Hold My Heart – Part III

texting iphoneAfter weeks of investing in him, discovering that Cory was still pursuing his ex-fiance was painful, to say the least. I found myself developing approach-avoidance conflict where Cory was concerned, battling internally about whether to withdraw or rush further in to our relationship.

Being a passionate, competitive, wounded woman, a part of me wanted to try to change Cory’s mind; to convince him that Mary wasn’t right for him; to convince him to pursue me instead. I felt shamed, foolish, rejected and disrespected. All of those emotions compelled me to try to win Cory’s heart, but fortunately, there was another part of me that gave heed to the voice of reason.

You knew he was broken. You knew he’d recently gotten out of an engagement. You knew he was the “bad boy” type, and all along, you knew he wasn’t God’s best for you. As much chemistry as you have, his continued desire for his ex-fiance is a blessing in disguise. When you are tempted, God will provide a way out so you can stand up under it. This is your way out! Take it!

We continued texting a bit, initially about practical things like the logistics of Cory auditioning for my a cappella group (which is how we met in the first place). But even those practical texts he managed to turn flirtatious.

Although he wasn’t officially in the group yet, Cory asked me for our Christmas sheet music so he could be ready for our caroling season. I told him about a performance on December 12th and asked if he’d be in town. He texted back:

No, I’ll be with my family out of state. But I’ll be back in town on the 19th before I drive to see Mary. That is flexible if there is any reason you’d like me to be in town? 🙂

Ha, I’m going to see The Nutcracker with my mom on the 19th.

Darn. Here I was hoping you had church caroling or a play or some other artful thing for us to do together. Haha… Let me know if I need to change my travel plans 😉

It was hurtful to live out his ongoing flirtation knowing there was no intention of commitment behind it. When I eventually confronted him about it, Cory seemed befuddled. “I thought I was clear up front that I still had feelings for Mary. You knew none of this meant anything.” He unintentionally pointed the finger at me, insinuating that it was my own fault that I got hurt.

I tried to act strong over the phone, attempting to veil the depths of my wounds as I asked him, “How could you spend so much time with me, not only flirting with me but also kissing me and telling me all of the longings of your heart – how can you do all of that and not be invested?”

“With everything I’ve been through,” he told me, “I’ve learned how to completely separate myself emotionally. It’s a coping mechanism. I’ve kissed a lot of my female friends. Alexa and I have made out multiple times, and she knows it doesn’t mean anything. We’re still able to be just friends. It’s just for fun.”

I’ve met Alexa. She’s one of Cory’s two best friends here in the city, and its obvious to everyone that she’s infatuated with him. Surely he’s too perceptive to be blind to her interest. Is he really that unfeeling? Is he really that cruel?

Knowing that none of our interactions meant anything to Cory – hearing the cold, callous nature of his heart – both deepened my wounds and snapped me out of my lovesick stupor (at least temporarily). I told him that we couldn’t kiss anymore. “I won’t be one of your playthings. I have too much self-respect for that and, unlike you, I can’t separate myself emotionally from soul-deep interactions like I thought we’d had.”

When we saw each other in person, Cory was as good as his word not to kiss me, although he did burn through me with his eyes and occasionally kissed me on the cheek as a concession to his desires. One evening, we texted back and forth, with Cory initiating:

What are you up to?

I’m eating an apple.

With peanut butter?

That’s the way to eat an apple.

I want to so badly, but I shouldn’t eat that much food right before bed. Lol. I even have peanut butter too…

You have such self-control…

In so many areas…

I can exert my will when I have the right motivation. Haha. That’s all self-control is really… Mind over matter. You just have to identify something you want more.

And what do you want more?

That would depend on what aspect of self-control you were referencing.

I left it intentionally vague.

And I’m intentionally making you commit to what you want to know about me. I am an open book to those willing to read, but that doesn’t mean I have to volunteer the lines of my story 😉

I’m smiling at you, FYI. I already know the answer to either option.

For the peanut butter, you have been committing to get in good shape, and that means exercising discipline over what you eat, and when. So you are choosing your physique over momentary taste bud dancing.

Regarding your self-control with me, it was a combination of choosing to respect me and my wishes over carnal instincts and also choosing dedicating yourself to the possibility of Mary rather than caving to a short-term fling. Accurate?

Almost spot on. You just missed one key component. I also chose self-control with you because:

With any woman I am interested in, no matter how amazing the chemistry is, I am a gentleman first and foremost, and I respect the wishes of my lady, especially if we’re not even dating (if we were dating, I would have pulled out all the stops and blown your mind 😉 ).

Bottom line, I’m not a playboy, just an intensely passionate person; I think all men and women deserve respect.

…So you’re saying we had amazing chemistry? 🙂

I feel like that was pretty obvious.

I smiled to myself. Even if he wasn’t interested in pursuing me, at least I could comfort myself that he acknowledged our chemistry. And so our interactions continued. But they changed. We spent a lot more time talking about religion. And I struggled not to make Cory my project.

