Thursday, November 14, 2013

Joy is...

Sitting on a porch enjoying breakfast with a good friend.
Kids asking where I have been and why I have't been in their class lately.
Worshiping with high school students each Wednesday night.
Eating pizza with old friends and new.
Sitting and talking in my car till midnight knowing I have to teach in the morning.
Spontaneous trips to visit friends at school to talk about life.
Talking to my brother for an hour to hear about life in Georgia.
Going to 21 Choices/Dairy Queen because it is Wednesday/Sunday night.
Seeing pictures of my nephew and knowing I'll get to play with him in a week.
Watching my cousin get married which means our family is growing.
Seeing kids bust a move on the dance floor because they don't care who is watching.
Getting a letter in the mail from a friend.
Reading a blog that speaks the words I need to hear.

Knowing I am loved. 

It has been one of those weeks. I realized how broken my heart is that I will not be going to Peru in January. I have had the same conversation in different depths multiple times with people in passing or over coffee. Each time I have to tell someone I am not going. Plans changed. I am still here. It is hard to articulate in words about the frustration of not going with the excitement of seeing what God has for me in this next season. As for now, I look for the blessings and joy of doing life here with people I love. We are only guaranteed today so why not make the most of it.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day."
Henri Nouwen

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sometimes it gets Messy

Life is messy. This is something we can all agree on. We are bombarded with images of pretty happy families that seem like they have come out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We see girls with perfect, blemish-free skin or guys with perfect physique. We see women with no wrinkles or men enjoying a round of golf with no bladder issues. It's almost as if these people have pretty plastic shells which keep any unpleasantness hidden from the world. It creates an unhealthy idea that we have to have our lives put together in a pretty package in order for others to accept us. The truth is I would much rather sit and talk with a friend about my messy life than try to keep all my mess concealed. I love talking over coffee for hours listening to friends talk about real life. Talking about things that really matter to them because they become things that matter to me.

In order to truly do life together, we have to be willing to get messy. We also have to be willing to share our mess with others.

It has taken me many years to to learn how to live life with other without being afraid of keeping my mess hidden. I learned there is freedom in transparency. I learned that people love me regardless of my mess. I learned to be honest.

God knows our hearts. God knows our messiness. God provides people who love us in our messiness.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Change in Perspective

The last month has been filled with a lot of decisions that resulted in a lot of changes. A month ago, I had a departure date in January. I was having final coffee dates with people that I may not have seen for a few years. I was preparing my heart and mind to move to a new culture and context. I was avoiding the hard goodbyes while trying to figure out how to pack up my life in only a few suitcases. That has all changed.

It has been a difficult road to walk as I followed God down a path and prepared my heart for His plan. The path has lead to a stop sign. There is a bend in the road. It was not where I thought the path would go. It means I will be here a while longer. I will invest here. I will continue to build community here. It raises many questions for which I don't have a clear answer. I feel like Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac then provided a ram instead. (Genesis 22) I do not know what my ram looks like but I know God will provide as I continue on the path He has laid before me. 

In light of all of the decisions and changes, my heart feels like it has taken a beating. I have been happy, sad, joyful, frustrated, disappointed, mad, angry, excited and apathetic as the changes became a reality and I would no longer be moving to Peru in January. I was frustrated at starting over. I had no motivation to pursue other ways to do ministry overseas. I felt stuck. It was not until today I realized I needed a change in perspective. Instead of being disappointed at the direction of the journey, I needed to be joyful for all the new possibilities. Instead of being frustrated at the process, I needed to be thankful for direction. 

Today I dreamed. I met with a friend over coffee and we talked about the messiness of life. We agreed that building community means diving into the mess with people we love. We talked about our desire to follow God into the hard places. We talked about what it looks like to love people. It was fun to dream about the future. About marriage. About careers. About living radically. About loving well. Today I allowed my heart to dream.

Today I laughed. I laughed a lot. It reminded me of what it felt like to be engaged in life. I saw the joy of friends coming together to reminisce about working at camp. I saw genuine laughter after talking about how stressful college can be. I was reminded the good times always outweigh the hard times. I let myself laugh. I let myself enjoy the moments. I laughed at the little things. It felt good to live in the moment while finding joy in the past.

I realized I can let the uncertainty steal my joy or find joy in the time I have with the people I love. I choose joy. I choose laughter. I choose love.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lessons from a Child

This is Josiah. He is two and a half years old. In this picture he is Peter fighting the witch in Narnia. He doesn't realize a rocking horse and wooden spoon can not defeat evil, but in this moment, good will always win. 

One thing I have been thinking a lot about lately as I have conversations with students or just spend time with kids is they still have the ability to dream. They dream about becoming a doctor or a professional athlete. They dream about becoming moms and dads. They dream about living in a mansion and driving around in a limo. (Anyone remember playing M.A.S.H?) They dream about attending UCLA or USC. They still have the freedom to dream. When do adults lose the ability to dream? Is it in high school when we realize our dream college is out of reach? Is it in college when we realize we have papers to write and work two jobs just to pay for school? Is it after college when we don't get the dream job we worked four years to prepare for? Is it when the bills start coming and there never seems to be enough money to dream and live life? 

The first time I realized I had stopped dreaming was when I realized my dreams had not come true. I had worked hard in college to double major and have internships so that I would be set up to make my dreams come true. The funny thing is that God had different dreams for me. He sent me to Africa so I would hear simple dreams of going to school. He sent me to Ecuador so I would understand dreams in another language. He sent me to China to see the reality that owning a Bible is a dream. He sent me to Indonesia to watch dreams change as someone learns more about Christianity. He sent me to India to see the strength it takes to dream again after dreams have been shattered. He is keeping me here for the moment so I can learn what it means to dream when things don't work out. 

