Termination for Convenience (Part 2)

Cookies.jpgCelebrating my 30th birthday with my family last Sunday night – and also celebrating my soon-to-be-announced resignation from my current employer – my dad told a story of one of his old colleagues who, twenty years ago when this colleague was laid off, brought in cookies that his wife had baked and shared them with the office as a token of goodwill. His graciousness was so striking that my dad still remembers his actions two decades later. And Dad suggested that I do the same. “It makes quite a statement.”

For my family birthday celebration, my mom had made sugar cookies with my face and “Nerdy Thirty” screen printed on them in edible icing. There were a couple dozen cookies left over at the end of the party, so she suggested I take them into work. So that very next day – the day I resigned – I took in cookies of my face for everyone to eat.

On the elevator ride up to the 21st floor of the skyscraper where I work, six other people crowded in and kept eyeing the container of cookies in my arms. Finally, one older man broke the silence, leaning in to peer at the cookies. “Where’s the photo of my face?” He grinned at me.

He was trying to be funny, but it came off as more awkward than anything else, so I just fake laughed and tried not to look too uncomfortable. Someone else jumped in and asked, “Is that a photo of the girl who turned 30?”

It was a good likeness of me, so I was surprised at the question, but I nodded in confirmation. “Yep. It’s me. Yesterday was my 30th birthday.”

Instead of a chorus of “Happy Birthday!” from all the strangers in the elevator (emphasis on “strange”), I was surrounded by shifting eyes and uncomfortable silence. Confused at the response, I realized they must have thought I made cookies for myself and brought them into the office in order to celebrate myself. It was a Monday morning, so someone more perceptive would probably have realized they were left over from a weekend party, and I didn’t feel like making the effort to correct their thinking, so we all finished the elevator ride up in awkward silence before – ding! – the elevator stopped on 21, and I gratefully got out.

Hours later, I stopped by the kitchen area and found one of my colleagues picking up one of my “Nerdy Thirty” cookies. Striking up conversation, I asked, “So what do you think? Is it a good likeness?” I smiled at him, tilting my head for effect.

Instead of thanking me for the cookie, or wishing me a happy birthday, or even commenting on how great the cookies looked, he glanced at the now half-eaten photo of my face and mumbled, “Is it supposed to be you?” He bit again into the cookie, shrugging and turning away to refill his water bottle. “I guess kinda,” he shrugged again. There was no excitement, no congratulations – either on my birthday or my resignation – no comment of “what cool personalized cookies!”

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was astonished at how thoughtless, awkward and utterly self-focused everyone around me seems to be. When my boss was only focused about how my resignation inconvenienced her; when both strangers and colleagues were just interested in eating a cookie and not thanking or congratulating me; when I saw the types of responses I received from my farewell note – all of these stand as reminders of how completely selfish people are, unconcerned with the affairs of others except as it impacts them.

I sent out a heartfelt note to all of my friends, colleagues and stakeholders, recalling fond memories, focusing only on the positives of the past eight years and thanking them for their support, encouragement and collaboration. This is one of the actual responses I got back:

Backfill

Total lack of social skills and a punctuation error? You’d think I work with a bunch of engineers or something.

Authentically Aurora

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A Purdy Thirty

Seth and Ashley did such a great job with my birthday. My boyfriend and best friend collaborated to throw me an amazing surprise 30th birthday party with a Beauty and the Beast theme! I could not have felt more loved.

Wine glass roseTons of friends were there – from work, church, choir and every other facet of my life – and Seth had rented out a “shared space” that Ashley decorated beautifully with silk roses under wine glasses, candelabras reminiscent of Lumiere, and stacks of books nodding at Belle’s (and my!) love of reading.

Seth brought along the corn hole boards he and I made together, and he surprised me with a homemade set of hillbilly golf because I’d mentioned in passing that I’d played it at camp one year and loved it. Twinkle lights lit up the rented back patio, and Seth grilled up venison from the deer I shot back in November, wrapping each delicious piece in bacon with cream cheese. Ashley’s coconut-pineapple cupcakes were a hit, especially since she  – in all her amazing artistic talent – had decorated them with yellow icing in the shape of Belle’s ballgown.

Belle dress cupcakesI am not usually a fan of large gatherings, but I spent the evening surrounded by wonderful friends who are genuinely kind and loving, grounded and sincere. We laughed and sang and ate and played backyard games. A great time was had by all.

And at the end of the evening, Seth hugged me and kissed me and said over and over, “I like you so much.” And then, when all the guests had left and we were alone, he held me and asked, “Hey, did you know there was a Fusion pre-engagement session in April?”

