Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Last Workout

Do you ever have times that you know will be sad, but you don’t realize how emotionally affected you are until the tears come?

I mentioned a few blog posts ago about how Nautilus is closing. Nautilus is the “gym,” if you will, that my parents have worked out at for years. There’s nothing quite like it. Physical Description: Various Nautilus machines are situated in a circuit on the upstairs of a barn room. I can remember going there as a little girl and playing in the “play room” downstairs while my parents worked out.

During my early teen years, I started working out there with my parents. I loved it. There is a schedule you follow every time you go. You also have a card that lists all the exercises and weights, so you know how to set everything correctly. The goal is slow weight training. You do less reps on an 8-second count. If you get more than 10 reps, you’re either lifting too fast or need to raise your weights. It’s all about failure. When the muscles fail, you know you’ve done all you can do. In fact, I was always told that it’s better to do 4 slow reps and fail than do 10 fast ones.

Anyway, I learned a lot about technique, form, and staying fit during my years of working out there. It has always kept me in shape and feeling good.

But my favorite part has to be the man who has faithfully run this place for years- Mark. Over the years, he has welcomed anyone who walks in the doors and encourages any person to come. He believes in what he does, and he’s good at it. He’s an excellent trainer. He has a dry sense of humor and a quick wit that is both refreshing and a bit quirky. When it’s a down time, he is the first to come by my side, answer any questions I may have, give me a hard time, or push me harder. He knew what I could do and pushed me past that. I was called a “baby” more times than I can count—he didn’t put up with complaining! (Or he called me “Chelly, Jr.”)

Nonetheless, Mark is who made this place what it is.

Last night, I walked into the doors of Nautilus with the full understanding that this would be my very last work out.

As I did, one of the handicapped girls who has worked out there for years had also arrived for her last time. Mark greeted everyone as he always does and quickly grabbed our exercise cards, busying himself. I could tell in his demeanor that he was trying to stay distracted. Distracted from being sad.

The handicapped girl had a letter in her hand. She had scribbled a note to Mark, and with bright eyes she told him, “I’m going to read this to you.”

This is what it said. “Dear Mark, You are the best trainer in the WHOLE world! AND, you are very funny.”

With that, she let out a big series of giggles.

This lightened the mood a little, and Mark got her started downstairs as I climbed the stairs to the top floor. I started on the first couple of machines. As I was finishing up on one of the machines, the other lady upstairs appeared right in front of me.

“A few of us are coming here tomorrow evening at 8,” she said, “and I’m going to bring cake. I feel like we need to do something… for him,” she explained.

I agreed and nodded.

“I’ll try to be there, and I’ll tell anyone else I know works out here,” I told her.

“I’d appreciate it.”

A few moments later, Mark came bounding upstairs, grabbed my card, and set all my machines, as he always does.

“Mark… what are you going to do now?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he answered sadly. “The only thing I’m good at right now is crying.”

The lady I had been talking to finished up and headed downstairs. I was just finishing up on the abdominal machine, and before hopping off, I asked, “Where am I next?”

Mark’s always good about directing me to the next exercise.

But he didn’t reply.

I looked over to see Mark standing there with his arms wide open.

I walked right over and gave him a huge hug.

“I’m going to miss you,” I told him.

“I’m going to miss you, too,” he said.

“I’m going to miss this place,” I added.

“You’re not the only one.”

He pulled back then, and I could see tears in his eyes. The rough and tough, stronger than life, physically fit man who had always been the first to push me past my weakest moments was crying.

And just like that, he was down the stairs.

I walked over to the next machine on the list and climbed onto the seat. Then I lost it. The tears just came out of nowhere, streaming down my cheeks. I kept wiping my eyes, willing everyone to stay away.

And they did. After letting a few more tears out, I finished up my workout and headed downstairs. I stood by the counter and just looked at Mark. He was talking to me, showing me all the cards people had given him. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted a nice good-bye, but I couldn’t think of one. So I said the only thing that sounded like a good plan to me:

“Mark, I’ll stop by again tomorrow… to give you one last hug.”

I don’t know what Mark will do. His situation is not favorable, and without going into specific detail, there’s not much else I can say. A lot of my heartache is for him and what his future may or may not hold. Nautilus was his life, and it’s what he is so good at. Now what?

