Vulnerable Girls

India

On Wednesday after work, I went to the headquarters of a nonprofit orphan care ministry that rescues, empowers and protects vulnerable girls in India. A few of my friends are on staff with the organization, and they needed help writing Christmas cards by hand for all of their volunteers and donors.

We bought pizza and Mint Oreos to snack on while we worked, and we put on “White Christmas” in the background, occasionally singing along to the movie as we wrote out our cards. It was actually a really fun and peaceful evening, surrounded by kind-hearted men and women who chose to use their weeknight to serve an organization that is making a beautiful difference in the lives of some sweet young girls halfway around the world.

We laughed a lot, too – more so when some of the men left and we got to start in on “girl talk” (which may have ultimately resulted in us addressing a few rogue cards to the likes of Tim Tebow and J.J. Watt, asking them to partner with the organization).

As the evening began to wind down and I gathered my coat and purse to head home, I paused, looked around the room at the four compassionate women still seated around the table, and suddenly asked, “Hey, would you guys mind praying over me?”

All their heads popped up, and immediately there were arms and hands everywhere, gesturing for me to sit down, rubbing my back, pulling chairs over so that they could all gather around me. “I’ve been struggling a lot lately with rejection. I have a revolving door of men, and I want to stop finding my identity in what men think of me.”

As most of my readers know, this is an ongoing battle for me, and sometimes I feel silly asking for prayer about the same thing over and over again, but it’s my struggle. And prayer helps. Being vulnerable and transparent and confessing our sins to one another helps.

I felt absolutely safe and loved as Katie, a strong, godly, single woman in her thirties who I respect very much began praying over me. A couple of the other girls chimed in, and these were my key takeaways as I prayed their words along with them:

  • Thank you for her boldness to be vulnerable. May that authenticity and transparency continue.
  • We pray for healing of her heart and her mind. Heal her way of thinking, that if there is any lie from the Enemy, You would speak Truth over that lie. Tell her what her true identity is; the identity You speak over her. Heal her heart. Sing over her in her sleep. Remind her who she is in You.
  • Put up a guard around her, such that any men she has been in past relationships with would stay in the past and not come back. Guard her such that any man who is not in Your will for her would not approach her. Block his way before he comes.
  • Give her a clarity of mind. Sometimes thoughts can get muddled, but we pray for clear thinking. May it be easy for her to say no when she needs to say no. And may it be easy for her to say yes when Your answer is yes.

Katie ended the prayer “in Jesus’ name, Amen,” and then looked up, paused, studied one of the other girl’s faces, and said, “Was there something else anyone else wanted to say? Does anyone else have a Word from the Lord?”

The girl Katie had been studying nodded, and we all bowed our heads again. This is what she prayed for:

  • If there was any part of her heart that died from her broken engagement or other hurts, we pray for restoration of that part of her heart that she has shut off. If there is a broken, shut off, deadened part of her heart, heal it, God. Turn it back on. Bring it back to life. Heal and restore her whole heart.

I wasn’t sure at first what this was referring to. I clearly still am capable of loving people deeply (just read about Cory if you haven’t), and I am not afraid of loving again. I desire connection more than just about anything. But as I drove home and mulled it over, asking God which part of my heart had died, I believe He showed me that, while it is true that I haven’t shut myself off from love, I have changed the way that I love.

He showed me that, although it was easy for me to be vulnerable with that room full of women, I don’t ever want to be vulnerable in a romantic relationship. I don’t want the other person to know how deeply I love or how invested I am because, inevitably, I love deeper and more intensely than the other person in a relationship. So to protect myself, I have become… not brash exactly, but bolder. Confident. I put on airs of being strong. I try to make dates feel casual and grand gestures seem like no big deal. I minimize in order to protect myself.

