we are women

I pitched an idea to my mama bestie. She lives in Cali, we only get to talk via Marco Polo, but she’s been a key figure in several life changing turning points in my life these past eight years. You’ve already read about her here!

The idea was simple — let’s celebrate the conclusion of our breastfeeding journeys together. She’d brought life into the world through her beautiful son, Xzavier, the same summer James made his grand appearance. We navigated the highs and lows of the first year of their lives. Warrior mamas, sharing life over videos while nursing, changing diapers, pumping and driving, sometimes doing both the latter at the same time. We pondered the complexity of motherhood, cried over the never ending unknowns, and rejoiced at the victories too “small” or too private to share on social media.

No matter how many amazing mamas I have in my world, there’s nothing like the camaraderie of an “in the trenches of newborn life” mama. My friends with school age kids weren’t texting me at 2am as their kids screamed for no reason. She did. We did. We’d survived it all together, she was my “breastfeeding buddy” and we deserved to celebrate ourselves!

We toyed with ideas. Do I fly to her? Does she fly out here? Do we meet somewhere in the middle? Is it a weekend thing? A spa weekend? A spa day?

What if we did a photo shoot?

It’s been a long time since I’ve had any kind of headshots taken. Certainly a long time with just me, sans family, and non since becoming a mother. When I first got my writing website up and running after writing coaching, a couple years ago, I put a “mom boss” spin on it because the only recent photos I had of myself were Christmas card photos taken with my little girl. I knew I needed updated shots but also was waiting to lose some weight and feel better in my skin before investing the money to do so. Losing weight wasn’t a possibility while I had a low milk supply and fought for every calorie and ounce of milk while breastfeeding. Once I’d weaned James, I decided to invest in my physical health a bit.

I joined Noom (basically “weight Watchers for millennials”), excited about the psychology aspect of the app, and motivated to lose weight. More importantly, though, I wanted to feel good in my skin, no matter what that shape or size was. The app didn’t stick, but the mindset did. Our beautiful new bathroom has a glass shower next to a giant mirror. Every time I jumped in I forced myself to not look away. This is you, this is the body you have, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are enough. I bought clothes that fit me, a size I’ve never bought in my life. I said things to myself I didn’t believe yet, but was committed to cementing into my brain.

I started believing them — 65% of the way — and the idea of a photo shoot kept popping up. When Alana and I began dreaming of doing something together to celebrate the milestone of weaning our boys, I threw out the idea…wanna do a photo shoot together??

She agreed! But before I move on, using the word “celebrate” feels weird. Not because it doesn’t fit, it absolutely fits, it was a celebration AND the word “celebrate” doesn’t do the experience justice. Saying goodbye to the nursing relationship with our boys was complex. It wasn’t simple. Celebration is a PART of what we experienced. We felt excitement our sons were growing up and learning new things and becoming little humans with new skills. And grief as we let go of a stage in their lives, knowing we wouldn’t have those moments of quiet in the middle of the night when everyone else was sleeping and it was just baby boy and mama.We felt relief there would be no more battles for milk supply or washing pump parts or. We felt confusion as we climbed out of a “nursing mama” cave, still the same women but also very different as this new layer of ourselves was discovered and the chapter closed. We were very much the same. And very much not.

Our idea became reality as we began putting in motion the pieces to fulfill the dream.

Photographer (my dear friend), check.

Make up artist (friend of Alana’s), check.

Hair mastermind (wife of make up artist), check.

Babysitting, check.

She flew in from California to visit family, we texted back and forth about outfits, knowing our photo shoot was coming up but clueless to what the experience was about to mean for our heads and our hearts.

On the phone with my dear friend and photographer, Tonesha, days before the shoot, she was asking me what we wanted as a result of being on the other side of her camera. We talked about motherhood, about breastfeeding, about how bad ass women are, about how even more bad ass we can be when we do something together. We talked about how easy it is to lose yourself when life is moving so fast, when you’re caring for others, when you’re hustling after big dreams and also paying the bills. We talked about what depression steals from us, about how mental health has to be a priority and that standing in front of her camera was part of my fight for maternal mental wellness.

Days later, we took off our mom and wife hats and opened the front door to our make-up and hair team. The four of us (soon to be followed by our photographer) dove pretty quickly into rich conversation about marriage, women, race, faith, the church, mental health, writing, grad school, doctorate programs (there were a lot of degrees in the room, y’all!), and other life stuff. We basically had a group therapy session in my bathroom!! It put me at ease to be surrounded by such amazing women, as I was making the space to celebrate the awesome woman I am.

I wish I could capture more of the emotion of the day into words. But words allude me. Some moments in time are meant to be enjoyed there, in the present. And that present was pretty awesome.

We took individual shots (those for another blog post!) for our personal websites and then had a blast together in front of the camera. These are my favorites from the day:

Alana, you are the most beautiful WOMAN and mother and wife and TENURED professor. You are raising up a son who will be a world changer as you do the same in your, rather large!, sphere of influence. The work you do matters, whether it’s from a teacher’s podium, on a panel of experts, behind a consultant’s desk or in the four walls of your own home. YOU MATTER. You matter to Za and Derrick and people in the Bahamas and Atlanta and Canada and Alabama and California, to people on multiple continents and in numerous countries. You matter to them and you matter to me because girlfriend, seriously, my life would not be what it is today if you hadn’t been bold enough to say “hey, there’s this book I want to read I think you might like — wanna start a book club?”

xoxo, va

you made it here

“Look around, YOU MADE IT HERE”

Sitting in Willow Creek Community Church the first week of August, I accepted the deep breath the man on stage offered. A conference attendee, only made possible with a blessed invitation from Lukas’ boss’ boss, I sat next to my good looking man and his work counterparts.

And it felt like a miracle.

The day before, Lukas and I left the house at 10:55ish. I’d spent weeks prepping to leave the kids for 3 full days. Both Tabby and James are used to having me home, as their primary caregiver. Tabby had experienced me gone for multiple days earlier in her life but it had only been “over nighters” since James was born and I could count those over nights away from the kids on one hand.

Getting in the car to head to the airport was a big deal. it felt like a miracle I even made it to the vehicle, let alone the airport, let alone the Delta Sky Club, let alone onto the Chicago bound airplane with all of Lukas work peeps, let alone…Indianapolis?

