Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

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Staring into the Face of Love

Firefly meadow.png

Seth got assigned the “homework” of taking me on a romantic date as a part of our Fusion pre-engagement class. That particular week, we happened to be out at the ranch, so our options for a romantic evening were limited, but Seth told me he was planning something nice for Thursday evening.

Early in the week, Seth drove me to a nearby town to get drinks and enjoy the live acoustic music that was playing there. I didn’t expect much since there were only a few cars in the gravel lot when we pulled in, but as soon as we got settled with our drinks, Seth gestured to the dark hills around us, saying softly, “Look.”

I glanced up and did a double-take. “Wow,” I breathed. Fireflies danced in the darkness around us, lighting up the night with their soft glow. Seth and I sat hand-in-hand on a picnic bench at that empty outdoor bar, soft music coming from across the yard where two guitarists talked and gently finger-picked on their six strings. And it was magical.

Our official date night two days later was nice, but Seth couldn’t have recreated that God-given romance if he’d tried. And he did try. We had a nice dinner together and sat on the dock of a lake watching the sun set. It was peaceful. It was nice.

And then on Friday, Seth took me out for pizza. We found a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with an outdoor patio strung with twinkle lights. I loved the setting and how much it reminded me of the evening with the fireflies. While we waited for our food to arrive, I reached over to take Seth’s hand and gazed at him lovingly. “You are the most wonderful man,” I began, “You always -“

“Ooh, a staring contest!!!” I was interrupted by a small blonde boy – probably eight years old – wearing a green T-shirt.

Seth and I broke hands and leaned back, startled. “I’ll win!” The boy called in challenge, running up to Seth and staring intently into his face. Seth just took it in stride, staring back at the boy until he yelled and pointed at Seth, “You blinked!”

Seth chuckled, and the boy ran off for a few minutes before scampering back over for a quick rematch. Quinn, as he introduced himself when I asked, loved football, so we talked about Tim Tebow for a while, and I mentioned that Quinn should look for the Bible verses in Tim’s eye black in his old photos from his time at Florida.

The little boy won the second staring contest with Seth and then lost interest in the game, so he relinquished Seth to me, and I got to resume my own version of a staring contest with the man I love.

Authentically Aurora

Receiving Dividends (Part 2)

Letter under door.png

It was nearly 3:30AM by the time I finally got back to bed after intervening with the taxi driver and security guard. I’d told the taxi driver I was a Christian and that’s why I’d stepped in to help. The security guard had shaken my hand and asked for my unit number for his report.

I couldn’t sleep when I got back to my apartment; I was full of energy and adrenaline. So I started writing a note to the drunk guy in unit 71 who started the whole ordeal. I was upset at first – he was at a men’s club, which repulses me, and he came home drunk, which is irritating. He was so far gone he didn’t understand that he needed to pay the taxi driver for his fare.

But as I started writing, God changed my heart, and the letter in Part 1 is the result. I slipped on my white sandals and walked down to his unit where I shoved the folded up letter in the crease of the door. As I wiggled the paper to make sure it was secure, I heard footsteps coming slowly down the hallway. They weren’t the shuffling footsteps of someone groggily getting home late. They were slow and deliberate; it was surely the security guard.

Not sure if he’d reprimand me for leaving a note, I turned the opposite direction to avoid making eye contact, leaving my note to unit 71 still visible in the door. Safely back at my apartment, I threw off my shoes and collapsed into bed. A few minutes later, I heard a scratching at my door, but I was so exhausted that I just rolled over and figured it was fine. I’d triple-checked that my door was dead-bolted.

When I woke up hours later, I did my usual morning routine before I happened to walk by my front door and saw a piece of yellow, ruled paper sticking out. Snapping it up, I felt somewhat apprehensive. Was it from the drunk tenant or the security guard? Was it a thank you or an angry rant?

