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.

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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.

23: technology.

my first apple. still using it.by the way, check the time. now look how bright it is outside. crazy sweden.

with technology, we always think about moving forward. progressing. everything getting better. faster. thinner. sleeker. cooler. smarter. and to be honest, that is what happens with technology. it gets “better” with time. it improves. i mean, when i was in college/university blah-blah years ago, we only had 1 computer lab. we had to sign up for a time to use one of the schools 10 computers if we wanted to have our papers typed, not hand-written. true story. i had a word processor in my dorm room. do some of you even know what that is? it’s a fancy typewriter that had a 3 inch screen that showed what i was typing on the paper that came out the back as i typed it. yep. and then, my cell phone. it was in a bag, and it sat on the floor between the 2 front seats. i plugged it into the cigarette lighter and it was only possible to use when riding in the car. it was a car phone. there were no real cell phones. i listened to cassette tapes & eventually had a crapload of cds in my car, all over the floor. in order to change the cd, i needed to stop at a stoplight or pull over, since it required so much effort to find a cd, take it out of it’s case, & insert it into the cd player. oh, and don’t even get me started on the internet. it was just being introduced to the public. i remember some conversation with an old boyfriend about email accounts. he had set up one (he was always on the cutting edge. still is.) and i had not idea what the hell he was talking about. why would i need an email? couldn’t i just call people? or visit them? (i had the same battle with texting some years later. hehe.)

so, in a rather short amount of time things have changed drastically. for the better? well, yes, i think. although, i could name a few negatives too. but, i’m not gonna do that in this post. in this post i’m admitting that i’m a techie junkie. there i said it. lina & i want the newest things. these things are fun & exciting, but smart & practical in many ways also. they make things work better, make life easier, allow us to communicate & keep in touch better. yes, yes, they’re expensive too. generally. but, we save our money & decide to spend it on these kinds of fun things, instead of buying new & expensive clothes, shoes, bags, etc. all the time. it’s our choice. and we choose to invest in cool, new, up-to-date technical things. yep. we’re  little bit nerdy in this way. and perhaps a little materialistic too?

however, today as i’ve been thinking about technology & all the great things it has done, i thought in general about moving forward. is it always good to be pushy & move forward? always anxiously waiting for the next great thing. is it good to always be so eager to progress? perhaps the desire to progress and move forward at warp speed is a symptom of desiring to be in control. at least it is for me, in some ways, i think. i want things to move on, to what i want them to be. and i always associate moving forward with being better. i want things done in my way, in my time. therefore, i want control over the situation. i suck at backing off & letting things be. but, perhaps i need to slow down. to accept & take things as they come. things will progress. that’s natural. but, perhaps sometimes i need to back off and stop trying to control the progression. just let it be. let things take the time they need to take. and while it’s taking it’s time, try to be aware of what’s actually happening now, how i’m feeling now, instead of always missing the now because of wishing/hoping for what comes next. besides i can’t get to “then” without experiencing “now”. i need today. and won’t i be a better person for living for today instead of always looking toward tomorrow?

in other words, wait. trust. hope. live.

it’s a fine balance, being proactive with our dreams, hopes, and futures… and waiting, letting things take their own sweet time, letting life unfold, trusting the process. life moves so fast anyway. why would i want to be in a hurry? i’d be missing out on so much.

here’s to all of us finding the courage & strength to back off a little bit. to slow down. to let time do it’s thing. here’s to trusting that, in time, we will all feel peace.

day 1: peace.

it may just be one of my favorite words in the english language: peace. so, when this may challenge presented me with a chance to photograph something that represents/embodies peace, my mind went crazy. in a good way. i could do that all day long. i would love to do that all day long. but, i didn’t. instead, i went for something simple. sometimes less is more.

now, i’m not promising anything, but i think i’m gonna try posting my pic & a reflection on it every day in may. starting the month with the word “peace” as my inspiration has to be a sign. so, i’m stepping up my may challenge to a new level. i’m not planning on anything long & drawn out, just a few words or thoughts – my own, or someone else’s – to go along with my daily photo challenge. we’ll see what happens. i just feel that i’ve done the challenge with just the pics for 2 months now, so it’s time to shake things up a bit. i hope you’ll enjoy my daily posts. of course, there will be other posts as well, interspersed here & there. you know i’m long-winded & i loooove writing. hehe. thank goodness y’all hang with me through those long posts. but, for the month of may, it’s all about getting inspiration from the pictures.

ok. back to today’s theme. peace. i remember when i was in college i had to rank 10 words (that the professor gave us) in order – most important to least. my number 1 (most important) number was… you got it. peace. inner peace, to be exact. i was the only one in the class with that listed as my number 1 word. i’ve always been a little different. hehe. anyway. my reasoning? when we seek inner peace, strive for balance & harmony in our lives, remained connected to our souls, then we can be of better service to ourselves & those around us. peace & balance allow us to be used, to create, to fly, to make a difference. for me, inner peace is the ground of everything else. it is not the absence of suffering, difficulties, and pain… instead it is a sense of calm & hope in the midst of all of that because we are faced with suffering, confusion, pain, and reality every moment of our lives. peace gives us strength to make it through. so, there is nothing that i want more than peace. for myself & for everyone.

there’s nothing more to say, dear readers, except to wish you much love…

and peace.