Our First Christmas

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Several weeks before Christmas, Seth asked me what kind of gifts my family gives for the holidays. Was our gift-giving practical? Sentimental? Minimalistic? Extravagant? “You’re such a generous person, I’m worried that you’re going to out-Christmas me,” he admitted.

First Christmases together are tough. You don’t want to do too little for the other person, but you don’t want to overwhelm them, either. It’s hard to find a balance and make sure your gifts to one another are somewhat equivalent. So I told Seth that I had already planned on three gifts for him – one store bought and two homemade. He gave a sigh of relief (three must have seemed reasonable), and I fully expected to receive about three gifts myself.

But I got fifteen.

FIFTEEN Christmas presents (!) from my boyfriend of eight months. Fortunately, they were spread out over November and December and even January, so I only actually received about half of them on Christmas, but I was still blown away by Seth’s thoughtfulness and generosity.

  1. Vacuum 

On Thanksgiving, Seth asked me if I ever participate in Black Friday. I never have, and hopefully I never will. But Seth loves a good deal, so he planned to venture out to Home Depot or Lowe’s on Black Friday, and he asked me if there was anything I wanted. I laughed, “I doubt there’s anything I want from Home Depot on Black Friday. But thanks for asking. The only thing I can imagine I’d try to get a deal on for Black Friday would maybe be a vacuum – I really need a new one – but I don’t think they sell those at Home Depot.”

The next morning, Seth showed up at my apartment with a $400 vacuum that he got half off at Target. And he wouldn’t let me pay him back. “Merry Christmas early,” he told me with a kiss on my cheek.

Some women might be offended if their boyfriend bought them a vacuum. But as a very practical almost-30-something, I thought his gift was one of the sweetest, most thoughtful gifts I’ve gotten in years.

2 – 4. Apron, Laundry hamper, Chocolate

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Seth and I went shopping together at Marshall’s to pick up some cute (and discounted) gifts for family. While we were walking around the store, I saw an upscale laundry hamper for a great price and mentioned offhand that I should probably get a new one since the one I have now is from high school and has a hole in the bottom.

Seth loves when I wear an apron when I cook, so when we spotted a rack of high-quality aprons, I tried on a few and modeled them for Seth, twirling around playfully in the aisle. My favorite was white and mustard yellow with delicate ruffles along the bottom. And at the check-out line, I saw some gourmet chocolate-covered Oreos that looked delicious, but I exercised self-control and left them on the shelf.

Two days before Christmas, Seth showed up at my door with the unwrapped laundry hamper and a box containing both the apron and the gourmet Oreos. I felt so loved and cherished that he heard my comments and remembered them.

5 – 6. Two Necklaces

The morning of Christmas Eve, Seth and I did our first round of formal gift exchanges, and one of my favorite gifts was a sterling silver arrowhead necklace that he bought from a wonderful craftsman jewelry shop. It’s a reminder of one of the first times I visited his family’s ranch and found an arrowhead in the creek bed. It’s still one of the best arrowheads that’s ever been found at the ranch.

Seth bought me another necklace as well, but evidently it’s still in Turkey waiting to be shipped. He knows I love the Star of Bethlehem and all the science behind it, so he bought me a gorgeous Star of Bethlehem necklace that I can wear year round to remember how awesome our God is and how He has written a love story of poignant beauty in the stars.

7 – 9. Candle, Lotion, Shirt

Similar to the three gifts from Marshall’s, Seth demonstrated his active listening skills when he presented me with a Pomegranate Spruce candle I smelled and liked at a Cracker Barrel while waiting to be seated; some floral hand lotion we both liked at Bath & Body Works; and a really soft graphic tee we both loved at a small boutique near the family ranch.

10 – 12. Mirror, Theology Book, Carving Set

Seth had a full-length mirror he was planning to get rid of, but I didn’t have one in my bedroom, so he offered to drop it off at my place and mount it in my room for me. It has a white frame that goes well with my bedroom decor.

Seth also gave me an 800 page book on Systematic Theology, partially because he knows I love to geek out over that stuff, and partially because he wants us to read through it together and develop a joint faith statement. That may sound awful to some people, but it sounds pretty fun (and romantic!) to me.

Seth spends a lot of time in his woodworking shop, and I’d mentioned wanting to sit in there by him and whittle on some blocks, so Seth bought me a nice wood carving set. We’re talking about starting a joint project together.

13 – 14. Handmade Scrolled Centerpiece Bowl & Mounted Antlers 

In all of that time in his woodworking shop, Seth evidently had been spending a lot of hours working on Christmas gifts for me because, on Christmas Day, Seth presented me with a gorgeous wooden bowl that he carved himself with detailed scroll work. I was stunned. I figured he was talented, but I didn’t know he was this talented!

Seth is also still working on mounting the antlers from the buck I shot over Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas to me!

15. Handwritten Love Letter

And lastly – maybe my favorite gift of all – was a three-paged love letter in which Seth recounted some of our best memories and explained some of his favorite things about me. How I managed not to try at the initial reading is beyond me, because I have read it multiple times since Christmas and teared up at his sweet words.

