change the world

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.

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.

A thousand ways we can change the world

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 10.57.42 AM I watercolour gardens because I've longed to plant flowers but never have. So I create them on paper instead: roses and tulips and lilies, because they're Sarah's favourite, and I keep thinking I want to paint sunflowers too. I'd paint them on my arms if I could, and then they'd sink into my veins, all yellow and dainty and fresh, and I'd be growing a garden deep inside of me. Would I feel brighter then? Would the world feel brighter too?

How can I change this world?

I wonder. Don't we all wonder on these January evenings? It feels like the Earth's been reset, but we know it's still spinning. Midnight strikes and the world is tinged sparkly and golden, but we see the news. We hear the stories.  Some of us go away for awhile, keeping the blinds drawn because the sun hurts our eyes as well as our insides.

The cynics say resolutions are pointless. The hopeful make lists of the things that they plan to do different. I'm not one nor the other, though I have a word dangling on a necklace that marks what I hold for this brand new year.

We'll screw up a few times -- look, I already have. We'll celebrate hard, and maybe buy bits of confetti to toss into friends hair. There's a time for everything, and sadness and celebration are among that everything.

I'd like to change the world, I think.

I lay in bed at one in the morning, dreaming up a million different things -- watercolour gardens, and kind words, a dozen lilies handed to a sad girl.

There's a thousand ways we can change the world each day. I think it begins inside -- that soft place right next to your beating heart. The resolutions are fine, and the one word is good, but if we're not looking out at the world and wondering how we might be a part of some change, then what is the point of this new, clean slate? Well, I'm not sure.

Changing the world might look different for you than me. I think that's beautiful. We're all capable of bringing more yellow to the grey, of adding brightness to the dreary dark. Whether that's through daisies, or paint, or a cup of tea. We all have ways of changing our world. The world in front of us, and the world far away.

There's a thousand ways we can change the world each day.

So I'm going to.

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