lukeandmanda

The most amazing love story since Romeo and Juliet haha

When “Mean Girls” Cliques Happen In Adulthood

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If you’re a 90’s baby like me, you well remember the faces pictured above from the movie Mean Girls and Lindsay Lohan’s character’s desperate attempts to fit in with the popular crowd.

Long story short (and spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie), “Cady’s” ill-fated attempts to fit in with Regina and the gang not only transform her into someone she’s not — an extremely unattractive-beneath-the-surface, unkind version– but her actions also take her toward all of the wrong things and away from the things that matter.

Unfortunately, the formation of cliques such as portrayed in “Mean Girls” isn’t just restricted to the hallways of high school and whispered rumors out by the lockers. It is a phenomenon that happens throughout life, and a behavior that we may be unconsciously modeling for our children as the appropriate way to make friends.

We know that bullying has devastating effects. The news seems to be constantly pointing to yet another sad story of a child/teen who succumbed to suicide or worse based upon a perception that he/she was unliked, unwanted, unworthy.

With digital technology and social media, we now have increased the channels in which bullying can occur; cyberbullying and exploitation of sexting, being two prime examples. However, bullying is not the only issue at play here or perhaps even the core of the issue: in my opinion, so much of this comes down to Exclusion, something which could be prevented by an attitudinal and behavior change of simple Inclusion.

Why do humans exclude others?

To feel better about themselves? To cover up their own insecurities? Unintentional thoughtlessness or ignorance?

I couldn’t begin to point to the scientific literature on this as I have not delved deeply into it, so the thoughts I am sharing within this blog are my own, anecdotally based and experience driven. So take this for what it is–an attempt to empathize with those who may feel alone and to encourage each of us to consider our own actions. For example, when we issue an invitation, is it based on inclusion or exclusion?

Who is invited?

Who is not?

The motivation for many behaviors, at least according to science, comes down to sticks and carrots. We act to either avoid punishment or to gain rewards. So which category might exclusion fall into?

As this blog has been on my heart, I discussed it with my husband over the weekend.

As a varsity athlete and full-fledged member of “The It Crowd” during his high school days, he recounts that his perception of exclusion at that stage was more fear-based. Fear of people who didn’t conform.

“Those who were not like minded might could potentially harm the status of the whole group.” 

Perhaps this is one valid explanation. I am sure there are several others.

The clique who does the excluding clearly sees value in the group’s limited structure…and the addition of outsiders, especially outsiders who are not like them, are unwelcome. Period.

Where might we find exclusion?

Sadly, everywhere. Not only as a child navigating the perils and terrors of recess and the school lunchroom where the table you sit at may be seen as a status symbol. There are cliques in the professional world, in neighborhoods, in extracurricular activities, and sadly, even within churches, where the wagons form so tightly into a closed circle that they would never consider opening up to welcome a newcomer.

I picture one of those tree forts with the “No Girls Allowed” sign.

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The difference is that the Berenstain Bears learn at the end of the story that girls are actually quite awesome, and it’s so much more fun to play with everyone.

Unfortunately, the moral of this children’s book is not sticking in our extremely group-based society.

For example, from a young age, we learn that we should have a “best friend” and the person who wears this friendship bracelet is the most special friend of all. In young adult world, this person might be the Maid of Honor at your wedding, thus cementing your status as the person who stands right next to the bride at the top of the friendship hierarchy.

Society teaches us that one has to be best, and the rest are all second best.

Luke expressed (and I agree with this) that exclusion is something that has much more prevalence in Girl World than in Guy World. This has been true of each of the places he has moved in his military career (5 in total). It has never been too much of a problem for him to find guys to join a pickup basketball (or golf, baseball, or soccer) game. So much of Guy World, he explained, is activity based, and more often than not, guys are excited to share their hobbies with newcomers. They grow and learn together.

Girl World, on the other hand, is a different story altogether, at least in our experience. Military life teaches one a sense of resilience, a perseverance and determination to make friends, which (sometimes) eventually allows you to weasel into tight-knit cliques.

Or, you simply abandon hopes of befriending civilian friends at your duty station and form your own clique: Other Military Wives. This can backfire, as in the tree fort analogy, except this time with a “If Your Husband Doesn’t Wear A Uniform, Keep Out” sign.

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I’ve talked a lot about the Ladies of Lauman, my personal friend group at Fort Sill, depicted above. However, there is one distinct difference in Ladies of Lauman and the groups I was describing above. The faces in this picture evolved and changed over time. People entered the scene and others moved away. A group that began with just 2-3 neighbors grew to encompass this many ladies. And many others were always welcome.

I do think military life gives you a different perspective. You’ve been the New Girl more times than you can count, and so the idea of excluding anyone is almost horrifying. 

However, I must acknowledge that the Ladies of Lauman might have made someone feel excluded, however unintentionally, at our many BBQ’s and get togethers. I imagine another lonely military wife, brand new on the street and too shy to come out and introduce herself, peering out of her blinds at us taking this happy group picture, Yet, she felt Unwelcome. Intrusive.

Exclusion happens whether purposeful or not, and it stinks to be on the receiving end. Social media exacerbates this; maybe the left-out wife described above friended one of us at a coffee or spouses’ social and saw this photo in her News Feed from her place eating peanut butter from the jar on the couch. While everyone else in the world has this tight knit buddy system, you are all alone. I’ve been there, too.

Can I just say that making friends as an adult, even with a built-in support network, such as the Army, is TOUGH?!! 

Especially if you’ve ever moved away from your hometown, or even just traveled outside it. Think a week at Summer Camp, all alone on the top bunk, while all the other kids are talking and playing? Eventually, you learn to be assertive and issue invitations, exposing small, vulnerable parts of yourself in hopes of forming a relationship or two that stick.

The other day, on one of the Army Wife Facebook pages I am still part of, a woman posted a friendship ad, which I will share below.

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How perfectly brilliant! LOL. Yes, sign me up! Except I don’t quite meet the qualifications…and now live thousands of miles away. Womp, Womp.

What you do not see in this lighthearted WANTED ad is the woman’s explanation behind the post, which just wrenched my heart. “I’ve been here for over a year and know no one.”

The loneliness echoed through the digital screen, another human heart crying out for love, for acceptance, for friendship. Shoot, for someone to share a glass of wine with when hubby is off working late or out in the field or possibly even deployed to a dangerous place, and her family all lives far, far away.

A Spirit of Inclusion

“[37] Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. [38] This is the first and great commandment. [39] And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [40] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

To me a couple of things really stand out about this passage of scripture.

  1. We are to love God with all of our heart and thus keep His commandments. Throughout the Bible, God commands us to step outside our comfort zone and befriend lost people–not just those we like or are just like us. He wants us to minister to the woman at the well. He wants us to break bread with the tax collectors. He commands a spirit of hospitality, one of fellowship. Quite simply, INCLUSION.
  2. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us. To those we like. This isn’t the only task demanded of us though. I am speaking to believers here, myself included as I often fall short, but our command is so much more than making friends who make us feel good or admire us or think/talk like we do.

How easy is it to issue an open invitation over and over and to be rejected over and over? It’s not easy at all, at least for me. It hurts.

But, bottom line: we put ourselves out there time and time again, and we do it as for Christ and hope that one day, that person might just say yes! And, then what a beautiful friendship might form?

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I trust my life to Christ. He is in control; I am but His vessel.

I am writing this post today because I, like you, have been lonely so many times before.

I have been excluded.

Unlike my better half, I was not a member of the popular crowd in high school.

My experience was quite different, as was yours.

We all have our own insights and experiences to bring to the table, and TOGETHER, what a difference that can make!

At Christmastime, Luke and Bear helped me deliver cookies to the 16 houses in our neighborhood. In doing so, we had lively conversations with people from all walks of life.

  • There is the family down the street with a young toddler who adores Bear (begging us to share the negative aspects of puppyhood to prevent them from going out and buying one just like him! Haha).
  • There is another family with teenagers in the cul-de-sac who used to plan all kinds of socials for the neighborhood before she was diagnosed with brain cancer. She spent much of December in the hospital and didn’t have much time or energy to bake. I hope our small bag of goodies lifted her spirits.
  • There is a couple who are disabled and semi-housebound with no living relatives. We were their only visitors this holiday season.

I do not share this to pump ourselves up in any way; we didn’t do much after all–just the simple delivery of a few goodies. It took about 5-6 hours out of my life to bake them, bag them, and deliver them. But, if we have an opportunity to share love to our neighbors (in this case our physical neighbors), I want to capitalize on that whenever I can. In fact, this cookie delivery sparked a rare and unusual friendship.

A lady in her 60’s a few doors down bought her home about two years ago with the intention to spend her golden years with her husband in the Sunshine State, after a life spent traveling abroad. Only two months after they moved in, however, he became extremely ill and died unexpectedly. She is alone now, and she is in a way stuck in this house, in this place all alone except for her little puppy.

We emailed back and forth a bit over the holidays, and I finally proposed a meal together. She responded by inviting me to eat with her in her home and even offered to cook! How unexpected and kind.

She served baked butternut squash stuffed with apples and sausage.

I’ve linked the recipe above, as it was so delicious, I insisted she share! Perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

We talked about all kinds of things and shared so many laughs that night. I look forward to reciprocating the invitation to our home soon. 

Another great example of inclusion is simply being brave enough to say hi, do you want to be friends or share a meal with me? My friend Rachel Sampler and I met in a parking lot on our way to a PTA meeting, and our friendship only progressed because she was brave enough to message me on Facebook afterwards. (Our husbands were later in the same Army unit, and the rest is history.) But, what a blessing and inspiration that parking lot meeting is to me!

This morning at Church, the pastor spoke about the ways in which we limit ourselves in showing God’s love. We limit our friend group to our age, to our nationality, our belief system, etc. But, what amazing things can occur if we are but willing to broaden our horizons and choose inclusion instead?

I want to model the antithesis of cliques for my future children by creating a home with my husband where everyone is always welcome and loved, just as Christ loves us.

Understanding Some Rejection Is Natural

Some exclusion is going to be more natural than other exclusions of course, and those are usually easier to handle. When you aren’t invited to Mommy’s Day Out because you don’t have a child, for example. Or, you aren’t invited to a particular departmental dinner because it is for colleagues in another area.

Yesterday, Bear (and Luke and I) made some new friends at the Valentine’s Doodle Romp. A local doodle owner organizes quarterly events for doodle owners and their parents at a pet day spa. The dogs get to play together and run out some energy, and the owners talk and get to know one another.

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 It would make sense in these settings that a non-dog person or a German Shepherd owner, for example, will not be invited.

However, beyond specifically designed inclusive activities for a purpose (e.g. our dogs are the same breed and get along well- let’s hang out!), I think so many other things could be inclusive that we choose to make exclusive instead.

For instance, a woman I greatly admire (in another state) runs a Christian book club with the same group of women for years and years. And she will explicitly tell you newcomers aren’t welcome. They enjoy their group dynamic and have all agreed not to extend invitations to anyone else.

This is when I have to question: Is this what Jesus would want from this group of believers? I would not wish to comment on this instance, but in general, if we are promoting adult cliques or are so set on forming and maintaining exclusive groups, I have to wonder what opportunities and friendships are we missing out on?

As God’s children, are we following the example He has modeled for us, or are we forging our own way, pulling tight the people we like (typically based on first impression cognition) and dismissing those that just aren’t like us?

This isn’t to say we won’t be more naturally drawn to form close friendships with some people rather than others, and those relationships do tend to be more likeminded. Think of the “best friend” described above. Y’all probably have an awful lot in common to be each other’s confidante throughout life.

However, even if you do have a best friend, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, could you consider inviting someone else to just one of your weekly lunches? Maybe extending an invitation to hit the gym to a variety of people versus the same person Every. Single. Time? You may still see your bestie more than others, but by closing ourselves off to JUST that bestie, we miss out.

You Can’t Sit With Us: How To Respond When Exclusion Hurts

No matter your age, rejection stings. I wrote a bit about this in January if you want to take a look back at that blog. I am guessing we are similar (simply as humans on this planet) in experiencing some form of rejection- personal or professional- in cycles throughout our lives.

One insight that I had recently is that sometimes, when you aren’t friends with someone you badly wanted to be friends with or you aren’t dating someone you thought was the bee’s knees, there is a clear purpose for that, which is revealed later.

Sorority Rush is an example I can think of where you might want so badly to belong to a particular group or be matched to a particular house, and it isn’t in the cards. Often, the place you end up belonging (sorority or not) is so clearly a better match for you for myriad reasons! And looking back, isn’t it wonderful that you are not in that house or with that group that might be destined for trouble or might serve to pull you down instead of to build you up?

Another thought would be to keep trying, trying, trying; just as God has demonstrated for us, loving someone (even non-reciprocated love) is never wasted. Sometimes, it is OK to love those who don’t love us back. And, even if you yearn for your own needs for love and friendship to be met, it is OK to accept that this particular relationship is one-sided, and that you will be in the position of loving them a little bit more for a season. At some point, you’ll have to decide whether to continue on or to move on, but that is a crossroads for a future date.

It is important that we find our identity and value in GOD and not in this world, as He is where we find ultimate peace to handle anything this world can throw at us, including rejection.

The book “Univited” by Lysa Terkeurst is a powerful read and a great resource for anyone struggling with this kind of thing.

There was also a recent podcast on Focus on the Family about “Recovering from People Pleasing?” (Is anyone raising their hands with me on this one?!) that explains how pleasing God in the form of keeping His Commandments is the ultimate goal.

