The launching of our creation ministry

God’s Comfort through Life’s Storms

 “Blessed are those that mourn;

for they shall be comforted.” Matt.5:4

By Carla Estell 2009 revised 2022

I had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home, of having a strong faith in God and His word from a very young age, of attending a Christian school from 5th through 12th grade where I was thoroughly grounded in a Biblical world view. I was indeed blessed as a child and young person, and I so thank God for my childhood and upbringing, and the godly example of a Christian mom and dad.

After junior college, I attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was there that I met Brian. We were married January 11, 1987, during the Christmas break of our senior year. The one thing I remember most clearly of our premarital counseling sessions, was Brother Gary talking about the benefits of waiting a few years before having children, and my inward response of “No way!” My goal in life was to be a wife and mother. Sure I would soon finish my degree in counseling and biology and be prepared to teach school, but only till I had children of my own. I was not planning on waiting for children. God however had other plans.

After graduation Brian and I began our teaching careers at various Christian schools. As much as possible, we saved my salary and lived on his so it would not be a financial adjustment for me to stay at home once children came. Then the years began to pass. Mother’s Day became the hardest day of the year.  Brian began calling it Wife Appreciation Day complete with cards and flowers, but I would still spend the day in tears.

Our 5th anniversary came and went; I was ready to look into adoption. 

Brian decided we would take a year off between schools and do some traveling. That is when we took our 40 day car trip across America to see Mount St. Helens, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and many parks in between. What a faith building trip that was. We saw God provide our every need; from a vacant camp site, to dry fire wood, from protection during midnight storms and mountain hikes, and oh the car trouble that He saw us through. It was the pictures and fossils gathered on that trip that form the backbone of our creation presentations we give now.  It was the faith and team work that we learned during that trip that helped us in the years to come.

I thought maybe God had not given us children yet, so we could make that trip, surely now I would soon become a Mother.  We moved to Oklahoma, bought a house on 50th street in Oklahoma City and Brian began teaching History while I taught science at Christian Heritage School.

Our next-door neighbor was a true rock hound, he generously gave us dinosaur bones, fern fossils, and sea shells from mountaintops. And so, our fossil collection continued to grow, but our family size did not. I went on my first women’s retreat that spring. How well I remember that first night as we all shared prayer request; mine was for a child, I so wanted to be a Mom.  The following year I went again to the women’s retreat 5 months pregnant, a testimony of 8 years of waiting and God’s answer of prayer.  That was my last year of classroom teaching; James Keith was born in the early morning of Sunday July 9th 1995.

Brian says he is named after his great-grandfather Jessie James Estell (I would not go for the Jessie addition), but I say he was named for James 1:9 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…”.  Eight months later I was again pregnant, and Rebekah was born on December 16th 1996.  A home filled with 2 little ones how blessed we were.

After 4 years of teaching in Oklahoma,

Brian decided it was time to go back to school and finish seminary.  My parents offered us the upstairs apartment of their very large house. And so we put our little house up for sale and moved to Florida.  Life settled into a fine routine, Brian started seminary classes and substitute teaching at the public high school and neighborhood elementary school; while I established a daily pattern of morning walks, playtime, story time, and that blessed afternoon nap.

We joined a church just a block away, which was pastored by Brother Gary, my former youth pastor, our pre-marriage counselor and minister at our wedding. It was great reestablishing past friendships. It was while Brian worked on his seminary classes, that we first felt the call to present creation seminars. With our assortment of fossils and many slide we had what we needed to get started.  In my idea notebook, I began sketching out backboard displays. But with Brian busy with his studies and substitute teaching, and with me having a toddler and baby to care for; we thought the idea would be put on the  back burner for a year or so at least.  Nevertheless I continued my sketches and soon my note book contained detailed plans for several backboards.

The first of November we had a week of revival services at church. 

I so remember that first’s night sermon, “Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted”.  The visiting evangelist spoke on the four ways God comforts those in the dark valleys of life.  He gives confidence in His promises, courage to do what needs to be done, companionship of others, and calm in the midst of life’s storm.  I had a dear friend who was in the midst of a family tragedy.  Throughout the sermon, I kept thinking how much this would help her.  Little did I know it would be me who needed those words of comfort in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

A time of fellowship, followed the service.  Brian had graciously told me to just sit and hold Bekah and visit with the other ladies; he would keep up with our on the go toddler.  It was hardly ten minutes later that Brian carried a crying James to me. He had taken off running across the room and had slipped and fallen. Ironically he had fallen at the feet of a paramedic and the fire chief.  When they heard the loud whack, they immediately thought he had cracked his head. But as they checked his head it seemed fine. His tears soon stopped as we carried him home and put him to bed.  Having not seen the fall myself, I soon forgot about it.

