Loving Humbling

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I’ve been working at the same company for the past 7.5625 years. To a Baby Boomer, that may only seem like a fleeting moment, but to most Millennials, that seems like a lifetime to spend at one company. I always thought I’d be like a Baby Boomer in that I planned to stay at the same company for 50 years and make my job a true career; to invest in one company and show fidelity and faithfulness and I worked my way up and invested my blood, sweat and tears to make my company a better employer and more profitable company.

But the company where I work has never wanted my blood, sweat and tears in the traditional sense. Only two of the eleven bosses I’ve had over 7.5625 years has wanted to truly see me invest in the company for both my betterment and the betterment of the company as a whole. For the most part, the people I work with – management in particular – want to see us bleed, but only because they draw blood. They want to see us sweat, but only out of fear and intimidation. And they want to see tears because that means their carefully crafted demotivational comments have hit their mark.

Because I work for one of the most widely recognized major oil companies in the world, they are able to hire the best and the brightest. This corporation hires class presidents, valedictorians, visionary students who have founded their own organizations, and PhD students making breakthroughs in the future of biofuels. But rather than channeling that raw intellect and stunning creativity, all of these initially highly motivated self-starters are shoved into The Machine where they are expected to be simply one cog in one wheel, with no insight into or influence over even the most minuscule of process improvements. Don’t think independently. Don’t disrupt The System.

Any genius is called ignorance if it doesn’t fit the mold of the Kool-aid pushing management. Any creativity is stifled when the innovative try to use the very skills for which they were hired. The majority of the most fun, hard-working, creative and brilliant of my colleagues have long since left the company, opting instead to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits or become consultants to companies who will pay them triple to actually listen to the input that was so scorned at my current place of employment.

I have been trying to leave this company for nearly 7 of the past 7.5625 years. I’ve applied to smaller OG companies. I’ve interviewed with Apple in Cupertino. I’ve gone to seminary to become a biblical counselor and taken graphic design courses with plans to start my own design studio. I’ve written music and even released an album on iTunes. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms and, most recently, earned my teaching certification. I am a self-starter who wants to passionately pour myself into my work if only I can find a career and employer who will respect me enough to give me room to deliver.

I’ve been close to leaving this corporation countless times, but nothing has ever panned out. I’ve had offers on the table that were unexpectedly revoked as the market tanked. I’ve had companies that wanted to hire me but were on a hiring freeze. I’ve been faced with hardened hearts, lack of favor and lots and lots of closed doors over the past 7 years. I’ve fought bitterness, anger, hopelessness, despair and doubt about whether God is really good and loving. And what I have come to conclude is that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it is the Lord’s good, gracious, loving will that prevails.

When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I was going to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an engineer. Ten years later, I was accepted to USMA but fell into deep depression when my high school sweetheart broke off our relationship just months before high school graduation. Physically weak and emotionally despondent, I gave up my offer of admission to someone on the wait list who would actually be able to make it through boot camp. I ended up at a state school and spent most of my freshman year bitter about how I’d let my wayward emotions rob me of a golden opportunity and lifelong dream. But God had a plan.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I said yes to marrying the man I loved. Mere months later, he had an emotional breakdown and called off the already-planned wedding. I faced not only his rejection but also the public humiliation of informing friends, family and coworkers that I was an undesirable woman no longer loved by the man who’d promised to love and protect me. But God had a plan.

Nearly eight years ago when I graduated from college and started work at my current employer, I was on a fast track for senior management. All of my performance reviews and feedback sessions – for a season – said that I had the makings of a Senior Executive at one of the largest corporations in the world. But a VP who’d championed me retired, and the capricious whimsy of our talent forum found another shining star to adore. I was turned over to a manager who despises and disrespects me constantly. But God has a plan.

If I’d gone to West Point, I would surely be a harder, more cynical woman than I am today. Simply to get through that military academy as a woman would have robbed me of much of my God-given softness and femininity. Going to a state school not only humbled me but also gave me experiences that taught me about how women are gifted to show the world about God’s kindness, gentleness and unconditional love in a way that is uniquely feminine.

