ACAscuse me?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.02.54 PMI called my mom crying after work on Tuesday. It had been a hard day, and my insecurities were running high.

“Hard day” is of course relative, and I tried to pep talk myself that I really am blessed; I have a good life, and my day wasn’t that bad, all things considered. Then I beat myself up for not being more grateful, which of course made me feel all the worse about myself. I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling awful about my life circumstances and then feeling guilty for feeling awful.

Head in HandsThe basic gist of my hurt and frustration was that I didn’t feel valued in any arena of my life. I have felt unappreciated at work for years, so that is something I have come to expect. But Seth said some things this week that made me feel unvalued by him, and that was a new and unexpected sting of hurt. I volunteer with a lot of organizations outside of work to ensure that I am adding some semblance of value to society (since that’s nearly impossible to do at my workplace), but lately – in addition to my occupational and relational hurts – I recently started feeling disrespected and manipulated by some of the officers in my a cappella group.

AuditionsI constantly go above and beyond expectations for this group, arranging music, quietly paying cover charges for open mic nights, finding and booking videographers for performances, creating T-shirts and banners and flyers… I do so much that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Not only that, but my voice has been picked on lately – something that had always been a source of confidence for me. Singing is something that I do for fun – because it normally brings me joy! – but instead I found myself feeling more beaten up than ever.

So when I called my mom on Tuesday after work, crying about how I felt unvalued in all these areas of my life – at work, by Seth, and by my vocal group – she reminded me that she and my dad love me and hold me in high esteem. “You have to say that,” I sniffed through my tears. “You’re my mom.”

She patiently reminded me that God loves me and values me, and then she told me that she would be praying God would give me a little reminder that very week – a reminder that God is on my side and that I am valued by Him and by the people around me, even if they don’t express it all the time.

That night, I went to choir rehearsal and was shocked to get the solo for our Adele mashup. I was feeling so beaten down that I almost didn’t audition, but of the four auditionees, our group voted for me and affirmed my singing ability – something God knew I needed this week.

This morning, I got an unexpected voicemail from Seth that said simply: “Hey, have I told you yet today that I like you a lot? Well I do. And I just wanted to call and tell you that.” I put down the phone in bewilderment, feeling surprised and pleased.

I was amazed at how quickly God answered my mom’s prayers for encouragement in my life. God is such a good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to His children! Things don’t always go as we hope or expect (or even understand), but in the times where God is so obviously lavish in His blessings, I want to take notice and remember that faithfulness for those seasons where He does not seem present. God knew I was at the end of my rope and needed a lifeline to keep me trudging through this week. And He delivered!

Now I’m just waiting on some sort of affirmation from my workplace… But I’m not holding my breath.

Authentically Aurora

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Problematic Dreams – Part I

ArsenalThe most recent time I’ve experienced an otherworldly connection with someone just happened a few weeks ago, and I’m still reeling from the after effects.

My a cappella choir sang in a talent show at the end of October, and since it was Halloween-themed, everyone came in costume. I borrowed a wig from one of our altos and went as a rather convincing Anna from Frozen (the innocent look comes naturally, but that whole chipper, cheerful thing took some work). #introvertproblems

Between performances of bagpipe playing and baton twirling, I marveled at the wide array of talents and also the creativity of some of the costumes. One guy in particular caught my eye, but not because of his costume. He was dressed as an archer of some sort (Arsenal, I found out later), but what really drew me to him was his aura. He radiated confidence and virility, leaning casually against the wall of the auditorium as though oblivious to the attention he garnered.

Michael and his roommate were slotted to close the show with an upbeat duet, but just before they took the stage, the archer uncrossed his arms, pushed off from the auditorium wall and strode forward. As he took a ready stance at the solo mic in the front of the room, I glanced down at my program to discover his name – Cory. As I looked back up to where he stood just twenty feet in front of me, his pianist began playing a moving ballad, and the archer opened his mouth to sing.

For the next four minutes, I sat transfixed as Arsenal/Cory belted out a humorous parody of a love song. His voice was flawless. He was clearly classically trained, but he didn’t let his perfect choral techniques get in the way of putting on an accessible and entertaining show. Even the high note at the end was sung beautifully, and I remembered in passing something that my mom whispered to me a decade ago in the back of my high school auditorium: “You have to be careful with boys like that, Aurora. You’ll fall in love with their voice and think you’re falling in love with them.”

Once the talent show had ended, all the performers mingled for a bit. One of my fellow sopranos, Noelle, has similar taste in men to me, so I was not at all surprised when she ran up to me, eyes wide, and gushed, “Did you hear that Cory guy? We have got to talk him into auditioning for our group!”

