Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Week 58 - A Memorable Christmas

Hello Everyone! Merry Christmas to you all!

I hope you spent time with your favorite people doing your favorite things. I hope everyone had hot chocolate too. I hope whatever family traditions you like were perpetuated and that you all used this occasion to love each other and to love others. What a wonderful time the holidays and specifically Christmas time can be!

From Wednesday evening to Friday morning we were zipping around from Vannes to Rennes to Paris and then back again for a Christmas conference of sorts. It was as much a large Christmas party as it was a conference really. There was still instruction and missionary advice and clerical matters discussed, though the real beauty was seeing everyone there happy. I was able to see the Vandivers-- a lovely couple of mature age that I have adopted as my third grandparents. They are taking care of Dunkerque and my son for me since I've moved. Bless them for all that they do.

I had mincemeat pie this week!... thus solving the age old English mystery of what 'mincemeat' actually is! It turns out it was spiced (see gingerbread seasonings among others) bits of fruit chopped up. Thanks to retired English gravedigger and the softness of his heart.

Thank you to everyone who wished Merry Christmas! Thank you Monterey Heights relief society for the very touching Christmas package. Thank you Elder Bise for miraculously not forgetting me even though its been 6 months since we have served together. Thanks to my family for the cards and goodies they have sent.

I don't like singing much in public. I lack the musical knowledge, vocal control, nerves, and just about every other skill one might want as a vocalist. Every time I have been invited to perform a musical number somewhere I've ardently refused (for the benefit of those asking). I also know about 6 words in German. So you might imagine my surprise when the members here asked me and my companion Elder Deem to perform the first verse of Silent Night in German... with about 30 minutes of preparation... with only the sheet music before us, not knowing how to read German. They had so much hope in us though! We couldn't say no. So sure enough, in front of the whole congregation as well as their families and guests, I performed the first, worst, and hopefully last duet of my life. There was an awesome blind guy named Guy accompanying on the piano. I don't think he was grateful for his attuned sense of hearing that particular day. In effect we just made our own very throaty language and belted it out before these people under the guise of being German-- no Germans were present to be offended thankfully. The most fiery of train wrecks that everyone else so kindly pretended wasn't a train wreck.  And we must have been somewhat persuasive--there were a couple of people in the congregation who came up to us afterwards thinking that we were actually from Germany!

After church we went over to the Bouaka family's house. In the most touching display of kindness they invited the two American missionaries into their house to share their family traditions, their shelter, their family members, their food, and their company. We ate all kinds of nifty French things! First the salty snacks. Then the plates of hors d'oeuvres. Than we had the seafood course. Followed by the main course. Then the toast with duck liver course. Than the cheese tasting. And lastly the dessert. A real French holiday meal! I tasted fresh oyster for the first time; for sadly the Wyoming oyster industry tanked along with the sugar beet industry long ago. It was pleasantly slimy. I had something that wasn't turkey (They made sure to clarify multiple times) but instead was a rooster that had lost his masculinity in a rather violent sounding fashion and then had been allowed to grow extra big and tasty (it's called a "Capon").  A chestnut mushroom dish. All kinds of goodies. It was incredibly kind of them.

Look at this email! Actually including information about the week and not random stories/hastily-formed thesis(s... how does one make that plural? Thesi maybe?).

The rest of Christmas was excellent! The highlight would have to be Skyping with my family. It's been a little bit since I had seen them, and you know, I miss them quite a lot. Turns out I had to leave them for two years to realize to a fuller extent just how much I love them. The adventure here in France has definitely magnified this love for my family and friends that count as family. I was an emotionless pebble when I compare what it means to think of someone as a friend, what it means to care about them, what it means to listen to them, etc... My understanding of empathy from turned from a "check if present" box to a 3D topographic map that is constantly changing. It as though I went from believing in geocentric orbit to discovering that the universe is immeasurably vast and riddled with wonder. I was able to see a livestream of my family opening Christmas presents like I was almost there. The impatience of my younger siblings was  palpable as they waited to open their presents. I got to call up my sister and see her kids. The baby lump named Carter that I cradled in my arms a year ago was now able to show me what and where his nose was. With impressive accuracy. He hesitated on the ears though.

