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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!

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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!

When Luke got back from his trip at 11:00 at night, we knew he would want one of two things: his favorite scotch or sleep! Ethan and I had identified this cute little bar, Scotch & Soda, and when we suggested a pit stop on the way home from the airport, Luke was all too happy to go along for the ride! Something about a drink makes a two-hour late evening flight, sandwiched between two not-so-small people, seem so much better! We had fun talking and catching up until last call an hour or so later.

Since we were out late (and are old people now), we slept in a bit the next morning and then enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a local pizza place before heading to explore Eureka Springs about an hour away. We made a couple of stops on the way, one at the Inspiration Point overlook (what a view!) and another at Thorncrown Chapel.

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Thorncrown Chapel has received numerous awards and accolades for its unique architectural structure, and the windows and natural light pouring in make it the perfect, serene setting for worship. The volunteer instructed us to take seats in the pews and just soak in the beauty. Soft classic Christian hymns played in the background, and it was nice to take a moment to reflect and pray. Luke was so enthralled by the structure that he wants something similar in the way of a sanctuary within our future dream home! It was the perfect indoor modern amenities meets nature.

We finally reached the tiny town of Eureka Springs, deemed “Little Switzerland,” since it is nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and the structures are literally chiseled into the stone on the hillside. There is a LOT of walking in this small, hilly town, but it is worthwhile! If you have been to Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains, that is a fair comparison for the town itself; lots of small ice cream shops and soda fountains, tiny shops and tourist sights. I could not resist buying a University of Florida Christmas ornament in one of the stores; I know it is only May!

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This 300-ft. statue of Jesus is best viewed from atop the Crescent Hotel. Built in 1886, the Crescent Hotel was considered one of the grandest of its day.  It was the perfect day trip adventure, and we all got a little sunburned. My naturally blonde hair is starting to lighten up for the summer too, and this day gave it a boost!

On the way back from Eureka Springs, we stopped at the Pea Ridge National Military Park for a driving tour. To tour the museum it costs $10-$15 per person, but if you go after 4:00 p.m., you can tour the park until sunset at no charge. We chose to save a bit of money and just do the outdoor portion.

Commemorating one of the lesser known battles of the Civil War, this park told a neat story and had about 12 different driving stops with placards and sights. I will say it is a one hit wonder though, and I would not have any desire to go back again. Luke enjoyed reading some of the history and made a great narrator with his extensive knowledge of military history. If he had not been there, it would probably not have been as compelling and I would say, stop if you are in the area, but if you are limited on time, this is not necessarily a Must See. We had a good time though, driving around and looking over what are now just empty fields and imagining how they must have been in the dead of winter when the battle between Union forces and Confederates raged.

Saturday was a full day, and we quickly changed clothes for dinner that night at Tavola, a wonderful upscale Italian place owned by the same people as Table Mesa Bistro, our dinner of choice on Friday. One of their signature touches throughout their restaurants is special fruit infused water, and since I am a sucker for this anyway, and we were all very thirsty after a hot day of exploring, we went through several pitchers! The dinner was incredible, from the cheese board appetizer to my homemade gnocchi, Luke’s fresh sea bass with prawns and pasta and Ethan’s classic spaghetti and meatballs. We had a slight incident with the tomatoes on the cheese plate; apparently, we kept stabbing them the wrong way so they squirted all over the table (and our outfits) making a mess. Yikes! This was as amusing as it was ridiculous, so we shared a good laugh while requesting extra napkins to clean it up.

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As evident by the empty dishes, you can see we thoroughly enjoyed our food! We took a short walk along the Garden Trail to lose a few calories before adding them right back on with dessert!

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Ethan was a great host as he showed us around the town, and he took us to The Hive for dessert. It partners as a small art museum, and so we sipped our drinks and walked around viewing the exhibits for awhile.

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Like everything else, the dessert was delectable!

Stuffed and happy, we called it a night and went back to Ethan’s house to watch some TV and unwind before bed. The next morning dawned bright and early, and I went out to get breakfast for us. Luke had an English soccer game he wanted to catch, so we agreed to do a later church service and have doughnuts for breakfast. Ethan had been telling us all weekend how good Love’s Doughnuts, a local place, is. The guys at work bring in boxes, and Ethan’s favorite is the sausage kolache. I, however, swear by Krispy Kreme, and since we don’t have one in Lawton, I was bound and determined to have some! We ended up getting both and the Battle of the Doughnuts ensued as we all voted on which was better.

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They were all so good that I’m not sure there was a clear frontrunner! From Love’s, I tried a blue iced doughnut covered in Fruity Pebbles for a creative and unique twist, and Luke and Ethan ate the sausage kolaches. I think I am still a sucker for KK, but it was nice to try something new! I have to admit the Love’s doughnuts were fluffier, bigger, and airy, but I liked the icing on the KK better. Ethan pointed out the Love’s doughnuts weren’t hot, while Krispy Kreme was, and that could be the differential. There is something about hot doughnuts….yummy!

We headed to Cross Church for service since it is close to Ethan’s place. It was a bit bittersweet since it was Mother’s Day and they were honoring all the Moms, and ours wasn’t there. But, I had mailed Mom and my MIL cards earlier in the week, which they received, and we were able to talk to them both later in the day.

Mom Facetimed with us for awhile before brunch at The Press Room, and it was nice to see her and wish her a happy holiday from all three of us at once. Brunch was wonderful; they specialize in a few dishes here, so the menu isn’t extensive, but each thing we tried was delicious.

