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grateful

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I remember driving down I-40 in the absolute dark, in the new moon night, and wondering if the mountains I’d been hearing about were there, around me in the dark. That was a year ago and was, in its own right, the beginning of everything that has happened since.

As it happens, I was driving right toward the Blue Ridge, although that particular drive would take me no farther than the foothills.

It was my second encounter with the state. The first was a rainy drive from Myrtle Beach to Chapel Hill in which we all smelled like rancid ocean and my eyes were opened only intermittently. Looking backward, I know that we must have passed through Hickory, but I don’t remember much outside of rain soaked trees and trying to stay awake.

There was no way to know that I would be here again and again, that I would grow to know these highways. There was no way to know, that first summer in the rain or that first spring in the darkness, how unexpected the next steps in the story would be.

I am here, the girl who loves the city, flitting to trailer parks on a hillside and learning to pronounce the small-town streets with unfamiliar cadences. I am here, in a place I never imagined I would be and in a way which I did not expect.

I am here, and I am so very grateful.

It comes to me in waves, when the sun pulls out the new green in the trees and when the water soaks everything and I pull to the roadside to take a picture, struck by the beauty of the light through the haze. It comes to me as she is here with her new fiancé, standing on the balcony and watching the seed pods helicopter and worrying that I will step on the broken glass.

It is a new season for both of us, a season that is right. We look back now, and we can laugh. Not with nonchalance, but in a way that is all joy and relief and the gratitude that spring has come to North Carolina.

She will visit and go again, him walking ahead of her and looking back with a softness in his eyes that makes me glad. They will come again, I think, maybe for a while, maybe with the others, because this is the place I will be. These are the moments I am going to inhabit, going forward, and these are the places you will find me.

You will find me in the stillness of the prayers on Sunday morning, feeling the presence of those I know around me and understanding that this is another place I will come back to, again. This is a place I will stay, a place in which I am, astonishingly, a part, lately.

You will find me on those highways, in the rain and the sunshine and the very dark night-times. You will find me laughing too loudly, like I never lost that light, and you will find me very tired in the evenings. You will find that I have found the whole spectrum of the thing, the joy and the frustration and the anger and the sadness, and you will find that I am not, in this instant, so afraid.

There was no way to know how grateful I would be, a year after that dark drive, to see the sun come up behind the Blue Ridge and laugh that there are mountains beyond mountains. There was no way to know that this little place would come in the fullness of time, that these people would be here, that it would all come to me, singing along with the ninth symphony, the Ode to Joy.

This is the last I will write you, I am thinking, but I wanted to say it because it has been a completion, has been the last miles of a very long drive and the collapsing inside the door and catching my breath. It has been a beautiful concession.

These are the places you will find me, in the same way I happened upon myself.

 

an open letter to my college pastor (and his wife…)

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*In the past few months, it has been easy to remember and tell the stories of the way that the church has kind of let me down. As a result, I’ve been a little quieter and a little more hesitant to speak, because the truth of the matter is that I love the church. I love it fiercely, and I believe that it is good. It is a heavy thing to consider and wrestle with the possibility of walking away from a local congregation, and I don’t believe that struggle should be overtly public or, most importantly, overly critical.*

So I won’t get into that.

What happened, recently, is that the man and woman who, more than anyone else in the world, have personified the word pastor in my life have received a call to a new church. When I heard, I was getting ready to run my first 5k, and it was just the best thing. I smiled a little all day, so excited for them to be in this new place with such a great opportunity to make a home for people.

Chris and Becky.
There was never a time when I felt like I couldn’t walk through the doors at Woodway. There was never a shame or a thought that I felt like I couldn’t confess. You knew me at my best, and most certainly at my most broken. You watched me succeed, fail, and just plain flounder.

You made it a home.

And I’ve said much, to you and to others, about the way that your presence in my final year of college shaped me. I don’t know that it needs to be said again, but I can’t thank you enough.

The thing I haven’t said is the way you have shaped me in the days since I left. The way that an occasional text or report from a friend or post on Facebook have shaped a theology in my heart that I so desperately needed to build.

You have taught me how to wait. How to sit in the midst of it all and believe that God has not lost track of you in all the change and the shuffle.

