BYU Women’s Conference 2008

Julie B. Beck

 

“Strengthen Thy Stakes—Strong and Immovable in Faith”


 

Julie B. Beck

Thank you so much, Mitton family. That represents parents with some vision. There are a lot of things that happen when you do things like that, learn music together as a family. You learn how to set a goal and work on it. You know how to take a big project and break it into small pieces. You learn about winning and losing. You learn about working together on a common goal. You get some great thinking skills, and the byproduct is we get to enjoy their music. A parent with vision of what the ultimate goal is in my mind will use a wonderful tool like music to build their family. Thank you so much, Brother and Sister Mitton, for having that kind of vision. You are the lesson in teaching us that.

It is wonderful to be with you today with this fabulous opportunity. As I’ve spent some time with you in the last two days, I’ve just been thrilled by your examples and your love and your fine lives. As we speak together today, I know I am speaking to the people who want to learn and be better or you wouldn’t be here. No one forced you to be here. You made arrangements to be here. Some of you traveled a long way and you wanted to come and learn and grow and be better, and I hope to contribute to that feeling you have in your hearts today in this message.

I’m going to speak about faith and the importance of faith—why we need it at this time in the world’s history—and give you some examples of what that might look like and what you can do about it. I’ll start with a story that comes from my early experience. This was Brazil in 1958, and when my parents arrived in Brazil, my father to preside over the mission, there were no stakes or wards. There wasn’t a temple in all of South America. There was one mission in the country of Brazil, and so they began at that point to organize districts and start to have meetings and organizations that were presided over by Brazilians and not by missionaries, who gathered people together in small congregations and did a gospel study on Sunday and a few activities together.

As part of that effort in organization, my father, the mission president, called my mother to be the mission Relief Society president, and he said, “We don’t have Relief Society in Brazil. There is no Primary. There are no Young Men or Young Women.” There wasn’t a priesthood quorum to be found in the whole country. There was no home teaching. There was no visiting teaching. It was just collections and congregations of Saints who believed in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and wanted to make covenants with the Lord.

So my mother, who spoke no Portuguese, now had the responsibility of establishing Relief Society in a country she wasn’t familiar with. She asked for a counselor, one of the sister missionaries who could speak Portuguese, and the other counselor was Sister Barbietti, a darling, vibrant blonde who spoke no English. So their presidency meetings were facilitated through this one sister missionary, Carol Wheeler, who then could translate back and forth for the presidency. They talked about what to do first and decided the first thing they needed was to teach the women how to visit each other and learn about their needs. And so they said, “We’re going to teach about visiting teaching.”

Well, since the only one who spoke real great Portuguese was Sister Barbietti, she was elected to be the teacher. They talked about what she should teach. Sister Barbietti had never taught anything in the Church. She was going to teach what a visiting teacher was and what she did, and she had never been one. She had never had a visiting teacher come to her home, but they talked about what it was going to be like.

And so it comes to the night that they’re going to do this. They decided to start with a little branch on the other side of Sao Paulo in the industrial part of the city. Now you know who lives in the industrial part of the city—the poor people. So they sent word ahead to the few sisters of that branch and said, “Please meet us on this night at this time in the building that we rent.” There was no chapel in Sao Paulo that was a beautiful, well constructed chapel. All the places were rented meeting places. So, can you see my mother, who’s very new in the country? She had just had a new baby, child number seven, and my father was out of town of course, having a great time being the mission president. So Mother got everything organized with the children to leave them home. She got in the car. Sister Wheeler was off with her companion doing missionary work. She was a Relief Society counselor part-time and a missionary full-time.

So mother drove through the one-way streets of Sao Paulo and it was very easy to get lost. (As children, if we wanted an adventure we’d say, “Let’s go get lost.” We knew that if we drove around Sao Paulo with my mother we would always get lost and have great experiences and often she’d have to hire a taxi driver to follow so she could get home. Clever, right? She started by calling the missionaries and asking for directions, but they just made fun of her so she quit doing that.) So, she was following her little paper and directions and got to the home of Sister Barbietti, who had no car, and they drove together across the city of 12 million people. This is a girl from Murray, Utah, whose roots are in Wyoming, OK? So now they show up at the branch and there were, she said, “seven humble women.” No education among them. No experience in any leadership in the Church whatsoever.

