I, Refugee - Part 1: Black Mountains
This story is not Only about inspiring you with some heroic tale of my triumph. It's about revealing how misconceptions can make a man an outcast in his mind--separating him from the reality of all that is good around him. We are about to take a journey in my mind together. I, Refugee, begin my true tale.
It was cold, and the tire was flat. We were up a mountain somewhere in Southern Utah trying to get to Salt Lake City the back way, apparently. GPS was not helping because it kept rerouting us further away from the original course—the ten-hour drive we had originally plotted. It would take us twice as long it seemed! That is how it started. That was our first indication that this trip was going to be an epic experience for the family.
We are Mormons. Every six months us Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have a general conference for our church and we wanted to go. We lived in Phoenix, at the time, and the Conference was in Salt Lake City, UT. So, we planned the trip. We acquired the tickets and made the preparation.
I believed amid all that planning that something was stewing to prevent us from making this trip. Every time we plan a family event there is a hiccup. I mean, it was a church event, but it was also our first family vacation. We don’t have much money, but we make up in faith what we lack in temporal things. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Look, I had big dreams when we first married each other, Afryka and I. I was young, and we had our whole lives ahead of us. I still resent how things have turned out for us, I confess. This trip to Utah was going to help me feel like I accomplished one of my goals in life, you know, to meet the expectations I had not yet met—the ones I was supposed to meet.
I tend to do things late, though—like serving a mission three years later than I was expected to. Us Mormons send our sons and daughters out to share our faith with people who will listen. I am sure you've seen some on bikes or at your door. Anyhow.... It doesn’t help when I put extra pressure on myself to be successful because people would approach us, the family and me, and tell us what a wonderful family we were at church so often it went to my head. I agreed, of course, that we are a wonderful family. It was mine. I had hoped God would bless me with one. I just took it to an unhealthy level is all.
The Hero of My Life Story
These emotional mountains I created distorted the hero of my life story so much he stopped being me! How could I not be my own heroic star in my life? I usually am. In my mind I needed something more than the same old tired story of life I had been wading through. Oh, it’s a good story, I was just at one of the ugly sad parts of it during that April in 2016. Illuminated forever in my mind are the few high points that I clung to in my life-story—the best being the story of how my wife and I met. In fact, my entire life is one big miracle after another! I wrote a book about it too!
To think, though, with all the miracles that happen to make my life so fantastic that we would end up where we were in life, renting with low-wage income, really depressed me sometimes. I was supposed to go to law school and become a big money lawyer. All my kids were supposed to be perfect and serve missions for the church, attend Brigham Young University (church school) and marry in the temple--producing grandkids for me to spoil. Truthfully, that could all still happen, but I am busy being a downer.
I want you to know reader, that I was at the lowest point of discouragement I could be and still call myself a Christian when we started this Utah journey. God has a way of helping those who want to be helped to look at an unchanged situation in a different way. I was on the verge of a breakthrough, but I needed something to help me crawl out of the darkness that clouded my mind at times due to the rigors of life, just life.
My hero had been hijacked by my false idea. This trip was going to help me be the hero of my life again.
Standing in the Cold
So, I found myself standing in the cold trying to change a tire to the family van up a mountain in Utah. The kids were complaining, especially my eldest. He did not want to make the trip in the first place. All of his negativity put me in the mind of Laman and Lemuel nagging their father, Lehi. You can read about their deal in the Book of Mormon—it’s too much to go into right now. I bring them up because they were in a family just like mine with a dad, a mom, and some kids, but all they did was complain the whole time when they left Jerusalem for the Promised Land. Laman and Lemuel thought it was a bad idea for their dad to take them on a journey away from Jerusalem just like my eldest thought it fool-hardy to journey away from Phoenix. That’s what he did; my son nagged me to the point that I wanted to lose my religion and smack him a few times, but I didn’t. I had to be the Lehi of my story, who also did not smack Laman and Lemuel (though he had more of a reason to smack them than I did to smack mine if some smacking was going to be dispensed!).
My eldest (Laman and Lemuel too) had legitimate points not to take the trip, though. The van had needed repair work before we left that ended up eating into our budget for the trip. My wise wife and best friend Afryka wanted to wait for the next conference and save up some more cash. I felt determined in my heart that we needed to go. I needed to go! We had a family council and prayed about it. The majority of us felt the need to throw logic to the wind and still make the trip with limited funds. Xavier, my eldest, told us we were being foolish. He was right. We did not listen to reason; we listened to faith!
“You have health problems, Dad,” he reminded—something I did not need reminding of. “What if something happens?”
“We will be fine,” I returned. “God will take care of us. He told us to make the trip; so, it will all work out.”
That is what I said out loud. What went on in my mind promised me that we would have a hard trip. God let me know that this trip was going to try our faith. I did not quite understand what those thoughts meant, but I understood the reassurance the Spirit gave each time I wanted to abort the whole idea to continue. The Spirit is what I call the good feelings we all get when we are doing something that is right--like being a friend, doing charity, or showing love and concern for people. That good feeling let me know we were supposed to go to Utah. We needed to go. God would help us through any problem. I needed to know that early in the trip and have faith in it because the problems did not wait long to happen.
