Miss Janet’s Tomato Pie


Recently, a friend of mine, started calling herself a farmer. I was a little perplexed by this self-appointed status because I have been to her lovely home and there are no signs of it being a farm. There are no animals to feed and care for, save for the orioles just outside her kitchen window. And there are no fields to plant or harvest. In fact, I’m pretty sure her husband can have the whole lawn mowed in less than an hour. And that’s without the use of a tractor. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a beautiful bounty coming from this small plot of land in the middle of Appleton.

It turns out, my friend’s “farm” is tucked away on the side of her garage. There you will find four lovingly cared for container planters from which several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, along with basil and rosemary grow. I was offered a tour of the farm just after planting season as the growing season was getting under way. I have to admit, I hardly saw a garden, let alone a farm. But now it’s time to harvest the crops and based on the yield, I’m ready to call it a farm!

Just the other day, my friend arrived on my doorstep with an overflowing bag of goodness. I was astonished at the abundance of vegetables she was able to cultivate! She was a little exasperated as she is running out of benefactors for her ample surplus of produce.

As any gardener farmer knows, when the crops are ready for harvest creativity is in order. In Janet’s case tomatoes have been especially prolific this summer. While I turned my bag of veggies into a batch of the most delicious, fresh salsa I have ever tasted, Janet was busy turning out one of her favorite summer recipes….

Tomato Pie.

Admittedly, I had no idea what tomato pie even was until she sent me the before and after pictures. Before meaning, a picture of the assembled pie just before it went into the oven. And after, right when it came out. Let’s just say, I could almost taste the deliciousness of this concoction just by looking at it. Immediately I knew I needed this recipe. And not only that, I wanted to share it with you…

Before I get to the recipe, Miss Janet wanted you to know there are two things that are very important to its successful execution. (Please read the following caveats with your best southern drawl)

You must use homegrown tomatoes. In the South, where Miss Janet hails from, she says everybody and their brother grows their own tomatoes. Consequently, she has never tasted a store bought tomato and thus cannot vouch for their suitability in this recipe (wink wink).

Secondly, again being from the South, the only mayonnaise Miss Janet dares to use in her recipe is the famed Duke’s Mayo. I myself am quite the Hellmann’s fan so I don’t think this one is a game changer, but nevertheless I want you to have the greatest chance for success when you try this recipe.

Without further ado, I present to you… [Read more…]

Think on Your Thoughts

havenHave you ever thought about your thoughts?  Most of us have, since we are shocked by where we can go in our thoughts.

“I wish (he)she disappeared (or was dead)”

“I wish I had a new life in a new state with new kids!”

“I’m sick of all this chaos! I’m running away!”

“You are so stupid”

“I am so stupid”

“You are a failure!”

“I’m going to kill him when he gets home!”

“I deserve to die”

“You are permanently damaged”

The thoughts we have determine how we think about ourselves and others. In my practice with women who struggle with issues of self esteem, there is a pervasive pattern of critical self-talk taking place. This often begins in childhood, when through circumstances and trauma, young girls come to conclusions about themselves that are very harsh, judgmental and rigid. For example:

Jane was bullied as a child at school through 5 years of her grade school experience. She came to believe that she was a bad person. After all, why would so many others regularly call her names, push her around, taunt her,and tease her? Naturally Jane began to have a series of thoughts about herself that she was a disappointment, that she was worthless and not lovable.  This went on for years unknown to her parents. Jane was loved in her family and tried to be as helpful as she could, to fight against the barrage of thoughts she had about herself. These thoughts became her reality.

Through the help of family and counseling, Jane began to see how the abuse she suffered formed a pattern of beliefs and thoughts she had about herself. This went on for years so that the thoughts were like a well worn trail in her mind. With God’s help, Jane needed to heal through her abuse and establish new thought patterns about herself. [Read more…]

Our Leaders are Readers: 8 inspiring book ideas

readingI love to read. I tend to have a few books vying for my attention at any given time. I think the books we read can tell a lot about a person’s passions, dreams and personality.  

I realize not everyone likes to read, but when it comes to ministry it is rather important to keep up on our reading so we can stay fresh, informed and motivated as we seek to minister to the people we are called to.

Having said that, I thought it would be interesting to get the top three books that have impacted some of our ministry staff. What are they passionate about? What books have influenced their faith and ministry? What would they recommend?  

I received a lot of great information and came away wanting to read everything on the list! So many books…so little time…

I don’t want this to be overwhelming so I decided to divide the books into 3 parts in order to share it with you over the course of the year.

