A man who cried when his friend die

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I think one of the greatest misconceptions I have about Jesus is remembering he was fully human. I have no problem remembering that he’s fully God — the walking on water sort of solidified that for me — but I have trouble believing that during his time on Earth he felt every bit of human as I do on a regular basis.

Every bit? Every sharp shard of sadness? Every blush of embarrassment? Every rolling wave of grief — some nights so strong I tremble beneath my covers?

The rolling waves have been fiercer lately. Waves of confusion, of grief, and of deep, relentless gratitude. I wake up each morning and, for the most part, think, “I get to have another day here.”

It’s not that I’m afraid to die, because I’m not. I’m amped to see Jesus face-to-face, to feel the kind of embrace my small mind cannot currently fathom. I am excited to see Tat again. I think because of her I am more grateful for this life I have been given.

But even in the midst of this genuine gratitude, there is sorrow. Gratitude doesn’t cancel out pain. You can be grateful and still you can be sad.

I am astonished at how each day I can wake up struck by thanksgiving to be alive in a world so vibrant, and yet simultaneously devastated by the tragedy that seems to arrive to a new person each day.

On Monday as I drove to work, I was overcome by grief for all that is broken in the world. Grey clouds were my company on my hour long commute. The rain on my windshield were tears I did not have in me to cry. I mourned Tat’s death, but I mourned more than that. I mourned sexual assault and divorce and cancer. I mourned political division and car accidents and broken dreams.

I mourned Tat’s children who will never be born.

I arrived at work, walked into the newsroom, and saw bad news being broadcast on every screen in the building.

And then, I thought of Jesus. Although when Jesus walked on the Earth he didn’t experience the 24-hour news cycle, he saw deep brokenness everyday. Far more than I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how he could stand it. Every other minute another person was begging him to come — to awaken their dead daughter, or touch their blind eyes, or to stop the decade of bleeding within them. Jesus wasn’t a journalist, and yet he encountered far more stories of sadness than I will ever encounter.

So I remember him. I remember him — not just as the Son of God — but as human Jesus. As Jesus who felt compassion and anger and sadness.

As the Jesus whose friend died. He knows this sorrow. He knows this pain. He loved someone and then they died. His tears must have felt a lot like mine. Hot, burning, and streaming at the most unwelcome times.

If he was fully human, then he knows just how I feel.

The best part of this equation is that he was fully human so he knows how I feel, but he’s fully God so he knows how to comfort.

So now, when I think about Jesus, not only do I think about the God I love, but I think about the man he who understands me.

A man who felt cold rain on his shoulders when the skies opened.

A man with skin that scraped when he fell.

A man who cried when his friend died.

The day my friend saw Jesus

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I was on the plane home from London, England on August 17. I was there for most of the summer — six weeks for an internship with CBC, and another week with my best friend, Sarah, to spend some time in London and Paris.

On the plane home, I felt as if I were on a precipice, overlooking an expanse of something I’d never seen. It was, by far and away, one of the most transformative summers of my life. I encountered God in ways I never had before. I was with him in Hyde Park, or on the tube, or when I picked up a latte from the coffee cart across the street from my office. Each day I woke and wondered aloud, “What plans do you have for us today, Jesus?” and each day it seemed as though he revealed something new.

I was nervous to go home — feeling as if London might be the only place I could possibly encounter Jesus in this fresh way. Hamilton represented familiarity to me, and although I was longing to hold my sister’s precious babies again, I was scared to lose this new part of me I had cultivated in England. I liked the Aliza I was there. I didn’t want to lose her.

When Sarah and I walked out of Pearson airport, sadness settled within my soul. I missed London already.

I greeted my family with exuberance, happily bathing Noah and Selah with attention, kisses, and an overabundance of gifts. I missed so many people while I was gone.

We spent the next hour catching up. They told me about my Nana’s funeral, and I told them about the stories I covered. I was exhausted from jet lag, but I didn’t care. My niece had grown so much; I did not want to let her go.

I was holding Selah when my dad rounded the corner, his phone in his hand. His expression was one I hadn’t seen before.

“I think Tat’s been killed,” he said.

“What?” My mom, sister, and I all turned toward him.

“I think she’s been in a car accident,” he said, looking down at his phone. Tat Blackburn was my friend first, but over the past few years she got to know each person in my family well. We all loved her.

“What?” I said again. I stood up. My face was wet.

