far away and hard

James is sleeping, Lukas is at work, Tabby is across the street at the babysitters house, I’m all alone in my bedroom, pen in hand, wrestling with more faith/religion stuff.

I held and went thorough my Bible in the first time since…well, I have no memory of the last time I did so. Up in my bedroom is where I typically sneak away for a moment to myself, but my Bible has been downstairs in my book bag from the last time I went to a coffee shop to do some writing. I took it, but didn’t open it, then, and it stayed down there. Anytime I’m upstairs, the Bible has felt far away. We have two sets of stairs in our three story home and we joked just yesterday about how TERRIBLE it is to be down in the garage, only to remember there’s something we need in the master bedroom, three stories, and two flights of stairs away.

My Bible wasn’t on the 1st floor, only one set of stairs away, and yet going to get it, still felt hard. I could run into a child who needed something, or a husband who needed something, or a post-it note from my to do list that needed something. There were logical reasons why the Bible felt far away and the task to retrieve it felt hard.

This morning, as I sat in my chair with journal open, I felt drawn to the book downstairs. The house was “empty” (a sleeping baby makes the house as good as empty!). There would be no interruptions on the trip down and I could use the down and back stair climbing exercise anyway. Today, there were no excuses. I jogged to the kitchen and back up in less than 45 seconds.

I opened the book, read some stuff, wrote some stuff, flipped some pages, and then decided I’d rather type what I was uncovering, instead.

When my Bible was downstairs if felt far away and it felt hard. That book is now sitting right next to me, I can touch it, I can hold it and open and — it still feels far away and it still feels hard.

There have been seasons of life, this little book was a source of certainty. When I opened it, the exact words jumped out of the page for my exact situation. I looked to it for guidance. Everything I found in there fit, it made sense, it brought clarity.

I encounter people who still experience this.

Just yesterday, two beautiful older women who have lived in my community 30+ years, came to sit on the porch with me and Tabs. We watched them as they came to our street, parked, and instantly I knew they were on a mission. Dressed in their finest, one holding a cane, I watched them get their bearings on the street, talk to others dressed like them finding places to park, and then wave to us as they walked by.

“Do you know who we are?”

It was a funny question shouted across the skinny two lane neighborhood road.

“No, m’am, I don’t know who you are.”

I hollered back, coffee cup in hand.

“Someone will be over to talk to you soon.”

Tabby and I watched (and discussed since her three year old mind had A LOT of “why” questions) them knock on our neighbors door. We knew our neighbors were there but they decided to not answer. My guess is these beautiful women get that a lot. A pamphlet was left and they made their way down the driveway back to the street. Looking left and right, and then straight ahead at me, the younger of the two, made the decision that we were next.

“Well, I guess we’ll come over to you!”

The two women did in fact have a mission. I’m still not quite sure what it was but man, they were clear on their purpose. The younger one especially, she had a plan, she had her program and her outline and her prepared message. She used her Bible at different points and shared words I was all too familiar with.

She was so certain. So convinced. So determined she knew the answers.

Answers about God, about eternity, about how we are supposed to be, here, before eternity begins.

I felt inferior, I felt defensive, I felt backed into a corner. Not because of anything she said or didn’t say but because she was was so certain and I am so not.

I don’t know the point of all this. I don’t know what God is doing. I think I do sometimes, I get glimpses, but it’s not always. Nothing is always.

I do feel God’s peace, and then I don’t.
I do feel confident God is here, and then I don’t.
I do trust He’s in control, and then I don’t.
I do believe He’s making all things new, and then I don’t.
I do believe He is for me, and then I don’t.
I do feel strong to suffer, and then I don’t.
I do feel Holy Spirit in me, and then I don’t.

My Bible feels far away and hard right now and I think that’s okay. I am okay. I haven’t lost myself or my card carrying Christian membership. I haven’t lost my influence or my impact or my connection to God, His people and His mission. I’ll keep asking Him if there’s something I need to change, I’ll keep asking Him for discipline and diligence and guidance. Sometimes that ask looks like a song lyric or a conversation with a friend or a journal entry or a blog post or a chapter in a book. Sometimes it’s scripture, sometimes it’s not.

