Thursday, July 21, 2005

Growing Apart

“Love . . . does not seek its own.” ~ I Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV)

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping, for only the hand of Life can contain your hearts . . . And stand together, yet not too near together. For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” ~ Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese philosopher and author of The Prophet

Redwoods of California (photo taken by my sister, Mary)

Some people have the notion that true love means never spending a day apart – and I’m not disagreeing – if that’s what works for them. Don’t get me wrong – Keen and I are best friends and we love spending time together. At the end of a busy day we’re always anxious to hear about what new adventures transpired since last we talked. But we also believe in giving each other some space when needed. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

For example, I am writing this column from our Manhattan house where I’ll be spending some time for the next two weeks. My purpose is twofold: 1) to get back to work on my book revisions, and 2) to give Keen the time he needs to concentrate on studying and preparing for the bar exam. In fact, this morning on the phone he thanked me for being so understanding during this stress-filled time. He said that one of his law school colleagues was close to tears over the fact that her husband was angry at her for not being as attentive. On top of that, she said he gave her a long list of errands to run which included taking the car in for a minor repair.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, when Keen was attending Kansas State University, he stayed at our house in Manhattan three to four nights a week. That gave him the much-needed time to focus on his studies – and it was a real blessing not to have to commute back and forth every day.

Now this next statement isn’t going to sound quite right, but Keen’s absence during that time changed the whole dynamic in our home – in a positive way. Whereas normally Keen and I would spend the majority of our time talking to each other, on the nights when he was in Manhattan, I would focus more of my attention on spending quality time with Keen II and Kirk Van. I remember many hour-long conversations with Keener, which was a precious commodity that I didn’t take lightly. My philosophy has always been that if your teenager wants to talk, stop whatever you’re doing, because nothing else is more important. It’s when they stop talking that you should start to worry. As for Kirk and me, we started a new weekly tradition during that time. Every Tuesday he and I would pick out a new recipe and bake a special dessert together. Kirk really looked forward to that one-on-one time with Mom – and vice-versa.

Another positive that resulted from that decision was the unique opportunity Keen and Josh had to be part-time roommates. Keen always talked about how much he cherished the time he spent sharing meals and conversations with his adult son. In fact, KSNT (the NBC affiliate in Topeka) did a news story about father and son attending college together. The report included a humorous story about a role-reversal incident when Keen forgot one of his school books at the house and Josh had to bolt six blocks on foot to bring it to him. “I told him he’s irresponsible,” Josh said with a grin.

Even before we were married, Keen and I spent two years apart. After meeting in Singapore when we were fifteen years old, we dated for a little over a year in high school before my family moved back to Minnesota. Then we only saw each other for one week in between when Keen came out for my graduation from high school. No one thought it would last, but we continued to grow close in heart through our letters (that was before the days of email). I’ve always emphasized the importance of good communication to my boys, because that’s the thing that really makes or breaks a marriage – besides having God at the center of the relationship, of course.

Then there was the time I spent in Nevada writing our story (nearly five months in all, with three weeks off for Christmas). When Keen saw how frustrated I was over the fact that I couldn’t seem to make any significant progress on my book at home, he didn’t just pat my hand and tell me he understood; he suggested that I think about going someplace secluded to write.

“A soul can create only when alone…” ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Keen is always so quick to praise me for being supportive of his goals and dreams, but how many men do you know who would not only support such a decision, but suggest it? Greater love hath no man than this!

In any event, my absence during that time also changed the dynamic of our home in a positive way, giving Keen and Kirk the chance to bond by spending more time together while equally dividing the numerous household responsibilities. (By the way – Kirk continues to do his own laundry. Yeah!) As for our relationship, if anything, Keen and I grew even closer during that time. We communicated regularly over the phone, and I wouldn’t have missed those priceless love letters for all the tea in China!

Yes, I believe it is possible to grow apart; that is, to grow together while being physically apart. Giving your partner room to grow and pursue their own individual dreams is one of the greatest gifts you could ever share. Of course, that may not involve anything as drastic as renting an apartment in Nevada, but it might simply mean giving the other person the liberty and time they need to engage in the activities they enjoy, such as: spending time with friends, watching the news or sports on television, puttering around in the garage, writing, reading, fishing, going to the movies, shopping, traveling, golfing, or just spending quiet time alone. (A good book on this subject is “One Minute for Yourself” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.)

