Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Happy Couple Highlight: Melissa and Vondalyn

Melissa & Vondalyn
McQueen-Simmons
Charlotte, NC
I am always fascinated by how relationships start. Where did you meet and what were the initial attractions? Von: We met in Charleston, SC while both serving in the U.S. Army Reserves. Melissa was drilling at my unit while she was in undergrad. 

My initial attraction to Melissa was her infectious beautiful smile and femininity even in uniform. I actually admired her from a distance because I was serving “in the closet”.

Melissa: I was initially attracted to the way Von’s Soldiers respected her. Her professionalism, mannerism, & poise commanded attention in the space that she was in and it didn’t hurt that she looked like a “well put together package” in uniform.

You have been together for 14 years. First, Congratulations. What advice would you give to other couples and why? Both: Thank you SharRon! It took almost 3 years for us to move into a relationship. Melissa was 19 and I was 29 when we met and I felt she was way too young to know what she wanted. Our advice to couples is that effective communication is the key. Age is a factor if you allow it to be. There are an abundance of young people who know exactly what they want and who they want in there life. Don’t focus on the person’s age instead listen to their heart and pay attention to their actions. Commitment is a life-long action; it is more than just a word. Once you truly commit to one another whether in a relationship or marriage then you must accept all of them and that include meeting people where they are - not trying to change them into what you want or need them to be. We give this advice because we realize as humans people change, some because of situations they may endure, physical or mental health stressors, deployments, faith challenges, even “growth” change people. Therefore, if you decide that you want to commit to someone it means that you are willing to take that life-long journey with him or her accepting what may come, what may go and what could be or not be. If you are not willing to embrace the changes that come with relationships then communicate that as well. Communicating effectively is always the key.

I so loved your answer because relationships are a journey, a journey filled with change. Congrats again. Getting together is easy. Staying together is difficult. You have weathered many transitions and storms. How did you manage and what was the hardest part? Melissa: Yes, we have weathered many storms. From the beginning, we have always managed a long-distance relationship. Our first major storm was returning from our individual yearlong deployments.

Von: 2003-2004, I was serving a tour in Honduras when Melissa received orders to go to Iraq, so we were separated for about 18 months communicating mainly via letters and some phone calls. When she returned from Iraq her level of patience had dwindled, there were some days I did not know how to verbally communicate with her. On several occasions in Iraq, she and her unit were under attack and she had seen things a 22 y.o should not have to see. It was a challenge to figure out how to verbally communicate with her face to face after 18 months of separation.

Melissa: When Von returned from Afghanistan, she was much more subdued from the romantic energetic bunny that I remembered. We managed to give each other space to adjust back into being home back on American soil. Allowing each other to process what we both endured during our deployments while simultaneously providing support, words of affirmation and affection to each other.

Von: The ultimate storm in our relationship was me having a difficult time accepting that I was a woman who loved women and believing that God could still love me. I struggled with my sexuality for almost 20 years because I grew up being told that it was wrong, it was a taboo subject, & nobody really talked about. My family & society said it was not of God so I would find myself hiding behind dates and boyfriends for years.

One day I just up and broke it off with Melissa after being in a relationship with her for over 6 years. I told her that I was still struggling with this whole thing being right and of God and I should not still be feeling this way after all of these years.

The hardest part for me was leaving the love of my life because I loved God more and I was told that I could not love both of them. I broke her heart, I felt her pain in the conversations, and I felt that I had to leave the relationship because that would please God. When I first met Melissa, I told her about my struggles over the years with being with a woman and how I grew up hearing & believing it was wrong and that one day I could just wake up and walk out of her life because of this struggle. She said these words to me that I will never forget, “I understand how you feel, I love you, we will work through it. I will always be here for you. I am not going anywhere.” She was only 21 when she said this to me; I on the other hand was 32 years old.


Melissa: The hardest part for me was that for a long time Von cut all ties with me, no visits, no phone calls, or emails, that devastated me. I knew she had told me that this day could possibly come and I thought that I was prepared for it. I knew that I would respect her wishes, what I was not prepared for was being cut off completely as if I never existed. That hurt the most.

In order for me to manage that storm, I used an approach of wholeness that incorporates the mind, body, and spirit. I maintained my faith in God that God would put no more on me than I could bear. I sought therapy for the stability of my mental health, I consistently went to the gym, and I engaged in routine massage therapy. This design of wholeness also incorporated providing a network of support that was encouraging, understanding, and empowering during this difficult time in my life.

Us: Our advice for managing storms is to always communicate with your partner, explain what you are feeling, what you are going through, and what you need. Over our first 6 years together every time Von would get “that feeling”, we would talk it over, and I would give her space & time to work through it. I never pushed her or gave her an ultimatum because I always felt that she was “the one” and God placed her in my life, so I just left it in God’s hands and prayed that God would give her clarity.

How do you deal with and face challenges (family acceptance, money differences, etc.) that might come up in your relationship? Von: I come from a family of 13 siblings and we are very close knit. My mother who is now 82 years old has always known even before I accepted that I was gay. In my early 20s, I denied it before I turned 30 we finally had a sit down conversation about it. Over the years, we just didn’t talk about it. After a life changing counseling session with Bishop Flunder five years ago, I called my mom and each of my siblings and told them that Melissa and I were together in a relationship, and had been for almost 9 years. (I included the time we separated; I call it my sabbatical period, lol). My nieces and nephews were more accepting than my siblings were.

