We are leaving Missouri in August, headed to a new life in South Dakota. The feeling at the forefront for me is a sense of excitement, as I feel this is something we have been called to do – to live among the people there (in this case the Oglala Lakota), learning from them, showing them love, trying to be light in a place that is at least characterized by things of darkness (e.g. alcoholism, suicide, low life-expectancy). I’m excited about learning about another culture and seeing a new place. I’m nervous of the challenges of the primary care job with patients with advance disease and limited resources. I am glad that our kids will be exposed to hardship and race. This physical departure from the Ozarks also conjures up a feeling of nostalgia in remembering where I grew up. My families on both sides resided here for several generations. My parents moved from Buffalo to Fair Grove in 1985, just before I was born. Growing up there I was ingrained with a deep sense of community and “place” that I feel is increasingly lacking in modern American culture. Do I romanticize the life and time? No doubt. I am aware of many imperfections to my community (which exist in all) such as drug use, racism, “cultural Christianity”, etc. And I see this strange phenomenon that each individual’s experience and view of the same exact place is drastically different based on their upbringing, friends, exposure to adverse childhood events (ACEs), extracurricular activities, etc. With those caveats in place, here are a few sort of symbolic experiences for me that stand out in my mind and their associated lessons I feel I learned from them.
Spending all evening driving all over the countryside to go Christmas caroling to older church members such as Raymond (1913-2010) and Zetta Ricketts (1916-2000), Eileen Farmer (1919-2009), Hubert and Joann Harral, and many others. Lesson for me: By showing love through upholding traditions of music to the aging people in the church, great memories can be formed.
Visiting Eileen Farmer at her home and seeing her husband’s very extensive arrowhead collection tediously mounted in wall displays throughout the house. Lesson for me: Value the history of the land and those who came before us.
Playing in and around the restored Wommack Mill. It always struck me as impressive that people would be so daring to undertake such a large project like restoring a dilapidated gristmill built in 1883 despite all the naysayers. One time I got several of my fingers stuck in an old apple cider press on the front porch of the mill while my mom was attending a meeting there. Members of the Historical Society used butter to get my fingers out. Lesson for me: In this flash of life we’re given on earth, we have the freedom to pursue hobbies such as restoration of very old structures from the pioneer days.
Kayaking the flood-stage Pomme de Terre River with friends, usually from just east of Fair Grove downstream to Pleasant Hope. Lesson for me: Nature can be beautiful, powerful, and exciting. And fellowship with fellow Christians need not be boring.
Going with Darrel Crawford up to re-roof a small country church near Stoutland, MO with some of his friends from Campers on Mission. We spent two days taking off 100+ years of old shingles and put on a metal roof which was badly needed. We spent the night at the Laclede Baptist Camp and had a very peaceful time around a campfire with the others. Darrel and I walked down to the nearby Gasconade River and admired that for a while. Lesson for me: Christians use their gifts/skill set to meet the needs of others.
Margaret Hotelling (1929-2018), with whom I went to church, would write me notes and letters while I attended medical school in Saint Louis. These were like a glimmers of light and hope during difficult days. Lesson for me: we are made to be in community; when one is absent, reaching out can be of tremendous encouragement to them.
I will miss the landscape of hills, bluffs, dense forest, and creeks. Last year Katy, the kids, and I spent a few days in Shannon County, MO in the eastern Ozarks. We hiked down to Greer Spring (with an 8 month-old baby, a 4-year-old, and a 5-year-old) just before sunset, visited Blue Spring, Round Spring, Alley Spring, Rocky Falls, and Klepzig Mill. It was a delightful and slightly treacherous time with little kids, but the simple natural wonders are great to behold. Lesson for me: Fun vacations need not be expensive and one does not need to travel across the country to enjoy one.
Growing up appreciating nature and community I have often longed to settle down on a hilly piece of land with a spring or creek and build a home and have a simple, somewhat agrarian life. We would be comfortable, have the freedom to garden and have animals if we wanted to, go to church, and try our best to be in community. I could even fulfill my dream of building a hand-hewn log cabin with concrete daubing, making it look like one of those old restored pioneer cabins (no pre-fab red brown logs for me). But as time went on, I realized that I clung to this picture of an idyllic life such that it had become somewhat of an idol. It was not only idyllic but probably idealized, for such a life may bring some joy and peace but it would not ultimately satisfy. Jesus told us that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Next he said “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever wishes to lose his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). There seems to be a paradox that those who live seeking their personal satisfaction actually end up bringing themselves more dissatisfaction. I see it in doctors who buy very large houses and nice cars and keep their kids busy in many extracurricular activities. They keep working more and more to support their expensive lifestyle but no deep or underlying peace seems to be found, just more work on the treadmill of life and moving along with the cultural undertow. I don’t fault them for this because it is a logical thought process to seek after the things one assumes will bring contentment, and probably no one has told them clearly that they are pursuing a mirage in a desert. No, I think the only way to find actual peace and contentment is to not seek it, but rather to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is the paradox. Seeking pleasure or peace or contentment in anything else is self-deceiving. The more I think about this idea, the more ground-breaking and life-changing it is and can only come from an omniscient God who is all-loving.
For a couple years or I’ve had sort of an internal conflict of whether we should stay and work locally or go as missionaries, sort of a pulling in two directions. I have been greatly impacted by people who have “stayed” and lived amazing Christian lives in primarily one place. I’ve also been greatly impacted by missionaries who gave up so much to go to where there was great spiritual and physical need. Obviously, a Christian can love God will all his heart/soul/mind and love his neighbor anywhere whether he goes or stays. But at the same time I believe God controls all details of every believer’s life if He so chooses, and He can specifically call a Christian to a specific town in Ethiopia or Mississippi or China, just as He answers specific prayers. I was never tempted to join a country club or own a mansion or drive a Porsche to work or achieve high societal rank. But I am drawn to other worldly pleasures. As time has gone on, Katy and I have learned through God’s word and the Holy Spirit that (for us) we do not feel called to stay, even though it may be more comfortable.
So, we are responding to what we feel God is calling us to do for now. I don’t know what our lives will look like in the next 2 months, 2 years, or 20 years. We will continue to listen to the Lord, whether it be in obvious signs or a “sound of a low whisper.”