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

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

Freedom from Boredom

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Boredom and Restlessness, Boredom and Restlessness, over and over again: This has been the cycle of my life for the past few years. I’ve been so underutilized and unappreciated at work – where I spend 40 hours each week – that I’ve allowed this discontentment to infiltrate the rest of my life.

During seasons of Boredom, I’d click around on the internet all day at work; then come home and eat junk food and watch Netflix until bedtime, starting the routine again the next day. My life became one of comfortable complacency, where I didn’t feel passionate or motivated about anything. I was so disheartened for so many hours during the day that, ironically, my boredom at work sapped all of my energy and rendered me utterly unproductive during my off hours as well.

After a few weeks of Boredom, I’d kick myself into gear and start desperately trying to do something meaningful and significant with my life. I didn’t want to be a binge-watching, dispassionate Netflix couch potato. So I’d enter a season of Restlessness, where I filled my time trying to find new hobbies to learn and new projects to tackle.

I got certified to babysit foster children, but only one family ever called to ask me to babysit. I offered to take maternity or newborn photos for a ministry that helps pregnant teens, but the seemingly excited director of the organization never took me up on my offer to work for free. I’d volunteer for complex analysis at work that never got used, and I stepped up to arrange songs for a choir that ended up being more of a drain than a joy.

After a few weeks of feeling rejected and unappreciated even in my skillful volunteer efforts, I’d return to a season of Boredom. And so this cycle would continue ad nauseam: Boredom and Restlessness.

In July last year, during one particularly uplifting sermon, I sensed God speaking to my heart that he wants to change this cycle. The Christian life was never intended to be boring. And there is no reason for us to be restless, striving desperately for passion and purpose. We’ve been given both identity and purpose that inform our passions. And the new cycle God has spoken over me is Passion and Rest.

I long to throw myself wholeheartedly into what I love. I’m wired to run hard; to be singleminded in the pursuit of my passions. So in seasons where I don’t feel passionate about anything, I feel dead and purposeless. Even in the mundane – which is a natural part of life – I believe we can be passionate about the people around us and investing in them. Any job and any season of life can have something – even the most minuscule or ordinary – that gets us fired up. And I’ve been missing that in my life, but I believe God is ushering me into a new season where my passions are lit anew.

But we also weren’t created to run headlong without a break. We are called to rest – commanded to rest – and this is for our good. Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. And our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures. We shouldn’t protect our rest so that we can be rested when we rest some more; we rest so that we can work hard – get back out there and do good work for God’s kingdom.

So Passion and Rest, Passion and Rest… that is what I’m praying for in this New Season.

Authentically Aurora

Loving Humbling

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I’ve been working at the same company for the past 7.5625 years. To a Baby Boomer, that may only seem like a fleeting moment, but to most Millennials, that seems like a lifetime to spend at one company. I always thought I’d be like a Baby Boomer in that I planned to stay at the same company for 50 years and make my job a true career; to invest in one company and show fidelity and faithfulness and I worked my way up and invested my blood, sweat and tears to make my company a better employer and more profitable company.

But the company where I work has never wanted my blood, sweat and tears in the traditional sense. Only two of the eleven bosses I’ve had over 7.5625 years has wanted to truly see me invest in the company for both my betterment and the betterment of the company as a whole. For the most part, the people I work with – management in particular – want to see us bleed, but only because they draw blood. They want to see us sweat, but only out of fear and intimidation. And they want to see tears because that means their carefully crafted demotivational comments have hit their mark.

Because I work for one of the most widely recognized major oil companies in the world, they are able to hire the best and the brightest. This corporation hires class presidents, valedictorians, visionary students who have founded their own organizations, and PhD students making breakthroughs in the future of biofuels. But rather than channeling that raw intellect and stunning creativity, all of these initially highly motivated self-starters are shoved into The Machine where they are expected to be simply one cog in one wheel, with no insight into or influence over even the most minuscule of process improvements. Don’t think independently. Don’t disrupt The System.

Any genius is called ignorance if it doesn’t fit the mold of the Kool-aid pushing management. Any creativity is stifled when the innovative try to use the very skills for which they were hired. The majority of the most fun, hard-working, creative and brilliant of my colleagues have long since left the company, opting instead to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits or become consultants to companies who will pay them triple to actually listen to the input that was so scorned at my current place of employment.

I have been trying to leave this company for nearly 7 of the past 7.5625 years. I’ve applied to smaller OG companies. I’ve interviewed with Apple in Cupertino. I’ve gone to seminary to become a biblical counselor and taken graphic design courses with plans to start my own design studio. I’ve written music and even released an album on iTunes. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms and, most recently, earned my teaching certification. I am a self-starter who wants to passionately pour myself into my work if only I can find a career and employer who will respect me enough to give me room to deliver.

