To reiterate as I did in my previous post, Kim and I are approaching our 20th anniversary and I wanted to recount some of the highlights of our story. Doing so has helped me to make some sense of the individual events as I look at the story as a whole. It has reminded me that God doesn’t simply let things happen in our lives – He’s writing a story and we’re in it!
That’s why YOU need to keep a journal, too. You will miss the story unless you document it and then read back over it at some point in the future.
Also, I want to lay a ground rule. As my family reached the summer of 2002, we embarked on a time when I entered the full-time pastoral ministry. I’ve been pastoring ever since with three separate churches. While I will point out some of the highs and lows (as I did in my previous post) to document our story, I will not intentionally include anything that would place anyone in a bad light. I have made plenty of mess-ups in my ministry. On the other hand, my wife and I have been the object of quite a few personal attacks (anyone in leadership is). But, God received the glory in some of those matters and friendships were forged where it seemed impossible. Other matters remain unresolved but I don’t want to undermine the potential for reconciliation in any way. So, I will gloss over or simply pass over some things in my attempt to share the story of Kim’s and my marriage as I began pastoring.
The move to Princeton was a step of faith for me. Growing up in a pastor’s home, I knew some of what full-time ministry was like. I saw the strain. I heard the frustration vented on Sunday evenings. I remember hearing of troublesome deacons. I knew how quickly business meetings could spiral out of control. I knew that all it took was one discontented member who began to gossip and a pastor could be fired. I knew that folks in sin that a pastor lovingly confronted often responded in anger. On and on I could go. Ministry can be hard. And I was about to embark on my own ministry “career.”
But, in some ways, it was an even bigger step of faith for Kim. She was only a few months past her cancer / kidney surgery. No insurance company in their right mind would sign her up with such preexisting conditions. So, when we prayerfully agreed that God was moving us to Princeton, we began cobra’ing out my insurance not knowing what would happen at the end of the 18 months. We knew that most insurance companies wouldn’t even touch her for at least 5 or more years. And, after 18 months, if we couldn’t get insurance, it would almost certainly seal our financial ruin if Kim should experience another health issue. But, Kim was willing to take that step of faith, trusting the Lord to provide. I stood in admiration of such faith!
Fortunately, Bro. Wallace York had paved the way for us. He had been the interim pastor at Donaldson Baptist for awhile and said that it was a wonderful church. He said that they would love us to death. As I look back on our time at Donaldson, I would heartily agree. There were times that a member would simply drop by to give us some fresh sausage or armloads of vegetables from their garden. This sort of thing happened all the time – they welcomed us into their life. But, they did something in our second year of ministry that still melts my heart when I think about it. I’ll share that in a little bit. I just want to say that the folks at Donaldson made Kim’s and my entrance into pastoral ministry so much easier than some of my pastor friends experienced.
Kim and I would readily acknowledge that I went into this ministry so naive. I was “green” in all senses of the word. But, this church was so forgiving and patient. While some churches cause pastors to question their calling only a few years after beginning their journey, this church made it easy. Honestly, Kim and I needed this after the events of the previous 4 years.
There were some extra special relationships that God gave us to enjoy. At Gano Avenue Baptist Church, God graciously brought Robert (Papaw) and Ann (Nana) Brock into our lives. Our friendship with them runs deep and continues to this day. And at Donaldson, we were almost immediately drawn to Steve, Dee, and Denver Watson. It seemed to us that Dee bore a striking resemblance to Kim’s deceased mom and Denver felt like a younger brother to Kim. (We simply tolerated Steve. HA). There were many Saturdays when Kim would walk the half mile route to Dee’s house with our boys to spend time with her. And virtually every Sunday evening, Dee would take our boys to her home for an hour or two so that Kim and I could spend some time together or with our church youth.
When we traveled to my parent’s home ten miles south of Paris, Tennessee, we often stopped in Murray. It was essentially the half-way mark. The McDonald’s provided us with the opportunity to grab some food and visit the restroom as we continued on our journey. Little did we realize that in 11 or so years, I would be pastoring in this city.
This year was filled with activity. I spent much time studying for sermons (and preparing for my ministry). I visited homebound members and those in the hospital. We had vacation Bible school and a Fall hayride. I also think it was this year that we knocked on every door within a 2-3 mile radius of the church. The folks at Donaldson were willing to try just about anything I suggested.
