30 Things To Do Before 30

30-before-30.pngI don’t think I ever made a list of 30 Things To Do Before Turning 30. I surely must have made that list at some point, but I went through my old emails and documents, and I can’t find anything saved digitally. I guess I’m showing my age… “When I was a girl, we used to write lists out by hand!” Ha.

Rather than scoring myself on that never-to-be-found-handwritten list (of what I did and did not accomplish by age 30), I will instead list out 30 Things I Did Before 30 – all of which are things I feel like could have been on my list!

  1. Dance in a ballet
  2. Sing for my supper
  3. Get a hole-in-one
  4. Watch a total lunar eclipse
  5. Score a goal in a soccer game
  6. Save a life
  7. Sing with someone famous
  8. Get paid to sing
  9. Shoot a 9mm pistol
  10. Go white water rafting
  11. Visit all 50 states
  12. Graduate Magna Cum Laude
  13. Earn an EMT certification
  14. Go on an international mission trip
  15. Earn an engineering degree
  16. Travel internationally for work
  17. Perform with David Copperfield in Vegas
  18. See a Broadway show in NYC
  19. Read through the entire bible in a year
  20. Get paid to photograph a wedding
  21. Visit Neuchvanstein
  22. Run a 5k
  23. Perform an original composition live
  24. Go on a blind date
  25. Get copyrighted
  26. Release an original album on iTunes
  27. Get paid for artwork
  28. Give a speech to 1,000+ people
  29. Share the Gospel with a stranger
  30. Watch a meteor shower with someone I love

Man. It’s been a good 30 years.

Authentically Aurora

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Burning with Indifference

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The fire alarm went off in my apartment complex around 5:00 this morning. I normally wake up in a fog of gradual consciousness, but when the shrill siren first pierced the air, I jolted awake.

Moving quickly but calmly, I slipped my bare feet into tennis shoes, threw on a heavy coat, and grabbed my phone and keys. I exited into the hallway – locking my apartment door behind me – and walked down the outside stairwell to the first floor where I was surprised to see that I was the only one in my entire apartment complex (of about 800 tenants) who had evacuated.

I walked slowly around the complex, surveying it for smoke or fire. Down the hall from me, an alternate outside stairwell was flooded with water. The overhead sprinklers had been activated and created a fine mist that rose into the air in a way that looked like smoke at first glance.

Over the next thirty minutes, sleepy tenants slowly made their way out into the parking lot, grumpily conceding that they couldn’t just roll over and go back to sleep since the deafening alarm was still sounding a full half an hour later.

I was astonished at the laissez-faire attitude of my neighbors. I work at a major oil company where safety is such a huge part of our culture in the post-Macondo world that I want to gag every time someone even mentions the term “HSSE”. But this wasn’t just a fire drill. Water was gushing out of the building from the sprinkler system, and a fire truck pulled up minutes later, lights flashing. It’s still unclear what happened, but when I left for work two hours later, the piercing fire alarm was still going off, and the fire truck was still outside my building with red lights blazing in the dim light of early morning.

It seems to have been a non-event, but this could easily have been something significant. Have we as a culture gotten so desensitized to fire alarms that we don’t take them seriously anymore? Most of the people in my apartment complex would have suffocated or burned to death if it had been a real fire. Have our fire alarms cried wolf too many times, deafening our ears with their sirens such that we are unmoved in the event of an actual flame? Are people just too lazy to bother to leave their apartments? Or are they so sleep-deprived that they’re willing to risk the alarm signaling a real fire?

Living in a world of reality TV and virtual reality, have we developed invincibility complexes, thinking that nothing bad can really happen to us; that everything is a show for our entertainment? With the onslaught of negativity in the media, are we desensitized to all of the bad in the world – numb to pain, blind to evil, and apathetic to the possibility of personal injury?

This early morning experience brought to mind how much of the world headed for eternal fire is absolutely deaf to the warning signs all around them. People are too busy or indifferent or afraid of the truth to take the time to really evaluate who they are, why they are on this earth, and what is going to happen when they die. When I have asked people what they think happens when they die, 95% of the time, I get one of two answers:

  1. I’ll probably go to heaven because I’m a pretty good person, all things considered.
  2. I don’t know. It’s something I don’t really think about. I’ll deal with it when I’m older.

For anyone in Camp #1, there is no biblical basis for good works earning your way to heaven. Our sin separates us from the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things because He cannot be around sin. But in addition to being all powerful, God is also unconditionally loving, and He loved us so much that – while we were still sinners – God’s Son Jesus went willingly to die to take the punishment we all deserve for our waywardness. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death and the power of evil. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, not by any good works we have done. There is nothing I can do that would be good enough to make up for my sinfulness, but because God loves us all, He remedied our plight by giving everyone freely the opportunity to be reconciled to Him if they would simply believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

For those in Camp #2, I’ll just say this: You don’t know how much time you have left. You could die in a car wreck this afternoon, or you could die in a fire tonight because you inaccurately think the fire alarm is a false alarm. Don’t wait to think about these weighty topics. If they truly do have eternal significance, isn’t it worth taking an hour out of your day to think them through and wrestle with them? And don’t be afraid to think about what may be beyond the grave. Because there is Good News – God is for you, and He lovingly wants an eternal relationship with you.