If I have seen anything in you, it has been the solid believing that the middle times are not the wasted times. It has been the refusal to act out of fear or anger or cynicism or pride. And I know that college ministry is about equipping and commissioning and sending, and I wanted to thank you for being a faithful witness of the way it looks when your call is not to the sexy or exciting parts of life.

Thank you, for staying in Waco and loving the city as your home. Thank you for loving the church that ministered to you as students with so much of your energy. Thank you for not shrinking back when it was difficult. Thank you for showing me what it looks like to wait well, to abide, I guess.

The love affairs we humans have with the church are so rarely what we wish they were. I think we imagine that God will call us to the wild, far-away places and lead us with cloud and fire. Or maybe that He will bring us to the Promised Land and amplify our voices and raise us up. We think that the church will begin to celebrate us and be a vehicle for whatever it is that we want. And we confuse what we want with what we need.

Sometimes what we need is to be patient. To learn faithfulness when our hearts do not want to be faithful. And these stories are so rarely the ones we hear. We hear the stories about the people whose voices are amplified and who stand up on the pedestals. We hear the stories of the ones who fail, and have to be resuscitated. We hear a lot of stories in the church, and it’s tempting to chase those.

We don’t hear a lot of stories about the people who stay and love the ones who wander by. We don’t hear about the people who invest in dining room chairs instead of a trip to Uganda. We don’t hear about the people who are present week after week after week, the ones who are sometimes the only constant thing in a collegiate world that is prone to instability, fear, and the worship of the new and shiny.

And yet these are the people who shape our lives. They don’t often write books or have biopics. You find them at kitchen tables and block parties and office spaces and budget meetings. And you don’t hear about them, sometimes, because they spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about Jesus, rather than their own lives or stories.

And this is the life that so many of your former students will find after college. A few may go to the exciting places. Most will fall into a routine of school or work or marriage or parenthood. They will begin to realize that the ideals they fought for in college are difficult to fit into life, sometimes. They will wonder if they have somehow missed the chance to be the kind of Christian who ends up on a stage. They will wonder if this hard time of working to build a life and believing that God is in our midst, even here, will ever end.

And those of us who were blessed to know you will remember you. We will remember the way you stayed in Waco, and believed that God could use you in this place. We will remember the way you waited for His timing at every moment. We will remember the ways that you fought for joy and love and community. We will remember the way you opened your home and let us love your children. We will remember the way you stayed up too late at night and pretended not to be completely exhausted. We will remember the way you listened when we had a problem that we were sure was the end of the world. We will remember the way that you fought for the church, even when it was just hard. We will remember the way that you loved us, even though we must have been just the biggest nuisance, sometimes (usually).

And maybe we will realize what it really means to be full of faith. Maybe we will love our postgrad homes and churches a little better, will choose the words that don’t aim to hurt, will look for ways to serve when we feel alone. Maybe we will linger with some of the intention that we have seen in your family.

Maybe we will all be better for it.

As I said before, church in OKC has not been easy for me. It has not always gone the way I wished it would. I have missed you, both of you. But I have learned, by watching you and your ministry, that you don’t give up on the church. You don’t give up on the city. You don’t give up on God’s plan.

And now, seeing Him move to take you to a new season, I am just so happy to remember that He does not abandon us. I know He will use you there.

Thank you for being faithful.

Depression: a retrospective

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I think I can say, without much parsing, that this is the least funny thing that has ever happened to me. I’m the girl, I like to lead with a joke. I like to make you laugh when bad things happen to me. I don’t want you standing there making that pursed lip face and thinking about how sad I am, I want you feeling almost guilty about how humorous you find my discomfort. I mean, at least then one of us is happy.

That being said, jokes about depression fall a little flat. I can’t explain it to you the way I might a tragedy. Usually tragedies end up with me crying somewhere inappropriate or with some kind of freak disaster that wasn’t funny at the time, but has a real sense of irony to it. This mess, though, just doesn’t have a punch line. I can’t simplify it to a witty anecdote for you.

It’s just that I thought the winter was over. I mean that as a metaphor, of course, but I also mean it in the truest, most literal sense that you can imagine. I really, truly thought that this winter was going to be a mild one. Last winter was just a cluster of snow and ice and all that jazz, and then this year it was 80 in January. I kind of thought that the groundhog was cutting me a break, finally (but he bit the mayor’s ear this year, and dear God that’s exactly what it’s been like. Here, let me whisper to you about spring…SUCKER! I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU FELL FOR THAT!)

