soul catch up

Two American hikers decided they would summit Mount Kilimanjaro. The hikers spent over two years planning the trip. I can relate…my parents and I spent over a year prepping to hike rim to rim of the Grand Canyon (and since my parents have been back a bunch of times, my dad doing it in a single day, YES, he’s a bad ass!!)

Anyway, back to the Kilaminjaro hikers. Part of their planning included mapping out their route and after researching ad nauseam, realized the smart thing to do would be to hire local porters to help them carry their equipment. Four men signed up for the job. The American hikers created an itinerary with a pace they felt would get them to their goal.

Meticulously planned to the hour, the two men, climbed aboard the 4:04pm flight out of Atlanta to start their trek. Several days later, the two hikers stood at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro waiting for their porters to arrive. They were easy to spot, they fit in with the surroundings, they didn’t have fancy gear, no REI products in sight. The porters walked straight up to the hikers, introduced themselves, shook hands, and said “we go.”

“But wait” the spreadsheet making hiker declared, “we have an itinerary that maps out our desired progress based on the altitude, route, and our capacity for endurance.” He passed out 4 copies of the spreadsheet and all of the men stared at it blankly, folded it, and tucked it into their pockets. With a wave of the porter’s hand, the six men set off.

A few hours in, already, the Americans felt the pace wasn’t fast enough so began pushing to go faster. The porters complied. Picking up the pace, they started making really good time. The Americans had a goal in mind for when they wanted to reach the top, there were three levels — a contentment goal, a dream goal and then a “this would be a miracle if we pull it off” goal.

With their steady pace, on their first day, they surpassed the dream goal and the “miracle” goal was in sight. Aching backs, black and blue toes from their boots, none of the challenges mattered, they had a goal, a “let’s beat this record other people had set” goal, they wanted to pull off.

In the morning, the hikers woke up sluggish and struggled to get moving. Their physical bodies were sending out warning signs. Slow down, take it easy, maybe we should rest. Rest? NO WAY! Neither one of the hikers were going to let a silly thing like physical pain slow them down. They brewed some coffee, popped some strong ibuprofen, and went to pass off their packed gear to the porters. Making their way to where the porters had set up camp, the hikers saw none of the porters were ready for the hike.

“Is everything okay? We are ready to go. The schedule has us leaving at 6am this morning,” the spreadsheet making hiker spoke to the porters.

“We are not going any further today.”

“Oh no! Is someone hurt? What’s wrong?” the other hiker responded.

“No one is hurt. We are physically well, but we traveled at too swift a pace yesterday and must wait here for our souls to catch up.”


So I made up most of that story (at least about the hikers, me and my parents REALLY did hike 22 miles rim to rim across the Grand Canyon!). It’s apparently some kind of African folklore but I couldn’t find an original source and that always irks me to repeat something possibly inaccurate, so I put my own spin on it. I’m guessing you get the point. I’ve been taught:

I can do anything I want!
Pain is weakness leaving the body!
Don’t let anything stop me!
Turn the pain into power!

All this is good advice, and it’s how I’ve been able to achieve a lot of success in my life with multiple college degrees, corporate career success, becoming a published author, or dating a guy completely long distance. Or then there’s the other stuff I’ve survived like migraine, seasons of acute grief, and postpartum depression.

There are times in my life I have to get into crisis mode, buckle down, accomplish the goal, stay in survival mode.

AND I’ve learned I cannot run at that exhaustive pace forever. My body, mind and spirit were never designed to function on adrenaline alone. I have to pause, I MUST pause, to let my soul catch up. When I say “soul”, I can also mean “spirit” or “heart”. No matter what name I call it, the idea is challengingly simple.

“Stop. Just stop, Virginia. Stop moving, stop striving, stop performing, stop hustling, stop DO-ing. Just stop. Be. Take a breath. Notice the trees and the blue sky and the development in your kids that’s flying by. Feel the feelings — the good, the bad, the ugly. Pause to reengage with relationships that matter, with friends, with family, with Lukas. Stop. Just stop. Let your soul catch up.”

It was through the great wisdom of our realtor who encouraged us to get an AirBNB for a month, instead of a week or so through this transition. That’s come in handy as we’ve had changes to close dates and other moving parts and it’s come into handy as a safe place for our souls to catch up.

The past six weeks has been full of packing and loading and moving and sorting and cleaning and unloading and planning and executing the plan and celebrating my thirty fourth birthday while running a yard sale. Last night, Lukas sent me a final video of our empty house. IT IS FINISHED. In four days we sign closing paperwork and hand over the keys to our first home. And now, we sit in our safe place, letting our souls catch up.

xoxo, va

uncle larry

No matter how “God led” our move to East Point was, it still made me a little nervous. We’d been in the area, we knew the truth (that it was an amazing place with amazing people), but the headlines (no matter how poorly misrepresenting!!) “East Point, #2 most violent city in Georgia” are the ones the enemy would whisper into my ear at night as we prepared to move.

Yes, my husband would be sleeping next to me and would protect our family at all costs. But in the dead of night, before our move, one of my neighbors also brought me a lot of peace … Larry Williams.

We bought our home from friends who already had established relationships in the neighborhood. They’d told us all about our across the street neighbor.

How he sat on his front porch day in and day out, keeping watch.

How he knew everyone on the street and around the corners.

How he watched the comings and goings of his neighbors.

How he’d lived there for 30+ years, as a constant presence for all who walked or drove by his house.

Like the mayor, or maybe, mafia boss, of Farley Street.

When we first moved in, meeting him and his beautiful bride were highest on our priority list. We sat on the porch, getting to know them, until the weather got cold. Then they welcomed us inside with our 10 month old bundle of joy.

Tabby sure did bring a lot of joy. They watched her learn to walk, learn to talk, and learn where the cookies were kept in the kitchen.

He was there. Day in and day out, he was there.

Telling me to slow my horses after being in too big of a rush and running the stop sign at the end of our street.

Hosting Lukas for so many football games we can’t even count.

Sharing roses from his rose garden with Tabby.

Gifting our little girl her first tricycle which she learned to ride at a very young age.

Celebrating Christmas when we weren’t able to be with biological family after Lukas was sick over the holidays.

Introducing Tabby to his grandkids and watching them play together on his back porch.

Hollering at me from his front porch to get into bed, when we got home from the hospital with baby James.

Uncle Larry and Aunt Marie were the first people who met little man, held him, and welcomed him to the neighborhood.