I looked up at him, and he shook his head, laughing to himself. “Of course you knew. Thanks for not pushing it on me.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“Well,” he began softly, “Would you want to go to Fusion with me in April? I think we’re ready.”

My smile spread, and I snuggled up to him. I was surprised. “Yes. I’d like that a lot.”

He rubbed my back. “I was thinking we could go to the one at our church in April and then go again to the one in June being held by another church to see how different churches do it, with the added goal of maybe even being able to facilitate Fusion someday. What do you think about that?”

I tilted my head back to look up at him again. “I think that’s a great idea!” And I do.

It’s the culmination of so many parts of my life: my love of personality assessments, sharing wisdom from my own broken relationships, and getting to teach, train, encourage and mentor others. I love that my passions align with Seth’s and that such a huge part of our relationship is seeking out how we can serve together and minister to others. I think we make a great team, and I’m excited to see all that God has in store for us as a couple.

Authentically Aurora

30 Things To Do Before 30

30-before-30.pngI don’t think I ever made a list of 30 Things To Do Before Turning 30. I surely must have made that list at some point, but I went through my old emails and documents, and I can’t find anything saved digitally. I guess I’m showing my age… “When I was a girl, we used to write lists out by hand!” Ha.

Rather than scoring myself on that never-to-be-found-handwritten list (of what I did and did not accomplish by age 30), I will instead list out 30 Things I Did Before 30 – all of which are things I feel like could have been on my list!

  1. Dance in a ballet
  2. Sing for my supper
  3. Get a hole-in-one
  4. Watch a total lunar eclipse
  5. Score a goal in a soccer game
  6. Save a life
  7. Sing with someone famous
  8. Get paid to sing
  9. Shoot a 9mm pistol
  10. Go white water rafting
  11. Visit all 50 states
  12. Graduate Magna Cum Laude
  13. Earn an EMT certification
  14. Go on an international mission trip
  15. Earn an engineering degree
  16. Travel internationally for work
  17. Perform with David Copperfield in Vegas
  18. See a Broadway show in NYC
  19. Read through the entire bible in a year
  20. Get paid to photograph a wedding
  21. Visit Neuchvanstein
  22. Run a 5k
  23. Perform an original composition live
  24. Go on a blind date
  25. Get copyrighted
  26. Release an original album on iTunes
  27. Get paid for artwork
  28. Give a speech to 1,000+ people
  29. Share the Gospel with a stranger
  30. Watch a meteor shower with someone I love

Man. It’s been a good 30 years.

Authentically Aurora

Becoming a 30-Something

30th birthday.pngI’m turning 30 years old this week.

I know the expectation is that I should be freaking out about this, feeling like my biological clock is ticking and that life is going too fast. But I feel strangely calm about this milestone birthday.

Maybe it’s because my best friend Ashley turned 30 back in November, and I have already started thinking of myself as 30 by extension.

Maybe it’s because, rather than being single, I am in a happy relationship with a wonderful man who continues to make comments alluding to commitment. I think there’s a future there.

Or maybe it’s because there are so many other new, good things in my life (like an upcoming career change) that have 30 feeling more like an exciting fresh start than the beginning of a downhill slope.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about the fact that Jesus began his public ministry at age 30. He certainly did miracles and taught in the synagogue prior to his 30th birthday, but up until that point, he kept his ministry more private and was in a season of preparation for what was to come.

My mind followed that train of thought to mulling over the past decade and how many trials I’ve faced. I’ve been praying for years that God would use the pain for good; that He would put me in a place where I consistently live out my true created purpose. And here, right at my 30th birthday, I am on the brink of a major career change, where I get to stand in front of young adults every day and be a positive role model, hopefully impacting them for eternity.

Might this be what I’ve been praying for? Might this be the beginning of my own public ministry of sorts, with everything up to now being a season of preparation? I hope so.

If 30 is the year I start to see God really moving in my life to impact others, then I say bring on the next decade! I’m ready to be a 30-something.

Authentically Aurora

Stones from a Gem

Kendra_Scott_Gwendolyn

Have you ever started a new relationship just weeks before Christmas? How do you know what to get for a new S.O.’s birthday? At what point are gifts not only appreciated but expected? Will gifts put too much pressure on a budding relationship if they are given too soon?

These are some of the questions I mulled over in the weeks leading up to my April business trip to Europe. Seth would be celebrating his 29th birthday while I was abroad, and I wanted to do something to let him know I was thinking of him, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm him or make him uncomfortable.

