As I prepared for our Leadership Council yesterday, it dawned on me that I felt a lot more confident this month about speaking in Spanish. I reviewed in my mind how this could be possible and I realized that one of my greatest trials has been my biggest blessing: Speaking in Stake Conference. It has been so hard for me and I even felt angry at one point that I had to speak so much and go through this terror every single week. For the last two or three months we have spoken almost every weekend. It's different here in Peru than in the United States where the Mission President and wife usually speak once for about five minutes each. We are usually asked to speak two or three times for a total of 25 minutes. A week ago Sunday, as I sat and listened to my husband speak, the scripture in Ether 12:6 came to my mind: "Wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." As I sat and pondered that scripture, it brought me great comfort to know that my faith had been tried and eventually the "witness" would come, which to me has always meant the "blessing" would come. And then it happened. Last Sunday as I spoke twice in Stake Conference, I really felt very little nervousness at all and felt very comfortable when I got up to speak. I even made the audience laugh. How was that possible? As I prepared on Monday to speak at our meeting, I realized that one of my greatest trials, speaking in Stake Conference, was truly a great blessing. The Lord is making "a weak thing" in my life to "become strong." (Ether 12:27)
I decided that for December I would make the leaders in our mission a special treat. There are 45 of them, so they each got one cocoa oatmeal cookie and one chunk of butter almond toffee. I felt bad that it was so small, but that was all I had time to do. Today as I walked by one Elder from the United States, he grabbed my hand in both of his and said, "Thank you so much Sister Williams. That was perfect. I just needed a little taste of home today." Wow. What a profound statement. I have thought a lot about what he said. I believe that we all need a little taste of home sometimes. For me, I believe that need, for a little taste of home, has driven me to pray and to search the scriptures everyday. I think it prompts us to go to church each Sunday and to attend the temple. Some days I just need to talk to my family. Other days I just need to be near my husband, because he is my home. The missionaries need love and support and they need to hear from their families each week. The Lord has blessed us with so many ways to have a "little taste of home" on a regular basis.
Thanksgiving was pretty hard for me. I wish I could say I was really strong and it did not even bother me to be away from home, but it did. I think it would have been easier if we had just ignored the day and went on like normal, like we did on the Fourth of July and Halloween. But I was determined to have a normal Thanksgiving. A few days before, I made candied yam souffle and homemade stuffing. I always used Stovetop in the United States, but that is not available here. The day before Thanksgiving I made cranberry relish with dried cranberries (we only found in Lima) and apple crisp instead of pumpkin pie. How can it be Thanksgiving without any pumpkin I wondered? The week of Thanksgiving was not a very good week for me and I was a bit stressed out. Our tradition has always been to go to a movie the day before Thanksgiving, so my husband and I followed through with that, trying to relax a little bit. After the movie we went to a restaurant to eat and I ordered soup. It was barely warm and tasted a little funny. I suddenly realized that the chicken in my soup was not fully cooked. In other words, it was raw! That really ruined my dinner. But tomorrow had to be better, right? I mean, it was Thanksgiving and we had invited the office elders and some friends over to eat with us.
I felt we were so lucky to find one store in town that sold turkeys. Like normal, the day before Thanksgiving, I took it out of the freezer to thaw it out. Thanksgiving morning, I started the rolls pretty early, about 8:15. Everything was a perfectly normal holiday. I teased Mark that he could fix the turkey. He had learned how to do it in Bakersfield because he always had a Thnksgiving feast at the Institute every year. He said that was fine. While I was waiting for him to come to the kitchen, I figured I may as well get the turkey started. I cut the bag open and pulled the turkey out. I read through the directions on the outside of the bag. Next I checked the neck cavity and there was a little bag of the entrails, everything just like normal I thought in my mind. I could already see the neck protruding from the body cavity. That was different. I started to pull it out and thought it was strange that such a small turkey (17 lbs.) had such a long neck. As it came out, I looked and realized that they had been very generous and the head was still attached. I could see little eyes and a beak. At this point, I dropped the neck and ran from the kitchen screaming. Mark had just come into the kitchen and I kept screaming, "Do you know what that is? Do you know what that is?"
There was no way I was going back in there and I told Mark that he would definitely have to fix the turkey this year because I never wanted to see that turkey again! So he did. At this point, I think I had a small nervous breakdown, because I cried uncontrollably for about thirty minutes and told Mark I was not going to make dinner, I was not going to talk to any of these people and I was certainly not going to live in Peru anymore. It was just way too stressful for me. Especially cooking, because I could never find the ingredients that I needed and nothing ever tasted the same. Mark was so patient and so kind and listened to all of my ranting for about an hour. His plan had been to go into the office that morning, but after my display, I think he was afraid to leave. He was so patient all morning and kept asking me what he could do to help. I finally pulled myself together and got dinner finished, but it was not a good day for me. I totally lost my appetite and it is the first Thanksgiving in my life that I can remember that I did not eat any turkey! The dinner was a great success and everybody loved it, except for me.
