Tag Archives: giving

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

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Tis the season to remember the poor

snow scene, barn in snow

Christmas landscape. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to read to children.

As an elementary student, I feared being called on to read. I was in my glory when the instructions were to read silently. I had my immature reasons, most of which were cemented in fear of reading aloud, mispronouncing words and the ensuing public chastisement.

I got over it, but I still don’t like to read out loud in front of groups. There was an exception, however. When I became an elementary teacher, I enjoyed reading to my own students because they respectfully listened.

Often times I read right after the noon recess. Intermediate school children played hard. I wanted them to be ready for the afternoon lessons. I found reading timely, age-appropriate stories perfect for getting the students calmed and cooled down.

All they had to do was listen, even with their heads on their desks. Reading allowed me to refocus, too.

reading to children, reading

Reading to my granddaughter.

This time of year, I always read Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” I still read it to myself every year. It’s one of my Yuletide traditions.

The book is a classic with a timeless story of a changed heart and helping the poor. Set in 19th century London, Dickens beautifully played out the true meaning of Christmas through the tension he created between Ebenezer Scrooge and the other main characters in the book, mainly his nephew, Fred, and Scrooge’s desk clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I marveled at how well the students paid attention. After I finished reading for 10 or 15 minutes, the students always begged me to read on. Most wanted to hear what happened next. Some, of course, just wanted a further delay in doing the afternoon lessons.

I read and continue to read “A Christmas Carol” because it is incredible literature, very well written, and a commentary on the societal situations at the time. I also enjoy the spirit that the book imbibes. It clearly reflects the true meaning of Christmas.

reading, reading to grandkids

Reading to grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the opening scene, the stage is set. Two men enter Dickens’ accounting office to ask for a monetary donation to help the poor. Scrooge asks them if the poor houses and the workhouses have disappeared, knowing they have not.

Scrooge shoos the men out, and in the process lets in his happy-go-lucky nephew, Fred. He promptly invites Scrooge to a Christmas party, to which Scrooge imparts his legendary “Bah Humbug” retort. Fred leaves, disappointed but not discouraged.

Dickens’ classic still rings true today. As technologically advanced as we are today, as quickly as we can communicate with others, as good as we have it in our North American society, the poor are still among us.

I am thankful for all of the organizations, churches, businesses and individuals that give freely of their time and money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the less fortunate at Christmastime.

These kind and generous acts exemplify the Christmas spirit in action, much the way Dickens’ fabled tale does. Because I have read the story so many times, I know what’s coming. But because the story is so well written, still apropos, I keep reading “A Christmas Carol.” Its message to help the poor is intended to reach far beyond the holiday season.

If you haven’t ever read “A Christmas Carol,” I won’t spoil it for you. Read it. Your Christmas will be brighter for it, and maybe, just maybe, someone else’s life will be richer because you did.

food delivery, helping the poor

Helping the poor anytime of year any way possible is always appreciated. © Bruce Stambau gh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Christmas isn’t about hustle and bustle

Snowy decorations by Bruce Stambaugh

Snowy decorations always add to the Christmas celebrations.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t watch much television. But what little I do, I can’t help but notice how the torrent of holiday-oriented commercials focuses on the urgency of buying something really nice for that special someone in your life.

Celebrating Christmas in our advanced society seems distorted. A brand new car wrapped with a huge red ribbon and bow sitting in the driveway, a sparkling diamond ring and a gold necklace cannot supersede the original gifts of the Magi.

Eager for customers, the ads have managed to push their way to the forefront of the holiday season much too early. Growing up, the countdown to Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday. Today, it seems to start the day after Labor Day.

Watching for buggies on Christmas Day by Bruce Stambaugh

Watching for buggies on Christmas Day.

Even here in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we feel the hustle and bustle of the season. Without admitting it, we might even add to it. It’s always easier to see the fault of others than your own.

Wreath on frosty window by Bruce Stambaugh

A frosty holiday decoration.

I don’t want to be negative about Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday of the year.

I just think that given all the commercialization of Christmas, we need a different approach. As I reflect on the historical account of the Advent season that I learned early in life, it seems more and more obvious to me that Christmas really is more about patience than it is presents.

I have many fond childhood memories of readying for Christmas, and the excited anticipation of Christmas morning. My brothers and sisters and I couldn’t wait to raid the pretty packages strewn beneath the tree on Christmas morning. That scene was not the model of patience.

