God’s Taxi

When travelling from place to place, I love to ride in taxis! My conversations with cab drivers are often the highlight of a humdrum trip. They are so multicultural, so interesting, and have such wonderful stories to tell. I am rarely in need of a cab, except when taking my youngest daughter to her orthopedic specialist in Philadelphia. Over the years, my most memorable cab encounters have included parlés with an African exile, with a Middle Eastern émigré, with a naturalized citizen from Russia, with a Hispanic gentleman, and with an American family man. Because I am a very curious being, I am truly interested in their situations. What brought them to their present career? Where are they from? And so before long, we are exchanging stories. I ask how long they have been driving a cab, if they have a family, when they came to the city or to the country, and why. I always come away feeling blessed to know them, if only for a small moment. I take a mental snippet, a snapshot, of each driver as we pass into and out of each other’s company for the first and last time.


The young African cabbie who drove us out of Philadelphia one autumn afternoon had been in the country for over five years. He was a student at a college nearby. We spoke to each other in French and English. He and his brother came to the United States for a better life, and they would often send money to their mother, to their family, who still resided overseas. When I asked if he missed his family or how he could bear being so far away, he smiled and said that his life without them was a small sacrifice that he was glad to pay in order to give them a better chance at living. He and his brother planned to bring their mother to the States very soon; then afterward, a few family members at a time. Where he had come from, the government was very corrupt and there was little hope for the common people. Most of the drivers I have spoken with are seekers. They are seeking out peace and personal liberty, which makes me realize that despite our differences in backgrounds, we are all searching for the same things.


In another taxi experience, I hailed a cab to go from the airport into the city, and we were chauffeured by a Middle Eastern gentleman in a black turban. My daughter, Rowan, looked at him with big, curious eyes. He was a formidable figure dressed in black, speaking polite, broken English. At that moment in time, many Americans were feeling threatened by strangers in Muslim attire, but as I tried to talk with him, I noticed that he was feeling just as uncomfortable and awkward as many Americans felt. In speaking with him, we found a common ground and began to feel at ease. As humans from different world views, our basic needs were still the same- to be respected and understood.


As a foreign language teacher, I am always eager to practice and hone my skills. It is such a thrill to understand and to be understood in a foreign tongue. When riding with a Hispanic gentleman, we conversed in Spanish about the direction in which we needed to go. He was sure it was this way, but I was sure it was the other way. In the end, and one u-turn later, he had to concede that my memory for the best route was correct.


When speaking with a Russian driver, I was at a loss in speaking his native dialect. His eyes were wise, and his mouth curled at the sides in a calm and benign smile. I learned much about his culture and way of life in only a few minutes as he spoke very good English. For starters, I learned that there is a large Russian presence in a number of Northern cities. (There was also the question in the back of my mind about Russian mafia groups, but I convinced myself that a man with such a pleasant face could not be bad!) He spoke to me of his grown children, of his home, and he asked me about my travels and my family. At the end of our journey as the airport came into view, I believe we were both truly sorry not to have the time to learn more about the other.


Only once in about six cab rides have I had the experience of riding with an American driver! He enjoyed talking as much as I enjoyed listening. As we conversed, I learned that he had a daughter who was a teacher, like me, and he had grandkids about the same age as my own children. We seemed to have a lot in common, and I could tell that he enjoyed speaking with someone who was interested in more than just the destination.


As cab rides go, however, I never had a better experience than when God took matters into His own hands. I remember clearly how stressed and worried I was about our next trip to Philadelphia. I was not only worried about Rowan’s upcoming orthopedic appointment, but also about money. How was I going to afford the cab rides this time? I prayed about the situation, asking God for guidance to get us there safely and cheaply. I decided to go to the train platform at the airport. I knew absolutely nothing about the trains into the city, but it would cost less than half of the fare for a taxi. Rowan and I stood on the train platform for a few minutes, staring at an incomprehensible schedule attached to a concrete post. It was Greek to me.


