The Power of President Nelson’s Talk in October General Conference

NelsonPresident Nelson, the new President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave a paradigm shifting talk in the last conference – on women.

I’ve had several discussions about this talk with friends and family – and I know there are a variety of view points. Here are my five reasons for believing this talk is powerful, timely, and paradigm shifting.

  1. A Bigger Broader Audience than we usually see in talks regarding women.

 He speaks to broad scope of women; he speaks to EVERY woman. He doesn’t only talk to mothers and nurturers (the usual); instead he calls out all the gifts of women. He calls to wives, mother, aunts, sisters, and “all women regardless of circumstance” – and references the following list of gifts, attributes, and characteristics.

  • Women who can speak with the power and authority of God
  • Women who can make things happen with their faith
  • Women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ
  • Women who understand the power of the endowment
  • Women who know how to call down the powers of heaven – to protect and strengthen children
  • Women who know how to receive personal revelation
  • Devout defenders of the faith
  • Courageous defenders of the family
  • Women who organize and can organize
  • Women with executive ability
  • Women who can plan, direct, administer
  • Women who can teach fearlessly and speak out
  • Women with the gift of discernment
  • Women who express beliefs with confidence and charity
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Learning to Follow My Heart


By Jenny

I trudged slowly up the hill.  I guess you could say I was running, but really I wasn’t moving very fast.  Despite the hour that I had already been running, my legs were still stiff.  I was hoping that the sun would rise soon.  The sunrise was usually a good boost to my motivation.  I had left my passion for running at home that morning.  All I had running through my head was self-doubt.  I had all these great plans for my life.  Yes, I was just crazy enough to have running a marathon on that list.  But here I was, simply trudging up a hill, looking at the top and wondering if I would actually get there.

Like the boy Santiago, in the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Cohelo, my heart was deceiving me.

“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked, when they had made camp that day.

“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”

“But my heart is agitated,” the boy said. “It has its dreams, it gets emotional, and it’s become passionate over a woman of the desert. It asks things of me, and it keeps me from sleeping many nights, when I’m thinking about her.”

“Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.” The Alchemist pg. 128

Santiago goes on the have a conversation with his heart that I think anyone who follows their personal legend can relate to. I have had many similar conversations with my own heart lately.  His heart tells him:

“Even though I complain sometimes…it’s because I’m the heart of a person, and people’s hearts are that way. People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.” The Alchemist, pg. 130

I was nearing the top of the hill I was running on and it started to flatten out.  As I emerged at the top, I looked up to see the street sign above me: Sunrise.  At that moment, the rays of the morning light began to peek over the tops of the mountains.  I was suddenly wrapped in the sun’s warm glow.  It was so small and simple really.  If I hadn’t looked up I wouldn’t have even seen the sign.  But to me it was everything.  It meant that my worries and concerns were important even to God.  My sunrise had come, along with an omen from a powerful, loving universe that knows the language of my heart, my heart that was treacherously trying to deflate my dreams.  I felt overwhelmingly that there is a God, who knows me, knows what I am capable of, and knows what my life can mean.

Thinking about personal legends, omens, and the universe conspiring for my good is fairly new to me.  Most of my adult life was spent in a safe and simple mold of a specific role that I was culturally conditioned to accept.  I was sleepwalking through my life.  And when I awakened, this hill lay before me.  It was steep and daunting, filled with pain and struggle that has helped me to discover my own power and develop a deeper connection to a loving God.

As a Mormon woman, I was influenced by a consciousness that told me I had one role to fulfill in life.  Multiply and replenish the earth.  It was the same role that every woman was “commanded” to fulfill.  Commanded….the word causes a churning in my stomach now.  It is a word that doesn’t belong in a universe that I now view as infinitely good and loving.  I don’t believe in a God who commands, because I have met a God who pushes me toward my greatness through love and compassion, rather than coercion.

