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!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Custom Search