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

Burning with Indifference

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The fire alarm went off in my apartment complex around 5:00 this morning. I normally wake up in a fog of gradual consciousness, but when the shrill siren first pierced the air, I jolted awake.

Moving quickly but calmly, I slipped my bare feet into tennis shoes, threw on a heavy coat, and grabbed my phone and keys. I exited into the hallway – locking my apartment door behind me – and walked down the outside stairwell to the first floor where I was surprised to see that I was the only one in my entire apartment complex (of about 800 tenants) who had evacuated.

I walked slowly around the complex, surveying it for smoke or fire. Down the hall from me, an alternate outside stairwell was flooded with water. The overhead sprinklers had been activated and created a fine mist that rose into the air in a way that looked like smoke at first glance.

Over the next thirty minutes, sleepy tenants slowly made their way out into the parking lot, grumpily conceding that they couldn’t just roll over and go back to sleep since the deafening alarm was still sounding a full half an hour later.

I was astonished at the laissez-faire attitude of my neighbors. I work at a major oil company where safety is such a huge part of our culture in the post-Macondo world that I want to gag every time someone even mentions the term “HSSE”. But this wasn’t just a fire drill. Water was gushing out of the building from the sprinkler system, and a fire truck pulled up minutes later, lights flashing. It’s still unclear what happened, but when I left for work two hours later, the piercing fire alarm was still going off, and the fire truck was still outside my building with red lights blazing in the dim light of early morning.

It seems to have been a non-event, but this could easily have been something significant. Have we as a culture gotten so desensitized to fire alarms that we don’t take them seriously anymore? Most of the people in my apartment complex would have suffocated or burned to death if it had been a real fire. Have our fire alarms cried wolf too many times, deafening our ears with their sirens such that we are unmoved in the event of an actual flame? Are people just too lazy to bother to leave their apartments? Or are they so sleep-deprived that they’re willing to risk the alarm signaling a real fire?

Living in a world of reality TV and virtual reality, have we developed invincibility complexes, thinking that nothing bad can really happen to us; that everything is a show for our entertainment? With the onslaught of negativity in the media, are we desensitized to all of the bad in the world – numb to pain, blind to evil, and apathetic to the possibility of personal injury?

This early morning experience brought to mind how much of the world headed for eternal fire is absolutely deaf to the warning signs all around them. People are too busy or indifferent or afraid of the truth to take the time to really evaluate who they are, why they are on this earth, and what is going to happen when they die. When I have asked people what they think happens when they die, 95% of the time, I get one of two answers:

  1. I’ll probably go to heaven because I’m a pretty good person, all things considered.
  2. I don’t know. It’s something I don’t really think about. I’ll deal with it when I’m older.

For anyone in Camp #1, there is no biblical basis for good works earning your way to heaven. Our sin separates us from the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things because He cannot be around sin. But in addition to being all powerful, God is also unconditionally loving, and He loved us so much that – while we were still sinners – God’s Son Jesus went willingly to die to take the punishment we all deserve for our waywardness. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death and the power of evil. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, not by any good works we have done. There is nothing I can do that would be good enough to make up for my sinfulness, but because God loves us all, He remedied our plight by giving everyone freely the opportunity to be reconciled to Him if they would simply believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

For those in Camp #2, I’ll just say this: You don’t know how much time you have left. You could die in a car wreck this afternoon, or you could die in a fire tonight because you inaccurately think the fire alarm is a false alarm. Don’t wait to think about these weighty topics. If they truly do have eternal significance, isn’t it worth taking an hour out of your day to think them through and wrestle with them? And don’t be afraid to think about what may be beyond the grave. Because there is Good News – God is for you, and He lovingly wants an eternal relationship with you.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 6

IMG_6896.jpgKnowing that most Parisian museums are closed on Mondays, I saved the islands and cathedrals for my last full day in Paris, wanting to make the most of my time in the city.

To finish off the trip right, Rachel and I decided to splurge on breakfast at the prestigious Cafe de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain during our last day. I ordered the Quiche Lorainne with my cafe creme, and it was definitely the best quiche I’ve ever had! The light, flaky crust was just the right texture against the creamy and flavorful egg-and-cheese filling. I was thoroughly impressed.

