let's be honest

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.

When babies are dying and you don't have a clue what to do

It's pouring outside. The heavy rain is going to last up until tomorrow, and I can't stop thinking that maybe this is God's way of telling us he's weeping.

The heaviness sits inside of my heart too; Syrian babies are dying, being gassed then sprayed with water, people choking, their lungs collapsing like a deflated balloon inside of them.

And here I am. Sitting in my reporting class watching my video reporter package on a maple syrup festival.

I feel ill.

I've had to stop myself multiple times today from standing up and screaming at my professor, "What is the point of all of this? What is the point of learning journalism when we're not even telling stories that matter?"

Why does anyone care about a freaking maple syrup festival when there are bodies on the floor in Syria?

Last night I was shadowing a TV host at a station for a school assignment. I stood at the back, in the dark, my notebook clutched tight between my fingers. I watched as the busyness of the station unfolded before me. I stood half amused, mostly surprised that I actually understood the majority of what was happening around me, and I couldn't help but think, "Maybe college really is teaching me something..."

(I feel this way because I'm tired and only have three weeks left of the year.) Anyways, I digress.

A cameraman whispered to me last night, motioning me to come over. I did.

"What are you in school for?" He asked.

"Journalism," I replied softly. We were whispering because they were going to start filming on the set soon.

He nodded, serious. "Then you need to go to the Middle East."

"Oh, I would love to someday."

His eyes were dark, black almost, like a nighttime sky. "You need to," he replied earnestly. "I'm an immigrant from Egypt. I came here five years ago, and the stories coming from the Middle East are not.... how do you say..." He paused for a moment, then searched something on his phone. He showed me the screen, and it said in a Google search: unbiased. 

"You feel like the reporting about what's happening in the Middle East is not unbiased?" I asked.

He nodded.

"I'm sorry," I said. I didn't know what else to say.

"You go there," he told me. "You tell the truth."

I suddenly felt overwhelmingly helpless, the kind of helpless that sinks deep into the pit of your stomach and slowly turns to a burning rage. Because who am I? A young Canadian journalism student that writes reporter packages on maple syrup festivals? I sit in my class, weary with myself and the world around me. Too often I care more about my school finals, and paying for next year's tuition, and that parking ticket I just acquired, than the news headlines that make me feel heavy and full.

Syria feels far away, gas attacks seem impossible, twin babies dying in their father's arms is too much for my brain to comprehend. Because I am here, safe and warm and will never have chemicals spray down on my skin.

The rain's falling harder now.

I might join in with God's weeping soon.


Helpful links: 

Preemptive Love Coalition  // Even though it feels like we can't do anything, I am trying to remember that there are steps we can take. Preemptive Love Coalition is doing a lot of incredible and immediate work over in Syria — and what I don't want to forget is that God is so much larger than all of this. Thank God we love a God who is larger than this. 

The nights you can see only your shame

It was two in the morning and I was wide awake. My body was exhausted. It felt as though my lungs were made of bricks, heavy and full. If I tried to get out of bed, I knew I would tip over.

I could see my failures play like a movie in front of me. It was as if there was a projector reeling videos on my white wall beside me -- everything was abundantly clear. There I was: failing, sinning, screwing up again and again. I sat on my bed and watched the movie clips play in my head.

Tears streamed.

"I am a failure," I told Jesus. "Look at all of the times I have failed you. Look at the moments I chose to ignore you. Look at this pile of shame."

I was small and cold and sad. But I didn't feel alone. It was 2 am, and I felt like Jesus was sitting there beside me.

I felt like soft clay. My hardened edges were long gone. I was too tired to carry them with me any longer. In my softness I heard these words, "You have to grieve these moments. See them all and grieve them, Aliza. But once you're done grieving you need to move past them, and know that they do not define you."

I wanted to be strong, not weak. Grieving felt too vulnerable. Couldn't I skip the grieving stage and simply move on to the part where I was fine again?

But it's in these moments -- the 2 am moments -- where my anxiety and shame creep in and reveal to me the state of my heart. I was not fine -- I was ashamed and untethered, barely holding on to anything or anyone. And Jesus knew what I needed: I need to see my shame and grieve -- only so I could truly move on towards healing and freedom. I needed to see all of it so I could finally leave it behind.

When the movie reel had finished playing in my head, I saw another picture: Jesus, taking all of those moments, and wiping them away. He was healing me, slowly. He was healing me, not by my own strength, but through a tenderness I could hardly stand.

