Driving School

The room was full of 15 year old kids. All the girls were wearing the exact same style of short gym shorts. Most of them had their hair up in a messy bun, but a few had it hanging down in their face where they could flip it over their shoulder every so often.

By contrast—I was wearing—actually, I don’t really remember what I was wearing. It didn’t matter. It was a Saturday. I was across town serving a sentence.   It wasn’t as if I was trying to impress the row of boys trying to get their driver’s licenses.

He started by having them go around the room and state their name and what school they are from. “Wando” teen after teen said, naming the local public school.

Then he got to the two whispering, gum cracking girls in the middle. “B-E” They both said.

I figured out B-E stood for Bishop England—a nearby catholic school where the tuition is so astronomical that you pretty much have to be astronaut smart to make it worthwhile. They did not come across as astronaut smart. But here I am, judging.

“I went to B-E.” The 50-something teacher said.   “That was back when it was taught by nuns. They used to whack us with rulers if we didn’t behave.”

The wanna be astronauts did not look impressed. They have probably never been whacked with rulers. But here I am, judging again.

“It isn’t so bad…” one girl admitted. “If it wasn’t for the uniforms. And all the rules.” She said with emphasis.

They are not going to be astronauts.

Then he got to me. Instead of stating my school, he had me state my crime. I guess the fact I was not in short gym shorts gave away the fact that I was twice the age of this room full of fresh, new accidents waiting to happen.

I got a ticket for going 67 in a 55.

My first ticket. Ever.

In Wise County, Virginia.

Where they give out tickets like participation ribbons.

And hate passers by.

And don’t care about tourism.

Or the economy.

Or my insurance premiums.

Or my feelings.

Or my bad day.

Of course, I didn’t say all that, just my name and my crime.

For 16 years I could have been the poster child for the ACE driving course. But that all ended in one bad day when I became a victim of the Virginia conspiracy. And here I was—having shelled out attorney’s fees, court fees, driving school fees—spending 8 hours on a sacred Saturday listening to a man who was bitter about being hit by a ruler 40 years ago.

And the teens were looking at me with faces that said—I will never be the old person sitting in the back of the room stating my name and my crime to a room full of cool teenagers.

Okay, well then, my advice to you, O wise ones, is this: stay out of Wise County, Virginia.

A college girl sitting next to me similarly had to confess: believe it or not, she also got her first ticket driving through Wise County, Virginia. Were you listening, astronauts? This is proving to be the most important thing you’ll hear all day.

He handed us each a booklet full of blanks to fill in and started up a power presentation. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, there were faint memories forming. My first few times behind the wheel. A few more gray hairs on my dad’s head.

I remember one driving moment well—

Dad: Danielle, slow down.

Me: But Dad, the speed limit is 45.

Dad: Danielle, the driver in front of you is going 35.

He had a point. Too bad he didn’t also tell me to stay out of Virginia.

It was one of the longest days of my life. I decided that before the lunch break. I decided that before 10:00 am. There is nothing like being in a room full of 15 year olds to make you feel like you need to stop on the way home and get measured for dentures.

When a question starts with “Like, okay…well…like, I mean, like…okay…” You just know it isn’t going to be a question that you need to hear the answer to.  I felt sorry for the teacher who, after this exciting day, was going to be doing behind the wheel with these teens. I might rather be hit with a ruler by nuns.

He tried to get their e-mail addresses and some of them looked at him with those looks that say… “What? Do you think this is like 2005 or something?”

I tried to stay awake. I really did. The teacher methodically plodded through the material. How to change lanes. When to change lanes.

Then he started talking about drinking and driving. I suspect that sometimes the old people in the back of the room are serving a more serious sentence than I. I thought perhaps it was for my benefit or the college girl next to me.

But apparently not.

“I know you guys are going to drink.” Mind you, he was a retired cop. “I know you’re going to party. I know you’re going to do what kids do.”

And then he started on the whole “don’t drink and drive: it might kill you” scare.

