Monday, June 30, 2008

As I Turn 50

“Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day.”

~ II Corinthians 4:16 (Amplified)

It was five years ago this week that my very first Reflections column was published in The Prairie Post. By coincidence, it fell on my 45th birthday, July 3rd. Which means that I’ll be turning 50 this Thursday.

In some ways it seems like only yesterday when I sent Joann Kahnt that tentative email inquiring whether or not she would allow me to submit a weekly column. Most of you have heard how I wondered what I was thinking after I sent my request. How could I possibly come up with something new to write about each and every week?

As I wrote to Joann in a recent email, I hope the readers of The Prairie Post still enjoy reading my column, because I still enjoy writing it. And I’ve finally figured out why I like writing so much – it’s because I’m not a very good listener. It’s like having a one-way conversation without being interrupted. And I never have to face the people I make angry.

But seriously, I do hope this column has been a source of enjoyment for those of you who give it a “look-see” each week. And once again, I’d like to thank Joann Kahnt, and you, the readers, for giving me this privilege.

God bless you all ~


As I Turn 50
By Eileen Umbehr

As I turn 50
I stand in the now
In the perfect position
To ask myself how

How I would change things…
If only I could
How I would change things
From bad to good

Yes, from this position
I can look back
On the things I regret
From the fifty years past

I can also look forward
To improvement and change
Using the wisdom
O’er the years that I’ve gained

For we never really stop
Growing and learning
With each mistake made
We become more discerning

While the lessons we’re taught
At home and in school
Provide a foundation
And serve as a tool

Some of life’s lessons
Can only be taught
Through living and loving
And the school of hard knocks

So I guess you could say
Though I’m not perfect yet
I’m improving with age,
So I have no regrets

“I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don't feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.”

~ Philippians 3:12-14 (Contemporary English Version)

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Last week I received an unexpected email from a woman named Joanie who lives behind the house our family built on Proehl’s Trail in Hudson, Wisconsin, where we lived for eight years before moving to Singapore. Joanie is a local history buff who grew up in Hudson and recalls crossing the rickety wooden railroad bridge that led to Proehl’s Trail. She wrote: “I was confident that if I didn’t go at top speed I would fall through the cracks to the railroad tracks below.” Joanie and her family can’t believe that they are living in the special neighborhood after all these years. “My father-in-law, an Englishman from Manchester often comments when we drive home over the bridge, ‘This is God’s little acre.’ I think he’s right.” She closed by saying that she’d like to learn more about the years our family spent in “the Van Kirk house, as it is now affectionately referred to by the old-timers.”

I’d like to share my response. The picture of our old house above and the picture of the railroad bridge below, were both provided by Joanie and shared with her permission.

Dear Joanie:

Thanks so much for taking the time to write. It was wonderful to hear from you. I do have so many fond memories of my growing up years in Hudson.

To give you a little background, our father worked for 3M so our family moved eleven different times. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the 7th child of nine. From there we moved to Edina, Minnesota, and then on to Hudson when I was in the 2nd grade. We lived there until the end of my freshman year when Dad was transferred overseas to Singapore. I cried and cried when I heard we were moving. I had a difficult 8th grade year, but when I went to Hudson Junior High, I met an amazing group of friends. (Margie Friedlander, Nan Turner, Sally McGraw, Jill Feldman, to name a few.) In addition, I had just learned that I made the cheerleading squad for Hudson High School when we found out we were moving half way around the world. But the good Lord knew what He was doing because it was there that I met my future husband Keen. We just celebrated our 30th anniversary and we have 4 sons, 2 daughters-in-law and 5 grandchildren.

Growing up on Proehl's Trail was almost magical. In those days, almost every activity we did was outside. We quickly learned the art of “making ourselves scarce” because if we hung around the house Mom would always find some chores for us to do. We had a tree house that extended out over the lake which provided the perfect hideout. And the open field directly across the road from us doubled as our own personal playground. That was where we played baseball and tag football in the summer and built snow forts and had snowball fights in the winter. The entire setting could not have been more idyllic for a large family like ours.

My brothers and sisters spent countless hours playing in the woods behind our house. I remember an old hollowed out tree stump that we used to use for our "witch’s brew." One time my friend Paul and I were playing with matches and we started a fire in the woods that almost got away from us. (That sure put the fear of God in us!) During the summer the kids in the neighborhood would gather at our house to play basketball, badminton or games like Captain May I and Kick the Can. I remember when our family hosted barbecues with lots of other families and we would play a hide-and-seek game after dark that always seemed so scary. The person who was "it" would call out, "One o'clock and the ghost isn't out, two o'clock and the ghost isn't out . . .” all the way up to twelve when they’d yell, “Twelve o'clock midnight, hope to see the ghost tonight!"

