Tuesday, December 17, 2013

At Home in the Kingdom of God

I've talked about Jesus' Kingdom of God, building the Kingdom, and also about receiving it. Today, I would like to share my Advent 2013 story. It is both a coming home story as well as one of finding myself at home in the Kingdom of God. I share this story as a response to the Synchroblog Coming Home, Tuesday, Dec. 17th prompt (another first for me!). First,  I repeat the beautiful Frederick Buechner quote from the Synchroblog website here along with their questions, so as to help you understand the context. 

The Kingdom of God and Home. These words together are an interesting combination.

Frederick Buechner writes, “The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
...
What does Coming Home mean to you this season? Is it practical, spiritual, emotional? What does “home” look like or feel like in the kingdom of God? Do you have a “coming home” story that you’d love to tell?


"I want to introduce to you a very special person who has come all the way from the USA to be with us today," Lucy said. "She is a petite but dynamic force." As I re-played the video for Solly, I laughed anew. I had returned home, to the city in which I'd grown, been to the Kingdom of God, and was back home, in the Kingdom of God again. Is that possible? Yes. Nothing is impossible for God. In God's perfect timing when we're obedient to His leading, all things are possible. Especially returning home, for that is what he longs to do for us! How appropriate it was that Solly is the first person (besides my own family) with whom I get to spend now. God is simply amazing!

My story begins a long, long time ago, while I was still a teenager. God brought some very special people, Solly and Lucy, into my life. We became friends, even more, true brothers and sisters forming a bond forged by divine love that neither time nor distance would destroy. Then, as happens in all good stories, life parted us and we lost touch. A few years ago suddenly and quite dramatically God brought us together again. I was walking across the campus of a California college when I heard somebody calling out my name. It was Solly! He, like I, had become an American. Across the Pacific ocean too, 8,000 or so miles away, a similar connection was happening. Arlene and Lucy found themselves in the same Bible study. Through Arlene, pretty soon, Lucy and I were connected. A few years earlier, God, I found out, had called Lucy out of her career to rebuild the work her father, Uncle and Most Revd. Ananda Rao Samuel had started in a desolate and "god-forsaken" part of rural south India. Today, we work together, each located in a separate and oh, so different part of God's world, building Jesus' Kingdom. We've been working together for five years. Yet, it is only this Advent that God sent me to visit them.

I left India three decades ago and have lived most of my life elsewhere. I have gone back three times. The first visit in the 1980s was a bitter one and filled me with an anger that fueled my next few years in the USA as a poor student and struggling immigrant. I focused on my studies, worked hard, and totally bought into the American dream of fast cars, big home, the more money you can earn the better. I even identified with the Lost Generation, Gertrude Stein's borrowed phrase for the many expatriate American writers of the 1920s who lived in Paris. Truly, there is no going back or coming home for those who leave. I tried to hold on to my values and didn't lose myself in hedonism. But I felt abandoned, alienated and was slowly but surely sinking deep, into a mire of negativity. Still, there was at least one compelling reason for me to visit the land of my origins and so after about 15 years, I visited again. The second visit wasn't that bad. Scared, I used my work, which by now totally defined me anyway, to provide a front (oh, I've been invited here to present a paper at a conference) and hide the real reason - love for my original family - to take myself back. It was no use. This time, I left India, not with anger, but a bone-deep, and heart-wrenching sadness. Dry eyes, the copious tears held strictly at bay, a life sparked by a private reserve and fierce force of will began to characterize me. There was no place in the land of my birth; it could and would, in the years to come, house a billion people but there was no room for me. I would die, unknown, unloved except for my beloved who could cherish me and surely that was enough? I would be American and Indian, taking the best from these two cultures, but I was and would always be a sojourner, a stranger to earth. There was nothing wrong with this; in fact, it was Biblical, wasn't it? I would be satisfied. Wanting more was just plain greedy. This was all there was to life. Somebody, a few centuries hence, may or may not stumble upon my academic writings. They would critique my research. They might even be curious about my non-traditional approaches. These were my random, wayward thoughts. I would shrug them off. None of it was important. Then, it all began to change. I was captivated.