I unfolded the paper and read:

“I would like to say thank you again for being Spirit led and for being such a great neighbor. You truly are a beautiful person inside and out, and I speak eternal blessings over you and your house now and forevermore. You are a true example of Christian Love. If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to call me. Grace and peace -“

He signed his name and left his phone number, along with his title: “Security”. It turns out I wasn’t the only Christian being Spirit led last night. And we are better together than we are alone.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ… We have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit… Yes, there are many parts, but only one body… Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary… We carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.” -1 Corinthians 12

Authentically Aurora

A Purdy Thirty

Seth and Ashley did such a great job with my birthday. My boyfriend and best friend collaborated to throw me an amazing surprise 30th birthday party with a Beauty and the Beast theme! I could not have felt more loved.

Wine glass roseTons of friends were there – from work, church, choir and every other facet of my life – and Seth had rented out a “shared space” that Ashley decorated beautifully with silk roses under wine glasses, candelabras reminiscent of Lumiere, and stacks of books nodding at Belle’s (and my!) love of reading.

Seth brought along the corn hole boards he and I made together, and he surprised me with a homemade set of hillbilly golf because I’d mentioned in passing that I’d played it at camp one year and loved it. Twinkle lights lit up the rented back patio, and Seth grilled up venison from the deer I shot back in November, wrapping each delicious piece in bacon with cream cheese. Ashley’s coconut-pineapple cupcakes were a hit, especially since she  – in all her amazing artistic talent – had decorated them with yellow icing in the shape of Belle’s ballgown.

Belle dress cupcakesI am not usually a fan of large gatherings, but I spent the evening surrounded by wonderful friends who are genuinely kind and loving, grounded and sincere. We laughed and sang and ate and played backyard games. A great time was had by all.

And at the end of the evening, Seth hugged me and kissed me and said over and over, “I like you so much.” And then, when all the guests had left and we were alone, he held me and asked, “Hey, did you know there was a Fusion pre-engagement session in April?”

I looked up at him, and he shook his head, laughing to himself. “Of course you knew. Thanks for not pushing it on me.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“Well,” he began softly, “Would you want to go to Fusion with me in April? I think we’re ready.”

My smile spread, and I snuggled up to him. I was surprised. “Yes. I’d like that a lot.”

He rubbed my back. “I was thinking we could go to the one at our church in April and then go again to the one in June being held by another church to see how different churches do it, with the added goal of maybe even being able to facilitate Fusion someday. What do you think about that?”

I tilted my head back to look up at him again. “I think that’s a great idea!” And I do.

It’s the culmination of so many parts of my life: my love of personality assessments, sharing wisdom from my own broken relationships, and getting to teach, train, encourage and mentor others. I love that my passions align with Seth’s and that such a huge part of our relationship is seeking out how we can serve together and minister to others. I think we make a great team, and I’m excited to see all that God has in store for us as a couple.

Authentically Aurora

And The First Wave Crashed (Part 1)

StormySeas

Everything in my life is in transition.

Not only do I feel unsteady during this time of change, but I also feel like I don’t have much control over anything, which both stresses me out and – at the opposite extreme – makes me feel bored with the lack of responsibility or ownership over anything in my life. It’s a confusing combination. I know God is in control, and I try to take comfort in that, but it’s a daily struggle not to feel simultaneously anxious, resigned and frustrated; complacent, frantic and defeated.

Relationship

Something about weddings makes the men in my life suddenly take the time to reflect; think about the future; become emotional and feel inspired. Maybe it’s all the talk of love and lifelong companionship. Maybe it’s the free flowing champagne. Or maybe it’s just seeing me with my hair curled for once. But every time I’ve gone to a wedding with a boyfriend, by the end of the evening, he has transformed into a starry-eyed romantic spouting off dreams about our future together.

Seth and I attended a wedding together last weekend. I should have come to expect it, but I was taken aback when – in the middle of the reception, with lights flashing and music blaring and people pushing in on us from every side – Seth decided it was a good time to tell me that he’s been thinking about signing us up for Fusion – a pre-engagement weekend for couples who are dating seriously and considering marriage. “How do you feel about that?” He asked me, his big brown eyes innocent and hopeful.

