Sitting up at the top of a quiet rocky hill, stood our home. We had a perfect view of lit up house tops that peaked over the beautiful snowy town of Prescott, Arizona. Unlike what people usually imagine Arizona to be, gorgeous mountains painted a beautiful green landscape around us against a crisp blue sky. We'd only been there a few weeks, but to us, it was home.
A used plastic Christmas tree someone had graciously given us, stood glistening in the corner next to a real wood fireplace, our only heating downstairs. A couple from church started bringing us wood each week. I have no idea what we would have done without them. It was cold!
We were at a moment in our lives where we were without a job and wondering what God had for us next. Emptying our savings account, we had warned our kids they wouldn't be receiving any gifts that year. Instead, we could make cards for each other. All four were quick to say that they didn't care and that being together was all that mattered (they knew of people in much harder situations than what we were in and we were very thankful).
I admit, I was excited for the opportunity to teach our kids the lesson of appreciating Christmas for what it is and not for the gifts.
How could God have a different plan than that one!?
Christmas Eve I received a call from someone I didn't know, informing me there were toys left over from a toy drive. They asked if we wanted them. Confused, I said sure and drove over. A lady I had never met gave me three huge black garbage bags full of something. I drove home.
What I found in them that evening were all the things that the kids had been wanting, and all new: scooters, trains, teddy bears, diaries, and so much more. I wasn't sure whether to cry with thankfulness or get angry at God for ruining my plan.
Christmas morning, our kids were confused. "You said we weren't going to have any presents!" they exclaimed. We shared with them what had happened the night before and then all sat in a circle on the floor before opening our presents to thank God for them. It really did feel that Jesus himself had brought them to us instead of Santa. We did not deserve them, didn't need them, ... and I didn't even want them! We actually had so many toys that we took a bunch of them to another family that we knew that same day.
That Christmas turned into one of the many memories our kids are collecting of how much God loves to give occasional surprises, just for fun. Even when it's not necessary.
I can't explain why, but amidst the harshest of storms we've been through, God has always provided gifts. A friend, an encouraging word, peace in turmoil, joy in pain, or just plain presents we don't deserve.
We had the choice of being upset about not having heat, or being thankful for the wood. We had the option of feeling depressed over no presents, or thankful for all that God had given us already. I wonder if sometimes we are too busy being angry at the storm, that we miss the special things he gives us.
A few years before that, we had just moved into a little missionary house that a church owned on it's property. Our girls were both under the age of 3. We had just moved to the States from Sweden, barely had enough to survive, and certainly didn't have any toys. I gathered the girls around me and asked them to pray with me. This time I did want a toy for two to keep them busy (and out of my hair).
"Let's ask God to give us some presents!" I told them. I We held hands and asked God that he would give us something to play with while we lived there. I was actually excited to see what God would do when I buckled them into their car seats and started driving around the neighborhood checking out garbage cans and hoping someone would have thrown out some toys.
Two streets down from us, we drove by a closing garage sale. The family was filling their trash cans with all the toys that I assumed hadn't been sold that day. I shamelessly peaked my head out the window and asked them if they were throwing them away. The dad looked up with a smile and said: "Yes! Please take anything you want!"
The girls watched from the van as I got out, and picked out toy after toy from the trash cans and pilled them into the back of the van. My heart was beating fast. Still in a bit of shock, I yelled out a thank you and we drove home.
Looking through our treasures, we found several amazing toys perfect for the age of our girls, including a large toy train still in it's box with batteries in it. We didn't even need to buy batteries!
Again, like so many times throughout our life, we sat on the floor in a circle, held hands, and each thanked God.
Another time, when we were homeless for a few months, a couple we had never met invited us to stay for a couple of weeks in their large beautiful home. We didn't need a large home! In the heat of Arizona, I would have been fine with a small air conditioned shack.
The stories I could tell you are endless. I wish I could share them all.
Why did God give us gifts?! And nice ones! I don't know. I don't have the answer. We sure don't deserve them! The only thing I can think of is that he delights in giving gifts to his children, just like I do. We have a God that loves giving gifts.
I admit, I've often missed gifts He's given me because I'm too busy complaining about something I didn't get. I've often missed to realize how much he loves and delights in me. Do you ever do that? I wonder. If we fully realized how much he really delights in us, like a good daddy over his child (and even more), maybe we'd view him differently. Maybe we'd even live differently.
Have you ever focused on all the gifts you weren't given and forgotten to notice something God chose to give you instead?
What could you be focusing on this Christmas that's making you miss the gifts God is giving you?