I thought a lot of things. And what ended up happening, for want of a cutesy or wry way of saying it, was that I came to a point where the probability of anything improving seemed low. That’s the heart of this thing, for me. You come to a point where your brain isn’t getting high off of the little good things anymore, and your threshold for the good keeps climbing while your experience of it plummets. This is a recipe for not wanting to do much because you can’t see how any of it will ever make a dent in the stupor.

Misery, like Hilary says, is a muse. This isn’t like that. This is the opposite of that.

At approximately this time, the small ministry at the church that was keeping me, however loosely, in contact with others slammed a door in my face. It wasn’t personal at first. It was a consolidation of life stages (in which my best friend and I were suddenly a mismatch). The brutal, horrible irony was that the people who would have opened a door for me were focusing their energy on a day when I worked. It sounds so simple now, but it was a catastrophe. There was nowhere for me to be, then. There was no group that opened the doors. I asked and was ignored, I asked and wasn’t male enough, married enough, or collegiate enough. The people I knew gradually reformed around themselves, and tried not to feel guilty when I mentioned that the transition was kind of wrecking me. And I wept in Panera with a pastor and his wife. I drove around the city for an hour because I couldn’t figure out a way to explain to my parents that I suddenly had nowhere to be. It was irony that the girl who was only ever snide about church things had to confront just how much they had been keeping me afloat. And I know it wasn’t personal, but it sure did feel that way.

You can imagine that I responded to this with grace and understanding (heavy, dark sarcasm).

This is the bottom for an unspeakably extroverted Christian with a twisty water slide past of emotional instability. This moment where no one in the church will meet your eyes is a special kind of strange. Combined with a general blasé that seemed to have crept up through bare feet like the tapeworms my mom always warned me about (You wear shoes, you wear socks, it’s not that complicated. Why are you the only one who doesn’t get this, Jen?) and I was a paragon of blech.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and account for how much of this came from mistakes or sin or biology or whatever. I’m not. If you want that, go talk to someone else.

But, in the middle of all of this, I started to do this massively unhealthy, toxic, awful thing. I started to just give myself whatever I felt like I wanted. I thought of it as ‘self-care’, but the truth is that I was being hopelessly reckless. I was living so much in the mundane moment that I would drink caffeine in an effort to make myself happy, know that it would knock my heartbeat off kilter for hours and send me into a sweaty, clammy panic attack. I would watch hours of Netflix thinking that I was treating myself only to find that the nights before tests were becoming these insurmountable awful things. I was trying to do what felt right, and I was repeatedly screwing myself over.

I told myself that I was worth it, and that I deserved to be happy, and that I needed to just look out for myself for a bit. Slowly, but surely, the Jennifer who fell in love with the Jesus of the inner city was choked out. The Jennifer who spent a week’s budget on Easter candy without hesitation was trying to find new places to cram all the things I bought on a whim and promptly did not use. The Jennifer who used to talk about her job with that teary-eyed excitement was bemoaning an extra day of work because ‘it’s not fair’. To say it in one ugly word, I was selfish. But the self I was feeding was not the person that I wanted to be.

It happened kind of all at once. We met up after church, and I was almost hesitant because every other ministry had failed so spectacularly. I was hesitant because it was just four girls who were probably going to let me down. I was hesitant because, in a lot of ways, it was nice to be able to blame the whole unpleasantness on the church for neglecting me. That was certainly easier. But we met up, and we talked about our lives. It was innocuous, except that I was already crying. I was trying to explain why I was so miserable. I was trying to figure out why God felt so distant.

And then they asked what would make me happy. And I saw a swarm of little faces in my brain. I saw a string of the people I used to pray for, the ones I used to come in early and work unpaid hours to see. I saw Charles, tricking me out of my pocket change. And then I just cried.

Really, they were good sports. They listened to me try to describe the way I used to be passionate. They pretended to believe that I had ever not been a total mess. And a thought drifted into my head.

“I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul”. I wish I could say that it appeared there in any phrasing other than the TobyMac song, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t lie to you. But that is what happened.

