When the Snow Falls in September

Snow in September? Really? It’s easy to forget sometimes, during the few months of summer, that Canada is a country of weather surprises. But, when the snow is falling outside my window in early September and I’m trying to decide whether I want to ride my bike to the university or not, reality sinks in pretty fast. P.S. buses are warm lovely things that swallow you up and then spit you out comfortably in front of the university.

A few weeks ago, my sister Lizzy and I moved into a two bedroom apartment in Edmonton. Starting with mattresses on the floors of our empty rooms, we’ve slowly watched the house become more like a home. It’s been fun. Canadian dumpsters have been one of our most bountiful resources when it comes to setting up a home. From love-seats to mixing bowl sets, Canadian dumpsters have it all. Our time hasn’t come without it’s hiccups though. Lizzy and I have had our moments already — realising that living together as siblings won’t be a walk in the park. But it’s been a delightful adventure, arguments and all. And with a little grace, it’ll continue to keep being one.

I’ve tried on numerous occasions to sit down and write, but so far it just hasn’t come together. There are times when my mind is a mess of words and emotions, and yet I can’t find time to think or write. And then, when I finally have a moment of peace to gather my thoughts and try to write, the words are all gone. It’s hopeless. I guess sometimes with words, too many is just as bad as not enough, and there’s rarely an in-between.

Edmonton is different. In many ways the change seems pretty easy. More cars, more people, more noise — all things I’m quite used to. It’s a beautiful city with character — not real character like any town in Europe, but Canadian character.

It’s not until I drive past Red Deer that I realise how much I miss from the place that was home for two years. It’s hard not to when you can see the massive “RDC” on the red bricks of arts centre from the highway.

I miss the smallness. I miss that I knew all of the campus at the college, and that my room in residence was never more than five minutes from my class. I miss that in 15 minutes you could basically drive anywhere in the city. I miss the fact that the library actually had free tables by the windows sometimes, where I could camp out for a few hours to work on a paper or a blog. I miss the people. I miss my friends.

Sometimes I forget I’ve let roots grow. And it’s not until I leave that I find out how much it hurts to tear them from the tiny cracks they’ve begun to settle into and get used to. But I rip them up to start over again. New classrooms. New streets. New faces.

It’s not as bad as it feels. This seemingly constant upheaval helps me see the months and years that God has carried me through. Every few years God takes a plough through my life and breaks everything up. Old things get buried. New things appear. Some things stay, just differently, like stones turned over to reveal a side you hadn’t seen before. For a while everything looks unknown, churned up and empty. But then slowly new growth appears, and green begins to peek out from the upturned soil again. I realise one ending is just another beginning, and it comes with a whole new set of lessons and adventures. It helps me see how much I have to be thankful for and to be reminded that God has more for me ahead. It will be different, but it’ll be good.

So when the snow falls in September and I feel tempted to be a Scrooge, I’ll choose instead to raise an Ebenezer and remember, “Thus far the Lord has helped us,” and I can trust He’ll continue to do so. (1 Sam. 7:12)

Looking Back on a Less Canadian Me

My sister is finally in the same country as me again. Being with family always seems to be so normal and yet, at the same time, so strange. Though I spend months missing my family and wanting to be able to spend time with them, it routinely happens that as soon as I am together with them again, everything feels so normal that I hardly realise we were ever apart. With my sister, Liz, it’s certainly no different.

However, at the same time, I do find myself suddenly reminded of just how much we have grown and changed, and how long I’ve been in Canada. It’s been three years now since I came. It feels too long. It’s not that I don’t like Canada, it’s just that having so many years in a place other than Pakistan seems wrong somehow, for me. Seeing Liz again, I’m reminded of the time that I was in her place — new into the country, facing all these strange things that are so normal for people here. I can remember bumbling my way though “failed transactions” just trying to figure out how in the world I am supposed to pay for things with a debit card. Gas stations were strange and I had no idea what to do. I would get lost in Walmart and try to finding my way back to my parents, somehow always accidentally find myself amongst aisles of ladies underwear to my huge embarrassment. Subways were another mess of confusion. I have to choose which kind of cheese I put on these things? What kind of cheese is there? It’s written there on the glass. Everything is written on the glass. Why are there so many choices? I don’t know if everyone else in line appreciated my indecisive and uneducated sandwich confusion, which probably made my order take three times as long as everyone else’s. Oh well. I have since learned.

