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

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Enemies –> Friends

Sweet Blonde GirlSometimes I joke that friends are just enemies I haven’t alienated yet, but most often, the sliding scale of friendship runs the other direction for me: people I may initially dislike grow on me as I get to know them better; as I learn their story and get to know their hearts.

A couple of years ago when I first joined the church I’m at now, I started looking for a midweek bible study to get involved in. I emailed the leaders of a few groups in my area, and I ended up hitting it off with one guy in particular – Donny.

I’d never met Donny in person, but even over email, our chemistry was obvious. I could see from his gmail photo that he was an attractive man, and we also quickly discovered that we shared ties to the United States Military Academy.

“Hi Donny – I am interested in joining your group, as the time and location are a good fit for me.  Is there any additional information you need? What are our next steps? Thanks, Aurora”

“Hi Aurora – Generally we subject all potential new joins to an in depth personality screen, followed by a battery of intelligence and psychological assessments. If those come back satisfactory then we conduct the physical fitness test and group interviews. Just kidding, of course! There is nothing more for you to do other than show up. We would absolutely love to have you! – Donny”

“Hi Donny – I’m an INTJ with a 16:00 two mile time who graduated magna cum laude. Let me know by when you need my congressional nomination. 🙂 Thanks for making me smile. I can already tell we’re going to get along great. Looking forward to meeting you!”

“We’ll need a letter signed by a Senator, actually. And your vertical is?”

The emails continued all week long, increasing in their ridiculousness, so I was shocked when I showed up to bible study and was introduced to Donny’s wife. Naturally, I immediately disliked her. Cristin was beautiful and petite, with intelligent eyes and long, curly blonde hair. I estimated that she was in her mid thirties, and her face was just starting to show the worry lines that came from being the mother of their four children.

Just the frustration of being around lovely, wifely, maternal Cristin would have been enough to deter me from joining their group, but in addition, it ended up being a bible study of 15 married couples (plus me in all my singleness), so I didn’t visit their group again. But our church is a close-knit community, so my path continued to cross with Donny and – more often – Cristin.

Over the past two years, their children have grown old enough to be in the kids’ ministry where I volunteer at church, so I now have the blessing of getting to teach and play with their two beautiful blonde daughters a couple of Sundays each month. And those two sweethearts are some of my absolute favorite girls to teach.

Ally and Avery are kind and thoughtful, intelligent and attentive. They are obedient and respectful, as well as snuggly and affectionate. I have fallen in love with Donny and Cristin’s children, and over the years, I have gotten to know Cristin more and more from passing one another in the hallway, chatting when she comes to pick up the girls, or volunteering at one church event or another. She shared godly wisdom with me over brunch one morning last summer when I was struggling with dating relationships, and in the past few months, she has shared with me about her own struggle with an eating disorder and how it has been affecting her marriage to Donny.

Getting to know Cristin – her heart, her life, her struggles, her children – has changed the way I see her. I care for Cristin, and I care for Donny, too, but now I see him exclusively as Cristin’s husband and my brother in Christ.

Just two days ago, little Avery crawled into my lap to snuggle with me while we talked about the Feast of Trumpets, and as I stroked her soft blonde hair held back by a glittery silver headband, my heart felt full. I kissed the top of her head and felt like a part of their family. In a way, I am. Raising godly children is a community effort. I offered this week to start babysitting for the girls, and my eyes flooded with happy tears as they jumped up and down with excitement, running to wrap their arms around me in enthusiastic hugs.

Two years ago, I never would have dreamed how our relationship would change – my relationship to Donny and, more significantly, my relationship to Cristin. Humanizing people – taking time to get to know them – has a way of peeling back the layers, mitigating assumptions and enabling us to really see people through the eyes of Christ. What Satan intended for evil, God has once again used for good. He truly is the Redeemer of all things.

Authentically Aurora

I, Wisdom

Tree-lined street

Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice! “I call to you, to all of you! I raise my voice to all people. You simple people, use good judgment. You foolish people, show some understanding. Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you. My advice is wholesome. There is nothing devious or crooked in it. My words are plain to anyone with understanding, clear to those with knowledge. I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. Common sense and success belong to me. Insight and strength are mine. I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me. And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise.” –Proverbs 8

After the funeral last week, my 30-year-old cousin JJ wanted to grab coffee with me. It was my birthday and I had plans with Ashley, but JJ seemed like he needed someone to talk to, so off we went.

We’re not close, JJ and I – at least, not in my mind. We have nearly 30 cousins on that side of the family, and I only see most of them twice a year at family gatherings. I didn’t know much about JJ’s recent past other than he went through a divorce two years ago, got out of the military, and had a live-in girlfriend for much of the past year. But JJ told me he’s always felt closer to me than anyone else in our extended family. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m glad for it.

