Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Elder Holland Challenge

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I have a great fondness for Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. He's an apostle for the Lord Jesus Christ, and one of the presiding officials for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But perhaps calling it fondness is a bit of an understatement. It has bordered affectionately on obsession in different seasons of my life. Some people have celebrities. Others have politicians, athletes, or authors. I have Elder Holland. He once mused whether there are people so aware of his existence that they note in their books of remembrance whether he eats pickles on his cheeseburger. Surely he must have known there would be people like me in the world, because I committed that piece of information to memory long ago.

My History with Elder Holland

My affinity for every Holland-related thing I can get my hands on began at my first General Conference, in October 2006. I had been a member for less than 2 months. I was trying to thrive as a new member of the Church, and I struggled to feel like I was doing everything perfectly. The realization that I didn't need to be perfect was years ahead of me still.

Changing is hard, and I had a lot of changing and growing up to do. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be just as good as the members I saw at Church every Sunday, to say nothing of Jesus himself. It seemed like I had an incalculable amount of distance to cover, and I was feeling very discouraged.





The only thing I remember about that first General Conference was that it was the first time I ever heard Elder Holland speak. I sat transfixed as soon as he began. As his talk continued, I felt the Spirit working more strongly on me than it had throughout the rest of the Conference. His words sunk deeply into my heart, deep enough that I still remember how I felt to this day. It was as if God himself was speaking directly to me, through a person who had no idea I existed, or what my needs could possibly be. It was the first time I really understood what an apostle was, and what they could do for my life.

To all of you who think you are lost or without hope, or who think you have done too much that was too wrong for too long, to every one of you who worry that you are stranded somewhere on the wintry plains of life and have wrecked your handcart in the process, this conference calls out Jehovah’s unrelenting refrain, “[My] hand is stretched out still.”...
His mercy endureth forever, and His hand is stretched out still. His is the pure love of Christ, the charity that never faileth, that compassion which endures even when all other strength disappears.

My heart was touched. Elder Holland's words--his humor, his passion, the ardent fire of his faith was so liberating to me. I knew what kind of member I wanted to become--strong, determined, outspoken, and intelligent. I saw my first example of what that looked like in Elder Holland. He spoke the truth with clarity and absolute conviction, and I was hungry to hear more from him right from the start.

I looked forward to hearing from him every General Conference. Eventually I discovered that more of his General Conference talks were available online, so I downloaded them. Then I found his Brigham Young University addresses online, so I downloaded those too. I have close to 75 talks on my iPod by/including Elder Holland. When I discovered that he had written books, I bought those too.



A friend of mine took my copy of Trusting Jesus all the way to St. George on the remote chance that she would see him to get it signed... which she did! The Sunday evening she brought it to me is permanently etched into my memory as the very best moment of my freshman year at BYU.

Can you see him? Because I still can. Jussayin' :)
And then of course there was that time I actually met him. Little known fact, Elder Holland adores Mark Twain. My roommate took me to a Mark Twain play at Sundance, and I am not ashamed to admit I picked him out of a crowd when all I could see was the back of his head.

And true to fashion, I forgot how to speak English when I tried to thank him for everything (though he has no idea how much) he has done for me throughout my life. But I did shake his hand without screaming. So there's that.

People giving me a hard time? The Ministry of Angels. So exhausted from my early morning cleaning job at BYU that I got pneumonia, couldn't wake up, and lost my job? For Times of Trouble. Wondering if I can survive in Brazil? The Inconvenient Messiah. Learning to make things work in my marriage? "How do I Love Thee?"

No matter what the occasion, good or bad, there is an Elder Holland talk somewhere I can use to get through anything. Why? Not because he of himself is amazing. But because of the unique way he points me to Jesus Christ. That's what apostles do, and he does it so very well that my spiritual journey would be incomplete without his help at this point.

The Elder Holland Challenge

Because I know there are others out there who could use the insight I've gained from all the reading I've done on Elder Holland, I'm sharing the spreadsheet I created this past week while I was in Denver. I systematically searched through LDS.org and BYU Speeches for every single talk, publication, or broadcast given by Elder Holland. I've also included his books, sorted by their copyright year. Every Ensign article, with the exception of re-publications, are all included. If I've missed anything, let me know in comments.

I'm giving myself the challenge to read, listen to, and learn from all these things I've found. I'm not going to give myself a time frame, because I'm familiar with a lot of these talks. I know some of them are quite long. I'll be interspersing these with my regular scripture study, so as not to suggest to anyone that I have a (serious) problem :)





Now that I have an index of everything I've been able to find by Elder Holland, I can see how many gems of his I've missed over the years. Like this adorable parable of the time his older brother rescued him after he fell into a cactus plant. I'm also excited to start searching for his other books I don't have. I've already found a few at various thrift stores here in Boise, including two on audio cassette I got for $1 at Deseret Industries.

My Testimony

I know Heavenly Father continues to call prophets and apostles in our day. Elder Holland is one of the twelve apostles in our day who have been called to preach the gospel into all the world. I know that these inspired men are called after the order of the Priesthood. I know that Jesus Christ has given them the power and authority to perform his miracles here on earth. I know that when I apply what they teach into my life, it will bring me closer to Jesus Christ. I recognize they are not perfect, as only one man on earth ever was. But I know they are inspired and called of God. He trusts them, and so do I. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.