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Pioneers and Poetry

I was born on Pioneer Day, the 24th of July, in Salt Lake City. As a child my faith in a corporeal and loving God was nurtured and strengthened by my pioneer legacy. My ancestors joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Scotland and England and many died before reaching the saints in Utah. My childhood was cocooned by family prayer, family scripture study, and weekly Family Home Evening. When my father prayed I knew he was speaking to a Being he knew well and with whom he had an intimate relationship. I have a vivid memory, as a young child, of opening my eyes during family prayer, peeking at my father as he poured out his heart, certain I would see God—so powerful, eloquent, and sincere were his words. I adored my High Priest father and listened to countless sermons as he served in ward and stake leadership positions, and never doubted his counsel; everything he taught always felt right. In gospel conversations he encouraged me to seek answers to my questions in the scriptures.

When I was fourteen, and read the Book of Mormon on my own for the first time, damp testimony wings struggled to unfold. I recognized the need to emerge from protective pioneer beliefs and fashion my own faith. I felt like Nephi, who desired “that I might see, and hear, and know of these things” (1 Nephi 10:17). It wasn’t that I doubted my father’s words. I just wanted to know for myself. By the time I was a young adult my Gospel wings unfurled and my spiritual transformation began to take flight.

As a young wife and mother I sought the kind of relationship with my Redeemer I knew my father shared—intimate and sweet—and began to study the life of the Carpenter. I read Jesus the Christ by Talmage and studied the Gospels with a commentary. One by one I acquired all the volumes of McConkie’s Messianic Trilogy. With five small children study occurred only when little ones slept. Long after midnight, in the still hours of an early morning, surrounded by books and notes, I paused to survey the scattered evidence of my research. A voice whispered directly to my heart, “It’s true. It’s all true.” My body thrummed and gentle vibrations coursed to my extremities. I felt as if I had, like Nephi, “[beheld] the things which my father saw” (1 Nephi 11:3). In that moment I came to understand the Lord’s words in Isaiah 2:16, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” I knew Christ was real, that He loved me, and that He would come again. Loving arms embraced me.

To strengthen my knowledge of Christ, I continued to read and study, falsely assuming that scholarly study would develop a relationship with Him. But I came to understand that an intellectual association wasn’t the spiritual, intimate connection I sought—I knew about Jesus but I didn’t know Christ. Daily I battled selfishness, impatience, and pride. Coming to know the Messiah wasn’t about the secular details of life in Galilee, or an ability to recite the parables, it was about changing my heart to be like the Master. Reading about the Nazarene couldn’t nudge me to be kinder, more caring, more generous. I had to lead sheep to know the Good Shepherd.

As my children entered school I mixed motherhood with academics and returned to the classroom. As a teacher I tried to exemplify the Master Teacher: focus on the individual, ask meaningful questions, and center discussions on gospel values. I have sought to direct my students to messages from great literature that would help them draw closer to their King. Together we have learned courage from Hester, honesty from Sarty, friendship from Huck, purity from Tess, kindness from Jarndyce, and modesty from Elinor. Enlightenment about eternal family ties came from Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven,” heavens’ gold and silver light from Yeats’ “Had I The Heaven’s Embroidered Cloths,” married fidelity from Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” and adversity from Maxwell’s “Apotheosis.” In the classroom my objective is a lesson that captures the literary illumination that will enrich our understanding, help us come unto Christ, and be more like Him.

Membership in the LDS church has given me opportunities, in both my scholarly discipline and my personal growth, to follow the footsteps of the Jehovah I seek. It has taught me I must “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” that I might stand as a witness “of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” and that if I do I “may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection” and “have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:9).

Why do I believe? Because it’s true. It’s all true. Maybe someday, when our family is gathered and kneeling in prayer, a grandchild will peek, to see if Someone stands in our midst.

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Born and reared in Salt Lake City, Utah, Karen Crookston Holt is an English professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where she has taught for over twenty years. She recently served as English Department Chair. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Idaho. Her dissertation focused on the role of reflection: Looking Backward, Living Forward: A Case Study of Critical Reflections in Journals in a University Literature Classroom. Her 2009 Devotional talk, Follow Thou Me, was reprinted by LDS Philanthropies and distributed to BYU-Idaho alumni. She has published articles on Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, and Cold Mountain. Dr. Holt is married to Dr. D. Joshua Holt, a Business Management professor at BYU-Idaho. They have six children and fourteen grandchildren.

Posted December 2010