Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reflections for the New Year by guest columnist Craig R. Smith

A Lesson from the Amish
By Craig R. Smith © 2006

Reprinted by permission
Posted at on October 9, 2006

The difference between being ordinary and extraordinary is simply a choice. A choice to be great is never easy and may take sacrifice, but that is why there are plenty of ordinary folks in America yet very few truly extraordinary.

When I think of extraordinary athletes, I think about the time and sacrifice that went into the training that produced the great homerun hitters and the touchdown scorers. The world record holder of the 100-yard dash made a choice to get up very early each day and brave the weather to put in the hours necessary for greatness. The concert violinist spent countless hours practicing scales and reading music. The world-class heart surgeons dedicated hours to study and practice. In all cases there was a conscious choice to do what needed to be done to be extraordinary.

This week America witnessed this principle in the most profound way. A group of peace-loving, hard-working, self-sufficient, faithful citizens laid to rest their precious children who were cut down in their early years at the hand of a man in Nickel Mines, Pa. We all know the story. The Amish community was shaken to its core as a man entered a schoolhouse, tied up 10 young girls and then proceeded to slay them. Methodically, one by one they were shot execution-style until ultimately the shooter turned the gun on himself and the horror-filled air rang silent. I can't imagine what the scene must have been like, much less what that scene looked like in the minds of the parents who loved those children.

After the smoke settled and the reports started to pour forth, we watched as a group of extraordinary people responded to this tragedy as only extraordinary people would. They mourned and cried and then went about the grim task of hand digging the graves in which their children would soon be laid to rest. Afterwards they arranged, by meeting all the requirements of the state, to make the sorrowful trip to the coroner's office to take possession of the lifeless bodies so a funeral and subsequent burial could take place.

They drove their horse and buggies to the gravesites and buried their dead. Every last shovelful of dirt was gently placed on the coffin with the same care and attention as it was removed by the love of a father, brother or uncle. All the while the state offered transportation, counseling and various services in hopes of making this tragedy less burdensome. The response was "Thank you, but all we ask is for our privacy and your prayers".

The most remarkable part of this sad story is not what was visible but what was invisible. The invisible shows the extraordinary character of these fine people. During this whole process you never saw a finger of blame being pointed at anyone, including the gunman who took innocent life from the Amish community. The most you heard was an Amish spokesman's prepared comments read by a policeman. The comments were filled with love, understanding and forgiveness for what took place. Comments that talked about how this man made a bad choice and they forgive him for making that choice. They didn't blame guns, politicians, media, society or any of the other normal targets that we ordinary people look to blame. They didn't blame God or look to make sense of what is a truly senseless act. They made a choice to live their faith and trust in God. Knowing full well God loves them and has forgiven them, in turn they forgive others – even when it means the loss of something as precious as a child. They chose not to allow hate to fill their hearts. They know hate produces darkness and eclipses the light of God in man. They chose to walk in light and not in darkness. Walking in darkness can only produce more evil, and for the Amish that wasn't even an option.

Some may suggest that is a sign of weakness, but I know that it is the sign of ultimate strength. Make no mistake, however; it was a choice. They could hate and seek revenge. Instead they returned evil with good. They choose to love and not hate. Their natural reaction was to reach out to the family of the killer and invite them to the funerals of their slain children. The Amish have been more concerned about the pain of the killer's survivors than they are themselves. Perfect love and forgiveness has sprung forth from this truly extraordinary group of people.

What a great life lesson we could all receive if we choose to do the same as we watch Democrats criticize Republicans and Republicans criticize Democrats. We see no forgiveness from either camp for mistakes made or poor choices. Instead all we see is the constant straddling for political advantage. Who can trip up the other versus trying to heal each other's pain. How elections mean more than truth. Human decency loses out to advantage and politics.

This week was a rather extraordinary week to me, for I watched Americans all across this country choose to either be ordinary or extraordinary. A man chose to walk into a school and kill innocent kids. A group in D.C. postured and played political gamesmanship to beat an opponent. They both walk in darkness because their motive is hate. Then there is a group of folks who chose to be extraordinary simply by living their faith in a God of love. They didn't blame or criticize. They didn't look to gain advantage in order to destroy their opponent. No – they loved and forgave and chose to walk in light.

Some call the Amish old-fashioned. They don't watch TV or listen to the radio. They don't fill their minds with the toxic waste coming from Hollywood. They work hard, love their families and love God. I think we all owe the Amish a collective sense of gratitude, for they have shown us this week what America could be if we shut off the iPods, turned off the TV, ignored the agenda-driven media and simply walked in light. They chose to love and not hate. I can only hope each member on Capitol Hill and across the nation heard the message coming from Pennsylvania this week.