Since we’ve moved in, he’s been there. Always there. A constant presence in our lives.

Around the middle of December, Aunt Marie called to tell me Uncle Larry had been admitted to the hospital. Then, December 20th, only a week or so later, we were hearing from her lips “it’s not good…cancer…hospice…”

Are you kidding me?

Lukas and I walked around the neighborhood with the kids in shock, processing how life would never be the same, how we’d have to say goodbye, how Uncle Larry wouldn’t get to see the kids grow up on this side of heaven, my heart was already starting to break knowing we had less than 6 months with him (what I know “hospice” means).

Rounding the corner of our loop and heading back towards our houses, we saw the fire truck coming down the road. I look over at Uncle Larry’s house and their front door is open. Crap, this isn’t good.

As if in a play with the next step already written, where words weren’t required, Lukas moved towards their door and I ushered the kids inside to Tabby’s many questions. “What happened?” Looking down our driveway, I watched Lukas get to the door, Aunt Marie open it, and she fell into him with a hug that communicated more than words ever could.

Getting inside my house, needing Tabby to focus on something other than the fire truck, I shut the blinds and moved forward with dinner preparation.

Lukas texted “(his daughter) doesn’t think he’s coming home.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?

We went from “it’s not good and hospice” to “not coming home” in a two hour period.

I paused dinner making, grabbed James onto my lap and scooped Tabby up on the couch with us. I went back and forth on how to handle this with her. Do I pretend nothing is going on? How much do I tell her? Lord give me the words…

Through tears (because I couldn’t hold them back), I began to process the events going on across the street to my three-year-old little girl. In a way she could understand we talked about how Uncle Larry was sick and that he was going to the hospital again. Her first question — “can he still come to my birthday party?”

As giant tears rolled down my cheeks, she kept telling me “don’t worry, mommy, the doctor’s are going to make him all better so he can be at my party”. I don’t remember the whole convo but I remember it was God breathed between the two of us, as heaven met Earth and we got ready to usher Uncle Larry Home.

I snapped a picture. Maybe that’s morbid. Some may even think it’s disrespectful. But my heart needs visual reminders of moments in time I will never forget. Sitting there, my babies in my lap, with red lights bouncing all over my living room, I knew, life was never going to be the same.

Lukas sat in their living room while Uncle Larry’s kids and wife were with the paramedics in the bedroom. When they wheeled him out on a stretcher, Lukas was able to say “I’m here, friend.”

As we watched them make their way down the porch steps and towards the waiting ambulance, my soul pulled me towards my front door. I needed to see him. Babies in my arms, I watched them load Uncle Larry up, knowing it would probably be the last time I saw him on this side of heaven.

Grief was so heavy as they shut the doors and drove down the street.

Lukas wandered back over eventually, we held each other and cried and then ate dinner while watching our iPads. Together, but coping, in the best way we knew how in the moment.

That night I was a wreck. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t hardly even breathe. I spent most of the night going back and forth between trying to force myself to sleep in my bed to a crumpled mess of tears and anxiety on the bathroom floor.

Drifting my eyes towards the shower window, where his spot lights shown bright, protecting the front yard of my home…Uncle Larry isn’t there.

I could count on one hand, maybe even on two fingers, the number of nights of the 600+ I’ve slept on Farley Street, that I’ve been here and he hasn’t. That was all changing and that reality, that truth, unnerved me.

Through all the many sleepless nights through pregnancy, or newborn life, or Tabby’s illnesses, I’ve stood in my home, in that bathroom, and found comfort knowing he was there. Sometimes it was a conscious comfort, like when I’d stand on the side of the tub and peer out the window knowing all was quiet on the street and if it wasn’t, he was watching. Or the unconscious comfort I recognized as a steady river flowing through me, only made conscious when he got sick and the flow stopped.

Uncle Larry did, in fact, come home from the hospital, only to run ahead of us to heaven less than two days later. His wife was with him, alone, in the house they’d called home for almost thirty four years. We saw her a few hours before he took his last breath. The hospice nurse said it wouldn’t be long and it wasn’t. For all who love Uncle Larry, December 24th will forever carry the joy of Christmas Eve and the sadness of his final day on this planet.

I could insert all the cliche quotes about not knowing what you have until it’s gone. Google searching for who said that was fruitless since a million people have, but in my hunting for a quotation author, I came across another, similar quote, that feels even more accurate for my heartache with Larry.

“People say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Truth is, you knew what you had, you just thought you’d never lose it.”

We knew we would leave Farley street eventually, but I never, in a million years, ever, thought Uncle Larry would leave first. Even typing this, a month and a half later, it just doesn’t feel real.

I took Aunt Marie to our new house yesterday and I loved her being there (she’ll be at the new house many, many more times in the future!!) but my heart was sad knowing Uncle Larry would never step foot in it, himself. Sure, he’s there, we teach Tabby that heaven isn’t a far away place, it’s very real, very near, and “all around us, we just can’t see it” place. I also believe he would love our new house and would be proud of the home we’ll build in it.

Tabby will randomly tell me she misses Uncle Larry. And I miss him so much too. Sitting here, finishing this post, I fully expect to head towards my front door, open it, and have my half naked three-year-old run around behind me to wave to him across the street.

I post publicly on Tuesdays, which means this post has hit your inbox on March 1st. February 28th, yesterday, we officially moved out of our East Point home. We are living in an AirBNB, in our new neighborhood, for the next month as we wait with expectant excitement for our house to be finished. That’s a huge milestone in our lives, a milestone that will change me.

Today marks another huge milestone for me as a writer. It’s my hundredth post on this married woman blog, having written for years prior on my “single lady” one. I couldn’t imagine a better post to write, about a man I admire and respect, and who wove his way so deeply into my family and our hearts, he’ll be there forever. Living on Farley street has changed me, knowing him as changed me. Change I see and celebrate as I continue to grow into who God needs me to be in this world before I follow Uncle Larry on to heaven.

And oh, will that be a sweet reunion. I have no idea what heaven is really like but I know Uncle Larry will be there and I fully expect him to have a cookie box in hand, waiting to welcome us in with a smile and his laugh that’s impossible to forget.

Farley Street, you’ve been good to us. Good to us on a level I could never put into words. Thank you for what you gave us. A list impossibly long to write, but at the top, in big bold letters, reads, “A relationship with Larry and Marie Williams.” ❤️

xoxo, va

promises to me

In my kitchen hangs a ratty sheet of notebook paper. It’s taped up to the cabinet with masking tape, scribbled on, added to, with splotches of water and chicken stock and whatever other liquids have gotten splashed on it over the year. As I’ve worked to learn some new language in my life, I needed constant reminders of that language to speak over myself. And since I spend most of my time during the day in the kitchen, this was the prominent spot to place these truths I wanted imbedded deep, deep in my brain.

