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 #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)

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“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)