New Neighbors – Part 2

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I joke about kumquat Joe, but the truth is, he’s a really great guy. He and his wife (!!!) just got back from their honeymoon and invited Seth and me over for dinner to catch up (Yes, I was almost his first kiss last year, and now he’s lapped me and is already married. #thisismylife). They borrowed our bikes to go camping last weekend, and Joe actually just came over a few minutes ago to drop off some magazines I need as supplies to have the kids cut out pictures at school next week.

That’s one of the nice things about all four of us being Christians and knowing each other from church. When Joe and I went on a couple of dates, that’s all they were: get-to-know-you sessions. We never kissed each other and certainly didn’t do anything beyond that. When we decided we weren’t the right fit for each other, we both moved on amicably. Joe is now married to a wonderful, godly woman, and I have the privilege of getting to date Seth – one of the kindest, most servant-hearted men I’ve ever met.

Yeah, there was some awkwardness at first, but since Joe and I did dating well, now the four of us can all see each other and genuinely not have any bitterness or jealousy. We all believe God has good plans and divine purposes for each of us, and although Joe and I respect each other, we also agree that we are not meant for each other; God had better out there for each of us. Such amicability and friendliness seems to be rare in dating and breakups these days, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a positive example of what pure, mature, godly dating can look like.

In an effort to meet some of my other neighbors, I made some homemade fudge (two kinds: peanut butter and a chocolate pecan fudge). I wrapped them up with pretty little turquoise ribbons and took them in a wicker basket door-to-door. The trouble with apartment life is that only 4 of my 15 neighbors were home on a Saturday afternoon, but most of the people I met were friendly and appreciative.

In fact, the day after I made my rounds with the homemade fudge, I was trying to get into the apartment gym but had forgotten the door code. A woman I’d befriended the day before came around the corner from collecting her mail and recognized me. “Oh, hey!” she grinned at me, and I smiled back.

“Are you trying to get into the gym?” she asked me. When I nodded, she told me the four-digit code. I thanked her, and we went our separate ways, but my heart swelled at the fact that two otherwise unacquainted women each made an effort to extend a simple gesture of kindness to the another.

Not enough of us make the time to meet our neighbors; to genuinely connect with people we have no driving reason to befriend. But I want to exude warmth and kindness and generosity; I want to value people and love them well – even those I have no cause to make the time to get to know. Life is hard, and we need to love and support each other. So do something kind today. Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be loving.

Authentically Aurora

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New Neighbors – Part 1

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About a month ago, I moved to a new apartment to be closer to where I’ll be teaching this fall. It’s a nice place, built like a townhouse with a garage on the bottom level and my living area stacked directly above it on the second floor. I have granite countertops and a patio, and – because it’s so far outside of town – this awesome unit costs $400/month less than my last place.

Seth helped to move me in. Actually, he insisted on it, pressuring me to let him be a good boyfriend rather than hiring movers. My compromise was to let him move all of the boxes but hire movers to move the furniture. That way, Seth would get to do the manual labor he loves so much (think country boy stuck in the city), and I would still have an intact boyfriend (and furniture) when I finished getting moved.

I made the mistake of giving Seth the keys to both my old and new apartments while I ran to a baby shower I was hosting. And when I got to my new place later that afternoon, I discovered that Seth had decided to move my couch by himself when I wasn’t there. Something about proving to me that I really shouldn’t have hired movers… That’s what I get for dating a manly man.

Anyway, while we were unloading boxes from the back of his pick-up truck, we both stopped short at the sight of a familiar face across the walkway from my garage. My new neighbor is kumquat Joe.

Authentically Aurora

Defying Dementia

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Seth’s father has severe Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms started when he was about 50, and by age 55, he was diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (EFAD). It’s genetic, so Seth has a 50/50 chance of having it himself. It’s been the source of many a difficult conversation between us (and all of your prayers are welcomed, encouraged and appreciated).

A few weeks ago, Seth and I planned a joint trip for our parents. Seth and I took both sets of folks for a long weekend in the hill country so they’d have an opportunity to get to know one another better. My parents got to see their family’s ranch, and his parents were treated to one of the finest wine tastings in the region by way of a thank you from my mom and dad.

Both sets of our parents genuinely wanted to get along, which made the trip that much more fun! What could have been a stressful or awkward time was instead one of relaxation and joy.

