“Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.”
This time of year usually catches all of us living life in a whirlwind of extra busyness.
Throw into the regular regime of work, school, and fickle weather added by the demands
of a heavy dose of shopping, cooking, running all over town, traveling, wrapping, packing,
shipping yada, yada, yada…and we can very quickly forget what all of this is really about.
Or on the flip side, we could be watching those around us busy and merry while
our small world is quiet and lonely.
An extra blanket of suffocating heaviness has just covered an already aching heart.
Either way, this time of year can be extra taxing on us all.
We get so caught up in our own little holiday worlds while at the same time
we are currently living with a madness playing out before our eyes in our own government.
We find ourselves with a mixed sense of wonder, frustration, sorrow, joy, and confusion.
We want to be happy…but.
We want to be mad…but.
We want things to be right…but.
We want to be jolly and bright…but
So when I received my periodic email from Fold3, which is an arm of Ancestry.com
which is the military record archives that Ancestry pulls from,
I was reminded of another Christmas that was also a duality of both joy and anguish.
And here’s the thing…
If it was not for the duality of emotions during that Christmas time in 1944,
then you and I may not even find ourselves living out our own Christmas today in 2019.
We owe the people of that winter of 1944 more than we can ever repay.
For you see the infamous Battle of the Ardennes, better known as the Battle of the Bulge,
was a turning point for the allies during WWII.
Yet it came at a tremendous cost and sacrifice on both sides of the proverbial pond.
Soldiers doing their duty as families were home doing theirs.
Waiting, hoping, praying.
Yet sadly we have an entire swath of this nation that has never heard of such a battle
and frankly does not care.
All because that was then and this is now.
‘And so what does then have to do with now’ they smugly ask.
Everything my friend, absolutely everything.
And so this afternoon as I sat in a doctor’s waiting room reading this article on my phone,
a man was also sitting in the waiting room, began listening to Silent Night playing softly
over his phone.
I wasn’t upset that this man had allowed a song to play out in this small
quiet space as I found the song a very appropriate song for this particular story…
Here is one story from that Christmas of 1944:
Christmas During the Battle of the Bulge
December 1, 2019 by Jenny Ashcraft
On December 16, 1944, German forces surprised American soldiers in the densely forested
Ardennes region of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, with a massive offensive also known
as the Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Counteroffensive.
Germany pushed through an Allied line, creating a bulge in the Allied defensive lines.
The deadly battle, which lasted until January 25, 1945, was the largest on the European
western front during WWII and resulted in an estimated 1 in 10 American combat casualties
during the entire war. It also meant that thousands of soldiers spent Christmas 1944
in temperatures that hovered around zero, in knee-deep snow, and with limited rations
for Christmas dinner.
On the home front, their families spent a nervous holiday season,
waiting for word of their loved ones.
Cpl. Frank D. Vari spent Christmas Eve huddled in a foxhole as shells exploded
around him all night long.
“We could hear their guns going off and the shells landing at the same time.
They were close.
They almost surrounded the whole place.
I remember Christmas Day.
I got up, and we had a real bad night, with artillery and everything.
The first thing I saw was the steeple of a church down in the valley.
It was a beautiful day, the sun was just coming up over a little village at the bottom.”
The clear skies allowed US planes to reinforce soldiers along the front.
The break in the weather saved Vari’s unit.
Sgt. Metro Sikorsky woke up Christmas Day 1944 in a bombed-out building.
He was 25-years-old and serving in Company B, 17th Tank Battalion of the
7th Armored Division.
It was his first time away from home in Pennsylvania.
All around were the bodies of the frozen and his job included picking up the dead.
He said it was so cold that when a soldier died, in a short time the body
froze where it lay.
There were no presents and no Christmas dinner, but Sikorsky felt lucky to be alive.
It was so cold that soldiers cut blankets into strips and wound
them around their frozen feet.
Tech Sgt. Maurice Glenn Hughs remembered the terrible winter conditions during the battle.
“Hundreds of people lost their feet because they were frozen,” he said.
Hughs was hospitalized after the battle and doctors in Paris told him that his feet
would need to be amputated.
“My legs were painted up to my knees to be amputated.
And then the doctors checked and said they wouldn’t have to be,” said Hughs.
Mattie Dickenson of Georgetown, Louisiana, remembered Christmas 1944 as a difficult one.
She anxiously waited for news from her husband Benjamin F. Dickenson.
