From Lonely to Joyful
As the Christmas season approached one year, I was physically and mentally exhausted. My marriage had ended the summer before, and I had recently moved to Logan, Utah, with my three children to attend Utah State University, where I was studying for a teaching degree. I had no money, and my two boys, ages 16 and 12, and my kindergarten-age daughter needed warm clothing for the cold winter weather.
While I studied for finals, thoughts about my situation kept interrupting me. My cupboards were bare, I didn’t own a car, and I was tired of trying to be both father and mother to my children. I’d had a temple marriage and been active in the Church all my life and had just wanted to stay home and raise my children. Life seemed so unfair.
My first exam was at 7:30 A.M. I left our apartment hoping my boys would remember to get their little sister off to school on time. The air was cold and the sky very dark. I took a shortcut through the cemetery, feeling I was on my way to failure. I had spent half the night studying and trying to remember what I had studied. I felt too old to compete with the young minds of other students.
As I tramped through the snow, I thought about my parents, who were coming to pick us up and take us to spend Christmas at my sister’s home, a home where there would be a large tree and a mountain of gifts. And here I was unable to buy shoes for my own children. My feelings of resentment continued to build. By the time I reached the building for my final exams, I was in a terrible mood. I tried to concentrate but felt I’d done poorly on my exams. All I wanted was to go home, go to bed, and stay there for two weeks!
I began to trudge home through the snow once again. I stopped at my daughter’s school to pick her up, but her teacher said she had gone home. That did it! I had asked her to wait for me, and now I was mad at her for not waiting. Entering the cemetery I spotted her bright blue parka poking out from behind a tombstone. She was hiding from me, waiting for me to pass so she could jump out and scare me, but I was in no mood for games. I walked on, pretending not to see her. Then I heard her shout, “Mama, Mama, wait for me!”
I turned on her, ready to chastise her for not waiting, but before I could say anything she shoved an envelope in my hands. “Mama,” she said, “look what I made you today. You can open it. It’s for Christmas. I made it just for you!”
I opened the envelope, and inside was a handmade Christmas card with “Merry Christmas” printed in a child’s scrawl. She had drawn Santa flying through the air and little houses beneath him. In the corner of the card she had drawn another scene—a picture of a baby. But this was no ordinary baby. With yellow crayon she had drawn lines all around him, signifying radiant beams shining from heaven above. There was a halo above his head, and with the brightest red crayon she could find she had drawn a great big smile on his face. No, this wasn’t just any baby. This was baby Jesus, the baby that would grow up to become the Savior of the world.
I looked at baby Jesus. I had been baptized in His name; I belonged to His Church, which had been restored upon the earth; it was in His name that I prayed for strength, guidance, and direction. He had always been there for me. I love baby Jesus, I said to myself.
As I acknowledged my love for Him, something wonderful happened to me. Even though I had been freezing before, a great warmth swept over me. I felt His love envelop me. He loved me; He really did.
I began to count my blessings, including my children. The night before, my 12-year-old son had given me one dollar he had earned baby-sitting so that I could buy bread and milk. And my young daughter who stood before me—I had waited seven years hoping for this child. What a blessing she had been in my life.
Now she looked up at me, her brown eyes sparkling with the excitement of Christmas. Her naturally curly hair poked out from the hood of her parka; her little nose was red from cold. “Mama, don’t you like my picture?” she asked.
“Oh, I love your picture,” I told her. “It’s beautiful!”
“Then why are you crying?” she asked me.
“I’m crying because I love you and your brothers very much. I’m happy we are a family and can be together this Christmas. That’s the most important thing in the world right now. We are going to have a wonderful Christmas.”
I took hold of my daughter’s hand, and we began to sing Christmas carols as we skipped down the snowy path.
It has been more than 30 years since that special Christmas. I passed my exams and went on to become a schoolteacher. But the lesson of that one Christmas has warmed me many times since as I recall the gift of love that touched my heart that day.
More Important Than Santa
On the morning that Santa was coming to preschool, my daughter, Eliza, woke up early and was ready hours before preschool, which would start at 11:00 A.M. At about 8:00 A.M. Brenda, one of the young sisters in our ward whom I visit teach, telephoned me to see if I could take her to the doctor because the person who was going to do it had the flu. Brenda, who was only 24, had cancer. She said it was a routine visit and would only take 20 minutes. I was happy to help. Since the appointment was at 9:00 A.M., I was certain we could be back in plenty of time for the Santa party. After all, Eliza was ready to go.
