**As my 30th birthday approached I’ve been posting every week on Instagram about a year in my 20s. It was vulnerable and left me feeling exposed at times. It was tough reliving old memories and old ghosts from the past. But I found no skeletons. There aren’t any. Good, bad and ugly, I’ve faced my mess and chosen to live “out loud” with it. It’s not always pretty. It’s quite messy at times, but there aren’t any secrets, nothing hidden that I’m scared you’ll uncover, and because of that, I live forever FREE. Free to be the woman I’m supposed to be, designed and created by the God of the Universe. My prayer as you read the words below, is that you’ll see HIM in every millisecond of my years… I sure do!!!!!!
If you’d like to see the photos that corresponded with each post, click the link for each post as you see here:
January (ish) of 2014, I met a woman who would change the trajectory of my life in a powerful way.
We met and soon after she said “hey I’m reading this book and think you should too, want to be friends and start a book club?” Yes, YES, YES!!!!.
It was a season where I desperately needed friends (more on that later) and she was a hand picked one God placed in my life for “such a time as this”.
She gave me a book by Matthew Kelly, grabbed my hand, and we did hard life together as we read, studied, and looked at our lives from a new lens. On the first page of the book I read these words…. “Everything is a choice…it is perhaps frightening…but it is also LIBERATING, because we can now begin to choose what we will find when we look at our life in the tomorrows that lie unlived before us.”.
As much as I wasn’t proud of the 5 years of life I’d lived in my 20s prior to the book reading, I also realized it was in my power to make the next 5 years DIFFERENT.
Starting next week, I’ll be posting once a week on the life I’ve lived and lessons I’ve learned in my 20s. Many of you will see sides of me you didn’t know about or personally never experienced and it may be stuff you don’t like or want to hear.
It’s my story.
A messy story—Jesus makes beautiful things out of the messy stuff!!!.
Parts of the story are hard to share (especially the early 20 years!) but I’m proud to share. Proud because it’s a story of an amazing, POWERFUL God doing BIG things in and through my broken self.
It’s a story of grace and redemption and my prayer is you will see THAT, His overwhelming goodness, in the posts to come.
Thank you @akdill87 for handing me that life changing book many moons ago, and thank you for being bold in posting about your 20s that inspired me to do the same. I know I wouldn’t be as proud and excited as I am about turning 30 without your friendship as I bravely made the many small choices that changed my tomorrows and for that, I’m eternally grateful 💜
It’s impossible to start this “posts about my 20s” train without first showing me doing “the VA”. Yep, that’s me, in a myriad of outfits (and hair colors), with a myriad of adult beverages being (or already) consumed.
Some may say, hmmm isn’t 20 not quite “drinking age” and you’d be correct-a-mungo. At age 20, I had 5 years of drinking adult beverages under my belt.
At age 20 I was on my 2nd year at Auburn, living in an apartment by myself, questioning why I was in interior design when all the other girls were so much more talented then me. I was trying to decide if I was going to leave or stick it out and graduate.
At age 20, I was 2 years removed from Jacob dying.
I hated God. Like real bad hated Him.
For those of you who don’t know the backstory, my parents’ best friend’s son was stolen from us by a car accident 5 weeks into both our college careers.
It wrecked my world.
It wrecked our lives.
At 18, smoking cigs, throwing house parties and becoming a professional liar with my parents left me and my friends “invincible”.
Until Jacob died.
The years after were nothing shy of a HOT MESS.
That was my MO.
I was running from grief and pain like a PROFESSIONAL, leaving behind a wake of bad nights and even worse mornings as I balanced school and work as a server.
I hid a lot of this well. I wore masks. I faked it. Remember—professional liar.
I numbed with anything and everything because PAIN. Oh so much pain.
It’s hard to share this. It’s hard to “shout from the rooftops” that this was me but a few nights ago as I was gathering these photos and getting choked up thinking “man, that was me, who is that girl?” Lukas told me — “it’s a good thing you don’t recognize yourself in those pictures”.
God hasn’t just promised me I would be a better version of myself, He’s promised me I’m a NEW CREATION. And hallelujah that woman above isn’t someone who looks familiar—The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!!!
TWENTY ONE years old. A confusing and interesting year. Mucho partying went on with a monumental twist. On New Years Eve my mom called to say we lost another student from my senior class. I started screaming into the phone as I crumpled to the ground. There was a freak series of events that led to me not being drunk that NYE and it was one of many moments I can pinpoint God having an active hand in my life when I wasn’t even following Him.