First up? Our Senior Pastor… [Read more…]

Why You Should Join a Fall Bible Study

biblestudy2I love Wisconsin summers but unfortunately they are so short!  Fall is just around the corner however, and many times it can offer us fresh opportunities to start new ventures.

Because I am passionate about small groups and Bible studies, I would like to encourage you to step out and challenge yourself by signing up for a small group Bible Study. We all know life can be harsh. We can’t do it alone. We need to be part of a strong community of faith to help us through.  The Bible says we are to encourage one another and “all the more as we see the Day approaching…” (Hebrews 12:25).

As Women’s Ministry Director, I have seen many women in crisis and I always ask them, “Are you in a small group? Do you have godly girlfriends that can pray for you, encourage you, and hold you accountable?” Most of these women are not connected and do not have a support group of godly girlfriends.

That’s why I never stop talking about the importance of being in a small group. We should all be building a relational safety net in our lives so when the storms come, we have genuine friends who will be there for us. We can be doing this now, before the crisis hits.

Some of you may say you have tried a small group and it just didn’t work out. Or you may say there is nothing offered you in your particular season of life. Some of you may have even joined a small group but didn’t connect with the group, the leader or the material.

Sometimes, it is not all about you or your comfort zone.  Sometimes God has things He wants to teach you or build into your life outside that comfort zone. Sometimes His lessons aren’t easy or pleasant.

I want to encourage you not to give up. In fact that is exactly what the first part of Hebrews 12:25 says… “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another….”

Sometimes we give up too soon or too easily. We may have many reasons, and many of them might be valid. But this verse implies our excuses can become a habit. If we let this happen, then when the crisis of life comes we will have no support.

So as the summer ends I want to challenge you to think about joining a small group Bible study in the fall. We have so many awesome women here at AAC and I believe there are some special friendships waiting to be discovered! Think about it! It may be hard to commit but stick with it. The Bible says you and I need the encouragement of godly girlfriends.

Check out our morning and evening women’s studies coming up this fall!




Finding Meaning in the Mundane

title8I’ve been a little frazzled these last 2 weeks. The culprit? Those perpetual little tasks I finally check off the to-do list only to find them on my list again…an hour later. You know the ones. Dishes. Laundry. Incessant cleaning. Why are there still clothes on the floor?? And what is that monstrosity of clutter doing on my counter again?

For the love of all things organized, can the mailman please stop drowning me in a mountain of papers to sort?! Can things just stay frozen in time (preferably after I’ve deep cleaned) so a girl can get some peace around here?? The futility of the mundane is about to make me go crazy.

At times I wonder, Am I just wasting my life?

Because all my work and toil feels in vain.

Because the house will be a mess again by the time the sun sets.

Because changing endless diapers or picking up messes for the umpteenth time gets old.

Organizing a world that is destined for chaos makes you wonder if it’s even worth it.

But what if there is meaning in the mundane? What if you’re not wasting your life? What if I told you there is a bigger purpose at play when you sort the mail, do the laundry, and sweep the floors?

Here are 3 secrets I uncovered this last weekend that can help us find joy and meaning in the mundane tasks of life. Click here to read more


Rachel is one of our regular contributors. You can read more of this post on her blog.

A Few Good Women



I would like to introduce you to a few good women, actually a few great women, in our church. I have a hunch that many of the people at AAC may not know about these wonderful women and their service to our congregation. Have you guessed who I’m referring to? It’s our Deaconesses! How many of you know who a Deaconess is? Or exactly what she does?? I’d like to fill you in a bit.  Deaconess is from the Greek word “diakoneo” meaning “to serve.”  The job of the Deaconess in her service to the people of the church more than fulfills the meaning.

Deaconesses are the female support team of the Appleton Alliance Church Pastoral Care Ministry. A Deaconess is an AAC member approved by both a nominating committee and the church congregation. Her resumé must include the qualification of I Timothy 3:11, “ In the same way, Deaconesses are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”  

This explanation seems fairly straightforward but what does a Deaconess do?

According to Sue Solberg, lead Deaconess at AAC, our deaconesses assist with the James 5 healing services, help prepare and serve at the communion services and assist with baptisms. Additionally, these fine women visit shut-ins, organize and provide meals for those recovering from hospitalizations or illnesses, and run a card ministry that expresses care, concern and encouragement to our church family. They are also part of a vital ministry to grieving families by helping to prepare and serve free luncheons for funerals held here at AAC. Conversely, they are also involved in hosting a social reception for families as part of Child Dedication services.  

Phew! That is quite the list! Especially when you realize that we have a congregation of over 4000 men, women and children and only 16 Deaconesses! When I titled this  “A Few Good Women” I was not exaggerating!

