by Captain Kelly Hanton
730 days at the College for Officer Training (CFOT)—days of intentional study and focus; spiritual growth, discipline and accountability; discipleship, service and mission; plus fellowship and relationship building with sessionmates.
But nothing—not even 730 days at the CFOT—could have prepared me for the heartache and blessings that came with meeting Cathie Esselstyn. She was a classy lady from Scotland who attended the Elgin, Ill., Corps for 54 years and was the matriarch upon our arrival there, our first appointment.
She rarely missed a Sunday. Sitting in the back of the chapel, she always welcomed me with a hug and was an encourager to everyone. She once said, “Lieutenant, you’re a good preacher, but you could shorten it up a bit!” That was our Cathie, and we loved her.
Not long after we arrived, she discovered she had cancer. She went through treatments and was excited to share she was able to “ring the bell,” signifying there was no evidence of cancer after just a few months. We rejoiced.
Time passed, and Cathie learned she had cancer again. Like the first time, the doctors were confident with the right treatment she could overcome it. We began to pray and trust.
But this time was different. At 91, her throat muscles were damaged by the radiation and she began to have other difficulties. I remember sitting in the hospital with Cathie when she asked if I would be her medical power of attorney since she had no biological family. When I questioned her decision, she reminded me it was by God’s grace we were family and He had our paths cross at this time for a reason. How could I argue? I signed my name.
We spent several weeks together in that hospital, praying, singing and reading scripture for hours. When she could, Cathie shared Christ’s love with the nurses and doctors. We laughed and cried together, were afraid and brave together. In those last days Cathie taught all of us about God’s love and faithfulness and demonstrated the joy of her salvation. Easter morning I got a call informing me Cathie had died. As a family, our corps celebrated our risen Savior and also rejoiced in God’s promise of everlasting life that had been fulfilled for our friend Cathie.
God called me to surrender my plans for His and to become a Salvation Army officer. Though there are many times when ministry can be difficult, the blessings are far more abundant. When I think about my time with Cathie, I’m reminded of Psalm 33:11 (NIV): “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He who has called me is faithful, and I am thankful and humbled by the opportunities God gives me to serve Him.