IMG_6654.jpgThe waiters at Cafe de Flore were resplendent in black vests and bow ties, so we sat for a while in the quaint atmosphere, sipping our lattes and looking out the glass walls at the pedestrians passing by outside. I sat and sketched while Rachel read a book; then I helped a couple from Portugal decipher the French menu when they caught my eye and smiled apologetically, looking sheepish.

Once we felt it was time to relinquish our table, Rachel and I took the Metro to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cite. Coming up on the North side of the cathedral where visitors enter was disappointing. I expected to see the rounded spire and flying buttresses, but instead we saw the two boxy towers of what I had always considered the back side of Notre-Dame. We waited in line in the rain, and once inside, I felt much better because the inside was just as beautiful as I’d imagined.

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The Rose windows were especially breathtaking, but I was frustrated to see signs everywhere instructing visitors to pay in order to light and candle and pray. I realize that Notre-Dame is now a tourist attraction that expects to take in funding, but it made me think of Matthew 21 when Jesus says, “You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves!” It also made me thankful for John 4:23 and 1 Cor. 3:16. We don’t have to worship God at any particular place; we are called to worship in Spirit and in Truth!

IMG_6802.jpgBack outside in the rain, I took Rachel around the quiet, unfrequented South side of Notre-Dame and was rewarded with a stunning, unobstructed view of rose gardens encircling the majestic flying buttresses around the nave of the cathedral. This was where I wanted to spend my time – away from the crowds and in the presence of great beauty, both natural and man made. I took in a deep breath, savoring the moment and literally stopping to smell the roses. It was magnificent and moving; a memory I will cherish.

The rain really starting coming down as we walked the length of the island to Sainte-Chapelle, and we passed a man whistling “Singing in the Rain”. The familiar tune and his carefree vocalization made my heart happy. Twenty minutes later, I stepped inside the lesser-known chapel of Ile de la Cite, and it took my breath away.

Rich colors dominated the surprisingly low ceiling, and this close, the detail work and structural patterns of the vaulting were more readily admired. A narrow spiral staircase took us to an upper floor where the king used to worship, and it was probably the coolest cathedral I have ever been in (significant, since I’ve visited St. Paul’s in Rome, St. Patrick in NYC, Westminister in London, Washington National Cathedral in DC, St. Michael’s in Brussels and more).

IMG_6861.jpgStained glass windows dominated the room, reaching nearly floor to ceiling and telling the story of the bible bottom-to-top as one moved clockwise around the room. It felt simultaneously secluded and awe-inspiring; majestic and intimate, just like the One intended to be worshiped.

Leaving the island, Rachel and I went to the highly-ranked Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore but quickly left, disappointed. All the books were brand new and in English, and patrons stood elbow-to-elbow at the shelves.

Decided to spend the rest of our evening on Ile Saint-Louis, we settled at La Chaumiere, where I ordered a Nutella crepe with my cappuccino. Rachel was generally embarrassed of me when I talked to people around us, but in this instance, it paid off for her because we were seated next to a foursome from her hometown – remarkable because it’s a basically unknown small town of just six thousand people.

IMG_6911.jpgWhen the foursome left, Rachel got out her book, and I continued my sketching and journaling. The waiter kept trying to flirt with us, and when I got up to go to the bathroom, he wrapped me unexpectedly in a hug with the other waiters looking on and laughing. I figured if he could be that bold, I could, too, so when I got to the top of the stairs from the bathroom and he grabbed me for another hug, I disentangled myself from him, asked if he could read English; then handed him my bible where I’d bookmarked John. I asked him to commit to reading it, and he said he would, but God only knows if he will. I’m praying that if he doesn’t, my bible will end up in the hands of someone who will!

Rachel and I moved on to Creperie la Sarrasin et la Froment, where I got a framboise (strawberry) crepe and socialized with the genuinely friendly owner, a refugee from Iraq. It was a slow evening, perfect for my last night in Paris. Coffee, crepes and good company? A girl can’t ask for much more.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 5

Sunday was our planned day trip to Versailles, so Rachel and I got up early and started our morning at Kozy, a breakfast cafe she’d found on Yelp. It was unremarkable and fairly westernized, with hipster chalkboard menus hung on the walls and written entirely in English. Regardless, any morning begun with a latte and chocolate croissant is a good morning!

