Goodness & Joy

Instagram puff pastry.png

Yesterday was a wonderful day. I woke up early and baked some rosemary prosciutto twists made from puff pastry I’d prepared from scratch the night before. They came out perfectly golden brown and still in their tight, spiraled shape full of flaky goodness.

I ate a light breakfast and went for my mid-morning run, and for the first time this year, I finally felt like I hit my stride. I ran three miles without stopping except to walk briefly at the turnaround point. For me, this was a huge accomplishment. I celebrated the joyful occasion by treating myself to a coffee-chocolate-banana protein shake from a nearby juice bar.

When I got home and showered, I logged into my email to let my current apartment complex know I’d be moving out, giving them my sixty day written notice per the terms of our lease agreement. I was surprised to almost immediately get an email back directly from the community manager, who told me she didn’t want to lose me as a tenant and was willing to take $250 off my monthly rent (which translates to $3000/year). Surprised but pleased, I let them know I’d found another complex for even less rent that also shaves twenty-five minutes off my commute “but thanks for the great offer.”

I walked down to the office to pick up a package that had arrived for me (nothing exciting – just something I’d ordered off Amazon), and though I’d only given my notice a few hours before, the male leasing agent who normally runs the front desk commented right off, “Aurora, I hear we may be losing you as a tenant.” Wow, news travels fast.

I explained to Eddie that I was changing careers to teaching and taking a job further north of town. “Yeah, I can see that,” he commented. “I’ve always been able to tell that you’re more about relationships and building connections with people. The money’s not that important to you.”

He could tell that from our brief interactions over the past two years? “Thanks, Eddie.”

“Yeah,” he went on, “I’ve always had a sense of this aura of goodness about you.”

I floated out of the office, completely taken aback by his words but so thankful to know that God’s light has been shining out of me in even the little things. It’s not often we get to hear feedback on how we’re doing on displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Seth and I have been attending Fusion – our church’s pre-engagement class – for a few weeks now, and although most of the sessions are in a large group with 15 other couples, last night we met with a mentor couple individually. The four of us had a great conversation with lots of teasing and laughter. They’re a great couple; so fun and full of wisdom and transparency.

Near the end of the evening, the husband of the mentor couple commented in all seriousness, “We are so thankful to have the two of you in our Fusion group this season. Some of the other couples we’ve worked with are young in their faith or tentative about opening up about their relationships, but you guys are obviously so mature in your faith and willing to be vulnerable because you really want to enter into marriage with a strong foundation.”

Seth and I smiled lovingly at each other. It was nice to hear such encouragement. The mentor went on, “And every week, we see you two come in with such joy on your faces, like you’re really excited to be there and engage in conversation. That means a lot to us as a mentor couple.”

For the second time that day, I floated on air. Goodness and joy; Joy and goodness. It’s nice to have people call out the character they see in you. Hearing those words of affirmation really spurs me on to love well and live well. And it’s a great reminder to compliment those around me on the character I see in them. It makes such a difference when we build each other up!

Authentically Aurora

Babes in Joyland

christmas-children

For nearly ten years now, I’ve felt that birthdays don’t seem as special as they used to. Easter isn’t as exciting, Halloween isn’t as thrilling, and Christmas isn’t as magical as I remember as a child.

I’m looking forward to someday having children of my own and getting to see the holidays afresh through their eyes. But in the meantime, I am blessed to volunteer with the kids ministry at church, and just my brief interactions with them have already made my holidays happier this year.

At Thanksgiving while cooking with my dad, we were watching my nieces play, and he reminded me of when my own little brother was about three. At our family Thanksgiving, Dad encouraged us to count our blessings, and my adorable little brother – with his big, brown eyes and long eyelashes – scrunched up his face in distress, his lower lip trembling. “But Dad,” he cried in his sweet little voice, “I can’t count that high!”

My Dad smiled at the retelling and admitted to me, “I still feel that way.” We are so profoundly blessed.

This past Sunday at church while teaching the elementary kids some Christmas carols, one little girl named Kennedy came and sat in my lap. Halfway through one of the songs, she turned around and told me innocently, “You’re making my eyes water.”

