New Neighbors – Part 2

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I joke about kumquat Joe, but the truth is, he’s a really great guy. He and his wife (!!!) just got back from their honeymoon and invited Seth and me over for dinner to catch up (Yes, I was almost his first kiss last year, and now he’s lapped me and is already married. #thisismylife). They borrowed our bikes to go camping last weekend, and Joe actually just came over a few minutes ago to drop off some magazines I need as supplies to have the kids cut out pictures at school next week.

That’s one of the nice things about all four of us being Christians and knowing each other from church. When Joe and I went on a couple of dates, that’s all they were: get-to-know-you sessions. We never kissed each other and certainly didn’t do anything beyond that. When we decided we weren’t the right fit for each other, we both moved on amicably. Joe is now married to a wonderful, godly woman, and I have the privilege of getting to date Seth – one of the kindest, most servant-hearted men I’ve ever met.

Yeah, there was some awkwardness at first, but since Joe and I did dating well, now the four of us can all see each other and genuinely not have any bitterness or jealousy. We all believe God has good plans and divine purposes for each of us, and although Joe and I respect each other, we also agree that we are not meant for each other; God had better out there for each of us. Such amicability and friendliness seems to be rare in dating and breakups these days, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a positive example of what pure, mature, godly dating can look like.

In an effort to meet some of my other neighbors, I made some homemade fudge (two kinds: peanut butter and a chocolate pecan fudge). I wrapped them up with pretty little turquoise ribbons and took them in a wicker basket door-to-door. The trouble with apartment life is that only 4 of my 15 neighbors were home on a Saturday afternoon, but most of the people I met were friendly and appreciative.

In fact, the day after I made my rounds with the homemade fudge, I was trying to get into the apartment gym but had forgotten the door code. A woman I’d befriended the day before came around the corner from collecting her mail and recognized me. “Oh, hey!” she grinned at me, and I smiled back.

“Are you trying to get into the gym?” she asked me. When I nodded, she told me the four-digit code. I thanked her, and we went our separate ways, but my heart swelled at the fact that two otherwise unacquainted women each made an effort to extend a simple gesture of kindness to the another.

Not enough of us make the time to meet our neighbors; to genuinely connect with people we have no driving reason to befriend. But I want to exude warmth and kindness and generosity; I want to value people and love them well – even those I have no cause to make the time to get to know. Life is hard, and we need to love and support each other. So do something kind today. Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be loving.

Authentically Aurora

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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

And the Waters Stilled (Part 4)

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“God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged… the rain was restrained… and the waters decreased.” -Gen. 8:2-3

Even after the rain finally stopped pouring down in the famous Genesis flood that wiped out most of humanity, Noah still had to remain on the ark for a few months while the waters receded. And although the proverbial hurricane winds around me have abated, not everything is resolved, and I know the coming months will carry with them more unknowns and uncertainties as I continue this season of transition.

Living Situation

Since my apartment management came through with addressing the marijuana issue affecting my unit, I am planning to stay at my current apartment complex through the end of my lease in July. Although I could be saving $400/month at a cheaper apartment further west of town, the benefits of staying here are:

  • I don’t have to deal with moving now when so much else is in transition.
  • I will not have a possible black mark on my credit report in the event my complex decided to call this “breaking a lease” rather than being “released” from a lease.
  • By July, I should know where I will be teaching in August, so I can choose an apartment closer to my school, whereas if I moved now, I’d be making an educated guess on the best geography for my upcoming year.

I think this worked out for the best, although there was certainly a lot of (possibly self-induced) upheaval that ultimately resulted in no change to my living status.

Relationship

A few of you expressed concerns about Seth based on the past few posts – that I should listen to my gut and not ignore red flags; that I need to be with someone more supportive; that he has a lot to learn; and is this even the Seth I thought I was dating?

The tough thing about relationship blogging is that the non-blogger (i.e. Seth) becomes a bit of a straw man, unable to defend himself or share his side of the story. For the past two weeks, I’ve had a bad cold, been PMSing, and been under a lot of stress, so I know that I was not as much the heroine in all of these interactions as I made myself out to be.

