Harold Bell Wright’s “That Printer of Udell’s”

BLOG #2, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #37
HAROLD BELL WRIGHT’S THAT PRINTER OF UDELL’S
January 14, 2015

Many of you responded to last week’s blog overwhelmingly urging me to hold the course and extend the life of our book club for another year. Everyone appeared pleased that last week’s blog had a convenient listing of authors and their books; this way, if you’d missed certain books you could secure them, read them, and add them to your library. And new book club members could begin with whatever titles they wished.

Several of you specifically mentioned your love of Harold Bell Wright’s books, and how, ever since we featured Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews, you’d been acquiring other titles bearing his name. This tied in perfectly with my growing conviction (over the last month) that it was time to revisit Wright, this time featuring what I felt to be his greatest book.

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“First Edition cover with tipped-in illustration”

Back in the early 1970s, when, choosing a doctoral dissertation topic at Vanderbilt University, my first choice was Wright. Unfortunately, I discovered several other doctoral dissertations had already been written about Wright’s significance, so I reluctantly moved on to Fyodor Dostoevsky, then eventually to Zane Grey.

To History of Ideas (my doctoral emphasis) scholars, Wright fascinates because he is central to the Social Gospel movement that began in America during the 1890s. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist clergyman and theological professor, articulated the philosophical base for the movement in books such as Christianity and the Social Crises (1907), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), and A Theology of the Social Gospel (1917). But far more influential (in terms of impact on the popular culture) than he was Charles Sheldon (a Topeka pastor who penned In His Steps, first published in 1896). It has sold several million copies and remains in print today. But it would be Wright who would take the movement to its zenith in his extremely popular romances: That Printer of Udell’s (1903), The Calling of Dan Matthews (1909), Helen of the Old House (1921), and the increasingly rare God and the Groceryman (1929).

The premise of the movement, born as it was during America’s greedy Gilded Age, was that the Jesus of the Gospels was not the least bit interested in doctrine or church politics, but rather His entire earthly ministry was dedicated to humble selfless service to others, mainly the common people, those most in need. His ministry was all-inclusive—no one, not even lepers, criminals, prostitutes, Romans, outcasts, or gentiles, were excluded. Yet, thoughtful people, especially Protestant pastors such as Charles Sheldon, Harold Bell Wright, and Henry Van Dyke, couldn’t help but notice the glaring disconnect bedtween Jesus’ caring ministry and the pompous, self-righteous, smug, arrogant church leaders and members of the time, who apparently had not the least interest in following in Christ’s footsteps service-wise. These ministers early on, discovered that abstractions didn’t work with their congregations; only as they sugar-coated them in Story would their listeners take them seriously and internalize them. Only recently have scholars realized that the first four centuries after Christ (during which time over a quarter of the Roman Empire turned Christian), Post-Apostolic church leaders and members’ entire theology was the Didache, based on Christ’s answer to the oft-posed question, “What do I have to do to be saved?”

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’
–Matthew 22:37-40

In my second book on the life and ministry of St. Nicholas, I noted that contemporaries labeled this spiritual emphasis as “The Way of Life,” or the Didache, and I quote D. L. Cann, in this respect:

The imperial and provincial governments offered no regular social service programs—people simply had to take care of themselves or starve. Into that abyss of human need, ignored by provincial and imperial authorities, stepped the Christian communities. Led by bishops, priests, deaconesses, and deacons, the faithful carried out their ministry to the urban poor. The Christian churches of the first four centuries provided hospice care for the sick, as well as support for widows, orphans and the unfortunate. . . . From the teachings in the Gospels, the Christians, and young Nicholas with them, cultivated a strong sense of responsibility to care for the souls and bodies of those in need.

No wonder Christianity was turning the world upside down!
–Saint Nicholas, by Joe Wheeler (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2010, pp. 5-7).

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Thus writers such as Wright wove the essence of the Didache into novels such as That Printer of Udell’s, a book I consider one of the most significant seminal books of the last century and a half.

Historians of Ideas note that Wright published the book in 1903, before automobiles, airplanes, electricity, indoor plumbing, radio, and electronics revolutionized society. Horses and buggies, privies, candle-or lantern-lit homes, children forced to work as adults, terrible pollution, abysmal medical conditions, education more often than not limited to only a couple of years—in short: the world Wright captures in this riveting novel. In it, Wright’s protagonists attempt to live by the question, “What would Jesus do if He were in my place?” And juxtaposed, the “Christians” who ridiculed those who would dared to live by Christ’s Didache.

