A New Chapter (Part 5)

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Today was my last day at the company where I’ve worked my entire career.

I thought I’d at least feel a little bit sad, sentimental or sappy, but… nope. None of that. I tried to be intentional about making mental pictures as I walked through the office hallways for the last time, but I am completely and utterly relieved, at peace and basically just excited for a new life chapter!

I haven’t been telling many of my coworkers where I’m headed next, mostly because of either their anticipated judgement or the actual judgement I have faced from the few people I’ve told. When they find out I’m planning on eventually going to teaching, most of my corporate colleagues think I’m either incompetent (“she couldn’t cut it in the business world”) or think I was unwise to resign without another job lined up (“girl, what were you thinking?!”). Those who know I’m going into teaching are generally incredulous at the huge pay cut I’ll be taking, but – to quote Zac Brown Band – “there’s no dollar sign on a peace of mind.”

After I sent out my farewell note to everyone, I got a flooding of emails back, most of which asked me what I’m doing next. After an eight-year career in procurement, I was amazed at the number of people who erroneously guessed that I’m going into a field related to art or music. For a woman who has spent her career working in oil & gas surrounded by engineers and business professionals, I evidently have quite a reputation for being “artsy”!

“I know you will be very successful on your new career. Are you sharing what the new career is? Church? Singing? Photography?”

“I hope you are pursuing something in art as I know how talented you are in that area and how much you love it!”

“I always admired your capacity and ability to manipulate data and pull out tremendous insights, apart from your arty talents of coarse!”

“You are one of the most talented writers I know.”

“I knew after listening to you sing in the acapella group that you’d start your own band someday. Are you headed off to China? Or headed back to school on in an art program?”

“Enjoy your path and keep in touch.  Let me know when you have a gig at a local club.”

“My friend is opening up a new craft beer bar…  Let me know if you are for hire.”

Last week, I met up with my friend and coworker Farah for one last lunch. She said everyone’s been asking her about me, namely to ask what I’ll be doing next and then to comment, “I’m surprised it took her this long. She’s always been so miserable here.”

It really hurt my feelings to hear that I was apparently so visibly miserable. I thought I did an okay job at least just shrugging and rolling my eyes at the corporate bureaucracy like everyone else. And I was hurt that people said it felt like it took me forever to find another job. I was looking for another job for years, and – in the moment Farah shared this with me – it made me feel like a perceived failure that I couldn’t land another job for so long. But I had to remind myself of God’s faithfulness and purpose in keeping me at this other company for so many years of searching for something else.

Fortunately, Farah stood up for me in those conversations, telling my would-be insulters, “You’re miserable here. We’re all miserable here. All the things Aurora has said and felt are all the things you complain about all the time. At least she’s doing something about it!   You say you’re surprised at how long it took her to leave, but you’re still here and just as miserable as she was!”

It was nice to hear Farah’s defense of me, and it was really nice to hear from all the people who felt inspired by me and told me so. Multiple people told me privately that they think what I’m doing is brave and courageous. They told me it was inspiring to see someone walk away from the golden handcuffs of our outrageous salaries, easy jobs and comfortable lifestyle to do something they’re actually passionate about.

A young employee who already has a side hustle told me in confidence, “You’re actually making me rethink staying here.” One of my first friends ever at this company – the girl who showed me around Brussels during my first week of training – said privately, “I’m so jealous of you.” And my sweet mentee, who I meet for coffee once a week, admitted quietly, “I wish I were that brave.” You can be, I told her. And maybe you will be, I said with a smile.

A few years ago, our company constructed some new buildings on a central campus in town. I was in charge of facilitating the office move for our department, and in the final stages of the migration, my friend Valerie and I went over the to the new campus to prayer walk. I know this agnostic-run, European company would have had a fit if they knew we were walking through the brand new buildings and praying over them, but Val and I – mavericks that we are – decided to be bold in praying for God to be glorified in those buildings and our workplace. At a company as international as this, you don’t have to go to the nations; the nations are brought to you.

