Faith Like a Child

Rainbow Scratch Paper 2The weak are actually the strong. The foolishness of the world is used to shame the wise. We die to ourselves so that we may truly live. Those who wish to be greatest must humble themselves and become least; servant to all. When our eyes are opened, we see all of the so-called truths of this world turned on their heads. And I continue to learn from little children.

In the new year, I have continued volunteering in the children’s ministry at my church. I teach Sunday school to 1st and 2nd grade girls most weeks now, and I absolutely love it. These girls are so sweet and kind; innocent and affectionate. They constantly surprise me with the adorable things they say, and every week, God uses them to soften my heart.

A few weeks ago, we did a craft using rainbow scratch off paper, where the girls used scratching sticks to write their names or draw pictures, scraping away the black upper layer and revealing the colors hidden beneath it. I didn’t have enough scratching sticks for all of the girls, so I dug around in my wallet for some coins they could use for the scratch-offs.

I handed out a couple of pennies, a few dimes, and finally, a quarter to my sweet little Mia, who waited until last to receive her coin. When she saw that it was the last quarter in my wallet, she asked me, “Miss Aurora, is this your last quarter?”

“Yes, Mia, it is.”

Her eyes widened. “Like… your last quarter EVER?”

I smiled. “No, just the last quarter I have in my wallet right now.”

“Oh.” She looked down at the shiny coin in her hand before glancing up at me shyly. “So… when I’m finished with it, I should give the quarter back to you?”

I patted her on the shoulder. “If you want to. Or you can keep it.”

I watched Mia move the quarter around in her hands, feeling it; thinking about it. Then she looked up at me through long eyelashes. “What do you think I should do?”

I hadn’t planned to say it, but the Holy Spirit gave me the words to speak. “What do you think God would want you to do?”

Mia pursed her lips, thinking hard. Then she smiled slowly as she answered, “I think God would want me to give it to people who need it more than I do.”

Wow. I was astonished by the wisdom of this six-year-old. Yes, Lord. You use the foolish things of this world to shame the wisdom of the wise. I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 

We have a small mason jar for the kids to put any donations into, so when Mia finished using the quarter to scratch her name in rainbow colors, she skipped to the front of the classroom and cheerfully dropped her quarter into the jar with an adorable little smile.

What a witness. What a beautiful testimony. What a joy these children are to me. When we serve, we are truly the ones who receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap (Luke 6:38).

Authentically Aurora

Touching Thoughtfulness

HugBo is from Wisconsin and has an adorable northern accent. He is a smart, confident Triathlete with a great smile and gentle heart. When I met him at church back in February, I was still with Bryan, and Bo had a girlfriend himself. But we’ve known each other for a while now, and he’s become a friend who I like and respect.

While teaching Vacation Bible School together this week, I found out that Bo and his girlfriend broke up about a month ago. He just mentioned it in passing while a group of us herded the kids between stations, but my ears perked up.

I know I’m still a mess. I know I don’t need to jump into another relationship. And I know that I want to be good friends with the next guy before I get romantically involved with him. But the knowledge that a solid guy like Bo is still available gave me hope – not even necessarily for us to work out, but that I might actually be able to end up with a godly man my own age rather than picking off one of the bright-eyed 23-year-olds fresh from college or, at the other end of the spectrum, settling for an emotionally unavailable, baggage-laden 36-year-old (*cough, Bryan, cough*).

After VBS on Wednesday night, Bo, Diana and I hung around to catch up with a few other friends. Somehow the subject of love languages came up, and Bo immediately turned to me. “Yours is definitely physical touch.”

“What?” My face lit up with surprise. “How did you know?!” I actually have two primary love languages – quality time and physical touch – but Bo and I haven’t spent enough time together for him to have any reason to know that.

Bo shrugged in response; then gave a slight smile. “You’re a really touch-y person.”

I giggled nervously. “Um.. what?” Everyone else starting laughing, too – friendly laughter.

Bo laughed and waved his hands, “No, no… not in a bad or inappropriate way. You just seem to like to touch people’s shoulders when you talk to them… and you hug people a lot…” his voice trailed off.

“Oh. I mean… yeah. Physical touch is important to me.” All eyes were on me now, so I went on, “When I was a kid, I didn’t have an alarm clock. My mom would rub my back to wake me up every morning.”

“Awww…” I heard Diana’s soft voice float over from my right.

“I come from a loving, snuggly family,” I went on animatedly, “And I don’t… you know… fool around… so I don’t ever get my physical touch!” I threw my hands up in the air in mock frustration as I grinned at Diana. “That’s why I always hug you when I see you.”

