The hunt for who I am

My nephew is one and a half.

He doesn’t say a lot yet – just a few random words, and only when he feels like it. (I already am a huge fan of his stubbornness. I hope he’ll grow up sticking to his guns.) Recently my sister has been teaching him different animal sounds.

She’ll say, “Noah, what does a puppy say?” and Noah will woof obediently. Or, “Noah, what does a lion say?” and Noah will roar. “Noah, what does a monkey say?” and Noah will twist his whole body, grinning, because he knows you’re about to tickle his underarms.

Noah, of course, is not a dog or a lion or a monkey. He’s a little boy. But there are moments where I wonder if he convinces himself he is a lion because he can roar.

In the same way I wonder if I can convince myself I am unworthy because of the things I have done.

If you asked me who I am, I would hand you a variety of answers. I’d say my name is Aliza Latta. I’m 23 years old. I’m a writer, I’m in school for journalism, and I’m an artist. I’m a poor college student who owes the government a lot of money, a daughter, a sister, an apprentice of Jesus, and Noah’s auntie.

There are so many things we could say about ourselves, but if they all got stripped away, what would we be left with?

If I got kicked out of school, would I still be considered a student?

If my fingers got chopped off and I couldn’t write or make art, would I still be considered a writer and an artist?

A friend of mine has had four miscarriages in the past two years. We were together the other day, talking about this. She looked at me and said, “Aliza, all of my babies have died. Am I still a mother?”

The past few months have shaken my identity all up. I woke up questioning who I was, mourning things that had happened, and wondering where I was supposed to go or how I was supposed to move on from the person I thought I once was.

Humans — I know — are constantly evolving, shaping and shifting and growing and molding into new, changed people. This is a wonderful gift. I am very glad I am not the same person I was six years ago or six months ago or six days ago. But it begs the question: If we are consistently changing, what is the basis of our identity?

I have placed my identity in school, in a relationship status, in success. I have placed it in my Instagram following and in my independence. Each of these places are like shifting sand beneath me: zero strength or security.

But Christ is teaching me a new way.

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.

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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... 

If the world feels too noisy

The world is too noisy. I've been feeling this way lately.

Everything feels loud: my iPhone, my journalism classes consistently talking about the news, and my Facebook feed filled with politics. I'm tired of trying to keep up.

I want the opposite of noise. I want quiet. 

This year, I've been researching spiritual habits, or you might know them as spiritual disciplines, or in less fancy terms, ways of becoming more like Jesus. I've been reading books and listening to podcasts.

Spiritual habits look like a variety of different things – reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, being with community, practicing a day of rest or Sabbath, fasting for a period of time, memorizing Scripture, and silence and solitude.

The last one, silence and solitude, is the one I specifically decided to work on. I hadn’t heard of it before. It turns out, particularly for a very verbal person, being silent on your own in a room is not the easiest experience.

The idea of silence and solitude, or at least the way I have interpreted it, is that you come before the Father and rest in the presence of God.

It sounded like peace to me. If the opposite of noise is quiet, then being silent in the presence of Jesus was exactly what I wanted.

So I sat on my bed, and I set a timer for 10 minutes. In the beginning, I just breathed. I inhaled for four seconds, and I exhaled for four seconds. Then slowly, once my body started to relax, I started quietly whispering, “I am in the presence of the Holy God. I am a beloved daughter in the presence of Jesus. I am loved and I am in the presence of the Father.” And I would repeat this, over and over and over again.

The first few days I did this were fantastic. I would read a chapter in Matthew and then a Psalm, and then I would practice silence and solitude for 10 minutes. An overwhelming, indescribable sort of peace washed over me. But then, over time, emotions started coming too.

When you spend time with God, He starts to reveal feelings to you that you didn't quite recognize before. Those are hard to sort through. I'm still working on it.

After emotion came distraction. I would be focusing on being in God’s presence and then find myself wondering what I was going to eat for lunch. (I’m working on having grace for myself.)

For my whole life, whenever I have a big, life-changing decision, or even a small, tiny one, I have wanted God to tell me clearly what He wanted me to do. I didn’t care what He would tell me – if He would just give me a clear sign, I would do anything. What career did he want me to have? Who did He want me to marry? What things did He want me to accomplish?

I often said to him, “If you would just tell me clearly, preferably in a loud voice, what you want me to do, I’ll do it.”

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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.

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When you feel like you're wilting, but you're wanting to flourish

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-7-23-32-pm These past few weeks I haven’t been praying.

I’ve wanted to, but still, I haven’t. I’m just so busy right now, I told myself. I’ll talk to Jesus soon. God would understand.

I wasn’t reading my Bible either. I saw it, sitting there on my nightstand, but it had been covered up by other things — glasses of water, notebooks, textbooks . . . my laptop.

I had a list of reasons the length of my arm for why I wasn’t praying or spending time with Jesus: I just had surgery, my second art show is quickly approaching, and the amount of schoolwork college assigns one person is still somewhat shocking to me.

All of those reasons are legitimate. But without any time spent with Jesus, all of those reasons were slowly emptying me.

