There has been a lot of talk these days about heroes. And most of the heroes mentioned are normal people being faithful in their normal job while facing difficult, and lately unprecedented, challenges. I have been thinking a great deal about the health care workers that are taking care of my father as if he were their own. My Dad is in an assisted living home that only has four residents and is run by a staff of three. I have called and FaceTimed regularly through the past two months and the way they treat him is not only professional but loving. The past few months he has lost his ability to have a conversation. He still will recognize his children but cannot communicate his thoughts or feelings. I was able to spend four days with my Dad literally the week before the COVID-19 crisis forced the quarantining of his facility. I had the privilege of spending those days with him when he could answer questions, recognize his children and grandchildren, and even respond positively to my attempts at humor. We also enjoyed one of his all-time favorites together, a trip to Dunkin’ Doughnuts. What I wish is for those who are taking care of him now to understand who the man that they are serving with the most basic of personal care really is. He is my hero. So please allow me to tell you about my Dad.
Len Karlberg was born to Swedish immigrant parents in Rockford, Illinois in 1929 right at the start of the Great Depression. They spoke Swedish in the home, so he had to learn English on the “streets” of Rockford. At 15 he was a caddy at the local country club when all of the older boys were off fighting in World War II. He taught his own father to drive after they bought a car. He drove a grocery delivery truck as another job. Parents relying on children to teach them current technology and people getting groceries delivered to them? Something about that sounds really familiar.
Len later left a job working with some of the first computers and joined a traveling evangelism group that traveled around the country working in churches and sharing the Gospel with people. With that training, he then became a traveling “child evangelist” holding kids meetings all across the United States. These meetings were complete with Bible stories, Bible memory, magic tricks, and ventriloquism. Through the years he told thousands of children about saving Grace through Jesus Christ. I can still remember him teaching the crowd of children, of which I was one, the verse from Isaiah 53:6 until they had it memorized. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone, to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Evidently the Lord used him well because I can quote that verse to you even today. I remember praying in my bed with my Dad after one of those kids meetings to receive Jesus as my Savior and Lord.
Dad met Marilyn while working in the evangelism group. Even though they were not allowed to date while a part of this group, the sparks were beginning. Mom broke her leg in an accident, and Dad took her to the hospital. He paid for her x-rays without saying a word to anyone. Mom did not know this until after they were married. To Len, it was just the right thing to do, no big deal. He enrolled in Bethel College and then Bethel Seminary in Minnesota. Len and Marilyn were married for just shy of 63 years as Marilyn passed away in 2017. This couple was called into full-time Christian ministry. Dad told Mom that he would be honored to be her husband, but that she needed to know that if she said yes she would never really have anything because he knew God called him to be a pastor and live a life of service. She took her time, but then said “yes.” She would love to serve alongside him. When Len shared this story at their 60th Anniversary, they were surrounded by their children and grandchildren. He then told Marilyn he lied to her. He told her just to look around at all that God had blessed them with. They were involved in full-time Christian ministry for over 55 years.
Dad had many roles in his life. He preached, counseled, performed weddings and funerals, and also was a pastoral mentor to many who were beginning the pastoral ministry. But my favorite role was his role as Dad. He was not a perfect man, but he was as passionate about being a Godly father as he was sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Even with the extremely busy schedule of a senior pastor, he always made time for me. I remember Friday nights he would ask me what I wanted to do, just the two of us. As a sixth grader I did not realize that adults really did not want church meetings on Friday nights. I was just glad we made so many memories together.
Len was a man blessed with common sense. He used his knowledge of the Bible to instruct him on wisdom and was able to articulate things so clearly. I did not always agree with him or even appreciate his wisdom. I remember when I was a sophomore in college he told me, “Ya know son, I have realized that the older you get, the wiser I get.” As I pondered that statement, I had to admit that he was right. His calm demeanor and patience, of which I tested many times, were well appreciated by his colleagues and congregations alike. I really miss calling him for advice. But what I miss most about my Dad is time with him! I have come to realize that we need to make the most of each day. In regards to spending time with those we love, if you think you should maybe go and see someone or call them up, just do it!! You will never be sorry you invested time in a relationship with a loved one. As a matter of fact, some day you will be feeling as grateful as I do today that you had every moment you could.
A good friend of mine once said, “There are two things that last forever, God’s Word and people. Invest in those things.” I would challenge each of us to heed that advice. I know my hero did!
I love you, Dad! Thanks for reading.