And so in my last moments in that new building, I again looked out over the campus and prayed one more time that God’s name would be glorified there; that many diverse nations would be brought in to work here, and that every people, tribe, tongue and nation on this campus would come to know Him intimately and personally.

And then I turned from the window, rode the elevator down, and walked out of that building forever. My work here is complete.

Authentically Aurora

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Freedom from Boredom

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Boredom and Restlessness, Boredom and Restlessness, over and over again: This has been the cycle of my life for the past few years. I’ve been so underutilized and unappreciated at work – where I spend 40 hours each week – that I’ve allowed this discontentment to infiltrate the rest of my life.

During seasons of Boredom, I’d click around on the internet all day at work; then come home and eat junk food and watch Netflix until bedtime, starting the routine again the next day. My life became one of comfortable complacency, where I didn’t feel passionate or motivated about anything. I was so disheartened for so many hours during the day that, ironically, my boredom at work sapped all of my energy and rendered me utterly unproductive during my off hours as well.

After a few weeks of Boredom, I’d kick myself into gear and start desperately trying to do something meaningful and significant with my life. I didn’t want to be a binge-watching, dispassionate Netflix couch potato. So I’d enter a season of Restlessness, where I filled my time trying to find new hobbies to learn and new projects to tackle.

I got certified to babysit foster children, but only one family ever called to ask me to babysit. I offered to take maternity or newborn photos for a ministry that helps pregnant teens, but the seemingly excited director of the organization never took me up on my offer to work for free. I’d volunteer for complex analysis at work that never got used, and I stepped up to arrange songs for a choir that ended up being more of a drain than a joy.

After a few weeks of feeling rejected and unappreciated even in my skillful volunteer efforts, I’d return to a season of Boredom. And so this cycle would continue ad nauseam: Boredom and Restlessness.

In July last year, during one particularly uplifting sermon, I sensed God speaking to my heart that he wants to change this cycle. The Christian life was never intended to be boring. And there is no reason for us to be restless, striving desperately for passion and purpose. We’ve been given both identity and purpose that inform our passions. And the new cycle God has spoken over me is Passion and Rest.

I long to throw myself wholeheartedly into what I love. I’m wired to run hard; to be singleminded in the pursuit of my passions. So in seasons where I don’t feel passionate about anything, I feel dead and purposeless. Even in the mundane – which is a natural part of life – I believe we can be passionate about the people around us and investing in them. Any job and any season of life can have something – even the most minuscule or ordinary – that gets us fired up. And I’ve been missing that in my life, but I believe God is ushering me into a new season where my passions are lit anew.

But we also weren’t created to run headlong without a break. We are called to rest – commanded to rest – and this is for our good. Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. And our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures. We shouldn’t protect our rest so that we can be rested when we rest some more; we rest so that we can work hard – get back out there and do good work for God’s kingdom.

So Passion and Rest, Passion and Rest… that is what I’m praying for in this New Season.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 1

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View from our Airbnb

After a long day of travel, Rachel and I were finally just one Metro stop away from our Airbnb when our RER turned a corner and there, in the break in the buildings, was the Eiffel Tower. “Wow, look at that!” I breathed, pointing at the massive structure. Rachel gave voice to the exact words in my head: “It’s bigger than I expected.”

We exited the Metro via an escalator leading us outside, where we got our first breath of French air. Sunlight filtered through the trees that smelled like jasmine, and birds chirped happily nearby. It was perfection.

We found our Airbnb, dropped off our luggage and ventured out into the city. After getting caught in our first French rainstorm and having our first cup of French coffee, Rachel and I entered the beautiful gardens of Musee d’Rodin. The lush gardens were shaded by trees dotted with rose bushes, making our walk cool, sunny and fragrant.

