Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Remembering a Life That Mattered (Part I)

Jim and Jean Umbehr and Family
December 26, 2004

“. . . it is appointed unto men once to die. . .” ~ Hebrews 9:27a (KJV)

Our Thanksgiving plans this year were not unlike the plans of hundreds of thousands of other people across the globe. We would fly to Texas to spend the holiday with Keen’s parents and siblings. We would laugh, exchange stories, and eat too much turkey and pumpkin pie. Then we would give each other hearty hugs that would last until we met again.

What we didn’t expect is that it would be the last time we would see Keen’s father here on earth.

As we prepare to travel to Texas once again, this time for a very different purpose, I would like to share a poem written by Michael Josephson titled, What Will Matter. Mr. Josephson was kind enough to grant me permission to share it with you.

When I return, I will write a more detailed tribute to my father-in-law, Jim Umbehr. In the meantime, please remember to tell your loved ones how much they matter to you.

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

What Will Matter
By Michael Josephson

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.
It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built;
Not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many people will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstances, but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

© 2006 Josephson Institute of Ethics; reprinted with permission. Michael Josephson, one of the nation's leading ethicists, is the founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the premier youth character education program, CHARACTER COUNTS! For further information, or to make a donation, please visit www.charactercounts.org

Monday, November 27, 2006

The River of Life

“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, and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned or scorched, nor shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God. . . .”

~ Isaiah 43:1b, 2 (Amp)

To continue with my theme from last week, the above Bible verses illustrate the fact that we all “walk through the fire” and “pass through the waters” at some point in our lives. Notice it doesn’t say if these things happen, it says when these things happen. But the good news is that these events need not defeat us, but rather, by the grace of God, they can and will make us stronger.

“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.”

~ II Corinthians 4:8,9

This past year one of our sons experienced a very painful disappointment in his life. As Keen counseled him, I listened intently and prayed that our son would take his advice to heart.

“A wise son heeds his father's instruction . . .”

~ Proverbs 13:1 (NKJV)

I described the father-son discussion in the following email to a friend:

“My husband spoke to him with words of wisdom; encouraged him to believe that greater opportunities and challenges will now present themselves; will now become a possibility when they would not have been otherwise. . . He reminded him of the elections he had lost without understanding why; of the time the law school turned him away and he had to try again; of the time a judge dismissed our case, ruling that it was without merit. He told of how, in each and every situation, he was later able to look back and see all the good that sprang forth from what, at the time, felt like a death. He told our son to look at his mother, how she was given a frightening diagnosis, how she waited for what seemed like an eternity to find out if she had that dreaded gene; how the doctors said she could have a lumpectomy . . .just a lumpectomy. How after the surgery they said there was more; they didn't get it all; she'd have to be cut again. And how she made the most difficult decision of her life; a decision that would cost her her breasts . . . but would save her life. "Your mother," he said, "had to become so strong, so fast. . . . and you will, too." He told our son that he knew it was hard, and that it would be for some time. He said, "You can't speed the process up; but you can slow it down." He told him to hold his head up high and not to speak one ill word against [anyone]. . . He told him that he might not see it now, but, looking back, one day, he will see. He will be stronger because of this.”

“The curious thing about pain/loss/etc is that if we pretend it didn't happen, it will continue to eat at us and we go into an avoidance mode - then it (the pain) controls and limits what we can or will do. But if we embrace the pain, feel it fully, accept it and say: ‘Yes, this too is a part of my life experience granted by God,’ then it becomes a building block, not a road block. It is the wise who find this out before they die (and the younger you learn it the better).”

~ Duane Herrmann

My friend Kat has the unique ability to derive meaningful lessons from life’s most emotion-packed moments, and then express those thoughts in words that inspire the reader. Since Kat has graciously given me permission to pass along anything she writes to you, I would like to share her most recent gift of words, which were written from her perspective as the mother of a son:

God has made 'reservations' for each of us.
How we long for something that we think is the best. . .
then it simply vanishes and we are speechless
from the pain and rejection.

all the while....

the reservations that God has made for us
silently wait.

Just as it is with those we make at our own favorite restaurant,
all we have to do is get ready and be there on time
in order to receive the service and
attention we appreciate, anticipate, and need.

