Jason Gray performs at Central Church Wednesday evening during a stop on his Christmas Stories tour.
Jason Gray performs at Central Church Wednesday evening during a stop on his Christmas Stories tour.

December 8, 2016

When Mike and Molly Grayson’s almost-2-year-old daughter Grailey began talking, she called her parents by their first names.

“Not Molly,” they’d tell her. “Mommy.”

She learned, too well — everyone became “Mommy.”

Realizing that part of the problem was his daughter heard dozens of people calling him by his first name, Mike decided to try a new tactic to try to retrain his young child’s ears to switch his daughter’s monikers for him from Mike or Mommy to something more fitting.

But it only took a few instances of hearing his siblings call him “Daddy” to make him realize that it wasn’t going to work for him.

“So, I’m still ‘Mommy’ for now,” he told an audience that filled Central Church Wednesday evening.

Not everyone’s giving up on that plan, though. Onstage Wednesday evening, David Dunn renewed his vow to call Mike “Daddy.”

Dunn and husband-wife duo Grayson|Reed are the musicians rounding out contemporary Christian artist Jason Gray’s Christmas Stories tour. Wednesday evening, they stopped in Carroll.

The tour, which on a larger level is in part benefiting Prison Fellowship International, had a very Carroll-specific goal this week: to support the city’s Christian radio station, Real 102.1. Central Church, which hosted the concert and helped organize it along with Carroll Church of Christ, donated the profits from the concert to the radio station.

“The reason we want to support the station is because it supports what we as churches in the community, what our purpose is — to share the gospel with people,” Central’s music director Darrin Kozak said last week. “And contemporary Christian music hits people; it’s relevant to people today.”

Donations are the main thing keeping the radio station afloat, general manager Wes Treadway said previously.

“The biggest thing I want people to realize is that we’re all volunteers — we’re not making anything from the station,” he said.

“Everything goes to bills, and without those donations, we can’t stay on the air.”

And Gray, Dunn and Grayson|Reed made sure those supporting both causes got a good show Monday evening.

Gray, who has a speech handicap that causes him to stutter, embraces the idiosyncrasy and addresses it as soon as he’s onstage.

“I didn’t want you to hear me and think, ‘Oh! That boy just started speaking in tongues! This just got real,’” he joked.

Although the concert carried its serious moments, the artists allowed plenty of levity onstage throughout the evening, such as when Gray offered “white elephant” gifts to the other artists touring with them.

For the Graysons, a romantic Italian dinner for two: A can of SpaghettiOs (with meatballs — he didn’t skimp, Molly said), an Elmo juice box (he wasn’t sure about Central’s policy on wine, Gray said), cheap candles to set the scene and breath mints (“Because … romance,” Gray said).

As for Dunn, he apparently is a fan of jigsaw puzzles, so that’s what he got — but this was an “expert” version, the puzzle pieces no more than shredded paper.

“I’m really excited to see how you do with this,” Gray said.

This is the first time the four artists all have toured together, but they already make each other laugh regularly, Gray said in an interview last week. That was evident with Dunn’s misplaced salute as he left the stage at one point.

“David Dunn just patted me on the butt,” Gray said.

“I liked the attention.”

Much of the show was exuberant, with screaming-electric-guitar versions of traditional Christmas songs such as “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.”

During the show’s quieter moments, songs touched on the difficulties you can face in marriage and the loss of a beloved young niece.

And, on Gray’s part, the bulk of the tour was Christmas stories written from the perspective of the sometimes-forgotten members of the Christmas story: the innkeeper who was exhausted and just wanted a little peace and quiet, the shepherds who were so hungry they’d eat muddy bread and enjoy it and Joseph, who had to decide what to do when he believed the woman he loved had betrayed him.

“I’m the proudest of these songs of anything I’ve ever done,” Gray said last week.

Gray also took time to tell audience members about the organization the tour is promoting, Prison Fellowship International. Founded by Chuck Colson, a former aid to President Richard Nixon who became passionate about the plight of prisoners while he himself was in prison, the organization benefits children of prisoners both in the United States and internationally.

Many attendees picked up information about financially supporting children through the program, such as 11-year-old Blandine, who lives in a cement house in Rwanda, loves to sing and has a dad in prison.

Many children whose parents are in prison are poor and don’t get enough to eat or, in some cases are drawn into prostitution or drug dealing as they try to support their families and have no one to teach them differently or no other options, Gray said.

Feeling heartbroken for these “lostest of the lost” and wanting to do something for them, particularly around Christmastime, makes a difference, he added.

“That’s what God uses to heal the world,” Gray said. “He uses broken hearts. He heals us by making us healers.”