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Monday, February 16, 2015

Church Speaks Out on Excommunication/General Update

Hello, friends! Aside from the Valentime's Day post which I just put up, it has been two weeks since I posted an update. So I wanted to write and share the major developments that have happened in the last two weeks. Please pay attention, as I will move quickly.

First, on the Church News front, a vocal critic of the Church from Logan, Utah, John Dehlin, has been excommunicated. Excommunication of a member is usually a private matter between a member and his local leaders or in some cases the general church leadership, but in this case, the Church wanted to set the record straight. Dehlin had apparently claimed that his excommunication resulted from his support of same-sex marriage and priesthood ordination for women. In a letter written to him by the stake president who led out in the proceedings that resulted in the excommunication, however, the real reasons for Mr. Dehlin's excommunication were spelled out as follows: disputing the nature of our Heavenly Father and the divinity of Jesus Christ; statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent and works of fiction; and statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as being the true Church with power and authority from God. The stake president made it clear that the excommunication lasted for the period of one year, and that after that period of time, if Mr. Dehlin renounces the claims he has made that are contrary to Church doctrine, he may be permitted to rejoin the Church through rebaptism.

In the words of the letter from his stake president, "I want you to know, Brother Dehlin, that this action was not taken against you because you have doubts or because you were asking questions about Church doctrine. I also want you to know that I acknowledge your right to criticize the Church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause.  Our Heavenly Father has given us moral agency to decide how we will live our lives, and cherished free speech rights in this country allow you to openly state your opinions.  But you do not have the right to remain a member of the Church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that Church teachings are in error."

I am glad that the Church set the record straight on this matter. The Church would never excommunicate someone simply for disagreeing about key points of Church doctrine. But when a Church member attempts to portray Church doctrines as false, action needs to be taken. I hope Brother Dehlin can find his way back to the Church. However, given the firm position he has taken on these issues, I don't know if that will ever happen. It is always tragic to me when I hear that someone has fallen away from the Church. But again, I'm glad the Church spoke out about this issue.

That being said, it's been an interesting two weeks. Work has continued. I didn't get a paycheck on Friday because ROI Solutions issues paychecks every two weeks. So it will be interesting to see how we do financially until my first check from ROI comes in this week. Thankfully, it should be fairly substantial. I have twice had the opportunity to review my conduct and progress with my team leader. As always, I have things I have to work on and do better and more effectively and efficiently. But I am getting better every week, so that's the good news.

I had two unexpected opportunities at work in the last two weeks. One day I came back from lunch and I thought I had clocked in and put my headset on, but I must have passed out with fatigue or something because the next thing I knew my team leader was shaking me awake and asking if I was okay. I have unfortunately fallen asleep on the job a couple of times before, and so before it happened this last time, I was told that if it happened again, my team leader would have to give me a write up for it. So that's what happened. A write up is the first step in disciplinary action on the job. I had to have a meeting with my team leader and his supervisor. We got all the necessary paperwork filled out to process the write-up. The interesting thing was, while I was upset about being written up, it was handled very well. My team leader and his supervisor just let me know what the next step would be if it happened again, and then they simply asked what might be causing this to happen and if there was anything they could do to help. Once I got past the embarrassment and shame I felt at getting written up, I was very impressed with the way it was handled and with the concern that they showed for me. And the good news is, I have only had a problem with dozing off at work once since the write up, and we are doing better at getting more and better quality rest each night, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. My fatigue sets in mostly in the afternoons, so lately I have been getting some Mountain Dew from the vending machines and working on it throughout the afternoon after lunch. Things are going much better as a result of that. So I hope I can keep from getting written up again.

