Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Not So Presidential Debate

 Confession: I have never been eligible to vote in an election.

Crazy, right?

When I lived in Nigeria, I was too young to be eligible, and my adult life has been mostly spent in one of the hardest places to qualify to vote…not the story today, though. I reckon the earliest I will be eligible will be sometime in 2022, and I’m looking forward to it! Such a grown-up thing!

Now, with all the talk about elections, I figure there’s no better time to put aside my undying reluctance to comment on social issues publicly and share some of my thoughts around actual conversations I have had in the last few months. I’ll say now that I don’t care who anyone but my future spouse votes for; never have, never will. But I do care that you vote, and here are some reasons and rebuttals to your favorite excuses…

Is everyone doing it? Yes, all the grownups are. Voting, that is.

The majority of my adult life has been spent in America, and I find that most Americans are quick to try to distance themselves from the less than stellar state of social dynamics in the country. (Side note: I think it happens everywhere, but Americans are pretty vocal on most issues, and so it comes across far more frequently.) People are quick to point out that they are not the issue while accepting that, on some level, there are issues to address. But. We are the ones who care, the good ones, who want to fix things, but they – the government, the banks, the rich, other people groups, everyone else – they are the problem, and they seemingly cannot be stopped. When it comes to elections, the sentiment is similar. The candidates are all terrible. I live in a [insert primary color here] state so it really doesn’t matter. I call BS. And let’s not even get into the fact that elections are far less about the headliners (presidents) and way more importantly about the grassroots (all things local). Yes, it builds up over time, and yes there are long-standing systems that make things a lot more difficult than they need to be, but ultimately every society is a product of the actions of those who care enough to shape the narrative by creating change (or shape the narrative by keeping things the same!), even in as simple matters as voting in all elections. I have friends who won’t vote in the upcoming elections, I am ashamed of them and I no longer believe their lies about not liking the state of things and wanting change. Wishing for a difference is not a noble pursuit, doing something is. And doing something tangible in the real world is what I mean (no knocks to digital activism, it has its merits, but not in matters of putting a ballot in a box, nothing replaces that).This is not about what issues you hang your hat on or who you want to champion, but for goodness sake do wake up and take a stand somewhere. Do some soul searching, figure out some of the things that matter to you and put your weight behind those things with a ‘pencil mark’ on a ballot. It might take time to feel like your voice is leading to change. But that is where we build conviction. Maybe this is how we all figure out who we are and what we are about. 

Jesus would have voted. Who He would have voted for is not the point. And who you vote for is not my point either.

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to vote, unless you are voting against your values or convictions. There is no Christian way of voting. You should have convictions, strong enough that they put steel in your spine, and then you should go out and push for those convictions. Can our convictions be wrong or misguided? Absolutely. And every one of us has a responsibility to sit with Jesus and our convictions and work out the values that make us proud to live each day. And then let God shape those beliefs until they put fire in you to take a stand and fight for them. It’s that simple. This is about you and what you stand for. And I’ll be honest, the state of American politics means you will be walking in some pretty gray areas, so welcome to adulthood! However, we should all get educated and learn as much as we can, and just freaking act. There are too many people actively sticking to the sidelines and doing nothing but clucking at the news, and that is exactly what Jesus never did.

You cannot legislate the gospel

I think the laziest thing Christians could do, the biggest disservice to the world around us, is to attempt to use human or moral law to force our version of Christian living on others. I find that when it comes to both sides of the political coin, the focus is on pushing to elect those who will serve what we believe to be the right way for people to live. Nothing wrong with that, that’s what voting is. But when we don’t want to do the work of reaching people one loving interaction at a time, and so we hope we can force everyone into a set of rules enforced by human law that will make them all into ‘good’ people, that’s us being unloving. We were not called to go into all the world and elect governments that will stop abortions or make people treat one another kindly (by all means if those are the things you care about, vote for candidates who champion those causes). But we do not get to vote away our obligation to love people to life one person at a time. No matter how closely the constitution resembles the ten commandments, history has shown that we still have to go out there and do the work. That will never change. And it should take the pressure off the fretful need to vote solely to evangelize the world. We do what we should and so create space for God to do what He can.

I’ll keep this short because there’s more than enough people telling us all what we should do. I just hope we all think about this and find a way to not let future selves down.  

If you care, vote. Vote, because you care, and when you’re done voting, get back out there and do other things that show you care.

I love you, but first, VOTE.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Our Family Wedding VIII: All in The Family

 Encore. I love stories. Words. The way perspectives can be completely changed with just a well-placed word or nudged with a subtle suggestion here and there. There’s nothing like it. I really love this story because it’s one that I was excited to share from the beginning, with no idea how it would end, that never happens. It was fun discovering how it unfolded along with everyone else when I first shared, but I have to confess I always felt disappointed by the ending. So I was excited last winter when I was approached to submit the Family Wedding series for an audio webcast. It was a chance to revisit the characters and find an ending that felt true - it’s still the beginning of something, and it gives as many questions as answers. But I like it...