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It’s about a five-hour trip back to Oklahoma, so we left shortly after lunch. We had an absolutely fantastic time with Ethan and are grateful we were able to get that time together. There is nothing in this world like family!

Monday marked back to work for Luke and piles of laundry for Manda! We are working hard to get our house back in order….only to tear it apart again soon! The movers are coming to do a walk through shortly to assess our belongings, and my friends Rachel, Lauren and I are attending a move out session with Corvias Military this afternoon to get a sense of their expectations for moving out of our on post housing. Rachel leaves before me again (so sad!), but I am grateful we were stationed together with the Samplers not once but TWICE now.

My groceries tell me our move is coming soon as well…When things start to expire on or past Move Out Day, you know it’s time to stop shopping and start clean-out the-freezer mode with upcoming meals.

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Hope you all have a fantastic week, wherever in the world you might be! Until next time….I may be writing to you from the land of oranges, the beautiful Sunshine State! 🙂

xoxo

Manda

Becoming Bold: Bring on 2017

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2016 was a year of both endings and new beginnings, a strange year, split exactly in half with the first half occurring in Fort Benning, GA and the second in Fort Sill, OK.

This past January, my good friend, Michelle, and I were out to lunch at Thai Thai one of our usual restaurants on our weekly lunch rotation. We were both in a state of transition and wondering what the next year might bring for each of us. I wonder where we will be this time next year….And, I must say that my year ended up everything and nothing like I had envisioned over that plate of sweet and sour chicken and our favorite cream cheese roll appetizer.

I grew stronger this year–mentally, physically, emotionally. 2016 brought many challenges as well as opportunities and adventures.

The first half of the year brought another unexpected eye surgery preceded by countless trips to my traveling ophthalmologist who works several hours away, and I was able to handle this obstacle with a grace I have not possessed with my five previous operations. I was somewhat proud of how calm and collected I was in the face of this adversity. Here is some of the background behind that and the condition I was born with, known as strabismus. It is a condition I have lived with and battled my entire life, and one that I eventually hope to publish a book about in order to encourage others with a similar struggle. But, that is a tale for another day.

In May of this year, we picked up our entire life and left our comfort zones, my job, my sense of community and moved farther away from my hometown than I have ever lived before. We are no longer a quick four-hour drive from family, and creating our new home in the Midwest was both scary and exciting.

The transition out of my job was a whirlwind; I worked until the Monday I left town, our possessions already loaded on the moving truck. I produced six new commercials, trained my replacement and hosted a huge event during my last few days of work. I am always committed to doing my very best at work and felt a very strong sense of loyalty to my company. Thus, I had a hard time adjusting to no longer having that role. As Luke and I traveled around to see family, to vacation in the Bahamas, to our new life, I still felt a need to check in, wanting to make sure my former bosses and staff were doing well. It was a very strange feeling, like ripping off a part of myself, my identity, everything I had invested in and worked so hard for over almost three years. And, it was now going on without me.

In its absence, I found a new sense of peace and a new sense of identity as I began to recognize my preconceived ideals, ingrained for most of my life, that what we do or what job we have can define us as a person. Without my job, I felt that my identity did not exist to the same capacity. It is hard to explain, but Jesus used the time after we moved here, the time when Luke was so sick and I was so scared to learn to rely upon Him alone for my sense of worth and identity. I had more than a month off of work, something I was not used to, and without the busyness of my job to fill my days, I spent more time in the Word, time reflecting and journaling. I used my time to find out more about who Amanda is and what she believes as opposed to what society tells me I should believe and be.

I learned that while it is important to work hard at my Earthly job, and I will always have that same work ethic where I give 110%, my job is not my most important mission to fulfill in this life.

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11.

My identity and worth is as a Daughter of the King of Kings. No salary, no job title, no duties or responsibilities or bonus compensation defines me or my worth. Or yours. We are all equal in the eyes of God and equally valuable no matter what tasks our hands may find to do. Our job is simply to work at it with all of our heart.

When I started with Chick-fil-A, I saw immediately that I was right where God wanted me. And, He had so many lessons for me to learn in this season and still more to come. As I look back over this past six months, I can say that God is shaping me and defining me in new ways.

A few things that God has spoken to me that have really resonated these past few months:

“Look for the gift of being lonely. Look for the gift of solitude and silence.”

When I first moved to Oklahoma, I was the New Girl again. I didn’t have friends here yet and I was just getting to know my coworkers. Luke got pretty busy in his new job and I found myself alone a lot. And, I found the huge rewards in that time, in getting to know myself in fellowship with Jesus. I have found a new meaning to introspection and am grateful that I began this season somewhat alone, which forced me out of my comfort zone in this area.

“Every difficulty is an opportunity to prove God’s sufficiency to others.”

“Life is a journey, and the less we try to control it, the happier we will be.”

“His grace is enough for me.”

“The Devil’s lies and false accusations are powerless in my life. I stand on the truth of the Word.”

“The enemy will not be victorious in my life.”

“God always fulfills his promises in His appointed time.

These are just a few of the revelations I have been reflecting on during my bible study and devotional reading that I thought to share, both to bookmark where I am in this journey and to possibly encourage you as well.

Oh! What adventures we have had in 2016. We have been so very blessed, no question about that. Here is a look back over the past year.

We started off right with another Roll Tide victory as we rang in the New Year with our friends Michelle and Jeffrey in our apartment in Phenix City.

