Loving Humbling

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I’ve been working at the same company for the past 7.5625 years. To a Baby Boomer, that may only seem like a fleeting moment, but to most Millennials, that seems like a lifetime to spend at one company. I always thought I’d be like a Baby Boomer in that I planned to stay at the same company for 50 years and make my job a true career; to invest in one company and show fidelity and faithfulness and I worked my way up and invested my blood, sweat and tears to make my company a better employer and more profitable company.

But the company where I work has never wanted my blood, sweat and tears in the traditional sense. Only two of the eleven bosses I’ve had over 7.5625 years has wanted to truly see me invest in the company for both my betterment and the betterment of the company as a whole. For the most part, the people I work with – management in particular – want to see us bleed, but only because they draw blood. They want to see us sweat, but only out of fear and intimidation. And they want to see tears because that means their carefully crafted demotivational comments have hit their mark.

Because I work for one of the most widely recognized major oil companies in the world, they are able to hire the best and the brightest. This corporation hires class presidents, valedictorians, visionary students who have founded their own organizations, and PhD students making breakthroughs in the future of biofuels. But rather than channeling that raw intellect and stunning creativity, all of these initially highly motivated self-starters are shoved into The Machine where they are expected to be simply one cog in one wheel, with no insight into or influence over even the most minuscule of process improvements. Don’t think independently. Don’t disrupt The System.

Any genius is called ignorance if it doesn’t fit the mold of the Kool-aid pushing management. Any creativity is stifled when the innovative try to use the very skills for which they were hired. The majority of the most fun, hard-working, creative and brilliant of my colleagues have long since left the company, opting instead to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits or become consultants to companies who will pay them triple to actually listen to the input that was so scorned at my current place of employment.

I have been trying to leave this company for nearly 7 of the past 7.5625 years. I’ve applied to smaller OG companies. I’ve interviewed with Apple in Cupertino. I’ve gone to seminary to become a biblical counselor and taken graphic design courses with plans to start my own design studio. I’ve written music and even released an album on iTunes. I’ve interviewed with consulting firms and, most recently, earned my teaching certification. I am a self-starter who wants to passionately pour myself into my work if only I can find a career and employer who will respect me enough to give me room to deliver.

I’ve been close to leaving this corporation countless times, but nothing has ever panned out. I’ve had offers on the table that were unexpectedly revoked as the market tanked. I’ve had companies that wanted to hire me but were on a hiring freeze. I’ve been faced with hardened hearts, lack of favor and lots and lots of closed doors over the past 7 years. I’ve fought bitterness, anger, hopelessness, despair and doubt about whether God is really good and loving. And what I have come to conclude is that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it is the Lord’s good, gracious, loving will that prevails.

When I was in 2nd grade, I decided that I was going to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and become an engineer. Ten years later, I was accepted to USMA but fell into deep depression when my high school sweetheart broke off our relationship just months before high school graduation. Physically weak and emotionally despondent, I gave up my offer of admission to someone on the wait list who would actually be able to make it through boot camp. I ended up at a state school and spent most of my freshman year bitter about how I’d let my wayward emotions rob me of a golden opportunity and lifelong dream. But God had a plan.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I said yes to marrying the man I loved. Mere months later, he had an emotional breakdown and called off the already-planned wedding. I faced not only his rejection but also the public humiliation of informing friends, family and coworkers that I was an undesirable woman no longer loved by the man who’d promised to love and protect me. But God had a plan.

Nearly eight years ago when I graduated from college and started work at my current employer, I was on a fast track for senior management. All of my performance reviews and feedback sessions – for a season – said that I had the makings of a Senior Executive at one of the largest corporations in the world. But a VP who’d championed me retired, and the capricious whimsy of our talent forum found another shining star to adore. I was turned over to a manager who despises and disrespects me constantly. But God has a plan.

If I’d gone to West Point, I would surely be a harder, more cynical woman than I am today. Simply to get through that military academy as a woman would have robbed me of much of my God-given softness and femininity. Going to a state school not only humbled me but also gave me experiences that taught me about how women are gifted to show the world about God’s kindness, gentleness and unconditional love in a way that is uniquely feminine.

