Back to School – Part 2

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Thanks to my perseverance, I finally got issued my district email address a few weeks early. I’ve hungrily dug into all of the shared files, desperately trying to find out if there are already lesson plans in place or if I need to be spending my last weeks of summer developing a syllabus, worksheets, homework, quizzes and tests for the year. I don’t want my first six weeks to be a mess of chaotic franticness.

All summer long, I’ve been checking the district website hoping they’d update the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. They finally did a couple weeks ago, so I found out my first day of teacher inservice would be Thursday, August 10th. I’ve had it in my calendar ever since.

To make the most of my last week of summer, Seth and I planned a romantic day trip for Monday, August 7th, and I have a specialist doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday the 8th. I had to schedule the appointment two months in advance, so I was relieved they were able to get me in before school started.

Then yesterday, I checked my district email account.

The email account I only have because I’ve been bothering IT all summer long.

The email account I’m not supposed to have yet and that no one has advised me to be checking yet this summer.

I had an email “reminding” me of MANDATORY TRAINING for new teachers on August 7-8.

Note that this email was not sent to my personal email from my resume. I did not receive a call from my principal or administration. I never heard anything about this mandatory training from the HR department. The only reason I found out about it was because I had a district email address that I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE YET AND ONLY HAVE BECAUSE OF MY PROACTIVITY!!!

Seth and I cancelled our romantic day trip. He’s out $50 for tickets we already bought.

I postponed my specialist doctor’s appointment for another two months. Now I’ll have to use a precious vacation day to go to my appointment.

And I will responsibly show up for this mandatory training I only know about because I am proactive, responsible and on top of things when the rest of the school system is not.

I’m so glad I left Corporate America to escape bureaucracy.

Authentically Aurora

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Discernment Required (Part 3)

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On March 23rd, I’d attended the S**** Branch career fair, but at the time I was dealing with all of my anxiety over my three H*****y Public Schools interviews, I still hadn’t heard anything at all from the S**** Branch schools I’d visited at their career fair.

Of the eight junior high schools in S**** Branch, there were two schools that seemed like the best fit for me. I enjoyed the administrators I’d met at their career fair booths, they had math teaching openings, and I felt like I’d be a natural fit in the culture of these two schools. But I hadn’t heard anything back…

…until Monday, the day after Dani prayed with me at church. I’d just turned down the three H*****y interviews when my phone rang, and it was the principal of one of my two favorite S**** Branch schools. They wanted me to interview on Wednesday, and I was ecstatic.

A few hours later, my phone rang again, and it was the principal of the other S**** Branch school I’d hoped to hear from. We scheduled an interview for the following weekend. Of the eight schools in that district, there were two I liked, and those are the exact two schools who offered me interviews. Amazing. But I didn’t get those two interview opportunities until after God convinced me to operate by faith, turning down the H*****y interviews and trusting Him to provide.

He’s teaching me a lot about faith these days; releasing control and trusting Him rather than trying to do everything in my own power. In this season of life, God is clearly teaching me about the futility of my own efforts and that I should instead declare and embrace and celebrate my dependence on Him! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4).

That Wednesday, I went to Land*** to interview, and – short version – it went great. I loved the principal, a fun-loving, high-energy man in his late 40s. Two of the other teachers on the interview panel were equally fun and engaging. We laughed and talked for nearly an hour, and I felt like I fit right in. After a while, it stopped feeling like an interview and just seemed like a conversation with new friends.

But near the end of our time together, a third teacher came in. This heavyset middle-aged woman shuffled in with a grumpy look on her face and an irritable demeanor. She was introduced to me as the head of the math department and the woman who would be my partner teacher if I took the open position as Land***’s new 8th grade math teacher. She only asked me one question during the interview: “If you had an issue with someone on staff – ” she laughed unhappily, “- let’s be honest, if you had a problem with ME – how would you handle that?”

Somewhat taken aback by the question and her tone, I explained that I think open communication is key and that I would want to sit down and talk through the issue with her directly, making sure she felt heard and that we both had an opportunity to explain ourselves. I’d asked the principal earlier in the interview the reason the position was open, and he said evasively that the prior teacher had decided Land*** wasn’t a good fit. After meeting the math chair, I suspected it had something to do with this woman.

