Thursday, December 20, 2012
Coming back to California is always a unique experience. Among other things it is something of a shock to see the availability of goods, to hear English all the time and to drive a car. This often requires some period of adjustment.
There are a few things that I regularly notice when we return. One is that I have a heightened awareness of the faults in my home culture. I tend to be judgmental and critical of the things I consider deficiencies in the culture. Another is that I usually overindulge in foods I have not eaten in a while. Another thing I notice is that in some ways I feel very much at home and in other ways I feel very much out of place. Living almost 10 years outside the US has changed my worldview, my habits, my values and even on some levels my language. Also, while we are away, many things connected with California change. We don’t always have regular contact with friends so we are sometimes not up to date with their lives, fears and struggles. This gives rise to feeling like an outsider in your own culture. I accepted this long ago and it has actually served as a reminder of where my true home is. When I feel like a foreigner in Odessa, I am reminded that my true citizenship is in heaven. When I feel out of place in California, I am reminded that I am ultimately an alien and exile on earth. Someday I will see my true home and be welcomed home by my true Master. This gives me great peace and hope.
This time, I am experiencing many of the same feelings. As usual, I feel at home and out of place at the same time. However, there has been something unique. This time, we have returned on medical leave. That means that we have probably received more attention than usual. Because we are missionaries, there is an unwritten requirement to live out things like this in public. Our friends and supporters (those that read our newsletters) know that I have cancer. They know that we have returned to have it treated. They are concerned for us, they pray for us, offer advice and help. This is great and provides us with a lot of prayer and emotional support. We have experienced a profound sense of love, grace and support that can come through the body of Christ. It also means that at times I find myself getting medical advice from or discussing personal medical issues with people I really don’t know very well. That can be awkward. Sometimes we call this the fishbowl effect.
The unique thing I have found this time is that I have experienced short times of a profound sense of home. As I listen to a song or sit in a service listening to a sermon in English, I know what to do; I easily and clearly understand the humor, nuanced cultural references and idioms. I don’t have to intellectually put them in a cultural or historic context. I just get it. What I am realizing is that there is perhaps a “flavor” to your home culture and this flavor produces a sense of connection.
One special connection was when some of the elders, deacons and deaconesses prayed for us. They took our whole family to a side room in the church. I kneeled down, they anointed me with oil, they laid their hands on me and prayed. Many of these men and women we have known for years. They have been our teachers, friends, encouragers, pastors, leaders and supporters. Some of them we only really know about. But we respect them all. Through their actions, the Spirit brought us great peace and a sense of belonging and acceptance. It was the body of Christ in action. It was a taste of home – our true home.
In these moments, when I get the joke – when the idiom makes perfect sense, when the saints sincerely pray for us, I get a feeling of belonging in a way that feels like home. It feels like acceptance. It only comes in glimpses, but I like it that way. It is the same lesson as before, but from the other side. When I feel out of place, I am reminded that I am not home and someday I will be home. When I get that glimpse of acceptance and belonging that feels like home, I am reminded of a future home where the feeling will not fade. God is granting me a taste – a glimpse of what is yet to come. For that I am thankful.