I’m writing this autobiography about Kim’s and my marriage as we approach our 20th Anniversary on May 10, 2017. This post focuses on our first four years at Westside Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky.

To view my previous posts, simply click the links below…
“Our First Five Years”
“Our Donaldson Baptist Church Years”
“Our First Baptist Church (Brooksville, FL) Years”

Ground rules:
– I will not intentionally say anything in these posts that will make anyone look bad.
– This is not a ministry resume – it’s primarily the story of our marriage and family with a few ministry tidbits added in.

I hope that as these posts are read that the reader will come to realize that they, too, have a story. Taking the time to write down some of the highs and lows and some reflections may provide a story that might be cherished by our families who come after us.

2013

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Our home in Brooksville, Florida.

Moving to Murray was a huge step for us. We absolutely loved it in Florida! Those years were full of life and memories. But, in some ways, it felt like we were coming back home. Kim was born in Kentucky and, except for our 7 years in Florida, had lived her whole life here. I had previously lived in Kentucky for a total of about 16 years. So, we were looking forward to coming back to our Kentucky home.

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Putting our house on the market

But, the difficult part of the move had to do with the house we had purchased when we moved to Florida. Within a month of signing on the dotted line in May 2006, the housing marking in Florida began to tank. By the time we were talking about moving back to Kentucky, we were underwater. By “underwater,” I mean sitting on the bottom of the ocean. We owed about $80K more than what our house was worth.

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The moving truck headed to Kentucky with all of our belongings.

While I was convinced that it was God’s will for us to move, I knew that if He didn’t intervene, we could end up going into foreclosure and bankruptcy. Not only was that idea utterly abhorrent to me, I wondered how a church would feel about their pastor if he filed for bankruptcy while on their payroll. So, the move to Kentucky was a huge step of faith. I was praying, quite literally, for a miracle.

We did everything we could to avoid foreclosure. Upon moving to Kentucky, we continued making the monthly payments on our Florida house until we had depleted all of our savings. Ethically, we believed that this was the least we could do. Our Florida house debacle would hang over our heads for the next two years. (I wrote at length about how our house situation was resolved. Simply click on the following title to read it: “Selling Our Florida House.”)

On June 9, I preached my first sermon as the Senior Pastor of Westside Baptist Church. That evening, we had a fun-filled church-wide reception. Kim and I were overwhelmed with the graciousness of our new church family. We were looking forward to spending a very long time in ministry at Westside and hoped to begin it with a lengthy honeymoon. (A ministry honeymoon is when everyone has all of the warm fuzzy feelings before the newness wears off.)

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Kim enjoying a laugh with Dorothy Foster at our reception on our first day at Westside Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon just wasn’t meant to be – at least not in the way we had planned. A month later, on July 14, I was in disbelief as I announced to the church that Kim was in the very early stages of breast cancer. For the previous 4 years, Kim had some suspicious symptoms. She had made periodic visits to doctors who did scans and MRIs but they couldn’t find anything. Upon arriving in Murray, Kim thought she would try out the medical doctors here. She was referred to a Vanderbilt doctor to investigate. They immediately spotted the problem that Kim’s doctors in Florida had been overlooking.

To be honest, if I hadn’t written extensively in my journal during this time I wouldn’t be able to recount it well. Kim and I were numb. I had just taken a new church with all of its responsibilities. I was looking forward to diving into my tasks. I was also looking forward to a honeymoon phase where we could simply enjoy getting to know our new church family without any distractions. I hoped that it would have lasted for up to a year. Yet, only a month after arriving, we were faced with cancer … again. If we didn’t have such a loving church and a compassionate God, I don’t know how we would have made it through this.

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Ready for the first day of school in the Calloway County School District.

On August 7, our boys were headed to a new school in a new state. We had only been here a little more than two months and half of that time was spent with Kim and me preoccupied with doctor’s visits. We could only hope that our boys would adjust well, make friends quickly and that their experience in a new school would be pleasant. As Kim and I were preoccupied with cancer, impending surgeries, prognosis, and the stresses of it all, we look back and wish we could have been more involved and supportive of our sons as they transitioned to a new church, school, and community. But, by God’s grace, they did just fine after a couple of very rocky months.

