Leaders speak on grace

Credit: Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Credit: Hugh Carey, Deseret News


Just as there are many facets to a diamond, so also are there different facets and dimensions to gospel truths and attributes, such as the gift of grace, said Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president during BYU Women’s Conference May 2.

Offering an address in the BYU Marriott Center, Sister Burton was joined by the Church’s other general women’s leaders: Sister Carole M. Stephens and Sister Linda S. Reeves of the Relief Society general presidency; Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Sister Carol F. McConkie, and Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women general presidency; and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Sister Jean A. Stevens and Sister Cheryl A. Esplin of the Primary general presidency. Each woman took five minutes, speaking in alphabetical order, to share an example of grace.

“Because we have the opportunity to meet sisters and women throughout the world, we wanted to share some of their stories relating to the various facets of grace, made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” said Sister Burton. “We hope as we share their stories of strength, you will see how the enabling power of the grace of the Lord has strengthened you and those you love.”

Sister Burton spoke of Ailsa Coutts, a widow from Auckland, New Zealand, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday.

When Sister Coutts was only 27 years old, her husband’s plane was shot down over Amsterdam by a fighter pilot during World War II. Nearly 40 years later, the German pilot who had shot down the plane contacted Sister Coutts and apologized. “Ailsa freely forgave him, assuring him she held no ill will towards him. …

“Ailsa had been a widow for 73 years by the time I met her. As I thought about her forgiving the soldier who killed her husband, I could see how the divine gift of grace had enabled Ailsa to become benevolent.”

Sister Esplin shared the story of Rosa, a faithful pioneer sister in Russia. She told Sister Esplin, “I feel the love of God every day.”

Rosa joined the Church 20 years ago when she met the missionaries. “Although Rosa’s conversion to the gospel sounds easy and simple, it hasn’t been without trials and heartache. Her husband and grown children didn’t want anything to do with the Church. To this day, her husband disapproves of her involvement with the Church; her children have disowned her and won’t allow her to have contact with her grandchildren.

“To try to ease her heartache and sorrow, it could be natural for Rosa to turn from the Savior and from His Church,” said Sister Esplin. “But instead, Rosa says: ‘When Christ takes us by the hand, it is not hard. It would be hard if we were alone, but we are not alone.’ ”

Sister Marriott spoke of traveling on a Church assignment to Africa, where she met a young woman in Zimbabwe. The young woman rises at 5 a.m. to get water for her family. The pressure of the water, which she carries on her head, hurts her neck. She helps her siblings get ready and then goes to school.

“Think about her life and her ability to carry on with a smile and faith, despite heavy responsibilities,” Sister Marriott said. “And in addition to these burdens, she told me that she carries the weight of having been abused when she was younger.

“Despite all these difficulties, she manages life with a smile. Why? Because she turns to Jesus Christ. She feels the hope and reassurance of His love. Whether it is a heavy water bucket, family responsibilities or school challenges, she moves with grace — the Savior’s grace.”

Sister McConkie said she learned from a young wife and mother “that we can receive spiritual light — the answers to sincere questions, the wisdom and understanding that come through the Spirit of the Lord.”

This young mother loves her children but struggles to be patient through long days of noisy, unruly children, she said.

One day, while questioning her role as a mother, the Spirit of the Lord filled this mother’s soul and she knew the Lord had prepared her for the eternally significant mission to be a mother of children. “Over succeeding years … my young friend has often sought divine wisdom,” said Sister McConkie. “Relying upon the grace of God, she has learned that keeping covenants scrubs out selfishness and helps her feel faith, hope, and charity. She is able to see things from an eternal perspective.”

Sister Oscarson spoke of her daughter, Carrie, who struggled with infertility for many years. They went through tests and procedures to discover the cause and found nothing to explain why Carrie and her husband were not conceiving a child. They spent their entire savings on invitro fertilization, which was not successful. Their family and friends raised money, and they tried the procedure again. Still it was not successful.

“During this dark time, the Lord sent them a blessing. They were able to sell the home they had been living in and move into a new home in a neighborhood they loved.” With the money from the sale of their home, they were able to try the procedure again. “In Carrie’s words, ‘We approached the Lord and laid it all on the altar. We told him that this was our offering.’ ” The procedure was a success.

“We can look back on our long period of trial with assurance that the Lord was in charge of the plan and that He walked the path of longing, disappointment, pain, patience and ultimately joy with us. His grace was sufficient.”

Sister Reeves said she recently met a woman who had served a two-year mission with her husband. When the couple returned home three of their four children had become less-active in the Church. Sister Reeves said they determined to be the best example they could be for their children. “They continued pouring out their love to their children and [did] all they could to be great examples.”

“Dear sisters, I testify that I know the Lord does and will bless our children as we continue to faithfully do all that we can to be faithful and true and to rescue others.”

Sister Carole Stephens shared the experience of a mother whose son’s mission call had been delayed. The woman said, “As we’ve worked through this bump in our family’s road, I’ve come to realize that some of my reactions to my husband, my children and others around me are distorted and unhealthy when I let negative emotions reside in my soul. … So, I’ve made a decision. I am not going to allow these emotions to stick around.”

The mother told Sister Stephens she was choosing to be happy. “I feel stronger each day as I access His grace, His mercy and His love,” the mother said. “This divine help enables me every step of the way as I navigate through this experience. I am learning that repentance, second chances, hope, redemption, mercy, love and goodness are all part of the Lord’s great plan of happiness.”

Sister Jean Stevens also spoke of visiting Africa — where she met wonderful mothers. “With great concern and love for their precious ones, these mothers wrap their children and happily carry them on their backs. The children are their focus, their priority.” These treasured children “are protected and safeguarded. They keep the rising generation close — physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

Sister Stevens said, for these women and other women, the role to nurture, protect and teach children is often an overwhelming one. “It is only with the grace of God that we can hope to contribute our part in His divine work. This grace from God gives us, His daughters, His enabling power to do more and be more than we are on our own.”

Sister Wixom showed a photograph of a flower growing through concrete. She said the plant is stretching and seeking light while enduring adversity with the weight of asphalt on its back. “We receive the strength to endure our trials through His grace,” she said.

She spoke of a woman who served as Relief Society president and attended her Sunday meetings while genuinely loving her husband who chose to do otherwise. Another woman, stricken with a terminal disease, found the strength to graciously endure. And a third woman carried the burden of watching one she dearly loved deal with the power of an addiction to pornography. “These women where strengthened through grace,” she said. “They found joy in spite of the burdens they were carrying. In spite of it all, they chose to find happiness in their lives. Looking forward with an eternal perspective gives one hope, reason to look up and feel gratitude for even the smallest bit of light.”

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