To be honest, I had not planned to write this blog at all, but God has been fairly insistent with my heart on this matter by placing all of these messages and resources at my disposal to share with y’all. And often, if I have anything on my heart, I use this platform to blabber about it and to hopefully share a bit of encouragement with all of the women out there, particularly women like me, in new homes who badly want to post a friendship ad like the one pictured above.

Being friends with “people not like me” has enriched my life in ways I cannot describe. Being the Home Who Hosts has never been something I’ve regretted, and the More the Merrier mentality is the best possible one, in my humble opinion. When you choose to serve rather than be served, the blessings almost always come back tenfold.

I will close with love and a sincere offer to pray for any of my readers who may have a burden on their hearts today. Don’t hesitate to comment on this post, send me a private message, or if you follow me on Facebook to contact me there. I would love the chance to be an encouragement to you in any way I can.

In Christ’s love,
Manda

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Hello February! Life As We Know It And THE BEST Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Well, January certainly passed in a whirlwind, and just like that 1/12 of 2018 is over!

Maybe not just like that.

Here I am with the girls in my cohort at the beginning of the month, celebrating Pam’s belated birthday at Bonefish Grill and gearing up for a brand new semester.

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I love these girls who encourage and inspire me daily. All together, we are going to make it through this somehow, some way!

Overall January was a very busy month for our little family, and this Spring semester is shaping up to be a Mountain of Craziness work wise. It is a little intimidating to look at all of the deadlines for schoolwork and research all piled together in my paper planner and on my Trello app (and on my Iphone notes and calendar–triple organization is key here, so I don’t miss anything). But, that is why I simply adopt a motto I have had since my undergrad days in an honors college Women In Leadership Class: Tunnel Vision. I just take whatever I have day by day (sometimes hour by hour) and do the very best I can on the task at hand.

Some days I rock through my to do list quickly, eagerly checking off things left and right. (One reason I LOVE Trello is the neat little green check marks you can put beside each item as you complete it…such a small feeling of satisfaction at each accomplishment, however insignificant.) Other days, like today, the first project of the day ends up taking eons longer than bargained for…meaning my To Do List for the next day is also extended. But, that is the nature of the beast. I plan what I can, complete what I must, and just keep swimming.

My saving grace (sorry Jack Pearson) has been my Crock-Pot. (Can I just stop right here and give kudos to their PR team?! What an incredible response to the latest This Is Us episode. On another note, I am dreading this next episode SO VERY MUCH. Sigh. I have a viewing buddy and box of tissues all squared away, so I suppose I am as prepared as I will be for the patriarch of my favorite shows’ upcoming epic demise. Anyway, back to his murder weapon aka my bff as far as kitchen appliances go…)

After a long day of work, the last thing I want to do is put dinner on the table. So, I have started making myself do morning meal prep. After I let Bear out and feed him breakfast, I spend a few minutes throwing together part or all of what we will eat that night (typically easy, semi-healthy and Crock Pot based) and clean up the dishes. It is so wonderful to come home to a mostly clean kitchen and the smell of dinner simmering. That way, once I eat, I can knock out a few more hours of studying before bed. The nature of my work makes my brain hurt after awhile, so scheduling in strategic breaks is key and then working late into the night is often a necessity.

A Facebook friend recently posted a neat status asking her friends to name this chapter of their life. My response? Nose to the Grindstone. When I first moved here last Fall, you may recall I was a bit worried about finding friendship and community here in Florida. Well, we have begun to find those things but have absolute zero time for much socializing here lately. As an extrovert, this makes me sad.

Yet, I find such satisfaction in my work, my life with my husband and little puppy (who — fair warning– will likely dominate much of the rest of this post and many to come) and my ever growing faith in Jesus, that a bit of solitude is OK. I don’t plan to be a workaholic, but I always strive to give 100% to whatever task my hands find to do…and right now, this Ph.D. program is requiring the full 100% and then some.

I am not sure if I shared this previously, but when January first began before school took over my life, Luke and I reunited with our dear Army friends, Alec and Natalya, at a local Brazilian Steakhouse. Seeing them again was such a highlight. 

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I never fully realized the amazing benefit of the Army’s built in support network with so many peers of the same age/stage of life. We laughed together over endless meat as we caught up on the last 6 months of our lives, and I am grateful her family lives nearby so hopefully we will see them again before too long.

Couple friends were such a huge part of our previous life, that I felt a bit teary eyed leaving that dinner. It has been an aspect I had SO MISSED since our move to the Sunshine State. But, now I am seeing how this new season has been such a blessing for our good, to build us up and to make us stronger.

In fact, Luke used to tell me when we first got married that I made wayyyy too many plans with outside people. It is SO TRUE. My social butterfly nature (ironic since I was the most shy child to perhaps ever exist) gravitated toward building relationships, something I strove for as a top priority at each new military home. The only problem with this is going out 2-4 times a week is not always sustainable when you are working full-time, beginning a new marriage, and going to grad school. I always wanted to be on the go and didn’t understand when Luke felt tired and grumpy at times when I made yet another plan or another road trip that would mean the weekend wouldn’t have a lot of room for R & R.

Don’t get me wrong; he always loved going or hosting in the end (and adores our friends near and far), and we have so many fabulous memories we would not trade for the world. But, the exhaustion we felt as a result over such a long period was just not healthy. Now that we find ourselves here in Florida, I find ourselves being home bodies and LOVING it. We are concentrating all that energy on one another more than ever before, and our marriage feels so close knit and rewarding. Not that we won’t ever have couple friends again; we have already started developing relationships with a few, and cannot wait to get to know them better. But sometimes, it is OK and necessary to focus more time and energy at home.

When I was picking out Luke’s Valentine’s card this past week, I could not help but think about how every mushy gushy words is SO TRUE as if Hallmark wrote it just for him, and how in the world did I get so lucky to have this most phenomenal life mate and puppy Dad?

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Just my two boys…and my space heater which I love. (I am super careful to unplug it now though– thanks #ThisIsUs.) But it is so worth it to keep my home nice and balmy at 70 degrees despite frigid temperatures lately…what is with this weather, Florida? Grateful to see warmer skies forecast in the foreseeable future.

Note the green carpet above. Well, that is history come middle to end February!

We spent some of our off time searching for new flooring and finally settled on a nice tan/gray/creamy carpet for the bedrooms (gotta love soft flooring when you get out of bed to sink your feet into) and a vinyl wood look alike for the living areas. We are planning to flip this house in the next 3-4 years so we did not blow the budget on real hardwoods, but I do think this is going to be a huge improvement over our former flooring.

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^ Bear was so good and patient at Home Depot waiting for us to pick everything out. I just LOVE when he sits with his little puppy paws folded like that– how cute!

Gray is apparently the trend that’s here to stay, so we felt confident buying this selection, which Home Depot assured us is a hot seller right now. I’ll definitely post before & after pics once we have it installed, because this couple is just not in a place to DIY. The Home Depot folks were running an installation special with flooring purchase, so we are excited that there won’t be too much heavy lifting on our end with this project.

I am all about (small) home improvement deals, and love my new centerpiece for the sunroom which I snagged at Hobby Lobby for just $12! (Regularly $59.)

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Slowly, but surely, this place is becoming a home.

Luke began his MBA in mid-January and is in the full swing of taking 3 classes; I remember vividly doing my master’s online while working full time and I was only taking 1 class at a time and was exhausted. This guy is truly Super Man and I know with his natural smarts and dedication for hard work (I am a tad bit biased but I really do have the utmost faith and confidence in him), he will succeed beyond measure. We are slated to graduate together in 2020 if all goes as planned–which doesn’t sound so far away now that it’s already 2018!)

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Speaking of school, our little Bear graduates Puppy Kindergarten this Sunday and has qualified for the Advanced Obedience Class beginning later in February. Woohoo! He also had his last puppy visit at the vet today and currently weighs 29 lbs.

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^Bear and Mommy at Kindergarten Class

Now, if only they could teach him that Frisbees are not food. Haha

Bear went out to eat with us 3x this month and really gets along well with people.

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He does OK with other dogs, but because he is pretty large compared to his peers, some of them can feel a bit intimidated as he barks and tries to initiate play. The Kindergarten class mentioned above has been great for helping him to socialize and learn to interact with other pups and people. Overall, our doodle is a little sweetie.

Just Netflixing and chilling…how we spend much of our “free” time these days. And squeaking our dinosaur toy (Bear’s very favorite.)

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Their eyes look creepy above! I love the camera on the new iPhone X except the red eye editing feature…it doesn’t identify red eyes super well and often produces this glowing effect instead. Oh well, at least you can see Bear’s eyes standing out from the black fur all around Bear’s face! 🙂

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^ In case you were worried Bear doesn’t have enough toys, he is one spoiled little Doodle. Yet, sometimes if you aren’t careful, he prefers chewing on dryer sheets, socks, Luke’s slippers, and a clothespin even more! (Note: This is Bed No. 2. RIP. We are currently on No. 3 and hoping third time’s a charm!) When I work from home I will sometimes give him bones or little bully sticks to keep him occupied. And the no fail- a tennis ball. #ClassicDog

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I have been interviewing pet sitters to help Luke out during my upcoming academic conference trip out West. We do not want to board our little guy just yet and so we are thrilled to have found someone who will come to our home and help us out! We feel so blessed that Bear will get to stay in his natural environment, even while Luke is at work, and have a trustworthy person to check in on both our pet and home. Pet sitting is certainly a needed business and there is a lot of opportunity there if you are considering a new venture… this lady is really booked solid!

Finally, I am sharing one of my very favorite all-time recipes with you! If only I had the chance to bake it these days..My great Aunt Helen was one of the very best cooks I have ever known. She taught me how to make her homemade red velvet cake with cream cheese icing from scratch many moons ago, and I scrawled it down in my 14-year-old handwriting. I have saved that recipe all these years and even passed out copies at my wedding as it is such a family treasure. Aunt Helen died years ago and unfortunately never got to meet Luke, but he sure loves her cake, and I feel that her legacy lives on every time I make it. My mom texted me for this earlier in the month to make for company as she had lost her copy (shoot, I probably misplaced it at some point because I used to make it at home all the time). Anyway, I had it in the pictures on my phone and figured I would post it in case you made it through your healthy eating new year’s resolution and are looking for a rewarding treat!

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Maybe I will have to find some time to bake that cake soon…Healthy eating can always begin in March right?! 😉

Well, that is pretty much our January mixed with Work, Work, and more Work. I try to plan small treats to motivate us throughout such as a pedicure for myself earlier in the week or a special family favorite recipe. But otherwise, we are just here, working hard to build our foundation for the future– which I KNOW will be so worth it when we both have our dream careers. If you also find yourself in a season of growing and work, believe in the greater purpose and have faith that the best things in life often take time to come to fruition!

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Now, it’s back to it…Nose to the grindstone. Thanks for following along on our journey and indulging in my blog posting Study Break.

Lessons in Rejection

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely adore a clean slate. Happy New Year from the Bradshaws! It’s great to “see” you in 2018.

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What a year this is already shaping up to be…My planner (pictured below) has been picked out and ready to go for about two months now. I was drawn to this particular one as it represents my motto for this year ahead of us: “Have courage and stay kind.”

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And, that is exactly what I plan to do throughout the stress and chaos of many activities already scheduled months and weeks in advance. In the midst of busy days this is a simple, physical reminder to display peace and joy to those around me (in particular my sweet husband, who often bears the brunt of my stress, as we are prone to do with those who love us unconditionally.)

While I love new technology and its many conveniences (aka my iPhone calendar), a phone buzzing with notifications sometimes leads to more stress and does not allow one to disconnect and simply be. Therefore, in addition to a phone full of notes and reminders, I stick to paper planners to track all the big things, year after year, even in 2018 . Just call me old-fashioned.

I am writing today after my first successful week of the second semester of my Ph.D. program, and in the interest of keeping it real here, I am feeling real, real stressed.

I have a conference deadline looming (yay for the blessing of gaining my first conference acceptance, and at a SKI RESORT NO LESS!), new coursework to manage, and some other projects in the works, and I am meticulously planning each day in an attempt to balance it all. Some days are more productive than others, but 5 days into the new school year, and I am already rocking and rolling.

These two are definitely keeping me grounded. (Please ignore our messy house…just a casualty of being a grad student, I think..But I would rather sacrifice perfection for [rare] time with my family.)

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Bear weighs 25 pounds now according to his latest check up at the vet, and he can already see eye level with our love seat. Insert puppy mommy, “my baby is growing up” sad/whiny voice. Also, still in shock that he is going to be MUCH bigger than originally bargained for. But, that’s OK- all the more fluff to love! 🙂 He has started a 5-week puppy kindergarten class, and we are working on clicker training for basic commands such as sit, come, etc.

The photo of Luke was taken on our off day together after one of Bear’s classes. We had just gotten home. Luke was heating up the grill to throw some burgers on for dinner, Bear curled up at our feet, exhausted after class, and we just jammed out to oldies music and enjoyed beers together for half an hour. It was so much fun and stress free! Any time spent with my boys is definitely the highlight of my week, and I had to capture the moment to remember on a day when I am feeling stressed to the max. Like today.

I didn’t sleep much this week due to first week nerves and getting back into a somewhat “normal” sleep schedule after a long break, which probably isn’t helping matters, and I feel the beginnings of a cold coming on. But, after attending each of my 3 classes this week, I am both SO EXCITED by the syllabi and everything I am going to learn (#totalnerdalert) and also slightly pretty  overwhelmed at the semester to come.

I decided to write a blog update because honestly this destresses me (crazy, right?!), and someone recently told me that my words sometimes help to encourage them on days when they are feeling a bit down. I am not sure who all reads this blog, but if you are feeling stressed at the moment, I hope this post helps you know that you are not alone. The rosy social media photos people post only tell one side of the story as all of us experience stress, worry, and various obstacles from time to time.

