Ten Years of Telling Your Stories

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Treasures in Earthen Vessels…Ten Years of Telling Your Stories

by Marilyn Tinnin

…And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10.

Come with Metro Christian Living as we catch up with a few of our cover stories from years past. The foundation of faith in Christ that drives these individuals keeps their circle of influence wide and their sense of purpose forever fresh and tuned in to whatever opportunities God brings their way. This is successful living at its best.

Laurie Smith

April 2004 “Life by God’s Design” and April 2007 “Trading Places”

The first time I interviewed Laurie, she was 32 years old and doing an amazing balancing act juggling marriage, motherhood, and a celebrity career as one of the designers on the wildly popular Trading Spaces. With a very supportive husband and lots of family close by, Laurie kept up that pace for several years and handled it all with grace.

The second time we visited was three years later soon after she and husband Brad had made a joint decision that it was just time to embark on a new season of life – one that was more settled. She had just walked away from the television show. She had just finished a demanding year of travel as one of the speakers with Women of Faith; she had written a successful decorating book, Discovering Home; she had completed a lengthy renovation on her family’s home and she had recently given birth to baby girl, India. She was officially retired from the fast track of the previous years and so looking forward to the everyday life of taking care of her husband and children.

Five years have passed, and Laurie has yet to miss the old life. She is completely engaged in the moment cherishing the milestones with her family.

Laurie’s days involve volunteering at St. Andrews Episcopal School where Gibson (9) is in the fourth grade and India (5) is in kindergarten. She and husband Brad are in their fifth year of team teaching the “Thirty Something Couples Class” at Northminster Baptist Church. Laurie’s enthusiasm for that activity is notable. It keeps her in the Word. She also speaks “infrequently” at design conferences and does a little promo work for Quoizel, a lighting design company based in New York. On the back burner, but something she intends to do before too long is write a book with a Christian message for teenage girls.

Boo Ferriss

June 2005 “Beyond the Ballpark”

I called “Coach” one afternoon in late May. Silly me. Delta State was playing in the NCAA South Regional Tournament, and I could hear the radio blaring. I offered to call back later and “Coach” graciously said, “No. We better talk now because the telephone is always ringing and things can get so busy around here.” At 90, Boo Ferriss is in no way ready for the rocking chair.

He says he goes wherever he wants to go – “just not as fast as I used to.” Coach Ferriss, a legendary former pitcher and pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox and much beloved athletic director and baseball coach at Delta State, still gets a hand full of fan mail every week and still sits down and writes a gracious personal note in long hand to every person. The letters come from all over the country and from young and old alike – friends, fans, and former players he coached. Boo Ferriss has touched the lives of many in significant ways. As Mike Kinnison, his former player who now wears the title of “Coach” on the DSU diamond, said, “The Boo Ferriss influence is a lifelong thing.” Coach Ferriss stays in touch with 99% of the more than 500 men who played baseball for him during his years at DSU.

He and Miriam celebrate 64 years of marriage this year. As I reread the story we wrote back in 2005, I was reminded of the first question Coach Ferriss asked his fiancé after she accepted his marriage proposal. “I tithe. Is that going to be a problem?” They are active in their Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, enjoy working in their yard, going to the gym to work out several times a week, and continue to be actively involved in Delta State University.

With children, grandchildren, and three great granddaughters spread out from Nashville to Jackson, there is a good bit of visiting back and forth. Family brings much joy!

He chuckles at the question, “What is the secret to your health and quality of life?” Never one to praise himself, he says, “It’s the Lord. The Lord has just blessed us.”

Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth

February 2010 “Loving Every Moment”

Sister was in her fifteenth year as President and Chairman of the Board of St. Dominic Health Services when I first interviewed her in 2010. I came away in awe of her talents, her business savvy, her energy and leadership ability. But it was her warmth and gracious spirit that inspired me most. “Genuine.” That is truly what she is – a lover of her Lord and a lover of others.

In January, 2012, Sister Dorothea stepped down as President and Chairman on the Board, but she is certainly not retired. She will be back in the fall in a new role. Meanwhile she has been enjoying a sabbatical which she describes as “affording much time for reflection, rest, relaxation, travel and time with family.” (Sister is one of 12 siblings…so it takes a while to get around!)