Surprised, I asked her why. She wiped her eyes and whispered in a broken voice, “It’s just so beautiful.”

I want to be that in awe of Christmas. Of music. Of community. Of our God. To sit in wonder – to have faith like a child – that is my prayer for this Christmas.

Authentically Aurora

 

Overqualified to Love?

concert-tickets

I absolutely love teaching Sunday school. It’s part of what made me realize I wanted to pursue a career in teaching. Granted, 7- and 8-year old church kids are very different from the broad spectrum of angsty junior highers I’m planning to educate in math, but I expect that the experience of relationship-building and investing in the next generation will be rewarding all the same.

One of the greatest parts about being involved with kids’ ministry at my church is that I have genuinely developed relationships with my girls. I’ve had multiple parents ask for my contact information because their daughters requested to have me as a babysitter. And almost nothing fills my heart with more joy than getting to babysit these sweet girls during the week.

Most of the moms are relieved to have a reliable babysitter (and overjoyed when they find out I do it for free), but when Cristin’s girls started to beg me to babysit, she was hesitant to ask me. This is because Cristin knows that I have an engineering degree and work at a major oil company. When she finally did ask me, she was almost embarrassed, saying, “It’s okay if you don’t want to. I know you are way overqualified for this.”

I wanted to hug her. Overqualified? To love on your sweet girls? To feed them dinner and play games with them and tuck them into bed? No. No one can be overqualified to love. It is a part of the human condition – the most beautiful part, really – to pour our hearts into serving one another; an outpouring of love.

Our schedules never seemed to align, but finally – finally! – the day Seth and I got back from California, Cristin and I agreed that I would come to babysit that evening. Cristin’s sister was in town with her children, making for a total of 6 kids to babysit, ranging in age from 2 to 12. Cristin knows Seth from church, so she suggested, “You can bring Seth along if you like. I trust him, and it might be more fun for the two of you to watch six kids together!”

I thought it was a great idea, so Seth and I got home from California, unpacked our bags and prepared to drive over to Cristin’s for a really fun date night of babysitting together. We were legitimately excited, so when Cristin called to cancel last-minute, I was disappointed.

“Two of the girls just started throwing up,” she told me. “It looks like I’ll be staying home tonight. You and Seth go enjoy your evening.”

I didn’t mind taking care of sick kids, but I thought Seth might not be too keen on that, so I explained the situation to him. Without even prompting him with my own opinions on the matter, Seth replied back, “Let’s go over anyway! I don’t mind taking care of sick kids.” One of many reasons I adore this man.

Cristin really appreciated our willingness to still babysit depite the kids’ illness, but she insisted that her kids would be more comfortable having Mommy take care of them. “My sister and I were going to a concert tonight, and we’d hate for the tickets to go to waste. Would you two be interested in going?” And she named a Christian rock band that is a favorite of Seth’s. This was a concert he and I had talked about going to see, but tickets were sold out. Are you serious?

Cristin and I went through the whole “We couldn’t take those tickets” … “At least let us pay you for them” … “Alright, if you insist” conversation, and soon Seth and I were in Cristin’s driveway to pick up our tickets for our newly renovated date night.

Cristin welcomed us inside, and we walked as a group to the various bathrooms of the house where each of her girls was bent over a toilet and wrapped in a bath robe. My poor babies. I got down on my knees and hugged them tightly and was surprised at myself when I started tearing up. I love these girls so much, as if they are my very own.

Back downstairs, Cristin handed each of us plates of homemade mustard salmon with green beans and a side of garlic bread. She’d already made us dinner as a thank you for babysitting; now she was sending us to a dream concert with dinner to go. Seth and I were astonished. Over the course of an hour, we’d gone from planning to babysit 6 sick kids to getting free dinner and concert tickets to one of our favorite bands. And all we did was say yes.

Authentically Aurora

A Birthday Funeral

Bright Colors at Funeral

After my late night of dancing, I woke up early on the morning of my birthday to get dressed for my grandfather’s funeral. I chose my outfit carefully: bright colors – a celebration of his life – in formal attire to show my respect. I added a headband of delicate flowers in my hair. It would be a bittersweet day; a mingling of joy and sadness.

