Hard Goodbyes and All the Hellos

Loveys, it's been one heck of a summer over here. Full and busy. Emotional. Fun. Overwhelming. Heart-aching and heartwarming. Where to even begin this time around?

I think I'll begin with my dad.

I've talked about my dad many times on here. He's awesome and I'm so blessed to be his daughter. When I was growing up, he worked as a police officer and always worked a couple of extra jobs to make ends meet. There are no perfect families, of course--I know this more than ever now that I'm a parent with a family of my own--but perfect isn't the goal. Love is. I appreciate so much all my parents have done for me and who they are. My dad was the first person to see my love of writing and to encourage me in every way he could to pursue it. He saw my strengths and weaknesses when it came to school, and he never pressured me to be more than I was. He has always been quick to offer encouragement, not criticism--I can see now what a gift that is to a child, what a gift that continues to be to me.

Many people may not know this (but I've talked with my dad and he said it's okay to share) that early this year my dad was diagnosed with oral cancer (cancer in his mouth/gum). As you can imagine, that was shocking and frightening for our family. It's hard for me to really put into words how I felt at hearing that news. It's not something you're expecting and suddenly everything stops, and other things seem less important and holding on to someone seems paramount.

So many emotions come over you and there's a shift in perspective.
Honestly, I've been afraid for my dad before. Growing up, every now and then when he went to work, I'd feel afraid for him. Mostly I didn't feel afraid. He was always so big and strong, I figured he could handle just about anything. But every once in a while, I'd feel nervous that something could happen to him.

Later, when I was much older and he went to Iraq, I remember feeling terrified many times that he might not come back. There were nights I stood outside on the small patio of the apartment where Jeff and I lived, and I'd just pray for God to bring my dad home safe.

I was afraid for him while he was in Afghanistan--and I was hearing about bombings in the news and that sort of thing. But he's a man who can handle himself. I knew that and I trusted his instincts and that he'd stay as safe as he could.

I was afraid when my dad was living right on the coast in Haiti during a terrible hurricane and the water kept rising, and after, when there was violence and people would do anything to get supplies--I worried for him quite a lot. But he's good in crisis, and I know it. He's the kind of person who can defuse conflict and stay calm when everyone around him needs exactly that.

The truth is that he's lived through a lot in his life, and he's seen a lot . . . but regardless of what he's gone through, my dad has somehow always managed to stay good all the way down to his soul. It's who he is. Throughout my whole life, he's been tall (nearly always the tallest in the room!) and strong and capable, someone who usually carried a gun for work and who's a really great shot and if anyone messes with him he knows how to take them down--I smile at that because more than those things, he's also someone who's gentle and calm and steady. He would tell the person he had to arrest how much God loved them. He'd give money out of his own pocket to a women's shelter in Kosovo. He'd bring my mom a rose and kiss her hand. And he'd work as many extra jobs as he had to in order to take care of us.

He'd give my sisters and me all he has, and he's done it over and over. He's still doing it. The three of us love him so much, and he's built an incredible legacy that goes so much farther than he'll probably ever realize.

He's someone whose faith is very real, and I believe God loves him and has used him in amazing ways. My dad is special. He just is. Everyone who meets him knows this.     

Just as we were celebrating the arrival of our newest family member--my sister and brother-in-law's sweet daughter Virginia--we were also dealing with the fear of the unknown for my dad. Meeting with specialists and surgeons. Considering options and best-case scenarios and worst-case scenarios. We all realized that this year was going to look a lot differently than we would have expected.

And I was afraid for him again.

One word that always accompanies a cancer diagnosis is time.

My husband's father passed away a few years ago and if there's one thing Jeff wishes he had, it's more time with his dad. When we heard about my dad's diagnosis, Jeff and I started talking about the fact that life can be so unpredictable. We're not promised more time.

For fourteen years, Jeff and I have made our home in Colorado. We moved out there because I'd been offered a job as a book editor. That was a dream come true for me, and I'll tell you, when I first found out I'd got the job--I couldn't wait to tell my dad. More than anyone, I wanted to tell him. He was and is a source of support and encouragement to me.

Jeff and I jumped at the chance to move out to beautiful Colorado. And it's been absolutely amazing. A career I loved. The thrill of seeing books published, including my own. A change in Jeff's career that ended up being great for him.

Over the last decade, we've been building a family. Ashtyn turned ten just a few days ago (I still can't believe she's double digits!) and my son just turned seven. As usual, August has been crazy busy with birthday parties and school starting. Little Miss Lily is about to start preschool.

And now--this year--with my dad finding out he had cancer, Jeff and I needed to make a decision. Maybe it was time to move closer to my parents.