I was really sad. I was sad because he told those kids that he expected them to break the law. He expected them to get drunk. He expected them to spend their teen years doing stupid, foolish, and even illegal things. Other kids did, so these kids would too. He was just hoping that they would avoid dying in the process. And it would be good if, in addition to not killing themselves, they avoided killing other responsible drivers.

That was his advice to them.

I could hardly keep my mouth shut. I wanted to get up and preach. Don’t set your bar so low. Don’t make it your boundary not to get in a car so drunk that you won’t make it home alive. Don’t treat the law like it is subject to a popularity contest.

Do the right thing. Being a teenager doesn’t give you a pass. Being a teenager doesn’t free you of other consequences of sin. Believe it or not, dying in a car wreck isn’t the only potential hazard of alcohol. And alcohol isn’t really the issue. The issue is the mindset that you can do whatever you want…So we have to try to convince you that you don’t want to drink and drive or undertake other harmful behaviors.

Why can’t we ask teenagers to do right because it right? Why can’t we set the standard a little higher than “don’t kill yourself and others?” Regardless of the dangers, regardless of the consequences, regardless of what everyone else is doing, do the right thing. That’s why God created the concept of authority, so you would know what the right thing is. When you reach a place in life when you wish people would tell you what to do and what not to do, then you are probably mature enough to start making your own decisions.

And for Pete’s sake, if you are the authority, tell a kid to do right.

When the officer pulled me over, he didn’t care that I was driving with the flow of traffic. He held me to the standard of the law. Admittedly, I didn’t like that. But that’s life and teenagers need to understand that just as well as adults. Anything less is chaos.

I suppose the teacher that day meant well. He was probably just afraid of sounding like a crabby nun waiving a ruler. He wanted the teens to feel like he understood them. So he encouraged them toward foolish behavior—as long as they stopped short of wrapping their new cars around the Charleston oak trees.

And I suppose, if I had been given the opportunity to rant from the back of the room, they would have regarded me like a crabby nun waiving a ruler. But I cared about them. Not just that they stayed alive, but that they did right.

So there you have it. I’m preaching to myself again: Do the right thing. Doing right will avoid all the consequences of doing wrong—not only the most severe—and it brings its own rewards.

And in case you make a mistake, stay out of Wise County, Virginia.

Okay Grads, Here’s My Advice:

thEXP33LMKIf you’ve perused the card aisle recently, I’d bet my teeth that this is the jist of what you read in the graduation section. And if you are like me, this is what you thought.

Follow your dreams. After all, It worked for My Little Pony, the Little Mermaid, and Rainbow Brite.

Believe in yourself. Because there are a few worse things you could believe in—like zombies, My Little Pony, and Rainbow Brite.

Reach for the sky. There’s nothing up there. But it will be a good stretch.

Be yourself. Don’t let anyone change you. Just be yourself at a big school on the other side of the state so I don’t have to put up with your selfish attitudes.

Enjoy the journey. And if you get a job, you might have enough money to travel, too.

Look inside yourself; then follow your heart. Wow. And they say texting and driving is dangerous!

What you believe, you can achieve. Yeah, I guess CNN still doesn’t believe in finding Flight 370.

What matters in life is not your success, but your significance. And you’ll never be able to accurately measure either one. That’s depressing.

YOU did it! That’s right…YOU opened your eyes every morning when the alarm your parents bought you went off. Then YOU put on the clothes your dad paid for, ate the breakfast your mom made, and one of them dropped YOU off at school carrying the lunch your mom packed. YOU stayed alive all day while your teachers tried to beat knowledge into your head against your will, and then YOU sat and griped at the kitchen table while your mom made you do your home work. And when it was all over, your parents made you go to bed so YOU would get enough rest to do it all again the next day. For a lot of years.

And now I’m writing YOU a check.

Needless to say, I am unimpressed with graduation cards.

So I googled the best graduation speeches. I read speeches given by everyone from Steve Jobs to Steven Colbert. And each of them were basically the same thing as reading the wall of cards at the grocery store. You did it! Now follow your dreams. You haven’t failed until you stopped trying. I don’t think there have been more commonly repeated lies (with maybe the exception of that little thing about how you could keep your insurance).

