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

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