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“The Kiss”

After walking around the outdoor paths and discovering “The Thinker”, we made our way inside where we found “The Kiss”. It is a breathtaking sculpture – possibly my favorite ever – because the intimate pose is both passionate and sweet. In my experience, it is hard to find both, but it is a love worth waiting for – and one that models the love that God has for us all. His love is strong.

Rachel and I enjoyed a chocolate-filled afternoon, stopping at both the quaint Jean-Charles Rochoux and the swanky Patrick Roger, as well as getting our first chocolate croissants from a chain called Paul. I saved some of my chocolates (hazelnut dark chocolate and rose dark chocolate) to savor while we sat in the grass at a small park, enjoying the sunshine.

For dinner, we ate at a restaurant I’d found on Yelp: Au Pied du Fouet. I ordered the canard (duck), and it was delicious, although I felt self-conscious because the friendly chef stood at the door to the kitchen watching me eat.

Rachel and I ended every day by climbing seven flights of stairs (127 steps. I counted). Then we rewarded ourselves with a hot shower in our plastic porta-shower and then… sleep!

Authentically Aurora

Free Gift

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A couple of weeks ago, I baked a batch of sugar cookies from scratch, lovingly decorating them for my bible study group.

I should have known to cut the recipe in half, what with the warm front we’re having and everyone trying to get ready for swimsuit season, because at the end of the evening, I still had about two dozen cookies left. These folks could learn a thing or two from me about how to put away some cookies!

Knowing that I would eat ALL of them if I took the sugar cookies home with me, I decided to text Hovik, the attractive Armenian car mechanic who lives in my apartment complex. As expected, he was all too happy to take the cookies off my hands, so I stopped by his unit on my way back to my own apartment.

He welcomed me inside – I’d never been inside his apartment before – and gave me the grand tour, starting with his self-built LED lit bar bottle display and ending with the rows and rows of hundreds of model cars lining his closet shelves. The man knows a thing or two about interior decorating. His place was beautiful, right down to the wall-to-wall backlit painting hanging over his king-sized bed.

Having dropped off the cookies and received the grand tour, I started to excuse myself. It was late and, although I trusted Hovik, I didn’t know him very well. It was time to leave. But he wasn’t ready for me to go yet. “What did you do tonight?” he asked me. “What did you bake these cookies for?”

“I was at bible study,” I said simply.

“Bible study?” he asked incredulously. “You study the bible?”

“Yeah, I do,” I told him with a shrug. “What about you? I don’t know much about Armenian religion. What is your spiritual background?”

“I’m a Christian, too,” he told me. “I’m Orthodox.”

“Okay,” I replied, nodding my head. “So, what does that mean – Orthodox? Where do you go to church in the area?”

Hovik laughed. “It means that I go to an Armenian church on Christmas and on Easter.”

“Ah, so you’re a CEO.”

Hovik looked confused, so I explained. “Christmas and Easter Only.”

He smiled slightly. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“So, Hovik… what do you believe happens when you die? Do you believe in an afterlife?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I’ll go to heaven.”

“Why?”

Hovik looked uncomfortable. “I mean, it’s what I was raised to believe, you know. My mom always taught me to be a good person. I’m a good guy, so I’ll go to heaven.”

He had a works-based view of salvation. My heart sank. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but we were already mid-conversation, and Hovik’s salvation was more important to me than his comfort level, so I plunged ahead.

“Hovik,” I started gently, “You know that’s not a biblical view of salvation, right?” I quoted Ephesians 2, “We are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good works so that no one can boast. Being brought into a right relationship with God is purely a gift from God when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf as payment for our sinfulness. There’s nothing you or I could do to be ‘good enough’ to earn God’s favor.”

Now Hovik looked really uncomfortable. “Well that’s not what I was raised to believe.”

“I understand that.” I paused. “Hovik, do you live up to your own standards for yourself? Do you always live according to the standards you have set for yourself?”

He squirmed. “Well, not always. But most of the time. I’m a good guy.”

