To celebrate the big milestone of my 35th birthday, my husband gifted me something I’ve wanted for a while. A decade ago, I got my first tattoo, a star on my foot as a symbol honoring the friendship I have with Jacob extends through to the other side of heaven. A couple years later, I got two birds tattooed on my ribcage. The symbolism there is that at the end of the day it’s just me and God — He’s the larger bird in the front, I’m the smaller bird positioned close behind — a reminder my role is to spread my wings and follow Him.
February 25th, the day before I turned 35, the word “enough” was tattooed on my right forearm.
At first, “enough” was a simple declaration “I am enough“. A battle cry I’ve imprinted deep into my soul as the deep wound of “not being enough” has healed over time.
Over the months I sat with the idea, drew it on my skin, practiced looking at it every day, it moved into something more.
“Enough” became a three part declaration over my past, my present and my future.
“Enough” for the past is “I am enough”. A deep soul wound in me had grown over time — I didn’t believe I was enough. The wound was inflicted by well meaning and “doing their best” people in my life who’s actions communicated I had to strive for my worth, strive for their acceptance, strive for belonging. To protect myself from the pain the wound caused, I did strive, I strived like my life depended on it and when I strove and fell short, I threw my middle finger in the air and ran the opposite direction — of their expectations, their beliefs of who I was, even them as people. It took years to be able to identify so many of my behaviors and anxiety were rooted in the “I am not enough” wound. And it has taken years to heal that wound and replace it, not just the belief in my head but the deep belief in my heart — I AM ENOUGH.
“Enough” for the present is “this is enough”. Everything I have, right now, in this moment, it’s enough. My family is enough. My friends are enough. My finances are enough. My church is enough. My knowledge is enough. The breath I breathe is enough. The effort I’m putting in, it’s enough. God, He is enough. This declaration is one made out of contentment, not complacency.
“Enough” for the future is “enough is enough”. This is a reminder for me to stay angry at things worthy of my anger. Enough is enough — enough systemic injustice marginalizing people, enough white washing history, enough ignoring mental health issues, enough profit driven prison industrial complex and pharmaceutical industry, enough slandering people for their differences, enough cancel culture. The list could go on — stay aware, stay invested, stay angry — enough is enough.
Tabby and I started doing affirmations together. We started standing next to each other in the mirror and it’s morphed into something more, something deeper, as a recent example on family vacation validated how much these words matter.
While all the adults were playing a game (Tabby was “on my team”), Papa got up to get some Cheez-its. Tabby already had a snack so when she asked for some of what he had, I told her she could ask Papa. She buried her head in my chest “I’m scared” she said. I held her for a minute and went back to playing the game as she seemed to forget about the cheez-its and moved on.
A little while later, while in the kitchen fixing my own next round of snack, I feel a pressure at my hip and looked down to see two brown wide eyes staring back at me. “Mom, can we do our affirmations so I won’t be scared to ask Papa?”
I quickly knelt down, held my girl’s hands and declared the following as she repeated after me:
I am brave. I am strong. I am capable. I am encouraging. I am kind. I am patient. I am wise. I am creative. I am loved. I belong. I am enough.
With limitless resources at my fingertips, I get distracted and confused about what I should be teaching my kids. Things feel so complicated most days as I forget to brush their teeth or miss a teachable moment. I’m grateful for the reminder on my right arm. It silences the noise and centers me to my priorities. I want to show up as a mom who has an abundance mindset, one who believes there is enough — enough of herself, enough of them, enough of God — enough.
On Sunday, I celebrated my thirty-fifth birthday. For many, there’s nothing special about the big 3-5. For me, it’s everything.
Three months ago, in anticipation of this big birthday approaching, I held our 2022 printed Christmas card. I looked at it a lot. Over and over. It was as if I didn’t believe what I was seeing, didn’t feel like it was real. My therapist helped me process a bit of what I was feeling and it was summed up in one phrase “you built this”. When I looked at the pictures it wasn’t just the new house and healthy family members that stared back and me, robbing me of words, it was the nine+ years that Christmas card represented. There was a lot to process and reflect on, so I pulled out my journal from that time period and began reading.
After Jacob died, in the deepest part of my heart I just didn’t see myself living past 25 years old. I struggled to dream, struggled to set goals. I knew I always wanted to be a mom but never pictured a family or a future. Why think about that stuff when it could all disappear in an instant?
Turning 25 was surreal. I was still here, still alive and kicking. In that 25th year, I started dating a man who seemed like he could be forever and I started dreaming a little. We talked about the future, about our wedding, our plans and then, after our breakup… he was gone, too.
With little over two months left in my 25th year, I found myself grief stricken and confused, staring back at seven years of highs and lows with little thoughts on what was coming next. One phone call with my mother, just screaming because it hurt so bad, once I calmed down she said, “I don’t think you’re just grieving (the ex).”
After Jacob died, my heart strapped on running shoes and I became a professional “runner”. Running from the pain, running from having to process it, feel it, wade through it. Running because I didn’t know how to slow down, how to feel grief, how to face the pain. Because even the thought of doing so felt like it would take me under.
At Christmas time as a 25 year old, I sat with my dad in a Waffle House booth, some treasured time with my beloved father who said, “I hate to see you cry”.
“Dad, I know how to make the tears stop. (I pointed out the window to the booze filled bars).
I know how to stop crying but I don’t want to.
I want to FEEL THIS and not numb it.
I don’t want to wake up at 35, still battling the same grief filled demons I’m battling at 25.
I HAVE to do it different this time.”
This was a process, it wasn’t an overnight thing. Hell, it’s been a nine year process, but the beginning looked like this.
