19: General Conference, Personal Connection
Stories in this episode: A talk at general conference answers DeDe’s reluctant prayer about the truthfulness of the missionaries’ message; Naveen makes a joyful 2 a.m. phone call to India after a surprise prophetic announcement; Cynthia starts on a path of redemption and healing when a seemingly personal message from an Apostle shows her that forgiveness and change is possible.
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Welcome to This is the Gospel. An LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host KaRyn Lay.
I think sometimes when we talk about the Restoration, we think of it as this one-time event that already happened a long, long time ago. And while that makes for a nice and easy lesson in Sunday school, the truth is so much more exciting than that. The Restoration is actually an ongoing, continuing, living process in these latter days. And the best part about that is that we get to watch truth as they're restored to this earth through modern-day prophets and apostles. Isn't that crazy? It actually feels unreal, even saying it out loud right now. But that's what makes General Conference such an important and beautiful part of our gospel tradition. It is the restoration unfolding before our very eyes and ears and hearts. And the millions of people watch this event, it somehow still feels extremely personal. Like God is revealing and restoring truths directly to us, that help us to hope, and to repent, to believe, and to make covenants with God, and to really live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, this week as we prepare ourselves to hear from our leaders on that grand podium, three storytellers will share their sacred moments when revelation at General Conference reached straight into their own lives. Our first story comes from DeDe, who had just moved with her boyfriend to a new city when the sister missionaries knocked on her door. And you'll actually hear a little bit of that city in the recording. We couldn't stop the trucks from moving. Here's DeDe.
DEDE: So I grew up in church. I just didn't grow up in the church. I grew up in a church that was consisted of about 75% family members. My grandma worked really hard to make sure that each of us had a firm Christian foundation. And when she passed away, I just found myself wanting to be back in church again. I was looking for a church to attend to and missionaries on my doorstep were looking for my boyfriend. But I really don't think it was a coincidence that what we found was each other. I immediately was drawn to them. I absolutely loved the two girls that were sitting across the room from me. We were so alike in so many ways that I was just immediately drawn to them. But as awesome as they were, and as much as I wanted to get to know them, I had no desire to convert to anything. One of the first things that I said to them was, "I'm Lutheran. I love being Lutheran, and I'm always going to be Lutheran no matter what." I'm pretty sure Heavenly Father's still laughing about that.
It was the, "Can we please practice on you?" line that really did me in. Honestly, though, being as how I had just moved to a new place, a new area, I was homesick, and I didn't know anybody but my boyfriend. I probably would have let them practice science experiments on my head just to have some sort of semblance of friendship going on. And so I immediately started taking lessons. And I remember, the restoration kind of went pretty well. I was okay with it. But I wasn't really you know that into it. And then we found- we just started talking about the plan of salvation, and I fell in love with it. And I was hooked from that moment on. I, however, was a terrible investigator. I started to go to church. And I kept my commitments for the most part. And I even somewhat started to follow the word of wisdom on my own bit by bit. But at the same time, I was so stubborn, I questioned everything that they told me, and I refused to pray to find out if the church was true or not. So we by week, sister by sister those poor, sweet souls just kept trying, and I just kept resisting. So finally, after months of them asking, sometimes begging me to pray to know whether or not the truth was true, and the Book of Mormon was true, I finally decided to give in, basically, just to get them off my backs and to get it over with. So I sat down and I said the prayer, they've been bugging me for so long to pray. And little did I know how clearly Heavenly Father was going to answer that prayer for me.
I attended my very first conference session at the church for the 2015 October women's session. And I had no idea what to expect, I'd never been to anything like it. I'd never known anything like it. I had no idea what conference was or what was going to happen. But I was pretty sure I was going to be so bored. To be perfectly honest, the only reason that I even went was because they had brownie sundae. And I really just wanted to get out of the house. So I was sitting there and Elder Uchtdorf gave his talk "A Summer with Great Aunt Rose", and I loved it. From that moment on I loved conference. I wanted to hear as many conference talks as possible. And that's what we would in our spare time, is at night before bed, we would go to YouTube, and look up conference talks, and watch them before we fell asleep. So we were sitting on the couch one day, looking at YouTube, scrolling through different Elder Holland talks. As soon as I came across "Like a Broken Vessel", I was immediately drawn to it. And I just knew that that's the one I wanted to watch for whatever reason. Three minutes into that talk, my life completely changed. I was sitting there bawling my eyes out. And I mean, like ugly crying my eyes out as I listened to this sweet man, tell me everything I had been waiting to hear for so long that nobody else had ever said to me. In that moment, it was so clear that not only was the church true, but that it was everything I had been looking for my entire life. Like I knew in that moment, that there was no way that this man was speaking to me and it wasn't coming from a higher place and that it wasn't directed towards me. And I have no explanation as to why I had that reaction other than I asked the question and Heavenly Father wanted my stubborn self to know that he answered it in a way that I couldn't deny. And he did. He answered it so clearly and so fully and so perfectly for me that there's no way in a million years that I could ever deny the truth of this church.
