58 minutes read + pictures & videos
I’m writing this autobiography of Kim’s and my marriage as we approach our 20th Anniversary on May 10th. This post focuses on our 7 years in Florida.
To view my previous posts, simply click on the links below:
(“Our First Five Years”)
(“Our Donaldson Baptist Church Years”)
If you haven’t read the previous entries, consider clicking on the above links. There was much that happened before the summer of 2006 when we moved to Florida. Those incredible highs and devastating lows were used by God to break us and then build us back up again. In doing so, we had learned more of each other and of Him.
In clicking on the above links, you will also understand why I am recounting this story and the ground rule that I will strive to abide by. (Just to reiterate, I won’t include anything that would intentionally put someone else in a bad light. There was some “stuff” that happened in Florida that won’t get included in this post.)
Before we moved to Florida, we were under the gun to get a house. In retrospect, we should have waited and prayed more. Instead, we were so excited to become homeowners again that we signed the necessary papers and purchased a house in the Candlelight subdivision of Brooksville, Florida.
As we house-hunted, we were experiencing sticker shock – we couldn’t believe how expensive houses were in Florida! Money went so much farther in Kentucky! But, we figured that this was part of the adventure.
On top of this, we were able to get the seller to take about $20,000 off their asking price. We assumed that this was “proof” that it was a “God-thing.” We signed on the dotted line and bought our second home. Little did we know that the housing market in Florida would begin to tank the very next month. The equity we had at the signing was immediately wiped out and we went into a deficit for the remainder of our time in Florida.
The time came to move from Kentucky to Florida. First Baptist Church of Brooksville paid for a moving truck service to come and load all of our belongings. We were soon on our way. All of our things were loaded into the moving truck and then the driver took a detour to pick up someone else’s load. My family hopped into our packed car and headed for the Florida state line. (It would be 2 weeks before our belongings in the moving truck arrived! Folks at First Baptist were so gracious to let us borrow some things to fill our empty house until our possessions arrived.)
The trip was fairly uneventful until we approached the Georgia / Florida state line. A mile or so before, one of our boys developed a stomach problem and threw up in the backseat of the car. At that point, yelling erupted from the backseat: “Yuck! It’s nasty! It stinks in here!” Soon, one of our other sons was saying he felt like he was about to throw up, too. The car was filled with the stench of vomit and loud yelling while Kim was desperately trying to work the problem from her front, passenger seat … as we crossed the Florida state line. With a great deal of sarcasm, I said, “Welcome to Florida!” (Our family does virtually everything in a memorable way without even trying.)
The 300 folks who attended my first Sunday at First Baptist probably remember that morning very well. I was standing in front of a much larger crowd than I had ever preached to and it was my first sermon. So, I was nervous. But, I was sharing God’s Word with those gathered so it was enjoyable, nonetheless.
About halfway through the sermon, Joseph began to cry. He was a baby at the time and nothing Kim did would calm him. So, not knowing where the nursery was, she decided to take him, as quietly as possible, up the side aisle to the double doors near the front of the sanctuary, and exit.
However, it didn’t go as planned. As I continued to preach, many of the eyes were on her as she approached the double doors. She opened the right door and the other one flew open as well. (The doors were not installed correctly – the right door had a lip that forced the left door open, too). It was an outside door so sunlight burst into the sanctuary and momentarily blinded her. She panicked. She was unintentionally creating a scene for her husband’s first sermon. She could think of nothing else but to quickly step through the doors and close them behind her. Yet, the blinding sun kept her from seeing that the surface outside the door was about 6 inches lower. She stepped … and fell headlong with Joseph in her arms! The side of her head slammed into a concrete step.
There was an obvious gasp in the sanctuary. I couldn’t see what had happened because the organ blocked my view. No one moved so I stepped around the organ and saw Kim still laying on the concrete with Joseph in her arms. She was trying to get up but she was horribly dazed. Her head had hit the step so hard that she was bleeding. The impact was so powerful that she bent her thick, metal earring. (She still has a loose bone fragment near her ear as a result of that fall.) With her maternal instincts, she had twisted during the fall so that she took the brunt and Joseph only received minor scratches on his face.
