Tag Archives: joy

Living beyond our own routines

granddog

Millie claimed my chair.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on our screened-in back porch eating a light lunch with my wife and our granddog, Millie. Neva and I were dog sitting while our daughter and her family were away for the weekend. The dog duty was in the fine print of our moving contract.

As I nibbled at the delicious egg salad Neva had prepared, a mockingbird called from the crest of a roof three houses away. Not to be outdone, a northern cardinal sang its springtime repertoire from a neighbor’s lilac bush.

As I picked at my lunch offerings, I thought about a comment I had heard a couple of hours earlier. “It’s been a long week,” the man said. That caught my attention.

Anticipating a bit of bad news or perhaps a string of events that bore him negative consequences, he instead spoke far beyond himself and his own life experiences. He mentioned those in the world who lacked basic human needs, food, shelter, water, love. Every week is a long week for them.

I marveled at his keen sense of compassion, his devotion to looking and living outside his own situation, his own desires, his own problems no matter how big or small. Instead, his concern was for those in dire straits. His urging was to be observant, considerate, and helpful to those we meet in our daily comings and goings.

That hit home for me. Here we were, only a month in our new home, still trying to establish some semblance of a new routine in our new state.

Not surprisingly, Neva was ahead of me in that regard. She had already begun to volunteer once a week at a local thrift store doing what she loves. Helping others regardless of their station in life or their background or their creed is in her DNA. She had also already helped pack groceries at a local food pantry.

I’ve been slower to engage in such activities. After spending my entire adult life in the public eye one way or another, I wanted my new routine to be more personal, more private. I want my actions to continue to be purposeful, useful, and productive for others in this new life we have chosen for ourselves.

soccer

Granddaughter on the move.

Participating in the lives of our active grandchildren and their parents tops our lists. We’ve already begun to do that, Millie being Exhibit A.

My intentions are to cultivate the activities that I love besides my family of course. I’ll find some birding buddies. I’ll go hiking and biking. I have books to write and photographs to publish. But as the man mentioned, I needed to reach beyond myself, too.

I’ll have plenty of opportunities with three universities nearby, the community’s focus on arts, the multi-cultural demographics, and the rich historical and natural geographical features the Shenandoah Valley offers.

But as I sat on our porch with Neva and Millie, lazily eating, listening, pondering, I considered those in the world who have long weeks every week. I need to incorporate the lame, the lost, the least into my newly unfolding routine as well.

I’m not exactly sure how that will play out. I just want to step outside my comfort zone, my familiarities. It seems the right thing to do, especially given the horrors in today’s complex and interconnected world.

I’ll begin by meeting people right where they are. Spontaneous or planned, it must be done. Perhaps then their week and mine will feel a little shorter than their previous one.

When I saw this man setting up his flag for Memorial Day, I stopped and asked to take his photo. He gladly obliged.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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A different kind of March Madness

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the first time in our 45 years of marriage, our anniversary falls on Easter. I couldn’t be happier.

bride and groom

Wedding day.

To be honest, I have no idea why we set our wedding date for the end of March. We had to be crazy to marry at the height of high school and college basketball tournaments. I guess it was a different kind of March Madness.

Both our fathers were big sports fans. They watched baseball, football and basketball games on TV and listened to them on the radio, too, sometimes simultaneously. We wouldn’t have been surprised if Neva’s dad had walked her down the aisle with a transistor radio held to his ear. He didn’t of course.

There was another thing about our wedding date. Neva and I were both teachers. What kind of a honeymoon could we take in the middle of a school year? The answer was a very short one.

The years have flown by. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs. Through thick or thin, one little gesture has helped keep us together. We hold hands a lot.

Our handholding started on our real honeymoon the summer after we were married. We ran a church camp located at 10,200 ft. on the eastern slope of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

Barr Camp, Pikes Peak

When we were young.

We cooked on a wood stove or over an open fire, drank water from an ice-cold mountain stream, and greeted mountain hikers who needed a rest stop. We met a lot of nice people that summer, plus a hungry black bear that came calling early one evening.

