Back in June of this year, I was given a ticket for not changing lanes while traveling next to a police car pulled off the road citing another vehicle. As traumatizing as that was, I had no idea how the fun would continue when I went to traffic court.
My court date was last month, and I'd never been to traffic court, much less to the courthouse downtown, which we affectionately call here in the Ville, "Sixth and Jefferson." I traveled downtown for my 1pm assigned court date in the extreme heat. I circled until I found a place to park - the main reason I loathe downtown - horrible parking. I headed on into the courthouse. Clearly you could have videoed the people of WalMart or the latest reality show (aptly named "Sixth and Jefferson") given the sights I saw. Every type of person wearing any type of clothing (or very little clothing) was hanging around the lobby and right outside the door.
I entered the building and quickly went through security. I felt like I was dealing with TSA, but without all the hassles. I've watched enough cop shows to be alert to my surroundings lest some psychopath pull out a weapon and start going crazy. I checked in at the front desk, interrupting the receptionist from reading her novel. Aside, good to know my tax dollars pay for someone to read 8 hours a day. She instructed me which courtroom and I navigated the directions to get to the 3rd floor and my specific courtroom.
When I walked in, I felt like I was on Perry Mason. The court room looked just like they do on TV, albeit smaller. I sat in the courtroom pews and waited for my name to be called. They aren't really pews, but honestly look just like them. And, quite frankly, I prayed as much sitting in those pews as I do in a church pew. The first stop on this journey is to talk to a lawyer or "important man in a suit" that is sitting at the desks in front of the judge's bench. This is the first level of Dante's Hell you have to get through before facing the judge. My name was called and I went up and he reviewed my ticket. The first words out of his mouth were, "Well, I'm not sure what to do with you." Huh?
You never want to hear that in a courtroom, doctor's office or operating room. He continued by saying that the way the police officer wrote up the ticket, his only option was to suspend my license for six months. I almost lost it. "Are you kidding me?" was my response. He patted himself down trying to find his phone, which wasn't on his person and asked if he could use mine. Really, at th is point I started to think I was being punk'd.
He tried calling the Department of Transportation to ask them what to do. Of course, that was after I looked up the number and called it for him, hoping my gracious groveling would help me out here. When he couldn't reach anyone, he said, "I can reschedule a new court date, or if you can wait, I can talk to my higher ups to see what options I have." I told him I'd be happy to wait since I was already missing work to get this handled.
I sat there for what seemed like an eternity waiting. I texted some friends and asked them to pray. What would I do if my license was suspended? I have to first get home, then how do I get from place to place for the next six months. Needless to say, I was a mess. I prayed and I waited. When the important-man-in-a-suit came back, he said he could lower the charge to careless driving (what in the world was it before!?) and I could pay the fine and court fees. I wouldn't be eligible for traffic school. I quickly said yes and thank you.
Then back to the pews to wait until the judge called me up. By the time that happened, I was half a basket case on the inside and half relieved that this was almost over. She repeated the violation as amended and asked if I plead guilty or not guilty. I paused and said, "Well, the police officer said I was guilty." She said, "You don't have to plead guilty. You can plead not guilty and then we'll go to trial." At that point, Miss Resilient Steel Magnolia here, broke a bit. I told her I'd never been in court in my life and I just wanted this over. I didn't weep or sob, but she, as a woman, could tell I was about to break down. She was very nice and explained how I would go about paying my ticket by phone to avoid another trip down to the court house.
I left there completely exhausted, mentally and physically. I went home, called in and paid my ticket and hope it goes away. But I learned a few lessons in the process....
Being in that court room facing the judge because of my violation was humbling and scary all at the same time. I clearly broke a law, though I didn't think my violation required quite that high of a penalty. All I could think of when I left that day is how grateful I am for the saving grace of Jesus Christ. You see, I'm a sinner. I sin every day, multiple times a day. And I deserve punishment. A violation worse than what I received from that police officer. But Jesus took on that punishment for me. He, being sinless, gave His life, so I wouldn't have to live eternally separated from God. The visual I kept seeing was me walking up to the podium before the judge, being condemned, and Jesus coming up, hugging me and gently moving me away and stepping in my place. Wow. That's love.
Conviction came on me that day of my prideful heart, not just about that traffic violation but all the ways I sin daily. And yet, Jesus' righteousness covers me. I could never repay the debt I owe, unlike my ability to pay for this ticket and move on. May I be forever thankful for the love of Christ who always steps into my place to save and protect me.