Christmas 1914

“There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter;
day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood,
and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain.
Who would imagine, as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another,
that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature,
all members of the same human society?
Who would recognize brothers,
whose Father is in Heaven?”

Pope Benedict XV

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(an artist’s impression taken form The Illustrated London News, January 1915 of British and German soldiers during the Christmas truce of 1914)

War is a funny thing.
As in it is an age old oddity.
An ugly, devastating oddity.

Since his fall from grace,
man has been engaged in a constant state of struggle.
Battling and fighting a war within himself as he wages war against all others.
Living in a constant state of destruction…
Conquering, defending, killing, invading, taking…

And yet within man’s duality of his nature…that connection between light and dark…
of both right and wrong,
of both love and hate,
of give and take,
of fair and unfair
of peace and war…
all of which seems to leave him no choice but to create a balance within the chaos
of some sense of fairness or rightness…
as if war should be, could be, conducted fairly or even oddly, justly,
Man continues to yearn for the light, the upright, the hopeful…

As man feels his way through the never ending darkness, he has learned to set parameters.
He creates rules.
Rules of engagement.
Rules of war.
Rules set by the Geneva Convention.
Rules stating that nations are to fight fairly,
as if to say…fight by the rules.

Yet all of this seems to be grossly oxymoronic…
as if war, fighting, maiming and killing could ever be fair,
or just, or right, or proper….

Yet on Christmas Day 1914 man’s conflict and inner struggle with this duality
of his imperfect balance, oddly righted itself…

That in the midst of death and insanity, the arrival of Christmas,
the coming and eventual arrival of the child whose birth brings both the gift of
hope and peace to not merely a few but rather to all mankind,
brought balance, albeit briefly, to man’s seemingly unending inner conflict…

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for
the celebration of Christmas.
The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire,
but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols
to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers
even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day,
some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the
Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.
At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick,
but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands
with the enemy soldiers.
The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs.
There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a
good-natured game of soccer.

Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task:
the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s
land between the lines.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war
in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of
chivalry between enemies in warfare.
It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by
officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof,
however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons,
the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield,
but even a world war could not destory the Christmas spirit.

History.com

“Hark the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born king.”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Charles Wesley

I ain’t no saint….

If God sends you many sufferings,
it is a sign that He has great plans for you and
certainly wants to make you a saint.

St. Ignatius Loyola

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(stained glass St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

First of all,
let’s make this perfectly clear,
I am not in any way,
nor have I ever been,
a saint…

I have never professed to be…
nor have I lived what would be considered a
very saintly life.

But that is not to say that I am a wanton miscreant either…

I’m very much like the next person, full of foibles, warts and all…

I have, rather, during this life of mine found much wisdom,
and even grace, in the words written and shared
by those individuals who have, by no campaigning of their own, found themselves
named to that more sacred list of the who’s who….

It is during the more trying times in life that I tend to seek much
needed wisdom and clarity.
Certainly more so than during those more quiet and calmer days of living.

This time, here and now….is no bed of roses….
In fact it reminds me of the Churchill quote…
“If you’re going through hell, by all means keep going…”

Between Dad and me, I think I’ve seen just about every ologist out there.
Then with my poor husband,
who is up to his eye balls trying to settle his late dad’s estate,
we have been busy with the esquires….

I suppose you know it’s bad when the latest doctor you’ve seen,
who has known you for the past 25 years,
looks at you with his hand literally on your pulse and asks

“when is the last time you slept?!”

With my response being…

“you tell me?!”

as he soothingly comes back with a…

“Well I’m going to prescribe you a little something to help…”

With me sardonically quipping…

“well I hope its a sledge hammer”

It helps if you’ve known one another over the years—
through things like surgeries, colonoscopies, childbirth…..

Hopefully tomorrow with one more ologist and pedic doctor on the list, there will be some
relief…

And so I thought I’d share a few wise words of comfort by a few of
our past sisteren and brethren out there who have known a thing or two about
hardships, hardtimes, suffering, pain, loss and illness…

Cause you see….
that’s the thing often about these sacred who’s who members…
their words are not mere flippant off the cuff comments meant to sugar coat anything.
Many of them lived pain filled lives both physically as well as mentally and emotionally…

And yet…they allowed their hurting, their sorrows, their struggles…
to act as beckons of light…
focused upward rather than inward and downward….

One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying.
He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much
more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off,
and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.

St. Teresa of Avila
(lost her mother when she was just 14. She suffered grievously from migraines
and prolonged illness–during which she experienced many divine encounters)

It is You Jesus, stretched out on the cross,
who gives me strength and are always close to the suffering soul.
Creatures will abandon a person in his suffering, but You, O Lord, are faithful…

(1508)
St. Faustina
(lived most of her life in poverty–even being turned down from several Cloisters
due to her low status in life.
She developed TB and died at the age of 33—
only after having established the devotion of Divine Mercy)

Courage, my sons. Don’t you see that we are leaving on a mission?
They pay our fare in the bargain.
What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well
in order to win as many souls as possible.

