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

the edge of me

One Friday night, Lukas went to play drums as part of a personal worship service for a woman battling scary cancer. This gave me the opportunity to spend time with the kids myself. I say OPPORTUNITY as a choice word. Instead of panicking when I have to parent on my own, I try to take the chance to do something fun, something I’ll enjoy, with one or both kids.

That night’s activity was going to a fun area close to our house called the West End. We pulled into the parking lot and James was asleep, hallelujah, but Tabby was losing her marbles. Just that morning, it dawned on me I could baby wear her, something I hadn’t done in over a year. I could strap her on my back, feed James from the front and feel like a ROCKSTAR mom, like another level awesome mom-ness.

While in the parking lot with a melting down toddler, equipped with my new found “I’m a bad ass mom” skill, I asked Tabby if she wanted to get on my back and she said “YEAH!” I’d found front row parking for my sexy mom van, SCORE!, but once I got out of the car I looked at the restaurant, saw the porch full of adult beverage drinking Friday night enjoying, definitely not toddler toting, folks, and realized that also meant I was at my own personal comedy show…with me as the only one on stage.

We managed to get into the restaurant, eat dinner and get back to the car without any worth talking about incidents.

It felt like SUCH a huge victory, such a win, I was flying high, high high high, I GOT THIS.

Annnnnnd then the next day was the complete opposite, just like the parenting rollercoaster promises. We were in the middle of attempting to get James to sleep (this was pre-surrender to carrier napping) and several days into attempting a schedule with him that was not working, at all. I was going insane. Lukas was going insane. The “I GOT THIS” parenting high I experienced the night before was completely replaced with “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?!?”

We somehow managed to make it to bedtime with both kids and flopped into dreamland ourselves, weary from the parenting battlefield we had weathered all day.

After “Saturday from hell”, I limped into church on Sunday and into the arms of my church family. Answering their “how are you?” questions with tears or “at least I’m breathing” responses.

They spoke words of Truth — holding my shoulders and looking me in the eyeballs — they promised my kids would sleep eventually, promised I could do this, promised we weren’t alone.

My pastor’s wife ushered me into the sanctuary and said “come and be refreshed” and I stood in the service, swaying James while he slept. I wept. I let the tears fall, I let my shoulders droop, I leaked snot onto the head of my newborn. I had no idea how I was going to make it through this season but I had people who I trusted speaking God’s words of truth into my heart. Even though I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I knew it had to be there because they all said it was. I didn’t have eyes to see the light but they did, and I had eyes to see them.

I left church that day feeling a little lighter. I had no idea how we were going to make it a month, a week, a day or even an hour but I knew I wasn’t doing it by myself. Somehow, someway, it was all going to be okay. I trusted it would be okay. Not because of anything I could do myself (especially because my head was so full of anxiety!) but because the people I’ve surrounded myself with told me I could trust myself, trust my husband, trust them, and trust Him.

The sermon that day was a home run for my present circumstances. I don’t remember all the details but I captured some quotes I didn’t want to forget…

“When you’ve been pushed to the edge — Don’t allow the trauma and the trouble you’ve experienced, impact your ability to trust.” — Lamar Hardwick (our teaching pastor)

“When you come to the edge of yourself, when you’re willing to take the journey away from your ability to understand, that’s where you’ll find the gate.”

“I learn how to find God at the edge of my ability to define God.”

It feels good when I get to be a bad ass, rockstar mom. I feel strong and confident and, well, like a freaking rockstar. I need those moments to keep going. I need those victories, those wins, those days where it just doesn’t feel that hard to be a mom, because right around the corner there’s going to be another type of day. An “edge of my abilities” day when I’m at the end of my rope, running on E, empty, and drained.

I need BOTH. I need the high days and the low days to keep my perspective on the King of Kings. I believe He gifts me the good days, right when I just can’t hold on anymore, and He gifts me the bad ones to keep me close to His heartbeat, so dependent on Him.

Some of my very best moments in life have been at the edge of myself. When I’ve let go of what I understand, about myself, my God, my circumstances, and received the gift of surrender to fall into whatever He has for my current reality. I wish this was something I could manipulate or plan or bring into existence, but I can’t. It’s His to give and take away and I just want to keep hanging on.

