New Neighbors – Part 2

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I joke about kumquat Joe, but the truth is, he’s a really great guy. He and his wife (!!!) just got back from their honeymoon and invited Seth and me over for dinner to catch up (Yes, I was almost his first kiss last year, and now he’s lapped me and is already married. #thisismylife). They borrowed our bikes to go camping last weekend, and Joe actually just came over a few minutes ago to drop off some magazines I need as supplies to have the kids cut out pictures at school next week.

That’s one of the nice things about all four of us being Christians and knowing each other from church. When Joe and I went on a couple of dates, that’s all they were: get-to-know-you sessions. We never kissed each other and certainly didn’t do anything beyond that. When we decided we weren’t the right fit for each other, we both moved on amicably. Joe is now married to a wonderful, godly woman, and I have the privilege of getting to date Seth – one of the kindest, most servant-hearted men I’ve ever met.

Yeah, there was some awkwardness at first, but since Joe and I did dating well, now the four of us can all see each other and genuinely not have any bitterness or jealousy. We all believe God has good plans and divine purposes for each of us, and although Joe and I respect each other, we also agree that we are not meant for each other; God had better out there for each of us. Such amicability and friendliness seems to be rare in dating and breakups these days, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a positive example of what pure, mature, godly dating can look like.

In an effort to meet some of my other neighbors, I made some homemade fudge (two kinds: peanut butter and a chocolate pecan fudge). I wrapped them up with pretty little turquoise ribbons and took them in a wicker basket door-to-door. The trouble with apartment life is that only 4 of my 15 neighbors were home on a Saturday afternoon, but most of the people I met were friendly and appreciative.

In fact, the day after I made my rounds with the homemade fudge, I was trying to get into the apartment gym but had forgotten the door code. A woman I’d befriended the day before came around the corner from collecting her mail and recognized me. “Oh, hey!” she grinned at me, and I smiled back.

“Are you trying to get into the gym?” she asked me. When I nodded, she told me the four-digit code. I thanked her, and we went our separate ways, but my heart swelled at the fact that two otherwise unacquainted women each made an effort to extend a simple gesture of kindness to the another.

Not enough of us make the time to meet our neighbors; to genuinely connect with people we have no driving reason to befriend. But I want to exude warmth and kindness and generosity; I want to value people and love them well – even those I have no cause to make the time to get to know. Life is hard, and we need to love and support each other. So do something kind today. Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be loving.

Authentically Aurora

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New Neighbors – Part 1

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About a month ago, I moved to a new apartment to be closer to where I’ll be teaching this fall. It’s a nice place, built like a townhouse with a garage on the bottom level and my living area stacked directly above it on the second floor. I have granite countertops and a patio, and – because it’s so far outside of town – this awesome unit costs $400/month less than my last place.

Seth helped to move me in. Actually, he insisted on it, pressuring me to let him be a good boyfriend rather than hiring movers. My compromise was to let him move all of the boxes but hire movers to move the furniture. That way, Seth would get to do the manual labor he loves so much (think country boy stuck in the city), and I would still have an intact boyfriend (and furniture) when I finished getting moved.

I made the mistake of giving Seth the keys to both my old and new apartments while I ran to a baby shower I was hosting. And when I got to my new place later that afternoon, I discovered that Seth had decided to move my couch by himself when I wasn’t there. Something about proving to me that I really shouldn’t have hired movers… That’s what I get for dating a manly man.

Anyway, while we were unloading boxes from the back of his pick-up truck, we both stopped short at the sight of a familiar face across the walkway from my garage. My new neighbor is kumquat Joe.

Authentically Aurora

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

Eating Kumquats

Lumberjack“I think Joe is going to visit our bible study on Wednesday,” Cindy told me, her facial expression carefully neutral. She didn’t want to influence me one way or another.

“Oh really? That’s great!” I told her, unsure of my own feelings on the matter. I’d met Joe a few weeks earlier at a worship night Cindy had hosted at her house. The two of them had been friends for years, and Cindy had not-so-subtly pointed him out to me as a potential prospect once I finished my break from dating.

Joe had made quite an impression on me at the time. Cindy knew my type well. Over six feet tall with broad shoulders and a full beard, all Joe needed was a flannel shirt to make him look like a genuine lumberjack. Cindy had shared with me that Joe went to college at one of the US military academies, which made him all the more attractive to me.

As we sang worship songs together that evening in early March, I’d discovered that Joe not only played guitar expertly, but he also had a lovely baritone voice. He and I harmonized well, and I’d had to close my eyes to focus on the lyrics of the praise songs and keep my heart in check.

