Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giving Credit Where It's Due

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” ~ Joshua 1:8 (NKJV)

The man who decides what he wants to achieve
And works till his dreams all come true
The man who will alter his course when he must
And bravely begin something new

The man who’s determined to make his world better
Who’s willing to learn and to lead
The man who keeps trying and doing his best
Is the man who knows how to succeed.

~ Hallmark card Keen received for his graduation

For the past several weeks the primary focus of my column has been the hurricane and the impact it had on our son’s family. My sister Connie predicted that I would make a four-part series out of it – and she was pretty close to being right. She also commented on how I never seem to have any shortage of material for my column as the day-to-day events of our life provide more than enough!

This week I’d like to shift my focus to a more joyful event that happened while we were “weathering the storm.” On September 1st, when Keen and Kirk were still down in Texas, I received a call from one of Keen’s law school colleagues who wanted to let us know that the results of the bar exam had been released. She also wanted to report the good news that she had passed.

After I hung up the phone, my stomach started doing flip-flops, my hands started shaking and my knees started knocking. So I called Keen on his cell phone and spoke slowly and clearly so he could understand me. “The bar results are out,” I said. “What?” he asked. I repeated: “The bar results are out.” Well, I guess my voice sounded so serious that he thought the news was bad. Dejected, he asked, “Did I fail?” “Oh, no, honey!” I quickly replied. “I have no idea. I’m just calling to tell you that the results were released. We need that yellow card to look it up on the internet.” One problem. Keen couldn’t remember what he did with the all-important yellow card which contained his all-important confidential examinee number. Now I was really getting nervous.

“W-h-a-a-a-a-t do you mean you don’t know where the yellow card is?” I asked, my voice quivering. After wracking his brain for several minutes, Keen asked if by chance I had saved any mementos from his bar exam. (He knows I’m a sentimental packrat when it comes to things like that.) Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head and I remembered that I had saved the papers he brought home from the test!

After locating the yellow card with his exam number, I set out to look up the information on the web page. With shaky fingers, I typed in, scrolled down to “Attorney Admissions,” and clicked on “July 2005 Results.” Then I frantically scrolled through the list of 338 numbers in search of number 161 – hoping beyond hope that I would see the word “Pass” and not “Fail.”

All of this happened while Keen was waiting anxiously on the other end of the phone. I was petrified to look, but I knew we didn’t have any other choice. It was kind of like getting ready to take your first parachute jump out of an airplane; you’ve worked hard and prepared well to get to this point, but there is still great trepidation about whether or not everything will go as planned.

Finally, I located the 150’s. 156, 157, 158 . . . and there it was! 161 – PASS! I immediately broke down crying and announced the good news to Keen, who promptly went into shock and handed the phone to our oldest son, Jared. Jared didn’t know why his dad handed him the phone, and I didn’t realize he had handed Jared the phone, so when I heard a new voice on the other end of the line, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. “Who is this?” I asked through sobs of joy. “It’s me, Jared. Mom, are you all right?” “Yes, please put your father back on the line!” It was the moment Keen and I had waited so long for and I wanted to savor every second with him – even if it was over the phone long distance!

Of course, Keen was absolutely exhilarated. “We did it, honey! You, me, God, the kids – everybody. We did it!” We’ve been pinching ourselves ever since and it still hasn’t completely sunk in that he passed. I told Keen that I don’t think I cried that hard when the kids were born. He replied, “That’s because you weren’t pregnant for seven years!”

Back when Keen was hauling trash for a living, he prayed this simple prayer: “Lord, if You want me to be a trash man for the rest of my life, then I’ll accept that. But if possible, and if it’s Your will, I pray that one day I can make money using my mind instead of my back.”

Keen and I give thanks and glory to God that on September 30th, when he is sworn in, that prayer from so long ago will finally be answered.

