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.