Servant Leadership (Part I)

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The past two months have been an absolute whirlwind. Not only am I a first year teacher, but I am also the only one at my school teaching 7th grade Pre-AP math. The prior teacher “is no longer with the district” and left none of her material, so I am having to develop all of my own lesson plans, including quizzes, tests, and differentiation activities for my students at different learning levels. I have duty before and after school twice a week, I am coaching the school’s math club, and the choir director found out I was a three-time All State Choir member, so on Thursdays I am using my conference period to do voice lessons for our choir girls.

I spend my weekends grading papers and attending mandatory GT workshops where I spend 8 hours of my Saturday learning about how to better reach my Gifted & Talented students. Though normally a neat freak, my state of my apartment has devolved into one of barely controlled chaos. I no longer sort my laundry by color, I actually leave dishes in the sink, and I can’t remember the last time I did a deep clean of my kitchen or bathroom.

I used to cook dinner for Seth about once a week, but these days, he usually gets to my apartment before I do and either has dinner cooking or has brought over take-out (which I then pack as my lunch for the next day).

This first year of teaching has been the most chaotic, involved and stressful of any job I’ve ever had, but it’s also been the most rewarding. More on that later. But suffice it to say, I haven’t felt like I’ve been a great girlfriend lately, and I tell Seth all the time, “I want to do something for you. Do you want me to try to get to the grocery store to make dinner tonight? Do you want to go for a bike ride after work? We used to do that all the time. Could I give you a back rub?” I want to do something! Seth has been selflessly serving me and patiently holding this relationship together while I try to keep my head above water. But he always just smiles (I can hear his smile over the phone) and tells me he’ll take care of everything. And he does.

The one thing I’ve been able to offer our relationship the past two months is gratefulness. I notice and appreciate everything Seth has been doing for me, from the big things (grocery shopping and cooking dinner) to the little things (picking up a dead roach in the front entryway). He even scrubbed the toilet bowl at my place a couple of weeks ago. He is so selfless and kind and loving, and he does it all joyfully, which has stirred my heart to love him all the more.

In the midst of my nonstop schedule, my friend Emma texted me and asked if I was up for a girls’ weekend trip. She’s a 9th grade math teacher, and her roommate also works in education, so they get it. And they suggested that the three of us take a mid-semester break to recharge. I was so excited and relieved at the thought of a break that I even agreed to give up a precious vacation day to take off Friday so we could make it a three-day weekend.

Seth and I attend bible study on Wednesday nights, and last week as we were walking back to our cars after bible study, Seth asked, “Could I come over and make you breakfast on Friday morning? You’re going to be gone all weekend, and it would be nice to see each other before you’re gone for three days.”

It was a sweet offer, and I wanted to see him, but he’s been doing so much for me lately that I felt a bit guilty at the thought of him doing one more thing to serve me. “I’d love to see you! But you don’t have to make me breakfast.”

“I want to.” He smiled.

I did like the thought of having a homemade breakfast together. And it would be nice to have some quiet time together before I left on my girls’ trip. “You really don’t mind?” I asked.

He wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a gentle kiss. “It would be my joy.”

So I packed Thursday night and looked forward to not only my girls’ weekend but also some quality time with my sweetheart.

Authentically 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

Hunting for Love

deer-hunting-buck-jumpSeth took me out to the ranch for opening weekend of deer hunting this year. Although I’ve been to the range several times with my dad and brothers, I’d never been hunting before, and I’ll admit it was different than I expected.

For one, I was surprised at how peaceful it is in the deer stand. Seth and I woke up before dawn, bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets and drove quietly to the ranch, where we silently hiked to the deer stand on foot by the light of a single flashlight.

We sat mostly in silence from 5am to 7pm, spending fourteen straight hours together, quietly enjoying one another’s company and the scenic landscape around us. I think it’s the most reflective and introspective I’ve seen my outgoing, extroverted boyfriend. I’ve decided I’m a fan of the deer stand.

