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

Paying Debts (Part 1)

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To My Neighbor in Unit 71:

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

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

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

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

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

Your Neighbor

Authentically Aurora

Goodness & Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

30 Things To Do Before 30

30-before-30.pngI don’t think I ever made a list of 30 Things To Do Before Turning 30. I surely must have made that list at some point, but I went through my old emails and documents, and I can’t find anything saved digitally. I guess I’m showing my age… “When I was a girl, we used to write lists out by hand!” Ha.

Rather than scoring myself on that never-to-be-found-handwritten list (of what I did and did not accomplish by age 30), I will instead list out 30 Things I Did Before 30 – all of which are things I feel like could have been on my list!

  1. Dance in a ballet
  2. Sing for my supper
  3. Get a hole-in-one
  4. Watch a total lunar eclipse
  5. Score a goal in a soccer game
  6. Save a life
  7. Sing with someone famous
  8. Get paid to sing
  9. Shoot a 9mm pistol
  10. Go white water rafting
  11. Visit all 50 states
  12. Graduate Magna Cum Laude
  13. Earn an EMT certification
  14. Go on an international mission trip
  15. Earn an engineering degree
  16. Travel internationally for work
  17. Perform with David Copperfield in Vegas
  18. See a Broadway show in NYC
  19. Read through the entire bible in a year
  20. Get paid to photograph a wedding
  21. Visit Neuchvanstein
  22. Run a 5k
  23. Perform an original composition live
  24. Go on a blind date
  25. Get copyrighted
  26. Release an original album on iTunes
  27. Get paid for artwork
  28. Give a speech to 1,000+ people
  29. Share the Gospel with a stranger
  30. Watch a meteor shower with someone I love

Man. It’s been a good 30 years.

Authentically Aurora

Becoming a 30-Something

30th birthday.pngI’m turning 30 years old this week.

I know the expectation is that I should be freaking out about this, feeling like my biological clock is ticking and that life is going too fast. But I feel strangely calm about this milestone birthday.

Maybe it’s because my best friend Ashley turned 30 back in November, and I have already started thinking of myself as 30 by extension.

Maybe it’s because, rather than being single, I am in a happy relationship with a wonderful man who continues to make comments alluding to commitment. I think there’s a future there.

Or maybe it’s because there are so many other new, good things in my life (like an upcoming career change) that have 30 feeling more like an exciting fresh start than the beginning of a downhill slope.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about the fact that Jesus began his public ministry at age 30. He certainly did miracles and taught in the synagogue prior to his 30th birthday, but up until that point, he kept his ministry more private and was in a season of preparation for what was to come.

My mind followed that train of thought to mulling over the past decade and how many trials I’ve faced. I’ve been praying for years that God would use the pain for good; that He would put me in a place where I consistently live out my true created purpose. And here, right at my 30th birthday, I am on the brink of a major career change, where I get to stand in front of young adults every day and be a positive role model, hopefully impacting them for eternity.

Might this be what I’ve been praying for? Might this be the beginning of my own public ministry of sorts, with everything up to now being a season of preparation? I hope so.

If 30 is the year I start to see God really moving in my life to impact others, then I say bring on the next decade! I’m ready to be a 30-something.

Authentically Aurora

The Dietitian

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Every year, my company pays for me to have a full physical done. It’s a nice perk, actually, except that every year they tell me in some way or form that I am morbidly obese.

Some years, it’s my BMI. Other years, it’s my Body Fat %. One year, my LDL cholesterol was just 1 point too high. I’m young and healthy, right in the center of where I’m supposed to be on the Height/Weight chart, so I tend to mostly ignore the comments about my supposed obesity.

This year, my Body Fat % was measured at 26.0% by the pinch test, so they brought in an on-site dietitian to talk with me. Insert April Ludgate saying, “I hate talking. To people. About things.” 

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The dietitian and I went over my typical meals and snacks throughout the week. I think I eat pretty healthy, especially considering how I ate my first year out of college.

Cookie SliceBack when I started at this company (and all the bitterness began), I used to comfort myself with an entire Slice from Great American Cookie Company. Every day.

Once I realized that was a terrible life choice, I transitioned to a season where only after a particularly hard day at work would I come home and bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies to eat in its entirety. By myself.

From there, I moved to just eating a dark chocolate bar (the whole bar). Now – eight years later – I allow myself a handful of almonds and blueberries while I watch an episode of Parks & Rec to help me unwind.

I made all of these decisions over the past few years without a dietitian, and I feel pretty good about my food choices. But last week when I told the dietitian that I eat almonds for a snack, she said, “You need to stop eating so many nuts. They are high in fat.”

Almonds.png“Yeah, but I’m eating almonds, not peanuts. And it’s good fat.”

“How do you feel about celery?”

“I feel like I don’t hate myself.”

We moved on from snacks to my lunch choices, and when she found out that I eat salads for lunch – which I think should have constituted at least a tiny smile and “good job” – her first question was, “How much dressing do you put on?” I go to Salata and ask them to half the dressing, I told her, proud of myself.

But there was no praise to be had. Did this woman know my boss? Were they related? “You should really ask for the dressing on the side,” she chided me.

Internally rolling my eyes, we moved on to protein shakes. “How much fruit do you put in?” I was cautioned to only use vegetables, not fruit, because fruit is “high in sugar.” I also use almond milk, and she shook her head. Another error on my part evidently. “Almond milk doesn’t have the same protein count as regular milk. You need to be drinking soy instead.” But aren’t there hormone concerns with drinking soy?

For breakfast, I eat one hardboiled egg. Surely she can’t say anything negative about that. Oh, but she could. “You should add some fruit to your breakfast.”

“But I thought fruit was high in sugar.” Hadn’t she just told me that?

“But you need to add carbohydrates to your breakfast. Try eating an apple or banana.”

It was a miserable experience. I feel like I’m doing a lot of things right. I don’t eat a Starbucks pastry for breakfast in the mornings like I want to. I eat an egg. I don’t eat pizza for lunch to comfort my miserable self from my life of sitting in a cubicle all day. I eat a salad. I only eat out about twice per week, but I was strongly advised, “You need to be splitting your entrees. Your waist can’t afford to eat an entire entree.”

At the same height and age range, I weigh less than this girl:

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My waist is 28″, and my hips are 37″. I am healthy. Could I afford to work out more? Yes. But I’m already pretty restrictive on my diet, and a little bit of positive encouragement would have gone much further than all of the chastising.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the treatment, though. This woman is affiliated with my company. I can’t wait to leave.

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