By SUE SIENS
Inevitably we all go through ups and downs in life, but then there are “those” times, when the unthinkable happens. Maybe it’s the loss of a dear loved one, or we lose our mate through death or divorce. And these tumultuous economic times have caused many to face the loss of their businesses, their jobs, and many their homes. It’s at these times when you know deep down inside, your life is never going to be the same. Well-meaning friends may say, “Just look at it as a fresh start.” During one of these seasons in my own life, a friend said, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” to which I replied, “Yes, and that could be the headlight of an on-coming train!” We shared a laugh, and then discussed how the train may be coming to take life in a new and exciting direction. These Wilson County residents shared their stories about how they faced “those” lifechanging times too, and how they embarked on wonderful fresh starts in their lives.
Julie Dodd Blaker and husband, Larry Blaker
Julia was blessed with a wonderful marriage of 28 years to Robert Dodd, a devoted Christian man and loving husband. Robert began a difficult battle against cancer in November 2008 and passed away in March 2010.
Julia, a local banking executive with Regions Bank, explained, “There were days when the grief made me want to stay in bed, pull the covers over my head and dwell in the memories. But, I kept telling myself if I did that, I might miss out on an opportunity for a part of my life that God had in store for me.”
Julia allowed herself time to grieve, but she didn’t isolate herself and do it alone. Instead she surrounded herself with friends and family to help her through the process. She said, “It’s okay not to have it together, and not be the person you were before. Let your friends and family strengthen you and help carry you through the process. They are grieving also and may need time to also heal from the loss as well.”
She drew on her faith in God and counseled with her minister at College Hills Church of Christ, Pastor Kevin Owens, who had lost his wife and shared the grief experience. Julia also sought professional counseling, something she recommends to others going through difficult times. “There are good counselors out there to help,” she noted.
Having loved someone so much, Julia knew that it was possible to have a wonderful relationship. She drew strength from her previous marriage and desired friendship and companionship with a “faith foundation”.
Larry Blaker, founder of Senior Life Options, had been divorced for many years and had recently relocated to Ohio to be near family. He was looking for a “Starbucks” friend to enjoy coffee and conversation. This led to what Julia and her now-husband Larry Blaker call a “serendipitous” meeting. Their long-distance friendship soon became months of phone calls and visits getting to know one another, discovering one another’s character and values, and ultimately, falling in love. They said there was a pivotal moment when they made a declaration of commitment to one another, and they never looked back. Larry said he recognized that Julia’s grieving process didn’t suddenly stop, and there will still be emotional bumps. As Julia said, “Now there are two of us to carry the emotions together.”
Larry realized that Julia was grounded in the Lebanon community, so for him, their decision to marry meant a fresh start too, a move to a new home, and move of his senior services consulting business to a new state and town. Julia was, as she shared, blessed to find a man who was committed to me, and who was willing to share his life and share his skills with our community.
The Blakers married in October 2011, and Larry opened an office for his business on South Greenwood Street in Lebanon. Senior Life Options is a referral agency that assists the elderly and their families to identify appropriate care facilities. He said, “Both of us are faithbased individuals who have faced challenging life experiences. We were both prayerful and thoughtful about God’s direction. When I met Julia, I knew I needed to look and listen. We were open to what He had for us. God led us to where we are today, and our relationship is God’s gift.”
Today Nicole Lee is a beautiful young mother of three children; daughter Imani, age eight, and sons Andrew, age seven, and David, age three. She is a homeowner, and is working toward a bright future in the medical field. But life wasn’t always so promising. Joblessness and homelessness became a reality for Nicole Lee.
Through a series of life events, Nicole became a homeless, single mother, with a newborn and two other young children. It all began about four years ago, while she was living in Georgia. Nicole had just lost her job when the father of her two children decided, as she related, that ‘he didn’t want to be there anymore’, and he left them. Nicole was expecting their third child. Nicole decided to move with her children to stay with family in New York. As Nicole described it, “Sometimes living with family isn’t always a good idea, and sometimes it isn’t possible.”
She was in touch with a friend who lived in Middle Tennessee, who encouraged her to move to Murfreesboro in hopes of a new start. She and her children moved and were living temporarily with the friend’s grandmother. Suddenly Nicole went into labor, having her third child earlier than expected. While still in the hospital, the family informed Nicole that when she was released, she and her children would have to find somewhere else to go. She wouldn’t be able to continue living with the friend’s grandmother.
That’s when the Department of Children’s Services was called, and a caseworker was assigned to Nicole. The caseworker gave Nicole two options: they would take all three children, and she could determine what to do to take care of herself, or they could all stay together and would be taken to a homeless shelter. Nicole chose option two, keeping her family together.
After five days in a shelter in Nashville, her caseworker contacted her about the newly opened Brooks House in Lebanon. For Nicole and her children, Brooks House was a Godsend. She said, “Ms. Liz (Reese) helped me to get on my feet. Brooks House is a safe haven for any woman who believes that she deserves a second chance, and she’s willing to do her part. “
Nicole said through her time at Brooks House, she learned to renew her mind and to let God show her the way. “You also have to learn to depend on yourself instead of others.
Ms. Liz teaches you what you need to understand about life, and what you have to do to stand on your own feet. You cannot depend on others to fulfill your responsibilities,” she said, adding, “and I put all trust in God. If I fail, I can only blame myself, but now I know I can also get back up again.”
Nicole became an active volunteer in the community, desiring to help others. She always wanted to further her education, too, but said, “I had to get on my feet first and sustain myself and provide for my children.” Nicole began to work through temporary agencies, and she moved from Brooks House into public housing. When Brooks House obtained a two-year grant for a caseworker, Nicole was offered the position. It was during this time that Nicole was blessed with the opportunity for a home through Habitat for Humanity for herself and her children. Nicole has since been able to pay off her home loan in full. She began attending Volunteer State Community College, and now attends Fortis Institute, completing a medical assistant degree.
Her ultimate goal is a career in radiology. She is also a member of Leadership Wilson. Nicole said, “You cannot change the past, so never live in regret of the choices you have made, but rather learn from them. Success is a journey, not the destination, and you have to learn along the way. Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader. My kids are my motivation. I want to encourage them as a single woman and mother that they can accomplish whatever they choose. No matter what the odds are or whatever is against you, if you are motivated, you can overcome and do it. Go out there and get it.”
Each one of us may have a fresh start any moment we choose, for this thing that some call “failure” is not the falling down but the staying down.