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

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

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

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

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

I feel ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, I would love to someday."

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

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

He nodded.

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

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

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

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

The rain's falling harder now.

I might join in with God's weeping soon.

Helpful links: 

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

On finding your freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

The practice of using an alarm clock

"I think it starts with creating a new routine," she said.

I was talking to my digital storytelling teacher last week. She is stunning to me, tall and willowy and lithe, a lilting South African accent whenever she speaks.

"That's what I chose to do," she continued. "I made myself create a new routine. In the mornings, I told myself I wasn't allowed to check my phone until I had finished my entire cup of coffee. So that's what I do now."

We were discussing the tension of technology in class. It's a class entirely dedicated to learning how to tell stories in the digital world, but I've been feeling so tired lately, and I told her I wasn't sure how to combat this.

On one hand, being a journalism student requires knowing what's happening in the world. I'm tested on what is current every single week. On the flip side, I've been craving a disconnect more than I realized I could.

My storytelling professor, a woman who tends to insert profound sentences into lectures whenever she can, (like, "Set high standards for yourself. When you break that, it's easier to break it again and again and again," or, "If you find you are sad for more than two weeks, you need to make sure you talk to someone," ) said, "I have three pieces of advice. The first is to create a new routine. Choose to actively do something else in the morning before you check your phone.

"The second, put your phone down and look someone in the eyes when you talk to them. Focus on their eyes. What do you see there?

"And the third: when you need to get something done, cut it into chunks. So, if you have an essay to write, tell yourself you'll write for 20 minutes. Put your phone away in the next room and write for only 20 minutes. Then you can have your phone back for 10 minutes, or however long. And then, put it away, and do that again."

When I left her class on Thursday, I felt lighter. (As a side note, I hope that's who I can be for people someday. Someone who, after sitting with them for a few hours, makes you feel a little more light.)

I drove to Walmart and bought an alarm clock. This was where I was feeling the most tension -- in the mornings. I felt as though my iPhone was the last thing I touched before I fell asleep, and the first thing I touched when I awoke. I had grown to hate that.

After I purchased my alarm clock, I charged my iPhone away from my bed. I woke up, and focused on not checking my phone. I didn't touch it until after I had read my Bible, practiced silence and solitude, and drank my cup of coffee.

It was harder than I imagined it would be.

That makes me feel equally discouraged and determined. I keep reminding myself this is a process.

So now, to do this again tomorrow. And the day after that, too.

I would like to fill up my soul with a whole host of things, and a huge part of that is finding balance when it comes to living in a digital world. But today, I'm starting with this.

100 things I'd rather hold (instead of my iPhone)

I check my phone too often. I'm finally admitting it.

It's my alarm clock -- because, you know, the Bed Time App wakes you up nice and slowly and I'm not ready to give that up yet. (In reality I should go buy a real, actual clock.)

I have been thinking a lot about habits recently, the good and the bad. There is scientific and psychological evidence to back this up -- about how habits become ingrained into the core of our brains, whether they are good or bad, and we get to the point where we don't have to think anymore, we just do. Good news: it's possible to rewire these habits. Bad news: it takes a lot of effort -- generally more effort than most people are willing to put in. (You can listen more about this from someone smarter than me, right here.)

So I'm working on ingraining exercising into my brain, and reading books on spiritual discipline, and going to bed earlier, and handing in my assignments a few hours before they're due instead of a few minutes.

But in order to have time for these, I have to take time away from other things. Mainly, my iPhone.

I love social media. In all honesty, it's a bonus for me when it comes to blogging or sharing my artwork. People can see it, then can commission me to write or make art for them. For a non-business-y person, it's an easy-ish marketing plan.

But it's becoming too much. I don't want too much. I want slow, steady, relational -- deep, not wide.

Maybe I'm thinking too much about being a millennial. (Did you see this video? I can't get it out of my head.) Maybe I'm worried about how I spend far more time on my phone than talking, listening, or thinking about, Jesus. Maybe I'm finally coming to the realization that I actually may be far more addicted to this thing in my hand than I thought before.

