The Mention of Marriage

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A couple of weeks ago, Seth and I went out to dinner with some mutual friends. After a great evening full of laughter, Seth drove me home, and we sat in his pickup truck for a few minutes winding down the evening.

In the midst of our conversation, Seth reached over to hold my hand and started fiddling with my fingers. He was looking down at our joined hands, but he looked up when he started to speak. “Aurora, we’ve been dating for a while now…”

His voice trailed off, and he laughed, looking uncomfortable. “I’ve talked myself in and out of this conversation so many times…”

“What is it?” I asked, encouraging him along.

He sighed. “Well, we’ve been dating for a while now, and I was thinking… I’d like for us to start having more intentional conversations in the direction of marriage.”

My eyes widened. “Wow.”

“What do you think about that?” He looked nervous.

I paused, gathering my thoughts. “Well… I think it would be good. It would be good for us to continue developing our emotional intimacy.”

I was surprised at my stoicism and internally evaluated why I wasn’t letting myself get more excited. Seth brought up marriage. Seth brought up marriage! I hadn’t expected the topic to come up so soon but was glad that it did. At the same time – having been through what I’ve been through – I felt happy but guarded. I decided that – like a classic intorvert – I needed more time to process my thoughts and feelings before I gave myself over to my emotions.

“Yeah? You think so?” Seth looked hopeful.

“Yeah,” I answered with a smile; then I asked, “What does that look like for you? Having ‘more intentional conversations in the direction of marriage’?” I wanted to make sure we were on the same page and communicating clearly. Marriage is a weighty topic.

Seth suggested that we start to read through some marriage books or even go to pre-marital counseling. “I have a book that’s like ‘101 Questions to Ask Before Marriage’ or something like that. I was thinking we could talk through those questions.”

“Yeah.” I smiled. He’d really put some thought into this. “That sounds really good.” I was starting to feel the excitement now; the sense of Seth’s affection for me starting to culminate in commitment.

Seth had gotten quiet and looked deep in thought. “What are you thinking about?” I asked, looking at him affectionately.

I thought Seth might finally tell me that he loved me. We hadn’t said “I love you” yet, but now that he was starting to talk about marriage, I thought he was finally ready to communicate his feelings.  I expected to hear his deep, resonant bass voice whisper, “I’m thinking about how much I love you.”

But instead what my ears heard was, “I’m worried about hurting you.”

I recoiled, shocked at his words. The sweetness of the moment was broken. “You’re worried about hurting me?”

“Yeah.” Seth winced, seeming to realize belately that maybe he shouldn’t have said those words out loud. Or maybe it’s good that he did.

I took a deep breath, willing myself to respond rationally rather than over-reacting in my surprise and disappointment.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him evenly. “You just told me you want to start intentionally moving in the direction of marriage and then, not even five minutes later, you tell me that you’re worried about hurting me. That doesn’t line up for me. Help me understand.”

Seth backpedaled, explaining that he wasn’t saying he wants to move in the direction of marriage necessarily; he just wants to start having more intentional conversations on marriage-type topics so that he can see how well we align. He’s in a place where he wants to make a decision one way or another – should we get married or break up? – but he doesn’t yet know which direction we should go. He just wanted us to start talking through the more challenging topics that tend to cause issues in marriage.

I understood where he was coming from, but I still felt wounded. I wished he’d been able to clearly communicate at the start of the conversation rather than unintentionally leading me to think he was more ready to commit than was accurate.

I was also hurt because Seth knows I’ve been through a broken engagement. I’ve told him that the topics of marriage and engagement need to be handled delicately with me. I am overly sensitive to wavering commitment and indecision about relationship status. I am of the opinion that questions like “How would you want to discipline your children?” can come up naturally in the course of a date night. Asking what you think the role of a wife is can be discussed on long road trips to the ranch. Part of dating is having those conversations organically. But once you bring up marriage so directly – once you suggest that we do “pre-marital counseling” – you have entered into the realm of alluding to commitment. Saying that you want to start having “intentional conversations in the direction of marriage” means, to me, that your mind is made up and you are starting to look at rings. But, in the case of Seth, I was mistaken and misunderstood his intent.

I believe that a couple doesn’t do pre-marital counseling to decide whether or not they are compatible; they do it to pinpoint potential sources of conflict in their marriage and learn to conflict well. Except my ex-fiance. He used pre-marital counseling to point to all the reasons we wouldn’t be compatible in marriage. He used our counseling to tell me all the reasons he would have an affair if we got married.

Seth and I dialogued about what he said versus what he meant; what I thought and how his words made me feel. I asked him to try not to bring up marriage so directly again until he is actually ready to go ring shopping or drop a knee. It plays with my emotions and toys with my heart. “And please don’t use the ‘M’ word until you’ve used the ‘L’ word.” L comes before M, after all. And I need to know he loves me before I’m ready to let my heart hear him talk about forever.  

