Monday, November 28, 2005

Matters of the Heart

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."                                             ~ 1 Samuel 16:7b

     I hope you don’t mind that I am taking a little break from writing during the holidays by sharing some poems and stories others have passed along to me over the years.  This week I’d like to share two stories which refer to matters of the heart, compliments of my friend Larry Perry who lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I did.   ~ Eileen

“Faith is realizing that I am useful to God - not in spite of my scars, but because of them.”   ~ Pamela Reeve

The Beautiful Heart
Author Unknown

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart, for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, "Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine." The crowd and the young man looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.

The people stared. “How can he say that his heart is more beautiful?”  

The young man looked at the state of the old man's heart and laughed. “You must be joking," he said. "Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears."

"Yes," said the old man, "Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn't returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges . . . giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting.

“So now do you see what true beauty is?"

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his scarred heart and placed it in the wound of the young man's heart.

It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man's heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.

How sad it must be to go through life with a whole heart.

A Twenty Dollar Bill

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar started off one of his seminars in Kansas City by holding up a $20.00 bill. In the room of 2000, he asked, "Who would like this $20 bill" Hands started going up. He said, "I am going to give this $20 to one of you.  But first, let me do this.  

He proceeded to crumple up the $20 dollar bill. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air. “Well,” he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. "Now, who still wants it?"  Still the hands went into the air.

“My friends,” he said, “we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20.

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But, no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who do love you.

The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but from WHO WE ARE.  YOU are special.  Don't EVER forget it!"

    “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love . . .”
                ~ I John 4:16a (NKJV)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Remembering Patricia

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generation.” ~ Deuteronomy 32:7a (KJV)

“Grief is a real wound, a mutilation, a gaping hole in the human spirit. Some beloved person has been wrested, torn bodily from one’s life. Yet it is God alone who can finally heal the brokenhearted ....”

~ To Live Again
, by Catherine Marshall

This Saturday, November 26th, would have been my sister Patricia’s 55th birthday. Those of us who knew and loved Patricia miss her more than words can say, and we will never fully heal from the heartache of losing her or the void her passing left in all of our lives.

“She is missed – she is deeply and widely missed.”

~ Letter from Patricia’s friend, Jenifer

Patricia’s life partner, Nikki, remains close to our hearts and will always be a cherished member of the Van Kirk family. After Patricia’s untimely death last spring, Nikki and many of her friends combined their efforts, energies, and talents to host a memorial in Patricia’s honor. As I shared in an earlier column, the Celebration of Life on Whidbey Island was attended by approximately 200 people. It was such a beautiful and fitting tribute to Patricia’s all-too-short life.

Patricia and Nikki

Nikki and her loving circle of friends/family will be remembering and celebrating Patricia’s life once again over Thanksgiving weekend. Here is an excerpt from an email Nikki sent us about their plans:

“It is with much love and gratitude that I/we in Seattle and Whidbey will include all of Patricia's family for our special celebration of Patricia on the 26th of November. We invite you to join us in your own way through prayer, song, dance, laughter, silence... any way the spirit moves you to celebrate Patricia. I envision all of us lighting a candle for Patricia and sending her a blessing from our heart. Maybe we can come up with a time where we can all light our candles at the same time.

It will be a day where many of us from Seattle and Whidbey and maybe Martha from Alaska will come together to remember Patricia. We'll spend time throughout the day sharing stories, taking walks, talking, singing and creating a mural, painting a rock.... writing a poem, something to honor Patricia. I will light a 24-hour candle in the morning and we will light 55 candles in the late afternoon or early evening. Diana and Sylvia will be singing and leading us in songs . . .”

Sylvia & Diana singing at the Celebration of Life for Patricia

During the time my sisters and I spent on Whidbey Island, we formed deep and lasting friendships with the members of Patricia’s extended family. This week, I’d like to share some correspondence I’ve received from two of our new friends.

This first letter is from Martha, who described Patricia as “my dearest friend of the heart.” After the service, Martha and I cried and shared memories together on the deck of Patricia and Nikki’s home, overlooking their beautiful yard and view – a view that will never look quite the same without Patricia.

Dear Eileen,

Well, as you may have considered, I am a terrible procrastinator and not that easy with words as both you and Jenifer have been blessed to be. Nonetheless, I have thought of you often and have appreciated your card and e-mails very much.

