Candy and Mud Pies

Kids ministryWhat is an appropriate ratio of kids to adults for teaching? For camp counseling? For babysitting? For Sunday school?

Usually when I volunteer with the kids’ ministry at church, there are five leaders for the elementary school kids: one for 1st & 2nd grade girls, one for 3rd & 4th grade girls, two more for each of the boys’ age groups, and one master facilitator who leads us in the bible story during “big group time.” There are online sign-up sheets for volunteering, so Elle – the woman in charge of the kids’ ministry – knows ahead of time if she needs to call in reinforcements.

Yesterday when I showed up to volunteer, I was the only one for a while, so I clustered all of the elementary girls together – 1st through 4th grade. Soon, a guy named Mark showed up, but he told me it was only his second week to volunteer, so he mostly followed my lead as he gathered all of the boys together. Mark and I led our kids through the “rug time activity” – a craft involving a memorized bible verse – but soon we were finished with the craft, and no more volunteers had shown up.

I glanced at my watch. It was past time to move on to teaching the bible story, but I didn’t see any of our usual “big group” leaders. So while Mark got the boys in a circle, passing a ball around while each of them recited one of the Ten Commandments in turn, I got my girls in a circle – a very large circle, I noticed, as twenty different frilly skirts took their places on our mat – and told them we had an exciting opportunity.

“Usually at church,” I began, killing time while I continued looking around for our facilitator, “We have a set program in place. We do a certain craft, learn a certain bible story and then have small group discussion time.”

“But today,” I continued, clapping my hands together with a big smile, “You girls get the chance to ask me anything you want – any questions you have about God or the bible or church or Sunday school.”

“Can we ask you anything?” One precocious girl spoke up. “Like how old you are or if you’re married?”

I laughed. “Maybe if we have time at the end. But let’s start with bible questions. Does anybody have a bible question for me?”

A soft-spoken girl to my left raised her hand. “Yes, Angeli?”

She lowered her arm slowly as she began her question. “You know that girl who God promised would have as many children as stars in the sky?”

“You mean Sarah and Abraham?” I asked, clarifying. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham, “I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”

“Yeah. When God told Abraham his children would be like the stars in the sky, does that mean the stars in the sky are all of the unborn babies?”

“Wow, that’s an interesting interpretation,” I told her, and I went on to explain gently that stars are actually burning balls of gas and the biblical meaning of that passage was that all of the offspring of Abraham – “All of his children and great-grandchildren and great-great-great-great grandchildren” – would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. “Good question!”

After Angeli was satisfied, another girl asked a question that stopped me short. Her big, innocent eyes looked up at me as she asked me a question most adults ask all their lives. “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

“That’s a hard question, isn’t it, Savannah?” I acknowledged her question, thinking how to answer. “I’ve asked God that very same question a lot of times.” I gave a few personal examples and then explained to the girls – all of them listening now – that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is “no” because He loves us and wants what’s best for us. “Sometimes the things we want aren’t what is best for us, and because God loves us, He doesn’t answer our prayers with the ‘yes’ we hope for.”

I paused for a moment, collecting my thoughts; then gave an example. “If you ate candy for lunch and dinner every day, how would that make your tummy feel?”

“It would hurt,” some of the girls murmured.

“That’s right. But sometimes we want to eat nothing but candy for lunch and dinner, don’t we?” The girls nodded.

“We have mommies and daddies who love us, so they make us eat vegetables and food we don’t like because they love us and know that eating vegetables is better for us than eating candy. God is the same way. He is a loving Father who sometimes doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.”

I glanced over at Mark, who was starting to lose the boys. We were in a large, open gym, so it was nearly impossible to contain the dozens of kids running around. I decided no one else was coming to help, so I walked up to the front and tried to figure out the A/V system. I got a headset plugged in, turned on and tested it. “Test, test.” My voice echoed across the gym.

“Alright, boys and girls!” I called in my perkiest voice. “It’s time to play a bible trivia game!” I fumbled with the music and the PowerPoint slides, but between the two of us, Mark and I got through it. Right at the end, Elle showed up, aghast at the sight of me wearing the headset and barely containing the explosion of children wiggling in their seats.

Parents started showing up, picking up their kids, and Elle hurried over to me. “Oh my gosh! Did your Head Leader not show up?” I grinned and shook my head, nearly laughing at this point because of how ridiculous the whole morning had been.

God has really been teaching me a lot about flexibility, spontaneity and letting go of control. I like order and the expected. But if I’d had the security of a set program that morning, those girls wouldn’t have gotten their previously unspoken questions answered. And if I had the comfort of control over the situation, I wouldn’t have gotten to grow in faith, leadership and dependence on God as I struggled to rise to the occasion and make the most of our under-resourced morning. It’s just like I told the girls – sometimes God doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – CS Lewis

Authentically Aurora

Cruise of the Bruised – Part IV

Nassau

Over a sub-par breakfast of fatty bacon and runny eggs (fancy as it can be, cruise ship food is definitely made for the masses), the girls and I discussed our plans for the day. Our ship would dock at Nassau within the hour, and the sun had finally broken out from behind the clouds, promising a beautiful day to spend on the beaches of the Bahamas.

