Hoeing in the Garden – To a Waterfowl, Verse 7 – “Thou Art Gone…”

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), 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.

 

“Her Children Rise Up…”

“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 memoir, In the Garden, I describe the times I spent with my mother during her last years. Though those weren’t her best years, health-wise, those kairos moments, charged with eternity, changed my life.

As she lay dying, I sat at her bedside, mesmerized, as she traveled back and forth on the pathway to Heaven.   I listened as she talked, lucidly, with Henry, my father, who was there in the room.  It wasn’t until later, when I’d acquired some objectivity, I realized that my father was sent, along with the angels, to accompany my mother home to heaven.  It was then I knew I would write her story.

“On the morning my mother died, I stood…as the funeral home attendants prepared to take her body away. The house was eerily still, deafeningly quiet.  The life was gone from the house on the hill.  I knew she had flown away to her heavenly home, where she was free of pain and sorrow, but I didn’t want her to go. A voice, from somewhere deep inside of me, thundered, “No! No!  (In the Garden, pp.109, 110)

My cry echoed at the funeral…

“At the interment we stood staring at the gaping hole that would hold the remains of our mother, grandmother and great grandmother.  Suddenly a child’s cry pierced the air. One 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 shovelfuls of sand heaped on her lowered casket reminded us that she was gone from us and the house on the hill forever.  We were left to mourn her absence in our lives.”  (In the Garden, pg. 112)

C.S. Lewis describes the sobering significance of losing one’s mother:

“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.”

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

And so I began to research and gather information about my mother’s life.  I went deep within her life. I attempted to walk in her footsteps. The more I learned, the more I realized that her death was victorious and peaceful, because of the way she lived. At every crossroads of her life, when she faced a defining, “why” moment, she chose faith over doubt, hope over despair, acceptance over resignation, good over evil, and love, which has no opposite.  She surrendered her ego to the will of her heavenly Father – in a sense, “she died before she died.”

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)

As I reflected and wrote, the mystique of those last years became clearer:

“When I think of my mother, I do not think of her as infirm, frail, or weak.  I see a wrinkled worn face creased with a smile of greeting.  I remember a serene, gentle person radiating beauty and holiness, vibrant peace and stillness, contradictory though it may seem.  There was no interruption or distortion blocking the light which beamed from her countenance, the sunshine of God streaming through her.  She seemed transparent.” (ITG pg. 135)

“…yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given…”

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

“Her children rise up – and call her blessed.”

Note: The author’s memoir, In the Garden, tells the story of “An ordinary woman, an extraordinary life”

 

 

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“All I Really Need to Know, I Learned from my Mother” #1 A Tribute for Mother’s Day

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), 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.

 

“All I Really Need to Know, I Learned from my Mother – A Mother’s Day Tribute 2017”

“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)

Amazing Grace Dec. 8, 1914 – Sept. 1, 2005

I gaze at my mother’s gravestone, amazed that a simple dash, set between the dates of my mother’s birth and her death, can comprise her life – her birth to a well-to-do-family, her happy precocious childhood, her romance and marriage to the love of her life, Henry, my father, their life together on a small farm in west Michigan in the 1930’s, where they eked out a living and raised their family, their retirement after selling the farm to Wendell, their son, Henry’s death, my mother’s declining health that resulted in her being infirm and homebound the last years of her life, and her peaceful and victorious death.

That simple audacious dash is a sobering reminder that when we die, everything associated with the physical realm of form – our money, possessions, career, clothes, friends, and yes, even our egos, dissolve.  Our life experiences become part of the “memory bank” we leave behind, but the solemn truth is this:  with our last breath, we are stripped, bare to the soul, to the very essence of who we “are.” Not “who” we knew, “what” we did, or “where” we lived, but the “constant radiation” of what we are at the core of our being.

The “essence” of my mother is what stays with me in the years after her death – the “serene beauty of a holy life,” that grows stronger with time and reflection.

“Ellen’s last years weren’t her best years, heath wise, but time spent with her, during these last years, as rich and rewarding. Moments spent with her were moments lived in the present, moments of eternity – kairos moments.  As her body withered and faded, something remarkable was happening.  She grew weaker, yet her spirit waxed stronger.  She was helpless, dependent and vulnerable.  Her skin was thin as an onion’s, yet she glowed with an inner radiance that was otherworldly.  It was as though the sunshine of God’s face was shining through her, this emptied tired, humbled, ordinary pilgrim.”  (In the Garden, pp 105,106)

“Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil – the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his/her life.  This is simply the constant radiation of hat a person really is, not what he/she pretends to be.”  (Wm George Jordan)

One of the most endearing things about my mother is how her faith grew and matured through the challenges of her life on the farm.  It’s in her struggles during these defining moments, that I find guidance and direction for my life. Her life was grounded on Scriptures and prayer, where she came to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of the covenant.  She communed with the God of creation as she picked string beans in the garden, trimmed and tended her beloved roses, and hung sheets on the clothesline, but it was in the “why” moments, when life came at her hard, and it often did, that she came to know the Lord and Master of her life.

