Birthdays and Confessions

Loveys, I recently celebrated my 38th birthday. (And yes, that sounds dangerously close to the end of my thirties.) The cake right there is one that Jeff made and the kids decorated. I loved it so much. There were gifts and cake and hugs and kisses and handmade cards and a special breakfast. Delightful things that warm your heart.

And now I'm 38.

One of my friends (who is 41 and shall remain nameless! :) told me that something changed when she turned 40. She stopped caring so much what other people think. I look forward to that actually. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm inching my way closer and closer and I can almost taste that freedom.

For me (and this could just be me) when a birthday comes around, I inevitably take stock of my life-- if I'm happy with where I am and who I am. If I'm where I thought I'd be. All that philosophical stuff. Remember that MASH game we played when we were kids? (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House) Who would we marry? How many kids would we have? What would our career be?

Even as kids, we start wondering what our life will look like.

I check off the things that I've done. Places I've been. Is it enough?

I was reading a book the other day--the author is someone who's incredibly successful and rightfully so, her writing is awesome and thought-provoking. In the book, she mentioned her age and it stopped me for a moment. We're right about the same age.

True heart confession: without warning, it occurred to me how much more this woman is than I am.

How much more she has accomplished and will accomplish. How much more capable and smart she is. How her life sounds like a Nancy Meyers movie I'd like to watch. She probably doesn't say the wrong thing and hurt people's feelings. Everyone laughs at her jokes. She's invited to everything. She doesn't have to work hard for people to like her. She gets all the amazing opportunities.

I'm going to be real here (because I'm 38 and it's what we 38-year-olds do), doesn't it sometimes feel like it's super easy for some people? They're immediately included in the cool club. They have the right look and attitude and everyone automatically likes them. They are thoughtful and say all the right, socially acceptable things. They are never lonely because so many people are clamoring for their time and want to help them and be around them.

And you

There are all these T-shirts and coffee mugs out there, telling us You're enough. You're awesome. You're beautiful. You're Wonder Woman.

Sounds great. Enter the counter T-shirts: You're not enough. Jesus is. Stop worrying about it.

It's hard to be a girl sometimes.

We want to be perfect, while not caring at all if we're perfect. We want to be liked, but we don't want to be ruled by what other people are thinking. We want to know ourselves, but somehow we still make mistakes.

And carrying all that is a lot.

I'm not a perfect wife, mother, sister, daughter, or friend. Not even close. Honestly, I keep realizing it over and over. I wish 38 was the magic age where we start making all the right decisions, saying all the right, wise things, and living completely selflessly. Where we don't cry or feel lonely or wish some things were different.

Shouldn't I have it more together at 38? That other woman/writer does. She's out there changing the world. I just really want a third cup of coffee and a brownie. Why did she get all the great chances at such a younger age?

Maybe because she worked hard for it. (Another true confession: I'm an extremely unambitious person. That whole coffee-and-brownie thing? That's real for me.) Or maybe she didn't have to work super hard for it. Maybe she met the right people at the right time and they liked her. Maybe she's crazy-gifted and things were bound to work out for her. I don't know. But maybe it's just normal to wonder.

Here's what I know, lovey.

All our paths are different.

Anyone who seems perfect, isn't.

Even just creating a peaceful, safe home and raising good kids and loving my husband are worthwhile accomplishments.

It's hard to make friends sometimes.

It's hard to be enough or feel like we're enough. (Then there's the T-shirt conundrum from above.) It's hard to have faith.

I think checklists are normal. Mine is pretty standard--husband that I still like to hold hands with? check. Kids that I adore? check. House with a fireplace? check.

Like all of us, there are a few other things on my list that are more specific to who I am. I go over my list--then I move on. Because life is about moving forward, not always looking back. It's about who we are now. Where we're going.

There's still time.

So, here at 38, all thoughts of comparison pushed aside because they are toxic--what do I want for my life?

Loveys, I've got this old Liberty T-shirt. It's got holes in it, but I can't seem to make myself throw it away. I love sleeping in it because it's been broken in so well. It's soft and fits just like I want it to. I bought a new one last time I was in VA, but it just doesn't compare to my old favorite.

I want to wear my skin like that T-shirt. In other words, to be comfortable with myself.

To accept God's generous grace over my life. It's okay if I'm not perfect. I know I will make mistakes. And then I'll try to do better. God's grace is enough.

