My parents both had difficult upbringings. My father’s father treated him much the way he treated his sheep dogs, with beatings, hard daily work, and a failure to express love. My mother’s father was a violent, abusive alcoholic. In addition to their troubled families, my parents were raised in impoverished circumstances and never finished high school.
They did their best for us, but even after their conversion to the Church our family development was limited and burdened. We did not learn about brushing our teeth at home. I bought myself my first pajamas when I was in the ninth grade. When a friend came to spend the night, she was shocked to discover our outdoor toilet. On my first dinner away from home, I watched with worry as the table was set, because I had never before used a fork, knife, napkin, or glass; at home we used only spoons and plastic or tin cups. During my teen years my father’s farm failed, and my mother had to go to work in a potato-processing warehouse.
I felt ashamed of myself and my family. I wondered why some people seemed more favored of the Lord while people like us struggled against nearly overwhelming problems. The adverse experiences of my youth kindled within me an intense longing for something better. I yearned for an education, for an ideal family of my own, and for the more excellent way described in the scriptures.
I was able to make progress toward these goals after I left home. I felt the warmth of my first real success at Brigham Young University, where I managed to graduate by working summers and part-time. Later, when I was married and having children, I felt deep happiness. Many of the blessings I had longed for as a youth seemed to be mine in abundance.
Yet my past hovered over me, bringing with it serious self-doubt. Twenty years after I left home, fear and shame still colored my experiences and limited my progress. I finally admitted to myself that in spite of my blessings I was not fully healed from the painful effects of my upbringing. I knelt in prayer and told Heavenly Father that I knew he had blessed me generously and loved and nurtured me. I felt sorrow for my lingering feelings about my upbringing.
A few evenings later while reading the Book of Mormon, I realized that I had been reading the same chapter over and over again. For several nights I felt that I had missed something important the night before, so I would read the chapter again. But this night my prayer of gratitude was brought forcefully to my mind as I finally comprehended the chapter’s meaning and found comfort for my wounds and assurance of my worth:
“And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.
“And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit” (Jacob 5:21–22).
These words seemed to speak to me. I understood that all through my upbringing the Lord had been tenderly nurturing me as a precious branch in his own garden. Humbled with my new comprehension, I considered the fruits he had cultivated. Would another spot of ground have taught me to hunger for his nearness so intensely? Experiencing firsthand what it is like to be downtrodden and poor in spirit showed me that I could always trust in the Lord’s comfort and guidance. Looking back, I would not have traded the Lord’s fellowship for soil less rocky and better watered.
I am glad that a wise, loving Heavenly Father can nurture and guide our growth no matter where we’ve been “planted.” When nourished with his love, even a tree growing in a poor spot of ground can yield the riches of eternity.