The Other Prodigal

The Other Prodigal is the name of a 2002 general conference talk by Elder Jeffery R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  General Conference is an assembly of LDS (Mormon) people every 6 months where they can listen to their church leaders.  The leadership is modeled after Jesus Christ’s church in ancient times, with a prophet and 12 apostles.

Before this talk I always had a problem with the story of the Prodigal Son, empathizing with the older son who is aghast that his idiot of a brother wasted his fortune and then came home, at which point his father greeted him with love and threw him a party.  The older brother was upset, because his father never threw him a party, despite him staying at home, loyally working for/with him.  I could never do the talk justice, and will simply link to it HERE.

After hearing (*experiencing*!) that talk, I had a paradigm shift in my thinking over not only the prodigal son, but the “it’s not fair” attitude I often felt. And since then, Elder Holland quickly became my “favorite” general authority.   He is humorous, erudite, sympathetic, and kind, all the while boldly teaching of the importance in following the commandments of God. He has had other profound talks in the ensuing years which also affected me greatly, such as: Lord, I Believe, The First Great Commandment, An High Priest of Things to Come, The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hast Sent, My Words…Never Cease, and The Tongue of Angels.  (There are more, many more especially if you include CES firesides and other types of talks.)

With this background in mind, last Sunday after church I happened to be standing next to a missionary when he got a text saying that Elder Holland was going to be the guest leader at an area-wide training meeting for missionaries and local church leaders the following Saturday.  I jokingly said, “Do you think anyone would notice if I sneaked in?” Because I would love to meet one of my heroes.  And then that night my Mom called me and told me that Elder Holland would be speaking at her stake (regional) conference on Sunday, and would I like to come listen to him?  Would I ever! But, it was Father’s Day and I vacillated back and forth on whether or not I would go. The kids told me they could handle the traditional Father’s Day breakfast-in-bed that we put on, and Mark told me to go knowing how much I would love to be there.  I had such a busy week (I am in the stake Primary presidency) preparing for my “baby” (I was in charge of the Activity Day Girls’ day camp- a day camp for all the girls in the region that are ages 8-11) and was so completely stressed about that and getting things for Father’s day that the week was just over the top for me.  Saturday morning I emailed my mom and said, “I just can’t go, and I’m broken up over it.  But I’m so exhausted and I hate to abandon Mark on Father’s Day.”  (Mark, by the way, was also speaking in church on Sunday and I would be missing that.)  I hit “send” on the email and was uncomfortable with it.

The day camp lasted 6 hours, and it was an drive there and back.  It went extremely well (probably due to my nit-picking details, not to mention the help the rest of the presidency gave me!) The drive there I couldn’t take my mind off of missing Elder Holland speak.  I was too busy during the day camp to reflect on it, but the second the last girl was home and the building cleaned I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.  Half-way home, with a much clearer head, I called my mom and left a message that said, “I’ve changed my mind again.  I’m coming.”  It immediately felt like the right thing to do, and Mark was supportive of my decision.  I’ve had a rough 6 weeks and he knew how much this would help my peace of mind. (Oh, one other thing that was weighing on me was that I was asked to substitute teach the Primary children’s singing time the next day, but I simply had Gabby take over my plans. I heard she did beautifully too!)

Sunday morning I was so excited.  The night before I did what I could to help Mark and the kids by getting church bags ready, getting pans out for their breakfast, setting the camera up for pictures.  Then I headed out early.  I prayed mightily that an answer to previous prayers or other words that I needed to hear would be said and then listened to classical music on the drive down. (To Oakdale, MN, so about 75 minutes from me.) The doors were to open at 8:00 with the conference starting at 10:00.  I got there at 7:45 and the doors were locked, but someone let us in.  The chapel was already full, so they must have been letting people in a trickle at a time. I got a seat in the third row of folding chairs set up behind the pews (the chapel butts up against the gym so that there is overflow seating for many.  I held seats for my mom, who showed up at about 8:45.  We sat and chatted quietly as the seating filled up, and up, and up.  They also had overflow in other rooms in the building and taped the broadcast to a couple of other buildings.  Before my mom showed up a man asked my name and I said who I was and that I was visiting my mom.  Later she told me that it was her stake president.  I’m glad that sneaking into another stake’s conference isn’t an offense you get removed for!

At about 10 minutes to 10 Elder Holland showed up.  He shook some hands quietly and waved hello and sat down on the stand and the conference began.  It ran as it usually doe, with a prayer and song and church business.  Some callings were extended and can you imagine being able to say that Elder Holland was there to sustain you in your calling? (I realize that some of these references are straight out of the LDS lexicon, so forgive me for that! I know someone that was baptized as an adult and thought a stake center was a place you went to get steak.)  Then there were various speakers.  The stake president, President Lash.  The stake patriarch, Patriarch Sheffield.  A woman and a returned missionary.  Then a few people from the audience were invited to come bare a testimony from the congregation.  One of these was a child around the age of 12 that did a remarkable job! Then Elder Payne of the Seventy spoke (and his talk, I think, is one of the things I was meant to hear!) and Elder Dube, who is so kind. He is also from the Seventy and from Zimbabwe.

Then Elder Holland spoke, and it was wonderful.  As mentioned above he spoke with such wisdom and humor.  I think I’ll save the contents of his talk, and Elder Payne’s for another post.  At the end of his talk he gave everyone in the room his apostolic blessing, and I felt so lifted up.  As the church grows larger the chances of meeting an apostle grows smaller.  Yes, they travel around the world, but there are so many stakes and wards to visit now that it’s not likely as it once was.  To be there for a talk and receive such a blessing, as if his hands were on my head blessing me, was amazing.  He blessed those who needed blessings of health and for those who are mourning. (I needed both, but am ready to talk about neither, and may never be ready.)  I basked in it, and glowed the rest of the day.  They invited children to come up and meet Elder Holland and I was disappointed that I didn’t take one of the children with me that day. (They wanted to be with Mark on Father’s Day.  Good kids!)  Then my mom suggested I take my niece, who is visiting her for the summer, up.)  With tears in my eyes I thanked her and took her up.  Olivia was shy, so I told him so, and he said, “She’s not shy, she’d beautiful!”  Then I shook his hand and he looked into my eyes and said, “You are welcome, I was happy to do it.”  I’ll never know if he was so used to people thanking him for the blessing that he jumped the gun and said I was welcome, or if he could see the gratitude in my eyes.  I choose to believe the latter! 🙂  I wished him a Happy Father’s Day and then hesitated for a second and gave him a hug.  He hugged me back and then we moved on to speak to the other speakers. (I’ve seen Elder Payne before, he’s visited my ward.  I thanked him very much for his talk and mentioned that he had friends in common and he asked me to say Hello to them. (They used to be in his ward.))

Then Elder Holland left and got into a car that was parked right in front of mine and the experience was over.  And it was lovely.  Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t like some star-crossed fangirl meeting a rock idol, but there was some definite gratitude for meeting someone who has inspired and touched my life some wonderfully.