August 1968 and it is as special to us today as it was when we knelt across the altar in the sealing room and made the promises to God and to each other that form the sealing.

We believe that there are certain ordinances that must be performed for everyone who has ever lived on the earth. Baptism is one of those essential ordinances. But there are many who have lived on the earth and never heard the name of Jesus. There are others who didn’t live at a time when there was proper authority to perform these ordinances. Unlike some faiths, we don’t believe that those who have not received these saving ordinances are doomed to spending all eternity in a state of purgatory or even damnation. We believe that we have a Heavenly Father who is just and loves each and every one of His children. A way has been made for all men who have ever lived to receive these ordinances and that way is through the temple. Paul alluded to this in his letter to the Corinthians where he talked about the resurrection and performing baptisms for the dead: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1st Corinthians 15:29)

So, when Latter-day Saints go to the temple (other than the first time they go, when they perform these ordinances for themselves) they are doing so as a proxy for someone who has already passed through mortality. This allows the living to refresh their recollection of the instruction and covenants made there, as well as performing vital work for those unable to do it for themselves. There is also a responsibility placed upon us to seek out our ancestors through research of our genealogies. This is why Latter-day Saints are so keenly involved in genealogical and family history research.

One might say that this is an impossible task – and they would be right. Through the history of mankind, records, if they were kept at all, have been destroyed through wars, natural decay, and neglect. There are many who will never be identified by man. But we believe is our duty to try. It is part of what the prophet Malachi revealed at the very end of the Old Testament: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6) We believe that Elijah did return and restored the sealing power to prophets in these latter days. The sealing of our ancestors and their children from generation to generation is a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. As to those that we cannot find because there is no record, we believe that they shall be revealed to us during Christ’s millennial reign on earth.

So, that’s the simplified version of why temples are important to Latter-day Saints. There is no temple within the boundaries of the Virginia Chesapeake Mission. Normally, missionaries are not allowed to leave their mission assignment, even to go to the temple. There are exceptions, however. One is when the trip has been approved by Church headquarters.

Mary Lou at Raleigh Temple

Sister Diehl outside the Raleigh NC Temple

Missionaries at Raleigh Temple

Missionaries taking pictures at the Raleigh Temple

We had that happen at the end of February when the missionaries in our zone were allowed to go to the Raleigh, NC Temple (which is actually located in Apex, NC, a suburb of Raleigh). We assembled at the chapel in Williamsburg at 0630 for the three-hour drive to the temple. Missionaries were driven in the mission transfer van, a large van that is used when missionaries are transferred to new areas and private cars, including ours. President Baker and his wife each drove a car, as did President Hanson and his wife (one of President Baker’s counselors) and others. We had to drive north to Richmond before we could get on I-95 to drive south to Raleigh. It was a gloomy day, punctuated by periods of heavy rain, but our spirits were bright as we made the drive through mostly rural areas. We stopped for gas and a quick McDonald’s breakfast at the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Stake Center at Raleigh Temple

Stake center adjacent to the Raleigh Temple

We arrived at the temple at 0930. It is one of the small temples that the Church has built to ensure that most Latter-day Saints are within three hours of a temple. It was a beautiful granite building that sits on a wooded piece of land adjacent to a stake center (this is a chapel used for Sunday worship and other activities that is larger than a regular chapel). This allows the two buildings to share the same grounds keeping, maintenance, and parking lot.

Our temple session was comprised solely of missionaries. Mary Lou and I were asked to be the witness couple for the session. Following the session, we waited in the Celestial Room in the temple for all of the missionaries to enter and be embraced by President and Sister Baker. The Celestial Room in the temple is symbolic of being in God’s presence. It is a beautiful place for quiet meditation of the truths taught there. You can find pictures of temples, including some interior pictures at https://www.lds.org/church/temples?lang=eng. It was radiant with all of the young missionaries, who are dedicated servants of the Lord, assembled there.

Entrance to Raleigh Temple

Entrance to the Raleigh Temple

Moroni on Raleigh Temple

Angel Moroni blowing a horn heralding the gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the earth in these latter days.