I directed the conversation away from myself then, asking everyone else about their love languages. Bo said that his are words of affirmation and acts of service, although he also made an insightful comment about men in general: “I think words of affirmation are universally one of the top two for men. Men like to act tough, but we’re actually really insecure.” He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know experientially, but I appreciated Bo’s honesty and vulnerability. How many men would publicly make a statement like that, acknowledging their insecurities?

On Thursday night, Bo had to leave as soon as the VBS session was over. “I’ve gotta jet,” he called to the group as he got up from where we were all sitting cross-legged in the grass.

“Later!” we all called back as he started to walk across the field to his car. But after a few paces, he stopped, turned, and walked back to me. Bo surprised me by bending over and hugging my shoulders as I sat in the grass surrounded by children. Then he wordlessly straightened and walked back to his car.

It wasn’t until I was climbing into bed, mentally reviewing my day, that I realized Bo had made a conscious effort to meet my needs. He heard, remembered and made a decision to love me the way I need to be loved.

His thoughtfulness was touching. Pun intended.

Authentically Aurora

High Maintenance

Sharpay 1I don’t get how some girls just don’t get worked up about stuff. And I am totally jealous of them. Like, hello! You should be freaking out about this right now. You should be having a melt down. How are you not totally and completely stressed out of your mind?!?!

Last night, I volunteered to teach bible stories to a group of kids at an after school program in a low-income neighborhood. Partway through the night, I was talking with my friend Diana – a gorgeous, newly engaged twenty-something – as she reached into her purse and–

“Ugh!” Her white-and-gold Michael Kors iPhone case was covered in gooey, melted chocolate. She started digging through her purse and gingerly pulled out the culprit: a half-unwrapped Hershey’s bar. Diana started laughing as she shook her head and said, “One of the kids must have stuck that in there!”

She went right on with our conversation as if nothing had happened. She was laughing and smiling, completely unfazed by the fact that the entire inside of her purse was full of smeared brown goo that looked like poo. A gooey, pooey mess, and she’s still smiling.

I was floored. And insanely jealous of her attitude. She’s kind of a high maintenance girl from a materialistic perspective – Prada bags, Kendra Scott jewelry, business clothes from The Limited and Banana Republic. But what I realized last night is that, although she may be materialistic, she is low maintenance from an emotional perspective. In that regard, I’m the one who is high maintenance! Me. High Maintenance. What?

I’ve never seen myself that way before. I’m rocking a $15 purse from Target, and my fashionista self has been sporting the same pair of plain black heels to work for two years. What can I say? I’m practical and down-to-earth when it comes to material goods. If only I could say the same about my emotional state!

Sharpay 2I’m a Christian. Diana’s a Christian. I know that I should not be anxious for anything (Phil. 4:6), that I should cast my cares on God (Ps. 55:22), and that prayer will result in my heart and mind being guarded by the peace of God (Phil. 4:7). But I get worked up about stuff. Easily. I am easily frustrated, quick to anger and live in a perpetual state of stress. Diana, on the other hand, in all her fashionista-ness, has a lightness of heart that stems from her faith in the truths of God’s goodness and sovereignty.

I’m like totally J of Diana’s fabulous outlook on life and, like, I just can’t. I seriously need her mad skills. She’s on fleek. Hashtag killin’ it. Low maintenance girl right here. Am I right, ladies?

Authentically Aurora

Looking Down to Role Models

ArielI learn so much more from kids than I do from adults.

With adults, there are agendas and ulterior motives; insecurities, projections and complications. But children are simple. They are innocent and straight-forward. Their words and actions are not yet adulterated by societal expectations or unhealed wounds. And so I learn from them, in their simplistic, innocent view of the world.

As I have continued volunteering with the kids’ ministry at church, I am reminded how funny it is that, the more we seek to bless and serve others, the more we discover that we are ultimately the ones blessed as we pour ourselves out on others’ behalf.

A few weeks ago, I had a 10-year-old girl named Ariel in my group. She’s a beautiful African American girl – smart, bright-eyed, a good listener and fast. To drive home one of our bible stories, we played a game that required athleticism, and she won. The prize for winning was candy, but when I showed Ariel the Starburst, she declined politely. “I only like chocolate, not fruity candy.”

I wanted to give Ariel something, though, so I dug in my wallet and pulled out a shiny Sacagawea dollar – the new, golden US dollar coin. My mom is always giving me trinkets like this because she delights in the little things in life and expects that others do as well. She’s sweetly childlike that way.

