Once Upon a September

cowboy bootsAdorable little Mia wiggled out of my lap to jump up and play tag with the other girls, so from my position on the floor, I started gathering up the art supplies scattered all around me. All of the children’s parents began trickling in to pick them up from our kids’ ministry after the early morning church service had concluded, so I took the opportunity to create some semblance of order of the colorful pipe cleaners and discarded colored pencils.

As I reached for yet another uncapped marker from my cross-legged position on the floor, a dusty pair of boots appeared in my peripheral vision just before their owner plopped down on the purple foam mat beside me. I glanced up and recognized the tanned face – deep brown eyes set above a warm smile – so I greeted him without thinking. “Hey. Seth, right?”

“Yeah, and you’re… Aurora?” He rearranged his long legs to get comfortable, and my eyes moved from his tousled brown hair down to our church’s teal volunteer T-shirt tucked into his faded blue jeans.

As I nodded in confirmation, I realized two things: I also knew Seth’s last name, but I had no idea how we knew each other. I had no memories of this man, but I was certain I knew him. I had vague recollections of possibly meeting him in college, but I went ahead and asked out loud, “How do we know each other’s names? I mean, I knew your name was Seth, but I don’t remember ever talking to you before.”

Seth leaned forward and correctly named both my alma mater and class year, as well as my major. I was impressed. Apparently we were in an introductory engineering class together our first semester freshman year. We probably met for the first time on some humid September morning, me in a T-shirt and soccer shorts, hair pulled into a tight ponytail. The would have been over ten years ago, but Seth remembered exactly which class it was. “Professor Till, right? At 8:00 AM?”

“Yes! He used to give pop quizzes all the time! I remember waking up late one morning and sprinting to class in my pajamas so that I wouldn’t miss the quiz, but I was five minutes late, so he wouldn’t let me take it.” I smiled at the memory. “I was quite the overachiever,” I added with a laugh.

Seth and I reminisced about our college years; then we moved along to each asking what the other is doing these days. In the midst of the current downturn in oil & gas, about a month ago Seth got let go from a major OG company in the area.

“That first day of being without work, I sat around in my boxers eating oatmeal, but one day of that was all I could handle. The very next day, I started volunteering my engineering services to a buddy’s small EP company, and they actually just wrote me a paycheck this week.”

I was impressed by Seth’s work ethic. He’s not the kind of man to sit around a sulk, and he told me that he refuses to take an unemployment check. His family owns a cattle ranch in the hill country a few hours outside of town, and he grew up learning the value of hard work and a man making a way for himself by the sweat of his brow.

I got so caught up in talking with Seth – I was so captivated by him – that when I glanced at the time, I realized that I was fifteen minutes late to church. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “Are you here to volunteer for the 11:00 service?”

He nodded, so I prattled on, “Well I volunteered at 9:15 and am going to the 11:00 service myself, so I’d better get in there!”

I stood, and Seth immediately stood as well. My mind flashed to a scene from Kate & Leopold where Leo stands every time Kate enters the room or leaves the table. Such a gentleman, I thought.

Seth moved forward to give me a hug goodbye, and he asked which midweek bible study I attend. I go on Wednesdays, and he goes on Tuesdays. “Well maybe I’ll double-dip this week and check out the Wednesday night group,” he told me with a smile.

“Yeah!” I chided my heart when it started racing. “That would be great. Send me a Facebook message, and I can give you the details.” I had already started slowly making my way toward the door, so I wiggled my fingers at him in a parting wave as I disappeared into the hallway and took a deep breath. What just happened? God, how did I not notice this man ten years ago? Where has he been?! Is this your perfect timing?

Our church was doing baptisms that week – or “bath-tisms” as seven-year-old Mia appropriately calls them in her sweet little voice – so the kids’ ministry volunteers quietly brought the children into the sanctuary to watch that portion of the service before taking them back to the children’s classrooms. Our sanctuary – a high school auditorium – seats a few hundred, so I was taken by surprise when, on his way out with his group of boys, Seth suddenly looked up and directly into my eyes. Our gazes locked, and he kept his eyes fixed on me until he vanished from view as he exited with his gaggle of boys. Only then did I realize I was grinning so wide that my cheeks hurt. He’d been grinning, too. We’re like a couple of high school kids! I thought with a blush.

