As I end my week of our life on Saba, it is important to me that I share the most important lesson that I learned. This is a lengthy story. However, I want my children to know this lesson, and I would forever be sorry if I didn’t record the blessings associated with our medical school journey.
Last May, Jonathan and I had the opportunity to travel back to the island of Saba. Saba is a small 5 square mile island in the middle of the ocean; with rainforests and rugged terrain. It is known for hiking and diving. Saba is where my husband did the first two years of medical school. The medical school helps that island thrive and sustains its economy. We were guided to attend medical school there. The island of Saba changed who Jonathan and I are. Those two years in our life were some of the hardest, but they made me who I am today.
I was so excited to make the journey back there. I couldn’t wait to reconnect with old friends and island culture. I had missed the simplicity of island life, and I couldn’t wait for the reminder. We enjoyed our entire trip without the use of a car; which meant a lot of walking for us. One particular morning, we wanted to re-visit the medical school; the place Jonathan spent so much of his time. We made the journey by foot all the way to the bottom of the island. It was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed reconnecting with the smells of that beautiful lush green island.
When we reached the medical school, we ran into a few medical students who were about to start their second semester. They were so excited to meet a Saba grad, and pick his brain about life after Saba. One student in particular was very excited about Jonathan’s particular field. After learning more about what Jonathan does and his philosophy of medicine, this student felt enlightened about his own future.
He just kept saying things like, “It is like I ran in to you just for this purpose.” He was so grateful to know more about this specialty that seemed to suit him. He said, “I am so thankful that I ran in to you Jonathan, this completely changes my plans for my career.”
I responded to that by saying, “It’s almost as if God helped us run into you.”
He very quickly responded, “I don’t believe in God.”
At that moment, my heart saddened. I very much believe in God.
In fact, it was our time on Saba that deepened my knowledge that God knows me and loves me.
I have thought about that conversation a lot since then.
My heart aches that I didn’t tell this young student:
I believe in God, and I believe in his tender mercies.
Psalm 145:9 says, “The Lord is good to all and his tender mercies are all over his works.”
Tender mercies are just those little moments in life when we recognize God in our life. When we see his works guiding us, reminding us, or blessing us. Most of the time they are small things; but are the little blessing when recognized can strengthen our faith in a God who knows us and loves us.
I want to share with you just a few of the tender mercies afforded to me during a difficult transition in my life.
It was during our move to Saba that I first really understood about tender mercies in my own life.
It was the Spring of 2004. I was pregnant with our second child, and holding the hand of our eighteen month old little boy, Jex. I was young and naïve. I hadn’t had many life experiences yet. I had never been out of the United States.
We packed everything we owned in to a storage unit, and stuffed everything I thought we needed into three suitcases. We boarded the red eye flight on our way to New York City. Although it was late, I couldn’t sleep. I was so nervous and worried about what we were doing. After two more airplanes, we finally planted our feet on the hot muggy turf of the island of St. Maarten. This was our final stop for the day, and I was exhausted. We would take a boat to our final destination in the morning; the island of Saba.
I was relieved when we arrived on St. Maarten. I knew that Randy, one of Jonathan’s mission companions and friends would be there to pick us up from the airport. Randy happened to be going to medical school on St. Maarten.
Randy pulled up in a little island car. The car was only big enough to get our luggage and Jonathan. Standing on the curb with Jex’s little fingers in my hand, I watched Jonathan and Randy drive away; leaving me standing on the curb. He took the luggage & Jonathan back to his apartment.
I remember thinking, “I can’t believe Jonathan is just going to leave us here.” Now looking back, I am sure it was also a very scary moment for Jonathan. This was my first lesson in island life. We were asked to do lots of hard things while living there. I had to learn to adapt to the way life worked here.
There I stood with my little round belly waving goodbye with one hand, and holding Jex’s hand with the other. I was scared, standing on the curb in a foreign land. With a small prayer my worries were hushed some. Randy came back for Jex and I, and because island cars don’t have seatbelts I had to hold Jex on my lap; my second island lesson. Things are a bit laid-back in the Caribbean.
I met Randy’s wife Katie, in my exhausted state. I could hardly string a sentence together after that long journey. However, there was a price club on St. Maarten and I had been told to stock up on groceries and goods there before going on to Saba.
This process coupled with my exhaustion seemed like too much to bare. In stepped Katie, a woman I just met hours before. Katie, a young mother, who also had a toddler, who also knew exactly what I would need to survive island life came to my rescue.
Randy’s wife Katie picked out most of our items for me. I still think about how grateful I was for her that day. I didn’t see it at them time, but recognized later how God had placed her in my life that day.
Once we purchased all our items, it was time to box them up. We put our $800 worth of groceries in boxes and labeled them Swenson and Saba. Then we took them back in to the store until the were picked up by the boat that would bring them to Saba. I had never before spent so much money and actually never taken the purchased items with me. Another lesson in island life. I was learning a lot about island life in just few short hours, and I wasn’t sure I would ever feel peace about it. That particular experience took a lot of faith. Faith in this process of buying and shipping goods.