When I saw Brenda, she seemed to be worse than I remembered. She was so sick and frail that she couldn’t walk without help. It took my breath away to help her into the car. When we arrived at the doctor’s office, we found out he was going to be late. By 10:00 A.M. I was starting to get worried. Santa would be at the preschool at 11:30 A.M. for a 30-minute visit. If I had known we’d have to wait so long, I could have arranged for someone else to take Eliza. I felt torn knowing how much Brenda needed me yet not wanting Eliza to miss the party.
Eliza did not complain. In fact, she sat by Brenda and talked to her about the pictures in the magazines. They always got along well. Brenda especially enjoyed it since she was anxious to have a family of her own. At 10:50 A.M., Brenda finally got in to see her doctor. It seemed to take forever. By 11:15 A.M. I was rushing a weak and nauseated Brenda to the car. She could barely make it.
I said, “Well, just let me get Eliza to preschool, and then I’ll take you home.” I probably sounded slightly impatient.
Once on the freeway, Brenda asked me to stop. I pulled over just in time for her to get out of the car, crouch down, and throw up. I got out of the car and stood beside her. She was so sick, and I felt helpless and frustrated. My daughter didn’t say a word. She could see that we were stopped in freeway traffic with emergency lights flashing and cars zooming past. Finally, Brenda was able to get back into the car. By now it was 11:45 A.M. Eliza would miss the party. It seemed that I could do nothing for either Brenda or Eliza.
Once at Brenda’s apartment, we helped her get situated on the couch, where she could stay until her husband came home. I fixed her some broth, and then we left. In the car I had just started to apologize to Eliza when she said, “Mommy, it’s OK. Brenda is more important than Santa Claus.”
I felt such love for Eliza as I heard those words. They put the whole morning into perspective and reminded me of what I already knew: Brenda was more important than Santa Claus.
“For Thy Good”
I was reared in the Philippines by strict but loving grandparents. My grandfather’s favorite phrase was, “It’s for your own good.” He used it whenever I acted stubborn or failed to finish a chore. He always said that the things he asked of me would help me become better prepared when I grew up. Although I didn’t fully comprehend his words, young as I was, I obeyed—if for no other reason than to avoid further sermons.
My grandparents were religious people. By the time I was five, I knew there was a loving God who blessed us as we obeyed His commandments. Going to church on Sundays was a must, and singing hymns, reading Bible stories, and praying were part of our daily routine. I felt temporally and spiritually blessed. We were happy and content.
Then events came into my life that shattered my peace like the sudden blow of unpredicted bad weather. My grandparents died unexpectedly one Christmas season when I was a teenager. The sorrow I felt seemed to ruin forever the joys and anticipation of Christmas. A couple of months later, my parents’ home burned down. A year later, my mother was in a car accident that left her an invalid. Then my father lost his job.
Tribulations beset me like a storm. With little money, I lost hope of earning a college degree. The demands of household chores drained me of energy.
Confused and battered emotionally and spiritually, I began to doubt God’s existence. I began to ask why He had allowed such adversity to come into my life when I had always tried to obey Him. The whys continued to bother me, and with no answers, I slowly drifted away from the church I was attending at the time. For years I searched other religions for answers and relief, but nothing satisfied me.
One bright summer afternoon, a close friend invited me to meet the Latter-day Saint missionaries. They impressed me with their polite greeting and neat appearance, and I was curious about their name tags, which bore the name of Jesus Christ. Somewhere inside my soul, a soft but clear voice seemed to whisper, Hear their message; it’s for your own good. The familiar phrase echoed in my mind.
As I listened to the discussions, my faith in God’s existence was gradually restored, and I accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following my baptism, I found that my lifelong questions had answers. I read in Doctrine and Covenants 122:5–7 [D&C 122:5–7] the Lord’s words to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “If thou art called to pass through tribulation … all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” I have come to realize that great blessings did come from my trials, for they led me to the true fold of God.
Looking back on my experiences, I realize they truly were for my good—just as Grandfather had said.
Testimony on Temple Square
“How do you know this Ezra Taft Benson is really a prophet?” asked our young investigator in Milan, Italy, in 1988. “Do you just have faith and believe him?”
As I considered her question, an experience I had three years earlier stood out in my mind as if it had happened that morning. I described the experience to her.