My initial response was, in typical female fashion, to feel about six things at once. I was pleased he was thinking about our future; annoyed that he brought up the intimate topic in a loud, crowded room; excited to take another step toward marriage with him; concerned that he was simply responding out of the emotions of the moment at the wedding; happy that he was taking the topic of marriage seriously; and hurt when I found out the dates he was considering: June 23-25.

Fusion has weekend sessions going on in April as well as June. They happen about once a quarter. So why did Seth not want to go to the April session? Still further, I was privately hoping for a fall wedding, but if Seth wants to go to a pre-engagement camp in late June, that means he’s probably on a completely different time table than I am for wanting to progress our relationship. I had (admittedly, foolishly) imagined that he might propose for my birthday next month. Or our one-year anniversary in April. So the revelation that he still expects us to just be dating in June was surprising and hurtful, though he of course meant quite the opposite. His declaration of wanting to attend a pre-engagement session with me was intended to be sweet and kind and wonderful, and I wanted to experience it as such, so I wrestled internally against my feelings of disappointment.

I took a bunch of deep breaths, put a smile on my face, and told Seth I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to go to Fusion with him. Unfortunately, Seth can read me really well, and he tends to dig until he gets out everything I’m thinking and feeling. So in the midst of his friend’s wedding reception, we had an intense conversation about our desires and expectations for our relationship. Seth had expected me to be wholeheartedly thrilled and was crushed at my complex emotional response to his sweet suggestion for our future. And I grappled with my own spiraling emotions, feeling guilty for not responding in the way he would have wanted and – yes, rightly – expected me to respond to his pure-hearted declaration.

What should have been a happy occasion was marred by our conversation, and a suggestion by Seth that should have brought me nothing but joy ultimately made me feel like he was instead declaring: “I’m still not sure if I love you. I’m still evaluating you.” He has yet to say those three special words.

Work

In the meantime, I got my lowest-ever performance review score at work. I’m applying internally to different jobs, but no one will take me because of my low performance score. My boss wants me off her team, and I want to be off her team, but her scathing performance reviews of me are preventing us from getting what we both want: for me to move on to a different position far, far away from her.

HR has gotten involved, and they have acknowledged that the issue is obviously with my current placement and incompatibility with my boss and her style. HR cannot justify firing me because I have historically been such a high performer. I am unwilling to quit without a severance package (especially since I still don’t have anything lined up externally). And the company is struggling to find a hiring manager who will take me because teams are already so sparse in light of the recent trend in oil prices. So we are at a bit of a stalemate, and I’m not sure of my next move.

Living Situation

For the past few weeks, my apartment has been plagued by the alternating smells of cigarette smoke and marijuana. I live in a state where marijuana is still illegal, so not only is there illegal drug use going on in my complex, but the absolutely disgusting smell of marijuana coupled with cigarette smoke has left my living quarters perpetually smelling like a skunk that ate a gigantic burrito for lunch and then spent the night at a sleazy nightclub. It’s awful.

I told my leasing office about the issue mere days after the first few offenses, but they followed up with no real action. The manager said she could have a courtesy officer do “random checks” on apartments near mine, but it would take quite a while since the checks have to appear random. In the meantime, she offered to have a third party come to air out my apartment with special air filtration equipment.

The air filtration was supposed to take place last weekend while I was at the aforementioned wedding. I had to be out of my apartment unit for 24 hours, so we scheduled the maintenance from Saturday at 1pm until Sunday at 1pm. Between the wedding Saturday night and church Sunday morning, I figured this would be a nonissue. But when I went into my apartment at 7pm on Sunday evening, the air filtration system was still running.

Compounding Issues

I complained to the leasing office, and they put me up in one of the model apartments for the night. Right around the time I got settled, Seth came over to hang out for the evening, and I directed him to the model unit number, fuming and venting the second he walked in the door.