“When I return to St. Dominic Health Services this fall, I will be privileged and happy to serve in the role of Assistant Director of St. Dominic Health Services Foundation. I know I will ‘hit the ground running’ and will work with Jim Jeter, Director of the SDHS Foundation.”

If I could choose a spiritual mentor, I believe it would be Sister. I asked her to give us her three best bits of advice on the art of joyful living. She graciously gave the following: “First, stay grounded in prayer and reflection and keep God first; for without spiritual grounding life gets out of focus, gets chaotic and our appreciation of beauty is diminished.

Second, cherish the moment and take time to ‘smell the roses;’ take time for yourself, your family and friends. Balance your life activities and practice healthy living habits for spiritual, physical and emotional health that include proper rest, exercise, and nutrition. Third, accentuate the positive; have a positive attitude at home, at work and remember to put others first, whether that be family, friends, or community.”

Howard Miskelly

June 2006 “A Father’s Blessing”

I call him Mr. Howard, and from the first “hello” back in 2006, I knew we would be friends for life. He was 81, the patriarch of the familiar Miskelly name, father of the three sons who run the Miskelly stores, a veteran who is a member of “the greatest generation,” and a person who will just never be “old” no matter how many candles sit atop his birthday cake.

Six years have passed, and he still possesses an obvious enthusiasm for life. Ann Miskelly, his wife and soul mate of 68 years commented at the first interview that one thing that attracted her to Howard in the beginning was his love for and interest in other people. That has not changed. What keeps him busy today, he says, is sharing Jesus with others, being a part of the First Baptist Church of Okolona, and loving all people.

He recently sent me a booklet he had compiled called “Inspirational Thoughts Collected by Howard Miskelly.” It is packed with short bursts of wisdom and it is easy to get a glimpse of his heart and soul and philosophy of life by reading through it. For example, “The world rewards success; God rewards faithfulness.” “To know love, open your heart to Jesus; to show love, open your heart to others.” Oh – and he is not without humor. “If you think you know everything…you have a lot to learn.”

The secret to his young heart? Sharing and being a part of community. His best advice for a young person today, whether in business or in personal relationships is to “help and love others by giving them time, thought, and kind words. His personal mission statement is “I will strive to please Jesus in all that I do.”

Cynthia Goodloe Palmer

August 2010 “With a Song in Her Heart”

Cynthia has always been one to multitask with grace. She is a renowned talent in the gospel world, traveling all over the world to sing in church services, concerts, and crusades. She has just completed her fifth album called The Best of Cynthia Goodloe Palmer: The Ultimate Collection. It is scheduled for release on July 30 and features 12 songs from her previous recordings as well as four sing-a-long tracks of her most popular songs. Her calendar is filled well into 2013 with engagements in Oakland, Ontario, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Gatlinburg, Huntsville, and Columbus, Ohio. She has also been invited back to London and Trinidad.

A prima donna, she is not – and never has been. Cynthia is still giving of her time and her incredible organizational ability on behalf of several causes. She is preparing for Canton Gospel Music Association’s ninth annual celebration and scholarship awards event on August 26. This is Cynthia’s passion and her pet project. To date the association has awarded scholarships to 63 children since 2006 and they have encouraged outstanding high school seniors who excel in music to further their musical careers. Cynthia is especially proud of one of their scholarship winners who was able to attend BET television’s “Sunday’s Best Competition” and was one of 20 singers selected from a field of 15,000 to compete on BET national TV beginning July 7.

A girl of many talents, Cynthia continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Opera. She also recently served as Operations Director for the 50th anniversary of the Return of the Freedom Riders. When we featured Cynthia on the cover in 2010, she was working part time with the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. She is now serving as Executive Director of that organization.

Cynthia was the first African American to be voted “Miss Callaway High School” back in 1977. She has stayed in touch with her high school friends and her alma mater. This summer she has agreed to coordinate the class reunion, no small feat considering there were several hundred in her graduating class.

Cynthia says, “God continues to reassure me that in my insecurities, He is still in control. I simply need to listen to his still small voice and be obedient. God continues to amaze me at the new people he has put in my path that are kingdom minded. I also realize more and more that I don’t need to compromise my principles. In my sad times as I mourn the recent passing of my father, grandmother, grandfather and uncle (four of the most important people in my life), He is ever so near to take the hurt away and to let me know that He still loves me and has a plan for my life. God is not through with me. Every day I am determined to be a blessing to everyone I meet.”