We finished breakfast, walked to the Metro, bought our RER C tickets and got on the train for the anticipated hour-long ride. At the Javel stop, we were surprised to spot the original Statue of Liberty out the window. Pretty cool.

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Once at Versailles, we found it to be beautiful but crowded. Our Paris Museum Passes were supposed to gain us entrance to the Palace and Gardens, but at the gate to the gardens, we were told we had to buy an additional ticket for entry since the water show would be held later that evening. I argued with the attendant that their website said water shows were only on Saturdays (it was Sunday), and anyway, that day’s show was at 8:30 PM and it was only 10:00 AM. We would be long gone by the time the water show started.

The ticket puncher wouldn’t budge, so Rachel and I went to the nearby Versailles Cafe to burn off some steam. But the line was out the door. So we went to the Versailles Laduree. They would only sell a minimum of six macaroons at a time; customers had to buy an entire box at once. Beaten down, we got in line for the Palace. Over an hour later, we made it inside, where we waited in yet another line to go through security.

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The Palace was ornate but, in my opinion, not worth waiting for. Even the Hall of Mirrors – the entire reason I wanted to visit Versailles – was so full of people that the effect of the potential majesty was lost. The grandeur of the famous glass and crystal hall was diminished by all the madding crowds.

I also made the observation that all the paintings were of wars, French nobility or Greek mythology. One of the rooms is even called the Apollo room, but there is nothing remotely biblical throughout the Versailles Palace, at least not that I could see. I found that curious, considering how prominent biblical paintings and sculptures are throughout the rest of Europe, regardless of what the current inhabitants believe.

Ready to leave Versailles the instant the tour was over, Rachel and I took the train back into town and had lunch on Rue Cler. I ordered a Cobb Salad from Cafe Central; then we both got Nutella ice cream cones, which we took to a nearby park where little French children were playing, climbing trees and splashing water on each other from the fountainhead. It was interesting watching the French children play; they were very adventurous and active (and frequently without pants…?). Although we were in the midst of Paris, they acted like rural kids would in the States.

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We continued on to the grassy area around Les Invalides, where I laid in the grass for a while before putting in earbuds and walking around the park, quietly singing worship music over the people there. I felt the void of having missed my church community that morning, and I longed for God to be praised in this place.

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It was a beautiful day – sunny and 75 – so Rachel and I walked to Place de la Concorde; then through the Carrousel Garden and Tuileries Garden. We made it back to the greenery around the Louvre, where we were joined by Thomas and sat talking for a while before heading home to our Airbnb. As before, the Metro skipped over our Passy stop (perhaps it only stops at certain stations after a certain hour of the evening?), so we again walked home from Trocadero, rewarding ourselves with much-needed hot showers after climbing the 127 steps to our shared room. And then? Sweet sleep.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 4

Hardware SocieteOpting to start our Montmarte morning in that section of Paris (the 18th arrondissement), Rachel and I enjoyed a continental breakfast at Hardware Societe just down the street from Sacre-Coeur. When I ordered my breakfast of a cafe au lait with roasted peaches and oats in yogurt, the adorable waiter – whose leather apron was fitting in light of the cafe’s name – told me with a smile, “Your French is perfect!” When we left, he asked hopefully, “See you tomorrow?” We seriously made friends left and right. What is that my boss keeps saying about my inability to win friends and influence people? 

IMG_6212.jpgWalking back toward the hilly Sacre-Coeur, we saw children feeding pigeons and were greeted by the peaceful sounds of a harpist. Down the street, we found Place du Tertre where local street artists sketched portraits of tourists. I enjoyed watching their skill unfold as they captured the unique markings of each of their subjects.

Continuing on to Rue des Abbesses, we stopped in to a number of Montmarte boutiques where I found a cute bracelet for Ashley and a fashionable coffee mug for myself. Lunch was at Creperie Broceliande, where I ordered the Mont Blanc – a chocolate banana crepe that was the best crepe I’ve ever had in my entire life, which is saying something, considering I’ve had crepes in Greece and also make my own in a crepe pan at home. If you ever go to Paris, definitely check this place out!

We also tried the Cuillier coffee chain, found it average, and headed over to the 3rd arrondissement to check out Merci, a nonprofit shop that is part cafe, part boutique and part home goods store. It was neat to see, but everything was outrageously overpriced, and the store was also overcrowded. On the plus side, I ran into more people from my hometown, and the shopkeeper thought I was French when we conversed briefly. Victory.

