On Sunday, June 10, at 10:45 a.m., Karen Stout Coleman went to be with Jesus. Nanci and I have known many Christlike people, but she’s on the shortlist. This amazing sister has been a dear friend to us, full of grace and truth in the face of hardships, never losing her wit and humor, quietly saying the funniest and wisest things. She is truly one of my heroes. And now she’s with her Lord and Savior, after being diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in March.
For the past three and a half years, Karen was a vital member of our Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and brought with her a deep love for the Lord and a heart for ministry. (Part of her job involved responding to reader questions. Check out these articles, and you’ll get a taste of her wisdom, love for Jesus, and heart for people.)
Before that, she and her family served for 23 years as missionaries in Africa. After she retired several weeks ago, she wrote me, “It was so good of our Father to allow me the privilege of being a little part of this great work. …I had no pretensions that I would ever find myself in ministry again. What a great Redeemer He is!”
Truly, the privilege was all ours.
Karen and I also worked together years ago at my home church, Good Shepherd, when I was a pastor and we were both in our twenties and thirties. We often recounted our funny memories from 25-40 years ago.
One of the things I’ve thought about lately is how Karen is one of most beautiful blends of holiness and happiness I’ve ever known. I honestly can’t remember a time spent with her that I didn’t fully enjoy. She was simply delightful. She always made me, and everyone around her, smile and laugh.
I am also struck by her childlikeness, fully trusting her Heavenly Father even when she faced heartbreaks in her marriage and personal health problems. She responded with extraordinary dignity and grace at the end of a beloved overseas ministry, and God went on to use her powerfully in countless lives.
When Karen received her diagnosis, it was obvious the reservoir of her knowledge of God was deep. No crash course was necessary. She had done her homework for decades, and was well-prepared to lean on Him because she started long ago. She knew her God, and now she knows Him perfectly.
In one of her first journal entries about the return of her cancer, she wrote this:
Just before going to bed, I had opened a hefty medical bill. Then I woke up about 2:30 a.m. with my first wave of nausea on this treatment. It brought back a flood of memories from my first cancer treatments in 2011-12. When that bill also came to mind, I knew I needed a course correction! The Psalms are always good for that, so I opened my Kindle to the Psalms. There are 50 displayed on the screen and I touched the screen randomly. Psalm 39 came up—not random at all but just what I needed.
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths...And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you...Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart.”
Just a reminder that He has our fleeting lives in His hands and our hope is in Him. We are all sojourners and guests here. And we can smile now along the journey, no matter what, if we know Him as our Savior. I'm so glad He’s helping me to smile!
Later she wrote:
I’ve had sweet times with my old hymnbook, and the Valley of Vision prayer book. A few lines from the latter spoke to me this week: “You are eternal wisdom in dispensations towards me; and it matters not when, nor where, nor how I serve You, not what trials I am exercised with, if I might but be prepared for Your work and will.”
Along with creation, my body is groaning under the weight of this disease. Paul taught us in Romans 8:22-23, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
I’m waiting eagerly, and still smiling at His glorious future for me!
In “Is It Normal to Be Afraid to Go to Heaven?,” Karen wrote this in 2015:
I am SO excited about Heaven—seeing Jesus face to face, reconnecting with my family who have gone on to Heaven before me, meeting intriguing people I’ve read about, like Queen Esther and Deborah, and missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Helen Roseveare and Elisabeth Elliot…oh, I could go on and on.
And now she is experiencing it firsthand. Surrounded by her sons Zac and Noah, her daughter-in-law Hannah, and her sister Kathy, she slipped into eternity as Hannah sang to her. Please pray for her boys and her family in these coming days.
Karen: well done, good and faithful servant. You have entered your Master’s happiness. I already can’t wait to see you again, and worship Him with you. We’ll explore His New Earth together, all by His incredible grace. I look forward to laughing and feasting and singing and snorkeling with you there:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
Linda Jeffries, office manager:
I could use so many words to describe Karen. Wise, godly, and smart, but also competitive, humorous, and cool. It became the running joke that if we had an office contest or competition that Karen would win, because she often did. She had this quiet sense of humor that was so fun and unexpected, making it even more special. She also had one of those rare qualities that made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room.
