To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden” #3 –

 

 

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 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.

“Seek’st thou the plashy brink

Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,

or where the rocking billows rise and sink

Off the chafed ocean side?”

(To a Waterfowl, verse 3 Wm Cullen Bryant)

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     This verse addresses the question, “Where? Where are you going? Are you looking for the marshy edge of a lake, the bank of a river, or the shore of an ocean?”

      Sounds like a travel agent planning a trip to an idyllic destination in the great out-of-doors.  Our waterfowl, pursuing his solitary way, certainly had the best views, finest accommodations, and cheapest rates, unfettered by traffic, deadlines, or queues.

     My mother loved birds.  She loved the full-throated ease of their singing and now and then, might have felt a twinge of envy at their effortless freedom of flight.  In the memoir I note, that when Ellen followed her heart and married the love of her life, Henry, my father, and went to live with him on the farm, she gave up a life of comfort, luxury and freedom. My mother could have been anything and done anything she pleased, but once she met Henry, her role, as Henry’s helpmeet and housewife  (my mother didn’t like the term “farmwife”) became the overriding passion of her life.

    Not that my mother ever looked back at what her life might have been or second guessed her decision.  I can’t help but wonder though, when life came at her hard, if she looked at a bird on the wing and felt a twinge of envy.

“Ellen wholeheartedly accepted her role as Henry’s wife and helpmeet, yet she must have had dreams and ideas just bursting to be set free. She was intelligent, cultured, determined and creative {as was Henry}.  She had the capacity to do anything she chose to do; yet there was very little time in her day to pursue anything for herself.  When life was hard and she and Henry struggled just to make ends meet, she must have wondered if her dreams, or the dreams she had for her children, would ever find fulfillment.  Yet, she never flinched in fulfilling God’s purpose for her as homemaker and helpmeet in the house on the hill.”  (In the Garden, pg. 42)

     During their early years on the farm, daily chores and caring for children made it difficult for my parents to get away.  Babysitters were uncommon in those days and besides, finding someone to care for seven energetic and rambunctious children would have been a challenge.  So, more often than not, if they went somewhere, we went along – all nine of us jouncing along in the turquoise and black Plymouth sedan.  Seat belts had yet to be invented. I perched on the edge of the seat in between my sister and mother in the front. Four down, five to go.  My  younger brother had a similar position to mine, in the back, while the other four  vied boisterously for the remaining seats. The window seats were the best.  And off we went, my father at the helm, driving his brood to the world beyond the confines of the farm, our womb and comfort zone.

      Even though my mother was getting away from her chores, I can’t imagine these trips were restful or pleasant for her.  There was always a great deal of normal give and take in our family and now it was limited to the confines of a car, with no way to escape.  I remember taking a family vacation to Niagara Falls once, with my mother’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa Postema. We took two cars – thank goodness for that. We stopped along the way for our meals, which my mother and grandma had packed – guess people didn’t go out to eat back then.  My mother had a migraine headache for most of the trip and after setting out the picnic meal, she returned to the car to nurse her migraine in peace and quiet.87ae0-2013-07-0411-24-18

     During the summer, when the chores were done and time allowed, my mother would pack up us girls and drive to Stony Lake or Lake Michigan for a couple of hours.  My mother could swim, but if she could just get her toes in the water, she was happy.  I remember her sitting on the beach watching us frolic in the water or playing in the sand.  Thinking back, I realize how luxurious those moments must have been for her.  Was it then, as she watched the seagulls swooping and diving over the water, she felt an affinity with their freedom of flight?

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     As we grew older, and were able to stay home for a few hours by ourselves, Ellen and Henry would take off for a drive in the country. How my mother loved poking about the countryside, investigating new sites and areas of interest.  Often, in the evenings, they would drive out to Lake Michigan to enjoy the sunset.

     Once the older siblings were old enough, my parents were so bold as to leave us alone in their care and attend evening programs at Maranatha Bible Conference in Muskegon, Michigan.  It was there one evening, shortly after they had settled into their seats, their hearts ready and ripe to accept the word of God, they were called out for an emergency phone message: Return home immediately.  Back at the farm, we, children, had organized a swing-jumping contest.  When it was my turn, I pumped myself higher and higher and then, when the swing began to bump, alerting me that I was at its highest arc, I leaped from the swing, surprising even myself, so brave it was, and alas, landed in a pathetic heap on the ground.  (Where were the babysitters anyway?)  I won the contest, hands down, but broke my right arm in the process – so badly, that it would need surgery.  Instead of enjoying an evening away, my parents ended up in the emergency room.  To make matters even worse (could they get worse?) my parents had no insurance.

     Somewhere, along the way, probably after we were out of the diaper and toddler stages, my parents started attending Winona Bible Conference in northern Indiana, for one week in the summer.  This week became the focal point of their life, so much they loved the time away in pleasant surroundings, their hearts alert to the words of beloved preachers and softened by the music of hymns sung and listened to.  My two older brothers stayed on the farm with my father’s parents and we, girls, along with my youngest brother, were left with my mother’s parents, who had a large house in town. Later on, some of us would go along.  I remember accompanying my parents on a couple trips.

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     While we were small, my mother’s parents, purchased a winter home in Clearwater, Florida.  I remember family trips to visit Grandma and Grandpa Postema, though how they put us up in their modest home, I can’t imagine.   Once my mother my youngest brother, who was a toddler, traveled to Florida by train.

     And, then suddenly, their nest was empty.  In 1968, my father passed the farm on to my brother, Wendell, and for the first time, since they started life together in March, 1936, my parents were free to travel.  Now, unencumbered by daily chores or financial worries,  they could visit their daughter Joan, in Florida or Alabama and their son, Roger, in Virginia. Finally, Ellen’s wanderlust longings would find fulfillment, and though my father’s favorite place was his recliner in the living room or the front porch, he consented to travel the world with my mother.  They toured the continental U.S., Hawaii, Nova Scotia and Europe.

“With their children gone and the farm sold, they had time to slow down, relax and enjoy life.  The sale of the farm, along with the inheritance they received from their parents, relieved them of money problems they had dealt with for so many years.  Now they could afford to travel….” (In the Garden, pg 62)3e828-viewfromporchatgrandma

 The waterfowl is on a migratory journey and though his destination is set, he is enjoying the sights along the way.  Ellen, too, is on a journey with a clear destination.  She too, from the rigors of the early days on the farm to the more relaxed recreation of retirement, accepted her place on the farm as God’s will for her.  From the times when she sat on the front porch and longed to experience the world beyond to the days when her longings were fulfilled, she found peace and contentment in the confidence that she was in the place God meant for her to be.