I also wanted to write a little bit about rejection, because I think this is something we, as humans, can all relate to. That sharp sting of not making a cut for something or not feeling good or worthy enough. Rejection is as universal as it is painful. Whether it is in the dating world and a potential romantic partner decides you just aren’t The One, or in the industry when you present your lightbulb moment in a meeting and get a less-than-positive response from your boss or team or when you yearn desperately for a friendship, and that person just doesn’t like you…it all feels kinda similar. A Spectrum of Rejection that goes from bad to worse….

Today, rejection smacked me right in the face with a no-go professional conference submission.

So what is the blessing of rejection, and what lessons can we learn from it?

At least that is how I try to approach it when I am having a hard time processing something or when I feel rejected…OK, what can I learn from this experience? Why am I being rejected? What (if anything) can I do better next time? Is it me or is it them? (Fair perspective because while I can change me, you cannot force someone to like you, for example.)

Even though I kinda sorta knew in my gut I wasn’t making it with this particular paper at this particular conference, the “We thank you, please try again next time” email still stung.

Even after I read that 50% of people who submitted didn’t get it either…That’s a lot of people out there presumably with high quality scholarship feeling the same exact way I did today.  But yet that other 50% did get in, and I wanted badly to be part of that group.

To this day, I clearly recall feeling the exact same way as a grade school student in a student government election (aka basically a popularity contest at that age. LOL). I remember the butterflies in my stomach when they called out the winners’ names in the gym (because that’s always the best way to lose something as a child, in person, in front of a roomful of all your peers). I shut my eyes tightly, crossed my fingers for luck, and prayed to hear my name. Instead, my opponent beat me fair and square.

As a 20-something, I have been both accepted and rejected countless times in my life. And, remarkably, each and every time worked out for my good, exactly as it was meant to.

I have been elected for leadership positions for various organizations since that long ago grade school loss…I have won awards, made the grade, been deemed worthy. However, I have also been rejected.

And though it hurt at the time, I have gotten to do some pretty cool things because of those rejections. One that sticks out is the opportunity to serve as the editor of an international travel magazine for my collegiate Capstone project, an opportunity I never would have had if I had not been rejected from something else first. But, even knowing this, those emails or letters beginning with “We regret to inform you” can cause you to question yourself, your value, your contributions at times. You wait on pins and needles to hear the news and then….ouch.

A kind friend sent this Bible verse my way this week, and man, how it has resonated, time and time again in multiple situations.

9 “A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9 New King James Version (NKJV)

Amen.

Whenever something doesn’t work out how you had hoped, I believe we have two choices.

We can get mad and sulk…or worse, convince ourselves we really aren’t good enough and simply throw in the towel.

OR

We can pick up the pieces, dust ourselves off, and try, try, try again.

A motto of my mom’s when I was growing up was always, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” It used to really irk me when she would say that because it was usually when I was considering quitting something or other. However, she taught me from a young age to always honor my commitments and to persevere to see things through.

Perseverance has served me well in life. I had a former boss tell me the main reason he hired me for a particular job was due to this attribute. That meant a lot to me, but really, I owe this characteristic of mine to the way I was raised and how the Bible teaches us to respond to adversity.

We are to be strong, firm, steadfast.

“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, a whenever you face trials of many kinds,. 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

One thing I know for certain is that life is going to throw challenges out there. For me, this is the first of many rejections in my academic career. However, how many more successes will there also be? OK, so one peer review board of 3 people didn’t like my paper for this particular forum. So what? How many others might love it if given the chance? No one ever said it was going to be easy. But trying again is always worth it.

Another thing I have learned through previous rejections in my life is to not find my value and worth in other people’s opinions.

My ultimate value and worth comes from Jesus Christ alone.

Not from the acceptance of others, not in promotions, or bonuses, or financial gain….sure, all of those things are great. But, I do not place my value on my accomplishments (or lack thereof).  This mindset has helped me to accept rejection as a given, as something that happens from time to time. It still may sting, but there is a peace in knowing that this or that is not the be all, end all, of Amanda Bradshaw’s value.

Thus, in 2018, I plan to have courage by putting myself out there again and again, taking chances. Big gains often come only after big risk.

Constructive criticism used to be (OK, it still is sometimes) hard to take; as a writer, one does not like to see one’s hard work torn to shreds at any level. But, as I first learned in journalism, and now in this Ph.D. program, it’s part of the ballgame. I have come to expect to plan longer to complete assignments, to have them edited, re-edited, and critiqued from every angle imaginable. And even still, some will be rejected. It’s just part of it–the part that is going to ultimately make me even better in the long run. Rejection is part of the learning process and often makes acceptance taste just that much sweeter.

We all have our own struggles, challenges, and rejections in this life, but in my opinion, attitude makes all the difference. When negative thoughts began entering my head today, doubtful thoughts, I banished them, one by one, reaffirming the good things that I have and will achieve and refocused positively on the fabulous semester ahead…starting with hello, my very first ski trip ever and a [different] conference acceptance!! What does one even pack to hit the slopes? This Southern girl has only been around snow a few times in my life, so any recommendations are welcome. 🙂

Have courage and be kind.

2018 is going to be AMAZING.

Until next time in God’s love,

Manda

Finding Perspective In 2017- A Necessary Year of Tough Metamorphosis & Grand Adventure

As we reflect back upon our past year of life, one word stands out to me the most: CHANGE.

So much changed for me personally and for our family, both immediate and extended, in 2017. In many ways we have been pushed to the breaking point, and yet we have survived and thrived in this year of major life transitions. Even taking it piece by piece seems like a crazy whirlwind of a year, but here is a little of what the Bradshaws were up to, month by month.

January 

In January, we rang in the New Year with precious friends at Fort Sill. We had such a tight knit Army family in Oklahoma, and although we are spread out all over the world now, I know that those bonds and relationships will remain despite time and distance. What a very special season of life Jesus placed us in on Lauman Avenue.

I got to experience my first snow in the Midwest, and we had a blast tromping through the white streets.

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In addition to my job at Chick-fil-A, I began a new position as an adjunct instructor at Cameron University.

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This is one instance proving that perseverance pays off! The communications department chair told me he did not have any openings after we first moved to Oklahoma, but I essentially bugged him for months until something came up. What a blessing to have had the opportunity to spend a semester with a class of students whom I am sure taught me as much or more than I taught them.

February

My younger brother, Ethan, moved to Rogers, AR in February to begin his new job in cyber security with WalMart corporate- only 5 hours away! Luke and I made the drive up to help him get settled into his new home, and spent the weekend visiting with my Dad, who also made the trip out. I love this town, and seeing the Sam Walton Museum and other local sights was pretty cool!

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Here is a snapshot of our much needed Valentine’s Date Night, which you can read about here.

And, the Ladies of Lauman had a fun girls’ night at the local Japanese steakhouse.

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Despite the fun, this was a stressful month, as I felt a lot of pressure to choose where we would be spending the next 3-4 years of our lives. Would it be Austin, TX, my alma mater in Tuscaloosa, AL, Gainesville, FL or Baltimore, MD? Each campus offered its own appeal and a completely unique experience! After a few campus visits, it was up to me to decide which Ph.D. program would be best for my future career goals and which locale would be best for our family post-Army. I made this decision unilaterally, at Luke’s firm insistence. He believed that because I moved for him twice with the military, it was my turn to choose. He was good for his word and literally refused to give me the slightest bit of input, agreeing to move wherever I wished. He is always so kind and supportive of my goals, but can you say SO MUCH PRESSURE! Haha I am grateful we will be deciding our next move together. 🙂

To this day, I so clearly remember the plane flight to visit Gainesville…As I flew over Charlotte, I felt this nagging in my spirit to move back East, closer to family (9 hours as opposed to 17-24+). Sure enough, I fell in love with the campus and the program here, and after much reflection and prayer, I officially set our course for Florida. I knew Luke was interested in shipping/logistics, so I figured this state by the sea would serve him well also.

L & A Gator Flag

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Luke began his job search in this area right after I signed the acceptance letter for UF with a trip to Savannah, GA to attend the Service Academy Career Conference, a huge potential employment matching opportunity designed specifically for service academy grads to meet representatives from major corporations all over the world.

I tagged along, and we invited his brothers Jacob and Samuel and Jacob’s wife Adrianna to come along to simultaneously celebrate Luke’s 27th birthday. We had a great time returning to the city we fell in love with on our honeymoon and spent plenty of time exploring and celebrating once his official business was finished. I even ran into my long lost AOII sorority sister and bridesmaid, Lauren Killen (now Kirkconnell), for a meal. It was so wonderful to catch up with this dear friend.

March

March began with a progressive dinner party on Lauman Avenue.

Our friend group went from house to house and enjoyed a Mexican fiesta with a different course at each home. At the Gonzales’s, we sang a belated Happy Birthday song for Luke and had cake. It was SO MUCH FUN, and made even better because no one had to drive anywhere since we all lived within walking distance.

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Otherwise, March was an extremely tough month for us. In short, Luke’s parents announced their decision to officially separate after 25+ years of marriage, something we found out just before flying back to NC to celebrate his aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary weekend. Needless to say it was an extremely bittersweet, painful, weekend for Luke and his siblings and parents. I do not wish to share more details about this, but I do want to ask for prayers for all parties involved as we all continue to process and sort out what our new family normal entails moving into the New Year. I am extremely glad we live MUCH closer now and that I listened to that nudging in my spirit that led me to choose Florida, even before we had added incentive to be closer to home in this season.

Here are a few photos from the NC weekend visit, including one with a very reluctant leprechaun on St. Patty’s Day! Luke’s Uncle Howard and Aunt Sue were so surprised by their 50th anniversary dinner party. Their children, Ben and Natalie, did a wonderful job organizing everything.

In the meantime, our family has become closer than ever as we refocus on what is really important in life and prioritize our relationships with God and then one another over all else.

Our parents are always good about visiting us where we are at, and my Mom came to Oklahoma later in March to spend a few days with us. You can read all about it here.

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We spent some time playing tourists in our own town, exploring the area around Fort Sill. We saw several bison at the nearby nature preserve, ate some delicious meals, and simply relaxed a good bit.

April

They say April showers bring May flowers, and sure enough, the month began with a sad farewell to our dear friends, the McClellands. Bound for Fort Bragg, NC, this family has been super special to us ever since Scott and Luke were in the same class at West Point. We knew them during BOLC (Fort Sill the first time around) and again this time. It was a sad see you later, but how special to get to celebrate Aaden’s first communion together.

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In fact, it seemed a lot of this month was preparing to say goodbye while enjoying precious memories with friends in the meantime. Here are a few images from our ladies’ brunch at Kelly’s house, dinner with friends and coworkers, West Point Founders Day, and a rodeo in Texas!

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My Mom and brother came into town to celebrate Easter weekend with us at Fort Sill. We had heard great things about the annual Easter pageant at the Holy City of the Wichitas, and it truly was a spectacular sight. The play tells the living story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection over a three-hour span, ending at midnight, to officially welcome Easter Sunday. Several friends joined us for church at Crossroads Baptist in Elgin that morning (I really miss this very special church), and then we had lunch at our house afterward. Read more about our wonderful Easter weekend here.

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Finally, I had our last class meeting for my public speaking students at Chick-fil-A for free breakfast day! What a wonderful way to wrap up the semester with a very special group.

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May 

May was a month of lasts– last game night, last neighborhood cookout, last dinner, etc.

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As hard as it was to say goodbye to so many special friends, God reminded me time and time again how lucky we are to have people in our lives who make saying see you later so tough. Until we meet again, I wish you well…I hope your light shines easily.

May also brought another visit to Rogers, AR. Luke flew out for another Service Academy Career Conference, this time in Washington DC, and since I had wrapped up my job at Chick-fil-A to begin prepping for the move, I took advantage of the opportunity to head up and visit Ethan.

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We went hiking and out to eat, and while he worked during the day, I visited various coffee shops around town to work on writing my Christian fiction novel for young adults. Luke joined us for the weekend after the conference, and we explored the nearby tiny town of Eureka Springs (Little Switzerland) together. Read more about our Arkansas adventures here.

I also headed to my hometown, Huntsville, AL to surprise my MOH, Jessica, for her Gender Reveal Party. She had no idea I would be able to make it, so it was really fun to see her. Plus, I was Team Blue, and she is now the mother of a happy, healthy baby boy. #CalledIt

Meanwhile, Luke was wrapping up his job as a Battery Commander of a basic training unit, and I was so proud to attend the graduation ceremony he officiated. He is such a great speaker and leader! #ProudWifeMoment

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June

Officially moving month, June brought our final days at Fort Sill. We spent the first two and a half weeks wrapping up everything Army related, carefully supervised the packing and loading of everything we own, and cleaned our rented base housing from top to bottom.

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I continued to work on my novel despite the chaos, and even attended the Southern Christian Writers Conference where I ran into my old professor and mentor from the University of Alabama, Dr. George Daniels.

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The last week in Oklahoma, we were nomads and lived with our downstairs neighbor, since we had to be out of our home before Luke was officially free to leave town. My goodbye dinner with Kirsten, my CFA co-worker and friend, was another tear jerker. I miss this girl!

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Our last dinner as the Ladies of Lauman (already missing Rachel!)

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Pokeno night with my sweet church/Army wife friends, Lindsay and Brooke. Miss them so!

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In exciting news, Luke officially signed his employment contract with Target during this time frame! He was a man with a plan, and we felt so grateful God brought this opportunity to us with plenty of time to prepare.