It is only from experience that I can say this. . .
there is a planned succession of reservations
already made for each and every one of us
by our Father in Heaven.

He is excited and pleased, because
He knows that we will be delighted with
what we are given.

The test is simply . . . time.
It's hard to be young. . . with all the energy and vigor
which naturally propels us forward through the unknown
and unforeseen obstacles.

Faith is the 'confirmation' we hold that assures us
of great things to come. . .
just for us to enjoy
just for us to experience
just uniquely
for us.

Our children seem like stallions at times.
Pawing the ground,
tossing their manes,
snorting with impatience.

Hold fast!
The best lies waiting for you.
It is perfectly aligned with your heart and soul!

Sons own our dreams.


There's bound to be rough waters
And I know I'll take some falls
But with the good Lord as my Captain
I can make it through them all

Yes, I will sail my vessel
'Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I'll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
'Til the river runs dry

The River ~ performed by Garth Brooks

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
~ Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)
Chalk Creek - Nathrop, Colorado

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.

~ Psalm 100:1-5

Cornucopia – cor·nu·co·pi·a (noun): a great abundance of something

Recently when I sat down to compose my annual Christmas poem recapping the major events of the Umbehr family from 2006, I discovered that the task was a little more challenging than usual. I mean, really, have you ever tried to find a word that rhymes with mastectomy? When I read the first draft of my poem to our son, Josh, I must admit that it sounded terribly tortured and had us both in stitches. Even though I didn’t intend for it to be comical, that’s how it came across. Afterwards I made up the following mock verse, just to poke fun at how pathetic that first draft sounded:

Grandma fell and broke her hip
And as if that weren’t enough,
Grandpa broke his tailbone
When he went to help her up!

When I asked Keen what he thought about my poem, he had a little different view. “Well, it’s not very cheery, but it shows that we’re survivors.” His comment gave me pause. Then our son, Keen II, added his thoughts:

“Hey there Mom, sorry for taking so long to get back to you on this but I'm just now getting caught up on email. I would have to echo Dad’s opinion here. I think it is a great mixture of all of the real life things that have been happening in everyone’s life. Of course I can relate to it because it’s my family, but I feel like it just created a 'feels like home' feel when I read it. Of course I may be a little biased, but I think it’s great!”

As a result of the unexpected optimism conveyed by the two Keen’s in my life, I decided to rework the poem in an effort to salvage it. In the end, even Josh agreed that the revised version was a great improvement over the original.

As Keener pointed out, most people can relate to the ups and downs of life. The important thing is that we continue to have a heart of thanksgiving for all the good that remains.

“…gratitude is a sure cure for self-pity – that special illness at the heart of all grief.” ~ Catherine Marshall, To Live Again

I’m reminded of my special friend, Rebecca Miller, who is such a shining example of someone who chooses to focus on all that she has been blessed with, rather than on the things she might not be able to do because of her condition. Rebecca finds the time to bake cookies for others, play the violin at her church, and write kind, encouraging notes to people like me. We could all learn a valuable lesson from Rebecca’s inspiring life.

Last week I was invited to speak to a wonderful group of women at the First Christian Church in Junction City, Kansas. That was a first for me – but hopefully not the last – because I enjoyed the experience immensely. I appreciate any opportunity I have to share from my heart, whether through writing or public speaking.

Marge Ingmire, who has kept up with our life story through my column in The Prairie Post, suggested I talk about some of the trials we have gone through this past year, and how God’s strength sustained us through every one. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it was natural for me to tie those experiences in with a theme about being grateful.

One significant point that stands out in my mind regarding thankfulness in the midst of trials is that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll never have any struggles. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Bible says “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19) Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b) It’s a message that prepares us for the realities of life here on earth and yet offers a message of hope that no matter what comes our way, He will be there to see us through. Jesus said these things so that in Him we might have peace. (John 16:33a)

“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.” ~ Isaiah 41:10 (Amp)

My point is that our life this past year has been a cornucopia of both challenges and blessings. But we’re still here – and we’re still standing strong. And that, my friends, gives our family an abundance to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

God’s blessings to each of you this Thanksgiving and all the year through!

