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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