Today, all of my family knows, 2 of my sisters attended our wedding, my oldest sister, who is 65 years old, walked me down the aisle, 5 of my nieces were in our wedding, and some of my cousins attended. Some of my siblings are very supportive of my relationship, when they call they also ask how Melissa is doing. Even though some of my family do not agree with me being in a same gender loving relationship I know that they love me.

Melissa: I am thankful that my dad, mom, and brothers embrace and love me. To deal with the family acceptance challenge, I purposely built my own family because I am mindful that not all of my relatives embrace my same gender lovingness.

 The Finances etc. challenges: I realized that our age difference of nine years allowed Von to be at a different level of job security than I and at first, it was rather difficult to accept that she had more disposable income and could spend money on me and I couldn’t reciprocate the same way. However, I came to the realization that the money was not the deciding factor of success in our relationship.

We realize that we each bring different gifts to our relationship so whoever is better at doing something that’s who does it. (I.e. Von is better at managing our funds; she is very detailed and thorough when it comes to money. I am the organizer of our life so to say, such as appointments and travel arrangements; I enjoy taking care of the cars. Our relationship remains successful because we have realistic expectations of each other.

I know faith is important to both of you. How do you practice your faith as a couple and what role does spirituality play in your relationship? Both: We both love God with all of our being. As a couple we pray, worship and fast together as well as apart to maintain our individual relationship with God. Spirituality is a consistent reminder that God is omnipresent, God is everywhere, and it encourages us to see the God in ourselves as well as God moving in our relationship. It also allows us to know that we were created by God for a purpose and we bring our purpose into our relationship and beyond. Our spirituality reminds us of “what love is” and holds us accountable in our relationship.


After 14 years, how do you keep the fires burning? What role does sensuality play in your relationship? Von: We flirt with one another all of the time. We affectionately touch one another throughout every day. Melissa can be walking past me in the house and I would just brush against her and wink. It brings a smile to her face.

Melissa: Von can be on her computer doing some work and I will spontaneously seduce her and make her stop what she is doing if even for five minutes. She loves it! Sometimes we wrestle which brings us in close proximity to one another to steal a kiss. We give each other words of affirmation all of the time; we say how beautiful and how sexy, the other is at any time of the day not just during the times that we want to make love. We are very affectionate, and practice intimacy all of the time.

Every relationship develops "Relationship Rules” that support your union? What are your spoken and unspoken rules? And how did those rules form? Both: We live by this slogan “Great Food, Great Sex, Live Life, Be Happy” Von: A spoken rule is honesty; always tell the truth even if it is going hurt. Melissa: We also express and acknowledge each other’s feelings even if we are not ready to discuss it in detail.

We process our thoughts differently. Melissa: I need to get it off my chest when the event occurs, I say what I have to say and be done with it. Von: I will shut down if I’m not ready to download. I either need a couple of hours or even a few days to process the situation and then I’m ready to communicate it. I’ve gotten better over the years and now I can discuss some issues right away. We know the importance of being heard and so we allow each other time and space to process and share when ready. It is definitely something we learned about each other in the early stages.

Both: Our unspoken rule is that we know each other well enough not to push each other’s buttons during times when we are most vulnerable and to never go to bed angry.

Von: One thing that worked for us in our “dating stage” was this thing called “confession session” that we created to take place at the end of the year. This allowed us to be open with one another about whatever we could not quite say at the time that something happened over the year. For instance, if Melissa thought or felt that someone was attracted to me or vice versa and I knew it but I chose to be in denial at the time, then I would confess that at the confession session.

Melissa: This strengthened our trust in each other to be able to be more open & honest as the years went by. Needless to say, we do not have those confession sessions any longer because we know how to effectively communicate at the time the event happens.

Every relationship challenges us in different way. What did you have to learn and un-learn to love her fully? Von: I had to learn to be authentic and to love myself fully before I could possibly love her because Melissa was in nobody’s closet, lol! I had to un-learn being in charge of everything and recognize that I had a partner who could hold it down too. Melissa: I had to learn that not everything in life could be planned. To love Von fully I had to embrace her spontaneity, which meant that I had to find a balance between my structured personality, and Von’s go with the flow attitude.

What has your relationship taught you most about yourself? And her? Von: This relationship has taught me that I have the ability to commit and do a great job at it. For years, I ran away from being in committed relationships because I was taught that loving a woman was wrong. So when I thought we were getting too close I would end it. This relationship has also taught me about sacrifices, that it’s okay to be vulnerable, how to love wholeheartedly and want nothing but the best for someone you love.

This relationship has also taught me that Melissa has always been the one for me. She loved me unconditionally even before I loved myself completely.

Melissa: This relationship has taught me to embrace each moment as it comes with dignity, love, and respect. Through Von, I have learned the importance of meeting people where they are and embracing life through the good, bad and the ugly. Von has taught me patience and I believe she was definitely worth the wait, lol!

You both were in the military. What was it like hiding who you were? Von: For me it was a bit difficult hiding who I was. It forced me to lie to my peers, my, supervisors and even my closest friends on a regular basis. During my years of service, people were losing their careers. I wasn’t so concerned when I was enlisted, as I was when I became an officer. I entered the Army at the age of 18, so in my early 20s, I was young and carefree and really didn’t know the consequences or the extent of what could happen to my career if they found out that I was gay. As an officer, I witnessed people being questioned and separated from the military simply because of whom they loved. Because our relationship was a long distance one, I was traveling most weekends to see Melissa. When I returned to work people always asked, so what did you do this weekend?” My answer was always the same, “I went to visit a good friend”.