Seth is a good man. He brought me Kleenex and Gerber daisies (my favorite) when I first got sick. After the latest round of disagreements, he showed up to my apartment with homemade soup and a bouquet of roses. He’s supportive of my job change to teaching when few others are, and he’s currently in the process of planning a surprise birthday party for my 30th later this week.

He is kind and servant-hearted. Neither of us is perfect, but I think one of the strengths of our relationship is that we both seek to understand the other and genuinely desire to resolve conflicts, even if it takes a couple of weeks to get to the root issue. We talked this weekend about everything that’s gone on lately, and I asked him very candidly, “Seth, do you generally think of me as a godly woman?”

He was kneeling in his garage, sanding down a piece of wood, but he looked up at me with surprise in his eyes – and a little bit of hurt. “Well, first of all, I’m sorry that you even have to ask that question.” He paused his sanding. “Yes, I think you’re a godly woman.”

“Do you think I’d be a good mom, raising kids with strong values?”

Seth stood up to walk over to me and wrap me in a hug. I peeked up at him from where my face was nestled in his chest.

“Yes, I think you’d be a good mom.” His deep voice reverberated around me. “Aurora, you’re the best woman I know.”

He sighed, dropping his hands to his sides and then shoving them in his pockets. “I know I’m not the most affectionate man.” He rubbed his stubbled jaw and looked around at the scene of masculinity around him – woodwork, car parts, mountain bikes and a canoe. He’s the manliest man I know. “But I want to get better at that. I don’t want you to ever doubt how much I care about you and how highly I esteem you. You’re a good woman.”

And although I don’t always do him justice on this blog, he’s a good man.

Work

My boss didn’t approve the 1:1 switch with Stephanie. She said Stephanie wasn’t qualified to be my replacement. Honestly, as tough, superior and controlling as my boss is, I can hardly imagine her thinking anyone is qualified for the job. She certainly doesn’t think I am.

At this point, it’s looking like there is no further opportunity for severance. HR is pushing ahead with my possible talent placement. I could stay and get a hearty paycheck in this new, assigned role for a few months before quitting in August, but I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be finished once and for all with this chapter in my life.

I don’t have another job lined up. I’m not guaranteed a teaching position in August. I have a lot of fixed expenses that I’ll need to find a way to cover. But I’m taking a step of faith and walking away. It’s time.

An Unexpected Blessing

For this upcoming season of transition, I’ve done a rough calculation of my anticipated income and expenses. I have an idea of some income-generating activity that can help make ends meet, and since I’ve kept a personal expense report for years, this number is fairly accurate.

The net difference between my anticipated income and expenses for April through July is about the amount I would have to dip into savings during this time of transition. And I was prepared to pay that amount in order to leave my company a few months early. But I may not have to dip into savings after all.

Since I stayed at my job through February 1, I was eligible to receive last year’s bonus from my current employer. My 2016 bonus just showed up in my bank account last week, and the number surprised me. Here’s why: The net difference between income and expenses during the time of transition is almost exactly the dollar figure deposited into my bank account last week.

What a blessing that God has given me as a parting gift from my time working in Corporate America! My final bonus is just the right amount to ease me into this season of transition hopefully resulting in a more life-giving and fulfilling career.

I’m excited. It’s time for a new adventure!

Authentically Aurora

Carried Out to Sea (Part 3)

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“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” -Louisa May Alcott 

Work

On Wednesday last week, I met with HR to discuss the possible 1:1 switch with Stephanie, allowing this new mom (whose role was being dissolved through organizational restructuring and no fault of her own) to keep a job at the company while I (who am planning to leave the company anyway to start a teaching career) could have her severance package to help bridge the gap between leaving my current job and starting a new one in August.