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A few weeks later, our good friends Jessica and Will came down to visit us for a weekend. It was so nice to spend some time with them, go out to dinner, Escape from the Room in Columbus and attend a hockey game with our Army friends and neighbors, Jenae and Greg. Attending hockey games was one of our favorite pastimes in GA, one that we miss here in OK.

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February was a busy, busy month as we celebrated Luke’s 26th birthday and traveled to NC to celebrate his sister Hannah’s college scholarship signing day for soccer. It was also my friend Jenn’s Confirmation Day at church, so we took her out to lunch to celebrate.

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With March came Easter, and my Dad and grandmother visited us for the weekend!

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In April, I had my last eye surgery to date. My mother-in-law came down to stay with Luke and I for a few days. We had a fun trip to Pine Mountain to get lunch and go shopping on the last day of her visit before I had to return to work and she had to get home.

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A few days later, I had word that we were officially moving to Oklahoma. The timeline had been up in the air until Luke’s unit was officially shut down at Ft. Benning and our orders sent us on ahead to Ft. Sill. I gave my boss notice and began to organize our home for the move. My heart was a little tougher–I had trouble adjusting to the idea of leaving this “home away from home” where we started our marriage, built strong friendships and a great life together.

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This was one of my last days of work filming our last set of commercials. It had been a great day getting more than 35 actors through and scenes shot. I knew I would miss my coworkers!

In May, the end was truly here for our time at Ft. Benning. I was sent off with a lovely going away dinner with my bosses at Buckhead Grill, one of our favorite restaurants, and a going away lunch with my team. They almost made me cry with their thoughtfulness and generosity. It was certainly a tough goodbye.

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And so, just like that, I said a final Good bye to my train car-shaped office on South Railroad Street. It was truly the ride of a lifetime. Until next time, Phenix City.

I came in the next morning to wrap up the Bible study I had organized with my coworkers at ironically, place of all places, Chick-fil-A. We had been meeting every Tuesday before work during the past quarter to share our love of God’s word and some fellowship before beginning the work day. The last one was tough because I wanted to continue to see God work in the lives of these sweet ladies; fortunately, with social media, I can still do that, even if I am no longer working with them every day! You see I am in a t-shirt here because my car was literally packed to the brim for our long journey and immediately after our study, I was hitting the road for good!

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May brought so many adventures, a week spent in my hometown of Huntsville, a week in Luke’s hometown, Hickory, NC (and his brother’s wedding to boot), and a few days in the Bahamas, just the two of us. Here are just a few snapshots!

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We finally made our way to Ft. Sill on the first of June. We drove separate cars of course, and I was excited albeit anxious to reach the destination and begin our new life. Little did we know Luke would get so sick.

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By the time we reached Arkansas, Luke was not doing well at all. He was having some stomach issues and we thought it was just a stomach virus. 10 days later with no food or drink, three hospital visits and several tests and scans we are pretty sure it was not just a minor stomach bug. But, we made the last leg of the trip, thanks to God alone with Luke throwing up the whole way and still managing to drive his own vehicle. We were so relieved to check into our hotel and to see the Welcome sign for Lawton.

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The days that he was sick and I moved into our home alone are hard for me to think back on because I felt so alone, scared and worried about him. He is not the type of person to lie in bed all day, and for over a week straight he was too weak to do more than exactly that. It was terrifying not to know a soul in town. Some kind West Point wives offered to help through social media, and I am very appreciative. Our friends and family from the Southeast were very supportive virtually, and his Mom and brother were on standby to board a flight at any time. But, our biggest comfort came from the ever constant presence of Jesus. We might have been alone in a new land, but God was here with us, walking beside us every day.

The day Luke finally got better was a miraculous one. He had been given antibiotics at our last ER visit, but had been on them for a few days without much in terms of results. He was still severely dehydrated and could not even hold down broth. I had to meet the movers the following day and would have to leave him alone at the hotel for an entire day. Before this, I would only leave in short two or three hour stints to clean the house and return to help him, but I knew this would be impossible on Move In Day. The night before, I messaged all of our friends and family in a group text and requested for everyone to please sign up for an hour to pray for Luke the following day.

We ended up with two people per hour because everyone was so eager to do what they could for us. I felt better knowing that others would be praying incessantly on his behalf while I completed our move in. And, I tell you the truth when I say that when I returned to the hotel that evening, he held down his dinner for the first time in 10 days! Do not underestimate the power of prayer!  Luke made a very swift recovery, was out of bed the following day, and helping me move out of the hotel the day after. God is good. Some may argue with me about timing, about a sickness running its course, about modern medicine, and while all of this may be true, I faithfully believe that God had his hand on Luke that day and heard all of our unceasing prayers. I could not let our 2016 story go by without sharing this God experience with you because it was truly life changing for our family. We still do not have a definitive diagnosis for what made Luke so ill; our best guess is some sort of parasite perhaps? But, God knew. And God healed.

And so, we began our life in Oklahoma six months ago with a clean slate, full of endless possibilities. What would we do with it?

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In July, my mom and brother came out to visit for Independence Day Weekend. We had a great time with them! The week after, I began my new job with Chick-fil-A and began to complete my training. I am very excited to be taking on my new role as the Director of Sales and Brand Growth this coming year.

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In August, we set out for Freedom, OK to attend our first Rodeo, Oklahoma style! There is a whole blog about that adventure and the inspiration for our Christmas Card here, so I’ll just leave you with this image.

