Tag Archives: control

Arrive with Peace

I have been waiting to hear those words.  Their meaning:

You are home, we are glad.

Your absence was felt.  

Your presence matters.  

Alhamdulillah al salameh.  The literal translation is along the lines of, “Praise God you have arrived with peace.”  It invites the response, Allah yesalamek: “May God give you also peace.”

But my ears have been listening for this common greeting, over the past few days, in a new way.

Returning from a week outside the country, I hear the words spoken upon each reunion with a “regular” person in my life.  From my coworkers at the community center, who smile and say that I was missed.  From the teachers in the Young Leaders’ program, who accompany the phrase with interested questions about the conference I attended in Thailand.  From Sammi, my dear language tutor, and her mother, who holds my face in her hands as she says it.

Though I was once a stranger, and still am a foreigner, I am moved by the way this city welcomes me home.  I am reminded through the fragile familiarity of the dust color on houses, the jagged rocks of mountains on the horizon, and the faces in stores where I catch up on errands, that I live here now:

A young teller at the bank says hi in English. Her mom and I used to be in the same fitness class, and I have eaten dinner in their apartment.  “Why haven’t you visited us again?” she asks, switching to her native language. The question is not an accusation; it’s an invitation.  

We exchange numbers, and I send greetings to her mother.  The root word is the same.  Give her my peace.

The young man behind the counter at the store where I pay for WiFi greets me warmly.  His boss, a savvy businesswoman working on her master’s degree, spoke about leadership last month to the students in our Young Leaders program.  I ask him, also, to give her my peace.

I buy phone credit from a former student from our center’s Adult English program; he tells me about his dreams for further study.  Finished, he says, “Ma salameh”… Go in peace.

Even the grey-haired manager at the supermarket remembers the blonde foreigner who buys her yogurt and pita from his store.  He sees me in the parking lot, ignores my reluctance, and calls out for an employee to carry my groceries to the car.  “God give you health,” I tell him as he settles the bags into the passenger’s seat, and he responds with the prescribed blessing: “May God also give it to you.”

But these phrases that bless with health and peace, as I return this time, mean something more.  The friends and the city who welcomed me back did not know how thin stress had worn that peace before my time away.  Neither did I.

In Bangkok, the day we landed, our approach to the city was like a three-year-old’s approach to birthday presents– eagerness, surprise, lack of orderliness, lavish wonder.  It included an unexpected arrival at a five-million-bulb light show, The Light of Happiness, in its last night of display.  Earlier, we stumbled from temples and markets to tailor shops and food stalls, breathing scents that were spicy and sour, and tasting the humid air and the fried octopus.

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Light of Happiness, Bangkok

The next morning we bused to our conference, a couple of hours away, with about 100 other businesspeople and teachers who work internationally.  As I watched the green hills and golden Buddhas out of my window, listening to headphones play tunes of abundant love and dependance on one greater than us, I knew that some truths were simpler than I could understand.

I desired deeply to delight in this time.  But my heart was constricted by distractions and grief and worries, clogged like an artery that refused to allow more than a minimum amount of blood to flow.  The work and relationships that matter most to me in the Middle East were going well.  But looming ahead were transitions that will take away some of the people who support me well, will give me new responsibilities, and will introduce the likelihood of challenges and weaknesses that are unwelcome.

In between conference sessions, I sat looking at palm trees and flowers from quiet, secluded spots.  Scribbling notes in a journal and wondering what it meant to trust, when I must also accept that the future may be uncomfortable.

Weeping for what I have had to let go, what I will have to release in the months coming.  What I never could hold on to, except as an illusion.

Control.  

Somehow those arteries harden, stifling nourishment from reaching me, when I try to hold on.  The greater my efforts at making things happen myself, the weaker I realize I am.  When the circumstances around me keep shifting, and dependence on others doesn’t cut it, how do I handle my own shaky hands and vulnerable stomach?  If I honestly assess my own strength and find it wanting, what resource do I have left?

The golden glory of the early morning sun had yet to fade when I awoke, five days into the conference but still five time zones away in my sleep patterns.  I slipped onto the balcony and opened a Psalm.

I lift my eyes up to the hills–

where does my help come from? (121:1)

Every source of help, every close relationship, every circumstance or flavor or person or sunrise that has brought strength and joy– these are gifts from God.  I am astonished at the innumerable gifts, every ability I have being also given to me.

