Seasoned.

I was reading another’s words the other day and came across the term, “seasoned wanderer,” and it resonated with me in that way that only one writer of words can touch another. I’ve not been able to put down the words in my mind ever since.

I am a reasonable adventurer because I am a nerdy, bookish sort who happens to love spontaneous, heart-racing adventures which require new stamps in my passport. But seasoned wanderer touches a deeper part of myself. I am seasoned. I grew up too fast and too hard and have sat at kitchen tables and on dirty floors of laundromats with the same intensity of holding the hands of the one to whom I am listening. I have heard stories that have both broken and healed my heart, and I have lived them, too. I laugh with abandon and cry in secret. I love like a wildfire now, but I was once a hateful and hated little thing. I have been in love and have known scorn. I left my heart in an orphanage in Venezuela, and I think of her and wonder if she is loved by a forever family and if she is doing well in school and if she laughs loud and long. I wander. I have adventures stateside and beyond, and I know things that I will never tell because some things simply cannot be lived twice because either the horror or the joy is too great. I move a lot and a part of me is always ready to run. I’ve seen the Smoky Mountains from the saddle of a horse and I’ve rafted on rivers and I’ve felt the Andes beneath my feet and this one time a wee boat carried me out to sea for a few months. I am in love with the Pacific Northwest and Del Coronado Island and I like the tales that shopkeepers tell in Tijuana. My broken Spanish and their broken English creates a most delightful mess. I have watched loved ones die and give birth with the same fascination because I believe that all of life — ALL of life — is gift.

The older I get, the more seasoned I get, the more I wander…the more I realize that my journey is small in its singularity. Woven into the cloth of humanity and the greater meta-narrative of this God I profess to serve, its a good tale that has served me well and taught me well and made me old and young all at once. But on its own, it is but a wee thread. So in order to see the whole of things, I have come to recognize that we are all seasoned wanderers.

We watch our babies leave the hospital in a box rather than a carseat.

We find spouses in love with others.

We attend our grandparents’ funerals and weep over lives lived well and, sometimes, poorly. In which case we might not weep at all.

We give birth.

We go home to empty beds and empty hearts when those we love walk away.

We get fired.

We choose to love.

We lose battles with our own bodies and minds.

We fall in love. Madly, wildly in love.

We smile.

We hold hands.

We all ache and bleed and thrill in our hearts with a vibrance only made possible by living. Our journeys are stories and we live them out and all of it is gift and molds us and teaches us and hurts us and restores us. With every bit of our being, we should embrace our seasoning and our wandering. All is gift.

On grandmothers and bread.

It is coming up on a year now since my maternal grandmother left this earth in a violent battle and came face to face with the God who loves and saves. I was there nearly until the end. That last week of her life, particularly the night I spent alone at her bedside remain some of the most treasured and heartbreaking moments in my memories. (documented here)

And five years ago this summer, I was at another bedside, this time watching my paternal grandmother fight her restraints in an ICU room in a Kansas City hospital. She would pass only a few days after into her Savior’s arms, and with her went a lifetime of stoic and steadfast love.

I remember those two women with great fondness. My Grandma Ruth, stout and fearless, buried two husbands and farmed her whole life and lived this solid kind of life. My Grandma Nora, private and serious, lived the life of a military wife married to a good and wild man, and raised babies and bread with the same quiet reserve. They taught me something of what it is to be a lady and wife and lover and a fighter and a solid presence in the lives of those you love.

I am filled with memories of both their deaths and their lives on bread-making days. The meticulous measurements and the kneading of dough and the waiting…I feel their reminders all about me as I bake bread. Grandma Nora turned out the best bread and rolls without consulting a cookbook and I would watch in awe at her Formica kitchen table while her delicate hands turned and twisted ordinary masterpieces. And Grandma Ruth’s sourdough starter made the best biscuits in the land. She would barely get her hands washed from milking cows before she just had to dig into a bowl of flour and get breakfast going in cast iron skillets.

In an homage to the women from which I come, I bake bread. Eaters of my grandmother bread recipe are guaranteed a tear or two mixed up in the dough. It is not an act of sorrow, but a mark of joy. For I am grateful to know my history and to have such beautiful women in that history who lived full. So I bake bread.

If you are single.

If you are single, people tend to pity you. They tell you that you’ll find your prince charming or your princess and that you will live a fairy tale. They say that you just need to wait. They give you unasked for, and often poor, advice. They call out your supposed loneliness and being alone at random and unfortunate moments. They pat your hands at weddings and tell you your day is coming. They tell us singles that we will find love again and it will be different. They tell you that your broken and jaded heart will be healed miraculously by another person. They shout the lie that you are nothing unless you are in relationship with another individual.

I am here to tell you that you do not have to believe those lies. You need no pity. You do not need to just wait. You do not have to heed words from people who have not been single for decades longer than you have been alive and have no idea what it is actually like to be in your thirties – or twenties or forties or fifties or sixties, for that matter – and be single. You probably won’t get a fairy tale. You may not ever allow your heart to be healed enough to the point you can let another person in to be loved by you and to receive love in turn.

