Thursday, July 24, 2003

The Littlest Fireman

“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” ~ Mark 10:14

Recently I received an email story about a six year old boy named Billy who was dying of leukemia. One day the boy’s young mother asked her son a question.

“Billy, did you ever think about what you wanted to be once you grew up? Did you ever dream about what you would do with your life?"

“Mommy,” he replied, “I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up."

Billy’s mom smiled and set out to see if she could make her son’s wish come true. Later that day she went to the local fire department where she met Fireman Bob, who had a heart as big as Phoenix. She explained her son's final wish and asked if it might be possible to give her six-year-old a ride around the block on a fire engine.

The fire chief replied, “We can do one better than that.” And they did. Billy was made an honorary fireman for a day and was allowed to go on all the fire calls with the crew. He was in seventh heaven riding in the fire engines that day. It meant so much to Billy to have his dream come true. The local news even covered the special event.

Billy lived three months longer than anyone expected, but one night his vital signs started dropping dramatically. The head nurse, who believed in the hospice concept that no one should die alone, began to call the family members to the hospital. Then she remembered the day Billy spent as a fireman, so she called the fire chief and asked if it would be possible to send a uniformed fireman to the hospital to be with Billy as he made his transition. The chief replied, "We can do one better than that.” And they did.

A short while later, the Phoenix fire department arrived at the hospital to visit “one of their finest” one last time. A hook and ladder truck arrived at the hospital and extended its ladder up to Billy's third floor window. Sixteen firefighters climbed into Billy's room and each one lined up to give Billy a hug. With his dying breath, Billy looked up at the fire chief and said, "Chief, am I really a fireman now?" "Yes Billy, you are. And the Head Chief is holding your hand." Billy smiled and said, "I know, He's been holding my hand all day, and the angels have been singing." Then he closed his eyes one last time.


After I forwarded a copy of this story to a friend of mine in Phoenix, he sent it on to a friend of his in Alabama named Cindy. Her response to the article included another touching story about a little girl from her church. With Cindy’s permission, I’d like to share that story with you.

Reading the story of Billy brought tears to my eyes and made me think of the miracle child I know in my life.

We have a little girl in my church who is the world's oldest and might be the only survivor of a rare brain cancer. When she was four, her parents noticed their daughter was limping. She was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor and was rushed to St. Jude’s Hospital. Her tumor turned out to be a rare form of cancer, and her prognosis was not good at all. She had surgery, and endured several rounds of chemo that took about nine months to complete.

The side effects of the chemo were devastating, yet she went through it with a strength and endurance most adults would have folded under. She came back, with no hair, stunted growth, pale complexion, and a smile that would light up the entire church. At that time, there were three survivors of this cancer in the world. She seemed to have beaten the cancer until last summer, when her limp came back. She had two more deadly tumors, and was sent back to St. Jude’s for almost another year of surgery and chemo.

As of now, she is cancer free. She walks with a limp and needs a leg brace because one of the newer tumors ate into the motor area of her brain. She is still the size of a four year old, even though she is now eight years old. She wears a hat because all the chemo has pretty much permanently made her lose her hair. She limps up the aisle on her own each Sunday to get Communion, and comes back with that famous smile that lights up the entire church. She has taught us all to embrace life, be joyful for what we have, and to thank God each day for our health, our families, our friends, and all the other blessings we have that we take for granted.

She is a walking miracle that will always touch people's hearts when they meet her. No one knows her future, how long she has to live, if the cancer will return or remain in remission. But, she is content with her life, and never gives up or shows she is down at any time.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Josh & Lisa

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
Genesis 2:24

This coming Saturday, July 19th, will be a very special day for our family. It is the day that our second oldest son, Joshua Jim, will marry his high school sweetheart, Lisa Marie Kaus.

In my first column I mentioned that I have kept journals most of my life. After our children came along, I started recording the funny things they said (or did) in a separate journal. Lately I’ve been reading through Josh’s journal and found a few quotes that I’d like to share from when he was about 6 years old.

“When I get married I’m gonna ask the girl, ‘Do you hate potatoes? Do you hate peas?” When I asked him why, he answered, “Cuz I hate peas and potatoes and I don’t want her to make them for me. They’re sorta like my enemies!”

“I don’t want to be a doctor when I grow up because it looks like a lot of hard work and it seems like a difficult job.” (Josh will be starting med school at KU this fall.)

At lunch one day he said, “I’m not sure if I’m going to get married. It depends….. if a girl likes me. It will be so embarrassing to get married and have all those people staring at me!”

One time at breakfast he said, “I can’t wait until I’m 18.” His older brother Jared asked him why and he replied, “So I can have a girlfriend, silly!”

Nearly everyone within a 30 mile radius of our home has heard this story, but I’ll go ahead and share it anyway. Josh and Lisa started dating during their senior year at Manhattan High (Josh had transferred there when he was a junior), and my husband had the opportunity to meet Lisa before I did. When I asked him what he thought of Josh’s new girlfriend he replied, “What did I think of her? She’s got daughter-in-law written all over her.” I have to admit that I had the same feeling after I met Lisa, too. I guess you could say it was love at first sight for the entire family!

Lisa Marie Kaus is one in a million. She’s sweet, pretty, hard working, God-fearing and intelligent (she graduated cum laude from Kansas State and is going to become an RN). But most importantly, she loves our son with all of her heart and soul. Lisa is everything anyone could ever ask for in a daughter-in-law and we thank God for blessing Josh with such a wonderful woman. Needless to say, we are elated about their upcoming marriage.