Mom and Dad had stayed up late assembling and wrapping the gifts for us kids. We always pushed our luck at getting up before the crack of dawn to undo what it had taken Santa and our folks hours to prepare.

But what a happy morning it was, with the excitement of surprise with every unwrapping. Those days were simple compared to what passes as season’s greetings today. I find the entire holiday hubbub of shopping, buying and spending exhausting.

Opening gifts by Bruce Stambaugh

Exchanging gifts at Christmas is part of the family tradition.

I long for the true peace and quiet of Christmas, with the family gathered, the fireplace blazing, the tree’s lights sparkling. Of course, we maintain the gift-giving tradition. We have just toned it down so that reason rules. We want the gifts to represent personal quality instead of absurd quantity.

The stockings hang by the chimney with care. They are filled on Christmas Eve, and emptied on Christmas morn. Just like when I was a child, an orange will be the last to tumble out of each.

The grandkids will watch The Polar Express over and over until the DVR wears out. We’ll play games, eat, and bask in the glow of the moment and the season.

Decorating the tree by Bruce Stambaugh

The grandchildren enjoy helping to decorate the Christmas tree.

Our modern society may rush the Advent season and judge it by its economic success. But as for me and my family, we will enjoy each others company, joyously share our humble appreciation and rejoice that it is Christmas once again.

Those are Christmas gifts worth waiting for.

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A practical way to give thanks

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was only appropriate that for a full week after the first snow of the year that we experienced a perfect Indian summer here in Ohio.

The extended summer-like days, which seemed to actually improve chronologically until the rains came, served as a picturesque bridge between a superb fall and an inexplicit winter yet to come.

We can only wonder what winter will be like. Will it be as harsh and record breaking as the last? We hope not. Clearly we have no say in the matter.

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country totaled three feet in February 2010.

Every fall the National Weather Service issues a long-term guesstimation of what winter will bring. But even the scientists hedge their prognostications on percentages, casino like.

In the end, we have no choice but to take what we get. Hushed by the holiday clamor, a certain question lingers unspoken. Will we appreciate what we receive? In truth, that question can and should be applied far beyond the realm of weather.

I remember well the winter of 2004-2005 when the infamous ice storm nailed our area. The accumulating ice snapped giant trees, brought down power lines, halted commerce, interrupted communications, and thinned traffic to emergency purposes only for days.

Those of us who were on the electrical grid were hit hard. Fortunately, an Amish friend saved my family and me with the use of a generator to at least keep the gas hot water heat on. Without the generator’s assistance, the pipes in our home would have frozen and burst, causing extensive damage. Thankfully that did not happen, due to the unconditional generosity of my friend.

All the while, with our communication to the outside world cut, thousands upon thousands of people were caught in the wake of a horrific earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that killed scores of people.

In sorting through an overflowing basket of mishmash the other day, I came upon some handwritten notes I had made about the catastrophe. Apparently, I did so while listening to a battery-operated radio. In reviewing my scribbling, I was reminded that the inconvenience of living without electricity for five days paled in comparison to the plight of millions of fellow human beings halfway around the world.

A sampling of my jottings, dated Dec. 26, 2004, relived the calamity: Banda Ache, 60-foot wave, two miles inland, 30 mph, eight-12 feet deep flood; deaths, 200,000 in Indonesia alone, 400,000 injured; no system to alert people in Indian Ocean rim; 9.3 magnitude earthquake, the world’s deadliest tsunami. Unfortunately, those initial notations proved accurate.

Once power was restored the horrible scenes unfolded on television. I was appalled for the victims, thankful for my family that we had only lost power and a few trees in the yard. Compared to the widespread wreckage and unbelievable totals of death and injuries of so many innocents, we had been fortunate.

Tracks in the snow by Bruce Stambaugh

Horses made serpentine tracks in the heavy snow last Feb. in Holmes County.

Since then, infinite natural and man-made disasters, including the sluggish global economy, have occurred. Others will likely continue to develop as time progresses. Nevertheless, as we begin this holiday season in North America, we still have so much for which we can be thankful no matter our personal situation.

This Thanksgiving perhaps we can express our gratitude by simply helping the less fortunate. We may not have to look clear to the Indian Ocean rim for those opportunities either.

Maybe, just maybe, a proactive generosity can be an Indian summer bridge to brighten someone else’s rainy day life. That would be a practical, productive and prudent Thanksgiving.

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