Category Archives: family

Seeing my baseball dreams come true

Grandson at bat.


As a kid, I always wanted to play third base for the Cleveland Indians. Bubba Phillips was my hero.

I know. I could have picked a more respectable team like the dreaded New York Yankees. But I was born in a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio. Cheering for any other team was tantamount to treason.

I began playing baseball at age seven. Right away I had a strong inclination that I wasn’t major league baseball material. A one-hopper hit me square in the mouth loosening a few front teeth.

Still, I kept at it until my college days where I watched the Kent State University baseball team. A couple of years later the team’s catcher, the late, great Thurman Munson and fellow Cantonian, would become an all-star backstop for the Yankees.

Thurman lived my dream, just in a different position, although I spent most of my Little League and Hot Stove baseball days behind the plate as well. I never took one in the mouth though. Wearing a catcher’s mask helped with that.

Before the pitch.

Imagine my joy when our oldest grandchild took to baseball like a duck to water. He was a natural from little on up. Now he’s 15, a high school freshman, and pitching for the varsity baseball team. Did I mention that he also plays third base, and shortstop, too?

Like other youngsters, Evan started with t-ball and kept playing until he progressed to the varsity squad. Nana and I couldn’t be more proud.

I try to let the coaches do the instruction. I do share stories with Evan from my playing days, usually some of my own baseball bloopers. With my talent, what else do I have to say? Evan always politely listens, often without comment. His parents have taught him well.

At the games, I focus on capturing photos of Evan pitching, hitting, and fielding. It’s harder to yell at the umpires with a camera in your face.

My wife and I have enjoyed this baseball journey with Evan and his family so far. We take in as many games as possible. That means huddled up in winter coats and blankets in the spring to keep warm. In the summer’s scorching Virginia sunshine, we share any available shade and try to stay hydrated.

And the pitch.

Evan goes all out in the sport he loves, sometimes much to his mother’s chagrin. I feel her pain when he slides headfirst into a base. A cloud of red dust rises around him from the powdery Virginia infields.

But the uniform always is ready for the next game, just like the young man who wears it. Win or lose, it is pure joy to watch him play. I don’t mind sharing my dreamy baseball romanticism with Evan at all.

I’m overjoyed that our grandson shares my passion for the game. I am even more grateful that he has had many opportunities to play and performs well, whether in the field, on the mound, or at bat. Sure he makes errors, gives up hits, or strikes out. But he is improving, gaining confidence, learning the game, and living his dream and mine.

Even as a grandfather, I still envision playing third base or perhaps pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Lord knows they could use some decent pitchers right now.

My dream is and was a fantasy. I knew that from the time the ball bloodied my lip decades ago. My grandson’s aspiration, however, is just now unfolding. I’ll let you know when he takes the mound for the Cleveland Indians.

Safe at third.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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My mother’s gifts were her legacy

Rural road.


My mother was a very talented woman. If she were still living, Mom would likely deny the obvious. She was modest, too.

My siblings and I would have plenty of evidence to support our case. Our mother was multi-talented. She had to be to raise five children while Dad was off working or fishing or hunting or going to meetings.

Many others would also affirm Mom’s gifts, especially her artistic talents. Mom would likely shake her head in dismay about all of the fuss about her beautiful paintings.

Our father was an outdoorsman. Mom, on the other hand, brought the outdoors indoors through her lovely creations. She painted most often in watercolors and preferred doing landscapes. She created hundreds of them.

Mom seldom seemed happy with the results, however. She sold many paintings in her life, much too cheaply in my biased opinion. Mom even won several awards in local art shows around northeast Ohio.

Marian Stambaugh.

It wasn’t that Mom was a perfectionist. She lacked self-confidence even though encouraged by our doting father and her artist friends and mentors.

If Mom wasn’t satisfied with a painting, she at times painted another scene on the reverse side of the watercolor paper. If such a painting sold, the buyer got a two for one deal.

I suppose other artists derogated their own works, too, whether painters, sculptors, or even writers for that matter. Mom wasn’t overt about her discouragement. She would just toss a nearly finished painting in what she called “the junk pile” and began again.