Prompted by Colleen's post here, and by months of thinking about starting to attempt the rewiring of my habits and brain, these are the things I'd rather be holding than my phone.

100 things I'd rather hold -- 

  1. Pressed, dried flowers
  2. The pages of my Bible
  3. Someone's hand
  4. The wispy hairs on my nephew's head
  5. A travel mug filled with peppermint tea
  6. My gray, leather notebook
  7. Snowflakes on my eyelashes
  8. The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
  9. A fresh watercolour palette, filled mostly with greens and blues
  10. A spinning globe
  11. My passport
  12. A bottle of beer and a plate of nachos to share
  13. Logs of wood to make a fire
  14. Weights that make my arms feel both tired and strong
  15. Glasses of water
  16. A package of thank you cards
  17. The handle of my favourite mug
  18. Soft, delicate paint brushes
  19. The hands of my friends when we pray for each other
  20. Warm, cozy socks
  21. A candle and a match
  22. A cup of tea for someone else
  23. My grandmother's calligraphy tools
  24. An actual newspaper
  25. Someone's memoir
  26. A paper map instead of a GPS
  27. Kombucha
  28. Movie popcorn while at the theatre on half-price Tuesday
  29. A slice of cheesecake
  30. Coffee with too much cream
  31. A blank canvas
  32. This book I had the pleasure of writing a chapter for
  33. My nephew's small body within my arms
  34. The handle of the door to my church
  35. A glass of Pinot Grigio
  36. The steering wheel of my small car, filled with people
  37. The hands of someone while we dance
  38. My sister's blonde hair as I braid it back
  39. The red button on my Polaroid camera
  40. Slices of brightly coloured fruit
  41. Black nail polish
  42. My mother's arms around me
  43. Fastening high heels around my feet
  44. Pushing snooze on an actual, real alarm clock
  45. Podcasts
  46. Books I wouldn't normally read -- on psychology, and science, and spiritual discipline
  47. Books I've read a hundred times before
  48. Scarves from Africa tied around my neck
  49. My ukulele
  50. My nephew's hand when he starts to walk
  51. Dutch Blitz
  52. My school textbooks
  53. Salty, ocean water
  54. Poetry I've written
  55. Poetry written by someone else
  56. The white comforter on my bed
  57. Framed photos of the people I love
  58. Tubes of old paint
  59. A Psalm and a chapter of the Gospels, every morning
  60. My hands on my crossed legs, breathing in slowly, thinking nothing at all, but basking in peace, in the presence of Jesus
  61. Games night with my family
  62. The classrooms that are teaching me to be a journalist
  63. My favourite inky markers
  64. A brand new package of sharpies
  65. Bread boards I've painted on
  66. A bouquet of flowers I'll give to someone
  67. Soft soap
  68. A plate of good food shared with someone
  69. Pink blush and a soft brush to put on my cheeks
  70. Vanilla lattes with my best friend
  71. The keys on this computer to continue adding to this blog
  72. My purple yoga mat
  73. Shaking the hand of someone new
  74. The books I read to my nephew
  75. The book I want to write for my nephew
  76. Slivers of dried mango
  77. My agenda with plans for the week
  78. The swish of summer dresses against my bare legs
  79. Holding someone close after talking for hours
  80. Arranging the letters of a quote onto my letter board
  81. My hand against my mouth after laughing too hard
  82. Scraps of paper with verses that remind me who I am
  83. Scraps of paper with verses that remind me who Jesus is
  84. Artwork I'm giving away, just because
  85. The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning
  86. A deck of cards played with friends, late into the night
  87. The grass below me, the stars above me
  88. Sand sifting through my fingertips
  89. My leather school bag
  90. A necklace engraved with the word beloved 
  91. My running shoes
  92. Long, hand written letters
  93. The courage to try something new
  94. Warm mittens
  95. Cold lemonade
  96. Wooden slices awaiting being painted
  97. My phone on my ear, instead of in my hands, having long conversations
  98. My nephew after he's woken from sleep
  99. A list of adventures to go on
  100. My hands outstretched and open -- offering all that I am

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.

When you're afraid but free

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.23.10 AM I am sitting on Lake Rosseau, just me on a dock looking out at a lake.

