This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.
In comparison to the summer of ’09, the summer of 2010 was relatively quiet. We started the summer off by taking two groups to Camp Powers in the Piney Woods of East Texas. I took the teens for the first week, and Christy took the older elementary aged kids the second. Camp Powers was become a special place for our family and for the emerging GPers. For many, it served as a place to hear from and think about God more clearly. Camp Powers was also just a great place for desert dwellers because it is encircled by trees! Trees are a rarity in Odessa and they helped make the nine hour drive across the state worth it.
During the summer of 2010 I began working part time for the local newspaper. The job wasn’t anything glamorous, it was just helping us make the ends meet. This was necessary because after reviewing the finances of Grace Point, the leadership team and I were uncomfortable seeing more than 60% of our income being used to cover rent and staffing. We chose this as a temporary fix. As a family, Christy now became the principal income as I took a 75% reduction in pay. The cut seems dramatic, and it was, but it was necessary if Grace Point was going to continue. Though we had been able to attract people to our Easter gathering earlier that spring, we had not been able to capture their attention to return. Income was down and attendance was too. We had lost about 25% of our attendees in the move from Blanton Elementary, in a central area of town to Jordan Elementary, on the far north edge of town.
In July, we took a trip north. We drove through the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma to see our friends, the Littichs, who had moved to central Kansas. It had been a year since they had left and we missed them. From their house, we pushed on further to Ottumwa, Iowa. Christy’s parents had met and married in Ottumwa. Cheryl’s family still lives there today. It was fun to connect with Christy’s family. On the way home, we picked up a stowaway. Zachary, Christy’s nephew came back with us to spend a few weeks in Odessa.
As the new school year approached, Grace Point had saved enough money to purchase 400 backpacks for the community. Additionally, we choose to pre-fill the packs with basic school supplies to cut down on the chaos we had experienced the year before. We worked as a team for about three weeks preparing for the big day of the give away.
Unlike the year before, the economy was headed in a positive direction and the need was not nearly as great. We had just over 200 people show up to receive a backpack. We took the remaining packs to the local park near the Boys and Girls Club and gave them away at the end of their day camp.
As school started, things were changing for our family. Christy had moved from teaching 6th grade to now teaching 3rd. She was excited about the change as the pre-pubescent hormones of 6th grade had begun to wear on her. Andrew was entering Kindergarten and Caitlyn was entering 2nd. The biggest change in this was that Caitlyn would now be attending school at Jordan Elementary, our neighborhood school, and Andrew would be attending Dowling Elementary, where Christy was teaching. This was a big change. No longer would the girls be headed out in the morning with the boys to figure the day out. We were now divided oldest and youngest. Christy and Andrew, both youngest, would head to Dowling around 7am, and Caitlyn and I, the oldest, would walk to Jordan around 7:25am. We were fortunate enough to have Caitlyn’s Kindergarten teacher, teach Andrew too. Mrs. Evans holds a special place in our family. After all, she’s the one who taught the kids to do The Friday Dance.
With time on my hands, I began to volunteer at Jordan Elementary, hosting the monthly Super Student Lunches. This was a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of students at Jordan as well as to begin to serve the community where we were know hosting our worship gatherings.
In September, my dad and brother came out for a visit. It was the first time they had been out in sometime. With the new house, there was plenty of room to play and they took full advantage of the space. My brother, Grady, introduced the kids to Nerf War in the house!
On 10-10-10, we celebrated Grace Point’s 4th Anniversary. For our official celebration we took a group picture. It is one of my favorite moments of GP. Some of the faces were first time guests, but everyone jumped in for a great big smile.
As Halloween approached, I wanted to try something different than the usual trick or treat experience. Many had suggested the Grace Point host a Halloween Night Event. This was very common throughout Odessa. Most churches host some sort of fair or trunk-n-treats type event. I wanted to see if we could use the night to get to know our neighbors a bit better.
