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Michael & Blue

Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"


We all know what those two words mean. At least those of us in the horse world do. “Cowboy up” means when the going gets rough, get going. When you get bucked off, start planning on getting up before you hit the ground. Reach down inside your self and find something more. Don’t quit, hang on, keep on, find a way – think to your self, “This is the place most people would quit, but I won’t.” Some people don’t know about it, some don’t believe, but I do. I know how valuable that one thought is…I know.

Because of the business I’m in, many rich blessings have come my way in the form of stories, books and song about people who have survived a trial. Whenever we hear such tales, the telling gives us strength that perhaps we too might see some reward as a result of our struggle. And I wonder if anyone has heard as many, and enjoyed each one as much as me.

I have had the great privilege of either being on stage with or in the audience when Joe Clark, the principal in New Jersey shared his victory about changing a school. I have listened to Jamie Escalante talk about teaching inner city kids calculus and winning national awards. Marilyn Johnston once told an auditorium full of Texas teachers how she was part of a life changing miracle in a California school. And just a short time ago, I had a morning session with a group of Oklahoma Family Physicians. That afternoon, I stayed to listen to the next speaker. His name was Hunter Adams. We know him as “Patch,” played by Robin Williams. I was deeply and profoundly affected by his message. He’s a strange man, and a wonderful man.

They are all remarkable people and all have had movies made about their life and times. I am truly grateful that I could hear them, and grateful for them. But…as wonderful as they are, there was one that I remember most of all. There was one that had such strength and courage that she is and will always be the author of my favorite “cowboy up” story. She wasn’t famous to as many as those previous well-knowns, but she will always be famous tome. She was my daughter and her name was Terri.

I was working outside one day when suddenly my ten-year old appeared at my side. “Hello, dear,” I said. “Dad, I have a target,” she said. I smiled. The poor little thing had heard far too many lectures from her dad about how if we would accomplish things, the first step is to create a target. To get what we want we must “focus our cross-hairs.” She had heard countless times about to achieve, we must find our heart’s desire, reach down inside ourselves and pull up what we would have come into the world. “That’s good, dear, what is your “target?” “I want to win something at school,” she said simply. “Wonderful,” I said. “Anything in particular?” “I thought about that,” she said seriously, “but then I decided if I give myself several opportunities, my chances would be better. So, my “target” is something like cheerleader, first chair in band, majorette, or even something in a beauty contest. I just want to win something, that’s my target.” “Little sister,” I said, kneeling down so our eyes were on the same level, “that is such good thinking and such a good idea. Now, you only need one more thing…” “What’s that?” she asked. “You need to remember this…The Master in His wisdom, gives us a double dose of the ability to try again if we just remember we have that ability.” “I can’t remember all that,” she said. “I’m just ten years old. Give me something shorter.” “Okay, how about this…When you fail… cowboy up.” “That I can remember,” she said, and she walked away.

Little did I know it at the time, but I created a small monster in my yard that day. For the next eight years, I learned how deeply my daughter believed in those words…

For eight years, she never won a thing. No cheerleader, no majorette, no first chair in band. Nothing. When she was twelve years old, I would sit in the audience at the sixth grade beauty pageant, and silently pray, “Lord, let her win a fourth, Miss Congeniality, anything that we can go home and celebrate…” and nothing. She never won a thing for eight years, and each and every time after failing, she would say, “It’s okay, I just need to cowboy up, and be tough. Next time, I’ll win.”

It started to bother me. I mean really bother me.

She seemed to take defeat in stride, but I was a different story. This was killing me. I watched her put all her feelings on the line time and time again, and the mounting failures began to pierce my heart. You know how it is when your kid is hurting – you would do anything to take the pain and bear it for them – but sometimes you can’t. It was her eyes. I would watch her face when they announced the winners, and when her name wasn’t called – you had to be a parent to see it – I couldn’t bear the look in her eyes. Just for a moment, she would drop her head, but then quickly, she would raise her eyes and you could see it her face… “I’ll get’em next time.”

On a cool fall day, I was working outside when I saw her standing in almost the same spot that little fourth grader had stood so many years before. Staring back at me was a beautiful senior in high school. “Where are you going, dear?” I asked. “I’m going to the band hall, dad. I’m going to try out for Drum Major.”

My heart sank. I wanted to say, “Terri, they are not going to let you be the Drum Major. You have never won anything, no cheerleader, no first chair, no majorette…nothing. They will never let you be Drum Major.” But of course, I didn’t say that.

My daughter thought I was about to say something else. “I know, dad. If I don’t get them this time, I’ll get’em next time. If I fail, I’ll just cowboy up.” And she got in car and drove away. I wanted to follow her. I wanted to chase her down, and yell, “You’re killing me. Stop doing this. If they don’t see you have value…” But I didn’t do that either. At 9:30 I went to bed with a heavy heart. I wanted to be asleep when she came home, so I wouldn’t have to see her eyes.

At 10:30, I heard this BOOM! My back door slammed. Then a series of boom, boom, boom, boom…her feet running down the hall. She hit my bedroom door going at least 120, and landed some ten feet in the middle of the room.

“I got it,” she said in a strangely quiet voice.

I raised myself up slowly in the bed, praying this wasn’t a dream. “Tell me about it,” I said, in the same strange quiet voice.

“Well,” she said breathlessly, excitement beginning to spill out, “when the try-outs were over, the band director stood and said, ‘Some of you have more talent than others, and some have more coordination, but I have been watching one since she was in the fourth grade. Every time she stumbled, she got up. Every time she fell, she rose again. That is the person we need to lead the band, and that’s the kind of person we need to lead us in life. Terri is the new Drum Major.”

And with tears streaming down her face, and a smile brighter than sunshine, she said, “I finally won, daddy. What do you think about that?”

And like all parents do in such situations, I took complete and total credit for the victory. I said, “Well, it’s about time you finally started listening to me…I knew you could do it!” Then we got on the bed and had a pillow fight that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, and that one victory was made so much sweeter because of all those failures.

If you ever meet my daughter, who is now very successful by the way, don’t tell her I gave up the faith for a few moments because she still thinks I’m a hero. But we know she is the hero. People who fight the good fight, keep the faith and finish the race are always the heroes. Good news is we can be one too if we just learn down deep in our bones about a little phrase that helps us through the bad times.

“When you get bucked off, start making plans to get up before you hit the ground.” Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson Books
1172 CR 4122  Campbell, Texas 75422  (903) 862-2082

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