An ambulance was called but Kim decided not to go. A church member took her to the fellowship hall to look after her and Joseph while I felt compelled to walk back into the sanctuary where everyone was still seated. I stepped to the pulpit and finished the sermon quickly and joined Kim and Joseph in the fellowship hall. (Finishing the sermon was incredibly difficult. I couldn’t keep my mind off of my wife and son, wondering how they were doing. In retrospect, I should have had the presence of mind to stay with Kim and ask one of the deacons to take over the service.)
One factor that played into Kim’s decision not to take the ambulance was … she had no insurance. This was her massive step of faith when we left Kentucky. As we were praying about whether God desired for us to move to Florida, she realized that a move would mean that she would lose her insurance. Kentucky Access didn’t transfer, could not be cobra’ed, and Florida had no such insurance plan. And no insurance company in their right mind would insure her.
So, only 4 years after her kidney cancer surgery, Kim agreed with me that it was God’s will for us to head to Florida. (She could have gotten a full-time job with insurance but Kim has always been sacrificial. She would rather stay at home to love and care for her two toddlers and risk a major financial / health crisis than send them off to day-care and get insurance.) I made it clear that if she needed a doctor or a trip to the hospital, I would find a way to pay for it. But, it was terrifying and a massive step of faith for her to be willing to make the move to Florida.
When I look at Kim, knowing so much of the “behind the scenes” stuff, I stand amazed at a woman who is broken but beautiful. She has gone through so much in her life but loves her Lord and desires to know Him more and serve Him. When I say that I am blessed to be married to Kim and when I say that her walk with the Lord has been the biggest catalyst to help me in my own walk with the Lord, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
As the events of our move-in week came and went, we settled into Florida life. I acclimated to a larger congregation and began learning the people that God had entrusted to me.
In my “off time,” we began to explore our part of the state we now called home. A short list of the things we did included visiting a wildlife preserve in Homosassa Springs, attending a Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball game at Tropicana Field, enrolling Zach and Sean in a martial arts class, and frequenting Pine Island (a beach 18 miles west of our home).
The 7 years that I pastored the First Baptist Church of Brooksville were full. When I think back on so many of the things that happened, the people I met, the experiences we had, it is extremely difficult to limit my comments as I continue to write this post. But I will try…
In February/March of this year, we started the $500k fellowship hall renovation project. By the time it was finished, about half of the project had been paid for. This was also the year that I started teaching folks how to share their faith (via Evangelism Explosion) and quite a few participated. With all of the other activities and the responsibilities of pastoring, I stayed fairly busy with ministry.
As a family, we had a blast! Florida literally had something to keep us busy and in the sun all year long.
As the year got off to a start, Zach and Sean enrolled in baseball. Florida is baseball paradise! Many of the MLB training camps are in this state and many of the players retire here. So, there were plenty of occasions to rub elbows with some of the MLB greats.
In March, Ann (Nana) and Robert (Papaw) came for a visit. We went to Fort De Soto Park and enjoyed the day. While they aren’t biologically related to us, they have continued to be an enjoyable part of our family since we got to know them at Gano Avenue Baptist Church.
Also in March, we headed back to Disney. (We were only about 70 miles away, after all.) The next month, Kim went as a chaperone to SeaWorld with Zach and his class at Moton Elementary School.
While in Brooksville, we enjoyed getting to feel like family around the Crossan’s. Jeannie and Jimmey befriended us and we spent much time at their home over our 7 years in the Sunshine State. My boys and I spent untold hours in their pool!
On June 8, we saw something that I had only dreamed of seeing as a kid. I grew up near Houston, Texas and took many trips to the Johnson Space Center. It was wonderful to see Mission Control but I really wanted to see a rocket or Space Shuttle take off! Well, on this day, we got to see STS-117 (Space Shuttle Atlantis) blast off from the launch pad and head into space. To say that I absolutely enjoyed this is a huge understatement.
Here is the video I took of that launch:
Joe and Joyce Chiavaroli, members at First Baptist, blessed Kim and me on a couple of occasions by sending us to Key West. With all of the things that we had experienced in our marriage to this point, it was so refreshing to have times to simply get away with my wife! They took care of our boys as Kim and I drove to Fort Myers. Once there, we hopped on a boat that took roughly 3 and a half hours to get to Key West. The trip was a wonderful experience! It had an upper deck with no roof so that we could sit high above the water and let the wind blow our cares away. In Key West, we explored everything from the Butterfly Museum, to the Key Lime Pie Factory, to Truman’s Little White House, and so much more. It felt incredible to “get away” with my wife.