The other opportunity came when I got back from lunch another day. I realized that I had left my computer in the "Break" auxiliary instead of switching to the "Lunch" auxiliary. Soon after I got myself ready to get back on the phones, my team leader came and informed me that it was a problem for me to remain in the "Break" auxiliary for that long. I thanked him and promised him I'd do my best to see that it never happened again. However, I had had many conversations with the guy I sit next to in regards to my health issues. So when my team leader called me on my error, my seatmate got offended in my behalf, saying I couldn't let him treat me that way since I was disabled, and he called the team leader's behavior into question in front of our supervisor. As a result, our supervisor launched an investigation into the matter of my team leader's conduct in the matter My team leader asked me if I had a problem with the way he had approached me on the issue. I told him I didn't. So he asked if I would be willing to write a statement to that effect for the investigation into his conduct. I was happy to do so. He had me do it on his computer, and told me that he would deliver it to our supervisor without reading it if I wanted him to. I told him he could feel free to read it. He told me later that my statement had touched him so deeply that it almost made him cry. I heard nothing more on the matter, so I assume the storm blew over. I was pleased to be able to defend my team leader in this matter.

I had an appointment with my gastroenterologist on Friday. She recommended that I take my medication for my stomach twice daily instead of once to see if that will help with the nausea I've been experiencing. So we will see if it does any good. Unfortunately, the pharmacy informed me that the stomach medication I have been on is not covered for twice a day use by Medicaid. The good news is, I had on hand another stomach medication I had previously taken twice a day that my doctor said I could use if the insurance wouldn't cover the other one. So I do have that other option.

I had Physical Therapy the last two weeks. In each case, my physical therapist, Buck Mendenhall, has been extremely impressed with my progress. He said if anyone compared where I am now to where I was 11 years ago, they wouldn't believe the positive changes in my mobility, range of motion, and overall progress. So that was great. I received my last paycheck from Kelly Services on Friday February 6, and it was the largest check I'd ever gotten from them. My next check will be my first one from ROI Solutions and will be received on the 20th, and because it covers two weeks instead of one, it will be my largest check ever from this job.

The sale of that house we were interested in fell through, so Amy made a bid on it for the amount her dad said he would be giving us, and, because it was so far below the asking price, not surprisingly, the bid was not accepted. We had the privilege of walking through the house and we both liked it, though there were some things about it that concerned us. However, we felt confident enough about it to talk to Amy's dad and see if he would be able and willing to put up the extra money for it. In doing so, we were told by him that the deal with his land was tying up his finances so much that he might only be able to give us half of what he originally promised. This came as a crushing blow to us. A house was very much out of our reach even with the full amount he originally promised us. With half as much, it's almost out of the question. While Amy retrieved some stuff she wanted to get from her old bedroom, along with some VHS tapes, I talked with Amy's dad, who said that while he didn't know how much he could actually give us, a lot would depend upon what the condition of the home we were interested in was. He said he'd have to see such a home before he could make a final decision. So I inwardly resolved to make arrangements for him to see the house sometime this last week. However, with how busy things were for me, time got away from me. Then yesterday (Saturday), Amy told me that she had found out that the house was no longer on the market. We don't know whether that means it's been sold, or the owners have changed their minds, or whether it has gone into foreclosure and is being sold by the bank. We hope for the latter, because if it's being foreclosed, it might sell for far less, which means we'd have a better chance of getting it. So we will have to see what develops. What has been interesting to us is how many people have told us that since we are getting some money from Amy's dad to buy a home, we should consider taking out a loan for the rest, as the interest rate would be fairly low. We find this amusing because it seems as if these well-meaning people seem to think we haven't taken that into account. We've thought about it. If Amy's dad can only provide us with $50,000, we would definitely have to take out a loan to buy a house. If he can give us the full amount he has promised or even pay the full cost of the house like he told me he might be able to, all going well, then we would either have a smaller loan or no loan to worry about. Amy is a little hesitant to go that route because we already have several other debts we need to discharge, and adding a mortgage payment to that would just make our financial situation more complicated. But given the uncertainty of the situation with Amy's dad's land and finances, we may have no other choice.

