how an expat celebrates independence day: nostalgia + gratitude

fireworks

it’s the 4th of july! the day that americans have bbqs + shoot off fireworks like nobody’s business.

it’s such a fun day, a highlight of the summer, for sure. people have taken off from work – usually to take vacations during the week (mind you, europeans, 1 of the only 2-ish weeks of vacation that most americans get in a year – if they are lucky!). so, it’s a day of celebration, family, love, tradition, and pure carefree bliss.

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i have spent most of my 4th of julys at the beach with my extended family. i have vivid, absolutely wonderful memories of this holiday with my family. these summers, these holidays formed me + grounded me.

but, you know, my family is not the only one who celebrates this way. the beaches around the entire american coastline are packed to the gills today. blankets, coolers, boogie boards, fishing poles, surfboards, music, the smell of coconut oil and sunscreen, books, beach towels… these are the things of summer to me. the things of the 4th of july.

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the evening air will smell of grills cooking hot dogs + burgers. red solo cups will be filled with sodas and beer. potato salad, baked beans, chips, and most definitely a desert with strawberriess + blueberries will be eaten.

and then, as the sun sets, people will gather, craning their necks upward to watch the fireworks light up the sky, booming, flashing, making people giggle with sheer delight. it is a night when everyone is transported back to their childhood again.

and it’s the night when my crazy family has gathered for our own little ritual + celebration: setting off our own fireworks on the beach. last year they were so amazing we drew a crowd!

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atlantic beach fireworks.

there is just nothing like it.

oh…. i’m feeling extremely nostalgic right now…

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of course, this summer, this independence day, i am in sweden. but, it’s not regular day here either. at least not for me + my swedish family.

it’s true, my heart is breaking  because my love + i are not celebrating with the family in north carolina. ok. my heart is crushed, as it always is whenever a holiday rolls around and i can’t be in two places at once.

but, i can’t complain too much. here in sweden, i have just arrived today in the swedish archipelago for a week long vacation of rest, fun, sun (hopefully!). this is a tradition that my love’s family has had for about 40 years now, so i have just traded one family tradition for another.

summer archipelago

so, friends, i will be off the grid + back to nature for the next week. soaking up the magical swedish forests and sea. all i’m gonna do is eat, sleep, rest, laugh, sunbathe, write, and just freaking be.

and yes, i absolutely realize how blessed i am to have such beautiful traditions, places, and people in two different countries that i call home.

today, i wish all of my fellow americans all around the world a happy 4th of july, i send hugs + kisses to my family in the states, and i share with each of you, dear readers, a big ball of energy of love + light.

onwards + upwards! xoxo

when i called the african methodist episcopal zion church home

there was a time, my friends, that i called the african methodist episcopal zion church (AMEZ)  my home. and i am so proud to say that.

that’s right. little ole white american girl me was a member of a passionate, inspiring, welcoming, enlightening, life-changing AMEZ community for about four years.

if you know anything about me, you’ll know that i have a methodist (christian protestant) background and upbringing. my methodism is still part of my spirituality, though i also invite + use other elements of other religions/faiths and non-religions in my spiritual journey.

just 7 short years ago, in addition to working at a united methodist church, i was also studying for my master’s degree in theology at an African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) seminary. 

the AMEZ church was founded in 1796 in new york, as black members in that area separated from the white Methodist Church. (the african methodist episcopal church (AME) was also founded in 1796, but in Pennsylvania, as black members separated from the white Methodist Church. both were founded so that black americans at the turn of the 18th century would have the opportunity to worship in their own way and also set up their own theological schools. both were supported and helped by the white methodist church. all of the theologies and organizations of all three of the churches are fairly similar… seeing as they all 3 rose out of the methodist movement by john wesley in the 1700s. and today all three denominations have made a commitment to work together in ministry.

now, most people in north carolina (where i lived + worked at the time) who want to study theology at a united methodist seminary choose to go to duke university. my granddad did about 70 years ago. and, of course, throughout all of my life i thought hat i had wanted to attend duke also.

but, in order to study there, i would have had to quit my job and relocate, which i wasn’t going to do. however, i had heard a tip from some fellow ministers + pastors about a small AMEZ seminary that had a master’s of divinity degree schedule that worked well for people who worked and needed to commute. same degree. same theology. just a different school.

i looked into it, and after taking just one preliminary class there, i knew with all of my soul that this was where i was meant to be. it was the perfect fit – and believe me, i had visited many different seminaries in the country. it was small, unique, personal, and it felt like i would get to  be part of an intimate, motivated grassroots effort –  a place where i could explore my faith, expand my spirituality, and be a part of what i knew would be a life-changing experience.