I still cannot believe that our dear Patricia won’t be answering the phone when I call her house. I miss her every day. Sometimes grieving seems so selfish – I so much want to see her again and just then, when it feels overwhelming, Jenifer tells me of a dream she had. It’s a party and Patricia is there with all her friends. She is dead, but just the same there and enjoying being with her dear ones. She looks radiantly happy. She and Jen talk – no one else can see her (it is, after all, Jenifer’s dream); she tells Jenifer that everything is wonderful. Jenifer asks if she knows the meaning and purpose of life now. Patricia laughs that wonderful Patricia laugh and says, “Oh, I can’t tell you that!” Jenifer replies that she doesn’t want her to tell her what the meaning and purpose of life is, just if Patricia knows what it is, and with another laugh she says, “Well, of course!” Anyway, there was certainly more detail Jen could say, but I like to remember the story, hear that laugh in my heart and choose to believe that she is radiantly happy and watching over us and right here with us when we need her.

I must tell you it was wonderful to spend that time with you and your sisters in April, to laugh and cry and tell stories together. It’s my belief that friends become friends through shared experiences and I now do feel blessed to count you all as my friends and hope to have many more times to share of ourselves.

With much love,

Patricia with Martha, Jenifer & their two boys, Denali (left) and Rogelio

I received this next letter from Shawn shortly after returning from the memorial on Whidbey Island. Shawn and her daughter Lucy shared the house that Nikki and Patricia lived in, and they continue to share it now with Nikki.

Shawn & Lucy at the Celebration of Life

Hey Eileen,

Thank you for the pictures. It was an extraordinary weekend. We were so glad to meet the four of you and have a greater context to Patricia's life. There was not a day that I can remember in living with Patricia that the Van Kirk influence was not spoken of. She would sing a song to Lucy or tell a family story or mention one of you. Out of sight was definitely not out of mind and heart.

Lucy is doing well. We broke off of the bottle last weekend and that has been the BIG transition. She does not like this getting to be a big girl and all of the burdens that growth carries.

Lucy does still think of “Pisha.” She has 3 coasters with coffee cup prints on them. She makes "hoffee" for Nikki, Pisha and herself. I am not included in the hoffee parties because she only has 3 coasters. The other night when she was taking a bath, she asked me where Pisha is now. I told her that Pisha is in Heaven and can't come back like she used to and see us but she is now with us in our hearts and thoughts. Lucy took that in and contemplated it for awhile. Then, she asked me, "Mama, what is thinking? What are thoughts?" So, I said that thoughts are what she is having when she asks me if we are going to Jody's (her babysitter) and she can picture Jody in her mind and see Jody's house but we are at home so she can't see Jody. Then, the next day, we go to Jody's house and she sees Jody and sees the house and it looks just like it did in her mind's eye. Pisha can only come back to us through our hearts and thoughts and we can see her that way but we won't ever see her like we used to when she could come home in her body. Lucy thought about it for a minute and then shrugged that satisfied way that toddlers have. Sometimes she says goodbye to Pisha as we leave the house so I know Patricia is still hanging around. I like to believe Lucy has the best Auntie Guardian Angel ever.

Nikki is struggling her way through it all. Her pain is immense and we just try and help her make it from one day to the next. Some days are better than others. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." Nikki mourns in a good way and finds comfort in it and from her loving circle. She really is good at letting people help hold her up right now. That is a gift for everyone.

Well, I am finishing up work and heading for the ferry. I wanted to respond right away. I will leave you with one more bit of prose. It is from the Mass card from my aunt's funeral, and I think it holds true for Patricia, too.

Your gentle face and patient smile
With sadness we recall.
You had a kindly word for each
And died beloved by all.

The voice is mute and stilled the heart
That loved us well and true.
Ah, but bitter was the trial to part
From one so good as you.

You are not forgotten loved one
Nor will you ever be.
As long as life and memory last
We will remember thee.

We miss you now, our hearts are sore,
As time goes on, we miss you more,
Your loving smile, your gentle face
No one can fill your vacant place.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes . . . .” ~ Revelation 21:4

“She is missed – she is deeply and widely missed.”

