Saturday, May 04, 2013

My 2013 BYU Women's Conference Experience as a Presenter

Well, dear reader. I did it. I spoke at BYU Women's Conference and I survived!

It was an incredible experience in every way. I felt the influence of the Holy Ghost guiding me as I spoke, and I felt Satan doing his best to take away everything I learned the very next day. It was a contrast of sorts, and I've been trying really hard to absorb what it was I was supposed to learn.

I will be posting my talk here on my blog in the next few days, along with the pictures I used.

But before I share that, I'm going to share with you my experience. Some of it was incredibly sacred, and so bear with me as I attempt to recapture what happened on Thursday.


I had writer's block for months. My topic was not incredibly difficult, but it was intense:
"The World's Greatest Champion of Woman and Womanhood is Jesus the Christ" (James E. Talmage)"There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman," said Elder M. Russell Ballard. How do we rejoice and enjoy this sacred role and responsibility of being a woman? How can we find joy in every season of womanhood and motherhood? How can we embrace the opportunities and challenges that each season provides?
My partner, Ann Marie Toone, and I had not met in person. We exchanged a few emails and so we knew which way each of us was going with the topic, so I felt comfortable with what I was writing. When I was writing. When I actually had TIME to sit down and write. When I wrote words down when I sat down to write when I had time to write. Which wasn't often!

With the help of my gorgeous husband, the slide-show was put into place (I shared a few photos here and there, mostly of our family). He also helped me figure out how to do everything on the laptop. Honestly, I don't know what I would have done without him!

Getting everything ready (sitters) for my two days away was difficult and frustrating. However, everything fell into place beautifully just the night before. I ran through my talk all the way through for the very first time (printed talk, clicking on the slide show) after we put the kids to bed. As I went to bed, I was still crossing out sentences and adding bits and pieces. I barely slept all that night, and I was up before my alarm clock. I got everything packed and ready to go.

My mom picked me up (we went together) and we arrived bright and early. There were already a lot of women at the Marriott Center --some were there early for the Instant Choir rehearsal, others were just excited to get there! We walked to the HFAC (Harris Fine Arts Center) for my laptop run through. It went perfectly. Then we walked back to the Marriott Center so I could attend the Presenters Prayer Meeting.

Dear reader, it was incredible. We were all crowded into a small room, mostly standing. I saw some good friends there (some in my ward and stake, some on the WC committee) and I finally got to meet Ann Marie! She is lovely. Honestly, that's the best word I can find. Graceful, kind, lovely. I was instantly excited we were speaking together! When we started the meeting, I was only about 10 feet from the small podium that Sister Sandra Rogers (the WC committee chair) used as she welcomed us and spoke to us. (Interestingly, Sister Linda S. Reeves (2nd counselor in the Gen RS Presidency) was standing right behind me). She was followed by Sister Linda K. Burton (the General RS President), who shared some thoughts and scriptures with us. President Cecil O. Samuelson (BYU President) spoke briefly. Then we sang a hymn a capella ("Redeemer of Israel") and had a prayer. Then we filed out through the hallways of the Marriott and onto the main floor where they had chairs waiting for us (and media people and others). There was enough room, so I called my mom and had her come down to the floor to sit with us.

After the Opening Session (the speaker was Elaine S. Marshall, and I'm so mad at myself for being too nervous to take notes! It was absolutely amazing. I can't wait to read it next week!), we decided to go to the de Jong for a session about teaching our children to love the scriptures (it was REALLY good) so I wouldn't have to leave another session early.

And then I spoke.

Okay, so it wasn't as simple as all that, eh? Details:
*A nice man who was there to facilitate everything greeted me and Ann Marie
*They gave us bags with goodies in it (including a book of last year's main presentations, a notebook, tissues, water, mints, a pen, and coupons...)
*We set the podium where we needed it.
*We met Sister Stacey Edgington (well, Ann Marie already knew her) who was introducing us (she was on the WC committee and is also part of the Gen RS board)
*I was asked to find someone to give the opening prayer, so I suggested my cousin, Stephanie. Yay!
*I saw Sister Linda Burton come and sit down. Ann Marie told me that Sister Julie B. Beck was supposed to be there, too. (She was the Gen RS President before Sister Burton and one of my personal heroes).

[Why would the RS presidents be there? Along with many on the General RS Board? Because Ann Marie, dear reader, works for them! She's basically their administrative assistant (although I learned, from Ann Marie, that her title is actually different). They came for her, you see. And for some reason, I didn't feel a bit nervous about it. I'm still not sure why, except maybe because although these women are powerful (they lead all the women in my entire Church), they are so kind. I saw it as I interacted with them. They were there to cheer us on, you know?]

*I went first.

And I was so calm, dear reader.

Brandon had given me a blessing earlier in the week, and attending that prayer meeting was life-saving. I had been so incredibly nervous, but as I stood to speak, the nerves left.

I spoke exactly in the time-frame allotted (miracle!) which was 25 minutes. I sat down. I couldn't believe it was over. Everything had worked. Except for some deviation from my "script" on my part (minor), it had gone flawlessly. Ann Marie stood, and another miracle occurred.

I spoke about the trenches of motherhood. She spoke about discipleship of Christ and all the power women receive because of Christ. Together, our talks fit. All the mothers identified with me; all the single sisters/empty-nesters identified with her. She used quotes I didn't have time to use. I used quotes she didn't have time to use. I spoke of real life application. She spoke of the doctrine. It was another quiet testimony of the power of the Holy Ghost --that when we do our best to follow those promptings, all are blessed for it. Small, beautiful miracles occur!