I am attending a leadership retreat and more often than not, I do not feel like a leader. But I showed up because that is what you do when God asks you to go somewhere.

I woke up early this morning, no alarm. I simply woke up feeling oddly refreshed. It was early when I looked at the clock and I figured I could get a few more hours of sleep in, except suddenly I had this unquenchable need to get down to the water. So I packed up my Bible and this notebook and found the loneliest, most outstretched dock I could find.

The water is both soothing and scaring me.

The lake stretches so far; so very, very far, I think. I wonder if I could ever swim it all. If I could dive in, hands above my head, holding my breath for minutes or hours and swim to the other side. Here I am: just me, this giant, soothing, scary body of water, Jesus, and all of my thoughts that are falling out the sides of my head.

Am I afraid of putting myself out there? Answer: yes.

Am I afraid of trying again and again and again, only to fail once more? Answer: yes.

Am I afraid of rejection? Answer: yes yes yes.

Am I afraid that I care more about succeeding according to the world's standards than I care about doing what God has for me? Answer: yes.

I am afraid of so many things, and the water slowly rocking the dock I am sitting on seems to make these fears more glaring.

I do not feel guilty. I do not feel shame. This, by God's grace, shows me progress. A year ago I would've simply wallowed in those two ominous feelings.

But today, this morning, the sun still peeking over the evergreen trees in front of me; the cool morning breeze finding its way softly around me, I am not guilty and I am not shamed.

I am afraid but still I'm free. I am aware of all that I need to surrender.

My shoes are off, my hands are open.

God is here, and so am I.

God shows up, and I will too.

I am afraid, but I will surrender, and I am free.

the freedom of being small


As my feet find their way across the stretch of the airport, I can feel the old insecurities beginning to rise up, awakening from deep inside of me. I want to tell them to gooooooooo awaaaaaaay, but in this foreign new world of writers and blogging and books and reviews, they feel familiar to me, and sometimes in my newness I long for familiarity.

The group of us, all (in)courage writers, were in Arkansas for a retreat - a time to renew, to refresh, to really get to know one another in the quiet. And I'm the youngest of them. I don't have a book, and I don't have a husband, and I don't juggle a full time job while mothering eight tiny children. As I sat there, I hoped that simply by being near them I might learn. I wanted to sponge up their wisdom, to soak in their greatness. Because the deep down truth is, I wanted to be great, too.

It's funny, the things you learn about yourself when you're in a room full of other women.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 3.18.30 PM

You see, in my head, I believed that in order to be accepted, I needed to be equivalent. I wanted to impress these (in)courage writers. I wanted to be their equal. I wanted them to think me so very smart and so utterly talented.

Instead, I felt small and young and vastly inexperienced. And then, on the Sunday evening, I realized something.

I am.

I am each one of these things. I always thought them burdens, that they hindered me from being something more. But then, I finally realized, they're gifts. They're who I am right now.

Emily Freeman teaches me to lean into my smallness. Through her words and her living she tells me: small isn't a flaw - its  freedom. My age isn't a weakness, but a number. My inexperience isn't a limitation, it's an opportunity.

I desperately wanted more: to be older, to be wiser, to be thought of as great. I thought to be enough, I needed to have this checklist of things completed, this idea of grandeur achieved.

I thought all of these women had something I didn't and never would have, and I put them on a pedestal that reached high beyond me. But what I realized, after spending five days laughing and talking and crying alongside them, is that they're just people. Extraordinarily lovely people, yes, but people nonetheless. And they, each with their own little index of insecurities, accepted me fully. Accepted me as I am. Small, and young, and inexperienced.

Where I am now? That's where I'm supposed to be. And maybe you've figured that out about yourself already - that where you are now, is exactly where you're supposed to be. I wouldn't be surprised if you've known that for years.

I've found such freedom when embracing my smallness.

I believe this fully, whole heartedly, 100%: there is freedom that comes with being small. And we can all be small. Emily's teaching me that.

There is freedom here, where I am. Because I am enough - right here, right now, exactly where I'm standing.




