Stones from a Gem

Kendra_Scott_Gwendolyn

Have you ever started a new relationship just weeks before Christmas? How do you know what to get for a new S.O.’s birthday? At what point are gifts not only appreciated but expected? Will gifts put too much pressure on a budding relationship if they are given too soon?

These are some of the questions I mulled over in the weeks leading up to my April business trip to Europe. Seth would be celebrating his 29th birthday while I was abroad, and I wanted to do something to let him know I was thinking of him, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm him or make him uncomfortable.

We’d only been dating for a few weeks, and we weren’t even necessarily dating exclusively. We’d been on one date, and he’d only held my hand once. But at my core, I am a giver, and it brings me joy to make other people feel special. Besides, in my family growing up, birthdays were a time of celebration, so I didn’t feel like I could let Seth’s birthday go by unacknowledged.

I wanted to be myself with Seth, and that meant doing something to honor his birthday, so – knowing that one of his favorite hobbies is carpentry – I bought him some crushed turquoise. Seth works largely with mesquite wood, and he had mentioned wanting to start using crushed turquoise to fill in the cracks in his woodworking pieces. I’d hoped it was a small enough gift (under $20) not to freak him out but thoughtful enough to make him feel appreciated.

I planned to give it to him on the day I left for my trip, so the morning of my flight, Seth and I met at church as agreed. After the service, we caravanned back to my apartment, and upon retrieval of my suitcase from my bedroom, I handed Seth the birthday card I’d made along with a drawstring bag filled with the turquoise I’d purchased for him.

“Happy Birthday,” I told him shyly when he looked up at me with a puzzled expression.

Kendra_Scott_Bag“I know you’re not big into celebrating birthdays,” I busied myself with tying my shoelaces, “But I couldn’t just not do anything for your birthday,” I rambled. “Oh, and I didn’t have any gift bags, so I just put your present in a Kendra Scott bag. But don’t worry,” I laughed, wondering what he must be thinking at the sight of the trendy jeweler’s bag, “I didn’t get you Kendra Scott earrings!”

Seth chucked, but I could tell there was something he wasn’t saying. Was it too much that I’d gotten him a gift? He hadn’t even opened it yet. Did he think it was lame I’d reused one of my Kendra Scott jewelry bags?

As I worried over his nonverbal reaction, Seth untied the drawstring bag and pulled out the crushed turquoise, along with the CA glue I’d partnered with it for his next carpentry project. His expression was unreadable at first; then he gazed at me with a soft look of wonder and appreciation. He looked genuinely touched. And surprised. And surprised at how touched he felt.

I watched various expressions flicker across his face and decided I’d done well. Seth stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug; then looked down at the bag of turquoise again. And then he hugged me a second time, whispering into my hair, “Thank you. That was really sweet.”

He helped carry my luggage to his truck and loaded it into the backseat. He opened the passenger door for me, as always, before walking around to his driver door and climbing in. Seth started the engine, but before he shifted into drive, he reached behind his driver’s seat and pulled out a Kendra Scott bag, handing it to me.

“What is this?” I asked, thinking at first that he was handing me the very same bag I’d given him for his early birthday present. But, glancing up into his face, I realized in an instant that this was a completely different bag. Mind racing, I realized with shock that before he found out I was going to give him a present today, Seth had already prepared this gift for me.

“It’s kind of a belated birthday present. Coupled with a going away present.” My birthday had been a month earlier, when Seth and I were just getting to know one another. I hadn’t expected him to get me anything then, and I certainly hadn’t expected him to get anything for me now!

“Can I open it?” I asked. I felt like a little girl, overwhelmed with wonder and excitement and a sense of feeling very, very special.

“Yeah, open it.” Seth’s expression was unreadable again. Did he look… nervous?

I pushed back the teal wrapping paper, pulled out the familiar bright yellow box, opened the teal drawstring bag and found a pair of Danielle earrings in purple – my favorite color. He bought me Kendra Scott earrings. 

I never would have expected such an extravagant gift, and I was unprepared for the way his kindness and generosity affected me. I’d known he was thoughtful. I’d known he was a gentleman. But to be the recipient of not only his selfless service of driving me to the airport but also this tangible token of his affection welled up in me an emotion that nearly moved me to tears. I felt cared for.

It had been so long since someone took care of me that I’d nearly forgotten what it felt like to be romanced; to be and protected; to be lovingly served. And I had a sense that Seth experienced a similar emotion when he opened his gift.

