newborn nap chronicle

Does this post look familiar? I planned to schedule it for a later date but instead, somehow picked November 28th which was weeks in the PAST, instead of the future. I noticed my error and quickly changed it but, apparently, not before it sent out to all of my email list recipients. All 108 of you. To those who have already read it, skip this week. To those tired mamas who have already reached out, grateful for my words and the opportunity to lament with one another about our un-sleeping children, here the words are again, you might need the encouragement…again. And I’m sure I need yours as well so reach out, let’s lament together!

After my pastor’s wife had given me all the tips and tricks she’d tried to get her older boys to sleep when they were young (and I’d told her we’d tried them all!) she had nothing left to offer but encouragement and a funny story. She recounted the season of life in their own family, when they got to the end of their rope with their third son’s lack of sleep and her husband had a solution:

“If only I could put a blanket over the crib, like when you put a dark cover over a parrot’s cage.”

She laughed at the absurdity of his comment and through heavy, lack of sleep eyes, I looked at her, chuckled and said, “want to see where James sleeps?”

We’ve tried everything, every book we’ve read, every suggestion that’s been given, every piece of advice to be had. We’ve tried it all, to help this amazing son of mine learn to sleep.

With James sleep has been, well, let’s use the phrase “a battle” because it’s the only one I know that fits.

The definition of battle is “a lengthy or difficult conflict or struggle”. Sleep with James hasn’t been a battle between us and him, but rather a battle between the four of us (because it’s affected Tabby so much, too!!) against the forces that allow (or don’t allow) this child to sleep.

One afternoon, while trying out a new method of sleep training, as a way to self-soothe and cope through the process, I captured my thoughts in writing.


Stirring at 31 mins. I’m waiting…

He started crying a bit at 33 mins but is more grunting and trying, come on little man you can do it!!!

Debated on putting in paci again but holding off for now. He’s really trying to go back to sleep!!! Come on little man, you got this!!

At 37 mins I considered putting paci in, will wait 1 more minute and then do so. I don’t want to let him wake too much because He’s gurgling and kicking around and really trying.

Put paci back in and put him back on his pillow because he fell off. He started fussing a little bit more and I’m waiting. Considering picking him back up and rocking him because he’s so close but fighting!!

Holding off on picking him up but put paci back in again. He’s scratching at bassinet.
Crying harder now but still the gurgle sleep cry, not wailing yet. Put my hand in to put paci back but was already there, left my hand for a minute.

10:40, we have 20 more mins.
Now he cried harder but still gurgling (sounds like he does in the mornings when he wants to be asleep but isn’t)
Now there’s a solid cry but it was quick and he settled back down.

I noticed it was warmer in here, turned the heat off from my phone.

He’s still scratching at his bassinet but now not crying

(This is helpful to take notes, good for me to focus on his tiny behaviors and capture them instead of trying to do something else, which just stresses me out trying to multi-task)

10:43, still no crying!! Oh wait, there’s one. It’s a sleepy cry. COME ON JAMES!!!!

I’m now just laying face down on the bed while he’s grunting and kicking. Little yelps here or there but nothing too bad, okay, that one was more intense. Might go in for a paci/hand on the chest in a minute.

10:44 HOW HAS ONLY A MINUTE PASSED.

10:45 grunting but no crying, spoke too soon, going in for the comfort…wait, no noise, yep, there it is again. Going in!

WAIT. He stopped again.

Bahahahaa.

Okay. Now it’s louder, definitely going in. Might even pick up and hold. Went to do so and he stopped. Offfff course.

Crying again…going in!

NOPE. Stopped again.

Back to crying. Going to hold him.

10:46 at least that killed 2 minutes. Now the crying is more frequent. Picking him up now.

Nursed him and he fell back asleep so I laid him back down but is crying within 15 minutes, small cries, he might comfort himself! But doesn’t seem like it.

We’ve hit our 90 minute mark so will bail after 2 more minutes if it doesn’t hold. I’ve gotta pee!! Still gurgling crying and fidgeting.

This is so hard. Fighting feeling so defeated. AWE. FEEL AWE.
Screw awe.

I don’t know how to do this with a toddler. Tabby has needs me, too. Hey I can’t just sit here all day in a dark room teaching this freaking kid how to nap. I know, I know we are only supposed to try one a day but even that feels daunting and exhausting. What’s the rest of my day supposed to look like? He woke up at 10:30 so technically is supposed to start this whole shit all over again at 12. It’s 11:12 now. When do I get to pee, eat, take care of my other kid? I know other moms have done this a bajillion times over but I just feel so ill equipped, so…uncomfortable. I just don’t know what to do. Deep breath. We’re okay. You’re okay. He’s okay. We’re going to be okay. Maybe this “nap chronicles” will help someone else someday????

I thought he was settling and then he made a bit of noise but he might be.

When do I bail? Do I stay? I’m already over the 90 minute goal time but he seems to be so close and I don’t want to give up!!!!

Looking back I wish I’d gotten him up immediately at the 30 minute mark and nursed him to try to get him back down. I might even try the picking him up at 28 minutes and soothing him through that sleep cycle. I read that somewhere but not sure where it was. I’ve read SO MANY THINGS.

I still have hope and faith this will get better…sort of…what if it doesn’t? “Do I still believe God is good?” Absolutely! “Do I still believe God will give me what I need?” Absolutely!! Maybe he doesn’t ever nap. Okay, our life would look different then what I’d want but…

OMG. Is he asleep?!?!! He literally might be asleep. 11:15. I’m waiting 5 more minutes before leaving.

Still. Need. To. Pee.

5 more minutes and I’m leaving this room alone or with him but either way, 5 more minutes. I’m also hungry. Need to bring snacks next time!! He still hasn’t made noise.

He STILL HASNT MADE NOISE OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!

