adventuring with dad

“We have to go do something fun.” Lukas exclaimed as we faced day two of our five day COVID exposure quarantine, with our cancelled plans and locked down selves.

Being “stuck” at my parents house is an oxymoron. At their house we have good food, four extra hands with the kids, and are 3 blocks from the beach…in two directions.

There’s no better place to face a quarantine situation. Actually, it feels silly to even call it a quarantine when others who face COVID exposure risk loss of income, job, house, and even their life.

We did have to mourn the loss of our five year anniversary trip. Giving space for lamentation and then deciding the milestone was worthy of celebrating even if we had to get extra creative in the execution, we made new plans, like sitting on the beach watching the sunset with a glass of wine.

On the day we needed some extra fun, we decided to pass little buddy off to Gaga and take the older buddy for a beach adventure. My parents are adventurers to the core and own stand up paddle board kayak thingy majigs. Lukas had been itching to try them out so we loaded up the wagon and walked the 5 minutes to the ocean shore.

As soon as we got there, Tabby left my side and headed straight after her dad. I was yelling and hollering for him to pay attention to her because I wasn’t getting near the frigid water — no way!!

He wanted to try it out himself first (great idea) so she had to stand with me and wait for him to get the hang of it. Once he figured it out, it was time for little miss to join. She was giddy. I went from “I am not going into the water” to donning my super-mom cape and wading her out to him in thigh high water.

As I watched them paddle away I smiled at how brave my little girl was and what a great husband and father to my kids I have who’s so engaged and committed to adventure with his offspring! Sitting back down in my chair I paused from my nostalgic thoughts as fear began to creep in — my mind started running through all of the things that could go wrong with my three year old sitting on top of a surfboard in the ocean. Rip tides, sharks, RIP TIDES.

Thankfully, my mind didn’t camp out there. Instead, I looked at the gorgeous sky, the expansive water and the two humans, my humans, floating on it, and thought…how good is our God??

“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, where my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior.”

That’s been a cry of my heart for too many years to count. I desire that God would lead me deeper, allowing me to trust Him to guide me further, out where my feet don’t touch.

As I watched daddy and daughter floating in the expanse of ocean, I thought about what an epic adventure she was having. She was a little nervous (“I’m not too sure about it” is the first thing she said when she got back to the sand with me) and she had fun spreading her wings a bit with her dad (or “Nigh Nigh” as she calls him). He kept his arms around her, tucked between his legs, she was safe.

I had fears about Tabby going out there, valid fears that I don’t think anyone would have blamed me for voicing. Fears that, if strong enough, could have prevented her from experiencing such a grand adventure. And as j sat looking at them paddling along, I thought…

The best adventures always come with a little fear.

There’s a Bible verse that says “do not fear…” Actually there are a bunch that say that. In the Kings James version there are apparently 119 “do not fears” or “fear nots” and 500+ mentions about fear between the two testaments. That’s a whole lot of fear.

For a lot of my life I’ve thought if I love God and trust Him, I won’t fear. When I was afraid I would be rather hard on myself for not trusting Him enough, not having enough faith, not doing enough Bible study, because if I did it all “right” than I wouldn’t be afraid.

My thoughts have changed over time. Maybe God says “do not fear” so much, not as a command or a challenge or a test of my faith. Maybe He says it over and over because He knows there is A LOT to fear. Maybe He offers “fear not” as comfort, encouragement, and a reminder that even though there’s a whole bunch of stuff to fear, He’s near and He’s with me.

If I didn’t know God personally, that wouldn’t be much comfort.

I’m not talking about “personally”, like I’ve prayed a prayer and picked Him to come into my life as my Savior. I’m talking about all the years I’ve walked with Him as a friend, confidant, and companion.

I’m talking about the life crap I’ve survived with Him by my side. All the times I never thought I’d make it — like when Darby spoke her last words to me before her aneurism, or I got the call Jacob was in an accident, or I sat in Pops’ closet after his cancer diagnosis, or when Sandy breathed her last breath on this side of heaven, or month after month of not conceiving, or when Lukas was told “no”, or walking through postpartum depression, or the migraine attack days, or all nighters with our newborns. All the moments my heart couldn’t handle, my brain couldn’t understand, and my body couldn’t function. When brushing my teeth felt impossible, putting on clothes felt too hard, and even breathing didn’t seem guaranteed.

In everyone of those instances, there was a lot of fear, and yet, I made it through. I’m on the other side of those particular crappy things (even though, for some, there is residual hurt and sadness!), and can look back and see how the Lord being with me mattered. I see how His presence provided peace and grace to navigate days that seemed never ending.

It’s the longevity of the relationship I have with the King of Kings, that gives me the confidence to trust Him. There was a time I definitely didn’t. When the words “fear not, because I am with you” meant absolutely nothing to me. If anything, they caused more fear because I didn’t KNOW this guy who was declaring “fear not”. Who’s He to tell me not to fear — do you SEEEEE the dark scary thing in front of me?!?!!?!?

I’d say even now, I’m still getting to know Him. Learning His ways, deciphering what He cares about, experiencing His promises, breaking down lies I’ve been told about Him, navigating my doubts, experiencing exhaustive uncertainty. There are STILL days when the Biblical “fear nots” bring me zero comfort.

Lord, you have me in deeper water!! My feet don’t touch the ground!! I’m scared!!!!!!

Well….that would be my prayer… IF my head was clear. In the moment it’s more like “OMG OMG OMG I AM DROWNING. I AM DROWNING!!! DO YOU SEE ME DROWNING?!?!!? HELP HELP HELP!!!” Throw in some colorful 4 letter words and it would be an even more accurate depiction of what happens when I’m afraid.

But, like a general in an army I’ve followed behind for years, I trust the One leading the charge. Sometimes I forget He’s standing up in front fighting for me and I need my sisters, my Church, to remind me, but I ultimately find the confidence in Him — even if I’m afraid — to do it anyway (sometimes, I have no choice!!).

Every time I’m afraid, it’s because the good is out of reach or hard to see. Sometimes I don’t see it at all (like when someone dies and I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around life without them!). Sometimes I see the good through a foggy mirror, I KNOW it’s there but it’s so unclear it’s hard to maintain focus. Sometimes the good is screaming at me, like in a fun paddle board adventure for my 3 year old and her dad, but the fear is trying to scream louder.

The fear is loud, and yet, the longer I do this whole relationship with Jesus thing, the more bold I become when I’m staring at deep water. I can’t see the bottom, the sharks are swimming, my feet don’t touch — but there’s good, somewhere, because the One leading me into the deeper places is good, so so so good, and He’s never failed me. Letting go of my comfort zone, embracing the unknown ahead of me…it’s all scary stuff, but adventuring with Dad has always been worth it.

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!

UPDATE: Click here to watch recorded book launch.

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