A Celebration of Everyone Who Fulfills Their Purpose Through Unexpected Challenges
Until two years of age, Craig and Samantha’s son Connor was just like other kids—playful, verbal, and affectionate. Then everything changed. He stopped talking, displayed behavioral problems, and withdrew into his own world. The official diagnosis—autism. Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, Craig and Samantha refused to believe a meaningful life for Connor was impossible. God confirmed their faith by revealing to Craig that Connor would one day touch the lives of thousands of people around the world. Craig and Samantha held that unlikely promise in their hearts during the agonizing years ahead. Champion is a spellbinding chronicle of the twists and turns of Connor’s journey—guided by his parent’s steadfast hope in God’s promises. Through the unexpected breaking of their spirits, The Holy Spirit was poured out, culminating in a miracle that has launched a global ministry to the disabled.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Pastor Craig Johnson is currently the Director of Ministries at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He oversees all pastoral ministries and staff and travels throughout the year, speaking to organizations about the reality of special needs families and the hope God has for them. In 2009, Craig launched the Champions Club, a state of the art facility for special needs kids that features a physical therapy room, spiritual therapy room, sensory room, and an educational room. He is the co-creator of Champions Curriculum for special needs families and is the author of the book Lead Vertically. As an enthusiastic advocate for special needs children, Craig firmly believes the best is yet to come. Craig is married to Samantha and they have three children: Cory, Courtney, and Connor.
Read an Excerpt
The Calm Before the Storm
The best way I can describe it is like a sudden car wreck. Shock. One minute your child behaves one way, and the next minute he doesn't seem like the same child you knew in the first two years of his life. He's stopped talking. He stares off into space with no emotion.
What happened? Did we do something wrong? Is God mad at us? Is this a curse upon our family?
When this happened to us, I even tried to remember the worst sins I had committed between the years 1995 and 2001, thinking if I had only done things differently, maybe this wouldn't have happened. This burden is so heavy. I'm not sure if I'm strong enough to carry it, I thought. Then came the ultimate question, the granddaddy of them all, the big one every person asks when they face something that is beyond what their finite human mind can comprehend. If you've been through a tragic situation, failed, lost a loved one, or just received devastating news, then you've asked this question.
Maybe you asked it as tears were pouring down your face. It might have been after you had come to the end of yourself, and you didn't just ask it, you screamed it — at the top of your lungs because you wanted to make sure God heard it. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to you, half the neighborhood heard it. Right before the question you might have even let a word slip out that you shouldn't have. Okay, maybe two words. But you didn't care. The pain was too great to feel embarrassed. You had to ask the only question that came to your mind when you just didn't understand.
Have you ever asked God why? I'll never forget where I was and what I was feeling when I asked it. But before we go there, let's go back to where the story begins. It's always good to remember where you started so one day you can appreciate how you finished.
The greatest journeys are often the most difficult. In every fairy tale there is usually tragedy and triumph. You can't get to the "happily ever after" unless you're willing to fight for the here and now, and we were about to have the fight of our lives. We were about to discover that we couldn't plan our lives.
We could only allow God to help us navigate through them. Of course, we all think we can plan — or at least manage our time. Our strategy works well until a sudden change in our lives' weather patterns causes the barometer to spin out of control. Chaos blows in like a drizzle, and suddenly it pours down like a flood.
My wife Samantha (Sam) and I had it all planned out. We were going to have our kids early so we could travel the
world, footloose and kid-free, at fifty. Goodbye, Lunchables and Happy Meals. Hello, steak and lobster.
I had a vision of driving cross-country in a Winnebago and visiting every major-league baseball park in the United States. I hoped that, by that time, our kids would have graduated from college and landed amazing jobs working for Disney or Apple. We had their lives planned out. Hey, they might even support us in our early retirement. We figured, we gave them life, so the least they could do is give us the retirement we always dreamed of, right?