i knew inside that all along i had wanted something a little different. to step outside of the norm. and expand my horizons (and mind)  in a whole new way.

so, i decided to leave behind the traditional united methodist seminary and attend this small, historical, black AMEZ seminary. yes, i spent four incredible years studying theology full-time at hood theological seminary in salisbury, north carolina. 

to express to you what it was like to attend classes with such a diverse group of people from all backgrounds, races, nationalities and ages would be nearly impossible. just know that, even though hood was a seminary of only a few hundred students, the intimacy + interaction + support that i received from fellow students and our professors was profound. i made deep connections, that even though i may not have much contact with people now, have impacted my life and remain close to my heart.

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almost daily i still remember some of the moments and lessons and experiences that i had. times like eating meals with members of all races and discussing racism head-on in light of our faith, of listening to the stories + lives of others, of feeling lost + overwhelmed together as we tackled these complex subjects of faith + life, of hitting the bottom in my own life, only to find that this community of professors + students was there to support me and help me find my way to my own inner peace.

my professors challenged me, and i had the highest of highs when i was awarded the title of theological student of the year. and the lowest of lows, when a professor pushed and challenged and failed me – only to help me see that i was capable of so very much more that i was giving. these highs + lows were life changing. they gave me clarity. they made me a better theologian, minister, and spiritual being.

but, one of the things that i remember and call on most, are the daily worship services that we shared as a community. each student had to preach and lead a community/campus-wide worship service multiple times throughout their studies. this terrified the begeezus out of me in the beginning. preaching for my fellow students and professors blew the freak out of my mind. but, as the years passed, and as i grew in confidence + knowledge, i became someone who loved to share a message of love + grace. i loved standing up in front of people + letting all of the research and studying and meditating i had done come bubbling out of me.

however, it was also about receiving from my fellow classmates + faculty. there were days when a white male student would preach a subdued, yet powerful sermon; and then there were days when a fiery african american woman would have the place rockin’ and singin’ and amen-in’. and i loved how every worship service was different. the ones that crossed cultures + backgrounds + meshed them all together were the best.

but, the real beauty was found in the communion of our hearts + souls.

we may have used different words, or looked differently, or even communicated everything differently, but we were all claiming the same thing: grace and love and peace. harmony and justice and freedom.

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it wasn’t just bridging black + white for us. it was about taking it global too. taken in 2007 at the acropolis in athens, greece. a trip i was on for one of my classes at hood. 

these days at hood, these experiences at hood, this part of my life that was spent at hood… i was changed. i became a better person. i was transformed and set free. and i had the pure joy of exploring the opportunity to see life through the eyes of others. we all came from such different places and philosophies, and we didn’t always agree. but, we always loved. we always accepted. we always held on to what united us instead of what divided us.

so, when i learned of how the members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in charleston, south carolina have been responding to the deaths of nine of their very own right in their own church, i felt proud. proud to have been a part of this tradition. proud to have been a methodist. proud to have been a student at an AMEZ graduate school.

but, even more than proud, i felt hope.

the outpouring of grace + forgiveness from the members and families has renewed my belief in justice. just four days after the terrorist massacre, the congregation worshiped together in the same church where their loved ones were murdered. and, family members offered words of forgiveness to the killer at his bond hearing on friday. like for real. forgiveness people.

Nine Dead After Church Shooting In Charleston

nadine collier, daughter of a victim says, “i forgive you” to the shooter. photo from the new yorker.

the actions of this AME community in charleston have reminded me to never take for granted the deep connection i have with these african denominations of the methodist church – denominations that have carried a message of freedom + hope + liberation since the 1700s. denominations that have been on the front lines of being + living the change that we want to see in the world, of fighting with hope and grace and peace, instead of weapons and fear, for the freedom and rights of people.

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this is the power of answering hate with love.

and i am finding myself with tears streaming down my face, asking myself if am i capable of this this kind of mercy and grace. would i respond in the same way?

if you want to know what faith looks like, then look no further, my friends, than the responses of this community of faith after such a horrific tragedy. this is it. this is faith without question. this is living and moving on without understanding, and yet still believing and hoping and trusting. it is coming together, instead of tearing apart. it is looking for solutions, instead of responding with more terror and violence.

