Every year, at this time, I like to post something to celebrate the 38 years I spent with one of the kindest man I’ve ever known, someone who grew up having his mother tell him to try to keep peace with everybody. He was a boy picked on in school, maybe because he would not defend himself.
What I am going to write about this year I had thought to bury and take with me to the grave. I never told him about it because I didn’t want to make him sad. I thought it was sad enough that I couldn’t correspond to the great love he showed me.
The only reason I’m writing this is because I heard the “Voice,” the one I know so clearly and have learned to obey, telling me this should be the subject this year. I hope it will help somebody. That is the only reason I even keep this blog, so that maybe something I write will help a fellow wanderer.
On this picture, I am madly in love. It was an awesome moment when we exchanged engagement rings on December 31, 1968. You do that in Sweden. You decide on a date, buy the rings, and exchange them. I think the way they do it here in the United States is so much more romantic; to have the guy surprise the girl.
It really doesn’t matter how it happens, just that it does; and most importantly, the it lasts! That’s the part I want to tackle today.
Love is like a fragile flower
Love is like a fragile flower in a beautiful garden. That is my definition. The sad thing for me was that the fragile flower of my love was trampled on early on. And it never bloomed with the same fragrance again! I tried! But the beauty of that first and wonderful love was lost.
This reminds me of Jesus speaking to one of the churches in Revelation (2:4), that he had this thing against them, that they had abandoned their first love. It is a sad thing to lose your first love.
Bengt and I were madly in love. I was head over heels in love with the guy. He made my head spin! He made me pregnant! I was on top of the world!
We were working as missionaries in Peru together with my parents. They were going to leave us for a while to take a furlough. They knew we had a lot on our plate: the church, the bookstore, my pregnancy, and the fact that Bengt had not yet learned the language. Out of the kindness of their hearts they found someone to “help” us. Christina came into the picture.
Christina in the picture
Bengt was very innocent in his ways and thinking. He couldn’t keep a bad thought if he wanted to. Christina was boy-crazy. I wasn’t very kind to her (which I deeply regret), because from the beginning she was too friendly with Bengt and, in my opinion, he was too friendly with her. I will not go into details, but when I was lying in bed struggling with my pregnancy they were having fun in the kitchen. The bedroom was just above the kitchen!
What really set me off was hearing her say, “Shall we have some of ‘our’ Kaviar?” In the Andes Kaviar is like precious gold. You probably should be a Swede to understand the value of Kaviar in a foreign country, especially before the time when you could order things from IKEA. Kaviar came in a tube, like toothpaste! You squeezed it on hard-boiled eggs.
There were two houses on the property. We stayed in the big one, Christina in the small one. In the mornings, Bengt would open the window and joyfully greet Christina in the small house from our bedroom on the second floor. This joyful greeting got to me and I complained about it. Bengt didn’t see anything wrong in it, and since he was friendly by nature, this went on.
Some British missionaries who visited us from time to time were also “hit” by Christina. The wife and I talked about it, because she was also upset at the way Christina acted around her husband. I was young, Christina was young, Bengt was a few years older, but none of us had life experience.
I never wholly recovered
Had this happened today, with all the hits and bumps I’ve encountered along the road, the “Christina issue” would have run off me as water on a goose. How and why I don’t know, but this is when the fragile flower of my love was trampled on and I never wholly recovered.
I’ve shed many tears over the matter. In the beginning, I wanted to run away. But where would I go? A young blond girl in the Peruvian Andes was very vulnerable. The point I want to get across is that you need to take very good care of love. Maybe my “love flower” was especially fragile because I had married Bengt without really knowing him. We had met a few times in Sweden while I visited there for some months, then we corresponded for three months, and he came to Peru and after two weeks we married.
Some would say that as missionaries this should not have happened to us. We are all vulnerable. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. God did not promise to spare us but to be with us. When we pass through the waters he will be with us, when we walk through the fire we will not be burned (check this out in Isaiah 43).
I longed for the first love
How I longed for that wonderful feeling of the first love! The flower was trampled on. But the man loved me and I felt very bad that I could not love him with the same passion. But I stayed with him, true to my wedding vows. I used to kid with Bengt and tell him he didn’t know what he had promised, because the ceremony was in Spanish and the only thing he did was say “yes” to the questions my dad asked him. Dad married us!
