I, Refugee-Part 3: The Devil In My Heart
God in the Details
Sometimes, seeing God in the details can be difficult. Oh, He is there, of course, but understanding how His plan for happiness coincides with my plan for gratification in any way requires some spiritual growing pains. My plan to enjoy hearing the word of God took on a new form of sin that I had not expected. This cautionary tale details the journey selfishness took with me to Utah and wrested my spirit to color everything gray instead of the black and white of the gospel.
This story comes in several parts as it depicts true experiences of Rodric, me, and family on our first vacation in Utah and how we were stranded and rescued by the Christian service of others who considered us refugees. In truth, we were as will be shown as the drama progresses.
I hate parking near Temple Square.
I had no idea what I was doing. With all the people in Phoenix that I told I would be going to Temple Square during General Conference and all the online people, SOMEONE should have mentioned how difficult the parking could be.
See, my family and I had taken a trip to Utah for April 2016 Saturday Second Session of General Conference for our church, which was vital to us—most of us anyway. We had quite a few stressful situations on the way there, but we made it to the city. Afryka, my wife, and four of our five kids we took with us, Naomi, Sariah, Mosiah, and Ephraim, were able to attend our ticketed session together. Xavier, the family murmurer, and I, Rodric, had to park the car and miss the second session.
As a handicapped person, with walking issues it was torture. Up until that point, I had been training myself to get around without aid. Unfortunately, for my ego, I had to swallow my pride and add the training wheels to my body again because I was in unfamiliar territory.
The protective cover of the van shielded my new issue of agoraphobia. Agoraphobia may not be the correct term because I don’t REALLY fear crowds. The fear is of running into a person who thinks that I should have been able to see them, though I can’t!
The fact that I am blind in my right eye came into play for the first time with intimidating paralysis, you know, because of unfamiliar territory. Look, I can drive just fine—mirrors, you know? However, it’s walking in crowds that poses the huge problem, no mirrors.
For as long as I could, I perched in the driver’s seat to avoid the awkward run-ins I would have with people who just appeared out of nowhere as I attempted to journey about. I was going through some adequacy issues at that time, which led to my routine of duck and dodge at home. This conference trip to Utah forced me into the light of day in a new territory! Who would have thought Utah of all places would be too much for me? I know I didn’t!
There are fewer people there in Utah than in the whole city of Phoenix! It was alien to me, though. One example: radio stations played the same song using different words! I mean, they filtered the words out on ALL of the stations I tried. I actually liked that, though, but it was still weird.
Another example: road rage is off the charts in Salt Lake City! I supposed with all of that repression going on of behavior, people let off the steam with their two-ton vehicles!
Phoenix does not have that problem. Utah people, Mormons, are different. I felt like I was coming out of Babylon on top of the self-consciousness of my physical limitations. Like a lighthouse, I just had the one light peering out into the darkness. Ships could see me, but I could only see what my light shined on, which was not much. Again, I had found something else to be anxious about.
It had been a trying day thus far. Every arrow that the adversary threw at my emotional state landed with complete accuracy preparing me for the whirlwind that I would find myself in within hours. The only light spot was Russ.
Russ and his wife had been in contact with us after the second session of General Conference that Xavier and I missed. Russ, the guy who baptized me during his missionary service in Nashville, Georgia, suggested that we all go to his house and us men could go to priesthood session together. He and his son and me and my son.
At least I would be around Russ, and the anxiety about my peripheral vision would not be so pronounced. It was an epic suggestion, but I had tickets to go to priesthood session. My dream of going to the Conference Center was about to come true! Consequently, knowing that I would see him later after the meeting, I had to decline; nonetheless, it hurt to do so to Russ’s invitation. We had come all the way to Utah to go to at least one session. I HAD to go!
Russ’s wife decided to go into the city and meet with us offering to buy dinner for us before Xavier and I went to the priesthood session of conference. The promise of good food always has a temporary gratifying effect on me. I admit that I have an addiction to tasty food.
For Your Information
Oh, you see that right? This “‽” You know when you have a question that should be asked with exclamation? Yeah, that’s what the interrobang, ‽, is for.
