the final countdown.

Y’all. The day is almost here. You know…the day. The day that Ben comes home.

It’s been 14 months since I’ve seen him. 60 weeks. 420 days. Not that I’ve been keeping track or anything.

Even though I’ve been anxiously awaiting this day since Ben left, there’s somehow a little bit of a shock factor now that it’s finally here. For so long it was simply an unknown date in the future. And now it’s here. It feels surreal and wonderful and exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking and about 500 other emotions.

A lot has happened in the time we’ve spent apart. We’ve both grown and aged with the respective challenges and situations we have faced. We’ve come out on the other side of this thing stronger, but I know it is far from over. Now comes the reentry process. For Ben, reentry into home life and all that is the modern-day American civilization. For me, it’s reentry into living with another person and not being a complete hermit/crazy dog lady. For us, it’s reentry into life together. It will take patience and love and grace and kindness, as all relationships do.

In this moment, I’m so overcome with gratitude – for Ben’s safe return, for our soon-to-be reunion, for the people who have encouraged us along the way. We did it! Four more sleeps. Until then, I’ll be the girl trying to hold it together as my 500+ emotions battle it out.

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this little light of mine.

Five years ago, the world lost one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I didn’t think it was possible, but I miss Peter, my late father-in-law, now more than ever before. I’m proud to carry his name.

But the pain hasn’t lessened, the sorrow hasn’t faded. The void he has left seems to grow with each year that passes without him. Time certainly does not heal all wounds.

It still pains me that Ben and I didn’t get to see him before the surgery started. But I find comfort in the fact that all of the time we spent together was filled with joy and laughter, love and compassion. During our final visit, I sat with him in the Hoadley homestead hand in hand as we both sobbed and laughed and hugged while we watched the video of Ben and I getting married. Peter so warmly embraced me into his family. He was simply the best father-in-law a girl could ever hope for.

I’m grateful that this week includes the birthdays of three people that I dearly love, because it also marks the passing of two people I dearly loved: my grandmother and Peter. It’s a week I often wish away, hoping it passes quickly without causing any more wreckage. Alas, this year one more is added to losses – the kindhearted companion of my late grandfather.

A friend posted a photo containing the words below this week – they could not be more perfect or more true. These short, simple lines perfectly encapsulate what the holidays – and our lives in general – should be about: spending time with the people we love as we try to figure out this crazy adventure of life.

In between the parties and presents,
we find the most blessed gift – time.

Remember: there are no returns and no exchanges.

So spend it wisely throughout the year
on the people who matter most.

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the longest time.

My goal going into 2015 was to simply survive it. I knew the year would have its challenges. Looking back, it’s encouraging to see that I did more than survive – I thrived. I feel like a happier, healthier version of myself, and it has been encouraging to see that years of hard work have created wonderful opportunities for 2016. All in all, it’s been a good year.

Yes, all of this has been tempered by the fact that I’ve seen my beloved Benjamin a whopping 3.5 days in 2015. Yep. That’s less than 100 hours. It will still be awhile before he is home, but his days in a combat zone are almost over, so we’re making progress.

Tomorrow marks one year since I’ve seen Ben. It’s odd to think about all that has happened during our days apart. There have been hard days. There have been days I could barely keep it together. But those days have been vastly outnumbered by good days. So much of what has made this past year good has been the love and support of dear friends – and, at times, complete strangers. And even though he’s busy saving the world (or at least trying to keep it from exploding…), Ben has encouraged me from afar. In his words, I’ve kicked this deployment in the ass. And in my opinion, so has he. I guess it’s the Hoadley way – we don’t choose the easy road and we’re scrappy fighters ’til the end.

I’m entering 2016 with hope and gratitude. My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. But it is beautiful.

Happy New Year, my friends.

 

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give thanks with a grateful heart.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time of joy and cheer, of kindness and gratitude, of festive parties and sparkly dresses, of family traditions and time spent with loved ones. It’s a time that reminds us to pause and take a moment to reflect on the blessings in our lives and to look forward to a new year filled with hope and anticipation.

