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‘The Lord upholds faltering feet’:

Life lessons from a Heritage Project conversation

I have never met Helen Bosch. I only know her through the email messages we’ve exchanged over the past week. However, even though we’ve never seen each other and we live half a country away, she wants to tell me her story for the Heritage Project. We arrange to sit down one Friday afternoon to meet over Skype.

Helen is 81 years old and I am 21. She is from British Columbia and I am from Ontario. When Helen picks up the Skype call, I see her for the first time. She’s wearing a red cardigan, which contrasts beautifully with her short white hair. She’s sitting on a chair in her den with afternoon sunlight spilling over the room. Her blue eyes are clear and friendly behind her glasses. I’m immediately at ease.

Helen smiles a lot. I shouldn’t let this fool me into thinking she has an easy story, though. No one does.

Helen immigrated to Canada from Friesland in 1961 with her husband and children. They lived in Nova Scotia and Ontario before finding home in Abbotsford, B.C. “I found it very hard,” she says. “The first year I cried a lot.”

Since they had left most of their relatives back in Holland, the term “family” had to expand beyond bloodlines. “The church people become your relatives,” Helen says. They came from Holland with five children and had three more in Canada. Helen says that each time she had a baby, they would send their other children to stay with church families.

Gerald & Helen Bosch in Nov. 2008.

Standing secure

In 1998 her second youngest daughter passed away at the age of 34. It was a difficult season. “These things are hard,” she says. “It was terribly hard. But the Lord is there. We don’t carry these things alone. There are actually a lot of people who lose children. Trust in the Lord. It took us some time, but you grow spiritually through these things.”

“Was there a Bible verse or a passage that you’d think about during that time?” I ask.

Helen pauses for a moment and then leaves the room to get the Blue Hymnal. When she returns, she flips to hymn number 300.

“The Lord upholds the faltering feet,” she reads from the book, “and makes the weak securely stand.”

The rest of the verse is just as powerful:

The burdened ones, bowed down with grief,
Are helped by His most gracious hand.
The eyes of all upon Thee wait;
By Thee their wants are all supplied;
Thy open hand is bountiful,
And every soul is satisfied.

“Everybody’s experience is different,” Helen says about grief. “After our daughter passed away, the people who lost a child themselves were the most comforting. They would just say ‘how are you?’ It’s not in a lot of words. It’s just feeling.”

Halfway through the conversation, Helen tells me that even though it has been 18 years since her daughter’s passing, another one of her daughters recently brought over flowers as a way of remembering.

“Did you want to see them?” Helen asks.

“Sure,” I say. “I’d love to see them.”

She brings back the vase from the living room and holds them up to the Skype camera. They are beautiful.

“Some roses,” she says, turning the vase slightly and pointing at the different flowers. “There’s baby’s breath with it. Some white roses and some red ones and some carnations.” She sets them down on the wooden table behind her chair. They sit there for the rest of our conversation like a symbol of beauty in hard places. I think about what Helen has repeated a few times already: trust in the Lord.

We begin to talk about the war and what it was like to grow up in that space. “I was about five when the war started and I remember it very well,” Helen says.

Then, she tells me a story.

The things that linger

“One night, I had just had the light on and I heard planes. My mom and dad had always said ‘if you hear planes, put the light off.’ So I heard planes, put the light off, but there came a bomb in the kitchen of our neighbours. It was a big hole the next morning. And I never told my parents that I was the one who had the light on and put it off quick. And my parents, when they came the second time to Canada, my dad was mentioning that yet: that our neighbour’s kitchen had been bombed. And the shrapnel lay by their boys in bed. And then I told my dad that it was me who had had the light on. There are these things that are always in your mind. Somewhere. It’s far buried, but it comes up now and then.” The tops of the white roses are visible behind her. Memory can be a wise teacher.

Before we say good-bye, Helen leaves me with one final verse, which has been the anchor of our entire conversation. It’s Proverbs 3:5.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

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