 Melissa: I entered the military in 1998 and never really hid my sexual orientation. I didn’t exactly broadcast it either.

You both were in careers that made it difficult to celebrate your love. Von – how will your relationship change since you are out of the military? And, Melissa – as a minister, how do you plan to celebrate your relationship and other relationships?

Von: There are no limitations or restrictions in my relationship now that I am out of the military. I was very fortunate to serve over 26 years and top it off with the Army recognizing Melissa as my wife at my retirement ceremony. No more secrets and no more closets for me!

Melissa: As a minister, I will maintain a healthy balance of my life with my spouse and the work I believe God has implanted in me to do in ministry. I witnessed too many times of families that have been abandoned to the dreams of others but I vow to make sure that that does not happen to my family. I will maintain our romantic relationship as well as my life’s purpose. A part of my life’s purpose is to help others in their relationships. I help people embrace their authenticity and form healthier relationships within themselves. I believe this is the necessary first step in order to be in a successful relationship with others, romantic or otherwise.

What will be your legacy as a couple? Both: Our legacy is that our relationship emulates how we live a life that reflects God’s love as we cherish and celebrate each other daily especially during our most difficult challenging times.

What was the hardest part of being deployed? Von: Being so far away from all of my loved ones was the hardest part of being deployed. Not able to see them when you want or need to see them, not being able to hear their voice when you need to hear that familiar voice in the wee hours of the morning. Not being able to comfort Melissa other than verbally on the phone when I got the opportunity to use it. Losing my brother while deployed was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with.

Melissa: Wondering if I was going to make it back alive from a mission or silencing my mind through the times when it played games like wondering if someone is there trying to take my place.


I know that people frequently underestimate the impact of deployment on families. What is the emotional and spiritual impact of deployment? Von: Emotionally: I was never one to display my emotions on my shoulders before deployment but during my deployment to Afghanistan, I saw so many injuries of Soldiers and so much death of the local nationals especially of women and children that I actually began showing my emotions (crying) outwardly because I could not contain all of the pain. Seven months into the deployment, the Chaplain came to my bunk one evening to inform me of my brother’s death back in the states, I totally lost it. It was the second time that I had no control whatsoever of my emotions (the first time was the lost of my father 11 years before). Spiritually, we were given time weekly to worship in a church setting. For me, I had a lot of quiet time to think, read, study, and get a closer relationship with God.

Melissa: Emotionally, while in Iraq I was numb. I didn’t cry when others did, not even when we lost one of our comrades or when others in my unit got seriously hurt. Even after returning home, I was still emotionally unattached and eventually diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Spiritually: As a unit we took communion before we left on our very first convoy. We also engaged in weekly church services. Being deployed actually strengthened my faith and allowed me to embrace a different kind of worship, which was meditation, something new to me at that time.

I know support is critical. How can partners and families provide and offer support when soldiers are deployed and how can we help when our loved ones return? Both: When your Soldier is deployed, communicate with them by sending letters, care packages, and making yourself accessible when they call. The time change is very different and so sometimes they can call you when its 3 in the morning your time so it may require some sleep deprivation on your part and lots of sacrificing to be available whenever they call. We couldn’t call whenever we wanted but we called when we were able to.

When the person returns allow them time to adjust being back home. Don’t rush to events where there are a whole lot of people or anything that requires a lot of effort. We don’t do well in big crowds upon returning home. Pay attention to this person who has returned because some things may be different or there may be things they used to do that they don’t do anymore just as some things may be different with you since they have been gone. Be patient while the person is trying to adjust being back into everyday life. Allow the person space & time to open up to you when they are ready not when you want them to. We don’t like talking about our experiences because it opens up wounds and feelings that are still very real. Communicate to the person in a gentle way when you notice things are different from when they left. We have been in a state of high alert for at least a year, we were on guard 24/7 surrounded by enemies so give us time to adjust.

From an insiders views....over the 27 years, how has the Army responded to same sex couples? Von: After DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional in June 2013, gays in the military did not have to hide their sexuality any longer. Before that, the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) act of 1994 prohibited any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. Many Soldiers were dishonorably discharged because of whom they loved. I must say that we stand on the shoulders of many military heroes who came before us and afford us this opportunity to share our spouses and families openly.

In my opinion and experiences, the Army has more so embraced same sex couples not only because a directive was sent out to treat everyone with respect and dignity but also I think Soldiers genuinely didn’t care unless it interfered with one’s job performance. I have heard of instances where leaders treat their Soldiers negatively when they find out that they are same gender loving. There is still much work and education needed. Many Soldiers tell me that they have an easier time embracing same sex women couples versus men. I came out to my supervisor, colleagues, and my staff early last year and they were sincerely happy for me and said it didn’t matter to them who I loved.

Melissa: The Army has come a long way since I first joined the U. S. Army Reserve. As a disabled veteran, there is still a lot of work to be done particularly in the area of receiving health care.

What 1 word most captures her essence and your love? Von: The 1 word that most captures Melissa’s essence and our love is adoration. I adore her and our love wholeheartedly. Melissa: The 1 word that most captures Von’s essence and our love is enchanting because some days /sometimes I feel like our life is like a fairytale. I married my Princess Charming.

What will be your legacy as a couple? Both: Our legacy is that our relationship emulates how we live a life that reflects God’s love as we cherish and celebrate each other daily especially during our most difficult challenging times.

