My Believing Women

By Samantha McKenzie

“My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

This was the music I grew up on.10882348_10205681910389311_3824346536605326243_n

Years of Bible study at my aunt’s dining room table and weekly Sunday school classes at Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., were staples in my little life. I learned to read the Bible before I learned my alphabet. I was sounding out difficult names like “Ne-bu-chad-nezz-ar” before I entered kindergarten. The Bible was my pre-school and my mother and aunts were my teachers.

When it was time to pray at a family gathering, one aunt would lead off, followed by the next, then the next, in sync, until one of the uncles would break the cycle and beg for them to stop so we could eat. We would chuckle under our breaths and thank God for the food and his brazenness every time.

I grew up around faithful women who prayed in an array of fashions. Some with clasped hands laden in silent tears and others with dropped knees to the floor followed by Jesus’ name pressed against their teeth. Other times, they would lift their hands open palms to the sky, bodies swaying with words of praise pouring out of their mouths. From the time the sun rose to when the lights went out in my house, mother had said countless prayers for each of us. This was my life.

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Aside from school, dance class and tag football on the street, I was surrounded by believing women. They were strong, in a feminine way, and watching them made me feel powerful. They were tough and tender and rarely raised their voices. I watched my mother move many a mountain and saw my aunt lay her healing hands on the sick. There wasn’t anything blind about this faith. In fact, I perceived it more as intrinsic insight.

I remember when my aunt opened a Sunday school in her living room for the neighborhood children, but instead of a sermon, she served food and gave out second-hand clothing. When I asked her why she didn’t preach, she said, “I did give a sermon. I gave the children what they needed.”

These are the stories of my believing women. There are millions more around us. They speak softly, so we don’t often hear them. They cry silently, so we think they are asleep. They lean so deeply into their faith that their curves show.

How fascinating. How incredible. So thankful for my believing women.

For Better or Worse

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist, nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

— (from Sonnet XVII, Pablo Neruda)

Lily and Henry

By Dawn Onley

When I first read those words, I clutched my imaginary pearls and let out an audible sigh. To be loved, like THAT. Damn. Wow. And all of the other insufficient words to describe those lines of perfection that Pablo wrote in honor of his third wife, Matilde Urrutia.

I’m a hopeless romantic, so I get excited at the thought of a love that is breathless and boundless. I turned on my digital record player and searched YouTube for Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved.” The majestic crescendo, the grandeur of it, Wilson’s searing falsetto professing the greatest of human emotions. Laid out on the stage, microphone extended, face contorted, Jackie wanted us all to feel what he was feeling, and did we ever! Love is understanding and being understood.

Love demands to be expressed. Lust may be hidden, but love must be seen. It leaves us ripped open, bare, vulnerable and exposed. Love is sweaty palms and moonlight kisses. It is the passion that covers a multitude of sins.

Love is in the giving, asking nothing in return. It is in the sacrifice. We may get lost, but love finds its way. Relationships fail, true love never does. It always was, is and forever will be. Love is ceaseless and it abides.

They say there’s a thin line between love and hate, but romantically I’m not convinced you can hate what you once loved. Hate is just love dressed in hurt.

Fear is uncertain. Love is sure, for better or worse.

This is why love is so pure.

I see Pablo’s expression of love in my folks. There’s a certain rhythm that long-time couples sway to, and they have it. They have the dutiful nature of love, which you could set your clock by it’s so reliable, but they also have love’s fanciful flights. The way they walk a little, and then reach for each other’s hand. The way they read each other’s expressions and feel each other’s moods. The way they solve life’s challenges. The way they giggle at each other, as if they are the only ones in the room. The way he knows how she takes her fried potatoes, and the way she butters his bread. The way they argue each other’s point or how they lie in bed deeply immersed in conversation until they are interrupted by a phone call or a knock on the door.

The way they love.

Love is not devoid of disagreements, anger, trials and hard times. Love is in spite of those things.

Love endures. For 49 years today, and then some, their love endures.

There’s Beauty in Aging

By Samantha McKenzie

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I just celebrated a birthday, so aging has been on my mind. I’m not usually consumed with getting older, but I must admit, the closer I came to approaching more of my “middle-aged-ness,” the more concerned I grew.

Will I be the oldest parent at my child’s graduation? Will I ever lose this weight? Should it take me this long to get out of bed? I tortured myself for six months straight and for a moment there, I let it get the best of me.

Between the influence of the entertainment industry and the onslaught of advertisements, it’s a wonder how a woman can have a healthy thought about herself these days. Everyone wants to stay young and everyone else is in business to figure out how to get you to believe looking younger is the answer to all of your problems.

In this youth-is-for-sale culture, we are bombarded with negative images of aging. We are taught to hurry up and find a good man in our 20s and to crank out a few babies before it’s too late. Before what’s too late? We even started catch phrases like, “40 is the new 25.” No really, 40 is 40 and that’s perfectly okay.

