calling

The fundamentals of being a person

I am in the Dominican Republic at a four and half star resort with my best friend. The sun is bright, the ocean breezy, and I eat mangoes and passionfruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have napped a lot, and read good books from cover to cover. I sit on the shore with my feet on the waters edge, encouraging the ocean to kiss the tips of my toes with each breath she takes.

When I hold my life in the palm of my hand, this year scrapes through my fingertips like a shard of broken glass. It was harder for me than most others. This vacation was a well needed reprieve—a chance for the pounding waves to soothe my jagged edges again.

Last night I met Miguel. He introduced himself to me as Michael Jackson. I laughed.

Sarah thinks he’s twenty-one; I guessed twenty-seven. It’s hard to tell. He reminds me of a slinky: tall and stretchy and very flexible. When I watch him dance my breath catches in my throat because it feels like I’m watching someone do the very thing they were born to do. He works for the resort. During his day shift, between 9:30-6:30 he’ll work odd jobs, then go home for a break, coming back at 8:30 to take part in the entertainment. This means he’s often working 16 hours a day. He says he doesn’t mind. Miguel is a natural entertainer. 

He is rail thin and tall, his skin milky and smooth, his teeth bright against the night sky and his dark skin. 

Maybe it’s the book I just finished by Jodi Picoult—Small Great Things—about a black woman being sued by a white supremacist. Or maybe it’s everything that has been happening in the States with Charlottesville. But this week I can’t stop thinking about racism and about people and I am wondering if we are all the same or if we are all different or if maybe we are both. 

I asked Miguel to dance for us. He had told us he doesn’t like the styles of his country—salsa or marimba—but instead he’s created a style of his own.

He hands me his phone after he’s programmed the correct song. I hold it in between Sarah and I so we can hear. 

Miguel looks at us. “Listen to the music, but keep your eyes on me.”

“Got it,” I say, my eyes never leaving him. 

He starts to dance and it is magic. Each beat of the song is a different move, and it is fast but smooth, a thousand actions but simultaneously one long movement. I cannot stop looking; cannot stop thinking that God must have given Miguel limbs if only so he could move them this way.

Are Miguel and I the same? I wonder. Because he works at the resort I am a guest at. His shifts are 16 hours, and back home mine are 8. He works to give his mother money and pay for his father’s chemotherapy treatments, and when my mother had cancer her treatments were free. 

“You work very long hours,” I told him. “You must be tired.”

“It is worth it when I meet people like you girls and others like you,” he replied, smiling. “You actually talk to me. It is hard sometimes when people come here to the resort and treat me like a slave. Like they forget I am a person too.”


Today it rains all day. I have not seen rain like this before—thunder that cracks across the sky so loud I watch everyone in the resort jump, startled. The ocean looks angry, swirling the sand into the centre of the sea.

I see Miguel and we invite him to come sit with us. 

“You Canadians are amazing,” he says. 

Sarah and I laugh. “Why do you say that?”

“You treat me like I am one of you, like we are no different.” 

Sarah nods. “We’re not different from each other.”

Miguel smiles—it stretches wide across his face; as wide as the ocean stretching before us. “I think so too. When I look at the world I don’t see countries, I don’t see colours, I just see lots and lots of people.”

Perhaps our lives have been vastly different, Miguel’s and mine. I grew up in North America with food and clothes and water I could drink from the tap. Miguel grew up praying for rainy days like this in order for their food to grow so they might be able to eat dinner.

But I look at Miguel and see a beautiful smile and bright, animated eyes. I see a young man who has a dream to dance, a man who doesn’t see countries or colours but only people. 

And I think: that’s what I want to see too. 

I wonder what the world would like if only we could see people. If instead of classification and segregation there was more unity. Maybe that is simplifying it too much, but maybe simple isn’t a bad idea.


Tonight Miguel will dance again. 

Just him and the sky and the people who paid to be here. Maybe we are all different, but maybe—just maybe—deep down we’re all the same.

I’ll watch him while he dances—while he does the very thing he was born to do—and I’ll witness his dream explode from his being. Just me, a girl, and him, a boy—both of us fundamentally human.

Tonight, that will be enough. 