If you want to dig deeper into Wright, I suggest you track down Lawrence V. Tagg’s Harold Bell Wright: Storyteller to America (Tucson, Arizona: Westernlore Press, 1985). In it, you will discover that Wright himself endured all that was worst in society during his early life, but miraculously rose above it.

There are many editions of That Printer of Udell’s, but for all you bibliophiles who cherist first editions, I urge you to track down at least a VG copy of the book: That Printer of Udell’s A Story of the Middle West (Chicago: The Book Supply Company, 1902). It will incorporate 9 splendid illustrations by John Clitheroe Gilbert and a tipped-in cover illustration (hand-glued on).

Will be most interested in your reactions to the book. If you’re like me, you’ll return to it again and again.

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Christmas 2013

BLOG #52, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS 2013
December 25, 2013

Have you noticed how rarely anyone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” any more? This muddling of language has been happening for years now. No longer do people say “Good morning!” to us. Or “Have a great weekend! ” Instead , we are greeted with the inane “Have a good one!” Whatever that means. It matters not the occasion, no matter how significant, “Have a good one!” is becoming the new norm.

Only, at Christmas, we instead hear “Happy Holidays!” wherever we go. Since so many people wish to appear to be politically correct, they avoid specifics at all costs. Since “Christmas” appears to be a word burdened with spiritual associations, best not to mention it at all. Yet without Christmas there would be no “X number of shopping days until _____!” “Until what?” They’d be hard-put to tell you. Certainly not “until Thanksgiving,” or “until New Year’s Day.” No, they’re stuck with “Christmas” because of its well known tie-in to gift-buying which drives the economy every fall-into-winter.

But the little Lord Jesus in a manger does little to stampede the American people into shopping malls; it takes Santa Claus to do that. “Santa Claus,” who, as St. Nicholas, once was a deeply spiritual figure. Sadly, in American culture today, that rarely is the case any more.

IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO?

I do believe there is: the next time someone unleashes another “Happy Holidays” on us, what if each of us greeted the perpetrator with a joyful smile and an enthusiastic, “And a very Merry Christmas to you!” If thousands of us did this, over time don’t you think we’d spike a lot of “Happy Holidays” cannons? Don’t you think it would at least be worth a try?

But that shouldn’t be all. What if we took the lead in organizing, supporting, and attending spiritual programs, films, concerts, events, etc.” What if we gave each other spiritually based Christmas books rather than those totally divorced from what the season ought to stand for? If not overtly dealing with spiritual matters, don’t you think that, at the least, the books we choose to give away, share, and read should be compatible with Judeo-Christian values?

All too often, we do our own version of a Pilate act: wringing our hands and complaining of how powerless we are to do anything about bad things. What if—instead—, we individually and collectively stood up for good things?

How about starting this Christmas season? After all, the Twelve Days of Christmas are just beginning. Christmas won’t be over until January 7.

Calvary Chapel – Memories I made There – Part 3

BLOG #44, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
MEMORIES I MADE THERE
Part Three
October 30, 2013

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Gettysburg Weekend
Program Cover

My mind is still in a whirl after that memorable weekend. I still don’t really know what I expected to see and experience there–I only know that I was deeply moved by my being there.

Late one evening, I had a long chat with Calvary Chapel’s chief shepherd, Pastor Joe Focht. I told him I’d been deeply impressed by what I’d seen, comparing it to what I’d learned about the Post-Apostolic churches during my researching the life and times of St. Nicholas. The early Christian Church had no doctrine or creed, instead living by the Didache, a document as old as the Gospels themselves, based on Christ’s answer to the question, “What do I have to do to be saved?” His answer, according to Matthew, was “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, thy soul, and thy mind–and thy neighbor as thyself.” I noticed that just as Jethro advised his son-in-law, Moses, to stop micro-managing and instead select wise Spirit-led leaders, here in this church are leaders coordinating Medical Fellowship, Special Events, Single Moms, Women’s Prayer, Home Fellowship Missions, Divorce Care, Marriage and Family, Pre-marital Ministry, Men’s Repair Ministry, Hospitality, Bereavement, Worship Bible Study, Outreach, Missions, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Military Support, Russian Fellowship, Prison Ministries, Christian Alternatives to Addiction, Calvary Christian Academy, Over 50’s Ministry, Men’s Accountability, Men’s Breakfast, Hospital Visitation, Children’s Ministry, Bookstore Ministry, New Believers, Transformed College and Career, Radio Ministry, Volunteer Security, Funeral/Memorial Services, Special Needs, Sports, Puppets, Street Evangelism, Crosswalk Jr. High, Greeter and Usher Ministries, Law Enforcement Fellowship, Men’s Prayer, Combat Veterans Support Fellowship, etc.