Sam and I had two children. Cory was born in 1919 — I mean 1991. We call him our old man because now, at twenty- seven, he drives so slowly that cement trucks race past him on the freeway. Cory was an old soul and as straight as an arrow even at seven years old. He would say whatever was on his mind, and he would say it like a crotchety old man. Once when Cory was a young boy and we were in a restaurant, someone started smoking next to us. We could see Cory was getting perturbed, and suddenly he yelled out, "Good God, is he smoking a cigarette? He's going to die!" The poor man hid his cigarette and, with his head down, slipped outside, having just been condemned to die by a seven-year-old.
Our daughter, Courtney, arrived in 1993. A born performer, she nearly came out singing "There's No Business Like Show Business" from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. We had our boy and girl, and not only did they keep us entertained, but they were the best two kids any parents could ask for. Considering how many headaches I gave my parents,
I wasn't sure they were mine. My wife assured me they were, so I nodded and went with it.
With an eleven-year-old son, a nine-year-old daughter, and our lives moving along just as we had planned, my wife and I decided, after much prayer and trepidation on my part, that I would get the outpatient surgery that guys get when they are satisfied with the number of children God has given them. For the first time in almost twelve years, we started shopping for a car that wasn't a minivan.
You might think we didn't enjoy being parents, but we loved it. We just figured that, after twenty-two years of commitment to raising our children, there must be some prize at the end of the parenting rainbow. A prize was coming all right, but not the one we expected. I had the dreaded procedure on Thursday, and on Saturday of the same week, my wife Sam walked into our bedroom with a look on her face I had only seen one other time — when our daughter was two years old and decided to draw flowers on the side of our new car with a quarter because she wanted to make a pretty picture to show Daddy when he came home. It was that anxious, how-am-I-going-to-tell-Craig-what-happened face.
I looked at her and said, "What's up?" I thought to myself, Don't tell me Courtney drew daisies on the car again. She's nine years old.
As I waited for a response, Sam's face started to twist and her eyes squinted as if she had just bitten into a giant lemon.
"I don't know how to tell you this ... but I'm pregnant," she said.
Now I was the one with the anxious look on my face. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, "How did that happen?"
"What do you mean how did it happen?" she asked. "You know how it happens."
I was so dumbfounded, I felt like I needed "the talk" my dad gave me years ago as an adolescent.
"But I just got all of that taken care of," I said. "How in the world could this have happened?"
You must understand the state of shock we were both in. Of course, my wife was the sane one at the moment. I was the one with a vision of our Winnebago dream driving off the cliff.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
By then she couldn't even speak. All she could do was nod her head as tears of disbelief rolled down her beautiful red cheeks. By then I had come to my senses and I pulled her to me and we hugged and cried — me bellowing louder than her — for the next few minutes.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"I'm not sure," she said tearfully. "Our life is about to change." Then I went into Batman mode.
"It's okay, honey. We'll figure it out."
She looked up again and said, "Are you okay?"
"I just have one question. Couldn't we have found this out three days earlier, before I went through the gauntlet?"
We started laughing. It was one of the most unexpected and one of the best moments of our lives.
When you experience a big change moment in your life, your dreams have not been lost, but a new destiny is waiting to be found. It will include priceless experiences that will profoundly shape how you view life and what you believe to be important. The ride may get bumpy. Yet, for every pothole in the road, if you will let Him, God will give you a new revelation of grace to fill it. A journey like this will not be what you expected because your life has just moved from the plans of man to the supernatural blueprint of divine providence. Of course, it's hard to tell something that huge has happened, because in the moment, you're just trying to keep your wheels on the road.
* * *
Our family was thrilled we were going to have a new addition, and we soon found out it was going to be a boy. Cory was excited that his new brother and Finding Nemo were possibly coming out on the same weekend. Courtney was mad it was going to be a boy and not a girl. She wanted someone she could dress up and have tea parties with. I assured her she could still dress up her little brother and have tea parties, to which she replied, grinning, "Yes!"
At 11:00 p.m. on July 6, 2003, Samantha informed me it was time.
