At rest


Everything in this photo seems to be at rest. The placid water, the low-hanging morning mist, the boats moored patiently waiting, the deciduous trees pushing forth their new growth, the evergreens standing stately, the limp American flag all resting.

A wondrous peace fell upon me as I surveyed all the elements of this scene along the coast of Maine. I hope it brings you the same refreshing repose.

“At rest” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

Resolve to listen in 2018

park, Harrisonburg VA
Like a walk in the woods, listening is good exercise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. In general, I think they are just so much hype without much substance. For those who are serious about such resolutions, however, I wish you the very best at keeping and meeting those New Year challenges.

Not making resolutions doesn’t mean I don’t desire to improve the world and myself. I do with all my heart. I’ve discovered in my many years of living that it takes more than wishing.

Drive and desire are key ingredients to making the world a better place for all of us to live. And by all of us, I mean every single human being. In the eyes of the Maker, we all have equal worth. Those are His words, not mine.

With that in mind, I want 2018 to be the best year yet. Given the world’s troubles, that’s going to take the work of all of us to help make that happen.

That’s the thing with resolutions. They tend to be too individualized. However, working together creates a more substantial margin for success. If we want to improve the world, we have to help one another.

Let’s agree to make our surroundings more beautiful, peaceful, kind, inviting, welcoming. I can’t do it alone. I’ll need lots of help. You and you and you. Regardless of our political affiliations, religion, race, ethnic background, one by one we can together resolve to bring peace to this too troubled world.

We don’t all have to agree on how that gets done. Too often the details are what derail us from accomplishing anything good at all. Forget the details. If we are clear on the aim and outcome, a legitimate process is required. It doesn’t have to be complicated, however.

As ordinary citizens, we need to strive to do better than the ballyhooed politicians for our families, our communities, our country, our globe, and ourselves. It’s the least we can do for our children, our grandchildren, and all the generations to come.

conversation, listening
Listening requires full focus and attention of all our being.
What’s my grandiose plan for this noble goal of reconciliation and harmony? You and you and you, and me. Together we can help soften the rancor in the world if we only take time to listen to what others are saying, asking, claiming, even accusing. Yes. That’s it. Just genuinely listen to one another. It doesn’t have to be an inquisition, merely face-to-face listening. After hearing the other, ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding. And with that knowledge, we ask more delving questions.

I don’t intend noisiness. I mean sincere inquisitiveness that leads to a mutual understanding of each other. And yes, in the end, we may still respectfully disagree. But just because we may differ on how we see a given situation, listening should not lead to denigrating the other person or the belief they hold. Dialogue should lead to mutual respect for one another. Our integrity as human beings depends on it.

If we agree to focus on clarity of issues, truly listen to one another, and respond with personal respect and understanding, perhaps we can make not only our lives but also the lives of those we affect a tad better, conversation by conversation.

In 2018, can we all at least resolve to try to improve the world by listening without judging? Besides making the world a better, safer place, wouldn’t that also make each one of us better people, too?

I’m ready to listen. How about you?

Silver Lake, Dayton VA
Listening and understanding without judgement create a quiet beauty even on a cloudy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

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

Two state advantages

autumn in Virginia, landscape
Appalachian autumn.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m no magician, but I feel like it at times. While my energetic and talented wife has camped herself in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for the fall, I’ve had one foot in Ohio and the other in Virginia.

Because I still have work duties and responsibilities here at home, I’ve shuttled between Holmes Co. and Harrisonburg, Virginia, where our daughter and her family live. I get to enjoy the amenities of both places. There’s a lot to absorb here, there, and in between.

With the changing leaves, it’s a win-win proposition for me. I have the luxury of observing the colorful transitioning and beauty of each locale. On the drive to and fro, the vividness splashed across the forested mountain slopes is exceptionally enchanting.

My wife, Neva, is having the same experience in a much different role. From August into November, she has dedicated herself 24/7 to assisting our daughter, son-in-law, and the trio of grandkids. Our daughter’s volleyball coaching job is a time demanding, intense position.

volleyball, home-cooked meal
The ladies enjoying another Nana meal.
Neva has the role of assistant coach, assigned to domestic mentoring duties, and whatever else is in the fine print of her contract. From my perspective, she’s doing an ace of a job.

Meanwhile, I know the inspiring circuitous route between the two burgs, Millersburg and Harrisonburg, over hill and dale and mountains all too well. No GPS is needed. Out of necessity, it’s a back and forth life for me.