First step was to take off the running shoes. For me the running shoes were in the form of drinking booze (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot), nicotine and getting attention from the male species. Once those coping mechanisms were removed, the pain got worse. Way worse. Like sometimes I couldn’t breathe worse.
One story from that season I picture in my mind as clear as watching a movie. It’s my bathroom in Auburn, AL, the lights are on, the song “I AM” is playing, water is running in the bathtub, I’d just removed my clothes to climb into the warm water and a pain wave hit. It literally knocked me off my feet onto the cold laminate floor. Seeing my closet mere feet away, I army crawled to lay on the carpeted floor and stayed in a fetal position. I couldn’t catch my breath, I couldn’t sit up, let alone get back to my feet. So I laid, exposed literally and figuratively. I told myself to not run from the pain and to feel it. Everything in my body and mind screamed “NO, don’t feel this, it will kill you.” To this day I can’t remember if the song started playing or if it was just in my head but I started singing…
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders Let me walk upon the waters Wherever You would call me Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander And my faith will be made stronger In the presence of my Savior” Oceans by Hillsong
I was in deep water, my trust had no borders, but I knew the deep water was better than standing on the shore. The shore, where I was “protected, “safe” from the pain, “safe” from the feelings. I had gotten to a point where “safe” was only an illusion. It wasn’t real. I wasn’t safe on the shore, I was safer in the deep water. I didn’t know much else, but I trusted that.
So I let myself float out to where my feet couldn’t touch. I let myself feel it. I stared fear in the face and gave myself permission to be consumed by the pain. But it didn’t consume me. And it didn’t kill me. I got to my feet and realized how quickly the pain wave actually passed. It only lasted a few minutes. The water in the bathtub hadn’t overflowed or even filled to the top. What had I been running from?
As I continued to check-in, instead of run, I saw my heart was totally broken. Broken but hanging on, with duct tape and Elmer’s glue. My heart was trying to hold itself together as it was called upon to continue to function, continue to beat and live, even though it was hurting. Hurting and so, so tired from all the running. I’d asked my heart to run hard for seven years and there were consequences.
“I was too scared to stop running” is only part of the story, only a teeny tiny part. The bigger story, the more profound truth was, I had no tools to stop running. No one in my life had modeled how to feel pain, how to sit in it, how to actually heal my heart. I didn’t know how to stop running even if I wanted to.
If step one was to stop running, step two was feeling, and step three was to start learning.
“Everything is a choice…it is perhaps frightening…but it is also LIBERATING, because we can now begin to choose what we will find when we look at our life in the tomorrows that lie unlived before us.” – Matthew Kelly
I learned that in order to not be 35 dealing with the same crap at 25, I’d have to do things I hadn’t done, to make different choices.
This looked like a lot of time in “my chair”. A LOT of time. Like hours a day, sometimes. I journaled — a lot. I read copious amounts of books, including the Bible. I asked questions. I “screamed” words onto a page, I poured it all out. I learned to meditate (my version is just to physically sit still, that’s it — and the first time I did it, I set a timer on my phone for 2 minutes and failed. I fidgeted. I couldn’t let my physical body just be).
I started caring for myself physically, picking things I enjoyed at the gym, eating foods that fueled my body to do all those things. I found a therapist and showed up to appointments weekly.
I left a toxic work environment. I admitted to my parents in order to stay away from that toxic work environment I needed their financial help.
I had to make new friends. I had to get bold and brave in order to make new friends. I had to be vulnerable and tell those friends I needed them. I had to sit on their couch and cry on a Friday night because “I didn’t know how to have fun without booze”.
The choices were small and huge and everything in between.
Now, here I sit, only days before my 35th birthday with profound gratitude for my 25 year-old-self. The younger version of me who didn’t know what the future looked like but was committed to never giving up on herself and the tomorrows unlived before her.
She was brave. She was bold. She was determined to march to the beat of her own drum, the drum deep inside her soul, placed there by the One who called her to a life only she could live.
Alright, it’s weird to talk about myself in third person but doing emotional health work… it’s weird sometimes.
Just this week, I sat in a therapy session talking about something new that was scaring me. I wasn’t using booze to run from the pain this time, I was blaming other people I love. After years of checking in on my heart, I know how to process pain a bit more but it still doesn’t feel good when I start to walk off the “shore”. I wasn’t laying on a bathroom naked but I started to feel those familiar feelings — this hurts, ouch, RUN. No, stay, feel. What do you feel? Through tears I started walking into the deep waters, where I’ve now been hundreds of times, the feeling of my feet leaving the sand makes my heart beat faster and my breath shorten but then I heard my therapists’ words, words I’ve said to people, including myself, hundreds of times since — “yes, it’s scary, but we do it anyway.”
In four days, I’ll turn 35. I look at this tattered, often viewed, Christmas card, now, and take a deep breath. This life is real. All the highs and lows. The kids running around the yard with Mimi, the amazing teammate I have who adores me, the woman I’m so damn proud to be…and the four hundred baskets of laundry that need folding. It’s my life. It’s real, and I built it.
PS I did build it…but not alone. I’ve never written a blog post about my mom as the focus like I’ve down for so many others (Pops, Alana, my dad, my brother, Uncle Larry, Lukas, etc.) because, well, the words haven’t ever felt like they could be enough. She’s the unsung hero of my story. Her unconditional, ride or die, lasting love, is the constant throughout these past nine years. Mom, Lukas and so many others have shown up as the hands and feet of Jesus to help me build this life. I’m grateful for them with words that would never do that gratitude, justice. AND I still declare — I built this — because I have to. For myself and for others who think they are stuck in a life they aren’t proud of or wish was different. Your life might look insanely different from mine and yet, I still believe in the deepest part of my core that if I can build a life I only dreamed of living — the life you dream is something you can build, too!
