I was arrested in college. Handcuffed. Put in the back of a police car and hauled off to jail. Before I was locked in a cell, my mugshots were taken. (Admittedly, I was actually quite pleased with how they turned out. Really. The officers even took a few extras just so I could bring them home for my scrapbook. Ah, so thoughtful and kind.) I was then allowed to make phone calls to find someone to come bail me out. I called my brother. No answer. I called my best friend (who later became my husband). Couldn’t reach him. Out of desperation, I finally called the “house phone” on my brother’s dorm floor. His RA answered. I must’ve sounded pathetic enough (or perhaps blond enough), because he immediately drove all the way from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, to the Hamilton, Ohio police station, with enough cash to spring me from the slammer.
Now, I know they warn you never to post anything on social media that you might not want your boss to see. Oh well, too late. In my defense, however, the reason I was arrested is much less exciting than the actual fact that I was. You see, I’d been clocked speeding and neglected to pay my ticket. A court date was set for me to contest my case—plead guilty, pay the fine; plead not guilty, opt for traffic school—whatever. My court date rolled around and I didn’t show. By that time, believe me, it was completely off my radar. But because of that, legally I was in contempt of court—which, by the way, makes you eligible to be arrested. And so I was.
Ever since my brief brush with the law (I love saying that; it makes me feel just a little badass), I’ve found that whenever I get pulled over and handed a citation, I take it quite seriously. (I think it’s important to say, for the record, I’ve only a handful of tickets in my lifetime, so don’t get the idea I’m some maniac behind the wheel.)
Now, anyone who knows me knows I don’t have an obsessive-compulsive gene in my body. I’m wired with the opposite DNA. I’m more of a creative type, a free spirit, easygoing, happy-go-lucky and yes … sometimes … sometimes also a bit organizationally challenged. Except when it comes to traffic citations. I guess my arrest in college scared me straight. Since then, I’ve always paid the fine promptly. I read the ticket’s fine print and even highlight it with different colors, noting due dates and any other pertinent information that, if missed, could land me in the clinker.
Except for my last ticket. Yes, with this last one, somehow I reverted back to my old neglectful ways. I received a ticket for turning left in a zone that prohibited doing so between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Somehow I missed the teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy, hard-to-see, visibly obstructed sign that informed me of these left-turn restrictions. (Not that I’m bitter or anything.) Anyway, I was given a citation by a female Robocop without an ounce of humanity running through her veins. (Again, not that I’m bitter.) My innocent mistake came with a nice whomping fine of $120.
Now, we all can relate to those times in life when it seems we’re bombarded by unexpected bills. Last month was that way for us. Our horse went lame and had to be taken to the equine clinic for treatment. Let me tell you, that bill alone was enough to put me in a catatonic state of shock! Then our Jeep needed new tires. Two thermostats went on the fritz and had to be purchased and installed in the horse barn before the freezing winter months. Our computer needed a new hard drive. Blah, blah, blah … yada, yada, yada. You get the picture. Anyway, due to our cash shortage, I put off paying my ticket until the last possible due date. Problem was, when I went to pay the fine online, my request was denied. I then opted to pay my ticket over the phone. Request denied again. With a twinge of anxiety, which sent me right back to flashbacks of my college lock-up, I grabbed my ticket and frantically searched for a clue. Hidden in the lower right-hand corner of my citation was a tiny little box, checked with black ink: “court appearance required.” And, okay, that’s the moment when I began to flip my wig. In utter disbelief, I screamed at the top of my lungs to my husband, “Doouuug! I’m in BIG trouble! Get down here fast!”
Doug came bounding down the stairs, obviously concerned that I’d cut myself, broken a limb, or was being attacked by a crazed intruder. Upon realizing I wasn’t in any physical harm, he put his hands on his waist and gave me the familiar Ricky Ricardo raised-eyebrow glare that said without saying a word, “Luuuccy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”
I shoved my ticket at him, waving it frantically in his face. “Will you look at this? Look! It says I have to appear in court tomorrow or the cops are gonna come get me and haul me off to jail. I don’t want to be arrested again! Waaaahhh!!!”
Immediately we drove to the local police station to find out why a minor traffic violation required a court appearance. We were told to contact the county traffic court. I sat in my Jeep outside the station and dialed. The kind lady in County Records began to search for my file. “Citation number?” I read her the bold black digits across the top of my ticket. “Hmm, interesting. Nothing’s coming up in the computer. Last name?” I told her. And of course, she, like many, just couldn’t keep from asking if I was related to Justin. I replied, “Yeah, right. He so WISHES!” We chuckled. She then informed me there was no record of my name in her system. “Birthdate?” Again, nothing. “Ma’am, there’s no record of your violation ANYWHERE in the system.”
Perplexed, I inquired about my court date. “All I can tell you is there’s no record in the computer. Nothing’s indicating you have a date to appear in court either. Maybe you should go back to the police station and see if they can help.”
I walked back into the police station and explained my conversation with the county traffic court records department. I slid my ticket under the glass divider, and the officer disappeared to the back of the station, where, for about 15 minutes, she juggled phone conversations while searching her computer. She returned, shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and said, “We have absolutely no record of your violation. Guess you don’t need to think about this anymore. You won’t need to appear in court. There isn’t a court date on file. And you won’t need to pay the fine. We can’t locate any record of your citation. It’s somehow been erased. You record is clean. Consider it a gift.”
Crazy as it sounds, a part of me felt like a prisoner who had just been pardoned for some huge crime. An enormous wave of relief rolled over me. I felt elated, surprised and undeserving. And oddly, my tears began to gently flow. You see, over the past few months, I’d been doing deep journeying into the meaning of forgiveness. How remarkable to have the tangible experience of committing a violation, going in to pay the fine, and having my debt completely canceled! No record. Not a trace. Not anywhere.
On a cognitive level, I’ve understood that this is exactly what happens with God. But somehow, this experience emotionally made it more real for me. For the next week, I continually pondered the depth of that simple statement: “There is no record of your violation.” No record. How remarkable is that?! As I truly begin to grasp what forgiveness means, it’s actually difficult to take it lightly. Forgiveness is a gift ornately wrapped in awe and reverence, relief, surprise and wonder.
As a Life Coach, I’ve noticed that sometimes the hardest one to forgive is ourselves. Why is it we continually dwell on the past and beat ourselves up for the mistakes God has already forgotten? When we constantly replay the major flub-ups, the immature mistakes and the shameful decisions we’ve made, we allow those things to define us.
God wants better for us. So, so, so much better. Psalm 103:12 advises, “Stop remembering what God has forgotten.” This Christmas season, I’m doing the work of forgiveness. I’m learning to forgive myself. It’s the perfect time, don’t you think? The perfect time to let go. To stop carrying mishaps around. To move forward. To continue on. To get unstuck. To start fresh. To experience peace. To forgive ourselves.
God has no record of your mistakes. That’s forgiveness … the perfect gift. Unwrap it.
- by Melissa Timberlake