The rush of emotion and feeling that overcame me as I saw how much everyone had grown, how much my younger brother's voice sounded different, how little and how much everyone had changed was something I have never experienced. It didn't make me long for some stasis either. I didn't wish they would have all stayed the same. Regret didn't nip at my conscious as I saw how the world had continued to spin-- pretty darn rapidly I'd add-- while I've been away. Feeling this displaced from everyone didn't hurt. It made me excited. It was 1 part hope, 1 part impatience, 1 part pride, 1 part love, and the zest of two seasonal oranges. 🍊🍊 I thought I had understood and assimilated the message that scores of cheesy Christmas movies had strived so hard to teach me--to date I have yet to shoot my eye out, though, so maybe I did pull something out of those movies after all.

Through this year I think I learned deep down in the gooey red fibers that make up Alex what it means to do things for others, what it means to love others, what it means to think about others.


Elder Alex Hacker

The Rennes and Paris South Zones Christmas Conference.  Alex is in the back row in the middle.  Photo courtesy of the Mission facebook page

Alex and his companion enjoying a meal at the Christmas Conference.  Photo courtesy of the Mission facebook page

[Note from Alex's family: We had a very nice chance to Skype with Alex on Christmas Day.  He and his companion did their Skyping from the church building]

The many faces of Elder Hacker while we skyped with him!

Here are a few other things that we learned from our call with Elder Hacker:

Their companionship has a car, but he can't drive it.  His american driver's license is only good to use in France for his first year there.  His companion, Elder Deem, who served in Belgium (which lets them do something to get a driving permit that can be used over the whole mission time) does all of the driving.

It's very rainy there, but no snow.  Alex got quite excited when we showed him our "white Christmas" out the window---I guess he missed the snow a little (but I'm sure not the wind here)

He's quite enjoying the apartment in Vannes, which is like 2-3 times as large as his Dunkerque apartment.  (Although he said he misses the view of the ocean/harbor that they had in Dunkerque).

He told us a very touching story about how the missionary who was leaving Vannes called him up to see what food Alex wanted him to get (so that Alex wouldn't arrive mid-week without anything to eat), which by itself is very nice.  Alex indicated that the missionary didn't need to go to any trouble to get food.  But when Alex showed up in Vannes, that missionary had obtained and left a small box of yams for Alex---that is a gift of both personal and cultural significance, Alex explained, and so it was a very kind and thoughtful gesture that went beyond just leaving some food to eat.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Week 56 - The Best Cupcake Recipe

Ahoy peeps! What's up?

What were your weeks like? What did the kids do this time? Christmas is coming and I hope everyone else is as enthused as I am!

So just this passed Wednesday I had a bit of a cross-country move, leaving Dunkerque and its wonderful people behind.

Some of the awesome people I left behind in Dunkerque

 I'm now currently living in Vannes which is part of the Bretagne region of France. The people here are quite proud of their region. Like Texas-level pride sometimes. The city is generally much older than what I found in Dunkerque-- speaking of buildings that is. This is the first city where I've lived in France which was not entirely leveled during the war! The corner french fry shops have been replaced with crêpes stores. The weird Flemish things have been swapped for strange Bretagne things. People are generally stubborn but the coolness of facial hair has also skyrocketed. I think those two things are correlated. The days of public transportation have been replaced by a car! I'm still not used to getting in and out of cars so frequently.

And here I am in Vannes

The kindness of some of the people here in France continues to amaze me! I've had the pleasure of meeting Gary and Alain and someone named Phillipe.

