LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part Two

BLOG #34, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part Two
August 26, 2015

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As our long-time blog-readers know, I first wrote about trains a little over a year ago. A number of you responded to that series. Now we were back on the same route, but in late summer rather than spring. Each season, on Amtrak, is different. Indeed, no two journeys in life are ever the same for life never repeats itself.

The reason for this particular trip was a family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. More on that at a later date.

I’ve become convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God takes special delight in vicariously traveling on trains. Again and again I’ve seen our universe’s Master Choreographer set up anything-but-chance meetings between His children on trains. For there is something about train travel that lends itself to introspection, to thinking deep thoughts about life, of posing Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who Am I? Where Have I Come From? And Where Am I Going?

When I travel, I habitually load myself down with comp books to give away to those who appear to be seriously interested in them. This time, since I was traveling by train, I took twelve of my most recent: Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten, My Favorite Angel Stories, and My Favorite Miracle Stories; all found homes by the time we detrained in Denver nine days later. In trains, people read.

Just to give you a feel for the people who shared the train with us, I’ll tell you about some of them:

On our westward-bound train two roomettes behind was a vivacious young woman and her in-love-with-life nine-year-old daughter. Since their door was often open and they were often reading aloud to each other, I stopped to get acquainted. Since the little girl loved books about animals, I inscribed Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten to her. Within only a couple of hours she was already part way through. The mother was using the train as a vehicle to teach her the geography of our nation. Clearly, the mother strongly controlled electronic gadgetry, for I never saw the girl with one. Instead, she was entranced with all she saw out her window and the people who walked down the hall.

One couple was only going over the Rockies and down to Glenwood Springs (one of the most spectacular train trips on the continent). They planned to stay in a hotel in Glenwood Springs, swim in the vast hot springs pool, wander around town, then board an eastern-bound train back to Denver. This section of the Rockies is extremely popular with Coloradans.

Sitting next to us at breakfast was an athlete from Fresno, California, who plays basketball for Wichita State. He was returning from attending a wedding in Breckenridge, Colorado. He told us he much preferred train travel to air travel. Also at our table was a lady from Nevada City, Nevada who travels a lot, as often as possible by train.

A couple from Wisconsin sat with us at noon. In the Observation Car I sat next to a lovely young graduate in music from BYU. I’ve long been amazed at how many young people travel on trains, seeking answers for life problems. Turns out she was one of them. Deeply troubled by a romance with a young man who did not share her own close relationship with God, she had hoped to find someone on the train she could trust to listen to her story and perhaps offer guidance or suggestions. Above all: kindness, a quality she’d discovered to be all too scarce in this hectic society we live in. She read my own life-changing-story in the new Miracle book—and that convinced her that I could be trusted. Just before she got off in Reno, I inscribed a copy of the Miracle book to her; and she, in turn, inscribed a copy of her new CD release. I shall always treasure the words she wrote on it.

But by that time people to my left and across the aisle asked to see my books, and confessed to having overheard our dialogue. One of them, a grandmother of an eighteen-year-old co-ed was treating both her daughter and granddaughter with this train trip, coast to coast then south to San Diego and back to the East Coast. All in honor of her granddaughter’s graduation and birthday. I inscribed a book to the lucky girl. Two older women traveling together (across the aisle) stopped me and thanked me for taking the time to counsel the BYU graduate. It never ceases to fascinate me to see how open travelers are to share serious, even intimate, things with strangers they’d not even share with family members or close friends; reasoning, no doubt, that they’d never see their traveling listeners again anyhow.

After our five-day family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we boarded an Amtrak eastward-bound train). On board were two train historians who, on the intercom, pointed out places of historical significance as the train approached them.

Also on the train was Tony, a retiree from New England (and whose single great obsession in life was trains). Even his CHASE credit card was Amtrak-designated. All points translated into Amtrak trips. Also, he regularly attended all key get-togethers for obsessive train devotees like him. In fact, it appears that Amtrak employees across the country recognize him on sight, even calling him by name in the dining car. He regaled us with many fascinating stories about Amtrak culture. He even got to meet the Amtrak president – twice.

We ate lunch with a British family, owners of an ice cream establishment in the UK. Both of their sons are techies, who are so interested in attending the University of California at Berkeley that they both attended a special class for serious applicants there: the younger one was on the train; the older one was still in Berkeley.

At dinner, we got acquainted with an ER doctor and his wife from London. They enthusiastically praised all that they were seeing in America.

