Beknownst to some, and unbeknownst to others, Saturday was the first session of General Conference, the semi-annual General Women’s Meeting. Did you go? I did. I wouldn’t have, but I knew that if I didn’t, no one else would recap the meeting for BCC and its gentle readers. Once again, I am working from notes, not transcripts, so please forgive any inaccuracies, unattributed quotes, etc., usw. I am just trying to give you a general feel of this General Meeting. Interestingly enough, there were no special video presentations breaking up the talks this time. I wonder if they’ve completely given up on making the meeting eight-year-old-friendly. Or maybe the General A/V Guy was sick. Your guess is as good as mine. On to the meeting!
For those of you not already in the know (or the beknownstment), Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President, was conducting. The First Presidency was in the house. (Like, the whole thing. All three guys.) A choir made up of women and teenage women (no “tween” women that I could see) dressed in various shades of pink that looked like a sea of Pepto Bismol from afar (but not in a bad way) graced us with a rousing rendition of “Arise, O Glorious Zion.” (Actually, I don’t recall if it was rousing or not, exactly. I just like to say “rousing rendition,” particularly for songs that begin with the word “Arise.” I am resisting the temptation to make further plays on words. You, of course, may do what you feel. It’s not like we’re in the chapel or anything.) Bonnie Goodliffe was at the organ. 
After the opening prayer, given by a member of the General Young Women Board (or the YW General Board–I don’t really know what they call it), whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch , the choir sang “If I Listen with My Heart,” and after that, our first speaker was Sister Jean B. Bingham, First Counselor in the General Primary Presidency. She gave a shout-out to all the women who had heeded last April’s call to serve the needs of refugees. True charity is an essential characteristic of those who will live with God eternally. Christ is the perfect embodiment of charity. His singular focus is the love of his Father, expressed to each of us.
Following Christ’s perfect example, we should be generous in our thoughts and words. We should avoid judging others, remembering that we have an incomplete picture; righteous judgment is reserved for God, who sees the whole. When we see our own imperfections clearly, we begin to see others more charitably and to be merciful.
There was an amusing anecdote about a canoe trip involving some difficulty and an improvised sail. (I don’t write fast enough to take detailed notes on most canoe anecdotes. I think it was a canoe. They were on the water in some aquatic vehicle, that I remember.) In life, as on bodies of water where one might float a canoe, we can’t control the wind, but we can control the sail. We can choose to have a positive attitude that will lift and strengthen others. Don’t be preoccupied with the Pinterest and Instagram versions of people’s lives. Look for the good in others and our own circumstances. Use words that uplift.
A story that resonated more with me than the (alleged) canoe was about a man who grew up in a town where people looked down on and mistreated him. He moved away and became accomplished and successful, but when he returned to his hometown, people still saw and treated him as the old loser. He retreated and eventually shrank into the role they’d given him, and others missed receiving the blessings of the gifts he’d developed. We must allow and encourage others to change by helping them feel the love of the Lord. As Thomas S. Monson once said, we must recognize that each is doing his or her best, and strive to do our best to help out.
As sisters and brothers (yes, she said “and brothers”) in Zion, will we commit to work together to build up God’s kingdom? Look for and share positive things about others and let the negative fall by the way.
The next speaker was Sister Carole M. Stephens, First Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency. Church members around the world are always asking, “Is there something specific we women should be focusing on?” Why, yes. Russell M. Nelson said the church needs women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ. Nephi said we must press forward with steadfast faith in Christ, feasting upon the word, and we will have eternal life. There is no other way to be saved: this is the doctrine of Christ.
There are LDS women who are desperate for help but instead of turning to God, they turn to the “great and spacious building” (yeah, I know, but bear with me) to find understanding. Apply the doctrine of Christ to your individual circumstances. All of us are in need of the same Atonement despite our individual differences. Begin with an unshaking faith in Christ, relying wholly on him, who is mighty to save. Christ is the master healer. As our faith deepens, our relationship with God is refined in adversity.
Three types of healing Christ provides:
- Permanent relief from sorrow of sin. The Savior will speak in a voice we will recognize. When we come with humble hearts, he will change us. We in turn can witness to others.
- Strength when we experience pain because of actions of others. If we try to bury emotions, we push deeper within ourselves. Lay your burden at the feet of the Savior. Complete healing will come from faith. It will be a long process, including counsel with priesthood holders and professionals. Remember your divine identity.
- He will sustain us as we experience the painful realities of life. Here she shared the story of a woman who suffered from bipolar disorder. In the midst of a particularly bad episode, a transcendent power overtook her body as she realized that Christ had already done what was necessary to take this pain from her. She wasn’t healed that day, but received the light of hope.
Christ says, “Come unto me. Repent and be converted so I may heal you.”
The third speaker was Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, General Young Women President, who began by citing a talk by Gordon B. Hinckley called “Rise Up, O Men of God,” delivered in priesthood session (don’t know what year, but obviously while he was still alive, so think that era), a call to action for the men of the church to improve themselves. Segue! We live in perilous times; our conditions were foretold by the prophet Mormon, who spoke of wars, rumors of wars, pollutions, murders, people who tell us there’s no right and wrong, people so caught up in pride they let the needy pass by without notice. He asks, “Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ?”
