Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Fathers

This post is taken from a talk that I gave in church on Father's Day a few years ago. Actually I gave it twice--once in college, and then a modified version 4 years later after I was married...what I share here today is most of that latter version. It is somewhat lengthy (it was supposed to be 15 minutes long!) but I hope you'll take a little time to read it. I felt that I was very inspired with the angle when I wrote the original, and I worked hard on it both times.

I want to talk for just a minute to the primary kids. Can you all look up here? I promise this will be quick! Today I’m going to talk about daddies, and about how having a daddy here on Earth can help us understand about our Daddy in Heaven. Did you know you have a Daddy in Heaven? Usually we call him Heavenly Father, or sometimes we call him God, but did you know that what he likes best is to be called “Father”? And that is just another name for “Daddy.” God is the most powerful being in the entire universe, but of all the things He can do or make, the one thing that He thinks is the most important is that He is a daddy. Isn’t that neat? Today when you go home, I want you to think about your daddies, and how special they are, and how they can help you learn about your Heavenly Daddy too.

As a child, I had a lovely mental picture of Heavenly Father. He was huge, and He sat on a big white throne nestled in puffy clouds. There were birds and flowers and angels and books all around him. He knew everything, and he could DO anything. Actually, He was a little bit like Zeus, only without the toga. He knew who I was about the way that I knew who George Washington was—because he knew ABOUT me.
Later I learned that Heavenly Father knows me in a much more personal way. He may sit on that big white throne nestled in puffy clouds, but he’s more like Santa than like Zeus—He has children in His lap and He tells them stories and sings them songs. He knows them, their names, their wants, their needs, their desires, and their deepest secrets. He wants to hear about their day and their accomplishments and their trials—even when He was there and saw it all. He does this because they are HIS children. And He is their Daddy.
I like to use the title of “Daddy” in referring to my fathers—the earthly one and the Heavenly One. I realize it is not quite as formal, but that makes it more personal. Our Father in Heaven wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, just as He has one with us, and thinking of Him this way really helps me to do that. I was always something of a daddy’s girl, and I don’t see any reason why that type of relationship should be limited to earthly daddies. Today I have chosen to talk about how my relationship with my father (and father figures) has helped me to better understand my Father in Heaven, and I will do so with a series of stories.

First of all, I am a snuggler. Some of my earliest memories are of cuddling in daddy’s lap while he read stories to me…then later as I read stories to him. I even have memories of just sitting next to each other on the same couch, each reading to ourselves. . . . Now if you think about it, it’s pretty easy to see how this relates to Heavenly Father. He isn’t here physically for us to snuggle with, but His spirit is always available to us when we need comfort. I love 2 Nephi 1:15 where it says “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell;…and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” Encircled eternally—that sounds like my kind of daddy!

Now I’d like to take a minute to talk about flowers. My dad has done landscaping and raised flowers since he was a teenager. Growing up, we always called his flowers his ‘other set of kids.’ Some days we’ve felt that WE were the other set and the flowers were first. He lives on about 1/3 acre in western Washington, and there are literally over 300 KINDS of flowers (I have no idea how many actual plants that adds up to!). When I was away at college it was common to call mom and have her say something like “well, dad took the tiller to the side lawn yesterday and now we have another flower bed.” Obviously, all these flowers don’t grow and flourish on their own—not even in the gentle climate they have there--they take work. Lots of work. And, knowing that hard work is good for kids, my dad taught us to do much of what needed to be done. I can’t even count the number of hours I spent in the rain pulling weeds, trimming roses, deadheading iris, and even watering under the eves (it’s a cruel irony that certain places must be watered even when it’s pouring rain!). Daddy always gave us instructions for exactly how to do everything. It wasn’t always simple or easy, and sometimes it was outright painful, but every year, from February when the crocus come out until October when the last of the roses finally go, there is a yard absolutely FULL of beauty. . . . We are Heavenly Father’s children, and our lives are His garden of flowers. He has planted seeds of great potential and beauty inside each of us, but we have to work hard if we want to see them bloom. He gives us gardening instructions in the form of commandments. He gives us nourishing rain in the form of trials. So, the next time the cold rain of life is running down your neck, inside your shirt, and making you shiver, remember that if you stick it out and put in the effort now, there is going to be a lot of beauty later on.

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go to Hawaii. My dad was traveling there on business for 4 days, and was able to bring someone along—my mom couldn’t go, so he invited me. My flight and luxury hotel were covered, all I had to come up with was my own spending money. I had never been to Hawaii, and looked forward to the trip for months. The trip was wonderful, and worth every effort and little sacrifice I made to go. . . . Heavenly Father wants to take each of us on a trip too—to a wonderful beautiful place that we haven’t been to yet: it’s called the Celestial Kingdom. Christ’s blood has already paid for the ticket and accommodations. All that’s left for us to do is put in a little effort to earn our ‘play money’ as it were. If it seems hard to do that little bit, just remember that He already covered the big bills, and He only left us a couple of the little ones.