When I got home from church, I logged into Facebook and saw a new friend request: Seth. My heart did a little dance. They say love finds you when you stop looking. Maybe – hopefully! – I’ll be among those who finds this to be true. ❤

Authentically Aurora

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Mocking Mark

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I volunteer at a local farmers’ market a couple of Saturdays a month. The booth I help with is for a nonprofit coffee shop that gives all of its proceeds to fighting human trafficking. It’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned: the coffee shop gets free staffing, and I get to play barista for the day and learn how to make different drinks.

Today when I showed up, there was a new guy, so I walked up to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Aurora,” I told him, sticking out my hand for a handshake. “And you are…?”

“Mock,” he responded, filling in the rest of my sentence.

“Mock?” I repeated back to him, thinking it was an unusual name for a man who looked very much Caucasian.

The girls around me all started giggling, and I looked around in confusion as Mock sighed in mock exasperation. “I’ve lived ‘eeya foh ‘eeyas, and I still con’t seh mahyee ahs!”

“He’s from London,” a girl to my left told me with a smile.

“Oh. Nice to meet you, Mark.”

I found it fascinating that, had I heard Mark say even one sentence before hearing him pronounce his name, my brain would have subconsciously filled in his silent “r”. But because “Mock” was the first word I ever heard come out of Mark’s mouth, my brain didn’t have the context to know that he was speaking with what I would have perceived to be a British accent.

In any case, we all laughed “hod” – “Mock” included – as we “stotted” brewing the “dock” roast.

Authentically Aurora

 

Happy Q2!

Smiling in field of flowersAlthough I am partial to sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, the second quarter of the year is also a personal favorite of mine. The first week of April brings with it sundresses, wildflowers and clear blue skies. Gloom period is over, and the earth comes to life again as though waking from a long slumber.

I underwent a hibernation of my own during the first quarter of this year – my fast from dating. I’d told myself that, in light of the seemingly endless incoming (and outgoing) line of men in my life, I needed to take a break from dating this year to refocus and center myself; to reinstate God as my First Love.

My hope in so doing was to to rest in my singleness, learning to be content in this season and celebrating all of the unique opportunities afforded to me as an unattached young woman. It’s been a great first quarter. I’ve gotten to invest deeply in some key friendships, taught Sunday school to elementary children, started mentoring a group of high school kids, gotten certified to babysit foster kids, arranged some new a capella mashups, begun fashion illustration (check out my Instagram) and started looking into a few different travel destinations for a girls’ weekend away.

When I started on this journey, I wanted to make the commitment specific and measurable enough that I could be held accountable and not bail when the first cute boy of the year looked my way, so I gave a soft commitment not to go on any dates for 2016. However, I also wanted to give myself flexibility as life circumstances changed and my heart matured; I didn’t want to be legalistic about the commitment or put God in a box as to how He wanted to refine me in this area of my life. I didn’t feel a strong conviction to give a definitive commitment for an entire year, so I gave myself the option to reevaluate at the end of every quarter whether or not I should continue my break from dating.

So as the end of March approached, and with it, the end of Q1 2016, I prayed and asked God what He thought. Then I met with the girls in my bible study and asked for their input as well. In both my personal time of reflection and in the feedback from the group, there was a consensus that I have successfully hit the “reset” button on my dating mentality and could now move forward with starting to date again, this time with a God-honoring perspective on both the physical and emotional aspects of a relationship.

I am not in a hurry to jump back into dating. My days of online dating are behind me. But I am open to the possibility of exploring whether some of my godly male friendships could grow into something deeper. I’ve had seven guys waiting for this moment – the moment I would allow them to pursue a relationship with me.

Just thinking about juggling all of those possibilities had me nearly breaking out in hives, so I’ve already told five of the seven that I am not interested in a romantic relationship with them. Care to guess which of the seven has captured my attention?

Jay – a police officer I met while volunteering for the Passion Conference in January who sends me shirtless photos of himself from time to time

Jordan – the massage therapist and divorcee I met on the Bahamas cruise

Ike – a friend for over ten years with whom I’ve done international mission trips and who is graduating from seminary in May with plans to be a pastor

Hovik – the Armenian auto shop manager who lives in my apartment complex

Grant – the banker I met at church who takes me to a concert every year

Seth – a chemical engineer who volunteers in our church’s kids’ ministry with me

Joe – an A/C mechanic in my bible study who is built like a lumberjack

Authentically Aurora

Mental About My Dental

Teeth-WhiteningPeople are weirdly obsessed with my teeth.