Brad McMullan

August 2009 “Following His Ways”

Brad McMullan was the familiar morning anchor at WAPT in 2009. An Oklahoma native, he had really stumbled into broadcast by accident when a college elective landed him an internship with a local station in Oklahoma City. With a few awards under his belt, a young family, and a bright future, it seemed likely that his career path was set in stone.

He and friend, Dr. Philip Chustz, had started a company, Buy from a Christian, back in 2007. (BFAC.com) It is a Christian e-commerce and technology company that was established to help churches and non-profit organizations. Some have compared it to a Christian E-bay of sorts. They took no salary, and the business model was entirely intended to help these entities raise money for free. The online community that was just a sideline for the pair succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

At the end of 2009 MCL reported, “Brad does not look too far into the future. He is definitely a “Give us this day our daily bread” kind of guy. “

In 2010 God began to nudge Brad toward expanding BFAC and taking this “sideline” to a whole new level. “God called me to step out of the boat and my comfort zone,” he says. “For years, I just put my hand in the water and in the summer of 2010, I decided to trust God and step out on faith.”

Brad resigned his “safe” job at WAPT. “It wasn’t easy to leave because I loved my job, but it was the right move in God’s plan. Who would have thought two years ago that bfac.com would be a technology leader for business texting and mobile apps? Only God!” The Chamber of Commerce named Brad “Executive of the Year” for 2011.

BFAC’s website is certainly worth a look. The testimony of God’s blessing and BFAC’s commitment to faithful stewardship is everywhere evident as they close their page of “about us” with this statement: “It is our prayer that God will use this website to help change lives and equip ministries.”

Brad and Stephanie, who celebrate 11 years of marriage this summer, welcomed Ragan Michael, their third son in January of this year. Life is busy and blessed in the McMullan household.

Sylvester Croom

August 2005 “How Firm a Foundation” and September 2008 “A Common Goal”

Sylvester Croom, the 2007 SEC Coach of the Year, led the MSU Bulldogs football team from 2004 – 2008. He was one of my all time favorite interviews. In that first interview he talked a lot about what he valued in life. His admiration for his own father was evident as he frequently said, “Daddy taught me…” He also explained that moment when he accepted Christ this way. “I saw what it meant through my father. I knew how much he loved and cared for us. When I learned that Christ loved me and died for me on the cross, I thought if there was any possible way He could love me more than my dad did – that was pretty strong.”

As a college coach, Sylvester Croom never lost sight of the “C” word – character. It mattered to him, and he looked at it as a stewardship question. If he had been entrusted with the lives, the talents, and the college careers of his players, his duties involved more than the gridiron. He really cared about their development as men and the habits that would affect their lives long after college football. Despite the often brutal and fickle components that are part and parcel of a head coaching job, Sylvester Croom’s consistency and integrity caused even disgruntled alumni to respect him.

Today he and Jeri, his wife of 40 years split their time between Mobile where their daughter and her family live and Jacksonville where Sylvester is coaching the running backs for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Life is good.

He says that he has the best of both worlds at the moment. Coaching in the pros involves a higher degree of focus on the game. “Our players are grown men and so we don’t get too involved in their personal lives unless we are invited.” However, he adds – since the Jaguars are a young team, there is a greater degree of the “being invited” than there might be ordinarily. He calls the team a “refreshing group of responsible young men who are so teachable and who have a lot of character.”

When Coach is not thinking football, he loves the time with his nine year old granddaughter, Ryan, whom he still claims to be very good at “spoiling.”

Phil & Deborah Bryant

August 2008 What Matters Most”

In 2008 when we featured the Bryant’s, Phil was Mississippi’s very approachable lieutenant governor. Described then by a particular legislator as a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of person,” the label still fits even though Mississippians promoted him to governor status in the November 2011 elections.

His background as the son of a diesel mechanic and his checkered career resume from a first job in a tire store to deputy sheriff, state auditor, lieutenant governor and finally governor explain, in large part, why he is so in touch with the average man on the street. Add to the background the component of his faith, his commitment to his family, and you pretty much have a portrait of our governor.