In this moment, I am certain of two things — God exists and God is good. That’s about it. The rest? I’m learning how to sit in the discomfort of the uncertain. Letting go of certainty is scary, but it hasn’t killed me, it hasn’t crushed me, hell, there’s even JOY here. There’s joy and there’s life even when certainty feels far away and faith stuff feels hard.

xoxo, va

away from the kids

The minivan was running, I sat in the driveway, forced to leave but with nowhere to go. This was my time, my “sanity time”, but I felt anything but sane. Couldn’t I just go back inside? Busy myself with the barrage of required constant care for the two children who carry my genes. Getting out of the house had been hard enough. There were tears, from little people, and from my own eyes, as I unwound myself from the clutches of their needs, as I followed through on the commitment to meet my own. And yet leaving the driveway felt harder.

Put on your own oxygen mask first, “they” tell you. You can’t care for someone else unless you care for yourself first, “they” declare. But HOW do I do that? How do I make time for me? And when I miraculously have the time, what the heck do I do? Sit in the driveway paralyzed didn’t make the list of how to spend these sacred minutes but my brain wasn’t working and so I sat, frozen, grateful for the time and terrified of wasting the minutes I knew I needed. Minutes I’d declared “sanity time”.

Sometime after my second kid was born and my husband started traveling for work, I decided I needed some scheduled alone time. Time where I could take off all the hats — wife, mom, homemaker — and just be me, Virginia, the woman, the human. When Tabby was a baby, mornings were my time. We were blessed with a rockstar sleeper and homegirl would snooze until 7:30/8 every day. That was a reasonable timeframe. I’d get up an hour or so beforehand, catch my breath and then we’d dive into the day.

When James came along, so did the early mornings. 6 am, 5am, sometimes even 4am, the kid would wake up ready to party. With his early morning needs came my loss of sanity time, and the reality I had to find it somewhere else. Because if the time to get sane is removed, the sanity is removed with it.

When my “sanity” is gone, I’m grouchy, short tempered, annoyed at everything my core family is doing, I cry a lot more, I yell a lot more, my energy is zapped, little things feel impossible, all I want to do is sleep or watch tv. My grace is few, my patience is thin, my kindness wanes.

My knowledge of scripture and Christian culture reminds me “His grace is sufficient for you!” All the scriptures about how much God is enough for me come to mind and I get in a worse mood. Why am I not relying on Him enough? I haven’t read my Bible in 3 days, is He punishing me? I’m failing as a Christian…and a mom…and a wife…and a writer…and a homemaker…and a human.

Lukas would take the kids some mornings but then he started traveling with his new job and that meant the consistency of having him around to help wasn’t reality. I had to find it somewhere else.

Sunday afternoons were dubbed “sanity time”. Two hours, from 2pm-4pm, I would do something, go somewhere, anywhere, where I could just be me.

It was always this weird feeling — I’m free!! There’s so much I want to do!! But I’m so damn tired!! — what do I do? Week after week I’d consider going home early because home, being with the kids, felt easier, than navigating this world on my own. As a human, as a woman, not a mom or wife.

I still have days like that now, when I get time to myself I feel disoriented, unfocused and anything but clear headed, like I’m “out” of the kid fog but not really, as my mind is still consumed with their needs and turning that off isn’t just a flip the switch situation. Some days I walk away from the time alone feeling fully recharged and strong, other days, I finish alone time only desperate for more.

I try to remind myself that this isn’t the only time I will have, and fight to let go of the pressure instigated with the belief “I have to return after this time fully charged up and whole” because that’s just not reality.

When those empty feelings appear after alone time, I used to beat myself up for that “why didn’t I fill my tank more!!!” but what I’ve now learned is that my tank was WAYYYY empty at the start. Actually, sometimes I leave those sanity times less sane and even more empty because it was finally a pause from pouring myself out to others and I realize — WOW, I’m pretty empty, myself.

