Receiving Dividends (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

I unfolded the paper and read:

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

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

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

Authentically Aurora

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Provision Through Prayer (Part 2)

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“Are these high-tech engineering charter schools the only ones who will hire someone like me?” I wondered to myself. After attending three job fairs – and feeling like I’d had successful conversations at each – only H*****y Public Schools had called me back for interviews.

This charter school system focuses intensely on math and science curriculum as early as elementary school, so I understood why they would be interested in a career engineer transitioning into teaching. But after everything I’d read about H*****y and the sense of darkness I’d felt at the career fair, I was distraught at the thought that they may be my only chance to start teaching in the fall.

“Would I rather teach at a H*****y school or be unemployed?” This was the question I mulled over for the 24 hours following the career fair. And I was seriously considering unemployment. “I could continue substitute teaching. The pay isn’t great, and I wouldn’t have healthcare benefits, but I could find something to bridge the gap.”

My anxiety was doubled when I found out that the H*****y interviews were teaching a 20-minute lesson in front of an actual class, while the school principal looked on to evaluate your teaching style, ability and effectiveness. I’ve volunteered to teach math and art over the years, and I’ve been substitute teaching on and off since October, but to be under the microscope on how I teach for purposes of an interview had me nearly breaking out in hives.

Thankfully the H*****y career fair was on Saturday morning, so I took comfort that the very next day I would be surrounded by loving encouragement at my church where I would get to fight my anxiety and hopelessness with truth and prayer, buoyed by the hope and peace of fellowship with my church community.

Saturday night – hours after the career fair – Seth and I babysat for Crisitin again. We love watching her four kiddos; it brings us joy and is one of our favorite date night activities. While Seth talked with Cristin’s husband in the moments before the couple left for the evening, Cristin and I caught up about my job situation. She’s a great listener and patiently listened as I poured out my heart regarding H*****y and the other schools I’d hoped to interview with.

When I finished, Cristin gave me a hug, prayed for me and asked me gently, “Do you think you’re supposed to go to those H*****y interviews? Even though you don’t have any other interviews lined up, it’s okay to turn them down if you have this much unrest about them. Not every open door needs to be walked through. There’s wisdom in knocking on doors of opportunity, but there’s also wisdom in being discerning about when to say no. God is going to provide and put you where He wants you.” She encouraged me to pray and ask God for direction specifically about whether to put myself through going to the H*****y interviews or to just walk away.

At the end of our services, my church has a time set aside where anyone needing prayer can come to the front and talk with a prayer partner. Every week, dozens of people come forward to receive counsel, encouragement and words of truth spoken into the lies they’ve been believing. The week prior, the sermon topic covered finances and being a good steward of all we’ve been blessed with by God. During prayer time following this sermon on financial stewardship, many people went forward for prayer regarding their financial situations. Whether praying for peace to battle anxiety over a financial situation, requesting provision to have financial needs met or something else entirely, everyone was welcome.

Although our pastor didn’t tell anyone to give financially, that week I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to be the answer to someone’s prayer. I have received bountifully from the Lord, and I believe everything I’ve been given has been given with a purpose. I want to walk out the good purposes God prepared in advance for me to do, and I believed that morning there was someone God wanted me to bless with an outpouring of generosity, not to glorify myself but to glorify God and be a reminder to someone that God still provides; God still hears prayers, and He is swift to answer – sometimes through His people and sometimes supernaturally.

I wanted to be an encouragement to someone through very practical means, so that Sunday morning I went forward and was redirected to an associate pastor who, the next day, connected me with a widow who is struggling to make ends meet as she tries to raise two children by herself. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27). 

Fast forward one week to the Sunday after my H*****y career fair; the day after Cristin reminded me that not every open door needs to be walked through. I don’t typically go up for partner prayer during worship time at church, but my spirit was so tumultuous within me that I dashed up the aisle almost before the sermon was over. I knew most of the prayer volunteers, and I wanted to meet with someone new – someone who could offer a fresh perspective without having their words colored by what they already knew of me.

Prayer PartnerI saw a young woman with long, brown hair standing up front and made a beeline for her. She looked about my age with kind eyes and a warm smile. When I approached her, she reached out her hands to take mine and squeezed them gently when I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Aurora.”

“I’m Dani.” She hugged me as I leaned forward to speak into her ear about my situation, projecting my voice over the sound of the worship music playing behind us. When I finished explaining, I pulled back and was surprised to see delight on her face. “I’m not sure if you noticed,” she said, rubbing her belly, “But I’m pregnant and taking some time away from work this fall. I’m a 9th grade math teacher at ******* Christian High School. You should take my job.”

