My mom asked me, in lieu of a traditional Christmas card in which the family members’ achievements over the course of the year are detailed and quickly forgotten by the reader, to write up a summary of our recent Christmas trip.
With that boring introduction out of the way, let me back up — a little over a year ago, I got home from serving an LDS mission to New Mexico. Our family elected to head back there to see the sights and visit some of the people I’d met during my time there.
Now, just to clarify, our family includes Dad, enjoying the reprieve after his recent release as bishop; Mom, always at work keeping the house from disintegrating into utter mayhem; me, Ryan, a genius writer majoring in communication at BYU-Idaho; Reilly, currently in France Connor, a sophomore in high school, beginning the long road to understanding girls; Dillon, future NFL coach currently enduring junior high; Abby, a feisty little girly-girl who bleeds pink; and Quinn, everyone’s favorite youngest brother.
Before the trip could begin in earnest, however, we had to endure the ride down there. From Rigby, Idaho, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, is about fourteen hours in a car, theoretically. There’s a little-known theory of relativity devised by Albert Einstein’s half-brother Alberto that states the number of hours in a car grows exponentially when influenced by the amount of passengers in a vehicle, the amount of random stuff accumulated underfoot, and the ratio of juices boxes and jerky to actual food. All in all, the drive to Albuquerque took about fourteen years, but we made it.
Our first site of interest was Mesa Verde, a spot in southern Colorado where ancient Pueblo Indian ancestors built homes into the sides of the cliffs. Next, we went to church in a small town on the Navajo reservation called Crownpoint, where I served for four months about two years ago. I was pleased to see all the same people I had known there, and I was especially happy to learn that several of the people whose baptisms I had a hand in were still active and holding callings. There are few things more rewarding for a returned missionary (one of which is finding a wife, but that’s a ramble for another year’s Christmas letter).
Then we embarked. In the Albuquerque area, two things stood out. First, I’d forgotten how many drunks, homeless people and generally scary people there are in the otherwise enchanting city of Albuquerque. Of course, even the hairiest, most insane denizen of the ghetto deserves a decent Christmas, so we collected gift bags for the homeless people and went around giving them out. Next, we visited Sky City on Christmas, an Acoma village built directly on top of a mesa and observed a sacred dance in which villagers dressed as elk danced in an old Spanish mission before gun-bearing honor guards.
In the end, we returned to Idaho a little tired, a little carsick, and a little weary of fighting one another for a bed. But our hearts, like our stomachs and our bladders, were full by the time we finished the long car ride.
It was an amazing experience, to be sure; it was a welcome departure from the Christmas traditions, which, unless we’re careful, can become as rote as a second-rate nativity play.
I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. If you ever have the chance to serve a mission, do it. If you have the chance to go back, do it. And if you have the chance to eat Navajo tacos, do not put barbecue sauce in them. It messes you up.
Happy New Year.