A New Chapter (Part 5)

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Today was my last day at the company where I’ve worked my entire career.

I thought I’d at least feel a little bit sad, sentimental or sappy, but… nope. None of that. I tried to be intentional about making mental pictures as I walked through the office hallways for the last time, but I am completely and utterly relieved, at peace and basically just excited for a new life chapter!

I haven’t been telling many of my coworkers where I’m headed next, mostly because of either their anticipated judgement or the actual judgement I have faced from the few people I’ve told. When they find out I’m planning on eventually going to teaching, most of my corporate colleagues think I’m either incompetent (“she couldn’t cut it in the business world”) or think I was unwise to resign without another job lined up (“girl, what were you thinking?!”). Those who know I’m going into teaching are generally incredulous at the huge pay cut I’ll be taking, but – to quote Zac Brown Band – “there’s no dollar sign on a peace of mind.”

After I sent out my farewell note to everyone, I got a flooding of emails back, most of which asked me what I’m doing next. After an eight-year career in procurement, I was amazed at the number of people who erroneously guessed that I’m going into a field related to art or music. For a woman who has spent her career working in oil & gas surrounded by engineers and business professionals, I evidently have quite a reputation for being “artsy”!

“I know you will be very successful on your new career. Are you sharing what the new career is? Church? Singing? Photography?”

“I hope you are pursuing something in art as I know how talented you are in that area and how much you love it!”

“I always admired your capacity and ability to manipulate data and pull out tremendous insights, apart from your arty talents of coarse!”

“You are one of the most talented writers I know.”

“I knew after listening to you sing in the acapella group that you’d start your own band someday. Are you headed off to China? Or headed back to school on in an art program?”

“Enjoy your path and keep in touch.  Let me know when you have a gig at a local club.”

“My friend is opening up a new craft beer bar…  Let me know if you are for hire.”

Last week, I met up with my friend and coworker Farah for one last lunch. She said everyone’s been asking her about me, namely to ask what I’ll be doing next and then to comment, “I’m surprised it took her this long. She’s always been so miserable here.”

It really hurt my feelings to hear that I was apparently so visibly miserable. I thought I did an okay job at least just shrugging and rolling my eyes at the corporate bureaucracy like everyone else. And I was hurt that people said it felt like it took me forever to find another job. I was looking for another job for years, and – in the moment Farah shared this with me – it made me feel like a perceived failure that I couldn’t land another job for so long. But I had to remind myself of God’s faithfulness and purpose in keeping me at this other company for so many years of searching for something else.

Fortunately, Farah stood up for me in those conversations, telling my would-be insulters, “You’re miserable here. We’re all miserable here. All the things Aurora has said and felt are all the things you complain about all the time. At least she’s doing something about it!   You say you’re surprised at how long it took her to leave, but you’re still here and just as miserable as she was!”

It was nice to hear Farah’s defense of me, and it was really nice to hear from all the people who felt inspired by me and told me so. Multiple people told me privately that they think what I’m doing is brave and courageous. They told me it was inspiring to see someone walk away from the golden handcuffs of our outrageous salaries, easy jobs and comfortable lifestyle to do something they’re actually passionate about.

A young employee who already has a side hustle told me in confidence, “You’re actually making me rethink staying here.” One of my first friends ever at this company – the girl who showed me around Brussels during my first week of training – said privately, “I’m so jealous of you.” And my sweet mentee, who I meet for coffee once a week, admitted quietly, “I wish I were that brave.” You can be, I told her. And maybe you will be, I said with a smile.

A few years ago, our company constructed some new buildings on a central campus in town. I was in charge of facilitating the office move for our department, and in the final stages of the migration, my friend Valerie and I went over the to the new campus to prayer walk. I know this agnostic-run, European company would have had a fit if they knew we were walking through the brand new buildings and praying over them, but Val and I – mavericks that we are – decided to be bold in praying for God to be glorified in those buildings and our workplace. At a company as international as this, you don’t have to go to the nations; the nations are brought to you.

And so in my last moments in that new building, I again looked out over the campus and prayed one more time that God’s name would be glorified there; that many diverse nations would be brought in to work here, and that every people, tribe, tongue and nation on this campus would come to know Him intimately and personally.

And then I turned from the window, rode the elevator down, and walked out of that building forever. My work here is complete.

Authentically 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

Sunshine Blogger Award

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Some of my favorite days are the cool, blustery days where the golden rays of sun shine down and warm your chilled hands and face even as you snuggle under a cozy, oversized sweatshirt. Serendipitously, I recently learned that there is a word for this phenomenon: apricity – the warmth of the sun on a cold day.

