Provision Through Prayer (Part 2)

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“Are these high-tech engineering charter schools the only ones who will hire someone like me?” I wondered to myself. After attending three job fairs – and feeling like I’d had successful conversations at each – only H*****y Public Schools had called me back for interviews.

This charter school system focuses intensely on math and science curriculum as early as elementary school, so I understood why they would be interested in a career engineer transitioning into teaching. But after everything I’d read about H*****y and the sense of darkness I’d felt at the career fair, I was distraught at the thought that they may be my only chance to start teaching in the fall.

“Would I rather teach at a H*****y school or be unemployed?” This was the question I mulled over for the 24 hours following the career fair. And I was seriously considering unemployment. “I could continue substitute teaching. The pay isn’t great, and I wouldn’t have healthcare benefits, but I could find something to bridge the gap.”

My anxiety was doubled when I found out that the H*****y interviews were teaching a 20-minute lesson in front of an actual class, while the school principal looked on to evaluate your teaching style, ability and effectiveness. I’ve volunteered to teach math and art over the years, and I’ve been substitute teaching on and off since October, but to be under the microscope on how I teach for purposes of an interview had me nearly breaking out in hives.

Thankfully the H*****y career fair was on Saturday morning, so I took comfort that the very next day I would be surrounded by loving encouragement at my church where I would get to fight my anxiety and hopelessness with truth and prayer, buoyed by the hope and peace of fellowship with my church community.

Saturday night – hours after the career fair – Seth and I babysat for Crisitin again. We love watching her four kiddos; it brings us joy and is one of our favorite date night activities. While Seth talked with Cristin’s husband in the moments before the couple left for the evening, Cristin and I caught up about my job situation. She’s a great listener and patiently listened as I poured out my heart regarding H*****y and the other schools I’d hoped to interview with.

When I finished, Cristin gave me a hug, prayed for me and asked me gently, “Do you think you’re supposed to go to those H*****y interviews? Even though you don’t have any other interviews lined up, it’s okay to turn them down if you have this much unrest about them. Not every open door needs to be walked through. There’s wisdom in knocking on doors of opportunity, but there’s also wisdom in being discerning about when to say no. God is going to provide and put you where He wants you.” She encouraged me to pray and ask God for direction specifically about whether to put myself through going to the H*****y interviews or to just walk away.

At the end of our services, my church has a time set aside where anyone needing prayer can come to the front and talk with a prayer partner. Every week, dozens of people come forward to receive counsel, encouragement and words of truth spoken into the lies they’ve been believing. The week prior, the sermon topic covered finances and being a good steward of all we’ve been blessed with by God. During prayer time following this sermon on financial stewardship, many people went forward for prayer regarding their financial situations. Whether praying for peace to battle anxiety over a financial situation, requesting provision to have financial needs met or something else entirely, everyone was welcome.

Although our pastor didn’t tell anyone to give financially, that week I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to be the answer to someone’s prayer. I have received bountifully from the Lord, and I believe everything I’ve been given has been given with a purpose. I want to walk out the good purposes God prepared in advance for me to do, and I believed that morning there was someone God wanted me to bless with an outpouring of generosity, not to glorify myself but to glorify God and be a reminder to someone that God still provides; God still hears prayers, and He is swift to answer – sometimes through His people and sometimes supernaturally.

I wanted to be an encouragement to someone through very practical means, so that Sunday morning I went forward and was redirected to an associate pastor who, the next day, connected me with a widow who is struggling to make ends meet as she tries to raise two children by herself. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27). 

Fast forward one week to the Sunday after my H*****y career fair; the day after Cristin reminded me that not every open door needs to be walked through. I don’t typically go up for partner prayer during worship time at church, but my spirit was so tumultuous within me that I dashed up the aisle almost before the sermon was over. I knew most of the prayer volunteers, and I wanted to meet with someone new – someone who could offer a fresh perspective without having their words colored by what they already knew of me.

Prayer PartnerI saw a young woman with long, brown hair standing up front and made a beeline for her. She looked about my age with kind eyes and a warm smile. When I approached her, she reached out her hands to take mine and squeezed them gently when I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Aurora.”

“I’m Dani.” She hugged me as I leaned forward to speak into her ear about my situation, projecting my voice over the sound of the worship music playing behind us. When I finished explaining, I pulled back and was surprised to see delight on her face. “I’m not sure if you noticed,” she said, rubbing her belly, “But I’m pregnant and taking some time away from work this fall. I’m a 9th grade math teacher at ******* Christian High School. You should take my job.”

I was stunned. Dani’s eyes danced joyfully as I gathered my thoughts. “I’m not certified for high school,” I told her, still marveling at her words.

