Walking hand in hand toward the church, I was a little apprehensive; I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. How could I get married in a church? I always felt I had integrity and this didn’t seem right. I had grown up in an atheistic home, although, it wasn’t as fashionable in those days to claim it, as nobody realised it or really knew what atheism meant; we were generally non-religious and just trying to ‘get along’ in life. I suppose in that sense we were secular, trying to make the best of things. We had the usual expectations in life, of getting that seemingly all important career, getting married, having children, living in a nice home, driving a good car, looking forward to retirement and holidays abroad. I had no idea what life was about or why we existed beyond that; I knew that it wasn’t really a satisfying prospect. I had no goals or ambitions, other than becoming a soldier; I was just drifting aimlessly along, but deep down I desperately wanted my life to count for something. So far I had the career and I had the girl, and she was insisting that if I wanted to marry her, then we would marry in church. Okay then! Being the ‘happy-go-lucky-go-with-the-flow’ kind of person I was, and having made my token protest of ‘non-belief’, we went on to attend the church in which we planned to marry. But I was frowning to myself, because I didn’t understand what difference it made.
“We were generally non-religious and just trying to ‘get along’ in life.”
Karen had had an almost entirely different experience. I imagine that home life was much the same, that is secular and fairly comfortable, but the difference was that for her she had already accepted the existence of God. During a difficult time in her young life she had attended a children’s church group, had received a Bible and was impacted by two of the hymns which she remembers from that time; ‘Holy, holy, holy’ and ‘O Jesus I have promised’, both of which we subsequently had at our wedding. When it came to thoughts of marriage, it somehow seemed right to her that God was part of the equation, even though she herself was not yet a Christian.
By this time I had been in the Army for 3 years but had initially joined the Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Engineers (nowadays called Junior Entrants) straight out of school in 1985. I was a very young 16 year old, but my 4 years in the Army Cadets had served me well in preparing me and had given me plenty of confidence to get through it. It was during my time there where I had my first exposure to Christianity. It was customary and still is, to be offered a little Bible during basic training; I was given a Good News Bible. It was a New Testament with my name: J/Spr Curd and date: 12th November 1985 on the inside cover. Somehow it felt important.
During a Chaplain’s Hour we watched a video which was designed to show us that every life held value to God and that we were not just blobs of clay; it was a little abstract, but I was intrigued by Jesus so I decided to read my little Bible. I read a number of chapters of Matthew in bed at night, but training got busy and that was that for spiritual input until we started to attend church for our wedding a few years later.
“I was intrigued by Jesus so I decided to read my little Bible.”
As you might imagine church was a whole new experience for me. I didn’t really want to go at first, but strangely I started to look forward to it each week. My only experience to date was Church Parades, Remembrance Sunday and at Christmas I liked to go to midnight mass although, I’m not entirely sure why, but I guess I sensed that there was something reassuring and comforting about it. I was posted to 22 Engineer Regiment, Tidworth and would commute home most weekends to Basildon, where I grew up or to Woodford Green near London where Karen lived with her parents. Church was the last thing we did on a Sunday evening before I set off back to camp.
Getting to the point of being ready to marry had not been a simple path. Three months after meeting Karen I completed a 5 months tour of The Falkland Islands. Our relationship survived the separation as we got to know one another via ‘blueys’ (very lightweight blue writing paper which folded together to form its own envelope), which came and went on the twice weekly Tri-Star courtesy of the RAF. One has to remember that not only did we not have instant messaging, email or social media, we couldn’t even telephone one another from a pay phone as it was almost impossibly expensive (except for one call on Christmas Day for about 2 minutes we never actually spoke to one another). I did however manage to get a Christmas message home through the BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service). But we wrote to each other often.
“The pathway to our wedding was not a simple one.”
As mentioned earlier, the pathway to our wedding was not a simple one. While I was away I had gained in self confidence and through a friendship I had made with a colleague started to think I might be missing out on something by ‘tying myself down’ to just one woman when I was so young. My philosophy became that what Karen didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. I was to discover later on that infidelity (although not since being married) takes its toll and can take many years to overcome; actions always have consequences. Upon my return from The Falkland’s, after a happy reunion, I began to insist on going off with my new mate to live it up, which included chasing girls wherever possible. I’m grateful that I was not particularly good at it and was mostly spared as a result. In fact, with hindsight I could see God’s hand in many situations that I had got myself into and was rescued out of. I’ve noticed that a lot when talking to other Christians, that they can look back and see that at various times, God has had His hand upon them, saving them from life threatening or damaging experiences. The same was true for me on more than one occasion…
“As usual, while away from home, I always sought a good night out.”