After Mom died seven years ago, my brothers and sisters and our spouses discovered the treasure trove of incomplete watercolors. As we sorted through them, we agreed that “junk pile” definitely was a misnomer.

We pulled some real gems from that stockpile of rejected paintings. We made sure grandchildren and other relatives and friends could choose the pieces they liked for posterity.

As we delved deeper into her things, we discovered drawings and etchings and paintings from her high school years. Mom showed much promise even as a teenager.

One of Mom’s many watercolors.

After high school, Mom wanted to attend art school. But in those days, that seemed an extravagance to her parents. They insisted business school a better fit for a young woman who eventually would marry and have children.

That’s pretty much what happened, too. However, with our father’s encouragement, Mom began art lessons with some noted local professional artists. Our mother blossomed as an accomplished artist.

Those classes taught her a lot and created lifetime friendships. Mom and Dad even attended weeklong workshops out of state. Mom would paint while Dad scoured local farm fields for Indian artifacts with the farmers’ permission of course.

Though they had their moments, our parents made a good team. Dad passed on to us the love of all things nature, and Mom imprinted that love in colorful works of art.

Our mother was a very gifted woman far beyond being an artist. Marian Stambaugh was a devoted wife to a fault, a fair, loving mother, a proud grandmother, and a friend to many.

Her legacy, however, will be her inspiring paintings. Landscapes, still life, and renderings of old barns and vehicles adorn the walls of family, friends, and her art connoisseur customers.

Our mother captured life as she saw it, and she saw it well. The rest of us are the beneficiaries of her most ardent talent. Her many paintings will display her skills, and proclaim the glory of nature for decades to come.

Old truck, one of Mom’s unfinished gems.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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A different approach to Easter

Maybe after all of these years, I’m finally getting the point of Easter.

The holiest of holy days in the Christian tradition, Easter’s resurrection coincides with spring’s rejuvenating renewal. That I always understood, even as a child.

Of course, as a youngster, that spiritual message became overshadowed by other Easter traditions. Hunting for our Easter baskets loaded with chocolaty treats and boiled eggs we had previously colored was a priority.

After all the baskets and colored eggs were found, we enjoyed a breakfast with hot crossed buns. That, too, was always an Easter treat obtained from the neighborhood bakery where our grandmother worked.

Buying an Easter lily for our loving mother was also deemed a must. Of course, we all gussied up in our Sunday best and headed off to church with scores of other baby boomer families.

My wife and I continued some of those traditions as we, too, had children of our own. Helen, our children’s adopted Killbuck, Ohio grandmother, often hosted us after church. I would hide the eggs outside while Helen and Neva prepared their typical delicious meal.

We have continued that tradition with our grandchildren, although that varies according to their busy schedules. We’ll hold our own egg and Easter basket hunt, all the while recording the unfolding events with my camera. Nana usually fixes a scrumptious dinner to complete the secular celebrating.

Church, of course, is still a central element in our Easter celebration. It has to be. Without Easter, there would be no church, as we now know it. Perhaps therein lies my senior moment with this holiday.

As much as I enjoy the candy and the children’s excitement, I can’t shake loose the days that led up to this most consecrated day. In retrospect, they occur in logical succession that actually creates Easter’s real significance.

Triumphant Palm Sunday followed by the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, and the stark realization of Good Friday mirror my own ambivalence of the season. I am too much aware of personal grieving, death of loved ones and friends, injuries and unexpected illnesses of innocent little ones, the bigoted injustices of society toward the least, the last, and the lost.

Altogether, it seems too much to tolerate, too much to absorb, too much to accept amid the social and global daily inequities by those in power who twist the truth to their advantage. Bullies become victims and victims made the bullies, no matter the facts.

I struggle to reconcile a glorious day like Easter with the reality of the daily dynamics of a troubled world, of people in pain and mourning.

It is then that I remember that is the way of the world and the very reason for Easter itself. Christians are to model that self-sacrifice in their daily lives, not take advantage of those who have less or nothing at all.