I’m amazed sometimes at the amount that has become normal now. I don’t realise it all the time, but there are so many aspects of living in Canada that have just become routine. I remember reflecting while driving into Edmonton a couple weeks ago, realising that here I was, on my way to a city I had almost never been to, to meet with my sister and see an apartment we were considering renting for the coming year. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that we were both in high school with homework and allowance money? Somewhere along the line, I guess we both did a little growing up. Not only that, but I realise how much I have adjusted to life here in Canada.

Almost a month ago I flew down to Colorado and, while I was there, made the mistake of saying “house”, not realising that Canadian’s have a fairly distinct way of pronouncing the “ou” sound. And, for one of the first times in my life, I found myself on the opposite end of accent teasing — the dreaded accent teasing. How did I get to the point where I’ve spent enough time in Canada for my accent to be so Canadian? A part of me hates it. I don’t want to be Canadian. I preferred the days when my accent was a mangled mix of British, American, German, Australian and New Zealand influences. I liked it when I said “football” for the game you play with your foot and “rubbish” for the thing you throw your garbage into. But, I guess adjusting is a part of life. Accents begin to sink in. Actually, I’m amazed sometimes how little it takes for my accent to start shifting and changing again. I can hear it, mid phone call with friends from the UK, slowly beginning to drop off it’s small Canadian nuances and settling into a slightly more English way of talking. Even during my short trip to the States, I found my accent becoming just that little bit more American. I guess I’m kind of like a sponge when it comes to accents. I’m just afraid that, as I get older, these shifts and changes will start to get slower and less common, and I’ll be stuck — stuck with whatever I happened to be last.

I’m so glad for times like this — to have Liz here and to be reminded of the amount of life that has happened since the last time we were together properly. It’s sad at times. Change always comes hand in hand with a feeling of loss. but I’m learning to appreciate the blessings of change as well. I don’t get lost in Walmart anymore, and I can order a sandwich at Subway without freezing up. Things have gotten easier. As Liz and I drove back from signing a lease on our apartment for the coming school year, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how far God has brought us along. So much growing already, and so much still to go.

I Turned the Key in My Door

Yesterday I turned the key in my bedroom door for the last time. In fact, it was probably one of three times that I ever locked the door to my room at all. I had to go through my keys a couple times to remind myself which one was for my room. For some reason I hadn’t quite connected the key that I carried around with my others with the fact that it could lock the room I slept it. I suppose that’s partly why it felt a little sad when I finally turned it in the lock. For the entire time that I’ve stayed there, I think I locked my door once when I wasn’t leaving for the summer. Not only that, but most of the time I tried to leave my bedroom door wide open. I’ve always figured that an open door is an open heart.

But now my door is shut. In fact, it’s not even ‘my’ door anymore. My key ring has an emptiness about it, with the single car key hanging there lonely, missing his companions he’s had for the past two years. With that turn of the key to my room, I closed the door to this chapter of my life — the Red Deer chapter. I know that I’ll probably still be around, later in the summer, for a little over a month, but it’ll be short and different. And, in some shape or form, this brief period of my life there, with my classes and friendships, is finished.

It’s a little saddening to close a chapter of my life once again. I’ve never been one for meaningful good-byes when it comes to places, even though places tend to hold a special place in my heart. They mean a lot to me. I just don’t know how to say goodbye to them, or don’t really feel it’s necessary. In some ways I feel that the packing, cleaning, sorting and moving involved in leaving a place is often so chaotic that I don’t have time to think about the fact that I’m leaving until I’m gone. It’s a little like coming out of a battle to find a wound you couldn’t remember feeling before in all the mess and adrenaline. Often it’s not until the dust settles that I begin to realise that in the midst of all the activity, I closed a door that I won’t be opening again.

But, where there’s a closed door, there is always an open one waiting — or at least an unlocked one waiting to be tried. It’s scary but exciting to be moving on to the next step, even if it’s a small one and may be a lot like the one before. Sometimes even the small uncertainties of the summer are frightening enough by themselves. But I remember that I’m not the One in control. God has a way of continually changing things, breaking up unploughed ground, pruning back branches and burning away dross. All these things are part of a process, and it’s exciting to be going through it, even when it’s full of goodbyes and closed doors.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Good bye, room.
Good bye, room.

Following the Tail Lights

I had just been thinking about how ungrateful I was for Spring. There was a short period where it had warmed up here, the roads were clear, and I was finally able to get out on my bike and enjoy some sunshine. I could see grass coming out and got to hear the beautiful sounds of birds again. I told myself then that I had better write something about how much I enjoyed Spring now, since I constantly found myself complaining about the winter that just wouldn’t leave — just like my cold. But, sure enough, with the first day of spring came more snow. Even now as I write, snow is slanting passed my window on its way down to the growing white blanket on the ground. I’m tired of winter.