I explained further, “We don’t need to be in a rush to make a decision. I know all of your friends are married with kids and that you don’t want to waste my time or your own, but if you rush this decision, the answer will be no. I know. I’ve lived it. We will break up. Ultimately, people shy away from things they’re not ready for. So if you want to give us a chance, slow down and don’t rush this decision just because you’re comparing our timeline to your friends’ relationships.”

I delivered this message in the most loving, gentle, calm manner I could, and Seth fortunately responded well. He apologized profusely. “You’re right. I’m like a bull in a china shop. I want to have respect for your feelings and treat them gently.”

We prayed together, hugged and agreed not to rush this decision. And I’m thankful. Because I would rather wait to marry Seth than not marry him at all.

Authentically Aurora

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Come As You Are

Things have not been great with Seth lately. We’ve hit that six month mile marker where the messiness of life starts to creep into the relationship – sickness and time apart and stressors at work and all manner of things – and we are each having to make the determination of whether we believe this relationship is worth fighting for or not.

peachy-pink-1It was a scary weekend of realizing how much power Seth has to hurt me now. We’ve spent a lot of time together investing in this relationship, and at this stage, it’s either going to result in marriage or a painful breakup.

As a result, I spent a lot of time alone this weekend, reflecting and praying. I really want – really need – to ensure I keep God as my First Love. I want to ensure I maintain that my identity is in the fact that I am a daughter of the King… and not that I am a girlfriend of Seth.

On Saturday, we went to a fall festival where we went through a corn maze and got to pick some homegrown flowers. My favorites were beautiful peachy-pink chrysanthemums, and Seth helped me fill a vase with them back at my apartment. And then we fought. And fought. And fought some more.

peachy-pink-2I thought we were okay on Sunday at church until Seth made a passive-aggressive comment after the service. I went home and cried most of the afternoon. But when I left my apartment in the evening to meet some friends, I turned on some music and heard David Crowder singing “Come As You Are“. Then I turned the corner out of my parking garage, and the sky opened up before me.

My eyes welled with tears. Bright pink and orange hues lit up the sky, and I felt God speak to my heart, “This is for you. Peachy-pink. Your favorite.”

The chorus of the song picked up, and I sang along in a broken voice:

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

Just hours before, I’d written in my journal: “God, please woo me to yourself. I want you to be my First Love.” Sometimes the Lover of our Souls is quick to respond. He delights to heal the brokenhearted, turn ashes to beauty and give good gifts to his children.

Authentically Aurora

Today is a Day for Chocolate Cake

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Sometimes you have a boss who says that you don’t ask enough questions and are therefore incompetent, resulting in a poor performance rating (no matter that one typically asks questions when one does not understand anything; not vice versa).

Sometimes that same boss, once you start forcing yourself to ask more questions, provides the feedback that you require too much oversight, resulting in a poor performance rating.

On days fraught with such inane and contradictory feedback, one must go home and eat a small piece of dark chocolate.

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Sometimes you have a boss who happens to be a micro-manager incapable of delegating meaningful tasks, and this boss may present you with strong criticism based on your supposed lack of independence or ability to provide meaningful contributions to the team.

Sometimes that boss will refuse to let facts get in the way of her predisposition to dislike you – facts like your track record for never delivering a project behind schedule, and facts like your negotiating millions of dollars’ worth of savings for the company despite your boss’s inability to provide meaningful work.

On days filled with such frustration and injustice, one must stop by Starbucks for a Grande Mocha Frappuccino.

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Sometimes you have a boss who is so disrespectful and maddeningly incompetent at her role as manager that you have to run into the girls’ bathroom to cry at the office, and you’re not sure if it’s out of anger, frustration, sadness or hopelessness.

Sometimes after you’ve already had a long day of work, the bridal boutique where you returned your wedding dress two years earlier when your groom got cold feet right before the wedding – that bridal boutique sends you an email wishing you a happy wedding anniversary and inviting you and your nonexistent husband to be featured in their magazine.

On days like that, one must go home and bake oneself an ENTIRE FREAKING LOAF OF CHOCOLATE CAKE.

To be eaten alone.

On the couch.

In one sitting.

Today is a day for chocolate cake.

Authentically Aurora

The Aviary

Sleeping Beauty Aurora with Birds

Hurt people hurt people. Those with damaged hearts end up wounding others, sometimes intentionally; sometimes unintentionally. I am trying to remember there is a difference.

My mom has always told me that I am drawn to “the bird with the broken wing.” As I age, I would argue that birds with broken wings are actually drawn to me, hopping over to me in the forest where I dance happily alone, singing softly to myself like a scene from my namesake, Sleeping Beauty. These broken-winged birds are drawn to my voice; a voice calling out in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord – the one true Healer of hearts.

