Her Children Rise Up… #3 – Give us this day… – “Stollen from Heaven?”

memoir-coverAbout “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), putting down her roots in the place 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.

In this series, “Her Children Arise and call her Blessed –  What My Mother Taught Me”  the author describes her mother as an archetype, guiding her through the rough and tumble of life’s journey, helping her to fulfill her soul’s deepest yearnings and desires,  become 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 and made her extraordinary.

      Christmas 2016  – “Daily Manna – Stollen from Heaven?”


Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7;14)

I. Introduction

Immanuel: God with us.  Words I’ve heard for nearly 70 years.  Words I know  theoretically from reading the Bible.  Words I reflect on at Christmastime.  Words as much a tradition as the stollen, from the local German bakery we enjoy every year.

But, what I know about and reflect on,  my parents knew firsthand.  Just as surely as Jesus was born in a manger, God dwelt with them. The presence of God was so palpable in their lives, in their home, on the farm, where they lived, it was unmistakeable, so visible you could see it, so tangible  you could almost reach out and touch it.  I sense its power even now, as I remember, many years later.

Their realization, every day, every minute, of the Presence of God, stemmed from their experiences on the farm, where they eked out a living and learned to trust in God for their daily needs.

God was with my mother as she went about her daily chores –  guiding the clothes through the dreaded wringer washing machine, hanging them on the line to flap in the breeze, pulling up onions in the garden, and snipping flowers from her garden for a fragrant bouquet.

He was there as my father walked behind the workhorses, Maud and Daize, guiding the plow back and forth across the field, mended the fences, and milked the cows, squeezing their udders to force the flow of milk into the pail.

Though I remember it most vividly in their latter years, when they were free of daily chores, financial worries, and raising children;  still I know God’s presence was there from the beginning. dimmed  perhaps when life came at them hard, but there all the same.

Then, somewhere, along their journey, like a beautifully crafted story, their trust in God for  physical, daily needs translated to a faith in God, as the Source and fountainhead of everything necessary for, the body, not only, but, for the soul as well.

The daily manna became the Bread of Life.


II. Here is their story:

“Their{my parents’] lives would be fashioned and shaped by the farm, and in turn, the farm would forever bear the stamp of their presence.” (In the Garden, pg. 15).

“Ekeing out a living,” describes my parents’ life on the farm (now Country Dairy), where my father brought his bride on March, 1936, after their honeymoon to the Wisconsin Dells.

My father, who grew up on the farm,  worked the land with, and for, his father. They settled up on Saturday nights, and when my father brought home, in cash, his share of the week’s profits, he and my mother first placed ten percent of the earnings in a jar that sat, prominently, on the hutch, in the dining room. Only after the tithe was allocated, were they free to dispense the rest of the money for groceries, school clothes, seeds, a new pair of shoes, a new toy, and if there was enough,  a new hat for Ellen.

That jar was a symbol, early on, that my parents placed their trust in God to supply their daily needs. When children were born, (seven altogether), the daily needs of  food, clothing, shelter, means of travel, religious instruction, education, books, etc.  became increasingly apparent.

Life was hard for my parents back them. If a cow got infected, the entire day’s supply of milk had to be dumped, a badly-timed windstorm could ruin the cherry crop; too much rain and the newly sown seeds would wash away; too  too little and they would lie stagnant.

I “rise up” and remember:  they were poor, yet rich; they faced insurmountable challenges and became strong; they suffered grief and loss, yet found joy; experienced doubts, but were people of great faith; suffered the agony of defeat, but, in the end, knew the glory of victory.  What was the secret of their lives?

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1;14)

III. Through Scripture, prayer and time spent in nature, the God who provided them with daily bread – manna from heaven, became the Source and fountainhead of all things they needed for a healthy, happy, free and harmonious life and became a living Presence dwelling with them.

A.  Scripture:

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” fine words once read after dinner and theorized about in a bible study class, were “realized” as God dwelling with them.  As their faith was honed on the farm, words of Scripture became embedded in their souls and experienced in the rough and tumble of their everyday chores:  their Lord would be present with them;  because He was God, all-good, all-powerful, all-wise and all-loving, they had nothing to fear; they could rely on Him to take care of them and their children; He would supply all their needs, teach them everything they needed to know and guide their steps aright.