That wasn’t a typo. Ninety mins into a short delay, the plane ride and my private showing of the movie Fatherhood, the pilot told us weather in Chicago would force him to make some decisions. First decision was an attempt to go around the system of rain, thunder and lightening and circle until we were given clearance. Okay? No big deal. We rerouted, we circled, I kept watching my movie. About twenty minutes later the pilot was telling us Chicago still hadn’t opened the airport to incoming flights. Since planes run on fuel, and not hopes and prayers, we’d be landing in Indianapolis to fill the tank.

Okay? No big deal. Let’s land this thing and refuel, we’ll be back in the air in no time.

Or not.

Spirits were high on the plane as passengers received grace for themselves and others while we waited fifteen minutes for the pilot to find out more. Soon he was informing us he didn’t have a determined time of departure so we’d be deplaning. Indianapolis airport was welcoming us with open arms, snacks and bottled water.

We got off the plane and sat to hang out. Estimated time of departure was about an hour delay. Let’s go eat dinner.

We were traveling with eight out of the eighteen total team members who were attending the conference. Two others had a plane rerouted to Charlotte. A couple were stuck in the Atlanta airport and the folks who’d left on the flight before us were lounging by the pool at the hotel…kidding…sort of. They’d made our dinner reservation for the cities best Chicago deep dish pizza and spent time relaxing in preparation for the big following day. What we’d all hoped to be doing!

After dinner we ventured over to the gate and it looked like we wouldn’t be boarding anytime soon. See, Chicago opened its airways but our amazing pilot had reached his hours limit and therefore we were going nowhere. A pilot was being flown in from somewhere else and we’d be back in the air…in an hour or so.

At this point, it’s around 6pm central time, 7pm eastern. My kiddos had had a great day with babysitter Anna, we’d FaceTimed Tabby to show her the airplane and the airport and nighttime went smoothly for them. Hallelujah for this mama’s heart who was missing them like crazy!

Our crew found a spot in the airport to call home base and me and another wife got lost in convo about kids and life and love. The other part of the group played cards, learning a new game and getting laughs in to pass the time.

Then around 7:30 (at this point times, start to get a little hazy. We’d been traveling for almost eight hours and time no longer became relevant. We’d get there when we got there!) the pilot made it to Indy. Wahoo!! Let’s go! We made our way back to the gate and stood in the same spot we’d stood earlier as we watched the scheduled minute for take off tick by.

They told us we were taking off soon.

And soon. And soon. And soon. And soon.

8pm passed, 9pm approached. It’s unclear when we finally boarded the plane, finally settled back into our seats, finally took off for the “25 minute flight to Chicago”.

Forty five minutes later we touched down at the O’Hare airport. Deplaned…again…and navigated the trek to baggage claim and the rental car lot.

We’d made it to Chicago. We did it. My head could hit the pillow of the hotel bed in less than an hour…if the rental car train would actually move.

Something was blocking the doors and she wouldn’t budge. I say “she” because every thirty seconds “she” would come over the intercom and repeat which stop we were currently and which stop we would approach, whenever we finally got moving. Those pauses at each stop probably only lasted two minutes but they felt like twenty hours after the day we’d had.

Rental cars selected, hotel found, we rode the escalator up to the front desk to check-in. Our clock’s read 12:01am, 1am at home. Our alarm would be going off in less than 7 hours. Lukas asked — “do you want to know what time we would have gotten here if we didn’t stop at the airport earlier and kept driving to Chicago” I laughed. By the way he asked it, I knew it was t going to make me feel better but I said yes, anyway. 10:30pm. We would have made it to Chicago almost 2 hours earlier if we’d driven from Atlanta.

We could have flown all the way to GERMANY, where we had attended another Global Leadership Conference when we worked for a company before getting back into the Chick-fil-as family.

But what could we do?? “Rejoice rejoice, we have no choice.” Our heads hit the pillow like rocks, and AM wake up call came fast.

When one of the first things said day one of the conference was “you made it, here!” my body and my heart took a giant, deep breath. Against a good number of odds, I was in that seat, my seat, to be reminded I AM A LEADER.

Chick-fil-A’s goal is to be the world’s most caring company. They prioritize customers and know that the way to do so is to prioritize their own people. Not just the people who’s names appear on the paychecks but the ones at home who support them, as well. My family experiences this world class care time and time again, this trip was one example of that.

It had been a LONG time since I sat in any kind of audience learning, growing, being challenged. I soaked it all up, took copious amounts of notes, and was so filled up, when we returned home to soon encounter two babies with their first “fevers at the same time”, it hardly phased me. My perspective was so big. My vision was so clear. And I have this amazing group of people inviting me into their team, to thank.

xoxo, va

getting diagnosed

Sitting in a doctor’s office patient room (or a therapist’s couch) and having a medical professional identify the nature of something going in my mind and body based on symptoms is nothing new to me. Chronic migraine, perinatal, and later, actual depression, uterine prolapse (don’t google that one, please, for your sake and mine — thank you, childbirth!), just to name a few recent diagnoses. Each one brings answers and a series of emotions, steps, acceptance, and more.

This morning, I headed to another doctor’s office at the recommendation of my physical therapist (the sacred woman treating me for prolapse). She’d been telling me for months and months and months I needed an MRI of my hips. When navigating our country’s medical/insurance system, you don’t just walk up to a desk and say “hey, I need an MRI”. Between the lack of a general practitioner (more on that in a later post), running this household with two small children, and appointment cancelling and rescheduling from both parties involved, it’s taken close to nine months for me to find myself in an orthopedics office. This guy is a hip expert, focusing on folks with hip issues under the age of 50. Aka, me.

“Something is off” I’ve thought in terms of my hips, primarily my left one, for many years. “I’m not a runner” is what I’ve always said amid eye rolls from actual runners who assume it’s because I wasn’t committed enough or hadn’t tried, really tried, to be a runner. But I have tried. Five miles is the farthest I’ve run (I did so after a bad break up, fueled by anger and hurt) and I remember the run so vividly because it was the only time my left knee didn’t fail me (I’m sure it was held together by heavenly duct tape placed there by a loving Father who knows what we need when we need it).

