Thursday, January 27, 2005

Finding Your Niche

“We are one body but all members do not have the same function. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
~ Romans 12:4-6

The wind is moving
But I am standing still
A life of pages
Waiting to be filled
A heart that’s hopeful
A head that’s full of dreams
But this becoming
Is harder than it seems
Feels like I’m …

Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world

~Place in This World ~ by Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick

I’d like to dedicate this column to a dear friend of mine from my high school days, Scott Carson. I met Scott in 1974 when I was a sophomore at Singapore American School. Scott was a fellow member of the “Friday night Bible Study group” that Keen and I attended. In fact, he was the person who first invited me to join the group. Up until that point, my sister and I were very unhappy at SAS because we just hadn’t been able to make any friends. Our mom wisely assured us that if things didn’t improve, we could transfer to the International School. It brought us great comfort to know that we had other options, but I’m sure Mom knew that it was only a matter of time before we found a group of friends. As usual, Mom was right.

In this recent email, Scott reminisced about the “good old days.”

“Do you remember the day we met? I was wearing a "One Way" pin on my OVERALLS (ah, the '70s!) and as we passed in the stairwell you said, "Praise the Lord, brother!" Although we go for years at a time without contact, I count you amongst those treasured friends I was blessed with in Singapore. I don't believe I've had friendships with that same level of intensity and intimacy since then. We were truly blessed during those golden years, weren't we? And look at us now, 30+ years later and STILL benefiting from those marvelous blessings.”

It was a very special time in our lives and I also consider the friendships I made there some of my most cherished.

Now the idea of attending a weekly Bible study might not sound too exciting to most teenagers, but let me tell you, we laughed and had more fun in that group than you can imagine. After Bible study we would take a bus to the “pasam malam” (that’s Malay for night market) and sample the local foods. My personal favorite was fried bananas. On Saturdays we would often take boat rides to nearby islands such as Sentosa and Sisters Island and sometimes we went on weekend Bible retreats to Malaysia (Chendor and Port Dickson).

Scott was always the funny man in the group and we were convinced that he would become a famous comedian someday. He could light up a room with his smile and have us all in stitches with his antics and great sense of humor. Of course, he had his serious side, too. Everyone who knew Scott felt blessed by his energy and the love of God he exuded.

As Scott mentioned in his email, we haven’t stayed in close touch over the years, but we have managed to continue to exchange Christmas cards. (He’s one of those people who mails his cards out by December 1st.) A couple of years ago Scott moved to St. Louis, so I’m hoping that our paths will cross again one of these days.

This poem by F.C. (Fred) Appelhanz could have been written for Scott, as it seems to describe him perfectly. Fred, who is a new poet friend of mine from Holton, Kansas, has kindly permitted me to share his gift of poetry.

By F.C. Appelhanz

Let your laughter speak,
of the goodness in your heart.
Moving the world,
touching our core,
just with a smile.
See the impact you cause,
with the lightness of your presence
Reaching us all,
soothing our cares,
just being yourself.
All that you have to give,
is the only purpose you know.
Caring your meaning,
calling us home,
just with a wink.
For all the love you bring,
in the unconditional life you live.
Sharing your soul, giving from deep inside,
Just a pure joy.

Lately Scott and I have been getting caught up via email and he told me about the various side roads he traveled on the journey to finding his current profession, which he dearly loves. Scott has held many different jobs ranging from insurance salesman, to Naval Officer, to bartender, to casket delivery man.

In the book titled, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat,” author John Ortberg writes:

“A calling is something you discover, not something you choose. The word vocation comes from the Latin word for voice. Discovering it involves very careful listening. What brings you joy? For what do you have desire and passion – for these, too, are gifts from God. This is why giftedness is about more than just talents – it includes passion. As Arthur Miller says, ‘It’s the lifeblood of a person, the song that her heart longs to sing, the race that his legs were born to run.’”

Ortberg then shared the following quote from Michael Novak:

“We didn’t give ourselves the personalities, talents, or longings we were born with. When we fulfill these – these gifts from beyond ourselves – it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do . . .the Creator of all things knows the name of each of us – knows thoroughly, better than we do ourselves, what is in us, for he put it there and intends for us to do something with it – something that meshes with his intentions for many other people. Even if we do not always think of it that way, each of us was given a calling – by fate, by chance, by destiny, by God. Those who are lucky have found it.”