After leaving the temple, we had a luncheon set up for us at the stake center. We then held a zone meeting in which we were instructed by the temple president and our mission president. At the conclusion of the meeting, we cleaned the place up and went to the temple for pictures during an interlude from the rain. We then loaded up for the trip back to Williamsburg. We made another stop along the border for gas and food (this time we opted for the goodness of Arby’s). We got back to Williamsburg, but had to wait there for other cars to arrive so missionaries could ride back to their apartments with the people that brought them. It was a long day, but definitely a highlight for us.

Zonts and Potter at Raleigh Temple

Elders Zonts and Potter, who have worked with us in the Fort Eustis Service Members’ Group

Life in the Mission

So, what is it like to be a senior missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I think the answer to that question will be different with each missionary you ask. First of all, missionaries live by rules – lots of rules. These rules are designed to enhance spirituality, provide structure to the day, keep missionaries safe, instill a love of serving others, help one develop spiritually, emotionally, physically, and increase in wisdom and knowledge. There is no TV, no internet (except during a small designated time each week and then only to communicate with family), no music (except uplifting religious music), no movies, and no phone calls (except those related to missionary work). The typical missionary day starts at 0600 and includes time to prepare physically (eating, exercise, grooming), mentally (planning the day’s activities), and spiritually (scripture study, missionary lesson practice, prayer). Then it’s off into the world with appointments to teach, knocking on doors, or meeting people on the street. Being selfless and rendering service to others is also a big part of being a missionary. Throw in some meetings, a few reports, and searching out the lost sheep and it can be a full day. The typical missionary day ends with lights out at around 2200.

Fortunately, senior missionaries don’t have to follow these rules. Eighteen-year-olds, who have not learned many of the lessons that life teaches, require the structure of these rules to make them productive in the work. Just about everything that is prohibited for the young missionaries is allowed for us, with the proviso that nothing we do should detract from our spirituality, so that we may have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to guide us in our labors. We are adults and need to act like it. By the time the younger missionaries have finished their service (2 years for males and 18 months for females), they will be, too – at least most of them. They will have developed the discipline and knowledge that they need to make their way through the world successfully.

As military relations missionaries, our call is different. We are sent here to minister to the unique needs of those serving in the armed forces. It turns out that cooking is a major part of our assignment, which goes hand in hand with planning and shopping. We conduct Sunday services on Fort Eustis for soldiers who are in training. We plan mid-week activities in the evening (for those who train during the day) and at mid-day (for those who train at night). We coordinate with the younger missionaries on opportunities for them to teach and to serve. We are mom and dad for some of the soldiers. We teach classes to help military families deal with the stresses of deployments and returning from deployments. We reach out to local bishops to see if we can assist them with issues with military families. We teach a temple preparation class for those who have not yet been to the temple. We coordinate with the professional clergy (aka the chaplains). We attend graduation ceremonies for “our soldiers.” Suffice it to say, our days are full and varied. We will fill you in on specifics in other blog posts.

There is no “typical” day for us. Some days are more hectic and others are calm. Some start early, like Mondays, where Doug has to be on the post by 0700 for new soldiers’ in-processing. Others start later, like Fridays, when we are off to a district training meeting with other missionaries at 1000. The end of the month brings paperwork and reports for both the Church and the Army. Saturday and Sunday are always busy. Saturday is the preparation day for Sunday. It may include shopping, cooking, lesson preparation, inviting soldiers to Sunday meetings, and lots of little details (that we have been known to forget – hence the development of checklists, just like any good pilot depends on). On Sunday, we provide rides to missionaries, set up the chapel, sometimes give rides to soldiers who are allowed to ride in cars (most of them are prohibited from doing so), conduct meetings, teach lessons, serve meals, clean up, collapse in exhaustion, and then write blog entries.
We live in an apartment in Newport News, VA. It seems like a nice town from what we’ve seen. Our apartment complex is located very conveniently to shopping, grocery stores, and dining establishments. It is also adjacent to the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, also known as Patrick Henry Field (PHF). The airport, which is quite nice, is served by a small number of regional jet operations supporting Delta and American. Frontier Airlines was the last airline to serve PHF with large aircraft. We do get quite a few military aircraft doing practice approaches at PHF, including F-22s, F-15s, T-38s, C-32s (B757s), C-40s (B737-700s), and VC-25s (B747s used to transport the president). The fast movers make quite a bit of noise, but they only operate during the middle of the day (and only when there isn’t a cloud in the sky), so even though we hear them, it isn’t really obtrusive.  We don’t even notice noise from the other air operations at PHF in our apartment.

