Six Little Ducks I (Never) Knew – A Lesson in Vulnerability

“Six Little Ducks I {Never} Knew” (A Lesson in Vulnerability)

Maggie May noticed them first.  As we left the house on our morning walk, she pulled the leash to the shrub outside our front door.  As she wriggled her nose into the hedge, out flapped a duck, squawking and honking. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. “Oh no.” I thought, “She wouldn’t. Not here.”

Working hard to separate the dense foliage, I held Maggie back and peered inside.  There they were – six pearly white eggs. How had she wedged herself in there?

For weeks I’d watched a pair of mallards, waddling about the neighborhood, Mrs. Mallard obviously heavy with eggs.  I assumed she was looking for a nesting site. It never occurred to me she would choose my yard. When we returned, I checked the shrub again.  Out she flapped.

When I texted my friends with the photo of the eggs, one replied, “She knows you love birds.  You can be a godmother.” Really?  Okay, so I like birds. I find them interesting.  I’ve written books about them; however, I know nothing about ducks.  Zilch, nil, zeeeero,  but even a birdbrain knows that laying a clutch of eggs,  by someone’s front door, is not a good choice.  In plain English, Mrs. Mallard, you are vulnerable!

In Brene’ Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” she notes that vulnerability involves risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure and requires showing up and being seen.  Listening, Mrs. Mallard?

The idea of being a godmother was intriguing. I’m a godmother to a niece, so I know we’re chosen by parents to take an interest in their child’s upbringing and personal development; to take care of them should anything happen to the parents. Being a godmother to ducklings seemed crazy, yet, it was obvious Mrs. Mallard needed help. Even if her eggs survived the snakes, raccoons, deer, chipmunks, foxes, and bears (I’m kidding about the bears), the distance from the nest to the water, the constant activity in and out of the house, and Maggie’s wriggling nose, how would she have the uninterrupted time (a month), necessary to incubate and hatch her eggs?

I remember lyrics to a song I once sang to my children:  “Six little ducks that I once knew; fat ones, skinny ones, pretty ones too…”

My interest growing, I put McCloskey’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings,” on hold at the library, and began researching ducks.  Here’s some of what I learned:  Ducks close one eye in order to put half their brain to sleep, while keeping the other eye and half of their brain awake and alert.  Ducks have a remarkable degree of abstract intelligence.  The female sits very tightly on her nest, her brown plumage blending in perfectly with the surroundings. Amazing, but would any of this help Mrs. Mallard?

A couple days went by.  Stealthy like thieves, we came and went. Except for walks, I kept Maggie inside.

One morning we sneak out for our walk.   I glance at the shrub, envisioning Mrs. Mallard tucked tightly inside, ever the faithful mom sitting on her eggs.  But, alas! There beside the shrub, a scattering of eggshells.  Not wanting to disturb the crime scene, I carefully peer inside. Shells everywhere. Not one egg is intact.   I notice a couple of cigarette butts nearby and I know the raccoons are the villians.

Six little ducks I’ll never know.  I recalled my miscarriage and wondered if Mrs. Mallard felt the same excruciating sadness and loss.

I’d learned ducks feel loneliness, isolation and grief much like humans and since the male’s role is over once the clutch is laid (he remains sexually potent for a while in case a replacement clutch is needed, but gradually loses interest and joins other males to molt), Mrs. Mallard would bear her loss alone.

Later that week, I saw her across the driveway.  I went inside so she could inspect her nest; grieve her loss. Hours later, when I peeked inside, she flew off for the last time. She’d been sitting for hours on a pile of egg shells. It broke

my heart. .

Brown notes that one’s inability to lean in to the discomfort of vulnerability limits the fullness of important experiences, such as uncertainly, love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity – but Mrs. Mallard knows this. She’ll rise strong,* I know.

This fall a hunter will raise a rifle and take aim at a flock of ducks.  Mrs. Mallard could be among them, because she’s my hero – she shows up and is seen. She’s vulnerable. Whether she’s brought down by a bullet or lives to lay another clutch, she’ll always have a place in my heart.