For me, it’s like going from a small-town, quaint little book store where the owner knows you by name, knows exactly what books you like, and lets you borrow them without a second thought. And it’s like that bookstore closing and having to move on to Barnes & Noble.

Need a book? Either one will do the job. But only one can give you the personal, unique, and endearing experience that a more corporate place cannot.

So, Gold’s Gym, here I come…

But it may take me awhile to warm up.

Good-byes are never easy, but they are a part of life. And with every closed door comes another opportunity. It may not be what we wanted, hoped for, and thought we needed… but often, it’s a good check on perspective, a time to grow, and a way to become stronger.

Love you all!


Monday, June 28, 2010

In a Moment

A few days ago, I thought it would be a good idea to enact the "Top Ten Tuesday" feature again. It's been awhile. And what's better than a Top Ten Tuesday on a Tuesday?

Answer: A Top Ten Tuesday 1 day early!

Really, though, I foresee a busy tomorrow, and since I have a window of time now, I decided it better happen today.

So here it is.

Topic: Moments.

I love the concept of time. It really fascinates me. In fact, lately I have been hearing a lot about how God is outside of time. One fact I always struggle understanding is that God always was and always will be. The eternal nature of this makes my head spin. I get the "forever" part, but the "always has been?" Crazy.

But the reason I don't "get" it is because everything in this life is measured by time. Beginning & end. We were wired to understand events, circumstances, and happenings by time.

So to say something happened before time... it just doesn't compute.

My point is, time is a real interesting piece. Another cool thing about time is that every second (or pick your unit of measurement) is unique. You can't duplicate a minute, you can't get a minute back, and you can't experience a future minute until you're in it.

Which is another reason why I love that my passion is what it is. Taking pictures allows me to have just a little control over capturing a moment forever.

You can't pause time. Sometimes, moments are forgotten forever if they aren't recorded in the written form or told in a story.

But a moment CAN live on forever if it's captured in a picture.

The definition of a moment is "the exact point in time."

Photography is my job, so there are certain criteria that must be met regarding what it is I'm shooting. If it's a wedding, there are standard pictures we get. If it's a family photo session, there are certain poses we set up.

But photography as a passion in my personal life is a little different. Sure, there is the occasional "family photo" I take at birthday parties or events, but all in all, my camera lives on me when I'm with family & friends for one reason: I love, love, love to capture "moments."

To capture a moment means to capture the story of why you're there. The "action" of it, the "feeling" of it, the "candidness" of it. Taking pictures for me is almost like writing a book. It serves as author and illustrator. Even when I don't have the ability to write captions with my photos, I feel pictures say so many words on their own.

As much as possible, we also try to incorporate this theory into our Imagine Artists' work. I almost feel like it's there by default, especially at the more candid parts of our shoots (wedding reception, family walking from one location shoot to the other, a senior laughing at a joke).

So, to stop the long-winded explanation, here is the Top Ten. I went through my online albums from Dec. 2009-June 2010 and picked out images that I feel share what I've been talking about in a "moment."

Vote for your favorite moment.











Love you all!


Thursday, June 24, 2010

3 Doors Down

Last summer at this time, my business partner, Kristi, and I were sitting in my parents' basement, tossing around the idea of looking into a storefront for our office.

After driving through town and writing down the number for every place with a rent sign, we started the search. We looked at anything from a basement room of a large building, to a small garage that needed huge renovation, to a huge office space area with 2-3 rooms, to the main floor of an old house. Everything looked like an option, yet nothing seemed to fit. Too much work, too expensive, too big, too small.

Then we looked at a place smack in the middle of downtown Morton. It was an old nail salon for years, and then a second-hand store for a time. It had been sitting empty for a couple of months. It seemed to be the perfect size, and although the rent was a little more than we had expected to dive into, we thought it could work.

This all went down during the weekend of the Pumpkin Festival. I remember being at the festival and running over to the space to show both of our parents. Everyone agreed that it looked like A LOT of work, but it was a great starting point.

