His love

Holy Week: Jesus is going to die on Friday


Jesus is going to die on Friday. 

That's what I keep thinking.

You can go through twenty-two Holy Weeks, and yet each time Palm Sunday comes around you grapple with a gaping, gasping, afresh realization: Jesus is going to die on Friday.

I think about it again and my heart slips into my lungs, making it hard to breathe. It's the beginning of Holy Week, which tends to feel both reverent and loose — as if I'm teetering on the edge of a very large cliff, staring down at my miseries and burdens, all the while knowing the Saviour of the world is deep in the midst of saving me.

We were handed his execution date a long time ago. We break bread and remember him, but this week he's dying all over again. We know Sunday is coming and that there is hope, but Friday comes first and my mourning has already begun.

I mourn my faithlessness.

I mourn my pride.

I mourn my denial of him -- and not just three times like his dear friend, Peter -- but more, so many more. He is my Lord and my Saviour and there are innumerable times where I have cast him aside. Holy Week brings that all back to me.

It is here, during these days, where I am most aware of how utterly weak my fickle human flesh is.

I could've been the girl to sing hosanna and five days later yell crucify him. I could've waved a branch like a flag in praise of him, only to turn my back when the nighttime came. I could've loved him on Palm Sunday but left him on Friday along with all of his friends.

I am a runner. I get scared when times get hard. I deny, I betray — and most certainly I run away. And yet what causes me the most grief is the understanding that he knows all of this, and still chooses to have nails pummelled into the beautiful hands which formed me.

Jesus is going to die on Friday.

For a girl he loves madly, a girl who doesn't deserve him. And yet he wants me, and suffers for me, and forgives me over and over again.

I watched the sun set last night and thought, "this is God in all his glory." On Friday he'll die, and this will be God in all his glory.

On Sunday he'll rise again. And this will indeed be God in all his glory.

I realize how desperately I love him. And I pray I'll love him even more.

"To make of his story something that could neither startle, nor shock, nor terrify, nor excite, nor inspire a living soul is to crucify the Son of God afresh." -- Dorothy Sayers

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.

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.

Show me the good

Everything is changing. This is what I keep thinking these days -- that everything around me feels like it's changing.

I sit here in Nashville, on this bed with a white comforter that reminds me of home except not. I seem to do my best summer debriefing when I am away -- just far enough, like a plane ride to Nashville, or that car ride last year to Florida. 

Leaving makes me understand why we stay. I enter an airport and am suddenly nostalgic: grasping at the last bits of summer all the while knowing it's slipping through my fingertips faster than I can catch. I remember that this is why we stay -- because the people we love dearly are reason worth staying for.

I entered this summer in a terrified state of mediocrity. That seemed, to me, worse than having a hard time. Even though I had just had my first art show and was utterly dazzled by the kindness people showed me there, I was still strangely scared that I would only ever be mediocre.

Show me the good, my heart whispered to God, without my mind being aware of the request. Show me the good. 

And he did.

I saw the good while we were dancing at midnight, our lungs burning and throats sore from singing as hard as we could. I'll remember how I felt then: so free, and yet entangled at the same time. Entangled in summer and being twenty-two and knowing those warm, late nights were ending soon.

I saw the good in the faces of my friends. When they held my hands and prayed for me, when we laughed until our eyes dripped, when we cheers'd and sang and danced. When the windows were rolled down and we sat by the water and we laid under the stars. I saw the good when we talked of God's goodness and his remarkable love.

I saw the good in California and now in Nashville and when I drive alone in my car. When I prayed the whole way home and God kept urging me to love harder, to love deeper, to love more intentionally -- even when love feels like hurt sometimes.

I saw the good this week on the airplane when I read John 10:10 -- I came that you may have life, and have life to the full -- and it felt as though Jesus was telling me, "Aliza, this summer was a glimpse of your life to the full," and I felt like crying because it was such a precious, precious gift.