I walked back toward the airport entrance where I had noticed an older gentleman sitting and chatting on the phone. He had an airport ID badge, so I assumed he could not be too dangerous. He was pleased to help, as I told him we would be aiming for the Ronald McDonald House downtown. The gentleman would not be going all the way into town, but he would go part of the way and point us in the right direction. Meanwhile, two businessmen had come down from the airport ramp and were milling around the train platform as I spoke to Mr. Airport ID Badge. My daughter and I walked toward the businessmen, ready to wait on the train. They were also staring at the train schedule, unable to make heads or tails out of the information. The taller one spoke a few words to me: “Do you know anything about these trains?” I had to confess my ignorance and mentioned my new best friend, Mr. ID Badge. He smiled and walked back to his colleague for a brief conference. They nodded their heads in agreement as they talked. Rowan and I stayed in the background a few steps away. The two men then approached me stating they had decided to hail a cab, and since they would be taking the fare as a business expense, would we like to ride with them??…A smile spread across my face as I thanked God for my rescuers!


Soon, introductions were made. Rowan and I were walking with two businessmen from Pittsburgh, Brian and Kirk, toward a line of taxicabs. Unbeknownst to them, they were acting as guardian angels to us that day. My fears dwindled, and I felt secure in God’s hands. Our angels from Pittsburgh were so helpful in getting us situated inside the taxi. Then, I turned toward the cab driver. As I have explained, I love talking to cab drivers. I am a student of culture, so I could not resist taking a long look at him. Our driver that day was very dark, sporting a white-toothed welcoming smile. He spoke broken English with a West African accent. Then, I spied something which was both astounding and comforting to me. The driver left a Bible resting next to his seat on the dashboard in plain sight. A thin devotional book accompanied the Bible, and I knew that my prayers had been answered that day. God had heard my need and filled it. He had taken care of me, a lone mother with a five year old daughter, in the big city. Both the Bible and the cab driver’s kind smile confirmed that I was not alone on the journey. Kirk and Brian took us to our destination, which was completely out of their way, refusing any kind of payment. May God bless them.


Although I learned a little bit about Kirk and Brian on the drive, I did not get the chance to talk with the taxi driver this time. I would have loved to have gotten to speak with him, to ask him about his story, to tell him how God used him in a small but significant way that day. But then again, maybe he knows all about God’s grace. Maybe he knows God cares for us all. Maybe he already knows that God uses each of us to confirm His love and existence to other journey-weary people, even if it is just for a miniscule moment. A lot can happen in those small snapshot moments– when we pass each other once in life, never to meet again.


Thank goodness for people like Kirk and Brian who step up to the plate when a stranger is in need. Thank God for helpful people like Mr. ID Badge. Thank God for the little moments, and thank God for those taxi drivers.


Here I sit in a “park and ride” parking lot, waiting to pick up my grandbaby for the weekend, and the scenes of summer road trips unfold before me. A sleek, silver minivan parks a few yards from mine, and I see a mother and her grown daughter struggling to pull two big dogs out of the back seat, trying to move them beyond a car seat containing a toddler who holds and waves his colorful sippy cup. After a few minutes of pushing, pulling, leashing, and juice sloshing, I smile at the family circus before me. I am completely entertained and absorbed as the panting dogs, longing to be free, are finally led past the child who baptizes them generously as they leap to the ground. The older mother grabs the dog leashes and is immediately pulled to a grassy area where her canines can sniff and snuffle around. Meanwhile, the younger mother is searching for something in the van, presumably a wet wipe, or a treat for the tike who is showing his impatience, still strapped in the car seat.