The baby was crying too. Olivia said, “Here, let me take her.”

I realized I was squeezing onto her too tight. I gave my niece to my sister. When she was released from my arms, I wished I had something else to hold. I sat down again.

Tat was engaged, and my family is friends with her marriage counsellor. Their counsellor was the one who texted my dad. Tat and her fiancé were driving home from Saskatchewan through Wisconsin when the accident took place.

My mom stood, crying. Olivia rocked the baby, her face pale, her eyes huge.

All of our thoughts were the same: how can this be? Tat was twenty-years-old, engaged to be married, her whole life a blank canvas before her.

Immediately I thought of her parents, her brothers, her best friend, her fiancé.

I shook my head in disbelief. This could not be true. I would not believe it. Tat was fine. We had spoken over Instagram days earlier while I was still in London. We had plans to get together when I came home. She was going to walk down the aisle on October 22 and marry the boy she loved with all her heart. This could not be true.

I stopped crying. I refused to believe it until I got some sort of proof. My denial went so far as to hope she had been kidnapped. My mind knew that was irrational, but still I could not bear to think of anything else.

Tat’s dad called me that evening. When I saw him calling, my heart dropped. I knew it had to be real. We cried on the phone together.

I did not know you could hear someone’s heart break. But I heard his break from across the ocean.

Crack.

Crack.

Shatter.

__

The next morning I woke up with my eyes swollen shut. I had dreamt of Tat all night, and wasn’t sure if I had actually slept.

Two of my friends got married that evening. I knew Tat’s own wedding would never take place. I tried to blink thoughts of her away and lean into the celebration of my friends.

I was a range of emotions I had never experienced before, all at the same time: ecstatic for the celebration of my friend’s love, and yet shattered in a way that felt physical. It was hard to breathe, as if pieces of my fractured heart had gotten tangled within my lungs. I could not tell if I was exhausted from jet lag or grief.

I drank more than I should’ve. I was a sad cliche.

__

We had a memorial service for Tat at church the next day. Tat was a founding member of our church, Mountainside. It turns two next week, and Tat was there from the very beginning.

I swore at God as I drove the country road to church that morning on August 19. I pounded my fist against my steering wheel. I cursed. I screamed. Tears streamed and I rubbed them away. I drove too fast. I wanted adrenaline. I wanted anything but the pain that dug its fingernails into me.

Our church collapsed in our grief together. We prayed for one another. We told God we didn’t understand. I still don’t. I still say that often.

I grew angry at many people at church. I felt like they couldn’t possibly comprehend how I felt. I did not want to be touched, or hugged, or comforted.

I held my baby niece that Sunday, rocking her to sleep. I drew circles on her back, one after the next, over and over. I sat on my own because I did not know what to say to the people around me. How are there ever words to express such immense sorrow?

I went home and slept because I didn’t want to be awake any longer.

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Her funeral came.

I wore red lipstick and my hair in a half knot because that’s always how Tat wore hers.

The entire morning I thought, “How am I waking up to go Tat’s funeral?” and “How am I putting on makeup to go to Tat’s funeral?” and “How am I getting changed to go to Tat’s funeral?”

Thousands of people came. Pride swelled within me as I saw the impact she made on the world begin to seep out in a tangible way.

The church was decorated beautifully. Later I learned the decorations were based off how her wedding was supposed to look. White flowers sat on top of her casket — the same flowers she would have carried two months later in her wedding bouquet.

We buried her the next morning.

I whispered our last words on earth before laying down a white rose.

__

It has been almost two months since Tat died. I dreamt about her every night for a month straight, and the first morning I didn’t dream about her, I cried. I looped a piece of brown string through a Polaroid picture — my favourite one of the two of us — tying it to my rearview mirror so I can see her each time I’m in my car.

I didn’t know if I could write about her. It felt cruel to try and boil down her beautiful life to a measly blog post, as if I were trying to give people an encouraging lesson amidst her death.

Even the best writer in the world could never fully express the magnitude of Tat’s life. I still need some time before I can even try.

There came a point early on in my grief where I had to determine who God is. In London, I was blown away by his goodness. He continually impressed his love into every fibre of my being. When I arrived home and heard about Tat’s death a mere hour later, I wondered if the summer had been some sort of hoax.

“Are you good?” I asked God honestly. “Are you really, truly, deeply good?”

It took weeks. I held this question in my hands, rolling it around like you do with a pair of dice. I weighed it, turning it over in my mind day after day.

