Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The following video was sent to me by a friend. It is from a web site called

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Season of Wonder

"Snow Swing" Photo by Pat Barrett

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” ~ Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)

The following poem was written by my friend, Patricia Barrett. What I like about Pat’s poem is that it addresses the reality of the stress that goes along with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but then it gently reminds us how we can combat that stress – by focusing on Jesus, the true “reason for the season” of wonder.

Season of Wonder
By Patricia Kohls Barret

The season of wonder is upon us
As stores start displays earlier each year
How do we value Advent moments,
As observance of His birth draws near?

Are we in awe of that strange phenomenon,
When God confined Himself to a womb?
Because of love for His rebellious creation
He came to save them from eternal doom

Do we listen to the words of the carols?
Do we think of the meaning of each verse,
As we rush to shop and buy presents,
And dig down for money in our purse?

Is there joy in our hearts as we sing,
Familiar words, “The Lord is come”?
Does “Loves Pure Light” glow in our spirits?
Or do “worldly cares” make them numb?

To celebrate “the reason for the season”
Each person must prioritize his mind
Keep God’s Word and message in the forefront
Looking for ways to be loving and kind

The Spirit uses The Word to stir within
He creates peace and love that pours out
To spread and multiply blessings to folks
Creating harmony and joy worth a shout


"Maybe Christmas", he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!"

In Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!

~ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957)


The Greatest Gift

By Eileen Umbehr

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t diamonds or gold
The greatest gift of all
Never rusts or gets old

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t being wined or dined
The greatest gift of all
Is the easiest to find

The greatest gift of all
Isn’t the latest craze
The greatest gift of all
Lasts more than three days

The greatest gift of all
Can’t be purchased in a store
It comes straight from the heart
And lasts forevermore

Yes, the greatest gift of all
Doesn’t cost a dime
For the greatest gift of all
Is the gift of time.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."

~ Matthew 1:21

"Icy Limb" Photo by Pat Barrett

Perfect Peace (of Mind) Part II

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that . . . But love your enemies, do good to them . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

~ Luke 6:36,37

Last week I wrote about two of the three areas of life that we have no control over: the past and the present. This week I’d like to continue with #3 on the list.


I’ve actually covered this subject in some recent columns. In my column titled What’s Wrong With Being Right, I included the following excerpts from Dr. John Townsend’s book, Who’s Pushing Your Buttons:

“It makes sense [that] you care about the button-pusher and want things to go well between the two of you. Yet that person is free to choose his behavior toward you, his attitudes, and whether he even wants to be in a relationship with you. . . .

God understands
this dilemma. He knows it conceptually, and He knows it in experience. God lives in it every day, caring about us and just wanting a relationship with us that is for our best; yet He gives us the freedom to say no to Him, which we often do. . . .

God desires the connection profoundly, yet He does not violate the free will that He also created within us. He allows Himself to experience that sort of tension, not because it is good or pleasant for Him, but because freedom is the only way that we will ever have a relationship that comes from within – from the heart – and is not forced or controlled. That is the only sort of relationship He is interested in.”

When a friend of mine was going through a divorce, she wondered why God didn’t fix her situation and save her marriage. But when the answer to your prayer involves another person and their choices, God is limited in what He can do. He can’t interfere with or violate that person’s free will. It’s just like salvation – God offers it freely to everyone, but He won’t force anyone to love Him, serve Him, or believe in Him. And even though God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, the choice is up to each individual based on whether they choose to accept – by believing – or reject God’s gift of forgiveness.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
~ Romans 5:6-8

In the November 2008 edition of “Our Daily Bread,” published by RBC Ministries, they explain it this way: “Not even God, with all His power, will force a human being to love Him.”

As for dealing with other people, the only person you actually have any control over is yourself. (And for me, that’s a full time job!) Oh, but how often do we try to control those around us: our co-workers, friends, parents, siblings, children, spouses and partners? But instead of trying to change people or control them, we should just focus on loving them and praying for them.

“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven . . . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?”

~ Matthew 5:43-47

I’d like to close with this poem I wrote recently:

Live and Let Live

By Eileen Umbehr

The world is your oyster,
And my world is mine.
If we’ll just respect each other,
We should get along fine.

Although you don’t like how I sing
Or enjoy my song
If that’s how you feel,
Then just don’t sing along

But please don’t tell me that my pitch
Is too high or too low
For it’s my song to sing
And it’s all that I know

Just because we are different
Doesn’t mean that we’re wrong
Like the colors of the rainbow
We all still belong

You see life is like a game
Of tic, tac, toe
Some of us are x’s
And others are o’s

So don’t compare me to others
Nor them to me
Because we’re all different fish
In the same great big sea

And rather than get angry
At the things that I do
Why don’t I focus on me
And you focus on you?

Because no one likes to feel
Like they’re under attack
And if you growl at me
I might have to growl back!

So let’s live and let live
As the saying goes
Then maybe we’ll avoid stepping
On each other’s toes

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

~ Philippians 4:6,7 (NIV)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Perfect Peace (of Mind) - Part I

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” ~ Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

The message of this week’s column is simple:

Don’t camp on what you can’t control!

There are three major areas of life that you can’t control: the past, the future, and other people. Let’s examine each of these a little further:


The past, represented by hurts inflicted by others and regrets over our own mistakes and misdeeds, has already passed! There’s nothing we can do about events that have already happened, so there’s no sense wasting our time and energy dwelling on them. Rehashing the past is like driving down a road and stopping every five miles to turn back around and revisit places you’ve already been. It’s hard to make any real progress that way. The same is true in life. Since we can’t change the past, the next best thing to do is to utilize the lessons learned to avoid the same situation and make better decisions in the future.

“Not that I have now attained [this ideal] or am already made perfect….but one thing I do – it is my one aspiration; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.”

~ Philippians 3:12-14


The future is represented by events that may or may not occur at some point in the future. Obviously we have no control over something that hasn’t even happened yet. Since many of the things we worry about never happen anyway, it behooves us to focus on living one day at a time.

“Worrying happens today but it’s always about yesterday or tomorrow.”

~ Joyce Meyer

In his book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie encourages his readers to live in “Day-tight Compartments.” That advice originated in the Bible, as found in Matthew chapter 6, verses 25, 26 and 33, 34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Dale Carnegie further suggests that we focus on the 90 per cent of our life that is good instead of the 10 per cent that is bad. Another tip Carnegie shares for reducing worry is to busy yourself with making other people happy.