Tonight, it will be as it should be.

On opening your hands and releasing your truth

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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.

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. 

When you decide to go to college after swearing you'd never go

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I thought I'd go to my grave before I would ever go to college or university. I honestly thought I was going to be the girl who could prove to society that university is not needed to make it in the world.

For the record, I still think this. I still believe that your education does not determine your value, and that your grades and your degrees and your certificates and your diplomas do not determine your worth. I still believe your schooling does not determine your future.

But four and a half years after graduating from high school, I found myself humbly applying to college. I was terrified. I thought, "I have been standing on my no-school soapbox for years! And now I have to meekly climb down and admit that maybe I didn't know the things I thought I knew?" Admitting you might be wrong, or that you might think something different than you once did, is not my most favourite past time.

I have come to the conclusion that my life felt stagnant. All of my eggs were in one basket, the basket labelled "Get My Novel Published" and I felt as though I was not growing or flourishing like I hoped I would. I'm certainly not giving up on my novel. I'd just like to be writing other stories too.

It really came down to this: I realized that I want to better myself. By not going to school, I was missing out on an enormous amount of learning that I could use to broaden my skill set! It's almost funny how it took me, quite literally, years to realize this. (It often takes me awhile to understand things.) So I decided to take active steps toward getting better at the things that I love, and the things that I'm good at.

I was always scared to admit that I was good at something, in case that automatically doused me with arrogance. This is another thing I'm learning: it's okay to be good at something. And it's okay to want to continue to get better at it.

I always thought I wouldn't go to school so I could stick it to society and prove that they couldn't tell me what to do. But then I went to Africa and grew a little older, and hopefully a little wiser, and I met people and I went places and I heard stories I longed to write. I'd like to make a difference, you see. And three weeks ago that meant applying to Journalism four and a half years later than my friends did.

It's okay to be good at something.

It's okay to want to be better.

It's okay to do things a little late.

It's okay to change your mind.

I mean, here I am, a girl who swore she'd never go to school.

And then this morning I got accepted into college.

Here's to choosing you belong

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Processed with VSCO with p5 preset I spoke at a young adults gathering last night. My best friend and I drove two hours, and the entire drive my stomach continued to plunge lower and lower, as if I were on the DropZone at Wonderland. I swear my vital organs were mixing themselves up within me. My liver and lungs and heart and kidneys seemed to be trading places with each other. Stop it, I told my organs. They ignored me and kept moving around.

A few of my friends were leading worship before I was set to speak, so when I arrived at the church I saw kind, familiar faces. "They seem very natural up there," I thought as I watched them practice. They looked like they belonged on that stage -- humble, but still confident. Modest, but still sure of themselves.

I placed my hand against my stomach and tried to settle my nerves.

I don't belong here.

The thought came from out of nowhere. But like the pattern of thoughts I've experienced before, once one thought seeps in, a dozen more follow.

I had prayed over my talk for a month. I was going to be vulnerable and share exactly what I've been feeling recently -- that waiting is hard, that rejection is utterly crappy, and that faithfulness looks like a little bit of all of that: waiting, taking a step forward, and growth.

I was prepared. I was ready. The preparation wasn't the problem. The problem was my overwhelming mind telling me that I didn't belong.

//

Last week I was away for a few days at a leadership retreat. I felt like I didn't belong there either. It was me, a writer and artist, among twenty-five pastors and worship pastors and youth pastors and ministry organizers. I sat there and learned far more about leading, and healing, and freedom than I thought I would, but I still had that niggling sense of unbelonging deep within me.

Someone kindly called me out on that. I'm going to tell you what he told me.

What to do when you feel like you don't belong:

When you are invited to the table, and you feel like you don't belong, you have one moment to feel that way. You can ask yourself, "what am I doing here?" and then, once your one moment is finished, you move on. Once you've moved on you say, "I'm here now, in this place where I have been invited. What can I offer to the people around me?" And then you hold your hands out, and you understand instinctually that you were created uniquely with strengths and gifts, and you offer your very best.

Even if you feel like you don't belong, you choose to move forward. You choose that you belong. Because God has made you intricately with strengths and gifts and purposes and abilities that you alone were designed for. It has taken me far too long to believe that.