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
We splurged on a luscious real tree for Christmas this year. My daughters helped their dad pile it on top of our van and we carefully drove home. He cut the trunk so that water would soak in over the next few weeks, stood it up the corner of our living room, and cut the green cord wrapped around it so the branches could open up.
To our surprise, there was a nest near the top. My daughter quickly got the ladder and carefully brought it out, wondering if there would be eggs in it. To our horror, a dead bird was squished up in the nest! I will spare you the details, but we were all so affected that we couldn't finish decorating that night.
Trying to forget the events of the previous day, we eventually finished decorating the tree. It took team work, time, redoing a few light issues, and lots of work, but finally we stood back and proudly contemplated our handiwork. The towering beauty of twinkling lights held precious ornaments our children had made through the years. Satisfied and feeling “Christmassy,” we cozied up together to watch a movie as a family.
Suddenly, half way through the movie, we all froze as this glistening tower started falling over us in slow motion! I wanted to move, but couldn’t. Instead, I numbly watched it crash down over the coffee table and a couple of the kids sitting in front of me on the rug.
All our hard work ended up in a pile of broken ornaments, twisted branches and a blanket of needles.
The horrifying silence broke out into a commotion of commands to soak up water ruining our new hardwood floor, while my husband and I moved the tree to not get sap on the rug.
“How could this happen!” We all wondered. It could only be one thing: the stand. We did purchase the right size for our tree, but my husband had noticed the design lent itself to some possible weakness. We had just decided to ignore it, hoping for the best. Too tired to go searching for a more expensive, well-built one, we figured it didn’t matter that much. How wrong we were.
We had put all the importance and time on the tree, forgetting what mattered the most: the foundation on which it stood.
There was a story on the news recently of a couple from South Dakota who put their entire life savings into building what would be their dream retirement home. After three years, they found that their home was worth only half of its value due to damage caused from being built on what is called "expansive soil", which shrinks and swells during dry and wet spells, damaging foundations and weakening or destroying the house.
Something similar happened this year when a housing developer in Wyoming built a whole neighborhood on bad soil. The news showed large beautiful homes now uninhabitable due to cracked foundations, tilting floors, and doors that won’t open.
How important it is to make sure we are building on the right foundation. The same with making a home, which has nothing to do with your house. You can build a mansion, small shack, tree house, or live in a tent under a bridge. It doesn't matter.
Don't do what we did and miss that important link to the puzzle. We can work hard at creating a home, getting our kids involved in the best activities, decorating the place perfectly, and doing good deeds, but if we are building on the wrong soil, we might be in for a big surprise when the storms come.
Known as the greatest message in history, the Bible tells of a sermon Jesus told once what's called "The Sermon on The Mount". Well there's is an important little story at the end of it. Like the arrowhead at the end of a shaft, it's like the grand finale of that sermon. It's one of his most famous parables (stories he told to convey something important) about “a Foolish Man and a Wise Man”.
The story is about two builders who each decided to build a house. One built his house on sand and the other built his on rock. While the story doesn't go into the details of the building, I can imagine that it took longer to build on the rock. Digging into rock can't be an easy task. Not only does it take a lot of toil and sweat, but it takes more time than building on sand. It's also a lot of work for something that no one is going to see. I can imagine the sand guy might have been making fun of him. Drinking his cocktail by the pool, he looked over at the guy working away and maybe said: "Why are you working so hard?! That's really not needed. You're just wasting your time!” I'm also assuming both houses looked great when they were done, maybe even similar in appearance.
All was fine, until the storm came and beat against the houses. Jesus said that “the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against them” (Matthew 7:27). At the end of his story, he told that one house safely stood the storm, but the other did not. In fact, he said that the house built on sand didn’t just fall, it fell “with a great crash”.
Here's the thing about storms: The storms reveal the house.
What house will the storm reveal when it comes your way?
So what is this foundation that is so important? What is this rock that Jesus is talking about? Jesus finishes his story by explaining it: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 24:7
I have a friend who has a daughter that will never listen to her and certainly won’t do what she says. After years of constant fights, her daughter finally stole from her, left home, and is now trapped in drugs and living on the street. Their relationship is tragically broken.
I love my children. I love them so much. I listen to them, hug them, cuddle with them, tuck them in bed goodnight, and would give my life for them. I love them whether they listen to me or not. But, do you know what I want more than anything? It’s to have a relationship with them. I love those moments when my girls share their struggles with me. I listen, give counsel, they listen to me and then actually take my advice. Something happens. There is a relationship going on. There is a listening and responding going on.
Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount offering this relationship to anyone as a gift, free of charge, no matter what they’ve done. You see, the people he was talking to were used to the teachings from the Pharisees. These so called "spiritual leaders" were teaching that very few people could have access to the blessing of having communion with God, this relationship. One of the things they taught was that only men could be good enough, not women. To be blessed, you also have to be materially rich (that seemed to somehow showed God’s favor in that culture). Oh, and you certainly couldn't have any diseases, for that was a sign that you were sinning. You had to be “spiritually rich” (which is why the synagogue leaders would pray in public, so everyone could see how spiritual).
So when Jesus opens up his sermon with words like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, ...Blessed are those who mourn,.....Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", he was welcoming everyone into the blessing of a communion with God! What a message of hope for those people that thought they had no change, who thought they weren't worthy. Yet here Jesus came with a new message, that nothing mattered… all were welcome. They had been taught there were all kinds of things they needed to do to gain their way to the “Kingdom”. Nevertheless, Jesus said it was a gift. In fact, he went beyond the rules (the law), but straight to the heart. He didn't cancel the rules, he went beyond them. He wanted their hearts.
I don't want my kids to just obey me because they have to. I want it to be from the heart, with the foundation of a relationship that we have, because they trust I have their best intention in mind. In the same way, Jesus is not satisfied with our words, he wants our heart. He wants a relationship.
Probably the harshest words in the whole Bible are right before this story of two houses. He tells his hearers that: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" What’s the difference? There was no relationship. They were doing the right stuff, but didn’t have a relationship with Him. They didn’t listen and follow.
Jesus used to say was: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” John 10:27-30. A relationship is about listening to his voice, and then following. That right there is the rock of our lives, the rock of our home. There's no way around it. The foundation is found in a relationship with Jesus, where you trust him enough to start building a relationship with him.
I remember my first huge fight with my husband. I was furious. Neither of us were budging on this one. We were on our way to the bus stop. It was a dark, freezing Swedish winter night. The snow crunched loudly beneath our feet as we walked in silence. I did not want to forgive him. I was shocked at how scary powerful my pride was! We arrived, but I walked off. I didn’t want to be under the same roof as him. Standing in the falling snow, I considered whether to keep walking and never walk back. Have you ever felt that mad?
Thoughts kept coming to mind that I didn’t like; thoughts that were telling me to forgive, challenging me on what love was all about. I started having a conversation with God. I was angry. I had a lot of good answers: “He doesn’t deserve it!” or "I don't deserve this!" I felt God bombard me with examples of the Bible of what unconditional love was about, even when it hurts, when it’s undeserved, no matter the circumstance, and no matter whether one “feels” that fuzzy feeling.
I thought about how strong real love must be; so strong that it breaks through that barrier of selfish pride that I was cuddling, protecting and holding close. I asked God for help and I finally decided to just do it. I really did not want to and I absolutely did not feel like it, but I did it because God wanted me to. I walked back to Pontus and I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. The strangest thing happened. The pride and anger left me immediately and Pontus hugged me back as we said we were sorry.
The foundation of what happened in that moment was not necessarily out of love for my husband, but from a relationship I had with God. Twisted? Maybe, but out of my moments of obedience has always come a constant new-found love for my husband. First obedience. Then the feeling. It’s happened over and over again. Silly example maybe, but that’s the one that comes to mind when I try to explain how God is and has always been the glue between us and the foundation of our home.
The choices we have always made as a family are all based on what God wants us to do and where he is leading us. We’ve made some crazy decisions that sometimes didn’t even make complete sense at the time, but we knew God wanted us to take.
While sometimes scary at the time, God has always proved to be faithful and true. Best of all, our kids have constantly seen through it all, that this relationship their dad and I have with Jesus is what we base our lives and home on. And now we see them doing it to in their lives.
All other good things are great and important, but, if not based on good soil, everything will eventually come crashing down in the storm like a glimmering Christmas tree on a broken stand.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
Little did I know what was ahead of me that night before my wedding. The dress and veil I had made on a ship, starred at me from a hook on the wall as I snuggled down for the last time into my single bed. Soon I'd wake up to a world of unknowns.
God held the rain back for most of our wedding the next day. Friends and family from around the world filed into their seats in that large white tent surrounded by towering beautiful Spanish mountains. I sat alone in a nearby building until my dad walked in to get me. He shot me a smile that melted my heart and I proudly took his arm. We were soon walking down the isle.