As a result – or, perhaps, in order to achieve this result – I have shut off the part of my heart that used to flutter with excitement. The innocent, giddy eagerness and anticipation of falling in love is something I have not allowed myself to experience anymore. Because it hurts too much when that kind of love comes to an end. When I am able to convince myself that my interactions with dates are not as meaningful as I actually, deep down, feel them to be, I can kid myself into thinking I’m not going to get as hurt as I would if I let the butterflies in.

So. Here’s to wistfulness and innocence; hope and anticipation; eagerness and excitement. Pray with me that this part of my heart comes back to life, with the right person and in God’s perfect timing. ❤

Authentically Aurora

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TBT: Vulnerable & Strong

HSPI wrote this post last fall and never published it, although my feelings haven’t changed much since then. That said, I am slowly learning to be happy for people who haven’t yet experienced heartache… and thankful for those who have. #HSPproblems


I might be a petite, 5’4″, twenty-something woman, but I have the heart of a leader and the desire to impact change. I frequently find myself in situations where I sense that something needs to be communicated, and I end up “influencing up” – discretely influencing those senior to me (in age or rank) using something of an innocent’s Socratic method.

On a monthly basis, I attend a bible study luncheon in which guest speakers, usually very senior in their respective organizations, come and share their life experiences and what they have learned through those experiences. This week, the topic was “Listening to God: How Obstacles Can be Signs from God.” The guest speaker, a fifty-four year old CEO named Randy, detailed his entire career, which involved six layoffs over the course of thirty years (one of which involved the Enron fiasco). I kept waiting for Randy to get to the part where he talked about what he learned about himself or about God through all of the ups and downs of his tumultuous career, but in the end, all he really said was that he knows now that God was with him all along.

I was a bit disappointed that this elderly CEO spent 25 of his 30 minutes telling his “woe is me” story and, even in the last five minutes, didn’t say much other than, “God is faithful” (without any concrete, specific examples of God’s faithfulness), so I raised my hand to ask a question during the closing Q&A portion of the luncheon.

I already knew the answer I expected (and believed to be true), but for the sake of everyone else, I stood and projected, “Randy, this morning you gave us a lot of insight into God’s faithfulness even through the ups and downs of life. I recently experienced a broken engagement, so I can relate to the turmoil that comes with the unexpected. How would you advise us to navigate seasons of life where we know in our heads that God is good and sovereign, but our feelings don’t align with what our heads know to be true?

head heart

I was giving Randy the opportunity for a teaching moment; to close the gap in his speech; to get to the point of why he spent half an hour telling us all his sob story about six layoffs over thirty years. But instead of answering with any of the various appropriate responses, Randy – like so many before him – zeroed in on the phrase “broken engagement” and started publicly offering me cliches, like, “You’re going to get through this. God has better out there for you,” and “You just have to decide to stop feeling the sadness.”

Randy, I was not looking for condolences. I was trying to lead you to state things like, “Read the Bible. Know the Truths of Scripture. Use what you know to be true to battle the lies of your heart. It’s a tough dichotomy, but in Mark 9:24, we see that it is possible to believe but still in the midst of that, struggle with unbelief.”

Instead, he just trained another generation of bright-eyes kids that the appropriate response to depression, conflict between our heads & hearts, or really to any hardship in life is to tell people to just decide to stop feeling whatever it is that they feel.

Good thing I decided to be vulnerable and sacrifice myself for the sake of a teaching moment – a teaching moment that epically backfired. Next time I’ll go back to listening to my head and ignoring my heart.

“We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.” -TWLOHA

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part II

GoodbyeMy ex-fiance and I kept running into each other all day long – at the crawfish boil, the volleyball courts, in the cafeteria… It was like something out of an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel where all of the characters are trapped in a secluded set, snowed in at a log cabin or marooned on a private island.

My ex and I would inevitably pretend to ignore one another, avoiding eye contact but all the while keenly aware of the other’s presence. It was awful. Just when I reached another valley of desperation, mind spiraling to dark places, I spotted a familiar face: Patricia. Flynn’s ex-girlfriend. Oh, the irony. 

