this is enough

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.

xoxo, va

seventy five hard widow

“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.

xoxo, va

my whiteness is showing

When we moved into East Point five years ago, as restaurant managers and hotel dwellers, it was the first time in my life I was a minority.

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.

xoxo, va

far away and hard

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.

xoxo, va

away from the kids

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!!

xoxo, va

Pops

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!!

xoxo, va

going to the gym…tomorrow

“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.”

xoxo, va

willing to wait

After finding my way back to organized religion at the end of undergrad, I worked as a campus ministry intern. Part of the commitment for the intern year was to put dating on hold. This was ideal for me since in the seven years prior, I’d left a wake of failed relationships and carried around a lot of baggage because of them. In the spring of the school year there was a specific calendar date when all of us interns could officially date. There was a lot of build up to this moment. Were any of the interns going to date students? Who’d been eyeing who over the past eight months?

Although some of the students were mighty cute, there wasn’t anyone who I planned to pursue. I was perfectly content not dating and even communicated to close friends I was interested in continuing the “don’t date” policy, personally, to give my head and heart more time to settle into this new rhythm of faith I’d fallen into. One of these friends was outspoken about how ridiculous he felt it was. “So you’re telling me if God dropped your husband right into your lap, you’d say “no thank you” just to prove a point.” There is A LOT I can say about that but for not I’m going to skip over most of it and share what happened after hearing that, over and over.

As someone new to following Jesus, I questioned myself and decided my longtime Jesus following friend might be right and I should open up myself to dating opportunities. One of his friends began pursuing me (no recollection on the details of how this actually got started) and we started dating. This guy moved from 0 to 90 million and was already talking about our longterm future after a few short weeks. Having never dated a Christian guy before, I convinced myself this is what I needed. He was a great man, loved Jesus a lot, was doing radical things in urban ministry in Birmingham so why not?

I kept it up for a while but Spirit led me to end it rather quickly, pretty soon after he went in for a kiss and I wanted nothing to do with his lips. Not because I was a prude and not ready for that (I’d been FAR from a prude in the previous relationships) but because I just didn’t like the guy. We weren’t a match. We had nothing in common, except loving Jesus. Having never had a Christian relationship, I’d convinced myself that “loving Jesus” was the most important thing in a relationship so I ignored everything else.

In that short month-ish long relationship, I attempted to make it work with him. I was a young Christian hanging out with a mature one who was attracted to the idea of me and liked the way I fit into his future plans. I started talking like him, using his Christian-ese words, judging people for their un-Christian like behavior, trying to get passionate about the stuff he cared about. I did everything I thought I should do as a future Christian wife (because that’s where he talked about us heading) and I totally and completely lost myself. I lost friends. I lost credibility. I lost my grace-based reputation. I lost my direction. I lost my focus. I lost trust in myself.

But what I gained was clarity. Before dating this fella, I’d only dated fellas who were not what I wanted and since deciding to take my life in a different direction, I thought all I needed to find was a fella heading in that direction, as well. I pendulum swung from “no Jesus” to “all Jesus” and learned the “all Jesus” guys can be just as….well, not what I wanted or needed…as the “no Jesus” ones. The clarity I gained is that just because a man says he’s all about Jesus. Just because he walks the walk and talks the talk and is an amazing man, doesn’t mean he’s automatically going to be an amazing man for ME.

Thanks to some amazing mentoring by a woman who’d married the love of her life, I wrote out a list of what I dreamed for my future husband. She challenged me to write it all down, every little thing, every big thing, that came to mind. It was seven pages in my journal. It was four pages typed.

Months after writing that list, I walked into a season of life that really rocked my faith. The old “no Jesus” choosing fellas once again became a target for my affections and it took a while to settle into again wanting an “all Jesus” man. At some point, the above list got printed out and used as a beacon to not date whoever came my way. Two years after the list was written I met the man I thought was going to marry me, only to be earth shatteringly heartbroken when he broke up with me via email while I was living in a foreign country (not my favorite season of life!)

Some time later, the list was ripped to shreds and thrown away, my hopes for finding someone who loved Jesus AND loved me, who I was, not some assumed version of me, feeling like a pipe dream that would never become a reality.

That same friend who coached me to write the list, coached me, in 2015, to write in a “husband journal” which I later handed over to the man who put a ring on my finger at the top of a lighthouse on August 13th, 2016.

Five years after the list was written, he matched everything and more of what my heart dreamed up that June 11th day.


What I’m willing to wait for — I have faith that the Lord will bring this man to me!

