And What a Taxi Ride That Was!

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I was in the back seat of a taxi last Thursday afternoon, riding from LaGuardia Airport to the corner of 29th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, where I was to be met by my son, Brian, for a few days’ vacation in the city. I had taken similar taxi rides before on previous visits, and I looked forward to seeing his smiling face and spending time together.

Traffic was horrendous. It wasn’t time for rush hour to begin – it was a few minutes after 2:00 pm when I climbed into the taxi at the airport. My driver was a nice young man with a heavy accent, dark hair, and smiling face. From looking at his ID on the back of the seat in front of me, I deduced that he must be from a middle-eastern country, perhaps Iraq or Afghanistan. I gave him the address of Marble Collegiate Church, which was where I was meeting Brian, and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Two minutes into the ride, my comfort zone disintegrated, and I scrambled for my seat belt. This was one aggressive, and maybe, crazy driver. He weaved in and out of traffic, honking his horn every minute or so, while mumbling to himself in a language I didn’t understand. At times, it seemed to me that he was going around in circles, but in actuality, he was simply trying to find a better route to escape the snarling traffic. He got on his cell phone, talking, I assumed, to dispatch, as he tried to maneuver his way into Manhattan. He was frustrated, and impatient with the traffic situation.

Finally, we came to a dead stop. A tunnel entrance loomed ahead. About that time, Brian texted me, asking me how long until I’d be there. I asked my driver where we were, and if he could give me an approximate time of arrival. He apologized to me, saying that he didn’t know. Twenty minutes, maybe, not sure. The traffic was worse than he’d seen it in a long time. In his heavily accented English, he apologized again, with frustration evident in his voice, saying that maybe he should have gone a different way. I assured him that I understood it wasn’t his fault. My son just wanted an idea of how much longer it would be. It was taking longer than usual for me to get there from the airport.

We began to move at a snail’s pace toward the tunnel entrance. As we approached, we saw a sign indicating that the left lane of the tunnel was closed. All traffic was merging into a single lane, explaining the congestion. I commented that maybe once we got through the bottleneck, things would start moving again. He agreed. Inch by inch, we moved forward. Soon, we were inside the tunnel, and he told me that it wouldn’t be long now. But once we got fully inside, traffic stopped again.

Oh my! I began looking around me. I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel from behind me or in front of me. I began imagining every Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone thriller move I had ever seen, and was beginning to think about getting out of the taxi and walking. The tunnel walls, the echoing noise, the claustrophobia were all bearing down on me. I could get out and just tell the driver to pick me up at the tunnel exit. After what seemed like an eternity, we began to move – a little. Whew!

That was when my ride really got interesting. Brian texted again, and again I asked my driver how much longer. I explained – again – that my son was meeting me where he worked.

“Where does your son work?” he asked.

I told him that it was a church.

“You’re going to a church?” he asked.

“ Yes, my son works there,” I answered, “and he will meet me on the sidewalk outside the church when we get there. That’s why he wants to know about how much longer it will be.”

My driver was interested. From out of the blue, it seemed, he asked me if I was religious. I told him that I was, and I asked him if he was religious.

“I want to be,” was his simple answer.

He then began asking me about my religious upbringing and what was the most important thing I had learned as a child about God in my church. I told him that I had learned lots of Bible stories, but the main thing I had learned was that God is love, and that Jesus taught us that we should treat others the way we wanted to be treated (the good old Golden Rule!). All the while, I was thinking, I can’t blow this. What can I say that will be the right thing?

As we crept forward, we saw that the reason for the delay in the tunnel was a stalled car. It had been moved over to the closed lane by the NYPD, allowing us to progress on our trip. Passing it, I knew it would be only a matter of minutes before I’d be getting out of the taxi. I wanted to say something that would help this young man.

He said that logic made it hard for him to believe in a God of love. His mother loved him, but she wasn’t perfect, and she made mistakes. There are bad people on earth. How can we love them? How could God be all powerful without making mistakes, like his mother did? How can God love everyone? Even the bad people? Even those who make mistakes?