Congrats again! Imani, the entire Create Love and I salute for your service! Blessings to you both and thanks for sharing so generously with us.
We thank you for sharing your love with us at Create Love! Your story will encourage, inspire and uplift other couples. We wish you continued success and happiness.www.createloveforwomen.com

 Create Love Founders

Imani Evans and SharRon Jamison



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Monday, January 12, 2015

What I Learned in 2014 by Valerie Hall


I turned 45 in 2014. In those years, I had raised a tiny boy to a beautiful young man, been married and divorced twice. Owned homes and businesses and felt on top of the world in material ways and started over more times than I care to admit.

In 45 years, I'd watched my mother be happy, nearly die in a car accident and have her heart broken completely in half. And always ... always she rises again -- impacted, but never changing in her capacity to love and show forgiveness and acceptance. I'd lost my birth father to cancer, my dad to continued estrangement and hurt deeply because of it. Hell, I still hurt.

In 45 years, I've known joy... gain... success, failure and such deep pain that I could literally define desperation and darkness with just ONE page of my life's story.

In 45 years, I've wanted to give up, throw my hands in the air or simply harden myself. I do admit to allowing myself to go numb. To be a pretty little shell of a person... smiling while inside I felt nothing at all. "Going through the motions" is probably one of the loneliest feelings in the entire world.

In my 45th year I also learned to really LOVE. Don't get me wrong -- I've loved deeply in my life time. Pure love for my son. Devoted love for my mother. Familial love and loyalty to my siblings, aunts, cousins, uncle. And, as I said before -- I've been married twice. But in my past relationships, I was still learning so much about ME. Still carrying around the hurts and traumas of my childhood, still running away from certain aspects of my upbringing and still living to the expectations of OTHER people over personal happiness or fulfillment.

But, 2014 was different. I'd ended my marriage in 2010 and spent the years since then learning about ME and quite honestly, learning to accept myself and loving who I am as a human being. I learned to be proud of myself, to let myself off the hook for past mistakes and to be open to the goodness that the Universe had in store for me. I saw EVERYTHING differently once I learned my personal worth. During that time - I'd met some women worth getting to know better, tested the waters of what it could be like to share time and space with another person but stayed true to what *I* really wanted in my next relationship. I may have hurt others during that time but for the most part, I tried my best to do so in truth -- without malice. I didn't always handle it as others may have expected -- but I don't regret staying true to me.

In 2014 I fell in love with someone differently. I'd told myself that I no longer wanted a relationship based on dependency or fear of loneliness. I'd grown happy with spending time alone and I needed my next love to be MORE. Dependency is so fleeting. To need simply a "warm body" requires little more than a physical attraction and a pulse to produce that sense of "warmth". Neither did I want to stay with someone because of the things that we owned or because our families expected us to do so. Nor did I want to stay with someone because I didn't want THEM to hurt while *I* grew numb inside.

At 45 years old, I wanted to fall in love with someone who made me smile, who's smile made my heart flip over every single time she shared it with me, or when I caught her smiling at something during some random moment. I wanted to fall in love with someone that made me LAUGH and who "got" my sense of humor... my brand of silly and crazy. I wanted to love someone with my head, my heart, my body and my soul. I wanted to love someone that I CRAVED physically while also knowing they had what it took to build a life together.

At 45 I wanted to love like a grown up, while also giving myself permission to forever be that little girl who still has fears, who has bad habits of self-protection and when those habits showed themselves, I wanted to love someone who knew how to HOLD ON to me and CHOOSE to do so. Every single time.

The Universe/God truly does answer prayers, in the right time. So I would suggest you be truly ready to receive the answer -- because sometimes even blessings come with some challenge.

I've been challenged to EARN this love. Every day. Every moment. But, in 2014 I learned that sharing a loving relationship with another flawed human being is a DAILY choice. A constant ebb and flow of hanging on and letting go. Hanging on to what's important and lovingly letting go of the things that no longer matter -- the things not worth fighting about. I've learned to love with my heart and not with my ego and I've learned that I will make mistakes and so will she but I count my blessings when I acknowledge that not ONE mistake has ever been made intentionally. That through LOVE you learn to accept a person's idiosyncrasies as they accept yours. That the relationship you share should be treated like a small child, depending on its' parents to protect and nurture it and that few things can damage a truly united front.

LOVE is a gift and it's what this life is all about. Tiny moments of connection to another person's soul. Moments when you FEEL that all is right in the world when you truly SURRENDER to that connection... That sense of peace you feel deep down, knowing that the soul intended just for you is within your reach ... sharing a heart beat, a breath ... or a smile.

We argue and we disagree -- but I've learned that these are the challenges that push me to keep growing. To stop waiting for someone else to bend to my will or my way because I do NOT know everything. She is the prettiest mirror I've ever viewed myself through because I see EVERYTHING through her eyes. The good is so very good because she loves deeply just like I do. And the not-so-good? Well, those things are each an opportunity to get it even MORE right -- every single day. To learn something different, to stretch... to love because of and in spite of. I've learned that even with my kindness, I can be spoiled and selfish and that because of love, she chooses me too.

As a little girl my heart thought love looked like some knight on a white horse. As an adult, I no longer wait for some Disney version of love. Instead, I look at my life's partner and see her for the hero she has become to me. The one who hangs on to me when I'm a tornado ... who lovingly reminds me to call my mother, to check in with that friend who let me down, to eat and to rest. The hero who holds me when I cry deep ugly tears and wipes my face as she kisses my forehead. The hero who is still teaching me how to BE LOVED ... how to have more faith and how to let go of the fears that are not fact-based. She is my rock and the softest of safe havens for me.