In a way, this approach is softening the shock of moving. By Neva living for three months in Virginia, and with my multiple round trips, we are phasing ourselves into our new community, and out of the one where we raised our children and honed our vocations. Cut and run was never our modus operandi.

Our goal was to gradually transition from being Buckeyes to Virginians. Neva and I have spent our entire adult lives in the public eye. We were both career educators for the local school districts. We each served in various capacities in several community organizations, plus the necessary involvement in our church.

We recognize that we are replaceable. That’s not the point. We wanted to say goodbye slowly, and help all, including ourselves, let go here and grasp our new surroundings there.

Snail snack, nana
Creating a creative snack.
That is just what is happening. You should see Neva. She is in her glory organizing meals for both our daughter’s family and her volleyball team. She picks up the grandkids at school and runs them to doctor appointments. She cleans, mows, does laundry, walks the dog. On and on it goes.

My official work responsibilities are harder to terminate than Neva’s. There are assignments to complete, and leadership still needed on the boards of trustees on which I serve, and the businesses I consult. The timing had to be just right before I could call it quits.

Since folks have learned of our departing, we have been overwhelmed with well wishes and blessings on our new adventure. Those gestures only cemented our love for the life we have lived here.

We are heartened by the affirming support so graciously expressed to us. Just as joyously, we are reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones in Harrisonburg.

Having feet planted in two different states has been fun. But eventually, we’ll have to sink new roots into the lovely Shenandoah Valley.

I imagine that, too, will be magical.

changing leaves, Holmes Co. OH
Back home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

A season of transitions

lily pond, OARDC
The lily pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat alone on the park bench enjoying the beauty before me. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that this little break from my regular routines served as a realization that summer had arrived.

I took in the action in this public garden of flowers, woodlots, shrubs, ponds, and meadows. Here life was abundant, evolving, vibrant, verdant, and fragrant.

Still, the hustle and bustle of urban life intruded. Trucks roared by on the nearby expressway. Sirens sounded in the small city below.

In this peaceful island sanctuary, I found relief, joy, introspection, and resolve. Children’s joyous voices that carried above and around the hedges and well-planned plantings of this lovely arboretum broke my spell.

Their mother asked for directions to the giant slide. I pointed them to the children’s forest where I thought it might be, and off they went. I wondered why they weren’t in school. Then it hit me. School’s out for the summer.

I silently laughed at my silliness. It was the time of year I had simultaneously loved and loathed. As a public school educator for three decades, my two favorite workdays were the first and last ones of each academic year.

Wonder, surprises, heartache, celebration and meaningful interactions filled the days in between. All that changed once school dismissed for the summer. In a matter of days, I missed the students.

That, too, changed with the transition into a second career in marketing and writing. Funny how it was so easy to forget the ebb and flow of the once all too familiar educational rhythm.

As the mother and her clutch left, I returned to my leisurely stroll among the various gardens graced with stone and steel artworks. The many transitions of life that this season brings arose all around.

I took another seat in the garden above a hillside amphitheater used for lectures, weddings, and meditation. An unsuspecting chipmunk scampered across my foot, then realizing its mistake, hightailed it for cover, chattering all the way.

Catbirds practiced their best imitations, competing with a distant mockingbird. Honeybees worked the fragrances. Black and tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, having only recently transitioned from pupa to fresh, crisp, winged beauties.

Like a herd of runaway soap bubbles, dozens of fluffy white puffball seeds floated by me. A gentle northwest breeze freed them from their mother cottonwood according to plan. This spontaneous event, too, symbolized an annual, natural transition from growth to evolutionary distribution.

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Across the ravine, giant wooden statues carved by a tornado’s impact still stood as witnesses to nature’s contradictory might and resilience. In a matter of moments, the storm’s fury bent and broke the once massive trees like number two pencils.

Suddenly a yellow-green something flashed across my gaze. I chased the bird with my binoculars, uncertain about its species. I was thankful the bird lured me into the ravine.

A soaking wet blue jay sat high in an old snag for the longest time preening, uncharacteristically silent, drying baby blue feathers in the afternoon sun. Had it refreshed itself in the lily pond where I first sat?

A robin perched on a much lower branch also absorbed the golden warmth. Again the yellow-green flash appeared. An orchard oriole had revealed its concealed, woven nest near the top of a young horse chestnut tree.

Just then my ears caught multiple contented screeches. Without investigating, I knew the children had found the long, hillside slide.

Their summer of fun had begun, and so had mine.

hillside slide
Summer slide.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016