Then and Now: The Christmas Season

Hey Y’all!

I know I’ve been pretty MIA. After getting home from my mission I’ve been swamped with work and getting ready for school! Yikes. I’m definitely not ready for school… I have so much to do! But here I am – procrastinating real life to take some time and jot down my thoughts.

I feel like blogging/journal writing/record keeping is a big deal. Not just cause it’s encouraged within the LDS church, but because it opens up a side of you that allows you to connect deeper with your spirit… In a way, I feel like by connecting with myself I am connecting more with my Heavenly Father. And by that I mean, as I understand myself I can grow and improve – thus (hopefully) becoming who HE wants me to be.

Now what could possibly be on my mind on the Eve of Christmas? Candy canes? Presents?… TEXAS. Duh. I’m missing my mission! Ohh how my heart aches… Today for work, instead of dressing with a Santa hat or reindeer antlers, I dressed up as “Texas”. I wore hunter green pants, my Texas flag boots, a maroon shirt, and my silver Texas necklace with a heart cut out of the middle of it. It’s silly, but this morning I just felt like I needed Texas with me… This time last year – Christmas time – was the most unique Christmas I’ve ever had.

Christmas of 2013 was my first Christmas away from home. Of all the memories I have of my mission, this one seems to be of high impact to me. It’s one of the few memories I have that when I reflect on it, it brings tears to my eyes. Not tears of sadness because I was away from home, but tears of joy and thankful as the Spirit had filled my heart that snow-less morning. I know that the Lord taught me something and I’ll never forget it!

So what are the details? Why is this experience so precious to me? I was living in Summerwood, Texas, a suburb of Houston. I was serving with one of my greatest companions! Sister Hayden Stofferahn. We were sooo excited! We were going to skype home, hang out with missionaries, open packages… It was going to be the best day ever. And it was! It was everything I could have hoped for.

Our mission president, President Crawford, gave us “the day off”. After we completed our studies we went off to the chapel to meet up with our zone. Our zone leaders, Elder Yukon and Elder Ynchousti, along with the help of some other great missionaries, made a delicious breakfast! We were all casually dressed in our pajamas, sitting around and enjoying each others company. The time came for us to ‘gather as a family’ and open a gift our families from home had sent to us. PAUSE – My family had gone above and beyond! They sent me multiple large packages. Other missionaries, unfortunately, had families who couldn’t afford to send gifts. I’d heard about our mission president and his wife playing “secret Santa”. They had gone and found out from other missionaries who in the mission wasn’t receiving gifts that year. RESUME – so there we were, sitting in a circle, all holding one of our gifts. The box I brought was HUGE. Looking around the circle I became incredibly uncomfortable. We were opening them one by one and I didn’t want the attention. There were missionaries who’s parents had sent dart guns, some received their favorite homemade treats, and then it got to a particular elder who I’d been watching throughout this process. He was from Tonga and was holding in his hands one of the special gifts from our “secret Santa”. When he opened it, completely unaware of who it was from and what could possibly be inside, his eyes lit up and he yelled, “Captain America!” in his sweet, thick accent. He proudly held up a pair of Captain America sweatpants. He then reached in once more, and holding up the last item proudly, said, “and a very nice shirt!” it was thermal and navy blue; a perfect combo for our frigid ice storm winter that we’d been experiencing. As I watched this simple gift sit in his lap, I caught myself unable to breathe. Tears filled my eyes, my nose and ears turned red, and I coughed trying to get some air. A few missionaries gave me puzzled looks, but looked away. I don’t know what exactly overcame me, other than the Spirit, and I still struggle to put this experience into words.

I love the Spirit of Christmas. I love the opportunity that we have to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I know we hear it every year; that it’s not about the presents, bows, food, and decorations: it’s about Christ. But I can’t seem to say it enough! After watching this elder be so happy with something so simple, my gifts became so unimportant. I could have cared less! Yes – my family provided me with some wonderful and much needed things, but I just didn’t care. Watching this elder just made me want to give, and give, and give! It made a part of my heart burst open with love and appreciation for the things I already had in my life! It made me want to get back out in the cold and on my bike. I wanted to pedal faster, talk to more people, teach more lessons, bear stronger testimony, study more deeply, and give thanks more frequently. It made me feel the urgency in my mission; that it wouldn’t last forever and I had to seize the opportunity to share what I cherished most!

I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I know that it is the Lord’s kingdom established on the earth. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior! I know He gave His life for me so that I can live again with my Father in Heaven. I know that the priesthood authority of God is here on the earth today! I know that without it we wouldn’t be able to perform sacred and lifesaving ordinances, such as baptism. I know that God loves the whole world! I know He loves us so much that He wanted to ensure that we had all the tools necessary to believe in Him! He not only gave us the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible, but The Book of Mormon as well. I know that it is true! I know that it testifies of Christ. I know that God leads and directs His gospel through a Prophet, just as He did anciently. I know that Joseph Smith restored the gospel to the earth and that Thomas S. Monson leads and directs it, under Heavenly Father’s guidance, today. I know God created me and knows me as an individual. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without my relationship with Him. I love Him and my Savior so much! I don’t want to die anytime soon, but I really can’t wait to be in their presence and to glorify Them! I love Them! And I know They love me even more. I know all of these things, and so many others, and say it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

This Christmas, I am thankful to spend it with my family. I’m excited for 2014 to end and to find out what 2015 will bring. I’m sure there will be plenty of trials, but many more joyful experiences as well! It just keeps getting better and better. I love it! I love life. I love everything about it! I’m excited to take my faith in Christ forward and see what’s in store.