Dialing Back Life’s Noise

Downward Dog

By Dawn Onley

If you have stress in your life, there’s a good chance you’re not saying “no” enough.

This is the tea I’ve been sipping on this weekend. These wise words come from Joyce Meyer, the dynamic preacher and speaker, who has a book coming out next spring called “Overload” which deals with the impact of stress, and more importantly, what we can do about it.

My mom went to a Joyce Meyer conference last week, and ever the writer, she took copious notes. My mom said that Meyer shared some takeaways from her book about stress, and it really struck a chord with me.

Stress is largely a disease of “yes” – where we take on way more than we should and it leaves us feeling overwhelmed and depleted. It doesn’t matter how we say yes, whether we are asked to do things or whether we volunteer. Stress impacts us when we fail to set limits that protect our peace.

To relieve stress, we must make changes in our lives, starting with saying “no” more so that we can take better care of ourselves, Meyer told the audience. When we de-stress, we begin putting fences up around our lives.

“You won’t ever get away from stress if you don’t change some things in your life,” Meyer said. She said it is compounded because we’ve developed an independent-attitude and won’t ask others to help us.

Joyce Meyer

She added that stress can also be caused by procrastination or when we are not focused. When we procrastinate and put off making decisions, this can create even more stress in our lives than making the wrong decision, and starting again, she said. Additionally, when we fail to focus on one thing at a time, we can get overloaded and stressed. It’s better to choose quality over quantity, she said.

But what if you are like me and have a hard time decompressing? I’ve become so accustomed to juggling half a dozen things at one time, that I have a hard time just relaxing and being still. Stress has become a way of life for me. I can’t even have a relaxing vacation. I’m booking tours, making sure almost every waking moment is occupied. I have to see the sights. I have to discover. Although exhilarating, this leaves me feeling exhausted more often than not, and craving a vacation when I return from vacation.

My sister and I once took a trip to Hawaii. She told me she would be perfectly fine spending the week camped out on the beach, sipping Mai Tais and enjoying the lovely sounds of nature, but as scenic and beautiful as Hawaii was, that was too dull for me. So we booked a few of our days exploring Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Diamond Head Park, and feasted at a luau. I really wanted to do a helicopter ride, but my sister wasn’t up for it so I finally decided to chill out a bit and join her on the beach.

Reading my mom’s notes from the conference is a great reminder for me to always strive for balance. For every busy day, incorporate a light day. To think differently about down time. To sign up for another yoga class. To seriously consider turning my phone off more frequently, going to bed earlier, and taking more social media breaks to dial back life’s noise.

Moderation is key, but if you are an all-in personality like me, sometimes shutting down to refuel works best.

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Stay in the Driver’s Seat of Gratitude

By Samantha McKenzie

Many of us understand the basic tenets of being grateful.

I am always thankful when people lend me a helpful hand, or offer up some exceptional advice. I am very grateful that God answers my prayers. I appreciate every act of kindness I receive from others.blog_prayinghands_900

I must confess, however, that my gratitude wanes from time to time. I get a little sloppy. It’s never intentional. I sorta get stuck in the fast-paced routine of my every day, ordinary life and before you know it, I take a break from being thankful.

But tragedy has a way of knocking you to your knees. Yesterday, it was the head on collision with a school bus that killed a 17-year-old high school student in North Carolina. On Wednesday, it was the shocking murder of Alison Parker, a 24-year-old news reporter and Adam Ward, a 27-year-old cameraman in Virginia. And yes, the 35 homicides in the last 30 days in Baltimore helped to sober me up as well.

While it shouldn’t take death to remind any of us to be grateful, it sure does serve as an ample reminder. I’ve had to create a regimen of thankfulness to my daily routine. In addition to my morning and evening prayers (and grace before meals), I pick something every day to remind me to be thankful. Today it will be birds. Every time I see a bird, I will pause to give thanks. Tomorrow it might be hats, who knows.  gratitude

Each time I hear myself whine or complain, I think of five things I am thankful for.