“For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world . . . so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus . . . therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.’” ~ I Corinthians 1:26-31 (RSV)

One time when I was having a conversation with my father, I made the comment, “Praise the Lord,” and my dad responded, “Praise the Lord? Praise that hardworking husband of yours!” Yes, it’s true that Keen has worked very hard to achieve his goal, and I am so very proud of him for that. But without God’s help, guidance, wisdom and provision, none of this would have been possible. As the Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) That’s why it’s very important to us that we “give credit where it’s due.”

In addition, although we have made many financial sacrifices to make Keen’s dream a reality, God has been faithful to provide for our every need. Like the Israelites who wandered in the desert for forty years, we have “lacked nothing.” (Nehemiah 9:21) And now that we are trusting God to bless Keen’s law practice, we want to give Him the glory in advance for any financial success we may enjoy in the future, for we remain ever mindful of the fact that “every good and perfect gift is from Above.” (James 1:7)

“Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments . . . lest when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.'And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.” ~ Deuteronomy 8:11-13;17,18

Keen & Eileen outside of Washburn University School of Law on graduation day

Keen's diploma from Washburn University School of Law

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Search of the Silver Lining

“As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.”

~ Psalms 55:16,17 (KJV)

Several years ago, Keen and I appeared on a television show in Hollywood called “Judge for Yourself.” (The topic was abstinence.) During the taping of the show, we had the privilege of meeting an extremely talented Christian singing artist by the name of Steve Gooden. Steve gave us a compact disc of his original songs titled “From the Heart” – and these past couple of weeks I’ve been listening to one particular song over and over. It’s about finding a silver lining behind the clouds when everything around you seems to be falling apart. Here are some of the words to the song:

All the people say,
Soon the rain will go away.
So know within your heart,
There’s gonna be a brighter day.
Because the sun will surely shine –
So find your silver lining.

During times of crisis, it isn’t always easy to find the silver lining. But because of our faith in God, we believe that all things will work together for good. (Romans 8:28)

Shortly after we learned that Jared and Erin had lost everything in the hurricane (and no, they didn’t have insurance), I flipped open my Bible in search of inspiration and my eyes fell on the following verse from Job 42:10:

"And the Lord turned the captivity of Job and restored his fortunes. . . also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before."

That is my prayer for Jared and Erin – that they will end up better off than they were before – not worse off.

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” ~ Matthew 7:25 (KJV)

Friends and family have been a great source of encouragement to Jared and Erin during this difficult time. Erin’s parents got the ball rolling by donating a cash amount, followed by Keen and I who gave the same amount (our first income from Keen’s law practice), and Josh and Lisa, who matched the same amount without even knowing how much anyone else had given.

Keen’s parents and siblings have been a Godsend by opening their hearts and homes as well as offering to donate all the necessary household items whenever Jared and Erin are able to relocate to a new apartment. Several of my siblings have also shared monetarily, as well as sending special gifts for Asher and Gabe, who just celebrated their birthdays. (Gabe turned 3 last Saturday the 17th, and Asher turned 6 on Wednesday the 21st.) On Sunday, Keen’s Aunt Helen also dropped off two blankets that she made for the boys.

I found the perfect plaque titled “Our Family” at a store in the Manhattan Mall called The Front Porch. I bought one for Keen’s folks and another for Jared and Erin.

Our Family is a circle of strength and love.
With every birth and every union the circle grows.
Every joy shared adds more love.
Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.
~ Author Unknown

Other encouragement has come from words of wisdom and comfort shared. One example is a letter I received from my high school friend, Scott, who recalled a lesson he learned from our former Bible study youth group leader in Singapore, Keith Lindaman:

“Keith used to say that our life on earth was temporary, like going camping and living in a tent. He said none of us would think about spending money to upgrade a tent with air conditioning, carpet, etc., and that we should have the same attitude toward this earthly life. We shouldn't wear ourselves out trying to build up THIS life as if it is eternal because we can lose everything . . . in the blink of an eye. Instead, we must concentrate on things above and know that THAT is where our hearts are and where our TRUE LIFE is. While Jared and Erin are surely heartbroken, and will face a lot of economic stress as a result of this storm, the memory of accumulation and loss of ‘things’ will fade over time. And when we begin our REAL lives, in heaven, we'll see that what went before truly was nothing to be concerned about.”

