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

 

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Offering Our Bodies

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-2-50-26-pmOne of the more hedonistic reasons I teach Sunday school (and am studying to become a teacher) is the pure entertainment value of being around kids.

This morning at church, while taking up the offering the kids had brought to Sunday school, one little boy without anything to put into the jar called out, “I am an offering!” All the leaders laughed and then smiled at one another because he’s right.

In the bible we read that after David acted out as an adulterer with Bathsheba and murderer of her husband Uriah (the bible = the original soap opera), David wrote Psalm 51 as a way of repentance:

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

And later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul elaborates on this concept when he writes in Romans 12: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Long ago, the Israelites worshipped God by providing “burnt offerings” of slaughtered animals, but under our New Covenant in light of Jesus’ sacrifice, we walk out our days as “living sacrifices” when we die to our selfish, sinful natures and choose to live righteously.

We’ve been learning about God being our Provider, so at the end of our lesson, all of my girls were given a sheet of paper where they could write or draw something they are struggling to trust God to provide. Over half of my group simply wrote the word, “Nothing.”

It must be nice to be seven.

Authentically Aurora

In Favor of Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

Mouths of Babes

Cherry LipsPeople love to be outraged. The public loves a scandal, and individuals are always looking for opportunities to be offended. As a general populace, we live for rallying behind causes, speaking our disgust of the latest societal indignation at every turn and posting impassioned commentary on social media whenever possible.

But how many people turn their words into action? Are we an impassioned people for nothing more than the sake of our own amusement? Is it simply entertaining to discuss the latest humanitarian crisis or political affront? How many of us are legitimately invested in putting action to our outrage?

In an effort to be a woman of action – a woman who seeks to genuinely make an impact in the areas where my heart is stirred – I have recently gotten involved with a local organization that aids refugees in our city with learning English, navigating the citizenship process, and ultimately finding sustainable jobs by which they can support their families.

Over the past couple of months, I have developed a welcome packet for refugees in our city, outlining a number of 1-12 week training programs that equip graduates with various nationally recognized certificates that will allow them to qualify for different jobs in our city. Some careers included are more technical and some are more service-oriented, but regardless of the job category, I have ensured that I outlined not only the time requirement but also the cost of the program as well as the anticipated annual income of each of the career paths listed.

The director of the organization, a 30-something named Justin, reached out to me a couple of weeks ago and invited me over for dinner with his wife and two children. “You’ve done so much work for our organization,” he told me, “But I’ve never even met you in person! Please come over for dinner as our way of thanking you. Our family would love to get to know you.”

So I went. Justin’s wife made a delicious sweet potato and black bean chili (seriously, one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted), and after a fun dinner of getting to know each other, we moved into the living room where Justin and his wife started telling me some of the amazing success stories from their organization’s efforts this year. While his parents talked, four-year-old Josiah (the elder of Justin’s two sons) climbed up into my lap on the couch. Surprised but pleased, I stroked his soft, baby-fine hair while I listened to his parents.

In the middle of one of his dad’s stories, Josiah suddenly crawled out of my lap, turned around to face me, and interrupted his dad mid-sentence.

“Do you got a lie?” The four-year-old was looking directly at me, brow furrowed.

“Excuse me, what?” I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking or how to respond to his sudden question.

“Do you GOT a LIE?” Josiah asked with emphasis, putting his tiny hands on either side of my face to look deeply into my eyes.

Slightly concerned, I glanced at his dad, and Justin translated for me. “He’s asking you if you’re believing a lie.”

“Oh. No. I don’t think I’m believing any lies, Josiah.” I directed my answer to the young boy. “What lie to you think I’m believing?”

At this point, Josiah had lost interest, turning away from me to play with a blue light saber he found on the living room floor. Between swishing noises he made with his mouth, Josiah responded to my question in his high-pitched voice, “That God won’t provide.”

My eyes widened in shock. What kind of four-year-old makes that kind of comment?!

Justin, less shocked than I was at his son’s declaration, prodded him further. “What does Aurora not think God will provide for her?”

Josiah continued running around the living room, waving his light saber around and making accompanying sword-fighting noises with his pursed lips. He didn’t even look up when his tiny voice spoke the words of truth: “A husband.”