Later that evening, Joe had walked in on Cindy and me in full-on “girl talk” mode. We’d been chattering away about him, so we fell instantly silent and then erupted into giggles when he unexpectedly entered the room. He’d just smiled and turned back around, but later he’d asked Cindy for my phone number. After getting permission from me, Cindy sent him my contact information, and Joe had started calling me every other day.

During our phone conversations, I found Joe to be intelligent and academic. He was a deep thinker, and I enjoyed our mental sparring about theology, politics, sociology and all manner of other topics. But I also discovered that Joe had never finished at the Air Force Academy; he’d dropped out after two years. He didn’t have a college degree and had taken a job at the family A/C business. Upon examining my feelings about his lack of degree, I realized it wasn’t his lack of college education that bothered me; it was his lack of ambition. He’d dropped out of school and didn’t seem to have the drive to make his own way in the world.

Joe also shared with me that he’d grown up in a broken family. His mom left his dad for another woman when he was only five years old. He’d grown up with the lesbian couple and was home schooled most of his life. That explained to me something I’d been wondering about – Joe was built like an ox but, candidly, displayed some effeminate tendencies and also seemed a bit socially awkward in groups. I soon learned that Joe had never had a girlfriend, never been kissed and never even been on a date. He is 29 years old.

I wanted to like Joe. I really did. He is a smart, attractive, godly man. He genuinely loves the Lord and is very intelligent and articulate; insightful in an academic sense if not perceptive in a social one. But the chemistry wasn’t there for me. That intangible, indescribable personality spark that came so easily with Seth just didn’t manifest with Joe, and that wasn’t something I could help.

I knew I needed to let Joe down, but I wanted to do it in person, so if he came on Wednesday night as Cindy suspected, I figured we could have the conversation then. What I hadn’t accounted for was that Seth would also visit our group that week. So on that Wednesday night at the end of March – still in the midst of my fast from dating – I found myself at bible study with both Seth and Joe.

At the end of our lively group discussion about the deity of Jesus, everyone stood and organically clustered into groups, catching up and socializing before saying goodbye for the night. I found Seth by my side at the end of bible study, and he told me with a smile, “I have something for you.”

“Oh yeah? What is it?”

“I’m leaving for the ranch tomorrow. I’ll be gone for two weeks working the land, but I brought you kumquats to enjoy in the meantime. I picked them from a tree in my backyard.”

“Kumquats? What are those?” I was sad Seth would be gone for so long, but I was glad he’d brought something for me to remember him by while he was away.

“They’re a fruit. Sort of like little peaches.”

“Oh,” I replied with a grin, tilting my head to the side, “So they’re like me!”

Seth smiled at me affectionately and gave a low chuckle. “Yep, you’re my little peach.”

Just then, a group of girls joined us, so Seth excused himself, calling to me as he retreated that I should stop by his truck before I left so he could give me the kumquats he’d brought.

I chatted for a few minutes with Rachel and some other girls before looking around for Seth. He was already standing at his truck, driver door propped open, watching me from afar. “Oh! I’d better go!” I told the girls.

But Joe was waiting for me. I hadn’t seen him standing off to the side until he marched to my side with gusto, obviously intent on walking me to my car. Heart sinking, I realized that I’d parked just beyond Seth’s truck, so Joe – hand on my elbow – was escorting me on a path to walk right past Seth on the way to my car.

Starting to panic – wondering how to navigate the situation – I tried to tell Joe I needed a minute, but he was prattling on about his intentions to pursue a godly relationship with me, oblivious to my attempts to interject, both to tell him I didn’t feel we had chemistry and to explain that I needed to stop and say goodnight to Seth.

The old truck loomed nearer, and soon we were beside it, Seth watching me from his back-lit stance beside his driver seat and Joe still confessing how he felt about me. Frustrated and desperate, I put my hand on Joe’s arm to stop him, finally talking over him by way of interruption, “Hold that thought.”

I turned to Seth with a forced smile and said, “You have something for me?”

Knowing that Seth was leaving for the ranch in the morning – knowing that I wouldn’t see him for two weeks – I really wanted some alone time with him to talk and have a quiet moment to say goodbye. But I could sense Joe’s presence lurking behind me as I studied the tanned face. I couldn’t read Seth’s expression, partly because he was back-lit and partly because he schooled his features. I could only guess what he must be thinking.

