Thursday, December 25, 2003

Whatsoever You Do

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' ~ Matthew 25:37-40 (NKJV)

I hope you’re all enjoying this special time of year. I’d like to share a story that was sent to me from a friend of mine who writes an inspirational e-letter called, “Letters from Larry.” It’s very long, but I hope you’ll find it worth the read.

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. He had no decorations, no tree, and no lights. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. There were no children in his life. His wife had gone. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through. Instead of throwing the man out, George – Old George, as he was known by his customers – told the man to come and sit by the space heater and warm-up.

"Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude," said the stranger. "I see you're busy. I'll just go"

"Not without something hot in your belly," George turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty. Stew. Made it myself. When you're done there's coffee and it's fresh." Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me, be right back," George said.

There in the driveway was an old ‘53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. "Mister, can you help me?" the driver asked with a deep Spanish accent. "My wife is with child and my car is broken!"

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold; the car was dead. "You ain't going anywhere in this thing," George said as he turned away. "But Mister. You gotta help us…."

The door of the office closed behind George as he went in. George went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building and opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting.

"Here, you can borrow my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good." George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night.

George turned and walked back inside the office. "Glad I loaned 'em the truck. Their tires were shot too. That 'ol truck has brand new tires........" George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it.

"Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought. George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers.

He discovered the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. "Well, I can fix this," he said to himself. So he put a new one on. "Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either." He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car.

As he was working he heard a shot being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, "Help me." George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention.

"Pressure to stop the bleeding," he thought. The laundry company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. "Hey, they say duct tape can fix anything," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.

"Something for pain," George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. "These ought to work." He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. "You hang in there. I'm going to get you an ambulance." George said, but the phone was dead. "Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your police car." He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio. He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. "Thanks," said the officer.

"You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area." George sat down beside him. "I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through 'ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time you’re gonna be right as rain." George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?" he asked. "None for me," said the officer. "Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city." Then George added: "Too bad I ain't got no donuts." The officer laughed and winced at the same time.

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. "Give me all your cash! Do it now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before. "That's the guy that shot me!" exclaimed the officer. "Son, why are you doing this?" asked George. "You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt."

The young man was confused. "Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me
the cash!" The cop was reaching for his gun. "Put that thing away," George said to the cop. "We got one too many in here now." He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you need the money, well then, here. It ain't much, but it's all I got. Now put that pee shooter away."

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. "I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son," he went on. "I've lost my job. My rent is due. My car got repossessed last week..." George handed the gun to the cop.

"Son, we all get in a bit of a squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can." He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop.

George handed the young man a cup of coffee. "Sometimes we do stupid things. Being stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out."

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. "Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I'm sorry officer."

"Shut up and drink your coffee," the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn.

"Chuck! You ok?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer. "Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?" "GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?" the other cop asked as he approached the young man. Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran." George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other. "That guy works here," the wounded cop continued. "Yep," George said. "Just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job."

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, "Why?"

Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas, boy. And you too, George, and thanks for everything.”

"Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems." George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. "Here you go. Something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day." The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever laid his eyes on. "I can't take this," the young man said. "It means something to you." "And now it means something to you," George replied. "I got my memories. That's all I need." George reached into the box again. A toy airplane, a racing car and a little metal truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's something for that little man of yours." The young man began to cry again as he handed the $150 back to Old George. "And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that, too. Count it as part of your first week's pay,” George said. "Now git on home to your family, son." The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good."

"Nope,” George replied. “I'm closed Christmas day. See ya the day after."

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. "Where'd you come from? I thought you left."

"I have been here. I have always been here," said the stranger. "You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?”

"Well, after my wife passed away I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin'up a tree and all seemed like a waste of a good pine. Bakin' cookies like Martha and I used to just wasn't the same by myself. Besides, I was getting a little chubby,” George said with a chuckle.

The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. “But you do celebrate the Christmas, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. You helped the woman with child. She will bear a son and he will become a great doctor one day. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will become a rich man and share his wealth with many people. That is the spirit of the season, and you keep it as good as any man – if not better."

George was taken aback by the words this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man. "Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days on earth are done, you will be with Martha again."

The stranger moved toward the door.

"If you’ll excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned."

George watched as the man's old leather jacket and his torn pants turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

"You see, George, it's My birthday. Merry Christmas."

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Making Memories

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” ~ Luke 2:9-11

Christmas has become so many things. It’s really easy to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that we lose sight of what it’s really all about –the birth of Jesus.

I hate to admit this, but there have been times when I’ve felt like Scrooge on Christmas Day. When the big day finally arrived, I would be so burned out that my Christmas spirit would be on “e”. It’s supposed to be a happy time of year, but by the time I’d mailed 200 Christmas cards, put up the tree and decorated the house, and shopped and wrapped presents for everyone in the family, I would be drained emotionally and physically (and sometimes financially)!

Then when I’d find the toys I’d purchased for the boys in pieces under their beds two weeks later, that only compounded my frustration. All that effort, only to find that the toys were either lost or they’d lost interest in the toys.
But God gave us a gift that will last for eternity.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
~ John 3:16

My ideal Christmas would minimize the gift-giving aspect and place more emphasis on being together and making memories. I love spending time with my family. I’m especially looking forward to being home for the holidays this year, after being in Carson City for the past six weeks. To me, the greatest gift any of my children could give me is their presence – not their presents.

The nice thing about making memories is that memories last a lifetime. Memories don’t cost anything. They don’t wear out, or break, or go out of style. And best of all, memories don’t have to be returned!

I also enjoy receiving cards because words spoken from the heart touch my heart. One year the boys wanted to know what to buy me for my birthday, so I asked each of them to make me a card. I came across those handmade cards recently and I’d like to share them with you. Kirk was too young to write one, but here’s what the other three boys had to say:

Jared: Dear Mom, I wanted to tell you, on your birthday, how much I appreciate all you do for us, like cleaning our clothes and washing the floor. I know sometimes we often take these luxuries for granted. But you need to know that it is very much appreciated. So, thank you, Mother. I love you!! Love, Jared

Josh: Dear Mom, Uh?!?! That’s too formal, I mean, you’re my mom. Let’s try again. Hi Mom, Well, happy birthday, Mom. I trust you’re having a wonderful B-day. Since I couldn’t afford a good B-day present, you suggested I write this “love letter,” so here we go. Mom, I love you so much. I know I always say so, but I do, and I always appreciate everything you do for us although I don’t say so. Without you our home would be missing something and would “crumble” & just have no organization. I just can’t stop saying how much I love you. I love you with all my heart & soul. ---Without you my life wouldn’t be complete. Love, Joshua Jim Umbehr

Keener’s card was the most elaborate. He drew a picture of a big heart with two people inside with their arms around each other. One was labeled “Mom” and the other was labeled “Me.” Then he drew some flowers and wrote “Happy Birthday.” Inside he wrote: Dear Mom, I love you, you were there I came home from school and told you people were making fun of me. You were always there to listen. You make us dinner and put a roof over our head, you do our laundry. You do our grocery shopping, you buy our school supplies and our shoes. You gave us our 40 acres. I love you, Keen

Now there’s a gift that’s truly priceless!

I still cherish the memories of Christmas celebrations from when I was growing up. My sister Connie would dress up as Santa Claus every year and all the younger kids would stand in awe when we heard the ringing bells and saw Santa walking across the front lawn, carrying a sack of goodies and ho-ho-ho-ing! We all took turns sitting on Santa’s lap, telling “him” what we wanted for Christmas – never realizing it was really our sister.

I also have fond memories of singing Christmas carols and putting on skits each year on Christmas Eve. It was a full-fledged Van Kirk family variety show. Some of the more popular skits were repeated annually, but there were usually one or two originals performed each year. I remember the laughs my brother Bill and I got from the audience when we dressed up in our long underwear and sang, “Walking in our winter underwear” to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” When it came to the part in the song where it says, “Later on, we’ll conspire, as we sit by the fire…,” we changed it to, “Later on, we’ll perspire, as we sit by the fire…,” and wiped the imaginary sweat off our brows.