"Alone time is just as important as sleep in soothing the spirit and replenishing the body." ~ Dr. Phil McGraw

A guest on The Today Show, Dr. Stephen Treat, had this advice about how to handle the retirement years:
“If one spouse is saying, ‘Oh boy, won't it be great? We'll get to spend 24 hours a day together,’ then all sorts of red flags should be going up. Hold on to your individuality. If you liked tennis or enjoyed your book club, continue to be involved in those activities that make you who you are." Dr. Treat concluded by saying that retirement should be a combination of togetherness and individuality.

After all, love is about freedom, is it not?

Keen & Eileen at Van Kirk reunion in Minnesota, 2004 (Photo taken by my sister Patricia Van Kirk)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A Love So Real

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” ~ I John 4:18a (NKJV)

I remember how it used to feel
Riding down old two mile hill
Tennis shoes up on the handle bars
Paying no mind to the passing cars
No doubts, no fears, just like when you are here

No chains, no strings, no fences, no wall
No net, just you to catch me when I fall
Look heart, no hands.

Look Heart, No Hands ~ Recorded by Randy Travis

Last week I received another poignant email from my high school friend, Scott Carson, who has such a way with words. After reading my column about Mark & Melissa’s wedding, he wrote:

“It's great to hear (and see) about other people's families as they go through those most significant of life's passages. While the principles in such events are, usually, having the time of their lives and thinking they will never have a day as significant as this, it is more fun, I think, for the "old folks" at such events. Why? Because they (...errr...WE) get to witness and share the joy, AND know that even brighter and more exciting days are ahead. I can still see the wonder-filled face of my little nephew as he watched a bird's nest outside his window as the eggs began to move, to crack, and finally to yield tiny little birds. I supposed if he'd thought about it at the time he would have thought that sight was the most remarkable he would ever see. Now I get to watch him hold his newborn son, and play with his two year old. My nephew probably doesn't remember that day he watched with total awe as the little birds hatched. Sure, he's someone's dad now; he's 30 and taller than me, but I remember the day the eggs hatched. It's an interesting concept to think that as life unfolds for those we love, we get to watch them experience it, almost like God watches us with a wry grin because He knows that today's little miracle will give way to future wonders we cannot at this moment imagine.”

All this talk about weddings inspired me to reflect on the miracle of love God has allowed Keen and me to share. On June 9, the day before our 27th anniversary, I boarded a plane to Ohio to attend my daughter-in-law’s graduation from nursing school. The next day I received a message from Keen telling me that he missed me. Although he probably wouldn’t have remembered our anniversary without a reminder from me, I told my kids that it was the best gift I could ever receive for my husband of 27 years to say that he missed me after only one day!

Back in 2000 when Keen was attending Kansas State University, he would spend several nights a week at our house in Manhattan to allow more time for studying. In August of that year I sent him an email containing this short quote:

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.” ~ Winnie the Pooh

Keen wrote back and said: “Winnie the Pooh, being the deep-thinking philosopher that he is, captured the sentiments of my heart, too! Never more than two consecutive minutes pass that I'm not painfully aware that we're apart. I miss you tonight. I'll be home tomorrow. Love, Keen”

I thanked Keen for his note and told him that I felt so secure knowing that he was always thinking of me, even when he was in school or staying in Manhattan. He replied: “When you walk around with a hole in your heart, you never forget it’s there.”


More recently, Keen left a couple of touching messages on my cell phone. This morning I listened to them several times so that I could accurately record what he said and share it with you.

This first excerpt was left on my answering machine about two weeks ago:

“Hi hon, it’s Tuesday morning about 5:15 and I just left. I just wanted to call and tell you how much I love you and how much you mean to me and how great a person you are. Sometimes I just marvel that I am so privileged to be married to you. You know, we are such a good team and it’s just a wonderful blessing every day to wake up with you. Thank you so much for loving me. I love you. Have a great day. Your day is blessed. My day is blessed. I feel blessed already. I’m just so in love with you. Thank you so much. I love you. Bye-bye.”