“. . .[T]hose who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

~ Proverbs 11:25b (NLT)

Not too long ago I came across a box of old books in our barn. One of the titles caught my eye, so I decided to dust it off and read it. The book is titled: "Be the Person You Were Meant to Be” by Dr. Jerry Greenwald. At the beginning of the book, Greenwald refers to a philosopher named Gestalt who addresses the subject of the past and future versus the present. Gestalt believed that a person need not “undo, work through, or otherwise eliminate the toxic effects of past experiences by delving into them. On the contrary, the deliberate attempt to probe into the past for this purpose simply perpetuates the destructive power of these obsolete experiences which belong to the reality of an earlier era of the person's life. They serve largely to distort the reality of his present functioning, his concept of his self, and his ways of relating to the world. . . .”

Dr. Greenwald states that while past relationships and experiences certainly shape an individual’s attitudes and ways of reacting in the present, “the letting go of those attitudes and behavior patterns which are toxic begins the moment one focuses his attention on the present . . . “

He goes on to explain that the goal of Gestalt's philosophy/therapy is to "melt the toxic power of the past by learning to focus on the present. When a person lives wholly in the now, the past with all its destructive effects recedes into the background of his behavior and loses its power."

“We over-exaggerate yesterday, over-estimate tomorrow, and under-estimate today. We compound our fears and frustrations by taking on the cares of yesterday or tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a good day if we do the right things today. So many times we are repairing instead of preparing. Don’t use today to grieve over the mistakes of yesterday or worry about the events of tomorrow. Live one day at a time.”

~ John Maxwell, author of Life Matters

To be continued . . .

Monday, November 24, 2008

Your Place or Mine?

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge . . . But you - who are you to judge your neighbor?” ~ James 4:12 (NIV)

The ideas and inspiration for my weekly columns come from a variety of sources, and this week’s idea began with an email story my stepmother Barbara sent me. It goes like this:

A young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside.

"That laundry is not very clean," she said. "She doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap"

Her husband looked on, but remained silent.

Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments.

About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice array of clean wash on the line.

"Look,” she said to her husband. “Our neighbor has finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?"

The husband replied, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."

And so it is with life. What we see when watching others depends on the purity of the window through which we look.


“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

~ Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)

When we judge and criticize, we're really saying, "If others don’t act, or think, or live like me, then they’re wrong.”

Here’s a poem I wrote one night last week when I couldn’t sleep.

You and I

By Eileen Umbehr

If you like homemade clothes
And I like store-bought the most
And you make your own bread
But I buy Wonder instead
If you like to can jelly
And I like Welch’s as well-y
If you grow tomatoes in a garden
And I buy mine at the market
If you homeschooled your kids
And that’s not what I did
If you hang clothes on the line
And the dryer dries mine
If your house is picked up
And mine, you can write in the dust
If you’re still a size 10
And I’m not nearly as thin
If you travel and roam
And I prefer to stay home
If you have a degree
And, well, me, I’m just me
If you read Wall Street Journal
And I prefer a good novel
If you go to church weekly
And I simply pray meekly

Does that make you better than me?

No, we’re all unique beings
Shaped by our upbringings
And no one is better than the other
So rather than conform
Or try to fit in the norm
How ‘bout we just accept one another?

Then I’ll love you for you
If you’ll love me for me
Although we both have our faults and shortcomings
And I’ll overlook yours
If you’ll overlook mine
Then we’ll all share a joy-filled homecoming

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. . .” ~ Luke 6:37

In a way, that poem ties into the theme of Thanksgiving, because while Thanksgiving is a time when families gather to celebrate and enjoy one another’s company, it can also present opportunities for conflict and bickering.

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, be determined to resist the temptation to lash out at your relatives when they rub you the wrong way.

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention ceases.” ~ Proverbs 26:20

Remember, you’re only together for a day or two, so just zip your lip and let annoying comments roll off like water from a duck’s back. In other words, don’t be a turkey this Thanksgiving, be a duck!

This next passage comes from Romans 14:1-5 in The Message Bible:

“Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.”

In the following verses from I Corinthians chapter 3, Paul addressed the issue of division amongst the church:

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.”

My prayer for your family – and mine – is that this holiday season will be one of unity and love rather than division and strife. We have so much to be thankful for, so let’s be grateful and remember to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.” ~ Exodus 15:2 (NIV)

Monday, November 17, 2008

In Memory

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

~ Romans 12:15 NKJV

“The best of men cannot suspend their fate - the good die early and the bad die late." ~ Daniel Defoe

Although I didn’t know the 43-year-old Alta Vista man who tragically lost his life on November 8th, I do know that Michael T. Shepard was too young too die and that his family will forever grieve his passing. I extend my deepest sympathy to Michael’s loved ones. I would like to dedicate this collection of poems and stories to his memory.

Just Beyond
By Gale Rogers

I have gone just beyond
of where you are.
Out of sight of you
sitting beside an evening star.

Watch for me
when flowers bloom in spring
or in the evening
listen as the birds do sing.

A smile for you
as you greet the morning sun
Then in the evening I'll create a sunset
just for you when day is done

I am with loved ones
where time will never cease.
No sorrow now, be glad for me
Forever I will know only peace.


The following two stories were sent to me from a friend:

A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and
said, "Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."

Very quietly the doctor said, "I don't know."

"You don't know?” the patient inquired. “You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?"

The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side of which came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there, and that is
enough. And when the door opens, I will pass through it with gladness, but with no fear."


In January 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon in his honor. Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation because of his struggles with Parkinson’s disease. But the Charlotte leaders said, "We don't expect a major address. Please just come and let us honor you."

So he agreed.

After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the podium, looked at the crowd, and said, "I'm reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.

Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his other pocket. It wasn't there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat by him. He couldn't find it.

The conductor said, 'Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it.' Einstein nodded appreciatively.

The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

The conductor rushed back and said, 'Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. No problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one.'

Einstein looked at him and said, 'Young man, I too know who I am. What I don’t know is where I'm going.'"

Having said that Billy Graham continued, "See the suit I'm wearing? It's a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I've gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion.

You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I'll be buried. But when you hear I'm dead, I don't want you to immediately remember the suit I'm wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I'm going."

“Our valleys may be filled with foes and tears; but we can lift our eyes to the hills to see God and the angels, Heaven's spectators, who support us according to God's infinite wisdom as they prepare our welcome home.”

~ Billy Graham

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By His side
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When His face
Is before me
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory,
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You, Jesus,
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing Hallelujah?
Will I be able to sing at all?
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I Can Only Imagine – Words and music by Bart Millard, performed by Mercy Me

Monday, November 10, 2008

Every Life a Story: Joe Romano

"To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will." ~ Sugar Ray Robinson

This week I’d like to introduce you to someone I met at the Presbyterian Manor in Topeka. His name is Joe Romano.

