SEEN ONE, YOU’VE SEEN THEM ALL?

What a joy it is to wake up with no schedule for a change!  Indeed, there is something about waking up at sea that trumps any other awakening that I know.  So much of what each of us does, where each of us goes, is repetitive: the radius of our living consisting of intersecting ever-deeper grooves of habit.  This is one reason why travel can be so energizing, especially when it encompasses places where you’ve never been before.

The sea, unlike paved roads, is never repetitive.  Not without reason is it referred to as the “trackless sea.”  And 71% of our planet is water.

On cruises, however, most travelers—surprisingly—experience very little of the sea.  In most cases, the ship leaves a harbor near sunset and by the time the passengers awaken next morning, the ship is either docking or already moored in another locale.  Only during “sea days” are passengers able to revel in the sea itself.

The Caribbean is sometimes referred to as “The Mediterranean of the Americas” a quadrangle enclosed on three sides by land (South America, Central America, and North America).  I had already experienced Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Dominican Republic, but other than Aruba, I’d never explored the rest of the Caribbean.  Nor would we on this cruise: only part of it.  That is one of the most frustrating aspects of this thing called “life”: so many places to see—and so little time!

I wondered how much variety there would be in our various ports of call.  Especially did I wonder after listening to a day-trip coordinator lecture to us on board Celebrity’s Constellation about the places we would be “seeing”— I use “seeing” advisedly, almost tongue in cheek, because I have ruefully discovered that all too many cruisers don’t really “see” much of anything but the ship itself and port city curio shops.  Some never get off the ship at all—except at the end.  Well, this particular lecturer, in an effort to seem “with it,” after describing many of the islands we’d be visiting, sabotaged the entire cruise by quipping, with a laugh, “Really, though, they’re all the same—beaches and palm trees; once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”  A summation about as profound as Ronald Reagan’s classic put-down of one of nature’s greatest wonders: “Once you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.”  In retrospect, I wonder how many of those who listened to that particular lecture ended up not booking any day-trips at all!  I strongly suspect that there were many.  As for me, even though I’d spent several of my growing-up years in the Caribbean, I couldn’t help but wonder, Could it be that he’s really right?  Oh, I hope not!

Well, we’d soon find out.

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Next Wednesday, we’ll stop at the island of St. Martin/San Maarten.

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REGENERATION

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
REGENERATION

Each of us has instilled in our DNA two virtually equal drives: the urge to work, achieve, and become; and the urge to escape completely from the workaday world. And herein lies the built-in tragedy inherent in the very concept of “living” a life without having to work—at any age! In Scripture, there is no such thing as “retirement,” but rather the divine expectation that each of us is to continue growing, achieving, until that very last breath.

So it is that those whose lives consist of perpetual leisure (vacation, if you will) are of all people the most miserable and unhappy. Just ask any manager of a Five Star resort or hotel what it is like to serve the super rich who play rather than live! What they discover by observing goalless trust kids is that they are incapable of enjoying a vacation—because vacations are all they know! Only those who work can enjoy vacations; only those who work can even comprehend the value of a vacation—or need one.

Though, in the Bible, there is no such concept as retirement, there is much said about Sabbaths, jubilees, changes of pace. Secular studies confirm that, admit it or not, without regular Sabbaths (once every week), the human mechanism quickly begins to misfire, break down, reach the point of ever diminishing returns. Those who are paid to be creative by bosses who demand of them seven-days a week on the job, soon realize that work without continual regeneration is a recipe for failure and burnout.

I concluded last Wednesday’s blog with these words: “My last conscious thoughts having to do with, How will this cruise change me? We shall be exploring the significance of that rhetorical question during the upcoming Southern Caribbean blogs.

Authors (authors worth reading, that is) all share one common trait: they are fascinated by this thing we glibly label “life” and the people (young, middle-aged, and old) they meet along the way. Before an author can write words worth reading, s/he must first do a lot of observing. And journaling. Without daily journaling, all one can remember later on (even just a day later) is just so much mush. For God only gives us a thought or epiphany that rings like a golden bell once. Thus, failing to chronicle such a thought within seconds or minutes, is to lose forever the benefit of having momentarily harbored these quicksilver thoughts that come to us but once in life. Both Matthew Arnold and Emily Dickinson (America’s greatest poetess) wrote about this phenomenon.

But the purpose of these blogs is not just to “hear my head rattle,’ but to share insights that come to me but once (in their full multidimensionality) with each of you who honor me by being willing to tune in each Wednesday to hear what I have to say.

