Tag Archives: Purpose

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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Being vigilant reaches far beyond Christmas

nativity display, nativity scene, quilting, wall hanging

Nativity display. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Vigilance is one of the main themes of the annual Christmas story. It shines as bright as the star of Bethlehem far beyond that ancient event.

For Christians around the world, the season of waiting for the Christ child, Advent, is nearly over. It is a glorious time of hopeful expectation that is renewed each year as winter approaches.

I have always found it a mystery and an appropriate model that the first folks to see the long awaited Christ light were generous foreigners and lowly shepherds, not saintly religious leaders or puffy politicians. The kingly entourage from the East persisted in their long travels to find the meaning of the glowing light in the night sky.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope

Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

A heavenly host appeared to the shepherds, not exactly the highest class of citizens even in today’s social mores. Even as a child, I wondered why other folks never noticed what the wise men and the herders plainly saw.

Old and New Testament scriptures alike urge worshipers of God to be on their guard, to be alert, to watch for the light. Asked when that would be, even the adult Messiah said no one would know. The key was to be ready.

As a child, the holiday season meant a lot to me. First came Thanksgiving, the family gathering, and fun and amazing food. Next was my birthday, which always falls three weeks before Christmas.

Just as I knew then, I know now that Christmas is upon us. As a child, those were exciting days of expectation going from unwrapping my birthday present to the anticipation of opening too many gifts beneath the Christmas tree.

Now all those years later, the joy and excitement of Christmas remain, but hopefully for more mature reasons. As a grandfather and mostly retiree, I try to savor and share the mere moments of each day. It’s why I write. It’s why I photograph. It’s why I live.

Amish buggy, Christmas presents

Heading to Christmas.

As I have aged, I realize just how gracious life has been to me through all the experiences I have had. Best of all, most of those blessed moments have been with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even strangers who happen to love the same joys in life as me.

To me, the idea of Christmas is to use our senses to absorb, inhale, appreciate, touch, smile, share, and reflect the goodness given to us. Our gift to the world is simple. We are to use each and every opportunity to make the world a better, brighter place, one thought, one kindness, one word, and one person at a time.

From my perspective of living nearly seven decades, there is no higher calling than to make someone’s day, to help where help is unexpected, to give even when it’s your last dollar, to smile though you are hurting.

The first Christmas likely wasn’t December 25. Those poor sheep and their tenders would have been mighty cold. No matter. I like that we flow so smoothly from Thanksgiving to Christmas and on into a New Year in one holiday season.

My goals in life are simple. I try to awake every morning with a keen sense of the unknown. I cherish comfortable rest at night from a day well spent in service to others. Each day we renew the process all over again until our last breath.

Best of all, we know not the hour or the day or the season. We only know to live vigilantly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Christmas, anticipation, expectation

Christmas anticipation. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, Christmas, column, family, holidays, human interest, news, Ohio's Amish country, photography, writing

August’s end means new beginnings

walk to school, Amish boys

Back to school. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

A Belted Kingfisher flew furiously over the fresh mown hay towards a neighbor’s pond. Breakfast was likely on its mind.

My farmer neighbor hitched his workhorses and teddered the hay to help it dry. The Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Cliff Swallows circled the productive locomotion and devoured every insect the man, the machine and his faithful team dispersed.

A refreshing north wind eased the day’s early humidity. No need for a calendar. All signs pointed to August’s end.

A few trees had already begun to transition from their chlorophyll green to their disguised shades. Even before the berries on the dogwoods blushed bright red, the trees’ leaves curled and revealed hints of crimson and lavender.

blooming hydrangea

The hydrangea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My energetic wife had already deadheaded the once lovely hosta blooms that adorned the leafy plants in her luscious flower gardens. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and various butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects had completed their instinctive work.

The hydrangea bush bloomed full and pure against the garden shed. It demanded daily watering in August’s heat and dryness.

Juvenile birds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Blue Jays among them, found the feeders and the birdbaths on their own. Another aviary generation will forge into fall and winter without knowing what lies ahead as if any of us do.

American Goldfinch on sunflower

Eating fresh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The acrobatics of the American Goldfinches provided free entertainment as they worked over the volunteer sunflowers that sprouted from bird feeder droppings. Fresh food is not just a human preference.

The big yellow school buses began carting anxious and enthusiastic children alike to and from school. I waved to the drivers as they passed me on my walk.

People often ask me if I miss those days; if I don’t have some innate longing to return to my first career. The short answer is, “No, I don’t.”