In addition to not thinking Jesus is the only way to salvation, Cory also does not believe that hell exists. He asserts that the “luck” of one’s birth shouldn’t dictate whether or not they go to heaven, and he personalized his claim by stating that, had he been born in India, he probably never would have heard the Gospel message about Jesus and – “according to your beliefs,” he told me – “I’d go to hell. I just can’t imagine that a loving God would send anyone to hell, especially since he’s the one who determined which family and country someone was born into.”

I can appreciate Cory’s discomfort with the idea of hell, and I acknowledge and even respect his passion for God’s love and redeeming grace. But I pointed out to Cory that God is both perfectly loving AND perfectly just. In His divine holiness, God cannot tolerate sin; there must be a punishment for sin. But because God loves us so much, Jesus willingly died in the place of all mankind, so that anyone who accepts his atoning sacrifice is forgiven of their transgressions and brought into a right relationship with God. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Unfortunately for Cory’s argument, the bible is clear that accepting Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for our sins is necessary for salvation. None of us deserve grace; we don’t live up to our own standards, much less God’s! If anything, we all deserve hell. If it is God’s pleasure to save some and not others,  that is His prerogative.

Romans 9 says, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For He says… I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion…. Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

Paul goes on to write in Romans 10 that it is his heart’s desire that those who don’t believe in Jesus would be saved. But “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Cory’s response to my standpoint was: “I guess I choose to believe in a God who loves his children equally and gives grace freely without conditions, the way a parent unconditionally loves and forgives a child, because I see us all as deserving of grace.” Clearly he either didn’t really read or understand what I shared with him. I am frustrated to be seeing John 12:40 played out in Cory. Why, God?

We also talked more about Jesus being the only Way to salvation, as opposed to Cory’s perspective that Jesus’ way of living (loving people) is the way to salvation. I cited lots of verses (Romans 3, Romans 5, 1 Cor. 15, Acts 4), but Cory’s single rebuttal was to question the authority of the Bible.

“But this is one book,” Cory wrote to me over Facebook messenger. “What about the Torah? And the Quran? What about Hinduism and Buddhism that predate Christianity by thousands of years? How can we so easily write off all other sacred writings on either side of the cross and history? God exists across all of space and time, why would his message solely be encapsulated in the minds of a few men from the early centuries AD?”

I thought we had established up front that the bible is the inerrant Word of God; I told Cory that my faith and perspective is rooted in the Bible and that, if he didn’t view that as a viable source document, there was really no point in continuing the conversation. “Did you even read and digest ANY of that? You asked for my opinion. I stated at the beginning that I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. The Bible is where I get all of my data and justification. That’s why I said, at the beginning, that there was no point to having this conversation if you would not take Scripture as evidentiary.”

But if you say scripture is evidentiary because scripture says so, you have a logical fallacy of tautology,” Cory argued.

I’ve heard this argument hundreds of times (seriously, hundreds of times over the past decade), and this is where the debate always breaks down, so I wrote back, “I will not continue to have this conversation with you, because it will lead nowhere if we do not agree on the same ground rules.”

But Cory wouldn’t give it up. “You do recognize the circular logic right?”

When I didn’t respond immediately, Cory added, “I agree we have different premises and therefore cannot reach the same conclusion… But what I’m angling at is your premise is ‘The Bible is inerrant and accurate because the bible says so’ and your conclusions derive from its words.”

And with more silence from me (as I cooled my temper), he barreled forward, “As mere humans we are only able to extrapolate conclusions from faith, as we have no empirical means of deducing spiritual truth. All of our faith is conjecture and personal interpretation based on assumptions. I choose to believe more in my faith experience, my prayers, and my childlike faith in God than the flawed words of men transcribed and translated across millennia into a highly edited and even more highly misinterpreted work of literature. God is just, and I have come to him(her) in earnest. I trust the revelations God gives me directly more than I trust the infallibility of human languages and the written word.”

And then – ironically – Cory quoted the very Scriptures he claims are “flawed words” and “highly misinterpreted”! These bible verses were his justification for trusting the revelations God gives him (and his own ability to interpret them) more than the Word of God.

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12

“I can say no more beyond this without redundancy,” Cory concluded, seeming satisfied with his argument. Having checked out of the conversation for fear of saying something I’d regret later, I continued my silence, which Cory assumed meant I hadn’t read his latest rant. He sent me a text message an hour later:

“I FB messaged my final thoughts to you. I will now cease to press this issue, as you have been kind enough to allow me to voice all my points. I am willing to continue to hear your views and points and I will continue to answer any questions, but I feel like I have pushed too hard already and out of respect for you am going to back off and let it lie and leave the ball in your court. Thank you for being open and honest and for sharing your faith with me. I am honored and blessed to know you 🙂 ”

When I didn’t reply to the text, he sent me a FB message later that night: “I pray that if you are upset with me that you will forgive me.”

He seemed so concerned about the wellbeing of our relationship that I replied briefly, “I forgive you”. Cory sent a text almost immediately:

Everything okay?

Yeah, how are you?

So hungry! But I can’t eat because I volunteered to model for the abdominal ultrasound session today

Poor Cory… Thoughtful of you to abstain to ensure they get good images

Are you sure everything is okay?

