Matt and Kim (3)It’s hard to believe that Kim and I will celebrate 20 years of marriage on May 10th of this year (2017). In some ways, it seems like our wedding day was a very, very long time ago. Yet, in other ways, it seems like only yesterday.

To say that our life has been a roller coaster – a series of incredible highs and devastating lows – would not be an exaggeration. But, that is the sort of story that we love to read and watch. We love stories that take us for a ride – that leave us smiling at times and weeping at others.

(I would encourage YOU to journal so that you can look back over the story of your life. Doing so often helps us to see a little more clearly what God is doing and helps us to make sense of the individual events that, in the moment, we questioned.)

So, on the occasion of our upcoming anniversary, I want to document some of the highlights of our married life. In this first post, I will begin on the occasion when I first saw Kim until, 5 years after our wedding, I moved my family to Princeton, Kentucky where I took my first pastorate.

Finally, I will share brief things about each family member but will focus my spotlight primarily on Kim. It is through her that I have learned much more about my wonderful God. She has experienced a multitude of tragedies. While they have taken their toll, her relationship with her Lord has grown much deeper through them. I am a much better man for having a front row seat to the life of such a child of God!

1993

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Kim and her two younger brothers (circa 1993).

This is the first year that I noticed Kim. I vividly remember when she walked into a Sunday School gathering with a red dress on. I was captivated! (She was a member at the church I had joined in 1989.) But, I distinctly remember thinking that my chances of ever going on a date with her were slim to none. (Besides, she was a couple of years older than me.) So, I graduated from college in Lexington (May 1994) and moved to Memphis to work on my Master’s degree.

1996

My sister’s wedding was quickly approaching when she told me that she wanted me to meet her soon to be sister-in-law. It was Kim! Our first date was in April 1996 and we immediately fell in love. Honestly, if we had married a couple of weeks after we met, I think that would have been perfectly fine with both of us.

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At Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Kentucky

We dated long-distance for the entirety of our one year dating relationship. She lived and worked in Lexington, Kentucky while I lived, worked, and went to seminary in Memphis, Tennessee. We spent a LOT of time talking on the phone. But, quite often, I’d travel to Lexington and stay with my brother or she’d travel to Memphis and stay with the fiance of one of my friends. Anything would serve as an excuse so that we could spend more time together.

On December 14, 1996, Kim came to Memphis with a group of other singles to watch Bellevue Baptist Church’s Singing Christmas Tree. I was on staff at Bellevue at the time and had grown to develop a huge respect for Dr. Adrian Rogers. So, I thought that attending the Christmas program on the night I asked her to marry me would be very appropriate. I had an idea of where and how I would ask her to marry me after the program ended … but I got cold feet. So, we went to drive through a park that had a paid entry to view the spectacular Christmas light show. When that ended, I was getting panicky. I was absolutely going to ask Kim to marry me – but WHERE? Then, it hit me. With my love and respect for Pastor Rogers and his ministry, I took Kim back to Bellevue. The front lawn was beautifully lit for the occasion. We stepped out into the extremely cold air and I dropped to one knee and asked my Sweetheart to marry me. She began to shed tears and so I asked her again. I could have jumped over the moon when she said, “Yes.”

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A friend surprised me with Dr. Rogers’ new book and a personal note inside of it. Kim and I loved the ministry of Dr. Rogers and were so glad that our engagement took place under its shadow. (The book title is so appropriate! I still can’t believe God worked a miracle and gave Kim to me!)

1997

I have to admit that I thought it was a really silly idea to get “engagement pictures” taken. But, I’m so glad that Kim insisted. Here’s one of our “engagement pictures” taken in January(?) 1997.

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It’s obvious to see who got the better end of the deal.

In April, Kim came back to Memphis. She had an incredible job in Lexington but was anticipating our marriage and wanted to get a job in Memphis so I could finish my Master’s Degree at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. She had some great interviews and one company flew her to their corporation … but nothing panned out. Then, I called my former boss in Lexington and he rehired me. So, the plans were set to move back to Lexington.

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Standing on the spot where I proposed to Kim. We will be married in less than a month!

When we considered the events of the first two years of our marriage, it became obvious why God graciously kept Kim from getting a job in Memphis.

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I LOVE this picture! Kim and her Mom are enjoying a laugh at a wedding shower. Unfortunately, neither of them knew that in exactly one year, Jo Ann would be diagnosed with cancer that would take her life 9 months later.

May 10 approached! It was our wedding day! Except for my lapse of memory that required that I race back to my place to get Kim’s wedding ring, everything went off without a hitch. Kim and I stood at the front of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Hershael York presided over the ceremony. (We were the last wedding he performed at AABC. He soon resigned as pastor and started his teaching career at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.) I’m being completely honest when I say that I still can’t believe that she said, “I do.”

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Kim was teaching a 3rd grade girls Sunday School class at the time so she asked each of their parents if they could be her flower girls.
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She’s MINE!!!