     My mother was naturally strong emotionally, fiercely independent, self-reliant and she possessed a healthy self-image; however, when she came to the end of herself, was unable to cope or continue on in her own strength, she threw herself on the mercies of her Lord and prayed the prayer that would become her mantra:  Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

The essence of my mother’s life is surrender. Giving up her will and submitting her ego to the will of her Lord, didn’t mean she became weak, vacillating, compromising, or shilly-shallying.  Quite to the contrary. She was absolutely tenacious where her faith was concerned, but her conversation was without ego and judgment.  She was gentle as a lamb; powerful as a tigress – she is my hero. I love and adore her.

Stay tuned – this series continues with the words of Jesus in The Sermon on the Mount, words that come alive for me in the lif e of my mother.  It is said that “seeing is believing,” and her life personifies for me the truth of the Scriptures.  “Blessed are the meek…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?”

stollen-1

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)

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Her children call her blessed #2 – “Help! Life Doesn’t Make Sense!”

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

To view the memoir visit http://www.principia.com or http://www.janethasselbring.com. In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.

In this series, “Her Children Arise and call her Blessed –  What My Mother Taught Me”  the author describes how her mother has become her archetype, guiding her through the rough and tumble of life’s journey, helping her to fulfill her souls’ deepest yearnings and  desires, becoming the person she wants to be, and how she wants to be remembered. She recalls challenging, interesting experiences and times when she called upon the wisdom of her mother and the traits that transformed this ordinary woman’s life and made it extraordinary.

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Help!  Life Doesn’t Make Sense!

“Listen my son, to your father’s instruction

 and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your head.”  (Proverbs 1:8,9)

      …talking with good friends about God and faith.  They’d purchased my mother’s memoir,  “An Ordinary Women, An Extraordinary Life,”  as a gift for their daughter, who was going through rough times.  After reading the Foreword, which states why I felt compelled to write my mother’s story, they were returning it.  “We cannot believe in a God that allows tragedy to inflict pain and suffering on people,” they stated, citing the Holocaust, terrorist regimes, and wars as  examples.

      I knew something of their pain.  I’ve had my own doubts and questions as I watched someone I loved suffer.  Books about the Holocaust and visits to Dachow and Aushwitz sickened me.   As a teenager, I read the Diary of Anne Frank.  When I visited her family’s cramped quarters in Amsterdam, the reality of the injustice, cruelty, and inhumanity hit me all over again.  My friends are Jewish and their outrage at the horrors the Nazi regime inflicted on their people, has a personal quality  I cannot experience.

It’s hard to make a rational argument for faith in the light of such pain and suffering.  I was silent as they railed against God – the God of my parents, who in their view,  was unfit for the title and office of the Almighty.  They  sounded angry and bitter. They’d put God on trial and He came up short.  This encounter and others like it, make me realize and appreciate what my parents taught me and instilled in me and my siblings:  a reverence and fear of the Lord.

Theirs was no Pollyanna faith.  They were aware of evil and injustice in the world.  In addition, they experienced their own heartbreaks – eking out a living on a small farm, in the middle of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, losing a daughter in the prime of her life, and a son to the war – a son who survived the jungles of Nam, but never returned home. In the face of it all, they never forsook their Lord.  In the crucible of suffering, their faith was strengthened.

  Eking out a living on a small farm had its challenges.  “A sick cow could contaminate and ruin the entire batch of milk.  Too little rain and the newly planted seeds could suffocate; too much and they would wash away.  A windstorm could destroy the entire cherry crop.  Too make matters worse, the cherries would have to be picked  and dumped to insure the success of next year’s crop.”  (In the Garden, pg. 32)  They were never the same after the death of their daughter or the estrangement of their youngest son.  In their grief, they most certainly cried out to their God, “How will we feed our children with the cherry crop ruined?  Why did our precious daughter have to die? Why?  Why?  At the end of their despair, they fell silent and bowed to the infinite wisdom of the Almighty.  It never would have occurred to them to forsake their Lord, even in the midst of their pain.

