Well, for starters, FELIZ NAVIDAD! I sure hope that you enjoy this wonderful season, and have a great time spending it together. I am finally making it through my second Christmas here in the mission field! It's the hardest time of the year, so it's nice to get it over with ;). And when I say it's the hardest time of the year, I mean it's the hardest time for me to be away from you all, but just know that I love you and I am looking forward to spending it with you again next year! And don't worry, they will definitely take care of us here! Christmas can be the hardest, but it is still the best time of the year, too! :) We have SO many plans lined up. We are going to be Christmas Piñatas by the end of this week! Stuffed. haha But we are SO excited! This is such a great ward, and I love everyone so much and can't wait to spend Christmas with them!
This was another crazy couple of weeks, so it wasn't the best idea to save the email for today again, but last week was just TOO busy to be able to catch you up. So, sorry if I don't brief it all, but as I have mentioned before, I will have plenty of stories upon my return! :)
For starters, Elder Smith officially died on Thursday, and that plane that was at one point 2 years from his view crept up on him, and swooped him away back to the sweet little town high in the Rocky Mountains, Del Norte, Colorado. It was a weird/surreal feeling being with him until the end, realizing that one day I will be at that point, and as he shared with me many times, I am sure I won't believe it either. But, thank goodness I don't have to worry about that for a while! We will all miss his big bear hugs, but we are happy for him-that he gets to spend Christmas with his loved ones. He will be missed, but let the rest of his journey begin!
Following that event, I am officially with Elder Richards and Elder Dehlin! We thought this day would never come, but we love it very much! We have already had a blast and are so sad that we will only be together for 11 days in total (6 more days :( ), but we are going to work hard and have a great Christmas week together! Love these Elders to death, and I am so excited to continue to work with them. They're great!
Also within the last couple weeks, Chase Tueller and Cameron Tidwell (ex-Elder Tueller and ex-Elder Tidwell) came to visit! It was great to reuinte because Elder Tueller was my first companion (of now 7 in this area alone) here in Anaheim, and Elder Tidwell was Elder Richards' first/trainer/father. It was a great reunion, and we celebrated it over a couple plates of the delicious Peruvian cuisine that Hermana Sanchez cooks so delightfully. :)
Thank you for all the Christmas packages that I have been receiving, I really do appreciate the love and support! You are all so great, and it's been a blast opening all the presents that aren't marked to wait until Christmas. ;) I have a rule of thumb to open all packages that don't have specific instructions, because I am impatient and cannot wait. haha I hate surprises! But no worries, the presents that I received instructions for are lovingly nestled under our paper wall tree. haha Love you all, thank you so much!
This last Friday, we also had our Mission Christmas Program, which was great! Last year, we watched Tangled under the President's permission, because he liked to take this day and call it "the Stress Reliever Day" ha. He's great to us, and this year we were lucky enough to watch Despicable Me! The word on the street (gossip) was that it would be Despicable Me 2, which would have been great because I haven't seen it, but oh well! I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was indeed a great day of relaxation. After the movie, we had a delicious lunch and then had a great devotional from President and Sister Bowen. I sure love them and the loving example they are to us all. Such a great Christmas Spirit was felt that day!
