Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Such is Life: Traveling

“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” ~Proverbs 26:12

I guess I’ll have to abandon my Dear Abby/Ask Eileen idea because I haven’t received any questions from anybody. This made me wonder if I unwittingly came across as someone who thinks she knows it all. I sincerely hope not, because that is definitely not the impression I meant to give. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I know that I don’t have all of the answers, but I believe God gave us His Word as a road map to follow if we want to lead a happy life.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
~ Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

“[Christians] . . . do not have all the answers. They do not have God in their pocket. We cannot answer every question that any bright boy in the back row might ask. We have only light enough to walk by.”

~ Howard A. Johnson

I was simply hoping to use it as an opportunity to seek out answers from the Bible to see what it has to say on various subjects. But for now, that idea will have to be shelved. However, if you change your mind, just send your questions to: AskEileen@aol.com.

Until then, I would like to introduce a substitute segment for my column titled, “Such is Life.” This category will cover some experiences encountered along our journey of life that encompass a combination of joy and frustration. This week I will focus on the subject of traveling, because Keen and I just returned from spending the weekend with Jared, Erin, Asher, Gabe and Emma, in Ohio.

Our whirlwind weekend began when we arrived at the Kansas City airport in plenty of time to catch our 8:00 flight on Friday night. However, we were greeted by a “Delayed” message, with no explanation about why our flight had been delayed or for how long. So Keen and I decided to pass the time by logging onto www.youtube.com and watching funny videos on our computer. We were laughing hysterically at the various clips – and we didn’t care who heard us. It’s really true what the Bible says about laughter doing good like a medicine. We completely forgot about the inconvenience. Then a passenger on the same flight informed us that the airline was going to provide refreshments. So we packed up our belongings and made our way to the table for some cookies and water. The next thing we knew they were bringing blankets and pillows for everyone – something we didn’t interpret as a good sign. Before long, a voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that the flight had been canceled and they would be putting us all up in a hotel near the airport. So we got in line for our hotel voucher and learned that we would be flying out at 8:10 a.m. the following morning.

While waiting in line we struck up a conversation with two nice ladies named Twila and Pauline who had just returned from a two-week trip to Alaska. After we realized that there were more passengers than could fit in the hotel shuttle van, Keen decided to retrieve our Durango and drive to the hotel ourselves. We invited Twila and Pauline to ride with us, and they gladly accepted.

On our way to the hotel we got lost, but not for long. Then Twila received a phone call from someone wanting to know when she would be arriving home. After she hung up, I commented that they probably said, “You did what? You got in a car with two strangers?!” Then I said, “Just tell them, ‘yes, they were strange, but in a good kind of way!’” Oh, we laughed and laughed with our two new friends. They later said they felt God took care of them by sending us their way, and we told them they helped us, too, by easing the stress of the unexpected turn of events.

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and headed back to the KCI airport to catch our morning flight. After Keen left to park our car I realized that I left my cell phone plugged into the outlet in the hotel room. So I called the hotel and they said their shuttle van just happened to be approaching our terminal. So when Keen returned he caught the shuttle back to the hotel, retrieved my cell phone, and hopped right back on the shuttle back to the airport. Then when he reached security he realized that he forgot to pack his shaving kit with all those impermissible bottles of shaving cream, cologne and shampoo. The TSA agents gave him the option of going back to the terminal to purchase a Ziploc bag, (as if putting the items in a plastic bag would really make any difference). Thank God he declined and opted to allow them to confiscate the items because when I reached the gate I learned that they just made the last call for our flight. “Keen Umbehr, please report to gate number 30 immediately. Keen Umbehr.” We made it just under the wire! Later I contemplated how disastrous it would have been to have our evening flight canceled and then miss our next flight the following morning! But all is well that ends well, and we had a wonderful weekend, despite the hassles that go along with traveling!

Enjoying time in the pool

Gramma Eileen with Emma Eileen

In closing, I’d like to share a poem I wrote about a trip my sister Mary and I took several years ago.

There's No Place Like Home

By Eileen Umbehr

We got up at four,
We were right on time;
Then we caught our shuttle,
And everything was fine.

Mary hopped on her plane,
At seven fifteen,
And one hour later,
Came the plane for Eileen.

But lo and behold,
Be still my heart,
There was rain in Dallas,
So the plane could not depart.

This caused a chain of events,
From which I could not escape,
So I just read my magazine,
And accepted my fate.

I arrived late in Dallas,
With quite a jolt,
The stewardess said, "Run!"
So away I did bolt.

I ran like the wind,
Weaving my way through the crowd,
"Excuse me! Coming through!"
I hollered out loud.

