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.