Caught in the Undertow (Part 2)

Undertow

“Trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.” – Bethel Music

Living Situation

On Monday morning last week, after being displaced from my apartment while management aired out the infiltrating marijuana smell, I got a frantic call from the leasing office asking if I was moved out of the model unit where they’d temporarily put me up for the night. I explained calmly that, no, I was at work but could move out that evening, provided that management had completed the air filtration of my unit.

The anxious leasing agent explained that they need the model unit immediately for another tenant, so he asked if he could move my personal items out of the model and back into my apartment for me. I was not comfortable with someone touching my personal items, as I had not yet packed up my private toiletries, and I also had some expensive electronics that I would rather handle myself. Additionally, I continued, I would have not needed the model unit at all had my apartment maintenance been carried out on time. But the leasing office employee pressed me to provide my approval of being moved out, so I reluctantly granted permission over the phone to have a female leasing agent move my personal items from the model unit and put into my apartment.

However, when I returned home at 5pm on Monday evening, I found that the air filtration system was still running in my apartment and – still further – none of my personal items had been returned to my unit. I walked over to the model to retrieve my personal effects and found it dead-bolted. The alternate tenant had moved in but allowed me to search the apartment. As it turned out, my belongings were in the leasing office. I gathered them from the office staff, walked back to my apartment, turned off the air filtration system myself and left my apartment for the evening to allow the air to clear from the residual effects of the air filtration system.

On Tuesday morning, the air filtration system that I had to disable myself was still sitting immobile in my apartment unit. I contacted the leasing office, and someone finally came to get it Tuesday evening. But between the poor service I received and the fact that I need to start saving money considering that I may be without income in the near future, I started building a case to be released from my apartment lease a few months early.

I scheduled an appointment with my allergist and had her write a note that my living situation is detrimental to my health and is exacerbating my allergies.

I searched the legal terms of my lease and found that I could be released from my contract if I provided written notice about unsatisfactory living conditions. If no improvements were made to the root issue after two written notices, I could submit a final notice without financial or credit ramifications.

And so I drafted a second email explaining that not only had the filtration of my apartment been handled poorly, but I was concerned that management had still not addressed the root issue of smoke coming into my apartment from nearby units.

And I scheduled tours of other apartments nearby, looking forward to not only getting out of my drug-filled apartment complex but also to saving about $400/month in rent.

Work

Last week as I stared blankly at my office computer screen, willing myself to get motivated, a bright orange square started blinking at the bottom of my screen. I had a new IM from Stephanie, one of my technical stakeholders for the contracts I manage.

When I read the IM, I was surprised to find that she wasn’t contacting me about some new IT service line that she needed supported commercially. She was asking me if I knew any open roles in Procurement, my department and area of specialty. Apparently she was looking at moving away from the technical IT space and into the more commercial realm of Contracting.

After answering her questions about different line managers and Procurement in general, I shared confidentially that my role may be open soon. HR had shared with me that they were trying to do a “talent placement” – essentially moving me into another team to try to get me out of my current situation.

Stephanie was really excited about the role and thought it would be a great fit, combining her technical IT background with the commercials of Procurement, which was the direction she hoped to move her career. Her only concern, she voiced at the end, was timing. “Do you know how soon HR is going to do your talent placement?”

“No, I don’t. Why do you ask?”

Apparently through our latest organizational restructuring, Stephanie’s role is being made redundant, and she’s on track to receive a severance package if she doesn’t get a job by March 31st. She really wants to stay at the company, not only for career purposes but also because she just adopted two kids and cannot afford to be laid off.

At the same time, I am already pursuing a career in teaching and am hoping to land a job starting in August for the fall semester. I don’t have a job lined up yet, but a severance package would go a long way in helping to bridge the financial gap between now and August. As if she was reading my mind, Stephanie asked, “We’re the same Job Grade, so our salaries are comparable. Would you be interested in a 1:1 switch? Or are you holding out for the talent placement?”

Talent placements tend to be a joke. The only roles that are open are ones that no one else wants. And I’d still have a black mark on my record from the poor performance scores. I’m mentally and emotionally checked out at work, and taking Stephanie’s severance package – while allowing this new mom to keep her job – sounded like the perfect plan to me.

Hope for the Future

Everything seemed like it was finally coming together. I planned to get severance from work (about 6 months’ pay), get released from my apartment lease, move into a new (and cheaper) apartment, use the summer to explore fun, odd jobs (like maybe helping to flip a house!), and land a teaching job for August.

