Sunday, December 27, 2015

Time back in Utah, Improving health for Debbie, Retirement Celebration and Christmas

It's been three weeks since we last added to our blog.  After the last writing we had two wonderful days with Elder Gay, Elder Sitati and Tim Sloan who went through an operational review with our Self-Reliance management team in Frankfurt.  This also included participation with our DTA and Area Presidency.  After helping them get to the airport on Wednesday, December 9, we also left Frankfurt on Thursday to return to Utah for the remainder of the year.

We arrived in Utah on the evening of December 10 and immediately had a spinal block for Debbie the next day.  This was her last test.  Once we had a few follow-up appointments we learned that there was no sign of Multiple Sclerosis in the spinal tap, which is wonderful news!  There is a small hole in her heart, which may have caused some of her problems, but that is common and can be treated with a daily minimal dose of aspirin.  She has also had good enough success urinating with the medication that she is receiving, that the urologist has suggested that she only needs intermittent cauterization.  So overall, very good news for Debbie's health.  We should be able to serve our mission without major difficulties as long as we keep on the correct medications!

On December 11, we took many adult family members to "The Forgotten Carols" performance.  This has been one of our family traditions for many years with different children.  This time we had 19 of our family together at the same performance and of course it was once again a wonderful experience.

The next Wednesday, December 16, we were able to enjoy a retirement celebration for my 36 years of employment with Church organizations.  Wonderful gifts were given, but even more importantly, I was able to meet up with bosses and colleagues from most of those years.  That included a visit from John W. Creer, the President of Farm Management Company during the 10 years that I worked there and Elder Ulisses Soares, who was my boss for most of the time that I worked in Brazil.  We were also pleased to have Elder John Carmack and Elder Richard Cook with us.  They were my bosses during 10 years with the Perpetual Education Fund.  The celebration included messages and gifts from Mike Murray and Elder Robert C. Gay, who have been my bosses during the past three and a half years.  These were my primary bosses during my career, but I was so pleased to see other work colleagues from each of the companies and organizations that I worked with during the past 36 years. The words that were shared were very kind and the gifts were unique and memorable.  I have been so blessed to associate with such wonderful people during all of these years and to receive a good salary while spending most of my waking hours helping to build the Kingdom of God on the earth.

Special Gifts included:

Retirement Clock from the Church

Mike Murray gave me this jersey from my favorite Baseball Team
With my name and 36 for my years of service

A special  bronzed 3 legged stool, one of the early symbols of the Self-Reliance Initiative

Signed letter from the First Presidency and a special frame of many of my business cards, presented by my wife, Debbie

The following weekend we had a few unique family Christmas parties.  On Saturday we had our annual party with the posterity of my mother, including a special guest.

On Sunday, December 20, we met with our own posterity in our condominium clubhouse.  We had seating for nearly 50 and did not have very many empty seats.   We love our children and our grandchildren.  As we spend more time with them, we recognize what a sacrifice it truly will be to leave them for the next year and half.  However, we know that all will be fine in our absence.  We  could tell this by their united effort to "prank" us for our party.  We show up in Sunday dress and all of them showed up in pajamas.

On December 23, I was finally able to get our daughter Camila a temporary green card to replace her lost green card until her citizenship certificate is received.  This will now help her to renew her state identification card and receive other SSI benefits that she is needing to maintain her care at the Millcreek Health Center.  This was the culmination of several visits to Immigration Services, including the expedition of the application for her citizenship certificate.

Finally we had our own "shepherd's dinner" on Christmas Eve with four of our single sons and two of daughters tight their families.   Christmas morning was spent primarily with four of our four single sons, which was a very special time.  Throughout the week and on Christmas day, we were able to visit with just about everyone of our children that live in Utah and by Skype with our family in Pennsylvania.

We were privileged to perform home teaching visits to wonderful members in our ward and to make a few visits to widows and others in our condominiums.  We even were able to have dinner at the home of Elder and Sister Vassel, who served before us in Germany.   We feel so much love from those around us.

What a wonderful Christmas season!

