Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Day in the Life of a Trashman

“Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever . . .”
~ Isaiah 30:8 (KJV)

Last week I wrote about leaving a legacy and the importance of recording your thoughts and feelings for future generations. If you’d like to listen to some short stories recorded by ordinary people, check out and click on “Listen.” Story Corps is a project that was developed to inspire people to record each others’ stories in sound. To facilitate this goal, a sound proof booth has been placed in the middle of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. This gives individuals the opportunity to share a special memory with someone they love. The story is then recorded on CD and archived in the Library of Congress.

Lately I’ve been spending the majority of my time on book revisions, so I thought I would share a section of my personal journals with you for the next two weeks. This will give you a glimpse into “a day in the life of a trashman” – and it will give me the chance to focus on my project.

“And may the Lord make you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another and for all people, just as we also do for you.” ~ I Thessalonians 3:12

January 21, 1994

“When the wire gets so tight that you can walk on it, that’s when the walkin’s the best.”
~ Garth Brooks

Today is Friday, January 21, 1994, and Keen and I are in St. Louis, Missouri, picking up our new trash truck at Armor Equipment. We flew in but we’ll drive the new truck back. Our salesman, Larry Jackson is explaining how the truck works to Keen. It’s freezing outside so I decided to sit in their company truck and write until they’re done.

This has been an incredibly wild week. I’ve been calling it the week from hell; in actuality, it may prove to be the week from Heaven. It has never looked as dark or bleak as it did this week.
It started last Thursday, January 13, when Keen’s trash truck broke. Danny, Quentin, Dave and Keen worked on it all day Friday. Keen drove to Topeka for parts, but they didn’t have everything he needed. So he had to drive back on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. to pick up the rest of the parts.

On Friday night, Keen called me from work to update me on the situation.
He said, “I’m sad.”
“Oh, are you, honey?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m just deep-down sad.”

So I called Barbara and I told her about it. We visited until Keen came home and then he talked to her. He said, “Yeah, I am sad, Mom. It’s just been so hard for a very long, long time….too long it seems.” So she talked to him about how important it is for him to get those feeling out. It really helped to talk to her.

Then Keen went to bed at 9:00 and he asked me to have the boys come up and sing him a song. It was so sweet to hear them all in there singing “Chantilly Lace” to Dad. Then Keener (age 9) stayed back to talk to his daddy. He told him he felt sad that Dad was never home. So Keen told him he’d wake him up at 4:00 the next morning to go with him to get parts in Topeka. When Keener came out of the room I noticed he was crying and I asked him about it. He told me how sad he was because he never gets to see Daddy. I held him on my lap and I cried right along with him. I said, “I know, Keener. We’re all sad about not seeing Daddy. It is sad.” Little did we know how much worse things would get before they would get better.

Keen worked all day Saturday trying to repair the truck in time for Sunday’s route. I thought to myself, “Keen works trash man hours – from before sunup until after sundown.” He got home around 7:00 Saturday night believing that the job was complete and the problems were solved. When he came home he said, “One day I know God will deliver me from all of this, but for right now He’s giving me the strength to do what I have to do.”

On Sunday morning he left the house at 8:00 a.m. so he could hopefully be home by 3:00 to watch the Chiefs play Houston in the playoffs. Well, he was home by 3:00 all right, but when he walked in the door he announced that he hadn’t even left town yet. His truck barely made it to the landfill and back before it started making a terrific loud noise. Then he worked on it all day until 3:00. He couldn’t go any further with everything being closed on Sunday. He said he went into his office and just broke down.

On Monday morning Keen called home and said, “Well, hon, we don’t have a trash truck.” I was shocked. He told me he was trying to find a loaner. I felt like our whole world had just come crashing down. Suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt. Tuesday was staring us in the face, as was Wednesday and the rest of the week. We found ourselves facing some enormous decisions.

Several attempts to locate a loaner were unsuccessful. One trash truck was available for rent for $500, but it was fourteen hours away. We called every dealer we knew but the only one who had a truck on the lot nearly ready to go was Armor Equipment in St. Louis. They were just finishing up on a 1994 International with a 20-yard Heil compactor. So then we began the long process of obtaining financing. The truck would cost approximately $90,000 dollars. We always knew that a new truck purchase would eventually become necessary, but now it had hit us square in the face. It became quite evident that, after thirteen years, we had gotten all the good we were going to get out of our old truck.

