Sunday, September 12th. The Pagdale elders called me this morning and asked if I would pick up JW Miller again and give him a ride to church, which I was happy to do. He told me that he had to start his work shift at noon, so he won’t be able to stay for the second hour. Maybe that was good. Our priesthood meeting lesson was interrupted by another visitor that took issue with the principles of agency being discussed. He insisted loud and long that God would make us do His will, until finally Dan Thomas, our elders quorum president, verbally engaged him. The visitor stormed out and we worked to real the Spirit back in, and the lesson went on. After church, we visited Annie and sang hymns and read scriptures. It was as if her time with us was a warmup. She broke into a baleful song with self made verse that was a prayer to the Lord. I am sure He heard her. She is so sincere in her faith in Christ. We hosted Sunday dinner for Dan Thomas, Sherry Cullen, Marilyn Greene, and David Fingal, members of the Pagedale branch. We discussed our hopes and dreams for the branch, and learned about the ups and downs that it has been through over the years. It certainly has been a struggle for this little branch of the church. That night we talked with Malory who is girding herself to go back to work next week. We tried to be encouraging, pointing out that she plays a vital role for her community in keeping the peace, something that benefits many, even if it is of some cost to Malory’s children and husband. Inwardly, we are mourning that our grandson Richard will soon be in the hands of daycare workers at the tender age of six weeks old.
Monday, September 13th. A member had offered that I use his chainsaw at our Greenwood cemetery project last week, but I couldn’t get it to work well, so I rented one. Today I asked Andy the vacuum man if he had a small engine repair recommendation, and as a fixture in the blue collar community, of course he did. Ron was his name, and he was very willing to take on the project. He lived in St Ann, which is convenient to Maryland Heights, so I took it over to him. Ron is a self educated man that seems to be expert in electronics as well as combustion engines. Now days, disciplines cross over a lot. He was very talkative and interesting. We’ll see what he can do with the chainsaw. We’d like to get it running so we can donate it to the Greenwood Cemetery Restoration Assn. I spent a portion of the afternoon studying Elder Dale Renlund’s address to mission presidents on making lifelong disciples of missionaries. This is surely a chief objective of a mission president, right behind their safety. Elder Renlund likened the application of the first four principles of the Gospel to a road up a mountain. The path seems circular, but it is a gradual ascent. Similarly, enduring to the end means applying faith, repentance, recommitment through the sacrament ordinance, and enlightenment by the Holy Ghost again and again, iteratively improving who we are. This analogy is helpful to break through the notion that enduring to the end is merely gritting your teeth and waiting for the end.
Tuesday, September 14th was zone conference in O’Fallon, Illinois. I was anxious to be engaged in the spiritual feast of conferences this week, knowing that these would be my last in person zone conferences in this mission. Pres Bell laid out for the missionaries his invitation to the nine stakes in the coordinating council that make up our mission to give a gift to Christ of two convert baptisms in each ward and branch before the end of the year. The missionaries will not lead out with this invitation, but allow the priesthood leaders to embrace it and set their course with the assistance of the missionaries. At the end of zone conference, plus the post conference picture (which I missed while on the phone), cleanup, distribution of materials, discussion with missionaries, planned and unplanned, we were famished. But, there didn’t seem to be enough time for lunch, so we satisfied ourselves with a trip to the Dairy Haven for orange twist ice cream cones, probably for the last time. I’m thinking about lots of things being “the last time” without being too sad about it. But it is interesting to think about the singularity of so many life experiences. I parted ways with Sis Hatfield who went back to the office, and the housing assistants and I went to Highland, IL to replace that alarm I was called about on Saturday, fix a closet door hanging so low it wouldn’t move, and then we were off to Champaign. There we found the sister training leaders in good spirits, but Elder Dailami not. It is hard to see him struggling after thriving as a housing assistant. Pres Bell is counseling with him, and hopefully his optimism is on the rise. We were home after 10 pm, which was too late for the young missionaries, but they are loyal and diligent about accomplishing our work.
On Wednesday, September 15th, I hurried to the office to get some office work done and meet Sis Atkins. She will go with us to zone conference in the South St Louis Stake. We thought we might be late, but it turned out we had lots of time to set up the mail station, find our seats, and lots of other things, because Pres and Sis Bell went to the wrong building in Chesterfield. In my rush to be on time, I had forgotten some mail and supplies, forgotten to leave instructions for the housing assistants, and was feeling the inexorable pull of office work. So, I headed back in to spend another hour or two there before coming back for the end of zone conference and washing the trays from Sis Bell’s delicious cinnamon rolls. Sis Hatfield didn’t come with me, but she was in the back of the chapel working away on her computer on mission business, all the same. She is feeling overwhelmed with the prospects of training new senior missionaries while keeping up with the regular work, communicating critical information to the next batch of incoming missionaries, and working on itineraries for the departing. When I returned, I heard Elder Everton give an inspiring message on US civil rights history, weaving in the local heroes of Dred and Harriet Scott, and Abraham Lincoln.
