a dream fifteen years in the making.
one of my blog friends, german-american abroad, asked me to write a little bit about my decision to move to sweden and my first reactions to living here. she knows that i am working to begin writing down parts of my story in book-form here online, but asked if i could write on this subject now. of course! it is a little out of order, but, perhaps it’s a great way to get stuff written down. there is no rule saying that i need to tell my story in chronological order, right? actually, it could be cool to do it this way.
in my last “from death to peace” (which is not the title of my book, just something i using right now since i don’t have a title) post, i wrote the very beginning of my book. and the beginning began with my death. now i am jumping to the end of my story: my move to sweden. of course, the story i am telling is not the story of my whole life, just a certain time period over about 4-5 years. in any case, here comes the closing. where my journey from death to peace led me.
i will, of course, fill in all the details of my journey from my death to my new life in sweden in later posts; for that is the heart of my story.
i met lina just as i began to die. just as i began to realize that i needed a change in my life. ok. not a change. a complete overhaul. i met her just as i was beginning to feel and listen to my soul. just as i was beginning to take my life back, so i could live again (or perhaps for the first time) and be true to myself. i met lina just as i begin to follow the dreams that i had been keeping locked deep inside me for twelve years. it was the summer of 2007.
ironically, or magically, or providentially, i met lina when i was thirty-two, in the exact same situation and place where i first felt my soul twelve years earlier. it was a place, a way of living that, in the summer of 1995, i knew deep in my twenty year old soul that i needed to be. a place, a way of life that would most definitely be a part of my life. it just took me fifteen years to get there.
in june, 1995, a naive, twenty year old college girl hopped on a plane for the first time and jetted off to scandinavia. the plan was to travel with four other girls & two boys (and married couple who served as our leaders) to visit united methodist churches in denmark, norway, sweden, finland, & estonia. it was sort of a relational exchange program that had been going on between scandinavian & north carolinian methodists for fifty years, and i was chosen to be part of the team for the summer before my last year of university studies. what an opportunity! five weeks in europe! not just touring, but living with and establishing relationships with people from other parts of the world. it was a dream come true for lil ‘ole me.
i could probably write a book about those five weeks, but that’s not the story i’m telling now. i will share with you that, during that trip, i met many people who i kept in touch with and many who touched me, but i’d never hear from again. why would i? and when the five weeks were over, something had changed inside of me. better yet, something was awakened in me. i felt a longing, an aching to live in europe. in scandinavia. at that time, specifically in denmark. i began wondering how it would be possible to move there after i graduated, but i came up with no good plans. i saw no possible ways.
stubborn determination took over, however, and i did not let the dream die. instead, i refocused on being a missionary in another part of the world. i didn’t care where. somewhere. anywhere. i knew i was born for adventure, for travel, for other cultures. however, upon graduation, reality set in…. in the form of my parents encouraging me to look for something more stable. a real job. not missionary, volunteer work. that doesn’t pay the bills. that’s not practical.
i succumbed to my own fears of letting others’ down and my inability standing up for myself. i felt the pull, the drive, the yearning for adventure. i knew it was in my soul. but, i didn’t listen to it. i decided to make the best of it, use my degree to find a job teaching, and fulfill my duty as a responsible adult at the super young age of twenty-one. yes. i settled down. or better yet. i settled.
marriage followed. a house. a move. a new job. and a stable life all by the age of twenty-three. thirty-seven year old me thinks twenty-three year old me was crazy and way to young to settle down. but, i did.
fast forward nine years to the summer of 2007 and i was finally ready to listen to my soul. to really listen to that yearning, that calling, that feeling that never left. i had tried to suppress it, to say that life was good, to make the best of everything… all the while knowing that my soul was aching for europe, for adventure, for a different kind of life that was not the status quo. i knew i there was a life of passion and purpose out there; and in order to be true to myself, i had to seek it.
