The DMV is one of life’s great equalizers.
Yesterday morning I take a number, sit in a plastic chair and wait. I cannot make anything move faster — not the people, not the numbers lit red on the rectangular screen above our heads, and neither can anyone else.
We in this room are all alike. At another’s mercy, vulnerable.
The immigrant woman struggling to communicate the letters she reads for the eye test. The couple recently relocated to Portland and starting over in a new place. The man propped up by a cane trying in vain to make a little girl smile. The young mother barking sharply at her daughter who leans over her chair to see a new baby. The DMV attendant who sighs and bristles when I miss one box and check another incorrectly in my efforts to renew my license.
And I think to myself you represent everything people hate about the DMV, and I feel my face flush and my armor begin to solidify like Magic Shell as I stand before her, and then somehow the words fall from my mouth, “I apologize. I read that line wrong.”
Without warning, she changes her tune, softens, says even people who work there get that one messed up, and then at the end of our interaction:
“Well Miss Ashley, let me be the first to wish you a happy birthday,” she says, looking down at my form.
“Thank you. It’s 40,” I venture. “A big one.”
“Well, you don’t look it, so that’s good,” she says, a hint of smile crossing her stern face.
And I wonder how she knows that because I don’t think she ever looked up.
Yep, I do turn 40 on Sunday (a 23-hour birthday, thanks to the Daylight Savings Time switch from Michael’s and my anniversary weekend to my birthday weekend — the nerve!) But before that, this Saturday, I serve as a mentor and speak at a conference for the first time, at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference, which I love so dearly.
Yesterday morning pre-DMV, in the quiet of my house, Bible open on my lap, I noticed how continually my mind focused right in on ME and the unknowns of panel speaking and my jangly nerves.
It would be embarrassing to tell you how much time I’d already spent thinking about the outfit I’d wear and the anecdotes I’d share before I read Jesus’ instructions in Luke not to worry about my life or my body because my provider knows what I need.
Unfortunately, I missed most of the passage the first time because I was thinking about my skirt and boots.
I do not lie.
Just after the passage on the birds of the air and lilies of the field that God clothes in all splendor (which I did catch the second time around), I read one of the verses that helps me find my footing: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)
Which raises the questions: Where is my heart? What is my treasure? Are worry, insecurity and self-focus holding my heart in their hands?
I open to Brennan Manning’s words on the first day of Lent (the season of reflection and contemplation culminating in Jesus’ Easter resurrection). Manning writes: “Selfless service. This gift embodies and enfleshes the mind of Christ. It is the most effective way of transcending the consciousness that continually focuses attention on self. In his Passion, Jesus moves completely out of himself.” (emphasis mine)
While preparing for and enduring hideous death, Jesus serves: the apostles, women on the way to the cross, Pilate, the thief who hangs next to him and even Mary and John in agony at the foot of the cross as he dies. (Reflections for Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning, p. 65)
As we enter Lent, I sense acutely the chasm between Jesus’ perspective and my own, his complete other focus in contrast with my self attention.
I am not walking a road of suffering by any means as I prepare to speak, and yet Jesus’ walk and the light of the Word remind me of my moment by moment choices: to cling to myself or to Jesus, to engage my faith or my worry, to grip or surrender. And this: will I make myself, my journey and my stories the treasure, or will I seek God as the reward and ending of each word I write, speak or live?
How I desire to be focused inward to the heart of God that is my home and to the goodness, provision, strength, nurture, protection, wisdom, love and full acceptance there. And how I desire to be focused outward more than upon the walls of this self, so that I will see snippy or stern, excluded or center of attention, warm or icy people not in relation to their effect on me, but by their universal humanness as ones vulnerable and in need of love.
Only by God’s grace.
Whatever I do, whether speaking, celebrating or waiting at the DMV with a number in hand, I want to see and love well — not so that people will love me, but so that they might catch a glimpse of God.