by Andy Wood on July 8, 2008

in Insight, Life Currency, Turning Points

(A Turning Point Story)

About 20 miles east of Denton, Texas a small ridge runs north and south along what people in Dallas know as Preston Road.  Visible from 10 miles away, all along the top and slope of that ridge rest the homes, churches, and schools of Prosper – a community of farmers and commuters to Dallas.  I had the first of what would be many of these picturesque views in September 1981, when I virtually limped there for a job interview.  Little did I know the significance that town would have in my life, family, and ministry to this day.  This is about the roads that led into, out of, and back into an unforgettable town nobody had ever heard of.

Four months earlier, I had loaded up all my earthly belongings in a Hertz rental truck, put my gorgeous Irish Setter puppy, Dixie, in the cab, and left Mississippi for Texas.  I was to start seminary in the fall, and thought I’d get a head start on a job and hopefully a church to serve.  I was so happy, so optimistic, I literally sang my own version of a Swaggert song:

On my way to heaven,

Stoppin’ off by Texas on the way!

I got a sales job representing the prestigious Ft. Worth Chamber of Commerce.  Rented a really nice house.  Was leaving a wonderfully successful youth ministry.  God was good!  Life surely would be good, too.

It didn’t turn out that way.  Within a week, I’d been molested by a stranger.  The job was a bust; they lied about the kind of money people made there.  Soon I was looking for an additional sales job, just to eat.  The culture was completely foreign to me, and pretty arrogant to boot.  The debts (a new phenomenon) and stress began to mount up.  And at the height of the frustration and loneliness, the only thing I knew of love at the time – my dog – dropped dead in my living room.

After a retreat to Alabama, I returned to a steady job with predictable income at a local K-Mart.  But another deal was in the works, and I left for what looked like greener pastures.  There I made a rookie mistake, and was fired.

Four jobs in three months.  I was numb.  Beyond shock, grief, or anger.  Just numb.  I went home, unable to speak.  There I knelt beside my bed to talk to God.  This is what I said:

God, you have called me to minister.  And I may starve to death, but that is what I’m gonna do.

That week I saw a handwritten note on a bulletin board at the seminary.  First Baptist Church, in Prosper, Texas, was looking for a minister of youth and music.  Where the heck was Prosper?  Didn’t know, didn’t care.  I made the call.

Kevin, the pastor, was also a seminary student.  We met on campus, and he invited me to meet the youth group and a committee.

So on that day in September, I gazed at Prosper for the first of what would be hundreds of times.  The city limit sign greeted me:  Prosper – Population 695.

We met in the little white-framed church building, and they offered me a job, making $120 a week.  I also had the option of living in the little two-bedroom house on the edge of the property.  Deal!  Kevin and I carpooled to school, and I started with a youth group of six students.  Churchwide, on a good Sunday we had a total of 65.

So many people I could tell you about.  Sweet people.  Funny people.  Small-town characters, like Irene Lambert, our pianist.  On certain songs, she’d break out into what she’d call “double time.”  And sounding something like what you hear in western saloon scenes, she’d bounce on the piano bench.  And there I’d be, trying to lead “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” without busting out laughing.

Over time, God began doing some incredible things there.  Kevin was a witnessing machine, and began leading many adults to Christ.  I started seeing growth in the youth ministry as well.  To put this into perspective, the Prosper Independent School District had 120 students from Grades 7-12.  We routinely had half that number at a Monday night Bible Study I led for them.  At its high point, one night we had 106 students.  I had the school actually calling me to coordinate their schedule around what we were doing.

The first time Robin Willis arrived in Prosper as my “guest,” somebody suggested it was time to renovate that little house.  When she became Robin Wood, half the church traveled to Brownfield for the ceremony, and the youth group was officially in the wedding.  When the twins were born, one of them was named after a girl in the youth group, in honor of her family.

As Kevin and I would sail off that ridge toward Fort Worth daily, we would see the ranches and  maize farms and talk of a day that was to come – a day when those ranches and fields would be filled with people moving north.  At the time, the hot spot was Plano.  Just south of us, a little town called Frisco had 2,190 people in it.  Surely it would just be a matter of time.

The people and ministry in Prosper were great instruments of healing for me.  They were the fruit of a vow I had made to the Lord, and He had blessed it.  But in my pain, I had made another vow to myself.  I vowed that the day I received my diploma, I would see Texas in my rear view mirror.  I kept that one, too.  With God’s patience, if not His certain blessing, we returned to Alabama.  There I learned a critical lesson:  Home is where the people you love are, and I missed these people.  Is it any wonder that, years later, when the Lord would bring me to a place of utter brokenness, my last act of surrender would be to return to this state?

Life has a way of coming full circle.  Monday Carrie and Kyle moved to Little Elm, another of those farm- and bedroom-communities just up the road from Prosper.  And for the first time in nearly 25 years, from 10 miles away, I saw that beautiful ridge again.  And I saw with my eyes what I had seen with my imagination all those years earlier.  Frisco is now the stuff of legend, with an official population of more than 92,000.  The sign at the Prosper city limit says “Population – 5230.”  But the region surrounding it is made up of thousands.  Names like Roger Staubach and Jerry Jones show up on the real estate around there. And at the other end of town they’re building a high school campus that rivals any educational construction project at any level I’ve ever seen.

Nearly all the people I knew have long since gone.  The white frame church has been leveled and the church has a nice brick facility nearby.  The little frame house is still there, however, and the town is a typical collision of old-meets-new.

No one knew who the guy tooling around town in the dirty green van was.  It didn’t matter.  I knew.  I remembered.  And with my daughter opening boxes in her new home a few miles away, for just a few minutes, with a very full heart, I enjoyed again a town that was living up to its name.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

carissa July 9, 2008 at 12:32 am

your stories are almost always my favorite posts. so vivid, and meaningful at a time in my life when there are LOTS of turning points.

Ivy July 9, 2008 at 11:01 am

We think we know so much when we’re young, don’t we Andy? Peace.

Ivys last blog post..Friday Five: Fireworks Edition

Robin Wood July 9, 2008 at 5:23 pm

As I drove into town, I too remembered our life together as our daughter and her baby move away from “our home” for the first time. We had no idea…

Life was good in that little house on the ridge, even if you could see light through the cracks in the walls. The people were dear, the church was so full of love, and we were so IN LOVE. Maybe we should go back? Or not!!!

Memories so sweet.


Terry Richardson March 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Great story about a town I am now very familiar with. The younger son and his family are part of the thousands who now call Prosper “home”. And, as you are surely aware, Prestonwood North is a thriving satellite church of the mega-church in Plano. Prosper has lots of good things going for it . . . they’re still waiting for their first major grocery store, however.

landes June 16, 2013 at 7:35 am

I enjoyed reading this blog post

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