It also provided a time for Kim to slow down and rest after the previous five years. She was able to stay at home with our young boys and begin homeschooling Zach. In our spare time, we loved going to Land Between the Lakes and hiking the paved trail (with a stroller, of course) between the North Welcome Center and the Hillman Ferry Campground. We often just enjoyed the simplicity of life … and that was so therapeutic for us at that time.
One day in early Spring, Leroy Oliver showed up with his tractor. He heard that Kim loved to garden so he wanted to till up some of our back yard. Our boys hopped onto the tractor and had the time of their life. But, I also noticed the sparkle in Kim’s eyes that showed that she was about to have the time of her life. She was going to grow things and feed her family … and she loved it!
Oh, and by the way, there were times when our massive garden needed extra watering. If you look at the above picture, you’ll see the second window from the left (front of the building). When I baptized someone, I didn’t waste the water after the worship service. I siphoned the water out of the baptistery by running a hose from the baptistery, through that window, down to our garden! The more baptisms we had, the greener our garden was!
This was also the year that I went with our Baptist Association to Mexico on a mission trip. I felt more than comfortable leaving Kim behind because I knew she was going to be looked after by our church family. There was an occasion when our mission team felt that our lives were in danger in Tlachichila, Mexico. Someone discharged their weapon outside our restaurant window which was a clear warning to leave their small village. (We had previously heard that the Catholic priest had warned the people of our arrival.) I wondered if I would be coming back. We stayed and shared the Gospel but I was so glad to get back home to my wife and boys!
Reenter insurance issue: Our insurance ran out after we cobra’ed it for 18 months. Our previous assessments were correct – no insurance company would touch Kim. Fortunately, she had found out that Kentucky had a program called Kentucky Access. They would write her a policy regardless of preexisting conditions – but at a very steep cost.
I can’t remember who suggested that the church pick up some of the costs for our insurance. (I don’t think Kim or I would have done that.) This was very awkward because many of the precious folks in the church didn’t have insurance nor the money to afford it.
Well, the discussion and vote was to take place on a Wednesday night during a business meeting. It just so happened that I raced to the Caldwell County Hospital that afternoon, was diagnosed with acute appendicitis, and was undergoing surgery during the vote. So, as the winter snow began to fall, their pastor was at the mercy of a surgeon’s scalpel, and the church entered into the business meeting, they graciously voted to cover our insurance.
On April 9th, Kim got a very difficult phone call. She was told that her dad had died. He was found in his living room floor and had been there for at least a few days. We suspect he died of complications from undiagnosed diabetes. This was tragic news! We privately wondered if he was in Heaven or Hell. He had previously claimed a walk with the Lord but had never given much evidence that he was truly born again. Yet, a neighbor told our family that in the 2-3 months before his death, Kim’s dad had been engaged in a Bible study and was showing clear signs that he had been reconciled with his Lord. In a few days, we attended his funeral. His body was soon laid to rest beside Kim’s mom.
I don’t know how she did it but Kim led Donaldson Baptist Church’s women to have their first ever women’s conference only 3 weeks after her father’s funeral. I’m telling you, God has wired Kim like a Timex watch – she takes a licking and keeps on ticking. She’s not superwoman – she’s get worn down – she’s just got an inner drive to keep going even when life gets tough. And the women’s conference that she and the ladies of Donaldson put on this year was incredible. They packed the sanctuary. It was so well liked that they had another ladies conference the following year and invited Tanya York to be the guest speaker.
Now, I’m about about share something else that happened in this year. It left Kim and me in awe. We had never felt so loved by a church than on this occasion. It was in the summer(?) of this year that I took my Toyota Camry to a shop to get the brakes checked. The next thing I know, a technician is telling me that my 5-year-old car blew a rod when they took it for a spin. (Much later, I found out that the guy who took my car out liked to gun the engines.) Well, now we were in a mess! We needed the car but didn’t have the thousands of dollars required to fix it.
I’ll never forget the following Sunday morning when I stood up to give the announcements – Mark Burton walked to the pulpit and asked me to step aside for a moment. He informed the church that our car needed a new engine and that some of the folks had talked and were going to pay for it.