I believe God never changes. So if I believed that, either God was bad all along and London was just some giant trick, or even in this tragedy, God remains good.

It took me a long time but I truly believe the latter.

Even in my grief, I celebrate his kindness. Especially in my grief, he is kind to me.

__

The day after Tat died, I had a dream. I saw her with Jesus.

She was wearing a white, gauzy dress, and her hair was long and flowing even though she’d recently cut it. Her hand was entwined with his, and her facial expression was one filled with a kind of adoration I had never seen here on earth.

Jesus was gazing down at her, delight pouring like sunshine from all of his facial features. I could feel the warmth radiating from him, even though I knew I was not there.

Tat’s smile extended, and she tilted her head back.

And then, she laughed.

“The more I get to know Jesus, the more I am astounded by his grace.” - Tat Blackburn

When hearing from God costs more than a five dollar sandwich

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I'm in London for the summer, completing a six-week internship before I graduate from college this fall. One of the main things I've been focusing on here in England is practicing how to hear from God.

I'm a fantastic talker, but listening? Not so much. Being alone in a city where I don't know people has helped shut me up, so every single day I've asked God to speak to me. Most days, He has, and it's been amazing.

Yesterday, I stepped off the underground tube with my earbuds firmly placed in my ears. I was listening to a podcast about the injustice surrounding eating and drinking and how often we take food and water for granted when there are millions of people around the world who rarely get to eat.

I nodded my head in agreement as I listened, thinking of the kids I'd seen in Rwanda and Uganda, their malnourished bellies rotund and aching. As I passed by the grocery store, completely wrapped up in my podcast, I saw a woman. She was older, maybe in her mid-sixties, sitting on the edge of the road. She had a cardboard sign in front of her, and scrawled in black letters it read, I'm hungry.

I continued walking but abruptly stopped when it hit me — God was giving me an opportunity to feed someone who was hungry, someone who was sitting right in front of me. I didn't have to go to Africa to hear from God. I could hear from Him right in that moment, as if He was kindly saying to me, "Give her something to eat."

It felt simple enough. Even with my unpaid internship, I knew I could afford to buy her a sandwich. I went up to the woman and asked, "Can I get you a sandwich?"

She looked up at me. Her skin was dirty, and she said something in another language. She didn't speak English.

"A sandwich?" I asked again. "Or a salad? Or some fruit?" I gestured to the grocery store we stood in front of. "I can run inside and get you something to eat."

She reached her hand out to me, so I took it and pulled her up. Her smile was warm. She followed me into the grocery store and stopped in front of the dairy section. She pulled out a brick of cheese and looked at me as if asking for permission.

"Of course!" I said. "Take whatever you need."

She picked some more groceries: water, different types of deli meat, a comb, some headache medication.

I could feel people watching us as we stood in line to pay. She kept kissing my hand, saying thank you. She seemed to be telling me about her children, but I couldn't understand all of what she was trying to say. I turned to meet people's eyes, but they quickly looked away.

I took her hand in mine, and we walked to the self-checkout. As we rang the items through, I watched the total tally up. Can I afford this? I wondered. I thought I'd be buying her a five-dollar sandwich, not forty dollars worth of groceries. I immediately felt guilty for having that thought.

Read the rest over at (in)courage... 

On the eve of my twenty-fourth birthday

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My window is open in my flat in London, England. Dinner is on the stove: rice and a Thai coconut soup. The rice I made, the soup I didn't. I just heard a woman walk past and say, "This time of night is my favourite. Right after the sun has set, but before it's gotten too dark. The golden hour."

I'm sitting on my small cot in my small room, the bedspread red and white gingham. I have a wardrobe, a desk, a bed, a mini-fridge, a small stove, and a sink. It's all I need, and I'm finding it quite homey now that I've been here two weeks.

I have my routine. In the morning, I wake up and make tea and toast a bagel, then walk to my tube station. I take my tube ride —just four stops to Oxford Circus — before I hop off and walk to work. My hours at work vary. There's been a lot of news in London the past two weeks, and yesterday I worked until 11 p.m. because of the World Cup. (Poor England.) 

After work, I'll either walk to the art gallery or Hyde Park or another place I haven't been before. Or if I'm tired I'll start my commute home, perhaps picking up a few groceries at the local shop and walking with my hands full on the way back. 