There he was up front. My husband-to-be stood peacefully smiling and waiting for me. This was it. I was leaving all that I knew and committing to a life with someone I hadn't known for long. I was in God's hands though. I didn't know the future, but God did. I could make this huge decision, not because I was "in love", but because I trusted the God we both followed. My peace lied far above that guy at the altar or anything that was happening that day.
With rice still in my dress and flowers on our windshield, we drove away in pouring rain. I must have been quite the sight when we stopped for gas on the way to the hotel. Holding up my muddy dress tail, I ran into the store to get a bottle of water. Standing at the cash register looking like a runaway bride, I happily told everyone in the store l that I had just gotten married. Soon we arrived to the hotel and to a couple of days filled with memories as I showed my new husband my old stomping grounds. We walked the streets, I told him stories, and we had "café con leches" at local bars. It was amazing.
Three days later, we embarked on the first big chapter of our life together as we nestled into a Swedish second story apartment. I began decorating as best I could on a few things I could find for free or at the local second hand store. Our coffee table was a box with a piece of wood on top of it (we could only set things on it in the middle so it didn't tip). A cute little old napkin held a used candle at the center of it. Under it all was a blanket turned into a rug, bringing it all together into what seemed to be the most perfect little living room in the whole world to me. I didn't care that pillows were all we had for a sofa. It was home. Our home. It was perfect.
It was perfect until one morning at 2 am, when suddenly we were awakened by blood curdling screams from the apartment below. The police told us it was a special needs lady. Sweden wanted special needs people to be able to live among society and experience life as normal as possible. The screaming went off and on for hours, days, and weeks. Life was not normal for us. Every night we knew the screaming could start. The town finally decided to put a sound barrier between her apartment and ours to muffle the sound, but by then we had decided to move when I became pregnant.
Yes, it sure was in a different country. Even local food stores were a challenge to me. I hadn't expected the hardships of not knowing what food was or not being able to understand the recipes on the back of the boxes. I was lost. Then the cold of winter arrived, and with it a complete and sudden change of culture around me. In all my travels, I've never experienced something like it. I guess the gripping, stinging, breath-taking, life-stopping cold, just changes how people interact on the street. They need to save their breath maybe. When once the Swedes would smile and say hello, now they looked away and walked on by.
A baby added a new mix to my experience! She was born a couple of weeks before our first anniversary. One doesn't think about the cultural differences of raising children. Not only was I surrounded by a different mindset, I also had a whole set of in laws and new family from a different culture that had their ideas on how to raise a child. For example, I learned that I was to bundle my one month old baby up in sheep skin, put her in the stroller, and leave her outside on our street access front porch in -25 degree weather. "The fresh air was good for her" they said. I would keep a baby monitor near her so I could hear if she cried (or if anyone stole her) and occasionally go out to feel her neck to confirm she was warm (and alive).
Having babies in 3 different cultures has given me the rich opportunity to learn so much from each, building a treasure chest of knowledge I've been privileged to carry with me.
Intense studies had started the day after we landed in Sweden. One morning our first week of being married, I heard strange noises coming from the bathroom. Cautiously, I approached the door and knocked. Turns out, he was in the bathtub, flipping his Greek and Hebrew cards and practicing for a test he had the next day. My husband loved digging through the Bible, but we learned something important that year. There was one thing we did not want to do. We did not want to just believe whatever we were told, but rather always go back to the Bible together and figure out what it said. Pontus would come back from seminary with questions and we'd study hard together. Sometimes we felt alone in our stand, but we held the Bible as the authority in our lives, not just from what we heard from professors. The Bible as our authority is something we've held strong no matter what we've done in life.
Seminary wasn't enough for Pontus though. He wanted to do more than just study. He wanted to apply what he was learning. He got involved with different project and also started a couple, one of which was an English speaking Bible study for students from a large local university.
One day we put up a notice on the university board one day that read: "Coffee & Bible in English". Two students came the first week, one from Canada and from from Finland. Soon we had 30 students coming every week. Pontus would give a Bible study and then we'd all break up into groups to discuss it. As usual, we'd always finish with Swedish coffee and deserts. Swedes started wanting to attend as well, but we didn't have room, so we asked it to remain international. We regret that now, wishing we would have allowed it to grow more. We never stopped meeting though, not even the week Keila was born. Just a couple of days old and our house was full again. Everyone took turns holding our new little precious blue eyed bundle of joy.
