When your sister has a baby

12509195_10156360328030462_320455478548517669_n When your sister is expecting a baby, she asks you to come and see her. It's the day after you get home from Africa and your eyes are tired and your mind is mushy with jet leg, but you've missed her dearly so you go to her house. She hands you a gift bag, which she says is your "welcome home" present, and she and her husband sit on their couch staring at you, waiting for you to open it. You do. It's a baby onesie that says I love my aunt, so of course you promptly burst into tears.

When your sister is expecting a baby, she sends you the ultrasound. You stare at the slope of his already defined nose, and the purse of his already puckered lips, and his head -- his beautiful head, and you think I can't believe I'm in love with someone I've never even met before. But you are. You're head over heels and he doesn't even know you exist.

When your sister is expecting a baby, you think of all the ways life is changing. You think about how next year at this time he'll be a few months old, and in October he'll be crawling, and at Christmas he'll almost be one! You wonder what colour his eyes will be, and if he'll have hair, and secretly hope he'll grow up to be a writer.

When your sister is expecting a baby, you write him love notes. You start with Dear baby nephew, you are already so desperately loved by me, people might think I'm pitiful. You make a vow to overlove and 0vervalue him all the days of your life. You go to the book store and read children's books that make you cry because he's growing up so fast -- and he hasn't even left the womb yet.

When your sister is expecting a baby, you buy him every tiny shirt and pants that you see at Old Navy. The baby part of the store is like a gravitational pull -- you can't say no even if you try. So you find miniature moccasins, and Roots sweatpants and then you buy yourself ones in adult size to match.

When your sister is expecting a baby, she texts you and says she's having contractions, and you can't do much of anything because he's coming (!!). You watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy to take your mind off what's happening a city away, but you can't stop thinking of your sister. This anticipation is far better than even Christmas. You wonder and pray and keep wondering and praying.

And hours later your phone rings.

And your sister tells you Noah Justice has arrived.

When your sister has a baby, you go to the hospital to see them. You see his face -- everything pronounced and tiny and beautiful. His eyes are wide and deep blue and staring up at you. You think how can I possibly feel this much love? Your capacity to love someone grows astronomically. You'll never love the same after this. Time goes fast and slow all at once. He stares at your sister and her husband, pure love radiating from his tiny body. You hold him and whisper promises into his downy hair, telling him how strong his momma is, and what a brave daddy he has.

When your sister has a baby, you start to understand God's love a fraction more. You think -- if God loves me half as much as I love this baby, he must love me very much --

...and yet you know deep inside he loves you infinitely more.

This cold December morning

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.29.17 AM It's been a week and a half since my plane touched down from Peru. It was immediately cold, even though it's been a mild, snowless winter. But Peru was a hundred and ten degrees and blazing. I wrapped the spring coat I had shoved in my luggage around me and shivered. I was home. That feeling had not forsaken me.

My brother-in-law and brother picked me up from the airport and took me to my grandmother's visitation. She had passed away six days earlier, while we each were under different skies. She had told me a few months ago that she had always wanted to go to South America, and there we were -- she inhaling her final breath in Canada, me adventuring on that rich red soil in Peru.

I just wish I could call and tell her all about it.

We buried her on a cold, December morning in a plot of land directly beside her husband. We took rose petals and placed them on the casket, but I watched as a few of mine flew away. I took two roses from the stack and kept them, dried one out and hung it upside down on my bedroom wall. I pressed the other between the thin and tender pages of her favourite verse.

And now I can see the lights, and hear the songs, and smell the oranges drying out in the oven. This is Christmas, isn't it? Strings of sadness and pain alongside the joy and merriment of a hopeful Christmas and a very happy New Year. We hurt and we break and we flounder, asking God why newborn babies die and why there are so many funerals at Christmas time.

My best friend went to two other funerals last week. Two different fathers from two different families snatched away too soon. Come Christmas Day, those families won't have a dad waiting for them downstairs with sticky buns or hot chocolate. They are now splintered and cracked right open, spilling their grief alongside the rest of the world who sing, Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.

No one hurts cleanly. We are all very messy and untidy while we hurt, dripping and disheveled and scattering ourselves all over the place. And the thing that I keep thinking is: Jesus, in all his glory and righteousness, endured the breaking that made us whole. He hurts messily right beside us, our Emmanuel, our God with us. He just extends a sprig of hope through the pain of grief -- that after this, he makes us whole.