I have been reading Bob Goff's Love Does and he uses words like whimsy, imagination and wonder when it talks about dreaming. He very clearly shows that loving and living are intertwined and sometimes all we have to do to make dreams come true is to show up. I have had the privilege to work with thousands of students as a substitute teacher, youth group volunteer and camp counselor. I have made dream comes true many times by just showing up. Sometimes it was showing up to cheer them on at a sports meet/game/event that I didn't understand. Sometimes it was showing up with a frappuccino in hand to catch up on life. Sometimes it was showing up at the hospital just to say hi. Sometimes it was showing up to after a long night of bad decisions because they needed to talk. I learned this from people who showed up for me. They investing time which has left a lasting impression. 

I do not know the plans God has for me, but in the mean time I am going to love people and make some dreams come true. I will leave you with this final thought from Goff's Love Does:

"I learned that fully loving and fully living are not only synonymous but the kind of life that Jesus invited us to be a part of."

Bidwell Park in Chico is whimsical and fully of possibilities for dreamers.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Then Sometimes There is a Pause

Have you ever followed God down a path that you couldn't have planned yourself? I have followed God into some pretty incredible places. Some were incredibly beautiful. Some were incredibly hard. Some were incredibly broken. Some were incredibly joyful. Most of the time, the places God leads encompasses all of these things. The journey to Peru to been filled with joy and sorrow. It has been filled with excitement and fear. The journey will continue. At the moment, I am on pause.

I had a departure date. Now I do not.

I am fully confident in my calling to Peru but the path to get there may be changing. It has been a year since I started this process. Now it is on hold. It is mentally hard because I feel like I am back at step one, but I know God is good. The plans He has are better than I can ever hope or dream.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man;
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. 
Proverbs 19:21

As we read this verse in Bible study this morning, I realized it doesn't matter what I have planned because ultimately God has a way better plan. I am keeping my eyes focused on God as I take each step in my journey. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

27 Dresses....or Something Like That

I have had the honor and privilege of standing beside two of my good friends over the last month as they tied the knot. It has been an exhausting month filled with bridal showers, bachelorette parties, dress fittings/alterations, pedicures, rehearsal dinners and wedding day hair and make up. There are years of friendship and memories that lead up to standing beside my friends as they embark on the journey of marriage. I have 11 dresses hanging in my closet reminding me of the honor it is to have participated in the joy and celebration of 11 of my friends finding their media naranja (their other half). I was in a wedding a couple weeks ago and another bridesmaid was asking me how many weddings I had been in. I told her that wedding made 10 and she reminded me that means I have 10 people that consider me important enough to them that I get to stand beside them on the happiest day of their life. I sometimes compare my life to the movie 27 Dresses and a friend reminded me that after the 27th dress, the main character married the hot guy in her 28th dress. I am honored to be part of so many weddings and the way those friends have loved and supported me as I roamed the globe. I am loved.

I am writing this on the eve of my 28th birthday. Ten years ago I was a senior in high school taking the SATs and dreaming about meeting Prince Charming in college and having kids by the time I was 30, which seemed so far away. I realize God had way bigger plans for my life than I did. In the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to travel to 20 different countries on 5 continents. I have done youth ministry with some amazing human beings and thousands of high school students. I have seen joy on the faces of starving and dirty kids in Uganda, Ecuador, Indonesia and India. I have spent countless hours talking about hopes, dreams and fears over coffee. I am looking forward to the next 10 years of adventures and living life with those I love. I am blessed.

Here is to my 28th year. It will be filled with fun, love, adventure and following God where He will lead me. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Choosing to be Present

I was having lunch with some friends last Sunday, and I was telling them about the process of leaving. I was sharing with them my frustrations with support raising and the pain involved with leaving my community. After I was done sharing, my friend looked at me and said, "I don't know what to say, but I am here for you." Those words were so beautiful in that moment. Sometimes there aren't words that can bring comfort or fix our problems or calm our anxieties, but in that moment, the willingness for my friend to sit and listen were a huge gift.

I am trying my best to be present before I leave for Peru. I treasure the conversations I get to have over coffee. I look forward to sharing life over lunch or dinner. I love sharing life with my community. There was a phrase that caught me off guard more than once. A friend would be updating me on their life, and they would pause and say something along the lines of what they were going through isn't nearly as bad/difficult/life-changing as going to Peru. I want to be present. I want to hear how life is going. I want to spend hours dreaming of the future. I want to participate in community here instead of watching it from the sidelines.

One part of my life here is substitute teaching. I have loved getting to know students over the last few years and watch them move from elementary school to jr. high to high school. It is such an encouragement when they remember my name or my travels. I have enjoyed seeing my students from church or camp wandering around the halls of Charter Oak. It is life-giving to walk around the halls and have students remember my name and ask when I will sub for their class. I have become a part of the community that poured into me as a student. It is a privilege to give back. I believe these students will change the world one day so I encourage them to dream big.

I want to leave you with a final thought from Henri Nouwen's Compassion.

"But what really counts is that in moments of pain and suffering someone stays with us. More important than any particular action or word of advice is the simple presence of someone who cares. When someone says to us in the midst of crisis, 'I do not know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you, that I will not leave you alone,' we have a friend through whom we can find consolation and comfort. In a time so filled with methods and techniques designed to change people, to influence their behavior, and to make them do new things and think new thoughts, we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Living in Community

Living in community is something that has always sounded really appealing to me because in theory it sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread but in practice it is usually really hard. Community is more than a group of people living in close proximity. Community is more than people that occasionally meet together. Community is more than a TV show. Community is choosing to allow people into your story and showing them the broken pieces. Community is just sitting with someone when there are no words to say. Community is sharing a meal or coffee together and talking through the struggles of real life.

