Remarks from Double Oak ward, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
December is my NO month. My one rule for staying sane during a busy season is three simple words: Just Say No. You see, in September and October and November I was already operating at maximum capacity. I don’t mean to be a Grinch, it just means that during this season of my life I’m already spread thin. So I say no.
If I see a sign up genius asking for $20 for this or that: NO. If I see a band email asking for parents to help do this or that: NO. If I see a sign up genius asking for people to help wrap presents and so forth, I think, “Yes, that would be so cool, I’d love to help.” And then I say NO. If Norm asks me on a date I say No Way. And then I say yes please.
Recently I was walking one morning and remembered a few years ago when I spoke in December in my old ward in Lehi Ut. That morning I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be SO funny if I got asked to speak again, and then I reused that exact same message? That would be awesome.” Well, sure enough that night Brother Olsen called and asked me to speak. I immediately thought about my three word December rule to just say NO, but remembering the prompting from that morning, I cheerfully, even eagerly agreed, thus overriding my one cardinal rule for December.
My favorite scripture for the past many years is found in
3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places;
and he will make her wilderness like Eden,
and her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness shall be found therein,
and the voice of melody.
Listen to these promises: Comfort Zion, make wilderness like Eden, make the desert like a garden. Implicit in these metaphors is the idea of transformation. It takes time to turn a desert into a garden. First you plant and then work, and then tend and till and cultivate. Eventually comes the harvest.
What if I go back to the Isaiah verse and plug in my name? For the Lord shall comfort Kristina, he will comfort all her waste places. What are the waste places of my life? What are the wilderness areas where I am struggling or waiting for promised blessings?
Transformation means waiting on the Lord, and healing comes through our Savior Jesus Christ. I’d like to share a few examples of waste places, one from the Old Testament, one from my life, and one from my neighbor.
Lately I’ve studied and pondered on the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’ve thought about the House of Israel and what it means to me personally. Recently our second son received his patriarchal blessing. Norm and S and I met with Brother C, a wise, seasoned High Priest who has been given a special privilege: He pronounces a blessing specifically tailored to each young man or woman who comes to visit him. That night we reviewed the story of Abraham, and it’s been in my mind and heart for a few weeks now.
At Bible study recently we read and discussed the story of Abram and Sarai and the transformation that happened in their lives. I love the great patriarchs of the Old Testament. I respect them as prophets and priesthood leaders. AND I also imagine that women like Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel were equally magnificent. As a woman I relate to them more. I can relate to them sweeping the front porch, or cutting vegetables to make into dinner, or grinding grain into flour to make bread. We know that Sarah had TO WAIT before her desert bore fruit. Isaiah promises that they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. Sarah, who saw month after month of barrenness, season after season, year after year of waiting. Did she ever doubt? Did she ever forget or think she’d misunderstood? Did she think she must have done something wrong and was being punished?.
Genesis 18 is a beautiful reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness in helping Sarah understand her divine calling. Abraham had already visited with the Lord, he was learning to recognize His voice. But one day three holy men came to Abraham’s tent and asked after Sarah, AND THEY KNEW HER BY NAME. I love the symmetry that 14 generations after Sarah, three holy men would seek the Baby Jesus. More than that, I love that the Lord was mindful of Sarah. In order to raise a child worthy and willing to inherit such great promises, God needed Isaac’s mother to have her own divine witness. Now stop for just a minute. If I were Sarah and I’d been waiting for a baby for forever, and then at age 90 learned the happy news, I’d do a lot more than laugh. I’d cry and rant and rage, I’d probably come unglued. I’m less than half her age and being pregnant sounds pretty lousy to me right about now. Do you think maybe she thought, “no way, you’ve got to be kidding.” The irony. She needed healing for her body and for her heart.
If she focused on her circumstances, such as “I live in a desert and my body is super old,” she might get a little miffed. But if she remembered the goodness of God and His faithfulness, then she can enjoy the miracle. I also think that her heart would have been healing as she realized that the long waiting was finally over.
