I have passed the half-way point!  I always thought this would get easier... I find myself getting more and more distracted by the world.  I'm still reading, and I've never been more than a day behind, but I seem to be constantly a day behind.  I'm not sure what it is that is affecting me so.  I think some of it could be attributed to Nick's busy schedule.  Another part could be that my daughter only takes one nap during the day and sometimes that nap is less than an hour long.  At the moment I've put her down for her nap, but she isn't sleeping, yet.  She's just sitting in her crib humming to herself.  So anyway, to catch up, I'm getting to the end of Alma, and I'm getting into the pages of war stratagem that are very different from preaching and pure doctrine.  In the 531 pages of the book of mormon there are so many things taught to us and so many rich passages that illustrate important principles, but one that always sticks out to me are those regarding the wicked hoping for salvation.  In Alma 5:20 Alma poses the question:  "I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?"  Funnily enough, I think there are some people this day and age who would answer that question in the affirmative.  If they believe in a god at all, that god will justify all their sins and they are free to do as they choose without consequence.  Satan is a wily creature.  The way he manipulates the logic of otherwise intelligent people almost disgusts me.
    Alma 12:28-30 - "...it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof [God] had appointed unto them; Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory...therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works."  God's plan has never been a secret.  Not since the beginning of time.  He is a loving and even I would say a doting God that wants salvation for all his children.  Salvation, however, HAD TO BE conditional!  No unclean thing can enter into his presence.  If you think of the truly evil people who have existed on this earth with no thought of repentance, and think that in the end they will be dwelling in happiness in heaven, the idea is almost ludicrous.  If those people don't make it to heaven, then, doesn't it make sense that there is SOME standard established?  If, then, there is such a standard, wouldn't it be prudent for us to figure out what it is and then strive to far surpass it, just to be safe?  Makes sense to me... "[glad tidings of the plan of salvation] are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard." (Alma 13:23)
    Alma 41:7 [The righteous] are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do god or do evil."  In the end when we are brought to judgment, we will not be able to lie even unto ourselves.  we will know of our state of purity at that tribunal.
    Alma 42:16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there was a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul."  It is a little daunting to think of this fact, but we, as intelligences, have always existed, thus we will continue to exist into eternity, not in the body as we have it now, but as eternal beings.  The destruction of that intelligence is not possible, for man, or for God.
    Alma 42:27 ...whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds."  Thus we always have the choice of which master we will heed.  But in the end, if we have not chosen the Savior, we may as well have chosen the devil."
Okay.  So I took a break from writing.  I still read.  This time through is really different because what I'm looking for seems much more specific. 
    A few things that stood out to me in my reading this week:  Omni (good old Omni) 1:26 - "And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption.  Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offer unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved."  Questions?  Anyone?  Come unto Christ, and offer him the only thing you really have to give:  Your whole soul.  Anything else you have, He gave you in the first place.  Salvation comes at this one price.  All can afford it, but who will choose to pay?
    Mosiah 5:15 - "Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all."  This verse basically just reiterates the first.  I know that Christ is mighty to save.  I have no doubt.
    Mosiah 13:10 - "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief; when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the lord shall prosper in his hand." This is quoting Isaiah at this point.  This verse is taken here a bit out of context but the key phrase I noticed was "it pleased the Lord to bruise him" meaning Christ.  How can it please God to bruise his son?  I imagine there aren't many reasons.  The one that is so humblingly poignant is his desire that an atonement should be made so that the rest of his children who could never have been perfect can be made perfect through that blood.  He taught us the ultimate sacrifice through his ultimate suffering.
    Mosiah 16:8 - "But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ."  Of all the things that Christ did, we are most expected to understand these two:  It is through Christ that we may be cleansed of sin, and it is through Christ that we may overcome death.  These two things we CAN NOT do for ourselves.  It brings such joy and such weight to my soul in this moment to recognize my responsibility to know these things, and also to make sure that his sacrifice for me was meaningful by living my life in a way that Christ would have me live it.  I pray his suffering for my sake may be minimal, but I know it can't be.  I am a sinner.  He knew it from the beginning.  I will strive, always, to be better, and I know that in Him I am healed.

