Two Degrees off Center: When no one’s looking
January 13, 2020
“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
It was a perfect three-day getaway to Santa Cruz on the Central California coast a few months ago: Perfect companionship, perfect restaurants, lying out in the warm sun on a secluded ocean beach, having a picnic lunch among the redwoods—it was perfect.
Then on the way back to Sacramento, I realized I took a wrong turn on a country road, so I pulled over at the first turnout, stopped, looked ahead and behind, slowly began a U-turn, and my driver’s door was suddenly struck by a pickup truck going 40 mph. The other driver walked away unhurt, my companion did the same, but I was unconscious for about five minutes and woke up to multiple rib fractures front and back, a fractured sternum, severe strain on the left shoulder and arm, head trauma, major bruising on my knees and legs, and pain…lots and lots of pain. They used the Jaws of Life to get me out of the wreckage and airlifted me by helicopter to Stanford Hospital, where I was in the ICU for three days and discharged after six. Then came the pain management at home. I couldn’t lie on my bed so I spent most of my time in my Lazy Boy chair on a steady diet of comfort food and pain pills.
One night after about a week, I couldn’t even find a position in the Lazy Boy that wasn’t painful, so I decided to try the bed again. When I lay down, I suddenly felt unable to move. I couldn’t even try other positions because the pain was so intense. I wanted to call 9-1-1, but I couldn’t even reach the phone. I was frozen in place and all alone. If only I could give myself a priesthood blessing.
That’s when a random thought came into my mind that I’d never heard before: “Mercy is what happens when no one’s looking.” I laughed as hard as I could without inducing more pain. Then the scene opened up in my mind with the Lord explaining, “See, it’s an image thing. I have to keep up the image of everything by the book, cut and dried, no exceptions, because that’s what so many people, even in this church, expect from Me. But when no one’s looking, when they’re all minding their own business and doing their own thing, when it’s just you and Me, I can cut you some slack. That’s called mercy. It’s covered in the Atonement. You know the Law of Justification? Where you do what you can and the Atonement makes up the rest? That’s really mercy, but I have to call it a law to keep everyone happy, but it’s really mercy.”
At this point, I should mention that, like many of us, I’ve come to rely more and more on my Heavenly Father, my Savior, and the Holy Ghost in my life, especially at the intersection of LDS and LGBT. Because of that very personal and practical relationship, my silly critters go far beyond a sense of humor. I’ve come to rely on them as a conduit of communication between my Heavenly Father and me. I’ve gotten to know the Lord’s sense of humor, that the Holy Ghost speaks to me through my silly critters and random thoughts. Some of the most intimate answers to my prayers have been a punch line with a purpose, and instead of doubting there’s a place for my personality in heaven, which I truly believed at one point, I’ve come to understand that not only is there a place for me in heaven, but the Lord is depending on me to keep eternity from getting too dull and monotonous. Finally, when either my silly critters or my random thoughts shut down, it’s usually due to a cold or the flu, not getting enough sleep, too much hassle, or such. But if both shut down, it’s a sign that the Lord is not pleased with something in my life, and I need to research it, come up with a plan, go to Him and repent and present the plan, and if He approves, the silly critters and random thoughts start up again.
So I lay my hand on my right upper chest, the major point of pain, and spoke out loud: “Richard Charles Keys, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, I lay my hand on my chest and give myself a blessing of comfort, healing, and counsel.” Then I stopped and waited for the thoughts to enter my mind, and I repeated them out loud. I didn’t promise to live happily ever after. Most of the thoughts were measured, so I knew they were coming from the right source. Even the counsel was inspired. I finished “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen,” and just lay there and waited again. After about a minute, I felt the pain slowly decrease until it was completely gone. Then I could do my part and slowly let go of the stress and anxiety from the pain until I was completely relaxed, and I fell asleep and slept all through the night.
The next morning I woke up and before I opened my eyes I did a reality check. I realized I wasn’t in the same position I was the night before. I was in my favorite position, on my right side. That meant I moved during my sleep. Then I realized there was no pain. I moved my arm, then a leg, then slowly rolled onto my back, and still no pain. I sat up, stood up, got on the scale, brushed my teeth, began my usual morning routine, all without pain. Then in the middle of preparing breakfast, it came to me—the realization that I’d been laughing out loud nonstop since I got out of bed 45 minutes earlier, my mind filled with random thoughts as if the heavens were opened, the dam broke, and my mind couldn’t keep up with them and my silly critters. That’s when I bowed my head and thanked the Lord, not only for relieving the pain, but for using my silly critters and random thoughts that morning to validate the priesthood blessing I gave to myself—and every blessing and counsel I pronounced on myself came true.
Now I’ve lived in by-the-book wards with by-the-book members and by-the-book bishops, and some of them would say, “That’s great, glad you’re feeling better, but it wasn’t really a priesthood blessing. No oil, no anointing, no sealing, no other Elders. You can say the words if you want, but it was really a prayer, of maybe something psychological that overcame your physical pain, but it wasn’t a priesthood blessing.” But I was there, I know what happened and what I heard, and when no one was looking, the Lord was merciful, and it counted.
President Dallin H. Oaks once said, “As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules…but don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord”.
There seems to be more rules at the intersection of LDS and LGBT than just about any other place on the map: Walk, Don’t Walk, Right Lane Must Turn Right, No Right Turn on Red, No Left Turn, No U Turn, Bike Lane, No Stopping Any Time, Yield to Pedestrians, Yield to Cross Traffic, Yield to Anybody and Everybody, Stop Signs, Red Lights, Merge, Left Lane Closed, Speed Tracked by Radar—the list seems endless. It’s enough to make you want to just barrel through the intersection and defy all those damn signs and rules and the rulers who put them there—until you remember the surveillance cameras on every corner just waiting to catch you in the act and call a court on you.
So it’s reassuring to know that there’s Someone in the middle of the intersection of LDS and LGBT who’s directing the traffic, and He knows every driver and pedestrian there, where they’ve been and where they’re headed, and He has the authority to override the signs, the rules, even the rulers who put them there, because He knows when the exception counts more than the rule. That’s called mercy. Maybe He’ll want us to obey the sign. Maybe He’ll let us have our way. Maybe He’ll give us a third option we hadn’t even considered, or even have us take an alternate route. But we can’t take Him for granted, or assume we’re the exception every time and do as we like. Otherwise, we’ll be spiritually T-boned, and wake up to a lot of pain, discomfort, and rehab.
So when you get to that intersection and you start to feel the road rage from all the rules telling you what you can and can’t do…when you’re stuck there in a huge traffic jam, unable to move, waiting forever for the light to turn green and then suddenly realizing you’re in the wrong lane and you can’t get from here to there, you may start to wonder if the trip is really worth it, and you just sit in your car and say to yourself, “God help us.”
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.