At the end of the interview, the principal walked me out, shaking my hand and telling me pointedly, “You did great in there.” He gave me a knowing look and said, “I know you’d be a great asset to our team. My assistant principal who spoke with you at the career fair said you were an amazing candidate, and you proved her right today. We’ll be in touch. You can expect to hear from me by the end of the week.”

But he didn’t make me wait until the end of the week. I was still working in corporate procurement at the time, having given my two weeks’ notice but not yet reached my last day of April 3rd. So when the Land*** principal called me a few hours later, my phone was on silent, and I missed the call. He left me a simple voice message asking me to call him back. Since I didn’t get the message until after 5pm, I decided to wait to call until the next morning during work hours, but when I logged into my email the next morning around 7:30am, I already had a follow-up email from the principal. “Good morning! I wanted to let you know that the interview committee thoroughly enjoyed visiting with you yesterday. Can you please call me regarding the position at your earliest convenience?”

Surprised at his persistence, I called as soon as I finished my morning meetings, stepping into a private conference room about 9am. “Hi, this is Aurora. I’m returning your call about the 8th grade math position at Land***.”

“Aurora! Great to hear from you!” The principal’s magnetic personality filtered across the phone line. “I just wanted to let you know that we all agreed yesterday that with all the interviews we’ve done, you were the bright shining star that clearly stood out from the rest. There was no competition. We know that you would be an amazing addition to our team here at Land***!”

“Wow, thank you so much! That’s great to hear,” I replied with a smile.

“Yes, we are excited about the possibility of having you join our team,” he added, pausing for me to reply.

“Thanks. The feeling is mutual. I really enjoyed meeting you guys yesterday. It was a great conversation.”

“So…” the principal paused, seeming to be confused at my response. “To be clear, I’m calling to make you a job offer.”

“Thanks,” I said again. I wasn’t sure what he expected me to say. I appreciated the glowing review, reiterated again and again, but I was waiting for him to lead us into an “offer” conversation. I’ve worked in procurement for eight years, and I expected him to outline the scope of the offer.

We were both dancing around the offer at hand, and our circular conversation started to get stilted and awkward. I didn’t understand why the principal wasn’t directing the conversation toward outlining my proposed salary, start date, professional development I’d be expected to do over the summer, benefits information and the like.

“So…” the principal hesitated, his initial enthusiasm starting to fizzle at the sudden awkwardness of the conversation. “Do you accept?” he asked finally.

I laughed uncomfortably. “Accept what? We haven’t outlined the terms of the offer.”

“Um… what do you mean?” he seemed confused that there was more to be said than just “I’m making you an offer of employment at my school. Do you accept?”.

“I mean, we haven’t discussed salary and benefits. I don’t know the scope of the role and the associated terms.”

“Salary and benefits are public information and can be found on the district website,” he told me, seeming exasperated and perturbed by the direction of the conversation. Was he second-guessing offering me the job? I really liked the principal initially, but I was shocked by what I viewed as his lack of professionalism.

“Okay, great. I’ll have to take a look at that,” I told him, assuming he understood this meant I needed some time to review the district website, but he pressed me again, “So… do you accept?”

I laughed uncomfortably again. “Well, I’d like some time to review the district website. I realize salary and benefits are standard across the district and don’t vary much between districts, but I would still like to do my due diligence.” I was going to ask for two weeks to make my decision, which is standard in my industry, but the principal pushed me again, “Can you give me an answer by Monday?”

Monday was my last day of work at the corporate oil & gas company where I’d worked for eight years. I’d given my two weeks’ notice without so much as an interview, and now I had a job offer with a principal asking me to make a decision by the very Monday that would be my last day of work at a career that had held me for almost a decade.

I agreed to have an answer by Monday, and I was amazed at the way God worked out the timing. But then again, that’s the character of our God. He stirs up amazement, awe and wonder in those who know Him and follow His leading. He was just waiting on me to take a leap of faith.

Authentically Aurora

 

Exit Interview (Part 4)

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I just found out on Friday that, back in January, my boss blocked me from getting a $2,000 performance bonus that another manager had nominated me for. She really is the worst.

My manager has such a controlling personality that she never gave me anything meaningful to do, so – with all my spare time – I offered to do side projects for other managers. When I performed well, they nominated me for a recognition award, but apparently my boss told the talent forum I was having performance issues in my day job and shouldn’t be rewarded for “supposedly” performing on side projects. I am so glad that TOMORROW IS MY LAST DAY!!!

