An Open Letter to GCIO


This week marks the very last GCIO for the Senior Class of 2018 – students and leaders alike. Four years ago, we all showed up to the Say Hey to Summer Party and had no idea what to expect but we were all excited and ready to begin. It seems like just a few weeks ago, but here we are staring into the next chapter of life for these students. We’ve watched you grow up and become leaders, influencers, scholars, and soon – graduates. As I reflect on my time as a leader, I had some parting thoughts that I wanted to share.

To my fellow GCIO leaders –

Thank you for your devotion to these students. Simply and most importantly, you have no idea the impact that you’re making on the next generation and your commitment is truly amazing. From seeing Alvin Hicks in a red leather jumpsuit and mustache to Jeff Moyer literally chasing his students through the woods, you all have quite literally done everything possible to share the love of Jesus. It’s incredible.

It has been my joy and privilege to serve alongside all of you. It’s not easy to do what you all do on a weekly basis, but you not only do it, you excel at it. We’ve seen the number of students grow exponentially and that would not be possible without the welcoming atmosphere that all of you foster. Mandy and I have developed some great friends, we’ve all experienced the amazing memories from events (shoutout to that sunrise at VR!) and gotten to witness the magic of students that we love professing their faith and getting baptized while Reed cries. Y’all are genuinely the Navy SEALs of Gwinnett Church. You da real MVPs.

To the GCIO staff: Reed, Ansley, Mike, Sam, Brice, and the best slew of LDPs to ever come through GC –

This team leads the way and the example that you set for leaders is remarkable. Within an organization like North Point that is known for innovation, this team is known as the ones that consistently go outside the box. That shows the lengths to which you’re willing to go to accomplish your mission. GCI-Rogue forever!

While making it happen is tough, chasing after a vision is easy when you all convey it to us with such heartfelt passion. Mike has said for years that he wants to be an old, wise man – the old part will get there eventually but the wisdom has already arrived. The name Sam Sardone is already sweeping through the state as a leader in doing whatever it takes to love people. Ansley is a creative genius and nothing that we do would be possible without her. Brice and the production team are wizards, I think. Everyone makes a big joke of how much Reed cries, but that wouldn’t happen if he wasn’t so utterly devoted to impacting students. He literally can’t contain it. This must be one of the most talented groups of people ever assembled and I’m glad that I got to be associated for this chunk of my life.

Finally, to the students of GCIO –

Your time as a part of Gwinnett Church InsideOut may seem like a Sunday evening activity that you participated in, but I believe that you will look back and see how impactful it really was. The people that have poured into you have set a foundation of faith that I pray you will fall back to when life gets tough. Unfortunately, that will happen. When it does, please never forget the family you have at Gwinnett because you will always be a part of it and you are always welcome back home.

The potential of this group is limitless, and I can’t wait to have a front row seat to all of you legitimately changing the world. Whether that looks like you developing the cure for cancer – which is totally possible – or causing a tidal wave of faith throughout GCo, the world will be a better place because of you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives during high school. I love all of you and I know that Jesus has some amazing things up His sleeves for each and every one of you if you trust Him.

Thank you so much for making Sundays the #BestNightOfTheWeek.


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Welcome New Readers!

Thanks to all the new visitors to the site! Here is a quick reference guide to our weight loss journey and the process to which we used to change our lives. Since our healthy life style journey began over 3 years ago, many things have changed. We collectively lost many pounds. We truly believe that weight loss allowed Mandy to become pregnant with our first child , Parker. Conner began group fitness in the form of working out with a men’s group and CrossFit. He has even competed in a few local CrossFit competitions. We are currently on a blogging hiatus as we are journeying through new parenthood and about to welcome our second child in a few months. To see our daily happenings, check out @volpemandy or @connervolpe.

Below are some great references to our healthy lifestyle and the things we did along the way:

Ahh Sugar Sugar: 4 Replacement Ideas

Training for Adventure Racing

An Open Letter to the Food Channels

Resolve To Be Healthier

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New Motherhood Essentials

You can read everything under the sun to prepare for motherhood. Yes, the research helps and it has given me a peace of mind when it felt like I was a mess of emotions or stuck in the “Is it just me?!?!’ phase. But ultimately, there are just some things that no one tells you are the “must haves” of motherhood. Clearly I don’t have anything figured out (Hello! It took me 3 months to take my child to the doctor for them to diagnose a potential milk allergy), but these are a few of the things that have helped me get through the last few months as a new mom.

