Sunday, March 29, 2009

Signs Along the Road

Dear Family and Friends,

Just south of my home in Illinois, the main road twists and turns. After traveling past the little road that goes to my home, it then twists and turns again to the north. Along the side of the road near the turns are bright, yellow signs with arrows pointing along the curve, indicating to drivers the direction of the imminent turn. During the day, the many signs seem repetitive; the turning road is easily visible, complete with yellow lines and accompanying sidewalk. For the longest time, I wondered why the city would spend the resources to put so many signs along such gradual turns. It wasn't until I learned to drive, and then drove along that same road at night, during a raging blizzard, that I realized how important those signs were. During those times, the only thing I could see, and the only indications of the turning pavement, were the reflected images of the signs along the side of the road.

On the road of my life, there have been many times when the darkness of uncertainty has obscured everything in sight. Thankfully, often the Lord warns me before I actually experience the struggles that approach with feelings in my heart – my spiritual signs along the road. Bump (major temptation) ahead. Detour (prepare to change plans). Expect delays (and learn patience). For example, I knew when I walked into my third area in the mission that it would be a struggle to gain the trust and love of the members of the Church there. The prompting was accurate; it took the full 18 weeks I was there. I knew, shortly after I applied to teach at the MTC, that I wouldn't be hired as a teacher even though my reviewers thought I was great. The road sign had again told the truth; the MTC never called me back. In most cases, knowing about the difficulties to come don't change or lessen their impact. A detour is always a detour, even if you know it is coming up... but promptings of imminent struggles serve to help me to begin to react sooner, just as I better deal with sharp turns or speed bumps on the road when I slow down. Two weeks ago, the Lord was again kind enough to tell me of a struggle to come; He told me that I wasn't going to get in to MIT.

I'm not sure if I can articulate how the Lord tells me about what will happen in my life. I think the closest comparison would be of suddenly having a very, very strong, articulately worded thought/sentence that is usually accompanied with a powerful feeling to act on that thought. The first time we see a road sign, we probably would not be able to tell it apart from a billboard. But, as time goes on and we see and follow more, we come to see patterns. Green road signs are the normal signs that accompany normal travel. Brown signs indicate tourist and other attractions. Yellow signs warn of imminent, long-term danger... and orange signs of construction and all the issues that go along with that. In the same way, we can learn to understand the voice of the Spirit and decipher the reason behind the promptings that we receive. This time, I felt like this was an orange/yellow sign prompting, and so the feeling that immediately came was shock. Was it true? I had only applied to MIT because I felt that it fit so perfectly. I didn't even apply to other schools, since I hadn't even let myself think about the possibility of not getting in. What would happen in my life now?

For the next few days, I felt awful. I had a rough time smiling and went for hours feeling like I was on the verge of tears. I slept through my alarms in the morning, was late to school, and didn't know what to do. Finally, after pleading with the Lord for some relief, He directed me to the pages of my past letters and journals. I looked up the times when I had felt the same way – when the Lord had indicated to me that an otherwise good path was not the right choice for me... and I needed to change my dreams. As I read, I remembered how the Lord had buoyed me up in times of difficulty and trials and helped me to see with a greater – His – perspective. Every time, I realized that the Lord had something greater in store for me than I could have ever imagined for myself.

As the days went on, I realized that the Lord had actually given me a great blessing. He had told me about my rejection from MIT – something I wanted desperately – in advance so that I could decide in advance how I would respond. Other applicants worried over whether they would get in, hanging on every acceptance, wait list, or rejection posted on discussion boards (I know – I was once one of them). I decided that, no matter what happened, I would strive to live by the belief I have gained over time – that, if I am choosing the right, the Lord will only give me long-term blessings.

The months-awaited letter came yesterday. My brother called as soon as he found it, excited to share the news. He opened it and read it aloud; I heard his voice slow slightly as he reached the part, “We were unable to find a place for you...” and he then expressed his sorrow that I hadn't gotten in. “Don't worry,” I responded, “I knew two weeks ago... and it's ok.” And, amazingly, it was true.