“That’s okay,” she told me with a wave of her hand. “I’m not either. It’s private school, so your certification doesn’t matter that much.” I told her my background and current teaching certification, and she told me that I’d be perfect for the job.

“I’ve been trying to help my principal find the right replacement for me,” Dani explained. “I’m so glad God brought you to me. Here’s my contact information,” she scribbled her name, number and email address on a piece of paper she pulled from her purse. “Send me your resume, and I’ll make sure my principal sees it.”

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I floated back to my seat, Dani’s paper gripped in my hand. She’d given me a job opportunity, but more than that, God had used Dani to give me hope again. I wasn’t relegated to teaching at a public charter school with discriminatory practices. There were other opportunities out there. I was free to say no to H*****y.

Just as God had worked through me to answer the prayer of a widow the week before, God had worked through Dani to remind me of His provision. Whether this job at ******* Christian High School panned out or not, it was a reminder to me that God is able to do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. He’s a good, good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.

Authentically Aurora

And The First Wave Crashed (Part 1)

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Everything in my life is in transition.

Not only do I feel unsteady during this time of change, but I also feel like I don’t have much control over anything, which both stresses me out and – at the opposite extreme – makes me feel bored with the lack of responsibility or ownership over anything in my life. It’s a confusing combination. I know God is in control, and I try to take comfort in that, but it’s a daily struggle not to feel simultaneously anxious, resigned and frustrated; complacent, frantic and defeated.

Relationship

Something about weddings makes the men in my life suddenly take the time to reflect; think about the future; become emotional and feel inspired. Maybe it’s all the talk of love and lifelong companionship. Maybe it’s the free flowing champagne. Or maybe it’s just seeing me with my hair curled for once. But every time I’ve gone to a wedding with a boyfriend, by the end of the evening, he has transformed into a starry-eyed romantic spouting off dreams about our future together.

Seth and I attended a wedding together last weekend. I should have come to expect it, but I was taken aback when – in the middle of the reception, with lights flashing and music blaring and people pushing in on us from every side – Seth decided it was a good time to tell me that he’s been thinking about signing us up for Fusion – a pre-engagement weekend for couples who are dating seriously and considering marriage. “How do you feel about that?” He asked me, his big brown eyes innocent and hopeful.

My initial response was, in typical female fashion, to feel about six things at once. I was pleased he was thinking about our future; annoyed that he brought up the intimate topic in a loud, crowded room; excited to take another step toward marriage with him; concerned that he was simply responding out of the emotions of the moment at the wedding; happy that he was taking the topic of marriage seriously; and hurt when I found out the dates he was considering: June 23-25.

Fusion has weekend sessions going on in April as well as June. They happen about once a quarter. So why did Seth not want to go to the April session? Still further, I was privately hoping for a fall wedding, but if Seth wants to go to a pre-engagement camp in late June, that means he’s probably on a completely different time table than I am for wanting to progress our relationship. I had (admittedly, foolishly) imagined that he might propose for my birthday next month. Or our one-year anniversary in April. So the revelation that he still expects us to just be dating in June was surprising and hurtful, though he of course meant quite the opposite. His declaration of wanting to attend a pre-engagement session with me was intended to be sweet and kind and wonderful, and I wanted to experience it as such, so I wrestled internally against my feelings of disappointment.

I took a bunch of deep breaths, put a smile on my face, and told Seth I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to go to Fusion with him. Unfortunately, Seth can read me really well, and he tends to dig until he gets out everything I’m thinking and feeling. So in the midst of his friend’s wedding reception, we had an intense conversation about our desires and expectations for our relationship. Seth had expected me to be wholeheartedly thrilled and was crushed at my complex emotional response to his sweet suggestion for our future. And I grappled with my own spiraling emotions, feeling guilty for not responding in the way he would have wanted and – yes, rightly – expected me to respond to his pure-hearted declaration.

What should have been a happy occasion was marred by our conversation, and a suggestion by Seth that should have brought me nothing but joy ultimately made me feel like he was instead declaring: “I’m still not sure if I love you. I’m still evaluating you.” He has yet to say those three special words.

Work

In the meantime, I got my lowest-ever performance review score at work. I’m applying internally to different jobs, but no one will take me because of my low performance score. My boss wants me off her team, and I want to be off her team, but her scathing performance reviews of me are preventing us from getting what we both want: for me to move on to a different position far, far away from her.

HR has gotten involved, and they have acknowledged that the issue is obviously with my current placement and incompatibility with my boss and her style. HR cannot justify firing me because I have historically been such a high performer. I am unwilling to quit without a severance package (especially since I still don’t have anything lined up externally). And the company is struggling to find a hiring manager who will take me because teams are already so sparse in light of the recent trend in oil prices. So we are at a bit of a stalemate, and I’m not sure of my next move.