One of our favorite songs to perform was “Sisters” from White Christmas. All six of us girls would line up with our arms around each other swaying and singing: “Sisters, sisters…never were there such devoted sisters… All kinds of weather, we stick together, the same in the rain or sun…Uh, huh. Six different faces, but in tight places, we think and we act as one…Those who’ve, seen us, know that not a thing can come between us…..”

Recently a friend of mine shared a poignant story from Gerald Bath about a missionary teaching in Africa. Before Christmas he had been telling his native students how Christians, as an expression of their joy, gave one another presents on Christ's birthday.

On Christmas morning, one of the natives brought the missionary a seashell of immense beauty. When asked where he had discovered such an extraordinary shell, the native said he had walked many miles to a certain bay, the only spot where such shells could be found.

“I think it was wonderful of you to travel so far to get this beautiful gift for me," the teacher exclaimed. His eyes brightening, the native answered, "Long walk part of gift."

The Greatest Gift
By Eileen Umbehr

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t diamonds or gold
The greatest gift of all
Never rusts or gets old

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t being wined or dined
The greatest gift of all
Is the easiest to find

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t the latest craze
The greatest gift of all
Lasts more than three days

The greatest gift of all
Can’t be purchased in a store
It comes straight from the heart
And lasts forevermore

Yes, the greatest gift of all
Doesn’t cost a dime
For the greatest gift of all
Is the gift of time.

The Umbehr Family
Christmas 2002

Keen, Eileen, Jared, Erin, Asher & Gabe, Josh & Lisa, Keen II and Kirk Van

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Fifty Years of Love

"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
~ I Corinthians 13:13

My mother and father-in-law, Jim and Jean Umbehr, were married on the twelfth day of the twelfth month in 1953. Tomorrow they will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. What an amazing milestone. Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

I wonder what their parents thought when they decided to get married. Jim didn't have a job and Jean was still in nursing school. It reminds me of the words to Tanya Tucker's song titled, Two Sparrows in a Hurricane.

Like two sparrows in a hurricane
Trying to find their way
With a head full of dreams
And faith that can move anything
They've heard it's all uphill
But all they know is how they feel
The world says they'll never make it, love says they will.

Jim and Jean have had a very adventurous life together. They had three children - Kihm, Keen and Kevin (that was an adventure right there!). But when their children were small, the oil company Jim worked for transferred him to Africa. They lived in Nigeria and Angola, Africa. Keen said when they played outside, the neighborhood kids used to rub their arms to see if the white would rub off their skin.

Later, the Umbehr family moved to Singapore where they lived for about eight years. What a great experience - growing up overseas. Of course, Keen and I met while we were both attending Singapore American School so our parents watched our love blossom from high school sweethearts to husband and wife. Who would have thunk it?

During our high school years, Keen's parents were always good sports about letting large groups of kids come over to their house. They had this huge, rectangular shaped living room. I remember one time they moved all of their furniture to the edges of the room so we could have a square dance.

The first time Keen and I really met was at the pool where his family lived. A whole group of kids were playing "Marco Polo" until there was no one left in the pool but the two of us. I had a huge crush on Keen, but I didn't think he knew I existed. Needless to say, I was one very happy teenage camper that day.

One time Keen and I got into trouble with both of our parents because we stayed out too late. If we had only known how much turmoil we were going to cause! I remember Keen's parents made him call my mom and apologize for keeping me out so late. My mom was pretty impressed by that, and soon all was forgiven.

Based on the tears shed at our wedding by Keen’s side of the family, I’m not sure his folks were quite ready for us to get married as young as we did (we were both 19). My folks, on the other hand, were grinning from ear to ear. Keen's mom once told me that time seemed to fly when her kids were growing up. Then one day she woke up and said, "Where did everybody go? It was just starting to get fun."

Keen was very blessed with great parents who loved, nurtured and supported him through every phase of his life and I am eternally grateful to them for blessing me with such a wonderful life partner.

Brad Paisley wrote a song titled, "Two People Fell in Love" that seems very fitting.

Every single choice we make,
Every breath we get to take
Is all because two people fell in love

Right now at a picnic shelter down by Canyon Creek
You'll find potato salad, hot dogs and baked beans
The whole Wilson family's lined up filling their paper plates
They drove or flown in here from 15 different states
Stanley Wilson said that sixty years ago he knew
That Miss Sama Tucker was the one
Now five generations get together every June
And all because two people fell in love

Yea there ain't nothing not affected
When two hearts get connected
All that is will be or ever was
I'm glad your dad could not resist
Your mamma's charm and you exist
All because two people fell in love

You know to me it's all so clear
Every one of us is here
All because two people fell in love

Wishing you many more years of love and happiness, Mom and Dad.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

She Was My Friend

“A friend loveth at all times….”
~ Proverbs 17:17

Someone once said that strangers are just friends waiting to happen. When we moved to Alma in 1979, I was a newlywed with a baby on the way. Keen’s uncle and aunt lived out in the country, but other than them, I didn’t know a soul. That’s why I was so grateful for the kindness of the widow woman next door who would soon become one of my dearest friends.

Mrs. Florence Thowe (pronounced “Tobie”) made me feel so welcome. I enjoyed her company and she enjoyed mine. We never ran out of things to talk about. Sometimes I’d call to see if she wanted to ride to Manhattan with me, and she always enjoyed getting out of the house and seeing the scenery along the way. Mrs. Thowe was so appreciative of any little thing we did for her. Of course, that only made us want to include her even more. She never put any expectations on our busy, young family. If we had time to visit, great, and if we didn’t, that was fine, too. She was just happy to see us whenever we had the time.

Mrs. Thowe had a big drawer full of toys in her living room from when her kids and/or grandkids were little. Whenever I’d stop by for a visit, the kids would toddle right over to the drawer, pull it open and dig in. Everything was new to them, so it kept them busy and gave us a nice chance to visit.

Mrs. Thowe liked to talk about her children - Kathy, Delores and Joe (a/k/a Jerry), and all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren (I used to know all of their names, too!). Whenever she received new pictures in the mail, she would proudly show them off.

Mrs. Thowe enjoyed being outdoors and going for walks. She had a beautiful yard where she would spend lots of time tending to her flowers.

Mrs. Thowe was a member of a very special group of women who called themselves “The Golden Girls.” They would get together for social gatherings about once a month (if I remember right), and whenever it was someone’s birthday they would all go out for lunch and treat the birthday girl. When Mrs. Thowe turned 90, Keen and I took a van full of the Golden Girls to the nursing home in Olathe where Mrs. Thowe lived. Her children hosted a wonderful luncheon for all of us. It was such a memorable day.

A few weeks before Mrs. Thowe passed away, I went to the nursing home for what I knew would be my last visit with my friend. Although I knew she was unresponsive, I just had to see her one more time. I watched her sleeping for several minutes when she began mumbling some words that I couldn’t understand. After listening closely, I realized that she was repeating the last part of The Our Father prayer. “To Thine be the glory…and the honor….” Tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered, “Could Mrs. Thowe be catching a glimpse of the other side?”

Whatever I witnessed that day, it seemed very special. I walked away with peace in my heart, knowing that this angel on earth would soon be joining the angels in Heaven.

Here’s a poem I wrote in honor of Mrs. Thowe, who would have turned 103 this Sunday.

She was my friend
(For Florence)

I was twenty years old
she was seventy-nine
An unlikely pair
in some people’s minds

But we quickly became
The best of friends
A relationship that lasted
Until the very end

When my kids were little
I would stop by her house
She had a drawer of toys
That kept them quiet as a mouse

Some days we’d take a drive
Other times we’d take a walk
But no matter where we went
We enjoyed a nice long talk

When Florence moved away
Our visits were more rare
But I always kept my friend
In my thoughts and in my prayers.

Then when her 90th birthday came
We surprised her with a celebration
And all the Golden Girls arrived
to say “Congratulations!”

Florence had a heart of gold
That I could not resist
And all the times we spent together
Have been greatly missed.

But I know that she’s in Heaven
where we will meet again,
Until that time, I’d like to say
I’m glad she was my friend.

Me & Mrs Thowe

The Golden Girls

Thursday, November 27, 2003

My Sister and Me

"Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name.”
~ I Chronicles 29:13

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope we all take time to count our blessings – not just today, but every day.

