Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thanks, I Needed That

“For I have derived great joy and comfort and encouragement from your love. . . .” ~ Philemon 7a (Amp)

Last week I shared some examples of times when we were blindsided in a hurtful way. This week I’d like to share some examples of when we were blindsided in a positive way – by gestures of love.

This first example comes from a special note Keen taped to my computer on Valentine’s Day. If none of the other dreams in my life ever come true, I am more blessed than I deserve to be.

February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You have been the love of my life since I was fifteen years old. I love you, Eileen! Through good times and bad times, I have always known that you love me more than life itself. Your love for me gives me the strength to face the unknown trials each day brings. Thank you for always being there for me. The love and affection you show me every day is a gift to me. You may think I’m as close to perfect as any man could be – but I know I’m not. I just spend a lot of time in the cleansing river of forgiveness that God provides all of us.

Eileen, you are the flower forever planted in my heart that I cherish each day of my life. Every day that I wake up with you and experience the love, the laughter – is a new Valentine’s Day for me. I feel like my whole life – since I was fifteen years old – has been a special Valentine’s Day, repeated over and over, thousands of times. Please, never doubt that we are one heart, one soul, one spirit.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweetheart! My day is blessed because of your love for me.



Another unexpected blessing arrived in the form of an email from our third born son, Keen II, who touched our hearts by sharing the following excerpt from his online journal:

“I have a really awesome dad. The older I get the more I am able to see just how much he did for us when we were kids. He loved us unconditionally, he worked hard for us, he disciplined us, he taught us how to do guy stuff, and always looked out for us. I always say that my dad taught me how to be a man and my mom taught me how to be a gentleman. I just really appreciate my parents and all that they did for their family to ensure their success in life. . .”

Keen and Keen II (who, at the age of nine, informed us that he was going to grow up and have two children; a girl named Christine and a boy named Keen. "So I can keep up the tradition!")

“Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]. . . .”
~ Ephesians 5:12

Next, I’d like to share this note that our second son, Joshua, (who will soon become a father himself), wrote to his dad in 1994 when he was thirteen years old. He had taped one of his school pictures to the bottom of the page and left it in the trash truck so Keen would find it when he went to work.

November 2, 1994

Dear Dad,

Lately you have looked really sad and sorta in a daze. I hope you know how good of a dad you are. You are always there to encourage any of us in what ever we do. I can always talk with you about anything and everything but I felt this letter would be better than a talk. This way whenever you feel down you can look at this letter and hopefully it will help you realize how wonderfully great you are. I just want you to know I really pray to God every night to have such a loving, caring dad. You work your butt off every day to make sure your family, us, has everything we could need. I can't express how much I love you and I know that you are truly, without a doubt, the most loving, caring dad in the world. I want you to know how great you are.

LOVE Dearly,
Josh Umbehr

Keen wrote the following response to Josh’s note:

Dear Josh,

Today when I started my trash truck, I read your letter to me. I am so thankful that I have a son who loves me so much. Thank you for expressing your thoughts in writing. You are so grown up and mature for your age. I love you so much. I’m going to keep your letter in my truck, so that when I get down or have a hard day, I can re-read it and that will make me happy again. I love you, Josh.


It was a beautiful moment in time, one that makes you believe you must be doing something right. After school I praised Josh over and over for his caring and sensitivity and I told him how happy his letter made Dad. Then Josh said, “I thank God for both of you, every night. You could replace your name in that letter, Mom. Because I mean it all for you, too.” What a dear heart.

Josh and Keen

". . . If you love somebody, tell them."
~ Rod McKuen

Lastly, I would like to share another poem written by my friend Pat Barrett who has a unique gift of capturing simple truths and expressing them through poetry. Pat is one of the most positive people I have ever met, mainly because she chooses to concentrate on all of her blessings. Thanks for being such an inspiration to your friends and family, Pat, and thank you for allowing me to share your insightful, heartwarming poems with others.