We honeymooned in Gatlinburg for a week and loved every minute of it! But – and I don’t know if other married couples experience this – it felt a little weird at times. We had dated long-distance for a year but realized that we still didn’t know each other as well as we thought. We also asked each other more than once on our honeymoon, “Are we really married? Did that really happen?”

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Enjoying the view inside and outside of the cable car in Gatlinburg.

We used the summer to settle into marriage and get into the mindset of handling a schedule that included two people, not simply one. To say that marriage takes adjustments is an understatement. But, if you truly love someone and are committed to loving them in the good times AND in the bad, you’ve got a great story ahead of you! One of the fun things we did together that summer was lead a Backyard Bible Study in north Lexington. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time!

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Had fun at Bluegrass Aspendale Housing Projects!
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How in the world did I get that beautiful woman!? There has GOT to be a God in Heaven!

Our first significant valley came four months after our marriage. Kim’s grandmother, who Kim called her “rock,” passed away on September 12. Kim’s home life had been tough. With a very abusive father and all of the complications that came from it, Kim would often retreat to Campton, Kentucky to visit with Grandma Little. And now she was gone.

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Kim, her Mom, and Grandma “Nannie” Little. This picture was taken around 1996.

In October, I went to the “Standing in the Gap” Promise Keepers Rally in Washington, D.C. Since 1995, when I saw God move powerfully in revival (read about it here), I have craved to see Him do it again. While “revival” didn’t happen at the rally, it was so encouraging to see hundreds of thousands of men praying, listening to God’s Word and committing to live according to it.

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Promise Keeper’s, Standing in the Gap (Washington, D.C., 1997)

1998

Seven months after her grandma passed away, and less than a year after our wedding, I sat with Kim and her mom in a room in Lexington Clinic. Her mom had been having some painful symptoms and tests had been run. On this day, with test results in hand, the doctor stepped into the room, looked Jo Ann in the eyes and said that it looked as if she had Multiple Myeloma. (In simplistic terms, cells in the bone marrow become acidic and eat away at the bone. It is a horribly painful way to die.) Kim, being a fighter, insisted that we were going to beat this.

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This picture was taken a year earlier at our wedding rehearsal dinner.

Her mom came to live with us but, within a few days, sustained a broken shoulder and hip after a fall. The cancer had already done much damage in dissolving her bones. My heart broke as I watched Kim work a full-time job and then spend hours taking care of her mom each evening for the next nine months. She grew exhausted … and scared.

When it became obvious that her mom was probably not going to beat this battle with cancer, Kim wanted to get pregnant so that her mom could hold our child in her arms before she passed. Kim was soon carrying Zach in her womb.

One of the joys that Kim and I had during this time was a College and Career Sunday School class that I taught at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church. I loved teaching but we also took trips together … Kim has always loved to travel and explore. (College and Career classes are sometimes filled with people who are lonely. They are single [maybe dating] and typically crave relationships. We wanted to provide that for them. They don’t realize how much they blessed us during that time!)

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Kim and a group from our College and Career Class. (October 1998)

1999

On January 11, Jo Ann passed away in the Hospice Wing at St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington. All of her family was with her when she went to be with her Lord. Kim collapsed into a chair and wept uncontrollably. Her mom was now gone, too. And she would never be able to hold our child in her arms this side of Heaven. Kim was 5 months pregnant.

Kim was overwhelmed with grief. Less than a year and a half into our marriage and she had experienced the death of the two women who had meant the most to her. And she had a precious life growing inside of her. She was so afraid that if she she allowed herself to collapse under the grief, that Zach may sustain some lifelong problems as he grew in her body. So, in February, we decided to head back to Gatlinburg for a few days. We wanted some time to just “get away.”

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We went to Gatlinburg in an attempt to relax and reconnect (picture taken on February 28, 1999).

Three months later, we celebrated our second anniversary on May 10th and then welcomed Zach’s arrive on May 13. Zach was finally here – but with complications. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice and he was strangling. When he was removed via emergency C-section, he was dark, dark blue. Kim cried on the operating table because she thought that her son had died. She couldn’t bear a third death in only 2 years. And I knew what she was thinking – she felt that it was her fault because her body was grieving over her mother’s recent death. It seemed like an eternity in that operating room (it was probably only seconds) before Zach let out a glorious cry. He cried, and cried, and we loved it! Kim and I shed tears of joy as the doctor put Kim back together.

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Kim and our 2 1/2 week old son.
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Zach was 3 weeks old when we took him to visit his grandmother’s grave.

As life settled back down, again, I resumed work on my master’s degree at Southern Seminary in Louisville. I had never anticipated taking 2 years off when I got married and moved to Lexington but God had different plans.

Also in this year, our beloved church went through an ugly split. I blame it primarily on incompetent leadership. A very unpopular vote was forced by the pastor and the large congregation was soon meeting in two locations. We attended both congregations for a few weeks but then decided to move to Georgetown. It was at that point that we joined the family of Gano Avenue Baptist Church. We made friendships in a couple of years in that church that we still enjoy!

