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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our Big Adventure

This evening Shawn and James headed down to Anna for some manly bonding with some guy friends. Something about shooting guns and eating good food. About dark, I dressed for my run and was trying to decide whether to wait for Shawn to come home or head out. I stay close to home and run by the house several times, and Grace is pretty responsible and old enough to babysit. My only hesitation is that since it was dark, I wanted to take my phone with me and was reluctant to leave the kids without a phone. Ten minutes later I was infinitely thankful that I had not left the girls alone.

I began to smell smoke. Grace had just cooked a couple of pizzas in the oven, so I assumed she forgot to turn off the oven and crud on the burner was sizzling. Here in a minute the girls began screaming from my bedroom. Smoke was pouring from the air vents. I shut off the air conditioner and then did all the wrong, most stupid things you can do if you think your house is on fire.

1. I called Shawn to ask him if he wanted me to call the fire department or if he thought I should wait to see if the smoke cleared.

2. I threw open the doors to the closet where the air unit is to see if there were flames. HELLO!!!! What if there had been?

3. I still waited about dialing 911 because I was embarrassed that my house was smoking.

4. I wandered aimlessly around the house in the smoke to see if there was anything I needed to grab. Finally my logical brain kicked in, I realized how stupid I was being, and I walked out to wait on the fire department.

5. My children cleared to the front yard, came back in twice looking for me, and when I went outside I found them playing in the garage.

The fire department arrived and went into the house suited up. I was not panicked because I was pretty sure it was just the air. However, when a guy from the first truck came out and called for back-up I started to kind of freak out. At that moment I assumed my attic was on fire and the possibility of losing my stuff became a reality. I can honestly say that at that moment as God and I were talking about this, I really did say - with just a second of hesitation - "whatever God, it's just stuff. If this is part of your plan, okay."

Right after the other 2 firetrucks and other emergency vehicles arrived, Tammie Thompson came sprinting down my street. It was so awesome to see a familiar face. She took the kids to her car parked down the street. It was nice to know that if my house was on fire, I wasn't going to have to deal with it alone. After a few minutes, several of my neighbors also wandered out into the street. I had the opportunity to meet several of them for the first time.

It turned out to be the fan on the A.C. It was smoking and throwing sparks. Fortunately it threw off a lot of smoke to warn us that there was a problem. The fireman made sure everything was safe and brought in big fans to blow the smoke out. I appreciated their kindness in dealing with us. It is good to know that if there was a really big emergency, they have a pretty fast response time.

Tonight we are camping out in the playroom that has a separate air conditioner. I guess tomorrow we will be looking for an air guy. I'm just glad have my own house tonight.

So obviously some valuable lessons learned from this one.

*I will not EVER leave the kids home without a phone.
*I need to practice a firedrill with my children on a regular basis. Where do you go? Don't come back into the house, etc. - do some surprise drills also - so that in the real deal, they have the correct survival instincts - and establish a meeting place and remind them often so they are not waiting for me in the garage ever again.
*If I am ever in the situation again, I would exit immediately and call 911. The 10-15 minutes I spent trying to shut off the air unit and calling Shawn could have been the difference between keeping and losing my house. STUPID
*I stupidly started checking the source of the smoke before I made sure my children were in a safe location. I assumed they knew what to do. Make sure you take your children out and stay with them. Their safety is way more important than any crap you might lose in a fire.

On a positive note - It was huge for me to realize that I could have lost it all tonight and been okay. I sincerely prayed "it's just stuff." I say that often, but deep down I thought I was lots more attached to what I own. But tonight I was not concerned about all my junk. It is freeing to know that my stuff doesn't own me anymore. I would have been sad about my pictures, some family heirlooms, a few sentimental items like my Bible and some of the kid's stuff. It would certainly be hard to start over, but I wasn't panicked about the stuff. And that was cool. It was almost like I passed some sort of test.

On a funnier note - I kept thinking crazy stuff like, "I'm sure glad I washed the dishes," and "I hope the beds are made." Because these are the important things to be concerned about as firemen tromp through your house? Like any of that would matter if it was a real fire?

One last helpful hint - if your wife ever calls you to say the house is on fire, it's typically good protocol to eat your burger in the car as you are speeding home to your wife, instead of staying to finish it at the restaurant. But the cool part about Shawn's lack of panic is that his thought track was identical to mine, "It's just stuff." That is huge growth for both of us from this time a year ago.

Throw down the weights

I have been lifting weights for about 8 weeks, and I hate it! It's tough, it's boring, it keeps me from doing all the fun stuff I'd rather be doing. When school starts back up next week, my schedule will be infinitely busier than it currently is, so yesterday I sat down and tried to condense my lifting time from an hour and 15 minutes to just 30 minutes. I had to carefully look at each exercise in my plan to decide which ones worked identical muscle groups and discard those. Then I still needed to trim off a few minutes, so I had to look at the exercises again to prioritize which ones work my worst areas. I was grumbly about having to mess with this at all. Why wasn't I born with great genetics?

