Monday, November 26, 2007

It Takes Two

“Two are better than one. . . If one falls down, his friend can help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

Anyone who has read my column knows that I am not someone who believes that you should stay in a marriage at all costs, because sometimes the price is just too high. For instance, if your spouse has been unfaithful, or is abusing you or your children emotionally, mentally, verbally or physically, then you need to protect yourself and your family. That’s not to say that people can’t change, because I know they can, by the grace of God. But research shows that oftentimes the abuser will simply say whatever they have to say to get their partner to take them back. Then once they do, the cycle of abuse starts all over again.

Denise Jackson, the wife of country singer Alan Jackson, recently wrote a book titled, “It’s All About Him.” Denise was recently interviewed on a morning news show, and she explained that Alan had an extramarital affair several years ago. Devastated and alone, Denise cried out to God. Through this experience, she came to the realization that no single human being can possibly meet every one of your needs. We must rely on God, our Heavenly Father, for He will never disappoint. Any time you make a person your god, then you will definitely come up short. Denise and Alan’s story had a happy ending, but she states in the book that not every marriage can be saved. But the bottom line is this: whether you are blessed with a loving spouse, or you are single, widowed or divorced, God must be your Source. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you. He has also promised to meet all of our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. If your faith, confidence or security is derived from any source other than Him, it is misplaced.

"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
The God of my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation,
My stronghold and my refuge;
My Savior, You save me from violence.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.

~ II Samuel 22:2b-4 (NKJV)

Having said all that, this week I would like to share two very sad poems that I have written over the past year for a very dear friend of mine whose husband is divorcing her after twenty-four years of marriage. This is one of those cases where there is no legitimate reason for the divorce. No adultery; no abuse. Just a marriage that lacked the communication needed to work through their problems – and every marriage has problems to resolve. The solution to dissatisfaction in a marriage is to bring those grievances to the table openly and honestly so that you can work toward a resolution. When you keep your differences inside for too long, eventually a wall is built between you, making communication and compromise almost impossible to achieve.

“And this you do with double guilt; you cover the alter of the Lord with tears [shed by your unoffending wives, divorced by you that you might take heathen wives]….Therefore take heed to yourselves, and let no one deal treacherously and be faithless to the wife of his youth.”

~ Malachi 2:13, 15b (Amp)

Love's Last Hope
By Eileen Umbehr

He dropped a bomb -
Right in the middle of your life
The life you began with him
Twenty-four years ago

The promises you made
You meant
The promises he made
Were just words

They've been broken now
Along with your heart
Can there be any greater sorrow
Than to lose the one you love
Not to death
But to someone or something

Your heart cries out for answers
But receives only silence
After twenty-four years, you wonder –
Don't I at least deserve that much?

No words. No eye contact.
Just emptiness.
Grief like none other.

You cry out to God,
And in the stillness of your broken heart
You hear Him say
"I am still here. I will always be here."

By faith, you take that first step.
Then another.

Only God could part these waters of grief.
Only by His strength will you escape
And cross safely to the other side.

“Even to your old age I am He, and even to hair white with age will I carry you. I have made, and I will bear; yes, I will carry and will save you.” ~ Isaiah 46:4

“Blessed be the Lord who bears our burdens and carries us day by day.” ~ Psalm 68:19

And so, although I do believe in divorce, I believe even more in the sanctity of marriage and the value of keeping a family together. When there is something good worth saving, then simple differences should not destroy a marriage. But as the title of this next poem suggests, reconciliation can only happen when there are two people willing to do the work.

“How can two walk together except they be agreed?”
~ Amos 3:3

It Takes Two

By Eileen Umbehr

The day is fast approaching
And with it many tears
The end of a marriage that lasted
Nearly twenty-five years

What became of the vows recited
Before their friends and God
What about the promises they made
Was that all just one big facade?

What about all of the memories
The two of them have shared
What about the deaths in the family
When they needed each other they were there

What about their three precious children
Will they all continue to thrive
Now that their security is shaken
Because their parents’ love didn’t survive

But the fact of the matter is simple
There are some things that we can’t control
For even though one person wants to try
It takes two halves to make a whole

Yes, it takes two to make a marriage
And try as one person might
If the other is determined to seek a divorce
Then that wrong just can’t be made right

At that point you have no choice
But to grant your spouse’s request
Then trust in the good Lord to lead you
By still waters to true happiness

Because it takes two to walk in harmony
It takes two to help wounds mend
It takes two to make a marriage work
But only one to make it end.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

~ Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More Precious Than Words

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth.” ~ Psalm 127:3,4 (NKJV)

As most of you know, our family has been blessed with a new addition: Paige Ashley Umbehr was born at the Wesley Birth Care Center to Josh and Lisa Umbehr on October 23rd at 11:59 p.m. She weighed 8 lbs. 9 oz. and was 19 ½ inches long.

I was in Topeka when Lisa called to say that she was in labor, so I rushed home to pick up my suitcase and headed for Wichita as fast as I could. On my way there, I called Keen’s mom to share the good news. When I asked how late was too late to call, she replied that it was okay to call up until midnight, but after that she would wait until morning. So I guess little Paige wanted her great-grandma to get the news right away, because she was born exactly one minute before Grandma’s bedtime!

As any grandma would be, I was extremely excited about meeting our new grandchild. But my first tears were actually shed in the car as I neared my exit in Wichita and I heard Gary Allen come across the radio singing: “When tough little boys, grow up to be dads, they turn into big babies again.” It just brought back memories of our tough little boy who looked like a football player from birth, and who was now about to become a proud father once again.

Lisa’s mom Linda arrived earlier than I did and was able to provide some tender loving care to Lisa while she was in labor. I joined them around 10:30 when things were really starting to heat up. A while later Linda and I left the room because Lisa wanted to be alone with Josh during the final stages of labor and through the delivery. After visiting in the lobby for about 40 minutes, Linda and I decided we’d better check on Lisa’s progress. As we approached her room, we saw nurses from all four corners of the facility making their way down the hall. “What’s happening?” we asked. “I heard she’s ready to deliver,” a nurse explained excitedly.

Linda and I were like two little kids waiting for Santa Claus as we anxiously waited in the hall. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our daughter-in-law is a strong woman and a champion child-bearer! She had Katelyn all natural, and now she was doing it again. I had my children naturally, too, but the difference between me and Lisa is that you could have heard me screaming 3 blocks away. I remember during one of the deliveries digging my fingernails into Keen’s forearm and saying: “This – is - not - sur-vivable!”

“If nature had arranged that husbands and wives should have children alternatively, there would never be more than three in a family.”

~Lawrence Housman

But not Lisa; she barely made a peep throughout the entire process. On the other hand, we could hear Josh loud and clear joking with the doctor and nurses about how when Katelyn was born he told Lisa he was going to shout, “It’s a boy!” no matter what. At this point we received the only clue that there was a woman on the other side of the door laboring to bring forth a child when we heard Lisa very distinctly and firmly say: “Shut up!” Linda and I just smiled. Soon we began hearing comments like, “You’re almost there! One more good push!” We just held hands and listened intently until we finally heard, “It’s a girl!” followed by the beautiful sound of our new granddaughter’s first cry.

“Every child born into the world is a new thought of God, an ever-fresh and radiant possibility.”

~ Kate Douglas Wiggin

Ever the jokester, Josh came out into the hall and announced to the waiting grandmas, “It’s twins!” I quickly called Grandma Umbehr to give her the good news just in the nick of time. Josh also noted that Lisa was born on the 8th of the month and he was born on the 15th of the month and when you combine those two numbers you get Paige’s birth day, the 23rd of October.