I woke up the next morning, tired but not afraid.

I was clean, I was fresh, I had been entirely made new.

And I am healing.

When God meets you in the middle of the drive-through

I was driving home from school today when the woman behind me started honking. We were turning left, and I think the person at the front of the line wasn't moving fast enough. The light went from green to yellow as I turned, and she swerved behind me through the red.

At the next light, she laid on her horn again.

"Holy crap, lady," I said within the safety of my car. "Back off."

I was exhausted from a busy but fantastic weekend, so I decided to loop through the McDonald's drive-through and grab a coffee. Somehow I wasn't surprised when she turned into the drive-through behind me. I rolled my eyes. She was such a pain.

I ordered my coffee, and pulled out my debit card to pay. As my car slowly inched forward toward the payment window, I felt a softness sway inside of my chest.

Pay for her order, I heard.

Immediately I knew it was God. This morning I asked him to start speaking to me, but this was not what I had in mind. I decided to ignore him. There was no way I was paying for the rude lady behind me. She needed to chill.

Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw her. Her lips were pressed in a tight line, her eyes sunken and hollow.

"She'll probably order something expensive, God... and you know I'm trying to save money because of school."

Pay for her order. 

"She was so rude to me! Who needs to honk that excessively? I was literally just following the flow of traffic." I heaved a huge sigh.

I didn't hear anything again, but my debit card felt heavy in my hands. My car moved along and the boy at the window told me my total.

I looked in the rearview mirror again, then said to the boy slightly begrudgingly, "Can I pay for the woman behind me, too?"

The boy smiled and said, "Sure. Her total comes to $1.15."

"Of course it does," I said. Of course God would orchestrate something like this and only ask me to pay a dollar. It wasn't about the money, I knew -- it was about listening to him, about doing what he asked of me. Being faithful in the small things and all that.

I tapped my card and moved along. Watching her in my rearview again, I saw her face looking surprised, and then her face looking softer, and then she was looking at me. Our eyes met in my mirror. My window was down and I heard her yell in a low, gruff voice, "Hey! Thank you!"

I gave her a thumbs up and drove off. As I turned back onto the highway, I cringed at the prospect of my pride getting in the way of loving her. I speak of love and goodness and honouring God -- but do I apply that to my real, actual life? More often than not, I'm afraid the answer is no.

I hope that lady saw God today. Or maybe she didn't.

But I sure did.

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

Here's to being a work in progress

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-09-04-am I am making progress.

Yesterday, I had lunch for the first time with people from my program. It is halfway through the semester. There are two reasons for this. 1) Thursdays are the only day of the week where I have more than one class, therefore needing to eat lunch instead of heading home, and 2) I have found it far more comforting to stay by myself than to wander outside of my own protection and make friends.

The second statement is a lie.

Comforting is certainly the wrong term. I hate being alone. Being alone, in my head, is life-sucking. I mean, I can do it. I can walk through the hallways alone, my head held high. But I can feel the life seeping out of me. And yet, for some reason I convince myself to protect my heart.

Let them think you're tough, not alone. That you're smart, not afraid. 

There are a thousand things I convince myself of, and most of the time I never understand why all of these things are hurting me.

College is far different than high school. To me, it's not about friends. I drive to school, attend my classes, complete my assignments, sometimes study for midterms, go to work, go to church, make art for my art show, hold my nephew, and invest in the people who have been in my life for awhile. School and my real, actual life felt like two separate entities.

"I'm not there to make friends," I jokingly told people. "I'm such a keener. I only care about the school work."

Liar, liar. No one can actually only care about writing papers. There has to be some part, even if it's barely noticeable, that cares about human connection. This is who we are as humans. We are meant to be connected, meant to share our joys and our losses, perhaps sometimes deeper with others, but we are meant to connect nonetheless.

So when a few of the people from my program suggested I eat lunch with them yesterday, I almost said no. I had been alone for a long time; I thought that's what college was to me. I thought college was merely academic, with human interaction staying fairly minimal.

Instead, I looked at them. I said yes.

This, of course, was not a big deal to them. But as we walked, I realized I was no longer walking alone. I became my own inner cheerleader: you are doing this! You are eating with people! You are making progress! Look at you go, you progressive girl. 

I called Sarah last night and said, "I had lunch with people today. This is tangible progress. I honestly didn't think I wanted to be around people, but I had lunch with real humans today and I am making such progress."