JJ and I got a couple of lattes and walked up and down the historic, tree-lined street of my favorite coffee shop in town. It was a perfect day for both my grandfather’s funeral and my birthday. The morning started out cloudy and overcast; chilly and solemn at the grave site. But after lunch, as we all celebrated at the reception – and later, as I celebrated my birthday – the temperatures warmed and the sun came out, making for a beautiful day.

JJ is a good-looking man. I had a crush on him when I was a small child, in the days before children learn that marrying within the family is generally discouraged. Now a ruggedly handsome firefighter in a small town, he has a way with the ladies, and from what he told me last week, he makes the most of it and then laments that he can’t seem to find a lasting, meaningful relationship. “I end up with women who gorgeous but not very smart. Or women who are just plain crazy.”

When JJ admitted that he tends to get pretty physical on the first date, I suggested that it may be helpful to get to know a girl’s personality, character, thoughts and opinions – to gauge more than just her bust size – before taking her home. I watched the light bulb go off in his eyes. “Huh,” he mused out loud. “I’m thirty years old and have never considered that before.”

I was shocked that he sincerely meant it. I had trouble fathoming that he could go thirty years without ever considering if there was another way to navigate dating. But I was also grateful for the time together, that we could talk through some practical steps of how to put external boundaries in place and prevent the physical chemistry from clouding his judgment when he decides who to pursue a relationship with in the future. 

He was receptive. Teachable. Genuinely curious and interested in learning how to date differently. And I appreciated that. But I chuckled to myself later in the day, wondering if it’s true what they say: That those who can, do…!

Authentically Aurora

P.S. Best talk on dating I’ve ever heard: Dating Part 2: HOW

An Irish Blessing

Irish BlessingI am 15% Irish – a higher percentage than anyone else in my family, according to our Ancestry DNA results.

I like thinking of myself as Irish: feisty, fiery, opinionated and bold; loyal, musically gifted and a woman of strong convictions. I even have natural streaks of red in my otherwise chestnut-colored hair.

When I was but a wee lass, my da was in a barbershop quartet. I have many a fond memory of him singing around the house with the lads, his deep bass resonating through the corridors of our front entryway. Their group’s lead used to get the giggles anytime they tried to whistle a tune all the way through, and that always made me laugh, but some of my favorite memories are of sitting quietly up on the balcony outside of my bedroom and listening to them sing The Irish Blessing.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all. May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Authentically Aurora

An Unexpected Song

Globe Room

Have you ever been a trendsetter who didn’t even know you were setting a trend? Or a key driving force behind a movement that was just something you were doing because it was fun? Sometimes fire catches when we are just playing with our sparklers for no other reason than they are pretty and bring us joy. In fact, I believe some of the best movements are started that way: unintentionally.

On Tuesday this week, Ashley and I played hookie from work to take a spontaneous road trip to our alma mater. Okay, it wasn’t really hookie. We logged our vacation time and told our bosses. And it was only about a 2 hour drive, so it wasn’t much of a road trip. And it’s possible we planned it about a week in advance, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely spontaneous. But still. We were adventurous!

Anyway, it was seriously the perfect day. We got to campus in the late afternoon as warm, golden rays of sunlight sifted through the trees. The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny and 75 – and it was glorious to stroll through the sprawling courtyards and relive our happy memories there.

We took a university bus across campus as though going to classes, ate at one of our favorite college sandwich joints, visited a couple of our favorite bookstores and coffee shops, and we finally tried strawberry tarts at a famous upscale restaurant that was way outside of our budgets during our college years.

The entire day was magical (and we hope to make it a quarterly tradition!), but my favorite part of the day was completely unexpected. There is a building in the center of campus – the Memorial Center – that serves as something of a student union or center for student activities. Within the Memorial Center is a room called the Globe Room, where the mahogany walls are lined with bookshelves, and the hardwood floors are covered in rich rugs of emerald, burgundy and midnight blue. Historical flags hang from the ceiling, and two gemstone globes serve as centerpieces surrounded by rich leather couches where students sit studying.

Everything about the Globe Room makes me feel like I am home; I have found my personal heaven on earth. Each time I enter, I breathe deeply, taking in the scents of leather and old books before giving a happy sigh. The Globe Room also houses a grand piano in one corner of the room, and during my days at university, various students would occasionally walk in, play a few soothing classical pieces (think “Moonlight Sonata” or “Clair de Lune”); then step out again, leaving the rest of us to our books and studies.

On Tuesday when Ashley and I walked into the Globe Room, a young man sat at the piano playing a soothing melody. He was clearly talented – the kind of person who can play piano without sheet music; the kind of person who can play brilliantly by ear.

Ashley and I sat down in two plush chairs, and I closed my eyes to better take in the sounds and smells of my favorite room on campus. I smiled to myself as I recognized the tune the pianist transitioned into. Then I was surprised to hear his low voice quietly singing along. I found myself harmonizing to his melody line under my breath. I hadn’t realized I knew the words to the song, but I did.