Well, I made it to the gate,
I'm happy to report,
But I was all out of breath,
And all out of sorts.

So I relaxed in my seat,
And prepared for the ride,
I was just so relieved,
That I had survived.

When we landed in Kansas City,
I thought my troubles were behind me,
But oh, I was mistaken,
Soon some others would find me.

As I waited and waited,
For my luggage to appear,
My heart just sank,
As I realized my worst fear.

You guessed it! No luggage!
I had to file a claim,
And I returned home,
Losing more than I'd gained.

So for now, at least,
I have no intention to roam,
Because I'm more convinced than ever,
There's no place like home!

Country road in front of our home

Monday, August 27, 2007

Farewell, Friend

“Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep in death, that you may not grieve for them, as the rest do who have no hope beyond the grave. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep in death.”

~ I Thessalonians 4:13,14 (Amp)

I was saddened to receive word that my dear, sweet friend, Rebecca Miller had passed away on Friday, August 17th.

The last time I visited with Rebecca was on June 7, 2007. I remember the date because it was our granddaughter Katelyn’s first birthday. Keen and I stayed at the Cottage House to celebrate our anniversary before driving to Wichita for the party. I’m so thankful that I stopped by to see Rebecca before we left town.

Rebecca was her usual cheerful, positive self – ever an inspiration. I told her she was very special, and without hesitation she returned the compliment. I noticed the unique and beautiful quilt on her bed and asked if I could take a picture of it. I believe she said a good friend made it for her years ago. I commented on the fact that she didn’t have any pillows on her bed. Rebecca replied that she didn’t sleep with a pillow. Gesturing to my flat chest, I told her that ever since my mastectomy, I can also sleep on my stomach without a pillow. Rebecca immediately answered, “That doesn’t matter. What matters is that your body is free from active cancer!” Once again, my friend reminded me what was really important in life. Rebecca had a way of doing that.

Rebecca's quilt

I will miss my special friend. And yet, I know that she is in a better place, and that God’s heavenly band of angels has one more violin player. I also have the assurance that I will see Rebecca again one day, and she will walk tall and will greet me with a plate of fresh baked cookies. In the meantime, I will focus on the blessing of meeting Rebecca, and thank God for the gift of knowing her. I’m fairly certain that’s the way Rebecca would have wanted it.

And so, in honor of Rebecca’s life and unforgettable, generous spirit, I would like to share the column I wrote for her shortly after our first meeting in June, 2004.

Picture of Contentment

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”

~ I Timothy 6:6-8 (NKJV)

A few weeks ago I received the nicest letter from a woman by the name of Rebecca Miller of Council Grove. (Rebecca writes the Wilsey news for the Council Grove newspaper.) She wanted to let me know that she had been getting acquainted with me by reading my column in The Prairie Post. “It’s my opinion that you are a talented writer, and I enjoy reading what you write. Keep on writing.”

Her letter was a great source of encouragement to me, but nothing could compare with the joy of meeting Rebecca and visiting with her face to face. Coincidentally, she lives right across the street from The Cottage House where Keen and I went to celebrate our 26th anniversary. Although I only spent an hour with Rebecca, she made such a strong impression on me.

Rebecca Miller was born on November 23, 1919, at her grandparents’ home southwest of White City, Kansas. She spent the first 50 years of her life on farms around Wilsey, raising cattle, hogs and chickens and tending her garden. The next 30 years she lived in the town of Wilsey. After her house burned down several years ago, Rebecca moved to an apartment in Council Grove. She never complained about the fire. Instead, she chose to maintain a positive outlook. “Maybe it turned out for the best for me to move into Council Grove,” she stated. Rebecca loves her apartment and all her neighbors. “Nobody goes by Mr. or Mrs. here – we all just go by our first names.” I’m sure her neighbors love her, too. She’s known as “The Cookie Lady” because of the cookies and treats she bakes for the other residents and mail carriers. She gave me some of her delicious applesauce cookies when I visited.

In the short time I spent with Rebecca, I learned that she has some very strong opinions. She never married (“I don’t feel sorry for myself one little bit”), and she stated very plainly that she doesn’t want to be called a spinster. “You can call me an old maid, but don’t call me a spinster!” she explained. I told her that I wouldn’t think of calling her either one! Rebecca also dislikes the title “Ms.” She prefers to be addressed by her first name or by Miss Miller. “When I get free address labels that say Ms. Rebecca Miller, I just use my other ones. I have plenty of labels; I don’t need to use them.”

Rebecca has an ailment which prevents her from standing upright. She called it the “Harmon stoop” since several members of her family were inflicted with it, too. But she doesn’t let it bother her or hold her back. Instead, she talks about how grateful she is that she doesn’t suffer from arthritis and how blessed she is to have perfect eyesight, without the need for glasses. With Rebecca, the glass is always half full.

