Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Welcome Home Tom!!!

I will never forget, when I started this blog, adding a countdown clock for when Tom would come home and being overwhelmed by the number of days that showed up on that clock!  Over 700 days!  It was a little depressing, to say the least.  Now, here I sit at the computer and having removed the countdown clock and I have my son home, in the very next room.  Oh, life is strange, sometimes!  I have been telling David that looking ahead at two years sure seems like a lot of time compared to looking back on two years.  Where did the time go?!  I e-mailed Tom every Sunday afternoon for two whole years.  I looked forward to getting his email every Monday for two whole years.  In the beginning, it seemed like it might as well be ten years stretched out in front of us.  But, now that I am looking back at that time,it actually went pretty fast!  It's been an amazing adventure for all of us, but this is the very last post concerning Tom's mission that I will make....kind of sad.  

Tom had ordered up snow for his arrival back to Salt Lake City and on December 3rd, 2013, that is just what the weather delivered!  Snow, freezing wind, slushy and icy roads.  The whole nine yards - he was happy!  We landed at SL International at about 10:45am after a grueling 24 hours of traveling.  I told Dave that I don't need to go anywhere on a plane for a long, long time!  I could tell Tom was a little nervous when we landed and I was very emotional.  It's something that is anticipated as much or more than a farewell - at least by the moms!  We made our way to the escalators and as we inched down to the first floor we could see Em, Jeff and Joan, Andy and Grandpa Bryant waiting for us!  It was so, so amazing to be back home with Tom!  They all gave him a big hug and then it was time to get his suitcase and head home.  

One happy sister!!

Julie and Joan!

Julie, Joan, Dave, Tom and Jeff!

Happy to finally be home!!

Tom and Em!

When we got home, we had the wonderful surprise of Christmas showing up at our house while we were gone.  My sweet Em had put up the tree, decorated the house and even put lights up outside, with help from her sweet boyfriend, David, of course!  We were all anxious to see if Toby would remember Tom and I think he did.  He didn't bark at him and just ran up and jumped on him and sniffed him and then acted very excited to see him.  That dog is amazing considering he was only a year old when Tom left.  For days afterwards, Toby had to go downstairs each morning to see if Tom was still here.  

 Tom gets help with Em's scarf!
Tom with his banner.

Tom is finally home!!

Welcome Home, Elder Williams!

On December 22nd, we had Tom's homecoming at church and then had everyone over here after.  We had a great turn out with all of Dave's family coming and most of mine.  Tom's good friend Justin was at church and then afterwards Taylor, Josh and Nate spent some time just hanging out with Tom.  It was a wonderful sight.  Our good friends Joan and Jeff and Ken and Ellen Jones came after their meetings and spent some time with Tom.  Tom's talk was fantastic considering he threw it together late Saturday night and early Sunday morning.  He was calm, cool and collected and talked for about 15 minutes in between sets of choir music.  He still has a bit of an accent and everyone commented on that. He talked about where he served and what it was like and then some of the highlights of his time in Brazil.  He finished with his testimony in Portuguese.  It was a really nice day and I was so happy for Tom.

Taylor, Josh, Nate and Tom, just hangin' out!

So, that's the end of a two year saga in my son's life.  He has shown courage and bravery in taking on this challenge that makes us so proud of him.  He has fought the good fight and returned with honor!  He's an amazing young man and we are blessed that he is our son!  Welcome home, Elder Williams!!

Brazil Adventure!

As far as adventures go for us, this has to be near the top of the list!  I am not going to lie....going to Brazil was very intimidating for me and I was nervous!  I kept reminding myself that it would all be worth it once we had Tom with us and I was right!  The adventure began in just trying to get Tom (see previous post), and once we had him, we could really start truly enjoying both being with him and seeing the beautiful country of Brazil.  

Our first experience with Tom, other than shopping for shoes in a mall in Belem, was hopping on a flight to Santarem, one of Tom's favorite cities that he served in.  From there it was one escapade after another!  From discovering the hotel we had a reservation at was closed, to crazy cab rides, lots of walking the boardwalk, crazy bus rides, beautiful beaches, meeting members, visiting a museum, boating through the Amazon jungle to visiting the largest outdoor market in Brazil, we did a lot in 10 days!  