Living Room1

Living Room (with the strange picture)

Living Room2

Also the Living Room. The main entry and patio door are on the left. The entrance to the master bedroom is on the right.

Bedroom

The Master Bedroom with an en suite bathroom and a small walk-in closet.

Dining Room

The Dining Room, looking more spacious than it really is.

Kitchen

The Kitchen, with fine Kenmore appliances and lots of 1980s laminates in neutral tones. This is a kitchen for one — we have found it difficult to try to cook together in here.

We have a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a nice complex called “The Featherstone.”  It’s got a few years under its belt, but is well maintained.  This is the first time we have ever lived in an apartment building. We did live in a four-plex while finishing college, but other than that we’ve only lived in single family houses. The apartment is spacious enough for us and the kitchen is adequate. It came furnished, including one large, very strange piece of artwork. The apartment is on the first floor and faces the tennis courts. This is much better and more quiet than facing the parking lot. We brought a few pictures with us to combat the sterility of blank white walls and have hung drapes to give the place a homier feel. We like it and find it to be a very comfortable home for the next two years.

The Journey East

Driving Me Crazy

I hate to drive. Driving someplace just seems inefficient. On a long drive, such as that from Salt Lake City, UT to Newport News, VA, all I can think about is, “If I was in an airplane right now, I would have been there xx hours ago.” Finding places to eat and sleep just seem like unnecessary work. As missionaries, however, there is no choice. Missionaries sent to labor in North America are expected to take their own car and use it in the work when they arrive.

Our journey ran late from the beginning. When we left Aurora on our way to the MTC, we had hoped to be on the road by 1000. By the time we finished all the final packing and cleaning tasks, we were underway at 1600. After a harrowing trip through the winding and snowy roads through the mountains, we decided to give up in Grand Junction. That set the tone for all future travel.

P1080464

Elder and Sister Diehl overlooking the Salt Lake Temple from the observation deck at the Church Office Building.

We were supposed to be on the road from Salt Lake City back to Aurora by roughly 1330. Again, we didn’t hit the road until 1600. That was okay because if one must drive across Wyoming, night is the time to do it. We rolled in to Aurora at around midnight and stayed in the Aloft Hotel by the airport. We got a very good price and decided to try it out. This is a hotel that goes out of its way to be trendy. While the room was not uncomfortable, it didn’t do much for us, either. No closet. No place to sit other than the bed. A shower that leaked. Internet that didn’t work. Pressure-sensitive floors in the elevators (that left your footprints highlighted).

We went back to our former home to pick up some things left in the garage and mail some boxes of excess stuff at the post office. Again, we thought we would be underway by 1000, but we slept in, so that wasn’t going to happen. By the time we got the car packed and were on the road, it was 1600 again on a rainy Saturday. We had hoped to make it to Kansas City – and we did, although at 0300 after battling snow and ice through the fringes of Winter Storm Linus across the last third of Kansas. Kansas, by the way, is another state best driven across in the dark. We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites, a brand I generally like, especially because they have free breakfast. But they did one thing I can’t stand – they started taking breakfast down around 20 minutes before breakfast time was over.

Visits with Friends

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The world’s largest catsup bottle in Collinsville, IL. It’s for sale, by the way, and comes complete with the tower. No, we don’t know what the difference is between catsup and ketchup.

Rest Stop in IL

Who knew? At a rest stop in Illinois at the entrance to the ladies’ room. No pets. No smoking. No guns??? Who knew this was such a problem for the ladies. If you’re a man and packing, feel free to use the government facilities.

