My dad missed the most important day of my life

Two years ago today, my dad missed the most important day of my life. 

He wasn’t there to act as a witness in the ceremony where I was sealed to my husband. 

He wasn’t there to hug me after the most momentous step of my life.

He wasn’t there for a father-daughter picture in front of the temple where my husband and I were married. 

He wasn’t there for that tender and symbolic moment–when a father leads his daughter out onto the floor to enjoy his last dance as the number one man in her life.

He missed it all. Every last second of it.

And I love him for it. 

A couple of months before my wedding, Dad and Mom left their eight children and first grandchild to spend three years in Australia serving God. Dad is still serving as the Mission President of the Australia Melbourne Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was not a position he sought–in fact, it’s precisely the type of position my dad is positively unlikely to pursue. He is very much a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. At family parties, he spends his time collecting and taking out the garbage, vacuuming, and making sure things run smoothly. He never seeks recognition, and he is quick to deflect it when it comes. Many are the times that I’ve heard of his participation in an event only after the fact, through an acquaintance. “I heard your dad on the radio this morning.” “Wait, what??” It has happened often enough that it has stopped surprising me. I remember getting in our family car alone one time and finding a poster announcement of a speaking engagement at a nearby university where Dad had recently been the keynote speaker. Similarly, when Dad was asked to speak at the university-wide devotional at BYU-Idaho, Mom was the one to inform us of the fact. “He didn’t want anyone to know,” she said, “but I told him that he couldn’t hide it very well, as he has to stay there overnight.” 

In short, he is the most humble person I know.

The most important thing to him has never been success by worldly standards or the praise of man; it has always been to be a good husband to his wife, a good father to his eight children, and a dedicated disciple of Christ. When I think of the kind of person my father is, I think of this quote by Phillips Brooks:

“How carefully most men creep into nameless graves, while now and again one or two forget themselves into immortality.”

My dad has always forgotten himself. Though incredibly busy working to provide for a large family, he has somehow managed to feel ever-present and ever-available in all of his children’s lives. He came to basketball, tennis, soccer, baseball, and football games; dance performances; musicals; operas; choir concerts; plays; recitals; everything. For eight children. I honestly don’t know how he managed it. 

He has always been there for important moments in my life–especially moments that may not have seemed so important at the time. 

My freshman year of college, he drove an hour to Provo every Friday evening to pick me up from BYU, an hour back to Salt Lake with me, and then returned me there on Sunday evening on another two hour commute. This happened every. single. weekend. He would often tear up when, after carrying my things into my building and coming up the elevator with me, it was time to say goodbye for another five days. Looking back, I’m incredibly embarrassed that I asked him to do that, but I also treasure the time we spent together in the car, talking about life and discussing topics that were important to me and, as a result, to him. I know that he treasured that time together as well, because he still brings up those drives today as a wonderful memory that he and I share.

Each time I went on an international trip (which was numerous times), Dad drove me to the airport, waited in line with me to check my bags, waited for me to get all the way through security, and would be there waiving as I went up the escalator to head to my departure gate. He didn’t leave until I was out of sight. He was always my last view of home and my first view on return. I vividly remember looking back on my weeping father as I went up the escalator in my two French braids and my oversized, blue Rotary Exchange blazer as a 17-year-old exchange student, heading off on my own to France. 

When my parents informed all of us children that they had been called to serve in the Australia Melbourne Mission, it was on Google Hangout, and it was palpable how overwhelmed they felt. For anyone unfamiliar with the duties of a Mission President and his wife, my parents are essentially adopted parents to anywhere between 250 and 285 18-21 year old missionaries who serve for 18 to 24 months–it is often their first time away from home. The mission president and his wife ensure that the work of the Lord to spread His gospel over all the earth continues and grows in their specific area, and that it does so in His appointed way. This means that they witness wonderful miracles and meet amazing people. It also means a phenomenal amount of administration, counseling, phone calls, homesickness, discipline, health scares, sleepless nights, constant speaking engagements, and many other things that only they would know.

I don’t remember many specifics of the hangout our family had that day, but I do remember my parents saying that a primary reason they had accepted the call to serve was due to the great blessings promised to their family as a result of their service. My parents would never forego an opportunity to bless the lives of their children, no matter the cost to themselves–and this call would come at great cost to them, in many ways. Their faith that the call to serve came from the Lord, in combination with the blessings promised to their family are what motivated them to take such a demanding and long assignment in a foreign place. I don’t think anything short of those two elements could have pried them away from their long-awaited first grandchild and the family they love. 

So my dad wasn’t there on the most important day of my life. And I’ll never forget it.