Two days later, we were signing a lease. I was dreaming about paint colors while Kristi was having a mild panic attack about the year-long commitment we just made to pay rent on a place. Soon, anxiety turned into excitement, and after picking a color we both agreed on, deciding on a general theme, and getting some handiwork done by my brother and our dads, we were on our way. Our moms were gems and came to help us paint the place our "antique yellow" color. My sister came over and painted a huge, whimsical tree and colorful birds on the walls. Kristi and I painted our front door purple, and we got the carpets cleaned.

We also bought tons of used furniture and had several paint days. Desks, tables, chairs, and stools lined the shop floor while we applied cans of colorful spray paint and brushed on white strokes to the majority of it.

Before long, the office was complete and ready for a grand opening. We opened our doors in October, but joined in with the downtown's "Holidazzle" event in early November and had our open house on that evening. It was such a neat time, and we had a lot of traffic in our place to introduce ourselves in our new location.

The thought was that we would stay in this spot for awhile. Especially after all the work we put into it.

Of course, this past year brought about a lot of weddings and business, and we both saw a need to start growing towards a studio environment. After assessing our space and seeing that it wasn't going to be very easy to do this where we were, we started weighing our other options.

There is a corner building three doors down from us that I have always loved. It is a 2-story building, and it's so classy and ornate. It used to be a bank. The "For Rent" signs in the window sparked our curiosity. A phone call later, Kristi and I were anxiously waiting outside the door.

As we stepped into the building and looked at it, both of us agreed that it was PERFECT. Our main concern with where are currently is that it's one big room, and there's no good way to split it up. This place has a front greeting area with a tall counter, and a long hallway on which to hang artwork with 2 rooms; one for a viewing area to meet with customers, and one back room for a studio with built-in shelving.

Furthermore, the place has character. It has tell ceilings, original crown molding, beautiful wood panels that run on the bottom and top of the walls, and tall windows overlooking the intersection of the two busiest roads in Morton.

It just felt right. We said yes.

It's interesting how in both cases, when we needed to look ahead and plan for our future, the Lord just provided. Sometimes, I look at the life of our business and how it has progressed, and I am just in awe. I feel SO blessed by God in this aspect of my life, and I don't deserve it. In fact, sometimes, when I'm discouraged about something, I just recall how the Lord has allowed me to be and do the stuff that dreams are made of. And then I think about my trip to Africa.

We can't feel guilty for where we've been born into in this world, but we can be open vessels for Christ to use us wherever we are. It's my prayer that this happens in my life, wherever God leads me.

I've always wanted to do work that allows me creative autonomy, independence, and freedom. A place where I can touch people with art and preserve memories for them. There was a time right after college where I floated in and out of jobs, wondering why nothing was working out or opening up for me. I look back and realize now that God was preparing me for this business, and He just wasn't ready to put Kristi and I into it full-time yet.

Anyway, we have the keys to the place, and we open our doors on August 1. Again, we've been BLESSED to obtain two amazing landlords, one in which whom attends our church, and they've been kind enough to allow us to work and prepare during this next month.

There is actually not much that needs to be done. The place is in great condition and is so nice. It could have stayed as it was and been fine. But the artist in Kristi and I would not be stopped, and neither of us could handle the wallpaper on the walls. After many cautions and "this-is-going-to-be-a-lot-of-work" warnings from our mothers, we called over our professional paint man and he told us it could be done. Today, with two steamers and "spatulas"** in hand, we started the ominous task of tearing down A LOT of wallpaper.

We were expecting drywall. What we got was one of three surfaces, anything from drywall to concrete to particle board. The vast majority is the latter, so we'll have to be creative in what we do with the walls. We're up for the challenge, though, and our goal is to graduate from "colorful and whimsical" to "classy and unique." It's killing me not to pick a color from the paint wheel, but in the end, I think sticking to neutral will behoove us.

So, several work days have been scheduled for the future, and we're fortunate enough to have awesome friends willing to help.

In the mean time, we have two weddings coming up this weekend... and lovely weather to use!

If you're interested in seeing a glimpse of our new place, click here.

Love you all,


**putty knives. But I like to call them spatulas.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bowling... or Thunder?

I awoke this morning at 4:30 a.m... at work. Unfortunately, it wasn't my alarm that woke me up, but the dreaded sound of the weather radio that only seems to have one volume: LOUD.

After the fifteen horrific seconds of buzzing, my favorite lady's computerized, choppy voice sounded, saying:

"Severe Thunderstorms reported in..."

