It hasn't been easy to gather them, what with thorns and briers making a general mess of everything--my own imperfections, the differences I find in those around me, circumstances, places, timing, travel, the past, and expectations--all of them have managed to leave scratches on me in one way or another. Trying to get around them sometimes only gets you beyond lost, and many times the only way to get a beautiful bouquet of roses is to barge resolutely through the brambles, grab your prize with bleeding hands and cut it loose, no matter how much it hurts.
Essentially, I'm in a place now where I'm arranging what I've collected, trying to create an image of beauty and truth despite the fact that my hands are tired and scratched. I've worked hard, and yet it still felt like there was something missing--something essential for my bouquet to be complete. The most beautiful rose of them all, the fairest and rarest of anything that has come into my possession so far.
The white rose of hope.
Yes, that is a genuine signature from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--a prophet, seer, and revelator on the earth today in the leadership of Christ's restored church. An apostle. It's the signature of someone I've never met, but respect very deeply because of what his wisdom has brought into my life.
Elder Holland teaches in a way that is easy for me to understand, through symbols and rhetoric, with a playful seriousness about life that seems so appropriate coming from someone who was also once an English major. His words resonate with me because I have a sense for what they mean to him, and I can see how carefully he assembles them to his purpose. I feel the truth in what he speaks, his words are such strong vessels for the powerful spirit they contain. I've listened to many of his talks that I'm sure have been long forgotten, and they've helped me to see my mission in life despite the darkness that has surrounded me so many times before.
Anyone who knows me is familiar with my love for Elder Holland, and has laughed at my self-appointed status as an "Elder Holland groupie." Some that have met him have even tried to correct me in my fondness for any of the General Authorities over any of the others, saying they all are just ordinary men, and that I should be equally willing to listen to all of them. I've often wondered about that, which makes the following experience so special to me.
A dear friend of mine recently went to St. George to see a new statue of one of her ancestors. She was telling me about it and mentioned that Elder Holland would be there, and my eyes instantly lit up as I told her how lucky she was to see him. She offered to take a copy of one of his books that I own to maybe have him sign it, and I was grateful that she would think of me. It seemed so unlikely though, and I couldn't imagine something like that ever working out for me. I remember thinking that she was very sweet, that I appreciated her, but promptly put all thought that it would ever happen from my mind.
I saw her again just as she was leaving for the weekend, and she came to my room to pick up the book. I remember smiling and thinking, Wow, I can't believe she remembered. I'm sure it'll be crazy busy there, she might not get anywhere near him. Plus, he's a busy man. I shouldn't expect the servants of the Lord to waste their time on something so trivial for me.
I told myself to put any more thoughts about the matter far from me. I told myself NOT to get my hopes up... and yet I think on some level, they were already raised. I thought about what such a gesture would mean to me, after all these years of clinging to words and wisdom from someone I trust so entirely, even though I don't even know him--quite a feat for me. I thought about how special it would be to me, in light of what I'm about to go through this summer, with returning to the east and all the work that awaits me there. I told myself that while Heavenly Father loves me, I shouldn't base my evidence of that love on a "sign" of having the signature of my favorite General Authority in a book.
But wouldn't that be something... I said to myself with a smile, and promptly forgot the whole thing.
It wasn't until I saw my friend on Sunday that I even remembered the situation again. I saw her in her doorway and greeted her excitedly, glad to see her home safely, and also curious to see what stories she'd have to tell of her experience. As soon as she saw me, her eyes lit up and she got very excited.
"I have something for you."
I screamed with excitement and took off down the hall, heels and all. I tore into her room, and she pulled out a book I recognized. Peeling back the cover dramatically, she revealed a page with handwriting I recognized from The Family: A Proclamation to the World. No, I'm not kidding--THAT is how weird I am.
I can't believe it! There it IS! It's really real! It's really, really REAL!
After much rejoicing, girlish squeals of delight paired with jumping and hugging and lots of thanking from the bottom of my bouncing heart, I took my gift and went back to my room to stare at it for a while. I put it on my desk, opened it again, looked at it closely, re-read the words a few times, and started to cry.
Only then did his words come to my heart, those words that have explained life to me so many times when I had no one else.
...they are a time to be believing...
The latter days are not always easy, even when you're picking roses--whether literal or metaphorical. But that doesn't mean I can't have hope. If I let myself become too afraid to hope for things not seen, even for something small that probably only took 4 seconds of someone's time, how am I supposed to hope for an eternity of Christ's time, for the sacrifice He made that involved so much more than ink and paper?
You CAN have hope. I look at my new favorite possession, and I can feel my Heavenly Father saying this to me. He wants me to know that He does hear me, He knows exactly how much of a dork I am, and He loves me and my dorkiness more than I can possibly imagine--enough to bring to pass my own little miracle, just for me, because He knew how much I would always treasure it. A gift from a Father to a daughter that still, in many ways, cannot understand that kind of love. A gift to show me that I must remember to believe, to have hope in all of the beautiful experiences ahead of me, no matter how frightening my trials and thorns may look from here.
I've been thinking about this summer a lot, dreading what it'll be like to go back east after having been in Utah for so long among spiritual giants and some of the kindest people I've ever met. It's a dread that is new to me because I've never been anywhere safe enough for a long enough time to want to stay there. Now that I have, it frightens me to go back to what I remember, but just like Elder Holland says, these are the days when I need to be believing.
So with my bouquet in hand, crowned with a beautiful white rose of hope, that's exactly what I intend to do.