I, Refugee: Disquieting Accolades - Mini-biography

The entire trip was a waste! 

At least that is what I thought on my way out of the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My family and I had driven up from Phoenix to attend two of the five sessions of Conference that weekend together but missed the opportunity. We had to split up due to time issues and food issues. We drove for 16 hours just to miss viewing conference together. We could have done that at home! The only good thing I could see coming out of this trip was I would get to see Russ, the man who baptized me and introduce him to my family.

Walking from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, I contemplated the last words of President Monson, the last speaker for the Priesthood Session I had just attended and the leader of our church. How would I be able to bless my family and follow his counsel to be a worthy priesthood holder? See, us Mormon men have the power of the universe at our fingertips.

I know it sounds crazy for me just to out and say that, but it’s true. God shares his powers with every worthy man to bless his family. Since I was not feeling worthy much lately, I could not use the power effectively.

Oh, come off of it now! Every faith has mystical beliefs they espouse. Most of us Christians believe in the power of God given to men and women of faith. Mormon Christians believe it literally. Too bad I could not keep my thoughts on higher things, though.

My cell phone rang. It was Xavier, my eldest kid. I really did not want to talk to him because he was the reason I had to sit alone at Priesthood Session of General Conference.

See, I had been pining for months before that April conference began in the first place for a purpose to make me feel worthwhile. Attending Conference with my family was a simple goal to accomplish, a purpose. But at it, I had FAILED!  All of my little prideful dreams of success and honors were over. No one was standing over me telling me how great I am anymore. I spent most of my time in public trying to look as handicapped as possible because I was embarrassed for being home during the regular work day because I was on disability. Other times, I was trying to look less handicapped than I was so that people would not treat me differently when I went to public places. I know, I wanted the best of both worlds—caring too much what I perceived others thought of me.

Unfortunately, I had issues, with having issues because I had issues! Look, people, I know I am not the only person who has ever gone through something like that! I have seen Life Time movies with less drama—I know somebody out there gets what I am saying.

Anyhow, let me be honest with myself—and you in the process. I was a brat because life was not fair. I was stuck in an emotional quagmire; though, I was bravely trying to pretend that I was humble—more like sanctimonious.

Apologies to the prophets, their message did touch me, but I was too involved in myself to fully benefit from the conference—any of it! Oh, I heard the words these spiritually gifted people spoke. I let them wash over me—glancing them with my smug pride—you know? I told myself I would read or listen to the session again to get a better understanding of what God wanted me to know later. Dismissive much? No wonder I had no priesthood power confidence!

So, yeah, the phone rang. I had deceived myself into thinking that I was filled with the Spirit of God because of the vibrating earnestness that came from my body. That zeal came from a desire not to give in to my disappointment. I knew better! The Spirit does not feel like that. I should have known it was a cheap imitation of the Devil! Where was the peace that is supposed to pass all understanding that I was accustomed to when I felt the Spirit‽ Where there is no peace, there is no Holy Ghost! I stake my life on that!

The phone… right? I get it. I did NOT give in to this fake devil spirit I felt because my feelings were hurt.

“Hello, Son,” I mushed out with a chipper twang.

“Dad, where are you? I have been looking for you!”

Oh, no he did NOT! The vibrating feelings I convinced myself were the Spirit started to help me form my rebuttal statement of righteous indignation.  “You know good and well where I have been boy, stop playing the fool.”

“No, I was looking for you at the meeting. I could not find you, and you were not answering your phone,” Xavier exasperated. 

True, true. I did not notice my phone had rung since I turned the volume off for the meeting. I would not have answered it anyway because I was still crying at Xavier letting me leave the Crown Burgers alone for the meeting—yes, immature MUCH I KNOW! I Thank GOD people could not read my thoughts!

WHAT! I screamed it in my mind; then I said it piously, “What? You were at the priesthood conference?”

“Yes, I left on my skateboard right after you left. I got the food and went looking for you to go to conference.”

“I bet the food was good. I am hungry,” I stated--pretending that I was fine with it all knowing I needed to get my Crown Burgers burger.

Pause. Pause. “I didn’t eat. I left it in the van and went to priesthood.”

“What!!!” The pent up emotion in me had to come out at some point; and at his last statement, it came out. “You put us through all of that and then did not eat the food! Boy, it's going to be cold now and ruined!”

“I just wanted to get the food. I was planning to….”

“You put up such a stink, and did NOT even EAT the food!” That made no sense to me at all. My fractured ego sought other reasons to become upset with him though there was a steady building inside of me of a calming and familiar balm—peace even.

“Dad, I wanted to wait for you to eat with me.”

“Oh,” is all I could muster.