St Maximilian Kolbe
[Said when he was first arrested.]
(sent to Auschwitz Nazi death camp where he sacrificed himself in order
for a fellow prisoner to be spared
and was sent to a starvation cell where he sang and prayed with the
other prisoners as they died one by one. He survived two weeks before the guards
entered the cell and ended his life with a deadly injection)

limeaide?

Since you cannot do good to all,
you are to pay special attention to those who,
by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances,
are brought into closer connection with you.

Saint Augustine

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(my first limes from my little lime tree / Julie Cook / 2016)

I certainly know all about that seemingly simplistic little adage…
You know the one…
when life hands you lemons,
make lemonade…

Sometimes that seems so much easier said then done…

Plus it sounds somewhat childlike, sappy and far too sweet for the more caustic moments of life.
For it is a far cry from the reality of the nitty gritty lives we are living.

It’s kind of like saying, Life just handed out a pile of crap and now you’re suppose to turn it into something sugary sweet and oh so refreshing…

Not happening.

My lemons on my lemon tree aren’t ripe yet, but the limes are.
Or so I thought they were…
So I wanted to test them…
Turns out they are good and ripe…

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Life right now is anything but a time for sipping a nice long, tall and cool glass of lemonade.

Now granted I did grab a lemonade from the drive through at a Chick-fil-A yesterday,
in-between taking Dad here, there and yon…
and their lemonade is the best I’ve found….
but it’s just that somedays even the thought of a refreshing lemonade falls flat on our hearts….

For life is now hard.
It is pulling while pushing.
It is relentless and frightening at the very same time.
While there is both physical and emotional pain.

A friend of mine recently confided a haunting confession…
that he’s been feeling as if a steel curtain had been drawn between him and God.

I think there has been an almost palpable distance and or dryness.
That there has not been that usual deep spiritual connection between him and God.
His feelings have been dried up and most likely rusted tight.
He’s been going through the motions but simply not feeling the Love as it were.

I think St John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul.

I don’t know a single Believer who has not experienced living in that dark vacuum at some point of other during the course of their life as a follower of Chirst.

Mother Teresa recounted that she had actually spent the better part of her life
living in that darkness.

And yet we see what she was about doing, during the course of her life,
with that feeling of distance and longing heart…
trudging through the darkness, always moving forward toward the Cross.

The naysayers and militant unbelieving will immediately jump on the
“God is maniacal, mean and even evil” train.
Mocking all who dare to believe…yet seemingly struggle and hurt.
Sharply pointing out that this God of ours sits upon His lofty throne
sadistically watching us squirm in our suffering…

And that’s the thing.

Even when it gets hard, dark and painful…
Even when our hearts and bodies are broken.
With or without feelings…
we muster on toward the Cross…

because we were given the very same Divine example….

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Editors and signposts

“Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing because you have omitted every word that he can spare.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
C. S. Lewis

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(tools of a trade / Julie Cook / 2015)

Many years ago when I was early on in my college career, I can vividly remember telling
my mother that I thought something was wrong with me–with the way I learned, or better yet,
the way I didn’t / couldn’t learn–that which today is referred to as a learning disability.

Often frustrated that learning, which seemed to come so easily to others,
did not come easy for me.
By all outward appearances I was quite bright and articulate, excelling in some areas,
struggling to merely get by in others.

Nevertheless, I mustered on often battling extreme frustration and disappointment.
Constantly studying, seeking out tutors, practicing, staying after class for help…
only to come up frustratingly short–
failing or nearly failing tests I just was certain I could pass.

We now know that not all learners process information the same as others.
It often takes a keen educator, who constantly observes and accesses their students,
to be able to present material, using a variety of delivery methods,
while hoping to tap into each students strengths.

I can still remember Mother simply shrugging, telling me that I was fine.
Yet today as I have watched my now grown son struggle throughout his entire life with an
early diagnosed Learning Disability and Dyslexia…
as I’m pretty certain I know from whence his troubles originated…

Math was my nemesis, as it remains so much to this day–
I made certain that I would pursue a career path which did not require Algebra or Geometry,
let alone something as obscure as Calculus.
Science, although I was intrigued by Science,
did not fair much better in my brain.
The Biology side of the Science world was more readily digested then that of Physics or Chemistry.
There were formulas, numbers, symbols and equations–
all things my brain just wouldn’t or couldn’t seem to unwrap.