Seth and I are blessed to both come from happy homes with kind, loving parents, which has made the steps toward joining families much more pleasant than many of the in-law stories I hear. Interestingly, my grandparents knew each other before my parents ever met. My dad’s folks attended services at the church where my mom’s dad was a pastor. My parents met years later and were fortunate to have all four grandparents get along as friends. This is unusual (especially being in one of the Top Five most populous cities in the nation – it’s not like we’re “small town” folks!), so I was all the more surprised to discover that Seth’s grandparents have a similar story. He and I are already reaping the benefits of our generational inheritance of loving, stable, solid families who are friendly and make an effort to get along.

One day of our joint parental trip, we went for a walk in the park. Seth’s dad doesn’t say much (he’s basically nonverbal and has to be told what to do; then he follows orders fairly well), but during one stop we made in the park to observe the natural beauty, Seth’s father suddenly spoke.

“There are ants,” he said simply.

We all glanced at him, surprised he had spoken without prompting. He was pointing to my feet, so we all looked down, and sure enough, I was standing in an ant pile!

I jumped away and brushed off the angry little insects already swarming my shoes.

Later, my dad and I marveled at the fact that – with five out of the six of us fully lucid and coherent – Seth’s dad was the only one observant enough to notice that I was standing in an ant pile. How humbling. God truly does turn everything on its head, using the weak to humble the strong; using the things viewed as “less than” by the world to fulfill His purposes. Think of David and Goliath. Think of Gideon and his 300. Think of Jesus dying so that we may live.

It pleases God to do things this way – for our good and His glory.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. -1 Cor. 1:26-29

Authentically Aurora

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

A Purdy Thirty

Seth and Ashley did such a great job with my birthday. My boyfriend and best friend collaborated to throw me an amazing surprise 30th birthday party with a Beauty and the Beast theme! I could not have felt more loved.

Wine glass roseTons of friends were there – from work, church, choir and every other facet of my life – and Seth had rented out a “shared space” that Ashley decorated beautifully with silk roses under wine glasses, candelabras reminiscent of Lumiere, and stacks of books nodding at Belle’s (and my!) love of reading.

Seth brought along the corn hole boards he and I made together, and he surprised me with a homemade set of hillbilly golf because I’d mentioned in passing that I’d played it at camp one year and loved it. Twinkle lights lit up the rented back patio, and Seth grilled up venison from the deer I shot back in November, wrapping each delicious piece in bacon with cream cheese. Ashley’s coconut-pineapple cupcakes were a hit, especially since she  – in all her amazing artistic talent – had decorated them with yellow icing in the shape of Belle’s ballgown.

Belle dress cupcakesI am not usually a fan of large gatherings, but I spent the evening surrounded by wonderful friends who are genuinely kind and loving, grounded and sincere. We laughed and sang and ate and played backyard games. A great time was had by all.

And at the end of the evening, Seth hugged me and kissed me and said over and over, “I like you so much.” And then, when all the guests had left and we were alone, he held me and asked, “Hey, did you know there was a Fusion pre-engagement session in April?”

I looked up at him, and he shook his head, laughing to himself. “Of course you knew. Thanks for not pushing it on me.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“Well,” he began softly, “Would you want to go to Fusion with me in April? I think we’re ready.”

My smile spread, and I snuggled up to him. I was surprised. “Yes. I’d like that a lot.”

He rubbed my back. “I was thinking we could go to the one at our church in April and then go again to the one in June being held by another church to see how different churches do it, with the added goal of maybe even being able to facilitate Fusion someday. What do you think about that?”

I tilted my head back to look up at him again. “I think that’s a great idea!” And I do.

It’s the culmination of so many parts of my life: my love of personality assessments, sharing wisdom from my own broken relationships, and getting to teach, train, encourage and mentor others. I love that my passions align with Seth’s and that such a huge part of our relationship is seeking out how we can serve together and minister to others. I think we make a great team, and I’m excited to see all that God has in store for us as a couple.