June 11th, 2011

  • he HAS to make me laugh
  • he has to be the faith leader- he has to trust the Lord with every single aspect of his life- he has to be willing to let go of security and comfort if God calls us as a team to do so (there was NO security or comfort career wise in the first year of our marriage!)
  • he has to be responsible with money- cause we know I’m not (but I am now!! I got good at money the next year!)
  • he has to command the attention from a room- I want to have people look up to him and admire him and me get to say, “That’s MY husband!” (if you’ve ever met Lukas, you DEFINITELY know this is true!)
  • he has to be competitive, but not with me- he has to be okay with me winning, at least some of the time 
  • he has to enjoy cooking and want to share in that duty (ehhh, “enjoy” is a strong word here, Lukas can follow a recipe perfectly and absolutely will help me cook if I’m running a late errand with the kids)
  • he has to have an attitude of confidence that teeters on the line of cockiness- I’d much rather be aggravated at him for being cocky and arrogant than “too sweet” or “mousy”
  • he has to be willing to fill me in on random details of his life- like texting me random funny things or things he saw that remind him of me
  • he has to love (or at least respect how much I love) pictures and how important they are to me
  • he has to be good at and knowledgeable about sports- he also has to be patient and helpful in teaching me about them
  • he has to be smart like my dad! I want him to know how to fix things or at least a desire to figure it out if he doesn’t know- ignorance is NOT bliss (give him enough time and YouTube videos and Lukas can master ANYTHING!)
  • if I’m asked the question, “If you were trapped on a deserted island and needed to get off, who is the one person you want there?” I want him to be that person (currently my dad is that person)
  •  he has to love rap music and it he knows lots of rap lyrics- even better! (can’t say even I love rap music these days but we will get down to Ice Ice Baby in the kitchen)
  • he has to take pride in his appearance- I do not want to dress him!
  • he has to love quotes and lyrics as much as I do- understanding that sometimes I’d rather share a song with him than sit and talk about my feelings (I’ve gotten way better with talking about my feelings so song lyrics aren’t needed anymore as a communication tool)
  • music has to be so important to him- car rides should never be just silence
  • he has to love Jesus more than he loves me
  • he has to love kids- and not just out own
  • I hope he has had a close friend who has died so he can relate to me about Jacob instead of getting jealous of how high I hold him in my mind (Lukas has experienced extreme loss and grief, we didn’t have to have the same type of loss to lament and empathize with one another)
  • he has to be willing to make decisions against his parents, if necessary- as his wife, he will respect my opinion or needs over theirs
  • he has to be my teammate — we need to have a very partner in crime, Bonnie and Clyde, us against the world, attitude
  • he can’t be scared to jump around during worship
  • he has to find delight in teaching me things and watching me learn and master stuff
  • he has to think I’m the most beautiful thing that has ever graced this planet
  • he has to put a priority on taking care of himself (mentally, physically and spiritually) he has to understand that we are no good in ministry if we are burnt out- he has to understand how important and healthy a balance is
  • he can’t want to carry on a whole conversation with me in the morning (this made us both laugh out loud — mornings are STILL not my thing)
  • he has to love dogs and hate cats
  • he has to have a family who is important to him
  • he has to love to go to the beach and be willing to play horse shoes with me or Frisbee or run around in the water with me
  • he has to be willing to play on a play ground with me
  • he has to be able to dance- for real
  • he has to be able to dance—-this one is OBVIOUSLY super important
  • he can’t drive like an old person (Lukas kind of drives like an old person when he’s not paying attention…)
  • he has to have an adventurous spirit- whether that’s sky diving or climbing the tree in our backyard (this is one of my favorite qualities about my husband!!)
  • I really don’t want him to drive a car, I’d much rather prefer a truck or SUV
  • he has to be tall enough for me to wear really tall heels and still be taller then me
  • he has to know how to play the guitar or another instrument and be interested in sitting around and jamming with my dad and brother
  • he has to be grace giving and be a cheerleader for people who are the underdog
  • he can’t get upset that I’m not really a “holiday person”, there won’t be any listening to Christmas music in November (or he has to be a giant Christmas elf that convinces me to love the holiday as well so our family starts listening to Christmas carols in SEPTEMBER)
  • he has to have a “messy” past so he and I can relate on how good God’s grace is!
  • he has to always drive the car when I’m in it, whether that’s his car or mine (AH! One where God gave me what I NEEDED and not what I thought I wanted. One of my anxiety coping tools in high stress situations like going to social events, traveling on trips, etc. is me being able to get behind the wheel of the car so I can feel a sense of control when I feel out of control. Lukas is totally fine with that and I’m happy to have a husband who doesn’t need to be behind the wheel at all times)
  • he has to not be afraid to discipline our kids, understanding how important a father’s role is to a son AND daughter
  • he has to have a desire for improvement and growth in his life — understanding that there’s always room for bettering ourselves
  • he has to encourage me to work out and stay healthy, not by his words, but by doing it with me