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

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

B.  Prayer:

“Give us this day, our daily bread…”     Like Joshua of old, my father committed his family to the Lord – Scripture  and prayer were as much a part of our lives as meals, chores and dishes.  But if prayer, at first, was more of a ritual or habit carried over from their parents, it became, for them, a lifeline; the only real  action available to them, the only thing that can change one’s character.

After a windstorm ruined the cherry crop, or an infected cow forced my father to dump the day’s milk supply, the words of the Lord’s prayer, “give us this day our daily bread,” must have taken on new meaning and urgency.

Daily prayers for a good cherry crop, rain to fall on parched earth, and safety of children walking home from school, always ended with “not my will but Thy will be done,” and became a force for changing their characters and aligning their lives and wills with the divine will of their heavenly Father, transforming prayers for daily bread into a force for accessing the eternal Bread of Life.

When life came at her hard, Ellen often met her Lord “in the garden…”

Ellen in conversation with her Lord, after daughter, Janet broke my arm, jumping out of a swing, needing surgery.   “Ellen, Ellen, why are you crying?” “Oh, my Lord, Janet has broken her arm and we have no insurance.  We had to use next month’s grocery money to pay for the surgery and heaven knows where we will get the money to pay the hospital bills!”  The Lord smiled.  “Ellen,” his voice, soft and tender.  “‘Therefore I say unto you.  Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for the body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat and the body than raiment?'” “Yes, my Lord, but it is not for myself that I come to you.  My children need food and shoes and winter coats and boots for school and…” She could barely go on.  “Please, my Lord, please help me.” Her voice broke off in a sob. “Sometimes I don’t know how we will get along.  There just isn’t enough money…”  It was quiet in the garden.  Then, “Ellen, my child.   ‘Which of you by thought or worry can add one cubit to her stature? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin and yet…Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” “Oh my Lord, forgive me for doubting.  Help me to believe. Sometimes I think we need a miracle around here.”  God smiled.  “Miracles are what I’m good at, my child.  Now go in peace.  Your faith has made you whole.”  Then He was gone. Ellen finished cutting her flowers, thinking about what her Lord had said.  Feeling strangely steadfast and humbled, she went inside to fashion a bouquet and finish her ironing.” (In the Garden, pp 49,50)

More of Ellen’s conversations with her Lord can be found in the memoir, In the Garden)

pair of cardinals

C.  Nature:

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

“Henry spent most of his waking hours outside where he became close to nature and to God. While guiding the plow…he listened to the birds chirping and singing.  He watched the killdeer gliding back and forth on its spindly stick-like legs.  The hawks hovered high over the maple tree as he snapped the tall green asparagus stalks.  He rose with the sun and watched it  rise in the east, arc across the sky and plunge into the western hills, an orange ball of fire, at day’s end. As he went about his chores, Scripture verses he had read and memorized were internalized until they sank into his soul and  were planted there like fertile seeds.  Like the seeds he planted, Henry became an apple tree himself, planted by rivers of water, bearing its fruit in season, with leaves that would never wither and fruit that would never be damaged with wind blight.”  (In the Garden, pg. 35)

“As she {Ellen} went about her daily chores, especially when she was outdoors hanging out clothes or working in her garden or flowerbeds, the truths contained in her daily Scripture reading became real to her and their mysteries unfolded in her heart. The feeling of reverence and awe at a bird’s song or a beautiful sunset were firmly grounded in the belief that the God of Creation was also the God of Scripture… nature was a venue for meeting God and worshipping HIm.” (In the Garden pp 36,37)

Immanuel : God with us; the Word become flesh; the Babe of Bethlehem.


IV.  The Symbol of Bread

A.  Just as eating food is an act that must be done for oneself,  experiencing the Presence of God is something we must access for ourselves – noone else can do it for us.