His biggest adjustment in his new role has been “moving away from our home of 27 years.” Even with the move into the stately mansion on Capitol Street, the Bryant’s’ haven’t altered too many things about their “normal” family life. They still attend St. Marks United Methodist Church in Brandon. Deborah says Phil’s work ethic is the same as it has always been. He has tremendous energy and he never stops.

Family remains a priority with meals and weekend visits scheduled along with everything else. It’s not unusual for the governor to “throw something on the grill” at night or on weekends. Daughter Katie, an attorney, married in April, and son-in-law Stephen has been added to the family mix. Son, Patrick moved into the mansion with his parents and chocolate lab Maddie, who has adjusted well to chasing the “million” squirrels around the new Capitol. The entire family is planning a summer get away which will be the first family vacation in several years.

First lady Deborah has had her adjustments, too. She retired from her full time job as Medical Staff Quality Review Coordinator at St. Dominic, a job she dearly loved as a calling because it put her in front of families during critical moments and she had the opportunity one on one to help and to show concern. She still works at St. Dominic two days a week, and on her “off days” she is in full time mode as First Lady. She is working hard, but says “It’s just not your typical ‘sitting at a desk job!” Her easy-going “people” personality comes across

Deborah admits that she had a few inner struggles with “insecurities” at the mere thought of her role as First Lady until it hit her this was a door God had opened and her job was to pray, to listen, and to hopefully do whatever God put her in this role to do. “I have chosen to embrace this and to do the very best I can in the short time I have to do it!”

James Graves, Jr.

September 2006 “The Renaissance Man”

Sometimes we select a cover story based on someone else’s recommendation. In those times, I just know without knowing much at all that – yes – that sounds like a story I would want to do. Judge Graves was one of those. It was actually my friend, Donna Ladd of the Jackson Free Press, who told me I would really love meeting him and he would fit in MCL perfectly. Donna and I do not share the same views on most things, but we do like and respect each other. So I had no doubt, based on Donna’s recommendation, that Judge Graves was going to be a great interview. And he was. He was, at the time, a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice.

The title “Renaissance Man” fit him to a “T.” He is a committed family man, the father of three sons. His awards and professional accolades are many, and did I mention that he is just physically very tall and quite an imposing figure. He has a passion for speaking to school age children and inspiring them to master the English language, to be diligent in their reading and writing. He is a brilliant scholar and as down to earth as your best friend. He also loves to cook.

He loves to kick back, get his family together, get in the kitchen and create his own cuisine. We even published a few of his recipes in that cover story.

The thing I loved most about that first interview was the way he talked about his childhood, his relationship with his parents and his siblings, and how foundational all of that was in forming his character, his values, and his faith. His dad worked two jobs to support a family of six children, but he was a master at good fathering and was intentional in the way he inspired his children to excellence.

Today Judge Graves sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He was appointed in February, 2011 by President Obama. He is as approachable today as he was six years ago.

The major change in his household these days is that he is now a grandfather! His youngest son started law school at Ole Miss in the fall of 2009, and his wife and daughter stayed in Jackson to live with the Judge and Betty. Judge says, “Grandchildren change your life. It’s wonderful.” I think he really likes the “girl” thing after being the dad of three boys!

All three sons have followed in their dad’s steps choosing the legal profession. One son is presently clerking for a federal district judge in Tennessee; one is married and is an associate at Wise Carter Child and Carraway PA, a local firm, and Jeffrey, the youngest completed law school at Ole Miss this spring.

Cooking continues to be “therapeutic,” and Judge says, “Meals are a good way to bring a family together.” He confesses he is developing quick recipes that he can make after work!

And finally, I asked him what God is impressing on him in this season of life. He says, “…to cherish family and friends. As you realize that you’re getting older, you realize the importance of spending time with people who really matter; those you care about and those who care about you.”

Bill and Patti Buckner

July 2002 “Bill Buckner’s Family Story” and December 2010 “Trusting God in the Tough Stuff”

Bill and Patti Buckner have been inspiring me since the 1980’s. They were the very first cover when I rolled out my first publication in 2002. One thing I have always appreciated about both of them is their willingness to be real, to share their struggles right along with their faith.