Easter isn’t only a holiday. For those who believe, renewal is to be a daily way of life. That is a tall measure to live up to, but it is the only measure that matters.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the greatest commandment to follow, and the hardest.

That precept, that lifestyle can only be achieved if we acknowledge our own imperfections, our Creator, and our responsibility to help others moment by moment, breath by breath.

That Easter hunt doesn’t come in colored eggs or decorated baskets. It must be resurrected daily, individually, unselfishly, and unconditionally. If not, there is no Easter morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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A more personal March Madness

Amelia Island FL, sunsets

One of my favorite photos, a sunset in northern Florida.

My wife and I love to watch college basketball. It’s how we often spend many quiet winter evenings together at home.

We’ll watch a college hoops game at 7 p.m. and even switch back and forth to other collegiate games that are simultaneously broadcast on TV. At 9, we start the process all over again, usually until half time when it’s lights out for this tired and retired couple.

When its tournament time, more commonly known as March Madness, we are in basketball heaven. Neva claims the love seat while I relax in the recliner. Now, it’s not like all we do is watch talented athletes run up and down the court making incredible plays and acrobatic shots.

In our 48 years of marriage, Neva has taught me to multi-task. With the game going full blast on TV, she reads or works on her iPad while I often write or edit photos to post on my online blog or social media. Of course, the game gets our full attention if it is close, especially as the game clock ticks down.

The happy couple.

Basketball isn’t the only kind of madness happening in March for us. We just celebrated our wedding anniversary. How and where we met and when we married is the rest of the remarkable story.

It was one of those “meant to be” situations. In June 1970 before we ever knew one another, Neva and I separately agreed to supervise a group of 10 energetic youth from the church I attended. It was a weeklong work-study project deep into eastern Kentucky’s coalmine region. The first time I saw her was when the group assembled to leave.

Our work involved hoeing three acres of cucumbers in the morning’s coolness. We studied and visited local sites in the afternoon when the temperatures and humidity were both off the charts.

To further learn about the Appalachian culture, we visited local homes far up those infamous hollows. We also did home repairs. Short on tools, we used large rocks to pound roofing nails into tarpaper.

It was an inspiring experience. What impressed me most, however, was Neva. Love interfered with logic. We were married the following March at the height of both college and Ohio high school basketball tournaments.

Our fathers had to wonder about our timing. They both loved basketball. We thought for sure that Neva’s father would walk her down the aisle holding a transistor radio to one ear listening to a game.

Somehow we survived that day and all the days that have followed. We haven’t lived a charmed life together, and it certainly hasn’t been perfect. But we have thrived as both a couple and as individuals. Mutual forgiveness, love, and trust will do that.

birds

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Our skills and interests have nicely balanced our life together. Neva is a marvelous cook and I am a grateful, hungry husband. Neva prefers reading. I write. She sews. I bird. She quilts. I take photos. You get the picture, no pun intended.

As March plays out into April, Neva and I will be watching how the college basketball playoffs turn out. Of course we each fill out a bracket, making our best guesses as to which teams will be in the final four. The chances of our winning are low. Our marriage, however, has beaten the odds.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep holding hands, and doing what we can to make this world a better place. We have celebrated another personal March Madness milestone and look forward to many more together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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In honor of a long life well-lived and served

Dr. Paul Roth, dedicated service

Paul Roth, his wife Caroll, and daughter Linda, knotting a comforter in 2010 at Millersburg (OH) Mennonite Church.

Paul Roth was the most powerful man I ever knew. He was also the most humble.

Paul Roth died recently after a long life well lived. He was 91.

Paul viewed and lived life through very different lenses than most other mortals. Humility, kindness, compassion, service, patience, hospitality, and generosity towards others bestowed that power that he never misused or even acknowledged. Control and manipulation were never goals to which he aspired.

Devoted Christian that he was, Paul forsook attention to himself. He forewent pleasures and luxuries he rightly earned through his hard work and position as an admired and gentle physician. Instead, he always focused equally on the needs of others, family, friends, and strangers alike.