Authentically Aurora

Streams in the Desert

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Most days I wonder why I’m still here.

Not why I’m still alive (that escalated quickly, ha) but why I’m still at this job. It’s no secret that I don’t love my workplace, but even when things are especially frustrating, I know there is purpose to this season of life. Otherwise God wouldn’t still have me here.

Today I got a reminder of God’s goodness to provide streams in the desert.

Last summer, I mentored one of our company’s interns, and at the end of the summer, she was awarded a full time job. Now we meet about once a week to grab coffee and catch up.  She’s a sweet girl from China, and I really enjoy the authenticity of our conversations.

I met with her this morning and, as we prepared to get back to work, she closed our conversation with, “Every time I meet with you, I feel like I leave a better person. You are a good person. Talking with you makes me better.”

Internally, several things happened at once. My heart was warmed by her encouraging words, and my brain signaled that I should correct her thinking that I am a good person. I thought for an instant that it might be the right time to tell her about Jesus – that there is nothing good in me apart from him – but the moment didn’t seem right.

Meanwhile, she continued, “I was upset this morning before I met with you, but you have such a big, happy smile that I cannot help but be in a better mood. I always love meeting with you.”

I gave her a hug and thanked her for her kind, encouraging words. It is wonderful to receive affirmation from friends (and especially from colleagues)! But I also sensed that there may be more work for me to be done here – at least in this relationship. I believe God is not finished with the mere streams in this desert. He desires to transform it into a fertile land.

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33 He changes rivers into deserts,
    and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
34 He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
    because of the wickedness of those who live there.
35 But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
    the dry land into springs of water.
36 He brings the hungry to settle there
    and to build their cities.
37 They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
    and harvest their bumper crops.
38 How he blesses them!
    They raise large families there,
    and their herds of livestock increase…

43 …Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
    they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.  (Psalm 107)

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 4

Hardware SocieteOpting to start our Montmarte morning in that section of Paris (the 18th arrondissement), Rachel and I enjoyed a continental breakfast at Hardware Societe just down the street from Sacre-Coeur. When I ordered my breakfast of a cafe au lait with roasted peaches and oats in yogurt, the adorable waiter – whose leather apron was fitting in light of the cafe’s name – told me with a smile, “Your French is perfect!” When we left, he asked hopefully, “See you tomorrow?” We seriously made friends left and right. What is that my boss keeps saying about my inability to win friends and influence people? 

IMG_6212.jpgWalking back toward the hilly Sacre-Coeur, we saw children feeding pigeons and were greeted by the peaceful sounds of a harpist. Down the street, we found Place du Tertre where local street artists sketched portraits of tourists. I enjoyed watching their skill unfold as they captured the unique markings of each of their subjects.

Continuing on to Rue des Abbesses, we stopped in to a number of Montmarte boutiques where I found a cute bracelet for Ashley and a fashionable coffee mug for myself. Lunch was at Creperie Broceliande, where I ordered the Mont Blanc – a chocolate banana crepe that was the best crepe I’ve ever had in my entire life, which is saying something, considering I’ve had crepes in Greece and also make my own in a crepe pan at home. If you ever go to Paris, definitely check this place out!

We also tried the Cuillier coffee chain, found it average, and headed over to the 3rd arrondissement to check out Merci, a nonprofit shop that is part cafe, part boutique and part home goods store. It was neat to see, but everything was outrageously overpriced, and the store was also overcrowded. On the plus side, I ran into more people from my hometown, and the shopkeeper thought I was French when we conversed briefly. Victory.

IMG_6304On the Metro on our way to the Arc de Triomphe, I kept catching a tall brunette guy looking at me. When we got off a few stops later, I glanced his way and found him still watching, so I smiled politely at him as I exited the platform. Rachel and I strolled down Champs-Elysses, taking in the sights on foot and peeking in Laduree before coming to a stop at the end of the street at the Arc de Triomphe.

When we were crossing a crosswalk on our way back down Avenue des Champs-Elysses, I sensed rapid movement behind me and turned to see the tall brunette from the Metro hurrying across the street toward me before the light turned red. “Hey.” He said something to me in French, and when I looked dumbfounded, he asked in English, “Do you remember me from the Metro?”

“Of course,” I said, and he introduced himself as Thomas (Toh-mah), a native Parisian. He waved over to his friend Benjamin (Bah-jah-mah), who joined us shortly. Rachel and I had just finished all of our touring for the day, so when they invited us for coffee, we agreed. I realized Thomas was steering us toward a Starbucks, so I suggested we go to a local cafe instead.

IMG_6361.jpgThomas stopped cold. “You are a difficult woman.” I just laughed, and we went to Starbucks. Thomas had thought I was Eastern European, so when he found out that I’m an American (and have shot guns), he added to my descriptors: “You are a dangerous woman!”

