Is This Real Life?

Is This Real LifeStressed out after the Roy/Jess drama on Sunday, I drove to the park for some alone time. As I drove past rows and rows of cars – hurt and frustrated – I said out loud in a tired voice, “God, will you provide parking for me?”

At that instant, the passenger in the car in front of me rolled down their window, pointed off to the right, and kept driving. I looked to where the arm had pointed, and there – right where the arm had pointed – was a parking spot.

Dumbfounded, I pulled into the spot, put my car in park, and said out loud in bewilderment, “Thanks.”

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day.” -CS Lewis

Authentically Aurora

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Candy and Mud Pies

Kids ministryWhat is an appropriate ratio of kids to adults for teaching? For camp counseling? For babysitting? For Sunday school?

Usually when I volunteer with the kids’ ministry at church, there are five leaders for the elementary school kids: one for 1st & 2nd grade girls, one for 3rd & 4th grade girls, two more for each of the boys’ age groups, and one master facilitator who leads us in the bible story during “big group time.” There are online sign-up sheets for volunteering, so Elle – the woman in charge of the kids’ ministry – knows ahead of time if she needs to call in reinforcements.

Yesterday when I showed up to volunteer, I was the only one for a while, so I clustered all of the elementary girls together – 1st through 4th grade. Soon, a guy named Mark showed up, but he told me it was only his second week to volunteer, so he mostly followed my lead as he gathered all of the boys together. Mark and I led our kids through the “rug time activity” – a craft involving a memorized bible verse – but soon we were finished with the craft, and no more volunteers had shown up.

I glanced at my watch. It was past time to move on to teaching the bible story, but I didn’t see any of our usual “big group” leaders. So while Mark got the boys in a circle, passing a ball around while each of them recited one of the Ten Commandments in turn, I got my girls in a circle – a very large circle, I noticed, as twenty different frilly skirts took their places on our mat – and told them we had an exciting opportunity.

“Usually at church,” I began, killing time while I continued looking around for our facilitator, “We have a set program in place. We do a certain craft, learn a certain bible story and then have small group discussion time.”

“But today,” I continued, clapping my hands together with a big smile, “You girls get the chance to ask me anything you want – any questions you have about God or the bible or church or Sunday school.”

“Can we ask you anything?” One precocious girl spoke up. “Like how old you are or if you’re married?”

I laughed. “Maybe if we have time at the end. But let’s start with bible questions. Does anybody have a bible question for me?”

A soft-spoken girl to my left raised her hand. “Yes, Angeli?”

She lowered her arm slowly as she began her question. “You know that girl who God promised would have as many children as stars in the sky?”

“You mean Sarah and Abraham?” I asked, clarifying. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham, “I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”

“Yeah. When God told Abraham his children would be like the stars in the sky, does that mean the stars in the sky are all of the unborn babies?”

“Wow, that’s an interesting interpretation,” I told her, and I went on to explain gently that stars are actually burning balls of gas and the biblical meaning of that passage was that all of the offspring of Abraham – “All of his children and great-grandchildren and great-great-great-great grandchildren” – would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. “Good question!”

After Angeli was satisfied, another girl asked a question that stopped me short. Her big, innocent eyes looked up at me as she asked me a question most adults ask all their lives. “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

“That’s a hard question, isn’t it, Savannah?” I acknowledged her question, thinking how to answer. “I’ve asked God that very same question a lot of times.” I gave a few personal examples and then explained to the girls – all of them listening now – that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is “no” because He loves us and wants what’s best for us. “Sometimes the things we want aren’t what is best for us, and because God loves us, He doesn’t answer our prayers with the ‘yes’ we hope for.”

I paused for a moment, collecting my thoughts; then gave an example. “If you ate candy for lunch and dinner every day, how would that make your tummy feel?”

“It would hurt,” some of the girls murmured.

“That’s right. But sometimes we want to eat nothing but candy for lunch and dinner, don’t we?” The girls nodded.

“We have mommies and daddies who love us, so they make us eat vegetables and food we don’t like because they love us and know that eating vegetables is better for us than eating candy. God is the same way. He is a loving Father who sometimes doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.”

I glanced over at Mark, who was starting to lose the boys. We were in a large, open gym, so it was nearly impossible to contain the dozens of kids running around. I decided no one else was coming to help, so I walked up to the front and tried to figure out the A/V system. I got a headset plugged in, turned on and tested it. “Test, test.” My voice echoed across the gym.

“Alright, boys and girls!” I called in my perkiest voice. “It’s time to play a bible trivia game!” I fumbled with the music and the PowerPoint slides, but between the two of us, Mark and I got through it. Right at the end, Elle showed up, aghast at the sight of me wearing the headset and barely containing the explosion of children wiggling in their seats.

Parents started showing up, picking up their kids, and Elle hurried over to me. “Oh my gosh! Did your Head Leader not show up?” I grinned and shook my head, nearly laughing at this point because of how ridiculous the whole morning had been.

God has really been teaching me a lot about flexibility, spontaneity and letting go of control. I like order and the expected. But if I’d had the security of a set program that morning, those girls wouldn’t have gotten their previously unspoken questions answered. And if I had the comfort of control over the situation, I wouldn’t have gotten to grow in faith, leadership and dependence on God as I struggled to rise to the occasion and make the most of our under-resourced morning. It’s just like I told the girls – sometimes God doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – CS Lewis

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