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There was something so gloriously sweet about watching Luke’s last official ceremony as a Battery Commander sitting beside my good friend, Lydia Redmond, and then going with him to out process for the last time; he looked so handsome in his active duty uniform. A wave of emotions hit me as I realized this was it, the last time he would ever wear this uniform.

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The Army was all we had ever known in the 7 years of our life together. When I met Luke he was a West Point cadet, and from then on, the Army was our life. Luke went from a Cow to a Firstie to Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, and Captain, and he did one heck of a job serving his country. I will always be so proud of him. However, it was bittersweet because we were equally excited for our next chapter and transition to civilian life. For many reasons, I knew Luke was/is completely at peace with his decision to ETS, and so life as we know it was forever changed.

As I followed him in his brand new Chevy Equinox (bye bye, Old Bessie; you will always be the very best Chevy Silverado around) onto the interstate, I took one last look in my rear view mirror at Fort Sill. It was a year so well spent; God so clearly had us in that place for that exact season, but not a moment longer.

Fun Fact: Our PCS move was literally the most ambitious ever. Here is a road map of our travels from Point A to Point B (and everywhere in between!)

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To begin our adventure, we headed up to Arkansas one last time as our moving day was June 19th- Ethan’s 24th birthday!

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We took him out to dinner, bought him a gift and a birthday pie, and spent a great 24 hours together (No, the boys didn’t plan to match. LOL). I sobbed the next day when we had to leave because I do not know when I will see my brother again. It could easily be a long, long time with all of us in new jobs and living very far apart. We are praying our paths will cross in 2018, sometime, somewhere.

We went to see Greg and Jenae Young at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri next. They were some of our very best friends at Fort Benning, GA, and we had not seen them in over a year.

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We went out to eat Korean food (they now live in Korea, per Uncle Sam’s orders), and had a great evening reminiscing and playing board games. I am so glad we got the chance to reunite with them.

On our way South, we stopped in St. Louis, Missouri for only 2 hours and for 2 reasons: 1. To see the arch 2. To try the ribs. We did both and felt satisfied checking this city off the bucket list.

48 hours later we made it to Florida for a long weekend of house hunting and one piece of delicious key lime pie!

We decided to purchase our first home here for a variety of reasons, but namely rent is super expensive in the area, and we wanted to start building equity. Plus, we really, really wanted a house after years of Army/apartment housing. It was a hot, hot, hot seller’s market (literally and figuratively…temps here in June are no joke!) and we lost one bidding war before winning a second with an offer well above asking price. Mission accomplished. (I thought we had a lime tree based on the photo above, but turns out this is an orange tree! Haha they were just tiny at the time.) We checked out of our hotel and drove the 9 hours back to Huntsville to spend some R&R time with my family, including a great day trip to Chattanooga with my Mom.

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July 

June faded into July in a blur of lazy days; we spent the 4th with my Dad and grandmother, enjoying the pool at my uncle’s house followed by a fireworks show.

Luke worked the house sale from afar, and I continued to edit my novel. Meanwhile, we played cards, stayed up late, ate out way too much (to the point we were literally begging any family member to cook for us; shoot we would cook! Just let us use your kitchen.)

We then traveled to NC to spend some time with Luke’s side of the family. His mom rented a pontoon boat, and we spent a very nice day on the lake. We also took our sister, Hannah, and her boyfriend, Will, to Carowinds for a belated birthday trip and went to a Jason Aldean concert in Charlotte. Luke really enjoyed growing out his post-Army facial hair.

On the 15th we flew out of Charlotte for a two-week journey to Italy! We had planned this trip for over two years, and worked so hard to live mostly off of one income in order to make this happen.

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We saw Rome, Venice, and Florence as well as Burano, Murano, Tuscany, and Positano. Here are a few of our favorite images from this vacation for the memory books.

August

After returning from Italy, Luke and I had to work out several kinks with our pending home. The whole thing needed new plumbing, a new roof, and some other minor repairs, equivalent to thousands of dollars. We had a couple of scary days when we thought the sale might fall through, but through much prayer and perseverance, it all worked out. However, we could not close a single day before the Thursday the week before we both started our new jobs. Talk about mega stress overload!

We visited Luke’s brothers in Charleston and then stayed in a hotel in Florida for a couple days leading up to closing.

Meanwhile, I sent my finished novel out to several publishers and am anxiously holding my breath…publishing a novel turns out to be a very long multi-month and even multi-year process, so stay tuned. I just feel so satisfied to have completed this lifelong goal of writing the book I felt called to write.

And then, we went to see a man about a house!

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The day after closing, we had Army movers, the cable guy, and four other contractors all milling about the property, trying to get everything set up for us. It was a mad house! But, somehow we survived. We did not get everything fully unpacked/organized for a month or two, but we were in.

We started our new jobs Monday, me at UF and Luke at Target.

A few photos from orientation days! #DocumentingTheJourney

 

 September

Oh, September…the 1st brought our 4th wedding anniversary (yay!); hard to believe it’s been that long already. Seems like forever and just a short time all at once.

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Luke always works so hard to make anniversaries a special day for me, and he succeeded yet again! We knew it would be the last date night we would get for awhile, which made it even more precious when we got all dressed up for a nice dinner out.

It was the perfect getaway from the boat load of changes we had been experiencing each and every day since our move just 2 weeks before. Suddenly we were thrust into this whole new world with no clue which way was up. I blogged more about this here, and I am so glad I did, because it is hard to fully put into words now all of the emotions I was experiencing then.

I’ll just say the first semester of a Ph.D. program is notoriously difficult, isolating, and incredibly stressful. It pushed me to my limits, changed my thinking, took me to the next level as a scholar. It was such a painful process at times! Mix in working opposite schedules to my husband, and I felt like a zombie on autopilot for most of this month. Change is hard for anyone, but when you take all of our changes in 2017 and compound them, you get the perfect storm that was our first few weeks here in Florida. It took me a little while to sort through all of this.

Here are some photos after the first week of perspectives class! We all went out to lunch to celebrate.

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Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma drove us from our new home a couple of weeks later. We evacuated to Huntsville and spent some time with my family in hopes of avoiding the storm (which ended up chasing us up that way! Lol).

They say that hurricanes bring babies, and sure enough, my friend and MOH Jessica went into labor during that time, a few weeks early. Luke and I got to stop by the hospital and visit with her and Will, and even though we have not had the pleasure of meeting baby Wesley yet, he is simply perfect. I am grateful for the hurricane for that moment alone.

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My cohort is full of some incredible people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom  have expressed feeling alone here in FL at first too. The military spouse inside me played social coordinator and tried to plan some fun activities to get all of us together and outside our comfort zones. A faculty member has said we are one of the closest classes  she has ever seen, and I must say I agree with that statement. My fellow classmates are definitely a blessing to me– just another sign God knew exactly what He was doing in moving us here to this place at this time for this purpose. Here we are celebrating Donghee’s birthday, a very fun occasion!

October 

Another month passed in a blur, although I was definitely getting my bearings better and began to figure out this whole Ph.D. program thing…a mixture of wine nights and papers, a couple beach trips to both St. Augustine and Cedar Key, adjusting to new schedules, and tons of girls’ days unfolded.

The fun side of home ownership (note my sarcasm) included the need for a new HVAC much sooner than anticipated. My MIL wasn’t faring much better when a tornado hit her property later in the month and took out a good chunk of her barn! Yikes. It was not a great month for us, but fortunately, no one got hurt, and at the end of the day that is what truly matters.

On a brighter note, I turned 27, and we hosted our annual Halloween party on my birthday for the whole class. It was really fun getting to wear our Carnival masks that we bought in Venice!  And, the party gave us an added incentive to get our house (mostly) organized.

To be honest, behind the smiles in the photographs, my birthday was a tough day. I remember sitting at the hair salon that afternoon crying my eyes out. I felt so lonely here despite the camaraderie with my fellow cohort members. I missed my friends from home and my mom and even my husband; with opposite schedules it sometimes feels as if I see him less than in the Army. But, that evening, I was reminded just how blessed we truly are here with my class gathered at our home.

 

We laughed for hours playing the Werewolf game, and I think everyone truly had a great time. They also brought me the sweetest, most unexpected gifts. What a blessing it is to have these people in my life! Yes, this is a season of change. Change is hard. But, there is almost always something better waiting on the other side! You just have to get there.

Here we all are celebrating our SECOND perspectives paper down! Just one to go…The semester both flew by and somehow crawled, depending upon the day.

My mom recently talked with me about periods of metamorphosis. Before the caterpillar goes into the cocoon, he feels perfectly happy being a caterpillar, exploring out in the sunshine. Thus, he feels confused and unhappy, when he finds himself suddenly cramped up in a dark place all alone. But, something so much more beautiful emerges at the end of that painful period when he transforms into a butterfly. Suddenly, that little caterpillar can do what he never dreamed to be possible before: he can fly! Life is cyclical, and so the hard times never last forever. I think this first semester, for me, felt like that caterpillar going into a cocoon. I felt more lost and lonely and unsure than I had in my memory. And yet, I grew. I feel as if I have emerged stronger from the experience.

October was a season of pruning back the weeds, both figuratively and literally. Something beautiful may lie beneath a bunch of thistles if you are just willing to put in the work to find it.

November

November brought so much to be thankful for, which I explain more here.

For one thing, a little puppy named Bear was coming into our lives not too far in the distant future. Meeting Bear for the first time…he was so little. He could fit into my palms! (Jeremiah 29:11 right here.)

We took a girls’ trip to St. Augustine on Veteran’s Day and enjoyed a great lunch and explored the first Spanish fort at no charge due to the holiday. It was a blast but SUPER WINDY! Haha

Luke and I also spent a fun afternoon exploring Marjorie Kinaan Rawlings’ home, citrus grove, and (now) state park. The house is usually closed on Luke’s off day, but we happened to catch a very nice tour guide who had come in to take a private book club through. We became honorary members for the day and enjoyed hearing about this famous author’s history of living and writing right here near our own town!

I attended my first football game here with the Graduate Christian Fellowship Group and learned how to chomp (Go Gators!).

Then, my Dad and grandmother came to visit for Thanksgiving.

Luke had to work, so we had an early lunch, and then I took them to explore the local state parks to see the real alligators, to St. Augustine for an epic marathon of Black Friday shopping, and to some of my favorite local restaurants, such as Satchel’s (the best pizza around!) I sent them off with a big box of oranges and lemons from our own trees which have bloomed and cried buckets (I’m just a blubbering sentimental mess when it comes to family these days). But, we soon resumed our new normal as I prepared for finals and Luke worked hard getting food out for the holidays at Target. We truly have so much to be grateful for this year.

December

Well, I did it!! I survived perspectives, the hardest class of the program, and turned in all of my final projects. I also got accepted to my first conference in health communication. I cannot tell you what a high that was for me–followed by previous lows of not getting IRB acceptance on the first or second go round. Another huge high for us was Luke’s official acceptance into the UF MBA program, which he will begin in January. We are now college sweethearts X 2, this time at the same university together!

At the end of finals week, Luke and I went to NC for a weekend so that he could be a groomsman in his childhood friend, Logan’s wedding. The weather cooperated just perfectly for a white wedding, and we loved getting to see relatives and friends.

Right afterward, we came back to Florida and picked up our precious labradoodle, Bear. We have a blog post on bringing Bear home, so for now, I’ll just leave you with this picture with Santa Paws. Too much cuteness to choose from!

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More change, but so very positive. I continue to repeat that God knows what we need when we need it, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Life as a new puppy parent isn’t exactly restful, but it is wonderful all the same as we find our new rhythm as a family. Finally, my mom and MIL, BIL, and SIL all came to visit us in Florida for Christmas this year! We had such a blast recreating old traditions and starting new ones. Besides, if you cannot have a white Christmas, why not go for sunny and 75? 🙂

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This was a long way round to emphasize that for us, 2017 was full of change. I have learned to rely upon myself and God in a way that I probably didn’t before when Luke filled more of that gap for me. I think He is using this season to draw me ever closer to Him, to help me to reach my fullest potential, just like the butterfly. I think He is using this season to grow our marriage, to help us to appreciate quality of moments over quantity, to be intentional about our time together, and to fully cherish the times we are together. On one hand this was a season of challenge, but looked at from another perspective, it was a season of tearing down to build back up, stronger, better, wiser. 

I asked Luke for his input on our year and he said that 2017 pushed him in 2 ways: first in gaining patience. Second in growing his faith.

You cannot become a butterfly until you have lived through the process of the cocoon. The dark times and the light made this year one of our very best (certainly most exciting) yet. The highs were high and in contrast, the lows were low. And yet, it is all about how you focus your attention and perspective…I choose to chase joy, to experience life to the fullest, even if this chapter may be both everything and nothing like I envisioned one year ago today.

I cannot wait to see what God has in store for 2018, because His plans are ALWAYS, CONSISTENTLY, FOREVER better than anything I could dream up. Luke’s grandmother was recently hospitalized following an emergency surgery after breaking her hip…(yes, we have had a few sick relatives this year, too. It’s been a Bear of a year–pun intended.) Anyway, we had just been visiting the weekend before, and I remember distinctly asking her what her favorite decade of life was. I expected her to say maybe as a young wife, a mother, or even during her golden years of retirement before dementia and declining health. But her response to me was simple: “Today is the very best day. Right now. Every day that I am alive is just such a wonderful blessing.”

This wisdom touched my heart because she is so right. What is the best year of my life? This one. Today. 2017, for better or worse, has been the very best….and oh how incredible that God promises us the best is always yet to come.

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Happy New Year from our little family to yours! Thanks for being part of our journey. See you next year!

