First of all, I want to apologize for how long it has been since I’ve updated everyone. Thank you so much for all the love and prayers you’ve given me over the last year during my time in Africa. I am so encouraged to know I have your support. I’ve wanted to write and give updates on life in Kenya, but honestly I haven’t known quite what to say or how to share the things on my heart. Since my last post, life has changed dramatically for me, in totally unexpected and unwanted ways. I completed my term at Rift Valley Academy and returned back to the U.S. about 2 weeks ago. It has been encouraging to see family and friends again, although I’m struggling with reverse culture shock and transition. Truthfully, my heart is still in Kenya.
My plan for the near future is to return to work as a nurse practitioner in the ER. It is a job I enjoy with an amazing group of doctors and advanced practice providers. It has been a huge blessing to be able to go back to something familiar with people I know and love while I transition. Although I am so thankful for the opportunity to work in the ER again, I continue to have a passion for missions. My heart’s desire is to serve outside the U.S. as a medical missionary. I believe God gave me this longing, but I have no clue right now what the fulfillment of it will look like. I was expecting to return to Kenya and RVA in a year or two, however, at this point that door is no longer open.
In many ways, the earth feels like it has dropped out from under my feet. The plans I thought were so good, guaranteed and part of God’s plans, have changed. In the last few months I have been in dark and scary places. I’ve wondered who God really is- if he is actually good like he says, if I can trust him, if he really does love me. I’ve questioned who I am- if all my plans, hopes, and dreams were wrong. I’ve asked if my desires for life and ministry were really from God or if somehow I got confused along the way. I’ve learned for the first time in my life what it feels like to experience grief, loss and depression.
Yes, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I’d made it to 33 without God ever really challenging my faith. My life has been full of blessings that I know were from God. I acknowledged him and was thankful for the great things he provided- yet, somehow, deep down I didn’t think I actually needed God. Things just always worked out for me. I worked hard, tried to be good and do the right thing, and developed the belief that I could control my life- that I could be perfect, that I could earn the love of God and other people based on what I did.
This concept is the exact opposite of what I said I believed. I know my relationship with God and his love for me isn’t at all based on me. It is all about God. God loves me completely, endlessly and perfectly no matter what. Whether I follow him or run from him, his love is the same. I knew the truth about God’s love in my head, but my heart and actions weren’t on board. When life fell apart, when I no longer felt perfect and in control, I didn’t understand how God could possibly still love me.
In the grief and heartbreak of the past couple months, I’ve learned just how much God does love me. Even when I am not perfect, even when life is hard and I don’t understand what he’s doing, even when the future is unknown and scary, God loves me and is working things out for my good. As frustrating as it is for me, I am human. I can’t be a robot, free from emotions and weakness and mess ups. What’s even better is God doesn’t expect me to be perfect at knowing his will, trusting him or serving him. He knows I will doubt, struggle to trust and make mistakes. Yet his love never ever changes.
So I find myself in a new and terrifying stage of life. I long to go back to Kenya- to the students who have inspired me, encouraged me, and become dear friends. To a ministry that is unlike anything I ever expected to do as a nurse practitioner, but one I feel created to do. To friends and fellow missionaries who have become like family, who supported, challenged, prayed with and encouraged me over the last year. But for now, God has asked me to wait. To be patient. To trust him. To serve him with my whole heart where I am right now.
I have no idea where God will lead me next or what my future holds. But I am choosing to believe that it will be good. I used to think faith in God meant we always trusted him perfectly, never had doubts, never questioned him, never felt anxious or afraid. God is so much bigger than my faith and my limited understanding. When I am weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). When I am unfaithful (lacking in faith), He remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He will use this time of waiting and the broken pieces of my life to make something wonderful. If you hear me doubting or questioning this truth (because that happens pretty often), please remind me. And I hope that somehow the tough times I’m going through right now can encourage you. Because God loves us and never gives up on us. He is always working – even when he asks us to wait.
The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh every morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord!
-Lamentations 3: 22-26
I looked in the mirror this morning on my first day as a 33 year old. 33?!? How in the world did this happen?? The gray hairs seem to stick out a little more and everything aches. Okay, honestly, I don’t really feel any older today than I did yesterday or last year. Half the time I still see the awkward 12 year old with red glasses in the mirror… But there are definitely gray hairs now that I didn’t have back then! Birthdays are a good time to reflect and I wanted to share an update on what I’ve been up to lately. In addition to another year of life, I’ve celebrated several big milestones.