When depression hit us
I was not familiar with depression. In 1977, it hit us hard. We were in a period of deciding our next move, somewhat uncertain of what it should be. The girls and I (yes, we had two girls!) went to Chicago for my brother Pepe’s wedding. While we were there Bengt got a phone call from Sweden that communicated misunderstanding.
Long story short, Bengt went into a deep depression. Thankfully, we had befriended a missionary couple –Paul and Martha Clark– in the same town where we lived at the time –Chaclacayo. They knew about depression, as the husband had battled it for years. Paul and Martha took Bengt in until I came back home. My parents took the girls with them to Sweden, so I could give all my devotion to Bengt
When this happened, a new kind of love filled me. I can’t explain it. It was a very deep feeling for someone who needed me desperately. Bengt could not spend a moment by himself, not even the bathroom visits. He clung to me as a child desperate for his mother. We packed our personal belongings and left the furniture for some missionaries who were going to rent the house we had lived in. “This will take years,” Martha said to me. And it did take years for Bengt to come out of it.
Bengt was a very sensitive person. I had to wrap my words in cotton to soften the blow and not hurt him. He had what we called a “pastor’s heart.” He felt compassion and empathy to the point that it hurt his personal emotions. Bengt got so involved with people’s situations that he brought depression on himself.
Fighting the D-word again
In 1987-88 we were back again fighting the D-word. At that time, we were living in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Bengt was involved with the youth at the church, so much so that all their problems and concerns (young people can have a lot of them, and there was quite a number of youth at the church) weighed heavy on Bengt’s heart. He did not just listen to them and brush it off; he took it all to heart.
One time the neighbor came by with Bengt. “I found your husband and brought him back,” he said. How many times it happened I don’t remember. What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that Bengt would get up at night and go take a taxi and just ask to be driven around town. In those times of his deepest needs my motherly instincts kicked in and I hovered over him.
From Bolivia, we were going to move to the United States. My parents lived in Northern Florida at the time and they offered to take Bengt in, so we put him on a plane. Mother said that Bengt was really sick, because on the entire drive from Miami to O’brien (some 8 hours, I think) he didn’t say a word! And Bengt was a friendly person, always having something to say and talk about.
It took a lot of loving care
It took a lot of loving care to move Bengt out of the dark hole of depression, but we did it. Always with God as the source of our strength.
As I am writing, I’m debating about putting this out for the world to see. I like to paint bright pictures. I like to write about the happy times. I’m thinking that just like in a painting the dark background and the shadows bring out the beauty in the bright and happy colors, the same thing happens with the paintings of our lives. With the backdrops of those dark spots we can much more appreciate the bright side.
Calm in the midst of the storm
When we were going through the dark valley of 1977 I experienced the calm of God’s love in a very tangible way. I pictured myself sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake, surrounded by dark, stormy clouds. It was like the eye of a hurricane. What a refreshing calm!
Why am I writing all this? Yes, why?
I want to encourage you to stick with it. Whatever you are going through, don’t give up. The tendency today is to move on. If some problems come on the horizon, instead of working through the storm people abandon ship.
God gave me 38 years with a man who loved me above everything else. I was his hero! How often I wished that I could love him as much as he loved me!
Getting to the finish-line
Fast forward to 2007. The ugly D-word showed up once more. Because Bengt had worked in a ship yard in his youth and had been exposed to asbestos, his lungs were damaged. This brought on a problem of lack of oxygen to his brain, and he also had some minor strokes. It came to the point that Bengt could not drive anymore, because it was not safe for him. That confined him to the house, something that a friendly and outgoing person like him could not handle. He shrunk down to skin and bones. As I was starting my battle with cancer he finished his journey on earth.
In October this year, when I reach the 10-year mark of his passing, I will write some more about this wonderful man I was married to. We hit some rough spots in the beginning but we stayed true to the promises we made on May 1, 1969.
I urge you to…
- Fight the good fight
- Finish the race
- Keep the faith
If you love the Lord, it doesn’t mean you will be spared from life’s battles. Sometimes you will have to fight even fiercer.
The crown of righteousness awaits you. (See 2 Timothy 4:7,8.)
Tend carefully to love
Most of all, tend carefully to love. Be mindful not to trample on the fragile flower in the garden of love. The precious man who loved me to pieces didn’t do it on purpose. He was just careless. But he still caused the death of that beautiful first love.
I opened up and revealed this long-kept secret because I feel the need to urge you to tend to love with the uttermost care. Love is fragile. Love is beautiful. Love can be lost.
Yes, tend to love with uttermost care!