God Leads in Perplexities, Joys and Sorrows
by Stober, Iris Hayden
The Fifth Girl
In 1933, my parents, Howard and Minnie Hansen, lived on the Ayrshire farm near Ruthven, Iowa. Dad loved those rolling hillocks where his potatoes grew as big as bricks, and his corn produced ears nearly a foot long. Selling milk, eggs, chickens, and garden produce provided weekly spending money. A part of the oats, corn, and alfalfa was sold for cash at harvest time, while the remainder was kept to feed the livestock and stored in the big barn and out-lying sheds. Besides the outbuildings, there was a white, wooden two-story house with a spacious front porch which rollicked with the activity and laughter of four girls—Stella, MaryEtta, Rozella (“Rosy”), and Shirley. Soon a fifth child would bless the home.
In that Scandinavian community, and especially in our Danish and German family culture, sons were important. Dad, of course, wanted a boy to help tend the farm. Carl, Dad’s older brother, had openly voted for a boy. Carl, himself, had four boys, so he thought he understood his brother’s situation because he wanted a girl more than anything. Besides, surely the odds were that after four girls, my parents could expect a boy!
On December 4, 1933, Dad drove his tractor through the falling snow to use the neighbor’s phone to call the doctor. Mom was in labor. Eventually, the doctor arrived along with the neighbor lady. Hospitals at that time were seen by many as a place to die, so most babies were delivered at home. Not long after their arrival, I made my entrance into the world, a healthy, blue-eyed, fair-skinned tow-head. But what a disappointment! Here was another daughter, the fifth girl.
Even though the family had hoped for a boy, Mom and my four sisters had considered the possibility that they might need another girl’s name. When Mom was pregnant with me, she often read The Bedtime Stories to my sisters. The one the girls liked the most was, “Iris Does the Ironing.” As the story goes, little Iris was left alone for a few minutes while her mother ran to the store. Her mother instructed Iris not to touch the iron. Though she was fine at first, Iris decided she wanted to “help” her mother by doing the ironing. This resulted in burning the ironing board and ruining her favorite dress, as well as her mother’s best dress. So, my sisters wanted me to be named “Iris.” As for a middle name, Mom chose “Sadie,” which originated with my mother’s older sister. All the girls in my family were given middle names honoring relatives, except MaryEtta. Her first name combined the names of two relatives. So, after much deliberation, I became “Iris,” Iris Sadie Hansen.
When it came time for my oldest sister, Stella, to go to school, Dad and Mom talked long and hard over what they should do. It was two “country” miles to the rural school, a bit far for a first-grader to walk alone each day. It was neither convenient nor a good use of work time for Dad to leave his farm work each day to drive Stella to school. If Mom were to escort her, she would have to bundle up the younger ones and take them along. They decided that the best solution was for Stella to live with Grandma and Grandpa Hansen in Ruthven and attend school in town.
So, little Stella moved to Ruthven, but on weekends she returned home. This worked well except for one minor detail. Living in the country meant we had not been exposed to childhood communicable diseases, and, you guessed it, Stella contracted chicken pox. She didn’t get very ill, but she managed to bring it home to all four of her younger siblings, who became miserably sick. Other diseases followed. Eventually, Stella brought home whooping cough, the well-known killer of children. My sisters recovered quickly, but I wasn’t even a year old at the time, and I did not get well. After my high-pitched “whoops” subsided, the dreaded pneumonia took possession of me.
The doctor came but offered little hope for my recovery.
Mom asked him, “Shouldn’t we take her to the hospital?”
“Mrs. Hansen,” he responded, “You are taking as good care of her as they would in the hospital. Besides, either in the hospital or at home, it is improbable she will survive.”
The doctor knew all too well what happened to many young children with this disease. If they didn’t die of asphyxia or convulsions, brain damage might take them. Antibiotics, the wonder drugs of the future, were still being developed. In another six years, doctors could vaccinate children against pertussis (whooping cough), but nothing was able to help me.