To the Amish, I express my heartfelt sorrow and mourning for your loss. The nation grieves with you. But we also rejoice in knowing your faith proves to us all there is more than this life. We know those beautiful young ladies are walking with Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They have now spent time with Paul, James, Peter and Silas. They have all now seen HIS face.

Craig R. Smith is an author, commentator and popular media guest because he instantly engages audiences with his common-sense analyses of local, national and global trends. Serving as CEO of Swiss America for nearly 25 years, Craig understands that Americans want solid answers to the tough questions and that real leadership begins with servanthood. Craig's most recent book is "Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil," which he co-authored with WND columnist Jerome R. Corsi. For media interviews please call Holly at 800-950-2428.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blue and White Christmas: Remembering a Life That Mattered (Part III)

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” ~ I Thessalonians 4:13,14 (NASB)

Continued from last week

I am still in awe over the timing of my father-in-law’s death, and I think we’ll all be eternally grateful to God for giving us the opportunity to say our good-byes just one week before he passed away. In life, Dad wasn’t the emotional type, and he wasn’t much for hugging. But before he died, we were all able to hug him and hold his hand and tell him everything we wanted to say while we still had the chance.

Since I arrived early, I took that time to tell Dad how much I loved him and appreciated everything he had done for our family over the years. “You’ve got a heart of gold, Dad,” I said, with tears in my eyes. “You’ve been the best father-in-law anyone could ever have. You’ve been so good to us . . . too good to us.” Then I thanked him for raising such a wonderful son. “My life has been so happy every day because of him. He’s been an amazing husband and father. Thank you.” Dad just smiled. Then we started talking about other things and I asked him how old his father was when he passed away. “Forty-eight,” Dad replied. “That’s so young – that’s how old I am.” Dad paused, and then he looked at me and said, “Take care of yourself.” My voice cracking, I said, “I will Dad. I’ll do my best.” I told him that ever since my cancer diagnosis, I don’t take a single day of life for granted.

That night after supper Keen went into his father’s room and knelt by his bedside. He held his hand, kissed him, told him he loved him, reminisced about all the fun times they had as a family, and thanked him for the great life he had given them. Then Keen asked his father: “What do you think, Dad?” Dad returned the question. “I don’t know. What do you think?” he asked. “Dad, I think you’re dying,” Keen replied. Then Keen asked him if he was afraid, and Dad shook his head and quietly answered, “No.”

Later on, I joined Keen by his father’s bedside. “Hi, Sweety,” Dad said. Keen moved over so I could kneel down by him. I held Dad’s hand and told him that we loved him. “That’s right, Dad,” Keen said. “We all love you here, and they’ll all love you there – your parents and grandparents and Uncle Keen and Jack – they’re all going to be there to greet you. Everything’s going to be all right.”

“We have come from somewhere and we are going somewhere. The Great Architect of the Universe never built a staircase that leads to nowhere.”
~ Robert Millian

The next day we accompanied Dad to his scheduled doctor’s appointment for more x-rays. They would only allow one family member to go back with him, so we all agreed that Josh would be the best person. After an hour had passed, we started becoming more and more anxious in the waiting room. Finally Josh emerged with the announcement that the doctor wanted to meet with the entire family.

When the doctor entered the conference room, the look on his face spoke volumes. There was no easy way for him to deliver such devastating news; the cancer that was removed in May had spread to Dad’s bladder and surrounding tissue. “This is an especially aggressive and vicious form of cancer,” he explained. “And there’s really nothing we can do to reverse it.” He said that he would prescribe some stronger pain medication in an effort to keep Dad comfortable.

After returning home, the family gathered together and tried to comprehend the magnitude of the situation before us. At one point Kihm explained that sometimes family members will tell their loved one that it’s okay to let go and quit fighting. She said it was up to each person to decide what they wanted to do. Kevin replied, “I’ll never be ready to tell him that.”

Then we had to discuss Dad’s wishes, which he had expressed verbally and in writing through a living will. Still, the decision was difficult. Josh explained it this way: If he went to the hospital, there would be a lot they could do to him, but not a whole lot they could do for him.

Hospice was called in on Friday. As Dad’s condition worsened, Kevin was able to tell his father that it was okay to let go. Two days later we received a call from Kihm. “Dad is with the Lord now,” she said tearfully.


Eight out of nine grandchildren served as pall bearers at their grandfather’s funeral. (Josh was an honorary pall bearer, having served in a different capacity the week before.) In addition, all three children shared personal stories about their father.

Kihm shared many memories from her growing up years, and several “one-liners’ that she recalled her Dad saying. (I’ve added a few more sayings to Kihm’s list.)