There are three people in my family who have birthdays right in a row this week. My mother, whose birthday was on November 25th (she would have been 77 this year). Then my sister Patricia, whose birthday is November 26th, and our nephew Zach whose birthday falls right on Thanksgiving this year.

This week I’d like to write about my sister Patricia. Here’s a poem I wrote for her on her 50th birthday.

My Sister and Me
My sister Patricia was born in 1950 -
eight years before I joined the family.

When she tried to fix my hair, I complained in exasperation,
“No! Go Away! You’re the older generation!”

Patricia has always been full of fun,
Her smile and laughter are second to none.

Everyone is blessed by her personality,
Although at times we have questioned her normality!

Like the time Peggy and I went to Florida with her,
We laughed so hard; it’s all a big blur.

She assigned new names, to everyone in the room,
I was Dynomite Doris; Peggy was Betty Boom-Boom.

Rita the Risktaker, was her new nickname;
I think our dear old Dad, thought we’d all gone insane.

And although our times together are few and far between,
I cherish these memories of my sister and me.

Peggy, Patricia, Me and Dad


My sister Patricia lives near Seattle on Whidbey Island, Washington. She has to take a ferry to and from work every day, but based on the pictures I’ve seen of her beautiful home tucked away in the woods, I can see why the one hour commute would be worth it.

Patricia loves nature and especially bird watching. Patricia is multi-talented. She’s a gifted photographer and we’ve all benefited from her efforts. Every year at the reunion, while we’re all enjoying the various activities, she is the one behind the camera documenting every event. Then at the end of the year she takes a collection of photos and uses them to create a calendar for our dad. One year she made a special one for us with pictures of just our family.

Patricia’s always been very involved in the arts, including directing several plays. Now she is a successful administrator for the Seattle Transit Authority. Patricia is also a fighter, having survived breast cancer which is now in remission. Patricia is a free spirit.

Due to the difference in our ages (Patricia was the second child in our family and I was the seventh), we were not especially close growing up. Those of us on the tail end of the family stuck together, as did those on the front end. I wouldn’t say it was like two different families, because we all ate together at dinner and went to church together on Sunday morning. But the older siblings eventually graduated and moved on so then we saw even less of them.

My mom used to tell the story about how our youngest brother Bob was sitting at the table looking all forlorn one day. When she asked him what was wrong he said, “I liked it better when all the elbows touched.”

My dad used to play games at the table. He’d take a quarter out of his pocket and say, “The person who guesses the lucky number will be the one who wins the quarter.” So we’d all guess a number and wait with great anticipation to see who won the quarter (we acted like it was all the money in the world). Then he’d say, “The one who wins the quarter is.....the one who guessed the lucky number! And the one who guessed the lucky number is the one who wins the quarter!” This would go on and on at our expense. We’d just groan and beg him to reveal the name of the lucky winner.

I remember we played another game where Dad would announce from the head of the table, “Order in the court, the monkey wants to speak. No laughing, no smiling, no showing your teeth.” We all sat around the table trying not to crack a smile and one by one we’d be eliminated until there was only one person left. Then that person was rewarded with a dime or quarter.

Sometimes Dad would lead us in this game where he’d say, “Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? Who me?” Then in unison we’d all chant, “Yessss, YOU!” “Couldn’t be!” And we’d answer “Then WHO?” Then Dad would pick someone from the crowd and say, “Connie stole the cookies from the cookie jar!” And Connie would answer, “Who me?” “Yesssss, you!” And on and on it went until it made the rounds to everyone. Those were some really happy memories of times together growing up in a large family.

As you can imagine, we are a diversified bunch. But despite our various differences, the family bond always keeps us close. The biggest difference between my sister Patricia and me is that Patricia is gay. About 10 years ago when Keen and I sponsored the annual family reunion in Alma, Patricia decided to bring her partner, Nikki. At first, this made some people in the family a little uncomfortable, but Nikki put everyone at ease. She’s a wonderful person. Now she’s just a part of the family and has been at every reunion since.

Nikki & Patricia

You hear a lot about tolerance these days. I think tolerance goes both ways. We should learn to respect each other’s differences. Although we may not always agree when it comes to personal philosophies, each person has to choose their own path in the world – the one that seems right for them.

The bottom line is love. When my mom was on her death bed, she was repeating the word, “love, love, love.” My sister Mary asked, “Do you want everyone to know that you love them, Mom? Is that what you’re trying to say? Do you want me to tell everyone that you love them?” Her eyes widened and she nodded her head up and down. Then she whispered softly, “Always stay together….all nine.”

We will, Mom. We will.

The Van Kirk Children Then & Now

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Decisions, Decisions

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…..and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” ~ James 1:5,6 (NKJV)

My friends, Jack & Evelyn, recently told me about a wonderful ministry called Dial Hope. Dial Hope is a daily inspirational message which is written and recorded by Dr. Roger Kunkel (a native of Parsons, Kansas) and is an outreach of The First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Florida. With Dr. Kunkel’s permission, I would like to share the toll free number with you: 1-866-528-4673. The messages are short but very inspiring.

Dr. Kunkel recently sent me a written copy of one of his Dial Hope messages about decisions. Here is an excerpt:

“Harvey Cox has observed, “Not to decide is to decide.” I would like to suggest that to decide and then not to act is not to decide at all. Decisions must be followed by action or they die. Once you decide, don’t fumble around the way the young man did after having a wonderful evening with his girlfriend. He had never kissed her and he thought to himself, ‘What’s the matter? Are you afraid? I dare you to do it!’

So at the door, he said, “Can I have a kiss?” She just shifted a bit, so he said, a little louder this time, “Can I have a kiss?” She just looked at him, so he said still louder, “Can I have a kiss?” By that time she was almost nose-to-nose with him, and he just couldn’t figure it out. So he said, exasperatedly, “Are you deaf?” She replied, “Are you paralyzed?”

“Just as the young man was paralyzed by fear and indecision, we can be immobilized if our faith is feeble, our desire is diluted, or our will is a little wimpy. Faith is not a noun, it is a verb. And, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can do far more than we ever dreamed possible. When faith is a verb, it becomes action based upon the assurance of things we hope for and our conviction of things we cannot see.”

Having just made one of the biggest (and most frightening) decisions of my life, I can truly relate to the lesson in this message. As the Bible verse above states, however, if we waver in our decisions, then we will become like a ship tossed to and fro by the waves. I can't look back like Lot's wife or I will miss out on what God has in store up ahead. Keen and I have peace in our hearts about what we’re doing, so we will press forward in faith.

Speaking of my decision, I have received a variety of responses from friends and family about my decision to take a writing sabbatical in Nevada. Most of it has been positive, but some has been negative. A few people have even expressed feelings of hurt and anger that I am leaving them. (Thankfully, none of those people were members of my immediate family.)

The most notable criticism came from one of my sister’s friends who has never even met me. Here’s a summary of her concerns:

She has a teenage son who has been caught stealing and has threatened to kill her, so she doesn’t think it’s wise for me to leave Kirk. But she doesn’t know my son.

She wondered what Kirk will do if his friends tease him and say, “I heard your mother left you.” But she doesn’t know my son’s friends.

Her ex-husband is a writer who used his writing studio as an opportunity to have an extra-marital affair, so she thinks we’re making a terrible mistake. But she doesn’t know me or my husband.

She said, “Eileen thinks she has all her bases covered, but there’s no way she can anticipate every situation that might arise.” Well, I don’t think anyone can claim to have all their bases covered, but I know Someone who does. She doesn’t know my God.

When the conversation was over, my sister told her friend that she believes this may be the first of many books that I write and she promptly replied, “Yep, yep - that’s the way it goes. It’s a slippery slope.” But Mary had the perfect response. She said, “It’s not a slippery slope; it’s a beautiful climb.”

“A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul.”
~ Proverbs 13:19

That wonderful Bible verse was on the cover of a card I received from Gary & Linda Kaus (my daughter-in-law, Lisa’s parents).

