Dr. Aaron Kelley and his wife, Stephanie, are experiencing the deepest pain possible for parents. Their 13-month-old daughter, Hannah, died last week from an aggressive form of a brain tumor. Dr. Kelley, who is serving at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya through World Medical Mission’s Post-Residency Program, blogs about seeing God’s plans and purposes through suffering.
Steph and I just had to do one of the hardest things of our lives. We just said goodbye to our special little princess.
At 2 a.m. we were called to her bedside because she had developed a high fever that was not responding to treatments. It crushed me to see her bruised and broken body. Scabs from an untold number of line attempts, a thermal burn from a heater during our initial resuscitation, abrasions from CPR, and her surgical wounds. Feelings of failure in not being able to diagnose, treat, cure her started to creep into my mind but I was reminded that as the motto of Tenwek states, “We Treat, Jesus Heals.”
As the morning progressed, she showed signs that the end was approaching. A neuro exam showed that she was essentially brain dead. Steph and I discussed it and decided that she had fought long and hard enough and it was time for her to go to her forever home. We withdrew care and just lay with her.
As she left us, the lyrics to Jeremy Camp’s King Jesus were playing. “King Jesus, you are victorious. You have conquered death with this life of love. King Jesus, you are victorious. You paid the final debt for all of us.”
After she died, we had a time of prayer and Steph was given a clear vision of our little Hannah smiling her two-toothed grin (the biggest one she had ever seen on her face), with her water-sprout hairdo running into Jesus’ arms as He welcomed her to paradise. She is home.
While neither of us expected this outcome, we both knew that this trip would involve sacrifice. We were both told this during our times of prayer. Steph was even told that we didn’t have to go, that it would be all right with God, but that we would miss out on His best plan and blessings for us.
From this side of things, I don’t know how this could be part of His best. BUT He is the God who spoke the world into existence. Who am I, with my finite mind, vantage point, and experience to question Him?
I don’t know why my baby girl had to be stricken with cancer. I don’t understand why she had to die the way that she did. I don’t know how a daddy is supposed to go on when his baby girl goes to Heaven first.
But I do know that I serve a God who is all-powerful and all knowing. I know that He loves me and my family, including Hannah. I know that He understands sacrifice; He willingly sacrificed His only son. For me and for you.
While the pain of losing Hannah will never go away, we do know that eventually the wounds will become more bearable. For now we are taking things hour by hour. We rest in the knowledge that He is faithful and he will keep His promises to us. We will trust Him.
As we prepared for our trip, one of the things that we would pray for every night with our boys was that through our work in Kenya that we would draw closer to Him and that He would use us to tell “lots of people” about Jesus.
I’ll be honest, it was one of those prayers that I only half meant—mostly because I know that the way that prayers are answered can be so different than what we expect. As we watch what is happening literally around the world, the outpouring of love in the wake of Hannah’s death, I’m at a loss. To think that the short life of my baby girl is impacting so many is nothing I would have ever imagined. I am in awe.
I would love to say that it has taken away the pain, but it remains ever-present and real. Daddy’s arms ache for his little peanut. I still walk into a room half expecting her to look up, flash her infectious smile, quickly crawl over to me and lift her tiny arms so she could be picked up. I miss her snuggling her head into my neck waiting for kisses. I miss the games that she would play with me … we even played them the night before this all started. I would give anything to have just one more chance to play.
Waking up the past two mornings, my first instinct was to hide in bed with the curtains drawn and my head under the covers. The pain of walking down the hall past her room was more than I wanted to face.
I decided instead of avoiding her room and toys to embrace them. I walked into her room, knelt at the extra bed, held tightly to her favorite lovie, and poured my heart out to God. I questioned why this was His plan, why it couldn’t have been me instead and I pleaded for deeper understanding. I was reminded of our prayers to reach “lots of people” and I felt the Holy Spirit ministering to me. I was told, “Just wait and see what I will do with your pain.”
The reason I can still get up out of my bed of sadness and carry on with my day is not because I am strong. It is because His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I am weak. I need the grace that only He can provide.
So many people have said that they are amazed, impressed, overwhelmed by me and the way I am handling everything. Don’t be. Be amazed that the God who created the world desires to know us and be with us. Be impressed that no matter the situation, He has offered to carry us through. Be overwhelmed that He was willing to sacrifice His Son in our place offering the free gift of salvation to anyone who will simply believe and place their trust in Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17).
The preceding is excerpted from Dr. Kelley’s blog, Aaron in Kenya. Read the full entries, and learn how to support the Kelley family.