Last week, after reading my column about God-given gifts, Scott sent me a very moving letter which beautifully illustrates the long and winding road we often take on the journey to “finding our niche.” With Scott’s permission, I’d like to share it with you


Thanks for including me on your "Reflections" distribution list. Many times in my life I've looked with envy on people who can say, "...I knew I wanted to be a _______ since I was 8 years old..." since I am one of those people who made it to adulthood with no clue of what my vocation would be. I knew there were many things I liked to do, but they were not activities I wanted to turn to for profit since that would rob them of the joy and fun they provided me. Such callings as teacher, minister, writer and counselor tugged at my heart, but each time I ventured toward formalizing them into "my career," they vanished before my eyes and trickled between my fingers like so much sand. One day I answered a classified advertisement for a position at a health department and got the job. Many years later I realized that the callings from long ago had merged to create a vocation that is more precious than anything I could have deliberately chosen for myself. I help people learn about disease, I create training manuals for health care professionals, I've spent time on the street meeting people who live in abandoned crates on vacant lots, and I dialog with people about how to alter their behavior in order to stay well. It was then that God chuckled in my ear and said, "See, you ARE a teacher, a minister, a writer, a counselor...I just made sure you got to do those things in an extraordinary way so you won't get bored."

For many years I worked with people infected with, affected by, or who risked infection with HIV. A seminary classmate once criticized me for spending time with "those people," and I was stunned. What is the proper response to a statement like that? My reaction was to sit there with my mouth hanging open, and since, for once, I wasn't blabbering on and on, God took the opportunity to use my idle vocal apparatus and said to my friend, "I'll help them stay well long enough for you to get them into church and save their souls..."

I work in public health. It is my ministry, my classroom, my counseling office, and my great masterpiece. I love my coworkers and my clients, and I love lying down at night and thinking, "...I helped someone today..." I could not see this path at 8 years old, but now I am glad because God showed me some marvelous scenery along the way, and used each experience to shape me into what He needs me to be.

Love to you, old friend,


“Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'”

~Matthew 25:34-36 (NLT)

Scott Carson

Thursday, January 20, 2005

God-Given Gifts

“But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”
~ I Corinthians 7:7 (RSV)

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been writing this column for a year and a half now. It seems like only yesterday that I ventured outside my comfort zone by asking Joann Kahnt if she would be willing to allow me to write a column in The Prairie Post. I just can’t thank Joann enough for saying yes, because I have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the experience so much. Even though it takes a certain amount of time to put the column together, I consider it a privilege to be given this opportunity to express myself.

I’d also like to thank you, the readers, for your interest in my thoughts, feelings, poems and stories. In moments of self-doubt, I sometimes wonder what makes me think that anyone would be interested in my life or the lessons I’ve learned along the way. But then I think about Laura Ingalls Wilder and how she wrote about her family’s life on the prairie. She had an irrepressible urge to share the everyday happenings of her life, and so do I. And even though I don’t know many of you (except for those who receive my column via email), I feel a connection to you because you’ve allowed me to come into your homes week after week and share the ups and downs of my life. For that, I am deeply grateful.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have provided me with so much support and encouragement along this journey. Special thanks to my dad, stepmom, husband, kids and siblings. Also my friends from across the country: Kathi in Mississippi, Vicki in Georgia, Jack & Evelyn in Florida, Kenneth in Oklahoma, Marne, Rumelia and Barbara in Kansas, my godfather Bill in Virginia, Jean in Nevada, Angie in Missouri, Larry in Singapore, Mae and Peggy in Texas and finally, from Council Grove, Kansas, Rebecca, Shirley and Connie (the proprietor of The Cottage House - our favorite bed and breakfast). Your notes, comments and emails have meant more to me than you’ll ever know.

When I first started writing my column, my friend Linda Jernigan sent me the following note of encouragement.

“You’re not an inspiring writer, you’re a writer that is inspired by people and real life subjects that people want to read about, even more so during hard times in the world and our everyday lives. Say ten times everyday, OK! I AM A WRITER!”