The pianist looked up, hearing my harmony drifting over to him, and he started to sing louder. So I smiled, apologized to Ashley (who occasionally is made to feel uncomfortable by my boldness), and walked over to the piano, where the man continued playing. We crescendoed together until we were each singing our parts at full volume. I’d never heard anyone sing along to the grand piano in the Globe Room before, but it was exhilarating, and I smiled to myself as I looked around at the old, familiar surroundings.

The music faded out, and the pianist (Daniel, I learned later) transitioned smoothly into yet another song. As he played the opening chords, I was astonished to recognize it as a Christian worship song: “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. I let him sing the first few lines solo; then I softly came in with gentle harmony for the last few lines of the first verse.

As Daniel and I grew into the chorus, a young man walking past the Globe Room paused in the hallway and leaned in, listening. Near the end of the first chorus, another person stood from one of the couches and walked over to the piano, singing the words along with us. And then we were joined by another. And another.

My heart felt full, looking around at my brothers and sisters in Christ – people I’d never met before; people I didn’t even know. But even without knowing each other’s names, we started a movement in the Globe Room. Daniel unintentionally started a worship service in the heart of a public, state university.

The whole experience was beautiful and awe-inspiring, and I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was almost over. It was otherworldly worshiping together with complete strangers, sharing a spiritual bond as we united in Christ, praising our King without regard for doctrinal or denominational differences. My prayer is that we were not the only ones who sensed it; the supernatural force – the Holy Spirit – that permeated the Globe Room that afternoon. God truly is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, and this experience is one I will not soon forget.

Authentically Aurora

Breathing Life into Little Piggies

Little Girl Painted ToesMy nieces, “The Adorables”, love to have their nails painted. At ages 2 and 4, they are not yet allowed to paint their own nails, but they love to sit like little princesses and be pampered while Auntie Aurora applies (usually glitter) nail polish to their delicate fingers and toes.

Over Christmas break, I removed chipping red nail polish from my own toes the day before I saw The Adorables in preparation for our nail painting time together. The next day when I pulled off my socks and shoes, Lily (who turns 3 this month) gasped and pointed at my feet.

“Auntie Aurora,” she began in her little voice, “What happened to your toes?”

I laughed and smiled at her as I explained, “I took off my nail polish!”

My feet are pretty calloused from running and years of soccer, so I rarely go without nail polish. On top of that, I have poor circulation in my extremities, so my hands and feet tend to get cold easily, and my nails turn purplish-blue as they become mildly cyanotic.

Lily’s brow stayed furrowed in concern as she gently touched the big toe of my left foot. “Are your toes not breathing?”

My eyes widened in astonishment as I realized that Lily was referring to the blue hue of my toe nails. They turn blue due to lack of oxygenation, so my little 2-year-old niece was right. “That’s right, Lily! My toes are blue because they are not breathing.”

My sister-in-law is a nurse, so I thought she must have had a conversation with Lily about oxygenation, but when I asked my sister, she was as astonished as I was! Lily figured this out all on her own. Displaying greater understanding than most adults. Because she’s precocious.

Who is this child?! Oh yeah. She’s related to me. Precocious runs in the family. 😉

Authentically Aurora

The Silly Goose

niecesOver Christmas, I got to spend a lot of quality time with my two adorable nieces (lovingly nicknamed “The Adorables”). The four-year-old, Wren, is quiet and shy, whereas her two-year-old sister, Lily, is such a fireball that I think of her as my little Tiger Lily.

Lily is a brilliant child. Several months ago as I carried her through the house, she turned her big, beautiful eyes upward to the eight-sided mahogany beadboard ceiling of our family dining room. Pointing a tiny finger skyward, she declared with enthusiasm, “Octagon!”

Another time, carrying her through a parking lot of an airport, Lily pointed over my shoulder to a signpost and read aloud, “No Parking Anytime!” I looked at her furrowed brow, glanced at the sign and did a double-take. With perfect articulation, she had read the parking sign. She is two!

But, brilliant as she is, Lily is definitely still a two-year-old. On Christmas Eve, Wren and Lily both wanted Auntie Aurora to play Duck Duck Goose with them. So we all sat on the floor together, taking turns bopping each other on the head and running around the circle back to our seat before the “goose” could catch us.

When it was my turn to be “it”, I walked slowly around the circle, gently tapping Wren on the head; then Lily; then Wren; then Lily. “Duck… duck… duck… duck…”

Suddenly, Lily squealed in anticipation, “Goose me, Auntie Aurora! Goose me!!!”

There was a stunned silence in the room before all of the adults started guffawing, tears streaming down their faces in laughter. But Lily just beamed with delight as I tapped her on the head and declared her, officially, the “goose.”

Authentically Aurora