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August Miller, Deseret News
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, left, shares a laugh with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of Twelve at the end of the Saturday afternoon session of conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Encouragement and instruction for those struggling with challenges, disappointments and losses in their lives seemed to be Saturday's common thread in the multi-topic tapestry of LDS Church general conference messages

"We love you and pray for you," said President Thomas S. Monson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday as he opened the church's 180th Annual General Conference.

"Many messages, covering a variety of gospel topics, will be given during the next two days," he continued in his opening address. "Those men and women who will speak to you have sought heaven's help concerning the messages they will give."

And many of those first-day addresses, which can be seen in their entirety online at deseretnews.com, reminded members of the relentless attacks of temptation and evil against individuals, families and home and the members' roles in strengthening and protecting their own immediate families as well as their "extended family" among Heavenly Father's spiritual children.

"We see so many challenges today from distracting and destructive influences intended to mislead God's children," said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve, emphasizing the importance of mothers teaching their children in the home.

"We are seeing young people who lack the deep, spiritual roots necessary to remain standing in faith as storms of unbelief and despair swirl around them. Too many of our Father in Heaven's children are being overcome by worldly desires. The onslaught of wickedness against our children is at once more subtle and more brazen than it has ever been. Teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home adds another layer of insulation to protect our children from worldly influences."

Acknowledging he was speaking particularly to fathers, President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained the difference between priesthood authority and priesthood power, with the latter needed to help bless and protect homes and families.

"We need everyone — the tired or worn out or lazy, and even those who are bound down with guilt, must be restored through repentance and forgiveness," he said. "Too many of our priesthood brethren are living below their privileges and the Lord's expectations."

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, said he was following his "father-son" instructions of last conference with directives Saturday to mothers and daughters.

"I hope you are listening and see a pattern and hear a steady, consistent message that in these last days it is essential — even critical — that parents and children listen to and learn from one another," he said. "These are not just ethereal concepts about which I have been speaking. These are the essence, the center of God's plan for our eternal happiness and peace."

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of helping Heavenly Father bring his spirit children — particularly the youths — home to heaven.

"Of all the help we can give these young people," he said, the greatest will be to let them feel our confidence that they are on the path home to God and they can make it. And we do that best by going with them."

Never has there been a greater need for strong families and homes, said Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president.

"Good women always have a desire to know if they are succeeding," she said of a woman's role in strength and testimony. "In a world where the measures of success are often distorted, it is important to seek appreciation and affirmation from proper sources."

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve, listed three helps for parents being watchful and discerning as they interact with their children — reading and talking about the Book of Mormon, bearing testimony of gospel truths spontaneously and inviting them as gospel learners to act and not merely be acted upon.

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"Parents who do these things faithfully will be blessed to recognize early signals of spiritual growth in or challenges with their children and be better prepared to receive inspiration to strengthen and help those children," he said.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

Mormon church membership nears 14 million

LDS Church statistics through Dec. 31, 2009, as released by the First Presidency during the Saturday afternoon session of general conference:

Stakes: 2,865

Missions: 344

Districts: 616

Wards and branches: 28,424

Members: 13,824,854

New children of record: 119,722

Converts: 280,106

Full-time missionaries: 51,736

New temples dedicated: 2 (Draper Utah, Oquirrh Mountain Utah)

Total operating temples: 130

—Scott Taylor