Sunday, October 2, 2016

Togertherness: the best part of Conference

Another #LDSConf has come and gone, and what a spectacular one it was for us.  

For nearly 11 years now we have watched all of the sessions of General Conferences as a family...just my husband and me...and babies.  Those babies became toddlers, and toddlers became school kids who are venturing into tweendom.  And all of those years of practice watching and learning from General Conference is really beginning to pay off.  They can sit.  They can identify principles. They can learn. They can feel the Spirit.  They can record their feelings. They can ask questions.  They can discuss what they heard with us.

They did all of that this weekend, with surprisingly little assistance from us, and that made me feel proud and happy for them.

However, as I was cleaning up this evening, I realized that the best part of Conference for me this time around was just spending time together as a family.  

Now that they are a little better at watching Conference, and now that they are mostly in school, I guess I was better able to notice what an amazing gift it is to simply BE together with my family for two whole days, with no expectations, nowhere to be, no jobs to fulfill, only that we sit and listen and think and feel...and laugh and eat and smile and giggle and snuggle and...hear the true words of God, uninterrupted by commercials or other media.

Some of my favorite moments are:

- watching my nearly six month old roll and roll around on the floor and then sit by himself for the first time
-listening to my almost 11 year old pound out Christmas songs on the piano and hearing him say, "I never knew I was good at piano!"
-seeing my 3 year old walk in wearing my high heels and bathrobe pretending to "be old"
-enduring a holy fit thrown by my 9 year old who won't eat her lunch and tells the whole family that the only reason we think it tastes good is because we are "all weird" (then smiling as she willingly eats that same meal 4 hours later and says, "actually, Mom this is delicious!" To which I respond, "Oh, good! I always knew you were just as weird as the rest of us." To which she smiled sheepishly and then we laughed together about the whole thing.) 
-looking around while the other children are being rowdy and seeing my almost 8 year old standing and singing during the congregational hymn, oblivious to anyone else, but being a great example at the same time.

And there was a really hard thing we were dealing with too, crushingly difficult, but even that was made a little lighter by virtue of just being together.

So, nothing earth-shattering here, just a realization that the blessings of Conference are many and great and long-lasting if we stick with it...I want to remember these good times.

The Church is wonderful.  The Gospel is true.  The Savior Lives.  His power is real.  And I want to use it to become better for my family which I hope will last forever and ever, Amen.
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Friday, September 30, 2016

Identifying Principles Taught in #LDSConf

Like many of you, I am doing some last-minute prep-work ahead of General Conference weekend.  I've got some food to cook and then I *really* want to get to bed early tonight, so I can enjoy Conference tomorrow.

I've done a few "doodle books" for my children over the years and shared them here, so I thought I'd share what we're doing this time as well.

I really do think it's true that the Lord helps us time-crunched Mothers out.  As I was running errands today, the thought came to me that during General Conference this time, I should ask my children to try to identify the principle being taught during each talk.  This is something we've been doing in our scripture study for a while now, so it only makes sense that we focus on that during Conference.

So I made our little doodle books up to go along with that theme.  Instead of trying to write down everything they hear, we are going to listen for and write down three things:

1. the principles being taught
2. the promptings we feel
3. our plans to apply that principle

Here is the format we will be using in doodle book form...nothing fancy, but it prints out neatly on 8 pages and makes for a no-fuss way to focus our minds on the most important things in the messages we look forward to hearing the weekend.  (We print them out and cut them in half, creating a little half-sheet booklet.) Have fun! (And see our General Conference Ideas Page for more helpful ideas for watching General Conference & studying it with children.)

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

#PhillyLDSTemple Cultural Celebration

Our family really enjoyed seeing the cultural celebration of the Philadelphia Temple last night.  It was our first time attending such an event, so we really didn't know what to expect. 

Our family accidently ended up sitting on the backside of the stage so it was difficult for me to get pictures of all of the amazing things represented in the program, which included William Penn who founded Pennsylvania as a place to worship God, the founding of the United States, the making of the Flag, George Washington at Valley Forge, Benjamin Franklin's innovations, the Restoration of the Priesthood and much more.  But we were able to partake of the spirit and see our young friends perform and share testimony, and that's what matters most.

