Shunned

workhorse, Amish shunning
Shunned.

Shunning is a discipline method used by many of the Amish when a member of their church blatantly breaks with their established traditions. Leaving the church after having joined as an adult is the most common reason people are shunned. Shunning involves ignoring and avoiding the offending person.

I climbed a small embankment on this snowy day to photograph this beautiful workhorse. To my surprise, the horse turned its head away from me when it saw the camera. Now I know the Amish don’t want their faces photographed. However, I never had a horse do this to me. This beauty watched me exit my vehicle. The horse then assumed this position as I photographed it. Once I put the camera down, the horse bolted away to join another workhorse in the snow-covered pasture.

“Shunned” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Inspired by the paradox of Christmas

stockings hung by fireplace
Ready for Christmas.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Make no mistake. The celebration of Christmas is a paradox. It always has been, and likely always will be.

I sensed that conundrum even as a child. Amid all of the glitz and glamor, the singing and shopping, all was not right with the world. Even in my limited adolescent life encounters, I saw extravagance and excess rub shoulders with poverty and despair.

As a young person, I had trouble reconciling such diametrically opposed situations. That didn’t prevent me from tearing into my presents, emptying my bulging stocking hanging by the fireplace, or enjoying the scrumptious meal our devoted mother had fixed.

We celebrated the season of sharing at elementary school, too. Before the classroom party, we often made simple decorations that I later volunteered to deliver to a local nursing home.

I’m not sure how much cheer the painted plaster ornaments or the looping strands of colorful paper chains gave the residents lying helpless in those hospital beds. The scene certainly left an indelible imprint on my young mind and soul.

rural church
Old church.
I took seriously the Christmas message of a different kind of king ruling my life. Growing up in the shadows of World War II and in the daily doings of the Cold War, I felt the chill of unsettled political consequences. I didn’t pretend to understand them.

I just knew my heart, mind, and soul were open to something better, more meaningful, more fulfilling to not only me but also those I encountered. The Christmas story awakened in me as it did the shepherds eons ago.

As I grew and more fully understood that precious bit of history mixed with lore, wonder, and interpretation, I more clearly saw the point of Christmas. Life is full of contradictions, uncertainty, disappointment, hypocrisy, and greed. My duty was to counter the bad with the good wherever and whenever I could.

That belief guided my life. It stirred my career in education. It thrust me into community service via fire and rescue and as an elected official. I enjoyed helping people, and still do. I receive great pleasure in assisting others in need.

I’m no saint, however. I know I made mistakes. I am human. But I did what I could, working with those around me to get things done, mostly for the benefit of others.

So here I am nearly seven decades on this earth, still applying, still pondering that Christmas story of long ago. In so doing, I loathe that others are denied the privileges that I enjoy simply because of their beliefs, their skin color, their economic status, and their dire situation only because of where they live.

Citizens in Aleppo, Syria, Frakes, Kentucky, and Millersburg, Ohio know what I mean. Folks everywhere are hurting, and all the Christmas hoopla doesn’t always heal their hurts. The avalanche of carols, merriment, and partying might even inflame those problems.

The holidays can depress people more than they already are. They miss loved ones who passed on too close to Christmas. I can identify with that, too, having lost family and friends during the holidays.

Christmas display
Christmas joy.
Christmas is a time to ponder. It is an eternal gift that is unwrapped daily. A genuine gift of Christmas celebrates while serving, gives while receiving. It corrects injustices.

If you know a person who is down-and-out for whatever reasons, send them a card. Call them. Visit them. Feel their pain. Hear their cries.

Those are but a few reasonable opportunities to explain and experience this paradoxical holiday we call Christmas.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Season of Lights

Advent candles
Advent candles.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have entered the time of our shortest days, our darkest time of year. We also approach two important religious holidays that happen to occur simultaneously this year. The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, begins on Saturday. The Christian celebration of Christmas is Sunday, with many activities taking place on Christmas Eve or Saturday.

The Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations each revolve around lights. Hanukkah has its menorah, Christmas its star of Bethlehem. Hanukkah celebrations run through New Year’s Day. Some Christians follow the 12 days of Christmas to January 6, also known as Old Christmas or Three Kings Day.

In both instances, the light shines brightly in December’s darkness. “Season of Lights” is my Photo of the Week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Giving a gift that really matters

country road
Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m about to tell you the best possible Christmas story I could imagine. None of the usual animated characters play a part. No Grinch or Santa, no reindeer or elves, no extravagance or selfishness are involved.

The main characters are two ordinary, observant, wise, and caring women. I think that’s what makes this narrative so meaningful and beautiful. As soon as my wife told me this true story, I knew I had to share it with you. It’s that good. I hope you agree.