Food is not something that was hard to succeed at in life. To satisfy my reason for wanting to take the trip in the first place—the feeling inadequate thing I was going through—I determined to accomplish something, even if that was just enjoying a Crown Burgers burger!
So far, nothing went as planned! Following the food, my family planned to leave with Russ’s wife to her home. Trying as hard as possible to avoid so doing, I found a problem in her coming alone, counterintuitively. Why should I have an issue with that‽
Probably because the last time I saw Russ’s wife was before I went to serve my mission in the South Africa Cape Town Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (December 1998 to December 2000, hit me up alumni!).
Definitely, I remembered how she looked, but I could not remember her name. Each time I spoke to Russ, I would try to get it out of him by strategy, but he is so cryptic! I could not tell if he was that way on purpose or not. Saving face at not knowing her name would fail, though I tried so hard to save face. But, my face was too far gone. It was either have another anxiety episode about it or pull the plug on the dead issue and bury it instead!
From what I remembered, her natural beauty did not attack me, as most of these airbrushed women of today. Her beauty was, I don’t know, gradual. It is what I thought real beauty should be, not fake. Her hair was silky dark, and her cheeks were tinted pink. Her eyes were indulgent and kind. She and Russ seemed to fit together. I don’t know how else to describe her. I could not wait to see her again, but I could NOT remember her name! Remembering all of those details I thought would help. It did not.
She even sounded weird over the phone when I spoke to her. Funny how when we spoke I still did not get her name! I mean, seriously! I knew she would be older since 18 years had passed. I remembered she had dark hair and glowing beauty is all.
The Familiar Face of a Stranger?
When she came to the van to greet us, I could have cussed! I had no idea who that woman was. I tried to pretend like I knew her, but I Just could not fake it! I thought I was losing my mind.
Where did she get blond hair from? I mean, I know she could have changed it, but not just that. Her EVERYTHING was so different from what I remembered! I was so afraid to say something about it because I feared to offend her. She was still beautiful, but all the things that stood out to me had vanished. Her beauty was just different from what I expected. There was no mistaking how gorgeous she was—plastic surgery, much?
Seeing the incredulous look on my face, she finally revealed to me that I had not succumbed to insanity. She looked so differently because she was not who I remembered. Russ remarried and did not think to inform me. I felt like a cartoon character with a purple hue smoldering over my face in consternation. That means each time I talked to him about his wife on the phone I was talking about a woman that he was no longer married to! I felt so relieved and embarrassed. I should have noticed that my spirits were out of sort since I allowed an otherwise joyous meeting to create such tension within.
I had a good laugh with her—you know? One of those laughs that you make that is too hard, more gusto than the situation warrants because you’re releasing a bunch of nervous energy. Melinda is her name. It is Russ and Melinda.
What Went Wrong With Conference?
The problem with dinner was that everybody and their dad went to dinner right before the priesthood session too. Xavier and I had tickets, but most of the people in the burger joint did not.
We parked the van in the Crown Burgers parking lot with the plan of walking to the Conference Center after dinner. I had changed my clothing at the mall earlier to prepare for the meeting when I realized that I would not be able to make the Second Session of General Conference. All we had to do was eat and leave, right‽ (There’s that symbol again.)
With ten minutes before the meeting, I decided it was time to go. So, I had failed at food too. I had to walk several blocks using a walker. I knew I would be late. Xavier, however, refused to go. The problem was that we had not gotten our food. We hadn’t even ordered at that point! My body was aflame with hunger, but my spirit was hungrier. We needed to leave. We could eat later!
“I’m hungry, and I am not leaving until I eat. It’s not like I wanted to come here in the first place…” and on and on Xavier went.
My heart tanked. It shouldn’t have, though. I knew he did not want to be there in the first place because he was very vocal about it the entire time. Xavier could have punched me in the face and hurt me less. I allowed myself to feel what I thought was rejection and rebellion. Glowering at him for a few seconds before kissing my wife, I left the Crown Burgers to trek to the building.