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September 1st brought our three-year anniversary. Since it was the leather anniversary, our gifts could not have been more fitting–my purple leather cowgirl boots and Luke’s brown leather hat depicted above. We went out to eat at Woods and Water Winery in Anandarko to celebrate at the recommendation of a coworker. They had delicious food and cocktails!

Later in the month, we officially joined our church, Crossroads Baptist in Elgin, OK. We love it!

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October brought unseasonably warm weather, Luke’s promotion to Captain, Manda’s 26th birthday and our annual Halloween party in addition to our good friends Rachel and Kevin Sampler moving just down the block from us!!!

 

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November was mostly uneventful except I joined the Lawton Chamber of Commerce’s Redcoat Ambassadors team AND completed my very first 5K. This was a huge goal for me; here is another blog post about it if you care to read more about my journey to running the race. We then celebrated Friendsgiving with our Sunday School class, and then my Dad and grandmother came out for Thanksgiving.

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December has brought frigid temperatures to our neck of the woods! I excitedly headed home to Alabama for my brother’s college graduation on the 7th, in hope of warmer weather, but no such luck! It appears Winter may be here to stay. It was great to celebrate Ethan’s accomplishments with our family though.

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Christmas is coming now, and we cannot wait to celebrate all of our blessings, our journey through this year, the trials we have walked through and the lessons we have learned.

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As 2016 culminates, I can say that I lived out my word of the year that I established last January at that long ago lunch. I wanted to be “bold” this year. And, in my transition, in my adventures, through good times and bad, I can truly say I am on my way to Becoming Bold. I want to live boldly for Jesus, live out my faith and my life in a way that is impactful and meaningful for those around me.

I am excited and thrilled to have a new platform to live boldly through my work at Cameron University. I will be an adjunct professor of Advanced Professional and Business Speaking this Spring and look forward to mentoring and teaching students to shine throughout the coming months!

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xoxo and all the best for 2017!

Manda (and Luke) 😉

 

Captain Luke Bradshaw’s Promotion Weekend

 

Well, it’s Tuesday night, and we have just about recovered from the excitement of this past weekend, which was certainly one for the memory books…Luke is officially a Captain in the U.S. Army, and as his wife, I could not be more proud. We are so blessed to have family and friends who care about us and who helped to make his big day last Friday so special; near or far, each of you have such a special place in our hearts, and your well wishes truly made our weekend as we began this new journey as a family. His career will be changing a bit in the months to come, but your love and support have fully prepared him to step up into whatever role may be next.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a majority of this post will just be some photos that share a special story in and of themselves. I must begin of course with credit to the photographer, my lovely friend Brooke Rutherford. Also a West Point Army/Field Artillery wife, Brooke said goodbye to her own husband for 9 months just three days before these photos were taken. While a deployment is never easy, it is an especially difficult undertaking with two little ones at home. Brooke went to a lot of trouble to arrange a babysitter (special shout out to our mutual friend Nikki and her mom who graciously agreed to watch Brooke’s kiddos, even though Nikki just had her first baby within that week!) while Brooke came out to photograph Luke’s big day. Super Woman that she is, Brooke even had the photos edited and posted for us later that same night, knowing I would be eager to see them. The Army Spouse Club is such a special sisterhood, and I am fortunate to have already made some relationships with women here whom I already know will be my friends for life.

Without further ado, here is a glimpse into Luke’s ceremony from Brooke’s perspective. Logistics issues and an almost-panic attack (on my part) aside that she wouldn’t be there for the ceremony, she managed to capture every moment.

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A couple of notes on the pinning ceremony; the Colonel was kind enough to loosen the shoulder boards for me and gave me a quick run through in advance. Thank goodness too, because it’s been awhile since I did this with the LT boards, and they can be a bit tricky! Also, my heels kept sinking into the grass, so I tried to stand on my toes the whole time haha. I didn’t realize the ceremony would be outside until the day of, and although the day was slightly chilly with a breeze, it was a beautiful day for a ceremony! No rain to speak of, and the cloud cover provided great lighting for photos. Plus, I got to wear my red Field Artillery officer’s wife dress; I picked this out on sale over the summer for just such an occasion, and I was thrilled to get to wear it, short bell sleeves and all! I was a little afraid October in Oklahoma might be too cold, but Antonio Melani is one of my favorite designers, and his clothes seem to fit me the best, so I really wanted it to work out. Well, all’s well that ends well. 🙂

After the ceremony, Luke gave a short and sweet speech. I was so happy to hear him thank God first and foremost. He also mentioned me as his Rock and every other person in the place….except his own parents! They noticed that somewhere in all of his efforts to include everyone else in the audience he accidentally skipped two of the people who have supported him the most throughout his life. He referred to his “folks” (i.e. Kevin and Sally) but didn’t say Mom and Dad by name so they thought he meant the entire extended family. Fortunately, they didn’t take offense and pointed it out later in a joking manner! :0

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It was time to eat! Luke let everyone know to join us inside for wait for it….Chick-fil-A! No real surprise there that we would serve the very best for his big day (and I may have a connection or two!)

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Luke’s favorite Chick-fil-A menu item is Chicken Minis, and since we held the ceremony right around brunch time, we were able to feature those along with the more classic lunch nuggets, fruit and lemonade. We also had my personal favorite CFA “secret item;” the Chilled Grill Sub. I say it’s a secret, but it is actually available to everyone, just on the catering menu only. This cold sub is served with Honey Roasted BBQ sauce and is simply delicious! My bosses from my Chick-fil-A family, Angie and Jonathan, came out to support us and personally served the food throughout the whole event. They did such a nice job, and Luke and I really, really appreciated that they were there for us.

