Sunday, March 12, 2017

19 Years of Rock Solid Marriage

Today we are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary.  There were some rough times while we were raising our 17 children, but we couldn't be happier at this time, especially serving as missionary companions.  Serving together has taught us even more about each other and it has strengthened our relationship.  It is a wonderful thing, to serve together 24 hours a day.   Even though we don't see everything in the same light, our goals and desires are certainly united.  We celebrated our anniversary with a trip to Luxembourg and the Bock Casemates, which are the foundation of an ancient castle and fortress that was built on and in a giant rock base.

Our Monday evening Family Home Evening was a presentation by Joel Burnham, Europe Area Security Manager.  It was very informative and fun.  We learned what Brother Burnham does as he accompanies apostles and members of the First Presidency on trips within Europe.  He also taught us some good tips on how to be safe wherever we are.  Joel and his wife are also facilitators for Self-Reliance groups in our ward.

On Tuesday we had our monthly meeting with our Self-Reliance managers throughout Europe.  As time has gone on, these meetings have become more and more productive.  We are so pleased to be able to work with these great men.  These two hour sessions once a month are full of participation and good ideas.  More importantly we feel a strong feeling of teamwork and brotherhood in these meetings.  The shot of the Zoom screen includes all of our 10 managers, our Area Self-Reliance Manager and Operations Manager and us as the Area missionary couple. 

This photo also includes Our Purpose, which is to help members come unto Christ
 This week we spent lots of time preparing for a self-reliance lesson for Activity Days.  Since there is no Cub Scouts in Germany, Activity days includes the boys and girls from 8 to 11 years old.  We were told to plan on 12 to 15 children, which we did.  When they arrived, there were 18 in attendance!

With most of the 18 children and their two leaders
We taught them how to manage money, starting with the great self-reliance video "First Things First".  We then emphasized the Self-Reliant Approach to managing money.  Each of the children memorized these key 4 steps.

We then had an activity to help them learn how to choose how to spend their money.  We gave each of them 1,000 play dollars and then told them to spend their money on six categories; Tithes and Offerings, Savings, Housing, Transportation, Food and Purchases.

We showed them a chart for each of the six categories, idenifying Okay, Good, Better and Best options, with the Best options meaning the most costly.  They then went around deciding how to spend their money for each category.

We thought that they did remarkable well.  Most decided to live in a Good apartment and then decided how to spend the remaining amount of money.  Most paid their tithing and savings.  Some had left over money and put that in extra savings or additional offerings.   One told us that it was a lot harder than he thought it would be.  These photos are of their participation, making choices, recording their choices and putting their money in envelopes.

At the end we gave each of them some boxes to put their own money in, labeled Tithing, Savings and Spending.  Sister Rueckert made 15 sets of 3 boxes, each made out of card stock.  Needless to say, she spent many hours on this project, including working until past 1:00 am the night before.  All the hard work was worth it as we saw the children learn important principles.  They each made a commitment to practice the 4 steps and to teach them to their parents in the next Family Home Evening.

15 sets of 3 boxes and lids.  All were folded and taped from card stock by Sister Rueckert
Before the meeting, we met with our two returned missionaries.  This has become a highlight for us each week.  They are working hard to identify their own purpose and mission in life so that they can move forward accordingly.

We had several meetings with our missionary couples this week.  Each one inspires us as we see their dedication and the progress they are making.  Sometimes, we just need to listen as they share their challenges. We moved many of meetings to this week since we will be traveling next week.  As we finished our last meeting on Friday, we left for a special anniversary trip to Luxembourg.

We decided to visit Luxembourg, because it was fairly close to home and it was a country that we had never visited.  There also appeared to be some interesting history and sights.   A little about Luxembourg from Wikipedia:

Luxembourg Listeni/ˈlʌksəmbɜːrɡ/ (LuxembourgishLëtzebuergGermanLuxemburg), officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg,[note 1] is a landlocked country in western Europe. It is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Its capital, Luxembourg City, is, together with Brussels and Strasbourg, one of the three official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest juridical authority in the EU. Its culture, people and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbors, making it essentially a mixture of French and Germanic cultures. The repeated invasions by its neighbor countries, especially in World War II, resulted in the country's strong will for mediation between France and Germany and led to the foundation of the European Union.[5] 

It comprises two principal regions: the Oesling in the north as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland("Good Land") in the south.[6] With an area of 2,586 square kilometres (998 sq mi), it is one of the smallest sovereign states in Europe (about the same size as the US state of Rhode Island or the English county of Northamptonshire).[7] Luxembourg had a population of 524,853 in October 2012, ranking it the 8th least-populous country in Europe.[8] As a representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, it is headed by a Grand DukeHenri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and is the world's only remaining grand duchy. Luxembourg is a developed country, with an advanced economy and the world's highest GDP (PPP) per capita, according to the United Nations in 2014. Its central location has historically made it of great strategic importance to numerous powers, dating back to its founding as a Roman fortress, its hosting of a vital Frankish castle during the Early Middle Ages, and its role as a bastion for the Spanish Road between the 16th and 17th centuries.

Dinner on Friday night at a Chinese restaurant in Luxembourg 
On Saturday we went to visit the Bock Casemates in Luxembourg City.  A little bit of history here would help.  In 963 AD, Siegfried I acquired this site and constructed his castle on the top of a rock or what is now called the "Bock".  Luxembourg City was built up on a similar rock with a bridge access from the castle.  Over the years this became a fortress that was almost impenetrable.