It’s a wonderful time, and it’s a bittersweet time. It’s the time of year I miss home and my family and holiday pastimes and living in a place with four seasons the most. There’s an added sting this year with Ben being gone, but there’s still so much in my life to be thankful for.

The tradition lives on. Without further adieu, here’s this year’s “what I’m thankful for” list…

Moments of pure joy. Earlier this month, I took a friend with me to see Stevie Wonder, courtesy of my favorite Lieutenant. We were six rows back from centerstage, directly in front of Stevie’s piano and keyboard. (Cue mini freak out.) It was one of the most magical nights of my life. Stevie played for more than 3 hours, surrounded by some of the most incredible musicians I’ve ever heard. He talked to the crowd about compassion and love and how desperately our world needs those things. It’s hard to describe what all that night meant to me – the thoughtful generosity of Ben, the time spent with one of my dearest friends, and a lifelong dream being realized. When Stevie came out on stage and started singing, I couldn’t help but be overcome with such incredible thankfulness for that unforgettable night. (Or as Stevie would say, there was some joy inside my tears. Yep. Totally cried when he started singing. Pure joy.)

The people who fill my life with love and laughter. I’m so fortunate to have supportive friends and family – near and far. I just wish I could hug you all.

I never thought I’d say it, but Oklahoma feels like home. It has introduced me to some of my dearest friends and I can’t imagine my days without them. It doesn’t matter that I’ve only been here for three years – and that two of them just entered my life during the past year – I’m truly grateful for their presence in my life. You’re my family not by blood, but by choice. All the love for you.

My home and my safety. I have a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to call my own. These provisions are a precious privilege.

The opportunities and encouragement this deployment has given to Ben. I’m so proud of the leader he is and all he has done in service of others. He has excelled in his role, and I’m thankful to see him recognize the value he offers to others and all that he is capable of accomplishing. And even from thousands of miles away, he can make a girl feel loved and cared for.

Time to shorten things up or else this is going to become a novel…

The companionship and comfort of my sweet boys, Charlie & Nimitz. Flannel shirts & down vests. A walk in the woods. A good book + red wine + candlelight. Kindred spirits.

Hand-written notes. Roadtrips. Dark chocolate-covered almonds. Courage. When hard work pays off.

Oklahoma sunsets. Phone calls from B. Shiny red rain boots. Grace. S’well water bottles. (They should give me some free bottles for all the pro bono marketing I’ve done for them…please?!)

Love and acceptance – of ourselves and of others. The crisp, clean lines of Sharpie pens. Vulnerability. Practicing hospitality. Joey Tribbiani.

Puppy kisses. Happy hour with my girls. Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow. Sherpa-lined blankets. Laughter.

Reunions with family and friends. Monogrammed everything. Kind and generous people. Affirmation. Mountains and big water…places that inspire awe and reflection.

The ability to learn. Dinner parties. Accomplishing goals. Cultivating community. Ben’s safety…and the thought of him being home again.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

 

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the truth will set you free.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

These words took on new meaning for me during the past month. In the midst of loss, I celebrated life.

The day after my uncle died, I was supposed to attend a birthday party for a dear friend of mine. I had gone back and forth throughout the day, not sure if I was up to being in a room full of people and not confident that I could hold myself together for the event. Puffy eyes and all, I pulled myself together and showed up. There were some tears, there were some hugs, but most of all, there was love. The room was filled with people who gathered to honor the beauty of life lived together. One of my favorite parts of the evening was when people shared stories of how they met the honored guest and what she meant to them. It was a timely reminder that what matters most is that we communicate our love to others in a way that can be understood and felt, not simply assuming that they know how we feel about them.

Later that week, my brother made the trek to Oklahoma to help me celebrate the big 3-0. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect – no one knows my relationship with and love for Unkie better than Dave. We reminisced and laughed and grieved and did things that we know Unkie would want us to do. It was a joy to spend time with him – and a comfort. I lucked out in the big brother department, for sure.

