Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson



      The Oklahoma wind was so cold on that early March day, I was just mad at it.  Felt like that stiff breeze had a pair of pliers just squeezing like the dickens on the tips of my ears.  We had arrived early but the vast parking lot of the church was already jammed.  And they had all come – hundreds of them – all had come to say good-bye to the Mighty Warrior.
     “I don’t think I can go to the roping Sunday,” I told my friend, Sharon.  “I have to go to a funeral the day before, and well…it’s going to be rough.”  And I told her about him.    
     After listening, she said, “Yes, we can.  I’ll come to the funeral with you.  Then we will go to the roping.  That’s what he would have wanted.”
     “Yes,” I said, after a time of silence.  “That’s what he would have wanted.”

     The massive sanctuary was packed.  Everyone’s head was down and we all knew we would feel worse when the ordeal was done.  The saddles ringed the pulpit, and the beautiful cedar coffin sat right in the middle of it all.  And flowers?  I never saw so many – hundreds of them, all large and all so pretty, and every one dressed in their favorite spring colors.  “So out of place on a day like this,” I thought to myself.
     “No, we are not,” said one rather large, particularly attractive rose whispering to me. “We are not out of place at all.  This is what we do.”  And the service began.
     The first photo on the big screen showed a smiling tow-headed kid with red cheeks.  Just the kind of kid my daddy loved.  The boy was healthy and happy then, and memories of him on his horse running and playing faded in and out for a time.  Then came the first picture of him in that chair he would sit in for the rest of his days.  His name was Chad Gibson.
     Chadrick Ethan – a name meaning “Mighty Warrior” - was born in March of ’78.  Just a short four and half years later, he would be diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – a miserable and evil disease.  The doctors told dad and mom, Melvin and Teresa, Chad wouldn’t make it past ten.  But the Mighty Warrior had other plans.
     Against all odds he lived a life of happiness for twenty-nine years.  And in all that time, despite what he had to endure, I never once saw him in a bad mood.  Seems every roping I’ve been to in the last few years while saddling Little Blue and Shine, I would hear his dad, Melvin, yell from across the way, “Will you turn one for me, Michael?” 
     “Sure I will, Melvin,” I would answer back, always happy to rope with a good heeler. “And I hope I don’t miss ‘cause I know you won’t,” I would laugh, and then I would turn to look for the van.  I knew where it would be - Melvin always parked it in the same place.
     The red van was always just outside the arena in an ideal spot - the place where Chad could watch his daddy rope.  Him sittin’ there on the passenger side with all his breathing machines and high-tech gadgets that kept him alive, and his momma always in there with him - always smiling…and so was he.
     “How you doin’, Chad?”  I would ask as I walked by.
     “Fine, Michael.  How are you?  You and dad gonna get them today?”
     “It’s over, Chad.  This roping is over.  If I got your daddy roping on the heel end, I can’t understand why all these people don’t just load up and go home!”  And he would laugh.  

     The pictures of his life came to an end, and Melvin rose from his seat.  Standing before the crowd, he began talking about his son.  Not with much emotion, but just truth.  Just sharing what it was like to live with someone he loved – and I will always remember it as Melvin’s finest hour.
     “People tell me I did a good job with Chad – taking him with us, caring for him,” he said.  “I accept the compliment from those people, but their kind words always make me wince and cringe a little bit.  After all,” he paused, “what else could I have done?  Who among you would not have done the same?  What else could I have done – the Lord having given me such a fine son…what else could I have done?”
     As he talked, I looked around the room at my cowboy friends.  Trust me when I tell you they are a tough bunch.  My eyes went from face to face, and I remembered the wrecks, spills, lost thumbs of ropers, and broken noses I had witnessed them suffer.  And not one – no matter how severe the injury – could I ever remember seeing shed a single tear.  But on this day…they all did.  And then came the Preacher Man. 