  1. I am thankful for having food, clothing and shelter.
  2. I am thankful for my supportive family.
  3. I am thankful for the opportunity to work and earn a living wage.
  4. I am thankful for my health.
  5. I am thankful for waking up in my right mind.

This quiets my eager soul. It keeps me humble. I think about the people who went to sleep last night and never awoke. I think of the people who got up this morning, ready to carry out the days chores, and never made it back home. I remind myself of the newborn babies who didn’t make it out of the hospital. The children who are suffering from terminal illnesses. The victims. Their families. The soldiers. The casualties.

I am tremendously grateful for my life. And I will keep plugging away at remaining this way. I will say it aloud. I will write a longer list. I will refrain from getting too comfortable or from taking tomorrow for granted. I will remember that 2.3 million Americans die annually and that one million of those deaths are sudden.

I will stay in the driver’s seat of gratitude.

Silencing Sinking Thoughts

2015

By Dawn Onley

I love Bishop T.D. Jakes. In addition to being a powerful speaker, a gifted preacher, and a devoted family man, I think he has great discernment and incredible insight.

Whenever I hear him preach, whenever I watch one of his videos, whenever I read one of his books, I am furiously writing down his message as quickly as he speaks it, filling pages upon pages in my notebook. I keep this notebook, as well as a Word file, of some of his powerful quotes nearby, and I turn to his sage words whenever I need a pick me up or to feel inspired. He’s like having a preacher, a counselor, a teacher, a spiritual advisor, a therapist and a coach, all rolled up in one. He breaks the Bible down in a way that is easily understood. He has a great ability to explain the stories in a way that make them relatable to what’s happening today.

I can’t think of a public figure who moves me to action more than he does. He was a visionary before visionaries became cool. From humble beginnings in West Virginia, he always dreamed big, and he had the faith, the work ethic, the perseverance and the resiliency to realize, and to fulfill, his purpose.

One recent day, I was perusing some of his quotes and I stumbled upon one of my all-time favorites. Immediately, I remembered some of the context of the message, which dealt with how we need to keep ourselves steady and focused in pursuit of our purpose, despite what is going on around us. He said life deals us all hardships, pain, sadness and grief from time to time, but to not let those things take us under, or to keep us from realizing our purpose.

“Ships don’t sink when they are in water; they only sink when the water gets in them. You don’t sink when you are in chaos; you only sink when chaos gets in you,” the Bishop bellowed in a message entitled “Divine Expectations.”

I love the quote because it speaks to the fact that none of us can escape life without experiencing hardships and difficulties, yet he encourages us to stay the course, to stay positive, to keep pushing, to stay hopeful.

We must not let pain, hard times, doubt, insecurity, low self-esteem, or anything else, sink our ships. The waters will be rough and turbulent on occasion, but we have to fight to keep the storms of life from capsizing our spirits.

Our negative thoughts are the cracks that allow water to enter our ships. We need to block out any sinking thoughts. We need to choose positive thoughts to safely bring our ships to shore.

Don’t give that negative thought a voice. It could lead to a negative action.

Don’t let chaos get inside of you.

Relationships Rule the Day

By Samantha McKenzie

When I was growing up in the ‘80s, word on the street was “money talks and BS walks.” The street I’m referring to is Wall Street. I learned very early on that money was valuable and most people built their lives around attaining it.

wallstreet

As a junior in high school, I participated in a co-op program and had the opportunity to work at an insurance agency in lower Manhattan. Every other week, for an entire semester, I got a bird’s eye view of the financial district and the inner workings of a real business. My cohorts and I would take walks at lunch time to Liberty Plaza Park (now called Zuccotti Park), gawking at the number of men and women donned in dark suits, white collared shirts and briefcases. They were amazing. They walked fast, talked fast and reeked of money – that mighty dollar! I felt successful just staring at them.

If you weren’t wealthy, you were working on behalf of someone wealthy. I watched these nameless characters trot up and down Wall Street using money to buy people, and using people to get to more money. It was clear to me, money ruled the world and power followed right behind. In this environment, if you weren’t rich, you were about to be.