There were so many special people that I enjoyed getting to know in Brooksville. One of them was a member at First Baptist for which words are not sufficient to express my admiration. His name was Murray Grubbs. He was one of the guys that made my job so much easier and spared First Baptist from many mistakes and bad decisions that I could have made. He was a man filled with wisdom, he had a great sense of humor, and he made you feel right at home. He could also tell a story in a way that kept you captivated and longing for another one. He loved the Lord and enjoyed spending much time reading God’s Word and sharing it’s truths with others. Murray and I had a mutual love and respect for each other and my heart was saddened when I heard that he passed away in May 2016. I’m so glad that I got to speak with him on the phone one last time before he went to be with his Lord.
But, there was something that happened at the Grubbs’ house that still causes me to sink into a deep fear even though I’m writing this ten years after the fact. I think it was around September of this year that a large church Sunday School class gathering took place at Murray & Sue’s house. People were everywhere. There was food, games, and a pool if anyone wanted to jump in.
Our boys didn’t know how to swim so while Kim held Joseph securely in her arms, she let Zach and Sean get into the 3 foot end of the pool. She strictly warned them to stay near the edge. People were vying for Kim’s and my attention so we weren’t able to keep our eyes on our boys like we should have.
Then, Kim looked to the pool … and only saw Zach. Sean wasn’t in the shallow end. Then, we saw it! A hand sticking out of the water on the far end of the pool – the DEEP end of the pool! I ran to the side of the pool but could not believe that it was Sean. I could not see clearly into the water to see who it was but there was no way it could have been Sean. He couldn’t have swam into the middle of the pool. I thought it was one of the youth (boys) playing a prank. I suspected that if I were to jump in, one of the youth would surface and I would have wet clothes demanding that I leave the gathering while my church family stayed. So, for a few moments, I just stood there and tried to assess what was really going on.
Then, the hand went underwater. I threw my shoes off and was moments from jumping in when a young man, Travis Smith, plowed around me and jumped into the pool. He surfaced with Sean in his arms to my horror. I had stood by the poolside as my son was drowning! As Sean surfaced, he was blankly staring at me and I will never forget that look. I took him from Travis’ arms and Sean was as limp as a wet rag. He couldn’t stand up.
Kim was crying and we soon loaded our family into our minivan and left. We headed straight to the Oak Hill Hospital Emergency Room. I have heard of folks who almost drowned that later died that day because the massive amount of water they consumed overwhelmed their system. We spent about 6 hours in the ER as Sean took in meds and made frequent trips to the restroom.
Soon after this, a lady down the street from us, Vicki Weaver, offered to give Sean free swimming lessons. We gladly accepted the offer. I also took my boys over to Jeannie Crossan’s house and taught all three of my boys how to swim. Very soon, they were swimming like fish. In Florida, with water everywhere you look, swimming is essential.
Life at the church continued. I had settled into the ministry and was enjoying Florida life. We had seen some growth occur in the first two years as I continued to learn not only about ministry but about ministering to an entirely different culture than the one I had pastored in Kentucky.
I started volunteering at New Covenant Men’s Ministry. This was a Christian-based program that was a brainchild of a pastor/friend of mine, Fred Hinson. The ministry was geared to help guys who had been incarcerated but needed help getting reintegrated back into society. I showed up each week to lead in a Bible study. I also took them to a park a couple of times to just get them out of the rut of being in a building all day long. I absolutely enjoyed spending time with those guys and still enjoy staying connected with some of them via Facebook. If I remember correctly, I volunteered with this ministry until 2011.
I was blessed beyond measure with some incredible staff at First Baptist! Cindy Lyman (Office Admin.) and Mary Farrington (Gen. Sec.) were extra special. (Unfortunately, it was also in this year that Cindy’s husband, Denny, passed away. “I love ya, man!”) Barbara Manuel had been our part-time choir director and she was also so supportive of any idea I came up with. She purchased the expensive Bible software (Logos) that I still use to study God’s Word and prepare sermons. I was also blessed with Curtis Gibbons (I think this was the year he began working at FBC). He was our church’s maintenance / custodian but he was much, much more than that to me. He was a serious follower of Jesus and had a ton of wisdom. It seems that there wasn’t a week that went by that I wasn’t bouncing ideas off of him and listening to his perspective on things. Words cannot express how much his friendship meant to me while I was at FBC.