I know my route now. I have come to mimic the brisk pace of the Londoners. I am starting to understand which way to look before crossing the street. There's a place I've found to get cheap coffee, and I'm slowly learning how to cook. 

Tomorrow I'll turn 24. 

I can hear the church bells ring out down the street from me at St. Matthews; ten rings to signify how it's 10 p.m. here now. I constantly find myself meandering into churches. It's not that I need a church to be with God, but those spaces always feel sacred to me. Especially here. The churches are stunning.

I keep finding myself asking God why he brought me here. I expected a revelation. God made it clear to me that he wanted me in London this summer, despite having to miss my Nana's funeral this past Tuesday. 

I thought I'd step off the plane and it'd click in as if, "Oh — yes, this is why God brought me to London." 

This week I got to wondering if God brought me all the way to London, England so he could get me by myself. In Canada, I'm too busy. In England — aside from work, of which I do a lot of — I have nothing to do. Of course, there are a million things to do here, but even while doing them, when you're alone you still have to think. It's just been me and my thoughts and God, mostly. 

I've thought about things a lot. I've listened to podcasts on identity and hearing God's voice. I've read a book on spiritual formation. 

I stood in a church on Sunday and tried to figure out why God was so adamant I come to London. It's a gorgeous city — vibrant and alive, modern yet rich with history — but it seemed, to me, that I was here for more than that. 

Maybe it's my Enneagram Four sneaking in... having to find a deeper meaning in absolutely everything. But I truly felt I wasn't only here simply to complete an incredible internship. 

I stood in the church, sweat dripping down my back because of this London heat wave, and asked God why I was here. I listened carefully, paying close attention to my heart.

God told me he brought me to England just to tell me he loved me. 

I laughed — out loud, in the middle of church. I mean, in all honesty, it's a bit of a dramatic move on God's part, don't you think? To fly me seven hours away for six weeks just to say I love you?

But of course, God knows I have a flair for the dramatic. For him to bring me all the way to England to affirm me of his love... well, I can't argue with that. 

I wanted revelation; instead, I received affirmation. 

I wanted something big and full of fireworks, a message in the sky, with the words, "Aliza, these are my plans for you..." 

Instead, I received a quiet companion. 

I wanted to go to my Nana's funeral on Tuesday. 

Instead, I received comfort. I walked home from work that day with the deep awareness that I had never walked home alone. 

There have been moments here where I have felt lonely. Although I'd consider myself an ambivert, I still prefer being with people than being by myself. I like short spurts of time on my own, not weeks on end. But being alone allows me to look forward to meeting up with people here — for dinner or coffee or a day in the city. I've met new people and been reacquainted with people from back home. Traveling on your own makes dinner with people a serious treat. 

I wanted to write you a post about what God has taught me, but I think that'll have to come later. For now, on the eve of my 24th birthday, I am instead sitting with the reason why he brought me all the way to England. 

Simply to tell me he loves me. I'm not sure what other God would do that.

How the goodness of God is getting me to England

I have two weeks left until I'm finished my classes for college, and right now I'm supposed to be writing a paper for my history elective. (Why did I take a history elective when I'm barely interested in history? I'm still not sure.) 

A part of me is excited to be done school. I've learned a lot these past few years — about journalism, of course, but also about myself and God and the person I want to be. The other part of me feels sad to see it ending so soon.

Part of my terms of graduation is the successful completion of an internship. I had applied for an internship in Toronto but didn't get it. A few weeks later, on a whim, I applied for an internship in London, England. Surely if I didn't get the Toronto internship, I hardly had a shot at England. 

I compiled a list of potential internships when England would say no. And, even on the off chance England said yes, how could I afford it? It would be an unpaid internship in a very expensive city. 

I was scared not to get it — because did that reflect my capabilities as a journalist? 

But I was scared to get it — because did that mean I was going to England for the summer? If I went, what would I miss back here at home? Ice cream dates with my nephew, Noah, and late nights holding Noah's new brother or sister?

I am more afraid of missing out on things than anything else in my life. I have done enough introspection to know a lot of this stems from being in Peru when my grandmother passed away two December's ago. I don't want to repeat that, ever.

I told God if he wanted me to go to England, I needed to be home for the birth of my sister's next baby. (I'm still working on being less bossy.) The baby is due in June, and the internship would happen sometime between May and September. I figured if God wanted me in England bad enough — considering he can literally move mountains — he could, hypothetically, have me go there after the baby is born. 