Not only did Seth and I unknowingly both get one another semi-precious stones in a Kendra Scott bag that day, we also both began to give one another the gifts of mutual care, respect, service and trust. Very rarely in life do two givers come together, but when they do, I am finding that it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Authentically Aurora

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Somebunny Uneggspected

Nature Walk

Dunking my hard-boiled egg in the pink-hued vinegar, I smiled across the kitchen at my sister-in-law’s concentration, her brow furrowed as she pressed a crayon to the shell of her Easter egg in a decorative floral pattern. Meanwhile, my brother – her husband – was scoring points by inscribing their initials and a heart on his own egg. I trained him well.

I spent Easter weekend with my family, winning our traditional family Easter egg hunt (per the usual) and attending church together before driving over to my grandmother’s house to see our extended family. Lily and Wren were there, adorable in their Easter dresses, and my dad prayed a blessing over our meal before we passed the home cooked dishes around my grandmother’s dining table.

By four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, I hugged everyone goodbye and headed to my car, planning to have some quiet time at home to recharge before the work week. But my phone rang, and I was pleased to see Seth’s face illuminating the screen. He’d left for his family’s ranch several days prior, taking off two weeks’ vacation to work the land, fertilizing the soil and turning bulls into steers.

When I answered the phone, Seth wished me a Happy Easter and surprised me by saying that he was headed south on the highway back toward the city. “You’re coming back into town early?”

“Just for the day,” he told me. “Some stuff came up at my parents’ house that I need to help out with tonight. I was wondering if you’d like to get together this afternoon before I head over to their place.” I’d been bummed about the prospect of not seeing Seth for two full weeks, so I jumped at the chance for us to spend some time together.

Seth came straight to my apartment on his way into town, parking his pickup truck outside of my complex while I hurriedly changed out of my Easter dress and into athletic shorts and a breezy tank top. We’d agreed to go for a walk in a nearby park and enjoy the beautiful, sunshiny day.

Once at the park, we opted for the hilly, tree-lined mountain biking trail rather than the flat, gravel-paved walking path encircling the park. But as we neared the trailhead, a wooden sign warned us that the trail was temporarily closed. Seth shrugged and kept walking right past the sign. He reminded me of my father. 

“Is it okay for us to walk back here? Is this considered trespassing?” I asked cautiously.

Seth quirked his eyebrow. “They don’t really mean it.” Okay, he and my dad are definitely cut from the same cloth. 

We walked in the shade of the trees for quite some time, telling stories about our families (“we finally got that mad cow in the trailer”) and sharing our political opinions (“whatever you tax, you’ll get less of; whatever you subsidize, you’ll get more of”). We passed one couple and then another; some walking dogs and others journeying alone. I was glad to find we were in the company of other rule breakers.

Just after waving and passing a young couple walking a golden retriever, Seth and I both stopped cold at the same instant. I let out a small gasp, and Seth threw his right arm in front of me, pushing me behind him. A four foot snake was coiled on the path only a few feet ahead of us. In horror, I watched its head sway side to side as Seth told me in a calm voice, “It’s okay. It’s not a poisonous one.” Just then, the snake slithered off the path into the tall grass to our left.

“How do you know?” I asked in concern, glancing behind us as Seth hurried me along the trail. He described the shape of its head and its coloring, contrasting it to the three known poisonous snakes in the area. I looked up at him in silent admiration. He’d handled himself well. Heck, I’d handled myself well, not screaming or jumping into his arms in momentary panic! 

I felt protected by Seth, poisonous snake or not. I feel safe with him, I reflected. Over the course of the month, he’d proven himself trustworthy and level-headed; kind, calm, light-hearted and playful. Seth nudged me with his elbow a couple of times during the rest of our walk, teasing me and seeming to want a little physical contact without yet being ready to reach over and take my hand.

As we exited the mountain biking trail, I spotted a cop car parked in the lot where the trail ended. I could see a police officer inside the car, head down as though reading something. “Oh, no,” I said quietly to Seth. “Are you going to get me in trouble?! You’re such a bad influence,” I teased, grinning up at him.

I’m a bad influence?” he quirked one eyebrow in mock indigence. “As I recall, you’re the one who coerced me into walking this biking trail, ignoring the very clearly labeled sign.” I rolled my eyes as Seth continued, “And anyway, don’t you have a history of rule breaking?” He has a point. I am a bit of a rebel.

We waltzed past the cop without issue, still verbally jousting, and began the walk back to Seth’s truck. On the way there, walking along the road, Seth suddenly interrupted himself mid-sentence, “Hey, I think I know that guy.”

I followed his gaze, looking to my left just as a black Jeep sped past us. Its driver was Joe – socially awkward, kumquat eating Joe.