Living Situation

For the past few weeks, my apartment has been plagued by the alternating smells of cigarette smoke and marijuana. I live in a state where marijuana is still illegal, so not only is there illegal drug use going on in my complex, but the absolutely disgusting smell of marijuana coupled with cigarette smoke has left my living quarters perpetually smelling like a skunk that ate a gigantic burrito for lunch and then spent the night at a sleazy nightclub. It’s awful.

I told my leasing office about the issue mere days after the first few offenses, but they followed up with no real action. The manager said she could have a courtesy officer do “random checks” on apartments near mine, but it would take quite a while since the checks have to appear random. In the meantime, she offered to have a third party come to air out my apartment with special air filtration equipment.

The air filtration was supposed to take place last weekend while I was at the aforementioned wedding. I had to be out of my apartment unit for 24 hours, so we scheduled the maintenance from Saturday at 1pm until Sunday at 1pm. Between the wedding Saturday night and church Sunday morning, I figured this would be a nonissue. But when I went into my apartment at 7pm on Sunday evening, the air filtration system was still running.

Compounding Issues

I complained to the leasing office, and they put me up in one of the model apartments for the night. Right around the time I got settled, Seth came over to hang out for the evening, and I directed him to the model unit number, fuming and venting the second he walked in the door.

“I specifically told management that the worst of the smell was in my closet and that all of my clothes now smell like marijuana and cigarette smoke. I even put a sign on the closet door with a big red arrow saying ‘This is the source of the smell.’ But I went home and found the closet door shut and the filtration system still running! Not only did they not finish on time, but the idiot maintenance worker closed the closet door so that all this time, my clothes haven’t been getting aired out – and they were my primary concern!”

Seth was quiet through all of my ranting, but the moment I paused for breath, he leaned over, brusquely kissed my cheek, and muttered, “Have a good night” before turning and walking out of the model apartment.

I was stunned. I sat rigidly on the unit’s fuzzy gray couch with obnoxiously bright, fuchsia pillows for a full ten minutes before I picked up my phone to call Seth. He didn’t want to come back, but I asked him to. We needed to talk out what just happened.

Seth showed back up shortly thereafter, and our stances were essentially as follows:

  • Seth couldn’t believe the degree of my rage and felt like I was overreacting. He said there was no need to ever call anyone an idiot, and said, “This isn’t the Aurora I know.”
  • I expressed that I don’t feel like I can ever completely let my guard down and just vent with Seth. When I have a bad day at work, I call Ashley or my mom because I have learned that Seth can’t handle me when I’m really, really upset and frustrated; when I just need to vent and have someone listen.
  • Seth said he would have been happy to listen if I had adjusted my tone and language, instead opting to factually share my disappointment and frustration with the situation.
  • I explained that: WOMEN. Women don’t operate that way. I am less emotional and more even-keel than most women, so I need him to be able to stand me on the rare occasion that I fly off the handle.
  • Seth said that he takes very seriously his role of holding me accountable. He believes that, were he to be my husband, part of his role is to help me become more like the godly woman I’ve been created to be. He has higher standards for me than I have for myself, which has never happened in the history of EVER.
  • I told Seth that, if we were married, and if he was my husband, I would know that he loves me. I could rest secure in the fact of his commitment, and from that foundation of love and commitment, I would be able to better accept his criticism of having a bad attitude or calling someone an idiot. But because we are still dating and I don’t know that he loves me or is committed to me, all I hear is: “I’m still evaluating you, and I am finding you wanting. This is yet another red flag that is giving me pause about committing to you.” I told Seth that I needed him to stop making me feel so judged and instead start extending some grace.
  • Seth countered that he was extending grace. “I didn’t want to come back here. But I did. I decided to practice for marriage and extend grace by coming back to talk this out with you even though you were being unpleasant.”

I’m not sure how we left it. By the end, I was exhausted – both physically and emotionally. But when I called and told my mom about the exchange later, she sang Seth’s praises. “No one has ever been able to talk to you like that. And he obviously cares for you if he was willing to drive back. Dating Seth is like dating Jesus.”

High praise. And potentially true. The only difference – and it’s key – is that I know Jesus loves me.

Authentically Aurora

Bitterly Brilliant

Painting 2New, breaking research shows that over-thinkers tend to be creative geniuses. Although, in my mind, this study is hardly breaking unless it is breaking the mold that says enthusiastic extroverts are the highest performers. Or breaking the spirit of the insuppressibly happy. Or breaking the glass ceiling that prevents the bitter among us from rising to societal success (while we are still living, of course).

