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