The first notable incident was hiking the Grand Canyon with my parents. Less than a mile from the top, the inside of my left leg gave out. I’d rolled my own eyes when I heard about the lady who slept on the canyon trail, never making it to our cabins down at the bottom, thinking “how could she not go any further? You go, just go, one foot in front of the other.” I ate my words when my own leg wouldn’t move, would not inch forward no matter how hard I pushed it. Walking sideways and backwards, crying into a bag of pretzels while my mother willed me to get to the top, was the only way I made it out of the canyon on my own two feet. At the time, I knew something was wrong but I thought little of it because I spent 23 miles HIKING THE GRAND CANYON.

Pregnancy, birthing children, living newborn mom life, these caused massive strain on my hips while leaving little time to focus on my own physical health.

With James decently stable as a budding toddler and us permanently planted in our dream home, and having spent years focusing on my mental health, my next step was to focus on my physical body. I’m physically weak, I know that, it was time to work on it.

After a few month lapse in physical therapy, I dove back in with a schedule that was manageable. At appointment number one, she asked if I’d gotten the hip MRI.

UGH, NO Rachele, I have not gotten the MRI.

The general practitioner route had been a total fail so I decided to go straight to the source — the orthopedic clinic we trust thanks to our family’s professional surgery experience (me: wrist in 2016, Lukas: shoulder in 2021). One phone call led me to a helpful receptionist who accepted my laments and concerns about my present situation. I didn’t want someone who treated elderly hips because I knew the approach for my own predicament would be radically different. I need my hips to last me fifty, sixty, possibly even seventy more years, not just a decade or two. Instantly she gave a name and we found an appointment on the calendar — a couple months later. That appointment got cancelled due to an office emergency and today, in August, I sat in my medical grade gym shorts hearing the doctor’s assessment.

He had a gut feeling about my hip injury (a labrum tear, which I expected as well) that would be confirmed by next week’s MRI, and a confident diagnosis of the root cause.

He wrote the diagnosis down at the bottom of his notes, tore it off and handed the piece of paper to me. “Look it up, you’re going to start to think back on your life and things are going to make sense.”

I’m not ready to publicly share the diagnosis, if I was reading this instead of writing it, I’d be super annoyed at myself. The diagnosis is something I’ve had all my life, and something that could greatly affect the future quality of life if not addressed.

By the grace of God (and my privilege of excellent medical access and health insurance), I am learning about this at age thirty four, when I have time to work on it.

Nutrition and exercise to strengthen my body in the areas that are weak will be the focus. I asked the doctor would I get better and he adamantly shook his head up and down. YES! “You will improve, we just don’t know how much you will improve, only time will tell.”

I left encouraged, and yet, in that instant, in those words on the small slip of paper I held in my hand, everything felt like it changed.

Nothing had ACTUALLY changed. I knew something was wrong, I’ve known something was wrong, and I learned this was with me since in my mother’s womb, and yet, everything FELT like it had changed.

After making all the follow up appointments, I climbed into my van in the parking deck and opened the internet and typed in the words from the slip of paper. I was overwhelmed, exactly the way the doctor said I would be, and also felt…numb.

Lukas was currently in the Houston airport and thankfully hadn’t taken off yet. Despite no internet and poor service we were able to process the news together. He’s my safe place and the more we talked, the more I teared up. I was afraid. I’d just learned more about another diagnosis (ADHD, way more on that to come!) the previous day and struggled to see how I was going to be successful in balancing both. He reminded me no matter what, we were going to do it together. He recommending taking off my research hat and focusing on self-care at the moment, which would give him a chance to get home, and for us to learn more, together. Essentially — take a deep breath, we are okay.

And I AM okay. Both ADHD and this newest diagnosis are two things I’ve had all my life. A life that’s been pretty dang full. A life in which I’ve functioned and thrived with both. A life ordained by a God who made me fearfully and wonderfully. Could this affect me longterm? Yes. Am I a little intimidated with the changes I’ll need to make? YES. Do I have hope that in all things He has made me more than a conqueror? HELL YES.

While on bedrest after James’ birth, I was sharing with my dad all the appointments we had when we got back to Atlanta. Lactation consultant, OBGYN, midwife, chiropractor, pediatrician, doula. He said “do you have TOO many experts?”

In this information heavy age, speaking with friends and family, diagnoses see to come extremely frequently. All the info is GREAT and shitty, all at the same time. Talking to mom this morning about the new diagnosis she reminded me “knowledge is power” to which I added “and ignorance is bliss”. There’s a happy medium where I’ve learned to use information and knowledge to my benefit, and have gotten really good at recognizing when I’m spiraling into a pit full of it (can anyone relate to the late night Google search that finds you DEEP somewhere you don’t want to be?!?)

After processing some of the initial feelings with my safest people (mom and Lukas), I fought the urge to bring others in. Even my bestest of friends and my TCC sisters. They will find out, soon enough. My circle will learn and find out what I need. They will be self-care for me, eventually. But right now, I chose self-care in the form of a chicken and waffle (that healing with nutrition thing can be figured out tomorrow!) from the Chick-fil-A Dwarf House.

With my belly stuffed with waffle, I drove the short mile back to my house and chose to hang out in the basement/garage to hide from my kids while I did another self-care thing, writing, telling my story. I’m not the only person that got a diagnosis today, or maybe yours will come next week or next month or next year.

Ever seen the stages of grief model? There are a whole bunch of them out there but this is my favorite:

Receiving today’s diagnosis triggered grief in me — grieving what life could be without it. In the same say I’m no stranger to life defining diagnoses, I’m also extremely familiar with grief. Being able to identify what I’m experiencing as grief helps me. It helps me allow myself to receive grace as this news sets in and brings clarity on how to move forward, one step at a time.

xoxo, va

hard mom moment

I’m sitting at my sticky dining room table, listening to some kind of music I don’t particular like but I’m not listening for the musical integrity, it’s playing for one reason and one reason only.

Drowning out James’ cries.

Tonight was a hard one with the kids. I was thriving, making things fun, problem solving, praying in the hard moments, gripping for peace when the chaos was all around, laughing at dinnertime. In cleaning up, I found some notes that talked about staying hungry — aka focused on your goals. Writing daily is one of my goals. A goal I’ve done a pretty crappy job accomplishing, lately.

BUT tonight was the night.

Lukas is out of town. I had the house to myself (well, I WOULD have the house to myself, once my precious children fell asleep).

I just told Alexa to skip songs because the cries were breaking through the slow motion melody. And I skipped another, and another and another.

Screw it.

“Alexa, play modern gospel.”