They started the meeting with a song, then a prayer, and then it was Sister Barbietti’s turn to get up and teach about visiting teaching and she held her little paper. It was shaking. She was trembling. Mother said she got up and read her message. It lasted five minutes. She sat down and they all turned to look at Mother. Momma said, “I didn’t speak Portuguese.” So she stood up. Now they wanted her to be their teacher. No one in the room spoke English. She said all the Portuguese she knew and it came out as a four-sentence paragraph: “Eu sei que deus vive.” I know that God lives. “Eu sei que Jesus é o Christo.”  I know that Jesus is the Christ. “Sei que esta é a igreja verdadeira.” I know this is the true Church. “Em nome de Jesus Christo, amen.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

That was the first Relief Society in Brazil: a five-minute talk on visiting teaching from a sister who never had a visiting teacher, had never seen a visiting teacher, and had never been a visiting teacher—and a testimony of the gospel. Sisters, that’s about as complicated as it needs to be. That’s what we’re about. Out of that small little group and others like them has grown a wonderful, vibrant, faith-filled body of women in the country of Brazil. They’re talented, educated, intelligent, fabulous leaders, and they would never be what they are without the gospel of Jesus Christ and their faith.

Sometimes we complicate the gospel to such an extent that we forget what it’s really about. It’s about knowing that we have a Father in Heaven. It’s about knowing we have a Savior and making covenants with Him. It’s about knowing we have a restored gospel on the earth and we’re led by a prophet. And it’s about testifying to one another of those truths and living them. Those sweet sisters in that branch began to minister to each other. They had to learn how to get along. They had to learn how to work on projects together. They had to learn how to have somebody be responsible and someone receive instructions and not all be in charge at once. They had to learn to respect revelation and ideas from one another. There was so much they had to learn, and they only learned by practicing it, by having the chance to do it together, as the Mitton family has learned much about life just by sharing music together.

Sometimes we think it’s about the big events. I went to the service stations last night. I saw the service. It was wonderful, but what happened in preparation for that? What happened in thinking about it, what happened in planning for it, what will happen because of it is much more important that what happened in two hours. What happened to people’s hearts as they served, what you talked about together as you served—that’s what it’s about. But we show up and do it together. Sister Dew yesterday talked so much and so well about the influence you have, and that influence comes because of your faith. I have a testimony and knowledge gained from studying in the scriptures of a plan of happiness that our Father in Heaven gave us.

That plan has a part in it for us. We, the women of the Church and the women of the world, have half the plan. We have the female half to take care of, and if we don’t do our part, no one else is going to do it for us. We can’t delegate it. We can’t pass it off to anyone. It’s ours. We can refuse it, we can deny it, but it’s still our part and we’re accountable for it and there will come a day when we will remember what we promised before we were born. We will remember that we fought in a great conflict for the privilege to have half of this responsibility. How will we account for our half, for what we did with the privileges we were given?

We know and believe and are signed up in a restored gospel that is governed by prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. We know that we have priesthood keys and revelation and there’s an order in all things in how the Lord’s work is done and that half of the plan was given to our brothers, and we support that. The half of the plan that creates life, that nurtures life, that causes growth, that influences everything else was given to us, and influencing is ever so much more long-lasting than managing. The keys are given to help us manage it all correctly. One half is not more important than the other half. We know God’s sons are equally important as God’s daughters; He couldn’t do His work without both. And the way we’re organized in the Church is the same as we’re organized in families. We help each other with our part of God’s work.

Now we are all involved in the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We know what His mission is. If you have your scriptures we can open it and read it together. This is in Moses 1:39. This won’t be new. You’ve heard it before, but when you hear it this time, think of this about whose work that we’re doing, what the Lord’s work is, and so what our work should be. Moses 1:39: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” That’s what Heavenly Father said His work was, and so why would our work be any different? Our brothers in the priesthood have the same work. They have different ways of operating. We share the same work. We’re helping each other accomplish the Lord’s work. We have to do that as we increase our faith.