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Roses and Thorns

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” ~I Chronicles 16:34 (NKJV)

“Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it’s too late. Today, this hour, this minute is the day, the hour the minute for each of us to sense the fact that life is good, with all its trials and troubles, and perhaps more interesting because of them.” ~ Robert R. Updegraff, author of "Be Thankful For Your Troubles"

The other day I saw a story about a little girl who was born without the ability to feel pain. At first her parents thought it would be a blessing, but they soon learned that it was much more like a curse. For example, when their daughter was teething, she nearly chewed the ends of her fingers right off. And when she got older, she received third degree burns from grabbing a hot light bulb. The girl’s mother stated that no one realizes how important it is to be able to feel pain, and how necessary it is to our physical well-being.

While pain of any kind is unpleasant – whether physical or emotional – it is that very pain which stretches our faith, making us stronger and more equipped to face the next trial that comes our way. These painful experiences also help keep our hearts tender, so that we’re in a better position to extend compassion to others who are facing difficult situations in their own lives.

“Tonight Keen was talking about how he treasures our walks and the times we’ve danced on the patio. Then I said, ‘But do you know what’s sad? There would have been so much more of that, if there had only been less of this,’ (the lawsuit). Then Keen replied, ‘But would it have been as sweet? If we’d never climbed the mountains, would we appreciate the plains?” ~ Journal entry, 1996 (after the lawsuit settled)

I hope that the following story and poem will serve as gentle reminders for all of us to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving to God, even in the midst of our darkest hours.

Thanksgiving Bouquet
Author Unknown

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren't enough, her husband's company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called to say she could not come. What's worse, Sandra was infuriated by a friend’s suggestion that her grief was a God-given path to maturity which would allow her to empathize with others who suffer. "She has no idea what I'm feeling," Sandra thought with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what, she wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her unborn child?

"Good afternoon, may I help you?" The shop clerk's approach startled her.

"I....I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra.

"For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call ‘the Thanksgiving Special?’ the clerk asked. "I'm convinced that flowers tell stories," she continued. "Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?"

"Not exactly!" Sandra blurted out. "In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong." Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."

Then the door's small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, "Hi, Barbara...let me get your order." She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses – except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped and there were no flowers.

Sandra watched for the customer's response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed. "Yes, please," Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. "You'd think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn't be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said, gently tapping her chest.

"Uh," stammered Sandra, "that lady just left with....she just left with no flowers!"

“That’s right," said the clerk. "I cut the flowers off. That's the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet."

"Oh, come on, you can't tell me someone is willing to pay for that!" exclaimed Sandra.

"Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you do today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.” “That same year I lost my husband," continued the clerk, "and for the first time in my life, I had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel."

"So what did you do?" asked Sandra.

"I learned to be thankful for thorns," answered the clerk quietly. "I've always thanked God for good things in life and never asked Him why those good things happened to me. But when the bad stuff hit, boy, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the 'flowers' of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God's comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we're afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others."

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. "I guess the truth is that I don't want comfort. I've lost a baby and I'm angry with God. I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life. It’s all too...fresh."

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God's providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don't resent the thorns."

Tears rolled down Sandra's cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please.”

"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute."

"Thank you. What do I owe you?"

"Oh, nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year's arrangement is always on me." The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. "I'll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first."

“Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant."

Praise Him for your roses; thank Him for your thorns.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~ II Corinthians 1:3,4 (NKJV)

The following poem was written by my friend, Pat Barrett, who has graciously allowed me to share it with you.(She also took the above photograph.) Pat is an amazing woman of strength, who recently suffered the loss of her younger brother to lymphoma. Yet, in the midst of her pain, Pat was still able to write this inspiring poem of thanksgiving. God bless you, Pat.

Thanks and Joy Always
By Patricia Kohls Barrett

Yearly we have a special time
To thank you and pray
But you want a thankful life
Joy and thanksgiving every day

Your will for us in Christ
Is to pray through good and bad
Not just when we are pleased
But also when scared or sad

When we think of benefits
Of having you as our God
There’s much reason for joy
As on this earth we trod

We often disappoint you
Still perfectly you love
You shower many blessings
From your throne up above

You loved before we knew You
Planned salvation free and clear
To send Christ to the cross
So we never need to fear

When we have the hard times
You are with us all the way
You will turn them to our good
As in the promise you did say

To keep a joyful heart
We must keep in your Word
We’ll get the peace and comfort
From what we’ve seen and heard

Through this the Spirit fills us
With happiness and peace
To soothe our pain and sorrow
Our complaining to cease.