I like that word. Apricity. And it’s what I want to be to the world: the warmth of the sun on a cold day. The warmth of the Son on a proverbially cold day. That’s what Jesus came to be – light in the darkness; warmth to the cold. Neither dark nor cold actually exist; they are the absence of light and heat respectively, and Jesus came to freely give all He had to those who had none. Apricity – the warmth of the sun on a cold day. 

Little Sunshine over at Sunshine Ave recently nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award (an aptly-named award for a blog so named)!  Evidently…

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to “bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”.

…something I aim to do both on this blog and in everyday life! I am honored to have been nominated for this award and gladly accept! Thank you, Little Sunshine, for the nomination!

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Answer the questions from the person who has nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award
  4. Write the same amount of questions for the bloggers you have nominated
  5. Notify the bloggers you nominated

Rule #1? Check!

Rule #2? Here we go…

Little Sunshine posed the following 10 questions for me to answer:

  1. What is your biggest dream?
    • This question makes me think of Rapunzel in “Tangled”. rapunzel-dream
    • I’ve had a lot of dreams over the years, and I’ve been blessed to see most of them come true. I used to dream of somewhat superficial things – visiting all 7 continents, releasing an original album on iTunes – but now I consider those more of life goals. A dream is something precious and intimate, interwoven into your heart. And these days, my dream is more like a vision – to be a wife and mother, full of life and joy, radiating light into the world and growing more and more into the godly woman I’ve been uniquely created to be.
  2. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
    • As mentioned in #1, I’ve had a goal for a while of visiting all 7 continents. I’ve been to about 30 countries and 5 continents, all of them wonderful experiences, and a year ago, I would have definitely said that I most want to visit Australia and New Zealand. But Seth is an American through and through; a homebody of a patriot, and we are taking a trip to California later this month, which is about as foreign a trip as this cowboy wants to take. And after imagining exploring California with Seth, there’s no place I’d rather be.
  3. Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?introverting-coffee-book
    • Introvert. Definitely. This surprises most people when they first hear it – mostly because I’m a pretty social, outgoing introvert – but my perfect day involves curling up in a quiet little nook with a latte and good book… or finding a secluded park where I can walk and think and listen to music on my earbuds… or staying home to clean and organize my apartment… or sitting alone in the silence to work on my latest art project. Mmm. Perfection.
  4. Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?
    • Yep. When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I wanted to go to West Point and be an engineer. But what we want as sweet, innocent, idealistic 8-year-olds is not always aligned with reality, so although I am living the dream of having an engineering degree and working at a major oil company in Corporate America, I have discovered that the composite of the bureaucracy, politicking, process nazis and inauthenticity of my current workplace comprise something akin to my personal hell. Which is why I am changing careers to teaching… where I can spread my cynicism wisdom to the next generation.
  5. Do you usually follow your heart or your head?
    • My head. Sometimes going with your gut is a great option for quick decisions, but for any decision that allows for more than a few seconds to go with your first instinct, I have found that emotions are subject to the whim and fancy of the day and may not hold up longer-term. I prefer thinking through the logic of various options, examining my intentions, considering the ripple effect of whichever choice I make, and of course consulting God in prayer.
  6. What are you most thankful for? by-grace-through-faith
    • That while I was still a sinner, Christ did for me. Even though I am undeserving of being rescued from my sinfulness and total depravity, Jesus willingly took on the punishment I deserve (through his death and resurrection) so that I could be brought into a right relationship with God. Nothing compares with that – no family relationships, no dating relationships, no job or financial success… Without God’s love and mercy and grace, I would be like the walking dead.
  7. What’s on your bucket list this year?
    • Finishing my teaching certification. And maybe getting my CHL.
  8. What’s your favorite food ever?chocolate-is-a-girls-best-friend
    • Peanut butter. Or chocolate. Let’s go with chocolate covered almonds as a fair compromise. 😀
  9. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
    • “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40
  10. Which of the places you’ve traveled to inspired you the most, and why?
    • My favorite trip I’ve ever taken was to Germany at Christmastime with my family, but the place I’ve visited that most inspired me would have to be South Sudan, mostly because that trip helped to right my perspective on so many things in life. We are profoundly blessed.

Alright! Hopefully you all now feel like you know a bit more about me! Here are my nominees (I liked Little Sunshine’s questions, so answer these same questions if you choose to accept)!

