Two Young Women On a Train


Jim and I took a few days off together, and took a little trip out of town. It was a train trip from Martinez, CA to Reno, NV, and it was awesome!! It wasn’t so much about going to Reno, in fact, it wasn’t anything about going to Reno, it was all about the train! And, it was all worth it!

In this world of hurry, hurry, the train is a good way to sloooowww down. We usually catch a flight to get somewhere fast. We choose to drive our cars on the freeways to get somewhere fast! But sometimes when driving our cars around town we’ll get stopped at a train crossing, we’ll look up and see a passenger train going by, and it looks like so muchfun, because it is!!

On the train there are large seats that don’t make you feel like you’ve been squeezed into a sardine can, and the lounge car has fun seats positioned along the large windows for observing the beautiful mountains, and rushing streams as you go by. There is also a dining car, and although the linen table cloths have been exchanged for soft paper, and the china is more like plastic, because it is, it’s still very enjoyable! There are large windows to gaze out of while being served a warm meal and a flower adorns each table. We were surprised that being a party of two, we were sat with another party of two—which does give you the opportunity to meet strangers on the train and have lunch with them. We sat with a couple on our way to Reno, and another on our way home, both had done extensive traveling on the train and were eager to share about all the wonderful trips they had been on.

The train is quiet, much quieter than a plane, and the ride is usually very smooth, with just a bit of swaying on some of the tracks. Along the way there are snacks to purchase, beverages of your choosing, and lots of time to just sit and look out the window, read a book, listen to music, visit with your traveling companion, or all of the above.

The train never seems to be in a hurry as it stops in different cities along the way, chugging up mountains at about 30 miles an hour, and stopping to allow freight trains to pass by and get their loads delivered on time. The docents from the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento ride on the train to Reno and point out historic, interesting, and beautiful places along the way. The whole experience feels like a scenic joy ride instead of a means of transportation to get from point A to point B, and Jim’s iPhone worked great as he could pull up information on how fast we were traveling, our speed, our elevation, etc… There were even plugs by some of the seats in case batteries were running low, as ours was.

Photo of Diane on the train Photo of train speed on our iPhone Photo of a passing freight train Photo of the Truckee River from the train

The people on the train varied in age from babies to the very elderly, and from families to single adults traveling alone. Two young women that I observed were traveling alone, and both caught my eye for different reasons. They came into the lounge car to enjoy the view out the window, one wearing a T-shirt she seemed to have gotten at a Christian Camp. The other wearing tattoos on her arm…three large sixes with two upside-down crosses in between them. When the first young woman got up to leave, I noticed the back of her T-shirt said something like, “I will see Jesus one day.” I thought to myself as she walked away, “Amen,” but said nothing to her. I also said nothing to the other young woman with the three sixes on her arm, I just observed their coming and going. Later, I regretted not talking to each of these young women. What would I have said to either of them? I don’t really know, but mostly I think I would have liked to have listened to their stories. I missed out, although maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to talk, but I never gave them the chance. I’ll never know their stories now, but I can pray for them.

As a Christian, of course it seems that the three sixes young woman is in need of more prayer than the T-shirted young woman, but after reading “The Prodigal God” while in Reno, I wonder now… We can’t know for sure where someone is in their relationship with God just because they have a Jesus T-shirt on, or a bumper sticker on their car, or a cross around their neck. Only God can know the condition of our heart.

Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
Luke 15:21 (NIV)

I haven’t read as much these last few months, and I haven’t written as much either. I’m hoping this train trip has opened up both those avenues in my life again. Work will be slowing down a bit now, and there is so much yet to learn, and so much yet to write. I was thankful that my friend gave me a book to take along on this trip, and a good book it was. I didn’t really understand the title until reading the definition of “prodigal” given in the book. We use that term to describe the younger son in the story Jesus told in Luke 15, but my understanding of that word was incorrect. It means, “1. recklessly extravagant. 2. having spent everything.” So of course that would describe our God! I had looked upon the word “prodigal” in a negative way, thinking it meant a person who rebels—but when it is seen by its real definition, it can be something very good indeed. God is recklessly extravagant in His love for us, and He spent His very Son to save us all! That is certainly EVERYTHING!

I didn’t get much time to read on the train, or let me rephrase that, I didn’t take much time to read on the train, there was plenty of time, but I was more interested in what was out the window than what was in the book during the train trip. I did get a lot of time in Reno to read because I was much more interested in what was in the book than what was out the window, so to speak.

Jim and I used to enjoy a bit of gambling in days gone by, we made trips to Tahoe for the shows and the machines and tables, and we’d leave them with a bit of our money like everybody else. But on this visit, I noticed more than just the glamour of the lights, I noticed the pawn shops that lined the streets…sitting under towering hotel/casinos. It’s an interesting combination, making it blatantly obvious who’s on the better end of the gaming that goes on. Sadly, walking down the streets of Reno it reminded me more of a scene from the movie, “The Book of Eli,” rather than a bustling city full of “fun.”

Our season of thinking slot machines and gaming tables are entertainment pretty much ended when we had a son living in Heaven. It just didn’t make much sense anymore to hope for riches by putting money into a machine, or laying chips out on a table and rolling the dice for some sort of gain. We had lost what was oh so precious; our Hope had to be in the Lord, or life made no sense at all. So our interest in gambling dwindled quickly, and our love for God rose instead, and our Savior continues to bring much more satisfaction in our days than the glitz and “hope” of any casino. Hence, we ate at the buffets, walked passed the machines and into some of the shops, and spent time in our room relaxing, which was so nice! It gave me time to dive into “The Prodigal God,” and how Timothy Keller, the author, explains the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. He says that it is more the story of Two Sons not just one, which after reading his book, does make more sense. There are two sons in this story, not just the one who runs away and spends all his inheritance, returning broke and ashamed and willing to do anything to rejoin his father. There’s the elder son also, the one who never leaves his father, who is obedient and hard working, and who feels he is deserving of his rewards for that.