On the road of life, we will all encounter speed bumps, twisting roads, and detours. Sometimes the Lord has us go down one road, to turn around and go back the way we came. It may seem like we are going in circles, but He knows our individual needs... and He will always give us the blessings we need in order to return to live with Him someday. There is one major difference between life and driving, however – sometimes road signs, exits, and construction seem to be specifically placed such that they give us the most possible grief. With the struggles, blessings, and other waypoints in life, we can be sure that, if we are doing what is right, they are always there for our benefit. I realize that this belief may be hard to accept in the face of difficult life-long trials. How can abuse, death, or major illnesses be blessings from the Lord? How can the effects of wickedness and poverty help us in our lives? That is where we lack perspective. In our short-term view, life is forever. We see a lifelong illness, the death of a loved one, or 80 years of pain and we expect that a loving God should save us from our suffering... We believe, for some reason, that the best life would be one without trials, pain, or sorrow. But that is where we err – and enabling us to experience life in all its facets and grow is one of the primary purposes of mortality. For that reason, I know that God will not give us anything – whether blessing or trial – unless He knows that it will allow us to grow and return to Him... because that is the very reason that He created this earth and the Plan of Salvation.

Once again, I find myself driving down the road of life with no idea what lies ahead. Yes, ultimately my destination will be to return to the presence of God, but today I don't even know what I'll be doing in a month, let alone ten years from now. But I do know this – the Lord has taken care of me in the past and He will take care of me in the future. If I choose the right, all things will reveal themselves to ultimately be blessings in my life. “Know my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good...”

I know that God is our Father. He is the Master Teacher, structuring the curriculum of life for each one of us to allow us to grow according to our own needs. He gives us the talents, blessings, trials, and sorrows necessary to enable us to gain the traits, beliefs, desires, and habits necessary to return to His presence, become like Him, and share in all He has. My challenge to you this week is this: look at a trial or blessing in your life. Ponder and pray about how that part of your life has helped you (or could have helped you) come closer to Christ and develop Christlike attributes. Then, give thanks to God for helping you to learn something you probably could not have learned any other way.

Watch for me at General Conference (watch at – I'm singing in the Saturday afternoon session (2 pm Mountain time)... middle section, second row from the front, fourth from the left!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Solar Mirrors & Personal Revelation

I've finally uploaded my thesis presentation video to the Internet. The address is

(yes, I know it's ugly and long, but it should work). I haven't had time to watch it yet; it's 100 Megabytes, so it will take a little while to download; the video itself is probably between 15 and 20 minutes long and is a brief overview of my thesis research, including a few rounds of Quan'da'ry.

One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the storage room attached to my classroom at Riverton High School were the mirrors. The four mirrors are enormous – about 5 feet in diameter, each – backed with thick insulation, and stacked against the wall in the back of the room. When I queried my cooperating teacher, he mentioned that the University of Utah had given them to the former physics teacher. The university had used them to collect cosmic rays and high-energy particles; he didn't know what the teacher had intended to do with them. He also felt they were both too bulky and too delicate to use in many applications, and so had thought about throwing them away. My first thought was to create a massive solar collector/oven. And, finally, on Friday, we did. We took the mirror outside, aimed it towards the sun, and then stuck a wet pizza box in front of it. When the box entered the focal point, where all the light was focused, it instantly burst into flames. A stick instantly turned into a sparkler. And spray smoke from a can outlined the exact focal point well enough that we took pictures for the High School Physics Photo challenge. Thankfully, the coolness factor of using the mirrors as part of a massive solar collector hooked my teacher, and we (hopefully) plan on starting a new tradition in the Riverton physics department of having a pre-Spring Break solar cookout. We'll set up the three concave (light-gathering) mirrors facing towards the sun, then have students bring their own food, put it on a metal skewer, and roast it in sunlight. The other convex mirror we'll set up so that we can teach interested students about the difference between them and their properties. The actual planning of the event, along with safety and people-management (since thousands may want to be involved... and then we wouldn't have enough time to accommodate everyone) I'll work on this next week. I'll take some different food items tomorrow to see which ones work best, along with how long it takes to heat/char them.

