Sis Estrada's difficult encounters in life have given her not just a glimpse, but a beautiful picture of the love of God, acted out through His people. The care and concern were so genuine that they were felt by the author in a unique way. The persons that touched her life loved in a manner so consistent and personal that it felt like one single love that flowed through them. And so she addresses them in this article with a simple 'you'. Her "Thank You" is, indeed, from the bottom of her heart.
It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. I am inclined to believe He does. As I trace my Christian walk in the United States of America, I see how the Lord has led me into your care so that everyone of you could help me and my family grow from one year to another.
It was in 1987 when I first made your acquaintance in Northern California, USA. I had begun to attend Sabbath services and my children, Felicia and Sarah, accompanied me. They were five and two, and they found sermons a trying experience and often fidgeted in their seats. And so you sat with them in the fellowship hall or out on the lawn and taught them about the Lord Jesus in a language and setting they understood and appreciated.
I could have insisted that you remained inside the chapel. After all, you had driven many miles to worship the Lord on this day of rest. But it was a new and exciting experience for me to sit in on services where English was used. Because I could finally comprehend what was being preached from the pulpit, I could not help myself from taking advantage of your generosity. Each visit, too, was treasured because I never knew if I would be back.
My fears were confirmed in the middle of that year. Although my husband Larry shared my desire to bring up our children in the ways of the Lord, we could not agree on a church. Still, when I learned that baptism would be carried out that summer, I asked if I could have Sarah baptized. Although Larry answered in the affirmative, I soon learned that I was not supposed to have taken him literally. Consequently, I lost the privilege to go to church. Larry also issued explicit instructions that I was not to have any contact with the church or have the church contact me. When he went to work on Saturdays, he sabotaged my car engine to ensure I did not make the ten-minute drive. He also telephoned from his work place to check if I was home. Meanwhile, he began looking for a church of his choice for us to attend, and he warned of repercussions that would follow if I did not comply.
Amid the fears and anxieties of losing my home and marriage, I wrote to you for prayerful support. The Lord heard you and granted me the strength to believe in His Word that I had no need to be anxious about my life. Your prayers also gave me the courage to learn what it meant to be a "submissive wife" so that Larry would, in time, come to praise God.
During Jesus' ministry on earth, He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." In January 1988, when Larry was hospitalized for a gallstone operation, I called you for your prayerful support. You prayed, but you also took time from your busy schedule to visit him in a dreary hospital room.
Presently, I received permission to take our children to church. Sometimes, we went every Sabbath and sometimes, we went once in a while. And sometimes, Larry went with us. Through it all, you supported us with Christian fellowship offered with Chinese food in the church and genuine friendship served over fresh-brewed coffee in your home. Furthermore, whenever you found an opportunity, you dropped by Larry's office to chat with him about his interest in computers.
Your love kept us in the palm of God's hands and on January 1, 1989, Larry was baptized. Six months later, he received the Holy Spirit.
Thus 1989 became an especially good year for us. We were spiritually elevated and we were equally elated about other aspects of our lives. We were all in relatively good health. Larry's career in a major oil packaging company was challenging and rewarding. We had also achieved our American dream of home ownership, and to top that, we were able to remain a traditional family where Larry went to work and I stayed at home to take care of our children. Our joy was complete.
But there is "a season and a time for every matter under heaven". In the summer of 1990, Larry was diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer. Again you supported us with your prayers so that the surgeon could efficiently remove a tumor "the size of a small basketball" and Larry was able to recover quickly from the surgery. He returned to work and, for about a year, was again in good health. However, over the next two years, we lived in fear of each new test. We fought the disease in any way we could and as hard as we could. We prayed and we fasted. We bargained for more time and we promised to be missionaries. At the same time, Larry also subjected himself to a series of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. We even tried special diets. Truly, the disease was a heavy cross to bear.
But we were never alone for you carried our burden as well. You, too, fasted and prayed, more than we did or could ever do. You stayed with us as we sat and waited through each surgery to listen to the dreadful news of what was or was not inside Larry's abdomen. You went through the ordeal of donating blood so that your life-giving force would sustain Larry during the initial stages of recovery. You served him healthy meals, brought him flowers and sent him greeting cards. You took care of Feicia and Sarah and offered them your companionship. You invited me into your home so that I would have a place to rest for the night while Larry rested in his hospital bed with the assurance that I was only a short distance away. When there was a need for me to travel between my house and the hospital, you went out of your way to drive hundreds of miles to give me a ride.
Even when Larry was recuperating at home, your support did not waver. You prayed for him in church, at home and you also traveled many miles from around the San Francisco Bay area and from the Silicon Valley to come and pray with him. Again, you came bearing gifts of home-cooked meals and the taro or Asian pears he had requested. You also came to do the dishes, cut the lawn, trim the plants and pick up the litter. It was a difficult time for us, but because you never grew weary in your good works, you gave us the courage to "fight a good fight".
By the summer of 1993, we found that the cancer had spread to Larry's liver. We still hoped for a miracle, and Larry still continued the 45-minute commute to his job whenever he could. It was very hard on him and he confided that sometimes he felt like committing suicide on the road. But your prayers kept him safe. One late afternoon on his way home, he passed out at a shop where he had taken Felicia's new music book to be spiral-bound. His blood sugar had dropped and when he regained consciousness, he was thankful that he was not on the road when it happened.
From then on, Larry began to lose weight. He also had a frequent need to relieve himself. Next he developed more complications and then his kidneys stopped working altogether. By the end of September, he was simply too sick to go to work.