As a result, instead of feeling I was in the midst of a church dominated by a single-personality, here it was very much like individualized ownership of the church. Each member I spoke with considered the church to be a home/safe haven, a well-organized beehive of activity and involvement. Everybody belongs. I’m not surprised that this one church has spawned twenty more Calvary Chapels in Pennsylvania. Pastor Joe told me his sermons follow the Bible clear through each year; and the following year, he does it again, continuing to study deeply as he prayerfully write new sermons each week. There appears to be no cult clustering around one
person at Calvary Chapel, but rather Pastor Joe prefers to be known as merely a fellow-seeker of spiritual knowledge and service for others. He and I discussed favorite authors and books, and before I left he gifted me with three of his favorite books by an author I’d never heard of before–I’m finding them extremely insightful; I’m planning on returning the favor. In short, with him I feel I shall enjoy many years of friendship with a kindred spirit.

It appears that Calvary Chapel pastors, rather than coming to their pulpits via divinity schools, tend to come from the rough and tumble world itself, just as was true of Christ’s apostles. It was certainly clear to me that Pastor Joe feels called.

As for Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers, my contact, guide, and chauffeur, he too I came to deeply appreciate. He is very good at what he does: shepherding the men of the church. Most certainly the women of the church are led by equally effective leadership.

I am so thankful they invited me to spend a weekend with them. I feel deeply blessed.

IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?

BLOG #12, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?
March 20, 2013

During the last week, the world has been shocked by the sight of an unroyal pope, Francis the First, abandoning regality, both with the cardinals and curia as well as the people; taking the bus back to his modest room, carrying his own luggage, asking the massed crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, and walking into the crowds without security to interact with young and old, greeting each one individually. Nowhere to be seen: the imperial pope the world has come to expect down through the centuries. A servant pope! A throwback to the humility of our Lord while on earth over two thousand years ago.

Just so, this coming June, when Howard/Simon & Schuster releases our Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, readers will see revealed, in story after story after story, America’s only servant president. Sadly, even the new Lincoln film fails to adequately portray that aspect of our 16th president. When you compare the Lincoln coming to life (like old-time photo negatives in a developing tray, in each of the 32 stories) to the imperial U.S. presidents of recent memory, it will shock you just as much as Pope Francis is shocking the world during the last week. Strength tied to selfless-humility. This synthesis of two ostensible opposites is all too rare in our arrogant I-did-it-my-way society. Lincoln’s humility, as revealed in my upcoming anthology, is spiritual, a reflection emanating from his moment-by-moment dependance on God.

Just as is true with the Post-Apostolic Bishop Nicholas, a subject I have attempted to capture in two recent biographies (2010 and 2005) published by Thomas Nelson.

Is it possible, in our narcissistic self-centered age, that selfless, spiritually-based humility may be returning as an ideal? Is it possible that arrogance’s long reign over society may be nearing its own sede vacante?

We can only watch. And hope.

IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES

BLOG #10, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES
March 6, 2013

During the last couple of years the chances are excellent that at any given moment, day or night, I could have been found leafing through, or reading an old magazine. Far more likely than immersion in a book.

Why? Because it is in old magazines that the greatest stories ever written are most likely to be found. During the Golden Age of Print in America (1880s through the 1950s), magazine was king. During much of that time, magazine editors paid writers more for a given story or book manuscript than movie producers or publishing house editors. This is why the appearance of a given story in a magazine normally predated its appearance in a book.

If you were a child or a teen during that Golden Age, you had ever so many choices: long-lived magazines such as The Youth’s Companion (a weekly for over a hundred years), St. Nicholas (a monthly from 1873 to 1939), The Youth’s Instructor (a weekly for over a hundred years), Little Folks, Girl’s Own, Boy’s Own, Young People’s Weekly, Boys World, Girls’ Companion, Jack and Jill, just to name a few.