To be fair, there were a few statements here and there about hard work and giving back. But almost every speaker seemed to be trying to inspire graduates to ______________? I’m not sure. Be themselves??? Keep moving forward???   Think??? Why, at graduation, do we all feel so compelled to inspire and yet resort to such ridiculous statements like this card.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for celebrating milestones. And I think there is hard work involved in school—especially some school—that is worth rewarding. But it truly amazes me how many words a speaker can string together and say nothing. On graduation day, that seems to be completely acceptable. Even for non-politicians.

But what most graduates need is not as much recognition of their achievement, but preparation for change. When a graduation is followed by a major life changes—different location, different friends, different activities, different schedule, and student loan payments–all at once, it is little wonder that so many grads struggle. Good thing we’ve equipped them with helpful phrases such as: Like shining stars, every one of us has the potential to light up the darkness with our own particular brilliance.  [Author unknown.  I didn’t write that gem.]

I feel compelled to do better than that. And since no one asked me to speak at a graduation and since I can’t find any good cards, here is my advice:

Practically: Get a job. Any job.  Forget all this nonsense about doing what you love.  The fact is, you won’t love any job every day.  You will love a job most if you are good at it.  And you will get good at it by doing.  So yes, get a job you think you’ll like if you can.  And if you can’t, just get a job.

Work hard. Try to make your employer successful. Don’t be above any task. Learn everything you can learn—in your mind, don’t think of it as flipping hamburgers, think of it as learning how to run a business. You can build valuable skills just about anywhere.

Be kind to your co-workers. You will enjoy your job more and you will learn how important people skills are to anything you do. If your co-workers are obnoxious, weed-smoking, partiers, then take note of the fact that they work at a hamburger joint and for Pete’s sake, don’t try to be like them. Work that much harder so you can get out of there faster. Take the good and leave the bad, but be kind in the process.

Respect your boss. He knows more than you do. True story. Sure, he may not appreciate you for everything you are and do. He may not know all the hoops you had to jump through to carry out his instructions. He may not keep you informed of everything that you really should have been told. But that’s life. And one day, when you’re the boss, you’ll forgive him everything.

Emotionally: Be grateful.

If you want to be happy, be grateful. Gratitude can lift your spirits like a hot air balloon and an ungrateful heart will sink you right into the electrical wires. Remember how little of your achievements are really that—your achievements. Thank the people who have invested in you.

Spiritually: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All the other things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

So there’s my advice for graduates.  And here is my free bonus advice: don’t get a tattoo.

And here’s my advice for non-graduates: Don’t waste your money on a card. Just write your check for $4.00 more and give it to them with a firm handshake. If they feel cheated, they can always go to the grocery store and buy themselves a card.

But I’ll bet my teeth that they won’t.

photoShe had a temper growing up.  Of course, so did I.

The difference is, people who knew us then will believe it about me.  My sister was like a living Elsie Dinsmore—sweet, sensitive, and obedient.

I was more outspoken and more type-A, so I was often the ring leader even though she was two years older.  I was also a merciless competitor.  We ended up in the same grade homeschooling, and in my immaturity, I made it a point to finish first and be the best at everything.  The only game I couldn’t beat her at was Monopoly.  She could pinch a penny.

For a while, we shared a room.  Mom used to say of us that we were “enemies all day and friends all night.”  I don’t remember what we stayed up late chatting about, but I do remember some of our fights.  I thought she was messy; she kept entirely too much junk.  I also rebelled when she came up the idea of washing our clothes in the bathtub instead of sending them downstairs to the laundry.  Allyson was more than a tad obsessed with anything old fashioned, and the idea of washing clothes by hand appealed to the pioneer homemaker in her.   I was a lot happier limiting old fashioned ways to my imagination.

Allyson was blessed with a very keen sensitivity toward sin.  What was right was right and what was wrong was wrong.  If something was right, you did it.  And if it was wrong you didn’t.  For several years, she determined to carry her Bible with her everywhere she went.  And when she was twelve or so, she decided to wear only skirts or dresses; a resolve she has kept to this day.

