My Forever Valentine: A Documentary of Love

My parents have been such an inspiration to me as a couple, I wanted to document their love and share it with the world.

The year was 1970. The day was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. My father’s best friend was going to his girlfriend’s house to present her with a gift and he asked my father to accompany him. As fate would have it, my mother opened the door. He had no idea his best friend’s girlfriend had a sister. My parents have been inseparable since.

When they married, my mom was in her senior year of high school and my dad had just completed basic training for the U.S. Air Force. My brother and I became part of their story a few years later.

Over the years, my parents have grown together as they grew individually. As many of their friends and family members married and divorced, my parents have remained a unit. Their love has inspired me. Their love has shown me what love looks like. Because of them and all they’ve shown me, I aspire to one day have a love just as special and lasting as theirs.

Due to the climbing divorce rate, many do not have high hopes for marriage. People are not sustaining their relationships because there are not many positive images anymore for them to see. People know how to get divorced but how many know how to stay married?

My purpose for creating this documentary was to explore that question and dispel some myths about marriage. The fact is, as my father states in the film, “Marriage works, you just have to work it.”

You have to want it, but more importantly, you have to want it with the person you’re with. Can positive images of marriage change mindsets? Can people begin to have hope in creating love that lasts?

I don’t know for sure, but my prayer with this documentary is that we can begin to change the narrative and see a shift in what marriage looks like.

Here’s My Forever Valentine: A Documentary of Love

When Strangers Become Family

Last month, I was a featured author at the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta. What an experience that was. The highlight was not speaking to an audience, signing books, or taking pictures with readers. What was an afterthought has remained in the forefront of my memory.

While in line to check into the hotel, I took an interest in a conversation being had by the ladies waiting next to me. Due to booking issues, the check-in process was time consuming. People were exhausted and frustrated, especially after long travels. The ladies seemed okay with my occasional head nod and acknowledgment of listening to their conversation, however, no introductions were made. At some point, I tipped out of line to find the restroom. On my way back, one of the ladies–who had also left the line–stopped me. She wanted to know if I traveled alone.

“Yes, I came alone.”

“Are you with a book club?” was her next question.

I leaned in for a whisper. “I’m actually one of the featured authors.” Not sure why I treated it as such a big secret. (I’m still learning that I need to exude pride about my accomplishments as a writer.)

We chatted for a few about their travel craziness. It was quite shocking all they had gone through to attend the conference: flat tires to speeding tickets to missed flights. This woman confessed, “Even through all of that, yet will I trust You. God is still good.”

We were in the midst of revival in the middle of the hotel lobby when my ringing phone cut us short. As the rest of her book club members rejoined her, she said she would be sure to come to my session as they headed toward the elevators. Her message of God’s goodness even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty replayed in my head the entire time at the conference.

That woman’s name is Sheila. I briefly saw her in passing the next morning where she reminded me that she would see me at my session the next day. After a few sessions that morning, we were dismissed for lunch. I noticed Sheila heading out of the hotel’s door with a few other ladies. I didn’t recognize all of them, but I saw her and proceeded out behind them to ask if they were going somewhere for lunch. “Yes,” was the answer and I asked to join them. I heard another “Yes.”

No one knew where we were going to eat. Almost everyone was on their phones looking up nearby restaurants. One of the ladies mentioned a restaurant they had gone to the night before. I shared that I was going that night with some friends for a birthday dinner because, hey, “Today’s my birthday,” I said. Each lady told me “Happy Birthday” and gave me a hug, which was a special gesture for me from complete strangers.

We decided on a restaurant across the street but when two ladies walked by with Chick-fil-A bags, we decided to head there. That was right up my budget alley; I knew I could afford that. Sometime between getting directions to the fast-food restaurant and crossing the street, a decision was made to eat at the initial place on the other side of the street instead.

Inside, the place was fancy. Even its name spoke expensive. But hey, it was my birthday. I would pay whatever I needed to pay to enjoy my day of birth. We ordered our food and conversed. We got to know each other. Well, they already knew one another; I was the outsider. They were able to learn a little bit about me and my journey, and I became acquainted with Tangie, Cheryln, Yolanda, Denise, and of course, Sheila, the members of Afterthoughts Book Club.

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As the waiter collected our empty plates, he leaned over and told me, “I have a special birthday treat coming out for you.”

Wait, who told him it was my birthday?! One of the ladies pulled a sneaky move while I jibber-jabbered around the table. The funny thing is I am super observant, but somehow I let that one get past me. It caught me by total surprise. But what caught my surprise all the more was when Cheryln said, “Miss Julia, since today is your birthday, we would like to cover your meal.”