I’d like to thank all the people who have wished me well with my decision to follow my heart into this unchartered territory. Here are some examples of their encouraging comments:

• It makes me cry to think Keen and Kirk are so unselfish and must love you very much! You deserve this time away to write, although I know it will be difficult to not be sharing time with them each day. While Keen is following his career, you are also. I am so very proud that you want to get your story written and published so that other citizens may share. Fantastic, Eileen!
• This adventure sounds daring and ever so exciting, as adventures should be! I'm guessing you're listening to your gut on this one--and you're doing exactly what you should be doing. I wish you the best, as I'm sure anyone who knows you does.
• I think it's a great idea for you to get away for a while to write your book. You have such a great supportive family and some day they will really cherish having your story to share with future family generations.
• YOU GO GIRL!!! Good for you for pursuing your dream and goal of writing a book. I think that that is awesome. I wish you the very best and will pray for you so that your mind will be clear and that you can write "with the greatest of ease." Your husband and son sound great for giving you their blessing and encouragement.
• Good luck, Eileen. My thoughts are prayers go with you. (I have good
vibes about this.)
• You and Keen have always been ones to follow and live your dreams. I was never able to do that in such a "big way" but really admire your determination to make things happen! You Go Girl!
• What courage you have...I greatly admire this move...God bless you and keep you and continue to make His light shine on you...
• I think you made a wise decision. Best wishes for the project. But don't forget to take a walk around the block if the words are not flowing--or go to a movie. When you return to the computer, they will flow again.
• Wow! That is very exciting. I hope it all pays off for you and somehow I think that it will.
• I love to see someone move ahead with their goals. I want the first signed book when it comes out. I want to go when you are directing the movie. Fulfill yourself - there are not that many days in our lives to do that. Go Girl!!
• You can't know how happy your message makes me. I have thought of you at least a million times and willed you to write your story. It was a WONDERFUL story and needs to be written. Do not lose heart. You can do it. You are ready to do it. I salute you!!
• WOW!!!!! GO FOR IT GIRL and please accept this as my order for one of your first, signed copies of your book! Our prayers will be for you everyday to give you the strength and clear mind to "tell it just like it happened".
• This sounds wonderful! You have some wonderful men backing you up, that's for sure! I've always been very interested in what you and your family went through, and I look forward to reading your book when it's done.
• I am so proud to know you and share even this tiny bit of your adventure! Godspeed to you, as they say, and enjoy your wings that take you to a new part of your life and those same wings that bring you home again.

“Far away, there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

~Louisa May Alcott

Thursday, November 13, 2003

My Dream

“Now the Lord said to Abram, Go for yourself [for your own advantage] out away from your country, from your relatives and your father’s house to the land that I will show you….So Abram departed, as the Lord had directed him.” Genesis 12:1,4 (Amplified)

Recently I saw the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane. She plays a newly divorced woman who is traveling on a group tour of Italy. One day she was shopping at the outdoor market when a flyer advertising an old, run down villa for sale caught her eye. One of the local townspeople happened along and looked over her shoulder. “Are you thinking about buying it?” she inquired. Diane Lane laughed and replied, “Oh, no – that would be a terrible idea.” The woman said, “Sometimes those are the best kind,” and walked away.

Well, I have a terrible idea, too, and by the time this article is published, I will be two weeks into it. I’ll be living in Carson City, Nevada (where my sister Mary lives), following my dream to write our story – the one about our free speech case that ended up at the Supreme Court. I don’t want to write about the case so much; I want to write what went on in our lives during the five years it took to weave its way through the legal process. I want to write the personal side of the story. With God’s help, I hope to combine the most interesting aspects of our story with the most poignant portions of my personal journals.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had a terrible idea. Some people thought it was a terrible idea for us to get married at age 19. Others thought it was a terrible idea for us to have children right away at such a young age. Then, when I was seven months pregnant with our first child, Keen lost/quit his job with a radiator company because he refused to deliver pornographic magazines with the radiators and we decided to move from Minnesota to Kansas even though Keen didn’t have a job waiting for him. Now that was a brilliant plan! (We did have a house to move into, thank God. We rented a house from Keen’s parents and later purchased it.)

Our next terrible idea was deciding to have a second child when Keen made less than $700.00/month take home pay. Later, when we were living in a house that was too small for the three children we had, several people thought it was a terrible idea to add a fourth child to our family. But the terrible idea that really took the cake would have to be when we decided to let our 16-year-old son transfer to Manhattan High School and live in a house with his older brother. Many people questioned our sanity as well as our parenting skills on that one – but that was where he met his future wife, so ask them if they think it was a terrible idea. And we have four wonderful children and two wonderful grandchildren as a result of all those other “terrible ideas.”

Sometimes we have to take risks to find out what’s on the other side of the mountain. Sometimes we have to leave our comfort zone to discover the beauty of the rainbow. Life is so full of adventure, if we’re just willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to reach for it.

My sister Mary gave Keen a plaque which displays the Chinese character for Chaos – Where Brilliant Dreams are Born. Underneath are these words:  

Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be Chaos. Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish to the crowd.

Now I’m not saying that I’m brilliant or that I’m going to do something great, but I can certainly relate to the part about chaos and looking foolish to the crowd. I mean, this is totally out of character for me. Ask anyone who knows me – I’m the biggest homebody you’ll ever meet. I don’t even like to travel. I’m like Dorothy – “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” So I really can’t explain this bold and drastic move I’m taking – and if I tried it would only appear that I “doth protest too much.” All I know is that this feels right in my heart and my family has given me their full support, so I guess that’s all that really matters.

Blessings for the journey ~


Thursday, November 06, 2003

My Soul Mate

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God…”
~ I John 4:7

This Saturday, November 8th, my husband, Keen will be celebrating his 45th birthday. After I went shopping for just the perfect Hallmark card, I got home and found that I had already purchased the exact same card several months earlier. I have a file cabinet where I store cards that I buy in advance and I had forgotten that I already bought him that very card. Anyway, I loved the message:

“When I stop and think about all the small miracles it took to put you on this planet, to have our paths cross, and to grace our life together with so much light and love…I’m just so grateful…and so, so glad you were born. Happy birthday, my husband, my soul mate.”

It’s true that it took several small miracles (and a few large ones) for Keen and I to meet. I had just turned 15 and was living in a small town in Wisconsin when my father decided to accept an overseas transfer to Singapore with the 3M Company. Keen, not yet 15, was already living in Singapore. Ironically, I fought the move more than any of my other siblings. They saw it as an adventure, but I threw quite a little fit about the whole thing. I didn’t want to leave my friends. And to make matters worse, I had just learned that I made the cheerleading squad, which was a VERY big deal for a high school sophomore, don’t you know! But God knew what He was doing (as usual), because if we hadn’t moved to Singapore, I never would have met the man of my dreams; the man who would one day become my husband and the father of our four children.

After we met and fell in love, life threw us a curve ball. My family moved back to the States (Minnesota, this time), while Keen’s family remained in Singapore. So for the next two years, Keen and I were half a world apart from each other. It was too expensive to call, so we wrote letters….lots of letters. Thankfully, he saved all of his (from me) and I saved all of mine (from him).

One of my sisters later told me that my mom worried that I was in for a big disappointment if I thought Keen was going to wait for me. But wait he did. Although his buddies made several attempts to get him to go on double dates with them, he flatly refused. In fact, when he had to vote for a homecoming queen candidate, he voted for Eileen Van Kirk – even though I no longer attended Singapore American School. Now that’s loyalty!

Keen has been a wonderful husband to me. Back in 1994 when I got my commercial drivers license so that I could drive the trash truck, he told me how happy he was to be able to spend time with me. “The idea of going to work with my wife is so intriguing…..I mean, we got married because we love each other. All we’ve ever wanted was just to be together – now we can.” When we were driving home from St. Louis after picking up our new trash truck he said, “I’m so proud to be able to show the world that my wife is multi-talented. She can be a Memphis Belle when she wants, she’s an accountant, a lawyer, a mother, a housewife and now, she’s a truck driver.” (I wasn’t as thrilled as he was with my new role, so I fired myself a year later.)

Keen has always been and still is a wonderful father. He relates so well to each of our boys. When they were small, I took care of their emotional and physical needs and Keen took care of their need to wrestle, fish, camp, and play catch. During the summers he would take them down to Low Water Bridge so they could swing on the rope and drop into the water. Oh, and I can’t forget the annual Umbehr tomato fight.
At night he would sing them a song, but not your typical lullaby, mind you. He would sing something like “Chantilly Lace.” Then he made up a song from a McDonald’s commercial: “Nobody, can do it, like my buddies can. Nobody, can do it like my buddies can. They’re the reason, I do it – nobody, can do it, like my buddies can.”

