Thursday, August 28, 2003

Dust if You Must

“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” ~ Luke 10:41, 42

Two weekends ago, my daughter-in-law, Lisa and I drove to Ames, Iowa to attend a Women of Faith conference with my sister Connie from Minnesota and sister Peggy from Des Moines.

I don’t know if any of you have heard of the Women of Faith conferences, but if you ever get a chance to attend one I would highly recommend it. I had never been to one before, but a friend of mine gave me some free tickets so we decided to give it a try.

The five women who make up the Women of Faith team are: Luci Swindoll, author of I Married Adventure and Celebrating Life; Marilyn Meberg (they call her “The Professor” because she holds master’s degrees in English and Psychology), author of The Zippered Heart and I’d Rather Be Laughing; Sheila Walsh, author of All That Really Matters and Life is Tough But God is Faithful; Patsy Clairmont, author of The Hat Box, The Shoe Box and Mending Your Heart in a Broken World; and last but not least, Thelma Wells (author of Girl, Have I Got Good News for You! and Bumblebees Fly Anyway). You can learn more about the Women of Faith team and their conference schedule on their web site at

All of the women were dynamic speakers with a great sense of humor, but Patsy Clairmont was my personal favorite. She was so full of spunk. Patsy told about the time she was reading to one of her grandsons when suddenly she just couldn’t contain the love she felt for him. So she gave him a big hug and said, “I could just eat you up!” Well, his little eyes became as big as saucers. Then he pointed his “instructional finger” at her and said, “Grandma! You….be….nice!”

Patsy also recited one of my favorite poems called Dust if you Must – a popular poem that has made the rounds on the email circuit. My sister Peggy had never heard it before, however. She said she learned a lot because he had just been thinking about how she couldn’t wait to retire so she could dust! We all had a big laugh about that.

Dust if You Must
Author unknown

Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better
to paint a picture, or write a letter?
Bake a cake, or plant a seed,
ponder the difference between want and need?
Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
Music to hear, and books to read,
friends to cherish and life to lead.
Dust if you must, but the world's out there
with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
this day will not come ‘round again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go, and go you must,
You, yourself, will make more dust!

With four boys in the house (five, including Keen), I had several plaques that reminded me of how futile it was for me to try to keep my house perfectly clean. Here are my favorites: Cleanliness is next to impossible; Cleaning the house while children are growing, is like shoveling the walk while it is still snowing (Phyllis Diller); I cleaned my house yesterday; I wish you could have seen it.”

When I was growing up, I recall a plaque my mother hung in our home which read: Come in, sit down, relax converse; our house doesn’t always look like this, sometimes it’s even worse!

Here’s a poem I wrote about this subject back in 1996.


My life with kids is not as clean
as it would probably be
Nothing I clean is clean for long
as you can plainly see.

There are fingerprints on the windows
games and toys strewn down the hall
Sometimes I wonder why I bother
to clean the house at all!

For kids leave a trail of crumbs and dirt
wherever they may roam
So daily I remind myself,
this isn't a house, it's a home.

My life with kids is much noisier
than it would probably be
With constant questions like, "Mom can I?"
and "When are we going to eat?"

There's rarely a moment of peace or quiet,
when they all talk, it sounds like a roar.
If someone eavesdropped at supper time,
they'd think we had nine kids, not four!

The brothers, they love to wrestle
they laugh, and scream and run
And though I want to tell them to go outside
I just hate to spoil their fun!

So my life with kids is not clean or quiet
but none of that really matters
I'd give up those things any day,
for the love, the joy and the laughter.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few excerpts from a piece written by the late Erma Bombeck.

If I had my life to live over again
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the
carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room
and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted
to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose
before it melted in storage.

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried
about grass stains.

There would have been more "I love you's"… more "I'm sorry's" ... but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute...look at it and really see it ... live it...and never give it back.

Keen, Kirk, Jared, & Josh

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Marne & Mildred

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die….” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1,2

This week I would like to share a tribute I wrote for a friend of mine named Marne who lost the woman he loved for nearly fifty years, Mildred. It was compiled from comments Marne made to me expressing the deep affection he felt for Mildred.

Here is an excerpt from an email I received from Marne just a few days before the funeral:

“Tuesday will be a sad day for me. My tear reservoir has run dry for now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.... I have no idea how long I will be at the cemetery. I will hate to leave there and leave Mildred behind. Tears are starting to flow now, so this is all.”

The following piece is something I wrote in an attempt to describe the special relationship that Marne and Mildred shared.

Marne & Mildred

(A love story)

Marne and Mildred never married, but their love endured longer than most marriages –nearly fifty years. There was never anyone else for either one of them. He was the love of her life and she was the love of his.

Marne took care of his mother until she died and Mildred did the same for her mother. Marne would visit Mildred’s home almost daily where they enjoyed spending time together, sharing meals or just watching TV.

When Mildred’s health failed and she had to go into a nursing home, Marne continued to visit her on a regular basis.

Mildred’s face always lit up when Marne walked in the room. She couldn’t communicate very well – only a few words here and there, but he could tell by the look in her eyes that she was glad he came.