A lot of water has run down life’s stream since then. We are fortunate to have family, friends, neighbors and church members who lifted us up when we needed it the most. We have tried to return the favors whenever possible.

Serving and being served in and by the community has strengthened if not defined our marriage and our shared purpose. But it’s the everyday interactions with one another, with strangers and friends that have helped see us through.

No matter the situation, Neva and I automatically reach for each other’s hand. That purposefully keeps us together.

I have read Neva’s heart and mind simply by touch. Cold and firm or warm and gentle, good times or bad, we still cling to one another. It’s a constant reminder that neither of us is ever alone in any situation. I thrive in that reassurance.

I remember the joy of playing horse as our two youngsters rode on my back around the house until I collapsed. They long ago became responsible, productive adults with careers and lives of their own. Our three growing grandchildren are wonderful blessings to us now, too.

happy couple

The happy couple today.

We recently visited the pastor who married us. We thanked him for all that he did to prepare us for our wedding day and life beyond. Hand in hand, he set this young, naïve couple on a long, meandering, incredible journey together.

I’m hoping the Easter weather will be beautiful, as lovely as my bride. It’s been a while since I’ve called her that. It will be great to share this holy day with folks who have lifted us up all these years.

I’m overjoyed that Easter and our anniversary coincide this year. It’s the perfect day of hope and joy for us to celebrate our reckless, uncalculated love together.

In the evening, we’ll sit and watch basketball games on TV. I’m pretty confident we’ll be holding hands.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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The eyes have it

smiling, happy, joy, eyes

The eyes have it. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I was fortunate to tag along with Penny Diggs and her daughter, Sandy Strouse, both of Seaford, VA, recently as they toured Ohio’s Amish country. Penny had won the Lehman’s Sweepstakes earlier in the year and chose to visit over Thanksgiving. Her prize included tours of the five businesses of the Best of Ohio’s Amish Country marketing coop group. Company owners led most of the tours. I took this photo in Kidron, OH at the conclusion of the tour of Lehman’s, led by founder, Jay Lehman, and Glenda Lehman Ervin, Vice President of Marketing for Lehman’s.

Penny didn’t leave her southern hospitality at home either. She was so excited and appreciative about winning that she brought gifts for some of Lehman’s staff.

Penny was describing all that she had experienced to an interviewer when I captured this moment. The expression in her eyes, plus the joy sparkling from her adoring daughter, was an easy pick for my Photo of the Week. “The eyes have it” indeed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Lean into the wind in 2014

Damage left by an EF2 tornado that hit Wooster, Ohio on Sept. 16, 2010.

Damage left by an EF2 tornado that hit Wooster, Ohio on Sept. 16, 2010.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never believed much in New Year’s resolutions. I prefer to view the big picture. Besides, by now, I may have already broken half my resolves.

This year, rather than aim to lose five pounds in a month, I want to lean into the wind. That should be easy for me. I’m known to be a little windy from time to time.

You can blame my young pastor for this idea. He’s young because he’s half my age. Pastor Patrick recently preached a sermon about making yourself available and vulnerable to lean into life’s daily situations, good and bad, the way you would brace yourself against a good gale.

bluebirdbybrucestambaughI liked that image a lot. I’ll share a few ways I plan to apply the concept. I want to challenge myself to embrace all that swirls around me, positive or negative, this year. We learn from either perspective.

Despite my loss of dexterity, I will lean into the wind and hold a child’s hand, steadying her wobbling stroll across a room. Though my hearing is diminished, I will listen attentively to what others have to say, even though I may vehemently disagree with their opinion or decision.

Though my eyesight is aided with bifocal glasses, I will look for the simplest pleasure nature has to offer. A breathtaking sunrise, a singular drop of water hanging perilously at the end a leaf, a brilliant wood warbler migrating north will all be part of my leaning into the wind.

doubletrunkbybrucestambaughEven though my cranky knees limit my mobility, I will do my absolute best to bend low to pick up trash thoughtlessly discarded by others. If someone else is leaning into the wind nearby, maybe they’ll help me back to my feet.

