Defying Dementia

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Seth’s father has severe Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms started when he was about 50, and by age 55, he was diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (EFAD). It’s genetic, so Seth has a 50/50 chance of having it himself. It’s been the source of many a difficult conversation between us (and all of your prayers are welcomed, encouraged and appreciated).

A few weeks ago, Seth and I planned a joint trip for our parents. Seth and I took both sets of folks for a long weekend in the hill country so they’d have an opportunity to get to know one another better. My parents got to see their family’s ranch, and his parents were treated to one of the finest wine tastings in the region by way of a thank you from my mom and dad.

Both sets of our parents genuinely wanted to get along, which made the trip that much more fun! What could have been a stressful or awkward time was instead one of relaxation and joy.

Seth and I are blessed to both come from happy homes with kind, loving parents, which has made the steps toward joining families much more pleasant than many of the in-law stories I hear. Interestingly, my grandparents knew each other before my parents ever met. My dad’s folks attended services at the church where my mom’s dad was a pastor. My parents met years later and were fortunate to have all four grandparents get along as friends. This is unusual (especially being in one of the Top Five most populous cities in the nation – it’s not like we’re “small town” folks!), so I was all the more surprised to discover that Seth’s grandparents have a similar story. He and I are already reaping the benefits of our generational inheritance of loving, stable, solid families who are friendly and make an effort to get along.

One day of our joint parental trip, we went for a walk in the park. Seth’s dad doesn’t say much (he’s basically nonverbal and has to be told what to do; then he follows orders fairly well), but during one stop we made in the park to observe the natural beauty, Seth’s father suddenly spoke.

“There are ants,” he said simply.

We all glanced at him, surprised he had spoken without prompting. He was pointing to my feet, so we all looked down, and sure enough, I was standing in an ant pile!

I jumped away and brushed off the angry little insects already swarming my shoes.

Later, my dad and I marveled at the fact that – with five out of the six of us fully lucid and coherent – Seth’s dad was the only one observant enough to notice that I was standing in an ant pile. How humbling. God truly does turn everything on its head, using the weak to humble the strong; using the things viewed as “less than” by the world to fulfill His purposes. Think of David and Goliath. Think of Gideon and his 300. Think of Jesus dying so that we may live.

It pleases God to do things this way – for our good and His glory.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. -1 Cor. 1:26-29

Authentically Aurora

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HOT Christians

country girlsI recently heard a sermon on HOT Christians. Seth’s home church was having its 40th anniversary, so we drove out to his hometown to visit and celebrate with them.

It was a half-day event, starting with an hour long dissertation on the history of the church, followed by a short break for socializing; then the hour long sermon, which was capped off with a potluck-style lunch.

When the pastor of forty years began his sermon, he stated that we all need to strive to be HOT Christians. I promptly leaned over to Seth and whispered with a smirk and a wink, “Well! Guess I’m good.” He sniggered.

The pastor continued, “To be a HOT Christian, we must first be Humble…”

“Ha!” Seth burst out. Elderly patrons turned and scowled as Seth and I silently shook from laughter. Every time we tried to stop, we’d glance at each other and start laughing again. We finally calmed down by the time the pastor finished talking about being Objective and moved on to being Teachable.

At a church boasting such a classic potluck luncheon (complete with potato salad and fruit jello), I should have known the sermon would be an acrostic.

Authentically “HOT” Aurora

Loving Humbling

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I’ve been working at the same company for the past 7.5625 years. To a Baby Boomer, that may only seem like a fleeting moment, but to most Millennials, that seems like a lifetime to spend at one company. I always thought I’d be like a Baby Boomer in that I planned to stay at the same company for 50 years and make my job a true career; to invest in one company and show fidelity and faithfulness and I worked my way up and invested my blood, sweat and tears to make my company a better employer and more profitable company.

But the company where I work has never wanted my blood, sweat and tears in the traditional sense. Only two of the eleven bosses I’ve had over 7.5625 years has wanted to truly see me invest in the company for both my betterment and the betterment of the company as a whole. For the most part, the people I work with – management in particular – want to see us bleed, but only because they draw blood. They want to see us sweat, but only out of fear and intimidation. And they want to see tears because that means their carefully crafted demotivational comments have hit their mark.