1. When you asked him how he was, he would often reply: “Bearing up under the strain,” or, “Doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.”

2. When he wanted to take a nap: “It’s stretch-out time.”

3. When everyone was on their own for dinner: “It’s fender night – fend for yourself.”

4. When giving advice without really giving advice: “I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business, but can I make a suggestion?”

5. When preparing to fix a drink. “Doc said a drink every now and then would do me good,” or, “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” or, “I’m not very hungry, but I think I could munch on a beer.”

6. When Kihm and Mom would get to giggling in the car: “What kind of Kool-Aid are you girls drinking?”

7. When exploring or driving through a new town: “Just think – if you lived here, you’d be home now,” or, “We’re not lost, we’re just taking the scenic route.”

8. When talking about the best way to handle conflict: “Sugar draws more flies than vinegar.”

9. When talking about important meetings: “Always arrive 10 minutes early,” “Better overdressed than underdressed,” and, “God doesn’t charge you for your time.”

10. When waking his kids up when they were younger, “Rise and shine, it’s rabbit chasin’ time!”

11. When announcing that he was ready to go: “We’re gonna make a mile,” or “We’re gonna shake out of here.”

12. Miscellaneous one-liners: “It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it”, and, “You don’t cut the dog’s tail off a little bit at a time.”

Kihm concluded her comments with the following words: “For twenty-five years, I have been a nurse. From the beginning of my career to the present, I have cared for every patient as if they were my dad. In the last year, as I went with my father to the doctor he would say to everyone, “I brought my two nurses with me.” I had the ultimate privilege of my life to care for my dad. And yes, I was at his bedside holding his hand when he took his last breath. I wouldn’t give up the last 400 days of my life, living every day with him, for anything in the world.”

Kevin’s talk centered around the two words his dad always greeted him with: “Hey Bud.” Whether he was taking him on a motorcycle ride while vacationing in Indonesia as a kid, giving him advice as a young adult, and later as a husband and father, or whether he was telling him, in all seriousness, how he did not want to die. “I’ve seen what hospitals can do to a person to keep them alive, Kevin, and I want you to promise me that you kids won’t allow that to happen to me.”

Kevin closed his message with these words, “There's going to be a void in my life from not hearing, ‘Hey, Bud,’ from my dad. But the Bible tells us, and I believe, that there will be a reunion in Christ’s kingdom. So I know that one day, I will hear those words, in that voice, again.”

Keen shared some humorous stories about a few mishaps Dad had over the years while attempting to help out. Those stories included the time he started Keen’s truck on fire while in the process of changing oil, and the time he killed everything in our garden with granules of ground killer which he mistook for fertilizer, after having just planted several varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables in perfectly straight rows.

But that was Dad. He wasn’t happy unless he was doing something to help his family. In fact, he rarely ended a telephone conversation without saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” And Dad wouldn’t have minded a bit that his friends and family had a few laughs at his funeral. Truthfully, that’s most likely the way he would have wanted it. As Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” and no one could tell a joke better than my father-in-law. He had a vast reservoir of good, clean jokes stored up in his memory, and he was always ready to pull one out whenever the opportunity arose. I think my favorite joke was one he used to tell about a grade school production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The teacher could only come up with two brown bear costumes and one white one for the baby bear. So when Papa Bear delivered his famous line, “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” - someone in the audience hollered out, “He might well ask!”

Dad’s sense of humor remained intact until the very end. One day when Kihm was trying to determine how coherent he was, she asked him if he knew her name. After a short pause, Dad looked up at her and said, “Well, it used to be Kihm.”

Even though we were all somewhat prepared for Dad’s death, Keen took it harder than he thought he would. When one of his colleagues asked him how he was doing, he said he felt like he used to be on solid ground, but now it seemed the ground beneath his feet had shifted. Later he said there are no words that can ease the pain of such a great loss – it’s like putting mud on a bruise. When I asked Keen to describe how he was feeling he said it reminded him of how parents feel when they take their kids to an amusement park and they run off and get lost in the crowd. The parents are scratching their heads and thinking, “But they were just here!” Keen said that’s how he felt, except this time he’s the kid and he’s looking around for his Dad, but he’s gone. And he just keeps thinking, “But he was just here.”

“Love only hurts when you can't give it away (to the ones you love).” ~ My friend, Kat

No one has felt the loss more than my mother-in-law, Jean. Recently, when Mom attended a Christmas production with Kihm and Kevin, the tears started flowing once again as the carolers sang, “Blue Christmas” (by Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson).

