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

Politicizing Everything

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I thought after November, my social media would be decluttered of the endless political posts. As it turns out, the election was just the beginning. Somehow everyone on Facebook, Twitter and even mainstream news channels feels the need to politicize everything.

For example: Apparently Beyonce is pregnant with twins. Great. Go Queen Bey.

I am honestly indifferent to the fact that some singer I feel ambivalent about is having twins. To me, that is not national news. But not only has Beyonce’s pregnancy become national news, it has become a breeding ground for more political posts, like this one:

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There are more black people inside Beyonce right now than in Trump’s cabinet.

Oh, really? Are we calling them “people” now? I thought they were just fetuses. 

Technically they are just fetuses, but that doesn’t change the fact that Trump is a racist bigot.

Trump has multiple minorities in his cabinet, including Ben Carson and Nikki Haley. And let’s not forget that Republicans ran a black man and two Hispanics, whereas Democrats ran two old, white people – exactly what the left accused the right of being.

I thought we were talking about the inane topic of Beyonce’s pregnancy. Why did this turn into a political discussion?!?!?!?!

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Super Bowl ads used to be a source of humor and joy, filled with heartwarming commercials of lost puppies finding their owners, hilarious nods to raw masculinity, and adorable clips of children who believe in magic.

This year, the Super Bowl commercials were thinly-veiled (or, at times, overt) commentaries on feminism, immigration and Trump himself. Not only were the once-enjoyable ads politically laced, but Lady Gaga’s halftime show has been somehow called a triumph for the LGTBQ community, despite the fact that she did not come out and make the strong political statement she’d alluded to (for which I am thankful).

Can we go back to a day without political booby-traps at every turn? I’d like to be able to go shopping without being bombarded with news about Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump’s line. I’d like to be able to go to work without facing questions about my view on evil “Big Oil”. I never thought I’d long for the days when I missed all of the engagement pictures and pregnancy announcements on my Facebook newsfeed, but congratulations, world. You have pushed me over the edge… Bring back the Clydesdales, and bring back the baby pictures!!!

Authentically Aurora

Hard But Good

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I’ve been asking God lately to release me from my current place of employment.

Over the past seven years, I’ve explored leaving my current job countless times – going to seminary to become a biblical counselor, going to art school to become a graphic designer, interviewing for same-industry-but-smaller-company procurement jobs, interviewing for different-industry-but-still-major-company procurement jobs, interviewing for management consulting firms… None of them have panned out, and I believe it is because God has not yet “released” me from my current place of employment.

I could, of course (of my own volition) just choose to quit my job, leaving without having another job in place. Some people at my own church have encouraged me to take this “step of faith”, believing that God will only provide me with another job once I have proven my dependence on Him. This might be, but I think God calls us not only to faith but also to wisdom and prudence. Sometimes it takes just as much faith to stay as it does to leave. And I don’t want to leave preemptively, taking matters into my own hands; I believe it is for my good to wait on God’s timing. I’m just hoping He doesn’t decide to put me through 25 years of waiting like Abraham or – worse yet! – 40 years of waiting like Moses!

I’ve been asking for the past few months, “God, do you still want me to stay at my current job?”, and the answer I’ve been getting about my current job is: “It’s not hard, but it’s also not good.”

If I wanted to leave my current job because it was too hard, and I just wanted to quit, that would be a red flag. There is benefit to being long-suffering and learning to be dependent on God. But God doesn’t tend to call us to difficult things just for the sake of the difficulty. The best challenges in life are hard but good, like a solid workout that leaves you both drained and energized. It’s painful but for our betterment. And my current job is not that way. It’s neither hard nor good.

My job is easy. It’s boring. I get paid a ridiculous amount of money to do very basic, menial tasks that are neither fun nor challenging. It would be easy to be complacent, choosing to stay in this easy but unfulfilling, lucrative but simultaneously fruitless station in life. For many people, my current situation is ideal: an undemanding job with high pay. But I don’t believe God is glorified by easy, comfortable complacency with easy payouts that require nothing of us: no discipline, no hard work, not heart investment.

My job is not “hard but good”. It’s comfortable and easy and unfulfilling. That is not the model of the Christian life; it is the antithesis of the Christian life. The Christian life should not be comfortable; it should be challenging. The Christian life should not be unfulfilling; Jesus came that we may have life to the full. And sometimes (often!) experiencing the fullness of life also comes with working hard; working passionately toward something that matters and has impact.

In recent weeks, I have started to see the ropes begin to fray; the ties that bind me to my job are dissolving. Between a deplorable performance review (wrongfully given) last month and an intense meeting with HR yesterday morning, I am starting to see that my time at this company is indeed coming to a close.

I’m not going out the way I wanted to – liked, respected and valued – but fortunately, the ones who actually know me still hold me in high esteem and have even encouraged me that this poor rating is a blessing in disguise. God is working through my critical, close-minded boss to finally release me from a company I’ve been hoping to escape for years.

The rejection and wrongful performance scores are difficult to swallow, but my boss would have no power over me if it were not given to her from above (Rom. 13:1). Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble, but take heart! He has overcome the world and is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Authentically Aurora