Staring into the Face of Love

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Seth got assigned the “homework” of taking me on a romantic date as a part of our Fusion pre-engagement class. That particular week, we happened to be out at the ranch, so our options for a romantic evening were limited, but Seth told me he was planning something nice for Thursday evening.

Early in the week, Seth drove me to a nearby town to get drinks and enjoy the live acoustic music that was playing there. I didn’t expect much since there were only a few cars in the gravel lot when we pulled in, but as soon as we got settled with our drinks, Seth gestured to the dark hills around us, saying softly, “Look.”

I glanced up and did a double-take. “Wow,” I breathed. Fireflies danced in the darkness around us, lighting up the night with their soft glow. Seth and I sat hand-in-hand on a picnic bench at that empty outdoor bar, soft music coming from across the yard where two guitarists talked and gently finger-picked on their six strings. And it was magical.

Our official date night two days later was nice, but Seth couldn’t have recreated that God-given romance if he’d tried. And he did try. We had a nice dinner together and sat on the dock of a lake watching the sun set. It was peaceful. It was nice.

And then on Friday, Seth took me out for pizza. We found a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with an outdoor patio strung with twinkle lights. I loved the setting and how much it reminded me of the evening with the fireflies. While we waited for our food to arrive, I reached over to take Seth’s hand and gazed at him lovingly. “You are the most wonderful man,” I began, “You always -“

“Ooh, a staring contest!!!” I was interrupted by a small blonde boy – probably eight years old – wearing a green T-shirt.

Seth and I broke hands and leaned back, startled. “I’ll win!” The boy called in challenge, running up to Seth and staring intently into his face. Seth just took it in stride, staring back at the boy until he yelled and pointed at Seth, “You blinked!”

Seth chuckled, and the boy ran off for a few minutes before scampering back over for a quick rematch. Quinn, as he introduced himself when I asked, loved football, so we talked about Tim Tebow for a while, and I mentioned that Quinn should look for the Bible verses in Tim’s eye black in his old photos from his time at Florida.

The little boy won the second staring contest with Seth and then lost interest in the game, so he relinquished Seth to me, and I got to resume my own version of a staring contest with the man I love.

Authentically Aurora

Life is Lived in the Grey

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I started going grey at 22. I remember standing in the bathroom of my college’s volleyball colosseum and cringing at the strands of metallic white hair I saw peeking through the rest of my dark brown locks. For years I plucked the hairs or just let them grow out, but this year – once I turned 30 – I decided to finally take action.

That first week I turned 30, I quit my corporate job, took off for four days to drive alone through the hill country, and scheduled an appointment with a new hairdresser to dye my hair for the first time ever. Anyone who didn’t know me would think I was going through a mid-life crisis, but Ashley and others knew the changes were a long time in coming.

The Colorist was a nice woman in her fifties – nice but not warm. Tall and slender with angular features and jet black hair, she came off as astute and knowledgeable as she talked me through my options. I’d planned on dying my hair outright, but once she understood that my priorities were hiding the grey and having low maintenance, she suggested highlights instead.

“Highlights will camouflage the grey hairs,” she explained to me, “though they will still be there. If you completely dye your hair, you’ll have to come in to have the roots touched up twice as often.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Thanks.” After her education, I decided to have highlights done, but I emphasized that I wanted them to look natural. “I don’t want big, chunky highlights.”

“Alright, I’ll give you more of a natural, sun-kissed look,” she agreed. She went to work, and in the meantime, I looked around her salon station, noting the trophies lined the counter. She was good at her job and had been at it for decades. The Colorist told me that working on “virgin hair” was her favorite, so getting to do my highlights was a special treat. We made some small talk, but not much, and when she was finished, she sent me off to have my hair blow-dried by a male hairdresser named Jonny.

Jonny was channeling Adam Lambert, circa 2009, complete with shaggy black hair, dark eyeliner and multiple rings on each hand. He seemed nice but frazzled, having misplaced his hairdryer. I thought that was odd, since he was a hairdresser junior enough that his primary job was blow-drying the hair of other hairstylists’ clients.

Once Jonny found his hairdryer,  he went to work on different sections of my hair, moving through them slowly – and then stopping completely when the back end of his newly-found hairdryer started to smoke. He turned it off and on, shaking it and then shaking his head in frustration. He turned it back on and continued to dry my hair, keeping a wary eye on his questionable equipment.