If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have been joined to a man who could not and would not lead me spiritually. I would have been lonely in my marriage, yoked to a man whose affection was flighty and temperamental. Instead, I have been given the blessing of knowing what it is to love a man like Seth, whose pure heart and consistent, dependable servant leadership inspire me to become more the woman I’ve been created to be.

And if I’d stayed on the executive fast-track at this company, it would have been harder to leave. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who would have become a workaholic, sacrificing friendships and family time for career; choosing advancement over integrity. But all of the women I know in leadership at our company behave like men. They have lost their softness; their gentleness; their kindness. They are tough and gritty and entirely masculine in their communications and interactions. That is not the kind of woman I want to be, nor is it who I’ve been created to be.

Each circumstance has been brought with it a painful sense of rejection. Each circumstance has taught humility through humiliation. But each circumstance has been a profound blessing orchestrated by the loving hand of God, who is more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporal happiness. God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes those gifts look like punishment in the moment, but in time, we are able to look back and realize that our omniscient, omnipotent, unconditionally loving Father knew what he was doing all along.

Authentically Aurora

Sweet Seth

autumn-walkSeth has been so wonderful lately. After a kind of rough patch in October where we talked through a few points of conflict (an important aspect of any healthy relationship), the past few weeks have been some of the sweetest we’ve had.

The weather finally turned cooler a few weeks ago down in the South where we live, so Seth and I took the opportunity to bundle up and go for a nice walk outside in a cozy, historic part of town. I had a warm latte in one hand and Seth’s calloused palm in the other. The leaves started changing, and we talked about everything and nothing.

At the end of our walk when Seth escorted me to my car, he gave me a kiss goodbye and then asked me to wait a second. “I’ll be right back.” He jogged to his truck, grabbed something out of the back seat and then jogged back to me. He wrapped his left arm around my waist and, with his right hand, threw a paper airplane through my open driver door onto my passenger seat.

I laughed, genuinely happy. “What was that?” I hugged his waist. He gave me a quick kiss on my forehead and said with a grin, “See you later.”

He jogged back to his car and got in while I, still smiling and curious, reached for the paper airplane. I unfolded it delicately and read one of the sweetest notes Seth’s ever written me. He acknowledged that he’s not always the most verbally affectionate boyfriend, but he wanted to make sure I knew how much he cares about me. I think I actually teared up a little bit. He’d written me a love note. And folded it into a paper airplane. It was the perfect combination of thoughtful and playful; quirky and sweet.

cinderella-stairsA few days later, after dinner with a group of friends, my high heels – glittery, silvery three-inch heels – were killing me. So Seth carried me up the stairs to my apartment. On the way, one of my heels fell off, so Seth set me down at the top of the stairs, ran down the stairs, picked up the silvery shoe, and ran back to the top of the stairs where he knelt down and gently slipped the glass slipper back onto my foot. I felt like a princess, especially when he scooped me back up again and carried me across the threshold of my apartment.

festival-of-lightsThe next week, Seth surprised me with a road trip, ensuring that he catered to my planning nature by telling me how to pack. “Dress for cool weather, and plan to be outside.” He wanted to keep the destination a surprise, but he is also learning how I operate and is lovingly choosing to adjust his style. He threw in a couple of red herrings (“Pack a hammer and a baseball cap”) just to keep me off track, but he ultimately took me to a lights festival modeled after my favorite Disney movie. I felt so loved, not only that he thought to surprise me with something he knew I’d enjoy, but that he also presented the surprise in a way that catered to me.

Last Sunday, he called me before church just to say “hello beautiful” and to let me know he was looking forward to worshiping with me. We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and he told me I remind him of Mary because I’m a beautiful brunette who is lovingly supportive, resilient and a Proverbs 31 woman. And the next morning, he sent me off to work with an unexpected text: “Good morning, sweetheart. I hope you have a wonderful Monday!”

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the wedding of some dear friends who attend church with us. It was a beautiful ceremony, and at the reception, Seth leaned over to kiss my cheek and whisper quietly, “You were worth waiting for.”