Yeah

Cory sent a long text message in reply, bringing our discussion back up again: “I don’t know that this is necessary, but I want you to know that I LOVE discussing religion and philosophy and that no matter how frustrated I ever sound, I completely respect the intimately personal and individual nature of faith. I just want to clear the air a bit on that topic and state that while I think we have different views on the afterlife and some macroscopic ideas that we could continue to discuss in a respectful and academic way, I nonetheless think we can agree about the message and mission of love, kindness and service Christ call us to.”

I kept my response kind but brief: “Thanks for bringing it up. Yes, I think we align on the external application of serving in loving-kindness but disagree on the power source and reason for/objective of such action.”

Cory wrote back: “I think we actually agree that the source of love is God, and I might venture to say we agree that the objective is to be ambassadors of God’s love to others. I think our disagreements lie in semantics/word choice only regarding this life and the force of God’s boundless love. But anyway, I’m sure (or at least I hope!) we will have many more opportunities to discuss this not via text, haha.”

 I let the conversation drop, but I seriously doubted Cory’s wish for future faith conversations would come true. As much as I didn’t want to abandon Cory, our interactions had long gone past the point of being healthy for me or my heart. I may have gotten to be the planter, but it was time for someone else to be the waterer and the harvester. 

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part I

guard-heartI ran into my ex-fiance on Saturday morning.

It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since the week of our wedding last summer, and I was completely unprepared for it.

Just days earlier, I’d told my sister-in-law that I had a premonition I was going to see him again soon, but I was still shocked when our paths crossed so unexpectedly. My defenses were down; my emotions unchecked; my heart untucked from its pocket of safety.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis, The Four Loves


Every time I try to lock my heart away to protect it from the agonizing pain of living in the world, God lovingly pries apart my shields and rips down my fortress. He keeps my heart soft when I want to harden my heart against the perpetual onslaught of hurt.

Sometimes it feels like He keeps ripping off the scab and reopening the wound again and again. Just when I’m starting to heal, another hit comes. Another blow. Another gash. Another wound. Is this kindness? I have to believe that God is not cutting me open to damage me but rather to do heart surgery; to take away my heart of stone and give me a heart that is soft and malleable, capable of receiving love and giving love in turn.

A few weeks ago, my friend Mary asked me to attend her church’s Singles Retreat. I attend services at a different church, but Mary’s boyfriend broke up with her recently, and she needed moral support at her church’s retreat because he’d be there, too. Since God frequently redeems my own seasons of darkness by using them to comfort and work healing in others, I agreed to pay the $40 registration fee and spend my Saturday at a church camp out in the countryside.

After a few hours in the car and a quick stop for Starbucks, Mary and I arrived at the retreat center early Saturday morning. We prayed together in the car, that God would be our Guide, Comforter and Encourager that weekend. I prayed for Mary, and she prayed for me.

The Christian community is small in my city, so when Mary and I made our way to the second floor of the lodge to register, I recognized a few of the people running the registration booth. Mary and I talked and laughed with the volunteers as we got our name badges; then we turned to the door to walk toward the sanctuary for the first session. But just before my hand touched the knob, the cabin door opened, and there he stood. My ex-fiance.

I didn’t recognize him at first. Since I was eye-level with his chest, I just wondered why this talk blonde was blocking my path. Finally, I looked up and locked eyes with him. And all of the breath went out of me.

Shock. That was my primary emotion, tinged with peace. Peace that I am not married to this man. Then surprise at the peace. Why am I not upset? Then fear. What if I’m in shock, and the emotional breakdown is going to start any moment?

All of those thoughts and emotions fluttered through me in a fraction of a second. In the meantime, he said, “Hi, Rory.” Hearing his pet name for me was jarring. He’s the only one who has ever shortened my name that way, and it sounded foreign in my ears.

“Hi,” I echoed back, trying to process the situation unfolding before me. He didn’t look surprised to see me. That was all my brain could register.

He was expressionless. “I saw you walk by and came to let you know I was here so it wouldn’t be awkward.”

His statement made no sense to me. My mind was full of questions. You mean, like it’s awkward right now? What are you doing here? Why did you feel the need to come up and reveal yourself to me? Why couldn’t you have left me oblivious to your presence?

But what I said out loud was, “Okay. I didn’t know you went to First Baptist.”

“Well I do.”

“Okay.” I had nothing else to say. Shock rendered my brain useless. Fortunately, it also momentarily numbed my heart from registering any feeling.

“Well I just wanted to let you know I was here.” He looked at me expectantly then, like he had anticipated more of a reaction.

“Okay.” I felt one eyebrow involuntarily go up like it does when I’m annoyed. What do you expect me to say or do here?!

I sensed him tense just before he turned and wordlessly walked away. Watching him descend the staircase, it dawned on me that we hadn’t made any kind of physical contact. And I was glad. I would have felt violated if he’d tried to touch me. He is no longer a safe space. He has wounded me. He is not trustworthy.

Mary watched the whole thing unfold, so I said listlessly to her, eyes straight ahead, “That was my ex-fiance.”

She had nothing to offer, so we walked into the sanctuary for the first session. Of course, I couldn’t focus at all. I spent the whole time journaling my thoughts and feelings and trying not to glance at my ex, who was seated across the aisle to my right.

