Laughing Our Way Through London – Part I

Hyde ParkLondon is a peculiar city. It has the hustle and bustle of NYC, the rich history of Rome, the quaintness of small town Germany, and the diverse ethnicity of Houston. Over the course of the last week, I found that I quite like London more than most other major cities I have visited, largely because of this synthesis of large scale opportunities with small town class and culture.

My traveling companions on this trip were Ashley, her younger brother Ron, and Kelly – a university friend of Ashley’s who turned out to be delightful company. On one of our first days in London, we explored two of the city’s largest parks: Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

During our walkabout, enjoying the unexpected sunshine and sipping on iced coffee, we explored many twists and turns of greenery dotted by the occasional monument or fountain. After quite a few miles of walking (we walked a total of 16 miles that day), Ashley called out to the group, “Is that a statue?”

I looked around and only saw people sitting on benches or laying in the grass. Then I saw where she was pointing. A particularly dark featured man sat reading under the shade of a large tree. He was all one uniform color, dressed in dark hues and sitting immobile. I squinted behind my sunglasses, trying to make him out. Was it a statue?

The rest of our group peered at him as well. “He is very still…” mused Kelly out loud. But then– No… no, he moved to scratch his nose. Definitely not a statue!

We all gave Ashley a hard time about her faux pas until I had one of my own. We’d just come from a Harry Potter walking tour where we saw many of the filming sites for the Harry Potter movies, so I had magic on the brain. Walking through Hyde Park, I saw a cluster of people in the distance all wearing flowing black robes.

“Look! Wizards!” I said with delight. I was surprised so many people had dressed up for their Harry Potter walking tour. But as the group got closer, Ron snorted with laughter. They were not in fact wizards. They were Muslim women, dressed in full hijab. Oops. 

Lastly, near the end of the day, Ashley, Kelly and I went to use the public loo in Regent’s Park. Ashley and I both had the misfortune of walking into stalls without toilet paper, so Kelly had to pass some to us from under the stall door (thanks, Kelly!).

As we all finished washing and drying our hands, another woman walked into the loo and straight into one of the stalls without toilet paper. We all looked at each other, horrified, before I called out to the woman, “There’s no toilet paper in that stall.”

She didn’t respond, but I heard the sound of her already using the facilities. So I went into the stall next door, wadded up a ball of unused paper, and held it under the stall door for her. We ladies have got to look out for each other, after all.

“Here,” I said kindly. “That stall doesn’t have toilet paper.” Ashley and Kelly watched my actions. We all waited in silence. The woman never said anything, and she also never took the toilet paper.

After waiting for an uncomfortable amount of time, I glanced at Ashley and Kelly, who both looked very awkward about the entire situation. Then Ashley, with wide eyes, mouthed, “Let’s get out of here!”

So, giggling silently, I pulled my hand back out from under the stall door, stuffed the unused tissue in the bin, and ran out into the sunshine with Ashley and Kelly, laughing all the way.

Authentically Aurora

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Return on Investment

Return on InvestmentRemember Alim, my Muslim friend who encouraged me to start attending Christian church again?

We met for coffee this week, and he shared with me that his mom just found out she has relapsed. It’s breast cancer.

He put on a brave face and made it seem like he was fine – “We caught it early,” Alim told me with a shrug – but I know he was upset. I asked if I could pray for him, and he said that of course, he’d like that.

“No, I mean like right now.”

“Oh! Sure…”

And so we prayed together. It was a simple prayer – thankfulness for our friendship, requests for healing for his mom if it’s God’s will, and both strength and peace for their entire family.

A few hours later, I got this text from him:

“Thank you for praying for my mom with me. Your kindness and faith touched my heart this morning and lifted my spirit. I need it very much. I’m blessed to have crossed paths with you.”

After the way God used Alim in my life, I love that I got to be an instrument of encouragement for him in turn.

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.” -Luke 6:38

Authentically Aurora

Organized Religion

Church MosqueMany of us have been wounded by organized religion. Many of us have been hurt, insulted and offended by the Christian church. And as a result, many of us carry bitterness toward pastors, elders, bible study leaders and other fellow Christians. I count myself among those who have spent the past several months angry with God, largely because I am angry with His people.

In the midst of my depression, my most recent bible study leader told me that she wasn’t sure I was really a Christian. “You have a lot of head knowledge about God, but you don’t seem to have ‘heart’ knowledge. If you really believed that God is good and sovereign like you claim to believe, you wouldn’t still be depressed.”  Psalm 42, lady. Our emotions don’t always follow the rationale of our minds.

And then there are those Christians who try to guilt you into changing your attitude (you think I want to feel this way?) by asking you in a sickeningly sweet and often condescending voice, “Aurora, what would Jesus do?” Clearly they have forgotten that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.