The most frightening aspect of this purchase became the monthly payments. Keen and I knew we were doing the right thing by proceeding forward with the purchase, but neither of us had any idea how we were going to make such a huge payment. We haven’t had a truck payment for the past nine years, and lately we have been struggling to make ends meet. Now how would we come up with $1600 each and every month? It felt as though we were walking into an abyss. We kept marching, but with absolutely no idea how it was going to work out on the financial end. But since it was our only option, we were left with no choice but to proceed by faith; believing that everything would be all right, even though we didn’t have all the answers – or any answers, for that matter.

On Monday night, Keen had to go all the way to Mission Valley School near Eskridge to pick up their overflowing trash, so I told him I’d go with him. Since the trash truck was broken, we had to take the Pak-Rat, which is much smaller and doesn’t have a hydraulic lift to empty commercial dumpsters. It was the coldest day of the year with subzero wind-chill and blowing snow. I didn’t want him to go alone. The world seemed to be falling down around him and I wanted to be by his side to offer my support. I wanted us to go through this trial side by side. So we did.

At the Eskridge Manor I had to climb inside their oversized, 8-yard container to hand the bags to Keen. It was freezing! I felt so sorry for Keen. He said, “You have to learn to work with frozen fingers.” But it felt good to help out and pull together in this trial and tribulation. On our way home, I was especially thankful that I went along as Keen started dozing off and nearly drove right off the road. Still, our trials had only just begun.

To be continued…..

Keen working on trash route
Photo by Refugio Garcia

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Leaving a Legacy

“A good man leaves an inheritance [of moral stability and goodness]
to his children’s children . . ." ~ Proverbs 13:22 (Amplified)

In a recent e-mail, my father asked the following question:” Where do you get all the Bible quotes and then be able to relate them to your article?” Here is my response – in case anyone else has wondered the same thing.

“That's a good question. I guess you could say that I collect Bible verses. I have about 50 different categories/subjects saved on my computer. Then, whenever I come across a verse that fits in with a particular subject, I just add it to that category. I also subscribe to a free "Bible verse a day" service from, which they send via e-mail. Sometimes I just recall a verse from memory. I often go to a web site called, where I can simply type in a word or subject and it will bring up all the Bible verses with that word in it. Then you can click on another button and it will show you that verse in other versions of the Bible.”

While we’re on the subject, there’s something else I’d like to address. Since I frequently write about God and incorporate Bible verses into my weekly column, I imagine that some of you might be curious about our religious affiliation. Well, Keen and I aren’t actually members of any religion and we haven’t attended church for over twenty years. (We used to attend a non-denominational church faithfully, until the pastor had an affair with the piano player.) Keen was raised Baptist and I was raised Catholic, but together we are simply Christians. We love God and we strive to live a life that is pleasing to Him. We seek His will and purpose for our life and pray for His guidance in fulfilling that purpose. With our children, we raised them up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) We have turned to God and prayed as a family during times of trials and we have thanked Him in times of triumph. This is the most valuable legacy we can pass on to our children, for it is one that will not only see them through their own life struggles, but more importantly, will last into eternity.

“This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.”
~ Patrick Henry

To continue with that theme, I’d like to write about the importance of sharing your thoughts and feelings with those you love, while you still can. This point was driven home to me recently while watching an episode of the Jane Pauley Show. One of Jane’s guests was a middle aged woman who just found out that she was dying from a terminal disease. As a result, she decided to start a video diary for her young son where she told him how much she loved him and shared all her hopes and dreams for his life. She said, “Don’t wait until you’re dying to tell your family that you love them. Sit on the porch step with your sister – and if you have a thought, write it down.”

Several years ago my sister Connie took a seminar on the subject of “ethical wills.” I had never heard of this, but according to their web page,, it’s a way to share “your values, blessings, life's lessons, hopes and dreams for the future, love, and forgiveness with your family, friends, and community.” In contrast to your last will and testament, ethical wills are shared with loved ones while the writer is still alive.