After the session, we were mixed into small discussion groups, but I spoke quietly to a freckled Asian girl seated on my left. We’d never met before, but I was desperate. “I need someone to pray over me. I just saw my ex-fiance for the first time since we broke up and am in shock.”

The petite girl seemed unfazed as she gestured for me to follow her. We got up from the group and silently walked out the door into the sunshine. She led me down a nature trail, and we settled onto a secluded park bench. Only then did we introduce ourselves. Her name was Grace. How fitting.

I poured my heart out to her, processing my own thoughts and feelings as I spoke. Grace listened attentively. She let me cry, comforting me with words of truth. She encouraged me, laughed with me through my tears, and took my hand in hers to pray over me. She’s twenty-four years old.

It’s moments like this that make my heart feel full. It’s moments like this that remind me what the church is supposed to look like. It’s moments like this that fill me with joy, knowing more intimately the character of the God we serve.

This is what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like. This is how we share the Good News with the world. “They will know us by our love.”

There is power in people who are seemingly strangers coming together as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, united by a bond that is greater than ourselves. There is power in reminding one another that we were created for more than our eyes can see this side of heaven. There is power in being the hands and feet of Jesus, loving the unlovely in a broken world desperately in need of Grace.

Authentically Aurora

Heading to the City of Love

paris-eiffel-tower-coupleBryan left for Paris on Friday. He’ll be in Europe for the next two weeks, and he called me on Thursday night to talk one more time before he left.

Although I broke up with Bryan three weeks ago, he has called me three times since then. The first two times, we just caught up on each other’s lives. “How was your weekend?” & “How are things at the office?”

Each time, I let him lead the conversation, thinking he had finished “processing” and might need to talk things out for closure. But Bryan initiated no closure conversations or even a re-evaluation of our status. Those first two phone calls, he seemingly just called to catch up on my life like we were old friends, which I guess is what we are now. But it felt strange that he acted as if our break up conversation never happened.

Then again, all we do now is talk on the phone once a week instead of casually hanging out once a week, so not much has changed except my expectations for our pseudo-non-relationship. And, as Bryan used to tell me, “Uncommunicated expectations are premeditated disappointment.” He disappoints me less now that I don’t expect him to behave like a boyfriend.

I’ve been perplexed by our casual phone calls, but Thursday night’s conversation finally dug a bit deeper and addressed the reality of our situation. I was glad. I don’t do well with ambiguity or inauthenticity.

Bryan had sent me a text during the day asking if I’d be interested in going for drinks after work. I knew it was his last day in the States for a while, so I agreed, but I let him know I had bible study at 7pm, so it would need to be an early Happy Hour (yes, on occasion I drink alcohol before bible study). I hung around downtown after work, waiting on his call, and Bryan called me around 5:15.

“Hey, I just left work,” he told me. “I thought we could meet near your place and grab a drink out west of town.”

“Um, I’m still downtown… near your place. Both work and my bible study are downtown, and I thought we’d be meeting over here since you always head straight home after work.”

“No, I actually have a retirement reception for a colleague at 7 out near where you live, so I thought we’d meet over there.” Classic Bryan. Typical failure to plan and epic lack of communication.

With rush hour traffic, there was no way we could make the logistics work, but had I known the time and location in advance, I could have driven to him. Or, you know, he could have for once made a sacrifice and driven to me. I ended up getting frustrated and telling him to just forget it – I’d go to my bible study, and he should just go to his retirement party.

I felt guilty for snapping at him and didn’t want him to leave for Europe with a rift between us, so I called him later that night after bible study. No answer. I was near his place, so I drove the five minutes to his house and rang the doorbell. His truck was in the driveway, but he didn’t come to the door. I called again and left a voice message saying that I was trying to apologize and it would be nice if he would stop avoiding my calls.

Twenty minutes later, as I was pulling into my apartment complex, Bryan’s name lit up the screen of my cell phone. I answered, and he sounded amused. “So… I got your message. I was in the shower… not avoiding your calls. If I’d known you were planning to stop by, I would have timed my shower differently.”

“Oh. Well, you know, I was trying out this whole ‘spontaneity’ thing you like so much.” I felt foolish, but I tried to match the playful tone in his voice. I could tell he was pleased I’d stopped by but sorry to have missed me.

“Why would you think I was avoiding your calls? Why is that the first place your mind went, woman?!” The teasing tone in his voice was more obvious now.

I laughed and said, “If I have to tell you, there’s no reason to try explaining.”

We moved on to catching up on each other’s day. I’d had a hard day at work, so we talked about that for a while. Bryan was actually a really good listener and uncharacteristically encouraging.

I’d been told I am very self-oriented at work and need to engage others more if I am going to learn to be effective. Since I care deeply about people and am also a self-critical perfectionist, this feedback was intensely hurtful to me.

Bryan asked if I believe it to be true that I am overly self-oriented. “Maybe at work… but not in my personal life.”

“I haven’t seen you at work,” Bryan said gently, “So maybe you are self-oriented there, but in your personal life, I can affirm for you that you are definitely others-oriented, giving and selfless. You love helping people and meeting their needs. You know that about yourself, so believe it about yourself.”

His kind words shocked me. When did he decide to start being so sweet and encouraging? After a few more thoughtful comments from him, I asked tentatively, “Why are you investing in me?”