Tom and Dave waiting for lunch at our hotel in Santarem.

Fish market along the boardwalk in Santarem.

Tilted cafe along the boardwalk.

The Santarem boardwalk.

Drinking coconut water out of the coconut!

Altar Do Chao.

Leaving to go to the secluded beach.

Boats going out to the secluded beach.

Tom enjoying the boat ride!

Getting the scoop on stingrays!

Dave in his natural habitat!

Eating lunch on the beach.

Tire Christmas tree in Altar Do Chao!

Enjoying some music on the street!

Tom and his hammock.....ahhhhh!

The whale skeleton in the museum in Santarem. 

In Santarem, we walked up and down the boardwalk where people sell fish, fruits and veggies, hammocks, and just about everything else you can imagine.  There were boats where people hung their hammock on the top deck for overnight boat rides to nearby cities.  We visited a museum that had a full skeleton of a whale that got stranded up the river and died.  We shopped for shoes in crowded, noisy markets where every other store was a shoe store!  We got on a packed bus that took us to Altar Do Chao for the day, but ended up spending the night there because it was so beautiful and peaceful, none of us wanted to leave.  We went to a completely secluded white sand beach with stingrays in the water and then ate lunch on a sandbar that is covered by water part of the year.  We caught up with the Hoch's and had dinner with them and then shopped before catching the bus back to Santarem the next day.  We went to an area where Tom had lived with a family in the upper floor of their house.  We got to visit with them and then went to a devotional on missionary work at their ward.  We met numerous people who knew Tom from his time serving there, plus one of his previous and favorite companions, Elder Tobias!  The people were friendly, kind and excited to meet Tom's family.  The next morning, Tom and Dave attended sacrament meeting in a second ward that Tom had served in and had the same experience of meeting people who truly loved Tom.  Then, it was time to go back to Belem, so we hopped on a plane, again!
Shopping in Santarem.

Boats getting ready to travel overnight.

Boats headed to other cities from Santarem.

Two rivers come together but their waters don't mix.

Boat ride up the Amazon!

Dave in the jungle!

Tom in the jungle!

Heading back to the docks.

Tom visits a member that he baptized.

Tom and the daughter of a family he lived with in Santarem.

One of the houses in Santarem where Tom lived. 

Tom and the two current missionaries of the area we visited.

Tom and a wonderful family that he lived with in Santarem.

Tom and Elder Tobias, together again!

Tom visits with members from his old ward.

Tom and his friend Carla!

The church.

Tom and a parrot outside of our hotel, back in Belem.

Tom at the market in Belem.

Stuff for sale!

Happy shoppers!

Headed to an area in downtown Belem.

Back in Belem, on the day we were to fly home, we got up early and headed downtown to the huge, open-air market along the river.  They were selling everything imaginable.  We bought some souvenirs and then headed into the shopping district of the city where Tom was looking for a member he knew.  It was crazy!  So many stores, street vendors along the super narrow streets, tons of people everywhere!  We finally grabbed a cab and he took us to an area where we could get Acai, which was one of Tom's favorite things.  On the street, we ate our Acai smoothies and talked to a couple missionaries that happened to be walking by.  They seemed a little envious of Tom going home, but it all goes by so fast that it will be them before they know it.  Then it was time to head back to the hotel and to the airport.  Met up with the Hoch's at the airport and I think we were all tired and ready to go home.  On the plane, I wondered a lot about what was going through Tom's mind.  It's hard to imagine what it must feel like to leave someplace that has been your home for two years and not know if you will ever return.  We are very grateful that we had the experience of being with Tom at the end of his mission.  We are grateful to the wonderful people of Brazil who took care of him and became his friends.  There will always be a special place in our hearts for all of them and we will never forget our experience in Brazil!  

Boats near the market in Belem.

Tom and Dave in front of an old fort.

Beautiful architecture in Belem!

Tom in the town square.

Crazy, busy, narrow, crowded streets in Belem!

Waiting for Acai smoothies!

Dave waiting, too!

Tom and two missionaries we ran into on the street in Belem.