A few weeks after I applied, I received the email: I had been chosen for an internship in London, England. 

I read it six times. I could hardly believe it. (Don't they know I barely have any idea what I'm doing?) They asked me what timeline I preferred: I said I needed to be home until the middle of June. 

A few weeks later, my friends got engaged. Their wedding is August 18. I updated my prayer, adding to God, "If you'd really like me to go to England, can I go between June 20 and August 17?" 

I knew this wasn't likely. Only four time-slots were available for the internship, and a mere one fit in the timeline I was hoping for. But God has a way of restoring my faith.

The company emailed me back: I'd been chosen for the July 2 - August 10 time-slot. The exact one I needed to see my sister's baby be born and my friends get married. 

I could tell you more — how I budgeted the money I'd need to live there and felt gut-punched, but then started to receive cheques in the mail, and contracting opportunities that paid me to write and make art — opportunities which fit directly into the months before I'd leave for the UK. 

The goodness of God doesn't cease to amaze me. I can't begin to tell you what will happen in England — only that I am beyond sure I am supposed to go. 

I can't even attempt to measure his goodness. It's too high, too wide. It stretches around me, it goes before me, it loops behind me in wave after wave. 

I have two weeks of school, then my sister's baby, and then... London.

I can hardly wait.

Now, back to writing that history paper.


By the way, I'm hosting my fourth art show at the end of this month. If you're local to the GTA, you should definitely come. It's a free night full of art and treats and music. I'd love to see you there!

All of the info is right here on the Facebook event page: 

My new five year plan

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There's a flashing sign ahead of me as I drive on the highway. It's orange and bright — a sign warning me of the construction that's coming. Words blink across the screen. When I read them, I almost cry. 

Slow down, it says. 

Immediately I press my brakes, watching my speedometer drop. I move over to the slow lane. Cars rush past me. I wipe my eyes. 

Slow down, the sign said. And all I can think is: I wish I could. But there's too much to be done, isn't there? Things like graduating from college, or pursuing the North American dream. Things like planning another art show, and applying for internships, and trying to figure out how to make even the smallest indent of impact on the world. 

My friends got engaged this past week. It shook me — because for some reason their engagement made me realize how fast time flies. My friends are old enough to be engaged? to buy a house? to be a family? 

Wasn't it just yesterday that I was 18 and in Rwanda, dreaming of all the things I'd someday do? 

And then I blinked and here I am: almost 24 and graduating college in six weeks, with no concept of how on earth I got here so fast or where I go from here.  

"Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day," Dallas Willard said. "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Isn't hurrying exactly what we, as North Americans, do? Every time I leave my house, I don't give myself enough time to get anywhere without going over the speed limit on the highway. I take the fast lane. I go through a drive through in case it's quicker. I brisk walk to my classes. 

There is no stillness, no silence, let alone any chance of no hurry. 

My phone tells me what's happening in the world immediately. Everything in my life feels instantaneous. I hardly have to wait for a thing, and when I do have to wait — say, for my car to get an oil change — I do it impatiently, thinking of all the things I could be doing instead. 

When did our lives become more about doing and less about being? At least, when did mine? How have I missed the days of winter turning slowly into spring?

One of my assignments in school is to list a Five Year Plan. (This just about gave me shingles considering I don't even know what I want to do next month, but I digress.) The entire assignment is to come up with all the things you'd like to do within the next five years of your life. I thought of idea after idea: to write another novel, to write a non-fiction book, to write a children's book, to travel to each continent, to host more art shows, to create a documentary, and more. There were smaller things in there too, like: go to the gym three times a week, write a little bit each day, read more Canadian authors, and read a book a week. 

As I was creating my list, I couldn't help but think: how will I have enough time? 

Is the answer to jam more things into my life? Or is the answer, perhaps, to slow everything down? 

I drove past the construction sign again today. I knew what it would say before I saw it...

...slow down. 

I took a deep breath as I passed and once again, watched my speedometer drop.

John Mark Comer says, "Hurry is a form of violence for the soul." I have found this to be true. The feeling of always being connected to the world because of the tiny computer in my back pocket causes me to feel more hurried, anxious, and haggard than I ever thought I could feel. 

I don't want my life to be curated and instagrammable. 

I don't want to blink and have 10 years go by, only to feel as though I haven't truly lived. 

I don't want to constantly be hurrying, hustling, and trying to "make it", just to come to the conclusion that "making it" is a lie. 

