“From Lonely to Joyful,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 50–51
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.