Barry K. Baines, M.D., wrote an interesting book on this subject titled: Ethical Wills: Putting your values on paper. On page 100, Dr. Baines shares an example of how one father described his purpose in writing to his three grown children:

“It is my hope in writing my ethical will that I will be able to record for posterity some of my values and visions for the future. I hope this will help each of you as you plan and carry out your life. In my studies of leaving a legacy, I was reminded how important it is for parents and grandparents to share and record what is important to them. For posterity’s sake, I have attempted to record some of my experiences and what I believe in, some history of what I have done with my life, and lessons I have learned along the way.”

Isn’t that wonderful? As someone who has spent a good portion of her life grabbing a pen and paper to record the brilliant and/or witty things my husband and children have uttered over the years, I certainly agree with this concept.

Ruth Graham Bell, the wife of Billy Graham, once wrote a book titled, It’s My Turn. Mrs. Graham shared about how she always started a diary optimistically at the beginning of each year, but she never seemed to keep it up. “But I kept writing bits and pieces, things I didn’t want to forget,” she wrote. “It’s rather like snapping pictures. You can capture something for keeps that would otherwise be forgotten tomorrow.”

Here is a perfect example from my own life –a cherished letter I received from my stepmother, Barbara Brady.

February, 2003

Dear Eileen,

Having just received that wonderful Valentines letter from you and all the pictures, I am compelled to write and tell you what's on my mind.

You and Keen should be so proud of your accomplishments. You have raised 4 nice young men who have certainly made you proud of them and with love of family so intact. I read that letter and see what has been accomplished in the Umbehr family in the course of a year, you wonder how it is all possible. We know without the right people at the helm, it would not happen. Not only parents but also friends to their children who have made them feel good about themselves, wanted and loved. A house that has God in its midst for sure.

I just want you to know how proud I am of each and everyone of you. Keen is remarkable and so full of courage. Eileen you have held it all together with your determination and love. I am so proud of Jared. He has done so well and has a beautiful family and rose above his initial problems. And none of us are without them. Which only goes to prove there is a place for everyone, you just have to find it. Josh of course has been so diligent and so full of God it is no wonder that he is where he is. He also has much to look forward to with his wonderful girl, Lisa - and their future is so promising. Keener is doing great and will without a doubt make you even more proud than you are already. Pancake, [Kirk] or should I say Waffle, is going to be the best for sure. He will be just like Keen when he is fully grown. I guess I better get a new name for him.

Anyway, I am so proud of you all and your accomplishments. Eileen and Keen you have done such a wonderful job raising your family and teaching the important things in life to them. Congratulations and Much Love to all of you this Valentine’s Day and always.

Your parents must be very proud of you.



I ask you, could there be any greater gift?

“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers . . . I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

~ III John 2,4 (NKJV)

Grandma Barb with Keen and boys

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Truth Hurts

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
~ John 8:32 (NKJV)

But you pretend and I pretend
That everything is fine
And though we should be at an end
It's so hard admittin'
When it's quittin' time

Quittin’ Time ~ recorded by Mary Chapin-Carpenter

Last week I wrote about the pain associated with telling the truth, hearing the truth and facing the truth. Aldous Huxley once gave this modern-day variation of the above Bible verse: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad." This is especially relevant when it comes to the area of relationships.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I’m not suggesting that divorce is the answer to every issue of incompatibility that arises in a marriage. The Bible says that we shouldn’t let the sun go down on our anger, so if that means staying up until 2:00 in the morning to work out our differences, then so be it.

What I’m referring to are relationships that have gone wrong for valid reasons such as physical or verbal abuse or adultery. In those cases, the marriage is already over, but one or both parties just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

When my sister was struggling with the difficult decision to end her marriage, she went through many stages along the way. At one point, she had finally made up her mind to file for divorce when her husband lost his job. Then he seemed like such a broken man that she just couldn’t bring herself to kick him when he was down – and she also hoped that the experience would change him for the better.

“I’m not backing down,” she explained, “I’m just stepping back.” She needed the assurance in her own mind that she had done everything in her power to make her marriage work. More than anything, she didn’t want to have any regrets.

My skepticism about her husband’s sincerity was reflected in this excerpt from a poem I wrote titled, “Enough is Enough.”

Now it seems you've quit listening to the truth
and started believing his lies;
You turned from the light and shut the door,
because the light was hurting your eyes.

A woman who counsels victims of abuse once told me that periods of indecision shouldn’t be looked at as a step backwards because most women who are involved in abusive relationships attempt to leave several times before they’re ready to leave for good. It’s all part of the process that they have to go through.