  1. MyLittlePieceofQuiet
  2. Salvageable
  3. InsanityBytes
  4. MrsSpike
  5. BlissfulBritt
  6. SingleStrides
  7. INFJRamblings
  8. MySweetJesusBlog
  9. BeautyBeyondBones
  10. TheRoseQuartz
  11. Captainsspeech

Authentically “Sunshiny” Aurora

In Favor of Teaching

those-who-can-do-supercommittee-quoteThe blogosphere tends to be a very supportive place, but in the real world, I get a lot of confused looks or straight-up negativity when people find out that I’m looking into becoming a teacher.

Since I have an engineering degree and successful career therein, people cannot understand why I would leave a cushy, corporate job for the world of education. They have preconceived expectations of my career path based on my background and cannot fathom why I would voluntarily leave a comfortable job in favor of teaching.

Many people subscribe to the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”, and teachers tend to be compensated accordingly. But not all compensation is financial. And after seven years in corporate America, I submit to you that a more accurate idiom is: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, form a supercommittee.”

I am still volunteering to teach Sunday school a few times a month at my church, and I was recently asked to become an elementary school Team Leader, meaning I will not only continue teaching but also take on more of an administrative, leadership role coordinating the other volunteers. Although it can be stressful at times, teaching these sweet kids at church remains one of my highlights each week.

Last Sunday, we talked about the Creation account – how God created not only the earth but also plants and animals; man and woman. When Mia, one of my 2nd grade girls, heard this story (for possibly the first time), she looked down at her arms and stroked her tanned forearm with a tentative finger, whispering out loud in wonderment, “I’m made from clay?”

We talked more about the creation of Adam and Eve; then Mia asked me privately, “Miss Aurora, is Jesus God?” After hearing about God the Father creating the universe and everything in it, she was confused about the role of Jesus in relation to the Father. The Trinity is a difficult concept even for mature Christians, so I pointed to Mia’s water bottle in an effort to give her a practical, visual explanation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ozarka6ozMia and I removed the lid of her water bottle, exploring the three parts comprising the water bottle: the bottle itself, the cap and the water within the bottle. All three are separate, but they come together to create the water bottle, just as the Trinity is One God, Three Persons.

A few minutes after my explanation, the girls were working on a craft activity when another girl – Lillian – asked about Jesus. All on her own, Mia picked up her water bottle and explained the Trinity to Lillian just as I had explained it to her minutes earlier! My heart swelled within me to see little Mia teaching Lillian about God. I got to see the exponential effect of Matthew 28:19 lived out right in front of me over the course of mere minutes.

Near the end of our time together, Mia had another question for me. “Miss Aurora, is God invisible?”

I answered her, “Right now He is, but someday we’ll see Him.”

Mia pointed to the purple mat we were sitting on. “Is God sitting right here?” I explained Matthew 18:20 to her and suggested that we could pray and ask God to be with us.

I went on to share with Mia that sometimes – especially if I’m sad – I ask God to sit with me and hold my hand.

Mia’s big brown us looked up at me, and she blinked innocently. “Does He say yes?”

“Yes,” I told her with a hug and a smile. “He always says yes.”

Authentically Aurora

Becoming Our Caricatures

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You know that feeling where you really dislike someone, so everything they do – annoying or not – feels annoying to you? Or that person you really think is stupid, so with everything they do, you see it through that lens of anticipated stupidity?

It’s easy to create caricatures of people and then treat them accordingly. And so often when we do that – if we have enough influence over their lives and enough time passes – people eventually evolve or devolve into the caricatures we’ve created.

Have you ever heard the story of the Eight Cow Wife? It’s a poignant story about a woman who was deemed unattractive and undesirable until a man who loved her paid an extravagant dowry for her: eight cows – an unthinkable amount in their society. Knowing that she was so highly valued, the way she thought about herself began to change. She carried herself differently, behaved differently and eventually became externally as beautiful and lovely as she was perceived by the one who loved her. She was transformed from the inside out by the one who loved her; the way she saw herself changed because of the way he saw her. 

When I was a child, my parents gave me a lot of responsibility, believing that I would rise to the occasion. Being entrusted with responsibility developed me into a responsible young woman. My parents’ actions communicating their belief in my capacity and dependability made me believe I was such a woman, and it inspired me to behave accordingly.

But the opposite also holds true. Regardless of the perception – positive or negative – over time, it tends to become the reality.

I have been at the same job for 18 months. There is not much responsibility in my job. Basically when a software package or other IT service line is going “end of life”, I either issue a termination notice, negotiate an extension/upgrade or negotiate a migration to another solution. Every time this needs to be done, my job is simple: I get approvals from Finance, approvals from our Technical team, get approvals from the Board, and send all of those – plus the renegotiated agreement – to a guy named Kevin who processes the agreement for signatures and execution.