But you are not alone. And you are not nothing.

Your life will not suddenly be perfect when you are in a relationship. Dating is hard. Being engaged is tough. Marriage is difficult.  If you enter into any relationship expecting to be healed, fixed, or completed, you are setting yourself up for failure. Expecting someone else to be perfect and to perfect you is an unloving and unacceptable and wholly impossible expectation. Thinking someone else will complete you in a relationship is not an act of love, it is an act of utter selfishness. AND YOU WILL FAIL.

We are all broken and hurting in some way. Not a single one of us is perfect. None. Not one. In relationships, this does not change. Ever. In relationships, we choose to give all of ourselves to one person, to open ourselves up to someone who has the power to both make us feel incredibly loved and secure…and to wound us deeply. I believe this applies to more than just marriage. Dating is serious heart stuff, too. Choose wisely when giving your all.

I have borne witness to enough bad marriages and hateful, selfish relationships to wonder sometimes why I even want to date. Or be engaged. Or be married. There are days when I wash my hands of all of it. The dream gets shattered. People are cruel when they have had to bear the brunt of cruelty. And people sometimes expect to be repaired. And people think they want a fairy tale and that you do, too.

My darlings, you cannot be fixed anyone. You cannot be changed by anyone. You cannot be healed by anyone. You cannot expect to be completed in any relationship. If this is why you are looking, look away. If you love that other person, give them the grace to not be at the spear point of your selfishness. Before you enter into any relationship, learn to love well. Go see a counselor. Talk to your friends. Seek out a mentor or trusted advisor. Pray. Read the Word. Listen to the still, small voice. See God’s hand. Learn to love. And be okay with being afraid. Love is scary. It is okay. We are all fragile and scared holders of our own human hearts. Expect moments of doubt and fear. It is okay.

People who choose to love (yes, it is a choice) choose to not create expectations, but to say, “Here’s my mess. And I see your mess, too. This will not be easy and it will certainly not always be fun. But I love you. I love myself enough to be settled in my soul and to have learned to love others more than myself. I choose you each day to be at my side, to laugh with, to cry with, to make messes with. We will fail. We will not always get it right. We will not be completed by one another as we are already whole persons who decided life was good and we wanted to share our good with one another. I am not asking you to complete me. I am asking you to struggle and learn and grow with me. Let’s be beautiful, wild messes. Together.”

Single, divorced, or widowed…you are beautiful. Your life, simply because you are trying your darnedest to suss out a decent life, is beautiful. You do not have to take pity from anyone. But you do have to choose to love yourself and choose to love others as an outpouring of that love. Skip the fairy tale. It’s a bore. Just love your own wild mess. And if you so choose, find another wild mess to be messy and afraid together. But always, always choose to love. It is the only way.

A year ago.

Oh, how a life can change in a year. A year ago, I was in a rather rough place. 

I had just ended a relationship with a man I loved but who did not love me as he should have. The repercussions of ending that relationship took over my life in ways that still frighten me at times. It is only recently that I have finally escaped the cloud. 

A year ago, I was living in an apartment I did not like, working at a job that left me feeling unfulfilled and bored, living in a town that felt like I was trapped in its clutches forever. I was in a place of disillusionment from unfortunately false friendships. I was strangling, in a sense, in a pile of my own unmet expectations and heartbreak. 

And now. Had anyone told me I would be in this here and now, I would have laughed bitterly. I could not have dreamed up this fairy tale I’m living right now. It is unbelievable in its simplicity and its beauty. 

I am living in my own wee house with which I am in love. I wake up every morning and fight the urge to skip down the hall. I walk quietly barefoot in the grass and I laugh uproariously in the evening hours. 

I have reconnected with old friends and new friends, all of whom warm my heart in tremendous ways. The old ones know me and love me and are incredibly kind. The new ones make me laugh and let me love them wildly. 

I am pursuing two dreams at once in education. I love them both. My professors are honest and challenging and I delve into the work with vigor and excitement because this is what I love. 

I have been reminded that there are good men in the world, men who serve and give and treat women well. I am most grateful for not remaining jaded. 

I have a job I love where I can serve others and am constantly in a position where people are brutally and unapologetically honest.

In recent weeks, I have laughed harder, stayed up later, and lived better than I have in years. The people in my life are so raw these days. I do not mind their messes – I have some of my own. 

The best part of all is that a year ago, I was less than impressed by love. It felt so false and I was afraid to ever believe that life could be good again. And now…love comes so easily. I have missed being in this place in my heart, where I can love wildly and not be afraid. It is not that I am in love so much as I just feel love and I feel loved. It’s a wild, surreal adventure for my heart and I could not be happier. 

A year ago, I lost my smile. Now I’ve gotten it back.