He will lead us to look
For the good in the bad
To concentrate and focus
On what we have, not had

If we keep in his Word
We can be joyful each day
And pray without ceasing
And do things His way

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Brother, Bill

“But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother . . . .”
~ Proverbs 18:24b (NKJV)

You are my brother, you are my family
And it seems like only yesterday,
we were running wild and free
Down the corner buying candy,
or messin' 'round in the neighborhood
Hanging out with you night and day,
it was good, so good . . .

My Brother, My Brother ~ recorded by Aaron Neville

This week I’d like to write about my younger brother, Bill, who will be celebrating his 46th birthday on November 10th.

Bill and I are only sixteen months apart, even though we are the seventh and eighth children out of nine. I don’t know how our dear mother managed to keep her sanity having all those kids so close together. (Maybe she lost it by the time we were born, which would explain a lot.) At any rate, Bill and I go way back.

Rumor has it that I thought I was the boss of Bill from the time he was born. Mom said that when he started crawling, I followed him around everywhere he went. Poor kid. We even have a family picture with all of us kids lined up in a row. I was probably about two and Bill would have been about eight or nine months old. There we were at the end of the line, and I had my arm around Bill’s neck, holding him in a headlock.

Our favorite Bill story is about how he made up a song when he was only about seven years old. He would sing the chorus over and over as he strummed on his little ukulele: “Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh my baby.” Then someone asked him, “What’s the name of your song, Billy?” In total exasperation, he replied, “Oh my BABY!”

My siblings and I used to torment Bill by singing this song called, Billy Boy. It went like this: “Oh where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Oh where have you been, charming Billy? I have been to seek a wife, she’s the joy of my life; she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother. Did she ask you to come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Did she ask you to come in, charming Billy? Yes, she asked me to come in, there’s a dimple on her chin; she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother.”

It should come as no surprise that Bill and I fought like cats and dogs when we were younger. (And I mean that literally.) But thankfully, we grew up, and I’m happy to report that now he is one of my dearest friends.

Bill is the business head in our family, and he graciously shares his ideas and wisdom with anyone willing to listen. It doesn’t matter how busy he is with his own family and business, he always makes time for his siblings. In an earlier column, I shared an example of how we benefited from Bill’s insights. It was about the time we were trying to sell our business in 1998 so Keen could go to college, and the guy we offered it to never returned Keen’s calls. Well, Bill became absolutely indignant about that and practically chastised us for wasting our time. “Call one of those big trash companies!” he exclaimed. So we took his advice and by 5:00 that night Keen had received a return telephone call from Waste Management. Within three months we closed the deal and Keen enrolled at Kansas State.

Recently I made the mistake of telling Bill that I was in the process of having business cards made up for Keen’s new law practice. Well, let me tell you, he was all over that! (I guess the tables have turned and now he thinks he’s the boss of me!) To make a long story short, after it was all said and done, Bill had dragged me kicking and screaming into the latest “must have” for the business world: a web page and a domain name. He said, “The whole idea behind a business card is to include as much contact information as possible.” He convinced me that now was the time to implement these changes – even though I had neither the time nor the desire to cooperate.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was feeling anxious about my book and decided to send out a preliminary query letter to the agent in New York who had expressed interest in my project several years ago. I was just going to send a letter, but Bill thought I should send the manuscript with the letter. I kept trying to explain why I simply wanted to ask her if she was still interested, but he kept insisting that I should wait. In one of his many e-mails he wrote: “I am thinking that you should send this letter with the manuscript, not asking permission to send it. Don’t leave her room to say no. (Old salesman’s trick.)” Nevertheless, I stuck to my guns and put the freshly composed letter in the mailbox. When I returned to my computer, I found yet another email from Bill asking if I’d sent the letter yet! I was tempted to tell him to back off, but instead I conceded and retrieved the letter before the mailman arrived. What can I say? I had to reluctantly admit that I did have a very slight, nagging doubt about it, and since he’s been right every other time, I was afraid not to listen to him!

“The godly give good advice . . . .” ~ Proverbs 10:21a (NLT)

I’ll say one thing, he sure is persistent! But seriously, Bill has a heart of gold and genuinely cares about everyone in his family.