If I’d married my ex-fiance, I would have been joined to a man who could not and would not lead me spiritually. I would have been lonely in my marriage, yoked to a man whose affection was flighty and temperamental. Instead, I have been given the blessing of knowing what it is to love a man like Seth, whose pure heart and consistent, dependable servant leadership inspire me to become more the woman I’ve been created to be.

And if I’d stayed on the executive fast-track at this company, it would have been harder to leave. I don’t see myself as the kind of woman who would have become a workaholic, sacrificing friendships and family time for career; choosing advancement over integrity. But all of the women I know in leadership at our company behave like men. They have lost their softness; their gentleness; their kindness. They are tough and gritty and entirely masculine in their communications and interactions. That is not the kind of woman I want to be, nor is it who I’ve been created to be.

Each circumstance has been brought with it a painful sense of rejection. Each circumstance has taught humility through humiliation. But each circumstance has been a profound blessing orchestrated by the loving hand of God, who is more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporal happiness. God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts to his children. Sometimes those gifts look like punishment in the moment, but in time, we are able to look back and realize that our omniscient, omnipotent, unconditionally loving Father knew what he was doing all along.

Authentically Aurora

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Come As You Are

Things have not been great with Seth lately. We’ve hit that six month mile marker where the messiness of life starts to creep into the relationship – sickness and time apart and stressors at work and all manner of things – and we are each having to make the determination of whether we believe this relationship is worth fighting for or not.

peachy-pink-1It was a scary weekend of realizing how much power Seth has to hurt me now. We’ve spent a lot of time together investing in this relationship, and at this stage, it’s either going to result in marriage or a painful breakup.

As a result, I spent a lot of time alone this weekend, reflecting and praying. I really want – really need – to ensure I keep God as my First Love. I want to ensure I maintain that my identity is in the fact that I am a daughter of the King… and not that I am a girlfriend of Seth.

On Saturday, we went to a fall festival where we went through a corn maze and got to pick some homegrown flowers. My favorites were beautiful peachy-pink chrysanthemums, and Seth helped me fill a vase with them back at my apartment. And then we fought. And fought. And fought some more.

peachy-pink-2I thought we were okay on Sunday at church until Seth made a passive-aggressive comment after the service. I went home and cried most of the afternoon. But when I left my apartment in the evening to meet some friends, I turned on some music and heard David Crowder singing “Come As You Are“. Then I turned the corner out of my parking garage, and the sky opened up before me.

My eyes welled with tears. Bright pink and orange hues lit up the sky, and I felt God speak to my heart, “This is for you. Peachy-pink. Your favorite.”

The chorus of the song picked up, and I sang along in a broken voice:

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

Just hours before, I’d written in my journal: “God, please woo me to yourself. I want you to be my First Love.” Sometimes the Lover of our Souls is quick to respond. He delights to heal the brokenhearted, turn ashes to beauty and give good gifts to his children.

Authentically Aurora

ACAscuse me?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 11.02.54 PMI called my mom crying after work on Tuesday. It had been a hard day, and my insecurities were running high.

“Hard day” is of course relative, and I tried to pep talk myself that I really am blessed; I have a good life, and my day wasn’t that bad, all things considered. Then I beat myself up for not being more grateful, which of course made me feel all the worse about myself. I found myself in a vicious cycle of feeling awful about my life circumstances and then feeling guilty for feeling awful.

Head in HandsThe basic gist of my hurt and frustration was that I didn’t feel valued in any arena of my life. I have felt unappreciated at work for years, so that is something I have come to expect. But Seth said some things this week that made me feel unvalued by him, and that was a new and unexpected sting of hurt. I volunteer with a lot of organizations outside of work to ensure that I am adding some semblance of value to society (since that’s nearly impossible to do at my workplace), but lately – in addition to my occupational and relational hurts – I recently started feeling disrespected and manipulated by some of the officers in my a cappella group.