The very elect will be deceived by false teachings. Current trends indicate there are storms ahead, but covenant people need never despair. We are in perilous times, but also the fullness of times. We must use our understanding of the doctrine of Christ to raise a sin-resistant generation. Express your beliefs with confidence and charity. Study the essentials of the gospel.
Foundational to a strong testimony:
- Centrality of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Study Christ’s atonement and apply it daily. See Christ as your primary role model.
- Need for the Restoration of doctrine, organization, and keys of authority. Joseph Smith organized the women of the church after the ancient pattern that existed in Christ’s day.
- The temple is at the center of our beliefs. Find personal meaning in the ordinances and you will be armed with God’s power. We must fully draw on the power of those promises.
Everyone can play a role in building the Kingdom of God. We must see ourselves as essential participants in the work of the priesthood. The Kingdom cannot function unless we magnify our roles. Women can inoculate their children against the negative influences of the world by initiating discussions about difficult questions.
She went off on a thing about not living in fear of giving offense, at which point my notes became terse and a tad sardonic, so let’s fast forward to the part where she said to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. See your true potential to be women of faith and courage Gods needs us to be.
The choir then sang “How Firm a Foundation.”
I love me some “How Firm a Foundation,” don’t you? President Monson was especially moved by the singing, said our concluding speaker, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (and I think President Uchtdorf was moved by President Monson’s response). “He loves you.”
Attending this session of conference reminds him (President Uchtdorf) of the many women who have been influential in his life. They have been a refining influence for him and inspire him to be a better man and more sensitive church leader. He appreciates the abilities, intelligence, talents, and testimonies of women of faith. He addressed his words to those who struggle with doubt or fear, which includes all of us at one time or another: how to activate the power of faith in our lives.
Faith moves us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise think of. It can be confusing to non-believers–how can you be certain? There are more ways to see than with eyes. An amusing story of a little girl walking with her grandmother, trying to draw her attention to the sounds of all the birds and whatnot–unfortunately, the grandmother was hard of hearing and finally told her, “I’m sorry, but Grandma just doesn’t hear so well anymore,” at which point the girl placed her hands on either side of her grandmother’s face and said, “Grandma, listen harder!”
I take the trouble to retell the story because I especially liked his next point: Just because you can’t hear something, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to hear. But in our efforts to help loved ones feel the spirit, “listen harder” is not the most helpful way. To increase our faith, we must listen differently. Seek the voice that speaks to our spirit, not our ears, for as Paul says, some things can be discerned only by the spirit.  Quoting The Little Prince: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
One may ask, “If faith is so powerful, why can’t I receive an answer to my heartfelt prayer? Why can’t my faith accomplish that? It’s not even like I need a mountain moved, for Pete’s sake.” (I’m paraphrasing.) Faith often leads to miracles, but there are two things faith can’t do: 1. Violate another’s agency; 2. force our will upon God. The purpose of faith is to act on God’s will.
Faith is trust–trust that God knows what we do not. He learned this (wait for it) as an airline pilot, flying through the fog. He had to rely on his instruments and on air traffic control–someone he’d learned to trust, who could see what he couldn’t.
Faith is trust not only in God’s wisdom, but in His love. Everything will work toward our eternal happiness. In the end, everything will make sense, all will be right. Until then, walk by whatever faith you have, and seek to increase your faith.
Don’t be easily discouraged or distracted. Blessings come to those who pay the price of faithfulness. Here he related the story of two missionaries in Europe who were committed to the work of sharing the gospel. One day they were going door to door in an apartment building. No one on the first floor was interested, ditto the second floor, ditto the third. Finally, on the fourth floor, at the very last door, someone let them in. Shall I spoil the story for you? I don’t tell it as well as he does. It’s pretty adorable; you should probably just watch (or listen) yourself, but for those of you who don’t love the sound of Dieter’s voice as much as I do, ///SPOILER ALERT!!!/// the person who answered the door turned out to be Harriet. If you don’t know who Harriet is, wow, you really aren’t a Dieter fan, are you? Never mind. Suffice it to say, she has blessed the lives of countless people with her testimony and wonderful self, but especially Dieter himself, that’s all I’m saying.
We must keep seeking until we’ve reached the four floor, the very last door. (I can see the Deseret Book poster already. But I like the metaphor. NO HATERS.) The reward is not usually behind the first door; keep knocking. God is real. He loves you. He knows you, he understands you, and he will not forsake you. He then left his apostolic blessing, “that you will feel this sublime truth for yourselves.” Live in faith, and God will bless you as He has promised.
The closing hymn was “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” by the choir and the congregation.
 I always notice when Bonnie Goodliffe is at the organ because her daughter and I attended the same singles ward for a few years, back in the day, so I feel a kind of connection to her, even though she doesn’t know me from Eve, and her aforementioned daughter probably doesn’t remember me from Eve, either. If Bonnie Goodliffe hadn’t been at the organ, I probably wouldn’t have taken note of who was, but since I had the information, I figured, why shouldn’t you? You’re welcome, fellow Bonnie Goodliffe fans.
 I could have gone to a singles ward with her daughter too, for all I know. But the odds are against it (probably).
 Paul the apostle, that is. Like, in the Bible. (In case you were thinking of someone else.)