HE STILL HASN’T MADE NOISE. 11:17.

Omg. I think he’s ACTUALLY ASLEEP AGAIN

OMG.

What an emotional rollercoaster. Up down up down up down. Makes me think of life when I was drunk so many nights. The high of booze, the low of no booze. The battle with emotions. The chain smoking. The half ass friendships built on booze and loving each other the best we could in our broken ways.

I’d take this rollercoaster ANY DAY.

There’s my awe.

I’m in awe that I have this life. This messy, exhausting, FULL hearted life. I wouldn’t trade it. 11 mother f****** 19, he’s ASLEEP.

One more minute and then I’m going to pee. He might have actually done it. WE MIGHT HAVE ACTUALLY DONE IT.

Wait.

He’s moving around in there and I hear him sucking on his paci but I legit think he’s asleep.

11:19 still.

Come on 11:20!!!!

THERE IT IS!!!!!

We did it!!! We did it!!!!! We did it!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m sneaking out of the room by myself. How long will this last?!?!?

Oh shit. He’s moving. Freeze. Don’t move. Hold that pee in, mama!!

Okay, I’m getting up. He just took a deep sighing breath. That was so cute. Mama is taking one too. DEEEEEP BREATH. Let’s see if I can sneak out of here!

Dang it.

11:21 crying. I’m staying. Maybe he’ll go back. That sounded like a dream cry. Nah. That’s a real one. He’s not going to make it. Poor thing.

Come on little buddy you did so good!! Deep breath from him again, oh he’s trying so hard.

I don’t know if I should get him up or not. I’ve been in here like 2 hours.

We should just bail. I guess….omg I just want someone to tell me what to do.

“TRUST YOURSELF”. I am worthy of trust. What do YOU want to do? I want to pee. And get some food. Why don’t I leave him here for a few more minutes and go do those things? 10 minutes. Let’s try that. I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes and come back. If he’s still crying I’ll get him out.


Needless to say, we got to a point where we had to hire someone to tell us what to do. We got to the end of our abilities, and our friends’ and family abilities, and needed to call in an expert for their wisdom. After researching an exhaustive amount of sleep resources we could pay for, reaching out to several that didn’t fit for the needs of our family, we settled on one who was a true angel from heaven. Denise is a genius. An empathetic, kind, encouraging, genius. She took the needs of our whole family into consideration and delivered tangible goals with actionable steps that fit us.

The plan we got from her didn’t work perfectly but it gave us a life raft in a stormy sea, new tools in our toolkit, that helped us make it to a big milestone. James is officially SIX MONTHS OLD!!!! Look at this little man. We did it, dude, we made it to six months. We are out of the deep newborn trenches and are experiencing some kind of consistency. Mama and Nigh Nigh are getting decent sleep, hallelujah!

The notes I took during the sleep battle season was one example of the rawness of motherhood. One night in the middle of that battle, I sat on the couch of my pastor’s home and stared into the face of my pastor’s wife as she poured words of life and love and encouragement into my parched heart. She told me motherhood is always hard but it’s not always “this raw”. The rawness of newborn life, of the undoing of mind, body and spirit, as God opened the world and my family to another life, it doesn’t last forever. It didn’t last forever. My nerves have healed a bit where the tips were frayed, my sanity has returned, sort of, and each day seems a little easier, as we continue to settle into what life looks like as a family of four.

With these words, with this post, I put a stake in the ground celebrating I’ve made it through yet another struggle. Another challenging season, where in the messy middle, it felt like I’d never get out on the other side. A song deep from my faith foundation arises in my heart. I picture me, an elementary school girl, my dad up on stage rocking it as worship leader, the projector posting these lyrics on the white cinder block walls of the fellowship hall…

“…Though the sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes with the morning.”

xoxo, va

neighboring

College didn’t have a lot of Jesus in it, for me. Halfway through my eight years in that college town, His relentless pursuit of me included a campus minister giving me a chance to work for him, messy lifestyle and all. Jesus is the ultimate “chance” giver and that chance was life changing. Not overnight though…it was quite a process!

As I started attending church and getting more connected to Christian community after being completed disconnected for years, I was eating up all that the pastor was putting down. Soaking in all the goodness I hadn’t been exposed to for so long…

‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land
And streams on the dry ground…”
Isaiah 44:3

I was a thirsty land and His streams were satisfying my dry ground!

One of the most monumental sermon series from that time in my life, that place, that church, that pastor, was based on a book called The Art of Neighboring.

In searching for the book a few months ago, I saw another author has created a parody of the book. Mocking it, challenging it, etc. It’s hard for me to see that because this sermon series was so powerful in my own life a decade ago and yet who knows what I would think of reading the book now!!

Bottom line — this concept sparked something deep in me, a desire to live in community with my physical neighbors. To know them, to be present with them. Not as a goal minded mission field, that’s not my style, but as a mutual “I need you, you need me, let’s do this life thing together” way of neighboring.

At the time, I was living super transitional. I moved 25 times in a 15 year period. That’s really hard to do neighboring BUT with each place I lived, the heart of the art of neighboring was present.

In Atlanta as a single woman living alone, I knew I had to be a little careful with how much neighboring I did. Safety is important and not to be scoffed at, yet, I never want fear to drive me — in ANYTHING — and especially not with neighboring. I’ve learned that 9.99 times out of 10, when I have a fear response to something regarding my neighbors, it’s more discomfort in the unknown than it is valid reasons to be concerned.

So, single woman, living alone in Atlanta. I met a next door neighbor and a woman who also lived alone across the parking lot. Both women didn’t become besties but they were in my life. One cooked me dinner one night, the other made me potholders when I moved that I still use today.