One of the things Pontus and I learned while reaching out to this group was to pray as a couple. A lot! We always prayed together for direction, for help, and for all kinds of things, but this group added a new dimension. Every time we would hold Bible studies in our home, something strange would happen that day. All darkness would reign down on us whole day until after the meeting. Things would go wrong, we'd get into fights, and we'd want to give up. When the meeting was done, all darkness would be gone until the next week. We've experienced this ever since. Any time we have anything to do with sharing about God with people, things happen that are explainable and we've learned that prayer is a powerful weapon. As a family, and our kids know this well, we pray... a lot.
I wish I had time to share all the stories of God was using to teach us to trust in Him that first year, but here's one: We were offered a free car one day. Trying to do seminary with no loans made money scarce, we were scared to take it, but we prayed together and decided God wanted us to have it. With that car, Pontus could accept to help a local church who had reached out to him. They had no pastor and needed help.
We trusted God and accepted the car. Soon after though, our brakes gave out and we couldn't afford to buy used ones at the dump. We prayed about it again and felt God wanted us to get the brakes anyway, so using the little food money we had left, we went anyway to the dump and got some brakes. They cost us 500 crowns ($50). When we got back home, there was something in our mailbox. It was an envelope with no name on it. We opened it. It had a bill of 500 crowns in it. No one had known about our dilemma. No one except God.
The things we learned that first year of marriage have been the pillars to the way Pontus and I do life together: seeking God together, praying together, reading the Bible together, and doing what God wants even when it doesn't make sense at the time.
There was a rule on board the ship where I met Pontus that we all had to wait one year before being able to get "Social Permission" (term used when a couple was allowed to date). Before my year was up, I had an engagement ring on.
I first met Pontus while translating for him when he preached at a church in Acapulco, Mexico. The very next day, he left for Costa Rica. His job involved preparing the ports ahead, so he didn't live on board with the rest of us. He left an impression on me though. I had never met anyone like him. He was all I had ever imagined I would want in a guy, something I didn't think had existed until then. I assumed I couldn't have him though (he was just out of my league), but from then on I prayed every evening out on the deck that God would give me a guy just like him someday.
A week later I received an email from him. It was a simple note, but the beginning of months of email correspondence. No rules existed for emailing, so I approached the director of our ship to ask him if we could (I had decided I would stop contacting him if the director told me too, praying God to direct). I can't remember our conversation, but he said we could continue communicating.
Not quite a year into my time, I was invited to fly to Belgium to help with two youth events, which included a free week where I could take a train down to see my parents. Pontus, who was by this time living and studying at a theological school in Paris, asked me if he could visit when I went to Spain. Once again, I went to the director to ask. I was given the green light.
Soon there we were, in Spain together. My parents had a guest room in our home, but they had put Pontus up in a hotel across town. Every morning, Pontus would climb the hill up to our house and spend the day with us.
My dad approached me one evening when I was alone. He had seen Pontus put his arm around me while watching a movie and asked what our plans were. I told them there were none. He gently challenged me to commit some day to someone and that this seemed like a good guy to commit to.
I was a bit shocked and shared the conversation with Pontus while out on a walk the next day. Expecting him to laugh about it with me, I went pale when he responded with a smile: "Would that be so bad?" He figured that if we were going to be away from each other for another year and were meant to be, "why not get engaged before".
I wanted to run. I wanted to run far away and never see him again. I was scared. I didn't want to think about it. I barely knew him! Most of our time getting to know each other had just been over email! My dad talking about commitment and now Pontus!? I said no.
After a few hours, I calmed down and asked Pontus: "How do we know what God's will is?" I asked my dad the same question. No one gave me a satisfying answer.
Pontus was everything I had ever wanted in a husband, was going the same way in life that I was going, we were following the same God with the same passion, and a deep love was growing for him. But how to know what God wants? I prayed. I asked. But no answer, no signs in the sky, no dreams, no visions. Silence. I got kinda upset at God. Here I was asking him to guide me in one of my most important decisions, and he goes silent?!
The next few days we talked a lot, prayed for guidance, ... and looked at rings one time "just for fun". Eventually it was time to leave. Pontus decided to join me on the train ride back up to Holland.
The day before leaving he mentioned he wanted to ask my dad for my hand in marriage, "just in case the moment arose sometime in the future". I figured it couldn't hurt, but warned him I wasn't ready to give an answer. Pontus asked my dad while we were at a Chinese restaurant, when my mom and I had gone to wash our hands. My dad gave his blessing.
Soon we were back on the train and on our way to Holland. We would be changing trains in Paris and Belgium before arriving. Pontus kept throwing in that he thought Paris would be a great place to get engaged.
