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.

Trauma and Critical Care Training: What Was I Thinking?

Have you ever seen a need, tried to meet that need, and then found that it is way more tiring to fulfill than you had originally thought it would be? Heath and Angela Many are missionaries serving in medical ministries in Kenya. Heath recently wrote a blog post about the need for more specialized training for the residents in the medical education program at Tenwek. The challenging aspect about this need was the long, exhausting hours he had to put in to figure out how best to teach them.

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Photo credit: Heath and Angela Many

“At some point in 2004, I walked out of the University of New Mexico Hospital with a smile on my face.  I had just completed my last day on the trauma service.  No longer would I be up in the middle of the night taking care of labor-intensive injured patients.  No longer would I sit for hours in the ICU taking care of the sickest of sick patients while others operated on the “interesting cases.” My career path was taking me towards the aspect of surgery that I loved the most—operating, operating, operating. I was happy to be in the OR all day while critical care specialists helped take care of the sicker patients whose care I was involved in.”

I spent the first decade of my career as a busy, private practice surgeon, which meant I spent a lot of time in the operating room.  I loved it.  But as our family transitioned to Kenya it became very apparent that good outcomes in complex surgical patients at Tenwek were hard earned.  Yes, a technically perfect operation is imperative; however, a good outcome depends on much more than just a good operation.  Technically difficult operations could be completed; however, patients who became sick after these procedures or who were admitted to the ICU after life-threatening trauma often times died when they shouldn’t have.

To read the rest of the blog post, visit the Many ministry blog.

Community

In America, we have the luxury of personal space. Can you imagine living close to, worshiping with, and sharing life with those you work with inside and outside of work? Bob and Andrea Parker are missionary doctors serving at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. In their latest blog post, they talk about this reality.

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Our Kenya Field Missionary Colleagues
By Andrea Parker
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

People often ask us how reality differed from our expectations in moving to Kenya. In many ways, we didn’t know what to expect from life and work at Tenwek, and we tried to approach our new life without too many assumptions. But, there were some things that surprised us. For me, it was living in community.

I had not anticipated how living in such close proximity to those we serve with would affect me. Or how it would feel to live with the same people we work with and worship with and socialize with and do school with. This was a cost I had not counted.

It’s easy in that situation to begin to resent the community and those in it. I began to miss the compartmentalized and often virtual life that seemed so easy in the United States, where I could choose who I wanted to know and who I wanted to be known by. And I could so easily separate the various parts of my life – work, church, home, family. And in doing so, I could control appearances. But, at Tenwek, there is literally no facet of our lives that is not shared with others in our community.

About a year into our time in Kenya, a seasoned missionary shared with me a profound reflection on living in community – that if we let it be, community is one of the most refining processes we can ever experience. And why is it so refining? Because it forces us to acknowledge and respond to our own impurities.

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“Our residents (and Bob) work together to untangle themselves from a human knot.”
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

Community walks into my house uninvited and stays longer than I planned, and it knows my lack of kindness when my schedule or efficiency is disrupted. Community hears me yell at my child in anger through the very thin walls. Community sees me lose patience and snap at a trainee or staff member. Community sees the way I turn a needy person away without gentleness or compassion. Community knows way too many of the times I’m not living a life of love or reflecting Jesus. Community is invasive and frustrating and hard. And community is indeed refining. Much like a marriage, it is that reflective mirror held in front of my face that reveals all the blemishes I want to pretend are not there. But unlike a marriage, I didn’t really choose this community. And sometimes our personalities and beliefs and approaches to life are very different. In all likelihood, most of them wouldn’t choose to marry me, and I might not choose to marry them.

At first this all sounds rather unappealing. Who of us really wants to be refined? But when we let it, the difficulty of community gives way to a messy beauty. Sharing life, which means sharing the really bad and sharing the really good. Because for all the irritations and struggles, when people show up ready to know and love one another, it destroys the idea and appeal of self-reliance. I must rely on others because I cannot and will not make it on my own. Community lets me borrow food when I’m out of a necessary ingredient. Community watches my child when I’m up late at the hospital and makes sure she has dinner and companionship. Community remembers my birthday (even when I don’t necessarily want it remembered). Community knows when I’m ill and checks in. Community brings me a plate of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had on a day when I don’t think I can make it through.

To read the rest of the Parkers’ ministry blog, follow this link: Parker blog.

ACT: Christ encourages us to live in community. This week, think of someone who is either a neighbor or someone who you see often but don’t talk to and do something for them—bring them a plate of cookies or offer some type of help or service. Be a light in your community!

 

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).

Sleeth

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!