Thousands of women — and a few supportive men — crowded into the Marriott Center for the opening session of BYU's 2013 Women's Conference on Thursday morning.
The annual conference, co-sponsored by the LDS Church's Relief Society, has become a yearly tradition for many. More than 15,000 attendees can choose between 16 classes each hour and more than 200 presenters throughout the two-day conference.
The conference opened with its traditional etiquette skit starring Sandra Rogers, 2013 Women's Conference chair, and Mary Ellen Edmunds, a former Relief Society board member and popular speaker and author. Peels of laughter came from the audience as Rogers and Edmunds appeared on the screen in bee costumes and listing the "bees" of Women's Conference.
"Be quick!" Rogers and Edmunds joked, holding a roll of toilet paper, referring to the notoriously long lines at the conference.
Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, counseled attendees to find joy in the journey of life, despite its difficulties. She also promised that while the journey may be difficult, travelers can be comforted and upheld by God along the way.
"In order to find the promised blessings ... we need to do our part," she said. "We do that as we put one foot in front of the other along the path."
Elaine S. Marshall, the former dean of BYU's College of Nursing and current director of the Center for Nursing Scholarship at Georgia Southern University, shared her own experience of continuing her journey. "If we continue and let our hearts rejoice, He will be with us."
Marshall moved from Provo to Georgia five years ago. Their Provo home had been a haven for healing and recovery for more than 20 years.
"At first look, our new home in the South is nothing like our place in Provo," she said. "But, it's not such a new space after all. ... In each place I make the same promises for repentance ... and sorrow still finds me."
The location may have changed, but Marshall said she was still the same person, facing the same challenges. There was no break from life.
"Continuing might be the hardest part," she remarked. "On bad days it simply means putting one foot in front of the other."
Despite mortal challenges, Marshall said it's not enough to keep walking with gritted teeth — that "we are that we might have joy."
She recommended three tips for continuing finding joy in our journey:
Keep going, one step in front of the other.
Rejoice in that continuing. Moving forward is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Know the Lord is always with us — now and forever.
According to Marshall, finding joy is not about becoming perfect, but rather being able to look past faults and trusting the Lord.
Years ago, Marshall found an unfinished quilt from her grandmother who, despite her best efforts, was not a great seamstress. The stitches weren't straight. The pattern was simple, made from scraps of old clothing and blankets.
Despite Marshall's mother telling her the quilt wasn't worth finishing and her husband calling the project "a monument of misspent effort," Marshall became determined to finish the quilt. But Marshall said she wanted to continue with the work of her foremothers.
The more Marshall quilted, the more she saw the flaws — and not just those of her grandmother's making.
"My stitches weren't even, my boarders weren't straight. My work was worse than grandmother's."
She saw scraps of her old dresses and wondered what her mother and grandmother had wanted her to become. She began to grieve over the what-if-I-hads and what-if-I-hadn'ts of her life. She recalled her son's poem from fifth grade: "My mother is busy, busy, busy." Had she been a good enough mother?
Wrapping the finished quilt around her as she spoke in the Marriott Center, Marshall said the quilt connected her to past and future generations. It connected her to her grandmother and mother — their love, successes and faults.
"With all their flaws, they had been more than enough for me."
Comparing life to a tapestry, Marshall said each individual is just a single thread. Without that thread — whether it's frayed, discolored or tangled — the tapestry would be incomplete and broken. Each life is important.
She reminded attendees that Christ would be with them on their journeys, through every step and transition.
"You can get through the challenge that you have today, but you know what, there are more out there," she said. "Keep stitching. Keep trying. Keep walking."
Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @harmerk