"Now?" I asked.
"Yes, now get me to the hospital!"
We piled the family in the minivan in the middle of the night and sped off. My wife and kids looked stressed, so I thought I would lighten the mood by saying, "Is anyone hungry? I could go for a hamburger."
The kids started yelling, "Dad, we don't have time to eat!" For some reason, my wife wasn't laughing either.
"But I'm hungry," I responded. "Who wants a cheeseburger?"
As I started to jokingly pull into McDonald's, my wife calmly but firmly said, "Unless you want the drive-thru attendant to deliver our son, you had better get me to the place where they have doctors!"
As we drove into the hospital parking lot, I could tell she was getting close. Now I was the one getting stressed. It was after hours, and the main entrance door was locked. So we took off walking around the hospital — my wife having contractions — until we found the emergency room entrance. Sam quietly whispered in my ear, "I'll get you for this."
They rushed my wife to the delivery room as I dropped our kids off in the waiting area. My son said, "Hey, look, General Hospital is on TV."
The very next thing we heard was, "Congratulations! It's a boy!"
My wife is fast.
Connor Landon Johnson was born on July 7, 2003, at around 1:00 a.m. He weighed seven pounds, three ounces, but the weight of his life would be much greater than that.
Connor was just like most newborns. He slept a lot and then disbursed strange odors from his diaper, odors that scientists still cannot identify. He was the apple of our eye. The kids loved to hold him. We had season passes to Disneyland, so on the sixth day of his life we took him for a stroller ride through the Magic Kingdom to meet the world. It wiped the poor little guy out. So on the seventh day he rested.
When Connor turned one, we threw a big birthday party that only we would remember. Isn't it funny how a party for a one-year-old is more for the parents than for the kids? But we loved our parent party, and Connor went along with it. When he turned two, he was like any other typical kid. He would play with friends, say "I love you," give us hugs, and eat with both hands. He was the all-American boy. Then, everything changed.
At about two years old, our son was just like our other kids — playful and affectionate. He was fluent in speech, even at such a young age. He loved to talk, but most of all he loved to eat. I knew this child was mine just based on his eating skills. (I'm a foodie, and even to this day my son gets more excited about eating certain foods than any child I've ever known. When you get him something to eat that he likes, his eyes light up like a Christmas tree and a big smile appears on his face.)
Then he started having earaches, and they progressively got worse. We took him to the doctor who said he needed to have tubes put in his ears — not uncommon for young children. The surgery went as expected. Also during this time, our doctor's office wanted to make sure Connor got all his shots.
Although we knew this was a recommended procedure, we had some concerns — especially so soon after his surgery. But we figured the doctors knew best, so we got him the shots and didn't think anything else of it. In a matter of two days we began noticing little changes in Connor. Instead of talking, he started to point when he wanted something. His eye contact in the following few weeks changed dramatically. Instead of looking us in the eyes, he would turn away.
We also noticed he wanted to play by himself in a corner of the room. Before, he loved to play with others, but now he sat alone and at times stared at the wall or off into space. In the days and weeks following, his speech stopped altogether. I cannot fully articulate how shocking it was to witness this happening to our son.
Once affectionate, Connor now showed no emotion whatsoever. And his speech began to deteriorate. Laughter and "I love you" once filled the rooms of our house, but now all we heard from him was silence. What had happened to our boy? When our son changed, life got a whole lot more serious.
Questions flooded our minds. How could we help him? Everybody had an opinion on what to do, but we didn't even have an official diagnosis. Fear was calling out to us daily.
Our family had just moved to Houston, Texas, from California to join the staff at Lakewood Church with Joel and Victoria Osteen. It was an exciting time for the church. God was raising up Pastor Joel to be a key voice in reaching people all around the world. His television ministry had skyrocketed, and his message of hope was influencing people from every socioeconomic background. People who would never go to church were watching Joel, and when he gave the salvation call at the end of the program each week, thousands made decisions to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
Shortly after we joined the church's staff in 2004, Joel's first book, Your Best Life Now, was released by Time Warner, debuting toward the top of the New York Times bestseller list and quickly rising to number one. It remained on that list for more than two years and has sold more than eight million copies — extraordinary for a first-time author.