I don’t personally know nor have I met the women in this story. Maybe you have. I’m not even aware of their names. We’ll call them Alice and Betty.

Alice and Betty had never met before until recently. They had, however, seen each other daily on their way to work.

Alice lives in the Wooster, Ohio area and works in Millersburg, 16 miles to the south. Betty resides in Millersburg and works near Wooster. These two women travel the same county road to and from their jobs and apparently work similar hours.

Each day Alice and Betty passed one another driving in the opposite directions on their way to work. As they did so, they both began to notice the other. Alice and Betty likely passed near the same location since they kept comparable time schedules.

Amish children, Amish cart
Along the way.
Soon they began to wave to each other as they passed. It became something to look forward to on the routine drive to work.

Their waving became more and more vigorous as time went on. The women looked for one another, partly as a source of reassurance like a sailor seeks a lighthouse. Their mutual waves became bright beacons of familiarity.

One recent morning, Betty noticed that Alice had pulled off the road. Thinking she might need assistance, Betty turned around.

Alice was shocked when her waving buddy pulled in. That’s when the story gets surreal.

Alice couldn’t believe what had just happened. She told Betty it had to be a miracle, and then handed Betty a coffee mug filled with chocolates.

Alice had only stopped to flag down her unknown friend to give her the gift. In the process, she didn’t see that Betty had already gone by. Alice explained to Betty that she struggled at times with enjoying her job.

Amish farmstead
Amish farmstead.
Alice said Betty’s welcomed wave instilled a positive start to each day. Imagine that. Something as simple and easy as a friendly wave made her day, and gave her strength to see the day through even though Alice knew it might be tough.

Betty was stunned. She had no idea her energetic wave had such an affirming influence on this stranger, who in reality was no longer a stranger.

The two women exchanged names and numbers. I have a hunch they’ll be staying in touch with one another more than their friendly waves.

It’s hard to comprehend that such an uncomplicated gesture as a wave from a person you had never met could make such a significant impact on your life. But it did for Alice.

Wonderment and risk-taking flavor this Christmas story. Both women made themselves vulnerable for the benefit of the other.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that the purpose of Christmas? Those who believe in the Christmas story are charged with creating joy, not just for self, or for those we know and love, but for all.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas
Advent candles.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

December’s Super Full Moon

super full moon, long night moon
December’s Super Full Moon.

After days and days of gray sky days here in northeastern Ohio, I wondered if we would actually get a chance to see December’s Super Full Moon. It is the third consecutive month for a super full moon, and October’s and November’s were both spectacular.

I got my answer in the middle of the night. After an all day snow, the skies cleared and the Long Night Full Moon reflected brightly off of the newly fallen snow. Just as the sun rose yesterday, the full moon was setting in the northwestern sky.

“December’s Super Full Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Life’s river flows in you and me

fall colors along mountain stream
Mountain stream.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The young woman beautifully played the piano her parents had purchased from us earlier in the year. As my friend Sharon Randall would say, I wish you could have been there to hear her.

The moment was so much more than marvelous. Never could I have anticipated being the audience for this impromptu recital.

A set of unusual and timely circumstances led me to this setting. It’s a tale of just how interconnected we all are.

My friend Ava hitched a ride to Virginia with my wife and me for a short visit with her family. When her friends in the Shenandoah Valley learned Ava would soon be returning to Ohio with us, she became the courier of a gift for an injured boy.

As we traveled home, Ava related to us who the recipient of the package was. The boy had been seriously hurt in an auto accident that had killed his mother. When Ava told us where the gift was to go, we were astonished. We knew the family, especially the father. I offered to deliver the gift personally.

Holmes Co. OH stream
Martins Creek.
All of this ran through my mind as the young woman caressed the keys that produced the mesmerizing song. Victoria passionately played “River Flows in You” as her mother and I stood silently admiring both the devotion and the soothing music while the pianist’s little sister quietly played with dolls in the background.

My wife and I had known Victoria’s father Lonnie since he was born two hours before our daughter four decades ago. Their cribs stood side-by-side in the hospital nursery. Our lives had overlapped in multiple ways we couldn’t even have imagined. This moment was the latest.

Lonnie was one of my former students. His friendly family had welcomed me into their home as principal and friend many times. I was the first responder to arrive at the scene of an industrial accident that took the fingers of Lonnie’s left hand. I responded to the house fire that badly burned Lonnie’s mother. I gladly served as a driver for family members during both hospitalizations.

This family had endured a lot. Still, Lonnie’s daughter played so passionately that I could not have wiped that broad smile of satisfaction off of my face if I had wanted to.