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~ Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)

Here is another thoughtful note I received from one of my new Circle of Friends in Seattle, Caroline:

“Eileen, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. There are so many mysteries in life--to include Mother Nature and why she would take one path and not another. I have to remind myself that in the midst of mortal, earthly chaos (which can take many forms), that there is a Design that I don't have to understand. I just have to let go and trust in God. Not always easy, but life is such that we all get lots of practice! Oh, my, the Mysteries . . .”

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ I Corinthians 13:12,13

Support has also graciously been offered from total strangers. I have shared Jared and Erin’s story with countless store clerks, simply because it has been such a huge event in our lives and I feel the need to talk about it. I can’t tell you how many of them have expressed heartfelt compassion with tear-filled eyes.

In one case I struck up a conversation with a couple in Wal-Mart and they ended up offering Erin and the boys some meat from a hog they butchered. Their last name is Stutzman and she teaches at St. John’s Lutheran School in Alma. Her husband said, “I’m serious. I don’t make idle offers. Just call ahead before you come and we’ll load them up with some of the biggest pork chops you’ve ever seen.”

Another total stranger from Cox Cable in Manhattan offered to donate some clothes for Erin. She said that her 22-year old daughter (who happens to be Erin’s size), just moved to New York and left behind lots of clothes. So we have all felt incredibly blessed by the enormous outpouring of love and support.

I’d like to close with this short story from the book titled Heart Throbs: The Old Scrapbook by Joe Mitchell Chapple:

Gratitude to God

By Orville Dewey

Notwithstanding all that I have suffered, notwithstanding all the pain and weariness and anxiety and sorrow that necessarily enter into life, and the inward errings that are worse than all, I would end my record with a devout thanksgiving to the great Author of my being. For more and more am I unwilling to make my gratitude to Him what is commonly called ‘a thanksgiving for mercies,’ – for any benefits or blessings that are peculiar to myself, or my friends, or indeed to any man. Instead of this, I would have it to be gratitude for all that belongs to my life and being, – for joy and sorrow, for health and sickness, for success and disappointment, for virtue and for temptation, for life and death; because I believe that all is meant for good.

“We are hedged in (pressed) on every side – troubled and oppressed in every way; but not cramped or crushed; we suffer embarrassments and are perplexed and unable to find a way out, but not driven to despair;We are (persecuted and hard-driven,) pursued, but not deserted – to stand alone; we are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed . . .

Therefore we do not become discouraged – utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear. Though our outer man is (progressively) decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being (progressively) renewed day after day . . .Since we consider and look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting.”

~ II Corinthians 4:8,9,16,18 (AMP)

Umbehr Family Reunion after Katrina (Back row - Keen, Eileen, Erin, Jared & Gabe on Jared's shoulders. Front row - Josh, Lisa, Asher, Keen II and Kirk Van)

Family Picture with Keen II's girlfriend, Emily. (Notice Josh is caught in the act of trying to give Asher bunny ears!)

Welcome Home! (Asher, Erin, Gabe & Jared)

Masked Party-goers at Chuck E. Cheese - where a kid (and adults) can be a kid! (Keen II, Emily, Asher, Gabe, Erin & Kirk)

Erin, Asher & Gabe with Asher's "Dragon Ball-Z cake"

Twins? (five years apart) Jared & Keen II

Mom with all four of her boys (Left to right - Kirk, 16; Keen II, 21; Eileen; Jared, 26; Josh, 24)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fallen Heroes

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:13 (KJV)

“A hero is a man who does what he can.” ~ Roman Rollard

Today is September 11th, 2005, the anniversary of another horrific event in American history; a time to reflect on all the fallen heroes who have given their lives to save another.

Therefore, this week I’d like to share a column from my fellow writer and friend, Tom Parker. Tom and his wife Lori live in Blue Rapids, Kansas, where they own and operate the Blue Rapids Mercantile. Tom also writes a weekly column titled “The Way Home,” which is published in the Washington County News in Washington, Kansas. A collection of Tom’s better columns will soon be published in a book titled “Dispatches from Kansas.”

