Tom Holdman had so many things to say, but his words just wouldn’t come out. The more he tried, the more he stuttered, so Tom began to dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator. He couldn’t have known at the time how his disability would bless his life.
“My stuttering actually helped me,” he recalls, “because it kept me humble enough to spend hours developing my artistic talent.” Tom drew on everything: books, notebooks, math and English papers.
Tom also drew on his faith. “When I was 16, I wanted to find out for myself if the Church was true. I read the Book of Mormon, then prayed, but received no answer. So I tried again. Still, no answer. On the third day, I felt the Spirit come upon me, and all of a sudden the scriptures came alive and I knew the gospel of Jesus Christ was real.”
So as Tom neared 19, he put his faith in the Lord. He was interviewed by his bishop and received a mission call. “I was so frightened,” he says, “but when I was set apart, I was given the gift of tongues. It was amazing. Whenever I gave a gospel discussion, I spoke fluently, but as soon as the closing prayer was over, I stammered again.”
Tom admits he sometimes hated stuttering and wondered why he had such a problem. One time, assigned to speak at a convert baptism in his Texas Dallas Mission, Tom stood before the congregation with confidence, believing the Lord would help him. But he could not utter one word fluently. That evening he prayed, “Why did you abandon me?” The next day at fast meeting, Tom felt prompted to stand. Without a single pause, he bore a powerful witness of the Savior and of the truthfulness of the gospel.
Two weeks later, a sister in the ward told Tom her inactive brother had attended both the baptism and fast meeting. “If I ever doubted God lives, I will never doubt it again, because I saw Him help that young man to speak,” he told his sister.
Tom’s strong spirit and example led his mission president to ask him to extend his mission. Anxious to return home, Tom prayed about it. “As I was praying, I felt the Spirit say to me, ‘If you stay, you will be blessed.’ When I wondered how, a vision of doing stained glass work came into my mind.” Tom extended his mission.
The words given to the prophet Ether in the Book of Mormon had great meaning for Tom: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; … for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
Putting his faith and trust in Heavenly Father, Tom returned to Orem and knocked on doors, soliciting orders for stained glass windows. His first big break came when the Ashton Family Foundation made it possible for Tom to make the Orem children’s library windows.
Soon after, Bengt Erlandsson, interior designer for the Palmyra New York Temple, asked Tom for a sketch of the First Vision. Again, Tom turned to the Lord.
“I was overwhelmed about doing this window for the Lord’s temple right there on the land where the First Vision actually happened,” says Tom. “I went to the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple for inspiration, and while praying, my mind was flooded with a vision of all 108 windows. I wanted to portray that wonderful light the Prophet Joseph felt in the Sacred Grove.”
Tom sketched the artwork and remembers going to the Church Office Building thinking, What am I doing? I’m just a young man with all these ideas for windows they didn’t even ask for. I must be crazy. But he felt the Spirit prompting him.
Miraculously, Tom’s sketches were approved. With tears in their eyes, Tom and his wife, Gayle, knelt and thanked the Lord for allowing them such a privilege.
With less than four months to complete the 17,000-piece project, Tom worked feverishly, involving youth from his area. “I hired 16- to 19-year-olds who had an open mind and would ask for God’s help,” he says.
On April 6, 2000, Tom and Gayle entered the celestial room for the Palmyra temple dedication. “Everyone was telling me how beautiful the windows were, but the Spirit whispering, ‘I am pleased with the work,’ was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life,” he says.
Tom’s next assignment was the Winter Quarters stained glass windows in Omaha, Nebraska. “How can I get this project done on time and strengthen others along the way?” he inquired of the Lord. The answer came very simply: people are more important than windows; involve as many members as possible. Soon Tom had youth groups and leaders carefully copper-foiling the precious glass pieces. They listened to some of Tom’s experiences as they worked.
Like when he painted the boy prophet. “I tried for a week to capture the emotion Joseph felt in the Sacred Grove: awe, yet peace and amazement. I just didn’t have it right. So I got on my knees and pleaded for help. The very next day, Paul Smith, a University of Utah institute teacher, came to my door. He had been impressed to bring me a copy of the death mask and some information about the Prophet Joseph.”
Tom explained to the youth that, where possible, he used crystal in the Winter Quarters Temple because regular glass is full of impurities; so they, too, must enter the house of God pure and undefiled.
He explained how the Palmyra temple windows represent a person’s journey through life. Entering the front doors, which depict the tree of knowledge of good and evil, one can look down a hallway through windows overlooking the world, or turn toward the First Vision window. “You see,” said Tom, “you must make a choice in life to follow the world, or to obtain a testimony of our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Restoration of the gospel.”
The youth loved the service project. And they learned that the Lord does indeed make weak things become strong to those who humble themselves and seek to do His will. Buffy Snell, an adviser in the Hillcrest Second Ward, American Fork Utah Hillcrest Stake, put their thoughts into these words:
Jagged glass has meaning to an artist with a vision
He forms his art for temple light with symbols and precision.
As he taught us of his calling from our Father up above,
For this humble man before me, I felt awe and I felt love.
The words he used, they filled me full, though stuttered, slurred, and broken;
It was as if, it seemed to me, God’s own mouth had spoken.
Through fractured tongue and fractured glass, my heart was made contrite,
By lighting hidden beauty, the Master gives us sight.