I'm not sure how or why, but I finally told him that "if I found the ring I wanted" (I had a specific one I was looking for and hadn't found it yet) and "if it fit my finger right away" (my fingers were always too fat for rings), that I would take those signs to mean that God was behind this." I wouldn't suggest this method to anyone, but I guess God has mercy and works even through foolishness sometimes.
Pontus got excited and figured: "It's Paris! How hard can it be to find a ring there!" He thought it was a done deal. But soon we arrived to Paris and everything was closed. Turns out that it was a national holiday in France. "Surely something would be open for tourists on the Champs-élysées though," he thought, so we made our way by metro to one of the busiest and most popular streets in the world. Walking towards the Arc of Triumph, we found nothing. Everything was closed! I had never seen it that way.
I finally looked at Pontus and said that maybe God didn't want us to get engaged. Maybe this was his way of telling us it not meant to be, at least not yet. We decided to return to the train station, but stopped to pray one last time. Holding hands right there in the middle of champs-élysées and surrounded by busy tourists walking by, we prayed. We gave our lives into God's hands and asked him to guide us. We prayed that, if it was his will that we get engaged, we would find a jewelry shop.
We were making our way back down champs-élysées, when suddenly Pontus noticed what seemed to be an open store at the end of a small ally on our right. He went down and came back excited. It was a small jewelry shop. Open! I held his hand as we made our way down. It was true. What?! Was this real? I looked at the display from outside and saw the ring I had been looking for. It was all so surreal. I hesitantly walked inside and I asked to try it on. It fit perfectly. I politely said a numb thank you and walked out. Pontus followed me, confused. Nervous and trembling I said: "What if this is all a mistake! What if this is all coincidence!" This was the biggest decision of my life!
Pontus calmly just smiled at me, like he does so many times when I freak out and he knows all is going to be OK. I sat down on the a ledge of the dirty street to calm my heart. In the depths of my soul I felt this was meant to be, but I was scared. I gave my fears to God and asked him to guide me. I looked up, smiled at Pontus and squeaked out an excited yes.
Pontus went back into the shop, bought a ring for me and one for himself (he wanted people to know that he was engaged too while we were apart). I was waiting nervously outside when he returned holding up two red paper bags. "So who wants to visit the Eiffel Tower?!" he yelled out.
As if in a dream, we held hands and made our way to the tower. We paid for our tickets and got into the glass elevator full of people and started the ascent up what equals 108 floors (900 ft). Being scared of heights, Pontus stayed glued to the center pole, while I leaned up against the glass and watched the world melt away.
We reached the top and were pushed out of the elevator to a crowd of people, old cigarette buds on the ground, and urine smells. None of which bothered me. Everything except Pontus was a blur. We found a corner where we could talk and I looked into his blue dancing eyes. Pontus took out a little black box from one of the paper bags and held it in his hand. He told me how much I meant to him, how much he loved me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. I actually don't remember the details of what he said, but I do remember that he never actually asked me to marry him. He asked if I would wear the ring and stopped talking. I took the ring and asked: "I will wear the ring, but did you want me to marry you?" "Yes!!" He yelled out in shock. "That's what I meant! Do you want to marry me!!!??"
I said yes and he kissed me.
Suddenly a bunch of Asians around us started clapping away and asking us if we wanted them to take a picture. We said no, but I wish now that I would have accepted. Soon we were on our way back down in the elevator. I was in a daze. I was engaged! Walking across the lawn towards the metro, I looked over at what was now my fiancee and down at our locked fingers. I was engaged to this guy I barely knew. This young man was going to be the father of my children. I was in love, but I was nervous. Above all, though, I felt God had brought us together and I could trust him. By the time we were back at the train station I was telling complete strangers I was engaged. I was so excited!
Newly engaged, we got on the first train out of Paris, but due to all this taking more time than we realized, we missed a connecting train in Belgium and were told there were no connecting trains till the next day! We made ourselves comfortable on two of the station benches, but police men came by and kicked us out of the building. Turns out you can't spend the night in train station in Belgium. So there we were, standing in the rain, in the dark and in the cold, with nowhere to go. We could see a hotel across the street, but we knew we didn't want that. As tempting as a warm dry bed was right then, we both wanted to wait for our wedding to spend the night together. That would have not been a wise choice. Looking around, we saw a closed furniture store nearby that had a small awning that would protect us from the rain. So there we went. We sat down on a ledge just inches from the ground and I leaned my head on his shoulder to slept off and on till morning (with occasional drunk people stumbling by and yelling at us).
