I found my place on a cold wooden bench, in the third row and waited for the judge to call my name.
“Are you Iola Biernesser?” a police officer asked. He approached me from behind.
I turned and said, “Yes, I am.”
“Follow me,” he said. The officer led me out the back door. “I don’t have $750,” I cried.
The man in uniform smiled and touched my shoulder. “I have good news for you,” he said. “The court has reviewed your case and is willing to forgive you this fine if you will do community service.”
I could hardly believe what I heard.
“Will you do that?” My eyes met his. “Of course, I will.”
“Then all you have to pay is court costs and a small fee to the community service organization.” The officer stood with me in front of the judge and told me where to go to get my assignment. I went the same day.
“I can’t do physical labor or lift things,” I said. “I’m eighty-seven years old.”
The attentive clerk looked down her list and peered at me over her reading glasses. “Would you be willing to work in a church?”
“Yes, I think I’d like that.”
The next morning I arrived at a small church three miles from my home at 6:00 in the morning and worked until 10:00. The pastor led me to a chair in front of a file cabinet where I filed correspondence. The next day he asked me to clean his office and a tiny kitchen. I showed up for work every day for five days. Some of the days, the pastor didn’t have much for me to do, but he wrote on the community service form that I fulfilled my duties.
The last day he and I talked. “It’s none of my business,” he said, “but why are you doing community service?”
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I recounted the past few weeks. “My husband, Al, was in the hospital with heart failure. I stayed with him from early in the morning until late at night. He had never been ill and didn’t understand why he had to stay in a hotel room without me. That’s what he thought it was. He complained most of the time I was with him, and I often left in tears. That’s what happened one day. I left earlier than usual to run some errands. Driving through an intersection on a yellow light is not something I normally do, but that day I did. I saw the camera light flash, but was sure I made my turn before the light turned. That’s not what the citation said. It said I ran a red light and had my picture to prove it. The fine was $350. I read the notice three times but could not figure out what I was supposed to do. With so many things on my mind, I set it aside.
“After thirteen days in the hospital, Al’s doctor released him to go home with me. We had a hospital bed and all the equipment required to take care of him, but he was more than I could manage. Family and friends surprised me—how they showed up to help. Our kids and grandkids came from Southern California to visit. That and walking around the house wiped Al out. His heart couldn’t take it. Then he got pneumonia and had to go back to the hospital where he died. I planned his service and began to think what life might be like without him.”
“How long were you married?”
“Wow! We hardly hear of enduring marriages like that today.” His smile comforted me.
“Yes, I have a lot of wonderful memories of all the things our family did together over the years. A few days after Al’s memorial I received a second notice on the traffic violation. This time the fine was $750. My heart fell. I couldn’t pay that. Sitting alone at the kitchen table I cried. It seemed to be more than I could bear. Psalm 121:1-2 came to my mind and I quoted it as if in prayer. I look to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Creator of heaven and earth. I’m amazed how God came to my rescue.”
“What do you mean?” the pastor asked.
“I felt His presence with me when I went to the Citrus Heights Police Department and told the clerk my tale of woe. She said it was out of their control and I had to go to court. She printed a map for me and told me how to get to the courthouse. I went the same day and the attendant gave me a court date. The day I appeared in court, a nice police officer stood with me before the judge. I believe God sent him to be my advocate in a strange place, among people I didn’t know, and with all the unfamiliar legal proceedings. The court forgave me the fine if I would do community service, and the officer told me where to go to get my assignment. I’m glad your church was on the list. Working here has given me a time out from my grief and wondering what I will do with Al’s things. I miss him terribly. He took care of everything around the house, and I don’t know how I’ll manage.”
“I do,” said the pastor.
I looked into his peaceful face. “How?”
“God will help you as He always has—especially the last few weeks. He surely won’t abandon you now. He loves you and will be with you.”
My faith took a giant leap with the pastor’s reassurance, my family and friends who called for days and weeks following Al’s passing, who took me to lunch or dinner. Today the calls have slowed down. Although I miss Al, I don’t feel alone. I know God is here. He has lavished His love on me, especially through the events surrounding the ticket, which came during my darkest hours. Oddly, it seemed heaven-sent.