1) Gary is an absurd English man. He has been here for 20 years and hasn't made the slightest effort to assimilate French culture. He's recessed even further into his British pride if anything! He doesn't have a drivers license so he drives a tiny little car that technically qualifies as a moped to loophole his way past the law... his loyalty lies with The Queen. He has the vocabulary of a surly British sailor but a heart of gold.

2) Alain looks like a wizard. Of everyone I've ever met he is the mostly likely to be a Druid. Behind the long white hair that should be covered with moss and twigs lies a nuclear scientist funnily enough. He invited over for lunch at his house after church on Sunday. For desert he offered us fruit, walnuts, and sprouts that he had germinated himself.

3) Phillipe is like Dwight from the tv show The Office. Except French-er.

The thought occurred to me today, after I had finished describing Gary and Alain and Phillipe I thought quickly of some of the other people that I have described in these emails, that someone might think that a mission consists only meeting cool and eccentric people while taking a two year break from school to do a bit of tourism. And while all three of those things happen, that isn't not at all what my mission here is about. The word mission always felt too dramatic but at this point, as I have come to better understand my convictions and understand just how much joy and peace they bring me, it is pretty darn accurate. I left and am currently on a mission because I have something that I want to share with others because I believe that it will help them and that it is intended for everyone. I'll let someone who is much smarter than me describe it:

Late one evening at the freshman orientation for the University of Wyoming (insert declaration of state pride here!) I found myself whiling away the wee hours of the morning talking with a dear friend named Rebecca Goodson. She even had good as part of her name and that described her pretty well too. As usual we talked and laughed about both everything and nothing. I will never tire of talking to this person. And one of the many subjects we touched on was my intention to leave for two years and do what I am currently doing. My friend asked me why I had never tried to share, or even explain what I had to share-- apparently a motivation so strong that it would soon be compelling me to leave for two years-- with her? Someone I cherished and wanted to help? And I probably gave some stupid response that I think she saw right through. That question burrowed its way down and gnawed at my soul. If it really meant that much to me, and she did too, why hadn't I? Rebecca told me that would be like having discovered the best cupcake recipe and keeping it all to myself. You can't steal the best cupcake recipe for yourself and hide it from the rest of the world. That just does everybody a disservice.

Why am I here and what do I want to do here? Rebecca said it best in my likely incorrect memory marred by time and bias. I now understand the cupcakes I have tasted, and they taste better than anything else I know, and I want to share them with others. And I have no right to keep them from people I should care about. And none of you do either! Whether you've found banana nut (typically a muffin flavor), or double chocolate, or vanilla, or birthday cake, or prune heath bar (gotta appeal to the older readers) you need to share that with others! And you get the opportunity to do so! It's not a grim order I'm giving you but an appeal to simply share the things you love with someone else. Sometimes this week. In a very specific way. Maybe you could actually make cupcakes. Or maybe you could go sing to the elderly. Or maybe you could sing to your best friend. Or maybe you need to tell someone about something. You've got to figure that out. If you look for it you will find the opportunity. Share some cupcakes with someone else.

I will see you all next week, hopefully with scorched hands from all the baking you've done!

With great affection,

Elder Alex Hacker

Friday, December 9, 2016

Week 55 - A Farewell to Dunkerque (bonus photos) (Dec 5th)

Like a poorly made trailer spoils the movie,  the title of this week's message gives most of this one away.......

Hello my friends and family! (Those groups aren't mutually exclusive by the way) How have everyone's weeks been?

There is relatively exciting news from this end of the plastic cup attached to the string! I'm moving. The most recent and a literal 1/42nd of my life have been spent in this city in the company of my dear friends who reside therein. Saying goodbye is definitely not easy! Much more difficult than leaving my first city for some reason. I'm moving across the country to Vannes, It's a seaside city on the west coast of France about 600km away from Dunkerque. 600km for those stubborn Americans who think they are better than the globally accepted metric system, is equal to a lot of miles. I don't know the conversion. Mr. Krysl--my high school science teacher-- just felt a blossom of shame for me. It will be a pretty large change I think. I'm also moving from a small group of 6 missionaries to a much larger group of 13. Big adventures inbound! I might even remember to send a picture or two!