On Friday I got an automated email from HR asking me to respond to a 3-minute online exit interview. When I started at this company eight years ago, HR did face-to-face exit interviews to understand why people were leaving and how they could better the organization to prevent future exodus. It’s no surprise to me that we have devolved to a 3-minute online exit interview that only took me literally 20 seconds: First name, last name, employee number – and then select from a drop-down box the reason you are leaving. How sad. How pathetic. Eight years’ worth of a career summed up in a single drop-down box.

If I had the chance to do a real face-to-face interview with Human Resources, this is what I would have said:

“First of all, I am sharing this information with you because I want [company] to be a better company. I want y’all to succeed (in no small part because I am a shareholder). And I see gaps in the way you bring people in, the way you train them, and the way you treat them. Nothing I am about to share is out of bitterness or spite; it is an honest account of my eight year career here at [company].

“When I first hired in, [company] hired me into a virtual team. My first boss ever was based in Amsterdam, and my line manager changed four times over those first fourteen months. Still further, my first four managers here at [company] were all based in Europe. I had a virtual team, a virtual manager – no real support. And I was a 22-year-old fresh out of college. I was ready to leave by month three.

“My parents advised me to stay at my first job for at least two years, and my pension wasn’t fully vested until year three, so I stuck it out. But in that first job, I – being a Type A perfectionist, self-starter and high achiever – frantically tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with no direction from a boss who was having a personal breakdown across the pond in Europe.

“When I finally got moved to another role fourteen long months later, I was given to a first-time line manager who (blessedly was State-side but) had me doing data entry. For twelve months, I surfed the web, did data entry, asked other managers for real work, did data entry, got put on one token project, and did more data entry. Eventually I went to my line manager and told her that it was not benefiting [company] to pay me six figures to type data into a contract management system, and it was not benefiting me to have my brain rot away as I slowly went insane. She graciously (and meekly, as was her way) agreed with me, and we went together to HR, who placed me in my third role two months later.

“My third role with [company], about 2.5 years into my career, was the first time I had any real responsibility. I was finally given contracts to negotiate, bid packages to manage, and purchase orders to process. For the first time, I understood what Procurement meant, and I’d worn the title of Procurement Analyst for over two years. That was a good, meaty role with a smart, caring boss, and I learned a ton! But the moment I finally realized what Procurement was, I also realized that I had no desire to work in Procurement.

“After that, I had a couple of roles in Functional Excellence and Operational Excellence where I absolutely thrived. I had a boss who gave me free reign over big data, and once I automated all of the weekly, monthly and quarterly reports my predecessor had done manually, I had four days a week where I just got to play in the data and develop my own personal presentations for senior leadership on opportunities for improvement, prioritized by overall impact on the company. I had a boss who trusted me, respected me, and gave me the white space to think creatively. She also made sure I had a platform to senior leadership by which to voice my thoughts and analysis. Those were the best two years of my career, and my bonuses and performance scores reflected the fact that I was finally in an area I loved under a boss who knew how to lead me and champion me.

“Then we had an organizational restructuring, and I found myself shuffled around with everyone else. I ended up in Global Functions managing IT contracts – rather, one 10-year, 4 billion dollar contract. Actually, my boss managed the contract as the Procurement Lead. I was just her grunt to do her menial tasks. Except that she was so controlling that she didn’t even trust me to do her menial tasks. In two years, I never heard a single positive comment from her about my work. There was never a ‘good job on this’ or even a simple ‘thank you’ for getting something done on time – and I always got my work done on time. It would be inexcusable if I didn’t, because I was only 20% utilized. I spent the other 80% of my time asking other managers (who trusted me) for more work. Or building my network, going out for long lunches and coffee dates. Or shopping online or writing my blog.

“One year into the role, I made a few complaints; raised my hand to say that this reporting line was intolerable; that my relationship with my boss was toxic and could not last more than another year. Nothing happened, so I started to actively look externally. I started working on my teaching certification at work, studying for state certification exams and taking online courses. I didn’t have any other work to do, and I am not one to let grass grow under my feet. I will always find something productive to do, and it was [company]’s loss that they were unable to make better use of my time and talents.