     His name was Brother Forest Gibbs – an old time tent-revival evangelist he was – and he did the most wonderful thing.  We all sat there desperately wishing we could find some way to vent this deep and powerful grief, but we could not.  Because we all knew no matter how much we hurt, our grief paled in comparison to the pain felt by Chad’s mom and dad.  And yet there they sat on the front pew strong as ever.  Then the Preacher Man offered us a way to let that emotion out.  He made us laugh! 
     “You think you can’t get through this, don’t you?” were his opening words.  “But you can!” he thundered, and we all began to raise our heads a little.  “I know how you feel,” he continued in a loud voice.  “I had a problem once I couldn’t handle – thought I couldn’t get through it…but I did.  The Lord helped me!”  And we raised our heads a bit more.
     “I tore my fingernail off,” he said.  “Went to the doctor and said, ‘Fix this! It’s killin’ me!’  Doctor says, ‘I can’t do anything but put a big bandage on it.’  Doc puts the big bandage on – it’s still killin’ me – and I walk outside and shout to the heavens… ‘Lord, I can’t get through this.  I have a tent revival to preach tonight, and Lord, you know I make big gestures with my hands – I preach with my hands!  What am I gonna do?”
     The old Preacher Man leaned down and whispered in the microphone, “And the Lord spoke to me on that day!  And the Lord said, ‘Brother Gibbs, take your injured limb and place it behind you, and tie it with a string.  Go in that tent revival tonight and I’ll show you how to whip the devil with one hand tied behind your back!”  We laughed ‘til we cried. 
     Then he shouted, “YOU KNOW HOW WE GET TO HEAVEN?”  
     And now we all had our heads up hoping…
     “YOU KNOW HOW WE GET TO HEAVEN?” he thundered again.  Then came his answer… “To get to heaven, brothers and sisters - we have to go through hell!”  And we laughed again, relieved and feeling the thing called hope.  He told us how this was hell, but Jesus was with us – that he was here - and all the people here were with us, and waving his arm, he said, “Even these beautiful flowers have come here to help us on this day.”
     And the rose beside my pew whispered, “See?  I told you.”
Then the preacher man told a story of a young girl who had lost her horse.  She grieved and grieved, but her suffering would not end.  She could not let go of her friend.  The girl’s mother called the old pastor and said, “You may not want to do this, but well…uh, Mary Ann wants you to…uh…preach a funeral for her horse.”
     “Services will be held tomorrow, and begin promptly at one p.m.,” the preacher replied to the mother.
At the animal’s graveside, the old evangelist surrounded by the horse’s loved ones, preached a beautiful and touching sermon for the departed friend.  Then turning to the grieving child, he said, “Weep no more little one, because the Lord Himself has spoken to me this morning at dawn.  ‘Brother Gibbs,’ the Lord told me, ‘tell the child I had need of this fine steed, and that I will keep him for her until he meets her in the hereafter!’”
     The minister closed by saying, “We can’t bring them back, brothers and sisters, but we can go to them.  Chad will be there too…waiting on all of us.”
     Then soft music came and the singer posed a question… “How do I keep from going crazy?”  And the answer came in the words of the song, “When I raise my hands, and bow my head - I find more and more truth in the words written in red.”
And we headed home.  To my surprise, I felt better after than before.  I felt better because of Chad and the way he lived his life, and because I didn’t know Jesus was going to be there, and he was.  Silly me – He’s always there.  And because of the old Preacher Man – and because of that little smart-alecky rose.
     The next day, my feet hit the floor at 3:00 a.m. and in just a short time, Little Blue and the Shine Man were in the trailer behind.  We met Sharon almost 200 miles away at 6:30.  We drank coffee from the thermos at dawn, ate big cheeseburgers at lunch, and roped – and we committed to wring every single ounce of living from this day.  On the way home, I asked her, “What do you think Chad is doing in heaven today?”    

     She thought for a time, and said, “Let’s see…it’s five central here,” and she paused thinking for several moments, then said, “He’s probably settled in by now, and has said hello to all his loved ones, so I’m sure they’re roping by now…don’t you think?”                                             

                                            In memory of Chad Gibson – 1978-2007

                                                          “A Mighty Warrior” 


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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