Leaning is an active verb, not passive. Life is a series of winds of various velocities that shift daily. We can only feel the wind. We measure it by the effects on everything the wind touches, whether it does so fiercely or persistently.

Regardless of the velocity, life’s winds affect us all. Leaning in enables us to practice gratitude and joy, the byproducts of vulnerability.

Life offers no guarantees. It is full of pitfalls and mistakes as well as abundant joy and beauty. I want to discard the rose-colored glasses, and recognize the good from the bad. I want to accept them for what they are, and lean into 2014 accordingly.

The blizzard winds of January will eventually subside. Before we know it, invigorating breezes of May, with their warm, sweet fragrances and life-giving rains, will arrive as a blessed balance for us all.

A friend of mine shared a picture of an old apple tree, trunk bent from age and time, some limbs broken and sagging. The caption beneath the old tree defined what I mean by leaning into the wind.

It read, “A little bent by time, shaped by the wind and the seasons, a few branches broken. Today I feel like that old apple tree. But I’m still reaching for the sky, and doing my best to take in what the world gives me and turn it into something good and useful.”

By leaning into the wind, I can anticipate enduring, absorbing and embracing all of the various breezes that life blows my way in 2014.

Who knows? I might even lose five pounds in a month.

brownongoldbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Appreciating the daily gifts we are given

birdersatsunrisebybrucestambaugh

A beautiful sunrise greeted these birders in search of a Snowy Owl.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For much too long already we’ve been enduring an avalanche of cutesy commercials and gimmicky advertisements foisting an assortment of products from A to Z on us. Each one is pitched as the perfect Christmas gift to give.

snowyowlbybrucestambaugh

Snowy Owl.

Catalogues, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the Internet, even emails push various products for us to purchase for our loved ones. I do my best to ignore them. It’s a bold statement from someone who spent part of his career in marketing.

I understand why all the product promotions are done. Retailers often need productive holiday sales to ensure a profit for the year. I certainly don’t begrudge them for trying.

At my stage in life, I find greater joy in a brilliant but brief sunrise than a glitzy ad. Sometimes on the coldest rural Ohio mornings, the pinks and blues that quickly morph into warm oranges, reds and yellows stir me more than any new car wrapped in a big red bow could.

Joy comes in many packages if we just take the time to notice them, even on the grayest of days. Amid this entire holiday hullabaloo, I have to remind myself to stop and take a deep breath.

Advent is the perfect time to slow down our lives, not speed them up, rushing around trying to find just the proper gift. It might already be right in front of us.

I speak from experience.

When our daughter, now a mother with young children of her own, was two-years old, she would stand on the kitchen counter at our home in Killbuck, Ohio. Together we would watch the birds devour the birdseed we had put out for them. Young as she was, Carrie could correctly identify each species.

Teetering on the rim of the Grand Canyon is an awesome feeling. Sharing that incredible vista with a person who is viewing it for the first time is even better. When it’s your son, seeing his smile is priceless.

When my wife and I braved a frigid winter’s night with a dear couple to search the dark sky for a rare comet, I was cold but hopeful. We rejoiced when we found it, quietly celebrating the event together. No words were needed.

When you go in search of a Snowy Owl, a rare avian visitor to our area, your hopes are high. Even when the bird can’t be located, the camaraderie of other birders on the same search makes up for the whiff. There are no wild goose chases in birding.

When you receive a hand-made card that includes drawings of a cardinal, an eagle and a blue jay, all appropriately colored by your grandchild, you know you are loved. You keep and display that precious gift where you can see it daily.

lookingupbybrucestambaugh

The gifts of life are all around us. We just have to look for them.

When a long-lost relative unexpectedly contacts you, you rejoice and reconnect with someone you may have only ever met once or maybe never. Surprise gifts rule.