Another Miracle: running into so many people I knew! It was amazing! I saw Michelle W., Ann B., and Brooke S. from high school. I spoke with Merica, Janelle, and Shawna, friends from our ward in California (who have all moved, like us). I saw blogger and FB and real-life friends: Stephanie, Michelle L., Emily F., Christina B., Ruth C., and Paula J.  My bestie, Ann, was there! My family: Brandon, my mom, my sister, my SIL, my aunt, my cousin, and several second cousins we didn't know were going to be there! Including the wife of my second cousin whom I had never met. I was overwhelmed with so much support.

[The only sadness amongst all of this joy was that my good friend (Mother of the Wild Boys) couldn't make it because she got really, really sick the night before. I really missed her. (Love you, S!)]

After we spoke, several people came up to thank us. One woman asked if she could quote me. Stephanie didn't ask, she just did (LOL!). I'm now quoted forever at Mormon Mommy Blogs. Except they spelled my name wrong. Irony: Being quoted for the first time and people won't even know it's me. Ha!

Rest of the Day:
*Lunch with my mom, sister, and SIL
*Stopping to get free art and buying yummy chocolate at the BYU bookstore
*Closing Session in the Marriott
*Going to do Service, eating the buffet at Legend's Grille, and seeing my cousin at the Sharing Stations
*Attending the AWESOME Night of Entertainment! It was so much fun! Great music. Sandra Turley is now my favorite (although listening to Hilary Weeks live is pretty incredible). Justin Cash, Josh Wright, Michael McClean and MacKenzie Turley, Mercy River, and Hudson Lights (brand new!) all performed. It was really good.

Friday was great, too, for many reasons, but I was exhausted, tempted sorely to give into feelings of inadequacy and pettiness. If I could go back to yesterday, I would simply change my attitude. The sessions I went to were great, though, and I took a lot of notes. I will be pondering for a long time! And writing about them in the future, I'm sure.

[One anecdote from Friday: Elder Henry B. Eyring (of the First Presidency in my Church --meaning he is the 1st counselor to our Prophet) spoke in the Closing Session. But he hit traffic, and so he was 25 minutes late! We sang hymns until he arrived, and he must have cut his talk a lot, because we still got finished 12 minutes early!] 


My mother and I had just walked out of the WSC after our lunch and such with my sister and SIL. We were crossing in front of the HFAC slowly and Ruth C. and Paula J. recognized me and called me over. It was great to meet them! But because they called me over, and because I was standing right where I was, I was able to have the experience I was told I was going to have --months before it did.

Back in February, when we met at the Presenters Meeting, after the shock of being invited to speak was still fresh, Sister Sandra Rogers told us that we would be an influence for good. That "someone would be in our classroom that was meant to be there." That even if we "only helped one person seeking for answers, all of our efforts would have been worth it." That if we gave ourselves over to the process of relying on the Holy Ghost to help us with our words, "we could help change hearts."

I didn't realize how closely this would be to my experience.

A woman about my age (maybe younger? I can't tell anymore) approached us with a woman who seemed to be her mother. I thought maybe she was approaching for Ruth or Paula, but then I realized by her gaze that she was there to see me. It had been over an hour since I had spoken, so I wasn't expecting what I heard. At all.

She gestured towards me and said, "I'm sorry, I just wanted to tell you that your talk was really good." She paused, and then she started to cry. I told her thank you, and she said, "I know that I was supposed to hear you speak. What you said, you said just for me." At this point, I started to get emotional, too, and I simply hugged her. She thanked me again, I told her she was so welcome and thanked her for telling me. She and her mom walked away...

I never got her name. My mom saw that she was from Layton, Utah.

It didn't hit me until about 30 minutes later about what had happened. And when it did, the Spirit washed over me and I cried and cried, telling my mom what they had told us months before. I told my mom that even if all the heartache, writer's bock, pain-in-the-rear leaving my kids to others for two days  was only so that I could tell that woman what she needed to hear, then it was worth every second.

And, dear reader, it was.


Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Wow, such a sacred experience. Thank you for sharing just a bit with us. The influence of one righteous woman . . .

Diane said...

I am glad you had such a lovely experience!!!!

I cannot wait to read your talk.

flip flop mama said...

What an amazing experience!

Stephanie @ D. and D. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephanie @ D. and D. said...

Yay. I knew I'd be proud of you and I am.

Becca R said...

I LOVE YOU! And I completely wish I could have been there. Hey, how 'bout you come over for dinner and give me a personal presentation?! ;)

But seriously, you should come over.

Emily said...

So great to hear the behind-the-scenes. Love it. Thanks.

The United Statements of Merica said...

I still can't get over how beautiful your talk was. Definitely one of my favorites. And it was so lovely to see you. I can't wait until you post it because I have a very dear catholic friend who has put her career as an architect on hold to raise her 3 kids and feels very strongly about being a stay at home mom. I know your talk will mean so much to her.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Amazing experience! One of these years I hope to make it to Women's Conference!

Christine said...

Oh. My. Goodness. Cheryl!! I had no idea!! The disadvantage to staying disconnected from social media...What an accomplishment! What an experience to cherish and share with your family! I can't wait to hear it. I KNOW you did amazing and I loved hearing about the tender mercies you received during the whole experience. I LOVE it!! Heavenly Fathers hand was in it the entire way, and I love hearing that! Good for you, Cheryl. So happy for you and your experience.

Ann said...

Just got to read this finally! I'm so happy about your awesome experiences! And I'm so happy I got to come. Like I told you before it was a powerful, wonderful talk. :) Love you!

Amanda D said...

Oh, it sounds amazing! I'm so glad that it went so well. I'm very proud of you!

Julie said...

I've been leaving this unread in my Reader for ages- meaning to comment. Today is the day. :)

This is really neat, Cheryl. Such a huge accomplishment and honor, but more- such a humbling opportunity to recognize the hand of The Lord in your own life.

Thanks for writing down your talk and for sharing it. Very neat!