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

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Hold My Heart – Part I

Queen's throne

In the weeks following our kiss in the parking lot, Cory and I saw a lot more of each other. One evening, he came over for dinner, and I made a savory pumpkin sausage soup. His grandmother called near the end of dinner – Mimi, he calls her – and since I knew from our conversations that she basically raised him, I waved him off to answer the phone while I washed the dishes.

Once I had finished scrubbing the pots and pans, I ventured into my living room where Cory was laying sprawled out on the couch. Seeing my approach, he scooted over and patted the spot next to him with the hand that wasn’t holding his phone. When I sat down, he pulled me down to a lying position and maneuvered me on top of him so that I was laying flat on my back on top of his stomach.

We laid there for a long time, Cory talking on the phone to his Mimi as he gently stroked my arm, my body rising and falling with his breathing. There was nothing sexual about the interaction, and yet there was a profound emotional intimacy in sharing those moments together.

When Cory got off the phone, he’d had enough down time and – like his puppy, Stout – was eager to do something active. So he taught me AcroYoga, a combination of yoga and acrobatics. I’d never heard of it before, but I have a yoga mat, so we put it down and started with some basics – throne, queen’s throne, front plank, plank on plank and front bird. It was terrifying and thrilling and silly and sexy and exhilarating all at the same time.

Cory mentioned that AcroYoga is something he did a lot with his ex-fiance and that it’s a great trust-builder in a relationship. I wondered what he meant by that and why he shared it with me. Was he looking to build trust with me? Was he testing how much I trust him? Was he hoping to build new AcroYoga memories? Was he thinking of her when he was with me?

When Cory and I did the plank on plank position, Cory did some push ups with my weight on top of him. “Show-off!” I teased.

In response, he flipped into a handstand against the wall and started to do handstand pushups. His untucked shirt fell and flopped into his face, so he righted himself, took off the shirt, and resumed his handstand pushups. He knew I was watching, and he wanted to be watched. He liked showing off for me. 

After a few reps, he turned around so that his face was to the wall. “This way you can see the muscles in my back,” he told me. Oh geez. This man made me feel so many conflicting things all at once. Was he attractive to me? Yes. VERY. But his desire to show off and the bluntness with which he directed my gaze to the muscles in his back quickly reminded me that he is very much a still-maturing 24-year-old.  I smiled to myself, enjoying the moment but also chuckling internally at the absurdity of the situation. Guard your heart, I told myself. Too late, I replied, looking into his happy face as he righted himself again.

Later in the week, Cory had me over for dinner. He’s rather health conscious, so he made us fish and broccoli with a side of mac-n-cheese, a personal favorite of his. After dinner, he showed me his bedroom, gesturing for me to sit on his bed while he perched in his computer chair. He pulled out several old folders of weathered sheet music – mementos of his days as a music major. Then he rummaged around in his closet for a moment, emerged with a small box and opened it to reveal a conductor’s baton.

He held it gingerly, and I could tell it was very special to him. “This was my first wand,” he told me. “My college choir director bought it for me when I graduated,” he added, handing it carefully to me.

I took a few swishes with it, smiling at the electric blue handle – an expression Cory didn’t miss. “Yeah, he teased me about the color I chose, but it suited me.” He looked at me and grinned – an adorable, innocent, sideways smile that reminded me of all that could have been… and perhaps all that still could be.

Returning to the pile of sheet music spread out on his bed, Cory instructed me to pick out a few favorites; then proceeded to serenade me for about an hour, giving me a private performance as he sang some of his old pieces from his undergrad showcases. I occasionally harmonized, but I quickly learned that Cory derives great pleasure from showing off and being delighted in, so I let him shine and showered him with praise.

After a while, Stout was ready to go out, so we took him for a walk around the block. Figuring I should head home so Cory could study without distraction, I gathered my things on our way out to walk Stout.

As Cory walked me to my car, I reached over and interlaced my fingers with his. I was a bit shy, but it felt natural after all we had shared together, from kisses to stories of our pasts; our joys, our hurts, our hopes and dreams.

Cory allowed the interaction, but I sensed a slight hesitation from him. Ah, so it’s one thing to kiss me in the privacy of an apartment but another to hold hands walking through the parking lot. Funny how holding hands can be so much more intimate than kissing. And his reaction was telling. It hurt a bit, but I chided myself that I shouldn’t be surprised.

When we reached my car, Cory opened the driver door for me, as I had come to expect. He briefly kissed me goodbye and closed the door for me after I climbed in. I started to drive toward the exit gate of his apartment complex, but just as I reached the gate, I saw Cory and Stout in my rearview mirror running toward me. I slowed to a stop and rolled down my window, wondering what I’d forgotten.

When Cory reached my car, breathing hard, I started to form a question with my lips, but before I could speak, Cory bent down and kissed me. “Stout wanted to say bye,” he said breathlessly by way of an explanation.

I couldn’t help but smile. It’s obvious that his heart is spoken for, but as much as he hurts me sometimes, this man is adorable. 

Authentically Aurora

Conflicted – Part III: EMOTIONAL INTIMACY

I feel as though I still don’t know Bryan.

Once upon a time, he claimed that I have walls up – that I peek over the top of my curtain but never part the curtain for anyone else. I’m discovering I’m not the only one in this relationship with walls up.

Bryan and I do life together – we have done yard work and grocery shopping and traveled together and go to bible study together – but we are missing a soul-deep connection. Usually if I look into a person’s eyes, I can see to their soul. But Bryan is guarded. He has closed the shutters of his eyes that would be the window to his soul if he should ever choose to let anyone in.

I asked him the other day, as casually as one can ask such a question, “Do you ever let anyone in? Is there anyone in your life who really knows you?”

He wouldn’t make eye contact with me. And he shrugged (of course). One of his best friends said, “Bryan’s response to everything in life is a shrug.” Is he passionless as well?

Bryan replied to my probing, “My mom knows me. Russ knows me. And Toby…”

Interestingly, Toby is the best friend who told me that, close as they appear to be, he doesn’t feel like he really knows Bryan. So for Toby to be one of the three people Bryan listed  as “knowing him” speaks volumes.

Does Bryan have a fear of emotional intimacy? Of vulnerability? If so, why? Or if not, is he not self-reflective enough to have any depth of feeling or emotion? Does he stay too busy to identify the emotions he has buried? Is he so determined to be “happy” (because he definitely is determined to be happy) that he maintains a superficiality in relationships, all the while masquerading as a relational person who values deep connection?

Authentically Aurora