Thriving however in the study of History and the study of the social sciences,
otherwise known as social studies,
I found myself enthralled by the endless stories which make history History.
Not necessarily with each and every aspect of history,
nor of the history of each and every culture,
yet for the majority of study,
history was the area in which I became a sponge.
I was equally intrigued with the political aspect of human history.
Throw in Theology and the history of the ancient faith of Judaism,
as well as that of the later emergence of Christianity,
and I was all ears.

English was ok but there were problems there as well.
Spelling was an issue, as those of you who read this blog well know.
Between spellcheck, autocorrect and my brain,
not all words in the blog posts are correct—
of which I greatly apologize.
And to my defense I never received a good foundation in sentence structure or grammar.
For whatever reason,
I never had a class or teacher who really taught grammar usage and writing as it
should have been taught.
It seemed that I usually ended up in a class where it was a given that all learners
had already been steeped in the basic foundations.
Sadly, I was the one learner in the lot who was not so versed.
Yet I did enjoy the literature aspect of English—with myself,
yearning one day, to be able to express my thoughts and ideas through writing as well.

Being able to express myself was always important. I found that writing,
first in a journal / diary form as a young girl, then as I grew older,
through the writing of letters.
It was in the writing of letters where I was finally allowed to fully express my thoughts.
It was a place my often frustrated brain could and would freely soar.

In the days before computers, word documents, pdf files, jpg images…
I alone helped to sustain the United States Postal Service by keeping them busily in business.
I loved buying and sending cards.
I would spend hours writing letters–especially letters that I would write,
more like epistles, to my godfather–
who is now 92 and a long retired Episcopal priest.
I have often referenced him and his influence in my life in previous posts.

The letters were often written with a myriad of misspelled words despite the large
dictionary by my side.
There were gaping gaps in the written thought as I thought much faster than I wrote.
The letters were laced with outrageous sentence structure,
which in turn would make any english teacher cringe,…
yet they were letters written with passion, honesty and humility.
And despite the holes, the poor sentence structure or the youthful angst,
my godfather would receive each letter expectantly, happily, and lovingly…
all without judgement of content or the editing of grammatical structure–
this from a man who made a living writing and speaking.

Our correspondence began when I was around the age of 15.
My early letters were laced with the pangs of innocence and adolescence.
Yet as I aged and matured those letters became more complex,
even troubling, as I fought my way, often with fraught emotion,
through the often tangled jungle of life.
I wrestled with my faith and beliefs.
Life was not always easy nor kind.
There were obstacles, illnesses, deaths, disappointments, poor choices, grave mistakes,
coupled with a few triumphs, glimpses of joy and moments of contentment.

Always with love and often, no doubt, with great frustration,
he would offer words of either encouragement, warning, or mere advice…
yet his words were always laced with love.
It was here, within the correspondence of a young girl, now grown woman, where I learned about unconditional love.

I never filtered my words or emotions yet perhaps today, looking back,
I see that it would have behooved me to have used a bit more restraint—
yet he never faltered or expressed disappointment.
My Godpoppa, the busy world at large Anglican leader,
would never specifically tell me what to do,
despite my often desperate queries.
He never would say yes or no but rather he’d offer wisdom woven with advice all of
which he hoped would allow me to eventually find my own way.
He was a signpost of guidance, of the miles thus traveled and of miles yet to be traveled.

So on this new day of this new week, in the early days of a brand new year—
do you need an editor or do you need a signpost?
Are you in need of direction or correction on this journey of yours known simply as life?
Or are you like most of us, simply indeed of both—
sometimes needing to be pointed in the right direction while receiving a bit of
much needed revision to your plots and plans…
May you make the most of the guidance, advice, love,
direction and assistance you receive along the way and may you be blessed,
as I have been,
with more signposts than editors.

Liberty

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
― John Adams

“I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

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(sparkler at home / Julie Cook / 2014)

At some point today during all of the festivities— the picnics, the skiing, the watermelons, the cutting of the grass, the road races, the swimming, the time in the ocean’s waves, the parades, the fireworks–may we all take pause to offer up our thanks for the ability to enjoy those very things—may we be mindful of and grateful for those who bore the struggles and the battles–for those who lost their lives, all to ensure that we, both you and I, may do those very simple fun and patriotic things that we do to “celebrate the 4th of July. . .
May God Bless the United States of America. . .

