True Adventures in Turning the Other Cheek, Pt. One

Preface. At the risk of running afoul of Nate’s post on turning the other cheek—that is, of appearing obnoxiously immodest and of proving myself once again impossibly dense—I’m telling a story about how I received one of the best lessons I’m still learning. It’s a long story and hopelessly self-referential. Over the last two decades, I’ve slowly awakened to my unfortunate condition: I don’t have access to the details of anybody else’s mistakes or near-mistakes as fully as I do to my own, so those stories where I made matters worse (or nearly did) and those which, surprisingly, erupted into fireworks at the end are the ones I have the greatest right to tell. Of course, no adventure unfolds in a social vacuum. It’s unavoidable that others should be mentioned, and—darn it—their actions described from my point of view. I apologize in advance for this story’s unlikelihood. I don’t expect anybody to believe it. If you’ve already lost patience over other unlikely stories I’ve told, turn back now. Also, some sensitive readers might find this story frightening. Its characters and events include a severely disabled child (my daughter), the zombie virus that destroyed part of her tender mind, a very unhappy bishop and his deputy first counselor, and people tendering advice that some readers might find bothersome. If you’re having a bad day, you’d be better off reading something else.

On July 24, 1992, one or more arsonists attempted to burn down Parish Chemical Company in Vineyard, Utah, where my husband worked as plant manager. The incident received a lot of live TV coverage from news crews on the ground and in the air as Chopper 5 circled above the building ‘til that airspace was closed. Just a couple days before the fire, we’d made an appointment to offer on what would have been our first house. I’d felt so excited, but in the TV flames I saw the future I’d imagined turn to smoke.

In a glorious error in judgment, my husband and I decided to make every effort to help the company survive its tragedy. At the time, we were unaware that the daughter I’d given birth to just two months before—“M”—had also suffered damages from a terrible fire. An aggressive virus had crossed the placenta and havocked her brain, but this discovery wouldn’t come fully to light until four months after the Parish fire. During those four months, we poured our energy into bolstering the company, pulling stunts we thought meaningful at the time.

Examples. The company was desperate to keep its customers and conduct business. To this cause, I helped smuggle past the guard posted to restrict entrance to the property a three-liter bottle of a crown ether chemical product worth over $10,000 that had been stored in a shed next to the plant, driving it off site with my two children in the car and a baby bag tossed over the bottle to hide it. Also, once employees were allowed back into the building—just barely this side of derelict, as power, water, and sewer had been shut off—my husband figured out how to successfully run a project in one of the chemical reactors by renting a generator and using the fire-fighting run-off water that had collected in the plant’s sump pit to cool the reactor’s jacket. To further aid the company, we went without full pay for months, putting ourselves at financial risk. The ATF and DEA were investigating the fire. During this time, all of Parish’s remaining employees were subjected to a variety of aggressive interrogations, harassments, and uncertainties. It seemed a time of high adventure and righteous causes. But given the end-cost for us, my husband and I now agree we would not do it again.

In October of that year, while my husband remained fully involved in trying to help put Parish back together, our pediatrician finally noticed that something had gone terribly wrong with M and ordered a battery of tests for us both. The diagnosis: a very high antibody count for cytomegalovirus in both our bloods suggested strongly that she had suffered an in utero infection of this disease that had destroyed about a third of her developing brain. When the doctors told us they thought M had suffered a CMV infection they ordered me to keep her away from any place where there might be pregnant women because they thought she might be still be shedding the virus. So … no church. Really, no social contact, period, because even children and men contracting such a virus could carry it home to pregnant mothers and wives.

As the fight to resurrect Parish Chemical Company waged on, we became increasingly desperate to find another source of income. Someone told me that the translation department of the church office building was looking for people with a special skill. To prepare the Book of Mormon for translation, translators needed help in identifying nuances and inflections of meaning in the BOM’s language. I had training in rhetoric and interpretation and knew I could do well in such a job. Best of all, I could perform my duties from home. The pay was worthwhile for an at-home job back then, $11-$15 per hour. I applied, took the test, and then turned to the next task—getting a temple recommend interview, because I knew that before hiring me the COB would look into my membership status.

Since M’s birth, I hadn’t been to church—a combination of post-birth down time (I had a toddler, too), the demands the Parish fire imposed on our household, doctor’s orders to avoid going into public with M, her “colic” which actually turned out to be severe panic attacks related to her brain injury, and my unwillingness to leave her, given her dire circumstances. At night, I even slept with my arm tucked around her. The Parish fire and its fallout kept Mark busy working 14-20 hour shifts 7 days a week. A new bishop had been installed, one who didn’t know us. But beside all that, our story by then had become so complicated and unbelievable that nobody could have followed it anyway. Still, I went to the interview presuming to make a good showing. I expected to account for my failure to attend church and explain what I planned to do about it.