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” ~I Chronicles 16:34 (NKJV)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

'Tis [Always] the Season to Give Thanks

“Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
~ Psalm 103:2

This week I find it necessary to rely on the graciousness of my talented friend, Pat Barrett, who uses her gift of poetry to share life lessons and give glory to God.

(The photograph is also courtesy of Pat.)

November Contemplation
By Patricia Kohls Barrett

Some think you are barren
Since they see no green life
By your end, trees look naked
As having been through great strife

After wind shakes them loose
They shed their leaves all around
Then join rest of nature in sleep
Like the bulbs under ground

There is growth in your solitude
What appears lifeless is not dead
It is preparation for great splendor
In the warm spring months ahead

You’re the month of transition
Start with warmth, end with cold
Ease us all close to winter
When white flakes fall so bold

In the midst of transformation
We observe traditions of old
Gather together our families
Thankfully our hands we fold

You’re the advent of celebration
Of the season of peace
Folks are at best and worst
Gather, shop, share, and feast

You remind every mortal
Life is certain to change
We can’t hold any moment
That we try, is so strange

The Blessings are Always There
By Patricia Kohls Barrett

The blessings are always there
In the life of a child of God
It depends on his chosen focus
If he sees grace that is so broad

He can set his mind on problems
Center on what he doesn’t own
Wallow in pain and suffering
And pick to complain and moan

He can look for the glass to be half empty
And gaze around for what is not best
Find fault in what God had given him
Embrace seen troubles to his chest

Doing such he can miss all that’s good
That surrounds him on every side
And fail to behold his advantages
Miss opportunities he could have tried

This is a sad choice of unhappiness
Because attitude is within his control
On what he decides to center attention
Will determine if he meets a goal

He can decide with his Lord’s help
To direct thoughts to notice what’s right
Let God’s Spirit guide his viewpoint
With God’ Word adverse views fight

See on the reverse of undesirable
Are great blessings for him to unfold
As he sees God turn bad to good
He’ll find benefits worth more than gold

The blessings are always there
In the life of a child of God
It depends on his chosen focus
If he sees grace that is so broad

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!” ~ Psalm 30:11,12

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Absorbed by Love (Part II)

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love yourneighbor as yourself.’”
~Galatians 5:14

For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I'll be a witness in the silences
When words are not enough
With every breath I take
I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love

Testify to Love ~ performed by Avalon

This column is a continuation from last week when I shared some stories and thoughts we received after the birth of our granddaughter, Katelyn Seraphina. These next several paragraphs came from some of my dear female friends:

First, Katelyn: Oh my, what a gift you've been given. To care for a special spirit is a precious opportunity. So many things are easy in our western world. So many things taken for granted. Special ones slow us down and give us the opportunity for gratitude and humility, and perhaps above all the opportunity to practice kindness, patience, and unconditional love. Congratulations. I hope that some day I can meet Katelyn, or at least see pictures of her life and hear stories of her journey (actually, I'm sure I'll hear stories!). Ask Bev about Christie, a special daughter of friends of hers from North Dakota. I met Christie, who has Downs. She was in her 40's I think when I met her, and absolutely delightful. She was thoughtful and had a great sense of humor, was living on her own in a group home and was very happy. I've also worked with special folks in Alaska, and everyday my heart was warmed and my spirit lifted by young people and adults with developmental (dis)abilities of one sort or another who were moving through their lives with integrity and love.


A friend of mine who has two children with some severe genetic disorders once told me that the most difficult thing for her was that people would not share their good news with her. It made her feel isolated from the party. She does not dwell on the challenges of her day to day. Like the rest of us, she finds ways to celebrate her norms. There are blessings in every day no matter the circumstances. I can see your son’s family is already finding that to be true.


Katelyn can teach all of us about the joys of life; every one of her accomplishments will be a cause for rejoicing and celebrating, and it teaches us that we all too often take healthy children's development for granted.


