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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Bread of Life

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread..." Genesis 3:19

This sentence took on new meaning for me this past Sunday. The teacher of our class was speaking about personal responsibility for our own salvation and suddenly as I looked at that scripture written on the board I realized it had a double meaning. 

I had always interpreted it literally; in order to survive in mortality we must work to stay alive. In Adam's case, hunting for his own food. In the case of many of us nowadays, working to earn money to purchase our own food. 

Temporal survival takes work of all kinds. But so does spiritual survival. I looked at that verse and for the first time, thought about the bread of life, Jesus Christ.

"I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst." - John 6:35

Coming to him requires much more than desire, though that is a great place to start. It requires more than just asking in prayer, though that is also important. It requires work. It requires active study and reflection on the scriptures and other teachings that have been given to us. This active ongoing study, combined with prayer will bring us toward him, the bread of life. 

Only as we work to understand, can we come to know truth. 

Through regular study of scripture I have felt peace and clarity increase in my understanding of the turbulent world surrounding me and the purpose of my mortal existence. I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is his son. I know that Jesus Christ suffered for all mankind. I cannot comprehend how he knows what each of us suffer, but I know that somehow he knows. I know that he loves us and that if we will accept that love, it can motivate and help us reach a potential we may never have known existed within ourselves. I do not know the meaning of everything that happens in life, but because I believe in my Savior I am willing to live by faith, waiting with patience until the day that all things will be opened to my understanding.  I look forward anxiously to Christ's second coming with great joy and hope that it cannot now be long. Whether I am here on earth or in Heaven it will be a day of great gladness. I am so thankful for every day I am allowed to remain in mortality and all that it has taught me and will continue to teach me. I am so thankful for all the beauties God has put on earth that bring a smile to my face every single day; for the animals, flowers, sunlight, storms and family and friends that surround me. It is a beautiful world and a beautiful time to be alive, with so much to add to our enrichment and learning and light. I know that we are loved, far beyond our ability to understand and I am thankful for the times in my life when I have felt that love tangibly from beyond, assisting me through dark times. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Meet Sokka, our Salt and Pepper Standard Schnauzer

I took this picture two days ago. I could feel two eyes burning holes into my hand as I put each toasted round topped with gouda and genoa salami up to my mouth. I had to capture the cuteness of my goofy meat loving Sokka. (points if you know exactly what I'm referencing)

By the way, did I mention we got a dog?

It's been a few months now. After researching the pros and cons of many different breeds we decided on a schnauzer, and let me tell you schnauzer's are great. We were going to get one from a breeder, but the more I thought about starting with an 8 week old puppy and all of the work that entailed, the more I became convinced I wanted a rescue dog.

Above is a picture of our boy when we first got him, just under a year old and lacking any of the carefree and playful nature of a pup. This picture does not adequately convey the poor state he was in. He had over 35 ticks attached to his body. His fur was matted and covered with burrs. He was friendly but quiet and subdued, as if he were resigned to being neglected.

All of that began to change though. It started with a bath and a shave. Then vaccines, and flea and tick medication, daily walks, good dog food, clicker training and lots of love and attention. Pretty soon our boy started to become more vocal. He would give a soft but excited howl when he saw his leash pulled out, he began to bark and run to the door to greet my husband when he came home. He learned how to sit and touch and lay down and over time, how to play. He had no idea what to do with dog toys so first I taught him how to touch an item with his nose, then with his teeth, then to pick it up, then to hold it for longer periods of time. The dog that didn't even think to pick anything up with his teeth (other than food) now retrieves the frisby in the backyard. He has even developed a habit of picking up shoes and taking them to random places in the house. Luckily he doesn't chew on them. I think he's just trying to tell us he wants a walk. Here he is after first being cleaned up, a day or two after the previous picture:

Now I'm not saying he's perfect. In fact he chewed on a door frame about 3 weeks after we had gotten him. I had left him in his room before when I was running errands and he had never seemed to care. So when I came home and heard anxious little yips and then opened the door to discover the frame had been chewed on I was of course a little annoyed. But suddenly I realized that though we had already adopted him, his anxiety over our leaving seemed to mean that he had finally adopted us! Luckily with even more love and training, no more door frames have been marred.

