It’s springtime and the world is so beautiful right now. I don’t know if it’s just been optimal weather circumstances this year (lots of snow and rain over the past few months) or if it’s always like this and I just haven’t noticed before, but spring seems to be exceptionally beautiful this year. There are so many vibrant colors and flowering trees and bushes and they make me happy every time I see them.
As I was driving down the road last week, I noticed that a particular house has several lilac bushes lining their yard. I don’t know why, but I have never noticed these before, in the 4 years that we have lived here (and I drive past this house very frequently).
But this year, I noticed them. I noticed them because of Thilda.
I mentioned this story in another one of my posts, but I’ll write it again here…
After Swen lost his teaching job, the family moved to a humble three-room cottage at a place named Hasslaröd. Life was very hard and resources were extremely limited. (As I mentioned in the last post, I will insert the rest of this part of the story next week).
Living in this small cottage proved to be a blessing in disguise. It turns out that Emma Erickson, the owner of the cottage, had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Through this circumstance, Swen met two Latter-day Saint missionaries and became interested in their teachings and very friendly with them. When Thilda found out, she was not happy. The Lutheran Church was very popular in Sweden at the time and Lutheran clergy had warned the people about “the Mormons”. Thilda was indeed worried and it all seemed too much for a mind and heart to bear that was already burdened to the breaking point.
As Swen became more acquainted with the missionaries and their teachings, he asked them to visit his home. Internally, Thilda was not happy about this, but she was civil and kind anyway. The elders talked to Swen for a while and sang some Latter-day Saint songs, one of which touched Thilda deeply. It was a song that later was sung in their home and gatherings hundreds of times. The title of the song is “Älskade vän, O min broder sa kär” (Beloved friend, O my brother so dear). (*side note, after searching for quite a while online, I found this song! It is only the lyrics though. I hope to find the music and/or a recording of it so I know how it sounds.)
One of their sons, Helge also recorded this about Thilda’s conversion: “I still remember when Mormon missionaries came to our home. Father seemed a little interested in their teaching, but mother was hesitant until one time when they came back to talk to father she went outside, and kneeling behind a lilac bush, she prayed that she might know if their message was from God. After that, she never faltered but remained faithful and true to the gospel all her life.”
Her son Dan also recorded, “Mother no sooner heard the principles of the Gospel than she gained a fervent testimony and from thence forth she never had one doubt about the divinity of the teachings.”
I don’t know the exact details of what happened when Thilda went behind that lilac bush next to her home in Hasslaröd, Sweden. I don’t know exactly what she said in her prayer or how her answer came. But I do know that she received her answer. And I know that it must have been powerful and undeniable.
I know this because of how this prayer and the answer that she received changed her. From that moment on, she never faltered. She put one foot in front of the other and didn’t look back. She remained faithful and true to the gospel of Jesus Christ for the rest of her life.
And let me tell you, the rest of her life was far from easy. This choice to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resulted in great hardships.
Swen, Thilda, and a few of their children were baptized on June 5th (and 6th), 1892. After word spread that the Swenson family had joined the church, they were hated and hunted by all.
Dan records, “Even the children who formerly had been our playmates would gang up on us, till we feared for our lives if we had to leave the house to do an errand. One time Orson came funning home after dark, all out of breath, dragging a long wire wrapped around his foot. The gang had tried to snare him but he had jerked away from them.
Another time Ada and I, being sent on an errand, were confronted with a threatening mob of boys and girls. We were too frightened to run so we faced them, and Ada, in a trembling voice, said “All right if you want to hurt us then go ahead and kill us.” That seemed to set them back and we were permitted to leave without being molested. We felt to give thanks to God for we knew that he had come to our rescue.”
Within a couple of years, the Swenson family was able to immigrate to Utah to join with the rest of the saints. But this emigration from Sweden was not easy. Because money was scarce and they couldn’t afford to go all at once, Swen and Thilda sent their children on the long trip across the ocean, one or two at a time. I can’t even imagine how scary that must have been.
When they finally arrived in Utah, it’s not like they showed up to a nice, established home. They had to start from the bottom up. Thilda had to run everything and take care of the children by herself, as Swen was still back in Sweden, waiting for his chance to emigrate (and serving a mission while he waited). Thilda and Swen wouldn’t be reunited in Utah until 2 years after Thilda (and 4 years after the departure of the first child) left Sweden.
Over the next 24 years, Swen and Thilda would spend 8 of those years apart while Swen served an additional 3 missions in Sweden.
During these times, Thilda was left to run everything at home – which was not an easy job. As we’ve come to expect of her, Thilda worked hard. Dan recorded that when Swen returned home from this 2nd mission, they were living in a rather nice brick house with three rooms and a large lot. Swen, no doubt, was pleased that each time he returned from a mission, their living conditions were improved.
5 1/2 years after Swen returned from his last mission to Sweden, he passed away at the age of 75. And then 2 years later, Thilda passed away at the age of 79.
They had both lived hard, but incredibly blessed, lives.
Why was Thilda willing to go through these amazingly hard things? Why was the pain worth it to her? Why did she keep going and not give up?
I believe it was because she had her own personal sacred grove experience, right there behind that lilac bush. She had learned for herself. And no one could take that away from her. No one could take away the witness that she received when she uttered that faith filled prayer. The answer to that prayer (and many others I’m sure) carried her through the challenges that she faced throughout her life.
On Sunday evening, we were at my sister’s house and I noticed out her window that there was a lilac bush right there in her back yard. I asked her if I could cut some of the flowers from the bush and she was fine with that.
When I got home, I put the lilacs in mason jars. Every time I saw them throughout the day yesterday, I thought about Thilda.
And then last night, we took the kids to the cemetery (which just happens to only be 15 minutes away from our house) to visit Swen and Thilda’s graves. This was my first time seeing their graves as well so it was a special experience.
We put lilacs on Thilda’s grave and talked about her conversion story and how she found out for herself.
I’m already looking forward to doing this again next spring. 🙂
Dan wrote this tribute of his mother: “No mother ever lived who was more loyal to her husband and family and to the gospel, than our mother. She loved her children above everything and often said “My children are my riches,” and so it hurt her deeply if any one of them, intentionally or otherwise, were unkind to her. It is to be hoped that the children and grandchildren of Swen and Thilda Pehrson Swenson, through generations to come, when reading this brief account of the lives of this couple, may resolve to so live to be an honor to their memory.”
I’m grateful to come from such an amazing heritage and I hope to live up to the example that Swen, Thilda, and many other ancestors have set for me. …And I’ve now added “have a lilac bush” to my dream home list. 🙂