The nights you can see only your shame

It was two in the morning and I was wide awake. My body was exhausted. It felt as though my lungs were made of bricks, heavy and full. If I tried to get out of bed, I knew I would tip over.

I could see my failures play like a movie in front of me. It was as if there was a projector reeling videos on my white wall beside me -- everything was abundantly clear. There I was: failing, sinning, screwing up again and again. I sat on my bed and watched the movie clips play in my head.

Tears streamed.

"I am a failure," I told Jesus. "Look at all of the times I have failed you. Look at the moments I chose to ignore you. Look at this pile of shame."

I was small and cold and sad. But I didn't feel alone. It was 2 am, and I felt like Jesus was sitting there beside me.

I felt like soft clay. My hardened edges were long gone. I was too tired to carry them with me any longer. In my softness I heard these words, "You have to grieve these moments. See them all and grieve them, Aliza. But once you're done grieving you need to move past them, and know that they do not define you."

I wanted to be strong, not weak. Grieving felt too vulnerable. Couldn't I skip the grieving stage and simply move on to the part where I was fine again?

But it's in these moments -- the 2 am moments -- where my anxiety and shame creep in and reveal to me the state of my heart. I was not fine -- I was ashamed and untethered, barely holding on to anything or anyone. And Jesus knew what I needed: I need to see my shame and grieve -- only so I could truly move on towards healing and freedom. I needed to see all of it so I could finally leave it behind.

When the movie reel had finished playing in my head, I saw another picture: Jesus, taking all of those moments, and wiping them away. He was healing me, slowly. He was healing me, not by my own strength, but through a tenderness I could hardly stand.

I woke up the next morning, tired but not afraid.

I was clean, I was fresh, I had been entirely made new.

And I am healing.

When God meets you in the middle of the drive-through

I was driving home from school today when the woman behind me started honking. We were turning left, and I think the person at the front of the line wasn't moving fast enough. The light went from green to yellow as I turned, and she swerved behind me through the red.

At the next light, she laid on her horn again.

"Holy crap, lady," I said within the safety of my car. "Back off."

I was exhausted from a busy but fantastic weekend, so I decided to loop through the McDonald's drive-through and grab a coffee. Somehow I wasn't surprised when she turned into the drive-through behind me. I rolled my eyes. She was such a pain.

I ordered my coffee, and pulled out my debit card to pay. As my car slowly inched forward toward the payment window, I felt a softness sway inside of my chest.

Pay for her order, I heard.

Immediately I knew it was God. This morning I asked him to start speaking to me, but this was not what I had in mind. I decided to ignore him. There was no way I was paying for the rude lady behind me. She needed to chill.

Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw her. Her lips were pressed in a tight line, her eyes sunken and hollow.

"She'll probably order something expensive, God... and you know I'm trying to save money because of school."

Pay for her order. 

"She was so rude to me! Who needs to honk that excessively? I was literally just following the flow of traffic." I heaved a huge sigh.

I didn't hear anything again, but my debit card felt heavy in my hands. My car moved along and the boy at the window told me my total.

I looked in the rearview mirror again, then said to the boy slightly begrudgingly, "Can I pay for the woman behind me, too?"

The boy smiled and said, "Sure. Her total comes to $1.15."

"Of course it does," I said. Of course God would orchestrate something like this and only ask me to pay a dollar. It wasn't about the money, I knew -- it was about listening to him, about doing what he asked of me. Being faithful in the small things and all that.

I tapped my card and moved along. Watching her in my rearview again, I saw her face looking surprised, and then her face looking softer, and then she was looking at me. Our eyes met in my mirror. My window was down and I heard her yell in a low, gruff voice, "Hey! Thank you!"

I gave her a thumbs up and drove off. As I turned back onto the highway, I cringed at the prospect of my pride getting in the way of loving her. I speak of love and goodness and honouring God -- but do I apply that to my real, actual life? More often than not, I'm afraid the answer is no.

I hope that lady saw God today. Or maybe she didn't.

But I sure did.

The practice of using an alarm clock

"I think it starts with creating a new routine," she said.

I was talking to my digital storytelling teacher last week. She is stunning to me, tall and willowy and lithe, a lilting South African accent whenever she speaks.

"That's what I chose to do," she continued. "I made myself create a new routine. In the mornings, I told myself I wasn't allowed to check my phone until I had finished my entire cup of coffee. So that's what I do now."

We were discussing the tension of technology in class. It's a class entirely dedicated to learning how to tell stories in the digital world, but I've been feeling so tired lately, and I told her I wasn't sure how to combat this.

On one hand, being a journalism student requires knowing what's happening in the world. I'm tested on what is current every single week. On the flip side, I've been craving a disconnect more than I realized I could.

