Nearly a year ago, when faced with the opportunity of spending the next ten months in France, I turned down a teaching assistantship that would have covered my last year of graduate school in architecture. It was a somewhat nerve-racking decision to make; leaving the known for the unknown, realizing that there would be no guarantee of financial support for the final year of school once we returned from our sojourn abroad. But, things seemed to be generally going in our favor, and France's siren call beckoned.
Earlier this year I applied for a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship and also reapplied for a teaching assistantship in anticipation of our rapidly approaching return to Illinois. The FLAS fellowship seemed to match my career goals as well as our current situation here in France, and both Kara and I were quite hopeful that it would work out. Two of my Illinois professors, as well as a French teacher from my days at BYU, were kind enough to write letters of recommendation, and I even managed to turn in the application several days before the deadline (of course, Kara might suggest that I went wrong there--It seems all of the scholarships and study abroad opportunities she has received have come when she has submitted the applications a month or so after they were supposed to be turned in, including her current position teaching English here in Lyon).
Two weeks ago however, I received an email letting me know that I hadn't been selected for the fellowship. I was certainly disappointed, but tried to remain hopeful that something might still work out with a T.A. position. As one day has slowly run into the next with no news on a teaching assistantship, I must admit to ever-increasing levels of anxiety about how to make ends meet this coming year. Our winter electric bill showed up (you know, the through the roof shocker, I live in an old masonry building with no insulation and really big windows, sort of electric bill...), and things around the house seem to keep breaking or going missing (I know my ultimate Frisbee isn't really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but still...).
Our lack of funding for the coming year has left me questioning the wisdom of our decision to spend this past year abroad. But strangely enough, our situation has also helped me feel a certain amount of solidarity with the many people in the world who are facing much more serious economic trials than my own--like friends who have had to move their young families back in with parents and grandparents after losing jobs or homes. And despite the anxiety, I've still felt a great amount of hope, thanks in large part to the many encouraging messages shared during the recent LDS General Conference. The following remarks by President Henry B. Eyring are just a small sample from those messages that touched me:
"With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity. There may be periods, sometimes long ones, when our lives seem to flow with little difficulty. But it is in the nature of our being human that comfort gives way to distress, periods of good health come to an end, and misfortunes arrive."
"My purpose today is to assure you that our Heavenly Father and the Savior live and that They love all humanity. The very opportunity for us to face adversity and affliction is part of the evidence of Their infinite love. God gave us the gift of living in mortality so that we could be prepared to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, which is eternal life."
And so we have pressed forward with faith, knowing that if all else fails we have welcome basements both in Omaha and in Hyde Park...
On Wednesday evening I had the distinct feeling I should send an email to the FLAS committee thanking them for the chance to have applied for the fellowship.
On Friday morning I decided I would stop checking my email every few hours to see if news of an assistantship had magically appeared.
On Friday afternoon I mentioned to Kara that it was interesting how at sometimes in our lives everything seems to go our way, and at other times nothing quite seems to work out as planned or hoped. Kara gently reminded me that blessings often come after adversity.
On Friday evening Kara logged into my email account, then very excitedly exclaimed that there was some news. Hoping against hope for an assistantship offer, I was completely surprised by the email I had actually received. The group administering the FLAS Fellowship had been made aware of additional funds and as a result were offering me a fellowship after all.
There is no good way to express the gratitude I feel for having received this fellowship. It represents a huge blessing for me, Kara, and the girls. Kara had been considering accepting a teaching position at the Intensive English Institute again in the fall to help make ends meet, but now she'll be able to take the semester to spend with Brooklyn, Talia, and the new little one. I'll be able to focus on my thesis without having to be working part time out of school. And we won't have to take out any additional student loans to pay for tuition. The fellowship also requires that I take two French classes and two European Union Area Studies seminars over the course of the year--a requirement which will help me improve my French and my ability to interact with the European community in the future.
I am grateful for promptings that come from our Heavenly Father. I truly believe in a God who loves us, watches out for us, and seeks to bless our lives. In the New Testament, Jesus asks, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" And as Jeffery R. Holland so eloquently stated, "Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don't come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come."
The most important gift after all is not financial security, or even financial peace of mind. It is not good health, or fame and recognition. It is quite simply to know God, and to be able to spend eternity with Him and with each other--with our families and friends that make life so rich, no matter what the circumstances may be that surround us.