And the best part about him aside from his kisses, his wet nose, his quick learning skills and his enthusiastic greetings? I've not swept up a single dog hair. ;)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

With the recent release of "Meet the Mormons" some members of our church have decided to change their facebook profile pictures to reflect what religion we belong too. I went ahead and designed my own version, emphasizing our true title, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The most common misconception people seem to have is that "Mormons" (the nickname we've been given) don't believe in Jesus Christ. In reality, Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of our religion.

"...And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may looks for a remission of their sins." 2 Nephi 25:26

Thoughts on Faith

I just recently found a copy of an address I gave to my church congregation back in 2010 and have decided to publish it here.

The Bible Dictionary defines faith as, “a hope for things which cannot be seen, but which are true, and must be centered in Jesus Christ in order to produce salvation. Faith is a principle of action and of power. Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel and is more than belief, since true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action.”

I think as a youth I didn’t fully realize, and I think even now I sometimes forget that faith is something active. It’s not just something we believe, it’s something we live. 

The Bible Dictionary goes on to describe faith as something which must, “be cultured and sought after until it grows from a tiny seed to a great tree.” 

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles defines faith in three parts. He says, 

“Faith exists when absolute confidence in that which we cannot see, combines with action that is in absolute conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father. Without all three - first, absolute confidence; second, action; and third, absolute conformity, we have a weak faith.”

Now I think it’s unrealistic to expect ourselves, natural men and women to always have perfect faith. We have times of spiritual increase and times where we slack off in our commitment to exercise our faith. 
Periods of doubt are to be expected. There may be times where you will wonder if the things you believe about the gospel are really true. But having doubts or questions doesn‘t mean you are unrighteous. Your task when you feel this uncertainty is to keep trying the word of God. As Alma has said in Alma 32: 27 - “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you…” Keep acting out the principles that have been laid before you in the Book of Mormon until you begin to feel more confidence in Christ.

Speaking on action that is in conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father, Elder Wirthlin continues:
“…one’s faith should be consistent with the will of our Heavenly Father, including His laws of nature. The sparrow flying into a hurricane may believe that he can successfully navigate the storm, but the unforgiving natural law will show him otherwise in the end.”

Just because we have complete faith that God can deliver us from danger, does not mean He always will. To do so might mean interfering with our agency and the growth of our faith. And a huge part of acting on faith is choosing to follow God’s council, not just believing that if we believe he is all powerful that will be enough. If God has counseled us to stay out of dangerous situations and places, can we really think that he will protect us in a moment of danger when we ignored his advice to stay clear of that situation? If God has counseled us to store up food and water, can we really think he will miraculously provide it in the face of financial difficulty or natural disaster if we never made any effort to listen to him in the first place? Of course, listening to his council doesn’t always ensure a perfect happy ending to situations like the aforementioned, but it does show that we are exercising our faith in him and even if we are not temporally saved by His grace after all we can do, we will be spiritually saved by grace after all we can do. Listening to his council is a part of doing all we can do.

Elder Wirthlin continues by saying, “How do we know when our faith conforms to the will of our Heavenly Father and He approves of that which we seek? We must know the word of God….If the desires of our heart are contrary to scripture then we should not pursue them further….Additionally, we must ponder and pray and seek the guidance of the Spirit.”

I think it is important to remember that there is not always a set answer to every question we have or choice we make in life, but there is always a right direction and if you’re going in the general direction of trying to do those things which please Heavenly Father, then you’re very likely to be in conformity with His will. 

Now I want to touch briefly on the possible effects of true faith in Jesus Christ, which the Bible Dictionary says include:

1. An actual knowledge that the course of life one is pursuing is acceptable to the Lord. Again, we can pretty much know we are doing this if we are following the council given in scriptures and from our modern day prophet and apostles.