When Keen and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, we had to fill out our personal information for the announcement in the paper. I stated that Keen was a student at Washburn Law School, but I went back and forth about how to describe myself. I finally decided to list my occupation as “homemaker”, even though in my heart I wanted to include, “aspiring writer.” That would’ve been a true statement, but since I don’t have any formal training and I’ve never attended a day of college, I just didn’t think I qualified. But little by little I’m getting more comfortable with the idea that I am not only a homemaker, wife, and mother, but I am also a writer. By continuing to share my reflections each week, I’m trying to utilize whatever God-given talents I may have.

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”
~Erma Bombeck

The truth of the matter is, we all have some natural abilities that God expects us to use. As my sister Peggy’s favorite teacher used to say: “A talent not used is a talent in decay.”

It reminds me of the story in the Bible about the master who gave his servants some talents. One received ten talents, one five and the other received one. The servant with the one talent feared what would happen if he lost or squandered his talent, so he “played it safe” and buried it.

But that did not please his master. In fact, I get the feeling that his master would have preferred to see the servant try and fail, than to never try at all. He said, “At least you could have invested it and earned interest!” Then he took the talent away and gave it to the man with ten talents. (Matthew 25:28) So If God has given you talents, He wants you to do something with them! He wants you to use them!

“For out of His fullness (abundance) we all received . . . one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped upon gift] . . .”
~ John 1:16

In his best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Author Rick Warren writes:

"God shaped you for a purpose and He expects you to make the most of what you've been given. Focus on the talents He's given you. When you attempt to serve God in ways you weren't meant to, it feels like a square peg in a round hole. It leaves you feeling frustrated and produces limited results. It's a waste of your time, energy and talent....Discover your shape, learn to accept it and then develop it to its full potential. Take a long look at what you're good at and what you're not good at. Ask yourself, ‘When do I feel most alive? What do I most enjoy doing? What am I doing when I lose track of time? Am I an extrovert or an introvert? Do I like working alone or in a group? What am I passionate about?’"

That’s such good advice. It’s been said that if you do something you love, then you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s not to say that following your dreams won’t involve hard work, because it will. But when you’re working toward a goal that will allow you to fulfill your deepest passion, then it’s worth whatever it takes to get there.

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."
~ Emile Zola (1840-1902)

The three things I am most passionate about are God, my family and writing; I need little else to make me happy. And even though my particular style of writing may not appeal to everyone, that’s all right, because I can’t write to please this person or that person – I have to write in the style that’s most natural to me. I have to take what’s in my heart and share it, like a painter who expresses himself on canvas. God doesn’t want me to try to be like anybody else, He just wants me to be the best “me” that I can be. Anything less would seem empty and phony.

I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that if you give a man six lines he’ll have you fit for hanging by the end of the day. That’s the calculated risk every writer takes. With every stroke of the pen, we create fresh opportunities for our critics. But as I stated in an earlier column, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Because I have no other choice
What people think, I cannot care
For it’s the nature of the poet
To want and need to share.

~ The Nature of the Poet, by Eileen Umbehr

The movie Chariots of Fire depicted the true story of Eric Liddle and Harold Abrahams who overcame many obstacles to run for the gold in the 1924 Olympics. In one portion of the movie, Eric’s sister chastised him for running in the Olympics when there were lost souls to be saved and his missionary needed him in China. When she asked him how he could justify it he replied, "I must run, because when I run, I feel His pleasure."

That’s how I feel about writing. I must write – I’m compelled to write – because that’s when I feel like I’m doing what God put me on this earth to do. When I’m not working on my book or my column, then I’m writing a poem or a letter to a friend. If left to my own devices, I will always choose to write.

When Toby Keith was interviewed about the song titled “The Angry American”, he said, “When you write something, you never know how many legs it’s gonna grow or how many branches or people you’re going to affect.”

“But words are things and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew upon a thought,
Produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."

~ Lord Byron, English poet, 1819

This past week my column grew a few more “branches” when our son Josh completed a web page or “blog” (short for web log) which contains all my past Reflections columns, complete with pictures. I told Josh that I was very comfortable just writing for the readers of The Prairie Post, but since technology has made it possible for me to expand my audience, I guess it’s time for me to leave my comfort zone once again.

If you’d like to check out my page on the internet, you can go to

The following poem was written by Irene Toburen of Waterville, Kansas, who graciously granted me permission to share it.