Apartment number two in Atlanta had me not living alone but with a roommate. This gave me a little more confidence and gusto to branch out more. In that season, life was insanely busy (insert Lukas into the mix) but I still managed to know my downstairs neighbors enough to identify the engagement ring dropped in the parking lot as the mom’s and know my “behind me” neighbor enough to know when her grandkids were coming to visit.

Once Lukas and I said “I do”, we were hotel living for 8 months. Not much neighboring you can do in the halls of a hotel but you know who is around a hotel? The staff! It was important for me to be intentional with each front desk, cleaning, maintenance, manager, breakfast food person we encountered during our stays.

For all of the above years, I did the best I could to neighbor those in my nearest proximity and even though I don’t remember names or have anyone’s phone numbers from that time period, I do have a lot of neighboring muscle strengthening experiences. Like doing reps at the gym over time, when our married couple selves moved to our Atlanta apartment, I was a semi-seasoned neighborer ready to watch God fulfill this desire of my heart.

AND HE SHOWED UP!!! Duh, right?

Lukas and I took candy and a note to all of our closest neighbors in the first weeks we moved in. We hit up probably 15 apartments and heard back from around half. Yes, I gave them my contact info including my CELL NUMBER, crazy, right?

Out of that half I established contact relationships (you have my info, I have yours, let’s chat when needed) with four households. Three of those four became something more. One family gifted us stuff left and right and loved being a part of Tabby’s early years, until she moved to take care of her elderly sister. One family is still, to this day, on our Christmas card list. And one woman I don’t keep up with regularly but could pick up the phone at any point to call to chat and it wouldn’t be weird.

The last one is the most meaningful to me. We legit got into each other’s lives. We shared meals together. We picked up stuff at the store when our households were sick. We bought her couches that now sit in our living room when she moved out west. She’d stand at my car watching Tabby if I had already loaded her up and forgot something upstairs. When a major family crisis hit, Tabby and I walked around and around the complex with her, praying for her family member in distress.

As many people as I have in my life I get to keep up with via the amazingness of technology, there’s something incredibly tangible about neighbor relationships. Some people might be able to post on their social media page — “Hey, can I get a stick of butter?” and someone bring them one in time to bake the cookies, but not me. I might not even get comments unless they were roll your eye or laugh out loud emojis. But a neighbor I’ve done life with? It’s easy to pick up the phone and have that butter within 2 minutes. (A real live example from last Christmas when Tabby and I were trying to bake Christmas cookies)

And that starts to get to the heart of why neighboring means so much to me, why it matters, why I love for it, crave it, and have worked to build it over the years. MEGA intentionally now that we own our own home and might be planted here for the foreseeable future.

The real heart? I NEED these people. I need to walk out my front door and do more then just wave. I need to know what’s going on in their lives and need them to know what’s going on in ours. I need to be surrounded by people who have my back and I need people who I can have their back too.

Six weeks (or less) after moving into our house in East Point, I stood in our living room and watched Lukas close the hallway door after putting Tabby down.

CRACKKKKKKKK. Thump!

“What was that?!?”

We opened the front door to see an 80 foot pine tree lying horizontal across our yard, across the street, and into the diagonal neighbors driveway.

I immediately started praying and thanking the Lord. The only damage? Our mailbox. if the tree had fallen 180 degrees in the opposite direction it would have hit the house, exactly where Lukas was standing and Tabby was sleeping. The humility of what we’d just been rescued from by the King of Kings was not lost on me, at all.

Nor was the reality of how He showed up through our neighbors. Within minutes, Brandon from down the street had his machinery out and Russell was chain sawing away. Between the two of them, they had the road cleared in minutes. Larry and Marie from across the street were checking in and Ms. Sharon came out to stand with us under her carport while the guys worked.

It was the first of many instances where we’ve relied on the people in our physical proximity since living in East Point. Some others have included borrowing a few sticks of butter, meals for months after James was born, feeding our chickens while out of town, moving our trash cans to the street after shoulder surgery, a hug when life was too hard and the tears flowed, or a little landscaping advice.

I keep a map of our current neighborhood on the refrigerator. Twenty seven homes have names beside them. At least fifteen, I know more about them than just a name, and eight households are on our Christmas card list.

Two of the eight families have become part of our family. They were the first people who met James when we came home from the hospital, I spoke at one’s memorial service, Lukas is taking one son to a Hawks game for his birthday, I’ve taken the same son to school, and one has cooked us so many meals I can’t even count. We’ve laughed and cried and prayed with them. And they will be in our lives forever, even if our address changes.

As I think back to that tan fabric covered chair I sat in as a single woman in Auburn, AL. Longing for the life the pastor spoke of — full of people and love and sharing the good, bad and ugly moments with people in the houses next door — I marvel at all God and I can build together. That was 10 years ago, this year. Ten years full of different addresses, front doors, and mailboxes. Ten years of a common goal — get into the lives of those who live next to me and make a point to get into theirs as well.

There is plenty of commentary on what Jesus means when he says “love thy neighbor as thyself.” From experience, I can testify that loving those in my physical proximity has impacted my life in profound ways. Living a life focused on “neighboring” is something I’ll always do. There’s just too much goodness in the people I see every time I pull into my driveway, and if all I did was put up a hand and hustle inside to the next item on my to do list, I’d miss it. I’d miss the treasures found while neighboring. And those treasures are worth more than all the money in the world!!

xoxo, va

end of an oily era

Four and a half years ago, Lukas and I were living in a hotel in New Jersey. We’d just heard the infamous “no” and were staring down at a life that felt like it was in a million pieces on the floor, unsure what to do next. At the time, a friend of mine introduced me to the idea of essential oils and it was through my membership to Young Living, the door swung wide for me to learn about holistic health.

My mom has been a health nut for years and years and I’d taken some pointers but still remained pretty Western medicine focused, thinking all of the other was just “hippy stuff” that conspiracy theorists believed in.