Grant is one of the birds I’ve seen around my proverbial aviary for a while now. We met at church when we both moved to town after college, and I’ve known Grant for nearly seven years. He’s a 31-year-old, six foot tall banker with a quick wit and penchant for playfulness. We share an alma mater and a love of country music, so about once a year, we end up going to a country concert together in the stadium downtown.

Grant is my go-to “plus one” for weddings and such events. And I am his. We unknowingly grew up down the street from one another, went to sister high schools, and he frequently teases me about being on the math club in junior high. We have seen each other through all manner of seasons – better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health; job layoffs, broken relationships, flat tires and the flu. He can be a jerk sometimes (evidencing his XY chromosome set), but I trust him, and I know that, deep down, he’s a good man who has just been wounded. His girl friend – who at the time he’d just looked at rings for – dumped him for his lifelong best friend. It happened three years ago, but he still bears the scars.

This year, Grant and I went to see Chris Young, and the concert was amazing. We went to dinner together beforehand, laughed a lot, got dessert; then walked and talked before entering the concert venue, where we danced and sang along to every song we knew. When Chris Young started singing his platinum “I’m Comin’ Over“, I leaned over to Grant and yelled into his ear over the noise, “This is our song!”

He looked surprised; then embarrassed, and yelled back into my ear, “I don’t know whether to laugh or feel convicted!” It was a fair response. Grant and I have kissed a few times and kind of gone on pseudo-dates over the years, but he has never intentionally pursued a serious relationship with me. We get along well, and there is mutual physical attraction as well as a shared faith, but – although he is turning 32 this month – Grant still lacks the maturity and commitment to lead a meaningful relationship.

I tend to assume that Grant and I are just going to events as friends, but occasionally he surprises me and wants a kiss at the end of the night. This time when tickled my sides and leaned in, I put my hand on his chest and reminded him, “I’m not dating this year, remember?”

“I know,” he said glumly, giving me a hug instead. But as he pulled away, he allowed his hands to linger and wander.

“Grant…” I warned. “We’re not doing this.”

“I have a roommate now,” he told me in a playful tone. “But you don’t. I won’t even kiss you. But if I were to choose between sleeping alone in my bed or just getting to hold you all night, there’s no contest.” He winked at me.

He was inviting himself over. To hold me all night. Just as friends, of course. Because it wasn’t enough for Cory to make me feel like a piece of meat. My friend, companion and brother in Christ had to do it, too. I am not valued for anything other than my body.

“Grant, you are not coming over. We are not going to be friends with benefits.” I paused. “Do you even want to date me? I mean, I know that I’m not dating right now, but if I were, would you be interested? Would tonight have been a date?”

Grant looked uncomfortable with the turn of conversation. He enjoyed flirting with me and getting the occasional kiss, but he didn’t want to talk about his feelings or intentions. “You’re a beautiful girl, Aurora. You’re smart and godly… You’re the kind of girl I should want to date.”

Wow. And with that line, he told me all I needed to know. “So you wouldn’t ever actually date me? You’d rather have all your busty girls in low-cut shirts who are willing to do things I’m not?”

“That’s not it at all. It’s…” he hesitated. “It’s your engineer personality. Sometimes you make math jokes that just aren’t funny.” This from the man who, earlier in the evening, asked me why cows don’t have feet (because they “lactose”).

“Wow, Grant. Wow. You make sports references all the time that I don’t get, and you make lame groaners of jokes that I don’t think are funny, but that’s a part of your charm. I care about you, and man, you’ve got to learn to accept people’s quirks as a part of what makes them who they are.”

“You don’t like my jokes?” he asked. He completely missed the fact that I was trying to point out to him that, to be in relationship with someone, you have to learn to cherish their “faults” as well as their strengths. Or that if he didn’t think he could ever live with my “engineer personality”, he needed to stop flirting with the line between friends and more-than-friends.

I got out of his truck without another word. I had nothing more to say, and I didn’t want him to see me cry. The ones closest to you are the ones with the most power to wound you. If I hadn’t gotten out of his truck as fast as I had, with him calling “Aurora” behind me, this is what I would have said:

Someday there will be a man who will love me just the way that God made me, engineer personality and all. You are not that man, so please never again call me to be your plus one play date. You have repeatedly demonstrated to me that you love my body but not my brain, and if you respected me, you would want better than that for me. As of now, you are too broken and selfish to be bothered by how much you damage those who you falsely convince yourself you care for. So I’m opening the aviary gate and setting you free. Your wing is still broken, but I am not your keeper. I am not your Healer. You are no longer my concern. There are other birds in the sky – ones without broken wings.

Authentically Aurora

Hold My Heart – Part V

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Cory called me the next day, nonchalant as ever. I cut the call short, not feeling up for absorbing the hurt that his perpetual impassive demeanor caused me. Later that night, I received a text from him:

Hey Aurora, is everything okay? I’m picking up on something; I don’t know what to call it. It was in your voice earlier. I didn’t get to ask because I didn’t want you to be late to your dinner.

