Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Change of Plans

James 1:5 – If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.

2 Nephi 32:5 – For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

A good friend and mentor of mine talked with me recently about my future. We discussed my plans to travel for the rest of my life, working with foreign governments to set up schools, and climbing mountains in my spare time. He rightfully brought up that my plans were excellent for a young, single man, but that when I had a family, things would become much more difficult. He suggested I consider an American alternative plan, as a back-up, in case I wanted to return to the States, and recommended majoring in Sociology instead of International Relations. I returned that I was confident of my plan, had felt like it was what the Lord wanted me to do, and that was that. My friend urged me to reconsider, to spend more time in prayer, and to think about my future family's welfare. I agreed, and prayed again, but felt, still, confidence in what I was doing.

However, in the period of discussing with my friend and asserting confidence, I was also in deep trouble. I didn't feel close to the Lord, I felt unsure of what He wanted me to do, and I felt confused and frustrated in many of my activities. During this time, also, my scripture study had decreased to a bare minimum, mostly in order to say to myself that I had done something; I had allowed my studies and my social life to take priority over other, more important things. This was a dark period.

Coming here to Africa was a humbling experience. As I have described in earlier posts, and in the Field Study blog posts, I struggled adjusting to a new culture, to a new set of rules, to the workload, and to the people around me. This process literally brought me to my knees. In retrospect, the things I was going through seem small and manageable, but at the time they were remarkable obstacles that I despaired of overcoming. Somewhat broken, I learned in prayer that I am not to travel forever, and that I indeed need an American plan. I assumed I would simply pursue a different graduate degree program, and carried on.

As I have written more and considered more than I have taken time to do since serving a mission, a whole series of small course changes have come. Like a rolling stone gaining momentum, these have become more frequent and have had greater impact as I have followed them. The promptings have led me to study the scriptures and General Conference, ( Look in Gospel Library,General Conference) more intensely, to pray more sincerely, and to be more honest with myself and the Lord. I feel that for the past year or more, “I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore, I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore, I went on rebelling against God in the wickedness of my heart until the fourth (in my case, fourteenth) day of this seventh month, which is in the tenth year...” (Alma 10:6). I have been taught and reminded concerning certain things I have felt prompted to do, and not to do. As I have accepted and acted on the initial promptings, additional promptings have come.

And so, I have had a change of plans. Rather than risk my life and my future family's husband and father for personal accomplishment, I won't climb the Seven Summits. Similarly, though I may live abroad at some point, I will prepare for a career in the United States for the sake of my future wife and family. And, at last, I have also decided that I will change my major to sociology and pursue the opportunities attendant to that degree.

My plans now are to work very hard to graduate in the next thirteen months. I am confident that with the help of the Sociology secretary – who I pray will be merciful in transferring my work from IR into sociology (thereby waiving some of the courses I need to take), I can finish the sociology major in two semesters and a summer. After graduation, I will pursue Teach For America, and earn a Master's degree while involved with the program. From there, I will have theoretical, practical, and publication experience sufficient to pursue a doctoral degree. In this way, I should be finished with my education in the next six years, allowing me to begin a career fully just before my twenty-eighth birthday. From there, I will work in China, or elsewhere as the opportunity to establish LDS schools presents itself.

At each stage of planning, at each stage of revelation, the plans have evolved. The history of what I have felt is right for my life is a series of discreet plans, each better than the last. Interestingly, I prayed about a plan for my life just a few weeks ago, and felt like the Lord accepted it as a plan. The fact that it has since changed is rather immaterial; the first was given by revelation – or accepted by revelation, and I feel that my new one is as well. I anticipate that there will be changes in the future, but until the Lord reveals them to me, I will pursue the path I have with all my heart.

One great lesson from this summer is that Lord really does give guidance specific and accurate for where we are at that moment, and then leads us forward to become whom he wants us to be. When we go in the wrong direction, if we seek Him and are seeking Him, He leads us back in the way we should go. As we go forward, he steers us in the way we need to go at that time. That process of revelation causes changes in us, leads us to learn and grow and become whom He would have us be. If the Lord had simply commanded me to study sociology originally, I would not have learned the important lessons or made the important friendships that I did in Kansas City as a vocal performance major. My testimony of the Gospel would probably not have been strengthened as it was by the experiences I had in Kansas City. At BYU, I would not have taken Econ 110, which let me study under one of grandfather's few remaining colleagues in the last year before that colleague retired. That professor helped me wrench open my mind to the scientific study of human behavior at the collective level. From that class, I learned to seek evidence of the truth of the Gospel in the aggregate behavior of individuals, and to see “angels in the architecture” of society (“You can call me Al,” Paul Simon. Negotiations and Love Songs). I wouldn't have taken the introductory courses in political science or geography, or the research methods courses in political science and anthropology which have so blessed my life, pried open my understanding, and opened my eyes to a more brilliant sunlight of inquiry, knowledge, and truth.

Therefore, I don't regret the two and a half years I've spent studying in other fields; the Lord has blessed me through it. And I don't resist this course correction; I know He will bless me in this change of plan as well.

“Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldst go.” (Isa. 48:17)

“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. ...“ (D&C 78:18)

A really cool door, somewhere near my home. This house is slightly unusual in that it doesn't havea wall or fence, or razor wire around it. These are the "Big 5" that safari seekers come to Africa to see.

Over the past two weeks, I've watched an apparentky homeless family rake away grass, burn the ground, and then hoe in lines across this patch of former brush. I assume they're going to grow something there. This is across the road, maybe two hundred yards from our house. Interestingly, as I stopped to take a picture, someone walking by said, "This isn't the safest place to do that, you know." We live next to a cemetery where a lot of squatters sleep (it's about three houses down from us.) Sometimes I forget how much poverty exists in this country; I don't think these people would be clearing this field if they had a better option.

Prayer cards, containing prayer requests from the youth of Amalinda Baptist Church.

I'm not entirely sure why I took this picture - I think it was to point out the big cloud front that had just rolled over us.
Sadly, I forgot my camera on the YSA Sports day, so I don't have pictures from that. Just imagine all the YSAs from East London holding up a first place trophy instead of this picture.

And here is me today. I wrote the post yesterday while I was healthy; today I'm running a fever. Brandon thought I looked pretty funny and snapped a pic, and then got one with my camera as well.

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