My storytelling professor, a woman who tends to insert profound sentences into lectures whenever she can, (like, "Set high standards for yourself. When you break that, it's easier to break it again and again and again," or, "If you find you are sad for more than two weeks, you need to make sure you talk to someone," ) said, "I have three pieces of advice. The first is to create a new routine. Choose to actively do something else in the morning before you check your phone.

"The second, put your phone down and look someone in the eyes when you talk to them. Focus on their eyes. What do you see there?

"And the third: when you need to get something done, cut it into chunks. So, if you have an essay to write, tell yourself you'll write for 20 minutes. Put your phone away in the next room and write for only 20 minutes. Then you can have your phone back for 10 minutes, or however long. And then, put it away, and do that again."

When I left her class on Thursday, I felt lighter. (As a side note, I hope that's who I can be for people someday. Someone who, after sitting with them for a few hours, makes you feel a little more light.)

I drove to Walmart and bought an alarm clock. This was where I was feeling the most tension -- in the mornings. I felt as though my iPhone was the last thing I touched before I fell asleep, and the first thing I touched when I awoke. I had grown to hate that.

After I purchased my alarm clock, I charged my iPhone away from my bed. I woke up, and focused on not checking my phone. I didn't touch it until after I had read my Bible, practiced silence and solitude, and drank my cup of coffee.

It was harder than I imagined it would be.

That makes me feel equally discouraged and determined. I keep reminding myself this is a process.

So now, to do this again tomorrow. And the day after that, too.

I would like to fill up my soul with a whole host of things, and a huge part of that is finding balance when it comes to living in a digital world. But today, I'm starting with this.

100 things I'd rather hold (instead of my iPhone)

I check my phone too often. I'm finally admitting it.

It's my alarm clock -- because, you know, the Bed Time App wakes you up nice and slowly and I'm not ready to give that up yet. (In reality I should go buy a real, actual clock.)

I have been thinking a lot about habits recently, the good and the bad. There is scientific and psychological evidence to back this up -- about how habits become ingrained into the core of our brains, whether they are good or bad, and we get to the point where we don't have to think anymore, we just do. Good news: it's possible to rewire these habits. Bad news: it takes a lot of effort -- generally more effort than most people are willing to put in. (You can listen more about this from someone smarter than me, right here.)

So I'm working on ingraining exercising into my brain, and reading books on spiritual discipline, and going to bed earlier, and handing in my assignments a few hours before they're due instead of a few minutes.

But in order to have time for these, I have to take time away from other things. Mainly, my iPhone.

I love social media. In all honesty, it's a bonus for me when it comes to blogging or sharing my artwork. People can see it, then can commission me to write or make art for them. For a non-business-y person, it's an easy-ish marketing plan.

But it's becoming too much. I don't want too much. I want slow, steady, relational -- deep, not wide.

Maybe I'm thinking too much about being a millennial. (Did you see this video? I can't get it out of my head.) Maybe I'm worried about how I spend far more time on my phone than talking, listening, or thinking about, Jesus. Maybe I'm finally coming to the realization that I actually may be far more addicted to this thing in my hand than I thought before.

Prompted by Colleen's post here, and by months of thinking about starting to attempt the rewiring of my habits and brain, these are the things I'd rather be holding than my phone.