After one of her {later} conversations with her Lord, “in the garden,”

“Ellen felt a fluttering within, like a brace of birds, longing to be free.  Free!  Oh, how she longed to be free.  Free from the woes that beset them on the farm.  Free from the lack of money, free from the dreaded windblight {that ruined their cherry crop}, free from sick cows and contaminated milk, free from lack of rain and parched earth, free from accidents, just waiting to happen.  Free!  Free!  Free!  The flutterings increased until, like a wave, her fears rose up inside and nearly overwhelmed her.  She could scarcely breathe.  She thought her heart would burst.  Then, with a sudden surge, the wave of flutterings burst forth and like a bird, on the wing, her soul felt light and free.  As she stood in stunned relief, a stab of joy pierced her heart.  In spite of everything, joy!  Just as her Lord had promised.  She heard His words once again:  ‘…and ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy noone taketh from you.'” (In the Garden, pg. 56)SONY DSC

        (illustration on right from Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration, Bruce DeVries, artist)page 16

To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden” #2

Front Cover
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 the rest of her 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 her 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.

IMG_20150106_080940_575~2

“Vainly the fowler’s eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.” (To a Waterfowl, stanza 2 by William Cullen Bryant)
The waterbird faces many a challenge on its migratory journey. Finding food, veering off course, mighty winds and always, the feared hunter – all pose threats; however, the poet assures us, that the hunter, or fowler will have no success in bringing down the waterfowl as it floats in silhouette against the crimson evening sky.
Ellen, like the waterfowl, would face many challenges and difficulties in her life on the farm with Henry:
Eking out a living on the farm:
“Life was difficult for them, because, in living on the land, they were vulnerable in so many ways… When the cherries were ruined by a windstorm, not only would there not be a cherry crop that year, but workers would have to be hired to pick and dump the wind-bruised cherries, otherwise the next year’s crop would not come in. Her heart breaking within her, Ellen comforted her weeping husband, Henry, with the words, “God will provide.” And somehow He did. When a cow became infected, the entire batch of milk would have to be dumped… Henry and Ellen had no insurance… When family members, suffered broken limbs, needed surgeries, dental or doctor care, there was no insurance.” (In the Garden, pp.56.57)

Losing a daughter to depression:
My sister was 48 years of age and in the prime of her life. When she died, everyone in the family was in shock, but the news hit my mother the hardest.  She was stunned beyond belief. “As she struggled to comprehend the incomprehensible and accept the unacceptable, her spirit sagged and slowly ebbed away. She appeared dazed and lifeless. Finally, paralyzed by grief, she withdrew to her room. My father guarded her privacy and along with family members, saw to the details of the funeral, answered the phone and greeted friends and relatives who stopped by with their condolences.” (In the Garden, pg. 65)

Estrangement from her youngest son, who survived the jungles of Vietnam, but never returned home:
“One of the most painful things my mother had to deal with in her lifetime, was being estranged from her youngest son. To her dying day, she held out hope that she would see or hear from him one last time, but it was not to be… My mother held onto the hope that if her son could be found, he would return home. When he was located, she implored her older son to visit. How she must have prayed while he was away. But, when he returned home, the news was not good. Her youngest son had been cool an distant to his older brother, treated him like a stranger and showed no emotion when he was told of his mother’s love and desire to have him return home. My mother’s hopes and dreams were shattered.” (In the Garden, pp. 75,79)

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And, yet in spite of the challenges, the grief and loss, Ellen, like the waterfowl, was not brought down by trouble and despair – the fowler, who would do her harm.

“Henry and Ellen’s faith was honed on the farm…They were both brought up in spiritual homes. Bible reading and prayer were their spiritual bread and butter, a sure foundation for the many challenges and difficulties they would face. Their faith got stronger as the years went by. Like a trainer strengthens a muscle through exercise, so God strengthened their faith by stretching and exercising it. Each time they faced a hardship, they would take it to the Lord in prayer, then trusting in His promises, they forged ahead with the chores and details of their life.” (In the Garden, pp. 56, 57)

Their life on the farm was a journey, a pilgrimage founded on faith in God. From the sunrise years of their early beginnings to the sunset years, of old age and frailty, they trusted their Lord, until that final day, when “silhouetted against the crimson evening sky,”  their journeys would end and they would see the One in whom they had placed their trust every step of the way.2013-05-05 20.02.20

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Illustration, page 16(from Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration)
Note: Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration is the author’s 5th book in the series, Tales From Pelican Cove,” and is based on Emily Dickinson’s “Things with Feathers” poem. The book’s themes of hope and remembering are also the themes of her mother’s memoir, In the Garden, where the author describes how God’s winged wonders often lifted Ellen’s spirits and put a song in her heart. See http://www.janethasselbring.com for more information about Janet’s books.

To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden #1

 

 

To a Waterfowl by William Cullen Bryant

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glows the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

IMG_20150106_080940_575~2In Bryant’s beloved poem, To a Waterfowl, the speaker is addressing a shorebird in flight. Using the literary tool of apostrophe – addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent, an absent entity or person, or a deceased person, Bryant achieves the effect of having the speaker muse aloud: “As dew falls and the sun sets in the rosy depths of the heavens, I wonder where you are going?”
In this series of blogs, To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden,” the poem will be taken verse by verse. The reader may wish to read the poem, first, in it’s entirety.

My mother, Ellen, will be the speaker in the poem. As the poem is, essentially, a profession of faith, her musings are a testimony to her life of faith on the small farm, where she and her beloved Hinie, eked out a living, raised their children and honed their faith.
As the waterfowl begins it’s migratory journey north, it has no idea what challenges and difficulties it may encounter along the way, so Ellen, when she married the love of her life, Henry, and began a new life with him in the house on the hill, had no idea what life held in store for her:

“Nothing in Ellen’s life, growing up in a comfortable, well-to-do home in the city {if New Era could be called a 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.
The farm is bleak in March. A grim austere landscape greeted Ellen in mid/late March as she and Henry returned from their honeymoon and began settling into their new home.” Looking out the kitchen window, on her first morning on the farm, she would have seen the sun rising to the east. Barren, scraggy trees stood here and there in the yard. Sooty stale piles of snow were reminders of winter’s frigid blast. Patches of green dotted the snow-covered pasture and a ring of water circled the frozen pond – hopeful signs that the bleak barrenness would not last forever. The pond wound lazily uphill to the woods – a scruffy, scraggly army of trees guarding the rear boundary. She might have seen the cows, relieved of their saggy udders, straggling out in a line to greet the first signs of spring, following their leader to seek what sustenance they could find in the grim austere wilderness of the pasture.
As she waited for Henry to return from his early milking for breakfast, her sense of excitement and exuberance shifted to a twinge of uncertainty and doubt, triggered, perhaps, by the foreboding scene framed in the kitchen window. Suddenly, she felt vulnerable, alone and unsure of herself. What was she doing here? She knew nothing of farm life or being a farm wife. Her comfortable, leisurely life back home, only one and a half miles away, seemed far away indeed. …Yet, here she was in the kitchen, dressed in her new house dress and apron, feeling lost and alone.
Suddenly a flash of red flew past the window. Ellen noticed a male cardinal perched on a limb in the yard, his shebird a few branches up. A pair of cardinals, she thought. A pair, just Henry and me. The sight of the birds ifted her spirits. Henry would be home soon. He would make everything right. She loved him with all her heart. He was a farmer, so she would be his farm wife. Well, a housewife who lives on the farm, she thought. Somehow that sounded better.
Ellen started the coffee, set the sausages sizzling and whipped the pancake batter into a froth. Henry would be home soon. He would be hungry. She had better get busy fixing his breakfast.
Ellen’s life on the farm had begun.” (In the Garden pp 22,23)