I nearly fell off the couch. My eyes bugged out, staring at Josiah and then his dad. Justin got up from his chair, went to a bookshelf and picked up a small black notebook and a pen. He scribbled away in his notebook, detailing yet another story to tell Josiah when his son got older.

As Justin bent over this journal of sorts, he asked his son another question. “And why is that a lie, Josiah?”

Josiah looked up at me this time when he answered. “Because He will.”

Goosebumps raced up and down my arms. Trying to take it all in, I glanced at Josiah’s mom; then back at Justin when he directed his next question to me. “Do you receive that, Aurora? Do you believe God will provide you with a husband?”

“I do,” I told him, and the words echoed in my mind like a wedding vow; a foreshadowing of things to come; of something spoken and promised and sealed.

In that moment, the lights went out. I looked around, wondering what in the world was happening now, but by the moonlight I spotted Josiah in the kitchen by the light switch. His mom asked him, “Josiah, why are you turning out the lights?”

“Because it’s time to anoint her.”

I gave up on being shocked. This child was other-wordly.

Justin just chucked. Apparently this was normal behavior for his son. “Okay, get the oil.” And then, to me, “Are you okay with this?” I just nodded.

So Josiah reappeared in the living room with a small glass bowl of oil while his mom lit some candles around the room. Josiah handed me his blue light saber, now lit up in the blackness, and he told me it could be my own personal candle while he prayed for me.

Josiah silently dipped his thumb in the oil, spread the oil in a horizontal line across my forehead, and – at his dad’s prompting – said a quick prayer that God would heal my heart and that I would trust God’s provision for a husband. And just like that, the light saber was snatched out of my hand, and the swooshing noises started again as Josiah decided it was time to play with his little brother, the two of them dancing around the carpet in a mock battle.

I was astonished by how quickly Josiah switched from solemn speaker of truth to rambunctious little boy. He is a special child, and although I am still processing all that took place that unexpected evening, I felt touched to have gotten a glimpse of the Holy Spirit’s working in that young boy. His parents are doing what they can to step into the hurt and chaos of the refugee crisis, and Josiah himself is, in his own way, also doing what he can – in ways he may not even understand yet – to bring hope and healing.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” -Psalm 8

Authentically Aurora

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili Recipe

Once Upon a September

cowboy bootsAdorable little Mia wiggled out of my lap to jump up and play tag with the other girls, so from my position on the floor, I started gathering up the art supplies scattered all around me. All of the children’s parents began trickling in to pick them up from our kids’ ministry after the early morning church service had concluded, so I took the opportunity to create some semblance of order of the colorful pipe cleaners and discarded colored pencils.

As I reached for yet another uncapped marker from my cross-legged position on the floor, a dusty pair of boots appeared in my peripheral vision just before their owner plopped down on the purple foam mat beside me. I glanced up and recognized the tanned face – deep brown eyes set above a warm smile – so I greeted him without thinking. “Hey. Seth, right?”

“Yeah, and you’re… Aurora?” He rearranged his long legs to get comfortable, and my eyes moved from his tousled brown hair down to our church’s teal volunteer T-shirt tucked into his faded blue jeans.

As I nodded in confirmation, I realized two things: I also knew Seth’s last name, but I had no idea how we knew each other. I had no memories of this man, but I was certain I knew him. I had vague recollections of possibly meeting him in college, but I went ahead and asked out loud, “How do we know each other’s names? I mean, I knew your name was Seth, but I don’t remember ever talking to you before.”

Seth leaned forward and correctly named both my alma mater and class year, as well as my major. I was impressed. Apparently we were in an introductory engineering class together our first semester freshman year. We probably met for the first time on some humid September morning, me in a T-shirt and soccer shorts, hair pulled into a tight ponytail. The would have been over ten years ago, but Seth remembered exactly which class it was. “Professor Till, right? At 8:00 AM?”

“Yes! He used to give pop quizzes all the time! I remember waking up late one morning and sprinting to class in my pajamas so that I wouldn’t miss the quiz, but I was five minutes late, so he wouldn’t let me take it.” I smiled at the memory. “I was quite the overachiever,” I added with a laugh.

Seth and I reminisced about our college years; then we moved along to each asking what the other is doing these days. In the midst of the current downturn in oil & gas, about a month ago Seth got let go from a major OG company in the area.

“That first day of being without work, I sat around in my boxers eating oatmeal, but one day of that was all I could handle. The very next day, I started volunteering my engineering services to a buddy’s small EP company, and they actually just wrote me a paycheck this week.”

