The Tender Love of God


I’ve been struggling to know what to write next. I’m overwhelmed by grief but I also have this steadfast peace that I can’t explain. I’ve never felt more loved and cared for by God. In effort to give Him glory amidst my pain, I’d like to share a list of the ways we’ve felt or seen God’s tender love for us (and other people involved in our story). There’s no order and I know some have been mentioned in blog posts by Aaron or myself, but here is an incomplete list of the ways I feel loved by God.

1.) Noah’s prophecy about our future. God grabbed our attention through Noah’s “baby girl in Africa” statement, and God showed us that He was trustworthy. “The works of his hand are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” Psalm 111:7 NIV

2.) The 18-month gap between Levi and Hannah. It was overwhelming to say the least, but I am so thankful that Levi is 2 right now. He is our comic relief and I believe God knew we would need his not-potty-trained, always-happy self in this time of mourning. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” Psalm 28:7 NIV

Levi and Hannah

3.) God’s promise to my heart. During a worship service at Salem Bible Church, God promised that my life would be better than I could ever imagine if I’d simply trust God and serve as a missionary. His promise is being fulfilled daily. Like He promised Jacob of the Bible, “I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” Genesis 28:15b

4.) Double rainbow. God not only spoke directly to my heart of His promise for my life but He also gave us a reminder of it through a double rainbow the day of Hannah’s memorial service at Tenwek. God keeps His promises. I doubly believe it.

5.) Pink skies. While I have not personally seen any pink skies since Hannah’s death, I heard several accounts of the “pinkest skies I’ve ever seen.” They show me God is tenderly loving His people, not just me. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11 NIV

Pink Skies

6.) Foreshadows. Many times before we left for Kenya, I heard the Holy Spirit very quietly tell me that being a missionary would cost me a lot…perhaps a child. It was nothing I ever took the time to think about. I would just respond, “ok, God” and go on. I don’t think I would have been able to go if I had thoroughly thought this through. However, I did acknowledge this possibility and I still trusted God to take us to the mission field. I’m thankful for the quiet foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit. I echo Pauls words, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:22-24 NIV

7.) God is good lesson. Sometime in the last year, Pastor Justin preached a sermon on God’s permanent goodness. It was life changing. From that Sunday, I determined in my heart to believe that God is good no matter what. He is too big to be determined by circumstances. Important lesson to learn if your faith is to persevere through the death of a baby. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3 NIV

8.) Pediatric neurosurgeon. In God’s sovereign plan, He placed a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon in Kenya at the same time Hannah needed emergency surgery. The surgery didn’t save her life but it did give us a life without regrets. It did give us more time with our little girl. It did give our families comfort and assurance that her healthcare was not compromised because we were in Kenya. (The truth is that our healthcare was better than we would have received in the States!)

9.) CT scan at Tenwek. Not many mission hospitals are equipped with a CT scan but God sent us to live at one of the few that are.

10.) Public life. Living life in a compound is like living in a glass fish bowl. Everyone can hear everything, even when you’re inside your house with the curtains pulled shut. While this is daunting, it did make me a better mom. I was more patient, more loving, more available than I would have been in the States in my private little townhome.

11.) Joyce, my househelper. She cares for my family so deeply, and she had a special bond with Hannah. She took care of all the household responsibilities from the time Hannah got sick. She even came up to the hospital and stayed with me while nurses placed the first feeding tube into Hannah. I’m so thankful for her. Because of her presence in my home, I can be the homeschooling mom I want to be without being so stressed.

homeschool experiment

12.) Family. We have so many families! Our biological families here in the States, our missionary families in Kenya (both at Tenwek and now at Kijabe), and our spiritual family all over the world are so appreciated! We feel your prayers and are humbled by the outpouring of love from the body of Christ.

13.) The last 2 nights. Because we were at Tenwek, we were able to bring Hannah home and care for her in our living room. Aaron and I each had a night with Hannah. We treasure that time when we got to care for her. The sacrifice of sleep was well worth it. Also, we are blessed that Hannah was sick for such a short time. We didn’t have to see her suffer for days, weeks or months like we should have. God, in His infinite mercy and love, shielded her from the typical symptoms of a large brain tumor.

feeding tube at home on the couch

14.) Tickling hairs. Hannah’s hair was pulled up into her typical water sprout the night she stopped breathing. I couldn’t sleep at all that night because her hair kept tickling my face. I’m glad it did, because that’s how I startled and realized that she wasn’t breathing!

