I made my quadrennial (don't you love that word?) trip to our local revenue office last week to get my new driver's license. In Arkansas, your license expires every four years on your birthday. With my birthday falling on a Sunday this year, it almost slipped past me. Fortunately I remembered to go last Friday. I knew it wasn't going to be a good visit when I saw a sign taped to the door that said, "The office is short-handed today. Please forgive any delays." It wasn't like I could come back on another day, so I sighed, entered, took my number and sat down in a cold, hard folding chair among several impatient revenue office patrons. Number 54. They weren't kidding about being short-handed. There was just one guy behind the counter processing applications for new car tags, car tag renewals, and driver's license renewals. He was on Number 43, so I knew it would be a little while. These are the times when I really enjoy having an iPhone. I pulled it out and checked my email, my Facebook, the Drudge Report, and read a little bit on my Kindle app. As he got up into the lower 50's, I decided to pull out my current driver's license so I would be ready to go when Number 54 was finally called.
As I studied this little piece of plastic I'd been carrying around for the last four years, I was struck by the woman in the picture. She looked familiar, but I quickly realized that I didn't really know her anymore. This woman's eyes were happy and clear, and obviously hadn't shed many tears. Her smile was easy and bright, and clearly unforced. There were no lines around her eyes, and it was apparent that those eyes had seen very little pain and suffering. Her shoulders were erect, and obviously had never been bent over by grief. There was a lightness and a shallowness to her appearance, and on that December day in 2006, she was probably looking forward to going Christmas shopping for her two daughters after the hassle of getting her driver's license renewed. This was a woman who took pains to insulate herself from suffering. A woman who had never seen a bald, cancer-ridden child in person before; a woman who changed the channel when the St. Jude telethon came on TV; a woman who avoided talking to families who were dealing with cancer. After all, what did those things have to do with her? She was a woman who had no idea that her own child would be diagnosed with terminal cancer less than two years later.
The woman in the photo on my new driver's license is much more familiar to me. The eyes of this woman fill with tears several times a day most days; her smile doesn't come as easily and quickly as it once did; her shoulders often feel heavy with the weight of grief; and pain has carved a few lines into her face. But, you know what? She's a far better woman than the one in the picture from four years ago. Her faith has been shaken, and has not only stood the test, but grown stronger. God has multiplied her capacity for compassion, and given her a love and concern for the suffering that certainly never existed before. He has also given her an awareness of and an appreciation for His many blessings that has provided a depth of joy she's never known. He's given her sense of direction and purpose that didn't exist before. This woman has had a glimpse into eternity as her child stepped into Heaven before her very eyes, and her perspective on life has been forever changed.
The guy who took my picture at the revenue office on Friday never noticed that the two women represented by those photos were so very different...but I sure did.