I was sweating bullets, trying to help him in the few blocks and in as many minutes that we had left to travel. I grasped for the only thing I knew to say. “God is in your heart and loves you,” I told him. “God wants us to love other people as God loves.” He asked me a few more questions, which I honestly can’t remember now, I was getting so flustered, trying to say what I believed should be said in such a short amount of time.

As I got out of the taxi, and handed him the fare, I looked him in the eye and said, “Remember – listen to your heart. That’s where God is. You won’t go wrong.” He smiled at me and put his hands to his heart.

With that, he got back into his taxi and drove away, leaving me pondering this unusual taxi ride while waiting on the sidewalk for Brian to meet me.

And now, looking back, I ponder even more. About many things. About getting stuck in tunnels. About stalled cars. About terrible traffic. About meeting Brian at the church. About being in that particular taxi. About saying the right thing. About a young man’s search for God.

About listening to my heart.

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Recurring Dreams

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All of us have recurring dreams in our collection of days – or should I say, collection of nights? Some are universal in nature, as I’ve learned through sharing my dreams with other people.

There’s the one where it’s the day of the final exam, and I realize I haven’t attended the class all semester. Besides that, I don’t even know where the classroom is! Almost everyone I know has had this dream.

Then, in keeping with the school theme, is the dream where I am sitting in my desk and discover that I don’t have any clothes on. Or, it is time to get out of my desk, and my shoes are missing. Or, it is time to take a standardized test, I don’t have a No. 2 pencil, and none of my classmates have an extra one for me to borrow. Who hasn’t had a dream like this?

There is also the dream where I am driving and need to stop my car. As hard as I push down on the brake, the car keeps rolling. I swerve every which way to avoid a collision, and finally wake up in a cold sweat. Thankfully, this happens in dreamland, and not in reality.

These three are among those I find common in other people’s nighttime adventures in dreamland. I’m sure there are others, but I want to share four dreams that I have had this week – three are variations of one of my own recurring dreams, and the other is an adaptation of one of the ones noted above.

Three nights this week, I have had dreams about moving. I believe these are somehow associated with the number of times I’ve moved from one home to another in my life, especially during my preacher’s wife days. In each of these dreams this week, I am packing up to move from one home to another. In the first dream, I am busy collecting last-minute items, only to discover that I can’t find any moving boxes to put them in. I am in a hurry to get the bookcases unloaded, the kitchen cabinets emptied, and my clothes out of the closet. I am in a panic, because everything has to be out of the house in a matter of minutes, when the movers will arrive.

In the second dream, I am also packing up to move. However, in this dream, I have to make decisions on what belongings to take and which to leave in the house. I find myself taking items down from a kitchen cabinet, placing them on the counter, and having to choose what goes with me and what stays. It’s the same with the bookshelf. I am allowed to take some books, but not all of them. Time is running out, and I have to decide! Again, I wake up trembling, my heart pounding, and my brain confused about what is real and what is a dream.

With the third moving dream, the moving van is packed and ready to go, and we have to get the remaining items loaded into the back of a mini-van. Where the vehicle comes from I haven’t a clue, because I’ve never owned a mini-van. Among the items that must fit into the vehicle are my cedar chest (which contains lots and lots of treasures from my life), several suitcases of varying sizes, a mirror (which will break if we aren’t super-careful), a stack of moving cartons, containing who knows what, and me and my two sons. In this dream, Wade and Brian are little boys. My husband is driving the moving van, and is impatiently waiting for me to do what I have to do. I am doing my best to stuff all this other stuff into the mini-van, so that I can follow him wherever it is that we are going. And, like the first moving dream, I awaken suddenly, still confused about what was dream and what is reality, thankful that my sons are grown and there is no moving day in my immediate future.