I saw the good in dozens of shared plates of nachos and rounds of Dutch Blitz. In glasses of wine and sitting in the hot tub, and making lists of all the dreams I'd long to have if nothing could stop me.

But even when I think of all the good God has continually shown me this summer, the fear still sneaks in somedays. In these moments, when the fear is most evident, my heart feels smashed open. My hands will shake, and so will my insides. I'll think that I'll want to be alone, and two moments later long to be surrounded by people. I'll feel as if I'm falling -- hard and fast, soon to crash and splatter, a million fragmented pieces.

I'll sit with my hands beneath me to try and cease the shaking. I'll feel like a quivering, terrified mess of a girl, and I'll feel guilty for feeling this way after seeing all of the good.

But in a few weeks, everything is changing. And fear is large and looming and often more recognizable than peace.

So I'll take my shaky hands and insides and I'll lie down. And I'll say to Jesus again and again, show me the good. 

And this, more than anything, is true --

he will.

To grace, and grieving when you are hurt

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I preface this by saying that I’m still not entirely sure how I feel regarding what I am writing about. I’ve been talking to Jesus about this recently, and by talking I mean I've been sighing a lot and saying incomprehensible words. I just trust he understands how I feel. As I write this I'm eating cheesecake, hoping it makes me braver. Dessert can do that, right?

I'm scared to write this because I don't have the words perfected. I'm scared to offend people, and although I hate the idea of being a people-pleaser, I think I probably am one. I love people a lot, and I love Jesus more than anything, but I'm still afraid my thoughts and feelings aren't going to come across the way I hope they will. I suppose I just have to start writing and see what comes out of it.


A few weeks ago I spent the day alone. I felt sick and heavy, as if my bones were weighing me down. If I had gone swimming I surely would have sunk. My stomach was twisting and I seemed nervous and shaky. I thought, if I let myself, I could cry all day. I took a shower and prayed, realizing I had inadvertently spent the day grieving.

I have been a Christian for almost twelve years and somedays it feels like I have just begun. There are days where I feel as if I've hardly moved forward, and days where I feel like I'm doing okay.

Then there are days where I mourn the fact that we are humans attempting to depict who Jesus is, and that none of us will ever get that right.

I have been hurt by people who love Jesus. Certainly we as human beings are not perfect. None of us, Christian or otherwise, have our lives even somewhat pulled together. This is a fact that I know in my core. But more and more recently, I have been deeply saddened by how hurt I have been by people who love Jesus.

I thought that wouldn't happen anymore. But still it does.


I have prayed about this a lot. I have shaken with anger. I have said to my friends, "Why do people think shaming other people is an okay thing to do?" I have said to Jesus, "Why does this happen still, particularly coming from people who love you?"

God showed me that most of the time people aren't intentionally trying to be hurtful. I think once in awhile they are, but for now let's give the world the benefit of the doubt. They think that what they are doing is right, but in doing so may accidentally be evoking shame or guilt. Their intentions may be kind, but still we are hurt. I keep asking Jesus how he feels about this.


In no way, shape, or form am I in a position to judge anyone. None of us are. And maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe I'm too emotional or feel things too deeply. It's true that I'm not a Biblical scholar or theologian, but I am a girl who loves Jesus deeply, and I follow him and take what he says seriously.

I believe that there is nothing we could do or say that could mess us up in the eyes of God. I believe that we are loved, truly. I believe that there is an overflow of grace, an overflow that is quite literally never ending. Humanity has a hard time with grace, but Jesus doesn't.

I was out with a friend last week, a friend decades older than me, and she told me something her spiritual director recently told her: when you have been set free, you are free indeed. Your fear, your shame, your disappointment may return over time for a moment or two, but you don't stay there and you don't own that anymore. When you have been set free, you are free indeed. I kept nodding my head while tears welled up in my eyes.

Yes, I thought. Yes. 