After we got our chance to hug the parents and hold precious Paige, Linda and I drove back to Josh and Lisa’s house where Grandpa Gary was babysitting Katelyn. When we arrived, Katelyn was awake. I think she sensed all the excitement. So Gary and Linda left for the hospital while I tried to feed Katelyn a bottle and rock her back to sleep. But she wasn’t having any of that, so I decided to load up the car seat and take Katelyn to meet her new little sister. When we walked in the room, Lisa’s eyes filled with tears as she held both of her little angels in her arms for the first time. Katelyn was so happy to see Mom and Dad, and she seemed curious about this little bundle Mommy was holding. At one point she patted Paige’s little cheek ever so softly. (Josh and Lisa have been working on teaching her to be “gentle” for quite some time.) Then Katelyn made the hugging motion by wrapping her own two arms around herself.

Katelyn meets Paige

Josh commented that Katelyn was probably thinking, “Don’t forget me, Mom. New things are nice, but I’ve been around a lot longer than her. I’m an oldie but a goodie!”

Then he jokingly added that he’d have to explain to Katelyn that Mommy could only love her half as much now that there were two children in the family. Without skipping a beat, Lisa replied: “That’s not true, is it Katelyn. Mommy’s heart grew last night.”

All of our hearts grew that night.

Welcome to the family, Paige Ashley. We love you!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Special Delivery

The term special delivery
Holds different meaning for us all
Perhaps a bouquet of flowers
Or a gift, large or small

But for the Umbehr and Kaus families
Special delivery means one thing
To give you the whole picture
Let me start at the beginning

One night some friends were over
And we were talking about life
When somehow the conversation turned
To our friend’s brother and lovely wife

They sounded like such nice people
With traits to be admired
“Do they happen to have a daughter?”
I jokingly inquired.

Much to my amazement
They answered, “Yes, and she’s a jewel.”
Then we soon discovered,
She and our son went to the same school!

Not too long thereafter,
Josh and Lisa met each other
And Lisa said, “I think my aunt’s
Been talking to your mother!”

They soon became a couple
Before long they were in love
In the picture from their prom
A beam of sunlight shone from above

The bond continued to strengthen
Well past graduation
Faith, Love and Commitment
Became their firm foundation

Josh and Lisa found in each other
Kindred spirits and kindred souls
And four years later, just like clockwork
They both met their individual goals

After earning their degrees
Wedding bells were heard
Fr. Keith made it official
For these two very special love birds

Not wanting to waste a minute
They pressed on for better or worse
Each supporting one another’s dreams
Josh a doctor, Lisa a nurse

But before that would happen
Another dream came true
When their firstborn daughter Katelyn arrived
On the 7th day of June

Lisa’s mom and I were privileged
To be present at her birth
Oh what a gift she gave us
A gift of priceless worth

I remember when we were leaving
I gave Lisa a hug and a kiss
“She’s going to be such a blessing,” I said.
Lisa said, “She already is.”

No truer words were ever spoken
Katelyn Seraphina is a treasure
Yes God’s very Special Delivery
Is a blessing beyond measure

Katelyn & Daddy at the Wichita Buddy Walk, October, 2007

Now the next chapter of their lives
Is just about to be written
As the family grows from three to four
And we all once again become smitten!

Written October 8, 2007
Lisa’s 27th Birthday

Josh, Lisa & Katelyn (pulling Mommy's hair!)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Long-Awaited Finish

“. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. . . .”

~ Hebrews 12:1b,2a (NKJV)

For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for an update on my book, (and for those of you who couldn’t care less), I am finally able to report that a copy of my book, Small Town Showdown, is now available through I ordered two copies myself last Tuesday evening and received them on Friday, so that was a pretty fast turnaround.

Lately I’ve been thinking about that old saying – “You can’t go home.” Well, what happens if you’ve never left? Although I wasn’t born in Kansas, this has been my home for nearly my entire adult life. And despite the conflicts Keen and I have been involved in over the years, we have no plans to move because there’s no place on earth we would rather live.

Yet, I realize that my book may not receive a warm reception from a substantial portion of the population of Wabaunsee County. But that’s okay. I didn’t write it to make anyone happy and I didn’t write it to make anyone angry. Most importantly, I didn’t write it to be spiteful, although many may accuse me of such. I simply wrote it because this was our life and I wanted to tell our story. The book contains the truth about what happened, a truth which some will applaud and others will curse.

I remember back in 1989 when Keen was writing his weekly column, My Perspective. The commissioners used to accuse him of hurting people with what he wrote. But the truth is what it is: nothing more and nothing less.

As for me, whether one hundred or one million people read my book, I am content just knowing that I finally accomplished my goal. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been talking about this book for so long there were times when I felt like the girl who cried “Wolf!” So now it’s finally completed, for better or for worse – come what may. And now that the foundation has been laid, I can start working on the behind-the-scenes version of our story which will allow anyone who is interested to be a mouse in our house throughout the lawsuit years. But don’t be looking for it anytime soon!

In other news, ever since our oldest son Jared joined the Navy after 911, it has been his personal goal to become a Navy SEAL. Unfortunately, his poor eyesight prevented him from trying out, so he became a member of the Special Forces boat team known as SWCCC. Their responsibilities involve the insertion and extraction of Navy SEALS, a job Jared and his unit performed during a three-month tour of duty last year. Earlier this year, Jared underwent PRK surgery to correct his vision to 20/20, which enabled him to apply for the Navy SEALS program. Then last month he received his orders to report to Coronado, California, to begin BUD/S - Basic Underwater Demolition School which is a six-month program he will have to survive in order to reach his goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.

This week, Erin, Asher, Gabe and Emma, along with Erin’s mom Lu and their two dogs and two cats, will be traveling through Kansas on their way to California. Gabe is excited because he gets to start kindergarten since the cutoff isn’t until December 1st. When I called him on his birthday last Monday he excitedly exclaimed, “Gramma – today is my five!” Asher’s birthday was on Friday. When I talked to him on the phone and asked him how he liked being 8, he replied, “Well, it’s only my first day of being 8.” (I guess I’ll have to check back with him in a couple of months.) Emma is as pretty as ever – she is a girly-girl if ever there was one. She even likes shoes. Imagine that, at 16 months old! Jared said she actually brought him a pair of shoes one time and he put them on for her. Then a little while later she changed her mind (I told you she was all girl!) and brought him a different pair.

As for Josh, Lisa and Katelyn, they are one busy family. Josh is enjoying his residency program at Wesley Medical Center. Like most residents, he is putting in some unbelievable hours, but he is young, ambitious and hard working, so he is handling it really well. Lisa has also been able to keep her nursing skills up by working part time. Katelyn is doing well. She is very mobile and gets anywhere she wants to go with her unique belly-crawl. She pulls up on people, couches and tables, and even walks around them, but she’s not quite ready to take off walking yet. We’re all anxiously awaiting the arrival of Katelyn’s little brother or sister in a couple of weeks.

Keen II and Kirk Van are roommates in Manhattan while they attend Kansas State University. Kirk is a freshman and Keen is a senior. In addition to their studies, they both keep busy working. Keener works as a referee and Kirk works as a DJ for Complete Music. Kirk said that he has a dance every Friday and Saturday for four weekends in a row.

Keen continues to keep busy with his law practice. This week he attended a two-day conference in Wichita. Recently when I ran into one of Keen’s law professors from Washburn, he made the comment that Keen was born to be a lawyer. With God’s help, Keen reached his goal, and he is so grateful. He’ll never forget how he used to fill his days working as a trash man.