Speaking of embedding truths in my brain, Lukas just finished a book called Winning the War in Your Mind: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life. I bear witness to the fact that this book CAN change your life, it has for him. He’s learned all about truth trenches and how powerful the words we speak to ourselves can be.

Changing what our brains think about isn’t an overnight thing. It’s small, baby steps, tiny puzzle pieces, if you will, to be able to rewire the things I think about. This rewiring takes effort. If I want to change what my brain is thinking, if I want to learn a new language to speak to myself, I have to put in work, just like I would if I was learning Spanish.

If you are hungry for changing how you speak to yourself and need a place to start, I’d like to share my Truths with you. I spent some time considering the lies that went on in my head and found Biblical Truth to counteract those lies. When the lie would creep up while standing in my kitchen, I’d hit it with a one-two-punch from this list. Your lies might be different so the Truths you need might be different as well. However, if you need to be reminded of some of the promises God declares over your life, those aren’t different from one person to the other, we share the same heritage and the same inheritance.

These are God’s promises to you, as well!!

I am MORE THAN a conqueror because He loves me. Romas 8:37

All things work together for my good because I love God. Romans 8:28

I exercise self-control, in all things, to receive an imperishable wreath. 1 Corinthians 9:25

No human being can boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Trials are to be counted as JOY. James 4:2

God tempts NO ONE because He can’t be tempted with evil. James 1:14

You will deliver me.
You will protect me.
You will answer me.
You will be with me in trouble.
You will rescue me.
You will honor me.
You will satisfy me.
You will show me your salvation.
Psalm 91:14

I must bear my cross to be His disciple. Luke 14:27

This season of moving is…well…insane…and my brain is doing crazy things in it’s exhausted state. Revisiting this list is necessary, time and time again. His Truth won’t magically make the lies in my brain go away, but over time, it gets easier to spot the lies when they creep up. And when I can spot the lie, I can hit it with a Truth and it makes the day feel a little bit lighter!!

xoxo, va

journey to hapeville

“What needs to change in our life to make this possible?” was the question we asked ourselves when Lukas was interviewing for his new travel heavy job. The highest priority item for me on that list was “less yard and house”.

Our current backyard is fabulous, a real gem in the city, complete with chickens and a fire pit and plenty of space for the kids to play. It’s also a TON of work. And with a patriarch that travels, I wanted him to be spending time with us as a family instead of wrangling a yard.

The “less house” idea took a lot more sorting out. After much discussion I realized I didn’t want less house (actually, we wanted more space for our growing family), I wanted less house PROJECTS. I didn’t want to walk around daily thinking “that needs to be updated, I want to paint this, change this, finish this…” Sure there will ALWAYS be projects on a home we own, but the projects on a home built in 1958 (what we have currently) are never ending. We toyed around with the idea of renovating a home and ultimately settled on the desire to have a new build for the above mentioned reason and because the real estate market right now is NUTS (people put all cash offers in over asking, there’s offer battles and maximum 30 day closes and people living in AirBNBs while they are in the selling/buying juggle). With two small kids, getting into that “real estate war” wasn’t something my brain could manage. With new homes, the process is a little more tame and more manageable during our season of life.

When we moved into this East Point home, we knew it wasn’t “forever”. We had actually planned to rent down but God paved the way for our first home purchase when we bought our pastor’s house back in 2019. Since then, we’ve bloomed where we’ve been planted AND never stopped talking about what our next home would be like. We’d honed in on the things that were important to us.

Number one for me was walking distance from stuff. All kinds of stuff, like friends’ houses, coffee shops or restaurants or a library or parks or… just stuff! I want to load my kids up in the stroller and set off for an “on foot” adventure. I grew up like this. Living on an island most of my life, I walked (or biked) to school, walked to church, walked to friends’ houses, the park, the ice cream store, the local hang outs. Getting in my car and driving somewhere always feels like a burden, made lighter by the ability to traverse on foot! As an Atlanta resident, this desire has always felt out of reach but it always remained at the top of my priority list. Other things were an office space for both of us adults, a place for the kids to play, an open concept, and space for a super large dining room table.

With Lukas’ new job the list of “wants” began including “needs”. We needed less yard to manage. We needed a new build property. And I added to the list a garage and second floor bedroom windows. Two pieces that would give me a sense of security when I’m home at night while Lukas travels.

East Point is part of the Tri-Cities area of ATL which is made up of three cities — East Point, College Park and Hapeville — all super close together in the lower left side of the metropolitan area. We’ve attended our church for five years but we always stay open to where God might use us next. With that spirit in mind, we kept our hands open to the possibility that we might have a new church home somewhere else in the city. After discussing extensively, we always came back around to finding our hearts with the people who are our church family. They aren’t perfect (WE aren’t perfect), but they are people we’ve chosen to do life with and weren’t ready to let that go. So the Tri-Cities area would stay our home. Now we just had to decide — WHICH of the three cities would we plant new roots?

Looking at Zillow is a hobby of mine. As an interior design graduate, my design brain gets a dopamine hit when I look at home layouts. When trying to decide on which city we’d pick, all of my real estate research led me to have a pretty clear idea of what we I knew we did and didn’t want. We toyed around with staying in East Point or moving to College Park but ultimately, since a walking community is one of my highest priorities, we decided Hapeville was our future home.

Back in Spring 2021, before the job discussion, before even the “maybe we will move” discussion, I’d found a home on Zillow that was within walking distance to one of my best friends from church. Walking out my front door and into hers without a car ride in between…oh man, that would be heaven. The home I found was 4 bedrooms, something we knew we needed and also pretty rare in the older homes in the area. This was 6 weeks before James was supposed to make his grand arrival but, always wanting to stay open to unexpected we stayed open to the idea and explored it… for about 2.5 seconds. Through that exploration, we established a relationship with our realtor, aka another bestie from church.

Fast forward a few months, Lukas applies for the travel job and we officially decide — we are moving. It’s now just a matter of when.

While Zillow hunting (I do it on an almost daily basis!), I found a townhome new build in Hapeville. The idea of an HOA taking care of my exterior and a minimal interior to maintain was so exciting for me (less for Lukaas, he didn’t like the idea of completely losing a yard!). Our realtor made some calls and began finding out about the property. For about 6 weeks we thought it was going to be our new home! And then….