pair of cardinals

And so it was, on her first morning on the farm, a pair of cardinals, would bring hope and reassurance to Ellen’ soul. it would not be the last time that “things with feathers,” – Emily Dickinson’s symbol for hope, appeared to lift her Ellen’s spirits and put a song in her heart.

I love the image of my mother, there in the kitchen, full of love for her Henry and full of hope and promise for their future together. How could she have known then how dramatically her life would be shaped and fashioned by her new home on the farm and in return, how indelibly the farm would bear the stamp of her (their) presence?
In the beginning, it was her love for Henry that nurtured and sustained her, but as time went on and the challenges of eking out a living and raising a family on the farm increased, her love for Henry and their love for each other would find new meaning and strength in their faith in God and His Word. It was in the everyday details of their lives on the farm, that their faith was honed.
Though Ellen may have recited scripture in church or Sunday School, God’s promises would take on new meaning in the days and details of her daily life:

“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 13 – 16)

Coming soon: the second verse of To a Waterfowl in To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden”

MimiThe MimicNote: Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration, Janet’s 5th book in her Tales From Pelican Cove series, is based on Emily Dickinson’s “things with feathers,” poem and is a tale of hope and remembering.

 

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 www.principia.com or 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.

To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden” #1

 

To a Waterfowl by William Cullen Bryant

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glows the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

IMG_20150106_080940_575~2In Bryant’s beloved poem, To a Waterfowl, the speaker is addressing a shorebird in flight. Using the literary tool of apostrophe – addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent, an absent entity or person, or a deceased person, Bryant achieves the effect of having the speaker muse aloud: “As dew falls and the sun sets in the rosy depths of the heavens, I wonder where you are going?”
In this series of blogs, To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden,” the poem will be taken verse by verse. The reader may wish to read the poem, first, in it’s entirety.

My mother, Ellen, will be the speaker in the poem. As the poem is, essentially, a profession of faith, her musings are a testimony to her life of faith on the small farm, where she and her beloved Hinie, eked out a living, raised their children and honed their faith.
As the waterfowl begins it’s migratory journey north, it has no idea what challenges and difficulties it may encounter along the way, so Ellen, when she married the love of her life, Henry, and began a new life with him in the house on the hill, had no idea what life held in store for her:

“Nothing in Ellen’s life, growing up in a comfortable, well-to-do home in the city {if New Era could be called a 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.
The farm is bleak in March. A grim austere landscape greeted Ellen in mid/late March as she and Henry returned from their honeymoon and began settling into their new home.” Looking out the kitchen window, on her first morning on the farm, she would have seen the sun rising to the east. Barren, scraggy trees stood here and there in the yard. Sooty stale piles of snow were reminders of winter’s frigid blast. Patches of green dotted the snow-covered pasture and a ring of water circled the frozen pond – hopeful signs that the bleak barrenness would not last forever. The pond wound lazily uphill to the woods – a scruffy, scraggly army of trees guarding the rear boundary. She might have seen the cows, relieved of their saggy udders, straggling out in a line to greet the first signs of spring, following their leader to seek what sustenance they could find in the grim austere wilderness of the pasture.
As she waited for Henry to return from his early milking for breakfast, her sense of excitement and exuberance shifted to a twinge of uncertainty and doubt, triggered, perhaps, by the foreboding scene framed in the kitchen window. Suddenly, she felt vulnerable, alone and unsure of herself. What was she doing here? She knew nothing of farm life or being a farm wife. Her comfortable, leisurely life back home, only one and a half miles away, seemed far away indeed. …Yet, here she was in the kitchen, dressed in her new house dress and apron, feeling lost and alone.
Suddenly a flash of red flew past the window. Ellen noticed a male cardinal perched on a limb in the yard, his shebird a few branches up. A pair of cardinals, she thought. A pair, just Henry and me. The sight of the birds ifted her spirits. Henry would be home soon. He would make everything right. She loved him with all her heart. He was a farmer, so she would be his farm wife. Well, a housewife who lives on the farm, she thought. Somehow that sounded better.
Ellen started the coffee, set the sausages sizzling and whipped the pancake batter into a froth. Henry would be home soon. He would be hungry. She had better get busy fixing his breakfast.
Ellen’s life on the farm had begun.” (In the Garden pp 22,23)

pair of cardinals

And so it was, on her first morning on the farm, a pair of cardinals, would bring hope and reassurance to Ellen’ soul. it would not be the last time that “things with feathers,” – Emily Dickinson’s symbol for hope, appeared to lift her Ellen’s spirits and put a song in her heart.

I love the image of my mother, there in the kitchen, full of love for her Henry and full of hope and promise for their future together. How could she have known then how dramatically her life would be shaped and fashioned by her new home on the farm and in return, how indelibly the farm would bear the stamp of her (their) presence?
In the beginning, it was her love for Henry that nurtured and sustained her, but as time went on and the challenges of eking out a living and raising a family on the farm increased, her love for Henry and their love for each other would find new meaning and strength in their faith in God and His Word. It was in the everyday details of their lives on the farm, that their faith was honed.
Though Ellen may have recited scripture in church or Sunday School, God’s promises would take on new meaning in the days and details of her daily life:

“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 13 – 16)

Coming soon: the second verse of To a Waterfowl in To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden”

MimiThe MimicNote: Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration, Janet’s 5th book in her Tales From Pelican Cove series, is based on Emily Dickinson’s “things with feathers,” poem and is a tale of hope and remembering.

 

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 www.principia.com or 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.

Hoeing In the Garden 4c – “His Eye is on the Bluebird?”

“Why do I feel discouraged?  Why do the shadows come?  Why does my heart feel lonely?  And long for heaven and home…?”  (His Eye is on the Sparrow)

“His Eye is on the Sparrow,” is one of the most beloved hymns in the repertoire.  It was one of my mother’s favorites. We sang it at her funeral.   In times of challenge, loss and despair, the words, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me,”  must have given her comfort.