One time Keen was so exhausted after work that he went to bed around 6:00 and our 4-year-old son, Josh stood beside his dad and sang to him this time. Here’s an excerpt from my journal:
March 25, 1985

“Keen was beat tonight so Josh put him to bed and sang him a song, instead of the other way around. He sang a rendition of a McDonald’s ditty that Keen always sings to the boys when he puts them to bed. It was priceless. “Nobody can do it, like my daddy can…nobody can do it like my daddy can…..him the reason, me do it – nobody, can do it, like my daddy can.”


When Keen wasn’t working, he was giving 110% to me and the boys. All four of them have said that it’s their goal to become the kind of father that their dad was. (Jared already has!)

Keen is not only a wonderful father and husband, but a remarkable human being. Back in 1998, when we found out that he just lost his fourth attempt at becoming county commissioner, I was so upset. “How many times do you have to run before they’ll elect you?” I asked him. “When will it be your time?” He was discouraged, too, of course, but his response blew me away. “I never ask when,” he said quietly. “I just say…whenever.”

Keen has a dream of becoming governor one day. (You heard it here first.) Maybe he’ll be like Abraham Lincoln who refused to give up even though he lost election after election.

Come to think of it, you didn’t hear it here first. In an article written by Matt Moline in the January 6, 2003 edition of The Topeka Capital-Journal, the headlines read, “Former trashman has high political goals.” Keen was quoted as saying, “I know it seems like an outrageous thing, to go from trashman to be governor. But I'll just say I have this affinity to be governor of this state one day…..Any 5-year-old can say they want to be president, so what I'm saying may sound idealistic, and maybe it is. But I guess people who lose their ideals, they also lose their desire."
Sometimes Keen seems to have the wisdom of Solomon. Over the years, I’ve recorded things he’s said that just sound like a quote. Here are a few of them.

“Life is like a wave; you can either stand there and let it beat you up or you can become a surfer. Learn to ride the waves of life and go with it, because it never stops, it never quits and it never gets any easier.” ~ New Years Eve, 1991

“Let the winds blow stronger, let the skies grow darker, because God is going to give us the victory.” ~June, 1994

“Standing up for what’s right is scary business. And I’ll tell you one thing, there’s not much competition for it either.” ~ June, 1994

Here’s a poem I wrote for Keen for our twentieth anniversary five years ago.

Ode to Keen

Lord, You’re my best friend in the whole wide world,
forever faithful and true;
and You blessed me with someone right here on earth,
someone who’s just like You.

He’s always there when I need him,
he never lets me down;
and whenever I’m feeling sad or blue,
He turns to a smile, my frown.

You brought us together in Singapore,
when we were only fifteen;
and ever since the day we met,
he has made me feel like a queen.

He never chooses to point out my faults,
he acts as if I don’t have any;
and even though I appreciate this,
we both know that I have many.

In twenty years of marital bliss,
not one unkind word has he said;
I only wish that I could say the same,
but You know I’m the hothead.

But just like You, he’s patient with me,
even when I get stressed;
he helps me stay calm in the midst of the storm,
and says things will work out for the best.

He tells me he’s the lucky one,
to have me as his wife;
but I am the one who is truly blessed,
to have him in my life.

Happy birthday, my husband, my soul mate. I love you.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Follow your Dreams

“For a dream comes with much business and painful effort….”
~ Ecclesiastes 5:3 (Amplified)

Climb every mountain
Forge every stream
Follow every rainbow
Till you find your dream
~ The Sound of Music

I guess you could say that I’m a dreamer – but that’s only because I believe dreams really do come true. My dream is to write a book. There. I said it. But I’ll go into that more in a future article.

Before Keen and I got married, we attended some pre-marriage counseling classes through the church. After we filled out several questionnaires, they analyzed our answers and concluded that we were very compatible. (Whew!) They did find one area of concern, however. They said that we seemed to look at life through “rosy-colored glasses.” Later we joked, “Well, they sure beat those dark green ones!” Come to think of it, those rosy-colored glasses have helped us through some pretty bleak moments in our life.

When Abraham told his wife that God spoke to him and said that she would bear a son in her old age, Sarah laughed. “And the Lord asked Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I really bear a child, when I am so old?” (Gen. 18:13) When Joseph told his brothers about his dream that depicted them bowing down to him one day, they mocked him. “Behold, the dreamer cometh!” they chanted. (Gen. 37:19) Martin Luther King had a dream – one that seemed very far from reality at the time. But all of these dreams eventually came true. So I say, let ‘em laugh!

Recently I read a book by Mark Rutland simply titled, Dream. He writes, “Remember this: No one will ever be as excited about your dream as you are. Oh, encouragers may come. Pray so. Some may even be helpful, generous, magnificently generous, but they can never feel what you feel. No one can ever know the inner exhilaration, the surge of spiritual energy, the utter delight in your soul, for it is, after all, your dream and your soul.”

The author also shared a story about when he was in the 5th grade at a new school and how once a month his teacher would have a “dream day” when each child in the class was asked to share their personal dreams. It could be anything, but they had to say something. And if anyone laughed at another person’s dream, they would have to leave the room. One by one the students shared their dreams for their future. “An astronaut,” one said. “A movie star,” said another. Each time a student shared their dream, the teacher would offer words of encouragement. She talked about how one day she just knew she would hear about them on the news or see their name in lights. She talked about how proud she would be to be able to say that she was their teacher. When Mark Rutland’s turn came around, from somewhere deep inside he heard himself say, “I want to write books.” He was only 10 years old at the time, but his heart already knew that he was born to write. (By the way, he just completed his ninth book.)

We must dare to dream, as the saying goes. But it’s not enough just to dream – we have to take steps toward making our dream a reality. The dream is only the beginning – the very first step. Then the real work begins. We have to be determined not to let anyone or anything stand in our way.

My husband spent nearly 18 years on the back end of a trash truck. But he had a dream that one day he could go back to college to earn his law degree. During the time he was a trash man, he worked diligently to provide his customers with the best possible service. But his frequent prayer was that one day God would allow him to “…use his mind, instead of his back.”

In the fall of 1998, Keen was a guest on The Jim Cates show. Jim asked Keen if he ever considered going to law school. His response was: “Actually, Jim, it’s been a personal dream of mine. But I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to do it. I have great admiration for those who do, though.” Little did he know that just a few months later we would get the opportunity to sell our trash company, making it possible for him to enroll at K-State for the spring semester. Yes, by the grace of God, that dream is becoming a reality – but not without “much business and painful effort.”

In his book titled, Simple Truths, author Kent Nerburn devotes a chapter to the subject of work. 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 to the world. He further states 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.”

Nerburn goes on to say, “There is no reason why a person can’t abandon a job that does not fit and strike out into the unknown for something that lies closer to the heart….No amount of security is worth the suffering of a life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams.” He then shares a story about one of his professors who had a dream of becoming a concert pianist. But due to a fear of failure, he never realized his dream. Instead, he chose a career in academics where the work was secure and the money predictable. “Do what is in your heart,” the professor told Nerburn. “I really wanted to be a concert pianist. Now I spend every day wondering how good I might have been.”

Nerburn closes the chapter with these words of advice: “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.”

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.

~ Mark Twain

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Finding Your Voice

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” Then Saul clothed David with his armor….And David tried in vain to go….Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these; for I am not used to them.” And David put them off.
~I Samuel 17:37 - 39 (RSV)

Have you ever felt like a chameleon? I have. Oprah refers to it as “the disease to please.” Oftentimes we morph ourselves into whatever size and shape we need to be to win the approval of others. We may be feeling sad, but we put on a happy face because we think that’s what’s expected of us. We may be angry, but we stifle our feelings rather than truthfully confront the person who hurt us. We want people to like us so we agree to volunteer for activities that we really don’t have time for or interest in; we say yes when we want to say no. It’s just easier to deny ourselves than to risk disappointing others.

I don’t think God made each of us unique only to have us spend all of our time and energy trying to imitate somebody else. He wants us to follow our own hearts and be our own person.