🙂

A smiley face?

Haha… if you think something is wrong, text usually isn’t the best forum to talk it out 😉

I can take a hint.

And then my phone rang. I answered, unsure what I was going to say.  Ultimately, what came out of my mouth was that I didn’t think we could be even friends anymore. “I don’t know how to be just friends with you. It doesn’t seem to affect you at all, but it’s not healthy for me to keep spending time with you,” I told him.

Cory was devastated. “I don’t want to lose your friendship,” he told me. For the first time since I’d met him, a tinge of urgency crept into his voice. “Being with you was the first sense of normalcy I’ve had in years.” He pleaded with me not to cut all ties with him.

“It hurts me too much to be with you without being with you,” I told him. And then I started crying, speaking my deepest hurts into the air between us. “Was it all just physical? Was that the extent of your attraction to and interest in me?”

“No! You’re definitely a beautiful woman, but – do you know what my favorite physical aspect of you is?”

“No…” My voice was a whimper.

“Your eyes,” Cory told me. “Your eyes are so full of depth and wisdom and light. They were the first thing I noticed about you, and they are my favorite part of you. Then your mouth. Your mouth is so expressive. Then your hands – they are so delicate and strong at the same time. Then, just, your entire face. Only then, in fifth place, are your hips. My life is messy and complicated and full of darkness, but being around you showed me how different things can be. That is why I like being around you.”

As he described his favorite parts of me, Cory started crying, too. “I don’t want to lose you. I care about you, and I hate that I hurt you.”

I was feeling comforted until he said that last portion. A part of me wished that he hurt more at the thought of losing me and not just because he felt badly about hurting me. His statement was just another reminder of why I needed to let him go.

When, painful as it was, I stayed firm on the fact that we needed to cut ties for the sake of my sanity and emotional wellbeing, Cory continued crying, sobbing over the phone, “Then…all of the grace and wisdom you’ve given me, and all of the compassion you’ve deemed me deserving of… Can you also give that to yourself?”

He continued, “You are a phenomenal woman. It’s apparent that I’m not the right guy nor is it the right time, but I can definitely say you are as much, if not ten times the catch that you credit me for being. You deserve your godly, kind, romantic leader of men. He is out there waiting to find you, and he will be so lucky when he does. Settle for nothing less than greatness. You deserve as much and more. I have been so blessed for knowing you.”

I wasn’t sure how to end the call, but I shut myself down emotionally and started to say, “Well, have a good rest of the year and enjoy your Christmas break.”

Cory could tell I was starting to end the conversation and interrupted in an anxious voice, “Wait. Could we pray together before we hang up?”

What?” I was dumbfounded.

“I want to pray with you before we say goodbye.”

“Why?” My heart was hard. In months past, I would have loved – absolutely jumped at the chance! – to pray with Cory. But I was wounded, limping along, and I had already decided to shut down my emotions and shut off my heart.

“I just… I want to pray with you. I feel like we should,” Cory pleaded again.

“Fine,” I conceded brusquely. “But you should know, if I’m going to be talking to the God of the Universe, I’m going to speak truth and say things you may not want to hear. Are you going to be okay with that?”

“Yes. I would expect no different from you.”

“Okay.” I sighed deeply, paused – trying to get myself in the right frame of mind to boldly approach the Throne of Grace – and began.

“Daddy, thank you for Cory. Thank you for the divine crossing of our paths. I know that You had purpose in our meeting, and I pray that your purposes would come to fruition. We confess our sinfulness, Lord. Our relationship has been so full of lust, and we confess that to you, God. Please forgive us. What Satan intends for evil, You intend for good, God, and so I pray that You would bring beauty from the ashes of our interactions. God, Cory has been asking a lot of questions about You and is searching for Truth. I pray You would powerfully reveal Yourself to him, God, and that he would know You; that Cory would come to saving faith in You.”

I prayed a few more sentences, wrapping up; then I paused and asked Cory if he would like to say anything. I heard Cory sniffling on the other end of the phone. “Um…” his voice came softly over the line between quiet sobs. “I hadn’t planned to say anything, but yeah, I have a few things to say.”

“Okay,” I said, more gently now that I had quieted my spirit in prayer. I waited for Cory to start praying when he was ready, and when he did, I was astonished by the broken-hearted pain and soul-bearing honesty in his words.

He began tentatively, with a few introductory sentences; then he started sobbing, crying from the depths of his heart, “God, I’ve been searching for you for so long. Please rescue me from the darkness. I’ve been trapped in the darkness for so long. Please -” his voice broke, “-please bring me out of the darkness and into the light.”

He sobbed again. “Help me, God.”

Taking a quavering breath, he continued, “Save me from the darkness and my fear. I have so much fear – for my mom, my dad, Mimi, Mary… Please protect my mommy- ” his voice cracked, and my heart broke for him.

