Honoring the Fallen

Wreaths decorate the thousands of graves at Arlington National Cemetery

Each year in mid-December, thousands of volunteers gather to lay wreaths at the head of the graves of America’s honored dead. According to their website, over 253,000 wreaths were placed by volunteers for Wreaths Across America (WAA) at Arlington National Cemetery. “This year, there will be more than 1,700 participating locations in total across the country, supported by nearly 4,000 fundraising groups, with more than two million volunteers coming together all across the nation.”

LTC Colonel Victor M. Torres, my wife’s father, was laid to rest there this past fall with full military honors. Saturday was our first visit since the internment service and truthfully, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Seeing the vast fields of white stones and red ribbon, each representing the life of one our citizens who had served our country, was very moving. Gazing out at all those grave markers, each bearing a wreath set in place by an army of volunteers, brought the words of a familiar Christmas carol to mind.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth!
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

If you are interested in the work of Wreaths Across America, or if you would like to donate to their yearly effort, you can find more information on their website, wreathsacrossamerica.org

Arlington National Cemetery view
View of graves with wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Reaching Across the Decades

Leafing thru my worn copy of The Joy of Cooking cookbook, I came across a recipe from my step mother I had stuffed in there years ago. I seldom even use the printed cookbook anymore; like many people these days I search for recipes online. But there it was, a relic as it were from the distant past, her offering to me for a holiday long ago.

Dorathy Hilbig’s recipe for Banana Nut Bread.

What was intriguing to me, apart from the fact that it’s over 30 years old and written on one of those preformatted recipe cards that you keep in a file box, was what she had written on the back of the card.

After the paragraphs of ingredients and cooking instructions and notes on what baking pans to use, she leaves me these final words. “If you have a microwave oven, butter a piece and warm it for 10 or 15 seconds—delicious!!! at least that is what your Dad claims—I don’t eat such goodies!!

To this day I am still amazed that she thought of a way to make my holidays special, home-made if you will, by sending me something she couldn’t even enjoy. It’s a gift that has only grown better with time.

Two loaves of banana nut bread
Two loaves of Banana Nut Bread
Banana Nut Bread

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

Enjoying the Holidays

One of the advantages of having recently moved to a new area, is the opportunity to get out and explore what there is for shopping, dining, recreation and more. Practically everywhere we go, every restaurant or shop, is new for us. In some ways it’s like being on vacation, only you get to return if you find a place you really want to try again.

The holidays are an especially good time to try a new place. In the historic old town area of Leesburg, shop owners and dining establishments have gone full out decorating for the season. Whether urns filled to overflowing with evergreens, pine cones and such, or bountiful swag draping a fireplace, the town and her businesses are decked out and ready for their close up.

A break in our #shoplocal expedition gave us time for lunch at Lightfoot Restaurant. A hot drink from the bar and the soup and sandwich combination (pumpkin-apple soup with raisin pecan grilled cheese sandwich) were perfect on a cold winter day before Christmas.

A quick stop at Brick and Mortar Mercantile on S. King Street was a blast. This vintage-meets-modern shop had a lot going for it, including their name. And it fit our #shoplocal purpose. I love this descriptive phrase of their’s: we strive to provide you entertainment and an excellent customer experience by offering a non-click and human interactive way to shop. Yes please! We walked out with a number of gifts for family and expectations of returning soon.

King Street in Leesburg, Virginia

Before TV, There Was Radio

Adventures of the Christ Child, hat, CD cover

Before there was TV, there was radio, or so I have been told. I’m old enough to remember watching all of our television on a black and white set, but not old enough to remember the dawn of TV.

Girl listening to radio, between 1938-1945. Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs

My grandparents however, did live thru the golden age of radio. And I remember visiting their home in Southern California over the holidays and seeing the full-size radio in the living room. I doubt that we kids ever turned it on, but it served as an inspiration when we decided to present the Christmas story as a radio drama several years ago at church.

“The Adventures of the Christ Child,” written for us by Kelly Wick, was conceived as a four-week staged Advent narrative performed live on-air by a small group of actors. Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, our 1940’s family would tune in each week to hear the broadcast, often with their own reflections on the story.