In today’s verse we see well-meaning Saul trying to help the poor, misguided, little shepherd boy, David who naively thinks he can take on the giant, Goliath. What Saul didn’t realize is that David wasn’t trusting in his own abilities; he was putting his faith and confidence in God. “You come to me with a sword and a spear and a javelin,” David said to Goliath. “But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts….whom you have defied.” (I Sam. 17:45)

David was open to suggestions, however. He tried to wear Saul’s armor, but it just didn’t fit. It wasn’t him. Whenever we try to be something we’re not, it feels awkward and uncomfortable. So David went out with his sling shot and five smooth stones, trusting God to use his true talents to slay the giant. As I recall, Goliath was insulted when he saw David approaching. Well, too bad for Goliath. David knew who he was and he knew who he wasn’t. But most importantly, David knew who his God was. We can do all things through Him, but not if we’re busy trying to be like somebody else.

"There are as many ways to live and grow as there are people.
Our own ways are the only ways that should matter to us."
~ Evelyn Mandel

Recently I saw the movie “Seabiscuit, and one line jumped out at me. They were talking about a horse that had been tied to a center pole and trained to walk around and around that pole. When they decided to see if he had the potential to be a race horse, he got on the track and started making sharp little turns, instead of following the course. Someone said, “They’ve had that horse running around in circles for so long he’s forgotten what he was born to be.”

We need to look into our hearts and find out what we were born to be, and then be the best one of it.

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be a mom and a housewife. I’ll never forget the year I got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. I was in seventh heaven! It came with little packets of ingredients for making everything from pretzels to candy. I have always loved being a homemaker and I feel so blessed to have been able to fulfill that deepest desire of my heart.
But that has not been my only desire. I also love to write. I’ve written poems through the years, but this column has been my first experience at sharing my thoughts on a regular basis. It’s been good for me as a writer. It’s helped me find my voice.

“Take care to find your own true strength.
Nurture it. Develop it. Share it with those around you….”

Simple Truths by Kent Nerburn

When Johnny Cash was a young boy, his mother Carrie took in laundry for $3.00 a week so she could get him some singing lessons. After the second lesson the teacher asked Johnny to sing whatever song he’d like. He sang Lovesick Blues by Hank Williams. After his teacher heard him, she pushed away from the piano and said, “End of voice lessons! Sing it the way you feel it!”

Recently I taped one of Dr. Phil’s shows where he dealt with this issue. I recorded the following conversation he had with one of his guests who also had a dream of being a writer.


“I’m a strong believer that we have at the absolute core of who we are what I call an ‘authentic self.’ To me that involves all the gifts, skills, abilities – all the God-given talents, traits, characteristics that you’re given. Then we add to that our learning history; what we’ve picked up from society, what we’ve accomplished or had done to us or by us along the way and that’s our authentic self. And if we’re being consistent with that and we’re allowing those traits and characteristics to come out and achieve, then we’re going to be really, really happy.

“On the other hand, there’s the fictional self, where we start making choices out of fear. We start making choices because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t take the job and stick with it for 16 years. We’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t conform to what Mom or Dad or society or employers or husbands or wives think we should do. And so we say, ‘Okay, authentic self – I hear you crying; I hear you’ve got this talent, I hear you’ve got that skill, I hear you’ve got this ability, but she wants me to do this or he wants me to do that and I’m afraid not to.’

“Look, you’re burning daylight. This is no dress rehearsal. It’s time. If you’re gonna do it, it’s time to do it…..What you need to do is the best you can do. And if the world stands up and salutes that, then great – the world stands up and salutes it…..

“The difference between winners and losers is winners do things losers don’t want to do. That’s the difference between a winner and a loser. Nobody wants to get rejected. Our #1 fear is rejection; our #1 need is acceptance. But winners say, ‘I don’t care if you reject me. It’s gonna hurt me, but you know what? I would rather have the chance and reach for it then sit on the sidelines and watch the world pass me by.’

“What you do is … behave your way to success and what you’ll find out is – monsters live in the dark. So people don’t like something you do? Fine. Somebody else will.

“Writing is a solitary thing – I’ve done it. I’ve written book after book and I sit down and I’m there by myself and it’s late at night and I’m writing and I’m working. Then there comes a time when you put it out there and people are either gonna read it or they’re not – they’re either gonna buy it or they don’t.

“I’ll tell you the secret for me. I decided I’m gonna write this book and I’m gonna tell the truth as I see it…and I was proud of the book whether somebody bought a single copy or not – and then it didn’t matter.”

A friend of mine gave me a beautiful stone plaque that sits on a stand by my computer. It reads: “Words are the voice of the heart.”

I’d like to once again thank Joann Kahnt for giving me this opportunity to find my voice, and the readers of The Prairie Post for listening to it.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

When Love Goes Wrong

"What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”
~ Mark 10:9

Last week I wrote about the blessings of love and a long-lasting marriage. This week I’d like to talk about the opposite scenario – when love goes wrong.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that the disintegration of the family and the high rate of divorce is a sad commentary on the state of our country. Nobody likes to see a family torn apart by divorce. But I truly believe that sometimes it becomes necessary for the well being and survival of those involved.

In regards to the above Bible verse, my husband had an interesting thought: Maybe God didn’t join some people together in the first place. Isn’t it possible that sometimes we’ve made a terrible mistake and simply married the wrong person? As long as we’re human, we’re capable of making some really bad decisions in our lives. Or maybe the person we married changed after the wedding. I’ve seen that happen time and again – they act like Prince Charming before the wedding, and then they turn into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But thankfully, God is a God of second chances!

Some may say that’s a copout or an excuse to give up too quickly on marriage. But I’m not talking about the little disagreements that we all have from time to time (or the occasional BIG disagreements, for that matter) – I’m talking about being married to someone who is unfaithful or continually abuses you or your children verbally, emotionally or physically. As much as God hates divorce, I believe He hates seeing His children abused even more. In fact, the Bible tells us that God takes a dim view of men who mistreat their wives.

“And this you do with double guilt; you cover the altar of the Lord with tears [shed by your unoffending wives]…..”
~ Malachi 2:13 (Amp)

God doesn’t want us to live out our days suffering abuse at the hands of someone who has broken their vow to love, honor and cherish – till death do them part.

There are many reasons why women tolerate abuse at the hands of their spouse, but the main reason usually involves financial concerns. Additionally, abusive men are into power and control and they’re usually very good at manipulating their wives into believing that they are worthless and stupid and no one else would ever want them. After years of being criticized and belittled, the woman’s self-esteem is obliterated and she eventually starts to believe all the negative things he says about her. So she resigns herself to a life of misery and heartache, deciding that even a bad love is better than no love.

Another reason many women stay in a verbally or physically abusive relationship is because there are children involved. When they got married, it was for life – and they never wanted their children to come from a broken home. Sadly, in most cases, their home is already broken. Yet, no matter how bad it gets, they convince themselves that they should just hang in there “for the sake of the children.” But we need to ask ourselves, what is it doing to the children to be living in the middle of a war zone?

Besides that, what kind of an example of marriage is that setting for them? Do we want them to think that it’s normal for husbands and wives to scream at each other day in and day out? Do we want our daughters to think it’s acceptable for a man to cheat on them, belittle them or physically abuse them? Is that really the picture of love we want to paint for our children?

Amelia E. Barr once said, "What right do I have to make everyone in the house miserable because I am miserable? Troubles must come to all, but troubles need not be wicked, and it is wicked to be a destroyer of happiness."

In my sister’s case, she and her kids are happier and more peaceful since the divorce (which was finalized last summer). Recently, her 12-year-old daughter had to write an autobiography for school and she talked about how her dad didn’t treat her very well when he lived with them. Then she quoted the words to a country western song by Jimmy Wayne titled “Stay gone.”

Here’s a poem I wrote for my sister two years ago when she was just beginning to contemplate divorce.

For My Sister’s Sake

My sister’s in a marriage –
if you can call it that,
Her husband is so mean to her,
he tells her she’s ugly and fat.

He never shows her any signs
of kindness, love or affection,
Nothing she does ever meets
his standard of perfection.

He yells at my sister day and night
because the house isn’t clean,
Believe it or not, he even complains
about water spots on the washing machine!