Despite our differences, we called ourselves best friends.  Looking back, that was her idea, and she was a loyal best friend.  I kind of drifted a bit, especially when people started of thinking of her as “different”—carrying around her Bible and wearing skirts all of the time.

She was one of the most disciplined teenagers I’ve known.  She would get up at 5:00 am to do aerobics (to classical music).  By then, I shared a room with Erin, but Allyson would knock on our door every morning and ask if I wanted to do them with her.I would say: No.

After she graduated from high school, Mom and Dad let Allyson take over all the food preparation and grocery shopping.  I’m not sure that did a lot to generate peace in our home because Allyson’s primary goal was to save money and the rest of us didn’t have a lot of appreciation for that goal.  To put it mildly. Some of her “empty out the refrigerator” recipes were met with lower approval ratings than US Congress.

We weren’t particularly close anymore by this time; I was into all of the things I was into—debate, tutoring, Awana, computers, and whatever else that packed life full.  There was a lot I could have done to show gratefulness to her for the things she did for our family, but I didn’t bother.

Nevertheless, Allyson was a persistent homemaker.  She wasn’t intent on going to college; school wasn’t her love or her strength necessarily.  However, it still bothered her when people asked her the usual, “what are you going to do next?” questions in a way that sort of hinted that college was a prerequisite for heaven. I don’t think anyone meant to be harsh; they just took it for granted that the transition into adulthood should look a certain way.

But she was just gifted in other ways.  She sang beautifully and she took up painting china.  Allyson had—and still has—a tender heart that is often conscious of needs the rest of the world overlooks. Allyson looks out for the “uncool” people. She meets needs that are truly needs.

In the next few years, Allyson went through a difficult heartbreak.  Some would think that would be the time that having sisters would come in quite handy.  But I’m not sure we were any help.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care—I just didn’t know what to say or do besides give her space.

So she really surprised me when she gave me two hand painted china plates.  They had birds on the fronphoto (1)t, and on the back of each, she had written scripture in her elegant script—“Behold the fowls of the air…” She must have spent many, many hours tediously painting those beautiful plates. At the bottom of one she had written, To my amazing sister, Danielle.

When the opportunity came for my family to move from California to New Hampshire, Allyson was the only dissenting vote.  But we went anyway.

And the day we moved in, we met Kevin.  Kevin met Allyson.  And as his grandmother said, “I’ve never seen a young man more in love.”

Shortly after their wedding, Allyson was expecting.  And she just glowed.  She is a beautiful girl anyway– but she was even more beautiful pregnant.  And we were all very, very happy for her.  She was a wonderful wife and I was sure she would be an equally good mother. Her child would be the first grandchild on both sides as well as the first great-grandchild for the two set of great-grandparents that lived locally.  Yeah, a little bit of pressure there.

A few months before the baby was due, she went in for a check-up and the doctors became concerned that the baby wasn’t responding to pokes and prods. I was at work when I heard there was a good chance she lost it, and I cried so hard I got in a wreck on my way home. But the doctors were wrong, and this little baby was born healthy as can be—even if he came a few weeks late.

It has been a steady stream of beautiful little lives since then: seven in the past ten years. And Allyson has handled it expertly. The nine of them live in a 1500 square foot house and she keeps it clean, orderly, and entirely devoid of junk. She still cooks food from scratch and washes her dishes by hand although I imagine she has said thanks more than once for their clothes washing machine. They have no TV, and she home schools the older three kids. Somehow.

By contrast, I feel like I’m doing good when I can see the corner of my desk. And people have started asking me what I’m going to do when I grow up.

But what is most amazing is not what Allyson does, but how she does it. She has the beauty that comes from a quiet contentment; an authoritative grace; a contagious peace.  And I can lay claim to being a part of the test panel for her rise to low-budget cooking genius.

I think college has its place in this world, but it isn’t for everyone and it probably would have had nothing but debt to offer someone like Allyson. If homemaking is an art, she has mastered it. And she did it by faithfully applying the lessons God teaches best in His way and in His time.

With the score 7 to 0, I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll never catch up. Thank goodness, it isn’t a competition anymore. Just two sisters who love each other even though they live a thousand miles a part. It’s hard to believe that we ever shared school books, a bedroom, and shoes.

