This is what I know for sure

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-7-02-33-pm In my semester of learning, I'm unlearning a lot. I keep realizing I don't know many things at all.

When they said college would go fast, I didn't believe them. But tomorrow I have my final exam, and then my first semester is over.

Because this is the way my mind works, I keep thinking: did I learn enough? did I pay attention? am I going to be ready to launch into the world when classes are over in a year and a half?

The truth is, I don't know. This seems to be my answer more than anything these days. Who has concrete answers, anyway? Certainly not me.

"What are you going to do after school?"

I smile. "I don't know."

Or, "What do you hope to accomplish with your choice of major?"

I smile. "I don't know."

And, "What's the endgame, Aliza? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?"

I smile. "I really, really don't know."

That's the truth, and I'm beginning to settle into that now. I don't know much. Four years ago I had a detailed plan of what 22 was supposed to look like, mostly beginning and ending with a published book. But life looks different than what I thought it would, and that's not unsatisfying. I'm in the midst of good, stretching, lovely things. And most of them I have no clue about.

So I focus on the facts I do know: my nephew Noah turning one soon, the Christmas lights keeping me warm, reading books on love and spiritual discipline, painting on ornaments and bread boards, and remembering that Jesus is coming soon.

It's around this time of the year -- just a handful of days before Christmas -- when I normally begin to feel as though I've missed him. I begin to feel guilty and ashamed, thinking that I should have done more, or proven my love to Jesus somehow more tangibly.

I never thought being still could usher him in. I thought I had to prove it.

But this year, I can feel my insides shifting and changing, and that scares me and excites me simultaneously. There is no guilt or shame within me this year. No thing I have to prove. I've been reading a lot about Jesus, and listening to podcasts that have begun to change the way I view both him and me. Someday I'll share more with you, after I figure out how to articulate the feelings swirling within me.

But for now, I'll say this: I don't know a lot. I don't know about my life, or about college, or about writing, or art. But I know that I have people in my world who love me, and who I love in return. And I know I am getting to know Jesus in ways I haven't fathomed before.

He's coming soon, that empty manger waiting for his entrance. I look at Noah and think, "This was Jesus at one point. An almost one year old with bright eyes and a soul I feel as though I can see through." Soon we'll celebrate that Jesus is born, one of the most fantastical and revolutionary stories we'll ever hear.

But he is here, too. Beside me. Within me. Around me. Tomorrow in my exam, and on Christmas day, and on Noah's birthday, and when next semester starts, and all the days after that -- even when I keep thinking I don't know. 

He is here.

I sit still and breathe quietly for seven minutes.

He is here. I am more fully at peace than I can last remember.

In all of my uncertainty, this is what I know for sure.

On the week of Christmas


Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset I was going to write a benediction, like I did last year during this week before Christmas. Truth is, I don't feel much like writing one of those.

Our traditions may be changing this year. Rain is falling now instead of snow. The days are mild and the nights are cool, but the carols ring out incessantly, and I decide that I need them to keep playing. Sometimes I need songs to sing over and over and over again, until I finally succumb to their hopeful message.

Sometimes I just need to give in and let myself hope.

The traditions change -- this I'm realizing. We're in a new house this year, and Sister is nine months pregnant with a boy I'm madly in love with already, and my grandmother's sitting next to Jesus instead of reclining in that comfy chair with blankets tucked right up to her chin.

But we're still going to go see It's a Wonderful Life in the theatre Wednesday evening, and the boys and I will drizzle so much butter on the popcorn it'll seep through the bag and onto our laps. Christmas Eve will come and I'll go to midnight Mass for the candle light service. Holiness is here without having to search, but sometimes I like to seek out the holy just as well. 

I've become fearful again. I can't even put my finger on it. When I feel it well up within me, I watercolour tiny Christmas wreaths, and I bought Flannery O'Connor's Prayer Journal, just in case I forget how to pray.

Maybe you're afraid, just like me. Maybe you you need to just give in and let yourself hope. I'm stubborn, too. It's hard to give in sometimes. But hope is never a symbol of weakness. I think, more than anything, it's a symbol of strength.

I pray that when we become afraid, we might be instilled with courage and also with quiet. I pray our fear is vanquished and replaced with a deep love that we'll wrap warm around our shoulders, just like my fur vest.

Some things change, some traditions remain the same, but each year we can always be made new. Perhaps that's the hope I cling to most.

Courage, and hope, and holiness. May your Christmas be filled with all three. Please know that I think after a long, hard year, I believe you deserve this -- and more. So much more.

This cold December morning

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.29.17 AM It's been a week and a half since my plane touched down from Peru. It was immediately cold, even though it's been a mild, snowless winter. But Peru was a hundred and ten degrees and blazing. I wrapped the spring coat I had shoved in my luggage around me and shivered. I was home. That feeling had not forsaken me.

My brother-in-law and brother picked me up from the airport and took me to my grandmother's visitation. She had passed away six days earlier, while we each were under different skies. She had told me a few months ago that she had always wanted to go to South America, and there we were -- she inhaling her final breath in Canada, me adventuring on that rich red soil in Peru.

I just wish I could call and tell her all about it.

We buried her on a cold, December morning in a plot of land directly beside her husband. We took rose petals and placed them on the casket, but I watched as a few of mine flew away. I took two roses from the stack and kept them, dried one out and hung it upside down on my bedroom wall. I pressed the other between the thin and tender pages of her favourite verse.

And now I can see the lights, and hear the songs, and smell the oranges drying out in the oven. This is Christmas, isn't it? Strings of sadness and pain alongside the joy and merriment of a hopeful Christmas and a very happy New Year. We hurt and we break and we flounder, asking God why newborn babies die and why there are so many funerals at Christmas time.

My best friend went to two other funerals last week. Two different fathers from two different families snatched away too soon. Come Christmas Day, those families won't have a dad waiting for them downstairs with sticky buns or hot chocolate. They are now splintered and cracked right open, spilling their grief alongside the rest of the world who sing, Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.

No one hurts cleanly. We are all very messy and untidy while we hurt, dripping and disheveled and scattering ourselves all over the place. And the thing that I keep thinking is: Jesus, in all his glory and righteousness, endured the breaking that made us whole. He hurts messily right beside us, our Emmanuel, our God with us. He just extends a sprig of hope through the pain of grief -- that after this, he makes us whole.

After all of this, he makes us whole.

A benediction for the week of Christmas

May every joy be yoursthis Holiday This Christmas,

May we bask in Your holiness when the days do not feel holy, when the world feels surely lonely, when we can't seem to find the unfailing, steadfast star.

May we breathe in Your glory when the darkness settles in like a blanket all around us, and the time is shifting faster than we ever thought it could.

May we soak in Your goodness when our ugliness rears her wicked head reaching out from our innermost places, and she scares and shames us with her thoughts and words and actions that we wish we didn't have.

May we believe in Your enough-ness when we don't feel enough for ourselves, when our inadequacy grows larger than what we believe we are capable of, when we need a reminder that You are enough for us.

May we rest in Your love because that is the reason You came for us: relentless, humble, extraordinary love that defies boundaries and reason. May we stop trying to convince ourselves that You could never love a girl like us, but rest in the love that comes freely.

And finally,

May we be wrapped within the arms of Jesus, know a deeper love we've never known before, and find hope in the promise of Emmanuel -- God with us, always.

Merry Christmas.