“I wanted to be utilized. I wanted to add value. I wanted my work to matter; wanted my life here to matter. But I repeatedly found myself under bosses or in work stations where I wasn’t challenged; wasn’t heard; wasn’t valued. And that is the real reason I’m leaving. People say, ‘People don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.’ And it’s true that this latest boss was the worst I’ve ever had (and I’ve had 14 just at [company]). But more than leaving because of her, I am leaving because the [company] system is broken. I look at the managers ahead of me – middle management, senior management – and they are not people I want to work for. They are not people I respect, and I do not want to become them. I don’t like the direction I see this company going, and I don’t like the way leadership has been permitted to treat its people.

“You hire the best and the brightest out of college because you can. You have that brand name recognition. And you say that you want them to come in and make things better. You say you want a fresh perspective and creative thinking and innovative problem solving. But you don’t. Not really. You want lukewarm, mediocre college students who are not passionate about anything to come in and fit neatly as a cog on a wheel of the machine that you are driving into the ground. I know that’s what you subconsciously (or perhaps unintentionally) want because that is what you have done to each of the brilliant minds you’ve hired.

“Look around you. No one here likes their job. No one here laughs or smiles or has any semblance of joy. This place has no future. Unless – unless! – you take to heart words of the surely countless people like me who are telling you things you don’t want to hear. And we are saying these things because it is ultimately for your good. Things need to change if you ever want this company to be top quartile, and it all starts with how you treat people.”

Too bad they’ll never hear what I had to say. Ironically, they don’t have a proper system in place to hear that their people are not heard. It’s so beautifully and tragically poetic.

Authentically Aurora

And the Waters Stilled (Part 4)

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“God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged… the rain was restrained… and the waters decreased.” -Gen. 8:2-3

Even after the rain finally stopped pouring down in the famous Genesis flood that wiped out most of humanity, Noah still had to remain on the ark for a few months while the waters receded. And although the proverbial hurricane winds around me have abated, not everything is resolved, and I know the coming months will carry with them more unknowns and uncertainties as I continue this season of transition.

Living Situation

Since my apartment management came through with addressing the marijuana issue affecting my unit, I am planning to stay at my current apartment complex through the end of my lease in July. Although I could be saving $400/month at a cheaper apartment further west of town, the benefits of staying here are:

  • I don’t have to deal with moving now when so much else is in transition.
  • I will not have a possible black mark on my credit report in the event my complex decided to call this “breaking a lease” rather than being “released” from a lease.
  • By July, I should know where I will be teaching in August, so I can choose an apartment closer to my school, whereas if I moved now, I’d be making an educated guess on the best geography for my upcoming year.

I think this worked out for the best, although there was certainly a lot of (possibly self-induced) upheaval that ultimately resulted in no change to my living status.

Relationship

A few of you expressed concerns about Seth based on the past few posts – that I should listen to my gut and not ignore red flags; that I need to be with someone more supportive; that he has a lot to learn; and is this even the Seth I thought I was dating?

The tough thing about relationship blogging is that the non-blogger (i.e. Seth) becomes a bit of a straw man, unable to defend himself or share his side of the story. For the past two weeks, I’ve had a bad cold, been PMSing, and been under a lot of stress, so I know that I was not as much the heroine in all of these interactions as I made myself out to be.

Seth is a good man. He brought me Kleenex and Gerber daisies (my favorite) when I first got sick. After the latest round of disagreements, he showed up to my apartment with homemade soup and a bouquet of roses. He’s supportive of my job change to teaching when few others are, and he’s currently in the process of planning a surprise birthday party for my 30th later this week.

He is kind and servant-hearted. Neither of us is perfect, but I think one of the strengths of our relationship is that we both seek to understand the other and genuinely desire to resolve conflicts, even if it takes a couple of weeks to get to the root issue. We talked this weekend about everything that’s gone on lately, and I asked him very candidly, “Seth, do you generally think of me as a godly woman?”

He was kneeling in his garage, sanding down a piece of wood, but he looked up at me with surprise in his eyes – and a little bit of hurt. “Well, first of all, I’m sorry that you even have to ask that question.” He paused his sanding. “Yes, I think you’re a godly woman.”

“Do you think I’d be a good mom, raising kids with strong values?”

Seth stood up to walk over to me and wrap me in a hug. I peeked up at him from where my face was nestled in his chest.

“Yes, I think you’d be a good mom.” His deep voice reverberated around me. “Aurora, you’re the best woman I know.”