All of the other kids gathered around Ariel and ooh-ed and aah-ed over her winnings. They had never seen a gold dollar coin before, and – to my mom and to elementary aged kids – its shiny surface looked magical. They took turns passing it around; it was precious and special, and Arial was admired for having this special coin.

After our game and lesson, our rag-tag group of kids joined the larger assembly for music time. While I herded the kids to our assigned green rug space, Ariel walked up to the front of the auditorium and spoke quietly to the worship leader before the music started. I saw the worship leader walk over to a jar we use for collecting offering and extend it to Ariel. We’d already taken up offering for the day, but I watched from afar as Ariel placed her precious gold dollar into the offering jar.

When she wordlessly made her way back to our rug, I asked her, “Ariel, did you tithe your gold dollar?” She looked up at me with a unique combination of poise, innocence, joy and wisdom. “Yes. I wanted to give it back to God.”

I was astonished. What a gem of a young woman. How many adults would have responded that way? How many adults do respond that way? The more we have, the greedier we get. If we have something shiny that draws the admiration of others, we are not going to part with it – certainly not willingly! But Ariel displayed a selflessness, generosity, faith and devotion that was inspirational. She went out of her way to give her blessings back to God.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” -1 Timothy 4:12

Authentically Aurora

a + n ≠ ♥

Cute math teacherRemember Nick the Strict – the handsome, athletic, good-with-kids church volunteer who thought it was a good idea to take me running for our second date (um, false) and then condemned painting images of Jesus as idolatry (negatory, bro)?

He’s back.

Those of you who are regular readers might be concerned for my sanity and emotional well being (always a legitimate concern, regardless of the presence of Nick the Strict in my life), but don’t worry. Nick the Strict is only back in my life; not in my love life. I’m not that crazy.

You  may recall that Nick is a junior high math teacher. You may also recall that I recently posted about how I am now volunteering to coach Math Club at a local middle school. And the more brilliant of you may by now have put two-and-two together and realized that – yes – it was Nick the Strict who got me involved in my math coaching gig.

Nick called me out of the blue on a Saturday in early January. I hadn’t heard from him since our fiasco of a last date several months ago, but I answered. He was at a weekend math competition and confessed to me, “These kids are little geniuses, but I don’t know how to lead them. We need someone like you who has competed in this kind of arena before.”

I thought about it, prayed about it, and realized that I hadn’t been so excited about anything in a long time. Pretty nerdy to get stoked about teaching math to kids, but there you have it. A week later, I was in a classroom teaching kids about doing base conversions in their heads.

It only took about two weeks for Nick the Strict to make another pass at dating me. He sent me a text one evening: “Hey Aurora. Would you like to join me for dinner after math club on Thursday? I want to try this new steakhouse near the school.”

I knew my answer the instant I saw the text, but I took my time in crafting a diplomatic response: “I like steak. 🙂  How do you feel about going Dutch?”

I waited with anxious anticipation for how he would respond to my delicate rejection of his pseudo-date request. So when I saw his text reply light up the screen on my iPhone, I just sighed and rolled my eyes. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Nick the Strict was never the most brilliant of my suitors.

“What? Lol, I don’t know any Dutch steak houses at all.”

Oh, Nick. Don’t you know that “going Dutch” has nothing to do with windmills or wooden shoes?

I sent him a screenshot of an online dictionary’s definition of what it means to go Dutch. His response: “I would like to treat you. However, if you feel you want to pay for yourself, no problem. We could go dutch at a casual Italian place next door.”

So now that it’s clearly no longer a date, you don’t want to go to the steakhouse at all. Nice.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “I’ll just come teach, and we’ll leave it at that.”

Why does everything in life have to be so complicated?

Authentically Aurora

Teaching Math to Hoodlums

Latte ArtI love math.

And coffee.

And when the two come together for an afternoon of pure, unexpected awesomeness.

For about a month now, I have been coaching a junior high Math Club. Every Thursday afternoon, I leave work a little bit early to drive to a local middle school and teach Number Sense (competitive mental math) to about a dozen 7th and 8th graders.

Yes, I was a nerdy Mathlete once upon a time, spending my Saturdays at math competitions. Fortunately for American society, I now teach other young, impressionable children to be equally as nerdy. Luckily for these kids, some brilliant fashionista coined the term “hipster” so they have a chance to be cool while being smart. I cannot say I was so fortunate back in my day.

On the week I started this volunteer work, I allowed a lot of extra time for traffic, not knowing how long it would take me to drive across town. I ended up arriving almost an hour early, so I stopped by a neighboring Starbucks to kill some time while I waited for the after school program to start.