This placed an overwhelming responsibility on my young mother. She and Dad prayed earnestly over me, “Please God, give us wisdom. Give Iris healing. We don’t want to lose this child. We know many other people have lost their children to whooping cough, but, Lord, please heal this one!”
Church members and extended family learned of our crisis and also prayed. This baby girl who should have been a boy had become incredibly special to the family and surrounding community.
Mom’s father, Daniel Johnson, had once worked at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. It was there that he had learned about hydrotherapy. He had taught this method of healing to my Mom, and she now applied that knowledge to my care. She gave me hot and cold treatments, mustard plasters, cold compresses, steam, as well as other techniques she had learned. She moved my small crib to the dining room so she could monitor me while still caring for the family. For weeks, she treated me. It was no easy task to repeatedly boil up cotton pads, wring them out with towels and old sheets, wrap them in wool, and place them strategically on my soft baby skin so as not to burn me but still produce the best circulation possible.
There were times when my fingers and ears were so transparent that Mom thought I had died, but after a moment, I took another breath. No, God did not suddenly heal me, but he did give Mom wisdom in caring for me. At last, the infection subsided, but it was many months, perhaps years, before I looked like a healthy child.
That was a tough year for Mom and Dad. The depression, though partially over, continued to make life difficult. Money was in short supply. With all the children sick and the baby barely surviving with pneumonia, it was a long, long winter. There was little time to visit neighbors, and no one in my family was able to go to church. In addition, while Mom was struggling to keep up with the housework, another baby was on its way. Fortunately, Dad had learned how to do some cooking and could help her, though this made it difficult to keep up with the outside work. Occasionally, a teenage girl came out to help him.
The six of us paused in our work of getting corn cobs for the stove. I am peaking around the door.
In February, the new baby arrived: a son which they named Lyle. Finally, Howard and Minnie Hansen had their boy. This time Uncle Carl approved. That event was a joyous occasion and the high point of the year.
In the spring of 1934, after my pneumonia had cleared, Mom and Dad decided they should visit Minnesota to see Mom’s relatives. Once we arrived, Grandma Johnson took one look at me and declared, “Minnie, I don’t think that baby is going to make it.”
Mom was devastated. After all the work and prayers she had invested in this child, she had to ask herself once again, “Am I going to lose Iris?”
Fortunately, Grandma Johnson’s prediction never came true.
Many years later, my mom and I were looking at pictures, and I asked, “Why are there no baby pictures of me?”
She replied, “My child, you looked so scrawny and so sickly that you would not have wanted any pictures.”
Of course, I do not remember all this history. These stories were told to me many times by Dad and Mom. They always emphasized their belief that it was a miracle I healed from whooping cough and pneumonia. As I was growing up, they repeatedly said, “God saved you for a purpose.”
This impacted my life in a grand way. Like every child on earth should feel, I felt special and that I was destined for some unique and important work.
End of preview.
Here is the Table of Contents of the complete book:
Chapter 1 — The Fifth Girl
Chapter 2 — Farm-Grown
Chapter 3 — The Heart of My Inspiration
Chapter 4 — God Stands at the Fork in the Road
Chapter 5 — In the Days of My Youth
Chapter 6 — God’s Footprints are in the Shadows
Chapter 7 — Pastures Green; Waters Still
Chapter 8 — In Righteous Paths, Puerto Rico
Chapter 9 — New Righteous Paths, Nicaragua
Chapter 10 — Yea, Though I Cry
Chapter 11 — Supported by God’s Staff
Chapter 12 — Remembering Them
Chapter 13 — Restoring My Soul
Chapter 14 — Nicaraguan Graduation
Chapter 15 — Nothing Lacking, Seattle
Chapter 16 — My Cup Runs Over, Honduras
Chapter 17 — In Unfamiliar Paths, The GC
Chapter 18 — His Sheep Know His Voice, London
Chapter 19 — Faithful Shepherd, First Promise Fulfilled
Chapter 20 — Faithful Shepherd, Second Promise Fulfilled
Chapter 21 — Faithful Shepherd, Third Promise Fulfilled
Chapter 22 — His Goodness And Mercy
Chapter 23 — In The House of My Lord