What? Did I just hear correctly? Complete strangers were going to pay for my meal. Wow. The gesture brought tears to my eyes. I was about to ball but Cheryln told me to stop. LOL. You see, what they didn’t know was my financial situation. Yes, I had enough to cover my meal, but money was tight on my end. I wasn’t quite sure how I would be able to move funds around to pay for another hotel room for the extra night I was staying in town. (I booked my ticket to travel home on Monday because it was a little cheaper and a friend would let me stay at her place. Unfortunately, with her work schedule and location, transportation to get me to the airport wasn’t feasible.) As my mom says, “When something changes, something changes.”

Their gesture was also a sign to me that God listened to my prayer. Again, what Sheila said the night before rang true: “Yet will I trust You.” I’d told my mom the night prior after realizing the hotel would put a $100 hold on my credit card for each night booked that I trusted God would work things out. There was no need for me to worry. Though I booked my room for three nights and that practically maxed out my credit card, I would be all right. So when these ladies covered my meal, I knew everything else would work itself out.

The ladies and I spent the rest of the day together until we parted ways at the end of the day’s sessions. The next morning, I received a text from one of the members asking for my email address. What was sent over was a template to a flyer for my session that day. She wanted to know if I approved. Heck yes. Like seriously. Another answered prayer–not the flyers itself, but someone looking out for me for once. The fact that people I barely knew took out the time to create flyers to be handed out for people to attend my session blew my mind. I’m forever looking for a team, but these ladies showed up when I wasn’t even looking and showed me that what you seek is seeking you. What you put out comes back around. Be good to people and people will be good to you. God was once again saying, “I got you, Julia. Just trust Me.”

“Okay, God. I Trust You.”

These ladies passed around the flyers, sat in the front row during my session, supported me the entire time. One even recorded it on her phone and emailed it to me. I can go on and on about the blessing these women–Tangie, Cheryln, Yolanda, Denise, and Sheila–were to my soul that weekend, and honestly, still are today. Not a week goes by that I go without communicating with at least one of them.

It amazes me how strangers can be more and do more for us than the people we consider friends. I may never know the totality of why God brought these women into my life and vice versa. I’m just glad He did. Thank you to the ladies of Afterthoughts Book Club for a birthday weekend I will never forget! It’s hard going through life alone and these ladies made me feel everything but alone.

I went to the book conference alone, but I walked away with family.

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Soul Check 1, 2, 1,2: Run Your Race

A few years ago I completed my first—and only to date—half marathon. Weeks before I was to run, I’d suffered from foot pain that came to visit out of nowhere. I’d gone to a podiatrist who informed me that I should not run. After paying a hefty entrance fee, there was no way I was going to back out of running. It wasn’t just about the money. I needed to run that race to prove something to myself. To prove I was a fighter, that I wouldn’t let anything stop me from accomplishing my goals despite the odds against me. No back injury nor foot injury was going to stop me.

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Everything changed the moment my feet crossed the start line. As everyone blasted through the start, I knew there was no turning back, but I wondered, “What did I get myself into?” People were slightly nudging one another out of the way in search for space to move more freely. My feet shuffled to find the right footing and once they did, I moved them too fast. I was determined to stay within the 16:45-pace given. There was no way anyone was going to pull me from the course. So I ran, practically sprinted.

Two miles in, I knew I was in for trouble. My feet slowed from a run to a job to a fast walk. I began feeling defeated. The optimism I began the race with slowly began to deplete with each step I took. People from all ages and sizes began to pass me by. As they did, I began comparing myself to them: She’s two-times bigger than me and just ran past me. He’s old enough to be my grandfather and doesn’t look a bit winded.

I assessed them instead of looking at myself.

I was not about to let those people pass me. I was younger. I was lighter. I was determined. But so were they. They had a race to run just as I had. So why was I allowing their journey to affect my own? Why was I allowing their determination to deplete me of my own? They weren’t running in judgement of me. They were simply trying to run their own race long enough to pass the finish line. Shouldn’t I do the same?

When I took my eyes off of my race, I started to lose hope and sight of why I was running to begin with.

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“Focus, Julia. Focus,” I told myself. I only needed to worry about putting my right foot in front of my left and my left foot in front of my right. Over and over again. I needed to control my breathing. I needed to take back control of my race. I needed to take back control of my life.

As I began to focus on the very reasons why I registered for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon to begin with, I noticed everyone around me disappeared. It was just me and my footsteps. I listened to my music, let me feet hit the pavement with a renewed fervor, and I enjoyed the strides I made in the race and in life. I would triumph. It was in that back and forth process of racing that I had to remind myself: It doesn’t matter how you get there or how you finish, but that you get there, Julia, and you finish. There was no one else running in my shoes. It was me and God. And if I kept my feet moving, I would eventually cross that finish line. And cross that line I did.