Field sparrow head.JPG

Have you ever wondered why the hymn writer chose the sparrow – one of the most ordinary birds, to remind us of  God’s love and care for His creatures?  Judged by its appearance, the sparrow doesn’t fare particularly well compared with its more brightly decorated peers.  It’s buff-colored garb wouldn’t garner any beauty awards, that’s for certain. It’s a plain, humble, ordinary bird. 

      It is likely the hymn writer took his lead from the scriptures, where several references to the sparrow, remind us of God’s faithfulness and abiding love.  In Luke 12:7 (NIV), Jesus reminds his followers:  “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows,” and in Psalm 84:3 (NIV), the Psalmist states, “Even the sparrow has found a home, the the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar…,” the image of motherly care and nurture, described so beautifully in the hymn.

But why the sparrow?  Why didn’t Jesus, and subsequently, the writer of the hymn, denote a ruby red male cardinal, an orange-feathered  Baltimore Oriole, a brilliant bluebird or the magnificent Pileated woodpecker?   Wouldn’t you feel more important and worthy of God’s care and attention if He likened you to one of the more colorful, conspicuous – stand-out birds?

Let’s take a closer look at some of these plain, colorless, ordinary birds.  Perhaps there’s something we’re missing.

Let’ begin with the The American Tree Sparrow. Why the word “tree” was added to his name remains a mystery, as he shows no special interest in trees, preferring instead to flit about brushy thickets and hedges, to nest atop a mossy hummock, or rest in a tuft of grass.  Where eating is concerned, however,  his name is more appropriate.  The  name, “sparrow,” is used for small, brownish, seed-eating birds and the tree sparrow is, without a doubt, one of the most prodigious seed-eaters.  Weighing scarcely an ounce, it devours an average of one-quarter of an ounce of weed seed every day.  Scientists have estimated that tree sparrows wintering in Iowa, consume more than 875 ton of weed seeds every year.  Turns out he’s a hardy soul to boot.  Even when winds are at their bitterest temperatures, hovering near zero, in the central and northeastern states where they live, flocks of tree sparrows dot the frozen fields and prairies, tittering musically as they browse among the heads of weeds, grasses and sedges that poke above the snow.  Pretty amazing…

American Tree Sparrow

Though all sparrows line their nests with hair, the chipping sparrow, is dubbed “the hair bird,” in many parts of the country, because of the  vast quantities of hair it uses to line its nest. Horse hair is the chippy’s lining of choice and where horses abound, you might spot one tugging at a swishing tail, then flying off with a long, dark strand of hair trailing from its bill.  But, with the passing of horses from the American scene, chippys now mostly build their nests out of thin rootlets, then line the little cups with precious hairs from horses, dogs, cattle, deer, rabbits, raccoons, or – watch out, – even humans! – whatever donor they can find.  Where there is no hair available, they will substitute feathers or fine rootlets and grasses, which also make a soft, resilient pillow on which to cradle the birds’ eggs and tender featherless hatchlings.  These guys are pretty impressive…

Chipping Sparrow

The clay-colored sparrow must have been near the end of the line when nature’s treasures were being distributed in the bird world.  While wood-warblers, cardinals and orioles received party-dress finery, this fellow seems outfitted like a chain-gang worker, clothed in uniform gray and commonplace brown.  And, while sparrows are generally undistinguished for their musicianship, the clay-colored  species, announces himself with a sonorous, insectlike call of three or four buzzes.  So where are the redeeming qualities?  Well, while this fellow, personifies the word “ordinary,” perched atop a bush on a summer’s morning, he has a distinctively “gentrified” air about him.  His soft gray and crisp brown feathers are subtly woven like a fine English tweed, well cut and expertly fitted. It’s their parental instincts, however,  that make this bird so endearing:  The male feed his mate while she nests and the female, an expert impersonator, lures predators away from her hatchlings by feigning an injury that promises an easy meal – but hardly ever delivers it.  Absolutely fascinating.  These birds are growing on me…

Spizella breweri.jpg
Clay-colored sparrow

The sage sparrow makes its home in sagebrush country out west, where it nests 6 to 18 inches above the ground.  Don’t plan on seeing one up close though, for this gray-headed ordinary bird is an elusive wraith and a master at hide-and-seek. The best an observer can hope for is a whispered psst and a twitching tail that drops quickly back into the sage.  It’s the nest that saves this bird from the Undistinguished Birds encyclopedia:  seems it has a weakness for comfort – it’s nest is typically lined with feathers, rabbit fur – even tufts of wool, when, serendipitously, sheep and sagebrush are found together.  The more I learn about these ordinary  birds, the more I’m liking them.

One last look at the Vesper sparrow. Outfitted in the usual gray and brown, the  vesper variety, is a songbird,  serenading us regularly, with it’s rippling, tinkling, summery melody, at twilight, under the evening stars.  The vesper belongs in the musical sparrows’ group (some sparrows buzz, some squeak, and others rattle one unchanging note), and while it’s song is distinctively sparrowy ( ordinary?),  the vesper – sometimes unpredictably, will flutter some 50 feet into the air and give voice to a wild, ecstatic melody.  Wild! Wow!  I love this bird!

Pooecetes gramineus -USA-8.jpg
Vesper Sparrow

I think I’m beginning to see why His eye is on the sparrows, rather than on the more colorful birds.  Colorless garb doesn’t mean colorless habits or traits. I’m reminded of something C.S. Lewis wrote about the ordinary:

“Every human being {bird/creature} is in the process of becoming a noble being, noble beyond imagination.  Or else, alas, a vile being beyond redemption…There are no ordinary people (birds/creatures}…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” ( The Weight of Glory/ In the Garden, pg. 134)

If what Lewis claims is true, that there are no ordinary humans {creatures}, I’ve done the sparrows a disservice.  Actually, in learning more about them and their habits, I’ve come around to see them as special – not extraordinary, perhaps, but certainly more than just ordinary.  I like to think that, like my mother, these birds are simple, humble creatures of God, fulfilling their particular, unique calling in life. Not to imply that my mother, or any human being, is to copy the lives or methods of the birds, literally, but rather, being infinitely higher in the scale of creation than they are, to adapt to her element – in my mother’s case, her life on the farm with Henry, as completely as the birds, the sparrows, do to theirs.

The scriptures teach that it’s what’s on the inside that matters. Beauty is only skin deep after all.  The rich young ruler was turned away because he valued money more than his Lord, the Pharisees, to Jesus, were as phony as whitewashed tombstones and children were held above the learned, because of their simplicity and humility.