“I’ll never be more loved than I am right now
Wasn’t holding You up
So there’s nothing I can do to let You down…”

Here come the tears.

And then I stood to my feet.

Arms raised as Jirah sang over me.

“Going through a storm but I won’t go down
I hear Your voice
Carried in the rhythm of the wind to call me out
You would cross an ocean so I wouldn’t drown
You’ve never been closer than You are right now”

The plan was to write, to finish one of the 30 drafts sitting in my blog draft folder. I missed today’s weekly post. It just didn’t happen. I was going to catch up. I was excited about catching up.

And now my heart is focused back on the music…

“Move the unmovable
Break the unbreakable
God we believe
God we believe for it”

“From the impossible, we’ll see a miracle…”

Both kids were sick all weekend. We were knighted during our first “two kids having fevers at the same time” battle and it was brutal, but we made it. Tabby still hasn’t caught up on sleep from her body fighting the sickness and she was exhausted tonight. Everything was pulling teeth with her… actually, now that I think about, her teeth didn’t get brushed before bed…whoops!

I didn’t like that last song so told Alexa to turn it all off, fully expecting to hear screams, from either bed occupied by tiny humans, and yet, it’s quiet. Well, as quiet as it’ll ever be living so close to the city with our train whistles and airplane landings and tonight’s daily summer thunderstorm lurking about. I want to go check on the tiny humans, are they still breathing? **Deep breath** Yes, they are still breathing, they are okay, we are okay, it’s all going to be okay.

There are things in my life I’m not ready to talk about publicly, stuff God is stirring and moving around in this heart of mine. Don’t worry, we’re okay. Shockingly okay. When I prayed the prayer, a decade ago, asking God to be with me as I change my life because I wasn’t happy with it’s trajectory, I never dreamed I’d actually make it, to a life I’m so happy and content to be living.

And yet, even in “shockingly okay” and “content” and “happy”, life, there is doubt, fear, worry, concern, loneliness, etc.

Another prayer I prayed a few weeks before the “let’s change my life” prayer, during a wilderness season through body aching sadness, I crawled myself to the floor of my closet and wept. I hurt, everywhere, all over, and a song lyric came quickly to my heart… “take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…” I was in deep waters, my feet were on no kind of solid ground, and I hungered for more, hungered for deeper, hungered for value and meaning and worth out of life.

I’ve never been one to play things safe in the shallow end. Actually, when it comes to a real pool, I hate the deep end and VERY much like the shallow end but for this hypothetical analogy, let’s role with the truth I’ve always been one to take chances, risks, and figure it out as I go. The deep calls to me, not because it’s where I’m comfortable, but because it’s where I’m not. I know the One who calls me into deep waters has never left or forsaken me and I know He never will.

Since that sacred afternoon in my Auburn closet (the same one I sat in to wait out several tornado warnings!), my heart cry has been for the Lord to lead my into the deep waters. I don’t want my feet to touch. I don’t want shallow. I want deep.

The thing about deep with God is there is ALWAYS deeper to go. A decade ago, the deep I was wading into, the stuff that scared me and robbed me of comfort, is now things that don’t make my knees shake. It’s stuff I was terrified to live through and yet, I did, I made it, and I’m living, breathing and THRIVING, on the other side.

Same thing goes for the deep seven years ago and four years ago and six months ago.

Recently, we were recounting with friends all that we went through to secure this house as our home. I can put myself back into those moments, those emotions of the first phone call that threatened the deal falling through, or the weeks of waiting for the appraisal dispute to be completed. That was deep waters, phew, was that deep. But now, it doesn’t feel so deep. We’ve lived in this beautiful home for four months now and life has moved on. God has called me to other deep waters.

I want to close with something profound and memorable. As a writer, as a storyteller, that’s typically the goal. But it’s 8:16pm, I’m PRETTY sure James is asleep but I need to go turn the monitor on just to be triple check sure. I need my daily late reward cereal, my nighttime tea must be made, and there’s Netflix to watch before bedtime calls my name at 9pm.

The dishes won’t get done. The floor won’t get swept. The random junk the kids have found and spread all over the living room and kitchen will stay put in its spread out places. I will care for myself now that the writing and the worship music has helped align my soul with the One who heals. He healed my hurt heart as I sat in the deep waters, tonight. Knowing my son had an upset stomach, having done all the things to help, and still couldn’t calm him down, I had to place him in his bed and walk away, knowing I needed to take a breather, that hard mom moment, yep, that was deep waters.

As I was a decade ago, I’m still here, treading water, grateful to the deep that calls me into its fullness. Full of hard and rich and unknown. Full of Him, in all of His fullness I can’t even begin to comprehend.

Here I go trying to get all profound again…. TIME TO GO VA. Cereal calls.

xoxo, va

seven minutes

At 12:10 pm, I saw I had twenty minutes to get to Mimi’s house for lunch time to stay on track for nap time. 18 minutes of drive time + a chicken kids meal drive thru stop (at the BEST food joint ever, but I might be a biased fan), I just might make it.

At 12:36, six minutes “late” I approached the light to turn into Mimi’s neighborhood. We’re staying here for a week while our aspiring thespian attends theater camp in the south suburb neck of the Atlanta woods.

It’s not that the drive is too far from our house, it’s our nap king (he loves naps, now, y’all!) goes to bed exactly at the time the camp doors open. Since sleep is not simple for James Paul, there’s no way I could mess up his schedule five days in a row or we’d be back at square one. A square I’ve come WAY too far from to revisit. So we are living at Mimi’s so he can nap, and we can get lots of quality time with my favorite second set of parents!

Almost there after a long morning being an actress, Tabby was waiting patiently to eat her kids meal at Mimi’s dining room table and I’d already been notified via text that James was more than ready for his grilled chicken nuggets. Approaching the light, I rejoiced, it was a green left turning arrow. With only one van in front of me I knew I’d make it. Until I didn’t.

The van ahead of me put his right blinker on, ugh, dude, move! At some point I even honked my horn a bit. Toot toot.

Yellow light.

GOD, I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

Red light.

Dang it.

Now stopped with nowhere to go, a man exits the van with a sad look on his face and his arms raised in a shrug. “I think I’m out of gas.”

GOD, I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

If I delay lunchtime I’ll delay nap time and yesterday’s delayed nap time was a nightmare. Lukas is out of town, James decided to party from 2-4am and I just can’t have another hard night.

