In case you're on day one and already feel like quitting

Every January 1st, I become an idealist.

Rarely do I want to be like the rest of the world, so this year I signed up for the gym on December 30th. This will be the year! I told myself as I paid for a gym membership at the front counter. This will be the year I suddenly transform into one of those shiny, athletic women with the high bouncy ponytails.

I felt like a fraud walking into the gym. My hair was not high or bouncy, but falling further and further out of the messy bun I had half-haphazardly pushed it in. I had never stepped foot inside a gym before. My level of confidence fell below zero. I watched the muscular lady at the front counter hand me my pass.

“Here you go,” she said smiling. “You’re now a VIP member.”

“Oh,” I said, accepting the key card. “Thank you.” I think they call you VIP so you feel more important. It wasn’t quite working for me.

She pointed toward the large staircase behind her. “All of the equipment is up there. Don’t worry, there are diagrams on each machine that explains how it works.”

“Right.” Could she tell I’m the least athletic person in Canada?

I took my plastic water bottle — which was glaringly un-eco-friendly — and my running shoes, putting my coat and boots in a locker. I forced myself to walk up the giant staircase toward the machines.

Three thoughts before we move on:

  1. In gyms, why are there mirrors everywhere? Do I want to constantly be looking at my sweaty self? Short answer: no.
  2. I now understand why people go to the gym with friends. For an extroverted person, it’s a lonely experience on your own.
  3. I think my body missed the “endorphins” memo. I have yet to feel these release. Everyone talks about these magical endorphins that make you want to work out. What do they feel like? So far I feel only tired. I’m hoping these endorphins eventually get the memo and kick in.

I plugged in my earbuds and began listening to one of my favorite podcasts, looking at the people around me. Everyone was different. I had a picture of what the gym was supposed to look like in my head: consisting of tall, confident, beautiful people. Those people were there, of course, but there were so many more.

You’re on Day One of your journey, I told myself. Don’t compare your beginning.

Come over to (in)courage with me?

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 opening your hands and releasing your truth

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-12-15-08-pm

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.

When you feel like you're wilting, but you're wanting to flourish

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-7-23-32-pm These past few weeks I haven’t been praying.

I’ve wanted to, but still, I haven’t. I’m just so busy right now, I told myself. I’ll talk to Jesus soon. God would understand.

I wasn’t reading my Bible either. I saw it, sitting there on my nightstand, but it had been covered up by other things — glasses of water, notebooks, textbooks . . . my laptop.

I had a list of reasons the length of my arm for why I wasn’t praying or spending time with Jesus: I just had surgery, my second art show is quickly approaching, and the amount of schoolwork college assigns one person is still somewhat shocking to me.

All of those reasons are legitimate. But without any time spent with Jesus, all of those reasons were slowly emptying me.

A few days ago I was sitting on my bed, my white comforter beneath my crossed legs. I started crying. “I can’t do this anymore, Jesus,” I told Him. “I’m too tired. I’m too overwhelmed. I think I said yes to too many things. I think I’m going to have to pull all-nighters for the next month to finish everything I need to do. I feel like I’m drowning. No, not even drowning. I feel like I’m withering, like I’m shriveling right up.”

If I was a flower, I was a wilted one.

I'm over at (in)courage today -- come join me!

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. 

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.

Keep the doors open for me

The trees bent over me like a canopy -- ushering me along with their red and orange leaves, some of the tips yellowed from the changing of seasons. It's my favourite drive: the 12 minute back roads from my house to the town of Binbrook.

The windows were down and my hair whipped around my shoulders. The sun was warm on my face, and that's just how I felt inside: warm, filled up, and profoundly excited for what was to come for the town I was driving in.

We're starting a church. (We being my brother-in-law, my sister, their baby Noah, dozens and dozens of other people, and me.) It officially launches October 23rd in Binbrook, Ontario, at one of the local elementary schools. Mountainside, it's called -- named after the place where Jesus made disciples.

To say this is exciting would be a vast understatement. This church has been in the making for a very long time, and as I drove beneath the trees, their colours changing before my eyes, I turned down my music and started to pray -- for the church, for the people, for the trees and the roads and the cars and the children and all of the things that make up this town.

As I drove, I saw something like a movie take place in my mind. The movie went like this:

///

It was just me, alone, and I was in the hallway of the elementary school looking down at all of the doors and lockers and rooms.

Suddenly, each door was swinging open.

