WALKER -- Troyal Tillman got choked up several times during her speech.
Standing on a stage in the back room of Wholly Ground Coffee House in Walker, Tillman began by thanking all 70 people in attendance for coming to support the release of her book, “Taking Off The Boxes: Removing the Weights of Life.”
But as she started rattling off the names of those who contributed in some form or another to her year-long project, Tillman couldn’t contain the emotions for long.
She spoke in between sniffles and tears as she acknowledged her best friends, her parents — all four of them — various aunts, uncles, cousins, and, of course, her husband and their four children.
Tillman credited these people for helping her finish the book, something she never believed she was capable of doing alone, but she also thanked them for helping her get through some of the worst moments in her life.
Don’t worry: She shares some of those experiences in her book.
“The book is basically me being vulnerable, which is different for me because I’m not a vulnerable person,” Tillman said. “But tonight isn’t about me. I wanted to honor my family and friends who have helped me through everything, from life to this book.”
But despite her wish to honor others, Tillman was the real guest of honor during a special launch party for her book that was held at Wholly Ground on Saturday, Sept. 2.
The celebration centered around Tillman, a Denham Springs stay-at-home mom who decided one year ago to put her experiences down in a 100-page, 18-section book comprised of journal entries, testimonies, scriptures and poems as a way to encourage others through life’s most difficult moments.
“Taking Off The Boxes: Removing the Weights of Life” was officially released in June and is available in paperback for $12.99 at www.troyaltillman.com.
Friends and family of Tillman gathered for the release party at 6 p.m., easily filling all 10 of the colorfully-decorated tables that had been set up in the back room of the 6-year-old coffee house. But they didn’t just come to hear what Tillman had to say — they wanted her to hear what they had to say, as well.
One by one, they stood up and congratulated Tillman on her endeavor during the party.
Her grandmother, Joanell Bridges, was the first to open up, telling the room how “excited and proud” she was of her granddaughter for completing the project that had been on her heart for years. Tillman’s uncle, Curtis Bellazer, said much the same when he spoke next.
“I cannot describe and explain how proud of you each one of us is,” Bellazer said. “You saw it through.”
After others stood up and shared their thoughts, Maeetta Bellazer, Tillman’s mother, had the final word, recalling the days when Tillman would busy herself writing poetry as a child.
“She picked it up and continued on with her gift, and I couldn’t be more proud,” Maeetta Bellazer said. “She stepped out on faith to complete this awesome task.”
Tillman said her “faith in God” is what forced her to write the book.
She described her book as a collection of “inspirational” testimonies and scriptures that helped her get through difficult times in life, from her childhood, her marriage, and many financial hardships in between.
Troyal said she and her husband, Todd Tillman, “hit a really hard spot” about six years ago. Todd had just gotten in a bad accident, Troyal had lost her job, and, unbeknown to either them at the time, Troyal was pregnant with their second child.
Despite Todd working odd jobs from delivering pizza to cutting grass, the young married couple nearly lost their home in Denham Springs and sometimes couldn’t afford to put food on the table for themselves. At the time, it felt like they had hit rock bottom.
But their outlook grew less dark over time.
Troyal said people, not knowing their situation, would “walk up to me to give me money for me and my family to eat.” Eventually, Todd opened up a family business, Tillman’s Lawn Service, a landscaping company that operates out of Denham Springs and provides services in Greater Baton Rouge and surrounding areas.
Troyal helps him run the business while also raising their four children: Thalia, 6; Gabriel, 5; and 1-year-old twins Jacob and Joshua.
Times have certainly gotten better, but Troyal said it took just that — time.
“In spite of everything, we still overcame,” Troyal said. “Now it wasn’t just a rough patch that lasted for a short while. It took us time to get out of that and get an understanding of why we were going through what we were going through.”
Troyal believed her experiences could help others going through similar circumstances, which is why she decided to write the book a year ago, though she’s written for much longer than that.
As a child, she spent many days writing poetry, and she started keeping journal entries a few years ago.
It all materialized in a book that she self-published under Royalty Publishing, a publishing company she made and paid for “out of my own pocket.” Troyal said she spoke with “about eight” publishing companies, but never felt any of them were the right fit for her, so she did it all herself.
Well, not all by herself — she had support from her loving family, which helped her overcome her own doubts about the project.
“I was afraid that my story wouldn’t help other people,” Tillman said. “I thought it was pointless. But my family has absolutely supported me and made me want to go through with this. They kind of shook the fear for me, and I needed that.
“If I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it.”
Troyal said she’s still nervous about how her book will be received — and to a larger extent how she’ll be received — but she’s glad she went through with it. Though the book is about her life experiences, she said it’s also about finding one’s purpose in life.
She’s found hers, and she wants to help others find theirs.
“Even now, I’m still a little hesitant with it being out there, but it’s done now, so I don’t have a choice,” Troyal said with a laugh. “It took a lot for me to be vulnerable, because I don’t tend to show people the real me most of the time. With this book, it’s me being vulnerable and sharing different thing that I’ve been through.
“It’s exciting and scary at the same time, but I feel like if I help one person I’ll be happy with that.”