Community has been a learning process for me. I used to think community was a group of friends I hung out with in high school or my roommates in college. I thought living in community meant hanging out to celebrate birthdays and the occasional Saturday backyard barbecue. A few years ago, the young adult pastor taught me what it looked like to love each other and seek friendships beyond just a passing hello. I thought transparence was a weakness, but I learned the beauty in being broken in a community that loved me and walked with me through the restoration process. In India, I learned the hard part of living in community in a foreign context. I learned the importance of grieving hard things and the celebrating the good things the people who quickly became my community so far from home. At camp, I learned the importance of loving people well and being honest when living and working in close proximity for 10 weeks. I built friendships with people that wanted to invest in me and were wiling to meet me where I was in my brokenness and walk alongside me as I journey to Peru.

Coffee dates have become a huge part of my life over the last month. I sat with a friend who understands the ups and downs of planning a move to a foreign country. We sat over coffee sharing our excitement and fears of the unknown but knowing God only has good things for us. The phrase "me too" was said so many times that it was reassuring that I God brought us into community to go through life together. Another conversation over coffee revolved around the idea that sometimes God allows us to choose our path when He opens multiple doors. We talked about leaps of faith and the willingness to be lead when the path doesn't seem to lead where we want to go. I have also had the opportunity to meet with a youth pastor that I met at camp who has become a friend. I was able to share my struggles with her and she asked really tough questions that I needed to hear. I love the community God has given me and I cherish the gift of coffee dates and the willingness to do life together. Community is hard but it is a beautiful gift.

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35

Friday, September 20, 2013

What if we knew the end of the story?

Stories were a huge theme at camp this summer. We each have a story and different people are weaved into our story throughout our lives. Some stay for a while but then we lose touch or move on to new seasons while others are a consistent part of our story for our entire journey. A friend once asked me what the end of my story would look like if I got to write it. We both knew that ultimately God is the only one who knows how our story ends but it was fun to dream about my future husband and kids for just a few minutes. I know the plans God has for me are more than I can ever hope and dream of for myself and He is the author of my story. 

This question has been on my mind as I hope and dream about my time in Peru, but as I thought about it the question changed into what would I do if knew how my story would end. Would we take a chance on love if we knew it would work out in the end? Would we apply for our dream job if we knew would wouldn't be rejected? Would we take that trip to visit a friend if we knew it would restore our soul? Would we quit our job to pursue our passions if we knew we would always be provided for? Would we take a semester off school if we knew we would still get a degree? I am often asked why I have chosen to pursue a life among vulnerable people around the world and my response has simply become why not. Why would I not seek to build friendships with the poor? Why would I not have a desire to spread the love of God through friendship? Why would I not take a leap of faith and trust that God will catch me? I hope that when my story ends, people will remember for the love I poured out and the ways God used me because I was willing to say "Why not?"

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." Matthew 6:34 (The Message) 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

October Prayer Letter

4 months....17 weeks....122 days. It seems like such a short time. I have 122 days to prepare my heart for this new season. I have 17 weeks to say so many goodbyes. I have 4 months to raise support. If I let my mind focus on all the things I have to do, it becomes overwhelming and I feel defeated. I was talking to friend over froyo this week who was wrestling with trusting God in taking steps towards leading a short term missions trip to Uganda this summer. I loved hearing her heart for the deaf culture and her desire to serve in Uganda. In many ways, she was giving up on the idea before she had taken one step on the path God set before her. I realized that I have taken the first several steps down the path and God has been faithful in each step. I realize that when I focus on the logistics of leaving for three years (or longer), I am taking my eyes off God and feel lost along the path. I know God will provide. 

I had the opportunity to Skype last week with the team I will be working with in Lima. It was so good to hear their voices and see their faces. I was able to hear their excitement as they talked about the part I will play once I get down there. These are people who love God and understand what it means to be the hands and feet to the most vulnerable in Lima. They made fun of me for drinking a huge mug of coffee and was glad that I hadn't lost all of my Spanish. I feel loved and cared for by this community that will welcome me when I arrive in Lima. I am grateful for these people as they pray and plan to come alongside me in this next season. 

Each conversation I have with friends/family/acquaintances leaves me more and more encouraged that I am where I am supposed be right now and Peru is where I will live and invest in people for this next season. It has been a learning process along the way to live in community and communicate my needs to allow others to help me along the journey. One need I have is for financial support. I am asking for people that would be willing/able to donate each month to help cover my monthly budget. Any amount ($5-$100) monthly would help me greatly to follow the path laid before me. I know monthly giving is not an option for many so one time donations would also be a huge help. Each donation would be a huge blessing. I would also love to grab coffee and chat more specifically about what I will be doing in Lima. 

I leave you with this final thought that have encouraged me along in my journey. From The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen: 

You are facing a real spiritual battle. But do not be afraid. You are not alone. Those who have guided you during this period are not leaving you. Their prayers and support will be with you wherever you go. Keep them close to your heart so they can guide you as you make your choices.
Remember, you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Every day I run into someone that asks me when I am leaving. It is a reminder that I have just over four months before I move to Peru. I still have a check off list that needs to be done before I leave. I still have so many goodbyes that I am dreading. I still have financial support to raise. I still have trips to take. I still have bridesmaid dresses to wear. I still have coffee to drink with friends. I still have a birthday to celebrate. I still have memories to be made to people I love. 