“I specifically told management that the worst of the smell was in my closet and that all of my clothes now smell like marijuana and cigarette smoke. I even put a sign on the closet door with a big red arrow saying ‘This is the source of the smell.’ But I went home and found the closet door shut and the filtration system still running! Not only did they not finish on time, but the idiot maintenance worker closed the closet door so that all this time, my clothes haven’t been getting aired out – and they were my primary concern!”

Seth was quiet through all of my ranting, but the moment I paused for breath, he leaned over, brusquely kissed my cheek, and muttered, “Have a good night” before turning and walking out of the model apartment.

I was stunned. I sat rigidly on the unit’s fuzzy gray couch with obnoxiously bright, fuchsia pillows for a full ten minutes before I picked up my phone to call Seth. He didn’t want to come back, but I asked him to. We needed to talk out what just happened.

Seth showed back up shortly thereafter, and our stances were essentially as follows:

  • Seth couldn’t believe the degree of my rage and felt like I was overreacting. He said there was no need to ever call anyone an idiot, and said, “This isn’t the Aurora I know.”
  • I expressed that I don’t feel like I can ever completely let my guard down and just vent with Seth. When I have a bad day at work, I call Ashley or my mom because I have learned that Seth can’t handle me when I’m really, really upset and frustrated; when I just need to vent and have someone listen.
  • Seth said he would have been happy to listen if I had adjusted my tone and language, instead opting to factually share my disappointment and frustration with the situation.
  • I explained that: WOMEN. Women don’t operate that way. I am less emotional and more even-keel than most women, so I need him to be able to stand me on the rare occasion that I fly off the handle.
  • Seth said that he takes very seriously his role of holding me accountable. He believes that, were he to be my husband, part of his role is to help me become more like the godly woman I’ve been created to be. He has higher standards for me than I have for myself, which has never happened in the history of EVER.
  • I told Seth that, if we were married, and if he was my husband, I would know that he loves me. I could rest secure in the fact of his commitment, and from that foundation of love and commitment, I would be able to better accept his criticism of having a bad attitude or calling someone an idiot. But because we are still dating and I don’t know that he loves me or is committed to me, all I hear is: “I’m still evaluating you, and I am finding you wanting. This is yet another red flag that is giving me pause about committing to you.” I told Seth that I needed him to stop making me feel so judged and instead start extending some grace.
  • Seth countered that he was extending grace. “I didn’t want to come back here. But I did. I decided to practice for marriage and extend grace by coming back to talk this out with you even though you were being unpleasant.”

I’m not sure how we left it. By the end, I was exhausted – both physically and emotionally. But when I called and told my mom about the exchange later, she sang Seth’s praises. “No one has ever been able to talk to you like that. And he obviously cares for you if he was willing to drive back. Dating Seth is like dating Jesus.”

High praise. And potentially true. The only difference – and it’s key – is that I know Jesus loves me.

Authentically Aurora

Our First Christmas

christmas-gift-to-boyfriend

Several weeks before Christmas, Seth asked me what kind of gifts my family gives for the holidays. Was our gift-giving practical? Sentimental? Minimalistic? Extravagant? “You’re such a generous person, I’m worried that you’re going to out-Christmas me,” he admitted.

First Christmases together are tough. You don’t want to do too little for the other person, but you don’t want to overwhelm them, either. It’s hard to find a balance and make sure your gifts to one another are somewhat equivalent. So I told Seth that I had already planned on three gifts for him – one store bought and two homemade. He gave a sigh of relief (three must have seemed reasonable), and I fully expected to receive about three gifts myself.

But I got fifteen.

FIFTEEN Christmas presents (!) from my boyfriend of eight months. Fortunately, they were spread out over November and December and even January, so I only actually received about half of them on Christmas, but I was still blown away by Seth’s thoughtfulness and generosity.