Having finally found his groove, Jonny started to make small talk with me. He asked if I was married, and when I told him I was dating Seth, he asked how we met. I told Jonny about church and meeting while teaching Sunday school.

Ever since starting to date Seth, I’ve had an easy gateway into talking with people about faith. Nobody wants to talk about God, but everybody wants to talk about my love life. Since Seth and I met at church, I can pretty easily bridge that gap into the typically taboo topic of faith.

Sure enough, Jonny latched on to the topic. “Wow. That is just the perfect story, isn’t it?” He was genuinely enthralled. “How cute is that?! You two are just perfect. She teaches girls Sunday school; he teaches boys Sunday school… It’s like a movie!”

Jonny and I got to talking more in depth, and I thanked God that I didn’t have anywhere to be. Every time we talked about something that really interested him, Jonny would turn off his blowdryer so that he could better hear me and make sure I heard his response in turn. As a result, it took him TWO HOURS to dry my hair. I was in the salon for three hours total – a trip that normally takes me less than half that time! But it was worth it.

Jonny obviously felt comfortable with me, because he asked me a lot of good questions about God and what I believe. “You’re supposed to love God with all that you are, right?” He asked. When I nodded, he went on, “But if you marry Seth, you seem like the kind of girl who would also want to give her husband 100%. I know you’re going to be a great wife. You are so pure and kind-hearted. But how can you, as a good Christian, give both God and your husband 100%?”

“That’s such a great question, Jonny. I’m glad you asked me.” I paused, trying to think how best to respond. “Jesus said that anything we do for others, we are doing for Him. When we love and serve other people, we are loving and serving God. God wants me to love my husband well, and – if I were to marry Seth – loving Seth would be a way of loving God. So the two aren’t mutually exclusive; they support one another.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that. I give food to homeless people all the time,” he told me, and I could tell he really wanted me to think he was a good person. “So am I doing that for God? Does that count?”

I smiled. At first, Jonny had been intentionally pushing my buttons, trying to see how judgmentally I’d respond when he flippantly told me about waking up next to his girlfriend or how cool it was to get to cut her hair when they showered together. But when I looked past those comments and just focused on the heart of the conversation, he started to open up more.

“That’s so great – I love that you have such a giving heart. I believe God gave you that generosity because the world desperately needs people like you. And it’s wonderful that you are helping the homeless. But God says that anything we do apart from Him is fruitless, so I’d say it comes back to motives. When you feed the homeless, are you doing it because you want to feel good about yourself or because you want to glorify God and do His work?”

Thinking about James 3, I added, “I think what you are doing is great, and you should keep doing it, but to go to heaven, we have to be in a right relationship with God, and to receive rewards in heaven for what we’ve done, we have to check our motives and abide in God.”

Jonny nodded thoughtfully. “Okay. That’s good. Maybe I can change my mindset and motives.” He finished up drying my hair and asked delicately, “Um, when you had your hair cut last, did you by chance come in on a Saturday?”

I blinked, surprised. “Yes. Why?”

“Well… sometimes our hairdressers are rushed on Saturdays, and it looks like some of your layering is off. Did you have it cut here?”

I nodded, and Jonny continued, “Then I should see a certain technique.”

He lifted the ends of my hair with a comb, shaking his head. Then he glanced around furtively. “I’ll fix it for you. No charge.” He smiled at me. “I like you.”

I smiled back. “Thanks, Jonny. I like you, too.”

Authentically Aurora

Receiving Dividends (Part 2)

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It was nearly 3:30AM by the time I finally got back to bed after intervening with the taxi driver and security guard. I’d told the taxi driver I was a Christian and that’s why I’d stepped in to help. The security guard had shaken my hand and asked for my unit number for his report.

I couldn’t sleep when I got back to my apartment; I was full of energy and adrenaline. So I started writing a note to the drunk guy in unit 71 who started the whole ordeal. I was upset at first – he was at a men’s club, which repulses me, and he came home drunk, which is irritating. He was so far gone he didn’t understand that he needed to pay the taxi driver for his fare.

But as I started writing, God changed my heart, and the letter in Part 1 is the result. I slipped on my white sandals and walked down to his unit where I shoved the folded up letter in the crease of the door. As I wiggled the paper to make sure it was secure, I heard footsteps coming slowly down the hallway. They weren’t the shuffling footsteps of someone groggily getting home late. They were slow and deliberate; it was surely the security guard.

