Roses send a message of love from housebound Valma Leighton, writes Simone Worthing.
Every week at Gympie Salvation Army in Queensland, a vase of freshly-cut roses decorates a table and sends a sweet fragrance throughout the church hall.
Val, who grows, cuts and prepares the beautiful roses, never sees how lovely they look there, or how much people appreciate them. Val can’t even enjoy the scent of the roses once she’s cut them. They go straight into a vase of water in the fridge to keep fresh until her husband, Allan, takes them to church and arranges them.
Val has an autoimmune disease and multiple life-threatening chemical sensitivities and allergies that prevent her going out in public.
Outside her home—set on five acres so she doesn’t react to exhaust fumes and everyday chemicals used by neighbours—the only ‘outings’ Val risks is to the doctor, chiropractor and optometrist. Even then, she has to avoid contact with as many people as possible.
A brief exposure to the chemicals from washing detergents in the clothes people wear or in the shampoos, shaving creams, makeup and perfumes they use, can give Val puffy eyes and sore throat and cause her body to swell for days. She has to take a range of medications to prevent her going into anaphylactic shock.
In the 30 years since her diagnosis, Val’s condition has steadily worsened. She can now only read magazines and new books that have been hung out to ‘detox’ for a couple of weeks, and she cannot use a computer because of the plastics used in its construction.
Her allergies have also put an end to the painting she loved, but this determined lady has changed to pencil drawing instead!
‘You don’t have to give up,’ says Val. ‘You just have to find new ways to do things.
‘My condition is extremely isolating and I love being around people but they have to detox before they can come and see me. This involves washing their clothes in fragrance-free washing powder and using fragrance-free toiletries. It’s a personal thing to ask people to do which is why there is so much loneliness involved with this.
‘It’s hard for people to understand, and sometimes I think I’m going mad. Thanks to my earthly and heavenly fathers though, I can usually keep a sense of humour about it. I have also learned to stop grieving for what I can’t do any more and accept what I can—that helps me deal with this.’
Val has a strong faith in God and relies on the power of God to get her through each day.
‘I talk to him about everything all the time,’ she says. ‘I don’t know if he has a pocket, but if he does, I’m in it!’
A small group of ladies from the church go through the detox process to visit Val every Friday for their ‘prayer, share and care’ group.
‘They are just wonderful, ‘says Val. ‘We have a cuppa and chat and I try different recipes out on them.’
Once a month Gympie Corps officers, Majors Peter and Royalene Maynard, join the Friday morning get-together to hold a ‘cottage meeting’ (in home church meeting).
‘I thank God for those who detox so they can come to see me,’ says Val. ‘It’s God, and these people who give me the little bit of sanity I still have!’
In November last year, Majors Mark and Julie Campbell (South Queensland divisional leaders) went through the detox process and enrolled Val as a member of The Salvation Army.
‘I just loved the fact that they came and did this,’ says Val. ‘I love being a soldier and feeling part of something which is usually so difficult for me to do.’
Val watches DVDs of the church services each weel, and is kept up-to-date with prayer needs and events.
Peter and Royalene also keep their home and themselves constantly detoxed, so they can visit her at any time.
Val uses the phone to talk to and encourage others in a similar situation, and to reach out to those in the church needing support— often sending cards and leaving chocolates for those who care for her at her medical appointments.
Val also leads prayers in the Friday meetings. ‘I have a lot of time so I can pray a lot,’ she says cheerfully.
Val’s greatest pleasure though, is preparing her roses each week for the corps.
‘There are few people who don’t appreciate roses, men included,’ she says. ‘Roses simply mean love and that’s the message I want to send.’
With thanks to Pipeline magazine.