“If you don’t live up to your own standards 100% of the time, what makes you think you live up to God’s standards? All of us fall short of God’s standard for holiness, and because God is perfectly just, there has to be a punishment for sin.”

Hovik looked angry now. He raised his voice a bit as he bit back, “That’s not the God I grew up learning about. God is loving. God loves everyone. He wouldn’t be vengeful just because I can’t be perfect!”

I nodded, smiling. He had led me right into my next point. “God is perfectly just, but scripture tells us that He is also perfectly loving, so He didn’t want to leave that rift between Himself and His children that was caused by sin. That’s why Jesus came to earth and died – willingly, lovingly – then rose from the dead, taking upon himself the punishment that we all deserve for our sin. So yes, there is punishment for sin because of God’s justice, but because of His love, He created a way for us to be brought back into a right relationship with Him when we believe and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.”

Hovik’s posture was no longer warm and welcoming, so I excused myself, telling him to enjoy the cookies. When I got back to my apartment, I had a text from him:

“Soooooo. Was that a little awkward for you?”

“Nope. But I could tell it was for you. ;)”

“Well a little. I was more interested in hearing how you are instead of what pleases Jesus. But I do love the fact that you’re very passionate about it.”

In instances like this, I have to remind myself that I am only responsible for the input, not the outcome. Hovik and I are still friends – we’ve spoken since – but I feel like I have said all that I can about faith with him. I did my part. Now it’s up to the Holy Spirit… and Hovik. Like all of us, he has a decision to make – the most important decision of his life.

Authentically Aurora

Redefining STEM

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I hear about STEM all the time: Science, Technology, Engineering & Math education. As someone who works for a major oil company and also volunteers in the local school system, I feel constantly bombarded by rhetoric about pushing STEM education, particularly for young girls (who society ignorantly thinks are focused entirely on frivolities).

Our elementary and junior high students are the makers of either our future economic prosperity or hardship, so I can understand why so many individuals in both government and industry want STEM education raised as a national priority. But I am a proponent of small government and, still further, I don’t think a laser focus on STEM education will result in the desired outcome. If the desired outcome is a thriving economy, I believe in providing a well-rounded education, allowing for a natural synthesis of science and liberal arts in young minds, and then equipping people to do what they are passionate about.

America was built on creativity, passion, ingenuity and independence. More than forcing children into STEM careers, we should equip them to do what they love. Pushing students into engineering, if that’s not what interests them, is not the secret to building a great economy. They will end up frustrated and burned out, leaving for a different career path or, worse still, staying for the money, becoming a liability to their employer because their driving force is not intrinsic but financial.

Although less than a fifth of high school students report as being interested in STEM careers, I believe the situation is not as dire as some imagine. I have an engineering degree, but I never use anything I learned in school. My day job does not require me to do differential equations or engineering physics calculations. Could I figure out how to solve these complex math problems? Yes. But would I enjoy it? Probably not. Am I still able to do a good job working for a major oil company? Yes.

The girls in my Sunday school class constantly amaze me. This week, we talked about the bible’s most famous set of best friends: David and Jonathan. During craft time, my 1st and 2nd graders decorated large gold stars cut out of construction paper, writing kind notes to their best friends on the stars.

Earlier in the morning, Abigail – a sweet, quiet bookworm in the group – had been telling me about a children’s book she’s writing and illustrating. It’s about a unicorn who was once a fairy. I asked Abigail about her favorite subject in school. I wasn’t surprised at her answer: English. She wrinkled her nose when I told her that I love math and am an engineer. But I’ve seen in Abigail the makings of a brilliant engineer, despite her dislike of math.

While all of the other girls dug through bins of markers and stickers to decorate their stars, Abigail folded in four arms of her star to the center, taping them in place. Then she folded the fifth arm of the star into the center, tucking it into the pocket created by the four other points of the star. On a separate piece of paper, she wrote a note to her friend, which she tucked into her “star pocket”.