AuditionsI constantly go above and beyond expectations for this group, arranging music, quietly paying cover charges for open mic nights, finding and booking videographers for performances, creating T-shirts and banners and flyers… I do so much that goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Not only that, but my voice has been picked on lately – something that had always been a source of confidence for me. Singing is something that I do for fun – because it normally brings me joy! – but instead I found myself feeling more beaten up than ever.

So when I called my mom on Tuesday after work, crying about how I felt unvalued in all these areas of my life – at work, by Seth, and by my vocal group – she reminded me that she and my dad love me and hold me in high esteem. “You have to say that,” I sniffed through my tears. “You’re my mom.”

She patiently reminded me that God loves me and values me, and then she told me that she would be praying God would give me a little reminder that very week – a reminder that God is on my side and that I am valued by Him and by the people around me, even if they don’t express it all the time.

That night, I went to choir rehearsal and was shocked to get the solo for our Adele mashup. I was feeling so beaten down that I almost didn’t audition, but of the four auditionees, our group voted for me and affirmed my singing ability – something God knew I needed this week.

This morning, I got an unexpected voicemail from Seth that said simply: “Hey, have I told you yet today that I like you a lot? Well I do. And I just wanted to call and tell you that.” I put down the phone in bewilderment, feeling surprised and pleased.

I was amazed at how quickly God answered my mom’s prayers for encouragement in my life. God is such a good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to His children! Things don’t always go as we hope or expect (or even understand), but in the times where God is so obviously lavish in His blessings, I want to take notice and remember that faithfulness for those seasons where He does not seem present. God knew I was at the end of my rope and needed a lifeline to keep me trudging through this week. And He delivered!

Now I’m just waiting on some sort of affirmation from my workplace… But I’m not holding my breath.

Authentically Aurora

Hold My Heart – Part V

Brown eyes

Cory called me the next day, nonchalant as ever. I cut the call short, not feeling up for absorbing the hurt that his perpetual impassive demeanor caused me. Later that night, I received a text from him:

Hey Aurora, is everything okay? I’m picking up on something; I don’t know what to call it. It was in your voice earlier. I didn’t get to ask because I didn’t want you to be late to your dinner.

🙂

A smiley face?

Haha… if you think something is wrong, text usually isn’t the best forum to talk it out 😉

I can take a hint.

And then my phone rang. I answered, unsure what I was going to say.  Ultimately, what came out of my mouth was that I didn’t think we could be even friends anymore. “I don’t know how to be just friends with you. It doesn’t seem to affect you at all, but it’s not healthy for me to keep spending time with you,” I told him.

Cory was devastated. “I don’t want to lose your friendship,” he told me. For the first time since I’d met him, a tinge of urgency crept into his voice. “Being with you was the first sense of normalcy I’ve had in years.” He pleaded with me not to cut all ties with him.

“It hurts me too much to be with you without being with you,” I told him. And then I started crying, speaking my deepest hurts into the air between us. “Was it all just physical? Was that the extent of your attraction to and interest in me?”

“No! You’re definitely a beautiful woman, but – do you know what my favorite physical aspect of you is?”

“No…” My voice was a whimper.

“Your eyes,” Cory told me. “Your eyes are so full of depth and wisdom and light. They were the first thing I noticed about you, and they are my favorite part of you. Then your mouth. Your mouth is so expressive. Then your hands – they are so delicate and strong at the same time. Then, just, your entire face. Only then, in fifth place, are your hips. My life is messy and complicated and full of darkness, but being around you showed me how different things can be. That is why I like being around you.”

As he described his favorite parts of me, Cory started crying, too. “I don’t want to lose you. I care about you, and I hate that I hurt you.”

I was feeling comforted until he said that last portion. A part of me wished that he hurt more at the thought of losing me and not just because he felt badly about hurting me. His statement was just another reminder of why I needed to let him go.

When, painful as it was, I stayed firm on the fact that we needed to cut ties for the sake of my sanity and emotional wellbeing, Cory continued crying, sobbing over the phone, “Then…all of the grace and wisdom you’ve given me, and all of the compassion you’ve deemed me deserving of… Can you also give that to yourself?”