My new address will be: 6 Rue Honore Daumier, 56000 Vannes, France.

I'm moving into a much larger district than before! The Rennes district, in the Rennes zone. (Rennes is a large city in the zone) 11 missionaries and a different senior couple. I'm going to be district leader of said much larger district as well. Which is a humbling, slightly scary, but very much exciting call.

Photo courtesy of another missionary's mom who posted this on Facebook.
There is a spirited young child named Evan that I get to see every Sunday. Perhaps it was his way of saying goodbye to me but he had latched on to my leg as children sometimes do. We were both having a lovely time until I felt his small little fangs biting into my leg. Very hard. And at this point the French decided to all leave my mind and I find myself floundering to ask his parents to remove him. He has drawn blood before I finally sort of pry him off of my leg and his parents come to the rescue. How greatly I will miss this place... :(

This Tuesday we spent the entire day trying to find new people to talk with. Around 6:20 we find ourselves exhausted before the appartement of the senior missionaries who in Dunkerque. It's dark, and we a large and kind of intimidating looking man on the other side of the street. And myself and my companion at the time Elder Schulthess feel like we should go talk to him. So we hop across the dark wet street kicking societal convention in the face and awkwardly surrounding this guy. Turns out the mild intimidation was caused by a very very large 15 year-old from Portugal. We ask if he has two minutes to spare to watch a sweet Jesus-themed Christmas video. Who doesn't have enough of either of those two things? He refuses to watch it there on the street, but insists we go show him and his family in their humble abode just down the street. The walk is rife with light small talk. He loves basketball and would like to play in the US one day. He was very sick when he was younger and barely lived. It's been 4 years since he's been here in France. The. We entered a very empty house and met his mom and sister who greeted us with enthusiasm. They eagerly watched the video. And then we told them about the things we loved. We told them why we came to France. We shared the message that God is anxiously engaged in taking care of them and still talks to the world. That they were really special. And it was a very pretty moment for me and for them too I think.

I've finished training my "son", Elder Arnell He's staying here in Dunkerque! I've got many feelings about his! I will miss him. I'm proud of how much progress he's made! He will be fine taking new steps that come with the change, but I still can't help but worry a tiny bit....I think this is a minute portion of what my Pops felt when he shipped me off to college/France. I love that little guy!

I imagine next week will be full of exciting news and insights. Everyone have a great week! We'll talk more then!

Elder Hacker

I leave you with pictures from my time in Dunkerque

Week 54 - A quieter Thanksgiving in France (Nov 28th)

Hello all!

I hoped everyone doped on tryptophan and gorged themselves with mashed potatoes and perhaps other foods and took naps as a family collective this last week! I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!

We didn't really get a chance to do anything for Thanksgiving over.  (For district meeting this upcoming week, however, we plan on doing a Thanksgiving themed meal.) Instead, we ate leftovers and a frozen pizza for the actual holiday! We were a little busy that day! We had been fasting that day too. I found the sacrifice and the simplicity of the whole affair kind of cool. How I was able to be happy and content far from what I was used to got me thinking about all the things I love and for which I am grateful!

In what is really a surprise to nobody, I will talk about a few of the things for which I am grateful!

In no particular order-

1) Plants and the air/beauty they generously donate.

2) Squanto, he saved the pilgrims! What an underrated American hero!

3) The Elderly! They have so many stories and experiences to share. There really is a wisdom (I think they store it in their wrinkles) and understanding old people can have. Be sure to tell an old person near you how cool you find them.