My eyes widened in surprise, and he laughed, “It was a long wait!” He smiled. “But you were worth waiting for.”

Authentically Aurora

Sense & Sensitivity

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Seth and I have been dating for a few months now, so we are entering that season of trying to find our groove; to figure out the new norm for our relationship now that the “getting to know you” season is coming to a close.

Over the past three months, we’ve learned each other’s backstories as well as one another’s hopes and dreams for the future. We’ve experienced one another’s hobbies and have explored our (thankfully shared) political and religious views. We’ve met each other’s families, friends, coworkers and have started double-dating with now mutual friends.

There aren’t a lot of “softball” questions left to ask (“What do you like to do for fun?”), so conversation tends to either be about the present (“How was your day today?”), the near future (“What are you up to this weekend?”), or a topic that is deeper, more intense, and suggestive of the longer-term future (“What are your thoughts on adoption?”). We try to keep that last one to a minimum for now. After all, Seth’s longest relationship ever is only 4 months, and I am all too aware we are creeping up on that timeline.

Seth has become a student of me, and I of him. We are still learning each other, but we have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. He has moments of being indescribably sweet and moments of being a stereotypical man. I’m sure he feels the same about me in all my womanliness.

Just yesterday, we were talking after work on our way to meet some friends for dinner. Seth had spent the weekend in the pasture, and his time in the sun had dotted his tanned face with a sprinkling of freckles. Enjoying the look of them, I smiled at him suddenly and said with a soft smile, “I really like your freckles.”

He looked back at me and said with a straight face, “I really like your pimple,” nodding to a new blemish that just showed up on my left cheek. About five minutes earlier, I’d been telling him about the rough day I’d had at work and had confessed I was feeling a bit defeated and insecure. So I laughed, but I also added through the laughter, “Uh, didn’t I just get finished telling you how insecure I’m feeling today? Please tell me more about how ugly I am.” He took the hint and wrapped me in a hug, saying, “Oh, Aurora… you know I’m just teasin’ with ya.”

Two hours later, driving back from dinner, I got a (perhaps needed) reminder of what a great guy Seth is. We were at a red light and got stuck behind a beat-up, old car that wouldn’t start when the light turned green. Rather than honking and veering angrily around the stalled car like some of my exes would have done, Seth turned on his hazard lights, told me to sit tight, and hopped out of the truck to knock on the door and see how he could help.

The driver ended up being an elderly woman, and Seth got her to put the car in neutral while he pushed her to a corner gas station. Meanwhile, I slid across the bench seat to Seth’s driver seat and followed behind the stalled car in his truck, shielding them from traffic.

That is the kind of man he is. That is the kind of team we make. So when he teases me about my acne or ogles at the number of brownies I eat or tells me my laugh sounds like a turkey, I just remind myself about his kind heart and stalwart character.

He is a typical, occasionally oblivious man, and I am a typical, occasionally sensitive woman. So as I tell Seth all the time, I am learning to hear the words of his heart and not his mouth. And he is learning not to say stupid things.

Authentically Aurora

Stones from a Gem

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Have you ever started a new relationship just weeks before Christmas? How do you know what to get for a new S.O.’s birthday? At what point are gifts not only appreciated but expected? Will gifts put too much pressure on a budding relationship if they are given too soon?

These are some of the questions I mulled over in the weeks leading up to my April business trip to Europe. Seth would be celebrating his 29th birthday while I was abroad, and I wanted to do something to let him know I was thinking of him, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm him or make him uncomfortable.

We’d only been dating for a few weeks, and we weren’t even necessarily dating exclusively. We’d been on one date, and he’d only held my hand once. But at my core, I am a giver, and it brings me joy to make other people feel special. Besides, in my family growing up, birthdays were a time of celebration, so I didn’t feel like I could let Seth’s birthday go by unacknowledged.