I’ve learned over the years to hold my plans loosely in my  hand, so as I started to get more and more excited about the possibilities of what could be, I also reminded myself that even if things didn’t work out as planned, I wanted to remember that God is faithful. And He is working. I wanted to believe that even if this plan didn’t work out, it was a reminder to me that God can move and orchestrate events we never could have dreamed.

I didn’t know Stephanie was getting a severance package. And she didn’t know I wanted to leave the company. God dropped the perfect scenario right into our laps, and this was an encouragement to me; a reminder that He can do infinitely beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Sometimes we just have to wait and trust His timing.

Authentically Aurora

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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

Cruise of the Bruised – Part II

Book BeachLaying on a quiet beach reading a good book is my idea of a good time, so at the first port stop of our Bahamas cruise, I convinced the girls that we should find a secluded beach location rather than one of the party spots (it helped that my travel companions were 32 and 42, whereas I have no excuse for my preference). No Señor Frog’s for us!

After chatting with one of the locals who advised us of the best beach for what we were looking for, we got in line for a taxi headed to the appropriate location. As our group of three climbed into the back of a long taxi-van, a much larger group also stepped forward to board: Jordan, his slender orthopedic buddy and the entire gaggle of kids! Of all the taxis going to all the beaches in Freeport, we managed to end up in the same one. With a cruise ship of literally thousands of people, and with everyone disembarking at different times, I can legitimately say it was not planned. At least, not by mere mortals.

It was a cold day in Freeport – overcast and in the 60s – so everyone huddled together on the bench seats, joking and laughing as we all shivered at the cold wind cutting in through the open windows of the van. As soon as we got on the beach, some shady guy with dreadlocks came up to me and let me know he could set me up with the goods if I wanted to have any illegal fun. “What kind of illegal fun?” I asked, perplexed. “You’ll know what to ask for if you want it,” he told me with a wink, slinking away.

Shaking my head, I found a flat stretch of sand and laid out my beach towel, digging in my backpack for the book I’d started reading the day before. All the Carolinians (for the orthopedic group was from a mix of North and South Carolina) got out snorkel gear and splashed out into the chilly water. Verna and Marina got into the water, too, but they quickly returned and wrapped themselves in their warm, fluffy towels, chatting away in Spanish (they are from Argentina and Ecuador, respectively).

Less than half a chapter into my book, the Carolinians returned, and Jordan came over to talk to me. Only, he didn’t say anything; he just stood near me, pretending to examine his scuba gear. “Wanna explore?” I asked finally, gesturing to the beach.

“Sure.” He sounded relieved. The beach was ruggedly beautiful – rocky with a dense tree line close to the water – so I grabbed my camera and followed him down the shoreline, my long hair whipping around my face in the wind.

Jordan and I made small talk for a while, stopping occasionally so I could snap landscape photos as I felt inspired. We fell into an easy rhythm, and before long – as I have come to expect – Jordan started opening up to me about his past, telling me about his nine-year-old daughter Grace and his divorce from her mother four years ago. Apparently his ex-wife was abused as a child, and she became violent herself during the course of their marriage. According to Jordan, his ex was suicidal during the few years of their marriage; then she turned homicidal near the end. Jordan is still fighting a custody battle for their daughter.

After a time, we turned the conversation lighter, and Jordan told me more about his work. He loves what he does. He loves being a healer. “It’s amazing to see people who were wheelchair bound for twenty years start to walk again,” he told me with awe in his voice. His enthusiasm was palpable.

“How does your faith play into your role of healer?” I asked Jordan. He’d made a passing reference to a church, and I was curious how deep his faith went.

Jordan looked surprised but not uncomfortable. “I tend to keep a pretty tangible, scientific outlook, but I also know that God is ultimately the Great Physician,” he told me. As our conversation continued, I found out that Jordan had gone to seminary for a few semesters. Prior to becoming a massage therapist, he had been a youth pastor. It was my turn to be surprised. Jordan knows Greek and Hebrew, is an orthopedic massage therapist, and is also working as a carpenter, remodeling his home himself. This simple country boy was quickly becoming more and more interesting!

About a mile down the beach, Jordan and I came upon a large outcropping of rocks. I am normally pretty sure-footed, but my wet flip-flops kept slipping, so Jordan offered me his hand to help me climb over the rocks. Once I was safety on the other side, though, he kept my hand in his. For a moment, I thought of pulling my hand away, but I was cold, and his hand was warm and welcoming. Besides, I thought, there’s nothing wrong with holding hands.

