When Holidays Hurt

For many, the holidays are a time of grief and remembrance. This can be even more difficult when those around are celebrating. In this article, Val Sleeth shares about loss and how she was able to deal with the hurt this Thanksgiving.

Why is it the joy of others makes my hurt ache more acutely?

My mom died 7 months ago.

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Mom with sisters April, Val, and Carla

I remember a deep sadness settling over me around 6 months. At that point, her death was becoming reality. She wasn’t gone on a prolonged vacation. My initial daily impulses to text her pictures of Hannah had waned to weekly occurrences.

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Mom with Hannah, Fall 2016

And though for me time has made her death painfully real, for those who knew her only as “Val’s mom,” these months have eroded the memory of that abrupt event.

If you’ve lost, you’ve experienced this. Your dear friend’s life stopped—it feels like yours with it—while everyone else’s goes on.

Thanksgiving exists in Kenya only insofar as we expats create it.

On Thursday I was visiting with a Kenyan friend—Carol runs one of the small shops by the hospital—when she wished me, “Happy Thanksgiving.” It was 2:00 in the afternoon and the holiday hadn’t occurred to me!

If you’ve lost, you know the power of death to transform holidays into horrible days. My forgetfulness seemed a boon, enabling me to carry on with studying Swahili and making chapatti free from that burden of grief.

Thursday evening the Roberts, another missionary family, hosted a gathering to sing and share thanks. We were encouraged to hear how God has provided this year amid election strife and doctors’ and nurses’ strikes and sickness and confusion.

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Thanksgiving dinner at Tenwek*

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The greatest blessing I received that night was this: pumpkin bars.

(*photo credit: Dean Cowles)

To read the rest of the post, go to Clark and Val Sleeth’s ministry blog.

Jars of Clay

Fear overtook Val Sleeth, missionary to Kenya, as she was blindsided by the statement, “I am an atheist.” She thought to herself, “Here was a clearly intelligent man, antagonistic towards a church that had betrayed him, who had deliberately chosen to deny the existence of God.” What could she do?

Jars of Clay

By Val Sleeth

“I am an atheist.”

These words derailed me.

In taking Michael’s history I had asked, “Do you smoke? Drink? Do drugs? Do you believe in God or consider yourself a spiritual person?”

This last question gives me vital prognostic information. My limited experience has shown that those with faith and a community do better in the hospital and at home. The research backs me up on this.*

And, all studies aside, this gateway question often leads to rich discussions and opportunities for prayer.

However, Michael’s answer shut me down. Lest I think he was flippant, Michael went on to explain how he had grown up in a Protestant church, been disillusioned in his teens by hypocrisy, and—after years studying secular humanism and atheism—had concluded that there is no god.

Here was a man directly stating, “I am lost.”

I would love to say that I boldly took Michael’s hand, shared with him the reason for the hope that I have, and asked him to pray to make Jesus Lord.

I did not.

I was afraid. Here was a clearly intelligent man, antagonistic towards a church that had betrayed him, who had deliberately chosen to deny the existence of God. I prepared to move on to his surgical history.

“Do you believe in God?”

I was not expecting his question. “Uh, yes.”

“And do you believe in all that Jesus—Son of God, raised from the dead—stuff?”

“Yes.” I was sweating. Uncomfortable. Never before had I felt such a desire to initiate discussion of an oozing rash. Anything to change the subject.

“Why?”

One word answers would no longer suffice. Michael continued to ask questions until, after about thirty minutes, I realized that I had shared with him the reason for the hope that I have.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” II Corinthians 4:7

We have been studying this verse as we prepare for our departure to Kenya this fall at the Center for Intercultural Training. I keep thinking about Michael.

I have this treasure: the truth of the gospel. However, I’m like a pot my sisters and I used to build pulling mud out of the Columbia river. An hour in the sun and our “masterpieces” were flaking and cracked.

I’m realizing though that through those cracks, God’s power shines through.

Michael reminded me that, not because of me (actually, in spite of me!), I have this great treasure and any power I have to use and share it is from God.

I encourage you to consider what imperfections—what hardships or struggles—God may be using in you to reveal His power to others. And thank Him that His power is in us and works in spite of our weaknesses!

With Michael, I was busy and inept and fearful. Nevertheless, that day the Lord moved Michael from “I am an atheist” to “Will you pray with me?” We must not forget the all surpassing power we have in Him.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

 Philippians 2:13

*Koenig, Harold G., M.D. 2015. Religion, spirituality, and health: A review and update. Advances in Mind – Body Medicine. Summer, http://ezproxy.uky.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.uky.edu/docview/1698024209?accountid=11836 (accessed August 28, 2017).

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God is moving today—right now—where you are, and He wants you to join Him!