When you stand in line for an hour or more to offer your condolences to the family of someone you have never met, you are blessed by the grace and appreciation shown to you by the mourners. Even in grief, great gifts are exchanged.

Advent is a time for reflection, renewing, remembering. It is a holy gift, freely given, gladly embraced.

The din of commercials not withstanding, Christmastime models what it means to give and to receive. I wonder what gifts will unwrap themselves for you and me today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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A bittersweet Amish wedding

churchbenchwagonbybrucestambaugh

The day after the wedding, only the lonely church bench wagon marked the spot where the bittersweet wedding had taken place. Out of respect for the Amish, no pictures were taken prior to or during the wedding.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The cool morning’s haze hung in the low, sweeping valley, kissing everything animate and inanimate with thousands of moist droplets. The sun, just now slipping above the distant hillsides, began to undo the dew.

An Amish church bench wagon stood alone, a silvery silent phantom in the dampened alfalfa field. A week earlier the wagon likely went unnoticed. It had been brought there to supply some of the seating for the hundreds of guests who attended a very special wedding.

The bride, a good friend and neighbor, was the happiest, most excited young woman about to be married that I had ever met. Only a year earlier this same 34 year-old had adamantly proclaimed to my wife that she would never get married.

Life events change things above and beyond our poor power to anticipate or comprehend them. We can only accept them.

Months earlier, the groom was suddenly a young widower with six children, teenager to toddlers. When the life of a wife and mother is taken at 34, a huge, horrible hole is created. Now, through a series of miraculous happenings, the modest, stalwart man was about to take a new bride.

It clearly was a bittersweet wedding. In fact, the bride used that as the theme in the invitations, throughout the preparations and the wedding itself. She went out of her way to include the children and their grandparents in this transition.

amishhomesteadbybrucestambaugh

The home of the new bride and groom and their family.

If ever there was a model for the positive blending of families, this wedding was it. There were tears of joy for the new couple, for the young children who would once again have a mother, and for the new groom, who would no longer have to worry about how to care for his family while holding down a fulltime job.

Step by step, it all came together. Even the minister had to wipe away a tear or two as he preached his sermon in his native Pennsylvania Dutch. During his animated sermon, he spoke reverently to the children, all dressed in matching gold shirts and dresses. He shared personally and passionately with the bride and groom on the incomparable commitment they were making.

In the Amish community, weddings and the meal that follows are a crowning celebration. They are a commitment for a lifetime to each other and the community. Surrounded by hundreds of family and friends, my friend followed her heart, and filled that family’s aching emptiness.

The reception was held across the narrow township road from the bride’s parent’s home. A large white tent had been erected to accommodate the reception goers. Usually the wedding party sits in the eck, or corner, while the guests enjoy their meal at long decorated tables.

This was no ordinary Amish wedding. The guests were afforded a glimpse of how life would be in this newly established household. Centered at the back of the tent was a huge, antique dining room table. Around it sat the bride, the groom and his six children. The bride fed one toddler while the groom fed another.

This marvelous couple had only been married a few minutes, and already they were modeling the family way. I had to wipe away a few tears of my own.

Just as the joy of this marriage warmed the spirits of the wedding guests, the strengthening sun quickly melted away the dewdrops around the church wagon. It was an honor and a blessing to have witnessed both.

silverliningbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Winter wanes with March’s arrival

winterplowingbybrucestambaugh

A young Amish boy gets a head start on spring plowing with his a team of draft horses during a winter thaw.

By Bruce Stambaugh

On my way to dinner with a friend, a simple yet pleasant notice brought a smile to my face. As my car turned the sharp corner, I saw the sign in front of the volunteer fire station. It read, “Baseball sign up Saturday.”

With yet another wintry storm on the way, that was welcome news to me. Just the thought of those youngsters already registering to play baseball got me through the next day’s ugly weather.

pushingthroughbybrucestambaugh

Daffodils peep through March’s melting snow.

That’s what I like about March. It’s both winter’s last gasp and spring’s first breath. That posting was a clarion call for more than little leaguers. It was a sign of hope.