Apparently a new person in my circle of friends was asking someone else about me – what they think of me – and, of all the comments and observations that could have been made about me, the person’s response was: “She’s really intense. And she has good teeth.”

I’m intense. And I have good teeth. I mean, both of those things are true. The former is one of my greatest insecurities and the reason nearly every one of my boyfriends has broken up with me. The latter, as my daddy likes to say, is because he “paid a lot of good money for those teeth!” Nine months of braces. Thanks, Dad. 

Soon after that interaction, I found myself doing the whole standing-talking-in-the-parking-lot thing with one of the men in my bible study, and during the course of our conversation, he suddenly stopped and said, “You have really good teeth.”

I appreciated the compliment, but since his family owns a cattle ranch, this – his very first compliment to me – made me feel a bit like a horse being appraised for investment. Not the most flattering compliment of all time, but I tried to take it in the spirit in which it was intended.

Then last night, while volunteering at a ministry that provides career counseling and mentorship to at-risk youth, two of my freshman kept giggling during our session. When I asked what was up, they blurt out, “You have great teeth. They’re so white!” …and then, embarrassed, they erupted into giggles, covering their mouths and hiding under the table.

I smiled, thanked them, and brought us back to the lesson at hand, but – since all three interactions involved boys – the next time a man tells me I have good teeth, I’m going to ask in response, “Would you say my teeth are ‘like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing’?”

After all, a girl’s got to know where she stands.

Authentically Aurora

Candy and Mud Pies

Kids ministryWhat is an appropriate ratio of kids to adults for teaching? For camp counseling? For babysitting? For Sunday school?

Usually when I volunteer with the kids’ ministry at church, there are five leaders for the elementary school kids: one for 1st & 2nd grade girls, one for 3rd & 4th grade girls, two more for each of the boys’ age groups, and one master facilitator who leads us in the bible story during “big group time.” There are online sign-up sheets for volunteering, so Elle – the woman in charge of the kids’ ministry – knows ahead of time if she needs to call in reinforcements.

Yesterday when I showed up to volunteer, I was the only one for a while, so I clustered all of the elementary girls together – 1st through 4th grade. Soon, a guy named Mark showed up, but he told me it was only his second week to volunteer, so he mostly followed my lead as he gathered all of the boys together. Mark and I led our kids through the “rug time activity” – a craft involving a memorized bible verse – but soon we were finished with the craft, and no more volunteers had shown up.

I glanced at my watch. It was past time to move on to teaching the bible story, but I didn’t see any of our usual “big group” leaders. So while Mark got the boys in a circle, passing a ball around while each of them recited one of the Ten Commandments in turn, I got my girls in a circle – a very large circle, I noticed, as twenty different frilly skirts took their places on our mat – and told them we had an exciting opportunity.

“Usually at church,” I began, killing time while I continued looking around for our facilitator, “We have a set program in place. We do a certain craft, learn a certain bible story and then have small group discussion time.”

“But today,” I continued, clapping my hands together with a big smile, “You girls get the chance to ask me anything you want – any questions you have about God or the bible or church or Sunday school.”

“Can we ask you anything?” One precocious girl spoke up. “Like how old you are or if you’re married?”

I laughed. “Maybe if we have time at the end. But let’s start with bible questions. Does anybody have a bible question for me?”

A soft-spoken girl to my left raised her hand. “Yes, Angeli?”

She lowered her arm slowly as she began her question. “You know that girl who God promised would have as many children as stars in the sky?”

“You mean Sarah and Abraham?” I asked, clarifying. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham, “I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”

“Yeah. When God told Abraham his children would be like the stars in the sky, does that mean the stars in the sky are all of the unborn babies?”

“Wow, that’s an interesting interpretation,” I told her, and I went on to explain gently that stars are actually burning balls of gas and the biblical meaning of that passage was that all of the offspring of Abraham – “All of his children and great-grandchildren and great-great-great-great grandchildren” – would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. “Good question!”