Valentine’s Day Every Day

By Patricia Kohls Barrett

It is the holiday of romance
When lovers show affection
With cards, flowers and sweets
Or some other special selection

It’s not limited to those in love
Anyone can show how they feel
To a special friend or relative
With attention fondness reveal

Why wait for the festival of hearts
To expose your feelings within
Anytime can be a special heart day
To appreciate buddy or kin

Think of someone important to you
See that smile when you show you care
With a compliment or little gift
Or a piece of yourself you share

Make today the holiday of hearts
Find a way to show value and worth
To someone important in your life
Express gratitude for their birth

“ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God. . . .
~I John 4:7a

Photo taken by Pat Barrett

Thursday, February 16, 2006


"Even my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted (relied on and was confident), who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me."
~ Psalm 41:9

Blindsided: 1. attack from blind side: to take somebody unawares suddenly, with detrimental results; 2. attack when vulnerable: to attack somebody suddenly and physically by hitting the person on a side where his or her peripheral vision is obstructed.

Have you ever felt blindsided? If you’re a member of the human race, my guess is that you have. This past week I was blindsided by a longtime friend, so I’ve decided to make it the topic of my column.

My first experience with being blindsided came at the hands of my fifth grade teacher who pointed her finger in my face and said, “You think you’re the cat’s meow!” Well, I was only ten years old, so I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment. Then two years later a teacher became so angry at me for interrupting him during a meeting that he composed a one-page diatribe about me and told me to write it out fifty times. The opening line of nearly every sentence was: “Cute, funny, Eileen, thinks she is so cute and funny. . . .” Well, I didn’t feel either cute or funny after that. In fact, the experience caused serious damage to my self-esteem.

Many years ago I was blindsided by an individual who stopped me on the street and blasted me for a column Keen had written in the newspaper. Let me tell you – this guy was ticked – with a capital “T.” I remained calm but his anger became personal. “I’m just sorry you find it so hard to believe that everyone doesn’t agree with your husband!” he snapped. I explained that I didn’t have any trouble believing that everyone didn’t agree with my husband since he had just lost another election for county commissioner.

Another time when we were at an outdoor social gathering at the home of someone we thought was our friend, I was stunned to hear him tell one of our sons to make sure he didn’t grow up to be like his father. My stepmother, who was visiting at the time, immediately retorted, “He should be so lucky to grow up to be like his father!”

One time we were blindsided by a neighbor who was angered by the election sign we had displayed in our yard for a senatorial candidate. She went on and on about how she couldn’t even pull in her driveway or look out her bedroom window anymore because she would have to view the sign. She even went so far as to say that she couldn’t sleep!
After listening to her rant and rave for several minutes, I replied, “But it’s our yard.” Then Keen suggested that she show support for the candidate of her choice by displaying her own sign. Well, the neighbor grew furious and stomped off, shaking her fist in the air. According to her definition of a good neighbor, we should acquiesce and remove the sign. (Actually, that’s exactly what we ended up doing – just to keep the peace.)

Last fall we were blindsided once again at Keen’s swearing in ceremony. You see, there were four people from Wabaunsee County who were sworn in as practicing attorneys on the same day. The mother of one of the students approached Keen at a local football game and said that we should be sure to get a picture of “The Wabaunsee Four.” Silly me, I followed through and made the effort to gather the four new attorneys together for the photograph. But my heart sank when one of the mothers informed me that she was going to submit the photo to the Alma paper and she only wanted it to be the three Wabaunsee High School graduates, because they wanted to promote Wabaunsee High. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. There was Keen, happily gathered for the group shot, when I had to tell him that they only wanted the three others in the picture. Then the woman said, “Oh, that’s all right, I already got my picture for the paper.” It was such an awkward moment, and it really put a damper on an otherwise happy occasion.