Since I’d been with the muscled massage therapist during most of our time in Freeport, I was looking forward to celebrating Marina’s upcoming birthday with her during our sunny afternoon in Nassau. Verna and Marina chattered on about drinking piña coladas on the white sand, and Marina agreed to take acroyoga photos with me in front of the breathtaking turquoise water —

Jordan appeared mid-conversation, walking by our table on the upper dock in his workout clothes, body glistening with perspiration. I watched him do a double-take as he noticed me sitting there, and – as I’d expected – he walked over to say hi. He wanted to spend the day with me, but I told him I was on the cruise with the girls and was there to celebrate Marina’s birthday.

“Well… could I meet you later this evening? Maybe at that hot tub,” he gestured with his towel-free hand, “Around 5 o’clock tonight?”

I smiled. “I think I can make that happen,” I said coyly.

“Great!” His grin lit up his face. “I’ll see you then.”

I turned back around to find the girls snickering, amusement lighting up their eyes. “Oh, hush,” I told them with mock disapproval. They just laughed harder.

An hour later, the three of us were decked out in our colorful bikinis and sunglasses, disembarking for our second day ashore in the Bahamas. We passed by hordes of taxis and horse-drawn carriages, opting instead to take in some Vitamin D during the 20 minute walk to the beach.

Verna and Marina decided to pay $10 for beach chairs, but I laid out my towel in the sand, readjusted my sunglasses on my nose, and sighed happily as I (finally!) opened my book to start reading. This was exactly what I’d envisioned when I agreed to go on this cruise with the girls.

Verna and Marina chattered away in Spanish, and after a while, Marina and I roped Verna into playing photographer while we posed in various acroyoga positions on the beach. We laughed uproariously every time we fell over, and I chuckled to myself when I noticed other patrons discreetly snapping photos of us on their phones. Both our posing and our falling was entertaining for all.

After the photos, we splashed around in the water, watched a limbo competition, and bought matching necklaces with flowers made out of conch shells. Then we all ordered drinks – piña coladas in coconuts – to celebrate a wonderful vacation and the perfect day.

Hours later, as we were packing up to walk back to the ship, I suddenly spotted Jordan across the beach, making his way toward a volleyball court where I saw the younger boys playing. I started to call out to say hi, but as I kept watching his veering path along the beach, I realized that he was incapable of walking in a straight line. He was drunk.

Verna and Marina had gone to the bathroom, so from where I stood guarding their stuff, I watched Jordan approach the group of bachelorettes who’d won the limbo competition. He laughed with the bride-to-be, taking her in his arms and twirling her around, dancing in the sand. “Don’t torture yourself,” came a quiet voice from behind me. I turned around to see that Verna had joined me, a knowing look on her face.

Then Marina appeared, we gathered our stuff and walked back to the ship. When we got back to the cabin, the girls decided they wanted to nap after the long day in the sun. So while they slept, I looked through the photos we’d taken and tried to decide what to do about my 5pm meeting with Jordan. Ultimately, I decided to be a woman of my word, so at 4:55, I left the girls sleeping in the cabin and made my way to the hot tub on the top deck.

When I arrived, I saw lots of people milling about, but no Jordan. I wasn’t surprised. Between the alcohol and the bachelorettes, I figured he’d completely forgotten about me. I’d brought a book with me for just such an instance, so I sat and read, letting the sounds of people talking and laughing fade into the background.

At 5:15, I felt a presence hovering over me, so I looked up to see Jonah and two of the other high school boys gathered around me. I didn’t remember their names, but I recognized them both – one tall and gangly; the other tall and beefy.

“Hey, Aurora!” Jonah greeted me, a genuinely happy smile on his face. I was glad he was glad to see me. “Can we join you?” he asked.

“Please do!” I told them cheerfully. So the three high school boys sat around me on the long bench beside the pool, the chunky one on my right; Jonah and the beanpole to my left. “How was your day?” I asked them.

They told me all about drinking at Señor Frog’s, playing volleyball on the beach and trying to pick up girls. I internally rolled my eyes. They were definitely high school boys.

“Speaking of picking up girls,” Jonah said, putting his arm around me with a dramatic pause, “How you doin’?” The other boys laughed while I shrugged his arm off me and asked with a smirk, “Jonah, how old do you think I am?”

“Dunno… 23?” The other two nodded in agreement.

“I’m almost 30,” I told him, raising my left eyebrow for emphasis.

“Sh** — no way!” Then they were asking about Marina (32) and even Verna, who is in her 40s. I told them they were ridiculous, and they started asking for tips on picking up girls.

The chunky one was quiet and sweet. After telling me about how he works with his dad in the construction business, he asked me in a soft voice the best way to get a girl’s attention. The other guys called outbursts about telling her she’s sexy or a hot momma, but I ignored them and told him that I like it when a guy wants to get to know me. “Ask her where she’s from; where she goes to school. Ask about her hobbies. Genuinely try to get to know her. That will go a lot farther than objectifying her,” I told him with a wink. He smiled shyly. What was this sweetheart doing with these other boys?

I turned to Beanpole and asked him, “So what about you? What do you like to do for fun?”

He looked dumbfounded. “Uh… I dunno.”

“Are you in any clubs at school? Do you play any sports? What are your hobbies?”

The 17-year-old gave me a devilish look and answered, “Recreational substance abuse.”