Reader, you know how teenagers can be—I assume so anyway. That child put us through the ringer—our own personal torment equivalent to hell! It is one of his character traits. He goes big on everything, fully committing his faculties to any effort against us, his parents. You know, he is one of the kids that you had to pray NOT to execute as you raised him and wondered why God would bless you with such a strong-willed and garish person to raise! Xavier is one of those people!

Now, he was sentimental and my whiddle heart just melted at his gesture. Yeah, sure he was laying it on thick because he knew that he hurt my feelings to the point where I could not even engage him. I know because my wife told me later how he ordered and obtained the food, but refused to eat until I could eat with him.

I was not trying to guilt trip him into doing what I wanted him to do, but he did so—seeking earnestly my company so that we could go to Conference together. A win for me! We did not sit next to each other, but we still went to priesthood session together! Yay, I reached my goal! One of them anyway.

We finished our phone conversation with the plan to meet at the van and eat the ambient temperature food. You know what? It was tasty! Our next job was to head to Russ’s home and plan what time we would set out for Phoenix.

So, Russ is rich. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little. Russ and Melinda’s house is like a work of art with their timber-framed vaulted ceilings swallowing us up as we entered their foyer. Yeah, the house has what I call a foyer. I did not expect that. I know that he had great financial prowess from what I learned of him from his first wife, but I had NO idea he and Melinda were so well off.

I was extremely proud of him! It was like I was showing off my parents to my family—me saying to my kids “look where my missionary lives!”

We sat and talked that night about anything that came to mind. I goo-goo eyed over Russ a bit for introducing the gospel to me, we talked about hardships, marriages, family, health issues—it all. I could tell Russ was not fond of the attention I kept giving him—the hero worship I earnestly attempted to contain as we socialized. His graciousness about it made me love him more. I could tell though it was a bit hanky—don’t ask. I thought that word belonged for some reason. Just go with it.

I met Russ’s family. Melinda married him after her first husband’s passing bringing with her a beautiful daughter Brooke, full of vigor and vim. Don’t judge me, it fits, okay?

Russ brought Kaden, a strapping lad to the union who was as dashing as his father was at that age. Together, Russ and Melinda produced a sweet girl, Ivy, to their family who entertained my two youngest while we stayed there—his, hers and theirs!

This is the heaven of my journey. This is my iron rod experience as described in my favorite story about following the gospel as related by Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Read it when you get the chance—not going into that now. You are supposed to hold on to the iron rod, which is the word of God. Apparently, my purpose in going to Utah was to see Russ since everything else failed. I DID get to see Russ. That did not fail. Finally tasting some success in my journey—unfetter success. There were no fights or arguments to get to Russ. There was no getting lost. Peace. Fear was gone. Welcomed love from Russ, Melinda, and family—with no buts this time!

After the love-fest with my hero, Russ and his family, we all went to bed. Russ and Melinda have a basement apartment that we used for the night. Concern that Afryka and I would not be able to negotiate the stairs gave me a little fear, but we managed.

This was one of the happiest nights I have had because we went to bed together. Normally, I would stay up half the night and morning trying to fight insomnia by watching TV. Don’t laugh. I know it is silly to think by stimulating my brain I will get tired. What you don’t know is that I sometimes sit in the dark for hours on end not being able to sleep. I think it is psychological because I did not suffer like that at Russ and Melinda’s house.

The room in which we slept was like a suite at a hotel. I fancied it being a real vacation because of where we stayed. The fact that Russ likes to kill things displayed all over the house in the form of animal heads, bones, and hides. These trophies did not elicit disgust or fear, but a level of cozy that hinted at romance. The room had a fire producing heater that sealed the pleasant ambiance of the chamber. We held each other, Afryka and I until we fell asleep.

The next day, after a sumptuous breakfast, Melinda, Russ, and Brooke took the kids and me to the ski resort right above where they lived so that my babies could see some snow! Being from Phoenix, snow was not something they saw more than once. Mosiah and Ephraim saw snow one time when we did a father and son campout in 2015 with our ward (congregation).

I suppose I could mention it because it is a funny story, but that would take away from THIS story. I will write about it one day. Let’s just say, we ended up in a blizzard in Northern Arizona. I love the idea of camping rather than the actuality of it is all.

Anyhow, Russ took us up the mountain in his vehicle while Brooke and Melinda took some of us in another vehicle. Afryka stayed at the house, and Kaden had to go to work. I had some more hero worship to do, so I insisted on riding with Russ. Immediately the memories flooded back of when he first taught me about the gospel and the day we parted at the Missionary Training Center before I followed in his footsteps to teach others.

The love I have for him is more akin to that of a son who loves his father though he is only four years my elder. As we talked in the car, I could only think about how I wish I could be more like him and express to him the love that resided in my heart for him. I figured if I said too much it would become awkward, but Russ was like Jesus Christ to me because he saved me from a life of misery. 