“All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one... characteristic we must possess if we are to face the future as finishers.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

Courtesy of WIBW - CBS affiliate, Topeka, Kansas (Used by Permission)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Every Life a Story: Thomas Richard Hutcheson

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

~ Eudora Welty, Author and Pulitzer Prize winner (1909-2001)

Welcome to the first edition of my new segment: “Every Life a Story.”

Thomas Richard Hutcheson, who most often goes by his middle name but is sometimes called T.R. or Dick, was born on August 21, 1916, in a farm home located four miles from the town of Morning Sun, Iowa, which is located in the Southeastern part of the state. Richard’s parents were Walter Edwin and Jessie (Turnbull) Hutcheson. His siblings included one brother, Matthew Maurice, and one sister, Mary Alice Elizabeth. (Another sister named Laura died in infancy.)

Richard’s mother Jessie had an interesting background. She was born in Oklahoma when it was Indian Territory. Sadly, Jessie’s mother passed away just a few days after her birth. Since there was no legal record of her birth, Jessie would eventually choose February 14 as her birthday. When Jessie was a young girl her father worked as a teamster for the railroad. After hearing there was work available at a mission being built by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, he decided to move Jessie and her older sister Dora to Apache, Oklahoma, where Jessie attended an Indian boarding school for two years. (Her father eventually married and had more children.) When Jessie was eight years old, it was determined that she and Dora should attend school in Morning Sun, Iowa, the hometown of some of the missionaries. Jessie lived with three different families before graduating from Morning Sun High School. Seventy-five years later, she was honored to be the featured speaker at the school’s alumni banquet. Jessie lived to be 96 years old.

An interesting side note: Richard’s grandfather, Matt Hutcheson, grew up near Olathe, Kansas, but left to find work in Iowa at the age of 16 because of the grasshopper plague in Kansas in 1873. The story is that the grasshoppers not only ate all the crops, but they ate the curtains off the windows and the handles off of pitchforks because of the salt from the farmers’ hands. Matt would meet Richard’s grandmother Annie in Iowa, and they eventually settled on 80 acres of land Annie had inherited near Morning Sun. This would be the farm home where Richard’s father Walter was born, and where Richard himself was born a generation later.

Richard’s mother and father met while they were attending the same Reformed Presbyterian Church in Morning Sun (Sharon Church). There was an entire colony of Reformed Presbyterian’s who moved to that area from Pennsylvania, and the church continues to have a thriving congregation to this day.

Sharon Church - 150th anniversary, July 1996

As a whole, the Reformed Presbyterian denomination has over 6,000 members nationwide, with missionaries in Japan, Cyprus and the Sudan. In addition, they operate a seminary and retirement home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a college in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, known as Geneva College.

One unique aspect of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was officially established in 1743, is that the congregation always sings their hymns a cappella from the Book of Psalms. When I asked Mr. Hutcheson what particular beliefs distinguished Reformed Presbyterians from members of the traditional branch of the denomination, he stated that they believe Christ should be recognized as the Head of the nation, and not just the Head of the church. During World War II, the Church adopted an explanatory declaration for soldiers who were being promoted to officer status. The written declaration was attached to the Pledge of Allegiance and stated: “I take this oath with no mental reservation, but declaring my primary allegiance to Jesus Christ, the King of the Nation.” Richard also explained that in the 1600’s when the king of Scotland and England, Charles II, wanted to reestablish the Episcopalian form of government, most of Scotland compromised and accepted his proposal. Those who dissented, however, (known as Covenanters), were forced to meet in secret and suffered great persecution. History describes this tragic period as the “Killing Times.”

One year after Richard’s parents were married, they moved to Sterling, Kansas, to engage in farming. Since there were no crops that year, they became destitute and decided to return to Morning Sun where they rented a house. Richard’s siblings attended a country school, but by the time he reached school age the country schools had been consolidated in Mediapolis, Iowa.

Midway through the second grade, Richard’s family moved to the unincorporated town of Garland, Iowa, where his father began working as the manager of the Garland Elevator. There were only about six or seven houses in Garland, but they had a General Store located right in the railroad depot because the Railroad ran through the town. Richard said you could buy overalls and lemons at the store, but nothing that required refrigeration since they didn’t have electricity. (They used coal oil lamps.)

The family lived in Garland for approximately three years before moving back to Morning Sun where Richard’s father took work as a hired man. He worked ten months out of the year helping another family on their farm. His pay was $50.00 per month.

“Some people say that they were poor, but they never knew it,” Richard commented. “Well, we were poor and we knew we were poor. But we never went hungry.”

“What did poor look like for your family?” I asked.

“Well, you had to think real hard before you bought something. And you didn’t buy much,” he replied. “We had a garden, one pig and a cow for milk. Mother canned. We had fruit trees; every farm had a good orchard. We had to watch out for the worms, though, but it was worse to find half a worm. And we wore our clothes for a very long time. We wore the same pants to school for half of the year.”

Richard recalled a time when he received a new pair of high top leather shoes that were irritating the back of his heel. So he and his father went to the clothing store and the owner graciously agreed to accept the shoes back, even though they had already been worn. “I’ll keep them here,” he said. “And if somebody wants to buy them, I’ll sell them as used.”

Richard also remembered when he was about ten years old and his father went shopping for the family’s first car.

“How much are you asking for this one?” his father asked the salesman, pointing to a coupe, single-seat automobile.

“Fifty dollars,” the salesman replied. “You can pay me so much a month until it’s paid off.”

After doing the math, Richard’s father asked why the total amount came to more than the price of the car.

“That’s interest on the money,” the salesman explained. “If you went to the bank, you’d have to pay interest. We’re really lending you the money.”

“That was my first lesson in finance,” Richard remarked.

“I’m just curious. How was it that your family could afford to buy a car for $50.00 when that was all the money your father made in a month?” I inquired.

“That’s why we were poor,” Richard said with a smile.

After completing his sophomore year of high school in Morning Sun, Iowa, Richard’s family moved back to his grandfather’s farm near Mediapolis. Out of the twenty-three students who graduated from Mediapolis High School in 1934, only one girl found work at a grocery story (due to the depression). As for Richard, he spent the next year helping his father on the farm and doing odd jobs for neighbors.

In the fall of 1935, Richard enrolled in junior college in Burlington, Iowa. He was able to live with his sister whose husband worked for Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CPQ). The following year Richard decided to transfer to Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg, Kansas, (now Pittsburg State University), to pursue his interest in journalism. The cost of tuition was $37.50 per semester. While in Pittsburg, Richard lived at the YMCA and worked there for his room. He also worked as a porter at the Rexford Café for his meals, and he held a job at the Family Shoe Store on Saturdays for $2.00 per day.

Richard returned to Pittsburg in the spring of 1938 after deciding he wasn’t “mechanically adept” enough to be a printer. His new area of study was history and social studies.

In the fall of 1938 one of Richard’s friends named Ralph Kilpatrick contacted him about a job opportunity in Pennsylvania. Ralph was a student at Geneva College (in Beaver Falls) and he had a good job at a funeral home. So Richard transferred to Geneva College with the understanding that when his friend returned the following spring, he would relinquish his position at the funeral home. Richard also worked in the maintenance department at the college in exchange for a reduced tuition rate.

When Richard’s friend came back to reclaim his job, Richard returned to Pittsburg once again for the spring semester. Then in the fall he stayed home to help his father harvest five acres of tomatoes which he had contracted to grow for the Heinz Ketchup Company. The following spring (1940), Richard returned to Kansas State Teachers College where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education. Since he was awarded a lifetime teaching certificate, Richard is actually still certified to teach English, History, Social Studies and Printing.