Instead of beating myself up for not getting full in that sacred two hours, I use that emptiness as a red flag to elicit future action. I recognize I need more self-care to fill me up. That might be time for myself, time with my husband, time with a friend — time to “let go” of things weighing me down (usually in the form of journaling and prayer) — more time charging and filling. It’s not an instantaneous process. It won’t happen immediately but I will get there. I WILL feel like myself, I will be productive and confident and on top of the world, again. That will happen. But I can’t force it to happen. All I can do is to keep investing in myself, keep filling my tank one drop at a time.

I’m taking my own advice this week as I’m at my parents house. Usually I hit the ground running with all the stuff I want to get done because my parents are here to help with the kids. This time I did it differently. I planned nothing, I didn’t bring chores or a to do list and instead have just let myself be.

I’ve watched a lot of tv, taken a lot of walks, and just spent time with mom and dad. I got a small bit of writing in today but that was it. It’s been so much better. I’ve mentally and physically rested for 24 hours and tomorrow I actually feel like I might get something accomplished. I wish I could be more productive and fill more in the time but I just can’t, I’m a human, not a robot, so I will focus on letting it be what it is and staying as present as possible with it all.

My guess is that you’re doing the same. It may be messy, it may be awesome, it may be all of it at the same time. You may feel so depleted you feel like you’ll never be filled up again or you might feel like you’re on top of the world. Whatever it is, my guess is that you’re sitting in all of it and being present with what yourself has to offer this moment. That’s all we can ask of ourselves, right?

To all my mamas (and grandmamas!) out there with small kids or big kids, this is my message to you —

You deserve this time away, mama. Not because you earned it by how hard you work or how much you’ve poured out in your year(s) of motherhood (although that is true!!) but because you are a beautiful human who is worthy of care!!! ❤️❤️❤️

You have plenty of adorable pics of your kids because they are awesome — let me scream from the mountain tops — YOU ARE TOO!!

xoxo, va

Pops

When I look at this family picture, there’s a HUGE hole.

Our beloved patriarch, Pops, ran ahead of us to heaven back in October 2019 after a brave fight with terminal cancer. This past summer was the first time we’d all been together since his funeral. The first time in two years (thanks to COVID and baby James) I’ve gotten to be with the larger group.

My decades long role in the family has been photographer and photo book creator.

I’ve always pushed past rolled eyes and the “ughhhs”, knowing pictures together are invaluable. There are moments when all the exhaustive amounts of “say cheese” are worth it. Like the day we got the call Pops took his last breath. The cousins were all texting each other, and realized all of us were sitting at our respective homes, across multiple states, looking through old photo books, cherishing moments spent with our beloved grandfather.

At our third annual family get together without him on this side of heaven, while hanging out by the pool, I turned to the ladies and said “I think it’s time I made another photo book”. Between crazy family schedules with moves and weddings and babies and a funeral, it had been quite some time since I’d gathered pictures together and created a book.

Meme (Pops’ bride of so many years it’s hard to count), pulled me aside later and I asked her if she was okay I made a photo book again, knowing it would be the first one without him gracing the pages. She said yes, it was fine with her, especially since he loved those photo books so much. She said we honor him and are grateful he’s here with us. It’s time to continue on as a family without him on this side of heaven.

Not having him on this side of heaven leaves a hole in our family that exposed us to suffering in its black hole style pull. For my grandmother, more than any of us. They were childhood sweethearts, meeting each other for the first time in FIRST GRADE!!!

He, a retired Navy Commander, she, a rock solid matriarch, the pair built a life full of family and love. A foundation that helped me weather tumultuous seas as a young adult, before starting my own family. A family I never thought he’d ever get to meet.

In the summer of 2014, I was living with my grandparents in Atlanta while I transitioned to my new big girl job as a corporate employee. Typically St. Simons bound for the 4t of July, I came down with some kind of nasty sickness and stayed in bed, instead, for a few days. Meme got sick after me, then Pops. The ladies were able to shake the cold quickly but Pops’ symptoms lingered. Concerned, the doctor was visited and tests were run. When I heard the words “terminal cancer”, I headed immediately to his closet.