One of my favorite moments of Dave’s visit was when I introduced him to some of my dearest Oklahoma friends. It meant so much to me to have so many of the people I care about most together in the same room. I can’t imagine what this time would have been like without the friends who have mourned with me and celebrated with me, seemingly simultaneously. My heart is still broken, but it is full. So many things bring memories of Unkie to my mind each day. I try to turn them into grateful thoughts, but sometimes all I can think of is how much I wish I could hug him again. The ones we love never truly leave us.

I’m learning more and more each day the beauty of a life lived with others, for better or worse. For so long, I’ve struggled with the self-imposed pressure of appearing that I have it all together and that I can handle whatever comes my way. And that’s exhausting. Our vulnerability is one of the most precious things we can share with others, and it can be terrifying to offer it without knowing how it will be received or responded to. But the only way to cultivate genuine relationships is to be honest, even when it’s not pretty. Especially when it’s not pretty. We’re all just trying to make it through the day. Sometimes we just need a little grace, a kind word, and a reassuring hug to remind us that we’re not in this alone. Thank goodness for that.

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the lion sleeps tonight.

“Everyone should have an Unkie.” 

What started out as my brother’s attempt at saying ‘uncle’ when he was a baby became an identity. The one-word moniker belonged to my mom’s brother, Noel. He embodied unconditional love, he made everyone laugh with his exquisite storytelling skills and the quirky ‘tunes’ he would sing (most were Unkie originals…and he did a fantastic rendition of “In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle”), he selflessly and generously provided for and encouraged the ones he loved. And just like that, he’s gone.

When I saw a text from my mom asking for me to call her at 5:30 a.m., I knew something was up…and probably not something good. A few possibilities came to mind, but this was not one of them. I called her right away and was shocked when she told me the news. Completely blindsided. How could this be?

His passing leaves an insatiable void. There will never be another one quite like Unkie. Every memory I have of him is a happy one. Whenever I tell a story involving him, I often end it by saying that everyone should have an Unkie. I had mine for almost 30 years, and he was just the best uncle you could ever imagine. I’m not ready for him to be gone yet. It’s much too soon.

Unkie always focused on others, rarely speaking about himself unless asked directly. It wasn’t until my grandfather was ill that I had extensive one-on-one time with Unkie, and we developed a strong bond in those days. We’d go to Eat’n Park once or twice a week after visits with Pop-Pop at the hospital and have what he would call ‘the only pleasant hour’ of his day. Those months were hard, but we helped each other through them. It doesn’t surprise me that when he found out he had cancer, he didn’t tell anyone. He never wanted to be a burden. For so long he was the caretaker and the supporter – I wish he would have let us do that for him.

I was so grateful to have him nearby when I lived in Pittsburgh. Our relationship deepened in my years there, and thankfully that continued after I left. He helped me through some tough times and was one of very few people I knew I could turn to without fear of judgment or shame when I needed help. Whether it was car trouble or helping me move, picking me up at the airport or asking him to meet up for dinner just because, he was there in an instant, no questions asked. I just can’t imagine what Pittsburgh will be like without Unkie. He was such a big part of my life there.

We spent a lot of time together during my trip to Pittsburgh this summer. I was so grateful for those days – and now I am even more grateful. I would give anything to have one more day with him to laugh and listen to his stories over apple pie and coffee at E’n P. I take comfort in knowing that we both knew how much we cared for each other. I guess that’s the only thing that’s helped me through this day. I know that he knew I loved him, and I know he loved me. There’s never any real closure when this happens so suddenly, but it helps to know that our last time spent together was joyful.

This is yet another reminder, my friends, that nothing in life is guaranteed. Hug the ones you love extra tight and tell them that you love them. You just never know when it will be for the last time.

Pleasant dreams, dear Unkie. I miss you terribly. Forever yours, Girlchick.

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Santa and Unkie. What fun we had when he came to visit Oklahoma last winter.

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to everything, there is a season.

I know I’m not alone in loving this time of year. The return of football and pumpkin everything, fragrant warm beverages and cozy sweaters, riding boots and blue jeans – it’s the most delightful season. As the warmth of summer gives way to cooler days (In Oklahoma it’s 80 instead of 100…not quite as lovely as a Northeast fall, but I’ll take it!), I’m savoring what makes this season so lovely as we settle into my favorite quarter of the year.