I started giving myself whatever I wanted. I started believing that I needed to be happy before anything else. I wanted to be whole again before I picked my cross back up. I forgot about the tradition of believers before me who staggered around in broken bodies and broken hearts. Somehow I thought that depression meant never having to sacrifice anything. I thought self-indulgence would make it better. And I very nearly lost the person that I was, in theory, working to protect.

I’m not going to stand here and tell you that it’s all better. Because it isn’t. There are way too many days that I’m just in a daze. There are way too many days that I’m crying like there’s a hole somewhere. But I’m trying not to fall for the lie that I need to indulge to make it better.

I may always be a little crooked. That won’t mean that God has failed me. It won’t mean that I can’t be worth something. It won’t mean that I don’t have something to give away. It will just mean that I have to take care not to listen to the part of me that wants to be pitied and catered to.

What I don’t want, what I refuse to accept, is to overcome depression only to find that I have sold out my passion to do so. I don’t want to be free from depression and chained to materialism. I don’t want to start believing that depression is the most important thing about me. I don’t want to wake up in five years and realize that I don’t have any relationships that aren’t self-serving. I don’t want to lock my heart in bulletproof glass and keep it clean from fingerprints. I don’t want to come out of the cave and away from the shadows only to fall in love with my own reflection.

I want the real things. Even if they are sometimes too real, even if they sometimes render me ghost-like in comparison. I want the abundant parts. The abundant sadness, the abundant joy, the abundant worry, the abundant hope. I don’t want to worship anything else that I made in my basement.

And I don’t know if any of that makes sense, but that’s my confession. That’s the place I find myself in, as a Christian trying to make sense of an honestly difficult part of my story. I don’t know of a way to make it funny or easy to understand. I don’t have advice to give others in this battle. I don’t have a treatise for the church on how they failed me, or saved me, or what they can do in the future. And I’m sorry about that. I’m a little at a loss, honestly.

I just thought that the winter would be over by now. But there’s a ton of snow outside, and I’m kind of just trapped at home for now. I’m listening to James Taylor on Spotify and wondering if it’s over yet. Because this isn’t easy.

The call of Christ doesn’t tend to be easy. But I’m all in, regardless. 

Let’s do this. Again.

 

A word about wanderlust

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This is the problem:

I hate living here. Don’t take it personally, Oklahoma, the deck was stacked against you. But the fact remains that there are a lot of things here that are hard and bad and lonely. Mostly that last one, lately. And this is the real problem, they (yes, the mythical they who live in the internet) keep telling me that I’m only young once. They keep saying that this is my big chance to travel and see the world and have all of these mind blowing experiences. They hear that I didn’t take a gap year (it was a gap nine days and I spent it hiding from tornados and packing boxes) and they gasp. They hear that I’ve never left the country and they make sorry eyes at me. They are telling me that I should take advantage of all this freedom I have while I’m young and single and relatively unencumbered. It makes me feel like I’m losing.

I go to school. I go to work. I see my family. I have “family time” in my best friends’ living room with whoever happens to be there. Welcome to the polar opposite of the eat.pray.love thing (or in Relevant, if you’re more of that persuasion). I see it, and I say it. I can’t count the number of times that I have said “I’ve just got to get out of here”.

I don’t have much faith in this place. You can take that as you will.

I’m covering shifts again this week while a classmate runs off and does exciting stuff. I see the posts and the pictures as I’m getting drooled on and such. It’s totally fabulous. I’m wishing, again, that I was out there and not in the clinic again (The clinic has no windows. What are they trying to do to me?).

I went on an adventure this summer. I lived in a hospital for a month, and then I went on a two week trip to go visit my tribe members who were lost in the diaspora. It was good to see them. It was good to see the ocean. It was good to be on a plane going wherever. And yet we spent so much time at Kroger and chatting on the futon and doing laundry (add hopelessly lost in Atlanta to that list). I loved it. It was beautiful. But it was normal. The magic was less about the place and more about the relationships and the friends I have loved for so long.

This is the problem:

When I got back, one of my patients had stopped using a walker, and another was into a whole new genre of music. And I started to realize that me going meant…me being gone.