The HR Representative is the same one who did my entry paperwork when I joined the company eight years ago. She remembers me, and we share the same alma mater, so she genuinely wanted to help me. I was honest but diplomatic, admitting that I do not see a future for myself at the company and also being transparent about the fact that I do not currently have another job lined up.

She acknowledged that my proposal did seem like an elegant solution, but she also said that my situation was not really one where severance would normally be paid out. “Yours is more of a resignation case.”

“The company is planning to pay out severance regardless, right? Either to Stephanie or to me?”

“Yes.”

“And Stephanie is a good worker who is valued here. She is a new mom and is losing her job by no fault of her own, but because of restructuring, right?”

“Right.”

“Meanwhile, you are planning to try to place me in a new team, keeping me at this company, when I have openly stated that I do not see a long-term future for myself here. I don’t currently have another job lined up, so I would hate for the company to continue employing me and investing in me when I very openly have one foot out the door and am actively looking externally. It might be better for all parties involved if you were to lay me off rather than continuing to pay me salary and benefits until I successfully find an external job.”

The HR Rep considered that for a moment. “I’m actually pretty sure I’ve found a role for you in our Projects team. If I gave you the option of a talent placement into the Projects team or a severance package, you would take…?”

“The severance package,” I told her without skipping a beat. The time for political game playing was past us.

She leaned back in her chair, looking resigned and a bit sad. “She’s ruined you, hasn’t she?” – speaking of my boss.

I shrugged. The past eight years have been one long series of managers and decisions and frustrations that led us to where we are today. My current boss is just the final blow.

The HR Rep said she’d talk with my boss about whether she’d accept Stephanie as a suitable replacement for me. “If she doesn’t, this idea is dead in the water.”

I left her office feeling at peace. I’d done what I could do. Now it was time to wait and pray.

Living Situation

At the end of last week, I toured five new apartments. I’d originally started with a list of twenty-five, which I researched online and ranked using a weighted evaluation matrix I created myself. Yes, I am Type A.

Once I had finished my analysis of monthly cost, square footage, safety, location, amenities and a number of other factors, I made appointments to tour the top five, hoping to be able to find a great apartment to move into in April (with the expectation that I would have been released from my current lease by then).

Between tours 4 and 5, I stopped for lunch and checked my email on my phone. I had a new message from my current apartment complex:

“From the staff here, we would like to extend an apology for recent events. We had unforeseen circumstances arise which required another resident to have to use the model in urgency. We did have our HPD officer make visits to the different apartments in the area last week. He spoke with a unit which we believe the issue is coming from and let them know that the next time he needs to come pay a visit he will be making arrests. We are confident that this will resolve the problem with the marijuana smell. We want to thank you for being patient and understanding during this time and will be sending a gift to your apartment as a token of our appreciation. Please let me know how the marijuana situation is going and if there is still a continuous smell of it. We hope you have a great rest of the weekend and don’t hesitate to contact any with any further questions and concerns.”

I had mixed emotions when I finished reading the email. I was glad they finally did something about my complaint, but I was annoyed that it took them so long and that I now felt like I’d wasted half a day touring other apartments. I was glad to not have to move immediately, but I also thought it would have been nice to have an excuse to move to a cheaper apartment (especially since, with my job change, I need to be cutting costs).

Relationship

Just as I was processing this latest email from my apartment management, Seth called. He was on his lunch break and wanted to know how things were going. Unfortunately for Seth, I am an external processor, and he chose to call me right as I was in the midst of having to process a lot of significant new information.

So I told him everything – how I’d searched my lease for a way to get out of it, how I’d gotten my doctor to write a note saying my living situation was detrimental to my health, how I’d researched nearby apartments, and how I’d spent most of the day going on apartment tours.

“And then!” I ranted on, “After I did all this work building a case to be released from my lease, management finally came through and decided to do something to remedy the situation. So I guess I’ll have to stay there and keep paying the really high rent until my lease ends in July.”

“On the plus side,” I continued, musing aloud to myself as I kept processing the various scenarios, “I guess this will allow me to pick an apartment that’s close to the school where I teach because I should know by July where I’ll be teaching come August. That could work out well.”