He sighed, dropping his hands to his sides and then shoving them in his pockets. “I know I’m not the most affectionate man.” He rubbed his stubbled jaw and looked around at the scene of masculinity around him – woodwork, car parts, mountain bikes and a canoe. He’s the manliest man I know. “But I want to get better at that. I don’t want you to ever doubt how much I care about you and how highly I esteem you. You’re a good woman.”

And although I don’t always do him justice on this blog, he’s a good man.

Work

My boss didn’t approve the 1:1 switch with Stephanie. She said Stephanie wasn’t qualified to be my replacement. Honestly, as tough, superior and controlling as my boss is, I can hardly imagine her thinking anyone is qualified for the job. She certainly doesn’t think I am.

At this point, it’s looking like there is no further opportunity for severance. HR is pushing ahead with my possible talent placement. I could stay and get a hearty paycheck in this new, assigned role for a few months before quitting in August, but I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be finished once and for all with this chapter in my life.

I don’t have another job lined up. I’m not guaranteed a teaching position in August. I have a lot of fixed expenses that I’ll need to find a way to cover. But I’m taking a step of faith and walking away. It’s time.

An Unexpected Blessing

For this upcoming season of transition, I’ve done a rough calculation of my anticipated income and expenses. I have an idea of some income-generating activity that can help make ends meet, and since I’ve kept a personal expense report for years, this number is fairly accurate.

The net difference between my anticipated income and expenses for April through July is about the amount I would have to dip into savings during this time of transition. And I was prepared to pay that amount in order to leave my company a few months early. But I may not have to dip into savings after all.

Since I stayed at my job through February 1, I was eligible to receive last year’s bonus from my current employer. My 2016 bonus just showed up in my bank account last week, and the number surprised me. Here’s why: The net difference between income and expenses during the time of transition is almost exactly the dollar figure deposited into my bank account last week.

What a blessing that God has given me as a parting gift from my time working in Corporate America! My final bonus is just the right amount to ease me into this season of transition hopefully resulting in a more life-giving and fulfilling career.

I’m excited. It’s time for a new adventure!

Authentically Aurora

Carried Out to Sea (Part 3)

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“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” -Louisa May Alcott 

Work

On Wednesday last week, I met with HR to discuss the possible 1:1 switch with Stephanie, allowing this new mom (whose role was being dissolved through organizational restructuring and no fault of her own) to keep a job at the company while I (who am planning to leave the company anyway to start a teaching career) could have her severance package to help bridge the gap between leaving my current job and starting a new one in August.

The HR Representative is the same one who did my entry paperwork when I joined the company eight years ago. She remembers me, and we share the same alma mater, so she genuinely wanted to help me. I was honest but diplomatic, admitting that I do not see a future for myself at the company and also being transparent about the fact that I do not currently have another job lined up.

She acknowledged that my proposal did seem like an elegant solution, but she also said that my situation was not really one where severance would normally be paid out. “Yours is more of a resignation case.”

“The company is planning to pay out severance regardless, right? Either to Stephanie or to me?”

“Yes.”

“And Stephanie is a good worker who is valued here. She is a new mom and is losing her job by no fault of her own, but because of restructuring, right?”

“Right.”

“Meanwhile, you are planning to try to place me in a new team, keeping me at this company, when I have openly stated that I do not see a long-term future for myself here. I don’t currently have another job lined up, so I would hate for the company to continue employing me and investing in me when I very openly have one foot out the door and am actively looking externally. It might be better for all parties involved if you were to lay me off rather than continuing to pay me salary and benefits until I successfully find an external job.”

The HR Rep considered that for a moment. “I’m actually pretty sure I’ve found a role for you in our Projects team. If I gave you the option of a talent placement into the Projects team or a severance package, you would take…?”

“The severance package,” I told her without skipping a beat. The time for political game playing was past us.

She leaned back in her chair, looking resigned and a bit sad. “She’s ruined you, hasn’t she?” – speaking of my boss.

I shrugged. The past eight years have been one long series of managers and decisions and frustrations that led us to where we are today. My current boss is just the final blow.

The HR Rep said she’d talk with my boss about whether she’d accept Stephanie as a suitable replacement for me. “If she doesn’t, this idea is dead in the water.”

I left her office feeling at peace. I’d done what I could do. Now it was time to wait and pray.