This week wasn’t hip. I didn’t Instagram anything (confession: Instagram eludes me. How are all the filters different? I don’t see it). But someone needed to be there weathering the tantrums. Someone needed to be there to make my boss smile during a hard week. Someone needed to video my sister-in-law’s class and to make a big deal out of a thirteen year old’s romantic aspirations.

I need to realize that when I run off somewhere, people get left behind.

That’s not to say that I will be here, always. Because if there is any one thing I’ve learned, it’s that, pardon my Greenday, “time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go”. I may not always be here. But it is a weighty thing to sit here and shout about how I will never come back. To say that is to say a lot of things about a lot of people who matter.

It’s cute to be a twenty-something talking about wanderlust. It’s cute to dream about airplanes and lofts and foreign languages. But before I just go, I need to take stock of what I’m leaving. How do I go without hurting people? What will it say about Christ if I go? (before you worry that I’m saying you shouldn’t travel or study abroad or whatever stop. I’m not that selfless. This is about me. If it relates to you, great, but this is all about me. God may call you to go. Do so. You do you, friend)

And it may be sad to leave people I’ve invested in, but it would be sadder still to know that I’d been here two years with no discernible reason not to go.

I don’t want to wander anymore. I don’t want to drift. I’ve done that, and I know the way it goes. I don’t want to. If I go, I want to go boldly and thoughtfully and prayerfully and lovingly. And if I stay, I want to stay intentionally and deeply and carefully.

This is the problem:

I’m impulsive I’m emotional. And I’m learning to be a person who can be counted on (also I really do sort of hate it here). Pray for me.

This is about “The Office”

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I am, and will remain, one of approximately seven people worldwide who actually watched all of seasons 8 and 9 of the office. There’s a scene in there where Jim and Pam aren’t getting along. A friend who recently divorced told them that he knew his marriage was over when the fighting stopped. Pam then tells Jim “I think we should fight about it.”

Faith used to be a love song. It used to be a voice in my ear when I was beginning to falter and a reckless pursuit, chasing and being chased. That feels like so long ago.

I haven’t felt the ‘Jesus high’ in years. It used to be a pounding heart and a trembling voice. I used to sing songs in church with a smile and a bounce in my toes, but I don’t do that anymore. These days I sit half slumped in the chair, and more often than not I’m wondering if I even recognize the girl who used to raise her hands.

I came to Oklahoma, but that isn’t all it was. The fact is that sometimes things fall apart. Sometimes you don’t notice the boat is leaking until you can’t see the shore anymore. You wake up and you’re having a panic attack, and you don’t even have the strength to resent God. Sometimes you get busy, and you start thinking about yourself. You start thinking about the weather. You start thinking about anything and everything but the one thing that used to be important.

Faith was never something I constructed or whatever. It was always something that was making me. And maybe that’s the reason I’ve felt so undone.

I decided I should fight about it. I decided that faith doesn’t mean believing in something you have in reach or something you can prove. I decided that faith doesn’t mean I get what I want, or even what makes me happy. I decided that love is more than pretty words, or good feelings, or doing the easy thing.

I didn’t know a lot of things when I decided to follow Jesus. I didn’t know that I would end up back in Oklahoma City. I didn’t know how hard it would be to give up everything I loved in Texas because I honestly believed that there was something better. I didn’t know when I read verses saying ‘foreigner’ and ‘exile’ that it would be nothing more romantic or adventurous than grad school and a job working nights in the town I have lived in since I was two. This is not what I wanted, and it might never be that.

I don’t…

I don’t want you to be worried about Jim and Pam. They’re this dream couple, right? Season four? Everything is magical and happily ever after. But things fall apart. It’s the second law of thermodynamics. But they work it out. In the end, Jim has to realize that the thing he made can never make him as happy as the thing that made him. And he does. And it kind of seems like the hardest thing he has ever had to do.

Then comes the fairytale ending that seemed unstoppable, and then seemed impossible for a bit. But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we forget that it was really, really hard to get there. Sometimes. But I just didn’t want you to be worried. About Jim and Pam.

It turns out okay.

for the student

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This one is for the students. It may be for you, too, if you aren’t one of us. But let’s be real…

There are a lot of things for you. For you the engaged, the married, the pregnant, the parent, the job seeker, the passion follower, the traveler, the wanderlustful. This is not like that. This is for the ones who are students. That’s the thing we do. It’s the thing we don’t get to forget about for long. If we aren’t careful, it will become the only thing about us.

