Receiving Dividends (Part 2)

Letter under door.png

It was nearly 3:30AM by the time I finally got back to bed after intervening with the taxi driver and security guard. I’d told the taxi driver I was a Christian and that’s why I’d stepped in to help. The security guard had shaken my hand and asked for my unit number for his report.

I couldn’t sleep when I got back to my apartment; I was full of energy and adrenaline. So I started writing a note to the drunk guy in unit 71 who started the whole ordeal. I was upset at first – he was at a men’s club, which repulses me, and he came home drunk, which is irritating. He was so far gone he didn’t understand that he needed to pay the taxi driver for his fare.

But as I started writing, God changed my heart, and the letter in Part 1 is the result. I slipped on my white sandals and walked down to his unit where I shoved the folded up letter in the crease of the door. As I wiggled the paper to make sure it was secure, I heard footsteps coming slowly down the hallway. They weren’t the shuffling footsteps of someone groggily getting home late. They were slow and deliberate; it was surely the security guard.

Not sure if he’d reprimand me for leaving a note, I turned the opposite direction to avoid making eye contact, leaving my note to unit 71 still visible in the door. Safely back at my apartment, I threw off my shoes and collapsed into bed. A few minutes later, I heard a scratching at my door, but I was so exhausted that I just rolled over and figured it was fine. I’d triple-checked that my door was dead-bolted.

When I woke up hours later, I did my usual morning routine before I happened to walk by my front door and saw a piece of yellow, ruled paper sticking out. Snapping it up, I felt somewhat apprehensive. Was it from the drunk tenant or the security guard? Was it a thank you or an angry rant?

I unfolded the paper and read:

“I would like to say thank you again for being Spirit led and for being such a great neighbor. You truly are a beautiful person inside and out, and I speak eternal blessings over you and your house now and forevermore. You are a true example of Christian Love. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me. Grace and peace -“

He signed his name and left his phone number, along with his title: “Security”. It turns out I wasn’t the only Christian being Spirit led last night. And we are better together than we are alone.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ… We have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit… Yes, there are many parts, but only one body… Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary… We carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.” -1 Corinthians 12

Authentically Aurora

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Paying Debts (Part 1)

Taxi at night.jpg

To My Neighbor in Unit 71:

I don’t know if you’re going to remember this in the morning, but you came home last night from a men’s club completely drunk at 2:30AM. I’m one of your neighbors, and I got woken up by you arguing with the taxi driver – and then the security officer – because you refused to pay the taxi for driving you home from the men’s club.

After about ten minutes of lying awake listening to the three of you argue, I came down and paid your bill. I did it partially for myself – so I could go back to sleep – and partially for the poor taxi driver so he could get on with his night, but mostly I did it because, like you, I’ve had debts paid for me by someone else, not because of my own worth or merit, but because of their own character.

Do you live up to your own standards for yourself? How much less so do we live up to God’s standards! All of us sin – miss the mark – and I believe our sin separates us from a perfect and holy God. Because God is perfectly just, there has to be a punishment for sin: eternal separation from Him in hell. But because God is also perfectly loving, He made a way back to a right relationship with Himself through sending His Son Jesus who willingly died in my place and yours, taking the punishment we deserve. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the dead, defeating sin, death and the power of the devil.

God desires to have a relationship with you. Just like I already paid your taxi debt – not because you deserved it, but because I extended grace to you – God has already paid the debt of your sin through Jesus. But you have to accept this free gift and believe it’s true in order to be made right before God. And I hope that you do.

I go to [church’s name] and will be there at 9:00AM on Sunday. If you have questions, it’s a good place to find answers.

Your Neighbor

Authentically Aurora

Termination for Convenience (Part 2)

Cookies.jpgCelebrating my 30th birthday with my family last Sunday night – and also celebrating my soon-to-be-announced resignation from my current employer – my dad told a story of one of his old colleagues who, twenty years ago when this colleague was laid off, brought in cookies that his wife had baked and shared them with the office as a token of goodwill. His graciousness was so striking that my dad still remembers his actions two decades later. And Dad suggested that I do the same. “It makes quite a statement.”

For my family birthday celebration, my mom had made sugar cookies with my face and “Nerdy Thirty” screen printed on them in edible icing. There were a couple dozen cookies left over at the end of the party, so she suggested I take them into work. So that very next day – the day I resigned – I took in cookies of my face for everyone to eat.

On the elevator ride up to the 21st floor of the skyscraper where I work, six other people crowded in and kept eyeing the container of cookies in my arms. Finally, one older man broke the silence, leaning in to peer at the cookies. “Where’s the photo of my face?” He grinned at me.

He was trying to be funny, but it came off as more awkward than anything else, so I just fake laughed and tried not to look too uncomfortable. Someone else jumped in and asked, “Is that a photo of the girl who turned 30?”

It was a good likeness of me, so I was surprised at the question, but I nodded in confirmation. “Yep. It’s me. Yesterday was my 30th birthday.”