“I believe that {C. S. Lewis’s quote, above} is true, but I didn’t use the term, extraordinary or noble for my mother because I knew it would have made her uncomfortable.  She never thought of herself a anything other than an ordinary woman of faith, who loved and served her Lord; however, her life is a testimony to what God can do when an ordinary person, like my mother, is totally dependent and yielded to His will.  That i what is extraordinary and it can only come from Him.  All of Him, none of self.  That use of the word, extraordinary, my mother would like.  The beauty of her story, is that what God did in her life, He can and will do for anyone who asks Him – for you.”  (In the Garden, pp.134,135)

And, so “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” it is and fittingly so.  “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free; For His eye is on the sparrow; And, I know He watches me.”  (His Eye is on the Sparrow). Hush.  What is that I hear rising sweetly on the evening air?

Note:  Information used in “His Eye is on the Cardinal, the Baltimore Oriole, the Bluebird or the Pileated Woodpecker?” courtesy of Book of North American Birds, Reader’s Digest

Front CoverNote:  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 www.principia.com or 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.

 

Hoeing "In the Garden" 4b Of Lilies and Sparrows – "Lessons From the Birds, ‘For the Birds!’"

Hoeing In the Garden 4b – “Of Lilies and Sparrows – “Lessons From the Birds, “For the Birds!'”

The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea.  O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:8,9 KJV)

Mimi's friend, the Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren

One of the most moving spiritual sagas is that of St. Francis of Assissi and his memorable sermon to the birds.  After spotting a flock of birds, St. Francis preached his famous sermon, exhorting them to praise their Creator and always love Him.  In response, the birds spread their wings, stretched their necks and gazed lovingly at the priest.  After blessing them with the sign of the cross, St. Francis went on his way.  After that experience, he made it a habit to preach daily to his feathered friends.
While St. Francis preached to the birds, my mother, Ellen, by contrast, was a student of the birds.  When life on the farm was challenging and lonely, she received hope and comfort from them.
Here is my mother, in March, 1936, on her first day on the farm, just back from a honeymoon to the Wisconsin Dells.  Dressed in her new housedress and freshly-starched apron, she is in the kitchen fixing breakfast for Henry, who has risen early to milk the cows.

             “Her sense of excitement and exuberance shifted to a twinge of uncertainty and doubt as she looked at the bleak, foreboding scene through the kitchen window.
Suddenly a flash of red flew past the window.  Ellen noticed a male cardinal perched on a limb in the yard, his shebird a few branches up.  A pair of cardinals, she thought, a pair, just like Henry and me. The sight of the birds lifted her spirits.  Henry would be home soon.  He would make everything right. She loved him with all her heart. He was a farmer so she would be his farmwife.  Well, a housewife who lives on the farm, she thought.  Somehow that seemed better.
Ellen started the coffee, set the sausages sizzling and whipped the pancake batter into a froth.  Henry would be home soon.  He would be hungry.  She had better get busy fixing his breakfast.  Ellen’s life on the farm had begun.”  (In the Garden pg. 23)
Northern Cardinal Photo

Ellen and Henry’s life was founded on the Word of God and prayer.  Daily they found guidance and sustenance for the cares and challenges of ekeing out a living on the farm, by reading God’s promises and walking and talking with their Lord in prayer; however,  their faith took on personal meaning and significance in the great out-of-doors,  as they performed their daily chores.  Much of their time was spent outside, plowing, weeding, harvesting crops, picking and snipping beans from the garden and, when time permitted, taking drives through the countryside.
Their spirits became one with nature – the wheat waving gently in the wind, the roses lifting their faces to the sun’s rays, dewdrops glinting in the early morning sunshine, raindrops pelting boldly from the sky, a chickadees cheerfully singing its name, “chick – a dee-dee-dee,” and sparrows frantically chasing each other through the bushes in the front yard – indeed they became one with the very soil of the farm itself.
Ellen’s relationship with birds grew beyond her initial fascination with their beauty, and their ability to fly and sing, and  took on an almost mystical quality.  She, like the poets of the early nineteenth century, came to  appreciate these avian flyers as symbols of imaginative freedom in their flight and for the full-throated ease of their singing.  Here she is in the front yard, hanging out the wash.

“On a crisp Monday morning in mid-April, Ellen had pinned her last bed sheet on the clothesline, when a black-capped chickadee came and perched on a branch overhead, trilling its little heart out.
‘Oh you beautiful little creature,’ Ellen called.  Something  about that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope like the cardinals had done for her earlier.
Se felt a deep longing within – it seemed to come from the depths of her being, from her soul.  It was an awakening to nature and the power of 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.
She had learned about God in churcBlack-capped Chickadee Photoh and Sunday School and had publicly professed her faith when she was eighteen.  She and Henry, in their wedding vows, had promised to make God the foundation of their home.
But now, in a bird’s song, she experienced the God of creation and revelation in her heart.  God was in the bird’s song, the budding of the trees, the cooling refreshing breeze and the tulips blooming by the side of the house.  She didn’t have to worry about her new life or feel lonely or isolated when Henry left to do his chores about the farm.  With God’s help she could become the housewife she wanted to be for Henry.  She felt strangely moved – changed.  Ellen had experienced a moment out of time – a kairos moment. (In the Garden, pgs. 27,28)
What lessons did Ellen learn from the chickadee, the cardinals and the other birds which nested nearby, ate at the feeders Henry set out, picked at the ear of corn nailed to the maple tree out front, and flitted about in the shrubs and bushes?

IMG_4237
Lesson 1.  Her true nature
Just as birds express their true natures and go through life perfectly themselves, without knowing anything of the worry and anxiety that warp so many human lives, so Ellen came to the realization that she, though on an infinitely higher plane of creation then her avian friends, was created in the image of God and thus her true nature was spiritual. She adapted herself to her true element, as a spiritual being, as the birds adapted to their true elements of flying and singing.  The freedom and joy, so apparent in birds, were meant t0 be her birthright as well.

“Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.  Are ye not much better than they?”  (Matthew VI KJV)

SONY DSC
Lesson 2.  Flying  – “…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  (Psalm 23)
Ellen  has just taken down a load of bedding from the line and carrying her clothesbasket back to the house for ironing and folding.  Her basket is not the only load she is carrying.  Last evening, a strong windstorm came through the farm and ruined the entire cherry crop.  Henry is devastated.  Not only has he lost his crop, he will have to pay to have the cherries picked, or next year’s crop will be stunted on the trees.  They needed the money for food, medical bills and upcoming school clothes for their six children.  Ellen is pregnant again and she senses something is wrong with this baby.  She just doesn’t feel right.
Suddenly, she notices an eagle soaring overhead.  It circles round and round and then hovers in the air, perhaps waiting for an updraft.  Ellen is mesmerized.  She sets her basket down and watches in fascination.  Suddenly, the tightness in her breast, like a brace of birds, broke free.  It was as though she glimpsed Heaven beyond the circling eagle.  She was enveloped with the presence of God, Himself. She dropped her basket and fell to her knees.  She had known Heaven as her future home, but now it was present with her here,  on earth, on the farm, on the back lawn of the house on the hill.  The voices of her children in the yard brought her back to reality.  She got up, picked up her load and continued on her way to the house.  Only now, she walked with a lighter step, as though she had one foot on the earth and one in heaven.
Ellen’s encounter with the eagle remained with her throughout her days on the farm, helping to put the cares and challenges of each day in perspective.  God was in charge.  She was His faithful and obedient servant.  Her future was secure and happy.  This realization didn’t mean that Ellen stopped working, doing or praying.  Indeed it has been said that it is no good praying for something unless one works for it with one’s entire being.  But now her working had a dimension of lightness to it that was not there before.  She would do the work – the result was in God’s hands, until the day she would “fly away” home.
“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.” (Revelation 4:2)