2000

We spent this year settling into life with our precious son. We had purchased a house in Georgetown, Kentucky and were enjoying our first experience with home ownership. Our new church home embraced us and we became involved in the young married couples class.

2001

In June, Sean arrived! Kim’s OBGYN, who had delivered so many of Sean’s cousins, was on vacation. So, we were diverted to a different hospital (UK Medical Center) and Sean would be delivered by a doctor we didn’t know. However, in God’s watchful care, He had orchestrated the events so that the doctor had a special last name. His name was Dr. Zachman. “Zachman” was the nickname we had previously given Zach at that time in his life. We knew that God was watching over us.

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This picture was taken a day after Sean was born.

However, God’s watchful care doesn’t make us immune to difficulty. It simply comforts us while we are going through the difficulty. During the C-section to deliver Sean, the intern allowed the epidural to run out. As they removed Sean, Kim was beginning to cry and complain of pain. The intern said that it was just pressure. When they began to sew her back up, she began screaming and they finally listened. They tossed me out of the operating room and from across the hall, I heard her crying in pain. I felt helpless, anxious, furious and a varied number of other emotions. However, after the trauma of the whole thing settled down, Kim and I agreed that it was an accident, that there was no ill-intent, and we forgave them (the intern never visited our room after the surgery, though).

For me, this was an exhausting year. A year earlier, it was ripping Kim’s heart out that she wasn’t able to stay home with Zach in his young, formative years. So, I told her that she could quit her job and I would do whatever I had to do to make ends meet. At one point, I was working a full-time job as a machinist, delivering pizzas in the evenings, and filling in as the part-time worship leader at Gano Avenue Baptist Church. But, my family is worth it!

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2002

We continued to enjoy life as a family. But, I was growing restless. I knew that I was called to preach but I was only serving as a worship minister and only part-time at that.

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Bro. Wallace York with Zach. At Bro. York’s invitation, I came to explore Donaldson Baptist Church in Princeton, Kentucky.

About that time, a dear pastor friend of mine, Bro. Wallace York, called from Princeton, Kentucky and told me about a church in the area that was looking for a pastor. I went down for a preliminary visit in March but came away uncertain … even a little scared. I was taking care of my wife and 2 sons but if I were to move, we’d have to sell our house (we hardly had any equity) and how in the world could I financially swing it? Bro. Wallace assured me that if God called me there, He’d provide for me.

I’m not sure of the exact date when I went for the trial sermon. Unfortunately, I didn’t document that. I just remember Bro. Wallace rattling his keys on the front row when my “trial sermon” was going long.

In March, I led in a large Easter drama at Gano. I cannot adequately express how amazing it was that people rallied around it to make it happen. God did some incredible things! And by the time we performed our last showing, well over 700 people had come to see it. For our small, family church, that number was astronomical. The wonderful thing is that God was the One who got the glory for it. And everyone knew it. I can’t imagine a better way to leave a church family you love than on a high-note that leaves everyone with such fond memories.

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The cast from the “Amazing Love” Easter drama.

But, God wasn’t finished with us yet. We were about to go into another very dark valley before I became Donaldson Baptist Church’s pastor.

Kim had been having some suspicious symptoms so she had some tests run. On May 2, 2002, Kim and I were sitting in a patient’s room in Lexington Clinic awaiting the doctor with the results. (It did not go unnoticed that this was the same clinic in which we had sat with Kim’s mom when she got the bad news.) Dr. Monnig came in and said that the test results made it look like Kim had cancer. There was a tumor in one of her kidneys the size of a golf ball and he recommended, because of it’s location, that the whole kidney be extracted. A surgery date was set up for the following Monday.

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We had heard on this day that Kim had what looked to be cancer. She was facing surgery on Monday. What in the world do you tell your toddler sons?

Our church family at Gano prayed over us that Sunday morning and another young lady who was also set to have brain surgery in the same hospital (St. Joseph Hospital) on the same day.

The surgery on Monday, May 6th, went as planned. There were only a few complications. But, it was confirmed that the mass was cancer. It was Renal cell carcinoma. After a few days in the hospital, we were headed home to Georgetown.

But, now, another problem arises! We had a three year old and a one year old. How in the world could Kim stay home to heal up from a major surgery (with no family nearby) with two toddlers and a husband who desperately needs to get back to work to make some money? Our church family at Gano Ave. did the unthinkable! Ladies volunteered to sit with Kim and watch the boys all day while I was away. Some of the ladies even took vacation days to spend with my wife! They made us meals and went above and beyond anything that we could have expected.

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Kim, in Myrtle Beach, talking with me on the phone. I stayed behind for a few days to work on our house with a church friend. I also had a potential buyer coming by. The Brock’s and Wilson’s flew me into Myrtle Beach a couple of days after this picture was taken.

As Kim continued to heal and before heading to my first church, we went with some church friends to Myrtle Beach. It was a great time to relax and get refreshed before I took on the pressures of pastoring. We would soon be moving to Princeton, Kentucky!

(Click here to continue: “The Donaldson Baptist Church Years”)