*Rising Strong  by Brene’ Brown

Janet Hasselbring is a retired educator and musician.  She resides in Spring Lake, MI with her husband and Welsh terrier, Maggie May. They winter in FL, where she is inspired to write her children’s book series, Tales from Pelican Cove, featuring the wild/shorebirds of FL and beyond. She has also written a series about her family farm, Country Dairy, including a memoir of her mother, In the Garden, a testament to her mother’s life of faith on the farm, now, Country Dairy. For additional musings on faith, surrender, vulnerability and wild/shorebirds, or to schedule a presentation, visit, or



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 or 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.







Maximus – A Good Therapy dog


Maximus – a Good Therapy Dog

maximus-and-me“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”  Martin Buber

“Good morning Lena,”   I called as Max and I entered her room at the *Fountains Assisted Living Lodge.  Max, my yellow Labrador retriever, and I were on our weekly volunteer assignment.  Max wagged his tail in greeting.  Lena’s eyes lit up when she saw him.  I didn’t mind that she greeted Max before acknowledging me.   After all, he was the therapy; I merely tagged along. He was the main act; I was the sideshow.

I opened the blinds to let in some spring sunshine; then got down to the task at hand.  Max knew the routine.  He flopped down by the side of the bed, with that look – hey, it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.  

“What’s for breakfast?” I asked.  Lena, what was left of her at 90, was sitting up in bed. Her breakfast tray, laden with dishes, hovered in front of her. Lena was essentially bedridden and needed help walking, eating, and dressing.  She opted to eat breakfast in her room and my job was to feed her and get as much nutrition into her fragile frame as possible.

While I fed Lena, Max lifted his head, his nose aquiver with the potpourri of smells wafting his way.  After a few spoons of oatmeal, Lena lost interest.  “What about this coffee cake,” I asked.  “It looks like a special treat.”  “Oh, I’ll save it for later,” she said, so I set the cake on her bedside table and removed the tray so we could talk. At the word “treat,” Max went on full alert.  I should have noticed.

I rearranged her pillows so she could sit back comfortably, then pulled up a chair. We were chatting away, when Lena, making a point, absentmindedly patted the bedcovers.  That was all the invitation Max needed.  With one leap he bounded up from the floor and landed, PLOP, on top of Lena. All 100 lbs. of him!  Thinking he’d squashed the breath out of her, I pulled him away.  Where was she?  I was about to ring for a nurse, when I heard a faint sound like wheezing, coming from her direction. Lena, under a heap of bedcovers and pillows, was barely visible, but a huge smile was plastered on her face.  The wheezing sounds were chuckles.

Relieved we hadn’t killed our patient, I straightened her out as best I could.  “Are you alright?”  I asked.

“I haven’t had a good laugh like this in a long time,” she wheezed. “Good boy,” she said, as she stroked Max’s silky, golden fur. Good dog, Really?   When it was time to go, Max jumped down and an exhausted Lena settled in for a nap. I straightened up and we left. Walking down the hall, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct cluster of crumbs on Max’s nose. That too, I wondered?

Max, majestic as ever, looked straight ahead.  “Don’t even ask…” his eyes seemed to say.maximus-the-magnificent

Another time, I came to play the piano for the residents during the lunch hour. As Max and I walked to the dining room, a fire alarm went off in the building. Max stiffened. I’ll let you in on a secret: for all his 100 lbs., grandeur, and majestic bearing, Max is a wimp.  Beeping smoke alarms, sirens, and thunder – anything with a high frequency, sends him into spasms.  At home, he heads downstairs, where he hides under a desk in my husband’s office – the farthest point from the noise.  I was about to leave, when the director came by.  “False alarm,” she explained.  When the alarm sounded a second time, I headed for the door.  “No, no,” she said. “I’ll go find out what the problem is.  There’s no fire drill scheduled for today.  Please stay.  The people love to hear you play.”