We started talking about time and how we want to spend ours. And we decided that this summer would be one of changes for our family. It was a big decision, moving our kids from the only life they'd known in Colorado, a school they loved, friends they care about and so on--but we wanted to be a support system for my parents and vice versa. Jeff and I talked about the last ten years of having kids--and we talked about the next ten years--raising these kids. And we felt that being near my parents would be good for all of us.

I can't help feeling emotional even now because it is emotional. We've made great friends in Colorado. My wonderful sister and brother-in-law are there. I know we'll go back to visit, but leaving is hard. Change is hard.

But I'm also one of those people who thinks that change can be a good thing. In the past fourteen years, we've moved six times. Most of those were in a short radius! I like breathing in new spaces. I like starting fresh.

But moving around town is slightly different from packing up and moving across America, going back to the town where you went to college, leaving what you've built up.

But there's something about getting older that makes you realize how life seems to be made up of different chapters. Different seasons. And some of those chapters are difficult and you're relieved when they're over--maybe chapters filled with heartache--a difficult childhood maybe, a broken marriage, a loss of someone you love. And some of those seasons are wonderful and you're almost sad to move on to the next. And some are a little bit of both--not easy but still filled with hope and grace. And for those of us who are led by our faith, we know that God can redeem even the hard years. He can restore what was taken from us. He wipes away tears and replaces those hurts with love. We can live in the past of those painful moments we've lived through, or we can close that chapter, take hold of the grace and restoration offered us, and move forward into the gift of what we have now.

A new chapter just means you're still here. More life. New things to learn. New people to know. New experiences to grow us.

For the Bruce family, we're starting a new chapter--the writer in me keeps picturing a blank piece of paper, large numbers at the top, and all kinds of possibilities for what will fill the next few pages.

Here I find myself, hours away from turning thirty-nine, back in the small city where I went to college so many years ago. Things feel so different now, but some things feel the same.

Lily wasn't feeling great the other day and my roommate from college stopped by with crackers and Ginger ale and cookies and treats. And she and I together are just the same as we've always been, and that feels so wonderfully normal. I love that good friends are good friends, near or far. To be honest, I'm not feeling very well today, and so I called my mom, and she and my dad come over in an instant. Mom takes Ash shopping and to the birthday party she needed to go to, and my dad goes with Jeff to return the rental car he needs to take back.
I've loved being able to swing by my parents' house whenever I want to. I get to hug my dad and tell him I love him all the time. He's a lot thinner now. More frail. But he's getting better slowly and he's still here, and that's all that matters to me. My mom's done such a great job of taking care of him. And I've so enjoyed squeezing my niece. Baby Virginia is precious.

I smile every time I hear my kids yell out "Grammy and Grandpa are here!" and see them run to the door. When we go to their house, Lily loves to run up and ring the doorbell.

Before the move, Jeff flew out over a weekend and bought a house for us. (Yes, that's a bit nerve-wracking for a wife, but he and I have very similar taste so I figured it would turn out okay.) He only had a day or two to look at a bunch of houses and find one. When we moved in much later, we realized that, without knowing the area, we'd stumbled into a really great neighborhood with amazing neighbors who welcomed us from the first day. We were immediately accepted into this community and invited to marshmallow roasts and ice cream socials. My kids made instant friends with the kids next door. I know it's not like that everywhere--this sense of 'include everyone and be friends'. I sat at the island of one of our neighbor's not long after moving in and she said, "I don't want to overwhelm you but I want to know you."

Don't those words sort of make you want to stamp them on a canvas and hang them in your house? This is how we make people feel not alone, loveys.

For me, this means everything. It's hard starting over and trying to make friends again, hoping people will like you and make room for you. It's been a relief to meet such nice people. We're getting used to this new chapter of life. I love walking through our home every morning, breathing deep, and enjoying this new space. This kind of change refreshes me.

I miss the mountains in Colorado, but from my bedroom window, I can see the Blue Ridge mountains and they're beautiful. I miss the Colorado climate (my kids are in no way used to the humidity and bugs in Virginia!). Mostly I miss my friends and my sister. But those people are in my heart forever and space doesn't mean relationships end. You get to keep those. Love doesn't stop.

The header at the top of this email says, You're my favorite hello and my hardest goodbye. My girlfriends had a goodbye dinner for me before we left.
The night was filled with emotion and laughter and love and it meant so much to me. I'll never ever forget the words that were shared around the table that night. My heart was blessed beyond measure. That saying was written in a card from one of my closest friends. My heart squeezes as I think about that. Just like it does at the picture in my mind of my kids hugging their Aunt Sara before we left. I will miss her every day until we're together again.

Love doesn't stop. We nurture it and keep it going.