While info gathering for the townhome, our realtor learned about a new development slated to be built in the next 12 months. Bailing on the townhome for this property that met more of our needs, we continued to move forward with imaging our life in this new place. There were lots of hoops to jump through. The developers had to finalize the sale of the land, approval for the exteriors by the city, establish price point, etc. We did a lot of waiting to hear more.

Over the course of 4 months, we made about 100 trips to the land where the development would be built. We watched it go from forrest acreage to leveled dirt canvas. We talked to neighbors nearby and parked and practiced walking to town. Other properties would come available and we’d toy with the idea, all the while coming back to our list of reasons why this was our top pick. All signs pointed to our future there. So we waited and drove by and imagined and prayed over this piece of dirt.

A week before Christmas, I spotted a new Zillow addition in Hapeville. An almost new build (only a year old), a little outside our established price range but still worth a look. I asked Lukas if he wanted to check it out and that afternoon we met our realtor at the property. This was the first time Lukas and I had ever looked at a home together in this type of “what if”, “do you like?”, “how about this?” circumstance. When we bought our East Point home, we visited a friend who was selling their house and said yep, we’ll take it! So this walk through was such a good learning experience.

I figured out more of what Lukas cared about and we considered putting in an offer. For two hours we went through pros and cons. Even with the holidays approaching and my book launch coming up, we thought we just might be able to pull it off. “A diamond in the rough” we called it and didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity that fit (almost) all of our needs.

Lukas left to run an errand and I sat on the front porch of my current house, staring across at our neighbor’s yard. Uncle Larry had just gotten back from the hospital and the thought of walking over to our beloved neighbor family to tell them we were moving was just too much, on top of everything else.

I called Lukas and said “I can’t do this, my SOUL can’t handle this.” I knew he was thinking and praying about this house possibility and I trusted him to lead our family well if this was our next “best yes” but I had to be honest about my hesitations. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. We decided on the phone call that it was a “no”.

Like with each stage of this process, out of the possible “diamond in the rough”, we had another round of valuable conversations.

We revisited our needs lists, our reasons why we wanted to move, what we liked and didn’t like, what was necessity and what was nice to have, and most importantly, what was non-negotiable.

By the time January 10th rolled around, with the holidays behind us, the book launch successfully accomplished and some other personal matters settled, my soul was ready for the next “diamond in the rough.”

January 10th, I was doing my classic Zillow scrolling while nursing James at 3am. A property I’d had my eye on for over a year just hit the market.

This property, only a block from my church friend’s house (and a block from my pastor’s home!), had gone from grass to new build in the past year. I had driven by it a million times, walked by it half a million, and even tried to call, repeatedly, to get more information.

Back in September, Lukas and I had been visiting our friends in the neighborhood and for fun, I asked him if he wanted to go inside the “in progress build”. We were on our way to a breakfast date and had a little extra time so did just that.

He was incredibly impressed I was able to walk through the home and help him visualize which rooms he was walking into. My interior design degree doesn’t get put on display very often so it was a fun exercise to show a little of my pre-“Mrs. Fortunato” life. At the time, that walk through started our wheels turning on a few different things but buying that specific home wasn’t really on our radar. We loved the layout, but had our minds set on the new development. It was a fun addition to our date breakfast, and we moved on. (Little did we know I’d snap a picture of Lukas standing in our future owner’s suite bathroom!)

The day after I spotted the home on Zillow, I was in the area and decided to stop by the house “just in case”. There are two homes for sale, side by side, and the first one I walked into, I was in love. Obsessed might be a more accurate word, which is REALLY dangerous in the real estate world. The way the light came in through the windows, the layout of the space, the needs that were met for our family, it required a video chat to Lukas immediately and I used the phrase “dream home”.

If we moved into the development as planned, we knew it would be a short term move. A three to five year, max, commitment, as we get through the “little” years and settled in to Lukas traveling. But the house I was walking? It met all of our needs we already had with the development property…and then some. Stuff that fell into the “want”, category, outside of our needs. Stuff like…a fireplace (which, even though I swore we’d never use when we moved into our apartment in Marietta during our first year of marriage, Lukas proved me wrong and we used it almost every day in the winter), a giant oversized bathtub for me in the owner’s suite (my daily “mommy alone time” is spent in the bath), front and back “hang out on” style porches (for lots of friend time!), and there weren’t stairs to the living area (so friends and family who have bad knees wouldn’t feel challenged when entering our home), and Into that home, well, actually the one next door because it met even MORE of our “wants” (like a straight driveway to pull my mini-van into easily).

Lastly, the real “deal sealer”…this home was bigger. It was a place we could see ourselves in for a really long time. Our guts were telling us we could plant roots there for five to ten years (and maybe even more!), something we longed for but never imagined we’d get with our next move.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…”

Take a look at the back of our Christmas card from 2021, just a few months ago.

While writing our Christmas card, that verse was the first that popped into my heart as I meditated on all He had gifted us in the past year. Little did I know what He had for us, heading into 2022!

Less than two weeks into the year I was walking a house, calling it our “dream home”.

That was a Tuesday. The next day, we were headed back to my parents house after only a week in Atlanta, after the holidays, because my precious Grandmother completed her impactful 94 years on this planet and ran ahead to heaven. My heart aches that she never got to meet James (we were talking about making it happen when we found out she was headed to the ER and never went home) but she did get to meet Tabby and was very proud to be a great grandmother!

On the six hour car ride, little man slept and Tabby watched iPad so Lukas and I could be on the phone with our mortgage lender. Ninety minutes later, Nico from Wells Fargo told us we were officially pre-approved. Holy moly, we were going to try to buy this house.

God always knows what He’s doing with timing. My normal reaction to something big, something exposing, something vulnerable, is to DO. Do do do do do do, all the things. If we’d been at my own house while we were deciding whether or not to put in an offer on the house, my anxiety tornado would have cranked up… BIG TIME. I would have worn myself out prepping for a yard sale, or… any number of things that would have zapped my energy and left me little time to process all the emotions of the experience.

Instead, I was “stuck” with some of my favorite people on the planet.

They helped take care of the kids so Lukas and I could talk, a lot. I was able to journal and get my head wrapped around what we were about to do. It was a giant pause to let me soul catch up. Is this what I wanted? Is this what WE wanted?

