“Her children call her blessed #2 – “Help! Life Doesn’t Make Sense!”

Things with feathers...About “Hoeing ‘In the Garden'”  – 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 the 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 http://www.principia.com or http://www.janethasselbring.com. 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.

In this series, “Her Children Arise and call her Blessed –  What My Mother Taught Me”  the author describes how her mother has become her archetype, guiding her through the rough and tumble of life’s journey, helping her to fulfill her souls’ deepest yearnings and  desires, becoming the person she wants to be, and how she wants to be remembered. She recalls challenging, interesting experiences and times when she called upon the wisdom of her mother and the traits that transformed this ordinary woman’s life and made it extraordinary.


Help!  Life Doesn’t Make Sense!

“Listen my son, to your father’s instruction

 and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your head.”  (Proverbs 1:8,9)

      …talking with good friends about God and faith.  They’d purchased my mother’s memoir,  “An Ordinary Women, An Extraordinary Life,”  as a gift for their daughter, who was going through rough times.  After reading the Foreword, which states why I felt compelled to write my mother’s story, they were returning it.  “We cannot believe in a God that allows tragedy to inflict pain and suffering on people,” they stated, citing the Holocaust, terrorist regimes, and wars as  examples.

      I knew something of their pain.  I’ve had my own doubts and questions as I watched someone I loved suffer.  Books about the Holocaust and visits to Dachow and Aushwitz sickened me.   As a teenager, I read the Diary of Anne Frank.  When I visited her family’s cramped quarters in Amsterdam, the reality of the injustice, cruelty, and inhumanity hit me all over again.  My friends are Jewish and their outrage at the horrors the Nazi regime inflicted on their people, has a personal quality  I cannot experience.

It’s hard to make a rational argument for faith in the light of such pain and suffering.  I was silent as they railed against God – the God of my parents, who in their view,  was unfit for the title and office of the Almighty.  They  sounded angry and bitter. They’d put God on trial and He came up short.  This encounter and others like it, make me realize and appreciate what my parents taught me and instilled in me and my siblings:  a reverence and fear of the Lord.

Theirs was no Pollyanna faith.  They were aware of evil and injustice in the world.  In addition, they experienced their own heartbreaks – eking out a living on a small farm, in the middle of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, losing a daughter in the prime of her life, and a son to the war – a son who survived the jungles of Nam, but never returned home. In the face of it all, they never forsook their Lord.  In the crucible of suffering, their faith was strengthened.

  Eking out a living on a small farm had its challenges.  “A sick cow could contaminate and ruin the entire batch of milk.  Too little rain and the newly planted seeds could suffocate; too much and they would wash away.  A windstorm could destroy the entire cherry crop.  Too make matters worse, the cherries would have to be picked  and dumped to insure the success of next year’s crop.”  (In the Garden, pg. 32)  They were never the same after the death of their daughter or the estrangement of their youngest son.  In their grief, they most certainly cried out to their God, “How will we feed our children with the cherry crop ruined?  Why did our precious daughter have to die? Why?  Why?  At the end of their despair, they fell silent and bowed to the infinite wisdom of the Almighty.  It never would have occurred to them to forsake their Lord, even in the midst of their pain.

What was the key to their strong, uncompromising faith?   Having written the memoir, I’d  already reflected on my parents’ faith – founded on the promises of Scripture, solidified through prayer and grounded in the majestic cathedral of nature, where so many of the details of their lives were carried out.

  Scripture  – My father was a Joshua of old:  “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24;15) My parents began and ended their days with prayer and Scripture, and during the day, our meals began with prayer, concluded with Scripture, a lively, heated family discussion, and closing prayer.

Prayer – My parents knew that prayer was the only way to change things.  “They hid God’s word in their hearts as the sun arced across the heavens.  Thus, they were strengthened and fortified for the vicissitudes of the day.  With (Scripture and} morning prayers they sought access to the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings; {Scripture and} evening prayers brought them back under their heavenly Father’s protective wings. Daily devotions were their spiritual milk.”  (In the Garden, pp 116,117)

“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

hawk soaringNature – My parents’ faith was honed on the farm.  Both of them, but especially my father, spent many hours out of doors, where they became close to nature and to God. I can imagine him, guiding the handheld plow across the fields, behind our workhorses, Maud and Daize, my father listened to the birds chirping, the killdeer gliding to and fro on its spindly legs, and the hawks soaring high overhead.

“As he went about his daily chores, Scripture verses he’d read and memorized were internalized until they were embedded into his soul and became planted there like fertile seeds. ” (In the Garden, pg. 35)

My mother too, encountered her Lord in the out of doors.  As she hung her newly washed clothes on the line outside. a black – capped chickadee perched on a branch nearby and trilled its little heart out.mountain chickadee

“Oh, you beautiful little creature,” Ellen called. Something in that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope. She felt a deep longing within…an awakening to nature and the power of birds singing, trees budding, breezes blowing, and bedsheets flapping in the wind.  It was at that moment, Ellen knew there was a power beyond al that she could see, smell, hear and feel.”  (In the Garden, pg. 27)

The stillness inherent in the sounds of the clumping hooves of Maud and Daize, the rustling leaves of the majestic maple tree, the chirp of the killdeer and the trilling of the chickadee translated to a stillness within – a sacredness connecting them to the formless, the intelligence beyond thought – God Himself.

“I love the house where you live O Lord; the place where your glory dwells.”  (Psalm 26:8)

   The secret of my parents’ deep, unwavering faith was surrender to the will of God and looking beyond earth’s trials to heaven.

Surrender – My parents joined the ranks of the spiritual greats, who throughout history, in the face of great loss, illness, imprisonment or impending death, accepted the seemingly unacceptable, thereby finding, “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  According to Eckhart Tolle, “acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in the world.”  There is a certain recognizable crusty hardness about people who are resigned to life and its hardships.  Madeleine L’Engle states that there is the finest line separating acceptance and resignation; however, choosing one over the other, will make all the difference in the way you live your life.

My parents showed no signs of crust whatsoever.  At the end of their lives, they were tired, empty, humbled pilgrims.  My father died suddenly and peacefully in his eighties; however my mother lived to be 90.  We had the privilege of watching her die a serene, victorious and peaceful death (an experience which led me to write her story).

2015-11-04 17.29.53

Looking beyond – “Their faith enabled them to see life beyond the cornfields, the cherry orchards, the clothesline, and the garden, and  helped them through the  disappointments of a blighted cherry crop, rotted potatoes, diseased cows, and sick children.  My parents never slighted their duties or responsibilities; however, beyond it all, they saw their eternal inheritance.

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


My parents started out trusting in the God of the Old Testament, the more impersonal God of the covenant.  As time went on and their faith was tried in the crucible of suffering, the Almighty God evolved into their Lord of the New Testament.  There is no more appropriate description of the God they came to love, fear, and revere than that penned by C.S. Lewis in his imaginative, insightful tale for children of all ages – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

     “Is he a man?”  asked Lucy?  “Aslan a man?”  said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great emperor – Beyond – the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts?  Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

     “Ooh!”  said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he – quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

     “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver,  “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just plain silly.”

     “Then he isn’t safe?”  said Lucy.

     “Safe?”  said Mrs. Beaver.  “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  but he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

I conclude that while pain and suffering are and always will be part of life, we can choose how to deal with it and that choice will make all the difference in how we live.  Interestingly, while my friends couldn’t believe in a God that would allow senseless things to happen, my parents believed that life makes absolutely no sense apart from God.

Faith is what they taught us, faith is what they lived, and faith is my choice – by the grace of God.



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