When my sister makes an honest mistake
he mocks her and calls her stupid,
I don’t know where this guy came from
but it certainly wasn’t from Cupid!

Even their kids have noticed the fact
that their dad’s not a very nice fella,
They don’t like how he bosses their mother around
as if she were Cinderella.

When times were tough, as they often were
and his insults pierced her heart,
She took a deep breath and told herself
that this was the “for worse” part.

She wanted to keep her family intact
so she fought with all that she had,
She tried to focus on the good
and overlook the bad.

But recently she discovered
that her suspicions about him were true,
It seems there were three people in the marriage
instead of the traditional two.

Now, whether her life as a single mom
will be an improvement, there’s no guarantee,
But for my sister’s sake, I hope she takes that chance
at least then she will finally be free.


Recently another dear friend of mine, Mae from Texas, sent me an interesting commentary on divorce from The Word Among Us magazine (
Coincidentally, Mae and I became friends when she sent me a letter after reading one of the poems I’d written about my sister’s abusive marriage. I’d like to close with this excerpt:

“If you are divorced, know that Jesus loves you just as much as ever. He shares your pain and suffers with you. Think about His encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42). He didn’t condemn this woman, even though she had been married five times and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. Instead, He brought her to repentance, healed her, and sent her back to her village to tell other people about Him.

Whether married, divorced, or single, all of us need to know God’s healing. Our Father wants to mend the wounds in every marriage as well as the wounds of those who have been affected by divorce….He wants to put his arms around us and give us His blessing (Mark 10:16).”

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Ain't Love Grand?

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD.”
~ Proverbs 18:22 (RSV)

Through the wonder of computer technology, I’ve been privileged to get to know many people whom I’ve never had the opportunity to meet face to face.

In a recent email from two of those dear people, Jack and Evelyn from Florida, they wrote about the vows at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. “Gee, that was 61 years ago. How time does get on in our lives. Are we ever blessed!” Later, Jack realized how that sounded and had this to say:

“Just reread the above....better make sure I get you straight! 61 years ago
was our wedding...not 61 years ago, our 50th anniversary. However, you would not have to retake Math 101 to figure that out! Please, Eileen, no mention in your Reflections that you know someone who was married 111 years ago...or are you also writing a Ripley column?”

Okay, Jack. I won’t write about the couple from Florida who has been married for 111 years. But I did write a little poem for you.

61 Years Ago
(for Jack & Evelyn)

How could we have known
how You would bless our life
When 61 years ago,
we became man and wife?

You blessed us with children
And grandchildren, too –
In every situation, Lord
You were there to see us through

Yes, we stand in awe and wonder,
of all the blessings You’ve bestowed
But the miracle we’re most grateful for
began 61 years ago.

Speaking of blessings, last Friday a group of “Almanites” met at Gambino’s Pizza to welcome two very special people to our town, Bob and Alma Walters. But first I should give you a little background information which Bob shared in a letter he wrote to the residents of Alma in a recent edition of The Wabaunsee County Signal-Enterprise.

In the letter, Bob described the profound effect a billboard on I-70 had on his life eight years ago when he was driving from Marion, Ohio to California to visit his stepdaughter, Tasha. During his stay, Bob met Alma, the grandmother of the one-year-old boy Tasha cared for as a live-in nanny. Alma had been widowed 6 months earlier after her husband of 33 years passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack.

Bob wrote about the instant attraction he felt for Alma. During his visit, they had several opportunities to spend time together and with each meeting, his fondness for her grew. But Bob didn’t know how he could express his feelings to someone who had so recently lost her beloved husband. So he left California as planned and headed home to Ohio.

On the drive back he couldn’t stop thinking about Alma. “She was such a warm, wonderful, funny, beautiful woman,” he wrote. In short, Alma was everything Bob could ever hope for in a mate.

The battle to get Alma off his mind continued through Nevada, Utah, Colorado and into Kansas. “Then it happened!” he wrote. “The billboard loomed ahead like an oasis in the desert, sending shockwaves of relief and confidence throughout my mind, body and soul!”


“Those four HUGE words on a billboard in Kansas on I-70 …. a sign from the heavens illuminating my soul! Those four words gave me the confidence to call Alma to ask if she would agree to see me if I came back to California. Those four words gave me the guts to express my feelings and to allow her to respond in a way that established such a wonderful connection that I don’t know how I ever lived without it!

“On September 1st, 1995, Alma and I went out on our first date, and we’ve been together ever since! And the romance, and the laughter, and the love continue to grow!”

Bob went on to explain that he and Alma would be driving through our town of Alma around the first of October and he asked people to contact them so they could make arrangements to meet some of the local residents. They wanted to talk to people who grew up in Alma and perhaps meet those responsible for the sign that changed the course of their life eight years ago.

We all enjoyed visiting and laughing with Bob and Alma. They are an interesting, fun-loving couple with a true zest for life. They are so grateful for the twist of fate that gave Bob the courage to express his feelings for a woman he had only just met.

I guess it goes to show that we should pay attention to the signs in our life – both literal and otherwise!

Thursday, October 02, 2003

My Sister, Mary

But Ruth said: "Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.” ~ Ruth 1:16

This past weekend I was talking on the phone to our daughter-in-law, Erin, and she had a few humorous stories about things the kids had said or done. The other day her one-year-old, Gabriel, got a hold of the cordless phone. After she took it away from him the phone rang. It was the sheriff’s department calling to make sure everyone was all right because they just received a 911 call. Of all the numbers he could have pushed!

Another time Asher said: “Mommy, our baby is growing up!” They’re going to a new babysitter now since Erin started nursing school so when she picked them up the other day Asher looked sad. He said, “My friend wasn’t there today, Mommy. Gabe had a friend, but I didn’t.” Then Erin was wondering how they liked their new sitter so she asked Asher if she was nice and he said yes. Then she asked him if she ever yells at him and once again he said yes. Feeling a bit concerned, Erin inquired about what she said when she yelled at him and Asher replied, “She said: Be careful!”

My sister Mary gave me a comic strip recently. She said it reminded her of me. It was The Family Circus by Bil Keane and it showed two little kids standing on the sidewalk watching a third boy walking towards them. The one kid says to the other one – “Oh, no! Here comes Billy with more cute things his grandmother said.”

Speaking of Mary – you guessed it – she has a birthday coming up! This Sunday, October 5, she will be celebrating her 47th birthday. Mary and I are just about two years apart in age, but we’re as different as night and day. How is it, then, that we have been the best of friends for nearly our entire life? (With the exception of that period of time when she hated my guts because I wore one of her new shirts before she even wore it and after she specifically told me not to! But we won’t talk about that.)

Mary and I shared a room up until the time that she started high school. By then, a few of our older siblings had moved out, so that freed up one of their rooms. Mary was the best big sister I could ever hope for. Whenever I had trouble falling asleep, she would sing hymns to me from church – like Ave Maria or the Our Father. It worked every time!

The thing I remember most about our childhood is the laughter. Like most sisters, we laughed and giggled about the silliest things. In fact, whenever one of us was feeling blue, we had these imaginary giggle pills that we’d take – and they really worked! But then there were those times when the giggle pills got us into trouble. Like when our dad would come into our room at night to tell us to quiet down and go to sleep. After ignoring repeated warnings, we would suffer the consequences on our backsides.

Mary knew how to play the guitar and she also wrote songs, so she and I would often sing together. In fact, when our parents had dinner parties, several of us girls would entertain the guests by performing for them. We sang songs like Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, 500 Miles, Lemon Tree, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and White Coral Bells (which we sang as a round). I still love those old songs.

Mary’s been with me through thick and thin. When we moved to Singapore and had trouble adjusting to a new high school in a foreign country, we were each other’s only friend. She was there when I came home from my first date with Keen. She was in my wedding and I was in hers. One time she came for a visit and noticed that our oldest son, Jared, was riding a bike with a banana seat that was too small for him. Well, Aunt Mary was absolutely appalled and promptly made her way to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy him a brand new bicycle. When her twins were born, I had the privilege of being there before, during and after their birth. And when she told me that Chloe’s middle name would be Eileen, I was overwhelmed with joy. More recently, I supported her during a painful divorce.