Another story about waiting, turning a desert into a garden. Two years ago my family was still very new to Texas. I had four kids at four different schools. I loved my new home, but initially I knew NONE of my neighbors. My heart was heavy for the dear friends and neighbors I’d left behind in Lehi, Utah.
Texas was a waste place for me. As a stay at home mom I’m lucky to build my network within a close radius of my house, and I depend heavily on my village. Two years ago I was in a wilderness season where it was time to plant seeds of friendship. I couldn’t see the fruit of my labor for many months. Every time I met a new mom I’d ask for her name and phone number, and then quickly enter notes into my phone describing her kid’s name and age so I’d remember later.
My final story about waiting. Tuesday morning I had a quiet hour and was planning to finish writing this talk. But I had the thought: call your neighbor N. No, I said to myself, one quiet hour= finish writing this talk. The thought came back, call her. Once again I vetoed it. Finally the thought comes again, call your neighbor N now. So I pull over in front of the park on my way home from kindergarten, and she answers her phone right away. And we talk about how God often says no, or how you think you need to do one thing but He’s actually leading you.
With her permission, I’ll share part of her journey. About 12 years ago she felt the revelation: You need to be a nurse. Years passed before she was in a position to even go back to school and act on this direction. Well, she enrolled in classes and then found herself sick. It wasn’t just a cold, it wasn’t just the flu, it was mono and fatigue and it lasted for months. Eventually she dropped her classes and realized that instead of a season of school, her body needed a season of rest. During this time she wondered, “Did I do something wrong? Why isn’t this working?” She had seen a blueprint of how things needed to look, and how she thought it would be. Her vision of what needed to happen was tempered with many prayers. “Please make your timing clear to me.” We talked about how being willing to submit to God’s will means to trust that at any point He can change the blueprint. Will we be humble enough to accept a re-direct?
She learned many lessons from this season of sickness. She was reminded that her worth does not hinge on a title or a profession or a career. Her worth, and Brothers and Sisters, your worth and mine, is immeasurable and determined by a loving Father in Heaven.
The story of my friend N and the things she learned through this waste place in her life has a cool ending. She realized that the Lord directed her in the path she needed to take. What seemed clear at the beginning was inspiration to move in a certain direction, toward a degree in nursing. After she’d moved partway towards that goal, she realized that God’s provision was leading her to a different end goal: nursing her mother in law in an upcoming season. But she wasn’t ready to see that twelve years ago. Instead the Lord gave her step by step, a piece at a time. Today she’s actually on her way to bring her mother in law to Texas to live here for a season. Is her story done? No, but finally in hindsight things make more sense.
Waiting on the Lord can be hard, too, when we don’t always see where we are on the path He’s laid out for us. It’s okay to be in a place of transformation. Just keep your eye, your sight, on the character of God. He is always good. He is love. He doesn’t only love us, he IS love. His ways are better. If you’re in a waste place right now, you don’t have to pretend to be strong. Cry unto God, be honest with him about your feelings. It’s okay to voice your doubts and uncertainty to him. He already knows anyway. How can I help another person through their difficult time? I can be present, without saying anything, I can hold their hand or let them cry, lending my shoulder as needed. Transformation can be hard, even painful sometimes.
My personal conviction is that our Savior Jesus Christ helps us to transform the desert places, the wilderness wastes, into beautiful garden areas. His redeeming power covers my sins and my sorrows and the dissonance in my life. When I come before the throne of God, I need mercy, not justice. His mercy is sufficient to redeem and make whole. I’ve seen this process repeated in my life. I testify to you today that God is mindful of each of us in our extremity. His promise stands, that the faithful shall renew their strength, and that desert places can become fruitful gardens.
Brothers and Sisters, I bear testimony of the Master Gardener, Jesus Christ. He knows what we need and how full our garden can be with the proper planting, pruning and waiting upon Him. I love Him and I worship Him this Christmas season.