Jon Koonsman

E-T Community Columnist

Well, faithful readers of the ET, it is finally upon us. It is the time of the year when we each experience that spiritual awakening and raise our voices in a collective prayer — a time when polarizing ideals and partisan politics are put aside in favor of a single common appeal. Neighbors kneel together and turn their faces to the heavens in a plea for that single token of goodwill representing all that is good and right and just in our society — that sacred ticket to Oprah’s Favorite Things.

I will confess that before I found Oprah, I spent many years in a quest for spiritual guidance. I felt that I was alone, wandering in the wilderness unable to find material value in divine providence. I drifted aimlessly in search of doctrine or dogma, religious tenet or heavenly guidance, until that fateful day when I learned to follow my bliss on channel 8. Brothers and Sisters, this is my testimony.

I was raised in a household with a Baptist father and a Methodist mother, which technically makes me a Lutheran twice removed. I’ll admit it sounds a little noncommittal, but it gave me a good foundation from which to start my journey. My parents were very open-minded and supported my quest for spiritual awakening; so at the tender age of 18, they dropped me off at the airport to begin my journey.

Though I had originally intended to catch a plane at the airport, I suddenly found myself among a lovely group known as the Hari Krishnas. I immediately fell in love with the comfortable clothing (saffron is my color) and the cool haircuts, but it seems I could never get the hang of the tambourine. I had, however, played the trombone in the middle school band (1st chair) and I used my skills to enthusiastically join in. Though they appeared to appreciate their new horn section, there were complaints that it took up too much space in the van. And while I enjoyed hanging around the airport and watching the planes, I was disappointed to learn that the planes weren’t returning from heaven. Sensing my disappointment, my new friends suggested that perhaps I was Buddhist — it appears they are more tolerant of horns.

The whole Karma thing scares the hell out of me, so my days as a Buddhist were short lived. I rambled my way to California, where I drifted among religious sects (cults) in search of enlightenment, until I finally had my fill of snakes and Kool-Aid. If I had found a cult with puppies and Lone Star I’d probably still be there. Eventually, I took up with a group of Pagans, and though dancing naked around a campfire may sound like a lot of fun, I’m deathly afraid of bush fires. Then one auspicious day as I sat visiting with a sailor in a North Hollywood bar, I saw a commercial for the Book of Mormon. I didn’t really know anything about Mormons - but the book was free so I made my way to Salt Lake City.

The Mormons were a great bunch and Salt Lake City was beautiful, but it seems they are pretty big on that whole Ten Commandments thing. I gave it my best effort, but I had to move three times that year just trying not to covet my neighbor’s wife (if you lie about it, that’s 2 commandments). Do you know how difficult it is to find a nice Utah neighborhood full of ugly women? I even considered moving to Minnesota.

In the spirit of good Mormonism, my neighbors generously got together and bought me a ticket home to Texas — several of them even escorted me to the airport. Knowing that the ‘Ville was where I ultimately wanted to return and raise my children; I married and settled in to life as a father. And though I continued my spiritual quest, I was somewhat less enthusiastic. I had a friend tell me about the Cowboy Church, so I got up one Sunday morning and put on my hat and my Say “Hell Yes!” to Jesus T-shirt and excitedly headed to the early service. Like the wonderful wife she is, Jenni packed me a cooler full of beer and my good dice, but she was feeling a little under the weather and didn’t make the trip. I suppose it was just as well, it seems drinking and gambling is “not what the Cowboy Church is all about.” After some discussion, they seemed to think that I might be Catholic.

Having two sons, I knew that someday they would be looking to me for spiritual guidance. I knew that God must exist, I’d been trying unsuccessfully for years to bargain with him. I tried prayer, but at some point I felt like I was just nagging. I wasn’t even sure what I should be praying for, but I still managed to fire one off occasionally. Then one day I found the answer in the most unlikely of places.

Among my closest friends is one that I will call “Bob,” as he would not appreciate the attention. I would not have taken Bob for a religious man, in fact, I had known him for years and the closest thing to religion we had ever discussed was our ongoing mission to have Adolph Coors posthumously sainted. On this particular evening, we had been checking cows and eventually found ourselves sitting on a hilltop sipping a little philosophy. Ultimately, the conversation turned to religion and I asked him if he believed in God.

“You bet,” he answered immediately. I was taken aback, not by his answer, but the way he delivered it without hesitation. It was as if I had asked him if he was hungry; he was sure and unequivocal without need of qualifying it or convincing me.

I knew that Bob had grown up as part of a large ranching family and had a very strained relationship with his father, but I didn’t know much more about his childhood. “I didn’t realize you were such a Bible scholar,” I joked awkwardly.

"I’ve got all of the evidence that I need,” he told me flatly.

Though I tried to make small talk for a few more minutes, I had never been so compelled to ask someone about their beliefs. I finally pressed him on the issue, and after some prodding this is the story he told me. It is not verbatim, but it is as accurate as I can recall.

When I was about 15, my father sent me out to catch a bull and bring him back to the pens. I went out by myself, but after I had tried everything and had worn out my horse, I finally had to give up and go back to the house. When I got back, my dad was there waiting for me, and he was furious when he saw that I hadn’t got the bull loaded. When he asked me why I had come back without him, I told him that he’d gotten on the fight real bad and hooked my horse and what not. Well it just enraged my dad, so he hauled off and hit me right square in the mouth and knocked me flat on my back. I laid there for a few seconds, but finally managed to climb back to my feet. As soon as I got stood back up, he hit me so hard it knocked my teeth loose. I laid there on the ground for a few seconds again, but I was so mad I got up again and stood right up in his face. That just made him madder, so he hit me again so hard that I didn’t even know where I was for a couple of minutes.

I found myself laying there on the ground again trying to spit dirt and blood out of my mouth, and then I just started praying. I hadn’t ever really prayed before that, and I’m not sure why I chose that moment to start, but I laid there and prayed. And I said, “God, if you could give me the strength to stand up one more time, I don’t think this son-of-a-***** can knock me down again.”

I regained my strength and got back to my feet. My dad doubled up his fist and hit me one more time, and I never even wobbled. He looked like he might try it again, but he just dropped his hands and walked away. He never hit me again.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with my oldest son. He’s now a sophomore at Colorado State and is suffering the same stresses that we all experienced at that age. I told him this story for the first time, and I was moved to tears to share it with him. I couldn’t tell him what lessons he should take from it (other than his dad is a crybaby), but I could share it with conviction. As we enter another holiday season, my greatest wish for both of my boys is that we have raised them to be confident in their convictions, and that they have the character to pray, “God, if you could give me the strength to stand up one more time …”

Jon Koonsman is a local builder and rancher and 6th generation Erath County resident. He is married with two sons and resides on his family's ranch near Duffau. He is also a member of the Empire-Tribune's community columnists. His column appears on the fourth Friday of every month. He can be reached at jonkoonsman@yahoo.com.