He answered immediately. “Because I don’t like you to be down on yourself. I care for you.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do. You’re a smart girl. I would have thought you’d have figured that out by now.” He paused. “There are other ways to let a girl know you care for her than sending her flowers and picking her up at her apartment. I communicate my affection in other ways.”

My heart fluttered, but I raised one eyebrow incredulously as I mentally ticked through the five love languages and didn’t find a single one that registered with how Bryan had treated me the past few months. “How do you think you communicate affection?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe by returning people’s calls even after they’ve accused me of avoiding their calls.” He was teasing again.

“You do have a pattern of being patient and long-suffering when you care for someone,” I thought out loud, alluding to his multi-year relationship with a girl he’d seen potential in and invested in for years, holding out hope and waiting for change in her.

“I’m not sure if that’s a rabbit trail I want to go down.”

“We don’t have to. I’m just glad to hear that you actually do care for me.”

“Of course I care for you. You broke my heart.”

His words stunned me. “…I did?” I’d never heard anything so vulnerable from him. Ever.

“Yes. You broke my heart. I care for you, even though you apparently couldn’t ever see it. I know we never put a label on our relationship, but I wasn’t seeing anyone else, and you hurt my heart when you ended things.”

I was speechless. Where had this outpouring of vulnerability come from? “Well, if it makes you feel better, it hurt my heart, too. I wanted us to work, but I just never believed you were invested.”

“It has been 9 months since I was in Europe,” Bryan told me. “That’s the longest stretch in 13 years.”

“Hm, you must have been dating a pretty awesome girl who was the reason you stuck around.”

“Yes, that’s exactly the reason.” His voice was serious; intense; adamant.

More shock on my end at his openness about his feelings. “…are you serious?”

“Yes. That’s exactly the reason. You’re the reason.”

“I didn’t know…”

“Well you were.” He shifted the conversation. “You should come to Paris. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, but Paris in the rain is still more beautiful than most other places year-round. I would be equally happy doing touristy or local stuff. I could show you local cafes off the beaten path, and the parks are beautiful…”

“Who is this man?” I thought to myself. “During this call, Bryan has encouraged me, been open about his feelings, and now he is being positively romantic. He took my feedback to heart. He is showing that he is teachable.”

But I knew I couldn’t go. I had no way of getting off work so last-minute, plus I’m nearly out of vacation for the year. I wanted to be free-spirited and just go, but (on top of my responsibilities back home) this was the first time Bryan had shown this gentler side, and one instance wasn’t enough to convince me it would stick.

Nevertheless, I missed him already. “When you come back, it will have been a month since we’ve seen each other,” I mused out loud.

“Maybe by then, you’ll be less frustrated with me.” I could just imagine his rueful sideways smile.

He couldn’t see my returning smile over the phone. “…Maybe.”

Authentically Aurora

I Forgot My Pants

pants phoneBryan and I have started attending bible study together on Monday nights after work. I drive directly to his place from the office; then we carpool to the house where we meet with our group. In an effort to avoid spending 18 straight hours in my business clothes, this week I brought a pair of jeans to change into from my dress slacks.

Bryan’s garage has a touch pad for entry, so he encouraged me to let myself in and change clothes if I got to his place before he did. He arrived just five minutes after me, so we left shortly thereafter for our group’s discussion of Galatians.

I really like the group of people we meet with. First of all, they always have awesome food (this week, it was a delicious fruit, meat and cheese platter). But more than that, everyone in the group is insightful, kind, mature, and creates an atmosphere that is a safe space for open discussion. I think I’m the only one there in my 20s – everyone else is in their 30s – but it suits me.

At the end of the evening this week, Bryan drove us back to his place, and we started walking down the block to where my car was parked. But halfway there, I stopped suddenly.

“Oh! I forgot my pants upstairs!”

I turned around to walk back to his house and heard him chuckling. I glanced behind me, and he winked at me.

“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that…” he began.

“…I hope you’d be a poor man,” I finished for him.

“…I’d have a dollar,” he completed his sentence, grinning at me.

And this is why I keep him around. This man is a gem.

Authentically Aurora

Destroying the Daydream

DaydreamLife doesn’t always go as planned.

Okay, it basically never goes as planned.

At six years old, I believed I would be a prima ballerina when I grew up. At eight, I expected to one day become the first female President of the United States. At seventeen, I just knew I was headed to a prestigious military academy, and at twenty-two, I thought I was about to live the American Dream, wearing a power suit in a high-visibility corporate job I loved. At twenty-six, I thought I was getting married, and I’ve always planned to start having kids by thirty.

We all envision the future scenes of our lives, but no one envisions scenes of being 36 and still single or 32 and already divorced. No one envisions scenes of infertility or being miserable in your cubicle at that so-called dream job or being forty and still trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do with your life.

PulitzersThere are moments where everything seems to be as it should be, but then the scene changes to one we don’t want or expect. But why don’t we expect the inevitable heartache and pain? We live in a broken world of Ebola and ISIS and cancer. Where did we get the idea that life is a fairytale where we all get happy endings?

I am especially surprised at my fellow Christians, myself included. Jesus couldn’t have been clearer: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Is there any way to interpret this other than: Expect suffering?