Benjamin was drafted when he was 38-years-old and found himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I do remember that was the saddest Christmas I ever spent.
For 21 days I didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” said Mattie.
Though Benjamin was wounded, he made it home alive.
Mattie kept a piece of the parachute that dropped supplies to her husband
Soldiers from the Third United States Army carried a printed copy of
Gen. George Patton’s Christmas Prayer of 1944.
Patton had a copy distributed to each soldier before the battle.
It petitioned the heavens for good weather and concluded with a Christmas greeting
from the General.
“To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas.
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.
We march in our might to complete the victory.
May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”
The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last major offensive along the Western Front.
Within a month Allied forces pushed the Germans back and closed the bulge.
The battle was called “the greatest American battle of the war” by Winston Churchill
and it crushed Germany’s hopes for ultimate success in the war.
To learn more about the Battle of the Bulge and soldiers who fought in it,
search Fold3 today!
“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach,
in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”
(the snowy adirondacks / Julie Cook / 2017)
God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone he has made may know his work,
he stops all people from their labor.
The animals take cover;
they remain in their dens.
The tempest comes out from its chamber,
the cold from the driving winds.
The breath of God produces ice,
and the broad waters become frozen.
“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness
in the proportion.”
Edgar Allan Poe
(a foot of snow blankets the yard / Julie Cook / 2017)
Whereas this unexpected early December Southern Snow has blanketed us with a
deep white blanket of mystical silence and stillness…it has not come without
a wealth of woe….
The school systems in and around the Atlanta metro area…north and westward…
school systems who usually err on the side of caution actually decided to listen
to our meteorologists who glibly reported that,
whereas it looked as if there would be some snow….,
we’d been so warm up to now that any snow would be fleeting.
A lite dusting that wouldn’t stick to roadways or driveways as it had just been
simply too warm for any real need for worry.
In other words, a short lived event.
This was to be taking place on Friday.
So on Friday, everyone opted to go about life as normal…
This is the deep South you know….we don’t really worry about winter weather
this time of year.
And so right on que the rains came, turning eventually over to snow.
And then it snowed and it snowed, and it kept on snowing…..
The schools scrambled and quickly decided that perhaps they should release the hounds students…
And so we had everyone in a myriad of counties all starting to unleash madness
upon the roadways all at the same staggering times.
Staggered releases seemed to be the best option…yet it was still snowing…hard.
Snow and ice were beating the release times.
Buses found it impossible to deliver their tender cargo as the snow and ice
were blanketing roadways…making traveling up and down hills impossible.
Our very pregnant daughter-n-law, who teaches here in our county but lives in Atlanta,
opted to come to our house verses trying to navigate the snowy icy interstates back
home to Atlanta as the News was painting a terrible traffic picture.
A typical 15 minute drive to our house from her school actually took her 2 hours…
as cars were now slip sliding away.
In fact my husband had to go meet her a mile from our house as cars had simply stopped
in their tracks on the roads as others had landed in the ditches and she was stuck in
the middle. It took him 30 minutes to get to her…a drive that should have taken two minutes.
Meanwhile, limbs were falling left and right in Atlanta.
It is a city known for her plethora of beautiful trees…yet snow and ice are not
kind to trees.
A snow laden limb fell on our son and daughter-n-laws house,
literally ripping out the power lines from the house….lines now laying dangerously
across the lawn.
GA Power has come to access the issue and now needs one of their certified
electricians to come out and reconnect the lines into the house before
they can re-run the lines from the pole to the house…
lest all things blow up.
Our son, dad’s cat and the grand dog are hunkering down in the dark, without heat
as the temperatures plunge down into the teens….
waiting for word of this elections.
This as I watched today those who really suffer through these sorts
of weather events…the animals…
as well as those who have no shelter to call their own…
As God watches over both animal and man who remain without….
(notice to the left of the two bulls, the wee head peering out from the crack
in the dilapidated barn)
(the poor cold bulls / Julie Cook / 2017)
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
See me safe up: for in my coming down,
I can shift for myself.
(the frozen demise of the mint / Julie Cook / 2017)
Despite our having just journeyed through the season known for all things of anticipation…
that sacred time of observing Advent, which then culminates with the wondrous arrival
of the illuminating Nativity…
we actually, in this silent and slumberous time of deep winter,
continue finding ourselves waiting and watching.
