Monday, January 9, 2017

The Long (but wonderful) Road Home

We left the mission field on Monday, May 2nd, and had already decided to take the long road home.  We headed to Atlanta, Georgia first to see our son Kent and his family.  It was so great to spend some quality time with them.  We were planning to spend time with my sister, Julee, and her husband Dick..... but Julee got quite ill right when we were supposed to get there.  So instead we spent a whole week with Kent and his family and we got to see Julee and Dick towards the end of our stay.

It was so wonderful to see Courtney getting ready for prom and see her perform with her flute in the orchestra.  We also got to spend time watching Jackson play basketball and see how tall that Natalie has grown.  Both she and Jackson have really shot up while we have been gone.

After leaving Atlanta we spent the night in Memphis and went to visit Graceland the next day.  It was fun to see all of the memorabilia having to do with Elvis.  We even learned a lot more than we ever imagined about a period of time we actually lived through.  We must have been so involved in our little corner of the world that there was a lot that went right past us at the time.

After spending the night in Memphis, then the next day we drove to Amarillo, Texas.  We decided that it has to be the flattest spot in the country.  We actually traveled right along side the old Route 66 which was fun and we stopped at a few places along the way.
One of our most memorable stops was very short, but we visited the Albuquerque, New Mexico temple grounds.  The temple matron was outside tending her grandkids while their parents went on a temple session so it was really fun to have a nice casual chat with her.

Another memorable stop was the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest outside of Albuquerque.  Jim said he remembered always driving past the signs as a kid when their family traveled to Arizona each summer. was fun for both of us to actually take some time to stop and sight see a little bit.

We stayed the last night in Flagstaff, Arizona before visiting the next bit of family the next morning in Saint George.  It was a good feeling to actually enter the state of Utah after being away for 18 months.  But it was an even better feeling to see our wonderful family who we have missed so much.

We had a great visit with Mike and Heather, saw Brynlee graduate from kindergarten, and then had a wonderful reunion with Emily's family.  Dawson seemed to be all grown up and he loved the little truck we brought him to help break the ice after us being gone so long.                    

We stayed in Saint George for a couple of days and then we headed for West Jordan.  We had a wonderful welcome there from Jared's and Janelle's families.  They had really worked hard to spruce up our home and to take care of the yard immaculately.  We just can't thank them enough.

Our homecoming talks were given on Memorial Day weekend and the family from Saint George was able to attend.  The next couple of months were spent with helping Janelle get ready for her family's move to the Boston area, back to Saint George for a couple of Emily's hospital stays, and a wonderful week with all of our family in Salt Lake and Oakley where we held the "cousin's camp" that we had missed during the previous year.  It was truly a miracle that we were able to all be together and we took advantage of the time by taking a family photo.  The only person missing was our sweet granddaughter, Megan, who was still serving her mission.  Right around the time of our picture we got word that mission boundaries were changed and she was then transferred to the Baltimore, Maryland mission for the remainder of her service.

The Lord's plan goes on and we are so grateful to have been a part of it in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

THE END.......or A NEW BEGINNING.......

One thing I forgot to mention in the last post concerning Mel's funeral was that one of the elders, Elder Whitney, was particularly close to Mel.  Elder Whitney returned home from his mission a few months ago knowing that it would be the last time he would see Mel in this lifetime.  They maintained contact over the following months and Elder Whitney was able to fly back for Mel's funeral.  He gave the dedication prayer for Mel's resting place at the end of the funeral.  We were able to pick him up at the airport and were invited to have dinner at the Stoddards where Elder Whitney stayed while in Pittsburgh.  It was such a tender and spiritual time with good people.

Then on Sunday, April 24th, we were asked to be the main speakers for the First Ward sacrament meeting.  The theme for the month was the Apostasy and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We felt that the Lord directed what we included in our talks and it was a good feeling.  After church we were surprised to find out that the ward Linger

Longer to mingle and eat was actually planned somewhat to say goodbye to us.  They had a cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to Jim and it was so good to be able to enjoy these people just a little more.