You are in school. You are up at two in the morning memorizing a list of asthma medications that will never matter again. You are sitting in a lecture that you have paid a lot of money for, and you are playing Tetris on your laptop. People meet you, and they don’t ask what kind of vacations you like the best or what pet you prefer. They don’t ask about the place you serve on Saturdays or the path you like to run by the river. They ask you what year you are, and they ask you your major.

And it’s different than asking your job, because your major is basically something you aren’t, yet. It might (probably will) change. But, even if you stay the course, being an accounting major is so different from being an accountant. One of those people is in an eight AM sociology class for no apparent reason. And you’re not your year, either. Not really. Maybe you’re on track or early or late or doing a minimester or a December graduate or…

And so you stay up at night reading Nietzsche and resolving vectors. In some ways, these are the best years of your life. The ones you will smirk at fondly during the long office meeting that will work its way into your future career. But in another way these are the stillborn years of your life. These are the times with the friends who won’t stay within a snapchat of your living room floor forever. The years you invest in a city and a community that will be nothing but memories in a few years. These are the years where you are underwater, dazzled by the way the world warps around you but knowing that you will have to breathe again at some point.

This is, most particularly, for the grad students who are doing this again. Who are watching so many friends move into Real Life, the kind with jobs and babies, while they take another policy class and write the hundredth one page reflection. It gets long. It gets lonely. And it gets frustrating to know that you’re spending as many years on your degree as your friends are spending on relationships. They get weddings and baby showers, and you get to pay tuition for internships.

You tell yourself you are becoming something. Suddenly, it’s okay to spend weeks without a real conversation that isn’t about professors and essays. Suddenly, it’s normal to have a panic attack over a half filled out scantron. Suddenly, it’s okay to not have time for the hobby you love or the organization you’ve always supported. Suddenly it’s not only normal, but expected, for everything you say and do to revolve around class. And you tell yourself you are becoming something.

Listen to me: you are something. Not a student or a TA or whatever. You are Something. You are a peacemaker. You are a child chaser. You are a writer. You are an open door. You are a shoulder to cry on. You are an open ear. You are an honest answer. You are a huge fan of bad country music. You are a pub trivia champion. I quote Mufasa, but you are more than you have become.

I know it can feel like no one sees it. I know that sometimes you need the all-nighter. I know that you need someone to listen when your professor is being a jerk. I know that school is a big part of the person that you are. You are pursuing a Big Life Dream and that’s so good. But you are alive now. You don’t magically come to life when they give you the license or the diploma or the job offer. You don’t magically flip a switch that catches you up on all the lives and friendships and opportunities you neglected. You are alive now.

I visited a church recently that called the kids up and read their report cards out loud. Everybody cheered, and the kids beamed. I wish like nothing else that I could do that for you. I wish I could shout to everyone about all the work you do that doesn’t seem as important as the weddings and the trips across Europe. I wish I could make a huge deal about the test you passed, and that your face would turn that pink color that means you want me to keep embarrassing you, please. Because I know. I know you are working so hard. You are making so many plans and trying to absorb so many things.

But don’t forget that your student insurance policy doesn’t refund today if tomorrow doesn’t go as planned. You don’t get these moments back. You were not given these years as a student to become this self-centered, inwardly-focused, near-sighted person who waits and talks about class (or your job. Or your boyfriend. Or your kids). You were given these years to live, and to love people. You aren’t just a person who is becoming something, you are a person who is something. And the rest of us need you to be that, whatever it is. We need you to be here, not be tomorrow. Because if you spend four years living for tomorrow, you may find that you don’t recognize anyone when you get there.

It’s advent, folks. And as a Christian, this season is about the already and the not yet. The already of the King who has come, and who has left us this work. Who has given us this beautiful thing to walk around in. But also the not yet. The tension that, at any moment, it could all fade into the Realest Thing. He could come back. And it’s so hard not to wait for that. Not to sit and stare at the sky, ready for the bad things to come untrue. Because Something is coming, undoubtedly, but there’s a lot that is already here, waiting for you to find it. Waiting for you to live it.