At this point, I had woken up enough to fall out of bed, run across the room to the radio, and hit my favorite button: snooze.

A little more awake, I gazed out the front windows that line the "sleep room" and noticed the sunrise. There were a bunch of big clouds back lit by a vibrant red color. I crawled underneath the covers, letting the fan I always run cool my face. I usually set the fan on the ground several feet away from my bed as a noisemaker, but last night, the air conditioning seemed to be broken, and I couldn't sit around without sweating. As I drifted back off to sleep, the old adage was playing in my head... "Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in the morning, sailor's take warning..."

The next thing I knew, strong winds were beating against the house, and the faint sound of sirens rung in my ears. I sat up quickly, just in time to see one of the residents pop her head in the room and proclaim, "Basement time!"

"That's right," I said, recovering from my sleepiness quickly. I climbed out of bed, rushed to the kitchen, and grabbed the phone. One of the other residents had already come out of her room holding her favorite movie character figurine. I told both ladies to go down to the basement, and started making my way into the others' rooms to wake them up and tell them to follow suit.

I saved the resident who is hardest to awaken for last. I slipped into her room, turned on the light, and lightly rubbed her back. She stirred, and after a few mumbles and groans, she slowly sat up and rubbed her eyes. I chattered away about how I don't like getting up early in the morning, either. Trust me, if there's anyone who understands, it's me. I wake up every morning feeling like a truck hit me, and it's about 2 hours and a cup of coffee later until I'm convinced otherwise. Anyway, the task of waking her up and getting her moving had never been mine before, but it ended up going a lot better than expected. Perhaps that it because sirens were blaring outside.

We were all in the basement within a few minutes. The ladies did great, and made their way over to a carpeted section of the basement. One brought her favorite teddy bear. Another one laid her head down on the ground and tried to go back to sleep. And yet another one found the only chair in the whole basement.

"I've got one thing to say," she told us. "It STINKS down here."

I agreed.

"It smells like basement."

I made a phone call to get the latest stats on the weather. It sounded like the storm was making its way past us, but the sirens were still sounding.

I asked the ladies all kinds of questions, trying to redirect their attention away from the fact that trees were blowing every which direction outside, and rain was coming down in heaps.

Only a few moments later, the sirens stopped, and after a phone call to confirm that the worst had passed, I ushered all the ladies back upstairs and to their bedrooms.

By then, the first shift staff had just pulled up. I was surprised she braved the stormy weather, but she said she made it just fine.

The whole scenario reminded me of a bad storm that occurred during the night at work a couple of weeks ago. Again, the weather radio wasted no time in alerting me, every 10 minutes, no less, about the latest conditions. I mean, I'm grateful, but really? Every 10 minutes? Anyway, one of the residents woke up (no wonder) and shuffled out into the hall. She looked at me, wide-eyed.

"Hi sweetie," I told her, giving her a hug. "Did the weather radio wake you up?"

She nodded.

"There's no reason to worry," I told her. "You can go back to sleep. I'll let you know if anything changes."

She looked at me then and held up something that was in her hand. I saw that it was a little figurine of the character "Woody" from Toy Story.

She pointed to him. "Woody is scared."

I smiled and shook my head. "Then you'll just have to be brave for Woody, won't you?"

She agreed, and before turning around to head back to her bedroom, she told me, "God is playing a bowling game. He's probably bowling with my Grandpa, up in Heaven."

It's not very often that I get to interact much with the residents, being on third shift and all. I usually show up at 10, clock in, read my book, turn in for the night, wake up the next morning about 15 minutes before 1st shift arrives, and then leave. That defines most of my nights. But every once in awhile, something happens. It's a late night, and the ladies are still up when I get there. A storm hits, and one of them wakes up scared. Someone is up sick. And when these times occur, even though they aren't always convenient or fun, I find myself so thankful to be given the opportunity to interact with them, get to know their personalities, and character, and just take care of them. Yes, it's nice to know I'm there through the night if they need me. But nine times out of ten, they don't. So it's just nice to be able to interact with them on the rare occasion that they do.