Patricia and I smiled and waved at each other across the meadow and walked toward one another. Still smiling, aware that my ex was watching me, I said to Patricia, “Will you walk and pray with me? I’m having kind of a rough day.”

“Of course!” She looked surprised at my vulnerability but genuinely happy to be there for me. We walked and talked; then found a bench in the warm sun. I told her about my ex; she told me about the pain of watching Flynn with his new girlfriend. We encouraged one another, laughed together, cried together, and prayed over one another, just as I’d done with Grace earlier. I’d known Patricia was beautiful. But before that afternoon, I hadn’t realized what a wise, godly woman she is as well. God truly works in mysterious ways.

As the sun was setting just before the final session of the day, I saw my ex yet again. Patricia had called me over to her table and started to introduce me around to her group. I shook hands with one person after another until I came to my ex, who was sitting in the circle. I played it cool, sticking my hand out to him and saying, “And you are…?”

He looked tired; emotionally drained. He didn’t complete my sentence but said simply, “Hi, Rory.” He reached out and took my hand, shaking it as the others had done.

I moved on to the next person in the circle, smiling broadly and playing the social butterfly I can be when I decide to be. After laughing and cutting up with a few new friends, I walked around the table and put my hand on my ex’s shoulder. “Can we talk for a minute?”

I hadn’t planned on talking to him; in fact, I’d been intentionally avoiding him all day. I had no idea what I was going to say, but after hours of unrest and internal turmoil, I just wanted to face the issue head-on and address the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

He looked pained and wary about talking with me, but he agreed. “Uhh… we can if you really want to.”

In response, I gestured for him to follow me, and we made our way to the tree line, along the edge of a wooded pathway away from everyone else. Once there, I turned to face him.

“I thought we should just acknowledge that this is awkward,” I began. “I’m uncomfortable, I’m sure you’re uncomfortable… this is just an awkward situation.”

“Yes,” he stated with emphasis, nodding.

“And we’ve been dancing around each other all day,” I added, “So I thought we should just acknowledge that, yes, this is uncomfortable. But I also want you to know that I’m okay. I’m really glad I’m not married to you.”

His change in expression was immediate. “There’s no reason to be mean,” he spat at me.

My eyes widened in surprise. “I wasn’t trying to be mean!” I defended myself as gently as I could. “I was trying to affirm you in your decision not to marry me!”

I paused; then sighed heavily. “This is one of the reasons it’s good we’re not married. I’m a direct communicator, and you’re sensitive. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was just letting you know that I’m okay, and this doesn’t have to be so awkward. But I’m really doing okay. I’ve been dating someone the past six months –”

He interjected enthusiastically, “Rory, that’s great! That’s what I’ve been praying for!” What? His whole face had lit up with genuine excitement.

“I’ve prayed for you every day since we broke up,” he told me, “I’ve prayed that you would find a man who will love you well and that you’ll get married and have kids…”

“You’ve thought about me every day? You’ve prayed for me every day?” I was shocked. Even as heartbroken as I’ve been, I have not thought about him every day for the past year. And I stopped praying for him a long time ago. It engaged my heart too deeply, and I didn’t think it was healthy to keep that kind of emotional connection to him.

“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’ve been kind of a wreck. I know I treated you horribly. I’ve been in a deep depression for the past year. I haven’t dated anyone, and I’m still seeing our old counselor every week.”

Wow. That shouldn’t make me feel better, but it definitely did. The last few prayers I prayed over my ex were for his ruin – financial, emotional, relational, etc. I know that’s not God-honoring at all, but I rationalized to myself that only through his utter brokenness could God truly reach my ex and make him into the man he was created to be. So it was really a loving prayer, right?

I knew my prayers had at least been partially answered when IBM and NOV tanked. My ex is a value investor who doesn’t believe in diversification, so he was only invested in five stocks, two of which were IBM and NOV. He also invests tens of thousands on behalf of his closest friends and family. I’d wondered how that affected their relationships (and hoped for the worst. I know, I’m terrible).