“I’m certified,” he added wryly, “but I’m not qualified.”

The summer after graduation, Richard headed for “grain-raising territory” in Northern Minnesota where he worked harvesting wheat and flax. His life would take a dramatic turn that fall when Richard was accepted into the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I asked Richard when he first considered going to seminary.

“Oh, it occurred to me off-and-on over the years,” he replied.

Richard’s family was very devout in their faith, and many of their activities centered around the church. In the town of Morning Sun (population 800), there were five churches, and every year each church would hold revival services; and every year young Richard would attend each one. In addition, Richard’s father led his family in a brief worship service every morning, which included reading a chapter from the Bible (with each family member taking turns reading verses), and kneeling in prayer.

Richard told me about an incident that happened in the sixth grade which might have hinted of things to come. He said his teacher was giving the class a spelling test and she asked them to write the word “profit” (without giving the definition). Richard was the only student who spelled the word “p-r-o-p-h-e-t.” Later on when he was in college, several of his friends from church commented that they thought he should become a minister.

During his second year of seminary, Richard met his future wife, Eleanor McLam, a music student at Geneva College. Eleanor was also a member of a Gospel singing group, and she would eventually become a music teacher, traveling to different schools in the area. During this same time, a friend of Richard’s arranged for him to travel to Barnet, Vermont, to preach a sermon at a church there.

After graduating from seminary in 1943, Richard received a call from the church he had visited in Barnet, Vermont, asking him to serve as their pastor. Richard accepted the call. (Coincidentally, Richard’s future in-laws were from Barnet and attended the same church).

Thomas Richard Hutcheson's seminary graduation picture

On June 27, 1944, Richard and Eleanor were married in the Barnet Reformed Presbyterian Church. Since most people were married in their homes at that time, Richard and Eleanor were the very first couple to be married in the church, which was built in 1833.

Eleanor taught piano lessons in their home, and the couple had two sons who were born in Vermont named Martin and Harvey. Then in 1947 the family moved to Almonte, Ontario, Canada, after Richard accepted the call from a congregation there.

A third son, Dean, joined the family in 1949. The family stayed in Almonte until 1952 when Richard received another call from a Reformed Presbyterian church in Rose Point, Pennsylvania, approximately 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. Rose Point is also located near the famous Slippery Rock University which was founded in 1889. (The university’s first president was James Morrow whose granddaughter, Anne Morrow, married Charles Lindbergh.)

After deciding that “seven years was long enough,” Richard and his family moved from Rose Point to Superior, Nebraska, (near the Kansas line) to serve as pastor of Superior Reformed Presbyterian Church. There he would also serve as pastor of Beulah Country Church, located approximately twenty miles from Superior. Richard said that the majority of his time as a pastor was spent preparing sermons, visiting the sick, and acting as the “shepherd of the congregation” in various capacities. In Superior, he and four other area pastors also took turns serving as chaplain for the local hospital, writing a devotional column for the newspaper, and providing a fifteen-minute weekly radio devotional.

In 1962, Richard developed a mysterious problem with his vocal chords making it difficult to continue in his current profession.

To be continued . . .

The Hutcheson Family (with cousin on far left)

The doctors were never able to determine for certain what caused the problem with Richard’s voice, but it didn’t stop him from changing careers. In 1962 Richard began working in Holton, Kansas, for the State Department of Social Welfare (now known as SRS), which was operated by the Jackson County Commissioners and the Board of Social Welfare. Richard’s job responsibilities included providing aid to dependent children, placing children in foster homes or up for adoption, and finding nursing homes for the aged. In 1976, Richard and his wife moved to Topeka, so Richard transferred to the Topeka office where he concentrated more on medical assistance to the aged, blind and disabled.

Richard eventually retired on August 1, 1981. Sadly, Eleanor passed away in 1990 from cancer. Richard sold their home three years later and moved into an apartment in Topeka. Then in 1997 he moved into the independent living area of the Presbyterian Manor where he continues to live today.

In addition to their three sons – Martin and Dean, who live in Kansas, and Harvey who lives in Virginia – the Hutcheson’s have been blessed with seven grand-children and four great-grandchildren (two sets of twins), with two more on the way later this year. Richard said that one of his five-year old great-grandsons Samuel, recently surprised his parents by telling them, “You know, Jesus loves us no matter what!”

Before concluding our interview, I decided to ask Richard a few more questions about his faith. Here are some excerpts from Richard’s comments:

“You can be religious and not have a relationship with Christ. The Pharisees were very religious. But if you have a relationship with Christ, you’ll be religious.”

“Religion can be a hazard if it gives you a false sense of security of eternal life; that is, if you depend on your religion for your salvation. The Pharisees boasted about fasting and tithing, and when they prayed, they thanked God they were not like other sinners.”

“That’s right,” I added in agreement. “Jesus was harder on the religious people than He was on the sinners. He told the Pharisees that they washed the outside of the cup, but inside was like dead man’s bones. He said, ‘You make people twice as fit for hell as you are yourself!’”

“There are two things Jesus did for us,” Richard continued. “He took our sins and He gave us His righteousness.”

Next, I asked Richard if there was anything that he would have changed about his life if he had it to do over again.

After taking a moment to consider the question, Richard replied:

“I would have brought my wife more flowers. I would have paid more attention to my family during my life. I neglected my children more than I should have. God took care of them, but I would have done more hugging. I went to some meetings when I could have been home with the family. I really didn’t need to go to those meetings.”

“I hope you don’t mind me asking you this; do you fear death?” I inquired cautiously.

“No, I don’t fear death. Of course, I’d like it to be easy without suffering, but I guess we can’t control that. But death is a promotion to Heaven; our time on Earth is preparation. The Book of Psalms says: Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.”

“I’m ready for death whenever it comes, and it won’t be long; I’m 91 years old. When I look at the obituaries in the paper, most people are younger than I am now.

“We’re told a few things about Heaven. Heaven will be the absence of tears and pain; eternal bliss. I suppose the greatest joy would be the absence of sin . . . it’s a delight to think upon that. We can’t imagine it, really.”

“Do you ponder who you’ll be reunited with when you get to Heaven?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “but being with Jesus and spending eternity in His presence will be the greatest delight.”

I asked Richard what he tells people who question the teaching of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

“Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no man comes to the Father except by Me.”

But what about people who have never heard about Jesus, I asked.

“In the first chapter of Romans [vs. 20] it says: For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”

“We have our consciences also,” Richard answered. “We don’t need the Ten Commandments to know that murder is wrong. God writes His law upon our hearts.”

Finally, I asked Richard how he hopes his sons and family will remember him.

He pondered the question for a moment, searching for just the right words to summarize his hopes for a personal legacy.

“Ideally, I hope that I reflected faith in Christ,” he replied. “And that they saw that I had joy because I am a believer. That’s the way I’d like them to remember me.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“No . . . I think that’s all,” he quietly responded.

In the short time that I spent with Thomas Richard Hutcheson, that is definitely the way I will remember him.