I left my apartment just as the sun started to peek above the horizon, piercing the darkness with warm, golden rays of sunlight. In the peacefulness of the early morning, I stopped by the still-quiet farmers’ market where I usually volunteer and picked up two almond croissants – one for my mom; one for me.

When I arrived at the funeral home, my nieces Lily and Wren jostled for positions in my lap. They both wanted to sit by me during the service, so I got to say goodbye to my grandpa flanked by the darling innocence of two of my favorite little girls in the entire world. I hadn’t realized how much joy it would bring me to spend my birthday with all of my extended family – especially with Lily and Wren. It was a surprisingly sweet birthday, snuggling with my nieces and later going for a walk with my cousin JJ.

The end of the day found me wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket in my pajamas, hair still wet from a hot shower. I’d just picked up a book to read when I was surprised by the sound of my phone ringing. I was even more surprised when I saw Seth‘s handsome face lighting up the screen of my cell phone, underscored by “Incoming call from Seth.”

“Hey, Seth,” I answered, tummy flip-flopping at the sound of his low voice.

“Hey! Happy Birthday!” I could hear his smile over the phone. “How was your day?”

We talked for a few minutes before Seth told me, “Hey, so I just left my sister’s house and am driving home now. I wondered if you wanted to get some ice cream for your birthday. I know it’s late – most ice cream shops are probably closed now – but I could stop by a grocery store and get us a couple of pints that we could eat together at your place if you like.”

I let myself feel a momentary thrill of happiness and excitement before I inwardly sighed and resolved to keep my commitment not to date through the end of Q1. There was still slightly more than a week left in March, and I wanted to finish strong. I’d hoped not to have the conversation with Seth over the phone. In truth, I hadn’t expected to have it at all; he’d surprised me with how soon he’d asked for one-on-one time. He struck me as a slower mover than that, but I was pleased by his interest.

“Wow, that sounds amazing,” I began, letting the sound of my happiness filter across the phone. “And I have lot of things to say in response to your offer,” I continued with a chuckle.

“To begin with, I’m so glad you called, and I love the idea of getting ice cream together for my birthday. That said, I’m currently in pajamas and fresh out of the shower with wet hair, so I’d need some time to get dressed before you came over. But more than that…” I paused, wondering how to proceed. “I hadn’t wanted to have this conversation over the phone, but since you’re asking, you should know that I have committed to fasting from dating through the end of March. I’d love to have you come over, but I don’t want to cop out right at the end here.”

Seth’s response was immediate and encouraging. “Well first of all, I think that’s great. I respect that you’re taking a break from dating. But secondly, I hadn’t viewed this as a date. When I ask you on a date, you’ll know it. I’m not that kind of guy who’s not man enough to actually ask a girl on a date. I’ve been using the words ‘hang out’ for a reason. At this point, I just want to get to know you, and if I eventually ask you on a date, you’ll know it.”

Oh. I was both impressed by his candor and a bit taken aback by the fact that I’d been mistaken as to his intentions. I loved that he was being intentional and clear in his communications, but a part of me also wished his offer of ice cream constituted a romantic overture.

I focused back on the phone conversation, where Seth was telling me that he’d wanted to get me a gift. “I’d thought about getting you a book from that series you mentioned you like, but I wasn’t sure which ones you’d already read. So then I was thinking about getting you concert tickets. Will you be in town April 17th?” A mutual favorite artist of ours was playing at a local venue, but I told him with sincere regret that I’d be out of the country on a business trip. But that’s something. He’s talking about getting us concert tickets together for a month in the future!

“Well, how about this then,” Seth proposed. “I won’t bring you ice cream tonight, but we’re both volunteering with the kids’ ministry tomorrow morning. How about I bring you birthday breakfast instead?” With a smile, I answered Seth’s questions about my favorite breakfast food, and the next morning, Seth showed up to church with a bag of kolaches still warm from the oven.