During that time period, there was an unspoken consensus in the adult world that children were to be protected from obscenities, the dark side of human nature, and printed material that would degrade or disillusion. The flip side was that since America, since its founding, was built on Judeo-Christian bedrock, authors who could memorably articulate those values in their stories and books became household words across the nation, in the Commonwealth, and in the Western World. Recognizing that children would become their favorite stories, parents everywhere religiously conducted daily story hours since the values in these magazines and books could be internalized in the hearts and souls of their listening children. And it worked!

Not so today. Today, when the Christian community is, more often than not, on the defensive, with a secular media vastly out programming it, parents everywhere feel overwhelmed. How can they prevent their children from being destroyed by a society that is openly hostile to Christianity?

I submit that Story is the answer. The stories that once could be found in most every household—but today are crumbling out of existence in old magazines that are being lost to posterity at an alarming rate. Indeed, so fast are these wonderful priceless old magazines being cut up, destroyed, hauled out to the dump, that they will soon be all but extinct.

And this is why my wife Connie and I have dedicated what’s left of our lives to preserving as many as possible of the best of these long ago treasure chests of stories. Sixty-six of our eighty books so far are story anthologies—and most originated in old magazines.

And that’s why, day and night, we are racing against time to preserve as many stories as possible before God calls us home.

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

PROPOSED: DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

For Oct. 26, 2011

“Read the best books first, or you may not have

a chance to read them at all.”

                                                                        —Thoreau

Last week’s blog on the Williamsons’ travel books appears to have started something totally unexpected.  Or perhaps it would be more apt to say “restarted.”  Our daughter Michelle suggested I organize a series of blogs having to do with my favorite books—and I had a tough time sleeping that night.  Should I devote one blog a month to a favorite book?  I’ve since become convicted that I ought to do just that.

Former students of mine who are kind enough to check in with the daily tweets and weekly blogs will remember that for years I taught such courses as Great Books of the World and Modern and Contemporary Literature, as well as individualized Directed Reading courses.  Many of you actually took some of those courses.  In those courses, I had the opportunity to share some of my most loved books with my students.  I miss those courses.

After I left the classroom for a full-time career as an author, over a five-year period, I edited special editions of some of my favorite books for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House.  The twelve we created are: Little Women and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott, Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter, The Twenty-fourth of June by Grace Richmond, Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, and Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace.

At the front of each book, under the heading of “A Life-Changing Letter,” were these words:

 

                                    Several years ago I received a letter that changed my life.  Sadly, I don’t

remember who wrote it, only what she said.  In essence, this was her plea:

                        “Dr. Wheeler,

    I have a big favor to ask you.  First of all, though, I want you to know how much I enjoy your story collections; they have greatly enriched my life.  Now for the favor: I was wondering if you have any interest in doing with books what you are doing with stories.

    You see, while I love to read, I haven’t the slightest idea of where to start.  There are millions of books out there, and most of them—authors too—are just one big blur to me.  I want to use my time wisely, to choose books which will not only take me somewhere but also make me a better and kinder person.

   I envy you because you know which books are worth reading and which are not.  Do you possibly have a list of worthy books that you wouldn’t mind sending to me?”

   I responded to this letter but most inadequately, for at that time I had no such list.  I tried to put the plea behind me, but it dug in its heels and kept me awake at night.  Eventually, I concluded that a Higher Power was at work here and that I needed to do something about it.  I put together a proposal for a broad reading plan based on books I knew and loved—books that had powerfully affected me, that had opened other worlds and cultures to me, and that had made me a kinder, more empathetic person.

 

You see, we have so little time in this tragically short life in which to read books worth reading.  If, over a seventy-year period, we read only a book a week, that would total only 3,640 books during a lifetime.  A book a month would come to only 840.

So my question to you is this: Would you be interested in such a book club, beginning this November?  Most of these titles would not be new but rather would have stood the test of time.  Some might turn out to be books you once read but might enjoy re-reading.  Others would be new to you.

There would be no cost for joining.  You could either purchase a copy of each book at a bookstore or from the worldwide web (Amazon, ABE, etc), or check it out from your library.  There is another option for some of the titles I’d choose: Eric Mayer of Bluebird Books (8201 S. Santa Fe Drive, #245, Littleton, CO 80120 (303) 912-4559.   books@bluebirdbooks.com  www.bluebirdbooks.com   Reason being that for most of my life I planned to open up a book business when I retired, and so purchased many thousands of books over the years for that purpose.  Well, I’ve ruefully concluded that I’ll probably never retire, so I turned over a good share of those books to Bluebird Books for him to dispose of.  He is aware of this book club concept and is enthusiastically on board.  He is honest, conscientious, prices out-of-print books at market norms, and is dedicated to securing books in the best condition possible.  You’ll find him special to work with.  Let him know you’re part of this book club.  Me too, as I’ll be making up a list of names and addresses of each of you who joins.  Would love to hear from you as to reactions to the books we select.