I thought of an amazing (to me) metaphor based around a massive concave mirror and relating it to gaining direction from the Lord and preparing for General Conference. I know, it sounds like a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.

Most people are happy to bask in the light of the sun and simply feel its heat. And while there is no doubt that plenty of energy falls on anything left out in the sun, gathering and concentrating sunlight is a much more effective way of using the sun's light.

In the same way, in life many of us are willing to simply bask in the light of the Gospel and the divine guidance that we receive. We go to Church, read the scriptures, and attend General Conference, all the while simply thinking, “That was really nice.” But most of the events don't really change us, the same way that leaving a piece of metal out in the sun won't have much of an effect. Hence, in order to allow the Gospel to change us, we need to find a way to focus it in our lives.

The first step in creating a solar collector is to create a large piece of glass. Glass is made of many different particles that are all fused together into one whole. In the Gospel, the first step is to exercise faith. Faith is like a seed; as we learn about the commandments of the Lord and keep them, our faith grows and we are better able to understand the Gospel.

The second step is to shape the glass into a concave or parabolic dish. This is a time-consuming and difficult process which requires, at the very least, abrasive tools and a lot of work. Essentially, you cut and grind off excess glass such that the remaining surface is perfectly smooth and also perfectly curved. In the Gospel, this is repentance. Our beliefs and actions, while they are probably mostly in line with the teachings of the Gospel, need constant work in order to shape them into a form to receive personal revelation. Repentance is often time-consuming and can be painful, involving the sacrifice of things we felt were an integral part of ourselves... in order to become what the Lord sees in us.

The third step is coating the glass to make it into a mirror. Now, you or I could just cover it with aluminum foil, aluminum tape, or metallic spray paint, but none of these last for very long... and all of them are actually somewhat poor reflectors when compared with a real silver coated mirror. Hence, I am going to submit that, in order to coat our glass we need some outside help. We ask a mirror-maker, who coats the glass first with a shiny silver coating, then with another coating to protect the silver. The reference here is to making sacred covenants in order to gain access to the blessings of the Lord. While there are many seemingly similar things to baptism, Temple marriage, and the Sacrament, it is only when these things are administered in the correct way, with the right authority, that we can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and other promised blessings. Anything else, while it may seem effective at first, is a poor substitute. Each of the blessings given by the Lord has a dual purpose – to both lift and protect us. The Holy Ghost, for example, helps us to make good decisions and avoid potentially dangerous situations.

Once we have a functioning mirror, we need to keep it clean and in proper working order. That may involve something as simple as using Windex or, in an extreme example, stripping off the coatings and starting all over again. If we neglect the mirror, over time it will lose its function. Once we have created our “inspiration collector,” we need to keep it polished and clean, too. We need to endure to the end, repenting on a constant basis.

Now, we need to direct the mirror towards the light. Solar mirrors are interesting. Since the sun is constantly moving across the sky, directing the mirror towards the light is much more complicated than just aiming it upwards. In fact, ensuring that it is always pointed in the right direction means making constant minor adjustments throughout the day. The more adjustments that are made, the more effective the mirror's collection abilities. In the Gospel, this is daily prayer, daily scripture study, regular Temple attendance, and weekly Church attendance. These are the little, everyday things that occur throughout the day to remind us of Christ and keep our lives focused on Him. If we keep Him in our minds, then we open ourselves to personal revelation. If we forget and focus our collectors on something else, then that will be the center of our thoughts and the source of our ideas.

Finally, we need to choose a focus. A big solar mirror that is set up perfectly, with nothing at the focus, looks just like a big solar mirror. It doesn't accomplish much. But the moment you put anything in the focal point, the light concentrates on the object, changing it into something new. In the same way, if we go through the motions of attending Church, reading the scriptures, and attending General Conference without a chosen focus, the light of the Gospel will have no lasting impact upon us. We need to choose something on which to focus the light. Yes, it will probably be painful (but not as painful as putting your hand in the focal point of a solar collector!), but it will change who we are and help us gain the light of Christ. I think that this is the step that we often forget, but it is an essential step in making sure that the efforts to build a system for receiving personal revelation are put to use.