We’d only been dating for a few weeks, and we weren’t even necessarily dating exclusively. We’d been on one date, and he’d only held my hand once. But at my core, I am a giver, and it brings me joy to make other people feel special. Besides, in my family growing up, birthdays were a time of celebration, so I didn’t feel like I could let Seth’s birthday go by unacknowledged.

I wanted to be myself with Seth, and that meant doing something to honor his birthday, so – knowing that one of his favorite hobbies is carpentry – I bought him some crushed turquoise. Seth works largely with mesquite wood, and he had mentioned wanting to start using crushed turquoise to fill in the cracks in his woodworking pieces. I’d hoped it was a small enough gift (under $20) not to freak him out but thoughtful enough to make him feel appreciated.

I planned to give it to him on the day I left for my trip, so the morning of my flight, Seth and I met at church as agreed. After the service, we caravanned back to my apartment, and upon retrieval of my suitcase from my bedroom, I handed Seth the birthday card I’d made along with a drawstring bag filled with the turquoise I’d purchased for him.

“Happy Birthday,” I told him shyly when he looked up at me with a puzzled expression.

Kendra_Scott_Bag“I know you’re not big into celebrating birthdays,” I busied myself with tying my shoelaces, “But I couldn’t just not do anything for your birthday,” I rambled. “Oh, and I didn’t have any gift bags, so I just put your present in a Kendra Scott bag. But don’t worry,” I laughed, wondering what he must be thinking at the sight of the trendy jeweler’s bag, “I didn’t get you Kendra Scott earrings!”

Seth chucked, but I could tell there was something he wasn’t saying. Was it too much that I’d gotten him a gift? He hadn’t even opened it yet. Did he think it was lame I’d reused one of my Kendra Scott jewelry bags?

As I worried over his nonverbal reaction, Seth untied the drawstring bag and pulled out the crushed turquoise, along with the CA glue I’d partnered with it for his next carpentry project. His expression was unreadable at first; then he gazed at me with a soft look of wonder and appreciation. He looked genuinely touched. And surprised. And surprised at how touched he felt.

I watched various expressions flicker across his face and decided I’d done well. Seth stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug; then looked down at the bag of turquoise again. And then he hugged me a second time, whispering into my hair, “Thank you. That was really sweet.”

He helped carry my luggage to his truck and loaded it into the backseat. He opened the passenger door for me, as always, before walking around to his driver door and climbing in. Seth started the engine, but before he shifted into drive, he reached behind his driver’s seat and pulled out a Kendra Scott bag, handing it to me.

“What is this?” I asked, thinking at first that he was handing me the very same bag I’d given him for his early birthday present. But, glancing up into his face, I realized in an instant that this was a completely different bag. Mind racing, I realized with shock that before he found out I was going to give him a present today, Seth had already prepared this gift for me.

“It’s kind of a belated birthday present. Coupled with a going away present.” My birthday had been a month earlier, when Seth and I were just getting to know one another. I hadn’t expected him to get me anything then, and I certainly hadn’t expected him to get anything for me now!

“Can I open it?” I asked. I felt like a little girl, overwhelmed with wonder and excitement and a sense of feeling very, very special.

“Yeah, open it.” Seth’s expression was unreadable again. Did he look… nervous?

I pushed back the teal wrapping paper, pulled out the familiar bright yellow box, opened the teal drawstring bag and found a pair of Danielle earrings in purple – my favorite color. He bought me Kendra Scott earrings. 

I never would have expected such an extravagant gift, and I was unprepared for the way his kindness and generosity affected me. I’d known he was thoughtful. I’d known he was a gentleman. But to be the recipient of not only his selfless service of driving me to the airport but also this tangible token of his affection welled up in me an emotion that nearly moved me to tears. I felt cared for.

It had been so long since someone took care of me that I’d nearly forgotten what it felt like to be romanced; to be and protected; to be lovingly served. And I had a sense that Seth experienced a similar emotion when he opened his gift.

Not only did Seth and I unknowingly both get one another semi-precious stones in a Kendra Scott bag that day, we also both began to give one another the gifts of mutual care, respect, service and trust. Very rarely in life do two givers come together, but when they do, I am finding that it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Authentically Aurora

A Birthday Funeral

Bright Colors at Funeral

After my late night of dancing, I woke up early on the morning of my birthday to get dressed for my grandfather’s funeral. I chose my outfit carefully: bright colors – a celebration of his life – in formal attire to show my respect. I added a headband of delicate flowers in my hair. It would be a bittersweet day; a mingling of joy and sadness.