Not sure if he’d reprimand me for leaving a note, I turned the opposite direction to avoid making eye contact, leaving my note to unit 71 still visible in the door. Safely back at my apartment, I threw off my shoes and collapsed into bed. A few minutes later, I heard a scratching at my door, but I was so exhausted that I just rolled over and figured it was fine. I’d triple-checked that my door was dead-bolted.

When I woke up hours later, I did my usual morning routine before I happened to walk by my front door and saw a piece of yellow, ruled paper sticking out. Snapping it up, I felt somewhat apprehensive. Was it from the drunk tenant or the security guard? Was it a thank you or an angry rant?

I unfolded the paper and read:

“I would like to say thank you again for being Spirit led and for being such a great neighbor. You truly are a beautiful person inside and out, and I speak eternal blessings over you and your house now and forevermore. You are a true example of Christian Love. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me. Grace and peace -“

He signed his name and left his phone number, along with his title: “Security”. It turns out I wasn’t the only Christian being Spirit led last night. And we are better together than we are alone.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ… We have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit… Yes, there are many parts, but only one body… Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary… We carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.” -1 Corinthians 12

Authentically Aurora

Paying Debts (Part 1)

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To My Neighbor in Unit 71:

I don’t know if you’re going to remember this in the morning, but you came home last night from a men’s club completely drunk at 2:30AM. I’m one of your neighbors, and I got woken up by you arguing with the taxi driver – and then the security officer – because you refused to pay the taxi for driving you home from the men’s club.

After about ten minutes of lying awake listening to the three of you argue, I came down and paid your bill. I did it partially for myself – so I could go back to sleep – and partially for the poor taxi driver so he could get on with his night, but mostly I did it because, like you, I’ve had debts paid for me by someone else, not because of my own worth or merit, but because of their own character.

Do you live up to your own standards for yourself? How much less so do we live up to God’s standards! All of us sin – miss the mark – and I believe our sin separates us from a perfect and holy God. Because God is perfectly just, there has to be a punishment for sin: eternal separation from Him in hell. But because God is also perfectly loving, He made a way back to a right relationship with Himself through sending His Son Jesus who willingly died in my place and yours, taking the punishment we deserve. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the power of the devil.

God desires to have a relationship with you. Just like I already paid your taxi debt – not because you deserved it, but because I extended grace to you – God has already paid the debt of your sin through Jesus. But you have to accept this free gift and believe it’s true in order to be made right before God. And I hope that you do.

I go to [church’s name] and will be there at 9:00AM on Sunday. If you have questions, it’s a good place to find answers.

Your Neighbor

Authentically Aurora

Goodness & Joy

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Yesterday was a wonderful day. I woke up early and baked some rosemary prosciutto twists made from puff pastry I’d prepared from scratch the night before. They came out perfectly golden brown and still in their tight, spiraled shape full of flaky goodness.

I ate a light breakfast and went for my mid-morning run, and for the first time this year, I finally felt like I hit my stride. I ran three miles without stopping except to walk briefly at the turnaround point. For me, this was a huge accomplishment. I celebrated the joyful occasion by treating myself to a coffee-chocolate-banana protein shake from a nearby juice bar.

When I got home and showered, I logged into my email to let my current apartment complex know I’d be moving out, giving them my sixty day written notice per the terms of our lease agreement. I was surprised to almost immediately get an email back directly from the community manager, who told me she didn’t want to lose me as a tenant and was willing to take $250 off my monthly rent (which translates to $3000/year). Surprised but pleased, I let them know I’d found another complex for even less rent that also shaves twenty-five minutes off my commute “but thanks for the great offer.”

I walked down to the office to pick up a package that had arrived for me (nothing exciting – just something I’d ordered off Amazon), and though I’d only given my notice a few hours before, the male leasing agent who normally runs the front desk commented right off, “Aurora, I hear we may be losing you as a tenant.” Wow, news travels fast.

I explained to Eddie that I was changing careers to teaching and taking a job further north of town. “Yeah, I can see that,” he commented. “I’ve always been able to tell that you’re more about relationships and building connections with people. The money’s not that important to you.”

He could tell that from our brief interactions over the past two years? “Thanks, Eddie.”

“Yeah,” he went on, “I’ve always had a sense of this aura of goodness about you.”

I floated out of the office, completely taken aback by his words but so thankful to know that God’s light has been shining out of me in even the little things. It’s not often we get to hear feedback on how we’re doing on displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Seth and I have been attending Fusion – our church’s pre-engagement class – for a few weeks now, and although most of the sessions are in a large group with 15 other couples, last night we met with a mentor couple individually. The four of us had a great conversation with lots of teasing and laughter. They’re a great couple; so fun and full of wisdom and transparency.