On the way to the arena at Temple University, our GPS took us through some of the hardest neighborhoods I've seen in quite a while.  This is not news to us who have been attending the open houses for the temple or watching it being built. The temple is located right downtown in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Philly. The neighborhoods where the temple is located are very destitute in a lot of ways.

I share this one photo I snapped as we drove in, but really it is one of the nicer buildings, absolutely does not represent what we really saw.  I just share it for a point of reference.  It struck me as we passed through and saw children playing in vacant lots that passed for "parks".  It humbled me.  It impressed upon me. All I could think was, "And the Lord put a temple here!"  He put a temple here, because He loves ALL of his children.  All nationalities, all colors, all creeds, all ages, all circumstances, all economic classes.  He is actively calling each one of us to come follow Him.

The evening was amazing.  We loved hearing and seeing the youth from our stake bearing such powerful testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel and of the importance of temples.  

Some moments I really liked included hearing the story of young William Penn who prayed to God when he saw his father imprisoned.  Not understanding why just men were punished and then feeling light fill the room and vowing to serve God all his days echoed to experiences shared by George Washington and Joseph Smith who also turned to God in prayer for answers.

I loved seeing George Washington crossing the Delaware river and praying with his soldiers.  During that sequence I watched a group of boys posing as soldiers freezing at Valley Forge.  I saw a boy in a wheelchair being brought over to join with his fellow young men around the campfire.  That also touched my heart.  There is room for everyone is Christ's church.

I also loved the sequence where the founding fathers signed the Constitution. They seemed so vulnerable, but also so clearly willing to do what the Lord wanted them to do and to put their trust in Him.

Some of the more delightful and entertaining sequences were Ben Franklin's kite episode and the type-writer sequence. (Hopefully they will post it online so you can see it!)

But my favorite moment had to be the end of the program as the youth circled the replica of the temple which they helped "build", with hands raised, singing "The Spirit of God".  It was so powerful.  I moved up a few rows higher to get a better picture and when I turned around I noticed that there was a "couple" standing in front of the temple getting married.  The whole scene was moving, positive, joyful, strong.

As we drove home we talked about some of the scenes we saw together. We talked of the temple where there is so much order and how things tend to be in a home where there are mothers and fathers who are actively looking out for families, actively teaching them day in and day out, actively forgiving one another and trying to improve together.  We obseved that the Lord has a pattern that He clearly lays out for us in temples, and if we will do our best to follow it, our families will be happier and stronger. In fact, his pattern is the very reason families exist at all.  And if we turn our backs on it, if we stop trying to do the right things in our families, over time, families fail and societies crumble. If we follow it, regardless of our class or economic status, our families can be happy, strong, and grow to be incredible as generations pass.

As hard as it is at our house these days, as stressful as it tends to be trying to keep our family moving in the right direction during what is a very difficult time for us, I can see that I must keep trying no matter how easy it might seem to give up. As tired as I am of telling the children to clean up after themselves, as tired as I am of trying to teach them to be kind to one another...somewhere I must find the strength to try again, one more day, and the day after that one.  And I know the strength I seek to strengthen my family can be accessed as I worship in the temple.

So those are just some thoughts I had last night.  It was a privilege to watch these amazing youth express their love of the gospel and their joy for life last night.  Now, I need to get ready for the dedication later today.  Have a blessed Sabbath!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Holy Hamburger, Batman!

Our family is in a bit of a tight spot here this summer as my husband's job went away semi-suddenly.  He's been with the same company for nearly a decade, and we've been so blessed during that time. Now he's job hunting, but there is a lot of uncertainty about what this will mean for our family in the coming months.  

Needless to say, with a new baby and the job situation, things are stressful for us.

So, our day to serve in the new Philadelphia Temple open house finally came last weekend.  I was signed up to serve Friday night, which meant leaving my husband to fend for, feed and get our five kids settled in our downtown hotel all on his own.  Let me just say that given the conditions of the downtown area where the temple is located, this was a BIG ASK.  

Anyway, my shift was from 5-10pm, and the last time I had eaten was 2pm, so midway though my volunteer time I started to get hungry. 