Let me hasten to qualify that: to hear what God has to say. The reason being that long ago I realized that my own wisdom wells are shallow and my own thoughts are insipid; only God’s are worth reading. Thus it is that I daily pray the Prayer of Solomon: that God will grant me, just for this day, access to His wisdom wells, so that whatever I write will be worth whatever time it takes to read it. Consequently, if you discover perceived value in these blogs, dimly and inadequately phrased though they may be, written down in my earnest desire to be of service to those who are finding it difficult in the daily onslaught of 24/ media (produced, with all too few exceptions, by those who acknowledge no Higher Power other than themselves to give value to what they say and write), to find thoughts worth living by, it will be because God honored my request to access His wisdom.

Next Wednesday, we shall pick up from here.

Southern Caribbean Cruise

ANTICIPATION, BOARDING, SETTLING, SAILING

Each time we venture out of our squirrel cage and explore places we’ve never seen before, we change—or ought to. Last January, Connie and I joined our faithful travel buddies, Bob and Lucy Earp on a cruise to the Southern Caribbean, in order to celebrate together one of Lucy’s most special birthdays. Joining us on the cruise were Ed and Jo Riffel of Glasgow, Kentucky. We first became acquainted with Riffels on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera six years ago. Never will we forget that first dinner! It was a table for ten, and none of us knew the other six. Before long, introductions were made, and to Connie’s and my consternation, we discovered that all three couples came from Kentucky; since Bob was born in Kentucky, it was instant Old Home Week! To say we bonded would be the wildest sort of understatement. We’ve met as a group several times since at resorts or restaurants. Well, Ed and Jo Riffel were one of those twosomes. Afterwards, they joined the Zane Grey’s West Society, thus cementing our friendship even more. At any rate, we were able to convince the Riffels to cruise with us, thus bringing the birthday celebrants up to six.

FORT LAUDERDALE HARBOR


During recent years, Fort Lauderdale, Florida has become one of the world’s great cruise ship harbors. And it was a perfect—and blessedly cool—afternoon when we hugged our son Greg good-bye, cleared the milling cattlepens that process so many thousands (methodically and efficiently assigning and tagging and passporting and shipcreditcarding and roomassigning and dinnerassigning) each of the somewhat bewildered wannabe cruisers.

Eventually, we were ushered to our room, the door to our home for the next two weeks opened, and to our delight, the room was as perfectly prepared for us—including fresh fruit and fresh-cut flowers—as though we were royalty. First things we did after the door closed was to rush to our veranda, one of the very best things about cruising. Couldn’t even imagine booking an inside cabin—we’d get claustrophobic for sure!

For a time we sat there and looked out at the other cruise ships around us, each a beehive of activity just like ours. Then the Earps and Riffels logged in, so we evacuated and proceeded to explore our new home from prow to stern, lowest deck to highest. Afterwards, we returned to our room to await a process that seems like Russian Roulette: Will all pieces of our luggage be making the same trip we are? It is no idle worry, for unscrambling those thousands of multi-tagged suitcases clogging up a vast area of the terminal was not for the faint-of-heart. Every once in a while we’d be regaled by stories dealing with how much “fun” it was to sail out sans luggage. Happened on this cruise too, someone’s luggage ended up on another cruise ship—eventually, the baggage caught up with them. As somewhat seasoned travelers, we’ve learned to always carry on one case each, with enough clothing for a couple of days (toilet articles, meds, etc.), just in case. Several hours passed before we could breathe giant sighs of relief, when outside in the hall docked those precious arks containing our clothing and “stuff.”

Then it was time to separate his from hers and commandeer cupboard, closet, and shelf space for the coming two weeks. Finally, everything distributed and housed, we shoved the suitcases under the bed, and were ready for our journey to begin. This is one of the beauties of cruising: not having to repack suitcases each morning and evening.
When the time neared for sailing out we all climbed up to the top deck. Quickly we noted the usual separation between the physically fit and the lethargic: one took the stairs and the other waited in lines that were often long for elevators.
Up on top, we could look out at all the other cruise ships, also teeming with passengers on top in order to take photos of the sailings. Among our Fort Everglades Harbor sister ships were the Queen Mary 2, Crown Princess, Navigator of the Seas, and the talk of the cruising world, the new mega ship, Oasis of the Seas (a veritable floating city with probably 7,500 – 9,000 people, including crew) on board. Other ships were moored further away. As each ship cast off its ropy tentacles, smoke poured out of the smoke stacks, and it slowly eased out into the main channel. It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight as each ship, each as beautiful as its designers and builders could dream up, sailed out to sea, each one mantled with all the radiant colors of a tropical sunset.

