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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Gabriela Gonzalez, left, and Kamilah Baltrons are reunited before the start of the general women's session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Oct. 6, 2018. Gonzalez and Baltrons became friends while Gonzalez was serving a mission in Oakland, California.

SALT LAKE CITY — The president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened his remarks in the historic general women’s session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference with a plea to women across the globe.

“I pray that you will sense how deeply I feel about you — about who you are and all the good you do,” said President Russell M. Nelson on Saturday evening. “No one can do what a righteous woman can do. No one can duplicate the influence of a mother.”

When speaking of mothers, President Nelson said he is not only talking about women who have given birth or adopted children in this life, but to all adult women. “Every woman is a mother by virtue of her eternal divine destiny,” he said.

President Nelson said he chose to be a doctor because he could not be a mother.

“Men can and often do communicate the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior to others. But women have a special gift for it — a divine endowment. You have the capacity to sense what someone needs — and when they need it. You can reach out, comfort, teach and strengthen someone in his or her very moment of need.”

The meeting marked the first time the general women’s session has been held on conference weekend between the four general sessions and followed the same pattern as the general priesthood session. Speakers included three women leaders and the entire First Presidency.

Holding the women's session between the general sessions "is very appropriate,” said Carol Harmer, from Pleasant Grove, Utah. “It shows the respect the General Authorities have for women.”

Her daughter, Lisa Young, also from Pleasant Grove, said hearing from church leaders helped her to know “measurable, concrete things” that will help her respond to the prophet’s call.

“They helped us to know what they expect from us,” she said. “And we are expected to get a lot done.”

President Nelson said women have special spiritual gifts and propensities. “Tonight, I urge you, with all the hope of my heart, to pray to understand your spiritual gifts — to cultivate, use and expand them, even more than you ever have. You will change the world as you do so.”

He asked women to “shape the future” by accepting four invitations: To engage in a social media fast, to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year, to attend the temple and to participate fully in Relief Society. The church needs the strength, conversion, conviction, leadership, wisdom and voices of women.

“My dear sisters, we need you,” he said.

Camilla Garrido, who attended the meeting in the Conference Center, said President Nelson's invitations will be good for women, who face many struggles. "I think that the challenge comes specifically from the prophet to help strengthen ourselves and our families,” Garrido said.

Penny Merrill, who also attended the meeting, said "we adults need it as much as the youth.”

“I think sometimes we as women, and as adults, we think we’ve outgrown the influences of the world. But that’s just not the case.”

Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, said women gathered “in unity, in strength, in purpose and in testimony” on the historic night.

“Can you think back on a time when you lovingly reached out with sincere effort to help someone in need and felt that your efforts went unnoticed or perhaps were unappreciated or even unwanted?” she asked. “In that moment, did you question the value of your service?”

Focusing on all that God has done will allow service to flow from a heart of gratitude, she said. “As we become less concerned about our service magnifying us, we realize instead that the focus of our service will be on putting God first.”

Service is “between us and the Lord,” she said.

“When Jesus Christ, through the power of his Atonement, works on us and in us, he begins to work through us to bless others,” said Sister Jones. “We serve them, but we do so by loving and serving him.”

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, addressed "divine discontent" — which comes when women compare what they are to what they have the power to become.

“We should welcome feelings of divine discontent that call us to a higher way, while recognizing and avoiding Satan’s counterfeit — paralyzing discouragement,” she said. “This is a precious space into which Satan is all too eager to jump. We can choose to walk the higher path that leads us to seek for God and his peace and grace, or we can listen to Satan, who bombards us with messages that we will never be enough: rich enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, anything enough. Our discontent can become divine — or destructive.”

One way to tell divine discontent from Satan’s counterfeit is that divine discontent will lead us to faithful action, she said.

“Because of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice, we can be made equal to the tasks that lie ahead,” said Sister Craig.

Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, spoke of her former Primary teacher who had to choose between paying for the bus to take herself and her children to church or buying the ingredients to make a chocolate cake for her Primary class. She always chose the chocolate cake over the bus, and she and her children walked more than two miles, each way, regardless of the weather. The secret ingredient to her teacher’s cake was “the love she had for those she served and her unselfish sacrifice in our behalf.”

“Are we giving our all to the Lord without reservation? … Are we living the two great commandments — to love God and to love His children? Often that love is manifest as service.”

After praising mothers who understand that children are the “most precious gift from God — our eternal increase,” President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said, “Latter-day Saint women understand that being a mother is their highest priority, their ultimate joy.”

He also spoke directly to young women. Quoting a University of North Carolina study of American teens and religion, President Oaks said Latter-day Saint teens cope better than other teens their age with the difficulties of growing up.

“You understand our Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness. This tells you who you are and the purpose of your life,” he told the young women. “Youth with that understanding are first in problem-solving and first in choosing the right. You know you can have the Lord’s help in overcoming all the difficulties of growing up.

“Another reason why you are most effective is that you understand that you are children of a Heavenly Father who loves you.”

He asked the young women — and women — to limit the use of cellphones and to be kind to others. “If you participate in any meanness or pettiness — individually or with a group — resolve now to change and encourage others to change.”

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said the Lord has charged the women of the church to be “the principal gospel educators” in the family. "The includes the nurture of gospel truth and knowledge."

Fathers and mothers are partners — equal in their potential and unified in their efforts, he said. “They are equal in their divine destiny to be exalted together. In fact, they cannot be exalted alone.”

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Women have an innate and great capacity to sense the needs of others and to love, said President Eyring. “That, in turn, makes you more susceptible to the whisperings of the Spirit. The Spirit can then guide what you think, what you say, and what you do to nurture people so the Lord may pour knowledge, truth and courage upon them.”

All women, despite their personal circumstance, are part — a key part — of the family of God and of their own family, whether in the future, in this world, or in the spirit world, he said. “Your trust from God is to nurture as many of his and your family members as you can with your love and your faith in Jesus Christ.”

Contributors: Aubrey Eyre and Marianne Holman Prescott