I guess I had always been a Christian, at least since I was three or four. There were times I wondered and thought maybe I wasn’t but it all came back to that time I had on our living room couch asking Jesus to be the Lord of my life.
As far as really living and knowing what that meant or even trying to have a close relationship with God went I guess I just didn’t and didn’t care to until a bit later on in life. I was about 15 when the hard times started coming in and I had nowhere to turn except God. He seemed like an easy way out anyway….I would get into trouble, run to God, give it all to Him, He would pull me out and I would go back to trouble again.
It seemed to stay that way until I couldn’t take stabbing Him in the back one more time and I gave up and told God that it didn’t matter what He wanted me to do I was His and I was willing to do anything to make sure I stayed where He wanted me to.
That was the day I heard about the Bible school that was going on in my home town, and it changed me forever! I found God to be more than the one I ran to in trouble and more than the one scolding me for the stupid stuff I had done. He was my best friend and the one I ran to for love when I couldn’t find it anywhere else, the one I ran to when I was in trouble because He loves me and wants the best for me and I want to please Him more than anything in the world. The one I go to for forgiveness because it doesn’t matter how bad I mess up or how bad my life may seem or how stupid I am at times or what bull-headed ignorant trash I give out He is always wanting to pour out His blessing on me and say that I am highly favored by Him! I found my best friend and I tell you what, through thick and thin, whatever may come I am His because you just can’t get anybody better!
I was raised in a Christian home and I invited Jesus to be Lord of my life at an early age. It’s been the best foundation for living life to the fullest potential of what God has purposed.
I guess I was around 17 when I had a revelation of how I could be “good” and still not know God like He wanted and provided the way for. It was a pivotal time in my life as I made a complete commitment to seek after God with all I was.
I wish I could say it was all roses after that and I never swerved from that focus. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I found out my own strength is not enough.
There were times it was easier to coast along than dig in and work at my relationship with God. But one doesn’t stay in the same place during such times; you are either moving ahead or falling back.
One of the scriptures that has always meant a lot to me is Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” I began to experience firsthand how amazing that promise is. As I delighted myself in the
Lord, I found some desires changing and others shifting focus. God has been so faithful; He has fulfilled so many of my dreams as I’ve chased after Him because He’s the one who gave them to me in the first place.
Consistently, God has pushed back the boundaries of my comfort zones in every area of life. I can accomplish so much more when His strength is working through me – and then He gets the credit!
I continue to learn how much God wants relationship with me and the amazing things He can do through me when I let Him. He continues to pour out more blessing than there is room to receive.
My testimony isn’t one of radical conversion and transformation as far as I was never addicted to drugs or alcohol, was never a fugitive or felon, wasn’t a brawler or bully and I didn’t have a “come to Jesus moment” on the jailhouse floor or drawing my last ragged breaths on a deserted back road. I did, however, have to make some pretty radical changes within myself to truly accept Christ and let Him work in my life as He wants to.
As a child, I grew up in the Mormon Church and after my parents split when I was 5 years old, I continued to attend the same with my dad on the weeks he had me. He wanted to me to get baptized when I turned 8 as most Mormons believe, but my mom was adamantly against it. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want me baptized into a church or even the Mormon church, she just wanted to me to be older to have a better understanding and to be able to see things a little better. Being eight and looking up at my dad the way most little boys do, I didn’t see things that way and that became probably the first in a large pile of stuff that stacked up between my mom and me.
Over the next few years into high school, my mom and I grew farther and farther apart until I fairly openly admitted to most anyone that I hated her. Somewhere in that time I had started letting my mouth run off and was cussing left and right. I had no regard for anything she said or tried to tell me. Almost daily was a knock down drag out cussing match between us and with each passing day it was getting worse. At one point she tried corporal punishment and slapped me in the face and without a care I returned with a hard, closed fist. Until now, only a couple people within our family knew of that incident, and of course the officers that took me in to juvy that night. I had no remorse, I didn’t care and in fact, I almost let loose again after she woke up and started yelling again. I always had an uncommon amount of self-restraint, though, and instead turned my back and walked away.
Now if I was at anyone else’s home, I was very polite, never had a cross word come out of my mouth and was the model of what parents would like their teenagers to be. Most of my girlfriends’ parents thought so much of me, that even if their daughter was grounded for something, they would still let her go out with me as long as I was the one who asked. Many of my other friends’ parents would ask their own children why they weren’t acting more like me or would tell my mom what a wonderful kid I was if they bumped into each other in town. It wasn’t that I was that cold to everyone or all the time, it was only my mom. Counseling was tried a couple times to no avail. It just made me resent her more for making me go.