CFA catered the entire event except the cake, which we ordered from Johnson’s Bakery. We had originally wanted to use Cool Cakes by Lindsey (Shout out to Lindsey DeLozier from our Sunday School class,) but she was booked solid that weekend. Johnson’s came through for us though and the classic sheet cake (half vanilla/half chocolate) with buttercream icing served us nicely.

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Anticipated numbers fluctuated a bit, and we planned for 40 people at the reception. I even added a tray of food the day of just to be sure we had enough. Well, we ended up with more than 40 because we ran out of plates toward the end! We found some extras, and it all turned out OK, but we were so honored to have everyone there to celebrate with us.

Luke’s commander Grant Redmond and his wife Lydia and daughter Ella came out for our big day (also our dear friends and neighbors!) Lydia has been such a Godsend here, and she let me borrow her fridge to store the cake since my own fridge was chock full of food for our out-of-town guests! She also let me get ready and shower at her house the morning of the ceremony because it was important to me to let my in laws have the space to take all of the time they needed to get ready at our house; our home on Fort Sill is charming, but it’s one drawback is that it only has one bathroom. It can make for cramped quarters any time, but entertaining becomes more challenging for sure. Lydia came through in a big way for us (even if she is a Tennessee fan!) I hate that we didn’t get a photo of all 5 of us, but here is a pic of us girls, anyway!

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We had family come from far and wide to celebrate with us for the weekend. Luke’s parents, Kevin and Sally came in from North Carolina with his Uncle Howard and Aunt Suzy, his Aunt Mary flew in from Ohio and his Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Susan made a long detour in Oklahoma on their annual trip from Alaska to Florida. Thus, I thought it might be the perfect day to drag everyone utilize Brooke’s talents to get a few photos of all of us together by the historic cannons and artillery vehicles on base.

The guys are especially not big picture fans but I promised them that they will treasure them for years to come, and I really think Brooke outdid herself. Here are a few of my favorites from our photo shoot!

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Luke and I striking a pose.

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Luke and his father, Kevin.

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Luke and his mother, Sally.

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The four of us all together…We were really missing his sister, Hannah, and his brothers Jacob, Samuel and Milos and their wives, Adrianna and Lauren.

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The whole extended family that came to visit- from L to R: Aunt Mary, Kevin, Sally, Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Susan, Luke, Amanda, Uncle Howard and Aunt Suzy

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Uncle Howard and Aunt Mary both served in the Armed Forces as well, so this was an especially big day for these guys. So honored and proud to be part of this patriotic family.

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Just Luke…We couldn’t resist getting a couple of individual snapshots!

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Luke with all of the women in his life–well most of them anyway! 😉

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And the guys!

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Aunt Susan liked this particular cannon because it matched her outfit…This is where all the men began to sigh. Haha

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Proud wife…Luke took this photo because “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Haha just kidding; sort of.

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Posing solo…

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These two photos were meant to emulate the traditional Trophy Point cannon photo we never took at West Point. Luckily we had plenty of cannons around to accommodate!

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I wanted to show the entire area as well as our family, and I think these last pictures turned out super cute! Thank you again, Brooke for your hard work and for being such a good friend to us here at Ft. Sill.

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The rest of the weekend was so much more stress free! We chilled in our pj’s and played cards, explored Geronimo’s Grave, ate some delicious food and just enjoyed being together as a family.

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Meer’s is our absolute favorite burger joint in town, and taking visitors here is becoming something of a tradition. You really can’t get much better than this hole in the wall for a stellar piece of beef!

Sunday we enjoyed taking the family to our new church home, and they got to meet the friends in our Sunday School class, which is one of the most tight knit classes I have ever attended. They are such a blessing to us, week in and week out. Then, we explored Mount Scott with Brooke’s son Luke (told you we’d get you back for the photo shoot, sweet friend!) The views from up there were amazing.

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And, that’s a wrap! We are now back to our work week grind, but I could not let this event go by without writing a blog about the fun time we all had…and of course, huge props to my husband, Luke, for his accomplishments thus far. I know he will continue to succeed no matter where life may take us!

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I’d Rather Fight With You (And Pick Up Your Dirty, Smelly Socks) Than Be With Anyone Else

One day early into our marriage, Luke and I were screaming at each other over something ridiculous after a heated “discussion,” and suddenly he looked at me and started laughing. “What’s so funny?” I fumed.

“Oh, nothing. I would just rather fight with you than be joyful with anyone else,” he replied.

I stopped for a moment pondering the utter craziness behind his statement and then realized he was right. We both started laughing at the idea that we both prefer to be “miserable” together as opposed to experiencing a moment of sheer bliss with anyone else.

When people say that love isn’t enough to make a marriage work, I say that they’re both right and wrong. Love is a driving force that can lead you to being loyally devoted to one another (and forgive your partner of wrongdoing much more easily), but it is also a lifelong commitment. It is a day in and day out decision to choose your love and your relationship over the temptations of this world, over the exhaustion and “Hangriness” that can occur after an exhausting day at work, and over anything else in your life. You must decide to love each and every day, and some days are easier than others.