As I was messing with and grumbling about my weights, God brought to mind Hebrews 12:1-3. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." (King James)

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (NIV)

In my weight lifting program, all of the exercises that I am doing are beneficial. They are all good things. But I can't fit them all into my schedule. I find that in life I carry too many weights. There are many good things in life that I participate in that because of the time commitment involved prevent me from doing what God has planned for me to do.

Weights can be too heavy to carry. I am very limited on the amount of weight I can lift. I am very excited when I can move the pin down a notch on my weight machine. Yesterday I was doing some leg presses with a heavy weight, but I forgot to change the setting before I did my butterflies. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the weights to even budge. There are burdens in my life like that. No matter how hard I try, I cannot carry them alone and they hinder me from serving Christ. I continually have to "check my setting" to make sure that I am not trying to lift burdens that Christ wants to carry for me.

I love the last part of the verse. Maybe because I love running. "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Runners do not carry any extra weight. They wear very light clothing, some even shave their body hair to reduce their friction, and they run with empty hands. How silly would it be for an Olympic long distance runner to take off carrying heavy weights on his shoulders! He would be jeopardizing his chances for success. Yet I try to run my race with tons of extra stuff weighing me down. Is that not just as silly?

I am praying that God will keep my eyes open to be aware of things in my life that are too heavy for me to carry alone, as well as things that may not be bad, but are keeping me from doing the important things. I also like the perseverance part, or as another translation puts it, "keep running and don't give up." That's the secret to being a successful runner. When it becomes tough, the adrenaline rush is just about to happen. If I stop at that moment, then I am just defeated and tired. If I keep running, then I reach that supreme moment of adrenaline rush, and I build up my endurance. I am praying that God will give me the strength to run my race with endurance and to not give up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Crossing over to the dark side

I have officially crossed over to the dark side. I absolutely love to run. I love that moment when I push my body hard enough that my brain becomes completely silent. The only sensations are the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement, and the burning of my chest as my breathing becomes labored. I love the wind whipping through my hair and best of all - being united with God's heart in worship.

For many years when I read in the Bible "Be still and know that I am God." I thought that meant to sit still, but even when I sit still I cannot make my mind be still. Even in prayer, my thoughts wander. I can be earnestly praying about a heavy need and next thing I know I'm planning my next reading group or worse, thinking sinful thoughts of some sort. Running is the only thing that I have discovered as a way to make my mind be still.

I started running 6 years ago when I was having a rough time in my marriage. I ran so that I did not have to think about all the garbage in my life. I ran to escape my life. But slowly the running turned into listening for God's opinion of the situation, being still enough in my mind to hear his voice. It dramatically changed my life, and I loved it. But then I started working and could no longer manage to schedule my run into my life. That first year of teaching is a killer.

This summer I have mostly done workout videos in the house because of the heat, but on these cooler days I am tying on my shoes and hitting the pavement. I am working on an interval plan that will have me running three miles in 12 weeks. Today I upped my running time and did quite well. Today I remembered how much I love to run. And how much easier it is to listen to God when my mind is not cluttered.

I figured out today that I could shuffle my Pandora stations to have a wider variety of worship music to listen to as I ran. That was cool. But the moment that really got to me was as I was running and listening to Tomlin's "How Great is our God" a cold wind began to blow. In perfect synchronization with the music's build, the wind increased until the trees were all bending over. I saw in that moment a picture of the day when all of creation will bow before our King. But what was even more amazing was that as the music shifted into "The Wonderful Cross," the wind continued to blow in my face and whip my hair into my eyes, but the trees were barely ruffled. It reminded me that Scripture talks about the Spirit as a "Great and Rushing Wind". As I listened to the music, God reminded me all over again that He has purchased my life to use as He wills. I need to be surrendered to Him and listening closely for directions from the One who set me free.

I will say a word of caution - as the trees were bowing, I got pretty lost in worship and instinctively closed my eyes and raised my hands. That's not a wise decision if you are running down a roughly paved road. I did not fall, but the stumble was pretty big. Some of you would have fallen from laughing so hard. The guy watering his yard was pretty tickled, and he doesn't even know me!

I love to see worship becoming more and more a part of my everyday life and not something that is isolated to Sunday morning. I love this new intimacy in my encounters with God. Even though I would love to stay in this moment with God, maybe wander over to the piano and continue worshiping, I have to get dressed and head to work. I do want you to know, especially you Crossroadies that are readers, I constantly pray as I worship alone in the middle of my everyday life that God will also bring you into worship. So that even though I may be worshiping alone, our hearts can be joined together in worship in God's throne room. And I desperately want each of you to be meeting with God in this beautiful and amazing way. Love you all. LaRissa

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Monday Morning Update 8.9.09

I have been staring at this screen for a long time trying to come up with a fresh perspective on my Monday Morning Update. I love sharing with my readers how God is working at The Crossroads, but sometimes I run out of ways to say "Wow." I could talk a long time about what a good job Shawn and Robby did this weekend. I could talk about the cool relationships I see people building with each other in our congregation. I could talk about the some of the specific "next steps" that are happening. But instead, I think that this week I will use this space to share my personal spiritual journey this weekend. Being honest about my ugly attitude is not easy, but I want my readers to see how God can work when we are obedient, even with a grumpy attitude. I want everybody to understand that we all have "those" days when we are defeated and discouraged, but God can still move in big ways.