As I climbed out of my car – still in my business suit – and walked up to the door of Starbucks, some teenagers dressed in all black with punk accessories started to catcall me. One in particular, with sunken eyes and an untamed mass of curls, called out, “Hey lady, will you buy me a drink?”

I looked him up and down and asked why I should do that. He said, “Because it’s freezing out here!”

It’s true that it was cold outside, but when I asked, “Why don’t you go inside then?”, he looked dumbfounded for a second; then replied with sass, “I’m so cold, I’m frozen in place!”

I lifted my chin and told him, “Then you’re not smart enough to earn yourself a drink.”

I walked inside, got in line to order, and had a crazy thought. I am an engineer, not a teacher, and it would be nice to run through my lesson plan with a practice audience. The punk kids outside all wanted coffee (and obviously needed some positive adult attention), so I got out of line before I could over think the wild idea.

I popped my head outside and called to the dozen teenagers skulking about, “Hey, anybody who wants a free coffee, come with me! If you are willing to sit and listen to fifteen minutes’ worth of a math lesson, I’ll buy you a drink!”

The curly-haired boy who had asked me for a hot drink only moments earlier gaped at me with wide eyes, astonished. “Are you serious?”

“I sure am. Are you coming?” I held the door open for him as he walked in, along with five of his friends.

They had been angry, aggressive kids outside, wrapped in their claimed misunderstood status, but once in line with me, the transformation in their collective demeanor was astounding. They were all suddenly shy, polite, and sweet.

Every single teen, when he or she got to the front of the line, looked up at me with big eyes and asked shyly, “Does it matter what size I get?” I loved that they asked, and I loved that I could tell them, “Get whatever you want. It’s my treat.”

After the last kid had ordered, and I paid for their drinks along with my tall cafe mocha (with whip, of course), the cashier asked me skeptically, “Is this some kind of community outreach program?”

I laughed, “Nope. This is just me loving on some kids and practicing my math lesson.”

The woman raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips, looking scornfully at the teens behind me. “Well you treat them better than we do.” These kids must be the bane of her existence, always hanging around outside the store, seemingly up to no good.

Once all of the teens were settled with their inevitably Venti-sized drinks in their hands, I started the lesson. I walked them through LIOF and the Rule of 11, first explaining how each mental math trick worked; then talking through examples. I let the kids pick the numbers we used, getting them involved in the exercises. And then I made each of them solve a problem on their own in front of the group.

When my fifteen minutes were almost up, I turned to the curly-haired boy and said, “Okay, you’re the last one. Time to do your sample problem.”

“No, I went at the beginning,” he told me, straight-faced.

“You did?” I asked him.

“No he didn’t!” said the lone girl in the group. “Remember? I went first!”

I raised my eyebrows at the boy and said with a tease in my voice. “This is a Lie-Free Zone. Did you already solve an example for the group?”

He looked down at his shoes. “No,” he told me.

“Alright. Then let’s do one together. I’ll help you. Do you want to do LIOF or the Rule of 11?”

We worked through the problem together, with the other kids surprisingly giving him encouraging comments as he thought through the answer. When he solved the math problem, his eyes lit up. He was so proud of himself that I had to blink quickly to hide the tears welling up in my eyes.

It was an absolute joy to watch the lightbulbs go off in the eyes of these teens; to watch their confidence build over the course of just fifteen minutes. I loved hearing them encourage one another and get excited about learning something new – about math, of all things!

Before long, I had to leave to teach the kids actually involved in Math Club. But I’ve gotta admit, teaching the hoodlums was way more fun. I have been looking for a place to actively volunteer for five years, but organizational bureaucracy or stringent scheduling always has gotten in the way. Maybe I finally found my niche. Maybe it’s time I just start going to different Starbucks and picking out juvenile delinquents to invest in. Math for Mochas. It’s got a nice ring to it.

Authentically Aurora

Jamberry Review

Jamberry nailsJamberry nails look awesome. For the uninitiated, they are stick-on nails with fabulous patterns. The holiday ones are my favorite.

However, there are some mild drawbacks to wearing these fantastically eye-catching nails.

For instance, you should plan on not washing your hair at all during the two week Jamberry nail wearing time frame, unless of course you like ripping out your hair in the shower as strands get caught underneath the gooey goodness of Jamberry nail stickers.

Also, you should either plan to not eat for two weeks or infect all of your food with the salmonella that gets stuck underneath your Jamberry fingernails from the eggs you cracked while making pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for your Thanksgiving potluck.