I felt safe, not afraid. I watched as each door swung wide, swooshing with a loud breath -- and then, I heard each one click. The doors were bolted open. I tried to close one of them, pushing the door as hard as I could, but it remained wide open. There was nothing I could do to close the doors of this school; nothing I could do to try and close the doors of what would soon be the church.

You're welcome here, it seemed as though God was saying. You can't close the doors because I have opened them -- and I am the only one to make them close. Whoever walks through the doors of this building is welcome here. 

///

I told people, later, about what I had seen in the movie that had played in my mind. I drove through the town, praying for the houses and the people who lived there.

"You're welcome here," I told the houses, although the people inside couldn't hear me. "The doors are staying open for you. You can walk in, just as you are, and you'll be welcome here."

This has become my prayer -- for my life, for my school, and now for my church:

Jesus, keep the doors open for me. 

And please let me keep the doors open for other people, too.

Let us be welcome here.

What I'm choosing to do (now that I'm always stuck in traffic)

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-9-35-50-am The commute to my college is only thirty-five minutes, unless, of course, you’re going for class at 8:00 in the morning. Then the drive turns out to be more like an hour and a bit.

I’m convinced traffic could be used as a form of torture. There's just something about knowing that you're sandwiched between an endless amount of cars -- you're really not going anywhere. I think I mostly dislike the feeling of being stuck.

So this morning it was just me and the pink sky and twenty-seven thousand red brake lights. I have sixty precious minutes in my car before I arrive on campus, and instead of getting frustrated by the feeling of my foot constantly hitting the brakes, today I started thinking, “What could happen if I didn't waste this time?”

What can you do in an hour?

Easy. There's a lot I can accomplish. Give me sixty minutes and I can watch a show on Netflix, or finish a piece of art on canvas, or spin with my nephew in the kitchen and listen to his laugh. I could get a decent way through a book, or have coffee with a friend, or bake a load of nachos.

But this morning I took my hour and I had church.

I am a firm believer in church -- the Sunday kind -- of gathering with people and drinking coffee and telling one another about your week, and in the quiet, tender moments of worship, while holding your hands out and giving your whole self away.

But this morning, I had church too.

Come over to (in)courage with me and finish reading?

This is how you'll feel when you decide to go to college

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-9-08-46-am

Nobody tells you how you’ll feel when you enter college for the first time. Nobody tells you how overwhelming it is when you stare at your course outlines, trying to remember how to write an essay or -- even worse -- take an exam.

Instead they say, “These will be the best days of your life!” or “You are going to enjoy this so much!” and you stare at them, thinking they must have forgotten.

They’ve forgotten the beginning. You can’t blame them: it’s easy to forget the beginning when you’re deep in the middle of something else.

Because nobody tells you that suddenly you’ll feel like the new girl again, trying to find a spot at the table. Is there room for me? You wonder. Instead of rational thinking, you curse the day you thought going to college was a good idea. It seems too hard. It feels too vulnerable. It looks too overwhelming. And quite honestly, it’s far too expensive.

These, you tell yourself, are solid reasons to quit.

And then you remind yourself that when you get a little stressed, you rarely make good decisions.

The part that scares you most is how you can literally feel all of your old wounds beginning to unravel, the stitches falling out. You can’t believe how you still don’t feel enough, how you still feel like you want to prove yourself.

Fear doesn’t get to win, you decide. Inadequacy and fear are finished setting up shop within you. They’re not permitted any longer. You choose to be brave, even when you hate how you’re feeling: loose and like you could fall apart at any moment, like the strings that are holding you together aren’t pulled quite tight enough.

Maybe in a few years you won’t remember how you felt when you decided to go to college. Maybe you’ll think the same thing they did: that these will be the best days of someone’s life. But right now that’s not the case.

So let me tell you how you feel: terrified and excited and severely confused by how emotional you are.

That’s okay. It’s alright to be at the beginning again. 

Someday, when you’re back in your middle, when you understand that college might actually be good, you can look at someone else who is just starting off, and you’ll see how scary the beginning is. You’ll take a deep breath and remember the terror, and instead of affirming how wonderful their time will be, you’ll hold their hand and say, “It’s okay. It’s okay to be at the beginning. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel this way.”

Sooner or later, they’ll understand how good it is. They’ll laugh at their fear and think about how they probably didn’t need to feel that way.

Later, when it’s their turn to look at someone who is just starting off, they’ll hold that someone’s hand and remind them what we all need reminders of: it’s okay to be at the beginning.

In a few days you’ll enter college for the first time, and everything will be new. The people, the parking lots, the classes, the course outlines.

You are not inadequate.

You are not fearful.

You are, quite simply, at your beginning.