Near the end of the evening, the husband of the mentor couple commented in all seriousness, “We are so thankful to have the two of you in our Fusion group this season. Some of the other couples we’ve worked with are young in their faith or tentative about opening up about their relationships, but you guys are obviously so mature in your faith and willing to be vulnerable because you really want to enter into marriage with a strong foundation.”

Seth and I smiled lovingly at each other. It was nice to hear such encouragement. The mentor went on, “And every week, we see you two come in with such joy on your faces, like you’re really excited to be there and engage in conversation. That means a lot to us as a mentor couple.”

For the second time that day, I floated on air. Goodness and joy; Joy and goodness. It’s nice to have people call out the character they see in you. Hearing those words of affirmation really spurs me on to love well and live well. And it’s a great reminder to compliment those around me on the character I see in them. It makes such a difference when we build each other up!

Authentically Aurora

My 6-week Spring Break

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It’s been 6 weeks since I left my job, and it feels like I blinked and it was mid-May. I had so many plans for my time between jobs: I was going to ramp up my photography business, write a book and flip a house, renovating it and selling it for a profit before the school year started. But I’ve barely had time to write six blog posts, much less an entire book!

That first day off work, I went to volunteer for Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work! I also happened to be fasting for Easter, so I scooped hundreds of ice cream cones and didn’t eat any myself. That, my friends, took some serious self-control!

The very next day, Seth and I left for a week to go out to his family’s ranch to bulldoze, weed-kill and look after the cattle. It was a peaceful time of productivity. I’d planned to have some time to rest before starting the long-term substitute teaching job I’d lined up, but the teacher going on maternity leave ended up having her baby early, so Seth and I drove back from the ranch late that Sunday night, and I started subbing early on Monday morning.

The next three weeks were a blur of waking up early, teaching all day long, coming home and frantically trying to do chores around the house before dashing off to bible study or dinner with a girlfriend or biking with Seth. More to come on my substitute teaching experiences.

Week five was full of driving out to my new school to fill out paperwork, having my photo ID created, researching and touring apartments in the area (my current commute would be 45 minutes each way), and taking care of various financial details like rolling over my old 401k to a self-directed IRA; then investing those funds.

I’ve attended retirement parties, wedding showers and birthday parties; met up with friends visiting from out of town, babysat for couples from church, and planned an itinerary for a Virginia trip featuring a friend’s wedding in July. I’ve gotten lunch and brunch with all my stay-at-home mom friends who are excited to have a friendly new face who is available during the work day. And I’ve started leading not only a 5th grade girls’ bible study but also an adult women’s bible study on the Minor Prophets.

It’s been a FULL six weeks.

But it’s been so good. In the past few days, I’ve finally gotten to have the rest and relaxation I’d been envisioning and longing for. I’m baking more, running daily and trying to set aside hours at a time to meditate on and commune with God. I think sometimes Satan doesn’t need to tempt us with all-out sinfulness because it’s so easy to get sucked in to the busyness of life, but when we are distracted by activities, our lives are just as ineffective for the Gospel as if we’re living in blatant sin.

In the midst of this surprisingly busy season of transition, I don’t want to forget the Creator of life or the Purpose of life. Though our salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9), “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

Oh that I would walk in His ways and live out these good works He has uniquely prepared for me to do! To do so is joy and life abundant! That is my prayer for this season… and for you, dear reader.

Authentically Aurora

A Job from Jehovah-Jireh (Part 5)

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I woke up in the pitch black of early morning on the day of the Kl*** ISD career fair. I pulled on a blazer over my white blouse and applied mascara to my sleepy eyes. Why am I putting myself through this? I already have a job offer. But I climbed into my little blue Beemer and drove north toward my childhood home.

Having attended three teaching career fairs at that point, I felt like I knew what to expect, but I was surprised when I pulled into the high school parking lot and saw hundreds of people marching toward the entrance like little ants in business suits. There were definitely over a thousand people in attendance – my largest career fair yet.

I waited in line for 45 minutes just to get in the front door and check in at registration. Then I waited in line at each of five junior high booths just to hand in my resume and ask if they had open math positions (three did; two did not). Of the three with math openings, one was my alma mater. That interview went very well, with one of the assistant principals coming over to sit in on my interview with another staff member because it looked like we were having so much fun.