To be honest, the best thing about my 20s was that I no longer had a curfew, I could live off minimal amounts of sleep and could eat 1,000 calories per meal and not gain a pound. But besides that, I was lacking.

My birthday came and went this weekend and so did my worry. I got over it.

I realized that I really do love aging. I have learned to let go of things I can’t control and worry less about things that are too minuscule to bother with anyway. I nixed the temper tantrums, the “gotta have it my way or the highway” pouts and obsessing over EVERYTHING. During these past two decades, I discovered more of myself and continue to find my good along with my bad.

What’s been good about aging? Today, I’m proud to say that I earn more money than before, expose myself to a wider variety of people, eat healthier, care more, spend time relaxing instead of running, and don’t cave in to peer pressure like I did in my youth. I’ve upped my spirituality and don’t mind laughing until I fall out the chair if the moment calls for it.

I’m glad to wake up each day now a more confident, wiser, patient, loving and compassionate woman. I might add that I’ve fined tuned the art of charm and wit. I’m closer to the woman I want to be.

I found the beauty in getting older and it had nothing to do with my facial features or my body type. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no forever-young pill and beauty doesn’t really come off of a clothing rack or makeup counter. Don’t believe the hype.

Aging beautifully began inside of me, with a steadfast belief that growing old simply meant getting better.

I Will Survive

“I come across too much material on “how to make a man want you,” “how to make a man commit,” “how to make a man finally pop the question,” “how to make a man take you seriously,” “how to get into a man’s emotions.” And I laugh. My dear fellow women, enough! Do not busy yourselves with such things! Instead, fall in love with yourself!” – C. JoyBell C. silhouette-women By Dawn Onley

When I was 9 years old, my godmother introduced me to Doritos and female empowerment, one spring afternoon. We were munching away when Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” came on the radio. She jumped up and started singing, and the next thing I knew, I was right up with her and we were both dancing and belting out the tune, with our makeshift hand microphones and our female solidarity firmly in place.

I was too young to fully grasp what I was singing. But it was clear that my godmother, who is also my aunt, was really feeling the words of the song, in only the way that a person who had experienced heartbreak, and who had survived it, could.

As I grew older, and as I learned what that song was about, the memory of that day stuck with me. It would later become somewhat of an anthem of my own heartbreak and survival. Even more than that, it came to symbolize how strong we women are, despite the crap we sometimes have to go through.

I come from a lineage of strong females, and I was taught early on how to do a lot of things for myself so that a good man would be an asset to me, a 50-50 partner, and not a life vest. Contrary to the theme of many fairytales, I don’t need a man to save me – except for the good man above. I desire companionship. I desire intimacy. I desire the family unit. I desire love.

But, I have learned that I don’t need him like I need air, water and food to survive, and he doesn’t need me. Instead, I want him. What a powerful thing for us women, the ability to not just be chosen by a man, but to also choose what’s best for us. The ability to say no, and to say yes! I once helped to start a Single’s Ministry at a church with these thoughts in mind. We ladies would be there for each other, but we would also take part in activities that would give us a chance at meeting that special guy.

Through this, I realized that some single women are waiting to be happy. While they are waiting for love, they are waiting to love themselves. Some are caught up in the notion that they need a man, and that if and when this man arrives, they will be complete. Even when you point out to them that this means that they are not complete right now, they’ll admit that they are not. They’ll say they are lonely and unfulfilled. Their happiness is contingent upon some external factor that is usually out of their control.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be in a relationship, I find it sad that some women have such a negative view of being single. Rather than use the time to invest in themselves, some would rather keep time with a no-good man, because as some old folks use to say “half a man is better than no man at all.”

And then when that half a man leaves, because he was only there halfway to begin with, they complain about it.

Love yourself right now, at this stage of your life. Treat yourself kind. Do things that uplift your spirit. The truth is if you can’t be happy by yourself, you can’t be truly happy with someone else. True joy must come from within. It must always come from within.

Growing Up as a Parent

By Samantha McKenzie

I knew stepping into parenthood would be a challenge. I read a few books, talked for hours on the phone with my mother and countless other mothers for advice. Some tips I gladly held on to, while others I let go by the wayside. Mostly, I prayed, wondered and felt my way through the process.

Parenting isn’t an exact science. Sometimes one method will work on one child and not on the other. Other times, the same method outgrows its usefulness and catches you by surprise. Don’t get me wrong, there are obvious parenting techniques that are tried and true. Making sure your child eats a balanced meal or gets enough sleep at night – easy enough.Lions-Lion-Cubs1-500x333

We are extremely attentive to our parenting style during our child’s formative years. But as children begin to grow, sometimes, we as parents get stuck believing they are still our little babies and the struggle begins.

