Many years ago, our artillery company was on winter training maneuvers outside the Wisconsin Dells. If you want to find a place that is bitter cold, you will never be disappointed with the Dells in December. The area should have a sign out front: “Welcome! Home of the Frozen Chosen!”
My unit was sent there for training in winter warfare. For some reason, the government thought we should be able to fire icicles from the 105-mm Howitzer in the middle of a whiteout. If a war had ever broken out in the North Pole, my unit would have been called up first.
But this particular week in the Dells, it was so cold, I swear I saw an Amish couple at Walmart buying an electric blanket. The first day we pitched camp, it didn’t take long for my toes, hands, ears and nose to grow numb. In those days, each soldier carried half of a tent, and a partner had the other half. Shoveling the snow out of the way, my partner and I pitched our tent to spend the night.
I unpacked my Army-issued winter olive-drab green mummy sleeping bag. I was told it would keep me warm in minus-10-degree weather. I wondered why the sergeant who issued it was laughing. I’m pretty sure he knew it wouldn’t keep you warm even if you were sleeping on the equator.
If you aren’t familiar with the Army-issued winter olive-drab green mummy sleeping bag, it is basically a full-body insulated straitjacket. It’s very small at the feet and then gets wider as it moves toward your hips and shoulders. Topped off with an insulated hood, it’s supposed to trap and retain your body heat in the coldest of weather. If you are even a little claustrophobic, this sleeping bag is your worst nightmare.
Our first night out, I got into my sleeping bag, zipped it up and hauled the hood over my head, pulling the string taunt so only a small portion of my face was exposed to the elements. Soon, I fell fast asleep (My wife says I have the spiritual gift of sleeping).
The next morning when I woke up, it was dark, very dark. I turned my head every which way, but I couldn’t find the opening. Trapped in the darkness, I panicked. I tried to move my arms up, but they were pinned to my sides. All I could do was thrash around like a worm on a hot sidewalk. All my thrashing woke up my partner. He looked over at me and began to laugh.
“How in the world did you do that?” he asked.
“Do what?” I responded from the darkness.
“Somehow, you have turned completely around.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your feet are sticking out of the hood, and your head is at the bottom of the sleeping bag.”
He got out of his bag and unzipped mine, helping me out of my olive-drab prison. Sure enough, I had done just as he said. Somehow, inside that confined space, I had rotated 180 degrees in my sleep.
When my oldest son, Jeremiah, was a teenager, he and his youth group were doing mission work with me in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. That week, the students were sleeping on the floor of the church.
One morning, the male sponsor came to me, saying, “You won’t believe this.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“During the middle of the night, Jeremiah turned 180 degrees in his sleep. He woke up with his feet sticking out of the top of his sleeping bag. Can you believe that?”
“Well, actually, I can.”
I found great joy in knowing my son had done something I had done too. I don’t know of any other father and son with the ability to contort their bodies 180 degrees in a tight sleeping bag. I just wish I had been awake so I knew how I did it.
Did you know it pleased God the Father to see his Son Jesus do what He did, too? Jesus gave this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).
It pleases Jesus when His followers do what He does: build relationships with those who are rejected by the world like Zacchaeus, minister to a social outcast like the woman at the well or visit the sick, feed the hungry, minister to those who are in prison or even have spiritual discussions with a rich young ruler.
Jesus did all of these things, and when we follow in His footsteps, it pleases both the Son and the Father. Can you believe that?
Well, actually, I can.