Sleep Pillow App. There are a ton of apps out there for parenting, but this one has been used since like day 5 in our house. Parker LOVES the sound of rain and it instantly makes him go to sleep. We didn’t have a sound machine to begin with, so the app on the iPad worked amazingly. It also is great for on-the-go naps, especially at restaurants.

Hear Album by North Point. Those early weeks felt very lonely at night. Feedings lasting an hour…occurring every hour or so, wore me out. Pain radiated through my body from having birthed a baby, lack of sleep, and emotions at 1000%. I both hated and loved nursing in those early days because it was an escape for an hour to be alone with my new little baby. It was also frustrating because I felt like I was alone in doing all the work (I was the cook and waitress for P’s meal times), experiencing all of the new scheduling barriers, and still having to figure out how take care of myself. Insert the HEAR album. I played those songs on repeat. I found hope and rest in the lyrics of those songs. Turning them on and letting the words wash over me during feedings usually resulted in tears, but also made me feel refreshed. Praise the Lord for talented musicians that can write and sing such powerful words.

4Moms glider. This spaceship contraption is. The. Jam. Motion + sound machine + pretty design = so good. I typically have this set up in the bathroom in the morning so that I can watch Parker play while I get my clean on. He loves the mobile and it is so fun to watch him discover the colors.

Parker in the 4Moms

Nuk nursing pads. (If you are a guy, then stop reading now) Leakage. Enough said. These things keep your clothes dry because who has time to change clothes a million times a day, especially when there are no clean shirts to change in to. Just make sure you throw them away, or your dog will eat them.

Swaddleme wraps. We have a Houdini baby. I think normal swaddle blankets lasted 3 days. Parker would bust his arms out so quickly and would just cry. I love the Swaddleme wrap because of the Velcro and the fun colors. Also, since they come in multiple packs, it makes it easy to have one on hand at all times.

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#Latenightnursingfeed. If you are on Instagram- check it out. A momma started this hashtag to connect all the women who are up in the middle of the night and provide good information. Seeing the community of women come together and voice best practices has been great and comforting!

sleepy parker

Amazon Prime. I can’t even fully explain how much I love AP. I quickly realized that I could order something and it would arrive 2 days later. Now, that probably sounds like “Um yeah, duh. That is the purpose of AP.”. But you don’t understand. In order to pick up batteries, I have to time a trip to the store when I know my baby will not be crying due to needing to be fed, I have to put Brinkley in his crate, I have to hear Parker cry when initially being put into the carrier, I have to drive to the place and hope that there is a parking spot open with enough space to get my baby and stroller out without smacking the car next to me, and I have to hope that no one parks over the line and therefore forcing me to place Parker into the car from the wrong side thus making me flustered. Gosh I am stressed just typing that. I’d rather remember during a feeding to click over to Amazon, and purchase whatever necessities I realize we need. Books to read during nursing- Check! Gifts for holidays- Check! Food for the dog?- Check! Lotion for a very dry-skinned baby? Check!

I’ll tell you what. I am loving this whole Motherhood thing. Of course it has its challenges, but it is really fun figuring out this new little human and how he fits into our lives.

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Baby Fox and Hound Status

Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Newborn-P-Favorites-4191Brinkley is slowly warming up to our newest family member. And I do mean slowwwwllllyyyy. The first day we brought Parker home, Brinkley wanted nothing to do with his presence. We ventured to a dog park the second day, and his territorial big brother senses came out. Other dogs circled the stroller to sniff out the little human and Brinkley swooped in to make sure no one was hurting him.

The last 15 weeks we have discovered that Brinkley only gets close enough to sniff out the dirty diapers and “check on” his brother. He will walk into his room to make sure he is sleeping but immediately walk right back out.Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Newborn-P-Favorites-4287.JPG

I think the funniest thing is the fact that while he doesn’t like to be close to Parker, he loves to cuddle up during feeding times. The barrier between the pillows and Parker is enough to make him comfortable. Brinkley will even allow Parker to sit near him, but only if Brinkley is fully covered in a blanket. That kills me. BUT the moment you uncover the blanket and Brinkley discovers it is in fact the little human rather than an adult, he bounces off the couch quicker than you can say “#babyfoxandhound”.2015-12-28 16.11.57.jpg

We did have a tiny moment of Brinkley showing his love to Parker a few weekends ago when they both settled in to a nap on the bed. Brinkley didn’t think anyone was around so I snapped a quick photo. Baby steps….literally…as the only thing worth noting of a cuddle in this photo are the fact that their toes are touching.