AT SEA

Then we six made our way to the aft dining room, and were seated at the windowside Table 79, where we’d dine together each evening. Several hours later we returned to our rooms, and more tired than we’d realized, decided to forego any of the ship’s entertainment, instead opting to just sit out on the veranda and revel in the sounds, sights, and odors of the sea. And after a time—the luminosity of a rising room.

We retired, left the veranda door open a little so we could hear the waves breaking out from the prow and forward section of the ship, and an occasional seabird. As we encountered the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, the turbulence proportionally increased. I held my woman for a while, before she dropped off to a light sleep from which she’d awaken periodically; my thoughts, unlike hers, reveled in the oceanic turbulence, and I blissfully dropped off into a disgustingly deep [to Connie] sleep. My last conscious thoughts having to do with, How will this cruise change me?

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Judging by the responses coming in to us, our blog-readers appear to really enjoy and appreciate our “on the road” blogs, vicariously traveling along with us. In weeks to come, we will be stopping at St. Maarten, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire.

It will be great to have you along.

Easter, Lent, and “Easter in My Heart”

Once again we celebrate Easter, commemorating our Lord’s resurrection on April 7, A.D. 30. Given that Easter is one of the two holiest days in the Christian Church, it is surprising that there is such widespread confusion about what Easter is and is not. Indeed this recent question was addressed to me on Facebook: “Please tell me what Lent is.” In this blog, I am answering that question.

First of all, however, let’s find out how Easter began in the first place. It almost didn’t because the idea that special times might be considered sacred in themselves did not even exist in Post Apostolic Christianity. Instead, they continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though with a different emphasis: for instance, for Passover, Christ was considered to be the true Paschal Lamb.

As time passed and more and more Christians observed Easter, pitched battles were continually fought over when the Resurrection should be celebrated, the Gentile Christians espousing one time and Jewish Christians another. Not until the Council of Nicaea in 325 was there a consensus: that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and the same Sunday around the world.

Lent, quite simply, is a period of fasting during the 40 days preceding Easter. For instance, in the 2011 calendar, Lent (Ash Wednesday) began on March 9, and Easter Sunday (at the conclusion of Easter Week), will be celebrated on April 24.

Initially Lent was considered to be a season of preparation for baptism, of absolution for penitents, or of retreat or recollection, but there was little uniformity in practice. During the medieval period Lent fasting was vigorously enforced among the faithful; that consensus, however, broke down during the Reformation. By the eighteenth century, strict observance of the Lenten fast was generally abandoned.

Today, many devout Christians are returning to the earlier strong emphasis on fasting during the forty days leading up to Easter Week.

EASTER IN MY HEART

As an anthologizer of Christmas stories for nineteen years now, I never cease to be amazed at two realities: Where Christmas stories are concerned, I have untold thousands of stories to choose from; but where Easter stories are concerned, I have almost none! Why is it that Christians respond so differently to the two equally high days?

I really became aware of this discrepancy in 1999 when I signed a contract with WaterBrook/Random House to put together a collection of spiritually-based Easter stories for the Christian community. I was staggered to discover that they just plain didn’t exist! In fact, I seriously wondered if I’d have to tell my publisher that the book was impossible to produce. Finally, I took the matter to the Lord, asking that if it be His will that such a book ought to be, He’d open doors I knew not of.

I now quote from this precious book of Easter stories that almost wasn’t: “I never cease to be amazed by God’s incredible choreography. A number of years ago, when Christmas in My Heart was in its infancy, a friend of mine, the Reverend Dr. Darrell Richardson, called me up and told me that he was in town for a convention and had brought me a present. It turned out to be a large box of old (most over half a century old) inspirational magazines, all filled with stories. As the years passed by, I looked into the box once, picked out a Christmas story or two, then forgot all about it.”

Now, after earnestly praying to God, reminding Him that my final book deadline was almost upon me, and to “please help me find such stories—and quickly! . . . , one morning, the conviction came, Find that box of old magazines! In due time, I found it then searched through the entire collection. In the process, I found more great Easter stories than I had encountered all through the years! How incredible, and humbling, to realize that years ago, God knew the day was coming when those stories would be needed—and had them sent to me ahead of time! I no longer believe in coincidence: I have experienced far too many instances of divine scripting and choreography. But only recently did I find a biblical base for that assumption (Psalm 139:1-5, 15-16), one of the most life-changing passages in all Scripture.” (Easter in My Heart, 12-16).

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Easter in My Heart

Sadly, Easter in My Heart is no longer in print, but we still have copies available for those who seek stories that will reveal the deeper spiritual meaning of Easter for their children or for incorporating into Easter services in their churches.

For information on how to order, log in at and if you let us know right away, we’ll fire off a copy to you in time for Easter week.

Do let me know your thoughts, reactions, and responses to this blog.