just as i was finding the courage to hear what my heart and soul were saying, and beginning to act on it, i was asked to be a leader for a group of college students to scandinavia & the baltic countries. yes. twelve years had passed since my trip to scandinavia as a twenty year old, and at the age of thirty-two, i was asked to lead the group for the summer of 2007: the sixty-seventh summer of the exchange. finally. i would be returning to the countries where i first felt my soul, where i first felt that there was a greater purpose to my life. but, why now? i had no idea that this trip would be the catalyst for my death, and then eventual return to life.
and so, as i was the leading five amazing college-age students across the countries where i found my soul, watching them meet their souls, our paths crossed the path of a beautiful, amazing, funny woman in sweden. lina.
lina was the one in charge of taking care of us for the week that we were in sweden. when we met, something clicked. we laughed, sang, talked, and a beautiful friendship began. a friendship that, after a very tough, life-changing year for both of us, grew into love… something neither one of us expected, thought of, or imagined. it just was. and most everyone saw it before we did. until one day, when we realized how natural it was that we had fallen in love with each other. how everything fit. how we made each other better people. how we had found each other; and now we were home.
we were married on the 26th of december 2009 and were faced with the question: where would out actual home be?
as an american woman married to a swedish woman (we were married in sweden), it was not possible for us to live in north carolina (where i am to this day still considered single) or actually anywhere in the united states. lina cannot get a green card because our marriage is not recognized by the united states government… therefore, since visas & green cards are only valid for heterosexual couples, there was no possible way for lina to move to the states. well, she could possibly find a job and get a work visa, but we would still be unmarried (according to u.s. law) and not have any rights. it doesn’t matter that there are a few states that recognize/support marriage equality, we have to go through the u.s. government in order to live there. follow me?
so, the decision (which was not really a decision, since we didn’t really have a choice) for me to move to sweden was inevitable. in sweden, our marriage is like any other marriage. marriage is simply marriage in sweden. so, in early 2010 i applied for a residence & work permit (green card) and was granted permission to live here with all the rights as anyone else.
but, moving here was not a problem for me at all… i was fulfilling a fifteen year old dream.
humbled, overwhelmed, ready for the adventure, and so thankful to finally be able to live with my wife, in august 2010, we packed two suitcases, two duffle bags, and our cat, and moved me (and zola) to sweden.
beginning life in sweden was not that much of a shock because, by the time i moved here, i had visited so many times and spent several months here at a time. so, i was quite used to the culture. there was no real culture shock. the hardest thing was facing the challenge of learning a new language at the age of 35. the second hardest thing was sitting around for almost a year with no job. but, i’ll admit i got used to it. wink wink.
because i had a ready-made family here (in-laws), it was very easy for me to get into society, to meet people, and to be around swedes – a notoriously individualistic group of people, generally keeping to themselves. i suppose the lack of interaction among strangers has been on of the most difficult things for me as a southern girl. in the south in the states, we talk to any & everybody. we chat. we smile. we make jokes with whoever is around us. and it’s not weird. here, we keep to ourselves in public. ok. i test the boundaries some, especially when i’m walking down the streets as i flash a smile at a stranger, sometimes receiving one back. sometimes only receiving a stare and i’m certain then that they are thinking, “damn foreigner”.
all in all, it has not been a difficult move. sweden is an easy place (for a fellow westerner) to adapt to. however, as someone who longed to leave the states so badly, i find myself missing them greatly now. they say that once you are an ex-pat (one living in a country other than your home country), you are more patriotic than you’ve ever been, it’s true. i’m way more american now than ever. at the same time, i’m way more swedish too. the ex-pat life is a funny, yet exciting and wonderful thing.
my journey from a twenty year old dreaming of moving to europe one day to a thirty-seven year old living life as an american in sweden has been a long one. but, it has been a journey to freedom; though not without pain, heartache, confusion, and death.
but, you’ll have to wait until next time to hear some of those stories.