Luke and I have had a tough few weeks here lately; between the two of us, we have been sick for almost a solid month with a sinus infection/flu type illness that one or both of us can’t seem to shake. When you’re not feeling well and naturally more cranky and irritable, your spouse is unfortunately the one who gets the brunt of it because you’re so caught up in “faking it till you make it” with the rest of the world. We’ve had unexpected car repairs and now a broken washing machine (when it rains, it pours) that caused some unanticipated financial strain with the upcoming holiday season. We’ve one or both had back-to-back weekend duties for the past month, leaving very little downtime together. And finally, we are in a major life transition as Luke has his promotion ceremony for Captain in 3 weeks and we navigate through what his new role in the Army might look like for our family.

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With all of that, there have been some tense times, some less-than-kind words spoken by one or both of us, and we have both looked like the man in the picture a few times! Real marriage is not a fairytale story, and there are challenges and obstacles that even the best couples find themselves facing. The question is whether you are prepared to weather those storms together and remind yourself that you are in it for the long haul or give up when the going gets a little rocky.

What I know about life thus far is that it is cyclical; ups and downs, highs and lows, good seasons and bad. If you weather the storm, you get to enjoy the Rainbow on the other side. And, there is ALWAYS a rainbow. I am so proud of Luke for his promotion to Captain; a promotion that I (biased wife and all!) believe is extremely deserved. Luke worked more hours & long nights than almost any other Lieutenant I know and sacrificed a lot to get to this point in his career, and I could not be more thrilled for him. This is one of those Rainbows I was talking about.

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This promotion is such a blessing for our family, and we are so excited that his parents and a couple of his Aunts and Uncles are coming out for the ceremony. Chick-fil-A is of course catering, and a couple of my “Chick-fil-A Family” are also coming out for the big event. We are very much looking forward to the day when I get to pin those two bars on him.

When I first met Luke, I joked that he was an equals sign because the symbol on his chest (the Cow West Point Cadet Rank) looked just like an equals sign with two lines stacked horizontally. We have now come full circle as those lines will flip vertically on October 14th.

The point is that marriage is a journey for a lifetime, and as a couple, you stick together–through richer through poorer, through sickness and in health, till death may us part. We have had all of those times thus far in our marriage; times of financial prosperity with unexpected bonuses and financial favor and times where the wallet was much thinner, where our spending far outpaced our earnings. We have had times where I literally wanted to throw all of his clothes out the window if he left them beside the hamper just ONE MORE TIME, and times when he wanted to break down the bathroom door because I was taking too long to get ready AGAIN. Are those minor annoyances going to break you or make you stronger? Today, I was walking down the hallway and saw Luke’s pair of PT socks, cast hastily to the side, with his shirt a few feet away in the guest bedroom. Instead of making a scene about it as I might have done a few years ago, I quietly picked them up and put them in the hamper for him. There are quirks he has to deal with about me too, and rather than try to constantly change the other one, we have learned to more or less “live with it.” One thing that we both consistently do is thank the other one for little chores around the house. We rotate who makes the bed because our work hours vary, so we never know who will be sleeping a little longer. Yet, it gets made about 90% of days with no argument at all. We actively thank each other for making the bed because we both enjoy coming home to a clean room. It is a nice easy way to show gratitude and to make the other feel loved and appreciated (fight free!)

A counselor we saw early in our marriage talked to us about finding our “non negotiables,”and he was not talking about big things. All couples have those annoyances they can easily tolerate, and those they just can’t stand. He told us that for him and his wife, it was wearing shoes in the house. He absolutely hated it, so rather than adapt his thinking, he asked for that to be one of their “non negotiables.” And his wife agreed, because it meant more to him to not wear the shoes than for her to wear them. Goodness, we had so many at the beginning! I had a “thing” about my couch; I wanted it to be extremely clean and I really didn’t like for us to eat on it, EVER (just ask my friend Jenae about some olive oil dipping sauce in 2013.) I hated when Luke used metal spatulas in my Teflon skillets because it scratched them. I hated that he folded the towels “backwards” and that he put the pillows differently on the bed if he made it. Meanwhile, he hated that I hung my keys on “his” key ring; he hated when I left the meat wrapped in Publix bags in the fridge so it wouldn’t drip. He hated that I wanted the temperature so high because I get cold easily, and he hated that I would leave countless water bottles by the bed in case I got thirsty at night. These are just a few examples, but we learned to compromise. The Great Lamp War of 2013 concluded with no official victor; I still love lamps and he still hates them. We have lamps all over the house, and if I turn one on, he doesn’t fight and if he happens to turn one off that I was using, I let it go. Compromise is a big part of a happy marriage.

But, it is also knowing that at the end of the day, your spouse has your back; he has seen you at your literal worst (morning breath, wild hair, mismatched pajamas and all!) and he has loved you through it. He/she has cared for you through the best and worst times in your life and knows you better than anyone else on Earth. You have endured all seasons together. And, at the end of the day, it is so very worth it to endure those tougher times, those days when as my old roommate used to put it, your “couple mojo” is just out of whack, and you can’t seem to get on the same page, because you are still together and loving one another through it. And, of course our biggest secret isn’t a secret at all. It’s Jesus Christ, front and center. As we both work toward improving our personal relationships with God through Bible study, constant prayer (even when we don’t feel like it,) and regular church attendance, our marriage also tends to improve. You have to each have that strong foundation of faith that you bring to your marriage; and a cord of three strands is not easily broken! We have actually missed church due to the aforementioned sickness the last couple of weeks, and I know that is not helping our marriage. We are so looking forward to getting back into Sunday School and church this coming Sunday and are actually planning to join Crossroads Baptist, a wonderful God-honoring church that we have already come to love in Elgin, OK. We are beyond excited to have a church home again that we can call our own and look forward to becoming more actively involved and serving here.