Orange-billed nightingale-thrush
Orange-billed nightingale-thrush

Lesson 3.  Singing -a  symbol of hope and joy
If a bird’s flight had lifted Ellen’s thoughts beyond Earth to Heaven, it was the full-throated ease of a bird’s song that enabled her to experience the joy that was her birthright as a child of God. 

Though there is no bird more noted for the full-throated ease of singing, than the nightingale, (it’s mostly the male bird that’s known for its melodic singing, as many as a thousand songs, usually at night, to woo the female during mating season),  it is the skylark, whose melody best embodies the mystical quality birdsong held for Ellen.
In his poem, “To a Skylark,” Shelley expresses the irrepressible charm of this “blithe spirit”:

         Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
                Bird thou never wert,
         That from Heaven, or near it,
                Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Imagine  standing in a field near dawn, listening to birdsong pouring down from the sky for two minutes or four, a very long time, as the singer rises, hovers, swoops above you, often visible only as a speck in the blue. Finally he plummets to the ground and is lost to view.

Orange-billed nightingale-thrush
Orange-billed nightingale-thrush

The bird sings not from a perch but while flying, so the song emerges from the sky above, as the night flees and the first glow of dawn appears. It becomes associated with all the possibilities of a new day, the freshness of dawn, the light banishing darkness.
In this stanza, Shelley draws particular attention to the skylark’s two worlds, sky and earth. It soars, sings, then drops to a point unseen on the ground where mate and nest have remained.
Higher still and higher

                From the earth thou springest
         Like a cloud of fire;
                The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

The skylark’s song generally lasts 2 to 3 minutes, quite long by birdsong standards, and is often even longer later in the season. What a great effort is put forth by this bird (which weighs only

Skylark and her young

30-45 g), singing continuously while he is zooming up into the air, holding steady aloft, and plummeting down!
Shelley goes on to compare it to a lonely maiden in a palace tower, who uses her song to soothe her lovelorn soul. It is like a golden glow-worm, scattering light among the flowers and grass in which it is hidden. It is like a rose embowered in its own green leaves, whose scent is blown by the wind until the bees are faint with “too much sweet.” The skylark’s song surpasses “all that ever was, /,  Joyous and clear and fresh,” whether the rain falling on the “twinkling grass” or the flowers the rain awakens. Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
A visitor to the great plain of Salisbury, recounted his experience at hearing a skylark for the first time:

“From the contentment of her lowly nest in the grass, the songstress rose on quivering wings, pouring out a flood of perfect joy.  With infinite courage the feathered atom breasted the spaces of the sky, as if her music lifted her irresistibly skyward.  With sublime confidence she passed out of sight into the azure; but not out of hearing for her cheerful voice fell yet more sweetly through the distance, as if it were saying,  ‘Forever, forever.'” (The Story of the Psalms, Henry Van Dyke)
Though Ellen would never have heard a nightingale or a skylark, for neither is found in North America, she was surrounded with birds on the farm.  In her darkest moments and challenges, their full-throated melodies lifted her spirits heavenward.  In their trillings, she came to know the truth of her Lord’s words:

      “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)
 
Front Cover

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 www.principia.com or 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.

The Moonbird – A Story of Pluck and Perseverance

   Does life ever get you down?  Ever feel discouraged and ready to give up?  Read about the Moonbird, a gutsy, plucky red knot, who has flown the equivalent mileage of traveling to the moon and back in his twenty years of migrating from Patagonia to upper Hudson Bay and back every year.     

 

23 May 2013

·         The Philadelphia Inquirer South Jersey edition
·         By Sandy Bauers
·        

It looks as if B95 — a shorebird that has attracted both popularity and paparazzi — is continuing his publicity tour of South Jersey.
B95 is a red knot, and the name refers to the identifying letter and number on his leg band. But he also has the nickname Moonbird because, in his long life, researchers figure he has flown the equivalent distance to the moon and halfway back.
http://cache2-thumb1.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/docserver/getimage.aspx?regionguid=11f3cdab-e56b-4fb4-bd7b-7b227e0fc954&scale=400&file=14892013052300000000001001&regionKey=0snqEY4jvbhQfTOTLKeUwA%3d%3dA week ago, the famed bird was spotted on the Delaware side of Delaware Bay. On Friday, he was spotted on the Jersey side, at Cooks Beach. Then — where’d he go? To Fortescue, still on the Jersey side, it turns out. Several observers spotted him there Sunday. He was spotted again on Monday by Yann Rochepault and Cristophe Buidin.
Luckily, Buidin was able to get a photo of B95, adding incontrovertible proof to the growing number of sightings.
On Wednesday, Rochepault spotted B95 again, this time at Kimbles Beach.
“Oh, my gosh, that little guy’s getting around,” said Charles Duncan of the Massachusetts-based Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
Buidin and Rochepault are from Quebec and are part of an international team of bird researchers on the bay, led by Amanda Dey of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Larry Niles, an independent consultant.
Every year, the researchers crowd into a Reeds Beach shorebird house, rev up their computers, post their charts of bird weights and sightings, and spend a month immersed in all things shorebirds.
Praise for the spotters is coming in from worldwide — Canada, the United States, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Switzerland, even Bangladesh, said Duncan, director of Manomet’s Shorebird Recovery Project.
Biologists scan flocks of birds to find ones that have been banded, which provide population data. B95 was first banded 20 years ago, and spotters began to see him regularly.
Whenever they don’t see him, they fear he has finally died. But then he shows up again. B95 is now the oldest red knot they know of, and he’s become a conservation icon for shorebirds, which are in decline worldwide.
Last year, Nature Conservancy staffer Phillip Hoose wrote a book about him, Moonbird: A Year on the Wind With the Great Survivor B95. Two statues have been erected in his honor.
This is shaping up to be a good year for the birds, which once numbered as many as 100,000 on the bay.
They declined to about 16,000 before rebounding a bit in recent years. Researchers blamed the harvest of horseshoe crabs, which are used as bait in other fisheries.
The birds, which migrate from the tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic, arrive on the bay every May emaciated. They depend on the fat-rich eggs of the crabs to regain bulk and strength.
Crab harvest restrictions were enacted, and last year the birds numbered closer to 24,000.
On Wednesday, red knots were still arriving, Niles said. He guessed they numbered from 5,000 to 6,000 between Reeds Beach and Fortescue alone
 

Hoeing “In the Garden” 4b Of Lilies and Sparrows – “Lessons From the Birds, ‘For the Birds!'”

