Ten years ago, Sunny and I made the decision to move to Huntsville, Alabama. We’d spent the first three years of our marriage in Kingsport, Tennessee. I worked as the youth minister for the Northeast Church of Christ there, which was an incredibly rich experience. Sunny and I moved to Kingsport a week after our wedding in 1999 and the people there nurtured us and supported us in more ways than we even realize. I still thank God for their influence in my life.
By 2002, we began to feel God was calling us in a different direction. It became evident to us that Sunny would have a hard time finding a full time teaching position in Sullivan County. I’d just started taking graduate classes at Lipscomb and, even though I had always wanted to preach someday, I wasn’t ready to transition out of youth ministry altogether. God opened up an opportunity for us at Madison Academy, a K-12 private Christian school here in Madison. The school was looking for a campus minister and a 3rd grade teacher and we were intrigued. Our best friends were here in Huntsville, which only added to the prospect of a move. After much prayer and deliberation, we accepted the offer and moved our little family of two to north Alabama.
I remember unloading the U-Haul truck that July at our little apartment. It was so humid here…I thought we were going to die! But we adapted to the weather quickly as we also adapted to a new calendar: the school year schedule. As a youth minister, I worked plenty of late nights and didn’t feel very compelled to arrive at the office before 9am most days. Needless to say, the 6:15am alarm was the definition of “rude awakening” with my new schedule. But God used that discipline to hone me in some powerful ways. I began teaching the New Testament Epistles to my students and my teaching load helped familiarize me with the parts of the Bible that articulated the Christian faith so well. I taught Romans and I was captivated by the theological density of Paul’s arguments. I taught Galatians and I was blown away by Paul’s outright contempt for any Gospel other than Jesus Christ. I taught Philippians and I was amazed at the transcendent reality of Paul’s joy while writing from prison. Leading each day’s chapel assembly helped shape me as a worship leader. And the students…each day I’d listen to their stories, laugh at their jokes, tear up at their struggles, and swell with pride as I got to know them better. Sunny’s students brought her incredible joy, too, and she felt professional fulfillment unlike any other time in her life to that point. God seemed to be validating this move at every turn.
One of the byproducts of our move was that we were “free agents” on the church scene for the first time as a married couple. Since our good friends were deeply immersed in the Mayfair church family — Corey, my friend, was the church’s youth minister — we knew we’d visit there first. Although we visited one or two other churches along the way, we quickly settled on Mayfair as our church home. We placed membership and quickly got to work alongside our friends in the youth ministry. I tell people that we started blowing up balloons and ordering pizza and hanging out at devotionals…mainly because we loved our friends and wanted to be near them. But we also realized that many of my students at school were involved in the youth ministry at church, so the relationships we enjoyed in both places took on an even deeper significance. Before long, someone asked if we’d be interested in working with the youth ministry on a part-time basis. We didn’t bother to tell them we would’ve done it for free! That part time employment led to an interim position through the next summer — mission trips, church camp, the typical youth ministry summer stuff. When the next school year began, somebody asked if we’d still be interested in part time work — fall retreat, Huddles, etc. Before the next summer rolled around, they asked if we could help with full time hours in the summer months. And eventually, somebody just said, “Why don’t you just come on board full time here?” And eventually, we did.
God’s plans for us here in Huntsville included three little ones: Abby Kate and Joshua were born in 2004, right about the time I left Madison Academy to work full time at church. Three years later, Jackson came along and we became a party of five. I transitioned out of full time youth ministry in 2007 and took on a new role as Mayfair’s Associate Minister working alongside Gary Bradley. I really had no idea how richly God intended to bless my life through this when it happened. But even now, years later, I find it hard to put into words what Gary has meant to me. I think I’ve been given just a little glimpse of what Timothy must’ve felt toward Paul, this spiritual father in the faith who encouraged him and helped equip him for service and ministry. Gary has been a mentor, a role model, a friend, a confidante, and — the highest compliment I could pay him — a preacher of God’s truth in my life. I know I’ll never finish soaking up what God intends for me to learn from this godly man. I’m just thankful he has been and continues to be a mighty presence in my life.
Looking back over these 10 years, I have nothing but thanksgiving in my heart for this place and for my God. His faithfulness has surely been extended to us in ways that we could’ve never even dreamed of when we arrived here so many years ago. I’m blessed to serve a church whose mission I believe in wholeheartedly. I’m blessed to serve alongside people who constantly encourage and challenge me. I’m blessed by the family God has entrusted to my care: by these three little souls who have scarcely begun to recognize how deeply they are loved. I’m beyond blessed to share this journey with my best friend and the best person I’ve ever known, my wife, Sunny. And I’m blessed to know the goodness of a God whose love endures forever. In all things, may He be praised, both now and forevermore.