I don’t want the glory of the good days to allow me to think I don’t need Him anymore. I don’t want the trauma of the hard days to impact my ability to trust. I want to live at the edge of me, where I don’t understand, in order to experience the inexplicable joys of loving a God I DEFINITELY, absolutely, positively, seriously times a bajillion, don’t understand. The edge of me, that’s where I want to be.

xoxo, va

a daughter’s prayer

A friend was walking through some hard and dark stuff with her daughter recently. As the mother of a daughter, my heart was able to enter into the grief with this mama and walk with her through the darkness. Soon after, they got celebratory good news and although the battle ahead for them isn’t over, it’s not as dark as it was. I’m thankful to bear witness to God’s faithfulness in His love for our kids, a love that’s a million times better than love I could ever give my sweet girl.

I wrote this prayer as I nursed James one night and decided to copy and paste from our text convo because I KNOW I’ll need it one day for Tabby. As much as I pray for my kids, I know we will come up against darkness together and I will need to summon heaven into the battlefield in my mind. In the darkness, sometimes it’s hard to find the light. I wanted to capture in my own words, the light while I felt it so when that darkness comes I can cling like a life raft to these beliefs. Beliefs that can be really shaken when the darkness rolls in.

In addition to the following prayer, here’s a message I want to capture for my future self:

STAND FIRM. Stand firm, sister. God is for you. He’s for your kids. He’s for your daughter. He’s for your marriage and your family. HE IS FOR YOU. Do you doubt that right now? That’s okay. I promise, that’s okay. You aren’t a bad Christian. You aren’t doing the wrong things. Life comes and darkness comes and it shakes you to the core. In the shaking, good things are happening. God is going to make His glory shine bright. I promise. He’s done it before and He WILL do it again. Stand firm.

And if you can’t stand right now, grab a sister to stand around you and for you so you can become a puddle for a time. Get off your feet. Let your doubts overtake you and feel them, while your sister is there, ready to pull you back up when your tears have been shed. Ready to pull you back up and carry you until you can walk again yourself.

You WILL be able to stand again. You WILL be able to walk again. I promise. Trust me. We’ve been here before and He has been faithful. He will be faithful again. Lastly? Be kind to yourself. Take care of you. Defend your boundaries. Keep things simple. Don’t be all things to all people. Let yourself off the hook. Give yourself a high five for making it this far. Be gentle with you, please. You are doing a GREAT job. You are a absolute FANTASTIC mother. You are a warrior. Sister. Stand firm.

Lord, I know (mom) is getting up soon to head into her first day back at work. To be hit with the information she did yesterday right before this day doesn’t feel like unplanned timing. It feels orchestrated by an enemy who’s goal is to lie, steal, kill, cheat and destroy. In the name of Jesus, I declare he has NO power over her mind. NO power over her family. NO power over (daughter’s) mind, body and spirit. You created this sweet girl, fearfully and wonderfully. You knit her together in (mom’s) womb and she is perfectly made, exactly the way you designed her to be, to bring you glory on this side of heaven.

(Daughter’s) role is a sacred one. A role absolutely no one else can fill. Her experiences, her suffering her celebrations, her overall story, is one the world needs. You’re cultivating it now. You’re walking her through these times in her life that will impact others in the future. Give her grit, resiliency, endurance, strength, peace, JOY!!, faith, surrender, gratitude, patience, perseverance, and all the other amazing things you gift us for no other reason than we are your children.

(Daughter) is your daughter, adopted, redeemed and secure. You’ve gone before her and you follow behind her. You hem her in, on all sides. NO WEAPON FORMED AGAINST HER SHALL PROSPER. I speak these truths over (daughter’s) life and I speak them into (mother’s) as well since the way you feel about (daughter) is exactly the same way you feel about your beloved daughter, (mom). She is yours, you call her your own, you are so proud of her, and you are for her.. We thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness to us. Give us eyes to see your goodness in the land of the living, on this side of heaven. We need you Lord, Jesus, come.

My dear, Tabby, life is hard, isn’t it? I’m so glad we get to do it together. ❤️

xoxo, va

beautifully broken

Sometimes I walk around an environment full of people and think about what stories are untold, what hurts there are under the masks of smiles or anger or numbness. What are people really struggling with? Based on statistics, in a group of more than 10 people, at least 1 American is suffering, currently or in the past, with some kind of substance abuse. That means, there’s a good chance the other 9 people know or love someone battling substance addiction. And that’s just from that specific battle, what about mental health? Grief? Broken relationships? Health stuff? The list of pain goes on and on. No matter where I go, I am constantly running into people who have pain, who have a story.