In 2014, I fell in love and learned what that really means.

Happy New Year!

Valerie Hall is an insightful woman with a heart of gold. She is a IT professional, a business owner, a wonderful mom and an amazing friend.

Valerie can also be reached on Facebook and Twitter.
Create Love Founders
Imani Evans and SharRon Jamison 



Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Couple Highlight: Joy and Toy



Joy & Toy Nirvae

Honolulu, HI

I am always fascinated how relationships start. Where did you meet and what were the initial attractions? Toy: We met online originally. I wanted to find a female companion and so I created a profile on Downelink. Shortly after creating the profile my now wife but then stranger, instant messaged me and we exchanged contact info. From there we talked on the phone maybe once or twice and she surprised me at work. I was so shocked and thrown off that I pushed her away; I wasn’t ready. About 5 months later, as fate would have it, we randomly spotted each other at a night club and talked every single day thereafter. And as they say, “the rest is history.”

Joy: Since Charlotte NC is not the largest of cities, we were constantly “bumping” into each other on a few occasions; a job interview for a job that we both applied for (and she got by the way), Downelink which is an LGBTQ online social media site, and once more at a local club. My initial attraction was that I was definitely intrigued, she was extremely genuine, and that she had a very positive spirit unique from what I had ever experienced.

You have been together for 4 years. First, Congratulations. What advice would you give to other couples and why? Joy: Well, this will go out to couples and singles as well; two things: 1) Explore your heart and 2) Be open and patient when allowing your partner to explore their heart. No one is perfect. We as people have a tendency to “grow up” too fast and develop preconceived notions of how and what our lives should be. What we tend to forget is that you never stop growing and that includes your heart. Listen to your heart and listen what makes it happy and act swiftly on those feelings. Understand why your heart fears and experiences anguish in certain areas and work on healing those areas. Also understand that your partner may have more or less “heart therapy” to undergo so be open and patient and work as a team.

Toy: We understand that we are in a constant state of growing and becoming. Life is a verb and is constantly changing. We are not concerned with getting to a particular “place/time,” we are only focused on living our BEST LIVES NOW! And that is the same advice that I would give to other couples, “Happiness is a journey not a destination.”

What make you know that it was time to get married and how will being married change your relationship? Toy: When we decided to get married honestly it was something from within that said, “The time is now.” I wanted to add that extra value to our relationship and the desire burned from deep within and I could not extinguish the flame; it could not be overlooked. I just knew. Getting married has enhanced our lives individually as well as together. The woman I am with her would not have been the same woman without her.

Joy: Even though I entered the relationship with love and desire to grow with Toy I must admit that I was unsure what forever with someone and marriage really meant. As my love for her surpassed any level that I could ever imagine I knew that she was the one for me and finally grasped the significance behind the word marriage. From the day that I decided to propose I was no longer being led by my mind but my heart. And that is how marriage has changed our relationship; we are on a course for forever which allows our life dreams and imagination to be endless

Getting together is easy. Staying together is difficult. You have weathered many transitions and storms? How did you manage and what was the hardest part? Toy: Honestly, we have managed each storm by reminding ourselves of why we got together in the first place. The hardest yet simplest part is understanding, “Not every battle is meant to be fought or won.”
Joy: I’m going to steal my wife’s motto for this one but I believe as well that “Life is about Balance”. From getting together to staying together two individuals have to establish a balance as a partnership. I can say it was difficult for me because starting out, I carried a lot of baggage from my childhood and past relationships. From the start I had the worst case of commitment phobia and go figure my wife and I (girlfriend at the time) attempted to carry out a long distance relationship! That in itself was a failure and a triumph for me. The hardest part was struggling not to revert back to my old habits of being a loner and being content with not challenging myself emotionally. I was able to manage because my wife saw my potential to love wholeheartedly which inspired me to develop and share those emotions.

How do you deal with and face challenges (family acceptance, money differences, etc.) that might come up in your relationship? Joy: Good question, one that is usually the epitome of relationships, gay and heterosexual alike. Family acceptance is still a working conversation that we have. From the start, Toy and I both have had family members who chose not to fully accept us because we are lesbian and married. As a result of their actions we have both experienced grief but also guilt at the thought of removing these people from our lives. Why? The challenge has been understanding roles in our present day lives. If you do not presently play a positive role in my life then I do not allow room for toleration. Mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, indifferent. Simple. You control the energy you keep around you. Be selective to who you give that energy to.

To address money differences, just as we work together in developing spiritual and emotional relationship goals, Toy and I share the same plans financially and work towards those together. The key is to have trust in one another, always keep your partner informed, and have a plan.

Toy: We deal with issues that come our way head on. We are not afraid of confrontation. We do not sweep things under the rug, we call them out. Recent sessions with our therapist have given us the tools we need to properly communicate.
I know faith is important to both of you. How do you practice your faith as a couple and hat role does spirituality play in your relationship? Toy: When I think faith, I think of the devotion, confidence, and trust that we have for one another and our relationship as a whole. We are both very spiritual people and our mysticism is what has saved our relationship. We are on a voyage together to our divine places of nirvana.