Joseph Rocco Romano was born on July 29, 1924, to Italian immigrants Mariano and Carmella Romano. He is the oldest child from a large Catholic family – five boys and four girls. His parents were originally from Ravenna, Italy, and settled in Ravenna, Ohio, in the early 1900’s. Joe’s father worked in a foundry in Cleveland for some time before purchasing his own coal yard and starting a coal delivery business.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Joe was drafted into the United States Air Force at the age of 18. While stationed in England, he was trained to become a gunner on the B-24 Liberator. He eventually flew in 32 missions over Germany. His crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, one nose gunner, two waist gunners (on left and right wing in middle of plane), a ball turret operator (which rotated underneath the plane), a top turret operator (which rotated from the top of the plane), and a tail gunner at the rear of the plane. Joe was the left waist gunner and the top turret operator was also the radio operator.

The guns they operated were 50 caliber machine guns. For protection, they wore flak suits, named for the razor sharp shrapnel that came from enemy shells that exploded at high altitudes. One hit could disable an engine or cause a fuel tank to explode. Although their plane was often hit by flak, they were fortunate to never sustain serious damage or injury to any members of their crew.

During a stopover in Topeka while Joe was still in the service, he met his sweetheart, Clara Nadine Cain, who went by her middle name, Nadine. The couple immediately fell in love and decided to travel to the courthouse in Alma to be married by Judge Victor Hergenreter before Joe had to leave again. Joe’s good friend, Cap McKinsey, stood up for the couple. Cap owned a barbecue place in Topeka at the time, and also ran the Lodge out at Lake Wabaunsee. Joe and Nadine were married for nearly twenty years before their only daughter Jodine Marian joined the family.

Nadine and Joe Romano

One of the most interesting aspects of Joe’s life is that he was a professional boxer. He first boxed in the service and did so well that he decided to turn professional after he got out. Joe weighed 127 lbs. and boxed in the featherweight category under the name “Little Joe” Romano. He trained at the Veterans Hospital gym in Topeka and followed a tough daily routine – running, lifting dumb bells, punching bags (both heavy and light), and jumping rope. Joe said that he boxed without any head gear – only a mouthpiece. “When I got in the ring, I stuck my nose right in there; I didn’t dance around much.” When asked about injuries, Joe replied that he had his nose broken a couple of times and a tooth knocked out once. “I got banged around quite a bit, but never had a broken bone. And my mind is still good – at least I think it is,” he added with a chuckle.

During his boxing career, Joe traveled the circuit throughout the Midwest covering Oklahoma City, Omaha, Michigan, and Indiana. He even boxed on the same card as Sugar Ray Robinson in St. Louis one time. At the close of his career Little Joe’s win-loss record stood at 35-15-2; 35 wins, 15 losses and 2 even draws.

After retirement, Joe worked at the Air Force Supply Depot at Forbes Field operating a fork lift. He also spent about seven years training and promoting other fighters. Nadine was a homemaker and held various sales at their home for individuals who didn’t want to organize their own sales. Earlier in life Nadine worked for the Carpenter brothers' dry cleaning business. She then taught her brother Bob (Cain) how to dry clean, and he went on to start his own business – Highland Park Dry Cleaning. Sadly, Nadine passed away near what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.

Joe and Nadine’s daughter still lives and works in Topeka. After meeting and talking with Jodine on the phone, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that she inherited her dad’s ambition and feistiness. “Everyone tells me I’m just like my daddy,” she said. “But when that Italian boxer comes out it can get me into trouble!” Jodine has been a makeup artist for the past fifteen years and works on location. About four years ago she started her own make-up and hair business, The Joey Cain Company. Jodine specializes in weddings but also does photo shoots, fashion shows and even did makeup for a movie once. In addition, Jodine is the general manager at Applewood Barbecue and Bistro at Lake Shawnee, Kansas.

Jodine Romano

As for Joe, his hobbies have included golfing and playing poker – and he continued jogging clear into his sixties. Joe is a huge Elvis fan, as evidenced by the pictures of Elvis that line one wall of his room.

The remaining walls contain framed news articles from the Topeka Capital-Journal, along with a photograph of Joe with Frank Sinatra and another one of Joe with Primo Canero, a heavyweight boxing champion from Italy.

Joe with Primo Canero

When asked about his personal philosophy, Joe replied: “Enjoy living. Take advantage of the time while you’re here. Do things you want to do.”

That sounds like good advice coming from a man who has lived life to the fullest – both inside and outside of the ring.

Joe Romano today

Monday, November 03, 2008

Keen Tribute

Keen during rugby game at Singapore American School (around 1974)

“The relationship between husband and wife should be one of closest friends.” ~ B. R. Ambedkar

Keen Tribute

By Eileen Umbehr

This Saturday marks 50 years,
Since you have been on this earth
Do you know how much I love you?
Do you realize your immeasurable worth?

You truly are one in a million
And I thank God we found one another
Even though it took moving half way ‘round the world
For me there was no other

You have put up with all of my quirks
And loved me through thick and thin
I’m sure more than one woman has secretly wished
That maybe – just maybe – you had a twin!

But you are my one and only
And I’m the only girl you’ve ever kissed
There aren’t many men who can say that
So I realize how richly I’m blessed

Life with you is never a dull moment
But I wouldn’t have it any other way
I never know what’s around the corner
Our life is like an adventure bouquet!

Now on this your 50th birthday
I’d give you the world if it were in my power
But instead I’ll just give you all of my love
And pray God’s blessings on you will be showered

I love you, Keen. Happy 50th Birthday!


Ode to Keen
By Eileen Umbehr
July 14, 1998

Lord, You're my best friend in the whole wide world,
Forever faithful and true;
and You blessed me with someone right here on earth,
Someone who's just like You.

He's always there when I need him,
He never lets me down;
And whenever I'm feeling sad or blue,
He turns to a smile, my frown.

You brought us together in Singapore,
When we were only fifteen;
And ever since the day we met,
He has made me feel like a queen.

He never chooses to point out my faults,
He acts as if I don't have any;
And even though I appreciate this,
We both know that I have many.

In twenty years of marital bliss,
Not one unkind word has he said;
I only wish that I could say the same,
But You know I'm the hothead.

But just like You, he's patient with me,
Even when I get stressed;
He helps me stay calm in the midst of the storm,
And says things will work out for the best.

He tells me he's the lucky one,
To have me as his wife;
But I am the one who is truly blessed,
To have him in my life.