When the ringing stopped, I tethered Max to a chair and told him to lie down. He was still shaking and gave me a worried look.  An aide promised to keep an eye on him, so I proceeded to the piano at the other end of the room.  I was well into my concert of oldies, when the alarm sounded yet again.  I stopped playing and looked across the room where Max was.  He was nowhere to be seen.

“Oh no,” I thought.  Perhaps the aide had taken him outside away from the noise, which this time, didn’t stop.  Finally I spied him.  He was heading to an exit, laboriously pulling the chair along behind.  When I freed him, he looked at me, raw fear in his eyes.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting out of here.

These were just a few of the adventures I enjoyed with Max. He was still a pup when we started volunteering. One of my first assignments was answering phones at the Hospice office. Max was in training then and the staff loved him.  He was allowed free rein of the building. And, he reigned.  Once he returned to my desk with a soup can stuck on his nose.  He had a hard time explaining that one. Another time, he emptied the garbage can in the staff room and finished off a big Mac value meal. To his credit, he had enough manners to leave the condiments.  And the time we were invited to a resident’s birthday party.  She’d invited a few friends to her room for cake.  Max and I stopped by with a card and balloon.  The birthday girl, who was 90, was passing around slices of cake, when one of her friends looked at the plate she was given and said, “Ellen, where’s my cake?  You gave me an empty plate.”  I looked at Max.  Staring straight ahead.  “No matter,” cooed the hostess, unphased.  “Here’s another piece.”  Then she winked at me.  That said it all.

No wonder Max loved doing therapy work.  Laying around, just being himself.  How hard is that? The people adored him. And the payoffs were huge.

That was Max – he was a good therapy dog.    maximus-in-snow

Note:  Max was a Paws with a Cause reject, but he made a great therapy/Hospice dog.  I credit Max with helping us find Pelican Cove, our winter abode in FL. He was loved by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.

*Fountains Assisted Living Center is a fictional name as are the names of the residents in the story.

Hoeing In the Garden – “Her Children Arise and call her Blessed” #1

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 or 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 –  Lessons from Proverbs,”  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.


.                      2014-08-11 14.46.54

Lesson 1 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

     It was week five of my writing class.  As the class members assembled, I looked over my notes one last time before welcoming them to another session of Writing the Short Story.  We had covered a lot in the course and the following week, Week Six, was scheduled to be A Celebration of Writing, the culmination of the course, where students would share a finished piece they had written, edited and polished.  I had a lot of material to cover before then.   I hadn’t wanted to teach the class, but agreed, under pressure, to give it a try.  I was retired after all and supposed to be enjoying my time, wintering, in Florida.  In truth, I would rather have been outside on the tennis court.

     It was time to start, but before I had a chance to welcome everyone,  Barbara piped up. Barbara was from New York and before retirement, had written musicals, some of which had been successful off  – Broadway productions.

     “I have something to say,” she announced. Quiet settled over the room.  “I’m not happy with the way you are teaching the class.”  Instinctively I stiffened, as she proceeded to blast me for talking too much; for teaching at the expense of class participation.  It wasn’t the way she learned and certainly not the way she would teach, were she the instructor.  As the complaints continued,  I glanced around the table, feeling responsible for the class members. I was the instructor after all.  These were my students.  They appeared startled at her visceral outage, their faces a bit gloomy and strained. I sensed some were ready to jump in and defend me.

     Feeling angry and betrayed, I was about to respond in kind, telling her she was out of line, attacking me in front of the class.  Her feelings should have been relayed to me in private.  Then too, my hackles were up over her description of the class structure.  Even though I knew I had been dominating class time with my agenda,  I strongly disliked classes where instructors abdicated their professional responsibility to teach, instead allowing class participation to be the order of the day.

     In the meantime, Barbara still had the floor, her assertions turning into a diatribe.  I needed to do something to regain control.   Suddenly, out of nowhere,  a calm settled over me.  From somewhere came a question:  “What would my mother do?”  And knowing the answer to the question, I  sat back, smiled at Barbara and the others.