At the end of the five days, we could answer YES. But we wanted to get our eyes on the property one more time before submitting an offer. An ice storm was projected to hit Atlanta so we knew we had to get home ASAP if we were going to see the property before getting snowed in. We planned to leave my parents’ house at 6am, but James’ woke us up a little earlier and thank goodness he did because the storm was creeping in earlier than expected. We left at 5am, and the kids were champs and we made it right as the snow started to fall.

Our family of four toured the house and walked out with the decision made — we were putting in an offer on our dream home.

***Insert all the insanity of actually buying (and selling our former!!) home — the reality of such a big purchase, the learning the home we first wanted was already under contract but did we want the one next door?, the negotiations, the offer acceptance, the figuring out upgrades, the putting our home on the market, showing the house, getting THIRTEEN OFFERS, having to pick which offer to accept, the hurry up to get paperwork finished just to wait for signatures, the back and forth of questions, the intense emotions to sit in while you’re waiting…***

I wish I could capture the insanity in detail because, well, it’s a rollercoaster. Described as such by my sister-in-love last week. Buying a house is SO exciting. And it’s SO many other feelings. Scary, frustrating, exhausting. We are still in the process and nothing is final, yet. We have accepted an offer and have closing dates for both homes. And yet, there are still a lot of unknowns and no guarantees. Until we hand over the keys of this home and put the new keys on our key rings, it’s not officially official.

I’ve attempted to finish this blog 25 times. No wait, my revisions counter on WordPress says this is number twenty six. Right now, any spare moment of my life, in the spaces between caring for a three, going on thirteen year old and an “always wants to be with mama” eight month old, is house transition focused. So as I sit here attempting to close this post out, rubbing my eyes because they are starting to cross as I long to be napping like my babies, I ask for your prayers for our family as we get ready to move out of our home in the next seventeen days.

We’ll be moving to an AirBNB in our new neighborhood in order to get the kids settled and move out of our current property and into the other, well, while limiting the affects on the kids (and us!) as much as possible.

There have, and will continue to be a lot of tears and a lot of laughter as the insanity of our present circumstances requires both. Yesterday, when things were just too much and tears rolled down my cheeks, Tabby asked me what was wrong. I reached back to her car seat, grabbed her leg, and told her mommy was scared. She said “don’t worry, mommy, I’m here and we are better together.” Is there any better note to end on??

xoxo, va

crisis of religion

“I’m having a major crisis of faith.”

These words I’ve said to myself more times this year then I can count, and several times to a select few safe, inner circle people.

With my hands full as a stay at home mom to these awesome littles, there’s been little time to pick up my pen and journal to wade through my feelings but I’ve done a lot of thinking — especially in the dead of night as I nurse James back to sleep. There have been a lot of questions, a lot of prayers, and a lot of curiosity.

Recently, my crisis of faith started to drift to a fear of losing my faith. Was I losing it? Could I lose it? After over a decade since baptism and an eleven year stretch of feeling like I’d been so close to God, was I moving away from Him?

Even though I’d mentioned “I think I’m having a crisis of faith” to a few key people I was most afraid to let them in to the deeper stuff I was wrestling with. I’m a card carrying, flag waving, blog broadcasting, Jesus-loving Christian. How could I vocalize my questions?

Why do we go to church on Sundays? What’s the point of a sermon? Am I a bad Christian if I don’t read my Bible regularly, let my 2 year old take communion, or get annoyed when every conversation I have with a particular person is about God? Am I really supposed to try to be like Jesus? Is salvation important? Is it a really a moment of decision? What if Him loving me is a bigger priority than me loving Him? Is it my job to obey or to receive His gift of obedience? Is it possible everyone goes to heaven, that heaven isn’t actually a place, that the process to get there isn’t this instant moment of perfection I’ve believed it was for so long? How can people claim the Christian faith but be so silent in defense of their fellow man, the image bearers of the King of Kings they proclaim? What if Christianity isn’t the only way to the Father? What if there are multiple paths to God? What was Jesus REALLY like?

I kept asking questions in my own brain and landed on the Truth that right now, amidst my doubts and questions and lack of certainty, I actually feel closer to God than ever before. How could this be? The THINGS (primarily my focused, hour long Bible and journal reading every morning) I had done in the past to maintain that relationship weren’t there anymore and this felt I was on “a slippery slope”. But was I slipping? Was I on a destructive path? Was I losing my faith? My relationship? My card carrying membership?

How was I MORE close to the Father than ever before when the things I’ve always done to maintain that relationship were LESS?

I’ve been asking this question for at least a year. In my questioning I keep coming back to the idea, the truth, the reality, that I am closer to His people and His church, than ever before.

I’m celebrating five years with a church community, the longest in my adult life, the longest community I’ve ever been a part of in general, actually. It’s diverse. It’s not perfect. And yet, I’ve experienced Jesus’ message from these people, collectively, in more powerful ways than I could have ever dreamed up.

They speak life into me through their daily living out of scripture. They show up at my door when I’m hurting. They call when they haven’t heard from me in awhile. They send their kids to my house when I need a helping hand with my own kids. They change diapers and feed me lunch and hold my baby while I take a bath and babysit and answer the phone when I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack.

And they let me love them back in the imperfectly perfect ways I can manage in this season.

Through them, I encounter compassion, comfort, and assurance that I’m okay and not alone. Through their words and actions, we minister to one another in a way that proves Holy Spirit is living among our Tri-Cities church family.

Then there is the Church that’s right in my household. I hold my kids, breathe in their scent, and feel the love the Father has for me. I do life with my husband and experience what the Bible might be talking about in the Jesus/Church/bridegroom/bride relationship. We keep showing up for each other, day in and day out, ESPECIALLY when it gets hard. ESPECIALLY when we are difficult to love. ESPECIALLY when we are low on sleep and patience. We don’t give up on each other.

The same exact way the Trinity doesn’t give up on us.

So yeah, my faith looks a little different then it has in the past. Another season, another part of the journey with the Lord leading the way. And He IS leading the way. I know because of the fruit that my 3 foot tall mirror who wears sparkly dresses and politely demands I call her princess Tabby, reveals to me.

The other day I asked her, “who loves you, Tabby?” Fully expecting her to say mommy or Nigh Nigh (her name for her dad) and she yells “JESUS!” I was floored. I asked again to see maybe this time she’d say mommy or Nigh Nigh and she yells “GOD!”