I wanted to be myself with Seth, and that meant doing something to honor his birthday, so – knowing that one of his favorite hobbies is carpentry – I bought him some crushed turquoise. Seth works largely with mesquite wood, and he had mentioned wanting to start using crushed turquoise to fill in the cracks in his woodworking pieces. I’d hoped it was a small enough gift (under $20) not to freak him out but thoughtful enough to make him feel appreciated.

I planned to give it to him on the day I left for my trip, so the morning of my flight, Seth and I met at church as agreed. After the service, we caravanned back to my apartment, and upon retrieval of my suitcase from my bedroom, I handed Seth the birthday card I’d made along with a drawstring bag filled with the turquoise I’d purchased for him.

“Happy Birthday,” I told him shyly when he looked up at me with a puzzled expression.

Kendra_Scott_Bag“I know you’re not big into celebrating birthdays,” I busied myself with tying my shoelaces, “But I couldn’t just not do anything for your birthday,” I rambled. “Oh, and I didn’t have any gift bags, so I just put your present in a Kendra Scott bag. But don’t worry,” I laughed, wondering what he must be thinking at the sight of the trendy jeweler’s bag, “I didn’t get you Kendra Scott earrings!”

Seth chucked, but I could tell there was something he wasn’t saying. Was it too much that I’d gotten him a gift? He hadn’t even opened it yet. Did he think it was lame I’d reused one of my Kendra Scott jewelry bags?

As I worried over his nonverbal reaction, Seth untied the drawstring bag and pulled out the crushed turquoise, along with the CA glue I’d partnered with it for his next carpentry project. His expression was unreadable at first; then he gazed at me with a soft look of wonder and appreciation. He looked genuinely touched. And surprised. And surprised at how touched he felt.

I watched various expressions flicker across his face and decided I’d done well. Seth stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug; then looked down at the bag of turquoise again. And then he hugged me a second time, whispering into my hair, “Thank you. That was really sweet.”

He helped carry my luggage to his truck and loaded it into the backseat. He opened the passenger door for me, as always, before walking around to his driver door and climbing in. Seth started the engine, but before he shifted into drive, he reached behind his driver’s seat and pulled out a Kendra Scott bag, handing it to me.

“What is this?” I asked, thinking at first that he was handing me the very same bag I’d given him for his early birthday present. But, glancing up into his face, I realized in an instant that this was a completely different bag. Mind racing, I realized with shock that before he found out I was going to give him a present today, Seth had already prepared this gift for me.

“It’s kind of a belated birthday present. Coupled with a going away present.” My birthday had been a month earlier, when Seth and I were just getting to know one another. I hadn’t expected him to get me anything then, and I certainly hadn’t expected him to get anything for me now!

“Can I open it?” I asked. I felt like a little girl, overwhelmed with wonder and excitement and a sense of feeling very, very special.

“Yeah, open it.” Seth’s expression was unreadable again. Did he look… nervous?

I pushed back the teal wrapping paper, pulled out the familiar bright yellow box, opened the teal drawstring bag and found a pair of Danielle earrings in purple – my favorite color. He bought me Kendra Scott earrings. 

I never would have expected such an extravagant gift, and I was unprepared for the way his kindness and generosity affected me. I’d known he was thoughtful. I’d known he was a gentleman. But to be the recipient of not only his selfless service of driving me to the airport but also this tangible token of his affection welled up in me an emotion that nearly moved me to tears. I felt cared for.

It had been so long since someone took care of me that I’d nearly forgotten what it felt like to be romanced; to be and protected; to be lovingly served. And I had a sense that Seth experienced a similar emotion when he opened his gift.

Not only did Seth and I unknowingly both get one another semi-precious stones in a Kendra Scott bag that day, we also both began to give one another the gifts of mutual care, respect, service and trust. Very rarely in life do two givers come together, but when they do, I am finding that it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Authentically Aurora

Roy? Gee Whiz

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The Camp Counselor type: Everybody knows at least one. Loud, colorful, extroverted, crazy, zany, loud, talkative, attention-seeking, loud, animated, effervescent… and did I mention loud?