Eileen, I read your article at work and spilled quite a few tears. I have been worried this past week about the baby and Lisa that something wasn't right, since I didn't hear back from you. I want to say I'm so sorry but those are not the right words. I told you that God sent an angel (Josh) to you to help you make the right decision [about the breast cancer diagnosis]; what I didn't know then is how much of an angel of God he really is. I have always believed that God sends special people to be looked after by special people, and Josh is definitely one of those special people. So the right word is “Congratulations!” And I believe, like Keen, that we all are about to witness a miracle. If you look around at the families that have kids with Down syndrome, those are the families that are the happiest and the closest. I loved the pictures, she is a beautiful baby.


Congratulations on your newest member of the family, another precious baby girl. She will add such a special piece to the "Umbehr puzzle". Another baby to love!!!


Thank you for all the messages this afternoon. Thank you for the pictures of the new little baby, Katelyn. She is a blessing from God and will be there for all of you when it counts the most. God chose her especially for a family whom He knew would do the best for her. All of you will love her with all the love you have to give and teach her to be independent along the way. There will be so many memories, but you'll have to forget the hurting ones and work your way past those. As you remember, I worked in Special Education for almost 19 years and have had a lot of learning experience. Congratulations to all of your family! God certainly knows what He is doing.

Remember what is most important.
It’s not having everything go right, it’s facing whatever goes wrong.
It's not being without fear; it's having the determination to go on in spite of it.
Remember that every day ends and brings a new tomorrow full of exciting new things.
Love what you do, do the best you can, and always remember how much you are loved.

~Vicki Worsham


Lisa’s brother Aaron came across a truly inspiring video on the internet about a father and son named Dick and Rick Hoyt. When Rick was born, he was strangled by the umbilical cord leaving him brain damaged and unable to walk or talk. The doctors told his parents that he would be a vegetable and suggested they put him in an institution. But Rick’s parents refused to accept what the doctors said, and they took Rick home to love him and nurture him.

Eventually, Rick was equipped with a computer which he was able to operate by touching a switch with the side of his head. Then when one of Rick’s high school friends was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run, Rick typed: “Dad, I want to do that.” From that moment on, Rick and his father have been participating in marathons and even triathlons. Rick says it’s the only time he doesn’t feel handicapped But he still has one more dream to fulfill: one day he’d like to be the one pushing his dad.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:12-13

(Tissue alert: If you’d like to watch an inspiring video depicting Dick and Rick’s journey, go to www.youtube.com and type “Rick Hoyt” in the search window.)

It’s true that sometimes miracles hide . . . and sometimes they don’t.

We love you, Katelyn Seraphina.

“. . . perfect love casts out fear.” ~ I John 4:18a

A big smile for Great-Grandma Jean (Umbehr)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Absorbed by Love (Part I)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~I John 4:7-11

Recently I met a woman who has a seventeen-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. Her daughter seemed amazingly well-adjusted and functional. I told her about our granddaughter, Katelyn, and asked if she had any thoughts or advice she could share.

Her first piece of advice was to say that all the available resources are wonderful, but, as Katelyn’s parents, Josh and Lisa will be the best teachers she ever has because they’re with her all the time. She explained that while her daughter’s IQ is not very high, she is able to manage very well in life, and performs many day-to-day activities. I took particular interest in her next comment: she said that her daughter has an incredible memory when it comes to matters of the heart – that is, experiences or people that touched her heart.

Next, she told me that there is a waiting list to adopt children with Down syndrome. That is sadly due to the fact that so many children who are diagnosed before birth are being aborted. She said, “People look at them as though they’re not right, but the truth is that there’s more right about them than most people.”

Lastly, she said, “Tell your son and daughter-in-law not to be afraid to have more children. I have seven children in all; four born before her, and two after her.” (A friend of ours is the youngest of eight children, and he has an older brother with Down syndrome.)

At the end of our conversation, my new friend gave me a hug. Then I asked if I could give her precious little daughter a hug. She said yes, and once again I felt as though I’d been touched by an angel.