“He looks really familiar to me,” Seth was going on. The sweet rancher didn’t recognize him, but when the Jeep passed a second time – Joe had circled around and locked eyes with me on his second pass; this was intentional – I touched Seth’s arm and raised my eyebrows. “It’s Joe. Remember? From bible study?”

Seth’s eyes widened in recognition. “Oh my gosh! It’s Joe!” And then realization dawned. “He’s stalking us.” He started chuckling. “And here he comes again!”

Sure enough, Joe drove by a third time, circling us like a vulture, staring us down and obviously feeling hurt and jealous. “He looks really mad,” Seth commented. I just silently nodded. This is my life. Why is this my life? I live in a city of literally millions of people. How in the world do run-ins like this always seem to happen?!

Seth and I finally made it to his truck, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What must he be thinking? “You know he’s not competition, right?” I asked Seth as I buckled my seat belt. I didn’t want to overstep – I wanted to let him lead – but I also felt like I needed to reassure him after first the kumquat fiasco and now this!

“I dunno,” Seth commented in a half-teasing tone, “He seems pretty zealous in his pursuit of you.”

I smiled and then sobered. “Look, maybe this is out of line, but… I like you. I’m interested. And I’m excited to see where this might go when you get back from the ranch.”

Seth’s expression was indiscernible. He was driving by this time, so all I could see was his profile. “You’re right. That is a bit out of line. I mean, I’m interested, too, but I was going to wait until April to have that conversation.” He glanced at me, and I felt my face flush – whether from embarrassment or pleasure, I wasn’t sure. Probably a combination of both.

I was glad to know the feeling was mutual, but I wanted to kick myself for speaking out of turn. Flustered, I tried to change the subject, commenting on the music playing in the truck. I asked Seth if he played any instruments. His response? “Nope, I’m not musically talented at all. But maybe Joe is.”

I stared at him, mouth agape. A comment like that was completely out of character for Seth. Our perpetual run-ins with Joe must have gotten to him more than he let on. And Joe actually is very musically gifted – he sings and plays guitar, occasionally leading worship – but of course I wasn’t going to tell Seth that.

Almost as soon as he had made the snarky comment, Seth apologized. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate. Forget I said anything.”

We picked up some tacos and red velvet cake – my favorite, though an odd combination – and Seth dropped me back off at my apartment. Although we hit a rough patch in the middle of our afternoon together, we ended on a high note. I appreciated that Seth was quick to apologize – a none-too-common sign of humility and maturity. And, in the end, we were back to laughing together. Seth always makes me laugh, and I do so dearly love to laugh.

Seth hugged me goodbye before he left again for the ranch, commenting in closing that he believes “it’s the man’s job to stick his neck out there. That way the girl can better guard her heart. Let me lead. Trust me to lead.”

I will. Just don’t make me wait too long.

Authentically Aurora

Three Men & Their Friends

Coffee Shop illustration

I spend entirely too much money on coffee. A year ago, I spent an average of $20/month on coffee. These days, it’s four times that amount. I know this because, in addition to being a voracious coffee drinker, I am also a nerd who maintains a monthly personal expense report.

I am not so basic as to spend all my coffee budget on Starbucks every month. It’s true that many a business meeting takes place over a cup of Starbucks coffee, but as much as I can, I like to get my lattes from Black Gold Coffee, a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop with a hipster vibe.

Black Gold is nestled between a couple of boutiques on a tree-lined historic avenue in a run-down part of town in the process of being gentrified. The artwork on the walls of the coffee shop is always changing as local artists take their turns displaying their latest masterpieces for sale.

About a month ago, after placing my order with a Black Gold barista, I perched on a bar stool while waiting for my iced latte. An attractive brunette gentleman sat a couple of seats down, clicking away on his laptop where I could see that he was editing photos. “Are you a Canon or Nikon man?” I asked him, striking up a conversation. Daniel, as he introduced himself, is a Canon photographer as well as an aspiring writer.

Daniel and I spoke for a few minutes while I waited for my coffee. When it arrived in all its caffeinated goodness, I started to bid Daniel adieu, but he stopped me and asked if he could take me on a date sometime. Surprised that this soft-spoken poetic man would also be so courageous, I smiled and thanked him but explained that I am fasting from dating for a while. I left and thought nothing more of the conversation.

A few days later found me back at Black Gold, this time sipping a hot milk-and-honey latte while reading a book. When the sound of laughter permeated my internal movie scene as I lived my book along with its characters, I glanced up from the worn pages to see a Boromir look-alike standing a few tables away. I went back to my book, but as I got up to leave a while later, I stopped by Boromir’s table and asked, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like -”

“Sean Bean,” he finished the sentence for me, naming the actor who played the red-headed friend of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings movies.