It was that strange duo of power and humility that made Paul Roth most admired and appreciated. Through compassionate service to others, his community, and his church he became one of the most respected individuals I ever knew.

Paul understood both the purpose and value of life. Giving to others gave him joy, inspiration, courage, wisdom, and personal satisfaction. That was all the reward he needed. If anyone indeed denied himself, took up his cross, and followed where the spirit led, it surely was Paul Roth.

He ventured from farm to college to med school to serving in Puerto Rico, Killbuck, Ohio, Haiti, Honduras, and many other places helping generations of appreciative folks over decades. He found joy in doing the most menial of jobs, like cutting rags for hours on end at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio.

family doctor, birth of a son

When Dr. Paul Roth delivered our son, he held Nathan up by the legs and proclaimed, “She’s a boy!”

Because he did all of these things for others, Paul Roth was a highly revered man by those he served with compassion, dignity, self-worth, and genuine Christian love. He was a real peacemaker, always on the lookout for common ground, respect for all persons and living things great and small.

Paul understood that taking action was a life-giving, daily practice. He salvaged discarded wood and transformed it into works of art or toys for grandkids and gifts for friends. Paul listened to his patients when no one else would. He knotted comforters simply because someone needed to do it.

Paul would not want any of this attention or these accolades. Focusing on self ran counter to his servanthood culture. But when one who put his faith into action his entire life dies, there is no shame, no harm in honoring him and the good life he lived.

At his memorial service, a granddaughter shared how she loved to go down to the garden with Paul to plant, weed, and pick the fruits of their labor. Since the garden was near the highway that connected Killbuck and Millersburg, she was impressed with how many cars honked their horns as they passed. That’s the way friends and patients recognized their favorite doctor. She said Paul always tried to wave back.

Another attendee at the service privately noted that the waving wasn’t so much for the drivers as it was for his granddaughter. Even in that familiar gesture, he modeled the importance of gratitude. Indeed, Paul was also the most grateful person I knew.

The Roths, however, were not immune to life’s perils. Paul and his ever-devoted wife Caroll knew too much sadness in their lives. A fire destroyed their home at Christmas 1978. They lost their son Steve to cancer at age 25. Their daughter Jenny, adopted from Korea as a toddler, died of an aneurysm at age 47.

Yes, they knew heartache and grief, too, but Paul and Caroll persevered, continued serving, giving of their time, talents, and hospitality whenever, wherever, however they could. It was as if tragedy had made them even more loving.

The respect and admiration for Paul stretch across many cultures, languages, social standings, and ethnicities. He was an equal opportunity servant. Shoot. He even made house calls.

Paul was also a person to imitate in how to live a productive and peaceful life in service to others, all done out of the universal love for his God, his family, and his community.

That, praise be, is Paul Roth’s lasting, golden-rule legacy.

Dr. Paul Roth, Killbuck OH, Holmes Co. OH

This photo was taken when my wife and I visited Caroll and Paul Roth last July.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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A sign of the times

smartphone use, wedding photography
I wanted to get a shot of my brother-in-law walking his lovely daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Unfortunately, where I was seated didn’t give me much of an opportunity for a decent shot. My only hope was to lean back and take the shot as father and daughter reached the open space where the row of seats behind me met the aisle.

I got the picture. However, in doing so, I saw another all-too-familiar scene. Most of the occupants in the seats behind us had their smartphones up and recording the exciting event. Also, note that a gentleman also stood to take a photo. I had to capture the moment. And yes, I took the photo with my iPhone.

“A Sign of the times” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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When tragedy strikes, communities respond

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Even a peaceful scene in Amish country can become tragic.

Tragedy. It’s bound to invade our lives, often when we least expect it. Too often, it happens more than once in our lifespan.

Unfortunately, we likely have all seen our fair share of tragedy. Calamity merely is part of life. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

I’ve seen and experienced a lot of tragic incidents in my life as a member of volunteer fire and rescue squads. Often I knew people involved in the emergency incidents. That’s not surprising when you live most of your life in a close-knit, rural community.

