- Part one of two
Her home is now known as "the house that God built". Brazil native, Sharon Stearley Sutton, returned to her hometown July 16, to attend the wedding of her niece, Lori Stearley.
During her visit, the kind, effervescent lady, who teaches first grade at South Lake Christian Academy in Groveland, Fla., talked about her life, family, the $75,000 house renovation done by volunteers and how God continues to bless her.
Sharon's brilliant smile seems to hide the wrinkles chiseled in her face over the years from poor health, pain and loss. The 1960 Brazil High School graduate and her husband, Lowell, moved to Florida in 1977 for health reasons.
When he was just 28, Lowell was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The cobalt treatment saved his life then but began a continual health decline from which he never recovered.
Sharon was diagnosed with cervical and ovarian cancer in 1984 and was given 30 days to live. She was given palliative radiation treatment to help ease the pain and to try to stop her hemorrhaging. The doctors gave her no hope.
But Lowell never gave up. It was wintertime and he bought Sharon a pair of summer sandals.
"He was sure I wouldn't die," Sharon said. "Lowell was a Christian. He was so intuitive and thoughtful and so much fun. He always put the Lord first."
Lowell, their friends, the church family and all of the children prayed for her.
"It was a total miracle. That's all it was," Sharon said. "It was God's decision I wasn't going to die."
And she did survive. But within a year Sharon developed peripheral neuropathy in her legs from the radiation therapy. She experienced pain, tingling, numbness and swelling in her lower legs. Then foot drop and balance problems developed. Eventually, she required braces and a walker to navigate.
Through it all, Sharon never lost her faith, and daily thanked God for her many blessings. She nursed and nurtured Lowell for years as he battled the cobalt-induced heart and lung problems, until his death in 2002.
"When he died, I had to learn how to be me again," Sharon said. "The night Lowell died I went home and read my Bible and I found verse after verse about how God cares for widows and God's thoughts and provisions for widows. Even though I was desperately lonely for Lowell, I still felt cared for. It's amazing how God does that."
The Suttons never had any children. They determined later, the cobalt treatment Lowell received took away that option. But they loved the children of the church and the little ones at school where Sharon has taught for the last 14 years.
"I love it!" she exclaimed with that big, radiant smile when speaking about teaching. "Children are God's gift to us. They are so refreshing because of the way they see what God has done and the way they understand what God is doing. They're forgiving and loving and their humor keeps you young.
"Every year you have one child that's so close to God it's like God was standing there speaking to me, saying what I need to hear and learn," Sharon continued. "God has a special job for some of these children. You can sense it and you can see it. You're just one little step in the process."
When the Suttons first left Brazil in 1977, they did not want to leave their families. But over the years the people at Clermont First Christian Church, now renamed the Real Life Christian Church, became their family.
"They cared so dearly about us," Sharon said. "They always helped us in any time of need."
One caring couple in her church family is Dianne and John Garvis. They are associated with the Good Neighbor Program, an organization that addresses a need if they see it. They gather a lifeline of people to do whatever needs to be done; people working together to make a difference.
Sharon had the flu in December. Many from the church family came, brought food and provided help.
Sharon's energy level never fully recovered after her radiation therapy. And with caring for her husband and anyone else who needed it, she never took time to take care of herself.
With the house somewhat cluttered and worn, Dianne noticed how difficult it was for Sharon to get around the house with her braces and walker. She approached Sharon, saying the Good Neighbors wanted to paint and change a few things to make the house easier for her to navigate.
Sharon was reluctant, saying there were others with greater needs and who were more deserving. It took two months before Good Neighbors finally talked Sharon into it. They convinced her that the exposure would open up the program and allow them to help other people.
That little paint job with a few changes turned into a $75,000 complete renovation.
Tomorrow: Sharon tells about the house that God built.