Authentically Aurora

And the Waters Stilled (Part 4)

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“God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged… the rain was restrained… and the waters decreased.” -Gen. 8:2-3

Even after the rain finally stopped pouring down in the famous Genesis flood that wiped out most of humanity, Noah still had to remain on the ark for a few months while the waters receded. And although the proverbial hurricane winds around me have abated, not everything is resolved, and I know the coming months will carry with them more unknowns and uncertainties as I continue this season of transition.

Living Situation

Since my apartment management came through with addressing the marijuana issue affecting my unit, I am planning to stay at my current apartment complex through the end of my lease in July. Although I could be saving $400/month at a cheaper apartment further west of town, the benefits of staying here are:

  • I don’t have to deal with moving now when so much else is in transition.
  • I will not have a possible black mark on my credit report in the event my complex decided to call this “breaking a lease” rather than being “released” from a lease.
  • By July, I should know where I will be teaching in August, so I can choose an apartment closer to my school, whereas if I moved now, I’d be making an educated guess on the best geography for my upcoming year.

I think this worked out for the best, although there was certainly a lot of (possibly self-induced) upheaval that ultimately resulted in no change to my living status.

Relationship

A few of you expressed concerns about Seth based on the past few posts – that I should listen to my gut and not ignore red flags; that I need to be with someone more supportive; that he has a lot to learn; and is this even the Seth I thought I was dating?

The tough thing about relationship blogging is that the non-blogger (i.e. Seth) becomes a bit of a straw man, unable to defend himself or share his side of the story. For the past two weeks, I’ve had a bad cold, been PMSing, and been under a lot of stress, so I know that I was not as much the heroine in all of these interactions as I made myself out to be.

Seth is a good man. He brought me Kleenex and Gerber daisies (my favorite) when I first got sick. After the latest round of disagreements, he showed up to my apartment with homemade soup and a bouquet of roses. He’s supportive of my job change to teaching when few others are, and he’s currently in the process of planning a surprise birthday party for my 30th later this week.

He is kind and servant-hearted. Neither of us is perfect, but I think one of the strengths of our relationship is that we both seek to understand the other and genuinely desire to resolve conflicts, even if it takes a couple of weeks to get to the root issue. We talked this weekend about everything that’s gone on lately, and I asked him very candidly, “Seth, do you generally think of me as a godly woman?”

He was kneeling in his garage, sanding down a piece of wood, but he looked up at me with surprise in his eyes – and a little bit of hurt. “Well, first of all, I’m sorry that you even have to ask that question.” He paused his sanding. “Yes, I think you’re a godly woman.”

“Do you think I’d be a good mom, raising kids with strong values?”

Seth stood up to walk over to me and wrap me in a hug. I peeked up at him from where my face was nestled in his chest.

“Yes, I think you’d be a good mom.” His deep voice reverberated around me. “Aurora, you’re the best woman I know.”

He sighed, dropping his hands to his sides and then shoving them in his pockets. “I know I’m not the most affectionate man.” He rubbed his stubbled jaw and looked around at the scene of masculinity around him – woodwork, car parts, mountain bikes and a canoe. He’s the manliest man I know. “But I want to get better at that. I don’t want you to ever doubt how much I care about you and how highly I esteem you. You’re a good woman.”

And although I don’t always do him justice on this blog, he’s a good man.

Work

My boss didn’t approve the 1:1 switch with Stephanie. She said Stephanie wasn’t qualified to be my replacement. Honestly, as tough, superior and controlling as my boss is, I can hardly imagine her thinking anyone is qualified for the job. She certainly doesn’t think I am.

At this point, it’s looking like there is no further opportunity for severance. HR is pushing ahead with my possible talent placement. I could stay and get a hearty paycheck in this new, assigned role for a few months before quitting in August, but I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be finished once and for all with this chapter in my life.

I don’t have another job lined up. I’m not guaranteed a teaching position in August. I have a lot of fixed expenses that I’ll need to find a way to cover. But I’m taking a step of faith and walking away. It’s time.

An Unexpected Blessing

For this upcoming season of transition, I’ve done a rough calculation of my anticipated income and expenses. I have an idea of some income-generating activity that can help make ends meet, and since I’ve kept a personal expense report for years, this number is fairly accurate.

The net difference between my anticipated income and expenses for April through July is about the amount I would have to dip into savings during this time of transition. And I was prepared to pay that amount in order to leave my company a few months early. But I may not have to dip into savings after all.