Joy: Faith is very important to us because I believe it means that life is so much larger than just me, but at the same time, I have the ability to change life. I believe that we all have a purpose in life, often times multiple purposes. As a couple, Toy and I conspire together to reach our destinies in life. Our number one priority every day is to silence our minds from all of the noise that we create in society and receive positive energy from the universe. We have faith that one day we will create this peaceful environment to live in every second of everyday. Spiritually is a huge part of our lives and only recently as adults have we truly divulged in it by living the life of the Secret. I believe spirituality is what gives our heart its identity and guidance.

After 4 years, how do you keep the fires burning? What role does sensuality play in your relationship? Toy: Spontaneity keeps our fire burning. Nothing says sensual like a night of flirting, a day of dining together, the mystery of a new adventure, and just the opportunity to enjoy life together. Joy: Two words: Imagination and Spontaneity, being creative and having no boundaries and acting swiftly on those impulses. During the two years that Toy and I were in a long distance relationship we always attempted to make the most of our short visits with each other with extravagant, creative surprises and plans. I can say that I’ve always been somewhat spontaneous but my wife owns both categories and her imagination is what I love most about her. To this day, we continue to surprise each other, be spontaneous, and imagine all of the sweet things we would like to do and immediately plan and do them. What can I say, I have found my soulmate! We balance each other out so well to the point our sensuality overflows.

Every relationship develops Relationship Rules that support your union. What are your spoken and unspoken rules? And how did those rules form? Joy: How Toy and I have developed in our union is by being “Proactive” rather than “Reactive”. Recently we have consulted marriage counseling which has been an outstanding environment to express ourselves as well as sort out prior moments in our lives that may affect our marriage. One of our relationship rules is centered on “Effective Communication”. Although we communicate frequently, we both have realized that we can change the effect that we have on one another by altering our delivery of how we say things. For example: Toy may say “When you’re done with what you’re doing can you wash the dishes? opposed to “You need to wash the dishes”. That example may seem simple but how you say things can determine different reactions in people. Most of our rules are unspoken and unquestioned when it comes to respect, love and care for one another.

Toy: I have always felt that rules restrict creativity. You can’t be your true self with rules. Although rules help create order and unity, we’d much rather not have them. We just respect one another. We believe you should treat a person not how you want to be treated but how they want to be treated. This creates a proper balance of respect and understanding. But if you consider her washing the dishes before bed a rule, then go for it ;) lol
Every relationship challenges us in different way. What did you have to learn and un-learn to love her fully? Toy: I had to unlearn the fantasy and dreams that I had in my mind of how love should automatically be. I had to love her as she was and understand that with time, love, and growth all things are possible. And things can and will turn out better than you imagined.

Joy: As I touched on earlier, I had to un-learn my views on commitment and marriage. In all actuality, there was a laundry list of things that I did not believe was possible that had to un-learn: True Love, forever with one person, long distance relationships, just to name a few. Now sitting here thinking about it, the most important thing that I had to un-learn was that God did not hate me. Mankind may hate me, but is without question that I will always find love in the higher power that lives within me every day and in my beautiful wife LaToya.

What has your relationship taught you most about yourself? And her? Joy: My relationship has taught me how to nurture emotional and spiritual growth that I’ve neglected throughout my life. I have realized that regardless of the amount of degrees and knowledge that I have I will always be a student to life. What our relationship has taught me most about my wife Toy is that regardless of her intuitive nature and contrary to my belief, she is no mind-reader or angel but just a very patient, loving, caring, nurturing person who understood the secret of the soul. Toy: Life does not require a definition. Life is to be lived. We need to throw away all of the teachings of our past and love openheartedly, unconditionally.

What 1 word most captures her essence and your love?
Joy: Destiny
Toy: Unparalleled

What will be your legacy as a couple? Toy: “We came, we saw, we loved, we conquered.” Joy: Since we were fortunate enough to find each other in this lifetime that means we have twice the legacy to fulfill. As we explore the world our goal is to spread light, love, and positive energy to every path we cross. We are all people on a search to be better and happier. I think we are here to take that journey with you.

Please follow Joy and Toy at:
Instagram: @LovePrayEatAlways
https://www.instagram.com/LovePrayEatAlways
We thank you for sharing your love with us at Create Love! Your story will encourage, inspire and uplift other couples. We wish you continued success and happiness.www.createloveforwomen.com

 Create Love Founders

Imani Evans and SharRon Jamison

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

10 Days of Gratitude - Day 10 by Imani Evans

Originally my plan for the 10 Days of Gratitude was to write about how my so-called character defects are actually utilized to propel my life forward. Then came the no bill indictment in the Michael Brown case and my plans changed. Instead I chose to write about the gratitude I embody for my very survival. It is abundantly clear to me that a culture rooted in racism, heterosexism, classism and misogyny has no investment in my emotional and spiritual sustainability as a Black lesbian, who is living out loud. 

As an artist and creative sometimes my rage is too big for normal sentences. In those cases only prose and poetry can loosen the noose of anger choking me and disallowing the passage of reason. It is then that I feel compelled to take pen to paper and speak my mind to free my heart. Sometimes the creativity is plentiful and other times it is just enough to shift me back into compassion. 

As our world has transformed from the industrial age to the information age, I often feel bombarded by ignorance and hatred. It is everywhere: Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ and it even seeps into my text messages. It is a laborious task to keep from spewing venom back into the mouth of the snake, with no care of its carnage. Then just as I am destined to succumb to the cycle of viciousness, I am reminded of grace, true strength, dignity and compassion. In those moments...I am saved by my art. So I write.