Our next stop was Belleville, IL, just over the Mississippi River from St. Louis. We had hoped to attend church with some friends from our BYU days (Robert and Linda Goodrich), but we didn’t get in until past supper time. They graciously fed us, and we still had a very nice visit before heading north to Naperville, IL, just west of Chicago. Friends from our Continental days in Houston (Phil and Trixi Emden) live there (he now works at the headquarters of United Airlines). We really got to see the snow piled up there (also from Winter Storm Linus). We had another lovely visit with them which resulted in another late departure, this time for Nauvoo, IL.

Nauvoo, Illinois

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The front of the Nauvoo Temple at night

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The Nauvoo Temple from the rear.

If you have never heard of Nauvoo, IL, the chances are you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nauvoo became the Church’s headquarters after the Mormons fled Missouri in the face of mob violence and terrorist attacks in the late 1830s. The Governor of Missouri even issued an “extermination order” against any Mormons found in the state. Generously, the State of Missouri rescinded that order a few years ago. It was a dark time for religious liberty in the United States.

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Nauvoo Temple sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. This image was captured in the mid-1840s.

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The most famous daguerreotype of the Nauvoo Temple in the 1840s.

The Church bought up a large tract of mostly swampland on the Mississippi River that was formerly known as Commerce, IL. They obtained a state charter, drained the swamps, and renamed it Nauvoo (meaning “beautiful”). The Church enjoyed relative peace for several years that allowed the city to prosper and grow larger than Chicago at the time. They built beautiful homes, places of commerce and industry, and towering over it all, a temple. The Nauvoo Temple sat on a bluff overlooking the river river and was truly a beacon. It was a magnificent building that cost nearly $1 million to build in an age that thought in hundreds.

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The Nauvoo Temple in the February snow.

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Statue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith across the street from the Nauvoo Temple titled, “The Last Ride.”

Persecution returned, however, in part because of the growing political power in having so great a concentration of Mormons in one place. In June, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, surrendered themselves at the jail at Carthage, IL on trumped-up charges of treason and insurrection. They were both murdered in the Carthage Jail by a mob that painted their faces black to hide the cowardice of their deed. With its charismatic leader dead, they thought that the Church would shrivel and beblown away. This was, however, the Lord’s work and would not be stopped by the hand of criminals. The Mormons moved west to the Great Salt Lake Valley to escape the persecution that had doggedly followed them.

The temple, along with the many impressive homes and buildings, of Nauvoo were abandoned or sold for pennies on the dollar. The temple was burned by an arsonist and later the walls were weakened by a tornado. The building was eventually torn down, with stones from the building used in other buildings around Nauvoo. Nauvoo quickly faded back into obscurity.

The Church acquired the original temple site in 1937. In 2000, it was announced that a temple would be rebuilt there, with the exterior matching that of the original. It was dedicated in 2002 on the 158th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Nauvoo is not a place to visit in the winter. The Church built a visitor center in Nauvoo and has restored many of the homes and workshops from the 1840s. They are available to visit at no charge. There are also demonstrations of blacksmithing, the wheelwright’s art, and making firearms at John Browning’s original foundry. It is a booming place in the summer. We discovered that it is hard to get a room in Nauvoo in the winter. Most of the hotels were “closed for the season.” Of the ones open, they were unattended with a phone number to call if one desired a room. We ended up staying at the surprisingly nice Nauvoo Hotel with a good room at a reasonable price. Eating is another issue. Cafes, diners, and restaurants (such as they are) were also closed for the season. Every single one of them. We ended up getting a pizza at Casey’s General Store and Gas Station. For the same reason, we had breakfast there, too.