I want to be grateful for every gift I've been given. Going to sleep every night next to Jeff is my favorite thing. (And after 19 years together and going on 15 years of marriage, that alone can seem like a miracle sometimes. I'll take it.) Snuggling with Lily as we watch cartoons fills my heart to capacity. Cheering for Ash and Linc every day in the carpool lane makes me happy. Writing a story or two when I feel inspired leaves me so fulfilled.

I want to make my own choices and decisions--not determined whatsoever by what our culture dictates or what's socially acceptable or popular or trending. And I want to prioritize peace and contentment (and rest, when I can get more of it!).

To embrace change because it's good for me.

It seems to me that getting older is a gift in itself. For those of us who've lost friends or family members--we know this to be true. Even if nothing has gone as we'd hoped with our checklist. Even if we look at our life--at whatever age--and know that it's time to chase dreams or make changes or even accept what is and figure out what to do. Or leave or stay or dance. Or create a whole new checklist. We're here. I've written before about a friend of ours who died, and how that shook me. She and I were the same age. And I can't help but think of her. How she'd probably give anything to watch her children grow. Life is a gift, lovey.

And maybe, getting older means stripping away what doesn't matter so much, and appreciating what does. One of my favorite quotes by Rich Mullins is this:

"And everything that could be shaken was shaken. And all that remains is all I ever really had."

I read those words and they sink into my soul. Have I learned that yet? Am I still learning it? To chip away at what doesn't last, and truly see what does. Sometimes it's a process, I think. To learn what it is we value more than anything. And then hold on like crazy.

Thirty-eight looks like juggling lunches and homework and martial arts classes and dinner and breakfast and laundry. It looks like service a lot and that can be draining. It also looks like reaching for Jeff, maybe both of us are too tired to talk, and we don't care. We've made it this far, we'll keep reaching. Thirty-eight looks like all kinds of things. Laughter. Crying. Real life.

Mainly, to me, these look like the best days of my life.

The End of Summer

Loveys, my sister Laura tells me that as long as she can remember, she'd sit at the table with me and Sara--our noses stuck in whatever books we were reading.

It's true.

And now that I have kids, I've found that it's at breakfast and lunch that I can usually squeeze in reading time. I feed the kids, then sit down afterward to eat, and pull my book over to me. (The picture above is from breakfast this morning! I love ALL Ann Rinaldi books. Every time I'm in Lynchburg, I go to my fave bookstore Givens, up to the loft where the used books are, and look for Ann Rinaldi books. Way back when I was in college, one of my professors assigned us one of her books to read. I've read so many since then. She's wonderful at YA historical fiction.)

We manage to squeeze in what we love. It's just who we are. As the Jeffster likes to tell me, "You know it. I know it. Vegetable lasagna knows it." (Yes, he quotes Seinfeld. A lot.)

Sometimes friends ask me when I find time to write while juggling kids. It's here and there. Like everyone else, I suppose. We somehow make time for what we enjoy. I love spending time with my family. I love to read and write and edit books. Those are my things.

Lately the kids and I have been going to the post office quite a bit (not my favorite). Ash moans like it's the end of the world and asks me WHY ARE WE HERE AGAIN? And I tell her, when you have a mama who writes stories, you sometimes have to go to the post office to send those stories to people.

Loveys, I can't believe we're here at the end of summer. The end of the summer that finally brought me The Last Summer. Honestly, I always love fall so much, but I'm sad to see this summer end. I remember feeling so relieved that we got a summer pub date--because it needed to be a summertime release. The heat of summer needed to surround the book. Beaches and lakes and iced tea and shorts and flip-flops and cold soda. I always wanted a summertime launch party, with glow lights on the back deck and sangria and a space filled with my friends.

I feel so much gratitude for all of it. For every reader, for every message I've received, for every thoughtful review--for all of it. These are moments that I hold in my heart.

And speaking of special moments, for my Lynchburg friends, there's a book signing in the works for September that my sister Sara and I are SO excited about. I'll share more as we get closer to the time. I can't wait to see my Virginia family and friends!  

School starts this week, loveys. We've got the school supplies organized and ready on the kitchen table. We've cleaned out closets and clothes drawers. And just like that, summer is over. We wait for it so long, I can't help but feel sad as it ends. In many ways, this summer was different from what we'd thought. Unexpected trips to Texas. Losing my grandmother.