I always wanted to be fearless. I remember the day. I was seventeen. I was in my creative writing class and my teacher came over and placed the essay I had written in front of me. I had worked hard on that essay. He smiled at me and slid the essay closer. I leaned in to read the comment he had written near the top.

Aliza, it said, you have the heart of a lion.

I sat there for a long moment, staring at the red cursive that inked the papers. And I was overcome by this longing deep inside of me - because that’s what I wanted. To be strong, and brave, and daring. To have the heart of a lion. To be fearless.

But I’m not.

I liked to pretend that I could pretty much conquer anything, willing my heart to transform from lamb to lion. But it was useless. Four days before Africa, I laid in bed, crippled with fear.

I was encouraged to write down my biggest fears before I left. This is what I wrote:

  1. I fear Rwanda is not all that I hope for it to be and that I could, quite possibly, hate it.
  2. I fear becoming lonely.
  3. I fear snakes.
  4. I fear my family and friends forgetting me.
  5. I fear missing out on what is going on back home in Canada.

Those were my top five fears - and I know I had more but the rest were all pretty minor in comparison (ex: the plane could crash, I could possibly get malaria and die etc.).

Turns out, I experienced most of those fears. Except number 3, which I whole-heartedly thank Jesus for!!! (Phew.)

In the beginning, I hated it. I was homesick and lonely and unsure of my purpose. But those fears were transformed from something ugly, into something really beautiful.

I experienced what I was afraid of. And to my disbelief, my little life has only been enriched and deepened because I encountered (and to my surprise, lived through) those fears.

Fearlessness is not about not having fear. Fearlessness is not always a ferocious lion, or a huge army of strength. Instead, I believe fearlessness is being brave enough to try. Shaking knees, nauseous stomach, want-to-run-as-far-away-as-possible bravery. That’s fearlessness.

Mary Anne Radmacher said it best: “Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.”

Yes. That is fearless.



the captivity of praise


I never liked myself much as a kid. I thought I had to be loud and energetic to be noticed, and as an eleven year old girl being noticed was my deepest desire. Then one day I heard two girls whispering about me. Their hushed voices breathed unkind comments and words like "obnoxious" and "annoying" and "a try-hard" shot down the yellow hall like an arrow that was intended on stinging my heart. I remember walking past them and staring into their eyes, wanting them to know that I heard their thoughts, wanting them to see that I could still be brave, even though knowing they would never accept me. I looked into their eyes for a long moment, and then escaped to the bathroom, sat in a stall and cried.

Oh, the power of a few mean words.

Two years ago in my grade twelve year I was cast in a lead role in the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I loved every moment of it. I loved being on stage; loved having big, hot lights shining on me; loved learning lines, smiling big, singing loud - but the thing I loved most of all was the praise. Oh baby, did I ever love when someone would shower me with praise.

It was about a month after the musical had finished and I was at the movie theatre with my friends. I was buying my ticket, and the girl behind the counter was staring at me with a funny expression on her face. Smiling sheepishly, she asked me if I had ever been in the musical Joseph. I almost shrieked I was so excited. I practically felt like a celebrity. Someone I didn't know knew me! It was a high school play - so really it meant nothing to the rest of the world. But to me, I was really something. I walked into that movie with my head held high - a little too high, if you ask me.

Oh, the power of a few sweet words.

I realized just a few days ago that over the course of my short lifetime, I have allowed criticism and praise to hold me captive. When someone uttered something about me - whether kind or unkind - I allowed those words to define me. If it was something cruel, I felt as though I was entirely worthless. When it was lovely, I evolved into someone who believed she was better then the people who surrounded her.

Both held me captive. But Jesus sets me free.

He told me that it doesn't matter what people believe of me, as long as I believe him: the freeing truth that he loves me and cherishes me and wants me.

We can either allow ourselves to be held captive by praise and critique or we can choose to be freed by the Father.

I do believe in compliments.

I do believe in critique.

But I do believe that at the end of the day, when praise and glory have washed over our souls, when a wounding comment filled with a hurtful word has enveloped our hearts, or when no one in particular has said nothing at all, the only perspective that matters is Jesus'.

And he loves you, and he cherishes you, and he wants you. Just as you are.