When I finally finished talking everything out, Seth voiced his opinion – an opinion that made me wish I’d stopped for breath sooner rather than continuing to pour out my thoughts and feelings. He rebuked me for wanting to get out of my lease early, for building a case against my apartment complex, and for not giving them what he deemed an adequate amount of time to respond to my complaint.

“Gosh, Aurora. How have you already searched the lease, gotten a doctor’s note, given the required two written notices and toured new apartments? It’s only been a couple of weeks since this first became an issue. It’s like you’re trying to use the situation to your advantage,” he chided me.

Well yeah, I thought. I wouldn’t have tried to get out of my lease if they hadn’t given me cause. But they did give me cause. I saw an opportunity, so I started working it out to fruition. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. 

Seth continued his rebuke, “You should be a woman of your word. You signed a lease that ends in July, and you should stay until July. Your apartment management came through in remedying the problem, and that should make you happy, not upset. They did what management is supposed to do, so rather than being upset that you can’t get out of your lease, you should be celebrating that everything worked out the way it should.”

Seth was glad my plan failed. He said I’d been in a frenzy; I’d done so much activity in one week. He told me I wasn’t being above reproach; that I was taking advantage of the situation for my own benefit. He encouraged me to make good on my commitment to complete my lease term. Like he’d said only days earlier, he again voiced, “Where is all of this coming from, anyway? This isn’t the Aurora I know.” At times like that, I wonder if he knows me at all. If he did, he’d know that talking to me that way just makes me shut down.

The more he talked, the more walls I put up. Seth has a way of taking the moral high ground in his rebukes that makes me feel awful. He would be crushed to know that. He’s genuinely well-intentioned in his rebukes, but he’s so blasted morally upright, always looking to do the right thing, that sometimes when I’m not even doing anything wrong, he somehow makes me start to doubt my own motives.

I didn’t think I was being shady in my dealings. We are supposed to be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). And I work in contract negotiations for a living. I have for eight years. So the way I handled the situation was what I thought was right. But Seth tends to make me question my true intentions. Sometimes he’s right, and I need to be put in check, but sometimes he’s wrong about me.

I’m still learning how to effectively be in relationship with someone who’s so squeaky-clean that sometimes he doesn’t seem to know how to navigate the grey areas of real life. I’m all for behaving in an honorable, godly manner, but the world is not black and white. And while I appreciate that Seth always wants to honor God in his dealings, I also think he needs to realize that not everything he believes is dishonoring to God actually is. He needs to loosen up a little bit and die to that inner Pharisee.

Authentically Aurora

Caught in the Undertow (Part 2)

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“Trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.” – Bethel Music

Living Situation

On Monday morning last week, after being displaced from my apartment while management aired out the infiltrating marijuana smell, I got a frantic call from the leasing office asking if I was moved out of the model unit where they’d temporarily put me up for the night. I explained calmly that, no, I was at work but could move out that evening, provided that management had completed the air filtration of my unit.

The anxious leasing agent explained that they need the model unit immediately for another tenant, so he asked if he could move my personal items out of the model and back into my apartment for me. I was not comfortable with someone touching my personal items, as I had not yet packed up my private toiletries, and I also had some expensive electronics that I would rather handle myself. Additionally, I continued, I would have not needed the model unit at all had my apartment maintenance been carried out on time. But the leasing office employee pressed me to provide my approval of being moved out, so I reluctantly granted permission over the phone to have a female leasing agent move my personal items from the model unit and put into my apartment.

However, when I returned home at 5pm on Monday evening, I found that the air filtration system was still running in my apartment and – still further – none of my personal items had been returned to my unit. I walked over to the model to retrieve my personal effects and found it dead-bolted. The alternate tenant had moved in but allowed me to search the apartment. As it turned out, my belongings were in the leasing office. I gathered them from the office staff, walked back to my apartment, turned off the air filtration system myself and left my apartment for the evening to allow the air to clear from the residual effects of the air filtration system.

