February 26, 2013

The T's of Transformation

I knew leaving America would change me. I didn't know how, or when it would happen, and I didn't know if it would be for better or for worse. I didn't know if I could make Europe work for me, let alone for our marriage, or if I could keep the pace of the locals and run in stride.

Catalina Island, 2009 (Photo by Lindsay Swagerty)
But two years later, we are still here, still in love, and still smiling at our surroundings. Looking back, now it is easier to pinpoint the main things that have changed me so far, and have allowed me to adopt the perspective of an earth exploring expat instead of a tourist on a really long vacation.

I used to hate walking to the mailbox. Now I walk to work. To the grocery store. To the metro. To the café. To French lessons. To shopping. Walking has become so normal, it doesn't even count as exercise anymore.

My inner compass is about as active as my biological clock (read: dormant). North has, and always will be...UP. But walking and taking trains and buses everywhere has challenged me to memorize the maps of roads, metro stations, landmarks, and so forth. Walking has also driven me to eliminate carrying anything except the bare essentials. The lighter my load, the longer my adventure.

Also, I cannot say enough about how not driving has taken loads of stress out of my life that I didn't even know existed. I could happily never drive again.

Honest communication has always been my top priority, and to be limited in this area has been crippling in the best possible way. It really is like learning to walk all over again: finding the words to express my needs, understanding the rush of French tumbling into my ears, and everyday putting a little bit more of the mega-lingual puzzle together.

Every time I feel like I've arrived to a higher level and can take a break, the conditionals and tenses swarm around me, reminding me I have still only just begun. My "American accent" has been scrutinized much more this year, and I'm not sure yet how to overcome this. I finally can empathize with newcomers to America when they are not understood because of their difficulty with words or sounds.

Belgium trapped me in a kitchen without a microwave for the first time in 25 years...and I didn't die of starvation! Cooking was always a bit of nemesis for me (all I had mastered was Kraft mac n' cheese), but I have learned that it was only intimidating because I had never tried it - or felt like I had time to try it. I actually enjoy spending time by the stove top, chopping vegetables, trying new recipes from the internet, and throwing my own idea of substitutes and good flavors into everything.

It's an experiment, and as long as I taste it as I go, I am happy with the final product! We've happily transferred this mantra into our escapades as well.

Where I come from, this is a dirty, liberal word that creates political and religious controversy. It was one of my biggest concerns coming overseas: would I be accepted or rejected because of my faith and nationality? But it wasn't about being liked, or only becoming friends with people who have identical doctrines; life is about loving God and loving others. Love reaches across all possible stereotypes, then beautifully shatters them!

However, I have not learned how to be tolerant in Europe. Rather, I have learned that I am tolerant, and that in and of itself has been enough of a surprise. I find other belief systems, cultures, and worldviews intellectually fascinating. And the greatest thing is when genuine interest in learning is shown from one party, it is almost always reciprocated back with intelligence and respect.

Living in Europe makes me grow up more everyday. I am just so (#5) THANKFUL to God for a life full of people from all over the world that push me in every direction to have clearer knowledge, vision, and conviction.

"...So we learn to stand by falls, and get strength by weakness discovered - we take deeper root by shaking." - Richard Sibbes

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." - Anais Nin