Facing the Unexpected and Holding on to What We Still Have

Are you feeling lucky, loveys? Tomorrow’s Saint Patrick’s Day and it also happens to be Miss Lily’s fourth birthday. We used to call her our little leprechaun but that bothered our son Lincoln a bit (he truly thought she was a leprechaun!). But every Saint Patrick’s Day, we get to celebrate Lillian Paisley Bruce. She’s a bundle of energy and joy for our whole family and extended family and friends.

I’ve been thinking about the party tomorrow and the gift of birthdays and family and love. In January we celebrated my dad’s birthday. In February we celebrated my niece Virginia and my mother’s birthdays. And this month we’ll celebrate Lily and my sister Sara. All these people that mean everything to me. Birthdays mean we’re still here. Another year to love each other.

You all know that last year was a tough one for my family. My dad was diagnosed with cancer, which was such a shock to all of us. And so the year involved lots of doctor appointments talking about cancer and treatment, surgery, radiation, emotional and physical changes, and stress for my family. 

He came through it—we all came through it together. Recovery has been slow, but that’s okay. What matters is having each other.

And with all that came the decision that Jeff and I made to move our little family to Virginia to be a closer source of support for my parents. It was hard to be so far while he was going through treatment—I felt the pull of wanting to be there to help him, and to help my mom as she was taking care of him.

And we wanted more time. Of course. More days together.

I’ll be honest that the move was a lot. Selling our home, packing up, moving so far from where my kids were all born and had been so happy, Jeff finding a new job, buying a new home over the span of basically one weekend, crying because I miss my sister Sara so much—so many things go into a big move like ours.

But we settled in. And seeing Grammy and Grandpa every few days has been wonderful for my kids, they love it. My parents needed us and we needed them.

I was already thinking that all I wanted for the next year was life and health for my family. Making great memories.

And then.

A few months after we moved, my mom had a routine mammogram and there was another shock. 

She had breast cancer.

Even as I reread those words, it’s hard to believe them.

This can’t be happening again, right?

It took me a couple of quiet, emotional days to process this. It felt like too much.

You guys know that I’ve written before how I can struggle with faith. It’s an ongoing choice I work at—choosing to believe and hold on to faith when doubts creep in. And in this moment, when perhaps I would have expected doubt to overwhelm me, Jeff said something that made all the difference. When I told him the news about my mom, he said, “It feels like this somehow restores faith, doesn’t it? Like God knew we needed to be here for this and started pulling us here months ago.”

And it stopped me in my tracks. He was right. We came here because my dad had been sick. Because we were reminded that we’re not promised more time, and for us, it was time to move and be closer to my parents. I could never have known that within just a few months my mom would also be diagnosed with cancer. It doesn’t feel real. They’ve always been so healthy—and suddenly, two cancer diagnoses within one year?

Still, God knew. And he brought us here.

And that’s enough.

Jeff’s right. That does restore faith.

Now this year looks similar in some ways to last year. Doctor appointments and talking about cancer. Chemo and radiation and months of treatment. It’s hard. 

But we’re here and I can breathe a little easier because of that. I can drive over to my parents’ house at any time. Take meals. Go to doctor appointments. We still celebrate all the birthdays. Lunch dates. 
All these moments are what we came for—time.

I’ll take it. It’s not what any of us expected for this year—but then, last year was unexpected as well. I think maybe this is just life and so many of us are going through it. And this year, for my family, we’re holding on to each other and doing what we have to.

Really, the love we have for each other is a gift in itself. I know this is true.

So tomorrow we’ll all get together and celebrate Lily. And Grammy and Grandpa will be there, and I don’t take it for granted for one second. There will be cake and presents—Lily’s been counting down for this day for probably six months.

My book After the Rain has been out now for a little more than a month. I can hardly believe it. There’s a line in the book where the main character Debra is talking to another girl named Karis, whose mother has breast cancer. I remember writing that conversation between the two girls. It wasn’t even a thought in my mind that when the book was finally released, I’d be having that same kind of conversation with people. My mother has breast cancer.

That line in the book has so much more depth for me now. And everything unsaid.

My mother is everything.

My mother is beautiful and funny.

She’s the rock of our family.

Her faith is real and strong.

We need her so much.

She can do this. We can do it with her. It’s a privilege to go through it with her.

My dad is still here too.

We can do this together and we will.

God knew what was coming.

I love this family. Some days will be harder than others.

And next year we’ll celebrate more birthdays.

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