After all these years, Curtis still thought about many of the terrible things he’d done to so many people. But thank God—more than a decade ago, he’d finally changed for the better. It had been hard, walking the straight and narrow, but today, this second Sunday in March, he was still a true man of God, a faithful husband, a loving father, and the best grandfather on this side of heaven.
In addition to that, there was the church he’d founded nearly twenty years ago, Deliverance Outreach. Even now, as he sat inside his massive first-floor study, reviewing the sermon he would deliver in a couple of hours, he smiled with gratitude. They’d finally moved into the newly constructed building, which seated five thousand people, but already the congregation filled it near capacity every Sunday. Originally the membership had consisted of only five thousand parishioners, with four thousand attending regularly. But after Curtis’s eldest son Dillon’s church had burned to the ground, more than half of that congregation had joined Deliverance Outreach. So, because of this, Curtis had seen no other choice except to begin holding two services again, the same as they’d done at the smaller building. He wasn’t complaining, though, not when he was very glad to see so many people wanting to belong to a church, and most important, wanting to hear and learn God’s Word.
Curtis read through more of his sermon, which was entitled Keeping God First, No Matter What, and for some reason he thought about Raven, his former daughter-in-law. Like any Christian should, he had forgiven her, but there was no way he would ever forget the trouble she’d recently tried to cause him; not to mention the other time she’d betrayed him. Years before, she’d worked as his chief financial officer and had stolen six figures from the church, and then last year, she’d publicly lied to her online following, as well as to the members of her church, about being sexually assaulted. She’d claimed that a well-known pastor had raped her, purposely leaving many folks nationwide to assume that she was referring to Curtis. She hadn’t mentioned his name, but rumors had quickly begun circulating, and had Dillon not gone to great measures to stop his ex-wife, Curtis wasn’t sure how things might have turned out. At the very least, his reputation as a pastor would have been tainted and possibly ruined for good, not to mention his family would’ve had to endure yet another horrific scandal. But Dillon had stepped up and protected his father and made sure Raven was arrested and sent to prison.
Curtis leaned back in his chair, thinking about his own sordid past again. At first he wasn’t sure why, but then he realized it was likely because he couldn’t help taking at least some responsibility for the way Raven and Dillon had turned out. They were both adults, but Curtis knew he hadn’t been the best example for any young minister. He knew he hadn’t lived up to the true calling God had placed on his life, and that it was he who both his son and former daughter-in-law had learned their deceptive ways from. He’d indirectly shown them how to become the kind of clergyman—or in Raven’s case, clergywoman—who only cared about three things: making lots of money, gaining extreme notoriety, and becoming as powerful as possible. From leading women on and sleeping with as many of them as he wanted, to fooling innocent members of his congregation out of their hard-earned income, to denying his own son Dillon for too many years to count, to having two children with other women while he was married to someone else, to blackmailing folks who wouldn’t do what he asked . . . Curtis had done it all.
He certainly wasn’t worthy of his Heavenly Father’s forgiveness, not with the way he’d hurt his family, his parishioners at three different churches, and even strangers. But God had delivered him from every ounce of the life he’d once led, and he couldn’t be more content. He and Charlotte were truly happy, and he was finally on great terms with all four of his children, all at the same time: Dillon, Alicia, Matthew, and Curtina. Then, if that wasn’t enough, the four of them were very close. This hadn’t always been the case, particularly when it came to Dillon and the rocky relationship he’d had with all three of his siblings, but God had worked everything out and they loved each other the way brothers and sisters should.
Curtis smiled and picked up the sterling-silver-framed photo of his handsome seven-year-old grandson, MJ. He was nearly the same age that Matthew had been when Curtis had met him for the first time, and MJ was the most important family member to everyone. His dad, stepmom, aunts, uncle, grandmother—and of course, Curtis, too—spoiled him as often as they could, and Curtis loved his little grandson with every part of his being. So yes, life was good, and Curtis couldn’t help shedding a few tears of joy.
After a few more minutes passed, his cell phone rang. He didn’t recognize the incoming number, but since he rarely received calls from anyone this early on a Sunday morning, he wondered if one of his parishioners was calling with an emergency.
“Curtis?” said the man on the other end.
“Yes. Who’s calling?”
“Jason. Your brother-in-law.”
“Jason. What a pleasant surprise. How are you?”
“Well, I’ve been better, but we’re hanging in there.” Curtis’s heart sank. The last time he’d seen or spoken to his sister was the day their mom had been funeralized, and all he could hope was that Trina was okay. “I’m almost afraid to ask what’s wrong.”
“I’m sure. And to be honest, there’s no easy way to say this except to just tell you. Trina has been diagnosed with stage four cancer. Endometrial adenocarcinoma.”
“Oh dear God. No.”
Jason sighed. “I know, and I’m sorry to have to call you with such painful news.”
Tears filled Curtis’s eyes. “I am so sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”
“Needless to say, this has been a tough pill for all of us to swallow. For Trina, me, and the children.”
“How long has she been dealing with this?”
“About a year.”
Curtis’s stomach tied in knots. “A whole year?”
“Yes, and I wanted to call you then. But, as you can imagine, Trina insisted that I didn’t. And she doesn’t know that I’m calling you now, either.”
“Well, I’m glad you did, because if nothing else, I can at least begin praying for her. And I can ask my congregation to pray for her, too.”
“This is just too much,” Curtis said, trying to control his tears. “I mean, have her doctors given her a specific prognosis? Is she taking treatments right now?”
“That’s actually part of the reason I wanted to contact you. She’s had two surgeries and chemo . . . but it didn’t help.”
“What about experimental drugs? New studies at the top medical facilities?”
“She’s already tried one experimental drug, but if anything, that made her worse. But even if there was something else, she’s already made it very clear that she’s done with everything. The side effects were dreadful, and she’s decided that she just wants to live out the rest of her life without any added problems.”
Curtis was heartbroken. Distraught. Numb. “This is awful.”
“Yeah, it is, but I really think it’s time you come see her.”
“Are you sure? Because even after Mom died, I tried to call her a few times and she never answered. She never called me back, and we haven’t spoken in almost twenty years.”
“At this point, I don’t think any of that matters. I mean, I haven’t mentioned your name to her lately, but I still think you should come.”
“What about this afternoon? Is that too soon?”
“No, the sooner the better.”
“Then I’ll just go ahead and preach the early service as planned and ask one of my assistant pastors to do the second. I should be on my way no later the n ten thirty and there by noon.”
“Sounds good, and Curtis, thank you for agreeing to come. Trina probably doesn’t know it, but she needs her big brother right now. More than she ever has.”
Curtis felt his eyes welling up again and swallowed more tears. “Thank you for calling to let me know what’s going on. I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome, and we’ll see you this afternoon.”
Curtis set his phone down, swiveled his high-backed chair around, and stared out of the large picture window. Many thoughts circulated in his mind, both good and bad, but what he thought about most was how selfish he’d been.
How he’d cut off his mom and sister right after leaving home for college. What in the world was I thinking?
Now Curtis covered his wet face with both hands, sobbing like a child. Just as he hadn’t spent any time with his mom before she’d passed, he’d done the same thing with his sister—his only biological sibling. And he couldn’t be sorrier. He was filled with deep regret, and if he could turn back time he would. It was true that Trina was still alive, but now she had stage four cancer, and she might only have so much time left to live. Of course, there was one thing that Curtis still knew: God had the final say. So, from this point on, he would be praying and trusting God for his sister’s total healing. He would trust Him completely and cherish every single moment he had with her.