I was impressed by Seth’s work ethic. He’s not the kind of man to sit around a sulk, and he told me that he refuses to take an unemployment check. His family owns a cattle ranch in the hill country a few hours outside of town, and he grew up learning the value of hard work and a man making a way for himself by the sweat of his brow.

I got so caught up in talking with Seth – I was so captivated by him – that when I glanced at the time, I realized that I was fifteen minutes late to church. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “Are you here to volunteer for the 11:00 service?”

He nodded, so I prattled on, “Well I volunteered at 9:15 and am going to the 11:00 service myself, so I’d better get in there!”

I stood, and Seth immediately stood as well. My mind flashed to a scene from Kate & Leopold where Leo stands every time Kate enters the room or leaves the table. Such a gentleman, I thought.

Seth moved forward to give me a hug goodbye, and he asked which midweek bible study I attend. I go on Wednesdays, and he goes on Tuesdays. “Well maybe I’ll double-dip this week and check out the Wednesday night group,” he told me with a smile.

“Yeah!” I chided my heart when it started racing. “That would be great. Send me a Facebook message, and I can give you the details.” I had already started slowly making my way toward the door, so I wiggled my fingers at him in a parting wave as I disappeared into the hallway and took a deep breath. What just happened? God, how did I not notice this man ten years ago? Where has he been?! Is this your perfect timing?

Our church was doing baptisms that week – or “bath-tisms” as seven-year-old Mia appropriately calls them in her sweet little voice – so the kids’ ministry volunteers quietly brought the children into the sanctuary to watch that portion of the service before taking them back to the children’s classrooms. Our sanctuary – a high school auditorium – seats a few hundred, so I was taken by surprise when, on his way out with his group of boys, Seth suddenly looked up and directly into my eyes. Our gazes locked, and he kept his eyes fixed on me until he vanished from view as he exited with his gaggle of boys. Only then did I realize I was grinning so wide that my cheeks hurt. He’d been grinning, too. We’re like a couple of high school kids! I thought with a blush.

When I got home from church, I logged into Facebook and saw a new friend request: Seth. My heart did a little dance. They say love finds you when you stop looking. Maybe – hopefully! – I’ll be among those who finds this to be true. ❤

Authentically Aurora

Mental About My Dental

Teeth-WhiteningPeople are weirdly obsessed with my teeth.

Apparently a new person in my circle of friends was asking someone else about me – what they think of me – and, of all the comments and observations that could have been made about me, the person’s response was: “She’s really intense. And she has good teeth.”

I’m intense. And I have good teeth. I mean, both of those things are true. The former is one of my greatest insecurities and the reason nearly every one of my boyfriends has broken up with me. The latter, as my daddy likes to say, is because he “paid a lot of good money for those teeth!” Nine months of braces. Thanks, Dad. 

Soon after that interaction, I found myself doing the whole standing-talking-in-the-parking-lot thing with one of the men in my bible study, and during the course of our conversation, he suddenly stopped and said, “You have really good teeth.”

I appreciated the compliment, but since his family owns a cattle ranch, this – his very first compliment to me – made me feel a bit like a horse being appraised for investment. Not the most flattering compliment of all time, but I tried to take it in the spirit in which it was intended.

Then last night, while volunteering at a ministry that provides career counseling and mentorship to at-risk youth, two of my freshman kept giggling during our session. When I asked what was up, they blurt out, “You have great teeth. They’re so white!” …and then, embarrassed, they erupted into giggles, covering their mouths and hiding under the table.

I smiled, thanked them, and brought us back to the lesson at hand, but – since all three interactions involved boys – the next time a man tells me I have good teeth, I’m going to ask in response, “Would you say my teeth are ‘like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing’?”

After all, a girl’s got to know where she stands.

Authentically Aurora

Candy and Mud Pies

Kids ministryWhat is an appropriate ratio of kids to adults for teaching? For camp counseling? For babysitting? For Sunday school?

Usually when I volunteer with the kids’ ministry at church, there are five leaders for the elementary school kids: one for 1st & 2nd grade girls, one for 3rd & 4th grade girls, two more for each of the boys’ age groups, and one master facilitator who leads us in the bible story during “big group time.” There are online sign-up sheets for volunteering, so Elle – the woman in charge of the kids’ ministry – knows ahead of time if she needs to call in reinforcements.