Then on April 25th--our last P-day-- we celebrated Jim and Megan's birthdays, along with Megan's companions, by renting bikes and riding the trails throught the city of Pittsburgh.  This is one of the favorite things we have done while here in Pittsburgh. It was great to share it with the girls. We had lunch at Peppi's, our very favorite lunch spot, and then went to the Strip District for final souvenirs.  We finished up the day by the girls emailing at our apartment.  It was just a perfect final P-day with great weather.  This was a bonus since the rest of the week was raining!

This was also our last good-bye to Megan before we leave.  She has another seven months left on her mission and will most likely be in another part of the mission this transfer or next.

Our time spent in the mission field with our granddaughter still continues to amaze us.  It will always be a special memory and unbelievable tender mercy from the Lord.   Having her come to the same mission is one thing, but we still pinch ourselves when contemplating that we were blessed to serve right along side her and her companions and to have so many cherished memories together.

Our last few days were spent cleaning, packing, saying goodbyes, and it seemed like a million other little spiritual and stressful moments packed in between.

Viola and great grandson, Aiden

Then our last Saturday was spent in an unusual way.  We were invited to a Passover Sedar dinner with the Page family.  What a wonderful family with whom we feel very close.  Viola Page's oldest son, Michael, and his family belong to a Messianic Jewish congregation here in Pittsburgh.  We were at first confused by this name until they explained that many people now believe that the Old Testament actually points to Jesus being the Messiah.  They still believe in the Jewish traditions and customs, but they also believe that Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer.  We weren't sure what to expect, but we

had a very wonderful and spiritual evening as we learned more about Jewish customs.  We couldn't help but also think how well the restored gospel fits into their beliefs.
It was wonderful that Viola could even attend because she had been in the hospital all week long and just got out the day before.  We brought Tony with us and it was the first time he had ever attended this yearly event.   They introduced us as leaders in our church and had us stand up.  We ate a regular salmon/potatoe/vegetable meal, but then also enjoyed the traditional Jewish sedar foods and ceremonies.  It was a learning experience as well as being entertaining.  There was music and dancing and we really enjoyed sitting at the family table and enjoying their company.

Then our last Sunday was fast and testimony meeting.
We spent the day fasting and then also each shared our testimonies in both the First and Seventh Wards.  A new family in the First Ward, the Fosters, are only in the ward for a short time. Work responsibilities take them to many places around the country and they have perfected the art of jumping in and making a difference.   They have already done so much good in the ward at a very needed time.  They have started feeding all of the missionaries in the two wards after church each week and so they had a nice dinner for all of us.  It was very welcome for us because our cupboards were almost totally bare!

One of our last good memories was with Denise who came up after church and told us how much our family history work with her has opened up brand new avenues for her family.  Her mom was so grateful to find the name of her grandfather through Family Search and she is in the process of organizing a family reunion as well as making many other connections.  We worked with her at the very beginning of our mission.  We know the Lord was with us because we were pretty shaky at the time in knowing much ourselves about the website.  A promise given to missionaries in the Doctrine and Covenants is one that we have felt many times...."I will go before your face.  I will be on your right hand and on your left...."

Then we went home to make final preparations....and the time finally came.  We left Pittsburgh around 7:30 am on Monday morning.

And so our next adventure begins.................!!!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Busy Days

Our last few weeks have seemed to culminate with one event after another.  On April 15th we attended our last Zone Training.


It was good to associate with such wonderful young elders and sisters again and share in the joys and trials of missionary work in the Lord's church.

We were surprised at the end of zone conference to receive a farewell cake and a poster signed by all of the missionaries in our zone.  What a joy and privilege it has been for us to work with them---and an added blessing to have our granddaughter, Megan, in our zone for much of her mission.

