Monday, May 19, 2008

Keen Takes Flight

“Many are the plans in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.” ~ Proverbs 16:9

It’s Monday morning following one of those magical moments that we all get to experience every now and then.

Last Saturday, our son Keen II earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Kansas State University with dual majors in psychology and sociology. It was a picture perfect day, in more ways than one. Keen’s mom, sister, niece and great-niece came from Texas to join the celebration, and our daughter-in-law Lisa drove all the way from Wichita with two little ones to be a part of Keener’s special day. (Josh would have been there but he couldn’t get off work.)

Before the ceremony, Keen and I just happened to run into Keen II in the hallway. He was the last person in line waiting to march into the Coliseum. Seeing him standing there in his cap and gown with such a look of pride and anticipation on his face was a moment to remember.

Although Keen’s name was misspelled on the card the announcer reads (Kenn instead of Keen), he had time to whisper the correct pronunciation just before he walked across the stage, so his name was announced exactly right, followed by our round of cheers.

After the ceremony, we enjoyed a breakfast buffet at the Clarion Hotel in Manhattan. They did such a nice job decorating the tables with white table cloths and purple napkins. The food was delicious, too. Keen Sr. shared a few thoughts that he had prepared over the past week. He was going to read them, but decided he would just speak from his heart. It was very moving and emotional for everyone. Then we played the DVD I made with pictures of Keener growing up put to the music of Mark Harris’ song, “Find Your Wings.” (If you’d like to view it, you can go to

As I was pouring through photo albums looking for pictures to use in the DVD, I noticed that several pictures from Keen’s youth depicted him “taking flight” in various ways. There’s the picture of Keen jumping off the diving board at the Alma pool a few days before his 5th birthday (not the low dive, but the high dive). Then there’s one of Keen jumping off the rope swing at Low Water Bridge when he about seven. As an adult, Keen took sky diving lessons and jumped out of an airplane – more than once – without ever telling us until after it was over. So the song by Mark Harris and the theme, “Keen Takes Flight” just seemed to fit for our “high flying” and adventurous third-born son.

One of the highlights of the day last Saturday was meeting Keen’s new girlfriend, Tiffany. We had heard a lot about her – she grew up in Wichita, graduated from Wichita State University, and lives and works in Shawnee, Kansas – but it was so nice to have the chance to meet her in person. Tiffany and Keen met when they were attendants at the wedding of some mutual friends.

Tiffany is a strikingly beautiful young woman, but her beauty is not limited to the external. She is smart, ambitious, confident, articulate, accomplished, and, well, most importantly, she cares about our son. Tiffany said the thing that most attracted her to Keen was his sense of humor. I’ve always appreciated that quality in Keen Sr., too. As it says in Proverbs, “laughter does good like a medicine.”

Keen and Tiffany joined us back in Alma that afternoon for a “country-fied” celebration. Keen’s mom helped make a batch of the Umbehr family’s famous barbecue sauce for the pork ribs and chicken dinner. It was a beautiful day to just sit on the patio and enjoy the breeze and good conversation. In the evening, everyone enjoyed a bonfire and smores under the light of a full moon. (I forgot to buy graham crackers, so they made smores with one less key ingredient.) It was a wonderful day filled with memories that we will cherish for a lifetime.

As we watch our children grow from children to young adults and beyond, there are so many milestones to celebrate. But as Keen’s mom, I have to say that this one was the most significant – not because of the event we were celebrating, but because I can honestly say that I have never seen our son look so happy . . . so content . . . so complete.

“And now . . . I commit you to God, I deposit you in His charge, entrusting you to His protection and care.”

~ Acts 20:32a (Amplified)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Taming the Tongue

“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”

~ James 3:7-11 (NIV)

After writing the column titled “A Better Way,” I received an email from a dear friend of mine named Jack whom I would describe as a man after God’s own heart. So when Jack shared his own struggles with keeping his words in check, it really touched my heart.