What was the key to their strong, uncompromising faith?   Having written the memoir, I’d  already reflected on my parents’ faith – founded on the promises of Scripture, solidified through prayer and grounded in the majestic cathedral of nature, where so many of the details of their lives were carried out.

  Scripture  – My father was a Joshua of old:  “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24;15) My parents began and ended their days with prayer and Scripture, and during the day, our meals began with prayer, concluded with Scripture, a lively, heated family discussion, and closing prayer.

Prayer – My parents knew that prayer was the only way to change things.  “They hid God’s word in their hearts as the sun arced across the heavens.  Thus, they were strengthened and fortified for the vicissitudes of the day.  With (Scripture and} morning prayers they sought access to the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings; {Scripture and} evening prayers brought them back under their heavenly Father’s protective wings. Daily devotions were their spiritual milk.”  (In the Garden, pp 116,117)

“Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

hawk soaringNature – My parents’ faith was honed on the farm.  Both of them, but especially my father, spent many hours out of doors, where they became close to nature and to God. I can imagine him, guiding the handheld plow across the fields, behind our workhorses, Maud and Daize, my father listened to the birds chirping, the killdeer gliding to and fro on its spindly legs, and the hawks soaring high overhead.

“As he went about his daily chores, Scripture verses he’d read and memorized were internalized until they were embedded into his soul and became planted there like fertile seeds. ” (In the Garden, pg. 35)

My mother too, encountered her Lord in the out of doors.  As she hung her newly washed clothes on the line outside. a black – capped chickadee perched on a branch nearby and trilled its little heart out.mountain chickadee

“Oh, you beautiful little creature,” Ellen called. Something in that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope. She felt a deep longing within…an awakening to nature and the power of birds singing, trees budding, breezes blowing, and bedsheets flapping in the wind.  It was at that moment, Ellen knew there was a power beyond al that she could see, smell, hear and feel.”  (In the Garden, pg. 27)

The stillness inherent in the sounds of the clumping hooves of Maud and Daize, the rustling leaves of the majestic maple tree, the chirp of the killdeer and the trilling of the chickadee translated to a stillness within – a sacredness connecting them to the formless, the intelligence beyond thought – God Himself.

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

   The secret of my parents’ deep, unwavering faith was surrender to the will of God and looking beyond earth’s trials to heaven.

Surrender – My parents joined the ranks of the spiritual greats, who throughout history, in the face of great loss, illness, imprisonment or impending death, accepted the seemingly unacceptable, thereby finding, “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  According to Eckhart Tolle, “acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in the world.”  There is a certain recognizable crusty hardness about people who are resigned to life and its hardships.  Madeleine L’Engle states that there is the finest line separating acceptance and resignation; however, choosing one over the other, will make all the difference in the way you live your life.

My parents showed no signs of crust whatsoever.  At the end of their lives, they were tired, empty, humbled pilgrims.  My father died suddenly and peacefully in his eighties; however my mother lived to be 90.  We had the privilege of watching her die a serene, victorious and peaceful death (an experience which led me to write her story).

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Looking beyond – “Their faith enabled them to see life beyond the cornfields, the cherry orchards, the clothesline, and the garden, and  helped them through the  disappointments of a blighted cherry crop, rotted potatoes, diseased cows, and sick children.  My parents never slighted their duties or responsibilities; however, beyond it all, they saw their eternal inheritance.

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

Aslan

My parents started out trusting in the God of the Old Testament, the more impersonal God of the covenant.  As time went on and their faith was tried in the crucible of suffering, the Almighty God evolved into their Lord of the New Testament.  There is no more appropriate description of the God they came to love, fear, and revere than that penned by C.S. Lewis in his imaginative, insightful tale for children of all ages – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

     “Is he a man?”  asked Lucy?  “Aslan a man?”  said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great emperor – Beyond – the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts?  Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

     “Ooh!”  said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he – quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

     “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver,  “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just plain silly.”

     “Then he isn’t safe?”  said Lucy.

     “Safe?”  said Mrs. Beaver.  “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  but he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

I conclude that while pain and suffering are and always will be part of life, we can choose how to deal with it and that choice will make all the difference in how we live.  Interestingly, while my friends couldn’t believe in a God that would allow senseless things to happen, my parents believed that life makes absolutely no sense apart from God.

Faith is what they taught us, faith is what they lived, and faith is my choice – by the grace of God.

 

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 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 –  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.

 

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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 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;

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.

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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.

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“Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven

Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

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

 

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

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness,

All that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life.

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

but no more of the old security.

It was sea and island now.

