Ken Schave—let’s be like him


What do you appreciate in a person? Someone who is friendly and kind and hardworking? Someone who stands up for what he believes? Someone on whom you can rely? Someone who pitches in, who would give you the shirt off his back and, after that, the shoes and socks off his feet? Someone who doesn’t simply say “do this and do that,” but does what he says?

If this is the kind of person you appreciate, then you would have loved Ken Schave, whose earthly pilgrimage came to an end on January 6.

I was Ken’s pastor in Port Hope, but I first met him in Guttenberg. When I had accepted St. John’s call to be their pastor, to move my family’s belongings four men drove the ten hours from where they lived in the farthest east of Michigan, next to Lake Huron, to where I lived in the farthest east of Iowa, next to the Mississippi River. Ken, who was sixty-seven at the time, was one of St. John’s wise men who had come from the east.

Once in Port Hope, my first encounter with Ken involved putting on more miles. His mother was in a nursing home in Bad Axe, a half-hour away. Ken let me know that a stroke had robbed her of her speech. So, he offered, if I would like he would accompany me for my first visit both to show me where to go and to make easier my first visit with his mother. I was pleased for him to introduce me to his mother and to learn the way to the nursing home and hospital that avoided having to go through downtown.

These first two occasions with Ken showed me everything I would see in him the entire thirteen years I was in Port Hope. He was friendly and kind and hardworking, and everything else you appreciate in a person. There was never a time when I was not pleased to see Ken.

While I grew to know Ken well, for the details of his life I direct you to his thorough obituary:

Ken and his beloved Janet were married sixty years. Talk about a perfectly matched set of folks. While this piece is about Ken, I can’t entirely ignore speaking of Janet. It’s funny; where Ken almost completely reminded me of my dad—in every way, they conducted themselves the same—I thought of Janet as a sister—an older sister, which I was always quick to point out to her, longing to rile her. This is how Janet and I interacted, one of us picking on the other, and then the other jabbing back, the way siblings do it.

For many of my thirteen years in Port Hope, Ken served on the board of elders. (In the Lutheran church, the elders serve as the pastor’s right-hand men, concerned with the faith and worship aspects of the congregation.) And, when Ken was on the board, he always was elected chair of the board.

Thinking of Ken leading our meetings, the word “calm” jumps to the front of my mind. He never acted quickly or harshly. Every word was measured with thoughtfulness and kindness. Even if a situation were contentious, opposing opinions could only come from the rest of the board in the same manner as Ken exhibited. He was a true role model.

Around 2010, Ken suffered a serious injury. As memory serves, he had been mowing the Port Hope public school’s lawn when he had mower trouble. Working on the problem, he suffered the injury, a severely broken hip. (I await Janet’s reading this and delighting in correcting how many errors in memory I just suffered!) [I heard from Janet.  The year was 2013.  I was surprised that it was the year before I retired.] After surgery, Ken would have a long recuperation in the long term wing of the Harbor Beach hospital.

As is a pastor’s duty and joy, I visited Ken many times. All of our visits were filled with catching up on where he was in recovering, then friendly conversation, and finally a devotion and, typically, the Lord’s Supper.

Recuperating did not go as quickly or smoothly as anyone would want. Finally, Ken was frustrated. Once again, he would remind me of my own father. When my dad broke his hip, I was able to visit him the next day, before he had surgery. I asked him how his pain was. Calmly, he gently said, “It’s damn bad.” Now, Ken’s complaint would sound the same.

Ken Schave actually griped. I never thought I’d hear it, not from him. He was done with being lame. He was over the hospital’s food. Physical therapy had gone from the pain in his hip to a pain in the neck.

Even as he whined, he did so in his mild-mannered way. I listened without speaking. I felt for him. And I didn’t have to wait long for what I should have known would immediately follow his pity party.

He repented of his grumbling. He began to number his blessings—his faithful Janet, and the wonderful hospital staff, and this and that and everything which filled his life with goodness.

Once again, Ken displayed to me the spirit of the Lord Jesus, who lived in him by the gift of faith, which Ken possessed and practiced all his years. While I have not seen Ken since I retired in 2014, I am confident that he was strong in Christ right through to his last day—and that Janet was, and remains so—with the sure and certain hope that he was, and always will be, a child of the heavenly Father.

If I were still Ken’s pastor and officiating his funeral, at this point in the sermon I would direct Janet, and her family and friends, to our ultimate hope in Christ. Because I led 150 funerals in Port Hope, it often came out like this, where I wanted them to look farther than their joy that the loved one’s soul was with the Lord, but to the best which was yet to come.

First Corinthians fifteen tells us four ways our bodies go into the earth because of death, and four ways in which death will be conquered in the resurrection given to us by Jesus Christ.

