this is enough

Three hours before bath time and I already knew we weren’t doing to make it. It was 3:05pm and the kids and I were heading thirty five minutes away to meet Lukas to buy a Christmas tree. An experience every year I attempt to make magical. Wear Christmas garb, shop for the tree, eat a nice dinner, come home with plenty of time to make bedtime. Annoyed I’d left the house later than I wanted, annoyed I hadn’t built more margin into this magical moment, annoyed we’d be in a rush, I tried to communicate to everyone involved — Tabby, Lukas — that my annoyance wasn’t towards them but at the situation.

Lukas was a safe place for me to process these feelings. He didn’t try to fix it, he just listened as I vented and declared, “ugh, I just don’t even want to go!” I wanted to go, I REALLY to go, to experience the event, to make the memories, but I didn’t want to go with this bad attitude. I didn’t want to be around myself, why would my family want to do the same? After pouring all those feelings out, Lukas paused to let those feelings sit and asked “is there another way to reframe this?”

Immediately the phrase “scarcity mindset” came to my mind — I was focusing on all that I didn’t have (time) instead of all that I did (a beloved family to make memories with). Lukas encouraged me we could salvage the evening, encouraged me he’d accept me just as I was, encouraged me we might be a few minutes late to bath time but that will be okay, he encouraged me we could do this and we both hung up.

In the stillness of James starring out the window, Tabby napping in her car seat and Lukas loving me just as I was in that moment, God laid a phrase on my heart — this is enough.

This time, this three hours between the moment in the car and the moment bath times need to start — it’s enough. It’s enough to achieve all He needs me to achieve. It’s enough to buy a Christmas tree. It’s enough to eat dinner (albeit a fast one). It’s enough to share moments of joy and to make memories with one another. This time we had — this is enough.

He presented it in a loving way (primarily through the love my husband offered in our conversation), one where my heart opened to receive what He had to say, I am loved, I am safe, and it was up to me. It was up to me to choose whether I would spend the next three hours focused on the scarcity of what I didn’t have, or up to me to trust in the abundance He offered.

Through the rest of the thirty five minute drive my heart lightened, God allowed me to rest in the phrase “this is enough” and let go of my need to manage the three hours and instead just live them.

We pulled up to the plant nursery and Lukas was waiting but finishing up a call. The creep of “we don’t have time for this!” tried to infiltrate my mind, the annoyance at how all consuming Lukas’ job can be started to make it’s way to my brain and I shut it all down.

THIS IS ENOUGH.

It gave me grace for him in that moment. The grace wiped the scowl off my face and replaced it with a genuine smile.

This is enough.

The tree picking adventure included James falling head first into concrete and busting his face, him following his sister and her rain boots into giant puddles that covered his tennis shoes, socks and pants, in water… in forty degree weather, and an important extended family phone call I couldn’t miss. All things I couldn’t have planned would happen and yet, there was enough time for it all.

Oh, and since I realized AFTER James pooped I hadn’t restocked the diaper bag, I made an additional Target run for diapers and footed pajamas to solve the “my son is covered in ice cold water” dilemma. My unplanned Target trip left Lukas in charge of finding a dinner place. We both have strict diet needs so that’s not the easiest job but he managed to find a place we could make work in our tight timeframe.

I pulled up to Waffle House a few minutes behind the rest of my crew, grabbed poopy pants James and walked back towards the door only to run into some very special women in our lives.

The family phone call I’d taken included them in the discussion so getting the chance to hug their necks and discuss the situation with them was divine. A gift from a God who can do more in three hours than I could ever imagine.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory…” Ephesians 3:20-21

The three hours was memorable. It was absolutely enough. James got to bed at a decent time, Tabby got to stay up late (a HUGE honor for a three year old) to prep the tree before bringing it inside.

And now, this morning, while my heart is full with the memories we made last night, I carry the Lord’s message into today. This moment, this time I have right now, this is enough.

xoxo, va

seventy five hard widow

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Isn’t personal growth always?

Women use the phrase “work widow” to describe a state of feeling widowed to a husband’s workload. Halfway into the 75Hard program I began identifying myself as a “75Hard widow”. This program isn’t for the faint of heart — for the person earning their stripes and the people supporting.

Since September 10th, Lukas has completed 132 workouts, drank 66 gallons of water, eaten nothing but produce and protein and read 660+ nonfiction pages. He’s completed these tasks while traveling in Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Arkansas and all over Texas. He’s done workouts in the rain and cold, sometimes at 11pm after a late night flight, other times heading to a local gym to log 45 minutes before washing off the sweat and rushing back to a meeting.

I’ve followed my own program as he’s followed his. Mine, with built in flexibility to accommodate the rigidity of his requirements. We thought about the program a lot before starting. We planned, we prepped, we structured our lives to make it happen and, yet, I was still blindsided by the burden we would bear.