I was a tomboy growing up and quite the fisherwoman. I used to put coffee grinds in an area behind our house in hopes of attracting my own supply of night crawlers. I loved taking our canoe out in the early morning hours and fishing around the lake.

The lake itself provided endless forms of entertainment for our large family. In the summer, of course, we had swimming, boating and skiing. We always had a floating dock to swim out to. In the winter, we had ice fishing and skating. I remember many gatherings at our house when my sisters and I would entertain the party goers by singing songs like, "Michael row your boat ashore," “Blowing in the Wind,” "Kumbaya," "500 miles," “If I had a hammer,” “Where have all the flowers gone?”, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Lemon Tree,” “White Choral Bells” (in a round), and “All Night, All Day” (Angels watchin' over me, my Lord). Our sister Joanne would accompany us on the guitar.

I remember walking to school every day up that big old hill. It seemed like a mountain to me. But coming down was always a joy. I used to pick lilacs for my mother in the springtime. Every time I smell lilacs now it takes me back to those days.

And yes, the bridge. Who could ever forget that rustic old bridge? One time my sister Mary and I were taking a short cut home across the railroad tracks when our mother happened to drive over the bridge. She stopped the station wagon at the top of the bridge and our hearts just froze in fear. I think we cried all the way home just anticipating the spanking we were going to get upon our return. The words I seem to recall my mother yelling were: "If I ever catch you on those tracks again I'll kill you before the train does!"

One of my favorite pastimes growing up was visiting with the Proehl sisters – Ida, Sophia and Magdalene. It seems to me that at least one of the sisters never married. I would visit all three sisters on occasion, but I was closest to Mag. She was always happy to see me and, despite our age differences, we became the best of friends. In fact, I still have a glass paperweight that she gave me.

Mag's passing was my first experience with losing someone I knew and loved. I was shaken and saddened by the sight of my friend being driven away in the hearse that drove by our house the day she died.

We still stay in touch with many of our friends from Hudson, several of our friends drove to Brainerd, Minnesota four years ago to surprise my Dad for his 80th birthday party. Their presence at the party really made the celebration extra-special.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my walk down “Memory Lane.” Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts – and for inviting me to share mine.

All the best,

Eileen (Van Kirk) Umbehr

Under an old brass paperweight
Is my list of things to do today
Go to the bank and the hardware store,
Put a new lock on the cellar door
I cross 'em off as I get 'em done
But when the sun is set
There's still more than a few things left
I haven't got to yet

Go for a walk, say a little prayer
Take a deep breath of mountain air
Put on my glove and play some catch
It's time that I make time for that
Wade the shore and cast a line
Look up a long lost friend of mine
Sit on the porch and give my girl a kiss
Start livin', that's the next thing on my list

~ Toby Keith - My List

The Van Kirk Family, 2004

Monday, June 16, 2008

What's Wrong with Being Right - Part II

After writing the previous column on this subject a couple of weeks ago, I had a few more thoughts that I’d like to expound on.

To put it simply, one of the biggest problems with believing you’re right is this: you might be wrong. Oh, we don’t think that’s possible, but it is. That’s why it’s best not to get too over-extended when expressing your opinion. In addition, there is a vast difference between “expressing” an opinion and “enforcing” it.

Let me give you an example. Over the years, there have been a couple of times when Keen and I had a big decision to make and I either kept my opinion to myself (which was my mistake), or I wasn’t consulted in the first place (which was Keen’s mistake). The times when I kept my opinion to myself happened as a result of my desire to be a “good wife.” I wanted to support Keen’s ideas and I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm by raining on his parade. But I have learned (the hard way, as usual) that there is nothing noble about keeping quiet when God gave you a brain to use and a heart to follow. Besides, your input may be the very thing needed to arrive at the best decision for everyone involved.

The problem with expressing our opinion arises when we aren’t content to simply share our point of view and leave it at that, but rather, we insist on driving the point home in an attempt to force the other person to adopt our point of view. That’s where we go too far. (Once again, I speak from experience.) So both extremes are a mistake – not expressing your opinion at all or cramming it down the recipient’s throat. Therefore, we must strive to find that happy medium.