The next morning Brian was called to sub at the high school.  James was fussy that morning, wanting to be carried.  I attributed it to the late night. Then, one minute he was standing beside me trying to see into the drawer while I was picking out his clothes, and the next he was screaming as he fell to the floor. By the way he landed; I knew there was something seriously wrong with his leg.

 My Mom and I took him to the local E.R.  His femur was broken.  And our nightmare began.  Instead of being met with help and compassion, I faced questioning accusations.  James endured head to toe x-rays before being given any pain medication. And when I tried to make them wait until after his leg was in a cast, the Doctor came in and said, “If I suspect child abuse, I can order as many x-rays as I want.”  They finished the x-rays and found no previously broken bones.

At last the orthopedic Doctor arrived, as did the social worker. While James was being put in a spika waist to toe cast, I was being questioned.  James ended up spending two nights in the hospital as his and Bekah’s legal custody was worked out.  You see, the state decided I was an unsafe mother, and the children needed to be sheltered while the matter was further investigated.

In the days and months to follow we experienced the truth of that Sunday night sermon. 

God gave me the promise of Rom. 8:28, and I clung to it like a life line.  The hospital room was flooded with concerned friends which included Art Ayres, who had a working relationship with HRS. He helped to work out the best possible situation: my mom was given custody of the children, they could even stay in their own beds, I could be with them anytime mom was there to supervise. Brian, who was not present in the E.R., had no restrictions. The worse part was that each night I had to leave, because my if mom was asleep she would not be able to supervise.

A friend who lived just a few blocks away offered her family room couch.  There were some hidden blessings in this arrangement; Bekah learned to sleep through the night, for I was not there for the early morning feeding, James learned to accept comfort from his daddy, and was not as dependent upon me, and most nights I got a full nights rest, which I desperately needed.

We settled into a new routine.

Mom hung a “closed due to family emergency” sign on their drapery shop door, and together we learned to care for James in his cast. Each night Brian and I would tuck the children into bed and mom would sit with them while Brian drove me over to Terri’s.  Each morning I walked back home usually arriving before the children were up.

Thanksgiving came, Bekah’s first Birthday, James got his cast off and started learning how to walk again. Christmas came, our 11th anniversary passed almost unnoticed, and still the court case dragged on. 

Mom began going to work a few hours each day. Brian watched the children but I had to leave. During those times I would lock myself in the spare bedroom. With a rocking chair in the corner by the window; I had a choice to make. I could sit and cry (and some days I did), or I could get out the backboards. The plans were already made, I did not have to think, just copy.

Word by word, line by line,

I was constantly being reminded there really is a God and He is in complete control. There is no such thing as chance; God would work all things out for our good and His glory.  At last the backboards were finished, the fossil cases built, James had learned to walk again, even run, and the final court date had arrived.

Our church family flooded that court room.  Before we went in Brother Gary prayed with us and handed me a little card. It was his memory verse for the day. The verse, Isaiah 41:10 “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God, I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” I still have that card; I hope he does not mind.

God definitely gave an incomprehensible calm throughout the three month long storm, an unshakeable confidence in His Word, the support and companionship of Christian friends, and the courage to do what we needed to do.  We had not just taken the children and ran (as a few friends said we should consider).  We had not just given in and gone through mediation, which would have been getting a list of things we needed to do so we could learn to be responsible, caring parents. Then, when the list was completed, we would have gotten our children back.  I saw that as becoming another statistic of an abusive family which the state helped. No, from the very beginning we told our lawyer and the social worker, “If they really thought I had abusively broken my little son’s leg, then they could prove it in court and I would go to jail, because that is where I would belong. And, Brian could raise our children.” I would risk jail before I would risk my children being caught in the net of the foster care system.

So here we were in court, again. 

Many times during the three month ordeal we had specifically felt God’s presence and peace.

Back in December, 40 days into our ordeal, I was especially discouraged. I had had no idea it would drag on for so long.  I remember going forward during the altar call to pray. The pastor’s wife led me out where we could talk and pray privately.