Shortly thereafter, I suggested we turn back around and start heading back. We could no longer see our group of friends down the winding stretch of sandy beach. Jordan agreed, and we started to turn, but then he stopped. With my hand attached to his, I had to stop, too. I looked up at him, and he stepped closer, eyes full of intent. I barely had time to think before his arm was around me and he had lowered his lips to mine. I let him kiss me, but when we pulled away, I told him, “Jordan, I’m not dating this year. And you live in South Carolina. And you’re still fighting for custody of your daughter.”

He sighed and smiled. “I know.” He paused. “But I enjoy your company.”

I smiled, too, and we kept walking. But it was further back to our group than either of us had realized. And the day was getting colder and colder. And I had brought nothing with me but my camera – no towel, no I.D., no cell phone, no cash. So when we got back to where our group should be and found an empty patch of sand, I started to panic. Just then, the illegal-activity-encouraging dreadlocks-wearer appeared from behind the trees to offer some insight into the situation in which we found ourselves.

Apparently our group had left him as a messenger that the last taxi driver had capriciously decided to go back to the pier an hour earlier than agreed upon. And our group had been forced to leave us behind or be left behind themselves. But the drug dealer told us that he knew someone who could take us back to the cruise ship from our remote location. He gestured for us to follow him back to the parking lot where we’d been dropped off, and he introduced us to a heavy-set woman whose name I never caught. She seemed unhappy to be the errand girl, but clearly the druggie held some sway with her, so she hurried us into her car, and away we went, presumably back to the pier.

I was glad Jordan was so ripped.

I was not glad when I found out that Jordan had purchased marijuana for the high school boys from the dreadlocks man.

“It’s better than the stuff they usually do. At least this will keep them away from the pills,” he whispered to me in the backseat of the rotund woman’s car. “Last night, one of the kids was doing uppers and downers at the same time. I told him he’s going to kill himself that way.”

I was scandalized.”I thought you were a youth pastor at one time. Why are you encouraging this?! You told me you were on this trip to be a positive role model to these kids!”

“I am. I’m better than what they’ve got back home,” he told me in his slow drawl. “And, like I said, they’re going to do drugs regardless. At least I can help guide them toward the softer stuff. I won’t smoke any of it myself.”

“But you’re enabling them. And you’re a Christian. Don’t you believe that God is able to emotionally heal these kids fully, not just control how bad their drug usage gets?”

Jordan shrugged. And then, to my astonishment, told me the biblical story of Zacchaeus. “God doesn’t change our outward actions and then our hearts. He changes us from the inside out. Making these boys do the right thing – not doing drugs – without getting to their hearts first is just going to create a bunch of little Pharisees. I’m doing what I can to have a more lasting impact… and try to keep them out of too much trouble in the meantime.”

I was absolutely stunned. Jordan speaks with a   v e r y   s l o w  Southern accent, sometimes pausing so long that I think he’s forgotten to finish his sentence. During our walk on the beach, he seemed nice enough, but he didn’t come off as overly intelligent, and after the marijuana revelation, I had doubts about his moral code. So to have him pull out the story of Zacchaeus and insightfully apply it to our discussion left me dumbfounded.

I was momentarily swayed into understanding where he was coming from, but then Jordan went on to tell me he’d taught the kids how to smuggle alcohol onto the ship using listerine bottles. “They tried doing it last year, but they did it wrong, so they got caught. At least if I teach them, they won’t get in trouble with the authorities. A couple of them have already done jail time.”

I remembered my own childhood, my mother telling me, “If you ever do anything wrong, I hope you get caught!” I was hurt at first, not understanding, but she explained, “I would want you to get caught because I love you. And sometimes being disciplined is the best blessing we could receive.” If we are never caught – never disciplined – we may never turn from wrongdoing. Getting away with wrongdoing is often a worse punishment than getting caught because, without facing the consequences of your actions, your character may never be refined.

I tried to talk to Jordan about his approach to mentoring these kids. “Be relevant and relatable to the kids, yes; meet them where they are, yes, but don’t damage your witness in the process. Don’t compromise the line between right and wrong in order to try and reach them. I can’t imagine that’s God-honoring.”

We had to agree to disagree. Jordan told me I didn’t really understand the kids; didn’t know what it was like to come from a broken family. He told me they wouldn’t understand all my “high-and-mighty talk” if I tried to reach them my way. But the next day would prove otherwise. All these kids needed was a little love, encouragement, inspiration, I thought. …and boundaries.

Authentically Aurora