We know that seasons are simply that – a season. A finite period of time. Seasons do not last forever; they flow seamlessly into the next, marking time or a mood or a sequence of events. Our lives are full of seasons – joy and growth, sadness and struggle, excitement and possibility, uncertainty and fear. With each passing season, we learn more about who we are and what we are capable of, who we can count on and what brings us fulfillment.

Some of the biggest changes in my life have occurred during the fall: moving from Pittsburgh to Pensacola, getting married, moving from Pensacola to Oklahoma, beginning this whole deployment thing, just to name a few. I take some comfort in the fact that as my life went through these drastic shifts, the universe was reminding me that change was all around me. I wasn’t alone. Change brings hope and opportunity, change can be good.

As I weathered some of these transitions, I didn’t always feel fully myself or fully connected. There were plenty of moments I longed for what used to be, what was familiar and comfortable. Over the years I’ve learned to make the most of where I am, to invest fully into the people and the community where I find myself, to accept the things I cannot change. I’ve learned that sometimes relationships only last for a season or two, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful or meaningful. I’ve learned that even though we can try to prepare ourselves for the unexpected, we can find ourselves in a season we didn’t see coming. Change isn’t always welcome, but that doesn’t keep it from happening.

A tree may lose its leaves in the fall, but you know what? It will grow new ones in the spring. Although they may appear to be the same as the ones from years prior, they are not. At its core, the tree is constant, but there is always change in its leaves. And the same holds true for us. There may be deeply rooted values and attributes that make up our core, but as the seasons change, we change. Our schedules, our priorities, our hopes, our challenges, our community, and our attitudes all impact the season we find ourselves in. Whether we find ourselves at peace with our circumstances or shaking our fists at the universe, one thing is for certain: this too shall pass.

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Three years ago today, Charlie and I wrapped up our roadtrip to Oklahoma. He was a little leery of it at first, but his eyes don’t look so spooked anymore.

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don’t you worry ’bout a thing.

Well, instead of three months to go, we’re back up to seven months. Ben’s deployment has been extended.

This was not welcome news, of course. Given the level of activity over there, and the politics over here, I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m a bunch of other emotions – frustrated, sad, disappointed, concerned – but surprise is not one of them. It’s not like I really have a say in the matter, so I’m trying not to waste my emotions and energy on the things I can’t control. But that doesn’t make it any less lousy.

The first eight months of this deployment have gone by fairly quickly, so I guess I should be encouraged. But I have a feeling this next stretch will be tough. There’s a birthday, our anniversary, the holidays, another birthday…days that are made beautiful by spending them with the people you love. I’m grateful to have dear family and friends to celebrate with, but I know those days will feel incomplete without Ben.

It’s been a long week. Between dealing with some stressful situations at work and feeling a bit overwhelmed with managing life details on my own, I was so glad to survive Friday and make my way home to recover and regroup. As I drove home Friday, some sappy song on the radio made me all teary as I pulled in the driveway. I would have given anything to have someone waiting for me at home – for a hug, an encouraging word, a glass of wine. I snapped out of my wallowing when I heard my phone ring as I neared the door. It’s as if the universe knew I needed a pick-me-up – it was Ben.

Charlie and Nimitz were a little frustrated that they didn’t have my undivided attention when I arrived home, but they proceeded with their usual greetings anyways: Charlie incessantly licking my hand/arm/knee/whatever he can reach, and Nimitz carrying his blanket in his mouth, tail wagging ridiculously fast, leaning all 105+ pounds of himself into my legs, body-checking Charlie if he was encroaching on his territory. (That’d be me…Nim is a momma’s boy through and through.) They are always an instant mood-booster – my little furry joy creators do their job well.