As I sit and type this now, I hear thunder rumbling in the distance, and flickers of lightning light up my room. The air outside is heavy and dense, feeling like the combination of a sauna and a rain forest, if that's possible. Putting one foot in front of the other outside today was more like swimming than it was walking.

Sunnier skies are in the forecast, though, and will thankfully be making their appearance this weekend. Praise the Lord, because Imagine Artists has 2 weddings coming up, a double decker on Friday & Saturday. Should be fun. The first one is in downtown Peoria, so it will be nice to be close. Saturday's wedding is a bit of a drive, though, so it will make for a pretty late night.

We just finished up shooting a wedding last weekend. It was about an hour and a half away. The ceremony took place in a backyard. That was something fun and different, and the house there was absolutely beautiful. Basically, it's the house that all of my dreams are made of. It was older and Victorian-looking, with tons of character and tall ceilings. The decorating style is what I'd call shabby chic-vintage.

Anyway, once we get through this weekend, we still have two more weekends following of weddings. It's busy, but it's good. I know by the end, we'll be ready to have a break. It's always that way. While it gets tiring, I can't help but smile at all the memories that are made, the people we meet along the way, the times we get to celebrate with others, and the pictures we capture to help the bride and groom remember their special day forever. I've always wanted a job that had meaning and purpose. I'm glad God has given me the special opportunity at this time in my life to be used in this way with my job.

The thunder is dying down... and so is my energy. I best be off to bed. Love you all.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Burning... {calories, and my eyes, mouth, & nose}

I love pancakes.

I truly do. Tonight, as I was driving home from work (the lengthy, strenuous, one-and-a-half-minute drive), I was trying to decide what sounded good for dinner. And then it hit me:

Pancakes. With an egg sandwich.

So I made it, ate it, and stepped outside into the garage. I had plans to jump on my bike and pedal over to my "gym," called Nautilus.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that Nautilus is closing their doors at the end of June. I am heartbroken. I have worked out at this place since I was fifteen years old. I really, really love it. Over the years, more and more of my friends and family obtained a membership at Gold's Gym. It was the one-on-one training, almost-private work out, and quality of exercise that kept me loyal to Nautilus. The workout at Nautilus is all about strength-training-- setting the weights high, training VERY slow, and only completing 5-8 reps until failure of the muscles. The harder you work, the less you have to do.

There is a middle-aged man who has devoted his entire life to this place, and is very good at what he does. He is so knowledgeable, and has always pushed me really hard. He has a very dry sense of humor in which I feel right at home with. He has always helped me work on form, technique, and perseverance. It has been wonderful.

During the warmer months, when it works out, I love to bike there. It's about a 3-4 mile bike there and back, so it's a great warm up.

Due to their closing, I may have to succumb to "what everyone else is doing" and join Gold's. Some perks are that Gold's has classes to help me keep up on my cardio and keep me disciplined. Yet, I am not looking forward to big crowds, a packed gym, and an unfamiliar workout style. I know I will adapt easily, but until then, I'm still sad Nautilus is closing.

I made salsa last night. It was my first time ever making it, so I found an easy blender recipe. I ran to the grocery store to get some of the ingredients and as I stepped outside to take the bags to my car, I was met with a huge downpour of rain. Just my luck. And really, why was I surprised? It has been raining intermittently over the past 4 weeks. I have truly never seen so much rain. I'm sure my dad could tell you the exact amount that we have received to the centimeter, as he monitors this as well as watches any storm, big or small, that rolls in on the radar online.

Anyway, back to the salsa. So, it called for a jalapeno pepper. Fun. I love spicy & hot. But I think I got a little too close for comfort. It said to remove the seeds.

Whenever I try something new, I am one of two ways. I either buckle under pressure and seek out help from every source I can find, making sure I do every step correctly, OR I adopt a fiercely independent attitude, refusing to even think of asking for help and trying everything new without a qualm in mind.

Last night was the latter, so I cut right into the jalapeno pepper. After a few failed attempts to remove the seeds with my knife (cutting and anything tactile is really not my strong suit), I discovered that the seeds are much easier to get rid of with my finger. So I started taking out all the seeds by swishing my finger along the insides of the pepper.

After chopping up many vegetables, blending it, and taste-testing it, I put it in a container and into the refrigerator. But I noticed that my mouth was starting to burn. And my nose.