Found in the Latin word adventus, which is the translation of the Greek word parousia,
we find a word and meaning that has traditionally been used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.
Not so much denoting a single and initial birth, but rather embracing the anticipation of
a second birth…a sort of re-coming…
Yet, as William Stringfellow observes,
“we live now, in the Untied States, in a culture so profoundly pagan that Advent (or any other Christian “season”)*
is no longer really noticed, much less observed.
The commercial acceleration of seasons,
whereby the promotion of Christmas begins even before there is an opportunity to enjoy
Halloween, is superficially, a reason for the vanishment of Advent.
But a more significant cause is that the churches have become so utterly secularized
that they no longer remember the topic of Advent.
And so it seems that our secular and worldly selves have given way from our
continuation of waiting and watching to rather the glossing over of a key
observational time within our faith.
We have allowed, as it appears we have preferred, to move away from that which should
still be our focus, yielding rather, to the superficial luster of the fleeting.
For it seems that the notion of Advent, or any other of the “seasons” of the church,
has fallen way to the more glamorous secular association of what should actually be the truly
innate spiritual rhythms of our beings.
Yet as unrelenting and ever-faithful,
we now find ourselves transitioning from the anticipation found in Advent and the Nativity
to Epiphany, leading way to Ash Wednesday and the heaviness of the somber Lenten season…
as it too shall give way to the unending promise of Hope…
We enter, once again into a time of waiting and watching…
waiting not so much for the first birth with its earth shattering life that was cut
tragically short by a brutal yet necessary death…
but rather we, the dwindling yet tenacious faithful, both wait and watch
not for an ending associated with death but rather for the continuation of what is to come…
Life anew and everlasting…
As we find ourselves listening to once again, as well as claiming, those prophetic words of that
lone figure who cried out to the masses so long ago…
as his words continue to resonate in our hearts…
MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'”
“Surrender thyself to God and thou shalt find thyself again”
Alfred Delp and originally attributed to Thomas a Kempis
(frozen in time / Julie Cook / 2017)
Humans need freedom.
As slaves, fettered and confined, they are bound to deteriorate.
We have spent a great deal of thought and time on external freedom;
we have made serious efforts to secure our personal liberty and yet
we have lost it again and again.
The worst thing is that eventually humans come to accept the state of bondage—
it becomes habitual and they hardly notice it.
The most abject slaves can be made to believe that the condition in which
they are held is actually freedom.
During these long weeks of confinement I have learned by personal experience
that a person is truly lost, is the victim of circumstances and oppression
only when he is incapable of a great inner sense of depth and freedom.
Human freedom is born in the moment of our contact with God.
What really matters is the fact that we are called and we must
be sufficiently awake to hear the call.
Alfred Delp Prison Writings
“In my distress I called upon the LORD,
Yes, I cried to my God;
And from His temple He heard my voice,
And my cry for help came into His ears.
2 Samuel 22:7
“Look beneath the surface;
let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.”
― Marcus Aurelius
(new growth hiding beneath the brush / Troup Co, Georgia /Julie Cook / 2015)
Muddling through colorless days
Bundled up, wrapped tight, hunkered down. . .
Sinking within self
Eyes fixed on nothing, as feet shuffle forward
Fighting wind, snow, rain. . .
Ode to Winter at its dulling best
Suddenly something tiny,
something possessing. . .
What is this, dry forlorn minds query.
Because big new things lie just beneath the surface. . .
In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary – we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
― Masaru Emoto
My longings, my hopes, my dreams, and my every effort has been to live for Him who rescued me, to study for Him who gave me this mind, to serve Him who fashioned my will, and to speak for Him who gave me a voice.”
― Ravi Zacharias
(the premature blooms of the quince / Julie Cook / 2015
What is our life but to live?
What of the mistimed bloom?
Perhaps it is merely a single day, maybe even two or three–an amalgamation of unseasonable sun and warmth prompting certain unseen urges. . .nudging the sleeping Giant to stir from its required time of slumber.
It does not matter that the calendar tells us it is not yet time.
It does not matter that the weather predictions are for dire cold. . .
All it takes is a touch of warmth here, a brilliant day of sun there, the tiny gained increments of daylight, above freezing nights, which each in turn sends the GO signal to all that is dormant to “come out, come out, where ever you are. . .”
Buds begin to form, pregnant with new growth and anxious to deliver.