On August 14, Kim and I had four separate meetings at Vanderbilt with 4 different doctors to gather information. Folks at Westside have told us how impressed they were with how we handled the problems they knew about (our house debacle and Kim’s health). In reality, my journal reveals that we were under an enormous amount of stress from a multitude of other situations that we weren’t free to talk about (but I’ve written about extensively in my journals). While the problems that God had allowed into our life had grown Kim’s and my faith, we also felt emotionally numb much of the time. Sure, there were times when we were resting and trusting in the Lord. But there were also plenty of times when it felt like we were hanging by a thread.

Following Jesus carries no guarantees that life will be easy. In fact, Jesus warned us that following Him would create it’s own set of problems.

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Sometimes, we bring problem on ourselves. Sometimes, those problems are brought on by living in a broken, sinful world. Sometimes, they are due to others. Sometimes, Satan’s minions attack us. But, God has promised to work everything (yes, even the bad things) for our ultimate good to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

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Kim and I saw this shirt and it gave us some much needed laughs before her extensive surgery.

On August 27, I was sitting in a waiting room as Kim’s breast surgery took place. I would sit in that room for about 7 hours until I got to see her after the surgery.

It was at that time that it really hit me again how valuable it is to have someone sit with you in a waiting room when a loved one is having surgery. My Aunt Faye sat with me for the entirety of the time. My friends on the ministerial team at Westside Baptist (Scott, Penny, Mike, & Lesley) made the 2 hour drive to Nashville and stayed with me until the surgery was over. While I expressed my gratitude to them, they cannot possibly imagine how much that meant to me!

As Kim began her long journey of healing, I was asked to preach “revival services” at Donaldson Baptist Church in mid-October. I was so thrilled that the folks at my first church had asked me to come back for their 190th Homecoming. (Honestly, I felt like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime! Churches who call a brand new young pastor to shepherd them deserve an extra special reward in Heaven.)

As my extended weekend with them came to a close, their pastor, Chris Turpin, gave me an envelope. It was the love offering that had been collected. When I opened it later, my mouth dropped. It was a huge amount of money … more than I made in a whole month while previously serving as their pastor.

Well, before I knew what they were going to give, I had already agreed with my family that everything that the folks at Donaldson Baptist Church gave me was going toward a love offering at Westside to pay down the debt. It blessed my heart that God had allowed my family to give such a large amount because of the generosity of my friends in Princeton, Ky.

A few days later, I ran in the Go Commando Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in Clarksville, Tennessee. It was a rainy, dreary day but I cannot adequately convey how emotionally enjoyable this run was.

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Running down Riverside Drive with my friend, Chad Beck. I’m wearing the read shirt and jacket and he’s the one with the yellow shirt waving to the camera.

To be honest, I was exhausted when I crossed the finish line 13.1 miles after the race began. But, in spite of that, I absolutely loved running through this city. I was born here! Both sets of grandparents had lived here! There were so many memories tied up in this place that my mind and heart were filled with nostalgia as I ran. I wouldn’t give anything for that day!

A couple of weeks later, our church family at Westside gave Kim and me an incredible gift for Pastor Appreciation Month. Quite a few folks in our new church family wanted to make it possible for Kim and me to get away for a few days. Kim’s surgery and the multitude of follow-up visits to Vanderbilt had not gone unnoticed by the congregation. Their gift was incredibly thoughtful! Once again, words could not express the gratitude we felt in our hearts. We took our trip on November 4-6.

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The following month, we gathered as a church in the gym for our Thanksgiving Dinner. At Westside, we love to make the most of the holiday season.

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That Thanksgiving meal was on Sunday evening, November 24th. Kim waited until the next day to post the following on her Facebook page:

I have been recently reminded that life is short.

Last week my doctor discovered a golf ball size mass in my colon during a routine colonoscopy. This is the last thing that we expected…the news was shocking & devastating. Fortunately after a long week of waiting for the pathology results it was determined to be pre-cancer but will have to be removed via another big surgery very soon.

This finding made last week one of the worst in my life BUT also one of the best. It does not make sense but I have enjoyed my Lord, life, family more than I ever have. As I cried many tears and spent sleepless nights in fervent prayer, Jesus never felt so real to me. I have enjoyed worshiping as I never have. The world looks brighter, the air is fresher, the love is sweeter all because of Jesus.