As a budding feminist in college, I began right away to follow my heart and my dreams.  During my first week at BYU I collected a handful of papers about study abroad programs and began working on a plan to travel.  A year later, I arrived back at BYU after an intense internship in Southern Bavaria.  My bishop asked me to meet with him.  He quickly asked me about my travels and then turned the conversation to the fact that a guy I had been dating before I left was now dating someone else in the ward.  When I told him that the guy had dumped me while I was gone, my bishop blamed me.  He told me that I needed to be more focused on getting married because that was my main priority.  Travelling and fulfilling my dreams was not as important.

Back then I was more accustomed to listening to my leaders than listening to my heart.  When I think back on this conversation with my bishop, I don’t think that his counsel changed the course of my life too much.  I don’t think the bishop’s counsel affected my choices, so much as it affected the relationship I had to those choices.  Over the last thirteen years since I sat in his office, I have spent most of my time and energy in marriage and family.  Getting married and having a large family was one of my biggest dreams.  The problem was not that I had a family and chose to stay home and raise them.  The problem was how I viewed myself as a wife and mother.  I saw myself as a martyr.  I was sacrificing my dreams for my family.  I needed to give up who I was as an individual and recreate my identity around my family.  In essence, I became my family, inseparable from my husband and children.  For a time, I lost some vital aspects of myself.

It wasn’t just the bishop’s counsel on that fateful day that caused me to feel like my dreams and passions needed to be subsumed.  It was years of cultural conditioning that told me that motherhood would be everything I would ever have or need.  It was a cultural mindset that told me life was about fear, sacrifice, obedience, commandments, and authority that existed outside of me.  I was never taught about following my heart and claiming authority to live my own life of authenticity.  Even now, as I am rediscovering those vital parts of myself and doing things that I love outside of motherhood, I am finding many harsh critics of my choices.  They say that I just don’t understand how important I am as a mother.  They say that I’m being selfish.  They say that I’m on the wrong path.

“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” The Alchemist, Pg. 16

Maybe it scares them to see the change of course my life has taken.  Sometimes it scares me too.  Once I travelled the straight and narrow, and now I scale a winding hill, sometimes barely trudging.  Once I was sleepwalking through my life and now I am wide awake, following my heart, my all-too-often-treacherous-heart.  Listening to my heart has made me vulnerable and open to failure.  Even as I write this blog post and open up my vulnerable self to the world, I wonder if it will be a failure.  But like Santiago, I am on the path to discovering my personal legend.  I have seen failure, but I have also seen the universe moving me in a powerful direction.  I have seen beautiful omens placed strategically just for me.  Omens that I would have missed had I not looked up, had I not awakened from the sleep of following cultural norms, had I not pushed through my struggles and my self-doubt, had I not chosen to listen to my heart over outside influences.  Yes, following my heart, however much it hurts, makes my life more enjoyable.  It makes my relationship with my choices more empowering and uplifting.  And like Santiago:

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” he thought, as he looked again at the position of the sun, and hurried his pace.” The Alchemist, pg. 11
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November Young Women Lesson: Why is it important for me to gain an education and develop skills?

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From Tracy M.’s remarkable BCC post, “Young Women Values: Not Princesses & Not for the Faint of Heart Personal Progress Cards”

The manual may be found here.

When I was a junior in high school, I sat in a cozy room with a few of my friends, and listened as Gordon B. Hinckley encouraged us to “get A grades in [our] various courses,” and then told us that he would give us the B’s. The second of those B’s was to “be smart.”

Among other things, President Hinckley said,

You need all the education you can get…You belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands. The Lord has said, “Teach ye diligently … of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—that ye may be prepared in all things” (D&C 88:78–80).

…These are the words of the Lord who loves you. He wants you to train your minds and hands to become an influence for good as you go forward with your lives. And as you do so and as you perform honorably and with excellence, you will bring honor to the Church, for you will be regarded as a man or woman of integrity and ability and conscientious workmanship.


Be smart. The Lord wants you to educate your minds and hands, whatever your chosen field. Whether it be repairing refrigerators, or the work of a skilled surgeon, you must train yourselves. Seek for the best schooling available. Become a workman of integrity in the world that lies ahead of you. I repeat, you will bring honor to the Church and you will be generously blessed because of that training. (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for the Youth,” Ensign, January 2001.)