--Unprompted story that I remembered this week: I received a telephone call 2 years ago or so from a dear friend of mine called President "mad-dawg" Skipper. The "mad-dawg" is optional and signifies nothing. Skipper is not the usual road trip company for a teenager. He was, and is, between 3 and 4 times my age. We have different hair colors and quantities. We have different numbers of grandchildren. We don't have too much in common. We were both big fans of my grandpa and we bonded over that. I was a little hesitant at first but agreed to a 3 hour trip to Denver Colorado. Don't you get any ideas now-- It had nothing to do with the legalization of a certain substance either... we were "picking up motorized wheel chairs of a deceased friend." That's what they call it nowadays. Picture Elder Hacker and this gentlest fellows of ripe age crammed into the wee Chevy S10 pickup that I piloted at the epoque. My iffy attitude melted after 15 minutes of asphalt. That road trip became a very special memory and an experience I truly treasure. We talked about everything and nothing. He had plenty of stories to share. I asked him questions. He gave me advice for my mission. We made it there alive and he complimented my driving. He bought me a burger. I met some of his family. Then we put everything in the truck and drove back. As I fought off drivers fatigue by chatting with my dear friend I discovered a real person! He was more than just old! He wasn't a shriveled version of someone young with more wisdom. He wasn't a raisin! He was a grape! This was a person with feelings, thoughts, fears, ideas, questions, pains, jokes, music preferences (weren't exactly on the same page here). He was like me or any of my other friends. He needed to be loved just like I do. He needed friends just like I do. He was just like me. He redefined my perspective on age that night there.--

4) How gifted and different each person is. We all have pretty similar squishy envelopes, and essentially the same squishy red bits inside that enable us to walk, eat, create, and punch one another. Though in terms of individual talents, capacities, likes, weaknesses, we are hardly the same species. If all those things were expressed physically i.e. a passion for art equaled a third arm, patience was expressed as eye color, etc... we would certainly make a bizarre menagerie. What would I look like compared to you? What are my talents? What are yours? Every human has so much going for them! Such a diversity and variety. It makes the world a more exciting, beautiful, and happy place when you try and find those third arms.

5) The holiday season and the excuse that gives us to love one another and spend time with one another and give each other gifts.

6) My Family and Friends

7) Jesus

8) Being grateful

9) 100+ other things!

I gratitude is really something impressive. It is something that turns what we have into enough. It slays enmity, jealousy, pride, and discontent. I think we are asked to be grateful because it is something that allows us to be content with our current situation! It is something that makes us happy! It helps us to find the beauty of what we have and find things we didn't recognize before.

And that is all I have for this week!  We are starting up on week 6 of the 6 week cycle. This Saturday we will know what's going on in terms of changes. I'm excited to see what will happen next! This next week should go pretty fast I think. We have a day of finding in Calais, a day of finding in Saint Omer, and a day of finding here in Dunkerque.

Have a great week everyone!

Week 52 - The One Year Mark---It's gone by too fast (November 14th)

Hello everyone! This one is a doozy. Dense wall of text alert! For every person who actually reads the whole email my little sister Kaija has promised to knit and hand deliver a monogrammed sweater! Color choices include: adobe white, hot chocolate, almond biscotti, and blue.

Hooray!! One year and counting! I am actually writing the majority of this on a high speed train from Paris. I can testify that while being a magical city, Paris is slightly less lovely a ville when one is sprinting to catch said train. I had the chance to spend the better part of the day with Elder Dunskovic, Elder Merritt, and Sister Trotter, three other missionaries who started at the same time as me. The day was filled with reminiscing, storytelling, catching up, and all the other warm fuzzies associated with reunions. We have mostly been on separate but parallel paths since arriving here in France but that hasn't at all diminished my fondness for my fellow MTC missionaries-- if anything the absence has only made me a bigger fan. The dear friends made there are somehow more dear. It was really a wonderful day and a well timed mini-vacation.

There isn't any cosmic significance to the number 52 or 365 or 1/2 but when you add them all up you get 417.5... which isn't the least bit an important number either. (Though adding all the individual digits of 52 and 365 together does yield 21-- my age as of a few weeks ago. Take that and run with it all those readers who are conspiracy theory fans.) Like most things these numbers have as much significance as we let them have, as we choose to assign to them... And so I reflected a lot on what to say in this here email! I do enjoy the writing a lot! Sometimes it is cathartic, sometimes it helps me organise ideas, maybe once or twice in a year I say something that helps or entertains someone else. That this might be one of those times!