In November, we experienced an extended family crisis. It rocked me. It undid me. For 4 days we thought our lives would radically change and my head and heart oriented to that change. New information brought new perspective and the hurricane sized winds died down. It’s a story not mine to tell. A story owned by someone we love. We remain present and available with the unknown of if/how we will ever be called on to support in the future. Staying present and available means my heart remains open and open doesn’t feel safe.
I’ve asked myself a hundred times why I haven’t been able to blog these past three months. A follower of my blog reached out to check on us — are you okay? A fellow writer herself, she knows if pen isn’t hitting paper usually there’s something else going on because as a writer, getting the words out is almost as necessary as breathing.
Am I okay?
Yes, because this holiday season was the most joy-filled one I can remember. Between a foursome trip to Puerto Rico, Lukas’ 40th birthday celebration, Tabby’s 4th birthday princess tea party, our family accomplishing 75Hard, hosting both sides of our family at our new home for Christmas, celebrating my brother and sister-in-law’s pregnancy, church events with our chosen family — there were so many joy-filled moments.
“…people find experiences of joy difficult to articulate…the very nature of joy pushes the boundaries of our ability to communicate about lived experience via spoken language.” (Brené Brown in Atlas of the Heart)
Words fall short describing these experiences. Here’s a bunch of pictures to capture them, instead.
So yes, I’m okay. And yet, not fully. God opened my heart in November during the crisis, and everything in me wants to close it back. Close myself off from the situation, close myself off from being a safe place if and when called to do so. It would be easier. It would be safer. My heart would hurt less. And I don’t like to feel hurt, I like to feel safe. I like things I can control and knowns I can expect. This choice to stay open, to stay available, it’s pretty scary.
Back in November, I made myself a cup of tea. Bedtime tea is part of my nightly ritual so this wasn’t out of the ordinary. The mug I used wasn’t, either. “Love grows here”. I’d seen those words on the Target shelf and knew I had to have them, later drinking mugs full of hot beverages as I glanced at the thirteen letters, time and time again.
But this time, day three of my heart being opened by the crisis, I read them again…
Love GROWS here.
There’s more of it.
And yet, the words sat with me differently. I’d opened my heart and God did something. He literally grew it. He made it larger, my heart is bigger, there’s space for more.
There’s no bow on the November situation. No resolve. No redemption. No “end of the movie” moment. It’s undone, unknown, and unfinished. And because of that, my heart remains open.
As I scroll up and look at the pictures of all my joy-filled moments, I wonder — is it possible I experienced those moments, in the full way I did, because God called me to keep my, now bigger, heart open?
Keeping my heart open hurts sometimes. There are moments I’d rather just close off, hide or run. That feels safer.
And then I ask myself, do I want a safe life?
As I look at the pictures above, I imagine them popping like balloons, one after another, disappearing from my memory. I start to feel pain, again, as I think of all of those moments not being part of my reality, all of those people I’ve chosen to love with my big, open heart, not being there, instead.
Maybe November is my story to tell after all. The story of a woman called by God to keep opening her heart. A woman who feels the hurt of doing so, who suffers under the stretching and expanding, who sometimes feels grief and sadness and fear and doubt. A woman who’s decided to keep her heart open, to fight back against the closing and running and hiding. A woman who picks big and open over known and safe. A woman, standing before you with a bigger, opened heart.
Three hours before bath time and I already knew we weren’t doing to make it. It was 3:05pm and the kids and I were heading thirty five minutes away to meet Lukas to buy a Christmas tree. An experience every year I attempt to make magical. Wear Christmas garb, shop for the tree, eat a nice dinner, come home with plenty of time to make bedtime. Annoyed I’d left the house later than I wanted, annoyed I hadn’t built more margin into this magical moment, annoyed we’d be in a rush, I tried to communicate to everyone involved — Tabby, Lukas — that my annoyance wasn’t towards them but at the situation.
Lukas was a safe place for me to process these feelings. He didn’t try to fix it, he just listened as I vented and declared, “ugh, I just don’t even want to go!” I wanted to go, I REALLY to go, to experience the event, to make the memories, but I didn’t want to go with this bad attitude. I didn’t want to be around myself, why would my family want to do the same? After pouring all those feelings out, Lukas paused to let those feelings sit and asked “is there another way to reframe this?”
Immediately the phrase “scarcity mindset” came to my mind — I was focusing on all that I didn’t have (time) instead of all that I did (a beloved family to make memories with). Lukas encouraged me we could salvage the evening, encouraged me he’d accept me just as I was, encouraged me we might be a few minutes late to bath time but that will be okay, he encouraged me we could do this and we both hung up.
In the stillness of James starring out the window, Tabby napping in her car seat and Lukas loving me just as I was in that moment, God laid a phrase on my heart — this is enough.
This time, this three hours between the moment in the car and the moment bath times need to start — it’s enough. It’s enough to achieve all He needs me to achieve. It’s enough to buy a Christmas tree. It’s enough to eat dinner (albeit a fast one). It’s enough to share moments of joy and to make memories with one another. This time we had — this is enough.
He presented it in a loving way (primarily through the love my husband offered in our conversation), one where my heart opened to receive what He had to say, I am loved, I am safe, and it was up to me. It was up to me to choose whether I would spend the next three hours focused on the scarcity of what I didn’t have, or up to me to trust in the abundance He offered.