A couple of good ones:  2 Ne 9:18 - "But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world and their joy shall be full forever."  While Christ was sacrificed to free us for our sins and to "wipe away all tears," we are still expected to bear the "crosses of the world" right alongside him.  I find the specification "of the world" extremely important as it suggests that there is a difference between worldly crosses that we must bear, and the heavenly crosses that Christ has borne for us.  We are never given more than we can carry, but we are given crosses to carry so that we can be continually strengthened.  I believe firmly that these last days will require much strength as there is much we will have to endure that may seem extremely difficult in this temporal sphere.
From 2 Ne 19:1-2 - "Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn away the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey and that they may rob the fatherless!"  My first thought while reading this scripture was how lucky I am to have a righteous, hard-working father.  And then I thought of Jillian and how her father, also, is righteous and hard-working.  While I know a lot of fathers that match this description in my family and in my community, I sadden to think that these men are in fact rare among the nations.  There are countless fatherless children in this world, whether their fathers have been killed, passed away, live far away, or just plain didn't want to be involved in the first place, many children are lacking this important figure in their lives.  How much better would this world be if all children had fathers they could look up to, learn from, and be proud of?  The other thought that comes to mind with this scripture is "how do I treat the poor of my people, or the widows, or the fatherless?" I think of every time i drive to my parents house and there is a man standing by the off-ramp with a sign begging for money.  I gave one man 50 cents one time.  To him, I wish I had more to give.  Rarely do I share in this way.  But how often have I had opportunities to help one of God's unfortunate children and I have overlooked it?  I keep thinking about how we ourselves are lacking a good income, but we are so blessed.  We have a lovely apartment, and we've always had money for the things that we need.  We have also always paid our tithing.  Perhaps, though, there is more that we should be doing to share the blessings that Heavenly Father has placed so abundantly upon us.
It's been tough blogging recently.  I feel like i said everything the first time around.  There are a few things that stand out this time that probably didn't before.  Mostly in the Isaiah chapters.  I was thinking about how Heavenly father usually just has one prophet on the earth at a time in our day and it seems like in those days he had a prophet in the old world and the new, but then Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all speak as prophets.  I was thinking that probably there was a line of authority between these three:  Lehi was the prophet until he died, now in my reading Nephi is the prophet, but Jacob preaches because he is like an apostle.  Could be, right?
The Lord never ceases to invite us to come unto him.  He wants to gather us around him always just as any parent wants their children near.  Unfortunately God is governed by spiritual laws that create stipulations for entering into his presence.  Were it not so he would probably not be so adamant about us being righteous and obeying a set of commandments.  He tells us, though, that if we enter into his presence unworthily, it will be like hell.  Yet another reason why his commandments are an example of his mercy, not his desire to reign supreme and dictate to his minions.
So the Book of Mormon has ended and began again.  I've never read it this quickly before.  This time through I'm trying to focus on references to Christ as well as saving doctrines.  It is again hard to distinguish what should be marked.  It is fascinating to see how complex the book is, though.  I believe that this second time through will be an entirely new experience from the first time.  And the first time was phenomenal.  Even though much of this book is about the wars between to good and the wicked, there are profound truths in every passage.  All scripture is written so that we may learn.  I truly have learned so much and I am so grateful to now be able to testify of the veracity of this work with all conviction.  I've always known it was true in my mind, but now I know it in my soul.  So once again I join up with Nephi as he begins once again to teach us about his family and how one makes and maintains, or breaks, relationships with Christ.
Again, it's been hard to write the blog, but that's not because I've had no insights through my reading.  Today I will read the last 9 pages of my first time through the book of mormon this year.  It has been an indescribable experience.  I've always been confident that the book of mormon was a true, god-given document, but now any doubts i had have been shattered.  There is just no other fathomable explanation for its origin, and the spirit i feel when i read it, and the personal revelation and guidance it brings is unmatched.  Never turn your nose up at the Book of Mormon.  It is a work that has withstood the test of time, and if it is read with an open mind, it will withstand anyone's tests.  I am so grateful for it.  I love this verse at the end of Ether 12:  "And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written that the grace of god the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.  Amen."  I wish that everyone would take that invitation, but no.  The end of Ether is a truly sad story as two civilizations destroy one another.  It rends one's heart, as I know it rends the heart of the father of us all, but as he has said countless time throughout this work, he will not uphold people in wickedness.  Wickedness, which almost always begins with selfishness and self-indulgence, brings about downfall of civilizations, not just the individual.  We must continually watch ourselves to see that we are meek, humble, submissive, easy to be entreated, God-fearing, loving, selfless, and striving in every way to follow Christ and his teachings.