100 things I'd rather hold -- 

  1. Pressed, dried flowers
  2. The pages of my Bible
  3. Someone's hand
  4. The wispy hairs on my nephew's head
  5. A travel mug filled with peppermint tea
  6. My gray, leather notebook
  7. Snowflakes on my eyelashes
  8. The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
  9. A fresh watercolour palette, filled mostly with greens and blues
  10. A spinning globe
  11. My passport
  12. A bottle of beer and a plate of nachos to share
  13. Logs of wood to make a fire
  14. Weights that make my arms feel both tired and strong
  15. Glasses of water
  16. A package of thank you cards
  17. The handle of my favourite mug
  18. Soft, delicate paint brushes
  19. The hands of my friends when we pray for each other
  20. Warm, cozy socks
  21. A candle and a match
  22. A cup of tea for someone else
  23. My grandmother's calligraphy tools
  24. An actual newspaper
  25. Someone's memoir
  26. A paper map instead of a GPS
  27. Kombucha
  28. Movie popcorn while at the theatre on half-price Tuesday
  29. A slice of cheesecake
  30. Coffee with too much cream
  31. A blank canvas
  32. This book I had the pleasure of writing a chapter for
  33. My nephew's small body within my arms
  34. The handle of the door to my church
  35. A glass of Pinot Grigio
  36. The steering wheel of my small car, filled with people
  37. The hands of someone while we dance
  38. My sister's blonde hair as I braid it back
  39. The red button on my Polaroid camera
  40. Slices of brightly coloured fruit
  41. Black nail polish
  42. My mother's arms around me
  43. Fastening high heels around my feet
  44. Pushing snooze on an actual, real alarm clock
  45. Podcasts
  46. Books I wouldn't normally read -- on psychology, and science, and spiritual discipline
  47. Books I've read a hundred times before
  48. Scarves from Africa tied around my neck
  49. My ukulele
  50. My nephew's hand when he starts to walk
  51. Dutch Blitz
  52. My school textbooks
  53. Salty, ocean water
  54. Poetry I've written
  55. Poetry written by someone else
  56. The white comforter on my bed
  57. Framed photos of the people I love
  58. Tubes of old paint
  59. A Psalm and a chapter of the Gospels, every morning
  60. My hands on my crossed legs, breathing in slowly, thinking nothing at all, but basking in peace, in the presence of Jesus
  61. Games night with my family
  62. The classrooms that are teaching me to be a journalist
  63. My favourite inky markers
  64. A brand new package of sharpies
  65. Bread boards I've painted on
  66. A bouquet of flowers I'll give to someone
  67. Soft soap
  68. A plate of good food shared with someone
  69. Pink blush and a soft brush to put on my cheeks
  70. Vanilla lattes with my best friend
  71. The keys on this computer to continue adding to this blog
  72. My purple yoga mat
  73. Shaking the hand of someone new
  74. The books I read to my nephew
  75. The book I want to write for my nephew
  76. Slivers of dried mango
  77. My agenda with plans for the week
  78. The swish of summer dresses against my bare legs
  79. Holding someone close after talking for hours
  80. Arranging the letters of a quote onto my letter board
  81. My hand against my mouth after laughing too hard
  82. Scraps of paper with verses that remind me who I am
  83. Scraps of paper with verses that remind me who Jesus is
  84. Artwork I'm giving away, just because
  85. The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning
  86. A deck of cards played with friends, late into the night
  87. The grass below me, the stars above me
  88. Sand sifting through my fingertips
  89. My leather school bag
  90. A necklace engraved with the word beloved 
  91. My running shoes
  92. Long, hand written letters
  93. The courage to try something new
  94. Warm mittens
  95. Cold lemonade
  96. Wooden slices awaiting being painted
  97. My phone on my ear, instead of in my hands, having long conversations
  98. My nephew after he's woken from sleep
  99. A list of adventures to go on
  100. My hands outstretched and open -- offering all that I am

Here's to being a work in progress

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-09-04-am I am making progress.

Yesterday, I had lunch for the first time with people from my program. It is halfway through the semester. There are two reasons for this. 1) Thursdays are the only day of the week where I have more than one class, therefore needing to eat lunch instead of heading home, and 2) I have found it far more comforting to stay by myself than to wander outside of my own protection and make friends.

The second statement is a lie.

Comforting is certainly the wrong term. I hate being alone. Being alone, in my head, is life-sucking. I mean, I can do it. I can walk through the hallways alone, my head held high. But I can feel the life seeping out of me. And yet, for some reason I convince myself to protect my heart.

Let them think you're tough, not alone. That you're smart, not afraid. 

There are a thousand things I convince myself of, and most of the time I never understand why all of these things are hurting me.

College is far different than high school. To me, it's not about friends. I drive to school, attend my classes, complete my assignments, sometimes study for midterms, go to work, go to church, make art for my art show, hold my nephew, and invest in the people who have been in my life for awhile. School and my real, actual life felt like two separate entities.

"I'm not there to make friends," I jokingly told people. "I'm such a keener. I only care about the school work."

Liar, liar. No one can actually only care about writing papers. There has to be some part, even if it's barely noticeable, that cares about human connection. This is who we are as humans. We are meant to be connected, meant to share our joys and our losses, perhaps sometimes deeper with others, but we are meant to connect nonetheless.

So when a few of the people from my program suggested I eat lunch with them yesterday, I almost said no. I had been alone for a long time; I thought that's what college was to me. I thought college was merely academic, with human interaction staying fairly minimal.

Instead, I looked at them. I said yes.

This, of course, was not a big deal to them. But as we walked, I realized I was no longer walking alone. I became my own inner cheerleader: you are doing this! You are eating with people! You are making progress! Look at you go, you progressive girl. 

I called Sarah last night and said, "I had lunch with people today. This is tangible progress. I honestly didn't think I wanted to be around people, but I had lunch with real humans today and I am making such progress."

She said, "Yes you are. And I am so proud of you."

