Love Lost and Love Found.
I remember the first time I met Pastor Jim Snow. Kim and I were just starting to go out together and she brought me to a Sterling United Methodist Church picnic at Claude Moore Park in Sterling. As a kid, in my experience attending Sunday School at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in West Long Branch New Jersey, pastors always wore long black robes, collars, and were a bit intimidating. Jim on the other hand had a mustache, was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt and a driver’s hat and he was cracking jokes. And best of all, I was able to call him “Jim”!
Kim had two requirements of me if I wanted to get to know her better, she wanted to be courted and I had to go to church.
I was prepared to do whatever it took.
The first time I attended church at Sterling UMC, I remember we sat about four rows back from the front on the center aisle on the left side. I think I wanted to sit on the end in case I had a panic attack. I don’t think that at the time I had attended church as a worshipper in thirty years. Hayley and Alexa were raised in the synagogue, so I had spent some time in temple. But church, only for weddings and funerals.
I remember looking up at the ceiling and hoping the roof didn’t cave in. But when it was over, also I remember feeling good, like I had been lost, but now I was found.
I was supposed to be in this place.
We would continue to go to church as our relationship developed and I would continue to push my comfort levels as I got reintroduced.
I had never in my life taken communion and my hand would shake as I took the cup and raised it to my lips.
In April of 2000 Kim and I stood at the rail with our hands on Donny and Savannah as they were confirmed.
And thankfully, I met the requirements imposed on me as a suitor and our courtship worked out, because we had it all arranged for Jim Snow to marry Kim and I on the first day of July that year. But Jim’s cancer had other plans and he passed away that spring. Instead, we were married by Lee Crosby on his first official day as a pastor. And with Alexa, Hayley, Donny, and Savannah beside us, we stood in front of the cross and were married.
We continued to go to church and I continued to get reacquainted with being a Christian.
For a brief period, because we wanted Donny and Savannah to be active in Youth Group, we started attending Herndon UMC because the kids had school friends in that group. But whenever I could, if for some reason I found myself alone on a Sunday morning, I would dip back into Sterling UMC and sit in the back row. It felt more like home.
I had never been baptized so in January of 2002 I requested of our pastor at the time, Alan Reifsnyder to join the church and be baptized on the next available date. On January 27, 2002 in front of my family, except for Donny who was away that weekend, but including my parents and my new church family, I was baptized at the age of forty five.
In June of that year we met the new pastor Ralph Goodman and his family, who would be starting on the first day of July. Donny was really excited because Ralph had two very pretty daughters.
Not too long after that, on July 23, 2002, Kim and I would stand at the rail again and place our hands on Donny, this time for the last time. A tragic accident had taken Donny’s life on Friday, July 19th. On that Tuesday we celebrated Donny’s life and gave his spirit up to God. The church overflowed with people that day. Even the Sterling Volunteer Fire Department came because mysteriously the fire alarm went off in the middle of the service.
Ralph Goodman, in his first month on the job, walked that walk with Kim and I, and with the Herndon community that surrounded Donny. He joined the impromptu gatherings of grieving kids, walked the neighborhood, spent time at “the rock” at Herndon High School. For that we will be forever grateful. I cried on his last day preaching at Sterling UMC.
A life event like that couldn’t be survived without friends, family, church family, and most important, God and faith. To this day however I struggle to attend funerals at the church and generally find myself staying as busy in the background as I can, and fighting back tears whenever I hear “Amazing Grace.”
But with Jesus and Kim’s faith as our rock we kept moving, becoming more active in church.
My level of comfort was greatly tested when Kim and Savannah signed up to participate in a weeklong mission trip to Jamaica and Savannah dropped out at the last minute.
“Curt will go” Kim said.
“But Kim, I don’t want to go on a mission trip” I pleaded.
But all she would say is “Then you need to pray about it.”
So, I did.
But my prayers weren’t answered. I found myself in Jamaica that summer.
And in the end, it was a life changing experience.
And we even went back the following year.
Our church life continued. We would share our Jamaica experiences with Pastor Randy Duncan and his wife Robin and get to know them better. Randy came to Sterling after Ralph left and remained for eleven years, the years Kim and I were most active in the church.
I would have another “first” at the rail when we took Cameron up for Communion for the first time. He took the bread, but when offered the cup he said politely “no thank you, I don’t like grape juice.” The server told him “that’s okay, you don’t have to drink it.” But after some hesitation he did anyway, and when we returned to our pew in the back, he asked Kim and I if he could say another prayer. Then he had us bow our heads and fold our hands and Cameron prayed “Dear God, thank you for bringing me back to church, Amen.”
I cried that day too.
On Easter Sunday April 16, 2017, I was a proud dad whose family practically filled the whole pew. Savannah and Cameron were there. Hayley and her new family with her husband and two stepchildren were with us too. Pastor Steve Vineyard delivered the sermon called “Who Will Roll Away the Stone,” the stone representing the heavy weight keeping us from facing all those tough things we had going on in our lives. A month or so later I would get a phone call from Hayley asking for my assistance to help her get out of the physically and emotionally abusive marriage she was in. Hayley attributed the courage she needed to make that decision to Pastor Steve’s sermon that Easter Sunday. “Who Will Roll Away the Stone” may have saved Hayley’s life.
In October of 2021 our entire family would return to the rail once again and witness the wedding of Savannah and Leon performed by Pastor Linda Monroe.
Kim and I have been less active the last few years. The Pandemic, trying to care for aging parents in different states, the challenges sometimes of working and worshipping in the same place.
But I was blessed to have been given a second chance in life to find love in this church.
The love of a new marriage.
The love of a new blended family.
The love realized in the experiences of my kids, the joyful ones and the sad ones, and learning love overcomes the sad ones.
The love of a church family I had never experienced.
And most importantly, the Love of God.
For me, Love was lost, but then I found it again.
I was lost, and somehow, I was found.
Because God’s Love and God’s Grace,