The System (for Introverts)

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I used to hate getting shots. Every six weeks or so, I have to go into my allergist’s office to get my maintenance dosage of allergy shots. It takes 20 minutes to drive there, and I have to sit and wait for 20 minutes after getting the shots so they can make sure I’m not having an anaphylactic reaction; then it takes another 20 minutes to drive back home or to work. So every six weeks, I used to feel like I was wasting an hour of my day… until I figured out The System.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.32.12 AMNow when it’s time for my allergy shots, I go get myself a latte. I throw my Kindle into my purse. I silence my phone and stick in my earbuds and listen to white noise to drown out the sounds of older patrons talking loudly or children whining or babies crying.

Now every six weeks – instead of feeling like I am wasting my time sitting in the doctor’s office – I get an extended period of time to sit in a comfy chair disconnected from the world and read a good book while drinking a freshly brewed latte. And it is heaven.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.34.48 AM.pngThis morning when I went in for my six-week maintenance dose, I scanned the waiting room as I nestled down, and I spotted a sixteen-year-old girl who has already discovered The System. She had kicked off her shoes and pulled her feet up into her chair and was curled up with a thick paperback, oblivious to anyone but the characters in her story. I smiled to myself and thought, “She’s my people.”

OlderWomanI got my shots, enjoyed 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading, and walked outside to my car. On the way, I saw an attractive, well-dressed woman in her fifties perched on the hood of her lime green car. Her knees were drawn up to her chest as she basked in the sun and talked on her phone with a relaxed, lazy drawl. And I smiled to myself for the second time in half an hour, again thinking, “She’s my people.”

The sixteen-year-old with her paperback was me nearly two decades ago, and I imagine the woman on hood of her car is a portrait of Authentically Aurora in another two decades. These are my girls. These are my people.

Authentically Introverted Aurora

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A Purdy Thirty

Seth and Ashley did such a great job with my birthday. My boyfriend and best friend collaborated to throw me an amazing surprise 30th birthday party with a Beauty and the Beast theme! I could not have felt more loved.

Wine glass roseTons of friends were there – from work, church, choir and every other facet of my life – and Seth had rented out a “shared space” that Ashley decorated beautifully with silk roses under wine glasses, candelabras reminiscent of Lumiere, and stacks of books nodding at Belle’s (and my!) love of reading.

Seth brought along the corn hole boards he and I made together, and he surprised me with a homemade set of hillbilly golf because I’d mentioned in passing that I’d played it at camp one year and loved it. Twinkle lights lit up the rented back patio, and Seth grilled up venison from the deer I shot back in November, wrapping each delicious piece in bacon with cream cheese. Ashley’s coconut-pineapple cupcakes were a hit, especially since she  – in all her amazing artistic talent – had decorated them with yellow icing in the shape of Belle’s ballgown.

Belle dress cupcakesI am not usually a fan of large gatherings, but I spent the evening surrounded by wonderful friends who are genuinely kind and loving, grounded and sincere. We laughed and sang and ate and played backyard games. A great time was had by all.

And at the end of the evening, Seth hugged me and kissed me and said over and over, “I like you so much.” And then, when all the guests had left and we were alone, he held me and asked, “Hey, did you know there was a Fusion pre-engagement session in April?”

I looked up at him, and he shook his head, laughing to himself. “Of course you knew. Thanks for not pushing it on me.”

I smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“Well,” he began softly, “Would you want to go to Fusion with me in April? I think we’re ready.”

My smile spread, and I snuggled up to him. I was surprised. “Yes. I’d like that a lot.”

He rubbed my back. “I was thinking we could go to the one at our church in April and then go again to the one in June being held by another church to see how different churches do it, with the added goal of maybe even being able to facilitate Fusion someday. What do you think about that?”

I tilted my head back to look up at him again. “I think that’s a great idea!” And I do.

It’s the culmination of so many parts of my life: my love of personality assessments, sharing wisdom from my own broken relationships, and getting to teach, train, encourage and mentor others. I love that my passions align with Seth’s and that such a huge part of our relationship is seeking out how we can serve together and minister to others. I think we make a great team, and I’m excited to see all that God has in store for us as a couple.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 6

IMG_6896.jpgKnowing that most Parisian museums are closed on Mondays, I saved the islands and cathedrals for my last full day in Paris, wanting to make the most of my time in the city.

To finish off the trip right, Rachel and I decided to splurge on breakfast at the prestigious Cafe de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain during our last day. I ordered the Quiche Lorainne with my cafe creme, and it was definitely the best quiche I’ve ever had! The light, flaky crust was just the right texture against the creamy and flavorful egg-and-cheese filling. I was thoroughly impressed.

IMG_6654.jpgThe waiters at Cafe de Flore were resplendent in black vests and bow ties, so we sat for a while in the quaint atmosphere, sipping our lattes and looking out the glass walls at the pedestrians passing by outside. I sat and sketched while Rachel read a book; then I helped a couple from Portugal decipher the French menu when they caught my eye and smiled apologetically, looking sheepish.