I’ve been close to leaving this corporation countless times, but nothing has ever panned out. I’ve had offers on the table that were unexpectedly revoked as the market tanked. I’ve had companies that wanted to hire me but were on a hiring freeze. I’ve been faced with hardened hearts, lack of favor and lots and lots of closed doors over the past 7 years. I’ve fought bitterness, anger, hopelessness, despair and doubt about whether God is really good and loving. And what I have come to conclude is that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it is the Lord’s good, gracious, loving will that prevails.

When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I was going to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an engineer. Ten years later, I was accepted to USMA but fell into deep depression when my high school sweetheart broke off our relationship just months before high school graduation. Physically weak and emotionally despondent, I gave up my offer of admission to someone on the wait list who would actually be able to make it through boot camp. I ended up at a state school and spent most of my freshman year bitter about how I’d let my wayward emotions rob me of a golden opportunity and lifelong dream. But God had a plan.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I said yes to marrying the man I loved. Mere months later, he had an emotional breakdown and called off the already-planned wedding. I faced not only his rejection but also the public humiliation of informing friends, family and coworkers that I was an undesirable woman no longer loved by the man who’d promised to love and protect me. But God had a plan.

Nearly eight years ago when I graduated from college and started work at my current employer, I was on a fast track for senior management. All of my performance reviews and feedback sessions – for a season – said that I had the makings of a Senior Executive at one of the largest corporations in the world. But a VP who’d championed me retired, and the capricious whimsy of our talent forum found another shining star to adore. I was turned over to a manager who despises and disrespects me constantly. But God has a plan.

If I’d gone to West Point, I would surely be a harder, more cynical woman than I am today. Simply to get through that military academy as a woman would have robbed me of much of my God-given softness and femininity. Going to a state school not only humbled me but also gave me experiences that taught me about how women are gifted to show the world about God’s kindness, gentleness and unconditional love in a way that is uniquely feminine.

If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have been joined to a man who could not and would not lead me spiritually. I would have been lonely in my marriage, yoked to a man whose affection was flighty and temperamental. Instead, I have been given the blessing of knowing what it is to love a man like Seth, whose pure heart and consistent, dependable servant leadership inspire me to become more the woman I’ve been created to be.

And if I’d stayed on the executive fast-track at this company, it would have been harder to leave. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who would have become a workaholic, sacrificing friendships and family time for career; choosing advancement over integrity. But all of the women I know in leadership at our company behave like men. They have lost their softness; their gentleness; their kindness. They are tough and gritty and entirely masculine in their communications and interactions. That is not the kind of woman I want to be, nor is it who I’ve been created to be.

Each circumstance has been brought with it a painful sense of rejection. Each circumstance has taught humility through humiliation. But each circumstance has been a profound blessing orchestrated by the loving hand of God, who is more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporal happiness. God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes those gifts look like punishment in the moment, but in time, we are able to look back and realize that our omniscient, omnipotent, unconditionally loving Father knew what he was doing all along.

Authentically Aurora

Babes in Joyland

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For nearly ten years now, I’ve felt that birthdays don’t seem as special as they used to. Easter isn’t as exciting, Halloween isn’t as thrilling, and Christmas isn’t as magical as I remember as a child.

I’m looking forward to someday having children of my own and getting to see the holidays afresh through their eyes. But in the meantime, I am blessed to volunteer with the kids ministry at church, and just my brief interactions with them have already made my holidays happier this year.

At Thanksgiving while cooking with my dad, we were watching my nieces play, and he reminded me of when my own little brother was about three. At our family Thanksgiving, Dad encouraged us to count our blessings, and my adorable little brother – with his big, brown eyes and long eyelashes – scrunched up his face in distress, his lower lip trembling. “But Dad,” he cried in his sweet little voice, “I can’t count that high!”

My Dad smiled at the retelling and admitted to me, “I still feel that way.” We are so profoundly blessed.

This past Sunday at church while teaching the elementary kids some Christmas carols, one little girl named Kennedy came and sat in my lap. Halfway through one of the songs, she turned around and told me innocently, “You’re making my eyes water.”

Surprised, I asked her why. She wiped her eyes and whispered in a broken voice, “It’s just so beautiful.”

I want to be that in awe of Christmas. Of music. Of community. Of our God. To sit in wonder – to have faith like a child – that is my prayer for this Christmas.

Authentically Aurora

 

Offering Our Bodies

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-2-50-26-pmOne of the more hedonistic reasons I teach Sunday school (and am studying to become a teacher) is the pure entertainment value of being around kids.

This morning at church, while taking up the offering the kids had brought to Sunday school, one little boy without anything to put into the jar called out, “I am an offering!” All the leaders laughed and then smiled at one another because he’s right.