So by the end of the talk, I was willing to do anything and everything I had to do to become a member like I didn't care what it took, it was worth it to me to become a member of this church.
So within a few weeks, I got married. And nine days later, my husband actually baptized me into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I haven't looked back since. My life has been so amazing since I found the gospel. I've had such clarity, such joy, such peace, such happiness, such just excitement in my life that in ways that I've never experienced before I joined this church, and I honestly have it all to thank to that talk. I mean, I have found so much happiness, and it's so much more than happiness. It really is. But that's the best way that I can describe it is just that I have found so much happiness. And it's all because Heavenly Father answered a prayer that I didn't even want to say.
KARYN: That was DeDe. So much happiness. As a lifelong member of the church, I can sometimes forget that part of the gospel in the day to day grind of discipleship. But I totally remember that talk from Elder Holland that DeDe talked about. And I remember feeling filled with the love of God when I heard those words from an apostle, a special witness of the Savior. Isn't it so cool that our leaders have General Conference? A place where they can speak about those relevant issues in our current language. I really think it helps so many people like me, like DeDe, to feel acknowledged and heard by God. Our next story comes from Naveen. Naveen grew up in a small branch of the church in Chani, India. He shares this story about the power of sacrificing for temple blessings, and what one announcement at General Conference last April meant to him, his family and the country he loves. Here's Naveen.
NAVEEN: My grandfather used to work for the British and was exposed to Christianity because of that. My father, who was the youngest in his family, would bike my grandfather to different churches on Sundays, thus being exposed to Christianity himself. One day when my father was playing soccer, his friend who returned from the India Singapore mission, invited my father to come to our church. My father and my grandfather went to church, which was held at the apartment of a couple missionary that were serving in Chennai at that time. The living room was where sacrament meeting and Sunday school was held. And their bedrooms was where primary Relief Society and Priesthood meetings were held. My father and my grandfather later, started taking missionary discussions. And they joined the church on April 6, 1989. Some of the Pioneer members of the Church in India. There were barely 20 members at that time. And on top of it, there was a lot of opposition from my father from his family members, as they were all practicing Hindus. A few years later, in 1994, my parents got married. My mom, who was a Hindu, started coming to church with my dad. Both my parents were very active in the church. But my mom did not want to get baptized until I turned eight years old. So in 2003, my mom and I were baptized together. And then my little sister was baptized in 2008. At this point, we had more members in the church. So we had rented buildings for church. We did not meet at somebody's apartment. Growing up in the church, we were always taught about the temples. We were also taught at a very young age that we need to set goals to get married in the temple. To go to the temple to be sealed as a family in order to live in the presence of God. Thinking about that, I remember, as a family, we talked about it. Although my parents were married, they were never sealed in the temple. Neither were me or my sister sealed to them. Something felt incomplete. Although we were members of the church, it was incomplete because we were not sealed as a family. Going to the temple meant either we have to go to Hong Kong, or Manila, Philippines, two places that is nowhere near to where we live in Chennai, India. We had to start saving up financially, which was the biggest obstacle. My family worked really, really hard to save up, we sacrificed a lot. My dad took a second job for the season to save up for a temple trip. Finally, in May 2012, a few families including mine, we all flew to the Hong Kong, China temple. Finally, the long wait of going to the temple was going to become a reality. My family has never been on a flight before. So I'm grateful we flew as a group where some people knew what they were doing in the airport. When we reached Hong Kong, it was so weird. I remember it was just so different. We didn't speak the language. We had some instructions on what bus to take and where to get down. We boarded the bus outside the airport. I remember being in the bus for a really long time. And finally, it was our turn to get down out of the bus. We got down from the bus, started unloading all the baggage, and it turned and there it was: The House of the Lord, the Hong Kong China Temple. It just felt so different. All of sudden I felt calm, assured, loved and in peace. My first day in the temple, my parents went to be endowed. While me and my sister and some other children that came with us went to go do some baptisms for the dead. I remember doing at least 100 names a day. I told the temple workers that I was- that I was all there's. My only purpose of visiting Hong Kong was this temple. We did a lot of baptisms for the dead. Finally, on the 22nd of May, 2012, it was scheduled to be sealed as a family in the house of the Lord. We all knelt across from the altar, took each other in our hands, and we were sealed as a family, never to be parted, for time and all eternity. It was an experience that words cannot describe.