Here’s another poem I wrote during that difficult time.

Please Don’t Ask Me

Please don’t ask me to help you stay
because I know too much to pretend,
that everything will be okay.

Never say never, you say,
for people change all the time
But how long will that change last,
when it happens on a dime?

You’ve been down this road so many times before,
he says he’s sorry and hugs you now and then
But it isn’t long before the abuse,
starts all over again.

After the storm passes, he lets down his guard,
and returns to his mean-spirited ways
Then when you put your foot down again,
the change is like night and day.

“I love you, I need you, I can’t live without you,
I’d give you my last drop of blood,” he proclaims.
Then why does he still lie and criticize,
and why does he keep calling you names?

He’s shown his true colors, time and again,
and a tiger can’t change his stripes
What he says and what he does are two different things,
it’s all just a whole lot of hype.

Please don’t be afraid to reach out for help,
for help is all around you
You have family and friends and God above,
and with their love they will surround you.

But please don’t ask me to help you stay,
I know too much to pretend
that everything will be okay.

Written by Eileen Umbehr
October 1, 2001

One day I told my sister that it seemed as if she was watering a dead plant. Her husband had killed their relationship with his verbal and emotional cruelty, as well as with his lies and betrayal. Then she replied that there was actually a dead tomato plant in her garden that she had been watering faithfully. Hope springs eternal, and my sister didn’t want to give up on the plant or the marriage, even though all outward signs indicated that neither one of them were coming back. Despite her optimism and best efforts to revive them, restoration was not to be.

To use another example, one time lightning struck a great, old cedar tree in our front yard. We hated to lose it, so we decided to try to preserve part of it by fashioning a bench out of the wood. We used the stump for one end, and then Keen made another end – placing a bench in the middle between the two. For awhile, we really enjoyed our cedar bench. In fact, it became our favorite spot to pose for pictures. But eventually the wood rotted and we had to haul it off. Sometimes you just have to accept that something (or someone) you loved is gone and there is nothing left to salvage.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
~ Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Yes, the truth hurts – but ignoring it doesn’t change reality or make it go away. In closing, I’d like to share the words of a song that was recorded by Blackhawk titled, “I Sure Can Smell the Rain.”

She hasn’t done a thing
That really has to mean she’s going anywhere
I haven’t seen it showing in her eyes
But I swear it must be there
I don’t know why I feel it so strong
But I feel it just the same
I can’t see a single storm cloud in the sky
But I sure can smell the rain

She’d still say I love you if I ask
But she never volunteers
Somehow what she never says
Means more than all the other words I hear
Still she should win an Oscar
If she’s lying when she says that nothing’s changed
I can’t see a single storm cloud in the sky
But I sure can smell the rain

Every day I brace myself
To hear the words I’m scared she’s gonna say
And every night I thank the Lord
Somehow I dodged a bullet one more day
Sometimes there are things a man just knows
That he really can’t explain
I can’t see a single storm cloud in the sky
But I sure can smell the rain

I can’t see a single storm cloud in the sky
But I sure can smell the rain

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…”

~ Ephesians 4:25

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Telling the Truth

“O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart."

~ Psalm 15:2,3 (NASB)

“Having the courage to speak your own truth always paves the way for someone else to face their own truth.” ~Oprah Winfrey

One thing I really appreciate about Joyce Meyer is that she’s not afraid to share personal stories about her own shortcomings. For example, she talks about the time she was in McDonald’s and there was only one booth left so she engaged in a foot race with a man who was crippled. “What makes matters worse,” Joyce said, “is that I was right in the middle of teaching a series on walking in love!”

In my own small corner of the world, I am also striving to be real and honest. I have no interest in pretending to be smarter than I am or better than I am. We all struggle with certain aspects of our personality that we would like to change, so I want to embrace that commonality. I can’t help or encourage anyone by purporting to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect person or the perfect Christian. After all, there is no perfect human being on the face of this earth; we're all in this together. The only difference is that some people admit their faults and strive to do better each day, and others want to deny that they have any areas of their life that need change or improvement. But nobody grows or learns or reaches their full potential by being in denial.

Having said that, this week I’d like to share a very personal story which illustrates the point I’m trying to make.

