Sitting beside his wife and three children on the grounds of the old red-brick Woodward School in St. George, Utah, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recalled how he met Sister Patricia Holland.
A 10th grader at the time, young Jeff heard that a beautiful young woman named Patricia Terry from Enterprise, Utah, had recently moved to St. George. The two were soon acquainted. “I didn’t think I stood a chance to know her or date her,” Elder Holland said. “She was the center of everyone’s attention, and I was really quite shy.”
Sister Holland chimed in with a chuckle, “You were never shy.”
A few months after they met, Sister Holland said she wrote a letter to her cousin about a popular, “overly confident” boy named Jeff Holland who loved to tease. “I don’t like him at all,” she remembers writing. “But I have this deep feeling someday I’m going to marry him.”
The old Woodward School was one of many stops Elder and Sister Holland made while driving around their hometown of St. George with their three children — Elder Matthew S. Holland, Mary Alice Holland McCann and David F. Holland.
This reminiscent trip was shown as part of Elder and Sister Holland’s presentation at RootsTech Connect Family Discovery Day on Saturday, Feb. 27.
Born just 35 miles and one year apart, Elder and Sister Holland were high school sweethearts and married in the historic St. George Temple. From the majestic trees of Pine Valley Mountain to the Narrows of Zion National Park, “this little corner of heaven on earth was the world of our childhood,” said Elder Holland.
As they encouraged viewers to stay connected to family and the scenes that “provided the backdrop” for their lives, they also emphasized connection to God as the most important connection of all.
“We are missing the mark if, when we tap into our family roots, we fail to recognize our divine roots — our foundation and our connection to our Father in Heaven,” Sister Holland said.
By connecting to God first, all other connections fall in place, Elder Holland said. “Then, and really only then, you find your true place and your eternal belonging.”
Cherished family memories
After visiting the old Woodward School, Elder and Sister Holland and their children went across the street to Judd’s Store, where as teenagers they used to fill up on soda and candy. This time, they treated some of their grandchildren.
“When trouble comes and you find you are in difficulty in this world, you have three things: You have your faith, you have your friends, and you have your family,” Elder Holland reminded his grandchildren as they enjoyed their snacks together. “In our childhood we had an abundance of all three,” he said.
Gathered around a table with their parents in the office built next to Brigham Young’s winter home, Mary, David and Matthew each shared a testimony-building experience from their childhood.
Mary remembered the family once planning a dinner for “really special people.” When her father took the children to pick them up yet returned home without any guests, the children were confused. Then he said: “You’re our ‘special people.’ In fact, you are the most important people we know.”
“I have never forgotten that,” she said. “That kind of love and identity builds a security, I think, in a child that can’t be matched. That’s something I know I’ve always tried to pass on to my own children and make sure they know that they’re my most important people.”
David recalled a time he and his father both received separate answers to their prayers while reading a verse from the Book of Mormon in the car. The scriptures also played a role in Matthew’s early years, as he learned from his mother to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
Other places the Hollands visited in St. George included Elder and Sister Holland’s childhood homes, the cemetery where Elder Holland’s family members are buried, a neighborhood park, the St. George Temple and the St. George Tabernacle.
It was in the St. George Tabernacle where Elder Holland was blessed as a baby, where he attended Primary, where he passed the sacrament for the first time after being ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, and where he stood at the pulpit to report on his mission to England.
While standing in the tabernacle, Elder Holland told the viewers, “If the Savior of the World can use little old Jeff Holland from little old St. George, Utah, to accomplish His work, He can and certainly will use you. …
“As you do serve, I promise you will find your own place in the family of God. The reality of your connection to Him and to others will sink deep into your heart and into your mind. That knowledge will change you, perhaps dramatically change you, as you become ever closer to Him and ever more like Him.”
‘No family is perfect’
Following their car ride around St. George, Elder Holland said, “Now don’t be fooled by what you’ve seen today. No family is perfect, and certainly ours isn’t.”
Moments of grief, pain and trial “have forged even stronger ties as we unitedly relied on each other and on the Lord,” he said.
Acknowledging there are those who struggle with the idea of the “perfect” or “traditional” family due to abuse, divorce, not having a spouse or children, identifying as LGBT or other reasons, he said, “Please, all of you, know this: We see all of you and we love all of you.”
“If you will be faithful and keep your covenants with the Lord, I promise you that every opportunity and every blessing enjoyed by others will be afforded you in the Lord’s divine timetable.”
No matter when those future blessings are granted, “you are now — and you will be then — part of a family,” Elder Holland said.
“Now hear me out on this crucial point: I promise you that it is [through] engaging in our personal family history, and the temple experience it leads to, that we discover the reality of our eternal relationship as brothers and sisters in the family of God.
“That great realization can repair family rifts, if there be any. It can heal bruised hearts, if there be any. And it can unify otherwise strained relationships, if there be any — all in an undeniably powerful way.
“If we understood this truth, how much better we would treat one another, how we would lift up hands that hang down and strengthen feeble knees. Let’s not just call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ — let’s show one another what it means when we realize we are one big eternal family.”
Watch Elder and Sister Holland’s presentation at ChurchofJesusChrist.org/broadcasts.