If there were one phrase I heard repeatedly more than any other from our daughter, it was this one - "I am so grateful for. . ." and then she would cite a specific blessing she had received. The list included her testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as she witnessed the dramatic changes that had come into people's lives whom she had taught.
She referred again and again to members of the Church with whom she had labored to teach their friends, many of whom eventually joined the Church.
I heard her express gratitude for ALL the people who had changed her life for the better, including her mission president, Matthew Riggs, and his wife and their children, the senior missionary couples who had influenced her, her companions, and all the leaders of the Church she had met, including President Brian Swinton of the Washington D.C. Temple. We had a chance to renew our boyhood ties as we concluded an endowment session last Saturday morning. She mentioned several occasions where he had given sound counsel to missionaries and members.
There was a stranger she met on the Metro as we rode back from the city that day, an engaging black lady who was a grandmother and lifelong government employee who was full of light. After their brief encounter, Sister Goates expressed gratitude for putting that wonderful woman in her path that day so she could invite her to join our Church. She was a Southern Baptist, who knew much about the Mormons and had visited the Washington D.C. Temple in times past.
Gratitude was on her lips for a pair of shoes someone had sent to her on her mission, and for a sweater an investigator had given her when she needed warmth during her first bitter cold winter in Virginia. I also heard gratitude expressed for Honeycrisp apples to which she was introduced. She was never without one thereafter, so grateful for the discovery.
The weather was also on the list. We were at Mount Vernon on a November day basking in 70 degrees when she said it. She also spoke of green trees, so dense that in summer it was impossible to navigate because of the canopy of leaves on all those trees. And then her gratitude was for the fall colors of the leaves that were still clinging to their branches. And then it was for barren trees that made it possible to discern our surroundings more clearly.
Her citizenship in the United States also made the list of things for which she is most grateful. Living in that history-rich environment had heightened her awareness of all our blessings as free people, and the incredible price for freedom that has been paid by so many hundreds of thousands for that precious gift. It is hard to visit those stirring memorials on the National Mall and not be moved. The inspired quotations chiseled in granite, marble and other stones remind everyone of the cost to overthrow tyranny. The World War II Memorial honors over 400,000 lost in the global conflict. The price of freedom is always eternal vigilance. May we never forget the sacrifices of so many! The Vietnam War Memorial inscribed with all the names of the dead in that conflict designed to stop the march of communism was yet another reminder.
On a gorgeous fall morning in November, she shed some tears as we stood inside the Lincoln Memorial and I recounted my love for that iconic American leader who presided during a very divisive time in our history. Emotions were also close to the surface as we stood at the base of the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the other end of the Tidal Basin. Reading their words in those sacred precincts is inspiring. Later we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and soberly pondered how many there must be like that one in our perpetual struggle to remain free. As we visited JFK's grave site overlooking the capital city and stood before the eternal flame burning there, hope of our perpetual freedom in America was rekindled and sunk deep within our hearts. We were there only hours before the commemoration of Kennedy's death fifty years ago. Oh, what memories it conjured up within me!
|Iwo Jima Memorial|
Perhaps most impressive was her introduction to us of a young refugee from Egypt, Yousef, a Coptic Christian who was forced to flee to America when the violence against Christians in Egypt seemed to accelerate a couple of years ago. Yousef is on date for baptism into the Church in December. We had a chance to read several scriptures with him, to testify, and to re-commit him to his baptism date. That's really what we spent most of our time doing in D.C. - retracing her steps with people she had met, loved, served and taught.
As we spoke with Yousef he told us how excited he was about the prospects that soon all minority groups, including the Mormons, would be recognized in two months when the new Constitution for Egypt becomes ratified. His desktop background has pictures of Mormon temples that dot the globe now. He loves the thought that someday there will be temple in Cairo. I told him I felt impressed he would be in the vanguard of early pioneer saints in Egypt, all in fulfillment of the prophecy of Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1980. Yousef, thrilled at the prospect when I explained he would someday be a pioneer for Mormonism in his beloved Egypt, exulted, "Soon everyone on earth will know about the Mormons!" I felt impressed to tell him I believed as part of Elder McConkie's prophecy there would someday be a temple in Cairo, and he would live to see the day come to pass if he remained faithful to his testimony.
As we left his apartment with water bottles he had graciously given to us out of the little he had to give, Sister Goates once again said, "Meeting Yousef has helped me to appreciate so much my citizenship in America. I had always taken so much for granted. He is here to escape death in his own country, where he told me Christians were being slaughtered in the streets. How grateful I am for freedom to worship God!"
Tears silently fell as the aerial view of Washington D.C. faded into the distance on the horizon. Her face now turned West to resume her life again. She will look back with fondness on her missionary experience, but she will also begin a new chapter now with a renewed sense of gratitude, cultivated from her last eighteen months in Virginia. She will never again be the same person she was.
So we are grateful this week before Thanksgiving for all our blessings as a family. As we recount them all, our list like Merilee's grows longer and longer. This year they include being reunited with Merilee, and yesterday we met our first grandson at the airport, Elder Izach Jach, who returned home from the Iowa Des Moines Mission, taller, broader, and a pillar of power after a mission experience filled with happiness and success.
Our cup is running over, and I am so grateful. . .