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My name is obviously Greg Johnston, Jr. I was raised in the Canadian River valley in the Texas Panhandle in a little village called “Valle de Oro”, which is Spanish for “Valley of Gold”. While the folklore of the area maintains that there are hidden gold mines in the valley, the village is named after a small yellow flowering plant that appears in the Spring and covers the ground of the prairies.
Our house was close enough to the river that as a child I could reach it by walking for only a few minutes. Some of my earliest memories include having picnics with my grandma by the riverside. The opaque, chestnut water of the river was usually waist deep in most places. Several times a year the river would flood, resulting in depths exceeding the height of my dad and his tallest friends. If we timed it right, we could float downstream on truck inner-tubes and make it fifteen miles or so in half a day.
As I grew older, the amount of water that flowed down the sandy banks of the Canadian decreased. By the time I was a teenager, it was difficult to find waist deep water. Sure, I reached six feet in height by the time I entered the doors of Tascosa High School. That, however, was not the cause of the shrinking river–a dam was the culprit.
That same year, my grandpa died. He was like a patriarch of the Johnston family. My life changed dramatically after that event. I had already experimented with drug use and had been consuming alcohol and tobacco in various forms for years. I wanted to escape reality. I didn’t like civilization, not to mention school. I retreated to a hippyish lifestyle and got kicked out of Tascosa, home of the Rebels.
That didn’t stop me from being a rebel. I hated society. Moreover, I hated God. I didn’t admit it; I was a self-proclaimed atheist. I thought aliens were descendants of dolphins that were time traveling in flying saucers in order to manipulate our minds. I enjoyed consuming substances that altered my mind and put me in a state of false bliss. I longed to escape from reality.
One afternoon, some friends paid me a visit. Although they did so often, this incident was one that brought me in contact with a person who would bring fulfillment to my non-romantic life. Yes, they brought a girl to my house. First, my house was no place for girls. We have caught countless snakes in the house and not all of them were without noise-making devices on their tails. It was therefore a surprise that they even brought her in the first place. Second, she liked it. Not only was she beautiful, she had a natural tendency to seek adventure and to enjoy nature. I was in love.
Her name was Tinkerbell. That wasn’t her real name, of course, but I didn’t find that out until I met her mother. Tinkerbell and I became great friends rather quickly. Our personalities meshed like mashed potatoes and gravy (mine being the taters). I would visit her after work (yes, after work; I went to work just months after my departure from public education in order to support my consumption habits). We explored the various parks of Amarillo, Texas. We collected mushrooms, leaves, and butterflies. We even ate at a restaurant once. She was barefoot and I ordered a steak.
She had a wild streak wider than Palo Duro Canyon. Her untamed lust for adventure combined with struggling relations with her mother at home led her to depart from West Texas. Yes, she left a gap in my heart and a tear in my eye as she ventured through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. She was gone and I was between jobs.
Having nothing to do is no way to stay out of trouble, especially for a foolish and rebellious teenager. I soon found myself engaged in potential street brawls that were meant to settle bad drug deals. I was hanging out with some dangerous folks and could have gotten myself shot. In one incident, the guys wanted to pay a visit to another guy who was supposedly beating his girlfriend, who happened to be one of our guy’s ex-girlfriend or sister or both. We packed in to my 1989 Honda Civic with baseball bats, chains, and brass knuckles, prepared for war. Little did I know that the victim was expecting us and called the cops when we arrived. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but I did spend the night in the Randall County jail and was faced with a Class B misdemeanor on my record.
I eventually found work. At one time, men and women would walk from business to business carrying a duffel bag full of various consumer products. Apparently the company that sent those folks out needed help, and I was their man. I had long legs and was in good shape. I also had a car. My first day entailed visiting one of the various small towns in the Texas Panhandle (it might have been White Deer) and performing the duty of a duffel bag toting salesman. I made a few bucks and was excited to come to work the next day, albeit with sore legs. On the way to town for my second day of work, my Honda Civic’s timing belt broke, causing serious engine damage and leaving me without wheels (which was a requirement of the job). So ends my adventure as a duffel bag toting salesman.
Again, I was out of work. Instead of causing more trouble, I took a job at one of the most prestigious restaurants in Amarillo that specialized in roast beef sandwiches: Arby’s. I was in charge of slicing beef, slapping it on toasted buns, and wrapping it in a paper/foil wrapper in such a way that made the sandwich look bigger than it actually was. I liked the work and excelled at my job, advancing into the lower steps of the management ladder. The manager and employees liked me, and I liked them. I especially liked one of them in particular: her name was Kim. I don’t know if she really wanted to have anything to do with me, but she acted like she did. Then she told me that she didn’t have anything to do with men who didn’t go to church.
I was in the midst of a civil war. My hormones wanted me to drop everything and do whatever it took to score a date. My heart was in California or Oregon or wherever my Tinkerbell had ventured to. I hated God and didn’t want to have anything to do with church. My folks weren’t church goers and didn’t talk about God or Jesus or the Bible. My sister took me to church once when I was a kid, where I, on Christmas Day, ate a little piece of bread and drank a little cup of juice and wondered why the serving sizes were so small. My friend Tyler took me to the youth group at church a few times. We listened to loud music and flirted with the girls. I was even baptized.
Nonetheless, I went to church with Kim, not because I wanted to hear preaching or learn more about the God that I hated, mind you, but because I was interested in getting a date. I did this on a regular basis and played the part of a church goer. Apparently that wasn’t enough to satisfy Kim–she invited me to a small group discussion called Alpha. Again, prodded by my maleness, I went to the group. At this point the pastor knew me pretty well. Alpha was a gospel-centered discussion and Q&A that was designed to provide understanding to pagans and new believers. I fit into the first category and didn’t care whether I understood this “gospel” or not. This is where something happened.
To be continued…..Tune in next time to hear what happened.