“Don’t worry that children never listen to you, worry that they are always watching you.” — Robert Fulghum

What do I want my three-year-old sponge watch me do?

“How can I help?” I asked the man.

With pleading in his eyes, he said, “you could take me to get gas.”

GOD, I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

It’s going to take forever, we are going to miss nap time entirely. The kids will be up for days.

“Sure, get in!”

He hustled to grab a gas can out of the back of his work van and scooted into the front seat after I chucked all my “traveling mom” gear to the second row.

His name was Javier, a worker from Gwinett county in the area tackling a residential project. His boss warned him the gas gauge was broken in the van but as his first time driving it, he had no idea how broken it really was.

Approaching the next intersection where I sort of knew a gas station sat, we saw tons of emergency vehicles and traffic blocked in every direction.

“Yikes, that’s a bad accident” is what I said, but what I thought — GOD, I REALLY, REALLY DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

Finding my way to the right lane and up the hill to a gas pump, Javier jumped out, filled the tank, used copious amounts of paper towels to make sure it was clean, and looked at me with sad eyes again “it’s going to smell bad”.

“No big deal, I’ll leave the windows open!”

The father of two kids, we talked about the joys of being parents and he told me his job down south was going well. I asked him if I could drop him off at the light and would he be fine walking back across the street to his van so I could make a quick right to Mimi’s house.

“Oh yeah!” he said before getting ready to jump out of the van and thanked me over and over.

I gave a quick wave, put on my blinker and pulled into Mimi’s neighborhood. Peaking at my GPS ETA it shocked me how much time had passed. If I had a dollar for every time I thought “GOD, I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS”, I could have purchased a full tank of gas (even at these ridiculous prices) for the work van.

SERIOUSLY, God, I didn’t have time for it. I don’t know how we had time for it. I sat in awe, so grateful I’d listened to Spirit, and acted on the nudge to “show” instead of “tell” my precious little girl about being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Helping Javier? The getting him in the car, down the street, up the hill, to the gas pump, following the detour around the accident and back to the van? The thing I REALLY didn’t have time to do.

Yep, helping Javier took seven minutes.

xoxo, va

almost cancelled

Sitting, watching Iron Chef during the few sacred minutes I have when both kids are asleep at the same time (it’s truly holy!), my eyes started blurring a bit. Getting kinda wonky and cross eyed, hard to focus. I know what that means. After a month worth of blogging about how great I’m doing with migraine life, here I was, facing the very beginnings of a migraine attack.

Within 20 minutes my fingers started tingling, I started pounding water (lukewarm not cold because I can get it in faster). With the tingling creeping to my hand and traveling up my forearm I decided I had to break my life rule — NEVER wake sleeping babies. Desperate times call for desperate measures and my sleeping three-year-old was in the way of me getting to my supply of magnesium, the one thing that just might hold back the pain.

I popped my head into the bedroom and saw she was awake anyway (halleujah) and raced to my bathroom as a barage of “mommy, what are you doing?” questions followed. I sent the princess downstairs to grab my cell phone. By the time she got back, there was magnesium in my belly and on my calves and I curled up in bed next to her. Turning on Peppa Pig, she laid there, while I rolled over and willed the pain to not come. Tingling continued, through my shoulder, up the side of my neck, to the back of my head and like a slow moving tide, made it’s way up and over my scalp.

I woke, 35 minutes later, to Bubba crying. I’d fallen asleep, and let my daughter have more screen time then I’m typically comfortable with. I felt hung over, like I’d woken up from a bad night of good cocktails, but the tingling never made it to my eyeball. That’s where the pain hits, and where it sits, sometimes for two full days but this time, by the grace of God and Tabby’s patience, I knocked the migraine out before it really started hurting and I couldn’t come back from the pain spiral.

Climbing out of bed to grab little man, I felt heavy, my head and my body felt like I was moving through a slow moving river. We made our way downstairs and I looked over at the Instant Pot I’d set up on the counter, hours ago, ready to make dinner.

With Lukas out of town, I’d planned to cook dinner for our neighbors who have become family. With the pain encroaching in my head, the obvious answer was to cancel. In the past, that’s what I always did… cancel.

This time, before sending the “need to cancel” text, I paused. After writing a month’s worth of migraine posts, focusing on how depression and migraine are so interconnected in my life, I challenged myself. Why cancel?

Well, I don’t want to entertain people while I’m hurting. VA, you know these people require no entertainment.

Well, I don’t want to cook dinner for anyone. VA, you have to cook dinner for you and the kids anyway. It’s the instant pot, it’s easy, there’s no extra effort to have more join.

Well, I don’t want to be in pain around people. VA, you have your two little people you’ll be around anyway. And wouldn’t it be better if Tabby had someone else to talk to instead of her hurting mama?

Well, I don’t want to be a bad version of myself around anyone. VA, these people aren’t just “anyone”. You’re allowed to be yourself with them, even if yourself is fussy and in pain.

I didn’t get too much farther. That’s all I needed to put the phone down and trust that the neighbors I had been investing in were people who I didn’t have to be “the best version of me” around.

They walked into my house an hour later with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. I’d bought the wrong noodles for the recipe and later burnt my Instant Pot Spaghetti (how did that even happen??) and I told them it might be awful, but they gobbled up bowls, anyway. We sat at our dining room table and they talked to the kids (which was a much needed reprieve for my hurting head) and talked to me about stuff that got my mind off the hurting.

At 5:30 I took James upstairs for his bath time and the three ladies (a mother, daughter and granddaughter — how cool is that??) stayed with my girl. Once little man was asleep, I made my way back down the stairs to find my kitchen completely cleaned (cleaner than I ever would have gotten it on a good day!) and Veatra, our resident neighborhood hairstylist, putting “fairy hair” into Tabby’s locks. HOW AMAZING ARE THEY???? Goodness, I love them dearly.

This is why we neighbor. This is why we invite people into our lives who live in physical proximity. It’s not easy, it takes vulnerability and opening ourselves up to exposure, which always means opening up to risk of hurt, awkwardness, and uncomfortable situations. BUT. Y’all…it’s been so worth it.