I was impressed then and I am still a fan of attaining wealth. I think money is a type of currency and has its value. Aside from securing the basic essentials, it affords us opportunities to travel, take on new adventures and live out our dreams.

But I value something more than money these days. Relationships. They are ruling the day.

A good relationship can get you through doors and into places that money can’t. I have built both my professional career and personal life on this fact. When I show up at work, I treat everyone with respect. I learned this from my parents. Every human being has a purpose. From the crossing guard who helps our children get to school safely, to the bus driver, to the teacher and the principal. We all participate in the chain of service to our community. We are all necessary to the success of each day. We are connected.large-diverse-group-of-older-people-seattle-independent-living

When I arrived at my new job five months ago, I would spend a few brief moments in the morning talking to the elderly gentleman, James, who cuts the grass outside my office building. I quickly learned that he had retired from Duke University after 30 years of service, and began working at N.C. Central University so he could earn a little extra money to see his grandchildren more often. They lived two states away. We talk about everything during these short chats – from the different types of grass across campus to what types of flowers should be planted for each season. He learned how much I loved flowers and how little I knew about how to grow them.

People want to connect to people. This is an underutilized gift in life: small acts of kindness and the art of building relationships with others. No expectations, just the sweet satisfaction of enriching another’s life. Weeks later, I learned that James had convinced his reluctant boss to plant flowers outside my building. It had never been done before.

This is the currency that guides my daily steps. Human beings make things happen for you because of the time and interest you invest in their lives.

Relationships rule the day.

A Toast to My Sisters

Multiracial women

By Dawn Onley

My co-blogger and I were once naïve college students at an off-campus house party where we had indulged in a bit too much to drink. Between the laughing, the dancing, and the spiked punch, we completely lost track of time. Suddenly, she leaned over and whispered to me that she had to use the bathroom, and she dragged me in there with her, the way best girlfriends do.

Once inside, she informed me that we were the only two females left in the house, and that there were about 15 guys out there. We sobered up real quick, and planned our exit strategy.

When we came out of the bathroom, we headed for the door. I remember a few guys asking us where we were going, and we told them we were going home because we were tired. I remember a few of them encouraging us to stay, even saying we could crash, but we insisted that we had to leave.

When we got to my car, we let out a sigh of relief. We were scared. We knew we were fortunate; that things could have turned out much different. We had fun, but like most college kids, we didn’t always make the wisest choices. We were glad we had each other, and later laughed that God looks out for babies and fools.

We still have each other, and countless other stories. When all else fails, our best girlfriends are the ones who ride life’s journeys with us, even down treacherous streets and uncertain byways. They are there to pick us up, to cheer us on, to help us fight our battles, to give us advice, and to not only listen to us, but to hear us. They let us know when we are dead wrong, and we may sulk, but we listen to them because they have proven, time and time again, to have our best interests at heart. They truly want the best for us, and we want the best for them.

And so it’s only fitting to acknowledge the special role girlfriends play in our lives, a few weeks late of National Girlfriend’s Day, which was on Aug. 1st. I just couldn’t let the month pass without paying tribute to my favorite girls. I thank God for blessing me with great girlfriends, whom I’ve traveled with – as far away as Egypt — and on diva-fabulous trips to New York, Vermont, Florida, Texas, California and Jamaica. These women I have dined with, prayed with, cried with, laughed to the point of hysteria with, dreamed with, plotted with, partied with, and who have my back, always. I have some really close guy friends, whom I love endlessly too, but nothing and no one could ever take the place of my beloved girlfriends.

My girlfriends have celebrated with me, and I have toasted them. They constantly motivate me to want to be better. We know each other’s potential, and we push each other to reach it.

I love them for a lifetime of memories, for helping me to be my authentic self, when even I wasn’t quite sure who that was.

They are not just my girlfriends, they are my sisters.

