When babies are dying and you don't have a clue what to do

It's pouring outside. The heavy rain is going to last up until tomorrow, and I can't stop thinking that maybe this is God's way of telling us he's weeping.

The heaviness sits inside of my heart too; Syrian babies are dying, being gassed then sprayed with water, people choking, their lungs collapsing like a deflated balloon inside of them.

And here I am. Sitting in my reporting class watching my video reporter package on a maple syrup festival.

I feel ill.

I've had to stop myself multiple times today from standing up and screaming at my professor, "What is the point of all of this? What is the point of learning journalism when we're not even telling stories that matter?"

Why does anyone care about a freaking maple syrup festival when there are bodies on the floor in Syria?

Last night I was shadowing a TV host at a station for a school assignment. I stood at the back, in the dark, my notebook clutched tight between my fingers. I watched as the busyness of the station unfolded before me. I stood half amused, mostly surprised that I actually understood the majority of what was happening around me, and I couldn't help but think, "Maybe college really is teaching me something..."

(I feel this way because I'm tired and only have three weeks left of the year.) Anyways, I digress.

A cameraman whispered to me last night, motioning me to come over. I did.

"What are you in school for?" He asked.

"Journalism," I replied softly. We were whispering because they were going to start filming on the set soon.

He nodded, serious. "Then you need to go to the Middle East."

"Oh, I would love to someday."

His eyes were dark, black almost, like a nighttime sky. "You need to," he replied earnestly. "I'm an immigrant from Egypt. I came here five years ago, and the stories coming from the Middle East are not.... how do you say..." He paused for a moment, then searched something on his phone. He showed me the screen, and it said in a Google search: unbiased. 

"You feel like the reporting about what's happening in the Middle East is not unbiased?" I asked.

He nodded.

"I'm sorry," I said. I didn't know what else to say.

"You go there," he told me. "You tell the truth."

I suddenly felt overwhelmingly helpless, the kind of helpless that sinks deep into the pit of your stomach and slowly turns to a burning rage. Because who am I? A young Canadian journalism student that writes reporter packages on maple syrup festivals? I sit in my class, weary with myself and the world around me. Too often I care more about my school finals, and paying for next year's tuition, and that parking ticket I just acquired, than the news headlines that make me feel heavy and full.

Syria feels far away, gas attacks seem impossible, twin babies dying in their father's arms is too much for my brain to comprehend. Because I am here, safe and warm and will never have chemicals spray down on my skin.

The rain's falling harder now.

I might join in with God's weeping soon.


Helpful links: 

Preemptive Love Coalition  // Even though it feels like we can't do anything, I am trying to remember that there are steps we can take. Preemptive Love Coalition is doing a lot of incredible and immediate work over in Syria — and what I don't want to forget is that God is so much larger than all of this. Thank God we love a God who is larger than this. 

On finding your freedom

There are distinct moments in my life that are permanently embedded in my brain: my mother exiting the doctor's office on a cold January morning, her face pale and fear-stricken, only to tell me a few seconds later that she had cancer growing inside of her. Another moment took place when I was in Peru, when my father called me and told me my grandmother had passed away. I looked up at the South American sky and suddenly felt like my world was no longer the same.

There are a dozen other moments I distinctly remember: breakups, and emails with unkind words, and feeling rejected over and over again.

But now, weeks or months or years later, I can look back on those moments and see them in a new way.

Each of them created something beautiful inside of me. God took that horrible January morning and showed me His faithfulness. He took my grandmother's death and reminded me of His love. He took all the other moments and proved His goodness to me, saying, "This was not the best thing I had in mind for you, Aliza. Let me show you something so much greater." And in each circumstance, He did.

Those dark moments in our lives can be utterly agonizing, feeling as though they'll last forever. But God's plan isn't for us to live in pain and confusion. Instead, when we unfurl our clenched fists and give our pain over to Him, He takes all of these broken moments and transforms them into something so much more beautiful than we could ever imagine.

Come over with me to (in)courage -- I'll be praying for you to find freedom from these broken moments... 

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.

If the world feels too noisy

The world is too noisy. I've been feeling this way lately.

Everything feels loud: my iPhone, my journalism classes consistently talking about the news, and my Facebook feed filled with politics. I'm tired of trying to keep up.

I want the opposite of noise. I want quiet. 

This year, I've been researching spiritual habits, or you might know them as spiritual disciplines, or in less fancy terms, ways of becoming more like Jesus. I've been reading books and listening to podcasts.

Spiritual habits look like a variety of different things – reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, being with community, practicing a day of rest or Sabbath, fasting for a period of time, memorizing Scripture, and silence and solitude.

The last one, silence and solitude, is the one I specifically decided to work on. I hadn’t heard of it before. It turns out, particularly for a very verbal person, being silent on your own in a room is not the easiest experience.

The idea of silence and solitude, or at least the way I have interpreted it, is that you come before the Father and rest in the presence of God.

It sounded like peace to me. If the opposite of noise is quiet, then being silent in the presence of Jesus was exactly what I wanted.

So I sat on my bed, and I set a timer for 10 minutes. In the beginning, I just breathed. I inhaled for four seconds, and I exhaled for four seconds. Then slowly, once my body started to relax, I started quietly whispering, “I am in the presence of the Holy God. I am a beloved daughter in the presence of Jesus. I am loved and I am in the presence of the Father.” And I would repeat this, over and over and over again.

