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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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

Death, the Final Frontier

Milky Way from Earth

Few circumstances in life completely stop us in our tracks and make us reevaluate everything we believe. Facing death – whether or own or someone else’s – is one such circumstance. There is so much unknown in death. It is the one true final frontier.

In our twenties, few of us have faced death enough times to have really, seriously mulled over what happens when we die. Those of us with somewhat melancholy personalities may have considered it more than most, but even so, it’s easy to superficially acknowledge that, yes, death is an impending reality, but I know where I’m headed, so I’m fine. We don’t stop to think about the logistics of it all.

My grandfather passed away last week. He was almost ninety years old and had been battling cancer for a while, so his passing was expected. He believed in Jesus Christ, was a pastor for nearly six decades, and was ready to go to heaven. So when his funeral is held later this week – on a day that also happens to be my birthday – it will be a day of celebration, both of my birth and his life.

I have therefore been surprised at myself this week, how much his passing has affected me; how much I have been kept awake at night thinking about death. And life. And resurrection. And eternity.

As a Christian who believes that my sin separates me from God, but my faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf makes me righteous before God, I know that I am going to be raised to eternal life in heaven when I die. But there are so many knowledge gaps in the process of being raised from death to life.

But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain… What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body... I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” -1 Cor. 15

I say it again: There are so many knowledge gaps in the process of being raised from death to life! What happens at the moment of death? Will my spirit rise out of my physical body and go immediately to heaven? Is there a waiting period, where my soul rests in unconsciousness until the Last Day, when Jesus comes again?

What happens when I stand before the Throne of God? There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but I will still have to give an account of my life; an accounting for the way I’ve lived. I may not face the White Throne judgement, but “we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God… and each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10).

That. Is. Terrifying.

Imagining that moment of standing before God and giving an account of my life? It terrifies me. And I know that God loves me unconditionally! But to stand in the presence of utter Holiness and Righteousness, of Omnipotence and Omniscience… it makes my heart quake to even begin to imagine that moment. Yes, my sins are covered by the sacrifice of Christ, but will there be a moment where I see the wrath of God before Jesus steps in as Mediator?

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. -Heb. 4:15-16

Perhaps this is a healthy fear. A reverence. A sense of awe and wonder and respect that we lose all too easily this side of heaven. There will be a reckoning for the way we’ve lived. Our deeds, good and bad, do not earn us heaven or keep us out (faith alone can do that), but we will answer for them before God, and be rewarded accordingly (Rev. 22:12).

As a child, I never understood why my mom used to always quote Matthew 25. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me to, at the end, hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But today I understand. That’s all I could ask for. That is my hope – to hear from my Lord, my King, my God, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.”

 “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” -Rev. 22:17

Authentically Aurora