I couldn’t believe it! These weren’t folks with deep pockets – they were simply folks with gracious hearts. I stepped back to the microphone and thanked them. I told them that some of our friends from Gano Avenue Baptist Church (Robert & Ann Brock and Earl & Sue Wilson) were going to purchase a re-manufactured engine. So, Donaldson paid for the installation. Denver Watson took our car into the care of his shed on the hill overlooking the church and installed the engine. We will never forget that incredible act of kindness!
The rest of this year was filled with fun events. Kim and I took our family for a short vacation to Cedars of Lebanon. I served as a chaplain for a week at Kentucky Dam Village. We went to Indianapolis for a few days to see the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit. Finally, we took a group of the youth and some adults to Bellevue Baptist Church to see The Singing Christmas Tree. Kim and I had not been back to see this show since I proposed to her. This was a very special trip!
I also think that this was the year that Jim Stallins resigned. He believed that he needed to step aside and let someone younger lead the music. Kim and I loved he and his wife Margaret. Our boys spent quite a bit of time at their house when Margaret watched them so Kim and I could go visiting or go on a date. Jim was also as good as they come. He was our part-time music leader at that time. He would be the first to tell anyone that his voice wasn’t what it used to be – but he brought so much more to the table. His calm and quiet demeanor, his commitment to the Lord, his unquestionable integrity and so much more caused people to listen to him when he talked. He and I had a mutual love and respect for each other. He was one of the many folks at Donaldson that made my time there go so smoothly.
I’ll share one more thing about Jim and Margaret if you (Donaldson folks) promise not to tell them. My laptop broke down as I was approaching my final year of seminary. I didn’t need a portable computer but it sure made things easier. Jim heard that my computer broke down and came over to the parsonage one day. He sat down on the front steps, pulled out his check book, and told me he was going to pay for me to get another laptop. I resisted. I knew he didn’t have the money to spend on things like this. But, he insisted. I later found out that he sold one of his cows to get the money to purchase my new laptop. (If that doesn’t melt your heart, nothing will.)
I’ve heard of building projects that cause havoc in churches. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced that. Part of my willingness to embark on the project was my naivety. We needed a larger fellowship hall, handicap accessible restrooms and some Sunday School rooms. So, we did it. I don’t remember much about raising funds – the people just gave. I don’t remember any major church disagreements or anything of the sort as the project took place. We just got it done.
In May, I finally graduated with my master’s degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This was a LONG time coming. I finished my degree in just about every way possible – I did a couple of semesters online; I traveled to a seminary extension at the Nashville Lifeway building; and Donaldson let me travel to Louisville from Tuesday to Thursday every week for a couple of semesters.
On August 22, we formally welcomed Joseph into our family. Given the incidents that had taken place during Zach and Sean’s births, Kim wasn’t at all in good spirits that morning. She just wanted the birth over and to hold her third son in her arms. The C-section at Western Baptist Hospital was textbook. As I sat beside Kim during the procedure, she was praising the Lord (audibly) that He was making this birth so uneventful. Soon, we heard that familiar cry as we celebrated the fact that our family was complete. We thought about nicknaming our boys Eenie, Meenie, and Miney because we weren’t going to have no Moe.
In December, we traveled to Bradenton, Florida to visit Kim’s Aunt Norma. As I mentioned in a previous post, Kim loves to travel and explore. I would have never suggested going to Florida but I’m glad she talked me into it. It was a very enjoyable trip. We visited a park where we had to watch out for alligators on the trail. We went to Disney (on probably the busiest day of the year!). And we enjoyed simply hanging out with Kim’s mom’s sister. I remembered thinking how fun it would be to live in Florida. Little did I realize that in 6 months, we would be moving there!
As the new year started, I wanted to add some extra responsibilities to my plate. I had finished with seminary, at least for awhile, and I wanted to look for more opportunities to share God’s Word with others. The Director of Missions, Rick Reeder, approached me about teaching a seminary extension class at the Baptist Association building. I gladly accepted. I think the class lasted for about 2-3 months but it was fun! I enjoyed every minute! The students in the class purchased the “NIV Archaeological Study Bible” and gave it to me as a gift at the conclusion of the course.
After I preached the sermon at our annual Baptist Association meeting the previous Fall, a retired pastor-friend of mine said that he believed God was about to “expand my territory.” He believed that I needed to be open to the next opportunity God sent my way. Sometime at the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006, I began conversations with the Pastor Search Committee of the First Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida. In May 2006, we became Floridians! And Kim would take one of the biggest steps of faith in her whole life.