Living Situation

At the end of last week, I toured five new apartments. I’d originally started with a list of twenty-five, which I researched online and ranked using a weighted evaluation matrix I created myself. Yes, I am Type A.

Once I had finished my analysis of monthly cost, square footage, safety, location, amenities and a number of other factors, I made appointments to tour the top five, hoping to be able to find a great apartment to move into in April (with the expectation that I would have been released from my current lease by then).

Between tours 4 and 5, I stopped for lunch and checked my email on my phone. I had a new message from my current apartment complex:

“From the staff here, we would like to extend an apology for recent events. We had unforeseen circumstances arise which required another resident to have to use the model in urgency. We did have our HPD officer make visits to the different apartments in the area last week. He spoke with a unit which we believe the issue is coming from and let them know that the next time he needs to come pay a visit he will be making arrests. We are confident that this will resolve the problem with the marijuana smell. We want to thank you for being patient and understanding during this time and will be sending a gift to your apartment as a token of our appreciation. Please let me know how the marijuana situation is going and if there is still a continuous smell of it. We hope you have a great rest of the weekend and don’t hesitate to contact any with any further questions and concerns.”

I had mixed emotions when I finished reading the email. I was glad they finally did something about my complaint, but I was annoyed that it took them so long and that I now felt like I’d wasted half a day touring other apartments. I was glad to not have to move immediately, but I also thought it would have been nice to have an excuse to move to a cheaper apartment (especially since, with my job change, I need to be cutting costs).

Relationship

Just as I was processing this latest email from my apartment management, Seth called. He was on his lunch break and wanted to know how things were going. Unfortunately for Seth, I am an external processor, and he chose to call me right as I was in the midst of having to process a lot of significant new information.

So I told him everything – how I’d searched my lease for a way to get out of it, how I’d gotten my doctor to write a note saying my living situation was detrimental to my health, how I’d researched nearby apartments, and how I’d spent most of the day going on apartment tours.

“And then!” I ranted on, “After I did all this work building a case to be released from my lease, management finally came through and decided to do something to remedy the situation. So I guess I’ll have to stay there and keep paying the really high rent until my lease ends in July.”

“On the plus side,” I continued, musing aloud to myself as I kept processing the various scenarios, “I guess this will allow me to pick an apartment that’s close to the school where I teach because I should know by July where I’ll be teaching come August. That could work out well.”

When I finally finished talking everything out, Seth voiced his opinion – an opinion that made me wish I’d stopped for breath sooner rather than continuing to pour out my thoughts and feelings. He rebuked me for wanting to get out of my lease early, for building a case against my apartment complex, and for not giving them what he deemed an adequate amount of time to respond to my complaint.

“Gosh, Aurora. How have you already searched the lease, gotten a doctor’s note, given the required two written notices and toured new apartments? It’s only been a couple of weeks since this first became an issue. It’s like you’re trying to use the situation to your advantage,” he chided me.

Well yeah, I thought. I wouldn’t have tried to get out of my lease if they hadn’t given me cause. But they did give me cause. I saw an opportunity, so I started working it out to fruition. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. 

Seth continued his rebuke, “You should be a woman of your word. You signed a lease that ends in July, and you should stay until July. Your apartment management came through in remedying the problem, and that should make you happy, not upset. They did what management is supposed to do, so rather than being upset that you can’t get out of your lease, you should be celebrating that everything worked out the way it should.”

Seth was glad my plan failed. He said I’d been in a frenzy; I’d done so much activity in one week. He told me I wasn’t being above reproach; that I was taking advantage of the situation for my own benefit. He encouraged me to make good on my commitment to complete my lease term. Like he’d said only days earlier, he again voiced, “Where is all of this coming from, anyway? This isn’t the Aurora I know.” At times like that, I wonder if he knows me at all. If he did, he’d know that talking to me that way just makes me shut down.

The more he talked, the more walls I put up. Seth has a way of taking the moral high ground in his rebukes that makes me feel awful. He would be crushed to know that. He’s genuinely well-intentioned in his rebukes, but he’s so blasted morally upright, always looking to do the right thing, that sometimes when I’m not even doing anything wrong, he somehow makes me start to doubt my own motives.

