I Stole from Safeway

A couple days ago I stole from Safeway. Let me preface this. This has been my second week of “working” as a live in care-taker for my dad’s sister’s husband’s dad. Got it? I put working in quotations because, in many ways, it doesn’t feel like work. It definitely feels like work every time I lay down to go to bed and realise how incredibly tired I am, or when I try to read in the afternoon and find my eyes wandering over the pages of my book as I struggle to stay awake. But mostly the things I do fall more under the category of normal life. I wonder sometimes if mothers feel similarly (I don’t presume to say that I come even close to what moms do, but I do sometimes feel that I’m getting a tiny taste). Most of my day is filled with simple things like cooking, shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, being company, and helping to get clothes on and off. I do most of these things for myself anyway— now it’s just a little more and a little different. So, while my time here it’s very different from jobs I’ve had where I come home exhausted from working with tools and lifting all kinds of silly steel things, It still comes with it’s challenges and difficulties of its own. Overall though, it’s been a great experience so far, full of stories and laughs and card games.

So, I stole from Safeway. We went shopping the other day, “Grandpa” and I. And we were going through the list of groceries we needed, with Grandpa pushing the cart to give him something to hold onto, and me reading out labels and prices, since my eyes are still able to do that. While we looked, I saw that Old Spice deodorant was on sale. As a side note, I’ve used lots of other deodorants in my life, but have occasionally had trouble with my skin reacting a little to some (that makes me sound like a sissy). But, Old Spice has always been fine, so rather than figure out what it is that gives me issues, and which kinds I’m okay with, I just stick with Old Spice. And, seeing as I didn’t have a spare, I thought, why not grab an extra while they are on sale? So I did, making sure not to put it in the cart, because Grandpa is very generous and would have insisted on paying for it if he saw it. In this case, a little poor eyesight goes a long way. However, as we went through the store and I soon busied myself with putting fruit and vegetables in bags, the deodorant went into the pocket of my hoody to free-up my hands. And amidst loading the cart, paying for the groceries and going out to the car, taking the cart back, and making sure Grandpa got into the car fine, I completely forgot about the deodorant. So, as we unpacked the groceries back at home, a sinking feeling of guilt, horror and shame come over me when I felt something in the pocket of my hoody, totally forgetting that I had put the deodorant in there. I know it was an accident and could be easily fixed, but I still felt pretty terrible about it. There I was, an unwitting shoplifter at large with my stolen merchandise. Thinking back, I’m a little surprised how easy it was. I wonder if a lot of stuff gets stolen on a regular basis from places like that. Or maybe all the shoplifters get caught — something God spared me from in His compassion for His scatter-brained child.

So to fix the problem, that afternoon I decided to combine my exercise with alleviating my guilt, and went for a run to Safeway, taking a key for the house and five dollars to pay for the deodorant. However, this meant that when I got to Safeway, I was mildly sweaty, wearing exercise clothes while standing in line at a till with one stick of Old Spice deodorant in my hand.

When I go to grocery stores I can’t help but judge people for their shopping. I don’t mean it to be malicious or anything, but I enjoy looking at what kinds of food people get and trying piece together an idea of the kind of person they are and the lifestyle they live. Since “you are what you eat”, I’m really just looking right into their skimmed milk and free-range egged soul. I’m always amazed to see the people that load their carts full of chips and pop, with the occasional box of frozen pizza or something and wonder how these people’s bodies survive. I wonder what their house is like, or what a normal day looks like for them. I can’t help but smile when I see people buy weird health food and then throw in some sweet junk food or something as well. Or the people that buy that cheap, calorie filled whatever in the bakery section or candy aisle — the kind I always see but have never ever bought and always wondered who in the world would pay hard-earned money to eat something like that. Or the lady who picked up a magazine from the shelf (you know, the ones with scantily clad, airbrushed females that promise weight-loss routines and tell you all about what’s going on with Will and Kate, and who’s breaking up with who in the acting world?), to take a quick flip through it’s enlightening pages while she waited in line for the one person in front of her, and then had it scanned to find out the price and, rather than put it back on the shelf when she decided she didn’t want it, handed it to the cashier to deal with later. Silly, silly people.

Anyway, considering all the shopping analysis and judgement that I pour out on the people I see, I couldn’t help but wonder about what people thought of me — standing in line and holding one stick of deodorant. Did they think that I was at home, ran out of deodorant and ran all the way to Safeway just for it? Or did they think that I just decided to go shopping in the middle of a run, which I conveniently had five dollars for, and that all I needed was deodorant? Or maybe they thought I was running, got sweaty, started to smell and essentially had a deodorant emergency that couldn’t even wait until I got home? Whatever people thought, I tried to put my feeling of embarrassment behind me and act as normal as I could buying my one stick of deodorant.

After explaining that I had gone through without paying for it before, I paid the cashier for the it and then handed it back to her. Her “thank you” was forgiveness enough, and I couldn’t help but feel a little lighter with the weight of my crime lifted off me as I stepped out the door and ran off into the parking lot.

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.

Perfect Imperfections

While I was home in Hyderabad, some family friends and the boys of my family took a trip down to the Indus River. We don’t go out to the river very often. In fact, we usually just go to show it to people who are visiting at the time. This time, as we drove out to the Indus and over the big barrage, it reminded me of earlier days — of the times we would go as a family, to a swimming pool further down the road. We would load into the car with our towels, books and toys and drive down the familiar road, enjoying the cool breeze. Once there, we would switch into our swim trunks in the neglected change rooms, watching the wasps closely as they buzzed around the warm window, or hid themselves in the cracks of the doorways to the toilets. Going to the bathroom was dangerous.

