Growing older in the Lord’s service


[EDITOR’S NOTE: This month’s column is written by Judy Curtis.]

While attending a wedding a few years ago, I was chatting with one of my younger single friends who would be twenty-six on her next birthday. During our conversation she commented, “The bride… gosh, she’s just SO young.”

“How old is she?” I asked.

“She’s twenty-three,” my friend replied.

I took pause, and without any thoughtful consideration for the moment blurted out, “Wow, I’d been married and given birth to my third and last child by the time I was twenty-three.”

I might as well have announced that I’d committed some kind of heinous felony. Times are different and people go about ordering their lives differently. However, in my defense, having met my future husband at the tender age of twelve, getting married at nineteen (and a half!) and having three children early on doesn’t sound so strange… or does it?

Well, anyway, that’s my story. The first time I saw LeRoy I highly suspected that one day we were going to be together. I even told my mother that I’d met the boy I was going to marry. Sure, it was probably adolescent infatuation, but God uses everything, and wastes nothing. That’s some good news there.

I didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord at the time, but He knew me and all that was coming in due time and let me just go right ahead and prophesy. So… here we are. On June 24th of this year, we will celebrate fifty-seven years of marriage.

If this sounds like a long time, it’s because it is, made up of one day at a time…one kiss at a time, one fight at a time, one BIG fight at a time, one apology, one adventure, one family crisis, one happy celebration, one answer to prayer, one testimony after the other of God’s faithfulness to us.

Exactly eighteen months to the day after saying our wedding vows, in the very early hours of December 25th, 1966, LeRoy and I knelt around our coffee table in Norfolk, VA where the two of us received Jesus Christ into our hearts and received the Holy Spirit. Our lives would become very different from anything we had planned.

It was nice to grow up in a simpler time. While I’m certain there were pressures on committed relationships, they were far less obvious than they are now. Society, in general, supported traditional values. Generally speaking, folks seemed to find ways of working things out for the good of family and community. Life was good, resources seemed adequate, and choices were fewer and much less complicated.

I feel blessed to have been born when I was, and in a working-class community. That, for sure, is one contributing factor to fifty-seven years of marriage. Some have asked us, “What is your secret?” I always wish I had a quick and ready answer or quip, but I don’t.

Recently I’ve been doing some reading and listening to podcasts on certain themes that run throughout the entirety of scripture, marriage being one of them. You can’t get out of Genesis 2 without running into a man, the only one of God’s creations made in the image of God, being re-united to his wife and becoming one flesh.

I say re-united because, according to scripture, all of God’s creatures he made male and female. Not so with Adam. He created a man. From the side of that man, he formed a woman. It seemed to flow from the very heart of God in his creation.

Every generation from then on records men and women marrying and once again becoming one flesh, albeit with drama, crises, and everything else that comes along with it. From the very beginning, or at least starting in Genesis 3, the fallen nature of mankind made “becoming one flesh” a bumpy ride at times. Read the stories… it’s all there.

In the New Testament book of Ephesians, Paul refers to Genesis 2:24. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Paul calls this a profound mystery, and he compares it to Christ and the Church, his bride.

I sincerely believe that marriage is the one thing we have in this life that is a living, breathing symbol of Christ and his inexhaustible love for the Church. There is more truth here than I can fathom, and more than I could ever begin to consider in a written letter.

Fifty-seven years. What is there left to learn? Let me just tell you… what I don’t know about growing old together is a lot! It’s still a journey, and if we don’t let the Holy Spirit help us… some of it might not be pretty. We’re not done learning that what God says is true, even when we don’t always feel it.

We’ve had lots of life changes, starting with LeRoy’s graduation from UNC, receiving his commission in the U.S. Navy and marrying me… all within 10 days. Boom! I was a Navy wife. He was gone a lot, but not over Christmas of 1966 when our lives took a different direction.

We had no idea what that meant. We just knew it was real. There were relocations related to military service, and during that time a distinct impression that full time ministry was in our future. When our military obligation was fulfilled, we took our three babies, all the gumption God gave us, and headed off for three years at Asbury Theology Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky where LeRoy would earn a Master of Divinity degree.

Upon graduation there were a few years of service in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. But that was not home for us. Going forward led to opportunities for service in the area of Christian Education… founding day schools and engaging in smaller, more non-denominational home churches where relationships were established that we still enjoy to this very day.

Eventually the empty nest became a reality. God opened yet another amazing opportunity to engage mission work in East Africa and then Costa Rica, developing curriculum and providing training for rural pastors in reading and understanding the Bible as it applies in their culture.

Those years also gave us grandchildren, and we now find ourselves in yet another phase. It can be tricky navigating new health issues, thinning patience, technological confusion, questions about the future, but it’s part of the journey.

The reason, and maybe even the secret? Two issues are settled. Jesus is Lord and will never leave us or forsake us. And secondly, our covenant relationship is more important than either one of us as individuals. The union has a purpose that is beyond our own individual edification.

We’re waiting, praying, listening, … anticipating how the Lord wants to use us. Two and a half years ago, we made a physical move to Carrollton, GA. Our daughter, her husband and his family are here, along with our autistic and very talented grandson, Ben. It’s hard to believe he turned 29 last month! We love being back in their lives. LeRoy and Ben together are quite the characters.

The drive to the airport is a little further, but we still have a lot of tread on our spiritual tires and the heart to serve God in training church leaders in a scriptural worldview, wherever that is.

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that at the heart of finishing well is knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified, and being connected to his body, his bride, the Church… his expression of God in the earth.

I’ve experienced so much of Christ’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, long-suffering, kindness, blessings of every sort. I trust all this to be true as we are growing older together… finishing well.

If I had an answer to “What is the secret?” —  There is something very captivating about personally knowing Jesus, looking upon him, and, as an heir with him, sharing in the very nature of God. He is the beginning, the end, and the center of everything that is life.

What a comfort, and a truth that will set us free to be a blessing to each other in this new “growing older” territory, and to those the Lord puts in our path.

We sincerely appreciate all of you. Thank you for your love, prayers, and support. — Judy Curtis

[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]