Then, as if to put an exclamation mark on the first family circus, another minivan comes to a stop at the end of the exit ramp very close to the parking lot. Motor still rumbling, the front doors quickly open and a middle aged man and woman hop out of either side of the automobile. The man comes from the passenger side, wearing a t-shirt and shorts. His wife starts around from the driver’s side in similar attire. What grabs my attention about the switching-drivers-on-the-exit-ramp-drill (admit it, most of us have done it) is that the man is wearing only white tube socks on his feet, so he is padding quietly on tip-toes around to the driver’s side. It looks as if he is afraid of waking someone (possibly a pack of napping kids) inside the dark interior. I have to grin at him. I know that he is simply hoping not to soil his white socks on the black asphalt, but the effect is wonderfully silly!


My turn came. I was destined to complete the three-ring circus. My daughter’s black clunker screeched to a halt in the little parking lot, smelling of burnt oil, right beside my own minivan. She’s late again! Here she comes, barreling out of the driver’s side, grabbing the back door and flinging two black diaper bags over her shoulder. I exit my vehicle and open the sliding door on cue. We pass each other, hurriedly give a kiss, and I begin pulling the baby, seat and all, out of her car’s back seat. Meanwhile my daughter has thrown the bags into my van. We pass again, give hugs and kisses and “I’ll call you”s. I secure the precious cargo, we both slam our doors shut almost simultaneously, in a synchronized swimming kind of moment, and we both turn the ignitions. Her car moves swiftly to the lot exit. I am following close behind, and we spin off into separate choreographed directions, neatly finessed. I smile as I exit, imagining myself taking a bow with a wave and a flourish to the still-sitting silver minivan full of dogs, juice cups, and harried adults. “Amateurs,” I giggle to myself. And I am sure they are staring after my tail lights, in awe, at the Grand Finale of family circuses.


What if people had expiration dates? What if we were born knowing the exact date we will perish on the shelf of life? (Oh, little Timmy was born on February 18th, 2000, and he expires on October 25th, 2067, so make note of that date, now!) What if our out-of-date stamp could be found printed in neat black numbers on the back of the neck or on the inside of an arm? I think we would live our lives a little differently if we had such a reminder of life’s brevity penned on our palms, don’t you?


If I had an expiration date, I would be less likely to waste time with frivolous and meaningless activities. I would want to squeeze in as much love, kisses, and hugs as I could. I would play more with my kids, and argue less with my husband. I’d worry less about the play dough stuck in the carpet, the overdue bills, and the mismatched furniture. I would talk less about television shows and more about real life. I would read more books, take longer walks, eat more ice cream, and have more fun. I would learn more. I would worry less about what other people thought of me, and I would spend every waking hour with my family, savoring the moments, the visits, even the tedious conversations. I would care less about the neatness of my home and more about the closeness of my connections with people. I would travel more, fear less, and laugh as much as possible.


If I knew my expiration date, I would thank God for every remaining day and take the opportunity to tell everyone about His love for them. I would see every day as a special day; as an opportunity to experience something unique within it.


On the darker side of this question, if we all expired like milk, we would not have to worry about how we would leave this earth. We would just start stinking until someone finally muffles a gag and decides to chuck us out of the house or throw us down a drain. Not a bad way to go, really, to just seep into the ground until we disappear, melting into oblivion. It sounds rather peaceful.


So, what if you knew your expiration date? What would you change? How would you live your life? Think about it. I have.

Ah, Reunions!

I just returned from my yearly family reunion where the whole clan comes together to eat, tell stories, and strum guitars for a few hours.  We adults spend time reconnecting with long lost cousins, catching up with new things in our lives and laughing at the retelling of old family anecdotes.  Meanwhile, our children are allowed to run wild for an hour or two, reacquainting themselves with 2nd and 3rd cousins, playing basketball, catching toads, and playing chase. 

 As with any reunion, hot dogs and ambrosia salads are plentiful.  Aunts and uncles hug nieces, nephews, and grandbabies as we all jockey for position in the food line.  It’s messy, it’s loud, and it’s chaotic, but I would not have it any other way!  This whirlwind of kisses, hugs, smiles, laughs, and pats on the back reminds me what is really important in life. 