During this period of just a few months, I treated my own family terribly and started to distance myself from Karen and inevitably we split up. I worked very hard during this period at having a good time, going clubbing, getting very drunk and chasing the girls. Since we trying to remain friends, I had decided to take Karen out for a drink to celebrate her 18th birthday. It didn’t take long for me to realise my sheer stupidity; what was I doing? I knew I was meant to be with this person because it had felt like coming home. Miraculously, after much soul searching and heartache on both sides, we got back together. It took a long time to heal, but even after all of this my philosophy hadn’t changed. I wanted what I thought was the best of both worlds; I wanted Karen, but I also wanted the other stuff too. Until one night while away and in a nightclub in Scotland, things started to change. It was during a project to build an aerial treetop walkway and as usual, while away from home, we always sought a good night out. I was quite drunk, I was dancing away (in those days I had some moves), when suddenly I was struck by the futility of it all.
“Suddenly, I was struck by the futility of it all!”
I had tried so hard to find fulfilment in all these activities and in the end I was dancing by myself showing off to no one in particular and it dawned on me how ridiculous it all was. I went and sat on the edge of the dance floor and contemplated my life. By this time Karen and I were attending church, and still I was behaving like this; was I ever going to change? I had negative visions of what my life might look like in three or four years time and whether I would be able to live with myself carrying on like this; what would happen to our marriage which held so much promise? One thing was clear to me though, I was messing up my life big time. I was clearly unable to sort it out myself, especially considering that I had already had a close shave but had managed to get back with Karen. In this condition I evidently would have commenced married life in ‘marriage destruction mode’. But God was working on me.
“But God was working on me.”
Karen’s mum had been attending the church herself for a short while. She had been desperate because Karen’s brother at that time was addicted to drugs and missing for weeks at a time. So she found some comfort in attending. This is what lead us to that particular church. It was very embarrassing for Karen’s mum as during the singing I would change the words and this would make Karen laugh. Her shoulders would be going up and down as she giggled and tried hard not to laugh. Poor Karen’s mum! But a strange thing happened as the weeks went by and as God was working in my heart. I started to make sense of it all. I started to piece together the message of God from what we were singing in the hymns and choruses and what we heard preached. I instinctively knew somehow that it was all true. I couldn’t tell you the moment that I realised it but I do remember being asked what I was making of it all and responding, “Well I think I’d like to become a Christian but maybe when I’m older. I have to live a little first”. In my mind I imagined all that I would have to give up; I imagined a monk like existence, spending all my time doing churchy things, even though I didn’t know what that might be. I had no idea at this stage that it wasn’t about religion but about a relationship with the living God.
“Well I think I’d like to become a Christian but maybe when I’m older. I have to live a little first”
However, as time went by the truth became clearer. God was real, that much was obvious. He wanted to be in a relationship with me, incredibly, despite my shortcomings (my sin) and it had something to do with what Jesus had done on the cross. He had paid the price for my sins. I didn’t fully understand all that this meant, but I liked the sound of it. Then, apparently Jesus would be ‘in my life’, not distant and aloof. In other words, it wasn’t a one off thing, Jesus would be with me all the time.
“I guess like most people, I was still concerned that I would miss out by having to give so much up”
I remember hearing that my life would change. I would be different. I wasn’t sure what they meant by this, but I knew I wasn’t perfect and that I had no real purpose, except that which I mentioned earlier; marriage, children, career etc. There was some evidence as to how this might play out though in those I had met at the church. It’s what I now understand as the ‘fragrance of Christ’. I remember saying to Karen in the car at some point, “There is something about these people, that I can’t quite put my finger on”. I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t mind some of whatever it was they had. But I guess like most people, I was still concerned that I would miss out by having to give so much up. In the end though you gain so much more. I have learned that life becomes very different once a believer, your hopes and aspirations change anyway and that walking through life with Jesus is an incredible adventure of discovery, and that also knowing who you are in relation to God in your newfound relationship is incredibly reassuring, empowering and immensely satisfying. It’s this, along with the fact that Christ by His Spirit actually lives in you, which causes you to have this ‘fragrance’. Despite seeing all of these things, I still determined that I would become a Christian, but not yet.