It meant so much to me then to have a President of the Church encourage me as a young woman to be smart, and to seek the best education possible. I knew he wasn’t just talking to the young men, because he said if I followed his counsel, I would “be regarded as a man or woman of integrity.” He further suggested that while seeking a strong education would be good for the church, it would also be good for mewould “be generously blessed, because of that training.” There was crucially no mention of my future children or husband. Just the church and me, and the Lord’s mandate to seek knowledge.

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Claim your blessing!


Because children are baptized at age 8 rather than as infants, the Mormon version of a baby’s christening (blessing) is not considered a saving ordinance on their behalf. The LDS interpretation of this ritual is found in D&C 20:70:

“Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”

We’ve all seen how it goes: dad, grandpa or some other worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder brings the baby to the front of the chapel, a few other men surround them in a circle, they collectively bounce the baby like she’s on a trampoline to keep her from fussing during the blessing, a deacon holds a microphone in front of the speaker’s mouth as the child is given “a name, by which she will be known on the records of the church and throughout her life,” followed by a brief blessing. Funny thing is, she’ll still get her name on the records of the church with or without a blessing, so it’s not even a required ritual for entrance on our attendance rolls.

And some of us wonder….”Where’s her mother?” We think that all too-often, don’t we? Oh, there she is! A few pews back, arms reverently folded as she strains to hear the man’s blessing on her child while other shrieks and squeaks punctuate the sacred silence, the same plight afforded to a father only when he is deemed “unworthy.”  Is she also unworthy?

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How many times?

joanI sat on the floor with my legs crossed, leaning against a console stereo, my ear pressed to the textured side. I listened, intently and for hours, to the music emanating from the speaker. My mother carefully placed records on the spindle inside and from the outside I learned how to live in the world. Peter, Paul and Mary sang the questions of “Blowing in the Wind;” Bob Dylan’s poetry woven with their plaintive and impassioned harmonies. “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? How many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died?” The answers were elusive and elemental, but in the questions we were urged to look in our own heart. It was the questions that taught me the woman I wanted to be.

With this soundtrack, I went out into a world where war was on television, where kids got teased, where people with difference were made to feel that way. I fought back, cried, worried, wrote poems, and listened to the music that gave me courage. I read voraciously about rebels and holy people who stood for what was right amid challenging circumstances. Every quest began with a question that defied an established order. I read passages over and over, memorizing the words and actions of change. I internalized their stories and looked for how to enact them in my tiny, suburban sphere.

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Anxiety in Speaking in Sacrament Meeting

Years ago, in preparing for a Young Women “Values” themed sacrament meeting, I mentioned to a member of the Young Women presidency that I was not sure what to speak about. “It doesn’t really matter,” she assured me. You know what the value is that you’ve been assigned to present, so just tell us a story about it. You’ll do great anyway. We start children giving talks in primary, so by the time you are a (14 year old) Mia Maid, you’ve been speaking in public for a decade! This is why Mormons are great public speakers. You’ll do fine!”


At the time, her words did calm me. I thought, “I can do this! I’ve been giving talks for 10 years!” I had not been afraid of giving speeches on the debate team or in English class, and as a rule, wasn’t nervous but for that last burst of excited anticipwoman-podiumation that strikes me just before the words came out. But church talks were and are different. To be clear, I could do them. But they made me more nervous than addressing almost every other kind of audience.


As the years passed, and even to this day, when I speak in public- (the thing that is listed as the greatest fear, even over death)  I remind myself that I can do this because “I learned to not be afraid of speaking when I was in primary.” I’ve presented at conferences and meetings and even been disappointed at the smallness of the audience upon occasion; I am a good public speaker and I know it. But. When church speaking assignments came…. the butterflies and anxiety started. I became cranky and argue with my family. I fret and fast and pray for calm. No matter the topic, no matter how well I know it or how many hours I spent in preparation, I became anxiety-ridden. So why is that?

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