"We need someone to believe in us - if we do well, we want our work commended, our faith corroborated. The individual who thinks well of you, who keeps his mind on your good qualities, and does not look for flaws, is your friend. Who is my brother? I'll tell you; he is one who recognizes the good in me." ~ Elbert Hubbard

Bill and his wife, Connie, have been married for over twenty years and together they are wonderful parents to their four children: Luke, Kyle, Joey and Callie.

Bill, Connie & kids with our father at Josh & Lisa's wedding in 2003

Whenever we visit their house it’s like Grand Central Station with friends constantly calling or coming over. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago Keen and I were in Olathe and we decided to drop by for a short visit. When we arrived, their house was swarming with teenagers who had gathered to celebrate Callie’s 13th birthday. There were pizza boxes galore and pop cans everywhere, and Connie was sitting on the floor organizing some games for the partygoers. If that wasn’t enough excitement for one night, they allowed their son Joey to invite four or five of his friends over, too! Yes, Bill and Connie are two of the most hands-on parents I know. They always attend their children’s’ various sporting events, even when that means traveling back and forth from one end of town to the other every Saturday and Sunday.

I might also add that Connie and I have two things in common: we both kept detailed journals of the funny things our kids said and did while growing up, and we both like to write poems. In fact, this Christmas I’d like to share a humorous poem/newsletter Connie wrote several years ago (with her permission, of course).

Lastly, I’d like to write about the way Bill and I seem to share the same warped sense of humor. Sometimes we can get pretty silly. For example, once we got off on a goofy tangent during an exchange of emails. It started with Bill saying: “If you need a proof reader, I could do it, for a fee.” Then later he sent me a picture that his son Kyle took at Josh and Lisa’s wedding, and he wrote: “I must copyright the photo Kyle took before it goes too far. I could ask him to sign your copies, for a fee.” But the straw that broke the camel’s back was when, in a more serious e-mail, I asked him to say some prayers for us. Believe it or not, he replied that he would be happy to, “for a fee.

That’s what instigated me to write the following ditty:

What's all this about a fee?
We should charge you!
You little turkey!

And I don't think God
Would be very pleased
To hear that you’re charging
For petitions and pleas!

And besides, I thought blood
Was thicker than water
Are you forgetting,
I'm your mother's daughter?

So for your sake
I'll pretend you never said it
And I suggest you drop your suggestion
Or else you're gonna get it!

Your loving sister, Eileen

But Bill still got in the last word with this response: “I'll drop it, for a fee.

So I guess I’ll wish my little brother a Happy Birthday ... “for a fee!”
I love you, bro!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Standing Tall

“For the Lord God helps me; therefore have I not been ashamed or confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He is near Who declares me in the right; who will contend with me? Let us stand forth together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he who will condemn me?” ~ Isaiah 50:4,7,9

One of America’s greatest heroes, Rosa Parks, was laid to rest this week. Surely she is in Heaven, strolling along those streets of gold and enjoying her just reward.

When Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress, stood up for her fundamental right of equality by refusing to relinquish her seat on the bus to a white man, I seriously doubt that she ever imagined her actions would have such far-reaching effects. Besides the 13-month boycott of the bus service, blacks in Montgomery went on to wage a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Jim Crow law which treated them as second-class citizens. Today Rosa Parks is eulogized as the mother of the civil rights movement.

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and what I can do, that I ought to do; and what I ought to do, by the grace of God I shall do." Edward Everett Hale

Due to my deep admiration for Rosa Parks, I decided that it would be worth the money to purchase the right to share this Associated Press photograph of her mug shot, which was taken on that fateful day nearly fifty years ago. I also obtained permission to post the picture on my blog/web page located at

AP/Wide World Photos

To me, this picture vividly illustrates the extreme price Rosa Parks paid for following her convictions. She was arrested, fingerprinted, and ultimately convicted and fined for violating the segregation laws. But Mrs. Parks believed that she had as much right as anyone else to take a seat on that bus. Come what may, she could not bear the injustice or humiliation one more day.

In Dr. Martin Luther King’s book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” he wrote, “Actually no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer.'”

There’s a similar situation being played out right now in Manhattan, Kansas. The Manhattan Mercury ( has reported on it extensively. The case involves a convicted felon who served about six years in prison for an armed robbery he committed when he was a teenager. However, this individual is currently employed fulltime, married, and attempting to live a law-abiding life.