Despite my hesitancy to jump on the essential oil train, I did, and joining Young Living was THE BEST thing for me in that season. My membership connected me with a team of amazing women at a time when I had no physical community around me. Through my team I was exposed to SO MUCH information. I began researching everything I was learning (I’m a research junkie!) and dove head first into learning as much as I could. It was a world I knew nothing about. A world I’d poked fun at and mocked for years (primarily through picking on my mom and her, sometimes insane, choices!) I started trying things out and experimenting and when I actually saw results, I thought, OMG I have to tell people about this!!!

With all my new knowledge bubbling over to share, I started It’s Oily Business. Never one to do anything half ass, I went all in on the idea of starting my own essential oil business. I spent a lot of time, energy and money getting that venture stood up. I worked to build a trustworthy Instagram page, I read business books, I learned the ins and outs of how to structure a multi-level marketing business to be the most profitable, I spent hours and hours and HOURS on content, I worked to develop a leadership team. I did “all the things”. And after all of that work, and a 59 day prayer journey, I decided to lay down my entrepreneur torch when God called me to focus on becoming a mom with all of my time, energy and talent.

Even though I laid the business torch down three years ago, I was still an avid Young Living user. The world of essential oils is not regulated well and there are some crazies out there trying to sell cheap oils filled with yucky stuff or stuff that isn’t the purest of the pure. Based on my experience with the company, I knew Young Living’s Seed to Seal promise was trustworthy and therefore I continued to buy, continued to use their supplements and products and would continue to do so if it wasn’t for another new family goal.

We are working to save money for a BIG financial commitment. More on that in the future but for now I’ll say we’ve been looking at ways to make cuts in our budget as much as possible. We’ve made a whole bunch of them already but now I’ve had to look into the “harder to spend less on” items. My monthly Young Living order is the one I tackled this week. At least for now, with a sad heart, I’ve placed my last order!

Since becoming a Young Living member, new essential oil companies have popped up that I feel confident I can use with the same trustworthiness in their quality. Of the few essential oil based products we use, I’m able to find them from other sources that aren’t necessarily cheaper but require less commitment on a monthly basis to get the same great savings. I’m also not in need of as many products as I once was because I’ve been able to get my physical and mental health under control, with the help of the Young Living community!!!

When Lukas and I were engaged, I was working through a worksheet on “important things to talk about before marriage” and one question was about birth. I wrote in the blank “GIVE ME ALL THE MEDS”. Not five years later, I found myself CHOOSING an unmedicated VBAC… yes, it’s been quite a transformation, one that would absolutely not have been possible without the influence of my Young Living sisters.

My Young Living journey has been a beautiful one. I regret nothing about my years with the company. Well, maybe I regret when I spent a thousand dollars that one month on oil products because I couldn’t handle being left out of the insanely amazing deals!!!! And even to this day I don’t regret the amazing products I got, only that I wasn’t completely honest with Lukas about how much I was spending at the time… whoops! The products are amazing, the people are amazing and the impact to my family has been invaluable.

I used to be a chronic migraine sufferer. My membership with Young Living set me on a course to be FREE from chronic migraine pain. If you’re someone who has any kind of health crisis you’re facing — why navigate it alone when you don’t have to? If you’re interested in getting plugged into the Young Living community, email me (virginialeefortunato@gmail.com). I’ll get you hooked up with the right people and maybe, just maybe, your life could change as drastically as mine did. Life is hard, no doubt, but physical pain makes life almost unbearable. I don’t promise results because every situation is different, but I do promise if you get connected to Young Living you’ll learn something you never knew and find a friend who can help walk with you along the way!

xoxo, va

you’re invited!

On Thursday, January 6, 2022 at 7 pm EST (in two days!!) our UNSTUCK Writer’s Collective wants to redeem history and claim January 6 as a day of healing, survival and love.

Grab your FREE VIRTUAL ticket to our Official “Kissed By God” Book Release Showcase featuring readings from our amazing new published co-authors. Click here to get yours.

I’ve mentioned everyone, here, on my blog before and included links to their social media pages or websites. I’ll put faces to names this time:

At the start of 2021, when I first logged in to our weekly call. and witnessed first introductions, my jaw dropped. I heard all the powerful ways these women have shown up in their communities and their worlds and I just didn’t believe I deserved a seat at the table.

The more I got to know them (and the more they helped instill confidence in me as a friend and co-author!!), the more I realized I did deserve my seat at the table. I worked hard to get to this point in my life and have fought for this writing career. I was bold enough to say YES when the opportunity presented itself. Like all the women you’ll hear from this week, I’m not perfect, but I am present. Fully present. For this moment, for this project, for such a time as this.

So join us, Thursday, would you? You’ll be joining an evening of celebration that is guaranteed to make you laugh, make you cry and make you find that spark of inspiration to start your New Year off just right.

See you there!!

Oh! And here is the video of me holding our book in my hands for the first time!!! We said goodbye to our dear neighbor, Uncle Larry, last week when he ran ahead to heaven. Holding both — the sadness of his sudden health crisis and the joy of being a published author for the first time all in one week — it was brutiful. Brutal and beautiful, all at the same time!

As my dad said this week as he and my aunt made the decision to put my grandmother under hospice care (yep, it’s been a doozy for our family this week!), “that’s life.” The good, the hard, it’s all mixed in together.

Is your copy of our book on it’s way? We are now officially online at Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble (make sure you search for the whole title: Kissed by God: Stories of Love, Loss and Surviving it All). You still have an option to purchase direct from publisher (click here) or from me for an autographed copy (click here).

Thank you so much for your continued support. I said recently in a “this is what I’ve been doing the past 18 months and no, I’m still not getting back on social media” post on Instagram, that the readers of my blog are the wind beneath my wings when this writing career gets tough. That’s YOU!!!!! You are so special to me!!!