“I’m not there to protect her…” Cory’s voice rose in pitch as he tried not to cry harder. “She’s all alone in New Orleans with a bad man…”

And then Cory began a time of confession, honoring me with his words. “Please forgive me, God. I’ve hurt so many people, using them to try to self-medicate for my own pain…”

By the end of his prayer, my heart was soft again, malleable and broken for him. I loved this man, though not in the way I had come to expect. When Cory finished praying and we both said, “Amen” together, I echoed words we had come to say to one another.

“I phileo you.”

I heard the sad smile in his voice. “I love you, too.”

And we hung up.

I’m not the kind to try to tell you lies
But the truth is you’ve been hiding from it too
I see the end sneaking in behind your eyes
Saying things no words could ever do

If we were written in reverse, and the end was our beginning
Our love would be rehearsed, and the pain would turn to healing
If we were written in reverse then maybe we could make it, you and I

Does anybody know how to hold my heart
‘Cause I don’t want to let go too soon
I want to tell you so before the sun goes dark
How to hold my heart, ’cause I don’t want to let go of you

Is anybody listening? ‘Cause I’m crying
Is anybody listening? Does anybody know how to hold my heart?
‘Cause I don’t want to let go, let go, let go of you

Authentically Aurora

Hold My Heart – Part IV

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In the weeks that followed, I struggled to figure out how to be Cory’s friend – just his friend. It was easy being more than friends or not interacting with him at all, but to have a healthy friendship seemed nearly impossible to me.

Cory, seemingly unfazed by any change in our status, continued to send me text messages. Late at night, he’d send simple ones, like, “Ask me a question.” So I’d ask about his family’s Christmas traditions and his favorite color and his middle name.

One night, Cory – obviously feeling lonely – sent me a text, “Has anyone ever made you feel like you are the only thing in the world that matters?”

Thinking of my ex-fiance, I wrote back, “Yes… and that’s a simultaneously wonderful and dangerous place to be.”

Cory texted back immediately. “What’s it like? I’ve never experienced that before.”

My mind went to Cory’s ex-fiance, Mary. Cory dated her for four years, lived with her for one of those years, proposed to her and was engaged to her for several months, and she never made him feel like the center of her world? I couldn’t explain over text what it was like – both my celebration of and reservations about such feelings – so I called him.

“Wanna talk?” I asked when he answered.

“Yeah.” His voice sounded muffled, like he was lying in bed. A likely scenario, given that it was rather late.

So I told Cory a bedtime story – a partial story of my courtship and engagement to R, and how he’d put me on a pedestal and frequently looked at me in absolute wonder, whispering softly, “I love you, Aurora. You’re more than I ever dreamed was out there.”

It was thrilling to be so loved. R broke down in tears, overcome with his love for me when he asked my parents for their blessing over our marriage. He cherished me; adored me; worshipped me. At least, until the day he woke up; the day he realized I was human and therefore fallible and wouldn’t always have perfect hair, a winning smile and the patience of Job.

In the case of R’s love for me, our relationship really was too good to be true. His love was an immature, lusty kind of love that quickly fades when the bloom is off the rose. And that’s why I told Cory it’s a dangerous place when someone makes you feel like you are the only thing in the world that matters. It breeds pride in the object of affection and idolatry in the adorer.

One Saturday night as I climbed into bed, Cory sent another text. “What time are you going to church tomorrow?”

I’d never invited Cory to church before. I didn’t want to push it on him, but he knew that I attended services every Sunday, so I figured if he wanted to come, he’d say something. I guess this is him saying something, I thought to myself.

“I’m volunteering during the 9:15 service and then attending the 11:00. Interested in joining?”

“Maybe,” he texted back. “Where is your church?”

I sent him the address, and he responded with, “Do you want me to come to your church tomorrow?”

What kind of a question was that? Of course I did, and he knew it. Red flags went up in my mind. He was fishing somehow. I tentatively typed back, “I would love for you to be there. I want you to come if you want to come. I’ll be in jeans because I’m volunteering with the kids, so if you do come, feel free to do the same.”

“Hmmm. Can I make a deal with you?”

I read his text and sighed. I’d known he was up to something. “Depends on the deal,” I wrote back.

“Can I trade cuddles for church? Lol. I.e. cuddle now, church tomorrow. And I respect your desire to not kiss anymore. I’m just feeling snuggly.”

When I didn’t reply immediately, he added, “I also respect a no answer. It’s probably a dumb idea. Lol”

I knew Cory was showing me a rare moment of vulnerability, so I wanted to tread lightly, but I also knew my answer had to be no, so I made a teasing joke about how I thought his puppy Stout would probably need to suffice for a snuggle buddy that night.

“I guess he’ll have to,” Cory conceded. “His kisses are much more messy, haha.”

After a pause, I sent a follow-up text.

Question

Answer

Do you still want to come to church, or was that just part of an exchange?