It’s time that we begin to see life clearly. King Solomon desired to be a master of the way the world functions. Ecclesiastes 2 is Solomon’s grand experiment to find the secrets of pleasure and happiness. He had every pleasure imaginable at his disposal. Solomon lived in greater opulence than Bill Gates with a steamier sex life than Lil Wayne, but in the end, he beat his head against the wall because he found nothing but emptiness; he found that “everything is meaningless.”

Lil WayneKing Solomon observed much in his desire to understand the world’s workings, and near the end of his life, he wrote that there are two types of people in the world: “There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.

Ultimately, he determined that belief in karma is folly. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to the evil people in this world. We must come to terms with the fact that this world is a dark, broken, unfair place because if we don’t, we will continue to expect the fairytale, be perpetually disappointed and ultimately question God’s goodness.

So are we to be people without hope? Are we to be the bitterest of all people? No. We are to have joy and hope in what is to come; faith that God is working all things together for good. God is a loving Father who desires to give good gifts to His children, and we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, even if we can’t see the big picture in our finite human minds.

Solomon goes on to give advice to the two types of people in the world: “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?”

The advice to the wicked is expected: There are natural consequences to our actions. I think most people realize that. What hit home for me was the advice to the righteous. I have been the righteous man, perishing in my “righteousness”. I have pointed my finger at God, saying, “I did everything you asked me to do. Why would this happen to me, of all people?”

This mindset toward God is foolishness. Any mentality where I think, “If I live rightly, I will be cocooned from trials” is a false mentality. In my self-righteousness, I sometimes subconsciously believe that God can be manipulated. “If I just pray the right prayer or read the bible enough and abstain from premarital sex and never get drunk and go to church every Sunday, then I will have forced God into a corner where he has to give me the good things I expect for my life.”

HopeBut life doesn’t work that way, and the omniscient, omnipotent God of the Universe certainly doesn’t operate that way. “Should we accept only good from the hand of God and not suffering?”

You can’t control your life. But that’s okay, because God does. And He is good. Jesus Christ is our mediator before the Throne of Grace, and in Him, all things hold together. God can be trusted with our futures, even in the bleak moments and dark scenes we never would expect or wish for ourselves. We can be grateful in the good times and thankful in the hard times, because God truly is working everything together for good.

We need to see clearly now. Trouble is certain, but it is temporary. Jesus is coming back, and when He does, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and make all things new.

Authentically Aurora

The Dater’s Dilemma

Sweet Home Alabama trioHave you ever seen the movie “Sweet Home Alabama”? It follows Reese Witherspoon as she tries to decide between two men:

  • Andrew Hennings, the suave, wealthy son of the mayor of NYC (who, by the way, proposes to her at Tiffany’s and tells her to pick out any ring she wants!), and
  • Jake Perry, a good ol’ Alabama boy with a fun-loving, playful sense of humor who drives a pickup truck and sports rugged good looks.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that Reese really struggles because she loves her life in New York, working as a fashion designer and living the high life, but then she goes home to Alabama surrounded by old friends and family and says, “This fits, too.” Both men are equally wonderful in their own ways. And she has a decision to make.

In the past week, I have realized that I am living my own version of “Sweet Home Alabama”. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I unexpectedly uncovered an indescribable connection and chemistry with Flynn on a camping trip a couple of weeks back. And you also know that I recently (and equally unexpectedly) found myself being courted by Bryan, the intriguing and wealthy gentleman who took me out for ice cream in his Aston Martin.

Jake PerryFlynn is a good ol’ Louisiana boy with a thick Southern drawl and a black pickup truck. He’s a 34-year-old mechanical engineer and former Army Ranger who plays acoustic guitar and has a rugged, roguish charm about him. He’s a bible study leader at church, and he makes me laugh constantly (throw-your-head-back kind of laughter). But he has a girlfriend.

Andrew HenningsBryan is an independently wealthy, 36-year-old electrical engineer who is a practicing Christian with a dream of opening an orphanage in Haiti. He is cultured and intelligent; laid-back and adventurous. I enjoy his company, but I wonder if our attraction is purely intellectual, without any emotional element to the connection. He also doesn’t see himself staying in one place for long, so life with Bryan would be one of perpetual instability.

So what’s a girl to do? Allow Bryan to continue courting me to see if sparks develop? Pray for Flynn to become available? Cut them both loose? Decisions, decisions…

Fun fact: I met Bryan at Flynn’s Thanksgiving potluck for their church group. Yes, they know each other and have several mutual friends. Isn’t life full of interesting twists?!

Authentically Aurora

Flynn Found Me

Instant MessageAaaaah! Guess who sent me an Instant Message at work today?!?!

You guessed it. Flynn!!!

I was good and didn’t initiate. I let him come to me, and come to me he did.

Flynn opened with, “Howdy!”, which fits his charming country character perfectly. After we made small talk for a few minutes, he invited me to his church’s Thanksgiving potluck dinner tonight. I, of course, said I would love to be there (along with my famous pumpkin chocolate chip muffins)! Then he asked if I had lunch plans. Wow – double-whammy. I already had a lunch meeting planned, but we agreed to meet for lunch next week before leaving for the Thanksgiving holidays.