A Real Find

By Eileen Umbehr
For Keen on our 21st anniversary - June 10, 1999

I was shopping for a gift,
For my husband, dear;
Something to commemorate,
Our marriage of twenty-one years.

I thought that I would buy him,
A tie tack for the occasion,
And so I headed for the mall,
To fulfill my expectation.

I found so many different styles,
Some were fancy, others plain,
And it wasn't very long before,
My patience started to wane.

But finally I narrowed my search,
Down to two that looked real nice;
The only difference between them,
Was, of course, the price!

In my mind I debated the issue,
Back and forth I went,
Trying to decide which one to buy,
For this blessed event.

Suddenly, it all became clear,
Like a light bulb going off in my head;
So I pointed to the more precious one,
And this is what I said.

My husband is a real gem,
Truly, I do not jest;
For he's one in a million,
Who deserves the very best.

Thus, the choice is simple,
This fine tie tack is now sold;
For my husband's not a gold-plated guy,
He’s 14-karat gold!

Keen and Eileen in Singapore, age 16

Keen and Eileen today

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thankful Me

“Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” ~ James 4:14

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, we have all been reminded of the impact this dreaded disease has had on countless lives – from celebrities to ordinary people like you and me. Nearly 500 women a day are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. It is estimated that 40,000 women will lose their lives this year in the United States alone. But the good news is, with early detection, the survival rate is now at 98%.

I am thankful to be able to count myself among these survivors. In my immediate family, four out of seven women have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and my mother lost her seven-year battle to the disease at the age of 63. While family history certainly increases one’s risk for developing breast cancer, according to Kamilia F. Kozlowski, director of the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center in Tennessee, “Eighty percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history.”

The following article is a slightly edited version of the column I wrote for The Prairie Post just six weeks after my surgery in 2006. The column was titled Becoming Me.

Recently I turned on the television just in time to hear a talk show host announce the topic of her upcoming show: “Change your bra and change your life!” Maybe it’s just a sore subject for me, but up until I had my mastectomy, I never noticed what a breast-obsessed world we live in. But then again, as I think back to my years as a budding pre-teen, I recall doing “bust exercises” with my sister and chanting a cheer: “We must, we must, we must develop our busts! The bigger, the better, the tighter the sweater – we must develop our busts!” (Bring back memories, anyone?) And I still remember locking myself in the bathroom after my mom bought me my first training bra so I could experiment with “tissue enhancements.” It seems most young girls are programmed to aspire to look like their Barbie dolls. Just look at the actresses who proudly parade down the red carpet, as if their breasts are their greatest asset. (Maybe in some cases they are.) Again, I hope this doesn’t sound like sour grapes, but losing my breasts has definitely given me a new perspective on life. It just seems so superficial to place such great importance on a physical appendage. Change your life, by changing your bra? Give me a break!

Nevertheless, I must admit that adjusting to life without breasts has been very difficult. I would by lying if I said it isn’t awkward being a breast-less woman in a breast-filled world. And I can’t help but notice the stares and double-takes I get when I go out in public without my prosthesis. (Apparently a flat chest sticks out more than you might think. Ironic, isn’t it?) But I am determined to find a way to become comfortable with the new shape of my body. Because the thought of being ashamed of it is a notion I simply cannot bear.

The other day I made a trip to get fitted for my permanent prosthesis (the first one was more lightweight to give me some time to heal), and I must say that I was very pleased with the results. In fact, they look better than my real ones did. After nursing four babies, my “late breasts” weren’t going to win any blue ribbons at the fair, that’s for sure! (Maybe not even an honorable mention.) At any rate, I like having the freedom to choose between wearing the prosthesis and going without. It’s kind of like deciding whether or not to wear make-up. When I want to dress up, I’ll just strap on my Sunday-go-to-meeting gear. It’s just important for me to feel okay with myself either way.

I guess you could compare it to learning to become comfortable with your own weight, even if you’re not a perfect size (by the world’s standards). I had a friend once who refused to buy herself any new clothes until she lost some weight, and I told her I thought it was important for her to see herself as deserving of a new outfit just the way she was. Then if she wanted to lose weight, fine. Then I bought her a new pair of jeans and a pink oxford shirt – just to make my point. We still refer to it as “the pink shirt theory.” Love yourself, wherever you are in life – and accept yourself – regardless of your outward appearance. Don’t attach your worth to your weight! I am not my breasts, and we are not our weight, either.

In Geralyn Lucas’ book, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, she expressed the following feelings about her pending surgery: “When I lose my breast I will be stripped of part of what I thought made me a woman, made me desirable. But, I think, I will still be me. Maybe I am like an antique table that is being stripped before being re-varnished. Layers will be peeled away to reveal something beautiful underneath . . . And when there is nothing left to strip, maybe there will be a revelation of a different beauty underneath, one that I never knew existed.”

A friend of mine who was paralyzed in an accident shared how she had to “mourn – grieve in all the stages,” the loss of the use of her legs. Although my situation seems insignificant by comparison, my husband and I have both had to grieve the loss of the old me – that is, the former shape of my physical body. There’s nothing easy about seeing two horizontal scars where my breasts used to be. But I am still the same person on the inside. In fact, if you consider the principle that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” you could even say that I’m a new and improved version. I do feel stronger after this experience, which makes me better prepared for the next trial I may have to face on the road of life.

Having a supportive spouse throughout my journey has been such a precious gift. Keen reassures me that he is still attracted to me – maybe even more so – because of all that we’ve been through together. But one of the most cherished memories from my post-surgery days came when he put his hand on my chest and whispered; “Now I’m closer to your heart.”

While I personally decided against having reconstruction surgery, Geralyn Lucas chose to undergo immediate reconstruction after her mastectomy. Later, she agreed to pose for a special breast cancer survivor’s edition of Self Magazine. She described the experience this way: “I never existed as a beautiful woman until I saw myself that July day . . . In every photo in the past, I hated my nose, my cheeks, my smile. Now, when there is a huge defect, I was the most beautiful. I had set out to inspire other women that they could be beautiful after this surgery – and I ended up convincing myself.”

As for me, I may or may not decide to have reconstruction surgery at some point in the future. But if I do, it will be after I’ve learned to accept myself and my body – just the way it is. So if you ever happen to see me without my prosthesis, you’ll know that you caught me on a day when I mustered up the courage to simply be “me.”

