First Day of School

86acaaff3d8bc7a4ebcfbf6e78ae9bfd--first-day-of-school-tot-schoolToday – my first day of teaching – started out great. I woke up a couple of hours early, brewed myself some coffee, and read through a few chapters of Hebrews while listening to “Wonder” by Bethel on repeat. It was a slow, peaceful morning of getting in the right headspace to start my teaching career.

I prayed for my day, gathered up my bags, and walked to the backdoor where I was greeted by a cockroach on its back with its legs still twitching. I just got creeped-out chills even typing about it. It’s still alive and just got flipped over. Gross. After a quick kiss, that will be Seth’s first order of business when he comes to visit later.

Remembering that I should do a “first day of school” picture, I decided to go out my front door to take a selfie in front of the door. I’m not a big fan of selfies, but I didn’t have anyone to take my photo, so I stepped outside to do it myself… and was greeted by a black cat walking right across my sidewalk.

First, a roach; next, a black cat; then around 2pm, the sky went dark! …Okay, so the solar eclipse didn’t actually have anything to do with my first day of teaching, but it made for a good third ominous omen. In actuality, the third creepy thing about today was coming home to an unlocked door. I thought for a second that maybe Seth had let himself in with my spare key, but then I realized that between the roach and the first day photo out front – for the first time in years – I forgot to lock the door behind me! Fortunately nothing was taken, but it was still strange walking in to my unlocked apartment.

School was good. Most of my classes are good. I’m exhausted. There’s so much I could write, but my legs hurt from standing, and my throat is sore from talking, and I really just want to go drink a cup of hot tea with honey, curl up on the couch and read or watch Netflix.

So for now, I’ll simply say: 1st & 3rd period are AWESOME! I have some fellow Harry Potter fans in there, and they think I’m a pretty cool teacher because above my door on the way out, I have this sign:

Mischief Managed

In 2nd period, I had to get ISS involved. On the first day of school. That’s a story for another day. And 7th period is super chatty! I will definitely have to draw up a strict seating chart for them. 4th is my conference period (long lunch – whoop!), and 5th and 6th are not really notable at this point. More to come. Stay tuned.

Authentically Exhausted Aurora

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New Neighbors – Part 2

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I joke about kumquat Joe, but the truth is, he’s a really great guy. He and his wife (!!!) just got back from their honeymoon and invited Seth and me over for dinner to catch up (Yes, I was almost his first kiss last year, and now he’s lapped me and is already married. #thisismylife). They borrowed our bikes to go camping last weekend, and Joe actually just came over a few minutes ago to drop off some magazines I need as supplies to have the kids cut out pictures at school next week.

That’s one of the nice things about all four of us being Christians and knowing each other from church. When Joe and I went on a couple of dates, that’s all they were: get-to-know-you sessions. We never kissed each other and certainly didn’t do anything beyond that. When we decided we weren’t the right fit for each other, we both moved on amicably. Joe is now married to a wonderful, godly woman, and I have the privilege of getting to date Seth – one of the kindest, most servant-hearted men I’ve ever met.

Yeah, there was some awkwardness at first, but since Joe and I did dating well, now the four of us can all see each other and genuinely not have any bitterness or jealousy. We all believe God has good plans and divine purposes for each of us, and although Joe and I respect each other, we also agree that we are not meant for each other; God had better out there for each of us. Such amicability and friendliness seems to be rare in dating and breakups these days, and I’m so thankful to be a part of a positive example of what pure, mature, godly dating can look like.

In an effort to meet some of my other neighbors, I made some homemade fudge (two kinds: peanut butter and a chocolate pecan fudge). I wrapped them up with pretty little turquoise ribbons and took them in a wicker basket door-to-door. The trouble with apartment life is that only 4 of my 15 neighbors were home on a Saturday afternoon, but most of the people I met were friendly and appreciative.

In fact, the day after I made my rounds with the homemade fudge, I was trying to get into the apartment gym but had forgotten the door code. A woman I’d befriended the day before came around the corner from collecting her mail and recognized me. “Oh, hey!” she grinned at me, and I smiled back.

“Are you trying to get into the gym?” she asked me. When I nodded, she told me the four-digit code. I thanked her, and we went our separate ways, but my heart swelled at the fact that two otherwise unacquainted women each made an effort to extend a simple gesture of kindness to the another.

Not enough of us make the time to meet our neighbors; to genuinely connect with people we have no driving reason to befriend. But I want to exude warmth and kindness and generosity; I want to value people and love them well – even those I have no cause to make the time to get to know. Life is hard, and we need to love and support each other. So do something kind today. Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be loving.

Authentically Aurora

New Neighbors – Part 1

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About a month ago, I moved to a new apartment to be closer to where I’ll be teaching this fall. It’s a nice place, built like a townhouse with a garage on the bottom level and my living area stacked directly above it on the second floor. I have granite countertops and a patio, and – because it’s so far outside of town – this awesome unit costs $400/month less than my last place.

Seth helped to move me in. Actually, he insisted on it, pressuring me to let him be a good boyfriend rather than hiring movers. My compromise was to let him move all of the boxes but hire movers to move the furniture. That way, Seth would get to do the manual labor he loves so much (think country boy stuck in the city), and I would still have an intact boyfriend (and furniture) when I finished getting moved.

I made the mistake of giving Seth the keys to both my old and new apartments while I ran to a baby shower I was hosting. And when I got to my new place later that afternoon, I discovered that Seth had decided to move my couch by himself when I wasn’t there. Something about proving to me that I really shouldn’t have hired movers… That’s what I get for dating a manly man.

