In Support of Syria

Syrian Refugee HelpHave you ever been someone’s answer to prayer? I don’t just mean figuratively, where someone tells you that you are a Godsend because you turned down the volume to Little Einsteins while she, in all her mother-of-five-ness sits slumped on the couch covered in day-old baby vomit.

Have you ever been a very literal answer to someone’s very specific prayer? This happened to me on Sunday morning.

Our pastor preached on the importance of international missions, frequently referencing the current tragedies facing Syrian refugees. Our church is sponsoring two trips this year – one to Greece and one to Jordan – both in support of Syrian refugees. I am already giving financially to these efforts, but during the sermon, I reevaluated if I should personally be among those going on the trips.

I’ve been on several international mission trips – some medical, some evangelical – in countries ranging from South Sudan to the Philippines. But this year, I believe I am being asked by God to stay and help people right here in my city. There is no need to travel around the world to meet the needs of the desperate and victimized. I live in a very international city that is a hub for both refugees and human trafficking (which often go hand-in-hand). This city is my home, and I believe my ministry in 2016 is to people I encounter during the course of my day-to-day living.

Once I established that I am not being asked by God to go on either of these international trips, I started praying and asking God what I was supposed to take away from the sermon. What was God’s purpose for having me hear those words that morning? God’s response was to draw my thoughts to a particular friend: Leanne.

Leanne goes to my church and has never done international missions before, but she had previously expressed to me both an interest in and a fear of doing mission work. And what God told me that morning is that Leanne has been tasked with taking the good news about Jesus to Africa, and her journey starts with taking a step of faith in going on a short term trip.

I spotted Leanne across the sanctuary and saw her head bowed in prayer near the end of the service. I prayed for her from across the room, wondering what God had spoken to her during church that morning. When the service ended and everyone got up to leave, I navigated my way through the crowds to Leanne just as she made it to the tiled hallway outside the sanctuary.

“Hey! Leanne!” She turned as I called out her name.

When I reached her, I put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Hey, what did you think of the sermon today?”

Wordlessly, she raised one hand and directed my gaze to it. “I’m shaking,” she told me. “My hands are shaking. That sermon was for me.”

I smiled. “I know. That’s what I came to tell you. Are you going to go on one of the trips?”

“I don’t know!” She exclaimed, forehead lined with anxiety. “The Greece trip is kind of tugging at my heart, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. At the end of the service, I was praying, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me. Will you send someone to tell me what to do?'”

My eyes widened as her words registered. I was the messenger! The moment Leanne began praying, I believe God appointed me to be the answer to her prayer. So I relayed to Leanne what God had revealed to me. “Go on the trip to Greece.”

Leanne smiled. “Thanks for being obedient to what God told you to do. I guess now it’s my turn.”

We hugged tightly, both of our eyes moist, and I realized with a smile that now Leanne wasn’t the only one shaking. Our God is so good. He is not a God of confusion but a God of peace.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. -James 1:5

Authentically Aurora

Jesuspicious

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You never know who may be looking at how you live your life.

When I was a little girl, my best friend Sara lived in the cul-de-sac across from ours. Sara was a bossy, unkind girl, and she inherited her temperament from her high-strung mother. While I was busy learning a lot about patience and sharing during my friendship with Sara, Sara’s mom was evidently learning a lot from observing my mom.

A few years ago, decades after Sara and her family moved away to another city, Sara’s mother called my mom to let her know she had become a Christian. “So many of the other PTA moms tried to shove religion down my throat, but you quietly displayed the love of Jesus to me day in and day out. You are the reason I sought out God and eventually became a Christian. Thank you.” Until that point, my mom never knew the impact she’d had on Sara’s family. She was just loving Jesus and letting the love overflow. So often, that is all that is asked of us; that is all that is needed.

When I was in college, I was in a swing dancing society. A tall Chinese boy named Yun was a frequent dance partner of mine, but we didn’t talk much during our dances (because we were so out of breath from the fast tempo songs!). Yun and I both moved to the same city after college, and I see him from time to time when I visit the swing dancing group here. We are amiable, but I would call him more of an acquaintance than a friend.

Despite our perceived distance from my perspective, two weeks ago, I received an unexpected Facebook message from Yun. It was only one sentence, with no introduction or explanation. “What are the minimum requirements, in your mind, to be a Christian?”

I was completely taken aback but also really glad he felt comfortable reaching out to me with his question. I wrote back that I could answer over Facebook messenger, but I suggested we go out for coffee instead. Yun agreed.

We met a few days later, and Yun gave me the background for his question. He grew up in an atheist family in China, but after his father’s death several years ago and his grandmother’s latest bout of cancer, his mother encouraged Yun to settle down with a nice Christian girl. Yun’s mother is still an atheist living in China, but she thinks American Christian girls make good wives. She told Yun they will be kind, loving and faithful wives because they believe they are accountable to a Higher Power.