Yes the clean kitchen was nice, and the camaraderie at dinner, and the hairstyle for Tabs…those things were great. Even better was what the night communicated to the deepest parts of my soul. I am loved, I am cared for, and I am not alone. Even on my worst days, when I may show up as the worst version of myself, I am still chosen by people who’s house is spitting distance from my own. And with that hindsight, it’s pretty crazy to think I almost cancelled.

xoxo, va

dear Mrs. Obama

While scrolling through the internet one day, I stumbled upon an opportunity to contact the Obama family. I almost scrolled to the next page but stopped. What would I say to them if I had a chance? Would my note actually be read? Probably not, but at least I could try. Try because, after watching the Becoming documentary, I recognized my own role in the pain the family experienced. Yes, I’m just a little tiny white woman from the south, my impact was small. Microscopic, even.

But… was my role really that small?


Hi Mrs. Obama!

I want to say thank you and I’m sorry. I didn’t vote for your husband, actually, I was one of those folks who was pretty vocally against him, pretty vocally against you, as well. After watching your Becoming Netflix documentary last year I was blown away with how ignorant I’d been. In 2008, I believed what the media said about you guys, I was sucked into the criminalizing rhetoric. I justified my racist thoughts because I was against his “policy”. And for that, I am sad.

Sad I didn’t get to cheer for you guys when you were in the White House. Sad I didn’t get to vote for a man, a family, who I now see, understand and know, ABSOLUTELY belonged there (and who I wish could be there again!). I’m sad it’s taken me this long to expose myself to the amazing speeches and work the two of you did while in office, work you continue to do and that I’m learning from like a dry sponge soaking it all in. As a white woman who’s grown up in the south, my ignorance has been on full display for most of my life and I’m blessed that by God’s grace, He’s allowing me to see it and repent for it, to continue to repent for it, something I know I’ll be doing all my life as I let Him undo this yuck that’s been instilled in me from my neighborhood, my community, and my country, from an early age. I didn’t know then, but that’s not good enough. I want to know, I want to learn. Thank you for your courage in standing up to the ugliness that we spewed in your direction. Thank you for your bravery. You stared into faces like mine and did the thing God had called you to do, anyway.

I didn’t get a chance to be a part of history when your husband became President but I learned, I got better, because of your story, I’ve done both. I was able to participate in this past monumental election. My husband and I took our two-year-old daughter to drive around Atlanta while we all honked horns at Biden and Harris’ election. We teared up. We felt like love won that day. As the mother of a daughter, I was able to watch Harris’ speech and again, tear up, knowing I would be able to proudly tell her when she’s older that the world changed that day and that her mommy got to be a part of it. A tiny, microscopic part of the right side of history, where I believe, in 2008, I was on the wrong one. I’m sorry for my ignorance. I’m sorry for being a part of the “them” that hurt your family. I wish I could take it back, but since I can’t, I’ll just move forward and do better. I promise to do better.

Thank you again, Mrs. Obama, I’m thankful you are in this world because you make it better place!!!


I never heard back from my email, nor did I expect to get a response. In writing group, we learn to write for the one — even if that one is yourself. The one for that piece of writing was myself. I needed to write it, I needed to apologize, I needed to repent. Michelle Obama didn’t need my note. She didn’t need my apology. She didn’t need my repentant attitude. She doesn’t need anything from me, personally. What she needs from me is to be a part of the whole group of white people pushing to not forget, to keep learning, to keep pressing into the discomfort that is the race conversation in this country.

One I forget about, more than I’m proud to admit, but one I want to keep engaging in and to keep fighting to bring to the forefront of my mind. IT IS SO EASY to get sidetracked, to lose focus, to get off course in the pursuit to be an advocate for justice.

On our way home from a fantastic week visiting my parents in St. Simons, here’s a shot of my four people at the beach…

…Lukas mentioned a podcast he’d heard about, called Love Thy Neighborhood. Y’all KNOW how much I love neighboring so I jumped on the bandwagon and was surprised at what we uncovered. A GEM. At least, it’s a gem for the likes of me who is questioning a lot of the narratives I’ve believed about faith, the Gospel, God, grace, and more, as I’ve learned some ugly truths about what people like me have done to people in the margins, under the banner of Jesus’ name.

I appreciate the podcast host’s perspective. It doesn’t seem as polarizing or extreme as a lot of the other content you find on these types of topics. I plan to listen to more podcast episodes in the future and only have one official episode under my belt, so can’t say I wave a banner of THE BIGGEST FAN (yet?) but it was thought provoking and educational. A glimpse into the history of the American church, especially in the south (aka where I was born, raised and went to college), where a whole bunch of white people used a whole bunch of power to protect their way of life against a whole bunch of people that didn’t look like them.

My letter to Mrs. Obama feels, well, a little silly, and yet, it’s the culmination of a A LOT of thought provoking soul work where I’ve had to look at my own racist tendencies square in the face. Like a bicep being strengthened at the gym, my muscle of learning about racial justice (and injustice!) will never be finished or complete. Rather, it’s a desire I have to constantly invest in relational strength with the people around me, never giving up on not forgetting.

If you’d like to join me in not forgetting, click here for the podcast episode I listened to. Or here, here, or here for three other episodes that are high on my “listen to next” list. Or if you are unsure about all this race conversation, it makes you MEGA uncomfortable (don’t worry, I’ve been there!!), and you aren’t sure where to even begin, check out this post that shows you where I began my learning journey. If you have specific questions, I promise to be a safe, listening ear, for you to ask them. PS if you know my mom, she’s a really safe place on this topic and pushes herself to not forget, as well! In the deepest part of my gut, heart and Spirit, I believe that until white people (me, us, and maybe you staring at your cell phone screen) start talking about race, regularly and often, we will not see Kingdom shaking change on Earth as it is in Heaven.

xoxo, va

two peas in a…bedroom

Getting James and Tabby sleeping in the same room has been a dream of mine. There are selfish reasons, like how we have 3 bedrooms upstairs in our new house — one for us, one for the kids and one for the playroom. If we want the guest suite we have in the basement (another dream!), then we can’t have a playroom down there. If we don’t have a playroom downstairs and we don’t have one upstairs, our living room becomes a playroom (more like a nightmare!). And then there are other reasons — like the stuff I’ve learned from mama friends ahead of me — benefits in lessons of conflict resolution, bonding, learning to accommodate someone else in their space and set boundaries for themselves, accordingly.