IMG_6304On the Metro on our way to the Arc de Triomphe, I kept catching a tall brunette guy looking at me. When we got off a few stops later, I glanced his way and found him still watching, so I smiled politely at him as I exited the platform. Rachel and I strolled down Champs-Elysses, taking in the sights on foot and peeking in Laduree before coming to a stop at the end of the street at the Arc de Triomphe.

When we were crossing a crosswalk on our way back down Avenue des Champs-Elysses, I sensed rapid movement behind me and turned to see the tall brunette from the Metro hurrying across the street toward me before the light turned red. “Hey.” He said something to me in French, and when I looked dumbfounded, he asked in English, “Do you remember me from the Metro?”

“Of course,” I said, and he introduced himself as Thomas (Toh-mah), a native Parisian. He waved over to his friend Benjamin (Bah-jah-mah), who joined us shortly. Rachel and I had just finished all of our touring for the day, so when they invited us for coffee, we agreed. I realized Thomas was steering us toward a Starbucks, so I suggested we go to a local cafe instead.

IMG_6361.jpgThomas stopped cold. “You are a difficult woman.” I just laughed, and we went to Starbucks. Thomas had thought I was Eastern European, so when he found out that I’m an American (and have shot guns), he added to my descriptors: “You are a dangerous woman!”

Rachel and I learned that Benjamin is a 22-year-old sports journalist, and Thomas is a 23-year-old IT major with dreams of being a professional (corporation-employed) hacker. They asked how Rachel and I know each other, and when I said, “Church,” they looked surprised, so I asked them (fully knowing the answer) if they grew up going to church.

The native Parisians told me that they are both agnostic and that in France, church is for old people. “It’s more of a tradition,” Thomas explained. So I asked what they believe happens when they die. Rachel squirmed, pleading with her eyes for me to stop. But the postmodern, open-minded, sophomoric French were interested in engaging in philosophical conversation. Besides, if I have to choose between temporary discomfort for us versus potentially eternal death for them, I will choose temporary discomfort every single time.

IMG_5751Benjamin seemed to think that we just fade to nothing when we die, and Thomas said diplomatically that we cannot know for sure until we actually die and experience the other side. I countered with a twinkle in my eye, “I believe I know for sure, and you can, too.” Rachel’s discomfort was now palpable. Wishing she would support me rather than being a stumbling block, I plunged ahead, sharing the gospel of Jesus with them. The boys seemed interested but not convinced, and I encouraged them that something of potentially eternal significance is probably worth exploring. We exchanged contact information, but now all I can do is pray the Holy Spirit works faith in them. They’ve heard the truth. I’m responsible for obedience and providing the input, but God is the only one who can determine the outcome.

Rachel and I said goodbye to the French boys and took the Metro to the Bastille to check the box (not much to see there); then we went back to (you guessed it!) Rue Cler where I enjoyed a burger and Pinot Noir at Cafe du Marche. I don’t normally like red wines, but this one was not too bitter; it had a subtle sweetness and was not too dry. We reflected on the day, got more LeNotre macaroons and took an evening stroll through the Palais de Challoit in view of the Eiffel Tower before retiring for the night. La perfection.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 2

IMG_5639.jpgRachel and I started our second day in Paris with a mid-morning brunch at Le Tourville near Ecole Militaire. I ordered a Croque Monsieur and cafe au lait; then watched people hurrying through the morning rain from the safety of my covered awning.

While Rachel made use of the cafe’s Wi-fi connection, I met a nice German couple from Stuttgart and also made friends with our waiter, Leandre. He taught me some new phrases (“C’est bon”) and invited us to join him that evening at Hobo Club discotek.

Due to the EuroCup, Champs de Mars was closed to the public, but we were able to at least walk by, and in the process, we also passed right by the base of the Eiffel Tower. Circling back to Ecole Militaire, we found Rue Cler and enjoyed its Open Air Market despite the drizzling rain. Rachel bought raspberries, I got blueberries, and we strolled in the rain eating our bite-sized fruit.

IMG_5672.jpgAround the corner, we stumbled upon LeNotre. The little bakery specialized in macaroons, and although I have never liked macaroons in the US, I decided to try some, and they were the best macaroons I’ve ever had! Throughout the rest of the trip, Rachel and I ate a lot of macaroons, but no one – not even the famous Laduree – came close to LeNotre’s macaroons: soft and flavorful with just the right amount of chewiness.