I loved the children, whether teaching or being their principal. I greatly enjoyed the interactions of parents and staff members, even when we disagreed. I have no resentments or regrets. Neither do I have any wish to reenlist.

oat shocks

Straw soldiers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My life has moved on. I am the same person, just at a different place in my turn at life’s cycle. I have fond, fond memories of my teaching days and principal days. But now I have neither the desire nor energy to compete in today’s educational whirlwind too often driven by politics instead of common sense.

I would rather sit on my back porch, as I am now, taking in the world as each moment flashes by. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to rise each day to enjoy the sunrise and bid farewell to the evening light that dims all too soon.

fluffing hay, teddering hay

Teddering the hay. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each day is an opportunity to live, to be alive, to help others, to listen, to look, to breath, to pray silently, to work diligently for peace in a troubled world. That is my challenge now.

August has come and gone, always too fast, always too hot and dry. August melds into September.

We can only embrace it, for there are marvelous days ahead. I’ll watch for them whether from my back porch or wherever I might be, knowing that too many in the world will not have the pastoral view or luxuriousness of trusting neighbors that like mine.

It’s my duty to share goodness and joy with others as my life, too, passes from August into September. Isn’t that the real responsibility of all of us at any age?

August, sunset, Holmes Co. OH

August sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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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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Changing diets to live

Walking by Bruce Stambaugh
Bruce Stambaugh

Nearly five years ago, I was forced to change diets. That’s right. Forced.

During my annual physical exam at the doctor’s office, I happened to mention that I had recently had a couple of dizzy spells. With a family history of strokes and heart issues, the doctor ordered some tests, including a MRI.

On the return visit, I was told that I had cerebral arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries of the brain. If I continued my regular lifestyle, including my normal, unrestricted diet, I would run a high risk of a stroke.

The doctor of course prescribed medication, encouraged me to increase my exercise routine, and to drastically change my diet. The “don’ts” of the new diet far out numbered the “dos.”

Fresh veggies by Bruce StambaughThe orders were no beef or pork, no processed food, no fried food, and only no-fat dairy products. Instead, my choices were grilled, roasted, baked or broiled fish, chicken or turkey. In addition, I needed to eat at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Basically, I could eat anything with two legs or no legs.

My head was spinning. The doctor must have sensed my tension because he did something rather unusual. He pulled up his own medical chart on his laptop and showed me his blood work scores. He, too, had the same disease, and had been on the same diet for more than a year.

“You can do it,” he said.

My doctor was right. I could do it because I did. I have been eating that way every since and enjoying it greatly. In fact within a month of going meatless and eating lots of fruits and veggies, I felt much better.

Of course I had increased my exercise, walking for 30 minutes at least three times per week. I rode the exercise bicycle if the weather was bad.

My wife, the chief cook in our empty nest home, was diligent about preparing food that I could eat. Together we followed the same diet.

Heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

My change in diet came right when our heirloom tomatoes came ripe. That was both good and bad. The tomatoes were great to eat fresh off the vine or in a salad or salsa or soup, but I missed one of my favorite foods, bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwiches. Having the latter two without the bacon hardly qualified as a sandwich.

At my three-month checkup, I told the doctor about my BLT cravings. He said that it was all right to eat some meat once a month or so. I looked forward to my BLTs the next year, but kept to my no meat diet as best I could.

Fried tilapia by Bruce Stambaugh

Fried tilapia and rice served to me in a home in Honduras.

If I was served meat as a guest in someone’s home, I politely ate it, but only a small portion. While working in Honduras on a mission project with a group from our church, we were sometimes served beef or fried fish. Not wanting to be insulting, I ate what was prepared for me or furtively shared with another person.

A year after first going on my new diet I received the best news possible. My homocysteine levels, the important blood work scores, were below the danger threshold. The diet, exercise and medication were working.

My doctor was as pleased as I was. I told him that to celebrate I was going out to eat and have a steak. I didn’t of course. By then, the desire for meat had long faded. In fact, the greasy smell exhausted by restaurants makes me nauseous.

Even though the dizziness about which I had originally complained was unrelated to my disease, I was ever thankful that I had mentioned it. I feel better, less lethargic, and more vibrant. I have lost a few pounds, and enjoy my regular walks, which have the added bonus of communing with God and nature as I stroll along our rural roads.

Best of all, I am able to maintain my regular routines and enjoy not only the food I eat, but the life that God has given me one day at a time.

Country view by Bruce Stambaugh

This article appeared in the July 2012 edition of Purpose, Stories of Faith and Promise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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