B.  Realizing God happens “daily,” in the here and now.  The Israelites, wandering in the desert, were told they would be supplied with manna from heaven every day, each one receiving abundant for her needs, but on no account, were they to save it up for the morrow.  Those who lacked faith in God’s promise of “daily” manna, suffered  pestilence or death. My parents lived day by day.  They learned that the best way to prepare for tomorrow, for eternity, is to make today all it can be.

V.   “Stollen from Heaven”

It’s been said that God is “in the details.”  “If God is in the details, we must all on some deep level believe that the truth is in there too.”  (Prose, Reading Like a Writer pg. 196)

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…” As I enjoy a slice of stollen this Christmas, I think of my mother baking bread.  She baked four loaves twice a week and the nine of us could go through them quickly.  Was it then, when she was mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, and forming it into loaves, that God became real to her? Could she see her Lord through the mist, when she unloaded a 10 – lb. bag of flour into the flour bin sending a spray of dust into the air? Did she  think about bread as daily manna as she plucked the freshly baked loaves from the oven and placed them on a rack to cool?  Was she aware of God as her Bread of Life as she slathered slices with butter and set out her homemade jam?


Immanuel : God with us; the Word become flesh; the Babe of Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas.








The Twelve Birds of Christmas – “Spread the Word”

“Spread the Word”
The 12 Birds of Christmas – a series featuring a bird each day of our journey to Bethlehem. May these “things with feathers,” give us hope and inspiration as we prepare for the coming of the Child, whom we anticipate; worship and adore.
It’s fitting we begin our series today, December 8 – my mother’s birthday. She would have been 101 today. She loved birds and as I recount in her memoir, “In the Garden,” birds gave her encouragement when life came at her hard in the 1930’s, when she and Henry lived and worked on the land, now Country Dairy.
The black-capped chickadee was one of her favorite birds and though she and Henry could not coax the chickadee to build a nest in one of their many birdhouses, she was always thrilled when the plump feathered wonder with black cap and bib, alit on a tree nearby and peeled out its “chickadee – dee – dee.”

black capped chickadee
Black – capped chickadee

“On a crisp Monday morning in mid – April, Ellen had just pinned her last bedsheet onto the clothesline, when a little black-capped chickadee perched on a branch overhead, trilling its 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 earlier{pg. 23}.
Ellen felt a deep longing within – it seemed to come from the very depths of her being, her soul, an awakening to nature and the power of birds trilling, breezes blowing, clothes flapping in the wind. It was in that moment 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…But now in a bird’s song, she experienced the God of creation and revelation in her heart. In the bird’s song, the budding of the trees, the cool refreshing breeze and the tulips blooming by the side of the house, she knew her Lord. She didn’t have to worry about her new life on the farm or feel lonely and isolated when Henry left her to do his chores about the farm. With God’s help she could become the housewife she wanted to be for her Henry. She felt strangely moved, changed. She had experienced a kairos moment – a moment out of time…Feeling refreshed, Ellen picked up her clothes basket and went inside.” (ITG pp. 27,28)

mountain chickadee
Mountain chickadee

Ellen’s experience with the chickadee is described in a poem by Emily Dickinson: “Hope is a thing with feathers, that perches in the soul; it sings the song without the words, and never stops at all.”
When nesting is over and the young are on the wing, chickadees form flocks of eight or twelve birds, which roost and forage together until spring. Ellen’s chickadee was likely part of such a flock. Finding food in the winter is tough and hunting in groups increases the chances for success. As the band of birds flits about among the trees and shrubs searching for pupae and insect eggs, they keep an eye out for each other. When one of them discovers a tidbit, the rest of the flock twitter and chirp enthusiastically, spreading the word that food has been discovered. In this way, new food-source bulletins are disseminated throughout the band.
The lesson of the chickadee: “Go tell it on the mountain…” As you journey to Bethlehem this season, spread the message of Jesus’s birth to others – a message of peace, love and hope.
Challenge: Can you find the minute feature which sets the mountain chickadee apart from its black-capped cousin?. Answer below.
Happy Birthday Mom. May you be surrounded by a flock of black – capped chickadees today and may the full – throated ease of their singing fill your soul.
Answer to the challenge: (a white eyebrow)
Note: This post is a tribute to my mother on what would have been her 101st birthday)Hoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrows