Monday, June 25, 2007

Changes on the Horizon

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NKJV)

This week I’m writing to inform you about some changes on the horizon for me and my column. First of all, I’ll be taking the next six weeks off from writing Reflections, so my next column won’t be until the second week in August. Hopefully I’ll have some news to report by then about when my book will be available for purchase.

My main reason for taking this time off is to concentrate on working through the details of the publishing process with Xulon Press. In addition, Keen and I are in charge of planning this year’s Van Kirk Family Reunion which will be held in Colorado next month. So I’ll have my hands full.

“They say the two hardest things about doing something is getting started and getting finished.” ~ Anonymous

When I start writing again in August, I plan to implement a few new ideas for creating some diversity with my column. These various ideas will not appear in any specific order. I will simply alternate them to provide more variety to my writing.

The first idea involves interviewing senior citizens (primarily those over 80) and writing about their life stories. I’ve always believed that every life is a story in itself – complete with joys, sorrows and lessons learned – which consequently makes for some fascinating reading. The title of this segment will be: “Every Life a Story.”

The second idea involves periodically publishing a “Dear Abby” type of format titled, “Ask Eileen.” In order to pull that off, however, I will need your help. The basic premise of this feature would be to offer Bible-based answers to everyday problems. So if you have a question you’ve always wondered about, please email it to me at:, and I'll do my best to research the answer/ solution from the Bible. If I can’t provide an answer, I’ll try to find someone who can. Keep in mind that your questions, along with my response, may be used in a future column. However, you don’t need to include your name. In fact, even if you do include your name, I won’t use it in the column. All in all, I think it sounds kind of fun and I’d like to give it a try. Once again, it will only work if people choose to participate.

My third idea is to have a “Guest Poet” week where I will simply publish a poem by one of my friends such as Patricia Barrett or Connie Hinnen Cook. That will provide me with a built-in break or additional time to work on a future column.

Lastly, I currently have hundreds of topics on a variety of issues for use in future columns. These topic ideas are listed on my computer under the heading, “Reflections in Progress.” Occasionally, I will choose one of the topics to write about. The title I’ve chosen for this segment will be: “Living and Learning.”

My primary goal in all of this is to get away from sharing a weekly play-by-play account of every detail of our life. Even though our life seems to provide a never-ending supply of material to write about and I could most likely continue my current pattern ad nauseam, I just think it’s time for me to branch out into other areas. I mean – enough about us already!

I guess that about wraps it up for this, my shortest column on record. And in the words of the famous Nat King Cole song, I hope you all enjoy these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”

I’ll catch you on the flip side. In the meantime, keep looking up!

"I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber. . . "

~ Psalm 121:1-3

Monday, June 18, 2007

One in a Million Dream

"I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

~ Henry David Thoreau

This past weekend Keen and I attended the Symphony in the Flint Hills near Eskridge. It was an incredible experience to be seated in the open prairie with 6,000 people listening to beautiful music while enjoying a breathtaking view of the Flint Hills and a sunset painted by the Creator’s own hand.

On a different subject; recently I was talking with an author who said that he spent five years and tens of thousands of dollars on agents who assured him that he would get his fees back when they located a publisher for his book. The publisher never came, and he ended up self-publishing. He stated that he doesn’t anticipate recouping the money spent; however, the book has opened doors for him with his consulting business. He also gave me the statistics on how difficult it is for new authors to be picked up by one of the big publishing companies, and it is literally one in a million. That’s why he advises other first-time authors to have a primary source of income and not to plan on using their book as a revenue stream. While his advice was discouraging, it was true and helped confirm that I was making the right decision by self-publishing.

Lately my manuscript editor and I have been fine-tuning some of the details of the book before I turn it over to Xulon Press. This week she will be proof-reading it one more time in hopes of catching any grammatical or spelling errors before it goes to press. By next week, I should be ready to send it off to Xulon, and after that we’re looking at 45-60 days before it will be available to the public. At that time, anyone who wants to buy a copy will be able to go to several different web sites to purchase the book – and that will be that.

Although I would have liked to strike a deal with the New York Literary Agency which expressed interest in my book early on, I am satisfied with knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do – even though it took me much longer than I originally anticipated. This version of the book is well documented and tells both sides of the story. It contains letters from lawyers, newspaper articles, minutes of commission meetings, judges'rulings, court transcripts and personal experiences we had along the way which arose from Keen’s decision to express his personal opinions about the actions of the Wabaunsee County Commissioners. As I have shared with you before, the sequel to this book will be the version I am most anxious to share. It will contain word for word excerpts from my personal journals, portraying the behind-the-scenes realities of what it was like for our family to withstand years of conflict culminating in a five-year legal battle.

I’ve always had a dream that there would be a book and a movie about our story, and with the publication of this book, part of that dream will become a reality. I have personally been inspired by so many movies based on real life stories about people who overcame difficult circumstances. Our story conveys such a tale, but only because God’s grace was with us every step of the way. We claim no personal credit for the unexpected events that have arisen from such an unlikely tool as a trashman and his wife. How could we? The only explanation for why or how we survived fifteen years of on-again, off-again conflict with the commissioners is by the grace and goodness and faithfulness of God.

The Bible says that as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts, than our thoughts. It also says that we should not despise the days of small beginnings. So if God can use a trashman to change the law of the land for private contractors across the nation, then who knows what He can or will do with my simple, self-published book. All I know is that I believe God is still in the miracle-working business and that all things are possible for him who believes.

“. . . [A]s the Scripture says, What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and has not entered into the heart of man, all that, God has prepared – made and keeps ready – for those who love Him, that is, for those who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed.”

~ I Corinthians 1:9 (Amp)

In closing, I would like to share something that my stepmother emailed me recently. I think it ties in perfectly with the message I am trying to convey.

“When you see God’s hand in everything, it is easy to leave everything in God’s hands.” ~ Anonymous


A basketball in my hands is worth about $19.00.
A basketball in Michael Jordan's hands is worth about $33 million.
It depends whose hands it's in.

A baseball in my hands is worth about $6.00.
A baseball in Roger Clemens' hands is worth $4.75 million.
It depends on whose hands it's in.

A tennis racket is useless in my hands.
A tennis racket in Andre Agassi's hands is worth millions.
It depends whose hands it's in.

A rod in my hands will keep away an angry dog.
A rod in Moses' hands will part the mighty sea.
It depends whose hands it's in.

A slingshot in my hands is a kid's toy.
A slingshot in David's hand is a mighty weapon.
It depends whose hands it's in.

Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches.
Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in Jesus' hands will feed thousands.
It depends whose hands it's in.

Nails in my hands might produce a birdhouse.
Nails in Jesus Christ's hands will produce salvation for the entire world.
It depends whose hands it's in.

So put your concerns, your worries, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your families, and your relationships in God's hands...
Because it depends whose hands it's in.

"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us."

~ Ephesians 3:20

More Scenes from The Symphony in The Flint Hills

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cause for Celebration

“A day merely survived is no cause for celebration. You are not here to fritter away your precious hours when you have the ability to accomplish so much by making a slight change in your routine. No more busy work. No more hiding from success. Leave time, leave space, to grow. Now. Now! Not tomorrow!”

~ Og Mandino, American Essayist and Psychologist (1923-1996)

My first “cause for celebration” involves a long-awaited progress report on my book. On May 31st, I made the decision to have my book published by a company called Xulon Press. Although I had to pay them, instead of them paying me, at least it will be published and available online for anyone who wants to purchase it. (I will receive a small royalty fee for every book sold.) But the important thing for me is that I accomplished my goal and completed the task I’ve been working on for so many years.

This past weekend, Keen and I had two more reasons to celebrate: our granddaughter Katelyn’s 1st birthday and our 29th anniversary.

The celebration got off to an early start on Friday morning when I received a surprise delivery from Rags to Riches Flowers and Gifts in Alma. The gorgeous bouquet of flowers came with a note from Keen which read: “You are the love of my life.”

“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.”

~ Paul Sweeney

The note and flowers brought tears to my eyes. You see, Keen has never been one to send flowers for special occasions – at least not on a consistent basis. And there was a time when this caused me a great deal of (needless) frustration. I recall one rather heated argument when I expressed my dismay over this fact by angrily telling Keen: “There are THREE dates you need to remember! I was born on July 3rd; we were married on June 10th, and I’M A MOTHER!!!!!”

One Valentine’s Day while Keen was in law school he stopped by the flower shop on his way home, only to learn (to his horror) that they were completely sold out of flowers. Not wishing to incur my spousal wrath, Keen asked the clerk if she would sign a note stating that he had attempted to buy flowers. But I am happy to report that I’ve matured since then, and have come to realize that it is so much more important to have a husband who treats me well 365 days a year, than to have one who sends me flowers a couple times a year – and then treats me poorly the rest of the time. (For those of you who have both – count your blessings!)

"But love . . . is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day."

~ Nicholas Sparks

I’d like to share the following email my sister Mary sent me after I forwarded a picture of the bouquet and note I received from Keen:

“You are so blessed to be reaffirmed every day! Doesn't it make you feel brave? And now you get to enjoy those beautiful flowers as a reminder of the time, effort and emotion that he put into that gesture. He is a great guy! You both deserve each other. Could you have ever imagined all of this on a warm night in Singapore? I am so happy for you!”

Here is my reply:

“You are such a poet and a gifted writer. Yes, it does make me feel brave, although I’ve never put it in so many words. But I have often said that when Keen and I are in perfect harmony, I can move mountains; but when we’re not, I’m completely stymied and can't accomplish anything. Maybe that's a good thing, huh? And no, I never imagined this on that warm Singapore night in March of '74. But I guess you did, because your first question to me when I returned from our first date was: ‘Do you think he’s someone you could marry?’”

And Mary’s response:

“It makes me happy to know that you feel brave, because it means that you truly feel and appreciate the strength you get from being completely loved, supported and celebrated.”


Since Keen arrived home early on Friday, we decided to drive to Council Grove and take our chances that the Cottage House would have an opening. Sure enough, they had two rooms available, one of which was the Bridal Suite. We were so pleased! As always, we enjoyed our stay, along with a wonderful meal at the Hays House and a peaceful stroll around the historic town. Before we left on Saturday, I also enjoyed a brief visit with my dear friend, Rebecca Miller.

Along the way to Wichita we stopped at several small towns such as Peabody, Marion, Pilsen, and Burdick (population 60).

When we arrived at Josh and Lisa’s lovely new home, we were greeted by the birthday girl, her parents, and maternal grandparents, Gary and Linda Kaus.

It was such a treat to watch Katelyn open her presents and demolish her lady bug birthday cake (homemade by Mommy).

Not surprisingly, Katelyn seemed to enjoy the wrapping paper, ribbons and boxes more than the actual gifts!

Katelyn with Grandma and Grandpa Kaus and....

...Grandma and Grandpa Umbehr

After the party, we all went for a leisurely walk and enjoyed seeing the beautiful homes in the nearby College Hill neighborhood.

That evening, Keen and I took our chances once again, and were blessed to find another beautiful suite open at the famous hotel in the Old Town district of Wichita. The 100-year-old landmark was originally the home of the Morton-Simmons Warehouse, distributor of Keen Kutter tools, whose company slogan was, “The Recollection of Quality Remains Long after the Price is Forgotten.” The historic building was given new life in 1998 when entrepreneur Jack DeBoer began what would become an 11-million-dollar renovation project. The result is a luxurious 115-room hotel simply named: The Hotel at Old Town. I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to commemorate a special event. (

During our drive home, my husband of 29 years topped off our weekend by taking my hand, and with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, saying: “I love you so much. I’m just crazy about you.”

I ask: What more could a white-haired, breast-less, soon-to-be 49-year old woman possibly want?

“Love is like a mustard seed; planted by God and watered by men.”

~ Muda Saint Michael

Monday, June 11, 2007

Catching Up

“A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.” ~ Ogden Nash

So much has happened lately that I should have titled this column: “Catching my breath!” At any rate, it would probably take me a month’s worth of columns to go into detail on the “current events” of our lives, but in the interest of brevity, I’ve decided to come up with a condensed version.

The excitement started off with a welcome visit from Jared, Erin, Asher, Gabe and little Emma. We had a wonderful reunion with everyone in one place for the first time in almost two years.

Proud Daddy and Uncle Jared holding Emma & Katelyn after the girl cousins meet for the first time.

Josh’s good friend Travis, and Kirk’s girlfriend, Claudia,took turns with the camera in an attempt to capture one photograph of our entire family for this year’s Christmas card.

Kirk & Claudia

In spite of taking dozens of pictures, there was something amiss with almost every single one. For example, Jared lifted Asher and Gabe up on his shoulders, and in several shots, you couldn’t even see Jared; it was like the boys were just suspended in mid-air.

Then Keener’s dog Art and Travis’ dog Ollie added some excitement as well as they attempted to wiggle free.

Of course we had the proverbial crying baby shots.

"I'm tired of family pictures, Grandpa!"

And no family picture-taking session would be complete without somebody giving somebody else bunny ears!

Two weekends ago we enjoyed the double celebration of Kirk’s graduation from Manhattan High School and Josh’s graduation from the University of Kansas Medical School. Keen’s entire family (including our 3-month-old great niece, Melanie Jean) all came up from Texas to help us celebrate both events. It was our first gathering since Keen’s father passed away, and we really felt his absence.

On Friday, we hosted a barbecue with friends and family to celebrate Kirk’s graduation. We had a nice crowd, including Kirk’s former babysitter, Janie Barnes, and several of his Alma friends, making the evening extra special (and nostalgic).

The next day Josh and Lisa treated the entire family to a wonderful meal down on the Plaza. Afterwards we went to their apartment for cookies and iced tea before leaving for the graduation and hooding ceremony. When they announced, “Dr. Joshua Jim Umbehr”, Keener expressed his pride and enthusiasm by shouting: “That’s my brother!” At which time Josh turned to the audience and said, “And that’s my brother.” It was an amazing day commemorating an amazing accomplishment, and no one cried more than Grandma Umbehr.

“I just wish Jim could have been here,” she said.

The weather was exceptionally beautiful all weekend, which was a real blessing. On Sunday, we all headed to Bramlage Coliseum for Kirk’s graduation.

Watching our “baby” graduate somehow made me feel like I was graduating, too. Oh, I know we never really “graduate” from being mothers. But there is a definite change in our role after our children turn eighteen and graduate from high school. It just felt like a very significant day for me, too, considering the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my life being a stay-at-home mom.

On May 22nd, Emma Eileen celebrated her own little milestone when she turned the "Big 01!" She is growing up so fast. From the pictures they sent of her birthday party, it looks like she’s gotten bigger just since we saw her.

On May 24th, our son Keen II underwent surgery at Mercy Health Center to remove his enlarged tonsils. Typically, tonsils are removed in childhood, but Keener never really had any problems with chronic sore throats when he was young. Then in his late teens and early 20’s, he had several episodes of strep throat, which caused the doctors to advise him to have the tonsils removed. Dr. Barlow in Manhattan confirmed the diagnosis, so surgery was scheduled between the end of Keen’s regular classes at K-State and the beginning of his summer classes. (By the end of this summer, he will have taken 53 credit hours in one year.) When the nurse was escorting me back to Keener’s room after his surgery, she said, “I had my tonsils removed two years ago, and I would never do it again!” That gave me an idea of the amount and severity of pain Keen would be in for, and sure enough, she was right. After the 10th day Keen said he was just “sick of being sick.” But thank God, he came through it pretty well, with only a slight complication when the doctor had to go back and cauterize the wound to prevent bleeding. (The definition of cauterize is to burn tissue to stop bleeding: to seal a wound, or destroy abnormal or infected tissue, with a heated instrument, a laser, an electric current, or a caustic substance. In Keen’s case, they used a caustic substance. Ouch!)

Keener before and after surgery

On a lighter note, this Thursday, June 7th, Katelyn Seraphina will be celebrating her 1st birthday. It’s so hard to believe.

We’ll be traveling to Wichita this weekend for her birthday party which will be held in their new house. (Josh will be doing his three-year residency at Wesley Medical Center.)

So I think that brings us all up to date. The next big event in our lives will be the celebration of our 29th wedding anniversary on June 10th. Since we’ll already be in Wichita for Katelyn’s birthday, we’ll probably break tradition and stay in a hotel down there. (We almost always go to the Cottage House in Council Grove.) I’ll fill you in on most of the details next week! :)

“When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses.” ~Joyce Brothers

Setting Sail

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.” ~ Mark Twain

This weekend two of our four sons will be celebrating major milestones and setting sail on two adventurous life journeys. Our second son, Joshua Jim, will be graduating from medical school, and our youngest son, Kirk Van, will be graduating from high school. We are so proud of their accomplishments, as any parents would be, and our hearts overflow with hopes and prayers for their continued success.

Several years ago, Michael Ryan from the Topeka Capital-Journal editorial board wrote an inspiring message for graduates which he permitted me to share. He wrote in part about the pursuit of happiness:

“The late Dr. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor and world-renowned psychiatrist, suggested that . . . you [should] pursue the types of things that bring lasting happiness, and then just let it ensue.

What are those things? Well, one is simply to give yourself over to a cause that transcends yourself. It is one of life's most intriguing ironies that the happiest people in the world seem to be those who think about themselves the least.

Another route to happiness is simply doing the right thing. They may not have made this point as clear as you'd like in school, either: Doing the right thing will be the most difficult thing you ever do.

It sounds bizarre, doesn't it? You would think that doing the right thing would come easily. But it's the hardest thing of all. It means self-sacrifice -- perhaps even giving up your life for someone else. It means eschewing self-gratification -- and that never feels good.
Perhaps more surprisingly, doing the right thing means standing up to an occasional storm of criticism. Oddly enough, often it follows that doing the right thing will make you controversial, even hated. Standing up for the right thing often puts you in the way of what others want. And they will do whatever it takes to move you aside.

How do you know what is right? We most often do, although we like to fool ourselves into thinking we don't. And at those times you really don't know, you take your best shot based upon what you believe. And you hope for the best.

Hope for the best. Now, isn't that what graduation is all about?”

In his book titled Simple Truths, author Kent Nerburn encourages the reader to think of work as a vocation, which comes from the Latin word for calling – something that calls to you, that gives voice to who you are and what you want to say in the world. He suggests that we should really consider the job we do and see if it is how we want to spend our time. “If it is not,” he writes, “your job will become your prison rather than the vehicle of your dreams. And a person without dreams is only half alive. . . .Find what it is that burns in your heart and do it. Choose a vocation, not a job, and your life will have meaning and your days will have peace.”


When I contacted the author of this next poem about permission to republish, she wrote: “How very sweet of you to honor my work in this way. Yes, of course you may print it, and I hope it is a source of comfort to those whom it will reach.”

Sandra Sturtz Hauss wrote this poem in 1982 for her son, but I believe every parent will relate to the sentiments she shares. I know it definitely captured the essence of my heart’s desire for my children.

My Wishes For You
By Sandra Sturtz Hauss

May you find serenity and tranquility
in a world you may not always understand.

May the pain you have known
and the conflict you have experienced
give you the strength to walk through life
facing each new situation with courage and optimism.

Always know that there are those
whose love and understanding will always be there,
even when you feel most alone.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch, and a warm smile
be yours every day of your life,
and may you give these gifts
as well as receive them.

May the teachings of those you admire
become part of you,
so that you may call upon them.

Remember, those whose lives you have touched
and who have touched yours
are always a part of you,
even if the encounters were less than you would have wished.
It is the content of the encounter
that is more important than its form.

May you not become too concerned with material matters,
but instead place immeasurable value
on the goodness in your heart.
Find time in each day to see beauty and love
in the world around you.

Realize that what you feel you lack in one regard
you may be more than compensated for in another.
What you feel you lack in the present
may become one of your strengths in the future.
May you see your future as one filled with promise and possibility.
Learn to view everything as a worthwhile experience.

May you find enough inner strength
to determine your own worth by yourself,
and not be dependent on
another's judgment of your accomplishments.

May you always feel loved.


Finally, this is a poem I wrote four years ago when Josh was getting ready to graduate from Kansas State University in May, get married to Lisa Marie Kaus in July, and enter medical school at the University of Kansas in August.

Just Yesterday
By Eileen Umbehr

Our second-born son just turned twenty-two
Could that be possible? Could that be true?

Didn’t he just, learn how to walk?
Didn’t he just, learn how to talk?
Wasn’t he just in his pre-school play?

Wasn’t that just yesterday?

Didn’t he just, lose his front tooth?
Didn’t he just make friends, with Travis Guth?
Didn’t he just celebrate his 8th birthday?

Wasn’t that just yesterday?

Didn’t he just learn how to ride a bike?
Didn’t his dad and brothers just build their own kite?
Didn’t he just get his license last May?

Wasn’t that just yesterday?

Now he’s graduating from college and off to med school
And in July he’ll marry his precious jewel

Didn’t we just bring him home from the hospital that day?

Wasn’t that just yesterday?

Congratulations and God’s blessings to Josh, Kirk, and all the area graduates and their parents!

Eileen with Josh (age 6 months)

Eileen with Kirk (age 10 months)