At that time, Larry had also exhausted all paid sick leave offered by his employer. He applied for government aid and although we were promised financial assistance, we needed to wait. When I told you that I was in trouble, you got together and raised funds so that we would not lose our home or means of living.
As Larry's health deteriorated, you continued your prayer vigils. Eventually, he was unable to attend to his personal needs. He also became incoherent. However, while his speech and train of thought were often unclear and illogical, his prayers, by contrast, were clear and distinct; and he spent much of that time pleading, "Oh Lord, forgive me."
Then one Wednesday evening, he called out in his sleep, "Lord, here I am." The next day, he stopped eating and drinking.
Even then, I still wanted a miracle. You understood my struggle and you continued to lend me your support. You stepped up your prayers, and you took turns to come by to assist me so that Larry would, in addition to being cared for by the nurses from the local hospice organization, receive round-the-clock care.
The following Monday, December 13, 1993, Larry passed on. Although the nurses had prepared me for the inevitable, you understood that it was not easy for me to let go of someone with whom I had spent almost half of my life. You also understood that I feared for Felicia and Sarah who would now grow up fatherless. And so you let us mourn while you got together to raise the funds to lay a dearly beloved brother to rest.
Now your responsibilities were over. If Larry was that one sheep which the Shepherd had been looking for, you had found him and had brought him safely home to the Shepherd.
But you did not think that way. Instead, you took upon yourselves to make me and my children a part of your lives. You knew there were assurances of financial compensations. I was to claim on Larry's two small life insurance policies, draw upon Larry's company pension, and look forward to his monthly social security checks until each child completed high school. Nonetheless, you understood that I had many reasons to be anxious about the future. You understood that I was anxious about successfully carrying out Larry's wish to "take care of the children", specifically to feed, clothe, shelter and educate them. You saw too, that I was anxious about them losing their medical and dental coverage. You knew that I was anxious about fulfilling Larry's wish that I keep the mini van which he had purchased six months earlier. Then there were the medical and other incidental bills that Larry and I had accumulated over the last few years. I also needed to repair the termite damage to the roof and bathrooms of our house. My list seemed endless.
But you did more than just tell me you understood my anxieties. You got together and informally set up an Estrada Fund to give me a helping hand.
But I cringed at the thought of a handout. I was mad and sad. I wanted to brush off your helping hand and march out of your lives.
But you waited patiently for me to calm down. I was not easy to please, but you let me know that I was not alone. You came to offer a listening ear. You helped me move the furniture around to accommodate our new lifestyle. You got Larry's computer running again after the hard drive crashed. You took Felicia and Sarah out for fun and play and to attend church services when I insisted that I needed a sabbatical.
Sometimes you did astounding acts like the time you visited from Germany. There was a spiritual convocation and the children had agreed that we would make a thanksgiving offering of the two hundred dollar gift that had come from the Estrada Fund that month. Before we went home, you gave Sarah an envelope with the instruction that she only give it to me when we got home. When we arrived and opened the envelope, Sarah exclaimed, "You got it back!"
Then another time, you wrote to me from Southern California. You were sick and bedridden, yet you made the effort to write and ask me to take the children shopping with the gift you had enclosed.
Meanwhile, I began to build a career for myself by going to a community college. On the day that I walked into the counselor's office, I told her that I must find a real job so I could pay into the social security system to ensure that I would receive adequate benefits in my old age. She looked at me and asked what I wanted to do.
"Write," I replied in between sniffles. Indeed, I had wanted to write ever since I was twelve. In fact, I had begun to work toward my dream by taking a writing course for children and teenagers soon after Sarah was born. I had also tried to practice my chosen craft, and in the years following the course, I had, on a few occasions, seen my writing appear in local newspapers.
I also threw myself into the role of a 90's single mom. I returned to school and I got a job. I tried to fit my new schedule into the children's, but mostly I fitted the children into mine. We zipped in and out of the house, and if they were not in school, I dropped them off at a child care or the neighbor's. Very soon Felicia's grade point average and Sarah's test scores began to drop. I, on the other hand, maintained a perfect grade point average. I also loved my job.
Unfortunately, I noticed that I was developing a multiple personality. My job was to work with English students to improve their reading and writing assignments. When some students remarked that I worked with a smile, I squirmed inside my conscience, ashamed that my children saw very few smiles at home. Soon, I saw other mixed messages I was sending to Felicia and Sarah. One stood out in particular. I saw that while I was teaching them about putting their faith in God, I was putting mine in the social security system.
But the Lord moved you to give me a sense of direction. You were putting together a monthly newsletter called the Messenger, and you assigned me to write 500-word articles on a rotation basis. I tried. You also introduced me to the editors from other church publications. You worked together to help me find my voice and learn how I could serve the Lord.
A year has passed since the first assignment. During this time, I have been unsure of this new path I was taking, but you assured me that it was a good one. Nevertheless, you also understood that I am not without struggle as I try to serve the God of my forefathers and you comforted me that as surely as the Lord sustained the widow at Zarephath in her hour of need, He will be as merciful.
My Christian walk began in 1984 when I came across a New King James Version of the English Bible in this country. It became a window through which I could take a peek at the ways of the Lord Jesus. He saw my curiosity and He led me to you. Jesus knew that you would make the Bible come alive for me, and you have consistently shown Him over the last ten years that He was right.
I thank everyone of you for all your good works. May the Lord Jesus reward you with His abundant grace.