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

Maunday Thursday Sunset


Maunday Thursday is a solumn, sacred holy day in the Christian tradition. It is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day Christ shared His last Passover meal with the disciples.

The blood-orange tint of these clouds coupled with the dark, foreboding color of the foreground seemed an appropriate scene to set the stage for the historical trauma of Good Friday.

“Maunday Thursday Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Taking time to appreciate my wife

canning, Neva Stambaugh
Neva doing her thing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The pungent smell of ammonia tickled my nose as I sat on the living room couch reading my morning devotions. My energetic wife was already hard at work cleaning the house.

In our 46 years of marriage, I had seen this scenario unfold many, many times. Of course, I do my part to help, which is to say that I mostly stay out of the way at her request. I willingly comply.

I empty the wastebaskets and take out the garbage. I run and unload the dishwasher. After another tasty home-cooked meal, I make it my responsibility to clean up the kitchen. It’s the least I can do after Neva has done more than her share in planning, preparing, and serving the food.

Obviously, cleaning smells aren’t the only fragrances that have wafted through our house. Neva’s gift of hospitality is multifaceted.

I’m blessed by the aromas of other Neva orchestrated domestic activities like pumpkin pie baking in the oven, butternut squash soup simmering on the stove, and the spicy smell of savory tomato sauces boiling down like mini volcanoes.

canned peaches, home canning
Beauty in jars.
We both smile with contentment when we hear the satisfying pops of lids sealing on the freshly canned peaches. I could paint a long laundry list of sensory-stimulated pictures Neva creates in our household. To put it simply, Neva gets things done.

Speaking of laundry, Neva keeps on top of that, too. I help, of course, from time to time. After all of these years, I’ve learned to dance without the caller singing out her instructions. My efforts still have to pass muster, however.

But I’m no fool. When it comes to household chores, I know not to interfere with Neva’s main domain.

canned tomato sauce, home canning
Savory sauce.
Her gift of hospitality hasn’t been confined to our home either. Neva still finds time to help others.

From birthday cards to sympathy cards to comfort food casseroles, Neva puts her faith into practice for others. She has served the church in multiple positions, locally and statewide.

Our lives wouldn’t quite be the same without her devotion to volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. The friendships she has made and nurtured over the years at the thrift store have enriched us individually and as a couple.

Her commitment to community doesn’t stop there. She has also served with Habitat for Humanity, the annual Christmas Church Walk in Millersburg, and with volunteer fire department auxiliaries to name a few.

Then there are our adult children and the grandchildren. Even 350 miles away, Neva watches over them as she can, too. With our son’s blessings, they are a big part of the reason we are moving to Virginia. We want to be closer to them to help whenever and wherever we can. As retirees and grandparents, it’s our primary task now as we enter the winter of our lives.

Bruce and Neva Stambaugh
Neva and me.
Career educator by profession, Neva always has taken her role as mother, wife, and domestic engineer as her chief duties. She has done so impeccably.

Why am I pontificating about my wife? It’s easy for me to take her and all that she does for granted, for me, the family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Neva has enough Mennonite stock in her DNA to deny my praise of her. But she shouldn’t.

Our wedding anniversary is upon us. I want to publicly acknowledge how much I appreciate Neva and all that she does for me and for all those she has touched in our lifetime together.

Happy Anniversary dear!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

In the season’s darkness, let your light shine

early snow
What’s wrong with this picture?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Residents of northeast Ohio have now tasted both the Thanksgiving Day turkey and the season’s first snow. The holidays are indeed upon us.

As we prepare to head into the year’s final month, holiday lights twinkle inside and outside homes and businesses alike. Even without radiating any substantial heat, they warm hearts nevertheless.

Most holidays in December focus their celebration around the theme of light just as the daylight diminishes. The days are in fact the shortest of the year.

Advent candles
Advent candles.
I’ve always found it more than a bit ironic that in the darkest part of the year, our secular and religious holidays glow with light. In fact, these important days gather together as if they were competing for our attention as the calendar year draws to an end.

Given the state of the world today, these celebrations of light are just what the doctor ordered. Earth’s inhabitants need as much light at they can get.

It’s only fitting that the major celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the winter solstice all squeeze together in late December. It’s like a hidden magnet pulling them into the light itself. I don’t mean to be too jocular about these simultaneous celebrations. Just the opposite is true.

Christians consider Advent, the weeks leading up to and just after Christmas Day, as holy, sacred, magical. My Jewish friends rightly believe the same about Hanukkah.

Those who celebrate the winter solstice as Yule have a practical reason for making merry. From that point forward, daylight increases little by little each day.

It’s all very human of us to acknowledge the importance of light in our lives just when we have the least of it. Doing so gives us hope in the midst of darkness.

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival also known as the Festival of Lights. One candle is lighted each day on the nine-candle menorah. Hanukkah means rededication and annually commemorates the Jewish struggle for religious freedom.

Chrismtas drama
Star over Bethlehem.
Christmas also is a commemoration. Lights of many kinds fill its traditions. The star in the east that hovered over Bethlehem, birthplace of the Christ child, is reflected on Christmas cards, and in displays, plays, poems, stories, and musicals.

Candle lighting services, often held on Christmas Eve, symbolize the birth of Jesus, the Christians’ declaration of the true light of life. In fact, four churches in Millersburg, Ohio will hold a Candlelight Walk on the evening of December 9 to help usher in the season.

My energetic wife had the electric candles glowing in our windows even before Thanksgiving this year. Illuminating each window with candles is a tradition we’ve had for our 45 years together.