In the bible we read that after David acted out as an adulterer with Bathsheba and murderer of her husband Uriah (the bible = the original soap opera), David wrote Psalm 51 as a way of repentance:

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

And later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul elaborates on this concept when he writes in Romans 12: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Long ago, the Israelites worshipped God by providing “burnt offerings” of slaughtered animals, but under our New Covenant in light of Jesus’ sacrifice, we walk out our days as “living sacrifices” when we die to our selfish, sinful natures and choose to live righteously.

We’ve been learning about God being our Provider, so at the end of our lesson, all of my girls were given a sheet of paper where they could write or draw something they are struggling to trust God to provide. Over half of my group simply wrote the word, “Nothing.”

It must be nice to be seven.

Authentically Aurora

Stop Claiming Promises God Never Made

Jer.29.11.jpgChristians. Church people. Jesus followers. Please stop claiming promises that God never made to you!

Many of us have gotten in the very bad habit of telling ourselves that because God CAN do something, He WILL do that thing if we pray and ask for it. This is a lie. Yes, God is omniscient and omnipotent, but just because He has the power to do something does not mean that He will.

Just because God can heal your illness does not mean that he will do so. God may be brought more glory through your sickness than your healing, and you may become a more sanctified version of yourself by walking through prolonged illness. Have we forgotten that God cares more about the state of our eternal souls than our temporal, physical bodies?

Just because He can bring your future husband into your life this very week does not mean that He will. Your future husband may not be ready for marriage, and you may not be, either. It’s possible that it is for your greater good (and God’s greater glory) for you to continue waiting. Have we forgotten that God’s ways are higher than ours? He sees the bigger picture and has our best in mind.

Monday night was my first evening of Women’s Discipleship at my church. I love my church – the pastor, the worship band, the kids’ ministry… we have great people and sweet, Spirit-filled time together on Sundays. But I tend not to be a fan of women’s ministry events because they tend to be such Estrogen-Fests. And an Estrogen-Fest it was.

Once we made it through the touchy-feely, emotion-packed first lesson, the twenty or so women in our group partnered off for a time of prayer. I ended up coupled with Kristie, the leader of not only our small group but Women’s Discipleship as a whole at our church. Unsure what to expect from her, I was stunned when she shared her prayer request:

“Will you pray for an increase in the measure of my faith? That I would not just believe that God can do anything but that He will? I want to pray and believe He will do what I have asked of Him. When I ask Him to provide a job for my mom, I want to believe that He will and not just that He can.”

Although I wanted to be kind and encouraging to Kristie, I disagreed with the premise of her prayer request at a theological level. And she is the head of our women’s ministry. She is the one who is teaching over sixty women at our church for the next eight months. And I am concerned that she is going to spread her unfounded doctrine and poor theology.

Disturbed, I simply prayed for an increase in the amount of Kristie’s faith. After all, that part was biblical. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), and it is certainly acceptable to pray for God to increase our faith (Mark 9:24). But I have noticed that in our church – and Kristie’s request aligned with this – several individuals in leadership skew toward a level of “charismatic” that is not biblically sound. And I was about to be faced with another example.

As soon as Kristie and I had finished praying, one of the women in our group announced that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s a pretty young thing – late 30s I would guess – and asked for prayers of healing. I was getting ready to pray that, if God willed it, He would heal her completely, but before I could start, Evangeline – the head of our prayer ministry at our church – jumped up and declared in a loud, authoritative voice, “Girl, we are not just going to ask God to heal you. We are CLAIMING healing over you. We believe not just that God can heal you, but that He WILL. We declare it! We speak healing over you!”

Eyes wide, I silently prayed for God’s will to be done. Whether He wanted to heal her or not, I prayed for peace and supernatural joy regardless of her circumstances. And then I went home and prayed for our church. Because our leadership has got it wrong.

These women in Discipleship are supposed to be older, wiser women who are meant to mentor the younger women in their faith. But they are clearly tossed around by their emotions and not grounded in the truth. God is not a genie, granting every wish of people who pray to Him. He is not a puppet god who moves in whichever way we want if we pull the right string. They need to stop claiming promises that God never made to them. Stop telling people they will be healed if they just pray hard enough and believe God is going to do it.

God’s ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:8-9). Many are the plans in the heart of a man, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Prov. 19:21). Yes, if we pray anything in God’s will, we have what we have asked of him, but let us not forget the “in His will” (1 John 5:14). Sometimes God says no, and it’s not because of a lack of faith on the part of the supplicant. Have we forgotten that Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done”? (Matt. 6:10) Have we forgotten the example of Jesus at Gethsemane?! Pretty sure Jesus had the faith to move mountains, and he still received a “no” from the Father.

Sometimes we do not receive what we desire because we do not ask (James 4:3), so by all means, ASK! But remember that God is not obligated to respond with “Yes”. And He is worthy of our praise no matter what He answers.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are Your ways higher than ours. 

Authentically Aurora