Then on April 20th we took our last temple trip while
on our mission.  It was a fulfillment of one of our wishes to take our friend, Charlette, with us to the temple.  She has been a member of the church for 10 years and has been working towards this goal for a long time.  We took her and another friend, Erica, to Washington DC on an absolutely gorgeous spring day.  Things were a little tentative up until the last minute.  We wondered if both or either of them would be able to go. It was so wonderful that they both made it.  Charlette was baptized in proxy for her mother and sister by Elder Butler. I was baptized in proxy for some of our own family names and I also did some baptisms for some of Erica's family.   There are many back stories and twists and turns associated with us being able to go that day, but we are just so grateful that we could make the trip with these two wonderful women.

We had our final interview of sorts with President and Sister Johnson over dinner at the Porch Restaurant in Schendly Park.  What wonderful eternal friends we feel that we have made with them.  We can't say enough about the love we have for them and the leadership and spirituality they each have.

Then Saturday, April 23rd, was also a busy day.  We attended and participated in planning the funeral of our good friend, Mel.  He had only been a member of the church a little less than a year.  We feel so privileged to have been able to know him.  He was diagnosed with an incurable cancer and chose not to undergo extensive chemotherapy, but instead wanted to spend his last days learning more about the gospel and enjoying life the best he could.  He rented a van once and took us and some elders to the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright home called "Falling Water."  Another favorite memory we have with him was the day he again rented a van and took us and the elders to the Columbus Temple where he did baptisms.

 He was very blessed to not be in a lot of pain for most of his last days.  His doctor had a hard time understanding how he could have such a good attitude and asked him if he would go talk to a large group of medical students about how he was able to stay so positive.  He said that when they asked him that question he responded that it was largely because of his Mormon faith.  Our Heavenly Father's plan of salvation for His children just made sense to Mel and gave him a lot of comfort.

He lived in an apartment on Mount Washington and
Very old and beautiful Allegheny Cemetery
had a beautiful view of the city of Pittsburgh.  Some of our favorite memories are of afternoon visits with him in his apartment during his final weeks.  He had lived in downtown Pittsburgh and worked in a flower shop for many years, so he knew so much about the city and it's people.  He had also been on cruises and trips around the world, but one of his final desires that he was able to fulfill was to visit Salt Lake City.  He later said that it was his favorite trip of all.  The mausoleum at the old and beautiful Allegheny cemetery is his final resting place and he made sure to have the letters "LDS" inscribed on the plaque by his name several months before he passed away.

Later that day we attended our last Senior Missionary Conference.  We are so grateful to have been able to make friends with so many other senior couples.  Our times of meeting together with them will be some of our cherished memories.  They have each seemingly given up alot of the comforts and joys of retirement to serve a mission for the church and have found, like we have,  new even more wonderful joys, memories, and blessings associated with that service.

We are reminded of something President Thomas Monson said back in 2003.

"The greatest decision I ever made in my life was to give up something I dearly loved to the God I loved even more.  He has never forgotten me for it."

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Special Baptism

Participating, observing, or helping in any small way with someone getting baptized into the Lord's church is such a joyful experience.  It is so wonderful that we could experience this at the end of our mission with our great friend, Tony.

We feel that Tony's conversion to the gospel can be compared to an anaolgy that we heard recently of grains of rice being put on one side of a scale.  Each little grain of rice added to one side of the scale is like small experiences with the Holy Spirit that people feel as they investigate the gospel.  Those grains of rice grow in weight very slowly.  But then finally the rice (or experiences with the Spirit) add up and the scale tips to the other side.  Joy, peace and hope are felt as conversion occurs through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.

We have been privileged to be part of the last grains of rice being put on the scale in Tony's conversion to the gospel.  We feel that one of the major tipping points on the scale for Tony was his mom, Viola.  She went to the temple last September to be sealed in eternal marriage to her husband who has been deceased for 50 years.  She came home with a certificate from the temple that was displayed in her living room.  Many of her family who are not members of our church commented on it.  When we asked Tony what he thought of his mom performing this ordinance in the temple he said, "Mom, I think it is so wonderful that you did this for you and dad".

A few weeks later Tony stopped Elders Simmons and Gille on the street and wanted to talk with them more about the gospel.  Tony had been taught lessons from other sets of elders in the past, but he had many interpretations of his own about the scriptures and he wasn't really that ready to be taught.  But....maybe a few grains of rice were added to the scale!