Rebecca proudly told me all about her sister, Jane Dixon, who also lives in Council Grove and is 17 years her junior. “She’s so good to me,” she said. “She takes me to the grocery store and I just hand her my list. She’s much taller than I ever was so she can reach the items on the shelf. Then she carries them to my apartment for me. All I do is push the cart and write the check.”

When Rebecca was in high school, she wanted to learn how to play the violin in the worst way. But times were tough and her family couldn’t afford to pay $12.50 for a violin. Then one day she overheard a boy at school talking about how he sold his violin to another girl, but she had never paid him. Rebecca asked the boy how much he was selling it for and he told her $5.00. Somehow her family managed to scrape together enough money to buy the violin. “The music teacher wasn’t very happy with me for buying the violin away from the other girl, because she had more musical talent than I did,” Rebecca said. “But she bought another violin later, so everything worked out fine.”

Rebecca remarked that God didn’t give her the talent to sing or play music by ear, but thankfully He gave her the talent to read music and play the violin. “The talents I don’t have make me more under- standing of others who can’t do certain things, and the talents I do have make me grateful for the gifts God did give me.”

When I asked Rebecca if she would play a tune for me, she agreed and proceeded to play a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. She enjoys playing for her church in Wilsey where she taught Sunday school for many years. I was very surprised to learn that Rebecca is still using the same violin her parents bought for her so many years ago. Now that’s a picture of contentment!

Someone once said that joy, like sorrow, is infectious. Spending an hour with Rebecca Miller would brighten anyone’s day.

May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

~ An Irish friendship wish

God’s blessings to you, my friend ~


Rebecca Miller, June 7, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Guest Poet: Gloria Gaither

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us . . .”
~ Ephesians 5:1,2a (NASB)


By Gloria Gaither
Copyright © 1977 Gloria Gaither.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Does love have a beginning that a meeting’s measured by?
Does it happen in a moment like white lightening from the sky?
Can you tell me its dimensions – just this wide and just this high?
When did I start to love you?

Tell me just how many dates it takes for love to really start?
And just how many kisses will turn “love” into an art?
When does the magic moment come to give away your heart?
When did I start to love you?

Was the day we talked of Browning the beginning of it all?
Or the time we walked the meadow and fields of corn so tall
That we felt like naughty children hiding from their mother’s call?
When did I start to love you?

I remember just how timidly your first new song you shared –
And by the way you grinned I knew you were glad you dared
Although my evaluation wasn’t worth much, still you cared.
When did I start to love you?

Was it when I went to meet you in a gown of snowy white?
Was it when we signed the license and drove off into the night?
Was it when I gave myself to you and felt that it was right?
When did I start to love you?

When I feared you wouldn’t love me if you knew how I’d been wrong,
And I spent a week in mis’ry, but you’d known it all along –
And you loved me ‘cause you love me, and not because I’m strong?
Was it then I came to love you?

Was it when we knew for certain ‘bout the baby on the way?
Did it start the day you told me I looked pretty – shaped that way?
Or did something special happen as we waited that last day…
When did I start to love you?

Did it happen when we held her in our arms for the first time?
Was it later when I nursed her, this creation – yours and mine?
And I knew compared to what we held the world’s not worth a dime!
When did I start to love you?

There were nights we stayed and prayed by babies, fevers burning hot
When we really didn’t know if they would make it through or not –
Then we’d face the dawn’s beginning, thanking God for what we’ve got –
When did I start to love you?

Was it rushing to the clinic with a bone in Amy’s throat?
Was it nights you saw me shivering and wrapped me in your coat?
Was it when I cleaned your bureau drawer, and found you’d saved my note?
When did I start to love you?

Was it when I saw you showing Benji how to be a man?
How to sheath his strength in meekness, how to gently take a stand –
How that only strength of character can salvage this old land?
When did I start to love you?

When you held me close in silence, when there were no words for grief–
When the line of empty caskets gaped at all I called belief –
When the “amen” was so final, I had you, and dared to leave –
Was it then I came to love you?

What is this stuff love’s made of that can cause the world to glow?
Is it that you made the segments that I brought you, well and whole?
Was it when I came to recognize the poet in your soul?
That I began to love you?

It’s not of lace and chocolate that valentines are made –
All such things are lovely but disintegrate and fade –
But love – when once it grows to be – is richer far than jade –
I only know – I love you!

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
~ II Peter 1:5-8

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again (Sort of)

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

~Desmond Tutu, South African teacher, cleric, activist, Nobel Peace Prize, 1984

We had another successful Van Kirk family reunion in Colorado with great weather, wonderful food, and lots of rafting and hiking. I’ve included a group picture taken at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort.