Last Saturday I spent the day assembling the wedding programs with Lisa and her mom, Linda. In addition to the standard information contained in a traditional wedding program, Josh and Lisa wrote about how they met as well as a short paragraph about each person in their wedding party. Lisa wrote about her maid of honor and bridesmaids (three cousins and a friend), and Josh wrote about his best man (Keener) and three groomsmen (Kirk, best friend, Travis Guth and Lisa’s brother, Aaron). Tears came to my eyes as I read the loving tributes Josh and Lisa paid to the members of their wedding party.

When I turned to the back page of the program, I was also touched to see that they had included a poem I had written several years ago titled, Roots and Wings.

Roots and Wings

Some people say,
there are only two things,
that you can give your children,
one is roots; the other, wings.

They'll have their share of ups and downs,
at times the skies will be bleak,
but we must allow them to spread their wings,
even if they bump their beaks!

It's hard to know when to let them go,
some are ready sooner than others,
but no matter when that time comes,
it's always hard on their mothers!

But deep down in our heart of hearts,
we have always known,
we can't keep them with us forever,
one day they will be on their own.

And we really wouldn't want it,
any other way,
we have to allow them to fly and be free,
even though we wish they could stay.

So we'll raise our children
with faith, hope and love,
and a prayer that God will watch over them
From Heaven up above.

Then when the time arrives,
for them to leave the nest,
we'll wave good-bye with a tear in our eye,
knowing that we've been blessed.

Josh & Lisa

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Keener's Birthday

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward.”
~ Psalms 127:3

This past Tuesday, July 8th, our third son turned 19 years old. He was my special gift that year, born just five days after my birthday. I wanted to name him Jacob Keen and call him Jake, just to avoid the confusion that goes along with having a junior. But when we looked at him it was if the name “Keen” was tattooed on his forehead. Then my husband told me he would be bursting with pride to have a son named after him (for some reason we had never even considered it with our first two boys). I continued to lobby for Jake, but it just seemed like our new little son was looking up at us saying, “My name is Keen; you can try to name me something else, but my name is Keen.” So Keen it was. Officially, his name is Keen Alfred Umbehr II, which is not only derived from his father, but also from his paternal great-grandfather Keen and his paternal great-great grandfather Alfred.

Eventually we came up with a nickname for him: Keener. When he was little he would correct us if we called him Keen. He’d say, “I’m not Keen - I’m Keener!” Or, “I’m not son, I’m Keener!” Then when we got it right he’d say, “That’s more like it!”

One time when he was about nine years old he told me that when he grew up he was going to get married and have two kids – a boy and a girl. The girl was going to be named Christine and the boy was going to be named Keen. “So I can keep up the tradition.” I remember thinking, “What in the world does a nine year old know about tradition?”

The following poem was written by Keen’s best friend in high school, Rachel Ann Yancey. With her permission, I’d like to share it with you.

He is quiet in his own way,
Afraid to maybe go too far away.
He wears what is clean.
Worries he is overweight or too lean.
There is no joke he does not know,
So don’t even try or give it a go.
He gets nervous when he drives.
And he hopes to live a million lives.
Things he does not understand amaze him,
And things he knows too much about confuse him.
He cannot tell a lie,
And when conversing, you best look him in the eye.
Freckles cover his face and arms,
He is full of laughter and charm.
Try if you might to break his will,
But he will hold still and still.
He is out to please everyone,
But will take advice from only One.
There is something magical in his eye.
Something you don’t see on every guy.
That is what draws me to his side.
His intense and powerful pride,
Will forever keep him in memories to pass,
Till the only one left is his very last.

Keener's Birthday

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Do it Afraid

Dear Prairie Post Readers,

My name is Eileen Umbehr and I would like to introduce you to my new column, "Reflections." Joann Kahnt has graciously agreed to allow me to express myself on the pages of her paper.

Most of you have read my poems about my kids, my husband or my sister's difficult marriage. Don't ask me why, but I really enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings with others. It's kind of a paradox, really, because I'm actually a very private person in one sense. Keen and I love living in the country where the only thing we see when we look out our window is the beauty of nature. We do have one neighbor, but they have the most beautiful yard you've ever seen (it puts ours to shame!), so we enjoy that view as well.

All my life I have enjoyed writing. I’ve kept journals (off and on) since I was 15 years old. I wrote letters to our grandmother in Pennsylvania and compiled poems for members of my family on their birthdays. Poetry and writing has always been a great form of self expression for me.

But after I hit the "send" button on the email I sent to Joann asking her what she thought about my idea for a column, my stomach starting doing flip flops. "What was I thinking?" I asked myself. But there was no turning back. Then when I saw Joann's response in my "new mail," I had butterflies once again as I anticipated her response.

A woman preacher I listen to named Joyce Meyer talks about how we should "Do it afraid." She says that when God tell us to "fear not" (which I've heard appears 365 times in the Bible), He doesn't mean that we should never feel fear, but rather that we shouldn't let fear keep us from doing what we want to do. I'm sure David wasn't "fearless" when he faced Goliath - but he didn't let that stop him.

With that in mind, I'd like to embark on this journey despite the fear that I feel inside. I'd also like to thank Joann Kahnt, and you, the readers, for giving me the privilege.

Eileen Umbehr