On August 18, 2005, Tom’s cousin, Officer Richard (Ricky) Smith, a 25-year veteran of the Albuquerque Police Department, was shot and killed in the line of duty. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page web site (, Ricky and his partner, Officer Michael King (a 22-year veteran of the department), were shot and killed while attempting to take a man into custody for a mental health evaluation.

When the officers located the man near an intersection, they were ambushed in his front yard and immediately fired upon. They were unaware that the patient had already killed three other innocent people. Officer King was shot first. Ricky was behind him and was able to draw and fire one round before calling for assistance and succumbing to his wounds.

The suspect fled the scene on a motorcycle, but was located approximately two hours later and taken into custody. He has been charged with murdering Officer Smith and Officer King. He was also charged with two murders that had been committed earlier in the evening at a local motorcycle store, as well as the murder of a New Mexico Department of Transportation worker which had occurred that morning.

Tom Parker wrote two columns in honor of his cousin’s memory. In the first article he shared about the many condolences that were pouring in from around the nation. Justin Marquis of the Sutherlin, Oregon Police Department, left this message on the Officer Down web page: “Rest now, brother, after a job well done. We’ll take it from here.”

My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the friends, families and colleagues of Officers Richard Smith and Michael King.

Now, with Tom Parker’s kind permission, I would like to share the text of his second column:

Go with me, my good angels, to my end;
And, as the long divorce of steel falls on me,
Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice,
And lift my soul to heaven.

– Shakespeare, Henry VIII

If there is any immortality to be had on this earth it is through the selfless sacrifice of a life lost in the service of others. Twenty-five years to the day that he joined the Albuquerque Police Department, Officer Richard Smith’s bullet-riddled body was laid to rest. His perdurable legacy is this: over two thousand people crowding the church, a police procession stretching for eight long miles under a cloudless New Mexican sky, and hundreds of common citizens lining the roadways for this, his last watch.

The immediate family rode in five gleaming white limousines, but in a sense every man, woman and child there were part of the family. For the police there was the camaraderie of brothers in arms, the thin blue line which had been sundered in a muzzle flash and just as quickly reformed and solidified and strengthened by indomitable will and courage. For the family there was a deep hole that seemed bottomless and yet was already filling with remembrances and memories and the consoling realization that he was our own and he was the best and that his presence would forever be part of us, stronger than bone, deeper than blood, closer than the soul. For the strangers beside the road he was a symbol crafted of flesh and blood and his blood had been spilled to keep them safe, and their presence was an act of thanksgiving and respect.

Around the time the motorcade cleared Tijeras Canyon and began its descent into the city, I stood bewildered in a field wet with rain. Dark storm clouds rolled off to the east, dragging rain and lightning in their wake like an unruly and tempestuous child. Overhead the sky was roiling, light and dark clouds seething and writhing and shredding apart to reveal tattered shades of blue. Not for the first time I wondered if I had done my cousin a disservice by remaining in Kansas, if the distance separating me from my family and the cordon of uniformed men and women somehow lessened my placement in their ranks.

Nor did my surroundings diminish the sensation of disjointedness. Even as I imagined the city unfolding before the convoy, I watched four white-spotted fawns bound away in pursuit of their mothers. No sound of traffic nor any other thing than the low rumble of the grain elevator and the song of a cardinal and my own shallow breathing. Rather than vehicles and a violent cityscape and the incessant wail of sirens, I presided over nodding goldenrod and brome gone to seed and rainpools shining silver in the morning light.

I had wandered all night through empty streets and alleys, past churches whose doors were barred and nailed shut, down broad greenbelts that faced backyards devoid of any life other than a solitary majestic elk, but what I sought was unknowable and unfound. By dawn I was exhausted, and woke and went to work as always and returned as thunder faded and light grew ascendant, and I kissed my wife as she left for work and then wandered into the field to ask the day for answers. And none were forthcoming.