“Oh. I guess so,” I laughed, embarrassed. But the doppelganger struck up a friendly conversation with me, and I found out that he was yet another photographer. Boromir (real name Simon) was working on his macro photography, and he invited me to join him shooting butterflies at a local arboretum later that week. I’d been wanting to work on my own macro game, so I enthusiastically agreed.

Simon and I had a great time shooting butterflies that weekend, but it was soon evident that he was romantically interested in me, so when we went out for dinner after the photo shoot, I figured it was time for me to set him straight on my intentions. I let Simon pick the restaurant, and to my relief, he picked a casual burger joint.

Simon and I were laughing when we walked into the mom-and-pop restaurant, but I stopped mid-giggle when I looked up to see Daniel standing behind the cash register. How must this look to Daniel? Just a week ago, I turned down his offer of a date, telling him that I’m not dating right now. And here I am, walking into a restaurant – a restaurant he apparently works at! – laughing with another man. This totally looks like a date. He’s going to think I lied. He’s going to think I made up some excuse. I need to find a way to explain myself!

Simon saw my reaction and asked, “Oh, you know Daniel?”

My eyes widened. “YOU know Daniel?!”

Simon nodded, misreading my expression. “Yeah, we’re really good friends. That’s why I picked this place. I eat here all the time. Daniel and I go shooting together sometimes; then sit and edit our photos together at Black Gold.”

Of course they do. This is my life after all. Two photographers who I met at the same coffee shop? Of course they’re friends. And of course they both asked me out. And of course I managed to get myself into a sticky situation. Why would I expect any different from my life? I am Madame Rom-Com!

Fortunately, I have lots of experience explaining myself and disentangling myself from the ridiculous messes I seem to unintentionally create. So I told Simon I wasn’t interested, that I was fasting from dating, that Daniel had asked me out, and that Daniel was probably misinterpreting our hamburger hangout. Simon was understanding, agreed to set Daniel straight on what was happening, and we’ve all actually managed to stay friends and gone shooting again since then. Victory.

About a week after the photography almost-fiasco, I caught Ashley up on my non-love life. She goes to Black Gold even more often than I do, so she knows all the baristas and frequent patrons. When she heard about Simon, she asked, “Is he the one who sits in the back corner most mornings?”

“No… he’s usually there in the evening.” I showed her a photo of Simon, and she laughed.

“He looks just like the early morning barista!” Ashley and I can be creepy together, embracing the Facebook-stalking culture of our generation, so she pulled up a picture of another man who looked remarkably like Simon, which is weird since Simon is a long-haired red-headed man in a fairly conservative city.

“It’s Boromir #2!!!” we cried together, erupting into laughter.

Ironically (or predictably, since it is my life, after all), Simon sent me a text the very next day asking what I thought of Donny. “Donny? Who is Donny?” I texted back.

Simon sent me a photo of Boromir #2 sitting with his hands wrapped around a latte. Of course. Of course Boromir #1 (Simon) knows Boromir #2 (Donny).

“I don’t know,” I typed back. “I’ve never had a real conversation with him.”

“He says he tried to ask you out one time,” Simon wrote back.

“What?!”

“Yeah, he saw me with you the other day at Black Gold and asked if we were dating. He said one time when you were ordering a drink, he tried to ask you out.”

“Well he must have been very subtle, because I have no recollection of any attempt on his part to ask me out.”

Sweet, poetic Daniel must have gotten all the boldness in this group of friends. He stated his intentions of asking me on a date within five minutes of meeting me. Simon tried a sneak-a-date, and Donny was so shy and subtle that I completely missed his come-on.

I know it’s bad form to date best friends, but what about unintentionally non-dating three guys who you didn’t know were friends?!

Welcome to my life.

Authentically Aurora

Roy? Gee Whiz

Colorful camp counselors.png

The Camp Counselor type: Everybody knows at least one. Loud, colorful, extroverted, crazy, zany, loud, talkative, attention-seeking, loud, animated, effervescent… and did I mention loud?

When I met Roy at church last fall, he’d been out of college for six months but was still unemployed. He spent a lot of time volunteering at various sports camps, which suited him perfectly, since he is one of the aforementioned camp counselor types. A Sports Management major with dreams of being a basketball coach, Roy stands just a couple of inches taller than me at 5’5″.

Roy is actually a very attractive kid – I think of him as a miniature Abercrombie model – but I can’t help but think of him as just that: a kid. The small child, Ashley calls him. So when he expressed interest in dating me, sweet as he is, I just couldn’t get past his age (23), his height (5’5″), his work experience (0 years) and his employment status (unemployed).