2. A reception of the blessings of the Lord that are available to man in this life. This does not mean that you will be delivered from all hardship or trial but that you will receive many blessings from the Lord because of your faith, including the strength to overcome, learn and grow from the adversity you face in this life.

3. An assurance of personal salvation in the world to come.

In the book, Believing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson he writes, 
“We often think that having faith in Christ means believing in his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But believing in Jesus’ identity as the Christ is only the first half of it. The other half is believing in his ability, in his power to cleanse and to save. Not only must we believe that he is who he says he is, we must also believe that he can do what he says he can do. We must not only believe in Christ, we must also believe Christ…Trying our hardest to keep the commandments and be like Christ is part of our covenant obligation, not because we can succeed at them in this life, but because the attempt, the commitment to try, demonstrates our sincerity. Faith is always willing to try -- and to try and try again. While success is not a requirement of the covenant of faith, my best attempts are.”

Christ will make up where we lacked in this life if we continue to exercise our faith in Him by trying to live the gospel to our fullest extent. And we can feel the assurance of personal salvation knowing our efforts were strong. 

We live in a fallen world. While it has abundant beauties and good things, it is also a place of sickness, pain, death, inhumanity and confusion. We must remember though, that we chose it. That though we can’t understand why some terrible, faith challenging experiences happen in our lives now, that someday we will. God is not a God of games, playing with our lives as though we were pawns. We may not know just how involved he is in the various events of our lives, but many of the pains and trials we face are not specifically inflicted upon us by Him. Like any loving parent, I don’t believe he likes to see us suffer the sorrows and trials we already have and continually will, but facing the consequences of our own choices and choices others make that may affect us is part of the plan. As are facing the consequences of natural laws, such as death, disease, accidents, disasters and the like. He will not spare us from the consequences of agency, since to do so would revoke the gift of agency. And he will not spare us the consequences of living in a fallen world with all it’s natural laws, since coddling us would stunt our faith and Faith is central to His plan.

But because he cannot change the courses of nature or take away the gift of agency, he has given us the gift of faith. It is the strength to bear us through all that we must endure in this world on our way back to Him. Faith is doing what is good, whether you are feeling spiritual and peaceful and it seems easy or whether you are feeling completely alone. There’s a saying that when you’re at the end of your rope, you tie a knot and you hold on. That’s what faith sometimes is. But I can promise you that you will never be truly abandoned. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated in the Ensign, 1991 “Brothers and sisters, we need never mistake local cloud cover for general darkness.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Praying Mantis - homeschool study for children

Toward the end of the summer season when the long days are growing shorter and the sultry mid day temperatures are waning, the unmistakable fragrance of females begins to permeate the air. But you'll never notice it. Unless you're a male praying mantis. They're everywhere now, males eagerly seeking to procreate with the beckoning females. How could we resist bringing some mantises indoors for observation?

Right now we are studying Zoology and have begun with invertebrates, specifically insects. There are plenty to be found in our garden. The children draw and write down their observations about each new subject in their nature journals. Then we study the creatures more in depth using library book and internet resources. This week we've been focused on Mantises and they are something else!

Just look at the spiny ridge on each front leg, ready to pierce and hold tight its prey. Did you know Mantids are strictly carnivorous?

We have four of them inside a large clear plastic bowl right now. They are playing nice with each other for the moment, but we are making sure to keep them well stocked with plenty of prey.

Mantises have a total of 5 eyes. Two large compound eyes which are clearly visible, and three very small eyes, directly in between the antennae.

Mantises eat their pray alive and struggling. And they devour things rather quickly I might add, which I suppose is good for the struggling insect. They are also particular about which body parts they will eat. The floor of the temporary habitat is littered with insect body parts: moth wings, fly wings, fly legs, june bug casings and wings, etc.

It has been truly fascinating and exciting to watch these amazing hunters. To see the way they cock their head slightly when they've noticed prey, to see the way they patiently and carefully move toward it, to see how quickly they snatch their prey into an inescapable grasp and begin immediately devouring it has been educational and delightful. The children have loved it! We have been leaving our back door open, welcoming flies into the house. With clear condiment cups in hand the kids have been trapping flies on windows, sliding paper beneath each cup and then asking the resident "expert fly releaser" (a.k.a. mom) to get the flies into the habitat without them escaping.

