Love Returns

Dear Carlos,

As always, I am thrilled to receive your letters.  Through our correspondence, I can sense that your love and faith in our Lord and Savior is growing.  I believe you are also getting to know me rather well as you asked me to tell you more about my dear wife, Carolyn, and God’s blessing me with “love returned” (to use your expression).  I am sure I have told you how much I love her.  When God gave her to me, it was not only in his rich mercy that He returned love that had been lost, but he has blessed me with a beautiful and deeply profound love.

I left Cuba and arrived in Costa Rica alone and deeply wounded.  These were some of the darkest days of my life.  My wife had died.  I was forced to leave Cuba for my position regarding communism I expressed on my radio program.  I had to leave the country of my birth along with my family and friends.  Most terrible of all, I had to leave my three boys, graciously cared for by my younger brother and his wife.  My world had truly been torn apart and I felt the heavy hand of despair with every breath.

I immersed myself in my new job traveling almost non-stop throughout Latin America for the ministry of LEAL.  During the day, my work kept me busy and kept my mind and heart focused.  But then the night would come and the attacks of loneliness and despair were profound.  When I would lie down to try and sleep, my children would come to mind.  I would think about infant Gregg, whom the doctors miraculously spared from the womb when my wife passed away.  He was so small and fragile and I wasn’t able to hold him.  I thought about my little two year old, Daniel, who was just springing to life, full of mischief and questions.  I desperately wanted to look in his eyes and answer every question his little mind could think of.  I thought about my oldest son, Kenneth, now going on four.  I knew he missed me the most and wanted to be by my side, comforting me, hugging me.  These thoughts and feelings didn’t just rob me of my sleep; they were crushing my spirit.  I felt as if everyone and everything I had loved had been taken from me.

Finally, after I had been gone from Cuba five months, I was able to get special permission to return to the island to see my children for one week.  When the consulate gave me my visa to enter, I was told I could not speak on the radio nor talk to a single pastor.  All I was allowed to do was be with my sons.  That sounded like heaven to me and my huge smile brought a strange look from the consulate.

What an unforgettable week. A father has never enjoyed the hugs and kisses from his little boys as much as I did in that week. I was comforted by the great love and care my brother and his wife were giving my sons. They had two tiny daughters of their own but without hesitation they cared for and loved my boys.  Gregg, I think, was not sure who this man was who wanted to hold him so much.  My two older boys were overjoyed and celebrated every moment. I dreaded how quickly the days flew by and how soon I would have to leave them again.

One day I asked to borrow my brother’s car and I took Ken, the oldest, for a drive.  He was so happy to just have me to himself and in those days without car seats or seatbelt laws, he stood right beside me with his arm around my neck.  “Daddy,” he said as sweet and innocently as children do, “don’t you think Jesus has had Mommy long enough and He should send her back now so we could all be together again?”

I suppose I don’t have to tell you that Ken’s request broke my heart.

It was opposite to the conviction I had tried to tell myself: that God had taken my wife into His presence so I could serve Him without any hindrances.  I was trying to reconcile the idea of being a widower the rest of my life, taking very seriously the words from Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. But now, from the lips of my son he brought me back to reality: my children needed me!  I was their father! God gave them to me! I needed to re-establish my home!

I have no doubt God spoke to me through the words of my son that afternoon.  As it says in Matthew 21:16: Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,” ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” That night, feeling the weight of rebuilding my home, I began to pray like I never had before.  I poured my heart out to the Lord and told Him how I felt.  I even went so far as to ask Him if it was His will, that He would give me a new wife and mother for my children.

There are times, Carlos, when God takes time to answer.  There are others times when it seems He delights in answering immediately.  This was one of those times, for while I was praying, Carolyn came to my mind.  Carolyn, a beautiful young lady from Bellingham, Washington, a pastor’s daughter from the church where my in-laws worshipped and when we visited Bellingham, she was our baby sitter!  I couldn’t believe she came to mind as I hadn’t thought of Carolyn—ever.  I laughed out loud as I said to the Lord, “Are you kidding?”  I knew there had to be some mistake as there was no way Carolyn would have any interest in me at all—a poor widowed missionary ten years her elder with three young sons.  Still, every time I prayed, Carolyn came to mind.