In fact, one Christmas long ago our young daughter wouldn’t let us take down the candle in her bedroom window. When I shared in church about Carrie’s insistence, our late friend and resident poet Lorie Gooding wrote a poem about it. To my knowledge, this is the first publication of that poem.

Carrie’s Candle

I have a candle. It is mine.
I like to watch my candle shine.
It was a light for Christmas cheer.
But I’m going to keep it all the year.
Then when the darkness comes at night,
I’m going to watch my little light.
My good daddy and my pretty mother
Smile at my candle. So does my baby brother.
The light is for everyone to see.
But the little candle belongs to me.

Lorie Gooding

My wish for all of you this holiday season is that the light shines brightly in your lives wherever you may be.

sunrise, Amish farm
Morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

In words and deeds, a President humbly true to his faith

Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter
With Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Humility, service, love, family and faith are vital pillars of any stable community. My wife and I enthusiastically witnessed these highest of human qualities at a little Baptist church in Plains, Georgia.

We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones who would want to hear Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school. When the former president is scheduled to teach, the tiny congregation of 30 swells to 10 times that amount, sometimes more.

The good folks at Maranatha Baptist Church know what to do. They are ready for the ensuing onslaught. So are the authorities.

When we arrived at 8:30 a.m. at the modest church that damp, gray Sunday morning, a police dog checked every vehicle entering the property for bombs. Though we were plenty early, a line of people already stretched from the front door, down the cement sidewalk to the parking lot.

By now, former President Carter has developed quite the reputation as a teacher, humanitarian, and world-renowned peacemaker. At age 90, he and his equally gracious wife, Rosalynn, are still putting their faith into action.

Noble Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize medal. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My wife and I joined the queue to enter the red brick building. A stern looking woman popped onto the church’s front porch to announce the procedures for entering. She spoke loudly and resolutely so everyone could plainly hear the specific instructions to make everything go as smoothly as possible.

Secret Service agents greeted us inside the door. We emptied our pockets onto a table and removed our coats. Another officer checked everyone with a wand for any suspicious objects.

We sat in a pew about two-thirds of the way back from the pulpit. Promptly at 9 a.m., the same drill sergeant like lady walked to the front of the church and introduced herself as “Miss Jan.”

Miss Jan spent the next 45 minutes kindly but firmly going over all the rules of conduct. Included were not standing or clapping for the president and no photography during the class or worship. We could take pictures during Jimmy’s brief introduction.

Miss Jan continued, “If you want your picture taken with the President and First Lady you must stay for both the Sunday school and the worship.”

After a brief break, Miss Jan, who had taught the Carter’s daughter, Amy, in elementary school, had us all bow our heads for a prayer. When she said, “Amen,” Jimmy Carter surprised the congregation when he rose and began addressing the crowd. He and his Secret Service guards had quietly sneaked in during the prayer. We hung on his every word.

Miss Jan kept watch over the assembled. She occasionally hugged or bent down to shake the hand of a Secret Service agent, as if she were welcoming them back to a family gathering. The affection they shared was for more than themselves. Their common assignment of protecting the president they loved and admired expressed their uniform devotion.

Jimmy Carter, Sunday school
Jimmy Carter was making a point during the introduction section of the class. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The topic was loving God and your neighbor. Jimmy humbly shared how organizations he supports, like the Lions Club, Habitat for Humanity, and The Carter Center in Atlanta, help him put this charitable concept into global deeds for peace and human rights.

Jimmy used the word “humble” several times, pronouncing it the old-fashioned way, without the beginning “H” sound. It modeled his southern, gentlemanly hospitable manner.

After the service, Miss Jan resumed command, dismissing us by rows to have our pictures taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn. When she came to our row, I told her she must have been an excellent teacher. Miss Jan winked, smiled, and quietly thanked me.

Miss Jan had instructed us not to either shake hands with the Carters or to talk to them so that everyone could get through the process as quickly and efficiently as possible. When the lady taking the photo with my camera clicked the shutter, Rosalynn whispered to Neva that the flash hadn’t gone off.

That was so thoughtful of her. The picture was fine, just like Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, and Miss Jan, too.

The communion cup of love, faith, family, humility, and service generously overflowed in Plains, Georgia. We were grateful to have been partaken.

Jimmy Carter quote, Bruce Stambaugh
A quote from Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Pre-release special price on Fifty Shades of Grace

I am pleased to announce that I have a chapter in a newly published book, Fifty Shades of Grace, by Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia and Waterloo, Ontario. The book will be released May 1.

fiftyshadesofgraceAs a special introduction, Herald Press is offering a 30% discount on the book until May 9. The book sells for $12.99. To order the book, contact MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or click this link, MennoMedia.

The book is a collection of true inspirational stories about experiencing God’s grace in the midst of everyday life. Each of the fifty essays explores what grace looks like in action—even in a world jaded by violence and unforgiveness—and how grace can triumph over tragedy, or the daily annoyances of family life.

The chapter I wrote, entitled “Testing my Peace Stance,” tells about accompanying my late father, Richard, on an Honor Flight for World War II veterans. Stories are also included from noted writers Jim Wallis, John Powell, John Perkins, Lovella Schellenberg, Christopher Kennedy Lawford and many others, mostly from the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition.

In his foreword, Donald Kraybill says, “The stories compel, mesmerize and strike again and again with wonderment for the many colors of God’s lavish love. These contemporary stories of grace all rub against the grain of popular culture. They offer a redemptive counterpoint to the darkness and oppression lurking in the shadows of bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.” Kraybill, an authority on Anabaptist groups, is a co-author of Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy and author of many other books.

©Bruce Stambaugh 2013