While I was standing there waiting for another group to come through my thoughts turned to food.  I found myself wishing I could have a hamburger for dinner...and wishing I could tell my husband to pick one up for me before he came to pick me up (which would be well after 10pm that night.) 

I couldn't text my husband though, because our cell phones and purses were being kept in the meeting house next door.  So, without thinking about the impropriety of my request, I said a prayer in my head, "Heavenly Father, please ask Steve to pick up a hamburger for me before he picks me up from my shift tonight."

I caught myself and thought...um, that seems like an inappropriate request to ask God for a hamburger!  What am I thinking?  But I had already thought the prayer!  So, again in my head, I tried to soften the request with, "A salad would be ok too...but a Burger would really hit the spot."  Man, I thought, God must think I have some nerve!

When my husband picked me up, he told me how difficult it was with all the children and the circumstances at the hotel...then trying to secure dinner for them all.

I asked, "You didn't happen to pick up any food for me, did you?"

Of course, his answer was yes.

It wasn't until we made it to the hotel that I discovered he had indeed bought me a hamburger!!!  (Which is not at all a usual request for me!)

He said he was all set to pick up Panera for the kids.  He had even taken their orders.  But when he walked downstairs to get dinner, he walked by a burger joint and he suddenly thought, "Hmmmm, a burger sounds good."  He scrapped his plans and bought hamburgers for dinner instead.

I don't know why the Lord saw fit to get me a burger that evening.  I am well-aware that the most powerful-being in the Universe does not need, nor should be expected to fulfill such a silly request...and yet He did and He does....all. the. time.  Because He can.  And because He loves us.

Because of the physical demands and changes of having a baby and the stress of not having a job, I have felt spiritually distant lately.  But through this experience, I felt the Lord reaching out to me, pulling me back in, and showing me, once again, that there is nothing He can't do...no request too great or too small...and that if I will just lean on Him a little more, He can help me with anything.

The temple is beautiful.  Life is beautiful...and strange sometimes.

And that burger was DELICIOUS!

(Burger Fi brands their name on their burgers as you can see.  We had never even heard of Burger Fi, but even re-heated, this burger was smashingly good.  So for our ward Linger Longer this week, Steve made his own branded Temple burgers!)

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Finally, a Temple in Pennsylvania!

Oh, I know it's been a while.  I've been enjoying precious, sweet, personal time with my new baby.  I wouldn't trade it for the world...or for the blogging-world.  Sorry guys!

But if there's anything that would be a strong enough pull to bring be back to blogland, it would be the completion of the first ever temple in my beloved home-state of Pennsylvania.

Our family has waited 8 long years, since the announcement, to see this temple come to fruition.  (My grandpa who was born here and who has passed on has waited much longer!) Two years ago on our way to the airport, we visited the temple under construction, and it was thrilling even to see a shell of a house of the Lord gracing this beautiful land we have come to love so much.

So, yeah, we're excited to go serve in the temple open house this weekend and to take our children through on a tour.

Although, our family has a lot of big things going on at the moment, I was reminded at church this morning not to let this once-in-a-lifetime, much anticipated season of life pass me by...so we're making every effort to follow the admonishment of our Stake leaders to try to serve in the temple as open house volunteers 3-5 times before its dedication.

With 5 kids and a nursing baby, this seems like a lot (seeing as the temple is 2.5 hours from our house!)  But we want to be a part of the miracles that will undoubtedly accompany the dedication of such a beautiful house of God.

I'm pretty sure I can't even begin to describe what this temple means to me personally as a proud-Pennsylvania saint living in one of the smallest and most spread out stakes in North America...but I'm sure you can imagine.

If you're a reader anywhere on the East coast, please think about coming over to tour this temple built in the heart of the birthplace of America.  You can book a tour here.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Val Oaks Christensen

As I mentioned on Facebook, we had our baby BOY!  Val Oaks Christensen was born on April 6, 2016 at 11:24pm.  He is absolutely perfect in every way, and our time together has been perfect too.

I would do a big blog post about it all, but instead I've chosen to just enjoy my beautiful baby as my husband and kids and I work to sort out our new rhythm of life.  I'd much rather be snuggling my newborn than blogging anyway!