Once we felt it was time to relinquish our table, Rachel and I took the Metro to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cite. Coming up on the North side of the cathedral where visitors enter was disappointing. I expected to see the rounded spire and flying buttresses, but instead we saw the two boxy towers of what I had always considered the back side of Notre-Dame. We waited in line in the rain, and once inside, I felt much better because the inside was just as beautiful as I’d imagined.

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The Rose windows were especially breathtaking, but I was frustrated to see signs everywhere instructing visitors to pay in order to light and candle and pray. I realize that Notre-Dame is now a tourist attraction that expects to take in funding, but it made me think of Matthew 21 when Jesus says, “You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves!” It also made me thankful for John 4:23 and 1 Cor. 3:16. We don’t have to worship God at any particular place; we are called to worship in Spirit and in Truth!

IMG_6802.jpgBack outside in the rain, I took Rachel around the quiet, unfrequented South side of Notre-Dame and was rewarded with a stunning, unobstructed view of rose gardens encircling the majestic flying buttresses around the nave of the cathedral. This was where I wanted to spend my time – away from the crowds and in the presence of great beauty, both natural and man made. I took in a deep breath, savoring the moment and literally stopping to smell the roses. It was magnificent and moving; a memory I will cherish.

The rain really starting coming down as we walked the length of the island to Sainte-Chapelle, and we passed a man whistling “Singing in the Rain”. The familiar tune and his carefree vocalization made my heart happy. Twenty minutes later, I stepped inside the lesser-known chapel of Ile de la Cite, and it took my breath away.

Rich colors dominated the surprisingly low ceiling, and this close, the detail work and structural patterns of the vaulting were more readily admired. A narrow spiral staircase took us to an upper floor where the king used to worship, and it was probably the coolest cathedral I have ever been in (significant, since I’ve visited St. Paul’s in Rome, St. Patrick in NYC, Westminister in London, Washington National Cathedral in DC, St. Michael’s in Brussels and more).

IMG_6861.jpgStained glass windows dominated the room, reaching nearly floor to ceiling and telling the story of the bible bottom-to-top as one moved clockwise around the room. It felt simultaneously secluded and awe-inspiring; majestic and intimate, just like the One intended to be worshiped.

Leaving the island, Rachel and I went to the highly-ranked Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore but quickly left, disappointed. All the books were brand new and in English, and patrons stood elbow-to-elbow at the shelves.

Decided to spend the rest of our evening on Ile Saint-Louis, we settled at La Chaumiere, where I ordered a Nutella crepe with my cappuccino. Rachel was generally embarrassed of me when I talked to people around us, but in this instance, it paid off for her because we were seated next to a foursome from her hometown – remarkable because it’s a basically unknown small town of just six thousand people.

IMG_6911.jpgWhen the foursome left, Rachel got out her book, and I continued my sketching and journaling. The waiter kept trying to flirt with us, and when I got up to go to the bathroom, he wrapped me unexpectedly in a hug with the other waiters looking on and laughing. I figured if he could be that bold, I could, too, so when I got to the top of the stairs from the bathroom and he grabbed me for another hug, I disentangled myself from him, asked if he could read English; then handed him my bible where I’d bookmarked John. I asked him to commit to reading it, and he said he would, but God only knows if he will. I’m praying that if he doesn’t, my bible will end up in the hands of someone who will!

Rachel and I moved on to Creperie la Sarrasin et la Froment, where I got a framboise (strawberry) crepe and socialized with the genuinely friendly owner, a refugee from Iraq. It was a slow evening, perfect for my last night in Paris. Coffee, crepes and good company? A girl can’t ask for much more.

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

Girls’ Day Out

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There are plenty of people I see on a weekly basis – coworkers, choir members, my local Starbucks barista – but there are few people I actually want to see on a weekly basis. Ashley is one of those rare people whose company I never tire of.

Usually when my best friend and I get together, we just go out for coffee. Between my boldness (i.e. social awkwardness) and her acerbic sense of humor, the two of us are all the entertainment we need (along with our lattes, of course). But today we decided to change things up; get a little wild and crazy. So we got our coffees to go (gasp!) and went shopping at an outdoor mall in the beautiful sunshine.

Normally I loathe shopping. I know, I am a freak of nature who may be asked to have my woman card revoked (Do we even have woman cards, or is that just a man thing?). Fortunately, shopping with Ashley is more than tolerable. Ashley doesn’t make me to go those designer jean stores whose toothpick jeans mock my ensuing muffin top. We don’t shop at fashion-forward boutiques where tummy-bearing camis are all the rage. We don’t go to high-end shoe shops where the hoity-toity clerks eye my very practical, comfortable black heels that I wear to work almost every single day.