A walk-in version with a door accessed from his bathroom, I sat down on the off-white carpet and stared at brown wooden polls holding all of his clothes. The tears started falling and didn’t stop. A single woman at the time, I wept for all the life he would inevitably miss. He wouldn’t meet my husband. He wouldn’t see me walk down the aisle. He wouldn’t hold my kids.

A fighter on the battle field as young man, a fighter for love as a grandfather, he became a fighter of cancer, determined to live as long as he could to experience as much life as he could, with those of us he loved the most. He fought valiantly, giving us FIVE more years of pictures and hugs and kisses and gas money.

There was never a time I left his house he didn’t slip some kind of bill in my hand. The last time I saw him, a few days before his hard fought body breathed his last, he lovingly called my grandmother back into the room “Emily, come here” (a phrase I’d heard a million times before) and then soon after a “Virginia Lee come here” followed. He raised his tired hand and slipped me a hundred dollar bill. I kissed him on the cheek, told him I loved him and I’d see him soon.

I wasn’t by myself when I said those last words to him. In my arms was my daughter, a child, five years earlier, I never dreamed he’d meet.

And my husband? Pops didn’t just get to meet him, he got to know him really well and both men respected each other tremendously. Pops attended not only my wedding but was able to see all three of his eldest grandchildren wed their soul mates.

Commander Johnny Childs got to meet James Paul before we did. “James”, a family name gifted to our little boy in honor of his great grandfather. A man who deserves every ounce of honor given to him, by his family, by his country. A man we miss tremendously and who’s legacy of love we carry to anyone we ever impact. We love you Pops!!

xoxo, va

going to the gym…tomorrow

“Ugh, I need to go to the gym” I declared, remote in hand, to an empty apartment, seated atop my couch, in my single lady space.

“UGH I don’t want to do go the gym.”
“I’ll go to the gym tomorrow. Oh yeah, what a great idea, I will DEFINITELY do a great work out tomorrow.”
**Next episode** Click!
Filled with guilt, I’d watch another, and then to distract myself from that compounding guilt, I’d watch another and another and another.

Weekends went by and Saturdays rarely included gym days. The guilt (“I’m doing something bad”) compiled and turned into shame (“I am bad”). Shame, that, week after week, kept me rooted on the couch because there wasn’t ever going to be some magical turning point where I ACTUALLY made it to the gym “tomorrow”.

The rhetoric stayed the same, “I’ll do that tomorrow”, until I committed so many times to do it “tomorrow”, I felt pretty bad about myself. Fighting the mental game has always been a priority of mine, recognizing the biggest personal battles are fought and won in my mind, I made a new commitment. I changed the language I used when sitting on the couch.

“Ugh, I need to go to the gym” typically declared to an empty apartment seated atop my comfy, grey, chaise lounge couch.
“UGH I don’t want to do go the gym.”
“I’ll go to the gym tomorrow.”
NOPE, wait, you won’t go to the gym tomorrow, let’s just own where we are, VA.
“I don’t want to go to the gym. Am I okay with not going to gym?”

If the answer was yes, remembering I went to the gym an extra time that week and what my body needed most was rest, or maybe I just didn’t have it in me, even if I had been to the gym zero times that week. Whatever it was, I’d own it. I’d click the next episode button with less guilt. One episode maybe turned into two but very rarely turned into many more. I wasn’t in a shame based *next episode* spiral, so I didn’t get stuck there.

If the answer was “no” to the “am I okay with not going to the gym?”, I’d rally, go grab tennis shoes and at least go for a walk. The physical movement would always do my body good, and again, no shame spiral.

Being intentional with my words, owning them, acknowledging that what I say out loud or in my own head is leading to how I feel about myself and ultimately, how I take action. It’s pretty rare these days to catch me saying, “I’ll just go to the gym…tomorrow.”

xoxo, va