My New Heart

April 12, 2013 • Kenya

A World Medical Mission doctor and his wife are learning about moving on with life and faith in the wake of their child's death

By Steph Kelley, wife of World Medical Mission doctor Aaron Kelley who serves in our post-residency program at a hospital in Kenya. The family recently suffered the loss of their young daughter when a brain tumor suddenly took her life only weeks after moving to Africa.

It feels like I have a new heart. A heart that is more sensitive, softer, and more easily broken by the things of this world. Before Hannah’s death, I took pride in being a strong woman, a woman who could handle anything. My strength was really a hardened heart. It took the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son to soften his heart, and it took the death of my daughter to soften mine. My hope is that my heart will remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit, unlike Pharaoh who quickly forgot his heart and pursued the Israelites (Exodus 7-14).

Please know that I don’t write the following thoughts in judgment. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart in a real and personal way through the imperfect, impure thoughts of this sinner.

One of the things that breaks my heart is that the world is moving on. Intellectually, I know that the world didn’t stop when Hannah was born and cannot stop because of her death. However, my heart aches that the sun still rises and sets as usual. The worst part is that I must go on.

Please know that I’m not trying to rush the grieving process in any way, but the reality is that I still have three children here on Earth to raise. I still have a race to run. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). While it isn’t helpful to ignore my pain, it is also unhelpful to crawl into a ball and cry all day. My daily struggle is to live out my faith and grief simultaneously. Moment by moment, I must choose to die to self, to carry the cross, to NOT throw a big pity party (Matthew 16:24-25).

Another thing that is causing me pain is seeing my boys grieve. Just the other night at Applebee’s, Jacob saw a baby girl on a TV commercial. I didn’t see it, but he did. In response, he buried his head in my side and said, “Momma, I wish we had a baby in our family.” Every time we see a baby girl, we are reminded of Hannah, and our pain is made raw again. I fully expected to have a hard time with babies, especially baby girls. However, I underestimated how the boys and Aaron would react. Jacob still prays that Hannah will come back into our home every night. Levi still asks where she is every day. And Noah is doing his best to comfort us all. That alone breaks my heart. I hate that my 7-year-old feels it necessary to be so strong.

Complaining is another thing that is breaking my heart. I once heard a women who couldn’t have children say that she hated listening to her friends complain about their children. I thanked her for enlightening me, and ever since I’ve tried my best to empathize. Now I can empathize on a whole new level. Do I still complain about my children? Yes. Will I ever be able to stop? No! Forgive the hypocrisy, but my heart is grieved by a mother’s grumbles. What I wouldn’t give to hear Hannah cry, throw a tantrum, or whine!

Something else my new heart feels is an urgency. I find myself too impatient to stay quiet. I am compelled to allow the Holy Spirit speak through me.

Although I often mix my own words into His message and therefore fail to represent Him well, I am eager to share the Gospel or any words of wisdom God brings to mind. My introverted self is being challenged to speak! And no matter how uncomfortable that makes me, I am trying to be as obedient as humanly possible. Please pray for my mouth.

While my softened heart isn’t necessarily fun, I am thankful for it. It has given me a greater love for the lost, for the hurt and forgotten, and for those who mourn. I specifically think of Pastor Rick Warren today. As soon as I read the news of his son’s suicide, I looked at Aaron and said, “OK. That’s harder.” To be completely honest, the past four days have been the hardest ones so far. I was having a bit of a pity party and thinking everyone else had it easy compared to me. That was an ugly, ungodly attitude. Forgive me.

I’m thankful that my sins are forgiven. All of them. The ones I committed before I was a Christian, the ones I just committed this week, and the ones I will commit for the rest of my life have been paid in full by my Savior. I am reminded of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).

I pray that the same God that is comforting us will comfort all those who are mourning. I pray that God will continue to soften my heart and give me His strength in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I pray specifically for Pastor Rick Warren and his family, that they will use their platform during this time of greif to bring MANY more people into the kingdom of God. I pray that all who read this will be blessed and challenged and drawn closer to God as you seek Him, as you attempt to serve Him and as you learn to honor Him through everything you experience. Amen.