A recent conversation/argument at the Umbehr house:

Setting: Eileen is walking on the treadmill in the basement of the Umbehr house while watching TV and listening through a set of headphones. Keen Sr. is studying in his office in the next room.

Enter Stage Left: Keen and Eileen’s two youngest sons, Keen II and Kirk Van, decide it will be funny to catch their father off guard by luring him away from his desk so they can break a clay pigeon over his head. (Don’t worry – it doesn’t hurt; the clay pigeons are as fragile as egg shells.)
Eileen hears Keen shout an expletive and runs into the room to find out what all the commotion is about. Keen Sr. recovers from the shock and joins Keen and Kirk in a round of laughter and high fives. Meanwhile, Eileen is standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a look of utter dismay on her face.

One hour later: Keen and Eileen engage in a heated debate over the appropriateness of shouting an expletive loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Keen counters with a complaint about Eileen’s “mothering, disapproving look” while standing in the doorway of his office. Eileen responds by emphatically stating that she most certainly did disapprove of him yelling the expletive at the top of his lungs.

Regrettably, during the process of lecturing Keen about saying the expletive, Eileen manages to repeat the expletive herself several more times throughout the heated exchange.

“But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
~ James 3:8-10


Keen: Do I ever bring up any of your faults…..ever?

Eileen: No, but I wish you would! Because every time I want to talk about something you did, that’s your standard response.

Keen: Well, I’m just not like that. I choose to love you and give you the time and space you need to change.

Eileen: Well, Dr. Phil says you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge - so bring it on!

Fade to black .……

All I can say is….be careful what you ask for.

“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding."
~ Proverbs 15:31,32 (NLT)

Here’s an excerpt from a poem I wrote for my husband titled, Ode to Keen.

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 Lord, You know I’m the hothead.

As I reflect on the truths about myself that were revealed after I boldly invited Keen to “bring it on,” I realize that the truth really does hurt. But even though Keen obliged me by revealing some painful truths about several of my less-appealing qualities, it doesn’t mean that he was being unkind. Truthful words are not unkind words. They may feel that way to the recipient, but they are not.

“…You took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself. Where is that joyful spirit we felt together then? In those days, I know you would gladly have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth?”
~ Galatians 4:14b-16 (NLT)

On a recent episode of Joan of Arcadia (which airs Friday nights on CBS), Joan was reluctantly instrumental in exposing a shocking truth about her friend’s mother. As it turns out, the woman was a social worker who had actually kidnapped the girl from an abusive home. Although the woman’s motives were pure, she was still sent to jail.

After the revelation, Joan’s friend became angry and resentful towards her for causing so much pain and disruption in her life. The following dialogue depicts a conversation between Joan and God, who takes the form of ordinary people in the show. This scene took place in the book store where Joan works when she walked into a storage room where God was busy replacing a light bulb.

Joan: Whoa. When did you get here?

God: I’m always here, Joan. Even when you can’t see me.

Joan: Subtle. Why don’t you let me fiddle with the light bulb and you can do your own dirty work?

God: It’s painful, what happened to your friend. It’s very difficult to see something like that.

Joan: Yeah, what did Stevie do anyway to deserve that big lightening bolt from on high?

God: I don’t punish people and I’d never ask you to harm anyone. You know that. What you witnessed was the power of the truth.

Joan: Uh – but isn’t that supposed to set you free – not kick you in the head?

God: The light of the truth can be harsh to those who’ve been in the dark. Could you flip that switch on for me?

Joan: Isn’t it your job to let there be light?

God: It’s everybody’s.

Fade to light…..

“For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

~Luke 12:2,3

Thursday, March 03, 2005

My Brother, My Friend

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”
~ Proverbs 17:17(NLT)

Remember how we laughed
Remember how we played
Remember all the lessons
We learned along the way
You were more than my brother,
You were my friend

~ Sound track from The Prince of Egypt

Joe & me

I’d like to dedicate this column to my big brother, Joe, who will be celebrating his 50th birthday on March 3rd.

Joe is the oldest boy in our family of nine, and at one time he was the only boy amongst six sisters. After our brothers Bill & Bob came along, the girl-boy ratio evened out a little more.