As a family, we were deeply involved in baseball again. Our boys loved playing in the local Hernando Youth League. It was also pretty cool that the Tampa Bay Rays organization would periodically visit Brooksville allowing my sons to rub elbows with some MLB players. Tons of memories!
We enjoyed another year of visiting the parks in Orlando. Our school district would frequently send groups of students to the Disney parks and Seaworld. Chaperones could get into the parks for a greatly reduced price. Of course, Kim and I had to do our duty as responsible parents. We went to the parks often and made some great memories with our sons and their friends.
I developed a love for biking! I had an old mountain bike that was collecting dust in Kentucky. But, in Florida, I put hundreds of miles on the tires. Florida has spent many dollars converting old, abandoned railroad tracks to walking / biking trails (Rails to Trails). One of the trails, the Withlacoochie State Trail, started a few miles east of Brooksville and traveled 46 miles north. I loved biking north on adrenaline and biking back on pride (there was no way I would call Kim to ask her to pick me up because I was too exhausted!). I increased my mileage until I was doing 50-60 miles at a time – on that old mountain bike! The exhausting and yet euphoric feeling after going on such a long bike ride to de-stress is something I greatly miss!
If I remember correctly, this was the year that I began volunteering at Jericho Road Ministries. The staff and the guys they were helping were special. Most of the guys had either previously been on the streets or in jail. Jericho Road provided them with a place to stay and training to help get them back into society and into the workforce. I continued helping out with Jericho Road until I left Florida in 2013. I still maintain connections with some of the guys I got to know and serve at Jericho Road.
This was the year that Kim reentered the full-time work force. Through an interesting string of events, she was hired as the Parrot Middle School Science teacher. Since she majored in Biology in college and proved her proficiency by passing a very difficult Florida standardized test, she was hired for the task and went after it with gusto. Our boys were now in school so she wanted to help provide for our family.
A smaller part of the reason she went into the work force was because she was a “pastor’s wife.” Being a pastor’s wife is incredibly stressful. It can be lonely. It can create anxiety issues and deep-seated fear. While Kim enjoys her role as my partner in ministry, enjoys engaging in ministry and spending time chatting and getting to know church members, every pastor and his wife understand that the role of pastor’s wife is incredibly difficult. Claiming a career that she could call her own allowed her to expand her influence for Christ while temporarily escaping some of the pressures of being a pastor’s wife for a few hours a day.
If you are a pastor or a pastor’s wife, you understand what I’m talking about. If not, and you want to understand a little of what some of these very special ladies are going through, you can do so by reading here, here, and here.
While I am grateful that my wife has been very engaged in each of the three churches that I have pastored, I can certainly see how some other pastor’s wives check out. They sit quietly on the back row or in the balcony. Or, they may not come to many of the services. While we can debate whether or not this is right, I can certainly understand how badly those ladies are hurting and how lonely they are.
Kim has excelled in virtually everything she has engaged in, given the opportunity. Before we were married, she began at the bottom of the ladder at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. Promotions made it fairly obvious that she was being groomed to climb the ladder of leadership in the organization. (But, she gave that job up in 1999 to stay home with our newborn, Zach.) Now, beginning her teaching career, she threw herself into her job and would eventually be nominated by fellow teachers for her first two years at Winding Waters K-8 as “Teacher of the Year.”
This is the reason why many pastor’s wives work secular jobs. It’s to keep their sanity. It is so that they can be reminded that they are people of value, recognized for who they are and not necessarily for just who they are married to. This sacrifice is real and something that pastor’s wives rarely talk about – unless you ask them and they feel that they can be honest and open with you.
But, even though she remains busy at work, and has three boys to look after, she loves ministry. Her heart is in ministry and she would absolutely love to be involved full-time in ministry at some point. Oftentimes, she is the last one to get to her seat during a fellowship meal at church. If you look for her, she will be talking to folks in her church family. She genuinely cares for people and they know she cares about them.
This is the year I got to baptize my two oldest sons, Zach and Sean, on the same Sunday. They gave their hearts to Jesus on separate days and Kim and I wanted to wait to see if it was a fleeting experience or if they truly gave their lives to Jesus. After a period of time, we felt comfortable with letting them publicly demonstrate their faith through baptism. It was an incredible joy to this father’s heart to see his sons make such a public step in professing their faith!
This was also the year that Sean started playing football. At first, I wasn’t so sure that he was up to the game. He looked awkward on the field and really struggled to run the plays. After all, we were a baseball family, not football. But, he had heart. Tons of heart! It was obvious that he wanted to give football everything he had. And his passion has kept him going in this sport.