WWJDPast church leadership wouldn’t allow me to sing in the choir because I hadn’t been baptized by immersion as an adult. After confirming that they don’t believe baptism is necessary for salvation, I retorted, “So I can be a member of the Kingdom of Heaven but not a member of your church choir?” They had no response, but I still wasn’t permitted to participate.

Since my broken engagement, I have visited three different churches. One was comprised almost exclusively of married couples. One had the compassionless bible study leader mentioned above. And at the third, I was invisible; no one noticed if I came or not on a given Sunday. So I have largely stopped going to church. I know deep down that it’s not a long term solution, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to suffer the throes of organized religion again just yet.

As hurtful as the church can be, I know that staying away because I’ve been hurt is a false excuse because people are messy, and pain is inevitable. Churches are filled with sinful, fallen, broken people because we are all sinful, fallen, broken people. The very message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that you don’t have to clean yourself up before you come to Him; He meets us right where we are, in the midst of all our mess.

I believe that we were created for fellowship. I believe that Satan wants to isolate us. I believe that lies become louder and bitterness becomes more deeply entrenched the longer we withdraw from community. So I have known all along that I would return to church services someday. I have just been taking my time, nursing my wounds. And today, God sent someone to tap me on the shoulder, saying it’s time to get involved again. I know it was God tapping me on the shoulder, because it was a Muslim inviting me to a Christian church.

Wait, what?

Alim was born in Iran (no surprise, given that I am a Middle Eastern magnet) and moved to Canada as a boy. He recently came to the United States for a job at the same company where I work, and he and I have run into each other at a couple of networking events in the past, although I never seem to remember his name. He saw me in the cafeteria this afternoon and came over to talk. He remembered that I am a Christian, so he asked me where I’m going to church. When I explained that I’m not actively involved in church right now, he said, “You should come to church with me. Want to come this Sunday?”

Alim was raised Muslim but, upon moving to the Bible Belt of America, couldn’t help but be curious about Christianity, so he started visiting churches as a part of his self-described “exploratory phase.” And so God used this Muslim-turned-Christian-church-attender to invite His wayward Daughter to attend church services again.

God certainly works in mysterious ways.

Authentically Aurora

The OJ Observer

Mediterranean faces

Ridiculously attractive through I am, even I have a hard time understanding how in the world I get hit on everywhere I go, including places like the gas station and grocery store. Some days, like yesterday, I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse.

I went grocery shopping after work last night to pick up some ingredients for sugar cookies. I planned to bake some as a surprise for a friend who is a new mom. While picking out what flavor of Greek yogurt I want to eat for breakfast every morning next week, I felt someone watching me. I glanced behind me and saw a man in a white dress shirt and black slacks observing me from his position near the orange juice.

I moved on to the milk section of the store and, when I turned around to put my selected carton in my grocery cart, I bumped into someone. “Excuse me,” I said, looking up. It was the OJ Observer. I smiled politely and continued on my way.

After picking out my chosen brand of butter, I saw the man start to approach me. I figured he must be the store manager or something, so I prepared to tell him that yes, I was finding everything that I needed (it’s true; their chocolate banana yogurt is stupendous). Instead, when he opened his mouth, the words that came out were, “Are you Middle Eastern?”

I get that a lot. I’m actually almost full-blooded German, but when I was in Italy, all the locals thought I was Italian. In Greece, everyone came up to me and started speaking Greek, thinking that I was the translator for my group of fellow Americans. I swear, it’s the nose. I’ve got a honker of a nose.

Based on his accent and dark features, the OJ Observer was clearly Middle Eastern himself, so I wasn’t surprised when he told me, “I’m Lebanese. You look like you are from my country.” He then proceeded to ask if we could “be friends.” Friends… riiiight.

I tilted my head to the side and said coyly, “Could I ask you a personal question? What religion would you consider yourself?”

Instead of answering, he smiled and asked me, “What religion do you consider yourself?” Hm, smarter than I gave him credit for.

After I told him that I was a Christian, he told me, “My parents are Muslim, but I am an atheist.”

I explained that we could be friends, but I only date fellow Christians. His tone instantly changed from sweet and obliging to aggressive and angry. “You don’t even know me. Why would you already decide not to date me, just because I am an atheist?!”

I gently told him that everything I do in this life, I try to do to bring God glory. “I will love God more than I love my husband, and I believe that even my marriage is intended to equip me to better serve God than I could in singleness, so it’s important that my husband shares that vision.”

The OJ Observer looked curious and thoughtful. “You seem very passionate about your faith. I would like to hear more about this God you serve.”

I’m doubtful that he really wants to hear more about Jesus, but I agreed to meet him at a public, well-lit coffee shop next week to talk about “this God [I] serve.” An opportunity to share my faith came up, so I’m taking it. But I’m also asking my parents for a DNA test this Christmas.

Authentically Aurora