One positive thing about change is new inspiration. I've loved the rocky terrain of Colorado, but I've missed trees and greenery and more time with family. On the drive out here, Lily was amazed by all the trees. She said, "This is a jungle!" Ha! I love it.

I can't wait for fall in Virginia. Red and yellow leaves everywhere and cool evenings and inviting the family over for beef stew and cornbread. Liberty football games and date nights and Poldark starting back on PBS.
The other evening I stood outside, waving goodbye as my parents left after Lincoln's birthday party, looking out at a pink sky over the tops of the trees. Neighbors were walking home in every direction. I came inside and cleaned up a bit more, then it was on to the chaos of kids needing baths and finishing homework and me trying to get everyone to bed. I will admit that the last month has been a stressful one. In fact, the past six months have been stressful. Moving is stressful. And everything seems to have changed--but then everything is the same. It's still us, living this life and doing all the things.

God is here with us wherever we are, even if we change directions, even if life changes or we go through difficult times. The sky gets pink in the evenings. The mountains look blue in the distance. The house is loud and filled with happiness and excitement when kids celebrate birthdays.  
And now, for this next chapter, I'm back in Lynchburg, finding community, settling in, unpacking boxes, drinking tea and watching The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Netflix, missing my friends and family in Colorado so much but overwhelmed with gratitude for the time I had there. For all the memories.
And right now, I'm so thankful for the fact that my dad is still here with us and we have more time to make more memories and live life together. I don't take it for granted. It's a gift.
Here, breathing in new spaces and looking out my windows at all the trees, I sense stories swirling in my head. I'm ready to write.

Fall is coming, and with it, the magic of a new season and a blank page.

These days of change, this new chapter, the hard goodbyes and the hugs and hellos . . . it all feels like love and grace somehow. And that's what I want for this next season, love and grace for my family. That's what I want to be the story of my life really.

Love and grace.


Aloha and Adventure and Anniversaries!

Loveys, this summer has been one for the books. I was trying to think of how to capture it all in one post, and I realized I couldn't. There's been too much.

I'm just going to dive in and start with Hawaii. In July, the Jeffster and the kids and I went on a family vacay to Maui. This was extra special for Jeff and me. This year we celebrated our fifteen-year wedding anniversary. And fifteen years ago we spent our honeymoon in Oahu and Maui. Now, fifteen years later, we went back to Maui, but this time with our family of five. It was magical and wonderful and a reminder of time passing and life changing and moments you want to hold on to forever. In fact, we went by the hotel we stayed at as honeymooners. It looked just the same! We hopped out of the car and Ashtyn snapped a picture for us.

Fifteen years of marriage, packed with so much life. We had no idea what we were getting into back then! But I'd do it all over again if it meant getting to end up right back here, still loving Jeff, now loving the family we've made. It's not perfect. That's okay. We don't need perfection. We need love and joy and hope, those things can help us through even the hard times.

The resort we stayed at was amazing. The food was incredible. The views were beautiful. And the weather was perfect. We had so much fun as a family and we went to bed worn out every night.

I miss it already.

This vacation came smack-dab in the middle of a crazy-busy summer, filled with changes, exhausting days, and emotional overload. In the midst of all that, we boarded a plane and took off to paradise for a little while. And it was just what we needed. Sand and pineapple and pool slides and waterfalls and volcano craters (along with a little car sickness and one trip to Urgent Care) made for a great family trip. I would wake up in the morning and open the sliding doors to the balcony, just to hear all the birds. And in the evening, we'd stand out on the balcony, looking at all the lights (or one night, watching fire dancers and hearing drums), and listening to the ocean.

Traveling with kids is, of course, not for the faint of heart. But I love that we made this memory all together. I know memories fade, but feelings tend to travel with us. I hope my kids remember how it felt to be part of this family, to take adventures together, to see new things, and to explore together. I know that for myself, these are the best days of my life. For weeks now, I've seen emotional Instagram posts of moms saying goodbye to kids going off to college, wishing for just a bit more time under the same roof. I'm in that season of life together. Waking up with Lily curled up next to me. Making oatmeal for Lincoln five times a day. Hearing Ashtyn giggle and get excited over new things.

Some days are long. Some days I'm really tired and frustrated. But every day I'm surrounded by these people that I love more than anything in the world.

Fifteen years ago, Jeff and I were just young things who were barely starting out on this adventure together. We had no idea that one day there would be an Ashtyn, then a Lincoln, then a Lily--knowing them now, I can't imagine my life or myself without them.

Isn't that sort of what it means to go on an adventure? To try something new . . . to take a chance . . .
to dive in without knowing how it will all end up. And if things don't work out, we change directions. But sometimes, we take a chance on something that ends up being amazing.