I knew he was trying to get a rise out of me, so I just shrugged and said, “I appreciate the honesty. What do you want to do for a living? Any idea what you want to major in?”

He looked dumbfounded again, so I started asking him questions that would help me determine his MBTI – how he likes to recharge when he’s stressed, if he tends to go with his gut on making decisions. He seemed curious enough to stick with me through the impromptu session, and the other two boys were enraptured as well. I got the sense that no one ever bothered to talk to them like adults with hopes and dreams and passions.

Ultimately, I identified Beanpole as an ISTP – “Friendly but very private, calm but suddenly spontaneous, extremely curious but unable to stay focused on formal studies, ISTP personalities can be a challenge to predict, even by their friends and loved ones. ISTPs can seem very loyal and steady for a while, but they tend to build up a store of impulsive energy that explodes without warning, taking their interests in bold new directions.”

I could tell that Beanpole still had some alcohol (or something stronger) in his system, so I told him to take a note in his phone to look into his ISTP personality. After watching him type the note into his phone, Jonah asked, “So what are you doing up here anyway?”

“I was supposed to meet Jordan here at 5:00.”

There was an instant of silence; then all three boys started guffawing, slapping their legs and rocking back and forth. “Nah, there’s no way Jordan’s coming. He’s passed out in the room!”

“I suspected as much,” I said, lips drawn into a tight line as their laughter continued.

“Oooh!” Jonah’s eyes were wide with excitement. “Let’s go wake him up!” The other boys agreed, jumped up, and pulled me along behind them. I begrudgingly followed them down to room 242, where they unlocked the door, surprising D.J. as they stormed in and started jumping on Jordan’s bed.

In all the commotion, D.J. assured me that Jordan is normally responsible; this is the first time he’s seen Jordan like that, and it was because Jordan forgot to eat lunch, so he had a few drinks on an empty stomach. Jordan peered at me, bleary eyed and apologized profusely. “I’m so sorry I missed our date.”

I waved him off. “That’s okay. It wasn’t a date. I’m not dating this year, remember? Let’s get you some food.” I hauled him up, and we walked – just the two of us – up to the cafeteria for some dinner. After some mashed potatoes and fried chicken, Jordan assured me that he felt better; then he checked his phone for the time and asked if I’d mind if he called his daughter Grace. “This is the fifteen minute time slot her mother and I agreed I could talk to her every day.”

I nodded and excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came back, Jordan was just finishing up his call with Grace. He seemed tired. Sad. I put my hand on his arm and asked how he was doing. He started telling me all about the lawyers’ fees and the custody battle and how concerned he is for his daughter, growing up in that household with her emotionally unstable mother and sexual predator of an uncle.

Jordan was really shaken up and clearly had no one to confide in about these things, so I asked him about his church. He knows deep down that he needs the fellowship and community that the church can provide, but he’s been wounded by the church. So many “Christians” have judged him for his divorce, refused to stand up with him in court and generally deepened his hurts that he wants nothing to do with them.

So I asked if I could pray for him. Jordan agreed. So we held hands, bowed our heads, and boldly approached the Throne of Grace. I prayed for Jordan, for peace and for healing. I prayed for his ex-wife, created in the image of God and desperately in need of healing herself. I prayed for protection for sweet little Grace. I prayed about the custody battle and the lawyers and the church and Jordan’s job and all manner of things he’d shared with me over the past few days. And by the end, I had silent tears streaming down my face. God, why have you given me such a soft heart for the hurting and brokenhearted?

At the end, we hugged silently; then we agreed to walk around the ship for a while, lightening the mood. We had only walked the length of one level of the cruise ship when we ran into the sweet, chunky kid from the hot tub. Jordan wrapped him in a bear hug, and wiggled my fingers at him in a wave from over Jordan’s shoulder.

“Whatcha doin’?” Jordan asked the Teddy Bear. We followed his eyes to where a pretty blonde teenager sat alone at a table, scrolling on her phone. Ah.

“I’m really nervous, but I want to talk to her,” the Teddy Bear admitted, looking at me. “What should I say?”

I was surprised and honored that he wanted my advice, especially since Jordan is the one who has known him since he was in diapers. “Ask her if she watched the SuperBowl this weekend. If she did, ask who she rooted for. If not, ask what she did instead. Just keep the questions rolling, but keep it casual and laid-back. Express an interest in getting to know her.”

“Okay,” Teddy repeated back to me, practicing. “Hey, did you watch the SuperBowl this weekend?” He paused; then tried again. “Hey! How about that SuperBowl, huh?”

I smiled, gave him a hug, and nudged him forward. “You’ve got this.”

“Will you stay here for me?” he asked, nervousness written all over his face. His vulnerability and honesty were charming. “Of course,” I told him reassuringly. He was adorable.

Jordan and I stood arm-in-arm watching Teddy approach the girl. He sat down at the table next to hers, just as I’d coached him. “You want to seem friendly but not come on too strong.” We watched the conversation begin, the girl looking wary at first; then merely uncomfortable before Teddy said something to make her laugh, and, “He’s in,” I said to Jordan with a smile. We waltzed away, Jordan’s arm around me, as Teddy continued getting to know the solitary blonde, confidence building.