Since I stayed at my job through February 1, I was eligible to receive last year’s bonus from my current employer. My 2016 bonus just showed up in my bank account last week, and the number surprised me. Here’s why: The net difference between income and expenses during the time of transition is almost exactly the dollar figure deposited into my bank account last week.

What a blessing that God has given me as a parting gift from my time working in Corporate America! My final bonus is just the right amount to ease me into this season of transition hopefully resulting in a more life-giving and fulfilling career.

I’m excited. It’s time for a new adventure!

Authentically Aurora

And The First Wave Crashed (Part 1)

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Everything in my life is in transition.

Not only do I feel unsteady during this time of change, but I also feel like I don’t have much control over anything, which both stresses me out and – at the opposite extreme – makes me feel bored with the lack of responsibility or ownership over anything in my life. It’s a confusing combination. I know God is in control, and I try to take comfort in that, but it’s a daily struggle not to feel simultaneously anxious, resigned and frustrated; complacent, frantic and defeated.

Relationship

Something about weddings makes the men in my life suddenly take the time to reflect; think about the future; become emotional and feel inspired. Maybe it’s all the talk of love and lifelong companionship. Maybe it’s the free flowing champagne. Or maybe it’s just seeing me with my hair curled for once. But every time I’ve gone to a wedding with a boyfriend, by the end of the evening, he has transformed into a starry-eyed romantic spouting off dreams about our future together.

Seth and I attended a wedding together last weekend. I should have come to expect it, but I was taken aback when – in the middle of the reception, with lights flashing and music blaring and people pushing in on us from every side – Seth decided it was a good time to tell me that he’s been thinking about signing us up for Fusion – a pre-engagement weekend for couples who are dating seriously and considering marriage. “How do you feel about that?” He asked me, his big brown eyes innocent and hopeful.

My initial response was, in typical female fashion, to feel about six things at once. I was pleased he was thinking about our future; annoyed that he brought up the intimate topic in a loud, crowded room; excited to take another step toward marriage with him; concerned that he was simply responding out of the emotions of the moment at the wedding; happy that he was taking the topic of marriage seriously; and hurt when I found out the dates he was considering: June 23-25.

Fusion has weekend sessions going on in April as well as June. They happen about once a quarter. So why did Seth not want to go to the April session? Still further, I was privately hoping for a fall wedding, but if Seth wants to go to a pre-engagement camp in late June, that means he’s probably on a completely different time table than I am for wanting to progress our relationship. I had (admittedly, foolishly) imagined that he might propose for my birthday next month. Or our one-year anniversary in April. So the revelation that he still expects us to just be dating in June was surprising and hurtful, though he of course meant quite the opposite. His declaration of wanting to attend a pre-engagement session with me was intended to be sweet and kind and wonderful, and I wanted to experience it as such, so I wrestled internally against my feelings of disappointment.

I took a bunch of deep breaths, put a smile on my face, and told Seth I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to go to Fusion with him. Unfortunately, Seth can read me really well, and he tends to dig until he gets out everything I’m thinking and feeling. So in the midst of his friend’s wedding reception, we had an intense conversation about our desires and expectations for our relationship. Seth had expected me to be wholeheartedly thrilled and was crushed at my complex emotional response to his sweet suggestion for our future. And I grappled with my own spiraling emotions, feeling guilty for not responding in the way he would have wanted and – yes, rightly – expected me to respond to his pure-hearted declaration.

What should have been a happy occasion was marred by our conversation, and a suggestion by Seth that should have brought me nothing but joy ultimately made me feel like he was instead declaring: “I’m still not sure if I love you. I’m still evaluating you.” He has yet to say those three special words.

Work

In the meantime, I got my lowest-ever performance review score at work. I’m applying internally to different jobs, but no one will take me because of my low performance score. My boss wants me off her team, and I want to be off her team, but her scathing performance reviews of me are preventing us from getting what we both want: for me to move on to a different position far, far away from her.

HR has gotten involved, and they have acknowledged that the issue is obviously with my current placement and incompatibility with my boss and her style. HR cannot justify firing me because I have historically been such a high performer. I am unwilling to quit without a severance package (especially since I still don’t have anything lined up externally). And the company is struggling to find a hiring manager who will take me because teams are already so sparse in light of the recent trend in oil prices. So we are at a bit of a stalemate, and I’m not sure of my next move.