Last night the owner of the cheer gym contacted us to say that one of the air conditioners was still broken, we probably needed to go ahead and set up so that we did not have the doors to the gym open as long on Sunday morning. We had not planned to do a Saturday set up, honestly because we were smooth wore out after all of our camping adventures. Our house was a mess, my kids were exhausted, we needed a night alone at home to recover and prepare our minds and hearts for worship on Sunday. I was in lots of pain from my sunburn and honestly wanted to take some tylenol and benadryl to get a good night's rest. As we sent out a plea for help, we discovered that most people already had plans for the evening, so only one other couple was available to help.

I was so frustrated and discouraged. Satan uses times of exhaustion to really get in my head.
Last night I was done. I had no desire to go drag the cheer mats with my horribly sore sunburned shoulders. I had a pity party about how much work and sacrifice is involved in a church plant. I felt sorry for myself that being in the ministry means leading by example which means that we never ask anyone to give more, work harder, or sacrifice any more than what we do. My pity party was so huge that Shawn decided to contact that other couple to cancel. There are times when I am not suitable to be around others and last night was certainly one of those times. He was actually holding his phone and dialing when God got through to my brain. God reminded me why we are doing what we are. We were going in to set up on a Saturday night so that visitors who arrived on Sunday could experience comfortable temperatures and be more receptive to the gospel. God reminded me that sunburned shoulders don't compare to nail scarred hands. God reminded me that my focus doesn't belong on me. My focus belongs on others. I was being selfish. He showed me a clear vision all over again about why we are doing this church planting gig. I stopped Shawn and said, "Having comfortable temperatures for our visitors is more important than us getting a night off to rest. It's not about us." I said the right words, but my attitude was lagging a little behind my obedience.

Sure enough, we arrived at the cheer gym, and it was hot. I was in a horribly foul mood about having to spend my Saturday evening doing the set up. But before the night was over, two families arrived to help and my discouragement turned to awe. You see, these are both families that have only recently begun attending The Crossroads. They gave up their Saturday evenings to help set up in the heat, and they aren't paid to do ministry. The only reason they arrived to help is because they wanted to be used by God. It's beautiful to see new families plugging in to service. As we were leaving, I was not tired, I had forgotten the pain in my shoulders, and I was refreshed by being with some Crossroadies. I turned around for one last look at the empty chairs. I realized that God had a plan for each one of those chairs. Each of those chairs was a special seat for a person that God had arranged to meet with on Sunday morning. I began praying over those chairs, and the people that would arrive the next morning, and God began to work in my heart and move me to worship.

This morning as I awoke, I remembered those chairs waiting expectantly. I began immediately praying for our services and had some incredible worship time before I ever left the house today. You see, God took my grumpy obedience, and used it to remind me of our vision and our purpose as The Crossroads. Everything that we do, we do to love others - especially those who may not know Jesus yet. Seeing the empty chairs reminded me that God's work in Anna and at The Crossroads is just beginning. I don't want to miss out on anything that He has in store. My bad attitude almost kept me from seeing those chairs and seeing God at work and sensing His promise for the future. I'm glad that I did not give in to that voice in my head, and instead remembered that making our environment more comfortable for visitors is more important than my own personal comfort. (By the way, this is not meant to be any type of guilt trip for anyone...just a confession of my own bad attitude and my need for a refocus.)

As I went into The Crossroads already worshiping, it was cool to join my worship with the worship of the other people there today, to become one voice of praise lifted up to a holy and amazing God. The worship set simply extended the worship I was already engaged in. As a matter of fact, at this point I cannot remember all the songs that we sang. It was all blurred together with my own internal song of worship of my Creator. It's a challenge to explain how my internal music works, so I only know to say it was an amazing worship experience. By this time I had played/sang probably 20 or more songs, so I honestly don't remember which ones were in the set and on which ones I was worshiping alone. I was sincerely just that lost in worship today.

Shawn continued his God at the Movies series with a sermon on "Harry Potter" - love that leaves a mark. It was a great sermon about how sacrificial love is life changing. You should be able to hear the sermon soon at Be sure to listen to all the sermons in this series.

I don't know where God is headed next. In my personal life, God's doing some stuff that I can't explain in words. I am seeing some huge shifts in what I expected from God in my life and what is actually happening. So much of what's going on doesn't make any sense to me at all. But this I am sure of. God has big plans. He is on the move and is looking for people to work alongside Him. I'm in. Anybody else? I'm saying yes in advance to whatever God wants me to do, wherever he wants me to go - without knowing the desination or the details. And yes, that is exciting and scary all at the same time.