When we first hired Karen, I quickly realized that she and I were going to be polar opposites when it came to room temperature. She arrived at the office one morning in her puffy down coat, scarf, gloves, hat, sweater, slacks and probably wool socks. I looked down at my attire and saw no coat, a short sleeve shirt, slacks, and sandals (no socks). Oh goodness Karen, how we tried to keep the office warm for you. I think we probably failed, but we tried. I hope the Lord provides you with a tropical warm room. I know He’s been preparing it just for you!
Kathy Norquist, ministry development:
When I first thought of what I would write about Karen I started to make a list of adjectives to describe her, but then was reminded of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. She embodied them all and lived them out before us at the EPM office. And along with these she brought a deep reservoir of wisdom and grace, calmness, peace, and stability. Add to that her great sense of humor and who wouldn’t want to be around her? You could always count on Karen as rock-solid trustworthy. She faced her severe trials with the strength of the God she knew so well through the study of His Word. For me, the loss of her as a co-worker and friend is very great. But I smile thinking of her with Jesus.
Shauna Hernandez, marketing and communication specialist:
Karen was in charge of answering questions that came in from readers all over the world. She answered with such grace and compassion. I learned so much from her.
Karen walked through very difficult things in life, yet I never saw one ounce of bitterness in her! She truly had an eternal perspective and didn’t let hardships negatively define her.
Karen was someone who would get excited about the little things in your life with you, and would then turn around and fill the room with deep wisdom. She was so multi-faceted.
Stephanie Anderson, communications and graphics specialist:
In the three years I knew Karen, I quickly came to see why she was so special to so many. She showed such love and care for me by closely following my husband’s journey through unemployment. When she asked for an update on how he was doing—and she often did—it was clear she had been regularly praying for us. That touched me deeply.
I loved the beautiful, colorful scarves that frequently adorned Karen’s outfits. She also had a deeper kind of adorning: “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). This inner beauty and joy radiated from her, and I know it was the result of years of loving and learning more about her Savior.
Sharon Misenhimer, ministry assistant:
The thing that stands out the most to me about Karen is that she had a deep abiding love for God and His word. He was her treasure, and her life showed it. She was an incredible prayer warrior and loved praying and seeing God work.
She had a humble and teachable spirit. She faithfully served Him through the good times and the bad. She embraced that God had a purpose and kingdom work for her to do until He took her home. She had a concern for all the precious people that God put in her path and wanted them to know Christ.
Karen had complete trust in God’s faithfulness, goodness, sovereignty, and His perfect plan for her life. She trusted that her times were in His hands and she eagerly awaited her glorious future with her Lord. She said she could “smile at her future because He is there.” She said, “I do not want to waste anything He has His purpose for, either in my life or those around me.”
She was a wonderful teaching leader for the women’s Bible study at her church. The last time Karen spoke in March she said, “We are to show the Kingdom to others around us, and we are to pray persistently for his Kingdom to come.”
Karen has touched and blessed my life and it has been such a privilege to work with her and get to know her. I can’t wait to be with her again in eternity.
Brenda Abelein, ministry assistant:
I knew about Karen originally as a missionary from my home church. I was a prayer partner for her family over many years. My two children are the same age as her sons, so when she wrote in 2013 about kids growing up and leaving home, I could totally relate. The verses she included really encouraged me, so I wrote to thank her. She replied immediately, and a sweet email relationship began. I treasure those emails.
When she started working at EPM, our now real-life friendship seemed immediately connected. On Wednesday afternoons it was usually just Karen and me in the office, and we’d sometimes take a break together to talk about and pray for our kids. I miss my Wednesdays with Karen.
On March 16 I drove her to the ER and spent the day at the hospital with her. I watched as she had intentional conversations with every single person who attended to her (even the ones who came to clean her room!), asking their names and if she could share a booklet with them. She always had a stock of Randy Alcorn's Heaven booklets and tracts in her purse. People knowing Jesus was always Karen’s highest priority. Her eyes got bright and her usually quiet and reserved demeanor became confident and outspoken when she was talking about Jesus!
It was only 86 days from that day until she passed away last Sunday. None of us expected it to be so fast. She handled every day "...clothed in strength and dignity, and [laughing] without fear of the future" (Proverbs 31:25), the verse she said God had impressed on her heart just a few weeks before. He knew she would be needing it. This verse will now always remind me of Karen, and watching her live this verse out will be a constant encouragement for me.
It’s hard for me to understand how Karen’s purpose on earth could already have been fulfilled. But I’m choosing to trust that God’s timing is perfect. That’s what Karen would do. ❤