Now, I think the main highlight of these last couple week was our ward Christmas party we had that night after the program. It was great! SO funny. There was food and tamales and the whole cultural hall was decorated! It looked great. Although it was done by the ward this time, we prepared something special for the show, and we were still running around all over the place to set up, so I didn't get a chane to take a picture. :( I will get a couple pics and videos from the members, though, so stay tuned on those for next week! Our skits were crowd pleasers for sure. They would not stop laughing after! ha We set up a table on the stage and did the arm trick where the people sit at the table and then put their arms behind their backs while the people sitting behind them put their arms through the gaps the sitting person made with their arms and pretend to be their arms. Really hard to explain over email! ha But I hope you understand. If not, the pics will explain it! Hno Badillo, our ward mission leader, then played the spokesperson and explained to the ward that we would be teaching them proper dinner etiquette. haha It was SO funny! I was the arms for Elder Richards, and he didn't care what I did because he wore a shirt he is planning on burning and a cheap little tie, so I had FUN! haha They gave us the messiest food, and it was such a blast just shoving it into his mouth and wiping it all over his face and shirt. Hno Badillo was explaining the whole time and the ward could not stop laughing. It was definitely a skit to remember! ha
After that, we did another where the Sisters went out front on stage in front of the curtains and explained to the crowd that they would be singing "Angles we have heard on High". Because the Sisters are pretty shy and not very talkative, the ward wasn't expecting anything unusual. However, us Elders were back stage with a mic and as soon as they announced it, they mouthed us singing it in a very "opera" way with deep voices. Again, the ward could not stop laughing as two dainty sisters belted "Angels we have heard on High" with man voices. It was great, and I am glad the ward had such a great time at the Christmas activity! To finish it off, before we left to be home by curfew, Bishop called me out and made me sing "O Holy Night" in front of everyone! ha The other night at his house for dinner, we were listening to Christmas music in the background, and I started singing along, and he put me to the test, and joked that he would make me sing it, but I didn't think he was serious. Well, he was! ha It got stuck on stage with no practice and I couldn't hear the background music being played on his phone through a microphone to sing a song in English at a Spanish ward's Christmas Program. ha It was rough. But they said they still liked it, although they couldn't really hear me all that well because the mic was being lame. Sure they just said it as a pitty compliment, because I messed up a lot. Haven't heard the karaoke version of Josh Groban's "O Holy Night" in a LONG time! ha Oh well, it was still fun, and it's a memory (and a recording no MANY members' phones :/) to remember ha.
Now one more moment from this week that I wanted to share with those that didn't hear was definitely the greatest Christmas present on my mission. :) As we were preparing Wednesday for Elder Smith's departure at the mission office, I was helping sort mail as he waiting for the office staff to return so he could do the paperwork. As we were just about to finish and take off to grab some lunch before they got back, I heard someone say "Alec?" Behind my back. For that very short moment before I turned around, I thought to myself two things... One, why is someone referring to me by my first name? And two, why is it in question form? haha As I turned around, I met eyes with my loving Grandma Pat! I was so surprised! I quickly hurried over to her, still shocked about the whole situation and got to give her the biggest hug! I was so great to have the wonderful surprise! Turns out, she was dropping off a present for me for Christmas! The amazing part of it all, is that we were not planning on going there until later after emails, but a more convenient spot opened up in our schedule and we took it to take care of things faster. Well, it was meant to be! I was meant to see my Grandma Pat, Grandma Meo, and her adorable dog Max for Christmas. :) I couldn't get my smile to go away for quite some time. (Not that I ever really stop smiling :)) I was just such a great surprise to help me get through my Christmas a little easier without being too homesick. It was the greatest present I could wish for. Although it sadly wasn't all of you there, it was nice to get a little glimpse of Christmas with family. Sure love you all, and can't wait to be able to at least talk to you Christmas Day, too!
Thank you again, to all, for the wonderful Christmas presents and cards. I love you all so much, and I am so grateful to be part of sharing this wonderful Christmas spirit this year. I am so grateful for this Chance to be a representative of Christ and remind people of the greatest gift our Heavenly Father has ever given us; His Son. What a blessing and gift it is to be able to return to Him again and enjoy his presence and everlasting life if we just accept that gift and join in following our loving Savior. Whether we accept it and recognize it or not, Christ died for us so that we can all live together as families again. We need to remember not only his birth this season, but also all that he has done for us. He is the Son of God, our older brother, and our friend. As it teaches us in Alma 7:11-12, he didn't just suffer for our sins to we can make it home again, but he suffered for all the pain and sickness we experience so that he knows how to comfort us in time of need. We are never alone, and this is a testimony that I have gained personally. This Christmas season is a great time to remember that we do not celebrate to get presents, but we celebrate to remember the greatest gift we were ever given to get back to His presence. How greatful I am for that! I hope you all remember this remarkable plan and enjoy your Holidays together. I love you all so much, and I can't wait to see you all soon! Love you all so much, and Merry Christmas!
"Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He lived for us, and He died for us. What can we, in return, give to Him?" President Thomas S. Monson