Once we reach March, I feel like a new person. I know winter’s icy grip is behind us, and that spring is peeping.

I’m also old enough to know not to get too giddy too soon. March often offers up some of winter’s heaviest snows. But with the days growing longer, not counting Daylight Savings Time, you know the snow will not last long.

marchsnowbybrucestambaugh

March is notorious for delivering some heavy snowstorms in Ohio’s Amish country.

In fact, March often delivers us a four-star package deal on weather. Wait. You had better make that a four seasons package. March is famous for thawing out winter’s clutch, teasing us with summer-like days, then bringing us back to reality with a fall-like cold front. One day we could enjoy a welcomed spring rain, and the next be dodging tornadoes. March can be as fickle as it is friendly.

eastersundaybybrucestambaugh

Easter Sunday is March 31 this year.

This year March brings us a Trifecta of joy. St. Patrick’s Day, Palm Sunday and Easter consecutively complete March’s Sundays.

There’s much more, too. Early migratory birds begin to make an appearance. The male Red-wing Blackbirds begin to scout out their territories. American Robins come out of hiding and begin their bob, bob, bobbing along.

americanrobinbybrucestambaugh

American Robins begin marking their territories in March.

The Song Sparrows pick their fence post perches, tilt back their striped heads, and let it rip. American Goldfinches brighten as they begin their lemony spring molt.

If the ground is dry enough, farmers begin their plowing in earnest. Crocuses and daffodils poke their pointy green shoots through the crystalized snow remnants and await the sun’s command to bloom.

We humans follow their lead. We shake off our cabin fever, and find any excuse we can to go outside. If we do have an early warm spell, dedicated gardeners will be sure to be planting their peas.

We check our property for any winter damage. Without complaint we pick up sticks deposited by winter’s frequent, fierce winds. We’re just happy to be breathing in the freshness of life, and exhale without seeing our own breath freeze in midair.

earlyridebybrucestambaugh

Bicycles are common on the Holmes Co. Trail on a decent March day.

Bicycles, motorcycles and fishing gear are all dusted off, even if they won’t be used right away. Winter’s smudge is washed off the windows on the first reasonably warm day. Of course, the boys of summer spend March warming up for their April to October baseball games.

High school and college men and women create excitement and celebration with their basketball March madness. We dutifully follow along even if we haven’t attended a game all year.

crocusesbybrucestambaugh

Much to the delight of honey bees, crocuses are often the first flowers to poke through winter’s litter.

As you might be able to tell, I’m ready for some consistently warmer weather. The fact that we have already opened March’s door confidently tells me that winter is well on the wane.

As if we had any say in the matter, March always has her way with us. I for one am ready to be under her seductive spell, and bid a fond farewell to her bully winter cousins.

marchmowingbybrucestambaugh

Last year our yard received its initial mowing on March 23.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Mixed emotions about joining the Medicare crowd

Sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

There is a difference between thinking young and thinking that you are young.

Despite what I see in the mirror every morning and my occasional childish behavior, I believe that I still think young. I readily acknowledge that I am no longer young. The baldhead, gray whiskers and skin creases are obvious hints.

My body reminds me I’m no longer a spring chicken as well. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I could count the ways. I am pretty sure, however, no one wants to hear about my aches and pains. Mine are insignificant compared to those of others.

Sun rays by Bruce StambaughNevertheless, with my 65th birthday on the horizon, I am now a certified, card-carrying member of Medicare. When the card came in the mail recently, I didn’t know whether to smile or cry. It was sobering to see my name boldly printed on that red, white and blue card. Reality, as difficult as it was to accept, hit hard.

Facts are facts. The truth is that I am entering the last quarter of my life, assuming the best. I have to be realistic about who I am and what possibly lies ahead. I know I could get hit crossing the road retrieving the mail. However, with longevity in my family, I expect to live another 20 to 30 years.

The key of course is how I live them, not how long I live them. Isn’t that the case for each and every one of us?

