After a bit of an absence, the sometimes-weekly blog post returns with a vengeance!
Time flies. It really does. In 3 more weeks I will be entering into my LAST transfer, and my dear Sisaret Schellenberg, Heggie, and Dayton will be back home, nametag-less. The work in Haaga is seeing ups and downs. While investigators are thinning out, we are finding more time for work with less-active members, and building relationships with people within the ward. Christmas is a wonderful time to naturally bring up the Savior, but it is also a time of busy schedules and out-of-town visits. Organizing our schedule has been a bit of a challenge, but we're hanging in there, and we have yet to experience a "my goodness, what is there even to do around here today?" kind of day.
Before I go into things spiritual, here are some funny moments from the past couple weeks that can serve as some Christmas cheer, for those of you not in Finland during the season of delicious Christmas porridge and hot glögi:
- We've brought a member along to a couple of teaches with an investigator who has two cats. These cats are normally quite friendly, but they are infatuated with our member! As soon as he sits down, there's one on his lap, scratching at his jeans, tail in his face, and another one on the back of his chair, nuzzling him from behind. With nobody else are these cats so eager to love and be loved. Our member handles it like a champion.
- A few weeks ago at our visit to the temple where Sisar Schellenberg's friends from Turku were performing proxy baptisms, one of them pulled me aside and told me that a secret plot was unfolding, and that my cooperation was key. I gave her my email, and Operation Surprise-Sisar-Schellenberg-With-Unexpected-Guests-at-the-Ward-Christmas-Party was underway. She did a literal double-take as 3 familiar faces from afar showed up to help us with decorations. I was glad that I'd somehow convinced her to put off sending them her Christmas package in the mail, and to have it ready with us at the church, just in case somebody from Turku might show up, who could deliver it for free.
- One personal study, I was really impressed by tovereni. On her white handbook was a sticky note with the words, "Don't Leave This Behind" written in large letters. What a consecrated missionary! Only 3 or so weeks remaining of her full-time service, and she is set on keeping alive those principles learned on her mission, during her post-mission life. The next day, as we started our companionship study, tovereni turns to me and says, "So, I have this sticky note on my white handbook. I've received some money from home on my mission in American dollars, and I folded it up and put it in the cover of my white handbook. I put a reminder on the front not to leave it behind when I go home." HA!!!! I told her my thoughts about what her note might have meant, and we laughed for a good long while. This in no way effects my confidence that she will be a consecrated member missionary post-mission. :p
Over the past couple weeks or so there have been a lot of Joulu festivities. Although the ground is wet with slushy melt rather than drifted snow, Christmas is in the air, and people are coming from near and sometimes far (see fun anectdote #2) to join in parties and concerts. We had one of our investigators, a lovely woman named "Britney", come to the stake Christmas concert, and then gladly stay for the worldwide Christmas devotional. She was touched by the music and every time she turned to me to tell me how much she loves a particular song, she glowed with the Spirit. She's a former member who was not in the church for long, and who told us as she sat down in the chapel before the start of the concert, "It feels so good to be here again!" She will be busy this Christmas season, but if she can find ways to re-ignite those feelings in her everyday life that she felt last night, she will do very well in her progression in the gospel.
I have of course, been thinking a lot about gifts. The advent calendar my former Geneva ward sent me offers a small gift every day. Whoever put it together knows missionaries very well- there are pens, paper, stickers, nylons, you name it! Sisar Schellenberg and I are excited every morning to see what new useful thing awaits in a little bag (hidden away in the closet so I don't give in to the naught impulse to peek). Such a thoughtful gift. I had a dream recently that for Christmas, my family decided to do something silly, like draw each other pictures for a gift. In my dream I was really upset. I woke up, wondering what was so upsetting about the situation. I'm learning more and more to not rely on "stuff" to make me happy. Shouldn't the best gift be about love, not about material possessions? I guess the thing that got to me in my dream was not the lack of expensive objects, but rather the sloppy, last-minute nature of many of our drawings. They were completely without thought or effort. What makes gifts truly special, like the ones in my calendar, is the thoughtfulness behind them. Do we give a gift our of obligation with little thought, or do we give a gift with purpose and intent, based on the needs or wants of the recipient? Therein lies the real difference. That's why Christ was and is the perfect "joulu lahja". His life was always filled with purpose. It was given for us with intent and sincerity. His life was never given for reasons of vanity or trendy appeal. It wasn't superfluous or lacking in thought. He gave us everything, EVERYTHING, and for purposes so grand, that we can only imagine them in part. How much we can learn as gift givers and receivers from the example of our Savior!
As we faced an afternoon with a cancelled appointment and a lack of surety as to our next move, we got a phone call from a less-active sisar in our ward. "I made some herbal tea and some joulu torttuja (a kind of Christmas pastry). Would you like to come have a taste if you're not busy?" We eagerly agreed, and when we arrived at her apartment, the table was already set, the herbal tea was hot, the pastries warm, and it didn't escape our notice that the other assorted snacks she'd prepared were perfectly counted out in multiples of 3. What care she took for our little gathering! What love she showed to us! We spent a short moment eating, enjoying the warmth of a hot beverage on a cold evening, and chatting about the Savior and His role in our lives. We had the chance to invite her to church and to learn more about her concerns and life situation. We were excited to see her sitting not too far behind us at the Christmas concert, enjoying the music. She was a wonderful example to me and to my companion of Christ-like gift-giving.
May we consider the true meaning of gifts this Christmas season. I mean it. I don't mean to perpetuate sentimental cliches here. Can we all take a good moment to honestly and sincerely ponder the meaning of gifts in our lives? May we invite others to come unto Christ and receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of eternal life, which He has promised to those who follow Him. I'd love to hear comments and feedback about gifts during email time next week. And when Christmas, missions, and other life phases are over, may we not leave these experiences, these people, these feelings behind.