Partly inspired by Randy Frazzee telling a story of sitting on his door step with a pot of chili, I grabbed one of the video projectors from the church and set up a movie on the garage door. I thought the Veggie Tales episode, Where is God When I am Scarred was a perfect story for Halloween. This was also the first year for Halloween in the our new subdivision. Wow! The streets flooded with Trick or Treaters. It looked like a scene from Norman Rockwall’s American images. In our previous eight years, we might have seen a dozen kids on Halloween, combined. This was different. We ran out of candy had saw over 100 kids. Our neighbors across the street ran out of candy, but they loved watching the kids come up and stair at the giant singing vegetables.
Near the end of the trick or treating time, a pick up truck pulled up in front of my house and the driver just sat in his cab. I was busy talking with some guests and entertaining friends, but I noticed the driver was really slow to get out of his truck. I gently stepped to get a better view of the driver because by this point he was beginning to wig me out. As he got out of his truck, he approached me very directly. I intentionally stepped back, away from the party on my drive way to engage with this man.
He quickly said, “I know this is going to sound weird but I need to talk with you. I saw you earlier tonight with your kids going house to house and I knew I needed to come find you. So when I was coming down your street with my kids, I knew where I could find you. I know this sounds weird, but you have something I need! Here are the names of my family.”
He handed me a notebook with his name, along with a woman’s and three children names and contact information. As you can imagine, I am a bit skeptical and partly freaked out by the guy.
I replied, “Well, you should know I am a pastor.”
“That’s it!” he quickly responded. “I’m the black sheep of my family and I need your light.”
We talked for a bit more and I agreed to meet with him at a later date to talk about his situation.
As he left, I remembered meeting him earlier that night, one street over while taking Caitlyn and Andrew trick or treating. I had commented to the oldest of the kids how I liked his costume’s hat. It was a stove top style hat and the boy was dressed as Dracula. Beyond that, I don’t recall saying anything else to the group.
When we did meet, about a month later, I found out the names he had given me where of his common-law wife, her two oldest children, and their shared child. They had been through a major family crisis over the past year and were needing some guidance and help. Eventually, the mother and kids began attending Grace Point. He would pop in every now and then. I was honored when they asked me to officiate their wedding some two years later.
That story is still one I marvel at.
In November, Christy’s paternal grandmother, Teena, came to live in Odessa with Terry and Cheryl.
We had settled into a good rhythm as a family and a church. Attendance was stabilized and many of the folks attending seemed to know each other before showing up for the first time. This was a stark contrast to years before as most of our attendees had never met one another until they came to GP.
It was around this time that I began to look for further opportunities to supplement my still reduced income. I was introduced to two groups in 2009 that paved a way for two conversations in mid-December that would prove to be blessings to my family’s financial situation as well as my development as a public speaker.
The first conversation was with a local business owner who I had met at a Men’s Retreat in 2009. Collin Sewell was working hard to lead his companies in a Christ-honoring fashion and so I offered to help in any way he saw fit. After a few conversations we identified a need among his team for areas of enrichment and development in personal lives, so I began working for Sewell. At first I lead a financial management course and then later I served as the lead trainer for new hire orientations.
The second conversation was in Chicago with a team that trains public speakers. EDC Inc, challenged me as a public speaker in ways I never could have imagined. I had always been comfortable speaking in front of groups, but I did it by intuition. EDC helped break down the mechanics of the best communicators into a reproducible skill set. After the Chicago conversation, I worked with them for nearly 18 months to become one of their trainers.
As 2011 kicked off, Grace Point was coming along and the winter and spring months proved to be pretty stable and quiet. Since that’s not my personality, things needed to change! Easter was coming and we needed to remind the neighborhood that we were here and that Jesus mattered!
So for Easter we hosted a huge Spring Fest in the park on Saturday. We had 5,000 eggs, kites, face painting, feed the elephant, and more crazy festival type events. The turn out was great. Some joined us for Sunday’s worship gathering.
2011 turned into a big year for Grace Point to serve others. More on how we served others in the next post.