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me

And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling
You’ll be doing all right, with your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas

Although Jim and Jean shared fifty-three years together, it never seems quite long enough to spend with the love of your life. That’s when we have to hold on to our faith which assures us that because of God’s very first Christmas gift of His Son Jesus, we can all look forward to a glorious family reunion in Heaven – one that will last for all eternity. And we can find comfort in the fact that Dad will be “doing all right, with his Christmas of white.”

“In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” ~ John 14:2 (KJV)

Christmas 2004

Monday, December 11, 2006

Remembering a Life That Mattered (Part II)

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:A time to be born, and a time to die . . .”
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2a (NKJV)

Growin’ up a Kansas farm boy
Life was mostly havin’ fun
Ridin’ on his Daddy’s shoulders
Behind a view beneath the sun

Yes, and joy was just the thing that he was raised on
Love is just the way to live and die
Gold is just a windy Kansas wheat field
And blue is just a Kansas summer sky

Matthew ~ written and performed by John Denver

It is a beautiful Sunday in December as I sit down to pay tribute to my late father-in-law, Jim Umbehr. My only prayer is that I will be able to do him justice.

My father-in-law was born on October 20, 1929, to Keen Sr. and Augusta Ann Umbehr. The name they chose to give him was simply Jim. Not James, just Jim. Legend has it that his paternal grandmother, Ida Umbehr, took umbrage with the fact that little Jim wasn’t named after someone in the family the way his older brother Keen had been. So Grandma Ida took it upon herself to endow him with the unofficial middle name of Alfred, after her husband and Jim’s grandfather. So when the local newspaper would report on the comings and goings of families in the Alma area, young Jim was referred to as “Jimmy Alfred.” In fact, Jim himself was reportedly 32 years old before he obtained a copy of his birth certificate and discovered that he didn’t actually have a middle name. Years later, when we decided to give our second son his grandfather’s name for a middle name, we named him Joshua Jim Umbehr, instead of the more traditional form of the name – Joshua James.

Jim’s father Keen was a construction engineer who bid on various road construction jobs all over the country. This meant that the family of four moved around quite often. In fact, Jim was born in Seymour, Texas, and his brother Keen was born in Hutchinson, Kansas. Many times they would start school in one city and finish it in another. Jim even spent one year of grade school living with an aunt in Stafford, Kansas. (Little did he know that one day he would meet his future wife there.) But that all stopped when Jim was about nine years old and his parents decided to put down roots in Alma. His paternal grandparents, Alfred and Ida, had been one of the first settlers to the area, and Grandpa Alfred owned a variety store on Main Street. The family bought a farmhouse with some acreage on what is now known as Illinois Creek Road.

Jim’s father sadly passed away unexpectedly at the age of 48. Apparently, he suffered a fatal heart attack while building a stone fence. Jim was only 17 years old at the time. After Jim’s brother Keen graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in geology, he and his wife Helen took up residence in the family farmhouse and began farming the land and raising livestock and crops. Together they had three children; Jack, Iris, and Carol. (They now have five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.)

Brothers Jim and Keen

After graduating from Alma High School (now Wabaunsee High), Jim attended Kansas State University and joined the R.O.T.C. He also attempted to join the Army, but when they discovered that he didn’t have an eardrum in one ear, he was turned away.

Jim later found work in the oil industry, which eventually led him back to Stafford, Kansas, where he would meet a beautiful nursing student by the name of Doris Jean Bartlett. Jean was living in the nursing dorm when handsome Jim Umbehr arrived to pick up another girl for a date. Unbeknownst to Jim, his date had asked the other girls to make up an excuse for why she couldn’t come downstairs. When Jim realized he had been stood up, he looked around and asked if anyone else would like to go across the street and have a soda with him. Jean said that she’d like to go, and they hit it off right away. Several years later, on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, 1953, Jim and Jean Umbehr became man and wife. This past Tuesday would have been their 53rd wedding anniversary.

In a previous column written for Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary, I wrote about the adventurous life they led, traveling all over the world with Jim’s job as a salesman with an oil company, Dresser Industries. Together with their three children, Nancy Kihm, Keen Alfred, and Kevin Bruce, they lived in Africa, Singapore, and London. (Mom and Dad used to joke about how they would have gotten divorced a long time ago, but neither one of them would take the kids.) From those three children, they now have nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and one more on the way in February. (With many more still to come, I’m sure.)

Last May, Dad began having some problems, and the doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on his ureter, which connects the kidney to the bladder. The tumor was removed and later identified as Stage 4 sarcoma. At that time, the doctors believed they got it all, so they did not recommend chemotherapy or any other kind of additional treatment.