Seth and I had a great Christmas together. He outdid himself, and I was stunned at his thoughtfulness. Some gifts were practical; others were romantic and sentimental. Overall, I spent my Christmas feeling very loved and cherished. Life is good.

Authentically Aurora

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Paris – Day 4

Hardware SocieteOpting to start our Montmarte morning in that section of Paris (the 18th arrondissement), Rachel and I enjoyed a continental breakfast at Hardware Societe just down the street from Sacre-Coeur. When I ordered my breakfast of a cafe au lait with roasted peaches and oats in yogurt, the adorable waiter – whose leather apron was fitting in light of the cafe’s name – told me with a smile, “Your French is perfect!” When we left, he asked hopefully, “See you tomorrow?” We seriously made friends left and right. What is that my boss keeps saying about my inability to win friends and influence people? 

IMG_6212.jpgWalking back toward the hilly Sacre-Coeur, we saw children feeding pigeons and were greeted by the peaceful sounds of a harpist. Down the street, we found Place du Tertre where local street artists sketched portraits of tourists. I enjoyed watching their skill unfold as they captured the unique markings of each of their subjects.

Continuing on to Rue des Abbesses, we stopped in to a number of Montmarte boutiques where I found a cute bracelet for Ashley and a fashionable coffee mug for myself. Lunch was at Creperie Broceliande, where I ordered the Mont Blanc – a chocolate banana crepe that was the best crepe I’ve ever had in my entire life, which is saying something, considering I’ve had crepes in Greece and also make my own in a crepe pan at home. If you ever go to Paris, definitely check this place out!

We also tried the Cuillier coffee chain, found it average, and headed over to the 3rd arrondissement to check out Merci, a nonprofit shop that is part cafe, part boutique and part home goods store. It was neat to see, but everything was outrageously overpriced, and the store was also overcrowded. On the plus side, I ran into more people from my hometown, and the shopkeeper thought I was French when we conversed briefly. Victory.

IMG_6304On the Metro on our way to the Arc de Triomphe, I kept catching a tall brunette guy looking at me. When we got off a few stops later, I glanced his way and found him still watching, so I smiled politely at him as I exited the platform. Rachel and I strolled down Champs-Elysses, taking in the sights on foot and peeking in Laduree before coming to a stop at the end of the street at the Arc de Triomphe.

When we were crossing a crosswalk on our way back down Avenue des Champs-Elysses, I sensed rapid movement behind me and turned to see the tall brunette from the Metro hurrying across the street toward me before the light turned red. “Hey.” He said something to me in French, and when I looked dumbfounded, he asked in English, “Do you remember me from the Metro?”

“Of course,” I said, and he introduced himself as Thomas (Toh-mah), a native Parisian. He waved over to his friend Benjamin (Bah-jah-mah), who joined us shortly. Rachel and I had just finished all of our touring for the day, so when they invited us for coffee, we agreed. I realized Thomas was steering us toward a Starbucks, so I suggested we go to a local cafe instead.

IMG_6361.jpgThomas stopped cold. “You are a difficult woman.” I just laughed, and we went to Starbucks. Thomas had thought I was Eastern European, so when he found out that I’m an American (and have shot guns), he added to my descriptors: “You are a dangerous woman!”

Rachel and I learned that Benjamin is a 22-year-old sports journalist, and Thomas is a 23-year-old IT major with dreams of being a professional (corporation-employed) hacker. They asked how Rachel and I know each other, and when I said, “Church,” they looked surprised, so I asked them (fully knowing the answer) if they grew up going to church.

The native Parisians told me that they are both agnostic and that in France, church is for old people. “It’s more of a tradition,” Thomas explained. So I asked what they believe happens when they die. Rachel squirmed, pleading with her eyes for me to stop. But the postmodern, open-minded, sophomoric French were interested in engaging in philosophical conversation. Besides, if I have to choose between temporary discomfort for us versus potentially eternal death for them, I will choose temporary discomfort every single time.

IMG_5751Benjamin seemed to think that we just fade to nothing when we die, and Thomas said diplomatically that we cannot know for sure until we actually die and experience the other side. I countered with a twinkle in my eye, “I believe I know for sure, and you can, too.” Rachel’s discomfort was now palpable. Wishing she would support me rather than being a stumbling block, I plunged ahead, sharing the gospel of Jesus with them. The boys seemed interested but not convinced, and I encouraged them that something of potentially eternal significance is probably worth exploring. We exchanged contact information, but now all I can do is pray the Holy Spirit works faith in them. They’ve heard the truth. I’m responsible for obedience and providing the input, but God is the only one who can determine the outcome.

Rachel and I said goodbye to the French boys and took the Metro to the Bastille to check the box (not much to see there); then we went back to (you guessed it!) Rue Cler where I enjoyed a burger and Pinot Noir at Cafe du Marche. I don’t normally like red wines, but this one was not too bitter; it had a subtle sweetness and was not too dry. We reflected on the day, got more LeNotre macaroons and took an evening stroll through the Palais de Challoit in view of the Eiffel Tower before retiring for the night. La perfection.

Authentically Aurora

Stones from a Gem

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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