The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

(Psalm 8:8,9 KJV)

One of the most moving spiritual sagas is that of St. Francis of Assissi and his memorable sermon to the birds. After spotting a flock of birds, St. Francis preached his famous sermon, exhorting them to praise their Creator and always love Him. In response, the birds spread their wings, stretched their necks and gazed lovingly at the priest. After blessing them with the sign of the cross, St. Francis went on his way. After that experience, he made it a habit to preach daily to his feathered friends.

While St. Francis preached to the birds, my mother, Ellen, by contrast, was a student of the birds. When life on the farm was challenging and lonely, she received hope and comfort from them.

Here is my mother, in March, 1936, on her first day on the farm, just back from a honeymoon to the Wisconsin Dells. Dressed in her new housedress and freshly-starched apron, she is in the kitchen fixing breakfast for Henry, who has risen early to milk the cows.

“Her sense of excitement and exuberance shifted to a twinge of uncertainty and doubt as she looked at the bleak, foreboding scene through the kitchen window.

Suddenly a flash of red flew past the window. Ellen noticed a male cardinal perched on a limb in the yard, his shebird a few branches up. A pair of cardinals, she thought, a pair, just like Henry and me. The sight of the birds lifted her spirits. Henry would be home soon. He would make everything right. She loved him with all her heart. He was a farmer so she would be his farmwife. Well, a housewife who lives on the farm, she thought. Somehow that seemed better.

Ellen started the coffee, set the sausages sizzling and whipped the pancake batter into a froth. Henry would be home soon. He would be hungry. She had better get busy fixing his breakfast. Ellen’s life on the farm had begun.”

(In the Garden, pg. 23)

Ellen and Henry’s life was founded on the Word of God and prayer. Daily they found guidance and sustenance for the cares and challenges of ekeing out a living on the farm, by reading God’s promises and walking and talking with their Lord in prayer; however, their faith took on personal meaning and significance in the great out-of-doors, as they performed their daily chores. Much of their time was spent outside, plowing, weeding, harvesting crops, picking and snipping beans from the garden and, when time permitted, taking drives through the countryside.

Their spirits became one with nature – the wheat waving gently in the wind, the roses lifting their faces to the sun’s rays, dewdrops glinting in the early morning sunshine, raindrops pelting boldly from the sky, a chickadees cheerfully singing its name, “chick – a dee-dee-dee,” and sparrows frantically chasing each other through the bushes in the front yard – indeed they became one with the very soil of the farm itself.

Ellen’s relationship with birds grew beyond her initial fascination with their beauty, and their ability to fly and sing, and took on an almost mystical quality. She, like the poets of the early nineteenth century, came to appreciate these avian flyers as symbols of imaginative freedom in their flight and for the full-throated ease of their singing. Here she is in the front yard, hanging out the wash.

“On a crisp Monday morning in mid-April, Ellen had pinned her last bed sheet on the clothesline, when a black-capped chickadee came and perched on a branch overhead, trilling its little heart out.

‘Oh you beautiful little creature,’ Ellen called. Something about that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope like the cardinals had done for her earlier.

She felt a deep longing within – it seemed to come from the depths of her being, from her soul. It was an awakening to nature and the power of 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.

She had learned about God in church and Sunday School and had publicly professed her faith when she was eighteen. She and Henry, in their wedding vows, had promised to make God the foundation of their home.

But now, in a bird’s song, she experienced the God of creation and revelation in her heart. God was in the bird’s song, the budding of the trees, the cooling refreshing breeze and the tulips blooming by the side of the house. She didn’t have to worry about her new life or feel lonely or isolated when Henry left to do his chores about the farm. With God’s help she could become the housewife she wanted to be for Henry. She felt strangely moved – changed. Ellen had experienced a moment out of time – a kairos moment.

(In the Garden, pgs. 27,28)

What lessons did Ellen learn from the chickadee, the cardinals and the other birds which nested nearby, ate at the feeders Henry set out, picked at the ear of corn nailed to the maple tree out front, and flitted about in the shrubs and bushes?

  • Lesson 1. Her true nature –
  • Just as birds express their true natures and go through life perfectly themselves, without knowing anything of the worry and anxiety that warp so many human lives, so Ellen came to the realization that she, though on an infinitely higher plane of creation then her avian friends, was created in the image of God and thus her true nature was spiritual. She adapted herself to her true element, as a spiritual being, as the birds adapted to their true elements of flying and singing. The freedom and joy, so apparent in birds, were meant t0 be her birthright as well.

    “Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

    (Matthew VI KJV)

  • Lesson 2. Flying –
  • “…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

    Ellen has just taken down a load of bedding from the line and carrying her clothes basket back to the house for ironing and folding. Her basket is not the only load she is carrying. Last evening, a strong windstorm came through the farm and ruined the entire cherry crop. Henry is devastated. Not only has he lost his crop, he will have to pay to have the cherries picked, or next year’s crop will be stunted on the trees. They needed the money for food, medical bills and upcoming school clothes for their six children. Ellen is pregnant again and she senses something is wrong with this baby. She just doesn’t feel right.

    Suddenly, she notices an eagle soaring overhead. It circles round and round and then hovers in the air, perhaps waiting for an updraft. Ellen is mesmerized. She sets her basket down and watches in fascination. Suddenly, the tightness in her breast, like a brace of birds, broke free. It was as though she glimpsed Heaven beyond the circling eagle. She was enveloped with the presence of God, Himself. She dropped her basket and fell to her knees. She had known Heaven as her future home, but now it was present with her here, on earth, on the farm, on the back lawn of the house on the hill. The voices of her children in the yard brought her back to reality. She got up, picked up her load and continued on her way to the house. Only now, she walked with a lighter step, as though she had one foot on the earth and one in heaven.

    Ellen’s encounter with the eagle remained with her throughout her days on the farm, helping to put the cares and challenges of each day in perspective. God was in charge. She was His faithful and obedient servant. Her future was secure and happy. This realization didn’t mean that Ellen stopped working, doing or praying. Indeed it has been said that it is no good praying for something unless one works for it with one’s entire being. But now her working had a dimension of lightness to it that was not there before. She would do the work – the result was in God’s hands, until the day she would “fly away” home.