It's then that I realized what I had done. I had basically bathed my hands and fingers in the jalapeno pepper, and then touched my face.

The story gets even better when I tried to take my contacts out that night for bed. And then put them in my eyes the next morning. I thought my eyes might burst into flames.

Nonetheless, the salsa is made, and I now know in the future the proper way to handle a jalapeno.

Love you all!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Africa Team Video

This is the second of the two Zambia, Africa videos. It tells our "team" story, and shows more footage of our team members interacting with the kids.

Love you all! T

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fish, Life, & Coffee

I have decided that the life of a fish must be so boring. And by fish, I mean "pet fish." Sea fish have it much better-- I mean, they have the sea. But pet fish? They're trapped in a glass globe filled with colorful rocks and water. End of story.

That's their life.

I realize the need to keep this in perspective... I doubt a fish can even process the fact that his life is kind of a lame gig. But nonetheless, fish are needed in this world, especially pet fish, if for nothing else but to teach young 5-year-old children the "cycle of life" and inevitable "death of pets" when their very first goldfish dies, and their tear-stained face watches the orange pet swirl down the toilet to its tomb.

Why the discussion on fish? Well, I have this beta fish. I've had it for about 2 years now. Its name is Calvin Klein. I can't say that it serves much of a purpose other than to look pretty in my room. It matches the walls-- its purple. But other than that, it just swims around all day. And sometimes I realize I haven't fed in in a couple of days and then I feel really bad.

But today, I had this thought that I have often have... how trapped must a fish feel? And what kind of life is that, anyway, swimming around in about 2 feet of space with nowhere else to go?

If nothing else, I now feel like I lead a pretty exciting life in comparison.

Enough on fish. That topic is quickly becoming about as dull as the life of one.

I have been extremely busy lately, and only getting busier. Kristi and I have 6 weddings in a row coming up, all of which will take place within a 5-week time period, which means 1 weekend has 2 in a row. Despite the fact that this past week has been CRAZY and next week won't be much different, bring it on. I'm ready for summer craziness. As I always say, I'd rather be busy than bored. For sure.

But busy has its negatives. Late nights in the office, and exhausting weekends. But, I'm doing what I love. And when the right balance is found, I find my job is a gift.

There's also another big piece of news I'd like to share, but I don't want to quite yet. So stay tuned. It's exciting.

Last weekend, I was on caffeine detox. For about 3-4 days, I drank very little to no caffeine. The first day or so, it happened by accident, and then I just decided to see how long I could practice self-control. I think mid-week, I finally had a coffee, but I definitely established the well-known: Caffeine, as found in coffee and soda, can be an addictive habit that leads to feeling like you "need" it to get through, when in fact, you don't. This artificial stimulant does nothing but kick up your heart rate and thereby make you feel more alert, fooling you into thinking it's the only way to stay awake in the morning or early afternoon. Does it help, at times? Sure. But there are better ways. Of course, I could stand to take my own advice and reduce the amount I put into my body. I'd say this week's efforts come to a 6/10. Not the greatest, so I have some work to do. But it could be much worse. I'm not this girl who has 3 cups of coffee a day or can't live without my afternoon pop. BUT, I am slightly addicted to very sugary coffee drinks, and I look forward to them a little TOO much. So, I challenge myself to reducing this habit.

You know, I'm all about balance. Really, I am. But when I find myself at the extreme end of something to my detriment and I know I need to change, I sense a pattern in my approach. I am always very "all or nothing." This goes against my "everything in moderation" and "balance is the key to life" motto. I guess those sayings are the ultimate goal for my lifestyle. But when my lifestyle doesn't reflect that in some area, I go from one extreme to the other. Drinking too much caffeine? My quick fix is: Stop drinking it all together for a week. Wasting too much time online? My fix: Stop going online at all, or at least until priorities are accomplished. Right or wrong, I find that the best way to train myself back to balance is to totally wipe out what's overtaking me and then ease back into a healthy dose.

Not quite sure what this blog post accomplished just now. Please forgive my scattered nature. If ever you wanted a chance to take a field trip to my brain, perhaps this post is a nice preview. I told my mom the other day, though, writing is like therapy to me. It allows me to unwind, even if I'm typing about silly things or telling a story. So for those of you who read-- thanks for making it through some of my not-so-brilliant posts.

