Babes in Joyland

christmas-children

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

 

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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

In Favor of Teaching

those-who-can-do-supercommittee-quoteThe blogosphere tends to be a very supportive place, but in the real world, I get a lot of confused looks or straight-up negativity when people find out that I’m looking into becoming a teacher.

Since I have an engineering degree and successful career therein, people cannot understand why I would leave a cushy, corporate job for the world of education. They have preconceived expectations of my career path based on my background and cannot fathom why I would voluntarily leave a comfortable job in favor of teaching.

Many people subscribe to the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”, and teachers tend to be compensated accordingly. But not all compensation is financial. And after seven years in corporate America, I submit to you that a more accurate idiom is: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, form a supercommittee.”

I am still volunteering to teach Sunday school a few times a month at my church, and I was recently asked to become an elementary school Team Leader, meaning I will not only continue teaching but also take on more of an administrative, leadership role coordinating the other volunteers. Although it can be stressful at times, teaching these sweet kids at church remains one of my highlights each week.

Last Sunday, we talked about the Creation account – how God created not only the earth but also plants and animals; man and woman. When Mia, one of my 2nd grade girls, heard this story (for possibly the first time), she looked down at her arms and stroked her tanned forearm with a tentative finger, whispering out loud in wonderment, “I’m made from clay?”

We talked more about the creation of Adam and Eve; then Mia asked me privately, “Miss Aurora, is Jesus God?” After hearing about God the Father creating the universe and everything in it, she was confused about the role of Jesus in relation to the Father. The Trinity is a difficult concept even for mature Christians, so I pointed to Mia’s water bottle in an effort to give her a practical, visual explanation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ozarka6ozMia and I removed the lid of her water bottle, exploring the three parts comprising the water bottle: the bottle itself, the cap and the water within the bottle. All three are separate, but they come together to create the water bottle, just as the Trinity is One God, Three Persons.

A few minutes after my explanation, the girls were working on a craft activity when another girl – Lillian – asked about Jesus. All on her own, Mia picked up her water bottle and explained the Trinity to Lillian just as I had explained it to her minutes earlier! My heart swelled within me to see little Mia teaching Lillian about God. I got to see the exponential effect of Matthew 28:19 lived out right in front of me over the course of mere minutes.

Near the end of our time together, Mia had another question for me. “Miss Aurora, is God invisible?”

I answered her, “Right now He is, but someday we’ll see Him.”

Mia pointed to the purple mat we were sitting on. “Is God sitting right here?” I explained Matthew 18:20 to her and suggested that we could pray and ask God to be with us.

I went on to share with Mia that sometimes – especially if I’m sad – I ask God to sit with me and hold my hand.

Mia’s big brown us looked up at me, and she blinked innocently. “Does He say yes?”

“Yes,” I told her with a hug and a smile. “He always says yes.”

Authentically Aurora

Enemies –> Friends

Sweet Blonde GirlSometimes I joke that friends are just enemies I haven’t alienated yet, but most often, the sliding scale of friendship runs the other direction for me: people I may initially dislike grow on me as I get to know them better; as I learn their story and get to know their hearts.

A couple of years ago when I first joined the church I’m at now, I started looking for a midweek bible study to get involved in. I emailed the leaders of a few groups in my area, and I ended up hitting it off with one guy in particular – Donny.

I’d never met Donny in person, but even over email, our chemistry was obvious. I could see from his gmail photo that he was an attractive man, and we also quickly discovered that we shared ties to the United States Military Academy.

“Hi Donny – I am interested in joining your group, as the time and location are a good fit for me.  Is there any additional information you need? What are our next steps? Thanks, Aurora”

“Hi Aurora – Generally we subject all potential new joins to an in depth personality screen, followed by a battery of intelligence and psychological assessments. If those come back satisfactory then we conduct the physical fitness test and group interviews. Just kidding, of course! There is nothing more for you to do other than show up. We would absolutely love to have you! – Donny”

“Hi Donny – I’m an INTJ with a 16:00 two mile time who graduated magna cum laude. Let me know by when you need my congressional nomination. 🙂 Thanks for making me smile. I can already tell we’re going to get along great. Looking forward to meeting you!”

“We’ll need a letter signed by a Senator, actually. And your vertical is?”

The emails continued all week long, increasing in their ridiculousness, so I was shocked when I showed up to bible study and was introduced to Donny’s wife. Naturally, I immediately disliked her. Cristin was beautiful and petite, with intelligent eyes and long, curly blonde hair. I estimated that she was in her mid thirties, and her face was just starting to show the worry lines that came from being the mother of their four children.

Just the frustration of being around lovely, wifely, maternal Cristin would have been enough to deter me from joining their group, but in addition, it ended up being a bible study of 15 married couples (plus me in all my singleness), so I didn’t visit their group again. But our church is a close-knit community, so my path continued to cross with Donny and – more often – Cristin.