Michael died in an accident only miles away from where Jacob’s car crashed.
At his funeral, his dad asked the ultimate frisbee team from UGA to stand up. He told those guys Michael didn’t play frisbee with them only because he loved the sport, he played frisbee with them because he wanted them to know Jesus loved them.
It was in that moment, God whacked me over the head with a two by four.
Michael had taken Jacob’s death and used it to fuel his ministry. Serving on sports teams and opportunities all over the world loving on people exactly like Jesus did.
What had I done since Jacob died?
A whole lot of drinking. And a whole lot of being pissed the heck off.
Following the funeral I went and sat at Jacob’s grave and wrote in my journal.
God, I want to be different. I want to make Jacob’s death mean something by how I live.
As soon as I got back to Auburn I found a church.
Google wasn’t really a thing yet so I needed a way to find a church…and the only connection I had was an acquaintance from work who was a heavy drug user. She took me the first Sunday and never returned but it became a part of my weekly routine.
Jesus was wooing me back to Himself and I was paying attention…it was a LONG road ahead (more on that in later posts) but the prodigal daughter was heading home 💜
Bali Indonesia —> San Diego, California —> Auburn, AL is where I spent my 22nd year of life.
Remember when I told you I started attending church again? It was at that church I felt stirred to go on a mission trip for the first time, in honor of Michael and Jacob — the girl in the above pic soon after we were there chose Jesus as her savior even though she experienced major abuse from her family for her choice — I’m wearing a T-shirt in memory of Jacob.
It says “the glass is full”.
Not half empty or half full but FULL.
That’s how he lived his life and that’s how I wanted to live mine.
After Bali, I moved to San Diego for an interior design internship (because I wanted to be as far away from the east coast as possible).
After 10 weeks in California, I celebrated my college graduation (which was bitter sweet because of a personal family matter we were struggling with at the time) and started a job as a college ministry intern (CRAZY story how I landed that gig which is too long for this post).
The photo of me panting a wall, although blurry and grainy, means a lot to me because when my dad saw this picture he said he hadn’t seen me smile that big in a long time. He said my smile radiated joy.
Yep, that was Jesus.
Working on my heart.
Giving me a community to keep my accountable.
Showing me how much better life could be with Him by my side.
23 started out with a bang when a dear friend fulfilled my bucket list dream of standing on the 50 yard line in Jordan Hare Stadium!!!! AND the perfect icing on the cake was getting to hold the National Championship crystal trophy. WAR EAGLE!!!!!!
The first half of my 23rd year included leading a trip to love on tornado victims in North Alabama and having the INCREDIBLE honor of baptizing one of my students.
My birthday in February marked 2 months smoking free and 8 months without an alcoholic beverage.
I was doing good, real good, and starting to love life in the community I was surrounded by.
I left the ministry in July to take a 6 week break before starting grad school.
It was in that break, with life much slower/less distracting, anxiety popped up as a vicious (new) battle to fight. Worry and fear took over and I experienced my first anxiety attack.
In October, 3 months removed from my beloved ministry community (my choice, not theirs!) I fell flat on my face. I thought my faith was strong, but I learned the meaning of “you are who you hang out with” and I turned back to all of my old vices in a 24 hour period.
I was actively fighting hard to keep my head above water with my faith, screwing up and repenting, screwing up and repenting, but the pressure of being “good” without a community (again, my choice, no anyone else’s!) holding me to a higher standard left me backsliding. Slow at first and then real fast towards a life I thought I had left behind.
My 24th birthday (when this pic was taken at a hotel in ATL) and the months following were a total hot mess. It was as if every temptation I ever had was back, times a hundred.
I still was going to church.
I still was doing my Jesus time.
But I just could not get my behavior under control.
Having started smoking again, I knew I needed to quit and had just decided officially to try only days before a phone call sent me into a tail spin.
My aunt was gone and her 18 year old daughter (my cousin) was in Tuscaloosa, AL. I was physically closer to her then her dad or the rest of my family and I needed to get to her FAST.
I remember kneeling on the floor of my bedroom, taking a pause from the scramble to pack, in total shock…
“Lord, how do I do this?”.
Three weeks after Aunt Vicki’s death, I sat in my classroom watching presentations of my precious freshmen interior design babies.