Zach’s sport was baseball. He was a natural. He was always quick to encourage his teammates. He had an instinct to know where the ball needed to be played. His coaches had him play everything from third base, to pitcher, outfield, and a few other locations.
He almost always made All-Stars. And he won the Zach Steinkamp award all six years that he played baseball in the Hernando Youth League. (I’ll say more about that in a little bit.)
Once my family discovered the Brooksville Raid, we were hooked! It is a yearly Civil War reenactment. There was no actual Brooksville battle – it’s just an opportunity for hundreds of reenactors to gather for a week of enjoying stepping back into the 1860’s. Thousands of folks from across the area show up to enjoy the experience. (FYI: The Brooksville Raid started on Murray Grubbs’ property. He enjoyed feeding all of the reenactors. But, the Raid eventually outgrew his property and moved to the Sand Hill Scout Reservation.)
On February 19, I received word that my Grandma Ellis passed away. My first grandparent to pass away was Grandpa Keltie in January 1991. It was beginning to hit me how temporary life is. So many wonderful memories had been tied up in both sets of grandparents and now, only two of the four special people remained. Grandma’s death particularly hit Kim hard because of the special love they had for each other. Kim got to know Grandma during our dating days and they spent a lot of time talking together. Now, she was gone.
Baseball and football season came around again. I really, really, REALLY loved those years!
There was just something so special about sitting in the stands as a parent or standing on the baseline as an assistant coach watching and cheering for my boys. There were always plenty of smiles and opportunities to spend time with my boys doing something constructive and outside under the Florida sun.
I look back on those years with the fondest of memories.
Another very special thing that a couple of church members made possible to my family was a vacation on the Atlantic Ocean. In our dreams, we may have thought it possible to vacation near the Atlantic Ocean – but, when we came to our senses, we would have realized how impossible that would have been. But, Pat and Yvonne Brewer had a condo in New Smyrna Beach and told us we could spend time there if we ever wanted. We made plans and vacationed during the week of Spring Break.
While in New Smyrna, we took a trip a few miles south to the Kennedy Space Center. With my love for NASA and the American space program, I had always thought how cool it would be to visit the Space Center and see where the rockets and Space Shuttles were launched. On this trip, we got to do just that. It was a dream come true!
In July, I was able to take a mission trip to Ecuador. On this trip, we flew into the capital city, Quito, but spent the bulk of our time in Shell, Ecuador. If you are familiar with the story of Jim & Elisabeth Elliot (“Through Gates of Splendor”) then you have heard of Shell, Ecuador. Nate Saint’s house has been preserved and is in Shell. On July 23, we took a single engine plane trip into the jungles and I got to visit “Terminal City.” (I have previously written about my experiences here and here.)
In this year, Kim transferred from Parrot Middle School to Moton Elementary School. She took over a 3rd grade class and fit right in. Of course, it’s my personal opinion but I think she did incredible. Kim also helped out in VBS this year (and every other year). She always enjoyed being the art teacher as she created opportunities for the children to learn more about Jesus while creating something they could remember the occasion by.
One of the things we enjoyed doing at First Baptist was collecting for Operation Christmas Child. It’s a ministry overseen by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. Shoeboxes are packed with a bunch of items that can be useful and enjoyed by children in war-torn and/or impoverished countries. First Baptist folks were always so generous, especially during this time of giving.
As 2010 came to a close, I led in a Bible reading marathon. I cast the vision before the folks of First Baptist to have the whole Bible read from front to back in the FBC sanctuary by December 31. Many men and women showed up to the sanctuary as we read from Genesis to Revelation. (But, honestly, if it hadn’t been for George Schaffer reading a massive amount of the Bible, I don’t believe it would have gotten done.) I believed that having God’s Word read in our sanctuary was not only powerful in its symbolism but might also be used by God to “clean us up” as a church. Little did I know what the next year would hold.
There were some great memories that started this year off. We went to the Brooksville Raid again and had a blast. In February, we had a great time at a church Valentine’s party. Baseball season got underway again.
But, the worst experience I ever had in my ministry occurred in March of this year. The whole event lasted for a little more than a year and I am convinced that it took at least that much time off of my life.