We've got one short, precious life here on earth. I've decided I'm not going to spend it hurrying. Jesus didn't hurry — in fact, he actually took very long amounts of time to do something, or talk to someone, or pray. And considering my entire goal in life is to become more like Jesus, I'd like to stop hurrying too. 

My new Five Year Plan is this: slow down. 

I'm taking the slow lane on the highway now. I've removed the notifications from my phone so I'm not constantly distracted by the world inside a tiny computer, instead of the real world beside me. I'm noticing the melting snow, and the spindly trees, and my nephew's new dance moves. I can feel the breath of God within me and around me. I will not give into hurry sickness any longer. 

Slow down, the sign says.

I am.


A life to the full

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There are only two and a half months until I finish college. Somedays I can hardly believe it. It feels like I just started. Part of what will allow me to graduate college is the successful completion of a six-week internship. The first step to a successful internship completion is, of course, finding an internship.

I applied for the best internship I could find, happening right in the heart of the largest city in Canada. I’m in school for journalism. Immediately after I applied, I started imagining myself taking the train to downtown Toronto each day, the bustle of activity featuring busy commuters surrounding me. I thought about the stories I would write, and the people I would meet. I couldn’t wait. Maybe it wouldn’t be simply an internship… perhaps they’d even give me a job afterward.

This must be what God wants for me, I thought. Why else did I feel so confident? Was God giving me a glimpse of what my future might hold?

I received an email from the company, requesting an interview.

Victory.

I prepared for the interview using all the ways I knew how — I made connections with people from the company and called them to learn what their interviews had been like; I emailed previous interns; I wrote down the answers to questions I thought they might ask.

The morning of the interview, I felt nervous but confident. I could do this.

I didn’t feel great when the interview ended. None of the questions I had prepared answers for had been asked. I started to doubt everything.

I received the email yesterday: I didn’t get the internship.

Come over with me to (in)courage... 

You don't have to listen to strangers on the internet (5 things to remember when you get a bad book review)

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I got a stunningly negative book review this week.

It was so long, I actually checked the word count of the review. It was over 1,500 words.

It detailed each part of my book the reader disliked. She listed specific quotes, analyzing my writing, my word choices, and my motives behind why I wrote it. She disagreed with a lot of my character choices and said she didn't feel good when the book was done.  

My pride was wounded, of course. But overall, this didn't offend me. 

It's impossible for a book to please everyone. There is no single piece of art in this world—not a book nor a song, not a piece of music or poem or painting or movie—that is singlehandedly loved by each person on the planet. It can't be so. We are all unique individuals, with our own thoughts and mind and opinions. 

The beautiful part of the internet is that we each have a voice. We can use Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Youtube or a blog to share exactly what we are thinking exactly when we are thinking it. It's a lovely thing, isn't it? We learn about each other instantaneously. 

It's also the worst part of the internet. 

Although this reader mostly wrote a review about why she disliked my book, she went a little further and wrote some comments about the author. About me. There was a sentence or two that stung.

I was reminded that people get braver on the web. I think the internet has desensitized us. We forget that not everything comes across the waves with a pretty filter. 

This reader used her voice to explain why she didn't like my work. Totally fair. But it doesn't mean I have to listen. 

I learned a few things this week—about bad book reviews, and rejection, and what to do when you hear something that hurts:

1. You can let the mean words sting. 

I want to be a good writer. I want to be a serious writer. Therefore, I want to have thick skin. I am absolutely certain there will be more bad book reviews. I've had people email me their opinions on my writing before. The words have stung each time. 

After reading the review, I told myself, "Do not let this affect you. This doesn't matter."

But that wasn't the truth. The words did affect me. They did matter. They weren't kind, no matter how you look at it. So I gave myself a few minutes. I let the words sting. 

Then I chose to keep going. 

2. Remember why you did this in the first place. 

Why did I write my novel? To craft a story of redemption and hope. At the end of the day, this is what I always come back to.

Fill in your own blank. Why did you do the thing you did? Remember the beginning. Remember your why.

3. Vulnerability is the scariest thing in the world. 

Each time I hear someone is reading my book, I feel as though they are scooping my insides and spreading them out on a table for examination. Seriously. It feels as though I give each person a small portion of me—the equivalent of handing someone your heart on a platter. Be gentle, I think, be gentle. (They are not always gentle.)

This is vulnerability. Brene Brown is a genius when it comes to this. She says, "Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It's tough to do that when we're terrified about what people might see or think." 