Note: It’s been two years since my mastectomy and I’m happy and thankful to report that I'm doing well and feel great. Keen and I hike six to nine miles almost every weekend. This past weekend I joined my sisters and sisters-in-law in Des Moines (along with 24,000 others) to participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Since my diagnosis, I’ve become acutely aware of the frailty of life and am more determined than ever to live it to the fullest.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

~ Psalm 90:12 (NKJV)

Eileen and sisters at the Race for the Cure

A Music Video of pictures from the Race for the Cure can be seen at:

Monday, October 20, 2008

What Shape Are You In? Part II

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. . . . In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

~ I Peter 4:12 and 1:6,7 (NIV)

To illustrate the point I finished with last week regarding the way circumstances in our lives shape us, I’d like to share a personal story.

Some years ago when one of our sons was a sophomore in high school, he was a member of the basketball team. He went to every practice and hustled so much that the coach would point him out to the rest of the team and say that he wished he had more players like him. But for some reason, when the team qualified for the State playoffs the coach decided to replace our son with a freshman and informed him that he’d have to sit on the bench in street clothes during the playoff game. To make matters worse, our son wasn’t even mentioned when they announced the names of the players over the loudspeaker before the big game at Bramlage Coliseum. It was as if he wasn’t even a member of the team, despite the fact that he had contributed to the team’s success throughout the season.

As a mother, it broke my heart to see the pain in our son’s eyes after he suffered such a devastating disappointment. Then one morning I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Bible and I said a prayer asking God to show me something that would provide comfort. I kid you not; when I flipped open my Bible, my eyes fell on the following verses:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours. Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither.”

~ I Corinthians 9:25 (Amplified)

Now that may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it was a very personal miracle. The verses spoke to my heart in such a significant way and immediately helped to ease the pain and sadness I felt for our son. And when I shared it with him, it helped him, too. Those verses put everything into perspective by reminding us that even though it’s fun to compete in sports and win, none of that is nearly as important as playing the game of life to win the ultimate prize that lasts for all eternity – Heaven.

“In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

~ John 14:2

And the best part is that Jesus already won the prize for us when he sacrificed His life on the cross for all of our sins. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Catholic or Presbyterian, Baptist or Lutheran – the price has been paid, the victory has been won. To claim our prize, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept the forgiveness of our sins.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

~ John 11:25-26

In conclusion, if we’ll put our trust in God during times of difficulty, sorrow and disappointment, He will provide the grace, strength and wisdom we need to persevere.

“Trials are not enemies of faith but rather opportunities to prove God's faithfulness.”

~Author Unknown

Then the process of going through those times will stretch us and make us stronger so we’ll be in a little better “shape” for the next trial.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

~ James 1:2-4, 12 (NIV)

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Shape Are You In?

“So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why doesn’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women?”

~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

My ego has been dealt several severe blows in the past couple of years, but I think the most damaging one came just before Keen’s swearing-in ceremony in 2005. I had just asked one of his law school colleagues to take a picture of us, and as I was walking back to my seat in the auditorium I overheard her ask him, “Is that your mother?” Now I know I have gray hair and all, but please! Do I honestly look old enough to be my own husband’s mother?!

September 30, 2005 ~ Keen's swearing in ceremony, Topeka, Kansas

Losing my breasts to a mastectomy two years ago didn’t enhance my self-image much either, but I’ve never regretted choosing my life over my breasts. But then I packed on twenty plus pounds, making my tummy bigger than my chest, which didn’t exactly create an “hour glass” figure. Nevertheless, I'm just so grateful for every day that I have to enjoy this wonderful gift of life.

The Endless Journey

By Eileen Umbehr

My waistline, it seems to increase
Right along with my age
I wish I could reverse the process
Or find a way to turn back the page!

But woe is me, gone are the days
When I was just pencil thin
Now when I look in the mirror
I see an extra chin!

And what happened to my arms?
They used to fit into all of my shirts
Now it seems like they’ve doubled in size
I didn’t think I ate that much dessert!

And don’t even talk about thighs
Cellulite is my middle name
Finding clothes that are flattering is hard
At least capri pants are in style again!

My old jeans – well, just forget it
They won't budge an inch or bend
So now I just put on my new pair –
Stretch denim has become my best friend!

Like many others, I continually ponder
How will the pounds ever be removed?
And each year I make the same resolution
Resolving to resolve to improve!

Of course the solution is not rocket science
I must eat less and exercise more
I just have so many things I would much rather do
But then again, I want to fit through the door!

I’m not saying I’m as big as a barn
But I know I weigh more than I should
I just want to be as healthy as I can be
Not for looks but for my common good.

So I guess I’ll just soldier on
Though the mountain seems so hard to climb
And I’ll remind myself I’m on a journey
Then I’ll take it one step at a time.

Written September 29, 2008


But when I chose the topic for this week’s column, it wasn’t my intention to focus solely on physical shape. In fact, I got the idea for the title from a church billboard I saw along the highway. It read: Everything you go through shapes you. That started me thinking about how the events in our lives – particularly the negative ones – change the shape of who we are as individuals. Although these difficult experiences are unpleasant at the time, in the end we emerge with stronger emotional muscles and tougher skin.

“For the time being no discipline brings joy but seems grievous and painful, but afterwards it yields peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

~ Hebrews 12:11a (Amp)

To be continued . . .

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Eddie Boone by Dr. Jack Casner

(Note: Our friend Jack Casner shared this special story with me some time ago. With his permission, I am happy to be able to share it with you.)

A friend of mine sent me a story about "Special Olympics" and my mind was drawn back to Eureka, Kansas, in the mid to late 1940’s.

I expect that all Eurekans will remember Eddie Boone. Eddie had a nice job where he was his own boss; he delivered "handbills" from door to door. I don't know how much he was paid, but he normally had several different sheets to deliver: always a Princess Theater "Show-bill", usually at least one grocery ad and, often, a mimeographed ad of some kind from one or more real-estate/insurance offices.

Sometimes Eddie had as many as eight different handbills to deliver. He was making a pretty fair wage for Eurekans during the 1940s and his mother (Remember Boone Nursing Home?) helped him save it so he wouldn't be without resources after she died.

I worked for Eddie for several summers - he paid me $1.00 a day. We walked all over Eureka and I doubt he EVER missed a house. He showed me how to fold the packet so we could just sail them up onto a porch – we could make better progress that way. We would cover the east side of Main one day and the West side the next.

I expect everybody who remembers Eddie recalls him making his rounds – as regular as the Postal Service and working harder than a mail carrier at that. Like them, he made his rounds without regard to the weather. He did the same in the winter, even with heavy snow – covering the entire town by himself then.

There's something else: Eddie was very conscientious and honest to a fault. He had a different way of looking at the world; a way that was totally different from anybody else's.