Then there was the young techie from Munich, Germany, who had landed a contract job in San Francisco. He’d seen most of our national parks already, and climbed a number of our highest peaks. Indeed, he was planning to climb Long’s Peak ( one of Colorado’s fabled 14-ers) next day. He even liked the relative slowness (up to 80 mph) of U.S. trains, pointing out that many of Europe’s bullet trains move so fast the scenery is just a blur.

Unforgettable too were the young family doctors who were on their way to Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they were setting up a family practice. Their baby boy was the darling of the entire train—everyone, even the Amtrak employees, gravitated into his orbit.

All in all, on Amtrak, you will rub shoulders with people from all around the world. And if you have not yet traveled by train, put it on your Bucket List this very moment. Train trips will enrich your life in ways past quantifying.

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LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part One

BLOG #33, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part One
August 19, 2015

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Once more, we heard the haunting “All Aboard!”

Once more we were shown to our aptly-named “Roomette,” and shoe-horned ourselves in. And once more, we felt forward movement—another adventure begun.

Sadly, air travel offers little adventure anymore: cramped seating with only inches separating passengers and no leg room at all. Food-wise: maybe crackers, pretzels, or cookies. Only on transcontinental flights do you receive more than that. And once you climb to cruising altitude, all you see are clouds below you.

Not so, train travel. Comfortable seats with plenty of space between passengers and more than adequate leg room. Large windows; and in the Vistadome cars, glass overhead as well. A café car for snacks and a dining car for meals. For those who travel in sleeping cars, all meals are included. For travelers with families, larger sleeping quarters are available.

Children love it for they are not strapped down and can roam the train at will. Once they experience train travel, they can’t wait to get on another train. They are mesmerized by the scenery outside their windows: the mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, oceans, cities, people, animals, birds—entranced, they watch as the scroll of America unwinds before their very eyes. But adults too are fascinated at being able to really see America.

It is travel as it used to be. No driving hassle, jockeying with traffic; no toll booths, no road-work.

Equally significant: on trains travelers from all over the world get the opportunity to really get to know each other. In the dining car, you are seated in groups of four or six, facing each other; thus everyone gets acquainted. One hears much laughter for, once introduced to each other, they share their personal journeys with each other and become friends. Since many of the seats in the Observation Car are set at angles, this too encourages conversation. Others gather around tables conversing or playing table games.

At night, room attendants convert roomette seating into bunk beds. Admittedly, the beds are narrow and the overhead mattress is thinner than the one below, but even so one can sleep far easier than those on coach seats. There is something sleep-inducing by lying down on a train bed. Once the train is in motion, the gentle rocking is akin to being rocked to sleep as a child. You tend to awaken only when the train stops. And in the interstices of sleep and waking is the haunting sound of the engine horn far ahead drifting past you.

For this particular trip, we left our home on the top of Conifer Mountain, 9700 feet in elevation high in the Rockies, drove down to Golden as dawn broke; there we boarded Light Rail for the brand new renovated Union Station, already the hub of downtown Denver. Here we boarded the California Zephyr that had departed from Chicago the day before.

No sooner were we ensconced in our roomette when the train left the station. Shortly afterwards, on the intercom, we were invited to head up to the dining car for breakfast. Then we’d ricochet down the weaving cars like drunken people, laughing all the way. After being seated by another couple, we gazed out the window as the train began the long ascent to Moffat Tunnel in the Great Divide (from which all Front Range rivers run to the Mississippi and the Caribbean and all rivers on the other side empty into the Colorado and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez/Pacific Ocean).

We’ll continue this saga on Wednesday, August 26th.

 

Living to Be 100 Years Old!

BLOG #14, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LIVING TO BE 100 YEARS OLD
April 8, 2015

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The cover story in the April 5, 2015 Parade was titled “Living to 100.” The author, Ginny Graves, notes that there are 53,364 centenarians in the U.S. today; however, experts predict that number will skyrocket to 600,000 by 2050.

There has been much publicity recently about the so-called Blue Zones (areas with the highest concentration of centenarians). Most prominent are Sardinia; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and, in the U.S., Loma Linda, California.

Graves notes that journalist Dan Buettner has become a longevity guru, thanks to books such as his new one, The Blue Zone Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People (National Geographic Books).

