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?”

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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?

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

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“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)

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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 “In the Garden” Verse 8 – “From Zone to Zone”

Note:   The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God. At every crossroads of her life, she chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair. “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra. After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in a house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her. There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker. She transformed the house on the hill into a place of beauty and sanctuary for their family.

To view the memoir visit 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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“He, who, from zone to zone,

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,

In the long way that I must trace alone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Where can I go from Thy spirit?  Where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast.”  (Psalm 139: 7 – 10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The lesson she taught me…

“He…in the long way I must trace alone

Will lead my steps aright.”

“Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”  (Psalm 139: 8 – 10)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

2013-04-07 09.37.08

 

“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.