I’ve spoken to Jordan a few times since the cruise, and he tells me that the guys talk about me all the time. “Apparently your conversations with them had quite an impact.” He says they seem inspired and driven, like they have hope again. Yes, Lord. Thank you for there being purpose in my being on that cruise – the Cruise of the Bruised… a phrase that could describe all of our journeys at one time or another.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice… I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” -Isaiah 42

Authentically Aurora

Cruise of the Bruised – Part III

Jordan and I managed to make it back to the ship without getting killed, abducted or exploited, so I count that as a win. Especially since I had no cash, I.D. or cell phone on me – just my hot pink bikini and $3000 camera. Not one of my finest moments.

The negotiator in me had been running through scenarios of bartering off my Canon 5D Mark II in exchange for our lives. Or having Jordan bribe any would-be predators with the marijuana hidden in his swim trunks. Between my brains and Jordan’s brawn, I’d convinced myself we’d be okay. I’m glad it turned out to be the case, no loss of vacation photos required. Or worse.

D.J. (Daddy John, the orthopedic friend of Jordan’s) met us at the pier with his daughter Penny, who grinned and wrapped me in a plush blue towel, returning to me some of my dignity. “Welcome back,” D.J. greeted us, laughter dancing in his eyes. “Glad you made it!” He looked at me and said, “Your friends have your backpack with your I.D. and wallet. They’re going to meet you at the entrance to the ship so you can get on board.” Praise God for the kindness of strangers and the patience and benevolence of Verna and Marina!

Within the next hour, I’d been reunited with the girls and my backpack, gotten a hot shower and – of course – been quizzed unmercifully by my traveling companions. I admitted to the kiss but told the girls that nothing really happened, which was true, and I thanked them for collecting my things and meeting me at the ship entrance. Nice as the Bahamas was, it just wouldn’t do to be stuck on the island for the rest of my life.

Jordan hadn’t asked for my phone number or room number, so when we’d parted ways, I assumed that was the end of our tête-à-tête. Probably for the best, I thought. But over the next few days, I kept running into people from his group.

Carnival_interior_2Penny was a sweet girl of just 14, and I passed her and her oldest brother Jonah in an elegant hallway on one of the upper levels, all of us swaying with the rough seas. “How are you?!” I squealed, giving her a big hug. She’d modeled for me on the beach, and I absolutely adored her sweet spirit and quiet confidence. “Are these boys treating you okay?” I raised one eyebrow playfully, but I was partially serious. I didn’t like that she was alone with such a rough group of boys.

She nudged her brother in the ribs. “Yeah, they treat me okay.” She smiled.

“They don’t get you smoking and drinking with them, do they?” I asked, still half-teasing, half-serious.

“Nah,” Penny gave a sideways smile. “I’m not into all that stuff. And actually, they tell me all the time that if guys like them ever come and hit on me, I should run as fast as I can in the other direction!”

Jonah nodded in affirmation, a big, silly grin on his face. I asked him, “And you, Jonah… Are you like your namesake at all?” I knew from Jordan that D.J. was a Christian, even as wild as his boys were, so I figured Jonah knew the story. “Are you running from what you’ve been created for?”

The 17-year-old boy shrugged, his mass of curly hair flopping with the movement. “Probably.” I gave him a look full of both challenge and affection. He squirmed and ducked his head, so I wrapped him in a hug and said, “You’re a smart kid, I can tell. You’ll figure it out.”

Shortly thereafter, I ran into their dad D.J., who stopped me in the hallway to ask (with thinly veiled curiosity) what I thought of Jordan. “You two make a handsome couple,” he told me. There was an intensity and weight to his words. He wanted me to know that he cared deeply for Jordan – had known him for decades – and wanted to see him married to a good woman.

“Jordan is a great guy,” I told the would-be matchmaker. “He’s got a lot of potential, but he needs to get right with God. He seems to have a lot of head knowledge – he knows a lot of scripture and facts about the bible – but I think we both know he has wandered a bit and has some healing to do before he’s ready for another relationship.”

D.J. nodded, understanding but still pushing. “Did you have fun at the beach with him?”

“I did,” I began slowly. “He is a lot of fun and very easy to be around. I love how laid-back he is. But, D.J., I’m in a season where I don’t date just to date. I’m dating to marry, and Jordan has a lot to work through before he’s ready for the kind of relationship I would expect.”

Lantern in the darkI found out later from Jordan that he was getting quizzed by the matchmaker, too. “D.J. likes you a lot,” Jordan told me. “He keeps telling me that you’re a catch. That you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. He says,

‘Don’t let this one get away. She’s got a smile that lights up the room.'” 

Hopefully she’s got a heart that lights up some lives, too.

Authentically Aurora

An Unexpected Song

Globe Room

Have you ever been a trendsetter who didn’t even know you were setting a trend? Or a key driving force behind a movement that was just something you were doing because it was fun? Sometimes fire catches when we are just playing with our sparklers for no other reason than they are pretty and bring us joy. In fact, I believe some of the best movements are started that way: unintentionally.

On Tuesday this week, Ashley and I played hookie from work to take a spontaneous road trip to our alma mater. Okay, it wasn’t really hookie. We logged our vacation time and told our bosses. And it was only about a 2 hour drive, so it wasn’t much of a road trip. And it’s possible we planned it about a week in advance, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely spontaneous. But still. We were adventurous!

