The mercy I need today (and everyday)

My eyes pop open. I turn to look at the clock. Immediately, I sit up, heart pounding within me.

Oh, no. No. No no no no no no. 

A sense of dread fills me up to the core.

My alarm didn’t go off. I’m supposed to be at work right now!

I fly out of bed, ripping my brush through my hair, splashing cold water on my face, looking haggard. I don’t have time to shower or put on makeup, and I throw on yesterday’s clothes.

“I’m sorry!” I text my boss. “I’m sorry, I’m coming, I’m sorry!”

I grab my purse and my keys, shifting the gears in my car as fast as it’ll let me. I drive like the mad woman I feel I am. The cars in front of me, of course, are going far below the speed limit.

“C’mon,” I mutter, impatiently dancing my fingertips along the steering wheel.

I glance at the clock on my dash. By my estimate, I’ll be at least forty-five minutes late, if not more.

It’s Monday — undoubtedly the worst day of the week. Sleeping through my alarm has proven this fact to be true. I mentally go through all of the tasks I need to complete today. This one mistake has ruined everything. My whole day is shot. Scratch that. My whole week has gone entirely down the drain.

On the half-hour trip to work, I imagine running into the office, frazzled and unkempt. I rub the sleep out of my eyes. I wish I had put on blush, and feel slightly grateful that half of my mascara is still on from last night.

I think of how everything is ruined now. Starting my day and week off on the wrong foot means that everything will seem harder and less thought through. I am hungry from not eating breakfast, and I wish a coffee would appear in my hand.

Suddenly, without warning, I have a new thought: I don’t want to be frazzled. I don’t want to be stressed.

Click to read the rest over at (in)courage...

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 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

In case you're on day one and already feel like quitting

Every January 1st, I become an idealist.

Rarely do I want to be like the rest of the world, so this year I signed up for the gym on December 30th. This will be the year! I told myself as I paid for a gym membership at the front counter. This will be the year I suddenly transform into one of those shiny, athletic women with the high bouncy ponytails.

I felt like a fraud walking into the gym. My hair was not high or bouncy, but falling further and further out of the messy bun I had half-haphazardly pushed it in. I had never stepped foot inside a gym before. My level of confidence fell below zero. I watched the muscular lady at the front counter hand me my pass.

“Here you go,” she said smiling. “You’re now a VIP member.”

“Oh,” I said, accepting the key card. “Thank you.” I think they call you VIP so you feel more important. It wasn’t quite working for me.

She pointed toward the large staircase behind her. “All of the equipment is up there. Don’t worry, there are diagrams on each machine that explains how it works.”

“Right.” Could she tell I’m the least athletic person in Canada?

I took my plastic water bottle — which was glaringly un-eco-friendly — and my running shoes, putting my coat and boots in a locker. I forced myself to walk up the giant staircase toward the machines.

Three thoughts before we move on:

  1. In gyms, why are there mirrors everywhere? Do I want to constantly be looking at my sweaty self? Short answer: no.
  2. I now understand why people go to the gym with friends. For an extroverted person, it’s a lonely experience on your own.
  3. I think my body missed the “endorphins” memo. I have yet to feel these release. Everyone talks about these magical endorphins that make you want to work out. What do they feel like? So far I feel only tired. I’m hoping these endorphins eventually get the memo and kick in.

I plugged in my earbuds and began listening to one of my favorite podcasts, looking at the people around me. Everyone was different. I had a picture of what the gym was supposed to look like in my head: consisting of tall, confident, beautiful people. Those people were there, of course, but there were so many more.

You’re on Day One of your journey, I told myself. Don’t compare your beginning.

Come over to (in)courage with me?

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.

The everyday sort of grace I'm holding on for


Let me tell you how badly we need grace. I keep realizing this, over again. It seems to hit me afresh everyday. I've been trying to follow along with SheReadsTruth, reading their 365 day Scripture plan. It's a great plan--the best one I've found, in my opinion. It mixes Old Testament and New, a mix of God as Creator and the miracles of Jesus.