Don’t get me wrong; Roy is a very kind-hearted guy, and kindness goes a long way. In fact, my late grandfather told me that what drew him to my grandmother (“well, besides the fact that she had great legs!” he interjected) was her kindness. And my grandmother said the same about my grandfather (about his kindness, not his legs). I know that kindness is important, and I want to end up with a kind-hearted man. But I don’t particularly want to end up with a kind-hearted man-child.

When Roy initially asked me out back in November, I told him I thought he was a sweet, godly man, but I just felt we were in different life stages. Camp counselors are nothing if not persistent though, so he asked again in January. Now he has a job at the YMCA. But I was able to legitimately tell him that, despite his new employment status (employed! woo!), I am still not dating for a while (possibly a year, reevaluating at the end of each quarter, depending on how attractive my perspective dating pool is what God tells me about the state of my heart).

The puppy was not deterred. “So we just have ten and a half months to go,” he told me sincerely, taking me by the hand in the parking lot outside where we’d both been attending a party.

“Roy…” I said in exasperation, pulling my hand away. “Please don’t wait for me. I think you have a lot of great qualities – you’re a sweet, attractive, godly man – but you really should be dating other girls. I am not dating anyone right now, and as much as I admire you, I should not be a love interest of yours.”

Roy refused to try dating other people, insisting that there was something special between us. “Every time I’ve tried going out with another girl, I always end up comparing her to you, and she just doesn’t measure up. You are the standard.” Oh boy.

Just three weeks ago, we had to have the conversation again. Roy really is a sweetheart, and I enjoy his company, plus we’re in the same bible study at church, so I perhaps had been too gentle with him. Besides, my mom was really rooting for him. The little boy, she called him. The small child, Ashley called him. Roy vey, I thought to myself.

My mom liked that he was kind. I liked that he was kind. I knew though, deep down, that Roy and I weren’t a fit. And I needed to make sure he knew that. I didn’t want to hurt him, but after months of apparent lack of clarity on his part as to our status, I decided the time had come to be more direct.

Roy had walked me to my car, given me a hug and kissed my forehead (which required him to take my face in his hands and tilt my chin down). I sighed. I’d really thought I had been clear that we were just friends. Obviously we needed to have yet another DTR (can I just say? “not dating” 23-year-olds is exhausting).

“Roy, do you know why I’m not dating this year?” He nodded, but I continued anyway. “A big part of it is that I want to reinstate God as my First Love. I have allowed men to become idols in my life – a crutch of sorts – that keep me from going to God for comfort, encouragement and guidance. My sense of self worth tends to be tied up in men’s attraction to and opinion of me.”

Roy nodded again, big brown puppy eyes unaware that they were about to have their light dimmed. “I know we’ve said that we’re not dating, but whatever this is? This walking me to my car, texting me all the time, kissing me on the forehead? This pseudo-friendship-dating is a crutch that is completely undoing the purpose for which I set out not to date. You are a crutch. And I need this to stop.”

Suffice it to say that Roy got the message.

There’s a new girl at church, Jess, who I saw sitting alone and who I welcomed into our group about a month ago. Curly black hair, loves sunflowers, hates gluten. Sweet girl. I invited her to join our community group, which she did – so successfully, in fact, that last Saturday, she posted a Facebook photo of her and Roy cheek-to-cheek with the caption: “Successful first date!!! ❤ ” Umm, what?

I was confused. Just two weeks earlier, Roy had been fawning all over me, telling me that no other girls could compare to me. Two weeks was all it took for the puppy dog to pull his tail from between his legs and start wooing some other girl? Two weeks and he’s already posting photos with Jess to social media? I’m the one who invited her into our group! I’m the one who basically introduced them! And who posts first date photos anyway? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?

Last Sunday they sat together holding hands with their fingers interlaced, and at lunch after church, Jess – apparently oblivious to the history between Roy and myself – plopped down right next to me so that she could gush to me about how amazing Roy is and then tell me all about their plans for their romantic second date.

As Jess giggled and showed me their selfies together, I ordered an alcoholic beverage. It shouldn’t bother me. It shouldn’t. I know this. I could have had him if I wanted him. In fact, I encouraged him to date other girls. And I legitimately think they could be a good match. I am happy for them. She’s a sweet girl, and he’s a sweet guy. They just seem like they’re both rushing into this like they have something to prove.

In the past week, Roy must have let Jess in on the fact that he pursued me for a while, because this Sunday when I walked into the sanctuary, I caught Roy putting his arm protectively around Jess and giving her a comforting hug as I walked by. Really? Am I that girl now? Hours later, they made their relationship “FBO” as Jess tagged it in their latest selfie – Facebook Official, “and I couldn’t be happier!!! ❤ ” Well go poop a rainbow, why don’t ya?