First, the body that is sown into the earth is perishable—that is, we live in bodies that can and do die, and we can’t stop it. The body that Jesus will raise from the dead will be imperishable—the same as His—never to be touched by death again.

Second, the body that is sown into the earth is laid to rest in dishonor—that is, it is a shame that our bodies should be captured in a casket or cremated and contained in an urn. The body that Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in glory; the resurrected body will never again be held captive.

Third, the body that is sown into the earth is sown in weakness. These present bodies succumb to disease, to old age, to accidents, to every manner of harm which silence them. The body that Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in power—no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain will ever visit our resurrected bodies.

Finally, the body that is sown into the earth is a natural body. We are shackled to the laws of this corrupted world, in this sinful nature. The body that Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised a spiritual body and, of this, I can barely speak, because you and I cannot even begin to imagine what it will be like to transcend the only world that we know.

All of this, dear friends, Jesus Christ has prepared for Ken, and for you. So, for now, Ken’s soul delights in heaven, at the foot of the Lord Jesus’ throne, praising the Lord for his salvation. So, for now, you delight in the house of Jesus, at His altar-throne, from which He is proclaimed in the Gospel, in which you are baptized into His gifts, and from where you are fed upon His living body and blood.

This church was as much the center of Ken’s life as was the home he made with Janet. From the Schave house and from the house of God, Ken went into the world and shined the light of Christ. We deeply appreciated him for it, and we praise the Lord for His eternal goodness toward Ken.

August 19, 2015/16/17

From left, pictures from each August: 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Are you able to spot the difference in these pictures, which are seven years apart?  Give up?  It’s the glasses!

Two years ago, today, I changed my Facebook profile and my name on each of my online accounts.

On July 2, 2015, I had restarted the Real Life Test, which I had initially begun that January 1, but had abandoned as I resumed trying to abide with living as a male. I did this quietly, even though I had, since that April, been posting about my struggle. Before going public, I wanted to see how it would go.

By mid-August, I was feeling so good that I thought I was in for the long haul, that I would be striving to pass the Real Life Test, which would mean that my therapist would agree that transitioning was effective for me and so she would endorse me, giving me the ability to begin the trek toward changing my name and having surgeries.

In 2016, my therapist agreed that I had passed the Real Life Test. I applied for a name change, going to court on May 2. I legally became Gina Joy Eilers, a female.

2017 has been the Year of the Surgeries. On January 19, I had my vocal cords shortened, that I might have a higher-pitched voice. April 11 brought gender affirmation/sex reassignment surgery. On September 13, I will have facial feminization surgery.

I will consider myself as having fully transitioned.

While I continue to have the attitude that I do not celebrate this, I am thankful for the positive changes transitioning has brought me. The fierce hatred I had been experiencing, which crushed me early in 2013, has been quelled. The sense no longer exists that I have two people inside of me, the male and female in constant battle to annihilate the other.

Indeed, though I now live as Gina, Greg is alive and well in me. I never knew this could happen. When I was fighting for Greg’s life, I thought that getting rid of Gina would mean killing her. That horrified me. So, naturally, by transitioning I thought that Greg would be the one who would be killed.

But I’m still Greg. Everything which is fundamental to the person who is typing these words—body, mind, and spirit; Christian, husband, father, brother, grandfather, friend; writer, gardener, jogger, joker—remains me.

Even more, I do not reject that I am, fundamentally, a male. Of all of the changes I have made—and, by my count, I will have done everything possible for a male-to-female person to do—there is one that I deliberately did not do. I did not change my birth certificate. I will not change my birth certificate, unless terrible laws are made which box me in to have to do it to protect myself.

My birth certificate, along with my certificate of baptism, confirm and confess who I am and, even more, whom I will be for eternity.

Gina is temporary. Transitioning is to me no different than the means a hurting person uses to find healing of body or mind, or both. But, of course, it’s temporary healing. It only endures to the day we take our final breaths.

When I take my final breath, the Lord will take me to Himself. As my soul rejoices at the throne of my Lord Jesus, my body will be laid to rest in the earth. Julie knows that I want my headstone to read this way:

Gregory John Eilers

Gina Joy Eilers

I want neither to deny nor disrespect Gina, but Greg comes first. Greg is who I am.

Then, on the Great Day, the Day our Lord returns in glory, my Jesus will resurrect me from the grave as a new man, fulfilling in me His promises in 1 Corinthians 15, giving me an imperishable, glorified, powerful, spiritual body; a body which will transcend anything we know in this world.

I will be a man.  I will be a male.  I will finally be whole.

And the many tears of this life—the weeping I have been doing as I’ve typed these last paragraphs, as these matters have once again struck me to my soul, my desire so strong to run the race of the Christian faith to completion and my longing for eternal healing being so great—finally, the many tears of this life will be a thing of the past. No more crying, or pain, or mourning, or death (Revelation 21:4).