He continued, “You are a phenomenal woman. It’s apparent that I’m not the right guy nor is it the right time, but I can definitely say you are as much, if not ten times the catch that you credit me for being. You deserve your godly, kind, romantic leader of men. He is out there waiting to find you, and he will be so lucky when he does. Settle for nothing less than greatness. You deserve as much and more. I have been so blessed for knowing you.”

I wasn’t sure how to end the call, but I shut myself down emotionally and started to say, “Well, have a good rest of the year and enjoy your Christmas break.”

Cory could tell I was starting to end the conversation and interrupted in an anxious voice, “Wait. Could we pray together before we hang up?”

What?” I was dumbfounded.

“I want to pray with you before we say goodbye.”

“Why?” My heart was hard. In months past, I would have loved – absolutely jumped at the chance! – to pray with Cory. But I was wounded, limping along, and I had already decided to shut down my emotions and shut off my heart.

“I just… I want to pray with you. I feel like we should,” Cory pleaded again.

“Fine,” I conceded brusquely. “But you should know, if I’m going to be talking to the God of the Universe, I’m going to speak truth and say things you may not want to hear. Are you going to be okay with that?”

“Yes. I would expect no different from you.”

“Okay.” I sighed deeply, paused – trying to get myself in the right frame of mind to boldly approach the Throne of Grace – and began.

“Daddy, thank you for Cory. Thank you for the divine crossing of our paths. I know that You had purpose in our meeting, and I pray that your purposes would come to fruition. We confess our sinfulness, Lord. Our relationship has been so full of lust, and we confess that to you, God. Please forgive us. What Satan intends for evil, You intend for good, God, and so I pray that You would bring beauty from the ashes of our interactions. God, Cory has been asking a lot of questions about You and is searching for Truth. I pray You would powerfully reveal Yourself to him, God, and that he would know You; that Cory would come to saving faith in You.”

I prayed a few more sentences, wrapping up; then I paused and asked Cory if he would like to say anything. I heard Cory sniffling on the other end of the phone. “Um…” his voice came softly over the line between quiet sobs. “I hadn’t planned to say anything, but yeah, I have a few things to say.”

“Okay,” I said, more gently now that I had quieted my spirit in prayer. I waited for Cory to start praying when he was ready, and when he did, I was astonished by the broken-hearted pain and soul-bearing honesty in his words.

He began tentatively, with a few introductory sentences; then he started sobbing, crying from the depths of his heart, “God, I’ve been searching for you for so long. Please rescue me from the darkness. I’ve been trapped in the darkness for so long. Please -” his voice broke, “-please bring me out of the darkness and into the light.”

He sobbed again. “Help me, God.”

Taking a quavering breath, he continued, “Save me from the darkness and my fear. I have so much fear – for my mom, my dad, Mimi, Mary… Please protect my mommy- ” his voice cracked, and my heart broke for him.

“I’m not there to protect her…” Cory’s voice rose in pitch as he tried not to cry harder. “She’s all alone in New Orleans with a bad man…”

And then Cory began a time of confession, honoring me with his words. “Please forgive me, God. I’ve hurt so many people, using them to try to self-medicate for my own pain…”

By the end of his prayer, my heart was soft again, malleable and broken for him. I loved this man, though not in the way I had come to expect. When Cory finished praying and we both said, “Amen” together, I echoed words we had come to say to one another.

“I phileo you.”

I heard the sad smile in his voice. “I love you, too.”

And we hung up.

I’m not the kind to try to tell you lies
But the truth is you’ve been hiding from it too
I see the end sneaking in behind your eyes
Saying things no words could ever do

If we were written in reverse, and the end was our beginning
Our love would be rehearsed, and the pain would turn to healing
If we were written in reverse then maybe we could make it, you and I

Does anybody know how to hold my heart
‘Cause I don’t want to let go too soon
I want to tell you so before the sun goes dark
How to hold my heart, ’cause I don’t want to let go of you

Is anybody listening? ‘Cause I’m crying
Is anybody listening? Does anybody know how to hold my heart?
‘Cause I don’t want to let go, let go, let go of you

Authentically Aurora