It seems my whole life I've separated them. You know? God: the Old Testament made up of wrath and anger, and Jesus: the New Testament, made up of mercy and compassion. That's where the line was drawn, in my head. There was a distinct difference between God and Jesus. But this January I've been reading a few chapters of Genesis, and then a chapter of John, and I've realized how much I've missed by separating the two.

I liked New Testament Jesus. I usually camp there--somewhere in between Matthew and James--not willing to read the Old Testament stories. Because I didn't understand that God, so why even bother going there? I wanted to stay comfortable, in the midst of the cross, a place where compassion overflowed and mercy fell like rain. I wanted to see miracles.

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But then I began from the beginning. It's incredible what happens when you read the whole story, not just chunks, not just plopping a finger down somewhere in the middle. A novel would hardly make sense that way, and yet this is what I have done my whole life.

I ignored Old Testament God because I didn't understand Him. I preferred Jesus.

And yet, God created. He wove people and stories and mistakes and grace and redemption together in a marvellous and God-ordained way. I read about imperfect humans, and the grace God extended to them everyday.

I breathe, praying for that same grace to intersect in my life. But I know it already has.

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This is what I've seen the past twenty-ish days while I've been reading. (I've missed some, I'll admit, but again, grace.) The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Aliza and the God of you, is a God of utmost grace. And so much more. I still don't understand Him, but I'm thinking that's okay. Because I'm an imperfect human, and He's not, because I need grace and He's full of it.

I need it so badly.

And I'll bet my bottom dollar, you do too.

dear John


His eyes were blue.

That’s what I remember when I think back to our conversation. I remember thinking his eyes looked exactly like the ocean.

We were on our way home, from Moncton to Toronto, and he sat in the aisle seat, while I had the window. I love the window seat the most, because I like to look out at the millions of tiny houses and cars and people and pools and pretend they're a city I could hold between my fingertips. 

The plane had just started to climb into the air when he knocked his elbow against mine. I turned to him. I smiled. 

I always smile when I feel awkward. 

“My name is John.” He said, each word painfully slow, his hand sort of flapping while pointing to his chest. 

“Hi John. It’s nice to meet you. My dad's name is John, too.” 

He sort of smiled and then asked me, long and slow, each syllable a marathon, “What is your name?”

I felt guilty when the word slipped quick and easy from my lips. “Aliza.” 

“Aliza,” he repeated, nodding. 

He looked at me, his blue eyes sharp but kind. 

“I have to apologize.” His face contorted as he said this, and I wondered if he might cry. “I haven’t always been like this. It wasn’t this way when I was born. I got into an accident.”

It took a few moments to comprehend what he said, because I found it hard to understand some of his words. But then I realized. 

I have the same feeling now as I had then - this deep set sinking in my gut, a pain that sits inside every string in my heart - knowing that this man felt he needed to apologize to me because I might think him different. 

I knew when I had sat down beside him, that by physical standards, he and I were not exactly the same.

What I didn't know, was that it was an acquired brain injury, and what I couldn't fathom, was that he would feel it necessary to say sorry to the girl who sat beside him.

“You don’t have to apologize.” 

He simply smiled, and I wondered: how many plane trips had he taken where people didn’t talk to him because people thought he was different? How many times had he walked down the street and was treated unkindly because people thought he was different? How many days did he wake up wishing, praying, begging God to go back to the day where people didn't think him different?

Before John’s accident, no one would have looked at him twice. But I saw the looks he was given on the plane, looks I was given on that plane - as if they pitied me for having to sit next to him. 

My heart hurt then, because the truth is, John’s no different then me. 

The function of our bodies may not work the same way  - but we were fastened and formed and moulded and made and brought into this world by a God who loves us madly.

The insides of our brain may look a little different - but we're both searching and hoping and laughing and struggling, and so yes, maybe those things don't look the exact same for the two of us, but who is to say that determines that he is different and I am normal? 