In that first story, Bill shared the story of a painful divorce and his difficulty in getting past all the issues of a failed marriage. In the second story, eight years later, Bill and Patti shared the story of their “blending” families and the challenges that came with that. They had been through a restructuring event with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) where Bill has worked for twenty plus years and had spent several weeks wondering if Bill was even going to have a job. Just about the time they were dealing with that anxiety, Bill was diagnosed with Lymphocytic Leukemia.

For three years Bill managed to control the disease without any special treatments. All of that changed in 2010 when he had to undergo a regimen of chemotherapy. He completed that and enjoyed months of being declared “in remission.” However, the cancer returned in 2011 and he has recently completed six months of “aggressive” treatment that has left his immune system weakened.

In his third week of pneumonia Patti says, “It has been hard for me to see him so sick,” but she also explains the blessing of experiencing God’s presence in the middle of every hard day. She has a new appreciation and understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:7 which speaks of walking by faith, not by sight. She clings to Lamentations 3:23 and knows from personal experience how absolutely true it is. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.

In spite of years and years of studying God’s word, leading others to Christ, and watching God do amazing things through the FCA ministry, Bill has learned fresh and new things about God through this affliction.

This year he is using the Tyndale one year study Bible (New Living translation) in his devotions and says the discipline of reading every day in both the Old and New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs has had a great effect on his perspective as he lives in the moment, one day at a time.

He is intentional in his study to ask the question, “How does this apply to Bill? How can I walk this out in my life” and he has come to a greater understanding of surrender to God’s will and to a more personal experience of how the power of the Holy Spirit works in and through him.

Ministry is never a piece of cake. It can be a daunting endeavor where Satan tries to discourage and the world tries to distract. FCA continues to impact lives as it maintains a consistent focus on honoring Christ above everything else. The business end like fundraising and hiring staff continues, but even cancer has not been able to dim Bill’s passion for the ministry. There are now 26 staff members leading FCA on secondary school and college campuses around the state. Bill derives great pleasure from watching the enthusiasm of the young men and women who have recently come on board. He is in the season of passing the torch to the next generation. Even so, he is as excited about getting up and going to work each day as he was twenty five years ago. “It has been awesome to pray “Thy kingdom come in me today as I allow Christ, through his spirit to live in me and to do this ministry. I’m grateful to have this perspective at this particular time and so grateful that God would let me live that out for whatever period of time I have.”

Coach David Cutcliffe

April 2004 “Faith and Family First”

Coach Cutcliffe held the head football coaching position at Ole Miss from 1998 through the 2004 season. Prior to the stint at Ole Miss, he had been the offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. If you know your SEC football, you know that he had the opportunity to coach the two famous quarterback brothers with Mississippi connections – Peyton Manning and his baby brother Eli.

At the end of Coach’s seventh season at Ole Miss – his only losing season – he suffered the frequent fate of college coaches. He was fired. One thing about Cutcliffe that even fickle fans agree on -he is a class act, a man of faith, character, and integrity.

I could not help asking him how he has stayed grounded and managed not to be bitter in a profession that dictates your future by so many factors completely beyond your control. He said, “We (meaning he and Karen, his wife, partner and soul mate) have had our moments of being bitter; we have avoided self-pity at all cost. In the end, we have always managed to let go of any anger and we celebrate all of our many blessings. We are very fortunate to have met and worked with so many great people through our football life. We cherish our relationships and time spent everywhere we have gone!”

Today David is head coach at Duke University and very attached to the school, the town of Durham, and the life he is living in the moment. He and Karen still enjoy the company of their “bonus baby,” Emily who is now 11 years old and is an honor student at Durham Academy.

The big kids, who were just teenagers in 2004, are all graduated and settled in careers. Chris, their first-born is a math teacher and football coach at Oxford High School. He and his wife, Molly, are the parents of the Cutcliffe’s first grandchild, Shivers, who turned one on June 10. Daughter Katie just completed her master’s degree in education from the University of Tennessee, and adopted son, Marcus who was not even in the family back in 2004 is also a University of Tennessee graduate who works in the Duke Athletic Administration with David.

“Our children and family time are our world,” David says. “Our moms and siblings are always a part of our free time.” David is one of six children. He lost a brother and his father while he was very young, and he has never for one second taken the gift of family for granted.

As for Karen, David says, “Karen is prettier than ever and continues to lead our family with grace unparalleled.”

Don’t you just love happy endings?