When everyone was finished, we hung the golden stars on the blackboard. I smiled to myself, seeing Abigail’s imaginative little “star pocket” standing out among all of the other stars stretched out along the blackboard. I almost took a picture so that I could caption it, “Dare to be different.”

After the other girls saw Abigail’s “star pocket”, they all wanted her to teach them how to make one, too. So I watched petite little Abigail lead the other elementary school girls in making pockets, too. Abigail is a leader, but she’s not a showy leader. She marches to the beat of her own drum. She displays a quiet confidence that draws others to her. The makings of greatness are written into the core of her being, but it’s not the result of a great STEM education. The intangibles that will make Abigail great are the result of natural giftings and great parenting.

Abigail doesn’t like math. She likes English. But she is constantly shining with inventiveness and creativity. And that –more than excellent math skills – is what we need in our future scientists and engineers.

Authentically Aurora

Anointing: Accepting Your Calling

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Unique opportunities tend to come when least expected. We never know when a proverbial door will be opened, and often, the door that opens is one we didn’t even know existed. I used to be somewhat cautious, but in recent years, I have learned to take risks, step out of my comfort zone and embrace the thrill of the unknown. When a unique experience is presented to me, I now tend to seize the opportunity, embark on an adventure and see what unfolds. I’m rarely disappointed.

The week of Christmas, I received a rather peculiar email. Some girl named Kelly – a girl I don’t know – sent an email blast to a listserv I am apparently still on from a church I used to attend five years ago. The email was an invitation to be a part of the Passion 2016 Choir. According to the email, Kelly’s friend was involved in leading the Passion Choir, and they needed more volunteers to sing.

For anyone not familiar with Passion, it is a three day Christian conference for young adults ages 18-25. It’s a huge event, hosting top Christian bands like David Crowder and Hillsong United, as well as world renowned speakers and theologians like John Piper and Ravi Zacharias. This year, the event attracted 40,000 students and was held at three different stadiums across two different cities in the US.

I was off work for the holidays and didn’t have plans January 2-4, so I emailed the director of the Passion Choir at the email address provided by Kelly. When the director, Alisa, replied to me, she said that choir volunteers were by referral only, so she asked who referred me. I gave her Kelly’s name, and Alisa immediately sent me a private link to an online application.

A week later, I entered our city’s basketball arena for a five hour rehearsal with about 70 other talented Christian vocalists, and it was like being back in All-State Choir. Singing with the best – more than that, talented vocalists with a passion and inner fire – is otherworldly. It’s like a glimpse of heaven on earth. Possibly even more fun than singing with the Passion Choir, though, was getting to be a part of the choir’s community group.

Alisa led us in bible studies and reflection times between rehearsals and performance sessions, and because most vocalists are dreamers and artsy types, the focus of our special behind-the-scenes study was on discovering our passions and living out our dreams. Only, Alisa didn’t take the study the direction I expected. I expected a cliché pep talk about how I’m special and blah blah blah. But Alisa lovingly challenged our individual visions of what our futures could or should be like.

She started by reading Ephesians 4:7-16 and explaining that there is a supernatural gifting from God within each of us. But God gives the gifts. God chooses the gifts. There are good works predestined for me to do (Eph. 2:10), but good works aren’t up for grabs. If someone else is living out my dream or doing what I believe I have been uniquely created to do, I need to kill the jealousy inside of me. If someone else was given a certain role, he or she was assigned it in eternity past. Callings are not about us; they are a gift from God, and He chooses our gifts and callings!

Alisa went on to encourage us to know, accept and use our unique giftings for God’s glory. It’s God’s job to choose the gifts and callings; it’s my job to walk in the opportunities given to me. To identify our callings, Alisa wisely suggested we consider: What have I suffered? So often our misery becomes our ministry. What are my passions? What talents has my community affirmed in me?