  • he has to be okay with me having “VA introvert” time
  • he will have a nickname for me (too many to count but I’m “White House” in his cell phone — we’ll let him tell you why)
  • he has to be able to sit in silence with me
  • he has to want to serve at church — understanding how important community is
  • he has to have a mentor and also someone he pours into
  • he has to be into technology (like FB and Twitter) but be honoring with me through it — no intense friendships with women via social networking (little did I know I’d get off social media and stay off indefinitely. If you’d told me that a decade ago, I would have laughed at you!)
  • he has to be okay about me blogging about him — but understanding that I would never vent or rant about him on there
  • he can’t be afraid to confront me when he’s upset, he can’t be afraid of a little yelling every now and then (or he can be patient enough for me to walk through a whole lot of therapy to learn how to not yell!!)
  • he will chase me around the house trying to tickle me (umm… if he actually did this now, I’d probably roll my eyes out of aggravation! He sticks to tickling the kiddos)
  • he will share cool things God is doing in his life — things God is teaching him, etc. — he will also tell me about cool “grace gone wild” moments
  • he will want to travel, viewing our world for what it is… HUGE!
  • he will have a perspective that is beyond small town life
  • he will love well but not put anything or anyone about our marriage
  • he will love old houses and want to fix one up with me (while reading this to Lukas we both laughed out loud at this one since we just purchased a brand new house after learning, at this stage or life, we both very much do not like spending time on DIY house projects)
  • he will be able to see potential in people and encourage them to reach it… including me!
  • he will have goals for himself, our marriage and our family
  • my brother will like him
  • he will talk Jesus with my mom
  • he will understand that my identity isn’t in him and on the days that it begins to look like that’s happening — he will loving remind me who I belong to!
  • he will take pride in our home and help me take care of it
  • He will acknowledge that I need to be needed by him
  • when he goes on vacation he will keep me updated on what he is doing and tell me he misses me (or work trips…)
  • he will tell me not to worry and I will stop worrying because I trust him that much
  • when he hugs me, the world melts away (absolutely)
  • he will have such an interest in my life and hobbies and likes and dislikes and will also have interest in those things about our kids
  • he understands the importance of the little things
  • he will grab me and we will dance in the living room, kitchen, all over!
  • there will be such a passion between us, that is very sexual but goes far beyond that to a deep intimacy
  • he will tolerate my reality tv addiction and he won’t hog the remote (we both enjoy a good cooking or baking show but he leaves Married at First Sight for me and his mom to watch together!)
  • he will like scary movies but only because he likes me to cuddle up next to him (I now HATE scary movies and want nothing to do with them)
  • he cuddles with me on the couch and I fit perfectly into the crook of his arm
  • if we’re in bed, he will make sure at least our feet are touching (after being married for six years it’s more like “don’t touch my feet dude, I love you but that’s YOUR side of the bed”)
  • he isn’t into PDA but will do little things like a wink while we are in a big group
  • I am the very first person he call with news — good or bad
  • we pray together and often and he is the one who initiates it most of the time!
  • he has an attitude of never giving up!
  • he understands that when I’m upset, I need him to listen and THEN fix it
  • he is a flexible planner — okay with making plans but flexible enough not to get mad if they change
  • he is spontaneous but understands I’m really not into surprises
  • PROMISES are so important to him and he won’t make one if he knows he can’t keep it
  • he encourages me to be the best person I can be
  • he loves when I dress up nice and acknowledges when I do but doesn’t expect it on a regular basis
  • his laugh makes me so happy- o yeah, and he thinks I’m funny
  • did I mention how funny he is?!
  • he doesn’t have to put other people down to lift himself up
  • he will have at least one tattoo and be 100% open to me getting or having one, or a couple (we’re planning his first ink…maybe for his 40th birthday?)
  • I’d love for him to have dark hair (or no hair…)
  • material possessions aren’t important to him — I can buy clothes from a garage sale and he won’t be weirded out
  • he won’t be pale skinned so we can be out in the sun for long periods of time and he won’t burn (thank you Italian genes!)
  • he appreciates that I spend money on my nails and hair
  • he loves going to concerts
  • he doesn’t drink more than two drinks in a setting and he will never drive intoxicated
  • he won’t encourage me to drink and will respect what a big deal alcohol is in my family
  • he will know how to cook on a grill… WELL!
  • he doesn’t panic in stressful situations so I will stay calm
  • he HAS to love Auburn or at least NOT like an opposing team (we wear both Auburn and Georgia Tech colors in our house)
  • he will be well educated — I want to be able to brag about him!
  • his job will never, ever, ever come before important family events like dance recitals, school plays, etc.
  • his job will or could make money so we can live comfortably… not pay check to pay check
  • he is a very hard worker and has an excellent work ethic (times a MILLION!)
  • he is well spoken and can hold his own in many different social settings
  • I will be his queen and he will be my king!!!