Having the two kids, sleeping in the same room, was always something I worked towards. In how we talked to Tabby when James was in my belly, laying expectations for her to share a room with her brother, in how I set up and managed their schedules and in what furniture we bought (bunk beds) when moving to the new space.

Oh and tents — tents are a MUST! We started using the SlumberPod (tent on the left) when we traveled with baby Tabby and she loved it so much we upgraded to a big girl version when she got out of the pack and play. James got used to the tent during our house buying drama and he loves it so much, we never transitioned him back to the crib.

It hasn’t been easy. It’s been a pain in the arse at times, and yet, Spirit kept leading my mama gut, one “next right thing” baby step at a time, to get the kids in the same room. I thought we’d have them in the same room when James was WAY younger. As I sit here and go back down memory lane this past year, I think of all the small steps we took to make it happen. I’ve tried to type them out but they are so small, the changes unable to even be captured in words they were so incremental, hardly even noticeable, and yet, I see the milestones. The first time we moved James out of our room to be with her, the first time we let Tabby sleep with us because James was having a regression night, the first time I sat in the rocking chair with both kids to prep for bedtime, the first time Tabby tiptoed out of the bedroom and shut the door quietly, the first time James cried and didn’t wake Tabby up, the first time Tabby cried and didn’t wake James up.

Bedtime was definitely easier than nap time. Nap time took months to work through the kinks. The days Tabby slept in our room or the playroom to not disturb her brother. The times I barked at her to go back downstairs because James was struggling (not my finest parenting moments). And then, just days before James’ first birthday, it happened. THEY TOOK A NAP IN THE SAME ROOM AT THE SAME TIME.

I’d crossed the finish line of my first “parenting with two kids” mama marathon. Twelve months of doubts and tears and hope and optimism and feelings of failure. Days I questioned was it worth it and should we just move them into separate rooms, always holding the shred of the dream close, tight, willing to let go if it wasn’t working but committed to trying everything before giving up on the dream. I’d done the hard work. We’d done the hard work. We fought for something together and made it happen. We are warriors. I am a warrior.

In college, there was “the va”. A hand motion/tongue thing I did so many times, a bestie who thought I was awesome before I believed it, myself, named it after me. Here’s a collage of pics, borrowed from my “Bye 20’s” post showing off a few of the many times I’d stick my hand up and tongue out to signify “This is awesome!”

An awesome hair cut, a birthday celebration, beer pong win, Auburn victory, road trip, night out, anything where the moment deserved a “THIS IS AWESOME”. So a few weeks ago at nap time, even though I hadn’t done “the va” in a looooooooong time, when I closed the door on my kids sleeping in the same room, at the same time, it was the only thing that felt appropriate. I FREAKING DID IT.

I’m an amateur parent. This is a new gig for me, I’m only 3.5 years into being a mom and only 393 days into this whole “parenting two kids” thing. Any expert will tell you if you’re striving for a goal, you HAVE to celebrate the wins. Big wins, small wins, even finding microscopic wins in the sea of failure. Being a mom feels like failing, a lot. There’s no dashboard on my computer that gives me a score for how I’m doing as a mom. There’s no wearable tracker that helps me know I’m “red/yellow/green” in motherhood. There’s no boss giving me a bonus check for my performance.

Sure, I look at my kids and think THEY ARE AWESOME, we must be doing a great job, but that’s a slippery slop because let’s be real, measuring my worth as a mom in the behavior of my kids is a **warning***warning** danger zone opportunity for disaster. Thank you years and years of therapy to help me identify when I’m doing this!!!

Who knows how long James and Tabs will be sleeping in the same room? It might be never again (if tomorrow is another hot mess nap time like today, I might jump ship on the single bedroom dream pretty dang quick) or they might be together for years to come.

For now, I’m celebrating this win. I did it, THEY DID IT.

The way they love each other already, is something to marvel at. James is obsessed with his sister, follows her around everywhere, wants to do everything she does, and is totally confused when she’s not around. Tabby is obsessed with him in her own way, a little more low key about it, slightly envious of having to share her mama, but heaven help the person who hurts her “Bubba”. They are my two peas in a…bedroom…and I’m so proud to be their mom!

xoxo, va

migraine life (part 4: getting better at it)

PART 1: The Beginning
PART 2: The “Other Way”
PART 3: Chronic Pain Consequences
PART 3B: Reality

“Does it get any easier?”

“No, but you get better at it.”

Life with migraine hasn’t necessarily gotten easier, but I’ve gotten better at managing it. I know what foods to eat and what to stay away from. I recognize when I’m close to my threshold (aka pain threshold) BEFORE I get to pain level. I know the warning signs. I feel my head literally getting heavy, like now, right now, in this moment as I type this.

The way I communicate this to myself and others is “my head is heavy”. If there was a two armed scale in my brain it would be tipped heavily to the right side. I feel pressure, behind my right eye ball, up and over my skull, down the back, towards my spinal cord. It feels, well, heavy. Magnesium. Glare glasses. CBD oil. TONS of water. Super “migraine friendly” diet. Laying down, or at least sitting to rest a bit. Deep breaths. Reminding myself I’m not in control and that’s okay. These are my primary tools in my wellness arsenal for migraine I pull out at the first warning signs.

Interestingly enough? The past 5 days, I’ve also experienced depression symptoms. Not enjoying things like I used to, decreased appetite, sadness or anger for no reason, brain fog. In the same way I pay attention to the warning signs for migraine, I recognize depression warning signs as yellow flags that lead to action. When is the last time I got physical exercise? How about sunshine? Have I had a therapy appointment recently? Called a friend? Prioritized alone time?

The goal is always to cut off migraine before it hits pain level that affects daily functioning, and to cut off depression before it gets there, as well. I’ve gotten really good at doing so. I’ve been forced to get comfortable with the life changes I’ve had to make in order to care for myself. Like asking for help, admitting my limitations, accepting that this is a part of my life, every single day. Yes it’s a daily part of life AND when managed it can stay a small gnat in my ear instead of an elephant on my back.

Several years ago, a full weekend, out of town, with a different schedule than normal, weird foods and lots of time in the sun would have caused me a whole bunch of social anxiety. What if I’m in pain? Will I act like a brat? Will I be friendly? I only see these people a few days a year, will I be able to hold it together? These questions used to make me spiral, turning something as simple as a three day family reunion into a seemingly impossible-to-pull-off excursion.