Through the rest of the thirty five minute drive my heart lightened, God allowed me to rest in the phrase “this is enough” and let go of my need to manage the three hours and instead just live them.
We pulled up to the plant nursery and Lukas was waiting but finishing up a call. The creep of “we don’t have time for this!” tried to infiltrate my mind, the annoyance at how all consuming Lukas’ job can be started to make it’s way to my brain and I shut it all down.
THIS IS ENOUGH.
It gave me grace for him in that moment. The grace wiped the scowl off my face and replaced it with a genuine smile.
This is enough.
The tree picking adventure included James falling head first into concrete and busting his face, him following his sister and her rain boots into giant puddles that covered his tennis shoes, socks and pants, in water… in forty degree weather, and an important extended family phone call I couldn’t miss. All things I couldn’t have planned would happen and yet, there was enough time for it all.
Oh, and since I realized AFTER James pooped I hadn’t restocked the diaper bag, I made an additional Target run for diapers and footed pajamas to solve the “my son is covered in ice cold water” dilemma. My unplanned Target trip left Lukas in charge of finding a dinner place. We both have strict diet needs so that’s not the easiest job but he managed to find a place we could make work in our tight timeframe.
I pulled up to Waffle House a few minutes behind the rest of my crew, grabbed poopy pants James and walked back towards the door only to run into some very special women in our lives.
The family phone call I’d taken included them in the discussion so getting the chance to hug their necks and discuss the situation with them was divine. A gift from a God who can do more in three hours than I could ever imagine.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory…” Ephesians 3:20-21
The three hours was memorable. It was absolutely enough. James got to bed at a decent time, Tabby got to stay up late (a HUGE honor for a three year old) to prep the tree before bringing it inside.
And now, this morning, while my heart is full with the memories we made last night, I carry the Lord’s message into today. This moment, this time I have right now, this is enough.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Isn’t personal growth always?
Women use the phrase “work widow” to describe a state of feeling widowed to a husband’s workload. Halfway into the 75Hard program I began identifying myself as a “75Hard widow”. This program isn’t for the faint of heart — for the person earning their stripes and the people supporting.
Since September 10th, Lukas has completed 132 workouts, drank 66 gallons of water, eaten nothing but produce and protein and read 660+ nonfiction pages. He’s completed these tasks while traveling in Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Arkansas and all over Texas. He’s done workouts in the rain and cold, sometimes at 11pm after a late night flight, other times heading to a local gym to log 45 minutes before washing off the sweat and rushing back to a meeting.
I’ve followed my own program as he’s followed his. Mine, with built in flexibility to accommodate the rigidity of his requirements. We thought about the program a lot before starting. We planned, we prepped, we structured our lives to make it happen and, yet, I was still blindsided by the burden we would bear.
With a traveling husband and dad, evening times, when Lukas is home, are always sacred. 5:00-6:45pm in our house is dinner, connection, bath and bedtime as a family of four. Once the kids are down and we high five each other on surviving another day of chaos, we spend the rest of the evening based on our needs — work? Chores? Cuddling on the couch? Playing cards on the porch? Connection? Getting ahead? — we always check-in to see what we as individuals and as a couple need and have two hours before our own bedtime to make it happen.
What I’ve learned since September 10th is how cherished those hours are. In the beginning of the program, Lukas was able to get in his second work out before coming home. He’d throw on a weight vest and walk the trail at work while on the phone with a colleague or do a strength workout in the office gym during lunch. As the momentum of the start of the program died down and the stress of life pushed in, being able to get that hour slot into his workday became harder and harder.
So the days when he worked out in our sacred evening two hour slot, increased. More days than not, I found myself watching my show on the couch by myself and cleaning up after dinner, solo (or choosing to push the task to the next day). “I miss my husband” is what I’ve said multiple times when people ask how things are going. Before we started the program, Lukas gave me permission to pull the plug, if needed. The stipulations were that I talked to our therapist about it, and she and I could make the decision that this just wasn’t working.
Around the middle of the program I was moments away from doing just that. My therapist and I talked about it and she even challenged me to consider throwing open the escape hatch and getting us out of the intensity.
But something kept me from making that final decision.
In the midst of the challenge, in the midst of the hard, I was also witnessing an interweaving of really good things in my husband. Pulling the plug on the challenge meant letting go of the hard, and also letting go of the good. And the good wasn’t worth losing for things to get easier.
Our family values are: steadfast, authentic, intentional and daring.
I watched Lukas remain steadfast on days that seemed impossible to stay the course. Authentic, as the level of pressure he was experiencing stripped away any energy to be anything but his real self. Intentional, as he spent any free moments with our family in a very present way. And daring, as he took on a challenge so many people have started and failed.
In nine days, Lukas will complete the 75 Hard challenge. Lord help me if something gets in the way from his victory because he is so close we can taste it.
In ten days, Lukas turns forty. A milestone in his life that will be marked with this epic achievement. Like me (and probably most of you), he looks back on years previous with joy and sorrow together. He carries memories of highs and lows, times in his life he’s been proud of himself and times in his life he’d rather erase from everyone’s memory, including his own.
Years and years ago, a friend told Lukas to look in a mirror and that he needed to do everything he could to be proud of the man staring back at him.
My prayer is that, come November 24th, Lukas looks in the mirror and is full of so much pride. Because when I look at him, that’s exactly what I feel.
Proud of my husband for doing something so few people have successfully accomplished, proud of him for staying the course when things got hard, proud of him for not giving up on himself, our marriage, and the investment in our children. Proud of him for relentlessly pursuing growth in himself, for fighting hard to tap into what he’s really thinking and feeling, the “core” of himself, if you will.