Every Sunday after that same 3-year-old is brought upstairs at the end of our service, she runs to the back of the church and brings me a little “to go” COVID safe cup of communion. She says “open it” (we’re working on learning please) and I open both my cup and hers. She chomps down on the tiny wafer and peels back the next layer to reveal a delicious cool-aid style purple drink. I look her in the eye balls as she consumes it’s delicacy and tell her, Jesus loves you SO MUCH.

My guess is there’s plenty of literature out there that rejects the idea a 3-year-old should be taking communion. I’ve heard the argument you shouldn’t really go to the Lord’s table until you fully understand what it means. But I’m (almost) 34 years old and I don’t fully comprehend what I’m doing there. Some days I go just because it’s a habit. Other days I sit in contemplation for 5 seconds and try to wrap my brain around what the bread and the juice represent. Other days (well, pre-kid days) I might actually feel something deeper and a tear would roll down my cheek at the profoundness of my King’s sacrifice.

As all of this rolls around in my brain, as I experience this different way of communing with the Lord through the eyes of my little girl and the wide open arms of my church family, I recognize I’m not having a crisis of faith, not at all.

I’m having a “crisis of religion”. As I investigate what I’ve been taught all my life about Christians, Christian faith, the Bible, God, etc, I have chosen to unlearn some stuff in order to relearn what I really believe about all of the above. I’ve questioned some (or a lot) of the “shoulds” and “have tos” and “this is the only ways”, and most of them crumble away when challenged.

But my God? He doesn’t crumble. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t falter or fail or fall short. Every time I’ve hurled a doubt or question in His direction, He’s revealed another side of Himself. He’s never judged my questions and if anything, I have experienced that He welcomes them. He welcomes them because every time I ask a question my heart seeks Him for an answer. Often times the answers I receive are so not clear, so not certain, so not simple, or even can be considered answers at all. But rather, when I turn to to ask the questions, I’m face to face with the Father. And THAT is what I believe He desires all along.

My religion, yeah, it might be in crisis. But my faith? Oh no. My faith isn’t in crisis at all.

xoxo, va

prayer for new mamas

Sitting in the hospital room, holding her 24 hour old son, a dear friend texted me pictures of her birth and filled me in on how her heart was doing. “Processing it all” was the overarching theme. Blame it on my own newborn hormones, but I was a puddle as I looked through what she sent me, sistering her as she carried the emotions of the birth. As she wrestled with all the joy and the pain and the hard and the “undone-ness” of the moment, I decided to capture the texts I sent her as a reminder to myself of the beauty in the rawness of that present.

I captured it for new mamas but primarily for myself as a stake in the ground of Truth! Because this motherhood stuff, it ain’t for the faint of heart. No matter how weak I feel, no matter how undone I watch myself become…I am a MOTHER and that means something insanely powerful. I still don’t believe it as truth on my bad days but on my good ones I feel it so deeply in my core of who I am, a feeling the English language can’t, and won’t ever be able to do it justice.

I thought of my own early moments in the hospital with both my babies and poured out to her from those places. Those raw, new mother places. So tender, so beautiful, so HARD. So rich. So God breathed.

Here it is, my only slightly edited version of what I sent:

Oh my goodness!!!!!!! 😭😭😭❤️❤️❤️

You did it friend! You did it and your baby is here!!!! SO MANY PRAYERS. I physically feel the emotions you’re going through.

YOU ARE A WARRIOR.
I literally have chills all over my body.

And yes, tears, dear sister as I sit with you in alllll the emotions.

I can’t stop looking at the pictures, I can’t stop crying.

YOU SURVIVED THAT. You’re surviving THIS!! Omg. I have no words other than that you’re a mother f****** warrior 😭😭

And here’s my prayer for you as I cry to heaven on your behalf:

God, you are HERE. In the midst of the suffering, in the midst of the hard, you are here. Motherhood is the hardest thing in the world and that’s why I believe you gifted it to women because you knew we could handle it, you knew we could do it, especially on the days we think we can’t.

Through birth, through motherhood, you show us what we are made of. Our bodies are miraculous things. Our minds are just as strong. And you made all that. You made our bodies perfectly and wonderfully to do what you call us to do on this planet and birthing and raising humans, yep, that’s the holiest work there is.

Our society is not set up to support new moms well, especially for women of color, so I ask for your protection for (insert name) as she is having to navigate new motherhood in a way she didn’t expect to navigate it…with a c-section, with her PRECIOUS (child) in the NICU, in the middle of a freaking pandemic.

Lord, send forth your light and truth, let them guide her, let them bring her to your holy hill where you look at her and tell her to trust herself because she has EVERYTHING inside of her to do this task. Anoint her relationship with (her partner) with grace, peace, mercy, patience, as they navigate this insane life change together. You’ve knit them together as husband and wife, as one, for such a time as this. THEY’VE GOT THIS.

And when they feel like they don’t, let us, their community, cheer them on fiercely and radically so they know they aren’t alone. ❤️


Do you have a new mama in your life? Maybe this prayer could be one you modify and send to her, or you could share this link as a bit of encouragement from one mama to another. if you do have a new mom if your life, don’t forget how IMPORTANT you are to her. She needs you to breathe Truth into her. Truth that she’s strong and capable and SHE CAN DO IT. That God is for her, with her, all around her. Speak it over and over and over to her because (if she’s anything like me!) she needs to hear it often and regularly!!

xoxo, va

adventuring with dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best adventures always come with a little fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo, va

neighboring

College didn’t have a lot of Jesus in it, for me. Halfway through my eight years in that college town, His relentless pursuit of me included a campus minister giving me a chance to work for him, messy lifestyle and all. Jesus is the ultimate “chance” giver and that chance was life changing. Not overnight though…it was quite a process!

As I started attending church and getting more connected to Christian community after being completed disconnected for years, I was eating up all that the pastor was putting down. Soaking in all the goodness I hadn’t been exposed to for so long…

‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land
And streams on the dry ground…”
Isaiah 44:3

I was a thirsty land and His streams were satisfying my dry ground!

One of the most monumental sermon series from that time in my life, that place, that church, that pastor, was based on a book called The Art of Neighboring.

In searching for the book a few months ago, I saw another author has created a parody of the book. Mocking it, challenging it, etc. It’s hard for me to see that because this sermon series was so powerful in my own life a decade ago and yet who knows what I would think of reading the book now!!

Bottom line — this concept sparked something deep in me, a desire to live in community with my physical neighbors. To know them, to be present with them. Not as a goal minded mission field, that’s not my style, but as a mutual “I need you, you need me, let’s do this life thing together” way of neighboring.

