I think I have finally discovered what the problem was with that thank-you card. In an attempt to work it out, I have written the whole story in chronological order. I hope it helps me understand the situation better and explain the reaction I received.
It all started when I was feeling discouraged and depressed with my current situation. Life in St. George, Utah has not been pleasant for me. This community is very judgmental, hateful, prejudice, discriminating, and unrelenting. I came to look at church as a refuge.
There is two problems with this. One is that I hate going to church; always have, it’s a burden I wouldn’t do if it wasn’t a commandment of God. The second is that the problem with St. George, Utah is not limited to outside the church.
I attend a ward that I have found to be the best of the worst. Before I started going to this ward, I visited others in the area and was treated no different than I would have anywhere else at any other time. For the longest time, I maintained that the only Christian I had met here was my good friend Manuel, an Episcopal, Mexican immigrant. When I first visited the ward, I knew it was different; many people greeted me and welcomed me to church, something no one else had done, at any level, at all the other wards I visited.
Despite the friendliness, I still had to face my hatred of going to church. I moved to St. George to find a good LDS girl and get married. It was apparent that though I was comfortable and felt welcome in the new ward, I was not going to meet her there, like everywhere else in town, the single girls did not want to have anything to do with me and commenced to ignore me. That was somewhat acceptable, I had already resolved to move back to Rexburg, Idaho for my wife hunting.
This did not mean that I was not still hopeful and desirous for female acceptance and friendship or acceptance from any of the community. I became comfortable with my refuge in church. Some good points about having a ward family included regular Sunday school and priesthood meetings, and visits from my Home Teachers. One brother particular was very friendly and greeted me often by name. I always appreciated his comments and presence in Sunday School, the two of us often have the same understand and grasp of the Gospel.
Though I was comfortable with my ward, I often became discouraged with the lifestyle forced upon me by the community and from this important void of companionship. In any given week, I am subject to cat-calls, horn honks, obscene gestures, vulgar comments, and so on. Often I would ask myself, and God through prayer, “how can I love a people who do this”.
And then there’s the youth in this area. Disgracing. These are the men and women out of who the future leaders in church as well as country will be extracted. At one point during the fall of last year, the burden was getting too much for me to bear. I was especially discouraged concerning whether or not women with the moral values and qualities I needed even existed. I silently plead and longed to meet just one girl who would treat me kind and provide me with the hope of something wonderful to look forward to.
One particular Sunday morning, I was moving slow and not sure why I should even bother going to church. I don’t even like going to church. What purpose was it serving me? Yet, like a zombie, I dressed for church and went. I believe, on that morning I was on the verge of giving up everything and walking away from religion and hope altogether; becoming the homeless bum everyone accused me of being.
That Sunday, while I was at church, a young woman greeted me with a comment that had a profound impact on me. I can no longer remember what she said, it was inconsequential and said in passing, but it revived my hope. It provided me with an important insight: there were nice girls after all. Through the weeks that followed, I played that welcoming comment through my mind millions of times, and the beaming smile through which it had been delivered. She had truly lifted my spirits and restored my hope.
From that day on, I looked forward to each Sunday morning. Some Sundays I saw her, some I didn’t. Some days she would say something, others she would just smile that wonderful childish joy smile she has. She always made me feel welcome and accepted. It was like a game to me. All week I would ponder her clever words and wonder what the next encounter would bring. My favorite occurred on a cold day well into winter. I had decided to wear my big heavy coat and felt ridiculous for it. On my ride down I wondered if I would see the girl who had become my personal angel. I was sure that if anyone I knew from West Yellowstone, Montana had seen me, I would be thoroughly teased, and wondered what my angel would think. To my great astonishment and pleasure, there she was standing with her younger brother just inside the door. She had a very playful, almost skeptical facial expression and a mischievous grin. “Cold, isn’t it?” She pronounced “isn’t it” more like “inn’tit”. I smiled and about laughed. I’ll never forget that greeting. My angel.
From the very beginning, I had the urge to give her a thank-you card. I was so appreciative of her acceptance. Over the weeks, I thought often about buying a card for her. It is so wonderful to get a card of appreciation from someone. They give a sense of accomplishment and purpose. I even knew the greater part of what my personal message would say. Thoughts like, “When it seemed as though all were lost, your light has proved otherwise and provided me with the hope and inspiration I was so desperate to receive,” and “you are a wonderful woman,” and how I envy the man she’ll marry, were always there.