Some of you may recall reading in a previous column about the woman who sent me a letter about my book project. She stated that God told her I was a “bitter young woman” who had not been able to forgive. Then she wrote: “I’d like to suggest you go to a timber area and dig a big hole and bury that 620 page manuscript in that deep hole and turn to Jesus and ask His forgiveness for yourself and for all the people who hurt you. Then you can begin living as a free person.”

“A writer lives with rejection…A writer needs the sensitivity of a butterfly in touching the outside world – and the skin of a rhino to withstand its disregard.” ~ Sophy Burnham, For Writers Only

Since Keen started his new law practice, he has been blindsided several times by the reactions of potential clients to the fact that: 1) he charges the going hourly rate for attorneys; 2) he does not choose to take every case that walks through his door; and 3) he confines his work to regular business hours. For example, when he informed his very first potential client about his fees, the individual responded, “So you think you’re a big shot attorney now and you can charge that much for your time?” I kid you not. Another prospective client accused Keen of becoming “one of the good old boys” after he declined to represent him free of charge. “If being a businessman and having bills to pay makes me one of the good old boys,” Keen replied, “then I guess I’m guilty as charged.” When we were discussing these situations later, Keen said, “If I choose to donate my time, that’s my decision – but I’m not going to have it taken or demanded from me.”

“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. ” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lastly, this woman I’ve known and done business with for over fifteen years called my cell phone at 5:30 on a Friday night saying that a friend of hers needed some legal advice “right away.” When I asked her if the woman could call Keen’s office on Monday morning to set up an appointment, she became indignant. I explained that I couldn’t speak for Keen and I didn’t know when he would have an opening. However, I offered to call her friend the following day after I had a chance to talk to him. Once again, she became exasperated. “Put yourself in her shoes,” she pleaded. “This woman has been on pins and needles for several months now, and I just can’t tell her that you’ll get back to her.” I told her that this was the way we chose to operate our business and I would appreciate it if she would respect that. She commented that she would like to have weekends off, too, but when friends call . . . Then she said that she recalled reading something Keen wrote several years ago about how he would “die for justice.” “Quite frankly,” she continued, her words dripping with disdain, “I haven’t found that to be the case at all. In fact, I’ve been very disappointed in Keen because every time that I’ve asked him for [free] help, he’s turned me down!” (When Keen was in law school, she wanted him to drive nine hours, round trip to Liberal, Kansas, to attend a meeting where she was trying to resolve a conflict over a business deal.) Working hard to maintain my composure, I told her that her comments made me very angry. She said, “Well, I’ve kept my opinion in for years now and I’m just telling you how I feel.” I replied, “And I’m just telling you how I feel. For you to say that Keen doesn't care about justice simply because he doesn't jump on the bandwagon of every issue you’re involved in is deeply insulting.”

With friends like that, who needs enemies? I guess I should be thankful that her true colors were revealed. On one hand, I know the Bible tells us to pray for our enemies, and bless those who curse us (Luke 6:26,27) – which I can do and have done. But I don’t think that means you have to continue to have a relationship with someone who inflicts emotional pain on you or harbors ill will towards you. As Maya Angelou says: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” So I will accept the fact that my former friend and I have different views of what friendship is really all about.

"Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee." ~Proverbs 23:7b

Monday, February 06, 2006

Love is Having to Say You're Sorry

“Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. . . .” ~ James 5:16a (KJV)

"The story of love is not important – what is important is that one is capable of love. It is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity."
~ Helen Hayes

. . . Continued from last week

My friend and fellow-writer, Tom Parker, is one person I try to emulate when it comes to being honest and real in my columns. If some of you think I am “open to a fault,” you should read Tom’s writings. He has shared his personal struggles with faith, immortality, fatherhood and depression.

