Lovington Part II
My dad was the youth minister at our church. Youth ministry was new back then and there was no training in the area yet. No books, no models of youth ministry, no Christian rock bands. My dad knew only that he had grown to hate church as a teenager and he wanted to make church more teen-friendly. He held after-church evening devotionals in which he dimmed the lights while youth group members sat in a circle on the floor of the fellowship hall and sang “Kum Bah Ya.” The church elders learned of this practice and put a stop to it, saying singing on the floor in the dark could cause something called “emotionalism,” something the Church of Christ has traditionally feared.
My dad responded by moving these devotionals away from the church building so the elders would be less likely to find out what was going on there. One night, the youth group went to a park and sat in a circle on the grass. I was a ridiculously cute 2-year-old by then, and the teen girls argued over whose lap I would sit in. Settling into the winner’s lap, with the girl’s arms protecting mine from the cool wind, I looked up into southeast New Mexico’s only natural beauty: the clear night sky. It looked as though someone had flung a diamond-studded ebony sheet high above our heads. The youth group must have worn out “Kum Bah Ya” because my dad began singing “How Great Thou Art.” The teens joined in, and when we got to the line about the rolling thunder and I still felt so safe in the girl’s arms beneath the enormous twinkling sky, I thought that if we could sing about thunder in such a beautiful setting, it may not be that scary after all.
If the night sky was Lovington’s only redeeming quality, the nearby town of Hobbs was its respite. Hobbs was the place to go if you wanted to go to McDonald’s or a doctor. I had been born in Hobbs since Lovington had no hospital. Hobbs also had a Kmart, a large car dealership and a busy business district. We drove there every week for my brother’s piano lessons. If you needed something Hobbs couldn’t offer, such as surgery or a prom dress that didn’t look like everyone else’s, you drove two-and-a-half hours to Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock was an actual city—a metropolitan oasis surrounded by dirt and cotton fields on the Llano Estacado of the Texas Panhandle. Lubbock had department stores, a giant mall and a college people had actually heard of. We made a trip to Lubbock every November, and my dad carefully corralled my brother and me while my mom made secret purchases. A month later, we opened Christmas presents that could not have come from Lovington or Hobbs. I had heard Christmas presents came from the North Pole, but I suspected mine came from Lubbock, Texas.
What I did not know then was that my parents paid for those presents with my grandparents’ money. Our church elders believed ministers should only be paid what they needed to provide for their families. Back in Beaumont, my dad’s CPA salary put my parents in a nice house, on the guest lists of charitable events and on the fringe of the town’s higher social circles. But now my grandparents paid for all the extras, such as Christmas presents, birthday presents and piano lessons. Right before I turned three, a church in Hobbs made my dad a better offer, which included a four-bedroom brick parsonage. More than the money and the house, my dad was restless. Stuck with a vocation that was not his first choice, he seemed to find some contentment in a change of scenery. We made the familiar trip to Hobbs once more, but this time in a moving truck with everything we owned. We were not finished with Lovington, however. Or perhaps it was not finished with us.