To a Waterfowl “In the Garden” Verse 8 – “From Zone to Zone”

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.

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“He, who, from zone to zone,

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,

In the long way that I must trace alone,

Will lead my steps aright.”  (To a Waterfowl, Verse 8, Wm Cullen Bryant)

The heavens are silent.  The shorebird has reached his summer home, where he will build a nest with his shebird in preparation for  a new brood of chicks.  As the poet ponders his passing.  I, too, stop to ponder the significance of my mother’s journey and her peaceful and victorious passage into “the abyss of Heaven.”


Zone to Zone I  –  “Sunrise – The Early Years”

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

To a Waterfowl is, in essence, a declaration of faith in God, and Ellen’s faith was honed on the farm, with Henry.

“After their honeymoon to the Wisconsin Dells, they returned to the farm and the house Henry had built for his bride.  It sat on a hill, overlooking the countryside…. When Henry, ever the romantic, scooped up his petite bride (all 5’4, 90 lbs. of her), carried her across the threshold, up the back stairway and deposited her gently on the kitchen floor, their life together officially began.  Their lives would be shaped by that house on the farm, and in return, the farm would forever bear the stamp of their presence.”  (In the Garden, pp. 14,15)

The challenges were multiple:  if a cow got sick, the entire  day’s supply of milk would be contaminated and would have to be dumped; too  little rain would suffocate newly planted seeds, while too much would wash them away, and an inopportune windstorm could destroy an entire cherry crop, and to make matters worse, Henry would have to pay to have the cherries picked and dumped to insure a healthy crop the next year.

Though Henry was used to the vicissitudes and vulnerabilities of  farming, it was Ellen, a farm fledgling, who often comforted her beloved Hinie in the face of adversities:

“Henry stands at the dining room window sobbing as  he watches the windstorm wreak havoc on his cherry crop.  His entire crop is ruined.  “Ruined,”  he sobs.  Everything is ruined. How will we pay our bills?”  Ellen too wonders how they will manage.  “Don’t worry, honey,” she says.  “God will provide.”

“God will provide,” became her mantra.  And, He did.  As the house on the hill  was built on a firm foundation, their faith was honed on a daily diet of scripture and prayer.

“Like a muscle, it {their faith} would be exercised daily,  stretching and growing strong as the rocks turned over by the plow in the field; their trust in God as sure as the sun that rose and set daily overhead; their walk with God as straight and narrow as the furrows formed by the plow Henry held as he walked back and forth across the fields behind the workhorses, Maude and Daize.”  (In the Garden, pg. 33)

Both Henry and Ellen spent much time outside.  There in “the house where You live, O Lord, the place where Your glory dwells,” (Psalm 26:8,9), as Ellen went about her daily chores – hanging out the clothes, pulling up onions in the garden, or weeding her beloved roses, the truths contained in her daily scripture reading became real to her and their mysteries unfolded within her soul. There she communed with her Lord.

While their faith was honed early on with the physical challenges of eking out a living for their family, there were challenges ahead that would rock the foundation of their faith and cause their trust in God to be tried in the crucible of suffering and tragedy;

From Zone to Zone II – “Noontime – The Middle Years”2015-05-13 20.40.58

“Where can I go from Thy spirit?  Where can I flee from Thy 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 the 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)

Two events would challenge my mother’s faith and try her faith in the crucible of suffering – the death of her daughter and the estrangement of her youngest son.

When my sister died, my family was in shock; however the news hit my mother especially hard.  If you had taken a baseball bat and struck my her outright, she could not have been more stunned.

“As she struggled to comprehend the incomprehensible, accept the unacceptable, her spirit sagged within her and ebbed slowly away.  She appeared dazed and lifeless.  Finally, paralyzed by grief and despair, she withdrew to her room, where she remained for several days.  I passed by once as my father was leaving the room.  She lay under the bedcovers, facing the windows, still as a shroud.” (In the Garden, pg. 65)

Now, along with grieving the death of my sister, we were worried about my mother.  We didn’t expect her to attend the funeral.  Then, suddenly, there she was, a definite peace and serenity, almost otherworldly, radiated from within her.  She began doing a few chores with a calm, seemingly detached manner.  She attended my sister’s visitation and funeral, and though quiet and subdued, she carried herself with grace and graciousness.  Her manner gave my sister’s life and struggle a measure of dignity and respect it deserved.

My mother was never the same after my sister’s death.  She carried her grief to her own grave; however, the peace and serenity, she exhibited at the funeral, stayed with her for the rest of her days.


My youngest brother left for the Vietnam War when he was eighteen, just out of high school. My mother  had no idea, when she bade him goodbye, that their relationship would be altered forever.  Her youngest son, her baby,  survived the jungles of Nam, but never returned home to his family.  To her dying day, my mother hoped and prayed that she would see him one last time, but it was not to be.

What makes this story especially poignant is that my youngest brother was a miracle. The pregnancy was difficult from the start.  Not only was my mother sick most of the time, but complications led the doctor to advise my parents that if my mother carried this baby to term, she would most certainly die.  Imagine the dilemma for my parents.  They did not believe in abortion; however, if my mother died in childbirth, how would my father cope with seven children to manage by himself?  As always, my parents took their problems to the Lord in prayer.  My brother was born and my mother survived.  He was always special to her – not only was he her youngest son, but he embodied an answer to prayer.