Not this year, though. Nope! This year, equipped with all the tools I’ve learned, I went into our annual family time feeling strong. “Bigga Bigga” — what we call our annual family gathering (the name given years and years ago by the now extremely tall, college attending “almost-not-a-teenager anymore” white t-shirt wearing fella on the right side of this pic) — felt way more doable.

Was it perfect? Nah, when is family time ever that? But when the harder moments cropped up, I had tools to cope. I’d made phone calls ahead of time to clarify expectations. I communicated what my kids (and therefore, me!) needed in regards to sleep and food, to function well. I asked for what I needed before I got to desperate level (I went to a sushi lunch all by myself in the middle of one of the family days!!) Lukas and I worked together, supporting the other in getting our individual needs met while staying present with family and being as flexible as possible to maximize time together. And you know what? It was awesome! I left with a full heart, having connected with family I don’t see very often, and the best part — getting to experience my kids bringing so much joy and smiles to the group.

Lately I’ve taken moments to stop and find myself soaking in my reality — I love my life. I love my life, not because it’s free of hard stuff, but because I’ve gotten so much better at coping.

“I’m not afraid of the storm because I’m learning to sail my ship.”

This quote has been posted in my bathroom for several years as I’ve focused, not on making the “waves” calmer around me (aka trying to manage everything to make it easier and less tumultuous) but using my time and energy to equip myself to navigate the waves when they are big and crashing.

Cause here’s the thing — whether it’s migraine or depression or a break up or death of a loved one or becoming a mother or waiting to become one or a move or parenting challenges or social unrest or a hurricane or job loss or surgery (or another surgery!) or a crisis of faith religion — there will always be waves out of my control, waves that WILL rock my boat. It doesn’t matter how much time, energy and MONEY, I spend to make things easier, to make myself more comfortable, there will always be things that threaten to knock me over.

While laying in bed last night, I rolled over and told Lukas I needed to tell him something. Something, from my years learning to cope and manage depression, I knew I needed to say out loud. I didn’t want to do it, and almost didn’t, but rolled over and said “I don’t want to tell you but I know I have to”. He met me where I was in the dark (literally and figuratively) and we talked through it together. He reminded me I was okay, and, most importantly, that I wasn’t alone. Lukas is a physical representation of the ever-present God who loves me.

“…this God is in it for the long haul. We will not be abandoned.” That’s a really easy thing to repeat. My Christian upbringing has taught me to TRUST GOD. Trust Him, just do it. He’s worthy of my trust. YES…AND…it’s hard at times. I sit on the “other side” of a lot of those “wave crashing” things I listed above so I have hindsight. Hindsight to declare with confidence that God has never left my side, that He’s been with me through the long haul and that I’ve never been abandoned. It’s easy to sit here, in the bright of day, with a good night’s sleep under my belt, finishing this post to you, to see that. And yet, in the dark of the night, when all was quiet, it was hard to cling to that truth. It was hard to find that truth by myself.

Hard doesn’t mean wrong. Just because it’s hard to trust God doesn’t mean I’m doing something wrong, doesn’t mean I love God any less, doesn’t mean I’m being a bad Christian. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean He loves me any less, either.

Trusting God, thriving with migraine and depression, learning to sail my ship — it all hasn’t gotten any easier. But, over time, I’ve gotten better at it.

And you will, too, I promise. Keep going. Don’t give up on yourself. And if things feel too hard, fight to roll over in the dark and tell someone you don’t want to, but you need to talk about it. Make the phone call, grab a lifeline, get the help. You might not believe what I’m about to say right now but I’m going to say it anyway. Pretend I’m shouting this from giant speakers attached to the side of a helicopter as I fly around you declaring to the world —

You are absolutely, 100% worth it.

You are not broken, you are not wrong, you are not messed up.

You are exactly who you are, right now, in this moment, for such a time as this.

Your pain matters.

Your story matters.

The world needs you…we need you.

This won’t get any easier, but you WILL get better at it.

xoxo, va

migraine life (part 3b: reality)

PART 1: The Beginning
PART 2: The “Other Way”
PART 3: Chronic Pain Consequences

As the last week of June comes to a close, you should be receiving “migraine life (part 4: getting better at it)”, and you will… next week.

Because this week, the time I would have spent finishing that post, was used recovering from a migraine attack. The second of the week and one of the worst I’ve had in quite some time. It came on with vengeance on Sunday morning and now, even now, Monday evening around 7:30pm, is still lingering. As soon as Lukas got home from church with Tabby, he took over with both kids and I went straight to bed. I asked him to come check on me after he put Bubba down and by that point, I was in tears, sobbing, I thought this wasn’t my reality anymore. He offered to bring me a few things and shortly after that conversation, I, mercifully, fell asleep, waking to a tray of food and an ice pack on the bed (best husband ever!). Several hours later I drug myself out of bed, and went to Home Depot with the family.

When I came downstairs Lukas said “so you’re going with the ‘distraction’ method of pain management?” Sometimes pain requires me to rest, and other times the pain is so miserable, even resting in bed sucks so why not wander around Home Depot with my people, instead? We started out with me driving because I thought the nausea might be better with me at the wheel but after the second “hon!” from the passenger’s seat, I realized my inability to focus well was endangering my family, so we pulled over to switch drivers. I stuck a grocery bag and a napkin in my pocket, just in case nausea became something more and I couldn’t make it to the bathroom. The lights from the ceiling were almost excruciating but watching James have a blast riding in the cart and Tabby running back and forth with seeds for the garden she begged us to plant for her, was soul medicine.

Next week’s post is about how I’ve gotten better at managing my health, how few migraine attacks I have these days, how few depression symptom days I have, and yet, the reality is, both are still a part of my life. I know how to manage my health and doing so is still a conscious reality on a regular basis.

What’s also a reality is the amazing life I’ve been able to live in the moments I don’t have pain, like at Bubba’s first birthday party celebration a couple Saturdays ago. While pregnant with him, we set out to build a physical community around us. We are blessed with so many people in our corner but most of them were spread far and wide. Digital connection is awesome AND we longed for a physical one. People we could touch and see on a weekly or even daily basis. We are blessed to have that, now. Church family and neighbors fill our home and hearts with their smiles and hugs on a regular basis and having a lot of them in the same place at the same time was pretty cool! Happy 1st Birthday, James Paul, you are one loved little dude!!

xoxo, va