the plane touched down. five excited, never-been-to-europe-before university students, a fellow minister, and i found our way through customs, got our passports stamped, saw a smiling & familiar (to me) face holding a “scandinavian caravan” sign at the arrival gate , and were whisked out of the airport and onto a train headed for odense, denmark.
just like that. we were there. after an overnight flight, all of us, with butterflies in our stomachs, sleepy eyes, & silly grins, found ourselves in a foreign country. i found my way back to a place that felt like home. on that amazing danish soil again. i felt my soul glowing inside me. i felt breath filling my lungs as the train zipped by fields of green, crossed Storebælt (the Great Belt Bridge), and passed colorful, old, european buildings. i was really there. i had returned.
of course, i was not just there to be on vacation. i had responsibilities. the youth that were with me were my main priority. this was their trip. their chance to experience what i had, yet in their own special ways, twelve years earlier. i had my heart & mind in the right place. priority one was their spiritual journey. at the same time, i was completely ready for anything to happen. i was totally aware that the experience would affect me & my life too.
the train rolled to a stop in odense. i had never been to this city before, but i was curious & excited. we grabbed our bags, found our way off the train by following the crowd, and saw two, smiling people waiting at the top of the stairs to drive us to our first stop. the methodist church in odense.
the youth were freaking out hearing danish spoken all around us, and not understanding a single word. to me, it sounded like heaven. not because it was danish, but because it was a foreign language… and that sounded like music to my ears. it meant that i was far, far away from the expectations and rules, and embracing my soul.
we arrived at the church and dragged our bags up a little staircase to a room that overlooked the modern blue/green sanctuary. we were greeted by one person after another, always with hugs, smiles, and warmth… immediately feeling like part of the family, part of the church, and completely taken care of. this pattern was to be repeated in each and every city & country we visited.
now. here comes the twist to our odense, denmark visit: ian lived here. yep. after 12 years, there was the possibility of seeing and/or talking with ian once again. to be honest, i couldn’t comprehend this. or even begin to imagine it. i’ll put your curiosity at ease…
the next morning, the youth were invited to be part of the sunday church service. it was their first chance to tell their stories and be a part of a church service in another country. we also heard one of the church’s amazing choirs sing and were extremely inspired by them. and then, it happened. through the crowd of people drinking coffee and chatting with each other, i saw him.
ian was there. we hugged. we chatted. we were nervous. and it was awkward. but, it felt really familiar at the same time. i think we had about 5 minutes to update each other on our lives. married. minister. north carolina. divorced. daughter. odense. and then, it was over. we were headed back to the train station and off to our next city in denmark.
while in the next city, ian called the person’s home where i was staying. he wanted to come & see me. so, during one free afternoon, i met him at the train station in vejle and we walked around for some hours, getting reacquainted. old feelings came flooding back, and confusion set it. i was uncomfortable and energized all at the same time. it was definitely not the same as it had been 12 years earlier, but it was something. but, you know what it really was? it was me, remembering my soul. it was me, hearing someone talk to me again about not being afraid to be me. the afternoon i spent with ian was a push for me, a reassurance that i was exactly where i was supposed to be. that it was time to take back my life. i was certain that i had made the right decision to follow my gut feelings to accept this trip and to even perhaps accept that my marriage was over.
in fact, i had a conversation with the woman i was staying with, anna, about my marriage. we stayed up late every night i was with her, and one night she just came right out and said it: “liz, what if a divorce is what is right for you now?”. her words were a gift from God, a sign and an assurance that my marriage was actually over, and that it was time for me to move on in life. to what, i had no idea. i didn’t even care. i just needed to move on.
so, after 4 days in denmark, my little american group moved on to…
we took a train (by the way i love traveling by train) and then a ferry to make the afternoon journey from denmark to gothenburg, sweden. on the trip, i talked with the youth. it was time to process a little of what was happening with them, check on how they felt, what they thought, if they needed anything, if they had learned anything or felt anything. it was a powerful few hours on that ferry… ending up in a conversation about a story found in the bible.
a story about some people (disciples of jesus) who were in a boat. one of them, peter, saw jesus out on the water, standing. he desperately wanted to join jesus out there, so jesus called to him and told him to come. peter looked back at his friends, who thought he was out of his mind crazy, and looked back at jesus, beckoning him to trust and take a leap of faith. standing with one foot in the boat and one foot on the sea, peter decided to risk it all… he got out of the boat.
these amazing youth & i sat on this boat in the north sea, reading this story about a man finding the courage to get out of his boat, and we began to wonder together… what were our “boats”? where were we standing with one foot in the boat of old habits & lives, and one foot on the sea of uncertainty & fear? did we have the courage to risk it all? to get out of the boat?
the image of the boat, of taking a risk to leave the boat, stayed with us all throughout the entire 5 weeks we traveled together. and each of us had something that we could relate it to in our lives. for me, i silently sat and pondered all that was happening in my personal life. it was pretty obvious to me that i had a foot in the boat of the past, and a foot on the unknown future out on the sea. this trip was my present moment. it was my choice. i was in the exact same position peter was in. do i stay, or do i chance it and go?
the answer was easy. i take my other foot out of the boat and walk on water. i risk everything… safety, knowledge, understanding; for the possibility that i just might experience something more amazing than i’d every imagined.
so, on that ferry between denmark and sweden, i stepped out of the boat.
and then, i met my wife.