Click here for your free event ticket if you haven’t yet signed up. I’d love to know if you’re going to be there so I can “look out” for you so let me know in the comments below or send me an email or text, or carrier pigeon, so I can get even more excited (and have my nerves calmed a bit) knowing I have friends and family watching. I’ll see you Thursday!!!

xoxo, va

the edge of me

One Friday night, Lukas went to play drums as part of a personal worship service for a woman battling scary cancer. This gave me the opportunity to spend time with the kids myself. I say OPPORTUNITY as a choice word. Instead of panicking when I have to parent on my own, I try to take the chance to do something fun, something I’ll enjoy, with one or both kids.

That night’s activity was going to a fun area close to our house called the West End. We pulled into the parking lot and James was asleep, hallelujah, but Tabby was losing her marbles. Just that morning, it dawned on me I could baby wear her, something I hadn’t done in over a year. I could strap her on my back, feed James from the front and feel like a ROCKSTAR mom, like another level awesome mom-ness.

While in the parking lot with a melting down toddler, equipped with my new found “I’m a bad ass mom” skill, I asked Tabby if she wanted to get on my back and she said “YEAH!” I’d found front row parking for my sexy mom van, SCORE!, but once I got out of the car I looked at the restaurant, saw the porch full of adult beverage drinking Friday night enjoying, definitely not toddler toting, folks, and realized that also meant I was at my own personal comedy show…with me as the only one on stage.

We managed to get into the restaurant, eat dinner and get back to the car without any worth talking about incidents.

It felt like SUCH a huge victory, such a win, I was flying high, high high high, I GOT THIS.

Annnnnnd then the next day was the complete opposite, just like the parenting rollercoaster promises. We were in the middle of attempting to get James to sleep (this was pre-surrender to carrier napping) and several days into attempting a schedule with him that was not working, at all. I was going insane. Lukas was going insane. The “I GOT THIS” parenting high I experienced the night before was completely replaced with “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?!?”

We somehow managed to make it to bedtime with both kids and flopped into dreamland ourselves, weary from the parenting battlefield we had weathered all day.

After “Saturday from hell”, I limped into church on Sunday and into the arms of my church family. Answering their “how are you?” questions with tears or “at least I’m breathing” responses.

They spoke words of Truth — holding my shoulders and looking me in the eyeballs — they promised my kids would sleep eventually, promised I could do this, promised we weren’t alone.

My pastor’s wife ushered me into the sanctuary and said “come and be refreshed” and I stood in the service, swaying James while he slept. I wept. I let the tears fall, I let my shoulders droop, I leaked snot onto the head of my newborn. I had no idea how I was going to make it through this season but I had people who I trusted speaking God’s words of truth into my heart. Even though I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I knew it had to be there because they all said it was. I didn’t have eyes to see the light but they did, and I had eyes to see them.

I left church that day feeling a little lighter. I had no idea how we were going to make it a month, a week, a day or even an hour but I knew I wasn’t doing it by myself. Somehow, someway, it was all going to be okay. I trusted it would be okay. Not because of anything I could do myself (especially because my head was so full of anxiety!) but because the people I’ve surrounded myself with told me I could trust myself, trust my husband, trust them, and trust Him.

The sermon that day was a home run for my present circumstances. I don’t remember all the details but I captured some quotes I didn’t want to forget…

“When you’ve been pushed to the edge — Don’t allow the trauma and the trouble you’ve experienced, impact your ability to trust.” — Lamar Hardwick (our teaching pastor)

“When you come to the edge of yourself, when you’re willing to take the journey away from your ability to understand, that’s where you’ll find the gate.”

“I learn how to find God at the edge of my ability to define God.”

It feels good when I get to be a bad ass, rockstar mom. I feel strong and confident and, well, like a freaking rockstar. I need those moments to keep going. I need those victories, those wins, those days where it just doesn’t feel that hard to be a mom, because right around the corner there’s going to be another type of day. An “edge of my abilities” day when I’m at the end of my rope, running on E, empty, and drained.

I need BOTH. I need the high days and the low days to keep my perspective on the King of Kings. I believe He gifts me the good days, right when I just can’t hold on anymore, and He gifts me the bad ones to keep me close to His heartbeat, so dependent on Him.

Some of my very best moments in life have been at the edge of myself. When I’ve let go of what I understand, about myself, my God, my circumstances, and received the gift of surrender to fall into whatever He has for my current reality. I wish this was something I could manipulate or plan or bring into existence, but I can’t. It’s His to give and take away and I just want to keep hanging on.

I don’t want the glory of the good days to allow me to think I don’t need Him anymore. I don’t want the trauma of the hard days to impact my ability to trust. I want to live at the edge of me, where I don’t understand, in order to experience the inexplicable joys of loving a God I DEFINITELY, absolutely, positively, seriously times a bajillion, don’t understand. The edge of me, that’s where I want to be.

xoxo, va

a daughter’s prayer

A friend was walking through some hard and dark stuff with her daughter recently. As the mother of a daughter, my heart was able to enter into the grief with this mama and walk with her through the darkness. Soon after, they got celebratory good news and although the battle ahead for them isn’t over, it’s not as dark as it was. I’m thankful to bear witness to God’s faithfulness in His love for our kids, a love that’s a million times better than love I could ever give my sweet girl.

I wrote this prayer as I nursed James one night and decided to copy and paste from our text convo because I KNOW I’ll need it one day for Tabby. As much as I pray for my kids, I know we will come up against darkness together and I will need to summon heaven into the battlefield in my mind. In the darkness, sometimes it’s hard to find the light. I wanted to capture in my own words, the light while I felt it so when that darkness comes I can cling like a life raft to these beliefs. Beliefs that can be really shaken when the darkness rolls in.