Shopping with Ashley is fun. Today we went to Sephora, Kendra Scott, a bookstore and a chocolate shop. For a moment, I was tempted by some beautiful opal earrings at Kendra’s, but they were $130. I found a lovely fragrance at Sephora, but $40? It’s not that lovely.

Ashley and I shopped together for five hours, and I spent a grand total of $18. For my $18, I got a tall latte, a small cup of chocolate ice cream and five books. I feel like this is very telling. But to all you leopard-print high-heeled shoe lovers out there, I say: Coffee, books and chocolate? A woman’s got to have her priorities! 😉

Authentically Aurora

Problematic Dreams – Part II

Reading in bed

Our “Pitch Perfect-esque” a cappella group has all of our members’ names listed on our website, so I assume that’s how Corythe musically proficient doctor-to-be – found me on Facebook.

The day after the talent show, I had a friend request waiting from him, and that was soon followed up by a private message asking me about my photography website. “Are the photos on your site all taken by you? Because they are freakin’ amazing.”

I replied back, and we moved on from talking about photography to music to language and literature. Cory told me more about his Triathlon training; then about his family. We moved back to music, agreeing on the most desirable opera to see in town during this year’s season. For a moment, I thought he might ask me to go with him, but he suddenly broke the flow of our conversation with: “Hard to go wrong with Russian composers. Hey, text me. Burning up data. Haha.” And he gave me his phone number.

Pausing briefly (“Oh gosh. Is this a good idea? Do I really want to get into this? Ugh. Stop over-analyzing. It’s just text messaging.”), I sent Cory a quick text so that he’d have my number, too. I suspected that burning up data was not the sole reason for the change of communication method. Sure enough, the tone of the conversation quickly turned more flirtatious.

After a few obligatory questions back and forth about work and school, Cory asked, “So, how do you feel about tattoos?”

My reply: “Hmmm. I’m not sure I have a strong opinion.” I made a quick assumption. “Where and how many? :)”

My assumption proved accurate. Cory just got his fifth tattoo and, as for the locations of the first four: “You could see all of them if I take off my shirt. ;)”

Before long, he actually sent me a shirtless photo of himself laying in bed with a book, along with the caption: “All I’m missing is a cup of coffee and a cuddle buddy.” Oh man. Was that an invitation? 

I redirected us to a safer topic (and one of my personal favorites): personality types. Once we determined one another’s Myers-Briggs types (Cory’s an ENFJ), any time I got too logical in response to his touchy-feeliness, he’d send me a teasing text, “Your T is showing, lol ;)”

Later in the week, I invited the rest of my a cappella group to go swing dancing with me. We’d been talking about doing it for a while, and I was ready to make it happen. After a quick conversation with Noelle, I decided to extend the invite to Cory, too. It would be a great way for him to start getting to know some of our members before his audition.

Cory seemed interested in going, but he had an evening lecture on campus that he needed to attend. He asked in a text, “Are you driving there?”

“Yep. Need a ride home after?” I thought he might be planning to take public transportation to the swing dancing venue.

“I was actually going to ask if you wanted to meet my dog and pick me up from med school and swing by my place? That would expedite things.” He explained that he needed to change after class; then also feed and walk his dog, Stout (named for the dark beer).

“He’s a great snuggler. :)” Cory added when I hesitated in responding to his text.

Pushing down my tendency to over-think things, I sent back a quick reply. “Where and when should I pick you up?” After hearing back from him with details, I sent one more text:

“On my way”, adding a private note to myself: Hopefully I don’t regret this.

Authentically Aurora

Better Than Sci-Fi

Reading by flashlight[Written by John Piper and Originally Posted at Solid Joys]

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)

I feel so strongly that among those of us who have grown up in church and who can recite the great doctrines of our faith in our sleep and who yawn through the Apostles Creed — that among us something must be done to help us once more feel the awe, the fear, the astonishment, the wonder of the Son of God, begotten by the Father from all eternity, reflecting all the glory of God, being the very image of his person, through whom all things were created, upholding the universe by the word of his power.

You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird and spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.

How dead we are! How callous and unfeeling to your glory and your story! How often have I had to repent and say, “God, I am sorry that the stories men have made up stir my emotions, my awe and wonder and admiration and joy, more than your own true story.”

The space thrillers of our day, like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, can do this great good for us: they can humble us and bring us to repentance, by showing us that we really are capable of some of the wonder and awe and amazement that we so seldom feel when we contemplate the eternal God and the cosmic Christ and a real living contact between them and us in Jesus of Nazareth.

When Jesus said, “For this I have come into the world,” he said something as crazy and weird and strange and eerie as any statement in science fiction that you have ever read.

O, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.

One of these days lightning is going to fill the sky from the rising of the sun to its setting, and there is going to appear in the clouds one like a son of man with his mighty angels in flaming fire. And we will see him clearly. And whether from terror or sheer excitement, we will tremble and we will wonder how, how we ever lived so long with such a domesticated, harmless Christ.

These things are written that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came into the world. Really believe.