The fourth dream, and the one I find the most amusing as I look back at it, involves the universal theme of the dream of being naked in class, with a slight adaptation. I dreamed this one last night. In this dream, I was sitting in the last pew of a church during a communion service. The church resembled the one where Brian works in New York City. Ushers were directing everyone – by rows – when it was time to stand up and walk down the center aisle to partake of the elements. When it was time for our row to stand, I inched along the pew and entered the main aisle. As I walked in line behind the other parishioners, I realized that I had on nothing more than an extra-large “I Love New York” t-shirt that I sometimes wear for sleeping. And I was barefooted. I tugged at the shirt as I walked, making sure that it was long enough to cover the evidence that I didn’t have on any underwear. Thankfully, the hem of the shirt hit my legs slightly above my knees. When I got to the chancel area at the front of the sanctuary, the minister handed me the bread, which I then dipped into the goblet containing grape juice, held by another minister. Neither showed any sign that they were surprised at my attire, or lack of it. Same as in Methodist churches I’ve attended everywhere, I paused at the altar to kneel and pray. My sister, who was standing behind me, and who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, nudged me to tell me that we weren’t supposed to do this – that I was the only one kneeling. Everyone else was returning to the pews. When I got back to the row where I had been sitting, it was full. There was not room for me to sit. There I was, in my oversized t-shirt and no shoes, standing there, trying to figure out where I was supposed to go. Thankfully, I woke up before I embarrassed myself any further in dreamland, but wondering what in tarnation that dream was all about!

I am sure that someone could analyze these dreams for me and tell me something profound about my psyche to explain these crazy nighttime flights into fantasy, or more likely, some kind of warped reality. I certainly don’t know what makes me dream the way I do, or what makes these recurring dreams part of my life. I have no explanation for them, but I do find them amusing at times. At least, none of them are terrifying dreams, as some I’ve had at times in my life. I can smile as I write this account of my collection of nighttime dreams, and imagine what fascinating world I might visit tonight.

And I always wake up – safe in my bed – thankful that it was only a dream. And that I’m not out in public – naked!

I Can Do It Myself, Said The Little Red Hen…

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And she did.

In March, 2009, I was laid off from a job I loved and had hoped to have until retirement. The economic downturn changed my plans with a single visit in my office from my boss. I was a librarian without a library, a writer without an assignment, and an awards manager without an awards program. Needless to say, I was shocked and hurt that this had happened to me.

I went home, nursed my damaged ego for a few days, and then began thinking about what I wanted to do. I began applying for jobs, but it seemed as if nobody was hiring. The unemployment rate was growing by the day, and I was among the downturn’s victims. I began looking at something to occupy my brain and body until a job came my way.

I had always said that I wanted to write a novel some day, and as the thought began taking shape in my brain, I decided that this might be the time to actually do what I had been talking about for years. I got busy, spending a few hours each day developing my story and writing my book. It took about six months for me to write it, and when I was done, I worked up all the courage I could muster, and asked a few friends to read it. I was petrified of what they would have to say. But, wonder of wonders, they liked it!

That was the beginning of Fishbowls and Birdcages. Later that year, I sent the first 40 pages to a literary agent that Brian knew, and with fingers crossed, waited to hear what she had to say. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. She liked what she read, but told me that as a first-time author, my chances of getting published were remote. She couldn’t take the chance on me. I was disappointed, of course, but I told myself that I had done what I said I would do – write a novel. I’d just have to figure out a way to get it published.

I had loved the Stephen King novel, The Green Mile, especially the way he released the book in serial fashion, making his readers wait on pins and needles for the next installment. I could do the same thing! But I would release my story as a blog. I created a blog specifically for my book. Using Facebook as my marketing tool, I posted a blog link every few days – one or two chapters at a time – to entice people to read it. I think that probably about 20 people read the book, and a few were kind enough to tell me that they liked it. I was satisfied. I had accomplished my goal in writing a novel. I let go of the idea of publishing it, and tucked it away in the recesses of my computer.

Time passed, life happened, and my story sat silent until last year, when I decided to pick it up and read it again. As I read, I made notes, marked some changes that I wanted to make, highlighted stuff to be deleted, and found what I called a Fatal Flaw in the story. None of my readers had ever mentioned this to me. I wondered how I had missed it and how they could have missed it, too. – maybe they were too kind to say anything. I plotted the story’s timeline, re-worked it, deleted parts that weren’t necessary to the story, corrected the Fatal Flaw, added a couple of bridge chapters to make the story flow more smoothly, and began thinking again about the possibility of publishing.