Anyway, it was seriously the perfect day. We got to campus in the late afternoon as warm, golden rays of sunlight sifted through the trees. The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny and 75 – and it was glorious to stroll through the sprawling courtyards and relive our happy memories there.

We took a university bus across campus as though going to classes, ate at one of our favorite college sandwich joints, visited a couple of our favorite bookstores and coffee shops, and we finally tried strawberry tarts at a famous upscale restaurant that was way outside of our budgets during our college years.

The entire day was magical (and we hope to make it a quarterly tradition!), but my favorite part of the day was completely unexpected. There is a building in the center of campus – the Memorial Center – that serves as something of a student union or center for student activities. Within the Memorial Center is a room called the Globe Room, where the mahogany walls are lined with bookshelves, and the hardwood floors are covered in rich rugs of emerald, burgundy and midnight blue. Historical flags hang from the ceiling, and two gemstone globes serve as centerpieces surrounded by rich leather couches where students sit studying.

Everything about the Globe Room makes me feel like I am home; I have found my personal heaven on earth. Each time I enter, I breathe deeply, taking in the scents of leather and old books before giving a happy sigh. The Globe Room also houses a grand piano in one corner of the room, and during my days at university, various students would occasionally walk in, play a few soothing classical pieces (think “Moonlight Sonata” or “Clair de Lune”); then step out again, leaving the rest of us to our books and studies.

On Tuesday when Ashley and I walked into the Globe Room, a young man sat at the piano playing a soothing melody. He was clearly talented – the kind of person who can play piano without sheet music; the kind of person who can play brilliantly by ear.

Ashley and I sat down in two plush chairs, and I closed my eyes to better take in the sounds and smells of my favorite room on campus. I smiled to myself as I recognized the tune the pianist transitioned into. Then I was surprised to hear his low voice quietly singing along. I found myself harmonizing to his melody line under my breath. I hadn’t realized I knew the words to the song, but I did.

The pianist looked up, hearing my harmony drifting over to him, and he started to sing louder. So I smiled, apologized to Ashley (who occasionally is made to feel uncomfortable by my boldness), and walked over to the piano, where the man continued playing. We crescendoed together until we were each singing our parts at full volume. I’d never heard anyone sing along to the grand piano in the Globe Room before, but it was exhilarating, and I smiled to myself as I looked around at the old, familiar surroundings.

The music faded out, and the pianist (Daniel, I learned later) transitioned smoothly into yet another song. As he played the opening chords, I was astonished to recognize it as a Christian worship song: “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. I let him sing the first few lines solo; then I softly came in with gentle harmony for the last few lines of the first verse.

As Daniel and I grew into the chorus, a young man walking past the Globe Room paused in the hallway and leaned in, listening. Near the end of the first chorus, another person stood from one of the couches and walked over to the piano, singing the words along with us. And then we were joined by another. And another.

My heart felt full, looking around at my brothers and sisters in Christ – people I’d never met before; people I didn’t even know. But even without knowing each other’s names, we started a movement in the Globe Room. Daniel unintentionally started a worship service in the heart of a public, state university.

The whole experience was beautiful and awe-inspiring, and I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was almost over. It was otherworldly worshiping together with complete strangers, sharing a spiritual bond as we united in Christ, praising our King without regard for doctrinal or denominational differences. My prayer is that we were not the only ones who sensed it; the supernatural force – the Holy Spirit – that permeated the Globe Room that afternoon. God truly is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, and this experience is one I will not soon forget.

Authentically Aurora

Faith Like a Child

Rainbow Scratch Paper 2The weak are actually the strong. The foolishness of the world is used to shame the wise. We die to ourselves so that we may truly live. Those who wish to be greatest must humble themselves and become least; servant to all. When our eyes are opened, we see all of the so-called truths of this world turned on their heads. And I continue to learn from little children.

In the new year, I have continued volunteering in the children’s ministry at my church. I teach Sunday school to 1st and 2nd grade girls most weeks now, and I absolutely love it. These girls are so sweet and kind; innocent and affectionate. They constantly surprise me with the adorable things they say, and every week, God uses them to soften my heart.

A few weeks ago, we did a craft using rainbow scratch off paper, where the girls used scratching sticks to write their names or draw pictures, scraping away the black upper layer and revealing the colors hidden beneath it. I didn’t have enough scratching sticks for all of the girls, so I dug around in my wallet for some coins they could use for the scratch-offs.

I handed out a couple of pennies, a few dimes, and finally, a quarter to my sweet little Mia, who waited until last to receive her coin. When she saw that it was the last quarter in my wallet, she asked me, “Miss Aurora, is this your last quarter?”

“Yes, Mia, it is.”

Her eyes widened. “Like… your last quarter EVER?”

I smiled. “No, just the last quarter I have in my wallet right now.”

“Oh.” She looked down at the shiny coin in her hand before glancing up at me shyly. “So… when I’m finished with it, I should give the quarter back to you?”

I patted her on the shoulder. “If you want to. Or you can keep it.”

I watched Mia move the quarter around in her hands, feeling it; thinking about it. Then she looked up at me through long eyelashes. “What do you think I should do?”