This review was a prime example of why I hate being vulnerable. Most of the time, you end up getting hurt. But not always. 

Each time you open your hands and offer the world your art, you lose control. You don't get to choose how the receiver will feel when they read it or see it or hear it. Your only portion of control is the choice of whether you'll offer it up at all. 

The answer is: always offer your art. Even when it's scary. Even when it hurts. 

4. You don't have to listen to strangers on the internet. 

I'm grateful for people's feedback. Whenever I create something, I always ask someone's opinion first. I like knowing the message I'm trying to communicate is going to be communicated as effectively as possible. 

I don't expect everyone to like everything I produce. It's impossible. I want people to be honest—book reviews are truly about honesty. 

But at the end of the day, no matter what anyone says about me or you or the things you or I have created: we don't have to listen to strangers on the internet. 

I've been learning about boundaries recently. (This is something I'm terrible at.) I let people in too far. I give too much of myself away too easily. This results in a lot of unnecessary hurt. 

This week, I practiced my boundaries. I decided how far book reviews get to come. (The answer? Not very far at all.) This goes for both negative and positive reviews. I am grateful for the feedback, but I will not let this change me. I won't let what people say alter who I am. 

5. Keep writing. 

Maybe, for you, it's not writing. Maybe it's cooking or singing or playing a guitar or painting murals. I urge you: don't stop doing your thing because someone doesn't like it. That would be the saddest thing in the world. 

Today I'm off to school to write my final exam. Soon I'll enter my last semester of college. After that? Who knows. But I know this to be true: I will never stop writing. 

Regardless of what anyone says, I am confident in this: my identity isn't formed by what someone says, or what I do. It's immeasurably more than that.

I hope you know this, too. I hope you never stop doing your thing either.

Offer your art today, whatever that may be. Offering your art without knowing the response you'll get? That's one of the bravest choices you can make.

When your book is launching into the world in two days

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The nightmares have begun. 

They started five days after I began my vacation last week. In all honesty I was quite proud they waited that long before interfering with my dreams. I dreamed the books at my launch party were all different—filled with typos and grammatical errors, some being an entirely different story altogether. I dreamed I forgot how to speak, I dreamed I forgot how to write. I dreamed no one came to my launch party. 

Anxiety and stress always try to snatch joy away from me. It's infuriating.

I awoke from the nightmares, filled my coffee mug, stared at the ocean outside my window, and took a deep breath, inhaling peace, remembering I hired an editor for a reason. There were no typos or grammatical errors or new story. I breathed again. It was just a dream.

When my feet hit the sand I looked out at the water. 

I pictured my novel nestled in my hands and saw the peach cover in the back of my mind. 

I opened my fists so my palms were outstretched.

I let go.


I have a notebook from when I was in eighth grade. It's completely full, an entire novel hidden inside of it. It was about a girl in high school, trying to figure out who she was in a world that seemed hard and sort of painful. The grammar is terrible, and I think I used "so" or "very" every other word.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, nine years later I would be halfway through journalism school releasing my real first novel—this time one that was not written in the eighth grade and was fully edited (Thanks, Mary!).

This little peach book in my hands represents a range of different experiences for me. I wrote the book because of one experience; I published it because of another. When I see this book, I see more than the characters—more than Sage and Maeve and Sol and Ky and Levi—I see me, I see my mother, I see this past winter and this past spring. 

Writing this novel was a form of therapy for me—it was a way for me to take my anger, frustration, sadness, and delight and pour it out in a healthy (ish) way. I would gently weigh my emotions in my hands, seeing anger through Levi and frustration through Maeve and sadness through Ky. I took all of the pieces of who I am and spread them out within the characters I created. 

I still don't know if I actually know how to write a novel. All I know is how I felt—and how writing about how I felt using fictitious characters was the only thing that made sense at the time. (It's still one of only ways I truly know how to process things.)

As the doors to this book swing wide open and she begins to make her way out into the world, I feel like an overprotective mother clawing to keep her child from running out onto the road. 

"This is my baby," I think. What if they hurt her? What if they hate her and criticize her and don't treat her as gently as she deserves?

For anyone who has ever created anything you know this is the most frightening part: the time when you have to give it away. Creating only to give it away is not for the faint of heart. But creating for just yourself seems far too lonely. 

