New Soul Food – Baccalaureate Speech: With Wings of Eagles

I was asked to speak this Sunday at the Carlsbad Baccalaureate Service (an interdenominational service honoring graduating seniors from high school) with my remarks based on how Isaiah 40:31 has helped me in my life (yes, sorry, it’s more about me! 🙂 but if you haven’t gotten through my LONG Perfect Brightness of Hope, this is a great place to start! ) So for those who look forward to my soul food, here it is.  I hope it fills you up!:

Congratulations class 2014!  What a huge accomplishment– You will never have to go to high school again!

I remember when I graduated high school 13 years ago, I was SO excited!

My Dad and I at my Poway High School Graduation, 2001

If you are anything like me, you are probably as excited as the man in the story told by Dieter F. Uchtdorf (Your Potential, Your Privilege), whose lifelong dream was to board a cruise ship and sail the Mediterranean Sea.

He saved every penny until he had enough for his passage. Since money was tight, he brought an extra suitcase filled with cans of beans and crackers to eat every day.

He would have loved to take part in all the ship amenities – the gym, swimming pool, and miniature golf. And how he yearned for only a taste of the amazing food!  He was able to see the cities but for the most part of the cruise, he stayed in his cabin and ate only his humble food.

On the last day of the cruise, a crew member asked him which of the farewell parties he would be attending. It was only then that the man learned that almost everything on the ship —the food, the entertainment, and all the activities—had been included in the price of his ticket. The man realized too late that he had been living far beneath his privileges.

Doesn’t your heart just break for this man?  To know he was missing out on SO MUCH that he could have enjoyed, so much that would have enhanced his whole experience while he was pursuing his dream?

Similarly, as you transition into adulthood, you can be satisfied with a diminished experience and settle for cruising through life, relying solely on your own limited resources of knowledge, perspective, will power and strength, or you can choose to receive strength and guidance by trusting the Lord at the helm.

For as we read in tonight’s theme scripture, Isaiah 40:31:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

What a beautiful promise and beautiful imagery – to mount up with wings of eagles – to those that wait upon the Lord!

To me, waiting upon the Lord means trusting His will and his timing, and following Him by obeying his commandments.  His commandments are our coordinates to help us safely traverse through both the calm and troubled waters of life back to His presence – where we all came from and where we all ultimately belong.

My brother Justin, my hero, is one of my greatest examples of waiting upon the Lord.

Both Justin and I were born with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease in which individuals produce unusually thick mucus that causes constant lung infections, which over time, clog the airways and cause individuals to suffocate to death.

In 1997, Justin’s Sunday school teacher asked the seniors in his class what they were most looking forward to in the upcoming year. His friends responded:  new cars, new jobs, new phones, and new motorcycles. When it was Justin’s turn to answer, he simply said, “I just hope I live long enough to graduate.”

At age 18, Justin’s health was failing.  Justin could have spent all his energy indulging in self-pity, worry or resentment, counting every breath as his body slowly decayed.

Instead, He trusted that God, as the captain of our souls, sees far beyond the horizon with his eternal lens, and knows what we need for our eternal progression despite what we may want in this mortal instant.

So instead of wishing for a different course, Justin spent his days uplifting others, following the great commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” as he played volleyball with one hand to make a friend whose arm was in a cast feel more comfortable; joking that not everyone has both an “innie” and an “outie” when he had to have a gastro-intestinal feeding tube inserted above his belly button; or joking with his friend just three days before he died about “cruising the hospital halls looking for good looking nurses”….never once mentioning to his friend the gravity of his health.

Justin did graduate from high school and in less than a year, he graduated from this earthly life.  He truly knew this life was a time to prepare to meet God – and he did so by serving others and following the commandments which in turn gave him the peace and confidence in the future – come what may.

Justin was my shining example of trusting God’s will and timing, when just a year after his death, my own health began to fail during my sophomore year of high school.

By the end of the school year, I was on constant oxygen, constant IV antibiotics, throwing up constantly, and didn’t even have the energy to get toothpaste on my toothbrush to brush my teeth in bed – my mom got it for me.  I didn’t even have the energy to stand in the shower – I sponge bathed in the sink instead.

My day-to-day routine was not so bad; but some days, the accumulative effect of not seeing any improvement and not being able to do anything for myself, would cause me to cave.  I tried not to let my family see me cry so it was often late at night when the tears would quietly and freely flow, bringing me to my knees…in bed.  With swollen eyes, I would call on the powers of heaven, the very same powers that created this universe.  I would plead for strength—in both mind and body.

