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.

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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.