As the title of this column suggests, I am only “sort of” ready to resume writing my column. Therefore, I will be relying on my friend Larry Welch to provide a guest column this week from his collection of stories titled, “On the Run in Singapore.” It is a tribute to his late friend, Rosemary Williams.


Rosemary Williams, 60, of Silver Spring, Maryland died June 4 in her home after a year-long fight with cancer. She was Director of Howard University's Cancer Center Tumor Registry.

Rosemary was a long distance friend and former colleague in the struggle to overcome breast cancer. I never met a more kind or thoughtful woman. For 10 years we worked together in Washington to raise dollars for breast cancer research and treatment; and create awareness for the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Well respected in her community, Rosemary was a powerful influence on others to do better in their lives.

Several months before she died, Rosemary sent me the following story she had written about her brother Conrad. I am reprinting it as a tribute to Rosemary and her brother, and to help us all think about doing better in our lives.

The Greatest Danger of All

"You know the things we fear most are not the things that happen. Often times the dangers come from the things that we do not fear, because those are the ones that we are not keeping alert to prevent from happening.

"My handsome brother, Conrad, was the first born of my parents’ three children. He was born May 6, 1942, in Homestead, Pennsylvania and except for one year in the Washington, DC area while he was on WOL Radio (as music director and newscaster from 1969-1970), he spent his life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also spent three years in the Army from 1960 to 1963.

"At about age 11 or 12, Conrad decided he wanted to box in the Golden Gloves. My parents were terrified. They knew one young man personally who had a permanent brain injury from boxing. My brother had a mind of his own and boxed for a number of years as an amateur and had a few professional fights in his early 20’s. He lost only one fight which was a decision. My father believed he would have done well as a welterweight boxer, but lost 3 years from the sport when he joined the military at age 18.

"Another danger came as one ended! My brother joined the US Army's 82nd Airborne. Of all things, he was jumping out of airplanes! My mother and I prayed daily for this paratrooper. Years later, my brother shared with me that he could not believe he was jumping out of planes. He had to be young to have done that. He went through a number of years when he would not fly in a commercial jet, because he was afraid of planes after an incident over the Gulf of Mexico. He and other soldiers were returning to Fort Bragg from Panama when one of the plane’s engines went out. My brother was at the door to parachute out, but the other guys stopped him and they all made it back to Fort Bragg on one engine.

"He married and had a family after military service. My family and I were breathing fine when he decided to become a disc jockey, later newscaster and talk show host on the radio. He was so admired by former teachers and classmates that he became something of a Pittsburgh celebrity. Then at age 33 he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a law enforcement officer. He was a uniformed Pennsylvania State Police Officer for a number of years and then became an undercover officer. Much to the horror of my family, he spent about 25 years in this job. He was to retire in 2002 due to the required age 60 retirement for the Pennsylvania State Police. Then…

"He said to me one day that he felt something in his chest near his sternum. I told him to immediately see his doctor. He did not at that point, but did see the doctor several months later. A CT Scan of the chest was done. It showed a right lung mass. Being in the cancer field, I was horrified. He had been a cigarette smoker for 44 years. He had escaped so many dangers in life, I just kept believing that he would come out of this also.

"Conrad was admitted to a hospital for biopsy. He had his surgeon phone me to tell me the news since my field was cancer and he wanted me to make any decisions about his care. He had “squamous cell carcinoma” of the lung. There was no doubt that this type of cancer is cigarette related.

"Someone who had survived boxing, parachuting, and bullets as a state trooper now couldn't escape lung cancer. The greatest danger of all was his cigarettes. I had tried to tell him for years to stop smoking, but he just laughed off my fears.

"The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2005 there were more than 175,000 cancer deaths caused by tobacco use. When Conrad began smoking at age 16, death at age 59 ½ was hard for him to imagine.

"I want all the beautiful young people who smoke to know that life is very short, so please do not rush it away. Quit now while you have a chance to change the course of your life. Look for smoking cessation programs or just realize you need to quit for your loved ones who would be devastated by an untimely loss caused by what may also be your greatest danger of all."

IN CLOSING, cancer deaths related to tobacco usage is the second major cause of death in the world with about 5 million people a year meeting their maker. Of the 1.1 billion people who smoke, about half will die prematurely. And there's not much hope for the future: 100,000 young people a day start smoking. By any measure, tobacco-related premature death is at an epidemic proportion. If you are a smoker, quit today! If you don't smoke, help someone who does by encouraging them to quit. We owe it to each other to preserve life where we can.

Note: See www.smokefree.gov for resources to help to quit smoking.