xoxo, va

september 24th

During casual conversation with new neighbors about family members and school attendance and upcoming birthdays, the soon to be sixteen year old was telling me all about her excitement to be a new driver. I casually asked “when’s your birthday?” She answered September, the upcoming month, and I said, casually, “oh, so soon! What day?”

September 24th.

Not sure if she could tell through my face what my heart was doing.

A somersault.

September 24th.

Nothing casual about that date for me.

September 24th, 2006.

The day my entire life changed forever.

Sitting in my freshmen college dorm, atop my raised platform bed with the teal blue comforter. Mini fridge filled with basics, roommate sitting six feet away on top of her raised bed. I open ny flip phone to my brother’s call.

“Have you heard from Jacob?”

“No…why…what happened?”

“He and Matt were in an accident. Mom and dad didn’t want to tell you yet since they don’t know anything and didn’t want you to worry but I knew you’d want to know.”

“YES! Thanks bud, let me call Taylor (Matt’s roommate)”.

Click.

Ring ring ring.

“Taylor, where’s Matt?”

“I don’t know, he’s on his way back from home today.”

“He was in an accident with Jacob and we don’t know anything, yet.”

….some stuff I don’t remember.

I turn to face roommate with a deadpan stare.

“God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle,” she said.

After a few more calls and finding out Matt was airlifted to a bigger hospital, Jacob was still at the small local one, but we hadn’t heard anything else, I decided to go to sleep.

Insert me and roomie falling asleep with the tv on — this is when that thirteen year habit was formed!!

“He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, Virginia Lee, he’s gone.”

My eyes open to a streak of light from the hallway, breaking through the pitch black darkness of the dorm room.

Meme, my grandmother, who lived two hours away was standing by my bedside, her small five foot tall frame barely seeing over the edge of my bed.

I sat straight up as she continued to repeat “he’s gone, Virginia Lee, he’s gone.”

It was 2ish am. Once my parents learned Jacob’s entrance back to heaven was on that cool, wet road in the middle of Georgia, my mom made sure Meme and Pops were called so I could be told in person.

Jacob wasn’t on this side of heaven anymore. His body was gone. There would be no more hugs or laughter or inside jokes shared on late night porches of family vacations. There wouldn’t be any interior design/building investment partnership or game watching of our rival college schools.

But in these wee hours of Monday, September 25th, none of that was on my mind. All that was on my mind was packing a suitcase.

“I’m so sorry Virginia Lee, I’m so sorry. We’re going to take you to our house” Meme said when I noticed Pops standing behind her, the RA hovering at the door taking the scene in.

A college freshman only five weeks into her first “away from home” experience, being called back to that home because of a tragedy. A tragedy of such magnitude a pair of seventy year old love birds had pounded on locked doors in the middle of the night to gain entry to the dorm, to be by the side of their first born granddaughter, as she heard the devastating news.

Suitcase open, I began throwing things in.

“Meme, how long will I be gone, what do I need?”

“We don’t know yet, sweetie, we can come back and get whatever you don’t pack. Let’s just get you home.”

The rest of the sequential details are burry and jumbled, with moments of crystal clear memories interwoven through the following week.

Sitting in the backseat of my grandparents car, head on the window, looking at the stars — “life will never be the same”

(I returned to Auburn the next day as my parents figured out a way to get me home without me driving myself).

