Local author offers inspirational story
Rural Oklahoma, where landscapes unfold with quiet beauty and communities are tightly woven, a compelling literary voice has emerged. Vanessa VanCleave, a proud Mvskoke citizen, moved the hearts of Okmulgee County residents recently during a book signing at the Okmulgee County Library on Dec. 14, 2023. This event offered a window into the profound insights throughout her book, “Hearing AIDS: How a Deaf Child with AIDS Taught Me to Hear God’s Voice.”
Vanessa’s journey stems from her Oklahoma Heartland roots and a love for writing that was sparked in the first grade.
“I have been writing and loved writing,” Van-Cleave said, “My first poem I wrote in first grade and my teacher made a big deal out of it. My parents were both educators and so they were very encouraging and they had me recite the poem on Easter Sunday and that was the first time I realized the power of words to move people, to touch hearts, really. And I loved that. So I kept writing and had some wonderful teachers that really encouraged me along the way.”
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in English/writing from East Central University and a master’s degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Missouri – Kansas City, Vanessa is on a mission to inspire, encourage, and motivate others to connect with God and fulfill their unique purpose.
In 2000, VanCleave founded Hands of Hope Ministries, a nonprofit dedicated to prayer, missions, and training warrior poet messengers who live with purpose. Her commitment is evident in her ministry training at the Berean School of the Bible, Victory Bible Institute School of Worship, and graduation from Christian Leaders Authors and Speakers Services (CLASS).
VanCleave’s literary prowess shines with awards like the originals for her essays and poems at East Central University. Her impactful articles in Today’s Christian Woman and Guideposts magazines reach a broad audience, showcasing her unique perspective.
Beyond literature, Van Cleave embraces diverse roles – spending time with family, crafting resonant words, seeking spiritual connection and teaching literature, poetry, American Sign Language and mission statement crafting.
— Authorship and Book
In “Hearing AIDS,” Vanessa VanCleave’s unique voice shines as she draws on personal experiences with her daughter Maegan, who was deaf and living with AIDS. Maegan, a spunky light of life, unexpectedly became Vanessa’s teacher, guiding her on a transformative journey to hear God’s voice. The narrative resonates on a deeply spiritual level, inviting readers to explore the profound connection between adversity, faith, and divine communication.
— Book Excerpt
…Yet I knew that because Maegan’s time on earth was short, I wanted her to know about heaven so that perhaps she wouldn’t be afraid when she started to get sick. Deaf children are very visual. I knew I could teach her the sign for “dog” and show her a dog. I could teach her the sign for “piano” and show her a piano, but how would I show her God?
Again, I met with our pastor for advice, and he reassured me that God has His own special way of communicating with children. He suggested that I simply create an environment where she would feel comfortable asking questions. “God doesn’t often speak to ears, Vanessa. He speaks to hearts.”
…Not long after my visit with Pastor David, I saw that the mini series, Jesus of Nazareth, would be shown every night the week before Easter. I had only seen parts of it growing up and never had any real burning desire to see the entire film until that year. I knew it would be too complicated for Megan to understand since she was only five at the time. She could rarely sit still for more than 30 minutes, so I asked Jeff if he wouldn’t mind keeping her busy during the evenings that week while I watched the film.
When I began watching it, though, and explained to Megan what it was about, she clapped her hands and pleaded “Sign for me, please!”
“It’s a long movie,” I explained over-emphasizing the sign for “long”, but she refused to be discouraged and set mesmerized every night through the whole series.
Her emotional reaction during one part struck me. Jesus picked up a little girl and held her in his arms, as he explained that we must come to him with the faith of a child. Megan turned to me with huge tears in her eyes and signed, “Mama I really want Jesus to hold me like that!”
She wept again when Jesus was crucified. And a few days later, she drew a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross. It hung on our refrigerator for years. It was a stick figure child standing at the foot of the cross, with tiny circles falling from her head. It’s me crying, she explained. She had labeled the man on the cross Jesus and wrote the inscription above his head. I LOVE YOU, MAEGAN.
She then began to draw pictures of heaven and Jesus’s castle with lots of flowers around it and many windows. A stick figure with long hair stood in one of the windows and SHANNON was scrawled under the window. “My room will be there”, she explained as her chubby fingers pointed to the empty window next to her mother’s. I would sit staring at her knowing that I hadn’t told her this. I hadn’t even taught her about death. She had never heard the word AIDS. And at that time, she was very healthy. Up until that point, I had been her only spiritual teacher. Whatever spiritual concept she grasped had to have come from me. Or did it?
— Vanessa’s Testament
Vanessa VanCleave and Maegan’s story, as seen in “Hearing AIDS,” is a testament to the transformative power of faith, resilience, and purpose. VanCleave’s literary achievements and commitment to inspiring others make her a beacon in the literary world. As readers delve into the book, they’re encouraged to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery and spiritual connection guided by Vanessa, a true warrior poet messenger.
— Join the Movement
Inspired by Vanessa? Join the movement at vanessavancleave. com to learn about Hands of Hope Ministries. Become part of the army of warrior poet messengers she nurtures. Connect with like-minded individuals and contribute to a mission transcending literary boundaries.