I’ll never forget it because I can think of no more powerful indicator of faith in God or pure parental love than my parents’ decision to respond to their call to serve. Each time I attend a wedding (and as a photographer, that honor is frequently mine), I can’t help but tear up during the father-daughter dance. There is, admittedly, a twinge of jealousy and longing hidden amongst those tears. But they are fundamentally and overwhelmingly tears of gratitude for a loving father who knew that his absence from my wedding would prove to be a greater blessing to me and my siblings in the grand scheme of things than would his presence. I had no doubt at all that his heart was with me on my wedding day. I knew he wanted to be there more than almost anything. But I also knew that his heart was first and foremost centered in the Lord, and that fact has made him a more incredible father in every way imaginable than he otherwise would have been. No wedding day dance can replace the lifetime of loving and selfless service Dad has demonstrated. No spoken testimony of truth and belief can amount to the active faith in God and love of family that motivated my parents’ decision to serve. There could be no more powerful indication of my father’s support for and belief in my eternal marriage than his decision to accept a call from the same God who made that marriage’s eternal nature possible.

Dad’s presence at my wedding would have undermined the very event–his absence reinforced it. He missed my wedding day precisely because he believes my temple marriage to be what it claims to be–of God, just as his call to serve.

So yes, my dad missed the most important day of my life.

And I love him for it. 

50 thoughts on “My dad missed the most important day of my life

    1. Thank you so so much! I don’t know about the phenomenal writer part, but I’m humbled that anyone would want to read what I write!

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    1. Thank you so much! I’ve been touched by all the comments I’ve received and by all the people who’ve taken time to read my thoughts and feelings.

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  1. Hey I am not familiar with Mormonism. What were the blessings promised to your family for your parents’ decision to move to Australia? Thanks for sharing your story!

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    1. Hello there! Thank you for taking the time to comment! That’s a really great question–I would really love to answer it in a bit more detail if you want to email me at marthakeyesphotography@gmail.com. That way I can give you a bit of context.Meanwhile, if you have questions about Mormonism in general, there’s a fantastic website that answers frequently asked questions: http://www.mormon.org, or you can feel free to ask me 🙂

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  2. Words can’t describe the admiration I have for your father, he is such a special man.I’m grateful to have had him as my mission president, he radiates love with everything that he does. It’s infectious, I miss him alot! Thank you for sharing your story Martha, love from New Zealand.

    Storm.

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    1. Hello Storm! You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear stories from missionaries like you who served with my parents 🙂 Thanks for loving them!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. We are truly blessed in Melbourne to have his presence. I’ve had the chance of meeting with him and left that meeting knowing that the missionaries in our Mission were in the best hand they could be in right now. He truly is a father figure abs an example one feels safe following. Thank you again! Lehi Cerna

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    1. Hi Lehi, Thank you so much for your comment about my dad–he and my mom love it there, primarily because of the wonderful people they get to interact with! Thanks for watching over them for us 🙂

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  4. How ironic as today I was thinking about my AMM president and how they served whole three years…3 years is a long time when so much especially life events happened during that time. I am do the the grateful for the mind of life the Lifferths lives to impact my life richly….

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  5. Martha, thank you for such a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I’ve met your parents and spent a lot of time with missionaries serving under their stewardship. They are very much loved and appreciated in this part of the world. All you say is true. Righteous, loving fathers are one of the greatest blessings we can have in this life.

    (Your Mom is a pretty terrific match for him, too.)

    John CounselMelbourne Australia

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    1. Hi John, Thank you so much! It is always wonderful to hear of people’s appreciation for them and what they do–they speak to us often of the people they meet there and how inspiring it is to be surrounded by the people and missionaries of Melbourne!

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  6. Hey! I live in the Melbourne East mission area! And your father is one incredible man, who inspires these missionaries, the youth and the ysa! Recently being married myself, you come to realise how much your parents, and in particular, your father love you! Which truely is one of the greatest blessings we can have! Thanks for a great read!

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    1. Thank you for your words about my dad! You are so right–only with time and life experience do you begin to appreciate just how much parents do for their children. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

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  7. Your dad and mom are amazing people. Your dad was the bishop when my husband was in medical school back in the early 80’s and was in his bishopric, so we got to know him. Thanks for sharing.

    Tracy (Hales) Cope

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    1. Hi Tracy! What a small world we live in as Church members 🙂 I’ll definitely tell my parents that I ran into you here on the internet! Thanks for your kind words!

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  8. What a beautiful essay! We really appreciate having him here in Australia in the Melbourne Mission. I know what a wonderful impact he has had on the missionaries and the members alike. Your parents are adorable! We were out the other evening at the movies and bumped into to them on the way out. They were having a date night and seeing the same movie as us. I shook your Mums hand and she just gave me a huge hug. Such a loving lady. It was great to see them and the warmth and love they exude is so faith promoting. Thank you for your sacrifice, it is well and truly appreciated by us here. xoxoxRachel Scott and Family, Mooroolbark Ward.