While I was out, Bro. Gary discussed our ongoing situation with the church. Most people were shocked to find out it was still going on since we came to church as a family and all seemed fine. They decided to make phone calls on our behalf, even calling the judge.  The judge in turn called the pastor. To make a long story short, we got a preliminary court date set for the following Monday. This was during the Christmas season, and our church was doing the Voices of Christmas drama series. Each service there was a short monologue of someone from the Christmas story. The Sunday night before court, one of the men, dressed like a winged soldier ready for battle, told how he and his army were sent by God to announce Christ’s birth to the shepherds. And, how today they continue going forth to battle evil and protect God’s people. I remember walking home and thinking how they will be with us tomorrow.

So after 40 nights at my friend’s house, we went back to court. By this time we had pieced together the Sunday night fall and loud whack as being when his bone fractured.  It is called a green break, the interior bone breaks but is still held together by the outer layer. We gathered affidavits from the witnesses of the fall, namely the fire chief and paramedic. We gathered doctor reports.  We figured with all this info surely HRS would just drop the case. They did not. But, the judge did rule that I could stay home at nights.

A few weeks later on a Wednesday afternoon, Brian and I were discussing Christmas plans. He said “maybe we should go back to Oklahoma and visit family.”

I replied, “we can’t, we might not have custody yet.”

 He slammed his fist on the table and said, ”I feel like a prisoner in my own house.”

 Later that evening sitting in prayer meeting, the pastor started his sermon. Eph.3:1 “For this cause I, Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ…” And we were reminded God has a purpose and a plan. When we cannot see His hand, we must trust His loving heart.

Through it all we were surrounded by Christian friends and uplifted by their prayers.  People we did not even know were praying for us.  Just two months before James’ accident, we had joined Samaritan Ministries (a nationwide health care sharing organization).  “Say a prayer, send a card, pay your share” was their motto.  And though we ended up passing along the collected money to other members in need, seeing as the church insurance covered the medical expense, we so appreciated the cards and prayers!  Unbeknown to me, our story also circled through various homeschool prayer chains. 

I could go on, but it is time to tell the end of the story.  

As mentioned the court room was flooded with praying supporters. HRS still tried to keep custody. Their lawyer made statements like, “we are not saying the mom broke his leg, we just want to insure the safety of the children.”  I still have the page of messages I scribbled to our lawyer. I wrote and he spoke, but oh how I wanted to speak for myself. Instead, I silently read the verse on the card over and over, prayed, and scribbled notes. After much debate back and forth, my lawyer finally agreed to let me testify. I remember telling the judge how for 8 years I prayed for children, that I knew my children were gifts from God and I would never abuse them. That I knew one day I would stand before God and give an account for how I had raised and cared for the little ones He had placed in my care.  And then, I went on to say that if I did have an angry temper (which I did not) and I had hurt my son (which I did not) then I would have come up with a better cover story. I would have said he fell down the steep apartment steps, or fell out of his sister’s crib, or any number of logical ways an active toddler could be hurt.

In the end the judge said he would file his decision with the court. And so we had to wait yet another week. During which time he reviewed our court file. (A thick file filled not only with doctor and social worker’s reports, but also many letters written on our behalf) At last he wrote a 5 page brief on why he was dismissing the case.  We got our kids back. 

And we started doing creation seminars. 

The first seminar we did was for a group of Homeschooling families. As one of the moms was reading the backboard information, she saw my name at the end of the poem and turned to me and said, ”So you are Carla Estell. I did not know that. Why our family has been praying for you every day. My husband was your lawyer. It’s a small world, tied together by God’s love and comfort.

Five years later, after moving to Acworth, GA, I met Heather Corhan, a fellow homeschooling mom, while visiting a church. Casual conversation soon turned unreal as it was revealed that she too had heard our story and had prayed for us.  We soon became fast friends and were prayer partners until cancer took her home October 12, 2020. 

Twenty-five years later we still set up those same handwritten back boards and display those same fossil cases. We have set them up over 500 times in over 40 states. Every once in awhile someone will comment on the steady handwriting, occasionally I have told the story of the backboards, but usually I just smile and say thank you. Sure they have gotten worn and water stained.  Some have asked why we don’t redo them – professionally. And maybe someday we will.  But life still has a lot of storms and personally I am glad for the reminder that the One who held my hand, held it steady. And, He still holds it today.                                 – Carla Estell 2022