While eating my strawberry hibiscus and dark chocolate macaroons, I accompanied Rachel to a bookstore where she bought a children’s book in French for her nephew. She has decided to buy him a book in every country she visits. He won’t be able to read them, but she thinks someday he will appreciate having a collection of children’s books in other languages. Time will tell.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Rue du Commerce, a street of boutiques where the locals shop. I got a really cute coral pencil skirt with scalloped edging. Afterward in the Metro, we got stuck behind a Polish football fan whose RATP card wouldn’t work, so Rachel gave him one of hers.

IMG_5743.jpg“Where you from?” he asked us, wondering at the kindness of strangers. When we told him America, he invited us for beers and to join them in watching the soccer match. I told him we were on our way to a cafe instead. “Cafe?! No, no no,” he said to me. “Cafe bad. Beer good!” the boisterous Polski declared with a grin before running off with his friends singing a song in Polish at the top of his lungs.

Back at Rue Cler (quickly becoming one of our favorite hideaways), Rachel and I each ordered cafe au lait and split a scrumptious raspberry tart at Le Petit Cler. Although the maitre d’ was outrageously rude, the food was delicious, and we made a lot of new friends:

  • 3 British soccer fans took a liking to us and poured us some champagne when I joked that, “obviously,” I was pulling for Britain in the EuroCup.
  • 2 Welsh guys in their 40s, one of whom (Garreth) took a liking to me and had a great, long conversation about politics (e.g. effect of the legal drinking age of 21 in the US and decline of the pub scene in Britain) as well as religion. Garreth just started reading his childhood bible about two months ago and invited us to the Half Penny Pub when he left. We got invited for drinks by nearly everyone we met!
  • 2 young, fashionable women were seated next to us at Le Petit Cler, and when I heard one of them speak, I picked up her American accent. Daria, as she soon introduced herself, turned out to be from my hometown, and she’d met Agathe – her French companion – when they both attended Fashion School in London.

IMG_5755.jpgRachel and I hit it off so well with Daria and Agathe that we all walked down the block to Cafe Central where Agathe insisted we all try the famous Berthillon gelato. I ordered the nut flavor, and it was delicious (similar to Nutella)! After we all exchanged contact information (yay for new friends!), we said good night (“bonne nuit”).

Our Metro line 6 skipped over our Passy stop, so Rachel and I got off at Trocadero and walked through the picturesque Palais de Chaillot – lit up at night – to get home to our shared full-sized bed and porta-shower at the top of our seven flights of stairs. I found that our temporary “home sweet home” made my actual home all the sweeter. C’est bon.

Authentically Aurora

Mental About My Dental

Teeth-WhiteningPeople are weirdly obsessed with my teeth.

Apparently a new person in my circle of friends was asking someone else about me – what they think of me – and, of all the comments and observations that could have been made about me, the person’s response was: “She’s really intense. And she has good teeth.”

I’m intense. And I have good teeth. I mean, both of those things are true. The former is one of my greatest insecurities and the reason nearly every one of my boyfriends has broken up with me. The latter, as my daddy likes to say, is because he “paid a lot of good money for those teeth!” Nine months of braces. Thanks, Dad. 

Soon after that interaction, I found myself doing the whole standing-talking-in-the-parking-lot thing with one of the men in my bible study, and during the course of our conversation, he suddenly stopped and said, “You have really good teeth.”

I appreciated the compliment, but since his family owns a cattle ranch, this – his very first compliment to me – made me feel a bit like a horse being appraised for investment. Not the most flattering compliment of all time, but I tried to take it in the spirit in which it was intended.

Then last night, while volunteering at a ministry that provides career counseling and mentorship to at-risk youth, two of my freshman kept giggling during our session. When I asked what was up, they blurt out, “You have great teeth. They’re so white!” …and then, embarrassed, they erupted into giggles, covering their mouths and hiding under the table.

I smiled, thanked them, and brought us back to the lesson at hand, but – since all three interactions involved boys – the next time a man tells me I have good teeth, I’m going to ask in response, “Would you say my teeth are ‘like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing’?”

After all, a girl’s got to know where she stands.

Authentically Aurora