Our task is great in this world. I think sometimes we close our eyes to what’s really happening out there. If you have your scriptures, let’s read through a few of the things that we know and see are happening in the world today. Let’s start with Matthew 24. This isn’t new. We’re just going to do a quick skim through. These are prophecies about the day we’re living in. Chapter 24, verse 6: “And [you’ll] hear of wars and rumours of wars, [and] nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” And there will be “false prophets [that] deceive many.” But here’s verse 14, a wonderful promise about this great day. This is the happy part: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” We get to be part of that part. So we’re part of the wars and the pestilences, but we’re also part of the gospel being preached to all nations. What an opportunity! We have the challenge but we have the opportunity. We have in 2 Timothy 3 where it’s talking about the last days. This says: “Know [this], that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, blasphemers, [proud,] disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.” Oh, my. Isn’t that describing things you’ve seen?

If you work outside of your homes and your husbands work, that’s the world they live in. Here’s another one, Alma 30. This is telling about Korihor, who was an antichrist, and we heard about antichrists yesterday. These are the kinds of things you hear antichrists say.  And verse 16 says, “Ye look forward [to] a remission of your sins. [Well, that] is the effect of a frenzied mind.” You’re nuts. OK? “And this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.” You’re nuts. OK? “And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature.” “It’s up to you. It’s all about you. Make yourself happy. You’ve only got one life; live it to the fullest.” Sounds like credit card ads to me. If you have a Visa card, you can do about anything if you watch their ads. This is telling about a time in the Book of Mormon when Korihor did preach, “leading away the hearts of many”—this is in verse 18—“causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.” Why did it say it that way, “leading away many women, and also men”? Do you think if women have the influence—half of the plan—that if you lead away all the influencers down the wrong path it might make a difference?

OK, so here’s what we learn in 2 Nephi 28 about this time also. Verse 3 says, “It shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord”—what’s a church? Is it an organized religion or is it something you worship? Fun, fame, power, entertainment? I don’t know; I think you could list any number of churches—that are “not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others [would] say: I, I am the Lord’s.” Oh I’m the right way, follow me. “And they shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance.” It goes on and on and tells about this saying, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” “You should just be happy now. Make yourself happy. It’s all about you." Hedonism. And they shall say, “Nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one … , dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this.” That’s preached everywhere in the world, this kind of teaching. So many teach after this manner, and then let’s skip to verse 20 where it says, “Behold, at that day [Satan] shall rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” We hear about that. When something good is spoken, somebody gets mad about it. Who is that message from? “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion. Yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.”

OK, can you see how we’ve just talked about why we need faith? These scriptures are full of descriptions about our day, and I can’t read a chapter in them without finding it and saying, “Oh, I recognize that. I see that. Oh, that’s the world I get to live in and navigate in.” How wonderful, because with our challenge comes our opportunity because we have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We have some truth and we know how to act and how to get answers. We aren’t left and lost alone. We are like those sisters in that little Relief Society in Brazil; we’ve been organized into something wonderful where we can support and help each other to grow in our faith and help ourselves navigate in this world. So many wonderful things are happening.

Let’s talk about some ways to defend this. We know that Alma had some good examples of this. How many of you have your scriptures? Hold them up. That helps me, thank you. All right, Alma 48. This is teaching what Alma did when he was facing a determined enemy, a very deceitful enemy. I’ve just described that for you. We’re up against a deceitful, determined enemy. So here are three wonderful keys of how to take care and defend ourselves against a determined enemy. Alma 48:7. “Now … while Amalickiah”—that’s the enemy—“had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful to the Lord their God.”

No one can take over your mind. You have control of your mind and where it goes and what you put into it and what you think about. If you prepare minds to be faithful to the Lord then you’ve really influenced something. Next he did something else in verse 8. “He had been strengthening the armies … , and erecting small forts, or places of resort” and then it describes how he did that. He threw up some banks of earth and walls of stone roundabout, and he encircled them on the border, and in other places it says they put up pickets and they dug trenches. It’s a process and you have different layers of defense, but small forts and places of resort. What could those be?

Is your home a small fort or a place of resort where people can go in there and you pull up the drawbridge and you’re safe? Or have you knocked down the walls of your fort and lowered the drawbridge and let the enemy in? And it’s very easy to do that these days. You just turn on the TV or the radio or get a movie or some music or something and you’ve lowered your defense. But our homes and our wards and our stakes could be places of refuge and small forts.