Next, I want to take a minute to share something about another of my fathers—my father in law. He is a wise and thoughtful man. I remember talking with my husband one evening on the way home from my in-laws house. We had not been married for very long, and that evening my father in law had offered some advice to us. I don’t remember what it was about, but I remember thinking that it was very good advice, so I was surprised when my husband said “sorry my dad made you listen to his little lecture.” I mentioned that I’d thought the advice was very good, and my husband responded, “yes, I guess he does give good advice, but he tends to give the same advice again and again, and I guess I get kindof tired of listening to it.” . . . The comparison here is probably easy to see. Our Heavenly Father has given us instructions for life—they are simple and few, and through His prophets He repeats them often. The advice was good the first time it was given, and it is still good today—but are we still listening? Just because you’ve heard the prophet speak before, or just because you’ve heard speakers talk about testimonies or faith or repentance numerous times in the past, does that mean that you don’t need to hear it again?! I think Heavenly Father repeats Himself because even though the messages are simple, they are important. They are still good advice

Now I’m going to go into something that is a little more personal. I was homeschooled all my life, and my parents were (and are) some of the leaders of the homeschooling movement in Washington. The year that I, their eldest, started college, my dad was asked to speak at the State Homeschool convention about “life after homeschooling.” My father is a storyteller, and so he told them a little story, part of which I am going to read to you here:
One summer morning a baby girl was born
Her mommy blubbered and said “oh, it’s a baby” and held her close
Her daddy blubbered and said “so it is” and held her out on the end of his arm, facing the world
So mommy nurtured the little girl and dried her tears and read her stories and calmed her fears
And daddy challenged her and dried her tears and told her stretched stories and gave her fears—by taking her rappelling
Mommy taught her to read and do sums and write
Daddy taught her to read classics, measure rooms, and write things others would want to read…
Mommy taught her responsibility and useful life skills like preparing a gourmet meal and changing a baby’s diaper
Daddy taught her independence and useful life skills like driving a car and giving him backrubs
Mommy drew her into the family circle
Daddy pushed her out the door
Mommy’s love teaches competence, creates a heart, gives a foundation and an anchor
Daddy’s love prepares the not-so-little girl to sally into the world and make her own mark
When she left mommy cried, openly, great big crocodile tears
When she left daddy smiled, said ‘go for it’ waved heartily, and then hid out in the workshop to cry great big crocodile tears.
Thus the dilemma, I am of two minds
Is there life after homeschooling? For whom?
For the not-so-little girl, yes—the richest life imaginable
All doors are open to her. She is capable of everything and anything.
Is Daddy pleased? Does it rain in Seattle? But Jenni lives her own life now, and daddy is oh so lonely since college, music, work, and life swallowed up his little girl.
My daddy has always encouraged me to be independent, but I know that somewhere inside—whether it’s in his workshop or just in his heart—he still cries those great big crocodile tears from time to time, because he misses the not-so-little girl who has long since moved out and married and started a family of her own. . . . Heavenly Father is much the same way. He has given us the independence of a mortal life with the agency to do as we please. He is happy to see us grow and learn and take on new adventures. He is thrilled with our accomplishments. But when we choose to wander away from Him, I think He too is crying. He would like us to live close enough that we can visit more than just at Christmas and Easter. He would like us to ‘call home’ with prayer each day, and, above all, He doesn’t want us to forget him.

I am a talker. Those who know me in person (and perhaps even those who only read here) can vouch for the fact that yes, I am a chatterbox. When I have troubles, I like to talk through them. When I’m upset or sad or lonely, I want someone to talk with. I remember one summer in college: I was 19. I had just moved to a new apartment with a new roommate whom I scarcely knew; and two days later I had started a new job. That night, I got a call from an old friend back home telling me that a mutual friend had just died, unexpectedly, the age of 23. It was a rough day, to say the least! The next day at work I just went through things mechanically and tried to keep my mind off my friend, but by that night I desperately needed a shoulder to cry on, and I called my daddy. We talked for about an hour, which at that time was not common for us—we usually ran out of things to say pretty quickly. I sat in my bedroom, on the floor, crying and sniffling into the phone, and I knew he completely understood because he told me the names of the four people he had known in high school who had died before graduation. (He has never had a memory for names, so the fact that he remembered theirs, 25 years after the fact, made it clear how much of an impact that had had on him.) . . . So what, you may think. Heavenly Father isn’t on the phone—He can’t talk with me like that…can He? Well, I think He can. In 1 Nephi 3:1, Nephi says that he “returned from speaking WITH the Lord.” That phrase has often caused me to stop and think—do I speak to the Lord? Or with Him? Four years after that college experience, I was married and expecting a baby. We had just gone in for an ultrasound, and had not been able to see the baby’s heartbeat. I had miscarried twice in the previous 15 months, and was very unsettled by the ultrasound. The baby had measured at the correct size, but since there was no heartbeat, the doctor said it looked clear to him, and offered to do a D&C that night if I wanted to. I was very upset, and not at all sure what I wanted to do, I only I knew that I DIDN’T want to lose another baby. I sat in my bedroom, on the floor, crying and sniffling up to the sky, and begging Heavenly Father to tell me what to do. Very strongly I heard the words “Be still, and know that I am God.” Over and over and over I heard the same words—even when I tried to think about other things, or move those words aside so that I could hear other messages, I just heard those same words “Be Still.” So I was still. We didn’t do anything at that time. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did go on to miscarry—3 weeks later—but it was not the emotional torture that my prior miscarriage had been. Also, because we delayed in taking action—because we were still—I had the opportunity to meet a doctor who specialized in recurrent miscarriage, who was able to do some testing for us.

Our Father knows us. He knows where we are in life, and knows what we need. He lived a mortal life once, and He knows how to relate to each thing that we go through. He can help us through all these things, but we have to listen. We must trust that Our loving Father, our Daddy in Heaven, is, in fact, God. He is the most perfect Father we have. Our fathers and father figures here can help us to understand Him, but it is not until we develop that personal relationship with Him that we can truly be happy.


Christa said...

Beautiful! I am so grateful for our Heavenly Father and his love. I really enjoyed reading this!

Becky N. said...

Beautiful thoughts, Jenni. Made me cry a bit just reading it... it would have been such a lovely blessing to hear this on Father's Day. Thank you for sharing!

Katrina said...

Truly a beautiful, heartfelt talk. Thanks for sharing.

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