Our first day to hunt that weekend, we had some 6 points in our sights but decided to let them live and grow up for next season. When we still hadn’t gotten anything by sunset, Seth decided to shoot a wild hog that was tearing up the grass. He calmly lifted the rifle, aimed, and pulled the trigger. It went straight down.

Meanwhile, Seth hopped out of the stand, jogged to his truck, pulled the truck around, grabbed the still-warm hog by its feet and tossed it up into the back of his pickup. He quartered it, put it through his granddad’s old meat grinder, and threw it on ice. Then he got his ax and went to chop some firewood.

He’s the manliest man I know.

Peaceful as it was, I was proud of myself for sitting in the rickety, old deer stand for so many hours and not complaining about the lack of amenities (the bathroom was the bushes nearby) or the mosquitoes (that seemed to swarm me but left Seth alone). The chairs in the deer stand were stained and dirty, and every crevice along the wooden ceiling was filled with either a spider’s web or wasps’ nest. To a man, the deer stand is a little piece of heaven on earth, but I had to overcome fears to sit calmly amid the enclosed space. I would have preferred to be out in the open rather than trapped in the shack with the insects. I was outside of my comfort zone but wanted to cater to Seth, so I put on a brave face for him.

However, on the second morning, I decided if I was going to sit in that place for so long, I may as well be comfortable, so I tentatively voiced my concerns to Seth, meekly apologizing for being so soft and citified. He responded sweetly, hugging me gently and asking me to stay outside while he took care of things. Then he went to work lovingly tidying up our little “home”.  He moved with efficiency, reaching into the corners of the ceiling with his bare hands to dethrone the spiders and wasps that had taken residence there. He scooted beetles out of the shack with his foot, and he gingerly dusted off my chair to make me more comfortable. When he finished, he came back outside, took me by the shoulders, looked me full in the face and said tenderly, “Thank you for telling me. I’m a man. I don’t even notice these things. I want you to be comfortable, and I’m happy  to take care of you when you let me know what bothers you.”

That night, I drove alone to the only grocery shop in town to buy ingredients and prepare a nice dinner for Seth while he finished cleaning our first deer of the weekend. The next morning, Seth got up extra early – 4am – to make a pot of coffee for me, even though he doesn’t drink it himself and in doesn’t even like the smell of coffee. We both spent the whole weekend serving one another; identifying each other’s needs and seeking to meet them.  When I told my dad about the weekend later, he commented, “It sounds like the boyfriend of the year is dating the girlfriend of the year.”

It’s true that Seth and I have seemed to find our stride. 2016 has been a good year for us, and I think we’re both closing out the year both feeling very cherished. I have high hopes for 2017, but during this Christmas season, I’m reminded to set my sights on the one True Hope; the only one who will never fail us; the One who came to save, redeem and restore. We are so blessed. Merry Christmas, y’all.

Authentically Aurora

In Favor of Teaching

those-who-can-do-supercommittee-quoteThe blogosphere tends to be a very supportive place, but in the real world, I get a lot of confused looks or straight-up negativity when people find out that I’m looking into becoming a teacher.

Since I have an engineering degree and successful career therein, people cannot understand why I would leave a cushy, corporate job for the world of education. They have preconceived expectations of my career path based on my background and cannot fathom why I would voluntarily leave a comfortable job in favor of teaching.

Many people subscribe to the old adage “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”, and teachers tend to be compensated accordingly. But not all compensation is financial. And after seven years in corporate America, I submit to you that a more accurate idiom is: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, form a supercommittee.”

I am still volunteering to teach Sunday school a few times a month at my church, and I was recently asked to become an elementary school Team Leader, meaning I will not only continue teaching but also take on more of an administrative, leadership role coordinating the other volunteers. Although it can be stressful at times, teaching these sweet kids at church remains one of my highlights each week.