Now verse 9 gives you one other tactic: “In their weakest fortifications he did place the greater number of men; and thus he did fortify and strengthen the land.” There you go. Where you’re weakest, put your most effort. Don’t ignore your weaknesses. You know where you need to strengthen things in your homes and in your families. Please do that. Now, you have to teach your children in your homes. The rules come from the scriptures and you are the sheriff. The Lord gave us a code of conduct. You can find it in here; you can find it in For the Strength of Youth. The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet is a fabulous resource that says, “Here’s a code of conduct; we will live by that.” If people in your home are not living by that code then you are not fortifying your place of resort and you’re not putting your greatest strength where you need to. And oftentimes people say, I’ve heard mothers say this a lot, “Oh, I’m not going to die on that hill.” And Sister Dalton says, “It’s not about hills, it’s about holiness,” because you are fighting against a determined enemy. What practices are the teenagers having in their schools in regard to dances, parties, get-togethers? Who’s going to be the influencer of that? Do you just say “Well, have fun, when will you be home?” or do you say, “What is happening and who is responsible to see that my child and my neighbor’s child and my neighbor’s neighbor’s child is defended, that we aren’t polluting their minds, that bad practices are going on?” If your child is in a school then you are responsible to help fortify and strengthen that school so that it becomes a place of resort for your child. Who else will do it?

My mother used to have this saying: “There is no 'they.' You know what we say, ‘Oh “they” are doing it. “They” will do it.’ Who’s doing it? ‘Oh, “they” are doing it.’ Who is ‘they?’” And oftentimes after I received this calling my mother-in-law would say, “Don’t they know you need a break? Don’t they know you get tired? Don’t they know you have a family?” so finally one day I said, “Mom, I am ‘they.’” She looked at me a little funny. But you are “they.” If you have a child in the school and you say “Oh, they will fix it,” who is “they”? There is no “they”; there is only you. If your children need to be taught, who will teach them? “They” will teach them? The Primary teachers, the Young Women leaders, the Young Men—they will teach them? You will teach them, and then your Primary teachers will help you teach them and they will fortify and strengthen what you are doing. They’ll be part of creating that place of resort, but they aren’t the primary line of defense. There is no “they.”

Are you pointing them to the temple? Homeward? We have your home we’ve talked about. We have the Lord’s home on the earth that you heard about from President and Sister Bateman yesterday. Are you pointing them to that home? Are they being pointed to a heavenly home? Are you pointed to that? Homeward? Your neighbor’s home?

I remember some of my pioneer grandmothers, how fabulous they were. One of my grandmothers was part of the Restoration experience from actually New York state to Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo, all the way across the plains, but when the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated she made sure she and her husband were in that temple receiving the ordinances of salvation before they crossed the plains. It was that important. Another grandmother who didn’t have that opportunity followed the Church from England to Nauvoo, out onto the plains. She buried three husbands. She wasn’t really good luck for husbands. Actually, I think she buried five husbands. She was married five times and she outlasted all of them. She had 11 children. But she was in St. George when the St. George Temple was dedicated, the first temple dedicated in the West, and she was there when it opened with all of her living children. She was pointed to the temple.

I want you to know that I believe with all my heart that our pioneer grandmothers did not make the sacrifices they made and come across the plains for us to have better shopping malls, for us to have nicer pedicures, for us to have bigger wardrobes. My grandma Elizabeth Walmsley did not bury the children she buried along the way, and those husbands, and make that effort to get to the temple so that I could just be comfortable. Some day I will meet her and she will say, “What did you do with the opportunities I created for you? I laid the foundation.” All of us build on the shoulders of someone, some giant who helped us.

We have some ugly practices going on with our youth, some traditions and things that we cannot do. We’re worrying about entertainment versus teaching. We have such opportunities. This service that we did last night, it was wonderful. It will bless thousands of lives, but when you go home what will you do in your home to serve with your family, with your loved ones? How about the sisters you visit teach? Will you feel that same joy and enthusiasm about serving her that you felt last night? Will you feel the same joy and enthusiasm about helping your neighbor as you felt last night? I would hope so.

On the front row here are five women who came from California. These are friends of our daughter. She couldn’t come so she called and she says, “Mom, five of my friends are coming. They’ll represent me. Can they have seats on the front row in your session?” I said, “Sure, send me their names and we’ll get them seats on the front row,” but they know about serving, these women do.