After Angeli was satisfied, another girl asked a question that stopped me short. Her big, innocent eyes looked up at me as she asked me a question most adults ask all their lives. “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

“That’s a hard question, isn’t it, Savannah?” I acknowledged her question, thinking how to answer. “I’ve asked God that very same question a lot of times.” I gave a few personal examples and then explained to the girls – all of them listening now – that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is “no” because He loves us and wants what’s best for us. “Sometimes the things we want aren’t what is best for us, and because God loves us, He doesn’t answer our prayers with the ‘yes’ we hope for.”

I paused for a moment, collecting my thoughts; then gave an example. “If you ate candy for lunch and dinner every day, how would that make your tummy feel?”

“It would hurt,” some of the girls murmured.

“That’s right. But sometimes we want to eat nothing but candy for lunch and dinner, don’t we?” The girls nodded.

“We have mommies and daddies who love us, so they make us eat vegetables and food we don’t like because they love us and know that eating vegetables is better for us than eating candy. God is the same way. He is a loving Father who sometimes doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.”

I glanced over at Mark, who was starting to lose the boys. We were in a large, open gym, so it was nearly impossible to contain the dozens of kids running around. I decided no one else was coming to help, so I walked up to the front and tried to figure out the A/V system. I got a headset plugged in, turned on and tested it. “Test, test.” My voice echoed across the gym.

“Alright, boys and girls!” I called in my perkiest voice. “It’s time to play a bible trivia game!” I fumbled with the music and the PowerPoint slides, but between the two of us, Mark and I got through it. Right at the end, Elle showed up, aghast at the sight of me wearing the headset and barely containing the explosion of children wiggling in their seats.

Parents started showing up, picking up their kids, and Elle hurried over to me. “Oh my gosh! Did your Head Leader not show up?” I grinned and shook my head, nearly laughing at this point because of how ridiculous the whole morning had been.

God has really been teaching me a lot about flexibility, spontaneity and letting go of control. I like order and the expected. But if I’d had the security of a set program that morning, those girls wouldn’t have gotten their previously unspoken questions answered. And if I had the comfort of control over the situation, I wouldn’t have gotten to grow in faith, leadership and dependence on God as I struggled to rise to the occasion and make the most of our under-resourced morning. It’s just like I told the girls – sometimes God doesn’t give us what we want because He has something even better for us than we want for ourselves.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – CS Lewis

Authentically Aurora

If You Give a Mentor a Cookie…

If_you_give_a_mouse_a_cookieToday in the hallways of the office, I ran into my awesome friend Jason, who reminds me of a younger version of Bitter Ben – introverted, quick-witted, adorably awkward and absolutely hilarious (seriously, Ben, do you have a nephew named Jason? Because I swear you two are related…).

Anyway, Jason asked me how my day was going, and I showed him the stack of papers in my hand – my freshly scanned application to get certified for babysitting foster kids.

“Oh wow. You’re such a rock star,” Jason told me, clapping me on the arm. “Although you know you could come watch my kids anytime – no certification required!”

I laughed. Jason has two little boys – ages 6 and 3 – and from what I hear, they are a handful. “Ha. About six months ago, I tried to volunteer to be a Girl Scout Troop Leader, but nobody ever got back to me. So now the foster kids get me instead.” I winked at him with a grin.

“Oh, come on. You know the only reason you were doing Girl Scouts was for the free cookies.”

“Actually, it was specifically for the Thin Mints,” I joked back. “Although we probably need to get them to change the name. False advertising,” I went on as a bubbly blonde walked past us in the hallway, pausing to say hello.

“Hey,” I greeted her in return. “Jason and I were just talking about how the Girl Scouts need to change the name of their Thin Mint cookies to ‘Fat Mints’. One time I tried going on a diet of nothing but Thin Mints, but somehow, I didn’t get any thinner.”

While Jason chuckled, the blonde looked at me with a mixture of disdain and confusion. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s a thing…” she said as she walked away, size 2 hips swaying down the hallway.

This is why socially awkward people like Jason and I have to stick together. Socially adept, celery-stick-eating people don’t get our cool puns or weighty jokes.