     “Thanks for your input, Barbara,” I said.  “I’m sure I have been talking a lot during this class, trying to cover everything I promised in the course outline.  But, let’s change things up today and go with your idea to have more class participation.” With that I invited each of the students to share something they had written, inviting feedback and discussion from the others.  “Would you like to begin Barbara?”  My invitation was genuine, with not a trace of defensiveness or rancor.

      Everyone relaxed.  We spent the rest of the time listening and discussing each other’s writings.  Ever the teacher, I attempted, as best I could, to apply the principles and elements of writing – what I was supposed to be teaching(!), to their works and some of the problems discussed.

      Toward the end of the class, a member spoke up.  “I know you changed today’s agenda to accommodate the wishes of Barbara,” she said, “but I think many of us would like to hear the lesson you had planned for today.  Could we postpone the Celebration of Writing a week and have you do today’s lesson next week?”  Barbara sat mute. Everyone concurred and that’s what we did.

       Barbara didn’t return to the class. Later, alone with her, I suggested she might like to join another group, devoted solely to sharing and critiquing.  As gently as I could, I noted that there might have been a better way for her to handle her comments.

The Celebration of Writing was a huge success for the students and along with their evaluations of the class, both written and shared personally with me, many of them noted how much they appreciated how I handled a challenging situation and turned it into a positive for everyone, without diminishing Barbara.

    Hoeing "In the Garden" #4 - Of Lilies and Sparrows “First attempt to understand, then to be understood,”  was practiced by my mother, Ellen, far before Stephen Covey described it as Habit #5  in his Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.   That day in class, faced with Barbara’s barrage of complaints, I called on that wisdom.

     Interestingly enough, one of my class lecture/discussions, actually the one I postponed because of Barbara, had to do with calling upon archetypes to guide and navigate us in the difficult situations/relationships of life.  Having written In the Garden,  a memoir, of my mother, Ellen, I had come to respect and admire her – her peaceful and victorious death led me to explore the manner in which she lived – and died; however, not until I devised the lessons for the writing course, specifically the lesson on archetypes, in which I state that everyone has at least one archetype, that may lie dormant, until its triggered by some situation in the environment or the conscious/unconscious mental life of the person, did I realize that my archetype is my mother.  Once aroused, the archetype will manifest powers and attributes through you, helping you to become the person you want to be.  Wow!  What a coincidence!

     I think my mother has been my guiding light and mentor for a long while, but it took Barbara to make me aware of it.  My mother’s example, that day, enabled me to take a step back from my defenses, my pride, my “right” ideas – my EGO, and listen, really listen to her – not through my perceptions, my story, but really listen to her  – her needs, her story. With my mother’s help, I was able to place Barbara’s concerns before my own, genuinely trying to understand her instead of needing to be understood myself.

     My mother was a strong, independent woman with high ideals, morals, and principles. Eking out a living on a small farm with Henry, the love of her life, in the 1930’s(she was a city girl, after all), couldn’t have been easy; yet through it all, she invested herself and her beliefs in an Emotional Bank Account that grew dividends over the years.

     For such a strong, independent woman to show me the way to non confrontation, acceptance, understanding, and  exploring winning solutions by listening and caring to and for others, is a wonderful thing to contemplate.  My mother would want me to explain that all the miracles and victories of her life were made possible through her faith in God and the work of the spirit in her life.

     My mother, my archetype, helps me to take the high road in the situations and relationships of my life.  With her guidance, I’m learning not to be confrontational, not to react defensively, to listen to people and care about their feelings, and to create WIN/WIN situations out of problems and challenges.  2015-12-11 13.55.11

      I feel good about the way things worked out that day with Barbara.  Seeking to understand, rather than to be understood, helped me be who I want to be and how I want to be remembered.

                                                          “A Garland and a Chain”

“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 neck.”

(Proverbs 1: 8,9)


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 or 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.”


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;

From Zone to Zone II – “Noontime – The Middle Years”2015-05-13 20.40.58

“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.


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)








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

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 or 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.







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 or 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.


“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.”













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 or 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.


     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 #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 or

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.