For example, Eddie could mimic the whistle of quite a few different birds. He didn't use the "correct" name for birds, but he used his own: a cardinal was a "Redbird"; a sparrow was a “liddle bird.” It seemed to me that Eddie almost had a personal acquaintance with some birds. He knew several places where one of his redbirds could be found
and as we walked along he would whistle and get an answer. Same for other birds. Damnedest thing I ever saw.

Another thing that struck me was that dogs who had a personal vendetta against mail carriers (why DOES this always happen?) would not bother Eddie. When I was working one side of the street and Eddie the other, I was also safe. If a dog came barking at me, well, Eddie would just yell "Hey, bid dawd!" and the dog would calm down.

I think the best part of working for Eddie was lunchtime. We'd usually get a candy bar and a coke and sit and talk a little. I've said that Eddie had a unique way of viewing the world and I will never tell anybody what we talked about because it's too precious to me, personally. I will say one thing, though: Eddie told me about his "girlfriend" – somebody named Regina. He always perked up when we were approaching her house and she would come out to the porch as often as not. Eddie blushed then - so did Regina. They said "Hi" to each other and I knew that I could sit down for a couple of minutes. Eddie used my lack of movement as a pretext to break away by looking over at me and yelling "Hey! Jat! Ledd go!" Then he'd move off and I was back on duty.

I wasn't aware of Eddie's death, but I happened to be in town, visiting my folks, on the day of his funeral. I was sitting in the Silver Dollar, nursing a beer, and I heard someone sitting several stools down say to Burke: "He was a good boy. He never did nuthin' to hurt anyone.” I looked at Burke and asked who the guy was talking about and he confirmed what I thought. I left that place with tears in my eyes.

Tears are in my eyes now.

Jack Casner

Monday, September 22, 2008

This Side of Heaven

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

~ Matthew 18:10 (Amp)

Recently my daughter-in-law Lisa sent me a link to a video of a speech given by a high school senior named Soeren Paulumbo. If you have the time to view it, I think you will find it thought-provoking. So if you don’t like to be provoked, then I wouldn’t watch it. His speech starts out talking about a black man who is washing windows in the school and some white girls walk by and tell him he “missed a spot.” His speech leads into a discussion about his twelve-year old sister who is mentally handicapped. “She will never learn to hate or judge,” he shares. “And she receives more joy from watching a bubble float into the sky than most of us experience in a lifetime.” The speech has received a great deal of attention, and for good reason. Soeren was even asked to deliver his speech to the Illinois State Senate. If you’re interested in viewing it, the web address is:

Having a granddaughter with Down Syndrome has opened my eyes and my heart and my world. I have learned so much from Katelyn and from others whom we’ve met along this journey. One of those people is a friend I went to junior high school with in Hudson, Wisconsin. I never knew until recently that Barb had a sister with Down Syndrome. Leslie was child number twelve in their family of thirteen.

Barb has a wonderful way with words. With her permission, I would like to share the following excerpts from her writings:

“With such a large family as mine, Leslie has been a true gift to all of us. From the day she was born my family dynamics changed. My parents became more patient, our inner circle a little tighter, and most importantly, our love stronger within. . . . She is still the light of our lives. She is now 42 years old and doing well. She lives with my Mom and has a job at the local grocery store that she loves. She is a friend to all that know her . . . I am very grateful that I have been raised with her in my life, and my children as adults now, embrace her as well. It was probably very difficult for my parents at the time of her birth, but the rewards have been many throughout all of our lives.

“I sometimes describe it to others as a ‘gift’ and other times a ‘blessing’ to have Leslie in my life. But really it is life changing. Once you have exposure to such a gift and blessing, your whole life changes and the way you look at things is somehow different in many ways. I didn’t fully grasp how much I had gained by having a sibling with a disability until I was an adult. And, then when I had my own children and saw what a difference it made in how I parented and how my children grew up, it was truly astonishing. I sometimes think my gratitude of life stems from my large family and most especially growing up with Leslie. All of my Mom’s grandchildren have so embraced Leslie and have made her their ‘special aunt’. She is the godmother of one of my nieces, and was just named one of my other niece’s ‘most influential adults’ in her high school graduation program. When the rest of us read it at Emily’s graduation, there wasn’t a dry eye in our row. We have all benefited from her presence, and the lessons continue as our family grows.”

Leslie with niece Emily


A father of four from Pennsylvania writes a blog about everyday life with a daughter who has Down Syndrome. ( He wrote in part:

“Down Syndrome does not define who Amanda is; Amanda defines what Down Syndrome is. Amanda is my loving, beautiful, funny, inspirational daughter, who has a wonderful future ahead of her. If there was ever a button to push or a switch to flick that would make Amanda typical, I wouldn’t touch it, ever. Amanda is perfect just the way she is.

“I can truly say that our outlook of life and the things that we used to consider important has certainly been altered. Things that we used to take for granted and some of life's simplicities are more important than some of its complexities, if that makes any sense . . . Because of her, I will be a better husband, father, son, brother and friend. I know that I am the one that is supposed to teach her how to live, but she has taught me so much already.”


Angels are defined in the Catholic Encyclopedia as “any agent God sends forth to execute His purposes.” So if you ever get the privilege of meeting one of these special angels – embrace it. It may be as close to God any of us will ever get this side of Heaven.

“So go my little angel and take
The greatest gift I can bestow
You’re the special angel few people
Ever have the honor to know.”

~ A Special Angel (Author Unknown)

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

~ Matthew 19:14

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Better Together

“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)

Last week I wrote about the dangers involved in making demands or placing expectations on those we love. The price tag is extremely high, so we need to ask ourselves: Is getting my way really all that important?

Here is a poem my friend Pat Bartlett wrote on the subject:

Expectation or Acceptance

By Patricia Kohls Barrett

Expectations can destroy any relationship
From good friendships to wedded bliss
If you expect fulfillment of your desires
The joy from “freely given” you might miss

Expectation is only centered on self
It says, “What can you give to please me?”
True love is self-giving and accepting
Seeks to please the other, is “expecting” free

If you aren’t given what you expect
Disappointment and displeasure rush in
Expressed with sad voice and actions
Deterring one whose heart you would win

What’s the worth of a coerced treat,
That has the same value of a solicited bribe?
It might give some momentary pleasure
But warm fondness it does not describe

How do you respond when feeling forced?
Do you feel endearment and friendly regard?
Doesn’t it build a wedge that shoves apart,
That warmth and attachment retard?