I didn’t think I was being shady in my dealings. We are supposed to be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). And I work in contract negotiations for a living. I have for eight years. So the way I handled the situation was what I thought was right. But Seth tends to make me question my true intentions. Sometimes he’s right, and I need to be put in check, but sometimes he’s wrong about me.

I’m still learning how to effectively be in relationship with someone who’s so squeaky-clean that sometimes he doesn’t seem to know how to navigate the grey areas of real life. I’m all for behaving in an honorable, godly manner, but the world is not black and white. And while I appreciate that Seth always wants to honor God in his dealings, I also think he needs to realize that not everything he believes is dishonoring to God actually is. He needs to loosen up a little bit and die to that inner Pharisee.

Authentically Aurora

And The First Wave Crashed (Part 1)

StormySeas

Everything in my life is in transition.

Not only do I feel unsteady during this time of change, but I also feel like I don’t have much control over anything, which both stresses me out and – at the opposite extreme – makes me feel bored with the lack of responsibility or ownership over anything in my life. It’s a confusing combination. I know God is in control, and I try to take comfort in that, but it’s a daily struggle not to feel simultaneously anxious, resigned and frustrated; complacent, frantic and defeated.

Relationship

Something about weddings makes the men in my life suddenly take the time to reflect; think about the future; become emotional and feel inspired. Maybe it’s all the talk of love and lifelong companionship. Maybe it’s the free flowing champagne. Or maybe it’s just seeing me with my hair curled for once. But every time I’ve gone to a wedding with a boyfriend, by the end of the evening, he has transformed into a starry-eyed romantic spouting off dreams about our future together.

Seth and I attended a wedding together last weekend. I should have come to expect it, but I was taken aback when – in the middle of the reception, with lights flashing and music blaring and people pushing in on us from every side – Seth decided it was a good time to tell me that he’s been thinking about signing us up for Fusion – a pre-engagement weekend for couples who are dating seriously and considering marriage. “How do you feel about that?” He asked me, his big brown eyes innocent and hopeful.

My initial response was, in typical female fashion, to feel about six things at once. I was pleased he was thinking about our future; annoyed that he brought up the intimate topic in a loud, crowded room; excited to take another step toward marriage with him; concerned that he was simply responding out of the emotions of the moment at the wedding; happy that he was taking the topic of marriage seriously; and hurt when I found out the dates he was considering: June 23-25.

Fusion has weekend sessions going on in April as well as June. They happen about once a quarter. So why did Seth not want to go to the April session? Still further, I was privately hoping for a fall wedding, but if Seth wants to go to a pre-engagement camp in late June, that means he’s probably on a completely different time table than I am for wanting to progress our relationship. I had (admittedly, foolishly) imagined that he might propose for my birthday next month. Or our one-year anniversary in April. So the revelation that he still expects us to just be dating in June was surprising and hurtful, though he of course meant quite the opposite. His declaration of wanting to attend a pre-engagement session with me was intended to be sweet and kind and wonderful, and I wanted to experience it as such, so I wrestled internally against my feelings of disappointment.

I took a bunch of deep breaths, put a smile on my face, and told Seth I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to go to Fusion with him. Unfortunately, Seth can read me really well, and he tends to dig until he gets out everything I’m thinking and feeling. So in the midst of his friend’s wedding reception, we had an intense conversation about our desires and expectations for our relationship. Seth had expected me to be wholeheartedly thrilled and was crushed at my complex emotional response to his sweet suggestion for our future. And I grappled with my own spiraling emotions, feeling guilty for not responding in the way he would have wanted and – yes, rightly – expected me to respond to his pure-hearted declaration.

What should have been a happy occasion was marred by our conversation, and a suggestion by Seth that should have brought me nothing but joy ultimately made me feel like he was instead declaring: “I’m still not sure if I love you. I’m still evaluating you.” He has yet to say those three special words.

Work

In the meantime, I got my lowest-ever performance review score at work. I’m applying internally to different jobs, but no one will take me because of my low performance score. My boss wants me off her team, and I want to be off her team, but her scathing performance reviews of me are preventing us from getting what we both want: for me to move on to a different position far, far away from her.

HR has gotten involved, and they have acknowledged that the issue is obviously with my current placement and incompatibility with my boss and her style. HR cannot justify firing me because I have historically been such a high performer. I am unwilling to quit without a severance package (especially since I still don’t have anything lined up externally). And the company is struggling to find a hiring manager who will take me because teams are already so sparse in light of the recent trend in oil prices. So we are at a bit of a stalemate, and I’m not sure of my next move.