On Tuesday morning, the air filtration system that I had to disable myself was still sitting immobile in my apartment unit. I contacted the leasing office, and someone finally came to get it Tuesday evening. But between the poor service I received and the fact that I need to start saving money considering that I may be without income in the near future, I started building a case to be released from my apartment lease a few months early.

I scheduled an appointment with my allergist and had her write a note that my living situation is detrimental to my health and is exacerbating my allergies.

I searched the legal terms of my lease and found that I could be released from my contract if I provided written notice about unsatisfactory living conditions. If no improvements were made to the root issue after two written notices, I could submit a final notice without financial or credit ramifications.

And so I drafted a second email explaining that not only had the filtration of my apartment been handled poorly, but I was concerned that management had still not addressed the root issue of smoke coming into my apartment from nearby units.

And I scheduled tours of other apartments nearby, looking forward to not only getting out of my drug-filled apartment complex but also to saving about $400/month in rent.

Work

Last week as I stared blankly at my office computer screen, willing myself to get motivated, a bright orange square started blinking at the bottom of my screen. I had a new IM from Stephanie, one of my technical stakeholders for the contracts I manage.

When I read the IM, I was surprised to find that she wasn’t contacting me about some new IT service line that she needed supported commercially. She was asking me if I knew any open roles in Procurement, my department and area of specialty. Apparently she was looking at moving away from the technical IT space and into the more commercial realm of Contracting.

After answering her questions about different line managers and Procurement in general, I shared confidentially that my role may be open soon. HR had shared with me that they were trying to do a “talent placement” – essentially moving me into another team to try to get me out of my current situation.

Stephanie was really excited about the role and thought it would be a great fit, combining her technical IT background with the commercials of Procurement, which was the direction she hoped to move her career. Her only concern, she voiced at the end, was timing. “Do you know how soon HR is going to do your talent placement?”

“No, I don’t. Why do you ask?”

Apparently through our latest organizational restructuring, Stephanie’s role is being made redundant, and she’s on track to receive a severance package if she doesn’t get a job by March 31st. She really wants to stay at the company, not only for career purposes but also because she just adopted two kids and cannot afford to be laid off.

At the same time, I am already pursuing a career in teaching and am hoping to land a job starting in August for the fall semester. I don’t have a job lined up yet, but a severance package would go a long way in helping to bridge the financial gap between now and August. As if she was reading my mind, Stephanie asked, “We’re the same Job Grade, so our salaries are comparable. Would you be interested in a 1:1 switch? Or are you holding out for the talent placement?”

Talent placements tend to be a joke. The only roles that are open are ones that no one else wants. And I’d still have a black mark on my record from the poor performance scores. I’m mentally and emotionally checked out at work, and taking Stephanie’s severance package – while allowing this new mom to keep her job – sounded like the perfect plan to me.

Hope for the Future

Everything seemed like it was finally coming together. I planned to get severance from work (about 6 months’ pay), get released from my apartment lease, move into a new (and cheaper) apartment, use the summer to explore fun, odd jobs (like maybe helping to flip a house!), and land a teaching job for August.

I’ve learned over the years to hold my plans loosely in my  hand, so as I started to get more and more excited about the possibilities of what could be, I also reminded myself that even if things didn’t work out as planned, I wanted to remember that God is faithful. And He is working. I wanted to believe that even if this plan didn’t work out, it was a reminder to me that God can move and orchestrate events we never could have dreamed.

I didn’t know Stephanie was getting a severance package. And she didn’t know I wanted to leave the company. God dropped the perfect scenario right into our laps, and this was an encouragement to me; a reminder that He can do infinitely beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Sometimes we just have to wait and trust His timing.

Authentically Aurora

Burning with Indifference

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The fire alarm went off in my apartment complex around 5:00 this morning. I normally wake up in a fog of gradual consciousness, but when the shrill siren first pierced the air, I jolted awake.