Jamberry festiveAnd lastly, you should definitely plan to catch every disease carried by the small children you lead in the church kids’ ministry, because there’s no way those goobers or snot bubbles are leaving the safe confines of your Jamberry nails’ stickiness.

In summary, Jamberry nails look awesome. And they will look awesome for the entirety of the last two weeks of your life before you implode from the inability to do anything remotely productive while wearing them.

Authentically Aurora

8-Year-Old Heartbreaker

StrattonHow is it that even eight-year-old boys are capable of breaking my heart?

Last Sunday, I volunteered with the youth ministry at my church for the first time. I was assigned the 3rd & 4th grade boys, but there was an especially energetic 2nd grader named Stratton who latched onto me (literally – grabbed my legs and looked up at me with big, blue eyes) and begged for me to be his leader.

“Please, please, please?” he asked, spiky blonde hair sticking out in every direction.

Jeff, the volunteer in charge of 1st and 2nd grade boys, chuckled and said that yes, Stratton could hang with me for the day. Stratton gleefully grabbed my hand, pulled me to our classroom, grinned up at me and called out, “Come on, Mom!”

I laughed, “Oh, I’m ‘Mom’ now, am I?”

“Yeah,” he said shyly. He tiled his head to the side and smiled at me. “You get to be my mom for the morning… Mom.” He looked up at me through thick eyelashes, freckles dotting his nose. Be still, my heart. So precious and such a rascal, all at the same time!

While the 3rd & 4th grade boys collected “manna” (cotton balls) and learned about God’s provision in the desert (thanks, God, for the irony of having me teach this lesson), Stratton sat at a craft table and taped straws to a paper plate. His favorite subjects, I learned, are math and science. He’s my little future engineer. Mommy’s so proud!

I know Sunday school teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but if we’re honest, how can we help but have that one child who absolutely melts our heart? Ruth told me that she believes God is going to use music to soften my heart. I’ve determined that He’s going to use music and children. Particularly 8-year-old boys.

When Stratton’s real mom came to pick him up after church, he ran eagerly to her and gave her a big hug without even looking back. And that’s when I realized that even 8-year-old boys are capable of breaking my heart. I hope his mom knows how lucky she is to have such a precious blessing… and to be “Mom” for more than just three hours on Sunday mornings.

Authentically Aurora

Help (Not) Wanted

HelpI keep trying to give of my time, talents and resources, but no one seems to want them. As if it wasn’t enough of a blow to my self esteem to be perpetually rejected by men I’ve loved deeply, I can’t even convince nonprofit organizations to take my freely offered help!

Many people have said that one of the best ways to forget your own problems is to start serving others. Norman Vincent Peale said, “The way to happiness… Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others.” Apparently I am doomed to scatter gloom, forget others and think of self.

In April, I signed up to volunteer at our local children’s hospital, but I was turned away. They said that they already have too many volunteers.

In May, I volunteered to mentor high school students in a neighborhood youth group, only to discover that the youth group had disbanded for the summer.

In June and July, I met with three different staff members of YoungLives, an organization that ministers to pregnant teens. I offered to do free maternity photos for their girls, but no one ever followed up, despite the fact that I’m a semi-professional photographer offering free services. It’s not like I’m bad; this is one of my actual photos:

Maternity

I go to a contemporary church with a worship band instead of a traditional choir, so in August, I auditioned to sing harmony with the worship leader. I’ve been blessed with a beautiful voice – I was a three time All State Choir Member, auditioned with Houston Grand Opera when I was 18, and even have an album on iTunes. But the worship leader said that they already have eight female vocalists who rotate through every Sunday and don’t need another.

And then more recently, I offered to tutor at-risk junior high kids in math (I’m an engineer by background). But the kids are only available for tutoring during an after-school program that meets from 3:30p-4:30p, well before I can get off work.

I am (I think, understandably) frustrated. I said at the beginning that no one wants my time, talents or resources. That’s not entirely true. The one thing every organization wants is my money. Just this week, I’ve gotten five pieces of mail from five different charity organizations asking for funding. I went to a charity banquet on Wednesday where they were asking for money, and I got a fundraising phone call from yet another organization yesterday.

Giving financially is all well and good. I give happily. Cheerfully, even. But there’s something powerful about physically, tangibly giving WITH YOUR HANDS for the Kingdom.  I feel so much more invested when I can look people in the eye and personally see my service played out.

I keep telling myself that Jesus didn’t begin his public ministry until he was 30. I guess if that’s good enough for God’s Son, it should be good enough for me. Back to being not-so-silently pruned in preparation for whatever ministry God has prepared for me. All I can say is, it better be epic.

Authentically Aurora