She said, "Yes you are. And I am so proud of you."

This is forward movement, this is courage, this is me leaping off cliffs --

I am deeply, and intimately, a work in progress.

My identity isn't what I thought it was

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I am one month into college.

Currently I should be: writing two papers, creating a film, studying for a test, researching a prominent Canadian figure, reading my textbooks, and making a hefty amount of artwork so I actually have something to sell at my second art show this December.

Instead, I am writing to me and you.

Sometimes I think, "I used to be good at articulating. I used to be able to think about how I was feeling and immediately put those thoughts onto paper."

Now it seems as though I hardly ever write what I think. These days it feels as though I'm writing so much and simultaneously writing nothing at all.

Identity is a funny thing. People ask us, "What do you do?" Before school, I felt as though I had nothing to say. But now I have something. Now I can tell them, "I'm a journalism student. I go to school. I study. I write papers. I research. I procrastinate. I am learning to be a truth-teller in all I do. Also, I am very tired."

I can easily wrap myself around the idea that being a journalism student is who I am because it's currently what I do.

The other day I received a mark on an assignment I had finished. It was a terrible grade. And get this -- it was for a writing class. I saw the mark and instantly wilted.

I am supposed to be good at this. I am supposed to be a writer. People have told me I'm a good writer, and if people tell you that, it has to be true, doesn't it? If I get a bad mark in a writing class, does that prove I'm a bad writer? Am I in the wrong program? Why am I taking journalism if I can't actually write? And why is everyone else in my program approximately seventeen and a half years old? Why did I think it was a good idea to wait four years to go to school? 

It's astonishing what can happen when you make what you do into who you are. It's staggering how quickly you can crumble. When your identity is something shakeable, a feather can touch you and still you'll fall apart.

I am a writer, even after that bad mark. But it's what I do, not who I am. I am a journalism student, but it's what I do, not who I am. I am an artist, but it's what I do, not who I am.

Instead, who I am is this:

Deeply, immeasurably loved.

I think this on my commute, while I watch the sun rise. I am loved, I breathe in. Deeply loved, I breathe out. Immeasurably loved.

I like school. I like how my brain hurts from listening and thinking and digesting and wondering. I like digging deep into the lives of fascinating people, and being able to tell someone's story who may not be able to tell it on their own.

But it's not who I am. It's just what I do right now.

My identity is entirely different than that.

confession: I lie on social media

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Social media lies.

Or perhaps more accurately, I lie on social media. 

It’s this thing inside of me - this thing inside all of us humans - this thing called the need for approval. 

It can be so ugly. And yet, I’m addicted. 

Let me be honest. My social media? It isn’t honest.

On Instagram I look through filter after filter after filter and think, “Which one makes my teeth look white?” or “Which one is more artsy and hipster and will make me seem cool?” 

On Twitter I try to think of tweets that will cause people to think I’m incredibly witty or maybe even think I’m profound. 

On Facebook I want likes likes, baby.

This need for approval that sits in the very depths of my bones cries out: “LIKE ME!”

Don’t we all just want to be liked?

Yeah, my social media is a fat lie. If you saw me - if you really, really saw me - would you like me? If my photos went unfiltered, my thoughts tweeted without abandon, my life displayed honestly for all to see, would you like me? 

This is the truth: my unfiltered photos, my unruly thoughts, my uncontrollable life - God sees that. And God loves that.

My anger, my greed, my bitterness - God sees that. And God loves that.

Gossip that seeps through my lips, lies that fall from my tongue, thoughts that run through my head - God sees that. And God loves that. 

My hopelessness, my brokenness, my helplessness - God sees that. And God loves that. 

The way I alter my life on social media - altered, misshaped, moulded and puttied to look beautiful (when most times it isn’t beautiful at all) - God sees that. And God loves that.

You see, God has seen me at my worst. And can I tell you something? My worst is bad. And yet God sees that. And God loves that. 

So - yes. I lie on social media. I want to be liked. I want to be accepted. I want to be approved.

(And I so badly hope we get to the point where we feel we don’t need to embellish our lives to make them seem something they’re not. Let me tell you - I hate this lying.) 

But in all that - in all that faking and lying and hoping to seem better than I ever will be - God sees me. And He loves me. 

And He likes me.

There's nothing I can I do - no matter how much I mess up, and no matter how hard I try - that could ever lessen God's relentless love for me.

And? He sees you, and He loves you, and oh yes - He likes you too.

.