Last Sunday, we talked about the Creation account – how God created not only the earth but also plants and animals; man and woman. When Mia, one of my 2nd grade girls, heard this story (for possibly the first time), she looked down at her arms and stroked her tanned forearm with a tentative finger, whispering out loud in wonderment, “I’m made from clay?”

We talked more about the creation of Adam and Eve; then Mia asked me privately, “Miss Aurora, is Jesus God?” After hearing about God the Father creating the universe and everything in it, she was confused about the role of Jesus in relation to the Father. The Trinity is a difficult concept even for mature Christians, so I pointed to Mia’s water bottle in an effort to give her a practical, visual explanation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

ozarka6ozMia and I removed the lid of her water bottle, exploring the three parts comprising the water bottle: the bottle itself, the cap and the water within the bottle. All three are separate, but they come together to create the water bottle, just as the Trinity is One God, Three Persons.

A few minutes after my explanation, the girls were working on a craft activity when another girl – Lillian – asked about Jesus. All on her own, Mia picked up her water bottle and explained the Trinity to Lillian just as I had explained it to her minutes earlier! My heart swelled within me to see little Mia teaching Lillian about God. I got to see the exponential effect of Matthew 28:19 lived out right in front of me over the course of mere minutes.

Near the end of our time together, Mia had another question for me. “Miss Aurora, is God invisible?”

I answered her, “Right now He is, but someday we’ll see Him.”

Mia pointed to the purple mat we were sitting on. “Is God sitting right here?” I explained Matthew 18:20 to her and suggested that we could pray and ask God to be with us.

I went on to share with Mia that sometimes – especially if I’m sad – I ask God to sit with me and hold my hand.

Mia’s big brown us looked up at me, and she blinked innocently. “Does He say yes?”

“Yes,” I told her with a hug and a smile. “He always says yes.”

Authentically Aurora

Stones from a Gem

Kendra_Scott_Gwendolyn

Have you ever started a new relationship just weeks before Christmas? How do you know what to get for a new S.O.’s birthday? At what point are gifts not only appreciated but expected? Will gifts put too much pressure on a budding relationship if they are given too soon?

These are some of the questions I mulled over in the weeks leading up to my April business trip to Europe. Seth would be celebrating his 29th birthday while I was abroad, and I wanted to do something to let him know I was thinking of him, but I also didn’t want to overwhelm him or make him uncomfortable.

We’d only been dating for a few weeks, and we weren’t even necessarily dating exclusively. We’d been on one date, and he’d only held my hand once. But at my core, I am a giver, and it brings me joy to make other people feel special. Besides, in my family growing up, birthdays were a time of celebration, so I didn’t feel like I could let Seth’s birthday go by unacknowledged.

I wanted to be myself with Seth, and that meant doing something to honor his birthday, so – knowing that one of his favorite hobbies is carpentry – I bought him some crushed turquoise. Seth works largely with mesquite wood, and he had mentioned wanting to start using crushed turquoise to fill in the cracks in his woodworking pieces. I’d hoped it was a small enough gift (under $20) not to freak him out but thoughtful enough to make him feel appreciated.

I planned to give it to him on the day I left for my trip, so the morning of my flight, Seth and I met at church as agreed. After the service, we caravanned back to my apartment, and upon retrieval of my suitcase from my bedroom, I handed Seth the birthday card I’d made along with a drawstring bag filled with the turquoise I’d purchased for him.

“Happy Birthday,” I told him shyly when he looked up at me with a puzzled expression.

Kendra_Scott_Bag“I know you’re not big into celebrating birthdays,” I busied myself with tying my shoelaces, “But I couldn’t just not do anything for your birthday,” I rambled. “Oh, and I didn’t have any gift bags, so I just put your present in a Kendra Scott bag. But don’t worry,” I laughed, wondering what he must be thinking at the sight of the trendy jeweler’s bag, “I didn’t get you Kendra Scott earrings!”