I’m at the halfway point of my year at RVA. At the end of last school term, I was feeling discouraged and down. The emotional and spiritual struggles I saw students dealing with seemed contagious, and I really believe Satan was using my feelings of inadequacy & perfectionist tendencies to make me ineffective in ministry. This term I’ve felt more settled in my role and more at home in Kijabe. Not that I’m suddenly SuperMissionary or don’t have down days, but God has given me grace in reminding me that I don’t have to do all or be all. I love the students here and love that I can share in their lives, whether taking care of their health needs, mentoring, encouraging, or cheering them on at concerts and sporting events. I’m so excited for the last half of my term! I hope to go through the next few months focused on God; loving and serving the kids through his strength instead of my own.
Another momentous occasion was my 5 year anniversary of becoming a nurse practitioner. This meant I was due to renew my license. A chronic procrastinator, I hadn’t done many of the 150 hours of continuing education required ahead of time. God bless the internet, because I was able to get half of the hours done online! I was also able to contact the students I’ve precepted and get proof of the hours they worked with me to fulfill the remainder of the requirement. Thankfully, all the paperwork was processed in time before my license expired. How cool is it that I can do all that from Kenya?! Despite the stress and crazy days when I just want to give up, I am so thankful for the privilege I have as a nurse and nurse practitioner. I love the problem solving and critical thinking necessary in my profession. I love the unbelievable stories I get to tell! 🙂 I am so blessed to be able to help people in their time of physical need.
This month also marked my one year anniversary dating an amazing man. In the past, I wanted to have my life all planned out. I had big dreams of serving God as a missionary nurse, traveling the world and having an important career. To prevent disappointment, I pretty much convinced myself that I’d be single forever. I figured it was easier to believe something would never happen than to get my hopes up and have them be unfulfilled. But that perspective was just as wrong as thinking that I needed to have a relationship or be married to be complete. With limited dating experience, learning how to be in a serious relationship has been a wonderful challenge. Nate has patiently taught me how to be vulnerable, to trust and to give up control. It is sometimes difficult to believe, but he accepts me for the goofy, nerdy woman I am- even in sweatpants and no makeup! I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that it has been a reflection of my relationship with God. I’m constantly reminded God loves me for who I am- imperfections, failures and all. As wonderful as Nate is, he’s human- he’s not perfect either. But God is, and I can trust him for my relationships, my career and my future.
Thanks for listening to my sentimental ramblings! I believe God has great plans & I’m excited about the coming year and more happy adventures in following Jesus.
A big, shiny gold sign hangs on my wall that says JOY. It was there when I arrived in Kenya nearly 6 months ago. Sometimes I glance at it peacefully and contemplatively, thanking God for the many blessings he’s given me. Often I barely notice it’s presence, even though it’s next to my front door, at eye level, in one foot tall letters.
I’ve heard plenty in the past about joy- it isn’t purely happiness, it shouldn’t be related to my circumstances, it isn’t just an emotion but a long-term lifestyle. Or the old Sunday school definition of JOY= Jesus, Others, You; reminding me that only when I love God and others more than myself can I have true joy.
I wake up plenty of days with what I think is joy- earlier this week I had one of them. I decided to write this post about joy after a good Monday at work, dinner with friends, a fun workout with Nate, excited about my family coming to visit in a few days…
And then I woke up the next morning. I felt like crap. I decided NOT to do laundry on what seemed like the only time I’ve seen the sun in years. There’s a hole in my favorite elephant print pants. EVERYTHING and EVERYONE was driving me crazy. Nothing seemed joyful, even a walk with Mondu on a sunny day off work. My first inclination was to complain, whine and grumble. I really just wanted to let out all my frustration on a punching bag. Have you ever had one of those days?
Maybe it’s just me…
I really wanted this blog to be about waiting patiently and with joy- how to live in the moment and be grateful for God’s blessings. How to trust God and be content with where I am and not worry about the future.
Of course, for me that can seem like an impossible challenge. I tend to have fits of anxiety about what will happen 5 days, 5 months or 5 years from now. In my desire to have control, I want to have everything planned out. God has a great sense of humor and gave me a very patient, understanding boyfriend who does not share my innate (& insane) need to plan ahead. While I panic about jobs, money, God’s will, and what to cook for dinner next week; Nate rolls with the ups and downs of life much more easily.
Learning to wait patiently and live with joy when things don’t happen on my timeline or exactly how I plan is always a struggle. Looking back through my journal, I found an entry from January on this issue.