Haha. I actually want to check out your church; it’s just really far from where I live.

The cuddles were more of a motivator to overcome the drive than to get me to want to go to church with you.

Makes sense.

If you would like me to come to church tomorrow, I can make that happen

Are you willing to make the drive? I know it’s far

Probably not regularly, but I could make at least one trip

Okay 🙂

So is that a yes you want me to come out tomorrow?

Yes

Alright. Get some sleep. See you mañana 🙂

And so, in the morning, Cory met me at my church. The sermon was absolutely perfect for his visit. Our pastor spoke on James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Since Cory is so anti-organized religion and is so passionate about loving and helping the less fortunate (i.e. “being a good person”), I loved that he got to hear my pastor’s perspective on what it looks like for a Christian to live out James 1:27.

After the service, we went out to a casual lunch with a group of my church friends, and as I looked around the table where we ate our burritos, I tried to see our group through Cory’s eyes. We are collectively a very authentic, loving group of people. Everyone is very open about their current struggles, and we all try to speak light and life into one another.

When I privately asked Cory what he thought about the church service, he told me, “I could really feel the warmth. I see why you go to church there. But I like a more traditional service, singing out of hymnals and such. It’s what I grew up with.” I was disappointed that he didn’t have more to say; that the sermon didn’t resonate with him and that his only real comment was that my church wasn’t his “style”.

After lunch, Cory wanted to spend some more quality time together, so we went to a Starbucks for coffee. Actually, we went into the Starbucks, ordered our coffees, and went back outside to my BMW where Cory plugged in his iPhone so that we could sing duets together. He chose a song first, which we belted out together; then it was my turn. I picked a duet from one of my favorite musicals, and our voices blended beautifully during the harmonies of the chorus.

We sat out there for a full hour, taking sips of our lattes between songs. What other man would sit in the parking lot of a coffee shop and belt out duets with me in the car? This is why I have such a hard time letting him go. He is so fun… and spontaneous… and free-spirited… and passionate. 

Cory had brought study materials with him, so we went back to my apartment, where I got out a book to read while he studied. But he didn’t get much studying done. He kept looking up from his textbooks to ask me questions about myself or share a story he’d been meaning to tell me.

We were sitting together on the couch, and I got caught up in the moment and let Cory kiss me again. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was just as wonderful as I’d remembered. Feeling conflicted, I asked him between kisses, “Is there any part of you that is confused? Is any part of you feeling torn? I know you said none of this means anything, but I have trouble believing that.”

Cory rested his hands on either side of my face and looked deeply into my eyes. “In my head, everything is clear. But if I’m honest with myself, my heart and emotions are confused.” He kissed my forehead; then nudged my nose with his own.

“If you could describe how you feel about me in one word, what would it be?” I asked him.

He thought a moment before answering, “Wistful.”

“Why?”

He smiled sadly at me. “Because I see the potential we have. We could be so great. But we could never be together without one of us trying to change the other. You know that. Our world views are just too different. Besides,” he continued with compassion in his eyes, “You’re too wonderful a woman to ever be someone’s second choice.”

Authentically Aurora

Hold My Heart – Part III

texting iphoneAfter weeks of investing in him, discovering that Cory was still pursuing his ex-fiance was painful, to say the least. I found myself developing approach-avoidance conflict where Cory was concerned, battling internally about whether to withdraw or rush further in to our relationship.

Being a passionate, competitive, wounded woman, a part of me wanted to try to change Cory’s mind; to convince him that Mary wasn’t right for him; to convince him to pursue me instead. I felt shamed, foolish, rejected and disrespected. All of those emotions compelled me to try to win Cory’s heart, but fortunately, there was another part of me that gave heed to the voice of reason.

You knew he was broken. You knew he’d recently gotten out of an engagement. You knew he was the “bad boy” type, and all along, you knew he wasn’t God’s best for you. As much chemistry as you have, his continued desire for his ex-fiance is a blessing in disguise. When you are tempted, God will provide a way out so you can stand up under it. This is your way out! Take it!

We continued texting a bit, initially about practical things like the logistics of Cory auditioning for my a cappella group (which is how we met in the first place). But even those practical texts he managed to turn flirtatious.

Although he wasn’t officially in the group yet, Cory asked me for our Christmas sheet music so he could be ready for our caroling season. I told him about a performance on December 12th and asked if he’d be in town. He texted back:

No, I’ll be with my family out of state. But I’ll be back in town on the 19th before I drive to see Mary. That is flexible if there is any reason you’d like me to be in town? 🙂

Ha, I’m going to see The Nutcracker with my mom on the 19th.

Darn. Here I was hoping you had church caroling or a play or some other artful thing for us to do together. Haha… Let me know if I need to change my travel plans 😉

It was hurtful to live out his ongoing flirtation knowing there was no intention of commitment behind it. When I eventually confronted him about it, Cory seemed befuddled. “I thought I was clear up front that I still had feelings for Mary. You knew none of this meant anything.” He unintentionally pointed the finger at me, insinuating that it was my own fault that I got hurt.