I hadn’t planned to say it, but the Holy Spirit gave me the words to speak. “What do you think God would want you to do?”

Mia pursed her lips, thinking hard. Then she smiled slowly as she answered, “I think God would want me to give it to people who need it more than I do.”

Wow. I was astonished by the wisdom of this six-year-old. Yes, Lord. You use the foolish things of this world to shame the wisdom of the wise. I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 

We have a small mason jar for the kids to put any donations into, so when Mia finished using the quarter to scratch her name in rainbow colors, she skipped to the front of the classroom and cheerfully dropped her quarter into the jar with an adorable little smile.

What a witness. What a beautiful testimony. What a joy these children are to me. When we serve, we are truly the ones who receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap (Luke 6:38).

Authentically Aurora

Missionary Dating?

Coffee Date

I am always the one before the One.

Men, if you’re tired of singleness, come date me seriously and exclusively – six months is all I require – and boom! The next person who catches your eye will be your soulmate.

My college boyfriend – after convincing me to accept a job offer in his city and then taking me to look at apartments in his complex – subsequently broke up with me and was married to someone else within 18 months.

The first guy I seriously dated after college broke up with me and was married to someone else a year later. Another guy, Stephen, was married within nine months of breaking things off and, ironically, my ex-fiance and I ran into Stephen and his wife on the morning of the day that my ex proposed to me. I’m not currently on speaking terms with my ex-fiance, but if he’s dating anyone right now, I have no doubt she will soon become his bride.

I’m really great at fix-em-up projects. Is your California Dreamboat still playing 40 hours of video games per week? Is your McDreamy insensitive and unromantic? Does your Mr. Right have emotional baggage from his parents’ divorce? Or have commitment issues? Or is he unemployed or slovenly? Just give him six months with me, and I guarantee he will be primed and ready for marriage!

I am a magnet for broken men. I mean, we’re all broken in some way, but I have somehow always attracted wounded men. In college, male acquaintances would call me at 3:00 a.m. because they just found out their parents were going through a divorce, and they needed someone to talk to. As a working professional, I can’t count the number of times some man in the seat next to me on an airplane has struck up a conversation about his “impostor complex”… or his ailing mother… or his deepest regrets… or his current relationship issues.

In the past year, one young male friend has confided in me about a drug addiction that almost no one else knows about. Another guy told me about a vision he believes God gave him about his future, and he’s unsure what to make of it. Others have sought me out to talk with me about the death of a parent to cancer, walking in on their dad having an affair, uncertainty about job direction and all manner of other topics.

It’s always men. Women don’t approach me this way. Why is it always men? I have asked God many, many times over the years why He seems to have given me a ministry to men. Hello, God! In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a woman!!! The contemporary Western church tends to frown upon women ministering to men, particularly one-on-one, particularly about such deeply personal matters. I’ve even made a conscious effort to seek out female friendships, and still, it’s the men who come to me for soul-deep conversations.

I’ve frequently asked myself, when such situations arose, “Is this the work of God or Satan? Is this an opportunity from God for me to provide comfort and wisdom and hopefully share the Gospel with this person (as is often the case)? Or is this a trap laid by Satan to get me into a bad situation?”

I struggle because often there is a gray area; a blurred line between how much time I can spend with someone and how deep we can go before it starts to become unhealthy. I can’t imagine that Satan would be pleased with my sharing the Gospel message with someone, but I also can’t imagine that God would want me to bond and invest emotionally in someone of the opposite gender who is so broken and, frequently, doesn’t share my faith.

Usually I go out for casual coffee with a guy, and at the end of that one “date”, tell him that I am not looking for a romantic relationship. Every circumstance seems to require incredible discernment and, although I’ve gotten wiser over the years about which situations to allow and which to avoid, I still slip up sometimes (i.e. Cory).

Sometimes I wonder if this is a seasonal ministry. God made me beautiful, intelligent, mysterious and captivating. I get asked out on dates more than anyone else I know (I’ve been asked out twice in the past week). Perhaps I have been granted these gifts for the purpose of planting seeds of faith in men who would not listen to anyone but a beautiful woman. Perhaps I have been granted ongoing singleness for “such a time as this.” But my prayer is that 2016 is the year my ministry shifts from being male-dominated to being a ministry to women. Please, God? My heart is tired.

Authentically Aurora

Return on Investment

Return on InvestmentRemember Alim, my Muslim friend who encouraged me to start attending Christian church again?

We met for coffee this week, and he shared with me that his mom just found out she has relapsed. It’s breast cancer.

He put on a brave face and made it seem like he was fine – “We caught it early,” Alim told me with a shrug – but I know he was upset. I asked if I could pray for him, and he said that of course, he’d like that.

“No, I mean like right now.”

“Oh! Sure…”

And so we prayed together. It was a simple prayer – thankfulness for our friendship, requests for healing for his mom if it’s God’s will, and both strength and peace for their entire family.

A few hours later, I got this text from him:

“Thank you for praying for my mom with me. Your kindness and faith touched my heart this morning and lifted my spirit. I need it very much. I’m blessed to have crossed paths with you.”

After the way God used Alim in my life, I love that I got to be an instrument of encouragement for him in turn.

