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PROVO — Besides looking forward to the BYU Bakery’s much-loved brownies, Dixie Jo Dunn said she traveled the roughly 1,500 miles from her home in Houston to BYU to listen for inspiration on how to improve both personally and within her family of six.

Dunn has been coming to Provo for nearly 15 years for the annual BYU Women’s Conference. This year, she said in addition to the messages, she has also enjoyed meeting up with friends she and her husband met while he was attending BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School — friends who traveled from such destinations as the Netherlands, California, Texas, Washington, Virginia and Florida to gather for the two-day conference.

Dunn is one of more than 10,000 women from around the world from more than 13 countries and 48 states who spent Thursday at BYU for classes and service projects as part of the 40th annual conference.

The conference, co-sponsored by the Relief Society for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU, brings leaders of the LDS Church and women of all ages together for instruction and service.

“Every topic, every speaker, every decision has been a matter of earnest prayer,” said Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, as she welcomed women to campus during the opening session of the conference. “Individual needs of our sisters have been considered carefully by this inspired committee.”

The conference theme — “One in Charity” — comes from a line in the hymn, “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” (Hymns, No. 246). Sandra Rogers, the 2016 Women’s Conference chairwoman, conducted the opening session and gave the Thursday-morning address. BYU President Kevin J Worthen shared brief remarks and an “Instant Choir,” consisting of conference attendees, provided music for the keynote sessions. Sister Kristen M. Oaks, wife of LDS apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks, spoke during the afternoon general session.

“I know that the Lord’s love helps us manage, and eventually conquer, our fears and circumstances,” Rogers said. “Often those fears come because we are asked to do something very difficult, including overcoming resentment or mistrust, or forgiving someone who has hurt us or our loved ones, or even interacting with someone when contention is involved. But I bear my witness that the Lord’s love helps us in those gut-wrenching times. It does the same thing as we work to conquer any attribute of the natural man standing in the way of us becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ.”

During the Thursday afternoon general session, Sister Oaks shared a photo illustration of a woman juggling a laptop in one hand and a child in another.

“This is a picture of a woman torn in half by the worldly demands placed upon her,” Sister Oaks explained. “A woman divided against herself.”

Sister Oaks said the world teaches that motherhood, children and marriage and family are not important. However, “many of us who most value family time must still work to ensure that there is food on the table and a house over our heads.”

Single women may feel torn between the world and a family they do not yet have. To them, Sister Oaks said, “Respect your emotions, sisters. They are God-given. I testify these yearnings to be the best we can be are divine. Embrace them, learn to balance them and thank the Lord for them. They are a gift of God to remind us of who we are — celestial beings in a telestial situation.”

Others may examine the photo and see themselves torn between a distorted version of womanhood depicted by the media.

“We may begin to count calories instead of blessings. Facebook convinces us we are missing out on the fun everyone else is experiencing,” she said. “Time spent on shopping sprees may surpass time spent on scripture study. The result is a deflated spirit and feelings of inadequacy.”

Quoting Luke 17:21, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” Sister Oaks said, “We know our identity and as daughters of God we do not have time to be distracted, diverted or diminished. We live in a world desperate for our goodness, our purity and our testimonies.”

For the past 17 years, a service element has been included in the two-day conference. Service stations around campus allow participants to work on projects with others or pick up projects and return them while they are at the conference.

rsterzer@deseretnews.com, mholman@deseretnews.com



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