More grains of rice were added on a summer evening when we were present with the elders as they taught a lesson to Tony.  We were seated at an outside table at the McDonalds in East Liberty.  Five of us sat at the table and enjoyed ice cream on this warm evening and then the elders taught the lesson.  It was the first time Elder Simmons had led a discussion and he bore a powerful testimony involving his grandmother's testimony.  The Spirit was strongly felt as we bowed our heads to say a closing prayer. Then an unusual thing happened---we saw a shadow and felt a person standing right beside us!  It was a woman who had felt the Spirit, came to listen to our prayer, and asked us to say another prayer with her for a friend who had been in a serious accident.

Even more grains were added during the following months as Tony's heart began to soften and sets of elders came and went as they were transferred to other areas.  Tony already had a good knowledge of the scriptures, but as he learned the simple truths of the restoration over again it seemed that the pieces of the puzzle began to come together in his mind.  We think he also felt the love of a father he never knew from Elder Butler's hugs!!

Anyway, what a joyous day it was on April 9th when Tony entered the waters of baptism.  Elder Butler was especially pleased when Tony asked him to  perform this ordinance.  President and Sister Johnson were able to attend the baptism.  Brother Pope gave a talk on baptism and I (Sister Butler) gave a talk on the Holy Ghost.

On Sunday Tony was "confirmed" a member of the church and given the gift of the Holy Ghost to be his constant companion as he remains worthy and keeps the commandments.  He also received the Aaronic priesthood and bore his testimony.  He told everyone how grateful he was for the friendship and fellowship he has felt in the ward and offered his service to anyone in need.

      We are so excited for all that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will mean in Tony's life!

People and Places to Remember

We are starting to think of people we are glad we have met and places that we are glad we have visited.

One of our favorites is Annie.  She has the biggest smile and the best laugh ever.  She has taken lessons from the elders for years and she has a strong testimony of the restored gospel.  She is also a member of a small Baptist congregation here.  She teaches Sunday School and tries to keep the little church going.  She just turned 90 years old a couple of months ago and we have been recently helping her with her family history.  We and many of the elders consider her a real friend.

Another one of our favorite people is Gwen.  She comes to church from her nursing home each week via ACCESS transportation.  She will always be an example of patience, cheerfulness, and pure testimony to us.

Another couple that we see making lots of progress in their lives is Alecia and Damon.  Alecia came into contact with the church in Las Vegas a few years ago and got baptized.  She absolutely loves the church and the gospel, but suffers from an illness that definitely gives her lots of trials in life.  Damon is a truck driver so he is gone a lot, but they are hoping to get married soon.  We are so excited and happy for them.

We also saw the Lord's hand recently in the life of a young man we met at a high school event.  He saw our tags and came up to us to talk.  He said that we might know his grandmother---which we did.  He told us that he was actually a member of the church and we asked about his current involvement in the church.  He said that he wasn't really attending and that he wasn't even living at home, but staying with a friends family.  So....we asked if he would like to talk to elders....or get a Book of Mormon??? He hesitated, but said that getting a Book of Mormon might be okay.  He lives quite far away from us, but he gave us his phone number and so we gave it to the elders near him to deliver the book.  We happened to see the elders a few weeks later at a church event and they said that he is attending church every week now and even participating in the Young Men activities.  He told the elders that he was looking for more direction in his life at the very moment he saw us.  That made us so happy to see how the Lord works miracles in peoples lives when they reach out even a little bit.

We also had our first picnic of the year recently in Nick's backyard with Debi and Elizabeth.  Cool weather is just not an obstacle for most Pittsburgher's.  Nick has only been a church member for a few months and so it was good to get to know him a little better.