Not only do I have essentially no responsibility, but also my job requires no independent thought or creative thinking. Still further, my boss constantly beats me down and repeatedly communicates her belief in my utter incompetence. Just this morning on a team call, Kevin told our boss that he was still waiting on a Finance approval from me – that I was the bottleneck keeping one of our service updates from getting approved. I immediately jumped in, “No, Kevin, I sent you Finance approval on August 9th and then again on the 15th when you said you couldn’t find the first email. Check your inbox.”

Instead of hearing that Kevin was in the wrong, our boss automatically assumed I was the one at fault. After all, I am the completely incompetent one who is incapable of adding any value to the team (a paraphrasing of her words at my midyear review). She verbally lunged at me, “Aurora, Kevin is not the one who provides Finance approval. You are supposed to get approval from the Finance team and then send it to Kevin to process.”

“Yes, I know.” That is the job I have been doing – my only real responsibility – for the past 18 months. I was absolutely infuriated by her condescension. How could she think I didn’t know that?

“I got approval from both Sharon and Bob – ” (our finance focal points) ” – and sent those to Kevin twice already.”

“Oh,” was her response. No apology. No condescension or disapproval toward Kevin. All she said was, “Kevin, please process.” And then we moved on to the next topic.

I am trying so hard not to become the caricature my boss has created of me, but it’s hard to stay intrinsically motivated. I find myself coming in late, leaving early, and no longer even bothering to try to excel at my work. The status quo has become enough for me because: why bother? I will never change her view of me.

I’ve never been a status quo girl. I have always been a high achiever – Straight A student, President of my Girl Scout Troop and Captain of my Soccer Team. In college I was repeatedly on the Dean’s List in engineering and, on the side, got my EMT certification just for fun. Post college I took my songwriting to the next level by releasing an original album on iTunes. These days, I keep a full schedule teaching Sunday School, arranging music for my a Capella group, babysitting foster kids and volunteering at a weekend farmers’ market that fights human trafficking.

I want to keep my passion alive. I want to keep striving to be impactful, make a difference, and be a self-motivated achiever. I have packed a lot of living into my twenty-nine years, and I like that I have been historically ambitious. I don’t want that to stop just because I feel trapped in an unfulfilling, demotivating job where my boss does not believe me capable of adding any value. But it gets harder every day not to succumb to becoming the caricature she has created of me. Why bother? Nothing seems to be changing, no matter how much I pray or how hard I try. 

Authentically Aurora

ACAscuse me?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.02.54 PMI called my mom crying after work on Tuesday. It had been a hard day, and my insecurities were running high.

“Hard day” is of course relative, and I tried to pep talk myself that I really am blessed; I have a good life, and my day wasn’t that bad, all things considered. Then I beat myself up for not being more grateful, which of course made me feel all the worse about myself. I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling awful about my life circumstances and then feeling guilty for feeling awful.

Head in HandsThe basic gist of my hurt and frustration was that I didn’t feel valued in any arena of my life. I have felt unappreciated at work for years, so that is something I have come to expect. But Seth said some things this week that made me feel unvalued by him, and that was a new and unexpected sting of hurt. I volunteer with a lot of organizations outside of work to ensure that I am adding some semblance of value to society (since that’s nearly impossible to do at my workplace), but lately – in addition to my occupational and relational hurts – I recently started feeling disrespected and manipulated by some of the officers in my a cappella group.

AuditionsI constantly go above and beyond expectations for this group, arranging music, quietly paying cover charges for open mic nights, finding and booking videographers for performances, creating T-shirts and banners and flyers… I do so much that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Not only that, but my voice has been picked on lately – something that had always been a source of confidence for me. Singing is something that I do for fun – because it normally brings me joy! – but instead I found myself feeling more beaten up than ever.

So when I called my mom on Tuesday after work, crying about how I felt unvalued in all these areas of my life – at work, by Seth, and by my vocal group – she reminded me that she and my dad love me and hold me in high esteem. “You have to say that,” I sniffed through my tears. “You’re my mom.”

She patiently reminded me that God loves me and values me, and then she told me that she would be praying God would give me a little reminder that very week – a reminder that God is on my side and that I am valued by Him and by the people around me, even if they don’t express it all the time.

That night, I went to choir rehearsal and was shocked to get the solo for our Adele mashup. I was feeling so beaten down that I almost didn’t audition, but of the four auditionees, our group voted for me and affirmed my singing ability – something God knew I needed this week.