I am choosing to look at my broken & crazy cancer-making body as a gift from the Lord, a gift that causes me to cling to Him & witness His grace, love, compassion, & tender mercy. My life is in His hands:)

My sweet friends & family, if you do not know Jesus, have a real relationship with Him where you are a committed follower, please consider changing that. Life is too short to be lived apart from the Lord.

“For He remembered that they were merely mortal, gone like a breath of wind that never returns.” Psalm 78:39.

I know that I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – I am absolutely blessed to call Kim my wife! She is broken and beautiful! Her relationship with the Lord is as real and rugged and just as lovely as the Psalmist’s.

Here is my journal entry for November 27 in which I recounted a very special moment, a time when we saw the sunshine peer through the thick, storm clouds:

Earlier this afternoon, my family was listening to Christian contemporary radio in our minivan. In between songs the radio host said, “I’d like for some of you to call and tell me what you are thankful for that you never thought you could be thankful for.”

Immediately, Kim told me: “I’m thankful for breast cancer.” Let me tell you two main reasons why she was able to say that with complete sincerity of heart:

First, I have watched my wife intently to see what God was doing in her life and how she would respond. I have noticed that her grappling with the cancer and the radical surgery necessary to eradicate it drove her to her knees. Without a doubt, Kim has struggled with times of discouragement. “Discouragement” is really an understatement but if I had gone through what she’s gone through, I would probably not have responded so well. Kim has recently started taking medication to help her manage the discouragement and hopes to be off it soon. But again, if it were me dealing with all she has dealt with in her life, I would probably be taking something, too!

Out of all of this, I have watched Kim rise once again more beautiful and godly than when she entered the valley. A few days ago, she told me: “I feel so close to the Lord right now. I’m enjoying time in His Word and in prayer. I don’t want this to go away.” As I have observed her and listened to her become completely transparent, I love what I see God doing in her life. Even though the breast cancer wasn’t pleasant and the surgery and recovery was even worse, what it has done in her life is incredible. For that, she is thankful to God for the breast cancer.

Second, as we ran up our medical debt with the breast cancer debacle, we approached the end of the year and realized our deductible had been met. Because of that, Kim decided to have a colonoscopy. She had no reason for having that procedure except that she was approaching the age when she would need to get one and since our deductible had been reached, she might as well do it now.

Kim and I went to the Vanderbilt Medical Clinic in Nashville yesterday for the initial visit with the surgeon. They did another scope and took pictures. When I came back into the room, the surgeon held up a picture of the mass inside Kim’s body and said that if Kim had not had the colonoscopy, the pre-cancerous mass would almost certainly have become cancer. The surgery required at that point would have been much more radical with long-term unimaginably undesirable effects. It was a great thing that she had the colonoscopy! Why did she have it? Because she had breast cancer!

We have seen God work through the details of this whole thing. We could get stuck in doubt or anger and ask, “God, why do You keep allowing these things to happen?” However, while we’ve asked that question more times than we care to admit, we’ve realized that in our particular situation there is a more appropriate response to our God. “Heavenly Father, THANK YOU for working overtime in the details to get Kim the care she needs well before these problems got out of control.”

On December 18, Kim and I were back in Nashville (for the umpteenth time since July). We needed to arrive one day early for her second surgery to remove the pre-cancerous mass in her colon. As Kim and I sat in a Nashville hotel and she prepared for her surgery the next morning, we were discouraged that we were going to miss Joseph’s (our youngest son) Christmas drama at Westside. (Arriving as Westside’s new pastor sure didn’t play out as I had planned. I was missing so much and felt like I didn’t give them all that I desired as the wet concrete of our relationship began to harden.) Fortunately, our Children’s Minister, Penny, texted me a picture of Joseph. It brought smiles to our faces as we sat in that lonely hotel room.

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Joseph in the Westside Children’s Christmas drama. Photo courtesy of Penny Perkins

The following day, Kim was taken back to surgery at Vanderbilt as I took my seat in the waiting room. In what seemed like a couple of hours later, the doctor came out and told me that everything went well. At a meeting with the doctor the following week, she told us that she would have suspected that a mass the size that Kim had (size of a golf ball) would have cancerous tissue. But, it was only pre-cancer. Once again, God was so gracious to us. What could have been a tragedy was cut off at at the pass again.