In support of the weekly drama, the team also recorded a CD (this was several years ago) which was distributed to parents by the Children’s Ministry. It was designed to be used as a devotional tool, play it at home or in the car with discussion questions at the end of each episode. This summer my wife and I moved and in the process we sold, gave away, donated, or otherwise disposed of a lot of things. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of the CD and I’ve posted the four episodes on YouTube. I will say, I find some of the sound effects our engineer came up with still entertaining. On a whole, the piece has aged pretty well.

You can listen to the four episodes below, hopefully you will enjoy them; we certainly enjoyed recording them.

Immanuel Bible Church, Springfield VA, 2007
With Debbie Noetzel, Jon Noetzel, Marsha Isbell, Chuck Dickmann, Heidi Burke, Ron Hilbig, Rich Geel, Jackson Burke, Ashley Clingenpeel
Written by Kelly Wick
Audio Engineering by Chuck Dickmann and Ben Krech

Missing the Holidays

Last year at this time, my father-in-law was in the hospital. For quite some time actually, he went in the day after Thanksgiving and wasn’t released until early January. So he missed a good deal of the holidays, all the preparations, putting up the Christmas tree, shopping for gifts, attending parties and the myriad of activities that occupy us over the holiday season.

Looking back thru the photos from that time, I see the little Christmas tree and small decorations in the hospital room. Looking up from his hospital bed, he is always smiling in the photos surrounded by family dressed in winter clothes. There is a poinsettia, a few gifts, other visitors. It’s not a picture of how we like to remember the holidays but I’m sure it is one shared by other families as well.

He passed away in March after a long illness, surrounded by family at his bedside. This past year has been a year of firsts for our family: first Easter without Dad; first Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving. As we come to the close of the year, the list grows shorter as well. We still miss him, but the passage of time helps alleviate some of the sorrow. Not all of it, but some.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

It (Still) Takes an Army

We live in an age that celebrates individual effort and achievement, often to the detriment it seems of group effort. But for some events, only a team approach will do.

Recently I had the opportunity to serve alongside an amazing volunteer force as they martialed all of their creative and logistical skills to put on an afternoon event in our community. Mobile Hope of Loudoun sponsors a yearly Holiday Party for the families of the clients that they serve. They provided clothing and a massive stack of wrapped Christmas gifts for the children (toys provided by Toys for Tots). While the kids were waiting for time with Santa and a family photo, they got to spend time at the many crafts tables staffed by volunteers.

But this is where the army really stepped in to serve. There were teams of young ladies at the nail salon table; groups of teenage guys stacking tables, chairs, and boxes of food; middle school students at the “reindeer food” table and others at the “make your own slime” craft table. And adults gamely wearing holiday attire or crazy light-up necklaces, elf shoes, Santa hats. Everyone working together, volunteering their Sunday so that others might have a Christmas that would be remembered.

It’s a great encouragement when one gets to see the Spirit of Christmas in action, that it truly is better to give than to receive. I was reminded recently by a friend at church that we aren’t lacking in volunteer opportunities or in areas to serve others, but that what we often are lacking is the willingness to serve others. But this day, the army was out in force, serving others in a powerful expression of love.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

Papa Takes a Trip to Hot Topic

Today we took our granddaughter out for a little pre-Christmas shopping. If we were lucky enough to find something she liked, well then, bonus. If not, it was time well spent with someone we love and don’t see that often.

How do you think these look?

Our “final destination” was AC Moore, a regional arts and crafts supply store that was featuring “everything must go” sale prices. It seemed like a good opportunity to pick up art supplies for Christmas gifts. But first: a trip to Hot Topic.

Hot Topic stores have been around for years, since 1989 to be exact. Wikipedia describes them as

a retail chain specializing in counterculture-related clothing and accessories, as well as licensed music. The stores are aimed towards an audience interested in rock music and video gaming, and most of their audience ranges from teens to young adults.

I don’t think I’ve been in a Hot Topic store for at least 20 years, possibly even longer. So it felt a bit like venturing into foreign territory, vaguely familiar but still unsettling to someone who knows nothing about the rock music or video-gaming culture. But here I was being towed in by a pre-teen wearing a Hero Academie hoodie and furry cat ears. We fit right in. 30 minutes later we walked out with our purchases and a new appreciation for a world I’m just beginning to explore.

One final note: my niece commented online that her grandfather never would have taken her to Hot Topic. So I’m one up on my Dad after all, though I’m still glad I ventured out with my own 12-year old cultural interpreter.