I stood at the counter of the BMV very close to tears. My lower lip was shaking and my hands rested limply on the counter. The BMV employee stared at me coldly with eyebrows raised, waiting, and seemed to become more hardened with every increase of my misery.
This was the second time I found myself standing at that very counter on that particular day, embarrassed and frustrated. The first time I tried to renew my driver's license, I had humbly accepted my late fee and the realization that I had no cash or checks with which to pay it. The BMV is apparently one of the last places in America that doesn't accept credit cards. I should have known that and come prepared but instead, I gave up my coveted place at the head of the line and drove home for cash, knowing what a burden it would be on my family to go out again. I was supposed to cook a meal when I got home. My husband had work to do. My toddler was crying for me. My anxiety was increasing. And the line at the BMV is like a black hole that sucks the day away.
When I left the house the second time, I made a hasty decision to take my one-year old with me so that the rest of the family could have peace. She cried the full 15 minutes in the car, yelling to "Go back!" and calling for her siblings. A tear leaked out of one of my eyes, not for the last time that day.
We finally arrived and took our place in line and began the waiting, waiting, waiting in the dirty government office, inching slowly, slowly to the front of the line. All over again. This time, however, I was armed with a hungry toddler and a ziploc bag of fish crackers.
And the Ice Queen of the BMV was waiting for me.
That'll be $45.75, she said.
I just stared back for a while... I was told I owed a total of $38.75. I even wrote it down. I only have $40.
That's too bad. I can't give you your license.
She looked past me impatiently to the next customer.
I can't go back home again. I don't have time. I have people to care for.
I closed my eyes as we all waited there together for me to make a move. The clerk staring from the front and the line of people staring from the back. My brain threatened to implode and I did nothing but breathe for a full minute and a half.
Gathering my whits, I dumped the contents of my wallet onto the counter even though I knew the money wouldn't be there. 1...2...3 single dollar bills and 85 cents in change. Short $1.90. I looked pleadingly and hopefully up at the woman only to see her jaw set even more firmly than before as if to say: Nobody cheats the BMV... punk.
Looking at the floor, I desperately hoped to see some forgotten coins. I searched my pockets. Nothing.
I just stood there. I couldn't leave. It wasn't pride or stubbornness... Just pitiful helplessness. I just couldn't leave. I knew there had to be $1.90 in that building for me. There are major catastrophes and losses in life and this wasn't one of them. But if you are a mother who knows what it is like to be brought to foot of the Cross with an unwelcome barrage of small mortifications day after day... then you know how low $1.90 can occasionally take you.
I was slowly preparing myself to beg the other people in line for a gift of $2. A few years ago I would rather have died than ask a stranger for such a thing but my vocation had been frequently calling me to new depths of humility. I had been practicing this kind of thing. I knew that I would accept the gift if someone would only give it and I gave one more desperate shout-out to the good Lord before turning...
People came and went from other lines but mine was still. And pin-drop quiet. My toddler was squirming and starting to cry again and I was sweating. She was seated on the counter and and I could just feel her patience begin to drain away. I have nothing. I have nothing. I cannot leave. I have nothing. My head remained bowed toward the floor and I was glad that no one could see my eyes filling up.
It was time to turn and ask for help and as I propped my little girl on my hip to prepare, a man's hand suddenly reached forward and dropped a $5 dollar bill onto the counter....
"Here you go."
Thank you, Jesus.
I dropped my change into the man's hands and told him how grateful I was for his generosity.
You don't know what you have done for me today.
"Don't worry about it. Just do the same for someone else."
I thanked God loudly and long enough to cause people to turn and stare at me with wide eyes and then I paid for my license. As I waited for the license to be finalized, I chatted with my benefactor and asked for his name so that I could pray for him.
His name was Henry. And as Henry and I talked, I learned all about the wonderful New Year's Eve he spent with his kids and the unfortunate divorce that divided his family. He didn't get to see the children often because they were usually with their mother but he loved every moment he did have with them.
On the way home, I stopped the car outside of our parish's Eucharistic chapel to say a prayer for Henry. That he would get his $2 back and know why. That his marriage would be restored. That he would be brought close to the heart of Jesus.
I had prayed earlier that day that God would somehow cover the $20 late fee that I had incurred through my own fault. Maybe cause the BMV workers to overlook the fee or toss a $20 bill my way in the wind. Instead, I was embarrassed and frustrated many more times than I anticipated because of my own failures... and given a gift of $2 would mean so much more to me than the gift of $20.
As I grow deeper in the realization of my own weakness, I also grow stronger stronger in my confidence of my loving Father. His ways are not my ways. Thanks be to God!
If you have a moment, please say an Ave for a man named Henry.
(Learn how to make the origami cross pictured above HERE )