Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"
In all my early years of school even as a freshman in college, I sat at the back of the room, head down, eyes locked on the floor, petrified with fear of those around me. They all seemed so at ease, and so comfortable with the world. But my world was not comfortable, my world was a wretched place because I s-s-s-s-t-t-uttred. I had heard others talk of “gifts” that had been placed inside us. “We are all given gifts,” our Methodist preacher had said. But what gifts did I have? My only gifts seemed to be a tongue that didn’t work, and an ability to cause others to laugh out loud when I dared to speak.
The old pastor tried to help me. “Why are you so troubled, son?” he asked one day midway through a private conversation.
“I’m s-t-t-upid, and c-c-c-an’t even m-m-m-ake a s-s-s-entence, other than that, I’m f-f-f-ine,” I replied.
In spite of himself, he could not suppress a chuckle. Regaining his composure, he said, “And I’m sure you have asked the Lord to remove these “thorns” from your side?”
“S-s-s-ure I have, b-b-b-ut He w-w-w-w-on’t. W-w-w-hy n-n-n-ot?”
The old man thought for a long while, and at last, he said, “It may be that your thorns are the very gifts that will make you better and stronger.”
While I knew the old fellow meant well, his words were of little comfort to me. How could a speech impediment and being someone who caused people to laugh be gifts?
But that’s exactly what they were.
In a recent column, I wrote about a number of books, people and lines in scripture that because of Providence and good fortune happened into my life just when I needed them most. To my surprise, I began to find others who had experienced similar difficulties in living, but found new direction and purpose. Their names were Maltz, Gallway, Dale Carnegie, a fellow named Paul, and many others. In each and every case, the story was the same. Something happened to make them different. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn what occurred in their lives, and how this same “change” could be created in me. And all these years later, while I haven’t accomplished great things, I have managed to remain free from any U.S. penitentiary (which I’m sure still disappoints a number of old women in my home town).
From Paul I learned I was on the wrong road. Same thing happened to Pablo. Seems he was riding his horse down the road one day when this Light knocks him off his mount, and says, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” And the most interesting thing about that story is that Paul did not have an answer. He realized he was living his life in the wrong fashion. And I thought, “So am I.”
So, I came home and found a miracle. That miracle being caring adults in education and agriculture who taught me a new way to live. To get my eyes off the floor and hold my head up. To meet people and treat them with manners and kindness, to put my shirt tail in, and look my best. To focus on the needs of others, and to believe in my self. They taught me that I was not exempt from failure, but that failure was to be expected, and that my responsibility was to rise after falling, and begin again. “Just learn to try again,” they said. “That’s the key.”
From Maltz’s Psychocybernetics, I learned to think differently about my self. Not to be boastful or arrogant, but to know that God is too kind to shortchange any of us. He equips each and every one at birth with all the attributes we need to learn, grow, and discover how to live. All His other creatures seem to know that very well. Who ever heard of a depressed blue bird?
Maltz also encouraged us to focus on the desired outcome rather than how we would climb the mountain. “Keep your eyes fixed on the prize,” he counseled citing scripture. To behave as if the goal is already achieved, to see and visualize high expectations as not only possible, but certain and assured. To have faith.
“But I have so little,” I thought. “You don’t need all that much,” said Jesus.“If your faith is only the size of a mustard seed, you can do more than you dreamed.” “Well, at least I have that much,” I said to my self. He was right. Even that small amount was sufficient to overcome a mountain - a mountain of F’s.
From Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, and a host of others, I learned “as a man thinketh, so is he.” And from a little old lady named Clara Love, I learned the best thing.
Clara Love was eighty and so aptly named. She was indeed Mrs. Love. Clara was married to the same man for sixty-two years. I saw her at the feed store one day, and she informed me this day was her anniversary.
“And I love him just as much today as I did when I was a new bride,” she beamed.
“That’s remarkable, Mrs. Clara.” I said, “How do you keep love like that for sixty years?”
“Oh,” she said, “I said I love him today like I did then. Last week I wanted to kill him.”
After we wiped the laugh tears from our eyes, I said, “No, really, Mrs. Love. You have a sparkle in your spirit that is so wonderful. How do you do it?”
“Well,” she replied, “I wasn’t always this happy in my life, but over the years, I have learned the most precious thing. And that is that everything that happens to us is a gift. Each event that comes into our lives is a teacher, and that teaching is for us to learn and grow, and if we see things as we are supposed to, we are given joy. That’s why I’m so happy.”
Mrs. Clara’s words would return to me later as I worked and toiled with one of our roping horses - the one called Shine. Such a beautiful and majestic animal he was, but so afraid. No matter what I did, no matter how patient, no matter how long I rode him, he was still afraid. At first, I was kind, and applied only the softest of correction. Later, Lord forgive me, on occasion, I would lose my temper with him. One day in frustration, I hit him on the neck with my hand. He began to shake with fear and his mind spilled out on the ground. We both stood trembling so angry at each other.
“Why this thorn in my side?” I asked the Spirit. Furious, I stomped to the barn, ranting and raving. “Why would you give me this horse? I don’t know how to help him, I’ve tried every thing I know, and still nothing. It’s been over two years, and still, he’s afraid. Why is he here?”
And as Shine stood in the pen staring back at me, the answer came.
“So he could be your teacher,” said the wind. “So he could help you learn how to help a horse who is sick and afraid. So you could learn so many things not to do to one who needs your help. And if you can find a way to help him, so you will know the thing called joy.”
And because of my friend and horse trainer, Craig Hamilton, because of my friend and true horseman, Bronc Fanning, because of my friend, Rosie Austin, great roper from Georgia, we found a way to help him. Old Shine is better now and so am I.
Like my stuttering and ability to make people laugh – the things I once despised that I now use to make a living – I once saw Shine as a thorn in my side, but they were all gifts. The very gifts I needed to make me stronger and better.
“There was given to me a ‘thorn in the flesh’…and three times I asked that it might be removed from me. And He said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2nd Corinthians 12:7
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