Cathy and I moved from Valdosta, Georgia to El Dorado, Arkansas in August, 1971 to begin a new phase in our journey. Our 2 young children, John Aaron, age 4 and Mary Kay, age 2 were excited about this new adventure, but Cathy and I were just a little apprehensive with lots of unanswered questions about our future. Could I make a living doing surgery in the town I grew up in? Would we be able to make the right kind of friends for ourselves and our kids? Would we fit into the culture of this small Southern town which still had many prejudiced people who had just come through the tumultuous, racially charged 1960’s?
Cathy had the greatest adjustment to make, because she was separated by many miles from the culture in which she was raised and from any of her family members. In those years I was not the supportive husband I should have been in understanding Cathy’s plight and the sacrifices she was making. I just assumed in time she would be able to settle into our new life-style and would find her place, her purpose and accomplish her own goals. My thoughts and goals then were professional in terms of becoming the best surgeon possible and providing the best resources for our family. Those were not bad goals; just not centered on Cathy and our kids as it should have been.
The next great event in our life together was the birth of our second daughter, Ginny on November 3, 1972. By this time Cathy and I had purchased the Moore family home in which I was raised at 1800 North Madison from my Mom. She moved into the rental home on East 7th Street where we had been living. Our new home was large with a very large yard in which our kids could play. Our across the street neighbors were the Clyde’s and their children Elizabeth and older brother Andrew would play a large role in our lives then and at a much later time.
We became members of First Baptist Church upon moving to town and immersed ourselves into the ministry of this long-established downtown church. We provided leadership and I was a teacher of a young couples Sunday school class. I was even selected to serve as a deacon. We were fully vested as church members, but both of us felt a certain emptiness in our hearts and in our life together. We didn’t fully understand our dilemma or our need until we attended a Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas, Texas in August, 1977. I wrote about our salvation and life-change which occurred at that seminar on August 6, 1977, and from that day forward we were different individually and toward each other (A Shopping Trip to Dallas; Aug., 2012).
I began understanding on a deeper level my primary responsibilities were to love Jesus with all my heart, and to love and cherish Cathy as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25-27). I acknowledged my professional life was important, but it paled in significance to the importance of my investments into the lives of Cathy and our children. There was a definite change in our marriage relationship but changes of that magnitude come slow.
Our involvement into the ministry at First Baptist Church deepened, and reached its’ peak during the pastorate of Dr. Mark Coppenger from 1983 to 1988.Those years marked our greatest spiritual growth to that point. We also became involved in the ministry of The International Congress on Revival (ICR) under Evangelist Bill Stafford’s leadership and together made many overseas mission trips to Brazil, Western and Eastern Europe and Ireland. We were extremely blessed to have my sister Marilyn and husband George Berry from Austin, Texas involved also in the ICR ministry, and we made many of the overseas mission trips together with them. Our love for them and the relationship with them, their children and grandchildren deepened during those years of ministry.
In 1989 Cathy and I moved our church membership from the First Baptist Church to Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado, and for the next 10 years were immersed into our ministry there. The most exciting times there were during the pastorate of Dr. David Uth in the mid-1990’s when Immanuel Baptist had its’ greatest growth period. David’s wife Rachel is the daughter of brother Berry Lee and his wife LaNell, so our connection to Brother David and Rachel was even closer and sweeter. We were honored to have Brother David officiate the weddings of each of our children; John Aaron to Gina Ratcliff in 1990; Mary Kay to Dave Janke in 1992; and Ginny to John Luther in 1995.
One of the more difficult times for us occurred in 1999 when we felt called to move to Largo, Florida and the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks where I served as the initial medical director of the church’s medical clinic. I wrote extensively on this blog concerning our Florida ministry. (“God Will Make a Way” -Our Ministry in Florida; Apr. 2016). The stress of being so far away from our children and grandchildren during that 8 month period drew Cathy and me closer together causing each of us to depend upon the other more and cherish our life more together.
We were thrilled to make our next move in May, 2000 to Fayetteville, Arkansas where our Ginny and husband John Luther lived and to become more fully vested in their family. It was there I began serving as a wound care specialist at Washington Regional Medical Center, and was able to spend much more time at home with Cathy. I no longer had night call or weekend call, and the physical and emotional stresses of a busy surgical practice were lifted. Our home was a beautiful energy-efficient home which was a model all-electric home built by Ozarks Electric Company. We were told we were getting a “Cadillac home” at a “Chevrolet price” which was certainly the case. For the first time in our marriage Cathy had a new home which she could decorate exactly according to her taste, and I loved our Fayetteville home more than all the others. It was located in a new subdivision west of town and a short 5-8 minute drive to Ginny and John’s home which was located in Savoy.
A huge highlight of our time in Fayetteville was the birth of Ginny and John’s first child and their only daughter, Claire on August 19, 2001. It was so fun watching her grow and develop and for us to have the opportunity and time to be part of her early years. Fayetteville is a short 2 hour drive to Branson, Missouri where daughter Mary Kay, husband Dave Janke and their 2 daughters Rebecca and Sara Beth lived, and we frequently made the drive there for weekend visits.
Cathy and I were well-settled in Fayetteville and wonderfully happy with our life, but an unusual turn of events happened which turned our hearts toward another move; this time to Branson, Missouri. (The Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks– Part 3; Dec., 2012). Friends and even some family members wondered if Cathy and I would ever settle down in one place. A church member and friend in El Dorado at Immanuel Baptist Church asked our son John the question, “Where are your parents living now?!
With considerable prayer and some agonizing Cathy and I believed it God’s will to move to Branson in November 2005 where I would be the sole Director of the Wound Care Clinic of Skaggs Memorial Hospital. More importantly we would be near our kids and grandkids living there. Our plans were to spend a “few years” in Branson, retire from medical practice and return to Fayetteville for the final days of our journey. At the time of our decision I told Ginny through tears, “Mom and I will return– this move is not permanent — I promise!”
— to be continued.