Seth chucked, but I could tell there was something he wasn’t saying. Was it too much that I’d gotten him a gift? He hadn’t even opened it yet. Did he think it was lame I’d reused one of my Kendra Scott jewelry bags?

As I worried over his nonverbal reaction, Seth untied the drawstring bag and pulled out the crushed turquoise, along with the CA glue I’d partnered with it for his next carpentry project. His expression was unreadable at first; then he gazed at me with a soft look of wonder and appreciation. He looked genuinely touched. And surprised. And surprised at how touched he felt.

I watched various expressions flicker across his face and decided I’d done well. Seth stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug; then looked down at the bag of turquoise again. And then he hugged me a second time, whispering into my hair, “Thank you. That was really sweet.”

He helped carry my luggage to his truck and loaded it into the backseat. He opened the passenger door for me, as always, before walking around to his driver door and climbing in. Seth started the engine, but before he shifted into drive, he reached behind his driver’s seat and pulled out a Kendra Scott bag, handing it to me.

“What is this?” I asked, thinking at first that he was handing me the very same bag I’d given him for his early birthday present. But, glancing up into his face, I realized in an instant that this was a completely different bag. Mind racing, I realized with shock that before he found out I was going to give him a present today, Seth had already prepared this gift for me.

“It’s kind of a belated birthday present. Coupled with a going away present.” My birthday had been a month earlier, when Seth and I were just getting to know one another. I hadn’t expected him to get me anything then, and I certainly hadn’t expected him to get anything for me now!

“Can I open it?” I asked. I felt like a little girl, overwhelmed with wonder and excitement and a sense of feeling very, very special.

“Yeah, open it.” Seth’s expression was unreadable again. Did he look… nervous?

I pushed back the teal wrapping paper, pulled out the familiar bright yellow box, opened the teal drawstring bag and found a pair of Danielle earrings in purple – my favorite color. He bought me Kendra Scott earrings. 

I never would have expected such an extravagant gift, and I was unprepared for the way his kindness and generosity affected me. I’d known he was thoughtful. I’d known he was a gentleman. But to be the recipient of not only his selfless service of driving me to the airport but also this tangible token of his affection welled up in me an emotion that nearly moved me to tears. I felt cared for.

It had been so long since someone took care of me that I’d nearly forgotten what it felt like to be romanced; to be and protected; to be lovingly served. And I had a sense that Seth experienced a similar emotion when he opened his gift.

Not only did Seth and I unknowingly both get one another semi-precious stones in a Kendra Scott bag that day, we also both began to give one another the gifts of mutual care, respect, service and trust. Very rarely in life do two givers come together, but when they do, I am finding that it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Authentically Aurora

Perseverance: Tired of Waiting

Wait with PerseveranceSometimes when we finally figure out “what we want to be when we grow up”, we want to start that job immediately. Being disciplined through years of preparatory schooling or training can be frustrating. As soon as we know who we want to marry, we want to get married right away. The season of engagement is difficult. And sometimes when we figure out our calling or anointing from God, we want to start living out that calling NOW.

God, you’ve shown me what you want me to do with my life! I’m ready to jump in and start making an impact! I want to make a difference! You’ve already appointed me for these tasks that will enact positive change in the world; now set me free to make them happen!

But we can’t make things happen ahead of God’s schedule. No amount of maneuvering or manipulating situations will work if God hasn’t opened the door. Believe me, I know from experience! But when God wants something to happen – a career or a relationship or any number of other things – He will bring it around in His perfect timing.

During the Passion conference, Alisa spoke to the choir about how King David was anointed as Israel’s king when he was still a shepherd… and then he kept working as a shepherd for many years, even after being anointed for kingship. In fact, David was asked to minister to King Saul by playing music for him – King Saul, who sat on the throne David had already been anointed for! But God was allowing David to go through a time of preparation so that, once he ascended to the throne, he would be ready for all that was to come with the weight of that responsibility.