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    1. Hi Rachel, Thank you so much for your comment! I will have to pass your comment on to them–far and away their favorite experience of the mission is the people they’ve met–the missionaries, the members, the investigators! PS I’m glad to hear that they went on a date night–here at home we always worry that they don’t take enough time to relax 😉

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  9. Your father and mother were my mission mum and dad. I just recently returned from my mission and am so grateful to have served with them in the melbourne mission. Their example love, understanding, humility and patience will forever be in my heart. I now have a better understanding of how i can raise my children in the gospel. Thankyou for sharing your father and mother with us all in the melbourne mission.

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    1. Welcome home! What a sweet tribute from you–thank you for serving with them and loving them 🙂 It is always heartwarming to hear people’s experiences who have interacted with them in Melbourne.

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  10. My son is serving in Melbourne right now. He comes home in three weeks. One of my favorite stories that he told me was when President and Sister Maxwell drove over three hours each way to check on my son and his companion who was having a hard time. He talked with them, then took them to lunch. One of the things my son mentioned specifically was how your father always opened the car door for your mother. He really admires them. And I appreciate them very much.

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    1. That is such a sweet story! Thank you for sharing it with me! They really do care for their missionaries so much and want them to be happy and healthy, and I know they are so grateful to the parents, like you, who raised them to be such great people and missionaries!

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  11. I love you dearly President and Sister Maxwell. Thank you for all that you have done for me and also hundreds of other souls. I miss you both so much.

    Love Elder Howard

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    1. Hi Elder Howard!I’ll pass along your comments to my parents–I know at least a bit of how much they love their missionaries, especially as I saw them say goodbyes on a departure day a couple of months ago when I was visiting. They feel so attached to and so much love for you all!

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  12. I live in Melbourne and my wife and I had the pleasure of having lunch with Pres and Sister Maxwell at a Mission Presidents Seminar. In that short time I can honestly say that what you wrote about his humility and willingness to serve is exactly right and Sister Maxwell as others have pointed out is a perfect match. We are very grateful to have them here.

    Matt KaipukeSpringvale Ward

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    1. Hi Matt! Thank you for your kind words about my parents–they often tell our family of the wonderful people they have the opportunity to meet during their time there, and I love hearing people’s experiences with them!

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  13. I’m so glad I happened upon this post! I had the privilege of working with your dad at Deseret Book for two years before he was called to serve as a mission president. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more genuine, kind, selfless man before, and it was an honor to get to know him and work directly with him on numerous projects. I have no doubt he’s touching many lives in Australia while doing the Lord’s work. Thanks for sharing this!

    –Allison Mathews

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    1. Hello Allison!My Dad was always so happy and grateful for the wonderful people he has worked with at Deseret Book! I’ll have to mention to him that we crossed paths here on the internet 🙂

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  14. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience of your Parents. Brought tears to my eyes reading through but Its nice to read of the unknown sacrifices that members of the Gospel undertake when they are on the Lord’s errand…the blessings are not only to the Servants but extends to their family…..xxoo

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    1. Thank you for your comment! It is so true that we often are unaware of the sacrifices people make for their callings–I’m grateful that, like you said, blessings from those sacrifices affect the lives of so many!

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing this tribute. My daughter arrived to the Melbourne mission not quite 3 weeks ago and from the emails and letters that we have received from her she has witnessed first hand the inspiration, kindness and fatherly love from your dad. We will be forever grateful to him and your mother for their service and unconditional love.

    –Shawna Rhodes

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    1. Hello Shawna! Thank you for your comment! That is so lovely that your daughter is in the Melbourne Mission! I’ll have to mention it to them! My parents sure love their missionaries dearly 🙂

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  16. What amazing parents you must have. Although you write about your father I can read between the lines at how special your mother is too. When they return home cherish them.

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    1. Thank you so much! I do have incredible parents–I recognize it more and more the older I get. My mother is indeed an elect lady–a match for my father. It was so special to have her with me on my wedding day!

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  17. I thought that mission presidents could leave for a day or two for these types of special occasions… but then since it was "down under’ it would make it harder..had he been assigned to a state side mission would he have been able to attend?

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    1. Hello! My understanding is that the president’s wife may leave with special permission but the president cannot. I didn’t quite understand this until I spent a few days with my parents in Melbourne and saw just how dependent things are on the presence of both of them! Even having my mother leave put a lot of extra strain on things there, so I was extremely grateful she was there.