Things didn’t start to turn around until the summer after my junior year of high school. I was 16 years old and had a summer job commercial fishing on a small boat in Halibut Cove, Alaska, several hours south of my hometown of Palmer. We were back at the house most every night and towards the end of that summer, the skipper’s wife hosted a book club meeting. In attendance were a couple teenaged girls who had come down with their parents to go sightseeing and both of them were on fire for God. It was toward the end of fishing season and I stayed in touch with one of them until I got back home and Andrea and I started dating. Every free minute I had I spent with her, including church. I would drive the hour from my house to hers every Sunday, Wednesday and any other time I could slip away.
The very first week I went, Pastor Jerry Prevo had a guest speaker named Freddy Gage in town. Andrea had been working on me from the minute we met to get saved, but I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. Freddy laid it all out for me. I realized that I had known about God for most of my life, but I had never actually known him. It’s like the difference between being able to spout off every fact and stat on your favorite pro athlete, and being able to call him up and go out for a burger. My soul lit up on fire and I started walking the walk and talking the talk, but I still had that stronghold at home to break.
I was already going to church all the time, but I was still a baby Christian. Andrea and I split up but remained friends. After I graduated in 2001, I worked that summer in Halibut Cove again, and also in the small town of Ninilchik doing odd jobs from cannery work to pouring concrete. Skipper’s wife even mentioned while I was fishing that she had noticed a remarkable change in me. I still wasn’t cussing, I was trying to walk the straight and narrow, but I hadn’t fed myself spiritual food to mature from a baby Christian. I still had that stronghold at home.
After that summer I went to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, California. After basic and combat training, I was off to North Carolina for the rest of my time in the Marine Corps. I learned my trade, I started riding bulls, I deployed to Iraq, I made new friends and I still didn’t try to continue growing past spiritual infancy. I knew God and I knew that accepting Christ meant that I was saved and I was going to heaven, but that was about it. Sure, I was in and out of church for a while, but it was more an act of going through the motions than really seeking who and what I should have been.
Eventually, my lack of zeal and the existence of that stronghold began to open up huge hanger doors for the devil to let himself back in. I won’t say I was ever backslidden, because I believe that once you are saved, you are God’s and that’s it. I pretty well stopped for a while, though. I didn’t stop believing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some doubts. I stopped doing what I knew I was supposed to. I stopped trying to seek Him anywhere. Heck, I even stopped going through the motions for the most part. I started cussing again. I got married and part way through my second deployment, I got divorced. We both believed in God, but we had never put Him at the center of our marriage.
When I came back from deployment, it was even worse. I sought to satisfy the pleasures of the flesh as much as I could. I lusted after women. I became addicted to pornography. I justified it with the world’s thought of “she hurt me and I don’t care anymore.” Even through all of that, I could still hear the Holy Spirit telling me what to do from time to time. He never left me. His voice was incredibly faint and I usually ignored it, but it was ALWAYS there.
Through this time I had been trying to take my bull riding to higher level while I was still on active duty. I began riding in SEBRA (Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association) shows and getting on the best bulls I could find and reasonably get to. It was through bull riding that I met a few men that I always admired and looked up to. Men like Travis Finley and Devon Long. Men that you probably haven’t heard of, but were excellent examples of men living for Christ. Deep down, there had always been something in me that was pushing me to be more like them.
Finally about a year after that, into 2006 now, I met a woman who was the first to challenge me. She laid it flat out for me and told me I wasn’t “getting in her pants” unless there was a ring on the ring finger of her left hand. The first time we talked on the phone she asked me if I was a Christian. Even since I was saved, through everything I had done, I always professed to be a Christian and that was as far as it ever went. Except that time. She asked me who Christ was to me. Well that caught me off guard because I was expecting the conversation to go somewhere else. I’d never talked to anyone so blunt. I kind of stammered out that He was my personal Lord and savior. Well, it was the right answer and we dated a few months, got engaged, dated a few more months and got married in the summer of 2007. My wife’s zeal for God was similar to that of Andrea, my high school girlfriend who led me to Christ in the first place. She was the kick in the seat that started leading me back towards what being a Christian really meant.