And like with anything else, what was planned just drifts away, and we keep moving with what is real for us. And with the unexpected are moments filled with grace too. Moments that are memories we'll treasure. Ash has wanted a daddy/daughter date all summer long. So to make sure we made that happen before school starts, she and Jeff went out together last night. Treasured memories made. Some things on our list didn't happen this summer. Other things--not on our list--did happen. In the end, there's this patchwork of experiences and shared moments that make up our family life together. It's raining today. The kids are thundering around upstairs. This morning as I was drinking my coffee and looking out at the rain, I smiled and thought of how I actually love rainy days and Mondays. I love this little family that's mine. This summer has had incredibly joyful moments. And also tears. Parties. Freelance projects. Travel. Fever. Bike riding without training wheels. Movies and popcorn. Sleepovers.

I'll hold on to the feeling of summer a little while longer. Green grass and flowers and flip-flops. And when it's time, I'll switch those for tall boots and leaves crunching and pumpkin spice lattes.

This summer--when my book, the one I began 20 years ago, was published--will forever be special to me. A reminder that sometimes things take time . . . but keep holding on to hope.

If you haven't yet grabbed a copy of The Last Summer, I hope you'll hop over to Amazon and order a book or download it to Kindle. (And if you haven't left a review yet, click over and mark that off your list! It only takes a minute!) I still hold my proof copy and can't believe it's finally here. A few more books arrived in the mail this weekend . . . and my heart still flutters when I open the box and see The Last Summer.

Hope brought to life.    

Making Summer Memories

Loveys, it's cloudy here and I'm on my second cup of coffee. We've got family in town visiting and the Jeffster has taken them white water rafting at the moment, so I'm just here with the kids, hoping everyone stays in the raft and there are no unexpected splashes into the river. My awesome friend Danielle texted me the recipe to this dessert she introduced me to--churro cheesecake--and it's fabulous (not even exaggerating a little bit) and I want to make it for our company tonight. So I'm wondering, reasonably, when I can make it. Not too soon, because the minute it's ready, I'm going to want to break into that thing. This girl is low on self control. One of the awesome things about having people come visit is getting to do all the touristy things in Colorado that we don't normally do. Canyons and rivers and Evergreens and breweries and 16th Street--it's fun to explore where we live.

(Seriously, in the above photo, I'm not even sure you can see the two tiny humans swinging in this canyon. One of the tiny humans is related to me.)

We've done these things before, but not in a long while and it's great to have a reason to do it. And seeing the sights always reminds me that there's magic where we live, if we take time to explore it. Everywhere we go, there's something special, every place we visit. I just got back from Texas and, I think, because I'm not there often and I miss it, when I am there, it's so special to me. It's always magic. For all of us, wherever we are, I think there's something to explore. (Also, my cousin has introduced my kids to geocaching. I have a feeling this might be a permanent situation around here.) There are things to see, but something about being with people you love makes exploring even more special.

We've been so blessed to have extra time with family this summer. I love it. There's carne asada in the crockpot right now and a slew of sweet potatoes on the counter, to go in the oven later. (Though I've warned my company to lower their expectations. We've got legit cooks in this family, loveys. For real. Brandy Bruce is not one of them. Every meal I've made so far has been new for them! I'm actually hoping that's helping me.)

I'm always reminded that spending time together glues us together in these ways that I love, that last even when we're apart. We spent all day yesterday in downtown Denver, taking turns holding Lily and pushing the stroller and taking pictures and holding hands with the kids. And by the end of it, you're just glued together a little bit more. Fun moments. Stressful moments (these happen when backing up and parking in the city are parts of my life. And Victor has to jump in and do this for me). Moments like all of us going into Union Station and all of us wishing it was actually Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter (love these people). Small things like eating breakfast together every morning or getting excited to watch Game of Thrones together.

Family in my house.

Sharing what we have with each other.

So it's been good over here. I'll be sad when they go and we'll miss each other until the next time. But these summer memories are good ones. Cable car rides over massive canyons, city shenanigans, water rafting, castles and trails and pizza and even helicopter rides. And lots of moments just being family together. On one of our car rides somewhere, Victor and I talked and reminisced about our childhoods--times at grandma's house and that sort of thing. And right now, I was thinking that these special moments with cousins are memories that will stay with my kids forever.

I can't believe there are already school supplies in the stores, reminding me that summer goes too fast and the school year is long. But we've got some time left and we'll try to make it last as long as possible.