Last summer when our daughter had her sixth baby I was planning to go help her and I had my plane ticket. Everything was set and then President Faust passed away and I had some responsibilities to help with that week so I couldn’t go. And these women took care of her for me. They nurtured her, they took care of her children, they took in meals, and they loved her. That’s what it’s about. And I did eventually get there. She said, “Mother, some women get their mothers for three weeks when they have a new baby. I only got you for three days.” I said, “Be grateful for the three days.” She was healthy by the time I got there. We got to go to the zoo and play and have fun because these women took care of her when she needed a mother.

That’s what we do. We help build up those places of resort. We prepare the minds of our people to be faithful. We strengthen one another in this work. There is so much work to be done, and it’s not fancy. We can’t decorate it. We can’t put a theme to it. It doesn’t center around holidays. It’s just daily doing the things that demonstrate we know who we are. We know what we committed to before we were born. We know our responsibilities here. We seek every day to do the best we can. When we don’t, we go to the Lord, we pick ourselves up, we get better, and we go on and we don’t do it alone. We have this wonderful Relief Society. That was the official invitation to the women of the Church to be part of the reorganization of the Church.

The Lord said to Joseph Smith, “Get your Apostles. Teach them what to do and get them going.” He did that. “Get some Seventy. Teach them what to do to go out and teach the gospel.” They did that. Then he said, “We’re going to have bishops and we’ll organize you into groups where we can meet. Now, sisters, do you want to be part of this? OK, there’s part of this work for you too.” It’s unique, it’s precious, and it’s special. In all the world there’s nothing like it. It’s much like what the Savior had when He was in the New Testament times. If you read in Luke where He says He organized the Twelve, then He organized the Seventy and at the end of the chapter where He organized the Seventy, we find the Mary and Martha story where He says, “You can do all this busy stuff or you can be part of something bigger that I’ll never take away from you.” That’s what we’re part of; the restored gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth. We have half of the plan. We have the influence half, the female half of the plan. Are we doing our half to the best of our ability? We need your faith, sisters. You are the ones who have faith.

Let’s think of where we’ve been now. You’re here because you have faith. You want to do better. You can go out from this place influencing everyone else you meet, helping them in small ways to be part of strengthening and preparing the minds of the people to be faithful. That means we don’t apologize for what we have, and we make no excuses and every hill is important. We are part of creating places of resort and small forts, and we work carefully to build that defense. We don’t knock down the walls of our defense or lower the drawbridge for any reason, because our enemy is deceitful and determined. We then put our greatest efforts to where we need the most strength. We have to prioritize. We can’t do it all. We can’t do everything at once, but we have our half to do. Please use your strengths that are yours uniquely.

Not long ago I was with a group of African women. These were wonderful cabinet ministers, parliament ministers. They were fabulous, educated women from 17 different nations in central Africa. They wanted to come and learn of how they could help their people better. They went to the humanitarian center. We talked about welfare, and then we had lunch and we talked about the women’s organizations of the Church. And they said to me, “What can you do from Salt Lake City? There’s nothing you can do from Salt Lake that will help our women in Africa.” OK. So this is what I told them we do. “Well, we send them a little guidebook. We teach them how to gather together as a group of women. Out of that group one woman is chosen as the leader. She organizes them. She sends them out to visit each other one at a time. They go into each other’s homes and they come back and say, ‘This sister is sick, this one’s having a new baby, this one needs shoes, this one is hungry,’ and then that leader says, ‘In our group do we have the resources to take care of each other?’ and they nod.” Those women in the African countries said, “We could do this.” It’s as simple as getting a group of women together with a common purpose and need, helping each other accomplish what they have to do.

I bear you my testimony that I know we are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us. He created a beautiful plan for us. He gave us half the responsibility. We cannot delegate it. I know we have a Savior in Jesus Christ, that because of Him and His atoning power we know that through our imperfections we can do better and better. We make covenants with Him and He becomes our helper and our advocate and our example. I testify to you of the power of the Holy Ghost that can influence and strengthen and teach us, and, oh, what a power that is when we keep ourselves in a place to listen.

I testify to you of prophets and apostles on the earth today who lead and guide the restored gospel, and it is our privilege to follow and hearken and serve with them. I also know of your goodness and the power that is in the sisters in this Church, that out of your homes and your fine lives the world can be changed for the better. I leave you my love and my confidence and my appreciation for all the great things you’re doing in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.