Yesterday when I showed up to volunteer, I was the only one for a while, so I clustered all of the elementary girls together – 1st through 4th grade. Soon, a guy named Mark showed up, but he told me it was only his second week to volunteer, so he mostly followed my lead as he gathered all of the boys together. Mark and I led our kids through the “rug time activity” – a craft involving a memorized bible verse – but soon we were finished with the craft, and no more volunteers had shown up.

I glanced at my watch. It was past time to move on to teaching the bible story, but I didn’t see any of our usual “big group” leaders. So while Mark got the boys in a circle, passing a ball around while each of them recited one of the Ten Commandments in turn, I got my girls in a circle – a very large circle, I noticed, as twenty different frilly skirts took their places on our mat – and told them we had an exciting opportunity.

“Usually at church,” I began, killing time while I continued looking around for our facilitator, “We have a set program in place. We do a certain craft, learn a certain bible story and then have small group discussion time.”

“But today,” I continued, clapping my hands together with a big smile, “You girls get the chance to ask me anything you want – any questions you have about God or the bible or church or Sunday school.”

“Can we ask you anything?” One precocious girl spoke up. “Like how old you are or if you’re married?”

I laughed. “Maybe if we have time at the end. But let’s start with bible questions. Does anybody have a bible question for me?”

A soft-spoken girl to my left raised her hand. “Yes, Angeli?”

She lowered her arm slowly as she began her question. “You know that girl who God promised would have as many children as stars in the sky?”

“You mean Sarah and Abraham?” I asked, clarifying. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham, “I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”

“Yeah. When God told Abraham his children would be like the stars in the sky, does that mean the stars in the sky are all of the unborn babies?”

“Wow, that’s an interesting interpretation,” I told her, and I went on to explain gently that stars are actually burning balls of gas and the biblical meaning of that passage was that all of the offspring of Abraham – “All of his children and great-grandchildren and great-great-great-great grandchildren” – would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. “Good question!”

After Angeli was satisfied, another girl asked a question that stopped me short. Her big, innocent eyes looked up at me as she asked me a question most adults ask all their lives. “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

“That’s a hard question, isn’t it, Savannah?” I acknowledged her question, thinking how to answer. “I’ve asked God that very same question a lot of times.” I gave a few personal examples and then explained to the girls – all of them listening now – that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is “no” because He loves us and wants what’s best for us. “Sometimes the things we want aren’t what is best for us, and because God loves us, He doesn’t answer our prayers with the ‘yes’ we hope for.”

I paused for a moment, collecting my thoughts; then gave an example. “If you ate candy for lunch and dinner every day, how would that make your tummy feel?”

“It would hurt,” some of the girls murmured.

“That’s right. But sometimes we want to eat nothing but candy for lunch and dinner, don’t we?” The girls nodded.

“We have mommies and daddies who love us, so they make us eat vegetables and food we don’t like because they love us and know that eating vegetables is better for us than eating candy. God is the same way. He is a loving Father who sometimes doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.”

I glanced over at Mark, who was starting to lose the boys. We were in a large, open gym, so it was nearly impossible to contain the dozens of kids running around. I decided no one else was coming to help, so I walked up to the front and tried to figure out the A/V system. I got a headset plugged in, turned on and tested it. “Test, test.” My voice echoed across the gym.

“Alright, boys and girls!” I called in my perkiest voice. “It’s time to play a bible trivia game!” I fumbled with the music and the PowerPoint slides, but between the two of us, Mark and I got through it. Right at the end, Elle showed up, aghast at the sight of me wearing the headset and barely containing the explosion of children wiggling in their seats.

Parents started showing up, picking up their kids, and Elle hurried over to me. “Oh my gosh! Did your Head Leader not show up?” I grinned and shook my head, nearly laughing at this point because of how ridiculous the whole morning had been.

God has really been teaching me a lot about flexibility, spontaneity and letting go of control. I like order and the expected. But if I’d had the security of a set program that morning, those girls wouldn’t have gotten their previously unspoken questions answered. And if I had the comfort of control over the situation, I wouldn’t have gotten to grow in faith, leadership and dependence on God as I struggled to rise to the occasion and make the most of our under-resourced morning. It’s just like I told the girls – sometimes God doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – CS Lewis

Authentically Aurora