Love you all!


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Africa: Lifesong Video

Shortly after arriving home from Zambia, Africa this past January, I began working on editing the (literally) thousands of pictures that I had taken. Once I had a pool of favorites to work from, I started plugging them into different projects. First and foremost were a couple of videos that I created.

I had visited a blog not long before starting and saw a video that someone had put together on their trip to Ethiopia. The song for it was, "I Saw what I Saw" by Sara Groves. I fell in love with the words and decided at that very moment that this was my song.

I started looking into obtaining a copyright to the song to use for the video, as I knew I'd eventually be sharing it with my church and on the web.

My goal was to make this first video a little more informative about Africa culture and give a taste of Lifesong's kids in Zambia and their lives.

I created one other video that involves more of our team members and what we did while there, and I'll be posting that one in a few days. For now, here is my "Africa: Lifesong" video.

Love you all!


Thursday, June 03, 2010


Our church in Morton has been going through quite a process over the past several months. I am very excited about it.

It's called the "Visioning Process" and through it, we have created a Stewardship Committee and Alignment Team. We hired a group last year to help us conduct a thorough look at the health of our church, inside and out. It has included an all-church survey, committee formations, and new programs.

The goal is to create a new vision for the Morton AC Church.

Last Fall, we were pleased to have a minister with us from Indiana who has the job of working with many, many churches, both AC and non-AC. In looking at the people and their purpose, he can help determine the state of a church and why it is or isn't growing. It's very interesting.

He came and spoke to us and gave a presentation, and I remember absolutely loving it. Last night, we were able to hear the presentation again and see the slides he used.

This time around, I took notes. I didn't want to miss any of it, and I know that for me, the best way to remember something is to have it recorded somewhere in words.

The following is what I took from it. I share it because for the second time, I thought the exact same thing: Anyone who attends a Christ-following church needs to hear this. It's all interesting, eye-opening, true, and important.

Dare to Have a Purpose
Remember the song, "Dare to be a Daniel?"

"Dare to have a purpose... dare to make it known..."

In order to have a church that grows, you must have a clear sense of purpose. Churches that decline do so because their purpose is fuzzy. Perhaps focus is off.

How is this done?

The Spirit must be free to work in the church. However, in order for this to take place, the right environment must be created.

Here's an interesting statistic: 83% of churches in the U.S. are declining. 83%. Only 17% are growing, and of that 17%, only 4% growth is happening due to true Christian conversion. The rest of the growth is due to one church taking believers from another church.

Is that unsettling?

It was to me.

Why is this happening? Largely in part, due to a lack of purpose.

A church MUST have a compelling purpose. Every church is founded on a purpose, and starts with a "Story." Along the way, methods and programs are instituted in order to run the church and help make this happen. Yet after time, it's easy to place more importance on the "methods and programs" than on the founding feature: the compelling purpose, and the reason stemming from that which is the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to be free to work.

There are four main factors that must align in order to create a Spirit-filled environment that can carry out a purpose. They are as follows:


Understand Culture
This is so important.

Here, we have a balance. On the one end, we have those that feel reaching out into the world and the culture is the way to go: be in the world, not of it. On the other end is those that feel protecting ourselves from the evil and corrupt nature of the world is the best thing we can do. To preserve sound doctrine is where we need to be.

Which is it?

It's both. We must reach out to others WHILE protecting our hearts from evil and preserving the word of God. They must both occur. You can't have it one way or the other.

So culture is a huge topic. In fact, the majority of the talk was spent on this topic.

We must not conform to culture but we must reach out to it. And in order to reach out, we must understand it. Who are we trying to reach?

Culture has been through a lot of different ages...

Oral Age
This is the age that Jesus was on the Earth. Everyone spoke. Anything known was mostly learned by verbal communication. Word of mouth was how news spread. Church was mostly driven by a "speaker" of sorts.

Print Age
Enters the printing press. It revolutionized the way communication occurred. Bibles could be printed, and church became more of a "meeting."

Broadcast Age
TV. Church transforms into an "event," and the ability to entertain was priority.

Digital Age
Our current age. Computers & internet has changed the way we think.