I will focus on enjoying God. Refuse to obsess about my problems & how I’m going to fix them. I will trust God, wait hopefully in his presence and watch to see what he will do.
We can have JOY, full & complete JOY, by knowing God’s love.
Just a few days later, I jotted down another note about waiting…
Do I want to wait on the Lord, or find my own way? I should rely on God instead of trying to control the situation-
“Surrender yourself to the Lord and wait patiently for him.” ~Psalm 37:7
It all comes full circle. In one of my finer moments this week I grossly underestimated the cost of my groceries at the market. Sarah, the sweetheart owner, just put the extra cost on my tab. When I went down later to pay the difference, I ran into a group of really amazing students. “Miss Coleman, I just love that you and Mr. Edwards play soccer and have so much fun together- it brings me so much joy!” one of the girls exclaimed. Not realizing the irony, I replied I was glad my joy could bring her joy too. Bam.
THAT’S what I need to remember. Joy is sharing life with others. Taking time to just have fun and not stress. Laughing with Nate at my complete inability to juggle a soccer ball. Joking. Dancing. Encouraging. Helping each other when we’re sick or down or lost or just having a crappy day. Waiting patiently instead of neurotically trying to plan and control every detail of my unpredictable life.
I suppose I might never fully master the realities of happiness vs joy, patience vs panic. As we’ve well established, I’m not perfect. God’s perfect timing in the midst of my bad day is a friendly reminder of the fact.
But, I’m trying to get over it and trust God. I’m not perfect, but a work in progress, and that should bring me true joy.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. ~Romans 15:13
Warning! Long blog post ahead…
Since we’re already one week into Term 3 here at Rift Valley Academy, I thought I’d give you a bit of an update on my adventures during our April break. RVA does year-round school, three 12 week terms with about a month between each. It gives students (and staff) time to see their families and get much-needed rest. There are so many great things going on here during the school term, and so many ways to be involved (mentoring, sponsoring classes, community outreach, small groups, teaching Sunday school, Bible studies, singing in chapel to name a few), but it can get exhausting! I’m very thankful that God reminds us of the importance of rest so we don’t burn out.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. ~Matthew 11:28
Of course, I take the term rest loosely, using my time off work to travel to Ethiopia and Uganda, and host a friend visiting from Cincinnati for 2 weeks. It was a break full of adventure, fun, and most of all – friendship. Over the past 15 years or so since I first felt God calling me to the mission field, I often pictured myself as a true “bush missionary” nurse. I figured I’d work in a remote area with no medical care for miles except me, running a clinic single-handedly. It would be an exciting but lonely life. Obviously, I thought, missionaries are supposed to rough it and survive with no fellowship but God. Since God is all we need, I’d be ok without teammates or friends.
Yes, it’s true that God is enough to satisfy all our needs. But at the same time, he created us for fellowship. We aren’t meant to go through life alone, and we absolutely need community. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t really want to be a solo bush missionary, and that’s ok! One of the things I loved most about working in the ER was the team mentality- we tackled every trauma, heart attack and mass casualty together. The Christian life is supposed to be just like my experience in the ER. It’s not always fast-paced adrenaline, but we as Christians should share life and help each other through the good and bad times.
We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things.
~ Hebrews 10:24
I treasure the team I work with here at RVA, especially my fellow student health nurses Amanda, Allyson, Linda and Joe. It’s great to be on the “front lines” of ministry with them.
I’m so thankful for my friendships here and in Cincinnati, and for the chance this month to rest and enjoy time with dear friends. It reminded me how much I need other people for support and encouragement.
Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up. But how tragic it is for the one who is all alone when he falls. There is no one to help him get up.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I went to Ethiopia with Allyson and her family for a week. We bargained for souvenirs (gorgeous silver crosses and traditional white woven scarves), drank both buttered and salted coffee (not at the same time, and just as bad as it sounds!), barbecued warthog kebabs on the beach at sunset (surprisingly tasty!), fellowshipped with their former teammates, listened to choruses of wild dogs and monkeys at 3am, and volunteered at the clinic.
After returning home from Ethiopia, I had a couple days to recover before my friend Jayme arrived. Highlights of her visit were a trip to the elephant orphanage and giraffe center in Nairobi, shopping at the Maasai market, a walking safari at Crescent Island, Sunday morning at Naomi’s village orphanage, hiking to Paradise waterfall and visiting Kijabe CURE hospital to play with the kids.