They loved that I’m a former Warrior and spent half of my interview recounting how many of their current staff are alums, asking me if I knew one teacher or another. It turned out that I knew the head of their math department – a male teacher whose first year of teaching was my 8th grade year. He helped out with the math club when I was a student, and – in the words of the assistant principal – “he’d be thrilled to have you on his team!”

My alma mater wasn’t conducting second round interviews until one week later, and when I explained the fact that I had to make a decision about my Land*** offer by Monday, they nodded in understanding. “Well, you’ll definitely be getting a call back, but we can’t push up the timeline, so it’s up to you if you want to take the offer in hand or hold off and come to our final round interview.”

I walked away feeling pretty confident in my decision. Although some people might like working in their former junior high school, to me it felt a bit odd, like I was moving backwards in life to a place where I spent my most awkward years. Still further, even if I went to final round interviews, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. I would take the offer from Land*** and forgo further interviews with my alma mater.

My second of three interviews with junior highs that morning went fine but not great. The interviewer was a young math teacher who was not warm and friendly but also not cold and distant; she was just going through the motions, and the interview felt somewhat rote. I wrote off the rote interview and moved on to my last interview of the day: an open math teacher position at Ul**** Intermediate.

Petite Firecracker.jpgI liked the principal from the moment I shook her hand. A petite blonde with a pixie cut and energetic personality, the principal herself was the one to interview me. Like me, she had entered the world of education after working in industry, and we hit it off immediately. She loved all of my responses to her interview questions, and before long, we were going off script. “You know,” she began, “with your engineering background and creative interests, I’m actually thinking you would be a great fit for our new robotics program. This will be our first year to implement robotics at Ul****, and it will just be one class period, but would you be interested in teaching one class of robotics as well as math?”

I was ecstatic. What a fun opportunity! To get to teach a brand new program and make it my own, combining my love of math with hands-on creativity? It sounded perfect, especially when I remembered that Seth had taken 2nd place at a national robotics competition in college. I knew he would love to be a guest speaker and come help the kids with their projects.

When our time was up, the principal told me that her one concern – my heart sank – was “that I’ll lose you to another school.”

Relieved, I smiled; then laughed and added, “Funny you should mention that…” I explained about the offer from Land*** and that I needed to give them an answer by Monday.

“I was afraid of that,” she said with what I’d come to learn was her usual intensity. She leaned forward, elbows on the desk. “You’re a catch, Aurora. And I think you know that. You’d be an asset to any school you choose – and you can have your pick of districts. What you need to decide is what you want. Do you want to be at – ” she named my alma mater “- where all the kids are upper middle class? Or do you want to be at Land*** and a Title I school?”

Leslie explained to me that Ul**** has a mix of students from all walks of life. Some students came from mansions, others live on farmland, and still others come to school from trailer parks across the tracks. “It’s a mix, and that’s part of what I love about this school.” She added that she wasn’t sure she could get me an offer by Monday, but she was going to try.

“There are hundreds of people here,” she told me, “And you’re the only one I’ve wanted to give an offer to on the spot. I want you, but I don’t have an official offer to give yet. But I can tell you that it is coming – if not by Monday, then definitely by Tuesday.”

I thanked Leslie for her candor and let her know the feeling was mutual. “I know having good administration is absolutely key, and I think I would really enjoy working for you.”

Leslie shook my hand, told me we’d be in touch, and then – on my way out to my car – my phone rang. It was Leslie, asking if I was still around to meet the district’s Head of HR. I turned back around and met up with Leslie and the Head of Human Resources who reassured me that working for Leslie would be a dream job and that he could personally back the fact that an offer would be in my hands by Tuesday if not Monday. “You must be quite a catch for Leslie to be so impressed by you and willing to give you an offer on the spot!”

True to their word, I had an offer on Monday afternoon. So that Monday – April 3, my last day of an eight-year career in oil & gas – I sat in a corporate conference room, called Land*** to turn down their offer, and called Leslie to accept her offer as a 7th grade Pre-AP Math teacher for the 2017-2018 school year.

Mere hours later, I walked out of that corporate skyscraper for the last time ever. I walked out into the sunlight, never unemployed for a single moment, and marveled at the perfection of God’s timing. Our omniscient, omnipotent God is so intimate and compassionate toward His creation. He truly is Jehovah-Jireh: God our Provider.

Authentically Aurora