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.

On opening your hands and releasing your truth


We learn about telling the truth in school. My professor says, "I think the most important thing you need to remember is to seek to tell the truest stories."

I'd like to be a truth seeker, and the similarities of what I'm learning about seeking the truth in journalism, and what I know about seeking the truth in Jesus, do not escape me. Now I try to seek those truths everywhere I go: in the Christmas lights, and the commute to school, and the way my nephew Noah can say "Liza" now. All of these truths fill me up -- wide-eyed wonder I keep grasping onto.

Advent is beginning, and with it the active waiting that comes from this month long search for truth. But I don't want to stop searching when Advent is finished. I want to keep finding truth in all the places I go.

I decided, then, to write my final assignments about the things that matter to me -- the truth that matters to me. So I write papers about maternal mortality in Uganda, and sex trafficking in Toronto, and what it looks like to be a voice for someone who may not be able to speak yet.


I was upset with God six months ago.

"Why did you make me an artist?" I asked him. I had been thinking about Uganda, about the mothers who are dying there. "Why couldn't I have been a doctor, or someone who can do something? I do not want to make art that someone will simply pin on Pinterest. I want to make things that have meaning."

I entered college and promptly stopped making art.

Journalism seemed to be more meaningful. At least I could write about what was happening in the world.

Soon my soul felt cluttered. I stared at my paints longingly, the watercolours that reminded me of streaky sunrises, and the brushes that bent between my fingers and rested on the pad of my thumb. My canvases were blank and staring up at me. I found myself writing down the art I would make, if I would allow myself to make it.


When we were learning about truth in school, I kept thinking about my artwork, and my blog, and the novel that's sitting on my desktop. What if those things were my truth? What if I wasn't meant to tell the truth through being a doctor, or a scientist, but through letters on a canvas, and words on a tiny blog?

What if the way God created me, and the gifts he purposely and intricately tangled around my lungs and heart and membrane, could in fact offer meaning?

I chose to believe this. I booked myself an art show.


I buy a new book for Advent this year, and so far I've missed more days than I've read. I try not to feel like a failure because I can't seem to commit to reading daily. My mind feels very full these days -- I think mostly because multi-tasking and I don't work well together, and with three weeks left of the first semester, and my second art show coming up on Friday, multi-tasking is unfortunately inevitable.

I start to get scared for Friday. I dream no one comes. I dream I ruin all of my artwork before the show. I wake up and decide my art show is a release of my truth: that this is something I love, and that I can tell the truth through art, not just words.

I practice opening my hands and pretending my art and my words and my passions are flying from my fingertips. I tell myself, When you hold on tight, you benefit no one. When you release, you have no idea how far it might go.


I'll practice releasing my truth this Friday. I'll choose to believe that it's meaningful. I'll think about the Truth that I love, and the truth that I'm learning. My professor said, "I think the most important thing you need to remember is to seek to tell the truest stories." I write this down and decide not to forget it.

On the week of Christmas


Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset I was going to write a benediction, like I did last year during this week before Christmas. Truth is, I don't feel much like writing one of those.

Our traditions may be changing this year. Rain is falling now instead of snow. The days are mild and the nights are cool, but the carols ring out incessantly, and I decide that I need them to keep playing. Sometimes I need songs to sing over and over and over again, until I finally succumb to their hopeful message.

Sometimes I just need to give in and let myself hope.

The traditions change -- this I'm realizing. We're in a new house this year, and Sister is nine months pregnant with a boy I'm madly in love with already, and my grandmother's sitting next to Jesus instead of reclining in that comfy chair with blankets tucked right up to her chin.

But we're still going to go see It's a Wonderful Life in the theatre Wednesday evening, and the boys and I will drizzle so much butter on the popcorn it'll seep through the bag and onto our laps. Christmas Eve will come and I'll go to midnight Mass for the candle light service. Holiness is here without having to search, but sometimes I like to seek out the holy just as well. 

I've become fearful again. I can't even put my finger on it. When I feel it well up within me, I watercolour tiny Christmas wreaths, and I bought Flannery O'Connor's Prayer Journal, just in case I forget how to pray.

Maybe you're afraid, just like me. Maybe you you need to just give in and let yourself hope. I'm stubborn, too. It's hard to give in sometimes. But hope is never a symbol of weakness. I think, more than anything, it's a symbol of strength.

I pray that when we become afraid, we might be instilled with courage and also with quiet. I pray our fear is vanquished and replaced with a deep love that we'll wrap warm around our shoulders, just like my fur vest.

Some things change, some traditions remain the same, but each year we can always be made new. Perhaps that's the hope I cling to most.

Courage, and hope, and holiness. May your Christmas be filled with all three. Please know that I think after a long, hard year, I believe you deserve this -- and more. So much more.

Church on a concrete floor


Jesus meets us anywhere -- of this I am certain. In Peru I have encountered him in a variety of surprising settings, which keeps making me smile because I think Jesus likes to see different places. I do too. I’ve met him at a cacao plantation, at Machu Picchu, and most recently on a concrete floor attached to the kitchen. 

A strike is in full force here. It’s been this way for a week, but I’m assuming by the time I post this it will have been longer. We have stayed inside the house to keep safe. This experience has taught me things I never would have realized. I am not nervous about our safety. I am surprisingly confident. I believe God will keep us protected and safe.

On Sunday we couldn’t go to church because of the riot, so instead we decided to have some worship on our own. There are eight of us, but we invited the housekeeper and groundskeeper who are married and live here with us, along with their three kids. When we entered the room on Sunday morning, instead of the thirteen of us I thought would be present, there were twenty-five people. I started to laugh. Word had spread and there we were, our own tiny congregation.

We didn’t have to go to church -- the church was already there. People who love Jesus were gathering together, and the church was right there with us, unfolding on a concrete floor in the jungle.

Tat and I played some worship songs. Spanish and English voices mixed, all singing the same song but with different words, and I looked at my white skin and their smooth caramel-brown. Our worlds crashed together like the clang of a symbol and the sound could not have been more beautiful to me.

Segundo, the groundskeeper, read Matthew 5 and 6 in Spanish, and then Tat’s father, Scott, read it in English:

Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Do not worry about how you will clothe your body. (Matthew 6:25)

We have more food than most of the people in Peru, I know, but even our food supply is running out with this strike happening in the city. The markets are shut down, and the roads are closed with blockades. I thought about the people sitting in front of me. I wondered if they had enough food.

Scott continued reading.

So do not consume yourself with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your Heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all of these things will be given to you too. So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today. (Matthew 6:31-34)

I’m not sure how we’re getting to the airport on Sunday, what with the blockades taking up the roads. We will most likely have to walk. The strike is causing me to ask so many questions, and yet, as I sat there cradling my ukulele, looking at the other twenty-four people around me, I kept hearing: do not worry about tomorrow.

And then I remembered it’s the start of Advent. The King is coming, and he is not afraid.

Our voices rang out one last time, my fingers strumming the strings. Our Jesus is coming. Sitting on the concrete floor surrounded by jungle, I smiled. What a way to begin ushering him in.