  1. Vacuum 

On Thanksgiving, Seth asked me if I ever participate in Black Friday. I never have, and hopefully I never will. But Seth loves a good deal, so he planned to venture out to Home Depot or Lowe’s on Black Friday, and he asked me if there was anything I wanted. I laughed, “I doubt there’s anything I want from Home Depot on Black Friday. But thanks for asking. The only thing I can imagine I’d try to get a deal on for Black Friday would maybe be a vacuum – I really need a new one – but I don’t think they sell those at Home Depot.”

The next morning, Seth showed up at my apartment with a $400 vacuum that he got half off at Target. And he wouldn’t let me pay him back. “Merry Christmas early,” he told me with a kiss on my cheek.

Some women might be offended if their boyfriend bought them a vacuum. But as a very practical almost-30-something, I thought his gift was one of the sweetest, most thoughtful gifts I’ve gotten in years.

2 – 4. Apron, Laundry hamper, Chocolate

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Seth and I went shopping together at Marshall’s to pick up some cute (and discounted) gifts for family. While we were walking around the store, I saw an upscale laundry hamper for a great price and mentioned offhand that I should probably get a new one since the one I have now is from high school and has a hole in the bottom.

Seth loves when I wear an apron when I cook, so when we spotted a rack of high-quality aprons, I tried on a few and modeled them for Seth, twirling around playfully in the aisle. My favorite was white and mustard yellow with delicate ruffles along the bottom. And at the check-out line, I saw some gourmet chocolate-covered Oreos that looked delicious, but I exercised self-control and left them on the shelf.

Two days before Christmas, Seth showed up at my door with the unwrapped laundry hamper and a box containing both the apron and the gourmet Oreos. I felt so loved and cherished that he heard my comments and remembered them.

5 – 6. Two Necklaces

The morning of Christmas Eve, Seth and I did our first round of formal gift exchanges, and one of my favorite gifts was a sterling silver arrowhead necklace that he bought from a wonderful craftsman jewelry shop. It’s a reminder of one of the first times I visited his family’s ranch and found an arrowhead in the creek bed. It’s still one of the best arrowheads that’s ever been found at the ranch.

Seth bought me another necklace as well, but evidently it’s still in Turkey waiting to be shipped. He knows I love the Star of Bethlehem and all the science behind it, so he bought me a gorgeous Star of Bethlehem necklace that I can wear year round to remember how awesome our God is and how He has written a love story of poignant beauty in the stars.

7 – 9. Candle, Lotion, Shirt

Similar to the three gifts from Marshall’s, Seth demonstrated his active listening skills when he presented me with a Pomegranate Spruce candle I smelled and liked at a Cracker Barrel while waiting to be seated; some floral hand lotion we both liked at Bath & Body Works; and a really soft graphic tee we both loved at a small boutique near the family ranch.

10 – 12. Mirror, Theology Book, Carving Set

Seth had a full-length mirror he was planning to get rid of, but I didn’t have one in my bedroom, so he offered to drop it off at my place and mount it in my room for me. It has a white frame that goes well with my bedroom decor.

Seth also gave me an 800 page book on Systematic Theology, partially because he knows I love to geek out over that stuff, and partially because he wants us to read through it together and develop a joint faith statement. That may sound awful to some people, but it sounds pretty fun (and romantic!) to me.

Seth spends a lot of time in his woodworking shop, and I’d mentioned wanting to sit in there by him and whittle on some blocks, so Seth bought me a nice wood carving set. We’re talking about starting a joint project together.

13 – 14. Handmade Scrolled Centerpiece Bowl & Mounted Antlers 

In all of that time in his woodworking shop, Seth evidently had been spending a lot of hours working on Christmas gifts for me because, on Christmas Day, Seth presented me with a gorgeous wooden bowl that he carved himself with detailed scroll work. I was stunned. I figured he was talented, but I didn’t know he was this talented!

Seth is also still working on mounting the antlers from the buck I shot over Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas to me!

15. Handwritten Love Letter

And lastly – maybe my favorite gift of all – was a three-paged love letter in which Seth recounted some of our best memories and explained some of his favorite things about me. How I managed not to try at the initial reading is beyond me, because I have read it multiple times since Christmas and teared up at his sweet words.