Because we were at Vanderbilt, we also pursued some genetic testing. We wanted to find out if there was some underlying reason why Kim had previously experienced cancer / pre-cancer in her kidney, colon, breast, and shoulder. The science of genetic testing is still new but it had progressed enough that it could provide us with some helpful information. We were grateful to find out that, from their information database, Kim had no known genetic predisposition to cancer. According to them, her bouts with cancer were apparently just flukes.

However, as Christians, we realize that there are no “accidents” or “flukes.” Everything has to come from our Father’s hand and it has a divine purpose. Believing this truth deeply can be unspeakably helpful when you are walking through the valleys of life.

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Kim spending time with her two younger brothers and their families in Jackson, Tennessee on December 31.

2014

On January 2, I wrote the following in my journal:

Well, Kim and I are here in Nashville again. Hopefully, prayerfully, tomorrow morning will be her final surgery for a long time. We’d love to get her medical concerns behind us and get fully engaged in the ministry that God has entrusted to us. (I know that I was the one called as Pastor but Westside Baptist is in for a treat when they come to realize what they got in Kim.)

We both feel as if we’ve not been able to give our all at Westside because of all that has happened. Yet, as Kim and I have talked about what we believe God is doing in our lives, we sense that He is giving us many different experiences and taking us through many valleys so that we can genuinely, knowingly care for the people God has entrusted to us. It also seems as if God is reminding us of the frailty of life and our own mortality which has caused us to have a greater focus on living our lives in light of eternity. I certainly hope that it makes me a better pastor.

A week later, we wanted to spend some time as a family doing something fun. Finally, Kim’s surgeries and health concerns were behind us. We were so proud of our boys! They had never complained about the various stresses upon our family for the previous 7 months. So, we wanted to go out and just spend a simple day enjoying each other’s company. We chose as our destination a place that we had visited plenty of times when I pastored in Princeton – Cave in Rock.

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Spending some time at Cave In Rock, Illinois.

A few days later, on February 2, my Grandpa Ellis passed away. He missed his wife (and my Grandma) and he was finally at home with her in the presence of the Lord. I attended his funeral a few days later.

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My Grandpa and Grandma Ellis standing in front of their home in Clarksville, Tennessee. Every time I look at pictures of this home, I get nostalgic. So many wonderful memories with my Grandparents!

The next month, Kim and I got a special treat. The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention was charting a new course. A trend for the past 2 or 3 decades among Southern Baptists was the disappearance of urban churches. As they relocated to the suburbs, a vacuum was created. This problem was compounded as inner cities were being revitalized by their city governments – and there were very few churches to reach out to the growing populace with the Gospel. Kim and I went to Nashville for a Discover North America Conference to hear how Westside Baptist Church might get involved in this incredible movement.

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Kim and I had a full size mirror in our hotel room. So, we took our first selfie (as a couple).

In early April, we went to eastern Tennessee for some family time. We got to see my Mom and my brother’s (Alex) family. On that trip, we went to Roan Mountain and walked a little bit of the Appalachian Trail.

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My boys and my brother’s children near the Appalachian Trail.

On April 12, I ran in the Murray Half Marathon. The following month, on May 10, Kim and I celebrated our 17th anniversary at Patti’s.

On May 19-22, I took a plane out to Denver. Larry Riley, pastor at the First Baptist Church of Clarksville, TN, had asked if I wanted to join him on a discovery tour. The purpose of this trip was to visit as many SBC church planters in Denver, Loveland / Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs, as possible. It was a whirlwind of a trip. There was hardly any downtime. But, it was there that I met Kevin Hasenack. Soon, Westside Baptist would partner with his church plant in south Denver.

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Dave Howeth leading an information meeting with the Executive Director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention.

In mid-June, I went on a week-long trip to Lynch, Kentucky with some men from Westside Baptist. Our purpose was to do a construction / ministry project. So many folks in that region are living in horrible conditions and their job situations make it virtually impossible to do anything about it.

I was impressed with the work ethic of so many of our Westside guys. We showed up to a house that was pitiful and the “yard” was filled with truckloads of junk. By the time we left, it looked almost spotless and very much improved. While there, I was also able to share the Gospel with the home owners.

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This is what it looked like when we arrived to our project in Lynch, Kentucky

It was also in June that we got some incredible news! We had been trying to work with the bank that held our Florida mortgage. We didn’t want to go into foreclosure but we also knew that we had an obligation to the bank. We had drained all of our savings to continue making the roughly $1,300 monthly payments on our Florida house while living in Kentucky. Drained of a savings account and praying against foreclosure and potential bankruptcy, we got the news from the bank that they were going to settle the deal and not hold us liable for the difference in what we owed and what the house appraised at.