We had another unique experience at a unique building recently.  It is a long story with lots of twists and turns, but it seems to have all worked out.  We got a call from the missionary couple who served before us.  They told us about a contact they had here within the organization of Dollar Bank.  Her name is Sandra and she is the vice president of the bank and specifically in charge of construction projects.  The bank was started in 1855 and the large, ornate building was finished in 1870.  It seems that as the bank was renovating within the last few years that they ran across many large books of genealogical records that Sandra felt a special interest in preserving.  It turns out that they ended up hiring a full time archivist to digitize and preserve these records.  The bank has even turned part of it's ground floor space into a heritage center.

We visited the bank along with Cynthia and her husband on April 5th.  Cynthia is on the committee for Public Affairs for the Pittsburgh area and we had a great time taking a tour of this historic bank and seeing some of the records.  This bank was created to serve the common working people and an account could be opened with only one dollar.  They were also the only bank to serve African Americans and women in Pittsburgh for quite some time.  It is the oldest Savings and Loan institution in the country.  There are 68 branches in Pennsylvania at the present time.

We were treated very well and taken on a very nice tour.
It turns out that Sandra actually has family who are church members.  She also shared with us a very tender memory of her daughter being helped greatly by church missionaries when she was stranded in Mosambique, Africa a few years ago.  What a pleasure it was to meet Sandra and feel of her warmth and her love for our church missionaries.

We loved the lions that are guarding the front of the building.  We heard that the original lions had begun to deteriorate in the outside weather so they are now displayed inside.  We were told that these were carved by the same sculptor who carved the lions on the Utah State capital building.

The hours, days, and weeks are moving quickly so we keep trying to fit in all the people and places that we can to help move the Lord's work along!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cherry Blossoms, Easter, & Pittsburgh Pierogies

We were so grateful to be able to go to the Washington DC Temple and it was an added bonus to be able to go while the cherry blossoms were blooming in the nation's capital.  It was a bright spring day when we arrived in DC with LaShaun and Vikkiy.  It was one of the peak days for the trees to be in bloom and  the Tidal Basin area around the monuments was a very busy place.  We finally found a parking place and were able to walk around and get some great pictures.

The highlight of the trip though was spent afterwards at the temple.  It was such a good break for each of us.  We have grown to appreciate being able to go to the temple so much more.  It is definitely a place where heaven and earth meet for a short time while you are there.

Easter Sunday was a very busy Sunday, but a very rewarding one also.  It was another beautiful day with spring flowers and blossoms everywhere.  Tony came to church all dressed up and even sang in the ward choir.  His baptism date is set in another 2 weeks and we are so excited for him.

We had dinner with Sister Eldridge afterwards.  She loves having us over for holidays along with the elders.

Her niece was visiting along with the Laylands who are previous ward members.  It was probably the last time we will have dinner with Sister Eldridge and it begins a series of "last times" that we will be experiencing the next few weeks.  It is a bittersweet journey that we have ahead of us!

We have started teaching two temple preparation classes - one in each ward.  Courtney and Scott are attending the one in the 7th Ward.  It doesn't look like it got started in time for us to finish and go to the temple with them since it is a 6 week class and will be interrupted by General and Ward Conferences.  Even so it will be wonderful to hear from them about their first trips to the temple after we leave.

The temple class in the 1st Ward is meant for some members to prepare to go to the temple to do baptisms for the dead.  We should be able to fit in at least one trip to one of the temples to do this.

On April 1st we were asked to attend the MLC (Missionary Leadership Council) in Altoona, PA.  It is about 2 hours away from Pittsburgh.  It was wonderful to be able to enjoy the spirit of this meeting with so many of the young leaders in the mission (elders who are Zone Leaders and sisters who are serving as Sister Training leaders).  Jim taught his class on the Atonement that seems to have helped many elders and members here.  His way of presenting it just seems to make sense to most people and he made it into a Powerpoint presentation for the first time.

Then the weekend of General Conference came.
We really enjoyed watching General Conference in our apartment.  One Saturday we had dinner between sessions with Sister McQuarrie who is the Relief Society President in the 7th Ward along with some elders.