15.) ED husband. As soon as I felt Hannah’s lifeless body, I called for Aaron and he immediately began CPR. To say I’m thankful for his knowledge and quick action is an understatement.

16.) 2 a.m. I’m thankful that he tragedy began while the boys were sleeping. They didn’t have to see their sister be carried away to the hospital…or their parents so worried.

17.) Kenyans. Unlike most of us Americans, Kenyans know how to mourn. I’m blessed to be the recipient of their love, prayer, encouraging words, gifts and willingness to carry this heavy load. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 NIV

Kenyans mourning with us

18.) Picture by the river. I’m so thankful that Aaron took the picture of Hannah in the river. It’s the closest picture we have to what I saw in my vision of Hannah in heaven. God knew that picture would bring me comfort. How sweet He is!

This is the closest image I have to what I saw in my vision of heaven.

This is the closest image I have to what I saw in my vision of heaven.

19.) Hannah’s name means “grace.” Like I mentioned in my last post, God gave us the name “Hannah.” Her story is a story of God’s grace. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV

20.) Fussiness. The last few weeks of Hannah’s life were taxing. She was fussier than usual. She wanted to be held every waking minute. Never for a second did I think it was because a huge tumor was destroying her brain, but I did hold her a lot more. I conceded almost every time she held up her little arms. I snuggled her so much more than I really wanted to. I didn’t treat her like she was the fourth child. Fortunately, the boys love to play and entertain themselves in Kenya, so this allowed me to spoil her with my time and attention. Looking back, I’m so thankful for the grace God gave me to handle her fussiness because I can honestly say that I have no regrets.  “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Praise God, the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is worthy to be praised!

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.


24 responses »

  1. Stephanie, Thank you. This is a beautiful reminder of God’s unfailing love and goodness. My prayers continue.

  2. So divinely inspired, your words. We have been brought closer to God through this. You wouldn’t believe the web of faith this is weaving even in Alabama. So many of my friends have been so touched and pass the story on and on and on. The morining after we had learned she stopped breathing I saw a double rainbow reflection on my shower wall. I had never noticed this happen before and I knew it was God allowing the sun to shine through our window at just the right angle while I took a shower so I could see it and be comforted as well. This was before you all said you had received one too. God is good. We send you hugs and prayers! love, Jodie

  3. My darling daughter, you are God’s child, God’s witness, God’s love being extended to others. I love you so deeply. Every minute of every day I think of you and your family. May our God surround you with comfort and love.
    Luv ya bunches, Mom

  4. When I think of Hannah, I think of strawberries. I have no idea why, because I never knew that sweet child — much less know if she liked strawberries — but, I see her, now, with that big infectious smile … and the juice from strawberries dribbling down her face! I’m grateful to our good God, for giving you His peace, at this time. He is so faithful to all His promises.

  5. Thank you for sharing this! We lost our daughter to a very advanced brain tumor and tumors down her spine. For some reason God shielded Karagen from the signs of her brain tumor too, and by the time we found out what was wrong there was little to be done. After emergency surgery and 3 rounds of chemo, we were given the precious gift of 6 1/2 more months with her. She has been gone for 5 months and we miss her so much. I love to envision her in heaven, laughing and playing, it brings us the greatest comfort. Karagen LOVED children. I am sure that Karagen and Hannah have met and are great friends. I can just picture them laughing and playing together with Jesus.

    • May God continue to comfort you, surround you with His loving arms, and give you a vision of Karagen and Hannah happy together. I feel your pain, your brokeness and your emptiness through the loss. Praying for you and your family as well as my daughter and her family continuously. Thanks for sharing.
      Hannah’s Grammy Snyder

  6. Hey Stephanie, Hanna’s story has really moved me. It has made me reflect on my children more. It is so easy for me to think sometimes like i have all this time with my children and at any moment God could call them home. You have been such an inspiration to watch as you have been given this very hard situation that you and your family have to live out. I was watching at Salem and it was so good to see you still raise your hands to praise God. It is that kind of faith that will allow you and your family to be covered in this time. May God continue to give you and your family strength and peace.