In addition to the following prayer, here’s a message I want to capture for my future self:

STAND FIRM. Stand firm, sister. God is for you. He’s for your kids. He’s for your daughter. He’s for your marriage and your family. HE IS FOR YOU. Do you doubt that right now? That’s okay. I promise, that’s okay. You aren’t a bad Christian. You aren’t doing the wrong things. Life comes and darkness comes and it shakes you to the core. In the shaking, good things are happening. God is going to make His glory shine bright. I promise. He’s done it before and He WILL do it again. Stand firm.

And if you can’t stand right now, grab a sister to stand around you and for you so you can become a puddle for a time. Get off your feet. Let your doubts overtake you and feel them, while your sister is there, ready to pull you back up when your tears have been shed. Ready to pull you back up and carry you until you can walk again yourself.

You WILL be able to stand again. You WILL be able to walk again. I promise. Trust me. We’ve been here before and He has been faithful. He will be faithful again. Lastly? Be kind to yourself. Take care of you. Defend your boundaries. Keep things simple. Don’t be all things to all people. Let yourself off the hook. Give yourself a high five for making it this far. Be gentle with you, please. You are doing a GREAT job. You are a absolute FANTASTIC mother. You are a warrior. Sister. Stand firm.

Lord, I know (mom) is getting up soon to head into her first day back at work. To be hit with the information she did yesterday right before this day doesn’t feel like unplanned timing. It feels orchestrated by an enemy who’s goal is to lie, steal, kill, cheat and destroy. In the name of Jesus, I declare he has NO power over her mind. NO power over her family. NO power over (daughter’s) mind, body and spirit. You created this sweet girl, fearfully and wonderfully. You knit her together in (mom’s) womb and she is perfectly made, exactly the way you designed her to be, to bring you glory on this side of heaven.

(Daughter’s) role is a sacred one. A role absolutely no one else can fill. Her experiences, her suffering her celebrations, her overall story, is one the world needs. You’re cultivating it now. You’re walking her through these times in her life that will impact others in the future. Give her grit, resiliency, endurance, strength, peace, JOY!!, faith, surrender, gratitude, patience, perseverance, and all the other amazing things you gift us for no other reason than we are your children.

(Daughter) is your daughter, adopted, redeemed and secure. You’ve gone before her and you follow behind her. You hem her in, on all sides. NO WEAPON FORMED AGAINST HER SHALL PROSPER. I speak these truths over (daughter’s) life and I speak them into (mother’s) as well since the way you feel about (daughter) is exactly the same way you feel about your beloved daughter, (mom). She is yours, you call her your own, you are so proud of her, and you are for her.. We thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness to us. Give us eyes to see your goodness in the land of the living, on this side of heaven. We need you Lord, Jesus, come.

My dear, Tabby, life is hard, isn’t it? I’m so glad we get to do it together. ❤️

xoxo, va

beautifully broken

Sometimes I walk around an environment full of people and think about what stories are untold, what hurts there are under the masks of smiles or anger or numbness. What are people really struggling with? Based on statistics, in a group of more than 10 people, at least 1 American is suffering, currently or in the past, with some kind of substance abuse. That means, there’s a good chance the other 9 people know or love someone battling substance addiction. And that’s just from that specific battle, what about mental health? Grief? Broken relationships? Health stuff? The list of pain goes on and on. No matter where I go, I am constantly running into people who have pain, who have a story.

When I met Pat many, many years ago, since she was raising her grandson as her own son, I knew there was a story there. She shared with me she was raising her daughter’s son but I had no idea, no idea all that she was walking through when I’d see her, head held high, at work.

She was one of the women who helped me navigate my first corporate job, who showed me the ropes and taught me a whole bunch about how to show up well in that environment. She, as well as my now best friend, Stephanie, were the two main people who kept me afloat while I was a tiny fish. college graduate, in that giant sea of corporate America. Here the three of us are together!

Always grateful for her friendship then, our relationship morphed over the years when she moved to a different team and later, when I left the company entirely to marry my boo. I have no idea how she found my blog or started following along with our journey but I learned she was doing so when she sent the most precious email to Lukas when he found his way back to Chick-fil-A.

Pat and I reconnected the following year when she added herself as a permanent follower of Following the Fortunatos. Sending an email of gratitude for her support, I added my condolences for the recent death of her daughter, Melanie. Stephanie (a very dear friend of Pat’s) attended the celebration of life and some of the words Pat said during the eulogy were powerful ones for my hurting, depression suffering soul. I thanked her for them and for her boldness.

Very quickly after, in July 2020, she responded with “as the weeks have unfolded, I believe I’m being led to blog about my journey.” Now, 18 months later, I’m here to shout from the rooftops that not only has she created a worldwide-read blog that has touched SO MANY grieving parents, now she’s a published author!!!!!!!

Every night, at 7pm, Lukas takes the kids and I climb into the bath tub with my latest book. It’s my sacred 15 minutes to myself. After attending Pat’s book launch this past Sunday, I put aside my latest Jodi Picoult novel and opened my signed copy of Beautifully Broken. My 15 minutes in the bath tub are not enough!!! I want to send the family away for the day, curl up on the couch and finish it, because wowzers, this woman can WRITE!!

She’ll be the first to tell you God breathed the words through her onto the page, and I can totally relate because as a writer myself, I understand what that feels like. There’s also this Truth that when God gives us a gift, it’s up to us to use it, and use it she does. I’m transported to the years she spent as a single mom raising her two kids and the highs and lows of her journey with Melanie on this side of heaven.

The book’s target audience is parents who have experienced an out of order death but her words are balm for the soul for anyone grieving…even mine, a mom of littles who grieves a myriad of things from my kids growing up too fast, time I used to have with my husband, the memories depression robbed me from cherishing, or the loved ones who’ve hurried ahead of me to heaven.