Then on Sunday evening we watched conference in our apartment with a set of elders and had some authentic Pittsburgh pierogies.  They were given to us by Mel who is a long time Pittsburgh resident.  For those who don't know what a "pierogi" is I have included a picture.  It is a traditional polish food that is often served with lots of onions and cabbage and other side dishes.  We are told that they are sometimes just served alone and then if you are still hungry, you just eat more pierogies!  They are like raviolis but a little bigger.  The ones we were given to cook were filled with potatoes and cheese and were homemade in a town near here called McKees Rocks.  We understand that many are filled with other things too.  We enjoyed them and had enough left over to send some home with the elders.

We have started to say a few good-byes and reflect on some of the good people we have met here.  It is getting harder and harder to think of leaving and not seeing many people for a very long time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


On March 9th we had our last zone conference here.  It was one of the most spiritually exhausting, but wonderful, days we have spent on our mission.  It was great to see the new public affairs initiative presented and to get our cards.  The website, has a short video as well as the Tabernacle "virtual" choir presentation.  It is amazing!!

As always, hearing President and Sister Johnson's messages was totally inspiring.  We were also asked to give our departing testimonies at the end of the meeting since it will be our last zone conference before we leave.  President Johnson arranged the last musical number right before our talks to be a medley of songs played by Sister Welch (Megan) of God Be With You Till We Meet Again and I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go.  She played it beautifully and it was so touching to us.  Needless to say it was pretty hard to get through our testimonies without a few tears.  We are overwhelmed and so grateful for all that has gone on in our mission.

Then three days after the zone conference we were then able to spend another morning with Megan and her companions in a special stake member missionary conference at the stake center in Plum.  It was unique to be able to be picked as a "family" in a role play about presenting lessons to members about missionary work.

After the meeting we were invited to a member's home for lunch.  This family is affectionately known as "Mama Z" and "Papa Z" because their last name is so hard to pronounce and they really are like a Mama and Papa to the missionaries in the area.  They invite them for meals often and are just real friends to them.

It was great to meet the "Z's".  It seems like most areas have someone who steps up to be a Ma and Pa to the elders and the sisters and it is a blessing on both sides.  We think we may have been like this to a few missionaries in Pittsburgh and we feel like it has blessed us more than them!

Then....another two days later we spent a P-day
with "the trio" in Pittsburgh.  It was supposed to be a rainy day so the girls had decided to go to the Science Center.  That was crowded and the weather improved so we stayed awhile and then left so that we could walk across the bridge to Point State Park.  The weather actually improved and turned into an absolutely gorgeous spring day.  We finished our day at our favorite Pittsburgh restaurant spot....Peppi's.....and then picture taking at the Northside Lookout.

We were invited to dinner at the home of President and Sister Peterson later in the evening
and we had a short home evening with them and the Northside Elders.  They are a wonderful family and we have learned so much from them.

We also used a P-day recently to visit the Flight 93 memorial.  It was a sobering, humbling, and  inspirational visit.  It is located about an hour and a half away from Pittsburgh in a farming

community.  The guide told us that the average number of visitors a year to the site and memorial since 2011 has been 300,000 per year.  It was amazing to see and feel the examples of faith, courage, and hope that this small group of ordinary people displayed.   They did something so heroic and unselfish with only minutes to make decisions.  Also, many miracles could be seen in the event even though it seems so tragic.

Then.....we got great news in a voicemail from President Johnson.  There will be a new couple coming to replace us!!  This is something we have wondered about, worried about, and been praying about!!!  At least one of the wards that we work with just isn't very strong right now.  Having a new couple come to replace us will make it so much easier to feel like the work we have tried to do will be continued.  We are busy trying to put together a folder and lists to help them know how to begin.  The Hansens, the couple who served here before us, did this for us and we have communicated with them many times throughout our mission.  It has been so helpful to have them to talk to occasionally and we feel like we are close friends even just on the phone.

Hallelujah really is an appropriate word for how we feel right now!  I recently posted this picture on Facebook with the comment that through all of the ups and downs of our mission that we are so glad that we came.  It is one of the best things we have ever done!