Years ago, I joined the Heritage Book Club and, over time, purchased most of their classic titles.  They tended to cycle through certain authors.  I would too.  Not all at once, but over time.  If you’re like me, however,  you’re not likely to wait but if you fall in love with a certain author you’ll start adding others of their books to your personal library.

As to my favorite books, I’m a sentimentalist who loves romances, family favorites, adventure, historical romances, classics, etc.  I gravitate to books that move me deeply, take me places I’ve never been to before, make me laugh or cry, incorporate values worth living by—pretty much the same criteria I’ve used in selecting stories in my 60 story anthologies.

I’ll be candid with you: I really miss the one-on-one interaction with my students.  Such a book club as this would be second best to actual classroom interaction.  I’m really looking forward to such contact.

BOOK #1 – OUR NOVEMBER BOOK OF THE MONTH

THE CALLING OF DAN MATTHEWS        

—Harold Bell Wright

 


Have you ever noticed that it is only in retrospect that we realize that if certain days in our lives had never been, how different our lives would have been.  Well, there was just such a day I’d like to share with you.

It was a heartstoppingly beautiful spring morning along California’s Feather River.  Since my missionary parents were far away in the West Indies, relatives stepped in to keep me from being lonely during vacations.  On this particular day, two of my favorite relatives, Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Warren, pronounced it picnic time.  We stopped en-route to Feather River Canyon at the Tehama County Library where my aunt steered me to certain authors she thought I’d relate to.  I checked out a number of books that really looked interesting to me.  One of them was this particular book, first published in 1909 by the Book Supply Company.  After settling down on a blanket under a great oak, I opened this book, and was almost instantaneously drawn into it—so much so that I lost all track of time, only remaining aware of the haunting riversong.

I was more than ready for this romance.  Having grown up in a conservative Christian church my world view was a bit limited.  Wright, a pastor himself, disillusioned by church politics and broken in health, had come to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to see if he could find answers.  In time, he was strongly impacted by the Social Gospel Movement of the 1890s, the discovery of the Didache being at the root of it.  Only during the last year have I discovered (during research for my second biography of St. Nicholas) that for four centuries the early Christian Church exploded across the Roman World, not because of doctrine but because of living out Christ’s injunctions to serve others, to help those who were ill or in prison or who were in need of humanitarian aid (known as the Didache).  Wright concluded that if he incorporated Christ’s injunction to make service to others the highest calling of his life, he could revolutionize American life.  But not through sermons but rather through fiction.  He wrote three books in what has become known as the Social Gospel Trilogy: That Printer of Udel’s, The Calling of Dan Matthews, and God and the Groceryman.  Not until years later did I discover those other two books.

But the book proved to be an epiphany for me.  It radically changed my life: gave me a vision of selfless service and revealed that God was not owned by any one denomination but rather that He found ways to relate to every human being on earth, regardless of nationality or religion.  He was—and is—Father of us all.

I set out on a life-long search for all of Wright’s other books.  Wright has that effect on his readers.  I know of one woman who cried when she read the last Wright novel.  Cried because never again could she listen to Wright in an unread book.  Not all our mentors are still with us—many speak to us from the grave through their books that live on and on.

So this is why I’m starting with Wright.  As you begin building a library—or expand it to include these books—, I strongly encourage you to buy your own books, choosing First Editions or special editions, keeping in mind that in books, as in art, condition is everything.

I’ll be talking a lot more about books in blogs to come, among our other subject areas.  Next Wednesday I’ll be discussing the importance of journaling and why, if we don’t, we’ll be losing out big time!

No, I haven’t forgotten the Southwest National Parks.  I just got sidetracked!

If you wish to write me, I can be reached at Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

TREASURES FROM THE PAST #1

One of the responses to the survey has already had its effect: it urged me to keep mining the bullion of the past in my blogs.

I have been working around the clock on my eighth collection of animal stories (Animals of the Jungle). As I searched for stories, in a long-ago essay written by Hildegarde Hawthorne (granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne), published in a magazine for young people early in the twentieth century, I found a timeless treasure of thought perfect as the follow-up to last Wednesday’s blog: “Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow.”