Pat’s words offer the thing, the only thing, that can sustain me through any grief, pain, or suffering — HOPE. The tag line of her book states just that: Finding Hope During Loss.

Loss. If I were to sit across from you with a cup of hot tea and you were to share with me what life has been like for you since the pandemic, I have a feeling your story would include loss. I take that guess because every single person I’ve talked to since our world changed forever has, indeed, shared with me, some kind of loss.

Job loss, family member loss, friendship loss, sense of security loss, church home loss, financial loss, home loss, physical health loss, mental health loss, normalcy loss, sanity loss. So much loss.

Our book, Kissed by God, offers the world love and hope during these hurting times. Pat’s book is right there, offering the same, as well.

Need a Christmas present for someone you love that’s hurting, this holiday season? Maybe you need to wrap the books and put them under your tree for your own for your hurting heart?

Whether you buy Beautifully Broken or follow Pat’s blog, your heart will find comfort in reading her words. Every Tuesday, she publishes a post and as I sit up to feed James at 3am, her words help me hold him a little tighter and a little longer. He’s a gift (both my kids are!), offered to me by the King of Kings who loves them more than I could ever imagine. They are on loan to me from heaven and no matter how many days I have with their precious hearts on this planet, I want to cherish them wholly and completely, knowing there’s no promise of how many more I get to hold them close.

Congratulations, my dear friend!! I wish, so desperately, I was learning the details of your story with Melanie over a delicious dinner in the city, her sitting next to you, instead of through the tear stained pages of this book. I’m grateful for your bravery and your obedience in creating Beautifully Broken. May the Lord protect and keep you, Pat, as you keep delivering His powerful message of Truth to a hurting world!!!!

xoxo, va

worth the celebration

I can’t catch up. My to do list keeps growing and growing and growing.

The laundry is out of control, like a swamp monster feeding off little children’s messes and consuming my living room couch. The “landing spots” in my house — you know, the ones where the “do this when you have time” junk gets put, are filled up. The mail is unopened. The trash needs taking out…again…but the outside trash can is full so… hmmmm. The Christmas decorations are finally up, sort of, after 10 days of the boxes being down from the attic I gave up on getting everything out, hand selected a few pieces , tossed a whole bunch of other stuff into the “give away pile”, and carried the empty boxes back into the attic. The Christmas cards aren’t addressed. The… well… you get the picture.

There’s so much to do. ALWAYS. And yet, I’m fighting like a crazed feline in the jungle to stay present with the chaos. Stay present because there is, and will always be, so much to do, and in my “doing” I don’t want to miss the stuff that matters.

In 20 years, or even 20 days, I won’t remember that the laundry was put away and the floor was swept and the Christmas cards were sent “on time” (an obligatory deadline no one in the world is holding me to except myself — instead of Christmas, our card this year might turn into HAPPY EASTER!!)

This isn’t the first time I’ve written similar words during the holidays. It won’t be the last. Because the lesson is one I’ll continue to learn, over and over and over and over. The lesson of putting people over things, slowing down enough to treasure moments instead of being overwhelmed by them, pausing long enough to celebrate an accomplishment instead of moving on to the next thing.

So today, I pause, and just for a moment stop letting life happen to me and instead, look it square in the face. I grab gratitude with both hands, push everything out of my brain and sit in this moment, longing to feel the good but running smack into all kinds of feelings. Sometimes (well, most of the time) when I stop long enough to soak in the good, I’m also met with the bad. There’s loneliness I feel as a stay at home mom. There’s the mean girl lies telling me I’m not good enough… at anything. There’s sadness I feel over loved ones on the other side of heaven, for justice wars continuing to rage and for broken hearts in my village. There’s anxiety for my kids, worries for my husband, dreams and desires unfulfilled. To feel the good, I must square my shoulders and feel the impact of the bad. I used to run from this. Sometimes refusing to pause long enough to feel it… any of “it”… desperate for the good stuff but utterly terrified of the impact of the ick.

Over time, I’ve learned I don’t get to cherry pick the emotions. I either choose to live fully present and experience all the emotions or I run, numb, hide, protect, from both — the good and the bad.

“Turns out that’s life. If you’ve decided to live wide awake and alive, you get it all – the beautiful, the precious, the brutal and the sad.” – Jen Hatmaker

No matter how much I KNOW this in my head, my heart still wants to flee when the ick creeps in. It crept in this week. Depression symptoms I haven’t experienced in 18 months were there. Present. Like a longtime friend I feel very comfortable around, yet never want to invite to the party because I don’t know how they are going to behave or how long they will hang out.

This is NOT the post I wanted to write when I sat down over my bowl of spaghetti in Ponce City Market on my mommy afternoon away. I had some exciting news and an adorable picture of my girl and just wanted to celebrate but as the words flowed from my fingers, the Truth my heart is so rooted in, bubbled forth.

A concept I still wrestle with so actively in my faith journey — really good stuff comes BECAUSE of the bad, not in spite of, not something to ignore on the path to the good, not something to just get past quickly but that the good and the bad is all mixed in there together.

I don’t get it.

I definitely don’t understand it.

And I sure as hell can’t teach it.

But I’ve experienced it.

I’ve experienced the reality that in the bad and hard and ickiness, all mixed in together, is some really rich, really good, really sustaining stuff.

When I run, hide, numb, protect, from the bad, I don’t have the ability to sit in the good, the REALLY good, that gives my heart lightness… what I can identify only as “hope”.

“…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” Romans 5:3-5ish

That’s what I did this week. When the darkness of the depression tunnel started to cave in, when the anxiety was intense, when the sadness was fierce, when the irrational mood swings showed up, and the anger swooped in out of nowhere, I just let it come. I felt it, I sat in it, I cried, I yelled, I apologized. I called and vented, I went on sunshine walks and Peloton rides and drank my spinach smoothies. I accepted help from neighbors and friends. I held my kids close and let Fancy Nancy play 14 episodes and told Lukas when I was scared. I felt it all, all mixed in there together.