There was celebration in the Ellis house that day! But, we now had another concern – Uncle Sam would see the amount the bank forgave us as capital gains and would want a huge amount of taxes from us. So, our prayers continued.

We went on our family vacation in early July. Kim suggested that we take a trip to St. Louis. She did her homework, found a nice but inexpensive hotel and we took off. That trip was fun! We visited the zoo, the art museum, the Arch, watched a Cardinals game, and so much more.

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July 20 was a very special day for my family. I got to baptize Joseph!

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Baptizing Joseph at Westside Baptist Church

In early August, Kim got to do something special. She was asked to be one of the speakers at a ladies conference. The conference was hosted by Gano Avenue Baptist Church in Georgetown, the church I had served in as the part-time music minister before taking my first pastorate.

In many ways, it made perfect sense that Kim was asked to speak. While there are certainly people who have been through much more difficult times than Kim has, I believe her heart is to show others how wonderful her God is. Speaking as someone who has experienced so much tragedy, in my estimation, gives her an enormous amount of credibility when she talks of life’s difficulties and God’s faithfulness. (I somehow failed to enter it in my journal but it was either April or May of this year that Kim also spoke at a ladies conference at Westside.)

The second half of this year was spent following Zach’s high school marching band around to competitions. Kim enjoyed spending time with some ladies at a women’s conference in Nashville. And my family got to spent Thanksgiving with my sister and her family in Saltillo, MS.

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This picture was taken as our time with my sister and her family came to an end.

As the year came to a close, Kim and I were under an immense amount of stress. While everyone else thought that Kim’s health concerns were behind us and life was going easy for us, I compiled a list in my journal of 18 significant stressors, all of which felt like an elephant sitting on our shoulders. Through this, the Lord was providing us with ample opportunity to lean on Him. When life is easy, we don’t necessarily find it natural to lean on the Lord … unless we have learned to lean on him when life is hanging by a thread.

But, in all of this, Kim still kept her smile. She has learned that laughter is God’s gift to help us keep our sanity when life gets tough. So, if there is an occasion in which something funny happens, she is more than ready to let out a healing laugh. On December 18, the Westside Women posted the above picture on their Facebook page. The comment by the picture was simple: “This smile is awesome!”

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2015

On February 10, Kim and I went to Nashville. We had been getting a steady flow of positive news for quite a few visits. On this day, I posted the following to Facebook: “I love it when Kim has a doctor’s appointment and gets good news! Her health problems are in the rear view mirror.”

The very next month on March 12, you could feel the excitement emanating from the pages of my journal. On that day, I wrote that our Florida house debacle was finally over. I noted that nine months earlier in June 2014, the bank took our house back … without holding us responsible for the difference between what we owed and what the house was worth (“deed in lieu of foreclosure”).

But, we weren’t out of the woods. We were concerned that Uncle Sam would consider the $80,000 (+/-) as capital gains and hold us responsible with a massive tax bill. In my journal, I wrote that I received amazing news from our CPA on March 11. He said that Congress had retroactively reinstated the Mortgage Relief Act of 2014. That meant that we owed zero dollars in taxes!!! While I am not a big government guy and I believe that each citizen should pay their due, I was so grateful that we weren’t going into foreclosure and we certainly wouldn’t go into bankruptcy. Finally, another one of the major stressors in our life was behind us!

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Enjoying some family time as we hike Fenton Trail in Land Between the Lakes.

In April, we took our boys for another hike in Land Between the Lakes. This area a few miles east of Murray is an incredible nature preserve. When I cross the Kentucky Lake, I feel like I’m stepping back in time to when Kentucky was essentially uninhabited. Except for some scattered buildings and trails, the land is essentially untouched. We have had some great times hiking the trails as a family.

On another occasion, Kim and I left the boys at home and went to Kenlake. We periodically like to get away for an hour or so to spend together and just relax. The scenery of Kentucky Lake is a favorite spot for us.

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In May, we took off to Saltillo, MS. It was on the occasion of my sister’s oldest daughter’s graduation from high school. (I’m getting old!) The next day, my brother’s (Alex) family, my sister’s (Tanya) family and my Mom enjoyed worshiping together before we separated again. Sometimes, I really wish that my family lived much closer to each other.

