Write Yourself a Love Letter

By Samantha McKenzie

Write a love letter today. But this time, write it to yourself. I know, the idea seems a bit far fetched, a stretch of the imagination. It’s not what we’ve been taught to do, but do it anyway.

I have written quite a few love letters before. A romantic at heart, I have fallen in love, loved endlessly, transformed love, loved without measure, patched up love, loved fast and loved slowly. I’ve shared love willingly and have practiced unconditional love all too well. I’ve professed all this love on paper – some handwritten, stuffed in envelopes and mailed, some slid under a door or passed on through a friend and others I’ve typed and delivered by email.

write-letter-request-something_b5113b2712f2bb6bIt’s never been difficult for me to express love. I’ve done it all my life, without hesitation or regret.

Now, writing a love letter to myself is a different type of self-expression. With pen to paper my thoughts grow increasingly scattered and my emotions are tightly wound like a rubberband ball. Will this sound conceited or self-absorbed? Will anyone actually read it? Will they agree? Who writes nice things about themselves anyway?

And so I begin.

Dear Samantha,

I love you. I adore your warm spirit which can sometimes be infectious. And I like that you genuinely care for people. Scratch that. I love that you are always thinking about others, even when it means sacrificing your own needs. You’re easy to be around and always giving your time and energy when I need it the most. I love your sense of humor, even though you can’t stick a punch line to save your life (lol). I love your natural confidence and your willingness to be vulnerable. I love the depth that I see when I take the time to look into your eyes – I have at times witnessed your pure soul. You listen, you forgive and you inspire. I love your big ole heart and your constant thirst for knowledge. I love all those things about you…and so much more.

Love,

Me

I quickly discover more things to love about myself as I continue to write. It was an awakening exercise.

Cassie-Quote-2Take this time to think about what you love about yourself. Then write it down. Write it over again. Let someone else read it. And then add some more things that you love about you.

Write your love letter today. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Date it, sign it and read it out loud on those days when you  need to keep yourself encouraged.

You deserve your precious love.

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The State of Women

Multiracial women

By Dawn Onley

With all of the progress that has been made with gender equality over the past 100 years, and there has undoubtedly been progress – from the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote in 1920 to Roe vs. Wade in 1973, gender inequality persists in 2016.

The fact remains that in today’s workforce, women earn – on average — 79 cents to every dollar a man earns. If that woman is black or Latina, she fares even worse. (63 cents and 54 cents, respectively) Women also trail men in key leadership positions.

In 2016.

This is in spite of women now earning more undergraduate degrees than men – the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping track. It’s in spite of the law. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal for employers to pay a woman less than what a man earns for doing the same job.

And it’s also in spite of considerable research that shows, for example, women outscoring men in 12 of 15 core leadership competencies (Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman); companies with women on their boards tend to outperform boards that consist of men only (Grant Thornton); and a McKinsey Global Institute report that found that $12 trillion could be added to the global gross domestic product by 2025 if women achieved their full economic potential.

Yet according to the StatusofWomenData.org, at our current rate, we will not achieve equal pay until 2058. Some think tanks and research organizations place the year even further out than that.

She believed she couldAt the tail end of Women’s History Month, I thought it made sense to not just celebrate our significant gains and accomplishments as women, of which there have been numerous, but to also highlight the challenges, like pay inequity, that still need to be corrected. I thought it was important to recommit our focus and efforts on righting the wrongs and leveling the playing field. We have come a long way, but we haven’t reached the finish line.

In May, the White House will host a summit on “The United State of Women,” to look at the advances women have made in the United States and globally, and to expand efforts to help women confront the challenges we face.

I’ll be tuned in, looking for opportunities to engage. I hope you will as well.

We have a vote. We have the law. And we make up 50.8 percent of the country’s population – which by my math means the majority. It’s about time we start making all of this count.

What’s stopping us?

Women stand up

Spring Demands the New

By Samantha McKenzie

Spring is here. The birds are chirping outside my window. The trees are blossoming outside of my door. The parks are getting populated with people and the smell of the “new” is in the air.

spring1I’ve always been a huge fan of learning new things, but when I stumbled upon an article that suggests it leads to greater happiness, I was reinvigorated to find better ways to make my 24 hours more meaningful.

According to Vanessa King, a positive psychology expert, human beings have a natural desire to learn and progress which leads to happiness and well being.

“Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. It can also be a way of connecting with others too,” King writes in an online article. “Psychologists call it mastery.”

Studies say that adult learning has a positive impact on self-esteem when it meets the need of the learner and when the learner is at a stage in their life when they are ready and receptive to benefit from it.

herb-pots-with-SilhouetteThis happiness takes place when new learning opportunities meet up with your creativity. Together the two stimulate ideas and connect us to other areas of interest.

The experience is similar to going on a first date with someone you have chemistry with. We all can remember that feeling: It made us happy.