 Forget the unpaid bills, the arguments, the hectic jobs, the heartaches, and the half-done projects.  Forget the rest of the world.  My yearly trip to Clarence, Missouri, (a tiny little town in the heart of America where my uncle lives) is the highlight of every summer.  This is the one place in the world where people love each other despite their faults (and who knows our faults as well as our own family, I ask you!?)  It is a comfortable place where my kids, my husband and I know we will be asked how we are, and an honest response is actually expected! 

The guests of honor are always my elderly grandparents, who are now 87 and 92 years old.  They are quieter and more subdued now than in earlier years, but they enjoy seeing everyone and hug them with as much vigor as they can muster.  Grandma sits in her wheelchair, and as she watches her great grandchildren playing, I see a wistful smile spread across her face.  I wonder what is going through her mind in these moments.  Is she remembering her own children playing?  Is she feeling as blessed as I do in this moment, realizing that our family has grown from two people into over fifty family members?  Does she see how important a role she has played in the lives of all of these little ones, now being taught the same values and commandments as she instilled in her own four children?  What a blessing she has been to so many! 

Grandpa loves the fact that we celebrate his birthday at the reunion.  He tells every person he meets on the street that his family is having a big birthday party for him, and why don’t they come by for a piece of his cake?!  Grandpa loves the attention, and we rise to the challenge by bringing our little ones to his lap, by kissing him as often as we can, and by bringing him mug after mug of black coffee.  We take scads and scads of pictures of him and grandma, surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Grandpa is excessively proud of his family’s accomplishments and is often heard bragging about one grandchild or another.  His faith is steadfast, and he often reminds us that the most important thing in life is to be saved by the power of God.  He often cries with a thankful heart when saying the blessing over the family meal.

These are memories I want to keep with me as I walk out into the world and go through life’s trials.  I want to remember the inimitable harmony of laughter created by my father with his brothers and sister.  It is one of the most joyful sounds in my world!  I want to laugh until I am breathless and feel the giddy lightheadedness I always feel after listening to my cousins recount ornery tales from glory days in the hay fields and farm houses of our youth.  I want to remember how to smile like I do on this day, how to take this love and mirth with me as a beacon through the dark times. 

Every year, I learn something new about my family.  And every year, I learn something new about life through my family.  This year, I learned that a person can, indeed, fall in love at first sight at any age.  My five year old daughter immediately became enamored with one of her older (eleven year old) cousins.  When I asked her why she was following him around, she simply said, “Mommy, he has a pretty face and glasses, and he is wearing brown tennis shoes.”  I guess that was enough to hook her for life, because she cried when we had to leave him.

The other thing I learned this year is that everyone has trouble in life.  No one is immune, no one comes through the world unscathed.  So, as the years pass, family becomes more and more important for love and support.  Despite our differences, we have so much in common, so much to be thankful for, and so many people who love us through good times and bad.  And to think, we are all a part of the Grand Plan.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:16

Many facets

Many faces

A girl with all of God’s graces.

Deep, dark eyes

And Sunshine hair

Reveals the angel- unaware.

Granny’s cheeks

And pout to match,

Yet auntie’s nose she’s grown and snatched.

Her legs are Daddy’s

And fingers and toes,

Yet his face is hers, too, if all were told.

Yes, the conceding dimples,

They’re mother’s pride,

But in Granny’s cheeks they seem to hide.

That dark, lovely face,

The hair of sunshine

Can make a woman fall in love…

I wish they were part mine.