Finally, today, December 27, Debbie and I were able to speak in our Sacrament Meeting and give our welcome and farewell talks in our ward.  We have only been able to attend this ward limited times since we moved in, while we have spent so much time in Europe.  Today, Debbie woke up with a terrible flu, the same that my mother had earlier in  the week. However, with perseverance and faith she arrived in Church and was blessed to be able to share her thoughts with clarity and strength.  I took her right back home after and she has been in bed since.  We certainly witnessed one more miracle to see her speak for 15 minutes while so sick.  God is good!

We now enter into our last week before entering the MTC on January 4.  We have a few more preparations, a few more meetings with Europe and hopefully a little bit of relaxation.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas Markets and Seminar in Germany

Our first week back in Germany has been wonderful.  Our primary purpose in coming back to Germany this last time was to prepare for and help carry out a seminar for our 10 Self-Reliance Services managers and the two members of our Operations team.  Our new Area Self-Reliance manager, Thomas King, led the way, while we were able to support him and the seminar.  After three days of preparation, we had our monthly Self-Reliance Committee meeting early Thursday morning and then spent the remainder of Thursday and Friday holding a seminar for our managers.  We feel like it went very well, more about that later.

In the past few days we have been to the airport several times to take and pick up many including Elder Joseph A. Sitati and Elder Robert C. Gay.  They will both be spending time with us during the next two days in an Operational Review of the Self-Reliance Initiative in the Europe Area.  In a few moments of calm, we had time on Saturday to visit the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany with our friend Tim Sloan.  Tim also came to Germany for the Operational Review.  He visited the Christmas market with us and treated us to a wonderful dinner.

Christmas markets are a big deal in Germany!  Most cities have them.  They are full of lights and food and Christmas decorations.  The one in Frankfurt is one of the bigger ones.  The following photos show a few of the highlights:

Back to the seminar.  We have wonderful managers in Europe.  We absolutely love working with them.  In our seminar we spent a lot of time discussing the doctrine of Self-Reliance.  They all have such wonderful thoughts that it was difficult to move through the agenda materials.  However, in this process, we all felt the spirit over and over, testifying of the truth of the principles that we discussed.  As part of the seminar, we had a Thursday night team building activity at a bowling alley.  This was a wonderful experience.  The photos below show the team waiting for dinner at the Bowling Alley and then Debbie, as she gave specific awards to each of the managers the next day.  Unfortunately Elder Sitati had some problems with his flight in and did not arrive in time to participate in the seminar.  He is currently in Rome, giving training and a devotional to the Saints there.  He will be back with us for the next two days.  All in all, we loved our seminar and our managers.  We feel like it was a great success.

Finally, as we prepare for our meeting tomorrow, I noted the following gingerbread house in the hotel where our visitors are staying.  By the way German Ginger Bread is very good!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

MTC, Thanksgiving and Back again in Germany

Two more weeks have passed since last writing.  They have been busy.  Two weeks ago was mostly dedicated to learning German in the MTC immersion program.  We spent the most part of four days studying, with a few doctor visits mixed in.  At the MTC we had several German tutors that would work with Debbie and I individually and several volunteers that would be our study buddies.  In between these sessions we would have some personal study time.  The major benefit was in immersing ourselves into this process.  Familiarity and consistency helped us to feel more comfortable with German.  We are far from being able to communicate well, but we are not so overwhelmed with the language as a whole.  Hopefully this is a base to build on as we progress during our mission.  The following is a photo of Debbie working with one of our tutors (Andrew).  The next photo is of Tom and the new Provo City Center temple, taken during one of our lunch hours.

Both weeks, we were able to still work with our team in Europe with several more middle of the night or early morning video conference meetings and with a few more visits to the Church Office building in SLC.  With everything else that is occurring, we were still able to stay connected to the Self-Reliance initiative in Europe.  We were also able to participate in several more family activities.  These include getting Camila's citizenship application filed, tending grandkids and going to Idaho with Ammon to ask Flor's parents for their blessing in his planned proposal.  Each of these activities bring us closer to our children and help us to realize how much they each mean to us.  