Moving quickly but calmly, I slipped my bare feet into tennis shoes, threw on a heavy coat, and grabbed my phone and keys. I exited into the hallway – locking my apartment door behind me – and walked down the outside stairwell to the first floor where I was surprised to see that I was the only one in my entire apartment complex (of about 800 tenants) who had evacuated.

I walked slowly around the complex, surveying it for smoke or fire. Down the hall from me, an alternate outside stairwell was flooded with water. The overhead sprinklers had been activated and created a fine mist that rose into the air in a way that looked like smoke at first glance.

Over the next thirty minutes, sleepy tenants slowly made their way out into the parking lot, grumpily conceding that they couldn’t just roll over and go back to sleep since the deafening alarm was still sounding a full half an hour later.

I was astonished at the laissez-faire attitude of my neighbors. I work at a major oil company where safety is such a huge part of our culture in the post-Macondo world that I want to gag every time someone even mentions the term “HSSE”. But this wasn’t just a fire drill. Water was gushing out of the building from the sprinkler system, and a fire truck pulled up minutes later, lights flashing. It’s still unclear what happened, but when I left for work two hours later, the piercing fire alarm was still going off, and the fire truck was still outside my building with red lights blazing in the dim light of early morning.

It seems to have been a non-event, but this could easily have been something significant. Have we as a culture gotten so desensitized to fire alarms that we don’t take them seriously anymore? Most of the people in my apartment complex would have suffocated or burned to death if it had been a real fire. Have our fire alarms cried wolf too many times, deafening our ears with their sirens such that we are unmoved in the event of an actual flame? Are people just too lazy to bother to leave their apartments? Or are they so sleep-deprived that they’re willing to risk the alarm signaling a real fire?

Living in a world of reality TV and virtual reality, have we developed invincibility complexes, thinking that nothing bad can really happen to us; that everything is a show for our entertainment? With the onslaught of negativity in the media, are we desensitized to all of the bad in the world – numb to pain, blind to evil, and apathetic to the possibility of personal injury?

This early morning experience brought to mind how much of the world headed for eternal fire is absolutely deaf to the warning signs all around them. People are too busy or indifferent or afraid of the truth to take the time to really evaluate who they are, why they are on this earth, and what is going to happen when they die. When I have asked people what they think happens when they die, 95% of the time, I get one of two answers:

  1. I’ll probably go to heaven because I’m a pretty good person, all things considered.
  2. I don’t know. It’s something I don’t really think about. I’ll deal with it when I’m older.

For anyone in Camp #1, there is no biblical basis for good works earning your way to heaven. Our sin separates us from the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things because He cannot be around sin. But in addition to being all powerful, God is also unconditionally loving, and He loved us so much that – while we were still sinners – God’s Son Jesus went willingly to die to take the punishment we all deserve for our waywardness. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death and the power of evil. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, not by any good works we have done. There is nothing I can do that would be good enough to make up for my sinfulness, but because God loves us all, He remedied our plight by giving everyone freely the opportunity to be reconciled to Him if they would simply believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

For those in Camp #2, I’ll just say this: You don’t know how much time you have left. You could die in a car wreck this afternoon, or you could die in a fire tonight because you inaccurately think the fire alarm is a false alarm. Don’t wait to think about these weighty topics. If they truly do have eternal significance, isn’t it worth taking an hour out of your day to think them through and wrestle with them? And don’t be afraid to think about what may be beyond the grave. Because there is Good News – God is for you, and He lovingly wants an eternal relationship with you.

Authentically Aurora

Thinking (about) Outside (and) The Box(es)

To The Leasing Manager:

These boxes have been sitting outside of Stairwell B for two weeks now. Could you please have them removed?

Additionally, you may want to advise Darren Jones in Unit 76 how to properly dispose of his boxes and advise him that, should he wish to remain unidentified, he may want to remove his address labels from any abandoned boxes in the future.

Many Thanks,

Authentically Aurora
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