Bringing Bear Home: How A Total Non-Dog Person Grew To Love A Little Puppy In One Week Or Less

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Meet Bear, our family’s newest addition. Bear is a 12-week-old labradoodle, and those adorable puppy eyes have absolutely melted our hearts and wormed their way into stealing Luke’s Braves blanket. Haha

I say this from the perspective of a total and complete non-dog person.

Yes, you read that right. I am a non-K9 human, a dog avoider even….I have never, ever, ever REALLY wanted a pet dog before. This is the last time I had one.

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My parents had to get rid of our miniature dachshund, Shelby, before I was even a year old because we just didn’t take to one another very well. Apparently their beloved companion was so jealous of the new baby that she started destroying things all over the house…knocking over trash cans, scratching up doors and the like.

After Shelby left for the farm (an actual farm with another loving family,) we never got another pet dog. Growing up, my brother and I had hermit crabs once, and then in our teens, we adopted a stray cat, Lucky, who lived outside of our home in the woods. I liked Lucky well enough, but I am notoriously allergic to animals. Thus, I did not pet him much since I didn’t want to sneeze and feel itchy afterward. One time, we put extra money into a coffee can for a few months and called it a “dog fund,” but when Dad said no, I happily spent my portion on new clothes and didn’t really look back.

And thus, I lived a perfectly normal, happy, pet-free existence. A bit of a clean freak, I liked not having pet hair everywhere…for some reason the thought of an animal in the kitchen while I’m cooking was particularly unsettling. I did not like furry friends to jump on me, to lick me, etc. Somehow dogs especially picked up on this and thus paid me MORE attention, trying their best to get me to love on them. Many a dog has stared up at its owner with those sad puppy dog eyes asking, “Why doesn’t she love me, Mom?” As much as I love my friends and want to love their pets too, I never caved from my standoffish stance toward animals.

That is until I met Sadie, our friends’ goldendoodle. She and her humans came to visit us at Ft. Benning, GA, a bit to my chagrin. I could not wait to see these friends but again felt a bit iffy about having a dog in our apartment. Luke asked if she could stay isolated in the guest room, but when she felt lonely, we quickly relented to have her out with the rest of us. And so for an evening, Sadie tromped through the living room, ran loops around the kitchen, and provided endless entertainment and cuddles. She was well trained and well behaved, and for the first time around an animal, my allergies did not bother me a bit! I even petted her on my own, without prompting. Looking back, this planted a small Doodle seed in the back of our minds, and we began to plan for the far away day in the distant post-Army future when we might have a house with a yard and consider getting a pet.

Completely opposite of me, Luke loves dogs! He would often refer to my friends from college by their dog’s name…for example, “How are Blitz’s owners today?” Lol. And he would look forward to seeing this dog as much or more than their humans! Luke grew up with dogs all his life, typically in pairs. His very favorite dog was called Tramp (partner to Lady, of course,) and his parents have always kept dogs since I’ve known them. When we would go visit, I got to see a new little boy side of my husband emerge as he roamed and played and wrestled with his pets. Although my allergies still kick up pretty badly around most dogs, even after years of allergy shots, I came to love Bailey, a golden retriever, in my own way. She was mild-tempered, sociable, and yet not annoying in her quest for attention. Sadly, Bailey passed a few years ago, and Luke’s mom now owns Lucy and Charlie. (Lucy is pretty cool; Charlie, on the other hand, isn’t my favorite. Anyone who jumps up and down underneath trees for hours on end and for no reason at all just has to have a screw or two loose. ;))

Regardless of the dog, Luke’s eyes literally light up when he spots one. Friend or stranger, he typically can’t resist hugging them or giving them a quick belly rub. Again, I didn’t get it. I would stand awkwardly to the side while he rubbed the dog, smile politely, and breathe a sigh of relief when we continued on our way.  Even some of our dearest friends’ dogs, such as Jayce Sampler, never really got much attention from me. When we would go on walks at Ft. Sill, Rachel would scoop up his poop into one of those small bags matter of factly, and I would smile but internally shudder, feeling so grateful I didn’t have to touch or tote around some smelly, squishy dog mess. (True story!)

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Luke walking the Freemans’ dog, Bailey, at Ft. Sill. (Note my position, several steps back, safely behind the camera!)

I always say there are dog people and non dog-people, and I am simply the latter. That is why it is so incredible that I feel so much love in my heart now for this little puppy.

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Luke and I started to seriously consider getting a dog about one month after we moved to Florida. Our opposite schedules made the idea of a little companion seem ideal. First, we would have plenty of time to care for a new puppy on an alternating basis. Secondly, we would each have a buddy while the other is working.

We talked about it on and off for about two weeks, both slowly mulling over the idea. After I rewatched Marley and Me and began to see dogs practically everywhere I turned (maybe I was paying attention for the first time lol), I became hooked on the idea. I would see a dog bakery for example, and think hey, that could apply to me! This whole new world might be opened up by having a pet, and it just might be a ton of fun! Luke had similar thoughts (well not those exactly, but he also felt super excited about having a dog of our own,)  and then we became more serious, sending each other photos of dogs almost daily and actively searching for the right one who would join our family. We talked through the logistics of owning the puppy; where he would sleep, what supplies he might need, etc. And, we realized we are actually doing this! We are getting a dog.

We knew we wanted a doodle because of my experience with Sadie, but we were open to either goldendoodle or labradoodle. The smaller the dog, the better, since our yard isn’t super huge. We wanted something big enough not to step on though. 😉

Meeting Bear for the first time…He was so small he fit into the palm of my hand! (The breeder originally named him Angus, but we had to rectify that…he looked just like a Panda Bear, so problem solved! Luke now thinks we should alternate naming our dogs Bear…Bryant…Bear…Bryant. Lol.)

Bear was the runt of the litter, just what we wanted. However, it looks like his name may be more appropriate based on his latest measurements and weigh in at the vet office. He is going to be a literal bear when he grows up… Ahh!

We spent some time with him and then went home, and my allergies were just fine. I became tentatively excited and super nervous about being equipped to bring this dog home. He was not able to leave his mother until 11/29, and I pushed that to 12/13 because I knew I would be right in the middle of finals week for the first semester of my Ph.D. program. Waiting was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made, even though it became tough to wait on Bear to come home, especially on evenings when I felt lonely. Once we had made the decision and put down the deposit, I wanted him, like yesterday! I spent lots of time shopping at PetSmart and on Amazon for the perfect toys, bed, crate, etc. Boxes would come in one by one, each taking us one day closer to actually having Bear. The breeder was phenomenal and sent us pictures just about weekly so we could monitor his growth and progress.

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It wasn’t long before I was head over heels in love with the idea of Bear.

However, as the reality of bringing him home crept closer and closer, my nerves took over. I had never liked dogs before. How was I supposed to own one? I wouldn’t know the first thing about what to do with him.

I finished my final paper and felt such relief followed by an intense round of anxiety about picking Bear up the following day. Luke reassured me that people all over the world have pets; how badly could I mess this up? That helped…a little.

We drove the 9 hours back from NC where Luke was a groomsman in his childhood friend’s wedding, dumped the bags, and got back into the car to drive an hour in the opposite direction to get our little labradoodle. Bear had grown in the weeks since we had seen a picture…at his vet visit on 11/29, he was 13 lbs. The breeder warned us we would be shocked at his size, and we certainly were!

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Full size, he will be close to 15-20 lbs larger than we had expected! Standing in that shed surrounded by doodles, Luke gave me a last chance to back out. He said it would be OK if we needed to leave him since his size is so much more than we bargained for. But, my heart was already hooked! I could not imagine getting back into that car and going home with that empty crate without our Bear. And, so we began this adventure of a lifetime.

The car ride home went pretty well…I was fully prepared with lots of urine pads! (Sometime I’ll blog about the best cleaning supplies for dog owners. I am currently experimenting with about 20 different products; I told you I cannot stand dog smell. Haha) But, on that first car ride, we didn’t have any accidents. The breeder bathed him that day, and he actually smelled really good. Doodles are mostly non-shedding too, which is exactly what we were after! Even after having him for one week, we hardly find any dog hair, and our Roomba, which we run daily, barely picks any up.

We arrived home, and the look on Luke’s face bringing Bear over the threshold melted my heart. I love my boys!!

 

The grosser part of dog ownership unfortunately began right away. Fortunately, my husband is super knowledgeable about  dogs, and as Bear begin to sniff and walk in circles in our entryway, Luke rushed him outside in the nick of time to hurl his cookies in the grass. We had been warned he might be a little carsick after his first ride, but he’s been in the car a few more times since and no issues at all!

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We took him for his first quick walk around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights, and then Luke went to grab us food for dinner while Bear and I explored the sunroom. He immediately rejected his new orange chew toy in favor of staring at his own reflection in our big windows! Haha he is fascinated by this. Otherwise, we have a stereotypical fire hydrant-loving, squirrel-chasing, cat-barking creature.

The rest of Night 1 was terrible, complete with several potty accidents and literal ALL NIGHT whining and barking in the crate. It is to be expected, but coming from not ever having a dog, I don’t think anything really prepares you for bringing him home for the first time.

Luke took him out to Home Depot in the morning to get baby gates to section off rooms in the house, and I was just so grateful and relieved to have one quiet moment to myself to load the dishwasher without worrying if Bear’s nose would be in it or if he would be using the bathroom nearby. He was absolutely attached to us that first 48 hours, and where we went, he went. How quickly that has passed! Lol.

I seriously wondered what in the world I had gotten into. Fortunately, I am on Christmas Break and don’t have to do too much work right now–just what is needed for the settling in stage. Luke left us to go back to work that afternoon, and then it was just Bear and I. What in the world was I going to do with this dog on my own without my partner and resident dog expert??? I have barely even petted a puppy before, remember?! I cannot stress enough what a non-dog person I am/was.

But, we have made it, and honestly we have had the most wonderful time bonding together these past few days.

Some of our misadventures:

  • Jumping out of our collar to lurch at a couple mulching their yard…thankfully, the man was kind enough to hold Bear down for me so I could safely reattach his collar.
  • Scaring the bug man to death while outside pottying…”Does he bite?!?”
  • Eating ALL the plants in the yard…sigh
  • Going to look at Christmas lights…Bear especially loves a nearby display with a singing bass.
  • Playing with the tennis ball in the backyard-one of Bear’s favorite games
  • Meeting the neighbors, who are absolutely gah-gah over this black and white ball of fur
  • Watching TV together at night
  • Going to see Santa Paws at PetSmart
  • And the latest–as of today, this pup is both smart and big enough to climb/jump over said baby gates designed to enclose him in an area. (Sigh/eye roll.) New plan, anyone?

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We also had our first vet and groomers’ visits, had a family photo shoot (images coming soon!) and delivered Christmas cookies to the neighbors. It has been a whirlwind of a week. Bear started sleeping on the third night (half of the night) and from the fourth night on has taken to his crate pretty well. I will never forget the second morning we had him. I curled up in the laundry room next to him just wanting the whining to stop. I remember crying wondering what in the world have we done, and can’t we give him back?! My allergies had flared up (maybe from being around all those dogs at once at the breeders’?) and this thing kept trying to lick my face. Yuck! We still don’t lick faces. I will probably never like it, and that is OK, because I honestly would not trade Bear for all of the world. I absolutely adore this little one.

Besides, my husband is in dog heaven. Literally. He could hardly stand to leave him at the vet for his shots, and I completely relate.

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Excuse the mess on the table…We have found that new puppy parenthood comes with its own challenges. In addition to cleaning up Bear’s little “presents,” and watching him constantly to prevent additional accidents or mischief, it takes forever to do anything! I have a newfound respect for my friends with multiple dogs or….gasp…children! Haha 😉 Either way, my husband is going to be one heck of a co-parent if this puppy experience has been any indicator. He is so patient. So calm. So good. I am beyond blessed to do this thing called life with this guy. We have been having so much fun sending updates and photos about our little puppy, and we both miss him when we are at work.

Speaking of which, I am now that person who cancels plans on occasion to be with the puppy. Mostly we are trying to go about our normal lives, but we canceled plans to go to St. Augustine for a date night to see the lights because the puppy is just too young to kennel (hasn’t had all his shots yet either,) and we could not leave him alone that long. So instead, we had a great local date night — taking our Bear for a long walk followed by dinner at Bonefish Grill — the absolute perfect compromise.

I also had quite a scare the other night when Luke was at work! Bear and I had been outside for three hours (yes, that’s 3 hours), and I could not get this pup to use the bathroom. I needed him to go because I was going out to dinner with friends and would be crating him for a bit. Instead, Bear was more interested in chewing the bushes. So, I (always interested in keeping things smelling nicely) gave him a dental cleaning bone to chew on. Unfortunately, I only read the bag AFTER he ate half of it….the bones are designed for dogs 25-50 lbs and 6 months or older. Insert ahhh!!! First dog fail/mom freak out. I didn’t realize they would come in different sizes like that. (In hindsight, duh!) I  called the vet and was told it should be fine but to monitor him for stomach sickness. Fortunately, my sweet friends rearranged their plans and brought the food to my house so we could watch over my puppy. I was a wreck, but all’s well that ends well. No more dental chews till we are of age. Although our weight is already closer than I thought…He currently weighs 18 lbs. #MyBabyIsGrowingUp. If paw size is any indicator, this is going to be a fairly big dog…all the better to guard us with, I suppose.