Ben could hear the canine shenanigans over the phone – ears flapping, Charlie huffing, Nim playing with his favorite new squeaker toy. Ben asked me if I had plans on November 3rd. And I got really confused. I went to the calendar and turned the pages – nothing written down. And it’s a Tuesday. What would I be doing on a Tuesday? He strung it out for a little while before he revealed to me that he had made some plans for me. As an anniversary/sorry-I-won’t-be-home-for-awhile present, Ben got me tickets to see someone I’ve wanted to see in concert since I was a kid wrapping Christmas presents to my mom’s Motown record albums: Stevie Wonder. He’s only getting a few hours of sleep a night and dealing with mass chaos, but he still found a way to bring a little joy to a girl in Oklahoma. It was a much-appreciated display of kindness, and the timing of the news could not have been more perfect.

As Stevie would say, “there’s a place in the sun where there’s hope for everyone.” Even on the darker days, there’s always something to be thankful for and be hopeful for. Always.

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My soul could use a little time in places like these.

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honey, I’m good.

6 1/2 months down, 4ish to go. We’re more than halfway through this deployment. It’s taking forever and going by quickly all at the same time.

It’s hard to explain what all this experience has been. The best I can do is to say it’s a milder version of the stages of grief. At first, it’s overwhelming, but with time, you learn to live with the new normal. It’s a constant dance between acceptance and frustration, balancing the chronic aching sadness with the pursuit of joy and adventure. I’ve been blessed with an independent spirit and I’m embracing the opportunities these months have presented me with, but at the end of the day, all I want to do is hug Benjamin. Heck, even just hearing his voice everyday would be a victory. Alas. That isn’t how this goes.

On the tough days, I remind myself that this is just a season, a finite time period that will come to an end. Yes, it’s been hard. Yes, I miss my husband. Yes, the quiet can be too much sometimes. But you know what? It’s worth it.

It’s worth it because I hear a renewed sense of purpose and contentment in my husband’s voice. It’s worth it because I have a restored sense of hope for our future and a greater sense of gratitude for the things that truly matter in life. Granted, I’d love it if these things didn’t require Ben getting deployed halfway around the world, but if that’s what it takes, it’s worth it.

When we’re faced with adversity, in the many shapes and forms that it comes, we are always in control of one thing: how we react to it. We can choose to wallow in our grief and frustration, dwelling on the difficult aspects and resenting the universe for spiting us. Or we can choose gratitude and joy and acceptance and muster up the courage to face the day, even if it takes everything in us to do so.

My joy will be complete when Ben is back home. Until that day, the hollowness in my heart will remain. But it’s all worth it. The best is yet to come.

Only 4ish months to go! I just have to get through hotter-than-Hades season in Oklahoma. The struggle is real, y’all.

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little things.

“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.” Frank Lloyd Wright

It’s taken me almost thirty years, but I’ve finally started putting conscious effort into doing the little things I’ve always known I should do. Floss my teeth. Wash my face before bed. Take that mascara off, too. Moisturize. Take a multivitamin. Learn how to say no when Netflix asks if I want to keep watching a show. Nothing difficult or revolutionary. Repetition of these small habits nurture discipline – and hopefully pretty skin when I’m 50.

Perhaps it has come with age or maybe it’s a side effect of deployment life, but I’m realizing more and more that a life of purpose is more satisfying to me than a life of plenty – and I don’t just mean in the material sense. During the past several months, I’ve been more cognizant of how I spend my time, my energy, and my emotions. In these quiet days, I’ve learned to refocus my priorities, to savor the simple moments, to listen and observe more, and to realize just how much unnecessary noise fills our days.

There seems to be a natural narrowing as I get older – cultivating the good habits and healthy relationships, shedding the excess and learning to say goodbye to things and people that aren’t helping me grow. There’s a freedom in knowing who I am and what I hope for – and putting less emphasis on achieving other people’s expectations of me. What I consume – words, food, conversations, music – has a great impact on who I am, and frankly, life’s too short to be overwhelmed by the cacophony that competes for our attention. I want to fill my days with as much good and beauty as I can. And I’ll take all the puppy snuggles I can get.

This season has also reminded me how blessed and fortunate I truly am. Many of life’s frustrations and difficulties seem so trivial when I think of Ben and what he is going through. It’s not so much that deployment is a trump card – it just reminds you of what really matters in life and what’s worth your energy and emotion.

At the end of the day, I just want to love others well and make my corner of the world a little better. And remember to wash my face before bed.

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