The final adventure of the break was a trip to Jinja, Uganda to whitewater raft the Nile with Jayme, Nate, and friends Katie, Mary Howell, Kelsey and Tanya. To save money, we took the overnight bus from Nairobi, enjoying a muddy and chaotic 4am border crossing. Our guesthouse in Jinja, Sole Hope, was amazing- the perfect place to rest! The owners run a ministry that provides medical care and shoes for people with jiggers, parasites that infect the hands and feet.
The days not risking our lives on the Nile were spent relaxing, reading, shopping, visiting the Sole Hope clinic and exploring Jinja. Whitewater rafting was amazing! It’s not every day that you can eat pineapple on the Nile while a thunderstorm rolls in. Our raft guide, Juma, was an Olympic kayaker who managed to keep us safe and entertained throughout the trip. On the 8th and final rapid, he flipped our raft, just so we could get a “real” taste of rafting the Nile. Fortunately, we all survived!
Returning to school/work this week with new energy from the month off, I’m excited about possibilities for ministry and outreach, and can’t wait to see what God will do here in the next 3 months! I love the work here at RVA, love the students and love my fellow missionaries. Thankful for the time to rest and for friends who can join me on such amazing adventures 🙂
Today marks one year since I first arrived in Kenya!! The year has at times flown and at times seemed much longer than 365 days. Since I love making lists, I decided to look back on the last 12 months by making a totally random list of some favorite memories and things I’m thankful for 🙂
*Friends- it’s cheesy but the relationships I’ve made over the last year have been the best thing about coming to Kenya. Friends who pick me up on the side of the road at 7am on a Monday morning, friends to make dinner with, friends with whom I can laugh, cry, pray, sing & dance. And of course, my incredible boyfriend, Nate.
*Learning the importance of teamwork. The RVA staff depends on each other for support as we serve. I’m realizing more and more how much I need this fellowship and encouragement. God didn’t create us to live alone, but to share life with the people around us.
*Hot water! My friend Jayme is here to visit and when she arrived, we were without hot water a few days- reminding me what a fabulous blessing it is to have clean, hot running water.
*Wifi to communicate with family and friends and supporters (& to watch the Reds Opening Day game!)
*Samosas!!! We have plenty of yummy food including samosas, chapati, mandazi, & chai. In Nairobi I can get just about anything- pizza, burgers, milkshakes, Indian & Ethiopian. And I have Nate, who is an amazing cook. Definitely NOT starving here in Africa!
*God’s protection. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about the safety concerns in Kenya. Please pray for our country!
*Rest. A change of pace from my work schedule in the U.S. has allowed time to form relationships with the students and other staff and time to get involved in mentoring and other ministries. The April school break also provided a much needed time of rest and refocusing on God and my purpose here.
*Adventure!! Since coming to Kenya, I’ve gone on safari in the Maasai Mara, relaxed at the beach on the Indian Ocean, volunteered at a clinic in the bush of Ethiopia, and whitewater rafted at the source of the Nile in Uganda.
*Prayer. I know I am being supported in prayer by so many of you and I am so thankful for that! Our staff has also focused on praying together. Although the last school term was rough, the times of prayer with my fellow missionaries have been so encouraging.
*Mama Chikus. Our little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Kijabe- the site of great memories like my first date with Nate, and some seriously yummy& cheap food!
*Seeing giraffe and zebras grazing on the side of the road. Visiting the Elephant Orphanage to pet the baby elephants! Walking past sheep, goats, cows and dogs on the way to the market. Praying no monkeys climb through my window to steal food. Holding my breath as I run past baboons on the trail.
*Learning about flying ants (termites) by finding them all over the ground outside my front door after a heavy rain
*The Great Rift Valley. The view I wake up to every morning is great and beautiful and awesomely gorgeous.
*Still haven’t learned how to build a fire… gonna have to figure that one out here pretty soon, it’s getting cooler!
*The amazing students I work with every day. It is such a privilege to take care of them!
*Drives into Nairobi with Nate. Without a drivers license or car, I am completely dependent on others whenever I want to get off campus. It’s been good for Nate and I to have time to get away and just talk, and good for me to learn to accept help every once in a while 🙂
*Although life at RVA isn’t quite the suffering life of a missionary you might picture, there are challenges. Thankful that God has brought me through disappointments, stresses, temptations and frustrations. I’m not perfect by far, but through the difficult times I’ve learned more about God and how I can grow closer to him.
Looking forward to another fun-filled 8 months before the end of my term at RVA. I’m sure it will contain plenty more adventures in serving God! Can’t wait 🙂
As always, thank you SO MUCH for your prayers & support!!!