When I met Roy at church last fall, he’d been out of college for six months but was still unemployed. He spent a lot of time volunteering at various sports camps, which suited him perfectly, since he is one of the aforementioned camp counselor types. A Sports Management major with dreams of being a basketball coach, Roy stands just a couple of inches taller than me at 5’5″.

Roy is actually a very attractive kid – I think of him as a miniature Abercrombie model – but I can’t help but think of him as just that: a kid. The small child, Ashley calls him. So when he expressed interest in dating me, sweet as he is, I just couldn’t get past his age (23), his height (5’5″), his work experience (0 years) and his employment status (unemployed).

Don’t get me wrong; Roy is a very kind-hearted guy, and kindness goes a long way. In fact, my late grandfather told me that what drew him to my grandmother (“well, besides the fact that she had great legs!” he interjected) was her kindness. And my grandmother said the same about my grandfather (about his kindness, not his legs). I know that kindness is important, and I want to end up with a kind-hearted man. But I don’t particularly want to end up with a kind-hearted man-child.

When Roy initially asked me out back in November, I told him I thought he was a sweet, godly man, but I just felt we were in different life stages. Camp counselors are nothing if not persistent though, so he asked again in January. Now he has a job at the YMCA. But I was able to legitimately tell him that, despite his new employment status (employed! woo!), I am still not dating for a while (possibly a year, reevaluating at the end of each quarter, depending on how attractive my perspective dating pool is what God tells me about the state of my heart).

The puppy was not deterred. “So we just have ten and a half months to go,” he told me sincerely, taking me by the hand in the parking lot outside where we’d both been attending a party.

“Roy…” I said in exasperation, pulling my hand away. “Please don’t wait for me. I think you have a lot of great qualities – you’re a sweet, attractive, godly man – but you really should be dating other girls. I am not dating anyone right now, and as much as I admire you, I should not be a love interest of yours.”

Roy refused to try dating other people, insisting that there was something special between us. “Every time I’ve tried going out with another girl, I always end up comparing her to you, and she just doesn’t measure up. You are the standard.” Oh boy.

Just three weeks ago, we had to have the conversation again. Roy really is a sweetheart, and I enjoy his company, plus we’re in the same bible study at church, so I perhaps had been too gentle with him. Besides, my mom was really rooting for him. The little boy, she called him. The small child, Ashley called him. Roy vey, I thought to myself.

My mom liked that he was kind. I liked that he was kind. I knew though, deep down, that Roy and I weren’t a fit. And I needed to make sure he knew that. I didn’t want to hurt him, but after months of apparent lack of clarity on his part as to our status, I decided the time had come to be more direct.

Roy had walked me to my car, given me a hug and kissed my forehead (which required him to take my face in his hands and tilt my chin down). I sighed. I’d really thought I had been clear that we were just friends. Obviously we needed to have yet another DTR (can I just say? “not dating” 23-year-olds is exhausting).

“Roy, do you know why I’m not dating this year?” He nodded, but I continued anyway. “A big part of it is that I want to reinstate God as my First Love. I have allowed men to become idols in my life – a crutch of sorts – that keep me from going to God for comfort, encouragement and guidance. My sense of self worth tends to be tied up in men’s attraction to and opinion of me.”

Roy nodded again, big brown puppy eyes unaware that they were about to have their light dimmed. “I know we’ve said that we’re not dating, but whatever this is? This walking me to my car, texting me all the time, kissing me on the forehead? This pseudo-friendship-dating is a crutch that is completely undoing the purpose for which I set out not to date. You are a crutch. And I need this to stop.”

Suffice it to say that Roy got the message.

There’s a new girl at church, Jess, who I saw sitting alone and who I welcomed into our group about a month ago. Curly black hair, loves sunflowers, hates gluten. Sweet girl. I invited her to join our community group, which she did – so successfully, in fact, that last Saturday, she posted a Facebook photo of her and Roy cheek-to-cheek with the caption: “Successful first date!!! ❤ ” Umm, what?

I was confused. Just two weeks earlier, Roy had been fawning all over me, telling me that no other girls could compare to me. Two weeks was all it took for the puppy dog to pull his tail from between his legs and start wooing some other girl? Two weeks and he’s already posting photos with Jess to social media? I’m the one who invited her into our group! I’m the one who basically introduced them! And who posts first date photos anyway? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?