“When David’s time to die was near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man; Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walk in His ways, keep His statutes, His commandments, His precepts, and His testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that you may do wisely and prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn…”

~ I Kings 2:1-3

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Such is Life: Traveling

“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” ~Proverbs 26:12

I guess I’ll have to abandon my Dear Abby/Ask Eileen idea because I haven’t received any questions from anybody. This made me wonder if I unwittingly came across as someone who thinks she knows it all. I sincerely hope not, because that is definitely not the impression I meant to give. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I know that I don’t have all of the answers, but I believe God gave us His Word as a road map to follow if we want to lead a happy life.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
~ Psalm 119:105 (KJV)

“[Christians] . . . do not have all the answers. They do not have God in their pocket. We cannot answer every question that any bright boy in the back row might ask. We have only light enough to walk by.”

~ Howard A. Johnson

I was simply hoping to use it as an opportunity to seek out answers from the Bible to see what it has to say on various subjects. But for now, that idea will have to be shelved. However, if you change your mind, just send your questions to:

Until then, I would like to introduce a substitute segment for my column titled, “Such is Life.” This category will cover some experiences encountered along our journey of life that encompass a combination of joy and frustration. This week I will focus on the subject of traveling, because Keen and I just returned from spending the weekend with Jared, Erin, Asher, Gabe and Emma, in Ohio.

Our whirlwind weekend began when we arrived at the Kansas City airport in plenty of time to catch our 8:00 flight on Friday night. However, we were greeted by a “Delayed” message, with no explanation about why our flight had been delayed or for how long. So Keen and I decided to pass the time by logging onto and watching funny videos on our computer. We were laughing hysterically at the various clips – and we didn’t care who heard us. It’s really true what the Bible says about laughter doing good like a medicine. We completely forgot about the inconvenience. Then a passenger on the same flight informed us that the airline was going to provide refreshments. So we packed up our belongings and made our way to the table for some cookies and water. The next thing we knew they were bringing blankets and pillows for everyone – something we didn’t interpret as a good sign. Before long, a voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that the flight had been canceled and they would be putting us all up in a hotel near the airport. So we got in line for our hotel voucher and learned that we would be flying out at 8:10 a.m. the following morning.

While waiting in line we struck up a conversation with two nice ladies named Twila and Pauline who had just returned from a two-week trip to Alaska. After we realized that there were more passengers than could fit in the hotel shuttle van, Keen decided to retrieve our Durango and drive to the hotel ourselves. We invited Twila and Pauline to ride with us, and they gladly accepted.

On our way to the hotel we got lost, but not for long. Then Twila received a phone call from someone wanting to know when she would be arriving home. After she hung up, I commented that they probably said, “You did what? You got in a car with two strangers?!” Then I said, “Just tell them, ‘yes, they were strange, but in a good kind of way!’” Oh, we laughed and laughed with our two new friends. They later said they felt God took care of them by sending us their way, and we told them they helped us, too, by easing the stress of the unexpected turn of events.

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and headed back to the KCI airport to catch our morning flight. After Keen left to park our car I realized that I left my cell phone plugged into the outlet in the hotel room. So I called the hotel and they said their shuttle van just happened to be approaching our terminal. So when Keen returned he caught the shuttle back to the hotel, retrieved my cell phone, and hopped right back on the shuttle back to the airport. Then when he reached security he realized that he forgot to pack his shaving kit with all those impermissible bottles of shaving cream, cologne and shampoo. The TSA agents gave him the option of going back to the terminal to purchase a Ziploc bag, (as if putting the items in a plastic bag would really make any difference). Thank God he declined and opted to allow them to confiscate the items because when I reached the gate I learned that they just made the last call for our flight. “Keen Umbehr, please report to gate number 30 immediately. Keen Umbehr.” We made it just under the wire! Later I contemplated how disastrous it would have been to have our evening flight canceled and then miss our next flight the following morning! But all is well that ends well, and we had a wonderful weekend, despite the hassles that go along with traveling!

Enjoying time in the pool

Gramma Eileen with Emma Eileen

In closing, I’d like to share a poem I wrote about a trip my sister Mary and I took several years ago.

There's No Place Like Home

By Eileen Umbehr

We got up at four,
We were right on time;
Then we caught our shuttle,
And everything was fine.

Mary hopped on her plane,
At seven fifteen,
And one hour later,
Came the plane for Eileen.

But lo and behold,
Be still my heart,
There was rain in Dallas,
So the plane could not depart.

This caused a chain of events,
From which I could not escape,
So I just read my magazine,
And accepted my fate.

I arrived late in Dallas,
With quite a jolt,
The stewardess said, "Run!"
So away I did bolt.

I ran like the wind,
Weaving my way through the crowd,
"Excuse me! Coming through!"
I hollered out loud.

Well, I made it to the gate,
I'm happy to report,
But I was all out of breath,
And all out of sorts.

So I relaxed in my seat,
And prepared for the ride,
I was just so relieved,
That I had survived.

When we landed in Kansas City,
I thought my troubles were behind me,
But oh, I was mistaken,
Soon some others would find me.

As I waited and waited,
For my luggage to appear,
My heart just sank,
As I realized my worst fear.

You guessed it! No luggage!
I had to file a claim,
And I returned home,
Losing more than I'd gained.

So for now, at least,
I have no intention to roam,
Because I'm more convinced than ever,
There's no place like home!

Country road in front of our home

Monday, August 27, 2007

Farewell, Friend

“Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep in death, that you may not grieve for them, as the rest do who have no hope beyond the grave. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep in death.”

~ I Thessalonians 4:13,14 (Amp)

I was saddened to receive word that my dear, sweet friend, Rebecca Miller had passed away on Friday, August 17th.

The last time I visited with Rebecca was on June 7, 2007. I remember the date because it was our granddaughter Katelyn’s first birthday. Keen and I stayed at the Cottage House to celebrate our anniversary before driving to Wichita for the party. I’m so thankful that I stopped by to see Rebecca before we left town.

Rebecca was her usual cheerful, positive self – ever an inspiration. I told her she was very special, and without hesitation she returned the compliment. I noticed the unique and beautiful quilt on her bed and asked if I could take a picture of it. I believe she said a good friend made it for her years ago. I commented on the fact that she didn’t have any pillows on her bed. Rebecca replied that she didn’t sleep with a pillow. Gesturing to my flat chest, I told her that ever since my mastectomy, I can also sleep on my stomach without a pillow. Rebecca immediately answered, “That doesn’t matter. What matters is that your body is free from active cancer!” Once again, my friend reminded me what was really important in life. Rebecca had a way of doing that.

Rebecca's quilt

I will miss my special friend. And yet, I know that she is in a better place, and that God’s heavenly band of angels has one more violin player. I also have the assurance that I will see Rebecca again one day, and she will walk tall and will greet me with a plate of fresh baked cookies. In the meantime, I will focus on the blessing of meeting Rebecca, and thank God for the gift of knowing her. I’m fairly certain that’s the way Rebecca would have wanted it.

And so, in honor of Rebecca’s life and unforgettable, generous spirit, I would like to share the column I wrote for her shortly after our first meeting in June, 2004.

Picture of Contentment

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”

~ I Timothy 6:6-8 (NKJV)

A few weeks ago I received the nicest letter from a woman by the name of Rebecca Miller of Council Grove. (Rebecca writes the Wilsey news for the Council Grove newspaper.) She wanted to let me know that she had been getting acquainted with me by reading my column in The Prairie Post. “It’s my opinion that you are a talented writer, and I enjoy reading what you write. Keep on writing.”

Her letter was a great source of encouragement to me, but nothing could compare with the joy of meeting Rebecca and visiting with her face to face. Coincidentally, she lives right across the street from The Cottage House where Keen and I went to celebrate our 26th anniversary. Although I only spent an hour with Rebecca, she made such a strong impression on me.