“If she’s good, then I’m good,” he’d say. “And if she’s unhappy, then I’m unhappy.”

As time went on and Mildred’s health continued to decline, Marne said, “I have more or less lost the best gift the good Lord has given me.” He tried to be thankful for all the good years he had with her, but just the thought of Mildred preceding him in death made him sad. Some nights he would shed a bucket of tears before finally falling asleep.

Eventually Marne hated to answer the phone for fear that it would be the nursing home calling to tell him that something had happened to Mildred.

Then one day that dreaded call came. Marne rushed to the hospital and stayed by Mildred’s bedside around the clock, holding her hand and telling her he loved her. “It was sad watching her gasping for air and wearing an oxygen mask,” he said. “I shed tears until there were no more tears to shed.”

Two nights later, Marne thought Mildred was improving so he went home to get some much needed sleep. He’d only been asleep for four hours when the telephone rang again. “Come quickly,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “She’s slipping away.”

When Marne walked in the room Mildred opened her eyes and smiled weakly. He told her he loved her and that they’d meet again in Heaven one day.

He held her hand for two more hours whispering the words, “I love you, Mildred.” Even though she couldn’t speak, he knew that she loved him, too.

Then he watched her take her last breath and told her goodbye.


Thursday, August 14, 2003

Family Reunions

And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city…” ~ Esther 9:28

To say that my dad, Joe Van Kirk, is a big believer in family reunions is a major under- statement. Even though there were nine kids in my family, Dad really wants us to get together each and every year. And he puts his money where his mouth is, too. Dad pays for the lodging; we just have to cover our transportation and food.

While I was preparing this week’s article, I came across this poem my niece Peggy wrote for my dad about three years ago.

Ode to Our Grandpa

It happened once upon a time
In a land so far away,
There lived a handsome man named Joe,
A “bat” kept women at bay.

Finally he settled down,
Not an easy thing to do,
He managed to support nine kids
But something grew up, too.

Phone bills racked up way too high,
Something must be done!
Annual reunions sound real good,
With lots of family fun.

And so began a great tradition,
From Wisconsin to Chelan,
A birthday, a fire, a jet ski ride
A play and a real nice tan.

Uncle Jim stealing water tubes
And Nikki “clowning around,”
The trademark “sisters’ laugh”
And Ishkabibbles- what a sound!

Looking from the outside in,
It may not seem so great
But we all know it’s obvious,
The Van Kirks are first rate!

Now, I’ll have to explain the line about “ishkabibbles.” When we were growing up, we had a family cheer that we would shout out whenever our dad came home from a business trip (or any other time of celebration). It went, “Ish-ka-bibble, ish-ka-bah – Daddy Van Kirk, rah, rah, rah!” (The tradition continues at our home now, too). My mom’s only sister’s family had a cheer, too. Their last name is Lynch so their cheer was, “Inchy winch, inchy winch – Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah for Daddy Lynch!” Every Easter we would visit them at their home in Decatur, Illinois and I can still remember the battle of the cheers that took place on their front lawn before we all loaded into the station wagon to head back to Wisconsin. There were nine of us and only five of them, so the Van Kirk kids had an advantage over the Lynch clan in the shouting contest.

Each year one of us takes our turn planning the family reunion, and generally it’s held in the vicinity of that family’s home. Since we’re scattered all over the United States, it makes for some pretty interesting vacations. This year the reunion took place in Virginia Beach, Virginia and was hosted by my youngest brother Bob and his wife Christine. We rented three large homes right on the beach and had a really great time. The waves were a little too rough for me, so I only went surfing with a boogie board one day.

Keen and several other brave family members rented a deep sea fishing charter boat and caught a 71 lb. tuna! They had it professionally cleaned and it was enough to feed all 40 of us. My brother-in-law, Jim Reese from Des Moines, broke a record with a 29 lb. Mahi-Mahi he caught. They’re going to send him a plaque and everything.

We usually celebrate several birthdays at the reunions – especially when someone reaches a milestone. But since my dad’s birthday is August 24th (he is 79 this year) we celebrate his birthday every year. Another birthday we usually end up celebrating is our sister-in-law Cindy’s, because it always falls during the week of the reunion. This year I wrote a poem that pretty much describes the kind of person Cindy is.


Her name is Cindy, she’s our sister-in-law
And boy am I ever glad
She’s just such a gem and on top of that -
She gave us two nieces and one lad!

Cindy came from a small family
Just her parents and one lone brother
But the man that she married had eight siblings
Now that’s a horse of a different color!

As you can imagine, it was quite an adjustment
for this quiet lady to make
But in no time at all she was one of the gang
A risk she was willing to take!

She’s the cream of the crop and we all adore her
perhaps because she loves our brother, Joe
Or maybe we just appreciate the fact
That she’s willing to let us steal the show!
But to tell you the truth, she’s adjusted quite well
to the fact that we’re a family of hams
In fact, another reason we all love her so much
Is cuz she’s one of our biggest fans!