The Value in the Valley

By Samantha McKenzie

From time to time we all find ourselves in unfavorable situations. We make choices and end up in places we didn’t think we’d be. We deal with issues we never thought we would face. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve found yourself smack dead in the middle of a circumstance that you never imagined could have happened to you.clanac

Most people don’t plan to get pulled over by a police officer, go to jail, a courtroom, or the emergency room of a hospital. We don’t schedule things like fights, or road rage or controversy. No one hopes to one day file bankruptcy, go through a painful divorce or have their life flash before them. Try, try as we may, we all plan to make the right choices, err on the side of safety and avoid conflicts.

Nine times out of 10, we start our day off with good intentions. Unfortunately, life isn’t static free. The truth is, we don’t always make the best decisions. We make mistakes. I’ve done my share of stupid things in my life. Some I got away with and the others well, let’s just say, I’m glad I am here today to tell you about it.

We learn about ourselves during these low points in our lives. We learn about our true character under trial. And it is during the worst times, the times when we are being tested, that we learn what we are truly made of.

While digging out of the mess we caused, we learn how to pray. These prayers are usually the most authentic and sincere. We find ourselves asking the good Lord for everything but the kitchen sink. You remember those prayers that begin with “Dear Lord” and end with “If you just get me out of this situation, I promise…”

When we are faced with these challenges, we learn our threshold for pain. We build parts of our character like patience and humility. We experience what it really means to take responsibility for our decisions and how to be accountable for our choices.

There are lessons in our struggle. There is value in the valley. We lean on a higher power. We build endurance during these trials. We are forced to grow up.

After difficulty comes ease. The sun still rises in the morning. And the price we pay is getting back up and starting over again and becoming a stronger, smarter and better person.

Rediscovering Life Through the Eyes of a Toddler

My happy boy

By Dawn Onley

My two-year-old son excitedly runs up to the garage door after he gets out of the car and begs me, in that whiny, pleading way toddlers have about them, to open it. “Garage door!” he exclaims, as if seeing it for the first time. “Open, mommy. Garage door.”

When the door goes up, he stands there intently studying it as if it’s the coolest invention he has ever seen. Which, granted, at two, it may be. He then steps inside and begs me to let him hit the button to lower the door. After it’s lowered, he shouts “Yay!!!” and claps.

He does this same routine, with increased enthusiasm, each day. Whenever he’s outside. Despite whether the garage door needs to be opened or not. Wanting to engage what may someday be a budding engineering mind (and also so I don’t have to hear him beg to open the garage door a hundred more times), I oblige him.

He’s the same way about learning new words. If anyone says a word that he has never heard before, he will repeat it at least a dozen times throughout that day, to ensure he is pronouncing it right, and he’ll look up at me for confirmation. My niece called him a mimic the other day because of his toddler propensity to copy whatever someone does. And to prove her point, I got to hear “Mommy … mimic” for the rest of the day.

When I walk him to the park, he stops me to inquire about the airplane flying in the sky, the birds chirping, rabbits hopping and squirrels climbing. He stops the neighbors walking their dogs to show them that he also knows how to bark. He meows to the neighbor’s cat. He asks, in mumbled toddler speak, about the girls splashing in the pool, about the ducks waddling around a nearby lake, about the pedestrian bridges, about the flowers and the trees.                                                                                                                                                                 Walking on bridge

These are all steps that a toddler goes through to process and learn new words, and to figure out how stuff works. His curiosity is on overdrive and as I teach him about these things, I’m forced to be in the moment right there with him. I’m forced to engage him as he wants to inquire one minute and the next, he’s grabbing my hands for an impromptu “Ring around the Rosy” and commanding that I actually fall down too, like he does.

On a recent walk, I pondered what life would be like if adults stopped to focus on the moment and how things function from a natural curiosity to learn — eager and fascinated about everything. I thought how cool it’d be if we’d take a break during the course of our day and sing a happy tune, or jump or skip, just because. If we reconnected with that which brings us a child’s joy.

I thought how great it’d be if we saw all that a child sees and we felt their enthusiasm for life.

Kids are inherently spontaneous. Wouldn’t it be great if we became more childlike in how we approached life and learning? If we sang and clapped and danced at whim? If we took off running down the grassy hill, just to feel the wind at our face and the sun on our back?

Can you imagine what a great world that would be?