Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out with 2009, In with 2010

We hope you've all had a great Christmas. Ours was very relaxed, just the two of us plus one cat-nipped kitty until the afternoon. Then we headed over to the Grays who hosted a homemade pizza dinner & games.

We started our Christmas fun a couple of days before. Four families (the Grays, Winnetts, Nelsons, & Petersons) all trekked out to Lake Geneva to see an incredible outdoor light display and indoor gingerbread house contest. It was snowing out and the drive was treacherous, which made it much more fun. We ended Christmas Eve-Eve with a White Elephant Gift Exchange. I came home with a fantastic wall mountable cd holder and Tony scored an outdoor thermometer. I think it's safe to say the company was better than the presents :) Here are a few photos from our trek to the Grand Geneva...

We look back fondly on 2009, it was definitely a big year for us. Below is Tony's latest video project, I'm very proud of the work he put into this. It's also a great way to share with you the journey we've been on with Great Lakes Church. Enjoy...

Thursday, December 3, 2009


...From Michelle...
As the excitement and anticipation grows for this little girl to be a part of our lives, so do the aches & pains of being pregnant. Let’s tell the truth… I’m starting to feel whiny.

Getting out of a chair or off the couch is a chore I think about long and hard before I actually do it. The swelling in my hands and feet have me slipping off my wedding ring and slipping off my shoes as often as I can. The heartburn is constant and I thank God for these little pink pills called “Acid Reducers” that Natalie (who recently had a little girl of her own) introduced me to. My bladder seems to only be able to hold about a Dixie cup’s worth of liquid. So, at night, I try to stay asleep while I get up 3 or 4 times to go to the bathroom. I’ve got a pain in my butt… literally, the right side, and down my leg that the doctor says is likely a touch of sciatica. I have trouble breathing, so I find myself gasping for air at random moments, and when I’m walking down a hall or up a flight of stairs I can picture myself waddling as this belly in front of me takes my body weight from side to side. I am forgetful, which makes me anxious, which makes me insecure… wait… What were we talking about? When sweet, considerate people ask me how I’m feeling or how I’m doing, I try my best to reply, “Great! How are you?” because the last thing I want to be is a downer. And I am realizing… this is hard work!

Still, somehow I can’t get away from the sense that I should be thinking past my aches and pains to what my Heavenly Father thinks of all of this and to what women who have birthed all of the generations before me have thought. I wonder now how I might be connected to life and legacy and to the hopes and dreams that are not my own. I wonder about my mother-in-law’s pregnancy with Tony, and my own mother’s pregnancy with me. I wonder about our grandmothers and theirs. I wonder about the questions they asked of their mothers, girlfriends, and doctors - the advice that came their way. I wonder about the beauty of life and the fragility of creation. I wonder about the need we have always had for a savior – and that He would come to us, growing and developing inside of a womb, birthed through pain, as a vulnerable baby.

As any pregnant woman or father-to-be knows, the gift that is most often offered is advice. One of those gifts was this: It will all be worth it when you see and hold your baby for the first time. I have to believe them, and yet I can’t begin to imagine it. It does make me think of lyrics from “Oh Holy Night”, my very favorite Christmas song…
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

We’ve got about five more weeks of weariness before we meet our own hope face-to-face. In the mean time, here’s what we’ve been up to…

...From Tony...
With Gratitude
Last Wednesday, a group of us (all from Wednesday night growth groups) got together for our service project. We decided to send Christmas Care Packages to 20 different soldiers overseas. All the soldiers we sent packages to are from the state of Wisconsin. Between the 18 of us that showed up to participate in this, we were able to ship them things like snacks, books, hygiene products, playing cards, games, DVD’s, and a ton more stuff. It was really cool to come together to pull off something like that… not because we know them, or because our motive is to get them to come to our church or even preach the gospel, but rather because they are serving our country, and we simply want to serve them back… no strings attached.

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. I don’t know where the phrase got started, but we’re calling it Orphan Turkey Dinner… it was all those that have moved from out of state to help with Great Lakes Church coming together at the Gray’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. In attendance: the Petersons, the Grays, the Sweeneys, the Winnetts, and Ms. Daniels. Karen Ann flew in and stayed with the Sweeneys… it’s always so good to see our Seattle friends. The feast consisted of turkey, cranberry sauce, yams, lumpia, green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, stuffing (which we had to constantly remind ourselves to call “dressing” since it wasn’t cooked in the bird), apple pie, pumpkin pie, and I’m sure I’m missing a few things. I was in charge of the turkey, but I sign-up to do the turkey every year anyway… I love cooking the turkey.

Preparing for Baby
We decided, even though it’s an apartment and we’ll have to paint it back, to paint the baby’s room. We’ve noticed that we like being in a room a lot more after we’ve decorated in there. We went to Menards (that’s M’Nards not Meh’Nerds for you Seattle folk) to pick our paint and found a light yellow we liked. We already had most of the supplies from the previous paint job (we painted the office in the old house to be the same color as Michael Scott’s office), so all we needed was the paint, the tray, and an edger. With white walls and a light color paint, it only needed one coat, and took me about 2 hours to finish.

Also, thanks to all our friends, we now have our stroller/car-seat and my (Tony) favorite new gadget… our baby monitor. It’s pretty cool… it’s a color screen and a really sensitive mic, but even cooler is the ability to remote drive the camera. From a different room we can pan and zoom around the room. Now, I know that our newborn isn’t going to be exploring and getting into trouble in all the corners of the room… but we’ll have this monitor when she gets a little older and is playing in her room alone. The motor on the unit is really quiet, so if we’re using the camera to look around while she’s sleeping, it won’t wake her.