As I struggled for breath and as I struggled for life, it was confirmed to me again and again that God was my companion.  I came to know in a tangible, undeniable way that God is our Father and loves us SO MUCH and is waiting, ready with open, outstretched arms to strengthen us as we wait upon him.

Time and time again, my strength has been renewed and I truly feel I  have been “mounted up with wings as eagles ” as I have been blessed with many miracles in my life  including a double lung transplant only made possible by the wings of two selfless donors, a kidney transplant only made possible by the wings of the sister, and marriage to my soul mate 8 years ago – just to name a few.  Each of our prayers will be answered according to Lord’s will – he who knows the end from the beginning – in a way that’s best for each of us.

The Lord longs to support us, for as we read in the scriptures “…how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.”  3 Nephi 10:4

These scriptures have even greater meaning to me as I learned the loving, sacrificial instincts of mother hens in Meridian Magazine:

As a volunteer was assisting a fire inspector after a recent blaze, he noticed several smoldering mounds across the scorched earth.  Intrigued, he kicked one of the piles.  To his great surprise several chicks ran out from under the upturned mound.  He was fascinated.  How ingenious, he thought, these little chicks had known to run underneath this refuge.  The young man asked the inspector how the chicks knew about this natural shelter.  To his amazement, the inspector replied that they weren’t natural at all; instead this smoldering heap was none other than the remains of their mother.  The inspector continued to explain that when a fire breaks out, the mother hen calls out her young ones and stretches out her arms so that they can run inside to her protective embrace.” (Meridian Magazine, “Whosoever Will Come, Him Will I Receive)

Like the sacrificial mother hen, our loving Father and Heaven offers love and grace to strengthen us, his voice to guide us and his commandments as a shield of protection and peace against the fires of the world.

As we follow the Lord, we will still face challenges; they are part of the refining fire and perfecting process we are here to experience, learn, and grow from.  Without them, this life would be like a test without any questions.  But as we follow the follow the Lord and wait upon Him, we will be refined and not consumed – we will be spared the ADDED, self-inflicted challenges and consequences of sin and wrong choices.

Let us not be like the scripture that reads, “ oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not.” Nephi 10:5

For God has promised, “[H]e who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even PEACE in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23)

And as Elder Ezra Taft Bensen said, “The Price of peace is righteousness.”

I am convinced nothing will have a greater impact on your life than choosing to wait upon the Lord.  In my life I cannot comprehend a greater blessing– to be filled with peace, hope and joy – NO MATTER WHAT!  To have nothing to fear, even death!  To know that everything will work out eventually for those that are righteous – either in this life or the next.

The choice is yours.  You cannot be neutral; there is no middle ground, for, as Thomas S. Monson stated, “Lucifer, that clever pied piper, plays his lilting melody and attracts the unsuspecting away from the safety of their chosen pathway, away from the counsel of loving parents, away from the security of God’s teachings…[You] simply cannot afford the luxury of a detour from which (you) may never return.” (The Three R’s Of Choice)

I pray that you can choose right now to stay on the path that will bring you peace and happiness now and for eternity.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland pleaded:  “May you, in the words of Isaiah, wait upon the Lord and have your strength renewed that you may be borne as on the wings of eagles, that you may run and not be weary, that you may walk and not faint. May you so run, I pray, on the right road and there be borne as on the wings of eagles by a Father who lives and loves us all and gave his Only Begotten Son.” (Born Upon Eagles’ Wings)

For this I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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  1. denise gonda says

    Beautiful talk Jennifer! Thanks so much for sharing it here. You and Justin are indeed heroes to ask who have the privelidge of knowing you.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Denise! It is an honor to talk about Justin any time I can. It is amazing the impact he is having so many years after his death! Much love to you and your family!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Sophia, that is so super sweet! I am amazed at how my brother’s life continues to inspire as well 15 years after his death. Truly amazing the impact courageous people can have!

  2. Tammy says

    Amazing talk, Jennifer! Writing is definitely one of your talents. I really like that you include your inspirational talks, as soul food, on your fantastic food blog :-). You are very talented in many areas. All of the food you make looks wonderful! You can almost taste it just by looking at the wonderful photography :-). Your life is truly an inspiration to those of us who know you. I am honored to call you cousin. Thanks again for sharing your life/talents with us!
    Tammy 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thanks Tammy, oh how you flatter me so :)! This blog has been a lot of fun to create recipes for but more than anything I hope others can be uplifted by the “soul food,” so I extra appreciate your kind words. YOU are an inspiration to me! I love you dearly and pray for you and your family! xxoxoxo, Jen