Randy and Katie had arranged for us to stay in a an apartment of a friend who was away that night. It was the first time someone had put us up in their home; but it certainly would not be the last. I was in such extreme overload that night, Jonathan had to give me priesthood blessing. I soon recognized the blessing of being married to a priesthood holder. I was so thankful that my husband could help calm my fears.
We woke early the next morning, and prepared to make it to the boat harbor. Katie made breakfast for us. I was so thankful. I recognized the blessing that morning, that we hadn’t bought food on our trip or paid for any accommodations so far in our journey. This was a tremendous blessing as the cost of moving to the Caribbean and medical school had wiped our bank account.
Once again, it was two trips to the harbor. We made it in time to get a spot and there was room for our luggage. That in itself is a beautiful gift. After living in the laid-back Caribbean for two years, I know how often people’s luggage doesn’t arrive.
This was my first experience with a boat on the open sea. Let’s just say I didn’t fare too well. In the midst of the nausea, I started to have real panic.
This was probably the moment of greatest fear in this whole journey. I couldn’t stop thinking that once we arrived we wouldn’t know anyone. Who would help us get settled?
I was so concerned, and wishing that someone would be there for us. I felt really alone. I soon realized that we would be arriving at a harbor, and there would be no one there to pick us up. I think this was my first realization that we didn’t have family close by; a first for me. I had always had my family. I realized then that this was do-or-die for Jonathan and me. We would need to rely on each other.
As we pulled up to the five square mile island of Saba, I felt a feeling of peace. The island felt so peaceful, and I recognized a woman’s face. I knew that God had sent a friend. I knew that He understood my worries. It was as if he was saying, “I am here for you.”
I recognized this woman from a picture that I had seen. I knew she was a member of the church. I hoped she was there to greet us, and she was. This was the key moment in our journey. This was when I knew for sure that God knew me. This is when I knew that he loved me, and understood my worries. It was something as simple as recognizing this dear sister’s face, and a testimony builder of the tender mercies of Lord.
If we hadn’t already been blessed enough along this journey, after arriving on the small island our life was blessed immensely. All of our meals for the next 24 hours were taken care of in some way. They were taken care of by 4 different families. That says something about the goodness of people. This proved to be significant because we had no food, and all the stores were closed because of holiday.
Our furnished home didn’t have any towels and I didn’t pack any. Word got around and within 1 hour of being on the island, and new towels were delivered to our family by a medical student’s wife. It’s then that you realize it’s the littlest things that can strengthen your faith.
We soon realized that there were several members of our faith on the island. What a gift to have others members of the LDS church to share our faith with. We had no formal church building, but the few of us were able to host church in our home. The friends we made there also contributed to an amazing two years. Friends are a gift from God; I know it. Our friends on Saba became our family.
All along our journey, we were blessed. I remember one of the greatest blessings was a stack of children’s books that my friend Jodi gave us when their medical school journey came to an end. Jex and Stella loved when we would read books. We still have a few of those books that were given to us on the island. I brought some of them home because they became such a huge part of our life. I am still reading those books to Isaac and Tess, and a feeling of gratitude always comes over me. The littlest things can make such a huge difference when you don’t have much.
When we left the island, I passed some of those same books on to someone else. I realized then there is no way that I would ever be able to repay all of the people who had blessed our path, but I could pay it forward.
One weekend while visiting St. Maarten for vacation, we met another sweet family who happened to be members of the church. She sent me back to Saba with a bag full of clothes for Jex and Stella. She had kids just a couple years older. Those clothes blessed my children.
We are nine years in to our medical journey now. We have two months left. In those nine years, we have been given most of our kids clothing. With four kids, on a residents salary, free clothes make a huge impact on our budget. Not only have they been free, but they have been well taken care of, and very stylish. Tender mercies of the Lord bless in so many ways.
I am here to tell you that those two years on the island of Saba were some of the hardest years, but I have never cried like I did the day we left that place. It taught me things I will never forget. Our entire journey on the island of Saba was scattered with the tender mercies of the Lord.
We have four children now, we are in our ninth year of medical education, and our journey is still immersed with those tender mercies. I am thankful that I have the ability to recognize them.
We recently moved from Arkansas to Pennsylvania this summer. It was a long and tedious move.
On our final morning in Arkansas last spring, we left the home of a friend who had graciously hosted our six person family for two weeks so our kids could finish school. I hugged Lindsey tight just before I walked away and said to her, “I can never repay you, but I do hope that someday I can do for someone else what you have done for me.”
If we are aware, most of those tender mercies come via a friend or acquaintance.
I believe that the medical student we met last year received one of those tender mercies through Jonathan. I hope someday he recognizes God’s hand in his life.
I never thought nine years ago that God would show me just how good people are, but he did. He gave me so much faith in people, and their ability to give. He taught me a huge lesson about Tender Mercies. He showed me that sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference.
I have great faith in knowing that God loves me, and He takes care of me and my needs. I am also very aware that He does this through the kindness of others. God has shown me that sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference. The little things strengthen our faith.
I hope you can recognize the good in your life, knowing that His tender mercies are all over his works.
Read more about our experiences on Saba here.