This study by Dr. Adam Perkins of King’s College London has found that anxious personalities plagued by negative thoughts trend toward greater creative problem solving than happy-go-lucky types. Although I appreciate when the scientific method is utilized to back up what we intrinsically know to be true, I think we can all look through history and acknowledge that the Greats of each era suffered for their genius.

Or we can just read through my old blog posts. Or talk to my mother. She has suffered my genius, lo these many years.

selfportraitVincent Van Gogh, iconic Post-Impressionist painter, suffered from severe depression and eventually committed suicide. He wrote to his brother, “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness… at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.”

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that writers are 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway all appear to have suffered from clinical depression. Charles is my gloomy groupie, Leo is my caustic comrade, and Ernest shares my melancholy mojo. We are indeed Brothers in Bitterness.

Open TabsThe Karolinska Institute also discovered that creative types tend to have higher levels of schizotypy. *Twitch, twitch* They are less able to ignore extraneous details; their brains do not allow them to filter. As a result, they take in more information than most, exhibiting keen skills of observation.

Think of famous fictional detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Adrian Monk and Miss Fisher. All of these champions in intuition share a remarkable attention to detail, and this characteristic, coupled with their ability to synthesize vast amount of information, is largely what made them brilliant.

SherlockMasterful detectives see patterns and connections that others miss. According to American psychologist Scott Kaufman, “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible because you never know: sometimes the most bizarre associations can turn into the most productively creative ideas.” But the very attention to detail that makes these characters so great also lends itself to bouts of overthinking, anxiety and OCD.

Great inventors through the ages also frequently suffered from a neurotic fretfulness. HigherPerspectives writes, “In a sense, worry is the mother of invention. When you think about it, it makes sense. Many of our greatest breakthroughs through the years were a result of worry. Nuclear power? Worry over energy. Advanced weapons? Worry of invasion. Medical breakthroughs? Worry over illness and death.”

broodingDr. Adam Perkins explained his research, saying: “It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts, due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex… that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator. Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person… It is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum.”

Anxiety is linked to a stronger imagination. OCD is associated with concentrated skills of observation. Depression is correlated with deep thinking and heightened brain function. People with these traits often exhibit what are perceived to be negative personality patterns as a result of incredibly developed, creative brain function. Like so many things in life, this creative genius is a double-edged sword. “But he who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” – Anne Brontë

Authentically Aurora

Healing the Hemorrhaging

stressI don’t trust God with my life. I say that I do – my head knows all the bible verses about God’s trustworthiness – but my anxious thoughts and frantic, spastic actions tell me that – at a heart level – I really don’t.

I don’t trust God with my career. In the past five years – in addition to continuing to work a full-time job at a major oil company – I have gone to Seminary, worked on a degree in Graphic Design, interviewed with Apple in Cupertino, interviewed to be the Women’s Director at my church, written and released an album of original music on iTunes and started teaching Math after school to test the waters for becoming a Math teacher full-time.

I am straining and striving, flailing and hemorrhaging, desperate to find a career that fits not only my skills and talents but also my passions and core values. But why wouldn’t I trust the One who knows me better than I know myself; the One knit me together in my mother’s womb and created me uniquely and with purpose?

I don’t trust God with my relationships. When my high school boyfriend broke up with me, I lost 14 lbs in ten days. When my college boyfriend broke up with me, I went into a deep depression that lasted two years. When my fiance broke off our engagement last year, I continued to date him for three months after he stated he wasn’t sure if he still wanted to marry me.

I stay in or pine after unhealthy relationships long after they’re over because I am desperate to feel loved and not alone. But why wouldn’t I let my heart rest in the One who loves me more than a man ever can; the One who loves me unconditionally and without reservation?

Trust is something that is built over time, and faith is a muscle we must exercise. This morning, I set my alarm for 5:30am so I would be on time for my 7:00am conference call at the office – a 40 minute drive from my apartment. I woke up when my alarm went off but must have fallen back asleep because the next thing I remember is looking at my cell phone’s screen and seeing: 6:10am. Shoot.

When I dashed out my front door twenty minutes later, I started talking frantically to God:

“Could you get me to work on time today? This meeting is with my boss. Okay, that’s not reasonable. This is a stupid prayer. There are way more important things going on in the world. But it matters to me, so it matters to you, right? Phil. 4:6. I mean, You’re in the details, right? Will you get me to work on time? Ugh, that’s not practical. But You can do anything. But why would You do that for me when I’m the one who overslept? Okay, how about this: Maybe I don’t get to work on time, but will You make it okay that I’m late?”

Probably not the most reverent, eloquent or theologically sound prayer ever, but God just wants our hearts. And He knows my thoughts anyway. May as well be real with the King of the Universe.

When I got to the office at 7:14am, I discovered that my boss was out of the office and had cancelled the meeting last-minute.

Thanks, God.

Authentically Aurora