It’s good to communicate what you favor
Strong ties come from sharing who you are
Helps each one relate to the other
Builds devotion and closeness above par

This sharing includes careful listening
About a loved one’s favorite pastime
When the enthusiasm you do not share
But your buddy’s feelings you hold prime

Each is loved and accepted as unique
With a personal giving from the heart
True love appreciates individual traits
Gratefulness and acceptance impart

Unselfish love receives graciously
What is given with love and devotion
As a piece of the giver’s kind heart
Conveyed with sincere fond emotion

Selfish expectations stifles and destroys
Centering on “other” brings warmth and growth
Accepts what is given, looks for ways to please
Bringing happiness and fulfillment for both

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

~ I Peter 3:8

It’s important to recognize the benefits of flexibility and freedom in our relationships.

“Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood.”

~ Author Unknown

Recently I emailed the above quote to Keen. His response, along with our brief exchange follows:

Keen: What a great way to say I love you --- no expectations, no control, just love.

Eileen: Amen. Just love and full support. Knowing someone is - and always will be - in your corner.

Keen: I am always in your corner.

Eileen: Thank you, Keen. And I'll always be in yours.

I love you.

Who I Am
(and who I’m not)

By Eileen Umbehr

I may not meet the expectations
Of everyone in my life
I may not win a big award
For best mother, friend or wife

But all I can do
Is what I can
And all I can be
Is who I am

So even though you may not understand
Why I live my life as I do
Please try to accept me for who I am
And I will do the same for you

Then at the end of the day
I hope to hear Him say –
“Well done.”

“Tolerance and celebration of individual differences is the fire that fuels lasting love.” ~ Tom Hannah

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Deadly Expectations

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” ~ Proverbs 14:1 (NIV)

The title of this week’s column sounds like the name of a made-for-television movie. But when I say, “Deadly Expectations,” I’m referring to the expectations individuals have for one another. Not just in marriage or partner relationships, but children to parents, parents to children and friends to friends.

In Catherine Marshall’s book, Something More, she shares a letter she received from an eighteen-year-old girl who was raised in a hypercritical family. “The critical faculties my parents gave me,” she wrote, “have made me more demanding than I should be, given me standards that the real, flawed world can’t live up to . . . .”

I have learned (over and over again) that placing unrealistic expectations on another person is one of the most dangerous mistakes any of us can make. Why? Because when we do, we set ourselves up for disappointment and the other person up for failure. Furthermore, once you verbalize your expectation, it makes it hard to back off or compromise. You have spoken! And you want to be heard and respected! “Yes, Master. Your wish is my command.” The only response you want to hear when you say “Jump” is “How high?” But since most of us aren’t in a master-servant relationship with our spouses, partners, parents, children or friends, none of the participants in these various relationships should be expected to meet our expectations without question or input from them.

The problem with expectations is that they are usually presented in the form of a mandate or edict, rather than a request or suggestion. This is a recipe for disaster. How do I know? Because I’ve made this mistake many times myself. I decide that I’ve been put out or put upon long enough and now it’s my turn to demand that a few things go my way. However, when the person you’re dealing with (a/k/a your victim) decides to “rebel” or refuses to “cooperate” with your demands, you become ripe for developing a serious case of bitterness, resentment and anger. From there, you usually end up on Self-Pity Drive which is really not a Drive at all but rather a DEAD END – and you are left sitting all alone on your self-made throne with no loyal subjects in sight.

At this point in your failed attempt to rule the world (and everyone in it), you may be tempted to issue an ultimatum: “Do what I say – or else!” However, once someone lays down the gauntlet and tells everyone within earshot how it’s going to be, it becomes extremely difficult for them to swallow their pride and take it all back. What I’m trying to say is that it is much better not to lay down the gauntlet in the first place. To make compliance with your wishes a litmus test for love is just wrong. “If you love me, you’ll do what I say,” is NOT love because it doesn’t leave any room for individuality or difference of opinion or personal freedom. Your opinion and your feelings are not the alpha and the omega – the beginning and the end. If you’re in a relationship with another person, your feelings are only part of the equation. You also have to consider how the other person feels and allow them the freedom to react to your announcement. That’s where the art of compromise comes into play.

“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” ~ Proverbs 17:14

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think it’s important for both parties in a relationship to express how they feel, but you have to keep in mind that the other person is under no obligation (whatsoever) to agree with you or comply with your request. And if you’re going to get mad at or shun everyone who disagrees with you, then you’re going to end up with a very small circle of friends.

I'd start walking your way
You'd start walking mine
We'd meet in the middle
'Neath that old Georgia pine
We'd gain a lot of ground
'Cause we'd both give a little
And their ain't no road too long
When you meet in the middle

Meet in the Middle ~ recorded by Diamond Rio

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Critical Change

“But refuse – shut your mind against, have nothing to do with – trifling (ill-informed, unedifying, stupid) controversies over ignorant questionings, for you know that they foster strife and breed quarrels.”
~ II Timothy 2:23

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their boots; that way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their boots.”

Has it ever dawned on you that anyone who will criticize another person and gossip about them behind their back, will probably criticize you and gossip behind your back? Author Agnes Sanford once referred to super criticalness as “a breaking of the bonds of love.”

I agree. It is extremely difficult to love someone while you’re judging them.

“Try to show as much compassion as your Father does. Never criticize or condemn – or it will come back on you.” ~ Luke 6:36 (TLB)

In addition, engaging in negativity only brings you down and colors your entire outlook.

“All the days of the desponding afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and foreboding], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances].”~ Proverbs 15:15

Author Catherine Marshall put it this way: “Criticalness leads to discontent. Discontent expels appreciation and gratitude.”

“A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.” ~ Proverbs 15:13

Here’s a poem I wrote based on my personal experience, which explains why I’m a firm believer that short visits are best.

“Let your foot seldom be in your neighbor's house, lest he become tired of you and hate you.” ~ Proverbs 25:17 (Amp)

Family Re-unions?
By Eileen Umbehr

Here’s the thing about family reunions
At least what I’ve observed
When everyone gets together
Things can become quite absurd

At first the initial hugs
And greetings are exchanged
“How are you?” “I am fine.”
“My how you have changed!”

But then the whole environment
Seems to go downhill from there
The tongues they start a clickin’
“Can you believe that hair?”

The longer you’re together
The more negativity abounds
Deep-seated anger and jealousy
Contaminate the air and the ground

Then Cousin A and Cousin B
Exchange some subtle jabs
And before you know it the feud expands
To include their moms and dads

Auntie Em and Uncle Fred
In unison shake their heads
“Sis put on weight – Junior pierced his ears
And nephew’s off his meds!”