As I mark two years in the books of my publicly living as Gina, I am thankful for the blessings I have received, for the healing I have experienced, and for the many positive things I have been able to do and the folks I have gotten to know. I have sought to use my situation for good, to achieve positive things, to educate, and to continue to show my fellow Christians that a transgender person does not have to give up his or her correct doctrine and faith.

The purpose of my life remains unchanged. First, that I love the Lord my God with all my heart and soul and strength. And, second, that I show my love for the Lord by loving my neighbor as I love myself.

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).”



2016-01-10 16.27.34
Jim and Mom (in the late ’60s?)

He wasn’t supposed to live to retirement age. He has no job from which to retire. He’s never held one. Never went to school. Never spoken a sentence of English.

They said not to expect him to live much past early childhood. If he hit the toddler years, he would never toddle.  If he did make it to the school-age years, there would be no kindergarten for him.

He would never set out on his own. Or make any plans. Or dream about the future.

His doctor said that he had no future.

And, today, my oldest brother, Jim, turned sixty-five years old.  And, I’ll be, but he has enjoyed a good, rich life.

I wrote about Jim, two years ago, so I won’t go over the details as to why his prognosis was so dim. You may read the first piece here:

Picking up where I left off in the first writing, not only would Jim make it out of infancy, he grew strong. With no ability to walk, he didn’t grow tall as he surely otherwise would have, but lifelong physical therapy would build firm muscles. Indeed, he became so strong, it made him a handful.

Some Christmases, we brought him home from the group home in nearby North Muskegon where he was finally placed in the late ’70s after twenty-some years in institutional places. Jim was able to use a toilet but, since he could not make his way on his own, two of us had to walk him. Was that ever a challenge!

He. Was. Strong. And since he was not able to control himself, to successfully make it with this muscular man from the living room, through the hall, and into the bathroom, we were happy to finally set him onto the stool without having bashed in a wall or pulling the bathroom door off its hinges.

Having worked up a sweat, I should have been pleased about calories burned ahead of the feast Mom was soon to set before us.

Oh, Mom! How Jim loved Mom! Sure, he would smile at we siblings as we greeted and hugged him, and made a bit of small talk, but when Mom appeared Jim beamed! And when Mom died all too young, Dad received the evidence of Jim’s joy.

Jim’s voice would be expressed in his smiles and much more. Lacking the ability to form words never kept him from communicating what pleased or angered or bothered him. At his place, if the living room TV were turned from his show, he whooped about it. When his favorite meals were set before him, you knew it just as surely as from any person. And when he didn’t want to do something, he could be the very picture of obstinate.

After Jim, only several months old, was so adversely affected in the wake of being wrongly medicated for his whooping cough and encephalitis, he suffered terrible seizures. After these finally no longer struck him, I do not recall his experiencing any serious health issues. In his fifties, he fractured a leg. It required surgery and the placement of a pin. This was the first and only time I ever wondered if his health might be deteriorating, with his death in sight.

He came through that admirably. We were able to have him with us for a short time at Dad’s funeral in 2010. That was the first time all of us siblings were together in I don’t know how long. Because I had moved away it surely had been more than twenty years.

Jim fronts his siblings, from left: Mark (youngest), me (fourth), Sue (third), Dave (fifth), and Tom (second)

I am ashamed to say that I have not seen him since my transition. I need to do this. I long to be with him at least one more time before either of us finishes our earthly pilgrimage. More than wanting to be with him, to hug and kiss him, I long to share our common hope, that the terrible, physical suffering of our lives will be healed by our Lord Jesus Christ in the resurrection.

As with all of us kids, Jim was baptized in infancy—indeed, before he got sick and when he appeared to have a typical future. Because of his situation, he was not able to receive instruction in the faith and be confirmed or communed. Who knows if he’s ever formed a prayer. How can such a person be saved?

Truly, Jim is the very picture of the direction of salvation and who does the work.

  • John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
  • Ephesians 2:1, 4-5, 8-9: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • Titus 3:5-7: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

There it is. As we receive physical life from our parents solely by their work as a gift, so we receive eternal life from our Father solely by Christ’s work as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 15, we are promised new bodies when we are resurrected from the dead. No longer will we be able to be injured, or grow ill or weary, or die. Isaiah 35:6 tells us, “Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

On that day, Jim will leap like a deer and shout for joy, dancing a jig of praise to Christ and glorifying Him for the eternal gift which he will enjoy in Paradise with his Lord Jesus and with all the saints.

Including me.

With Job (19:25-27), my ongoing refrain is “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”

A blessed 65 years to you, dear brother Jim. An eternity of joy awaits.