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

Overqualified to Love?

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I absolutely love teaching Sunday school. It’s part of what made me realize I wanted to pursue a career in teaching. Granted, 7- and 8-year old church kids are very different from the broad spectrum of angsty junior highers I’m planning to educate in math, but I expect that the experience of relationship-building and investing in the next generation will be rewarding all the same.

One of the greatest parts about being involved with kids’ ministry at my church is that I have genuinely developed relationships with my girls. I’ve had multiple parents ask for my contact information because their daughters requested to have me as a babysitter. And almost nothing fills my heart with more joy than getting to babysit these sweet girls during the week.

Most of the moms are relieved to have a reliable babysitter (and overjoyed when they find out I do it for free), but when Cristin’s girls started to beg me to babysit, she was hesitant to ask me. This is because Cristin knows that I have an engineering degree and work at a major oil company. When she finally did ask me, she was almost embarrassed, saying, “It’s okay if you don’t want to. I know you are way overqualified for this.”

I wanted to hug her. Overqualified? To love on your sweet girls? To feed them dinner and play games with them and tuck them into bed? No. No one can be overqualified to love. It is a part of the human condition – the most beautiful part, really – to pour our hearts into serving one another; an outpouring of love.

Our schedules never seemed to align, but finally – finally! – the day Seth and I got back from California, Cristin and I agreed that I would come to babysit that evening. Cristin’s sister was in town with her children, making for a total of 6 kids to babysit, ranging in age from 2 to 12. Cristin knows Seth from church, so she suggested, “You can bring Seth along if you like. I trust him, and it might be more fun for the two of you to watch six kids together!”

I thought it was a great idea, so Seth and I got home from California, unpacked our bags and prepared to drive over to Cristin’s for a really fun date night of babysitting together. We were legitimately excited, so when Cristin called to cancel last-minute, I was disappointed.

“Two of the girls just started throwing up,” she told me. “It looks like I’ll be staying home tonight. You and Seth go enjoy your evening.”

I didn’t mind taking care of sick kids, but I thought Seth might not be too keen on that, so I explained the situation to him. Without even prompting him with my own opinions on the matter, Seth replied back, “Let’s go over anyway! I don’t mind taking care of sick kids.” One of many reasons I adore this man.

Cristin really appreciated our willingness to still babysit depite the kids’ illness, but she insisted that her kids would be more comfortable having Mommy take care of them. “My sister and I were going to a concert tonight, and we’d hate for the tickets to go to waste. Would you two be interested in going?” And she named a Christian rock band that is a favorite of Seth’s. This was a concert he and I had talked about going to see, but tickets were sold out. Are you serious?

Cristin and I went through the whole “We couldn’t take those tickets” … “At least let us pay you for them” … “Alright, if you insist” conversation, and soon Seth and I were in Cristin’s driveway to pick up our tickets for our newly renovated date night.

Cristin welcomed us inside, and we walked as a group to the various bathrooms of the house where each of her girls was bent over a toilet and wrapped in a bath robe. My poor babies. I got down on my knees and hugged them tightly and was surprised at myself when I started tearing up. I love these girls so much, as if they are my very own.

Back downstairs, Cristin handed each of us plates of homemade mustard salmon with green beans and a side of garlic bread. She’d already made us dinner as a thank you for babysitting; now she was sending us to a dream concert with dinner to go. Seth and I were astonished. Over the course of an hour, we’d gone from planning to babysit 6 sick kids to getting free dinner and concert tickets to one of our favorite bands. And all we did was say yes.

Authentically Aurora

Streams in the Desert

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Most days I wonder why I’m still here.

Not why I’m still alive (that escalated quickly, ha) but why I’m still at this job. It’s no secret that I don’t love my workplace, but even when things are especially frustrating, I know there is purpose to this season of life. Otherwise God wouldn’t still have me here.

Today I got a reminder of God’s goodness to provide streams in the desert.

Last summer, I mentored one of our company’s interns, and at the end of the summer, she was awarded a full time job. Now we meet about once a week to grab coffee and catch up.  She’s a sweet girl from China, and I really enjoy the authenticity of our conversations.