With Mary Ruth’s encouragement we started doing Bible studies and praying together daily. We always kept God at the very center of not only our marriage, but everything and anything we did. We found a church that taught all of the Bible and not just parts of it. Slowly, strongholds in my life started being broken down. Not all of them were easy and some took considerable time for my flesh man to let go of, but praise God that His grace was so much more than enough for any and all of it. I learned the importance of renewing your mind DAILY, not just once in a while. I learned that God didn’t want groveling servants, he wants loving children who just want to enjoy His presence and provision. I learned that being a Christian wasn’t going to church and reading the Bible; it is truly a complete life changing experience that encompasses all aspects on every day. I also learned the very real power of the words I had used in the past and the different ones I had stated using. Mary Ruth was always careful to encourage me to fill the man’s role as the head of a household, once again challenging me. I finally knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t ignore it. I had a presence in my life that had changed so much in such a short time.
Since then, our marriage has had interstate smooth spots and mountain road rough spots, but with God always guiding and at the center we have come through 100% unscathed every time. Every single stronghold that was in existence in my life has been completely decimated. That one from way back when that kept popping up? Gone. My mom and I have a totally changed relationship. Now, some might say that anyone can do that and it doesn’t take Christ, but I’m here to tell you that while there are plenty of marriages that seem to succeed without God in them, none are as fulfilling as that the ones that do. And while there may be plenty of people who have made life changes and seem to be better people and have broken addictions, the ones who accept Christ are the only ones who are completely restored and whole from the inside out. You’ll hear addicts say that they’ll struggle every day for the rest of their lives with their addictions. God takes all of that away so you don’t have to struggle. Kind of like handing off a baton, you give it to Him and it’s gone. You don’t have any possession of it anymore and there’s just plain no contact.
Knowing and loving God has completely removed any fear and doubt I have had in my life. I can honestly say I am completely fearless in absolutely any situation I’m confronted with. That’s not to say I’m reckless, I just know that I’ve got someone so much bigger than any problem this world can possibly throw at me, and He’s in my corner and everything in this universe that is not from Him cowers and runs away as fast as it can. World gives me problem, I give God problem, problem disappears.
My faith isn’t where it would be if I had been doing what I was supposed to all along, but even still it is growing in very mighty way. I love waking up each day and looking forward to finding the ways my God has blessed me. Now, lastly, you know that really happy feeling that starts from the inside and comes all the way out and just fills your whole body and you say “there’s nothing that can ruin my day”? And then those days where it seems like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and nothing goes right and you’re just having a bad day? Do you have any idea what it’s like to have literally every single day for years be the really happy kind without a single bad day anywhere in the mix? Praise God, I do!
My name is Craig Johnson. I was born and raised in Gray, TN and like many others, I was raised in a Christian home. My mother seen that we went to church on a regular basis but as I got older, I was finding myself just going every now and then.
When I was around 15, I smoked pot for the first time. Everybody has always heard that smoking pot leads to other things. I said, “Naw, I’m not gonna let that happen.” Well guess what. I did!! I let it happen to me.
Here I am 15, drinking and smoking pot, going to school and parties. So I found myself selling to support my habit. Doing this means I was having to hide it from my parents, I thought.
Then I started doing cocaine so I got me a job to help support my habit but the money from my job was allowing me to buy more so I was selling it now; friends coming over to my house that would cause my parents to ask questions. Still I’d just blow it off.
So I got married thinking it would be easier. Guess what. It didn’t. I got a divorce. But that didn’t stop me. I just kept doing what I was doing.
Then I started using meth, staying up for days at a time.
In 1996, I lost my dad but the loss didn’t stop me. I kept using.
I can remember going down a four-lane highway. I had been up for about five days. It was 6a.m. and I fell asleep, left the road and crossed the median before my eyes popped open. I was on the yellow line. I jerked the wheel, went back across the median fell right back in the traffic. The very next sign read, “Rest Area Ahead.” I pulled in and slept there, knowing now that God was trying to tell me something.
But I just kept doing the drugs and things were getting worse. But in my eyes, things were great.
I was using meth and all the other drugs too but never thought about anyone knowing what I was doing. There would be people at my house all hours of the night and day still not thinking anything about what people thought, like when I mowed the yard at 2a.m. with a push mower and a flash light.
I started a bad thing as if all the others weren’t bad enough: cooking meth. It was another part of my life I regret for not just putting my life and my family’s life on the line but I was putting others’ lives at risk also. I seen this drug ruin some really good people, people that you wouldn’t think about ever doing this and their families, including my own.
A marriage will not work if there’s drugs involved, especially when the drugs are put before the husband, wife and especially the kids. I got so bad on meth I wanted to stay away from everybody. Well, it got to where I didn’t want to be around nobody, not even my family. So many times my mother, a great Christian woman, would tell me, “Craig, you need to leave them people alone.” And my response to her was, “Mother, leave me alone and stay out of my business. I know what I’m doing!”