The physical results are very tangible, easy to spot in the photos you’ll see below, but the mental toughness, the emotional health, the intangible growth that’s occurred in his head and heart, that’s the stuff I’m most proud of. And not for the 75Hard challenge alone. As I look back on the six+ years I’ve known (and loved) Lukas Fortunato, I’ve witnessed him experience devastating loss and never lose hope. I’ve watched him suffer greatly, and still get out of bed to fight another day. I’ve seen him at his best, on stage, crushing it, and at his worst, moments he’s shared with me alone.
My hope is that he looks in the mirror and sees what I see — a man who’s weathered storms, and sailed his ship beautifully (not perfectly, but beautifully!) — these past 40 years.
If I knew what I knew now, I might not have agreed to 75Hard, but I’m glad I didn’t know. I’m glad the Lord led our family to this challenge, a chosen one, designed to toughen us all up, and push us to new limits
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind.” – Henry Ford
I see us taking off, continuing to reach higher heights of health, influence, impact. Using our gifts and to bring glory to the One who wrote the words of our story so long ago.
I am grateful for Lukas leading us to complete this challenge together. Yes, together, because he’ll be the first to tell you there’s no way he would have succeeded without my support. We will continue to support each other’s wild and crazy ideas, like when I told him I wanted to try taking our kids out of the country to celebrate his birthday.
Last week’s trip to Puerto Rico wasn’t without its challenges, but the richness of the moments were worth every bit of the hardship. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s no good and rich and strength and endurance and joy without the hard. And because of those things, whether forced upon us or chosen, I’ll keep giving the Lord my gratitude for the challenges we face.
I’ll never forgot the first few trips to the grocery store. I was on guard, terrified I was going to offend someone. Make eye contact, smile, nod, be kind, be respectful, don’t stare.
That feels like a long time ago, almost six years, actually.
And we haven’t had an East Point address for going on six months, since our move to the Hapeville neighborhood 10 minutes away, but I’m reminded of one of our last walks around our East Point home.
James and I (me a little more than him), pondered all the years we’d lived in the community. We were nearing the closing date finish line to hand the keys over to the new owner and the reality that it wasn’t going to be home for much longer was setting in.
As I walked out of my driveway and headed towards the loop I made a million times since moving to this particular home in August 2019, my mind settled on a phrase “my whiteness is showing”.
When I first moved in, I’d make this loop and my feelings/actions were similar to the grocery store visits years prior.
Wave. Smile. Don’t be rude. Don’t be offensive. Be respectful. Be friendly.
I’d get slightly offended if someone didn’t wave or smile back but I made it my mission to win them over the next time.
This worked for most people. The last week we lived there, I made the rounds to say bye to all the acquaintances I’d made along my many walks. Swapping phone numbers and addresses to add to our Christmas list so they can watch the babies grow up. My heart is sad I probably won’t see most of these people again but I’m leaving with a heart that’s full of the new relationships I made while living on Farley Street.
Patting myself on the back, I’m proud of the relational work I did here. I loved my physical neighbors, and I showed up as Virginia in their lives, the best I knew how.
I’m proud and I feel embarrassed.
Embarrassed because when I first moved into this community, my mission was as pure hearted as any, and yet, now, five years later, I see I had (and HAVE!!) so much to learn.
When I walked around this community, as a minority among Black people, my mission was to be kind and above all, to not be offensive.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned though…I am white…and my whiteness is offensive.
A definition of offensive is — causing someone to feel deeply hurt, upset, or angry.
It doesn’t matter what I say or how I act or how big my smile is. I have white skin. And my white skin represents all the other white skinned people who have deeply hurt, made upset or angered Black skinned people for many, many, years (and continue to do so), in this country.
This doesn’t mean that everyone who sees me walking up and down the street sees me as offensive. A 5 foot, 1 inch woman pushing a baby stroller seems pretty innocent.
As I met more people on my walk route over the years, I realized a lot of them were looking out for us more than they were offended by me. They’d come out of their houses to shoo away dogs, tell me to put a hat on my kid when it was cold, or let me know someone up to no good was wandering the neighborhood.
But what if my whiteness triggered feelings of being offended? Is that okay? Can I make space for their anger, hurt, fear? Can I not get offended by being seen as offensive?
When we were picking names for our kids we made sure we didn’t choose names that reminded us of other people. You know, like ex girlfriends or boyfriends. Let’s pretend I had an ex-boyfriend named Andrew (name made up — I’m not actually going to write about a real ex-boyfriend here, guys). He broke my heart, caused me a lot of pain, and although I’d healed from it, I still don’t want that constant reminder. Yeas later, we have another Andrew in our lives (this time I’m being real, he’s AMAZING), one of our kids babysitters who they absolutely adore.
I don’t think my ex and our babysitter are the same people but one Andrew caused me pain and one didn’t. No matter how much we love the second, because of the pain of the first, I wouldn’t want my son named Andrew. The name Andrew is attached to some stuff that offends (remember that definition — deeply hurt, upset, or angry) me.
Looking at the history of America, it doesn’t take long to see white people hurting, upsetting and making angry, Black people. Flesh and blood friends I have, right now, can tell stories of their grandparents who have stories of segregation, abuse, discrimination, persecution. Friends I have right now, have told me stories from their college years, being on the front lives of civil rights focused work. A friend, within the past twelve months, shared the paralyzing fear she experienced when her boyfriend was being pulled over, for a seemingly routine and simple traffic violation.
People that look like me, that have the skin I have, have offended people that look like my many East Point neighbors.