This past Monday, Michelle and I went on our regular doctor checkup for the baby. All is well. The heart rate is right where it’s supposed to be (138), Michelle’s blood pressure and weight are excellent, and we were able to take a tour of the Family Birthing Center while we were there. The labor and delivery room is huge… they are all singles so we don’t have to share… each one has a big hot-tub-spa-bath-thingy, and the nurse who showed us around was very helpful and knowledgeable. Really, anything we want, we can have. They are very flexible about interventions, and have modern and traditional ways of doing things. After seeing the rooms and asking our questions, we both feel really good about this hospital and know that we and our baby will be taken care of.

We hope you’re all enjoying the start of December. As we write to you, we are watching the first real snow fall in our own neighborhood!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Our New Place

We've been in Kenosha Wisconsin for over a year now. When we first moved here, we wanted to rent a house. We thought it would be a good idea financially to have a roommate, and it was (thanks Tyler). We also really liked the idea of having a place for people to gather, maybe for meetings or Growth Groups. What we didn't plan for, was having a 60-foot driveway to shovel in -30 degree blizzards at 6am. Also, we didn't really take into consideration that neither Michelle or myself are green thumb types, and both dislike to be either A) pushing a lawnmower around or B) on our hands and knees in the dirt pulling up plants that look like they're not supposed to be there.

So, after a year of that, we made the decision and the move back to apartment living... and guess what... we really like it. Our new place is on the top floor and in the corner (so my office has a ton of light and a sudo-view). We had to downsize our kitchen a bit, but we gained a room out of the move too. Now we have a room just for Baby P and a room just for Daddy P and a bedroom with a huge closet for Mommy P. My office has hardwood floors and a built in desk (which I don't use, but it's nice to put printers and scanners on).

When the snow hits, which it's a bit late compared to last year, we'll not have to shovel one bit. We have underground heated parking, so Michelle doesn't have to expose her prego belly to the cold. All in all, it was a good move for us.

What else is going on... well, Michelle and I are leading a Growth Group at Dave's parents house... we're reading The Shack. It's a pretty big group, 16 on a regular basis. There is a lot of great discussion happening in the group. If you haven't already looked into it, I suggest reading The Shack by William P. Young. I've read it twice now, and think you'll enjoy it whether you're a long time Christian or not a Christian at all. A lot of really good questions get asked, and some interesting point of views are suggested. It's not scripture, so don't read it with anger about the inaccuracies of what you believe to be truth. Instead, just read it as a good story and one man's interesting perspective on what God might say about tough issues.

In other news, Michelle is eight months pregnant. She's about to pop, so I don't tickle her like I used to, in fear of bursting that belly like a water balloon. We have a crib now... given to us by our friends the George's. We also have a changing table (really it's a dresser from Ikea with a changing pad on top) and a ton of little baby-needs. The dresser was kind of a fun project. We're going for a wimsical bird and tree theme, and we found these great knobs from Anthropology... so we got the yellow dresser from Ikea and put different knobs on all the drawers. A few of the ladies from church threw Michelle a shower and had a great idea... anyone who brought a pack of diapers got their name in a raffle... so guess what, we got diapers. Pretty cool cuz they're all different types, so now we can try them out and see which we like best.

I still have to get the car seat and the rocking chair and the baby monitor, but it feels like Baby P's room is getting more and more complete by the week.

I'm excited.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Church for the Rest of Us - Launch in Kansas

Over a year ago, when Tony and I first went public with our decision to move from Seattle to Kenosha to help Pastor Dave Nelson start a church in his home town, a couple of our friends, Matt & Emily, asked if they could take us to dinner. It was great to see them and catch up, they asked a lot of questions about our decision. Then, the real reason they wanted to hang out came forward… They, too, were in the midst of deciding to move back to their home town, Lawrence, Kansas, to launch a new church. Tony and I were beyond thrilled!

While we were leaving in just a few short weeks, their plan was a little further out. In the book of Proverbs (19:2) it says, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge nor to be hasty and miss the way.” It’s one of those verses I get stuck in my head when I’m trying to make a decision and I thought it was smart that their plan was a year out.

That year is up. EastLake Community Church in Lawrence, KS just had their very first service this past weekend on October 11th. EastLake Lawrence, just like Great Lakes, is a church plant from EastLake near Seattle with a focus on reaching people who don't like going to church. They play loud music and have short services and open their doors to anyone who wants to kick the tires of Christianity.

Tony and I had the privilege of making the trip to help and brought with us a team of 11 others as Great Lakes Church first mission trip! A couple of months ago, when the idea of the trip occurred to us, we knew we wanted to send a team of like minded people down to help out... remembering how hectic our first preview was, we knew that this was going to be a big moment for EastLake and that they could take all the help they could get. Our team was AWESOME! Most of us worked in the Kids areas, so those people never got to even see the service. I love the servant hearts of the people from Kenosha, and this team of people only reinforced that mindset. We helped as their new equipment came in Saturday night with a practice setup (which became the official Sunday morning setup) and had a semi-impromptu worship night. We were also able to take a little time to ourselves and just be with and share meals with each other... getting to know each other better in an "away from Sunday morning" way.

We had an incredible time being a part of what God is doing in yet another part of the country – launching a church whose goal is to reach people in Lawrence who have no interest in God or church, people who have been burned by past church experiences, people who struggle to be who God created them to be in the confines of traditional religion. It only reinforced for us why we moved to Wisconsin in the first place and refreshed our vision for this community.

All in all, it was a great weekend. About 130 were there for this first preview service, including kids and volunteers. That's a phenomenal start, and if the opportunity arises again to participate in helping a church launch, you can bet that Great Lakes will be there to help out.