I don’t think I knew what I was doing because I got a divorce and lost everything I owned. And when I say everything, I mean everything: my wife and most of all the house that my mamma and daddy raised me in. I had three or four vehicles, motorcycles, you name it, I probably had it. Well after, after I lost my house I rented a couple places but they never worked out cause I was still using meth and just didn’t care.
I had moved in with a friend of mine still using meth and cooking it on a daily basis. This was the only way I knew I could get by was to sell Meth.
Sept.4, 2007, I was there at the trailer alone. I had just walked to his mail box and came back inside and got my pipe out of my little back pack. I hadn’t been back inside for two minutes when I hear a knock at the door; an unusual knock, so I tiptoe to the window, look down the blinds and see two sets of combat boots. It was the cops; two on the porch and two in the yard. I just eased back to the couch and thought what am I gonna do ’cause we had just cooked some meth the night before and had a working moonshine still in the shed. So I waited to see what they were gonna do. They all got back into the SUV, pulled to the end of the driveway and sat there, me thinking, “Is there anymore out there still? I’m going out the back when they leave.”
They pulled out so I took off out the back door, through the woods, carrying my stuff. I hid it all and went back to the trailer where I left on a bicycle with nothing else, through the woods. I was thinking, “Alright God, you get me outta this and I will not be back. I had made it about five miles through the woods to some friends of mine that I grew up with. I stayed there one night and called a friend of mine to come get me. I didn’t know where I was going or where I was gonna stay. All I had was a tent my friend gave me.
So I had them to carry me to a watermelon patch where I got 10 watermelons and then to some campsites under a dam. They told me they couldn’t come back for a couple of days so I stayed there for three days. All I had to eat was 10 watermelons ’cause I had no money, no phone, no clothes, nothing. I was at the bottom.
They came back on a Wednesday and asked me to go back to Walnut, MS with them and that their mama and daddy said I could stay with them for a while. I said there wasn’t nothing in Walnut for me but guess what. That’s where I found God.
When we got there, they fed me. Later, I asked what time their church started and said wanted to go. I got baptized and am still in church today, living for God and wouldn’t have it any other way.
After about three months, I met a guy at church that rode bulls. I told him I wanted to try. Me and about 20 people from church went to the rodeo to see me do this and I loved it.
So here I was, been drug free and given my life to God. I was able to get a job and a place to live and going to church and putting God first was what I had to do. My brother told me I went to church more than they had pews but you know what? I needed it.
The people I hung around with was great Christian people. No more running around with the wrong crowd. I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend because I needed to get myself in order before I brought someone else into my life. I knew that GOD would provide when He seen I was ready.
Going to the rodeos and working around the younger guys, I was able to talk to them and let them know the only way to make it in life was with God. It wasn’t with no bottle or drug.
Late in 2008, I was hit in the face, broke my nose, bones around my eye and lost sight out of my right eye. I was off work for about two months or more. But with this happening, it didn’t stop me from serving the lord. I looked at it like the devil was trying to get me down because he will do that; it’s his job. But never was I gonna let that happen.
Still doing Christian rodeos, I was helping people and praying, “God, whatever your plans are, I’m prepared to receive whatever it is.”
Later, we were having a rodeo in Savannah, TN on Labor Day. I had put on Facebook that we were in savannah doing a rodeo and a woman named Polly had ask where and what time. I’ve known of her from when I lived in tennessee but never talked to her. So it was gettin’ close to the rodeo time and I seen her and went over and talk to her. There she was at a rodeo in her flip flops.
I got her number and later on my way home from the rodeo, I thought, “I’m gonna ask her to go to a movie.” But I got rejected. A few days later, I ask her to go to with me to a bull ride. She didn’t go with me. She drove herself there. Then I thought, “She has really gotta like me to drive that far. Ain’t God good!”
Now, we been married three years and have an amazing family with her.
I can stand here and tell so many ways GOD has blessed me with since I gave my life to Him and so many prayers that I seen answered.
Guys: What makes me feel good about my life is the impact on my kids. Just seeing my girls listening to K-Love (a Christian radio station), I look over at both of them and they’re singing with both hands raised and their eyes closed. You talking about daddy crying, chill bumps all over me. Hearing Sarah quote scriptures from the Bible makes me love God and do more for Him because they are watching me and mama. And mamas and daddies? Yours are watching you. Teenagers, listen to your parents. It may not be what you wanna hear. Respect ’em, tell ’em you ’em. Do Godly things because one day, they will not be here.