More than anything this is what I would like to tell you: I am sorry if you have been hurt, especially by someone who loves Jesus. I think most of the time the people in this world are trying their best, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. This I know -- shame or guilt is not something that comes from Jesus. I will never agree with someone who says the opposite.

You are free and you are loved, and there is absolute grace for you.

That's something I have to remember again each day: over and over and over, there is grace.

Let my life speak louder than my words


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Their only source of water was a three-hour walk from their huts and homes.

I was eighteen years old and knew nothing about the world, except what I saw in front of me: dozens of Rwandan children walking to fetch their jugs of water, and they had invited me along. Of course I obliged and followed behind them while the blazing African sun seemed to scorch hotter every second. I was feeling too much — too white, too privileged, and far too out of place. I was holding a water bottle in my hands and guilt wrapped around me like a suffocating fur coat.

Who was I to drink water so freely and easily while the kids around me had to traipse for hours to collect theirs?

We didn’t speak much on the walk. Their words were in Kinyarwanda, mine were not. When we arrived back at the village after the agonizingly hot and tiring trip, the pastor of their village came to me, his wife not far behind him. They took our hands and led us to their home, a humble thatched hut with benches pulled around a small table. Huge heapings of potatoes and cooked bananas were placed in front of us, and the pastor’s wife shone hospitality in a way I had never seen before. When she handed me my plate, I almost cried.

They had nothing, yet they gave me everything.

We could hardly communicate with one another — at least not in the typical way I’d been taught. But through that meal where they offered me literally all that they had, the pastor and his wife in a small Rwandan village shared with me two things: their very lives and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I saw Jesus in them, and we barely spoke. They taught me that our lives can speak more than words ever can.

May our lives be a poured out offering, an emptying of us and what we desire. May we love so deeply that we reach out our hands and grab the person in front of us, bring them into our homes and give them all that we have.

That, I believe, is where the Gospel is most evident.

Do you need prayer? Come over to (in)courage and there will be people praying for you. 

Here is how you find your wonder

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.18.09 PM Fireworks are popping outside of my window. Someone probably waited until today to get them 50% off, after the long weekend. They're smart people; fireworks are kind of expensive. But they're always worth it in my books. They do something inside of me when I watch them go off -- all sparkly and crackly and noisy and bright.

I am transformed into a five-year-old girl again, the same way I was transformed at Magic Kingdom last summer. I was stunned by everything I saw there, feeling fearless and small and entirely unstoppable. Don't you find that you only have glimpses of feeling that way? Of feeling that wonder? I want to hold onto it tightly before it slips through my fingers. Too often it seems as though the world crushes our wonder before we even realize our wonder was taking place. Or maybe it's not the world who crushes it. Maybe it's just me.

I can pinpoint times when I have felt wonder in this way -- the admiration, fascination, marvel, I'm-on-top-of-the-world sort of way: my first airplane ride to Rwanda, sitting on the top of Machu Picchu, standing under the stars, staring at the sea, watching the fireworks pop and loop higher and higher. I wish I could articulate more poetically, or at least more accurately, how I have felt in these times. All I can say is that in each occurrence my chest felt like it was filled with light, and that is when I know I am experiencing wonder.

Last night I sat on my blue lawn chair in my old hometown watching the fireworks go, and my chest filled with light again. I was thinking a lot of things: I was thinking how grateful I am that Jesus created emotions that can literally feel colourful and bright and beautiful. I was thinking how I wish I felt wonder more often. I was thinking how it seems as though every time I have felt wonder, it's because I have chosen gratitude.

So now I'm wondering if those two just might be connected. Does having gratitude mean having more wonder?

There have been too many times where God has given me opportunities and I have gone into them with a closed and ungrateful heart. I haven't felt wonder; I've felt bitterness and disappointment and possibly a sprinkle of resentment. None of those emotions reap anything kind or lovely.