This is forward movement, this is courage, this is me leaping off cliffs --

I am deeply, and intimately, a work in progress.

Keep the doors open for me

The trees bent over me like a canopy -- ushering me along with their red and orange leaves, some of the tips yellowed from the changing of seasons. It's my favourite drive: the 12 minute back roads from my house to the town of Binbrook.

The windows were down and my hair whipped around my shoulders. The sun was warm on my face, and that's just how I felt inside: warm, filled up, and profoundly excited for what was to come for the town I was driving in.

We're starting a church. (We being my brother-in-law, my sister, their baby Noah, dozens and dozens of other people, and me.) It officially launches October 23rd in Binbrook, Ontario, at one of the local elementary schools. Mountainside, it's called -- named after the place where Jesus made disciples.

To say this is exciting would be a vast understatement. This church has been in the making for a very long time, and as I drove beneath the trees, their colours changing before my eyes, I turned down my music and started to pray -- for the church, for the people, for the trees and the roads and the cars and the children and all of the things that make up this town.

As I drove, I saw something like a movie take place in my mind. The movie went like this:

///

It was just me, alone, and I was in the hallway of the elementary school looking down at all of the doors and lockers and rooms.

Suddenly, each door was swinging open.

I felt safe, not afraid. I watched as each door swung wide, swooshing with a loud breath -- and then, I heard each one click. The doors were bolted open. I tried to close one of them, pushing the door as hard as I could, but it remained wide open. There was nothing I could do to close the doors of this school; nothing I could do to try and close the doors of what would soon be the church.

You're welcome here, it seemed as though God was saying. You can't close the doors because I have opened them -- and I am the only one to make them close. Whoever walks through the doors of this building is welcome here. 

///

I told people, later, about what I had seen in the movie that had played in my mind. I drove through the town, praying for the houses and the people who lived there.

"You're welcome here," I told the houses, although the people inside couldn't hear me. "The doors are staying open for you. You can walk in, just as you are, and you'll be welcome here."

This has become my prayer -- for my life, for my school, and now for my church:

Jesus, keep the doors open for me. 

And please let me keep the doors open for other people, too.

Let us be welcome here.

This is how you'll feel when you decide to go to college

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-9-08-46-am

Nobody tells you how you’ll feel when you enter college for the first time. Nobody tells you how overwhelming it is when you stare at your course outlines, trying to remember how to write an essay or -- even worse -- take an exam.

Instead they say, “These will be the best days of your life!” or “You are going to enjoy this so much!” and you stare at them, thinking they must have forgotten.

They’ve forgotten the beginning. You can’t blame them: it’s easy to forget the beginning when you’re deep in the middle of something else.

Because nobody tells you that suddenly you’ll feel like the new girl again, trying to find a spot at the table. Is there room for me? You wonder. Instead of rational thinking, you curse the day you thought going to college was a good idea. It seems too hard. It feels too vulnerable. It looks too overwhelming. And quite honestly, it’s far too expensive.

These, you tell yourself, are solid reasons to quit.

And then you remind yourself that when you get a little stressed, you rarely make good decisions.

The part that scares you most is how you can literally feel all of your old wounds beginning to unravel, the stitches falling out. You can’t believe how you still don’t feel enough, how you still feel like you want to prove yourself.

Fear doesn’t get to win, you decide. Inadequacy and fear are finished setting up shop within you. They’re not permitted any longer. You choose to be brave, even when you hate how you’re feeling: loose and like you could fall apart at any moment, like the strings that are holding you together aren’t pulled quite tight enough.

Maybe in a few years you won’t remember how you felt when you decided to go to college. Maybe you’ll think the same thing they did: that these will be the best days of someone’s life. But right now that’s not the case.

So let me tell you how you feel: terrified and excited and severely confused by how emotional you are.

That’s okay. It’s alright to be at the beginning again. 

Someday, when you’re back in your middle, when you understand that college might actually be good, you can look at someone else who is just starting off, and you’ll see how scary the beginning is. You’ll take a deep breath and remember the terror, and instead of affirming how wonderful their time will be, you’ll hold their hand and say, “It’s okay. It’s okay to be at the beginning. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel this way.”

Sooner or later, they’ll understand how good it is. They’ll laugh at their fear and think about how they probably didn’t need to feel that way.

Later, when it’s their turn to look at someone who is just starting off, they’ll hold that someone’s hand and remind them what we all need reminders of: it’s okay to be at the beginning.

In a few days you’ll enter college for the first time, and everything will be new. The people, the parking lots, the classes, the course outlines.

You are not inadequate.

You are not fearful.

You are, quite simply, at your beginning.