Sometimes tragic national news hits close to home, too. The recent fatal shooting of Dean Beachy and his son Steve is proof of that. Naturally, people were shocked and horrified at the senseless killings.

Their lives are a huge loss to the family and the many, many people they touched. My wife knew the family well, having taught Steve’s three older brothers.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

An hour after a tornado damaged this farm building, neighbors came to repair its roof.

Most likely, we each could create a long list of personal tragedies that have significantly impacted our lives. Mine would have to start even before I was born.

My great grandfather was killed in an auto accident involving a drunk driver. The crash critically injured my father and his only brother a block from their home. My uncle’s traumatic head injuries caused lifelong, family-wide ramifications.

My mother’s father was electrocuted six months before I was born. I am sure you have a comparable list of interpersonal human misfortune.

We learn life lessons from tragedies. One is when disaster strikes, people respond. That’s the way community works. What affects one family affects us all to varying degrees.

My wife and I experienced and witnessed positive responses many times over our four decades of living in Holmes County, Ohio. When bad things happen to good people, others want to help. So they do. They bring food, share tears, hugs, and sit quietly with the victims’ family.

Some tragedies happen suddenly, like the Beachy shootings, a traffic crash or a house fire. Others happen gradually and last over an extended time. Likely, we have all known someone diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In either situation, shock, denial, anger, fear, and blame all surface in the face of loss. Often those emotions occur at different times for different family members. Heartache knows no boundaries. To be there is what really matters to the hurting individuals.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Barn fire.

As an EMT, I once responded to a drowning call at an Amish farm. The toddler was dead by the time we arrived in the country setting. Still, all the first responders wanted to do something. We comforted the grieving family as best we could.

With the corner’s approval, I carried the youngster’s body to the ambulance where family, friends, and neighbors filed through saying their goodbyes. It was the Amish way, and the officials in charge wanted to respect that.

Regardless of the type of tragedy, whether sudden or lengthy, no one is immune. As human beings, we can choose to offer whatever we can or to ignore the situation.

Those who chose the former realize that in giving there is receiving. In caring, appreciation is returned. In listening, genuine sharing occurs. With your presence, acceptance and understanding slowly unfold.

Human beings have a responsibility to one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be available, to help, to be respectful. There is no better time to express those gifts than when tragedy strikes.

It’s not merely the way a community responds. It is the way a caring community thrives.

Ohio's Amish county, Holmes Co. OH

This Amish barn raising occurred less than a month after the farmer’s barn burned.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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A Christmas Poem: Do Not Fear

Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VA.

“We live in fearsome times.” My father told me that when we uselessly practiced nuclear bomb drills by hiding under our school desks, when with trepidation I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white when JFK called the Russians’ bluff on Cuba, then when Dallas happened, and assassins shot Martin and Bobby, and cities burned, and a president resigned, and revolts occurred, and we always seemed to side with the bad guy, when we chided dictators for gassing people only to bomb the survivors in their mourning.

“We live in fearsome times.” My grandfather told me that when he silently remembered his own gassing in the war to end all wars and died at the age that I am now coughing and coughing and coughing because there were no records that he was poisoned 100 years ago on the western front.

“We live in fearsome times,” I tell my grandchildren in failed efforts to shield them from the constant volleys of lies and accusations and nonsense spewing forth into their innocent world by powerful people who lost their decency, compassion, and empathy long, long ago.

“Have no fear,” I reassure them to ears deafened by headsets and screen time. Still, I think they get it all, the nonsense, the truth-telling, and the untruth-telling. That is my hope in this season of hope. On this darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, there is enough oil now to keep the candles burning. But we have to keep pressing on like those Hanukkah days of old. We must pour new wine into new wineskins, not old. We don’t want to waste the wine by bursting.

We live in fearsome times. We must be patient in the season of waiting. We must choose clarity over certainty, though certainty it is that we too often choose, only to be disappointed, and blame circumstances and others for our wrong choices. Those in the Old and those in the New reported the same. Therefore, in this season of light, hope, peace, patience is the rule as “we live by faith, not by sight.”