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What that race taught me was that no matter what odds are set before me, as long as I don’t lose sight of me, I will come out all right. If I only focus on the steps I am taking right now, I will survive. I will cross the finish line. I will win the race—because it is my race and mine only. That race would apply to any dream or goal set before me. My journey is my journey. No one can step into my shoes and run the race that I can nor will they be able to run it for me. My struggles are my struggles; my story is my story. And despite those on the same journey, none of our results will be the same. Each of us has to run our own race to be able to tell our own story. To have our own experiences. To learn our own lessons. Those are the very things that will carry us to the finish line and cross it victoriously.

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Word to the Wise: “I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don’t feel I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. All of us who are mature should think in this same way. And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you. But we must keep going in the direction that we are now headed” (Philippians 3:12-16 CEVUS06).

 

Message in a Jar of Coconut Oil

There I was struggling to open a jar of coconut oil. I’d slapped on the bottom of the jar in hopes to loosen the suction; no such luck. I’d wrapped a semi-wet dish cloth around the lid for a tighter grip, and again resulted without a budge. I sat the jar on the counter and told it like The Terminator, “I’ll be back.” I needed to give my wrists a break. I ventured around the house to take care of other things : remove the nail polish from my toes and fingernails, find the bag of peanut M&Ms that I requested to be hidden from me, and continue brewing my mug of tea in which I needed the coconut oil for.

As I returned to the jar, I asked God to give me the strength of Sampson. With the jar in my hand, I twisted and twisted, and again, I went without hearing the loosening of the lid’s grip from the jar.

Maybe I don’t need strength to open the jar but wisdom how to open it.

I sat the jar back down, stared at it, refused to be defeated. I stepped back as the thought hit me, maybe I don’t need strength to open the jar but wisdom on how to open it. Yeah, that was it.

I stuck the lid portion of the jar under running hot water for a few seconds, then dried off the jar. I held the bottom of the jar with one hand and wrapped my other hand over the lid. My shoulders were tight, my legs were in a battle stance. My whole body was enlisted into the mission of opening the jar.  1. 2. 3… Turn. Barely did I give it a good twist when the lid simply popped off. My body relaxed as if it had been called for a war it wasn’t even needed to fight.

Well, I’ll be. I scooped two tablespoons into my simmered mug of tea and let the revelation marinate:

Sometimes we ask God for the wrong things.

It wasn’t strength that I needed to open the jar; I needed wisdom on how to open it. Had I asked for wisdom first, I would have alleviated the burden from my body by torturing my muscles into working when they didn’t need to.

God hears our prayers. He listens to our requests. He sees our struggles. When our prayers and requests go unanswered, it’s His way of getting us to see that we need to ask for something else, and sometimes something more.

What we think we need or want is small in comparison to what He wants to give us.

How often do we use ourselves to the level of “burnt out”? We use  our intellect, our strength, our time and patience for situations we don’t need for that moment? We enlist people and other resources when it’s something we could have done on our own with minimal effort–less money–had we only taken a minute to fully assess the situation properly. We rush, we overlook, and often we overestimate, and as a result, we make mistakes and cause undue harm to everything and everyone else in the process.

Blues Notes: Take a moment to breathe and look above your problem not at it, and ask for the right tools to incorporate. You’ll find that it’s not so hard to overcome after all.

Change Your Oil

I am sure most of you, if not all, have owned a vehicle at some point in your life. Part of the responsibility, other than maintaining insurance and making payments, is to make sure you keep it in tip top condition. You have to make sure the car runs to the best of its ability.

One can do so by making sure preventative maintenance is done on the vehicle, which includes having the oil changed. This measure is often overlooked but should be done every 3,000 miles or so. Those who do overlook this important responsibility will find themselves experiencing wear and tear of their engine. After a while the oil begins to break down and sludge causing all of the parts to lose their lubrication. Thus leaving the car to not operate properly and possibly blow the engine.

From the moment of conception our veins and engine was lubricated with pure oil. We were given a fresh start. As we aged, more oil was added in the form of low self-esteem, doubts, fears, discontent, procrastination, lies, abuse, hesitation, revenge, judgement, alcohol, depression, dependence, racism, drugs, hatred, jealousy, defeat, resentment, infidelity, envy, distrust… From conception to the present, we have failed to change our oil and have allowed gunk to clog our minds and disrupt our way of operation.

What would happen if we gave ourself an oil change? What if we released the contamination from our veins and deposited a fresh bottle of oil into our system? If we cleared the who, what, when, where, and why from our minds wouldn’t our engine run so much better? Wouldn’t we see things with much more clarity?

We never take out the time to think about all that has been put into us during our lifetime. Many of us still have a lot of life left on this earth but we won’t make progress until we flush out the old and replenish with the new.

Are you in need of an oil change?