We managed to chat for about twenty minutes before I excused myself for a business meeting. Our witty conversation was more fun than I’ve had in a long time. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, and I’m pretty sure I was smiling the entire twenty minutes (and for about twenty minutes afterward). My coworkers probably all think I’m crazy, laughing out loud seemingly to myself, all alone in my cubicle. Ha. I’m sure it’s not the first time they’ve thought I was crazy!

As fun as Flynn is, I’m trying to be wise about this situation. I’m trying to enjoy the attention and flirtation while guarding my heart and having no expectations about a future because, as much as I enjoy Flynn’s company, he is someone else’s boyfriend. And I’m not a boyfriend stealer. And that “someone else” has been pretty clear that she expects to be a fiance soon. And I’m definitely not a fiance stealer. I’ve had my heart broken too many times to do that to someone else.

And besides: If he’ll do it for you, girls… he’ll do it to you. You better believe it.

Authentically Aurora

Finding Flynn – Part I

I went on a camping trip this past weekend. The weather was perfect – 60s and 70s – and I went almost exclusively with complete strangers, which was also perfect (strangers have no expectations about who I am or how I should act, so I often – especially of late – feel freer to be myself with strangers than friends).

I ran into an old acquaintance at a ministry banquet last week, and he invited me to his church’s camping trip for their “Singles” Sunday school class. As a part of my self-imposed goal to attend at least one social event per week, I agreed to go. So on Friday I was assigned to a carpool group, showed up at the agreed-upon apartment at the agreed-upon time of 5:30 pm and was still standing in the parking lot at 6:30 pm (a display of the typical lack of punctuality demonstrated by singles of “Generation Me”). Nevertheless, we had an enjoyable drive into the countryside as I exchanged witty banter with the two nerds I found myself wedged between in the back seat of an ancient Toyota Corolla (and I use the term “nerds” affectionately).

Our carpool group eventually made it out to the campsite around 8:30 pm and found the rest of our group already gathered around a roaring campfire. Insight into my brain: I wish I didn’t do this, but if I’m honest with myself, in my singleness I tend to scan new groups of people for their most eligible bachelor. In this instance, he wasn’t hard to find.

Angular features highlighted by the flickering fire, his defined jawline was rimmed with a dark five o’clock shadow. His waterfall haircut grazed his forehead as he spoke with animation, and he radiated an aura of leadership. As conversaion progressed, I discovered that he was the group’s bible study leader and had a playful demeanor with a dry sense of humor.

Flynn RiderHe reminded me a lot of Flynn Rider, the male protagonist in “Tangled” and my favorite Disney prince. Flynn is a dashing, swashbuckling hero with a sense of adventure and flair for the sarcastic. Not everyone agrees with me, but I peg Flynn for an ENFP. For those of you not familiar with Myers Briggs, the ENFP is an extroverted, intuitive personality type who likes flexibility and makes decisions based on gut feelings or emotions. I personally am an INTJ. That means that I recharge by being alone, am intuitive, enjoy structure and am a rational decision maker.

The ENFP/INTJ combination is said to be one of the most perfect personality matches from a romantic standpoint. Some of the most legendary love stories are between an ENFP and INTJ because the playfulness of the ENFP balances the intensity of the INTJ. Think Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy of “Pride and Prejudice.” Epic.

In addition to being a ridiculously attractive leader of men, my real life Flynn is also a 34-year-old mechanical engineer and former Army Ranger who plays acoustic guitar. At first glance, he’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Unfortunately, just as I asked myself, “Is this guy for real?”, I discovered that yes, he is, but so was the young, curly haired girl who pranced out of her tent, plopped down in his lap and wrapped her arms possessively around his neck.

Figures.

Authentically Aurora

David’s Mighty Men – Part I

My last post was pretty raw, emotional and generally more touchy-feely than I normally write or am even comfortable with. But I’m leaving it (rather than deleting it) in the hopes that either:

  1. It will help some of my readers as they struggle with their own hurt, or
  2. Readers who get the impression that I am a cynical dragon lady can see that there really is a soft heart underneath the callouses!

If I had been in a more rational frame of mind last week, instead of posting lonely girl pics, I would have written about David’s Mighty Men. Yes, you read that right. While my mushy gushy right brain was being emo and melancholy, my left brain was thinking about David’s Mighty Men.

For those of you not familiar with David’s Mighty Men, get your popcorn ready, because it is a freaking awesome story.

Everybody ready? Julie, do you have your Icee? Okay, great. Here we go.

[Setting: Israel, 1030 BC]

Act I

David YouthOnce upon a time, there lived a boy named David. He was the youngest of eight brothers, and he worked in the fields of Israel as a shepherd while his three eldest brothers went off to fight under King Saul in his war against the Philistines. Occasionally, David’s father sent him to take food to his older brothers on the front lines, and on one such occasion, David unintentionally became the Champion of the Israeli army, single-handedly defeating the Philistines.

The Philistine giant, Goliath, had taunted the Israeli army and suggested a 1:1 battle to determine the victor between the two armies. David was young and untrained in sword fighting, but when he heard Goliath insulting the name of the God of Israel, David boldly stepped forward to fight Goliath, having full faith and confidence that God was behind him. All of the trained soldiers were afraid of Goliath, but David “triumphed over Goliath with only a sling and a stone.” Read more here.