On Friday, March 25, a young church member came to my home with three others and alleged that a church staff member had engaged in an activity with her that was not only immoral, it was illegal. After a busy weekend with numerous phone calls, meetings, seeking advice from our church’s insurance lawyer and receiving counsel from an attorney with the Florida Baptist Convention, I was instructed to go to the local police on Tuesday and I did so.
I will not go into the details because the truth never came out. Either the staff member was guilty but essentially went free or the young lady was guilty of slander and went free. I was angered that the matter was settled before it went to court. I had been praying that justice would be done but I didn’t have the satisfaction of seeing it transpire.
All I know is that my beard started to grow grey during this event. I developed chronic heartburn. I also rarely slept through the night. While I tried to present myself to my congregation as a confident leader who could get them through this mess, my inner life was a disaster. I was terrified. I felt that the church was hanging by a thread and I wasn’t sure that I could hold the church together through this ordeal. Believe me when I say that I spent hours upon untold hours in prayer throughout this year.
I was so grateful that God, in his mercy, had orchestrated the events to protect the church from any more damage than they experienced. Our part-time music minister during this time had recently retired from the local Sheriff’s Office and had been their spokesman. I was also grateful for a pastor in Lakeland, Florida who went out of his way to help me navigate my church through this event – he had gone through something similar a few years earlier.
On a side note, I developed a deep disgust during this time for two groups of writers: rogue bloggers and shoddy journalists:
It sickened me to read blogs written by folks who had never met anyone involved in this ordeal, didn’t live in this area, and knew nothing of what had happened. They only needed the shell of a story and they were more than glad to fill in the blanks. On one particular blogger’s site in which I was excoriated, I was at least humbled and honored that I was lumped in with Richard Land (former President of the ERLC), Jack Graham (Senior Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas), and some other reputable SBC leaders.
The second group, shoddy journalists, were also a great source of frustration. Some articles that made the paper were written by writers who obviously didn’t do their research. They apparently skimmed over police reports and other material and then quickly threw the story together. Their poor grammar testified to their inferior reporting. Because of this time in my life, I listen to journalists with a great deal of skepticism – “What important items are they leaving out?” and “What biases are skewing their take on the story?”
In His grace, God saw fit to refresh Kim and me as this event took over our lives. In mid-April, Harry and Millie Bollback invited us to be their guests at the Word of Life Easter Passion Play in Hudson, Florida. (Harry was one of the primary founders of this Christian training institute. Both of these two are legends in the Christian world – just Google them.) They invited us to eat supper with them and then sit on the front row of the massive auditorium in their seats to watch the play. At one point, I shared with him my excitement of visiting Ecuador the previous year and my love for the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. I think my mouth dropped open when Harry told me that he and Millie were missionaries in Ecuador in the 1950’s and knew the Elliot’s well. In fact, they visited Elisabeth and the other widows in Nate Saint’s house soon after the 5 missionaries were speared to death. So, God was teaching me a lesson … soon after a terrible journey began in my life, God had allowed me to be encouraged by someone who experienced how God can turn tragedies into beautiful stories that give Him glory.
I found it necessary to find ways to try to keep my stress under control. (Any pastor who has been through something like this knows exactly what it feels like.) In May, I took a 3 hour trip down the Weekie Wachee River in a kayak. I spent much of the time praying and reflecting. A couple of weeks later, I went with Sean’s class at Moton Elementary to St. Augustine.
You can view an abbreviated video of my trip down the Weekie Wachee here:
In June, the Brewers let us go back to their condo for a week. It was such a refreshing time that my family so desperately needed. We spent a lot of time at the beach. Fortunately, it wasn’t too busy when we went out in the mornings and evenings. We visited the Kennedy Space Center again.
We also went to the Holy Land Experience in Orlando. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly as cool as we had heard. While the Scriptorium was well worth the trip, much of the other stuff was influenced by the erroneous, flashy version of Christianity advocated by the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
In the summer of this year, Kim got her dream job. A new school had been built called Winding Waters K-8. The principal was a man that had gained the respect of many in the educational system in Hernando County. He was surrounding himself with top notch teachers to get the new school off to a great start. They needed an art teacher and Kim applied. Apparently, there was some stiff competition but Kim was chosen to be the WWK8 art teacher. She was given about $10,000 to buy all of the resources and equipment the new school would need to get the art program up and running. It was a daunting task for Kim but she was up to the challenge. She always rises to the occasion. It wasn’t long before the art program was one of the many aspects of life at WWK8 that showed off how great the school was.