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Well, that is just a little of where we are right now–just keeping it “real” today, friends. I pray that you all have a very blessed, relaxing weekend, whatever your plans may be. I have a big work event tonight (my first with Chick-fil-A), that I am both excited and nervous about. Luke works in the morning, and then I think we may hop on away to find some “us time” on a quiet local beach area, decompress and enjoy some R&R.

Thank you all as always for following our story and being part of our lives!

xoxo

Manda

The Blessing of Luke

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My husband officially hates compliments and being the Center of Attention. So, this post will probably embarrass him to some extent. Thus, I plan to keep it short and sweet. But, leading up to our third Wedding Anniversary in just a few weeks, I could not resist sharing just a little about this man and the undeniable impact he has on my life each and every day.

Most importantly of course, Luke loves God above all else (including me.) Yes, that’s right. I am starting this sappy post about my husband off telling you he loves Someone so much more than me. And, I am beyond grateful for that. God comes first and then your spouse. Luke has had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for years, and I have loved watching him continue to grow spiritually and take over as Spiritual Leader of our household when we got married in 2013. A cord of three strands is not easily broken, and Luke helps make it easy to keep perspective and Christ front and center.

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Next though, he loves ME above everyone else and puts me first (as much as Uncle Sam will let him by law!) Not all spouses do this, and I have seen firsthand what happens when you put someone other than God himself above your spouse. No one deserves that place; not a parent, not a friend, not a sibling or even a child. You have to be a spouse first and then a daughter, friend, sister and mother. Sometimes, I truly wonder how I got so lucky because I really won the marriage lottery with this Godly man who loves me so.

That smile of his lights up my world, and the laughter and humor that he brings home with him daily, even after a tough day at the office, is my sunshine. Like most Army officers, Luke works exceptionally long hours doing a lot of physical labor in inclement weather. Hot or cold, rain or shine, there is usually a good chance Luke is spending at least part of his day outdoors, working hard for our family. He will never know just how much I appreciate his dedication to providing for us. He goes above and beyond at work, never settling for the bare minimum or “just wanting to get by.” His work ethic is just another reason I love him so very much.

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Luke, like most guys, is able to compartmentalize his day. Meaning no matter how stressed he may be at work, he usually does not bring it home with him or take it out on me. He just closes the “work box” and opens the “Manda box” when he comes through the door. At home, you can find him willingly helping out with household chores, even when his day is almost always longer and more physically strenuous than mine.

(Now, he’s not perfect, ladies….We still have ACU’s left on the floor, dishes left in the sink, etc.) But more often than not, he will help me or WOULD help me if I asked him to. We actually got into  a small “discussion” about that this past week. I was feeling particularly tired after a long work day and didn’t want to cook that night as planned. I called Luke and tried to beat around the bush about not cooking…But, I never directly asked if HE would cook or if we could go out to eat. Like most men, Luke isn’t the best about hints. So, when he didn’t agree to change the plans, I drug myself to the commissary to get the supplies for dinner and came home a half hour later in a bit of a bad mood. As I set about to make the dinner, he came up and gave me a hug and asked me if we could please talk about this.Frustrated, I started trying to get pots and pans out to just get the cooking over with. But, he insisted we talk it out first. Turns out, it was a miscommunication on my end. He rightly pointed out that he never gets upset if I don’t cook, and if I had only asked him directly, clearly communicating what I wanted, he could have made something, we could have ordered a pizza, etc. Instead, my unwillingness to just state what I wanted in plain terms could have led to resentment on both our parts and ultimately a bigger argument. This is what I call a “Rookie Mistake” in marriage; it is typically ineffective to expect my very manly husband to respond with the sensitive intuition of a female friend. Whereas girl friends typically just get up to help you because they PERCEIVE that you could use a hand, husbands don’t always have the same intuitive powers. They like things spelled out, and when my requests are put out there in a straightforward manner, Luke is happy to help.

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Another night this week, Luke cooked our dinner all by himself. To celebrate the end of my training in the Kitchen at Chick-fil-A, Luke made breakfast for dinner. He went by the Commissary himself (a true testament to his love for me because he hates that place worse than I do on Pay Day!) and picked up my favorite breakfast item: hashbrowns. He asked me for my other menu requests and ended up making cheesy eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and bacon for us. It was such a perfect meal! And, the kicker was he even cleaned afterward too!

And then he did this all on his own…

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The Bane of My Existence for the past 2 months has been the weeds in our front flower bed. Before we moved in, Corvias Military did NOT clean out our flower beds properly, so it looked something akin to a mini jungle. (You can see a little of what it looked like on the left, where our neighbor’s weeds are currently.) On his off day, Luke spent 3-4 hours cleaning up this flower bed for me. He still plans to fill in those holes with some mulch/fertilizer, but he had it all done for me as a surprise when I got home from work. He also hung this American flag for me because he knew I really wanted one! I love our front yard now, and every time I walk out the door I can physically see Luke’s love for me.

Now, Luke and I neither one are huge household chore people. We both work a lot of hours and find ourselves tired more often than not. So, when my friend and neighbor recommended a Cleaning Lady to us, we were more than happy to sign on with her once a month or so, to help me with some of the deeper cleaning tasks. I am beyond blessed to have a husband who sees my need for help and is either willing to pitch in himself or get me someone who can!