The culmination of all this was our celebration of Thanksgiving Day.  As usual we started out with our traditional family tackle football with brothers and nephews on Thanksgiving Day.  This may seem crazy, but it is a tradition that many of our children look forward to each year.  For a few days afterwards we feel bruised and sore, but we continue to come back each year to do it again.  We had around 20 participants again this year.  After the football game we convene in our separate families for Thanksgiving dinner.  This year we celebrated in our daughter, Beckie's, home.  This is part of training for our family to carry on traditions in our absence.  In fact, Beckie did an absolute wonderful job of organizing and preparing for this special day.  All participated to make the work less for each.  We know that all will be well in our absence.  This year, Debbie could not resist her normal care to details, especially with the forty turkeys that she prepared for favors for each person.

Beckie's house was prepared with space for 20 adults to eat downstairs on one large table arrangement.  Young children were in a small table in the next room with older children eating upstairs.  It worked wonderfully.  The photo is of the adult table:

Others arrived after this photo.   We had a total of 38 individuals at our Thanksgiving dinner.  We had some of our children who were participating with their in-laws this year while others live out of town.  In total, these represented 10 of our 17 children.

Starting on the Saturday before, we took time to get our Christmas lights on our condo.  On Thanksgiving evening we took down the Thanksgiving decorations and decorated for Christmas, at least in our parlor.  We will be mostly ready for Christmas when we return.

With all preparations completed, we got on a plane for Paris, France on Black Friday, arriving in Germany yesterday (Saturday).  We filled our bags with a 20 month supply of CPAP supplies and several months of catheters, as well as serving as courier for some fellow missionaries in Europe and bringing U.S. treats and snacks for our upcoming SRS managers seminar in Germany.

We love being with family in the U.S., but really enjoy being back in our German apartment.  To celebrate our return we had our traditional German dinner, bratwurst with sauerkraut and salad, topped off with the following Christmas "Stollen".  Last night we slept for over 10 hours, recovering from our trip and trying to adjust to the jet lag.  Still not used to make that adjustment that comes with each trip back and forth.

Update on Debbie's medical condition:  With medication, Debbie is able to urinate more consistently. We have dropped the self-catherization to once a day.  She is feeling quite well.  She has undergone significant tests with a neurologist in the past two weeks, including full MRIs, MRA (for arteries) and heart imaging.  Testing will continue when we return to the U.S. in December.  Debbie was able to receive a Priesthood Blessing from Elder Robert C. Gay, of the Seventy, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving which gave us much comfort.  Still no clear answers, but at least we have short term solutions that can continue indefinitely if needed.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

All is well and busy in the U.S.

We have been so busy since coming back to the U.S., that we have neglected our blog.  We'll update it so you know that we are still on the missionary path, just in our unique way.

Time in the U.S. is always a whirlwind of activities.  The first week, we continued with several meetings with our Europe responsibilities.  That meant meeting with our managers on Monday at 2:30 am, with our missionary couples on Tuesday at 3:00 am and with our Area Self-Reliance Committee on Wednesday night at midnight.  We are able to have each of these meetings in our living room by video conference and it really works quite well.  The difficult part is our sleeping habits.  However, in our first week back our sleep habits were confused anyways.  During the day we spent a few days in the office at the Church Office building, updating and getting updated with key individuals there.  In between we have been able to work quite a bit from home.

During the week we were also able to make some visits to Gina and Addisyn in their new apartment in Orem and to visit Dan and Amy and their kids in West Point.

The week ended on a wonderful note as we were able to participate in the baptism of our granddaughter McKenzie, with many of our family members participating.  She is a wonderful girl who made a very thought out choice to be baptized and make covenants with her Heavenly Father.  We are so pleased to be her grandparents.  

Six of our most recent granddaughters who were all at the baptism for McKenzie

That same day we were able to go to the temple and have a family sealing session.  This included Danny & Gina, Jason & Beckie, Leo & Giovanna, Debbie & I and Kari.  Pollyanna provided baby sitting services.  Together we were able to complete 10 couple sealings and had 37 children sealed to their families.  Besides being a wonderful time with our family, it finished up significant temple work that had been completed over the past year or two in temples around the world by several members of our family.  What a joy this was, especially to me as I have worked with these names for a long time.