    “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.” (Revelation 4:2)

  • Lesson 3. Singing -a symbol of hope and joy
  • If a bird’s flight had lifted Ellen’s thoughts beyond Earth to Heaven, it was the full-throated ease of a bird’s song that enabled her to experience the joy that was her birthright as a child of God.

    Though there is no bird more noted for the full-throated ease of singing, than the nightingale, (it’s mostly the male bird that’s known for its melodic singing, as many as a thousand songs, usually at night, to woo the female during mating season), it is the skylark, whose melody best embodies the mystical quality birdsong held for Ellen.

    In his poem, “To a Skylark,” Shelley expresses the irrepressible charm of this “blithe spirit”:

    Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

    Bird thou never wert,

    That from Heaven, or near it,

    Pourest thy full heart

    In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

    Imagine standing in a field near dawn, listening to birdsong pouring down from the sky for two minutes or four, a very long time, as the singer rises, hovers, swoops above you, often visible only as a speck in the blue. Finally he plummets to the ground and is lost to view.

    The bird sings not from a perch but while flying, so the song emerges from the sky above, as the night flees and the first glow of dawn appears. It becomes associated with all the possibilities of a new day, the freshness of dawn, the light banishing darkness.

    In this stanza, Shelley draws particular attention to the skylark’s two worlds, sky and earth. It soars, sings, then drops to a point unseen on the ground where mate and nest have remained.

    Higher still and higher

    From the earth thou springest

    Like a cloud of fire;

    The blue deep thou wingest,

    And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

    The skylark’s song generally lasts 2 to 3 minutes, quite long by birdsong standards, and is often even longer later in the season. What a great effort is put forth by this bird (which weighs only 30-45 g), singing continuously while he is zooming up into the air, holding steady aloft, and plummeting down!

    Shelley goes on to compare it to a lonely maiden in a palace tower, who uses her song to soothe her lovelorn soul. It is like a golden glow-worm, scattering light among the flowers and grass in which it is hidden. It is like a rose embowered in its own green leaves, whose scent is blown by the wind until the bees are faint with “too much sweet.” The skylark’s song surpasses “all that ever was, /, Joyous and clear and fresh,” whether the rain falling on the “twinkling grass” or the flowers the rain awakens. Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

    A visitor to the great plain of Salisbury, recounted his experience at hearing a skylark for the first time:

    “From the contentment of her lowly nest in the grass, the songstress rose on quivering wings, pouring out a flood of perfect joy. With infinite courage the feathered atom breasted the spaces of the sky, as if her music lifted her irresistibly skyward. With sublime confidence she passed out of sight into the azure; but not out of hearing for her cheerful voice fell yet more sweetly through the distance, as if it were saying, ‘Forever, forever.'” (The Story of the Psalms, Henry Van Dyke)

    Though Ellen would never have heard a nightingale or a skylark, for neither is found in North America, she was surrounded with birds on the farm. In her darkest moments and challenges, their full-throated melodies lifted her spirits heavenward. In their trillings, she came to know the truth of her Lord’s words:

    “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)

    InTheGarden

    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.

    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.

Sparrows

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?[a] And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-8 NKJV)

Hoeing In the Garden #2 – Ellen Walking and Talking with her Lord



Note:  The memoir, In the Garden, portrays my 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.  Ellen lived her entire married life in the house, on the hill, on a small farm in west Michigan (site of present day Country Dairy), rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her.  There, alongside the love of her life, Henry, 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 www.principia.com or 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 the memoir of my mother, Ellen, I describe the defining
moments of her life –  the “why” moments when she was at a fork
in the road and struggled to make sense of life’s challenges. It’s been noted that the “why” moments of our lives are the crucial
moments when we will choose either acceptance or resignation, hope or despair, faith or doubt.  So it was with my mother.
     I needed a way for readers to get inside my mother’s head – to
know what she was thinking during these times of trial; to get inside her heart – to feel her pain and grief during times of loss; to get inside her soul – to catch a glimpse of a pilgrim, like Jacob of old, wrestling with her Lord during times of crisis, when her very faith was at stake.
    I thought then  of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles – of Peter, Lucy, Susan and Edmund and the great Lion, Aslan, the God figure in the book.  It came to me that Aslan would make a great model for Ellen’s God – the great I Am, who is the Creator and Ruler of the universe, yet, accessible to a humble pilgrim, like my mother, Ellen.

     The children learn about Aslan from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver:

     “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 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 silly.”
     “Then he isn’t safe/” said Lucy.
     “Safe?”  said Mr. 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.” (from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)

     Sprinkled throughout the memoir the reader will find
Ellen walking and talking with her Lord “in the garden.”  Listen in as she
talks with her Lord, early in her marriage, after the cherry crop is ruined
and she doesn’t know how they will pay their bills:

     “Ellen”
     “Oh my Lord, it is You?”
     “Yes Ellen, I am here. Why are you crying dear one?”
     “Oh my Lord,” she wailed, “the cherry crop has been ruined by the
wind.  Oh, I do not know what to do.  If Henry cannot pick the cherries we
will not have enough money to pay our bills.  We were counting on that money.”
Her voice broke off in a sob.
     “Ellen.”  The voice was sweet and so, so gentle.  “Ellen, when you first
found me here on the farm, did I not promise to take care of you?
…Did I promise that the way would always be easy?  Did I promise you a rose garden?”
     In spite of her woes, the hint of a smile wafted to her lips.
     “No, my Lord.  But I am so frightened and I need to be strong for Henry. 
Please my Lord, help me.  It’s hard to be strong when I’m afraid myself.
I don’t know how we will manage.”
     “Ellen. Remember what I told you.  ‘If you abide in me and my words
abide in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.’
Now if you had a wish, what would it be, my dear?”
Note:  Ellen asks that the wind damage be undone or they
be given the money lost by the storm, but when challenged by
her Lord, she realizes she is being put to a test and finally decides
to rethink her wish.
     “This is my wish my Lord – that You would comfort Henry and
give him the strength to go on in spite of losing his cherries.  He
cannot survive without hope and he worries so about taking care of me.
yes, that is my wish – that You would give Henry peace and make him strong.
     He smiled.  “Your wish is granted my dear Ellen. …. And, now a
wish for yourself?”
     “Nothing for myself, my Lord.  It is enough to be here in the garden with You.”
     Again He smiled upon her.  “You have chosen well my child.  Go with my
blessing…” Then he was gone.
     Ellen remained in the garden for a time, savoring the moments with her Lord.
Something stirred deep within her – she felt altered, transformed.  Her eyes
filled with tears but they were tears of wonderment and joy.  Gently, she
wiped her eyes and went in to fix supper for Henry.” (In the Garden, pgs. 39,40)

     Ellen’s God, like Aslan, was not particularly safe but He was good.  You can
read more of Ellen’s conversations with her God in the memoir.  Visit       
www.Principiamedia.com or www.janethasselbring.com