At the time, I was living super transitional. I moved 25 times in a 15 year period. That’s really hard to do neighboring BUT with each place I lived, the heart of the art of neighboring was present.

In Atlanta as a single woman living alone, I knew I had to be a little careful with how much neighboring I did. Safety is important and not to be scoffed at, yet, I never want fear to drive me — in ANYTHING — and especially not with neighboring. I’ve learned that 9.99 times out of 10, when I have a fear response to something regarding my neighbors, it’s more discomfort in the unknown than it is valid reasons to be concerned.

So, single woman, living alone in Atlanta. I met a next door neighbor and a woman who also lived alone across the parking lot. Both women didn’t become besties but they were in my life. One cooked me dinner one night, the other made me potholders when I moved that I still use today.

Apartment number two in Atlanta had me not living alone but with a roommate. This gave me a little more confidence and gusto to branch out more. In that season, life was insanely busy (insert Lukas into the mix) but I still managed to know my downstairs neighbors enough to identify the engagement ring dropped in the parking lot as the mom’s and know my “behind me” neighbor enough to know when her grandkids were coming to visit.

Once Lukas and I said “I do”, we were hotel living for 8 months. Not much neighboring you can do in the halls of a hotel but you know who is around a hotel? The staff! It was important for me to be intentional with each front desk, cleaning, maintenance, manager, breakfast food person we encountered during our stays.

For all of the above years, I did the best I could to neighbor those in my nearest proximity and even though I don’t remember names or have anyone’s phone numbers from that time period, I do have a lot of neighboring muscle strengthening experiences. Like doing reps at the gym over time, when our married couple selves moved to our Atlanta apartment, I was a semi-seasoned neighborer ready to watch God fulfill this desire of my heart.

AND HE SHOWED UP!!! Duh, right?

Lukas and I took candy and a note to all of our closest neighbors in the first weeks we moved in. We hit up probably 15 apartments and heard back from around half. Yes, I gave them my contact info including my CELL NUMBER, crazy, right?

Out of that half I established contact relationships (you have my info, I have yours, let’s chat when needed) with four households. Three of those four became something more. One family gifted us stuff left and right and loved being a part of Tabby’s early years, until she moved to take care of her elderly sister. One family is still, to this day, on our Christmas card list. And one woman I don’t keep up with regularly but could pick up the phone at any point to call to chat and it wouldn’t be weird.

The last one is the most meaningful to me. We legit got into each other’s lives. We shared meals together. We picked up stuff at the store when our households were sick. We bought her couches that now sit in our living room when she moved out west. She’d stand at my car watching Tabby if I had already loaded her up and forgot something upstairs. When a major family crisis hit, Tabby and I walked around and around the complex with her, praying for her family member in distress.

As many people as I have in my life I get to keep up with via the amazingness of technology, there’s something incredibly tangible about neighbor relationships. Some people might be able to post on their social media page — “Hey, can I get a stick of butter?” and someone bring them one in time to bake the cookies, but not me. I might not even get comments unless they were roll your eye or laugh out loud emojis. But a neighbor I’ve done life with? It’s easy to pick up the phone and have that butter within 2 minutes. (A real live example from last Christmas when Tabby and I were trying to bake Christmas cookies)

And that starts to get to the heart of why neighboring means so much to me, why it matters, why I love for it, crave it, and have worked to build it over the years. MEGA intentionally now that we own our own home and might be planted here for the foreseeable future.

The real heart? I NEED these people. I need to walk out my front door and do more then just wave. I need to know what’s going on in their lives and need them to know what’s going on in ours. I need to be surrounded by people who have my back and I need people who I can have their back too.

Six weeks (or less) after moving into our house in East Point, I stood in our living room and watched Lukas close the hallway door after putting Tabby down.

CRACKKKKKKKK. Thump!

“What was that?!?”

We opened the front door to see an 80 foot pine tree lying horizontal across our yard, across the street, and into the diagonal neighbors driveway.

I immediately started praying and thanking the Lord. The only damage? Our mailbox. if the tree had fallen 180 degrees in the opposite direction it would have hit the house, exactly where Lukas was standing and Tabby was sleeping. The humility of what we’d just been rescued from by the King of Kings was not lost on me, at all.

Nor was the reality of how He showed up through our neighbors. Within minutes, Brandon from down the street had his machinery out and Russell was chain sawing away. Between the two of them, they had the road cleared in minutes. Larry and Marie from across the street were checking in and Ms. Sharon came out to stand with us under her carport while the guys worked.

It was the first of many instances where we’ve relied on the people in our physical proximity since living in East Point. Some others have included borrowing a few sticks of butter, meals for months after James was born, feeding our chickens while out of town, moving our trash cans to the street after shoulder surgery, a hug when life was too hard and the tears flowed, or a little landscaping advice.

I keep a map of our current neighborhood on the refrigerator. Twenty seven homes have names beside them. At least fifteen, I know more about them than just a name, and eight households are on our Christmas card list.

Two of the eight families have become part of our family. They were the first people who met James when we came home from the hospital, I spoke at one’s memorial service, Lukas is taking one son to a Hawks game for his birthday, I’ve taken the same son to school, and one has cooked us so many meals I can’t even count. We’ve laughed and cried and prayed with them. And they will be in our lives forever, even if our address changes.

As I think back to that tan fabric covered chair I sat in as a single woman in Auburn, AL. Longing for the life the pastor spoke of — full of people and love and sharing the good, bad and ugly moments with people in the houses next door — I marvel at all God and I can build together. That was 10 years ago, this year. Ten years full of different addresses, front doors, and mailboxes. Ten years of a common goal — get into the lives of those who live next to me and make a point to get into theirs as well.

There is plenty of commentary on what Jesus means when he says “love thy neighbor as thyself.” From experience, I can testify that loving those in my physical proximity has impacted my life in profound ways. Living a life focused on “neighboring” is something I’ll always do. There’s just too much goodness in the people I see every time I pull into my driveway, and if all I did was put up a hand and hustle inside to the next item on my to do list, I’d miss it. I’d miss the treasures found while neighboring. And those treasures are worth more than all the money in the world!!

xoxo, va

end of an oily era

Four and a half years ago, Lukas and I were living in a hotel in New Jersey. We’d just heard the infamous “no” and were staring down at a life that felt like it was in a million pieces on the floor, unsure what to do next. At the time, a friend of mine introduced me to the idea of essential oils and it was through my membership to Young Living, the door swung wide for me to learn about holistic health.