On Saturday February 7, Amy went to the Stake Women's Conference. She had done a lot of work prior to that as a member of the Relief Society Activities Committee. She was able to take me to Physical Therapy but unable to pick me up. So I asked my dad to do that, and, as a result, I got the chance to spend some time with him and my 5 year old nephew, Grant Hickman. Dad took me on some errands, after which Grant invited me to "Oupa's house" to watch Monster's Inc. with them. So I went. I was able to enjoy time spent with them, and I even got to see my mom when she came back from the Women's Conference and Joanna (my older sister and Grant's mother) when she came to pick Grant up. Dad dropped me off at home after that. I got some much needed rest, only waking up very briefly when Amy came home. We both rested together throughout the afternoon, then in the evening got ready for the Ward 2nd Annual Rib Dinner. It was a lot of fun, with good food and entertaining competitions.

On Sunday February 8, we had our monthly Stokes Family Dinner. It was a great time to spend with family. Today (Sunday February 15) we went to hear our nephew on Amy's side of the family, Tyler Ward, report on his mission. I was very tired both Sundays from staying up too late the night before, but I was nonetheless able to enjoy these events and time spent with my family and Amy's family.

Last Monday (February 9), I took the opportunity to do our taxes from last year using Turbo Tax. It was great to get that done, and Turbo Tax made it easy. I was given an approximate time frame in which to expect our return, which, though not as substantial as we would have liked, will nonetheless be a godsend. I'm hoping it arrives this week, as I will not get paid from ROI until Friday, so we could definitely use the money.

I was able to finally close my cases with Kelly Services and Scenic View Academy, and am getting close to case closure with Vocational Rehabilitation. I will miss the association with the fantastic people I have worked with in each place, but I am grateful that my job is steady enough that I can now move on without them.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from someone with the Church magazines wanting to make arrangements to take my picture for my article that will appear in the July Ensign, if all goes well. I didn't have a chance to respond to that e-mail before they got in touch with me by phone. I made arrangements with Brother Welden Andersen, a photographer, to get the pictures done Friday the 13th after my doctor's appointment. We went to the American Fork Specialty Clinic building 4th floor. I'm afraid I wasn't a very easy subject for Brother Andersen to work with, so I hope he got what he needed. This is the final thing that needed to be done for my article before it gets published. I was very excited to get that done.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I feel kind of bad. We didn't go anywhere or do anything special to celebrate the day. I didn't even get my beloved Amy anything special. However, I was able to spend most of the day with her, so that was fantastic. It is wonderful to be with her. I still don't understand, however, why time with her seems to fly by while time without her drags on interminably. As I stated in the post just below this one, I feel very blessed to have her in my life. I don't know what I'd do without her, and hope I never have to find out. I have prayed many times that if one of us has to die at some point that the other will soon follow so we don't have to be without each other for too long. Of course, ideally, we will both be alive until the Second Coming. But that remains to be seen. In the meantime, I cherish each moment with her. I love her so much and am grateful beyond measure for how much she loves me. It is nothing short of a miracle that she continually sees past all that is wrong with me and finds something worth loving and saving. Much like the love of the Savior, I don't understand how it is possible for her to love me so much, but I know that her love is real and genuine. And therein is my greatest joy. Marrying her was the smartest thing I ever did or ever will do. Asking her to marry me was the second smartest thing I ever did or ever will do. As I said in the post below, I only hope and pray that someday I might be worthy of the love and devotion she so freely gives me.

Well, that is what has been going on with us since I last wrote. It's well past time for me to go to bed. I often think about the people who read my blog and hope what I post is making a difference in someone's life. If so, I will consider this blog a success. Until I blog again, all the best!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Will You Be My Valentine?

I know I'm a day late, but this is a poem I wrote in High School that I try to share with my friends each Valentine's Day. It was written during the time I was a member of American Fork High School's newly formed Poetry Club. As a disclaimer, this poem was not based on a personal experience. With that glowing introduction, you might find the whole thing mildly disappointing. Without further ado, here is "Will You Be My Valentine?"

