Servant Leadership (Part I)

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The past two months have been an absolute whirlwind. Not only am I a first year teacher, but I am also the only one at my school teaching 7th grade Pre-AP math. The prior teacher “is no longer with the district” and left none of her material, so I am having to develop all of my own lesson plans, including quizzes, tests, and differentiation activities for my students at different learning levels. I have duty before and after school twice a week, I am coaching the school’s math club, and the choir director found out I was a three-time All State Choir member, so on Thursdays I am using my conference period to do voice lessons for our choir girls.

I spend my weekends grading papers and attending mandatory GT workshops where I spend 8 hours of my Saturday learning about how to better reach my Gifted & Talented students. Though normally a neat freak, my state of my apartment has devolved into one of barely controlled chaos. I no longer sort my laundry by color, I actually leave dishes in the sink, and I can’t remember the last time I did a deep clean of my kitchen or bathroom.

I used to cook dinner for Seth about once a week, but these days, he usually gets to my apartment before I do and either has dinner cooking or has brought over take-out (which I then pack as my lunch for the next day).

This first year of teaching has been the most chaotic, involved and stressful of any job I’ve ever had, but it’s also been the most rewarding. More on that later. But suffice it to say, I haven’t felt like I’ve been a great girlfriend lately, and I tell Seth all the time, “I want to do something for you. Do you want me to try to get to the grocery store to make dinner tonight? Do you want to go for a bike ride after work? We used to do that all the time. Could I give you a back rub?” I want to do something! Seth has been selflessly serving me and patiently holding this relationship together while I try to keep my head above water. But he always just smiles (I can hear his smile over the phone) and tells me he’ll take care of everything. And he does.

The one thing I’ve been able to offer our relationship the past two months is gratefulness. I notice and appreciate everything Seth has been doing for me, from the big things (grocery shopping and cooking dinner) to the little things (picking up a dead roach in the front entryway). He even scrubbed the toilet bowl at my place a couple of weeks ago. He is so selfless and kind and loving, and he does it all joyfully, which has stirred my heart to love him all the more.

In the midst of my nonstop schedule, my friend Emma texted me and asked if I was up for a girls’ weekend trip. She’s a 9th grade math teacher, and her roommate also works in education, so they get it. And they suggested that the three of us take a mid-semester break to recharge. I was so excited and relieved at the thought of a break that I even agreed to give up a precious vacation day to take off Friday so we could make it a three-day weekend.

Seth and I attend bible study on Wednesday nights, and last week as we were walking back to our cars after bible study, Seth asked, “Could I come over and make you breakfast on Friday morning? You’re going to be gone all weekend, and it would be nice to see each other before you’re gone for three days.”

It was a sweet offer, and I wanted to see him, but he’s been doing so much for me lately that I felt a bit guilty at the thought of him doing one more thing to serve me. “I’d love to see you! But you don’t have to make me breakfast.”

“I want to.” He smiled.

I did like the thought of having a homemade breakfast together. And it would be nice to have some quiet time together before I left on my girls’ trip. “You really don’t mind?” I asked.

He wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a gentle kiss. “It would be my joy.”

So I packed Thursday night and looked forward to not only my girls’ weekend but also some quality time with my sweetheart.

Authentically Aurora

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ACAscuse me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

Anointing: Accepting Your Calling

Passion 2016

Unique opportunities tend to come when least expected. We never know when a proverbial door will be opened, and often, the door that opens is one we didn’t even know existed. I used to be somewhat cautious, but in recent years, I have learned to take risks, step out of my comfort zone and embrace the thrill of the unknown. When a unique experience is presented to me, I now tend to seize the opportunity, embark on an adventure and see what unfolds. I’m rarely disappointed.

The week of Christmas, I received a rather peculiar email. Some girl named Kelly – a girl I don’t know – sent an email blast to a listserv I am apparently still on from a church I used to attend five years ago. The email was an invitation to be a part of the Passion 2016 Choir. According to the email, Kelly’s friend was involved in leading the Passion Choir, and they needed more volunteers to sing.