As the Florida State Attorney’s office continued to investigate and move toward a court date, it seemed like an elephant that was sitting on the back of First Baptist Church. People were talking. Some were worried. Many speculated. But, no one (except the alleged and the one who made the allegations) knew the truth. As the leader of First Baptist, I wanted to create situations that could “keep the sheep settled.” Christmas was one that was tailor-made. Particularly, we had come to enjoy collecting for Operation Christmas Child. For that time, we were able to partially forget what was continuing to play out a few blocks down the road in the courthouse building.
God was so gracious during the events of this year. During 2011, there were times when I felt like I was hanging by a thread. I needed a time of refreshing. Even as the events continued to play out in the courthouse building a few blocks south of the church, God sent showers of blessing to refresh me and First Baptist in 2012.
The first exciting event was when Robert Amaya (Javier in the movie “Courageous”) came to First Baptist Church. A pastor/friend of mine, Joe Santerelli, came up with this idea and worked with me for quite a few months to make this happen. We did a lot of work behind the scenes to pay for this event and turn it into a memorable men’s conference.
I will never forget how kind-hearted Robert was. The men’s conference was on a Saturday night and then he attended church on Sunday morning before heading back to Miami. My family took him out to eat after the morning services. He told Kim and me that he had read about what our church was going through and was praying for me and my family. He told us before we said good-bye that if there was ever anything that we needed to please call him. (While I never intended to take him up on that offer, it was so encouraging to have someone give such a caring affirmation.) As we said good-bye and prepared to leave the restaurant, a group of youth from a local church who had watched Courageous at the theater a few days earlier recognized him and swarmed around him.
A week later, we went back to the Brooksville Raid again. Our family absolutely loved stepping back in time as we spent the day at this event.
In March, our family went back to Disney. Florida residents had an opportunity to get a three day pass for $99. We saved some money by staying at a hotel outside the park and packed in a lunch. Without the financial strain that a Disney trip typically creates, we enjoyed this time together. By the third day, I was exhausted and ready to rest and was so glad that it wasn’t a 4 day pass.
Here’s a video I took of our family riding TestTrack…
In April, I ran my very first 5K (3.1 mile) race. I had been running for a little more than a year and enjoyed this opportunity to see what I was made of. I didn’t do that well but it felt good to get my first race behind me. It was even better that Kim and the boys showed up to cheer me on. I was now well entrenched in my 40’s but was working to keep my fitness level up.
In May, the legal debacle ended. The former staff member pleaded guilty to some lesser offenses and the matter was settled out of court before it went to trial. In some ways, I wished it had gone to trial so that the truth would have had a chance to come out. Yet, I was also relieved that the ordeal was finally over. I could now lead First Baptist Church without the obvious elephant sitting on our shoulders. However, I had been clearly sensing in my spirit that my time at First Baptist was coming to an end. I believed that I had seen them through the ordeal but now we both needed a fresh start. I believed that they needed a new, fresh pastor to come in and lead them into a brighter future.
That same month, God overwhelmed Kim and me. All three of our boys had been playing baseball in the Hernando Youth League. At the end of each year, every team (players and coaches) select one baseball player on their team who demonstrates the qualities that Zach Steinkamp was known for that are elaborated on the plaque that bears his image.
We weren’t surprised when Zach got his sixth Zach Steinkamp award for the team he was on that season. Then, Joseph’s team announced that Joseph had been selected. When Sean’s coach announced that Sean was selected on his team, I looked at Kim. We just looked at each other and felt overwhelmed that God had blessed us with three wonderful boys and that it was affirmed by each of their coaches and teammates. God was washing away the stress and strain of the last year.
In June, we went back to New Smyrna for a week. We enjoyed time on the beach, putt-putt golfing in Daytona Beach, visiting the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse, attending worship at First Baptist Church in Daytona and so much more.
In July, Kim and Zach went on a mission trip to Guatemala. They went with a group from our church to serve in an orphanage with an organization called Orphan’s Heart. I was so happy that my wife and oldest son got to experience doing ministry in another country. They still talk fondly of their time there.
But, if you want to get her talking about the most memorable moment of her trip, ask her about the time when she was zip-lining from one mountain to another and got stuck hundreds of feet up in the middle.
In July, we drove to Kentucky to spend time with our family and friends. We spent time with my parents in Livermore, Kentucky.