Tears flooded my eyes as Victoria tenderly tapped the last lingering note. The connected circumstantial dots wove a human tapestry of love that brought me to this cherished moment. Gratitude couldn’t begin to describe my emotions.

lost river, cows in stream
Lost River, WV.
I was so glad I had had the privilege of delivering this gift for this healing boy, and to hear Victoria’s playing. I could clearly see that our former piano was in the right hands.

I had made the gift’s delivery a priority, partly because I didn’t want to forget about it. I didn’t know, however, that the youngster was coming home from the hospital that same day. I’m sure that whatever was inside that brightly wrapped box would bring the young boy as much pleasure as I had just experienced.

I’ve told this story for both its face value and its intrinsic value, not for vanity’s sake or personal gratification. That came from listening to Victoria.

I’m certain you have similar tales to tell. It’s the way life was meant to be. A river flows in you and me. We need to ensure that the confluence of our individual streams creates a harmonious symphony for all to enjoy.

harpersferrywvbybrucestambaugh
Convergence.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Multitasking

female red-bellied woodpecker sunning
Multitasking.

Sunshine in northeast Ohio in November and December tends to be a rare treat. When the sun does shine, all of God’s Creation soaks it in, including this lovely female Red-bellied Woodpecker. She took a break from enjoying lunch at the peanut feeder to warm herself on a chilly late fall day.

“Multitasking” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Listen. Live. Lead.

Ohio's Amish Country, Holmes Co. OH
Taking the road less traveled?

By Bruce Stambaugh

The headline on the promotional, educational email I received got my attention. Listen. Live. Lead.

I had just finished reading a nationally known political commentator when the email arrived. Though written from entirely different perspectives, their messages mirrored one another.

The email’s main point perfectly meshed with that of the columnist’s. In this time of turmoil in our global society, we need to listen to one another earnestly.

rural view, farmstead
The rural view is changing.
We live in noisy, chaotic times. Even here in our rural setting, we feel the pressure of universal unrest. We can thank technology for that, for keeping us up to date with the world’s events as they happen 24/7.

At times, there appears to be no escape from the convoluted static that counters the pastoral approach to life here. From my senior years of observation, it seems that lifestyle is even wavering at times. I lament that fact as I see more and more compromising of our once calm, compassionate way of life.

The news isn’t all bad of course, but we need to be wise and use our common sense filters to sort out some of the ugliness. These are uncertain times. I think my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all could have said the same thing.

Life is full of doubt, disappointment, and dismay. That should not deter us from being civil, generous, and kind, especially at this time of year.

To avoid the appearance of casting stones, I’ll take responsibility for my own actions. It’s all any of us can ever do.

As I age, and I just had a birthday, I remember that everything I do and say has an impact on someone, someplace, somewhere. We don’t always know whom, when, and where that may be.

So it is critical, as the email stated, to listen to different perspectives, to live as global citizens, and to lead for the common good. I try to remind myself of those necessary life skills every day.

Honduras, coffee berries
Picking coffee beans.
I think about my friends in Honduras who have taught me so much over the past 16 years. I first visited that lovely Central American country with a church group just as the new century arrived.

Not knowing much Spanish, I had no choice but to listen as I worked side by side with my new friends. We picked coffee beans together, mixed cement together, and shared meals together. For a few days, we lived the lives they lived.

Those in our groups learned so much about our hosts’ lives that varied so much from ours. The children especially were eager to teach us Spanish and we, in turn, taught them English. Listening significantly enhanced our cultural interchange.

When you’re knocking on the door of 70, words like listen, live, and lead grab your attention. I’m overjoyed for each new day I’m given.

In this season of gratefulness and celebration, it’s easy to get caught up in the all the hubbub of the holidays. The glitzy commercials extolling the charms of speeding, flashy, expensive automobiles, sparkling diamonds, and the latest computer games can overshadow the real reasons for the season.

That’s why the mutual messages of the newspaper columnist and the email hit home with me. Listen, live, and lead took on deeper meanings than buy, buy, buy.

If we apply those words of advice selflessly, our world and those we touch will be a better place. That’s a birthday gift I can gladly unwrap, heartily embrace, and willingly share.

Amish farmstead, dawn's light
Dawn’s creamy reflection.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Backlit Burgundy

Amish farmstead, farm implements
Backlit Burgundy.

When I saw this scene one morning a few days ago, I had to stop and take a photo. I loved how the sun backlit the burgundy leaves and highlighted the farm implements seemingly placed haphazardly around the farmyard.

By now, the winds and rains of late have stripped the color from the tree until next year.

“Backlit Burgundy” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016