A few days ago I was sitting on my bed, my white comforter beneath my crossed legs. I started crying. “I can’t do this anymore, Jesus,” I told Him. “I’m too tired. I’m too overwhelmed. I think I said yes to too many things. I think I’m going to have to pull all-nighters for the next month to finish everything I need to do. I feel like I’m drowning. No, not even drowning. I feel like I’m withering, like I’m shriveling right up.”

If I was a flower, I was a wilted one.

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The day he calls you beautiful

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-9-09-55-am You don’t forget the first time a boy calls you beautiful.

You don’t realize until years later that when he was whispering those words, he was permanently engraving them deep inside of you.

You don’t perceive the power that handful of syllables has.

Before he tells you, he looks at you. His eyes peer into yours, causing your face to flush red down to your toes. You half wonder if he’s aware of how he makes you blush. You don’t comprehend what’s happening. You don’t think. You just watch him while he says this to you.

I think you’re beautiful.

You lean into how you’re feeling: you’re a wildflower, freshly plucked. You’re a dainty ballerina. You’re a fuzzy Polaroid picture, the edges blurred, still in the midst of focusing.

You are feminine and beauty. Of course you are -- he just said so himself.

You do? You think I’m beautiful?

The stuttered question comes out before you can stop it, and you turn your face down shyly, away from him. You want him to think you're confident, not insecure.

Then he’s grasping your chin with his long fingers, turning your face back up to look into his eyes. He repeats what he told you before. Surely if he’s said the words a second time, he must believe it. They must be true.

I do. I think you’re beautiful.

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

What I'm choosing to do (now that I'm always stuck in traffic)

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-9-35-50-am The commute to my college is only thirty-five minutes, unless, of course, you’re going for class at 8:00 in the morning. Then the drive turns out to be more like an hour and a bit.

I’m convinced traffic could be used as a form of torture. There's just something about knowing that you're sandwiched between an endless amount of cars -- you're really not going anywhere. I think I mostly dislike the feeling of being stuck.

So this morning it was just me and the pink sky and twenty-seven thousand red brake lights. I have sixty precious minutes in my car before I arrive on campus, and instead of getting frustrated by the feeling of my foot constantly hitting the brakes, today I started thinking, “What could happen if I didn't waste this time?”

What can you do in an hour?

Easy. There's a lot I can accomplish. Give me sixty minutes and I can watch a show on Netflix, or finish a piece of art on canvas, or spin with my nephew in the kitchen and listen to his laugh. I could get a decent way through a book, or have coffee with a friend, or bake a load of nachos.

But this morning I took my hour and I had church.

I am a firm believer in church -- the Sunday kind -- of gathering with people and drinking coffee and telling one another about your week, and in the quiet, tender moments of worship, while holding your hands out and giving your whole self away.

But this morning, I had church too.

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It's not too late for you

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.22.11 AM I went camping for the first time last weekend. There was a single layer of fabric keeping me from sleeping beneath the stars, and I woke to the view of early sunlight peeking through the trees. We toasted s'mores and sipped slowly by the fire, telling stories of the people we thought we loved when we were four years old.

We took a cooler of sandwiches and iced tea and packed ourselves into the car to head toward the beach -- driving with the windows rolled down and the music blasting, dancing to the sound of summer and the feeling of electricity in our bones.

I think God gave me a fresh start this summer -- a fresh start that I didn't even realize I needed. But this summer has been like the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, a blank canvas I keep splashing color on.

This has been the summer of firsts for me.

There have been small things, like going camping or standing in the Pacific Ocean, but there have been larger things too: buying my first car, finding a wonderful friend, and deciding, after waiting for four years, to attend college in the fall.

God keeps whispering to me: Aliza, it's not too late. 

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When God gives you what you need before you even know you need it


Processed with VSCO with p5 preset It’s strange, when you first meet someone and immediately know you’re going to be friends with them. I’ve met people before and have known in my heart that I’m supposed to pray for them, but it was an entirely different sort of knowing when I met Cass.

It was late winter, those months when the Earth is trying to decide if she wants to stay frozen or dive into spring. I had started a new job, and quite honestly, was frustrated about where my life was headed. By headed, I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere, and if I was going somewhere, I sure wasn’t getting there fast.

My plan was to get my novel published — which was proving to be more difficult than I thought. I was doing my best to be faithful, and I’m learning faithfulness often looks like taking a step forward. So I sucked in my pride and set my writing aside until evenings; I took a step forward and chose the logical thing: I got a job.

I was confused. I didn’t want to be working another minimum wage job.

I wanted my book to be published. I wanted to be writing and doing art full time. Didn’t God see my dreams and plans? Didn’t He understand what I wanted so desperately? I thought I had it all figured out: my career, my future . . . and yet there I was, feeling quite discouraged about how my life was seemingly going the opposite way I had planned.

Then I met Cass.

I had been working my new job for a week or so, and Cass had been away for a couple of days. But on that specific day we ended up working together. She came up to me and introduced herself. She was kind to me — a genuine kindness. Still, she was reserved, and for some reason I kept thinking I hope someday she trusts me. I couldn’t understand why I was thinking that when I didn’t even know who she was. We talked for a few moments, and throughout our conversation, something inside me shifted.

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