So on Thursday I'll open my palms once more—albeit somewhat unwillingly—and give my baby away to the world. This peach book is what four years of my life looks like. After the past four years, I can finally say I am very proud to give her away to you. 

I will try not to cry any more than I already have; I will try not to throw up either. 

I hope you enjoy this story. I know I enjoyed creating it for you.

The fundamentals of being a person

I am in the Dominican Republic at a four and half star resort with my best friend. The sun is bright, the ocean breezy, and I eat mangoes and passionfruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have napped a lot, and read good books from cover to cover. I sit on the shore with my feet on the waters edge, encouraging the ocean to kiss the tips of my toes with each breath she takes.

When I hold my life in the palm of my hand, this year scrapes through my fingertips like a shard of broken glass. It was harder for me than most others. This vacation was a well needed reprieve—a chance for the pounding waves to soothe my jagged edges again.

Last night I met Miguel. He introduced himself to me as Michael Jackson. I laughed.

Sarah thinks he’s twenty-one; I guessed twenty-seven. It’s hard to tell. He reminds me of a slinky: tall and stretchy and very flexible. When I watch him dance my breath catches in my throat because it feels like I’m watching someone do the very thing they were born to do. He works for the resort. During his day shift, between 9:30-6:30 he’ll work odd jobs, then go home for a break, coming back at 8:30 to take part in the entertainment. This means he’s often working 16 hours a day. He says he doesn’t mind. Miguel is a natural entertainer. 

He is rail thin and tall, his skin milky and smooth, his teeth bright against the night sky and his dark skin. 

Maybe it’s the book I just finished by Jodi Picoult—Small Great Things—about a black woman being sued by a white supremacist. Or maybe it’s everything that has been happening in the States with Charlottesville. But this week I can’t stop thinking about racism and about people and I am wondering if we are all the same or if we are all different or if maybe we are both. 

I asked Miguel to dance for us. He had told us he doesn’t like the styles of his country—salsa or marimba—but instead he’s created a style of his own.

He hands me his phone after he’s programmed the correct song. I hold it in between Sarah and I so we can hear. 

Miguel looks at us. “Listen to the music, but keep your eyes on me.”

“Got it,” I say, my eyes never leaving him. 

He starts to dance and it is magic. Each beat of the song is a different move, and it is fast but smooth, a thousand actions but simultaneously one long movement. I cannot stop looking; cannot stop thinking that God must have given Miguel limbs if only so he could move them this way.

Are Miguel and I the same? I wonder. Because he works at the resort I am a guest at. His shifts are 16 hours, and back home mine are 8. He works to give his mother money and pay for his father’s chemotherapy treatments, and when my mother had cancer her treatments were free. 

“You work very long hours,” I told him. “You must be tired.”

“It is worth it when I meet people like you girls and others like you,” he replied, smiling. “You actually talk to me. It is hard sometimes when people come here to the resort and treat me like a slave. Like they forget I am a person too.”


Today it rains all day. I have not seen rain like this before—thunder that cracks across the sky so loud I watch everyone in the resort jump, startled. The ocean looks angry, swirling the sand into the centre of the sea.

I see Miguel and we invite him to come sit with us. 

“You Canadians are amazing,” he says. 

Sarah and I laugh. “Why do you say that?”

“You treat me like I am one of you, like we are no different.” 

Sarah nods. “We’re not different from each other.”

Miguel smiles—it stretches wide across his face; as wide as the ocean stretching before us. “I think so too. When I look at the world I don’t see countries, I don’t see colours, I just see lots and lots of people.”

Perhaps our lives have been vastly different, Miguel’s and mine. I grew up in North America with food and clothes and water I could drink from the tap. Miguel grew up praying for rainy days like this in order for their food to grow so they might be able to eat dinner.

But I look at Miguel and see a beautiful smile and bright, animated eyes. I see a young man who has a dream to dance, a man who doesn’t see countries or colours but only people. 

And I think: that’s what I want to see too. 

I wonder what the world would like if only we could see people. If instead of classification and segregation there was more unity. Maybe that is simplifying it too much, but maybe simple isn’t a bad idea.


Tonight Miguel will dance again. 

Just him and the sky and the people who paid to be here. Maybe we are all different, but maybe—just maybe—deep down we’re all the same.

I’ll watch him while he dances—while he does the very thing he was born to do—and I’ll witness his dream explode from his being. Just me, a girl, and him, a boy—both of us fundamentally human.

Tonight, that will be enough. 

Tonight, it will be as it should be.