Last Sunday they sat together holding hands with their fingers interlaced, and at lunch after church, Jess – apparently oblivious to the history between Roy and myself – plopped down right next to me so that she could gush to me about how amazing Roy is and then tell me all about their plans for their romantic second date.

As Jess giggled and showed me their selfies together, I ordered an alcoholic beverage. It shouldn’t bother me. It shouldn’t. I know this. I could have had him if I wanted him. In fact, I encouraged him to date other girls. And I legitimately think they could be a good match. I am happy for them. She’s a sweet girl, and he’s a sweet guy. They just seem like they’re both rushing into this like they have something to prove.

In the past week, Roy must have let Jess in on the fact that he pursued me for a while, because this Sunday when I walked into the sanctuary, I caught Roy putting his arm protectively around Jess and giving her a comforting hug as I walked by. Really? Am I that girl now? Hours later, they made their relationship “FBO” as Jess tagged it in their latest selfie – Facebook Official, “and I couldn’t be happier!!! ❤ ” Well go poop a rainbow, why don’t ya?

I really hope – for both their sakes – that she is not a rebound. And I really hope I can still be welcoming to her and kind to him. They are my brother and sister in Christ, and I want them to be happy. They are just moving really fast. And it’s hard to watch people move on from you. I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that all too often, even if we don’t want someone, we all still want to be wanted.

Authentically Aurora

Reconciliation

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I talked with Grant today.

He apologized sincerely. He was afraid to call, unsure how angry I would still be. He didn’t sleep well last night and felt horrible about what he said and did after the concert.

Of his own volition, he acknowledged that he is selfish, immature, and has unrealistic expectations for the woman he dates and ultimately marries. He has never been able to make a relationship last, and he told me that he knows he has some growing up to do.

He wants to seek the Lord and get his life in order so that he can be ready for a legitimate relationship. “I have a lot of growing up to do before I’m ready to be a spiritual leader.” He wants to learn how to date seriously and with intentionality. Not with me; we established that. But with someone. Someday.

And he wanted to affirm me. Admitting that he spoke too harshly, he wanted me to hear that I am:

Encouraging, Supportive, Uplifting

Sweet, Kind, Thoughtful

Honest, Authentic, Real

Smart, Savvy, Successful

My encouraging nature is his favorite thing about me. “You believe in me in ways no one else does. You believe in me more than I believe in myself.” Yes, I do. That’s because I believe you are teachable, self-reflective, and genuinely want to be a godly  man. And when we align our desires with God’s, we can be sure that we have what we have asked of Him (1 John 5).

I’m glad we reconciled. His friendship is one I did not want to lose.

If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. -Matthew 5:23-24

Authentically Aurora

Notes to Self

Sometimes during long conference calls at work, I doodle or write notes to myself in the back pages of my office notepads. Occasionally I flip through these back pages to rediscover the partially-coherent thoughts or ideas I jotted down while trying to remain conscious during one mind-numbing meeting or another.

This morning, I came across these two pages that I evidently scribbled back in August. When I read them today, I marveled at the fact that I knew five months ago what it has taken me until this year to begin implementing in earnest.

On an unrelated note, you will see that I tend to write my letter “r”s as capitals, even in the middle of woRds. Apparently this means I am defiant and don’t like to be told what to do.

Yep, sounds about right.

“The defiant person doesn’t like to be ‘managed’ and is always alert for any sign of unjust authority…Usually it takes the form of a capital letter… Most handwriting analysts talk about the defiant k… the ‘go-to-hell’ k… We have also included a capital R in the middle of a letter… Defiance is a defense of the ego. It says, ‘I defy you to criticize me, to attempt to hurt me.’ …This personality trait is VERY common among Americans… based on the overwhelming need to defy the odds, face the threats, and stomp down those who would steal our freedom… Americans will continue to be defiant. It is in the genes.”

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Journal 2

Authentically AuRoRa