Keen and I saw Dad over the summer when he and Mom came for a visit. Thankfully, he was able to meet his great-granddaughter, Katelyn Seraphina during that visit.

(He and Mom had already met Emma Eileen earlier in the year when Erin and the boys had a layover in Houston.)

During that time, we noticed that Dad was becoming short of breath and would tire easily, but other than that, he seemed to be doing fairly well. Then in the fall, he began experiencing some other problems, including severe pain in his back. Since Keen’s sister Kihm had moved to Texas about a year ago, she was able to offer much-needed support to Mom and Dad throughout all the months of tests and appointments while the doctors tried to figure out what was going on. (Of course, Keen’s brother and his wife Falethesa have always lived near the folks, so they have provided an immeasurable amount of help and support over the years.) As recently as August, the bone scans did not reveal any signs that the cancer had spread.

Keen and I made plans to visit his parents at Thanksgiving. I flew down a couple of days early because Keen’s sister and mother had offered to help me with my Christmas card mailing. (As it turned out, Keen’s brother, wife and daughter Valorie pitched in, too.)

When Kihm picked me up at the airport, the first thing she told me was that there had been a noticeable difference in Dad’s condition over the previous three days. She said all he wanted to do was sleep. In fact, he was already in bed by the time I arrived, so I didn’t see him until the next morning at breakfast. As he walked into the living room ever so gingerly with Mom on one side and Kihm on the other, it was difficult for me to contain my shock. His face was ashen and his body, thin and frail. “Eileen is here, Jim,” Mom announced. Dad slowly lifted his head, and after spotting me across the room, he greeted me in a raspy voice. “Hi, Sweety.” I tried to keep my composure while I gave him a big hug and told him that I loved him. Then he kissed me on the cheek and said, "Love you, too." At that point, my emotions got the better of me, and I had to leave the room. I was simply not prepared to see how much Dad’s health had deteriorated since this past summer. It was just so hard to see him that way. When I found my mother-in-law in their bedroom at the back of the house, I broke down and cried. “I feel like I’m looking at a dying man,” I said as we hugged each other.

Shortly afterwards, Dad was sitting up at the kitchen table and he told Kihm that his back hurt. Then he looked up and said, “I guess that’s just part of it.” Kihm gave him a pain pill along with his other medications, and then she helped him eat his breakfast. “I want to go back to bed,” he said to anyone who would listen. “I just want to stretch out for an hour or so.” Kihm explained that he could get pneumonia if he stayed in bed all day and didn’t sit upright. After hearing this, Dad looked down at the floor and shook his head dejectedly. Then Kihm slowly helped him to his recliner in the living room.

Later on while Kihm and Mom were busy getting ready to take Dad to his doctor’s appointment, I knelt down by my father-in-law and rubbed his arm. “How are you doing, Dad?” I asked. With the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen, he seemed to be pleading with me. “I want to go back to bed.” “I know Dad,” I replied apologetically, “but they said you can’t.” With furrowed brows and a hint of indignation, he asked, “Who says I can’t go back to bed?” I told him that Kihm and Mom did. “Why can’t I go back to bed?” “Because they don’t want your lungs to fill up with fluid, Dad, and they’re both nurses, so they know what’s best for you. I’m sorry.” In a voice not much louder than a whisper, he repeated his desperate plea, “But I want to go back to bed.” It broke my heart to see my father-in-law suffer like that; this kind, gentle, generous, unassuming man whom I had known and loved for over 30 years.

While Kihm and Mom took Dad to the doctor for a bone scan, I stayed back to get started on my Christmas card mailing. When I turned my cell phone on, there was a jovial message from Keen waiting for me. He said he just wanted to make sure that everyone was working hard and not slacking off on the Christmas card assembly line. “Don’t be afraid to crack the whip if you have to,” he joked. I knew that I needed to prepare him, so I called him back right away. “Keen, I have to warn you,” I said. “This is not that kind of a trip. Your father has taken a drastic turn for the worst.” Then I called our son Josh, who immediately offered to drive to Texas with his dad. Apparently, Josh and Lisa had already talked about the possibility a few nights earlier, so Josh knew that Lisa would be all right with the idea. So Keen cancelled some appointments and Josh’s father-in-law Gary agreed to drive to Kansas City to baby sit Katelyn while Lisa was at work. Josh and Keen were on their way to Texas later that same afternoon, and they arrived the following morning. Even with the advance warning I had given him, Keen was shaken by his father’s physical appearance and weakened condition.

“We are given nine months to prepare to be born, but no one prepares us to die." ~ Patricia Van Kirk (my late sister)

To be continued . . .

Mom and Dad picking blueberries in happier times

Helen, Jim, Keen, and Jean