Yun has tried dating some nice, Christian girls, but he told me with frustration that none of them will date him unless he becomes a Christian, too. “I know that’s an ulterior motive… will God be mad at me if I become a Christian with impure motives? It’s hard being an atheist bachelor in the Bible Belt of America.”

I smiled thoughtfully at Yun. I appreciated his authenticity. “I think all of us have impure motives at some time, but God’s greatest desire is for you to know Him, so if He uses your desire to be married as a way to draw you to Himself, so be it. I think the fact that you’re asking if God would be bothered by it says a lot. I believe our desire to please God does in fact please Him.”

So Yun pulled out his iPad, where he’d developed a list of questions to ask me. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Do I have to be “good enough” to be a Christian? Why did Jesus have to die? Do I have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God? What if I want to believe but I can’t seem to muster up the faith in myself? Do you believe creation was literally seven days, or is that figurative? What do you think about the Big Bang Theory? Why is there suffering in this world if God is good, loving and all-powerful? Is going to church necessary?

The questions went on and on, and for hours I answered them as best I could, giving Yun passages of the Bible to read on his own so that he could search the Scriptures for himself. We talked a lot about Romans 6 and why someone who truly believes in Jesus’ deity, death and resurrection will live differently than before they believed.

In the end, Yun decided he wasn’t quite ready to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on his behalf yet, but he told me, “I want to believe. I want to become a Christian. I just need to think about it some more first. It’s not a decision I take lightly.”

I’m thankful Yun appreciates the weight of his decision. And I made sure he knows he can come back to me any time with more thoughts or inquiries. It was refreshing to talk about the hard questions of faith with someone who was genuinely seeking answers and not just looking for an argument.

Please pray for Yun, and if you are someone who is curious about my answers to any of the questions Yun raised, please feel free to comment or send me a private message!

Authentically Aurora

Free Gift

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A couple of weeks ago, I baked a batch of sugar cookies from scratch, lovingly decorating them for my bible study group.

I should have known to cut the recipe in half, what with the warm front we’re having and everyone trying to get ready for swimsuit season, because at the end of the evening, I still had about two dozen cookies left. These folks could learn a thing or two from me about how to put away some cookies!

Knowing that I would eat ALL of them if I took the sugar cookies home with me, I decided to text Hovik, the attractive Armenian car mechanic who lives in my apartment complex. As expected, he was all too happy to take the cookies off my hands, so I stopped by his unit on my way back to my own apartment.

He welcomed me inside – I’d never been inside his apartment before – and gave me the grand tour, starting with his self-built LED lit bar bottle display and ending with the rows and rows of hundreds of model cars lining his closet shelves. The man knows a thing or two about interior decorating. His place was beautiful, right down to the wall-to-wall backlit painting hanging over his king-sized bed.

Having dropped off the cookies and received the grand tour, I started to excuse myself. It was late and, although I trusted Hovik, I didn’t know him very well. It was time to leave. But he wasn’t ready for me to go yet. “What did you do tonight?” he asked me. “What did you bake these cookies for?”

“I was at bible study,” I said simply.

“Bible study?” he asked incredulously. “You study the bible?”

“Yeah, I do,” I told him with a shrug. “What about you? I don’t know much about Armenian religion. What is your spiritual background?”

“I’m a Christian, too,” he told me. “I’m Orthodox.”

“Okay,” I replied, nodding my head. “So, what does that mean – Orthodox? Where do you go to church in the area?”

Hovik laughed. “It means that I go to an Armenian church on Christmas and on Easter.”

“Ah, so you’re a CEO.”

Hovik looked confused, so I explained. “Christmas and Easter Only.”

He smiled slightly. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So, Hovik… what do you believe happens when you die? Do you believe in an afterlife?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I’ll go to heaven.”

“Why?”

Hovik looked uncomfortable. “I mean, it’s what I was raised to believe, you know. My mom always taught me to be a good person. I’m a good guy, so I’ll go to heaven.”

He had a works-based view of salvation. My heart sank. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but we were already mid-conversation, and Hovik’s salvation was more important to me than his comfort level, so I plunged ahead.

“Hovik,” I started gently, “You know that’s not a biblical view of salvation, right?” I quoted Ephesians 2, “We are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good works so that no one can boast. Being brought into a right relationship with God is purely a gift from God when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf as payment for our sinfulness. There’s nothing you or I could do to be ‘good enough’ to earn God’s favor.”

Now Hovik looked really uncomfortable. “Well that’s not what I was raised to believe.”

“I understand that.” I paused. “Hovik, do you live up to your own standards for yourself? Do you always live according to the standards you have set for yourself?”

He squirmed. “Well, not always. But most of the time. I’m a good guy.”

“If you don’t live up to your own standards 100% of the time, what makes you think you live up to God’s standards? All of us fall short of God’s standard for holiness, and because God is perfectly just, there has to be a punishment for sin.”