Rebecca Miller was born on November 23, 1919, at her grandparents’ home southwest of White City, Kansas. She spent the first 50 years of her life on farms around Wilsey, raising cattle, hogs and chickens and tending her garden. The next 30 years she lived in the town of Wilsey. After her house burned down several years ago, Rebecca moved to an apartment in Council Grove. She never complained about the fire. Instead, she chose to maintain a positive outlook. “Maybe it turned out for the best for me to move into Council Grove,” she stated. Rebecca loves her apartment and all her neighbors. “Nobody goes by Mr. or Mrs. here – we all just go by our first names.” I’m sure her neighbors love her, too. She’s known as “The Cookie Lady” because of the cookies and treats she bakes for the other residents and mail carriers. She gave me some of her delicious applesauce cookies when I visited.

In the short time I spent with Rebecca, I learned that she has some very strong opinions. She never married (“I don’t feel sorry for myself one little bit”), and she stated very plainly that she doesn’t want to be called a spinster. “You can call me an old maid, but don’t call me a spinster!” she explained. I told her that I wouldn’t think of calling her either one! Rebecca also dislikes the title “Ms.” She prefers to be addressed by her first name or by Miss Miller. “When I get free address labels that say Ms. Rebecca Miller, I just use my other ones. I have plenty of labels; I don’t need to use them.”

Rebecca has an ailment which prevents her from standing upright. She called it the “Harmon stoop” since several members of her family were inflicted with it, too. But she doesn’t let it bother her or hold her back. Instead, she talks about how grateful she is that she doesn’t suffer from arthritis and how blessed she is to have perfect eyesight, without the need for glasses. With Rebecca, the glass is always half full.

Rebecca proudly told me all about her sister, Jane Dixon, who also lives in Council Grove and is 17 years her junior. “She’s so good to me,” she said. “She takes me to the grocery store and I just hand her my list. She’s much taller than I ever was so she can reach the items on the shelf. Then she carries them to my apartment for me. All I do is push the cart and write the check.”

When Rebecca was in high school, she wanted to learn how to play the violin in the worst way. But times were tough and her family couldn’t afford to pay $12.50 for a violin. Then one day she overheard a boy at school talking about how he sold his violin to another girl, but she had never paid him. Rebecca asked the boy how much he was selling it for and he told her $5.00. Somehow her family managed to scrape together enough money to buy the violin. “The music teacher wasn’t very happy with me for buying the violin away from the other girl, because she had more musical talent than I did,” Rebecca said. “But she bought another violin later, so everything worked out fine.”

Rebecca remarked that God didn’t give her the talent to sing or play music by ear, but thankfully He gave her the talent to read music and play the violin. “The talents I don’t have make me more under- standing of others who can’t do certain things, and the talents I do have make me grateful for the gifts God did give me.”

When I asked Rebecca if she would play a tune for me, she agreed and proceeded to play a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. She enjoys playing for her church in Wilsey where she taught Sunday school for many years. I was very surprised to learn that Rebecca is still using the same violin her parents bought for her so many years ago. Now that’s a picture of contentment!

Someone once said that joy, like sorrow, is infectious. Spending an hour with Rebecca Miller would brighten anyone’s day.

May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

~ An Irish friendship wish

God’s blessings to you, my friend ~


Rebecca Miller, June 7, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Guest Poet: Gloria Gaither

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us . . .”
~ Ephesians 5:1,2a (NASB)


By Gloria Gaither
Copyright © 1977 Gloria Gaither.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Does love have a beginning that a meeting’s measured by?
Does it happen in a moment like white lightening from the sky?
Can you tell me its dimensions – just this wide and just this high?
When did I start to love you?

Tell me just how many dates it takes for love to really start?
And just how many kisses will turn “love” into an art?
When does the magic moment come to give away your heart?
When did I start to love you?

Was the day we talked of Browning the beginning of it all?
Or the time we walked the meadow and fields of corn so tall
That we felt like naughty children hiding from their mother’s call?
When did I start to love you?

I remember just how timidly your first new song you shared –
And by the way you grinned I knew you were glad you dared
Although my evaluation wasn’t worth much, still you cared.
When did I start to love you?

Was it when I went to meet you in a gown of snowy white?
Was it when we signed the license and drove off into the night?
Was it when I gave myself to you and felt that it was right?
When did I start to love you?

When I feared you wouldn’t love me if you knew how I’d been wrong,
And I spent a week in mis’ry, but you’d known it all along –
And you loved me ‘cause you love me, and not because I’m strong?
Was it then I came to love you?

Was it when we knew for certain ‘bout the baby on the way?
Did it start the day you told me I looked pretty – shaped that way?
Or did something special happen as we waited that last day…
When did I start to love you?

Did it happen when we held her in our arms for the first time?
Was it later when I nursed her, this creation – yours and mine?
And I knew compared to what we held the world’s not worth a dime!
When did I start to love you?

There were nights we stayed and prayed by babies, fevers burning hot
When we really didn’t know if they would make it through or not –
Then we’d face the dawn’s beginning, thanking God for what we’ve got –
When did I start to love you?

Was it rushing to the clinic with a bone in Amy’s throat?
Was it nights you saw me shivering and wrapped me in your coat?
Was it when I cleaned your bureau drawer, and found you’d saved my note?
When did I start to love you?

Was it when I saw you showing Benji how to be a man?
How to sheath his strength in meekness, how to gently take a stand –
How that only strength of character can salvage this old land?
When did I start to love you?

When you held me close in silence, when there were no words for grief–
When the line of empty caskets gaped at all I called belief –
When the “amen” was so final, I had you, and dared to leave –
Was it then I came to love you?

What is this stuff love’s made of that can cause the world to glow?
Is it that you made the segments that I brought you, well and whole?
Was it when I came to recognize the poet in your soul?
That I began to love you?

It’s not of lace and chocolate that valentines are made –
All such things are lovely but disintegrate and fade –
But love – when once it grows to be – is richer far than jade –
I only know – I love you!

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
~ II Peter 1:5-8

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again (Sort of)

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

~Desmond Tutu, South African teacher, cleric, activist, Nobel Peace Prize, 1984

We had another successful Van Kirk family reunion in Colorado with great weather, wonderful food, and lots of rafting and hiking. I’ve included a group picture taken at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort.

As the title of this column suggests, I am only “sort of” ready to resume writing my column. Therefore, I will be relying on my friend Larry Welch to provide a guest column this week from his collection of stories titled, “On the Run in Singapore.” It is a tribute to his late friend, Rosemary Williams.


Rosemary Williams, 60, of Silver Spring, Maryland died June 4 in her home after a year-long fight with cancer. She was Director of Howard University's Cancer Center Tumor Registry.

Rosemary was a long distance friend and former colleague in the struggle to overcome breast cancer. I never met a more kind or thoughtful woman. For 10 years we worked together in Washington to raise dollars for breast cancer research and treatment; and create awareness for the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Well respected in her community, Rosemary was a powerful influence on others to do better in their lives.

Several months before she died, Rosemary sent me the following story she had written about her brother Conrad. I am reprinting it as a tribute to Rosemary and her brother, and to help us all think about doing better in our lives.

The Greatest Danger of All

"You know the things we fear most are not the things that happen. Often times the dangers come from the things that we do not fear, because those are the ones that we are not keeping alert to prevent from happening.

"My handsome brother, Conrad, was the first born of my parents’ three children. He was born May 6, 1942, in Homestead, Pennsylvania and except for one year in the Washington, DC area while he was on WOL Radio (as music director and newscaster from 1969-1970), he spent his life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also spent three years in the Army from 1960 to 1963.