“ . . . a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12b

Keen left this next message on July 1st :

“Hi hon, it’s me. It’s Friday morning, I just left the house a little after 4:30. I just wanted to tell you how much I love you and how much I appreciate you being there and making my lunch and being up so we can see each other a little bit in the morning before I left. I know it’s a hard time, but we’re gonna get through it. A three-fold cord is not easily broken.
I just want you to know that you’re my greatest love, my greatest helpmate, my greatest friend. I want you to have a great day. I’m gonna have a great day. Our day is blessed. We’re just gonna take this day by storm and we’re gonna see the salvation of God in our lives!

Anyway, I just wanted to call and leave you a message. You have a great day. I love you. Bye-bye.”

“Look at my life, I’m floating like mercury around the earth. My footprints shine with stardust. All because I love you. All because you love me.”

~ Maya Angelou

In closing, I would like to thank you, my friends, for giving me the privilege of sharing my life with all of you. I can’t explain this need I have to take the thoughts and feelings of my heart and put them down on paper for all to read. July 3rd marked two years since I started writing my Reflections. In fact, this week’s column is number 100. But I couldn’t have done it without Joann Kahnt’s generosity and willingness to give me space in The Prairie Post each week. Although she’s probably tired of hearing me say it, once again, Joann, I thank you.

Sometimes I wonder how long I can or will keep this weekly column up. But as I look in my “Reflections in Progress” folder on my computer, I see that I still have many, many more topics left to write about. So, as long as the Lord and Joann Kahnt are willing, I will be writing and sharing for some time yet to come.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

~ Philippians 1:3 (NKJV)

Keen & Eileen Then (age 16) and Now (25th anniversary, 2003)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Wedded Bliss

“The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His loving kindness is everlasting..." ~ Jeremiah 33:11 (NASB)

"To get the full value of love, you must have someone to divide it with." ~ Mark Twain

On June 25, I had the pleasure of witnessing the marriage union of my niece Melissa Reese and her soul mate, Mark Wehr.

The wedding, which took place at St. Jude Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was absolutely beautiful in every respect. Mark and Melissa – with the help of their parents – planned out every detail and the entire event went off without a hitch.

Some members of the Van Kirk family arrived on the Thursday before the wedding, so my brother-in-law, Jim, and sister Peggy (Melissa’s dad and stepmom), arranged for everyone to have dinner at Chuck-E-Cheese. The idea behind that particular choice of restaurant was that it would give the younger kids a fun place to play. But as it turned out, the older kids (a/k/a parents) enjoyed the fun and games as much as the little kids. As my sister-in-law Christine said, “There’s a little Chuck E. in all of us!”

Unfortunately, Keen wasn’t able to attend the wedding due to his bar exam preparation courses. When he called Melissa to tell her the bad news, she said that she understood completely. Then she asked if he had any advice for them. Keen replied: “Yes, I do. Just remember that it doesn’t matter what you fight about or how long you fight – the only thing that matters is that you work it out before you go to bed. In fact, Mrs. Umbehr and I had a little hassle in the castle just the other night, but we hung in there until we got everything resolved.” Melissa said that they had received the same advice from several other people and planned to take it to heart.

That reminds me of something I wrote for Jared & Erin on their wedding day six years ago:

Always Remember and Never Forget

Always remember that marriage is a commitment and not an experiment.

Never forget that you're a "we" now and not two "I's."

Always remember not to say or do anything that you wouldn't want said or done to you.

Never forget to discuss all your plans together and try to reach a mutual agreement before making any decisions.

Always remember to avoid sarcasm; it is merely an insult disguised as a joke.

Never forget that problems can't be resolved with the silent treatment; communication is the key.

Always remember to say, "I love you."

Never forget to say, "I'm sorry."

Always remember what the Bible says; "Don't let the sun go down on your anger."

Never forget that you are loved more than life itself.

Always remember that your parents are just a phone call away, and...

Never forget that God is just a prayer away.


Three of our four sons were able to make the trip – Josh, Keen II and Kirk Van. Jared is stationed at the naval base in Mississippi and Erin & the boys were getting ready to move there. (After they moved last weekend, Asher said, “Now nobody is missing from our family!” By the way – Erin did pass her exam so she is officially a board certified registered nurse.) Unfortunately, Josh’s wife Lisa couldn’t get off work, but Keen’s girlfriend Emily and Kirk’s girlfriend Bethany were able to attend the wedding. So we had a “girl’s room” and a “guy’s room” at the hotel.