With a traveling husband and dad, evening times, when Lukas is home, are always sacred. 5:00-6:45pm in our house is dinner, connection, bath and bedtime as a family of four. Once the kids are down and we high five each other on surviving another day of chaos, we spend the rest of the evening based on our needs — work? Chores? Cuddling on the couch? Playing cards on the porch? Connection? Getting ahead? — we always check-in to see what we as individuals and as a couple need and have two hours before our own bedtime to make it happen.

What I’ve learned since September 10th is how cherished those hours are. In the beginning of the program, Lukas was able to get in his second work out before coming home. He’d throw on a weight vest and walk the trail at work while on the phone with a colleague or do a strength workout in the office gym during lunch. As the momentum of the start of the program died down and the stress of life pushed in, being able to get that hour slot into his workday became harder and harder.

So the days when he worked out in our sacred evening two hour slot, increased. More days than not, I found myself watching my show on the couch by myself and cleaning up after dinner, solo (or choosing to push the task to the next day). “I miss my husband” is what I’ve said multiple times when people ask how things are going. Before we started the program, Lukas gave me permission to pull the plug, if needed. The stipulations were that I talked to our therapist about it, and she and I could make the decision that this just wasn’t working.

Around the middle of the program I was moments away from doing just that. My therapist and I talked about it and she even challenged me to consider throwing open the escape hatch and getting us out of the intensity.

But something kept me from making that final decision.

In the midst of the challenge, in the midst of the hard, I was also witnessing an interweaving of really good things in my husband. Pulling the plug on the challenge meant letting go of the hard, and also letting go of the good. And the good wasn’t worth losing for things to get easier.

Our family values are: steadfast, authentic, intentional and daring.

I watched Lukas remain steadfast on days that seemed impossible to stay the course. Authentic, as the level of pressure he was experiencing stripped away any energy to be anything but his real self. Intentional, as he spent any free moments with our family in a very present way. And daring, as he took on a challenge so many people have started and failed.

In nine days, Lukas will complete the 75 Hard challenge. Lord help me if something gets in the way from his victory because he is so close we can taste it.

In ten days, Lukas turns forty. A milestone in his life that will be marked with this epic achievement. Like me (and probably most of you), he looks back on years previous with joy and sorrow together. He carries memories of highs and lows, times in his life he’s been proud of himself and times in his life he’d rather erase from everyone’s memory, including his own.

Years and years ago, a friend told Lukas to look in a mirror and that he needed to do everything he could to be proud of the man staring back at him.

My prayer is that, come November 24th, Lukas looks in the mirror and is full of so much pride. Because when I look at him, that’s exactly what I feel.

Proud of my husband for doing something so few people have successfully accomplished, proud of him for staying the course when things got hard, proud of him for not giving up on himself, our marriage, and the investment in our children. Proud of him for relentlessly pursuing growth in himself, for fighting hard to tap into what he’s really thinking and feeling, the “core” of himself, if you will.

The physical results are very tangible, easy to spot in the photos you’ll see below, but the mental toughness, the emotional health, the intangible growth that’s occurred in his head and heart, that’s the stuff I’m most proud of. And not for the 75Hard challenge alone. As I look back on the six+ years I’ve known (and loved) Lukas Fortunato, I’ve witnessed him experience devastating loss and never lose hope. I’ve watched him suffer greatly, and still get out of bed to fight another day. I’ve seen him at his best, on stage, crushing it, and at his worst, moments he’s shared with me alone.

My hope is that he looks in the mirror and sees what I see — a man who’s weathered storms, and sailed his ship beautifully (not perfectly, but beautifully!) — these past 40 years.

If I knew what I knew now, I might not have agreed to 75Hard, but I’m glad I didn’t know. I’m glad the Lord led our family to this challenge, a chosen one, designed to toughen us all up, and push us to new limits

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind.” – Henry Ford

I see us taking off, continuing to reach higher heights of health, influence, impact. Using our gifts and to bring glory to the One who wrote the words of our story so long ago.

I am grateful for Lukas leading us to complete this challenge together. Yes, together, because he’ll be the first to tell you there’s no way he would have succeeded without my support. We will continue to support each other’s wild and crazy ideas, like when I told him I wanted to try taking our kids out of the country to celebrate his birthday.

Last week’s trip to Puerto Rico wasn’t without its challenges, but the richness of the moments were worth every bit of the hardship. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s no good and rich and strength and endurance and joy without the hard. And because of those things, whether forced upon us or chosen, I’ll keep giving the Lord my gratitude for the challenges we face.

xoxo, va

my whiteness is showing

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

I’ll never forgot the first few trips to the grocery store. I was on guard, terrified I was going to offend someone. Make eye contact, smile, nod, be kind, be respectful, don’t stare.