Shortly after Katelyn was born, I was trying to describe her to my sister Peggy. “There’s just something so special about Katelyn,” I said. “When you’re around her, she just draws you in. It’s like she absorbs you.” I think that’s what makes children with Down syndrome so special; they are all love, all purity, all innocence – they are, so to speak, completely complete.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God . . .” ~ Deuteronomy 29:29a (Amp)

Katelyn all bundled up

After writing my column about Katelyn titled Angel in Disguise, I received numerous encouraging comments. This first story was sent to me from our friend Larry Perry, who gave me permission to share it with you:

Dear Eileen:

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

I remember when our youngest son was born. There was another baby born that same evening with Down syndrome. I remember the father of the baby with Downs standing by me looking in the window to the nursery and crying. I talked with him a few minutes and discovered the situation. I explained to him that he was one of the most fortunate men on earth and he suddenly stopped and listened. I told him that God only gives challenged children to special parents who are strong and who can help them and that obviously he was one of God's chosen parents and would experience a very special kind of love over his life. That he and his wife were in for a very, very special life with their newborn child. Oh, there would be ups and downs, but there are with all parents. However, their child would show them a kind of love that most people never experience. Many people would envy him and his wife because of this special event. He seemed relieved and began to think about it. I patted him on the shoulders and asked him to give his wife a big hug and our congratulations for a beautiful baby. He left and I never saw him again at the hospital.

I did not get his name nor address and as time would go by had forgotten the incident. Then about fifteen years later, I was doing a photographic workshop/seminar in Minnesota on wildlife. There were about 6 or 7 students in the workshop. After a couple of days, one of the students asked to speak to me alone. He asked if I had a son from Knoxville that would be so many years old. Somewhat surprised, I told him I did. He then told me he was the father of the child with Downs that was born the same time and that he and his family lived down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and were very happy. He further told me that he had thought about what I said to him that day at the hospital many, many times – about being a special parent and that over the years he agreed that his child with Down syndrome made their family the happiest in the area. Oh, there were special needs, but he and his wife absolutely loved doing them. He also mentioned that they had two other children who were normal and who were very supportive of their special angel. After hearing his story and the chance meeting of him 15 years later, when I got back to the motel that night, I just thanked God that He had put those words in my mouth 15 years earlier and that He protected the baby and blessed his parents. What a great day that was for me!

Eileen and Keen, I know you will be blessed the same way as I can already see it in your writing and your photos. Congratulations, and now you too will see a kind of love that very, very few people on earth ever experience. That means that you too are very special people.

“God gives us situations, challenges, tests so that we can expand to encompass them and render them harmless, and we grow because of it.” ~ Duane Herrmann


This next story came from another friend of ours, Jack Casner, who also gave me permission to share it with you:

When I was seven years old I used to spend weekends with my father, in Severy, Kansas. There I met a man named Walter Palmer. Walter was about 40 years old and he had Down syndrome. I didn't know anybody else in town and the two of us became friends. He showed me some good fishing holes and some beautiful rural areas close to Severy.

After Walter felt really secure with me he invited me inside his house to see his "stuff". Now, Walter's mother was about seventy, a former farm woman and much the worse for all her years in the sun and weather. But she was a sweet lady and fixed Kool-Aid for both of us. Then she went to get Walter's "stuff". She brought out a load of white, cotton dish towels, each with the most beautiful embroidery work I had ever seen. Even today, I can see Walter's work in front of me. And I can see Walter. And I can see Walter's mother. I can see the things we did.

Walter was my best buddy in Severy until my dad died. None of the kids I met there were nearly as smart as Walter, or as friendly, or as good to be with as Walter.


My high school buddy Scott, who has given me blanket permission to share anything he writes, sent the following encouraging words:

When I read your words about Katelyn, I remembered something from "Fried Green Tomatoes." When Ninny Threadgoode told Evelyn about her son, Albert, who was born with mental challenges, she said this, "How could anyone believe that little baby could be a burden? He was God's greatest gift. Why, I think there never was a purer soul on this earth. I had him with me until he was 40 and then he went to sleep and didn't wake up. Sometimes I can't wait to get to heaven to see him again."

I have known many people with children born with various challenges, and what I've heard from all of them is that they are blessed everyday by these wonderful children. I pray this will be so for Josh and Lisa.

To be continued . . . .

GramE and Katelyn reading a book

All smiles from Katelyn and Mommy

"I saw someone kissing Kate-lyn ..."

Josh, Lisa & Katelyn