23946_000_004Kind and caring leaders taught me what a father could be.
Most of our family’s struggles were because of my father. He was angry and bitter, and our world at home was a dark place. I was very scared of him. Everything was uncertain and unpredictable when my father was around. I could feel darkness surrounding me, even at a young age. I felt so afraid and alone. It was hard to be home. I wanted a father who loved me, who took care of me and protected me. But I felt none of those things from my earthly father.
I sought refuge by going to church whenever he would let me. I loved to be in the chapel because it seemed like such a safe place. I was nervous, hesitant, and unsure about being close to my Heavenly Father because I wasn’t sure what He was really like. I learned in church that I had another heavenly friend who loved me. So I focused on Jesus Christ and His love for me. I loved Him because my Young Women leaders loved Him. I saw how happy they were when they talked about Him. I tried hard to keep the commandments and do all that He wanted me to do.
When our youth group was planning to do baptisms for the dead, I wondered what it would be like in my Heavenly Father’s house. With great anticipation, I stepped inside the Los Angeles California Temple. I was overwhelmed at the feeling of peace there. Nothing could have been more opposite from my earthly home. I almost didn’t dare breathe for fear the feeling would go away. But it was constant and calm.
I loved being in the temple. In His house, I did not need to be afraid. It was safe, calm, peaceful, and comforting. I wanted to live there. Heavenly Father’s house was full of love. I was so happy. I wanted to hold on to that feeling and promised myself that I would be worthy to come back to His house again.
Through my Church and temple experiences, I learned that Heavenly Father is a loving father. He cares about me and is aware of my needs—both physical and spiritual.
Even though I lived with a father who didn’t follow God’s teachings, God placed others in my life to support me as a good father should. I had a wonderful bishop who always took a minute to say hello and see how I was doing. Bishop Hicken treated me the same way he did all the youth in our ward. He held interviews with us, went to our activities, and had us in his home for firesides. He was loving, kind, and patient. I watched how he treated his wife and children, and it helped me believe that my Heavenly Father was like that. He was a happy man, full of life and love. I tried to live better because he expected us to.
I was a late bloomer when it came to dating, and it seemed that when I got my first date, everyone knew about it—even my bishop. The big day arrived and the young man picked me up. While we were at a stoplight, someone very carefully bumped into the back of my date’s truck. As we turned around to see who had done this, I saw a man marching up to the driver’s side of the truck. It was my bishop! As my date rolled down his window, my bishop said, “That’s my girl you have in there and I want her home by 10 o’clock.” I don’t remember much about that night except that I was home by 10:00. But I will never forget that I was “his girl” and that he loved me and cared about me. I knew then that my Heavenly Father cared about me, too.
Another “father” who was placed in my life was a member of my stake presidency. President Merrill was always at our stake dances, Young Women camps, and youth conferences.
As I was preparing to leave for college, President Merrill felt I needed some fatherly advice before heading into the world. His voice was gentle and soothing. I could feel his concern. I knew he loved me. He told me he would go as far as the Salt Lake Temple to attend my wedding.
A few years later, I called my father to announce my engagement. He was cold and indifferent. Nothing had changed. I tried not to cry. I turned to my Heavenly Father in prayer, and the Spirit reminded me of President Merrill’s promise. I wondered if he would remember what he had told me several years before. Did he really mean it? I picked up the phone and dialed his number. President Merrill answered. I stumbled through telling him of my engagement and asked if he remembered his promise to me. “What temple are you getting married in?” he asked.
“The Salt Lake Temple,” I answered.
“Then I will be there,” he said. He drove 13 hours in the snow to be there for me. When I walked into the sealing room with my future husband, he was the first person I saw. He was my father that day!
Years later, these “fathers” continue to be a part of my life. Their callings and circumstances have changed, but they have not. They are constant in their faith, their testimonies, and their love and interest in me. From them I learned that I could trust my Heavenly Father. These great men were a link so that I could feel of my Heavenly Father’s love and concern for me.