Today is one of those days when I just don’t feel like writing. Though, when I look back on the last couple weeks and the fact that I haven’t mustered up the motivation or inspiration to write, I’m not sure it’s just a trend of the day, or of the month. Uncertainty has a way of silencing people. I wanted to write about the things that are going on right now in my life, but it all seems so up-in-the-air right now. Classes will soon be over and before long I’ll find myself fighting to try to sit down and study for my exams — something which I’ve never been particularly motivated to do. Occasionally I have moments of epiphany, when I realise that if I spent the time to learn all the stuff I was supposed to, I could get an amazing mark on my exams. But unfortunately that’s usually where the thought/action process ends.

Times of transition always get me questioning everything. I wonder if I’m really doing the right thing, enrolled in the right degree, going to the right city, applying for the right job — the list goes on. There are so many unknowns, and it’s easy to focus on everything that’s up in the air, and lose sight of what I already know I’m standing on. For me, it’s important in these times to go back through what I already know, and the reasons for why I am where I am now. It’s good to renew the decisions I’ve already made, remind myself of what it is that I’m aiming for and why it is that I’m spending time, money and effort on things like college and work.

Transition can often be full of anxiety and uncertainties. However, it’s full of excitement and expectation as well. The ideas of new places, new classes and new experiences are really sort of an adventure, if thought of that way. Often it’s more about the frame of mind with which you go into tomorrow than the actual events that you face. It takes an almost daily opening up of my hands to say, “God, I have no idea how anything will work out these coming days, weeks and years. But I know that you know, and that’s enough for me.” It’s definitely not my natural inclination to trust and to let go off my desire to plan, control and steer. But, if I can start and end each day with that kind of realisation, it’s a success for me.

Yesterday it was snowing as I drove back to Red Deer in the morning, and there was a strong wind blowing across the road the whole time. For a portion of the drive I found myself behind a pickup truck, and decided to stay behind him, rather than pass. With the way the weather was, I figured being in sight of another car was probably a good thing, just in case either of us found ourselves sailing into the snow drifts on the side of the road. However, following behind meant that, here and there, the truck would kick up a cloud of light snow that would completely envelop the road ahead. In these moments I was left staring at the faint lines of the road ahead of me and the two tail lights showing where I was supposed to be going. And that was my drive for a good portion of the trip, with occasional moments of not being able to see anything except the back of the truck in front of me. I know I probably should have just fell further behind and I wouldn’t have had the problem, but if I did, I wouldn’t have had this little picture in my mind of the way God works at times, which I’m thankful for.
Right now I’m in one of those clouds of snow that turns the road ahead into a giant white blur. But so long as I keep my eyes on the One who knows the way, I’ll be okay. I don’t know how everything will work out in the future, but I know that I’ve trusted God to bring me this far, and I know that He will be faithful with what lies ahead as well.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. —G. K. Chesterton

Pack, Unpack

With the school year so quickly coming to a close, I find my mind already beginning to pack up in my mind. I’ve thought briefly about the prospect of moving out of my room, trying to decide which things could even go one of these weekends and make the final move a little easier. Questions about the next step, the next place, the next home, have all started to seep into to my mind, swirling around my head at night when it’s time to be sleeping. I’ve started to begin the mental preparation that comes with packing up, pulling in the loose ends and getting ready to eventually pick up and go.

Packing has become almost second nature to me. Only a few months after I was born, my parents were packing up the things that they would take with them as they headed out to Pakistan, twenty years ago. We were always packing. When I went into boarding in sixth grade, packing suddenly became something that I had to deal with alone, joining all the other elementary kids doing the same. My mum would send me a packing list of what I should be bringing home for breaks, and slowly I would work my way through it, making sure not to forget anything I might need. Usually I would wait until the evening before we headed down the hill to the airport, before I would decide to suddenly throw everything together. That way I wouldn’t be needing things that were already packed. That was my excuse, at least. I can’t say that our houseparents were all too pleased with this method of packing, but it was pretty standard for most of us.

After a year or two, I didn’t need the lists anymore. It became pretty routine. Now, in college, I have a mental list of the essentials and I tend to leave my packing till the hour before I head to my grandparents’ house for the weekend, usually throwing my toothbrush and toothpaste on top just a few minutes before the bag is zipped up and I’m out the door and down the stairs. My bag seems to get a little bit lighter every time I travel. I’ve slowly learned not to take things like that extra pair of jeans or t-shirt that I’m not going end up wearing anyway. Travelling makes you realise how heavy your things become, so you learn pretty quickly to shed any weight you can.

