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. ;)

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
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.”