Here are some of Buettner’s conclusions about Blue Zones:

●   They tend to hang out with individuals who share their healthy living philosophies. A Brigham Young University study confirms this: those with strong connections were twice as likely to outlive those who do not.
●   They exercise regularly, often choose to walk with friends three, four miles a day at least four times a week. Their lifestyles encourage physical activities rather than sedentary ones.
●   The world’s most robust centenarians stick with diets that are 95% plant-based; eating some fish but little meat. In a major study, British researchers found that those who ate seven or more portions of vegetables and fruits every day, lowered their risk of dying from cancer by 25%, and from cardiovascular disease by 31%. Many drink a glass of wine each day. They eat smaller portions.
●   They generally belong to a faith-based community. Buettner notes that attending services four times a month can extend life span by 14 years.
●   Marital commitment alone can add up to three years to one’s life.
●   Extended family interaction significantly extends life.
●   Crucial to longevity is having a purpose, reasons for facing and living each day.

* * * * *

My own research confirms all this:

1.   Studies confirm that there is an extremely strong relationship between mind and body. If the mind tells the body, I’m retired now; so I can just loaf and veg out each day, the brain sends out a mandate to the body’s defense armies (the white blood cells): Dismantle the defense system for there are no longer any dreams or goals to protect. And you die. Often in a short time-period. Only those retirees who establish new goals, create new passions, find new hobbies, and dream new dreams, are likely to live long.

2.   There are no plateaus where health is concerned. One is either getting stronger (the body essentially rebuilds itself every 100 days) each 100 days, or one is getting weaker. Consistent daily exercise is absolutely essential.

3.   Vibrant Blue Zoners work hard each day to remain relevant intellectually. By continued study and voracious reading, they stay current with the Zeitgeist; thus their writing and speaking can have a profound effect on society. This is why aging luminaries such as Warren Buffett remain so iconic, and their wisdom is sought after.

4.   Blue Zoners never feel old. For them “old” remains a long way off. When my great aunt, Lois Wheeler Berry was 105 years old, she continued to maintain that “Old is fifteen years older than you are.” She was right: age is a state of mind; some are old at 10 and others remain young at 110!

So each of us has the potential (short of unforeseen calamaties or diseases) to live long vibrant lives, on past 100 years. But no one can slide or veg into it. It demands daily VIBRANT LIVING and perpetual joie du vivre.

 

Love — What Is It?

BLOG #6, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE – WHAT IS IT?
February 11, 2015

Valentine’s Day is upon us once again–and merchandisers are hoping to milk it to death before it passes. Romance is in the air – everywhere. Is not that a good thing? Of course it is! I ought to know: of our 89 books and counting – 74 being story anthologies—, love predominates. It is a key reason the Christmas in My Heart® series will turn 24 this fall. Readers young and old turn first to the love stories, and re-read them most often. They tell me about it in their letters to me.

But love – at least in America – is not what it was when I was growing up. Because of our so-called “Hookup Society,” in which sex is instant, bypassing all the traditional preliminaries and totally divorced from commitment or even long-term friendship, disillusion and heartbreak is almost a given. Ergo the current epidemic of suicides among the young.

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Perhaps it is time for me to revisit one book that features my favorite love stories: Heart to Heart Stories of Love (Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, 2000). Specifically, the Introduction: “The Many Faces of Love.”

What is love anyhow? It is the magical ingredient that no scientist has ever been able to isolate, the yeast that can transform a friendship into love, marriage, and family.

One of my favorite definitions of love came from the pen of Washington Irving, one of America’s first great writers. His only love, Matilda Hoffman, died when Irving was twenty-six. He never married but authored one of the most romantic books ever written, The Alhambra. The book contains one of my favorite love stories, “The Pilgrim of Love” (a little bit too long for this collection). In it, a prince who has been shut up in a palace tower learns the language of the birds, and a little dove teaches him what love is:

“Love is the torment of one, the felicity of two, the strife and enmity of three, . . . the great mystery and principle of life, the intoxicating revel of youth, the sober delight of age. . . . Every created being has its mate; the most insignificant bird sings to its paramour; the very beetle woos its lady beetle in the dust; and yon butterflies which you see fluttering high above the tower and toying in the air, are happy in each other’s love.”

