I’m of the opinion that getting one’s driver’s license renewed is about as close as one can come to going to jail, and probably almost as fun. For one thing, you are there simply because it has been decreed you will show up periodically to jump through hoops and dance the bureaucratic dance well enough to gain a four-to-six-year extension on the inevitable “one day” when you won’t be allowed to drive any longer, presumably due to advancing years.  (I know some older drivers who are great drivers, and some younger ones who represent a huge threat to the safety of everyone on the road. Age and driving ability is a very relative thing!)

Among the hoops to be jumped through are eye tests and fingerprinting and photographing and working through a checklist to verify that indeed you are not a terrorist or felon or draft dodger, or involved in illegal trafficking of some kind, or have failed to register to vote, or are left-handed, or have eyes of different colors. Since I was the holder of a Commercial Driver’s License, my checklist was long and somewhat complex. These tasks are all made the more unpleasant by the fact that once you come in, you are reduced to a three-digit number, and threatened with bodily removal if you even think about using your cell phone.  All of this, and, have you ever noticed that the women who often man the desks there are typically not happy people who seem to be just as excited to be there as are you? All of the ingredients are there for much joy.

But what do you do? You play by the DPS rules, and before your license breathes its last breath and you (gasp!) expire— you head begrudgingly over to the main office and start jumping through the hoops. This was me, back in February, on the 12th. My license didn’t expire until the 13th, but I wanted to get a head start on the process. And I waited that long because I despise the process so totally.

I ran afoul of the law pretty quick, as it was determined there was something “wrong” with my commercial driving status, which hasn’t changed in 30 years, and which I haven’t used in 25. With my foot caught firmly in the leg-trap of a formidable  DPS watchdog, I decided to yield my commercial status. I was too tired to fight the battle, and I never use it, and it saved me 40 bucks. That sped things along, as I was released to the next stage…waiting. As I sat and watched the number of the next customers come up on the monitor screen with a non-sequential illogicity that seemed to fit, I became aware of something else: I was the only person in the waiting room within earshot speaking English, at least as my first language.  This is not meant to be prejudicial in any way, just observation.  There were several Spanish-speaking folks, someone speaking French, one maybe Russian, a couple of middle-Eastern men, and an Ethiopian or Somalian (I suspect) caught in the same leg-trap at the first desk checkpoint I had only recently escaped myself. There was a lot of pointing and gesturing and frustration on both sides of said desk. Red-tape seems to be just as frustrating in any language.  I began to feel like I had stumbled into a world more akin to Ellis Island than I-27 and Georgia in Amarillo, Texas.

But as I was sitting there, watching, for some reason it struck me how difficult it must be to live in America as a “stranger” and outsider, either as a refugee or immigrant. Whatever you may think about immigration, it is stupidly, ridiculously hard to immigrate into America legally; and whatever you think about America, you might consider the fact that pretty much everyone else wishes they lived here and will go to great lengths to accomplish that, the least of which involves getting a TDL at the DPS. While we’re talking immigration, which is not really the point of this rambling, I do hold a firm belief that if you live here, you need to learn to speak English here and your kids need to speak English in school. You need to work hard and pay taxes without expecting rescue from a system that is already overburdened. And you need to live by our laws.

But what about those who’ve just arrived? How do they feel when they are, literally, a world away from their homes, their languages, their customs, their laws, their governmental systems and often their families?  Even if they have escaped war or persecution, how hard must it be to find oneself a stranger in a strange land where you just don’t fit? If it’s hard for a man who’s lived all of his life in America to jump through bureaucratic hoops, how impossible must it seem for someone who has no idea even where to start?  If I felt out of place there at the DPS, uncomfortable there, how much more must that describe their feelings every moment at almost every turn? The Old Testament has a lot to say about our kindness to strangers. Turns out that’s a big deal in God’s book.

A lot of those very commands go back to this Levitical paraphrase: “Remember the stranger, the alien, the wanderer, the lost—because you were once strangers in a strange land yourselves. Remember how that feels.” All kinds of commands are given to make sure we remember “outsiders” and how tough it is indeed to be a stranger in a strange place.  But it goes even further than that. In the New Testament we are reminded emphatically that we are strangers here too, that we are not to get cozy and comfortable here because this is only earth, and our citizenship is somewhere far away from here—heaven. We’re told that we don’t fit here, that we mustn’t even try to fit here, because, as the old song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…”

In case you wonder about that restless uncomfortable feeling you get sometimes, that itch that just can’t be scratched, that feeling that you don’t belong—it’s called eternity and the Bible says you were created with that magnetic address in your heart.  Until you stand before Jesus in eternity, you’ll never truly be home. And that makes you a stranger here, which is hard. But Jesus has done something about this, something to anchor our hearts until we get home.  We sing a Chris Tomlin song sometimes that says, “I once was fatherless, a stranger with no hope, your kindness wakened me, awakened me from my sleep… Into marvelous light I’m running, out of darkness, out of shame; by the cross You are the truth, You are the life, You are the way…” We’ve been rescued, it seems, from the dominion of darkness (see Col. 1:13) and given citizenship in a new kingdom, God’s kingdom. And that is nothing short of a miracle of grace itself.

God knows all about this outsider business. He came from farther away than any traveler and entered our sphere in the familiar yet dauntingly different form of a God who came as a human baby.  He came so far, and we treated him so badly. He came so far, and he stands at the door of our hearts, knocking, looking for a welcome and a place to stay.  It’s funny. What He’s asking us to do for Him, He’s already done for us by dying on a cross so that we could one day have a home in eternity in the Father’s house.

Next time you’re at the DPS office and they ask your citizenship, I wouldn’t say “heaven”– even though that’s true if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ.  You probably should just say “Texas” and leave it at that. Any other answer will make your situation way too complicated! But nonetheless, don’t forget the real answers: YES, you are not really from around here. YES, you have a citizenship out of this world. YES, you are a stranger. YES, that’s supposed to make you strange compared to the citizens of this world. YES, this is only earth. YES, you won’t be stuck here forever. YES, you’re headed home!

I did manage to survive my brush with the law at the DPS.  I have the plastic card to prove it and it says I don’t have to navigate the system again for six years!! I don’t really like the picture though; I wonder how difficult it would be to get that changed…….?