“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.

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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).

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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)

Aslan

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.

 

To a Waterfowl Verse 7 “In the Garden” – Gone From the House on the Hill Forever

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 the crossroads of her life. In the midst of the “why,” moments of her ife, 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, transforming their home into a place of beauty and sanctuary. 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.

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“Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven

Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

And shall not soon depart.”  (To a Waterfowl, verse 7, William Cullen Bryant)

 

In the following poem, C.S. Lewis describes his mother’s death:

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness,

All that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life.

There was to be fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy,

but no more of the old security.

It was sea and island now.

The great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”

When my mother died, on September 1, 2005, a friend sent me the poem, “Daughters Who Lose Their Mothers,” by Margery Mansfield.  The poem describes why losing your mother is such a significant and sobering event.  When your mother is alive, she stands between you and death, but when she dies, that buffer is gone.  Now you become the one standing in front of death for your children and grandchildren, as she did for you. The poem made death seem more real and imminent to me.

 

My mother’s last years, home bound, immobile and frail as she was, weren’t her best years, but the time I spent with her changed my life.

My mother was ready to die, to join her beloved Hinie and other loved ones who had passed on before.  She had outlived most of her friends and as they passed on, one by one, she would get down in spirit and wonder why she was still here, left behind. “God must have a reason,”  we’d say, trying to cheer her up.   It was purely selfish on my part, but I didn’t want her to die.  I wanted our times together to go on forever, so precious had she become to me.

“On the morning my mother died, I stood…as the funeral home attendants placed a sheet over her dead body. The house was eerily still and deafeningly quiet.  With her gone, the life instantly went out of the house on the hill.  I knew she had flown away to her heavenly home, where she was free of pain and sorrow, but as her body was wheeled away, a voice, from somewhere deep inside of me, cried out, “No! No! Don’t take her away!” I didn’t want her to go.  It seemed for final. I had no idea of the thunderous waves of loss and grief that would roll over me in the months and years to come.” (In the Garden, pp.109,110)

The day of her funeral…

“After the interment we stood staring at the gaping hole that would hold the earthly remains of our mother, grandmother and great grandmother.  Suddenly, a child’s cry pierced the air. Once of my niece’s daughters, in a sudden realization of the finality of death, voiced our collective feelings.  No!  We didn’t want her to go!  But, she was gone from us and the house on the hill forever.  We were left to mourn her absence in our lies.”  (In the Garden, pg. 112)

 

In the Foreword to the memoir, I describe how experiencing my mother’s peaceful, victorious death  led me to write her story.   I sat at her bedside, mesmerized, as she traveled back and forth on the pathway to Heaven.   I listened as she talked, lucidly with Hinie, who was standing at the foot of the bed, for her.  It wasn’t until later, when I had acquired some objectivity,  I realized that my father was sent, along with the angels, to accompany his beloved Ellen to her heavenly home.  My mother’s final gift to me was showing me how to die.

 

“A memoir is a reflective rearrangement of actual events.”  (Larry Woiwoode)

The wonder and awe of witnessing her death, led to a reflection of her life.  Dying, as peacefully and  victoriously, as she did, made me think she must have done something right in her life.  On a day in September,  a year after she died, I leashed my my lab and trekked out to Lake MI.  I let Max go and started walking. Turned out, I was walking in my mother’s footsteps. I thought about her life – the challenges of eking out a living with my father, on a small farm in the 1930’s, the seemingly unjust treatment she suffered at the hands of her inlaws on the farm, losing her beloved daughter to depression, becoming estranged from her youngest son, who survived the jungles of Nam, but never returned home.  I too have a daughter and two sons – how would I cope if I lost my daughter or were estranged from one of my sons, never to see them again.  My grief, unleashed, spilled out in torrents, mingling with the waves lapping at my feet; my tears returning to the ocean, from which they had come. I walked and remembered for hours.  When I returned, physically tired and spiritually sapped, I knew I would write my mother’s story.

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)

Hoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrows

I set out to discover the secret of my mother’s life.  Though it took a few years to pick up the pen,  “In the Garden” is the result of my “reflective rearrangement of actual events”.   The more I learned, the more I realized that the reason she died so victoriously and peacefully, was she had learned to die to herself – her ego, while she lived. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that I didn’t want her story to be forgotten.

The mystique of the last years I spent with her became clearer:  Though infirm and frail, she radiated strength, holiness, Presence – eternity.  Her body withered, but her Being shone through; her breath waned, yet her spirit was energized; her skin was thin as an onion’s, but she glowed with an inner radiance, the sunshine of God’s face  At every fork in the crossroads , of her life, when she faced a challenge, a “Why” moment and had to make a choice, she chose faith over doubt, hope over despair, acceptance over resignation, good over evil, God’s will over her own. And that made all the difference.

I titled the memoir, “An ordinary woman; an extraordinary life, ”  because even though I think of her as extraordinary, my mother was an empty, humbled, tired, ordinary pilgrim, who surrendered her will to the will of God and thus became extraordinary.  She exemplified simplicity, surrender, acceptance, lack of resistance, a nonjudgmental attitude, and most of all, Love.  I wanted to be like her.

My mother not only showed me how to die; she showed me how to live as well.

“…yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

And shall not soon depart.”

Note:  The author’s blog, “Hoeing ‘In the Garden,'” contains the lessons she learns from her mother’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To a Waterfowl #6 – I’ll Fly Away

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 the crossroads of her life. In the midst of the “why,” moments of her ife, 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, transforming their home into a place of beauty and sanctuary. 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.

“I’ll Fly Away..”

“And soon that toil shall end,

Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,

And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend

Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.” (To a Waterfowl, verse 6, Wm Cullen Bryant)

 

Our waterfowl’s journey is over!  He has finally arrived at his summer home, where he can scream with others of his kind and find safety and shelter among the tall grasses.