The literal translation of bewilder is “to lose in pathless places, to confound for want of a plain road.” Such was my state of mind as I thought of my family accompanying Ricky to his end, and me here alone with no idea how to say goodbye without feeling inadequate. As if by my willful exclusion I had abandoned them. What rite, what ceremony, could bridge that distance and set aright this terrible emptiness? Knowing none, I stepped farther into the field. Grass soaked my pants to my knees. Sunlight tore through a rent in the clouds and sparkled on the dew and pinned me in place.

Hundreds of miles away, as the hearse pulled away from the funeral home and began the long slow drive to the graveyard, an alert tone cleared all traffic from police radios. “All units will ten-three,” the dispatcher said, and every officer in the city paused in what they were doing except for the motorcade, and they listened and struggled with the words.

“This is the final dispatch for Officer Richard Smith,” the dispatcher announced. “It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to you. In life you were a loving husband and a wonderful father. As a police officer and White Striper, you always carried yourself with such class and integrity you were often looked to for guidance. Always smiling and full of life, it’s easy to see why those who met and knew you appreciated and loved you. We will never forget that you gave the ultimate sacrifice.

“Officer Smith, respond now to your final dispatch.”

In all that vast city, on every police radio, in the hearts of all who heard, there was only silence.

And in the silence heard even here I said a short prayer for Ricky’s soul and for his wife and daughter and father and mother and all the rest who were there and not here. And even as I uttered the words I saw first one and then a dozen and then a thousand dragonflies wending their way southward, weaving and skirling through the skies and above the grasses and all about me in an intricate, untraceable pattern, and I raised my arms and cast the prayer off and they took it and made it their own. I imagined in my weariness that my prayer was borne aloft by thousands of glittering restless wings, magnified and translated into an unspoken language which knows death is only another form of migration, and that the end of the journey is home.

Tom Parker
Blue Rapids, Kansas

Officer Ricky Smith (photo used by permission of

Officer Smith with Tom & Lori Parker's oldest son, Joel in the early 1980's. (Photo courtesy of Tom and Lori Parker.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

In the Eye of the Storm

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
~Psalm 46:1-3

“God didn't promise days without pain; laughter without sorrow,or sun without rain. But He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.”
~ Author Unknown

When I last wrote, we still had not heard anything from our son Jared and his family who were in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina hit. It would be another twenty-four hours before we would receive any word from them at all. Erin’s mother, Lu and I talked on the phone both days, trying to reassure one another that our children and grandchildren were physically safe.

As I mentioned last week, Jared, Erin, Asher and Gabe, (and their pets, Chance and Snowball), decided to wait out the storm in a shelter located at the naval command post at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Jared said it’s like a city unto itself, with a backup generator and water supply. Plus, the building was constructed to sustain a Category 5 hurricane, and thank God it did!

The first phone call from Jared finally came in on Tuesday afternoon. Even though I’d been watching the news, the descriptions that came from my own son made the whole situation seem even more vivid and horrendous. Now it was up close and personal. Too up close and personal.

“We’re safe, Mom, we’re all safe,” he said. “We’re on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Texas right now. It’s unbelievable, Mom. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It looks like a bomb exploded. We saw a U-Haul hung up on a light pole. Cars became ram rods and were sticking out of the sides of store windows. It’s like a war zone down here!”

Coincidentally, I located a picture of that U-Haul truck on the internet and sent an e-mail to Romy Kettlewell of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who said that her husband, Don took the picture on Hwy. 90 (also known as Beach Boulevard) in Waveland, Mississippi. Thanks to the Kettlewell’s for giving me permission to share their pictures.