The problem was that I didn’t have any money. I knew I would have to do it myself if I wanted my book published, but I didn’t know where to start. That’s when my son, Brian, got into the act. One night while talking to him on the phone about writing in general, and about his writing more specifically, I mentioned to him that I sure would love to publish my book. He told me about CreateSpace, a website he was using to publish his novel, and he encouraged me to take a look at it. I asked him to read my manuscript and tell me if he thought it was worthy of the publishing effort. A few days after I emailed him the story, he phoned me and said, “Go for it, Mom.” That was all I needed to hear!

Knowing Brian and his DIYDS motto for so many of his creative projects, I began thinking, “I can do it myself!” And with his help and encouragement, I can now announce that my novel, Fishbowls and Birdcages is now available for sale on Amazon.com.

Drawing on the 17 years of my life that I was a preacher’s wife, I created a fictional memoir of Fran, who found herself in a similar role as the one I had for those years. The story is not an autobiography, and the characters are not real. A few of them are inspired by people I knew, and some of the events are similar to those I encountered during those years. But Fran’s story is not my story, and Fran’s husband’s story is fictional, as well. While there might be a little of me in Fran, she is not me. Many of her thoughts and beliefs mirror mine after a fashion, but we are different and separate, and our faith journeys, while somewhat similar, are not the same.

It has been quite a journey for me. I am excited and terrified. I hope that people will like my book, and I am afraid they won’t. I don’t expect it to be a bestseller – my aim is not unrealistically high. My hope is that Fran’s story may touch someone’s heart, help someone through a difficult time, or cause someone to stop and think about faith in God and God’s calling.

I invite my blog readers to check out my novel on Amazon.com. I’d love for you to read it!

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I’m Still Writing – Look What I’m Up To!

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For anyone who might be wondering why I haven’t written anything in my blog for awhile, I have several lame excuses and one very good reason.

The lame excuses go like this:

I’m just too tired when I get home from work to think up anything creative.
Life has been much too ho-hum, and nothing exciting has happened in my life recently.
I haven’t been in the mood to write.
My computer died, and it’s taken me awhile to get used to my new one.

None of these excuses hold much water. First, I haven’t stopped writing. My journal pages fill up on an almost daily basis with things that are on my mind, insights I have along my way, and random thoughts that make their way from my brain to my journal pages. Second, my life really isn’t boring. There simply hasn’t been a whole lot going on that I have felt compelled to share with my blog readers. Third, I’ve been in the mood – I am almost always in the mood – to write, but I’ve chosen to concentrate on some other areas of my life and have set some of my writing aside at times. Fourth, my computer almost died – not quite, but it gave me quite a scare – and I had to buy a new one. I made the leap from PC to MacBook, and it’s taken me awhile to get used to the new way of doing things on my new computer.

So, those are my excuses. Now what is the very good reason? Drum roll, please…..

This past winter,I took the novel I wrote five years ago out of the mothballs, and revisited it. It wasn’t that good, but it wasn’t that bad, either. After consulting with my son, the professional writer, I decided to dive into it, make some needed changes in the story, re-design a couple of characters, tighten the storyline, and see what might happen. I attacked a major flaw in the plot, which involved deleting an entire chapter, changing the timeline, and adding two new chapters to build the bridge back in the story so that it would make sense. I then took what I believed was too much of me out of the main character and created one who still had some of me in her, but became a person in her own right with her own unique voice.

I also decided to self-publish it. With the help of Brian (my son), I am following his motto of DIYDS, and am preparing to publish it as a print-on-demand paperback and an e-book. The cost of doing this is minimal, but the time taken for editing, design, and all the intricacies of getting a book ready for press is something I am learning how to do. Brian and I even designed the cover! With a little bit of luck, I’ll have it ready for publication by late July. Fingers crossed!

I don’t know if anyone will buy the book, but that isn’t my main concern. I have written a novel, and I want to see it published and in print. Barring a catastrophe or something earth-shattering, I’ll soon have a book with my name on it that I can actually hold in my hand.

Wish me luck!!

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