How does a mother deal with a son who she carried in her womb and nursed at her breast, who rejects her, his family?  How does one comprehend the unthinkable, accept the unacceptable?  How many bottles would it take to hold the tears shed in her grief and sorrow? (In the Garden, pg. 80)

With Job, she cried out in her anguish, “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.”  (Job 19:21)

Once again, at a crossroads of her faith, my mother threw herself on the mercies of her Lord.  In her despair, she clung to the promises of scripture.  Completely broken and at the end of herself,  she prayed the Jesus prayer, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

In this state of total surrender, she placed her son’s good above her own needs and desires.  She came to understand that his experiences in Nam were traumatic and emotionally scarring, making it difficult for him to return to life as normal on the farm.  Though she came to respect his decision, she never stopped praying for his physical and spiritual well being, and while she might not see him this side of heaven, she prayed that she would see him one day in eternity.

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth…yet, in my flesh will I see God.”  (Job 19: 25,26)

Many people, who experience tragedy and loss, find they can no longer believe in a God who would allow tragedies to happen.  My parents never blamed God for the death of my sister or the estrangement of my brother.  They never forsook their Lord; instead their faith and trust were strengthened in the crucible of suffering.  They laid their pain at the foot of the cross, where their Lord met them with compassion and love and filled them with acceptance, strength, and grace.

“Faith is what God asks of us.  His invisibility is the test of faith.  To know who sees Him, God makes Himself invisible.”  (Hillenbrand, Laura, Unbroken)

“Faith helped them when there was no visible answer to their prayers.  Billy Graham notes that those whose prayers are not answered in the way they would choose, who must hold on by faith alone, reap a far greater heavenly reward because they endure by faith and faith alone.”  (In the Garden, pg. 119)

When I think of the pain my mother endured being estranged from her youngest son, I am overcome with emotion.  Though their story did not have a happy ending, I can’t help but think that the whole story has not been told.  God, the worker of miracles, will have the last word.

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches:  ‘To {her} that overcometh, I will give to eat of the hidden manna and will give {her} a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no {woman} knoweth saving {she] that receiveth it.”  (Revelation 2:17)

I am so bold as to think the name written on the white stone is my brother’s.

2015-11-04 17.29.53From Zone to Zone III – “Sunset  – The Final  Years”

“Next to the might of God, the serene beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence for good in the world.”  (Dwight L. Moody)

My mother died a gentle, humble emptied child of God. Death was not the end for her; it was a beginning.  Watching her fearlessly face her final enemy, Death, changed my life and over time, was the impetus for writing her memoir.  ”

“The more I reflected on her life, the more I came to respect and appreciate her.  I wanted to learn all I could about her; to be like her – to be a model for my children and my grandchildren, as she was, and continues to be, for me.”  (Preface, In the Garden, pg. v)

In her last years, my mother was homebound, vulnerable and virtually helpless; however, when I think back on my visits with her, I do not remember her as frail, weak or infirm.  She radiated serenity, peace, holiness – transparence, as though the sunshine of God’s presence was shining through her.  I wanted to be with her.  I had the distinct sense that to be with her like being on holy ground.

What was the secret of her strength, peace, and victory over death?

Like three biblical giants of scripture, my mother’s faith had been tried and tested in the furnace of suffering and pain.  First, like Jacob, she wrestles with God.  After my sister died, my mother withdrew to her room, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.  It is there she wrestles with her Lord, who finds her, alone, broken, and powerless to control her fate.  Afterwards, touched, healed and with a new name, she emerges from her room, “a definite peace and serenity, almost otherworldly, radiates from within her.”

Second, like Job, she comes to the end of herself and concludes that understanding the reasons for pain and sorrow is beyond the scope of the human mind and simply waits on the Lord:

“Where does wisdom come from?  Where does understanding dwell?  It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing…” (Job 28:20,21)

Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)

Finally, like her Jesus, after crying out in anguish and pain, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me,” she was finished.  She surrendered her ego, her will, her self to her Lord.  Therein, I believe lies the secret to her victorious and peaceful death – she “died before she died”.


Acceptance and surrender became the trademarks of her extraordinary life.  Hoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrows

“When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power.  The realm of Being, which had been obscured by the mind, then opens up.  Suddenly a great stillness arises within you, an unfathomable sense of peace.  And within that peace, there is joy. And, within the joy, there is love.  And at the innermost core, there is the sacred, the immeasurable, That which cannot be named.”  (Eckhart Tolle, Practicing the Power of Now)

Madeleine L’Engle writes that there is a fine distinction between resignation and acceptance, but the choice of one over the other will make all the difference in one’s life. Resignation leads to hardness; acceptance to softness and gentleness; resignation builds crust, acceptance, holes and vulnerability; resignation opposes the flow of life; acceptance yields to it;  resignation turns one away from God, acceptance brings one closer to Him.  My mother didn’t have a hard, crusty bone in her body.  She was soft, gentle, vulnerable and Love, personified.  She offered no resistance.

In a state of ease, lightness and grace, she was like a deep lake. On the surface, the outer circumstances of her life,    the water might be calm, sometimes windy and rough, but deep down, at the level of Being, the infinite, the lake is always peaceful and undisturbed.

It was in the act of total surrender, more than scripture reading, more than prayer, more than going to church or reciting the creeds, important as those were to her faith,  that the spiritual dimension became a reality in my mother’s life.

The lesson she taught me…

“He…in the long way I must trace alone

Will lead my steps aright.”

“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 the 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: 8 – 10)









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