Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On the Wings of Love

"Let no one despise or think less of you because of your youth, but be an example (pattern) for the believers, in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity."~ I Timothy 4:12

“Do you know that your soul is of my soul such a part, that you seem to be fiber and core of my heart?” ~ Excerpt from “To My Son” by Margaret Johnstone Grafin

Time got away from me this week, but I wanted to share a collection of poems in honor of our youngest son, Kirk Van, who will be turning 17 on April 2nd.

I remember the day we brought my little namesake home from the hospital (my former last name was Van Kirk, so we just reversed the order). It was Election Day that year and Keen was running for a seat on the local school board as well as the Alma City Council. With our newborn son in tow, and my hospital band still on my wrist, we drove straight to the voting center to cast our votes. Keen joked that he would get elected even if he had to raise the voters himself! (He did win both races.)

I have often said that Kirk Van was born responsible. All his life, I never had to prod him to do anything, from making his bed to doing his homework – he’s always just known what he needed to do and done it. As his principal said to me recently, “Kirk really steps up to the plate and takes care of business.” In fact he just earned straight A’s on his report card – and he’s taking some challenging courses such as Chemistry, Advanced American Literature and Algebra II. On top of that, he played on the basketball team, joined a paintball club, and just got a job as the youngest disc jockey ever hired by Complete Music in Manhattan. Kirk is, and always has been, beyond his years.

In Catherine Marshall’s book, “To Live Again,” she writes about the loss of her husband Peter, and the difficult process of letting go of her son, Peter, who attended a prep school in another state. She wrote: “…as love is progressively purified, possessiveness is dropped out. The deeper and truer the love, the more completely it releases the beloved. . . .As my child was growing up, I saw an analogy in my love for him. The highest function of my mother love would be fulfilled when my love was strong enough to cut the apron strings and let my . . . child move off into his own life. I would succeed as a mother only when I had so reared my child that he would no longer have need of me. Yet this is not tragedy; it is growth. This is no betrayal of love. This is love.”

Not too long ago I saw a television story on 20/20 about mothers who were still calling their kids in college to wake them up for class. One mother said it usually took four telephone calls before her daughter would finally get up for good. An expert on the show commented that while the mother feels like she’s doing the right thing, she’s actually doing the opposite, because she is unintentionally sending a message to her child that: “I don’t think you’re capable of managing your own life, so I will do it for you.”

"Spoon feeding, in the long run, teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon."
~ E. M. Forster

This is a poem I wrote for Josh after he transferred to Manhattan High in 1997 during his junior year in high school:

Roots and Wings
By Eileen Umbehr

Some people say,
There are only two things,
That you can give your children,
One is roots; the other, wings.

They'll have their share of ups and downs,
At times the skies will be bleak,
But we must allow them to spread their wings,
Even if they bump their beaks!

It's hard to know when to let them go,
Some are ready sooner than others,
But no matter when that time comes,
It’s always hard on their mothers!

But deep down in our heart of hearts,
We have always known,
We can't keep them with us forever,
One day they will be on their own.

And we really wouldn't want it,
Any other way,
We have to allow them to fly and be free,
Even though we wish they could stay.

So we'll raise our children
With faith, hope and love,
And a prayer that God will watch over them
From Heaven up above.

Then when the time arrives,
For them to leave the nest,
We’ll wave good-bye with a tear in our eye,
Knowing that we've been blessed.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
~ William Shedd

This next poem was written for Kirk when he was just six months old:

For Kirk
With love from Mom

You are the youngest of our four sons
Our pride and joy, our precious one

You were sent to us from God above
To fill our hearts and home with love

Although having a girl
Would be a dream come true
That doesn’t mean
We regret having you

Just one look
at your smiling face
And we forget all about
those ruffles and lace

Loving you, holding you
Makes our heart sing
Kirk, we wouldn’t trade you
For anything!

And this is the latest poem I wrote for Kirk Van:

On the Wings of Love
(For Kirk)

My child, fly free
With the wind on your face
In this brave new world
To discover your place

We’ve tried to prepare you
The best that we can
By teaching the importance
Of holding God’s hand

There will be challenges, obstacles
And goals to pursue
But with the Lord as your Shepherd
You’ll always know what to do.

Don’t follow the crowd
Instead, follow your heart
Even though that might mean
That you’ll be set apart

For your future is bright
Young son number four
Just stay on the narrow path
And discover all God has in store

We know that you’ll go far
With help from up above
Just remember that you’re flying
On the wings of love.