Lakewood Church was just about to move into the former Compaq Center, where the Houston Rockets won their championships. Our team was predicting that the church would grow by twenty-five thousand people when we moved into the new facility, and that's exactly what happened. It was a historic time in our lives and the church, but it was also an overwhelming time. As crowds were coming in droves to hear the message of hope, our ministry teams completely depended on God to show us what to do; we didn't have enough volunteers and staff to handle them all.
No leadership book teaches you what to do when God is doing something that has never been done. So, instead of trying to figure it out, we just asked God, "What would You do here? How would You respond here?" Every time, even at the last minute, God would come through. I have found that if you stay faithful, God will give you just what you need when you need it.
So when Connor began to change, we were facing a perfect storm: challenges in both our work life and our home life. On one hand we were trying to figure out how to respond to our son and what the problem could be. On the other hand we were in the middle of the busiest season of our church's history.
I remember coming home from work one day to see my son was crying in frustration. I looked at my wife in her exhaustion and thought, Where do we even start? There are so many challenges, but not enough answers. All that I could do at that moment was say, "Peace, peace, peace."
As I said those words, I was reminded of the story in the Bible when Jesus told His disciples, as evening came, "Let's cross to the other side of the lake."
So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, "Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?"
When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Silence! Be still!" Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:36–39)
I've found the calm does not just come before the storm; sometimes it comes after the storm. We don't let the storm speak to us; we learn to speak to the storm. The wind may blow, but it's not our Master. God is. Maybe all we can do is say, "Peace, peace, peace," or even better, "Jesus." But the minute we begin to pray together, thoughts of doubt and fear begin to turn to peace and calm. In our case, on this evening, our son even stopped crying.
We knew there were probably some rough times ahead. But God was showing us how to manage our storm until the answer came.
This was an important early lesson. We couldn't stop every problem, difficulty, or storm from happening, but, with God's help, we could speak to it, and have peace that passed understanding. We would need this in the days ahead — especially when we got Connor's diagnosis. We knew a storm was coming.
* * *
We took Connor to Texas Children's Hospital for testing. We had an idea of what was wrong, but we still needed a diagnosis.
I was driving home from work when my wife called me on the phone with the results.
"Craig," she said, "the report just came back, and they said Connor has autism, and he is on the middle of the spectrum."
A diagnosis can seem so final — especially when there is no cure. But remember this: God always has the final word. Nothing is final unless God says it is.
Excerpted from "Champion"
Copyright © 2018 Craig Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Joel Osteen xv
1 The Calm Before the Storm 1
2 Bend, but Don't Break 15
3 Do You Trust Me? 29
4 Baal-Perazim: The God of the Breakthrough 43
5 God Is Near to the Brokenhearted 57
6 Standing on the Shoulders of Giants 71
7 Live as a Healer 83
8 Victim or Victor 95
9 Out of the Drought 107
10 Not-So-Ordinary Miracles 119
11 Stop Renting, Start Owning 129
12 Creating a Grace Culture 139
13 God Is Fighting for You 153
14 Ready to Be Used 163
About the Author 183
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Have the tissue box handy when you read this book. This book will have you crying. The honesty and transparency make little Connor feel like he's your own brother. And then a miracle occurs and hope is renewed. This book will fill you with hope, and surety of your own self. I am rating this book 5 *****stars and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy Christian stories. I received a copy of this book from netgalley and Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not required to write a positive review.
I liked the book dont get me wrong but id rather them got together younger to where they could have had kids together
A sweet hea best read in order with the series.
Finally.,,., took Cooper long enough lol big dummy. Love this story, second chance at having the love and life you want and deserve This was fantastic love this series
I really like this book. It was a nice romance. A love that took over 10 years to take place. The story gave me hope.