Special thanks to the GLC team for taking time off of work, paying their own way there and back, working hard with big smiles, and being a constant blessing to their hosts and those they encountered in Lawrence:

Brenda Cruickshank
Nate & Emily Fell
Devonee & Addyson Harshburger
Hoover, Mary, Andy, & Marky Mercado
Tyler & Mary Sweeney

Monday, September 21, 2009


I turned 30 yesterday.

Actually, yes, it does feel a little different. Not sure how exactly, but I do find myself taking stock of where I'm at in life and whether or not I'm good with it. I'm pretty sure I am. We have a lot going on and a lot to be thankful for.

I have an incredible husband who loves God and loves me. He is someone I admire and am in awe of all of the time, incredibly talented and incredibly fun to be around.

I live in a place I never thought I would, Wisconsin, and am surprised all the time by how much adventure there is for us here.

We've been a part of launching the most fun church around, meeting great people, learning new ways to serve God.

I'm pregnant, which is an adventure in itself.

Yes, at 30, I love my life and have a lot to be thankful for.

I shared my birthday this year with some new beginnings for Great Lakes Church. We had a grand opening for our new "Video Venue" where we made more room for many new guests. We launched a brand new series called Q&A where Pastor Dave is taking questions both live via text message and via email throughout the week. There was this really fun sense of unpredictability and still we were able to walk away hearing a great message about God's love. We also released our Fall Growth Group Catalog. If you'd like to know how I feel about Growth Groups and how much I love them, please take a look at some of our past entries. It was a great Sunday, lots of energy and lots of new faces and families. In the end, we had over 600 people with us! Incredible!

Here are a couple of Tony's latest video creations that were shown during service yesterday, just to help you feel like you were there...

For my birthday, Tony planned a small dinner at our place with a few friends. He had an incredible spread of tapas... marinated pork skewers, parmesan & sweet pea risotto, lemon & pine nut green beans, cheese plates... Getting hungry? It was nice and relaxed and I loved looking around the table to see faces I have grown to love after being here nearly a year. Hard to believe we've made such good friends already.

My big birthday present was finding out what kind of baby we're having. We are excited to announce...

Tony has known since our ultrasound last week and has been carrying around this little secret ever since. I was honestly very surprised. He did a great job keeping his lips sealed and sending me off the trail to figuring it out on my own. Now we have the task of deciding on a name!

We hope you all are well and that you sense God's love in your own lives and are celebrating in your own ways.

Monday, August 31, 2009

20 Weeks!

In pregnancy talk, 20 weeks is very significant. It means I am at the half-way mark already! I'm past the first trimester and into the second. At about 14 weeks I was all done spending every day, nearly all day, nauseous and grossed out by everything under the sun. Now I only get pukey about once every 2 weeks or so, which is much much better. I had many more food aversions than cravings. Let's list:

Coffee (so sad!)
Beef, except in spaghetti sauce
Chicken, except the McDonald's Southern Chicken Sandwhich
Anything that smelled like anything else

Fried egg sandwich

Yup, just one craving, and it only came on strong one time. Other than that, my diet consisted of yogurt, cheese, apples, peanut butter, & cereal. I'm recently getting my appetite back, much to Tony's disappointment since he was eating everything off of my plate that I couldn't finish. At this rate, our baby bellies might be growing at the same proportion :) I am also back to enjoying coffee, but not nearly as much as I used to. I wonder if I'll have to wait until post-pregnancy to get back to my java loving self?

A couple of weeks ago, we got to hear the baby's heartbeat for the very first time. Well, Tony and the doctor heard it and were satisfied with what they heard. I, on the other hand, asked for a Do-Over and then I heard that little heart go! It was beating at a healthy 144 BPM, which some of my friends say means it's a boy in there. We'll see :) Otherwise, the doctor is very happy with my weight and the levels of stuff in my blood and urine. Overall, he is pretty pleased with the way this pregnancy is going. He always says, "Good Job!" which makes me feel really good about doing almost nothing.

Now, at 20 weeks, Tony and I agree that I am definitely looking pregnant. According to what I've read, this baby has grown past the size of a large mango and is now closer to the size of a small cantaloupe. Don't you love the food references? S/he weighs more than half a pound and can probably hear sounds in there. Hoping this baby loves sitting in the front at church with Tony's loud music as much as I do. Last night I felt this little baby move for the first time! Well, it was the first time I believed it anyway. I am sort of a "I'll believe it when I see it" type of person, which doesn't serve me all that well in my faith, and has made the majority of this pregnancy very surreal. Now that I can see and feel my stomach growing, hear the heartbeat, and feel little movements, I'm pretty sure there is a baby in there... So Crazy! So Exciting!


These are big days not just for our little family, but also for our greater church family here at Great Lakes Church. Tony and I just got back from a wonderful visit home to Washington. It was fun, full of love, restful and just what we needed. We were surprised at how eager we both were to get back and hit the ground running with everything that will need to be done to get ready for the fall season here. Tony busted his butt finishing up the mailer that will hopefully hit 50,000 homes in the Kenosha area on September 10th. It advertises our new series "Q & A" where we are handing control of what we talk about to the audience via email and live text messages on Sunday mornings. I'm excited and nervous to see how this goes. The mailer also advertises our new auditorium seating. We are opening up a second auditorium/theater because we have been bursting at the seams in our 10:30am service especially. We are also going to be opening up new class rooms for kids, lauching new Growth Groups, and using a new and much better online database to continue to make sure everyone is getting connected. Lot's of work to do and no shortage of enthusiasm to get it all done.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Discovering Our Strengths

Last night we wrapped up our Summer Growth Group “Discover Your Strengths” with a BBQ & Games hosted by fellow group members, Larry & Paulette. It was such a great way to end one of my very favorite groups!

