Before giving her first general conference address after being called to the Young Women general presidency, Sister Neill F. Marriott remembered sitting in the tall red chairs on the stand in the “cavernous” Conference Center and not having her feet touch the floor. “I was terrified,” she recalled.
As she approached the podium, Sister Marriott said she offered up the plea, “Oh Heavenly Father, help me. Support me. Give me courage to do this.”
As she turned to look out at the 21,000 women and girls gathered for the Women’s Session of general conference, the words came to her mind, “These are your friends.”
At that moment, “Everything in me relaxed,” Sister Marriott said.
Sister Marriott related her experience as part of a breakout session during BYU Women’s Conference on Thursday, April 28. Sister Marriott spoke alongside her three daughters — Caroline Marriott, Kate Mitchell and Paige Storheim — as they shared thoughts and testimonies regarding the topic, “It Is Better to Look Up.”
The topic for the session came from a talk given by Elder Carl B. Cook in October 2011 general conference where he related an experience he had soon after being called as a General Authority Seventy. Standing in an elevator in the Church Administration Building with his head down, staring at the ground, he wondered “How can I possibly do this?” Soon someone entered the elevator and told him “It is better to look up.” Recognizing the voice as that of President Thomas S. Monson, Elder Cook then spoke of how that interchange re-directed his focus.
“That’s what happened to me by looking up,” Sister Neill Marriott said of her experience during general conference. “I was steadied and strengthened in front of 21,000, and I knew Heavenly Father gave that feeling to me. It’s better to look up.”
Kate said that sometimes the difference between happiness and unhappiness is listening to the right voices. Recently as she has tried to make an important decision, she has had to work to not allow voices on Instagram and other places to intrude on her conversations with heaven. “The process of listening for the voice of the Spirit has drawn me close to Heavenly Father,” Kate said.
“The Lord can tilt your head up in unexpected ways,” Caroline continued. Growing up she said her plan for her life had always included marriage and children after finishing her education. After graduating from Columbia University with her master’s degree in public policy, however, she was still single and took a high-pressure job as a management consultant. Working in a “dog-eat-dog world” sapped her energy, she said. “My life and my mind [were] not looking up very much.”
Eventually, she decided to quit her job, move to Utah and go back to school. As she prayed about it, she felt peace and hope for the first time in a long time. Now Caroline has a job she loves as a clinical therapist.
“Heavenly Father really has a path for us and He has a plan for us and it’s by looking up and by looking to God and trusting in Him that He will actually show [us] the way. I really know that to be true,” she said.
Sister Marriott said when her children were small she asked an older mother for parenting advice. The mother responded, “Be consistent. Be consistent with daily gospel living.” That was something she really tried to take to heart, she said.
Paige said she felt that consistency growing up as they read scriptures as a family around the breakfast table. “The real takeaway for me was to see my father reach for the scriptures every morning. … That helped me look up and know that I could look to my Heavenly Father.”
That lesson is something she has tried to carry on to her own family, Paige said, and told of how a couple of years ago, she realized she had an opportunity to read scriptures with her boys as she waited with them for the school bus.
“As they stepped on that bus and drove away, I knew they had some things,” she said. “They had a testimony to go with them, and they had a scripture and they had felt the Spirit.”
Paige added her testimony, “Sisters, I love the scriptures. They help me look up. When I open them it is like coming home. There is comfort there. I know they’re true. My family knows they’re true because we’ve read them.”
Reading the scriptures every morning with many children around the table wasn’t easy, Sister Neill Marriott added. Sometimes it felt like a burden to stop activity at the breakfast table and pick up the scriptures to read. “But no matter the burden we carry, we reach for Him,” she said. “And when we do, good things come. Strength comes.”
What feels like a burden can become a gift, she said, because these troubles can turn individuals to the Savior. “We come to realize that it is by the grace of Jesus Christ we are empowered to do what is required. And so these burdens can become the very thing — the gift — that brings us to Christ.”
To illustrate, Kate shared when she was called to serve as a Relief Society president in her ward in Wisconsin. At the time, she decided to try to re-create the “magical” Christmas Eve dinners her mom made back home. Despite her best efforts, “it was a disaster,” Kate recalled.
Amidst the chaos, she needed to make a plate and drive it across town through the inner city to a sister who was sick and elderly and lived alone. It felt like a big inconvenience but this woman “was just lovely and became so, so dear to me.”
Look for opportunities to serve, she encouraged. “I know from my experience that we are happier women when we are serving.”
Caroline then invited listeners to find what message the Lord has for them specifically in the moment. “He’s a safe place. He’s the place to go and He can tell you right now the things that you need to know.”
Paige spoke of a time where she was in search of a “safe place” as her husband was away interviewing for work and her third-grader was being bullied at school. “Beyond donning boxing gloves and showing up at recess, I had to turn to the Lord,” she said.
Before her son left for school she told him, “When that recess bell rings I want you to know that I will be on my knees praying for you that you will be comforted and that somehow you will find a friend.” As 10:30 a.m. rolled around, Paige said she dropped everything, got to her knees and prayed to Heavenly Father.
The recess prayer continued for about a week when her son told her, “Mom, I found a friend.”
“You can’t imagine the gratitude I felt for my Heavenly Father at that moment and the way it strengthened my testimony and [my son’s] testimony that prayers can be answered and that we can find joy from asking and receiving,” she said.
Sister Marriott invited listeners to consider how they could re-direct their focus away from their fears — whether it’s walking to a podium, interviewing for a job, trying to make a friend or anything else. Ask “how can I re-direct [my] focus to the source of power, light, truth and love? We can all do that whether it’s [through] prayer or scripture or the example of another,” she said.
Sister Neill Marriott testified of a constant, consistent and loving Savior. “We can pray in His name to the Father and receive all we need to go through this journey of life joyfully, despite the challenges before us.”