God will also test you too. In August, 2011 Polly and I decided for me to start a new job. I quit my job and started a new one. It was great. I did real good with this job. By that December. I had to quite because my temporary license had ran out. I couldn’t pass the test to keep working and it cost $100 ever time to take this test. Well, I took it 13 times and still failed it! The time I was not working we lived on faith and believing God would pull us through. We look at it like God has a reason for me not passing this test. He knows that the job wasn’t for me and He was maybe trying both of us to see if we are gonna curse Him and go back to the way we were and forget Him. But God, we are with You no matter what happens to us, good or bad. We’re gonna stand and give You all the praise and glory because You took our lives and turned it around when we were at rock bottom. We owe our life to God because if it wasn’t for Him we wouldn’t be here today.
About a month went by. I got a job at Caterpillar and am still there today. God had a better plan for us. We just had to believe and trust him.
When we got married, I told Polly not to ever ask me to sell my horses cause that was not gonna happen. We decided to start looking for a house in Corinth so we could be closer to church, Living Free Ministries and work. We looked and looked but we was unable to find anything to where we could have our animals (one goat, one mini-donkey, one mini-horse, five horses, five chickens and a dog) so we stopped looking and decided we were going about it wrong. We needed to pray about it so we did. Then, one Sunday at church, pastor preached about selling your belongings and doing work for God. When got back in the car after church, I told Polly it was time; I was ready to sell all the animals so we could move to Corinth. So we did and God had a house ready for us. We now live in Corinth, MS and get this, it takes us two minutes to get to church, 34 seconds to get to Living Free , four minutes for my wife and six minutes for me to get to work and my lil’ girl is four minutes from school. You tell me God ain’t good. We are able to do more for the church and Living Free and help more in the community. We are part of an awesome Sunday school class. My wife teaches a women’s class on Monday nights at Living Free. I am truly blessed to be where I am today and to have an amazing Christian wife and two wonderful lil’ girls in this great walk with Jesus because without him, no telling where I’d be.
My life began on June 4, 1949. I was born in Enterprise, Alabama. My mother, Grace Wilkins, was a God-fearing woman. She always told us to listen to that small voice inside of us and it would tell us right from wrong. That voice was Jesus Christ!
Well, every time I was going to do something wrong, I heard that voice saying, “Don’t do that!”
Mom used to get us dressed and take us to church every Sunday. Even if she didn’t have a clean dress to wear, she would take us and come pick us up. My dad had a bad habit of drinking alcohol and he would not go to church but he never stopped us from going. When I was 15 years old, my dad got sick. Me and my brother Glen helped daddy cut firewood and sell it to pay bills until he just couldn’t work anymore. He had drank so much his kidneys and liver were shutting down.
He died that year and he was only 37 years old.
On his death bed, a pastor friend of his lead him to the Lord and he got saved! After dad died, we went to live with my mom’s mother and father. They lived in New Brockton, Alabama. So me and my three brothers and my sister went to school there. I got saved that year. I knew I wanted to see my dad again in Heaven.
Well, mom had never worked and she tried to find a job but it was hard. Me and my older brother worked and went to school. I had jobs like picking cotton, stacking peanuts, loading fertilizer our of a box car at the old depot in town, washing oysters at the oyster bar and delivering papers; anything we could do to make a dime. But during that time, I learned to buy and sell things like horses, saddles and tack.
I looked at the successful people and I looked to the poor people. I noticed the people that were living for the Lord were blessed more that the people living for the devil. The people living for the devil were getting sick, paying fines and getting locked up, wrecking their cars and dieing young. I also noticed the boys that were disobeying their parents were always getting in trouble. The people that lived a God-fearing life were being blessed with health and riches, so I never drank alcohol, I never smoked cigarettes, never did drugs and always listened to my mom. I didn’t want to let her down.
I am now 66 years old and I am in great health. God has blessed me with a great son and daughter and four grandchildren. I used to eat lunch on 20 cents a day when I was 15 and barely got by. Now I have six million dollars of property with houses and land in 12 states.
But the most important thing I have is salvation in my Lord, Jesus Christ. For you see, we are only passing through this world, going home to be with our Savior, Jesus. I wish every young person would listen to that small voice inside them to do that which is right. For we are all on trial every day on this Earth to decide where we will spend eternity: Heaven or Hell. I pray that everyone will choose Heaven. For God gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins so all could have eternal life.
Love Gary Wilkins
Gary has owned Horse World Saddles and Tack since 1979 and currently lives in Boyd, Texas.
Written, summer, 2017