It was inspired by Emerson’s famous poem:

DAYS

“Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bringing diadems and fagots in their hands,
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.”

THE DOORWAY OF THE DAYS
by Hildegarde Hawthorne

A day is a wonderful thing. It is like a great doorway flung wide for you to pass through into all manner of adventures. One after the other, these doorways open to you, each different, each opening on a fresh prospect. Fresh, yourself, after the rest and the stillness of night, you stand each morning on the threshold, and then you step through and are launched on what that day has for you.

Of course, the day, being as it were just this welcoming doorway, can not make you go out to meet what it holds. You can refuse its mighty invitations. It may be a day that opens on shadowy forest paths, on blue headlands, a day where nature is at her most beautiful best. Again it may hold a splendid hour or two of companionship with some one who could tell you much of this nature, who could give you new insight into her mysteries, who could explain what hitherto you had never understood. It might be a day made for running feet and for laughter and joy. It has opened the wide doorway to all this. But of course you can refuse it all. You can turn your back on the prospect before you, spend your hours indoors, fail to meet the friend who was waiting, sulk over some fancied slight or trouble, worry and exhaust yourself in various ways. The doorway of the day will swing close, at last, and the possibilities on which it opened will have gone, perhaps forever.

Supposing you had only one day to live in, like some of the ephemera, whom you may watch in summer, dizzy with their dancing, in a sunbeam. Just one day! Well, it would hold twenty-four hours. How splendid! How much you could do in that time. And how much to choose for the doing, the seeing, the hearing, the feeling, the thinking! A sunrise and a sunset, stars, a moon maybe, winds swaying tree-tops or ruffling water; and then comrades to play with, a fine book to read, music to hear; a ride, perhaps, in a motor-car or on a horse, a walk in a country lane or along a street filled with all manner of things worth looking at; there would be meals to eat, a lesson to study. You would have the joy of bodily exercise, the joy of loving, the delight of conversation with friends. Each hour would hold its own miracle.

At the end, before sleep came, you would find no words to describe the marvel of a day. Room in it for the exercise of all your faculties, for dreams and for reality, for play and for work. A great round day, and you alive in it.

You see, just because there is more than one day, we get too used to them to remember what they really are. We let them slip through our fingers, with their adventures unlived, their beauty unseen. Many a day has been treated as though it were just a bore, when it was simply bursting with exciting thrills. Many a day that held in it a wonderful thing, which you would have cherished all your life, has been allowed to pass away empty. For only what you take from the offerings of each day is yours.

Do you ever think over the manifold ways in which each day is spent by the people on this earth? How an Eskimo spends the day you have given over to school, to football practice, or a game of tennis or to skiing, to a matinee or a quiet time reading while the storm beats on the windows and shouts over the house? How that same day is being spent by a savage in Africa, by a Russian refugee, a coal-miner, a seaman? You can get some notion of all that a day opens on if you let your mind wander a bit in these directions.

It seems to me that the great difference between those who lead a full and interesting life and those who don’t is that the first do not let the fact that there are three hundred and sixty-five days in a year dull the wonderful possibilities of each individual day. They look before and after, of course, for the past and the future add richness to the present. But the day itself is the thing. Because tomorrow you are to go on an entrancing journey, or to the dentist, there is no reason for slighting today. It too has its worth and its gift. Live it. The combination of you and a day is too wonderful to be missed. People throw days away as if they were worthless pebbles, and then complain that life is a poor affair. One of Emerson’s noble sayings was, “Give me health and a day and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous”; and as you grow older you will cherish also in your memories his brief poem on “The Days.” It is a vivid picture in words of what I have been trying to set forth; and every earnest boy and girl can imagine the days going on about their tremendous business rather bewildered and rather amused. Here we are, they say, full of everything. And look how we’re treated and hear how we’re reviled! What’s the matter with these people, anyway?

And then the Days will show each other the unused things they had ready, which were never asked for, like handfuls of fine jewels shining in the light, but which no one stooped to pick up.

“Funny business!” sigh the Days, and if they had heads, there’d be reasons a-plenty for shaking them.

It is interesting to realize that the day that opens its great gate to you is for you only. No one else has just the same day. Even though you go every hour of the twenty-four close with a sister, a brother, a dear friend, and though what happens to you happens too to him or to her, as the case may be, yet the day will not be alike. Half of everything is the thing itself; the other half, its effect on you; and that effect can never be exactly duplicated. That is why it is that one person will get joy and interest out of a day that another will find merely tiresome.