Because I work for one of the most widely recognized major oil companies in the world, they are able to hire the best and the brightest. This corporation hires class presidents, valedictorians, visionary students who have founded their own organizations, and PhD students making breakthroughs in the future of biofuels. But rather than channeling that raw intellect and stunning creativity, all of these initially highly motivated self-starters are shoved into The Machine where they are expected to be simply one cog in one wheel, with no insight into or influence over even the most minuscule of process improvements. Don’t think independently. Don’t disrupt The System.

Any genius is called ignorance if it doesn’t fit the mold of the Kool-aid pushing management. Any creativity is stifled when the innovative try to use the very skills for which they were hired. The majority of the most fun, hard-working, creative and brilliant of my colleagues have long since left the company, opting instead to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits or become consultants to companies who will pay them triple to actually listen to the input that was so scorned at my current place of employment.

I have been trying to leave this company for nearly 7 of the past 7.5625 years. I’ve applied to smaller OG companies. I’ve interviewed with Apple in Cupertino. I’ve gone to seminary to become a biblical counselor and taken graphic design courses with plans to start my own design studio. I’ve written music and even released an album on iTunes. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms and, most recently, earned my teaching certification. I am a self-starter who wants to passionately pour myself into my work if only I can find a career and employer who will respect me enough to give me room to deliver.

I’ve been close to leaving this corporation countless times, but nothing has ever panned out. I’ve had offers on the table that were unexpectedly revoked as the market tanked. I’ve had companies that wanted to hire me but were on a hiring freeze. I’ve been faced with hardened hearts, lack of favor and lots and lots of closed doors over the past 7 years. I’ve fought bitterness, anger, hopelessness, despair and doubt about whether God is really good and loving. And what I have come to conclude is that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it is the Lord’s good, gracious, loving will that prevails.

When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I was going to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an engineer. Ten years later, I was accepted to USMA but fell into deep depression when my high school sweetheart broke off our relationship just months before high school graduation. Physically weak and emotionally despondent, I gave up my offer of admission to someone on the wait list who would actually be able to make it through boot camp. I ended up at a state school and spent most of my freshman year bitter about how I’d let my wayward emotions rob me of a golden opportunity and lifelong dream. But God had a plan.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I said yes to marrying the man I loved. Mere months later, he had an emotional breakdown and called off the already-planned wedding. I faced not only his rejection but also the public humiliation of informing friends, family and coworkers that I was an undesirable woman no longer loved by the man who’d promised to love and protect me. But God had a plan.

Nearly eight years ago when I graduated from college and started work at my current employer, I was on a fast track for senior management. All of my performance reviews and feedback sessions – for a season – said that I had the makings of a Senior Executive at one of the largest corporations in the world. But a VP who’d championed me retired, and the capricious whimsy of our talent forum found another shining star to adore. I was turned over to a manager who despises and disrespects me constantly. But God has a plan.

If I’d gone to West Point, I would surely be a harder, more cynical woman than I am today. Simply to get through that military academy as a woman would have robbed me of much of my God-given softness and femininity. Going to a state school not only humbled me but also gave me experiences that taught me about how women are gifted to show the world about God’s kindness, gentleness and unconditional love in a way that is uniquely feminine.

If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have been joined to a man who could not and would not lead me spiritually. I would have been lonely in my marriage, yoked to a man whose affection was flighty and temperamental. Instead, I have been given the blessing of knowing what it is to love a man like Seth, whose pure heart and consistent, dependable servant leadership inspire me to become more the woman I’ve been created to be.

And if I’d stayed on the executive fast-track at this company, it would have been harder to leave. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who would have become a workaholic, sacrificing friendships and family time for career; choosing advancement over integrity. But all of the women I know in leadership at our company behave like men. They have lost their softness; their gentleness; their kindness. They are tough and gritty and entirely masculine in their communications and interactions. That is not the kind of woman I want to be, nor is it who I’ve been created to be.