Ultimately, Alisa reminded us that there is a race marked out for each of us to run (Heb. 12:1-3). It’s God’s role to mark out my race; He sets the path. Though our culture would tell us otherwise, we don’t create our dreams; they are given to us. God wove them into the fabric of our being when He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139).

My responsibility is not to choose my anointing. My responsibility is to run with perseverance the race marked out for me, for my good and God’s glory!

Authentically Aurora

Candid Conversation

Dilbert ExpectationsIn my experience, people who ask a ton of questions and need a lot of oversight are considered newbies, whereas people who are independent, individual contributors are considered competent.

Not so in the mind of my Category Manager.

At the end of last year in my year-end review, I was given a ranking of “performs below average”. The reason given was that I don’t ask enough questions. My Category Manager (who serves as something of a “dotted-line manager” in our matrix organizational structure) shared with my boss that she has a lot more projects she needs me to take on, but she doesn’t feel comfortable giving them to me because she thinks I can’t even handle what I have going on right now.

I come in at 8am and leave at 4pm every day, after taking an hour lunch break. I am bored out of my mind, and the work hours I keep speak to that fact. But her perception is that I am overwhelmed and don’t understand anything – that I am incompetent – because I don’t ask her a lot of questions. I guess it never occurred to her that I don’t ask questions because I don’t need her answers. I have things handled.

But she is a control freak who needs to feel needed. So my lack of question-asking leads her to feel like she’s not in control, which somehow makes her believe that I am incompetent.

In our 8:30pm conference call on Wednesday night (that’s right; we have weekly night calls), she made an off-hand comment in front of the team that she would like me to read up more about our SAP HANA contract to ensure I am able to add value during a benchmark study taking place next month. Irritated with her lack of confidence in me and annoyed by the scheduling of yet another meaningless hour-and-a-half-long call, I decided I’d had enough of her condescension.

“I know it’s your perception that I’m incompetent and clueless, and you want me to read more legal documentation and ask you more questions,” I began, “But I feel like I have a pretty good handle on SAP HANA. I understand our RBU structure and the fact that we are in the process of migrating from Application-Based to Dynamic HANA. I understand the pros and cons of our options, and I know the breakdown of our RBUs based on Hardware, Software, Storage and our Data Centers. I recognize both the fixed and variable costs; which ones are consumption based versus a fixed fee. I believe I am able to speak intelligently in the benchmarking sessions, so don’t think that just because you don’t hear me show off about my knowledge doesn’t mean that I don’t know what’s going on.”

There was stunned silence on the phone line for a moment; then she moved on to another topic, but she brought up the conversation again the next morning. “You seemed a bit tense last night,” she commented.

“No,” I said casually, “I just wanted you to know that I am not incompetent despite the fact that I don’t ask you a lot of questions.”

She paused; then said, “I hope you’re passionate about the things you’re working on.”

I just stared at her, unsure how to respond.

“Are you passionate about IT?” she asked.

I am not a lier, but I also wanted to give as diplomatic an answer as possible. “I wouldn’t say that I am passionate about IT, but I still want to do a good job at what I do.”

“What can we do to make you passionate about IT?” She seemed to believe that was possible, just because she’s a freak of nature who actually gets off on this stuff.

“I don’t know that I’m wired to get excited about IT contracts, but that doesn’t mean I won’t deliver good work.”

“Why did you take this job?” she finally asked pointedly. She has never wanted me on her team despite the fact that – by her own admission – I do deliver.

My direct boss is the reason I took the job. I like and respect him; I’d worked for him before, and he asked me to be on his team again. But I hadn’t known at the time that I’d end up doing all of my work for this madwoman. And I couldn’t believe she would be so blunt as to ask me why I even took the job.

“Patrick. I took the job because Patrick asked me to, and I like and respect him.”

“Well,” she said with a disapproving look, “Your first year in the role is almost over. Just three more years, and you can move on.”

Is there any question as to why I am looking for a new job?

Authentically Aurora