We finally arrived to the conference, run by the organization that our ship was part of. Leaders from all over the world were gathering there. As we entered, it suddenly dawned on us what we had done: we didn't have SP (that social permission to be together) and we were engaged! It hadn't even crossed our minds this whole time. I had been under my parents' authority, we had received my dad's blessing, I was off the ship and under God's rules in my mind, not theirs. We just hadn't thought about it! But what would we do now? We had to face the music. First thing we did was find a tollbooth and Pontus called the director of the ship in South America to explain what had happened. Then we met with personnel leaders at the conference. Wow were we in trouble. They were very upset. I told them I could take the ring off, but we didn't feel we could retract getting engaged.
People coming from around the world had already heard about us by the next day.. .the couple that got engaged before getting "SP". To make matters worse, it turns out that while we were gone all the existing couples on board the ship had had to sign a contract stating that they would not get engaged while on board (something we obviously didn't know about)!
Pontus returned to Bible school in Paris and I returned to the ship. Some adults came to me and told me my dad was foolish for blessing us, others disagreed and some friends distanced themselves. The director of the ship, who had sadly gotten the hit for us, was full grace, mercy and understanding though. The captain and his wife also took us gracefully under their wings. I was very grateful. The months ahead I stayed busy with my responsibilities on board, but also bought cheap local Caribbean material to start making a wedding dress on the ship's small sewing machine.
A year later I flew to Spain to marry the guy God had brought into my life in such a miraculous way. You can read about the wedding here.
Sometimes it's hard to know which step to take when we seek God's will in our lives, but I've learned that if I follow my shepherd commands (found in the Bible) and if I trust his guidance (believing he will guide and trusting he has good plans/intentions for me), I can use the logic he gave me, the wisdom in people he sends my way, and trust him to guide.
I love watching how my children lean back in their car seats, look out the window as I drive, and trust me to take them where they need to go. They don't worry. They trust I'm driving them to a place of safety. There are rules I have set in place that they need to follow to be safe. And the more they know me, the more they trust me to do what is best for them. I want to do that too: follow, obey, and trust my heavenly Father through this windy crazy stormy journey that is called life.
by Becky Karnsund
One night Pontus woke me up at 2 am unable to walk or talk. Too shaky to make the call myself, I ran to our neighbors for help. They called 911, the ambulance came, and took Pontus away. I couldn't leave our four children alone, so a neighbor went with him. Torn between wanting to be with him and staying with the kids, I watched from our Spanish 3rd floor balcony as the ambulance drove away.
After an hour, I called the hospital. I had them hand the phone to Pontus, who started talking to me in Spanish (the little he knew). No matter what I said, he wouldn't speak English or Swedish (his native tongue). Instead, he would laugh and say, in Spanish, that he was speaking English.
The next morning I was finally able to see him. As I walked into his room, I stepped over a trail of dried blood. It led from the bathroom to his bed, where I saw more red stains all over his sheets. I still don't understand why that was not cleaned up right away, but was later told he had pulled all his cords out during the night, wandered around the halls looking for help, and then threw up in the bathroom.
I hadn't been there for him.
I sat by his hospital bed and tried to feed him. His eyes were closed and he could barely take the teaspoon. He was not communicating at all. They came in and wheeled his limp body away, wired his head up with sensors and put him through all kinds of tests. The doctors found some disturbance in the brain activity but couldn't figure out the root problem.
I don’t remember how many days went by. It’s all a bit of a blur. At one point they isolated him when they suspected Tuberculosis. Nurses would come in wearing astronaut suits and I had to wear a mask to see him. He was famous for breaking every single thermometer they brought in. I can't remember why, but he kept dropping them and mercury would bubble up all over the floor.
Our four kids were not allowed to visit their daddy. I had nowhere to leave them, so most of the time, I would park where I could see the car from Pontus' 4th floor hospital room, buckle them up tight with shaky hands, pray for them and wander numbly into the hospital alone.
Finally a neurologist visited Pontus. I caught him in the hallway and explained about the language issue and he immediately started putting him through a different set of tests. The next day, he called me in, where he let me know that Pontus had both encephalitis and meningitis (inflammation of brain AND the lining of the brain - usually people get only one). He coldly and bluntly added that there was 50% chance that Pontus would pass away and that if he survived, he would most likely be handicapped.
My knees gave out under me, my body went cold as ice, and I could feel the taste of blood in my throat. I don’t remember much else of that day except that I took the kids home, gathered them on my lap around YouTube, and we sang together a kids song titled "Forever Faithful" . God was faithful, God was strong, God was with us, no matter what the outcome. We truly felt that God would take care of us, even if he took daddy. And so we praised him for that. We truly experienced a peace that passed our understanding.