I met with her this morning and, as we prepared to get back to work, she closed our conversation with, “Every time I meet with you, I feel like I leave a better person. You are a good person. Talking with you makes me better.”

Internally, several things happened at once. My heart was warmed by her encouraging words, and my brain signaled that I should correct her thinking that I am a good person. I thought for an instant that it might be the right time to tell her about Jesus – that there is nothing good in me apart from him – but the moment didn’t seem right.

Meanwhile, she continued, “I was upset this morning before I met with you, but you have such a big, happy smile that I cannot help but be in a better mood. I always love meeting with you.”

I gave her a hug and thanked her for her kind, encouraging words. It is wonderful to receive affirmation from friends (and especially from colleagues)! But I also sensed that there may be more work for me to be done here – at least in this relationship. I believe God is not finished with the mere streams in this desert. He desires to transform it into a fertile land.

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33 He changes rivers into deserts,
    and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
34 He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
    because of the wickedness of those who live there.
35 But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
    the dry land into springs of water.
36 He brings the hungry to settle there
    and to build their cities.
37 They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
    and harvest their bumper crops.
38 How he blesses them!
    They raise large families there,
    and their herds of livestock increase…

43 …Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
    they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.  (Psalm 107)

Authentically Aurora

In Support of Syria

Syrian Refugee HelpHave you ever been someone’s answer to prayer? I don’t just mean figuratively, where someone tells you that you are a Godsend because you turned down the volume to Little Einsteins while she, in all her mother-of-five-ness sits slumped on the couch covered in day-old baby vomit.

Have you ever been a very literal answer to someone’s very specific prayer? This happened to me on Sunday morning.

Our pastor preached on the importance of international missions, frequently referencing the current tragedies facing Syrian refugees. Our church is sponsoring two trips this year – one to Greece and one to Jordan – both in support of Syrian refugees. I am already giving financially to these efforts, but during the sermon, I reevaluated if I should personally be among those going on the trips.

I’ve been on several international mission trips – some medical, some evangelical – in countries ranging from South Sudan to the Philippines. But this year, I believe I am being asked by God to stay and help people right here in my city. There is no need to travel around the world to meet the needs of the desperate and victimized. I live in a very international city that is a hub for both refugees and human trafficking (which often go hand-in-hand). This city is my home, and I believe my ministry in 2016 is to people I encounter during the course of my day-to-day living.

Once I established that I am not being asked by God to go on either of these international trips, I started praying and asking God what I was supposed to take away from the sermon. What was God’s purpose for having me hear those words that morning? God’s response was to draw my thoughts to a particular friend: Leanne.

Leanne goes to my church and has never done international missions before, but she had previously expressed to me both an interest in and a fear of doing mission work. And what God told me that morning is that Leanne has been tasked with taking the good news about Jesus to Africa, and her journey starts with taking a step of faith in going on a short term trip.

I spotted Leanne across the sanctuary and saw her head bowed in prayer near the end of the service. I prayed for her from across the room, wondering what God had spoken to her during church that morning. When the service ended and everyone got up to leave, I navigated my way through the crowds to Leanne just as she made it to the tiled hallway outside the sanctuary.

“Hey! Leanne!” She turned as I called out her name.

When I reached her, I put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Hey, what did you think of the sermon today?”

Wordlessly, she raised one hand and directed my gaze to it. “I’m shaking,” she told me. “My hands are shaking. That sermon was for me.”

I smiled. “I know. That’s what I came to tell you. Are you going to go on one of the trips?”

“I don’t know!” She exclaimed, forehead lined with anxiety. “The Greece trip is kind of tugging at my heart, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. At the end of the service, I was praying, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me. Will you send someone to tell me what to do?'”

My eyes widened as her words registered. I was the messenger! The moment Leanne began praying, I believe God appointed me to be the answer to her prayer. So I relayed to Leanne what God had revealed to me. “Go on the trip to Greece.”