A few days later, we returned from Hong Kong, back to Chennai. And I was very surprised to see every member in our branch were just so happy for us. Happy for all of us that went to the temple. They all felt very motivated and they wanted to work hard towards their own goal of going to the temple. I remember the words of many of our branch presidents over the time, telling us how if we were faithful in keeping the commandments, that someday God will bless us with our own temple. In the year 2013, I had the opportunity to come to college at BYU Idaho. I remember walking out of the Salt Lake City Airport. I saw at least four temples that I counted. I was shocked. I told myself, "You've got to be kidding me? Why are there so many temples here and not even one in India?" After a semester at BYU Idaho, I went to serve a full-time mission. I served as a missionary in the India New Delhi mission from February 2014 to 2016. India New Delhi mission is probably one of the biggest missions geographically. We covered five countries, the entire northern India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Bhutan. I taught a lot of great people, met some fantastic members, many of them, like my family, were all working hard to make it to the temple someday. After serving a faithful mission, I returned back to BYU Idaho, and later met and married my wife Sarai. My goal of getting married in the temple became true. My family from India were able to join us to witness our sealing in the Meridian Idaho Temple. The second time they entered the temple was for my sealing in December 2017. During their stay here, they were able to visit a few temples including the Salt Lake City temple. My family was so delighted to be in Temple Square. And look at the grandeur of the Salt Lake City temple. Every time I see a temple or attend a session in a temple, I always think of my family and friends and members in India. I always asked them if there are any names I can add on the template prayer roll; any baptisms for the dead I could do for them. It was the 2018 April General Conference. During the closing remarks on the Sunday afternoon session, President Russell M. Nelson announced that there will be a new temple built in Bangalore, India. When I heard this announcement, I started jumping and clapping and tears just started rolling down my eyes. The wait of many, many members of the Church in India, in all its neighboring countries, has finally come to an end. Their prayers were finally answered. I immediately felt a sense of gratitude and joy, knowing that finally, members of the Church in India will have access to the house of the Lord more frequently than just once in their lifetime. or sometimes not even that. My phone started flooding with messages from friends and people that knew that I was from India. Everyone was just so happy for me. Happy for the people of India. Now friends from India started posting on social media. and how exciting this announcement is. I called my parents in India and woke them up. It was about 2:30 in the morning. They were half asleep. I shared this exciting news with them. My family was so excited. Both my mom and dad felt very grateful that they will finally have a temple in India, which would bless a lot of lives. Because India is a country with more than 1.3 billion people. And having the house of the Lord in the country will help lots of people learn about our faith. Missionary work will explode!
Later that month when President Nelson went on a world tour. During his time in India, he met with the people and talked about how the night before the conference he received a strong impression that a temple should be built in Bangalore, India, and how he simply just acted on that impression. That was a testimony builder to me, that President Nelson is truly a prophet of God. And he did what God asked him to do. I'm a student at BYU Idaho. And I'm often asked if there any temple in India. My go to answer is, "Yes! There are thousands of temples in India, in fact, the temples on every corner of the street, but they're all Hindu temples." But after this historic announcement, I'm grateful that I can finally say, "Yes, they just announced a temple in India, there will be one soon." What a great sign of love it is from God to have President Nelson announce a temple in India.
KARYN: That was Naveen. I don't know about anybody else but I always feel that sort of heart-pounding, crazy wave of excitement and joy when that list of temple announcements is read by the Prophet at conference. After listening to Naveen's story, I think I know why. It's because that list represents the fulfillment of all the longing and prayers and sacrifice of people who totally understand the blessings that will come from having a house of the Lord where they are. Such a powerful reminder to me to be grateful for the gift of a temple nearby. Our last storyteller is Cynthia, who courageously shares her story of a time when an apostle's words were the only thing that could reach her in the dark hole that her life had become. Heres Cynthia.
