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.
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.
In addition to my job at Chick-fil-A, I began a new position as an adjunct instructor at Cameron University.
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.
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!
And, the Ladies of Lauman had a fun girls’ night at the local Japanese steakhouse.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
May was a month of lasts– last game night, last neighborhood cookout, last dinner, etc.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
Our last dinner as the Ladies of Lauman (already missing Rachel!)
Pokeno night with my sweet church/Army wife friends, Lindsay and Brooke. Miss them so!
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.
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.
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!)
To begin our adventure, we headed up to Arkansas one last time as our moving day was June 19th- Ethan’s 24th birthday!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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? 🙂
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.
Happy New Year from our little family to yours! Thanks for being part of our journey. See you next year!