The truth is that each and every one of us matter to God. I would not believe this but the whole Bible is truth. Isaiah 58 and Romans 8 also hold the gospel truth, if you will excuse the pun. God's great love and presence with us, redeeming and perfecting us, are quite appropriate, albeit nontraditional, passages for reflection during Advent. Nothing can separate us from God's love. He wants us to have a full life and he created each of us carefully, for an "original purpose." God sent me to India this time, and every single thing I experienced was filtered and framed by his powerful, anointing love. First off, there was the family that sent me off with love from my church with a sending blessing on Sunday at close of worship. I was brought to LAX by "thangachi" (younger sister) Christie. "Amma" Marilyn, and "annan" Bill helped like true moms and brothers do. Don wrote up tech specs, and Jennie put together a Booty Ballet for India choreography, playlist and performance. Ginger L., Nancy S., Barbara R. Wendy, David, and so many more others than I can name here supported me with articulate love and prayers. Then, there was the family that met me at MAA, akka Lucy, Arlene and annan Sundar. The flowers my brother-in-law Senthil brought me, not to mention all the caring he poured out on me during my stay, were other potent expressions of love. Third, the smashing reunion Uncle and I hosted along with all the cousins and family who came to see me and celebrate my blood-sister's birthday was a welcome change from the last two visits when I met with virtually no old friends/extended family outside my original one. Fourth, the incredible amazing 92-year old who still cares for the cemetery in which my mother is buried was such a sign of God's hope. Fifth, was the tangible presence of God in every moment of my stay at Pravaham starting from the Welcome Aunty rangoli (kolam, sand art) the girls had prepared for me. Sixth, the sense of God-with-us when Lucy dressed me for the festivities on the 7th; this was the first time since my mother died  decades ago that another woman has helped me dress up. I was the guest of honor at opening of the Learning Resource Center and at their Christmas program and so many of the girls brought their families to meet me after I had read the greeting from Pastor Scott and Mission Chair Jon! The staff, at Lucy's behest, cooked all my favorite dishes; some mission trip it was, I joked, everybody treating me like a royal princess! Seventh, sharing God's message at Evensong, St. Luke's Chapel, Karigiri, at the invitation of Pr. Devadoss, was another anointing experience. It was a divine appointment to preach in a 65-year old open-air church built of solid granite in the Dravidian style and one that has been the home of stalwart saints like Dr. Paul Brand.  There were many unexpected blessings. On the way back to Chennai, we stopped to visit the home of the Board chair. It turns out she lived in the house where Dr. Ida Scudder first received God's call to become a doctor so she could serve the women of India who were dying in childbirth!

Now, I can join Buechner and echo him, affirmatively, but also quite differently. The kingdom of God is where my dreams have come true. These are not just for a moment in time. It lasts far longer and is for all eternity. No matter where we are, as long as we are where He sends us, obediently following his plans and will for us, then, we're at home in his Kingdom. Nothing can harm us and we are Christ's ambassadors, image-bearers, participating in the divine love. Hindsight shows how prophetic Lucy, Senthil, Tom, Bill, and even I had been. Lucy had no doubts that I would be there on Dec. 7th. Bill annan proclaimed God was sending me to represent himself to the community. Tom called me Christ's ambassador. Senthil labeled the photos he took of me opening the first phase of the community college LRC building plaque, "a dream come true." A day or so later, I began the devotion for the students with the affirmation that I have long since known, said, and believed in, "The kingdom of God has come and is here. You do know that, don't you?" Early this year, God had given me the title for my next books: Shining Stars and Stepping Stones. I had wondered and questioned him where the stories would come from. Now, I knew.

When it was time to leave, we cried. I hugged each and every student and staff in the community. The students and staff shared memorable thoughts. I was home. I was leaving home, where my calling has been affirmed by my family of God. I was also coming home where my calling with another family with which God has blessed me has also been affirmed. All my life I'd been curious about my "original purpose." I am home in the kingdom of God when I'm with his people, doing what he wants me to do, writing, humbly, quietly, patiently while waiting and being prepared, at other moments in time. His kingdom is wherever the least, the poor, the forgotten, and the broken are loved and served in Jesus name. His kingdom spans our world. My calling is also to share the unique heritage with which he has blessed and shaped me.

So to answer the Synchroblog questions: This Advent season, coming home has been an unforgettable experience of Emmanuel, God-with-us. God has affirmed many times over the original purpose for which he created me. I'm finally home and it is practical, spiritual and emotional! I'm a voice for the voiceless, a voice of hope, an ambassador of his love and joy. He loves us all - the loud voices and the still, quiet ones - dearly. May you live in his kingdom and feel a deep sense of his love and joy, Emmanuel, God-with-us this Advent and Christmas and carry it into the New Year and wherever you go.
Here are the links of other bloggers writing this month on “coming home” - http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/link-list-for-december-2013-synchroblog-coming-home/

5 comments:

  1. What a wonderful story of homecoming and of the Kingdom of God, Anita! Thank you so much for sharing it! God is truly at work, here and now!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing your story - which demonstrates that we are at home when we live fully into the life that God created for us to live!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for your wonderful story. What a blessing as I read it today.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to encourage me with your feedback. Blessings.