Instead of a chorus of “Happy Birthday!” from all the strangers in the elevator (emphasis on “strange”), I was surrounded by shifting eyes and uncomfortable silence. Confused at the response, I realized they must have thought I made cookies for myself and brought them into the office in order to celebrate myself. It was a Monday morning, so someone more perceptive would probably have realized they were left over from a weekend party, and I didn’t feel like making the effort to correct their thinking, so we all finished the elevator ride up in awkward silence before – ding! – the elevator stopped on 21, and I gratefully got out.

Hours later, I stopped by the kitchen area and found one of my colleagues picking up one of my “Nerdy Thirty” cookies. Striking up conversation, I asked, “So what do you think? Is it a good likeness?” I smiled at him, tilting my head for effect.

Instead of thanking me for the cookie, or wishing me a happy birthday, or even commenting on how great the cookies looked, he glanced at the now half-eaten photo of my face and mumbled, “Is it supposed to be you?” He bit again into the cookie, shrugging and turning away to refill his water bottle. “I guess kinda,” he shrugged again. There was no excitement, no congratulations – either on my birthday or my resignation – no comment of “what cool personalized cookies!”

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was astonished at how thoughtless, awkward and utterly self-focused everyone around me seems to be. When my boss was only focused about how my resignation inconvenienced her; when both strangers and colleagues were just interested in eating a cookie and not thanking or congratulating me; when I saw the types of responses I received from my farewell note – all of these stand as reminders of how completely selfish people are, unconcerned with the affairs of others except as it impacts them.

I sent out a heartfelt note to all of my friends, colleagues and stakeholders, recalling fond memories, focusing only on the positives of the past eight years and thanking them for their support, encouragement and collaboration. This is one of the actual responses I got back:

Backfill

Total lack of social skills and a punctuation error? You’d think I work with a bunch of engineers or something.

Authentically Aurora

Resigned & Ecstatic (Part 1)

Victorious Business Woman

My first act as a 30-year-old was to quit my job.

That makes it sound like a knee-jerk reaction to hitting a life milestone, but giving my two weeks’ notice to the company where I’ve spent the past eight years was a long time in coming. Very nearly eight years in coming.

My boss and I have had a strained relationship, to put it mildly. One of my colleagues commented recently, “In the two years we’ve worked for her, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a single kind or encouraging word to you.” Reflecting back over my time on this team, I was surprised to realize that was true. I have never been praised or even thanked for anything I have done in two years; every comment is laced with criticism and negativity.

Despite that, I decided to make a concerted effort to be gracious and respectful during my resignation. My boss was on vacation the entire week of Spring Break, so I could have easily resigned while she was out, sending her a curt email or just leaving a signed resignation letter on her desk. But I waited until she was back in the office on Monday, and I asked her if she had time to grab a conference room to discuss my career.

Once alone with my boss, I stated simply that I had decided to resign from the company. “I’m giving my two weeks’ notice effective immediately, with my last day in the office being April 3rd.” Although I didn’t have to do so, I went on, “I really hope you find a great replacement for me – someone who is passionate about this work and brings subject matter expertise to the role. And I wish you all the best in the future.”

I was proud of myself for the upright way I handled an exchange where I could have been mean and bitter or scornful and gloating. I rose above the situation, and I counted that as a victory, especially considering the number of times I fantasized about storming out of the office and telling her off.

When I finished speaking, instead of thanking me for my service, or asking if there was anything she could do to keep me, or to ask what I’m doing next, or to ask how she could have been a better boss, or even to simply wish me well in the future, all she said – in her typical abrasive manner – was, “Two weeks isn’t enough time to transition someone. I won’t even have the job posting up by the time you leave. This isn’t enough time. You are really inconveniencing me by leaving the company with only two weeks’ notice.”

How dare she. Two weeks is standard – and I didn’t legally even have to give that much notice! All she could focus on was how I was inconveniencing her by leaving the company. For an instant, I was filled with anger; then – just as quickly – the anger dissipated into amusement. How typical. How expected. What a confirmation that I am, in fact, making the right choice!

When I spoke with my dad about it later, he echoed what I myself had thought. “Aurora, if she had responded in any other way – saying she was sorry to see you go or thanking you for your service – you might have felt torn or even second-guessed your decision. But she has given you the blessing of knowing that, without a doubt, you made the right decision.”

I certainly did. I already feel the weight lifting from my shoulders. Thirty is off to a great start!

Authentically Aurora

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

Compounding Interest

Math joke

He’s a banker who doesn’t like math jokes. What’s up with that, Grant? How can you work with numbers all day and not like nerdy jokes? It’s just wrong.

After he tried to feel me up at the concert last week, Grant told me that he enjoys my company but couldn’t get past my engineer brain. He just wanted to be my derivative so he could lie tangent to my curve. Okay, he didn’t say that. Because that would require him to like math jokes. But if he liked math jokes, that’s what he would have said.

Since I’ve known Grant for half a decade or so, and since I value his friendship, we made up a couple of days after his ungentlemanly conduct, and since then, he has made significant efforts to make things right. This banker may have some compounding interest after all.

Grant text 1

Grant text 2

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part I

guard-heartI ran into my ex-fiance on Saturday morning.

It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since the week of our wedding last summer, and I was completely unprepared for it.