Emily, Keen II, Eileen, Josh, Bethany & Kirk Van

Speaking of the hotel, when we checked into our rooms we discovered a wonderful gift bag filled with chips, granola bars, candy, gum and a bottle of juice and water. The following poem was attached to the white bags:

“For our family and friends near and far,
Some traveled by plane, some by car.
Thanks for sharing in our special day,
Enjoy these treats as you stay!”

Love, Mark & Melissa

I don’t know how they found the time for that extra special touch. I heard they put fifty bags together in all!

The night before the big day, Jim & Peggy graciously treated about thirty members of the Van Kirk family to dinner at a nearby restaurant, while the members of the wedding party attended the rehearsal dinner at a different location. Keener suggested that we call Jim & Peggy’s cell phone and give them an “Ish-ga-bibble” – which we did. For those of you who may not recall, that is the Van Kirk Family cheer. The original version was, “Ish-ga-bibble, Ish-ga-bah, Daddy Van Kirk, rah, rah, rah!” But you can substitute any name you want – in this case it was “Jim and Peggy, rah, rah, rah!” (As a side note, I was politely informed that Melissa requested no “Ish-ga-bibbles” at the wedding. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why!?)

The food was absolutely delicious and the dinner gave us the perfect chance to talk and laugh together. My great-niece Kelsey (who is almost six) immediately latched on to Josh, who played with her and turned her upside down off and on throughout the night. At one point Kelsey playfully stuck her tongue out and put her thumbs in her ears and wiggled her fingers at him. Then Josh did it right back to Kelsey and said, “Oh, real mature!” He cracks me up. In fact, he gives Lisa a hard time for not laughing at his jokes as hard as I do. (He even claims that she strained a muscle in her eye one time from rolling her eyes at him.)

Josh & Kelsey upside down

The only person who didn’t enjoy the evening was our four-year-old nephew, Ryan, who was quite upset by the fact that his parents (my brother Bob and his wife, Christine), along with his two siblings, Caitlyn and Connor, left him behind while they attended the rehearsal dinner. (Caitlyn was the flower girl and Ryan was the ring bearer.)

Ryan, Caitlyn & Connor

So Ryan spent nearly the entire evening nestled in the arms of his Aunt Mary, repeating his request to see his mommy and daddy “right now!” At one point, Mary told him that he needed to sit in a chair to eat his dinner and Ryan tearfully replied, “I just want to keep my eyes closed. Is that okay?” I guess that was his way of coping with the tragic set of circumstances that had befallen him. Perhaps if he didn’t have to view the cruel world, then it would all become a wee bit more tolerable. Later, when Ryan reluctantly agreed to disembark from Aunt Mary’s lap, he proceeded to eat his dinner – peeking out only periodically from his firmly closed eyes. Bless his heart, he eventually recovered from the traumatic ordeal and walked back to the hotel as happy as a lark – with his eyes wide open!

The wedding mass itself was just lovely. As Mark said at the reception, Melissa was the most beautiful bride – and she looked just as perfect at the end of the evening as she did at the beginning!

Mark & Melissa cutting cake

Their wedding program was special, too, and included several memories about each member of the wedding party. I was particularly touched by the following reference which read:

“A dozen roses have been arranged to remember those who are not with us today. We pray that they continue to watch over us and bless us every day, as we hold their memories close to our hearts. We love you and miss you, and know that you join us today in spirit.”

On the final page, Mark & Melissa shared a note of thanks to their parents:

“We couldn’t begin to express our appreciation for everything you’ve provided us. Thank you for showing us what love is and how to love others unconditionally. That is truly the best gift we’ve ever received. We hope that as we begin our new life together, we continue to embody the same values, encouragement, generosity, and love that you shared with us. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for – in so many ways – making possible a weekend that we will remember and cherish forever.”

Ed & Joan (Melissa's mom & stepdad)

Jim & Peggy (Melissa's dad & stepmom)

Jim & Marna (Mark's parents)

And thank you, Mark & Melissa, for giving us the privilege and joy of knowing you both and sharing in your special day. We love you.

“True life is only love, love only bliss.” ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Mark & Melissa on their way to happily ever after ....