Spring always does this for me. Something about the warm weather that ignites my desire to get my hands into something. Learning can be intoxicating. It makes me feel free.

samiyahlipMy daughter, a self-proclaimed crafter, has volunteered to teach me how to make lip balm. She’s already purchased the ingredients (beeswax, scented flavors and coconut oil) and has penciled me in for the weekend. This should be fun.

There’s  more on the list, like starting an herb garden and mastering my photography skills. Today I got my first tutorial in using the GoPro (this is a must have if you’re hosting a large event).

The giddiness has begun. See you on the other side. What’s on your “new” things to do list?

In Search of Hope

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By Dawn Onley

At a basic level, the Easter story is one of hope. It’s about redemption and mercy, forgiveness and love. Christianity is not unique in this sense. Most religions are based on the concept of hope. The hope in an omnipotent and omnipresent God or higher power. The hope that there is more than this life. The hope of seeing loved ones again.

Hope is such a powerful thing. Hope is why we do what we do each day, rising at ungodly hours in the morning, getting dressed and trudging to work. The hope for a better life for our families. It is what keeps us going when all signs point to hopelessness. Hope and faith are sisters.

Once hope is gone, some people feel like there’s no reason to hang on. Suicide has always made me extremely sad, for the family and friends left behind but especially for the person who felt hopeless. The person who no longer could deal with the pain; who felt like life was worth ending.

Over the years, when despair and doubt started to rear their ugly heads my direction, I’ve become increasingly vigilant in protecting hope – in a better day and in a better outcome. Hope is really all we have. If we can’t have faith in an unknown outcome, we can’t be hopeful.

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I’d like to encourage you to go in search of beauty and light. There’s courage in clinging to hope despite our fears. It’s revolutionary. Pay attention to the smile from the stranger on the street or the compliment from a friend. Reconnect to what makes you feel alive – be it painting or writing or baking a special family recipe.

Cherish and protect the nuggets of joy in your life. Keep reaching for the sun. It’s still there, behind the clouds.

As long as we have hope, we have a fighting chance.

The Good News Is…

By Samantha McKenzie

The good news is there’s always some good news to share. Yes, there’s bad news. And yes, the bad news sometimes sparks our interest the most.

Let’s face it, human beings are drawn to listen and read about the drama that goes on around the world. It’s shocking. It’s far-fetched. It’s alluring and it draws us in.

Good-News-II1womenBut the truth is, we have so much more good news to tell and need to share it.

So go ahead, say it!

Make it a daily activity to share one piece of good news. If it’s not your own, share something good you read about in the news. Practice passing on uplifting stories that add value to another person’s life.

Let ‘er rip.

When the “how was your day” question gets asked, don’t start off with the mess that happened at work. Instead, begin with your good news. “I got through my entire to-do list!”

Start positive. manwomanWhen the voice on the telephone says, “Hey, what have you been up to?” follow with a small victory. “I started working out again!”

Keep the good news flowing. Come up with new intros. Find something great to talk about each day and enjoy the positive energy that comes with it. The bad news, as we know, will take care of itself.

 

 

Let’s Keep Peace, Still

white flower

By Dawn Onley

Peace is precious. And like other precious resources, it needs to be protected. At all costs.

I’m reminded of peace particularly during periods of unrest. When I turn on the TV and see the terror attack that claimed the lives of more than 30 in Brussels, when I read about the attack on an Ivory Coast beach resort, leaving at least 18 dead, when I hear of shootings and violence right here in the states, I become overcome with sadness.

It seems our world has become besieged with tragedy. In the blink of an eye, lives are changed forever and no one ever sees it coming. It use to be so easy. To avoid the bad guys, you simply didn’t go where they were, except that now, they’re everywhere. They could be living right next door, or up the street.

Stress is at an all-time high. At a time when the Christian world comes together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we face so much conflict and it can, at times, drown out the hope that this holy week brings. Everything is exacerbated and visceral. Our joys. Our pain. We remember our family and friends who are no longer here with us with greater sadness because watching someone grieve their loved one is raw and it makes us hurt for them and hurt for our losses, too.

Keeping ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally protected has become a never-ending plight. Sadly, we have to be ever vigilant to our surroundings. There are people with bad intent who wouldn’t hesitate for a second to harm us in a multitude of ways.

This is precisely why we need to take a step back, breathe and spend time on the things that truly matter: giving thanks for all of our blessings, giving to those in need, praying for strength for those who suffer, making time to catch up with friends and family, taking in a movie, reading a book, trying out that new recipe, being present with our children. We need to relax, take time off of work if we have it, to meditate and pray for this world. To pray for peace. We need to exercise kindness and love, and never let evil reduce us to the same, or evil wins.

Whittier Lake

There’s a lot going on in the world. Taking it all in can feel unbearable.

Let’s send out an avalanche of love and light. Let’s get to know one another and work to strengthen our communities. United we stand, divided we fall. Let’s show people we care. Let’s not wait. Let’s tune our minds to the beauty that still exists and let’s make good triumph over evil.

Let’s keep peace, still.

I Am the Master of My Fate…

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.

shipI 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.

One 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,” I said, desperately trying 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.

quotes-nelson-mandela-01-600x411My 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…