“Will You Be My Valentine?”

I cast my eyes to the sky above,
It's so long since I've dared to love.
Will I be rejected again?
I need another special friend,

One with whom to share my dreams.
I had one once, or so it seemed.
But she abandoned me for another,
And they're now wrapped up in each other.

To see them now, it makes me sick.
I wish that I were half as slick,
As the one who took my girl away.
But now, alas, she will not stay.

So as to make her feel disgrace,
I've found another pretty face.
One whom I feel I can trust,
Or will it be another bust?

I do not know, I cannot guess,
If she at last will ease my stress.
And yet, unsure, these thoughts are mine,
“Will you please be my valentine?”

On Valentine's Day and every day, I am grateful for the special valentine that has come into my life, that she has consented to be mine eternally, and that I never again have to ask that question of anyone. I am particularly grateful we were sealed in the temple for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that cannot be broken if we are both true and faithful. Her love for me is nothing short of a miracle, a miracle that I all too often take for granted. I  freely admit that I have not always been worthy of the love and devotion she so easily gives me. But the wonderful thing is, she is ever willing to give me a second chance when I mess up., which I do all too frequently. She is the true definition of a helpmeet. I cannot imagine my life without her. That is a life I never want to live. I pray daily that I might someday be the kind of man she deserves. So I want to say, at the conclusion of this Valentine's Day post, that I love you, my precious, angelic sweetheart Amy, now and forever!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Church News Conference/Big Developments in Our Lives

Hello, all. Once again, life caught up with me in a big way and I haven't blogged for two weeks. But I have some time now and wanted to use it to update you all on some very interesting developments in the Church and in our lives. That said, hang on to your hats! This will be a wild ride!

First of all, on the religious front, the Church held a press conference last Tuesday to discuss their position on the seemingly unbridgeable gap between those who advocate religious freedom and those who advocate gay rights. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve conducted the conference, and two other members of the Twelve, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, spoke during the press conference, along with Sister Neill F. Marriott, Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency. The purpose of the press conference was to make clear the Church's position on the issue: We publicly favor equal rights for the LGBT community as far as housing and employment are concerned, as such should not be determined by sexual orientation, though we still remain firm in our stance that marriage between a man and a woman is the only acceptable option in God's eyes, and though the court of last resort has effectively made such marriages legal in 30 states, the LDS Church should not be expected to perform or condone such marriages. I have yet to watch the press conference, but I am glad the Church has spoken out so that there is no confusion about where Latter-day Saints should stand on this issue. In my opinion, this press conference was long overdue.

That being said, I now turn my attention to less controversial subjects: an update of what has happened to us since I last posted. It has been quite an interesting two weeks. Work has progressed steadily. I have had two opportunities to review my calls and conduct with my team leader. During one of those reviews, I had no dead air time. I managed to keep the member engaged in conversation during the entire call. My team leader was so impressed by this that he gave me what the company calls a "Ticket to Rock". What that is is basically a ticket that I submitted to the front desk to be put into a drawing to win something. Work has been giving away lots of cool stuff to those who win the drawings, which take place about once a week. I received another such ticket when my entire team increased our productivity from last place on the floor to second place (there are four teams). While I haven't won anything yet, and I have no idea how long the tickets are kept in the drawing, it's a nice incentive to keep improving. Each week I am getting better and better. There are still always things I could do more effectively and efficiently, though.

Then a major development happened on Friday of last week. I was instructed to go to the front desk. There I received some paperwork and was told to bring it back by tomorrow. As I looked it over, I discovered that it was for the purpose of making me a full-fledged employee of ROI Solutions. Up until now, I had been "on loan" to the company and employed by Kelly Services. I guess I've clocked in enough time and tenure to be hired directly by ROI. I was excited about that. I believe that this means I will be paid once every two weeks instead of every week. But the checks will be more substantial that way. I just hope we can make them last the full two weeks. My greatest fear is that in having more to work with every couple of weeks we might be tempted to spend it all at once and then have nothing to work with for the remaining time before the next check. However, I don't see that as being too much of an issue.