"At about age 11 or 12, Conrad decided he wanted to box in the Golden Gloves. My parents were terrified. They knew one young man personally who had a permanent brain injury from boxing. My brother had a mind of his own and boxed for a number of years as an amateur and had a few professional fights in his early 20’s. He lost only one fight which was a decision. My father believed he would have done well as a welterweight boxer, but lost 3 years from the sport when he joined the military at age 18.

"Another danger came as one ended! My brother joined the US Army's 82nd Airborne. Of all things, he was jumping out of airplanes! My mother and I prayed daily for this paratrooper. Years later, my brother shared with me that he could not believe he was jumping out of planes. He had to be young to have done that. He went through a number of years when he would not fly in a commercial jet, because he was afraid of planes after an incident over the Gulf of Mexico. He and other soldiers were returning to Fort Bragg from Panama when one of the plane’s engines went out. My brother was at the door to parachute out, but the other guys stopped him and they all made it back to Fort Bragg on one engine.

"He married and had a family after military service. My family and I were breathing fine when he decided to become a disc jockey, later newscaster and talk show host on the radio. He was so admired by former teachers and classmates that he became something of a Pittsburgh celebrity. Then at age 33 he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a law enforcement officer. He was a uniformed Pennsylvania State Police Officer for a number of years and then became an undercover officer. Much to the horror of my family, he spent about 25 years in this job. He was to retire in 2002 due to the required age 60 retirement for the Pennsylvania State Police. Then…

"He said to me one day that he felt something in his chest near his sternum. I told him to immediately see his doctor. He did not at that point, but did see the doctor several months later. A CT Scan of the chest was done. It showed a right lung mass. Being in the cancer field, I was horrified. He had been a cigarette smoker for 44 years. He had escaped so many dangers in life, I just kept believing that he would come out of this also.

"Conrad was admitted to a hospital for biopsy. He had his surgeon phone me to tell me the news since my field was cancer and he wanted me to make any decisions about his care. He had “squamous cell carcinoma” of the lung. There was no doubt that this type of cancer is cigarette related.

"Someone who had survived boxing, parachuting, and bullets as a state trooper now couldn't escape lung cancer. The greatest danger of all was his cigarettes. I had tried to tell him for years to stop smoking, but he just laughed off my fears.

"The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2005 there were more than 175,000 cancer deaths caused by tobacco use. When Conrad began smoking at age 16, death at age 59 ½ was hard for him to imagine.

"I want all the beautiful young people who smoke to know that life is very short, so please do not rush it away. Quit now while you have a chance to change the course of your life. Look for smoking cessation programs or just realize you need to quit for your loved ones who would be devastated by an untimely loss caused by what may also be your greatest danger of all."

IN CLOSING, cancer deaths related to tobacco usage is the second major cause of death in the world with about 5 million people a year meeting their maker. Of the 1.1 billion people who smoke, about half will die prematurely. And there's not much hope for the future: 100,000 young people a day start smoking. By any measure, tobacco-related premature death is at an epidemic proportion. If you are a smoker, quit today! If you don't smoke, help someone who does by encouraging them to quit. We owe it to each other to preserve life where we can.

Note: See for resources to help to quit smoking.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Changes on the Horizon

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NKJV)

This week I’m writing to inform you about some changes on the horizon for me and my column. First of all, I’ll be taking the next six weeks off from writing Reflections, so my next column won’t be until the second week in August. Hopefully I’ll have some news to report by then about when my book will be available for purchase.

My main reason for taking this time off is to concentrate on working through the details of the publishing process with Xulon Press. In addition, Keen and I are in charge of planning this year’s Van Kirk Family Reunion which will be held in Colorado next month. So I’ll have my hands full.

“They say the two hardest things about doing something is getting started and getting finished.” ~ Anonymous

When I start writing again in August, I plan to implement a few new ideas for creating some diversity with my column. These various ideas will not appear in any specific order. I will simply alternate them to provide more variety to my writing.

The first idea involves interviewing senior citizens (primarily those over 80) and writing about their life stories. I’ve always believed that every life is a story in itself – complete with joys, sorrows and lessons learned – which consequently makes for some fascinating reading. The title of this segment will be: “Every Life a Story.”

The second idea involves periodically publishing a “Dear Abby” type of format titled, “Ask Eileen.” In order to pull that off, however, I will need your help. The basic premise of this feature would be to offer Bible-based answers to everyday problems. So if you have a question you’ve always wondered about, please email it to me at:, and I'll do my best to research the answer/ solution from the Bible. If I can’t provide an answer, I’ll try to find someone who can. Keep in mind that your questions, along with my response, may be used in a future column. However, you don’t need to include your name. In fact, even if you do include your name, I won’t use it in the column. All in all, I think it sounds kind of fun and I’d like to give it a try. Once again, it will only work if people choose to participate.

My third idea is to have a “Guest Poet” week where I will simply publish a poem by one of my friends such as Patricia Barrett or Connie Hinnen Cook. That will provide me with a built-in break or additional time to work on a future column.

Lastly, I currently have hundreds of topics on a variety of issues for use in future columns. These topic ideas are listed on my computer under the heading, “Reflections in Progress.” Occasionally, I will choose one of the topics to write about. The title I’ve chosen for this segment will be: “Living and Learning.”

My primary goal in all of this is to get away from sharing a weekly play-by-play account of every detail of our life. Even though our life seems to provide a never-ending supply of material to write about and I could most likely continue my current pattern ad nauseam, I just think it’s time for me to branch out into other areas. I mean – enough about us already!

I guess that about wraps it up for this, my shortest column on record. And in the words of the famous Nat King Cole song, I hope you all enjoy these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”

I’ll catch you on the flip side. In the meantime, keep looking up!

"I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber. . . "

~ Psalm 121:1-3

Monday, June 18, 2007

One in a Million Dream

"I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

~ Henry David Thoreau

This past weekend Keen and I attended the Symphony in the Flint Hills near Eskridge. It was an incredible experience to be seated in the open prairie with 6,000 people listening to beautiful music while enjoying a breathtaking view of the Flint Hills and a sunset painted by the Creator’s own hand.

On a different subject; recently I was talking with an author who said that he spent five years and tens of thousands of dollars on agents who assured him that he would get his fees back when they located a publisher for his book. The publisher never came, and he ended up self-publishing. He stated that he doesn’t anticipate recouping the money spent; however, the book has opened doors for him with his consulting business. He also gave me the statistics on how difficult it is for new authors to be picked up by one of the big publishing companies, and it is literally one in a million. That’s why he advises other first-time authors to have a primary source of income and not to plan on using their book as a revenue stream. While his advice was discouraging, it was true and helped confirm that I was making the right decision by self-publishing.

Lately my manuscript editor and I have been fine-tuning some of the details of the book before I turn it over to Xulon Press. This week she will be proof-reading it one more time in hopes of catching any grammatical or spelling errors before it goes to press. By next week, I should be ready to send it off to Xulon, and after that we’re looking at 45-60 days before it will be available to the public. At that time, anyone who wants to buy a copy will be able to go to several different web sites to purchase the book – and that will be that.

Although I would have liked to strike a deal with the New York Literary Agency which expressed interest in my book early on, I am satisfied with knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do – even though it took me much longer than I originally anticipated. This version of the book is well documented and tells both sides of the story. It contains letters from lawyers, newspaper articles, minutes of commission meetings, judges'rulings, court transcripts and personal experiences we had along the way which arose from Keen’s decision to express his personal opinions about the actions of the Wabaunsee County Commissioners. As I have shared with you before, the sequel to this book will be the version I am most anxious to share. It will contain word for word excerpts from my personal journals, portraying the behind-the-scenes realities of what it was like for our family to withstand years of conflict culminating in a five-year legal battle.