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And, so this is the story of how I, a non-dog person, came to love a dog. I am still a non-dog person with other dogs. I don’t really have any desire to cuddle them. I am a bit more comfortable with my friends’ dogs now. But, nothing compares to having your own. God always knows exactly what you need when you need it. And in this Ph.D. season of stress, a little light at the end of the day who bounces around and greets me like a celebrity, even when Luke is working, is truly a joy. I look forward to coming home in a whole new way. Whether we are just hanging out or outside romping around, Bear finds a brand new adventure for us each and every day. Owning a puppy is messy and lots of work and kind of gross at times — just as I feared. But the unconditional love makes it so so worth it, and you truly do get back so much more than you give.

The three of us have formed a wonderful little family already, and I look forward to so many more weeks, months, and years to come!

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Pilgrims in a New Land: The First Friendsgiving

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Yesterday was a huge day for the UF first year doctoral students in mass communication. We completed our last class session and presentations for the hardest class of the program, Perspectives, and now it is smooth sailing. Well, almost. We still have to complete our final papers, but essentially WE MADE IT! **If you did a double take, yes some clever photo shop work was done to add that professor to the picture, and a couple classmates too! 😉

Life is good. Our kind classmate, Kelsy, planned a Friendsgiving celebration for the evening in conjunction with the last class and before people begin traveling for the Thanskgiving holiday next week. This turned out to be SUCH a special event, that I wanted to share a little snippet with all of you here on the blog. First, we had so much fun that we forgot to take any pictures (very uncharacteristic of me, I know.) But, I will go back to my journalism days and try to paint a word picture of this experience and why I will remember it so fondly for years and years to come.

Nine of us gathered together in the clubhouse at one of the local apartment complexes, from many different backgrounds and bearing many different dishes. It wasn’t a traditional Thanksgiving dinner; Kelsy had the brilliant idea that in bringing us all together, it might be fun to prepare dishes from our heritage for the potluck.

On the Menu:

  • Chicken wings (Jamaican Jerk and Lemon Pepper)
  • Kabobs (extra, extra spicy, but so colorful and delicious)
  • Chicken and rice with Indian-inspired spices
  • Deviled eggs
  • Green bean casserole
  • Chips and salsa
  • Popcorn
  • Rum from Barbados (and Coke)
  • Cherry pie for dessert

As you can see, we had a very eclectic menu, but all of the dishes were so delicious! One of my favorite parts of getting to know this cohort which has quickly transformed into a family is learning about the cuisine from different parts of the world. You can probably guess which dishes us Southern girls brought (me from Alabama and shout out to Brett from Mississippi for literally making my day with her deviled eggs, one of my all-time favorite dishes.)

I made my typical green bean casserole, yes the one from the French Fried Onions can. It is a favorite in our family (and in my friend Rachel Sampler’s family), so we have this dish at almost all of our holidays and celebrations. It was fun sharing this with new friends, and I was surprised by how much some of them loved it, even the non-bean lovers! I shared the recipe with them this morning, and here is a copy for all of you if you’re interested. Like I said before, nothing original, but super easy, affordable, and a great side item.

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Green Bean Casserole

(Note: this picture came from the recipe above. My food never turns out that presentation worthy, but it is always made with love!)

I also made this no bake cherry pie.

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(Again, not my picture!) It was really yummy, and we ate every bite, but I will say as the recipe stands, it was very runny. I made it the day before and chilled overnight, so I was surprised that it did not solidify. I am an ingredient follower to the T, so I know I did exactly as these instructions say. Many of us got second (and third) helpings, so it is a sure hit, but there may be a way to tailor something to make it more pie-like and less liquid in texture. 🙂 But I digress.

As we filled our plates with heaping helpings of wings (for me), chicken and rice, green bean casserole, and cherry pie, the group was in high spirits. We shared much laughter, inside jokes formed over the course of a semester lived side by side in a high stress program, and so many stories. It was my honor and privilege to say grace before the meal even though we all come from very different walks of life and not everyone is a believer. It was so special to pray over the group and thank the Lord for so many blessings this year.

The rum from Barbados added a special spice to the gathering, and as we ate, we played simple and yet hilarious table games. If you know me at all, you know I can’t carry a beat to save my life, but I tried my hardest in an interactive version of Scattergories (this isn’t the right name, but it’s the best way to describe it,) and everyone howled when I messed up time and time again. But, we all did. Every bit of laughter and humor was shared in love without the competitive, cutthroat vibe that so many programs are known for having. We are in this together, and that cohesive feeling of support is immeasurable in this new environment.

I mentioned in the title of this post feeling like a pilgrim in this new land, and at times I really and truly have.

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It’s not that Florida is so very far away but just a brand new life experience with a level of challenge and rigor that is unmatched in my professional experience. We came here knowing no one and have banded together despite personal and professional obstacles to survive and thrive and make this place home. And, that is such a special nearly indescribable feeling.

As I met the eyes of others around our dinner table, now my friends, many expressed feeling this exact same way. We shared our gratitude for camaraderie and shared sense of community in these final days of Semester 1. It is something many people don’t expect going into a Ph.D. program, an experience that is traditionally known to be extremely isolating (did you know depression rates are extremely high among Ph.D. students nationwide? Part of it is the nature of programs like this.) But in removing that element of isolation some, most of us are feeling much happier than expected even despite extreme stress still to come with upcoming finals and conference deadlines.

While I know each and every one of us has individually had our very tough moments and times of doubt these past few months, we have come through it all with one another to lean on. One articulate friend shared the Biblical reference that iron sharpens iron, and in that way so we sharpen one another–a whole tiny Army here in Gainesville together. So in this way, we came and gathered from many far away lands to include Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Jamaica, Korea, China, and all over the USA to share a meal and holiday in our life together. For some, it was their very first Thanksgiving dinner. I am honored to have gotten the chance to break bread with them.

At the end of the meal, in this modern apartment complex with tangerine leather couches, a complete kitchen and mini fridge, pool table (which I enjoyed earlier in the night), and a TV with ESPN, we turned on our disco ball; yes, you read that right we had a disco ball. And amidst brilliant hues of red, green, blue and gold, we stood up one by one (some to the microphone! this was legit), and others just to project their voices in a sincere expression of thanks. We were asked to share exactly what was on our hearts– what we are thankful for this year. And, y’all, I  am breaking out of my comfort zone by sharing my video(s) here with you. (I’m not that long winded, I promise! Just had a couple of distractions.)

I am in communications but am not a technology pro, and I do not wish to pay $8/month for the privilege of embedding these videos in the site; sorry WordPress, we are budgeting! Ha. But, you can follow each of the links below in order to Youtube and learn exactly what I am thankful for this year and hear from my heart about the 3 things I sincerely treasure.

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 1

What I Am Thankful For This Year Part 2

Here are a few screen grabs from Kelsy’s videos, our only “pictures” of the night.

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As we played Phase 10 into the wee hours amidst a professional modeling photo shoot, my heart simply overflowed with joy at the love and friendship that can be found at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. I could have spent Friday night hammering out research work–and trust me, I have plenty to have made that happen. And, I have spent many Friday nights and other nights of the week in this way with so many more to come. But instead, all of us put our own agendas aside for a time to come together to play and laugh and love.

You read that right above: a professional modeling photo shoot. I simply have to elaborate on this but don’t think I can do it justice. About 8:30 p.m. in the middle of a profound speech of gratitude from my classmate, a woman came into the room looking for “Antonio.” We affirmed he wasn’t there; she disappeared for a while and came back with two men, presumably Antonio, and the three sat for awhile by the pool table and preceded to clap for our remaining speeches. Why thank you, thank you very much. (Awkward?!) A rather rotund woman in a striped dress showed up a half hour later with a white background, professional lighting, and camera.

Within the next three hours the room was literally transformed to include a professional beauty salon (complete with two hair stylists and make up artists) and photo studio. About 20 women came one by one to be photographed along with many bystanders, some of whom asked us for refreshments and wanted to join in Phase 10. It was the darndest thing. The modeling was quite intense, coming from a former modeling instructor that’s saying something, and we sorted through our cards amidst screams of “Work it, girl, do your thing, show me those cat eyes.” Meanwhile, a procession of mermaids, dancers?, and girls in bikinis and fur wraps meandered through, patiently waiting for their turn behind the lens. We are not really sure the photographer knew what she was doing, and I would simply love to see those photos someday. It was quite amusing to say the least, and at the end of the night one of our classmates even found a new salon recommendation, and we have yet another memory to share at graduation 3 years from now.

So, that was my Friendsgiving experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly. There wasn’t really any bad or ugly actually, just a positive, uplifting time. The speeches were my favorite part of the night, many much more eloquent than mine, and listening to each classmate’s heart, one by one, I felt grateful that if we are going to be pilgrims here completing this Ph.D., at least we are pilgrims together. #TheFirstFriendsgivingOfManyToCome #AnnualCohortTradition #OneStepCloserToDrBradshaw

A Time for Gratitude

Bear Bradshaw

November!! Whoa, where did Summer go? Well, here in Florida it kind of still feels like Summer. I passed the University pool today and saw several people out sunning in 80 degree weather; if it doesn’t feel cold, is it really Fall? My calendar says it is.

Each year around this time, I become extra focused on my many blessings and what I am thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving. Yes, I am a cheesy cliche like that. I absolutely had to begin the list this time with the Bradshaw family’s newest addition pictured above. Meet Bear, a medium-sized labradoodle, who we CANNOT WAIT to bring home after finals week in December.

We were originally planning to get him right after Thanksgiving, but I decided the last week of my first Ph.D. semester filled with 2 conference deadlines and several final projects, was not the best first week for a new puppy. So, he will be my reward for a job well done (or at the very least, Mission Accomplished.) Stay tuned for more photos! Although, I cannot promise you won’t get tired of seeing this fur baby before too long because I just might be a teensy tiny bit obsessed.

I spent this gorgeous Saturday morning exploring a new part of Gainesville; a few friends from my program decided to go to see Devil’s Milhopper State Park, and I thought some fresh air and a hike in the sunshine might be just what I needed to break out of my computer-induced robotic state from completing several days of coding on some research projects. The girl talk was very welcomed, although the trail was extremely short since the park is still recovering from 60 feet of flooding from Hurricane Irma back in September. The actual Milhopper may sink in at any time, according to a Ranger carefully guarding the sinkhole. Thanks to his presence and our natural integrity, we didn’t hop any fences to explore anyway…although we may have been tempted to!

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(Photo credits: Aantaki).

We topped off our stroll with lunch at Piesanos, a yummy (chain) pizza restaurant. Some of our more athletic/ambitious colleagues biked over an hour and a half to join us for food. It was definitely a fun morning study break. There are so many State Parks and beautiful places within a 45 min.-1 hour drive of Gainesville. I cannot wait to explore some more sites, such as the Springs everyone keeps talking about! When Bear arrives, he will be my adventure buddy when Luke is working! 🙂  I am currently on the hunt for the best dog beaches in Florida!

In not-so-fun news, our Welcome to Home Ownership Initiation has included the need for a brand new HVAC/heating unit (and a really not-so-fun price tag) that we were not anticipating so soon. However, we took our time shopping around for the best quotes, and I am so grateful since the company we are going with was able to offer us HALF of the original quote. When the first contractor told me a number, I just about fainted on the spot. But, on the bright side, our unit which came original to the house in 1994 was puttering on it’s last leg anyway, and any new unit we can get will be a MAJOR improvement in terms of energy efficiency which should translate to monthly savings on our power bill. This improvement should also help our home resale value down the road. Unfortunately, we will be stuck with the green carpet the seller chose for a bit longer….BUT, Bear can get all of his potty training accidents out of the way now, and we will hopefully be able to transition to a pretty wood look-alike sometime in the next year or so.

Side not: Bear at 9 days old; ignore the Angus label from the breeder. This pup is already capturing my heart.

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AND, you see why I need to wait until after finals week to bring him home. 🙂 #PuppyDistraction

To get back on track with the purpose of this post, I am extremely grateful that my Dad, grandmother, and sister-in-law Adrianna, will be joining us in Florida for Thanksgiving this year. My dad and Omi are able to stay for one week, and I. Cannot. Wait. I think the combination of brand new life/schedule/home/rigor of Ph.D. work has really had me feeling out of whack and homesick this last week, especially. I may or may not have contemplated buying a spontaneous plane ticket to my hometown! I have been craving a change of scenery, but I think bringing some familiar people into this scenery will do wonders as well. Luke will have to work this holiday, so having some of our extended family around to keep me company will be such a blessing!

I really love Thanksgiving foods and can already taste the turkey, sweet potato casserole, and my Granny’s dressing recipe! In wonderful news, our new kitchen comes with a double oven so I won’t have to borrow a neighbor’s oven anymore to cook all of my casseroles a-la-Fort Sill.

Having a home of our own, maintenance needs at all, is such an incredible blessing after years of Army housing/apartment living. Luke worked so hard to make this house happen for us, and I am grateful for his diligence and patience to look at real estate day after day for months on end preceding the move to find us the perfect place to live here in the Sunshine State. I know I brag on him ad nauseum, but y’all, this husband of mine is seriously my biggest supporter, the kindest hearted person I know, and the best spiritual leader for our family. His humor and love are unparalleled, and I don’t know what I did to deserve him, but I am beyond grateful that he is mine forever and always.

Having said that, I am missing his handsome face these days. Opposite schedules stink, plain and simple. That being said, we have accepted that we are in this season for a reason, and our purpose here is becoming more clear every single day. Opposite schedules are going to really come in handy when we have a new puppy who will crave constant attention, and it really allows for devotion and single-minded focus in my graduate school work that would be harder to emulate with the lifestyle we shared at Ft. Sill. I know God is doing something great here, and I am just taking it day by day trying to be the very best me that I can be in all aspects of my life. On days when we are apart, we try to send an encouraging text message or squeeze in a quick phone call just to say “I love you.” And, those small gestures to fill each other in on our day-to-day activities really go a long way to bridge the gap.