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this is unfathomable mercy. this is unconditional grace. 

it is not possible for me to just sit back and watch what is happening. i must do something. i must join them in their fight, even if i can only fight from afar + with my words.

this is a reminder for me to never lose touch with my own little AMEZ roots. to never forget all that i have learned + experienced. and the best way that i can do that is to live my life as i see these beautiful people in charleston living theirs – even in the midst of pain and suffering and tragedy.

once again, though, i ask myself… what am i going to do? what are we going to do? well, i believe the answer lies in how we live our lives every single day. in how we respond to pain and suffering and tragedy. in how we decide to treat each other.

join me, will you, in letting these strong, inspiring people in charleston set an example for us and challenge us to live life as faithfully, resolutely, and openly as they do.

let’s promise each other to live a life filled with love and hope and justice. deal?

onwards + upwards! xoxo

all of the other photos are from here ( a google image search).

A white man walked into a church…

but, this is no f*cking joke, people.

this is for freaking real.

a white man walked into an african methodist episcopal church in charleston, south carolina last night and killed nine people. murdered them. because they were black.

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photo from cnn.com

i’m so pissed. and so exhausted. sick from all of the violence. all of the hate.

how many people have to be killed before we wake up? how much more hate can we tolerate? and, honestly, what the hell can we do about it?

if i continue typing right now, i’ll just say the same things over + over again. so, i’m gonna let you read my friend’s (alex), words instead. this is from her post on Facebook. she nailed it.

“What the fuck is wrong with people?! I’m angry. I’m tired of compassion. I’m tired of forgiveness. I’m tired of empathy. Because it’s not fucking working. Saying, “We’ve come so far since the 50s and 60s” is just an excuse in my eyes at this point. Because this is unacceptable. Hate crimes are unacceptable. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racial profiling is unacceptable. Less pay for equal work is unacceptable. Sideways glances are unacceptable.

If you’re sitting on your couch thinking, “Well at least they can vote and go to the same schools and not be turned away for service at a restaurant and live in peace.” WAKE THE FUCK [UP]. We have Voter ID bills passing in state legislation left and right — to disenfranchise minority voters. We have gerrymandered school districts and poverty stricken areas of cities that have underfunded schools and teachers from the bottom of the barrel because we don’t pay them enough to care — all of which are serving a majority of the minority population. We have religious freedom bills passing all over the place that will undoubtedly be used by racist, hate-filled business owners and employees against people because of the color of their skin. AND PEOPLE ARE BEING MURDERED. All of the time.

So stop saying things are better than they were fifty years ago and then doing nothing because you figure it’ll work itself out. Stand up for ALL your neighbors. Stand up when you hear a friend say something racist. Stand up to YOUR OWN racist thoughts and actions. Have those uncomfortable conversations with people. Go to vigils for our fallen friends and neighbors of all races. Show up. Be a warm body in the crowd. Otherwise there’s going to be even more cold bodies dead in the streets and you on your couch running out of excuses.

I mourn these losses in Charleston. And I’m again invigorated to see this through to the other side. Because I believe it’s possible. But it will take every single one of us standing up for what is right in order to make it happen. Are you willing to be a part of this movement?”

you know, it’s infuriating. it’s mind-boggling. and it leaves me feeling helpless + overwhelmed.

but, there is something that we can do. there is something that you can do. there is something that i can do.

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photo from my trip to washington, dc in january

i’m talking to you, my fellow americans; and to you, my fellow swedes (where the racist party just keeps growing in numbers in sweden), and to you, my fellow global brothers + sisters.

it doesn’t matter how big or how little your gesture is, just spread the love. spread the peace. make a fucking difference in your life. shine a little light somewhere. anywhere. lead a revolution or just share a smile. but, just freaking do something. (mind you, i’m talking to myself too).

things can change. it is possible. it really, really, really is.

so, join the movement.

spread a message of love and live a life that reflects the belief that ALL LIVES MATTER. let us create together a better, safer, more tolerate, peaceful, just, equal world. it’s time for a change.

i’m in. are you?

onwards + upwards! xoxo

what’s at stake: waiting for the supreme court to decide on love

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five and a half years ago i married the most amazing woman. we got married in sweden, since she’s swedish. and, after 6 months of living in two different countries right after our marriage, i moved to sweden so we could create our life together.

i’ve always wanted to live in europe. but, i must admit that part of the reason that we chose to live in sweden rather than the states, was because our marriage was legal here.

there was pretty much no way that we could live in the united states back in 2010.

in sweden, we are legally married, recognized, and have all of the rights + privileges as any other couple. in fact, there are no real issues at all in sweden regarding marriage equality. of course there are some conservative christian people (even here!) that like to talk shit about same sex couples, but that is a teeny, teeny, tiny small percentage.