Happy Mother’s Day, to my amazing sister, Allyson!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Courthouse

I have seen that title floating around for years. And I know now—more so than ever—that it is a lie. It’s a lie straight from—well—I can’t really imagine where because I don’t even know a lawyer that is a good enough liar to make that up. That’s like saying, “a funny thing happened during brain surgery.” Some things are just not funny.

The way to the courthouse is when you realize you forgot an exhibit you needed. It’s when you decide you need an exhibit you didn’t make. It’s when your client calls because they can’t find you and you realize they went to the wrong courthouse. It’s when someone in front of you gets in a wreck. It’s when the parking garage is full. It’s when you second guess whether you read the correct line of cases or are calling the right witnesses. It’s when the one hour of sleep you got the night before is just not enough.

You could put Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle, Mike Rowe and Yogi Berra in the car with you on the way to the courthouse and it would not be funny.

As a matter of fact, not much happens in the legal world that’s funny. That’s just the unfortunate fact of the field I’m in. Bizarre, yes. Contentious, yes. Funny, not much.

In the ten years I’ve worked at the BLF, we’ve had people forge insurance paperwork, intentionally break their own bones, name their two daughters the same thing, request a bronze pig as a headstone, falsify leases, claim severe scarring from bed bugs, and more. You should read what some people will fill in on a web form to describe their legal concerns. Yeah, there are some odd ducks out there. But save the one person who claimed they slipped out of the hotel shower into the toilet, not many are truly funny.

So when I decided that I wanted to write about something funny that happened at the Bostic Law Firm, I had to dig deep. Way deep. But one lady saved me.

I tried to change names to protect the innocent, but it just didn’t work. I couldn’t tell the story. So instead, I have changed names to protect the guilty. For the sake of this story, I will call her “Miss A” (only because it has pretty much nothing to do with her real name).

Miss A came to us because of a car wreck. She did not have a very good case, and frankly, it wasn’t long at all before we completely regretted having signed up Miss A.

But to her, it was the most important case in the world. And she called every day to make sure that it was being treated as such. I don’t know if she thought we were all hard of hearing or just stupid, but either way, she made sure we heard her by bellowing into the phone, “HI, THIS IS MISS A. IS PETER SAWYER THERE?”

It wasn’t a question, it was a demand, and frankly, it was entirely unnecessary. We knew who it was before she even got the “HI” out and no one would have robbed Peter of the pleasure of speaking with her that day.

If, for some reason, Peter was not able to satisfy her concerns over the phone, Miss A would unexpectedly show up and express herself in the lobby, “WHERE PETER SAWYER?” she would ask. The rest of us would run and hide. “I NEED PETER.” The glass doors would shake. Whatever Peter was doing, he would have no choice but to immediately direct his attention to her. “WHERE’S MY MONEY?” I would grab my wallet and sit on it.

Miss A was about twice Peter’s size (or so it seemed) and I was borderline scared for him a time or two. If things didn’t seem to be progressing as quickly as she would like, she let us know in decibels.

Fortunately, the day came for Miss A to come pick up her check. She arrived at the office decked to the hilt. Every nail painted; every eyelash in place—and about five times as long as natural. She wore platform shoes that made her presence even more noticeable (if that was possible), but she was sweet to our office manager; she was patient in the lobby. Peter was the conquering hero and the rest of us came out of hiding to witness the end of the historic era of Miss A.

After signing her release, and getting her check, Miss A, got up and floated out of the conference room.

This is the part I’m not sure I can do justice to. You may just have to have been there to really appreciate what happened next. You may just have to have known her. You may have to have heard her commanding voice booming through our office to really get the scene in your mind. But I’ll do my best.

Miss A was so happy, that she reached out to give Peter a crushing hug. Peter, who—to his credit—doesn’t generally go around hugging women, had no real choice about whether or not to participate. But from my view from the next room, I saw him try to extricate himself after ten seconds or so and it was a noble effort.

But Miss A’s long, flowing braids attached themselves to Peter’s glasses and her wig stayed even after he pulled away.

