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