One raised her hand and said “Virginia, I’m not feeling good.” 48 hours later she too, joined my aunt in heaven, and I was left with a classroom full of 19 year olds, devastated and wide eyed, looking to me to tell them we would be okay.
How do I tell them they can get through this when I myself wasn’t sure I’d survive the grief?
It was in this season self-care became my highest priority. I had to take care of myself so I could take care of my students.
My dean asked me what I needed and I told her I needed an extra year of grad school. I needed to not rush to the graduation stage because I needed to take care of myself.
Therapy, working out, eating healthy, REST…those became my highest priorities.
I was SO BAD AT IT but I was learning. I wasn’t a good role model for those girls…yet…but I was committed to making sure I never stopped trying to be better…for them!!!
My 25th year!! Sweet goodness.
A rising from the ashes year.
Learning SO MUCH about self care (being in the best shape of my life hey-yo!).
Really good therapy.
There were still quite a handful of drunken nights & fighting to be smoke-free, but MAN, I was feeling good, looking good, and getting STRONG.
I remember praying that summer “BRING IT ON SATAN” because, well, I was on top of the world!
Until I wasn’t.
I moved a quarter way across the world to Italy, during which I received a break up email from the man who had, only a few months prior, told me I would be his bride.
“It was too hard” he said.
“BUT WE CAN DO HARD THINGS!” I said.
“But I don’t want to do hard things” he said.
And that was that.
In Italy, I didn’t have a support system (omg the loneliness!) and when my mom got there to move me home, she was life support.
I moved back to the states with no boyfriend and very few friends since our mutual friends picked him over me.
My dad and I sat at Waffle House soon after I returned and he said “I hate to see you cry”.
“Dad, I know how to make the tears stop. (I pointed out the window to the booze filled bars).
I know how to stop crying but I don’t want to.
I want to FEEL THIS and not numb it.
I don’t want to wake up at 35, still battling the same grief filled demons I’m battling at 25.
I HAVE to do it different this time.”
And different I did!!
It was the hardest battle I’ve ever fought, sitting in my $#!%, feeling all the grief.
I wasn’t grieving only him, I was grieving Aunt Vicki, and Darby, and Michael and, the deepest rooted pain…Jacob.
For 7 years I fled from the pain of his death and FINALLY, me and Jesus sat down and wept, sobbed and wailed for him…TOGETHER.
There were moments I thought I would physically die the pain was so strong.
It hurt to brush my hair.
I slept A LOT.
I cried even more.
But we (me and Jesus) were doing it.
We were feeling it all.
We weren’t numbing.
It was the best decision I ever made because beauty I never could have imagined started showing up from the ashes!!!
Year 26 had SO MUCH beauty.
I defended my thesis and became a MASTER.
I won FIRST PLACE in the AU research competition. Beating out a particular professor who told me 2 years earlier what I was doing “would never matter” because it was a niche subject “no one cared about”. BOOYAH!.
I graduated with honors— 4.0 BABY!
I was hired by Chick-fil-A to do a job in that “niche subject no one cared about”.
I moved to Atlanta.
And got to travel all over the country for my job.
I met the most amazing people.
I learned HOW AMAZING my people were.
I learned how much I loved hiking.
I fell in love with myself.
I fell deeply, madly in love with Jesus.
I fell in love with my family and relied on them like I never knew I needed.
I learned HOW MUCH I needed women and how their friendships were worth more than all the riches in the world.
The year I thought I would walk down the aisle as a bride, I learned about laying down my victim flag, picking up my VICTORY flag, and walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid…3 times.
I learned how to celebrate and love my people through my pain.
I learned about vulnerability.
Doing the next right thing.
How STRONG I really was.
How BIG God’s dreams were for my life.
I believed Him.
I sought Him.
I surrendered to Him.
I followed Him.
There were still hard days. Oh, some really hard, lonely days.
But I discovered when I pressed into the hard, when I acknowledged there was no way through but through, and kept walking forward…I got stronger.
I got braver.
The grief didn’t kill me.
Actually, when facing the grief head on, it MADE ME STRONG.
The thing I thought would be my demise, was really the thing that gave me wings to soar!!
Year 27 was filled with reasons to jump for joy!
I bought a new CAR…all by myself!
I became an official staff member of Chick-fil-A, Inc. after a grueling interview process.
I traveled all over the country again for work.
I learned the ins and outs of Chick-fil-A and graduated from their training program.
I hiked a ton. Including rim to rim of the Grand Canyon!!!