Seth and I had a great Christmas together. He outdid himself, and I was stunned at his thoughtfulness. Some gifts were practical; others were romantic and sentimental. Overall, I spent my Christmas feeling very loved and cherished. Life is good.

Authentically Aurora

Hunting for Love

deer-hunting-buck-jumpSeth took me out to the ranch for opening weekend of deer hunting this year. Although I’ve been to the range several times with my dad and brothers, I’d never been hunting before, and I’ll admit it was different than I expected.

For one, I was surprised at how peaceful it is in the deer stand. Seth and I woke up before dawn, bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets and drove quietly to the ranch, where we silently hiked to the deer stand on foot by the light of a single flashlight.

We sat mostly in silence from 5am to 7pm, spending fourteen straight hours together, quietly enjoying one another’s company and the scenic landscape around us. I think it’s the most reflective and introspective I’ve seen my outgoing, extroverted boyfriend. I’ve decided I’m a fan of the deer stand.

Our first day to hunt that weekend, we had some 6 points in our sights but decided to let them live and grow up for next season. When we still hadn’t gotten anything by sunset, Seth decided to shoot a wild hog that was tearing up the grass. He calmly lifted the rifle, aimed, and pulled the trigger. It went straight down.

Meanwhile, Seth hopped out of the stand, jogged to his truck, pulled the truck around, grabbed the still-warm hog by its feet and tossed it up into the back of his pickup. He quartered it, put it through his granddad’s old meat grinder, and threw it on ice. Then he got his ax and went to chop some firewood.

He’s the manliest man I know.

Peaceful as it was, I was proud of myself for sitting in the rickety, old deer stand for so many hours and not complaining about the lack of amenities (the bathroom was the bushes nearby) or the mosquitoes (that seemed to swarm me but left Seth alone). The chairs in the deer stand were stained and dirty, and every crevice along the wooden ceiling was filled with either a spider’s web or wasps’ nest. To a man, the deer stand is a little piece of heaven on earth, but I had to overcome fears to sit calmly amid the enclosed space. I would have preferred to be out in the open rather than trapped in the shack with the insects. I was outside of my comfort zone but wanted to cater to Seth, so I put on a brave face for him.

However, on the second morning, I decided if I was going to sit in that place for so long, I may as well be comfortable, so I tentatively voiced my concerns to Seth, meekly apologizing for being so soft and citified. He responded sweetly, hugging me gently and asking me to stay outside while he took care of things. Then he went to work lovingly tidying up our little “home”.  He moved with efficiency, reaching into the corners of the ceiling with his bare hands to dethrone the spiders and wasps that had taken residence there. He scooted beetles out of the shack with his foot, and he gingerly dusted off my chair to make me more comfortable. When he finished, he came back outside, took me by the shoulders, looked me full in the face and said tenderly, “Thank you for telling me. I’m a man. I don’t even notice these things. I want you to be comfortable, and I’m happy  to take care of you when you let me know what bothers you.”

That night, I drove alone to the only grocery shop in town to buy ingredients and prepare a nice dinner for Seth while he finished cleaning our first deer of the weekend. The next morning, Seth got up extra early – 4am – to make a pot of coffee for me, even though he doesn’t drink it himself and in doesn’t even like the smell of coffee. We both spent the whole weekend serving one another; identifying each other’s needs and seeking to meet them.  When I told my dad about the weekend later, he commented, “It sounds like the boyfriend of the year is dating the girlfriend of the year.”

It’s true that Seth and I have seemed to find our stride. 2016 has been a good year for us, and I think we’re both closing out the year both feeling very cherished. I have high hopes for 2017, but during this Christmas season, I’m reminded to set my sights on the one True Hope; the only one who will never fail us; the One who came to save, redeem and restore. We are so blessed. Merry Christmas, y’all.

Authentically Aurora