One of the loveliest summations of what love is was written by my cherished friend, Arthur Gordon, in his great book, Through Many Windows:

“Love . . . is a shining thing, like a golden fire or a silver mist. It comes very quietly, you can’t command it, but you can’t deny it, either. When it does come, you can’t quite see it or touch it, but you can feel it—inside of you and around you and the person you love. It changes you; it changes everything. Colors are brighter, music is sweeter, funny things are funnier. Ordinary speech won’t do—you grope for better ways to express how you feel. You read poetry. Maybe you even try to write it. . . . Oh, it’s so many little things. Waltzing in the dark, waiting for the phone to ring, opening the box of flowers. It’s holding hands in a movie; it’s humming a sad little tune; it’s walking in the rain; it’s riding in a convertible with the wind in your hair. It’s the quarreling and making up again. It’s that first drowsy thought in the morning and that last kiss at night.”

THE STAGES OF LOVE

God designed us to take joy in natural stages, including the natural stages of love.

His plan is simple but beautiful. First, we watch our parents: the love they show to us is the love we shall pass on. Second, we experience the love of God, which becomes the catalyst for our philosophy of love. Third, we love the innocent and pure love of childhood—friendship in its most disinterested form. Then there is the love of adolescence. If we preserve our virginity until marriage (God’s plan for us), this teen period will be a time for developing some of life’s stronger friendships. In this time of seasoning, of gradually developing values to live by, there is no place for sexual passion, which can do nothing at this stage but destroy, disillusion, and rob us of one of God’s greatest gifts: coming to the marriage bed as virgins. Adolescence is followed by young adulthood, time for us to be blinded with the rapture of first love; time for us to get to know each other as friends and soul mates; time for us to compare our pasts, presents, and futures, in order to see if we are truly compatible; time for us to see if our families would be compatible—for we do indeed marry families; time for us to discuss God and church and how big a role we would allocate to them. Then and only then are we ready to think seriously about marriage and family. God designed the process to crescendo as the marriage day nears, culminating in a wedding without guilt, stigma, or regrets.

Today’s media leaders seem determined to destroy all of this. They sell us a bill of goods. They tell us, as did the serpent in Eden, that God lies, that instant gratification will make us gods. They tell us that modesty, virginity, purity, and integrity are for fools. They tell us that minds and hearts and souls don’t matter at all; all that really matters is self-gratification, gusto. They tell us—over and over and over—that sex has nothing to do with friendship, love, respect, commitment, or being soul mates. Instead, they claim that sex is an acquired skill, like golf or hockey, and the more teachers we have in this respect, the better. They tell us that preliminaries are for the simple: five minutes after we meet, it’s time to disrobe and show the other “how good we are” in bed!

What the media doesn’t tell us is that virginity is an absolute: one can no more be partly a virgin than one can be partly pregnant. They don’t tell us that Eve’s first response after eating the apple was not godlike euphoria but a guilty realization that she was naked. They don’t tell us that, with the sexual act, all of the illusions, all of the progressive beauty of getting to know a soul, heart, and mind prior to getting to know the body—all of that is irretrievably lost. They don’t tell us that even the marriage ceremony itself is anticlimactic if we have already lived together.

Permit me to quote here from one of my books, Remote Controlled (Review and Herald Publishing, 1993):

Last year in my world literature class we read and discussed Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I have asked many previous classes to read the book, but it had never before elicited the response of last year’s class: “Dr. Wheeler, what naive innocents Cosette and Marius are! . . . Sitting there on a park bench day after day, just talking and looking at each other!” And for the first time it really came home to me what the media has done to our conception of love—in this case, romantic love.

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There is no magic to love anymore. No hauntingly beautiful, gradual unfolding of the petals of love, leading up to the ultimate full flowering of marriage and a lifetime together. No, in today’s fiction and celluloid portrayals, there are no courtships. There are in today’s music and MTV, in today’s advertising, not even any preliminaries! Boy meets girl, man meets woman, and bam! If the chemistry is ripe—and it apparently almost always is—before the relationship is more than minutes old, before they so much as date awhile in order to see whether or not they even like each other, before they so much as hold hands, before they so much as experience the rapture of that first gentle kiss . . . before any of this, within minutes they are nude and in bed with each other! This is what my students were really responding to in . . . the courtship of Marius and Cosette.

The truth that seems to have been forgotten in our modern era is that sexual purity before marriage nurtures and preserves the magic of romantic love. . . .”

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Even though this book is today out of print, we still have new copies available. The price is $13.99, plus shipping of $4.50; $6.00 if you want priority mail). Specify if you wish the book to be personally or generically inscribed, and to whom. No extra cost.

Our mailing address: Sage & Holly Distributors, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

WHY SHOULD WE TAKE VACATIONS?

