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

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.

When you're afraid but free

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.23.10 AM I am sitting on Lake Rosseau, just me on a dock looking out at a lake.

I am attending a leadership retreat and more often than not, I do not feel like a leader. But I showed up because that is what you do when God asks you to go somewhere.

I woke up early this morning, no alarm. I simply woke up feeling oddly refreshed. It was early when I looked at the clock and I figured I could get a few more hours of sleep in, except suddenly I had this unquenchable need to get down to the water. So I packed up my Bible and this notebook and found the loneliest, most outstretched dock I could find.

The water is both soothing and scaring me.

The lake stretches so far; so very, very far, I think. I wonder if I could ever swim it all. If I could dive in, hands above my head, holding my breath for minutes or hours and swim to the other side. Here I am: just me, this giant, soothing, scary body of water, Jesus, and all of my thoughts that are falling out the sides of my head.

Am I afraid of putting myself out there? Answer: yes.

Am I afraid of trying again and again and again, only to fail once more? Answer: yes.

Am I afraid of rejection? Answer: yes yes yes.

Am I afraid that I care more about succeeding according to the world's standards than I care about doing what God has for me? Answer: yes.

I am afraid of so many things, and the water slowly rocking the dock I am sitting on seems to make these fears more glaring.

I do not feel guilty. I do not feel shame. This, by God's grace, shows me progress. A year ago I would've simply wallowed in those two ominous feelings.

But today, this morning, the sun still peeking over the evergreen trees in front of me; the cool morning breeze finding its way softly around me, I am not guilty and I am not shamed.

I am afraid but still I'm free. I am aware of all that I need to surrender.

My shoes are off, my hands are open.

God is here, and so am I.

God shows up, and I will too.

I am afraid, but I will surrender, and I am free.

The beginning of Holy Week

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.40.01 AM Jesus is going to die on Friday. 

That's what I keep thinking.

You can go through twenty-one Holy Weeks, and yet each time Palm Sunday comes around you grapple with a gaping, gasping afresh realization: Jesus is going to die on Friday.

I think about it again and my heart slips into my lungs, making it hard to breathe. It's the beginning of Holy Week, which tends to feel both reverent and loose -- as if I'm teetering on the edge of a very large cliff, staring down at my miseries and burdens, all the while knowing the Saviour of the world is deep in the midst of saving me.

We were handed his execution date a long time ago. We break bread and remember him, but this week he's dying all over again. We know Sunday is coming and that there is hope, but Friday comes first and my mourning has already begun.

I mourn my faithlessness.

I mourn my pride.

I mourn my denial of him -- and not just three times like his dear friend Peter -- but more, so many more. He is my Lord and my Saviour and there are innumerable times where I have cast him aside. Holy Week brings that all back to me.

It is here, during these days, where I am most aware of how utterly weak my fickle human flesh is.

I could've been the girl to sing hosanna and five days later yell crucify him. I could've waved a branch like a flag in praise of him, only to turn my back when the nighttime came. I could've loved him on Palm Sunday but left him on Friday along with all of his friends.

I am a runner. I get scared when times get hard. I deny; I betray; and most certainly I run away. And yet what causes me the most grief is the understanding that he knows all of this, and still chooses to have nails pummelled into the beautiful hands which formed me.

Jesus is going to die on Friday.

For a girl he loves madly, a girl who doesn't deserve him. And yet he wants me, and suffers for me, and forgives me over and over again.

I realize how desperately I love him. And I pray I'll love him even more.

"To make of his story something that could neither startle, nor shock, nor terrify, nor excite, nor inspire a living soul is to crucify the Son of God afresh." -- Dorothy Sayers

The story of Aaron Platzlu, the day old baby

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It sits at the front of the room. It’s all I can look at, all I can see. The casket is white with silver handles. It’s too small, I keep thinking. A casket this size shouldn’t have been created.

Aaron was one day old. He fought for every breath, but I think he especially fought for those last ones. He died on the same day as my grandmother. When I cried beneath the dark sky full of stars, I cried for both of them. They’re forever linked together inside of me. My grandmother was fighting for her last few breaths, too. It doesn’t matter how long you live, whether it’s one day or eighty-nine years. The people who love you are still full from the pain of loving you only to have you ripped away. I like to think Jesus introduced Aaron and my grandmother yesterday when they both entered into his wide-spread arms.

Aaron was born early alongside his twin sister, Adalia, at a mere twenty-six weeks. Emy, his mother and the housekeeper at the house I’m staying at, began hemorrhaging and needed to go to the hospital. You must know this about Emy: she is forever smiling. Whenever she speaks, she laughs, her eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree. We’ve laughed a lot together.

I had asked her earlier what she was planning on naming her twins. She didn’t know yet, she had said, because she was worried they might die. She had lost five babies already. It was hard to name them only to have them wrenched away.

We prayed as Emy was taken to the hospital, praying over her and those two precious babies. Adalia entered our world first, just under two pounds, and Aaron came fifteen minutes later, even smaller than she. The doctor induced Emy and then went home to sleep. He didn’t think the babies had a chance of living, so he couldn’t see why he should bother to try and save them.

If the babies lived for forty-eight hours, they would be given medication. But they had to make it that long first. Aaron’s tiny collapsible lungs begged the air for breath, and Jesus blew life into him for one full day. On December 2nd, his lungs grew too tired. Jesus holds him now, and Emy’s arms are left with a twinless baby girl.

The funeral is today, the casket on a small table in front of me. When the service is over, I see Emy sitting at the front by herself. Everyone has gone outside to prepare to ride over to the burial site.

I sit beside her. For once I am grateful we do not speak the same language. I couldn’t possibly gather up a sufficient enough string of words. So I sit, and then I hold her hand, her arm, our bodies against each other, my lips pressing her soft, caramel cheek. We don’t say anything.

She stands and walks over to the small white casket. I follow. The top lifts and there he is, her baby boy. He is the smallest child I have ever seen. He hardly takes up room in the casket. I can’t stop staring at him -- his nose sloping so gently on his face, his lashes long, his mouth perfection. He is a staggering work of art -- the milkiness of his skin joined with watercolour bruises on his cheeks and neck from Emy’s hard labour.

Emy brushes his hair tenderly with the tips of her fingers. She is still smiling, only this time all I can see is sadness. Can you hear the crack and splinter of my heart fragmenting as I stand beside her? I wish I could hold him, run my lips against his downy eyebrows, and love him back to life. But Emy has enough love to drown oceans. She has much more love than I.

We gather alongside the others and press our bodies into the truck. Aaron is tucked safely in the white casket. We are the hearse. We slam down the long dirt road, this funeral procession, and Emy is sitting behind her lifeless son. 

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I watch as Segundo, Emy’s husband, digs Aaron’s grave. We sing Jesus Loves Me and It Is Well With My Soul as they lower him into the red dirt. Emy is crying and I cannot sing. Not because I don’t believe the words, but because I can hardly bear the palpable pain that makes up the air around us. It’s too much. A casket’s not supposed to be this small. A baby’s not supposed to die when his death was clearly preventable.

On the way back to our home, David, Emy’s eleven-year-old son, cries. His head is buried deep in his hands. “He’s always wanted a brother,” Emy says. “But all my boys have died.”

Oh Aaron Platzlu, you may not have been loved widely but you were loved deep. May you rest in the precious arms of Jesus until we see you again. And may Adalia live, dear God. I can’t comprehend this family having to do this again.

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