“There are those who speak rashly like the piercing of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” ~ Proverbs 12:18

I’d like to share a portion of Jack’s encouraging email:

“Every night I read as one of my little prayers before going to bed, ‘Guard my tongue, O God, from silly, useless chatter, from words that would confuse or disillusion. Instead, Lord, cause my mouth to speak soothing, uplifting and healing words; words of praise and encouragement and words of love. Amen.’

I depend upon this as one of my prayers which I need continuously with three kids, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren . . . because I find times when I am not pleased with what they do or say, not to mention my friends in my church and neighbors in my condominium which has 99 units. I am trying to think before opening my mouth to avoid saying things I would be sorry for later . . . .”

In my reply, I told Jack that it helped me to learn that even positive, kind-hearted people have to work hard and pray hard to keep from saying something they will regret or acting in a way that doesn’t build up the people in his or her life.

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength; one is pushing down and the other is pulling up.”

~ Booker T. Washington, educator, author, civil rights leader

For a short while I was in the habit of praying Psalm 141:3 every morning: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips,” and, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord.” (Ps. 19:14) I think I need to get back to that.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…” ~ James 1:19

But all too often I fail to remember how much trouble my mouth can get me in and I neglect to pray for God’s help to control my tongue. As a result, I have a “knee-jerk” reaction to stressful situations and end up with a severe case of “foot-in-mouth disease.”

“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart . . .”

~ Ecclesiastes 5:2a

It’s like that one prayer that goes: “Dear Lord, so far today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t cussed, gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, selfish, or overindulgent. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot more help.”

My friend Mae shared a great quote recently from H. Fred Ale who said: “My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” I think we would all benefit from trying to see things from others’ points of view more often. For example, rather than just seeing the overgrown lawn at our house in Manhattan, I could have taken into consideration the fact that both of our sons are full-time college students making good grades and holding down jobs while doing their own cooking, cleaning and laundry. But all I saw at that moment was the length of the grass. And truth be told, the main reason I was so angry was because of how it made us look. Silly pride.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t guide or correct your children. But if we want our kids to hear and receive our instruction, then we have to deliver it in a way that doesn’t get clouded by our anger or the pitch of our voice. My whole life I have followed the wrong pattern of expressing my anger. Somehow I’ve had the mistaken notion that if I don’t scream at the top of my lungs then the recipient won’t realize how serious I am – and I really want them to know that I mean business! But people young and old have a tendency to shut down when someone is yelling at them. A wall goes up in an effort to protect them from the verbal assault.

So even though you may be right in what you’re trying to say, a message delivered with unbridled anger puts you back in the wrong. As the saying goes: You may have the right to be angry, but that doesn’t give you the right to be cruel.

Oh what a fire one tiny spark can ignite. Lord, help me remember that it is much easier to “prevent forest fires” than to put them out once they’ve already started.

“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
~ James 3:2-5

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Mother's Work

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” ~ Washington Irving

They say a mother’s work is never done. As I watch our two daughters-in-law care for our grandchildren, I am reminded of how true that statement really is. Erin, who works as an RN and meets the demands of three young children while Jared is in Iraq with the Navy . . .

. . . and Lisa, who also works as an RN while nursing a baby and caring for a busy two-year-old with special needs, while Josh is at work more than he’s home as a first-year resident.

And so, in honor of Erin, Lisa, and all the busy moms out there who deserve the greatest praise and appreciation for all that they do for their families, I’d like to share the following prose titled, “I Didn’t Do It.” Happy Mother’s Day!

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

~ Proverbs 31:28

I Didn’t Do It

Author Unknown

One afternoon a man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house. His three children were outside playing, still in their pajamas, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the yard. The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house.

Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded up against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she may be ill, or that perhaps something serious had happened.

But there she was, lounging in the bedroom, still curled up in bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked him how his day went.

Bewildered, he looked at her and replied, "What happened here today?"

She smiled once again and answered, "You know every day when you come home from work and ask me what in the world I did today?"

"Yes," he replied quizzically.

"Well, today I didn't do it."