Each circumstance has been brought with it a painful sense of rejection. Each circumstance has taught humility through humiliation. But each circumstance has been a profound blessing orchestrated by the loving hand of God, who is more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporal happiness. God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes those gifts look like punishment in the moment, but in time, we are able to look back and realize that our omniscient, omnipotent, unconditionally loving Father knew what he was doing all along.

Authentically Aurora

Perseverance: Tired of Waiting

Wait with PerseveranceSometimes when we finally figure out “what we want to be when we grow up”, we want to start that job immediately. Being disciplined through years of preparatory schooling or training can be frustrating. As soon as we know who we want to marry, we want to get married right away. The season of engagement is difficult. And sometimes when we figure out our calling or anointing from God, we want to start living out that calling NOW.

God, you’ve shown me what you want me to do with my life! I’m ready to jump in and start making an impact! I want to make a difference! You’ve already appointed me for these tasks that will enact positive change in the world; now set me free to make them happen!

But we can’t make things happen ahead of God’s schedule. No amount of maneuvering or manipulating situations will work if God hasn’t opened the door. Believe me, I know from experience! But when God wants something to happen – a career or a relationship or any number of other things – He will bring it around in His perfect timing.

During the Passion conference, Alisa spoke to the choir about how King David was anointed as Israel’s king when he was still a shepherd… and then he kept working as a shepherd for many years, even after being anointed for kingship. In fact, David was asked to minister to King Saul by playing music for him – King Saul, who sat on the throne David had already been anointed for! But God was allowing David to go through a time of preparation so that, once he ascended to the throne, he would be ready for all that was to come with the weight of that responsibility.

Think about your life’s dreams. If your dreams were handed to you today, would you be ready? So often, our calling becomes a craving, and we begin to despise our current circumstances. I know I do. But when our passion becomes greater than our purpose, we’re sunk. We are a generation that craves significance. But we are also a generation that despises the season of preparation.

The process of preparation most often occurs in a place of privacy. It purifies our hearts (i.e. building integrity when no one is watching), and it readies our hands for greater responsibility. Shepherd-to-be-King David drew his confidence against the giant Goliath from his experience of God’s past faithfulness in the sheep pasture where David protected his sheep from lions and bears.

Alisa reminded us that our calling remains consistent regardless of our context. David was a shepherd his whole life, first for sheep; then for the people of Israel. Even after David had been anointed as king, he did not despise the sheep fields. He remained faithful in the season he was in. We tend to measure our significance by the scale of our impact, but God measures it by our stewardship of what we’ve been given. If we are not faithful with the small responsibilities we’ve been given right now, why would God give us responsibility over greater things? We need to be faithful to live out our callings in our current context.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.31.12 PMChristine Caine came and spoke at the Passion conference, and she absolutely wrecked me. I’d never heard of her before this year, but she has quickly become one of my favorite speakers. As an orphan who was sexually abused the first several years of her life, Christine now serves as a public speaker who motivates her audiences to live as Victors rather than Victims. She challenged us that we all want to run to the spotlight, but, “If the light that is ON you is greater than the Light that is IN you, the light that is ON you will destroy you!”

God wants to build our character. If we don’t let him build our foundation before giving us our dreams, our weaknesses and insecurities will destroy us. Whatever God has given us as our sheep field to steward is the most important place of our refinement. All God asks of us in the sheep field is to be faithful.

We want to do spectacular things for God, but – if we’re honest – many of us don’t really want to serve God. We have tendencies of a selfish, narcissistic generation. We say we want to serve God, but only if it’s doing something great for the Kingdom. That is not the model of service. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many. He who wants to be first must become last and a servant to all. We are only ready to serve God spectacularly when we have a humble heart and are ready to serve in anonymity, choosing to find delight in the mundane while our character is refined.

God, please work in me to purify my heart. Equip me with patience. May I persevere and find delight even in the mundane. May I ready myself for the good works I know You have called me to walk in. I pray that I would trust You and stop maneuvering, believing You for good things. God, free me from the fear of living an insignificant life. If I live humbly for You, I know: My. Life. Will. Be. Significant!

Authentically Aurora