I realized this today, while brushing my teeth. I thought: everything is better when I go in with a grateful heart. Everything changes when I alter my mindset from "I have to do this" to "I get to do this".

Everything changes.

The fireworks are still flying outside my breezy, open window, and I can't help but think that all I want is to keeping finding the wonder around me. But wonder doesn't just come from airplane rides to gorgeous places, or standing on mountaintops, or sitting in a blue lawn chair in your old hometown watching the fireworks fly.

Wonder comes from a place of gratitude, from thinking this life is a gift and not a burden. Tonight I step back and survey all God has given me -- this great, great life -- and as I take a deep breath the light is filling my chest again.

And this time the wonder isn't just from the fireworks.

On the day of your first art show


13169806_1187713074581886_1259034791_o On the day of your first art show, you wake up smiling. Literally. You're surprised by this because all week you've been worrying: worrying you don't have enough art, worrying no one will show up, worrying you might have the date wrong. Your brain sometimes goes a bit nutty when something important is about to happen.

So you wake up grinning, and you get up and survey the artwork that's threatening to swallow the entirety of your bedroom. Eighteen canvases, hundreds of paper prints, even more cards, over a dozen notebooks, two globes, and a map. Your fingers have worked on all of these, and soon they'll be hung on a brick wall and people will come to see them. Or so you hope.

You go with your mom to the nail salon, because you bought high heels which show off your toes. When you return home, you go back to your room and gather together the materials you'll need to set up. For the past few weeks you've continually thought that no one will come to your show. You think it will flop, crash and burn, and every other sad cliche you can grab hold of. Positivity hasn't exactly been your forefront, and suddenly, as you're putting together your crates of prints, and piles of canvases, you feel the breath of God within you whisper, "I am giving you favour. Aliza, I am giving you favour."

You could cry because your faith is so small, so pitiful in spite of the goodness that has been poured over you. Your fickle human heart felt as though it would be far easier to doubt than to hold onto hope that God has good, kind plans for you. You were wrong, as per usual. You've sucker punched yourself in the chest, and when you retrieve your breath it's withering and fragile. You straighten your spine and thank God earnestly for his kind favour.

And then you go to your art show.






On the day of your first art show, God opens his arms wide and parades his grace through the loveliness of humans. When, what you estimate to be around ninety people walk through the doors to see your artwork, you are stunned. Stunned is an understatement, actually. If what you are feeling within manifested into actuality, you would have fallen flat on your face on the floor, unable to get up.

You are blown away by how much it means when people show up. God is always there, it's true, but he so visibly shows up when people show up for each other.

The next day you wake up smiling again. Your heart is so full, so grateful, so near exploding you wonder if you were to add anything more to your soul, it would overflow and brim over, and brim over, and brim over some more.


When I found love by the sea

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 2.10.53 PM We had driven eight and a half hours — longer if you count how many times I had to stop and use the bathroom. (If you’re wanting to get somewhere quick, I’m not exactly the most ideal person to road trip with.) We drove from Ontario to Massachusetts, right across the state of New York, and the closer we got to the coast, the more I thought I could smell the salt rise from the sea.

The sea does something to me. It opens up a well inside of me — some deep, cavernous place I had forgotten about, and it brings out realizations and understandings that I hadn’t quite grasped before.

Cape Cod is nothing short of stunning. Despite the fact it was freezing, I slipped my toes out from my shoes and felt the sand beneath me as I walked closer toward the ocean. My sister wrapped her arms tighter around her small son, a fuzzy blanket keeping him warm.

We were small, minuscule in fact, in front of that gaping water.

I have felt small before — the good kind and the bad.

I have felt small in the good way: while standing in front of the sea, sitting under the star speckled sky, looking out at the mountains of Rwanda and Peru. And the bad way: feeling unloved and like a desperate disappointment, all the while convincing myself I needed to do something in order to measure up.

I'm over at (in)courage today and would love for you to come join...