Today I am grateful for my very existence, despite their efforts to kill me. See, they have been trying to kill me since ancient times. 

They have been trying to kill me since my name was Sekhmet, Oshun, Saarjie Baartman, Amarinta Ross, or Audre Lorde. 

They have been trying to kill me because my voice is that of a light-bringer, a consciousness-shifter and world-changer. But I am still here. Maybe I won't be in 20 years, maybe I won't be a year from now, or even tomorrow. 
But..today...I am still here. 

The "they" that I speak of are the dark ones, the negative forces, the racists, the oppressers, the despots, the ones whose ignorance and fear serves as a guide for their actions and supersedes their logic. Them...they...those ones who know exactly who they are, despite their ever-present denial to my face. I will defy you...

I will defy you with my sheer determination to stand upright and straight-backed in the face of brokenness.

I will defy you with my ingenuity to create nations out of nothing and morph magnificence out of malevolence.

I will defy you by holding hands with my beloved on the streets of the elite and shattering your unrighteous laws with my joy.

I will defy you by reincarnating with perpetual greatness and evolving beyond your recognition.

See you cannot kill me for my Earthly existence is an illusion. And when your hatred seeks my destruction...I will defy you with my very existence and my will to be all that I am called here to be...
for whatever time that I be.

Shem Em Hetep!
Imani Evans, MA, CLC
Imani's Press Kit

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

10 Days of Gratitude: Day 9 - Gratitude Video by Onyx Keeshaa

First and foremost I thank you! I am truly honored to be a part of Create Love "10 days of Gratitude series". As a filmmaker I decided to make a video. I decided to do the video bare without makeup and as transparent as possible, for me that is what gratitude is all about. Being bare, open, transparent and THANKFUL for all of you without any fluff. Please enjoy the video.



Below are links to some of my work. Once again thank you so much! 



CHURCH HURT TRAILER (my next project)

Never Forget Part 1 and Part 2
http://youtu.be/Aj3LjDLT3Dc

Shattered Serenity
http://youtu.be/ku40ABRq3jE






Monday, December 1, 2014

10 Days of Gratitude: Day 8 - Be Grateful by C.C. Carter

Sometimes we forget.   Forget to see gratefulness in the details of the everyday and everything. 

We forget that breathing today means we get to recreate the life we want again. Second by second, moment by moment we get to start again and as a result we should be grateful for that.

We get stuck. Stuck on the situation we are in now, the financial debts we have acquired again, the loved ones we have lost once more.  We get stuck in the loss, the pain, the suffering and we forget that in this second of awareness we once had a gain before the loss, a joy before the pain, we had living before the suffering. We forget that we should have been grateful when we had them and we punish ourselves because we recognize we should have been more present in those moments, with those people, in those experiences.  For as the gospel song states, it is never too late to…

Be grateful.
Be grateful.

God has not promised me sunshine,
That's not the way it's going to be;
But a little rain mixed with God's sunshine,
A little pain makes me appreciate the good times. 
Be grateful, be grateful.
For it will be alright... (Kurt Carr)


We forget to learn from the lessons of the past so we can be truly grateful of moments of clarity, of moving through, of persevering on, in spite of.   We forget to be grateful that guess what? I’m still here.  We forget to not get stuck in the “why” something is happening or the reason I’m going through this or went through that”.  We forget to be present in the moment and ask the real question, “What have I learned or am learning as a result of the experience.”  For when you can truly answer those questions, you can move on to being present in the now.

Flowing from my heart
Are the issues of my heart
It’s gratefulness
(Hezekiah Walker)

No one is asking you to forget, no one is asking you to not be angry or hurt still. But what you should remind yourself is “From these experiences, I’ve learned ____________ and in this moment, this second…. inhale… I am grateful for… exhale… this moment of gratefulness”



C.C. CaCarla (C.C.) Carter, Ph.D. is a lifetime educator, having spent over 27 years as a teacher and administrator in junior high and high school settings. She is currently the curriculum and compliance specialist at Joshua Johnston Fine Arts and Design Charter School in Chicago.  She is the lead coordinator for the development of the Lorde-Rustin Social Justice Educational Program, to be opened in the Spring of 2015, which will serve 75 high school and older adult LGBTQ and allied students wishing to receive a diploma.  She is a Master Teacher Trainer in the areas of Brain-Based Learning, Multiple Intelligences and teaching to Diverse Learners.   In addition to her educational career, C.C. is an award-winning poet, has been published in over 15 anthologies and is a staple on the Women's Music Festival circuit including as a principle artist for Olivia Travel, a Lesbian travelling company. Her work as an activist for women and youth has earned her two places in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. She recently earned her Doctorate of Divinity and a Ph.D. in Christian Education.rter
Executive Director, POW-WOW Inc773.592.3492
POWWOWInc@gmail.com





Sunday, November 30, 2014

10 Days of Gratitude: Day 7 - Return to Gratitude By TaMeicka L. Clear


When I think of gratitude, I think about how practicing gratitude positively affects my vibration. We hear about the practice of gratitude and about raising our vibration and how having a higher vibration can produce a happy life and even promote manifesting things in life that we want. Often I have found myself having to go back to the basics of the purpose of exercising gratitude and the many benefits it has on my life. For many of us that deal with depression and anxiety, it seems there is always something that can take us from exercising gratitude and being present to being worried and taken out of the present! When in the middle of living life to the fullest, we can get out of practice with the things that sustain us. And that’s ok, it happens to the most savvy, spiritual, and enlightened of us. The thing is to recognize it, own it, and not stay there. If you find yourself needing to get back to the basics of practicing gratitude, here are some tips on how to come back to center.