So, in order to receive usable sunlight we need to build a large glass, shape it into a dish, coat it with reflective and protective coatings, preserve it, direct it towards the light, and find something on which to focus. To receive personal revelation, we need to build our faith, repent and change our natures, make and keep sacred covenants, endure to the end, seek out sources of divine light, and choose aspects of our lives on which to focus that light.

My challenge for each of you is to go through the steps of receiving personal revelation, and, before General Conference in two weeks, choose at least one focus – one major question or issue to take to the Lord – something on which the light of Christ could help you improve. I promise that doing so will help you become a better person and apply the Gospel in your life.

I know that Jesus is the Christ, and that He wants to speak to us and have His words make an impact in our lives. We can't be content to simply bask in the light of the Gospel – we need to focus it and allow it to change our very souls. As we do so, we will grow and be even more able to receive revelation... and the cycle starts anew.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Speaking and Listening (Mar 16)

I'm typing outside this afternoon – the sun is setting over the mountains and the courtyard of my apartment complex resounds with the sound of chirping birds. Blue skies, fresh air, and, for the first time in a long time, I don't have anything horribly pressing about which to worry. I know I won't allow myself that luxury next week, but, at least today, I can take time to stop and smell the flowers (serendipitously, there's a potted begonia on the table next to me). This week was a good week. I turned in the final copies of my thesis on Monday, which completely sealed my graduation with Honors come April. Done.

On Tuesday I attended my Institute of Religion class and learned an interesting concept that has been pressing on my mind. The class I attend is called “Eternal Marriage” (yes, almost all the students are engaged or married, and, no, I don't yet have any major prospects) and we spoke about the importance of learning to communicate well. Our instructor claimed that 70% of relationship problems result from miscommunication – if both parties were simply understood, the problem would cease to exist. We learned a technique called the Speaker-Listener Technique.

To be truthful, I had mixed feelings when I first heard him mention the Speaker-Listener Technique. His cursory explanation was that the only person allowed to talk was holding “the floor” (a pen, or piece of carpet, or whatever). The other person wasn't allowed to talk until he held "the floor." That first explanation didn't seem to be very worthwhile and I couldn't think of a reason why I would ever submit to doing something so reminiscent of first grade. But I have loved this Institute class and I've appreciated everything else the teacher has taught, so I went in with an open mind.

We began by watching a few short video clips done by a marital counseling center. Various couples were trying to work through their problems on film and all of them were failing miserably. They simply weren't communicating – neither one was really listening to the other. The commentator intervened, taught them the Speaker-Listener Technique, and asked them to commit to following it... and suddenly what was before a screaming match became an opportunity to understand one another. It was still intense, but both people were actively trying to understand the other... and it looked like there was actually hope for them in solving their problems! Here's an overview of the method:

Speaker-Listener Technique

General Rules

  • The speaker has the floor.

  • When the speaker is understood after a few short statements, the floor transfers to the Listener and roles are reversed.

  • No problem solving – the goal is not to fix a problem but to seek understanding.

  • Any nonverbal gestures to show your opinion are not allowed.

Rules for the Speaker

  • Speak only for yourself. Don't mind read. Use “I” statements.

  • Don't go on and on. Be brief.

  • Stop and let the Listener paraphrase. If the paraphrase is not quite accurate, gently restate what you meant to say in a way that helps your partner understand.

Rules for the Listener

  • Focus on what is being said and do not make any mental judgment while you listen.

  • Paraphrase what you hear. If you truly do not understand something the Speaker said you can ask for clarification.

  • Don't rebut. Wait until you get the floor before you make your response.