We settled together on the floor of the kids’ ministry, backs leaned against a wall and legs stretched out in front of us, grinning at each other like a couple of kids ourselves. Seth prayed for us before we dove into the breakfast bags, Seth handing me a sausage-and-cheese kolache before taking a spicy jalapeno one for himself.

“We’ve got to work on your tolerance for spicy food,” Seth teased me with a gentle nudge. My eyes sparkled as I looked back at him, wondering how in the world I’d gotten so lucky as to share a post-birthday breakfast with such a wonderful man.

Authentically Aurora

An Unexpected Song

Globe Room

Have you ever been a trendsetter who didn’t even know you were setting a trend? Or a key driving force behind a movement that was just something you were doing because it was fun? Sometimes fire catches when we are just playing with our sparklers for no other reason than they are pretty and bring us joy. In fact, I believe some of the best movements are started that way: unintentionally.

On Tuesday this week, Ashley and I played hookie from work to take a spontaneous road trip to our alma mater. Okay, it wasn’t really hookie. We logged our vacation time and told our bosses. And it was only about a 2 hour drive, so it wasn’t much of a road trip. And it’s possible we planned it about a week in advance, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely spontaneous. But still. We were adventurous!

Anyway, it was seriously the perfect day. We got to campus in the late afternoon as warm, golden rays of sunlight sifted through the trees. The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny and 75 – and it was glorious to stroll through the sprawling courtyards and relive our happy memories there.

We took a university bus across campus as though going to classes, ate at one of our favorite college sandwich joints, visited a couple of our favorite bookstores and coffee shops, and we finally tried strawberry tarts at a famous upscale restaurant that was way outside of our budgets during our college years.

The entire day was magical (and we hope to make it a quarterly tradition!), but my favorite part of the day was completely unexpected. There is a building in the center of campus – the Memorial Center – that serves as something of a student union or center for student activities. Within the Memorial Center is a room called the Globe Room, where the mahogany walls are lined with bookshelves, and the hardwood floors are covered in rich rugs of emerald, burgundy and midnight blue. Historical flags hang from the ceiling, and two gemstone globes serve as centerpieces surrounded by rich leather couches where students sit studying.

Everything about the Globe Room makes me feel like I am home; I have found my personal heaven on earth. Each time I enter, I breathe deeply, taking in the scents of leather and old books before giving a happy sigh. The Globe Room also houses a grand piano in one corner of the room, and during my days at university, various students would occasionally walk in, play a few soothing classical pieces (think “Moonlight Sonata” or “Clair de Lune”); then step out again, leaving the rest of us to our books and studies.

On Tuesday when Ashley and I walked into the Globe Room, a young man sat at the piano playing a soothing melody. He was clearly talented – the kind of person who can play piano without sheet music; the kind of person who can play brilliantly by ear.

Ashley and I sat down in two plush chairs, and I closed my eyes to better take in the sounds and smells of my favorite room on campus. I smiled to myself as I recognized the tune the pianist transitioned into. Then I was surprised to hear his low voice quietly singing along. I found myself harmonizing to his melody line under my breath. I hadn’t realized I knew the words to the song, but I did.

The pianist looked up, hearing my harmony drifting over to him, and he started to sing louder. So I smiled, apologized to Ashley (who occasionally is made to feel uncomfortable by my boldness), and walked over to the piano, where the man continued playing. We crescendoed together until we were each singing our parts at full volume. I’d never heard anyone sing along to the grand piano in the Globe Room before, but it was exhilarating, and I smiled to myself as I looked around at the old, familiar surroundings.

The music faded out, and the pianist (Daniel, I learned later) transitioned smoothly into yet another song. As he played the opening chords, I was astonished to recognize it as a Christian worship song: “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. I let him sing the first few lines solo; then I softly came in with gentle harmony for the last few lines of the first verse.

As Daniel and I grew into the chorus, a young man walking past the Globe Room paused in the hallway and leaned in, listening. Near the end of the first chorus, another person stood from one of the couches and walked over to the piano, singing the words along with us. And then we were joined by another. And another.