Leanne smiled. “Thanks for being obedient to what God told you to do. I guess now it’s my turn.”

We hugged tightly, both of our eyes moist, and I realized with a smile that now Leanne wasn’t the only one shaking. Our God is so good. He is not a God of confusion but a God of peace.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. -James 1:5

Authentically Aurora

Jesuspicious

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You never know who may be looking at how you live your life.

When I was a little girl, my best friend Sara lived in the cul-de-sac across from ours. Sara was a bossy, unkind girl, and she inherited her temperament from her high-strung mother. While I was busy learning a lot about patience and sharing during my friendship with Sara, Sara’s mom was evidently learning a lot from observing my mom.

A few years ago, decades after Sara and her family moved away to another city, Sara’s mother called my mom to let her know she had become a Christian. “So many of the other PTA moms tried to shove religion down my throat, but you quietly displayed the love of Jesus to me day in and day out. You are the reason I sought out God and eventually became a Christian. Thank you.” Until that point, my mom never knew the impact she’d had on Sara’s family. She was just loving Jesus and letting the love overflow. So often, that is all that is asked of us; that is all that is needed.

When I was in college, I was in a swing dancing society. A tall Chinese boy named Yun was a frequent dance partner of mine, but we didn’t talk much during our dances (because we were so out of breath from the fast tempo songs!). Yun and I both moved to the same city after college, and I see him from time to time when I visit the swing dancing group here. We are amiable, but I would call him more of an acquaintance than a friend.

Despite our perceived distance from my perspective, two weeks ago, I received an unexpected Facebook message from Yun. It was only one sentence, with no introduction or explanation. “What are the minimum requirements, in your mind, to be a Christian?”

I was completely taken aback but also really glad he felt comfortable reaching out to me with his question. I wrote back that I could answer over Facebook messenger, but I suggested we go out for coffee instead. Yun agreed.

We met a few days later, and Yun gave me the background for his question. He grew up in an atheist family in China, but after his father’s death several years ago and his grandmother’s latest bout of cancer, his mother encouraged Yun to settle down with a nice Christian girl. Yun’s mother is still an atheist living in China, but she thinks American Christian girls make good wives. She told Yun they will be kind, loving and faithful wives because they believe they are accountable to a Higher Power.

Yun has tried dating some nice, Christian girls, but he told me with frustration that none of them will date him unless he becomes a Christian, too. “I know that’s an ulterior motive… will God be mad at me if I become a Christian with impure motives? It’s hard being an atheist bachelor in the Bible Belt of America.”

I smiled thoughtfully at Yun. I appreciated his authenticity. “I think all of us have impure motives at some time, but God’s greatest desire is for you to know Him, so if He uses your desire to be married as a way to draw you to Himself, so be it. I think the fact that you’re asking if God would be bothered by it says a lot. I believe our desire to please God does in fact please Him.”

So Yun pulled out his iPad, where he’d developed a list of questions to ask me. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Do I have to be “good enough” to be a Christian? Why did Jesus have to die? Do I have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God? What if I want to believe but I can’t seem to muster up the faith in myself? Do you believe creation was literally seven days, or is that figurative? What do you think about the Big Bang Theory? Why is there suffering in this world if God is good, loving and all-powerful? Is going to church necessary?

The questions went on and on, and for hours I answered them as best I could, giving Yun passages of the Bible to read on his own so that he could search the Scriptures for himself. We talked a lot about Romans 6 and why someone who truly believes in Jesus’ deity, death and resurrection will live differently than before they believed.

In the end, Yun decided he wasn’t quite ready to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on his behalf yet, but he told me, “I want to believe. I want to become a Christian. I just need to think about it some more first. It’s not a decision I take lightly.”

I’m thankful Yun appreciates the weight of his decision. And I made sure he knows he can come back to me any time with more thoughts or inquiries. It was refreshing to talk about the hard questions of faith with someone who was genuinely seeking answers and not just looking for an argument.

Please pray for Yun, and if you are someone who is curious about my answers to any of the questions Yun raised, please feel free to comment or send me a private message!

Authentically Aurora