I knew for sure I would get her a card after Christmas Sunday. After Church, I had just exited the restroom and was really dehydrated. As I turned the corner to the drinking fountain, there she was sauntering in my direction. She seemed to be studying the floor and contemplating something. Upon looking up and seeing me, her gloomy countenance changed and she cheerfully began skipping-yes skipping, like a happy schoolgirl-the remaining distance to me, that glorious beaming smile shining before her. As I bent down to the drinking fountain she came around me to stand on my right and declared simply, “merry Christmas” and proceeded to lean against the wall and wait for me to finish.
Buying a card presented a little dilemma. I had no money. That’s one of the reasons it took so long for me to get it from the first time I wanted to. As I was contemplating this one day in January, I remembered I had a dollar-fifty left on a Christmas gift card at Target. I also had some change in my pocket, and wondered if I’d be able to get a thank-you card for so little. It was doubtful, but I peddled on over to Target and began looking through the cards.
After a while and having looked at every possible card, I had narrowed it down to the thank-you card I wished I could afford and some multipurpose cards that would work, but left much to desire. I decided to take a walk to the electronics while I thought about the decision. Was it worth giving a card I wasn’t satisfied with? I didn’t want to give the wrong impression. Also, almost all the cards were over a dollar-fifty. I would literally be paying down to my last penny. And of course, I had a strong desire to check the remaining balance on the card, which was weird because I knew I had $1.53 to be exact. If only I could afford the one with the nice poem on the front. That card said everything I needed my thank-you card to say. It was all about kindness. It was perfect.
I considered it for several minutes while browsing the electronics. The urge to check the balance became to much for me so I asked the guy in that department if he could do it. He said yes and, after a few moments, informed me I had over two dollars and fifty cents. Wow, I thought. It all came together, like destiny. I was able to get the card with the poem. I used the last of my gift-card balance and something like eleven cents out of my pocket. It was as if I was supposed to get that card all along.
I didn’t fill it out right away. For one thing, I didn’t know who this woman was I wanted to give it to, and I never would have had the courage to give it to her in person. So, I spent the next couple Sundays watching to see who she belonged to. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered her dad was the very guy I had been admiring from Sunday School. Now I knew why she was so kind toward me when others wanted to shun me; she had a great example. I didn’t know her first name, but it wasn’t necessary to know it.
Incidentally, I also discovered where she got that distinctive smile that I cherished so much. She doesn’t look much like her dad, but she’s close to the spitt’n image of her mother, whom I had never met or really even seen until she bore her testimony that month. It was a wonderful testimony to hear too. I really admired this family and the way they were raising wonderful men and women.
It was Martin Luther King day when the time came for me to prepare the card. Being a holiday, the public library was closed, so I went across the parking lot to the Tabernacle. In the basement, there was a couple comfortable chairs in one of the lobbies. The missionaries, who were used to seeing me around, let me go down there to write my letter in peace.
Though it was a cold day outside, and therefore probably miserable, I was feeling pretty good and spiritual. I wandered into the big room with the art display of the mission of Christ. I found particular interest in the paintings depicting the wars preceding the Second Coming and the millennium of love and peace. It seemed so fitting that I was about to write a thank-you message for someone who gave me hope of that type of future.
It was then that I realized this young woman had been my very own glimpse of that great and marvelous time. In the next millennium, everyone will greet each other with kindness and acceptance, just as she had greeted me. I hope. I hope there will be no ill-judgments and prejudices against our brothers and sisters. I hope there will be no reason for a man to become disappointed and discouraged the way I had. I hope we will all be treated like equals.
That is what she gave me.
The next week, I presented the card to her father. I explained that his daughter had been kind greeting me and that I wanted to thank her. He has more than one daughter and after a bit, we were able to figure out which one I meant, he even insisted on telling me her name. He was happy to get the card and displayed every bit the proud father he should have been.
A few minutes later, while I was waiting near the bishop’s office to be set apart in my new calling, she came over. I was busy talking to someone else, so even though she lingered around for a time, presumably to mention the card, she had left before I finished my conversation. When I was done, I looked for her, but she was gone.
I searched for her with greater anticipation the following week. I couldn’t wait to hear what clever comment she would come up with. I was sure she had wanted to discuss the card with me. Much to my disappointment, her family wasn’t at church that Sunday, nor would they be for several Sundays following.
My bishop brought me the news the very next day. While I was helping to unload a truck full of books at the food bank, he came up. We went to a somewhat secluded section of the driveway where we were able to discuss what was on his mind.
He started by telling me that the night before he had a visit from a woman and her “little girl”. He had made it sound like this mother-daughter duo was new to the ward and in some kind of distress. I was thinking, “what does this have to do with me? I’m just a homeless guy, how can I be help to a woman and her little girl?” Obviously, if they needed a place to stay, I wasn’t going to be much help at all.