After all of this, he makes us whole.

this is how I see you


Dear Mom, You're beautiful.

You're the most beautiful person in the world, if you want my opinion.

If I were to write these words large and proud right across your bathroom mirror so you could see them in the morning, or stroke them on a banner and wave it tall and high all stretched out from each corner of the sky, or whisper them quiet in your ear every moment of every day, it still wouldn't be nearly enough. 



You've taught me that when you love someone, you tell them who they are to you. So today I'm telling you - you're beautiful, Mom. And more than that, you're funny and kind and tender and spirited. You're all the best things that there are in a person, really.

But you're absolutely beautiful.

You emit grace with every breath that releases from your lips. Slow, patient, untiring. Grace for me, grace for others, gracefulness in all you do. Because of the immense and extraordinary love you have for me, you've shown me how I should go out and love others.

And yes, I know we've had our days (cough, years), like when you were home schooling me in eighth grade, and I yelled at you almost every day that you were COMPLETELY RUINING MY ENTIRE LIFE. Remember that? Yeah, I'm sure you do.


IMG_1595But we got past that, didn't we? We got past the days of Liv and I fighting over our Ken doll, past the days of us refusing to eat your tuna melts, past the days of not getting my favourite part in my favourite play. We've had good days and bad days and each day we made it through. Together.

You welcomed me into this world, and then you held me close after I fell down all those stairs, and you kissed my fingers when I burned my hand, and you prayed over me more times than I can count, and you cried with me when those girls were cruel, and you waved goodbye when I left to go to Africa, and then, in that airport, you welcomed me right back home.


When you told me Jesus loves me, I believed you, because you love me.

When you told me that I am beautiful, I believed you, because you're beautiful.

And when you told me if I said one more mean word you were going to wash my mouth out with soap, I believed you, because you're honest and you stick to what you say.

When I was little, I wanted to be just like you when I grew up. And the truth is, at twenty, still little in so many ways, I still do. I want to be like you.

So, this is how I see you, Mom.

I see you strong and brave and humble. I see you empathetic and adventurous and kind. I see you classy and smart and creative.  

I see you beautiful. I see you so beautiful - altogether beautiful, beautiful in every way. 

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Let me ask something of you. Tomorrow when you wake up and look at yourself in the mirror, when you're tempted to see you as you've always seen yourself, will you think about this? Will you think about how I see you instead?

Maybe I can't write these words across your bathroom mirror, or hang them on a banner high, but I can scratch them down here for you to come back to.

I see you beautiful. Here, now, always.

I love you forever,

Love me


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I believe that you are altogether beautiful, too. For you, this print is on sale for 25% off for the next week, using the code "altogetherbeautiful" at the checkout of the Choose Brave Shop, 



a letter to my twenty-three year old sister


Liv, You are the truest friend I have ever known. You've seen me in every circumstance - the good, the bad, and the very ugly - and still, you love me. Thank you for that.

I know I'm your little sister, but can I say how proud I am of you? Because I am proud. So very, very proud. When people ask if we are sisters, I say with pride, "Yes, we sure are. That is my sister." My beautiful sister.

I didn't give you enough credit while we were growing up. I'm stubborn and was trying to figure out who I am, and I never told you how much you influenced my life. How much you still do.

You have this way of making me feel so special - like all those times when I was in a play or musical and you would try so very hard to fill as many seats in that audience with people that I love. Or when I overhear you tell someone, "I can't wait until Aliza writes a book someday" - and I know you believe in me.

And your kindness for others overwhelms me sometimes. When we found out about Mom's cancer, you immediately brought her flowers. It was your idea to make her an entire care package filled with comforting things you know she'd love. When the youth kids come over to your home, you always have food ready for them. You constantly open up your house for people, and I look at you with wide eyes and wonder: how do you do it?

You are strong. You are fiercely loyal. You are so, incredibly lovely. And you are my sister. My absolute best friend in this giant world.

Thank you, Olivia, for all you have done for me. Thank you for your honesty, your support, your kindness, your generosity, your unfailing love.

I could never stop loving you. You are my favourite friend.

Happy birthday, my beautiful twenty-three year old sister.

My love to you, forever and always.