After watching the short clips, I thought that perhaps the Speaker-Listener Technique might be good for problem solving if you have two people who are so obsessed about their opinion that they can't communicate. But I still couldn't really ever see myself using it. Our teacher then added a Gospel application and expanded the technique's appeal as he told a story about his own marriage. One day he was in the car with his wife as they began a long road trip. His mother-in-law called and spoke with his wife. After the call was completed, the car was completely silent – he could feel the tension. He knew there was a problem, but didn't know how to broach the subject. So he picked up a CD (a makeshift “floor”) and asked, “Do you want the floor, or do you want me to have it?” “What do you want to talk about?” was her reply. “Help me to understand your relationship with your mother,” he said, and he handed her the CD. Over the course of the next few hours during their trip, he learned things that he hadn't learned in dozens of years of marriage – and he and his wife grew closer through the experience.

Suddenly I realized that the Speaker-Listener Technique wasn't just about solving problems. It was about creating a safe environment in which everyone involved could communicate clearly and know that they would be completely understood. Looking back on my own relationships, I can definitely identify times when I or others involved weren't able to communicate clearly. For whatever reason, we weren't on the same page, and something kept us from getting there easily. If I had known about the importance of speaking and listening, perhaps I would have been able to communicate more clearly.

Each of us is surrounded by people every day of our lives. And even if we are social butterflies (which I am not), those relationships are constantly beset with minor or major conflict. Whether they are simple differences in opinion or major discord on core beliefs, differences present a dual opportunity to those involved. Ignored or accentuated, they can only detract from communication and lead to further miscommunication. Discussed and understood, differences become an entry into understanding the motivations and values of others as well as our own.

My challenge for you this week is to learn to use the Speaker-Listener Technique (mostly learning to be the Listener, since it is a much more common ability to be able to speak our own minds) and then use it. That may involve teaching it to someone else. That way you have someone with whom to try it.

The Opportunities of Today (Mar 9)

This past week I attended a conference in Washington (state) at the Davenport hotel. It was definitely the most opulent place I have ever stayed, from carved wooden ceilings and furniture to original chandeliers from The Gilded Age (it was built in 1912). The trip was completely funded by the Honors Program... but I'm still not sure what my feelings are about spending so much. On the up side, we had a great time as we met each other and grew into a cohesive group by the end of the trip, even though our interests were so diverse. We had eleven students and 7 presentations, and we definitely represented BYU while we were there, and also made a valuable contribution to the academic rigor of the conference. But, still, I wonder if there isn't a more efficient, less expensive way to accomplish those same objectives. I'll have to do some thinking.

My presentation was on using games in education, including the motivations behind them and how to successfully implement games and other types of play into different environments. As part of the presentation, we played three different games to model how games could be used in education. It went well; everyone seemed to enjoy it and sometime in the future I'll get back the evaluations that each person in attendance was asked to fill out.

Beyond that, my advisor gave me the go-ahead on the final version of my thesis. Tomorrow I print it out on Master's Thesis paper, get a few signatures, and turn it in to the Honors Department. Almost done! My classroom teaching is also going well; I have fallen completely in love with my students and I am going to miss them when my time as a student teacher runs out in a month. I haven't heard yet from MIT about being admitted, but I'll know in the next few weeks... and I'm on the verge of deciding to self-publish Quan'da'ry – the game I created for my thesis. I still need to scope out exactly what the steps will need to be (timelines for game creation, initial costs, etc), but, most likely, that will be part of my focus after I finish teaching this summer. I am sure that it will be a difficult experience... but I'm also sure that I'll learn a ton.

This week my thoughts turn to the importance of taking advantage of blessings and opportunities while we have them. I think that one of my difficulties in life is that I feel more driven by duty than I do by passion. Faced with any number of choices, I first determine what I should do. I think about it and reason about it enough that the choice becomes something that I want to do, and then I do it. But all the while there are other things I want to do... and I put them on the side. I'm never really sure whether that's the right choice, but as time goes on I realize that there are other facets to making decisions. I think one of the most important facets of decision-making is using the tools and blessings and opportunities that we have in the present to their fullest extent. While I was at the Davenport Hotel, I learned they had an incredible fitness center. I took the opportunity to use it each evening, and the exercise helped me sleep better and ultimately have a better influence on the people around me at the conference. On the same level (but a bad example), I've spent 4 years here at BYU with a concentration of some of the best classical and musical theater voice teachers in the world... and I let the cost of taking lessons influence my choices so much that I never signed up for them. I may not have that opportunity again in the near future.

