Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004
Dear Children and Grandchildren:
This Christmas I am giving a “gift of the heart” to you. That’s what people who would give lots of money if they had it, give instead. I always want you to know and to never forget how much I love you, and this seems the perfect occasion to put it all down on paper so you can read and re-read it whenever you want to forever. This is my story about how I gained my testimony.
My parents first introduced this thought to me, inscribing it in a book to me many years ago: “Will we be merely the grandsons of great men, or their grandfathers?” As the years now unfold, and more and more white hair grows atop my head, I am increasingly convinced I have become the grandfather of great people, for I have seen all the evidence I need in the goodness of your lives.
When I was a little boy, about the ages of you grandchildren growing up in my parents’ home, Christmas was a conspiratorial (ask Ashley) conquest to see who could outsmart Santa Claus. The truth can now be told without fear of recriminations. We searched throughout the house weeks before Christmas to find presents hidden all over the place, and on Christmas Eve we crept downstairs in the middle of the night with flashlights to get a preview. We were never deterred in our covert adventures.
Another year, I suppose I was probably about twelve years old, Christmas Eve fell on Sunday. We went to hear Grandfather Lee speak in his home ward, then out to Grandma and Grandpa Goates’ home on 33rd South – all in the same day! What a glorious feast, literally and spiritually it was! But this year something was different. I was different. I was longing and searching for something that had been missing. I wanted to understand Christmas in a way I never had before. As I knelt at my bedside that night, the customary anticipation of finding new Christmas presents under the tree and arrayed in the living room was ominously missing. I asked Heavenly Father to help me understand what I had heard Grandfather Lee talking about earlier in the day. “Help me, Heavenly Father, understand the true meaning of Christmas,” I prayed.
What is the true meaning of Christmas, you may also be asking yourselves? I suppose the answer is always changing. Meaning attaches to each of us in different ways at different times. Before my twelfth Christmas in 1959, there was unmitigated joy at receiving new presents. After that year, I was looking for more meaning and finding it increasingly in Grandfather Lee’s sermons.
Then I entered the mission field. I discovered new meaning in West Hartlepool with a new missionary I was training who was “a handful.” I accompanied the ward choir in their Christmas sacrament meeting program, and expanded an already deep and abiding love for music that attaches to the Christmas season, building on the foundation I had acquired by participating in the vocal music groups at East High – the a cappella choir, the Madrigals, and our boys’ quartet. How I love Christmas music! I relive those fond music memories each year as I listen to our children singing in Tapestry and doing the same things we did.
The Christmas after my return from England I was married. It was December 19, 1969, and I was deeply, madly, wildly in love. I wondered as we waited in the hallway to enter the sealing room if I would ever be able to carve a turkey and file a joint tax return – that’s what I worried about. But the ecstasy I knew then was only a down payment on what I feel for Grandma Patsy today.
Christmas 1970, I had just returned from active duty in the Army, having completed my training at Fort Ord, California. Jeff was born in January, 1971. While at Fort Ord, my testimony of Joseph Smith as a true prophet of the Lord Jesus Christ was cemented into place with a dream. I had taken every book I could find about Joseph Smith to read while I was on active duty. At night before lights were turned out in the barracks I read about him, then I dreamed about him. Night after night I was immersed in the details of his life, determined not to waste my time in the Army. When the lights went out, I would tuck whatever book I had been reading under my pillow and dream sweet dreams about Joseph until morning.
This is Christmas 2004, thirty-five years since my marriage. Mom and I have been together by many more years than we were single. I cannot imagine life without her. As I witness each of you happily married and enjoying one another’s company so much on those rare occasions when we can all be together, I know my cup is running over with joy. Your children, one by one as they join our family of “Goates Kids” only add to the joy and rejoicing in our posterity.
This morning as I was writing, I remembered a line from my patriarchal blessing, given only weeks before I left for England on my mission – “Your posterity will reflect honor upon you, on the Church, and on our great nation.” Truly, you were known before you were born, since that simple line from my blessing has already been fulfilled in each of you.
But even if I had never been there as an eyewitness to the scenes and places, he has revealed himself to me by the power of the Holy Ghost whenever I pick up the scriptures. He comes alive to me whenever I seek him through repentance. There is no greater gift that has ever come to me than the one I received in my thirteenth year on Christmas Eve 1959. Each year since, that gift has been expanded and magnified beyond my wildest anticipation. I will never forget the Christmas season of 1992, when we buried Adrienne. In the torturous wintry weeks that followed I came to understand the reality of the resurrection morning yet to come. Hope was instilled within me; faith was reaffirmed; knowledge endowed.
My thoughts about the true meaning of Christmas always include my love, my respect and my gratitude for all you teach me about life, about loving, and about living. I feel as though I am just beginning to understand all my life’s lessons about fatherhood.
That you may also be given answers to your prayers is my hope with all my love,