This brings us back to the theory of individual freedom. In Dr. John Townsend’s book titled, “Who’s Pushing Your Buttons,” he writes:

“It makes sense [that] you care about the button-pusher and want things to go well between the two of you. Yet that person is free to choose his behavior toward you, his attitudes, and whether he even wants to be in a relationship with you. . . .
God understands this dilemma. He knows it conceptually, and He knows it in experience. God lives in it every day, caring about us and just wanting a relationship with us that is for our best; yet He gives us the freedom to say no to him, which we often do.”

Matthew chapter 23 verses 37 and 38 reads:

“. . . You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Dr. Townsend continues:

“God desires the connection profoundly, yet He does not violate the free will that He also created within us. He allows Himself to experience that sort of tension, not because it is good or pleasant for Him, but because freedom is the only way that we will ever have a relationship that comes from within – from the heart – and is not forced or controlled. That is the only sort of relationship He is interested in.”


In my opinion, that should be the only type of relationship any of us should be interested in, because nobody likes being controlled. So it only makes sense that we should not attempt to control others – no matter how strongly we feel about a particular subject. We have to realize that while it is acceptable and important to express our opinions and share our input, it is not acceptable to become angry at the other person when they choose not to agree with or adopt our opinions. Conversely, neither is it acceptable for the other person to become angry at us for expressing our opinions in the first place. Personal freedom goes both ways.

Just think about it this way: God Himself doesn’t always get His way. He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that all of His children could spend eternity with Him in Heaven, but He will not force anyone to accept that free gift of salvation. That decision can only be made by each individual upon the exercise of their own free will.

“The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people's conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance.”

~ II Peter 3:9 (Amplified)

To All the Good Men

Here are a few reflective poems in honor of all the good husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers in our lives.

An Unconditional Love

By Connie Hinnen Cook

His dear wife now had Alzheimers,
her mind in a bad way;
He placed her in a care home, but
he saw her every day.

He brought her favorite roses
and a Persian cat to touch;
He'd sing to her and brush her hair,
"I love you ~ oh, so much!"

Sometimes he'd read her stories
or explain things on TV,
He longed to hear her call his name
but knew it couldn't be.

One day a patient watched them ~
how he'd gently hold her hand,
The patient, filled with wonderment, said
"I don't understand...

"She doesn't even know you, sir,
you might as well be dead!"
"I guess that's true," he answered,
"Ah, but I know her," he said.


"Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends..."

~ Corinthians 13:7


A Prayin' Man

by Connie Hinnen Cook

As I walked softly in the room
his head was bowed down low,
His hands lay idly in his lap,
his breathing calm and slow.

I thought that he was sleeping
till he opened up his eyes,
He made me want to kiss him
when he said, to my surprise...

"Have I told you that I love you?
I was telling God right now,
Oh, I know He knows already
but I told Him anyhow...

"We both think you're something special
and I know that He'd agree
Nothing bad should ever touch you,
not if it were up to me!"

Prickly goose bumps start to tingle,
icy chills run up my spine,
And sometimes I have to pinch myself:
this prayin' man is mine!

And just before we start our meals
he always says a prayer,
For God to bless the food we eat
and keep us in His care.

I love it when he reaches out
and puts his hand in mine,
And speaking low, he thanks the Lord
when we go out to dine.

He asks the Lord's protection
when we're traveling in the car,
For angels to ride with us
if we're going very far.

I picture one above us,
on the sides, the front, behind,
Our housetop angel waves goodbye,
(but only in my mind).

Girls, you can keep the latest hunk,
I'm not a beef-cake fan,
Stud muffins leave me unimpressed,
give me a prayin' man!

He owns my heart forever
'cause there's nothing stronger than
Words of power, words of blessing
coming from a prayin' man.


"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."

~ James 5:16 KJV


Half Long Enough
By Eileen Umbehr

How long has it been?
I asked him that day
Since your precious wife
Sadly passed away

It will be two years
Come May 7th
Since the good Lord
Took her to Heaven

I’m so sorry for your loss
Are you doing all right?
I miss her very much
And I still cry every night

Although I was blessed
To share those fifty years
It wasn’t half long enough
For someone so dear

She was the center of my life
And she was the glue
That held our family together
No matter what we went through

I always thought I would go first
And I told her to remarry
But now she’s been taken
And I’m the one to tarry

I’m left alone with my memories
But I’m thankful for our love
And the life we shared together
Though not half long enough


Husband, Father, Son

By Eileen Umbehr

I still remember, the sound of the sirens
On that winter night so long ago
But I never imagined the person in need
Would be someone that we did know

It was our cousin, his name was Jack
The night was New Year’s Eve
He was just about ready to call it a day
When he cut down one more tree

A freak accident ended his life that night
When he was only thirty-five
He left behind a wife and a five-month-old son
Wondering how they’d survive

Jack was such a hard worker, holding down two jobs
He never left a project undone
But the most important roles he played in his life
Were husband, father and son

Jack had made plans, to take his young son
To the K-State basketball games
In fact, his son’s initials are KSU
Kelby Shawn Umbehr is his name.