Screaming through the phone with a friend as I sat on my dorm floor — “this isn’t fair”

Witnessing college students all around me joking about the weekend shenanigans — “how dare they laugh”

(In that class, my teacher asked me to stay back before leaving. She shared her own experience with grief and saw it in my eyes. I wasn’t okay, and I needed to go home. That was the only class I attended that week. I was supposed to stay at school until Thursday when there was a scheduled private flight for me to get on, but I told Mom I needed to leave… now. Within 18 hours she’d scheduled an alternative mode of transportation to get her baby home and I was flying in the passenger side of a tiny airplane flown by a man I’d known all my life who loved our families a whole lot).

Watching people come and go, acquaintances, who didn’t know the family well, crying, offering condolences — “they didn’t even know him”

Rewriting my memorial service words in the final hour — “I shouldn’t even have to do this.”

Getting tipsy with all of our high school friends after the service, dancing our asses off so we could experience a few minutes without pain — “how are we going to survive this pain?”

Eventually, I’d climb back on to another private plane, this one larger, with friends who attended both Alabama and Auburn. We’d stop in Tuscaloosa to refuel the plane and our bodies with lunch. I’d get dropped off at the Auburn airport and drive back to my dorm.

For the next three years I’d wrestle with one question “why Jacob and not me?”

At age 18, Jacob had already done amazing things on the planet. He’d invested money for years and already had a substantial nest egg. He had dreams to radically change Africa with his wealth that would continue growing with his genius mind. He never had a curfew when we were in high school because he was the one who’d drive the drunk kids home safe. He hung out right alongside everyone and stayed kind and compassionate, meeting people’s needs right where they were. Sounds a little like Jesus, yeah?

Me? I was the party girl. I was mean to lots of people. I didn’t have many dreams or goals and certainly didn’t have any plans of impacting people’s lives in a positive way. This is NOT the whole story of my childhood, absolutely not, but it’s how I saw myself at the time and it’s taken many years and a lot of therapy to unlearn those messages. It’s something I’m going to write about one day, for now, let’s just sit with this “as is” because whether it was true or not, it’s how I viewed myself and I compared that to how I viewed Jacob. And my big question remained –

Why did he die and why was I still here?

“Here” — where Jacob’s spirit had been last, in his earthly body driving his silver S2000 — where his best friend, Matt sat next to him.

The two boys were in the accident together. Matt survived to live more days on this side of heaven but not without consequence. His family has experienced loss, as well. A story that’s theirs, alone, one I know very few details about.

What I do know is the tragedy on that wet road between St. Simons Island and Athens, September 24th, 2006, impacted two families immediately and an entire community who mourned with them. We mourned two amazing men who’s lives were blown off course, lives full of promise and hope and a future that would never be what it was “supposed to be”.

Sixteen years later, I still meditate on what was “supposed to be”, especially this time of year. I don’t cry anymore. It’s been a long time since tears have come when my heart remembers his laugh. What stands in the place of the raw grief is all that I haven’t gotten to experience with him. Dancing at his sister’s wedding, watching his kids play with my kids, introducing him to my hubby and meeting his wife, all the many family vacations that were “supposed to be”. When I spend time with my neighbor’s daughter, knowing she went from heaven to earth on the same day, the exact same day, Jacob went from earth to heaven, I am reminded how much life she’s lived and how much we haven’t gotten to live with him.

My deep engrained Christian upbringing urges me to add all the optimistic/positive stuff like “at least he got to meet my kids before I did” or “maybe I wouldn’t have what I have today without his impact on my life” or “he’s still very much with us” but I’m going to fight against that, and just sit in the sadness. The ache that is still there, sixteen years later, with the crystal clear memories of that nightmare of a day, September 24th, and all the days to come.

xoxo, va

seventy five hard

This past Saturday, September 10th, our family set out to accomplish a seventy five day challenge together.

A few months ago, Lukas first mentioned the 75 Hard Challenge. 75 days doing seven things:

  • Drink a gallon of water
  • Don’t drink alcohol
  • Complete two 45 minute workouts in a day, one of which needs to be outdoors
  • Do some form of intentional eating (your choice)
  • Read 10 pages in a nonfiction book (digital reading/listening doesn’t count)
  • Track your progress daily through a photo

Oh and if you don’t do any of the above any day, you start from day one.

Insanity, right?

“Hmm, sounds right up your alley, babe, a great thing to talk about at our year end planning for next year.” Aka thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that right now, let’s punt THAT to later.

And we didn’t talk about it again until running into a friend in Chicago in August. After holding up our wrists to show off all three of us are Whoop band wearers, and the casual “how’s the fam?” questions were accomplished, I became a fly on the wall as I witnessed two CrossFit loving men talk about the 75 Hard Challenge. Trey accomplished the task right before his third kid was born. You can read about his 75 Hard journey, and see his progress result pictures, here.