Mormon is quite the character.  This verse alone says so much about him:  "Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts." (Mormon 3:12)  It is, once again, amazing what the power of Christ is.  When I see slews of wicked people my first instinct is not to love them with all of my heart, though it should be.  The Lord loves his children and He would love it if we could all see each other through His eyes.  His capacity to love is beyond most of us, but it doesn't seem to be beyond Mormon.  I am so grateful that Mormon took all the time and made all the effort he did to abridge the Book of Mormon and to make sure it was kept safe.  He is a special character.
This is arguably the best part of the Book of Mormon because we are to sit back and listen to the Savior teach us.  It's difficult to get through, actually, because I've basically highlighted every word that Christ has said.  There is so much I'd like to quote and comment on, but the prospect is a little daunting to me right now so i'll just mention a few things: 
    1:  Christ is very specific in how we should treat those in our midst who are "unworthy."  We are not to "cast them out of our synagogues."  (3 Ne. 18:31) so we are to embrace those of us who may be struggling, so that they might see a congregation as a place to come home to.  People who commit sin feel unworthy already.  They suffer a Godly and a personal condemnation which through repentance they can overcome.  Our condemnation is both unnecessary and unrighteous on our part. (I say our, but I do not exclude myself from the other side, for are we not all sinners?)
    2:  After Christ teaches in chapter 16 he says in chapter 17:2-3 "I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.  Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow and i come unto you again."  From these verses we learn a few things, the first being that we don't even have to rely on Christ's words at face value.  we can and should seek spiritual confirmation of spiritual teachings.  the second would be that if we prepare our minds, we will have greater capacity to understand the words which the Lord has to teach us.
    3:  3 Ne 21:10 "But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them.  Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil."  And it always will be.  the devil is cunning and crafty.  He will make people believe that good is evil and evil is good, but their wicked ways will last but a moment in the grand scheme of things and we are eternally admonished to endure to the end that we may have everlasting life and partake of the better part. 
Yes, i've slacked off with blogging.  but not with reading.  Well, I'm a teeny bit behind with my reading, but I can catch up today, easy-peasy.  I have worn out my marking pen.  I have been trying to mark all of the instances that discuss how God deals with his children and I'm in 3rd Nephi and I'm going to have to switch colors.  Heavenly Father does not neglect his children.  He is mindful of all they do both good and bad.  He is patient and always hopeful that they will choose the path of righteousness that he paved with his Only Begotten's blood.  How often did he send prophets in to teach his children the right way, practically begging them repent and forsake their wicked ways?  There are countless instances.  The Lord understands the thoughts of his people.  He knows how Satan works in their hearts and he knows the ways of the natural man.  Samuel the Lamanite's words rings true as he is prophesying saying, "But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say:  Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say:  Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth--and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet." (13:27)  As disgusting and perverse as that is, is it not true?  We see it all the time.  People want leaders that will tell them that they can do whatever they want with no consequences.  How sad this world would be, though, if there were no consequences for one's actions.  The Lord uses positive reinforcement.  If you obey his commandments he will pour blessings out upon you.  Interestingly consequences for iniquity often tend to be natural consequences:  casual sex can lead to unintentional pregnancy, sloth can lead to a lack of means to provide for yourself, crime will lead to imprisonment.  imprisonment can be physical but it can also be mental.  when you choose to do something that you know is wrong, your mind can override itself and shut down.  We often call this guilt.  People want to be told that nothing that they do is wrong so that they can be free of guilt.  Guilt, to a degree is a punishment, but more than that it is a tool to help us want to be better.  If we apply it correctly we can use the guilt we feel for our poor actions as motivation to never do that wrong thing again.  We can use it as a drive to help us want to turn to God because only He has the power to make that guilt go away.  We turn to him because we want to be rid of it and He is capable of granting us that freedom. 
    As 3rd Nephi progresses we see the signs of the birth and death of Jesus Christ.  We are upon the resurrection and his appearance to the people in this continent.  We can see, again, that he keeps all of his promises, and that prophets are truly inspired by a divine power.  I am ever more convinced that the power given to the prophets is a Godly power.  They will not lead us astray and they will continue to act in a way that will teach us what we need to do in order to gain salvation.  They will not coddle us in our wickedness, but teach us how to be righteous and strong so that when the Messiah comes again, we need not fear because our hearts will be prepared.