ACT: Pray today that God will put someone in your path who you can speak truth in to and be a witness to. Be a missionary today!

Fullness of God in Helpless Babe…

Although this was written around Christmastime, it has great lessons we can learn even after Christmas is over. Read on to learn from this ministry blog post written by  Val Sleeth about how her love for her baby girl, Hannah, has opened her eyes to how much God loves us and loved His son during the Crucifixion. Clark and Valerie Sleeth are missionaries serving at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya.

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“It was two in the morning and I was blearily making my way to the emergency department. Walking down the fluorescent, basement hall I heard a shrill, weak cry. I turned the corner and was met by an empty, adult-sized gurney surrounded by two nurses, an aide, and two transport techs. Stopping to let them pass I realized that the rumpled bedding in the center of the bed actually swaddled a small babe, too young to sit up on her own. Immediately my chest became heavy and breathing difficult. I found myself in the nutrition closet, crying and trying to compose myself before continuing on to admit the patient I had come down to see.

“Pre-Hannah, I was not an emotional person. However, some remarkable combination of hormones and five months of parenting has tenderized me. Overall, I think this has been good. Throughout the gospels we read of Jesus having compassion on the people who were as sheep without a shepherd. Of course, I’m not sure if Jesus would have teared up over shampoo commercials and probably would have made it more than two seconds into the Sinfony of Handel’s Messiah

“The first time we clipped Hannah’s nails and accidentally took off a little flesh, I cried. For more than an hour. And felt physically ill for days. That night at work, I did not let myself think of the sick baby girl until my shift was over as I doubted the sobbing would be much comfort to my patients.

“This Christmas we have experienced a new understanding of what it meant for God to become man. It is hard to grasp that the Living God would make Himself as helpless and vulnerable as our Hannah, whose voluntary actions almost six months into life make up an embarrassingly short list which consists mostly of making or not making noise.

“My gut twists when Hannah face plants into soft bedding after she’s been sitting up for 10-20 seconds. I cannot imagine sending my child to face mockery, torture, and death. And to do so knowing that at the moment when that child needed me the most—when Christ was on the cross bearing the sins of the world—we would be utterly separated.
This Christmas I hope that you all join Clark and me in praising God for this remarkable gift. That He sent His Son to be our example and to give Himself as the perfect, redemptive sacrifice.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)”

I challenge you to think and pray today in silence for a few moments about what God sacrificed and the heartache He must have had for His son. Then pray for someone you know who is in pain right now and ask God to heal their life. If you would like to get involved in the Sleeth’s ministry, WGM can help! Visit http://www.wgm.org/sleeth to learn more about the Sleeths. You can also visit their blog at www.kenyasleeth.wordpress.com and their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kenyasleeth.

For In These Things I Have Delight

Clark and Valerie Sleeth are missionaries currently on homeland ministry assignment who will be serving at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. In their latest blog post, Valerie speaks about an uplifting surprise that recently got her thinking about God’s point of view when it comes to our worship. Read more to see what lessons she learned and how we can apply them to our lives.

“Last week I was startled in the most wonderful way. I was giving Hannah her standard morning ‘kiss attack’ and the strangest noise erupted beside my ear. It stopped me mid-smooch. Realizing what it might have been, I tentatively renewed my attack. And again! Hannah was laughing.

“When Hannah smiled for the first time I knew we were in trouble. At three and a half months she demands no more than cuddles and a dry diaper; but, when more varied requests start coming, I don’t know how we’ll say ‘no’ to that grin.

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“Since that laugh a week ago we have been doing all we can to hear it again. We have kissed and tweaked every accessible fat roll, engaged in a series of facial contortions that would bring a mime envy, and, by this point, have spent several man hours making nonsensical noises at every volume and tone. My mom—I think just by being Hannah’s Yaya—has brought forth one episode of spontaneous laughter. This, of course, has only caused us to renew our efforts.

“Recently, mid-coo, I realized that this is how I should be worshipping God. I was convicted. How many hours a day do I spend trying to elicit a baby-smile? Do I intentionally seek to bring God joy in the same way? We are created to bring Him glory. When I have a spare moment, or even when I’m already talking to God, do I stop to offer Him the praise and gratitude that I know makes Him smile?

“When Hannah smiles it melts my heart. I feel joy when I know that I have pleased my Father. Though Jesus tells us that as His followers there will be hardship as we bear His cross, we also have the assurance of knowing that we have been adopted as co-heirs and that God delights in His children.

“I have challenged myself—and I challenge you—each day to intentionally delight the Lord in a way that you’re not already doing. For me, so far, this has been thankful prayer, writing an encouraging note to a co-worker that I’ve been meaning to appreciate, and singing hymns with Hannah at the piano (the Lord delights even in my off-key worship!).

“May we hear some Lord laughter.”

I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24 ESV)

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