In life, we are constantly surrounded by circumstance. Our lives may seem simple or stagnant, but I believe that the present is constantly changing, and at some time the things we took for granted will no longer be available. People and opportunities for growth are often only part of life for a short time before they move out of our reach. It is up to us to make decisions that not only work towards our ultimate goals, but also take into account these swiftly changing opportunities. I realized that I couldn't become a full-time singer/dancer/actor at BYU while following my dream of changing the world of education... but I could have added in another half credit of voice lessons each semester. Reading a good book may be a worthwhile endeavor, but we could spend the same time talking with loved ones... and it is much more likely that our loved ones will move away or pass on before we will completely lose our ability to read. So my challenge for each of you is to look at the opportunities you have in life right now. Some of them are time-sensitive. Re-evaluate your goals and how you spend your time so that you are best taking advantage of the blessings that the Lord is willing to give you, today.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Don't worry - everything will turn out for the best

Great news – I passed my thesis defense! The presentation went better than I had planned (I was able to record it; once I figure out a good way to share it, I will). During the second part of the defense, both my advisor and referee had a lot of really good suggestions and feedback for the text itself. Most were improvements for the conclusion and later chapters, but one was really interesting – they asked me to read and reference a doctoral dissertation that was almost exactly the same project as my second thesis attempt! It's amazing – each time I get more feedback and re-write my thesis, I feel that it is that much stronger. It's nice to have experts who are willing to guide its progression.

This next week I'm giving a presentation based on my thesis at the Western Regional Honors Conference in Washington (State). I'll be gone from Thursday to Saturday. It will be interesting to see what others think of it outside of BYU and the formal school of instructional design.

We had Stake Conference this weekend. Whenever I attend Stake Conference, I go with a question. This time, I wanted to know what I should be doing after I graduate. There are actually two questions – what should I be doing during the summer after I graduate and what should I be doing with life in general? I felt very strongly that I should apply to the Lifelong Kindergarten program at MIT last year, but, as time goes on, I realize that my sheer chances of acceptance (not counting divine intervention) are pretty thin. After reading student bio's and emailing one, I found that they only accept one or two students each year, and most of them have a much more industry-oriented background in computer science than I do. On the other hand, I can't imagine someone having more experience in creating and studying the theory behind games for use in education (the central component of the program) than I gained through my Honors Thesis project. But, as of yesterday, none of the professors or administrators at MIT had reviewed my online portfolio. Though I know very little about the admissions process, my first thought is, “Have they already found the student(s) they wish to admit... and are simply rejecting the rest? Do they simply not look at portfolios? Why haven't they looked at my portfolio?” Add to that the BYU motto “Go Forth to Serve” that is constantly pressing on my mind, well-meaning friends and family who want to know my post-graduation plans, and my own personal desire to make an impact in the world, and I'd really like to know whether I will be accepted for admission... and, if not, what else I should be doing in life.

When I first applied to MIT, I didn't allow myself the luxury of thinking about, “What if I don't get in?” But, as the time for admissions letters draws near (they send letters out on March 31), I've wondered about possible alternative paths. I could go into teaching full-time and find somewhere to learn new principles and practices of teaching. I could teach part-time and work on writing. I could write full-time, or create and publish games like Quan'da'ry, or take more classes, or travel the world, or do anything. But that doesn't mean that I should do any of those... and so I went to Stake Conference with my questions. How should I prepare for the future? What will I be doing when I have graduated less than two months from now? And what should I do with the rest of my life?