To my shock, the moment I stepped into the bishop’s office, he attacked me—why, I hadn’t a clue. He sidestepped giving a standard recommend interview because he said he doubted I could pass it. He seemed to have some idea that I was an aggressive apostate and it was his calling to do battle with me to protect all he held dear. In my journal from this time, I report that he was “snide and even, at times, cruel.” Everything I said he twisted into a context not mine. Completely caught off guard, I didn’t know what to say or do. He was never clear about what doctrines he believed I had attacked, he just seemed certain I had—or would—attack something.

Since the man didn’t know me, I couldn’t imagine where he had gotten his ideas I was a threat to the church, especially since I wasn’t and never had been. At the end of the interview, I left feeling stunned. I had always given a great deal in my callings—still do, when I have a calling compatible with my home situation. Never, ever had I lifted a hand against the church. Never, ever had I been treated as an enemy of the church that I loved. I went home and cried for the rest of the day and part of the night and then straightened up and turned to face the situation. I had been accused—wildly but non-specifically—of being a feminist (not that!) and an apostate. I knew the bishop wasn’t going to let it go. I called two of my mentors—Arthur King and a BYU professor who had been a bishop—to ask their advice. I withhold this second professor’s name to prevent his being inundated with e-mails bearing buckshot loads of misdirected anger.

Both friends expressed sorrow that such a thing had happened, but knowing of my training in rhetoric, each urged that I keep my application in to the church rather than withdraw it. Arthur’s advice came swift and sure, and while it surprised me and I didn’t see at the time how I could follow it, it also made a kind of sense. “Go to the women of the ward,” he said. My other former professor’s counsel regarding how to handle the bishop’s unjustified attack blew me away. After expressing his sadness about the trouble, he said, “Submit to it.”

Whoa! Wait, submit? Why? I was innocent of the (obscure) charges leveled against me. Shouldn’t I take control of the situation, defend myself, immediately set the bishop straight? Why should I assume the burden of another’s wrongful judgment? My old professor said he knew I was innocent of the accusations but stood firm in his counsel: I should ride it out.

My family was already riding out a great deal—the Parish fire and my daughter’s tragic circumstances. I was a nursing mother of a toddler and a severely brain-injured child. I was doing physical therapy with M every day. With all the turmoil, my husband and I were constantly sleep-deprived and in all other ways struggling to negotiate a mountain of distress.

In my journal, I report that, though it was an uncertain business, I made sure to take my entire family to church the very next Sunday for Fast and Testimony meeting. My husband, the entry says, “ghosted around in the halls with my (toddler son) while I stood at the back of the chapel with [M in her babysling], rocking and swaying to comfort her so that she would remain calm throughout the meeting [and not erupt into a screaming panic attack]. [Also, I stood somewhat apart from the congregation to keep a safe distance between myself, my hypothetically contagious baby, and the crowd.] …I looked forward to partaking of the sacrament and once more fulfilling my covenant to do so, but the sacrament was not offered to me.” My journal reports that the brother carrying it walked right past.

Given how matters had unfolded in the bishop’s office just days before, I stood there, confused. Was this some kind of strange accident, or was I being denied the sacrament? My former professor’s advice to submit to the trouble came to mind. While I didn’t know why the brother walked past me when I reached for the tray, I did recognize the feeling gripping me: fear. I decided that while I should follow my professor’s advice to submit to the trouble, he wouldn’t expect me to submit to my fear. The charitable thing would be to assume that the brother’s passing me by had been some kind of mistake. I gestured to him to let him know I wanted the sacrament, and after serving three more people he turned back and offered me the bread. He said, “I’m sorry.” I thanked him for offering it and partook. He did not pass me by with the water.

My journal then describes how the bishop opened the meeting making unmistakable references to our private interview. Notwithstanding it being F&T, he delivered a sermon on the evils of opposing church authority and proceeded to reprimand me over the pulpit without giving my name. I thought, “I guess this means I don’t get the job.” Indeed, a few weeks later, the church representative in the translation department who administered the test told me that the translation department had decided to activate those who were already working for them rather than train a new person (me). But in a private conversation, the woman who urged me to apply for the job confided that the department had been unable to get full recommend clearance for me, which meant that the bishop had disapproved me without granting a second interview that he had promised.

To be continued …

11 comments for “True Adventures in Turning the Other Cheek, Pt. One

  1. I considered closing comments for this post until the second part posts tomorrow and readers could see how matters turn out before voicing their responses. The reason I broke it into two parts is that it’s a long story. It has a good ending, so please don’t fret or be over-hasty in your remarks (if any).

  2. This is very disturbing. I like the lesson of the brother who almost overlooked you when passing the sacrament. Stop him, ask him, make sure there isn’t some mistake. I’m glad you didn’t just stand there in silence.