Just like I wouldn’t want my son’s name to be Andrew (made up boyfriend name) as a constant reminder of the pain and hurt I’d been caused by an Andrew, I get that if someone (or someone’s family) has been hurt by a white person, my very presence could be a reminder of that pain, triggering anger or other upset feelings.
During that walk I realized there was little, well, nothing, I could do about my whiteness showing. I wasn’t going to walk up to every neighbor and apologize for being white. I wasn’t going to be able to heal the many hurts that had been caused. There wasn’t much action to take (which is SO annoying for someone who likes to fix things!) but I realized there was one thing I could do.
I could make space for the offended feelings. I could choose not to get offended, myself, if someone didn’t wave, or was uninterested in getting to know me. It wasn’t personal. They weren’t against me, Virginia Fortunato. They weren’t offended by me as a person, but my whiteness could be offensive to them, for valid reasons, and is that okay? It was up to me to accept the idea that just by standing there, walking around the neighborhood, I was offensive, because my whiteness was showing.
James is sleeping, Lukas is at work, Tabby is across the street at the babysitters house, I’m all alone in my bedroom, pen in hand, wrestling with more faith/religion stuff.
I held and went thorough my Bible in the first time since…well, I have no memory of the last time I did so. Up in my bedroom is where I typically sneak away for a moment to myself, but my Bible has been downstairs in my book bag from the last time I went to a coffee shop to do some writing. I took it, but didn’t open it, then, and it stayed down there. Anytime I’m upstairs, the Bible has felt far away. We have two sets of stairs in our three story home and we joked just yesterday about how TERRIBLE it is to be down in the garage, only to remember there’s something we need in the master bedroom, three stories, and two flights of stairs away.
My Bible wasn’t on the 1st floor, only one set of stairs away, and yet going to get it, still felt hard. I could run into a child who needed something, or a husband who needed something, or a post-it note from my to do list that needed something. There were logical reasons why the Bible felt far away and the task to retrieve it felt hard.
This morning, as I sat in my chair with journal open, I felt drawn to the book downstairs. The house was “empty” (a sleeping baby makes the house as good as empty!). There would be no interruptions on the trip down and I could use the down and back stair climbing exercise anyway. Today, there were no excuses. I jogged to the kitchen and back up in less than 45 seconds.
I opened the book, read some stuff, wrote some stuff, flipped some pages, and then decided I’d rather type what I was uncovering, instead.
When my Bible was downstairs if felt far away and it felt hard. That book is now sitting right next to me, I can touch it, I can hold it and open and — it still feels far away and it still feels hard.
There have been seasons of life, this little book was a source of certainty. When I opened it, the exact words jumped out of the page for my exact situation. I looked to it for guidance. Everything I found in there fit, it made sense, it brought clarity.
I encounter people who still experience this.
Just yesterday, two beautiful older women who have lived in my community 30+ years, came to sit on the porch with me and Tabs. We watched them as they came to our street, parked, and instantly I knew they were on a mission. Dressed in their finest, one holding a cane, I watched them get their bearings on the street, talk to others dressed like them finding places to park, and then wave to us as they walked by.
“Do you know who we are?”
It was a funny question shouted across the skinny two lane neighborhood road.
“No, m’am, I don’t know who you are.”
I hollered back, coffee cup in hand.
“Someone will be over to talk to you soon.”
Tabby and I watched (and discussed since her three year old mind had A LOT of “why” questions) them knock on our neighbors door. We knew our neighbors were there but they decided to not answer. My guess is these beautiful women get that a lot. A pamphlet was left and they made their way down the driveway back to the street. Looking left and right, and then straight ahead at me, the younger of the two, made the decision that we were next.
“Well, I guess we’ll come over to you!”
The two women did in fact have a mission. I’m still not quite sure what it was but man, they were clear on their purpose. The younger one especially, she had a plan, she had her program and her outline and her prepared message. She used her Bible at different points and shared words I was all too familiar with.
She was so certain. So convinced. So determined she knew the answers.
Answers about God, about eternity, about how we are supposed to be, here, before eternity begins.
I felt inferior, I felt defensive, I felt backed into a corner. Not because of anything she said or didn’t say but because she was was so certain and I am so not.
I don’t know the point of all this. I don’t know what God is doing. I think I do sometimes, I get glimpses, but it’s not always. Nothing is always.
I do feel God’s peace, and then I don’t. I do feel confident God is here, and then I don’t. I do trust He’s in control, and then I don’t. I do believe He’s making all things new, and then I don’t. I do believe He is for me, and then I don’t. I do feel strong to suffer, and then I don’t. I do feel Holy Spirit in me, and then I don’t.
My Bible feels far away and hard right now and I think that’s okay. I am okay. I haven’t lost myself or my card carrying Christian membership. I haven’t lost my influence or my impact or my connection to God, His people and His mission. I’ll keep asking Him if there’s something I need to change, I’ll keep asking Him for discipline and diligence and guidance. Sometimes that ask looks like a song lyric or a conversation with a friend or a journal entry or a blog post or a chapter in a book. Sometimes it’s scripture, sometimes it’s not.
In this moment, I am certain of two things — God exists and God is good. That’s about it. The rest? I’m learning how to sit in the discomfort of the uncertain. Letting go of certainty is scary, but it hasn’t killed me, it hasn’t crushed me, hell, there’s even JOY here. There’s joy and there’s life even when certainty feels far away and faith stuff feels hard.