It’s hard to do her justice in this one little poem
There’s so much that makes her stand out
She’s a wonderful sister, mother and wife
She’s one in a million - without a doubt!


All in all we had a wonderful time, sharing old memories and making new ones. And even though Keen and I don’t make it to the reunion every year, we definitely recognize and value the bonding that takes place with those we love so much.

I’d like to close with a poem written by Diantha Zschoche from Vista, California.

Family Gatherings

The high pitched chatter of toddlers
The noisy silence of adolescents
Masks of boredom hiding twitching ears
The occasional red faced pleas of “Oh, Moms….” And “I did nots…”
The low rumblings and cackled laughter of varied generations
as recollections of years gone by compete, then harmonize
with choruses of “Yes, I remember when…”
and “You should see….” Abounding
Laughs and frowns and smiles and grimaces grace the faces
blurring together in flip book fashion,
as people mill about playing musical chairs and rooms
linked by blood and history.

The Van Kirk family – Virginia Beach, 2003

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Wedding

“…and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
~ Isaiah 62:5

This has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for our family. As you know, our son Josh married the love of his life, Lisa Marie Kaus, on Saturday, July 19th. The wedding was simply wonderful from beginning to end. We are still savoring the priceless memories from that very special day. Lisa was a beautiful, elegant bride and Josh looked so handsome in his tuxedo. His eyes welled up with tears when he saw Lisa – a vision in white walking down the isle towards him.

Fr. Keith from St. Isadore’s gave a very touching sermon that was very personal to Josh & Lisa. They both just adore him, and he is also very fond of them, so their mutual admiration came across throughout the ceremony. When Fr. Keith talked about the “miracle of Lisa” and “the miracle of Josh” and how their meeting and marriage was another miracle, Keen and I both had tears in our eyes, and I’m sure Lisa’s parents, Gary & Linda did, too. But the time I cried the most was when Josh and Lisa gave their grandparents and parents a hug during the sign of peace portion of the Mass. Lisa has always called me Eileen, but when she gave me a hug she said, “Peace be with you….Mom.”

The reception was held at the Houston Street Ballroom. Complete Music did an excellent job leading the crowd in song and dance. The big surprise of the evening came when Josh and three of his groomsmen donned costumes and performed the YMCA song. One of the most touching moments was when Lisa danced with her dad and Josh danced with me to Trace Adkin’s new song, “Then they do.” It’s a song about how when our children are small we don’t think they’ll ever grow up….and then they do.

I tried to find a copy of this other song by Gary Allan, but it’s so new it’s not available in stores yet. It’s called “Tough Little Boys.”

Well I know one day, I’ll give you away
And I’m gonna stand there and smile
But when I get home and I’m all alone
I’ll sit in your room for a while…

When tough little boys grow up to be dads
They turn into big babies again

I thought that would’ve been the perfect song for Lisa’s dad since he had a pretty hard time with the idea of his little girl getting married. But when someone asked him how he was feeling at the rehearsal dinner he said, “The way I see it, I’m not losing a daughter, I’m gaining a son.” Josh is very blessed to be marrying into such a loving and supportive family.

One of the highlights of the reception came when Josh and Lisa surprised both of their parents with a separate cake (a smaller version of their cake that Lisa’s aunt made) to commemorate our 25th wedding anniversaries. Gary & Linda celebrated their 25th on April 15 (coincidentally, that’s Josh’s birthday), and Keen and I celebrated ours on June 10th. Then they had a 5x7 framed picture of each of us on our wedding day. We cut the cake and fed it to each other and crossed arms while we drank from our wine glasses. I was so overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness. I turned to Linda and said, “Can you believe these two? This is their special day and they’re sharing it with us. They’re just too good to be true.”

But the most touching moment of the entire day came during one of the final dances of the evening. Josh and Lisa started out dancing together, but someone came up to talk to Josh so Lisa joined her Mom and Dad and the three of them danced together. I could hardly contain myself from crying at the tender scene of Gary with one arm around his wife and the other arm around his daughter. Both of them were leaning on his chest and they all had their eyes closed as they swayed slowly to the music. The song playing in the background was:

We've got tonight
Who needs tomorrow?
Let's make it last
Let’s find a way
Come take my hand now
We've got tonight
Why don't you stay?

It seemed as though they were just clinging to one another as they cherished one last precious moment together before they had to say goodbye. It was a beautiful sight that I will never forget as long as I live.

I’d like to close this week’s article with a prayer that was published in the Topeka Capital-Journal on June 15, 2002. It was written by Alma Weber of Topeka. This is not only my prayer for Josh and Lisa, but for each of you as well.

“May your path be bright and full of light everywhere you go. May God tell darkness that it must flee at your command. And may your feet never stumble out of God’s plan. May the desires of your heart come true, and may you, this day, experience peace in everything you do. May goodness, kindness and mercy come your way, and may you gain wisdom and grow in the Lord this day. May God bless you with unspeakable joy, not only in the world to come, but also on this very day. May God touch my life this day to care and bless all those who come my way and may I touch all with a gentle heart and healing hand. Lord, may this day be a blessed one. Amen.”

The Wedding