I really hope – for both their sakes – that she is not a rebound. And I really hope I can still be welcoming to her and kind to him. They are my brother and sister in Christ, and I want them to be happy. They are just moving really fast. And it’s hard to watch people move on from you. I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that all too often, even if we don’t want someone, we all still want to be wanted.

Authentically Aurora

Moments – Part I

What do you believe about coincidences? Are they truly spontaneous ironies of chance, or are they farther reaching, pre-ordained orchestrations meant to rekindle our childlike sense of awe? Can we cluster all coincidences into one category, or are some the former and some the latter? Still further, does what one believes about coincidences alter their weight or significance? 

After our high energy, laughter-filled concert last weekend, my Pentatonix-like a cappella group took a break from rehearsal this week for some well-earned time to relax and enjoy one another. I hosted dinner at my place, and after everyone’s stomachs were full of homemade beef stroganoff, we broke out Disney’s version of Apples to Apples.

It was fun getting to know everyone’s personalities that evening. We typically spend a few hours a week singing together, but – as much as I enjoy this group – most of the members remain more acquaintances than friends, simply by nature of the fact that most of the times our mouths are open, it is in song rather than in conversation.

We had a large enough group playing Apples to Apples that, before long, we ran out of cards. Everyone was able to draw a new red apple card except for Michael and me. Michael is our group’s director, arranger, encourager and unofficial president, though he is younger (four years my junior). He is studying to become a pediatrician and, over recent weeks, has become a dear friend.

When Michael and I realized there was only one card left to draw between the two of us, I joked that we could share it. One of our altos was already the clear winner of the game, and Michael and I were seated next to each other. When I flipped over the card we were going to share, I was astonished to see this:

FullSizeRender-3

With 270 red apple cards, there was a 0.4% chance the card Michael and I would share would be Lady and the Tramp sharing a spaghetti noodle (leading to an unexpected kiss)! I looked over at Michael with raised eyebrows. “Well that’s ironic,” I said with a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. “Yes, because they are sharing spaghetti,” he replied casually with a slight smile of his own before returning to the game.

I struggle to get a read on him. I know Michael is perceptive enough not to have missed the gradually growing chemistry between us, so I was unsure if his lackluster response was due to a decided indifference to me or – more likely – due to our audience.

Michael is a gentleman with quiet confidence. He leads our group not with a loud voice or big personality, but with an authority afforded him by the unreserved respect everyone has for him. Michael is thoughtful, sweet and, if my guess is right, painfully shy when it comes to romance. So I’ll just keep waiting in this season of singleness, enjoying the friendship of a man I have come to respect, not only for his musical giftings and intellect, but – more significantly – for his character.

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part II

GoodbyeMy ex-fiance and I kept running into each other all day long – at the crawfish boil, the volleyball courts, in the cafeteria… It was like something out of an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel where all of the characters are trapped in a secluded set, snowed in at a log cabin or marooned on a private island.

My ex and I would inevitably pretend to ignore one another, avoiding eye contact but all the while keenly aware of the other’s presence. It was awful. Just when I reached another valley of desperation, mind spiraling to dark places, I spotted a familiar face: Patricia. Flynn’s ex-girlfriend. Oh, the irony. 

Patricia and I smiled and waved at each other across the meadow and walked toward one another. Still smiling, aware that my ex was watching me, I said to Patricia, “Will you walk and pray with me? I’m having kind of a rough day.”

“Of course!” She looked surprised at my vulnerability but genuinely happy to be there for me. We walked and talked; then found a bench in the warm sun. I told her about my ex; she told me about the pain of watching Flynn with his new girlfriend. We encouraged one another, laughed together, cried together, and prayed over one another, just as I’d done with Grace earlier. I’d known Patricia was beautiful. But before that afternoon, I hadn’t realized what a wise, godly woman she is as well. God truly works in mysterious ways.

As the sun was setting just before the final session of the day, I saw my ex yet again. Patricia had called me over to her table and started to introduce me around to her group. I shook hands with one person after another until I came to my ex, who was sitting in the circle. I played it cool, sticking my hand out to him and saying, “And you are…?”

He looked tired; emotionally drained. He didn’t complete my sentence but said simply, “Hi, Rory.” He reached out and took my hand, shaking it as the others had done.

I moved on to the next person in the circle, smiling broadly and playing the social butterfly I can be when I decide to be. After laughing and cutting up with a few new friends, I walked around the table and put my hand on my ex’s shoulder. “Can we talk for a minute?”