Tom’s recently released book, Dispatches from Kansas, is a collection of some of his best columns. (It is available through Amazon.com or by contacting Tom directly at tlparker1@sbcglobal.net.) In the blurb I wrote for the back of his book, I stated in part: “Tom Parker is one of those rare individuals who have the courage to share their deepest and most intimate thoughts. His weekly column is a window into his very heart and soul – a sometimes tormented but always triumphant soul. . . .”

“We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. . . . Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.” ~ II Corinthians 4:2 (MSG)

Along those same lines, recently I saw Ruth Bell Graham (daughter of evangelist Billy Graham) on a Christian television talk show discussing her book titled, In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart: Hope for the Hurting. Ruth Graham has been through two divorces and her teenage daughter had two babies. The first baby was put up for adoption and she kept the second one, a little boy who is now eight years old. Ms. Graham writes about that experience in her latest book titled, I’m Pregnant . . . Now What? – which she co-authored with Sara R. Dormon Ph.D. (They have also established a web site – www.forpregnancyhelp.com.) During the interview, Ruth Graham said: “Being transparent about our struggles and faults brings freedom, not shame.”

I couldn’t agree more. So many of us try to put up a fa├žade in an attempt to fool people into thinking that everything in our life is always hunky-dory. How phony. The only way to salvage something good out of a painful or negative experience is to share that experience with others so that they can benefit from the lessons you learned and hopefully gain inspiration from hearing about how God helped you make it through your personal crisis.

Having said all that, I would like to continue last week’s Valentine column by sharing a snapshot from a not-so-pleasant moment in our married life – a time when I fell into self-pity (big time). To make matters worse, Keen and I forgot (or ignored) God’s number one rule for couples, which is: “Never let the sun go down on your anger.” Ephesians 4:26)

Even the happiest marriages hit rough spots when they have hurdles to overcome and differences to work out. So here’s my weekly dose of humble pie from a note I wrote to Keen about two years ago:

Dear Keen,

I was wrong.

I was wrong not to stop what I was doing and greet you with a smile and a kiss when you came home last night. Not because that’s my “obligation” as your wife, but because it sets the tone for the rest of the evening – what little bit of evening we had left. I was wrong to be so engrossed in the stresses of my day, that I couldn’t listen objectively when you told me about your day.

I was wrong to spiral down into a sea of self-pity by going on and on about how overwhelmed I was by the endless projects staring me in the face. I should be thankful God has allowed me to stay home during this time in our lives when most people would agree I “should” be working to support our family while you are in law school.

Sometimes I feel so close to God – but this is not one of those times. I am so far from being and acting like my Heavenly Father, it’s not even funny. I guess it just shows that I haven’t arrived and I never will arrive until I reach Heaven when all earthly sins are washed away for all eternity. But until then, I will try to remind myself of what the Bible says. Such as:

Be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only.

If I speak with the tongues of angels, but have not love, I am a clanging cymbal.

Wives, adapt yourselves to your husbands. (I’m still working on that with your new semester schedule – but I’ll get there)

It is better to live on a rooftop than with a nagging, contentious wife.

I know what you’re thinking right now. “That girl of mine: I can always count on her to admit when she’s wrong. It might take her a little while, but she always comes around.”

Well, you’re right – I was wrong.

Again. As usual.

Come to think of it, you didn’t do anything wrong. All you did was come home. But you came home to a grouchy, fault-finding wife who was feeling sorry for herself and looking for a fight. So I got one. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m sorry I wasted what precious time we did have together arguing about nothing. I paid a price though. I lost my peace. I’ve been up since about 2:00 a.m. and it’s 4:40 now. All the while you’ve been sleeping like a baby. That’s good. You deserve a good night’s sleep.

I love you, Keen. And I’m sorry for causing strife in our marriage. I felt like I had to write this, and I’m hoping it helps me to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It’s never easy to admit when you’re wrong, but that’s what I want to do.

I was wrong, and I’m sorry.