//

Looking out at the young adults who were coming to sit down in the church, I watched their faces pass by me. I was going to be speaking to them in a matter of moments -- about how faithfulness looks an awful lot like planting a garden: carefully and gently tending each day, hoping and praying something is growing deep within the ground below you.

You don't belong here, whispered harsh and raw against my brain. I paused and closed my eyes. I took my one moment. I asked myself, "what am I doing here?" and then my moment was finished and I was moving on. I added gratitude to that too. I said, "Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me here, to this very place, in this very moment."

I was there then, in that place where I had been invited. I had so much to offer the people around me. So I rose from my seat, and I stepped on the stage, and I understood instinctually that I was created uniquely with strengths, and gifts, and purposes and abilities.

And then I opened my hands and offered my very best.

Let's meet up in diners

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Let's meet up in diners, I think as I wrap my hand around my lukewarm cup of coffee. I've poured in too much cream again.

I'm sitting across the table from an old friend I knew when we were fifteen, when the world literally revolved around having plans on the weekends. Jesus and I were acquainted then, but when I look back I knew I missed him more often than not. He was steady. I was consistently changing my mind.

My friend and I are in a diner, the kind with red vinyl booths and a black-and-white checkered floor. She is honest, she is authentic, and I am so glad we are twenty-one instead of fifteen.

We're catching each other up on our lives. Most of this has to do with Jesus, and if I were to draw out my relationship with him on a map, you'd get dizzy from the ups and downs. I've dropped Jesus more times than I care to admit. Lent is a good reminder of this. I lean into this season of suffering and grief, and mourn the times I've denied him.

Perhaps -- because it is Lent -- I feel more content in my season of waiting. Or maybe God is working in me in ways he hasn't worked in me before. I picture myself a red-orange tulip, still burrowed deep within the ground.

I look at my friend, her hair framed by the winter light behind her, and she tells me how she was in her own season of waiting. She took a job that involved going to high schools and talking to students about how loved they are, and for the first year she said it was the hardest thing she ever did. She kept waiting for it to get better. She kept waiting for it to not be so scary. Instead of quitting, she waited. Instead of quitting, she kept showing up. 

Over spinach and feta omelettes, and rye toast, and soft eggs, something was opening up inside of me that had been closed for awhile.

Waiting -- whatever it is you might be waiting for -- has the capacity to do a few different things to a person. It can make you bitter and sad and longing for what someone else has. (I've allowed it to do this to me before.) Or it can carve and mould and form you into a person who doesn't quit, but instead keeps showing up.

I look at my friend -- and I am so grateful she kept showing up for those high school kids. One year later, her time of waiting is over, and she is a part of a ministry she never dreamed she might be a part of. Those kids needed her to show up for them. I needed her to show up for them, too. If only so one year later she could sit across from me in a diner and tell me she kept trying. Bravery often works best that way, I think. Someone is scared and tries anyway. Then they see someone who's scared and tells them to try anyway, too. 

Let's meet up in diners, I think as I wrap my hand around my still lukewarm cup of coffee. Let's show up for each other, even while we're still waiting and hoping and praying. Let's order coffee and get plenty of refills. Let's be authentic and vulnerable and say: I don't think I'll ever have it all together. Let's be scared and brave, all at the same time. We know it's easier to be brave together. Let's be honest and kind, and thank God for the girl sitting across from us in the red vinyl booth.

Let's not quit. Let's keep waiting. Let's show up.

And let's meet up in diners.

Please don't let rejection have the last word

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Aliza -- 

Recently I've been struggling with rejection and countless doors slammed in my face that I thought would be wide open and I have been rethinking a lot of my dreams and goals and the things that I thought I was good at. I've been discouraged, felt like giving up, and doubting my passions and talents.

I'm a writer. 

I have always wanted to be a writer. 

I want to create beautiful things for the people I love. 

With colleges breathing down my throat and so many life changing decisions to make in the next year, I have been feeling so overwhelmed and scared and confused recently. When I try to explain what I want to do to people, it never makes sense. It doesn't fit in a specific category of careers.

-- E. 