If you haven’t heard of the Strengths Finder, or any of the books around it, I think you should definitely check it out. It’s a sort of personality profile developed by Gallup and I first came across it having been assigned to read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. There are now other versions of the book with the same theme and access to the same profile/test. Again, worth checking out and taking if you never have.

If you have read the book and/or taken the test, skip to the next paragraph. If not, here’s the deal. The book & test are based on the thought that if we discover our strengths and find a way to hone in on them, we will do much better and likely have a more fulfilling life than if we only concentrate on our weaknesses and spend our energy improving them. The book uses several examples, like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, who have made their careers by focusing on their strengths rather than attempting to become “well rounded” athletes. (Remember MJ’s stint in baseball?) Anyway, there you have it, my quick & dirty version of the book. Still interested?...

Tony and I led the group together, although Tony made it clear to the group from the first meeting that he was taking the role of a “Sub-Leader” and not a “Co-Leader”. He had never read the book or taken the test, so he was just as eager as everyone else to do some self-discovery. He became the name-tag & game guy, while I focused on prep & conversation topics for the group each week. Worked out great for both of us!

As you can see from the picture, we had a great crew. It was fun to go through this book and learn about each other’s strengths as well as our own. Along with the natural self-discovery, we hoped to gain some new perspective on the strengths of those around us and begin to value people in a new way. There were some strengths that we discussed that initially came across to people in the group as annoying or off-putting traits. It was great to dig into those and find value in traits we might have otherwise dismissed.

In case you’re curious, here are our Strengths:
Michelle’s Top 5
Strategic - The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity.
Futuristic - "Wouldn't it be great if..." The kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon. As if it were projected on the wall, you see in detail what the future might hold, and this detailed picture keeps pulling you forward, into tomorrow.
Relator - Relator describes your attitude toward your relationships. In simple terms, the Relator theme pulls you toward people you already know. You are comfortable with intimacy and once the initial connection has been made, you deliberately encourage a deepening of the relationship.
Arranger - You are a conductor. When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, you enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure you have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible.
Focus - Guided by the theme of Focus, you need a clear destination. Lacking one, your life and your work can quickly become frustrating, so you are constantly setting goals and filtering distractions.

Tony’s Top 5
Adaptability - You live in the moment. You don't see the future as a fixed destination. Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now.
Command - Command leads you to take charge. Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you.
Ideation - You are fascinated by ideas. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are.
Input - You are inquisitive. Yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity
Learner - You love to learn. Whatever the subject, you will alsways be drawn to the process of learning. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.

What’s fun about these for both of us is that we can see so many ways we get to utilize our strengths in what we do here at Great Lakes Church. Tony spends so much time leading and making quick decisions (Command), as well as learning and developing new ideas for media, music, & atmosphere (Learner, Ideation, Input), and changing course as the needs arise each day and each week (Adaptability). I get to dream, make plans, & share vision all the time about how to help Great Lakes Church become and continue to be the church God gave us all a heart for (Strategic, Futuristic). I get to connect with people and build relationships that will matter for eternity (Relator), bring people and resources together for common goals (Arranger), and help set goals and deadlines for myself and those around me (Focus).

Even better is realizing that we did not come into these Strengths by reading a book. Rather, they were in us, as God given gifts and talents, evidence of his plan and purposes for our lives. These traits we learn about ourselves are just more ways for us to learn to lean into Him, be thankful to Him, and bring them back to Him to be used as He would lead us.

We learn from the early church that we each have gifts and strengths and should make the very most of them and continue to honor each other above ourselves. [Romans 12: 4-12]

Last week when we met as a group, our topic was “Managing Around our Weaknesses”. It was great to share our struggles, as well as our dreams together. One couple was in the midst of deciding to go down to one income and home school their children when they began the group. They’ve since decided to make the leap and can both see how their differing strengths will give them what it takes to do this well and make their family a priority in a new way. We also took communion together as a group on this week, acknowledging before Jesus Christ and each other that we are indeed weak and it is in our weakness that He is made strong. We are not strong unto ourselves, but by the phenomenal and unending grace of God. It was sweet and powerful all at the same time for me.

Thrive Church
I was invited a couple of weeks ago to visit Thrive Church in Katy, Texas (just outside of Houston). The pastor there, Tom Elmore, is a long time friend of our friend and Pastor Dave Nelson. Tom and his team have a similar goal and vision for Thrive Church as ours for Great Lakes Church. They launched on Easter of this year and invited me to come and check things out, offer input, meet with leaders, and in some ways consult. I have to say, it was one of the most thrilling and life-giving trips I’ve been on in a while. It was the type of thing I’m pretty sure I would do for the rest of my life. To see something created from nothing, to be with people who love God and want to reach people, to encourage leaders to dream big but make processes simple at the same time. They have an incredible team and are off to a great start to be certain. It reminded me again that what we are doing here in Kenosha is so much greater than this local city. We are a part of a movement of God, a movement to break down the barriers that keep people from entering into a relationship with Him and the family He has prepared for them. We are a part of a movement that will toss aside rituals and traditions in favor of transparency and keeping the shame level low. I couldn’t be more excited for this life and this adventure.

The Grays
As Tony mentioned in his entry last week, we recently welcomed Gabe & Katie Gray and their three children to Kenosha. They moved here from Seattle to help with Great Lakes Church after having it on their hearts for nearly a year. It is great to have them here, with their perspective and “can-do” attitude. It’s also nice that they live within walking distance of Tony, Tyler, & I. We’ve had fun walking over there and getting our butts kicked at Mexican Train Dominoes, Phase 10, & Gin Rummy. We might need to find something else to do with them besides play games. But, I do love introducing them to all of the amazing people and volunteers who are already here at Great Lakes. People who have been on board and ready to do whatever is needed to make Great Lakes Church Great!