BLOG #34, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY SHOULD WE TAKE VACATIONS?
August 20, 2014

Why indeed?

This was the question Washington Post columnist Brigid Schulte tackled in her August 10 column in The Denver Post.

Schulte notes that “We Americans work hard. Weekends are more like workends. We sleep with our smart phones. And we think vacations are for wimps. So we don’t take them. Or take work along with us if we do.”

We are indeed a nation of workaholics. Indeed we are the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy. One in four workers, typically in low-wage jobs, have no paid vacation at all. Those who do, get, on the average, only ten to fourteen days a year. Europeans enjoy twenty to thirty days of paid vacation every year.

Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, maintains that “when people go on a relaxing vacation, they tend to return happier and more relaxed. . . . And those mellow, good vibes spread like “a contagion’ to everyone you come in contact with. . . . Send everyone away on vacation at the same time [as is true in Europe], and that contagion takes off through the population like a viral happiness pandemic.”

Hartig and his colleagues conducted a major study based on the incidence of anti-depressant prescriptions in Sweden during the years 1993 through 2005. They discovered that the more people took vacations at the same time, the more prescriptions dropped exponentially. True for men, women, workers, and retirees. Since 1977, Swedish law has mandated that every worker must be given five weeks of paid vacation each year (and they may take four of them during summer months. “The benefits,” maintains Hartig, “are huge. Not only is the society measurably happier, but workers are more rested and productive, relationships are closer and people are healthier. And depression is a very costly disease.”

Depression alone costs the U.S. economy an estimated $23 billion a year in lost productivity.

* * * * *

We were not created to run non-stop, but rather to take time off from work at least once a week. Scripture mandates Sabbaths during which we may regenerate. Longer Sabbaths were also mandated periodically. Multiple studies have confirmed one universal truth: Those who work non-stop soon reach the point of diminishing returns. The more hours they put in on the job the less effective they are, the staler their ideas are. So employers who work their employees to death end up losing even more than their employees do.

Furthermore, unless you frequently get out of your workplace squirrel cage, you never gain fresh ideas at all, but merely recycle increasingly outdated concepts and methods.

So back to Hartig who notes that, in Sweden, “It’s like there’s this national agreement that it’s vacation time, and work will be left aside. So instead of working and being distracted and busy, people get outside. They do things they like and enjoy. They see friends, visit their aging parents, or finally have time for that cup of tea with a friend who has been blue.”

* * * * *

America continues to pay a terrible price for our workaholocism. The current epidemic of depression and suicides ought to be a wake-up call for us.

We must take time to live!

TRAIN — THE NEW WAY TO TRAVEL (part 1)

BLOG #21, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
TRAIN – THE NEW WAY TO TRAVEL (Part One)
May 21, 2014

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Yes, trains, long considered antiquated and a quaint holdover from the past, have quietly and unobtrusively in recent years become the “in” thing with thousands of travelers. Hadn’t realized it until Connie and I boarded The California Zephyr at Denver’s rapidly changing Union Station on April 20. Actually, “rapidly changing” is a major understatement, for it is a stunning transformation. Even though the construction is still going on, it is the talk of the plains: A new upscale hotel is going in, buses from all over the region have been rerouted so they disgorge and pick up passengers in a large state of the art underground terminal directly below the train waiting room. Same for light rail. As a result, already over a billion dollars of new construction is changing the city skyline of what locals call “LO-DO” [lower downtown].

The initial news that Sunday morning was not good: the train would be two and a half hours late. We later discovered that a big fire had broken out near the tracks in the vicinity of Omaha. But not to worry, the train would make up a lot of the time later on. And it did: an hour and a half of it before we reached Sacramento. But the delay didn’t appear to bother anyone very much. Just accepted it as another example of what regulars label “AMTRAK time,” the result of freight train corporations owning the tracks, and consequently having priority over passenger trains. But, in reality, as everyone knows all too well, air travelers face jammed skies and weather-based delays and cancellations virtually every day, not counting mechanical problems—so, delay-wise, it can be a Hobson’s choice.

ALL ABOARD!

Since it had been some years since we had last traveled by train, we wondered what it would be like in the Year of our Lord 2014. It was enough that finally here around the bend, the long silver city on steel wheels backed into the still-under-construction station. We were surprised to see how excited we were–it had been a long time since we’d experienced anything but dread and distaste over the prospect of boarding yet another flying cattle-car. So this was different. How different we didn’t yet realize.