Over the past two years, their children have grown old enough to be in the kids’ ministry where I volunteer at church, so I now have the blessing of getting to teach and play with their two beautiful blonde daughters a couple of Sundays each month. And those two sweethearts are some of my absolute favorite girls to teach.

Ally and Avery are kind and thoughtful, intelligent and attentive. They are obedient and respectful, as well as snuggly and affectionate. I have fallen in love with Donny and Cristin’s children, and over the years, I have gotten to know Cristin more and more from passing one another in the hallway, chatting when she comes to pick up the girls, or volunteering at one church event or another. She shared godly wisdom with me over brunch one morning last summer when I was struggling with dating relationships, and in the past few months, she has shared with me about her own struggle with an eating disorder and how it has been affecting her marriage to Donny.

Getting to know Cristin – her heart, her life, her struggles, her children – has changed the way I see her. I care for Cristin, and I care for Donny, too, but now I see him exclusively as Cristin’s husband and my brother in Christ.

Just two days ago, little Avery crawled into my lap to snuggle with me while we talked about the Feast of Trumpets, and as I stroked her soft blonde hair held back by a glittery silver headband, my heart felt full. I kissed the top of her head and felt like a part of their family. In a way, I am. Raising godly children is a community effort. I offered this week to start babysitting for the girls, and my eyes flooded with happy tears as they jumped up and down with excitement, running to wrap their arms around me in enthusiastic hugs.

Two years ago, I never would have dreamed how our relationship would change – my relationship to Donny and, more significantly, my relationship to Cristin. Humanizing people – taking time to get to know them – has a way of peeling back the layers, mitigating assumptions and enabling us to really see people through the eyes of Christ. What Satan intended for evil, God has once again used for good. He truly is the Redeemer of all things.

Authentically Aurora

Is This Real Life?

Is This Real LifeStressed out after the Roy/Jess drama on Sunday, I drove to the park for some alone time. As I drove past rows and rows of cars – hurt and frustrated – I said out loud in a tired voice, “God, will you provide parking for me?”

At that instant, the passenger in the car in front of me rolled down their window, pointed off to the right, and kept driving. I looked to where the arm had pointed, and there – right where the arm had pointed – was a parking spot.

Dumbfounded, I pulled into the spot, put my car in park, and said out loud in bewilderment, “Thanks.”

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day.” -CS Lewis

Authentically Aurora

Death, the Final Frontier

Milky Way from Earth

Few circumstances in life completely stop us in our tracks and make us reevaluate everything we believe. Facing death – whether or own or someone else’s – is one such circumstance. There is so much unknown in death. It is the one true final frontier.

In our twenties, few of us have faced death enough times to have really, seriously mulled over what happens when we die. Those of us with somewhat melancholy personalities may have considered it more than most, but even so, it’s easy to superficially acknowledge that, yes, death is an impending reality, but I know where I’m headed, so I’m fine. We don’t stop to think about the logistics of it all.

My grandfather passed away last week. He was almost ninety years old and had been battling cancer for a while, so his passing was expected. He believed in Jesus Christ, was a pastor for nearly six decades, and was ready to go to heaven. So when his funeral is held later this week – on a day that also happens to be my birthday – it will be a day of celebration, both of my birth and his life.

I have therefore been surprised at myself this week, how much his passing has affected me; how much I have been kept awake at night thinking about death. And life. And resurrection. And eternity.

As a Christian who believes that my sin separates me from God, but my faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf makes me righteous before God, I know that I am going to be raised to eternal life in heaven when I die. But there are so many knowledge gaps in the process of being raised from death to life.

But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain… What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body... I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” -1 Cor. 15

I say it again: There are so many knowledge gaps in the process of being raised from death to life! What happens at the moment of death? Will my spirit rise out of my physical body and go immediately to heaven? Is there a waiting period, where my soul rests in unconsciousness until the Last Day, when Jesus comes again?

What happens when I stand before the Throne of God? There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but I will still have to give an account of my life; an accounting for the way I’ve lived. I may not face the White Throne judgement, but “we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God… and each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10).

That. Is. Terrifying.

Imagining that moment of standing before God and giving an account of my life? It terrifies me. And I know that God loves me unconditionally! But to stand in the presence of utter Holiness and Righteousness, of Omnipotence and Omniscience… it makes my heart quake to even begin to imagine that moment. Yes, my sins are covered by the sacrifice of Christ, but will there be a moment where I see the wrath of God before Jesus steps in as Mediator?

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. -Heb. 4:15-16

Perhaps this is a healthy fear. A reverence. A sense of awe and wonder and respect that we lose all too easily this side of heaven. There will be a reckoning for the way we’ve lived. Our deeds, good and bad, do not earn us heaven or keep us out (faith alone can do that), but we will answer for them before God, and be rewarded accordingly (Rev. 22:12).

As a child, I never understood why my mom used to always quote Matthew 25. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me to, at the end, hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But today I understand. That’s all I could ask for. That is my hope – to hear from my Lord, my King, my God, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.”

 “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” -Rev. 22:17

Authentically Aurora