May 1, 2011

Great things brought to pass [an epic novel]

This year the BYU Women's Conference theme was a scripture (Alma 37:6-7): "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass." I was excited about the theme when I was invited to speak in December, but it perfectly encapsulates my feelings and my experience as a conference presenter and participant. I feel so humble, grateful, and blessed to have enjoyed such a spectacular event.

Having never attended the annual conference, I wasn't sure what to expect. Being a presenter during my maiden voyage certainly offered a unique perspective! One of the biggest highlights for me was the prayer meeting for presenters. An hour before the opening session of the conference, Women's Conference committee members and presenters met in the Cougar Room of the Marriott Center. Sandra Rogers, the conference committee chair; Cecil O. Samuelson, BYU President; and Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints each spoke briefly to us. I was quite emotional as Sister Rogers mentioned that a few of the presenters had faced serious challenges this year, and that the committee had fasted, prayed, and attended the temple on their behalf. She didn't name names or explain circumstances, but I knew I was included in that group. The united faith of those amazing women had certainly helped me stand in that room that day. It was a profoundly moving moment for me. What a miracle.

I was also struck with respect and awe at the women standing around me. While the general officers of the Church auxiliaries were there (an incredible sight), the room was mostly filled with regular women like me. As my speaking partner, Chris, said, we are just "rank and file" members of the Church, each doing our best to raise our families, serve our neighbors, and love the Lord. For whatever reason, we had each been selected to share our messages, and had prayed, fasted, worked, cried, and struggled over what to say. I felt the strength of all of those women as we stood together. I also felt an interesting mix of the Spirit, pre-talk jitters, and ever-present nausea. I'm not sure I would recommend the combination!

Walking into the Marriott Center, which was rapidly filling with conference participants, was a little overwhelming. Seats on the floor had been reserved for presenters, which meant we sat fairly close to the session speakers, but also had an excellent view of the thousands of women in seats rising all around us.

My eyes stung with tears. I couldn't believe I was actually there. I had doubted the possibility of participating so many times; it seemed my poor health would make attending the conference -- let alone presenting! -- completely impossible. Once again I was profoundly grateful for the miracles in my life.

One of the greatest and most unexpected blessings of being a presenter has been working with my wonderful partner, Christine Christensen. From the moment we met in January, when I visited Provo for an orientation meeting, I felt a deep and abiding connection to her. As the months have progressed, I have benefited so much from her great strength and example. It was especially wonderful to enjoy dinner with Chris and part of her family in her home on Wednesday night. I feel bad for the presenters who met their partners for the first time at Women's Conference! I think I have a new and eternal friend!

Chris and I shared our presentations on "What your children really want for dinner is you" during the 11:00 session, which was 45 minutes after the opening general session in the Marriott Center. Chris's husband, Roger, was nice enough to shuttle us to the Conference Center, the building where we presented. I was a bundle of nerves by then, hoping I wouldn't throw up or pass out or have a wardrobe malfunction during my talk. We hid in the "presenter ready room" as long as possible. The room coordinator actually had to come find us when it was almost time to speak! When we arrived in our room, I spent the final few minutes greeting the wonderful friends and family members who came to support me, including my mom, Garry's father and grandmother, April Bethea, Jennifer Preece, Jana Hixson, Sunny Smart, Colleen Conlin, Jen Maloy, Kendra Perigo, Lauriann Shell, Melanie Shaha, Stephanie Pugh, Jenny Reynolds, and Jennie Bishop (I sure hope I didn't forget anyone!). These sweet people traveled from Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho to attend my class. I regret not getting pictures of everyone who came! I will always remember their love and hugs and sweet comments.

Then, at last, the moment I had been anticipating, dreaming about, and praying over for four months arrived. It was my turn to talk. As I surveyed the room from the pulpit, I encountered my only disappointment of the conference: the room was rather empty. Maybe 75 of the 400 seats were filled. I had selfishly hoped for a full house. Oh, well! I just hope that what I had to say touched a few people.

As I began my talk, I was surprised at the level of emotion in my heart and voice. Once again, the culmination of all my preparation translated into tears. Oh, brother! I had 13 pages of text, and it took two or three of those for me to find my groove (and a comfortable way to body thinks it is 82 years old, not 32). Eventually I found my rhythm and even enjoyed myself. People laughed in all the right spots. I heard later that my Power Point slides worked flawlessly, thanks to Chris's husband, who graciously ran the slides for me. Overall, I was pleased with my delivery. And then I was done!

I thoroughly enjoyed Chris's talk, which came immediately after mine. She had a great perspective on bringing large families (she is mother to 11) and teenagers to the dinner table. I sure love that lady! Once we were finished, there was another round of hugs from all, and then we just left! I couldn't believe it. The big moment (or hour) had come and gone. I enjoyed a few deep breaths and a simple lunch at the Creamery with my mom and Melanie, an Arizona friend. It felt so good to sit and relax and bask in the feeling of being done. We skipped the next class but spent the rest of the day together at the conference.

The rest of Women's Conference was absolutely wonderful. I learned great things in each of the classes I attended. One presenter, Suzanne Bonham, has been battling liver duct cancer for 2.5 years. She was in the hospital at the same time I was in late February. On the day I came home from the hospital (without an IV!), she learned that her liver tumor was dead. The same people on the Women's Conference committee had been fasting and praying for both of us, and our miracles came on the same day. Listening to her speak was a privilege, and I felt a special connection to her, even though we never met.

I also enjoyed a sweet moment with Joy Jones, a member of the Primary General Board of the LDS Church. Just after I got out of the hospital, she sent me a little note through my friend on the Women's Conference committee. When I saw that Sister Jones was also a presenter, I knew I had to attend her class on Friday. Following her talk, I had the chance to introduce myself. She immediately knew who I was; she has been praying for me for months. I was grateful that I could finally thank her in person. She was part of my miracle.

Aside from all the things I learned, two additional "I love you notes" from Heavenly Father came during the closing session of Women's Conference. First, my friend and mentor, Rosemary Thackeray, conducted the session. Then, after Elder David A. Bednar and his wife spoke (wow!), the closing song was my very favorite hymn, "How Firm a Foundation." Those two small things meant so much to me. They really personalized the whole Women's Conference experience.

Throughout the conference, I was delighted to spend so much one-on-one time with my mom. I don't think I have had her completely to myself since Zach was in utero and we schlepped up West Temple Drive to attend the General Relief Society meeting in September 2001. I enjoyed every minute with her this week. We had adventures in driving and navigating, shopping for maternity clothes, braving crowds in the BYU Bookstore and Cafe Rio, watching the Royal Wedding proceedings late at night, sewing stockings for a child crisis center, walking through campus in the snow with too many bags, eavesdropping at Magleby's, laughing in elevators, and, of course, attending terrific classes at Women's Conference. I'm so grateful for the time we had together. It was priceless.

While in Provo, I enjoyed the abundant signs of spring that Colorado sorely lacks: green grass, leafy trees, and blooming flowers. I was chagrined to discover that Eternal Winter also dwells in Utah.

On Saturday my mom and I bid farewell to the delights of Provo and moved northward to spend time with her parents and sisters and a couple of my cousins. I really enjoyed the chance to eat and talk with those wonderful people. Once again, I neglected to take enough pictures, but I am grateful for the time we shared.

It seemed that almost as soon as I arrived in Utah, it was time to leave. Now that I am home with my wonderful family I can see that regular life will soon resume and Women's Conference will be but a memory! I will be forever grateful for the experience. It has changed me for good.
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