Once someone has been identified as a potential deaconess Sue Solberg calls them to gauge their interest and explain the importance of their role. After prayerfully considering the request and agreeing to serve, the potential candidate must be approved by a congregational vote and a nominating committee. It is an intensive process because we really value and respect the character and role of the women who take this on as they are on the front lines of representing AAC to our members.

Nevertheless, the group could use a little more help, so Women’s Ministry plans to be more intentional by partnering with them to help provide interested and qualified women through our Discipleship Program. (More on our Discipleship Program in another blog post!)

I spoke with our Lead Deaconess Sue Solberg and asked her the following questions:

What is your favorite part of being a Deaconess?

My favorite part of being a Deaconess is the joy I experience by serving our Lord and his church family with sisters in Christ who have true servant hearts. The fellowship, care and concern for our church and one another is a blessing! These women uplift our church family and one another!  It is a privilege and an honor to serve our church.  I know each Deaconess considers her service a God-given purpose. Getting to know these caring women has greatly inspired me; I admire each one of them!  Serving helps me and the other Deaconesses feel more connected to our church family and allows us to meet many more people in our ever-growing AAC congregation.”

Do you have any funny stories about being a Deaconess?

“We have all heard how challenging it can be to function when there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.”  Imaging having twelve to eighteen cooks in one kitchen at the same time! That’s how it is working together to prepare funeral luncheons.

One day during lunch prep, I caught a Deaconess standing at the end of the buffet table laughing and shaking her head. I walked over and asked her what was so funny. She said, “Stand here and watch for a minute.”  Each Deaconess who walked along the buffet table reached out to ‘tweak’ it by moving something to a new position. The next one would come along and move something else, or even the item that had just been re-placed. It got to be quite comical and the three of us watching soon got the giggles!  

Even though we are many women with many differing ideas and abilities, we are always able to approach one another with a sense of humor and enjoyment. We tease and cajole in a friendly/sisterly fashion and are not afraid to laugh at ourselves!”  

Do you have any touching stories about being a Deaconess?

“Recently I was privileged to go with two other Deaconesses to visit a woman who has dementia and lives in an assisted care facility. My two partners had known this woman over many years but had not seen her in quite awhile.  

When one of her old friends opened her door and she saw her two dear friends, her face lit up! With wide eyes and open arms she eagerly hugged each one exclaiming, “Oh my, Oh my!  It is so good to see you – and YOU!”  She was truly overjoyed by their visit. It was a joy that was simultaneously imparted back to each of us.  It was an extremely poignant visit that blessed us as much or more than we blessed that sweet woman.

But we don’t only serve those outside of our group, we are also an encouragement and support for one another as we go through life’s difficulties as well.  We care for each other as a family, as strong caring sisters demonstrating love to others as well as to one another. It truly is a rewarding and precious ministry. “

All I Ever Needed

pexels-photo-54547I am a special needs mom. I joined these ranks close to twelve years ago when my greatest fears became my reality. Every mom says, “I don’t care if it is a boy or a girl as long as they are healthy.”

For us, a few simple words, the diagnosis of my little girl, changed my life entirely. My dreams or twirling dresses and blissful giggles were replaced with therapy appointments and medical side effects.  Almost immediately I found that life as I knew it was different. Different than anything that I wanted, different than anything I could have imagined but as time went by, I realized that it wasn’t at all what it seemed.

Life was nothing like I wanted but everything that I needed.

I needed to know that God is in control. Before my daughter was born, I worried about everything. Would I be able to love my second as much as my first? Would my son have friends? Would my child be healthy? This type of unhealthy conversation consumed my inner dialogue.

Until I gave it all to Him. [Read more…]

His Sacrifice for True Freedom

fredom pic monkey 2

Stars and stripes fly high in the summer sky this time of year. Our flag is carried splendidly in ceremonies and marched down parade routes. It is waved proudly. In all these things, when we see ‘Old Glory’ fly, it stirs in us a sense of freedom. It reminds us of the freedoms that were fought for years ago. Freedoms we fight to protect today. It represents the freedom to speak our thoughts, to worship where we choose to, to travel where we desire, to vote, to share what we believe, to follow our dreams.

Freedom. We celebrate it. We fight for it. We stand up for it. We often take it for granted. But during this time, do we take a moment to think about what true freedom is? While I am grateful and thankful for these freedoms ‘to do’ (do this, do that) and respect them as worthy reasons of celebration, there is a truer and far greater freedom. It is a freedom that frees us ‘from’. It is freedom in Christ. And it’s banner over us is God’s love. (Song of Solomon 2:4)

God in his gracious and astounding love sent His son, so that true freedom could begin in our hearts. Through this love and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we have been set free from the bondage of sin. 1 John 4:9-10 says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Thus, through grace, Christ’s sacrifice and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are free not only from sin, but from death. We are free from brokenness and blindness. Free from our past, our mistakes, our feelings of unworthiness. Free from an identity in a world that says we are never enough.