I'm a different person from that young girl fifteen years ago. The one who only had to get herself ready to go in the morning! This time around, I'm juggling the kids (also could be phrased as living my life as a referee), gathering the pool toys, snacks, applying sunscreen, finding flip-flops, and so on. And right now, I'm less than two weeks from turning 39. I can hardly believe it. One more year till I hit my forties.

Really, this year I'm reminded more than ever that every year is a gift.

And this year is turning out to be a year of adventures. With such a busy, hectic summer, I am hoping for a slower-paced fall. But even so, I want to make this last year of my thirties one to remember.

I was thinking of the things I enjoy most--and this being the year to embrace those things, to embrace those parts of who I want to be. To be thankful for the life I have.

I hope you'll journey with me through all these days.

Summer, is that really you?

We couldn't wait for summer. Really. We were ready for warm, long days and ice pops and fun, fun, fun.

And then.

It came. And Lincoln came home on the last day of school with a cold. What in the world. He hardly missed a day of school all year, then he came home with a cold. And it's lingered. He can't shake it. We're on our second round of medicine over here. And then Lily came down with a sore throat and a cough and an ear ache. Long nights over here. And I ended up with some unexpected medical issues too. And now the Jeffster's not feeling great.

Oh Lord.

Basically, it feels like we're paying for our doctors' vacations this summer.

Add to that a project I was working on, an upcoming book birthday for The Last Summer (which is today!), some other stressful issues we're dealing with, martial arts testing for both Ash and Linc, and Jeff being out of town for five days, and suddenly, we're not checking off the boxes I'd marked for summer. All of our excursions look like doctor offices and hospitals and pharmacies and airports.

And it's okay.

Because life happens.

It's almost eight o'clock over here and I'm sitting at the table, watching Ashtyn and Lincoln (in their pajamas) jump on the trampoline as the sun sets. (Summer cold or not, you can't keep Linc down for long.) We spent three hours at the martial arts studio this morning for testing for Ash and she was amazing. My little girl was paired up with a bigger boy and I watched as Ashtyn Noel (covered head to toe in protective gear) held her own and fought hard. And then all of us in the studio stood in a big circle, around a family who's young son just died. And the owner of the martial arts studio cried and the family wept, and it was beautiful and so painful and a reminder . . . we can't control everything.

And we aren't meant to. 

We make plans, but plans change.

I was truly in awe of the strength of this family. Mom, Dad, siblings, a grandpa, aunt and uncle--all hurting so much, but honoring their son. They stood there in the circle, holding each other.

Even in summer, even during holidays--we can't control everything.

One of the blessings of life is the people we share it with. We had lunch not so long ago over at some friends' house. We've been friends for many years now, and we sat around the table and talked for hours, while the children played. Lighthearted topics and serious topics--amid the busyness of this month, just sitting and talking felt like a hug right when I needed it. And there have been moments this month when I have really needed a hug. (Or maybe a margarita.)

I love the warmth of summer. I love green grass and trees and kids that smell like sunscreen and trips to Baskin Robbins.

We'll roll with the rest because it is what it is.

Every mama knows that on those nights when all the kids are sick, you'll keep going no matter what. And juggling schedules is nothing new to any of us. We dragged Lily's mattress into our room last night so she could sleep near us without breathing all over us (again). And also, she needed to be near me and I needed to be near her.

So while it hasn't been the start to summer that I expected, it's life with my people and that's always what I want. And honestly, the rest of the summer is about to get even more hectic. (Pray for the plague to leave my house before I have a meltdown.)

I'm pretty tired over here today, and it's crazy to me that it's been a year since my house was packed with friends and we were celebrating the release of The Last Summer. Jen Turano was doing a reading. There were pitchers of summer sangria everywhere. Music and cake and flip-flops. (I've been reliving it through the blog post here.)

It was perfect. A memory I will cherish forever.

@Justreadtours is doing a giveaway in honor of The Last Summer's birthday and I'm so thrilled about it. Jump over to Instagram and check it out. https://www.instagram.com/justreadtours/. And for all of you who are hanging by the pool or going to the beach (or who are stuck at home with the plague and can only go to the backyard--raising my hand over here), slip The Last Summer in your tote, slide on some sunglasses, and start your summer read!

I've just received the audio files to review for The Last Summer. I'm basically thrilled. This will be my first audio version of one of my books! I'll announce the release date of that via my newsletter later this summer.

How's your summer so far, loveys? Watermelons and splash pads? Or fruity drinks and beaches? (Or Ibuprofin and Netflix?) There's something freeing about taking a breath and reminding ourselves that we can plan and schedule, but some things are out of our control, and the most we can do is keep going, loving our people and letting them love us, taking it one day at a time.