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Grandma and cousins
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Dr. York at the PastorWell Conference

Later that month, I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with Dr. Hershael York and about 75 other pastors for a PastorWell Conference in Frankfort. I could only hope that other pastors have had such an incredible pastor exert so much influence over them.

Dr. York was my wife’s Youth Minister and then became our Pastor. He married us and then resigned to begin teaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His father was the one who submitted my name to my first church, Donaldson Baptist Church. Dr. York was the one who submitted my name to First Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida and then to Westside Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. I owe a debt of gratitude to him and his family!

In June, I was a chaperone for 6 boys to Centrikid. I had a blast!

In early July, we took our family on a vacation to Cincinnati. While on that trip, we visited the zoo, the art museum, King’s Island, the Creation Museum, and so much more. Spending these times with my family is always fun! It is so refreshing to get away from the routine, focus on each other, and exploring things we haven’t done before.

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Kim was in Heaven at the Cincinnati Art Museum!
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This was an incredible(!) family day! Because of the overcast skies, the park was relatively empty. The boys probably rode 30-40 rides because of the short lines.

During the summer, Kim interviewed with North Marshall Middle School. They had an open position for an art teacher and Kim jumped at it. She loves art and loves teaching. She was so excited when she was informed that she got the job! This sign showing up in our yard (a 35 minute drive from the school) was icing on the cake.

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On August 28, I attended the funeral of one of my cousins. Kimmie was someone who made an incredible impact on everyone who knew her. Her smile was contagious. But, even more importantly, she had become much more serious about her walk with the Lord in the last few years of her life. Unfortunately, she had to endure the death of her mom, my Aunt Denise, 10 months earlier. Little did she know that the horrible pain in her abdomen during her mom’s funeral was cancer that would take her from her husband and precious baby daughter at such a young age.

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On an occasion that was filled with great sorrow, there was also joy. Aunt Denise and Kimmie were with the Lord. They only await the arrival of their loved ones.

On October 3, we went to Garden of the Gods. On the way back home, we stopped to have a picture taken. My family says that I’m in this picture.

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On October 13, Joseph’s school teacher was speaking on Alcatraz. She mentioned that three guys escaped. At that, Joseph spoke up and said that his great-grandpa was the one responsible for getting those guys put into Alcatraz. There was obvious doubt that swept across the classroom but we sent Joseph with proof the next day. To read more about it, click here.

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A newspaper clipping that has been passed down through Kim’s family.

The school year was fun (and busy!). Sean enjoyed getting more play time on the Junior Varsity and Varsity football team. Zach was busy with the high school marching band and the band competitions. Further, he stayed busy in his role on the high school academic team. Joseph was beginning his journey through middle school and was doing a great job in the band. All of this meant that our lives were incredibly busy. On those rare occasions when we were home as a family, we tried to do as little as possible because we knew it wouldn’t happen again for awhile.

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Zach, in the back row, on the high school academic team
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Sean, #15 in the center (without a helmet), on the high school football team
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Joseph in AWANAs

The Director of our church’s preschool, Lesley Emerson, told us about an alternative medicine doctor in St. Augustine, Florida. Her daughter had been healed of Lyme disease by going to him. Other members of our church had gone, some experiencing positive benefits.

Even though Kim’s genetic testing results had been encouraging, we wanted to “hedge our bets.” So, we planned a trip to St. Augustine. We were so grateful that we could stay in New Smyrna again and took trips to St. Augustine each day. This was a wonderful time for Kim and me to reconnect without distractions. We spent a lot of time talking, reflecting, praying, listening to preaching on podcasts, and so much more. I’m so blessed to have a soulmate for a wife who shares my love for our Lord!

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Kim and me at one of our favorite places in St. Augustine. Even though it is Catholic, the Mission Nobre de Dios is one of the most peaceful spots in the area.

On December 14, the “Jesus” plaque was placed high above the pulpit at Westside Baptist Church. I wanted this done because it was a clear reminder of who we are called to worship and who we submit to. It is also a reminder that I preach and lead under the authority of King Jesus. I am so grateful for John and Martha Yezerski for making the plaque and for Rickey Alexander for putting it in place.