Today, Sunday, the day before one of the biggest days of my life and certainly my writing career (more on that in a minute!!), I am feeling it all. A little battle weary from the week I just made it through. Super hopeful I am doing good work as a mom… look at this freaking adorable child who decorated her Christmas tree ALL BY HERSELF!!!!!! And embracing the excitement of sharing tomorrow’s moment with my writing tribe sisters.

As of 6am Monday morning, November 29th, 2021, I am officially a PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!!!!!!

I DID IT!!!!

WE DID IT!!!!

And now, you, WORLD!!!, get to hold a copy and read the words the Lord breathed onto the pages of this book. From our hearts to yours, it’s a love letter of hope to a hurting world. Stories from battle weary women, women who have survived and dare I say THRIVED, in the midst of amazing highs and devastating lows. Women who have FELT IT ALL, and are living to tell about it. Get ready to curl up with a cozy blanket, a cup of hot tea, it’s a book that deserves both!

My prayer is you let our words be a balm to your alive and wide awake soul, a soul that might need a good laugh, a good cry and a whole lot of hope.

So how do you get it????

Kissed by God will be available everywhere you buy books (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, etc.!) starting December 31st (even available internationally in some English speaking countries — SO CRAZY!!) but before that, our publisher is making it available to anyone who wants to get a copy beforehand. You have two options:

or you can…

This is WORTH CELEBRATING!!!! I thought I had to do something big and profound and “social media” worthy to do so, but I realize it’s less about what I do to celebrate and more about giving my heart space to feel the celebration.

Becoming a published author is a dream fulfilled. FULL STOP.

I wish you could see the giant grin on my face. After pausing long enough to feel all the emotions, wading through the hard stuff, and finding peace-filled, hopeful rest, I let those words travel from my head to my heart.

Y’all, I did it.

And that’s worth the celebration.

xoxo, va

the wheels are off

Have you ever heard the phrase “the wheels are falling off!”?

It’s one we use in our household…a lot! And one that, going into the holiday season I might be hearing more frequently!!

It basically means things have gone array. Things are crazy. Things are messy. The kids are banshees. The crap has hit the fan.

Kids are unpredictable. As many great schedules as we have (and we are a pretty schedule driven family!!), things don’t go as planned…on a regular basis. Often, if things get off a bit we can course correct and get back on track. But then there are these moments when things have gotten so off track, all we can do is laugh.

That’s typically when we say the wheels are falling off. As in they are starting to fall off but we’re still hanging in there…barely.

And then there are moments when the wheels completely fall off. The house is a wreck, the kids are producing bodily fluids at an alarming rate, typically Tabby has been put in front of the iPad and 9 times out of 10 will have stripped down to her birthday suit, James is in a baby carrier with a paci shoved in his mouth and Lukas and I both have hair sticking straight up off our heads…well, he’d have crazy hair if he wasn’t a bald man.

“THE WHEELS ARE OFF”, one of us will declare, followed immediately by laughter, maybe a photo to capture the insanity, and a total surrender to the chaos swirling around us.

Parenting has done that to us, pushed us to points where we just don’t give a rats ass about anything but staying sane. Simplifying life to the basics — everyone is alive, CHECK!

With all this precious experience with falling off wheels, I laughed to myself all the way through Target after realizing I was pushing a two month old in a stroller that was literally missing a wheel.

Tossing the last item from my shopping list into the basket of the stroller, I watched my son start tipping forward…WHAT?!?!

Looking down I realize, daggumit, the wheel is gone!!!

Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time this stroller had lost a wheel so I didn’t panic, but proceeded to backtrack my steps while teetering James in the middle of the other three wheels. Shockingly NO ONE said anything to me until I got to the customer service counter “OMG, YOU HAVE A WHEEL MISSING.”

Thank you captain obvious!

“Yep! Has anyone turned one in?”

“Umm, don’t be offended if they don’t. I doubt anyone would actually bring it to us.”

What are they going to do, pick it up and put it in their purse?!?

I went through the entire check out process using only one hand as the other hand kept James stable. Finally making it to the parking lot, I carried three decently heavy bags and pushed the dang 3-wheeled stroller to my awaiting chariot — our white mini van.

Hallelujah!

The wheel was in the trunk.

I dropped the bags to the ground and put the wheel back on before doing anything else. After getting the bags into the car, I took a peek under the muslin blanket I had draped over James’ car seat and sure enough, he was still cashed out.

The kid slept through the WHOLE THING. He slept through the wheel being off!! And it got me thinking — do my kids care when the wheels fall off?

Do they care the house is a wreck or the laundry isn’t done or dinner is frozen chicken nuggets…again? Do they care that mommy hasn’t bathed in 3 days or Nigh Nigh has worn the same shorts 4 days in a row?

NOPE.

“[My kids]…will forget what [I] did, but [they] will never forget how [I] made them feel.” -Maya Angelou (modified)

My kids will absolutely forget about what was going on during our wheels off moments. They won’t have a clue. But they WILL remember how I made them feel.

Did I take my frustration out on them? Did I yell at their dad? Did I escape into my phone?

Or did I embrace the chaos? Did I dance to get some release? Did I laugh at the insanity?

I want to do the latter. I won’t do it perfectly and it’ll probably be a jumbled mess of all of the above but keeping their little hearts top of mind is high priority for me. How I treat my husband, high, high priority. How I make my people feel at all times is important but ESPECIALLY when the wheels are off!

xoxo, va

PS — What is your most memorable “wheels off” moment as a parent??? Leave your memory (whether 30 years or 30 minutes ago!) in the comments, below.