The minivan was running, I sat in the driveway, forced to leave but with nowhere to go. This was my time, my “sanity time”, but I felt anything but sane. Couldn’t I just go back inside? Busy myself with the barrage of required constant care for the two children who carry my genes. Getting out of the house had been hard enough. There were tears, from little people, and from my own eyes, as I unwound myself from the clutches of their needs, as I followed through on the commitment to meet my own. And yet leaving the driveway felt harder.
Put on your own oxygen mask first, “they” tell you. You can’t care for someone else unless you care for yourself first, “they” declare. But HOW do I do that? How do I make time for me? And when I miraculously have the time, what the heck do I do? Sit in the driveway paralyzed didn’t make the list of how to spend these sacred minutes but my brain wasn’t working and so I sat, frozen, grateful for the time and terrified of wasting the minutes I knew I needed. Minutes I’d declared “sanity time”.
Sometime after my second kid was born and my husband started traveling for work, I decided I needed some scheduled alone time. Time where I could take off all the hats — wife, mom, homemaker — and just be me, Virginia, the woman, the human. When Tabby was a baby, mornings were my time. We were blessed with a rockstar sleeper and homegirl would snooze until 7:30/8 every day. That was a reasonable timeframe. I’d get up an hour or so beforehand, catch my breath and then we’d dive into the day.
When James came along, so did the early mornings. 6 am, 5am, sometimes even 4am, the kid would wake up ready to party. With his early morning needs came my loss of sanity time, and the reality I had to find it somewhere else. Because if the time to get sane is removed, the sanity is removed with it.
When my “sanity” is gone, I’m grouchy, short tempered, annoyed at everything my core family is doing, I cry a lot more, I yell a lot more, my energy is zapped, little things feel impossible, all I want to do is sleep or watch tv. My grace is few, my patience is thin, my kindness wanes.
My knowledge of scripture and Christian culture reminds me “His grace is sufficient for you!” All the scriptures about how much God is enough for me come to mind and I get in a worse mood. Why am I not relying on Him enough? I haven’t read my Bible in 3 days, is He punishing me? I’m failing as a Christian…and a mom…and a wife…and a writer…and a homemaker…and a human.
Lukas would take the kids some mornings but then he started traveling with his new job and that meant the consistency of having him around to help wasn’t reality. I had to find it somewhere else.
Sunday afternoons were dubbed “sanity time”. Two hours, from 2pm-4pm, I would do something, go somewhere, anywhere, where I could just be me.
It was always this weird feeling — I’m free!! There’s so much I want to do!! But I’m so damn tired!! — what do I do? Week after week I’d consider going home early because home, being with the kids, felt easier, than navigating this world on my own. As a human, as a woman, not a mom or wife.
I still have days like that now, when I get time to myself I feel disoriented, unfocused and anything but clear headed, like I’m “out” of the kid fog but not really, as my mind is still consumed with their needs and turning that off isn’t just a flip the switch situation. Some days I walk away from the time alone feeling fully recharged and strong, other days, I finish alone time only desperate for more.
I try to remind myself that this isn’t the only time I will have, and fight to let go of the pressure instigated with the belief “I have to return after this time fully charged up and whole” because that’s just not reality.
When those empty feelings appear after alone time, I used to beat myself up for that “why didn’t I fill my tank more!!!” but what I’ve now learned is that my tank was WAYYYY empty at the start. Actually, sometimes I leave those sanity times less sane and even more empty because it was finally a pause from pouring myself out to others and I realize — WOW, I’m pretty empty, myself.
Instead of beating myself up for not getting full in that sacred two hours, I use that emptiness as a red flag to elicit future action. I recognize I need more self-care to fill me up. That might be time for myself, time with my husband, time with a friend — time to “let go” of things weighing me down (usually in the form of journaling and prayer) — more time charging and filling. It’s not an instantaneous process. It won’t happen immediately but I will get there. I WILL feel like myself, I will be productive and confident and on top of the world, again. That will happen. But I can’t force it to happen. All I can do is to keep investing in myself, keep filling my tank one drop at a time.
I’m taking my own advice this week as I’m at my parents house. Usually I hit the ground running with all the stuff I want to get done because my parents are here to help with the kids. This time I did it differently. I planned nothing, I didn’t bring chores or a to do list and instead have just let myself be.
I’ve watched a lot of tv, taken a lot of walks, and just spent time with mom and dad. I got a small bit of writing in today but that was it. It’s been so much better. I’ve mentally and physically rested for 24 hours and tomorrow I actually feel like I might get something accomplished. I wish I could be more productive and fill more in the time but I just can’t, I’m a human, not a robot, so I will focus on letting it be what it is and staying as present as possible with it all.
My guess is that you’re doing the same. It may be messy, it may be awesome, it may be all of it at the same time. You may feel so depleted you feel like you’ll never be filled up again or you might feel like you’re on top of the world. Whatever it is, my guess is that you’re sitting in all of it and being present with what yourself has to offer this moment. That’s all we can ask of ourselves, right?
To all my mamas (and grandmamas!) out there with small kids or big kids, this is my message to you —
You deserve this time away, mama. Not because you earned it by how hard you work or how much you’ve poured out in your year(s) of motherhood (although that is true!!) but because you are a beautiful human who is worthy of care!!! ❤️❤️❤️
You have plenty of adorable pics of your kids because they are awesome — let me scream from the mountain tops — YOU ARE TOO!!
When I look at this family picture, there’s a HUGE hole.
Our beloved patriarch, Pops, ran ahead of us to heaven back in October 2019 after a brave fight with terminal cancer. This past summer was the first time we’d all been together since his funeral. The first time in two years (thanks to COVID and baby James) I’ve gotten to be with the larger group.
