By KATIE EUBANKS
It’s become a tradition at MCL cover shoots to capture photographer Deryll Stegall giving his favorite directive: “Happyyyyyy!”
We all need a little encouragement to look happy for pictures sometimes. And with his affable, helpful personality, it’s hard not to be as joyous as Deryll tells you to be. But just what makes this guy so happy?
When you meet his wife, the answer seems obvious.
But Deryll and Sherry Stegall are quick to point out they do not get their fullest joy from each other, and that neither of them has gotten everything right in life. They’ve both experienced divorce and a host of mistakes and challenges.
Instead, Deryll and Sherry put Christ and His grace into clear focus. That is where they find their happiness.
‘Everybody has problems’
Their lives were eerily similar before they met. They both grew up in south Jackson, came to know Christ at young ages, and even attended The University of Mississippi around the same time, though they never met there.
Deryll was interested in photography for most of his life.
“My parents had a little camera they got at a gas station in south Jackson. We took a two-week family vacation to California, and they gave me the camera. We got back, and my parents really encouraged me (in my photography and) printed an 8×10 of a photo I took of a stream at Yosemite National Park.”
While at business school at Ole Miss, he took photography classes. Early in his career, he landed at Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company, where he worked in customer service, accounting and other departments for 20 years. “But I had always loved photography. I did it on the side,” he says.
Sherry knew she wanted to be a “career professional,” and wound up doing that as a certified public accountant (CPA). She joined C Spire, first in accounting, “then was in a very diverse succession of roles in leadership,” she says.
“I was blessed to be part of a company that emulates Christian values. I hear about others who’ve experienced a lot of negative things in their work environments. For me to be able to promulgate those principles of integrity that go back to the company owners … you wind up teaching young people coming into the company what’s right and wrong.”
Along the way, they each got married — and divorced — and then met each other through choir at First Baptist Jackson, where Deryll had recently joined. His sister and a couple of friends set them up, and the two went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant on I-55 North after a Saturday choir rehearsal.
“We dated for a short time (and then stopped),” Sherry says. “I needed some space for the Lord to work on me. And He did. He just really tamed me. After about five years, we started dating again, what we thought was casually, and three months later we were married.”
They each had a child from their first marriages — Sherry’s son, Philip, was a junior in high school, and Deryll’s daughter, Carly, was in first grade.
“God gave us all each other,” Sherry says. “A lot of people talk about the hardships of a blended family, and we have not (experienced a lot of that). Philip and Carly treat each other as brother and sister, and call each other brother and sister, with no extensions on that.”
Everything seems too good to be true. But of course it’s not.
Early in their marriage, seeing couples at church who seemed to have it all together “was not encouraging to me,” Deryll says. “It was discouraging to me. But over time I realized everybody has problems.
“There’s a verse that’s stuck with me in Romans (7),” he says, paraphrasing: “I find this law within me — in my heart I want to do good, but I also have this sin within me. Thanks be to God for His grace.
“So even Paul struggled, and he’s one of the biggest Christians there ever was. That helped me with that. Our life as a couple may not be perfect, but nobody’s is.”
Their marriage isn’t perfect, but they’re determined to stick together by God’s grace, Sherry says.
“We have tried to tell everyone we can, I would never wish divorce on anybody. The reason we divorced (from our spouses) the first time was that Jesus was not the center. But now He is. And we’ve come in with the spoken (vow that) divorce is not an option,” she says.
“And if divorce is not an option, you’ve got to figure out how to make it work.”
“I’ve told our kids numerous times: If me and (my first wife) Cindy had had the spiritual maturity and selfless attitude that Sherry and I have, there’s no reason we would’ve gotten divorced,” Deryll says. “And Sherry says the same (about her first marriage).
“The whole world is so doggone self-centered. Everybody talks about marriage being 50/50. It’s not. It’s 110/110. You’ve got to get peace with every day feeling like you’re giving more than your fair share. Because chances are, your spouse is dealing with challenges that you don’t know about.”
Sherry says Deryll frequently quotes a seemingly simple saying: “All there is to life is making somebody happy, sonny boy.”
“My grandfather told me that when I was a teenager giving my parents a hard time,” he says. “If you think about it — if you make God happy, your parents happy, your employer happy, your spouse happy … that’s all there is to it.”