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the problem is that we love sweden and we love the united states. specifically my home state of north carolina. but, as i said, it was not possible for us to live in the states. the only way that lina (my wife) could live there with me was if she got a job, which gave her a work visa (not an easy thing to do at all!). or for her to study (which took loads of money).

so, sweden was our home for three years.

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then, after three years in sweden, we had the opportunity for move to north carolina! we had a huge gift given to us, and an opportunity for my love to study at an american university became a reality. then, voila! after a year of long processes, my love got a student visa for 4 years and we moved to our beloved asheville, north carolina!

so, to sum up… the only legal way we could live in the united states was to pay craploads of money for my love to study. and, our marriage was not even recognized as legal when we moved. but, we did it anyway! and we were happy.

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then the unthinkable happened, literally just about the same time we were boarding the plane to move to the states in 2013…

united states vs windsor went to trial, and the supreme court decided that the federal government must recognize marriages of lesbian and gay couples.

the defense of marriage act (DOMA) was found unconstitutional, which means victory for same-sex bi-national couples. what does that mean?! it means that, as an american citizen, i could petition for a green card for my wife, just like heterosexual couples have always been able to do. lina would have the right to live in the states based on our marriage – just like i had the right in sweden.

of course, this didn’t mean that everything was fine & dandy for everyone, everywhere. in fact, in north carolina (as sick as this is gonna sound), our marriage was still not legally recognized. we had no rights as a married couple in the state.

so, our marriage was recognized by the us government, but not in north carolina. it was only legal in 13 states. at the time, though, it was a huge step forward for equal rights. though there was much work left to be done to ensure full legal, equal rights for all couples in all places at all times.

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fast forward to a little more than a year after we had moved to the states. life in asheville was good, but our marriage was still not recognized. so, if either one of us landed in the hospital, we were out of luck. the other one could not visit because we were not family. (just one example of the discrimination + inequality).

but…

in october of 2014, a ruling in virginia struck down the law that defined marriage as only between a man and a women.  in other words, it was now unconstitutional (illegal) to say that marriage was only between a man and a woman in virginia. suddenly everything changed! in literally a minute!

that ruling opened the door for other states to also strike down their own bans on same-sex marriage. north carolina had had a ban on gay marriage for a while, but i didn’t really believe that the law would be struck down anytime soon.

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however, after a lot of drama and a lot of waiting, and hoping, and wishing, and a few last ditch political and horrific stalling tactics by republicans, and almost giving up, at the last minute on an october friday night, a judge in north carolina ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional (because of what happened in virginia on monday). and then, within minutes, same- sex marriages were allowed to begin.

suddenly, within a flash, our marriage was recognized in our state. suddenly we were a married couple in north carolina – with rights and privileges. not just two girls living together. but, legitimately married. it felt amazing. and i could hardly breathe. 

this was the day that love came to north carolina. the day that equality and justice won. i was so proud. so excited. and so overjoyed. and you know what else? it really did feel different walking around today, holding my love’s, my wife’s, hand – knowing that we are not just two women who live together. but, in the eyes of the law of north carolina and the united states, we are legally married. it is a binding contract, affording us the same rights and privileges as opposite gender couples. and i cannot adequately describe to you how incredible this feels.

but, there is still bad news: even though states all across the nation were beginning to make same sex marriages legal, there were many states still holding on to their marriage bans and still mired in discrimination.

and, of course, the conservatives in north caroline began putting up a good fight, spending tax payers money, trying to undo what has been done. and, you know what? they have succeeded in some ways… ugh. marriage is still legal in north carolina. but there are new discriminatory laws that are being put in place, taking away some of the right that we just won a few months ago.

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but… there is something happening in the supreme court again. right now.

nationwide marriage equality could be a real thing in the united states in the next few days. like. for. real.

this month, the supreme court is set to make a decision that just might make same-sex marriage the law of the land = legal + recognized in every single state! this would change absolutely every single thing. this is the thing that would make the united states a country of marriage equality.

this decision is HUGE: if ruled in favor of marriage equality, it would overturn same-sex marriage bans currently in the remaining 13 states, and make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country.

it time time, people. time to stop having LGBTQ couples being treated as second citizens, as less than. it is time that we live out the belief that love is love.