The Young Unchurched
Some more interesting statistics regarding the young unchurched, who most, by the way, believe in God or a Higher Power, but have no interest in seeking answers in church... I wonder why? See below statistics for the answer:

38% have a bad impression of Christianity
87% view church as judgmental
85% view church as hypocritical

Consumer Christianity
It's not the "Me Church." At this point in the presentation, we were shown a video that was hugely exaggerated, but definitely drove the point home of how often we try to make a church fit our needs instead of viewing church as a place to fulfill compelling purpose and allow the Spirit to work. Church is about worship and sacrifice; we don't attend for ourselves. We attend to glorify God.

With the entrance of the broadcast age and now the digital age, faith is much more emotion-driven. The younger generation "feels" faith now more than ever. It's all about an emotional experience. Influence by performance and entertainment is much higher than before.

Respect of authority and the elderly is not there as it once was.

I state this as a fact, not as an accusation to my generation or as a "right" or "wrong." It's simply just how it is.

The explosion of the internet has given way to the ability to connect in more ways than ever before. We want to know how to connect with others, and we want answers as to how to make sense of our world. The demands of the digital age include participation, networks and communication, authenticity, and pragmatic answers. The "search to belong" has become a higher value now than in ages past.

Deal With It
It's easy to ask questions about what we don't know.

At this point, a story was told about this man when he was a young boy in college. He was learning about the human muscle and how it worked. At the end of the lecture, he felt the explanation and what he had read in his textbook was incomplete. He approached his professor about this, and shared his thoughts.

"That's all we really know," his teacher told him.

But... regardless of what is known or unknown... our muscles still work. Right? They don't rely on our knowledge.

Questions that may arise... issues we may have... areas that don't seem to make sense... anything regarding our Faith... the same principle applies.

We deal with what we don't know. And in the end, it works, regardless of our complete knowledge or not.

Faith is the same way, and that's the beauty of it. God works when we have Faith, often IN our inability to understand or know.

How to Create a Compelling Purpose
Imagine a graph with 3 circles overlapping. In the middle of the 3 circles is your "compelling purpose." So the 3 parts that go into creating that:

1) Leadership Passion
2) Community Needs
3) Congregation Giftedness

Leadership must be on board, in unity, and passionate. Community needs should be known and ways to develop and cater to this should be processed. And last but not least, the gifts of the people in the church must be used.

A church cannot function unless everyone participates and is willing to be used BY THE SPIRIT. Hidden agendas and selfish motives will always act as poison. Satan can use blessings and talents of people in a church to masquerade as something unfortunate rather than beneficial. Only by the Spirit's free work can the church fulfill a true purpose, and only in an environment created for the Spirit to work can this all come to fruition.

Our Church Purpose
We have come up with a beautiful vision for our church, and I am excited to see how it is carried out in the coming months. It was said that our (AC) church has something worth protecting, a certain uniqueness, virtue, and groundedness that is hard to find anywhere else. As we seek God, follow the Truth, and allow the Spirit to work, I have faith that our church can experience a growth due to a compelling story.

Don't Settle for "Safe Christianity"

Towards the end of the presentation, this video was shown. I've seen it about half a dozen times by now, but it touches me every time I watch it.

Love you all!


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tate's 30th Challenge

My brother turned the big three-oh this past week.

I was thinking... Wow, my brother is 30. Then it hit me: I'm only 6 years behind him. No need to panic, though. As I wrote in his birthday card, he's only a 1/3 of the way until 90. Furthermore, I still believe youth is on our side.

Even though every once in awhile, I find a few gray hairs on my head.

Anyway, it's not a Kaiser family event unless some sort of game or challenge is initiated. Tate received two 15-lb. weights for his birthday (hence, his 30th) and so his two brother-in-laws cooked up a little dare. They each offered to pay Tate $100 if he could run a mile while carrying the two weights in hand.

So, of course Tate accepts. I thought he was crazy. We all traveled up to our local high school, just a couple of blocks away, and as we did I asked him when the last time it was that he even ran a mile.

"It's been awhile," he admitted.

Right. Well, below is the video that tells the story of how this all panned out. Also following are a few of my favorite images from the evening.

It was quite a birthday bash; Tate was expecting a family birthday party, but instead we surprised him with a bunch of his close friends (and their children).

Love you all!