I am learning there really are only 24 hours in a day no matter how hard I wish and pray for more hours. I have tried to make the most of each day. I have gone to San Diego and dreamed with friends about life overseas. I spent a morning with a friend playing with her son as he showed me every toy he could drag off the shelf. I sat at Cheesecake factory for three hours with a friend as we talked about our passion for social justice. I sat with a friend at Starbucks talking about her fears and excitement of studying in South Africa. I drove 500 miles in a weekend to celebrate a bachelorette party in LA and a bridal shower in Sylmar. I shared my fears and insecurities about being single for the rest of my life over coffee and Chipotle with a friend who felt the same way. I had lunch and an delicious ancho chili mocha with a friend who listened and asked questions about my dreams for life beyond my move to Peru. I have had many more conversations over food and coffee with friends who have encouraged me as I prepare to leave. I am cherishing every moment and each conversation. Let me know if you want to grab coffee. 

My love language is quality time so I am doing my best to spend as much time as possible with people before I leave. One of my fears in leaving is loosing the friendships I have built over the past few months as well as the ones I have had for years. I am so thankful for modern technology which makes it easier to stay connected through email and Skype but sometimes a hug from a friend is the comfort I need on a bad day. I am so thankful for the community God has given me here. I am trusting Him to provide community in Lima. 

This is a prayer that was spoken over us during a silent day retreat in Kolkata. I love the idea of standing on tiptoe as I grasp on to God as He leads me. 

On tiptoe we stand, Lord Jesus,
eagerly waiting
your full revelation, 
always expecting you
to come some more

Our hands and hearts
are open to your grace. 
Our lives still waiting for the 
fullness of your presence. 
We are are those who have been promised
a kingdom and we can never forget. 
Yet we have a foot in both worlds
and so we often stumble. 

But still we stand on tiptoe. 
Owning our kingdom-loving hearts
and our earth-eyes
we lean forward and hope. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Learning to follow

From a young age kids are taught to be leaders not followers. This often carries into our adult life and the way we take charge of our dreams for the future. We do everything we can to set ourselves up for a comfortable, self-sufficient life.We make plans and hope that God will bless the plans we have made. Jesus often said, "Follow me." He said this to fishermen. He said this to rich rulers. He says this to us.

Following is something that seems frightening and unpredictable because it means that I am giving up control and holding my hopes and dreams with open hands. God has called me to Peru and I am choosing to follow. I compare to the team building exercise I did with my partner at summer camp last year. I was blind folded while I let my partner (who I had known a whole 3 days) lead me through the sky trail which is three levels of rope obstacles. There were times I didn't trust where he was telling me to step so I would stumble. I know I am guilty of doing the same thing with God. I tell Him to lead me but I can't help trying to feel my way around or take a step away from where He is leading.

I know that this journey so far has brought up so many insecurities within myself like the possibility of giving up marriage and not having enough money in my support account to go. This journey will involve being broken daily for my friends. This journey will involve missing milestones in the lives of my friends at home. I am tightly grasping onto God as I follow Him into the streets of Lima.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September Prayer Letter

In less than five months I will be heading to Lima, Peru to serve among the poor with Word Made Flesh (WMF). I worked with WMF in Kolkata, India in the fall of 2011 where God began to stir in my heart a desire to devote part of my life to serving in South America. I have spent the last year seeking God’s will for this next season of my life through prayer and conversations with people who love me. In early April, I took a trip down to Lima to meet the Field Director and dream about what life would look like if I joined WMF Peru. I returned home with a full heart and began the discernment process which led me to decide on joining WMF Peru as field staff.

Peru is one of the poorest nations in South America. Today, nearly half of Peru’s disproportionately youthful population lives in poverty. This culturally Catholic nation is religiously divided between Catholic and non-Catholic. Among the most pressing social issues are rampant poverty, corruption at all levels of organization and government, drug trafficking, local terrorist groups and the breakdown of traditional families.

Peruvians are looking for their identity after almost five centuries of exploitation by foreigners in a culturally and linguistically diverse nation, regionally isolated into coastal, mountain, and jungle communities. Populations in the major cities have been increasing at alarming rates due to urban migration from rural areas. I hope to play a small part in helping Peruvians find their true identity in Christ through building friendships with vulnerable populations.

I am seeking prayer partners who will be committed to praying for me as I am serving in Lima. I will be sending out weekly updates on how you can specifically pray for me and the ministry in Lima. Please let me know if you are willing to support me as a prayer partner by sending me your email address so I can send you updates.

I will be raising financial support for my time in Peru, so I ask that you would begin praying about this opportunity to partner with me as I follow God to the streets of Lima. My goal is to raise $1500 a month to cover all my living expenses, as well as health care and travel costs. If you have any questions or would like to see the breakdown of funds, I would love to meet with you and discuss my budget in further detail. You can donate online at Word Made Flesh. Please denote that it is for Natalie Cook Personal Support. You can also send checks to Word Made Flesh P.O. Box 15068 Portland, OR 97293. Please do not write my name anywhere on the check. Instead, please include a separate piece of paper with my name and Peru Field Staff to ensure it goes into my support account.

I am excited to see the ways God will work through me to serve the vulnerable populations as I move to Peru.