We’ve been comparing Bryant’s depiction of the migration of the shorebird to the pilgrimage of my mother, Ellen, as described in the memoir, In the Garden.  As our shorebird has reached his final destination, so Ellen has come to the end of her life on earth.   Helpless and dying, she lays on her hospital bed,  where she gazes over the farmland to the hills beyond. One senses eternity in her presence.  We listen in on her final conversation, “in the garden,” with her Lord:

  “MHoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrowsy dear Ellen.  It is time to go.  Today your name will be called, by the One who formed you in the beginning of time.”

Then, as His words broke through, yet hardly daring to believe their meaning, “My Lord, my Lord, can it be true? Oh, I have waited so long for this moment?

“Ellen, today you will enter into the joy of your Lord.  Come, the angels are waiting to bring you home.  Can you hear them singing?”  (In the Garden, pg. 109)

 

 

A shorebird’s migratory journey is fraught with dangers.  Besides looking out for prowling predators or human “fowlers,” our bird requires a plentiful food supply, energy for flying thousands of miles, mostly at night,  without stopping, and an internal GPS system that will keep him on course and bring him home.

Ellen’s journey, too was filled with challenges and trials.  Ekeing out a living on a small farm with Henry, was no small task.  Infected cows, untimely winds, torrential downpours, resulted in heartrending losses of badly needed income  The death of a daughter and estrangement from a son tore at the fabric of Ellen’s soul.  It was in these “why” moments that Ellen found her Lord, “in the garden.”

“And soon thy toil shall end…”

Ellen laid on her hospital bed…She felt tired, so very tired.

“Ellen.”  The voice familiar, soft and oh so tender.

“My Lord, is it You calling?”

“Yes, Ellen, it is time.”

“Time?”  She seemed confused; puzzled.  “Time, my Lord?  Is it time for me to get up then?  I think I have overslept.  Oh, my Lord, it is late? I have work to do – beans to pick and snip, roses to tend, socks to darn…”  She rushed on.”

“No, Ellen.  No, my dearest.  You have no chores to do today.  You have fought the good fight.  You have run the race.  Your earthly chores are done.”  (In the Garden, pp. 108,109)

“Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest…”

Eckart Tolle, in his book, The New Earth, describes heaven, not as a place, but as an inner realm of consciousness, available to us in the here and now.

Spiritual teacher and philosopher, Emmet Fox agrees:

“Heaven lies all about us – it is not a distant locality afar off in the skies, but all around us now… Heaven is the religious name for the Presence of God, and Heaven is infinite… Heaven is Eternity, but what we know here, we know only serially, in a sequence called ‘time, ‘ which never permits us to comprehend an experience in its entirety.” (Sermon on the Mount, pp. 36,37)

While this inner realm of consciousness was evident in Ellen, she very much believed heaven  was a place and longed for the time when she would go to join her loved ones, who had gone on before; however, this did not mean that she, or my father, shirked their earthly responsibilities and sat around dreaming of a life beyond.

” At some point, when life was hard and the going rough, they learned to view life in terms {of heaven} of eternity.  Their faith enabled them to see past the cornfields, the cherry orchards, the clothesline, and the garden to see the life beyond.  Their faith helped them through the disappointments of a blighted cherry crop, rotted potatoes, a diseased heifer, and a sick child.  Faith helped them to see, at the end of it all, their eternal inheritance.”  (In the Garden, pg. 118)

Heaven was Ellen’s ultimate destination.

And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend

IMG_4186In the memoir, I describe Ellen, lying on her death bed, traveling back and forth on the road to Heaven and how that experience, etched in my memory, inspired the writing of my mother’s story.

“As I sat with her, she would drift in and out of consciousness.  Many times, she would awaken from her dozing and be talking, lucidly, with Henry {my father}, who was obviously nearby for her.”  (In the Garden, pg. 106)

Again, we listen in as Ellen, on her deathbed, talks with her Lord:

“Angels, my Lord?  Yes, I can hear them.  I see them in the distance.  They are coming closer.  And, someone is with them.”  Joy rushing forth like a geyser from the ground.  “Who is that with them, my Lord?  Can it be, yes it is – my Henry!  Oh, my                                                                                                                                                     Photo by Larry Monat

Lord, my Henry!  I am ready.  I am ready to go home.”  (In the Garden, pg. 109)

Upon reflection, I believe my father was sent back to accompany my mother to heaven at the time of her death.

“Once in a far off time and place, Ellen had processed down the aisle on the arm of her father, Benjamin, to wed the love of her life, Henry.  Now she and Henry, were together forever, in the city of gold… Can you picture Ellen and Henry together again, their  resurrected bodies – renewed, whole, and glorified, leading the angelic victory procession? (In the Garden, pg 133)

Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.

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“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)

Their earthly migratory journey over, two, tired, humbled pilgrims, home at last with their Heavenly Father;  their faith was made visible.  Their faith had seen them through times of suffering, disappointment and grief – times, when they had prayed, “Not my will, but Thine be done,” and their prayers were not answered in the way they would have chosen. Still, they never forsook their Jesus.

(Photo by Larry Monat)

“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, pg. 175)

All their lives together, Henry and Ellen hungered and thirsted after God and cultivated that need with a daily diet of scripture and prayer.  Their faith was only deepened and strengthened through life’s experiences and challenges, giving them a firm hope in the midst of the journey.

On the small farm in west Michigan, where they rooted themselves, they were caught up in the great plan of God, giving their lives an eternal beauty and dignity. “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” (Psalm 62:1)

Hear the voice of their Lord, welcoming them home:

“For they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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