One of my all-time favorite TV shows right now is “This Is Us.” It leads me to tears almost every single episode, and I watch without fail.  The other day, I was feeling lonely before Luke had to go to work, and he hugged me close and reminded me, “This is us.” Those words really resonated with me as a poignant reminder that we have endured other challenges and obstacles together during the seven plus years we have been a couple including 2.5 years of MUCH longer distance (we are talking New York to Alabama with visits only every 4-6 weeks.) This opposite schedule thing is easy peesy compared to that; we still get to sleep in the same bed every night. And, no matter what we have faced as a couple, we have always come through the other side stronger and better for having had the experience. We are Luke and Manda (and with God’s help and strength) we are making it through this too.

Which brings me to the next part…I haven’t shared too much publicly about the topsy turvy year our entire extended family has experienced just out of privacy for everyone, but we have had some serious setbacks and ups and downs this year, from fear of and actual illness, to family dynamics changing unexpectedly, to a cross country move and major life (and financial) transition, to most recently a tornado that really took a hit on the barn and land at Luke’s childhood home.

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Despite it all, I am grateful. Barns can be rebuilt, and no one got hurt in this storm. Together, we are Bradshaws. We are in a season of rebuilding right now, but through God’s grace and strength, we will prevail. The Bible clearly instructs remaining joyful and prayerful in hard times as well as the good, and while the former is much more challenging, it just makes the smooth times so much more appreciated. The brothers share a love of this land and a vision for the future of their home that could turn into something even greater than before; all in God’s timing with His guidance.

Ecclesiastes 3 really resonates with my heart lately.

A Time for Everything

3 “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

As this Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I cannot help but feel immensely grateful for the friends and family (near and far) who make up our lives, who walk with us through the daily journey, through the good times and the less fun times too. I am grateful for this country where we have the freedom to make choices to pursue our dreams, to live the life we want to live, to turn imagination into reality. I am grateful for plenty of food to eat, for a roof over my head, and (come Monday) for central heating and air, both of which we might need to use in any single given day in this state!

I am grateful for being (ALMOST) 1/9 of the way through this Ph.D. thing and for Luke’s opportunity to potentially begin his MBA at UF this Spring as well. Hey, we always wanted to go to college together…Here is our chance! 😉 As our 20’s are rapidly coming to an end, we are planning to make the most of this experience even though some days feel absolutely nothing like I envisioned. It’s so hard to explain, but my life feels a lot like I’ve jumped through a time warp right into undergrad again: Nights out with the girls, flying solo to most events, only having to feed/worry about myself most dinners. I miss our couple friends/double dates/old married people events. But, I must say, I am getting a richer element from this program I would not be getting otherwise. I am building deeper connections with my cohort members who come from such diverse, unique, amazing backgrounds. We are all able to learn from each other as we bond (eat-sleep-literally breathe together day in and day out.) One of my professors said we are the closest cohort she has ever seen; and that daily support and encouragement that we give to one another is just another thing I am so grateful for. I truly work with some amazing women (and two men), and I know I can learn something from each and every one of them, as they continually inspire me as we trek through this journey together.

May your Thanksgiving table be merry, may your feast be bountiful, and may your cup overflow.

Countdown to Bear: 38 days

We’re Going To Make It After All!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one of my all-time classic favorites, and lately her theme song has been stuck in my head as I have officially made it past the midterm and am halfway done with the first semester in my Ph.D program.

I last wrote right after we moved in when I was experiencing all kinds of feelings about the transition. Two months later, I am still experiencing some feelings, albeit of a much more reduced and calm variety most days. As a first-year graduate student, I remind myself sometimes daily to give myself grace as I adjust to our new life here; it was truly a drastic adjustment from working full-time in industry to becoming a full-time graduate student, from uprooting our life across the country and once again moving to a new city where we knew no one, creating new routines and schedules, owning a home for the first time, etc. Differing work schedules and a disconnect between expectations and reality made for the perfect storm in our first month here.

As the semester goes on, I have found myself getting my stride back, feeling more confident in why I am here and focusing my eyes on the end goal: working in my dream job as a communications professor. Luke has had his own adjustments transitioning from Army life to civilian life…The first time an employee didn’t show up for a shift he was “shocked” you cannot simply go to their house and pull them out of bed haha It is a different world for sure, but he officially completed his training period at Target and is flying solo in an operations management role. I am so proud of him and how hard he works for our family. As you might guess with retail, the holiday season is absolutely the busiest, and on the food side of the house, the distribution centers are working extra hard to pump out lots of pumpkins and turkeys for everyone’s dinner table. I like to joke that we both enjoy getting thrown into the deep end; if you may recall, my first day at Chick-fil-A in 2016 was Cow Appreciation Day of all days, the most momentous day of the entire year. But, when that happens, you either swim or you drown, and even if that swimming sometimes takes on more of the appearance of a doggy paddle, we are both making it at work.

I have been really excited to get to know the members of my cohort better, and we have tried to do some fun things to relieve the stress of semester 1, and one of the hardest classes in the program. At the beginning of the year, we formed a Friday lunch routine, and while not everyone can go every week, fellowship in small groups has been fun for whoever may need a break from work. We have also tried to celebrate our victories together by going out for dinner after our two major papers so far and to do a few fun things in between. Here are some pictures of a few of my favorite memories here:

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Sushi lunch with Kelsy and MJ right after Perspectives class.

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Photo taken on a lovely walk around campus with my friend April…we are trying our best to get some exercise in despite very busy weeks. The scenery here is so beautiful and peaceful, even if it is still pretty humid for mid-October.

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Donghee’s birthday celebration with Yewande, April, Brett, Kelsy and I!

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Going to see the movie When Cancer Calls presented by the STEM Center with Donghee and Brett!

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Celebrating completion of our second major paper at Boca Fiesta. I finally got to wear my new green dress! Yay.

I am also really looking forward to our annual Halloween party that we are hosting for the cohort next weekend…the theme this year is *MASK*erade (intentionally misspelled…) Stay tuned. 🙂

While there has certainly been some fun mixed in, and I am feeling more connected as I get to know my fellow students, a lot of my days look like this…just me and my textbook.

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I will be honest when I say grad school can feel isolating at times. So much of the work is independent, and it is hard to work with other students when you are trying to comprehend in depth readings. I tend to work from home a lot on those days because I find my sunroom to be cheerful and peaceful, and if I need a break I can always run outside for a walk around the neighborhood.

We have met several of our neighbors, but our next door neighbors are truly a godsend. It is neat how Jesus knows exactly who you might need in your life at any given time! We have never owned a home before, so when something would break around the house we would usually just call maintenance. Since we have been here we have had a series of unfortunate happenings welcoming us to home ownership and associated costs: broken AC unit, clogged garbage disposal, dishwasher glitches, a tree that fell in the yard after Hurricane Irma came through, etc. I have to give a shout out to Arnie, an older retiree whose garage resembles the most complete and intricate toolshed. He has something for every possible issue and is happy to lend a helping hand. He and Luke have worked together on a few projects, and in the absence of parents or grandparents nearby, it is neat that we have this person to call on for advice. I absolutely miss our neighborhood in Oklahoma; I don’t think we will ever find the same sense of community that Lauman Avenue had in terms of tight knit neighbors all in the same exact stage of life, but the group here has been very kind and welcoming so far! Several also work at UF, which is a neat connection.

I mentioned before about mine and Luke’s differing work schedules which we are still working to formulate into a blessing in disguise. I am grateful for more time to work on my schoolwork and for this amazing husband that supports me in that endeavor 100%. I do miss him a lot though, so as we have in other stages, we just try to make the most of the time we do get; it’s about quality not quantity. Today for example, we only had an hour or so before he had to go off to work, so we threw together a quick chicken stir fry for (our) dinner tonight and put it into our separate tupperware containers. I think we just have to find joy in those small moments as we are both focusing on our careers right now.

Since Saturdays have turned into work days for each of us, we have made Mondays into our Adventure Day this Fall. It really works out that I don’t have Monday classes and can be more flexible in my work. We didn’t feel like true Floridians until we made it to the beach! Each coast is only an hour and a half or so away, an easy day trip. We visited St. Augustine on a bit of an overcast day, but with a storm brewing, the waves were perfect! We enjoyed a day of R&R reading books, relaxing, and swimming together topped off with seafood for dinner.

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I cannot even begin to tell you how much we needed this day. And, the wait was well worth every minute!

Another Monday we made the drive to Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast. A bit of a small town treasure nestled beside a “secret cove” (it was pretty deserted, one benefit of Monday beach days when everyone is at work!), we had a phenomenal day here as well. The beach area was smaller, but it would be a perfect place to take kids with easy bathroom access and a playground right there. It was a bit chilly; the Fall wind was definitely starting to blow, so even though we wore swim suits we did not really get into the water. It was the perfect place to read and relax though; if I have to read long textbooks, why not do so with surf and sand, right?

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To conclude, we are enjoying our new life here, while it is not without its challenges and ups & downs. My Army wife motto was always “Each place is what you make it,” and we are doing our best to make this a home. Here are some photos of one of my favorite rooms in the house; after years of military housing I FINALLY have my dream kitchen! Woohoo!

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The house is really coming together I think…I finally got my Fall decor up, and my overall goal moving in was to have everything finished for the annual Halloween party. I think we are (Semi) there. It may not be perfect, but just like us, it is a work in progress.

I keep thinking of the word “perseverance” since we arrived here. This is a season in time when things are going to be tough just by their very nature as Luke and I are stressed to the max, both completing graduate degrees and working so many opposite hours. But, we are investing in our future. Through perseverance and continued effort, day by day, we are going to survive and thrive here, and I hope to look back on this time with nothing but wonderful memories of the community we built and the family we formed here, just as we look back on our times in GA and OK now.

It is all going to be OK. God’s got us in the palm of His hand, and we are exactly where He wants us to be to accomplish His purpose. OK, I am off to spend part of this beautiful Saturday exploring a local Fall Festival with a sweet friend from Bible Study, and then it’s work, work, and more work on some research stuff. But, what a blessing that I am being paid to do what I love! What better place to be?!

We’ve got this! One day, and one palm tree at a time…

MJ Palm tree

When Fear Comes To Call…Adjustment Anxiety, Impostor Syndrome and A Whole New Life

I am writing this blog from my new home in Sunny Florida! It is still hard to believe I am writing that sentence and that our whole lives went through a topsy turvy shake down over this summer that has left my head spinning trying to adjust to all the change.

Just to recap: Luke and I left Oklahoma in June, and he has been on terminal leave ever since. He will be officially out of the Army come September 13th (10 days!), and God has blessed Luke with a civilian job in a logistics/managerial role for a Fortune 100 company right here near our new home. We spent the summer traveling the country; visits to see family and friends, plenty of R&R, and I FINALLY finished the novel I have been trying to write for years….and then we went internationally to spend two weeks in Italy. Due to a shortage of time/money, our honeymoon was a short journey to Savannah, GA back in 2013. It was fabulous, but we had been planning a longer European trip ever since, and a Get-Out-Of-The-Military, Pre-Ph.D. present to ourselves sounded just about perfect. Oh, and we bought a house!

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We arrived in Florida on a Tuesday, closed on a Thursday, the Army (Semi) moved all of our things in on a Friday (long story–it was pretty disastrous), and then we both started work the following Monday. Talk about a whirlwind! I want to go back and provide more details on so many of these experiences when I have the time, but for now, suffice it to say we were nomads for 40 days and 40 nights plus. I can’t tell you how good it felt to sleep in our own bed again! As wonderful as traveling was and as hospitable as each of our hosts were, there is just something about having your own space and routines that we both missed more than we anticipated during our The-Most-Exciting-Summer-Ever-That-We-Never-Plan-To-Do-Again!

A month later, we are just now beginning to scratch back the surface of what our New Normal looks like. And, here is where some blunt honesty comes in. In my teaching class, our professor has talked a lot about it being OK to show vulnerability sometimes; it is alright if you don’t have everything perfectly together. And, as a first-year Ph.D. student I DEFINITELY don’t have it all together.

I will say I am extremely fortunate to be in a top program in my field where everyone is so supportive from the faculty members to the second and third year students. Orientation was very comprehensive, and we have also had several BBQ/social type events with plenty of opportunity to ask questions, find out more information and learn about what grad life is all about. Yet even still, it’s like drinking through a fire hose.

There are days (sometimes many hours during one day) where I feel like I am paddling upstream trying desperately to keep my head above water. The classes are fast and furious; the reading is intense. One of the hardest classes in the whole program is mandatory in Semester 1; this class is completely based on theory in mass comm, and coming from an industry/professional background, it is foreign territory for me. I am that person taking way too much of the professor’s office hours trying to make sense of what I am learning. And, I still feel like I am retaining half…and sort of, kind of, maybe getting it.

It is hard to believe classes only started two weeks ago; these have been two of the most surreal, incredibly joyous, and yet terrifying weeks of my life. It feels as if I’ve been in school for much longer, while simultaneously flying by.  I feel like on one hand, this is what I am meant to do with certainty. I am loving it, soaking it in, enjoying every page of the readings (yes, I am a nerd at heart. Hence the Ph.D. school thing.  OK, maybe I’m not enjoying EVERY page. haha) And other days when I am asking myself what in the world I’ve jumped into. People tell me these feelings are perfectly normal; they’ve been through it. It will get easier. I eagerly look forward to that time. 🙂

Meanwhile, I have felt something others have referred to as Impostor Syndrome, and it really seems to make sense of how I’m feeling. What makes me qualified to be here and do this? Even though I know in my mind and on paper that I “deserve” to be here….there are many days when I feel so out of my element. Our cohort is comprised of some brilliant minds, and often classmates’ remarks in class make my own thoughts seem sophomoric or inadequate in comparison. That’s when I have to remind myself that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and it is OK to have divergent thoughts and different points of view. Sometimes someone will say the exact thought I was too unsure to voice, and the professor affirms it is “on the right track” to being the “correct” (if there is such a thing in this new land of theory and social constructs of reality) answer. Impostor Syndrome is a thing, and I’ve been told it doesn’t necessarily go away with time. As a kid growing up, I thought adults had all the answers. Now I think a large part of adulting is “fake it till you make it.”