We quickly discovered that, as through-travelers to California, we were assigned a through-car. Not so for shorter-distance travelers who had to settle for potluck car-wise. But not to worry: they could later change seats if they so desired.

Downstairs (adjacent to the restrooms) were storage facilities for large suitcases. No charge for them such as is true with most airlines today. The smaller case we could stow in the overhead above our seat upstairs. After picking just the right seats for the anticipated view, and then positioning our smaller suitcase or bag overhead, with a giant sigh of relief we took our seats and watched the scurrying around, including the boarding of the last passengers and train attendants–and the journey began.

Unlike air travel, where only the person sitting next to a window can see out, here everyone can see. Furthermore, passenger jets fly so high today that rarely can even those sitting next to the windows see what is passing below; whereas in trains, the continually unrolling of the travel scroll reveals a world that’s only feet away–and not 40,000 feet away such as in airplanes.

After a while, an attendant came through, checked to see if we were through-passengers, then wrote our destination down on a card and attached it to the overhead rack. Later on, we learned the reason for that: late at night, unless aroused by an attendant, some people sleep through their destinations. One young woman in our car, who was supposed to get off in Elko, Nevada, dropped off to sleep after being awakened, and didn’t get off until Reno; there she had to wait for the next eastbound train the following day.

After we had been checked in, we were free to wander. What a difference from air travel where, most of the time, you remain strapped to your seat, and only get up for potty breaks. Even then, in the forward compartment, no one is allowed to wait in line. No such restrictions on the train. The most popular place to be is the observation car, for there you can look up as well as out. In our case, since passengers see two of the most beautiful mountain ranges in America (The Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas), in consecutive days, almost everyone jockeys for a seat in the observation car during those stretches. Especially was this true when traversing Colorado’s iconic Glenwood Canyon.

The snack car too was almost always in use by someone. And then there was the Dining Car, where three meals a day are served. Reservations are easy to secure. Only when your number is called do you enter the Dining Car. Then you are seated. Unless you specifically ask to be seated alone, generally you join others already seated. We always prefer to thus get acquainted with our fellow travelers, for that’s what makes train travel so fascinating. Reminded me of the long-ago days when air-dining was such a pleasure; today, you’re lucky if you get pretzels, peanuts, or crackers. On the train, it is a leisurely affair–no one hurries you. Though you don’t dine on fine china, at least you have clean white tablecloths, and can order from a surprisingly large array of options. Even for vegetarians such as us. And the food was certainly good, and those who served us most gracious and interesting to talk to. And it was clear that they–and all the other train attendants we chatted with–loved their job. Many had worked for AMTRAK for much of their entire careers!

So what a different world! No reason to be struck with deep-vein thrombosis that happens on long air flights, because everyone is free to wander. Children love it, for it’s like the entire train is just one long fascinating moving playground. In fact, a good friend of ours, who when he heard we were traveling by train to California, asked what we thought of train travel. After listening to my answers, he booked The California Zephyr west to Emeryville [San Francisco], and the coastal AMTRAK south. He and his family of four got off at Santa Barbara and drove up to President Reagan’s mountain hideaway; then drove on to Disneyland, after which they headed home by the same route. Later I asked him what he thought of train travel. He had booked a family sleeper [though AMTRAK travel is generally cheaper than air travel, sleeper compartments cost considerably more – sort of like traveling business class by air]. He said his kids loved train travel! In fact he said, they’d asked if they might always travel by train from here on!

But our journey had just begun. Part two of “Trains – The New Way to Travel” will resume on Wednesday, June 4; as next week we’ll break for Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club June book selection. By the way, there’s always lots of time to read on trains.

I have so much more to share with you about why so many people – including young people (college age and young adults) – are gravitating to train travel today. See you June 4.

JUST ONE DAY AT A TIME

BLOG #15, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
JUST ONE DAY AT A TIME
April 9, 2014

Next to me in an office supply store line was a young woman in her mid to late 30s. She was working so hard to get just right a lamination of a long sheet of quotations that everyone in the waiting line got interested in her. Turns out that it wasn’t even for her, but for a dear friend. When I mentioned to her that her friend was lucky to have such a caring friend, she remarked in a very soft voice to me that creating this gift for her friend took her mind off her own troubles.

Conversationally, almost as an aside, I said, “Hopefully, your troubles aren’t too bad.”