For anyone not familiar with Passion, it is a three day Christian conference for young adults ages 18-25. It’s a huge event, hosting top Christian bands like David Crowder and Hillsong United, as well as world renowned speakers and theologians like John Piper and Ravi Zacharias. This year, the event attracted 40,000 students and was held at three different stadiums across two different cities in the US.

I was off work for the holidays and didn’t have plans January 2-4, so I emailed the director of the Passion Choir at the email address provided by Kelly. When the director, Alisa, replied to me, she said that choir volunteers were by referral only, so she asked who referred me. I gave her Kelly’s name, and Alisa immediately sent me a private link to an online application.

A week later, I entered our city’s basketball arena for a five hour rehearsal with about 70 other talented Christian vocalists, and it was like being back in All-State Choir. Singing with the best – more than that, talented vocalists with a passion and inner fire – is otherworldly. It’s like a glimpse of heaven on earth. Possibly even more fun than singing with the Passion Choir, though, was getting to be a part of the choir’s community group.

Alisa led us in bible studies and reflection times between rehearsals and performance sessions, and because most vocalists are dreamers and artsy types, the focus of our special behind-the-scenes study was on discovering our passions and living out our dreams. Only, Alisa didn’t take the study the direction I expected. I expected a cliché pep talk about how I’m special and blah blah blah. But Alisa lovingly challenged our individual visions of what our futures could or should be like.

She started by reading Ephesians 4:7-16 and explaining that there is a supernatural gifting from God within each of us. But God gives the gifts. God chooses the gifts. There are good works predestined for me to do (Eph. 2:10), but good works aren’t up for grabs. If someone else is living out my dream or doing what I believe I have been uniquely created to do, I need to kill the jealousy inside of me. If someone else was given a certain role, he or she was assigned it in eternity past. Callings are not about us; they are a gift from God, and He chooses our gifts and callings!

Alisa went on to encourage us to know, accept and use our unique giftings for God’s glory. It’s God’s job to choose the gifts and callings; it’s my job to walk in the opportunities given to me. To identify our callings, Alisa wisely suggested we consider: What have I suffered? So often our misery becomes our ministry. What are my passions? What talents has my community affirmed in me?

Ultimately, Alisa reminded us that there is a race marked out for each of us to run (Heb. 12:1-3). It’s God’s role to mark out my race; He sets the path. Though our culture would tell us otherwise, we don’t create our dreams; they are given to us. God wove them into the fabric of our being when He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139).

My responsibility is not to choose my anointing. My responsibility is to run with perseverance the race marked out for me, for my good and God’s glory!

Authentically Aurora

Moments – Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

Moments – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

Design for Discouragement

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

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

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

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

Minimalism

Minimalism

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

Posterization

Posterization

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

High School Caste, Revisited

53a0e7d640b31_-_unknown-3-51047042I recently attended my ten year high school reunion and was reminded why I am so glad that high school is over. The popular kids are still popular, the nerds are still nerds, and the outcasts are still outcasts.

At the reunion I tried to make my way into the circle of girls with names like Tiffany, Brittany and Whitney, but I’m still not cool enough for them, even though I just wanted to give them the opportunity to, like, show off their freshly painted French manis to someone far below them in the high school caste system.

tumblr_lm1m3bb7eu1qcowqfo1_500After several failed attempts at conversation with people I didn’t recognize (either because they’ve gained 202.5 lbs or because they ended up being a spouse of a classmate), I finally spied a fellow choir nerd, and we made our way outside to catch up on the quiet calm of the patio.

About that time, two girls in tiny skirts with heavy eyeliner tromped past us. I recognized them and was about to call out a friendly hello when they each spat out a long string of expletives. Eyes wide, I turned to my choir friend. “Some things never change,” she said. “The mean girls stay mean, and the sweet girls stay sweet.”

I caught up with a few more folks before the music got too loud, the crowd got too crowded, and the alcohol got too free-flowing. Then I called it a night.

Ten years ago when I graduated, I imagined attending our class reunion and finally catching the eye of our class president and high school quarterback. He wasn’t there, so I may never know if I would have finally merited his attention, but as I was leaving, I did get asked out by the valet, so I count that as a win.

Authentically Aurora