First, find your base level:
When it comes to everyday life, like interactions with your partner(s), your children, and co-workers; or the business of life, like who is going to cook dinner, or what time you need to leave work to make it to the kid’s game, or how long do you have to eat dinner before going to your second job; we can easily get caught up in the next task and find ourselves spiraling.  The next thing you know, it’s been 3 weeks since you thought about what being so busy means to you on a soul level and you might find yourself questioning if you even enjoy your life! In moments like this, stop and take a deep breath. No seriously, stop. Nudge yourself to remember why you are doing the things you are doing.  A base level is about being able to get to the point of it all. You might say “I’m rushing to class because I’m going to have a degree (or certificate or skills) that will assist me in some way that is meaningful. It won’t always be like this.”  Base levels are the reasons behind the task. When you can get back to this place, you can think about the task a little more present to its meaning and begin the path back to gratitude. You can then begin to say, “Wow, I’m juggling a lot. I’m pushing myself now so that I can reach my goal. It’s ok to have a hard time from time to time. I just have to keep in mind why I’m doing this and soon, I will be on to the next goal/task!” The base level takes you out of complaining, avoiding, or sulking. When you’ve reached a point where you have to connect to your base, that is the best time to just take it easy on yourself and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Base levels are about owning whats really going on and being gentle with yourself in the process.  Once you've done this you are already closer to your center and on your way to your gratitude practice.

Next, connect with your will:
In my study of chakras, energy centers through the body that help us balance our vibration and aura, I find the “will” to be very helpful in connecting with gratitude once I have been able to get connected to my base.  There are names for the energy centers of the body and the one at the center of our being, our core, is called the Will Chakra. It governs just what it says, our will. Your will sits at the center of your being and is connected to what many call “your gut”. It’s that often unexplained part of you that might say “I don’t know what it is but something seems off. I better not go that way today”. While it is good at protecting you, it is also good at helping you to do/perform task, to manifest, and to balance the amount of energy you give to a task. So say you have remembered why you are doing the things you are doing, you have found your base and you're  beginning to feel connected to your task again. Now you can connect to how much of your current actions are helping you reach your goal and if you need to do some self care or adjusting in any way.  This is about sitting with your inner self and working through if what you are doing is aiding you in your goal, distracting you from your goal, or if you need a break in routine, etc. Connecting to your will can be about asking yourself questions that get to the bottom of your intention for your task. Are you trying to do “too much”, too soon? Do you need to slow down or maybe even take a day off? Connecting to your will can help you get in touch with the things we have to DO in the world with much more intention to ensure that we are not just doing busy work and that we are busy doing work that matters! Your inner knowing will always work to protect you and keep you in alignment with you highest good. Getting in touch with you will by asking yourself some tough questions can really help you say in alignment with your highest self. So get in there and ask those tough questions to find the intention behind your task and adjust accordingly.

Lastly, come back to gratitude
Now that you have moved from the base, to the center, you can come back to gratitude with some clarity and receptiveness. You can begin to believe it when you say “I am grateful for my job” because you have worked yourself back to a place of meaning it rather than sort of reciting it out  of habit or reciting it in hopes that you'll mean it eventually. It’s not that we are ever not grateful for the things we have, the things we are able to do, or the people in our lives, but navigating life has a funny way of taking the focus off of that gratitude. We don’t become ungrateful, we get out of touch with our soul level wisdom. Things become task to get done and  move on to the next. You forget why you wanted it in the first place, or you get hit hard with a set back at work or financially and you focus there. Slowly, your vibration begins to drop until you no longer feel as connected to the things you are doing and thus not really able to practice gratitude or FEEL grateful. Once you move your vibration back to this point you can return to gratitude heart centered and honestly. When your emotions are in alignment with what you are saying they produce a much more powerful energy. This allows practicing gratitude to be that sustaining force that it is for so many. You can return to your gratitude journal, or gratitude morning ritual, or acts of gratitude  such as  giving a little extra to the server, or donating to a cause, or thank you notes to those you are grateful for.  All the ways that you express your gratitude can be potent and continue to produce the kind of energy that allows for expansion, joy, and fulfillment in life.

There are many that don't live with depression or anxiety and might still find that you need to figure out how to raise your vibration through gratitude. When living with depression and anxiety, you might find yourself having to do this work to get back to center often. But the work is worth it and soon, it won't take as long as it use to. We can live our lives with joy, contentment, faith, and possibility if we take it one day at a time, and allow ourselves to keep it real about where we are at and release any shame attached to it. I practice gratitude because it keeps me tapped into the beauty of this life and helps me vibrate at a level of appreciation and thankfulness that produces joy and excitement about life. I haven’t always been able to do that and I'm not always able to stay here. If you live with depression and/or anxiety, I encourage you to give this process a try. It has helped sustain me more often than I can count. I hope it helps you too!

TaMeicka L. Clear is a Spiritual and Emotional Wellness Coach, a Body Positive Coach, and Social Issues Educator. Meicka is an ordained minister, an Ifa practitioner, Reiki Level 1 practitioner, and studies numerology and tarot. She is an empath and intuitive healer that focuses on co-creating programs and healing spaces with people of color, women, and LGBTQIA people.

Visit her website at www.clear-understandings.com