Hello, friends! Happy new week to you all. I’m back from my lovely little weekend off the grid and ready to push through my not-so-tough last week of work. Lucky for me, I am working from home and have been given orders from my boss to take it easy. So, I’ll finish planning things for the upcoming school year from the comfy-ness of my home… with tons of coffee, music, and sunny breaks outside whenever I want. Whoop whoop.
I’m also gonna be preparing and working on some Life Coaching things, which makes me super happy. So, keep checking back here for changes and special summer offers!
In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you just a few pics from my weekend in the Swedish archipelago.
I left Uppsala on Friday and we arrived at the camp on Saturday (with a short overnight stay in Norrköping). So I had 2 and a half days there. Sunshine. Relaxation. Old friends. New friends. Family. Conversations. Laughter. And just being. Time to get away from everything and just live off the grid, in the midst of Sweden’s beautiful forests and water.
This was the 7th year that I’ve been a part of this camp, and it has become something that is an important tradition in my life. My love has grown up attending this family camp, and I am so honored that it has become an important part of my life, too, over the years.
You know, unlike my usual self, this weekend, I didn’t take that many photos. I keep my phone in my room the entire time except upon arrival and during sunset one night. And, I have to say, it was so freeing to truly be present and to just keep all of the moments, in the moment, to myself.
However, I do want to share with you some of the beauty… because it is just so freaking beautiful.
There’s one more thing that I want to share with you… probably the most important thing about this past weekend.
I once worked at a church in Norrköping, Sweden. Just a few years ago, before Lina and I spent a year and a half in Asheville, NC. Anyway, I worked there for almost 3 years, as a pastor (mostly, but not exclusively, with youth).
One of the amazing things that happened while I was working there was an opportunity to work with refugee teenagers who fled from the Middle East alone, and ended up in Sweden seeking asylum. Young men with no family. No passports. Nothing at all.
A Swedish man, who worked at group home for these young boys, contacted me and wondered if I had any ideas about how we might work together with the boys to help them get adjusted to Swedish society, plus to just give them support and love. Well, long story short, I ended up inviting the boys (young men actually) to join my youth group on one Friday night just to hang out together. We ended up having about 20 refugee teens come, and we listened to their stories, ate food, laughed, and danced together. It turned out to be an incredible opportunity for all of us, and the connection grew even more as the years passed.
Turns out, that even after I left the church to move to Sweden, they stayed in contact and kept doing things together, the church becoming a kind of surrogate support system for the young men.
Flash forward to now, and there are 3 young refugee dudes who are at the camp this week. Incredible!!
However, not only are those three young men there, Muslim guys, who are taking part in a very Swedish week of traditions and activities, but there are about 6-10 more adult refugees + children who are a part of the camp week as well.
I had the privilege of sitting with some of the adults yesterday, listening to their stories and asking about their lives.
So, when so much of the world (Europe, the UK, and the US) seem to not know what to do with refugees (and I know that it is complicated situation – I do not deny that), I sat and listened to the real stories of real people. I talked with them. Felt the fear and anger and sadness in their voices. These people who, most of them, have just a arrived in Sweden within the past year.
It was overwhelming to not hear a news story, but the actual experiences of a man and woman, as we drank coffee and ate cookies together. The man, who had a good life in Syria before the war (as everyone had, according to his experiences), was forced to leave every single thing behind, including family.
He left on foot and went to Damascus to wait for a boat to get to Italy. Yes, a boat, like you see and hear about on the news. The boat never came, even though he’d paid the fee. Money lost. There was nothing else to do but to keep moving. So, he made it to Greece and then Italy, only to be sent back to Greece.
Then he started walking. He slept in the woods. On the streets. Wherever he could. He walked to Macedonia. And then to Hungary. And then to Austria. Where he was arrested. Fingerprinted and found to “not exist”, because he had no papers or anything to prove who he was. Somehow, he ran and escaped and made his way to Sweden, where he met up with his Syrian girlfriend, who had lived in Sweden for 12 years. They married just a few months ago and now he is welcomed to stay.
These are not news stories, my friends. These are real people. Suffering. Confused. Treated unfairly. Fleeing and fighting for their lives. And never giving up hope.
The man I chatted with walked through whole entire countries. And now, without choosing it, he is starting a whole new life. In a whole new place. Giving thanks all along the way and every single day. Amazing.
The young refugee guys from Afghanistan, who have no family at all and are totally alone, and the young couples that also found their way to Sweden from Syria, humble me greatly. Their kindness, their peaceful ways, their joy, their strength, their desire to fight and live and be good people… I am always so blown away whenever I have the privilege to meet refugees.
And the church where I worked, where my father + mother-in-law, who are also actively part of supporting refugees… teach us exactly how we should be responding to this situation… by taking others in, giving them love, sharing life with them… this is exactly how we are supposed to live.
No walls. No fears. No discrimination. No violence.
Only openness. Acceptance. Love. Support. Compassion.
So, while the camp was a time off the grid, surrounded by the beautiful Swedish nature, it was also a time of deep soul searching. A reminder of how we are truly called to live as people. As brothers and sisters. Connected, even in our diversity.
What a gift this weekend was for me. What a humbling, heart-touching, inspiring few days.
How about we all try to live like this, aware + open + intentionally, every single day of our lives? Wishing you peace and love, my friends. And while you are at it, get out there and meet someone different from you this week. Allow yourself to listen to someone else’s story, and let your heart burst open with love and respect and humility.