So what else do they try to bring to this marriage that was lacking the first time?
“Maybe patience,” Deryll says. “I need patience to not go off on a sermon. It’s always easy to tell someone how to live their life.”
Sherry says she struggles with patience too. In fact, it’s the fruit of the Spirit she struggles with most. “I’m strong-willed and impatient,” she says. “I have had to ask for forgiveness so many times. And (Deryll is) always very gracious.”
Taking leaps of faith
Being part of First Baptist Jackson has enriched Deryll and Sherry individually and as a couple. Sherry feels called to be part of the music ministry and has sung in the choir since her 20s. “It’s about sharing the love of God and letting that plant a seed,” she says.
Deryll runs camera during Sunday morning services, which are broadcast on TV. He’s heard letters from out-of-state viewers who’ve been impacted, and “that made me feel good,” he says.
In addition, the Stegalls learned how to share the gospel with people in public via Evangelism Explosion (EE). Ken Blackstock and the late Ken Sims conducted a training, Deryll says.
“It is so far outside Sherry’s and my comfort zone to share our faith. (But) we did it, and that’s been one of the neatest growth experiences of my life. We’d have some great conversations with people at the washateria, or in front of Baptist Hospital. We had a number of decisions (made for Christ).”
Afterward, “I got bold,” Deryll recalls. “We had a cable crew at the house. As they started to leave, my heart started beating faster. But I was determined to say something rather than nothing. I didn’t do a perfect textbook job according to EE … but I planted the seed. And maybe God used someone else the next day or the next week.”
He and Sherry would encourage anyone to participate in EE or similar outreach efforts. Even now, Deryll would like to design a business card-size tract that he can hand to cashiers and others.
The Stegalls have also loved getting to be part of Buried Treasures, a home and ministry for women who’ve been incarcerated or near incarceration.
“I have just enjoyed seeing how God has worked in those women’s lives,” says Sherry, who served as board president for 12 years.
Deryll recalls shooting Christmas portraits of children of inmates and getting 5×7 prints made for the parents. He did this for Buried Treasures for a decade or more.
“I’ll get choked up talking about it,” he says. “I remember (then Executive Director Dick Benz) coming back and telling me later, the look and the response from some of those prisoners when he would take them the 5×7 of their kids all dressed up and happy at Christmas — it’s an encouragement and a challenge to those parents to get out of there and get their life right and get back with their kids.”
At a certain point in his career, Deryll and Sherry prayed and “decided we could take a leap,” he says. He stepped away from Southern Farm Bureau and went into photography full time.
He says the biggest blessing in his photography career has been shooting cover stories for Mississippi Christian Living. Because he sticks around to take candid photos during the interviews, he gets to hear people’s stories firsthand. As this editor knows, those 60 to 90 minutes can be powerful.
“It’s almost been like my own private little church experience,” he says. “I leave reinvigorated and inspired to do more with my own life.”
Sherry says he comes home talking about those interviews a lot. “He gives me a trailer, if you will (for the article).”
‘If this is the worst thing … ’
One of the biggest life lessons the Stegalls have learned is to have a positive attitude. Not just blind, Pollyanna optimism, but gratitude and a clear perspective.
“My kids have heard me say, ‘If this is the worst thing that happens today, it’s going to be a great day,’” Deryll says. “We get so in a wad because a flower died, or the garage is in a mess.”
Sherry says Deryll often reminds her “there are others that are in situations that are so far worse than (whatever is bothering me that day).”
He has to remind himself, too. For instance, “We had gotten this new boat, and I had stopped at Home Depot in Vicksburg with the boat hooked up to the back of my car. I hit a little car in the parking lot, rubbed the front of the car.
“It was so disheartening. It just ruins your day when you do something like that. But I remember thinking in that moment, ‘If this is the worst thing that happens today, it’s still a good day.’
“I want (that saying) on my gravestone,” Deryll says.
While that headstone would get a laugh, it would be fitting for a Christian — one who can see death quite differently than the rest of the world.
“You’re going to go somewhere for all eternity when you die,” Sherry says. “And I’m very, very thankful that I know (where I’m going), by the grace of God and what Jesus has done on the cross.”