Think about your life’s dreams. If your dreams were handed to you today, would you be ready? So often, our calling becomes a craving, and we begin to despise our current circumstances. I know I do. But when our passion becomes greater than our purpose, we’re sunk. We are a generation that craves significance. But we are also a generation that despises the season of preparation.

The process of preparation most often occurs in a place of privacy. It purifies our hearts (i.e. building integrity when no one is watching), and it readies our hands for greater responsibility. Shepherd-to-be-King David drew his confidence against the giant Goliath from his experience of God’s past faithfulness in the sheep pasture where David protected his sheep from lions and bears.

Alisa reminded us that our calling remains consistent regardless of our context. David was a shepherd his whole life, first for sheep; then for the people of Israel. Even after David had been anointed as king, he did not despise the sheep fields. He remained faithful in the season he was in. We tend to measure our significance by the scale of our impact, but God measures it by our stewardship of what we’ve been given. If we are not faithful with the small responsibilities we’ve been given right now, why would God give us responsibility over greater things? We need to be faithful to live out our callings in our current context.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.31.12 PMChristine Caine came and spoke at the Passion conference, and she absolutely wrecked me. I’d never heard of her before this year, but she has quickly become one of my favorite speakers. As an orphan who was sexually abused the first several years of her life, Christine now serves as a public speaker who motivates her audiences to live as Victors rather than Victims. She challenged us that we all want to run to the spotlight, but, “If the light that is ON you is greater than the Light that is IN you, the light that is ON you will destroy you!”

God wants to build our character. If we don’t let him build our foundation before giving us our dreams, our weaknesses and insecurities will destroy us. Whatever God has given us as our sheep field to steward is the most important place of our refinement. All God asks of us in the sheep field is to be faithful.

We want to do spectacular things for God, but – if we’re honest – many of us don’t really want to serve God. We have tendencies of a selfish, narcissistic generation. We say we want to serve God, but only if it’s doing something great for the Kingdom. That is not the model of service. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many. He who wants to be first must become last and a servant to all. We are only ready to serve God spectacularly when we have a humble heart and are ready to serve in anonymity, choosing to find delight in the mundane while our character is refined.

God, please work in me to purify my heart. Equip me with patience. May I persevere and find delight even in the mundane. May I ready myself for the good works I know You have called me to walk in. I pray that I would trust You and stop maneuvering, believing You for good things. God, free me from the fear of living an insignificant life. If I live humbly for You, I know: My. Life. Will. Be. Significant!

Authentically Aurora

An Open Letter to Prince Philip

Prince Philip

Philip, sweet man and Beloved of the Lord,

Thank you for a wonderful, memorable weekend together. Thank you for driving down to see me and for being patient with me through a head cold, food poisoning and low energy on my part. You persevered in pursuing me despite my emotional walls. You were kind and selfless toward me, massaging my feet and cooking dinner for us. You loved me well, even when I was unlovely. You prayed sweetly over me, spoke encouraging words to me and made me feel infinitely valued and cherished. Thank you. Truly, truly, thank you.

You reminded me what it looks like to really love Jesus and walk in step with the Holy Spirit. You showed me what it’s supposed to look like for a husband to love his wife well – selflessly, in sickness and in health – and to lead her to an ever-deepening relationship with God.

I really wanted us to work out. I really wanted that intangible connection to be there. Believe it or not, I cried this morning knowing you were headed back home. I miss your steady, calming presence, and yet, I know that I need laughter and light-hearted banter in my life. You bring love and peace to the relationship, but there’s something missing for us, and I wish that wasn’t the case because you’re going to be a phenomenal husband one day. It’s been a long time since I cried because a man made me feel so indescribably cherished, but your love literally brought me to tears. I’m praying for you, that God brings you together with your intended wife soon. You are a treasure, and God has equipped you to love a woman well.

Authentically Aurora