3 John 5-8

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Healthy Rhythms

One thing that I have always been terrible at is being still and staying quiet before the Lord. As I came back from camp, I realized that I am terrible at taking the time and space to process transitions. I usually just jump from one thing to the next because there is always something that needs to be done or someone that needs me to be somewhere. I was chatting with a friend about what introverted time means as an extrovert. I shared with him that I avoid introvert time because it is painful to be alone because I feel like I am wasting time, but he told me that introvert time is the best time to process things. I realized I don't process things well. I jump from one thing to the next without grieving losses or celebrating sweet moments. This week I have made it a point to sit outside by the pool each day to read or rest or think. I realize these are healthy rhythms that I need to learn before I get to Peru. It is taking the time to take care of me so that I can more effectively help others.

I took a mini vacation down to San Diego to visit a friend where she gave me time and space to verbally process through leaving camp as well as moving to Peru. There were sweet moments where we sat at her kitchen table and talked about the future and difficult moments as we sat on her couch as she wrote my will and power of attorney documents. We sat on the beach and talked about the plans she has for her future wedding while I shared my very real fear of missing out on marriage by moving to Peru. It is in these moments that I leaving becomes more real. Genesis 22 is the passage where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac and it has been given to me as a word of encouragement through different people. I see that moving to Peru involves some pretty big sacrifices, but if I am willing to trust that God will provide then the sacrifices are totally worth it. Jehovah Jireh. God will provide.

Genesis 22:13-14
And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Check List

Today I took a good hard look at my pre-departure check off list. It is incredible how two sheets of paper can feel so overwhelming. There are fun things like writing a short bio and picking a picture to accompany it on the Word Made Flesh website but there are really heavy things like writing a will and assigning power of attorney in case something happens when I am in Peru. It is a reality check. Am I willing to risk everything, including myself, to follow where God is leading me? This is not the first time I have had this thought because I received this check list before I committed to going. There were multiple conversations I had over the summer where I talked through this with people that love me. A question on the emergency contact sheet asks what my wishes are for burial in or out of country which is honestly something I can say I have never thought of in the past. Do I want to force my parents to pay astronomical fees to ship my whole body back or be cremated so I can be put in someone's luggage for a return trip home? That was a fun conversation to have over dinner at Mongolian BBQ. I can't imagine being a missionary back in the day that packed all of their belongings in a coffin because they never expected to come back alive. I have the luxury of knowing I can hop on a plane and be back home in hours, but it doesn't make the reality of writing a will any less scary. I am trusting that God is calling me to serve among the most vulnerable in Lima and I pray that His will be done.

At camp we sang a song called Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong and these lyrics remind me that God will carry me through these next 3 years.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters Your sovereign hand Will be my guide Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me You've never failed and You won't start now

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders Let me walk upon the waters Wherever You would call me Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander And my faith will be made stronger In the presence of my Savior

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Five Months

If all goes according to schedule, I will get on a plane to Lima, Peru five months from today. It has been a year since I heard God calling me to Peru and I began pursuing the opportunity to work with Word Made Flesh Peru. It many ways it feels like this process has been a practice in patience because at the end of last summer all I wanted to do was to start my life as a missionary. I am grateful for the time I have had over the last year to begin dreaming and thinking about what life in a new culture and context would actually look like. I am grateful to spend my summer working with high school students and getting poured into by the staff at Forest Home. As I look forward to the next five months, I see a three page check list of things that have to be done before I can even buy my one-way plane ticket. I feel overwhelmed by the all the little things like writing a will and assigning power of attorney just in case something happens to me. I feel anxious and nervous as I begin raising support. I feel sadness when I think about all the things I will miss over the next three years like birthdays and weddings and babies being brought into this world. In all the fear and doubt that clouds my thoughts, I am confident in the calling God has given me and know He will provide peace and comfort as I seek Him in this process. Now that I am back from camp, I have more time to focus on checking things off my list and start processing what it will look like to say goodbye to so many people I love. I would ask for prayer as I begin raising support and begin putting together a support team that will handle various aspects of my time in such as prayer and administration. I pray that I would be attentive to God's voice as He leads each step I take in this journey.

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:8-10

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Leaving Camp

This was written last Sunday as I looked forward on my last week of camp.

Last night was the Forest Home summer staff banquet which is a time of celebration as the summer comes to a close. It is fun to see what everyone looks like cleaned up and dressed up when so much of our time is spent being covered in dirt, mud and sweat. It helps remind us of the good times we shared this summer and we can joke about all the crazy, weird, strange hard moments we had as we served campers this summer. As I looked at the pictures that were taken last night, I noticed I have laugh lines and slight crows feet when I smile. I see those as a reminder that I have laughed a lot in my 27 years. This summer I have laughed so hard I have cried but also cried so much that all I could do was laugh when my tears ran out. I have had the opportunity to walk with campers through some really hard stuff and see God’s healing hand in such a real way. Last week, a camper handed over razors that they had once used to hurt themselves because they realized they are a God’s child whom He loves. It was so cool to pray for the camper and the counselor as they headed down the mountain where the same trials and temptations exist. It is a comfort to know that God loves that student and will continue to pursue them.

On Friday, we will pack up and go back to real life. I like to compare working at camp to living at Disneyland. I have had the opportunity to spend time getting to know amazing people that have served as my cheerleaders as I walk through the process of moving to Peru. Each conversation was a gift and usually came just at the right moment. I appreciate the vulnerability of the staff as they allowed me into their pain and joy so that we were able to seek God through our brokenness. Sometimes there weren’t words to adequately describe what we were going through so we just sat laughed or cried together. I will miss this place and these people as real life begins next week.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Nicknames are things that are given by those who know and love us. I have been given many over my lifetime such as natalie rattalie, cookie, natasha, mondegini, sujata, muzungu mulalu and natal snake. These names all represent very specific times/events in my life so when I hear people calling me these names it brings back a flood of memories.

