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

Babes in Joyland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

 

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

The Mention of Marriage

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A couple of weeks ago, Seth and I went out to dinner with some mutual friends. After a great evening full of laughter, Seth drove me home, and we sat in his pickup truck for a few minutes winding down the evening.

In the midst of our conversation, Seth reached over to hold my hand and started fiddling with my fingers. He was looking down at our joined hands, but he looked up when he started to speak. “Aurora, we’ve been dating for a while now…”

His voice trailed off, and he laughed, looking uncomfortable. “I’ve talked myself in and out of this conversation so many times…”

“What is it?” I asked, encouraging him along.

He sighed. “Well, we’ve been dating for a while now, and I was thinking… I’d like for us to start having more intentional conversations in the direction of marriage.”

My eyes widened. “Wow.”

“What do you think about that?” He looked nervous.

I paused, gathering my thoughts. “Well… I think it would be good. It would be good for us to continue developing our emotional intimacy.”

I was surprised at my stoicism and internally evaluated why I wasn’t letting myself get more excited. Seth brought up marriage. Seth brought up marriage! I hadn’t expected the topic to come up so soon but was glad that it did. At the same time – having been through what I’ve been through – I felt happy but guarded. I decided that – like a classic intorvert – I needed more time to process my thoughts and feelings before I gave myself over to my emotions.

“Yeah? You think so?” Seth looked hopeful.

“Yeah,” I answered with a smile; then I asked, “What does that look like for you? Having ‘more intentional conversations in the direction of marriage’?” I wanted to make sure we were on the same page and communicating clearly. Marriage is a weighty topic.

Seth suggested that we start to read through some marriage books or even go to pre-marital counseling. “I have a book that’s like ‘101 Questions to Ask Before Marriage’ or something like that. I was thinking we could talk through those questions.”

“Yeah.” I smiled. He’d really put some thought into this. “That sounds really good.” I was starting to feel the excitement now; the sense of Seth’s affection for me starting to culminate in commitment.

Seth had gotten quiet and looked deep in thought. “What are you thinking about?” I asked, looking at him affectionately.

I thought Seth might finally tell me that he loved me. We hadn’t said “I love you” yet, but now that he was starting to talk about marriage, I thought he was finally ready to communicate his feelings.  I expected to hear his deep, resonant bass voice whisper, “I’m thinking about how much I love you.”

But instead what my ears heard was, “I’m worried about hurting you.”

I recoiled, shocked at his words. The sweetness of the moment was broken. “You’re worried about hurting me?”

“Yeah.” Seth winced, seeming to realize belately that maybe he shouldn’t have said those words out loud. Or maybe it’s good that he did.

I took a deep breath, willing myself to respond rationally rather than over-reacting in my surprise and disappointment.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him evenly. “You just told me you want to start intentionally moving in the direction of marriage and then, not even five minutes later, you tell me that you’re worried about hurting me. That doesn’t line up for me. Help me understand.”

Seth backpedaled, explaining that he wasn’t saying he wants to move in the direction of marriage necessarily; he just wants to start having more intentional conversations on marriage-type topics so that he can see how well we align. He’s in a place where he wants to make a decision one way or another – should we get married or break up? – but he doesn’t yet know which direction we should go. He just wanted us to start talking through the more challenging topics that tend to cause issues in marriage.

I understood where he was coming from, but I still felt wounded. I wished he’d been able to clearly communicate at the start of the conversation rather than unintentionally leading me to think he was more ready to commit than was accurate.

I was also hurt because Seth knows I’ve been through a broken engagement. I’ve told him that the topics of marriage and engagement need to be handled delicately with me. I am overly sensitive to wavering commitment and indecision about relationship status. I am of the opinion that questions like “How would you want to discipline your children?” can come up naturally in the course of a date night. Asking what you think the role of a wife is can be discussed on long road trips to the ranch. Part of dating is having those conversations organically. But once you bring up marriage so directly – once you suggest that we do “pre-marital counseling” – you have entered into the realm of alluding to commitment. Saying that you want to start having “intentional conversations in the direction of marriage” means, to me, that your mind is made up and you are starting to look at rings. But, in the case of Seth, I was mistaken and misunderstood his intent.