  7. Stephanie,
    Thank you for sharing how God gave you these “20 hugs” of his tender love. They encourage us of God’s promises and love so that we can share them with others. So thankful God placed you in my life. I love you bunches and praise God for His compassion and your family and for His continued grace and comfort! Anna

  8. I have been praying for your family since a friend of mine requested prayer when Hannah was so sick! Your faith and sweet spirit have blessed my heart. I pray God’s blessings on your family! You and Aaron have shown many people what true trust in God is.

  9. What a walk with God! I don’t personally know you, Mrs. Kelley, but this is one of the most compelling testimonies of walking with God ‘when the sacrifice is filled with pain.’ I have never seen a double rainbow…that has to be a remarkable sign!!! Be encouraged as you serve & encourage many!

  10. Your true trust and love for our Great Lord is an amazing testimony for us all, especially at this time. I truly honor you and your family for sharing Hannah’s story…and yours…may God continue to uphold you with His most beautiful Grace and Peace

  11. Hi Stephanie,
    I have been following your blog and Aaron’s since Hannah got sick. You are both amazing testimonies, amazing parents. God lives through you both and it is so evident. My life has been changed by your story, by your faith. I thank God for you… And I have been praying for you all daily. So much love and hugs from Michigan.

  12. Stephanie, I come by way of Vera S.; your blog posts are on her Facebook page. I am deeply sorry for the loss of sweet Hannah. It is through tears that I write; I am well-acquainted with grief. I have seen the Lord’s grace in the littlest things too…you are reminding your heart and our’s as well when you make this list. I hope you have dreams that bring comfort to you as you mourn not having Hannah physically with you…that was a comforting grace given to me.

  13. Steph, Your reflection of the events is lovely. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us. As a mother of three young children, I can’t imagine your pain. I can’t imagine your emptiness, and I can’t imagine your longing. I hope you know how much it helps that you’ve shared these messages from God. My eyes are opened. Hannah’s story is beautiful, and you are doing an wonderful job of sharing. You are one amazing Momma!

  14. We cannot understand not comprehend your pain but know your faith and trust in God is a great encouragement and testimony to us. We will be lifting you and your family in prayer. Thank you for following God’s leadership in your life. I look forward to seeing your rewards in heaven and meeting your Hannah. God bless you, your sister in Christ, Pam Williams, Summerfield, FL

  15. Your ability to see good in such a difficult and painful situation is God’s beautiful grace. I’m still praying for your family in Lansing, Michigan. Praying God fill every void in your heart with His love and mercy. Praying He bring fame and glory to His name through your family and precious daughter. May many know Him through her story.
    My deep love in Christ to you.

  16. Your beautiful tribute to God, Our Father, brought tears to my eyes. I pray that I will walk with faith as you and your family have done. You are one of God’s chosen people. May all the prayers for Hannah sustain you in this time of sorrow.

  17. Sweet Stephanie, As a wife of an ER doc ( one that has worked on short mission trips at Tenwek too) and mother of 5 and grandmother of 5, I have read every blog and cried many a tear. I am amazed at the outpouring of God’s grace and how he has ministered to each one of you during this difficult time. I know returning back to Kenya without your precious Hannah will be difficult. I am praying for you and your family and as a grandmother- I am praying for your parents as well. I was so encouraged to hear how you have no regrets and that is the theme of our lives here. We want to get to the end and feel no regrets and especially hear those precious words, Well done my good and faithful servant. I know you will hear those because of the testimony you have given to so many around the world. I am praying for you my sweet sister is Christ and hope to see you in Kenya one day. Much love, Stella

  18. Stephanie, I have prayed for you and Aaron and the boys every single day since hearing of Hannah’s tumor. For some reason a song from my childhood keeps ringing in my head as I pray and as I follow yours and Aaron’s passion and faith of our Savior: “Rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS, and again I say REJOICE”….you are rejoicing in him ALWAYS and you are a great testimony to people like me. Prayers abound….”Lift them up Lord, meet them where they need you. Be with them, hold them and be their great Comforter”.

  19. Continuing to pray for all of you. I also have to tell you that yesterday I saw the pink sky that others have been reporting. We live in MD and it was the brightest pink sky that I have ever seen, just like you described. It was amazing, just as I am know that Hannah was. We will continue to pray for you all.

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