“Why have you been depressed?” I asked as casually as I could. “Was it all guilt… or did you miss me?”

He shrugged and hung his head. “A lot of it was guilt. Honor and pride played into it. I did wrong by you, Rory. But I also missed you. I revisited that decision multiple times a day, every day for a long time. I would have to call my mom all the time to talk back through the decision not to marry you. But it was the right decision. I totally butchered the decision and dragged you through hell for months – I know – but it was the right decision.”

Although I agreed with him that it was the right decision, I only felt that way because of the way he’d treated me near the end. I would have married him. I loved him. And so hearing him say it was the right decision not to marry me caused my heart to twinge, even though I knew it to be true.

“Why did you propose to me?” I asked suddenly. It wasn’t a premeditated question. It just tumbled out in my moment of insecurity.

His looked at me sadly; gently. “Because I loved you. I was in love with you. And you were the first person who ever loved me back. That’s why I proposed to you.”

“Then what happened? I hadn’t planned to get into this, but since we’re talking about it… You said so many horrible things to me those last few months. That I’m so Type A that I would drive you to have an affair. That I’m domineering and no man could lead me. That I’m cold and emotionless. That I’m too much… Even though I’ve moved on from wanting to marry you, those words play on repeat in my head. Did you mean all of them? What was the real reason?”

“Rory, do you really want to get into this?” He sighed and looked away, exacerbated. “You take everything to heart and twist it to see it in a negative light. I don’t know if I should tell you.”

I just looked back at him, waiting.

He sighed again. “Okay, first of all, I was a crazy person. Ignore everything I said during that time. My own parents didn’t recognize me. But what it all came down to is, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m an emotional guy, and I need a woman who is absolutely dripping with empathy. It’s not a knock against you because everyone has empathy on a different scale, and all kinds of personalities end up together, but it was just an incompatibility. There’s nothing wrong with your personality – please hear that! – but we just weren’t compatible.”

I thought we were.

He continued, “I would have seen our incompatibility sooner if not for my issue with lust. I lusted for you, Rory. I’m so embarrassed by it. It’s humiliating. I had a deep-seated sin of lust, and I’m so ashamed by it. And how it blinded me.”

That was hurtful to hear. “So you proposed to me because you wanted to have sex with me?” Although he wasn’t a virgin, I am still waiting even now, and he had claimed to respect and admire that, although his actions didn’t always align with his words.

“No!” he looked hurt and horrified. “I asked you to marry me because I loved you. I just didn’t see our incompatibility until after we were engaged. I felt like you changed.”

“The change in me – the hardening, pulling away, being less empathetic —” I looked pointedly at him, “– was a response to how you were treating me. I sensed your anxiety and emotional withdrawal and was trying to protect myself.”

“I know I wounded you, but you wounded me, too – in a different way. I was afraid to talk to you today because you know me. You may say you don’t know me – that I’m a stranger to you – but you do. You wounded me because you saw deeply into me and spoke truth into my life. And I was afraid you’d speak more truth into me. And the truth is painful. But I’m thankful for it. I learned so much from you. You have no idea.”

That had been my initial prayer when we first broke up. That he would grow and learn and have eyes to see the truth. He had been so blind and walking in darkness. It was an unexpected blessing to learn that he finally heard the words I had been speaking for months. I only wish he had appreciated it sooner and more fully. That he’d had the maturity to recognize that being married to a truth-speaker is a blessing. That much of marriage is encouraging our spouse toward greater Christ-likeness, such that we present them before the Throne of Grace more sanctified than they would have been if not married to us.

We both just looked at each other. And sighed.

“Well, is there anything else? Anything you need to hear from me?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would be helpful and not damaging. Because of your rejection, sometimes I don’t believe I’m marriageable or desirable, but there’s not much you can do to change that.”

“Rory, you’re a great girl. You have so much to offer. And you will get married someday. And that man will be a very lucky man.” He looked thoughtful. “I actually say that to our counselor all the time. You have so much to offer a man.”

