Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson 


     She always said I should write about it.  She said it would give people hope…but I never would.  “I’m not a preacher,” I would always say.  She said that didn’t matter and that it wasn’t about preaching, but that it was about the thing called hope.  But I wouldn’t do it.  In almost every case, I not only listened to her opinion, but acted on it, and found her advice to be sage and sound every time - except for this one subject.  I couldn’t write about this.  I thought people would think me funny or odd, and trying to be something I’m not.  I’m not a preacher you know – I’m a cowboy.  But the story is true – it happened to me, and if it gives you hope, then maybe she was right, and then I’m answering the call.
     When I met her, I was a wounded deer.  I was just putting one lead-filled foot after another in those days, and lost the thing that keeps us going, but something happened in the woods.  I didn’t understand it then, and even though I certainly don’t have it in my grasp now, I’m more aware than before.
     I sang a song to her fourth-grade class, and one of her little ones said,  “We like your music, Mr. Mike, but Miss ‘Becca can really sing.”  We all laughed, and I handed her the guitar.  She sang ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ and her perfect voice with that perfect pitch, rose up, over and through everyone in the room.  Watching the fourth-graders gaze at her in rapt wonder, I realized they were in  love with her, and I thought that was nice.  And when I turned back to look at her, I was quite surprised to find that I was too.  Finishing the song, her blue eyes met mine, and in that look, I knew she felt the same way about me.  We had seven years together, and they were good ones…and today, she told me she was leaving.  She has other dreams now, and I wish her well.
     I’m not mad, just so sad.  It’s just life you know.  We can’t decide when we are going to fall in love, and we can’t decide when we are going to fall out.  People get so mad at each other about that, but we shouldn’t.  It’s not our fault…it’s like fame.  Fame just decides to light on your shoulder, or it doesn’t.  That’s the way love is.  Love comes when it chooses to, and leaves when it decides.  People say, “We don’t believe in divorce!” I’ve got some news for you, Amigo. I don’t either, but it happens.  I don’t believe in the death of children, but it happens.  It’s just life - you know?
     So, for some reason, sittin’ here by myself in my farmhouse that I love so, I decided to write about what she always told me to…the Calling.  And here’s my story…
     I was in the woods, and I was mad, bitter, and at the bottom of the world.  I had failed in my marriage so late in life, and I simply could not make sense of what had happened in the last few months.  The year was ’97, my kids had graduated and were headed off to college, and of course, that’s what we want them to do…get the hell out of the house!  If I had said it once, I’d said it a thousand times, “The empty nest syndrome will not affect me!”  And the day they left, it almost killed me.  No more hand prints on the sliding glass doors we all had in those days, no more dirty clothes, no messy rooms, and while I should have been happy, it almost killed me the day they drove away.
     At least I had a rock solid employment position…or so I thought.  In just a day or two after my chicks had fled the nest, for the first time in my life I heard the word, “downsizing.”  Suddenly, no one knew if they would be employed tomorrow, much less make it to retirement.  My wife – of some twenty years - walks in, and says, “Well, if the kids are gone, and we are going to lose your income, maybe we should just get the divorce now.”  Never more stunned in my life, I said, “Well, I’m not the warden, the jailer, nor the keeper of the keys.  If that’s what you want, that’s what we will do,” and that’s how I found my self in the woods.  And I mean that literally…that’s how I found my self.
I went there in bitterness asking, “Why me?”  I didn’t know the answer to that question then, but I do now.  The answer is, “Because that’s life, you know?” The answer is, “Because things happen, and you’re not the only one this has happened to, and so many have far more difficulties than you. The question you should be asking is not, ‘Why poor me?’ but “How will I deal with this?”  But I didn’t know all that in those days, so I just felt sorry for myself, and then something happened in the woods.
     It was a beautiful place.  A river ran through it.  A little cabin where I sat and felt so sorry for myself for the longest time, and then things began to change.  Something – I make no claim to know what it was – came.  Not a voice, not a vision, but rather something inside me - that wasn’t me - asked me a question, and the question was, “What’s important?”  And because I was in what we might call an ‘odd frame of mind’ in those days, I decided to think about that question for some time, and after a long time – you would be surprised about how long a time – I found an answer.
     My answer was, even though I had been to the Pentagon, worked for General Officers, hospitals, and universities, my answer was, “Cowboys and school teachers are important!  Cowboys and school teachers are the best people in the world!”
And to just cut to the chase, this thing says, “How would you like to earn your daily bread encouraging those two groups of people?”  And that was the moment I knew I had lost my mind and developed a really serious mental problem.  This troubled me so that I went to see a Christian counselor.
     The counselor was a man named Austin Ingram, an older fellow, and a tolerant former Baptist preacher, (you never saw those words put together before did you?  tolerant Baptist preacher?… I didn’t know there was such a thing - go figure.)  He listened to my tale about how my life had fallen apart, along with this odd ‘tug’ on my spirit, and then he says, “I’m so glad you came to see me.  I can help you.”
     “Well, thank the Lord,” I said.  “I thought I was losing my mind.”
     “No, that’s not it,” he says,  “Your problem is…you can’t believe you have been picked!”
I remember so clearly that I laughed out loud when he said that.  “Now I think you have lost your mind,” I said to this good and kind man,  “Who would pick me?” I asked him.  “A washed up calf-roper who failed at every single thing in life?  Who would pick me?”  And then he said, “Michael, He picks us all!
     And that one statement freed me up to begin.  After talking with Mr. Ingram, I understood that my calling was not to preach - because not everyone gets called to preach.  Some are called to help children, some to make violins, and others to heal troubled horses, and my calling was to encourage you.  To tell you that you are stronger than you think, you are more than you know.  There…I’ve answered the call.
     Since that day with Mr. Ingram, I’ve written eight books, been almost a million miles, spoken to a half million people, and never told anyone why.  But now I’ve told you.  And she always said, “You should tell people the truth about how you came to be in this place.”  And in every other instance, I always acted on her advice, which I found to be sage and sound every time - except for this one thing about the calling.
     I didn’t want to tell anyone about that because they might think me strange, or  trying to be something I’m not.  I was always so afraid if I talked about it, and they saw me drinking a beer later, they might think me a hypocrite.  I’m not.
     I’m a cowboy, but the fact remains…something happened to me in those woods.  Not the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School with all the rules, but someone who came to see me when I had lost the thing called hope.  And someone I loved always told me to write about it, but I wouldn’t.  Now I have.  She always said,“The story will give them hope.”  I hope it does.  You are stronger than you think, you are more than you know
     There…I’m answering the call.     

Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

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