This week at camp a youth group that I worked with for four years was there and from the opposite side of camp I hear "NATAL SNAKE" and I knew exactly who that student was. It brought back all the good times I had with that group but also the growing pains of being asked to move on from that group. It was fun watching two of my worlds collide as my staff learned more about me through my students and they vow to start using "natal snake" which I am okay with.

A very real anxiety I have about moving my life to Peru is that I will not find community that will love me and allow me to be broken. The community at Forest Home is so comfortable for me because this is my second summer and God has brought people around me who will walk with me through the fear and anxiety of these next steps. I often compare camp life to Disneyland because we are all living, working and serving together which gives us time to be intentional with each other. I know God is a God of provision and He knows the desire of my heart and will provide community for me in Peru because He is calling me there. I will choose to trust in His provision as I leave camp for the last time in a few weeks. I trust that He will bring people around me at home that will listen and pray through my fears but also encourage me in my joy. As January draws nearer and the pre-departure checklist becomes a priority, I know God will provide for my every need and I will trust that He will guide every step and conversation along the way.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Camp Life

Reality set in this week. I am leaving in 6 months. I am leaving the comforts of Southern California to pursue living and serving among the poorest of the poor in Lima, Peru. This means leaving many things that have meant so much to me over the last few years. As summer speeds by, it means that I am closing out my time at Forest Home where I learned the beauty and hardship of living in community as well as watched God transform the lives of students as they seek Him. As the fall approaches, I will start my last semester of substitute teaching and saying goodbye to kids that I have watched grow up over the last five years. January will be filled with goodbyes. Goodbyes to people I have known my entire life as well as goodbyes to people who I have just recently met and love.

One of the things I am currently struggling through is grieving things that I will be leaving like working at camp. Forest Home is a special place where last summer I so clearly heard God call me to serve in Peru. I have learned how hard but good it is to live in community and be transparent within a community setting. It is so life giving to have youth pastors pour into me as I serve their students. They have spoken life-giving words in a way that renew my spirit in the midst of difficult weeks or teach me how to find real rest and real joy while doing ministry. God has surrounded me with people that have loved me well this summer. I am so grateful for one young lady in particular who is also being called in to full time missions so we are able to be honest with our fears and anxieties. The conversations I have everyday with my new friends on staff have become such gifts and they are able to encourage me as I process through leaving. I realized how much of a gift time is. I value the rare moments where I can have real conversations with one person in my room while getting ready or while sitting on Tucker porch and watching bloobers fly through the air. I value the friendships I have made this summer as well as the ones that grew from last summer.

I am learning to lean into God's calling and I have full confidence that He will provide for my every need along the way. I am learning what it means to leave well while also enjoying and embracing every moment.

"Jesus said, 'Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." Mark 10:29-30

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Joy in the Little Things

Life at camp is usually a million miles an hour. We are usually working from 7am and don't go to bed till 1 or 2am on average. I love it and could not imagine a better place to spend 3 of my last 6 months before I head to Peru. I get to sit and listen to high school students as they process through what their faith really means. I also see how God works in and through youth groups as they have a week free of distractions. One of my favorite things each week is taking my team on a night hike up to Inspiration Point where I challenge them to sit in silent awe of God's beauty in the mountains and stars and realize they are more important than even the most beautiful, star-filled night. At first the counselors and students are hesitant and reluctant when I pitch out the idea because they don't want to hike or they would rather sleep. I convince them that it will be a good thing and let God do all the work once we get up there. Nuggets of joy are what I look for when I am tired or exhausted and surprisingly that is enough. I have an awesome group this week from El Paso, TX on my team and they have been a huge encouragement in the way they love each other well. This week, I have been more aware of the fact that God does not need me in order to work in the lives of the campers. So many times, I feel that I am doing nothing when I share my story or when I am eating dinner with my students but then there will be nuggets of joy such as a really cool conversation about how God is working in their week at camp or a student will ask me about going into full time missions. Nuggets of joy are gifts from God. I am grateful that God has allowed me to work at Forest Home for a second summer and there is no where I would rather be.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


I have decided to pursue God's calling for my life by committing to living and working among the poorest of the poor in Lima, Peru. There are so many things that go through my mind when I think about the reality of life in a foreign country as well as all the things I am leaving behind. I am working at Forest Home again this summer with high school students and I get to share my story/journey with about 300 people a week. I get to share a little bit about my time in Kolkata, Spain and Uganda and I realized how good God has been in my life. He has provided ways for me to invest in those around me and opened my eyes to the reality of life beyond my little bubble. I have seen God's joy on the faces of Ugandan children as I chased after them with all the energy I had each day. I have seen the reality of hope for women coming out of the trade in Kolkata. I have learned the importance of community through my time at Forest Home and the friendships that have been encouraging me as I prepare to leave. I am preparing to leave in January 2014 which seems like it is a long way off and so soon all at the same time. As I begin to process through what it means to leave, I am comforted in the fact that I have never been more certain or more scared about anything in my life. I am fully confident that God is calling to serve in Peru and will provide love, joy, peace and hope in very real ways just as He has done in the past. As I was preparing to speak this week, I ran across a prayer that I wrote during a silent retreat in Kolkata which reminded me of the brokenness I experienced as I lived among the poor. I asked God to break me so that He could create a beautiful mosaic out of my broken pieces. That is my prayer for this summer at camp as I share my story and learn how to live well in community. That is my prayer as I look to the future and join a new community thousands of miles away from home. That is my prayer as I begin to dream of my new life serving among the poor. God, continue to break me so that You can be glorified.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Each one of us has a unique story. Our stories have elements of joy, hurt, happiness, pain, sorrow among many other things. Looking back at my story, I would have never expected to do half the things that I have been able to experienced and seen. I never had any desire to live in India but my time there has become an integral part of my story in the way that God showed me His goodness in dark places. I would have never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to work at summer camp with 300 high school students each week. I have the opportunity to share how God has changed my story when I held on loosely to my hopes and dreams. God had bigger plans for my story. The theme of summer camp this year is woven and the idea behind it is to look at how not only are our stories woven together with each other but how our stories are part of the bigger story God has for His people. It was such a blessing to listen to stories of high school students at camp and see how God used a week at camp to change campers' stories. I am looking forward to seeing how God will use my story this summer and excited to tell people of my journey and preparation as I follow God's calling to Peru. We all have a story to tell so start sharing yours.

