One of the first and sweetest tender mercies appeared each day during the month of December on my computer at the Center each morning. As I turned it on, the home page brought up an article with a little girl on it that looked so much like Austin's and Kylie's Gentry that, at first, I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't her!
So each morning as I turned on my computer, I wished Gentry a good morning, and each evening before I turned her off to go home, I told her good-bye and blew her a kiss.
I hope the REAL Gentry felt extra love coming from far-away California all during this special Christmas month.
And there were other sweet remembrances all during the month that lifted my life daily. One was a colorful link from The Rounds' Christmas chain that had a special wish for me each day. My closet door grew red and green with each new daily link. And each day for 12 days I read a scripture, which was accompanied by a representative gift from The Wallis and Bundy families. I felt so remembered!
So many of our seasonal plans in implementing Christmas were first-time ever events in the lives of some of these young missionaries. That's part of what made it so fun and rewarding. For example, each Monday night in December was gifted to our little missionary family.
We came home from the Center on those FHE nights, provided light dinner for the missionaries at our apartments, donned Santa hats and jingle bells, decorated a "few" sugar cookies,
Our complex was no shabby place either! Our cute landlords had the entire pool area festive with Christmas lights all around.
Parties, parties, parties! The food this Christmas was amazing, and the most I've ever encountered in any Christmas season. It was non-stop, plentiful, and YUMMY!! The Chinese Branch Christmas party included MANY investigators, especially from English classes. Even though I can't speak any Chinese, these little women were so willing to invite me to their table to share dinner with them. Quiet table from MY corner, but plenty of smiles, and sometimes that speaks louder than words.
It was a new cultural experience watching the nativity demonstrated with Asian characters. Especially the stable animals, provided exclusively by our own missionary force.
Even Chinese Santa Claus showed up, and an entire line of Chinese children immediately formed to talk to him, including many moms and babies.
How do they even know who he is!?!
One of my favorite people ever, Sister Xia. She was the "Dove from the stable rafters high." Thus, the beak on her head, heh-heh.
A very well-attended Ward Christmas party, with MANY investigators and never-ending food. Again.
|Kristine and Sister Wu|
|Sister Lee, very lovely wife of Branch President|
Then there was Elder Ng's 19th birthday party at Bun 'N Burger, thanks to the Bunker's and their traditional monthly treat;
ongoing food extravaganza each day at the Center. Effy provided us on her assigned days of Christmas with an entire spread of food for the whole day long. Each day one of us provided some fun special food for the office and visitors.
The office party at ERS, which included all who work and serve there and spouses, was also a potluck extravaganza. These are all retired, successful professionals, who add measurable credibility to the work at ERS. Such warm and wonderful people, each one!
During the month there were special, reflective times also. Sometimes they appeared when least expected and provided a positive and surprise uplift to the season. There was one evening when I was preoccupied with stuff and I happened to be coming back from an errand by myself. My Christmas music was on and I went past a neighborhood that had extremely beautiful light displays. It felt so wonderful to be right there at that particular moment, and I began wandering through some of the streets in my car, enjoying the Christmas feeling. It was the first time since I've been here that I had a tinge of regret at the thought of leaving when it comes time. It was fleeting, but unmistakable.
The crowning event of the season was Christmas Eve. I had done a lot of preparation all month long, and knew I would have one chance with this "family group" of Chinese missionaries to leave a special mark from Christmas Eve. I think they weren't sure what to expect, since many had never really done Christmas Eve before, or very little of anything special. We began with a light dinner of cheesy potato and ham soup and bread. Then when we were finished, we wadded it all up in the plastic tablecloths and threw it away, and the mess was cleaned up. They autographed and decorated "Return With Honor" pillowcases, quite unsure at first if they should really write on them. But then they really got into it! Some of the finished pillowcases revealed amazing masterpieces!
And then, when all lights except Christmas lights were turned off, we lighted each other's candle in turns as we shared Christmas memories or traditions. We picked wrapped pieces of the nativity out of a bag randomly and each person told a quality of their piece as they placed it in the set. Something we could all emulate. We passed around the scriptures as we each took a turn reading the scriptural account of the birth from Luke 2. We seriously ran out of time long before the planned activities were executed, but we finished with an invitation to be ready when the Savior comes the next time. It will be an even grander event then, and the whole world will know. The scriptures remind us that in His temple He'll appear, so we need to always be temple ready, with current recommend (oil in our lamps) and ready to attend the wedding feast when it's finally time. Then they picked off of the tree Los Angeles temple ornaments to remind them.
It felt like it was a bit rushed at the end so they could get home in time for curfew (which still didn't happen I'm afraid). But overall, I hope it was a positive experience for them. It was for me. I was so grateful to have a family to spend that special evening with, if it couldn't be my own. During the course of the evening, Elder Ng expressed appreciation for my staying here with them rather than going home, like they knew I probably really wanted to do. They all chimed in agreement, and it was heartwarming to know they recognized the value of someone being there to make it a homey Christmas for them.
On Christmas Day, I stayed in my pajamas all day and just talked or skyped to each one of my children and family to my heart's content. I loved the day with no expectations, anywhere to go or have to do.
And that includes the youth who heart-attacked The Senior Sister Apartment (our front door) for Christmas. Talk about feeling loved!
The day after Christmas was spent in Calabasas with Andy's family. That was another fun day, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself at their home. I saw the workplace for the first time, and it was a contest to see how many people you can fit into one little filling station office at once. We watched Thomas play soccer and I visited with Joey, home from England where he also goes to college and plays soccer. Their decorated home was beautiful and we enjoyed the chance to visit together under the warmth of Christmas lights, trees, with a life-size Santa looking on.
This was definitely a unique and memorable Christmas, never to be forgotten. One thing that struck my tender heart was the realization of this sweet and perfect baby being born to a waiting world. He was born innocent and without any idea as an infant what magnificent mission awaited Him. I love newborn babies. What a perfect way for God to give the world such an important gift -- through a baby! I know we've heard the story for thousands of years, but the astounding magnitude of the entire event and its complete purity was so real for me this year, and tugged at my deepest heartstrings as I contemplated what it might have felt like to look at that brand new baby, an experience so precious to all of us who have gazed on newborn babies and love their purity and goodness. I can't really explain it, but it was all together a sweet Christmas of 2015.