When I met Pat many, many years ago, since she was raising her grandson as her own son, I knew there was a story there. She shared with me she was raising her daughter’s son but I had no idea, no idea all that she was walking through when I’d see her, head held high, at work.

She was one of the women who helped me navigate my first corporate job, who showed me the ropes and taught me a whole bunch about how to show up well in that environment. She, as well as my now best friend, Stephanie, were the two main people who kept me afloat while I was a tiny fish. college graduate, in that giant sea of corporate America. Here the three of us are together!

Always grateful for her friendship then, our relationship morphed over the years when she moved to a different team and later, when I left the company entirely to marry my boo. I have no idea how she found my blog or started following along with our journey but I learned she was doing so when she sent the most precious email to Lukas when he found his way back to Chick-fil-A.

Pat and I reconnected the following year when she added herself as a permanent follower of Following the Fortunatos. Sending an email of gratitude for her support, I added my condolences for the recent death of her daughter, Melanie. Stephanie (a very dear friend of Pat’s) attended the celebration of life and some of the words Pat said during the eulogy were powerful ones for my hurting, depression suffering soul. I thanked her for them and for her boldness.

Very quickly after, in July 2020, she responded with “as the weeks have unfolded, I believe I’m being led to blog about my journey.” Now, 18 months later, I’m here to shout from the rooftops that not only has she created a worldwide-read blog that has touched SO MANY grieving parents, now she’s a published author!!!!!!!

Every night, at 7pm, Lukas takes the kids and I climb into the bath tub with my latest book. It’s my sacred 15 minutes to myself. After attending Pat’s book launch this past Sunday, I put aside my latest Jodi Picoult novel and opened my signed copy of Beautifully Broken. My 15 minutes in the bath tub are not enough!!! I want to send the family away for the day, curl up on the couch and finish it, because wowzers, this woman can WRITE!!

She’ll be the first to tell you God breathed the words through her onto the page, and I can totally relate because as a writer myself, I understand what that feels like. There’s also this Truth that when God gives us a gift, it’s up to us to use it, and use it she does. I’m transported to the years she spent as a single mom raising her two kids and the highs and lows of her journey with Melanie on this side of heaven.

The book’s target audience is parents who have experienced an out of order death but her words are balm for the soul for anyone grieving…even mine, a mom of littles who grieves a myriad of things from my kids growing up too fast, time I used to have with my husband, the memories depression robbed me from cherishing, or the loved ones who’ve hurried ahead of me to heaven.

Pat’s words offer the thing, the only thing, that can sustain me through any grief, pain, or suffering — HOPE. The tag line of her book states just that: Finding Hope During Loss.

Loss. If I were to sit across from you with a cup of hot tea and you were to share with me what life has been like for you since the pandemic, I have a feeling your story would include loss. I take that guess because every single person I’ve talked to since our world changed forever has, indeed, shared with me, some kind of loss.

Job loss, family member loss, friendship loss, sense of security loss, church home loss, financial loss, home loss, physical health loss, mental health loss, normalcy loss, sanity loss. So much loss.

Our book, Kissed by God, offers the world love and hope during these hurting times. Pat’s book is right there, offering the same, as well.

Need a Christmas present for someone you love that’s hurting, this holiday season? Maybe you need to wrap the books and put them under your tree for your own for your hurting heart?

Whether you buy Beautifully Broken or follow Pat’s blog, your heart will find comfort in reading her words. Every Tuesday, she publishes a post and as I sit up to feed James at 3am, her words help me hold him a little tighter and a little longer. He’s a gift (both my kids are!), offered to me by the King of Kings who loves them more than I could ever imagine. They are on loan to me from heaven and no matter how many days I have with their precious hearts on this planet, I want to cherish them wholly and completely, knowing there’s no promise of how many more I get to hold them close.

Congratulations, my dear friend!! I wish, so desperately, I was learning the details of your story with Melanie over a delicious dinner in the city, her sitting next to you, instead of through the tear stained pages of this book. I’m grateful for your bravery and your obedience in creating Beautifully Broken. May the Lord protect and keep you, Pat, as you keep delivering His powerful message of Truth to a hurting world!!!!

xoxo, va