I´ve thought a lot about love as Christmas approaches. God´s love is, after all, the source of all our greatest gifts. He gave his Only Begotten Son why? Because He so loved us. We have been amazed again and again by the love shown to us by members, investigators, and others. When the world is at its darkest (a word that has many meanings, some of them particularly apparent in Finland), the light and warmth of the Spirit are vibrantly visible. While we had a solid appointment for each of our 3 red days (non-proselyting days), until about a week ago, we found ourselves with not much else to do during that time, and no place to skype! Yikes! We proclaimed the news of our predicament far and wide across the ward last Sunday, and the response has been huge. Many members of our ward are from other parts of Finland, and will be out of town for the next couple of weeks. They can´t give us a place to stay or to skype, but even those who will be half-way across the country for Joulu approached us at church yesterday, and asked us if we were set to go, concern in their voices. As it turns out, there is a less active member of the ward whose door we knocked a few evenings ago. She let us in, chatted with us for a while, and then invited us over to skype with her. She´ll even give us a ride, since she lives a bit far out. As it turns out, she didn´t even have Skype installed on her computer at all, but texts from her over the past few days have confirmed that all is set and ready to go for us to call home on Thursday evening. We´ve filled out the rest of our red days, and we even had to turn a couple offers down, due to too many appointments! Lynne invited us over for a bit on Christmas Day. She´s taught us how to knit, and we´re excited to show her our progress when we go over there. At our last meeting with her, she gave us each a present that, when carefully squeezed, feels suspiciously like yarn and needles. What love!
Joulu traditions in Finland are a bit different than in the States. For example, Joulupukki (Santa Claus) comes straight to the door to deliver his presents on Christmas Eve, which is the big day Suomessa. Finns often enjoy a trip to the sauna on Christmas. One of the biggest parts of a Finnish Christmas is the food. Let me tell you, Christmas food in Finland is fantastic. Rice pudding with plum soup, vegetable casserole, ham, pulla and other pastries, hot glögi to drink with a piece of gingerbread in hand, the list goes on. At this time around Christmas, we are almost never without an offering of food on any given day. Members have filled our dinner appointment calendar almost past its capacity. We have a hot meal provided by a member 9 days out of 10 at this time of year, which gives us an excellent opportunity to get to know ward members better, and encourage them to #ShareTheGift. Life is a literal feast right now. Those members whose houses we miss often give us bread, gingerbread, or Finnish chocolate as a gift in passing. We gave our former investigator Keith a Christmas card, and even he responded with some candied almonds. It´s almost more than my stomach, or the waistline of my favorite skirts, can handle. The point of this is not to boast about the perks of serving in Finland at Christmastime, although I would be lying if I said that it isn´t a wonderful time. More than anything, as members are so willing, even eager to provide us with something delicious, I feel their love and concern for the missionaries serving in their ward. They notice us. They look out for us. They know we´re far from home at a time that centers around the family, and they want us to feel like we are at home here in Helsinki. Their love and care for us missionaries reflects love for the Savior, because we are His representatives, and our purpose is to bring others to Him. Our cut-out paper Christmas tree we hung on the wall hangs over a pile of gifts, the sight of which warms my heart with love. How have I been so blessed in my life, to have 3 consecutive Christmases where, although my family and familiar traditions are halfway around the world, I feel so loved and cared for, so at home?
This mission has been like a giant spiritual feast for me. Like Nephi of the Book of Mormon, I have been blessed to, on many occasions, feel the arms of our Savior´s love encircling me as I do such an imperfect job of serving Him. I feel great love for our investigators, former and present. We had an excellent lesson with a young adult named Margaret yesterday (she who came to our Thanksgiving dinner) that left me pondering how great the gospel is, and how miraculous it is that Heavenly Father loves His children so much, that He has given us the commandments and ordinances we need to be worthy to return to Him.
I am thankful for the ability to spend two Christmases in Finland as a full-time missionary. I am thankful that the missionary lifestyle requires me to look past material things that weigh down my suitcase, and to focus on learning to love others more as Christ loves them. I am thankful for the love and service we have received at this time, and throughout all the year. May you enjoy a Joulu that is centered around the Savior and His incomparable gift to the world.