I left my apartment just as the sun started to peek above the horizon, piercing the darkness with warm, golden rays of sunlight. In the peacefulness of the early morning, I stopped by the still-quiet farmers’ market where I usually volunteer and picked up two almond croissants – one for my mom; one for me.

When I arrived at the funeral home, my nieces Lily and Wren jostled for positions in my lap. They both wanted to sit by me during the service, so I got to say goodbye to my grandpa flanked by the darling innocence of two of my favorite little girls in the entire world. I hadn’t realized how much joy it would bring me to spend my birthday with all of my extended family – especially with Lily and Wren. It was a surprisingly sweet birthday, snuggling with my nieces and later going for a walk with my cousin JJ.

The end of the day found me wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket in my pajamas, hair still wet from a hot shower. I’d just picked up a book to read when I was surprised by the sound of my phone ringing. I was even more surprised when I saw Seth‘s handsome face lighting up the screen of my cell phone, underscored by “Incoming call from Seth.”

“Hey, Seth,” I answered, tummy flip-flopping at the sound of his low voice.

“Hey! Happy Birthday!” I could hear his smile over the phone. “How was your day?”

We talked for a few minutes before Seth told me, “Hey, so I just left my sister’s house and am driving home now. I wondered if you wanted to get some ice cream for your birthday. I know it’s late – most ice cream shops are probably closed now – but I could stop by a grocery store and get us a couple of pints that we could eat together at your place if you like.”

I let myself feel a momentary thrill of happiness and excitement before I inwardly sighed and resolved to keep my commitment not to date through the end of Q1. There was still slightly more than a week left in March, and I wanted to finish strong. I’d hoped not to have the conversation with Seth over the phone. In truth, I hadn’t expected to have it at all; he’d surprised me with how soon he’d asked for one-on-one time. He struck me as a slower mover than that, but I was pleased by his interest.

“Wow, that sounds amazing,” I began, letting the sound of my happiness filter across the phone. “And I have lot of things to say in response to your offer,” I continued with a chuckle.

“To begin with, I’m so glad you called, and I love the idea of getting ice cream together for my birthday. That said, I’m currently in pajamas and fresh out of the shower with wet hair, so I’d need some time to get dressed before you came over. But more than that…” I paused, wondering how to proceed. “I hadn’t wanted to have this conversation over the phone, but since you’re asking, you should know that I have committed to fasting from dating through the end of March. I’d love to have you come over, but I don’t want to cop out right at the end here.”

Seth’s response was immediate and encouraging. “Well first of all, I think that’s great. I respect that you’re taking a break from dating. But secondly, I hadn’t viewed this as a date. When I ask you on a date, you’ll know it. I’m not that kind of guy who’s not man enough to actually ask a girl on a date. I’ve been using the words ‘hang out’ for a reason. At this point, I just want to get to know you, and if I eventually ask you on a date, you’ll know it.”

Oh. I was both impressed by his candor and a bit taken aback by the fact that I’d been mistaken as to his intentions. I loved that he was being intentional and clear in his communications, but a part of me also wished his offer of ice cream constituted a romantic overture.

I focused back on the phone conversation, where Seth was telling me that he’d wanted to get me a gift. “I’d thought about getting you a book from that series you mentioned you like, but I wasn’t sure which ones you’d already read. So then I was thinking about getting you concert tickets. Will you be in town April 17th?” A mutual favorite artist of ours was playing at a local venue, but I told him with sincere regret that I’d be out of the country on a business trip. But that’s something. He’s talking about getting us concert tickets together for a month in the future!

“Well, how about this then,” Seth proposed. “I won’t bring you ice cream tonight, but we’re both volunteering with the kids’ ministry tomorrow morning. How about I bring you birthday breakfast instead?” With a smile, I answered Seth’s questions about my favorite breakfast food, and the next morning, Seth showed up to church with a bag of kolaches still warm from the oven.

We settled together on the floor of the kids’ ministry, backs leaned against a wall and legs stretched out in front of us, grinning at each other like a couple of kids ourselves. Seth prayed for us before we dove into the breakfast bags, Seth handing me a sausage-and-cheese kolache before taking a spicy jalapeno one for himself.

“We’ve got to work on your tolerance for spicy food,” Seth teased me with a gentle nudge. My eyes sparkled as I looked back at him, wondering how in the world I’d gotten so lucky as to share a post-birthday breakfast with such a wonderful man.