Forgive me, dear readers, for alarming any of you. Regarding “Fallen Apples at Twilight,” -Thank you all for your warm comments. Sometimes I must write and bare my soul. It is a kind of therapy for me, and if I am to grow, I must admit to the potholes in my life. The good thing about this moody piece is that it is set at twilight, and as you know, twilight is just an upside-down dawn. I look forward to being flipped soon. 😉

A cool, autumn breeze was my only companion as I walked quietly and quickly over the familiar country road. No cars. No children. No husband. No following dogs. Just me, thankfully. The freshness of the air filled my lungs as I welcomed the cold and the solitude. It was not like me to enjoy the cold. It was not like me to wrap myself in such melancholy, but here I was, wanting to escape from so many things. Financial worries and loneliness had gotten to me this summer, and I was glad to see the season change. Although I had learned to love the brilliantly colored leaves and the thick carpet of red and gold across the Appalachian Mountains, I was never before so happy to see autumn, to see this stressful summer end. Maybe some of my preoccupations and heartaches would fade with the waning sun.


Walking more determinedly now, and then breaking into a light jog, I let my mind wander through a forest of fears. What could I do about the mounting bills? How could I remain loving to my family when I felt anger for some of their selfish choices? How could I bear the strain of dwindling interest in my marriage alongside my increasing need for closeness? What would soothe this agony of feeling unprotected, exposed and unwanted against the new acquaintances of a younger college crowd. Of our 17 years of marriage, the last 10 years had been difficult. What was to become of us? What about the kids? Should I just chuck it all and start over somewhere else? My eyes burned and watered in the wind. And then I sprinted. I ran to free myself from the hurtful things that imprisoned my youthful spirit.


When I was seventeen, I had great plans to see the world, to be brilliant and beautiful despite my shyness and uncertainty. At age eighteen, I met him. I pursued him. I won him easily. And then I wanted a wedding, a family, and no one could tell me that I was moving too fast into the adult world. I knew what I wanted. Or did I? Now, looking introspectively and in hindsight, I should have waited. I should have travelled. I should have had the experience of being pursued. I should have learned so much more. I should have been a different kind of person. A braver person. But I was always fearful- too afraid to make tough choices or to go out on a limb into the wild.


But the wild age of eighteen had turned into tame thirty- eight. Now the only wild thing about me was my wildly beating heart, slowing my pace along the narrow road. The breeze caught my face again, and a sweet, earthy odor took my attention. My feet walked along the right side of the road through crumbling asphalt and underneath a fence-row of ancient apple trees. They loomed above me, making craggy, gnarled fingers in the orange and blue twilight sky. All was silent except for a slight buzzing at the ground near the roots of the trees. I squinted in the dimness to find the source of the sound, and saw a swarm of yellow jackets feeding on the fallen apples that had rolled away from the grassy edge of this meadow onto the rocky gravel where I stood. Young and sweet fruits had unwillingly fallen from glory, rolled too swiftly through the grass, bruised and broken, pulverized and pulpy, still and silent below ravenous vultures, creatures of twilight.


I knew how that felt. The analogy was too strong, and my legs buckled. I sat sobbing on the side of the road, weeping beside the ruined apples, weeping for my spent youth, my lost love, my unrealized dreams. For a while, all I could do was stare at the massacred fruit and shudder involuntarily. The yellow jackets buzzed around my huddled form, diving at me, prepared to protect their juicy prey. It did not frighten me. I was too numb to feel the stings. Time was passing, getting too dark to see, but as I stared, I began to look at the apples individually, one by one. Some of them were lost causes, smashed and rotted beyond help or recognition. But some of them were salvageable. Slowly, I brought myself to my knees and began crawling through the mess, gathering a few good apples. I could save just a small number before it was too late. I carefully lifted the slightly bruised and intact fruits to my nose, smiling to myself and savoring the aroma. I stowed them in my jacket pockets, then swiftly moved to my feet.


A final survey of the area brought one more apple to my attention, red and green, small but still firm. I grabbed it and rubbed it against my sleeve, then took a bite. Yes, at least this one was still sweet. My unlikely harvest bulged from my pockets, a misshapen mass on my abdomen. I had done what I could do, and that was enough; there was no use in mourning too long. I had to give some things a second glance. I had to cherish the skin I was in. I had to walk home. I had to be better than my state of mind, to be brave, to be strong, firm, and sweet, like these freshly fallen apples.