Monday, September 7, 2020

Our Family Wedding VII: Strangers at the Wedding

Previously: Our Family Wedding VI (Velda)

I Do.” Two words, and you change the lives of everyone in a room, even if you don’t know them. If looks could kill… but there’s no going back now. You’re here and, even though you don’t want to, it’s too late to take it back. You came to right a wrong, maybe even repay a little bit of the hurt that’s been eating at you for years. But you don’t expect to be surprised. This is not a dream. You’re looking right at them and you can hardly get the next words out. Still, you already spoke up. 

"She cannot marry him. She is married to me."

(Him) Bad Things Happen to Good People.

I met her in my second year in college, at the Vet's office in the city. It was one of the many jobs I took to cover my tuition expenses. It was an ordinary day, and it changed my life forever. She was a beauty. I knew I did not stand a chance with her – girls like her never gave guys like me a second look. But she never did play by anyone's rules but hers. And she wanted me; she always joked that I reminded her of a guy back home who loved her almost as much as I did. She also joked that her parents would die if they ever found out who she was with. And then one day a year later she asked me to marry her.

I thought it was another one of the cruel jokes she played on everyone for her own enjoyment, but she was serious. We loved each other and she was willing to defy her parents for me. We were married secretly, and we promised ourselves a one-month honeymoon before we would tell everyone and face the consequences. She disappeared three weeks later, and I never heard from her again. Her friends who only tolerated me when I was with her could not hide their disdain for me as they made it clear that my wife was gone, and she did not want to be found.

I spent months trying to deal with losing her. But then there was a tragic murder in our family, so I gave up on finding her and returned home to run the business. 

Until an invitation I could not ignore showed up in the mail.

(Her) Good Things Happen to Bad People too...

That's what I said to myself when she announced she was getting married, and to a prince, no less. She was so happy, it was painful to watch. She finally had everything, it seemed - a fantastic wedding in the works, a wonderful charming husband-to-be, a childhood love that refused to let go, tons of money and friends, the love of everyone around her, a perfect life. Her bright smile never wavered. Dress shopping, flowers, the honeymoon. Guest lists, linens, too many bridal showers. The perfection of it all. I hated her more than usual. Living in the shadow of her perfect, happy bubble was suffocating. But soon I learned something that could bring it all crashing down like a pack of cards. And it all happened by accident. Lucky me.

Velda learned that the young Bride had married a boy at her university two days after it happened. But it was not to last. She had one weakness and Velda knew it. A ten-minute phone call was all it took, and two weeks later she was on a plane to France where she would complete her semester, and then travel around the world for a year before returning to a college of her choice, anywhere else in the world. It would be like her marriage had never happened. Only, Velda discovered much later that she disappeared without first ending the marriage as instructed, no papers were ever signed before she rushed off and disappeared. She claims she couldn’t bring herself to hurt her innocent, young husband, the one person she ever truly loved. That was surprising. Velda had it taken care of, of course, she never leaves a stone unturned, after all. Still, it was the perfect chance to shake her perfect little world up a bit and make this wedding fun, for me.

Now, we’re all looking at the only stranger in the room as he unfolds himself to stand tall on his feet. He looks surprised, like he cannot believe what he just did... but… more. He’s dazed, shocked. I feel almost sorry for him, but I know that now he has no choice. This is not something you can ever take back.

One would think that no one would be more surprised to see him than the bride, but the look of horror on her groom’s face is enough to get me curious. He looks like he has seen a ghost, and suddenly more things are falling into place...

The man who dared to stop the wedding walks up the aisle, and as he moves closer to her you could see him transform; his confidence grows and suddenly he exudes such an aura of rage that we are all held spellbound by what we know is about to happen...

"You cannot marry the one man who murdered my brother in cold blood and killed my mother with grief.”

There is a gasp from all the guests, a mumbled accusation from the groom, and tears from the bride. Even her tears are perfect. But right now, we are not looking at her. All eyes are on the only stranger in the room...

Coming up: Our Family Wedding VIII (All in the Family)

Monday, August 31, 2020


I woke up the other day thinking about him. The funny thing is I’ve never met him. No one has. 

A few years ago in January after a women’s meeting at church, our meeting coordinator asked a few of us stragglers to clear out the treats and snacks that had been brought for the meeting. No one wanted them (January Mood), and so she insisted we take them, and “at least give them to a homeless person”. And how can anyone say no to that?

He was laying in the recessed window outside a restaurant I loved. And once we felt comfortable from afar that he didn’t look dangerous, we approached and asked if we could share some food with him, explaining what treats we had and asking what he wanted.

Side bar: the fact that someone is hungry or down and out does not rob them of the dignity of choice. I learned that in early years dealing with the homeless in DC. Side bar end. 

He was friendly and engaged, asked us questions about ourselves, the meeting we had been at, our church. Then he told us his story. He’d had a pretty good life: a job, a home, a wife. They had been pregnant. A boy. They were going to call him Isaiah. 

But Isaiah came with a storm. Things went wrong, she almost died. Isaiah only lived a few minutes. 