The great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”

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

 

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

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

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

The day of her funeral…

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

And shall not soon depart.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

To a Waterfowl #6 – I’ll Fly Away

Note: The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God at the crossroads of her life. In the midst of the “why,” moments of her ife, she chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair. “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra. After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in the house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her. There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker, transforming their home into a place of beauty and sanctuary. To view the memoir visit http://www.principia.com or http://www.janethasselbring.com. In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.

“I’ll Fly Away..”

“And soon that toil shall end,

Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,

And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

“And soon thy toil shall end…”

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

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

“My Lord, is it You calling?”

“Yes, Ellen, it is time.”

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

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

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

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

Spiritual teacher and philosopher, Emmet Fox agrees:

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

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

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

Heaven was Ellen’s ultimate destination.

And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.

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

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

(Photo by Larry Monat)

“Faith is what God asks of us.  His invisibility is the test of faith.  To know who sees Him, God makes Himself invisible.”  (Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand, pg. 175)

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

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

Hear the voice of their Lord, welcoming them home:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To a Waterfowl #5 “In the Garden” – “Faith – All the Way to Lake Michigan… “

 

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 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.

“Then saw a new heaven and a new earth…” (Revelation 21:1)

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“All day thy wings have fanned,

At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere;

Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,

Though the dark night is near.” (To a Waterfowl, verse 5, William Cullen Bryant)

 

 

“My parents had a little porch on the front of their house, where they loved to sit in the cool of the evening, after their daily chores were done, and look out over the countryside.  The porch was built for two, though with a bit of squeezing, it could accommodate four.  Here they communed with nature, tired, but happy and contented after a hard day’s work.  Long after the sun set over the western hills, they sat, enjoying the cool breezes, listening to the crickets singing and the frogs croaking.  On a clear day, my father, Henry, claimed he could see all the way out to Lake Michigan.” (In the Garden, pp 50,51)     3e828-viewfromporchatgrandma

Now it was approximately a 30′ drive from our house to Stony Lake and beyond to Lake Michigan and in between there were many hills, curves in the road, fields of alfalfa and corn, and apple and cherry orchards, so it would take some doing to be able to see past (or out/over) all of that to the sparkling blue waters of Lake Michigan; however, whether or not my father really could see the lake from our house is immaterial to me.

I love that my father would make such a claim. He knew the lake was there and if he and Ellen set out for the lake,  it would appear at the end of the drive, in all is beauty and majesty.  It was a statement of faith, and to me his claim is an allegory of his, and my mother’s, faith.  Just as my father claimed he could see all the way to Lake Michigan on a clear day, so firm was my parents’ faith in God, they believed they could “see” all the way to heaven from the house on the hill, on their small farm in western Michigan.

My parents’ lives were founded on the scriptures and prayer.  Spending time out of doors, they came to know and worship the God of creation.  Their faith was strengthened through life’s experiences, giving them hope and comfort in the midst of trials, disappointments and challenges.  When life on the farm came at them hard – an infected cow resulting in the day’s entire supply of milk being dumped, a windstorm ruining the cherry crop, fluctuating market prices resulting in minimal profits from the asparagus or bean crop, too much rain washing out newly-sown seed, and too little causing measly, shriveled up plants – my parents learned to view life in terms of eternity.

Just as my father believed that he could see all the way to Lake Michigan, but would have to drive over the hills and past the fields and orchards to get there, so it was with seeing all the way to heaven:

“Their faith enabled them to see past the cornfields, the cherry orchards, the clothesline, and the garden, to see life beyond.  Their faith helped them see through the disappointments of a blighted cherry crop, rotted potatoes, diseased cows, and a sick child. Faith helped them to see, at the end of it all, their eternal inheritance.”  (In the Garden, pg. 118)

My parents’ faith was not a cowardly escapism or ostrich-like wishful thinking.  Not at all.  The more they looked “all the way to heaven,” the more seriously they took their earthly responsibilities, but now they worked, loved, cared, and struggled with a new dimension:  at the end of a hard day’s toil, they turned everything over to God.

C.S. Lewis describes it this way:

“Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is one of the things a Christian is meant to do….If you read history, you will find that those, who did most for the present world, thought most of the next….Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.”  (C.S. Lewis, Christian Behavior)

Eckhart Tolle, in his book,  A New Earth, describes heaven not as a place, but an inner realm of consciousness.   