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Maybe one day they will be best friends and Brinkley will allow Parker to pull on his ears and snuggle endlessly watching movies. Until then, I will just look at this picture of when Brinkley was covered in a blanket, and snuggled on top of Parker.

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Welcome Parker to the Family

Hello, it’s me.

I was wondering if after all these weeks you’d like to meet….

parker announcement-01.jpg

Mason Parker Volpe???

Father son magic-1That’s right. Little Parker graced us with his presence on October 8th, 2015 after 41 weeks of cooking along in my belly. We are 10 weeks into parenthood and it has been a fog, but also really fun at the same time. Yes, sleep only happened in 1-2 hour increments (for both baby and mommy) those first 5 weeks, but the little half smiles and milk wasted faces continue to make it all worth it. We are on a much better sleep schedule now, but learning and failing by trial and error every day.

So wasted....on milk

Full details on all that is happening, how it all went down- literally, and a few lessons that we have been learning will be gracing this blogosphere soon…mostly so that I can remember all that has happened. But for now, just enjoy a few of my favorite photos of Parker from the past few weeks.

Cutest Pumpkin in the Patch

3 Week Old Houdini

Babies first christmas


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Nursery Tour

Parker has decided to keep on cooking, so I have decided to go ahead and give you a tour of his new digs.

One of my favorite things we have done to get ready for Parker was to create his personal space for sleeping/nursing/all things baby. I really wanted to design a space that would feel neutral and not scream baby blue/baby pink paradise. I also wanted the room to feel like an extension of our home, not a themed play space. Throughout our entire house you will find black + white + turquoise + grey + wooden accents + stripe patterns. That is where I jumped off from with the nursery.

Parker's Nursery 1I knew I wanted the black and white look with the accent color being neon. At the time, I didn’t know if the neon would be pink for a girl or green for a boy. Either way, I didn’t want it to be overwhelming but rather as accent pieces throughout the room. Here are a few pictures of the finished room.

Do you know how hard it is to find bedding that isn’t pink/blue/grey? Yeah, I scoured my local stores but ended up landing on a crib sheet from Etsy. Luckily, we were gifted with some neon green bedding sheets, too, that we can use when blow-outs happen. As for the blanket, my super mom made that chevron beauty happen. I love everything about it!!

Quilt on Fleek

I knew I wanted chalk art on the walls. I love the graphic look of hand lettering and Conner was on board so we quickly began looking for someone to accomplish our goal of a large wall mural. I am obsessed with the lettering. A sweet guy from Columbus, GA came out and free handed all of the art. I love the way the room came together.

Parker's Nursery

I die that Brinkley actually laid in his bed as I was snapping photos. Best friend in training right there.

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We wanted the wall art to have a scripture as well. There are quite a few verses about children in the Bible, but we didn’t want something cliche, either. When we read this verse there was a resounding “YES!” because all throughout being pregnant, Conner would pray over Parker asking him to grow big and strong. Love it, and this verse so much. I also love that Mike (the chalk artist) placed a little nod to the Jackets in the G of strong.

2015-09-17 09.03.34 HDRFor the changing table, we wanted something “different”. We also wanted something in the room that Conner built himself. Knowing that the crib would be way too time intensive/costly, we went with Conner building the changing table instead. I had envisioned the steel pipe and wooden look to play off the black and white theme we had going on in the room. Conner did a great job constructing this piece!Changing TableIf it ain’t neon, it shouldn’t be on. That’s the moto, YOLO.

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And the final corner of the room is the little reading nook. The books were all gifts during our showers as our friends encouraged everyone to sign a book rather than a card. I thought it was a really sweet gesture that has a long shelf life (Oh yeah, all the puns. That’s what happens when you are 40+ weeks pregnant). Now, if only Parker would decide that this room is way cooler than his current womb and come on out to say hello- that would be great and we would read him all the books.

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Documenting This Season

It is hard to believe that we are just a few weeks (or days) away from meeting our sweet little boy. I have all the feels as I think about how we are going from being just the two of us to having a little sidekick all the time to tag along on our adventures. I am thankful for this season that we have been in over the past few months, but excited to see the new season that will unfold as we move into this next phase.

We have been learning a lot (I’m looking at you parenting how-to books and baby gear manuals) and having a ton of discussions around what will our lives look like with a baby/kid in the mix of our every day life.