While some may question my comparison of the two cases, I firmly believe that there is little difference. To make a long story short, one day back in August this man was walking out of an area bank when he was approached by a sheriff’s deputy who demanded that he turn over the hat he was wearing. The hat bore the initials “RCPD” on the front (Riley County Police Department, Manhattan, Kansas), and had been given to him by his mother-in-law, who apparently received it as a gift from the widow of a former Riley County Commissioner. After being threatened with arrest, the man reluctantly forfeited his hat.

Although it is still unclear exactly why the deputy demanded the hat, I personally surmise that he felt there was something improper or sacrilegious about an ex-felon wearing an RCPD cap.

At any rate, six weeks later the man attended a meeting of the Law Board and requested the return of his hat. He also asked them to show him what authority they had to continue to withhold it. While no answer was forthcoming, the chairman of the Law Board did offer to pay him $20.00 for the hat. The gentleman declined because he didn’t want the twenty dollars, he wanted his hat back. (He has a collection of over 100 hats.)

According to published reports, it seems the Riley County Police Department was concerned that someone in the community might mistakenly identify this individual as a member of their department. But we have all seen people wearing NYPD or FBI apparel without restrictions. In fact, our son Kirk visited the FBI headquarters several years ago and purchased an FBI sweatshirt for our grandson, Asher.

The point I’m trying to make is that Rosa Parks had a constitutional right to refuse to give up her seat on that bus, and this individual had a constitutional right not to be forced to forfeit his personal property, regardless of his past mistakes. There are laws in society which restrain the citizenry, and there are laws contained in the Constitution which limit the activities of police officers and/or government officials. When a citizen breaks the law, for example, they are charged, prosecuted and punished severely – and rightfully so. Someone who is caught shoplifting cannot simply agree to return the stolen merchandise and expect that “all will be forgiven.” Even though the stolen item might only be worth $16.99, the criminal will spend much more than that in fines and legal fees, and he may even be forced to spend some time in jail. Truly, crime doesn’t pay.

In the Manhattan case, however, it was the police officer who stepped over the line and violated a citizen’s right. Although the hat has since been returned to its rightful owner, the issue of damages is still being determined. For those who think that a twenty dollar hat is worth exactly $20.00, I would argue that it is not the hat itself he must be compensated for, but rather the violation of his First Amendment right of free expression, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and his Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

I remember when we were involved in litigation with the Wabaunsee County Commissioners, we had a meeting with our lawyers about this very subject. They wanted us to agree to settle the case for far less than we felt it was worth; they said that we were being unreasonable. We explained that our First Amendment rights were not for sale. It was like asking us to put a price on one of our children. Keen said, “Put yourself in our shoes. For example, what is it worth to you not to have the government violate your Fourth Amendment right by breaking into your home and rifling through your personal papers?”

Since we couldn’t agree with our lawyers on what a “reasonable” settlement amount would be, the case went forward and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yet, our decision to stand up for our right of free speech also came at a high price. Case in point: after we finally reached an out-of-court settlement, Keen was blamed for the increased insurance rates for Wabaunsee County. We felt the blame belonged to the commissioners who had abused their power by carrying out their personal vendetta against Keen. After all, it was their actions which were ruled unlawful by the United States Supreme Court.

“In some people’s eyes, standing up for your rights qualifies you as a troublemaker instead of as a person with strong principles and convictions.” ~ Keen A. Umbehr

Whenever my book gets published, it will show that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that we managed to survive every attack upon our business, including two sabotage attempts – one that would have caused damage to our truck when someone drained the oil out of it, and the other which could have caused serious physical harm to Keen when someone removed the lug nuts from the rear tire of his smaller trash truck. All I can say is: “There is a God.” That’s the only explanation for why we were not destroyed many times over.

"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out or more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies...and only lukewarm defenders." ~ The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

By Eileen Umbehr

When right is wrong
And wrong is right
Do you run and hide,
Or embark on a fight?

If you run, you avoid
A prolonged struggle
No conflict, no worries
No lawyer bills to juggle.

But change doesn't happen
When your head's in the sand
It takes courage and commitment
To take a stand.

What would have happened
If Rosa Parks had backed down?
Would we all be equal,
Black, white & brown?

Sticking your neck out
Indeed, has its price
It is rarely popular
And involves sacrifice.

Your critics will be many
Your supporters few
But hold on to your dreams
And one day they'll come true.