Now Kelby is a senior, soon to graduate
He’s bright and handsome, just like his dad
I know Jack would be, so very proud
Of the fine young man that he and Barb had

Jack has been missed – as cousin, brother and friend
And by countless other loved ones
But none miss him more, than those who knew him as
Husband, father and son.

Written December, 2003
Note: Kelby just graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University

Monday, June 02, 2008

What's Wrong With Being Right?

Our wedding party - June 10, 1978

“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged . . .”

~ II Timothy 2:23-24 (NASB)

I recently heard Naomi Judd say that the only real mistake is the one you don’t learn from. As Keen and I approach our 30th wedding anniversary and I near my 50th birthday, I’ve been reflecting on one of the most valuable lessons I have learned – and am still learning – in my lifetime.

Put simply, I have found that there is one thing that causes more problems in meaningful relationships than any other factor; that is, the belief that you are right. What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing I suppose. But most of us aren’t content to keep our opinions to ourselves. When we become convinced that our point of view is the correct one, then we think it’s our right and our duty to impose that view on everyone around us. Therein lies the problem.

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

~ John Stuart Mill

Let’s take smoking for example. Everyone knows that it’s bad for your health. Or that eating the wrong kind of food is bad for your arteries. And yes, we could all stand to weigh a little less and exercise more. But poking people in the eye over and over about their shortcomings does nothing but cause hard feelings and alienation. They are aware of the information about the warnings and dangers of certain behaviors; they don’t need anyone to rub their nose in it.

“But keep away from foolish disagreements. Don't argue about family histories. Don't make trouble. Don't fight about what the law teaches. Don't argue about things like that. It doesn't do any good. It doesn't help anyone.”
~ Titus 3:9 (NIRV)

Remember, God even allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will and make their own decisions, and He certainly knew what was best for them. We are all on a journey, and life is a process of successes and failures, so be gentle with others – and yourself.

"The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it."

~ Arnold H. Glasgow

We need to learn to love and accept people for who they are, not for whom we want them to be. When love is conditioned upon the other person doing exactly what we want or seeing things exactly the way we see them, it’s not really love at all.

The truth of the matter is that most of us have our own set of problems and hang-ups that we could be working on. But it’s just so much more enjoyable to criticize others or point out their faults than to work on our own.

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye.”

~ Luke 6:41,42 (NKJV)

To me, one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible is Romans 14. Back in Jesus’ time, there was a controversy about whether it was right to eat meat offered to idols. Some folks saw it as sinful, while others reasoned that since idols weren’t real, it wasn’t a problem. Verse 3 in the Amplified version reads:

“Let not him who eats look down on or despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains criticize and pass judgment on him who eats; for God has accepted and welcomed him.”

It goes on to discuss the subject of setting aside a special day to honor the Lord:

“One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike [sacred]. Let everyone be fully convinced (satisfied) in his own mind . . . Why do you criticize and pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you look down upon or despise your brother?”

This chapter indicates that what is acceptable for one person may be wrong for someone else, and vice-versa. It’s not cut and dried or black and white, even though it would be a lot easier if it were. We can’t adopt other people’s values, and we can’t expect other people to adopt ours. The bottom line is that each of us has to follow our own conscience. That’s why I believe it’s a mistake to force our position on others – or to judge them for their position. In verse 22 it says:

“Your personal convictions on such matters--exercise them as in God's presence, keeping them to yourself striving only to know the truth and obey His will.”

We are all unique individuals in the family of God, and as such, we will see things differently – which, in turn, determines our actions. Love allows for those differences. In reality, the only change we have any control over is change within ourselves. When we spend our time trying to change others, there’s a very good chance we’re not devoting any time to improving ourselves.

So the next time you want to pick a fight with your husband, wife, parent or sibling, take it from one who has made her share of mistakes and remember:

“The mouth of a good person is a deep, life-giving well . . . Hatred starts fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering.”

~ Proverbs 10:11-12 (The Message Bible)

Your family members will thank you, and you’ll be happier and more peaceful, too.

God bless ~


Celebrating our 25th anniversary at Josh and Lisa's wedding in 2003