I smiled sadly; then asked, “Is there anything you need to hear from me? Have I said anything in this conversation to hurt your feelings that I need to retract?”

His brow furrowed. “No, but I need to hear that you forgive me. Will you forgive me, Rory? I know we’ve been over this, but I need to hear you say that you forgive me.” He looked at me with big eyes. Vulnerable. He needed this desperately.

“Of course I forgive you.” I smiled sadly again. I forgave you a long time ago. Many times over. Over and over again. It’s a process. I was glad to help him move toward peace… and I was glad that I was glad.

We stared at each other again. “I don’t know how to end this conversation…” I trailed off.

“Well, we’re going to hug in a minute here…” he began before he, too, trailed off.

“The last time we talked, you said that you wanted to be friends,” I reminded him. “That you’d call me in a year and try to be friends.”

“Yeah, that was ‘pie in the sky’,” he admitted. “It was my way of comforting myself. I didn’t want to lose you completely, so I told myself I was only losing you for a month or a year. But I knew deep down it wasn’t realistic.”

I know it’s best we’re not friends, and I honestly don’t want the angst of him in my life – I’d never wanted him to call a year later – but it still hurt my heart to come to the realization that we were about to say goodbye forever… again.

Two girls walked past us, ranting loudly about something that hadn’t gone the way they wanted. My ex made his classic “uh oh!” face and started making high-pitched “meep”-ing sounds like Beaker from The Muppets.

I burst into laughter, and he looked surprised before his face relaxed into an authentic grin. He chuckled softly. “Oh, Rory, I’ve missed your sense of humor.”

“I’ve missed yours, too.” We smiled at each other for a brief, shining moment where time stood still and we were transported back to another season when we were deeply in love. My eyes started to water unexpectedly, and I blinked back tears.

He saw my tears, and his expression softened as tears welled up in his eyes, too. “Rory…”

I started laughing, embarrassed. “I’m okay,” I waved him off with my hand. “I’m okay. I know you’re not used to seeing emotion from me.”

“No…” he agreed.

“It’s just… I feel like you’re dying to me all over again. I had to grieve the loss of you like the death of a loved one, and now I know I’m saying goodbye again. It’s just… very emotional.”

He took a step toward me and said, “Who knows? Maybe five years from now, you’ll be married – to that guy you’re seeing; maybe he’s ‘The One’ – and maybe I’ll be married, and we can be friends. You never know.”

“Okay,” I smiled at him through my tears.

He closed the distance between us and wrapped me in a hug. We stood for a moment before pulling away and walking in different directions. As we parted, he called softly, “See you later.”

“See you.” …Just maybe not this side of heaven.

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part I

guard-heartI ran into my ex-fiance on Saturday morning.

It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since the week of our wedding last summer, and I was completely unprepared for it.

Just days earlier, I’d told my sister-in-law that I had a premonition I was going to see him again soon, but I was still shocked when our paths crossed so unexpectedly. My defenses were down; my emotions unchecked; my heart untucked from its pocket of safety.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis, The Four Loves


Every time I try to lock my heart away to protect it from the agonizing pain of living in the world, God lovingly pries apart my shields and rips down my fortress. He keeps my heart soft when I want to harden my heart against the perpetual onslaught of hurt.

Sometimes it feels like He keeps ripping off the scab and reopening the wound again and again. Just when I’m starting to heal, another hit comes. Another blow. Another gash. Another wound. Is this kindness? I have to believe that God is not cutting me open to damage me but rather to do heart surgery; to take away my heart of stone and give me a heart that is soft and malleable, capable of receiving love and giving love in turn.

A few weeks ago, my friend Mary asked me to attend her church’s Singles Retreat. I attend services at a different church, but Mary’s boyfriend broke up with her recently, and she needed moral support at her church’s retreat because he’d be there, too. Since God frequently redeems my own seasons of darkness by using them to comfort and work healing in others, I agreed to pay the $40 registration fee and spend my Saturday at a church camp out in the countryside.