Life is precious.  We only get to do this once.  I'm soaking it in. And feeling very blessed!

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

General Conference ABC Comic Books and More

Honor and I are busy getting ready for General Conference weekend over here. Luckily, over the years, I've figured out how to save things in one basket to be pulled out and re-used from conference to conference.  Things like reusable/refillable notebooks and activities.
This makes prepping for Conference way easier.  All I have to do is switch out activities that are more age appropriate and add snacks, etc. Despite having a reliable routine, I still like to try out new ways of experiencing General Conference together, so I thought I'd share a few with you today:

General Conference Comic Books:

I remembered reading that The Friend released an updated version of their Special Witness Apostles Cards and sure enough, they did.  You can download them here:  Updated Special Witness Cards.  

In the past, we have used the cards to make Apostle blocks and to make "General Conference Smashbooks" but this time around I decided to print the cards out as stickers and use them in blank comic books that we have around the house.  

We order blank books from BareBooks, but since it's crunch time, you can easily download FREE comic book pages RIGHT HERE.  In fact, their pages look really fun, so I'll probably print out a bunch myself so the kids can get creative.

I thought it might add a little "Pow! Bang! Boom-factor!" into the weekend, especially for my son.  He can choose his own "power phrases" to doodle into or draw into his comic book.  I plan on having markers/stickers and working with him to make the comic book reflect the super-powered advice we'll be getting from our leaders this weekend.

General Conference ABCs:
This idea came to me as I was pushing Honor on the swings earlier today.  She loves to sing the alphabet right now and as a family we've learned a lot of things using the handy-dandy alphabet (see our Book of Mormon ABCs and Family Proclamation ABCs which you can print out and color during Conference)...so why not use the ABCs to help us take notes during #LDSConf and then to help us remember the teachings later on?
Here is a very simple printable that I whipped up.  You could print them off for each child OR simply post ABCs on pages on the wall and fill them in as a family whenever a phrase catches your attention.
My goal is to have the family listen for key words and phrases that begin with each letter and record it on the worksheet (with attribution if possible).  Little ones might be able to draw a picture of what they are hearing.  For bigger kids, this will be a nice way to keep them actively listening...and later, I'm hoping we'll be able to have a nice study guide and memory tool to learn from General Conference together. (You can download the printable below).

Reverence Trays & Stations:

In the past, we have utilized Reverence Stations during General Conference, which has worked great.  It's easy to switch out activities and upgrade according to your children's growing interests over the years.  However, in recent conferences, my kids have liked working together on one project at their desks in the living room all together.

This time around, I decided to try Reverence Trays.  I picked up some simple trays at Michael's the other day that I will fill with little things Honor, my 3 year old, can do.  Knowing that my other kids will WANT to do something similar, I got three trays which will contain different activities.  This will (in my mind anyway) help separate the activities and contain any potential mess.  I'll also be able to keep a time limit on things.  We've definitely moved more toward listening and writing during conference, so I don't want to go backwards, but I now have a 3 year old who had different needs from her 10, 8, and 7 year old siblings.  Two activities I plan on having ready for her are dot-a-dot Conference printables and an old stand-by we used when the older children were just learning to read and write.  We put out ABC magnetic letters and the child can write out words they hear on a dry erase board (using their best alpha-guess~!) and then they can find the letters and write it out in magnets.

General Conference Note-taking Banner:

This really feels like enough to keep us happy, but I have my note-taking conference banner up and ready to go.  The way we use this is the kids can write their favorite quotes on the erase-able chalk banner pendants.  We string them up on the wall and have an instant reminder of General Conference.

Ok, I've got to run, but be sure to check out 
Our VERY BEST GENERAL CONFERENCE IDEAS PAGE for more ideas to help with General Conference-viewing with children and have a wonderful time together this weekend!!

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Monday, March 28, 2016

I Was a Stranger

In my early 20's I found myself a stranger quite often.

While working my first job out of college, I made very little money and lived in a city where I knew no one and lived with people who had really different life circumstances from me.

After paying my monthly bills, I had very little left over for basic food. If I ate out even once, my budget was blown.