A Gift
By Irene Toburen

What have you brought to the table today?
The table of hope, not despair,
We each have been given a special gift,
That with others we may share.

It may be a gift of happiness,
Or one with a cheery smile,
You may just gladden a heart today.
Making someone's life seem worthwhile.

Maybe a pat on a small child's head,
Or a story to a little child told,
Take a walk in another's shoes,
Someone who is alone or old.

Then maybe you will understand,
The problems some others face,
And you'll know how a word of hope and a smile,
Could help you to show God's grace.

The sunshine of hope will beam brighter,
When we someone's spirits lift,
And we share in another's happiness,
When we share our God-given gift.

“Be sure to carry out the work the Lord gave you.”
~ Colossians 4:17 (NLT)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Forgiveness is the Key

"Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." ~ Isaiah 1:18

Both my father and my godfather have suggested that some of my columns are “a little heavy on the Bible verses.” If you agree, then this week’s column may not be your cup of tea.

To me, the subject of forgiveness is one of the most important issues addressed in the Bible – both God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. So much hinges on our understanding of that one little word.

The first area of forgiveness I’d like to talk about is God’s forgiveness of us.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” ~ 1 John 1:8,9

As a young girl growing up in the Catholic Church, I learned about the importance of God’s forgiveness from an early age. I remember going to confession and having to think up things to confess to the priest. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, my last confession was…..” Some of my old “standby sins” were lying or being disrespectful to my mother and talking in church. (Who me?) However, one time I did commit a more serious offense when I stole some candy from the corner store. I felt so terrible after I got home, I just cried and cried. In an attempt to right the wrong and clear my conscience, I decided to empty my piggy bank and return to the store the next day. I didn’t come completely clean, however, because I waited until no one was around and then I plopped my money on the store counter and ran like the wind.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
~ Hebrews 4:15-16

So even though I don’t go to the confessional anymore, I still confess my sins on a regular basis and am deeply grateful for God’s forgiveness.

The other area of forgiveness involves our forgiveness of others – and the Bible has a whole lot of things to say on this subject.

“Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
~ Matthew 18: 21,22

I remember one time several years ago when I was really struggling with unforgiveness in my heart towards another person. I felt very justified in my position and had a real attitude of indignation about the whole matter. After all, I was right and what they did was wrong – there wasn’t any way around that!

Then one day my husband Keen came to me with his Bible in hand and asked me to read the following verses:

“For if you forgive people their trespasses – that is, their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go and giving up resentment – your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses – their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go and giving up resentment – neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.”
~ Matthew 6: 14,15 (Amplified)

Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling quite so self-righteous. What choice did I have after reading those verses? If I didn’t find it in my heart to forgive and “give up resentment”, then God would not find it in His heart to forgive me for all of my “reckless and willful sins.” I would be like the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-35 who was forgiven such a great debt (about $10,000,000) but was unwilling to forgive the man who owed him a very small amount (about $20.00). Once his master heard about it, he called him and said, “You contemptible and wicked servant! I forgave and cancelled all that great debt of yours because you begged me; and shouldn’t you not have had pity and mercy on your fellow servant?” He then turned him over to the jailers until he paid all that he owed. The story ends with the following verse: “So also My heavenly Father will deal with every one of you, if you do not freely forgive your brother from your heart his offenses.”

So by the grace of God, I made a decision to forgive that individual completely – from my heart. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t change what they’d done one iota – but it changed me completely. (As author Stormie Omartian says: “Forgiving someone doesn’t make them right nor justify what they did – it just makes you free.”) I can’t even begin to explain the transformation that came over me after I made the decision to obey God and forgive. The bitterness and resentment immediately melted away and I was able to truly love them with my whole heart.

“It is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression or an offense.”
~ Proverbs 19:11

A Lesson in Forgiveness
Author Unknown

One day a while back, a man, his heart heavy with grief, was walking in the woods. As he thought about his life this day, he knew many things were not right. He thought about those who had lied about him back when he had a job.

His thoughts turned to those who had stolen his things and cheated him. He remembered family that had passed on. His mind turned to the illness he had that no one could cure. His soul was filled with anger, resentment and frustration.

