A young, beautiful woman by the name of Peri Gregory is on a solemn quest to graduate nursing school. She finishes her Bachelor degree program in December, and already has a Masters program selected. But in truth, Peri never thought she would become a nurse; and she says that it was God’s voice, speaking to her in a humble village in Uganda, that set her on this unexpected path.
Peri had always been inspired to go on a missions trip; so when she turned 18, she jumped at the opportunity to go to Uganda with a group of 10 people from Westside Church. After a harrowing journey to their destination (involving a leaky fishing boat, a serious case of seasickness, and a crash landing on the beach), Peri found herself on an island, living with people who had nothing. But those people gave Peri experiences that she would never forget. “There were just amazing, miraculous things that happened that you won’t see anywhere else,” she says. “We saw demons exorcised and people healed.” Yet, for Peri, the best part of being on the island was undoubtedly the kids and the women that she encountered. Peri’s moment of revelation came when she happened upon a mother with a two-year-old that was sick with malaria. Holding the sick child in her arms, Peri felt helpless and overwhelmed by compassion. Compelled to pray, she was struck with a deep desire to want to do even more, to offer help in practical ways too. “As I was holding that baby with malaria,” says Peri, “I [felt], this is what I want to do.” In that moment she felt the Holy Spirit give her a calling to heal and care for others: to become a nurse.
Peri’s immediate response to this call, however, was skepticism. “Are you sure, God?” she asked; and with one look at her past, it’s no surprise that she wondered. Peri was not new to the nursing world, having on a whim taken a nursing assistant course several years prior. “It was horrible,” she exclaims. When it came time to get hands-on, working with real patients in a hospital, she was horrified. “I dropped out the first day,” says Peri, which is why God’s calling to her seemed so impossible. Yet she answered; and found her calling confirmed when she returned home and registered as a nursing major, miraculously finding openings in all of the prerequisites she needed.
If Peri thought this God-given direction was going to be smooth sailing, she was in for a rude awakening. She was plagued by sleepless nights, overwhelmed by mountains of textbooks and homework, and stretched thin in more ways than she thought possible. At one point, in her second to last term before graduation, Peri hit rock bottom. “I had this one professor who was just making my life miserable… And that was like my clincher,” she says. In that moment she questioned everything: “I don’t know if I can be a nurse, I don’t know if I can do this; I hate this, this is horrible,” she said to herself. That glorious moment of revelation in Uganda had been swamped by a poisonous cocktail of exhaustion and bitterness. “Everything was consumed by school. I hadn’t even gone to church, I hadn’t prayed,” Peri confessed. “I felt really angry, super angry.” Her doubts grew and her faith and resolve, which had seemed so infallible before, crumbled. At this low point in her journey, she admits to “almost walking away from God completely.”
Yet Peri had no excuse to doubt God; what about those unforgettable moments in Uganda, the miracles that happened right before her eyes, the voice of God speaking to her so clearly? After those kinds of experiences, how could she still question and struggle with her faith? Peri asked herself how she could go from seeing such an amazing display of God’s power and love to being on the brink of giving up; giving up on Him, giving up on His Word to her.
God, however, had no intention of leaving Peri. She says, “even though I had times when I was not invested at all, really wanted to drop out,” and was failing multiple tests a term, “it just kept working out. I kept miraculously passing.” Even though she couldn’t see God’s handiwork in her life, the people around her sure did. Their prayers and encouragement helped keep her going in the darkest days and nights; and afterwards, Peri says, she realized with absolute certainty that “He was there the whole time.”
This is the message that Peri wants to share with the world: a relationship with God is not one-sided, not based on your efforts to please Him and what you can bring to the table. “A faith relationship is mutual,” Peri says with conviction, and even when you fall short, “He will go to great lengths to meet you where you are.” Peri learned that even in her moments of profound weakness, God’s grace covered her completely. When she was not doing all she could, or maybe just didn’t have the strength to do any more, He covered her. “His love and pursuit of us is passionate and unwavering,” Peri says, and, “I saw Him in His relentless pursuit of me in the nitty-gritty moments of life when I least deserved it.” God’s faithfulness and His love became real, reaching out to her tired and frustrated heart.
That precious moment with the sick child in Uganda, that fiery inspiration by the Holy Spirit to help and to heal, was not in vain. Peri found her place when she finally got to start working with women and babies. “It was all just perfect,” she says, “I just slipped right in, and that was the one area of nursing that I was good at.” Now her dream is to work with local women and children; paralleling her work in Uganda. Her mission is not only to care for the physical, but also the mental and spiritual well being of her patients. Having experienced God’s grace coming through in her bleakest moments, Peri now seeks to pour that same love onto others.
Peri’s journey through nursing school has been her greatest challenge, and yet her greatest triumph. The struggle and the pain has been more than worth it; “that’s when my faith grew exponentially,” explains Peri, “during that time of questioning.” Nothing compares to the beauty that comes from trials. When asked if she is excited for the future, Peri responds, “Yes.. I know that it’s going to definitely have more times of that same kind of struggle, but I feel like I’m learning a lot. And there’s just this constant state of growth.” Peri’s story is a poignant testimony of God’s boundless and extravagant love for His children. And wherever you might be in your own journey, you can trust that your Father in Heaven is always there, passionately chasing after you.
Written by: Paige Smith || Photos by: Erica Stubblefield