We also spent a few days in Lexington and Georgetown with many of our friends. As we prepared to drive back to Florida, we stopped by the Lexington Cemetery to visit Kim’s parent’s graves.
As August arrived, my boys settled back into their school routine. Zach took off to Challenger K-8 while Sean and Joseph joined Kim at Winding Waters K-8. I sometimes look back on these years with great fondness … I think that it’s partly due to the fact that our boys weren’t yet fully entrenched in a teenage culture.
In October, my family went on a very enjoyable kayaking trip down the Weekie Wachee River.
The next month, every member of my family joined me in a 5K (3.1 mile) race. It was a VERY hilly route through downtown Brooksville neighborhoods that wore out the most seasoned of runners. But, every member of my family finished in a very respectable time. And all three of my sons placed in the top three in their gender/age. Kim and I were so proud … and exhausted.
In November of this year, my family joined the Everhard family for a Thanksgiving weekend get-away. Matt Everhard was an incredible friend of mine! He pastors the Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville. He was a true friend and confidant and his friendship was one of the major forces that God used to get me through the mess that started in 2011. He’s the real deal and his church is blessed to have him serve as their shepherd.
As 2013 began, I suspected in my spirit that I would be leaving First Baptist soon. I was already dreading standing before the people that God had entrusted to me and saying that He was leading us to another church. We had spent almost 7 years together and I had come to know so many of them on a very deep level. We had lived life together and had gone through so much. Talks with Westside’s Pastor Search Team were still not too serious but I suspected that Murray was going to be our next residence.
In January, we went to the Brooksville Raid again. We absolutely enjoyed the kettle corn, the battle scenes, walking through the camp sights and listening to Civil War era music. Something about this experience was so refreshing – I think it was the fun of stepping back in time to a different time and place. It was just so much fun!
In March, we came up with the idea of spending a day at the Grand Prix in Tampa. We thought that it would be something different, something we hadn’t done before. We had no idea that it would turn out to be a day that everyone of us would remember with so much fondness years afterward. We wore out the go-carts, played putt-putt, enjoyed the arcades and whatever else they had. It was so much fun! To view some pictures and video that I took of our time on the go-carts, here you go…
On April 25, I drove my family south on the Suncoast Parkway on our way to the Tampa International Airport. We were flying into Nashville and then driving to Murray. This was “Call Weekend.” I was experiencing a strange mixture of confidence and nervousness. I was probably going to move my family back to Kentucky but I believed that God was in it. We really enjoyed getting to know the folks at Westside but were completely exhausted with so many meetings as I approached Sunday morning.
Sunday morning was electric. I sensed a ton of energy in the sanctuary as we sang and then as I stood to preach. At the conclusion, my family was asked to leave so that the church could vote. I had previously told Tommy Hoke that it would be cool if he could call me with the vote total and have our phone call hooked up to the loud speaker so that everyone in the sanctuary could hear him give me the totals and then hear my response. He was able to do that.
As my family sat in the parking lot of Sirloin Stockade, Tommy called. I heard the congregation in the background. He gave the total – Westside issued the call to me to be their pastor with a little more than a 99.5% favorable vote. The excitement on both sides of the phone was off the charts. I accepted the call to become Westside’s next pastor and then hung up. Then, I took my family into Sirloin Stockade to have lunch with my Dad who had attended that morning.
As we made our way back to Nashville to board the plane, I was excited but heartbroken. I was excited about the opportunity at Westside. But, my heart was breaking that I would soon be saying good-bye to the folks at First Baptist.
Kim and I wanted to make it as easy on them as possible. We began making phone calls to some of our friends at FBC and told them to get the word out. Ideally, no one would be surprised the next Sunday when I stood to read my letter of resignation. Yet, there were still plenty of tears. We had been through so much together in those 7 years. It was only natural that the tears would flow.
I vividly remember the last time we drove to Bayport (about 17 miles west of our home in Brooksville). It would be our last time to gaze out into the Gulf as Florida residents. While Kim and I were looking forward to our next adventure in Kentucky, we were sad that we were definitely going to miss the therapeutic experiences of gazing out into the Gulf or the Atlantic.
And now, we were preparing for our adventure in Kentucky. Little did we know that the first year and a half would try our faith about as much as anything else we had experienced to that point. Fortunately, God had moved us to another loving church that would help us walk through it.
(Click here to continue: “The Westside Baptist Church Years”)