It was one of the funniest scenes of my life—Peter backing up and her voluminous wig preferring his glasses over her head.

It’s okay to laugh—it was not an “I’m battling cancer” wig it was more of an “I want to beautiful and I don’t have the patience” wig. And it was hilarious. I had to go back into hiding so I could laugh. And laugh I did.

That scene has provided me comic relief many, many times since.

Just not on the way to the courthouse.



I read his e-mail; and I was ticked.

First of all, he was wrong. What he was telling me was bogus and I knew it.

But it wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it that had me irritated. He had baited me for a fight and I was inches away from taking his bait.

I went back and re-read my prior e-mail to him. Looking at it subjectively, I had to admit that even though I hadn’t meant for it to sound ugly, someone who didn’t know that or know me might have understood it as ugly. So he had responded by taking things down a notch. And now, here I was, tempted to take us lower still.

There is a word for it. A five letter word that starts with a “P.” Proverbs tells us that only by pride comes contention. And in the legal world and in the real estate world, there is ton of it—both pride and contention—that is.

And sometimes, I get sucked right in. Like right now, when a realtor is trying giving me a legal lecture. I don’t need a realtor to tell me what the law is. That’s what I went to school for. What did he go to school for? Interior design? Auto repair? Landscaping? Tell me about those things.

When we are called on to “zealously” represent a client and to negotiate with other professionals, it is so easy to get caught in a battle where words become barbs and barbs become hooks that we use to drag others down.

I couldn’t count the number of days that have been ruined by a nasty exchange with another professional as we both try to do our jobs. I’ve been yelled at, I’ve been chewed up, I’ve been lectured, I’ve been educated, I’ve been blamed, I’ve been accused, and I’ve been just generally provoked.

And sometimes, I’ve fallen right in the trap. (I never create the trap, of course. Just fall in. Like the innocent victim of…well…of pride.)

Our egos, or rather, our pride doesn’t want the other side to get the final say. We want to win. Unfortunately, there is nothing to be won usually; just something to be lost—a relationship, a reputation, a testimony.

I have often regretted my words: what I said, and even more often, how I said them. In fact, the longer I work, the more I recognize the wisdom of kind words.

The problem with kinder, gentler, more peaceful responses is that they often require more humility than I have. I’m often not willing to be told I was wrong when, in fact, I could make a good case that I was right. I am often not willing to be told what I already know without saying, “I already knew that.” I’m often not willing to listen to someone else’s idea without saying, “I already thought of that.” I’m often not willing to take the blame that I believe belongs to someone else. Just writing these thoughts has brought back many things that came off my tongue that I could line up as “Exhibit A,” “Exhibit B,” and so on through the alphabet.

Mother Teresa is often quoted as instructing us to “speak kind words and receive kind echoes.” And she is right. If you live in a hollow tube. Personally, I would say that speaking kind words does not guarantee a kind response, although it greatly increases the chances.

Unfortunately, the chances are still good that sometimes, kind words will be greeted with an unkind response. Sometimes, my best effort at peacemaking will be misunderstood or just plain rejected.

And sometimes, I will still have to give orders, make offers, and tell truths that other people don’t want to hear. Sometimes I will have to ask people to do projects they don’t want to do; follow up with people who don’t want to be followed up with; change my plans and other peoples’ plans; and even reject their ideas. Sometimes I will be right and they won’t see it. And sometimes, I will be wrong and they will point it out.

So regardless of what I do and say, I will probably never win a popularity contest.

But I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.

I’m trying to please an Audience of One. I need to make sure the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be acceptable in His sight.

Regardless of what the other guy does. Regardless of who understands what. Regardless of how the other side chooses to respond.

And that is why it requires humility. Because Mother Teresa is only partly right. Kind words won’t always get you what you want. Not even echoes of what you want. There is no selfish reason to be nice all the time.

So this is me reminding myself to choose kind words—not for the kind echoes—but for the One Listener who is more concerned that I learn Christ-like humility than whether I have a cute post, a funny tweet, or a winning argument. Then, no matter what, the echoes of my words will be true and right…and they will probably be kind.