To a Waterfowl #4 – In the Garden – “The Dash to the Finish Line”



Note: The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God at every crossroads of her life. She chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair. “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra. After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in a house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her. There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker. She transformed the house on the hill into a place of beauty and sanctuary for their family. To view the memoir visit or In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.



“There is a power whose care

Teaches thy way along that pathless coast

The desert and illimitable air,

Lone, wandering, but not lost.”  (verse 4, To a Waterfowl, William Cullen Bryant)

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On my mother’s gravestone, is the following designation: Dec 8, 1914 – Sept 1, 2005. I gaze at the brief combination of numbers and letters that summarize my mother’s lifespan. I marvel that a single dash (-), set between the dates of her birth and death, while only a symbol, can somehow, comprise her life.  You mean the countless hours I spent writing my mother’s memoir – ‘a reflective rearrangement of actual events’ (Larry Woiwode, What I Think I Did), describes something as brief as a dash??
Thinking further about this, I realize that Bryant’s beloved poem is a reminder that life – that “dash,” is, essentially, a migratory journey, which starts with our first gasp of air and ends with the last. One grand pilgrimage with many and various secondary trips throughout.

The one (secondary) experience that would define my mother’s earthly pilgrimage was marrying my father, Henry and moving with him to the little farm in west MI, to the house on the hill, where they lived together for over sixty years and where they both would die.

(March 1936) “It was only 1 1/2 miles from her {Ellen’s} childhood home in town to her new home, but it might as well have been 100, so great was the contrast between her leisurely, cultured and bountiful life in town and the life she would experience on the farm. Bountiful would take on a new meaning for her there.” (In the Garden, pg. 21) Again: “Nothing in Ellen’s life, growing up in a comfortable, well-to-do home in the city, could have prepared her for the stark reality of living on (and off) the land; still she threw herself into her new life with determination and optimism, for she loved Henry with all her heart and was totally committed to their life together.” (In the Garden, pg. 22)

Things with feathers...

“There is a power whose care…”

“Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from Your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  (Psalm 139: 7 – 10)

The poem causes me to reflect upon when my mother first become aware of “a power” that would “teach her way…” When did she come to know the presence of God in her life – a power that would become the bedrock and center of her and Henry’s lives? As I read through the memoir, I’m amazed to find a passage where I described Ellen’s awakening to a personal awareness and consciousness of God’s presence in her life:

“Ellen had learned about God in church and Sunday School and had publicly professed her faith when she was eighteen.  She and Henry had promised, in their wedding vows, to make God the center of their home.”  (In the Garden, pg. 27)

“On a crisp Monday morning in mid-April(1938), Ellen had just pinned her last bed sheet onto the clothesline, when a little black-capped chickadee perched on a branch overhead, trilling its little heart out.  “Oh you beautiful creature,”  Ellen called.  Something about that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope.

She felt a deep longing within – it came from the very depths of her being, from her soul.  It was an awakening to nature and the power of the birds’ singing, trees budding, breezes blowing and clothes flapping in the wind.  It was then she knew there was a power beyond all that she could see, smell, hear and feel.

Now in a bird’s song, she experienced the God of creation and revelation.  God was in the bird’s song… She didn’t have to worry about her new life or feel lonely or isolated when Henry left her to do his chores about the farm. With God’s help, she could become the housewife she wanted to be for Henry’s sake…” (In the Garden, pp.27,28)

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise;  you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways… You hem me in, behind and before;  you have laid your hand upon me.  such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”  (Psalm 139:1-6)


Though it was on the farm, doing her daily chores, that Ellen, became conscious of the presence of God and cultivated a deeply personal trusting relationship with her Lord, the “power” had been there all along – at her birth, throughout their migratory journey, and at the end.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  (Psalm 139:13 – 15)

I stand and gaze at her gravestone:  “Dec 8, 1914 – Sept 1, 2005”

And, I hear the words of the psalmist, once more:

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  (Psalm 139:16)





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