Sometimes we forget that one person truly can change our lives forever. I was reminded of that truth recently when I received the news that a precious, longtime friend had died from cancer.
Even as I type those words, I still cannot fathom their implications. I cannot imagine life without Danny Curtis, and I sure can’t imagine Dawn Curtis, his wife and childhood sweetheart, living without him. They are a pair.
In fact, they are the couple that taught my husband and me what godly marriage looked like. We probably would not have made it through those first hard years of marriage without them.
To people outside of Christianity, Danny and Dawn’s impact on our lives might seem to have occurred arbitrarily or by happenstance. We know differently; we know the truth. God used a series of unlikely events and the precocious personality of their oldest child, Cheyene Curtis, to place them in our lives.
Randy and I married straight out of high school, as soon as Randy joined the Air Force. We had our first child 18 months later. We always tell folks that Randy did the Air Force “Deep South Tour,” on bases in Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida.
When we moved to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, it took several weeks to find an affordable house to accommodate our family of three. That house in itself was a miracle since we just happened to be at the base housing office when a retired guy tacked up a notice for his newly renovated rental cottage. God’s perfect timing also proved to be perfect placement later on.
As the new guy and the lowest man on the totem pole, Randy was kind of coerced into helping his sergeant coach a little league baseball team off base. He was not excited at first, but things changed quickly.
Randy learned to respect and love his sergeant on that ball field, while his sergeant’s admiration for Randy grew as well. And Randy loved those kids on his team.
Perhaps they bonded so quickly because one team member was accidentally backed over by a car after practice one day, with the entire team watching. Miraculously, that little boy was fine, not a scratch on him anywhere. All that was left was a deep, deep rut in the muddy parking lot, with the entire outline of the child’s body visible for days. Thank God for those springtime Florida rains.
Whatever the case, Randy loved his team, but another little boy especially touched his heart – Cheyene Curtis. When I met Cheyene’s mom at a ball game, she told me the feeling was mutual. Cheyene loved Coach Lucius, talking about him incessantly.
In fact, Cheyene begged to go home with us one day after a game. The ever-cautious wife of a Tampa city policeman, his mother Dawn reluctantly agreed, only after she discovered they lived … get this … right behind us.
And so began a friendship that has lasted over 35 years.
The Curtis family invited us into their home, into their church, and into every aspect of their lives. We found a pastor at that church who showered us with the love of Jesus, a man of God who still mentors us via the Internet.
And since we were a young couple, far from home and family, Danny and Dawn even shared Dan’s Tampa-based family with us. Our son Jacob soon called them Mamaw and Papaw Curtis, just like Cheyene and his baby brother Austin did.
They taught us how to treat each other, how to put each other first, and how to persevere for the sake of Christ. We never sat down with them to discuss the biblical roles of a husband and a wife in the home. We didn’t have to. We learned from their example.
We watched them for over five years, and as we watched, we grew up. It was not easy; marriage never is. But we did not give up because Danny and Dawn never gave up. It was what we learned to do – love each other in spite of our weaknesses and flaws.
As friends, we did some crazy things together. Laughter was always in abundance, even when funds were not. Between both families, we managed to keep at least one car functioning. And if one of us needed something, we had each other’s back.
We shared food and money; we passed down clothes and toys, and we treated each other’s kids as our own. Any of the boys could end up getting a spanking by any of the four of us. But I can guarantee you all the boys listened quicker when Officer Dan spoke. That fact never changed.
Danny and Dawn left Tampa right before we did, but their impact and their influence never left us. Through the years, we kept in touch, and we watched them from afar, learning even more about marriage, parenting, and Christ.
We marveled at their faithful determination in adopting and loving a house full of kids that they had birthed in their hearts long before the names and faces were real. We were amazed at how they did so much with so little financially. It taught us that love is much more valuable than any other treasure on earth.
We shared pictures and cards, heartaches and jubilations, prayer requests and answered prayers. Over the years, we only got to visit together a few times, but each visit was like coming home. And of course, the first order of business was always Dawn concocting a pan or two of her famous fudge.
All of those memories come rushing at me right now, like layers upon layers of love.
I look at my grown sons and wonder what their lives would have been like if we had not met Dawn and Danny. What if God had not given us the gift of the Curtis family to help strengthen our marriage? Where would we be?
Would we still be married? Would we still be living for Christ? Would our sons know Him and serve Him as they do? As a couple, would we both be using our gifts and callings for the work of the kingdom? Who and where would we be without their impact on our lives?
Thankfully, I will never know the answers to those questions because God did give us the Curtis family as friends and mentors. And what a gift they were! He used one precious little baseball boy to introduce us to some life-changing friends – Danny and Dawn Curtis.
I pray that during this sacred Christmas season, this first celebration without Danny, the Curtis family feels the love we have for them all.
And I pray that God will wrap His arms around Dawn and her 12 children and show them that even though we cannot understand their hurt and loss, He does.
For long ago, in a Bethlehem manger, God loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to live and die for us all. May that love of Christ surround the Curtis family and all other families mourning during this Christmas season.