I try to take good care of myself in every aspect of my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually. When the weather permits, I try to walk at least 30 minutes everyday. Walking not only exercises my body, but stirs my mind as well.

White-crowned sparrow by Bruce StambaughThe brisk stroll invigorates my muscles and gets my blood flowing. The soft, cheery call of the White-crowned Sparrows singing from the creek-side brush uplifts my mood.

Greeting the scholars gathering for another day of lessons at the one-room Amish school I pass brings back many fond memories of my own days in the classroom, both as a student and an educator. The hearty wave of my friend, Martha, reminds me how blessed I am and have been. Like a brilliant double rainbow, friends enrich my spirit.

Inspirations like those keep me going. I think back and recall the good times, allowing them to override any and all negative experiences, and there have been plenty. It is easy to come to a simple conclusion. I am grateful.

The secret to living a full, happy life is no secret at all. Bringing joy to others is really what it’s all about. In life’s daily clamor, it’s easy to lose sight of that basic fact.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh

Maren, 3.

If I have learned anything in my first 64 years, it is this: Blessing others by what I do, say and write blesses me. I know I have fallen short too many times. The key is to keep on trying. A simple kindness like holding the door for someone will suffice.

I didn’t expect signing up for Medicare to be so traumatic or reflective. I sighed to myself, accepted the card and tucked it away in the most appropriate place in my wallet, right behind the pictures of my grandchildren.

That way whenever I need to pull out the card that says I’m old, the shining eyes and effusive smiles of my grandchildren will keep me young.

Grandsons by Bruce Stambaugh

Davis, 6, and Evan, 8.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Adoptions bring joy and miracles

Yoder family by Bruce Stambaugh

Amy and Joe Yoder with their four adopted children, Hayley, Sophia, Matthew and Cameron.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Joe and Amy Yoder of rural Sugarcreek, Ohio wanted to start a family. When they were advised that pregnancy might be a questionable option for them, they had a lot to think about.

In the fall of 2003, they chose adoption. They could not know how much that decision would positively impact their lives and the lives of others. All the way, they sensed God’s leading.

Joe and Amy had decided on an international adoption. Only two months later, little Matthew in Guatemala entered their lives.

“The entire process was tedious,” Amy said. “There was major paperwork, and lots of bureaucracy to work through there.”

They applied in January and were approved in April. But they still couldn’t get custody of Matthew until October.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of Millersburg Mennonite Church,” Amy said of the church they attended then. “They really chipped in and helped us raise funds to defer expensive adoption.”

That was eight years ago. Matthew is a growing boy and enjoying being in third grade. He also watches over his brother and sisters.

That’s right. The Yoders have adopted three other children, all from Ohio, in the last three years.

Cameron is three. Hayley is two, and the latest addition to their family, Sophia, is 3 months old. If there is such a thing, she was a surprise adoption.

When Matthew was three, Joe and Amy decided to move ahead with adopting another child, only this time doing a domestic adoption. After interviewing several adoption agencies, Just three months after applying they received a call to adopt Cameron. That was 2009. A little more than 10 months later, the adoption agency called about Hayley.

Even after the first three adoptions, Joe and Amy said they felt like God was leading them to being foster parents. On June 28, that changed. Their social worker called. Amy said she thought the call was for an Amish neighbor couple that they were helping with the adoption process.

But no, the social worker told them they had another baby if they wanted it.

“Sophia was ready to leave the hospital,” Amy said, “and they didn’t have a placement for her yet.”

Knowing that each adoption, whether foreign or domestic, is costly, the Yoders hesitated, too.

“I asked the social worker how much money and how soon they needed it?” Amy shared. Having already adopted through the agency, Amy really knew the answer to the money question.

“She told us we needed $20,000 by Saturday,” Amy said, “and this was Friday afternoon.”

The Yoders said that they prayed about it all night. By morning they had their answer.

“For some reason, we had a real peace about the decision,” Amy said, although they had no idea how they would come up with that much money on such short notice.