Odd that I should say that since I was going through hell trying to feel adequate as a father and husband now that I was on disability. Life would have been unlivable without the gospel in mine, though. Going to Utah to see Russ gave a boost of confidence. I could tell the man cared for me.

Russ is uncanny, though. Not the weird that creeps you out or anything. He is just so, I don’t know, reserved. That is weird to me. The night we sat around talking about things Melinda related how Russ has a funny way of doing things. It works for him. He has a way of keeping you guessing about what he thinks until he says it—no gesticulatory cues at all! I should not be surprised at it since I did not know about his entrance into another marriage until I met his wife!

In addition to his cryptic nature, as I call it, it was interesting to see how differently we lived the gospel. Typically, Afryka and I do not approve of outings like the one I accompanied Russ and Melinda on with the kids on a Sabbath day. We went literally for the kids to play in the snow at a ski resort. The way I interpreted the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy meant that we should not do pleasure things like play in the snow on Sundays. I have been known to be a stick in the mud.

Keeping the Sabbath holy is not about avoiding to have a fun time. I have fun on the Sabbath all the time. It is about making Sunday different from the other days because it represents the Lord’s day. It did not feel wrong to go with Russ and Melinda to the slope so the kids could play in the snow, but I would not be adding that to my Sunday activities any time soon.

Russ never intimated it, but I wondered if he was disappointed with the way things turned out for me. I wondered that because of issues I had with the way things progressed for me. The fact that I had seven kids and a wonderful wife seemed like too little at that time. I believed Russ was a great man, not only for teaching me the gospel but because of the way his wife and kids looked at him.

Melinda loves that man! It was hard not to compare the love in his family to the love in my family. I wondered if I deserved the love of my wife because she looks at me the same way Melinda looks at Russ. I am nowhere near as great as that guy, I thought. I could not even work a job at that time without passing out! I got over it. Russ is sort of contagious with self-confidence. If he was being fake, he is such a good actor!

So, we went to the ski lodge to play in the snow. Debate occupied my mind if I would actually go into the snow with the rest of them. I hid the fact from Russ that I could not walk well. When he and Melinda told us that we could use their apartment downstairs, I did not want to be a burden by telling them that I might not be able to get back up the stairs. In prideful earnest, I prayed that I would be able to power through it. Thankfully, I was able to get up the stairs, but it took LOTS of effort.

Snow was different. Snow can move under your feet as you walk on it due to weight displacement and the compactness of the snow. If it is not flat, I go splat!

As soon as Russ and the others exited their vehicles they took off up a large snow embankment. I was a bit upset at my kids because they threw snowballs at me when they knew I could not run away or retaliate without falling in the snow, the stiff wet snow at that.  I pretended to be cool about it so that I did not sour their mood. In fact, this is the first time I admitted that it distressed me. 

Melinda, Ivy, Mosiah, Ephraim, Naomi, and Sariah all took turns using me as a target. I did enjoy it eventually. When I realized that I could maneuver a bit without falling, I started to toss snowballs back. Sariah, my second oldest girl, began to throw huge boulder-sized chunks of snow from the mini-mountain they had climbed at me; so, I decided to walk away before I was killed.

We spent some time before the Sunday Session of Conference in the snow. I had chanted a mantra the entire time after I stepped on the snow. It was: Please don’t fall. Please don’t fall.

I knew that I would not be able to get up without help. I did it. I walked toward the road with triumph in my heart, braggartly preparing to admit to Xavier that I made it without tumbling. As I triumphantly took my last step to the road, my left leg disappeared into dirty gray snow, and I landed on my keister. 

I laughed, but no one else did. I could not get up at all! I didn’t want Russ to see me. I hoped that Xavier was close by to help since I ventured out without a walker or a cane, but he was nowhere close. I flopped around in the snow for a minute in shame until a good Samaritan ran to my aid picking me up to my embarrassment. I should say he more snatched me off the ground than picked me up, but it was embarrassing either way because he had to hold me up. I did not want to be a burden on those around me—an invalid.

In his eyes what I saw was concern. I did not see judgment as I expected. I did not get those feelings from any of the people I saw. I was dirty. Russ did not cringe at me getting back in his car. Wait a minute! Were these behaviors I expected my OWN? Maybe I am the shallow person who judges people so much that I expected it in return.

I, Refugee, had done it again. Instead of letting myself be the hero of my life-story, I had alienated myself emotionally from those around me who could help me because I did not want to appear like the invalid I was. Even Superman had a team to help him. Heck, Jesus had HIS own team, and He is God! At Russ’s house, up until that point, I was free. Loving myself as God loved me seemed closer until I started to want to pretend I did not need support walking. I clammed up all over again and thought of myself as a failure. Russ’s influence had not lasted long on me. That meant that God would have to go more drastic.