It’s true that we are in desperate need of more tenors and basses, so with my encouragement, Noelle hurried off to recruit him. She returned just a few moments later looking disappointed. “He says that he’s already really over-committed,” she told me in a dejected tone.

“Hmm, we’ll see about that.” I gestured for Noelle to accompany me as I walked over to introduce myself.

Cory looked up as I approached, and I reached out to shake his hand. “Hi, Cory. I’m Aurora. I sing with Noelle, and we both loved your performance tonight. You are a really gifted vocalist.”

“Thanks,” he replied casually, seeming to know what was coming next.

“We’d love to have you audition for our group. We meet on Tuesday nights,” I began, but Cory was prepared to tell me the same thing he’d already told Noelle.

“You know, I love singing – and I miss it – but I’m already really over-committed. I’m a first year med student, and I’m also currently training for a Triathlon with a running club on Tuesday nights.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Wow, that is a lot. Well, disregard then. Singing is supposed to be a fun, creative outlet, but it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate, and singing with us would just be an added source of stress for you.”

I started to step away, wishing him the best of luck with everything, but he took a quick step forward. “Wait – I mean, would anyone mind if I came late to rehearsals? Or came sweaty, straight from my running group?”

I turned back toward him and shrugged nonchalantly. “No, I don’t think so. We technically start at 7:30, but we don’t usually actually start singing until around 8:00, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay,” Cory paused, gaze locked onto mine. The air between us sizzled momentarily as he peered into the depths of my eyes as though searching for something. Whatever it was, he seemed to give up on it because I blinked, and the intensity of the moment passed. He glanced between Noelle and me. “So who would I talk to if I were interested in joining?”

“Let me introduce you to Michael,” I told him, leading the way toward our director and attempting to hide my smile. Choir would definitely be more interesting with Cory in the group!

Once Cory and Michael had been properly introduced, Cory took his leave, and Noelle and I gave each other a quick high five, grinning ear to ear. Best recruitment team ever! Little did I know what I had just gotten myself into.

That night, I got what I thought I wanted. The attractive and mysterious Cory was considering joining our group, my crush Michael volunteered to walk me back to my car, and all seemed like it was going according to plan. But sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you actually want. In fact, sometimes what you want is exactly the opposite of what you need and what would be for your good.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21

Authentically Aurora

Moments – Part II

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.28.44 AMI discreetly studied Michael over the top of my cards as our Apples to Apples game progressed. I know that he is a man of integrity, but – as our friendship deepens – I have been trying to keep my heart in check until I am able to determine how important his faith is to him.

Our a cappella group has held rehearsals at Michael’s apartment several times, and his walls are decorated with various crosses and bible passages, but in contemporary American culture, that doesn’t necessarily mean much in the way of authentic faith. I know Michael attends church services whenever he has a free Sunday amid rotations, and I heard that it didn’t work out with the last girl he dated because he discovered a few dates in that she wasn’t a Christian, and a shared faith is important to Michael.

Probably most encouraging is the fact that, in the course of conversation with the group, Michael occasionally mentions in passing the goodness of God or the sovereignty of God’s plans. The way Michael speaks indicates that he has a deep-seated respect for God and a faith in God’s goodness that underpins everything he does. “You will know a tree by its fruit“, and Michael exhibits patience and lovingkindness that I believe evidence his faith. I continue to look for confirmation as I rest in this season of waiting.

ca6b3b69156f218137d57205a525a4f7With just a few rounds left in our Disney Apples to Apples game, one of our altos drew the adjective “Ancient”. I chuckled to myself, thinking that the Yzma card would be the perfect one to play, but sadly, it had already been used. So I played “Beaches” instead, tailoring my choice to the alto’s very literal, cut-and-dry personality.

Sure enough, when she flipped over my card, she exclaimed with a grin, “Beaches! Those are older than Jesus!

She had only meant the Jesus reference as an “omg”-like outburst, but one of our equally literal basses paused the game to ask, “Wait. Are beaches older than Jesus? He showed up around 2 BC, right?”

To my surprise, Michael spoke up, quoting John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

“Oh, yeah.” One of our sopranos with a Catholic background nodded, confirming for the group that Jesus is in fact more ancient than beaches, and everyone moved on with the game.

Except me. I kept glancing at Michael in wonder, that he would not only know that verse but also understand its significance – that Jesus is the Word, and He was with the Father at the beginning of time; that all things were created through Him.

I am encouraged. I am hopeful. But I am also waiting on the timing and the plans of the One who Michael and I both believe is good, sovereign, and loves us more than we can understand.

Authentically Aurora

Moments – Part I

What do you believe about coincidences? Are they truly spontaneous ironies of chance, or are they farther reaching, pre-ordained orchestrations meant to rekindle our childlike sense of awe? Can we cluster all coincidences into one category, or are some the former and some the latter? Still further, does what one believes about coincidences alter their weight or significance? 