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.” -Luke 6:38

Authentically Aurora

Wise and Fun: Not Mutually Exclusive

Zooey_Wise and FunYesterday a friend made a comment to me that absolutely revolutionized the way I think about myself. She pulled me into a conference room because she needed someone to talk through a difficult situation with her. After a hug, some tears and a few distractions (namely regaling her with stories of my love life), she smiled at me and said I was the one she wanted to talk to because “I knew you’d make me laugh.”

I was shocked. My friend didn’t know it at the time, but her statement was a zinger, straight to my heart. But a good zinger. She thought I would make her laugh? She thinks I’m funny? And that’s why I was the one she sought out to comfort her?

My whole life, I have been the one friends come to when they needed a good listener. Throughout grade school and into adult life, I have heard countless stories about young girls’ insecurities, college kids’ fears of the future, ramifications of parents’ divorces, breakup heartaches, anxiety over major life decisions and struggles with suicidal thoughts.

I like hearing people’s stories, even the hard parts – especially the hard parts, because that is where much of life is lived, and it is in the painful seasons of life that we learn the most about who we are, what we value and what really matters in this life. The dark nights of the soul are when our perspective is reset and our priorities are righted. I love being a part of that process because it is when I sense God the most. I am nearest to Him in the valleys of life, whether they are my own or someone else’s.

Zooey seriousI always thought people were drawn to me in those times because they know I’ve lived it; I know the valleys of life, and I can relate to depressive thoughts. I thought people came to me because I am authentic and approachable; I am a good listener. I figured my presence was sought out because I am wise and serious and dependable; stable and grounded and not afraid of the weightiness of heavy situations.

So my friend’s comment to me, startling as it was, reminded me of a statement Bryan made to me recently: “You bring so much to the table. You have so much to offer the world… but it’s not the things you think. The things that are really your strengths are not the things you think of as your strengths.”

Zooey funnyCould it be that people come to me because I’m funny? I put them at ease; distract them; make them laugh? I don’t think of myself as funny. Or even very fun. But I want to be; I’ve always wanted to be “the fun one”. In fact, one of my greatest insecurities has always been that I’m too serious and melancholy. Yes, I’m intelligent and wise beyond my years, but oh how I have longed to be the bubbly, happy-go-lucky, sunshiny, fun girl.

What would it look like if I started to believe that I AM that girl?

People at church think I’m a social butterfly. Dad says I’m a great storyteller. Mom frequently laughs so hard that she cries when she talks to me on the phone. My best friend Ashley tells me all the time that I’m hilarious. This colleague wanted to talk to me about her difficult situation because she knew I’d make her laugh. And I did.

I’ve always known that I can be fun (and funny) at times, but I don’t think of myself as a fun person. My self identity – the narrative I tell myself about who I am – is that I am the serious, melancholy artist and misunderstood genius. And I don’t know why that is. Because I am an infathomably complex young woman with more facets than even I realize.

I AM the fun-loving, adventurous, hilarious friend with a zeal for life. And I hope 2015 is the year that I own that fact.

Authentically Aurora

Flynn’s Final Chapter?

Flynn Ryder fan artWhen I last wrote about Flynn, I’d called him out on the mixed signals he was sending me, as well as his borderline attempts at two-timing his girlfriend with me. I made it clear that I would NOT be The Other Woman.

The very next day, I was asked to help lead a pre-Christmas worship service at church. Only after I’d agreed and showed up to rehearsal did I discover that Flynn was playing cello in accompaniment to the piano and guitar. At rehearsal, the guitarist quietly told me that Flynn and Patricia had broken up the day before and advised against mentioning it.

So he finally did it. It only took him two months.

Now that he was free to actually pursue a relationship with me, I expected Flynn to flirt more openly with me at the rehearsal. But instead, he was quiet and sullen, avoiding eye contact and generally being anti-social toward everyone, which is completely unlike him. Granted, he did just break up with his girlfriend of nearly a year, but it was two months in coming. And he did the heart breaking.

The day of the worship service, I anticipated that Flynn would again be quiet and a bit standoffish while he righted himself, but what I DIDN’T expect was for him to continue his interactions with Patricia. Everyone was seated at round tables of eight, with Patricia at one and me at another. Flynn chose to sit at a third table, completely alone. When someone at my table called over to him, “Hey, what are you being anti-social for? Come sit with us!”, he did get up, but instead of coming over to join us, he made his way over to the empty seat at Patricia’s table. What?

I went into the hallway to get coffee partway through the sermon, and Patricia followed me out. It seemed like she wanted to talk, but of course I couldn’t let on that I knew, so I just smiled and asked how she was doing. “Fine,” she answered with a shrug.

I looked into her eyes then and saw hurt that I recognized all too well. She didn’t know about Flynn and me (not that there was much of anything to know). What I saw was just the raw pain of a young, broken heart. And in that moment, she wasn’t Flynn’s ex-girlfriend. She was my Sister in Christ whose spirit had been crushed and whose heart had been bruised almost beyond healing. In that instant, I had a “Holy Spirit moment”, as I like to call them. I felt supernaturally filled with God’s love and joy and peace, and its purpose was for overflowing into Patricia.

“Can I hug you?” I asked suddenly, warmly.

Her eyes widened with surprise. “So you know then.”

I nodded. “James told me.”