Building Strollers Like A BossWe have been soaking up every moment we can for unplanned date nights and spur-of-the-moment dinners out. There are so many things we love to do like volunteer, hang with the high school kids, work out, diy projects, and travel but ultimately the plans we are dreaming up could and will look very different once we figure out our new “normal”. I get a little excited thinking about it.

Last month we took the opportunity to document this current growing phase with a little maternity shoot. We chose to have our wedding photographers capture the moments and the evening was filled with laughter, great conversations, and beautiful lighting. I am thankful for these photos as they document this journey of bringing Parker into our family and the celebration that is 4 years of marriage to my best friend.

Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Photography-Maternity-MandyConner-Favorites-2 Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Photography-Maternity-MandyConner-Favorites-10 Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Photography-Maternity-MandyConner-Favorites-13 Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Photography-Maternity-MandyConner-Favorites-15 Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Photography-Maternity-MandyConner-Favorites-16Atlanta-Wedding-Photographers-Nathan-And-Natosha-Photography-Maternity-MandyConner-Favorites-8

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Thoughts on Pregnancy: The Dad’s Perspective

Here I sit, possibly days away from the birth of our son Parker. Currently I’m on a business trip that I have made dozens of times and things feel the same as they always have. Sure, our house is a bit more crowded with pack-and-plays, strollers, car seats, and diapers tucked into every nook and cranny. However, I don’t feel any different. Our life hasn’t changed drastically – yet.

Does this guy realize his new best friend will be here soon?

As we have prepped and read and painted and assembled and studied and questioned, we have known that the day would come when Parker would show up and it would hit us like a truck. No matter how much we prepared, there is no way that either of us could prepare for the change that was coming. Even if we felt like we were we simply can’t comprehend what that little guy is going to do to our schedule, our sleep, our house or most importantly – our hearts.

Just the two of usAs the remaining days move into the single digits, it’s finally hitting me that it is almost game time. Parker is shifting in my mind from some far-away dream to get excited about to a real, physical thing that we are going to be trusted to keep alive in a matter of days. Maybe even less. Mandy could be going into labor as I type these words. How’s that for mind-blowing?

I’ve talked with a lot of fathers in the past few months and the question I’ve gotten more often than any other is “Are you nervous?” My answer invariably has been that I’m more nervous that I’m not nervous in the slightest. I’m plenty of other things – excited, anxious, under-prepared, to-do list induced stressed – but nervous is not one of them. I know the things that are coming that everyone including random grocery store cashiers has told us about. The sleepless nights, the messy house, the strain on our marriage, etc. I won’t say I’m ready for these things, but I know they are coming whether I like it or not. We will address what we can with tenacity and fight for the things that are important. I’ve been in plenty of situations that feel insurmountable and I’m ready to attack these new challenges. I’m just not sure how I’m going to feel when this little dude shows up and instead of fighting hard for a better life for me and my wife, it becomes a fight for happiness for our new little family.

I’m geared up for an emotional next few weeks. My eyes well up just thinking about the delivery room – I’m going to be a mess when it all becomes real and he is in my arms! But it’s not nerves that have me emotional. It’s the knowledge that I’m going to be more like the Grinch than I ever thought possible – my heart will grow three sizes in a matter of seconds in the most awesome way possible.

3D Parker Party

Parker, we anxiously await your arrival and I can’t wait to be your Dad. I hope that over anything else I can help you know that there is a God who is for you, you have parents who love you unconditionally, and that your life is one of purpose and world-changing ability.

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Currently in September

We are in the home stretch of baby baking for Parker and it has us in a whirlwind to get things done and crossed off the to-do list. Here is a tiny glimpse of “life” lately.

So Basic

Reading… Just finished For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Her writing style is hysterical, mostly because of the pop culture references and real-talk she provides. I loved this book so much and it truly challenged me in loving well, especially when sometimes people are hard to love (I’m looking at myself in the mirror on that one).

Playing…the “what was that” game every time there is a pull, hiccup, or kick in my stomach.

Watching… BBIIIIIIGGGG BROTHEEEERRR. Y’all, this show is addicting. I remember my dad and sister watching it back when it was on season 2 or 3. I never got into it. Well summer night tv is pretty slim, so I got sucked in to season 17, all three hours of it each week. Conner got sucked in too. I was watching it one night while he was out of town and he was so upset I watched it without him. Now it is our “thing” and we sit there and strategize like we actually know what is best for all of the house guests. Gotta love reality TV and at-home snuggling on the couch with your boo.