CYNTHIA: It was March 16, 2015. And that was an important date to us. It was the anniversary of our temple sealing. And everything, everything blew up. Our whole life's got turned upside down. My life actually blew up about nine months before that. And everything finally came down on March 16. And it was all my fault. It was all because of choices that I made.
So the long and the short of it is that I had an affair. It lasted about nine months. My husband immediately said he wanted to work it out. He wanted to fix whatever was wrong. And he loved me and only me, and that he wanted this to work. So we went to the bishop that evening. And I told them everything. And it was really hard. But at the end, he asked me for my testimony. And I had to be honest, and say I didn't know if I had one.
I was raised in a little town and I still lived in that little town. But I was raised in a home that was not gospel-centered. My mom was not a member, my dad was a member, but he hadn't been active for any portion of my life. None of those gospel principles that we learn in primary, praying every day, and reading your scriptures, and listening to State Conference and General Conference, none of that was a part of my home. None of that was modeled for me. And as I grew up, I did attend church. I was baptized when I was eight. I thought I did the things that I needed to do. But I didn't do all those basic building blocks. And then I grew up, and got married, and went to college, had kids. And I just thought, who on earth has the time to do those things every single day, who has time to pray twice a day, and then with their family, and then with their spouse? And who has time to read the scriptures for at least 30 minutes every day? Who has time to spend a whole weekend devoted to listening to General Conference? Who has the time to do all these things? And I just felt like it wasn't something I had time for. But I kept doing other things. Like I attended church every Sunday and made sure that my kids were raised in the church. And I'd never really felt God's love for me. For just me. I was a mom. And I had felt a divine love for my children from the very first moment that I even knew they were going to be mine. I could feel how much they were divinely loved by somebody who wasn't me. But I'd never really felt that in connection to myself. So fast forward to the meeting with the bishop. He asked me if I could please start reading my scriptures every day. And pray every morning and every night, and then pray with my husband every day. And so we did. And reading the scriptures every day became a retreat for me. It became this solace from the pain I was constantly feeling as a result of my actions. Like I said, we live in a small town. And I knew everybody, we knew everybody. And everybody knew what was going on. Everybody. So there was nowhere that I could go in this little town without being stared at, without being talked about, without people saying rude things to me, even though there was a lot of people, so many people were supportive and tried to be understanding. And try to let me know that, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't over. It wasn't ended, that I was still a part of the community.
But it was hard to walk around and see how many people I hurt. I hurt my family and my husband's family. Who I loved so dearly. I hurt all of our friends. I hurt another person's family in the community. And the only time that I could get any type of soothing comfort was to read the scriptures. It was just a moment that was just mine to kind of relax in this turmoil that I'd created.
A couple of weeks later, the bishop asked me if I could watch all of Conference. And I said that I would. It was something I'd never done before. I started watching Conference and I had my little journal with me that I'd started from when I was reading scriptures. So it started and I had heard people say that when they watched Conference, they felt like it was all meant for them. And I just I couldn't understand couldn't even fathom how that could even be true. But when I started watching Conference, every single talk seemed to be directed to me. All of them. All the music, every speaker, every topic seemed like they were looking straight through their TV and looking at me. I was able to receive so much guidance and correction and comfort and direction for the coming months through that General Conference. And one of the first talks that really, really touched me was Sister Burton's talk. And she had said, "Thee lift me and I lift thee and we'll ascend together." And I started thinking about my marriage and how I expected Ted to leave because why wouldn't he? And he wasn't leaving, he was staying with me. And he wanted to work on it. And I realized that he was lifting me at the moment while I was doing all this work to try and fix whatever it was that was broken inside of me that would make me make this decision. I realized that I was being lifted. And I had this little glimpse of hope that maybe there would be a time where I could lift him. And when he needed to be lifted and help him.
I have this little glimpse of this life that we were going to be able to build together, constantly lifting each other and trying to just basically walk each other home to our Heavenly Father.
