The One-Hundred-and-Twenty-Fourth Letter: Planting, Voting, Conviction

Dear Daughters,

Tomorrow is Election Day. 

Due to COVID-19, our state allowed in-person early voting this year, so your dad and I have already voted.

Still, tomorrow is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in an even-numbered year: Election Day here in the United States.

Girls, I know that you already know that voting—in all its manifestations—is important to me. In fact, I think this might be the first year since you’ve been born that I had to show up at the polls without you. Normally we can walk a few blocks from our house to vote, and I’m definitely the mom who knows from experience that a double stroller can’t fit through the doorway of our local precinct’s location. The poll workers, who are often the same year after year, remember us.

Early voting this year is taking place at our public library’s community room, and given how careful we’ve been with masking and social distancing for the last 8 months, it didn’t make sense to take you with me to stand in line. (It was fast-moving, by the way.)

I’ve got a lot on my mind, but let’s talk about voting.

Some of the reasons I vote are pragmatic and logistical, especially on the local level, but most of my reasons are ethical. It’s about conviction, I suppose, a conviction that’s lived out in love, hospitality, and justice.

Pretty much everything for me comes down to love, hospitality, and justice, which surprises nobody who knows me in person and has talked to me for about five minutes. 

So, here’s the thing: we vote with our ballots. I’m talking literally here.

We stick our ballots in a machine to get counted, or we drop them off at a ballot box.

And now let’s go metaphorically.

We get to plant that little ballot as a seed.

But that’s not the only way we vote for our convictions, girls. That’s not the only way we plant our seeds.

We vote with our actions when we show up at the polls, yes, but also when we show up with a casserole.

We are voting with our actions all the time in ordinary ways. When we send letters to shut-ins, take a nondriving friend to run errands even though we had other plans, or pause to answer a six-year-old’s question after question after question. Also when we drop cookies off at our neighbors’ houses or turn off the lawn-mower to be a better listener.  

We also get to vote with our purchases: second-hand, low-waste, organic, fair-trade, bulk, local.

Too, we vote with our wallets when we give away money—and then give a little more—rather than sock money away into savings accounts and retirement accounts.

We vote with our voices when we speak truth to power.

And when we go first in saying that things are hard right now.

And when we say hello to a homeless person and address her by name. And when we not only bless the food in front of us but pray for the people who have grown our food, worked in the factories and on the farms, driven delivery trucks and stocked the grocery store shelves.

We vote every day with the way we live our lives.

Every single day.

I guess it’s because of all of these things, all of these ways I see myself “voting” and teaching you “to vote” in our normal, everyday lived experiences of small decisions making big difference in the world around us, that I have been completely taken with the ASL sign for voting. 

GET THIS: It’s the same as the sign for planting.

To vote = to plant.

We’re taking a sign language class on Thursday nights this fall—socially distanced and masked, of course—and last week we focused on election and government signs. We learned the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, and even my non-Pledge-loving self am moved by the actions of signing it. 

But the first sign we learned on Thursday night was “to vote.”

And it’s the same as a sign we learned back when we learned signs for the environment. You hold your left fist up in front of you, and then you pretend you are holding a tiny seed between your thumb and index finger of your right hand, and you take that little seed and shove it into the dirt of your left hand. You plant your little seed into the hidden palm of your left fist.

You plant your seed like you plant your ballot like you vote with every small action in your life, girls.

It’s in the dark, unseen, often unnoticed.

Also, here’s the rub: it’s not about you. None of it.

Voting is not about you or about me.

This is important.

When I’m planting my vote in the ballot or when I’m planting my vote in the world, I’m not thinking about me, girls. It can’t be about me, or nothing’s going to grow.

And to some degree, I’m not even thinking about you, specifically.

I am voting for future generations generally, and especially for those we know as “the least of these.”

I am voting for our neighbors. I’m voting for the kids struggling to learn to sound out their letters in elementary classrooms, for the more than ten thousand children currently in the Kentucky foster care system, the one in seven food insecure children right here in my own county. I’m voting for the homeless person without a permanent address, the person without health insurance, the shut-ins with flickering screens communicating fear. I am voting for the prisoner longing for her family and for the prisoner who has already served her time but can’t get a job. 

I am voting for those who are overwhelmed with confusion and anxiety. The single parents. The grandparents. Those who’ve lost jobs. Those who are working two jobs but can’t make ends meet.

And I am remembering that each of these people are real, beautiful human beings who have as equal of a right to safety and security and love and happiness as I do. As you do.

They are as made in the image of God as we are.

And, well, I can only hope that my little seed, my little vote, might make a difference.

Because there’s something I also know from gardening, girls. We always get volunteer plants many years after the seeds have been sown.

I sautéed some fresh-from-the-garden Swiss chard this morning with my eggs for breakfast, and we haven’t planted chard in years.

In years.

And that gives me hope.

Love,

Your Momma

The Ninety-Sixth Letter: For the Morning of an Election

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Dear Daughters,

It’s the mid-terms, and I’ll be honest: I don’t really know what the day holds nor how to feel about it.

(Let’s just say I’ve been surprised before on Election Day.)

Last week someone asked me why I liked the month of November so much. I can go ahead and tell you that it has nothing to do with the political season. I’m sure you’re not surprised.

It has everything to do with the liturgical season though.

November kicks off with All Saints Day, reminding us of those who have gone before us, who lived faithful lives. It offers us a reminder that there is a calling in this life to live radically, to love fully, to seek God faithfully. As we remember the legacy of those who’ve gone before us, All Saints Day is also a reminder that others will follow behind us.

And if that doesn’t get you thinking, I don’t know what will.

We get to leave a legacy.

(Which is maybe a good message for Election Day, come to think of it.)

This year, the last Sunday in November is Christ the King Sunday, which somehow feels like a perfect way to end any month that has an election hanging out in the middle.

Christ the King–or Reign of Christ–reminds us that there is only one King, now and forever, and, well, in the face of nationalism and divisive political leaders and the inability to have fruitful, let alone compassionate, dialogue with people who disagree with us, I think it’s a reminder we all need to hear.

Reign of Christ.

Christ the King.

Christ is King.

Girls, I know you know that it’s how the liturgical cycle ends every year, even when there isn’t an election. The Reign of Christ is the culmination of everything that begins every year during the darkness of Advent. Christ the King is always the Sunday before the first week of Advent. And it’s one of my favorite Sundays.

Every year.

It’s also one of the most overlooked Sundays, in my experience. Our Baptist church doesn’t mention it. It definitely doesn’t have the hype of Christmas or Easter, or even Epiphany or Pentecost. Maybe it’s because we’re so tired after the long, oh so long, season of Ordinary Time (the long season between Pentecost and Advent). But then out of nowhere we have All Saints Day–which doesn’t often get mentioned in Protestant churches either because everyone is so focused on our Trunk-or-Treat and Fall Festivals–and then a few weeks later, oops! here’s Christ the King. And since Christ the King often falls after Thanksgiving, everyone’s moved on to Christmas music by then.

Don’t even get me started about Christmas music.

But girls, the message of Christ the King Sunday is exactly the reminder I need to hear, and believe, and live.

Right now. This month.

This day. Election Day.

Yes, I’ll walk down the hill to the electric company where our precinct votes, and I’ll probably take you with me as usual. I’ll vote with the paper ballot, and then I’ll feel anxious off and on all day. I’ll make cookies. I’ll probably try too often to check in on the results of the election.

And then tomorrow, I’ll wake up, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll remember why I wrote this letter.

Because every year:

Christ the King.

That’s the end of the story.

And all God’s people said–

Thank goodness,

Your Momma