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2016

For my family, this was an exciting and full year. The winter was consistent with recent years and there were snow days. We continued to love it because we hadn’t seen snow for the 7 years we were in Florida. We enjoyed the break in routine as the snow brought everything to a halt. Kim and I love spending time in conversation and just being together as we walked in a winter wonderland.

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When Kim and our sons got out of school for Spring Break, we headed to the mountains of eastern Tennessee. We had heard about a Christian ministry that had a lot of chalets and other amenities that made it a great place to get away and get refreshed. The part that Kim and I loved was that there were no televisions or computers (internet) and there was no cell phone coverage. For a few days, our boys stayed with my Mom as Kim and I relaxed and got recharged. Both of us started and finished a large book, spent plenty of time in our Bibles and in prayer, spent time journaling, went out nature walks, sang together in the chapel, and so much more. It was incredible!

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After a few days, we drove to my Mom’s place and picked up our boys. We went back into the mountains and spent a couple of days. We worshiped together in the small chapel, we went on nature hikes, we wore out the ping-pong table and fuzball table, grilled out, played cards into the night, and so much more. There is a LOT to be said about getting away from the hustle and bustle of life for a set period of time to enjoy relationships, make memories, and get recharged.

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We got to worship with my Mom at her church in Kingsport, Tennessee (Higher Ground Baptist Church)

I ran the Murray Half Marathon again on April 16. As I started it, I was so excited that I was about to embark on a 13.1 mile race. As I finished the race, I wondered what possessed me to ever do such a thing! I vowed that if I ever run it again, I will be much more prepared.

In May, Kim received a thoughtful card from her principal at North Marshall Middle School. Kim’s boss was congratulating her on an upcoming trip that Kim had been selected for. We were going to D.C.!

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During the snowy days a few months earlier, Kim had sat down in our living room recliner with her laptop and applied for a fellowship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Only a handful of folks are selected each year for this honor and so it was a shot in the dark but Kim has always been one to go after her dreams and leave the results to the Lord. Well, on May 2, Kim received that card from her principal because she had heard that Kim had been accepted. We were headed to Washington, D.C. in July!

Later this year, on October 3 (after our trip to D.C.), Kim received another letter commending her on her acceptance as a fellow at the National Gallery of Art…

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In June, I visited my two oldest sons at church camp and then went as a chaperone with my youngest son to Centrikid. Later in June, after they were rested from camp, Zach and Sean served with Kentucky Changers for a week.

Going to Washington D.C. in July was the family trip of a lifetime! Kim’s week-long fellowship with the National Gallery of Art paid enough to cover the costs of staying in a nice hotel only six blocks south of the Art Gallery. So, I walked her to work every morning and walked her back home in the evening.

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Kim and me hanging out a few minutes before she went into the National Gallery of Art on her first day. We were both pinching ourselves to make sure this was for real.
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Kim sitting with a friend on the back row watching Liberace’s (pianist) nephew demonstrate a painting technique.
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Standing in front of the United States Capitol
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We visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Words cannot describe this experience. You just have to be there to know how special that place is.

During the day, my boys and I scouted out virtually every corner and crevice of the National Mall. We visited virtually every museum and conquered them. (My boys wanted to ‘explore’ much more quickly than I did.) I think the National Holocaust Museum was the most memorable for me. We also visited virtually every monument. I think the Lincoln Memorial was my favorite.

I posted quite a few reflections and pictures on my blog. You can access them at the following links:
Family Trip to Lexington, Virginia
Family Visit to Arlington Cemetery
Family Visit to the National Mall (July 10, 2016)
National Mall with my boys (July 11, 2016)
National Mall with my boys (July 13, 2016)
At the National Mall (July 14, 2016)

As the school year started again, we were hanging on for dear life. With me pastoring a busy, large church, and Kim pre-occupied with her Art Teacher job and ministries at the church, and three sons, all of which are in at least one extra-curricular activity at school, the school year is always crazy!

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Watching Sean play some football. In the red, on the line of scrimmage – far end.
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On September 17, Zach’s Calloway Co. HS Laker Band took First Place at the Festival of Champions (Stewart Stadium). This picture was taken after their encore. Calloway County parents and students converged onto the field. Everyone else left (thus, the empty stands).