You're gonna fly with every dream you chase
You're gonna cry, but know that that's okay
Sometimes life's not fair, but if you hang in there
You're gonna see, that sometimes bad is good
We just have to believe, things work out like they should
Life has no guarantees, but always loved by me
You're gonna be

~ You’re Gonna Be ~ recorded by Reba McEntire

Friday, March 17, 2006

Life After Patricia

“... the time of my spirit’s release from the body is at hand and I will soon go free.” ~ II Timothy 4:6b (Amp)

But when I get where I'm going
And I see my Maker's face
I'll stand forever in the light
Of His amazing grace
Yeah when I get where I'm going
There'll be only happy tears
I will love and have no fear
When I get where I'm going

~ When I Get Where I’m Going – recorded by Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley

It’s hard to believe, but March 23rd will mark the one year anniversary of my sister Patricia’s death. I must admit that I’ve been dreading writing this column. I just don’t want to feel so sad, because that’s not what Patricia was about, and that’s not the way she would want the rest of us to feel after her passing.

In some ways it is still such a shock. One minute Patricia was frolicking on the beach, dodging Diana’s video camera, joking about only taking pictures of her from the “eyes up,” playing in the water with Caroline and Bev, watching the jet skis go by and talking about the time her crazy brother-in-law Keen let their niece Emily take him for a ride on the jet ski after Emily’s parents had strictly forbidden her to, and laughing about how Keen fell off and Emily didn’t realize it until she drove by the boat that picked him up and saw him waving at her.

One of the last things Patricia said before she was stricken with a brain aneurism was: “Every time I get in the water, it makes me feel like a kid all over again!” Some have said it was the perfect way to die – doing something you love with the people you love, right up until the very last minute. When I think about how our mother battled cancer for seven long years, I honestly don’t know which is worse – losing someone you love suddenly, without warning, or watching them suffer over a long period of time.

Two months before Patricia died, I had to have a suspicious lump removed from my left breast and I decided not to tell everyone because I didn’t want them to worry needlessly. But Patricia called me that day – right out of the blue. She said she’d been thinking about me and just wondered how I was doing. You see, Patricia was a breast cancer survivor herself, having been diagnosed at the age of thirty-eight. After going through all the treatments, she went into remission and had been cancer-free ever since. So when she called that day, I couldn’t keep my secret in, because I knew if anyone would understand the fear that gripped my heart, she would. And she did. After I received the results that the lump was benign, Patricia was one of the first people I called with the good news. I told her how the experience really put things in perspective for me and made me appreciate my life so much more. I will never forget Patricia’s reply. “I guess I’ve always assumed that I would die young,” she said. Taken aback, I replied, “Oh Patricia! Why would you say such a terrible thing?” She explained that since she had breast cancer and also had several skin cancers removed, she always just felt that her life would be short. When she passed away two months later, her words echoed eerily in my mind.

Over time, however, I have come to see Patricia’s premonition as a positive thing. Perhaps that is why she had such a genuine zest for life. Perhaps that is why she would drag Nikki out at 5:00 in the morning to go bird watching. Or why they bought a second place known as Periwinkle where they loved to relax and walk on the beach. Perhaps that is why she took trips and traveled when most of us only talk about it. Perhaps that is why she celebrated life the way she did. Perhaps she truly, truly understood, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you.” Perhaps that is why she loved to capture so much of the beauty in the world around her. Perhaps ... she just knew.

I would like to dedicate this column and short poem to Patricia’s partner and our other sister, Nikki.

You have been brave
You have been strong
You’ve found a way to laugh again
You’ve learned to carry on
Your circle is wide
And their love is deep
We’ll be here for you always
Please do not weep.

I love you, Nikki. Shine on.

Nikki & Eileen after Celebration of Life for Patricia on Whidbey Island, March, 2005

Nikki shining on, 2006

I’m already there
Take a look around
I’m the sunshine in your hair
I’m the shadow on the ground
I’m the whisper in the wind
I’m your imaginary friend
And I know I’m in your prayers
Oh, I’m already there

~ I’m Already There – recorded by Lonestar
Eagle above and sunrise below photographed by Patricia

Friday, March 10, 2006

Silencing Hate

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
~ I John 4:20,21 (NKJV)

“Hate destroys the vessel it’s kept in.”
~ Author Unknown

When I see the so-called “Reverend” Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, and his band of followers picketing the funerals of soldiers and/or gay men across this country (all in the name of God), I become enraged. This man is hate personified.

The Phelps clan recently traveled to Dodge City, Kansas, to wreak havoc on the funeral of Army Sgt. Jesse Davila who was tragically killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq on February 20, 2006. Holding signs saying “God Hates Your Tears” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” the Phelpses promoted their hate-filled message while the family and friends of Sgt. Davila gathered to mourn his loss.

Although Keen and I are firm believers in freedom of speech, we also recognize that it is a double-edged sword. The same freedoms that give us the right to speak out against the picketers, also give them the right to espouse their despicable views. We cannot decide which views will be tolerated and which will not, because this great country we live in is not only free, it is diverse. There are Christians and atheists; those who support the war and those who oppose it. There are individuals who staunchly lobby for abortion rights at all stages of pregnancy, and those who seek to ban it all together. There are those who believe in equality for all, and those who express extreme hatred toward various minority groups. But the fact remains that we are all Americans, and as such we possess certain inalienable rights – first and foremost, the right to vigorously support the views we hold dear.