I tried to act strong over the phone, attempting to veil the depths of my wounds as I asked him, “How could you spend so much time with me, not only flirting with me but also kissing me and telling me all of the longings of your heart – how can you do all of that and not be invested?”

“With everything I’ve been through,” he told me, “I’ve learned how to completely separate myself emotionally. It’s a coping mechanism. I’ve kissed a lot of my female friends. Alexa and I have made out multiple times, and she knows it doesn’t mean anything. We’re still able to be just friends. It’s just for fun.”

I’ve met Alexa. She’s one of Cory’s two best friends here in the city, and its obvious to everyone that she’s infatuated with him. Surely he’s too perceptive to be blind to her interest. Is he really that unfeeling? Is he really that cruel?

Knowing that none of our interactions meant anything to Cory – hearing the cold, callous nature of his heart – both deepened my wounds and snapped me out of my lovesick stupor (at least temporarily). I told him that we couldn’t kiss anymore. “I won’t be one of your playthings. I have too much self-respect for that and, unlike you, I can’t separate myself emotionally from soul-deep interactions like I thought we’d had.”

When we saw each other in person, Cory was as good as his word not to kiss me, although he did burn through me with his eyes and occasionally kissed me on the cheek as a concession to his desires. One evening, we texted back and forth, with Cory initiating:

What are you up to?

I’m eating an apple.

With peanut butter?

That’s the way to eat an apple.

I want to so badly, but I shouldn’t eat that much food right before bed. Lol. I even have peanut butter too…

You have such self-control…

In so many areas…

I can exert my will when I have the right motivation. Haha. That’s all self-control is really… Mind over matter. You just have to identify something you want more.

And what do you want more?

That would depend on what aspect of self-control you were referencing.

I left it intentionally vague.

And I’m intentionally making you commit to what you want to know about me. I am an open book to those willing to read, but that doesn’t mean I have to volunteer the lines of my story 😉

I’m smiling at you, FYI. I already know the answer to either option.

For the peanut butter, you have been committing to get in good shape, and that means exercising discipline over what you eat, and when. So you are choosing your physique over momentary taste bud dancing.

Regarding your self-control with me, it was a combination of choosing to respect me and my wishes over carnal instincts and also choosing dedicating yourself to the possibility of Mary rather than caving to a short-term fling. Accurate?

Almost spot on. You just missed one key component. I also chose self-control with you because:

With any woman I am interested in, no matter how amazing the chemistry is, I am a gentleman first and foremost, and I respect the wishes of my lady, especially if we’re not even dating (if we were dating, I would have pulled out all the stops and blown your mind 😉 ).

Bottom line, I’m not a playboy, just an intensely passionate person; I think all men and women deserve respect.

…So you’re saying we had amazing chemistry? 🙂

I feel like that was pretty obvious.

I smiled to myself. Even if he wasn’t interested in pursuing me, at least I could comfort myself that he acknowledged our chemistry. And so our interactions continued. But they changed. We spent a lot more time talking about religion. And I struggled not to make Cory my project.

In addition to not thinking Jesus is the only way to salvation, Cory also does not believe that hell exists. He asserts that the “luck” of one’s birth shouldn’t dictate whether or not they go to heaven, and he personalized his claim by stating that, had he been born in India, he probably never would have heard the Gospel message about Jesus and – “according to your beliefs,” he told me – “I’d go to hell. I just can’t imagine that a loving God would send anyone to hell, especially since he’s the one who determined which family and country someone was born into.”

I can appreciate Cory’s discomfort with the idea of hell, and I acknowledge and even respect his passion for God’s love and redeeming grace. But I pointed out to Cory that God is both perfectly loving AND perfectly just. In His divine holiness, God cannot tolerate sin; there must be a punishment for sin. But because God loves us so much, Jesus willingly died in the place of all mankind, so that anyone who accepts his atoning sacrifice is forgiven of their transgressions and brought into a right relationship with God. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Unfortunately for Cory’s argument, the bible is clear that accepting Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for our sins is necessary for salvation. None of us deserve grace; we don’t live up to our own standards, much less God’s! If anything, we all deserve hell. If it is God’s pleasure to save some and not others,  that is His prerogative.

Romans 9 says, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For He says… I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion…. Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

Paul goes on to write in Romans 10 that it is his heart’s desire that those who don’t believe in Jesus would be saved. But “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Cory’s response to my standpoint was: “I guess I choose to believe in a God who loves his children equally and gives grace freely without conditions, the way a parent unconditionally loves and forgives a child, because I see us all as deserving of grace.” Clearly he either didn’t really read or understand what I shared with him. I am frustrated to be seeing John 12:40 played out in Cory. Why, God?