In September, I got to be a part of a group of 24 pastors led by Dr. Hershael York. We were invited to Alpharetta, Georgia to NAMB. Because of the generosity of some donors, this was an all-expenses-paid trip once we arrived at the hotel. While there, Dr. York led in a pastor training seminar. That in itself was incredibly beneficial but we were also able to explore the NAMB facilities and get to see firsthand the various ways that this SBC entity is partnering with and assisting churches. It is so gratifying that Westside is a part of a new SBC emphasis as we are partnering with a church plant in Denver.

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Dr. York making his way into NAMB headquarters as our 3 days of training is about to begin.
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Our group meeting in the first floor conference room of NAMB. My empty seat is right of center.

Three weeks later, Kim took off for a few days at a Pastors’ Wives Retreat. At a ladies conference earlier this year in Nashville, she was encouraged to sign-up for a chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip for pastor’s wives. She figured that she had nothing to lose so she did it. A couple of month’s later, Kim got an e-mail saying, “Pack your bags girl! You’re coming to Dauphin Island, Alabama!” She arrived and spent a few days in a house on the beach with 3 other minister’s wives. As she arrived back in Murray, it was obvious to me that God had given her such a wonderful time of spiritual renewal. I was so glad that the Lord had done this for my wife. He truly loves her so much more than I do … and that’s a whole lot!

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Kim took this picture on Dauphin Island and texted it to me. I was so glad that she got to enjoy this time with other pastor’s wives.

A few weeks later, Kevin Hasenack and his wife Jenn came for a visit. It was exciting to hear what God is doing in the church plant in Denver. They are running about 30 folks in their church now. Denver is certainly not the Bible Belt so they’re plowing new ground and are having to teach some of the basic essentials of the faith to their members. But, God is giving Kevin, his fellow pastor Evan, and their families the endurance to keep going and experience His favor.

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Kevin, the church planter we are sponsoring in Denver, Colorado, is in the back left. His wife, Jenn, is sitting in the middle. Lance Mauldin is on the back right with Gary and Linda Wallis sitting in the front.

The last couple of months in 2016 were spent enjoying the holiday season. We got to spend some time with my sister’s family and then with my church family throughout the most wonderful time of the year.

2017

On Monday, March 13, I drove to Lifeway in Nashville where I would spend the next three days in pastor training seminars called Pastors Essentials. This training opportunity was worth every minute! The content, the energy, the organization, and so much more made this one of the best pastor training seminars I’ve ever attended. (To read more about my trip, click here.)

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In April, I took my family on a much needed vacation. With two working parents, two teenagers with busy schedules, and a pre-teen, our family feels like it is virtually always on the move. We wanted some time to enjoy each other without the many distractions that have worked to pull us apart. So, we went back to the mountains of eastern Tennessee. While there, we hiked a few miles of the Appalachian Trail and spent a day at Dollywood. The chalet wasn’t nearly as quiet as it was last year when Kim and I spent much of our time reading … but we made some great memories.

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Oh, and while we were at Dollywood, Kim and I decided to get a picture taken. Twenty years ago on our honeymoon in Gatlinburg, we had a picture taken in Civil War era attire. When we saw a photo studio in Dollywood that could essentially do the same thing, we knew we had to have a 20th anniversary picture taken…

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May 1997
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April 2017

In a few days, our oldest son is going to graduate from high school. (Pause while wiping tear from eye.) Where has the time gone?!

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One of Zach’s senior pictures

We are so blessed that Zach has done well. Yes, he will be one of the valedictorians but even more importantly is his character and love for his Lord.

Fortunately, Zach is going to stay close-by at least for a couple of years as he attends Murray State University. He is going to focus on Engineering Physics and Math.

We are so proud of him and can’t wait to see what God has in store!

Oh, and one more thing – Kim and I are celebrating our marriage of 20 years this month. But, since we’ve got three sons and a ton of craziness attached to all of their end-of-school activities and Zach’s graduation, we will postpone our celebration until next month. We plan to travel to the place where I proposed to her and spend a few days in Memphis.

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Standing on the spot where I proposed to Kim. I was on staff at Bellevue Baptist Church at the time and the Singing Christmas Tree was the big event that brought Kim and her Single’s Group from Ashland Avenue Baptist Church to Memphis on the day that I proposed.

So, there you have it. The highlights of our 20 years of marriage. I hope it has been enjoyable to read … but even more importantly, I hope that you will take the time to write down your own story.

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A very thoughtful Westside church member purchased this for us