Like when my child visited a relative who refused to help her cut her breakfast waffles and then questioned me about it. I sheepishly admitted that I wasn’t ready to let her use a butter knife. She was 8. Or when a friend of mine told me that her children ironed their own clothes. When I yelled at my children for not doing this chore, they reminded me that it wasn’t because they couldn’t, it was because I wouldn’t let them. By the time I was on child number 3 (yes because after child number 1, they don’t have names), I had come up with a brilliant plan to teach her a new household chore on every birthday.

The pressure really ensued when it was time for the “firsts.” The first school dance, the first sign of puberty, the first kiss, and the first heartbreak. Let’s not mention talking about sex. It felt like stepping into a ring of fire with a tiny sword ready to fight a lion. I knew I had to do it, but I already felt defeated.

It’s not like I didn’t know they were going to one day drive the car, or stay out late on a movie date or have sex. My daughter still laughs at me when I tell her, she can go on her first date after she’s married.

I can truly say that the most difficult part of my parenting process were those times when the moment had arrived, and I was not ready.

When your children are growing up, you have to grow up too. Part of this process for me was seeing them as individuals. They were more than just my children. I was blessed to have the opportunity to parent them and with that came a huge responsibility. It was my job to get myself prepared. I had to equip myself with the tools they would need to be healthy, productive human beings.

I had to grow up. And I had to grow up fast. Many wine bottles later, it started to sink in. I began to give them more responsibilities and trust that the things I taught them would work. I also had to prepare myself for their mess ups and mistakes. I found myself letting go of the idea that they had to be perfect. I encouraged them to take risks and explained why failure was a part of the learning process. Instead of discouraging it, I talked to them about getting back up and starting over.

You should thank your children for helping you grow up as a parent. Without them, you’d never have the privilege. The process continues.

In the Moment

Women need

By Dawn Onley

The older I get, the more I value the quiet solitude of an early morning walk. When it’s just me and nature, and the occasional hello from a passerby, I feel the most alive.

Momentarily, during my walks, I’m free from life’s stresses, from the hustle and bustle and noise. And it feels refreshing. It’s a renewing of the mind.

I observe. I hear. I feel. There is so much beauty to see. The rising sun peeking through the clouds and the sky coming alive in an array of hues. The mom pushing her child in the stroller. The elderly couple walking hand in hand. The wildlife feasting in the distance. The birds chirping. The flowers that dot my path. The smell of the earth right after it rains.

The rhythm of life.

It’s important to take time out to decompress. There is always a pile of things to do. That same pile will be there when I get back. I cherish these daily walks. They have become a ritual, and I feel off on the rare days that I don’t make it out.

It’s where I recharge and refuel. It’s also where I do a lot of my thinking. I work things out in my head before the day has begun properly.

Yesterday, a lady caught up with me to ask a question about the distance of my walk. Before long, we had struck up a conversation and we were walking together and talking like old friends. She told me she worked with women as a fitness trainer and that she was trying to launch a Web site promoting her business. I told her about Women Who Hope.

We marveled at the synchronicity of life.

Mastering My Fate and Captaining My Soul

By Samantha McKenzie

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

(Excerpts from Invictus, by William Ernest Henley)

I was introduced to the Invictus poem in junior high school. Something about being the master of my fate was attractive. As I began to move closer towards adulthood, however, those sentences quickly faded into the backdrop.

I became pacified by my traditions and allowed routines to placate my appetite for more. There was no evil boogie man, or monstrous figure in my life that got me off track. I simply forgot to make myself a priority. My dreams and ambitions began to collect dust in my memory. I perfected the art of helping others while simultaneously neglecting myself. I was a sell-out to my own soul. I convinced myself that I was better off fixing other people’s problems and would get around to dealing with Samantha later. Why not? She’d always be around.

symple-hd-simple-nature-sea-sky-yacht-ship-freeOne day, while in the grocery store, an old man turned to me in the dairy aisle and said, “You are a nice looking woman, probably a very good mother, but you aren’t happy.” After the shock wore off, I quickly tried to convince him otherwise. “I am just stressing out about an event I am preparing for later. But no, really, I am happy,” desperately trying hard to change his view. He shared with me that he had a gift. The power of discernment, he said matter-of-factly. “I read people very well.”

I never saw him again.

My path to re-learning how to be the captain of my ship started over. It was a slow process, but I stayed the course.

After 15 years of an unsuccessful marriage, I filed for a divorce. Next, I changed my career path, left my religious organization behind, invested 10+ sessions with a therapist and went back to earn a master’s degree. I quit a stressful job after 9 solid years without another in sight. I redefined friendships, made new networks, and forgave myself. I was on my way.

I discovered that I didn’t need anyone’s approval and adopted new patterns of behavior that balanced my life. I was on a fast track to freedom and it felt amazing!

I don’t know when it clicked, when the light bulb went off or when I finally realized that I didn’t need permission to BE anymore. There was no fanfare, no ticker tape parade nor applause. I’m not exactly sure who I thought would release me, forgive me, or even allow me to be heard. I just know on that day, that sweet, sweet glorious day, I awakened my soul.

I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.