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  18. Beautiful! I lived in Melbourne for two years (I’m from Idaho)and remember when your parents took over the mission. I got to hear them speak and I remember thinking that they were special people who would do amazing things 😊. I’m thankful and many others I’m sure, for your families sacrifice.

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    1. Thank you for your sweet comment! It is so lovely to hear from people who have interacted with them over in Melbourne. They have loved everyone they’ve met there!

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  19. My family and I live in Melbourne and we have had the opportunity on a number of occasions, both to meet your parents and to listen to them speak. My wife loves to shake hands with your mum because she learnt that she had been in the tabernacle choir lol. They both seem to be wonderful people and after reading this article helps us to gain an even greater appreciation of the sacrifice they have made to serve their Father in Heaven. Their posterity will be eternally blessed by their sacrifice and example. Thank you for sharing this special story with us. I will look forward to seeing them again and telling them I read this article.

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  20. Thank you for this message. Our youngest so, Elder Carter Holt is in the Melbourne mission. Thank you for your love and patience. Our son is growing spiritually. We love and honor your parents. You are being blessed! It won’t be long until he’s home to Salt Lake again. Technology makes us connect much better than in times past. We want to meet your parents when they come home and thank them in person. Love, Sister Susan Holt

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  21. Thank you for sharing your story. Like many others here, we love having your parents here serving the people of Melbourne and leading the missionaries.

    A couple of months ago your father visited my ward and sat in the congregation. I sent a note down to him asking if he would share his testimony and say a few words to close our meeting, and like any faithful missionary he willingly accepted the opportunity. He spoke with conviction and faith. His words impressed upon me again that this is the Lords work and Church and we need not fear. Thank you President Maxwell and to your family.

    Wade O’Grady – Waverley Ward

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  22. Martha, this is wonderful. I cannot begin to tell you how much I admired you on that day, not to mention your father. You have a beautiful (inside and out) family and I am thrilled to be related. Thank you for sharing your perspective and giving me a better understanding of these past years. God bless you.

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  23. Martha, Our son just returned home from the Melbourne Australia Mission and we had the privilege of going there to pick him up. Your dad (and mom, I might add) blessed his life and changed it. He loves your parents deeply. His testimony grew in more ways than I can mention because of the way and spirit with which they taught the missionaries. They took care of him when he got really sick and had to be in the hospital. I will forever be in their debt for loving our son and helping to grow his testimony! Thanks for sharing your story, but more importantly, your parents!!

    Natalie Gines (mom of Elder Gines)

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  24. Hello, Thanks for your beautiful post. My son just returned home from your parent’s mission, and for two years I heard the same thing from my son, "I do not know of a more humble man. Besides my family, I look up to him the most. I miss them. Mom and Dad, I wish you could meet them. He gave us trust, and let us make decisions. I feel so grateful to have learned and been mentored by them, etc." Thanks for lending your parents to us. My own dad was a mission president in the first years of my marriage too. I learned to share them also. Love to you and all of your family. Know there are hundreds and thousands of people who are grateful to you for sharing them. xoxoxo

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  25. In two weeks I am traveling to Melbourne to pick up my daughter as her mission will be completed on September 9th. I’m looking forward to meeting your wonderful Dad!Sherry Seeley mom of (Sister Alicia Seeley)

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  26. Wow, thank you for such a heartfelt article. You, like your parents have a very healthy perspective on life and on living the gospel. I have had the privilege of serving in the Wangaratta District in the Melbourne Mission and your parents have been at many of our branch and District conferences. It has been an absolute pleasure to spend time with them and get to know them a little bit. They are an amazing couple and everybody who meets them, loves them! Your dad is a wonderful mission president. Earlier this year they came up into our District to speak at a YSA Fireside. They drove for about 3.5 hours to attend the fireside on the Sunday Night and when the fireside finished, they turned around and drove back to Melbourne another 3.5 hours. They wouldn’t have arrived home till after midnight. We really appreciate their service and their humility. Thanks again for sharing them with us!Michelle Woodcock (Wagga Wagga Branch, Wangaratta District)

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  27. I loved reading your words and they brought tears to my eyes. My son has been in the Melbourne mission since the end of July. He is currently in Wangaratta. He loves it there and has commented on your parents a couple of times. He was very impressed with them when he first got to the mission home. He is looking forward to getting to know them more as time goes on. I can relate with you in that my oldest daughter is getting married in three months and we recently discussed the daddy daughter dance. I know it would be very difficult for both of them if my husband couldn’t be there. What a wonderful reason why your dad couldn’t. As difficult as it can be we need to look at the overall picture. You have eternity to be together as a family. I also look forward to meeting your parents one day to thank them for watching over my son. Thank you for your message.

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