The first few days I did this were fantastic. I would read a chapter in Matthew and then a Psalm, and then I would practice silence and solitude for 10 minutes. An overwhelming, indescribable sort of peace washed over me. But then, over time, emotions started coming too.

When you spend time with God, He starts to reveal feelings to you that you didn't quite recognize before. Those are hard to sort through. I'm still working on it.

After emotion came distraction. I would be focusing on being in God’s presence and then find myself wondering what I was going to eat for lunch. (I’m working on having grace for myself.)


For my whole life, whenever I have a big, life-changing decision, or even a small, tiny one, I have wanted God to tell me clearly what He wanted me to do. I didn’t care what He would tell me – if He would just give me a clear sign, I would do anything. What career did he want me to have? Who did He want me to marry? What things did He want me to accomplish?

I often said to him, “If you would just tell me clearly, preferably in a loud voice, what you want me to do, I’ll do it.”

Come with me over to (in)courage...

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

In case you're on day one and already feel like quitting

Every January 1st, I become an idealist.

Rarely do I want to be like the rest of the world, so this year I signed up for the gym on December 30th. This will be the year! I told myself as I paid for a gym membership at the front counter. This will be the year I suddenly transform into one of those shiny, athletic women with the high bouncy ponytails.

I felt like a fraud walking into the gym. My hair was not high or bouncy, but falling further and further out of the messy bun I had half-haphazardly pushed it in. I had never stepped foot inside a gym before. My level of confidence fell below zero. I watched the muscular lady at the front counter hand me my pass.

“Here you go,” she said smiling. “You’re now a VIP member.”

“Oh,” I said, accepting the key card. “Thank you.” I think they call you VIP so you feel more important. It wasn’t quite working for me.

She pointed toward the large staircase behind her. “All of the equipment is up there. Don’t worry, there are diagrams on each machine that explains how it works.”

“Right.” Could she tell I’m the least athletic person in Canada?

I took my plastic water bottle — which was glaringly un-eco-friendly — and my running shoes, putting my coat and boots in a locker. I forced myself to walk up the giant staircase toward the machines.

Three thoughts before we move on:

  1. In gyms, why are there mirrors everywhere? Do I want to constantly be looking at my sweaty self? Short answer: no.
  2. I now understand why people go to the gym with friends. For an extroverted person, it’s a lonely experience on your own.
  3. I think my body missed the “endorphins” memo. I have yet to feel these release. Everyone talks about these magical endorphins that make you want to work out. What do they feel like? So far I feel only tired. I’m hoping these endorphins eventually get the memo and kick in.

I plugged in my earbuds and began listening to one of my favorite podcasts, looking at the people around me. Everyone was different. I had a picture of what the gym was supposed to look like in my head: consisting of tall, confident, beautiful people. Those people were there, of course, but there were so many more.

You’re on Day One of your journey, I told myself. Don’t compare your beginning.

Come over to (in)courage with me?

This is what I know for sure

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-7-02-33-pm In my semester of learning, I'm unlearning a lot. I keep realizing I don't know many things at all.

When they said college would go fast, I didn't believe them. But tomorrow I have my final exam, and then my first semester is over.

Because this is the way my mind works, I keep thinking: did I learn enough? did I pay attention? am I going to be ready to launch into the world when classes are over in a year and a half?

The truth is, I don't know. This seems to be my answer more than anything these days. Who has concrete answers, anyway? Certainly not me.

"What are you going to do after school?"

I smile. "I don't know."

Or, "What do you hope to accomplish with your choice of major?"

I smile. "I don't know."

And, "What's the endgame, Aliza? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?"

I smile. "I really, really don't know."

That's the truth, and I'm beginning to settle into that now. I don't know much. Four years ago I had a detailed plan of what 22 was supposed to look like, mostly beginning and ending with a published book. But life looks different than what I thought it would, and that's not unsatisfying. I'm in the midst of good, stretching, lovely things. And most of them I have no clue about.

So I focus on the facts I do know: my nephew Noah turning one soon, the Christmas lights keeping me warm, reading books on love and spiritual discipline, painting on ornaments and bread boards, and remembering that Jesus is coming soon.

It's around this time of the year -- just a handful of days before Christmas -- when I normally begin to feel as though I've missed him. I begin to feel guilty and ashamed, thinking that I should have done more, or proven my love to Jesus somehow more tangibly.

I never thought being still could usher him in. I thought I had to prove it.

But this year, I can feel my insides shifting and changing, and that scares me and excites me simultaneously. There is no guilt or shame within me this year. No thing I have to prove. I've been reading a lot about Jesus, and listening to podcasts that have begun to change the way I view both him and me. Someday I'll share more with you, after I figure out how to articulate the feelings swirling within me.

But for now, I'll say this: I don't know a lot. I don't know about my life, or about college, or about writing, or art. But I know that I have people in my world who love me, and who I love in return. And I know I am getting to know Jesus in ways I haven't fathomed before.

He's coming soon, that empty manger waiting for his entrance. I look at Noah and think, "This was Jesus at one point. An almost one year old with bright eyes and a soul I feel as though I can see through." Soon we'll celebrate that Jesus is born, one of the most fantastical and revolutionary stories we'll ever hear.

But he is here, too. Beside me. Within me. Around me. Tomorrow in my exam, and on Christmas day, and on Noah's birthday, and when next semester starts, and all the days after that -- even when I keep thinking I don't know. 

He is here.

I sit still and breathe quietly for seven minutes.

He is here. I am more fully at peace than I can last remember.

In all of my uncertainty, this is what I know for sure.