The following are resources we used for our study of the praying mantis:

Mrs. Warner's Fourth Grade Classroom - Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis Love - Video of Mantis Mating and Female eating the Male

Nature's Perfect Predators

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Family History Work, My Testimony

A talk I wrote and gave in the my church ward on July 27, 2014

In the Magazine, New Era May 1997, President Thomas S. Monson wrote
"One warm summer afternoon when I was about 12, I took a large, inflated inner tube from a tractor tire, slung it over my shoulder, and walked barefoot up the railroad track which followed the course of the river. I entered the water about a mile above the swimming hole and enjoyed a leisurely float down the river.
 I was about to enter the swiftest portion of the river, just at the head of the swimming hole, when I heard frantic cries, “Save her! Save her!” I saw the top of her head disappearing under the water for the third time, there to descend to a watery grave. I stretched forth my hand, grasped her hair, and lifted her over the side of the tube and into my arms. At the pool’s lower end, the water was slower as I paddled the tube, with my precious cargo, to her waiting relatives and friends. They threw their arms around her and kissed her. Then they hugged and kissed me. I was embarrassed and quickly returned to the tube and continued my float down to the Vivian Park Bridge. The water was frigid, but I was not cold, for I was filled with a warm feeling. I realized that I had participated in the saving of a life. Heavenly Father had heard the cries, “Save her! Save her!” and permitted me, a deacon, to float by at precisely the time I was needed. That day I learned that the sweetest feeling in mortality is to realize that God, our Heavenly Father, knows each one of us and generously permits us to see and to share His divine power to save. "

While we may not often find ourselves saving actual mortal lives, we are often able and encouraged to be engaged in the saving of souls. This power to save has been entrusted to us both for the living and dead. The first chapter of Preach My Gospel asks a question that applies to every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: "What is my purpose as a missionary?" The answer in short, is to bring others to Christ.

As concerns our dead, while we cannot personally help teach them, we have been given the privilege of performing the ordinances they need to enter into Salvation. Some of them have already been brought to Christ by missionaries beyond the veil and wait only upon us to do their work by proxy. When you consider that an estimated 107 billion people have been born upon this earth, we have a staggering amount of work to do.

I will admit that a love of and desire to do genealogy research is a gift that I have been given.  So it's of little credit to me that I lack no desire in spending time and effort finding as much as I can about each person within my family tree.  But not everyone has this strong desire. We each have been given different spiritual gifts and at times it may seem difficult to pursue something we've been asked to do when we have so little motivation for it.

Some see this task as beyond their abilities, some see this task as unbelievably boring, some see this task as being fulfilled by others within their family and some may even see the task as fearful, after all some of us know we are more likely to pull heretics than heros out of the pages of our family book. But do we realize how much we need to do this, not just for our ancestors, but for ourselves?

Elder Theodore M. Burton has said, "We have assumed that temple work was to be done merely as a gesture of grace on the part of the living for those of our ancestors who are dead. This is a misconception which comes from not understanding the full meaning of the gospel. The plan of salvation is the plan of saving the children of God in a family relationship."

And Joseph Fielding Smith explained, "When everything gets finished, we will all be one family—every member of the Church a member of one family, the family of God.  It is not merely enough that we be baptized for our dead or for ourselves, but also we have to be sealed to our parents. We must have the parents sealed to their parents and so on, as far back as we can go, and eventually back to Adam"

James Faulconer wrote, "Salvation is not singular...Heaven can only be heaven if it is filled with those we love."

 Family History work helps create some of those loving family relationships. As Elder Dennis B. Neunschwander has said, "Family history research provides the emotional bridge between the generations. Temple ordinances provide the priesthood bridge."  If possible, we should try to build both halves of the bridge to receive a fulness of the blessings promised.