Trying… to keep moving. Obviously pregnancy has changed my work outs to a lower intensity and only a few days a week. Being in week 37 of pregnancy I am fighting the desire to work out vs. rest. Honestly I think I keep working out to see how far I can truly push my body, even if it is only one or two days a week. I am listening to my body though when it tells me that an hour laying on the couch is better for me than going out for a 3 mile walk.

Cooking… I am so bored with cooking. The last few weeks have been a rotation of chicken tacos, turkey chili, and home made pizzas. I literally cannot come up with anything else, and every recipe on my Pinterest board is way to overwhelming for this tired pregnant lady. I also would rather cook for 0 minutes than slave over a long recipe, so this rotation takes me all of 30 minutes before I am filling my tummy with some food.

Eating… Peanut Butter Sandwich….and ice cream. Not together though.

Drinking… Water. All day er’ day.

Calling… People still use the phone? Whaaattttt

Texting… Now that is what I am talking about. Currently with Conner about the details of his first cross fit competition.

Pinning… Hospital bag packing lists and post-baby work out ideas.

Tweeting… with my GCIO girlies.

Loving… the chalk art on the wall in Parker’s room. Full pictures soon. I can’t stop staring at the walls.

Hating… that I cannot get comfortable. Aka couch, bed, chair…nothing. I guess it is to be expected at 37 weeks pregnant.

Discovering… how great Conner is at nesting. He has organized the closet and cabinets with all the baby things like a champ.

Thinking… about ice cream

Feeling… grateful that we were able to get away for the weekend to the Beach over labor day.

Listening (to)… the sound of the fan

Celebrating… a baby who is rotated into position, a husband that has been so wonderful in serving me by running my errands, and the fact that cooler weather is here.

Smelling… the pumpkin candle burning right now.

Ordering… food for Brinkley. I think he is stress eating as he has gone through a whole bag in two weeks which typically takes him a month.

Thanking… my friends and family who have shown us so much love during these past 9 months. From snack drop offs, baby showers, celebrations filled with parenting advice, to surprise gifts showering Parker with all the love. I am so grateful for how Parker is already welcomed into our community.

Considering… when will Parker actually arrive. When will our first “out of the house” adventure take place.

Starting… to annoy Conner with my periodic gasps when a Braxton Hicks contraction is just a little harder than normal.

Finishing… The “Before P-Day” list.

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Babymooning in Nicaragua

We just returned from our “Babymoon”. I say that with laughter because it almost didn’t happen. Let me explain.

What started out as “Hey let’s spend the weekend in North Carolina” turned into “Let’s go to Nicaragua 30 weeks pregnant!”.


We had found this really cool ecolodge where you stay in tree houses and eat sustainable food so we thought it would be a cool overseas adventure before our little baby arrives. Everything was booked, and then we were met with hesitation from loved ones that we would be traveling to a third world country during pregnancy. Yeah, didn’t think about that.


Asked the doctor for approval and crossed our fingers that he would say yes, because we didn’t buy the trip insurance.

All systems were go.

Well, until the night before we were to leave and went to pack. We discovered that Conner’s passport had expired. I began thinking to myself that this babymoon had turned into a solo-trip across the world.

Well Google to the rescue. Did you know that getting an expedited/same day passport is a thing? It is a scary-not-sure-if-it-will-actually-work thing, but it can happen. After spending a few hours on Google and two hours on the phone, we were advised to show up early to the Atlanta office to wait to see if they could squeeze us into the system to process a same-day passport.


Those hours from finding out the passport was expired to actually having the passport in hand were a blur. A sigh of relief didn’t come until we were actually sitting in the airport, passports in hand, waiting to board the flight. Now to get to the relaxing part of this trip.

Here are a few highlights from our days in Nicaragua. We paddle boarded, bird watched, attended a Nicaraguan buffet, lounged in the hammocks, and hung by the pool. I will say that the pool was the life saving element of the trip because there was no AC anywhere on the private island, so a dip in the pool was always a relief and left me feeling weightless.


Overall it was a great and memorable experience. I think we chose the perfect place for our babymoon. We both love to be adventurous and explore when in new places, but being on this private island forced us to slow down and truly relax. Sometimes we go on trips, and while we spend the majority of the time exploring we end up more exhausted than when we left because we squeezed so much into the time away. This time, I can say we truly returned well-rested, well I guess as well as you can be at 30 weeks pregnant and no A/C.


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