Living Situation

For the past few weeks, my apartment has been plagued by the alternating smells of cigarette smoke and marijuana. I live in a state where marijuana is still illegal, so not only is there illegal drug use going on in my complex, but the absolutely disgusting smell of marijuana coupled with cigarette smoke has left my living quarters perpetually smelling like a skunk that ate a gigantic burrito for lunch and then spent the night at a sleazy nightclub. It’s awful.

I told my leasing office about the issue mere days after the first few offenses, but they followed up with no real action. The manager said she could have a courtesy officer do “random checks” on apartments near mine, but it would take quite a while since the checks have to appear random. In the meantime, she offered to have a third party come to air out my apartment with special air filtration equipment.

The air filtration was supposed to take place last weekend while I was at the aforementioned wedding. I had to be out of my apartment unit for 24 hours, so we scheduled the maintenance from Saturday at 1pm until Sunday at 1pm. Between the wedding Saturday night and church Sunday morning, I figured this would be a nonissue. But when I went into my apartment at 7pm on Sunday evening, the air filtration system was still running.

Compounding Issues

I complained to the leasing office, and they put me up in one of the model apartments for the night. Right around the time I got settled, Seth came over to hang out for the evening, and I directed him to the model unit number, fuming and venting the second he walked in the door.

“I specifically told management that the worst of the smell was in my closet and that all of my clothes now smell like marijuana and cigarette smoke. I even put a sign on the closet door with a big red arrow saying ‘This is the source of the smell.’ But I went home and found the closet door shut and the filtration system still running! Not only did they not finish on time, but the idiot maintenance worker closed the closet door so that all this time, my clothes haven’t been getting aired out – and they were my primary concern!”

Seth was quiet through all of my ranting, but the moment I paused for breath, he leaned over, brusquely kissed my cheek, and muttered, “Have a good night” before turning and walking out of the model apartment.

I was stunned. I sat rigidly on the unit’s fuzzy gray couch with obnoxiously bright, fuchsia pillows for a full ten minutes before I picked up my phone to call Seth. He didn’t want to come back, but I asked him to. We needed to talk out what just happened.

Seth showed back up shortly thereafter, and our stances were essentially as follows:

  • Seth couldn’t believe the degree of my rage and felt like I was overreacting. He said there was no need to ever call anyone an idiot, and said, “This isn’t the Aurora I know.”
  • I expressed that I don’t feel like I can ever completely let my guard down and just vent with Seth. When I have a bad day at work, I call Ashley or my mom because I have learned that Seth can’t handle me when I’m really, really upset and frustrated; when I just need to vent and have someone listen.
  • Seth said he would have been happy to listen if I had adjusted my tone and language, instead opting to factually share my disappointment and frustration with the situation.
  • I explained that: WOMEN. Women don’t operate that way. I am less emotional and more even-keel than most women, so I need him to be able to stand me on the rare occasion that I fly off the handle.
  • Seth said that he takes very seriously his role of holding me accountable. He believes that, were he to be my husband, part of his role is to help me become more like the godly woman I’ve been created to be. He has higher standards for me than I have for myself, which has never happened in the history of EVER.
  • I told Seth that, if we were married, and if he was my husband, I would know that he loves me. I could rest secure in the fact of his commitment, and from that foundation of love and commitment, I would be able to better accept his criticism of having a bad attitude or calling someone an idiot. But because we are still dating and I don’t know that he loves me or is committed to me, all I hear is: “I’m still evaluating you, and I am finding you wanting. This is yet another red flag that is giving me pause about committing to you.” I told Seth that I needed him to stop making me feel so judged and instead start extending some grace.
  • Seth countered that he was extending grace. “I didn’t want to come back here. But I did. I decided to practice for marriage and extend grace by coming back to talk this out with you even though you were being unpleasant.”

I’m not sure how we left it. By the end, I was exhausted – both physically and emotionally. But when I called and told my mom about the exchange later, she sang Seth’s praises. “No one has ever been able to talk to you like that. And he obviously cares for you if he was willing to drive back. Dating Seth is like dating Jesus.”

High praise. And potentially true. The only difference – and it’s key – is that I know Jesus loves me.

Authentically Aurora