As Joseph Fielding Smith has stated, "There will be cases of course, where some of our ancestors will not be able to be saved in the family of God, but the links will have to be joined without them...The Lord cannot save the willfully wicked.. nor [they] who refuse to accept the work."

But it is up to God to decide whether or not someone is worthy. As for us, if an ancestor hasn't had their work done, we do it. Even if our closest family members in life are people we don't get along with or think ill of, when they are gone, we do their work.

Elder Richard G. Scott has said, "Perhaps you have been prompted to look for ancestors but feel you are not a genealogist. Can you see that you don’t have to be anymore? It all begins with love and a sincere desire to help those beyond the veil who can’t help themselves...Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received."

It's not too late to start. You don't need to devote countless hours to research or visit the temple every single weekend, our leaders have not asked each of us to do everything, but they have asked each of us to do something. I know that even doing something is of course difficult when we have no desire so I would say, along the lines of the words of Alma, that even if you can no more than desire to have the desire to do your Family History, let this desire work in you. Pray for help in catching the vision of this work, and more than that, I would encourage you to go and do. For often we receive no witness of the truth and importance of a commandment, or love for it, until after we have put it to the test.

And you will have help. It is not only my calling to hold your hand in this endeavor if necessary, it is my greatest desire. I cannot adequately convey the joy that I feel in doing this work, I can only assure you how much I wish for each of you to feel the same inexpressible joy.

Elder Richard G. Scott has said, ""This work is a spiritual work, a monumental effort of cooperation on both sides of the veil, where help is given in both directions."

Remember what Nephi has said in 1st Nephi 3:7 - ..."the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."
Many of these people from whom we descend but never knew, know us and love us. They prepare the way for us to fulfill the commandment of God to do their work. They bring to light hidden documents and pictures, they sometimes preserve and protect things and help them make their way into the right hands and they often do so much more than this.

Brother John A. Widtsoe once stated that “Those who give themselves with all their might and main to this work...receive help from the other side, and not merely in gathering genealogies. Whosoever seeks to help those on the other side receives help in return in all the affairs of life.”

I testify to you of this. I know this. I cannot doubt it for I have experienced it time and again.

Aside from that, Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated that while family history work has the power to do something for the dead, it has an equal power to do something to the living. Family history work ... has a refining, spiritualizing, tempering influence on those who are engaged in it."

This is all true. There is no principle we can follow that will refine us more. As Elder Packer has said, "Was not the sacrifice of Christ a vicarious offering for and in behalf of all mankind? The very Atonement was wrought vicariously. The Lord did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Is it not Christlike for us to perform in the temples, ordinances for and in behalf of those who cannot do them for themselves?"
What an incredible privilege, perhaps the closest we will ever come in mortality to being like Christ, when we do for others what they cannot do for themselves!

President Harold B. Lee taught "Where is the spirit world? Is it away up in the heavens? That isn't what the scriptures and our brethren explain. They have told us the spirit world is right here round about us... And if our eyes could be opened we could see those who have departed from us--a father, mother, brother, a sister, a child. We could see them, and sometimes when our physical senses are asleep, sometimes our spiritual self...will be very keen and awake, and a departed one may come while we are lying asleep and come into our consciousness. We'll feel an impression. We'll wake up. Where does it come from? It comes from the spirits of those whom we are sealed to."

President Ezra Taft Benson taught us, "On the other side of the veil, the righteous are taught their duties preparatory to the time when they will return with the Son of Man to earth when He comes again, this time to judge every man according to his works. These righteous spirits are close by us. They are organized according to priesthood order in family organizations as we are here; only there they exist in a more perfect order."

I testify that those we have loved and lost and those we have never known who dearly love us, surround us. They are always close by, they are always aware of us, they are always anxious for us. They come in dreams, sometimes they come in thoughts and impressions. They are eager to help us whenever and however they are permitted. Death is only a rebirth into another plane of existence. We will see them again someday.
In closing I share with  you a poem written by Mary Elizabeth Fry:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
i am the diamond glints on the snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gental autumn rain
When you wake in the mornings hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die.