I hope everyone else had a wonderful Christmas. I know I certainly did. This was definitely one of the best weeks of my mission.
It started on Christmas Eve day when I found myself on an exchange in Kyiv. I'd pulled a few strings and gotten permission to go back to my old area instead of just being in the area where we were supposed to be on the exchange. As I was sitting on the bus riding into Troyeshina (the area of Kyiv where I lived), I was just thrilled. The area itself is remarkably ugly - old concrete apartment buildings one after another - yet to me it's one of my favorite places in the world. It's holy to me.
First stop was the ever fabulous IRA. My how I love her. It was so fun to see her and just spend an hour talking with her. She gave me super awesome wool socks her mother-in-law had made. Next stop was Eva (remember her, my little 9 year old?). I didn't tell her I was coming, so she opened the door with a smile on her face, had this fabulous moment of recognition, gave me a HUGE hug, and burst into tears. I don't know if I've ever felt more loved. Once she composed herself, I told her "Eva, we have an hour, what do you want to do?" "Sit and hug each other." That's my girl. And then I got to see Angela, who is just as completely darling as ever. Basically, it was a perfect day seeing all my recent converts in Kyiv. They're all just thriving and I am so proud of them.
So then Christmas day we come back to Chernigov for our DOUBLE CHRISTMAS BAPTISM, which clearly made this the best Christmas ever. Seriously, it was just an incredible day. Both of them are such miracles. Katya is 22, and has just blossomed with the gospel in her life. Seriously, when I first met her she never smiled or laughed or almost even talked. Now she's just an incredibly darling young lady. Tanya is older, has sat in prison, and is definitely rougher around the edges. When I first met her, she just wanted to argue all the time. And now she's simply thrilled to be the newest member of the church. I repeat: best Christmas ever.
Friday I got to skype home! The entire family is currently gathered at Hawaii, so I got to say hi to every single member of my family. How cool is that? It was funny though, because I hung up and felt not a single tinge of regret from being here instead of there. Missions are like 12,000 times better than trips to Hawaii. (Don't think that's going to keep me from going to HI as soon as possible after taking this nametag off (are RMs allowed to swim?)).
Saturday, we had another surprise trip to Kyiv. WHAT. Two trips to Kyiv in one week. I wish you could appreciate how much things like this don't just happen. I am SO blessed. Our official reason for being there was a Stake music night at which a missionary choir sang. But it was just a perfect night. I saw almost ALL my lovelies from my Kyiv ward. I honestly felt like it was just a gathering of all my favorite people. I am so fortunate to have made so many incredible friends on my mission and to have had the chance to see them.
So that was the best week of my life. I feel like I failed kinda miserably at describing how much joy I felt this week. It was simply incredible.
Since it was Christmas this week, I spent quite a bit of time in the New Testament. I thought a lot about the Savior's invitation, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." We call Him Savior because He saved us from death and sin. But we also call Him Savior because He, in His mercy and grace, delivers us from trials and bondage and burden. As I thought about this scripture, I remembered what Judy always says of the time after the accident (paraphrasing, of course) "it was the worst of times, because the pain was so great, but it was the best of times, because of the intensity and strength of the Spirit that attended all of us. The veil has never been so thin nor heaven so close." I guess that's what grace is. It makes the worst of times somehow also the best of times. The Savior never promised to remove or even change our burdens, but He promised to lighten them. That's what a Savior does. It is such a privilege to be a missionary and watch that process work in people's lives. I love Him and am so grateful to be one of His missionaries for a little while longer.
All the love,