It was Christmastime 1985, a time in my life when I wasn’t really interested in the Church. I attended my meetings, but in a sense I dared the teachings to sink into my thick skull as I pondered my high school life or the fortunes of my favorite sports teams and players. That holiday season, our high school choir was given the opportunity to sing at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. In addition, we planned to attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert later that evening.
As I walked around Temple Square after our performance, I couldn’t help but ask myself many questions about the Church, especially about one thing in particular. It was only a month after the death of President Spencer W. Kimball, and President Ezra Taft Benson had been called as his successor. People had made a big deal out of it, but I asked myself, So what?
Later that evening, my friends and I entered the Tabernacle for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance. Most of the seats were already filled, but we found a row where we could all sit together. Our seats were down in front near a door that was propped open. As we waited for the concert to begin, my attention was directed to this door. Although I didn’t see anyone, it felt as if someone had entered the room—only much bigger. This presence filled the whole room, and soon President Benson entered. My body felt electrified, but I didn’t realize what the feeling was.
Then my friend standing next to me said, “Isn’t the Spirit awesome?” I searched inside myself for some other answer, but there wasn’t one. The feeling of the Spirit encompassing my entire body was present because the prophet of God was standing only a few feet in front of me.
Although the experience was powerful, the impression soon faded into memory behind all the excitement of the holidays. Life went on, and I graduated from high school and began studying and working in a new city. Three years later, here I was teaching the gospel in Milan, Italy.
As I told our investigator about my experience, the feeling I had felt that night returned, and this time I recognized it almost immediately. When our investigator said, “I believe you,” I knew the Spirit had touched her heart too. If we will share our special experiences when the Spirit prompts us to, others can know of these same truths, because “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moro. 10:5).
My Last Christmas in the Mission
It was my last Christmas in the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North Mission. I would soon be returning home, and I was happy about the Christmas season. My companion, Elder Barney, was an American who had been in Brazil for only a short time. He was fighting homesickness.
We had been working hard, but we still weren’t sure how to celebrate Christmas. We hoped a family would invite us to spend Christmas with them, and eventually one family did. However, I wondered about some of the other missionaries in our area. On our next trip to Vitória, my companion and I learned that Elder Jones and Elder Junot didn’t have any Christmas plans. I thought, These elders are my family while I’m on my mission. We can’t leave them alone on Christmas. The four of us decided we would spend Christmas together.
We made plans for a special dinner on Christmas Eve. Although we didn’t have much money, we felt the Lord would bless us.
On Christmas Eve I recorded my feelings in my journal: “Today is the twenty-fourth of December. It has rained a lot, and I see that my companion is sadder. He says he misses the symbols of Christmas he is used to seeing in his country—snow, music, trees, and decorations. I can imagine how hard his Christmas will be since he is so far away from his family, his people, and his customs. The rain continues to fall, but it is lighter now.”
Looking at my companion, I sensed his homesickness and wanted him to be happy.
On the bus trip to Vitória, we could see people hurrying to make their Christmas purchases. We went by a house illuminated with colored lights. Children played in the gardens. Tears filled my eyes, and I could not speak to my companion because I knew I would cry. He seemed to be crying silently. For Elder Junot, Elder Jones, and me, this Christmas was our last on the mission. But it was Elder Barney’s first, and I didn’t know how to console him. During the trip, I cried several times but concealed it. And my companion concealed his tears from me.
We got off the bus and went to the other missionaries’ apartment. We put our money together, and Elder Junot and Elder Jones went out to make the purchases. After they returned with the food, we set the table with a white tablecloth and napkins and placed Christmas cards on it for decoration. But even this didn’t seem to lift our spirits.
Seeing this, Elder Jones suggested we get out our hymnbooks and sing hymns to the Lord. We sang one, then one more, and then another. And we sang louder each time. I wanted the neighborhood to hear our singing and know that we were worshiping the Lord. We started to feel the Spirit of the Lord.
After the singing, Elder Jones shared a scripture about the birth of Christ. Then everyone read from the scriptures. We bore our testimonies about our Redeemer.
When Elder Barney shared his testimony, he explained, “I was missing the things that are familiar to me—the snow, the Christmas tree, the turkey, the Christmas music of my country. I forgot to be concerned about the Son of God born in a manger.” We had tears in our eyes, for the Spirit testified in our hearts that we had worshiped the Creator of the day. We thanked the Lord for all He had given us.
It was my last Christmas in the mission, but it was the first true Christmas I ever spent.