Yoder children by Bruce Stambaugh

Hayley, 2, Sophia, 3 months, Matthew, 8, and Cameron, 3, gathered on the living room couch long enough for a photograph before running off to play.

They agreed to take Sophia on the condition that they would pay half of the money up front, and the other half in a week. The social worker agreed.

On Monday Amy was sitting on the front porch with the four children when she received another call from the social worker. It was more good news. But Amy couldn’t believe the message.

“Don’t send us anymore money,” the social worker said. “It’s all taken care of.”

Joe and Amy had no idea what had happened. The agency wouldn’t say. The Yoders simply consider it all a miracle, the process, the money, and of course Sophia.

But wait. There is yet one more miracle, according to Amy. The final adoption always takes place exactly six months after receiving the baby, which would be Dec. 31, when the courthouse in Columbus would be closed.

“Somehow,” Amy said, “we were told that the courthouse would be open for us.”

Their appointment to officially adopt Sophia is 3 p.m., New Year’s Eve. It will likely be one more joyous celebration in the Yoder household.

This article appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Celebrating something good out of something bad

Blue men by Bruce Stambaugh

Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and I meet monthly as a support group following our treatments for prostate cancer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We were rowdy without realizing it. What would you expect from three baby boomer couples?

About every month I meet with two other long-time friends for breakfast. Besides our age bracket, we all have something very special in common. All three of us are prostate cancer survivors.

Randy is a pastor. Kim co-owns his own business with his wife. Through a crisscrossing, intertwined past, we have known each other for most of our adult lives. It was the cancer, however, that brought us even closer together.

Blue light by Bruce StambaughWe jokingly call ourselves the Blue Men’s group. Blue is the official color for prostate cancer, juxtaposed to pink for breast cancer in women. There’s no joking about either.

We meet at a local restaurant to share. Finding others who have gone through the cancer experience is critical to full recovery, especially emotionally. We are our own support group.

We were all diagnosed within a year of one another. Like so many other cancer patients, we had the same disease in the same location. However, we all had our differences, and each chose, to use the term loosely, a different route for treatment.

Randy had radiation treatments and has stayed cancer-free. Because his cancer had escaped his prostate, Kim’s options were not as simple. He had chemotherapy, radiation and Lupron shots. He has just recently been given better news regarding his long-term recovery, and has good reason for a much more optimistic outlook than he did only a few months ago.

Based on my situation and diagnosis, I chose robotic prostate surgery. I was in the hospital one day and out the next. My PSA tests continue to be immeasurable, just like my compatriots.

We meet to share our progress, and to encourage one another. All three of us are in long-term marriages, and cancer, no matter which kind, affects the spouses, too.

We have been meeting for two years now. Because our spouses are such an integral part of our recovery, we annually do a nice dinner out with the wives. We did so recently, and this time we had even more than our trio of good reports to celebrate.

Happy couple by Bruce Stambaugh

Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh.

On this particular occasion, we were exulting with Randy’s wife, Amy. Like too many other women, Amy has breast cancer. She just recently completed a lengthy series of challenging radiation treatments. Amy said she was really rejoicing because she now had more hair than I do. That wouldn’t take much.

Her journey isn’t over. But it was a joy to sit around a table and laugh and share instead of worry and dread the unknown. By communing together, we lifted each other’s spirits in a way that none of us could have alone.

My wife and Kim’s needed support, too. As faithful wives, they have had to endure the consequences of both treatment and recovery. They also cared greatly for Amy, with whom they could easily identify.

There is nothing good about cancer. There is no good cancer. There is only cancer.

This night, in this restaurant, gathered with comrades in loving arms and warm hearts, we were as one. Around that dinner table an unspoken common spirit of celebrative unity reigned. Gratitude overcame dread. Communal relief replaced disquieting uncertainty. Laughter was our dessert.

Finally, something good had transformed out of something really bad. We only hoped the restaurant staff and other patrons understood our irrepressible joy.

Amish sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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