“Do I believe in Jesus?” Estelle asks herself as she gets ready to go to church with the Hernandez family. True to Alisha’s word, Maria called with a warm invitation that Estelle couldn’t refuse and she was surprised to find she didn’t want to turn her down. She very much liked Maria even though she seemed somewhat gullible. Maria seemed to see only the good in others and that unconditional acceptance drew Estelle like a magnet even though, she didn’t understand why she hungered for acceptance. “What do I believe in anyway?” She asks herself out loud. “Life has never given me the luxury of considering such esoteric questions. Life has always been about completing necessary tasks and paying the bills. There must be some force that propels me to do so but I don’t understand it.” Estelle’s inner dialog races in turbulence as she rushes to dress in the fashion she thinks people are supposed to wear for church. If there is anything Estelle doesn’t like, it is standing out in a crowd. She chooses a white blouse with a high collar and a black skirt that hits just below the knees. She brushes her dark hair into a bun and applies her makeup with a light hand. In the back of the closet, she finds a pair of low-heeled shoes, slips into them and inspects herself in the full-length mirror. The very austere woman looking back at her would never be recognized as an artist or as a 47 year old woman from the 21st Century but Estelle feels safer inside this quaint costume that represents her understanding of what church women look like.
Estelle gives herself a last once-over, then rushes to grab her purse, and answer the door bell. She can’t remember the last time anyone picked her up to go anywhere and the excitement of this special moment over-rides any hesitation or lack of understanding she has regarding church or religion. Estelle is starved for relationship and her hunger sends her hurrying toward the door.
Upon opening the door, Maria’s beaming face and kind grey eyes fill Estelle’s visual field and offer nothing but friendship. “Hi Ms. Williams are you ready? We’re so happy to have you with us today!” Estelle’s heart melts by the power of inclusion and she happily replies, “Hi Maria please, call me Estelle. Thank you so much for inviting me. I can’t wait to hear Alisha sing!” Estelle closes and locks the door and the two women walk arm-in-arm to the Hernandez car where Tony waits behind the wheel and Alisha sits in the back-seat.
Tony is a good man but not quite so accepting as Maria and though, Alisha seems to benefit from her time with Ms. Williams he is still suspicious of this reclusive woman. His greeting is friendly but he is also, coldly observant. By now, he’s heard some of the town rumors and knows that Estelle’s mother was an alcoholic and that the family never attended any church. “Good morning, Ms. Williams. We’re happy to have you attend church with us this morning. I hope our services will be a blessing to you.” Estelle catches the sharp tone, so formal in contrast to Maria’s friendly welcome and Alisha’s excited hugs upon entering the back-seat with her. She is caught off guard but then understands when in Tony’s eyes she sees the same suspicion she’s become accustomed to in the eyes of the town’s people. She shivers and wishes she’d brought a sweater to hide under. It’s too late for hiding now though so instead, she hugs herself tight and forces herself to breathe deep to calm her nerves.
As the Hernandez family and guest pull into the parking lot, Estelle is surprised by such a simple building, with no steeple or stained glass. In fact, it is just a building with no architectural feature that would cause her to identify it as a church. She also notices that people are dressed many different ways. Some in traditional ‘Sunday Best’ but others in every day wear. People are greeting and hugging one another and soon, she along with the Hernandez’s are caught up in the excitement of Sunday morning greetings. Estelle is introduced to not a few people and is enamored by the warm welcome. In a flurry of faces and proffered handshakes, she finds herself seated somewhere near the middle of the auditorium. Alisha disappears with the other children and Estelle sits close to Maria on the side opposite Tony. Maria warmly pats Estelle’s hand and gives her a reassuring smile. All chatter comes to a hush as the piano begins to play and the choir enters the room. Estelle is transported by a hymn she’s never heard before carrying the command “Bend the knee!” which she understands as all bowing before Christ but doesn’t understand the concept behind such an event. Still, it sends shivers up her arms and down her spine. Then the congregation joins the choir and sings “This is My Father’s World”. This old hymn appeals to Estelle’s love of nature and she finds it very comforting and beautiful. The children enter the room on cue and sing praise choruses for the congregation. She loves watching Alisha’s chocolate eyes sparkle with delight as she sings “The Joy of the Lord” and Estelle’s heart lifts with the children’s happy voices. When the children finish, Alisha runs to where her family is seated and squeezes herself in between Maria and Estelle. Both women welcome her and share the joy of the moment as their eyes meet in a bonding glance of mutual love for this dear little girl.
The pastor takes his place in front of the congregation as worshipers open their Bibles or use the appropriate App on their phones. Estelle has neither but her momentary awkwardness is relieved when Alisha places her mother’s Bible in her lap where all three of them can share.
“Open your Bibles to Matthew chapter five and let us read verses 1-12 together. Please rise.” Estelle and Maria look down over Alisha’s shoulder and join the public reading of the following:
“And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: (Estelle wondered why the following words appeared in red but as she read them, she came to understand that these are the words of Jesus.) Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Estelle finds comfort in these words and the promises made to those who suffer and those who strive to do right. She doesn’t understand everything but she understands about mourning and what it is like to have people ignorant to her situation say bad things about her. She still doesn’t know who she believes Jesus is but she is struck to know that His words are empathetic to her suffering. The rest of the sermon is mostly, above Estelle’s head but near the end the pastor says something that strikes a nerve and rings clear, “It isn’t about religion. It’s about your relationship with God. Jesus gave His life in sacrifice on the cross so you can be forgiven for your sins and be reconciled to God in a parent/child relationship. Today is the day of decision. Either you will choose to accept the sacrifice of Jesus and live or you will reject Jesus and die in your sins. Either you will be reconciled to God and live out your remaining days on earth as a child of God with the future promise of a life free from sin in eternity, or you will remain an orphan and enter eternity with your sin, forever separated from God.” There it is. The choice Alisha told her about. Estelle bowed her head to pray with everyone else but heard nothing from that point on. Her mind was filled with the over-riding question, “Do I believe in Jesus?”
To be continued.
For previous posts in the series go to https://joyindestructible.com/the-recluse-series/