I believe that a couple doesn’t do pre-marital counseling to decide whether or not they are compatible; they do it to pinpoint potential sources of conflict in their marriage and learn to conflict well. Except my ex-fiance. He used pre-marital counseling to point to all the reasons we wouldn’t be compatible in marriage. He used our counseling to tell me all the reasons he would have an affair if we got married.

Seth and I dialogued about what he said versus what he meant; what I thought and how his words made me feel. I asked him to try not to bring up marriage so directly again until he is actually ready to go ring shopping or drop a knee. It plays with my emotions and toys with my heart. “And please don’t use the ‘M’ word until you’ve used the ‘L’ word.” L comes before M, after all. And I need to know he loves me before I’m ready to let my heart hear him talk about forever.  

I explained further, “We don’t need to be in a rush to make a decision. I know all of your friends are married with kids and that you don’t want to waste my time or your own, but if you rush this decision, the answer will be no. I know. I’ve lived it. We will break up. Ultimately, people shy away from things they’re not ready for. So if you want to give us a chance, slow down and don’t rush this decision just because you’re comparing our timeline to your friends’ relationships.”

I delivered this message in the most loving, gentle, calm manner I could, and Seth fortunately responded well. He apologized profusely. “You’re right. I’m like a bull in a china shop. I want to have respect for your feelings and treat them gently.”

We prayed together, hugged and agreed not to rush this decision. And I’m thankful. Because I would rather wait to marry Seth than not marry him at all.

Authentically Aurora

Overqualified to Love?

concert-tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

Meeting the Families

OnlyAGame.gif

“Athletic” is not a word I would use to describe myself. Ridiculously attractive and outrageously brilliant? Naturally. But athletic? Not so much. 

When Seth and I played Ultimate Frisbee with some friends a couple of months ago, my first two throws hooked far right and into the parking lot rather than into his wide-open hands. I quickly relegated myself to guarding the purses on a nearby picnic table.

And when I met Seth’s family for the first time on the Fourth of July, I was horrified to discover that their family pool party included tossing around a volleyball. The first time the ball came my way, I jabbed out an arm, inwardly cheering when I felt my hand make contact. Maybe there’s some athletic ability in me, after all!

Unfortunately, my cheering was short-lived when I realized that the spiked volleyball had flown directly into the face of an 18-month-old girl playing in the shallow end of the pool with her mother. The silence around the pool party was instantaneous, broken only by the sound of the little girl’s crying and Seth’s jovial quip, “It’s only a game, Focker!”

A few weeks later when Seth and I joined my older brother and his wife for dinner, Seth knocked a full glass of red wine off the table, shattering glass in every direction and spilling wine across the floor.

A couple of weeks ago when I accompanied Seth, his sister and his two nephews to a water park, Seth insisted that he and I go on the scariest water slide possible: a body slide so steep that you stand upright at the top, and the floor drops out from under you. 

water-slide

I am not an adrenaline junkie, and I also happen to be afraid of heights, so going on this body slide sounded about as fun as playing leapfrog with unicorns, but Seth really wanted to go, so we did. I managed to play it cool until the very last instant. When the floor opened up from under me, I instinctively shot out my arms and legs like a starfish, trying to hold myself up rather than plummeting to the depths below. I was unsuccessful in holding myself up, but I was successful in earning myself some serious ribbing from Seth once I made it to the bottom.

Our cumulative time with one other’s families has been a comedy of errors, but fortunately, everyone’s had a great sense of humor about it all. When it comes to dating, my mom has always reminded me, “Aurora, you don’t just marry the person. You marry the family.” I am so thankful for how welcoming and fun-loving Seth’s family has been – and similarly, how well my family has received Seth.

After an evening of smoking cigars with Seth, my older brother gave his approval, and after a night of talking pyrotechnics together, my younger brother declared that Seth is his favorite of any guy I’ve ever brought home. Seth concurred that he could really see himself spending quality time with my brothers.

I recently asked Seth what his sister thought of me after our day together at the water park. Apparently she said, “I like Aurora. And I like her for you – I think she’s good for you. But I’m not letting myself get attached until you put a ring on it.”

Smart woman! I’d be wise to do the same. 😉

Authentically Aurora