I'm utterly stupefied and in many ways devastated that I have been gone a year. It just slips by so quickly and I'm not able to catch it all!! I can't take it all in fast enough. Like when you scoop spaghetti with a spoon and 90 percent of the noodles slip off into the Italian abyss. Life is often the futile effort of trying to capture and retain the fullness of pasta in a spoon I think. There is too much beauty and wonder and life and tomato sauce to ever be fully appreciated! These last twelve months have been more than the average Olive Garden spaghetti either, this is the hole-in-the-wall restaurant made-by-a-guy-named-Tony stuff. It is downright heavenly. It is the most satisfying meal I've ever eaten. The most divine spaghetti one could ever find. This year has meant more to me than I could ever describe. I mean it. I do not have the words to give life to the magnificent changes that have taken place internally... to give credit to the amazing people I have met of every size, shape, color, smell, and personality... to paint pictures of the antics that take place when 6 missionaries are sardined on the floor of a small apartment... to describe France and its rich culture, landscape, and habitants... and finally, and perhaps ultimately, I can not tell you how strongly I know that there is a God who loves you and a Savior who loves you too.

I have certainly broadened my diet since my arrival! Gone are the days of gnawing on prairie sagebrush. I effectively had the culinary skills of a toasted walnut back in the day though with the help of loving companions and divine intervention I can now cook more things than Ramen. And that is only one of the countless skills and lessons I feel like I've learned and relearned over this year. In 12 moths of adventure (I actually caught that typo there but the image of whatever an 'adventure moth' brought me too much joy to correct it), in two French cities, moving in with someone new every 3 months, in talking to at least 8 billion people on the street, I have learned a lot I think.
New Skills/Things Acquired:
- the ability to eat cheeses that look visually off putting
- a very mild appreciation for tomatoes and onions
- an improved knowledge of wine! Acquired only by osmosis. Scouts honor
- not really a skill but the joy of knowing 'scout' is rhymes with 'toot' when pronounced here
- some mad organizational skills with all the planning and organizing and scheduling involved. I will be a mean secretary for one of you successful folk one day
- an affinity and fidelity for IKEA furniture
- stopping people on the street
- a hand shake proficiency
- an improved listening skill set
- a fatigue associated with wearing white collared shirts
- a better understanding of what it really means to work hard and strive after something
- kind of sorta half speaking French. This one has been an absolute blast to learn! I'm like an overgrown infant learning to communicate for the first time
- a significantly increased love for myself and for everyone around me
- a feeling of internal peace knowing I'm doing something I love with value
- the conviction that any two people can become dear friends who compliment and challenge one another
- an incomplete understanding of the French educational system-- everyone always explains it to me but there are so many acronyms and numbers and extra steps it is not at all clear in my mind.
- bow-staff skills
- list making down to a fine art
- many other things(!!!)

Despite my best efforts to learn about the world and explore I grew up pretty sheltered and far from the world. I had a wanderlust! Insatiable. I yearned to know what else was out there, what other people were like, to what extents we were different and the same! History channel (before it turned into shows about storage lockers) and Discovery Channel (before becoming an absurdly successful show about duck call makers) were my dear friends. The Wyoming education system did its best to teach me about the world ("Just copy Finland already!" he said, fully recognizing the complexity of the issue and how homogenous Finland is), but there were plenty of things left to discover. And now I can say I discovered some of them. I got to see and breath that diversity I had always yearned after. Now I can say that I love France. And I love the sometimes- to-often stubborn French people. And I love the culture.