As time goes on, things don’t improve
But instead go from bad to worse
Leaving the attendees wonderin’
“Is this reunion a blessing or curse?”

As the saying goes, (you’ve heard this before),
Familiarity breeds contempt
Just like fish, after two or three days
Family members start to stank!

For even though you love them
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Perhaps emails and phone calls alone
Would make the bonds grow stronger!

“Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.” ~ Proverbs 17:1

Monday, July 21, 2008

Self Portrait

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

~ 1 Samuel 16:7b (NIV)

I’m Still Me
By Eileen Umbehr

My eyes appear slanted and my smile unique
It’s hard to understand me when I speak
I don’t look like others, nor they like me
I was born with Down Syndrome
But I’m still me

I have a disease and it has spread
Due to the chemo, scarves cover my head
My hair is gone and I feel weak
I have cancer
But I’m still me

I have a birth defect without a cure
Some people assume that my mind is not sure
A wheelchair gets me where I need to be
I have no limbs
But I’m still me

When I went to school I was the only one
Whose skin was black, and the kids made fun
I laugh, I cry, and like you, I dream
My color is different
But I’m still me

For as long as I remember, people have mocked
They say my lifestyle is a shock
But I love who I love and I want to be free
I may be gay
But I’m still me

When I received the diagnosis, it didn’t take long
To decide what to do, with family history so strong
My chest is flat where my breasts used to be
I had a mastectomy
But I’m still me

Try not to judge a book by its cover
If we’ve never met, how can we criticize another?
There’s more to a person than the external view
No matter how you look, you’re still you.

“Judge not according to appearance . . .”

~ John 7:24a (ASV)

July 17, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Marne

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” ~ Psalm 118:24 (NIV)

Last Friday my special friend Marne celebrated his 90th birthday. Marne and I met several years ago at the cafeteria of St. Francis Hospital. After striking up a conversation, we exchanged emails and have been friends ever since.

You’d never know by looking at Marne that he was 90 years young. He gets around great, takes care of himself, and still drives. In fact, he meets his buddies for lunch three times a week and goes out for breakfast every Sunday. Marne (rhymes with yarn) didn’t want too much fuss made over his special day, so we decided to have an informal celebration at McFarland’s Restaurant in Topeka. We all enjoyed lunch and had a nice cake with Marne’s picture on it.

But what really made the day special was the group of friends who turned out to help him celebrate. There was Bessie from the Presbyterian Manor, “Big John”, Dick and his wife Nedra, another friend named John, Steve, Whitney, and myself. Also, two employees from the manor’s activity department, Jeanie and Beth, stopped by to wish Marne a happy birthday. (Some of the folks Marne invited weren’t able to make it, so Marne good-naturedly reminded each of the them to mark their calendars for July 11, 2009.) After singing happy birthday and watching Marne blow out his candles, we all enjoyed a piece of cake and captured one last picture of the entire group. That evening Marne shared the leftover cake with the residents at the manor.

Marne was born on July 11, 1918, in Clovis, New Mexico to Charles George and Nettie McClurkan Coates. He had three brothers: George, James and William, who served as Shawnee County Sheriff for a time. Marne also had one sister, Elizabeth Etta. (Two siblings – one boy and one girl – died in infancy.)

I was curious about the origin of Marne’s name and so I asked him about it. Marne explained that his father picked out his name after reading about the Battle of the Marne in the newspaper. The River Marne is in France, and the battle is said to have marked a turning point in World War I. The battle involved the last German offensive of the conflict and the first allied offensive victory of 1918. Marne’s middle name, Clyn (pronounced Kline), came from the doctor who was present at his home delivery – Dr. Clyn Smith.

Marne’s family moved to Topeka in 1924 and Marne graduated from Topeka High in 1936. After graduation, he went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad and served a four year apprenticeship before becoming an electrician. He retired in 1982 after 41 years of service. Marne never married, but he had a lifelong friend named Mildred with whom he shared many happy memories.

Marne also cared for his mother at home until she passed away. Marne has always been an outdoorsman. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, and shooting skeet. In fact, as a longtime member and volunteer of the Capital City Gun Club, Marne received the distinction of having a field named after him. On September 3, 2005, Field #3 at the club was officially named Coates Field in honor of Marne’s years of dedication and service.

From the moment I met Marne I knew that he was a kindhearted, gentle man with no guile. I didn’t have to spend very much time with him to realize that he was one of those rare individuals with a heart of gold who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. It has been a joy and a privilege to call Marne Clyn Coates my friend.

“No man or woman of the humblest sort can really be strong, gentle and good, without the world being better for it, without somebody being helped and comforted by the very existence of that goodness.

~ Phillips Brooks (1835-93), Episcopal clergyman and author; wrote Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem

Eileen, Marne & Bessie

VIDEO of friends singing "Happy Birthday" to Marne

Monday, June 30, 2008

As I Turn 50

“Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day.”

~ II Corinthians 4:16 (Amplified)

It was five years ago this week that my very first Reflections column was published in The Prairie Post. By coincidence, it fell on my 45th birthday, July 3rd. Which means that I’ll be turning 50 this Thursday.

In some ways it seems like only yesterday when I sent Joann Kahnt that tentative email inquiring whether or not she would allow me to submit a weekly column. Most of you have heard how I wondered what I was thinking after I sent my request. How could I possibly come up with something new to write about each and every week?

As I wrote to Joann in a recent email, I hope the readers of The Prairie Post still enjoy reading my column, because I still enjoy writing it. And I’ve finally figured out why I like writing so much – it’s because I’m not a very good listener. It’s like having a one-way conversation without being interrupted. And I never have to face the people I make angry.

But seriously, I do hope this column has been a source of enjoyment for those of you who give it a “look-see” each week. And once again, I’d like to thank Joann Kahnt, and you, the readers, for giving me this privilege.

God bless you all ~


As I Turn 50
By Eileen Umbehr

As I turn 50
I stand in the now
In the perfect position
To ask myself how

How I would change things…
If only I could
How I would change things
From bad to good

Yes, from this position
I can look back
On the things I regret
From the fifty years past

I can also look forward
To improvement and change
Using the wisdom
O’er the years that I’ve gained

For we never really stop
Growing and learning
With each mistake made
We become more discerning

While the lessons we’re taught
At home and in school
Provide a foundation
And serve as a tool

Some of life’s lessons
Can only be taught
Through living and loving
And the school of hard knocks

So I guess you could say
Though I’m not perfect yet
I’m improving with age,
So I have no regrets

“I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don't feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.”

~ Philippians 3:12-14 (Contemporary English Version)