I got in contact with Paul Hickman, my sister's father-in-law who works in the real estate industry. We set up a meeting which took place a week ago yesterday. He asked us about our budget and what we were looking for in a house. He will keep an eye out for anything that looks promising. He told us straight out, however, that with a limited budget and wanting to confine our search to a specific area (the American Fork East Stake, which is where the Lord wants us to be), it might be difficult if not impossible to find a house that would work for us. He suggested that we consider taking out a loan for whatever additional money we might need. I honestly don't know if that would be wise. We are barely making it financially as it is. But if it can get us a house sooner, it might be worth it. Another option would be to approach Amy's dad and see if he might be able and willing to give us more to work with. But Amy says that's very unlikely.

At any rate, the issue of how to pay for a house won't be an issue unless and until we find one. We found one that looked promising in my parent's ward, and Amy even made an offer on it. But sadly the offer was far below what they were asking for it, and the house was sold to someone else. We are really disappointed about that because it looked like we were very close to a solution to finding a house. But I still am optimistic that when the time is right, the Lord will reveal the house He is preparing for us. Until that time, we must be content to keep looking and praying and watching and waiting.

My dad came over later that same day to help us try to get the Blu Ray Player to play our Blu Ray disk. He got it connected to our landlord's network with the help of our landlord. But the Blu Ray player still wouldn't play the disk. We got a replacement for it and still no luck. Then Amy did some work on it, and whatever she did fixed the problem. It was wonderful to finally be able to watch "The Slipper and the Rose" on Blu Ray, which Amy had originally purchased as a birthday gift for me. Best of all, the fact that she herself was able to fix the problem helped her to stop feeling guilty about purchasing a Blu Ray disk and a Blu Ray Player that were not working.

We saw Dr. Sean Doyle, my PCP, at some point during the last two weeks. I can't remember exactly when, and we didn't have my medical folder with me for the visit, so I am going off of what I remember. He said for my low Vitamin D levels, adding a Vitamin D supplement, in addition to the supplement I am already taking that has some Vitamin D in it, should help. I have done so. As far as my high blood glucose level is concerned, he ordered a blood test, which I had done on the morning of Saturday the 24th after Physical Therapy. My blood glucose levels were still high, so he recommended a change in my diet, which I couldn't do because my diet is already restrictive enough with the Celiac Disease, and said that because of my weight, I was at a high risk for diabetes. Yet another reason for me to get serious about exercising. What will it take before I stop being stubborn and get on the ball exercise-wise? I don't know, but I need to make some changes, because I don't want to be at risk of yet another health problem. It's time I got up off my sorry rear end and did something about it.

Last Sunday was my cousin Eliza Howden's mission homecoming. It was so good to see her again. Before her mission, when she was away at school, I had many opportunities to chat with her on Facebook late into the night. I will always treasure those special conversations. It sounds like she had a very successful mission. We are so glad to have her back home and an active part of our lives again! Being at that homecoming also allowed me to reconnect with other members of her family, who are like extra aunts, uncles and cousins to me. It was especially good to see Uncle George Sturt, who has been a surrogate grandfather all my life, and with whom, in some ways, I connect with better than I had with my own natural grandfathers. He recently turned 86 and is still in excellent health, which is great news. I hope he's around for many more years to come.

Today (Sunday) was an interesting day. I had stayed up far too late last night. As a result, I was kind of out of it during Sacrament Meeting, and I barely stayed awake to fulfill my responsibilities at the library. At Amy's insistence (which I was very grateful for) she took me home and told me to get some rest. I slept for several hours and woke up feeling much improved. I have a very weird feeling in my head, however, so I hope everything's all right. I was able to enjoy the rest of my day with my beloved Amy.

That, in a nutshell, is what has been going on with us. I hope you are all doing well and that you are all still enjoying these blog posts. Until I write again, all the best!