Love Advent banner, Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VAWe live in fearsome times. This is the season of anticipation, joy, love, forgiveness, wonder, when blended, a recipe not to fear. We look for the brightest star to lead us forth, but stars are in heaven, not on earth. Behold the heavenly host is near. Do not fear.

We live in fearsome times. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, not on our terms, but Yours and Yours alone. Our fragility and our insecurity overcome our logic, excite our emotions precisely opposite of what the good tidings proclaim, why the angels yet rejoice. They know the true Ruler is the Lamb, not the lion.

We live in fearsome times. Humans always have, always will simply because we are human, unable or unwilling to listen, to hear, to comprehend the goodness, the freedom, the surety bestowed on us to bestow on others, especially during these dark days.

We live in fearsome times. What will we do? How can we go on? Awareness is enough.

“In the beginning was the word… The serpent was more crafty than any other… Everyone who thirsts… Sing aloud, O daughter Zion… Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah… In the sixth month… In those days a decree went out… In that region there were shepherds… And the Word became flesh… Fear not…” Hallelujah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Holiday lights illuminate seasonal darkness

holiday lights

Our modest Christmas display under a waxing crescent moon.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always found it ironic that we celebrate the season of light and hope at the very darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Over the years, however, I’ve come to understand why.

We are in the midst of the season of hope and light. The eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah has just concluded. Advent, the Christian pronouncement of the coming Messiah, ends on Christmas Day.

Menorah candles (Getty Image).

It is no coincidence that holiday lights shine the brightest during the season’s darkest hours. Isn’t that the purpose of Hanukkah and Christmas? The Menorah has nine candles while the Advent arrangement has five.

Aligned by tradition and calendar, the two holidays usher in the season of hope and peace through miracles and light. They are intricately and purposefully interwoven.

The darkness challenges us to survive and thrive. To that aim, we ponder, wonder, and imagine all that is both good and wrong with our immediate world as well as the world beyond our personal life space.

During the darkest time of year, the seasonal contrasts are stark. Too many earthly citizens are in despair. They search for the basics of life: food, shelter, water, and safety. Many face loneliness, financial hardships, family disputes, or significant health issues. These are indeed dark times for them.

Dissimilarly, flashy TV and online commercials urge us to delight others via elaborate gift giving. They tout that the holidays aren’t complete without a new car or pickup sitting in the driveway or a glittery diamond necklace dangling around your sweetheart’s neck.

Wouldn’t it be more fitting in this season of hope to bestow blessings on those in need of life’s essentials? Such generous acts would undoubtedly help brighten the dark season of life if only for a few.

Advent candles.

Advent candles on Christmas Day.

The festive seasonal lights shine far beyond the reach of the Menorah and Advent candles. Hope means more than the sparkling, flashing, flickering lights of Christmas, more than the glittery cards and lavishly wrapped gifts beneath a festive tree.

The music of the season should spark a spirit within us to reach far beyond our circle of family and friends with whom we gather to celebrate. Perhaps like me, multiple year-end appeals for funds from bona fide charities that help the poor, the orphaned, the hungry, and the homeless have besieged you.

It is easy to be numbed by the sheer volume of needs. It doesn’t have to be. It would be both prudent and appropriate for those of us who share the Judeo/Christian experience and heritage to shine that warming light to others in whatever way we can. That would both help brighten their potentially dim holidays and create a real sense of personal satisfaction.

Christmas tree

Christmas tree.

As people of faith, shouldn’t we be the light that those in need seek? In the spirit of the season, that is something to ponder and do.

The luminaries of Hanukkah and Christmas remind and challenge those of each faith to reflect on the past and the foundations of their shared customs. The lights also illuminate those in our midst who are hurting and downtrodden.

If each one of us would reach out to help at least one person, one family, or donate to one charity, the holidays would be a little brighter for them and us. Doing so would be reason enough to light yet one more holiday candle.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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