Anyway, while we were unloading boxes from the back of his pick-up truck, we both stopped short at the sight of a familiar face across the walkway from my garage. My new neighbor is kumquat Joe.

Authentically Aurora

Defying Dementia

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Seth’s father has severe Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms started when he was about 50, and by age 55, he was diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (EFAD). It’s genetic, so Seth has a 50/50 chance of having it himself. It’s been the source of many a difficult conversation between us (and all of your prayers are welcomed, encouraged and appreciated).

A few weeks ago, Seth and I planned a joint trip for our parents. Seth and I took both sets of folks for a long weekend in the hill country so they’d have an opportunity to get to know one another better. My parents got to see their family’s ranch, and his parents were treated to one of the finest wine tastings in the region by way of a thank you from my mom and dad.

Both sets of our parents genuinely wanted to get along, which made the trip that much more fun! What could have been a stressful or awkward time was instead one of relaxation and joy.

Seth and I are blessed to both come from happy homes with kind, loving parents, which has made the steps toward joining families much more pleasant than many of the in-law stories I hear. Interestingly, my grandparents knew each other before my parents ever met. My dad’s folks attended services at the church where my mom’s dad was a pastor. My parents met years later and were fortunate to have all four grandparents get along as friends. This is unusual (especially being in one of the Top Five most populous cities in the nation – it’s not like we’re “small town” folks!), so I was all the more surprised to discover that Seth’s grandparents have a similar story. He and I are already reaping the benefits of our generational inheritance of loving, stable, solid families who are friendly and make an effort to get along.

One day of our joint parental trip, we went for a walk in the park. Seth’s dad doesn’t say much (he’s basically nonverbal and has to be told what to do; then he follows orders fairly well), but during one stop we made in the park to observe the natural beauty, Seth’s father suddenly spoke.

“There are ants,” he said simply.

We all glanced at him, surprised he had spoken without prompting. He was pointing to my feet, so we all looked down, and sure enough, I was standing in an ant pile!

I jumped away and brushed off the angry little insects already swarming my shoes.

Later, my dad and I marveled at the fact that – with five out of the six of us fully lucid and coherent – Seth’s dad was the only one observant enough to notice that I was standing in an ant pile. How humbling. God truly does turn everything on its head, using the weak to humble the strong; using the things viewed as “less than” by the world to fulfill His purposes. Think of David and Goliath. Think of Gideon and his 300. Think of Jesus dying so that we may live.

It pleases God to do things this way – for our good and His glory.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. -1 Cor. 1:26-29

Authentically Aurora

HOT Christians

country girlsI recently heard a sermon on HOT Christians. Seth’s home church was having its 40th anniversary, so we drove out to his hometown to visit and celebrate with them.

It was a half-day event, starting with an hour long dissertation on the history of the church, followed by a short break for socializing; then the hour long sermon, which was capped off with a potluck-style lunch.

When the pastor of forty years began his sermon, he stated that we all need to strive to be HOT Christians. I promptly leaned over to Seth and whispered with a smirk and a wink, “Well! Guess I’m good.” He sniggered.

The pastor continued, “To be a HOT Christian, we must first be Humble…”

“Ha!” Seth burst out. Elderly patrons turned and scowled as Seth and I silently shook from laughter. Every time we tried to stop, we’d glance at each other and start laughing again. We finally calmed down by the time the pastor finished talking about being Objective and moved on to being Teachable.

At a church boasting such a classic potluck luncheon (complete with potato salad and fruit jello), I should have known the sermon would be an acrostic.

Authentically “HOT” Aurora

Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

Staring into the Face of Love

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Seth got assigned the “homework” of taking me on a romantic date as a part of our Fusion pre-engagement class. That particular week, we happened to be out at the ranch, so our options for a romantic evening were limited, but Seth told me he was planning something nice for Thursday evening.

Early in the week, Seth drove me to a nearby town to get drinks and enjoy the live acoustic music that was playing there. I didn’t expect much since there were only a few cars in the gravel lot when we pulled in, but as soon as we got settled with our drinks, Seth gestured to the dark hills around us, saying softly, “Look.”

I glanced up and did a double-take. “Wow,” I breathed. Fireflies danced in the darkness around us, lighting up the night with their soft glow. Seth and I sat hand-in-hand on a picnic bench at that empty outdoor bar, soft music coming from across the yard where two guitarists talked and gently finger-picked on their six strings. And it was magical.

Our official date night two days later was nice, but Seth couldn’t have recreated that God-given romance if he’d tried. And he did try. We had a nice dinner together and sat on the dock of a lake watching the sun set. It was peaceful. It was nice.

And then on Friday, Seth took me out for pizza. We found a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria with an outdoor patio strung with twinkle lights. I loved the setting and how much it reminded me of the evening with the fireflies. While we waited for our food to arrive, I reached over to take Seth’s hand and gazed at him lovingly. “You are the most wonderful man,” I began, “You always -“

“Ooh, a staring contest!!!” I was interrupted by a small blonde boy – probably eight years old – wearing a green T-shirt.

Seth and I broke hands and leaned back, startled. “I’ll win!” The boy called in challenge, running up to Seth and staring intently into his face. Seth just took it in stride, staring back at the boy until he yelled and pointed at Seth, “You blinked!”

Seth chuckled, and the boy ran off for a few minutes before scampering back over for a quick rematch. Quinn, as he introduced himself when I asked, loved football, so we talked about Tim Tebow for a while, and I mentioned that Quinn should look for the Bible verses in Tim’s eye black in his old photos from his time at Florida.

The little boy won the second staring contest with Seth and then lost interest in the game, so he relinquished Seth to me, and I got to resume my own version of a staring contest with the man I love.

Authentically Aurora