Friday, April 19, 2013

out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope

those words are engraved on the martin luther king, jr. memorial in washington d.c. and they stuck with me this past week as i wandered through the various memorials and was part of conversations with so many people from all walks of life this week in d.c. i realized that each soldier that has fought for our country has been a stone of hope in order to defend the freedoms we are so fortunate to have here in the states. walking around the f.d.r memorial and realizing that he was a stone of hope a midst the great depression that has defined a generation. (grandma has taught me never to waste anything...especially at taco bell. throwing away sauce packets is like throwing away money) walking around the wwii memorial and realizing that i had 4 great uncles and one grandpa fight and return from that war was crazy when i looked at the wall filled with stars to represent the many who never returned. each of those soldiers that fought was a stone of hope. all of these things take on new meaning now that my little brother is going into the army. he is now a stone of hope for me. he is defending the freedoms that come with having an american passport.

it is this idea that i am a stone of hope wherever i decide to go. in india, the red light district seemed like such a mountain of despair but that mountain is being taken down stone by stone as women choose freedom. in many ways, i had to choose to see the hope as i walked the streets filled with men that viewed me as an object. in bolivia, the hope is in the women that come to the casa which is a place to be open and free. they have come from that dark place of despair and to be a stone of hope for the other women in the red light areas. in peru, hope is seeing kids move from the streets back to their homes and families. one lady's journey from the streets to a home of her own was the stone of hope for her neighborhood as she began to host bible studies and show the hope that she had found. hope is something that at times seems so difficult to find especially in the dark places where it feels impossible to hope. i have seen the hope in the smile of a blind child that recognizes my voice. i have seen hope in the pride a women has in a product she makes. i have seen hope in a child learning to read or understand how to do a math problem. hope is something that is powerful to keep us going or continue striving towards serving God in the darkest places. i pray that i can bring hope to the dark places of peru or bolvia but i can only to that as i seek God and the hope He provides.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Peru: life along the coast

peru has a long history of being a conquered people but the great incan joke is that the city of lima sits along the coast in a valley that keep the city covered by thick coastal fog and clouds most of the year. they have told me that in the winter it never really rains but there is a thick fog that looms in the air and causes clothes to mold as they hang in the closet. walking around the city in flip flops and capris made it feel so much like home as far as weather goes but that is about where the similarities end. the architecture reminded me of the streets i strolled in spain and the driving reminded me that cars have the right of way everywhere outside southern california. one thing that took some getting used to was the lack of stop signs and instead there were giant speed bumps at small intersections which forced people to slow down when going through the intersection. it was things like that make me smile as i reflect on my time in lima.

as soon as i walked out of the immigration area at the airport i was greeted with smiles and besos from pedro and lily who serve as local staff for palabra hecha hombre (word made flesh peru). they asked about my time in bolivia as well as little details about my life so they could get to know me right off the bat. answering questions in a second language after taking an early morning flight caused me some serious doubts about my spanish speaking ability. palabra hecha hombre's ministry has changed and evolved over the course of its 15 year history but it's focus remains on serving among the poor in lima. i spent a lot of time with anna, lily and pedro who are the peruvians on staff as they showed me around important landmarks for their ministry such as where they would provide meals to street kids or host soccer games for the kids. they explained the ministry as we walked down back alleys and markets where they would meet with friends. i could see the passion they had for their friends to strive for something better and they would tell me stories of street kids choosing to go back home where they would be safe and have the opportunity to go back to school. i was fortunate enough to be invited into the house of a friend and listen to her tell me her journey from the streets to a home so her kids could strive for something better. she glowed as she talked about how palabra hecha hombre helped her along the way and she was able to see how God was working in her life to believe in the hope of something more. she is so passionate about sharing that hope with others. at one point she looked at me and said i looked familiar to which pedro responded that it was from a vision and that was confirmation that i should come to serve in peru. we all had a good laugh. i was blown away by the way the peruvian staff allowed me to become part of the team for the short time i was there. as i left, they gave me a figurine of a group of people holding up a cross. anna explained that the cross is what brings us together to work towards a common goal and it doesn't matter where i end up because i will always be part of the team that seeks to serve God wherever i am. it was a reminder that regardless of where any of us are geographically, we are all part of one body that seeks to serve God wherever we are.

i have felt so loved by both communities that making a decision is that much harder. i can see how my gifts and talents would be used for both ministries and aspects of each city that would be life giving. now comes that hard part of processing through my time in bolivia and peru to see where God is leading me to serve long term. i appreciate prayers as i seek God's will for my life.