Model of the original castle on the "Bock"
During the French Revolutionary Wars, the city was occupied by France twice: once, briefly, in 1792–3, and, later, after a seven-month siege.[7] Luxembourg held out for so long under the French siege that French politician and military engineer Lazare Carnot called Luxembourg "the best fortress in the world, except Gibraltar", giving rise to the city's nickname: the 'Gibraltar of the North'.[

As part of the 1867 Treaty of London, it was required to dismantle the fortifications in Luxembourg City.  This took 16 years, and included the demolition of 14 miles of underground defenses and 9.9 acres of casemates, batteries, barracks, etc.   Also, Luxembourg would be established as an independent neutral country.

We were able to visit the remaining underground casemates (tunnels and fortifications), which were amazing.  We had beautiful weather for this special day.  The following photos are of the outside of the "Bock";

Overlooking the "Bock"

The road and bridge now go through the middle of the old fortifications.

Overlooking the "Bock" and foundations of the earlier castle
A panorama view of the "Bock" from below

View of the Bock across the valley below
We were able to go inside the "Bock" which was the home to over 50 cannons and 1,200 troops at certain times in the past.  The following photos were taken either inside the "Bock" or from the openings in the "Bock":

Looking out one of the openings in the "Bock"

Stairs inside the "Bock"

Going down stairs to a lower level.  This didn't work out and we had to climb back up the same stairs.

Overlooking the Church in the valley, from one of the openings
Inside the "Bock" overlooking the valley below and the city in the background

Looking out the other side of the "Bock"

By one of the cannons inside
Looking across to the rock foundation of Luxembourg City
Before we left Luxembourg City we visited the Notre Dame cathedral.  As always, these cathedrals are impressive.  In this one we saw some very unique and beautiful artwork relating to the life of the Virgin Mary, tracing her life from a little child until her "Ascension".  As we were looking at the artwork we met the artist who had painted these paintings.  She was able to give us insights to some of the deeper meanings of the paintings.  We were especially impressed with the way that Mary is always painted in the whitest of whites.  The paintings below show three women arriving at the empty tomb.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the one in the whitest robe.

A few of the paintings and the artist, Stella Radicati
For any who may be interested:  This gifted artist is from Italy and is currently living in Luxembourg City.  Her name is Stella Radicati and her email address is  Besides being a gifted artist, we found her to be very kind and an inspired individual with a deep love for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

After leaving Luxembourg City we stopped at the nearby Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial where thousands of American Soldiers are buried.  This also includes some impressive memorial sites and the grave of General George S. Patton, Jr.  He died in Heidelberg, which we visited two weeks ago, and was buried in this military cemetery.

A major mural outlining many of the military campaigns to end World War II, many starting from the Luxembourg region
General Patton's grave marker

A photo of some of the thousands of grave markers
Next to General Patton's grave
In Church today, our bishop handed out graduation certificates for 13 more participants of our Self-Reliance courses.  One who received his second certificate was Wilson Semedo Oliveira.  He asked us to attend his young adult Sunday School Class today because he wanted to tell his Self-Reliance story.  He proceeded to talk for 10 minutes about how Self-Reliance courses have blessed him to gain confidence, get a job, and prepare for an education.  He talked about how he shared his "Me in 30 Seconds" in his school class which resulted in an assignment for all members of his class to create and share a "Me in 30 seconds".  He also told us about a classmate who wanted to see his Education for Better Work manual and ended up receiving a visit from the missionaries.  We love Wilson and feel like his story is similar to so many throughout Europe.  We never know how much impact the work we do has on others.  Wilson is certainly a much better person because of the impact of the Self-Reliance groups.

Wilson, sharing his experiences and testimony in Sunday School
We also has a wonderful visit with Wilson's mother this afternoon.  This great sister needed strengthening and was open enough to share some challenges that she has experienced recently.  We were able to talk and listen and finally to give her a blessing.  We love Wilson and his mother.  They are an inspiration to us and the reason for much of what we do.

Today (Sunday, March 12) is our actual 19th wedding anniversary.  It has been wonderful to reminisce on the past 19 years and count our many blessings.  We have endured many challenges, but our love has grown stronger.  We both had very significant spiritual experiences that brought us together to be married 19 years ago.  We know that our Heavenly Father's hand has been in our marriage and he continues to strengthen us in all that we do.  Our mission has certainly been a crowning jewel to our marriage as we work together each day serving the Lord.

On the lighter side, we have experienced much related to the number 19.  Our email address is, which we selected many years ago to identify the 19 members of our family.  Our visit to Luxembourg was the 19th country we have visited together on our mission if we include the U.S.A. (MTC).  We also

counted 19 medical helps that we have added in our 19 years of marriage,  including a CPAP machine, 2 hearing aids, 2 Lasik eye surgeries, an artificial hip, a gastric bypass, daily catheters and several medications for: cholesterol (both of us), acid reflux (both of us), prostrate enlargement, bladder failure (3 times a day), calcium, multivitamins and baby aspirin for a hole in Sister Rueckert's heart (not caused by Elder Rueckert).

With the help of modern medicine and our Heavenly Father, we are ready for many more years together.  We want to spent them serving as much as possible.  Our love is strong, we feel that it is as strong as the "Rock of Gibraltar of the North" in Luxembourg.