Emmet Fox, in his book, The Sermon on the Mount,  weighs in on the subject of heaven in his explanation of the verse, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”

“To ‘see’ in the sense referred to here, signifies spiritual perception, and spiritual perception means just that capacity to apprehend the true nature of being which we all so sadly lack….Heaven lies all about us – it is not a distinct locality afar off in the skies, but all around us now – …Heaven is the religious name for the Presence of God; Heaven is infinite;…Heaven is Eternity;…Heaven is the realm of Spirit,… To ‘see’ God is to apprehend Truth as it really is, and this is infinite freedom and perfect bliss.”  (Emmet Fox, Sermon On the Mount, pp.37,38)

This “inner realm of consciousness,” described by Eckhart and “spiritual perception,” by Fox, became increasingly evident in my parents’ lives; however, their belief in heaven, was a literal one.  They very much believed it to be a place, where they would one day meet their Lord.  And, with a faith like theirs, I’m inclined to think they’re right.

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And what of our shorebird, flapping along, high on the thermals, making his way homeward?

“You have been flapping your wings all day high in the sky. continue on, even though night is near and and beckons beneath you.”

“…Stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,

though the dark of night is near. ” (To a Waterfowl, verse 5)

 

 

 

To a Waterfowl #4 – In the Garden – “The Dash to the Finish Line”

 

 

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.

 

 

“There is a power whose care

Teaches thy way along that pathless coast

The desert and illimitable air,

Lone, wandering, but not lost.”  (verse 4, To a Waterfowl, William Cullen Bryant)

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On my mother’s gravestone, is the following designation: Dec 8, 1914 – Sept 1, 2005. I gaze at the brief combination of numbers and letters that summarize my mother’s lifespan. I marvel that a single dash (-), set between the dates of her birth and death, while only a symbol, can somehow, comprise her life.  You mean the countless hours I spent writing my mother’s memoir – ‘a reflective rearrangement of actual events’ (Larry Woiwode, What I Think I Did), describes something as brief as a dash??
Thinking further about this, I realize that Bryant’s beloved poem is a reminder that life – that “dash,” is, essentially, a migratory journey, which starts with our first gasp of air and ends with the last. One grand pilgrimage with many and various secondary trips throughout.

The one (secondary) experience that would define my mother’s earthly pilgrimage was marrying my father, Henry and moving with him to the little farm in west MI, to the house on the hill, where they lived together for over sixty years and where they both would die.

(March 1936) “It was only 1 1/2 miles from her {Ellen’s} childhood home in town to her new home, but it might as well have been 100, so great was the contrast between her leisurely, cultured and bountiful life in town and the life she would experience on the farm. Bountiful would take on a new meaning for her there.” (In the Garden, pg. 21) Again: “Nothing in Ellen’s life, growing up in a comfortable, well-to-do home in the 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.” (In the Garden, pg. 22)

Things with feathers...

“There is a power whose care…”

“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 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)

The poem causes me to reflect upon when my mother first become aware of “a power” that would “teach her way…” When did she come to know the presence of God in her life – a power that would become the bedrock and center of her and Henry’s lives? As I read through the memoir, I’m amazed to find a passage where I described Ellen’s awakening to a personal awareness and consciousness of God’s presence in her life:

“Ellen had learned about God in church and Sunday School and had publicly professed her faith when she was eighteen.  She and Henry had promised, in their wedding vows, to make God the center of their home.”  (In the Garden, pg. 27)

“On a crisp Monday morning in mid-April(1938), Ellen had just pinned her last bed sheet onto the clothesline, when a little black-capped chickadee perched on a branch overhead, trilling its little heart out.  “Oh you beautiful creature,”  Ellen called.  Something about that plump little bird lifted her spirits and gave her a burst of hope.

She felt a deep longing within – it came from the very depths of her being, from her soul.  It was an awakening to nature and the power of the birds’ singing, trees budding, breezes blowing and clothes flapping in the wind.  It was then she knew there was a power beyond all that she could see, smell, hear and feel.

Now in a bird’s song, she experienced the God of creation and revelation.  God was in the bird’s song… She didn’t have to worry about her new life or feel lonely or 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 Henry’s sake…” (In the Garden, pp.27,28)

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise;  you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways… You hem me in, behind and before;  you have laid your hand upon me.  such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”  (Psalm 139:1-6)

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Though it was on the farm, doing her daily chores, that Ellen, became conscious of the presence of God and cultivated a deeply personal trusting relationship with her Lord, the “power” had been there all along – at her birth, throughout their migratory journey, and at the end.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  (Psalm 139:13 – 15)

I stand and gaze at her gravestone:  “Dec 8, 1914 – Sept 1, 2005”

And, I hear the words of the psalmist, once more:

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