Alexa Rand: Thanksgiving in Sweden

“Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.” –Dr. Steve Maraboli

I woke up this morning with a strange feeling.  For the first time in my life I was not in the United States for a major holiday.  I wanted to text all of my friends to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, but being 6 hours ahead and it only being 5 am back at home, I relaxed in my room until it was time to go to lunch.  I walked to Simon’s (our lunch sponsor) like I do every day, and was greeted by the chef who has grown fond of my Polish roommates and me.  He asked what I wanted from the lunch menu after translating it from Swedish to English, and I said that I would take the chicken because it’s my favorite.  He gave me a big smile and shortly after, he came to my table with twice the amount of food he should have.  He is such a sweet guy, and I’m really thankful that he welcomes me with open arms into his restaurant each day.
After lunch, I headed to Espresso House in town which has become a part of my daily routine.  It’s kind of a joke with my team how much I go there.  They know that I am either in my apartment or at Espresso House, and if they ever need me they know where to find me.  The sun was shining, which doesn’t seem to happen much in Angelholm, Sweden.  Gray skies and rain are the norm here.  I finished up some notes, watched Netflix, and figured out how I was going to make my sweet potato dish for the Thanksgiving dinner I decided to host at my apartment.  When I came up with the idea of bringing an American tradition to my Swedish team, they were more than willing to join.  Everyone decided what they would bring and we made sure that there was enough salad, main dishes, and desserts.
My teammate Kim found me at Espresso House and we went grocery shopping down the street at ICA.  She was planning on making pumpkin pie.  After searching for pumpkins and sweet potatoes, we panicked a little because we couldn’t find either of these things.  Kim called Evelina to see if we could find a ride to a different grocery store, when I looked down and saw sweet potatoes AND pumpkins right in front of me.  After paying for our groceries and answering an elderly Swedish woman’s questions about what we were buying, Kim and I headed back to my apartment.  As we were walking back, I started to get more and more excited about dinner, especially when I walked in the apartment and Marza and Basia were almost done making a cake.  Their desserts are always amazing.
Kim and I started working on our dishes.  After baking the sweet potatoes, mashing them for a little over an hour, and adding butter and cinnamon, I was ready for my teammates to arrive.  Dinner was supposed to start at 7, but we didn’t eat until around 8:00 because some girls were finishing their cooking in the kitchen.  Once everyone was ready, we grabbed our plates and got started.  Everything looked wonderful!  We didn’t have a turkey, but we did have chicken and, of course, Swedish meatballs.Some of the girls asked me if I normally pray before Thanksgiving dinner like they do in the American movies.  Most of the girls already know that I pray before every meal anyway; a few of them kept hinting for me to say a prayer until I finally gave in.  I hate that I get so nervous praying out loud with a group of people; I need to work on being more comfortable doing this.  As we sat there with our eyes closed, holding hands, I began to pray.  I thanked the Lord for giving me the opportunity to play volleyball in a different country.  I thanked Him for allowing me to have Thanksgiving dinner with my teammates in Sweden even though I wasn’t able to be with my friends and family from back home.  When I brought up my family, I started to get choked up.  It’s not easy being away from the familiarity of the United States for such a long time.
As I started to tear up, my teammate Evelina squeezed my hand.  That right there showed me that even though my family isn’t in Sweden, and even though my friends from home aren’t here with me, I have a new family and new friends in a different country, and they love me too.  How lucky am I to have my 12 teammates willingly join me at my apartment so that I didn’t have to be alone on this holiday?  These girls are truly like sisters to me.  Whether we are from the United States, Poland, or Sweden, we learn so much from each other.  Some of my teammates are older than me, some the same age, and others younger.  I listen to their experiences and try to learn from each one of them.  We all have different stories, and that is what’s so cool about this whole experience.  Whether my teammates are giving me Swedish lessons or asking me questions about my life back in the United States, we continue to grow and learn from one another.  I wasn’t homesick at all by the time everyone left.  I felt like I truly do belong here and that my teammates have my back.  They have from the moment I joined this team, and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.  John 15:12-13 says, “This is My command: love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.”
As we went around in a circle and said what we are thankful for, I realized that I could have said about 100 things and it still wouldn’t have been enough to say all of the things I am thankful for in my life.  After Skyping with my mom and dad who were at my aunt’s house for dinner, I was actually okay with being so far away from them.  I could still join them via modern technology and have a unique experience of my own at the same time.  I even got to play a game with my youngest cousin who I haven’t been able to see that much over the years due to school and volleyball.  He loved me anyway and kept playing that game with me (or maybe he just liked seeing himself on the computer screen…).  Seeing my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all together at once made me extremely happy.  They are crazy and that’s what is so special about them.  There’s never a dull moment in our family, that’s for sure.
I think we used every single dish, glass, and piece of silverware in our apartment, because it took me almost 2 hours to do the dishes and clean up the apartment.  After treating myself to yet another piece of pumpkin pie, I am now lying in bed writing this message.  I’m so overwhelmed with joy that it is hard for me to even process some of my thoughts right now.
What I do know is that I am blessed more than I could possibly imagine.  I am thankful for my family, my friends, my teammates in Sweden, my former teammates at Clemson, Mentor High School, Eastside, and Cleveland Volleyball Company, my coaches, my teachers, getting out of the dark place I was in my life less than a year ago because I found Jesus, and FCA volleyball.  I’m thankful for all the hardships I’ve endured in life because they have helped me to become a better person.  I’m thankful for being able to play volleyball and for appreciating music and performing arts as much as I do.  I’m thankful for all the alone time I get in Sweden; it helps me find out who I am and who I am meant to be.  God’s timing is perfect; it always was perfect and it always will be perfect.  We don’t always know why we are put in certain situations, but that’s not really our job to figure out.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”
Yes, I would have liked to have been with my family today, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have traded Thanksgiving in Sweden for anything.  Helen Keller said, “Your success and happiness lies in you.  Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”  No one can bring me down.  I am strong, I am happy, and no matter what happens, I always have God by my side.

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