After a few confusing minutes of awkward stumbling, he mentioned a thank-you card. Oh! I thought, then I said the young womans name. Then I happily told him all about how kind this woman had been to me and how wonderful I thought she was for that kindness. I wondered what could possibly have happened to make them need my help, or why the bishop thought I could help.
I was in no way, shape, or form prepared for the bomb he dropped on me then. He told me that the card had scared the “little girl” and that her mother was concerned there must be some kind of hidden motive on my part. Apparently, the mother alleged that because I was a shorn-headed tent dweller and had perfect church attendance I was a sexual predator. He told me that he had read the card and told them he did not think the card was anything other than a sincere thank-you.
To make matters worse, the bishop told me they had not gone to church the day before because they didn’t feel comfortable around me. I started to cry then. All I wanted to do was thank her for her kindness, encourage her, and share the joy she brought into my life. She was my angel, and now I was being told that I had scared her and she didn’t want to be around me.
I cannot express how devastated I was.
My initial response was to issue an apology immediately. The bishop told me that he had offered that very possibility to the women, but that they “did not want any confrontations”. He told me he would talk to them again and let them know for sure that there was no hidden agenda. He also told me he probably wasn’t going to be able to do that until the next Sunday evening. He promised to keep me informed, and left.
When Sunday finally arrived, the first thing I noticed was that my angel and her family weren’t there for the second time. When the bishop came over, I asked how things were going with them and he answered that he had not talked to them since talking with me on Monday. That was the last we talked about it.
They returned to our ward the Sunday before stake conference. I barely saw them, and they left the building in seconds flat after the last meeting. I didn’t see her at all until three weeks before General Conference. She sneaked by me walking on the other side of her mom. Two weeks before General Conference, she was at church seemingly alone. At that point, I was still very confused how I had scared her, so I did not acknowledge her in any way.
During this time, I reflected often on my circumstance. In addition to being confused about how I scared this wonderful angel, I didn’t understand why temple attending parents would not have come to me first. They had gone straight to the bishop with their heinous allegation when certain covenants require them to attempt to resolve issues in person first.
I had become very uncomfortable seeing this family avoiding me. It seemed that my angel had become a devil in sheep’s clothing. The bishop’s casual just-ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away attitude was just as distressing. How could I ignore such contentions against me? How could I prevent this reaction in the future?
The Sunday before General Conference, I had a meeting with the bishop to address the issue. He was unsympathetic and unresponsive. He was disgusted at the thought that I could feel humiliated by these allegations. It was his foregone conclusion that what I had done was wrong and should not be repeated. When I asked for an explanation, he offered all sorts of worldly excuses, like television and news, and how society was. At one point, I concluded that the reaction I got was because the ward didn’t know me, and asked him what I could do so that they could. His reaction was to “get a job and move into a house”. He then explained that he could tell a lot about someone by how they mow their grass. I responded by telling him that I knew for a fact he was wrong.
I then suggested that I should stop attending the ward. He answered favorably to that, simply requesting that I inform him what ward I would be attending. So, I left. It is extremely apparent that my bishop is very prejudice and discriminatory. I had the distinct impression that the bishop is deliberately hindering communication between me and the family to whom I wrote the thank-you card in an attempt to weed me out of his ward.
I thought I left empty handed and wrongfully upset. I was wrongfully upset, but the bishop had let something slip during the conversation. He mentioned that he felt the mother and daughter had done the best they could considering that the father may have been out of town on business.
This opens up a whole new light on the subject. If the father, as the family’s patriarch, had not been able to council his wife and daughter, that priesthood authority and responsibility would have fallen to the bishop. If that is the case, the whole matter could have been handled by the bishop through prayer, and what I had perceived as an allegation against me, was just two concerned women asking the bishop for his opinion and counsel. No harm intended and no reason to involve me.
He also revealed that he had not even talked to the young woman directly, dealing only with her mother. This would suggest that all original concern about my thank-you card was confined to the mother. It is, therefore, my assessment that any fear my angel may have experienced, was a reflection of her mother’s misunderstanding, who may have inadvertently reacted negatively towards the card, having never met me. I wonder then, just what she would say about the whole thing, without her mother around. I am convinced that neither I, nor the thank-you card scared her.
Looking back on that young woman’s personality and my original assessment of her character, I have to say that she is a far too independent and spiritually sound woman to have been scared in that manner. In fact, now that I think about it, I would not be surprised to hear she may have even had a crush on me. If her mother thought that, it might explain the nature of the concern, something I had previously considered unwarranted.
So that’s my theory. It’s the one I would rather accept, explaining much and leaving nothing to the worldly excuses the bishop was trying to offer me. We’ll see. I am still going to attend this ward even though I am uncomfortable, they seem uncomfortable, and the bishop obviously doesn’t want me there.