I was stunned. Dani’s eyes danced joyfully as I gathered my thoughts. “I’m not certified for high school,” I told her, still marveling at her words.

“That’s okay,” she told me with a wave of her hand. “I’m not either. It’s private school, so your certification doesn’t matter that much.” I told her my background and current teaching certification, and she told me that I’d be perfect for the job.

“I’ve been trying to help my principal find the right replacement for me,” Dani explained. “I’m so glad God brought you to me. Here’s my contact information,” she scribbled her name, number and email address on a piece of paper she pulled from her purse. “Send me your resume, and I’ll make sure my principal sees it.”

“Wow. Thank you so much!” I floated back to my seat, Dani’s paper gripped in my hand. She’d given me a job opportunity, but more than that, God had used Dani to give me hope again. I wasn’t relegated to teaching at a public charter school with discriminatory practices. There were other opportunities out there. I was free to say no to H*****y.

Just as God had worked through me to answer the prayer of a widow the week before, God had worked through Dani to remind me of His provision. Whether this job at ******* Christian High School panned out or not, it was a reminder to me that God is able to do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. He’s a good, good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.

Authentically Aurora

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

Welcome, Autumn!

Autumn in Boston Public GardenGolden sunlight drifting through the window and the soft tones of birds chirping in the distance – this is how I started my morning last Friday. Since I work a 9/80 schedule, every other Friday I get to slowly ease into consciousness, enjoying the quiet peacefulness of a morning free from social obligations or occupational expectations. It is glorious.

This week, I got out of bed, stretched lazily, and stepped outside onto my porch. Perfect weather beckoned me to spend the day outdoors in the sunny coolness of autumn’s beginnings, so I threw on some spandex and headed to a nearby park for a leisurely run.

Three miles later, I stopped in a grassy meadow to stretch and soak up some vitamin D. Stretching after a run feels amazing – all my aches and tight muscles loosen as my body relaxes into its natural alignment.

I sat down in the grass for a core workout and saw a little girl running playfully through the field with her mom. Looking to my left, I spotted two women in their forties laughing uproariously on a swing set as they reverted to girlhood, swinging as high as they could go, guffawing all the way.

I smiled to myself, stood up, and found a sunny patch in the middle of the meadow. I turned up the music in my ear buds, closed my eyes, and embraced the driving beat of one of my favorite songs, subtly moving my feet in the motion of a solo salsa before finally letting loose with a whole-hearted freestyle dance of pure freedom there in the middle of the sunny meadow and crisp autumn air.

I love fall. I love the colors – the leaves, the fashions; the smells and tastes and spices; the anticipation of coming holidays; the focus on friends and family. It paradoxically soothes me and sets my heart on fire all at once.

So welcome, autumn. It’s been too long.

Authentically Aurora

Cultivating Contentment

Contented HeartSometimes we have to pause our Pursuit of Happiness and take the time to just Be Happy.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just let a situation be what it is instead of what we want it to be.

Sometimes we have to do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

So this week, I am thankful for my church. It has taken me years to find a church where I experience God’s presence every single Sunday, but finally – finally! – I have a church home again. It’s far from perfect (you know, churches being comprised of sinners and all that), but the worship is powerful, the people are authentic, and the sermons are both convicting and encouraging.

Our worship band is full of talented musicians who choose songs with lyrics straight out of Scripture, and every week as I sing along, I close my eyes and experience God’s love and peace in ways I rarely do throughout the rest of my week.

Our people are servant-hearted, with a significant portion of the congregation volunteering as greeters, nursery workers, prayer partners and more. There is even a group of young adults that stand at a booth outside in the heat to make iced coffee for people as they arrive in the morning.

Significant portions of our tithes and offerings are poured back out into the community. This is a church that believes it is more blessed to give than to receive, whether the resource in question is money or time.

This week after church, I went out to lunch with a group of new friends, and our conversation was full of life and light. My heart felt full. My heart felt happy.

God is moving in this church. And I am so thankful to be a part of not only this church, but also the greater purpose: His Kingdom work in this city. “God, who am I, that You have brought me this far?” (2 Sam. 7:18)

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part I

guard-heartI ran into my ex-fiance on Saturday morning.

It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since the week of our wedding last summer, and I was completely unprepared for it.

Just days earlier, I’d told my sister-in-law that I had a premonition I was going to see him again soon, but I was still shocked when our paths crossed so unexpectedly. My defenses were down; my emotions unchecked; my heart untucked from its pocket of safety.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis, The Four Loves


Every time I try to lock my heart away to protect it from the agonizing pain of living in the world, God lovingly pries apart my shields and rips down my fortress. He keeps my heart soft when I want to harden my heart against the perpetual onslaught of hurt.