Somehow after that, everything was broken. One mistake leading to another until you’re sleeping in a restaurant window in Tribeca, and your old life is so far behind it doesn’t even seem real. 

I remember his face when he says Isaiah. That one look of such intense longing. That maybe if Isaiah had stuck around, everything would be ok. 

Or maybe not, who knows? 

Today when I thought of Isaiah, I was reminded that sometimes all it takes is one moment we don’t see coming to change a whole life. Makes you think the next time you look a person in the eyes: what was the moment that changed you?

Our Family Wedding VI: Velda

 There is Nothing I Love better than the sound of silence.

As the preacher pauses dramatically at that unnecessary part of the wedding service, I can feel the nervous energy rise to a crescendo in the room. You could hear a feather drop as they all stop breathing. Even though most of them expect that it will be another part of the service, simply a formality, they cannot help their excitement, their anticipation of something extraordinary. 

And then an unfamiliar voice cuts through the silence.

"I DO"... A wildly interesting choice of words.

I smile in spite of myself. I had not expected it. Very few people surprise Velda.

I turn my attention from the oddly familiar stranger’s interruption to look into the faces around me. Every guest looks confused, shocked, wildly curious. I can hear their minds working, spinning the gossip tales they would tell as soon as they can make a dignified exit out of the oak doors of the chapel without running.

The Bride: pale as a ghost, her lips moving, no words really getting formed.

The Groom: if looks could kill.... well, it's no secret that he is capable of murder.

The Groom's Father: Bored, irritated, a man with more important things on his mind.

The Mother of the Bride: Mortified. I know that at this moment there is nothing else on her mind besides what people will say, what the gossip rags will print about the scandal that is about to unfold here. I know because that is exactly what I would be thinking. After all, she is my daughter...

I was born on the fast track. No one recalls if the first word I ever said was "More", but it is most certainly the first thought I ever formed in my pretty little head. More. I have always wanted more. More than those humble two rooms that formed the house I was raised in with my entire family, all six of us. More than my father's job at the Postal Office, and my mother's teaching job at the Catholic School up the street. More than the tiny shop out front that we all took turns managing, earning pennies to keep the roof over our heads and the clothes on our backs. More than the regular occurrence of a free novel and a bright pencil for once again being the smartest one in the class. More than that whistle, that longing look, the scribbled poems and whispered words that men lavished on me. There was only one thing I never needed more of: I was more than beautiful, and everyone knew it.

Working hard, being a great student and settling for the best jobs in the world would not give me the life I wanted. My parents were smart, educated and they worked harder than all the wealthy people I knew, and they worked themselves to the bone day after weary day. I wanted to be like the women I read about and only saw in magazines; they had the world at their feet, and everyone scrambled to do their bidding. I learned to think like them and talk like them and act like them. I watched their men too, they owned everything, even the women. That was the life I chose, all I needed was a fortune to call my own. As soon as I was old enough, I was out of school, choosing to use my beauty and my intelligence for a far greater purpose. I was married and divorced a few times, each time ending up even richer than anyone imagined I could get away with.

People always thought I was too beautiful to be smart.

George's family did too and they underestimated me. He was seventy-nine, battling the weakness that comes with old age, confused that his mind was as sharp as the days when he built the largest business empire in the country while his body died a little more every day. While everybody rallied around, his sons and protégés, treating him with disdain and waiting for him to die and leave them chunks of his life's work, I became his friend. I was barely thirty, and I married him and devoted three years to him alone, showing him the time of his life. He taught me how to rule an empire. "Owning wealth is wonderful", he always said, "but you have to control the people around you. You have to own them." I gave him the one gift he asked of me in return for the one thing I wanted: a little girl of his own in exchange for wealth and an empire. We spent the last few years together in a secluded villa outside the country, and when he was gone, his only daughter and I were heiresses with more money than I knew what to do with. 

We had both won. He showed them all, leaving his family with nothing, and I finally had what I wanted, a kingdom to rule. 

A mysterious heiress, that is what they call me. Some even say I killed him myself after he signed the will.

I bought the villa the morning he died, hired the best caregivers in the world for my daughter, and I returned home alone. For six years she was raised in the villa by herself, protected from the world. Years later, I brought her home with me claiming her real parents had died tragically in another country. I told myself it is for her safety that no one knows that she really is mine. 

But I have always looked after her. She has never worked a day in her life, and everything she owns has been handed to her on a platter of gold, including her husband, her marriage. I ask for nothing in return from her, from all of them, except complete obedience. I own them, all of them in this room, their businesses, their homes, their secrets.

It is not really a secret that I do not approve of this laughable charade, this marriage that will never be. But even the most powerful people get tired of pulling all the strings and working behind the scenes. I am an old woman, ready to dance with the devil for eternity and pay for my many sins. It is not enough to be rich and famous and powerful and then die while no one is watching. I want more. And now it seems I have found my stage.

I look at all their faces again and smile to myself. More.

Coming up: Our Family Wedding VII (Strangers at the Wedding)