My heart felt full, looking around at my brothers and sisters in Christ – people I’d never met before; people I didn’t even know. But even without knowing each other’s names, we started a movement in the Globe Room. Daniel unintentionally started a worship service in the heart of a public, state university.

The whole experience was beautiful and awe-inspiring, and I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was almost over. It was otherworldly worshiping together with complete strangers, sharing a spiritual bond as we united in Christ, praising our King without regard for doctrinal or denominational differences. My prayer is that we were not the only ones who sensed it; the supernatural force – the Holy Spirit – that permeated the Globe Room that afternoon. God truly is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, and this experience is one I will not soon forget.

Authentically Aurora

Deploy Joy

Poetry Slam

There’s a reason for every season
And a rhyme for every time of life
Our days seem so often filled with strife
But if we could learn to live
Learn to give
And just appreciate life’s beautiful mistakes
Without aching for change and shaking things up
Isn’t it enough
What we’ve got here and now
Gotta rest into the test of learning to be content
Instead of moving faster to the next chapter
Revel in the endeavor
Of finding little ways that today can deploy joy
Fight for light, and you just might
Discover hope

Authentically Aurora

P.S. Thanks to Paul for the style inspiration!

Sweet ’16

2016 Words2016 is going to be a sweet year. 2014 was the worst year of my life, 2015 was a year of recovery, and 2016 is going to be fantastic. I just know it.

I feel like God has given me four words for 2016: Discipline, Contentment, Light and Joy. Each of these words has come up repeatedly, either in conversations with friends, family, reading Scripture, prayer or even interactions with you, fellow bloggers.

Discipline is pretty straight-forward. I allowed myself to wallow and drift a bit in 2015, giving myself a lot more leeway because I was practicing extending grace to myself and receiving it from others. But it’s possible for that pendulum to swing too far, so it’s time to bring it back and show some self-control and accountability for my actions.

Every time the bible tells us to stop one thing, it tells us to do something else. Every time we are asked to give something up, we are promised something else. There is never a list of don’ts without a list of dos. In that vein, I want to speak less and listen more; make less statements and ask more questions. I need to rein in my tongue and practice using a filter. Cutting back on my love life, I plan to go on less dates and spend more time with friends and family. I want to eat less sugar and more vegetables. And I am going to watch less Netflix and do more exercise.

Contentment is a word J at Salvageable has spoken over me several times in the past month. And I know that the Apostle Paul set forth the example to be content in all circumstances. We are to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. Ugh. What a challenge for a shriveled, bitter heart like mine! But God continues to extend more and more grace to me.

One of the greatest sources of discontentment for me is my singleness. Not so much my singleness, actually, as my loneliness. I am profoundly lonely. I just long for a companion to share life with. But in the past week, in two back-to-back dinners, two of my married girlfriends have shared with me that their marriages are on the rocks and admitted longing for their days of singleness. Two other friends’ marriages were wrecked by affairs earlier this year. I’m only 28 years old, and already I’m seeing friends’ marriages torn apart?! I need to keep in perspective that singleness isn’t all that bad when compared to a difficult marriage. As one of my negotiating instructors once said, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

Light is a special word to me that I sense God repeatedly speaking into my prayer life. All of the bible verses I’m clinging to right now have to do with light. “If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” -Luke 11:36

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called” (Eph. 1:18), and “Once you were full of darkness, but now you have the light of the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:8-9).

“Live clean, innocent lives… shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Phil. 2:12-15). This is what I want for myself in 2016. 

Lastly, Joy. I have always struggled to have joy. Once time I did a word study on how the bible says to have joy, and I think most of the verses talked about trusting God. When we truly believe that God is sovereign and in control – and that He is good and loving! – we are able to accept our circumstances with joy, trusting that God is working in and through us.

There are also lots of verses about being thankful in all circumstances and offering a sacrifice of praise (and believe me, it is often quite a sacrifice!). Cultivating gratitude and releasing control of my life are going to be key in accepting the joy I believe God wants to develop in me this year. “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him.” -Romans 15:13

Yes, Lord. May this be the year of Joy.

Authentically Aurora