A scene, a scene, I wanted to make a scene, but did not! What would be the purpose if Xavier went to that place full of wrath because he was hungry and indignant for having to be in Utah in the first place? Watching it from home is what he wanted to do anyhow.
Consequently, missing it in person did not bother him. Up to that point, he did not complain since we missed the second session. Hungry, tired, and upset at having to experience the trip, would I now make him starve? What would he get out of the meeting? What good memory would he have?
My heart felt as if a vacuum cleaner had sucked all the air out of a plastic bag and it hurt physically. It hurt as if Xavier divorced himself from me! The pain I felt was almost soul shattering as I rolled away toward the meeting in the sea of priesthood holders with their sons and family heading in the same way. I dreamed of the day that Xavier and I would sit in Priesthood Session together at General Conference like it was my fondest wish and tears almost fell from my eyes. The problem was that I made the trip about me instead of about hearing the servants of the Lord speak to us. And I suffered the consequences for so doing.
He did not reject the gospel of Jesus Christ by not wanting to experience that meeting the same way I did. Choices limited, what if Xavier felt backed into a corner? The will to fight if I forced him to miss that meal might have been his instinctive reaction to my over-parenting him, right? I knew in my mind that he is a good person and a follower of righteousness, but in my heart, I still felt betrayed. It was all my fault. What if I forever damaged my relationship with my son over this?
It Is What It Is
Afryka and I had an understanding that we would not push the issue any further. Steeling my mind to the situation and focusing on making the walk to the building, my first steps were difficult. Trying to control my feelings sapped energy from me as I walked to the point where I thought I would not make it but I put on a good show.
On every side of me was a man or boy walking in the direction of the Conference Center with determination thrusting a multiplicity of feelings in my direction. As murky as my feelings were at that time, the excitement of the moment was not wasted on me. I was in Utah! I was at General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
My emotions ran hot, cold, warm, red, blue, white, and everything! If I were a television and my face was the screen, it would have been like someone held a remote and flipped through channels continuously—the channels being my feelings as I journeyed to this meeting. One moment I wanted to punch Xavier in his face to abscond disappointing hurt! Another second I wanted to hug him and tell him I loved him. A good deal of the walk I spent trying to tune my feelings to a steady station.
Trying to keep a good pace so that those behind me would not become irked, I felt like a bull’s eye of negative mood as I sliced through this sea of men. Hug-me alerts went from my mind to those around. Hoping inwardly, I would have loved for some group to have come to me and included me with them as they walked; however, the acrid mood of mine would not radiate the love needed for that approach.
As I drew near the building, my mood lightened, and my hopes grew that something would help my anguishing feelings. I was in the building by the time my body started to cry for rest—having had to walk twice as far as anticipated. Disappointment reared its head again when staff informed me I could not sit where my ticket promised. Not necessarily a problem, but compounded with all that was ailing me, it seemed like the universe teased me.
I could sit in the large area outside of the auditorium and listen, but I pressed on until I rolled onto the upper level to a good position, locked the wheels and sat in it for the session, which had already begun.
To my dismay, I had to look at a screen to see the speakers, who were so far away they looked like toys! I was crestfallen. Not only did I miss listening to the speakers with my son, but I ended up watching Conference on a TV!
I swore in my head right there in the Conference Center surrounded by prophets and saints, not amused that I went through all that traveling and drama just to do the same thing I could have done at my house or ward building. Then flashed the triumph in my soul that the devil in my heart, to its consternation, would not have a reason to claw out and drive away my chances of feeling the Spirit, because I at LEAST sat at Conference!
Screaming to my personal demon to take a hike so I could enjoy the meeting brought less comfort than I supposed, not-for-nothing, comfort came. I am sure I heard very little of conference. I was so tired--having made the long hike that I fell asleep several times. The only thing that remained with me was President Monson’s closing remarks about using the priesthood—us being worthy to call upon the powers of heaven in our time of need. That was the very thing I needed to hear. I did not know it yet, but I would find out soon.
Thanks for reading my True Trapped in Utah Story. There is more to come. So, stay vigilant!
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© 2016 Rodric Anthony Johnson