I arrived to the Saturday evening session; the first speaker was a sister whose topic was food storage. For some reason, I felt like she was speaking to me. I smiled every time she remarked, “Now, I know that you as students can't have a year's supply, but...” as I thought about my bags of grain and beans at home. It's definitely possible. When another speaker remarked that he would be happy giving his food storage to the Bishop if he asked him to do so, I thought back to a time that I had actually done that. We wanted to create the beginnings of 72-hour kits for my entire student ward. After looking at what the committee expected to spend and what we needed as far as nutritional basics, I created a recipe and gave most of my year's supply of food storage to the effort. My question had been, “How should I prepare for the future?” I guess I can make sure that I have food storage.

The next talk was also on personal preparation. The speaker encouraged us store drinking water and a financial reserve in case of difficult times. As of this writing, I have a half-gallon of stored water. There is definitely room for improvement. Saving money, on the other hand, is much less painful than spending it, so I think I'm on track for that one.

As the conference progressed, I learned that the theme was about actions that we should take in times of uncertainty. I wonder if the Lord knew that I was going to ask my questions, if He put them in my mind after first telling the Stake Presidency about the topic, if everyone else needed similar answers... it was probably a combination of all of the above. Other speakers gave us specific counsel on how we could prepare for the future. They suggested that we learn to live joyfully within our means (the definition of provident living), pay honest tithes and give generous offerings, improve our value to the world by getting an education or training for the workplace, and serving others. Slowly, the counsel changed from physical preparation to spiritual preparation, and I realized that all the “physical” commandments that we had heard each had a spiritual counterpart.

Food storage is similar to keeping a journal or finding another way to keep spiritual experiences. When a lack of food hits, we eat our food storage that we have saved for long periods of time. When we are faced with temptation, trial, and heartache, a journal can help us to recount the blessings of the Lord in our lives. Our faith is buoyed up by the remembrance of His goodness, and we are sustained until we overcome whatever is pulling us down.

Water storage could be like scripture study. The word of the Lord is the living water, and as we search, study, and pray, we fill up bottles to save against times of drought. I know that there have been many times when I could have made bad choices... but the Lord put into my mind a scripture I had read or a Primary song and turned my heart to Him. The temptation passed, and each time I realized how important it is to always have living water – the word of the Lord – on hand.

Having a financial reserve could be similar to prayer. Money can be used in many different situations and can help to solve many other problems. When we develop a relationship with the Lord, He is able to bless us and guide us on the right path. And, amazingly, we can use prayer to influence and affect the lives of others. I know that many times I have felt the influence of the prayers of my loved ones... and received blessings because of their faith. When we or those around us are struggling, we can turn to the Lord and ask Him to bless, protect, and guide those who need His help.

And getting an education encompasses everything from weekly Church attendance to meaningful service to temple worship. The more we understand about the world, the better we are able to make cents in it. The more we understand about the Plan of Salvation and the Gospel, the better we are able to make sense of what happens in life. One speaker alluded to this fact when he said, “The happiest people have an ability to learn from the difficult times in life.”

Elder Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy was our presiding General Authority, since the Stake was being reorganized. His was the last address on Saturday evening, and his main theme, in his broken English, was, “Don't worry about the future.” “If you are obedient, God will take care of you.”

In a time when there is so much to worry about, with a struggling economy; a world full of wickedness, accidents, and illnesses; and constant questions about what tomorrow will bring, Elder Costa's remark brought me peace. Don't worry about the future. Prepare for the future. Do all you can to be ready for the future. Be ready for anything that could happen. But don't worry about the future.

My challenge for each of you is from Elder Costa's remarks – don't worry about the future. I realize that many of you are going through incredibly difficult trials... that try your faith, your patience, and your hope.  But I know that this is a true principle, no matter what is happening in life.  Not worrying doesn't mean that we don't do everything we can to prepare for it; it simply means that we have faith that the Lord will take care of us if we will do our part to the best of our ability. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I know that He lived and died for us so that we could be eternally happy. If we will learn to turn to God and place our trust in Him, He will open our eyes and help us to be calm even in the face of the darkest storm. I know that everything through which we are passing will ultimately be for our good – the Lord doesn't err in His judgment, and He is completely in control. In the darkness, be a light - share the light of the Gospel with others – go out and be missionaries!

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