After a few hours in the car and a quick stop for Starbucks, Mary and I arrived at the retreat center early Saturday morning. We prayed together in the car, that God would be our Guide, Comforter and Encourager that weekend. I prayed for Mary, and she prayed for me.

The Christian community is small in my city, so when Mary and I made our way to the second floor of the lodge to register, I recognized a few of the people running the registration booth. Mary and I talked and laughed with the volunteers as we got our name badges; then we turned to the door to walk toward the sanctuary for the first session. But just before my hand touched the knob, the cabin door opened, and there he stood. My ex-fiance.

I didn’t recognize him at first. Since I was eye-level with his chest, I just wondered why this talk blonde was blocking my path. Finally, I looked up and locked eyes with him. And all of the breath went out of me.

Shock. That was my primary emotion, tinged with peace. Peace that I am not married to this man. Then surprise at the peace. Why am I not upset? Then fear. What if I’m in shock, and the emotional breakdown is going to start any moment?

All of those thoughts and emotions fluttered through me in a fraction of a second. In the meantime, he said, “Hi, Rory.” Hearing his pet name for me was jarring. He’s the only one who has ever shortened my name that way, and it sounded foreign in my ears.

“Hi,” I echoed back, trying to process the situation unfolding before me. He didn’t look surprised to see me. That was all my brain could register.

He was expressionless. “I saw you walk by and came to let you know I was here so it wouldn’t be awkward.”

His statement made no sense to me. My mind was full of questions. You mean, like it’s awkward right now? What are you doing here? Why did you feel the need to come up and reveal yourself to me? Why couldn’t you have left me oblivious to your presence?

But what I said out loud was, “Okay. I didn’t know you went to First Baptist.”

“Well I do.”

“Okay.” I had nothing else to say. Shock rendered my brain useless. Fortunately, it also momentarily numbed my heart from registering any feeling.

“Well I just wanted to let you know I was here.” He looked at me expectantly then, like he had anticipated more of a reaction.

“Okay.” I felt one eyebrow involuntarily go up like it does when I’m annoyed. What do you expect me to say or do here?!

I sensed him tense just before he turned and wordlessly walked away. Watching him descend the staircase, it dawned on me that we hadn’t made any kind of physical contact. And I was glad. I would have felt violated if he’d tried to touch me. He is no longer a safe space. He has wounded me. He is not trustworthy.

Mary watched the whole thing unfold, so I said listlessly to her, eyes straight ahead, “That was my ex-fiance.”

She had nothing to offer, so we walked into the sanctuary for the first session. Of course, I couldn’t focus at all. I spent the whole time journaling my thoughts and feelings and trying not to glance at my ex, who was seated across the aisle to my right.

After the session, we were mixed into small discussion groups, but I spoke quietly to a freckled Asian girl seated on my left. We’d never met before, but I was desperate. “I need someone to pray over me. I just saw my ex-fiance for the first time since we broke up and am in shock.”

The petite girl seemed unfazed as she gestured for me to follow her. We got up from the group and silently walked out the door into the sunshine. She led me down a nature trail, and we settled onto a secluded park bench. Only then did we introduce ourselves. Her name was Grace. How fitting.

I poured my heart out to her, processing my own thoughts and feelings as I spoke. Grace listened attentively. She let me cry, comforting me with words of truth. She encouraged me, laughed with me through my tears, and took my hand in hers to pray over me. She’s twenty-four years old.

It’s moments like this that make my heart feel full. It’s moments like this that remind me what the church is supposed to look like. It’s moments like this that fill me with joy, knowing more intimately the character of the God we serve.

This is what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like. This is how we share the Good News with the world. “They will know us by our love.”

There is power in people who are seemingly strangers coming together as Brothers and Sisters in Christ, united by a bond that is greater than ourselves. There is power in reminding one another that we were created for more than our eyes can see this side of heaven. There is power in being the hands and feet of Jesus, loving the unlovely in a broken world desperately in need of Grace.

Authentically Aurora