It gave me some hope that things were going to be okay. But then Elder Renlund got up and he was talking about "As You Like It", a play by William Shakespeare. And I am an English teacher. And I love that play. When the older brother tries to have the younger brother killed but doesn't it happen. And then the younger brother ends up saving the older brother from death. And the older brother was so moved, and he was changed by these experiences. Somebody who he had hurt so deeply, could turn around, and not only forgive him but save his life. And he changed. He completely changed. And some women asked him if he could possibly be the same brother, who tried to kill his younger brother earlier. And he said it, "Twas I, but tis not I. I do not shame to tell you what I was since my conversion. so sweetly tastes being the thing that I am." He knew he wasn't the same person that tried to kill his brother, he had changed fundamentally. And then Elder Renlund goes on to tell about the prophet Ezekiel, who tells us that the Lord said, "None of his sins that he had committed shall be mentioned to him." So through repentance, through this process, we are given this gift to change, to be allowed to change and to be able to become a person that we weren't before. And that gave me so much hope that I couldn't even contain myself, I was so excited that I could change so much that my sins wouldn't even be mentioned to me. And through that Conference, I was given so much hope. I knew that the road was going to be long. I hadn't even had my ward court yet. And I knew that it was going to be a long road. But it gave me the hope and the strength to know that I would be able to do it. That next Sunday in church. On the front of our program, there's always a quote from the scriptures, or from a prophet, or an apostle. And my husband handed me the program, and he pointed to it, and it was from a General Conference by Elder Holland. But it was not from the one that we had just heard. And that quote, was, "However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don't have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled. I testify that you have not traveled beyond the divine reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines." And that so perfectly summed up how I felt, because when I read that, quote, this whole time, I had felt like I had dug myself into this pit and I was at the bottom of this dirty, murky, awful pit. And it was hard to see the light, a lot of the time. It was really hard to see the light. And I would find glimpses of hope like I did in Conference. And I would know that there was light up there. And I would know that I needed to keep reaching for it. But at the moment that I read that quote, I could feel this light coming into this pit that I was in and circling me. And even going underneath to lift me up a bit.
Because I knew that Christ at that moment had sunk lower than how I felt. He had atoned for my sins.
And He was not only there, but He loved me. And that was the first time that I'd really felt and knew that I was loved by my Heavenly Father and by Jesus. And I knew that He had sunk lower so that He would be there to help me and to help me to return to Him. It's been four years, exactly today. And our lives have changed. Amazingly, since then, we can see the Lord's blessed us every step of the way.
And it was a long road. It was a long, hard road. But that was the first time when I truly felt Christ loved for me, and that I was worthy of His love, no matter what I had done.
KARYN: That was Cynthia. We are so grateful to her for her willingness to share something so very vulnerable and personal with us. So that we could see the beauty of the Atonement unfold in her life and be reminded that that same power can come into ours. I believe in the power of words. I'm a writer, and I often seek heavenly inspiration for the words that I write. So I can't help but wonder about the process that general authorities use to figure out what to talk about in General Conference. Do they, like me when I get an assignment to speak in church, go through several stages of panic and stress? Do they brainstorm topics or lay awake in bed discussing it with their spouse, read their old journals for promptings and stories, and then finally have a stroke of inspiration? Or do the words just flow into their mind? Or is it a little bit of all of the above? Whatever the process looks like, this week stories testify to me that it works. And that out of that process, God can perform miracles to bring the right words to his children wherever they are. Though it may seem simple, this is one of the ways that the Restoration is still happening. He can inspire Elder Renlund, to quote the specific words from "As You Like It", that would speak most directly to the heart of Cynthia, the English teacher struggling to be reborn in a new life, and to believe that God loves her. How many more thousands of similar stories are there of people listening to General Conference, who heard the exact words they needed to hear? What an incredible blessing it is to live in this time, where we have prophets. We have actual living prophets who talk to us and help us to live the gospel in a time when it can be really challenging to live it. They help us navigate some crazy, stormy waters and find peace in the midst of that storm. I am so incredibly grateful for their words and so excited to hear more next week.
That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you to DeDe, Naveen, and Cynthia for sharing their stories with us this week. If you have a story to share about being a disciple of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whether it's funny, touching, or miraculous, we'd love to hear it. Call our pitch line at 515-519-6179, and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. We've heard from so many of you that this podcast is making a difference in your day. Thank you, thank you. thank you to those of you who have taken the time to leave a review on the Apple podcast app. This episode was produced and edited by Davey Johnson and Sarah Blake. It was mixed and mastered by Mix at Six Studios and our executive producers Erin Hollstrom. I'm your host KaRyn Lay. You can find past episodes of this podcast, and other LDS Living podcasts, at ldsliving.com/podcasts. Have a great conference weekend.