Suspenseful drama excites my faculties when it is on a movie screen, but not in reality.
“What was that!” yelled Afryka.
“I don’t know. I think we hit something,” I answered determined not to stop. It was dark outside and cold. Dark is an understatement when it comes to the description what surrounded us outside the van. I was not going to stop!
God knew I was not going to stop! I would have run that van ragged just so I did not stop! After a hundred or so miles and the light of day the tire goes flat—the new tire that we had purchased right before we began the road trip!
I HATED it had to happen in the height of Xavier’s rant. The I-told-you-so’s flew off of his lips with relish. Apparently, the boom was the first indication that the tire was in trouble. I am sure God let the tire run on something because it lasted until we cleared some mountains and the sun brightened the sky. Don't be surprised, reader, that I attribute so much to God. It is normal to do so for people like me. If I know the source of my situation it makes me feel in control.
Xavier and I exited the car to change the tire amid his overly expressive advice that we should turn back and avoid further embarrassment. I became angry because I figured he was right, but I could not go back. I felt the urge to go forward and so did the others in the van save Xavier. No, we would not turn around. Aside from that drive to go that I shared with the other family members, I was not about to let a flat tire take away my goal to get to this conference. I did not make it to law school, but I WOULD make it to Conference!
“Get back in the van. I will change the tire myself. I don’t need your help” with that attitude. I left off that last part, though.
I did not want his help. I meant it, but I did need it. I do have health problems. There was no way I could change that tire with the tools I had and in my physical condition—heaven knows I tried! I do not believe either of us could have changed the tire in that cold weather we were unprepared to face. We had come from Phoenix, where it was hot! We did not expect freezing temperatures; therefore, we were unprepared.
Afryka prayed quietly in the van as I prayed silently as I worked on the tire. The kids huddled together in the van for warmth as the temperature seemed to drop just because we had the nerve to drive in Utah at this time of day. Aside from these real circumstances, I must admit, I spooked myself with stories that White people in Utah hated Blacks before we made the trip. I knew there were break away groups from the church in Utah that believed Blacks did not have souls. I just knew that one of those people would just happen upon us and kill all the boys and take the women away to massacre them! Satan was doing the hysterical laugh at me I bet.
The GPS had told us to go the wrong way so many times—down dirt roads and towards spooky looking houses—I was frayed emotionally, but I could not let the family know. They were counting on me and my tire changing skills. I could feel the vinegar from the pickle we were in!
A truck drove by, then turned around, parked several yards away, and cut the engine. A few expletives came to mind, but I decided to let them pass and prayed instead. Out popped a man.
Flashes of how I would die and my family would be captives swirled in my mind. I thought of several ways to incapacitate the man, but all of them required me to be my non-crippled self! What to do? This man was about to throw me down the embankment and kill my family! He walked toward me with his hands in his pockets.
“You need some help?”
“Uh, yeah. I cannot seem to get this tire changed.” I pushed my walker closer to me to make sure he saw that in order to let him know I really did not pose a physical threat and that he should not kill me. He looked at my tools.
“I think I have something that will work better than that.” He went to his truck and pulled out an assortment of tools, including gloves to work in the cold. He gestured for me to give him space so that he could serve as the Spirit calmed my overactive imagination. I thanked him as he worked and revealed to him our journey. Turns out that he, John, is a member of the church trying to get home to spend conference with his family.
When John, in answer to my prayer, saw me standing on the side of the road with a walker trying to change my tire he came to our rescue. His was the only vehicle to drive our way that morning. Lucky for us he turned around after he drove past us towards his home.
I was so frightened because of how the man looked, a manly man, that I thought quickly of ways to defend myself and my family if he tried to kill us! I knew that I was virtually helpless and my family exposed. I continued to pray that God would help him be a Christian, a member of the church and not a serial killer. Well, John did not kill us! He put the donut tire on the van and directed us to journey to Richfield to purchase a spare tire. I, of course, felt foolish for thinking him to be a serial killer or a break-off-Mormon religious nut. I allowed prejudice to cloud the Spirit out of my mind.
The fun thing about this little incident occurred one hundred miles earlier in the black night. The tire blew out! Xavier was sitting near the side where it occurred and claimed that our car jack must have fallen out of the vehicle. I told him that was the dumbest thing to say since the car jack was inside the van. He insisted he was right of course, as he always does. For some reason, the tire did not give way in the black mountains of that morning. It waited until the light came where we could be seen by John to rescue us. What was fun about that? God kept us safe in a defective vehicle until we could fix it for ourselves.
God, I know, blesses us in unseen ways and in seen ways as was evident in our little incident in the black mountains. I do not know how we stayed traveling with that exploded tire for over 100 miles, but I know how God sent John to help us get to safety in Richfield.
Also, I was able to show my confident son that he was wrong about the car jack falling out. It was my little vindication for him taunting me about the tire just because he did not want to go on the trip. That was only the beginning of things, however.
Thanks for reading my True Trapped in Utah Story. There is more to come.
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© 2016 Rodric Anthony Johnson