Monday, January 26, 2009

Divine help... just in time

Incredible news. First, I realized why I was supposed to first take an art class, then take that same class at the Salt Lake Center, then drop that same class all in a week. My Institute choir in South Jordan is singing in General Conference this year. And they practice on the night of the class I was going to take. Had I not taken the class at BYU, I probably wouldn't have had the time free. Had I not moved it to the Salt Lake Center, I wouldn't have been in South Jordan on Wednesday nights (I'm living with family during the week while I teach at Riverton, then staying in Provo on the weekends). And had I not canceled the class, I wouldn't have been able to attend choir practice. Talk about a runaround! At least I finally figured out what the Lord was trying to communicate to me!

Another, even greater thing: after 12 hours on Monday, 8 more on Tuesday, a handful on Wednesday, and the hundreds spent in the last 2 years, I have finished the first complete draft of my Honors Thesis. It has been an incredible experience, a project so long and difficult that it has brought me to tears a dozen times and made me wonder if graduating with Honors was really worth it. But it was... and writing Quan'da'ry: The Story (the title of my thesis - by the way, I'll include a copy of the final draft next week) was worth so much more than just a prestigious letter of recommendation and graduating with 'the highest honor BYU can bestow.' I learned so much about myself and what I was capable of accomplishing under stress... and when I had the ability to follow my dreams.

I began work in the Honors Program at BYU as a freshman in 2003, taking as many Honors classes as possible and volunteering at activities. I began work on the Honors portfolio – a huge compilation of work and accomplishments that accompanies the Honors Thesis – and had a great time attending concerts, watching films, and experiencing other "Great Works." I continued taking Honors classes and began work on my thesis as soon as I returned from my mission. That was when I started to hit rough spots. Even though I spent an entire summer doing preliminary research, my first thesis proposal was rejected. The committee suggested that I do a more research-oriented project. I changed it to fit their standards, won a few awards and research scholarships, and then began doing research the next (this last) summer. I realized shortly thereafter that I wasn't getting anywhere and had the feeling that I would never graduate with Honors. I felt so bad that I didn't tell anyone. But, somehow, I found another project that just grew out of my interactions with my family and became a creative work that united my past research with my goals in my thesis. I went back to school, my advisor loved the idea, and I've been writing ever since.

The due date is February 2nd, so time is running out, and I have felt so stressed that I've developed sores on the inside of my mouth, gotten sick, and had crazy dreams almost every night. When I finally finished my first draft on Wednesday, I realized that I hadn't looked at my Honors Portfolio for a long time... and upon looking, I realized that I needed to write another 20+ pages, including eleven 2-page responses to events and experiences over the last 6 years. I worked on those Thursday, Friday, and Saturday... and Saturday afternoon I completed my portfolio and have since felt like I was on top of the world.

But there is more to the story. Even though I've been blessed with the ability to write, there is no possible way that I could have finished my thesis without help from the Lord. There were so many times in the past two years when I sat staring at the computer with nothing inside my head and nothing coming out onto the page... so many hours and days where I was stuck on a paragraph and couldn't go on. And yet, somehow, in the last week, everything has pulled together and it happened.

Recently in my life, the Lord has waited until the very last moment, past the point of no return, to help me accomplish the tasks that face me. He inspires me with pieces of my talk two hours before Sacrament meeting and tells me how to teach a Sunday School lesson while I walk to my classroom. He helps me find an accompanist for singing a few hours before I need to perform and learn a new song on the piano moments before I need to play. It was the same with my thesis – when it came time to finish it, He heard and answered my prayers and gave me the inspiration to see what had happened over the course of the project and how it relates to education. I was able to remember the events I've attended and write dozens of pages of commentary and reflection...

My message this week is one of perseverance. Many of us ask the Lord for blessings, then go to work to accomplish them. For days or weeks or months or years we work, waiting for the Lord to answer our prayers, and perhaps we seem to get nowhere. Maybe it seems like the Lord is silent... or that He has forgotten your prayers. But He is not silent, and He has not forgotten. He is with you each hour of each day, and, like my thesis advisor who gave me free rein, He knows how much you will learn by doing as much as you can on your own. I think that I have spent over 700 hours on my Honors Thesis, including research and writing... when many Master's Theses only require 100 or 200 hours total. But I have learned so much... and when it finally came time, the Lord answered my prayer and made Himself known in my life. I promise you that if you ask the Lord for a righteous blessing and then go to work to accomplish that blessing, letting nothing stand in your way, the Lord will bless you. You may need to struggle today, tomorrow, and for years to come, but He will come to your aid when the going gets tough and you will know, beyond doubt, that He was the one who enabled you to succeed. There is no possible way that I could have finished an Honors Thesis by myself by just sitting down and writing it for 25 hours straight while I was sick from stress. And there is no way that we, as children of God, can return to Him unless we are willing to work under His watchful eye, learning new lessons in life each day as we strive for perfection.

I know that God loves us. He sent His Son to live and die for us, that someday we might live again with our families in His presence. It is so amazing to me that the Lord is willing and anxious to be engaged in the details of our lives... and humbling to know that He really will save us when we need saving. Ask Him for blessings in all that you do – the things that you really need and really want. Work for a better world and towards the fulfillment of your goals. And believe that He will come to your aid when aid is needed. I know that He will. He is always there for us, and He always will be there. Go out and be missionaries!

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