The older I get, the more aware I become of a natural order in life – the more I notice how our individual lives often mimic a similar pattern to other organisms on earth. Just as trees grow deep roots even in the most impossible places, human beings also have roots that ground, form, and give shape to our lives. Our rootedness may come from an emotional attachment to a loved one or from a spiritual sense of belonging to a person, group, or place. It is particularly fascinating to me when our individual lives intersect with the lives of others, creating an entanglement of new and old roots. This entanglement process can be difficult, to be sure, but it is also enriching and full of potential for self-discovery.
My sense of rootedness first developed on a farm in rural Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised. I knew the land, I knew my family, and I knew the community of which we were apart. In short, I knew where I belonged. This early sense of belonging gave me a deep feeling of security. At the same time, the openness of the land, with endless possibilities for exploration, and my parents’ belief that life is learning, greatly impacted the way I came to view life: full of possibilities and new discoveries.
When a couple comes together as partners in marriage, they enter into an entanglement process in which their roots begin to combine and form the structure that will form the base for a new family.
This craving for new experiences led me to seek out every opportunity for adventure I could. I lived in different states and cities. I traveled and participated in mission trips both nationally and internationally. I studied abroad. I worked at coffee shops, churches, and summer camps. I taught English for a year in India. I attended graduate school at a seminary. I treated every new opportunity as a challenge and chance to learn and grow. The summer before my last year of graduate school, my mom invited me to accompany her to Brazil to attend a sustainability conference. I left for Brazil eager for a new adventure, and as it turns out, I was in for my greatest adventure yet. You see, during the two weeks I spent in Brazil, I met Vicente, the man who would a year later become my husband.
Our serendipitous meeting began an adventure that – unlike my past escapades – had the potential of lasting much longer than a week, month, or year. Vicente and I traveled back and forth from his homeland of Spain to mine in the U.S. While there were moments in which we felt absolutely crazy, for the most part we almost seamlessly started becoming a part of each other’s lives. One of the main differences between this adventure and previous ones was that this time, instead of learning about cultural expectations and customs that I would soon leave behind, I was learning about the deeply instilled family values and engrained ways of life that gave structure to Vicente and his family. Vicente’s roots and my roots were beginning to entangle, and new roots were forming. This realization was at the same time both exciting and terrifying. But neither Vicente nor I were prepared for the learning experience ahead of us.
When we got to the point in our relationship that we were ready to start bringing our lives together, things got a lot more complicated than either of us expected. Vicente, who was essentially forced to sell his portion of his company in Spain after the Spanish Financial Crisis, was looking for other work opportunities in South America. The financial crisis of Spain was what led us to meet one random afternoon in Curitiba, Brazil, but it was also what left us feeling uncertain about where in the world (literally!) our life together would begin. This complicated situation led to months of confusion and very real doubt as to whether our relationship could realistically work.
My sense of rootedness first developed on a farm in rural Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised.
Meanwhile, I had graduated and was eager to begin my career. Even though there was a part of me that yearned to live somewhere new and raise a family in a different part of the world, I found myself continually weighing that against my desire to stay close to my family and friends. Like I said before, I grew up in a place where I still felt a sense of belonging and where I knew deep down that I always would. In the end, Vicente and I decided that we would begin our lives together in Kentucky; he showed up in the U.S. with a 90-day visa and a suitcase of belongings! To avoid Vicente’s impending departure and the very real possibility that he would not be able to reenter the U.S., we decided to take a giant leap of faith: We decided to get married.
Quite unexpectedly, I found myself struggling with the decision. I knew that marriage and a life with Vicente was something I had wanted very early on in our relationship, but something about the fact that we had to legally commit ourselves to one another before his flight home at the end of the month felt rushed and unfair. I had imagined that our wedding day would be full of loved ones welcoming Vicente and I into a life journey upon which we would embark together. I wanted to feel affirmed and supported, not legally required. Instead of celebration with family and friends, our decision to get married was followed by meetings – with a lawyer about the documents we needed to send into the Immigration office – and weeks of gathering documents – letters from family members, pictures, tax forms, bank statements, letters from employers, records, immigration forms, etc… After everything was finally complete, Vicente and I took a weekend trip to help us experience and remember the sacredness of our decision and commitment to one another. When we returned, the legal ceremony took place. It lasted ten minutes and the only people present were Vicente and I, my mom, dad, brother, his wife, and two friends. It was short, simple, and over before we knew it.
My experience with marriage demonstrates an injustice in our world that affects not only bi-national couples but also for couples who are discriminated against because of color of skin, religion, sex orientation, or any other factor. It is an injustice that places barriers around two individuals who want nothing more than to commit to one another, honor one another, and be a source of love and support for one another as long as they both shall live. This experience also taught me firsthand about the mental, emotional, and spiritual ordeal that many immigrants have to go through in order to stay legally in the U.S. with their families and loved ones. Throughout this process, I kept thinking of all the people in similar situations who don’t have the financial backing to hire a lawyer or to pay for the application process to become a legal resident.
My experience with marriage demonstrates an injustice in our world that affects not only bi-national couples but also for couples who are discriminated against because of color of skin, religion, sex orientation, or any other factor.
Now, like many immigrants, Vicente is waiting for a social security number that will allow him to work and a green card that will take up to five months to get here. During this time, it is highly recommended that he doesn’t leave the U.S., as there is a significant possibility that he would not be allowed back in. So, we are waiting. I am grateful that we have the means to go through this process, but at the same time, I am frustrated and angry that my government makes it so hard for so many people to be with the ones they love.
It’s a bizarre feeling. After growing up in rural Kentucky, with such a strong sense of belonging to the land and the people of the land, I am now running up against that same land’s barriers and walls in order to marry the person I love; the person that I know will support me and lift me up, who will be a partner with me in all things, who will grow a family with me and create a life with me.
When a couple comes together as partners in marriage, they enter into an entanglement process in which their roots begin to combine and form the structure that will form the base for a new family. In order for those roots to grow and intertwine successfully, however, they need rich soil. I believe that such soil is made up of support from family and friends. And that is why, even though many rocks have appeared in our soil, Vicente and I have decided to stay in Kentucky, close to the place I feel a sense of deep belonging. Regardless of the struggle we’ve been through, I feel a strong need to stay here. I feel called to be a voice that proclaims in the same breath the injustices of the world and the far greater power of Love: God’s Love for God’s people and our Love for one another. This unending power of Love, a power so great and mysterious that societies and people throughout history have tried to place walls around it and blockade it, is, for me, ultimately the reason to live. Love, which people fight for everyday, still has the winning hand. As long as the human spirit is alive, love will conquer.
I chose to start my married life in the same place where I came into this world because I continue to draw strength from this place. I choose to stay here today because I want to create that healing and life-giving community for others.
I live today in the conviction that I am called to bring the deep sense of love and belonging that I experienced in my youth to a world that, in the race to the top, often forgets that it is ultimately rooted in Love. It has been buried under lies, borders, money, and abuse, but it is still there. I chose to start my married life in the same place where I came into this world because I continue to draw strength from this place. I choose to stay here today because I want to create that healing and life-giving community for others. When it’s all said and done, I have chosen to root myself here in Kentucky because I still believe in Love.
AUTHOR BIO: Ariel Givens was born and raised on a farm of Upton, KY with a forest and a creek as a playground. She spent her adolescence in Bowling Green, KY and graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South in Monteagle, TN. She served as a volunteer in South India for a year before coming to Louisville, KY where she got her Master’s degree at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is now practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist and resides in Louisville with her husband Vicente.
Read more articles from the young adult issue.