We were rewarded handsomely for our efforts. We got to see the magnificent new temple at night. We also saw it the next day in the middle of a snowstorm. We took the time attend a session there and the interior is as spectacular as the exterior.
Following our worship in the temple, we were on the road again, finally headed for Newport News. Nauvoo is so far off the beaten path that we had to go west, into Iowa, to get to an Interstate highway that could get us to the East Coast. We battled snow and ice before spending the night in Champaign, IL. The ice was so bad that we really had to slow down on many parts of the highway. The median and the shoulders were littered with cars that thought they could drive faster than was really safe, and they paid for that mistake with a few moments of stark terror and a car stuck in a snow drift. To compound the misery, the temperatures went into negative territory.

The Final Leg

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It was like playing Tetris every morning when reloading the car. Elder Diehl in front of the Virginia Chesapeake Mission offices.

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Stuffed full (and then some).

Fortunately, the roads got drier, the temperature increased (sometimes the 20s can seem absolutely balmy), and it was smooth sailing for the rest of the journey. We made a stop in Charleston, WV and cruised into Portsmouth, VA (which is where the mission headquarters is located) to be welcomed by our Mission President, Alan Baker and his wife. We had a very nice dinner with them at the Olive Garden and then headed to our home for the next two years.

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Money, Money, Money

Monetary Leaders Agree: Being a Missionary Can Be Expensive!

Monetary Leaders Agree: Being a Missionary Can Be Expensive!

Being a missionary can be expensive. There isn’t a lot of good information out there to educate potential senior missionaries on some of the financial considerations to which one many never have given any thought. This post is to share our experiences in this area.

Some Background

Missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay their own way. So, while the Diehls are serving in Virginia, we are expected to pay for our living expenses, just as we would at home. There is a caveat, however. The cost of living in some places in the world is much more expensive than others. To allow seniors to better plan financially, the Church has placed a cap of $1,400 per month on housing and utilities. In London, for example, it’s hard to find a flat for under $2,500 per month without utilities. So, a missionary couple going there would only pay $1,400. Someone going to the Philippines might be paying considerably less.

Storage

We decided that we would put our possessions in storage while we served our mission. From a financial standpoint, that is not optimal. First, you have to get it packed, and that’s a lot of work. Second, you have to rent a truck to haul it to the storage place. You need to have a crew at each end to load and unload the truck. Most storage facilities are not climate controlled nor are they in the best parts of town. It is difficult to know how many cubic feet of space you will need. This may result in having to rent multiple units. Storage facilities typically operate on a month-to-month basis and don’t know if there will be a vacant unit until someone tells them they are moving out. This makes planning very difficult. That’s one of the reasons we decided to use ZippyShell, as mentioned in a previous post. Even with all the things we discarded or donated to charity, we still had a lot of stuff. Our storage bill is over $7,000 per year. We did make a deal with them to get a better rate by paying one year in advance, so negotiate if you can.

https://i1.wp.com/www.californiasmovers.com/images/movingmaterials.gifAnother expense with storage is packing materials. We haven’t totaled it yet, but would estimate that we spent around $1,300 on boxes, tape, bubble wrap, furniture pads (these are expensive and one may need a lot of them), plastic wrap, and other packing materials. You can try to pack things in old newspapers and boxes you get at the supermarket, but we don’t think you will be happy with the results. By the way, Home Depot had the least expensive packing materials and a great selection. For furniture pads, the best prices were found on the internet.

The optimal solution is to get a relative or a very trusted friend to look after the place, allowing you to move some personal items out of the way, but leaving the household mostly intact. I would advise this only with someone that is very, very trusted (or that you can exclude from your will if disaster strikes).

An alternative solution is to lock up the house and walk away. You will need to hire someone to check up on the place regularly. In a place like Colorado, where burst pipes happen with sub-zero temperatures, it could be very expensive to leave the place unattended. You will also need to hire someone to shovel the snow in the winter and do the yard during the other seasons. Get some light timers to make the place looked lived in. With utility bills and yard upkeep, I’m not sure this is the most cost-effective solution.