To travel through adversity

My strength is made perfect in weakness.
II Corinthians

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(black capped chickadee on an ice encrusted limb / Julie Cook / 2014)

That was rough…. Thing to do now is try and forget it…. I guess I don’t quite mean that. It’s not a thing you can forget. Maybe not even a thing you want to forget…. Life’s like that sometimes… Now and then for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat, slam him agin’ the ground so hard it seems like all his insides is busted. But it’s not all like that. A lot of it’s mighty fine, and you can’t afford to waste the good part frettin’ about the bad. That makes it all bad…. Sure, I know – sayin’ it’s one thing and feelin’ it’s another. But I’ll tell you a trick that’s sometimes a big help. When you start lookin’ around for something good to take the place of the bad, as a general rule you can find it.
From the movie Old Yeller

If you’ve never seen nor heard of the movie Old Yeller, may I recommend it to you.
I’ve seen it perhaps only twice in my life, each time when I was around the age of 10. Each Sunday evening, when I was a little girl, The Wonderful World of Disney would air a weekly movie, sometimes animated sometimes not, always at 7PM. Bathes were quickly taken as fresh PJs were quickly put on, as my brother and I would quickly grab our pillows in order to plop down in front of the television in grand anticipation—-with Old Yeller being one such presentation.

As an adult, knowing the story line, my heart aches so that I simply can’t bear to watch it again– although it is indeed a positive story. The story will certainly leave the viewer with a lasting impression. A difficult impression, but lasting none the less.

The movie made its debut in 1957–and is based on a 1956 book of the same title. The story is not an easy one and involves post civil war hard times, in rural Texas, an old stray dog and a young boy’s transition from that of childhood to manhood. Love, struggle, tragedy, grief, growth, the cost of loyalty, death and hope are all intertwined, woven tightly together. By the movie’s end there is never a dry eye from those who are watching.

The movie is but a microcosm for much of life. Both our young hero and the old stray dog have much to teach us, the viewer. There is the story of the ultimate sacrifice made for the sake of loyalty and love. It is the story of an unconditional love and sacrifice—with that sacrifice bleeding into the most trying and conflicting of actions in the human heart, which gives way to a deep and almost consuming emptiness and loss.

Growing up is never easy as life is usually punctuated by difficulties and hardships, pain and sorrow. However, it is not to the hardships and the difficulties of which we must train our focus and attentions but rather we must look toward the end results. . .eventually looking past them, to the hope of a future.

If we spend all of our time and energies focusing solely on our troubles, then we never move our eyes from the current worry and woe. If we never pull our heads up in order to look for solutions or for a brighter light or for even an escape, we simply remain in the tortuous prison of the situation.

Our young hero was in such a sticky wicket, as life had already proven tough and unkind– when suddenly and tragically, the tough and unkind grew exponentially paramount. The ultimate discovery for our young hero was not that of bitter sorrow and a closed heart, but rather that life, for good or bad, is a continuum, it is something which is always moving forward. The choice of moving along with it, is simply and plainly the decision of the individual. Stay with and in the adversity, or work to move past it—that is the real issue.

As Sir Winston Churchill so succinctly reminds us: “If you are going to go through hell, keep going.” I would imagine he would have noted …”by all means, keep going and by all means get past it!!”

Be a good egg

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“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
C. S. Lewis

Two choices. Neither easy.

The whole hatching experience, not an easy ordeal. Stuck inside a tight fitting enclosure. No room, no where to move. Slowly but surely chipping away at the all encompassing shell. Little by little, first perhaps a beak, maybe a leg, or wing. Tiring and exhausting. Stopping, resting, chipping some more. Feeling wet and sticky, uncomfortable. Rolling about, can’t make the whole shell to be still. Cramped, claustrophobic, got to get out!!

Or…

Or perhaps just give up before even trying. It’s simply too much. I can’t do it. There is no way. I don’t have the strength. I have no help. There is a time limit. I can’t do this in such short time. It’s too heavy, too laborious. I’m a bit warm but surely this is better in here than out there. I’ll just sit here, and give in. This is easier. I can’t…

Mr. Lewis is right. We have two choices. Either we go through the tough hatching, the preparing, the studies, the training, the learning, the growing, the working, the struggles, the sorrow, the pain,… until we are finally to “the other side” or we remain inactive, frozen in time, stuck, in inertia–no growth, no gain, no hope.

Life is not easy. It requires so much of us. There is a great deal of pain, sorrow, frustration. The wonder of whether or not it is actually all worth it.
Ask any older individual who has perhaps lived through a great depression, a world war, that gave way to a police action, that gave way to another war, and another war, and another war…..who has watched a country rive in growing pains, watched loved ones come an go, wealth come and go, etc… and they will tell you that it has been a good life. What seemed or seems so daunting at the time, taken little by little, step by step, suddenly becomes the past, something we survived and are now the better for.

Two choices. To just sit with inactivity, watching life pass you by or either working at what you must do to forge a life for yourself and for those you love. Inactivity leads to atrophy and eventually death. Small strides of effort lead to accomplishments and growth. No one says any of it will be easy but they will tell you that it was and is well worth it. You decide.