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Okay, E --

Let me first tell you how sorry I am that you've been experiencing rejection. It's such a crappy part of being a human, isn't it?

I read something this morning that bruised my heart until it was swollen: "Jesus, who never rejected anyone, was rejected more than anyone else." Suffice it to say, God gets rejection. He was the most rejected person on the planet.

On a scale of things I'd be fine with never feeling again, rejection is at the top of the list. So I want to affirm you -- it’s totally okay to feel crappy after experiencing rejection. And after that affirmation, I want to encourage you -- even though you’ve been rejected, that doesn't mean you’re not good at what you’ve been rejected at.

Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was rejected by agents and publishers sixty times before someone gave her a shot.

Kathryn's friends and family members said, "Kathryn, we really think you need to move on from this project." Kathryn disagreed. So Kathryn started lying to them about where she was going. She'd say she was moving on, and then she'd sneak away to work on her book, to revise it one more time, to prepare it to send to -- yet again -- another literary agent.

One day, presumably after years of work and tears and sweat and effort and a whole lot of cursing, someone said yes to Kathryn. Someone gave her a shot.

Now The Help is a best selling novel and a major motion picture. All because one person, after sixty people saying no, one person said yes.

This story matters to me. I think sometimes rejection is a sign to move forward, but I also think sometimes rejection is when a person (or sixty) may not have quite grasped the potential of what stands in front of them.

I got shake it off stamped into a bracelet.

So that a) I can continually channel my inner T Swift and b) when the rejection comes -- which it always will -- I can do just that. Shake it off, shake it off. I know it's not that easy. Rejection is a slow and harsh burn. But I think sometimes we convince ourselves it's better if we hold on tight. Let me assure you from some serious experience: when your burdens are heavy, it's always better to let go.

For a long time I thought I had to do very specific things that would fall into line with God’s Big Plan For My Life.

What I’m learning is this: if I’m walking beside Jesus, completely in line with who he is, then his plan is going to fall into place because I’ll be beside him. I believe God’s plan for all people is to follow and love him so deeply, that everything we do is a reflection of that love.

Please don't let rejection have the last word, E. Let's be real, it's Fear who is speaking now -- hissing that you're not good enough. You can mourn and grieve how you're feeling in this period of rejection. But get up again, and try one more time. Maybe that time will be the moment when someone says yes. Maybe tomorrow someone will give you your shot.

If you need to write, write. (I happen to think Kathryn Stockett would agree with me.) If you need to create, create. But writing a book is not the epitome of success, and success doesn't equal happiness. Stick to who you are -- more specifically, to who God has created you to be.

And don't forget, E -- Jesus gets rejection.

I turned down a book deal and this is why

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.41.45 PM This past October I was offered a book deal. A few days ago, I turned it down.

I hadn't sent out a book proposal because I wasn't even considering writing nonfiction. But a publishing house had somehow discovered my blog, liked what they saw, and wanted me to write a book. It's strange to even type that.

When they first emailed me, I was in the Lima airport in Peru at four in the morning. I think I literally squealed. I was elated, delighted, flattered, exhausted, and shocked. Mostly I couldn't believe it. I read the email over and over again, and I remember feeling like I was still on the plane, like I was flying or hovering, like my backpack didn't weigh a thing. I also distinctly remember feeling like I was on fire.

There was a lot going on inside of me that day.

Over the next few months the publisher, editor, marketer, and I chatted. They were nothing if not kind. We conceptualized ideas, talked about titles, looked over marketing plans, and did a lot of other book-ish things. I was happily overwhelmed through the whole process, until one week when I started having nightmares.

I am slowly learning that when I have anxiety, she often shows her face through dreams. She sneaks into my head at night, and I wake up feeling sad and confused and lonely. That happened for a week and a half. I was so tired, and didn't have much energy. I binge-watched a lot of Grey's. I didn't write.

Since they had offered me the deal, an endless loop had been playing in my mind: I'm going to be published! I'm going to be published! I'm going to be published! 

I thought being published was the epitome of success. I thought I would have something worthwhile to tell people when they asked me what I did for a living. I thought I would write this book, but I was thinking that for all of the wrong reasons.