U-Haul on telephone pole in Waveland, Mississippi. Photo by Don Kettlewell

Pile of cars on Hwy. 90 in Waveland, Mississippi. Photo by Don Kettlewell

K-Mart Shopping Center in Waveland, Mississippi. Photo by Don Kettlewell

Daddy O's Seafood Restaurant on Hwy. 90 in Waveland, Mississippi. Photo by Don Kettlewell

Getting back to Jared and Erin, Jared said that it proved to be a real blessing that they took their cars to the Space Center because there wasn’t any flooding there. In addition, the roads nearby were cleared fairly quickly, so they loaded up the kids and headed to their apartment to survey the damage. This is Jared’s account of what they discovered when they arrived:

“The roofs of most of the units had been blown off and windows broken, but the roof over our unit was still in place and none of the windows were broken. So for a brief moment we thought we might have been spared, and I was thinking, ‘Praise God’. But when I opened the door to our apartment it looked like everything we owned had been put in a giant washing machine full of mud and tossed back out. Erin was pulling baby pictures out of the mud. We lost everything, Mom. The neighbor’s floor fell through into our apartment and our refrigerator was up on the counter. The water went up to the ceiling, so if we would have stayed, we’d all be dead.”

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." ~ John 16:33b

Before Erin entered the apartment, Jared tried to inject a little humor into the situation by telling her she better take off her shoes so she wouldn’t track mud on the carpet. Asher’s first reaction to the mess was, “Gross!” Then Jared said, “Look, Asher, our refrigerator is up on the counter.” And Asher replied, “Cool!” I’m really hoping that he isn’t too traumatized by the whole event and that Gabe is too young to remember it.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you . . . I have called you by your name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you . . . ~ Isaiah 43: 1b,2a (Amp)

But the events of the past week have been disturbing for everyone involved, including those of us on the parameters of the tragedy, not to mention our country as a whole. The destruction and devastation of Hurricane Katrina was so massive and so widespread, it’s almost incomprehensible.

When the eye of the storm passed over the Space Center, everyone was told that they could go outside and walk around. Jared said it was like someone turned off a switch. It went from ferocious blowing winds and torrential rains to an eerie stillness and absolute silence. So Jared, Erin and the boys literally walked around in the eye of the storm. That was around midday on Monday, and they didn’t step outside again until about 5:30 that evening after Hurricane Katrina had finished wreaking havoc on several states.

Erin said that when they were driving to and from their apartment, they saw several people wandering around in the streets. She said it made her realize how fortunate they really were.

“God have mercy on them. To some, hope is even a struggle. But when the sun comes out, God breathes new life with hope and joy for tomorrow.” ~ An e-mail from my friend, Mae

Yes, Jared and Erin lost their worldly possessions – and that would be extremely upsetting to any of us – but they are so thankful to God that everyone in their family survived (including their pets), both of their vehicles were spared, and they had a place to go for shelter.

When they finally arrived at Keen’s parents’ home (it took longer than expected because a bridge was knocked out by the storm), they were greeted by hugs from several members of Keen’s family, as well as a delicious steak dinner and corn-on-the-cob.

The next day, Keen decided that he and Kirk should drive down to Texas to be with all the family during this difficult time. Kirk’s principal at Wabaunsee High School, Dr. Larry Anderson, was so kind and understanding. He not only granted Kirk permission to take time off from school, but he wrote a personal letter to Jared and his family expressing his condolences for their loss.

Keen and Kirk drove about twelve hours straight through the night. The next day, life threw everyone another curve ball. What’s that old expression? “If it’s not the hogs, it’s the windmill.” Well, this time it was the well. Without any running water, it was time to find another place to lay their heads. So everyone loaded up their stuff and drove over to Keen’s brother’s house. It might have been more than Kevin and Falethesa bargained for, but you’d never know it by their gracious hospitality. As a matter of fact, they tried to talk them into staying!

The situation is constantly evolving, but as of this writing, everyone is caravanning back to Kansas so Jared, Erin and the boys can move into our house in Manhattan. It has a queen-sized bed, bunk beds, two bathrooms, a washer/dryer and all the necessary kitchen appliances. And I’m so glad I stayed home because it gave me the time and opportunity to get everything ready for them on this end. Now the refrigerator is fully stocked, the air conditioner is on and the boys have some new clothes and a few toys waiting for them when they arrive.