The photo shows just a few examples of this work.  The first is the sealing card for my 5th great grandparents on my mother's side.  These were the first direct ancestor names that I had ever found two years ago.  This happened in a miracle all of it's own.  I googled on the name of my 4th great grandfather, Isack Jausi and found a 15 year old email in French that had the names of Isack, his parents and his siblings along with marriage names and dates for each of them.  Working on that we were able to do the temple work for each of them and tie them into Isack's father, Jean Pierre Jaussi, who was already in Family Search.  However, his work had been reserved for some time without any progress.  Finally, I was able to send an email to the person that reserved the work and ask them to release is so that we could seal the family together, which they did in August.  We have since been able to finish his work, including doing his endowment work in the Madrid, Spain temple in September and seal the entire family together on this special day.  I was very emotional as I felt the strong presence of the spirit during these ordinances.  

The second card shows a little of the work of completing these names.  The baptism was performed by myself, with our son Ammon being proxy in June of this year in the Jordan River Temple.  I was able to be the proxy for the initiatory work in Frankfurt, Germany in July and able to be proxy for the endowment work in the London temple last month.  Finally he was sealed to his parents as part of this special session, our children being the proxy.  I have learned to absolutely love this wonderful work for our ancestors, both the gathering of the family history and genealogy and the very meaningful work of actually being proxy for these individuals in the holy temples around the world.

The next day, we were able to participate as our oldest grandson, Braden, was able to be ordained to the office of a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood.

This last week was a week of missionary training.  We spent Monday through Wednesday participating in the Self-Reliance training of senior missionary couples.  This training included couples going to Zambia, Ghana, Uruguay, India and Russia on Self-Reliance missions.  Once again we were blessed to not only feel the spirit of our responsibilities but to feel the spirit of these great missionary couples.  Debbie summarized it well at the end of the  training:  "We may have known much of the material that was shared, but our greatest strength came from the other missionaries, to see their sacrifice and examples."

On Thursday we began our immersion into the German Language at the MTC.  This is actually in a Church building in Provo, dedicated to the pre-mission language training of senior missionaries.  We had separate language tutors and study buddies for Debbie and myself.  Spending the bigger part of two days concentrating on the German language has helped us feel a little more comfortable with some of the aspects of the language.  This week we spend four more days, trying to get a few basic skills for us to build on during our mission.  This is a wonderful opportunity for us.   We ended our time in Provo on Friday by doing an endowment session at the Payson, Utah temple, our first time since it was dedicated in early June.

Finally, let me give a health update on Debbie.  This has been a chance to see many minor miracles.  The first was that we were able to get to a urologist within 36 hours of our return to the U.S.  We are grateful to our missionary medical advisor in Frankfurt for making that happen.  Then Dr. Middleton, the urologist, took the catheter our of Debbie and gave her some medication.  This has allowed her to self-catherize as we try to retrain her bladder to function.  Then on the next Monday, we were able to get into an extensive testing process that normally would take weeks to get scheduled.  After that testing and a week's experience with the medicine and self-catherization, we were able to meet again with Dr. Middleton.  Debbie has begun to urinate on her own, but not yet to the desired level.  He has arranged for us to have medication and catheters for our long term needs but is unable to identify the reason for her bladder dysfunction.  He suggested a visit to a neurologist.  This normally takes three to six months to get scheduled.  After talking to our primary care physician, we were able to get into a neurologist on Friday morning, another scheduling miracle, the third such miracle in the past three weeks.  The neurologist gave us some very positive feedback about Debbie's neurological condition, feeling that there are no signs of MS or Lou Gehrig's disease, two possibilities that could have caused the bladder malfunction.  To be sure we will have full MRIs taken this Tuesday and then a return visit with the neurologist on Thursday.  When we arrived home, we asked our son, Sam, to assist in giving Debbie a blessing.  In Sam's blessing, it was stated that Debbie would gain knowledge and understanding and would feel peace in whatever happens.  No promises of an immediate cure.  However, we have gained so much understanding and with that understanding we have received peace.  We don't have a miraculous healing, but we have found that if needed, we can deal with this situation on a long term basis, with minimal impact to our daily activities.  With the current treatment and results, Debbie is feeling healthier than she has for years.

Debbie's greatest fear has been that this condition would impact our ability to serve a mission.  With all that we have learned, that fear has been replaced with faith and peace.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Pleasure and Pain, Italy and return to the U.S.