Mary is good for me. She makes me feel special. She calls me “Bean.” I remember how we laughed until we cried when I was at her house and she asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. “Coffee, Bean?” she asked. We still laugh about that. Everything is funny when I’m with Mary. But she’s got it all wrong. She’s the truly special one.

I found the perfect poem for Mary that I’d like to share with you. Ironically, it comes from a book of poems about sisters that Mary gave me for Mother’s Day last year. This is my birthday wish for you, Mary….. sent with all my love.

You Are a Very Special Sister
By Sydney Nealson.

I want you to know how amazing you are.
I want you to know how much you’re treasured
and celebrated and quietly thanked.

I want you to feel really good about who you are.
About all the great things you do!
I want you to appreciate your uniqueness.
Acknowledge your talents and abilities.
Realize what a beautiful soul you have.
Understand the wonder within.

You make so much sun shine through, and
you inspire so much joy in the lives of
everyone who is lucky enough to know you.

You are a very special person, giving so many people a reason to smile. You deserve to receive the best in return, and one of my heart’s favorite hopes is that the happiness you give away will come back to warm you each and every day of your life.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Thank You, Mom

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights….” ~ James 1:17 (NKJV)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Women of Faith conference I attended in Iowa and you might recall that I shared that poem titled “Dust if you Must” along with one of my own poems entitled Kids. It was about how my life with kids is not clean or quiet. Well, today I received a nice surprise in the mail from a small magazine called Happiness. They publish all the weekly television listings along with pictures and poems from their readers. I had submitted my Kids poem for publication and they decided to publish it on Page 7 of the October 4-10 edition. They sent me two copies along with $25.00. That’s a first for me!

This Saturday, September 27th, my stepmother, Barbara Brady, will be celebrating her birthday. I’ve never really liked the term “stepmother.” But then I was thinking about how Barbara helped us carry on after our mother’s death, and that gave new meaning to the word “step.”

Barbara came into our life after we lost our mother to cancer over fourteen years ago. From day one she has filled our lives with love and laughter and she continues to be one of God’s greatest gifts to our family. I was reading one of my journals from about ten years ago and our son Josh summed up our feelings like this: “Grandma gave Grandma to us. Your mom gave Grandma Barb to us, to watch over us."

About ten years ago I was at a loss for words as to how to adequately express my gratitude to Barbara. I thought I would explode if I didn’t get my feelings on paper. Finally one night as I was getting ready for bed, a phrase popped into my head, so I wrote it down. "How do you thank someone? Please tell me how ….."

Please Tell Me How

How do you thank someone for caring and sharing, for
loving and giving from their heart and soul?
Please tell me how.

How do you thank someone for filling your life with fun
and surprises, love and laughter?
Please tell me how.

How do you thank someone for taking you into their heart
and their home, just when you needed them most?
Please tell me how.

How do you thank someone for a mother's love, a mother's
warmth, a mother's hug?

Please tell me how, and I'll do it.


But alas, the dilemma continues. This is my latest attempt to convey my love and appreciation to my stepmother, Barbara.

September, 2003

Thank you, Mom

Mom, thank you for having such a big heart. When you married our dad you treated all nine of us as if you’d given birth to each and everyone of us. We all felt blessed – overwhelmed, really – by all the love you showed us right from the start. God broke the mold when He made you, Mom.

They say no one can ever replace a loved one lost – and that’s true I suppose, because no two people are alike. But I believe that God handpicked you for all of us, because He didn’t want us to be left without the love of a mother. He knew that you had enough love in your heart (even though it had been wounded many times in the past) for our very large family. We felt a void when our mother died, but you came along and you filled it. You’re so good at everything a mother does – loving without condition or question, giving advice when asked but letting us make our own decisions, supporting us no matter what direction our life may take and encouraging us every step along the way.

You’ll never know – you couldn’t possibly know – how much all your love has meant to me over the years. So this is my feeble attempt to help you understand how much I appreciate your love for me and how much love I have in my heart for you.

Thank you, Mom. You are such a gift from God.

Thursday, September 18, 2003


“Children's children are the crown of old men….”
~ Proverbs 17:6 (NKJV)

Keen and I have two grandsons who are both celebrating their birthdays this week. Our youngest grandson, Gabriel Michael, had his first birthday on September 17th and his big brother, Asher William, will celebrate his 4th birthday on September 21st. They already had their joint birthday party last Sunday. When my daughter-in-law Erin asked Asher what his favorite gift was, he thought for a minute and said, “The birthday hats!” We should all be so easy to please!

I’d like to share this poem that I wrote when Asher was about six months old.

A New Kind of Wonder
By Eileen Umbehr

When Asher was born on September 21st,
I was so excited, I thought I would burst.

My daughter-in-law invited me to be in the room,
when their bundle of love decided to bloom.

Then I watched my firstborn son cut the cord asunder,
while I peered into the face of this New Kind of Wonder.

I saw his cute dimples; I heard his first cry.
Yes, I witnessed a miracle, right before my eyes.

He’s not mine, but then he is, because he’s a part of me –
this newest little branch on our family tree.

You just cannot imagine, the joy that he brings –
that is, unless you have your own grand-offspring!

Whenever I haven’t seen him in a while,
he puts his little hands on my cheeks and gives me a big smile.

Asher’s name means blessed, lucky and happy,
And that’s just what he’s made his grandma and grandpappy.

So whenever I’m feeling a little bit under,
I just look into the face of this New Kind of Wonder.


Jared, Erin and Asher lived in Manhattan until Asher was two years old, so we really enjoyed having them so close by. Then, after September 11th, Jared decided to join the Navy, and they moved to Ohio so Erin could live with her parents and enroll in nursing school. We sure do miss them.

Here’s another poem I wrote shortly after they moved to Ohio two years ago.

Most of all
By Eileen Umbehr

I miss seeing your smile
and hearing your laugh
I miss singing you to sleep
and holding you on my lap.

The high chair sits empty,
the toy box is untouched;
And I guess we won’t be needing,
these little forks, spoons and cups.

Here are a few extra diapers,
And a can of Pediasure,
Some tiny little mittens
that won’t fit anyone ‘round here.

Now there’s no one to sing,
the “Asher cheer” to,
Because there’s nobody else
half as special as you.

Everywhere I look
I’m reminded of you,
the legos in the closet
and seeing Blue’s Clues.

I miss your mommy
And your daddy, too
But most of all, Asher,
I miss you.

About that nursing degree…..well, life has a funny way of throwing you curve balls and this little curve ball weighed 6 lbs. 4 oz. and is named Gabriel Michael. But we wouldn’t trade him for anything (although his Daddy says he’s not quite as “adorable” at 2:00 in the morning). So Erin took a year off to nurse and nurture their new little son and now, a year later, she is ready to start back to nursing school. Erin is strong and determined, so I have no doubt that she will achieve all of her goals. (She’s also very intelligent – that always helps!)

I remember the night Gabriel was born. I was on the phone with Jared and he was explaining that there were some complications and the doctors were considering doing a C-section. All of a sudden Jared said, “Mom, I’ve gotta go! Erin’s having the baby!” He called about an hour later to let us know that Erin had another healthy baby boy and she was able to deliver him naturally. Then Jared said, “Do you want to hear him, Mom?” So he put the phone by his newborn son and I heard one of Gabe’s very first cries. Needless to say, that started a chain reaction and soon Grandma was crying, too. But it was the next best thing to being there.

Asher and Gabe have turned out to be the best of buddies. Gabe’s a tough little guy who already likes to romp on the floor with his brother. When Erin moved Gabe into Asher’s room recently Asher was just thrilled. I’m so glad they have each other for a built in playmate.

Before I close, I’d like to share one more poem that a woman named Deb Miller wrote for her grandchildren.

Loving a Grandchild!
By Deb Miller

Loving a grandchild is
like none other.
It's not quite the same as
being a mother.

You love your children,
each one is unique,
But the love of a grandchild,
will sweep you off your feet.

They look up at you,
with their cute little grins,
touching your heart deep within.

They're sweet little angels
sent from up above,
and they warm your heart
with unconditional love.


Asher William Umbehr
Born September 21, 1999

Gabriel Michael Umbehr
Born September 17, 2002