Hearing what happened in Trey’s head and heart during the experience, and seeing his excitement in having completed it, we walked away and I told Lukas “you have to do it.”

With the first year of newborn life behind us and his fortieth birthday approaching, Lukas had been looking for a way to jump start his health journey. Having lost almost 50 pounds the first year Tabby was born he hadn’t gain too much back but shoulder surgery back in 2021 took a toll on him both him mentally and physically and he was looking for a way to get back to prioritizing himself. Sound familiar?

He signed up for a half marathon on Thanksgiving day, something he’d done in years past and I signed up for a 5K alongside him. Simultaneously, in our own “lanes”, we’d been pursuing individual health. He has his own issues, I have mine.

We asked over and over, can we do this? HOW can we do this? We’re really going to do this?

After we decided we’d cheer our patriarch on to accomplish 75 Hard, I realized quickly, in order for him to succeed, me and the kids would need to be backing him. It’s just too hard and too time consuming for us to not be affected.

I wasn’t about to cook TWO meals at dinnertime.

So Tabby and I discussed it one afternoon. Were we joining Nigh Nigh on his quest? She’s in a “go team” stage right now and is motivated most when we all have a role/job and we are working towards the goal together. The idea of us driving towards a goal together — sign her up! I felt the same. With five months behind me of focusing on my own physical health, I was excited for a pep in my step and partners to do it with.

We need a way to track the days as a family.

My normal MO is scroll through Amazon or rush off to the craft store to see what they have but with the new house purchase, we’ve also tightened our belts on our finances (which Tabby is very much a part of!) and said “let’s find something around here, instead, mommy!”

Smart girl she is…and constantly making me a better human!!

We found two glass jars but were stuck on 75 of something small enough to fit.

Tabby’s ideas were numerous and we talked through all the reasons they wouldn’t quite work for our most recent project. This is where mommy’s creativity took over and remembered a box full of beads, hidden at the top of the playroom closet, far away from a “I put everything in my mouth” one year old. I pulled out tiny paper cups and had Tabby count 5 beads into each cup. This took only two tries for her to get the concept and pretty soon we were pouring 15 groups of 5 into our glass jar. Add two labels and ta da! A visual motivation to stay the course.

We sent the picture to Lukas, “we’re in!!”

Doing this as a family is not as clean cut as it might be as a bachelor living on his own. It’s been messy as we worked through the “rules” and guidelines we were all going to follow. Lukas is doing a purest version, I’m doing a modified, more conducive to my mental health needs, plan. And the kids, well they are doing just the nutrition part, making small tweaks to what they put in their bodies with a lot of flexibility! We have perfected plans that work best for each of us with the main goal — do something together!

Last night, night one, we were all kind of fussy.

For a myriad of reasons, part of which was no refined sugar had been eaten (look up what that stuff does to your brain if you’re curious — it’s nuts!), and we were all tired from the day.

The hard was a little less hard as we lamented together. We are all making sacrifices in our lives to help us make better choices. Some look small, others large, but we were together…which makes us better…better together.

This photo from family vacation taken back in May, was hard for me to look at.

But I did it anyway. I looked and stared and sat in all the feelings. I told myself all the AMAZING things that body had done. I told myself how perfect I am, exactly the way I am. I told myself how strong and capable I am. I looked at the trauma that body had experienced, the visible and invisible scars that body was marked with. I sat, I felt, I spoke life and I started to believe.

In February, I turn 35. Starting out in April, my goal was to hit “135 by 35” (just because it was fun to say and easy to remember). It took three months to lose ONE pound, that’s how slow, methodical and intentional I have been about my weight loss. In focusing on my heart more than my body, my body has reaped the rewards.

At this point, I’ve lost 7ish (I say -ish because I use the scale as a tool to track progress NOT as something that gives me an identity). Am I where I want to be? Not yet. But I’m doing an AMAZING job. I’m not giving up and I’m letting the push towards “WHOLE self health” drive me.

75 Hard was the start of something but not the start of the whole thing. Me focusing on my health has been an on going, decades in the making, adventure, one that will continue on for (hopefully!) decades to come.

I share these progress pictures as a part of the journey to mark this milestone and to celebrate the amazing body God created me to live in on this side of heaven. One I ask He will continue to give me the grace to care for so I can be around, healthy, for all the many people I love.

xoxo, va