After our high energy, laughter-filled concert last weekend, my Pentatonix-like a cappella group took a break from rehearsal this week for some well-earned time to relax and enjoy one another. I hosted dinner at my place, and after everyone’s stomachs were full of homemade beef stroganoff, we broke out Disney’s version of Apples to Apples.

It was fun getting to know everyone’s personalities that evening. We typically spend a few hours a week singing together, but – as much as I enjoy this group – most of the members remain more acquaintances than friends, simply by nature of the fact that most of the times our mouths are open, it is in song rather than in conversation.

We had a large enough group playing Apples to Apples that, before long, we ran out of cards. Everyone was able to draw a new red apple card except for Michael and me. Michael is our group’s director, arranger, encourager and unofficial president, though he is younger (four years my junior). He is studying to become a pediatrician and, over recent weeks, has become a dear friend.

When Michael and I realized there was only one card left to draw between the two of us, I joked that we could share it. One of our altos was already the clear winner of the game, and Michael and I were seated next to each other. When I flipped over the card we were going to share, I was astonished to see this:

FullSizeRender-3

With 270 red apple cards, there was a 0.4% chance the card Michael and I would share would be Lady and the Tramp sharing a spaghetti noodle (leading to an unexpected kiss)! I looked over at Michael with raised eyebrows. “Well that’s ironic,” I said with a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. “Yes, because they are sharing spaghetti,” he replied casually with a slight smile of his own before returning to the game.

I struggle to get a read on him. I know Michael is perceptive enough not to have missed the gradually growing chemistry between us, so I was unsure if his lackluster response was due to a decided indifference to me or – more likely – due to our audience.

Michael is a gentleman with quiet confidence. He leads our group not with a loud voice or big personality, but with an authority afforded him by the unreserved respect everyone has for him. Michael is thoughtful, sweet and, if my guess is right, painfully shy when it comes to romance. So I’ll just keep waiting in this season of singleness, enjoying the friendship of a man I have come to respect, not only for his musical giftings and intellect, but – more significantly – for his character.

Authentically Aurora

Design for Discouragement

“I hate that I can still be so easily shaken, and somehow I convince myself that if I could just develop a healthy enough psyche, life couldn’t touch me.” -Beth Moore, So Long Insecurity

I wish the men in my life would stop wounding me. For the most part, they are godly, well-intentioned men. They are just thoughtless and oblivious. And I say that in the kindest way possible.

There are a few officers in my a cappella choir, one of whom is our Media Director. Knowing my experience with graphic design, he asked me to design some posters for our upcoming concert. I was thrilled to be asked and ecstatic to get started. I love to create. I love a blank canvas. I love developing a vision and seeing it become a reality.

Unfortunately, the Media Director already had a vision in mind, but fortunately, it’s one that I liked. He asked me to employ a minimalistic style, but when I showed him my work after spending an entire evening in Illustrator, he said it was too simplistic. Hmmm… minimalistic art being simplistic…? Go figure!

Minimalism

Minimalism

The Media Director sent me a patterned background to add as a layer in place of my simplistic one. I thought his background made the poster look cluttered, but I did what he asked. When I sent it to our Choir VP for sign-off, though, he said it was “too busy” and needed to be “simplified”. I’d used posterization because the media guy asked me to, but the VP said it made it “too hard to make out people’s faces”. He asked me to remember that we want “an aesthetically pleasing flyer.” Oh, we do? Sorry, I thought you wanted an atrocity of a flyer. 

Posterization

Posterization

Art is personal. It’s an extension of oneself. To criticize someone’s artwork without offering any kind of compliment or encouragement is damaging. In his introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne wrote about the vulnerability of self-expression through art forms:

“The truth seems to be, however, that, when he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand him, better than most of his schoolmates or lifemates. Some authors, indeed, do far more than this, and indulge themselves in such confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be addressed, only and exclusively, to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy.”

Still further, I was only trying to do what our Media Director asked of me. I wish the officers had gotten aligned, that the VP had been kinder in his words, and that the Media Director had backed me up when the VP criticized my work that was a direct result of his guidance.

There were a few other instances with other guys this week, but I don’t even want to write about them. It will just get me upset again and stir up all kinds of insecurities I thought I had already dealt with.

“I feel everything. My joys are huge, and so are my sorrows. If I’m mad, I’m really mad, and if I’m despondent, I wonder how on earth I’ll go on… God gave me this tender heart, and though I want to give up my chronic insecurity, I really do want to hang on to my heart. I like to feel. When I don’t feel something, it’s like being dead.” -Beth Moore, So Long Insecurity

Authentically Aurora