Medical

There will be some medical expenses that might not be covered by insurance. We are on Medicare, supplemented by the program for retirehttps://i1.wp.com/wp-ag.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2015/02/syringe2173WEB-399x300.jpgd military personnel, Tricare for Life (TFL). There are a lot of things that Medicare doesn’t cover and one’s supplemental insurance may not, either. The Church requires that immunizations be up to date, which fortunately for us, ours were. Shingles vaccine is one that is highly recommended and costs around $200. If you have ever known anyone afflicted with shingles (caused by the chickenpox virus that we all got as kids, which reactivates as shingles in the 60+ crowd), you will know that the vaccine is worth every penny. Another one is for hepatitis A and B. This is a series of shots, not covered by Medicare, which will run around $150.

Medicare does not cover any dental work. The group dental insurance one gets at work is a real bargain. Dental insurance in the marketplace will typically cost around $80 per month for a couple. It can be found for less through unions, professional associations, etc. It’s a good idea to get any dental work done before one retires and still has inexpensive dental insurance.

Travel

Travel expenses are paid for by the Church. For international travel, that means plane tickets to where you need to be. In North America, you are expected to take your automobile to the field of your mission labors. You will be reimbursed for gasoline, meals, and lodging on your journey. It is done by a formula and you will receive your reimbursement check while in the MTC. It won’t cover everything during travel, but I think ours was fair and we broke even on our travel expenses.

Shipping

We had more stuff that we felt we needed than we were able to cram into our car. We packed 13 small book boxes with these things. The least expensive way to send them was via the Post Office. It still cost several hundred dollars, plus the pleasure of waiting in line there. It was a mistake. We should have paid more to send them via UPS or FedEx or with a moving company.No Post Office

Every one of the boxes was damaged (and not just a little bit damaged). Fortunately, many contained clothing, bedding, and towels which were not damaged. All the boxes were handled in a careless and neglectful manner. One box, that contained books, arrived in tatters. When we opened the box, it was only half full (it had been completely full). On examining the contents, most of them were not ours. It was obvious that, somewhere along the way, these (and other people’s boxes) were tossed and burst open. Our highly skilled post office employees just scooped up a bunch of stuff, put it back in the box, and taped it. Some of the things were very personal items that I know their owners did not want to lose.

The book box was one we had insured, but now the Post Office officials (who were pretty snotty), say we have to have the original receipts to make a claim. Some of these books were purchased years ago, so we don’t have the receipts. Discussions with the Post Office are ongoing, but our advice is to not trust them with anything of value.

In the Mission Field

We live in a very nice two bedroom apartment (more on this in a future post). It is furnished with all the necessities for modern living. The furniture is nothing fancy (I’d never have any of it in my home), but it more than meets our needs. The apartment came with a washer and dryer, a microwave oven, a toaster, a blender, a vacuum cleaner, a mop and broom, dishes and glasses, pots and pans, and cooking utensils. It is well furnished – but not perfectly furnished. There are always things that one finds that one needs.

We knew we needed to supply our own towels. We also needed to get shower curtains, bathmats, and some area rugs. We found we also needed a bigger desk than the one provided as well as a larger bookcase. That meant getting a table lamp for the desk. We also had to supply our own bedding. Since the beds in the apartment are queen size and we sleep on king size at home, we had stuff to buy (and it isn’t cheap). Our apartment has blinds, but no drapes. It felt way too Spartan since we would be here for nearly two years, so add drapes, sheers, and drapery rods to the shopping list.

Entertainment is another expense. Entertainment?? That doesn’t seem right for a missionary. Well, it is. Depending on the missionary assignment, duties may be from 8:00 – 5:00, Monday through Friday (that almost sounds like work). Senior missionaries are allowed to have internet and TV. Although we brought a small television and DVD player, we aren’t hooked up to cable or satellite. We have a stack of LDS-themed movies and documentaries that we never seemed to have time to watch at home. We also chose to have high-speed internet which adds another $55 to the monthly expenses.

Our mission president counseled us to have regular date nights and to see the historic sites in the area (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown, etc.) when our duties allow. We will wait for the weather to improve a bit before exploring the area, but some of these items will involve expense.

The point is that there may be expensive items for which one cannot adequately plan. One might need everything from a doormat to clothes hangers, but won’t know it until one is living there. Allow something in the mission budget for both the known and the unexpected.