Authentically Aurora

Dancing Around Dating

Cinderella Story DanceOn the evening before my birthday, my best girls took me out for dinner and drinks. Laughing about work and boys and life, we enjoyed the night air, strolling around an outdoor shopping mall before stopping into a quaint chocolate shop for dessert.

Over brownie-and-nut chocolate ice cream, my friend Cindy suggested we all go out dancing. It was nearly ten o’clock by that point, and now that I’m pushing 30, I was ready to call it a night. Like me, Ashley and most of the other girls were planning to head home, but Rachel’s blue eyes sparkled as she suggested I invite Seth and his friends to come dancing.

Cindy and Rachel are roommates and two of the girls I’ve gotten closest to in my bible study, although they are as different as can be. Cindy is a tall, curvy blonde with a bold spirit and an independent streak to match my own. We’ve had similar life experiences and only recently discovered we attended sister high schools, which just adds to our joke that we are twins separated at birth. Fraternal twins. Rachel is short and petite like I am, but her porcelain skin is dotted with freckles, and the red lipstick she loves to wear stands in strong juxtaposition to her shy, quiet demeanor.

“I don’t know…” I told the girls in response to their suggestion. Cindy and Rachel both knew I’d been disappointed that Seth’d had to work late on Wednesday and so missed our group that week. “I’m trying to let him lead, and I want him to be the one to ask me out if he decides that he’s interested.”

The girls exchanged a glance. “Oh, he’s interested!” they teased with knowing giggles. “He just needs a little encouragement,” Cindy added with a shrug.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to invite him and a group of his friends,” I agreed, mentally trying to frame up the conversation in my mind before I called him. Ten minutes later, Seth and his buddy Brent were on their way to meet us at Stampede, a local two-stepping bar and dance hall.

Seth, Brent, Cindy, Rachel and I gathered around a pool table once everyone arrived. Seth and I played on a team against Brent, all of us battling for who was worst at billiards. After Brent accidentally knocked in the eight ball, we relinquished the table to another group and migrated over to the dance floor. Seth bought me a beer, and we all sipped and talked, laughed and danced. I was glad to have him there for my birthday celebration.

After Seth and I danced three songs in a row together, he took Cindy and then Rachel for turns on the dance floor. I appreciated that he was mindful of the other girls. I’ve discovered that Seth is both perceptive and thoughtful; a true gentleman.

At one point, I found myself alone with Brent, so I asked him a bit about himself; then about his relationship with Seth. “Is he the real deal?” I asked. “Is he a solid, godly man?”

Brent was all too happy to tell me about his impressions of Seth, and he had nothing but respect for the man, describing him as wise, grounded and genuinely humble. “I don’t think he knows what a man he is,” Brent told me with a laugh. “Sometimes he tells stories about life on the ranch – cutting down trees or branding cattle – like it’s no big deal. He doesn’t seem to realize that’s not normal for us city boys.”

I was struck, later, by how differently Seth responded to my inquiries than Bryan did. When – this time last year – I asked Bryan’s friends about his character, Bryan had turned irate, screaming at me that I had broken his trust. But Seth commented to me later, with admiration on his face, that Brent had been impressed with the questions I’d asked. Seth appreciated that I took the time to understand how he was perceived by his friends. He saw the wisdom in it. The differences in reaction between Bryan and Seth were telling in their extreme contrast. Seth is a solid man of character, secure in who he is and confident in his friends’ mutual care and respect for him. The more I get to know him, the more I admire him.

When Parmalee’s “Already Callin’ You Mine” came over the speakers, Seth grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the floor for one more dance. This time, instead of two-stepping around the perimeter of the dance floor like all the other couples, Seth kept us spinning as one unit in our own little corner of the floor.

I felt like we were in a movie scene with the camera panning around us in a circle, twinkling lights blurred out in the background as we spun around one another. We locked eyes and turned eight, nine, ten times before I dropped my gaze, suddenly shy and feeling dizzy, only partially from the dancing.

As the song ended, Seth whispered in my ear, “Do you trust me?”

I nodded, so he eased me into a low dip. The dip required me to trust him with my weight, but as we’ve continued getting to know each other, the same question – Do you trust me? – has come up in ways that have nothing to do with dancing. And my answer is still, “Yes.”

I barely know you, you barely know me,
We ain’t but two slow dances into this thing.
Come on and sit down, I’ll order us a round.
I want to know everything. Girl, where’s your hometown?
Are those your momma’s eyes?
What are you doing for the rest of your life?
…’ Cause I’m already calling, I’m already calling you mine. ❤

Authentically Aurora