Just days earlier, I’d told my sister-in-law that I had a premonition I was going to see him again soon, but I was still shocked when our paths crossed so unexpectedly. My defenses were down; my emotions unchecked; my heart untucked from its pocket of safety.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis, The Four Loves


Every time I try to lock my heart away to protect it from the agonizing pain of living in the world, God lovingly pries apart my shields and rips down my fortress. He keeps my heart soft when I want to harden my heart against the perpetual onslaught of hurt.

Sometimes it feels like He keeps ripping off the scab and reopening the wound again and again. Just when I’m starting to heal, another hit comes. Another blow. Another gash. Another wound. Is this kindness? I have to believe that God is not cutting me open to damage me but rather to do heart surgery; to take away my heart of stone and give me a heart that is soft and malleable, capable of receiving love and giving love in turn.

A few weeks ago, my friend Mary asked me to attend her church’s Singles Retreat. I attend services at a different church, but Mary’s boyfriend broke up with her recently, and she needed moral support at her church’s retreat because he’d be there, too. Since God frequently redeems my own seasons of darkness by using them to comfort and work healing in others, I agreed to pay the $40 registration fee and spend my Saturday at a church camp out in the countryside.

After a few hours in the car and a quick stop for Starbucks, Mary and I arrived at the retreat center early Saturday morning. We prayed together in the car, that God would be our Guide, Comforter and Encourager that weekend. I prayed for Mary, and she prayed for me.

The Christian community is small in my city, so when Mary and I made our way to the second floor of the lodge to register, I recognized a few of the people running the registration booth. Mary and I talked and laughed with the volunteers as we got our name badges; then we turned to the door to walk toward the sanctuary for the first session. But just before my hand touched the knob, the cabin door opened, and there he stood. My ex-fiance.

I didn’t recognize him at first. Since I was eye-level with his chest, I just wondered why this talk blonde was blocking my path. Finally, I looked up and locked eyes with him. And all of the breath went out of me.

Shock. That was my primary emotion, tinged with peace. Peace that I am not married to this man. Then surprise at the peace. Why am I not upset? Then fear. What if I’m in shock, and the emotional breakdown is going to start any moment?

All of those thoughts and emotions fluttered through me in a fraction of a second. In the meantime, he said, “Hi, Rory.” Hearing his pet name for me was jarring. He’s the only one who has ever shortened my name that way, and it sounded foreign in my ears.

“Hi,” I echoed back, trying to process the situation unfolding before me. He didn’t look surprised to see me. That was all my brain could register.

He was expressionless. “I saw you walk by and came to let you know I was here so it wouldn’t be awkward.”

His statement made no sense to me. My mind was full of questions. You mean, like it’s awkward right now? What are you doing here? Why did you feel the need to come up and reveal yourself to me? Why couldn’t you have left me oblivious to your presence?

But what I said out loud was, “Okay. I didn’t know you went to First Baptist.”

“Well I do.”

“Okay.” I had nothing else to say. Shock rendered my brain useless. Fortunately, it also momentarily numbed my heart from registering any feeling.

“Well I just wanted to let you know I was here.” He looked at me expectantly then, like he had anticipated more of a reaction.

“Okay.” I felt one eyebrow involuntarily go up like it does when I’m annoyed. What do you expect me to say or do here?!

I sensed him tense just before he turned and wordlessly walked away. Watching him descend the staircase, it dawned on me that we hadn’t made any kind of physical contact. And I was glad. I would have felt violated if he’d tried to touch me. He is no longer a safe space. He has wounded me. He is not trustworthy.

Mary watched the whole thing unfold, so I said listlessly to her, eyes straight ahead, “That was my ex-fiance.”

She had nothing to offer, so we walked into the sanctuary for the first session. Of course, I couldn’t focus at all. I spent the whole time journaling my thoughts and feelings and trying not to glance at my ex, who was seated across the aisle to my right.

After the session, we were mixed into small discussion groups, but I spoke quietly to a freckled Asian girl seated on my left. We’d never met before, but I was desperate. “I need someone to pray over me. I just saw my ex-fiance for the first time since we broke up and am in shock.”

The petite girl seemed unfazed as she gestured for me to follow her. We got up from the group and silently walked out the door into the sunshine. She led me down a nature trail, and we settled onto a secluded park bench. Only then did we introduce ourselves. Her name was Grace. How fitting.

I poured my heart out to her, processing my own thoughts and feelings as I spoke. Grace listened attentively. She let me cry, comforting me with words of truth. She encouraged me, laughed with me through my tears, and took my hand in hers to pray over me. She’s twenty-four years old.

It’s moments like this that make my heart feel full. It’s moments like this that remind me what the church is supposed to look like. It’s moments like this that fill me with joy, knowing more intimately the character of the God we serve.

This is what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like. This is how we share the Good News with the world. “They will know us by our love.”

There is power in people who are seemingly strangers coming together as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, united by a bond that is greater than ourselves. There is power in reminding one another that we were created for more than our eyes can see this side of heaven. There is power in being the hands and feet of Jesus, loving the unlovely in a broken world desperately in need of Grace.

Authentically Aurora