But intense instability, and the inability to control, were deep reminders that my soul cannot be satisfied in the presence of gifts.

Through it all, one Presence remains.  The Giver.

IMG_3870A few more days of seminars and networking with people from around the globe.  The best of them were the ones who saw how dependent they are on the Father.  A few more times venturing forth to explore the country.  The warm waves of the ocean, the wall-to-wall people cast in the red glow of Chinese lanterns for a New Year’s celebration, the splendid sunsets and the shimmering mosaics of the temples– they will not soon be forgotten.

Somehow along the journey, trust began to devour what had blocked those arteries, and my heart began to pound once again with health and strength.

Because His presence matters.

He is my home.

And as I return, I arrive with peace.

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Promise to Break

The air came like heat waves from an oven.  Only no chocolate chip cookies were baking… just me.

I was directly in front of my fan.

It was my first night home after a month of travel outside of this country, and my goal was to save air conditioning until I had finished unpacking.  I’ve got to get used to only running it when I am sleeping, I told myself, remembering my housemates’ significant bill last summer.  Sticky with sweat, I pulled a bag of individually-packaged peppermint patties from my suitcase.  They had melted and then re-congealed into a brick of mint filling, chocolate, and silver wrapping.

On first moving into a stuffy basement apartment in a Middle Eastern desert, I made a vow: I will not talk about heat.  I kept that vow for only three months.  Now, on my first day back, my problem was not in talking about the heat; my problem was in not being able to think of anything else.

But I had a new promise to keep: Survive without additional air conditioning.  

The next morning, I ate breakfast in my bedroom, also known as my “slightly-cooler-than-kitchen room.”  With lights off.  With curtains drawn.  With the fan pointed on me.  And for about 15 minutes, I was okay… but the apartment was baking as the sun moved higher.  Now I just have to find a solution for the rest of the day.

I made plans to visit Sammi (her apartment is on the second floor– better air flow), and to meet another friend later for coffee (the coffee shop has air conditioning).

In between, I stayed in front of the fan.  If I moved– even for five minutes– the fan moved with me.  I’ve only got to do this for another three months, I told myself.  Three months of trying to stay cool.

Of closing curtains to reduce the light.

Of hiding from my home whenever possible, as it is temporarily transmogrified into the belly of a dragon.

I moved slowly all day, attempting to be not hot… and doing laundry upstairs.  On my last visit to the second story, one of my housemates stopped me. Since I’d been away so much the expense would already be less, he explained, and since they preferred for me to live through the summer: “We want you to run your air conditioning at all times.”

The statement liberated me from the promise I had made to myself.  I laughed in relief as I felt the first gusts of cool air.

And then I made dinner.  And thought through the next couple of days.  And showered.  All tasks that had seemed impossible earlier in my day.

Finding a way to survive the heat had become primary… but my promise to do so without any help had been smothering other important concerns.

Breaking a promise can feel sooooo good.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time I’ve pursued the wrong promises.  Often vows of the type I am referencing are made in response to something, but stay below the surface of our awareness, influencing our lives yet trying to escape acknowledgement.

But at times those promises can knock us over, like sharks with a surfer earlier this week, attempting to drag us down and smother higher pursuits.

We can either punch them in the back, or be eaten alive by them.  Couple of my “promises” that have attacked of late:

“I will not make people angry.”

“I will not hurt people.”

Impossible as these vows are, knowingly or unknowingly I have spent much of my life trying to keep them.

Failures push me to just try harder.  And my fervent attempts to control others’ responses have led to– that’s right– anger and hurt.  Other times, they have led to avoidance of things that needed to be talked about.

But love is stifled by an attempt to control another’s emotions.  And love languishes in an atmosphere of avoidance.

Close friends sat with me on a porch at a Pennsylvania farmhouse last month, listening to me wrestle with these thoughts and promises.  There were more: “It’s not okay to feel alone,” was one.  When I ran dry of words, they were silent with me, watching the fireflies circle the cornfields until my eyes dried, also.  Sometimes love looks like speech, and sometimes it looks like silence.

Sometimes we need to hear that it is okay to run A.C. at all times.

Sometimes, my Pennsylvania friends told me, breaking promises is the most faithful course of action.

——

What about you?  What promises do you want to break?