A piece of truth for you (and a free printable)

It's been almost a month since I finished school for the summer. Entering the summer has brought forth both excitement and relief to be finished papers, exams, and assignments. But for me this summer has also opened some wounds that feel fresh and raw and achy, which has allowed me to enter a period of healing.

Fear is a constant struggle for me. Even, two years ago, when I started a concept called The Year of No Fear, I still consistently felt afraid. This summer I am focusing on breathing truth into my core, which often circles around to embedding scripture and words Jesus says deep inside of me.

This hunt for truth has revealed to me what the definition of truth really is. St. Augustine said, "All truth is God's truth". If that's the case, I'm starting to recognize just how many things point back to God. 

It has almost become a sort of scavenger hunt. I get into my car in the morning, put my sunglasses on, and search for truth. What will be true today? I think. What truth will I find that will point me back to God? 

When I search for truth, I end up finding it. Sometimes I find it in people and places I never even thought to look. 

"The truth will set you free," Jesus said. And of course he's right. But I'm learning it can hurt to get there.

Today, on Mother's Day, we gave each woman in my church this print I painted. I wanted to also share it with you. I wonder how you are today. I wonder how you are this summer. I wonder how, even when the flowers are blooming and the birds are chirping and the sun is beating down on your shoulder blades, if maybe you feel some sadness entangled within all of that too. 

But no need to fear.

Here you go. 

We can breathe in truth together. 

The 5 things my professor taught me today

 

Tomorrow marks my last day of my first year of college. It's funny: the feelings I have today versus the feelings I had in September. September, I was nauseous; today, I am nostalgic. The difference is enormous.

I'm writing this today so I don't forget. My digital storytelling professor just finished her final lecture with our class, and the words she said to us made me feel a range of different emotions. I'd like to make a small flip book of all of her phrases, so on the days I feel low, I can read them and remember. (She once said, "In the times you feel low, you must find the things that won't take you down any lower.")

Instead, I'll place them here for us both.

Drink in silence.

She looked at the class as she said this. She is a tall South African woman, with a calm, lilting voice and a gentle spirit. She smiles often and thanks the class regularly for our contribution.

"Drink in the silence," she said again. "When it is the middle of the night and you wake up, just you and the darkness, pause for a moment. Drink in your own thoughts, and the wonder of life. Think about all the things you'd like to do, so when you wake up you can start doing them."

Wake up with purpose.

"When you wake up in the morning," she said, "Do not think, 'Why do I have to get up today?' Instead, think about your purpose. Find a purpose; choose a goal. If you have a goal, there is no excuse for you not to get up out of bed. If you have a purpose and a goal everyday of your life, I promise you, each night you will fall into bed tired, exhausted from your purposeful day."

Practice the art that makes you feel alive.

Immediately I thought of the hundreds of pages of fiction I've written, chapters of secrecy I've stashed deep in my computer. I feel alive when I write fiction, and poetry, and people's stories.

"Always practice the art that makes you feel alive and that allows you to express the life you have as a human being," she said, smiling. "Whether that's playing music, or drawing, or acting, or writing, or singing. We don’t do these things to become Shakespeare or Beethoven or someone famous. We do these things because they make us come alive."

When things go wrong, contribute to change. 

She spoke about this one person she knew who complained often, but never seemed to try and change the things he was complaining about. I thought of myself immediately when she said it: do I complain and leave it at that? I don't want to be satisfied when something is mediocre. I want to be an agent of change.

"When something goes wrong," she said, "Don’t just complain about it. Do something about it. Do something about the things that frustrate you." 

(I think that's where some of the best stories come from. People doing something about the things that frustrated them.)

Surround yourself with courageous people.

This was my favourite phrase of hers this semester. She's a strong believer in courage -- and oh, so am I.

"Identify courageous people and surround yourself with them," she said. "They will say or do things that will help you be courageous when you need it most. Forget about popular people, and wealthy people, and influential people. Instead, make sure you have courageous people in your life. Take note of them and tell their stories to everybody."

I am excited about my first year of college. I have loved many moments, gathered new skills, and met kind people. My brain has been like a sponge, soaking in information at rapid speed.

But this professor was the most impactful for me. Before I left today, I thanked her for the final time.

"Do it all, Aliza," she told me. "Write more fiction and poetry. Publish four books. Go places and write from there, make more art, and figure out a way to blend all of the things you love together."

My steps were light even as I bounded out of the building and into the April rain. No one had quite told me that before.

I never realized it was something I needed to hear.

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. 

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... 

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.

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.”

Come with me over to (in)courage...

The practice of using an alarm clock

"I think it starts with creating a new routine," she said.

I was talking to my digital storytelling teacher last week. She is stunning to me, tall and willowy and lithe, a lilting South African accent whenever she speaks.

"That's what I chose to do," she continued. "I made myself create a new routine. In the mornings, I told myself I wasn't allowed to check my phone until I had finished my entire cup of coffee. So that's what I do now."

We were discussing the tension of technology in class. It's a class entirely dedicated to learning how to tell stories in the digital world, but I've been feeling so tired lately, and I told her I wasn't sure how to combat this.

On one hand, being a journalism student requires knowing what's happening in the world. I'm tested on what is current every single week. On the flip side, I've been craving a disconnect more than I realized I could.

My storytelling professor, a woman who tends to insert profound sentences into lectures whenever she can, (like, "Set high standards for yourself. When you break that, it's easier to break it again and again and again," or, "If you find you are sad for more than two weeks, you need to make sure you talk to someone," ) said, "I have three pieces of advice. The first is to create a new routine. Choose to actively do something else in the morning before you check your phone.

"The second, put your phone down and look someone in the eyes when you talk to them. Focus on their eyes. What do you see there?

"And the third: when you need to get something done, cut it into chunks. So, if you have an essay to write, tell yourself you'll write for 20 minutes. Put your phone away in the next room and write for only 20 minutes. Then you can have your phone back for 10 minutes, or however long. And then, put it away, and do that again."

When I left her class on Thursday, I felt lighter. (As a side note, I hope that's who I can be for people someday. Someone who, after sitting with them for a few hours, makes you feel a little more light.)

I drove to Walmart and bought an alarm clock. This was where I was feeling the most tension -- in the mornings. I felt as though my iPhone was the last thing I touched before I fell asleep, and the first thing I touched when I awoke. I had grown to hate that.

After I purchased my alarm clock, I charged my iPhone away from my bed. I woke up, and focused on not checking my phone. I didn't touch it until after I had read my Bible, practiced silence and solitude, and drank my cup of coffee.

It was harder than I imagined it would be.

That makes me feel equally discouraged and determined. I keep reminding myself this is a process.

So now, to do this again tomorrow. And the day after that, too.

I would like to fill up my soul with a whole host of things, and a huge part of that is finding balance when it comes to living in a digital world. But today, I'm starting with this.