I hadn’t planned on talking to him; in fact, I’d been intentionally avoiding him all day. I had no idea what I was going to say, but after hours of unrest and internal turmoil, I just wanted to face the issue head-on and address the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

He looked pained and wary about talking with me, but he agreed. “Uhh… we can if you really want to.”

In response, I gestured for him to follow me, and we made our way to the tree line, along the edge of a wooded pathway away from everyone else. Once there, I turned to face him.

“I thought we should just acknowledge that this is awkward,” I began. “I’m uncomfortable, I’m sure you’re uncomfortable… this is just an awkward situation.”

“Yes,” he stated with emphasis, nodding.

“And we’ve been dancing around each other all day,” I added, “So I thought we should just acknowledge that, yes, this is uncomfortable. But I also want you to know that I’m okay. I’m really glad I’m not married to you.”

His change in expression was immediate. “There’s no reason to be mean,” he spat at me.

My eyes widened in surprise. “I wasn’t trying to be mean!” I defended myself as gently as I could. “I was trying to affirm you in your decision not to marry me!”

I paused; then sighed heavily. “This is one of the reasons it’s good we’re not married. I’m a direct communicator, and you’re sensitive. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was just letting you know that I’m okay, and this doesn’t have to be so awkward. But I’m really doing okay. I’ve been dating someone the past six months –”

He interjected enthusiastically, “Rory, that’s great! That’s what I’ve been praying for!” What? His whole face had lit up with genuine excitement.

“I’ve prayed for you every day since we broke up,” he told me, “I’ve prayed that you would find a man who will love you well and that you’ll get married and have kids…”

“You’ve thought about me every day? You’ve prayed for me every day?” I was shocked. Even as heartbroken as I’ve been, I have not thought about him every day for the past year. And I stopped praying for him a long time ago. It engaged my heart too deeply, and I didn’t think it was healthy to keep that kind of emotional connection to him.

“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’ve been kind of a wreck. I know I treated you horribly. I’ve been in a deep depression for the past year. I haven’t dated anyone, and I’m still seeing our old counselor every week.”

Wow. That shouldn’t make me feel better, but it definitely did. The last few prayers I prayed over my ex were for his ruin – financial, emotional, relational, etc. I know that’s not God-honoring at all, but I rationalized to myself that only through his utter brokenness could God truly reach my ex and make him into the man he was created to be. So it was really a loving prayer, right?

I knew my prayers had at least been partially answered when IBM and NOV tanked. My ex is a value investor who doesn’t believe in diversification, so he was only invested in five stocks, two of which were IBM and NOV. He also invests tens of thousands on behalf of his closest friends and family. I’d wondered how that affected their relationships (and hoped for the worst. I know, I’m terrible).

“Why have you been depressed?” I asked as casually as I could. “Was it all guilt… or did you miss me?”

He shrugged and hung his head. “A lot of it was guilt. Honor and pride played into it. I did wrong by you, Rory. But I also missed you. I revisited that decision multiple times a day, every day for a long time. I would have to call my mom all the time to talk back through the decision not to marry you. But it was the right decision. I totally butchered the decision and dragged you through hell for months – I know – but it was the right decision.”

Although I agreed with him that it was the right decision, I only felt that way because of the way he’d treated me near the end. I would have married him. I loved him. And so hearing him say it was the right decision not to marry me caused my heart to twinge, even though I knew it to be true.

“Why did you propose to me?” I asked suddenly. It wasn’t a premeditated question. It just tumbled out in my moment of insecurity.

His looked at me sadly; gently. “Because I loved you. I was in love with you. And you were the first person who ever loved me back. That’s why I proposed to you.”

“Then what happened? I hadn’t planned to get into this, but since we’re talking about it… You said so many horrible things to me those last few months. That I’m so Type A that I would drive you to have an affair. That I’m domineering and no man could lead me. That I’m cold and emotionless. That I’m too much… Even though I’ve moved on from wanting to marry you, those words play on repeat in my head. Did you mean all of them? What was the real reason?”

“Rory, do you really want to get into this?” He sighed and looked away, exacerbated. “You take everything to heart and twist it to see it in a negative light. I don’t know if I should tell you.”

I just looked back at him, waiting.

He sighed again. “Okay, first of all, I was a crazy person. Ignore everything I said during that time. My own parents didn’t recognize me. But what it all came down to is, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m an emotional guy, and I need a woman who is absolutely dripping with empathy. It’s not a knock against you because everyone has empathy on a different scale, and all kinds of personalities end up together, but it was just an incompatibility. There’s nothing wrong with your personality – please hear that! – but we just weren’t compatible.”

I thought we were.