The Winnett's

Now, adding more to our growing church family, we will welcome Grant and Natalie Winnett and their brand new baby girl, Abela into town this Friday! They’ll arrive from their former home in Colorado just in time to attend our next Great Lakes 101 class on Sunday. Natalie and I have been friends for nearly 10 years. She was one of two girl friends who stood next to me on my wedding day. She is also the woman who, through her love, helped me to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ for myself. So, yeah, I’m pretty excited about this. Aside from all of the ways she has been an incredible friend to me over the years, Natalie has a ton of experience in Kids Ministry and is ready to hit the ground running to help at Great Lakes in this very important area. We can’t wait to see what happens.

Baby P
I’m now 16 weeks pregnant and I think I’ve turned the corner from the constant nausea. Still irritated with whoever named it “Morning Sickness” – it IS all day sickness and now I only have it a couple of times a day which is a huge relief. I’m not quite at the point where I fully enjoy eating, it still feels like a chore. I have come back to coffee, but only about once a week. I do look forward to re-committing my love for my morning cup, but it’s probably better for the baby that coffee has been one of my many aversions. Tony has been great with everything. Since most things make me want to puke (sorry, still can’t figure out a polite way to say “vomit” or whatever) he is not only taking care of the cooking but most of the cleaning in the kitchen. I wonder if that alone is worth being pregnant forever? I haven’t felt any movements yet, though friends tell me I should be just a few more weeks away from that fun milestone. I also haven’t gained any weight, so no “baby bump” pictures to share just yet. Is it strange that I’d like to go ahead and start looking pregnant soon? I’m really hoping by the time we come home for our Seattle visit (Aug. 21st) that I’ll look at least a little prego. You may find me sticking my stomach out anyway…

Love to all!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Geekfest 2009

A few weeks ago I was privy to be a part of the "Guru's of Tech Conference" in Louisville Kentucky. It's a conference for church employees and volunteers in media ministry. Southeast Christian Church hosted it in their new state of the art youth building they call "The Block". Though this facility was WAY out of Great Lakes league, it was amazing to be a part of. It was three days of inspiration, how-to, demonstration, and meet-n-greet. Dave's brother Mark Nelson made the trip with me. It was so great for both of us to be there but I think more so for Mark. He's an engineer for Rockwell and our FOH (Front of House) Sound Engineer Team Lead. Though he's only been behind a soundboard a handful of times in his life, he is BY FAR the most fitted person for that volunteer position.

Back when GLC was started, our team of volunteers stepped up and said "I'll do whatever" and so we put people where we saw a fit and had a need. Mark ended up on the soundboard out of a need, but he's transformed that team into something it would otherwise be a year from now. His knowledge of electrical currents and signals has directly translated over to the sound world (and rather fluidly). He's the kind of guy who says "voltage" or "sound pressure levels" or "impedance" or "frequency spectrum" every time he opens his mouth.

Most of that stuff I really don't get... and most of his questions I answer with "Um... you should Google that". So for him, this Guru Conference was exactly what the doctor ordered. I'd love to read a blog from his perspective, but I think he was taking notes every minute. Just a random one-on-one conversation, he would part from, digging in his bag for his notebook to write notes down.

lol... this just came to mind. We're having issues hearing our keyboards on Sunday morning. I propose Mark a question and a possible solution... and he responds (no joke) with a link HERE. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!?!?

Back to the conference...
We drove there (6.5 hours) and stayed in a hotel about 400 feet from the church. We were able to do all this cuz the conference WAS FREE!!! How awesome is that! You can bet I'll be going again next year. I learned a lot about software I use, about switching over to HD (which GLC is already faking), and about streaming to multiple venues (which GLC will be doing in the fall). It's an exciting time, and any know-how I can pickup is like gold.

Since then, (crap, I just dropped a chip on the carpet and backed up to pick it up, and rolled over it, grounding it into powder in my carpet)... anyway, since the conference a lot has happened. Our friends the Grays from Seattle just moved into town. They live about three maybe four blocks from us and we've been chillin with them a lot. We've taught them the REAL way to play Mexican Train Dominoes, and they've taught us Phase 9.

Gabe Gray is going to help out on Marks team (FOH Engineer) and has already proven to be worth his weight in bacon. Dave's been in Seattle, but Michelle and I thought we'd still have our Tuesday staff meeting without him... so we invited the Grays to attend. Their insight was SUPER helpful and some of it was very easy to implement type stuff, so we will, this Sunday.

In other news, it's August, and in about 20 days our friend and roomie Tyler is going to get married, and we're flying out to Seattle to be there. We miss Seattle and are STOKED to come home for a little visit.

I'll stop writing now cuz I know Michelle want's to post as well, and I don't want to take all the good stuff.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Mourning is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling for me. I have known of people who passed away every few years or so around me. Most were distant acquaintances, some relatives. I never know quite what to say or feel, so I tend to be quiet which seems entirely acceptable to those around me. I can honestly say, though I have known of death, my life has never been devastated by death, and for this I am grateful. I have seen what tragedy and death has done to those I care about and it’s a grueling awful thing.

My father, Michael Elbert McKenzie, was born on May 25, 1943 and lived 66 years until June 18, 2009. He lived his remaining years in Las Vegas, Nevada near my two oldest sisters, Laura & Celina, and their families. I received the news on Friday, June 19th, that he laid down to take a nap and simply did not wake up. It was surreal to hear the words and difficult to understand their finality.