One morning, while running late for work, I realized I was nearly out of gas.  I rolled into a gas station on the way to work and filled up, not noticing a sign that read "Cash or credit only."

I went inside and realized I had no cash with which to pay and I had left my credit card at home in a coat pocket.  I begged the cashier to take a check.  He would not.  I started to panic as the line of customers behind me grew and grew.  What was going to happen to me?  To my car?  I had no one in this big, lonely city to bail me out.  No one I could call. What could I do?

Suddenly, from way back in the back of that line, a woman emerged.  She walked up to the cashier and swiped her own card paying my entire gas bill.  I was so flustered, but grateful and shocked.  I thanked her with tears in my eyes and ran out.  I have never forgotten the kindness of that woman, to whom I was a mere, irresponsible stranger, although she did not treat me as such.

As time went by, a co-worker of mine and his wife, realizing how lonely I was, befriended me.  His wife frequently invited me to hang out with them.  She took me to her friend's house to weave baskets with her, a skill and a memory that I still cherish to this day.  Although I started off a stranger to them, a lovely couple who had no children of their own, they were like a big brother and sister to me at a time when I badly needed someone to care about me.

A few years later, I moved again to an even bigger city.  This time, I had a well-paying job, however that job was fairly unstable and went away shortly after moving there.  Now I had a large monthly rent payment that I was struggling to make as I job-searched.  Again I knew no one, but my roommate who was so sweet and kind.  She went to play basketball at the church every Thursday.  One Thursday night, I was feeling such despair over my situation.  I lay there on my bed in the dark worrying, wondering what was to become of me.  I had no job.  I had taken the gamble of my young career to chase after my dream job and had failed...at least I thought so at the time.

But most of all, I was broke.  I had had multiple disappointments in my personal life and now I was all alone in a big city, feeling like I was sinking into a deep hole from which I could never climb out.  I felt invisible and like no one would notice if I just ceased to exist.

My chest started feeling tight.  I had never felt this feeling before, but I knew I needed to get out of my apartment and go be with people who might be able to lift me up spiritually, so I went to the one place where I knew someone...I went to church, where I knew my roommate would be shooting hoops with other members of our ward.

I walked into the gym.  The first girl who greeted me was only an acquaintance, but she asked me casually, "How are you doing?"  I answered honestly.  I wasn't doing great.  I had lost my job and couldn't find another one and I was flat out broke and didn't know what I was going to do about it.  I didn't even have money for food.

This girl who knew me only as another member of her 400-some member singles ward (and a fairly new one at that) reached into her pocket, pulled out her wallet, and without hesitation handed me all of the cash in her possession.  It was about $37.

She shoved it into my hand and said, "Pay me back if you can, but if you can't, just pay it forward."

I was so touched by this gesture of the complete surrender of her money to someone who was basically a stranger that I have never forgotten it.  In fact, her gesture was the quiet vote of confidence that I needed to feel like I could go on, and I soon did get an even better job, but her actions were just what I needed to rise above my despair and to hang on for one more day.  She believed in me.  So I could believe in me.

Later, upon getting to know this sister, I learned that she never was great with money during that time in her life, but I loved her even more given that fact.  $37 would have been a lot of money to her as well as to me.

All of these experiences, which then seemed so hard, now have become an invaluable part of my testimony of God's love for me and the kindness of strangers.

It has made me think twice about turning my back when someone asks me for a hand-up.  Now when someone asks me for help, I see the woman in the gas station swiping her card and disappearing as quickly as she appeared.  I see the smiling faces of the married couple who befriended a little lost girl at least 10 years their junior.  I see the hand of my fellow ward member pulling all the cash out of her wallet and surrendering it to me...I remember what it felt like when someone put their arm around a stranger.

Embracing Strangers Today

Last Christmas, we watched many news reports about the Syrian refugees. I was sad to hear so many people expressing a lack of compassion for these suddenly homeless families.  I wanted to help, but I wasn't sure what I could do, given where I lived and that the busy holiday season was upon us.

A friend of mine posted on social media about a group of women who were collecting baby carriers to help refugee mothers carry their babies safely across borders.  Being pregnant with my fifth child, I was filled with compassion for these women.  I thought, as my child grew inside of me, what if that were me and my babies?  How could I stand by and watch and do nothing?