Sometimes it feels like He keeps ripping off the scab and reopening the wound again and again. Just when I’m starting to heal, another hit comes. Another blow. Another gash. Another wound. Is this kindness? I have to believe that God is not cutting me open to damage me but rather to do heart surgery; to take away my heart of stone and give me a heart that is soft and malleable, capable of receiving love and giving love in turn.

A few weeks ago, my friend Mary asked me to attend her church’s Singles Retreat. I attend services at a different church, but Mary’s boyfriend broke up with her recently, and she needed moral support at her church’s retreat because he’d be there, too. Since God frequently redeems my own seasons of darkness by using them to comfort and work healing in others, I agreed to pay the $40 registration fee and spend my Saturday at a church camp out in the countryside.

After a few hours in the car and a quick stop for Starbucks, Mary and I arrived at the retreat center early Saturday morning. We prayed together in the car, that God would be our Guide, Comforter and Encourager that weekend. I prayed for Mary, and she prayed for me.

The Christian community is small in my city, so when Mary and I made our way to the second floor of the lodge to register, I recognized a few of the people running the registration booth. Mary and I talked and laughed with the volunteers as we got our name badges; then we turned to the door to walk toward the sanctuary for the first session. But just before my hand touched the knob, the cabin door opened, and there he stood. My ex-fiance.

I didn’t recognize him at first. Since I was eye-level with his chest, I just wondered why this talk blonde was blocking my path. Finally, I looked up and locked eyes with him. And all of the breath went out of me.

Shock. That was my primary emotion, tinged with peace. Peace that I am not married to this man. Then surprise at the peace. Why am I not upset? Then fear. What if I’m in shock, and the emotional breakdown is going to start any moment?

All of those thoughts and emotions fluttered through me in a fraction of a second. In the meantime, he said, “Hi, Rory.” Hearing his pet name for me was jarring. He’s the only one who has ever shortened my name that way, and it sounded foreign in my ears.

“Hi,” I echoed back, trying to process the situation unfolding before me. He didn’t look surprised to see me. That was all my brain could register.

He was expressionless. “I saw you walk by and came to let you know I was here so it wouldn’t be awkward.”

His statement made no sense to me. My mind was full of questions. You mean, like it’s awkward right now? What are you doing here? Why did you feel the need to come up and reveal yourself to me? Why couldn’t you have left me oblivious to your presence?

But what I said out loud was, “Okay. I didn’t know you went to First Baptist.”

“Well I do.”

“Okay.” I had nothing else to say. Shock rendered my brain useless. Fortunately, it also momentarily numbed my heart from registering any feeling.

“Well I just wanted to let you know I was here.” He looked at me expectantly then, like he had anticipated more of a reaction.

“Okay.” I felt one eyebrow involuntarily go up like it does when I’m annoyed. What do you expect me to say or do here?!

I sensed him tense just before he turned and wordlessly walked away. Watching him descend the staircase, it dawned on me that we hadn’t made any kind of physical contact. And I was glad. I would have felt violated if he’d tried to touch me. He is no longer a safe space. He has wounded me. He is not trustworthy.

Mary watched the whole thing unfold, so I said listlessly to her, eyes straight ahead, “That was my ex-fiance.”

She had nothing to offer, so we walked into the sanctuary for the first session. Of course, I couldn’t focus at all. I spent the whole time journaling my thoughts and feelings and trying not to glance at my ex, who was seated across the aisle to my right.

After the session, we were mixed into small discussion groups, but I spoke quietly to a freckled Asian girl seated on my left. We’d never met before, but I was desperate. “I need someone to pray over me. I just saw my ex-fiance for the first time since we broke up and am in shock.”

The petite girl seemed unfazed as she gestured for me to follow her. We got up from the group and silently walked out the door into the sunshine. She led me down a nature trail, and we settled onto a secluded park bench. Only then did we introduce ourselves. Her name was Grace. How fitting.

I poured my heart out to her, processing my own thoughts and feelings as I spoke. Grace listened attentively. She let me cry, comforting me with words of truth. She encouraged me, laughed with me through my tears, and took my hand in hers to pray over me. She’s twenty-four years old.

It’s moments like this that make my heart feel full. It’s moments like this that remind me what the church is supposed to look like. It’s moments like this that fill me with joy, knowing more intimately the character of the God we serve.

This is what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like. This is how we share the Good News with the world. “They will know us by our love.”

There is power in people who are seemingly strangers coming together as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, united by a bond that is greater than ourselves. There is power in reminding one another that we were created for more than our eyes can see this side of heaven. There is power in being the hands and feet of Jesus, loving the unlovely in a broken world desperately in need of Grace.

Authentically Aurora