What I love about David in this story is that he was just minding his own business, dropping off food for his big brothers. David wasn’t looking for fame or notoriety, but he was zealous for God’s honor and glory, and so he stepped up to defend God’s name when no one else would. He was humble and unassuming, but brave and fearless because of his faith, and that combination is what made him great.

Act II

King Saul was an insecure, angry, restless man in search of someone to soothe him by playing the harp. One of his servants had heard that David could play the harp, so David was contacted and requested to play for the King.

Harp HandsWhen David played, the tormented King would feel at peace, so King Saul grew to love David, until he realized that David succeeded at everything he did. David was an excellent musician, he was attractive, and he also began to get a reputation for being a strong warrior. The people of Israel began to sing, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands!”

This (understandably) made the very insecure King Saul jealous and angry, and he began to make attempts on David’s life. Read more here.

David didn’t ask to be called to play the harp for King Saul. He was simply serving the King and serving him well. By no fault of David’s, the jealousy of the King resulted in David having spears thrown at him (directly by the King’s hand!) and hunted down by King Saul’s army.

Act III

David's Mighty MenSoon David found himself alone and on the run, but people began flocking to him. Notably, Scripture describes the people who come to David as “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented… and he became captain over them.” Eventually in 2 Samuel, we see this rag tag group of men transformed into a group renowned as “David’s Mighty Men.”

These distressed, indebted, discontented men rallied around David and, under his leadership, developed into epic heroes like Josheb-basshebeth who “wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time” and Benaiah who “struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.” Read more here.

Think “Guardians of the Galaxy” only better. A depressed group of misfits banded together and conquered evil as they joined under a united cause. Tell me that doesn’t get you pumped up!

Epilogue

Eventually, King Saul is killed in battle, and the shepherd boy David – youngest of eight brothers – goes on to become King. There is of course more to the story, but at its core, it is the classic story of the underdog triumphing against all odds.

Then again, I suppose odds don’t really come into play when you are God’s anointed.

Authentically Aurora

Organized Religion

Church MosqueMany of us have been wounded by organized religion. Many of us have been hurt, insulted and offended by the Christian church. And as a result, many of us carry bitterness toward pastors, elders, bible study leaders and other fellow Christians. I count myself among those who have spent the past several months angry with God, largely because I am angry with His people.

In the midst of my depression, my most recent bible study leader told me that she wasn’t sure I was really a Christian. “You have a lot of head knowledge about God, but you don’t seem to have ‘heart’ knowledge. If you really believed that God is good and sovereign like you claim to believe, you wouldn’t still be depressed.”  Psalm 42, lady. Our emotions don’t always follow the rationale of our minds.

And then there are those Christians who try to guilt you into changing your attitude (you think I want to feel this way?) by asking you in a sickeningly sweet and often condescending voice, “Aurora, what would Jesus do?” Clearly they have forgotten that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.

WWJDPast church leadership wouldn’t allow me to sing in the choir because I hadn’t been baptized by immersion as an adult. After confirming that they don’t believe baptism is necessary for salvation, I retorted, “So I can be a member of the Kingdom of Heaven but not a member of your church choir?” They had no response, but I still wasn’t permitted to participate.

Since my broken engagement, I have visited three different churches. One was comprised almost exclusively of married couples. One had the compassionless bible study leader mentioned above. And at the third, I was invisible; no one noticed if I came or not on a given Sunday. So I have largely stopped going to church. I know deep down that it’s not a long term solution, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to suffer the throes of organized religion again just yet.

As hurtful as the church can be, I know that staying away because I’ve been hurt is a false excuse because people are messy, and pain is inevitable. Churches are filled with sinful, fallen, broken people because we are all sinful, fallen, broken people. The very message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that you don’t have to clean yourself up before you come to Him; He meets us right where we are, in the midst of all our mess.

I believe that we were created for fellowship. I believe that Satan wants to isolate us. I believe that lies become louder and bitterness becomes more deeply entrenched the longer we withdraw from community. So I have known all along that I would return to church services someday. I have just been taking my time, nursing my wounds. And today, God sent someone to tap me on the shoulder, saying it’s time to get involved again. I know it was God tapping me on the shoulder, because it was a Muslim inviting me to a Christian church.

Wait, what?

Alim was born in Iran (no surprise, given that I am a Middle Eastern magnet) and moved to Canada as a boy. He recently came to the United States for a job at the same company where I work, and he and I have run into each other at a couple of networking events in the past, although I never seem to remember his name. He saw me in the cafeteria this afternoon and came over to talk. He remembered that I am a Christian, so he asked me where I’m going to church. When I explained that I’m not actively involved in church right now, he said, “You should come to church with me. Want to come this Sunday?”

Alim was raised Muslim but, upon moving to the Bible Belt of America, couldn’t help but be curious about Christianity, so he started visiting churches as a part of his self-described “exploratory phase.” And so God used this Muslim-turned-Christian-church-attender to invite His wayward Daughter to attend church services again.

God certainly works in mysterious ways.

Authentically Aurora