I spread the word to all the mothers I knew locally and told them where they could send their gently used baby carriers.  But I kept pondering the thought: How can I do more?

I wanted to raise money for the LDS Humanitarian Aid, but I had limited resources myself.  With Christmas coming, I knew that people would be looking to buy gifts for others, so I wondered if there was something I could make in my own home and sell to other women I knew in my town in order to raise money for the refugees.

I found a simple pattern online that showed me how to make infinity scarves.  I used fabrics which I had originally bought to make things for my children.  My children and I "modeled" the scarves on Facebook and I told all of our friends that we would be selling the holiday-themed scarves in order to raise money for refugees.  Then we waited.

Our scarves sold out, and we made 3 or 4 more batches of them.  We raised a sizable amount of money and donated it to the church fund to help refugees.

Some friends gave their scarves away to people who asked about them and then returned to buy more.  I sewed up all of the fabric in my stash at home and bought more.

My children were excited to see our total rise and we all felt the spirit of Christ knowing we were doing something good with our time during the busy holiday season.  Although we mainly did it to honor the Savior, the dividends were awesome. We felt worth, and we felt joy and we felt peace and the approval of God.  It also made us happy to see our friends wearing our scarves!  And still others donated money to the cause without taking a scarf...just out of the goodness of their hearts.

It was neat to see the reaction of many women friends locally and online as we shared resources and pulled together to do something good for people who were strangers on the other side of the world.

There was one reaction I heard during that time that surprised me.  An acquaintance online questioned me, "Why would you help someone who hates you?"  I was taken aback by this comment (although it's not something we haven't heard in social media over and over again.)

Before I could react the Spirit entered my heart and gave me what to say.  I responded, "You mean, like how the Savior served those who hated him?"

Although I dont believe that refugees harbor ill feelings towards others, I do know that the Savior loved and served all.  And he knew the hearts of everyone; we do not.  He could easily have withheld His love, knowing what he knows about the inner workings of each of us...but he did not.  He does not.

Although I am far from perfect in serving others, the spirit taught me again through this experience what it means to both be a stranger and to serve and love and lift a stranger despite your own limitations.  It means to strive always to be and act like Him. 

I also learned that we can do a lot when we patiently seek the Spirit to inspire our efforts.  

Click the link below to read more information about the church's initiative #IWasAStranger which urges sisters to seek for ways to help refugees in their local communities and others who need a friend.  I love the church's commentary about this new initiative: "It is not a program; it's who we are." or who we can become with effort, sincerity, humility, and practice.
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Saturday, March 26, 2016

What if their story was our story?

If there has been one thing that has motivated me to help others in the last few months, this is it: "What if their story was my story?"

We're all in this together, and as was stated tonight, when we go forth to serve, as guided by the Spirit, we never walk alone.

Thank you to our leaders for tonight's wonderful #LDSConf/Women's Meeting!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New Apostles Name Board

Fun Fact:  Our family's apostles name board has lasted for 3 years and been a wonderful and fun way to learn the names and faces of all of the Apostles and 1st Presidency!

With all it's use, I'm amazed at how well it's stood the test of time.  It has even been on the front page of the Friend website...but now it's time to make a new one to reflect the recent addition of new apostles.

I decided to make one using the same type of foam re-enforced poster board, but this time, it's foldable, which is great since we move our board around a lot.

Since I believe it's against copyright for me to offer the photos is one big file, I will just direct you to the page on LDS.org where I get the photos.  I basically just copy and paste them into a Word document, print and laminate them, then tape (the names) and use detachable velcro for the photos.  I like the names to stay stationary.  To help us memorize the names and faces of the Brethren, I take away the pictures (or just a few at a time) and we take turns matching them up to the correct name.  There's all sorts of uses for this board, and you can see more of how we use them on our General Conference Lessons PAGE.

Here's our old board in use in our home.  I am looking forward to learning from and studying the lives of these new leaders with my children.  Bring on General Conference!

PS - One more thing: If you've got young ones attending the General Women's Broadcast this Saturday evening, there is a free coloring journal to use during that meeting.  Click here to download it.
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