As his 3rd daughter of four, I was not close to my dad. Circumstances being what they were, we spent about 17 years without so much as a letter exchanged. We reconnected when I was 22, but by then, having a father-daughter relationship seemed a bit unnatural probably for both of us. Yet, he had lived an incredible life and had years of stories to tell. So, I found myself in our interactions simply available to listen to him. His stories were always interesting even if they may have been a skewed historical perspective. It was what he had to give and I didn’t always know how to receive his offerings.

The news of his death hit me rather hard. I’m still in my first trimester expecting our first child. My husband had yet to meet his father-in-law, and I hadn’t considered that our time was limited. I knew I needed desperately to attend his funeral, but we were in no way financially prepared for that kind of last minute trip. And then something seemed to happen around us. As we reached out here and there, we found family and community around us who were eager to sacrifice so that we could attend. We received airline miles donated from a couple of different sources which took care of our plane tickets, our bosses generously gave us the time we needed off, friends gathered around us to pick up the slack of our responsibilities while we were gone, and we even had rides to and from the airport. We received notes of sympathy and priceless prayers. We were overwhelmed.

In the midst of the funeral and all the arrangements, it has been this generosity of community that has kept my attention. I am reminded of all the ways the Bible says we are better together, and worse off alone.

This is what the Bible says about the early church: All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

King Solomon must have had experiences both in being alone and in having true friendships. He says: Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Ecclesiastes 4:9-11

And, in the book of Hebrews we are encouraged: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another… Hebrews 10:23-25

Of friends, the book of Proverbs tells us: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

I am certain, without family and community, Tony and I would not have been able to attend my father’s funeral and spend that valuable time with family. Without the community in my father’s life, there wouldn’t have been anyone with anything to say at his funeral. Instead, there were countless friends and witnesses, each with their own stories of how my father and his stories blessed their lives. Without the family and community in Las Vegas, my sisters would have spent the rest of that afternoon alone, rather than surrounded with love and good food.

I think there is a prevailing myth that it is possible to seek after and truly follow God without taking part in a community of other believers. “My faith is private,” I’ve heard people say. Or, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Well, my friend, you may be technically correct, and getting connected with other people certainly involves risk, but there are countless benefits and blessings to taking that risk and surrounding yourself with the very people God calls your family. Tony reminded me this week as we talked together about this very thing that it’s like saying to God, “Yeah, I like you just fine, it’s your wife I can’t stand!” The church is called the “Bride of Christ” and the Bible says He laid down his own life for her. We give up a great deal that is available to us in community when we decide to isolate ourselves and go it alone. Not only so, but we offend the heart of God and the very relationships he may have intended to bless us with.

Tony and I are fortunate to have been built up and sent by an incredible community in Washington to help build and cultivate a community here in Wisconsin, people who will sharpen and encourage us as we attempt to invest, sharpen, and encourage them. We do this in the name of Jesus Christ, trusting that he has given each person and each relationship to us as a gift, that we may grow in love and character to be more and more like Him.

An Obituary…
Michael Elbert McKenzie, 66, of Las Vegas, passed away June 18, 2009. He was born May 25, 1943, in Augusta, Ga. Michael served in the U.S. Air Force, as an air traffic controller, during the Vietnam War. He then worked in radio, as a TV news reporter, a Christian youth pastor, and, in 2000, retired from truck driving, settling in Las Vegas. He was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame for 50 years of broadcasting, and was a member of American Legion Post 76, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Michael is survived by his sisters, Shirley Vickery and Martha Martin; daughters, Laura McKenzie, Celina Sorensen, Michelle Peterson and Kathleen McKenzie; and grandchildren, Titus, Aubrey and Grace Sorensen, Kaylan Brown and Corrigan McKenzie, and baby Peterson on the way. Michael was a true treasure and we will miss him greatly. He was laid to rest at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Donations may be made in his honor to the family.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pivotal Circumstances

This week at Great Lakes Church, we wrapped up a series called “5 Things You Can’t Live Without”. The 5th, and final, delivered to us by Scott Obenchain was “Pivotal Circumstances”. He taught us, using the story about Lazarus’ death from the book of John in the Bible that…

God uses pivotal circumstances to do something IN us, not TO us.

Later, at lunch, Dave Nelson was teasing his daughter about the possibility of her going to five different schools in elementary school. It made me remember about a pivotal circumstance in my own life. I actually went to seven different schools between 6th and 9th grade myself. Yep, that’s seven! Seven different schools in three different states; Texas, Georgia, & Washington. I remember feeling excited with the first couple of moves, daydreams about new friends and new places, it sounded like fun. By the 5th and 6th, the reality set in that it was not fun at all but, in fact, very lonely and frustrating being the “new kid” all the time. I never knew my way around, I never knew which teachers were nice, I never knew where to sit at lunch. It was awful! At one school, I irritated the wrong kid and got a whole quart of salsa dumped on my head in the lunch room, in front of everyone. These are not my favorite memories.

Yet, I look back on it, and I can see how God used even those awful years to do something IN me, not TO me. You see, I still get that pit in my stomach when I think about the “new kid”. I feel sick remembering how nobody would take the risk to talk to me when they already had friends of their own. Unless a student was assigned to, I didn’t have anyone to show me my way around, or tell me not to sit in “that” seat on the bus because it belonged to a total jerk. I can literally work myself into a panic thinking about the “new kid”.