Returning to Costa Rica, I immediately began searching for Carolyn’s address. As soon as I found it, I wrote an “exploratory” letter. (Later I found out as soon as she had read it, she threw it in the garbage.)  The more I prayed the more convinced I was that Carolyn was the answer God had given me. Christmas was around the corner but by this time, things had gotten so bad in Cuba that my brother Allen, his wife and all our little tag-alongs, had to return to the States. In God’s providence, we would be spending Christmas together in Washington State, where Allen’s wife’s family lived, where my first in-laws lived, and to my great delight, where Carolyn lived.  I could hardly wait to join them in Bellingham.

What an unforgettable Christmas!  At every opportunity I went to visit Carolyn.  She thought, however, I was there to visit her father to discuss church and mission things—the last things on my mind.  I guess I was hoping my mere presence would woo her off her feet, but it was rather obvious my strategy was not working.  Christmas came and went with many awkward moments, which left nothing resolved except her gradual awareness that I was quite taken by her.  I later learned this did more to scare her then it did to woo her.

Carolyn soon returned to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and I stayed on to be with my children and visit supporting churches.  When it was time for me to return to Costa Rica, I booked my flight with a long layover through Chicago where I was determined to tell her how I truly felt about her.  Me, a native Cuban used to the intense heat of tropical countries, arrived in Chicago—in February.  It was 1961 and I was walking the frozen streets of Chicago in a paper-thin coat determined to melt Carolyn’s frozen heart.

Once Carolyn understood why I was there, she had no idea what to think about me.  I also quickly learned there were at least three other young men after her, none of whom were widowed missionaries with three boys!  No one knew more than I that only by God’s mercy would I be able to win her heart.  I gave her a record I had made. I gave her a photo of my boys.  I prayed and I prayed.  What a day that was when she finally said, “I love you, too!”  And so at the end of February we were engaged.  We set the day for our wedding to be August of the very same year.  For me, it seemed like a thousand years ahead.

I returned to Costa Rica to continue my duties with LEAL, and so the rest of our courtship continued by mail.  Finally, just ten days before the wedding, we were together again in Bellingham, Washington, where it seemed the entire town was preparing for our wedding.  Oh, and one more thing, having spent all I had on my airplane ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to Seattle, Washington, I arrived with only ten cents in my pocket.  I used my last dime to call Carolyn to tell her I had arrived.  Carolyn had been able to save $70, and when she saw I had no suit for the wedding, she spent it on my suit.

Though flat broke, I felt like the richest man in the world, God was giving me the love of my dreams!  On August 19, 1961, I watched the most beautiful young lady I had ever seen walk down the aisle of Northwest Baptist Church.  God’s special gift to me. God had returned the love I had lost.

Two weeks later, my three sons with their new Mommy Carolyn, climbed into an old converted bread truck, and we began our long drive from Bellingham, Washington to San Jose, Costa Rica—an entire story all its own. To the delight of my boys, we called it “our honeymoon,” and by the time we arrived in Costa Rica, the boys were calling Carolyn, “Mommy.”

That August day in 1961 began a joyous adventure, party, delight, happiness and satisfaction that has lasted to this day.  Let me tell you, Carlos, that all those terrible black and lonely days I experienced after my first wife died now pale in comparison to the love and joy God has given me these past many years.  Soon Carolyn and I will celebrate our 50th anniversary and remember the vows we made to love, honor, and cherish each other.  In all honesty I can tell you I love and appreciate her more now than the day we got married.

Carlos, we can never know the mind of God and why He allows difficult and dark days in our lives.  But this I do know, God is faithful, His promises are true, and He will never, ever leave us.  Cling to Him even when the days are dark and your strength seems gone.  He will never leave you or forsake you.

I’m already looking forward to your next letter. It is always a joy to know that in your heart you have a little spot for this old man with white hair.  I pray much for you.

May God bless you richly,

Les Thompson