There was only one thing that could really make me feel Christmas cheer that year, and there it was, sitting in the mailbox. A note from the mailman, stating that there were packages from the United States waiting for me in the post office.
Now expensive presents don’t mean that much to me. But that year, even a paper clip from home made me want to dance around and sing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs. Because of a mail strike, I hadn’t heard a thing from my family in the two months since I’d arrived in the mission field, and I was dying to hear how they were doing.
As for me, I wasn’t doing so well. The mission field hadn’t quite turned out to be what I’d expected. I’d studied Spanish in college and had even taken classes in Mexico, so I pictured myself reeling off the most spiritual discussions with perfect grammar and accent. Instead, my first assignment was in an area where they speak a unique dialect called “Valenciano.” Even my native Spanish companion couldn’t understand it.
The cold didn’t help either. When I received my mission call to southern Spain, I pictured sundrenched beaches and orange blossoms, not the waist-high snow drifts that confronted us daily.
All that wouldn’t have made much difference if the work had been going well, but the fact was that there hadn’t been a baptism in that particular town for more than a year, and as hard as we tried, we weren’t getting in many doors.
What I needed more than anything was to know that someone back home still loved me, and I was ecstatic to find that there, in the post office just a few blocks away from my apartment, lay tangible proof that they did. Since the post office was already closed for the day, we decided we’d go out early the next morning, make the visits we’d planned, then return a bit earlier than usual to pick up the packages. We had to do it before noon, since the post office closed at noon on December 24th and would remain closed until the 26th.
It wasn’t even difficult the next morning to crawl from under my six blankets and emerge into the subfreezing temperatures of our basement apartment. I sang as I fixed breakfast, then proceeded to dress myself in everything I’d packed in my suitcase. It took a lot to battle the wind and the sleet. Although I’d lost about five pounds, I looked like I’d gained thirty thanks to my mega-layers of clothing. And instead of feeling frustrated when I looked in the mirror, I started giggling.
My companion and I set out, and the warmth that radiated from the thought of those packages sitting in the post office seemed to keep me toasty despite the chilly weather. As we knocked on the doors, I flashed a genuine smile that I saw reflected time and time again in the faces of those we visited. People were actually inviting us in! They were sharing their bars of turron, an incredible Spanish almond holiday treat, with us, and better still, they were listening to the message of the Savior that we wanted so much to give them that day.
We were down to the last house on our list—it belonged to a couple who seldom attended church but were very nice about referring us to their friends and often invited us in to warm up and dry off. Sister Boluda always had a smile and words of encouragement for us, and that was why we were stunned to see her answer the door on one of the happiest days of the year with red-swollen eyes and tears running down her cheeks.
“Oh sisters!” she cried. “How wonderful for you to come to visit me today. I’m always so lonely at Christmas. Won’t you come in and cheer me up?”
We entered her apartment and held her hands as she tearfully poured out the reason for her loneliness. She had a loving husband, but they’d never been able to have children of their own, and Christmastime seemed to emphasize the absence of little ones. Could we please stay and share a bite to eat with her? She would feel so much better if we could.
We agreed without hesitation, and a little while later, after we’d eaten, read the Christmas story in the Book of Mormon, and sang a number of Christmas carols, we left her house. Sister Boluda was smiling again, and she seemed to glow with the warmth of the season.
It wasn’t until we looked at our watches on the way home that we realized the post office was probably closed. It was past noon, but we ran back to the post office anyway, thinking that perhaps it would be so busy that they would have to stay open a few extra hours.
No such luck. Alcoy was a small town, and it would have been hard to muster up enough business to keep the place open for an extra 15 minutes, let alone a full two hours. Whatever my family had to say to me, whatever they had to send to me, would have to wait until the day after Christmas.
The sky seemed to grow even darker as we trudged through the snow. I bowed my head to shield my face from the wind and tried to brush back the hair that had fallen in my eyes. That was a mistake. My blond curls had frozen into spikey icicles, and they broke off in jagged hunks when I touched them.
Back in our dreary little apartment there would be no Christmas cheer to greet us. Everything that usually put me in the Christmas mood—lights, trees, brightly wrapped presents, stockings, small children—would be only vague memories within the cold, dark walls of our flat.
But you know what? I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t even a little annoyed. By not getting my family’s gifts on time, I received something far greater—it would change me for the rest of my mission and for the rest of my life.
I realized that happiness comes from the warmth within your heart and has nothing to do with the temperature outside. I also learned that when you carry that warmth within, it radiates outward to all those you meet and gives them something to glow on.
That Christmas Eve I realized that my first mission assignment was not to a mean, freezing little city, but a beautiful, expectant little town, just waiting for the warmth the light of the gospel can bring. It was my attitude, not the temperature, that needed to be raised.
Still, I was grateful for the packages with gloves, hat, and thermal underwear I opened the day after Christmas.