I made a promise to myself years and years ago, back when I was seventeen-years-old, when I began writing a novel. The promise was this:

I will not write a book solely to get published. I will only write a book if I desperately, relentlessly, urgently need to write the book. I will write because I need to write, not because I hope to be published.

That was a promise I made to my heart, if only to help me come back to the reason why I started writing in the first place.

I can't write a book just to write a book. I mean I could -- but I don't want to. It has to be carved so deep within me that I will do literally anything to see its release. I feel this about other projects, other words. I didn't feel that about this one.

I will be so 100%, blatantly honest with you: for me, this book wouldn't have been about the words. It would have been about the idea that being published somehow would make me enough.

One day after the anxiety was on full blast in my brain, I woke up and started to fervently pray, using Philippians 4:6 and 7 as my lifeline: “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your heart and mind as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I wanted peace more than anxiety. I wanted my enough-ness to stem from God and not a publishing deal. I wanted Jesus more than anything. So I took my shaky hands and typed an email, clicked send, and didn't have a book deal any longer.

Immediately I wondered if I made a huge mistake. Would this be my only opportunity to be published? I asked God to confirm that I did the right thing. Not even a half hour later, I felt inexplicable peace.

Everything about this was good. The publishing house was kind, the concept was fantastic, the timeline lovely. It was all good. Which is, I think, why I was feeling so confused. If all of it was lovely, why was I anxious?

When the world offers you something gleaming on a shiny silver platter, it seems foolish to say no. It's so pretty, so tantalizing, so easy to pick up and run with. But in the deep recesses of my heart and soul I knew this shiny morsel wasn't right for me yet. I have to believe that what God has for me -- though perhaps not gleaming or shiny or silver -- is so much better.

Writing a book to try and prove your worth is not nearly a good enough reason to write a book.

I thought long and prayed hard about this, and the storyteller inside of me wants to write fiction until my fingers bleed. I thought I needed to be a nonfiction writer because that's what was being offered, but I know now that's not true. I thought I needed to accept a publishing deal, because maybe it will be the only one ever offered. But I want to trust God far more than all of this. I need to instead lean into what God has in store for me -- and quite honestly, I have no idea what that is.

So there we have it. Maybe foolish. Maybe brave. You can decide, because the truth is I don't mind which one you choose.

The bravest thing I ever did

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 9.07.31 PM The bravest thing I feel I ever did was the thing I decided not to do. I chose brave by choosing not to go to school. 

I chose to write instead. I chose to create art. I chose to make up stories. I chose to go to Africa twice. I chose to jet to Peru in two and a half weeks. I'm choosing all of these things instead.

When people have spoken to me about why I've decided not to attend university, I think most of the time they assume I'm against post secondary education. Let me tell you, I'm not anti school. I think college and university is a fantastic tool for many people. But I don't think it's absolutely necessary. I don't think it's the end all and be all of a person's life.

There are a lot of things I'd like to accomplish. There are books I want to write, and places I long to go, and people I hope to meet. I'm going to go to Machu Picchu next month. I want dazzling experiences that leave me breathless and hungry for more. I want adventures that I can write about.

For me, this is right. For me, this is what is working.

But I'll tell you, it wasn't an easy decision. Had I gone to university, I would have been in my fourth year now. And still -- even after four years -- there are people that ask me if I regret not going to school. There are well intentioned people that care for me, and there are others who think I've thrown my life away.

I earnestly believe that Jesus is bigger than university. When we're trusting in him to follow the calling he has placed on our lives, we can have confidence that we're going to be okay. Each time I've come home from Africa I've wept to Jesus, begging him to make something meaningful of my life. I want to do meaningful things, I've cried to him innumerable times. I don't want to do it safely. I want to do it meaningfully. 

Who knows what will come of those prayers? But I'll continue doing the things I believe Jesus has called me to do: to write, to speak, to create art. And through all of that I pray my life is meaningful.

So this, perhaps, is the bravest thing I felt that I have done. But I hope I do braver things than this.

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This is day thirteen of the series 31 days of choosing brave. You can click here if you'd like a list of all the posts in this series. If you want to make sure you don't miss a day, feel free to subscribe below. line1