Every year in May, I receive two cards from my dad: the first is for my birthday, the second for Mother’s Day. What my dad may not realize is that this collection of cards and the letters he has written inside them is one of my most cherished possessions. In them, he has celebrated milestones with me, encouraged me, and carried with me my heavy burdens. His counsel and wisdom have served as a constant beacon of light to my soul.
I am the oldest of his nine children, the one affectionately termed his "firstborn in the wilderness in the days of his affliction". His life has rarely been easy, filled with heartache, disappointment, and disaster, but Dad has taken the mighty lessons he has learned through discipleship and mentored me in word, in deed, and in his heartfelt letters.
He has shared with me his memories of the night that I was born:
"I have a distinct memory of how my knees knocked together as I drove your laboring Mom-to-be to the hospital. I have never been so frightened and anxious. And they wouldn’t let me into the Delivery room, so I had to pace back and forth outside on this black and green square linoleum tile. But they only charged me $350 for you, which was the best deal I’ve ever made. Reduced for quick sale! And not a blemish or flaw anywhere."
One of my most treasured letters came around my birthday, just shortly after I confided in him that my husband was ending our marriage of ten years:
"Happy Birthday Sweetheart! Another year and you’re more dear. I am writing to tell you the great news: Heavenly Father loves you, and the Lord is standing by you. If you stand still, or kneel, and close your eyes and look up, you’ll feel the love. I promise. And just behind your right shoulder, giving you strength and admiring your faith and goodness, is the Savior—smiling. I’m with you, little one, little wonder. Keep praying for strength and compensations from Heavenly Father will flow to you. This is your time of empowerment. These are your greatest days yet, your shining hours, my precious daughter. I love you. I’m proud of you."
As my years of trial went on, his faith and encouragement were unwavering, and literally became an anchor to me:
"I think this past year has been your year of greatest personal growth so far. I am amazed by you. I can imagine the great service you will be expected to render in the future, once Heavenly Father is finished constructing your confidence."
An avid genealogist, one Mother’s Day Dad felt prompted to send me to the temple to do work for some female ancestors who knew something of hardship and endurance. He sent me four names, with a little history about each one, and the following counsel:
"Please take care of them. They’ll love you. These were all wonderful women who raised their families during difficult times. They were full of faith and goodness. Your service to them will be greatly appreciated. Keep the faith. Smile a lot. Be cheerful in your adversity."
You can bet I ran to the temple! And I was blessed by the experience, and reminded that even during times of trial, we should look outside ourselves and be of service.
Dad uses his cards to bear testimony, and because he does so, mine has been strengthened:
"The greatest test for me is when my prayers are not answered quickly. I’ve decided that I will never doubt my Heavenly Father’s awareness and love and kindness, no matter how long it takes for the answers to come. I will believe no matter what, as steadfast as a tree. Let the storms come; let armies overrun me; let the heavens be silent; it won’t erode my confidence in the Almighty."
As most fathers do, my dad thinks that I am beautiful, smart, the greatest of mothers, and a gifted writer, but by far the most touching compliment came in my birthday card a few years ago:
"I am very honored to be known as ‘Jenna’s Dad’. I’d rather be ‘Jenna’s Dad’ than a King. Really."
I feel the very same way about him. Really.
Not all of my relationships have come so naturally, or have been so blessed. I once heard a psychologist say that those who have the most difficult relationships with their earthly fathers often have the hardest time trusting in and accepting the love from their Heavenly Father. I feel fortunate that I have been blessed with an earthly father who leaves no doubt in my mind that my Heavenly Father loves me, is tender-hearted towards me, and who cares for my every need and feeling. Because of the example of my dad, I find myself wanting to connect more deeply with my Father in Heaven. And I’m pretty sure that means he’s a success.
I saved every card and every single letter. I am indebted to you. My face gives away that I am your daughter. I hope my life does too. You are my hero. Happy Father’s Day.
All my love,