Joe surrounded by women (and one lone brother, Bill)

The words to the above song seem to sum it up best; Joe really was more than my brother, he was my buddy. Since I was pretty much of a tomboy when I was growing up, I always wanted to hang out with Joe – and I tried so hard to keep up with him. I remember building these great snow forts in the field across from our house. Then we’d have snowball fights with our other siblings and the kids in the neighborhood. We also played many a game of touch football in that field, and I always wanted to be on Joe’s team. In my mind’s eye, I can still see us all huddled together with Joe giving us the next play. “Okay, Eileen – you’re going to go long, cut right, and then I’ll hit you and you can go in for the touchdown.”

But my all-time favorite activity as a girl was fishing. Since we lived on a lake, many mornings I would wake up before dawn and go out by myself in the canoe. But the biggest thrill of my young life was when Joe and Fr. Hoffman (our family priest) allowed me to tag along with them on real-life fishing excursions to Yellow Lake. In fact, I just saw Fr. Hoffman last summer at my dad’s 80th birthday celebration, and he reminded me of the time I had a whopper on the line and I was screaming at the top of my lungs for Joe or Fr. Hoffman to take my pole, but neither of them would! Let me tell you, I was in seventh heaven on those fishing trips with my big brother.

Throughout our growing up years, Joe and I sat beside each other at the kitchen table and constantly got in trouble for goofing around during supper. Joe would make me laugh and then Dad would yell: “Do you want to laugh yourself up to your room, young lady?” Of course, that made it even harder for me to hold back my laugh!

Joe was a typical brother in every respect. He used to have this wicked flick thing he did with his fingers where he would thump his sisters on the arm, sometimes leaving a welt! He jokingly referred to himself as “My Friend, Flicka,” but the recipients of his “flicks” didn’t think there was anything “friendly” about it!

I remember one time when we drove to Decatur, Illinois to visit our cousins on my mom’s side. Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Lynch had five children, so we would all pair up with the cousin closest to our age. This particular time, Joe and our cousin Tommy formed their own club, and I desperately wanted to become a member. Even though I was just a skinny ten-year-old girl, I willingly subjected myself to a series of brutal initiation tests in order to prove my toughness; i.e. one of them swung me around in circles like a rag doll and flung me to the ground. I felt like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. “First they took my arm and they threw it over there!” Of course I ended up in tears and loudly protested that they were “too rough!” Nevertheless, they decided that I was worthy of admission to their exclusive club. As I recall, our theme song was: “We’re rough, we’re tough, we’re ready, to freddy…..any time.” (Don’t ask me what it meant.)

To be fair, I wasn’t exactly the model little sister. When I was in the second grade, I had a favorite teacher named Sr. Vivian whom I just idolized. Well, Joe knew exactly how to push my buttons and he used to taunt me by saying that her real name was “Vivian Vulture.” I would get so angry. “She’s not Vivian Vulture! She’s Sister Vivian!” One day I’d had enough of my brother’s appalling attitude toward my saintly sister and so I decided it was time to turn him over to the authorities. Poor Joe. I guess Sister Vivian caught him in the hallway, grabbed him by the ear and gave him a good, stern lecture. I’m not sure if Joe has ever forgiven me for that dastardly deed! But somehow we all managed to survive each other.

After high school, Joe attended St. Louis University and went on to graduate from the University Of Minnesota School Of Medicine. I’ll never forget the time Joe and his new bride, Cindy, called to say that they would be passing through Kansas on their way to Colorado to go “practice hunting.” Keen and I were too embarrassed to admit that we’d never heard of practice hunting. I mean, here in Kansas, most people hunt for real – they don’t just practice. We didn’t understand that they were looking for a place for him to practice medicine. As you can imagine, Joe and Cindy had a full-size belly laugh over that one!

Now Joe is a family practice doctor in Waconia, Minnesota where he and Cindy are raising three beautiful children: Emily, Jenny and Patrick. Joe is such an amazing dad. Even with the demands of his medical practice and community involvement, he’s always made his family a top priority. In fact, Joe has coached his daughters’ basketball teams for years and they’ve gone on to compete and win many tournaments throughout the country. (Kansas State University and several Ivy League schools have even expressed interest in having Jenny play for them.) With parents like Joe and Cindy, I know all three of their kids will go far.

So Happy Birthday, buddy – and thanks for the memories. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

Here’s to fifty more!

“With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

~ Psalm 91:16

Jenny, Joe, Cindy, Patrick and Emily