I love you,


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” ~ I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

'Cause you are
the one light
that shines on me
Without your love
God knows where I'd be

Lost without a prayer
Somewhere way out there
My soul would turn to dust
Heaven help me
If I ever lose your love

Heaven Help Me ~ recorded by Wynonna Judd

"Oh love, as long as you can love." ~ Ferdinand Freiligrath

Keen & Eileen at age 16 in Singapore and 25th anniversary in 2003

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Circle of Love

“There are three things that will endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” ~ I Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)

Keen and I had our first date on March 15, 1974, so we’ve been celebrating Valentine’s Day together for over 30 years now. The other night I told him how privileged I feel to be married to him. Keen is so much fun to live with. He keeps me laughing. He makes me feel loved and important. And even though I don’t have a college education, he tells me that I’m “a hundred times smarter” than he is. (Untrue – but still nice to hear.) Keen makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.

"How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved!" ~ Sigmund Freud

Here’s a poem I wrote for Keen for our 25th anniversary on June 10, 2003:

My Privilege
By Eileen Umbehr

His parents call him son
his siblings call him brother
But even though his name is Keen
he’s been called so many others

County officials called him dirt
the stuff he hauled in his trash truck
A troublemaker and an s.o.b.
were some other names that stuck

Reporters have called him a gadfly
who starts fires and fans the flames
I guess I could go on and on
with the list of unflattering names

But I would be amiss,
not to mention the positive ones, too
Lest you get the wrong impression
and the truth be misconstrued

To call him a hard worker
would certainly apply
A man of faith and principle –
the underdog’s best ally

A devoted family man
who loves his wife and sons
He’s even known as Grandpa
to his two young grandsons

A visionary with a sense of humor
and keen political insight
A man determined to achieve his goals
and stand up for what is right.

The Freedom Forum called him a First Amendment hero
The Capital-Journal – a Distinguished Kansan
But for twenty-five years its been my privilege
to simply call him “husband.”


When I was a teenager, I had to write an English paper for school and I chose to write about the subject of love. When I interviewed my mother for the story, she said that love was a one-way street – in the other person’s direction. As an adult, I have pondered that thought and wondered about its validity. At first glance, there’s something about that statement that just doesn’t seem right. I mean, isn’t love supposed to be 50-50? But upon further examination, I think my mother was right. As I reflect on my own marriage, I can see that it has worked as well as it has because Keen and I do just that.

I liken it to a circle of love. Think about it – if both people in the relationship direct their love toward the other one, then there will be a continual circle of love. When you give, you receive – and when you receive, you have something to give back to the other person. But when one or both of the parties is on empty, then the circle of love is interrupted – and that’s when we get into trouble. In fact, some of our biggest fights have happened just like that. One of us is lower than a snake’s belly, so we decide to retreat into self-pity – that arch enemy of love and harmony. Then we shut down and quit giving, feeling quite justified in doing so because, after all, we have it so rough. We become convinced that no one understands how hard our life is. The next thing you know, you’re engaged in a senseless argument about who has the more difficult lot in life. That’s a dangerous road to travel (don’t ask me how I know). The bottom line is: life is a struggle for most of us. Whether you’re rich or poor; whether you’re in the prime of your life or in your retirement years. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or you work outside the home; whether you have a physically demanding job, or a mentally draining job – every job and every life has its challenges and drawbacks. On any given day, there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t feel like their job is the toughest. So why even go there? What is the point in debating that issue? Why not respect yourself as well as those you love? Let them know you appreciate what they do and tell them that you understand that their job has challenges and stresses that yours does not. There’s that circle of love again. I express appreciation to you and you return the recognition to me. That’s all anybody really wants. As Dr. Phil says, we need to become each other’s “soft place to fall.”

“We find rest in those we love, and we provide a resting place in ourselves for those who love us." ~ Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

To be continued . . .

Keen and I (age 16) at the Botanical Gardens in Singapore

Keen and I kicking up our heels at the Van Kirk Family Reunion in 2003