The UPPC Story Project: Carolyn Rzesutek
Growing up, Carolyn was raised in the Christian Science church. While her father was a Methodist, her mother raised Carolyn and her sister as Christian Scientists. For Carolyn, not only did this mean she could not visit doctors or take medicine, but she also felt uncomfortable at school when she couldn’t participate in hearing tests or dental checks along with her classmates.
When Carolyn was in high school, her mother’s adherence to the church’s tenets unfortunately led to tragedy.
“My mother was really, really sick and eventually, she went to the doctor for the first time and found out she had uterine cancer. They said if she had gone in much earlier they could have removed it,” Carolyn said. “But, they were going to do surgery to see if they could remove it all. She had surgery, but they didn’t get it all so she went in for a second time.”
Carolyn was a senior in high school when her mom went in for the second surgery. While she was at school, her mother died of a heart attack on the operating table.
“It was extremely disillusioning in so many ways. I was heartbroken… But, I wasn’t at all mad with God. I think I was confused more than anything. There was a lot of mourning,” Carolyn said.
When she was 18, Carolyn met Steve Rzesutek at Tacoma Community College. After dating for three years, the couple got married in 1982 at a Lutheran church in Tacoma where Steve was a member. It was Carolyn’s relationship with Steve that opened her eyes to the fact that she didn’t have a relationship with God.
“I knew that God was in my heart, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” Carolyn said.
When Carolyn’s good friend invited her to the Lutheran church’s membership class, that is when things started to change for Carolyn’s faith. Her friend went with her to all the classes and really encouraged her as she began her faith journey and realized that Jesus Christ was in her.
“I felt the Holy Spirit was in me and was stirring. It was amazing! The lightbulb came on,” Carolyn said.
Carolyn went on to become a member at that church. But, with her husband working nights as a security guard at Boeing he was not able to attend church with her and her young daughter, Allison. Over time, the Rzesuteks found themselves looking for a new church to call home.
In 1990, the Rzesutek family moved to University Place where they had their second child, Kyle.
There, Carolyn met a family who attended University Place Presbyterian Church who invited Allison to a children’s program at the church. Allison came home in love with the Wednesday night program, so the family decided to start going to church there.
“It was such a great transition. At that point, my husband was working days and we could all go. It was just so natural. I became really good friends with the gal who introduced me to the church. My daughter and her daughter became best friends. It was just God ordained, absolutely,” Carolyn said.
As her children were beginning to get older, Carolyn started looking for a job. One Sunday, she was in service at UPPC when an opportunity arose.
“I was sitting in the pew and I felt the sun showing on the little blurb about looking for a receptionist in the bulletin,” Carolyn said.
Carolyn served in the position of church receptionist for 20 years, retiring in April 2016.
“It was just a privilege and a joy. I loved going to work. I loved taking care of the congregation, however that looked, and helping the pastor and staff. My theory was, if I can help you do your ministry better, even by pouring you a cup of coffee, then I would do it,” Carolyn said.
For her, UPPC became a place where she was able to build meaningful relationships through women’s ministry, children’s ministry and singing in the choir.
In February 2018, Steve passed away from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after an 18-month battle.
“When Steve got sick, he wasn’t going to church. So, if he had any faith inside of him, he wasn’t expressing it,” Carolyn said.
A year after the diagnosis, Steve was in the hospital for a month while being treated with chemotherapy. On Christmas Eve, the Rzesuteks were surprised with a visit from Pastor Aaron Stewart.
“In between the five Christmas Eve services, Pastor Aaron sat with Steve and he rededicated his life to Jesus,” Carolyn said. “And as Steve got a little bit better, we started going to church. He just was a different person and it was just beautiful.”
Two months later, Steve passed away peacefully on hospice with his family surrounding him.
“I couldn’t believe it, he was just 58 years old and just found out he was going to have his second grandchild. The church wrapped their arms around me and nobody tried to rationalize it. I just felt so loved by the church,” Carolyn said.
Soon after, when she suffered another major loss, the church family was once again there to comfort and support her.
The Rzesutek’s son, Kyle, struggled with mental health issues since junior high. While Kyle and his father didn’t “see eye to eye” for a while, Carolyn is grateful that when Steve was nearing the end of his life, the two were able to come to terms and reconnect. Sadly, soon after Steve passed away, Kyle began to really struggle with his mental health.
“My son just had a mental illness that would just take over. But, when he had the joy of life, he loved music and there were just so many things he loved. When his cloud was away and he had some sun, he loved God just as much,” Carolyn said.
In April 2019 at 30 years old, Kyle took his life.
“Two losses, big ones, and people ask me how am I doing it. I don’t know. … I am meant to be here, I am meant to do something and I would like to figure that out for Kyle,” Carolyn said.
One idea that has been on Carolyn’s heart is finding a way to help create change in the mental health care system in Washington state, so people like Kyle will get the help they need and be treated better.
Carolyn, who is currently an elder at UPPC, is grateful for her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, whom she sees often. Not to mention, her dog, Ari.
Amidst all the pain and heartache, Carolyn finds herself in a new season.
“I have more to give,” said Carolyn, who is 59 years old. “It is hard though because the clouds are definitely there. Some days, both deaths really hit me. I am thankful for my faith in Jesus and who He is in my life. He is walking alongside me and he mourns just like I do.”
Thank you so much, Carolyn, for sharing your story. Your faith is truly inspirational. You always made me feel welcome at UPPC with your friendly greeting and dedication to helping others. I'm so sorry to hear of your losses. God bless you and your family and hope you always feel His ceaseless love.
Your story is biblical in itâs message, Carolyn, and anyone knowing you sees your exuberant love for our Lord. Thank you for serving as another of our unordained pastors for so many years.
Thank you for sharing your story, Carolyn. When I think of the welcoming spirit at UPPC you are one of the first people that comes to my mind. Your vulnerability, faith and strength are a force and a blessing to our community.
Thanks, Carolyn, for sharing your story. You are always so welcoming and God used you in ways you may not even be aware of. Now in this Covid virus, when we cannot meet in church yet, we can use lifestream which I am so thankful for. I want to wish you a Happy New Year and blessings for your family. Kathy
Carolyn, you were the connecting voice on the church telephone when we moved up here from Texas in 2001. You told me you knew my Dad Ed Dreger and Sumie Dreger and you helped us feel at home to UPPC, even though we lived, "way out in Port Orchard!" You've been a blessing to so many of us!
Carolyn, you are such a gift! Thanks for making me feel known and loved when I joined UPPC in 2001 (and ever since). Everyone already knew Darren back then, but you knew ME and always initiated conversation with me and remembered my name.
From the first day I met you (when I was worried my converse sneakers & skirt combo was not sophisticated enough for an interview), you have been an encouragement.
I'm glad you felt our love during heartbreak. Can't wait to wrap you in a big, post-Covid hug. Love you, friend!
Carolyn- you were one of the very first staff members I connected with when we joined the church, the first time (back in 2002 I think). Anyway, it was evident then how much joy your work brought to you. I admire your courage, candor and honesty in telling your story. You are dearly loved!