We also talked more about Jesus being the only Way to salvation, as opposed to Cory’s perspective that Jesus’ way of living (loving people) is the way to salvation. I cited lots of verses (Romans 3, Romans 5, 1 Cor. 15, Acts 4), but Cory’s single rebuttal was to question the authority of the Bible.

“But this is one book,” Cory wrote to me over Facebook messenger. “What about the Torah? And the Quran? What about Hinduism and Buddhism that predate Christianity by thousands of years? How can we so easily write off all other sacred writings on either side of the cross and history? God exists across all of space and time, why would his message solely be encapsulated in the minds of a few men from the early centuries AD?”

I thought we had established up front that the bible is the inerrant Word of God; I told Cory that my faith and perspective is rooted in the Bible and that, if he didn’t view that as a viable source document, there was really no point in continuing the conversation. “Did you even read and digest ANY of that? You asked for my opinion. I stated at the beginning that I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. The Bible is where I get all of my data and justification. That’s why I said, at the beginning, that there was no point to having this conversation if you would not take Scripture as evidentiary.”

But if you say scripture is evidentiary because scripture says so, you have a logical fallacy of tautology,” Cory argued.

I’ve heard this argument hundreds of times (seriously, hundreds of times over the past decade), and this is where the debate always breaks down, so I wrote back, “I will not continue to have this conversation with you, because it will lead nowhere if we do not agree on the same ground rules.”

But Cory wouldn’t give it up. “You do recognize the circular logic right?”

When I didn’t respond immediately, Cory added, “I agree we have different premises and therefore cannot reach the same conclusion… But what I’m angling at is your premise is ‘The Bible is inerrant and accurate because the bible says so’ and your conclusions derive from its words.”

And with more silence from me (as I cooled my temper), he barreled forward, “As mere humans we are only able to extrapolate conclusions from faith, as we have no empirical means of deducing spiritual truth. All of our faith is conjecture and personal interpretation based on assumptions. I choose to believe more in my faith experience, my prayers, and my childlike faith in God than the flawed words of men transcribed and translated across millennia into a highly edited and even more highly misinterpreted work of literature. God is just, and I have come to him(her) in earnest. I trust the revelations God gives me directly more than I trust the infallibility of human languages and the written word.”

And then – ironically – Cory quoted the very Scriptures he claims are “flawed words” and “highly misinterpreted”! These bible verses were his justification for trusting the revelations God gives him (and his own ability to interpret them) more than the Word of God.

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12

“I can say no more beyond this without redundancy,” Cory concluded, seeming satisfied with his argument. Having checked out of the conversation for fear of saying something I’d regret later, I continued my silence, which Cory assumed meant I hadn’t read his latest rant. He sent me a text message an hour later:

“I FB messaged my final thoughts to you. I will now cease to press this issue, as you have been kind enough to allow me to voice all my points. I am willing to continue to hear your views and points and I will continue to answer any questions, but I feel like I have pushed too hard already and out of respect for you am going to back off and let it lie and leave the ball in your court. Thank you for being open and honest and for sharing your faith with me. I am honored and blessed to know you 🙂 ”

When I didn’t reply to the text, he sent me a FB message later that night: “I pray that if you are upset with me that you will forgive me.”

He seemed so concerned about the wellbeing of our relationship that I replied briefly, “I forgive you”. Cory sent a text almost immediately:

Everything okay?

Yeah, how are you?

So hungry! But I can’t eat because I volunteered to model for the abdominal ultrasound session today

Poor Cory… Thoughtful of you to abstain to ensure they get good images

Are you sure everything is okay?

Yeah

Cory sent a long text message in reply, bringing our discussion back up again: “I don’t know that this is necessary, but I want you to know that I LOVE discussing religion and philosophy and that no matter how frustrated I ever sound, I completely respect the intimately personal and individual nature of faith. I just want to clear the air a bit on that topic and state that while I think we have different views on the afterlife and some macroscopic ideas that we could continue to discuss in a respectful and academic way, I nonetheless think we can agree about the message and mission of love, kindness and service Christ call us to.”

I kept my response kind but brief: “Thanks for bringing it up. Yes, I think we align on the external application of serving in loving-kindness but disagree on the power source and reason for/objective of such action.”

Cory wrote back: “I think we actually agree that the source of love is God, and I might venture to say we agree that the objective is to be ambassadors of God’s love to others. I think our disagreements lie in semantics/word choice only regarding this life and the force of God’s boundless love. But anyway, I’m sure (or at least I hope!) we will have many more opportunities to discuss this not via text, haha.”

 I let the conversation drop, but I seriously doubted Cory’s wish for future faith conversations would come true. As much as I didn’t want to abandon Cory, our interactions had long gone past the point of being healthy for me or my heart. I may have gotten to be the planter, but it was time for someone else to be the waterer and the harvester. 

Authentically Aurora