My decades long role in the family has been photographer and photo book creator.
I’ve always pushed past rolled eyes and the “ughhhs”, knowing pictures together are invaluable. There are moments when all the exhaustive amounts of “say cheese” are worth it. Like the day we got the call Pops took his last breath. The cousins were all texting each other, and realized all of us were sitting at our respective homes, across multiple states, looking through old photo books, cherishing moments spent with our beloved grandfather.
At our third annual family get together without him on this side of heaven, while hanging out by the pool, I turned to the ladies and said “I think it’s time I made another photo book”. Between crazy family schedules with moves and weddings and babies and a funeral, it had been quite some time since I’d gathered pictures together and created a book.
Meme (Pops’ bride of so many years it’s hard to count), pulled me aside later and I asked her if she was okay I made a photo book again, knowing it would be the first one without him gracing the pages. She said yes, it was fine with her, especially since he loved those photo books so much. She said we honor him and are grateful he’s here with us. It’s time to continue on as a family without him on this side of heaven.
Not having him on this side of heaven leaves a hole in our family that exposed us to suffering in its black hole style pull. For my grandmother, more than any of us. They were childhood sweethearts, meeting each other for the first time in FIRST GRADE!!!
He, a retired Navy Commander, she, a rock solid matriarch, the pair built a life full of family and love. A foundation that helped me weather tumultuous seas as a young adult, before starting my own family. A family I never thought he’d ever get to meet.
In the summer of 2014, I was living with my grandparents in Atlanta while I transitioned to my new big girl job as a corporate employee. Typically St. Simons bound for the 4t of July, I came down with some kind of nasty sickness and stayed in bed, instead, for a few days. Meme got sick after me, then Pops. The ladies were able to shake the cold quickly but Pops’ symptoms lingered. Concerned, the doctor was visited and tests were run. When I heard the words “terminal cancer”, I headed immediately to his closet.
A walk-in version with a door accessed from his bathroom, I sat down on the off-white carpet and stared at brown wooden polls holding all of his clothes. The tears started falling and didn’t stop. A single woman at the time, I wept for all the life he would inevitably miss. He wouldn’t meet my husband. He wouldn’t see me walk down the aisle. He wouldn’t hold my kids.
A fighter on the battle field as young man, a fighter for love as a grandfather, he became a fighter of cancer, determined to live as long as he could to experience as much life as he could, with those of us he loved the most. He fought valiantly, giving us FIVE more years of pictures and hugs and kisses and gas money.
There was never a time I left his house he didn’t slip some kind of bill in my hand. The last time I saw him, a few days before his hard fought body breathed his last, he lovingly called my grandmother back into the room “Emily, come here” (a phrase I’d heard a million times before) and then soon after a “Virginia Lee come here” followed. He raised his tired hand and slipped me a hundred dollar bill. I kissed him on the cheek, told him I loved him and I’d see him soon.
I wasn’t by myself when I said those last words to him. In my arms was my daughter, a child, five years earlier, I never dreamed he’d meet.
And my husband? Pops didn’t just get to meet him, he got to know him really well and both men respected each other tremendously. Pops attended not only my wedding but was able to see all three of his eldest grandchildren wed their soul mates.
Commander Johnny Childs got to meet James Paul before we did. “James”, a family name gifted to our little boy in honor of his great grandfather. A man who deserves every ounce of honor given to him, by his family, by his country. A man we miss tremendously and who’s legacy of love we carry to anyone we ever impact. We love you Pops!!
“Ugh, I need to go to the gym” I declared, remote in hand, to an empty apartment, seated atop my couch, in my single lady space.
“UGH I don’t want to do go the gym.” “I’ll go to the gym tomorrow. Oh yeah, what a great idea, I will DEFINITELY do a great work out tomorrow.” **Next episode** Click! Filled with guilt, I’d watch another, and then to distract myself from that compounding guilt, I’d watch another and another and another.
Weekends went by and Saturdays rarely included gym days. The guilt (“I’m doing something bad”) compiled and turned into shame (“I am bad”). Shame, that, week after week, kept me rooted on the couch because there wasn’t ever going to be some magical turning point where I ACTUALLY made it to the gym “tomorrow”.
The rhetoric stayed the same, “I’ll do that tomorrow”, until I committed so many times to do it “tomorrow”, I felt pretty bad about myself. Fighting the mental game has always been a priority of mine, recognizing the biggest personal battles are fought and won in my mind, I made a new commitment. I changed the language I used when sitting on the couch.
“Ugh, I need to go to the gym” typically declared to an empty apartment seated atop my comfy, grey, chaise lounge couch. “UGH I don’t want to do go the gym.” “I’ll go to the gym tomorrow.” NOPE, wait, you won’t go to the gym tomorrow, let’s just own where we are, VA. “I don’t want to go to the gym. Am I okay with not going to gym?”
If the answer was yes, remembering I went to the gym an extra time that week and what my body needed most was rest, or maybe I just didn’t have it in me, even if I had been to the gym zero times that week. Whatever it was, I’d own it. I’d click the next episode button with less guilt. One episode maybe turned into two but very rarely turned into many more. I wasn’t in a shame based *next episode* spiral, so I didn’t get stuck there.
If the answer was “no” to the “am I okay with not going to the gym?”, I’d rally, go grab tennis shoes and at least go for a walk. The physical movement would always do my body good, and again, no shame spiral.
Being intentional with my words, owning them, acknowledging that what I say out loud or in my own head is leading to how I feel about myself and ultimately, how I take action. It’s pretty rare these days to catch me saying, “I’ll just go to the gym…tomorrow.”