I’ve always had a dream that there would be a book and a movie about our story, and with the publication of this book, part of that dream will become a reality. I have personally been inspired by so many movies based on real life stories about people who overcame difficult circumstances. Our story conveys such a tale, but only because God’s grace was with us every step of the way. We claim no personal credit for the unexpected events that have arisen from such an unlikely tool as a trashman and his wife. How could we? The only explanation for why or how we survived fifteen years of on-again, off-again conflict with the commissioners is by the grace and goodness and faithfulness of God.

The Bible says that as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts, than our thoughts. It also says that we should not despise the days of small beginnings. So if God can use a trashman to change the law of the land for private contractors across the nation, then who knows what He can or will do with my simple, self-published book. All I know is that I believe God is still in the miracle-working business and that all things are possible for him who believes.

“. . . [A]s the Scripture says, What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and has not entered into the heart of man, all that, God has prepared – made and keeps ready – for those who love Him, that is, for those who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed.”

~ I Corinthians 1:9 (Amp)

In closing, I would like to share something that my stepmother emailed me recently. I think it ties in perfectly with the message I am trying to convey.

“When you see God’s hand in everything, it is easy to leave everything in God’s hands.” ~ Anonymous


A basketball in my hands is worth about $19.00.
A basketball in Michael Jordan's hands is worth about $33 million.
It depends whose hands it's in.

A baseball in my hands is worth about $6.00.
A baseball in Roger Clemens' hands is worth $4.75 million.
It depends on whose hands it's in.

A tennis racket is useless in my hands.
A tennis racket in Andre Agassi's hands is worth millions.
It depends whose hands it's in.

A rod in my hands will keep away an angry dog.
A rod in Moses' hands will part the mighty sea.
It depends whose hands it's in.

A slingshot in my hands is a kid's toy.
A slingshot in David's hand is a mighty weapon.
It depends whose hands it's in.

Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches.
Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in Jesus' hands will feed thousands.
It depends whose hands it's in.

Nails in my hands might produce a birdhouse.
Nails in Jesus Christ's hands will produce salvation for the entire world.
It depends whose hands it's in.

So put your concerns, your worries, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your families, and your relationships in God's hands...
Because it depends whose hands it's in.

"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us."

~ Ephesians 3:20

More Scenes from The Symphony in The Flint Hills

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cause for Celebration

“A day merely survived is no cause for celebration. You are not here to fritter away your precious hours when you have the ability to accomplish so much by making a slight change in your routine. No more busy work. No more hiding from success. Leave time, leave space, to grow. Now. Now! Not tomorrow!”

~ Og Mandino, American Essayist and Psychologist (1923-1996)

My first “cause for celebration” involves a long-awaited progress report on my book. On May 31st, I made the decision to have my book published by a company called Xulon Press. Although I had to pay them, instead of them paying me, at least it will be published and available online for anyone who wants to purchase it. (I will receive a small royalty fee for every book sold.) But the important thing for me is that I accomplished my goal and completed the task I’ve been working on for so many years.

This past weekend, Keen and I had two more reasons to celebrate: our granddaughter Katelyn’s 1st birthday and our 29th anniversary.

The celebration got off to an early start on Friday morning when I received a surprise delivery from Rags to Riches Flowers and Gifts in Alma. The gorgeous bouquet of flowers came with a note from Keen which read: “You are the love of my life.”

“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.”

~ Paul Sweeney

The note and flowers brought tears to my eyes. You see, Keen has never been one to send flowers for special occasions – at least not on a consistent basis. And there was a time when this caused me a great deal of (needless) frustration. I recall one rather heated argument when I expressed my dismay over this fact by angrily telling Keen: “There are THREE dates you need to remember! I was born on July 3rd; we were married on June 10th, and I’M A MOTHER!!!!!”

One Valentine’s Day while Keen was in law school he stopped by the flower shop on his way home, only to learn (to his horror) that they were completely sold out of flowers. Not wishing to incur my spousal wrath, Keen asked the clerk if she would sign a note stating that he had attempted to buy flowers. But I am happy to report that I’ve matured since then, and have come to realize that it is so much more important to have a husband who treats me well 365 days a year, than to have one who sends me flowers a couple times a year – and then treats me poorly the rest of the time. (For those of you who have both – count your blessings!)

"But love . . . is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day."

~ Nicholas Sparks

I’d like to share the following email my sister Mary sent me after I forwarded a picture of the bouquet and note I received from Keen:

“You are so blessed to be reaffirmed every day! Doesn't it make you feel brave? And now you get to enjoy those beautiful flowers as a reminder of the time, effort and emotion that he put into that gesture. He is a great guy! You both deserve each other. Could you have ever imagined all of this on a warm night in Singapore? I am so happy for you!”

Here is my reply:

“You are such a poet and a gifted writer. Yes, it does make me feel brave, although I’ve never put it in so many words. But I have often said that when Keen and I are in perfect harmony, I can move mountains; but when we’re not, I’m completely stymied and can't accomplish anything. Maybe that's a good thing, huh? And no, I never imagined this on that warm Singapore night in March of '74. But I guess you did, because your first question to me when I returned from our first date was: ‘Do you think he’s someone you could marry?’”

And Mary’s response:

“It makes me happy to know that you feel brave, because it means that you truly feel and appreciate the strength you get from being completely loved, supported and celebrated.”


Since Keen arrived home early on Friday, we decided to drive to Council Grove and take our chances that the Cottage House would have an opening. Sure enough, they had two rooms available, one of which was the Bridal Suite. We were so pleased! As always, we enjoyed our stay, along with a wonderful meal at the Hays House and a peaceful stroll around the historic town. Before we left on Saturday, I also enjoyed a brief visit with my dear friend, Rebecca Miller.

Along the way to Wichita we stopped at several small towns such as Peabody, Marion, Pilsen, and Burdick (population 60).

When we arrived at Josh and Lisa’s lovely new home, we were greeted by the birthday girl, her parents, and maternal grandparents, Gary and Linda Kaus.

It was such a treat to watch Katelyn open her presents and demolish her lady bug birthday cake (homemade by Mommy).

Not surprisingly, Katelyn seemed to enjoy the wrapping paper, ribbons and boxes more than the actual gifts!

Katelyn with Grandma and Grandpa Kaus and....

...Grandma and Grandpa Umbehr

After the party, we all went for a leisurely walk and enjoyed seeing the beautiful homes in the nearby College Hill neighborhood.

That evening, Keen and I took our chances once again, and were blessed to find another beautiful suite open at the famous hotel in the Old Town district of Wichita. The 100-year-old landmark was originally the home of the Morton-Simmons Warehouse, distributor of Keen Kutter tools, whose company slogan was, “The Recollection of Quality Remains Long after the Price is Forgotten.” The historic building was given new life in 1998 when entrepreneur Jack DeBoer began what would become an 11-million-dollar renovation project. The result is a luxurious 115-room hotel simply named: The Hotel at Old Town. I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to commemorate a special event. (

During our drive home, my husband of 29 years topped off our weekend by taking my hand, and with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, saying: “I love you so much. I’m just crazy about you.”

I ask: What more could a white-haired, breast-less, soon-to-be 49-year old woman possibly want?

“Love is like a mustard seed; planted by God and watered by men.”

~ Muda Saint Michael