This year I’ll focus on clarity over certainty

Growing up, 20/20 meant perfect vision. Later, it was the title of a television news show. Now it’s the year 2020.

At the start of a new year, it’s only natural to wonder what will happen. Will this year be better than last, however “better” is defined? Given that 2020 is a presidential election year, I’m not optimistic.

Recently a quote by Allen Lokos caught my attention: “We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but today is filled with potential.” I like that practical advice.

This year, I intend to apply it more personally. I better get busy helping today anyway I can. There may not be a tomorrow.

I don’t mean that to sound morbid. Instead, I take it as a personal challenge, a positive reminder that the present moment is the only one that matters. Regardless of our position, power, or influence in life, try as we might, we can’t control life’s events. For good or ill, things just happen.

Humans crave certainty, the idea of knowing exactly what will happen. That is not the way life works. Sureness is better viewed in the rearview mirror. We know what did happen. Even then, people can’t agree on the truth. Some persons still don’t believe we landed on the moon.

Another problem is that we too often apply certainty to the future. Life interjects options we just don’t expect, some positive, others not so much.

We want to control with certitude our lives and the lives of those for whom we care. In reality, that is impossible. We can plan our lives all we want, and still, things go askew.

When I was a building principal, I used three by five note cards to plan my day. I usually had a handful of items that I wanted to accomplish. By day’s end, my list had often grown into double figures, and the few things that had initially been listed never got checked off. With that personal history, I struggled with the conundrum of certainty and clarity.

Enter the three wise men. They saw a star with clarity and sought its origin. They left their kingdoms, uncertain as to what the celestial sign meant. Nevertheless, they followed the star’s clarion call, sensing its significance without knowing exactly where it would lead.

The three wise men wanted to be there, wherever there was. And when they finally arrived gift-laden for a new kind of king, they saw their Epiphany. January 6 annually marks that event.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to focus more on clarity than certainty. Clarity is the vision of where you want to go. Certainty is the route you took.

The bible puts it this way: “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Clarity is tantamount to faith, while sight equates with certainty.

I’ve never been a New Year’s resolution kind of guy. I do set expectations for myself, however. This year I’m going to focus all my being on the clarity of living. Much too often in our busy, technologically driven lives, we clamor for certainty.

We live in an uncertain world. We try to direct what we can to make it more precise. Sometimes, though, the more effort we put into controlling actions, the more they unravel.

If we are clear about what is essential in our lives, the little everyday details that we too often worry so much about will simply take care of themselves. In 2020, I’ll strive to depend on clarity to live my life.

Does anyone care to join me?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Putting mystery back in the holidays of miracles and light


December’s mainstay holidays are cloaked in mystery and miracles. Darkness to light summarizes the current holiday season theme regardless of which ones you observe.

Hanukkah, Christmas, and even the winter solstice share those common qualities. They each come with their own history, a bit of mystery, and a requisite for reverence. The three even overlap in time, traditions, and symbols.

Hanukkah and Christmas each have deep, overlapping religious roots, while the winter solstice has pagan origins. All three, however, connect winter’s darkness with some concept of light. In fact, the triumvirate celebrates light in authentic, yet distinctive practices.

Besides illuminating light in the year’s darkest time, this triune of holidays has another commonality. The celebration of all three can last for days in keeping their specific purposes.

The winter solstice occurs when the sun reaches its farthest southward point for the year. That is precisely 9:19 p.m. EST on December 21. In Universal Time, the winter solstice is December 22 at 4:49 a.m.

The winter solstice marks the latest dawn and the earliest sunset. It is the longest night and shortest day for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, it’s just the opposite for those south of the equator.

History and archeology show us that earth’s early peoples recognized this critical point in whatever way they marked time. They understood that the sun’s path could be predicted on a regular route across the sky.

Archeological wonders like England’s Stonehenge and Peru’s Machu Picchu stand as evidence of this. Indigenous peoples in America’s southwest also marked the end of darkness in similar light-filled ceremonies.

Historians are still unraveling the mysteries of these cultural rituals. Fire and light were essential symbols in most of these ancient celebrations. I marvel at how those two entities connect to Hanukkah and Christmas.

This year Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish faith from December 22 to 30. Hanukkah is the commemoration of a historic miracle involving light.

The Jewish holiday arose after the temple in Jerusalem was recaptured from cruel ruler Antiochus. Wanting to rededicate the holy temple, the Judah victors found only enough olive oil to burn sacred candles for one night. Mysteriously, the menorah candle burned for eight consecutive nights, establishing the miracle of Hanukkah.

Christmas, of course, is December 25, most likely assigned that date to coincide with the winter solstice and Hanukkah celebrations, according to some historians. They reasoned that if the shepherds were guarding the grazing sheep, the season would have been one other than winter.

Regardless, Christmastime is a celebration of another kind of light. It, too, is rooted in a miracle, that of Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus, meaning, “God with us.”

Christians begin the Yuletide season with the Advent preparation four weeks ahead of Christmas Day. Some sects of Christianity then extend the celebration to January 6 or Epiphany or Old Christmas, which the Amish humbly celebrate.

For me, in this blend of holidays, the light brings anticipation of better things to come: lighter, longer days, a hope for a better, sunnier new year, the joy of personal peace by walking with the light, and the love of all Creation.

The vibrant spirits of the season, miracle and mystery, gently weave the interconnected holiday celebrations together with the threads of hope, joy, peace, and love. Will we allow ourselves to be wrapped lovingly in this warm garment more radiant than the brightest star?

I pray that the mystery of miracle envelops you and yours in joy and light this holiday season.

Winter solstice sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Finding purpose during Advent

Advent is at hand. It is the season of anticipation as we draw an end to another tumultuous year on planet Earth.