Another thing I have learned is that God really does answers prayers. I want to tell you the story of a 14 year old who asked a question. And it is probably not the 14 year old some of you are thinking of. He has the same name as me. And the same genetics. The same chiseled facial features and charm. And some of the same qualities as me but in general he was noticeably worse. I wanted one day to know very simply if everything that I had heard from my parents was true. I wanted to know if there was a big man up stairs, what he was like, and why he put me here. It wasn't the easiest question to ask, because in doing so I had to admit that I didn't know the answer, and that my parents and everything I'd sort of gone along with for 14 years may have been wrong. And so one day I decided to ask. I didn't have a nice wooded grove on hand so I used the upstairs bathroom instead. I kneeled down and poured out what I had in my heart to someone who I wanted to be there. I felt nothing at all in response. I was more than a little disappointed. It broke my wee heart. He hadn't answered... And he took his sweet time until he did answer. Over the course of the next 7 years the questions and curiosities I had nurtured then were finally resolved. There were some moments of radio silence... though I had stopped listening and looking during some of these. There were some cries of desperation. There were some cries of frustration. And as I was patient... and even when I wasn't patient... I was given just as much answer and light as I needed. Until I was really ready to hear. Though in the end I think it really was better. I really do think he knew what he was doing. I look at who I am now, what I believe, and the path that led me here and there is nothing to feel but gratitude. God has a special place in his heart for 14 year olds I think! He did answer everything I asked him. I would bet anything he will answer you too. All you have to do is find an upstairs bathroom and tell him what is in your heart. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain. God wants to talk to you. He wants to hear from you. And he will answer. That doesn't guarantee infinite free cars or anything-- God isn't Robin Williams-- but that promise does include the answers that you need and will make you happy.

I was asked by someone the other day how I could believe in any sort of heaven without ever having seen it. This is true! I have not seen any heavens!.. Though I have seen glimpses of heaven. I felt that scratch at infinity's door the first time I held my sister's baby in my arms-- a wrinkly little lump at the time. He has since grown into a dashing toddler with a sprig of red hair. The cloud-cover seemed awfully thin when I felt the loving embrace of my family before leaving. And the separation between earthly and super-earthly has never been so small as during this year. I saw heaven when a 92 year old lady dared to believe that she would be able to see her deceased husband later. I saw heaven when a man named Victor kneeled down to pray for the first time, with the partial intention of showing that there wasn't anything bigger than us, and then started to share all his fears, worries, and hopes with a God he didn't think was there. He said he really felt something. I saw heaven when Olivier hugged me and said we would be friends for life. I saw heaven when a man told me I was the first person to be nice to him in his 50~ years of living. How could no one have ever shown this man kindness? To love another person is to see the face of God; no wonder the world seems to be less inclined to believe and less loving. How often I have felt the embrace of heaven comforting, guiding, even carrying me during this year. That frequency is matched only by the intensity of my invocations of the blessings of heaven upon each one of you. I beg, through tears of gratitude, that you be helped and guided in your life. That you know of God's light. That you find good things that make you happy and never let go of them. I pray you find the force and courage to listen to your heart and make the decisions and changes you need to. And this is a very personal thing. This is an individual wish for each one of you. I would that I could look you-- yes you, not your neighbor or the other person on this list I know better-- in the eyes and tell you what you mean to me. You are more important than you realize or dare think. I want and pray that everyone of you be better than I am and ever will be. I love you all. You, that affection, and all our memories together, that's the largest glimpse into heaven I've ever seen.

I sometimes worry these emails end up with a bit of a doctored feel. That the sincerity and depth of feeling I have might get lost in the transition between my intimate thoughts and feelings and the 'ding' notification on your smartphone that you will probably ignore. Know that I really mean the things I wrote! This excessively long email doesn't do it justice!

Needless to say I'm pretty content with my life in France for the moment, and for the service I am able to render to others and to God. I look forward to the next year and will see hopefully all of you after its conclusion. I'm am grateful for the parts you play and have played to get me where and who I am.

Stay fresh!

And I proudly proclaim all that in the name of my dear friend Jesus Christ, Amen.

With all I have,
-Elder Alex Hacker