Yet suddenly and cruelly, just as Life dreamily stirs, wiping the sleep from her eyes, the harshness of a bitter northern wind delivers the wicked punch of reality.
Winter is just getting started.
Tender buds and tiny green leaves turn a sickly black, oozing forth life juices which merely turn into dirty ice.
Yet this dismal picture is not as bad as it may appear, all is not lost as we mustn’t succumb to our frigid despair.
It is true, the newly stunned and stunted growth, now frozen in time, will quickly die away, but Life will indeed make certain that she has her way. . .as well as the last word.
Just as soon as a wee scuosh of warmth battles for an ounce of stronghold, Life will, once again, work her magic of emergence. Her rallying cry will be heard across the land banishing the monotone shades of Winter’s white, greys and browns back to the southern hemisphere from whence it came.
Yet be all of that as it may, for the time being however, it is simply time for the Giant, which was so rudely routed from her much needed beauty rest, to return to her scared place of stillness. . .hidden well away from prying eyes. . .resting, sleeping, waiting. . .all in order to eventually breathe life back into the now barren landscape of expectation.
God is coming! God is coming! All the element we swim in, this existence, Echoes ahead the advent. God is coming! Can’t you feel it?”
Walter Wangerin, Jr.
(remnants of Fall on their way to the compost pile / Julie Cook / 2014)
They were beginning to smell.
Several could still be picked up by hand but many had simply turned to mush.
Cold, nearly frozen, mush hiding beneath cracking shells.
Those were scooped up with the old garden spade.
Back in September, they were hopeful.
And they spoke of harvests, waning light and golden days.
For those who were’t paying attention, time, as fickled as she is, has darted forward.
A season is ending and all which claims such as its own, is fading, withering and slowly dying.
Any and all remnants must be sorted out, moved out and eventually thrown out.
A seismic shift is set to take place.
Nature knows this even before we do.
She has set change into motion.
There is much which must take place.
This before the anticipation may truly begin.
Life must first be stripped bare.
All garish excessiveness must be removed.
No distractions are to remain.
Even color must now depart.
For the time of focus is at hand.
So for now all that remains is but the waiting.
For expectancy drifts across the chilling winds.
All in anticipation for the season known as Advent.
“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; So that, at the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.”
The Book of Common Prayer, published in 1662
Love keeps the cold out better than a cloak.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(a frozen birdbath on a frosty November morning / Julie Cook / 2014)
As the mercury in the old glass thermometer begins to make its steady descent, falling lower and lower in the tiny glass stem, reaching that crucial 32º F, magic begins to unfold in the ancient crumbling birdbath.
Liquid collides with frigid air as molecules slow.
Interlocking and spreading outward from itself as frenetic now becomes static. A surface oddly appears where moments before there was none.
Dripping, sloshing and evaporating, everyday miraculous occurrences taken for granted, are now trapped and caught in a single moment of time being transformed from the familiar to the foreign, as a season shifts and a cold stalk reality settles in making itself at home.
And as we are told that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” we must remember, know and claim that even in the simplest act of water changing from a liquid to a solid, from the overflow of rain water in an old birdbath to a thick sheet of ice, this act of the miraculous, does not pass or escape the knowledge of the Master Creator.
Something as commonplace as water freezing during the coming of the winter months, all takes place with the knowledge and observation of a Heavenly Father who has set the planets and the seasons in motion, who has cast light into the darkness, and who continues to offer hope in a world full of hopelessness.
Even in the insignificant discarded birdbath, God’s mastery is on display for any and all to take note. His fingerprints are present in the warmth of the sun as well as in the devoid nature of ice.
Who is this who has set forth the scientific laws of motion, gravity, combustion, transformation, energy. . .man may be able to replicate and create change, for good or bad, but he can only take from what he has been given—and much has been given.
Rejoice then shall we, in the light of day, the twinkling stars by night, the warmth of the sun, the blooming of the flowers, the abundance of the field and even in the barren, harsh frozen nothingness of the silence known as Winter. For there is no place on this planet where God is not—that we may learn to rejoice even as the earth transforms from the welcoming and enveloping seasons of warmth and abundant color to a time of lonely cold and unforgiving ice.
. . . As this amazing lesson and reminder now unfolds and is on full display in a lone and forgotten birdbath.
(a frozen birdbath on a frosty November morning / Julie Cook / 2014)
(a frozen birdbath on a frosty November morning / Julie Cook / 2014)