“There is something about these people, that I can’t quite put my finger on”
However, one Sunday evening, sometime in April 1989, the church held one of its regular Invitation Services. The idea was that church members were encouraged to bring friends along as the service would be evangelistic in nature, and probably shorter. The church was absolutely packed. We were sat about 3 rows from the front of this huge church (pictured above) but, as the service progressed it was like there was no one else there except me and the Minister. I couldn’t tell you what he preached about but when it came to the part of the service where he invited the congregation to stand and to join in a sinners prayer, my resolve crumbled and I could do nothing except respond to the call of the Gospel of God. I surrendered. I mean, to be honest, if it’s all true how can you not?
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Soon after this the Minister made the invitation for those who professed Christ and call themselves Christian, to come up for Communion. I thought to myself, “That’s me now!” and went forward. When you make a profession of faith there is no doubting it, you know that something is different. An inner peace and joy floods your whole being and you understand completely that you have become new. The Bible puts it in such language as to say that you cannot enter again the mother’s womb, once you are born you are born; once you are born again of the Spirit, that’s it, there is no going back, thankfully!
The system for taking Communion was such that you queued along both sides of the Sanctuary, found a space at the bench and kneeled, then afterwards you make your way down the centre back to your seat. So, after taking the bread and wine I made my way back to the pew and could feel that I held a beaming smile. After the service I approached some people who seemed to have been watching my progress and had evidently been praying for me. I told them that I had become a Christian and to my astonishment they said that they already knew. That’s creepy I thought and asked how they knew, apparently they could see it in my face.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Later that evening I was at Karen’s parents home before setting off back to camp in Tidworth. I was being my usual tactful self when I informed Karen that, “Of course you realise that if I had to choose between you and God, I’d have to choose God”. That went down like a lead balloon and Karen’s Bible-Club Bible promptly flew through the air and hit my on the head, to the cry of, “There’s your God!” I was surprised, as I thought putting God first was a good thing. It shows two things though at this early stage of my life in-Christ; that I knew that God should come first; that not everyone is always happy about your new allegiance, as at this stage Karen was still not a Christian. However, two weeks later Karen did, but that’s her story to tell.
It seems fitting to finish this part of my story at the wedding, which had in fact been brought forward. I was due to deploy to Belize in June 1989 so we had decided to marry before that in May (instead of the following August, by which time we were in Berlin together). I think the idea for Karen was a bit of security, owing to my previous indiscretions and for me, once i knew this to be right, why wait? As it turned out the unit decided to leave me on rear party on a Regimental duty whereby I did 6 months working in the Officers Mess. It was an amazing way to start married life, as it was a week on/week off shift pattern. As a result we spent a lot of time together, which was a wonderful way to begin our adventure.
At the wedding itself, I was sat at the front of the Church with my head in my hands, which prompted my dad to ask if I was alright. In fact I was placing our marriage in God’s hands. I often think back to that prayer and how on many occasions I knew that God had His Hand upon us. We have been married 30 years now and it’s been quite a journey. We’ve seen the very worst and the best of times. We have two amazing grown up sons, both of whom we were immensely blessed to raise. They are now both having adventures of their own, although in very different ways; they always were as different as ‘chalk and cheese’. We have had incredible, if cheap budget, but memory making family holidays; we have known many great people, including many incredible Christian folk who have helped us along on our journey. We have been extremely poor, in debt, depressed, anxious, disappointed, heartbroken and at our wits ends with life and each other; we have together been at breaking point on a number of occasions, but God has been faithful and has sustained us through everything; and we are still here.
Life as a Christian is not necessarily any easier. If anything it’s more difficult, since it is so counter-culture. But it’s like when Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68-69); once you realise and understand this, you can’t un-know it. Knowing that He is with me, having an incredible sense of assurance for this life and to look forward to spending eternity with Him, enjoying whatever that looks like, brings deep joy and a longing to be with Him. Every hardship is brought into an eternal perspective. Every joy has its place in thanksgiving to an amazing God. Every step I take, God takes with me, as I seek to walk with and follow Him.
Check out more from my Blog