Seth extended a plastic grocery bag to me, reaching in as he did so to pull out a small, oblong, orange fruit. “This is a kumquat,” he told me, turning it over in his hand.

Joe stepped closer to examine the fruit, and Seth pulled out a kumquat for Joe as well. The men shook hands and introduced one another. Seth was gracious, commenting kindly, “Ah, I see you’ve got dirt under your fingernails. My dad always told me never to trust a man with clean cuticles.” They laughed together, and I stood in bewilderment at their camaraderie.

Seth had planned to show me how to eat a kumquat, biting off the end and sucking out the meat, mindful of the seeds. He showed Joe as well, and the three of us – not exactly what he’d had in mind, I’d wager – stood outside of Seth’s truck, talking quietly into the darkness and eating kumquats under the partially-visible stars.

After several minutes, Seth seemed to concede that Joe wasn’t going to take the hint to leave. Joe’s delighted, bearded face showed no sign of awareness that he was trespassing on what was intended to be an intimate farewell, so Seth excused himself, giving each of us a cluster of kumquats before climbing into his truck and driving away.

I watched his taillights fade into the distance, my ears only partly registering Joe’s commentary on what a great guy Seth seems to be, the lumberjack’s voice garbled by the fruit in his mouth. Stuffing down my irritation, I allowed Joe to walk me the rest of the way to my car, where we stood and talked for only another couple of minutes before he bid me goodnight.

Feigning calm until he was out of sight, I jumped in my car, started the engine and dialed Seth. When he answered, the low rumbling of his chuckle made my stomach somersault. “Well you’re a hot commodity, aren’t you?”

Authentically Aurora

Happy Q2!

Smiling in field of flowersAlthough I am partial to sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, the second quarter of the year is also a personal favorite of mine. The first week of April brings with it sundresses, wildflowers and clear blue skies. Gloom period is over, and the earth comes to life again as though waking from a long slumber.

I underwent a hibernation of my own during the first quarter of this year – my fast from dating. I’d told myself that, in light of the seemingly endless incoming (and outgoing) line of men in my life, I needed to take a break from dating this year to refocus and center myself; to reinstate God as my First Love.

My hope in so doing was to to rest in my singleness, learning to be content in this season and celebrating all of the unique opportunities afforded to me as an unattached young woman. It’s been a great first quarter. I’ve gotten to invest deeply in some key friendships, taught Sunday school to elementary children, started mentoring a group of high school kids, gotten certified to babysit foster kids, arranged some new a capella mashups, begun fashion illustration (check out my Instagram) and started looking into a few different travel destinations for a girls’ weekend away.

When I started on this journey, I wanted to make the commitment specific and measurable enough that I could be held accountable and not bail when the first cute boy of the year looked my way, so I gave a soft commitment not to go on any dates for 2016. However, I also wanted to give myself flexibility as life circumstances changed and my heart matured; I didn’t want to be legalistic about the commitment or put God in a box as to how He wanted to refine me in this area of my life. I didn’t feel a strong conviction to give a definitive commitment for an entire year, so I gave myself the option to reevaluate at the end of every quarter whether or not I should continue my break from dating.

So as the end of March approached, and with it, the end of Q1 2016, I prayed and asked God what He thought. Then I met with the girls in my bible study and asked for their input as well. In both my personal time of reflection and in the feedback from the group, there was a consensus that I have successfully hit the “reset” button on my dating mentality and could now move forward with starting to date again, this time with a God-honoring perspective on both the physical and emotional aspects of a relationship.

I am not in a hurry to jump back into dating. My days of online dating are behind me. But I am open to the possibility of exploring whether some of my godly male friendships could grow into something deeper. I’ve had seven guys waiting for this moment – the moment I would allow them to pursue a relationship with me.

Just thinking about juggling all of those possibilities had me nearly breaking out in hives, so I’ve already told five of the seven that I am not interested in a romantic relationship with them. Care to guess which of the seven has captured my attention?

Jay – a police officer I met while volunteering for the Passion Conference in January who sends me shirtless photos of himself from time to time

Jordan – the massage therapist and divorcee I met on the Bahamas cruise

Ike – a friend for over ten years with whom I’ve done international mission trips and who is graduating from seminary in May with plans to be a pastor

Hovik – the Armenian auto shop manager who lives in my apartment complex

Grant – the banker I met at church who takes me to a concert every year

Seth – a chemical engineer who volunteers in our church’s kids’ ministry with me

Joe – an A/C mechanic in my bible study who is built like a lumberjack

Authentically Aurora