Our last week in Europe started out quite normal.  We attended our family Halloween party by internet, before heading to the airport to leave for Italy. We arrived in Venice, Italy late Saturday night, October 24.  Lucky for us, daylight savings time was changing, so we got an extra hour to sleep.  We then went and participated in Church meetings in Italian.  Once again, they were without a piano player, so Debbie got one more chance to play the piano in sacrament meeting.  There were other tourists there at Church, so they did English translation of the Sacrament meeting, which was presented by Young Women leaders and their one Young Woman.

We then spent the next few hours visiting with our SRS manager in Italy and preparing for our participation in a bishop's training meeting later that afternoon.  Our manager is assisted by a local missionary couple, which happen to be his parents.  They don't speak much English, but they are a wonderful couple.  They prepared a nice meal for us to eat at the chapel, so that we could keep the Sabbath Day holy without going out to eat.

The training meeting went well.  A full hour and a half was dedicated to Self-Reliance.  The majority of the teaching was done by the Stake Specialist and the Agent bishop.  Perfect!  After that training we spent additional time with our manager and the missionaries, discussing several subjects that we would usually cover over a few days if we had the time.

We then went back to our hotel, with additional food for our dinner.  It was a short visit with our manager, but was worthwhile and finished our goal of spending time with each of our 11 managers during our pre-mission.

Due to higher plane fares on Monday, we elected to stay until Tuesday, when the plane fares were better.  That also gave Debbie and I an opportunity to have a P Day in Venice, which turned out absolutely wonderful.

We boarded a bus that left from near our hotel (which is on the mainland) to the 118 small islands that comprise Venice.  It was pretty easy, since we stayed on the bus until the end of the line.  At that point, no vehicles go any further in Venice, as all travel is by water, water taxis, water bus, water gondolas, etc.  We bought an all day transit pass for 20 Euros each and got on the first water bus going down through all of the Grand Canal.  Rather than being the last ones onto a crowded boat, we waited 10 minutes until the next boat and were in the first of the line, which allowed us to take some of the chairs at the front of the boat.  Perfect!  We were able to see everything and take pictures all of the way down the Grand Canal.  Couldn't get better.

The weather was beautiful, in the 60's and a clear, sunny day.  When we got to the end of the Canal we got onto the land and took some time to meditate in a beautiful little park.   Then we proceeded to the St. Mark's Basilica.  This is where they had buried the bones of St. Mark, the evangelical writer.  The Basilica had been first built in 832 AD, burned in a rebellion in 976 and rebuilt in 978.  Further constructions were added in future years, with the majority of the church being completed in 1093.

There is a large plaza around the Church and we spent several hours around there, including eating lunch with authentic Italian Lasagne and Gelato (ice cream).  We went through a tour of the Church and paid a few Euros to see the Pala D'Oro, a large altar piece with many inscriptions and pictures in gold and 1927 jewels throughout.  It was pretty impressive. This was added to the Basilica in 1343.

We also took an elevator up to the top of the San Marco Campanile, the bell tower next to the Basilica.  It was a chance to go to the highest point in the city and get a better view of all of the sites, especially of the 6 domes of the Basilica.

We returned by taking the water bus back up the Grand Canal.  Once again we were able to get seats in the front of the boat and enjoy the view as the sun was beginning to go down, creating magnificent views and photographs.  Finally we finished with some authentic Italian pizza for dinner.

We then returned to our hotel by the previously identified bus.  Only problem was that we didn't know which exit to get off of the bus.  I tried to talk to some individuals on the bus.  One lady, didn't speak English but talked to another who did, but who didn't know the bus stops.  She talked to a  third lady who told us to get off the bus stop after her.  By the time we left the bus, only one of the three ladies was still on the bus, but she helped us get off correctly.  By the time we got back to our hotel, we felt like we had just experienced a PERFECT day.

We went to bed that night, so content.  The next morning at 4 am, Debbie went to the bathroom and started to feel immense pain.  We prayed and I gave her a blessing to reduce the pain. The pain reduced, but she was still uncomfortable.  She went back to the bathroom and the catheter popped right out.  Pain was gone, but we now had a new problem.