Standing there this day, searching for answers he could not find, knowing all else had failed him, he knelt at the base of an old oak tree to seek the One he knew would always be there. With tears streaming down his face, he prayed:

“Lord, You have done wonderful things for me in this life. You have told me to do many things for you, and I happily obeyed. Today, you have told me to forgive. I am sad, Lord, because I cannot. I don't know how. It is not fair, Lord. I didn't deserve these wrongs that were done to me and I shouldn't have to forgive. As perfect as Your way is, this one thing I cannot do; my anger is too deep. Now I fear that I may not hear You, but I pray that You would teach me to do this one thing – please teach me to forgive.”

As he knelt there in the quiet shade of that old oak tree, he felt something fall onto his shoulder. He opened his eyes and out of the corner of one eye, he saw something red on his shirt.

He raised his head and saw two feet held to the tree with a large spike through them. He raised his head more, and tears came to his eyes as he saw Jesus hanging on a cross. He saw spikes in His hands, a gash in His side, a torn and battered body, and deep thorns sunk into His head. Finally he saw the suffering and pain on His precious face. As their eyes met, the man's tears turned to sobbing, and Jesus began to speak.

"Have you ever told a lie?" He asked.
The man answered, "Yes, Lord."

"Have you ever been given too much change and kept it?"
The man again answered, "Yes, Lord."

"Have you ever taken something from work that wasn't yours?" Jesus asked?

And once again, the man answered, "Yes, Lord."

"Have you ever sworn, using my Father's name in vain?"
The man cried, “Yes, Lord."

As Jesus asked many more times, "Have you ever ….?", the man's crying became
uncontrollable, and he could only answer, "Yes, yes, Lord."

Then Jesus turned His head from one side to the other and the man felt something fall on his other shoulder. It was the blood of Jesus. When he looked into His eyes, he saw a look of love he had never seen or known before.

Then Jesus softly whispered, "I didn't deserve this either, but I forgive you."

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another . . . even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” ~ Colossians 3:13 (KJV)

By Brenda Terrell

When a hurtful word is spoken, or an unkind deed is done
I always must remember, I am not the only one
Who has ever been mistreated, stepped upon or pushed aside
By thoughtless, harmful actions, or selfish hateful pride.

The world is full of people, who purposely abuse
Who lie and cheat and slander, and manipulate and use
Anyone and everyone, who might get in their way
Of success or fame or power; no price too big to pay.

God's word is clear and simple, about what I must do
When I have been offended, by friend or foe's misuse:
"Forgive...and be forgiven" – I dare not keep a score
Seventy times seven, times seven hundred more.

When I am unforgiving, the battle I'll not win;
For I need my Father's mercy, to blot out all my sin.
Forgiving is not easy, yet I know it can be done:
I look to Christ my Savior, the holy, sinless One.

When Jesus died upon the cross, His words rang clear and true,
"Father, please forgive them, for they know not what they do."
As the Precious Lamb of God, Christ wants me to see:
Forgiving is the power that sets my spirit free!
Yes, forgiveness is God's wondrous gift, that sets my spirit free!

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
~ Ephesians 4:31, 32 (NLT)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Numbering our Days

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
~ Psalm 90:12 (NKJV)

“If you knew you only had one more day to live, who would you call, what would you say and what are you waiting for?” ~ Anonymous

He said, I was in my early forties, with a lot of life before me,
when a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays.
Talkin’ ‘bout the options and talkin’ about sweet time.
I asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end,
How’s it hit ya’, when you get that kind of news?
Man what did ya do?

And he said: I went skydiving, I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull name Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper, And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’
And he said some day I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’.

He said, I was finally the husband, that most the time I wasn’t.
And I became a friend a friend would like to have.
All of a sudden goin’ fishin, wasn't such an imposition,
and I went three times that year I lost my dad.
Well, I finally read the Good Book, and took a good long hard look
at what I would do if I could do it all again.
And then….

I went skydiving, I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull name Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper, And I spoke sweeter
And I watched an eagle as it was flyin’

And he said some day I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’.

Live like you were dying ~ recorded by Tim McGraw

“As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.”

~ Psalm 103:15-18 (NKJV)

The dawn of a new year always brings much introspection. We often look back with a mixture of satisfaction and regret and we look to the future with promise. We vow to eat better, exercise more and live life to the fullest. We hope… we pray…we dream.