But, this is a very good thing! You see, this pit of my stomach feeling is one of the things that drives me to take a look around as we continue to build Great Lakes Church. I find myself constantly watching for the “new kid” to walk through the doors, and they do every weekend. Everything inside of me wants to prevent people from feeling the way I did growing up, like nobody cares, like people are only helpful because they are “assigned” to be. At Great Lakes, I have the perfect opportunity to use those all too familiar feelings of awkwardness to my advantage as we teach our teams how important it is to greet absolutely everyone with a smile. We put up new and better looking indoor signs this weekend in a continued attempt to make things clear for people who don’t already know their way around. Our ushers do a great job of helping people find a place to sit, so nobody feels like they might be in someone else’s seat when they visit us for the first time. (By the second time, they might realize that nobody really has their own seat anyway.) It’s like God has all but given those years back to me, given me a way to turn around and make hundreds of people feel welcome each week to what may be a scary and awkward circumstance for them. It’s elating!

I wonder if you can think of some of your own “bad-turned-good” circumstances. This “new kid” thing is just one of many in my life. In fact, we are experiencing some pretty great milestones at Great Lakes Church and in our personal lives (can you believe we still have personal lives?) right now!

We are in the third and final week of sign ups for our Summer Growth Group season. Kicking off Growth Groups here at GLC has been a dream come true for me, and they haven’t even started yet. Tony and I had the phenomenal opportunity to lead a six week workshop series for people who were interested in being leaders and hosts. Those of you who have been leaders and hosts at EastLake (the church we came from in Seattle) may think this is overkill. You might think, “Does it really take 6 weeks to train someone to run a group in their homes?” Well, I don’t think it does, BUT, we believed we could give them more than just a basic training by investing in them for 6 entire weeks. For 6 weeks (with two different groups, one on Thursdays and one on Saturdays) we had the opportunity to model what a group could be like. Each week we invited them into our homes and taught on everything from “difficult people”, to prayer & communion in groups, to how to gracefully cut off a gossip, to helping people feel welcome. We modeled 5 different kinds of groups: DVD group, Bible Study, Book Study, Game Night & Activity Groups, and Men’s vs. Women’s groups. It was this incredible time where these future leaders had a chance to build relationships with one another and be praying for each other before their groups even got off the ground. We feel so lucky to have gotten to know them all and encourage them all to lead these groups on their own. Now to see some of the groups filling up and everything they’ve learned coming to reality is just so fun! We have over 175 people signed up to be a part of our very first Growth Group season, which is more people than we predicted would even be a part of Great Lakes Church at this stage. In fact, isn’t that about the total number of people we had attend our very first Preview Service back in October of last year? I can’t wait for these groups to get started!

Another milestone to speak of is that tomorrow, June 8th, is our 2 year wedding anniversary. WOO HOO! It’s traditionally the “cotton anniversary”, so we’re thinking… socks? We are excited to celebrate our marriage and what God has done in us during the course of our relationship. We are thankful for our friends and family who have loved us and challenged us to be a better husband, better wife, better friends and better followers of Christ. It’s also quite a thrill because we are expecting our first baby! That’s right, Baby Peterson is due to arrive January 15, 2010! Pregnancy has been an interesting new dynamic in our marriage. I’m sure I’ll share more details about that in the months to come. For now you may want to know that I’m 8 weeks along, tired and nauseous all the time, and the doctor says all my “levels” are looking good.

Love to you all!
Michelle & Tony

Monday, May 4, 2009

GLC First Worship Night

This past Sunday was Great Lakes' very first Worship Night ever. For those of you who're not familiar with what that is, it's an hour-and-a-half gathering of our church family to worship God with music and dedication and baptism. The evening started at 6pm and we played through a few rockin' songs before Child Dedications started. Eight family's chose to dedicate their children and the stage was full of parents and their kids... very cool!

We followed that up with a few more songs and then started baptisms. That was really amazing... just knowing some of the stories behind the people, and then watching them making that next step was a powerful site... all the while, playing Son of God and our new song for the evening He Loves Us. Also, our friend and roomie Tyler was in the tank with Dave baptizing... sooo cool.

It was fun for me to get off the mic for a little while as Christian, our lead guitarist, stepped up and led a few songs. Later on in the evening Julia led Lead Me To The Cross and she did awesome. There was a funny happenstance in the middle tho, the plan was for me to start Sweetly Broken alone while the rest of the group received communion... but I didn't communicate that I wished for them to come up and join in to finish off the song. So I ended up looping a few verses thinking they were just in the back of the communion line, but then I looked out while leading and saw all of them just sitting together watching me... I couldn't exactly say on the mic "hey guys, wanna come back up here now and save me?" So I did the whole song alone. It wasn't planned, but I think it turned out pretty cool.

It was a long day... waking at 6am... doing the church thing from 7am till noon... going home and preparing for Worship Night... meeting the setup team at the venue at 3pm (no time for a nap)... and leaving there at about 7:30pm... I can honestly say I was BEAT! But the funny thing is, I had such a great and energetic day. It seemed as tho there were some external source feeding me the energy I needed to pull off a day like that... huh... funny... wonder what that might have been? :)

Swap | Skate | Connect

Eden’s Swap Party

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a Swap Party. If you’ve never been to, or heard of, a Swap Party, well – neither had I. I was simply invited to come, bring a few items (clothes, purses, jewelry, shoes) that were gently used and trade them with someone else. Not really sure what I would be getting into here, I brought a few things and showed up to my friend Eden’s home a little early. She was very organized, there were appetizers & drinks, and a lot of women I’d never met. It was great. I scored a beautiful purse and a couple of new pairs of sandals and had a total blast. Aside from the creative idea and the fun women I got to meet, there was something completely hilarious to me about this party that set it a part from most parties I have ever been to – the Kenosha News showed up! That’s right THE NEWS! I don’t know why it was so funny to me, but I guess it was a great local story. Here’s a link to the article. I’m actually quoted in it, which is kind of fun.