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons.”
Luke 15:11 (NIV)

Two sons…and two young women on the train, seemingly opposite in their approach to God’s love, their Father’s love for them. And yet, after reading this book, I wonder just how different they are?

God is so much fun! God knew before I got on the train to Reno that I would be taking this book with me. He knew before I left on this trip that I would see these two young women on the train, one seemingly loving Jesus, and one seemingly opposing Him with all her might. God presents these different situations in our lives, always teaching us through the people around us and through our own experiences if we are looking for His great lessons along the way.

It seems in reading “The Prodigal Son” story, we can relate to the wayward son. We either are one, know one, have been one, don’t want to be one, etc… And we can relate to the elder brother in all the same ways. I have a brother who some might call a prodigal son, as I’ve always thought of the definition of the word. He did his own thing, he walked a very different path than I walked, he has experienced things in life that I probably never will, nor would I really want to—It’s hard stuff. He made choices that took him places I’ve never gone, including living on the streets for three years—and he loves our Father God with all his heart.

He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating,
but no one gave him anything. Luke 15:16 (NIV)

My brother and I are very close, and we “get” each other, even though he says I was “born grown-up.” I guess that means, I never really did many of the wild things that some do to experience life. I was more than happy to remain at home, like the elder brother in the story, and do what I was supposed to do in my father’s eyes.

But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've
been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Luke 15:29

After reading this book though, one thing I don’t want to have is an “elder brother attitude.” Keller explains very well in his book how both the younger brother and elder brother have some growing to do in their understanding of the father’s love, and their love towards him. The elder brother exhibited an “unforgiving, judgmental spirit.” Keller writes, “If the elder brother had known his own heart, he would have said, ‘I am just as self-centered and a grief to my father in my own way as my brother is in his. I have no right to feel superior.’” There are so many things to be learned from how each son acts/reacts in this parable.

These lessons bring me back to my thoughts of two young women on the train…one, so seemingly in line with her Father’s footsteps, one so seemingly out of step with her Savior. But, only God can know their hearts, their experiences, and His plans for them. I write this story without having heard their personal testimonies as to why they wore the T-shirt and the Tattoos that they did. As Keller writes, “both may lack the assurance” of their Father’s love. It might be that one displayed that lack in rebellion against her Father, and the other displayed that by “trying to control God through goodness.” Which one are we? or do we sometimes even bounce back and forth between the two ways of showing our lack of assurance of our Father’s love?

We can wear the T-shirts, and put the bumper stickers on our car, or wear our crosses, and go to church, but mostly importantly we must spend a great deal of time in God’s Word, reading of His love, reading of His GIFT of salvation that comes not by our good acts or our bad acts, and not by our acts at all except to say Yes to His invitation of love and forgiveness in our lives. Otherwise, perhaps our T-shirt is as much a statement of rebellion as three sixes tattooed on our arm, because rebellion is more about trying to earn our way into Heaven, or earn our way out of Heaven, than it is about Who our Father God really is and what His love is really all about.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him
and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,
threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20 (NIV)

I know a young man who waits out his time in Santa Rita Jail right now. He is not a bad man, he is not a good man, he is simply a man who is finding his way in this life, needing to know more of his Father’s love for him…and he is finding it now. In the letter I just received from him the other day he talks about trying to make it in this life on his own, knowing that God exists, but not depending on His love, and His help. When he arrived in his cell that very first day, he tells me that his cellmate handed him a Bible. It was all there was to read so he opened it up, and he started reading in Matthew about our Lord. Our Father in Heaven met this young man there in his cell as he turned his thoughts back to his Savior for help. Father God “ran” to him with His arms wide open, filled with compassion for him. Now behind bars, this man has been set free. He writes, “It is funny to think a person can be happy in jail, but I am. I have everything I need in here, friends, family and above all God to support me. Even though I am locked up, I feel as free as a bird. Thanks be to God!” This young man’s letters are full of peace and hope because when he turned back to his Father God, he was met immediately with a response of love and forgiveness. That is God’s promise to all of us.

“It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed…It’s called the new birth because it’s so radical.”
Timothy Keller “The Prodigal God”

I loved reading this book and seeing it tie into these women on the train. I loved what God was teaching me during our time in Reno, a city that stays awake all night, with no rest for the weary who think their fortune might lie in some machine that has a far-fetched possibility of lining up 7’s across the board. Seven is God’s number, the number of completion, not a far-fetched hope on something that will slip through our fingers like sand, but the Hope of an eternity lived out with complete assurance that we are loved. Isn’t that what both these young women really wanted anyway…to be loved? Isn’t that what we all want? We just go about getting it in so many different ways until we find our way back Home. My friend in jail has found his way back home after some “wild living.” (Luke 15:13) We all can! We have some of “both sons” in all of us, and we all need our Father’s love more than anything else on this planet.

“Both the worldly life of sensual pleasure and the religious life of ethical strictness fail to give the human heart what it is seeking.” Timothy Keller

Both of those young women on the train could have probably used a warm hug and a listening ear, but instead I watched them walk in and out of my life just like the scenery passing by outside the train window…slowly, while silently pondering. I will never know what was on their heart, but I can pray for them as I remember them. And I know for certain that when they look for the Father’s love, they will find it!

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of
yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Luke 15:32 (NIV)

This trip really wasn’t about Reno was it? It was all about the train, and the lessons God had for us along the way. We never know where, when or how we will meet Jesus in our journey through life, but we will!

“It’s Who you know that determines where you go!”
(Printed on one of my client’s T-Shirts)

Until we meet again,