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so here’s what’s happening: the case,  obergefell v. hodges was argued before the supreme court back in april, and now the supreme court (the highest court in the country) has to address two questions very important questions:

Question 1: Does the U.S. Constitution require states to perform same-sex marriages? (because of basic civil rights)*.

Question 2: Does the Constitution requite states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states? (same reason)*

*of course, i am majorly, majorly simplifying the issue. i’m not  lawyer or constitutionalist, you know! hehe.

i am breathlessly, crazily waiting to hear what the supreme court decides. because, whether i live in the states or in sweden, this affects me and my wife. and it affects many, many other couples as well.

over the next two-ish weeks, we wait to hear what the decision will be. the supreme court makes its decisions (opinions) on thursdays + mondays (if i understand it correctly).

and a decision will be made by monday, june 29. when it will come, no one is really sure.

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so, we wait. and we hope. and we keep on believing. fighting every single day for every american to have the right to simply love who they love. we fight by raising our voices and by living our lives. we fight by living a life of love. and never giving up. we show what we mean. we share our stories. and we believe that, in the end, love will win.

because that’s what is at stake: love

onwards + upwards!

to keep up with the latest news from the supreme court + marriage equality click –> http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/stand-for-marriage.

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Washington, DC + snow!! Another little photo sneak peek!

Yesterday I woke up, looked out my hotel window, and saw lots of snow! It was absolutely beautiful and I just knew that it would be a magical day of touring the city. And… it totally was. From the Air + Space museum to the Washington Mall to the National Cathedral and Georgetown, everything was so lovely and perfect. Have I said that I love this city?!

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Not to worry… there are so many more photos from my Nikon to come in a few days. Until then, Happy Hump Day my friends!

Onwards + Upwards! xoxo

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together for christmas: an american xmas day

when you have two countries represented in your marriage, then you have the joy of living with two cultures. lina + i absolutely love having the opportunity to celebrate holidays by combining our two traditions: american + swedish. this year, as many of your know, we are celebrating the christmas holidays with a little extra excitement because we have all four of our parents gathered in the same place, and actually even under the same roof for christmas eve + christmas day!

yesterday i shared with you our swedish celebrations of christmas eve (you can read that post –> here). today, we continue our christmas day celebration, complete with the american tradition of waking to presents + a cozy, lazy christmas morning + more yummy food.

our american christmas day

good morning from the mountains!

christmas-sunrisesanta came!!

christmas-morning-giftslet the fun unwrapping + gift-giving begin!!
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and now… time to explore the gifts, play with the gifts, and make some breakfast (thanks, mom!)christmas-linachristmas-guys

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dressed + ready to prepare lunch: my mom, brother, and me worked together to get everything ready!christmas-me

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the american christmas day meal is set (it’s a lot like thanksgiving food in my family – because we love it so much. hehe. | sweet potatoes with marshmallows, corn pudding, green bean casserole, two kinds of stuffing, turkey, ham, rolls, two kinds of cranberry sauce. | a super souther meal, i’d say. christmas-dinner-2

after stuffing ourselves full, we pulled out computers (yep. we are that family) and looked at houses for sale in ohio (where my brother is moving to in february) and uppsala, sweden (where we are moving to in january). we are weird, but we had fun!christmas-familychristmas-my-love-and-meas the sun began to set we said goodbye to my brother (who left just before us) and my parents, thanking them for such a cozy and wonderful christmas day celebration. christmas-evening

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 after a 30 minute drive back home, we were nestled in our apartment. lina and her parents in the living room, chatting and relaxing. me, snuggled under the covers in the bedroom. then it hit me. christmas is over and it’s now time to look forward. a great sadness fell over me, knowing that i am moving from these mountains and my family. the close of the day found me focusing on the goodbyes that loom in my near future. and yet, at the same time, snuggled in my bed, i also felt such great, wonderful gratitude for this holiday season. and it is only because of this great gratitude and love that i feel such pain in my heart as well.

it has truly been an incredible, amazing, time. my heart is full. my cup is overflowing with abundance + love. the beauty of this season has shone bright. and i am counting my blessings over + over again… as i fall asleep feeling loved and grateful. i could not have wished for anything more.

my wish is that your holiday time has been exactly what you have wanted + needed, that you have felt moments of peace + joy in the midst of this season.

gone too soon, now it’s over
the season’s down to a smolder
i hold to the warmth of december
till next year’s flame
till christmas, christmas,
christmas day.
- johnnyswim

light + love to you all. xoxo