  3. I don’t have access to the details of anybody else’s mistakes or near-mistakes as fully as I do to my own, so those stories where I made matters worse (or nearly did) and those which, surprisingly, erupted into fireworks at the end are the ones I have the greatest right to tell.

    Nicely said.

  4. This is perhaps the best thing I have read on a blog. I was going to suggest you submit it for publication, but then realized my affinity for old media would be lost on many, and that you already published it here (tho’ I would edit out the 1st paragraph…no disclaimers were needed).

    This is conference talk material and just became our families next FHE. Things we will ponder:

    Gratitude for the sound counsel of good friends. (Good but seemingly contradictory advice from multiple mentors was not mutually exclusive after all).

    There is wisdom in counsel: You kept trying to follow the advice given and remembered it in ensuing months.

    Longsuffering: when the ward seemed stacked against you, you were long suffering. I hope if I were in your position, or that of the Bishop, I would take a step back and try to be less judgmental; or at least wait things out even if it all seemed to be meaningless torture.

    Humility: How many times in our lives has a profound lesson been cut off at the beginning because we decided to “drop the class”. Fortunately you stuck around and have had enough humility to continue to learn from it.

    Thank you.

  5. Longsuffering: when the ward seemed stacked against you, you were long suffering. I hope if I were in your position, or that of the Bishop, I would take a step back and try to be less judgmental; or at least wait things out even if it all seemed to be meaningless torture.

    Crick, I’m happy you like the story. I feel honored to be invited into your home via FHE.

    FYI, I’m really not much of a sufferer, let alone a longsufferer. I get frustrated, irritated, sometimes I square off with folks (when it seems the right thing–and sometimes it isn’t), but generally I’m simply very interested in what’s going on. Suffering takes a lot of time and energy. I try directing both into figuring out what’s going on rather than merely suffering through.

    More to the point, I like making mistakes. Well, I don’t like making them exactly, but I like learning from the mistakes I make. And I like people. A lot.

  6. Patricia,

    Weather the storms.

    How easy for us to see the bishop was wrong. No matter. Your circumspection saved compounding the err. As you have helped me to see, it always could be worse.

    I applaud your faith and bravery. A most excellent saga. You set a very high standard for us all.

    I wish I could honestly say the stormy weather was all done.

  7. Hi Jim! I’m always very happy to hear from you!

    As for weathering storms, we do the best we can with what we’ve got, right? At another time, I might have done worse, or better. Or if I hadn’t called on my friends for help …

    No mistake, you’ve inspired me, too. So, so much that you’ve been through in the last year. These whippersnappers that have never faced the deep challenges don’t know what it takes, eh? ;)

  8. #34 Raymond: I don’t think seeking every redress of grievance available for oneself is always mandated, even when one feels injustice has occurred (think Thomas B. Marsh). Conceptually I think you are correct, but in Patricia’s case, here was a murky “injustice” in the making—one that had not been finalized yet. And so in her journey, she sought counsel which ended up being inspired. Had she “appealed” under the circumstances, doing so might have hardened the misconceptions about her even if she had “won”. She would be demanding justice and possibly eliminating a chance to prove herself by accepting callings. Often the best way to get someone to know they are wrong is to step back and allow them to figure it out for themselves. To militantly show them up front often has the opposite of the intended effect.

    As a teen (imperfect analogy I know) I often submitted to my parents even when I believed they were wrong and I found value in that. Patricia was not an individual who was congenitally shy or who needed to learn to stick up for herself—instead, like Karen (#17 and 37) this was partly a way of learning when to use one’s gifts and options and when not to. I also find value in showing loyalty to the Church through accepting callings, submitting to constituted authority and being willing to prove (and re-prove) one’s loyalty. (Yes, Patricia, I think that element of loyalty = longsuffering and therefore = charity).

    Someone said she would like to hear Sister S’s side of the story. I would also like to hear the Bishop’s side of the story, although Patricia has done a good job of alluding to what the ward was going through. Imagine the frazzled Sunday school and RS teachers who had probably agonized over every sentence, wondering if the Sister S bomb was going to go off. Imagine being a bishop and wanting to keep the peace without exercising “unrighteous dominion”. Having witnessed Sister S, the ward may have been trying to head Patricia off at the pass. Were they in error? Clearly! Should they be forgiven? Of course. One of the most honest and poignant parts of this story is the admission of Patricia’s own [understandable] misconceptions. When she thought she had been purposely passed up on the sacrament, she was making assumptions similar to those of the bishop toward her. By wisely motioning to the brother who passed her, she was able to get an accurate read on the situation. The bishop took longer in getting his accurate read but Patricia’s patience paid off. Much of this story is about human perception, how it is created and how—with difficulty—erroneous perceptions can be corrected.

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