Guilty as charged

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I went to traffic court Monday morning. I have never been to traffic court before and hope not to ever have to go again. It was held in a sleek brand new court house that looked like a TV set. The police officers all sat in suits on the back row while us civilians were scattered in the gallery, none of us sitting next to each other and nervously looking around. It was obvious that they were some people in the room who knew what they were doing and the rest of us didn’t.

I got a ticket last November on the way to the Youth Convention. I had checked something on my phone at the light and turned the corner with it in my hand. Within moments a cop car pulled up behind me with it lights blazing. Confused, I pulled over quickly and waited. The spotlight flooded my car with light and I was blinded. My heart started pounding and I began to get worried. What did I do? I didn’t go far enough to speed. The officer came to my passenger side and I was still holding my phone in my hand. He told me that it looked like was was talking into my phone as I turned. I told him I wasn’t. I was holding my phone but not using it. We have Bluetooth in that car and I had no need to use it. Nonetheless, it is breaking the law to hold the phone. For all you smarty pants who already know that California that a “no hands” state and shaking your heads at me, it was that moment that I found out. The officer told me it wasn’t a big ticket and to not worry about it, I could just mail in the money.

So, why, did I go to court you ask? Because I wasn’t guilty. I wasn’t on my phone, I was holding my phone. It made a difference to me and I was being stubborn about it. That and when the penalty arrived it was a $175 ticket. This is not small in my world. This is a big deal. This is worth fighting for!

Not knowing what to expect as i waited for the proceedings to start was nerve racking. It was like being in a TV show but not having the script. I sat on the empty front row half wanting to take pictures, half wishing I would have just mailed in the darn thing and skipped this experience all together.

Role was called. I said, “here” when they said my name, “Cindy Lee Grasso?” and felt like a child all about to get in trouble. I wasn’t the first one called up, which was a relief. I got to watch one very well dressed lady look like a fool after the police officer stated his side first in such a precise and professional manner that it barely sounded like English at all. She was judged guilty.Then I watched a lawyer who reminded me of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Runaway Jury get up, listen to the officer, ask a few futile questions then nod at the judge to humbly receive the forgone conclusion: guilty as charged. My name was called, I stepped up to the mic, raised my right hand to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Oh help me God, I barely remember the truth now. All my stubbornness vanished and as I listened to the officer tell his side of the story, I almost agreed with him. I felt like a fool for having to bring up my sorry defense: I had my phone records and was not using my phone. The judge said that he is currently writing an affidavit to redefine the terms and my records meant nothing. I was guilty. The power of this man is palatable and I nodded too, and expected as much by that point.

As I left, I thought how quickly my whole perspective changed. Now I wanted to pay the penalty as quickly as possible and get the heck out of there where as before I wanted to prove my innocence. I walked in justified and walked out humbled. What did it matter whether I thought I deserved the ticket or not? My thoughts didn’t make the decision. It was the judge’s thoughts that mattered. His thoughts that counted. He choose whose viewpoint to side with and the policeman had authority and a knowledge of the law that I did not. I was so clearly way out of my depth.

I’m not gonna lie, for a second I thought about asking the short country looking lawyer with a nice but baggy suit for help. He obviously knew the lingo and knew what was going on. But I didn’t ask him for help. I skulked out, hurried to the counter and set up payments. Then I went home.

Spiritually, I am in much of the same situation. I don’t even know the laws I’m breaking. I don’t understand the depth of interaction taking place. The Judge has all the power and I have none. The biggest difference is that I am not alone in the spiritual courtroom. I didn’t even have to ask the Advocate for help. He offered it. He paid the penalties before I broke the laws I did not understand. He stands with me and pleads for me. He offers me forgiveness and freedom though I really don’t deserve either.

It was a short visit to the California Traffic Court but I walked out with a whole new appreciation of “being saved” by Christ. That, and I don’t ever hold my phone in the car anymore.

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