That feels like a long time ago, almost six years, actually.

And we haven’t had an East Point address for going on six months, since our move to the Hapeville neighborhood 10 minutes away, but I’m reminded of one of our last walks around our East Point home.

James and I (me a little more than him), pondered all the years we’d lived in the community. We were nearing the closing date finish line to hand the keys over to the new owner and the reality that it wasn’t going to be home for much longer was setting in.

As I walked out of my driveway and headed towards the loop I made a million times since moving to this particular home in August 2019, my mind settled on a phrase “my whiteness is showing”.

When I first moved in, I’d make this loop and my feelings/actions were similar to the grocery store visits years prior.

Wave. Smile. Don’t be rude. Don’t be offensive. Be respectful. Be friendly.

I’d get slightly offended if someone didn’t wave or smile back but I made it my mission to win them over the next time.

This worked for most people. The last week we lived there, I made the rounds to say bye to all the acquaintances I’d made along my many walks. Swapping phone numbers and addresses to add to our Christmas list so they can watch the babies grow up. My heart is sad I probably won’t see most of these people again but I’m leaving with a heart that’s full of the new relationships I made while living on Farley Street.

Patting myself on the back, I’m proud of the relational work I did here. I loved my physical neighbors, and I showed up as Virginia in their lives, the best I knew how.

I’m proud and I feel embarrassed.

Embarrassed because when I first moved into this community, my mission was as pure hearted as any, and yet, now, five years later, I see I had (and HAVE!!) so much to learn.

When I walked around this community, as a minority among Black people, my mission was to be kind and above all, to not be offensive.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned though…I am white…and my whiteness is offensive.

A definition of offensive is — causing someone to feel deeply hurt, upset, or angry.

It doesn’t matter what I say or how I act or how big my smile is. I have white skin. And my white skin represents all the other white skinned people who have deeply hurt, made upset or angered Black skinned people for many, many, years (and continue to do so), in this country.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who sees me walking up and down the street sees me as offensive. A 5 foot, 1 inch woman pushing a baby stroller seems pretty innocent.

As I met more people on my walk route over the years, I realized a lot of them were looking out for us more than they were offended by me. They’d come out of their houses to shoo away dogs, tell me to put a hat on my kid when it was cold, or let me know someone up to no good was wandering the neighborhood.

But what if my whiteness triggered feelings of being offended? Is that okay? Can I make space for their anger, hurt, fear? Can I not get offended by being seen as offensive?

When we were picking names for our kids we made sure we didn’t choose names that reminded us of other people. You know, like ex girlfriends or boyfriends. Let’s pretend I had an ex-boyfriend named Andrew (name made up — I’m not actually going to write about a real ex-boyfriend here, guys). He broke my heart, caused me a lot of pain, and although I’d healed from it, I still don’t want that constant reminder. Yeas later, we have another Andrew in our lives (this time I’m being real, he’s AMAZING), one of our kids babysitters who they absolutely adore.

I don’t think my ex and our babysitter are the same people but one Andrew caused me pain and one didn’t. No matter how much we love the second, because of the pain of the first, I wouldn’t want my son named Andrew. The name Andrew is attached to some stuff that offends (remember that definition — deeply hurt, upset, or angry) me.

Looking at the history of America, it doesn’t take long to see white people hurting, upsetting and making angry, Black people. Flesh and blood friends I have, right now, can tell stories of their grandparents who have stories of segregation, abuse, discrimination, persecution. Friends I have right now, have told me stories from their college years, being on the front lives of civil rights focused work. A friend, within the past twelve months, shared the paralyzing fear she experienced when her boyfriend was being pulled over, for a seemingly routine and simple traffic violation.

People that look like me, that have the skin I have, have offended people that look like my many East Point neighbors.

Just like I wouldn’t want my son’s name to be Andrew (made up boyfriend name) as a constant reminder of the pain and hurt I’d been caused by an Andrew, I get that if someone (or someone’s family) has been hurt by a white person, my very presence could be a reminder of that pain, triggering anger or other upset feelings.

During that walk I realized there was little, well, nothing, I could do about my whiteness showing. I wasn’t going to walk up to every neighbor and apologize for being white. I wasn’t going to be able to heal the many hurts that had been caused. There wasn’t much action to take (which is SO annoying for someone who likes to fix things!) but I realized there was one thing I could do.

I could make space for the offended feelings. I could choose not to get offended, myself, if someone didn’t wave, or was uninterested in getting to know me. It wasn’t personal. They weren’t against me, Virginia Fortunato. They weren’t offended by me as a person, but my whiteness could be offensive to them, for valid reasons, and is that okay? It was up to me to accept the idea that just by standing there, walking around the neighborhood, I was offensive, because my whiteness was showing.

xoxo, va