Great Lakes Skate!

As many of you know, we are still a month away from launching Growth Groups at Great Lakes Church. In the mean time, we’ve decided to have at least one “Connect Event” each month in an attempt to help people, well, you know, connect. The most recent event was a Family Connect Event we called Great Lakes Skate! We were able to rent out an entire skating rink, serve a pizza & soda buffet, and allow kids under 13 to enter for FREE! It was a hit! People were out there doing the Hokey Pokey, teaching their kids to skate for the first time, and meeting new people. After a while, someone even managed to convince Dave to put on a pair of skates himself. We had over 150 people come, and we’re sure they won’t soon forget it. Almost no one was too cool to skate!

Usher Game Night

Last month, Tyler became completely in charge of the Usher Team. Good move for us, he really has this Usher & Auditorium thing down and the 3-5’s room turned out not to be a big enough challenge for him. Of course, one of the first orders of business was to throw a party for all the Ushers. Tony and I were invited, even though I’m listed as a “back up” on the Usher Team, and we were so glad to be there. A lot of the Ushers were meeting each other for the first time as they serve at different services. Tyler thanked everyone for their hard work and then let the Cranium Throw Down begin. It’s hard to remember the outcome of the game, but I may have walked away as the MVP… we’ll leave that up to the critics.

Info Table Fiesta

It just so happens that all five of the teammates that cover the Info Table are ladies. Of course we had to have a Ladies Night Out/Fiesta to get to know each other and hang out. AnnaLisa is in charge of this team. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned to you all before that she really was the first person I was able to connect with when Tony and I moved here. She is Dave’s sister-in-law, married to his oldest brother, and she is THE BEST! She welcomed me from the start and we shared our first meal out together over Chinese food. She is so easy to talk to and laugh with and I feel blessed to have her. Anyway, it’s no wonder with personality and charm like hers that she attracts great women onto the team. Karri, another team member, offered to host. Beth and our newest teammate Jeannette, rounded out the night. We had BeerGaritas, Guacamole, Warm Queso, Chocolate Covered Strawberries, and candy from a sombrero of course. I was delighted to share stories and get to know these incredible women and then to end the night with – what else – Mexican Train Dominoes.

It’s been a great month of connecting all around. I’ve heard the Parking Team got together at Buffalo Wild Wings for some beers, wings, and games one night. That must have been trouble. I’ve also heard countless other stories of people having each other over for dinner, scheduling lunch and play dates with their kids, heading out to the movies, and all sorts of other fun. Our hope and prayer of people connecting and getting to know each other at GLC is well under way and we are that much more exited for Growth Groups to begin next month.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering the Soldier We Never Knew

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just started my new job with a non-profit organization helping lower-income pregnant couples. It was a leap and an adventure after two and a half years of working for my church, EastLake Community Church. I was on my way home from my first day and decided to stop by to see a friend and her new baby girl. Celebrating life and a brand new little Nienaber, thankful for the mother’s health, surrounded by their family.

I remember just where I was sitting when we got the first call, it was to Ryan, and it was obvious something terrible was happening on the other end of the line. When Ryan got off the phone to tell us what happened, we all fell silent. Someone suggested prayer… how could we muster the words? Dave Nelson’s brother Rick was just killed by a road-side bomb in Iraq. We sat in the living room absorbing this news, unable to speak, in need of comfort, dying to comfort Dave and his family.

A few minutes passed and Dave called me directly. As he struggled to get the words out (not knowing where I was when he called Ryan), I said to him, “Dave, I already know. You don’t have to say it.” I cannot describe the emotion I sensed from him, only that I had never known Dave Nelson, my former boss and very good and trusted friend, to sound this way. However energetic, he was never dramatic. This was real, and really bad. I got off the phone stunned, unable to comprehend the pain.

I left the Nienaber house pretty soon after that, and drove the 20 minutes home in silence. I had never known Rick, or the rest of his family aside from the 5 Nelsons that were a part of my life: Dave & Rindy, and their three kids. But, wasn’t this the brother that Dave had just made a trip a year ago to perform is wedding ceremony? Isn’t this the same brother that made Dave laugh till he cried? What of his family, his 20 year old bride? Now, a 20 year old widow?

Tony, unaware of the news, had a surprise waiting for me when I got home. I walked into the apartment and noticed the kitchen was spotless and our wedding song was playing in the background; Coldplay’s “Green Eyes”. He wrapped his arms around me and I melted into a bucket of tears. I was overwhelmed with both love and grief and I had nothing to say. The lyrics of the song sounded more clear than ever…

I came here with a load

And it feels so much lighter, now I’ve met you

And honey you should know, that I could never go on without you…

We never knew Cpl. Richard J. Nelson, but we think of him now all the time. We did not know on that sad day just where we would be a year later and just how much this soldier would have to do with it. Ricky and his wife Kristen had been fans of the vision of Great Lakes Church, constantly encouraging Dave to just get it started. The vision of this church had been stalled on the runway for many years in Dave Nelson’s heart. This past weekend, Great Lakes Church just celebrated our very first Easter service, largest attendance to date, at over 600. No longer stalled on the runway, we now think of it as building a Boeing 747 while it’s already in flight! What we know of Ricky, his heart is infused in this church… his humor, his transparency, his generosity, his authentic love for Jesus. The Nelson family has warmly welcomed us to Wisconsin, always making a place for us at their table. Tony and I are blessed to be a part of it and hope to honor Ricky until we meet him face-to-face.

Please take time to visit Dave Nelson's Blog and the website honoring Cpl. Richard J. Nelson.