In addition to the studying and making sense of my new life in the Academy, we are just NOW (and I mean literally this weekend), finally hanging pictures on the walls. We had our very first guest last night to watch part of the Bama game and eat dinner, and that motivated us to jump into high gear and finally clean up the mess that is moving. Our home is much more livable, and I am thankful. When you feel like everything around you is in this new state of chaos, it becomes even more imperative to come home to something resembling peace and calm. If you know me, you may know I value a clean house, so it’s been driving us super nuts to live amidst clutter for a month-ish. Here is a sneak peek at our sunroom/aka super chill study space!

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I love curling up in that swivel chair to do some readings, and it’s bright enough that some of the greats like Thomas S. Kuhn don’t quite put me to sleep! (He is a good cure for insomnia though, IMHO…no offense Kuhn.) If you’re having trouble sleeping, just buy a copy of his Structure of Scientific Revolutions to keep on your bedside table. It will do wonders.

With all of the other changes, I thought, why not cut my hair too?! So, in addition to my new life, I now have a new look. I think it is pretty cute while still being practical enough to tie back into a ponytail in this scorching Florida heat. An Alabama girl born and bred, I am shocked at what an adjustment this humidity is. Our recent home, Oklahoma, was much hotter temperature-wise but the humidity was nothing compared to The Swamp.

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I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but when Expectations Don’t Meet Reality, disappointment is sure to ensue. In my case, disappointment crashed down pretty hard when I realized that despite the blessing of Luke’s job (and it is the most amazing blessing, the way we could afford this home, for one, because on just a student stipend to support two people, my Plan B was Married Couple Dorm Life), the job, like all others, would have its downside. In this case, it’s not his job at all or my job in a vacuum but the combination that has made it tough: our schedules are totally and completely opposite. Granted, my schedule is fairly flexible, as flexible as a job can be besides mandatory classes and meetings, I can study as I want (basically all the time.) But with our “Required” hours occuring at different times, our dream of spending WAYYYY more time together after the military is absolutely not to be. I write this with a lot of audience awareness in mind. My tribe of military soul sisters are dealing with sooo much more than Luke and I are…Their husbands may be deployed overseas to Iraq or Afghanistan, many of my friends’ husbands are taking 18-month commands soon with next to no home life. And yet, the divergence in schedules isn’t something I anticipated to this extent. When Luke was hired 2.5 months out, he had to be open to any schedule, based on the needs of the company. And, weekends are certainly a big need, one that he is more than happy and able to fulfill. It just so happens weekends are my “off time”; a much needed break or mini breaks between long bouts of studying to recharge and unwind.

In our past lives, I could power through the week, but I always lived for the weekends and holidays and made special plans during those times for the two of us and to socialize with others. Working weekends will change our social life for sure since most other people have weekends off, and although it’s not at all how I have always planned our lives thus far, all is not lost. I will rework my schedule to the best extent that I can so we can maximize our time together and enjoy it to the fullest, not that there was ever going to be a lot of time as a first year doc student to start with.

But, I am embarrassed to admit that when expectations did not meet reality, I’ve behaved in the most unChristlike way. I’ve cried buckets, stomped my feet when he has to leave for work, and basically reduced myself to a two-year-old having a temper tantrum when Mom serves spinach for dinner. I’ve chased the rabbit down the hole so many times, arguing in circles that we have done our time; coming out of the military, we spent many, many days and nights apart including 2.5 years of straight New York-Alabama long distance. Not in the last year of course; Oklahoma was something of a reprieve for us. In Basic Training Land, Luke was on more of a 9-6 schedule (well, 6-6), and without my master’s degree coursework to occupy my evenings, I played Suzy Homemaker with dinner on the table every night. We spent good quality time together there, time that I see here will be limited in a way I just didn’t expect.

So, I have been in serious need of an attitude adjustment. We moved here to give me a chance to fulfill my dreams of becoming a college professor, and I should be willing to give up a few weekends–well really, ALL weekends– to make that happen. I think this is a blessing in disguise; it took me awhile to piece together the “blessing” piece, but I’m getting there. Instead of bemoaning how short our time together actually is week to week, I need to sit back and enjoy it, adopting the mindset that when we have many more years together (God willing), this time will fly by. Additionally, I have PLENTY of time to work on my studies without distractions. On days when Luke is working, I almost feel like an undergrad again, staying late in the library, grabbing fast food or a bag of popcorn for dinner, studying until the later hours with no distractions, no husband to rush home to feed. I miss him though, and just his presence, even when I am shut in a room doing homework, is calming for me.

Luke has been a godsend, dealing with my moodiness and anxiety and cray cray state as well as possible. Some days I’ve really felt like I was losing all my marbles, y’all. Meanwhile, he’s really set his mind to fixing up our yard and went above and beyond to make our fourth anniversary special for me. It was the most memorable evening and we cherished it all the more perhaps because date nights here are most definitely going to be more rare. But Friday night he was off, and we went out to eat and read our traditional anniversary letters over a bottle of wine from Italy.

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How in the world has it been 4 years?

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Reading those letters reminded me marriage may take extra commitment and work in some seasons, but love does endure all. We have faced our share of obstacles in the past in different forms, and we will get through this as well. We have all of the resources and tools to make a real life here, even if it doesn’t exactly resemble my imagined mental picture of this season. Most importantly, we have love.

So let me rescue you (and myself) from my self-induced pity party and a large box of Kleenex: Life is good. God is good. He knows the plans that He has for my life (and your life), even when things don’t always make sense at the time. It has never been more clear to me, even during this state of self-diagnosed adjustment anxiety, that I am right where I am supposed to be, in the program I was meant to be part of, with the people God brought into my life for a purpose. One of the biggest blessings so far has been joining the Graduate Christian Student Fellowship group, an organization that prioritizes being intentional about your faith despite so many competing priorities. I love our small group meetings on Mondays; we have just started reading through The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, and it has a phenomenal message so far.

Mine and Luke’s personal goal for the next week is also to start visiting churches. Luke is off on Sunday mornings (YAY!) so we want to find a new church home here. I confess I have been clinging to the past with both hands. I desperately miss our church home in Oklahoma, and the past two Sundays we have spent “Church” in our sunroom watching Pastor Curtis’s sermons from afar. But, I know we need to “move on” and find fellowship here. I may still go back to those sermons sometimes…He was such a phenomenal speaker, and we really learned and grew in our walk with Christ at Crossroads Baptist Church in Elgin, OK. But, our life is here now, in Florida. And, we need to find a body of believers to join sooner rather than later.

To close, I will say it is amazing how God orchestrated this season, just as He has orchestrated every other season for us: there are clear lessons to learn, growth to experience and unique challenges to face. But, as Luke and I discussed this weekend over glasses of Prosecco, each year keeps getting better than the last. Our marriage would not be as strong as it is today without some of those tough times in the past. And the best thing is that tough times never last. Life is cyclical; I am quite sure despite the busyness of our lives here, there will be great, everlasting joy as well. We have already experienced some of this in forging new relationships, new friendships, and new adventures in this chapter. We have been remiss in that all the busyness so far has prevented us from visiting the beach even once, something we plan to rectify in the coming week. BECAUSE IT’S ONLY 45 MINUTES AWAY!

And the reminder that always, always, through Jesus, the Best Is Yet To Come.

Focus

P.S. You may wonder how I am “so busy” and yet have time to blog….In short, blogging is therapeutic for me, and I am a fairly fast writer so word vomiting my thoughts onto this online space to “document” this time in our lives is not a long process for me. I do hope someone out there will get something out of our story, and I enjoy connecting with those near and far. 🙂 Now off to lock myself in a room and study until eternity….

A Visit to the Natural State, Our Pending Transition & More!

With our move to Florida just a hop, skip and a jump away now, we decided to make the most of our time out West and closer geographic proximity and took most of last week to visit my brother, Ethan, in Arkansas.

Well, I spent most of the week with Ethan. Meanwhile, Luke drove up with me and then flew out of Fayetteville, headed to Washington D.C. for the Service Academy Career Conference. He is evaluating a few different career opportunities in the civilian world, and the SACC was great for connecting him with different companies in the area and providing networking opportunities. He also got to catch up with some former West Point classmates!

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Ace (holding up the peace sign in the first picture) was a groomsman in our wedding, and we unfortunately haven’t seen too much of him due to Uncle Sam positioning us at different duty stations. I think the guys had some fun amidst all of the work they had to do!

I got to do some work of my own in Arkansas. While Ethan was at his 8-5 job each day, I went on a hunt for the best coffee shop in his small town of Bentonville. I am trying to finish writing a Christian fiction novel based partly on my own childhood, and I am currently close to 80,000 words in. Once I get this first draft completed, I hope to find a publisher who might be interested in helping me to complete this project! I feel God calling me to write this, so even if it doesn’t sell a copy, that is OK. My hope is that it will be a help to someone out there; it is primarily targeted to teenage girls who may struggle with self esteem issues.

Here are a couple of the contenders for best coffee shop!

Fork & Crust (pictured above) has literally a dozen different pie choices in addition to quiche and a couple of other brunch options! At 10 in the morning, the shop was very quiet, and I enjoyed my slice of strawberry rhubarb and hot tea in peace, without the hustle and bustle of a busier place like Starbucks. The only downside? I could not get the Wi-Fi to connect. It was OK for the writing portion, but for the Internet research piece, it was a no go.

Iron Horse Coffee Company (pictured below) is technically in Rogers, AR as opposed to Bentonville. Ethan and I met for lunch down there, so it was a perfect spot to spend the afternoon. I sat outside at a patio table for much of the time, and when the rain began, I moved inside. Their banana nut bread and coffee were heavenly, and the Wi-Fi was spot on.

Kennedy Coffee Roasting Company (not pictured) was another fantastic option! It had a very modern feel, and even during lunch hour was mostly quiet. It is divided into two different rooms, and I selected the one with smaller tables and more people working on laptops, which was perfect for my purposes. The other room had longer tables for group sessions and lunches. I cannot attest to the food here (I was absolutely stuffed from lunch), but it sure smelled delicious!

There are SOOO many quaint coffee shops and places to choose from in this area that I could not have visited them all if I tried. You would have to be there a month! I walked through Onyx Coffee Shop in Bentonville one evening and tried to go there, but it is right in the middle of downtown, so parking was extremely crowded. Otherwise, it looked like a neat spot!

I also visited tried and true Starbuck’s one day, mainly because it was half off frappucino week AND I had a gift card. (Thanks for the awesome Easter present, Mom! I got two drinks for the price of one.) However, I must say, Starbuck’s was my least favorite place to write of all. It was loud and echo-y in this particular store, and it was hard to concentrate. I ended up venturing outside for a bit just so I could hear myself think. When given the choice, I choose Mom &  Pop or small business all the way! I just wish Lawton had some of the cool places that Arkansas offers; here, I mostly write at home or at Starbuck’s.

Ethan was able to meet me for lunch both Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, we tried Hammontree’s in downtown Rogers. They sell the BEST gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato bisque soup. I tried the caprese sandwich, made exactly as it sounds, with fresh mozarella, tomato, basil and a drizzle of light balsamic vinegar.

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On Friday, we met at Smash Burger. I know this is a chain, but I had never eaten there before, and my first time was incredible! I ordered a burger topped with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and truffle mayo, and paired with fries coated in olive oil and rosemary, it was delectable. I was a bit spoiled on food options while in Arkansas; as mentioned, Lawton doesn’t have nearly as many choices, so I enjoyed every bite!

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That evening, Ethan and I went to Table Mesa Bistro, a Latin American style restaurant. I can vouch for their homemade guacamole, pineapple pico de gallo and chicken and steak fajitas! My brother got the Mahi Mahi tacos and said those were delicious too. We topped it all off with dessert at Coldstone Creamery.

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I loved exploring the neat sites in Bentonville. On our last visit, we did the Wal-Mart Museum and some other typical things, so this time we had more time to go off the beaten path. I loved all of the street art that can be found along the Crystal Bridges Art Trail and also just around town! The best way to describe Bentonville is that it honestly feels like a mini Austin meets small town USA; hipster and eclectic with lots of Mom & Pop artisan shops and that old school, traditional feel with the town square, kids out playing unsupervised etc. Ironically, it is WM Headquarters, and rumor has always had it that Wally World put these kinds of places off the map. This is certainly not true in a town that has more than 7 WM stores in addition to countless boutique style shops; you can find everything from exclusive yoga studios to spice & tea stores to bike shops and clothing stores. It is a mecca for small town shopping and for family living. Families of all ages meandered the Greenway, gathered by the central fountain to hear music after dinner and to eat at some of the higher end places along the downtown strip.

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**Note that the Tortoise won the race! The hare, which thought he had it all locked up due to his natural agility, sat back across the sidewalk, scratching his ears. Meanwhile, the tortoise made it all the way to the gate! Perseverance is always the winner; slowly but surely, one step at a time, you can do it! And, often, the person who works the hardest will win, regardless of natural talent.

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Look closely at this old car sitting in the middle of town. It is covered with more than $5,000 of pennies and nickels, a town landmark!