In spite of the fact that I cherish freedom and wholeheartedly believe all of the above to be true, I still find myself wondering if there couldn’t be some exception made for people like the Phelpses. In fact, last year when I read that the Phelpses planned to rent advertising space at the newly-constructed Hummer Sports Park in Topeka, I placed a call to Paul McMasters, the First Amendment ombudsman for The Freedom Forum (www.freedomforum.org). After explaining how hateful the Phelps's messages were, Mr. McMasters responded by saying that the answer to offensive speech is more speech – not less speech. In other words, we have to fight speech with speech. He went on to say that people such as the Phelpses are like schoolyard bullies who get away with hurtful tactics because nobody has the courage to stand up to them.

Well, that was not exactly what I wanted to hear; it’s not exactly what any of us want to hear, because it requires something from us,and we just want it to stop - we don’t want to have to get involved. Although I believe most Kansans are embarrassed by the Phelps’ family and their abhorrent conduct, we feel helpless to do anything about it. The protesters and their gaudy neon signs are everywhere – and they seem to have a boundless amount of energy for picketing any time, any place, in any kind of weather. Although they claim to be Christians, the Phelps family members have been known to hurl vile, disgusting insults at anyone who dares to confront them.

In a March 7, 2006, article about the Phelps’s decision to picket Sgt. Davila’s funeral (published on CNN's web site), CNN reporter Ed Lavandera quoted family patriarch Fred Phelps as saying: “You can’t preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God.”

He couldn’t be more off-base.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you . . . have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!"
~ Matthew 23:15, 23,24 (RSV)

Shockingly, Mr. Phelps was also quoted as saying: “Every time a soldier gets blown to smithereens, we rejoice.”

How sick is that?

Getting back to what Paul McMasters said about answering speech with speech, there is a valiant group of volunteer motorcyclists known as the “Patriot Guard Riders” who have undertaken the task of doing just that. About 400 riders gathered in Dodge City last Saturday to line the streets and block the protesters – drowning out their hateful chants during the funeral procession.

The article further reported that Sgt. Davila’s mother, Linda Claus, was very grateful to the Patriot Guard Riders. "When people begin to know what they're (Fred Phelps's family) really doing -- killing the American Dream -- they won't be around very long, because nobody's going to let them. They'll drown them out. They'll be gone." Claus said.

Famed African-American photographer Gordon Parks, who sadly passed away last week, left an inspirational legacy for us all. A recent tribute published in The Manhattan Mercury reported that when Mr. Parks was once asked what propelled his life and work, he replied, “I wouldn’t let bigotry stand in my way.”

By the grace of God, neither will I. Neither should any of us.

“And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” ~ I John 4:21 (NKJV)

Friday, March 03, 2006

An Otherwise Ordinary Week

An Otherwise Ordinary Week
By Eileen Umbehr

Have you ever had a case
Of the Grandma blues?
Well last week I got the bug
And didn’t know what to do.

So I booked the first flight
Out of Kansas City
And two days later
I arrived in Mississippi.

Jared and Erin came to greet me
Along with Asher and Gabe
Who ran as fast as they could
For hugs and kisses I had saved.

The day after my arrival
Erin surprised me with a treat
When our future granddaughter
In utero I did meet!

Our next stop was the girls' section
Of the local department store
I think she’ll be the best-dressed baby
From birth to age four!

After seeing his sister's wardrobe
Asher asked Grandma to think
"Do you know Mommy's favorite colors?"
Answer: "Pink, pink and pink!"

Gabriel was his usual
Cutie-patootie self
He said, "Don't interrupt me, Grandma –
I'm talking to myself!"

But not everything about my trip
Created laughter and joy
You see our firstborn son found out
He soon may be deployed.

But I have to remember
Freedom isn't free
That’s the reason he enlisted
In the United States Navy.

The news just made us treasure
Our time together that much more
We talked and laughed and reminisced
And said, "I love you" many times over.

Since none of us knows the future
‘Tis best to leave it in God's hands
And live one day at a time
As the Good Book does command.

On the day of my departure
Asher said that he would miss me
And little Gabriel cried
Making my eyes a little misty.

My next stop was Josh and Lisa's
To check out their new place
And attend Lisa's next sonogram
To meet our grandchild face-to-face!

What a miracle to see
Those tiny feet and hands
It almost makes the three-month wait
Impossible to stand!

But soon enough June will arrive
And with it two "grand-Umbehrs"
It's such a thrill to contemplate
We’ll be doubling our numbers!

In conclusion I would have to say
That my vacation was complete
But otherwise it really was
An ordinary week.

“Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old.”

~ Mary H. Waldrip

Asher and Gabe at the park