When she puddled up, I realized I was in too deep to back out without further dialogue, and, well, one question led to another and before I knew it we’d moved away from the counter so she could speak confidentially. It helped that she’d purchased some of my books in recent years and trusted me.

It was far far worse than I had imagined: her husband had recently died from cancer. . . . Her teenage son had got in with the wrong crowd, overdosed on drugs, and died. . . . Without her husband’s income, she’d lost their home. . . . And the final straw: she’d lost her job too. She was homeless and destitute and didn’t know where in the world to turn.

She summed it all up with these poignant words: “God is my last resort, and I struggle to make sense of it all one day at a time.”

“One day at a time.”

* * * * *

Which reminds me of another encounter I had in a hospital break room a few years ago. I incorporated it into my story, “The Clock of Life.” in Christmas in My Heart 18 almost five years ago.

I’d been operated on for an obstruction in my bile duct that had resulted in my skin turning yellow with jaundice. My hospitalist had told me that if I made it to dawn without the most excruciating pain I’d ever experienced, that would mean I’d escaped pancreatitis. So I walked the hospital corridors hour after hour, stopping once in a while in the break room. Once, there was a woman sitting there who was the spouse of another patient in the ward. Turned out that her husband had a rare virulent form of leukemia. When I asked how severe it was, she answered almost matter of factly, “He can’t even turn over without my help.”

I followed up by asking, “And how long has he had this condition?”

There was a very long pause before, in a soft but strained voice, she answered, “Twenty-five years!”“

I was so stunned, I was almost unable to speak. Finally, I said, “Twenty-five years?

She nodded. “Yes. And in all that time I’ve never left him–not even for a day.”

I could only stammer, “My dear woman, how do you do it?”

Never will I forget her response: “God gives me strength for one day at a time.”

* * * * *

I was on the phone for over an hour one night recently. On the other end of the line was a friend I’d worked with in a university some years before. His voice was so soft I hardly recognized it. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was so weak he couldn’t even get out of his chair without his wife’s help. He was undergoing 28-day cycles of radiation, each of which did all but kill him. The prognosis looked anything but good.

In situations like this one is almost incapable of speech. What do you say to a dear one who knows for a certainty that, unless a miracle takes place, he is living his last hours in life?

I told him I’d been praying for him. He told me that many others were praying for him too. . . and added, “It’s not too hard: we all know we’re going to die, so it’s not an “if,” only a “when.” And clearly he was getting his house in order: family and close friends visited him or phoned him often.

And he now lived “one day at a time.”

Before I signed of, he thanked me again for taking the time to call, saying, “You’re part of what means most to me: true friends who stay by me to the end.”

* * * * *

One day at a time. . . . God gives us strength for one day at a time.

What is a Friend?

    BLOG #2, SERIES 4
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    WHAT IS A FRIEND?
    January 9, 2013
    
    
    “A FRIEND IS A RARE BOOK OF WHICH
    BUT ONE COPY IS MADE”

 

About thirty years ago, a cherished friend, one of my Adult Degree Program students honored me beyond belief by gifting me with this plaque.  It has held the place of honor hanging on my office wall ever since.  Every day of my life, it greets me and reminds me that each of my friends is indeed a one-of-a-kind.

And the more years that pass, the more such friends come to mean to me.  When we lose such a friend it’s like an irreplaceable part of our being has been ripped out.

It is because of this truth, this undeniable reality of life, that I urge each reader of this blog to stop everything today in order to tell each such friend how very much he or she means to you.

Tomorrow it may be too late!

Published in: on January 9, 2013 at 9:27 am  Comments (9)  
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FIVE CLOSE FRIENDS

                                                            WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
                                                                 FIVE CLOSE FRIENDS
                                                                       July 11, 2012

Friendship has been much on my mind in recent days, mainly because after our 30th Zane Grey’s West Society convention, in Spearfish, South Dakota, as Connie and I, and Bob and Lucy Earp drove northwest into Wyoming and Montana, one of Bob’s closest friends was dying.  At any given moment Bob expected that fatal call.  When it came at last, Bob had to leave us and fly to California for the memorial service.  Because of this final parting, we each spoke feelingly about the role of friends in life.

After Bob returned, he told us about the moving memorial service and the tribute he gave to his cherished friend.  At the end, he concluded with something like these words: “It is said that if we are really lucky, we’ll be blessed by five close friends who’ll remain constant during this journey we call life.  I’ve been one of those lucky ones, but tragically I’ve been losing them: then there were four, and then there were three — and now: there are only two.  Oh how I shall miss him!”

This reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, in which he postulates that each of our closest friends unlocks a door into our psyche that no one else will ever be able to open.  When one of them dies, our world becomes proportionally smaller.  For we may make new friends—and ought to—but they can never fully replace those who have known us at each stage down through the years.

I am reminded of Dr. Oz who yesterday, during the 5:30 news with Diane Sawyer, pointed out that whenever he has surgery on a patient he first insists that someone who loves or cares deeply for the patient be there for the operation.  Reason being that the survival odds go way down when a patient faces surgery alone.  The will to survive is almost always tied to having people in your life who love you and care deeply about the outcome.

So it is that I suggest that you take stock of your own relationships.  How many really close friends do you have?  Have you told them lately just how much they mean to youj?  How much darker the world would be without them?

If you haven’t, don’t wait until it’s too late.  Call them, write them, or knock on their door – TODAY!

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 8:28 am  Comments (4)  
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TO REACH THE PORT OF HEAVEN

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

 

TO REACH THE PORT OF HEAVEN

January 4, 2012

 

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I write these words—yes, I still write with a Pilot V5 pen rather than type on a keyboard—and begin the third year of “Wednesdays with Dr. Joe” blogs, I am profoundly grateful.

First and foremost for the gift of life.  So many of my contemporaries have written the last page of their life stories.  For some reason, known only to Him, God has seen fit to extend my life beyond the biblically “three score and ten.”  The last time I was in the hospital for surgery, I watched with morbid fascination the digital zig-zagging on the screen that monitored my faithful aging heartbeats.  Each time it descended, I found myself wondering if this would be the time it would stop and never go up again.  Finally, I had to turn my eyes away; the stress was too much!

Second, for the gift of awareness.  One in every five of us will die mentally before we die physically.  That happened to my beloved mother.  Such a phenomenal near photographic memory she had!  Able to retain thousands of pages of short stories, poetry, and readings in her memory banks—then, one fateful day: the light of awareness flickered out of her eyes.  When we entered her room after that and looked into her eyes—there was no one home anymore.

Third, for the gift of family.  One of my cherished friends, an erstwhile millionaire, lost everything (job, house, bank account, solvency) in this recession.  When I asked him how he was coping, there was a long pause before he answered with, “You know, today my financial life is in shambles, I couldn’t even buy a used bicycle on credit—much less a car!  Belatedly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only real bedrock in this unstable world is God, family,and health.  I still have God, a family who loves me, and my health.  I’m ever so blessed as long as I still have all three!”  I too am oh so grateful I still have a wife, children, and extended family who love me more than I deserve.”

Fourth, for the gift of friendship.  How bleak this world would be without friends!  Every Wednesday morning for over fifteen years now, I have met with Conifer Kiwanis!  Even though our numbers have shrunk from what they were before the recession, we still show up each Wednesday.  And each year, they grow dearer.  One is so fragile with age we rarely see him—and oh! How we feel his absence each week!  But I’m blessed with so many many friends.  My church family, my Zane Grey’s West Society family, my student/colleague family (generated during over a third of a century in the classroom), my alumni family (those who came into my life during my growing-up years), my Focus on the Family dear ones (I’ve shared Christmas with them in their Chapelteria and book store for sixteen years and counting), my publishing family (from twelve publishing houses) who continue to enrich my life.  And last but anything but least all those thousands who have come into my life because of our 76 books and counting, blogs, media interviews (between 500 and a thousand), and tweets.  One family (besides my family and agent, Greg Johnson) owns all 76 books.  But I’ve recently become aware that I have a wonderful extended family in all those who own all 20 (or 22) Christmas in My Heart books.  I call them “Christmasaholic completists.”  What can bring two people closer than a shared obsession?  By next year, I hope to have a list of as many of them as will check in with me.  I need their help as we together vote on the “20 Greatest Christmas Stories Ever Written.”

Recently, someone said to me, “Have you ever wondered how many people who’ve read your books through the years have had one-sided conversations with you?”  I’ll never know the answer to that question—at least on this earth.  So many times I’ve signed for ten to twelve hours a day—yet the Lord has miraculously saved me from carpal tunnel syndrome!

* * * * *

So, Dear Friends, whoever and wherever you might be, Connie and I are so grateful you’re taking time out of your hectic weekly schedule to spend a little time with us!  Let’s together make 2012 “a very good year!”