I despise the fact that he felt he needed to apologize to me, as if I was this poor, unlucky, burdened girl by having to sit next to him on the plane.

John’s favourite movie is 21 Jump Street. He reads a lot of books and loves Netflix, and used to be a really good biker. He was a daredevil when he was fourteen years old, and he loves going to the gym.

He pointed to the long scar on my right knee and asked me what happened. John is well aware of peoples' scars.

He wondered if I was in university or college, and I said no, but I told him I write. He smiled when I said that, and he told me he likes thinking of ideas for books, but he would hate to actually write one.

"Way too much work," he said. I laughed.

Before we got off the plane, as we descended low into Toronto, John elbowed me again. I turned to him, and I’ll never forget the words he gave to me.

“Aliza, I hope you do well with your writing." And in the sincerest voice I've ever heard, "And I hope that you are able to do everything I can’t.”

I wanted to cry as he bestowed those words upon me. 

I prayed for him while I meandered down the airport halls, watching the people hurry off to wherever they so desperately needed to get to.

Let him know he is valuable. Let him know he matters. Let him know he’s worth so much more than he could ever comprehend. 



extended arms and open hands


I’m not a graceful girl. I think that’s part of the reason why I am such a terrible dancer. I have no technique, deliver no poise; instead awkwardly attempt to recreate steps that do not flow or come from the depths of me.

I’d love to be a graceful girl and be the most elegant, delicate ballerina you ever did see, but I’ve realized that most likely will never happen. Today I’m choosing to leave behind the desire to be a graceful girl, and embracing the need to be a girl of grace.

I always thought grace meant allowing people to walk all over you. I’ll admit it: I’m a girl with a little bit of feistiness in her. The whole “getting walked on” thing never sat quite right with me.

So instead of offering grace with extended arms and open hands, I closed my fists tightly and gave a snubbed nose and an extra large dose of sass.

To me, grace seemed weak. Grace seemed sensitive and emotional. Grace seemed like giving in.

The truth? Grace isn’t giving in. Grace is letting go.

Grace is letting go of the past - the past hurt, the past assumptions, the past mistakes - and moving on towards something better. Grace is practicing forgiveness, showing mercy, allowing the possibility of sweet, sweet second chances.

What if we were to create a culture where grace was our first reaction - a place where we could stretch out our bodies and sprinkle grace into the lives of others?

Grace is unfastening the doors of my hardened heart and seeing the world from the eyes of Jesus: eyes that see beautiful, broken people who need beautiful, unbroken grace.

I want a grace-filled existence..

amazing grace

Today I was with the street boys. Most of the street “boys” are actually a lot older then I am…some are around 23 or 25, some are around 16 or 17. On Wednesdays I go to the street boys house (which is in the slums of Rwanda) and I tutor them. Or at least, I attempt to tutor them. Last Wednesday I had to tutor one boy, Appolonaire, in biology and chemistry…yes, you can laugh! Don’t worry, I laughed pretty hard too. There is a possible chance he could now fail those subjects…all because of his so-called “tutor”. I mostly just taught him how to study, and he learned the characteristics of non-flowering plants fairly quickly. If you ever need to know the characteristics of non-flowering plants…please don’t ask me. Appolonaire is beautiful. I asked him what his dreams are. He told me he wants to be a gospel singer. So I asked him to sing for me. And today he sang. He lifted his hands to Heaven, closed his eyes, and sang a Kinyarwandan song that gave me goosebumps all over my body. I swear, in that moment, as his African voice resounded in the small slum we sat in, the Holy Spirit was there too. It was a holy moment, indeed. And then, we sang together.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a child like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

A white girl and a black boy praised God together today. It doesn’t matter where you live, what colour your skin is, or the size of your home. As Appolonaire reminded me today, we are all the same. We are all created in the image of God. We are all loved, cherished, valued and treasured by the One who has created us. You don’t need a church to praise God. Sometimes all you need is a slum in Rwanda..