Later in the day, when I was not so stressed out anymore, Mark started telling me that there might be something under my pillow tonight. He actually thought that was funny, but I really didn't. He waited until that night to tell me that there were also turkey feet inside the turkey. Peruvians love chicken feet. I have seen bags full of them in their shopping carts. I have learned to not look too closely at anything in the meat section. Then Mark said, "It was really gross!" He was my hero that day. He wrapped the head and the feet all up and made sure they were taken outside to the garbage so I would never see them again. I don't think we are going to have Thanksgiving anymore in Peru. I'll just wait until we are in the United States. I don't believe in having Thanksgiving without pumpkin anyway!
Thanksgiving in the Mission Home, Nov. 27, 2014
Then today when Mark came home for lunch, he was very afraid to tell me that the weird smell he had been smelling in our Nissan Pathfinder (one of our mision cars), was a dead rat. It had been in our car for almost two weeks and the whole car just reeked from it. They had to take the car in to be deep cleaned and detailed. They said it got in through a hole it had chewed in the air conditioning unit. Mark told all the elders that he knew exactly what I would say. After telling me this news, he said, "So do you have anything to say?" I said, "You mean like I am not riding in that car?" He said, "Anything else" and I said "I'm never riding in it again?" That was exactly what he had told them I would say. Oh, what will it be next?!
After all of this, I really didn't feel like putting up Christmas decorations. It seemed futile. Nothing ever feels right. I was pretty depressed when I started putting them out. However, as I decorated some things started happening that made me very happy. I love putting out my nativities. I just love the beautiful story of Christ's birth. It never gets old to me. To me, every nativity is a testimony of Christ's birth and each one fills our home more with the Spirit of Christ. With each one that I put out, I felt a little bit better. Then I put out my Willowtree nativity, which is one of my favorite ones. As I started unwrapping it, I vaguely remembered that we had bought the creche for it last year after Christmas. I went through all the boxes and found it: a brand new unopened box with the creche inside it. It was pretty exciting to open something new, but more than that, it reminded me of how much my husband loves me. He bought it for me last year and now it was a blessing to me a year later, in a strange place, that brought happiness to me. I felt his love for me as I opened the box and put it together. I thought about how he loves to buy things for me that I really want. It's a material thing, but those thoughts of his love for me made me so happy.
Then, when I was almost done decorating, I found one single piece of straw (fake) on the floor. I immediately recognized it. These were pieces of straw that we put in a little manger each Christmas when we did service for each other in our family. Immediately, a hundred happy memories came to my mind of our Christmases together as a family and the service we gave to each other and all of the traditions that we shared. Every year we filled a little manger with straw for baby Jesus as we served each other. Our acts of service were our gifts for Jesus. It filled me with such peace, that I started to think of what a miracle it was that this one piece of straw had ended up in one of the boxes and had made it all the way to Peru. Maybe Heavenly Father's hand was in it, to give me the comfort and the peace I needed at this moment in my life. There was no way I was throwing away that piece of straw! I layed it in front of our Christus to remind me that my service is the gift that I can give to Jesus Christ.
Decorating the Mission Office: Christmas 2014
Ever since my children have left home, I have struggled to feel happy during the holidays, because we used to have so many fun traditions together throughout the month and now we had nobody to share them with in December. But this year I feel totally different because that one little piece of straw reminded me of so many of the blessings that I enjoy. I realize how blessed I am that I was given a beautiful family that I was able to make all of those wonderful happy memories with. I feel so incredibly blessed. I feel so grateful that I have been given the priviledge of serving my Savior Jesus Christ and that I can give him the gift this year of my service in the mission field.
One memory in particular always warms my heart. We were living in Chandler, Arizona. It was our first year there and Eric was 5 years old, the year before he would start kindergarten. He was a very active child (and still is, kind of hyper) and it was not easy to keep him entertained. It seemed like he just went from one episode of mischief to another. The first Monday of December, we had our traditional family home evening about the straw and giving service to each other in our family and that our acts of service were our gifts to Baby Jesus. The next morning was a typical one, with Eric bouncing off the walls and not finding enough to do. At one point, when I was in my room getting dressed, Eric came into the room with a huge mischievious smile on his face. In a stern voice, I scolded him a little and said; "Eric, what have you done?" I just knew that he was doing something to cause trouble again, which was not a very charitable thought. He smiled even bigger and said, "Mom, I did a good deed for you! I made Brian's bed and cleaned up his room for you!" My heart melted as I realized the error I had made. Eric had actually listened and been touched the night before. His heart was brimming with joy because of the service he had given to me and the gift he had given to baby Jesus. My heart ws filled with joy too because of the example of an active little boy with a huge and tender heart. May we all give the gift of service this year to our Savior Jesus Christ and may all our hearts be filled with joy. I know that Christ was born as a babe in a humble manger. He was a gift to us from our Heavenly Father and His gift to us is His Atonement. May we always remember this and have a Merry Christmas!