I spent a bunch of weekends on lakes and beaches, playing with friends and making lots of memories.
I decided I needed to start acting like a wife before I was a wife, which meant re-evaluating male friendships and having some REALLY awkward conversations.
I went on a few first dates.
I crushed a little too hard on a coworker.
I got my second tattoo (a baby bird following a big bird—God’s the big bird, I’m the baby bird and it reminds me that my job is just to spread my wings and soar behind Him).
I had my second wrist MRI that ended a three year “what the heck is wrong with me?” journey when I learned surgery was my only option.
I learned how to pray. Like REALLY pray in a way I never had before.
I set up my war corner (inspired by the movie War Room) and sat there for hours praying my battle prayer—Psalm 143.
It was a year of learning more about who I was, standing on my own feet in ways I never had, pressing into hard with friends (and being far from perfect at it!).
I watched my younger brother get engaged and my much younger roommate find her soul mate.
As a single woman, I was loving my life but also longing for my person, my partner, and watching other people I love find theirs was challenging.
I wasn’t always kind. My pain led me to react poorly in more situations then I want to revisit. And it led to a couple drunk nights I REALLY wish I could forget!
It was a year of MASSIVE growth (sooooo many “growth opportunities”) and one I look back on now with mega gratitude.
I see clearly how He was prepping me for what was JUST around the corner…
With only 18 days left of my 27th year of life, a studly bald man introduced himself to me in the Chick-fil-A cafeteria.
He said his name was “Lukas Fortunato” and 3 days shy of my 28th birthday he called me his girlfriend 💜
My 28th year was defined by:
🐪 trip to Niger
🌪 brother’s hurricane wedding
💰left old job
🍟 new job
🎪 new husband, new marriage, new…LIFE!
I remember mom telling me on hard days “any ONE thing you’re facing right now is big, you have all of them…at once!!”
For a girl “not good with change”, God sure stretched me and challenged me.
He tested my humility with surgery and mom BATHING me for a month.
He tested my endurance with six solid months of physical therapy.
He tested my patience as I moved all my possessions into a storage unit and myself into a friend’s guest room.
He tested my gratitude as my family suffered the emotional rollercoaster of a hurricane wedding.
He tested my strength on a mission trip to Niger.
He tested my commitment in a long distance relationship and engagement.
He tested my faith in leaving my career to support my new husband’s dreams.
He tested the capacity of my heart to experience JOY when I walked down the aisle toward my best friend, surrounded by the people I love radically.
I’m thankful for His tests because 28 was a beautifully challenging year full of depth and a whole lot of love 💜
On this 30th birthday eve, I look back on the past year, the 29th, the last of my 20s, and all I can think is “what a roller coaster!!”
I got sad as I scanned through pics of Lukas and I running restaurants together, pictures from the day before he had his last interview, pictures from New Jersey when we were picking up the pieces of a shattered dream and asking God—WHAT NEXT??
Me and the rainbow is a perfect single representation of what my 29th year was…filled with so much rain, and SO MUCH beauty.
I saw the country from east to west coast.
I learned about forgiveness.
I fell deeper in love with my husband as I watched him rise above some pretty hard circumstances and maintain his integrity at every twist and turn.
I experienced grief in a new way, through the heartache of someone I adore.
I got to have all my stuff in one place after 14 months of being “homeless”.
I witnessed my bro and his precious wife find redemption at their rescheduled, BEAUTIFUL, wedding reception.
I feel in love with the community of East Point and found a church family to do life with.
I joined a team of incredible individuals support Lukas and I SO DANG WELL.
I went to Germany with said incredible people!
I discovered gratitude is a life raft in the midst of stormy seas.
I started doing yoga again and remembered how great it is to slow down and breathe.
I launched my own BUSINESS (@itsoilybusiness)
I dug down deep and uncovered my “WHY”.
I realized I’m obsessed with standing side by side other women, cheering them on, as they do hard things!
I set goals and wrote them down for the first time ever.
I hand picked family values alongside the man who leads our family so well—
I grew as a wife, leader, daughter and friend.
I faced old demons and new battles and came head to head with it all, SO THANKFUL the God of the Universe is on my team.
“If our God is for us, who can be against us???”
Peace out 29.
I can’t say I love you or hate you.
Much like every other year of my 20s, you grew me, changed me, and strengthened me and there is NO WAY any money in the world would get me to go back and do it all over again!!