I find that both ironic and a touch melancholy. As we approach the winter solstice, a celebratory light should brighten the darkness. Yet, for too many, the light is dim or nonexistent. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Our western world is aglow and abuzz with glitzy television commercials, flashing, and sometimes gaudy light displays in keeping the season. But of what honor is gaudiness when so many among us are sad, tired, distraught, hungry, homeless, and helpless?

Enter Advent. It is the antithesis of the holiday commercialization that pounds our senses in nearly every aspect that the marketing Mad Men conspire to throw at us. We lust for gold, frankincense, and myrrh 21st-century style.

Perhaps we need an epiphany before Epiphany to set the holidays aright. We seem to have turned the once admired axiom, “It’s better to give than to receive” on its head. We need to right the ship before we sink.

Though an exclusive Christian tradition, Advent is an inclusive, active, intentional, iconic time for all. Advent is as much an action as it is a prelude to Christmas. In truth, Advent’s meaning far preceded any contemporary applications.

More than a preparation for “God is with us,” some biblical scholars believe that Advent was 40 days of fasting leading up to Epiphany. That shines a new perspective on an ancient holy day.

I apologize for the sermonette. I hope that with these few words, others will also catch Advent’s meaning of watchfulness, alertness, love, peace, and service.

There is no room in the inn during Advent for greed, power, position, wealth, riches, avarice, and hate. Contemplation, meditation, prayer, thoughtfulness, charity, humility, and assistance to those in desperate need purposely fulfill the Advent message and meaning.

So what’s my point? Back in our former home, Holmes Co., Ohio, Share-A-Christmas was always an excellent first start on the eve of this holiday season. The annual community goodwill effort of providing for the needy set the stage for even more opportunity to personally be kind and generous.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the wealthiest country in the world can do a world of good more for those among us who are truly low in spirit. Slow down. Take time to notice who they are and where they are. Opportunities abound all around.

Once aware, be bold, and take the next step. Do so in some personal way that satisfies an immediate need for others. It’s really not that difficult.

When it comes to charity and generosity, spontaneity seasons the gifts. Practicality wraps them, makes them intimate.

Here are a few starter suggestions: Visit the sick. Send a note or card to those in nursing homes. Honor the widows and widowers with nothing more than your listening ears. Meet people where they are.

Though too humble to say so, my good wife set a perfect example for us last Christmastime. As we drove our vehicle toward a red light in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia, on a cold and blustery night, we noticed a homeless woman holding a cardboard sign on the corner sidewalk.

I offered a bottle of water that I usually carry for such an occasion. When Neva saw that the young woman had no gloves, she instantly reacted. Without hesitation, my wife peeled off her own gloves, and I handed them to the woman.

Advent presented itself, and Neva responded. How can we likewise let our light shine in today’s darkness?


© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

In 2016, embrace the joy of laughter in your life

transposition, funny sign
Mixed marketing?

By Bruce Stambaugh

As we approach Epiphany, the Advent season of hope, love, joy and peace comes to an end. The challenge for us, however, is to keep that quartet of ideals alive in the New Year.

The Amish celebrate Jan. 6 as Old Christmas, a time of gathering with family and friends, reflecting on what has been and what may yet be. In reality, it is more solemnity than celebration. Still, they gather to commemorate and converse, glad for another year of life.

Knowing some of my ornery Amish friends, I doubt the day will pass without a few light-hearted ribbings and laughs. Everything in moderation as the saying goes.

Just like music, laughter can bind folks together so long as the merriment doesn’t ridicule anyone. Coming out of the holidays into the New Year, we had plenty of opportunities to laugh with friends and family.

humorous sign
The 11th Commandment.

My six-year-old granddaughter led the way. When visiting our home over the holidays, I asked her one evening if she wanted anything. Her reply made me laugh.

“A glass of cranberry juice and a large carrot,” was Maren’s reply. I complied with a grin on my face. She was happy, and so was I but for a very different reason.

I wondered why the rest of the world’s entreaties couldn’t be so simple. We live in a fearsome, troubled world. Here was a kindergartner who only made a simple request, and in the process innocently made the seasonal celebration even more joyful.

Her comment wasn’t the only one that made me chuckle. Given my circle of family and friends, we laughed a lot.

A gathering of the cancer support group I belong to was one such setting. The six of us met with our spouses, and given the mix of characters among the couples, laughs were guaranteed. It’s always good to face down cancer with a group snicker or two.

At a friend’s open house for his new baby, the small congregate laughed and laughed at story after story. Good-natured chiding made for one lively evening. All the while, the baby slept and slept, apparently comforted by our genuine regard.

We hosted a long-standing Christmas Eve tradition of breakfast with lifetime friends. You should have seen my friend smile when he opened his gift of a travel mug from our 50th high school reunion that neither of us attended.

reunion items, smiles
All smiles.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” he said. I know. But I did. It was fun.

Grandchildren at Christmas can be as antsy as any time of year. Determined to keep things moving, I challenged my granddaughter to play the board game Candyland. She got bored at winning. I adored being her patsy.

At our son’s place, the nine-year-old grandson stole the act. Prompted by his uncle, Davis’ timing was perfect when he disrupted an adult guest’s soliloquy with the man’s own conversational trick, “Sorry to interrupt you, but…” Davis brought down the house.

Other cheery times are less visible but just as productive. I put my car keys where I’m sure to find them instead of their usual location, and then I can’t remember where the surefire spot was. It’s good to go easy on yourself.

Like beads on a bracelet, each moment of laughter is strung together to brighten and lighten life. In 2016, I hope your world is filled with lots of laughter, even if it is only a cup of cranberry juice and one large carrot.

funny sign, laughing
May 2016 bring lots of laughs.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016