We would leave wet footprints all over the hot concrete around the pool as we made our leap into the water, calling for attention from our parents, who were trying to relax and read on the side. Around the edge of the pool were hollow, stainless steel railings, and we kids would go to opposite sides, shouting and making silly sounds through the pipes to each other, or would try to blow water from one end to the other. It never worked. In the very early days we could get food there — usually french fries or pop. I would always have a Fanta. I rarely do anymore. I think I’m afraid that it won’t be the same. The pool eventually changed management with the departure of the British engineers who had lived there, and over the years it became green and cloudy. More and more of the areas were closed, and when the bottom of the pool eventually disappeared into the emerald haze, we finally stopped going altogether.

There at the river, the dark blue water was low in the river bed, and a few of the gates on the barrage had been opened to allow the buildup of silt to be cleaned out of them. They too had suffered through years of neglect. The British may have left some negative marks in Pakistan, but their influence left some quality infrastructure behind. Unfortunately their departure has meant neglect and disrepair for many buildings and systems around Pakistan. The barrage is one of these. Climbing down the steep steps on the bank of the river, we made our way across the flat expanse of sand toward the thin channel that the Indus had become at that point in its journey. There it was still and quiet. The sun hung low in the sky, throwing small shadows over the ripples in the sand as we walked along.

I kept my eyes focused on the ground, falling behind the rest as I stooped to pick up two halves of a clam shell in the sand. I had forgotten that shells could be found in the riverbed. I suppose having only seen them in the ocean before, I didn’t expect them here. With the shells in my pocket, I continued along, keeping an eye out for more. Before long I found another, bending to pick it up from the sand. It was small, and as I ran my fingers across its surface, the outside of the shell flaked like old paint on a wall. It wasn’t nearly as big as the others and, with its peeling surface, I was just about to toss it back down into the sand when I stopped myself. I ran my thumb over its rippled flaking surface again. It was so imperfect — so perfectly imperfect.

Sure, it wasn’t large, or very smooth. It was small and simple. It had its imperfections. It wasn’t the picture-perfect shell I had been looking for, but that didn’t make it worthless. Did I really want a flawless, picturesque shell anyway? In some ways it was the fact that the imperfections existed that made it valuable. It was real. It was raw.

My experiences, my home, my life — have all been like that shell. They came with aspects that weren’t always perfect or pretty. They came with imperfections. Is Pakistan a bed of roses or the first choice for luxurious living? No, but I love it. It’s beautiful. That shell is beautiful too, with its patterned exterior peeling and chipping away. It’s beautiful, imperfections and all.

There was only one shell that came home with me in the end. I left the others to keep the smallest one. Now it sits in a little clay dish on my desk in my room as a reminder. Something doesn’t need to be perfect in life for it to be valuable. In fact, it rarely is. Life, experiences, places and people all come with issues and disappointments. Make the best of the them, because there’s beauty in the imperfections.


Fitted Bed Sheets


I had the opportunity to go on a youth retreat this past weekend with my church youth group. After sitting on the noise-filled bus for nearly three hours, we finally arrived at the camp where we would be staying. That evening, after more noise and activity, the three boys in my room got their beds ready to sleep on. “What’s this?” one of the boys asked, as he started to unfold a fitted bed sheet he had pulled from his bag, holding it from his fingers as if it was a banana peel he had picked up off the ground. Another boy, obviously well schooled in his sheet classification, knew a fitted sheet from a t-shirt and was proceeding to pull it over his bed. Putting one corner just over the mattress, he would move to the other side, pulling the sheet off of where he had just put it in the process. Another, on the top bunk, was having the same trouble. Barely laying the sheet over the corner of the bed, he would then expect it to stay there as he pulled the remainder of the sheet over the far side of the mattress. Apparently, putting fitted bed sheets on a bed isn’t common junior-high-boy knowledge.Thankfully, a couple tips and a helpful hand later, I did manage to show them how putting the corner of the bed sheet under the corner of the mattress would stop the sheet from popping off the bed again and again.

I moved into a boarding school in sixth grade. Fitted sheets? No problem. I did start struggle later on in my years, as my sheets began to shrink with years of washes. This only got harder as my boarding school mattresses were eventually replaced by the larger, thicker mattresses I experienced once I got to Canada. Fitted sheets were quite normal, and I quickly got used to making up my bed, again and again. I’m thankful for my years in boarding. It’s experiences like these, watching anxious boys crawl into foreign beds that make me realise what a blessing it was. I understand. I understand what it’s like to be in a strange room. I forget sometimes, that not every junior high boy moves into a new room, with a new room mate, and has to try to fall asleep on a new bed each year. In boarding, life would hit the reset button again every few months, as my siblings and I would readjust to our beds at home for a couple weeks over break. Then we would be back to school again. The strange beds became familiar — the familiar became strange. And I would find myself lying awake in the dark, trying to drown out the silence of the fan that wasn’t turning above my head. Silence is one of the hardest sounds to ignore.

I don’t mean to make my experiences sound all rosy. Boarding had it’s downsides too. There aren’t many better ways to learn how much you dislike about people than having to live with them year after year. However, before long, the rough edges of my own selfishness did start to wear down. They had to — since they were constantly scraping into someone else and their selfishness corners. Thankfully God works in these years of friction, ensuring the little pieces that are chipped away simply smooth the edges, rather than leave gaping holes of trauma and bitterness. I’m thankful. I’m thankful that my parents were willing to let go when I asked. I’m thankful that I had friends who cared about me, and who made my experience a valuable one. I’m thankful God orchestrated good things out of what could have so easily become a mess. On top of all this, I’m thankful I know what a fitted sheet is and how to put it on a bed. I still may not know how to fold one, but not everyone is perfect. I’ll save that magical skill for the mothers of us silly boys.