Rachel and I learned that Benjamin is a 22-year-old sports journalist, and Thomas is a 23-year-old IT major with dreams of being a professional (corporation-employed) hacker. They asked how Rachel and I know each other, and when I said, “Church,” they looked surprised, so I asked them (fully knowing the answer) if they grew up going to church.

The native Parisians told me that they are both agnostic and that in France, church is for old people. “It’s more of a tradition,” Thomas explained. So I asked what they believe happens when they die. Rachel squirmed, pleading with her eyes for me to stop. But the postmodern, open-minded, sophomoric French were interested in engaging in philosophical conversation. Besides, if I have to choose between temporary discomfort for us versus potentially eternal death for them, I will choose temporary discomfort every single time.

IMG_5751Benjamin seemed to think that we just fade to nothing when we die, and Thomas said diplomatically that we cannot know for sure until we actually die and experience the other side. I countered with a twinkle in my eye, “I believe I know for sure, and you can, too.” Rachel’s discomfort was now palpable. Wishing she would support me rather than being a stumbling block, I plunged ahead, sharing the gospel of Jesus with them. The boys seemed interested but not convinced, and I encouraged them that something of potentially eternal significance is probably worth exploring. We exchanged contact information, but now all I can do is pray the Holy Spirit works faith in them. They’ve heard the truth. I’m responsible for obedience and providing the input, but God is the only one who can determine the outcome.

Rachel and I said goodbye to the French boys and took the Metro to the Bastille to check the box (not much to see there); then we went back to (you guessed it!) Rue Cler where I enjoyed a burger and Pinot Noir at Cafe du Marche. I don’t normally like red wines, but this one was not too bitter; it had a subtle sweetness and was not too dry. We reflected on the day, got more LeNotre macaroons and took an evening stroll through the Palais de Challoit in view of the Eiffel Tower before retiring for the night. La perfection.

Authentically Aurora

The Christmas Story, from Joseph’s Perspective

Joseph and JesusI am a sucker for character development. When I used to play video games in junior high and high school, I didn’t look for games with the best game play or battle sequences or graphics or music. I looked for games that let me know the characters, learn their stories, and watch them develop, learn and grow. A character without a story to tell was too boring and static for me.

Although I’ve grown out of my video game days, this theme of loving character development has translated to the books I read, the movies I watch, and even the people whose company I keep. I enjoy people development; helping people grow into the best possible version of themselves and watching them blossom as their stories unfold.

For that reason, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “A Strange Way to Save the World” by 4Him. It’s a beautiful song, both musically and lyrically, that tells the Christmas Story from the perspective of Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. So often, we forget the perspective of Joseph when we hear the Christmas story, but there is so much richness to his portion of the narrative.

Joseph and Mary were engaged before Mary became pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he planned to quietly divorce her, because he was a good man and did not want to publicly disgrace her. Can you imagine finding out your fiancé was pregnant? What must Joseph have thought and experienced during this season?

But then an angel of God appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary was still a virgin, and that the child had been conceived by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Joseph was instructed to wed Mary, as planned, and name the child Jesus, which means “the LORD saves”. So Joseph did as God commanded and took Mary as his wife, but “he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born.” Woah. That’s some kind of self-discipline, Joseph. [Read more here.]

There is so much to discuss here. What must it have been like to be approached by an angel – an angel who assuaged your fears over your betrothed’s infidelity and affirmed your marriage? What kind of faith did it take to go ahead with marrying the impregnated Mary?

Why did the Son of God have to come to earth in the form of a vulnerable human infant? How did Joseph feel about being tasked with naming and raising the God-man Jesus, the long foretold Messiah?

For many of these questions, I can only guess at the answer, but at least for one of them, I have a firm foundation. Jesus, the second member of the Triune God, existed before the beginning of time but chose to come to earth, taking on the frail flesh of a man, because we as humanity needed a Savior.

We have a problem of sin. None of us can honestly say that we live up to our own standards; much less God’s standard of holy perfection. Because God is perfectly just, He cannot tolerate sin; there must be a punishment for sin. Our sin separates us from God, and none of us are “righteous enough” to earn our way back into a right standing with God.

But because God is also perfectly loving, He didn’t want to leave things that way. He wanted to be in relationship with us. So He met us where we are, in our brokenness and sinfulness. “While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.” Jesus – the Son of God – descended from heaven to earth, taking on the fragility of a human infant, because only as a man could He suffer the punishment that we all deserve for our sinfulness.

And so Jesus grew up, setting a course for the crucifixion He always knew was coming. He humbled himself, even to the point of death, to take the punishment we deserve so that, through faith in His substitutionary atonement, we could be forgiven of our sins and put back into a right relationship with God. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the grave and ascended back into heaven, defeating sin, death and the power of Satan.

This is the Christmas story. It’s a story of character development and an epic journey to conquer evil. It is a story of unwavering justice, unconditional love and unfathomable redemption that is a free gift available to anyone who believes.

Authentically Aurora