I told Debbie, that we had no immediate danger, but that the long term danger was for her bladder to fill up and return to the pain that she had in England.  We weren't scheduled to fly out of Venice until 1:30 that afternoon.  We had two choices, either go to a medical facility in Venice and get them to put another catheter in or get to Germany more quickly and have the urologist in Germany put a new catheter in.  Unable to make contact with the Area Doctor in Frankfurt, we chose to go to the airport and try to arrange an earlier flight.  The flight was available, but the airline personnel were not helpful.  We had a non changeable flight and they were unwilling to make an exception, even though we had a medical emergency.  Our only option was to buy new tickets.  To make matters worse, they would not honor a reasonable internet price for the ticket and it was too late for the internet to accept our booking.  So we ended up paying an inflated price to get us back to Germany three hours earlier.

When we arrived in Germany shortly after noon, we had an email from the Area Doctor telling us that the urologist's office was closed from noon until 3 pm.  So we went to our apartment, got a letter from our Area Doctor in German to explain our situation and caught the train to arrive at the urologist a little before 3:00 pm.  Showing the letter and making a lot of hand signals with receptionists that do not understand English, we finally got into a doctor, not the original doctor that had treated Debbie, but another.  He spoke some English and we were finally able to get a new catheter put in.  Turns out that Debbie had not stored up as much urine in her bladder as we had expected, since she specifically had been fasting all day to minimize the volume in her bladder.  In the end all was well, and we are trying to get some recourse from the airline for their inflexibility in helping us out.

The next day we went back to the airport to fly to the U.S.  We received wheelchair assistance at each airport and were able to make it back on Wednesday night in SLC without further challenges.

On Thursday morning we got up early to be able to go and witness the marriage of our son, Moroni with his new bride, Leeneh at the County Courthouse.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience.  Moroni's daughter, Tiare, was able to be there also.  Moroni asked us what his siblings would think about his marriage.  We told him that their first comment would be, "Why didn't you invite us?".  In the end it was a simple marriage, but it got done.  We took the small bridal party to breakfast at Dee's family restaurant.  Another good positive.

We then went and visited our daughter Camila, who has been admitted to a nursing facility from the UNI, since the last time we were in town.   She seems to be very happy with her situation.  Her mental capacity is way diminished, but she seems happier than she has been for many years.  On Saturday, we went to the football games that her sons, Caide and Isake, played in. While there we spent time with her daughters, Kaisha and Cherish and their Aunt Caren who is dedicating herself to helping our grandchildren have the structure and love that they so desperately need.  This family has been through so much in their lives, including the loss of the father Eddie, in late June.  In spite of the challenges, they are making progress, thanks to the efforts of many, especially their Aunt Caren  and Camila's mother, Beth.  We are thankful to all who have stepped up in this time of crisis.  We are thankful for whatever part we can play in their lives, while we are away.

At 6:30 am, on Friday morning, we met with Dr. Middleton, a urologist who had agreed to see Debbie on short notice.  He promptly took out the catheter and put Debbie on self-catherization, to happen only three times a day. This is to help awaken her bladder and train it to function again.  So far we are seeing some progress.  We will have some additional tests done tomorrow morning and some continued visits with the urologists.  He is making things happen quickly so that we will be able to return to Germany right after Thanksgiving.

On Sunday we attended our home ward for the 7th time since we moved here at the end of May.  That is two more times than we have been at our ward in Germany.  We have spent 7 different Sundays in other countries, always attending our meetings there, except for the Sunday that we spent in the hospital in England.  I was asked to teach priesthood meeting, sharing my life biography and experiences.  We were also asked to speak at our ward on December 27 before officially entering the mission field.

It is now Sunday night.  In four short days since we returned, we have been with or made contact with almost all of our children in Utah.  We saw many on Halloween night, have contacted others by phone.  We will see several in activities in the next few weeks.  It is amazing how much time we can spend with needs that each of them have.  We have found that most are doing very well without their parents around.  In fact several have told us how they are growing more as they have to step up on their own.  We know that our Heavenly Father is their father and he loves them and that he will reach out and help and strengthen each and every one of them. We have been privileged to be their parents, but each of them need to develop a relationship with their Heavenly Father that will bring them long term success and happiness.   We love each and every one of them and pray that we can do whatever our Heavenly Father asks of us.