She reached for me, and I wrapped my arms around her. Right at that moment, Flynn walked into the hallway, but I didn’t care. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been there, girl. Let me know if you need anything.”

She smiled a bit then – a small, hesitant smile – and we walked back in together.

When Patricia left our post-service potluck dinner an hour later, Flynn popped out of his chair and disappeared for several minutes, presumably to walk her out.

I don’t understand what he’s doing or thinking, but one thing became clear to me that evening: Whether or not Flynn is or ever will be intended for me, I don’t know, but my ministry is to Patricia and other young women like her whose broken hearts are in desperate need of comfort and encouragement and healing.

Our miseries become our ministry. And that night, my heart unexpectedly went out, not to Flynn, but to Patricia.

Authentically Aurora

Carriers of Hope

Isn’t it funny the things we remember? If you look back across the years of your life, I’d be willing to bet there are certain statements or conversations that you remember vividly; like you’re standing back in that same room with that same person, experiencing all the same sights and smells and emotions of the moment.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had three encounters that I can already tell are all going to become some of those vividly remembered moments for me.

I was blessed to grow up in the same house my entire life, and my parents still live in that house, so I have kept the same family doctor for, you know, a couple of decades. I recently went to him for a check up, and he heard for the first time about my broken engagement. Unfortunately for him, I was feeling particularly emotional that day (stupid female hormones), so I started crying right there on the examination table.

Caring doctorInstead of balking at my tears like I’d expect most fifty-something men to do, Dr. Stephens looked me right in the eye and said gently but with conviction, “You are destined for greatness. You are a rare woman, and it is going to take an equally rare man to compliment you. You are anything but ordinary, and you are being saved for someone who is equally out of the ordinary.”

Dr. Stephens didn’t say anything to me that I haven’t heard a hundred times from other would-be encouragers, but the way he said it was different. His tone was so intent and full of authority and earnestness that I, for once, really heard the words and believed them – because he believed them.

Between sniffles, I asked cautiously, “How do you know that? I mean, I know I’ve been coming to you for years, but you don’t really know me. We don’t really talk.”

He smiled knowingly and told me,

“I know you. I know where you come from. I know your parents – accomplished, high achievers – and I’ve watched you grow up. I know your story – the decisions you’ve made and the setbacks you’ve faced. You’re not a normal, typical patient, and you never have been. The questions you ask and the expressions that cross your face reveal more than you’d realize. You are not ordinary.

He probably didn’t know (or maybe he did) that I would replay that conversion over and over again during the next few days… until God buoyed me with another unexpected encourager.

As with my primary care physician, I have been going to the same optometrist practice since elementary school, although the particular optometrist I see (no pun intended) changed several years ago when a new doctor was hired on and took over some of the patient base.

Kind OptometristDr. Grant has always had the best bedside manner of any doctor I’ve ever visited. He’s an attractive 30-something with kind eyes and a warm smile. He has a soothing voice, a ready laugh, and is one of those rare people who really hears people when they speak (yes, he’s already married for those of you who were wondering).

Dr. Grant always starts our visits by asking me what’s new in my life. “Did you go on another mission trip this summer?” He’s heard lots of my stories over the years, and he always remembers the details of what makes me who I am. This visit when he asked about my life over the last six months, I told him about the transition period I’m in  (job, church, love life and possibly geography change), downplaying my broken engagement by sandwiching it between the layoffs at work and the “church hopping” I’m doing (as a result of avoiding my ex-fiance at our old church). But Dr. Grant wasn’t fooled. He zeroed right in on the topic that gripped my heart.

He asked how I was holding up, and we talked for a few minutes – with rare authenticity and genuine care on both sides – about the reality of my 2014 so far. I knew Dr. Grant would have a kind and encouraging response, but I was not prepared for the way his answer affected me.

“You know what? You may not want to hear this or even be able to hear it right now, but in a way, you’re lucky. You’ve been protected from marrying a man who had serious issues that would have come out at some point during your marriage. And I know you. You would have honored the commitment you made before God, put on a brave face, and stuck it out in a heartbreaking marriage until he eventually left you anyway.

“But instead, you get to do it all over again – falling in love. The excitement; the newness; the butterflies! Don’t get me wrong; I’m  happily married, but those go away after you’ve been married a few years. You thought that season had passed for you, but you get to do it all over again. And you WILL meet someone and fall in love again. You will.”

As with Dr. Stephens, he spoke with an authority – a knowing; a certainty – that made me believe him, too. I was comforted that he was so perceptive; he knew me so well, saw so clearly into my situation, and offered an assurance in full faith that it would come to pass.

CoffeeLastly, I met a 50-year-old missionary named Ruth for coffee this week. Our paths crossed unexpectedly several days ago, and we forged an immediate bond. She asked to hear my story, and she provided some insight that has helped me change the way I view how God has been working in my life over the past five years through not just one, but two broken engagements of sorts. Ruth told me, with twinkling eyes,

“God has been protecting you. He knew you wouldn’t abandon these men, so He clearly intervened. Just think of how suddenly and unexpectedly both of their hearts were hardened, without either of them even understanding why. Neither one of them was able to give you a real reason.

“God is protecting you, and he’s also softening you. Your heart is so hard and so soft at the same time. It is so tender but so wounded and calloused over, but that will change with time. Just wait.

Authentically Aurora