The Dream
By Eileen Umbehr

The love, the joy, the laughter
Time has robbed us of these things
The endless pursuit of profit has filled every open space
What is left for all that is important?
Why must life be so backwards?
In my dreams, all is set aright.
Work becomes a bit player - just enough to survive.
Time to love - God, our children, each other.
Time to laugh…… Time to live…. Time to dream…..

I wrote that poem nearly ten years ago. Shortly after it was published in the poetry section of the Topeka Capital-Journal, I received the following note from my friend and long-time Alma columnist, Ada Sage Laverty. (From the Old Stone House)

My dear Eileen,
I have just read your sad little verse in the Topeka paper. You indeed have reasons to be sad, but the important things in life remain for you: a devoted husband and children, your green acres and your active youth - these are not just dreams. I, at 88, have lost all of these things, and I, too, am melancholy, so I do understand, but assure you that time and your dearest treasures, which remain, will bring brighter days for you.

Mrs. Ada Sage Laverty

Mrs. Laverty was right. I still have those things – and people – that matter most. And since none of us knows how long we have on this earth, it’s important that we cherish the time we have with those we love and be grateful for their presence in our lives.


Over the Christmas holidays, Keen, Kirk and I decided to drive 700 miles to Conroe, Texas to surprise Keen’s parents, Jim & Jean Umbehr. Keen’s sister Kihm was there from North Carolina and his brother Kevin and family live nearby, so we had an unscheduled Umbehr family reunion. We haven’t all been together since Josh & Lisa’s wedding a year and a half ago and it’s been even longer since we were all together at Christmas, so it was a very special time. Keen’s mom kept saying that having all three of her kids home for Christmas was the best gift she could have ever received.

On the day after Christmas, we decided to commemorate the Umbehr family gathering by having a professional picture taken at J.C. Penny’s studio. The traffic was crazy and the crowds at the mall were insane, but we were determined! It’s nothing short of a miracle that we were all color coordinated and actually looked like we were happy to be there!

Keen & His Parents, Jim & Jean, Brother Kevin, & sister Kihm

During our visit, I came across an old book titled Heart Throbs – The Old Scrap Book, which was published in 1905. It belonged to Keen’s maternal grandmother, Mae Bartlett, and is a collection of stories and poems compiled by Joe Mitchell Chapple of the National Magazine, Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Chapple ran an ad in The National Magazine asking the readers to send him “ . . .heart throbs – those things that make us all kin; those things that endure – the classics of our own lives.” He wrote: “Send me a clipping, a story, an anecdote, or a selection that has touched your heart . . .Wholesome good cheer, humor, comfort, hope – those things that make dark days endurable and sunny days enduring . . . Heart throbs – yes, heart throbs of happiness, heart throbs of courage, heart throbs that make us feel better . . .”

The following poem from Heart Throbs seemed to fit with this week’s theme.

How did you die?
By Edmund Vance Cooke

Did you tackle the trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?

O, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only, how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there – that’s disgrace.

The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;
It’s how did you fight – and why?

And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.

Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce.
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?

“The abundance of our lives is not determined by how long we live, but by how well we live.” ~ Anonymous

Author Unknown

A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base one December and meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph.

Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim. As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open; once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus; again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a smile on his face.

"Where did you learn to be like that?" the professor asked. "Oh," Ralph said, "during the war, I guess."

He then told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, how it was his
job to clear mine fields and how he watched his friends die right before his eyes,
one after another. "I learned to live between steps," he said. "I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I've been that way ever since."


I’d like to close with the following excerpt from an article written by a fellow writer and new friend of mine, Tom Parker from Blue Rapids, Kansas. Tom is a gifted writer whose weekly column, “The Way Home” is published in the Washington County News. Thanks to Tom for giving me permission to share it with you.

“. . . I’ve reached that age where I understand life is finite, that it can be taken away in the next breath, and the realization is less disturbing than it is enriching. That we cannot see far down our trail is our good fortune, for the journey itself is the important thing. We can examine our lives and look back over our past and try to peer into the future but it’s the step by step by step that gets us nearer to our destination, the placing one foot before the other and the locomotion thereof.

We stand in the gateway, cast one last look behind, shoulder our packs and pass through. The old behind us, the new ahead, and us unapprised of what tidings it brings. The trail goes on.”
~ Tom Parker

“Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” ~ James 4:14