The best will in the world can not keep dull days and dark days entirely away. You are going to miss quantities of things that you could have enjoyed, because you are tired or out of sorts or disgruntled. Other things will come to you that will be hard to bear and sad to live through. But for all that, the greater portion of your days are good days. The doorway they provide leads to much, and it is your own fault if you get only a little.

The fun of being alive and of having these days opening up, one after the other, is tremendous. Out you go to meet them, with your body, your mind, your senses, your questing spirit. You find things to laugh over, or cry over. You find things that set your mind to keen working or that strengthen your muscles or train the faculty of sight or of hearing, that make more proficient your hands, more skillful the whole bearing of your body. You meet something new to you, and have to readjust yourself and your ideas to take it in. To something else you say good-by for the last time. You will have your own interests, however, and the more, the merrier.

As your mind grows and develops, so the interests of your days should grow and extend, and each day coming ought to be more than the one gone, for you yourself are more. The trouble often is that one drops something for each new thing taken up. The play and the ecstasy of youth is lost with the deeper feeling and growing cares of maturity. But the girl or boy who goes on into maturity without losing too much of that young rapture becomes the best sort of man or woman. Don’t let your life go dry; let it keep its sap and freshness. Artists usually excel in this wisdom. The child lives on in them, making them richer and their days more radiant because it has not withered out of them. Keep what has come, and go on to what is due, and you will not be likely to find life a bore or a burden.

I remember how long a day appeared to me when I was a child—not too long, I enjoyed every moment of it, but so much longer than it does now. I had a better understanding of how great a day is, then. Now it seems short; sometimes I feel as though it merely winked at me and vanished. I can quite imagine that when I move on into eternity that eternity will soon seem to be short enough for all I want to do and be. Think of standing and waiting while the great door of eternity swings open and lets you through! But of course a day is after all a portion of eternity, and maybe it is because we are close to one end of eternity in childhood that days are eternal to us then. Why, any spring morning that was fair and welcoming I remember how I would go to lie under a certain apple-tree where the grass grew thick and the bending branches swept it, making a bower of bloom. And there I would dream away several days in a space that must really have been only a couple of hours. I would like to get back the glorious leisure of those days, to feel the promise of eternity in them; but though I haven’t lost the sense of the magnificence of a day, I can’t hold on to its vastness.

Except always in what it offers.

Now and again a day will come with a gift so splendid that you can not help but recognize it and acclaim it. You will say, as you have heard others say, “That was a great day in my life!” But don’t disdain the other days, that blow no trumpets and open no golden treasure-chests. They have their own wonderfulness, that calls to the wonderfulness in you, and through their mighty doorways you step to everything in life.

St. Nicholas, January 1923

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® MEANDERS

“Meander” is the most apt verb I can think of to describe the journey of the last nineteen years. Nothing about it can remotely be classified as being predictable (perhaps the most exciting and frustrating aspect of turning over the navigational role of one’s life to God).

If I ever doubted the confusion generated by this meandering, the reactions of those who stop to look at the blur of Christmas-related titles and publishers at book-signing tables would set me straight. Goodness, sometimes I get confused myself just trying to explain all the twists and turns. But let’s try anyhow.

Christmas in My Heart

First of all: what I’ve come to call the “core series.” Fortunately, Review and Herald Publishing’s commitment to the series was unwavering (for a decade and a half); this provided the stability the series needed in its formative years. Unbeknownst to me, that very first year, I was locked in to what became the series’ defining template: old-timey Currier and Ives covers (horizontal rather than vertical format), old-timey woodcut illustrations inside, and old-timey (even when stories are new ones) stories that touch the heart. As time passed, and more and more Christmasaholics bought into completion (keeping their own series complete by buying the new collection every Christmas season), the template became so iconic I couldn’t have altered it even had I wanted to do so.

Focus on the Family’s involvement began early, and has continued with unbroken commitment ever since. Indeed, well over half the time, the Focus Christmas story of the year has been taken from the pages of Christmas in My Heart®. Most years, the books have been offered as premiums to ministry supporters, as part of seasonal mailouts reaching millions every Christmas.

Because of Focus on the Family’s involvement and because the first four books were a GOLD MEDALLION Finalist in 1995, the series rapidly expanded into Evangelical Christianity.