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Luke recognizes and appreciates my love for travel and adventure! The military has given us a variety of opportunities for that and to get all dressed up for balls and formal dinners. This picture was from Savannah, GA in January of 2015. But, having a travel buddy who is willing to explore new places with you is such a blessing in a spouse. We have a shared dream of a Grand Italian Vacation somewhere between our 4th and 5th Wedding Anniversaries, and planning that with him has been probably half as much fun as actually going will be! I love that our goals are like-minded and that we have similar dreams for the future and where we hope life will take us.

Finally, Luke tells me he loves me every single day. I KNOW how blessed I am to have this, and I try so hard not to take it for granted because it is so very valuable and important. Ever since we were first in a long distance relationship he did this, first over text and then the phone. But, not a day goes by where I don’t know he loves me with all his heart and that is because he takes the time to vocalize it. Sure, all of his actions, his help around the house, the date nights he plans, the adventures he wants to share with me, the flowers he brings home, show it.

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But, there is literally nothing like hearing those three little words from your spouse every day. Each anniversary and Valentine’s Day, we take the time to write each other a private letter expressing our feelings about the other one for that year. This tradition began even before our Wedding Day, and these letters are so special to me. I treasure them all in a private scrapbook album. But as much as I adore holidays (any of my friends or Luke could tell you that!), the day-to-day love is what keeps a marriage going. And this man is simply exceptional at loving me.

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Here is a small snippet of the fairytale proposal he planned for me back in 2012. Luke flew down to GA from Oklahoma for literally 18 hours to ask me to be his wife in the middle of the Azalea Bowl at Callaway Gardens. I truly could not have asked for a better, more thoughtful and considerate husband to share my life with. And, my answer today is still YES. (Well, “of course!” is how I actually responded.) But, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Luke, you are my best “yes.” I love you, Forever & Always, Sweetheart.

Hello- From Halfway Across the Country!

As I sit in our hotel lobby in Oklahoma at the end of our cross country move, I can’t help but reflect on the wonder and adventure of the last few weeks, getting to spend precious time with friends and family and wrapping up our life in Georgia. I am also so thankful and joyful for this new chapter in our lives. On our drive across 7 states, I watched the rolling hills give way to flat prairies filled with cows, quaint farm houses perched in little valleys and a horizon that allows you to see for miles and miles. This new landscape holds such promise and adventure for us, a brand new fresh start, and I am trying to focus on that aspect of our lives versus my fear, anxiety or homesickness about all of the question marks still ahead.

When I told people that we were moving away, they mostly responded the same way. There was an immediate sadness followed by excitement for me as they inquired about the destination. When I responded with “Oklahoma,” their faces would fall in this kind of grimace/pitying look usually followed by, “Oh no,” “Why?” or “I’m so sorry!” Well, when I became a military spouse, I learned this lesson early and it has stuck with me: Any post/home/duty station is what you make it. It is not the place that defines your life but rather your mindset/attitude, the relationships in your life and the memories you make that transform any city into a home. I am unbelievably excited to be in Oklahoma, in a region of the country I have never before lived, and I am determined to make this a year filled with joy and adventure for our family. I hope that through this time, I can also show my friends and family all of the amazing things here, which I plan to find ASAP, so that when they think of Oklahoma they have a reference point beyond those pesky tornadoes. (For the record, our home out here WILL have a basement or storm shelter. No survivor of the April 27th tornado in Tuscaloosa would move here without one!)

But, before I tell you any more about that, let me fill in some of the details from our month of travels! We left Fort Benning at the beginning of May, and Luke was able to take a few weeks of PCS leave to give us time to enjoy one another, our loved ones, and a nice, long vacation before jumping into our new life! We began this time with my family in Alabama.

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The day pictured above was one of my very favorite days of all, a day for just me and my Mom! Because Luke had to work at Ft. Benning a few days after I was free to leave, I headed home early and planned a fun Girls’ Day with my Mom. We enjoyed a shopping spree, going to see a chick flick, tea at Emma’s and chocolate martinis together. It was so wonderful to see her and felt a bit like the old days when I was growing up (minus the martinis of course!)

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I also got a full day with my Omi (my grandmother; she is German, so she was supposed to be “Oma,” but I could not say that as a baby so she became Omi forevermore.) When I was little, we spent so many days at our local State Park with my Pa-Pa fishing, swimming in the beach area, enjoying picnic lunches and playing Frisbee on the playground. We haven’t been back together in years since I went off to college, got married and found a full-time grown up job, so it was such a blessing to go and sit in “Our Spot” again with our chairs and fishing poles. The weather cooperated beautifully, and I will always cherish this day with her.

Luke came in that night, so the next day we spent out on the boat with my Daddy. He also likes to fish, but we spent most of the day driving around and enjoying the breeze in our hair and sunshine on our faces. One of our family friends brought his boat out as well so we could do a little tubing and potentially water skiing, but none of us was up for braving the skis this trip! It was a lovely day though, topped off with pizza and bowling with the Sams side of the extended family. I am so grateful that my brother came up from college for the weekend so that he could be there too.

 

We spent several more days in Huntsville and even gave in to my Mom’s idea for a family photo shoot. Here is a big throwback for you: JC Penney’s still has a portrait studio! Luke, Ethan, Mom and I went there after church and got some images that surprisingly turned out so wonderfully! I know we will always cherish them. Here are a few of my favorites:

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My brother Ethan and I