Unfortunately, Jared can’t stay very long as he will have to return to Mississippi to continue his duties with the Navy. Whether he’ll continue to be stationed there or transferred to another part of the country is yet to be seen. So they’ll wait until they know something more definite before making any final decisions. More than anything else, they just want to be a family again. Meanwhile, I guess we’ll just have to take it one day at a time.

"Wherever we are, it is but a stage on the way to somewhere else, and whatever we do, however well we do it, it is only a preparation to do something else that shall be different." ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson (1850-94)

“Fear not; there is nothing to fear for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties; yes, I will help you; yes I will hold you up and retain you with My victorious right hand of rightness and justice. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; I, Who say to you, Fear not, I will help you!” ~ Isaiah 41:10,13 (Amp)

Asher and Gabe playing at the beach the week before Hurricane Katrina hit

Erin & boys walking along the beach

Umbrella on beach - such a peaceful scene, but not for long

Gabe at beach

Asher walking along the beach

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Circling the Wagons

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.’ Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge . . . He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” ~ Psalm 91:1,2 (NKJV)

Last week I wrote about my trip to Mississippi to visit my daughter-in-law and grandchildren. What a difference a week makes!

As I sit down to write my column, my stomach is churning. We are anxiously awaiting word from Jared and Erin who are in a storm shelter with Asher and Gabe at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, which is in the direct path of Hurricane Katrina. Jared returned from Kentucky late Friday night, just in time to load his family, their dog and cat, and a few essential belongings into their car and flee to safety.

We haven’t heard from them since last night and we haven’t been able to reach them at all this morning. The news on television has only confirmed the worst, so we have been praying fervently for their safety. When I talked to Erin yesterday, she felt confident that their apartment and all their belongings would be lost. But in spite of that, she said she was trusting God and thankful they were all together. “We’ll get through this,” she said. “Even if we lose everything we own, it will be all right because those things can be replaced.” She said as long as she and Jared and the boys were safe, that was all that really mattered.

Tears filled my eyes this morning after a phone call from Keen’s mother who called to let us know that she talked to Jared & Erin last night and invited them to stay at their house for as long as necessary. Keen’s parents live in Conroe, Texas, which is about six hours from where Jared and Erin live in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. They have separate living quarters all furnished and ready to go right next to their home. (They call it “the annex”.)

In addition, Mom said that if Jared and Erin do end up losing everything, she has beds and bedding that she can give them. “And I’ve wanted a new couch for some time now,” she added. “So they can just take my old one.” Keen’s sister Kihm even offered an entire bedroom suite that she isn’t using. In fact, Mom is visiting Kihm right now in North Carolina and they said they’d be willing to rent a U-Haul and drive the furniture across country if need be. Talk about circling the wagons!

Last night Keen’s brother Kevin called to offer their home to Jared’s family, too. They live in The Woodlands, Texas – just outside of Houston – and they just bought a new house with two spare rooms. “We’d love to have them,” Kevin said.

It’s times like these that remind me how very blessed we are to have people who love us so much that they would drop everything to help us, our children, or our children’s children. Friends may come and go, but family will always be there through thick and thin. And thank God for that!

You Were Always There

By Sheryl Hale Black

No one knows while they are young
Just how strong a parents love can be.
You were always there, I knew no fear
You were always there for me.

Your hand was my guide,
Through all the small storms.
You lead me lovingly, right by my side
You Were Always There For Me.

I love you.

©Copyright of Sheryl Hale Black
(Used by Permission)

If the sky above you
Should turn dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud
And soon I will be knocking upon your door.

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running – to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you got to do is call
And I’ll be there . . . .

You’ve Got a Friend ~ recorded by James Taylor

They will call on My name,
And I will answer them.
I will say, 'This is My people';
And each one will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"

~ Zechariah 13: 9b (NKJV)

Four generations of Umbehrs: Jared on the left, Keen on the right and Grandpa Jim holding Jared's son, Asher.

Keen & his mom, Jean, after his graduation from law school

The Three K's: Kihm, Keen & Kevin