Which led to the seven-year partnership with Doubleday/Random House, beginning in 1996. Their books were re-scrambles (some stories taken at random from each of the first four collections), with old-timey (but not Currier and Ives) covers, woodcut illustrations (but different from those in the core series), vertical format rather than horizontal, and hardback with dust jacket rather than trade paper. With the entry of Doubleday, the series was marketed in chain stores everywhere, thus becoming a staple in the broader secular market.

Concerned that someone else might try to steal the title, Doubleday insisted that we Trademark it (which we did, after considerable legal choreography, effort and money). We renewed that Trademark at the end of five years, and again after ten years. Fortuitously, it turns out, for during the last 24 months, someone (a major player in today’s marketplace) moved in on the title. Only the Trademark saved us.

Christmas in My Soul

Doubleday/Random House published four Christmas in My Heart® Treasuries (1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999); at the end of that period, they moved on to a new series title, Christmas in My Soul for their gift books over the next three years (2000, 2001, and 2002), each book a re-scramble of stories taken from the first six books in the core series.

In 1998, Tyndale House co-published with Review and Herald the core edition of Christmas in my Heart® 7 (both publishing house imprints on the title page). In 1999 Tyndale House joined forces with Focus on the Family to publish a vertical trade paper edition of the core series (with different cover and introduction, but otherwise remaining the same content and illustration-wise).

But when Doubleday switched series titles in 2000, Focus on the Family and Tyndale House pounced on the hardback rights to the core series. Those vertical hardbacks with dust jackets were also beautiful works of art, just as Doubleday’s were, with old-timey non-Currier and Ives covers; but otherwise, inside, the same stories and illustrations as those used by Review and Herald in the core series. These editions continued to be published through 2006 (Christmas in My Heart® 9 – 15).

The 12 Stories of Christmas

In 2001, RiverOak/David C. Cook published The Twelve Stories of Christmas (the first twelve Christmas stories I wrote personally); for the only time, I also told the story behind the story—how I happened to write each one.

In 2006, storms assailed Christmas in My Heart®. Review and Herald wavered in its commitment to continuing the series, thus opening up the possibility of Focus on the Family/Tyndale House taking over all markets for the core series. Needless to say, Focus on the Family and Tyndale were delighted. But, at the last minute, Review and Herald decided to publish Christmas in My Heart® 16 after all. Result: Tyndale House and Focus on the Family ceased publishing their hardbacks of the core series. But then, even though they were still selling the same number of books as before, Review and Herald decided that Christmas in My Heart® 16 would be a nice number to conclude the series with. Not sharing this perception that the series had reached its terminus, I asked Pacific Press Publishing if they were interested in picking up the series with Christmas in My Heart® 17. The answer, in only hours, was a resounding, “In a heartbeat!” Same format, same Currier and Ives covers, same woodcut illustrations as before—all agreed upon. Thus the series has continued; this year with Christmas in My Heart® 19. The manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® 20 has already been sent in.

In 2007 and 2008, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three beautiful retrospective collections (rescramblings from Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16): The Best of Christmas in My Heart® 1, Christmas in My Heart® 2, and Candle in the Forest and Other Christmas Stories Children Love.

Christmas in My Heart® 1 was published in Spanish and the first six books were published (rescrambles) in Norwegian.

St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas

Besides this, I edited Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Abby Farwell Brown’s Christmas Angel for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House in 1997 and 1999. I partnered with Canon James Rosenthal for our book St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas for Thomas Nelson in 2005; just off the press is another St. Nicholas book, my Saint Nicholas, part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters biography series.

This incredible story would have been much more difficult without the steadfast support and innovative placement of our collections by my cherished agent and friend, Greg Johnson, president of WordServe Literary Group, Ltd.

A special note: because of editorial differences of opinion (as to specific story-inclusion) in Review and Herald and Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, those who wish to acquire the complete core series of stories—so far—would need to secure the following:

Review and Herald Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16.

Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Christmas in My Heart® 13 and Christmas in My Heart® 15.

Pacific Press Christmas in My Heart® 17, 18, 19.

* * * * *

So this blog brings all these meanderings up to date. Connie and I have no idea as to how long the series may last—we leave all that up to the good Lord. We take no credit for the first nineteen years of its story: we’ve only been taking orders from our Commander in Chief. When it is His will that the last Christmas in My Heart® book rolls off the press, then it will be time to write “Finis” to its story.

But not until then.

I’ll conclude this blog with a line from one of James Dobson’s many personal letters to me, “You’re right, Joe: Neither of our ministries belongs to us—but isn’t it a great ride?”

That it has been—and continues to be.