Craig Johnson’s new book, “Champion,” begins with a forward from Joel Osteen. The first words read:
“All of us like certainty and the ability to predict what’s coming next. But as we frequently find out, life’s not always predictable and can oftentimes take an unexpected turn that seems less than ideal.”
If there ever was a book to bring these words to life, it is this one.
“Champion” details the power of prayer and highlights the unique, higher purpose placed on each and every one of us. Through the honest, sometimes heartbreaking, but always inspiring words of Pastor Craig Johnson, this book gently takes readers by the hand and guides them through a journey into the life of a family with a special-needs child—from the heartbreak and frustration to the joy, discovery and everyday miracles.
Pastor Craig and his wife Samantha were living a “normal” life after moving to Houston to take a position at Lakewood Church. With two kids, a great job, a beautiful home and a solid plan for the future, the Johnsons felt like they had truly achieved their dreams. After a slight detour with the unplanned arrival of their third child, Connor, life seemed to return to normal. Until one day, in 2005, they received abrupt, life-altering news: Connor was diagnosed with autism.
While the diagnosis was shocking, they had noticed changes in Connor’s behavior that had caused them concern: a once talkative little boy was now practically silent, he no longer made eye contact, would rather play independently than with others and no longer showed affection to his family.
These symptoms are, no doubt, painfully familiar for any parent who has watched their own child change before their eyes.
When the diagnosis came, it was final and absolute in its certainty. One of the most relatable and striking features of “Champion” is Pastor Craig’s utter honesty about his thoughts and emotions throughout their journey with Connor’s diagnosis. When recalling his first thoughts upon hearing that Connor had autism, he remembers experiencing what he calls, “thoughts from the Enemy”—Your child will be your lot in life. He won’t do great things like your other kids. Your child is deficient, a curse on your family. Your child has no purpose in life.
He puts up no front of immediate acceptance and optimism. Instead, he is honest about the process, beginning with the hardest part of their journey… the first steps.
Aren’t the first steps so often the hardest? But after turning to the Bible and placing their trust in the Lord, the Johnson Family knew that God had bigger plans.
“We decided early on that we were not going to let autism dictate Connor’s destiny,” writes Johnson. “Happiness is a choice. We tried every day to make that choice…No matter what you go through in life, one thing is true: no one is perfect, and everyone has failed except Jesus.”
Led by Pastor Craig, Lakewood Church started the Champions Club, the first of its kind in the world featuring state-of-the-art facilities for special-needs kids—the facility includes a physical therapy room, spiritual therapy room, sensory room and educational room. Within six months, the program had 300 new families with special-needs children. Testimonies came pouring in from families whose lives were changed by the Champions Club.
One of the most relatable and striking features of “Champion” is Pastor Craig’s utter honesty about his thoughts and emotions throughout their journey with Connor’s diagnosis.
When Connor was five years old, his unpredictable, erratic behavior took a turn for the worse. Through tears, frustration, heartbreak and confusion, Craig and Samantha remained steadfast in their belief for a miracle. Things got worse before they got better as each day brought challenges that sometimes seemed impossible to navigate. They entered, as Craig calls it, “Autism Defcon 1 mode,” but learned to find laughter when tears threatened to control their days.
And then, one day, their miracle came—Connor spoke for the first time in three years. To their shock and amazement, one night before bed he perfectly recited all 88 words of Pastor Joel Osteen’s “This is My Bible” weekly sermon-opening affirmation.
“This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what is says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess, my mind is alert, my heart is receptive and I will never be the same. I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible, ever-living seed of the Word of God. I will never be the same, never, never, never, I will never be the same, in Jesus’ name, amen!”
This miracle did not mean that Connor was “healed” or that the rest of his life would be easy. Instead, it showed that miracles do happen, there is light even in our darkest moments and that purpose is often revealed through struggle and heartache. Our darkest moments reveal the brightness of our future potential.
“Champion” teaches us that nothing in our life is a surprise to God. Our lives have been mapped out by the all-knowing, loving hand of our creator who has great plans for us. Pastor Craig details the day he felt God promise to use Connor to reach millions.
Our darkest moments reveal the brightness of our future potential.
And use him He did. Champions Club at Lakewood Church has expanded worldwide, providing a place to help develop children with special needs and set them up for success—providing hope to their families. Inspired by Connor, Craig has helped set up Champion’s Clubs around the world, extending the reach of this one-of-a-kind program that has helped so many.
“Sometimes your situation may not make sense. That situation may be a surprise to you, but God has known about it since the beginning of time…He knew it would be hard, but He knew you could depend upon Him so His glory would be revealed through your circumstances…Our job is to never quit until God reveals the miracle of His plan.”
“Champion” is not just a guide for families on a journey with autism. It’s a call and an encouragement for us to find our own greater purpose, even if it stems from tragedy or heartbreak.
So take your own perfect mess, and turn it into a beautiful life.
For more information about Champions Club and to buy your own copy of “Champion” visit www.championsclub.org.
THIS AVIATION-THEMED STUDIO HELPS KIDS WITH AUTISM BUILD CONFIDENCE TO TRAVEL
Each year the world’s largest aviation-themed studio, Air Hollywood opens to the public for a special event, Open Sky for Autism. Experts help families with children on the autism spectrum prepare for the joys (and trials) of air travel.