This morning, I got an unexpected voicemail from Seth that said simply: “Hey, have I told you yet today that I like you a lot? Well I do. And I just wanted to call and tell you that.” I put down the phone in bewilderment, feeling surprised and pleased.

I was amazed at how quickly God answered my mom’s prayers for encouragement in my life. God is such a good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to His children! Things don’t always go as we hope or expect (or even understand), but in the times where God is so obviously lavish in His blessings, I want to take notice and remember that faithfulness for those seasons where He does not seem present. God knew I was at the end of my rope and needed a lifeline to keep me trudging through this week. And He delivered!

Now I’m just waiting on some sort of affirmation from my workplace… But I’m not holding my breath.

Authentically Aurora

Enemies –> Friends

Sweet Blonde GirlSometimes I joke that friends are just enemies I haven’t alienated yet, but most often, the sliding scale of friendship runs the other direction for me: people I may initially dislike grow on me as I get to know them better; as I learn their story and get to know their hearts.

A couple of years ago when I first joined the church I’m at now, I started looking for a midweek bible study to get involved in. I emailed the leaders of a few groups in my area, and I ended up hitting it off with one guy in particular – Donny.

I’d never met Donny in person, but even over email, our chemistry was obvious. I could see from his gmail photo that he was an attractive man, and we also quickly discovered that we shared ties to the United States Military Academy.

“Hi Donny – I am interested in joining your group, as the time and location are a good fit for me.  Is there any additional information you need? What are our next steps? Thanks, Aurora”

“Hi Aurora – Generally we subject all potential new joins to an in depth personality screen, followed by a battery of intelligence and psychological assessments. If those come back satisfactory then we conduct the physical fitness test and group interviews. Just kidding, of course! There is nothing more for you to do other than show up. We would absolutely love to have you! – Donny”

“Hi Donny – I’m an INTJ with a 16:00 two mile time who graduated magna cum laude. Let me know by when you need my congressional nomination. 🙂 Thanks for making me smile. I can already tell we’re going to get along great. Looking forward to meeting you!”

“We’ll need a letter signed by a Senator, actually. And your vertical is?”

The emails continued all week long, increasing in their ridiculousness, so I was shocked when I showed up to bible study and was introduced to Donny’s wife. Naturally, I immediately disliked her. Cristin was beautiful and petite, with intelligent eyes and long, curly blonde hair. I estimated that she was in her mid thirties, and her face was just starting to show the worry lines that came from being the mother of their four children.

Just the frustration of being around lovely, wifely, maternal Cristin would have been enough to deter me from joining their group, but in addition, it ended up being a bible study of 15 married couples (plus me in all my singleness), so I didn’t visit their group again. But our church is a close-knit community, so my path continued to cross with Donny and – more often – Cristin.

Over the past two years, their children have grown old enough to be in the kids’ ministry where I volunteer at church, so I now have the blessing of getting to teach and play with their two beautiful blonde daughters a couple of Sundays each month. And those two sweethearts are some of my absolute favorite girls to teach.

Ally and Avery are kind and thoughtful, intelligent and attentive. They are obedient and respectful, as well as snuggly and affectionate. I have fallen in love with Donny and Cristin’s children, and over the years, I have gotten to know Cristin more and more from passing one another in the hallway, chatting when she comes to pick up the girls, or volunteering at one church event or another. She shared godly wisdom with me over brunch one morning last summer when I was struggling with dating relationships, and in the past few months, she has shared with me about her own struggle with an eating disorder and how it has been affecting her marriage to Donny.

Getting to know Cristin – her heart, her life, her struggles, her children – has changed the way I see her. I care for Cristin, and I care for Donny, too, but now I see him exclusively as Cristin’s husband and my brother in Christ.

Just two days ago, little Avery crawled into my lap to snuggle with me while we talked about the Feast of Trumpets, and as I stroked her soft blonde hair held back by a glittery silver headband, my heart felt full. I kissed the top of her head and felt like a part of their family. In a way, I am. Raising godly children is a community effort. I offered this week to start babysitting for the girls, and my eyes flooded with happy tears as they jumped up and down with excitement, running to wrap their arms around me in enthusiastic hugs.

Two years ago, I never would have dreamed how our relationship would change – my relationship to Donny and, more significantly, my relationship to Cristin. Humanizing people – taking time to get to know them – has a way of peeling back the layers, mitigating assumptions and enabling us to really see people through the eyes of Christ. What Satan intended for evil, God has once again used for good. He truly is the Redeemer of all things.

Authentically Aurora