The teacher asked to speak to me one day and shared a conversation she had had with our Nicole (who was 6 at the time): "How's your dad?" she had asked Nicole. "He's in the hospital." she answered. "He might die, but if he does it's ok, 'cause he will go be with Jesus and we will see him again." The school must have thought our kids were a little morbid.
Meanwhile that week, my dad had also taken turn for the worse. He had been battling sarcoma cancer and had started radiation treatments. He was very sick and weak, and couldn't talk on the phone. I tried telling him what was going on and he'd whisper back a word or two. My mom wished she could be with me, and I was wishing I could be with her.
Pontus continued in the hospital a few more days. The doctors found the cause was viral, not bacterial, but it was a virus they had never seen before. Specialists in Spain started researching the places we had been that year (England, Sweden...). One man got excited and said he wanted to call it the "Pontus Virus".
Being a virus, there was nothing they could do, but wait for the body to fight it on it's own, so they sent Pontus back home. Still sick and with warnings from the doctor that he could have a relapse, any interaction with people or with the kids made him have all kinds of symptoms. He would see millions of flies coming at him, get headaches, couldn't handle light, and he felt extremely tired and sometimes sick. It was all just too much on his brain.
I couldn't have him home in our small 900 sq ft apartment with four little ones. I didn't know what to do. Suddenly, we got an amazing gift from some friends in Wilmington. It was a week stay at a hotel. He had a quiet and dark place to be, but I was still scared to leave him alone. Doctors warned me I needed to keep an eye on him. Trying to manage my time between him and the kids felt like a big mountain to climb. Another gift, was a friend from Madrid came and stayed for a week with me to help me.
I mostly wanted to be alone though. The phone would ring off the hook all day long, emails swarmed my inbox, and neighbors would check in. But it was all too much. I used the little energy I had to be a mommy and be a wife. I had nothing else left to give.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. We had scheduled a summer travel around the States to raise support, but I contacted everyone and cancelled everything. One thing we didn't cancel, though, was a house swap we had planned with a family in Arizona. They were going to stay at our place, and we would stay at theirs. But we had to make it across the ocean first. I asked the doctors and they weren't sure if we should go. Pontus, kinda oblivious at his own situation, said he felt great and it would be no problem. We decided to go for it. Against his wishes, I at least scheduled a wheel chair to meet us at the JFK airport. I knew the connection would take a lot of walking and I had to be in charge of four little ones. I'm glad I did. He was not doing well by the time we landed. I was so thankful to have help to wheel Pontus to the next terminal while continuing to be in charge of four young children by myself after a 7 hour transatlantic flight
One of our partnering churches in Arizona took good care of us. They brought us meals, took our kids out, and loved on us. Pontus stayed in his room most of the time and the rest of the world just continued to pray. I felt like a single mom of five.
One Sunday we met a teenage boy had been through meningitis. He was crippled, couldn't walk, and couldn't talk. That day Pontus came home and cried. Why had God protected him from that, but not have healed the boy.
Suddenly one day, Pontus woke up and he was different. For the first time in 8 months, he was himself. He was alert. He had energy. Our flight back to Spain was much different this time. I had help with the little ones again.
A few weeks after arriving back to Spain we went back to our doctors. Once again they wheeled Pontus off, wired his head up, and put him through all the tests. They returned baffled again, but this time because they couldn’t find anything. Nothing. Not even scaring on his brain a nothing had happened at all.
There are moments in life when you wonder why sometimes God chooses to heal, and other times not. With mixed feelings of thankfulness, guilt, wonder, and awe, we returned home knowing there had been a miracle.
Little did we know what an effect that year had on us. From then on we viewed life differently. Our priorities changed, our souls were strengthened, our passions deepened, our marriage improved, our relationship with our kids grew, our goals clarified, and our purpose for life crystallized. "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." NIV Proverbs 16:9
I caught Joel singing this song in the car one day during this time. A reminder to be thankful in all circumstances:
Born and raised in Spain to American parents, Becky left home when she was fourteen to attend a Canadian boarding school in Germany. Since then, she has traveled over thirty countries and lived in four of them. Becky met her Swedish husband while working on a ship in Mexico, got engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, married in Spain, moved to Sweden, and now lives in North Carolina with her husband and their four children. She invites you to travel with her through the journeys life has taken her.
We caught our 2 year old singing away and being thankful!
The First Christmas
A video I made once, performed and narrated by the kids from a church we were part of in Arizona.