Thin Mints Fat Mints

Authentically Aurora

Undistracted Devotion

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Do you ever feel like Someone is really going out of His way to tell you something? You notice the same theme showing up a few times in the same month. Or you hear a recurring comment from different people in your life multiple times the same week. Or you even pick up the same message being repeated over and over multiple times in a single day. Like that new Adele song on the radio.

When Ashley and I took that road trip to visit our alma mater earlier this week, going on a Tuesday was intentional. A bible study that really impacted our college years still meets every Tuesday night on campus. Well, I call it a bible study. It’s more of a weekly conference now, with literally thousands of students gathering in the basketball arena to listen to the speaker, Ben, share his wisdom, insight and hilarious anecdotes.

So on Tuesday night, after visiting our favorite college study spots and coffee shops (and singing in the Globe Room!), Ashley and I made our way to the basketball arena to get good seats for the bible study session. After about thirty minutes of amazing worship music, Ben took the stage and announced that the topic for that night would be…. (wait for it)…. Singleness!

I seriously laughed out loud. And then groaned. And looked at Ashley with an expression that surely communicated my internal, “Really?! Ugh.” 

Just that morning, I had drafted my blog post on how I want to use the freedom of my singleness to make a positive difference babysitting foster kids. “I want to enjoy this season of singleness,” I’d written. “There is so much I can do in this chapter of life where I have freedom from spousal responsibility… I am freer than I will ever be. The world is my oyster.”  I get it, God! I know singleness is a gift of a season! So why do I have to sit through another message about it?!

I knew it was going to be a good message – Ben never fails to deliver amazing, inspiring, goose-bump-inducing messages – but I was internally (and externally) groaning at the thought of having to listen to yet another person tell me how “wonderful” singleness is.

Sure enough, Ben started off by reading from 1 Corinthians 7, describing singleness as a “gift.” But out of genuine respect for Ben and his teaching (and, you know, God… and the apostle Paul), I stayed tuned in. Ashley and I had driven all the way into town for this, after all! Here’s what Ben had to say:

What we want isn’t always what’s good for us. And what’s good for us isn’t always appreciated. Sometimes it takes love and wisdom to recognize the benefits of certain blessings. Like a 7-year-old boy getting 100 shares of stock instead of that slingshot he wanted. Or a 28-year-old girl getting another few years of singleness instead of that husband she thought she’d have before age 30. You know, hypothetically speaking of course…

According to Scripture, singleness is a gift, and God is good and loving. If we believe the bible is the inerrant Word of God, we must accept that – painful as it can be – singleness is a gift to us from a good and loving Father.

Singleness is a gift God gives because He wants to secure in us an undivided attention to Him. Dating is distracting. Marriage is distracting. And God doesn’t want us to be distracted in church; in bible study; in life by looking at or for a significant other.

God desires our good, and since He knows He is the only one who can truly satisfy our deepest longings, He grants us the gift of a season of singleness so we can learn to zero in on Him; to focus on the One who can meet our needs so that, in marriage, we don’t lean too heavily on a spouse who will inevitably disappoint us. We must stop pursuing the satisfaction of our souls in the arms of other people. They were not created to satisfy. 

“There is a tendency in humanity to downplay the circumstances of your current season and play up the benefits of other seasons,” Ben went on. As a married man himself, he reminded us that marriage is great, but it is taxing – mentally; emotionally; financially. Marriage is a beautiful season in its time, but there is SO MUCH POWER in singleness!

In seasons of singleness, you are unencumbered. You have freedom. Time. Resources. You will never have this same amount of free time and resources again in your life, and the most content single people are those who understand the purpose of singleness. Don’t spend hours of your life living in fantasy worlds when the real world is burning up. You have opportunities afforded to you in singleness that will dissipate when you get married.

Ultimately, singleness, dating and marriage are not the main story of your life. They are not your primary purpose, and they should not be your life’s focus. There’s not a lot of time left in this world. We are living in the last days, and life is short. Why do we not care more about the state of someone’s soul than their relationship status (including our own)?

If you are single, God has given you the gift of singleness in order to glorify him with undistracted devotion, not to fill your life with distractions to pass the time until you get married. Which of these defines your singleness? Are you living your season of singleness with purpose and intentionality? This is the million dollar question.

God will give you grace to endure singleness for its season. Make the most of this time! Pursue an undivided devotion to God. And, in the words of Jim Elliot, “Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.” Amen.

Authentically Aurora