Monday, April 1, 2013

bolivia: life at 13,000 feet

i landed in bolivia on thursday afternoon and went straight to the drop in center that is the heart of word made flesh bolivia. i had not slept for at least 24 hours and was introduced to a number of women that all welcomed me with a kiss on the cheek. the drop in center (casa de esperanza) is used as a safe place for women who work in the red light district of el alto. they have a day care so they can bring their kids while they sit and have tea or talk to a councelor on staff or participate in a cooking class. the center offers so many different ways for the women to be themselves for a few hours. one way they create awareness for the "casa" as its called is by visiting the brothels and letting women know there is place where they can come to take part in community. i went along with the team for visits on thursday night and was reminded of my time in kolkata. it was very different than the red light districts in kolkata or bangkok but the stories are often the same. so many questions came to mind as we walked through the brothels talking with ladies who were awaiting their next client. there is so much brokeness but the casa is restores beauty in this dark place.

the staff here have welcomed me with open arms and invited me into what life would be like as an american serving in el alto. i have asked some really hard questions and they have answered honestly. i have spent time with the staff members in their homes or going on adventures or simply just sitting and talking over a meal. i can see myself here. the ministry has componets that would be life giving such as a business helping to give women a means of earning money outside of the trade and mentoring/teaching kids as a way of prevention. i will be heading to lima on wednesday to explore life with word made flesh peru. i am hopeful that God will clearly show me where i need to be in the long run. i appreciate your prayers and words of encouragement as i continue on this vision trip.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ready or not.....

my bags are almost packed. my boarding passes are printed. my carry-on is filled with things to keep me entertained during the 20 hour journey. i will be spending the first six days in El Alto, Bolivia and they last five days in Lima, Peru. each place has it's own unique set of challenges and adventures. El Alto sits at 13,300 feet so the altitude alone can present a variety of issues. the plan is to hit the ground running as soon as i land so i am doing my best to prepare for the first adventure in bolivia while i am still in southern california. i am excited to experience life in these two communities. i appreciate prayers for health and safety in these next few weeks. i will hopefully be posting updates as i travel.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Aren't you.....

this phrase has been a part of a lot of conversations i've had this week. aren't you scared? nervous? anxious? excited? to be honest, i am a little bit of all of those things and each one is wrestling for my attention throughout the day as i teach classrooms full of kids that also need my attention. i have a to-do list constantly running through my mind of all the things i need to get done in the next four days. important things like going to the bank to get cash for entry visas or go get passport pictures taken so i can get into bolivia. it seems like the list keeps growing and i keep putting this stuff off because other things come up. it's funny because all the other things keep me from over thinking about what life will be like if I choose to call one of these places home. i am taking 10 days to explore two countries in the hopes of calling one home for the next few years. when i stop to think about seems kind of crazy, exciting, hopeful, new and scary all at the same time. i know i have been called to these places to live among the poor and vulnerable so i am confident that God is present with me as i pack and prepare in the next few days. i am confident that God will provide the peace I need as I explore the possibility of living in one of these countries that are known for violence and drug trafficking. God has been faithful in the past and i know He will be faithful again.

as i look forward to leaving, i have found myself looking back at pictures and journals from past trips. i have a wall of photos in my room that reminds me of the sweet moments i have been given to learn from those in poverty. chasing children around an open lot in uganda and as well as singing worship songs in swahili with my translator as we walked from hut to hut sharing the good news. remembering sweet adrian from ecuador that loved laughing as he was pushed around in a wheelbarrow and the excitement of kids out in the village who crushed flowers to create paint to decorate our faces. the hospitality of a family in costa rica that had such pride in showing us all of their country and would not let us pay for anything. the women in kolkata that are always in my mind and a reminder of the joy found in such dark places. giving Bibles to people who walked for two days in china so they would finally have their own copy of God's word. thinking back to my first trip to spain which would set my love of travel and adventure in motion. it is these memories that provide peace. it is these memories that remind me why i choose to go to the ends of the earth. it is these memories that keep me moving forward in finding joy and providing glimpses of hope in dark places.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

next steps

ever since i left kolkata, i have been thinking, dreaming and praying about what life would look like after serving among the poor. it has been over a year since i said my goodbyes to the women who taught me what it means to hope for something better and love each other well. over the past year i have continued substitute teaching which is always an adventure and had the opportunity to work at forest home christian camp over the summer. it was one night during worship at summer camp that i knew it was time to move on to the next great adventure God was calling me to which turned out to be south america. i sent an email that night to start the process of dedicating the next few years to living among the poor and vulnerable in either peru ( or bolivia ( with word made flesh. i will be visiting lima, peru and el alto, bolivia march 27-april 7 to see where and if i can see myself living and serving for the next few years. i am following the path God has laid before me knowing that He is faithful and will provide for these next steps. as i look back on my journey through life, i can see God's hand along the way providing opportunities to develop skills such as spanish and teaching but close doors i was determined to walk through. i majored in spanish in hopes of doing international marketing but God had other plans and closed that door. instead i became a substitute teacher and learned to enjoy conversations with kids and having time to travel and learn what it means to love from those living in poverty. i learned what it looks like to desperately depend on God when my heart hurt for those i became friends with as they suffered at the hands of an unjust system. i saw God's faithfulness to provide just enough strength to get through each day in spite of the diseases that attacked my body. God has used the last few years to transform my heart and passions to seek out opportunities to serve those forgotten by the rest of the world which has led me to this next adventure. i ask for your prayers as seek God's will in these next steps. i would also accept words of encouragement.