Hovik looked angry now. He raised his voice a bit as he bit back, “That’s not the God I grew up learning about. God is loving. God loves everyone. He wouldn’t be vengeful just because I can’t be perfect!”

I nodded, smiling. He had led me right into my next point. “God is perfectly just, but scripture tells us that He is also perfectly loving, so He didn’t want to leave that rift between Himself and His children that was caused by sin. That’s why Jesus came to earth and died – willingly, lovingly – then rose from the dead, taking upon himself the punishment that we all deserve for our sin. So yes, there is punishment for sin because of God’s justice, but because of His love, He created a way for us to be brought back into a right relationship with Him when we believe and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.”

Hovik’s posture was no longer warm and welcoming, so I excused myself, telling him to enjoy the cookies. When I got back to my apartment, I had a text from him:

“Soooooo. Was that a little awkward for you?”

“Nope. But I could tell it was for you. ;)”

“Well a little. I was more interested in hearing how you are instead of what pleases Jesus. But I do love the fact that you’re very passionate about it.”

In instances like this, I have to remind myself that I am only responsible for the input, not the outcome. Hovik and I are still friends – we’ve spoken since – but I feel like I have said all that I can about faith with him. I did my part. Now it’s up to the Holy Spirit… and Hovik. Like all of us, he has a decision to make – the most important decision of his life.

Authentically Aurora

Missionary Dating?

Coffee Date

I am always the one before the One.

Men, if you’re tired of singleness, come date me seriously and exclusively – six months is all I require – and boom! The next person who catches your eye will be your soulmate.

My college boyfriend – after convincing me to accept a job offer in his city and then taking me to look at apartments in his complex – subsequently broke up with me and was married to someone else within 18 months.

The first guy I seriously dated after college broke up with me and was married to someone else a year later. Another guy, Stephen, was married within nine months of breaking things off and, ironically, my ex-fiance and I ran into Stephen and his wife on the morning of the day that my ex proposed to me. I’m not currently on speaking terms with my ex-fiance, but if he’s dating anyone right now, I have no doubt she will soon become his bride.

I’m really great at fix-em-up projects. Is your California Dreamboat still playing 40 hours of video games per week? Is your McDreamy insensitive and unromantic? Does your Mr. Right have emotional baggage from his parents’ divorce? Or have commitment issues? Or is he unemployed or slovenly? Just give him six months with me, and I guarantee he will be primed and ready for marriage!

I am a magnet for broken men. I mean, we’re all broken in some way, but I have somehow always attracted wounded men. In college, male acquaintances would call me at 3:00 a.m. because they just found out their parents were going through a divorce, and they needed someone to talk to. As a working professional, I can’t count the number of times some man in the seat next to me on an airplane has struck up a conversation about his “impostor complex”… or his ailing mother… or his deepest regrets… or his current relationship issues.

In the past year, one young male friend has confided in me about a drug addiction that almost no one else knows about. Another guy told me about a vision he believes God gave him about his future, and he’s unsure what to make of it. Others have sought me out to talk with me about the death of a parent to cancer, walking in on their dad having an affair, uncertainty about job direction and all manner of other topics.

It’s always men. Women don’t approach me this way. Why is it always men? I have asked God many, many times over the years why He seems to have given me a ministry to men. Hello, God! In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a woman!!! The contemporary Western church tends to frown upon women ministering to men, particularly one-on-one, particularly about such deeply personal matters. I’ve even made a conscious effort to seek out female friendships, and still, it’s the men who come to me for soul-deep conversations.

I’ve frequently asked myself, when such situations arose, “Is this the work of God or Satan? Is this an opportunity from God for me to provide comfort and wisdom and hopefully share the Gospel with this person (as is often the case)? Or is this a trap laid by Satan to get me into a bad situation?”

I struggle because often there is a gray area; a blurred line between how much time I can spend with someone and how deep we can go before it starts to become unhealthy. I can’t imagine that Satan would be pleased with my sharing the Gospel message with someone, but I also can’t imagine that God would want me to bond and invest emotionally in someone of the opposite gender who is so broken and, frequently, doesn’t share my faith.

Usually I go out for casual coffee with a guy, and at the end of that one “date”, tell him that I am not looking for a romantic relationship. Every circumstance seems to require incredible discernment and, although I’ve gotten wiser over the years about which situations to allow and which to avoid, I still slip up sometimes (i.e. Cory).

Sometimes I wonder if this is a seasonal ministry. God made me beautiful, intelligent, mysterious and captivating. I get asked out on dates more than anyone else I know (I’ve been asked out twice in the past week). Perhaps I have been granted these gifts for the purpose of planting seeds of faith in men who would not listen to anyone but a beautiful woman. Perhaps I have been granted ongoing singleness for “such a time as this.” But my prayer is that 2016 is the year my ministry shifts from being male-dominated to being a ministry to women. Please, God? My heart is tired.

Authentically Aurora