Why I voted (I hadn’t, before)

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Two years ago I made a conscious decision not to vote. Let me explain.
I was in college. I was living in a town that I loved fiercely. I wanted to memorize every inch of it, so aware that I was leaving so soon. But I was in college. I was transient. I was unemployed. I was not registered to vote in that town. My registration card was for a surburban town I’d spent 21 years hating. And I didn’t think my voice would carry. I said that it wouldn’t matter, that the same people would just keep winning. I was in college, and I was arrogant and jaded all at once. I thought I understood what it meant to be a citizen of heaven.

I used to tell people that if they weren’t willing to renounce their American citizenship, then they shouldn’t call themselves a Christian. I believed it. Voting seemed tied up in all of that. It seemed like a tithe to a country I didn’t inhabit. And while I would still tell people that same thing, I come to different conclusions this year.

This year I lived back in a state I’ve never loved very much. But I’m on the other side of town. I’m still trying to care for it. I’m still trying to learn. But I stayed up last night with my eyes half closed and researched every office on the ballot. I made a cram sheet and yes, I may have peeked at it while filling out my ballot. And no, I can’t pretend like I totally understood every issue, but I did everything I could.
Does this somehow negate my citizenship in heaven? Have I rendered Caesar hours that should have been God’s? Is it foolish to think that voting can actually change anything?

I don’t think it is. Let me say this first: I don’t think that Christians should trust or rely on the government to bring the kingdom. The government is never going to love our the neighbor the way we can (the way we have to start actually loving them). Voting is not your quick fix to not think about social problems until the next election. Voting for a judge committed to reducing incarceration of mothers in favor of rehabilitation arrangements that don’t put their kids in foster care is great, but it doesn’t erase our need to go visit the mothers in prison and to love their kids well.

But let me say this second. I voted. I voted because I love a lot of children with some very special needs, and the school system isn’t what they need it to be. I voted because I fiercely believe in the value of their lives. I voted because my sister in law lays awake at night trying to figure out how to get refugee kids to pass a state reading test. I voted because the families working with the organization my best friend works for are worth fighting to preserve. I voted because I know too much about healthcare and I’ve seen too many families who have to fight the system every day of their lives. And I cannot look these people in the eyes and tell them I love them if I’m not willing to speak these small words with my small voice. If I’m not willing to do what I can to make the world a little less sharp for them, then what am I doing? I’ll be honest, some of my ballot choices weren’t what I thought was best for Oklahoma, or even for America. They were the things I thought looked like Jesus. The things I thought would make life a little more livable for the people I’m actively fighting for every day.

I know it will never be perfect. I’m not here to pretend like any politician is ever going to get it right. America will never be the Kingdom. That is coming, is written on our hearts.
For those of you who voted, great. I pray you did so with people in mind who could use your voice. I pray you will continue to vote for them with the way you spend your money and the way you spend your time. I pray you will let your life form around these causes we advocate for every few years. I pray you will love actively in the space between elections. I pray that you will not let your vote be your final word, because there are so many better things in which to put our hope.

For those of you who didn’t, I pray you will remember the power of your voice. I don’t want to sound like I’m scolding you. I know many of you, and your hands are dirty every day from fighting for people. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean you don’t care deeply. But I pray you will use this last thing you have in an effort to help where you can. I pray you will lend your voice to those who don’t get heard very often. I pray you will take the opportunity to learn about your home. To love it. To actually have reasons to care about county commissioners and district courthouses. I pray you will love your neighbor in this small way, and then will continue to do the heavy work of the country that holds your true allegiance.

Two years ago I didn’t speak. I wonder sometimes about what will happen with affordable housing in Waco. I wonder if judges and officials will look at kids and families I know with the love and compassion I want them to. I wonder if parents will find jobs, and if teachers will get the kids I love ready for jobs or college. I so desperately want the folks I love in Waco to be taken care of. And I hate that I never said it. I hate that I never told the city that this matters to me. I left, and I came here.

And this time I won’t wonder. I will know exactly what needs to change in the courts and in the schools and in the workforce. I will study it, and I will say what I feel I need to. And then I will try to find ways to remember how much it matters every day.
We vote every day, you and I. Let’s do it thoughtfully and with great love.