Living Situation

For the past few weeks, my apartment has been plagued by the alternating smells of cigarette smoke and marijuana. I live in a state where marijuana is still illegal, so not only is there illegal drug use going on in my complex, but the absolutely disgusting smell of marijuana coupled with cigarette smoke has left my living quarters perpetually smelling like a skunk that ate a gigantic burrito for lunch and then spent the night at a sleazy nightclub. It’s awful.

I told my leasing office about the issue mere days after the first few offenses, but they followed up with no real action. The manager said she could have a courtesy officer do “random checks” on apartments near mine, but it would take quite a while since the checks have to appear random. In the meantime, she offered to have a third party come to air out my apartment with special air filtration equipment.

The air filtration was supposed to take place last weekend while I was at the aforementioned wedding. I had to be out of my apartment unit for 24 hours, so we scheduled the maintenance from Saturday at 1pm until Sunday at 1pm. Between the wedding Saturday night and church Sunday morning, I figured this would be a nonissue. But when I went into my apartment at 7pm on Sunday evening, the air filtration system was still running.

Compounding Issues

I complained to the leasing office, and they put me up in one of the model apartments for the night. Right around the time I got settled, Seth came over to hang out for the evening, and I directed him to the model unit number, fuming and venting the second he walked in the door.

“I specifically told management that the worst of the smell was in my closet and that all of my clothes now smell like marijuana and cigarette smoke. I even put a sign on the closet door with a big red arrow saying ‘This is the source of the smell.’ But I went home and found the closet door shut and the filtration system still running! Not only did they not finish on time, but the idiot maintenance worker closed the closet door so that all this time, my clothes haven’t been getting aired out – and they were my primary concern!”

Seth was quiet through all of my ranting, but the moment I paused for breath, he leaned over, brusquely kissed my cheek, and muttered, “Have a good night” before turning and walking out of the model apartment.

I was stunned. I sat rigidly on the unit’s fuzzy gray couch with obnoxiously bright, fuchsia pillows for a full ten minutes before I picked up my phone to call Seth. He didn’t want to come back, but I asked him to. We needed to talk out what just happened.

Seth showed back up shortly thereafter, and our stances were essentially as follows:

  • Seth couldn’t believe the degree of my rage and felt like I was overreacting. He said there was no need to ever call anyone an idiot, and said, “This isn’t the Aurora I know.”
  • I expressed that I don’t feel like I can ever completely let my guard down and just vent with Seth. When I have a bad day at work, I call Ashley or my mom because I have learned that Seth can’t handle me when I’m really, really upset and frustrated; when I just need to vent and have someone listen.
  • Seth said he would have been happy to listen if I had adjusted my tone and language, instead opting to factually share my disappointment and frustration with the situation.
  • I explained that: WOMEN. Women don’t operate that way. I am less emotional and more even-keel than most women, so I need him to be able to stand me on the rare occasion that I fly off the handle.
  • Seth said that he takes very seriously his role of holding me accountable. He believes that, were he to be my husband, part of his role is to help me become more like the godly woman I’ve been created to be. He has higher standards for me than I have for myself, which has never happened in the history of EVER.
  • I told Seth that, if we were married, and if he was my husband, I would know that he loves me. I could rest secure in the fact of his commitment, and from that foundation of love and commitment, I would be able to better accept his criticism of having a bad attitude or calling someone an idiot. But because we are still dating and I don’t know that he loves me or is committed to me, all I hear is: “I’m still evaluating you, and I am finding you wanting. This is yet another red flag that is giving me pause about committing to you.” I told Seth that I needed him to stop making me feel so judged and instead start extending some grace.
  • Seth countered that he was extending grace. “I didn’t want to come back here. But I did. I decided to practice for marriage and extend grace by coming back to talk this out with you even though you were being unpleasant.”

I’m not sure how we left it. By the end, I was exhausted – both physically and emotionally. But when I called and told my mom about the exchange later, she sang Seth’s praises. “No one has ever been able to talk to you like that. And he obviously cares for you if he was willing to drive back. Dating Seth is like dating Jesus.”

High praise. And potentially true. The only difference – and it’s key – is that I know Jesus loves me.

Authentically Aurora