Unpacking however, has been different. In high school I would come home to Hyderabad on school breaks for a couple weeks and decide to leave all my things in my suitcase. My mum would always tell me to unpack my things into the dresser and kind of “settle in”, but that never made sense to me. Why unpack a suitcase that was just going to get packed again in two weeks? Instead I would just slide the whole thing under my bed, so I could pull it out any time, get things out of it, and slide it back under — nicely out of the way. Only a day or two later, I would come into my room to find that my mum had unpacked everything into the dresser and the closet. “It’ll make you feel more at home,” she would always say. I would always argue, but I knew she was right. It did. Unpacking makes you feel at home.

Over the past two summers between my years of college I pretty much lived out of a suitcase for the entire time. I would pack my suitcase to go for two weeks at a time on a travelling construction crew, staying in hotels while we were away. When I came home I would stay at my uncle and aunt’s house, where I didn’t usually bother unpacking, since either I was about to go out on the road again, or if I was working in town, I would soon be packing to go stay with my grandparents for a weekend here and there. And of course, when I was visiting family in Pakistan, it was much of the same. I think my first summer I had four or five t-shirts that I cycled through my entire time in Red Deer: two blue, two green, one grey. I’m an extremely varied and exciting person, as you can tell. I’m sure people wondered if I actually even owned any more shirts. I just told myself that no one paid enough attention to realise that they kept seeing the same five t-shirts every time they saw me.

I have gotten a little better at unpacking though. Near the end of the summer I did eventually unpack into the dresser in my room in the basement of my uncle and aunt’s house, and made myself feel a little more at home. However I still find it hard to get passed the dilemma of whether it’s really worth unpacking, when in a few days or weeks I find myself putting everything back into my suitcase again. And this feeling doesn’t just end with packing “things” in a suitcase.

One of the first questions I faced coming to Canada in 2011 was: how much do I unpack? I was heading into Bible school in Saskatchewan, and everything was new. I knew I was only going to be there for eight months, and I knew I probably wouldn’t keep up ties with most people after the year was over, since I would be heading to Alberta, to a new college, in a new place, and would have to make new friends. I’ve heard, and witnessed in my life, that friendships with missionary kids tend to take on two forms, which I described to my roommate like this: “Either missionary kids go really deep really fast and drown a person, or they decide that that person isn’t even worth investing in anyway, since they’ll be gone before they know it.” That has characterised so much of my life. I feel like I’m constantly making that call, and sometimes I fear I lose some friendships along the way. It’s just that MKs say so many good-byes, again and again, and again. They know people don’t stick around forever, or that they themselves won’t, and they want to get the most out of the short time that they know the person — in an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Thankfully I have eventually learned to handle friendships a little less intensely. I’ve learned to accept that every friend doesn’t have to be my best friend, and that, just because I may not see a person again, my friendship isn’t worthless.

I’ve always a question of how much I unpack. Do I let myself get settled, put down some roots, make friends, and enjoy a place? Or do I keep the roots short and thin to make sure they rip off easily the next time I have to pick up and leave? In this last month of school, I find myself beginning to make those little incisions around the roots, beginning to get ready for that moment when I’ll have to pull away from the things, places, and people that have been a part of my life for the last two years. I’m beginning to edge toward the door and put on my shoes and coat, so that all that’s left at the end will be to say a quick good-bye and disappear behind a closed door. That’s life.

When travel is a huge part of your life, packing and unpacking become second nature. But it’s always hard to know if we should let our roots grow and go through the pain of slashing them when it’s time to go, or if we should try to make the job at the end a little easier — a little less painful. Thankfully I’ve still managed to unpack during my two years here. I’ve managed to make good friends, that I imagine will continue, though they will probably be different. I’ve let myself enjoy things and invest in people and places, but I know I’ll pay a price soon. Before long I’ll be packing myself back into my suitcase. There will always be pain involved with packing up, but it doesn’t make it less worthwhile to unpack. On this, my Mummy is right. It’s taken me a while to learn that, in all aspects of life, but I am learning, slowly. And I’m encouraged by the fact that if we are rooted in Christ and not people, we’ll always have something to hold onto when everything else has to be ripped away. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19). So pack, and unpack — it’s worth it; but cling the whole while to the Anchor that will not change, will not leave and will not fail.