He continued, “I would have seen our incompatibility sooner if not for my issue with lust. I lusted for you, Rory. I’m so embarrassed by it. It’s humiliating. I had a deep-seated sin of lust, and I’m so ashamed by it. And how it blinded me.”

That was hurtful to hear. “So you proposed to me because you wanted to have sex with me?” Although he wasn’t a virgin, I am still waiting even now, and he had claimed to respect and admire that, although his actions didn’t always align with his words.

“No!” he looked hurt and horrified. “I asked you to marry me because I loved you. I just didn’t see our incompatibility until after we were engaged. I felt like you changed.”

“The change in me – the hardening, pulling away, being less empathetic —” I looked pointedly at him, “– was a response to how you were treating me. I sensed your anxiety and emotional withdrawal and was trying to protect myself.”

“I know I wounded you, but you wounded me, too – in a different way. I was afraid to talk to you today because you know me. You may say you don’t know me – that I’m a stranger to you – but you do. You wounded me because you saw deeply into me and spoke truth into my life. And I was afraid you’d speak more truth into me. And the truth is painful. But I’m thankful for it. I learned so much from you. You have no idea.”

That had been my initial prayer when we first broke up. That he would grow and learn and have eyes to see the truth. He had been so blind and walking in darkness. It was an unexpected blessing to learn that he finally heard the words I had been speaking for months. I only wish he had appreciated it sooner and more fully. That he’d had the maturity to recognize that being married to a truth-speaker is a blessing. That much of marriage is encouraging our spouse toward greater Christ-likeness, such that we present them before the Throne of Grace more sanctified than they would have been if not married to us.

We both just looked at each other. And sighed.

“Well, is there anything else? Anything you need to hear from me?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would be helpful and not damaging. Because of your rejection, sometimes I don’t believe I’m marriageable or desirable, but there’s not much you can do to change that.”

“Rory, you’re a great girl. You have so much to offer. And you will get married someday. And that man will be a very lucky man.” He looked thoughtful. “I actually say that to our counselor all the time. You have so much to offer a man.”

I smiled sadly; then asked, “Is there anything you need to hear from me? Have I said anything in this conversation to hurt your feelings that I need to retract?”

His brow furrowed. “No, but I need to hear that you forgive me. Will you forgive me, Rory? I know we’ve been over this, but I need to hear you say that you forgive me.” He looked at me with big eyes. Vulnerable. He needed this desperately.

“Of course I forgive you.” I smiled sadly again. I forgave you a long time ago. Many times over. Over and over again. It’s a process. I was glad to help him move toward peace… and I was glad that I was glad.

We stared at each other again. “I don’t know how to end this conversation…” I trailed off.

“Well, we’re going to hug in a minute here…” he began before he, too, trailed off.

“The last time we talked, you said that you wanted to be friends,” I reminded him. “That you’d call me in a year and try to be friends.”

“Yeah, that was ‘pie in the sky’,” he admitted. “It was my way of comforting myself. I didn’t want to lose you completely, so I told myself I was only losing you for a month or a year. But I knew deep down it wasn’t realistic.”

I know it’s best we’re not friends, and I honestly don’t want the angst of him in my life – I’d never wanted him to call a year later – but it still hurt my heart to come to the realization that we were about to say goodbye forever… again.

Two girls walked past us, ranting loudly about something that hadn’t gone the way they wanted. My ex made his classic “uh oh!” face and started making high-pitched “meep”-ing sounds like Beaker from The Muppets.

I burst into laughter, and he looked surprised before his face relaxed into an authentic grin. He chuckled softly. “Oh, Rory, I’ve missed your sense of humor.”

“I’ve missed yours, too.” We smiled at each other for a brief, shining moment where time stood still and we were transported back to another season when we were deeply in love. My eyes started to water unexpectedly, and I blinked back tears.

He saw my tears, and his expression softened as tears welled up in his eyes, too. “Rory…”

I started laughing, embarrassed. “I’m okay,” I waved him off with my hand. “I’m okay. I know you’re not used to seeing emotion from me.”

“No…” he agreed.

“It’s just… I feel like you’re dying to me all over again. I had to grieve the loss of you like the death of a loved one, and now I know I’m saying goodbye again. It’s just… very emotional.”

He took a step toward me and said, “Who knows? Maybe five years from now, you’ll be married – to that guy you’re seeing; maybe he’s ‘The One’ – and maybe I’ll be married, and we can be friends. You never know.”

“Okay,” I smiled at him through my tears.

He closed the distance between us and wrapped me in a hug. We stood for a moment before pulling away and walking in different directions. As we parted, he called softly, “See you later.”

“See you.” …Just maybe not this side of heaven.

Authentically Aurora