My father told me to leave the next day. I found some shelter with a friend until he left to go back home. I sought aid from a few other college buddies but they couldn’t help. On Thanksgiving Day, my aunt on Long Island said I could stay with her. But when I called the next day to see if they could pick me up at the train station, my uncle said, “Your father really lashed into your aunt. I’m sorry, but we can’t help you.”
Weary from the begging, I gave up and made the E-train in New York City my home at night for three weeks. I continued to seek employment, even landing a job interview. But I had nowhere to take a shower. I tried a nearby university but the showers were being renovated. I had no other choice but to wash my hair in a toilet.
While riding the trains at night, I reflected on my motives, my goals, and most importantly, my faith.
Who was Jesus Christ to me?
I knew from rigid classroom teaching how history viewed Him. But what did He mean to me, huddled at the end of the subway car, warming my feet? I didn’t know. I do remember looking around the train, avoiding eye contact whenever possible, embarrassed over my dirty appearance, fighting off a nauseous feeling after truly comprehending this was now my bedroom. I had nowhere to go. Nowhere.
And I asked the question over and over again: Where are you, Jesus?
Then I did what came naturally. I pulled a notebook and pen out of my green garbage bag of belongings, and started to write. Was there something more to my relationship with Jesus than just my reciting of the Lord’s Prayer?
On New Year’s Eve in 1983, I walked through the streets I had biked as a kid, I started to cry. It was frigid and the wind rammed its force into my face, fingers, and toes. I didn’t want to spend another night on the dangerous subway. I walked quickly to a familiar church in the neighborhood, got there before the last service of the evening ended, and hid in the back, under a pew. I waited anxiously for everyone to leave, hoping no one would notice. They didn’t. I felt a sense of relief as the doors were locked.
I was alone. The wind creaked eerily in the old church, the slightest sound echoing loudly, causing my heart to skip a few beats. But was I really alone?
I walked to the front of the church. There was a makeshift manger with the baby Jesus lying in a wooden cradle. I knelt beside it and said a prayer for my mom. Then I wrote and wrote and cried. I looked at the innocent baby, His life lay ahead with so much promise, hope, and dreams. I spoke softly, telling the baby how sad I was. I even picked Him up and kissed His cheek. He was so beautiful, the dim light from above shining proudly on His face. I sat there for a couple of hours and reflected. This is who Jesus is. He was there for whenever I needed Him. And in a dark moment, I discovered the nature of our relationship. He said, “Write. Write. And Write.”
That spiritual conversation so long ago is what helped inspire me to send my characters in my novel, Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness, back in time to the last week of Christ’s life. Like myself, the characters struggled with their faith, and received an opportunity to truly understand what Jesus means to us all. It was a chance to understand God’s greatest gift – the gift of time, the gift of each new day.
It wasn’t long after that night that my aunt and uncle defied my father’s wishes and gave me a place to stay. Later on I married, and, after helping raise two daughters, time allowed me to revisit the memories of my homelessness, and my search for what Jesus really means to me.
Last year, I received an email from Simon & Schuster requesting the publishing rights to Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness. Since its publication, I have been fortunate to receive emotionally charged letters, phone calls, and emails from clergy, widows, a woman who lived in a car, those struggling with their faith, and those whose faith knows no limit. And just think -- it all started with those three weeks on a train, and one incredible night alone in a church.