The flag, with its representation of our freedoms of ‘to do’s’, is temporary. It can be taken down. It can be burned. It can be stripped of the freedoms it represents and no longer be the symbol it once was. And while I pray otherwise, it may someday, cease to exist. But God’s banner over us is eternal. Our true freedom in Christ? This freedom that frees us from all that holds us back from being complete, from fear, from death? This freedom ensures us that we are loved. We are healed. We have eternal life. We are complete. We are justified. We are enough. This freedom can never be taken away. It cannot be suppressed. It cannot be contained. It cannot be enslaved. It cannot be moved. Nor can it be changed. It cannot be extinguished nor defeated. It rises; it never falls. And it’s banner over us of God’s everlasting love cannot be burned or trampled upon. It cannot be taken down or restrained from flying over our hearts. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:37-39) And nothing can stop the eternal life we are promised through our faith and belief in Jesus Christ, for Romans 10:10 says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

In the coming days, celebrate and be thankful for all the freedoms our country gives us and for those who have given their lives to defend those freedoms. But, remember, during these celebrations, to look up to that banner that flies higher and greater than any flag. Give praise. Find comfort in it. Celebrate it too. For there is no truer freedom than the one manifested from the banner of God’s love: Salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.



AAC Sportsplex: more than just a gym

gymtitleSpend 30 minutes with Xcel Sports Operations Manager, Dana Vanevenhoven, and you’ll come away with a new appreciation for the Sportsplex and how fortunate we are here at AAC to have access to such an amazing facility.

More importantly though, you’ll learn what an excellent outreach to the community we have built with the many camps, fitness classes, and wellness opportunities that are offered.

If you’ve never been to the Sportsplex before you should check it out.

Sportsplex members have access to the gym and a full schedule of fitness classes, along with a Fitness Center packed with excellent cardio and weight training equipment. Membership is rather inexpensive at $55/year for individuals and other rates for family, student and seniors. The Sportsplex stays busy year round with programs that run all year. However, summer is especially bustling due to the many camps that are offered.

Earlier this month Xcel Sports kicked off its summer programming schedule. From now through August 18th they will offer 19 camps for youth ranging in age from Kindergarten – 8th grade. There’s also a 3 on 3 basketball league for 5th – 10th grades with over 80 teams competing. Once known primarily for basketball, Dana says they are now expanding into new areas, adding a football, soccer and baseball camp for the first time.

She estimates that between the 3 on 3 basketball league and the 19 youth camps there will be 1,000+ kids passing through the doors of Xcel Sports this summer. And the vast majority (over 95% in the case of the basketball league) are not attending AAC. There is a unique opportunity to share the Gospel with these kids through sports and the staff takes that seriously. [Read more…]

A Message for Special Dads (of Special Kids)

Special DadsWe all think our dads are the best, as we should, but why is it we only take a day to celebrate one of the most important aspects of the family unit?

And so, because Dads deserve celebration, I want to talk to you about a group of Dads that don’t normally get the praise, the homemade cards or even the hugs from their kids. They have been dealt a ridiculously unfair set of circumstances, yet they don’t complain. They haven’t run away, even though in today’s society this solution is acceptable if not expected. They have faced setback after setback yet have chosen the road less traveled and then walked this path chosen for them bravely.

They are Dads who have had every dream crushed in a moment as they were given the heavy blow of the diagnosis of their child.

They are the ones who have given up every one of their own dreams to provide for their little ones onslaught of therapies, medicine and equipment for a chance that maybe they will be able to hold their sweet babe a little longer on this side of heaven. These dads have come to the end of their rope, learning that you cannot fix everything and realize that when they finally let go, it is a remarkably wonderful place to be. They are the dads who learn to celebrate each smile and milestone as the amazing gift that it is. They are they ones who learn to look past that same diagnosis that stole their dreams and see the perfection of their little one just as our Father sees us.

These are the men who have learned that the only way to win the war on this earth is to bow down humbly on their knees.

You may or may not know one of these dads. The scars they bear often cannot be seen. But these men are valiant warriors. Selected and chosen carefully by God for a job like no other on this earth. If you do run across one, let them know. You see what they have done, the battles they have fought. Remind them that all of their efforts are not in vain. They are doing a great job. And the King of Kings is well pleased.

Call upon Me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.

Psalm 50:15 (NKJV)