Thursday, September 16th started early with a trip to the airport with Elder Elijah Aken-Mathewson, headed for his original assignment in Toronto. We love sending the new spirit of St Louis around the world. Sis Hatfield had spent a portion of her evening last night helping him prepare his travel documents, and things went smoothly. But it was still worthwhile that I was there because his checked bags needed to be paid for. Credit card carrying adults have a place in the mission field. Today, Sis Hatfield hung back from zone conference in Lake St Louis for a while to work in the office. I rode with the housing assistants because it was their turn for conference too. Sis Hatfield finally came, and we enjoyed practicing Short-Powerful-Frequent lessons for members with some sister missionaries. Noticeably, but not particularly surprisingly, Pres Bell had spent a fair amount of time out in the hall on his phone rather than in the conference. I found out why when he tapped me on the shoulder to come visit. We had a young elder who was suicidal and apparently had a plan to end his life. That was of course an emergency, and the missionary department and mission travel were preparing to send him home immediately, and Pres Bell asked if I could accompany him to Salt Lake City. The lateness of our arrival in SLC would not allow for a same day return flight, but Spencer said he would pick me up so I could spend the night with his family. So we hurried back to the apartment where I packed a small bag and then headed over to St Charles to pick up the missionary and his luggage which he had quickly packed. We had some frank but warm conversations while together. I was relieved when his parents and siblings warmly greeted us with hugs and welcome home signs. He is well loved. Out at the curb, Spencer had kept up Abbi and Ezra way past their bedtimes to come with him to pick me up. It was delightful to be greeted by them and read them a bedtime story once home. I highly recommend The Day the Crayons Quit.
Friday, September 17th. Changing places, Elisabeth drove me to the airport with Ezra and Millie coming along. Ezra, who had refused his breakfast, vomited in the back seat, apparently not being over his stomach bug. Fortunately, he had refused his breakfast! Still, it was up to me to unbuckle and clean him up with diaper wipes, a must have for children, proven yet again. Elisabeth won’t be able to do the shopping she had hoped to do on her way home. After pulling myself away from Elisabeth, Ezra, and Millie, I headed in to find the security line in the airport wrapped entirely around the building, which must have a ¼ mile perimeter. I was beginning to form plans in my mind of what to do when I missed my flight, because this was going to take more than an hour, and I didn’t have that long. Fortunately for me, a Delta agent walking up the line invited everyone with departures in the next hour to skip to the head of the security line. This day, it did not pay to be early--it only meant you had to stand in line longer than everyone else. Meanwhile, Sis Hatfield was managing a difficult staff meeting back at the mission office. The discussion included a very full calendar, office physical reorganization for the incoming senior missionaries, ordering needed cabinets, and computer peripherals. Grandma Kay also arrived for a visit to St Louis late this afternoon. She had been in the hospital a short week earlier, so the prospects for her travel were not looking good. But she showed great courage and came, relying on airport wheelchairs more than she liked. Sis Hatfield and I gave Kay a bit of a city tour, including the requisite bbq dinner which we enjoyed on the very pleasant sidewalk at Salt and Smoke, with street jazz serenading us. We stayed up too late, catching up and visiting with Grandma Kay, but it was worth it.
Saturday, September 18th included a trip to the Kirkwood farmers’ market with Kay. We almost turned around when we saw we were driving into a parade, but we persevered and were rewarded with some fine Missouri and Illinois produce, including yummy peaches for our Sunday dinner. Earlier than we expected, Elder and Sister Winsor arrived with their pickup and U-Haul trailer. I called housing assistants and they met us at the storage unit to help offload the substantial Winsor belongings and set out the two king size beds we had found in the depths of our storage unit so they could pick one. Then I sent the HAs to Columbia to take some sisters a replacement washing machine, stopping along the way in Wentzville to deliver pots and pans and in Oak Valley to check on their air conditioner which apparently has frozen. Meanwhile, all the office staff, including the Winsors and Kay, and the Bells took the mission van to the Hill for Italian food at Zia’s. While we waited for our table, we wandered down the block to the local Catholic church, where we met Father Jack, the priest who was more than happy to let us come in and show us around and take his picture. The church itself has a fairly unremarkable but handsome brick exterior. But inside, the saints statuary and predominantly green and blue stained glass is beautiful and, naturally, tell many scriptural stories that must be inspiring to the parishioners. After consuming an overabundance of excellent food back at Zia’s, we left the Hill for Ted Drewes to finish our gluttony with frozen custard. The Bells have been here for more than two years now without coming to this iconic ice cream stand, and there was no better finish to our introduction to St Louis for Grandma Kay and the Winsors.