My mom has been a health nut for years and years and I’d taken some pointers but still remained pretty Western medicine focused, thinking all of the other was just “hippy stuff” that conspiracy theorists believed in.

Despite my hesitancy to jump on the essential oil train, I did, and joining Young Living was THE BEST thing for me in that season. My membership connected me with a team of amazing women at a time when I had no physical community around me. Through my team I was exposed to SO MUCH information. I began researching everything I was learning (I’m a research junkie!) and dove head first into learning as much as I could. It was a world I knew nothing about. A world I’d poked fun at and mocked for years (primarily through picking on my mom and her, sometimes insane, choices!) I started trying things out and experimenting and when I actually saw results, I thought, OMG I have to tell people about this!!!

With all my new knowledge bubbling over to share, I started It’s Oily Business. Never one to do anything half ass, I went all in on the idea of starting my own essential oil business. I spent a lot of time, energy and money getting that venture stood up. I worked to build a trustworthy Instagram page, I read business books, I learned the ins and outs of how to structure a multi-level marketing business to be the most profitable, I spent hours and hours and HOURS on content, I worked to develop a leadership team. I did “all the things”. And after all of that work, and a 59 day prayer journey, I decided to lay down my entrepreneur torch when God called me to focus on becoming a mom with all of my time, energy and talent.

Even though I laid the business torch down three years ago, I was still an avid Young Living user. The world of essential oils is not regulated well and there are some crazies out there trying to sell cheap oils filled with yucky stuff or stuff that isn’t the purest of the pure. Based on my experience with the company, I knew Young Living’s Seed to Seal promise was trustworthy and therefore I continued to buy, continued to use their supplements and products and would continue to do so if it wasn’t for another new family goal.

We are working to save money for a BIG financial commitment. More on that in the future but for now I’ll say we’ve been looking at ways to make cuts in our budget as much as possible. We’ve made a whole bunch of them already but now I’ve had to look into the “harder to spend less on” items. My monthly Young Living order is the one I tackled this week. At least for now, with a sad heart, I’ve placed my last order!

Since becoming a Young Living member, new essential oil companies have popped up that I feel confident I can use with the same trustworthiness in their quality. Of the few essential oil based products we use, I’m able to find them from other sources that aren’t necessarily cheaper but require less commitment on a monthly basis to get the same great savings. I’m also not in need of as many products as I once was because I’ve been able to get my physical and mental health under control, with the help of the Young Living community!!!

When Lukas and I were engaged, I was working through a worksheet on “important things to talk about before marriage” and one question was about birth. I wrote in the blank “GIVE ME ALL THE MEDS”. Not five years later, I found myself CHOOSING an unmedicated VBAC… yes, it’s been quite a transformation, one that would absolutely not have been possible without the influence of my Young Living sisters.

My Young Living journey has been a beautiful one. I regret nothing about my years with the company. Well, maybe I regret when I spent a thousand dollars that one month on oil products because I couldn’t handle being left out of the insanely amazing deals!!!! And even to this day I don’t regret the amazing products I got, only that I wasn’t completely honest with Lukas about how much I was spending at the time… whoops! The products are amazing, the people are amazing and the impact to my family has been invaluable.

I used to be a chronic migraine sufferer. My membership with Young Living set me on a course to be FREE from chronic migraine pain. If you’re someone who has any kind of health crisis you’re facing — why navigate it alone when you don’t have to? If you’re interested in getting plugged into the Young Living community, email me (virginialeefortunato@gmail.com). I’ll get you hooked up with the right people and maybe, just maybe, your life could change as drastically as mine did. Life is hard, no doubt, but physical pain makes life almost unbearable. I don’t promise results because every situation is different, but I do promise if you get connected to Young Living you’ll learn something you never knew and find a friend who can help walk with you along the way!

xoxo, va

you’re invited!

UPDATE: Click here to watch recorded book launch.

On Thursday, January 6, 2022 at 7 pm EST (in two days!!) our UNSTUCK Writer’s Collective wants to redeem history and claim January 6 as a day of healing, survival and love.

Grab your FREE VIRTUAL ticket to our Official “Kissed By God” Book Release Showcase featuring readings from our amazing new published co-authors. Click here to get yours.

I’ve mentioned everyone, here, on my blog before and included links to their social media pages or websites. I’ll put faces to names this time:

At the start of 2021, when I first logged in to our weekly call. and witnessed first introductions, my jaw dropped. I heard all the powerful ways these women have shown up in their communities and their worlds and I just didn’t believe I deserved a seat at the table.

The more I got to know them (and the more they helped instill confidence in me as a friend and co-author!!), the more I realized I did deserve my seat at the table. I worked hard to get to this point in my life and have fought for this writing career. I was bold enough to say YES when the opportunity presented itself. Like all the women you’ll hear from this week, I’m not perfect, but I am present. Fully present. For this moment, for this project, for such a time as this.

So join us, Thursday, would you? You’ll be joining an evening of celebration that is guaranteed to make you laugh, make you cry and make you find that spark of inspiration to start your New Year off just right.

See you there!!

Oh! And here is the video of me holding our book in my hands for the first time!!! We said goodbye to our dear neighbor, Uncle Larry, last week when he ran ahead to heaven. Holding both — the sadness of his sudden health crisis and the joy of being a published author for the first time all in one week — it was brutiful. Brutal and beautiful, all at the same time!

As my dad said this week as he and my aunt made the decision to put my grandmother under hospice care (yep, it’s been a doozy for our family this week!), “that’s life.” The good, the hard, it’s all mixed in together.

Is your copy of our book on it’s way? We are now officially online at Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble (make sure you search for the whole title: Kissed by God: Stories of Love, Loss and Surviving it All). You still have an option to purchase direct from publisher (click here) or from me for an autographed copy (click here).

Thank you so much for your continued support. I said recently in a “this is what I’ve been doing the past 18 months and no, I’m still not getting back on social media” post on Instagram, that the readers of my blog are the wind beneath my wings when this writing career gets tough. That’s YOU!!!!! You are so special to me!!!

Click here for your free event ticket if you haven’t yet signed up. I’d love to know if you’re going to be there so I can “look out” for you so let me know in the comments below or send me an email or text, or carrier pigeon, so I can get even more excited (and have my nerves calmed a bit) knowing I have friends and family watching. I’ll see you Thursday!!!

xoxo, va