Six Months in Mississippi—A Self-Interview

April 4, 2006

Quite a few people have asked how we’re doing and what our plans are for the future. In just a few days we will have been in Mississippi for six months. Here are the answers to a few questions that friends have asked.
Q: Where exactly do you live?
A: We’re living in a cabin by a lake a half-mile down a gravel road behind a cattle gate next to a country road that runs into another country road that crosses the Natchez Trace nine miles north of Tupelo, Mississippi.
Q: Where exactly is Tupelo?
A: In the northeast corner of the state, where Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama come together.
Q: So you live in the country?
A: Yes.
Q: How did you end up there?
A: Fourteen years ago my brother Alan (a plastic surgeon in Tupelo) bought 105 acres that had once been a Christian conference center that went out of business about twenty years ago.
Q: What’s on the property?
A: A Swiss chalet cabin (where we live), a guesthouse, a seventeen-acre lake, and a conference center with a kitchen, dining room and seven bedrooms.
Q: Who was living on the property before you arrived in October?
A: No one. My brother lived here for a time, but now lives in Tupelo.
Q: So how do you like country living after being in Chicago for sixteen years?
A: It was a big adjustment at first. In 48 hours we went from the heart of Chicago to the cabin by the lake.
Q: We hear about Southern hospitality. Is it for real?
A: Absolutely. Marlene and I both noticed how friendly people are. Everyone talks to you. The clerks are actually glad to help you. People wave at each other on the street.
Q: Don’t you feel sort of out of it somehow?
A: It depends on what you mean. We loved Chicago. I think it’s the best big city in America. Best by far in my book. And we loved Oak Park. I’ve never lived in such an exciting, diverse, challenging community. As I write these words, I’m looking out the window and instead of people and cars and buildings in every direction, I see the surface of the lake as smooth as glass, the trees beginning to spring to life, and at night we hear all sorts of animals in the woods. There isn’t another soul within a half-mile of us. It’s all woods in every direction. Just us and the deer and the wild turkeys.
Q: You didn’t really answer the question.
A: Kind of pushy, aren’t you?
Q: Answer the question please.
A: Sure, sometimes you feel out of it. Besides the obvious cultural and geographic changes, the biggest change is that we don’t have high-speed Internet. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we’re so far out in the country that there is no DSL or cable modem and satellite Internet doesn’t seem practical. So we tie up our only phone line several hours a day, hooking up at average speed of 46 kbps. I’m sure most people have forgotten what that is like.
Q: So getting on the Internet is a chore.
A: Yes, especially for an Internet junkie like me. Marlene mostly checks her email, but I like to surf the Net. So we do feel somewhat disconnected in that sense. And it’s harder to fly from Tupelo than from Chicago.
Q: Does it still feel strange to be there?
A: No. We’ve started to feel at home. Or more precisely, moving reminds you that home isn’t just a location. Home isn’t Oak Park or Tupelo or Phoenix or Dallas. Home is first of all a condition of the heart.
Q: Can you explain last statement?
A: Not really. I’m not sure what it means.
Q: So what have you been doing since you’ve been there?
A: For quite a while we were resting and praying and thinking about the future. I’ve done lots of traveling, more than I expected. I’ve also been speaking in various places and working on some writing projects.
Q: How is Marlene’s health?
A: Her health has improved markedly since her cancer treatments last summer and fall. At her last checkup several weeks ago, the doctor gave her a clean bill of health. She will continue to be checked every three months for some time to come. Overall we are optimistic about the future in that regard.
Q: How long do you plan to stay in Mississippi?
A: This is one of the two questions we get asked the most. And the answer is, we don’t know. This has been a good place to be for this chapter of our journey.
Q: What do you plan to do long-term?
A: That’s the other question we get asked a lot. The Lord has opened the door for me to do speaking in many different places this year. Marlene will be with me most of the time. Here’s my 2006 travel schedule. We’re following Harry Bollback’s advice: If the door you expected does not open, go through the door the Lord opens instead.
Q: Do you think you’ll go back into the pastorate?
A: We’re very open to that if the Lord makes that clear to us.
Q: What else are you thinking about?
A: China looms large in our thinking. Three years ago God dropped China into our family’s personal agenda when he called all three of our sons to teach English there. Josh was there for a year, Nick for a summer, and Mark is there right now. We’ve been to Beijing twice, and two of my books are being translated into Chinese.
Q: Anything else on your heart?
A: Yes. I have a burden to help train the next generation of up-and-coming young Christian leaders from around the world. And I’m very interested in helping and encouraging pastors any way that I can. Two of my greatest interests are Christian radio and establishing a literature depot for distributing books on a free or low-cost basis around the world.
Q: What about the Internet?
A: That’s a given. What is life without a weblog?
Q: Tell us about Dudley.
A: He’s a four-and-a-half month old basset hound that we got on Christmas Eve. Bassets are wonderful dogs, very social and very loyal. We’ve never loved a dog like we love Dudley.
Q: Any big family news you’d like to share?
A: Josh is marrying Leah Thayer on July 22 in Bennington, Vermont. We are incredibly happy for both of them and very grateful to God.
Q: Anything else?
A: There’s more, but I’ll save it for tomorrow.

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