One Woman at a Time

By Samantha McKenzie

It’s a great time to be a woman. The political climate in America is peaking and the news is filled with the greatness of First Lady Michelle Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. There’s talk about wage equality and shattering glass ceilings. There are mothers, who through tragic loss and tragedy, have become community activists and public speakers.

There’s the 22 female CEOs who run Fortune 500 companies. And the 22 presidents and prime ministers who are running countries.  There’s 190 women who made the Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires. And there’s also a surge in female entrepreneurs who now make up 36% of U.S. businesses. The lists are all growing and so are we.

There are countless examples, near and far, of women who are moving the needle in their respective lives, in communities and on larger platforms. We are climbing the ladder in major industries, like health, education, business and science and have redefined our power.

There’s a new narrative, and a new script and we are writing it this time.  womeninbusWhat’s your contribution? Make a list of the things you are doing to make a difference. No matter how small you may think it is, it’s a good exercise in congratulating your accomplishments.

Are you speaking at a local church event?

Did you finally grow that herb garden?

Have you decided to write that book?

Is this the year that you start your business?

Are you the person people call on when they need good advice?

It’s a great time to get involved in the one thing that interest you. It’s the perfect time to fine tune your expertise.

It’s your time. Women, it’s our time to shine.

 

A Golden Commitment

I wrote the below blog post on my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary last year. I decided to repost it today, just two days shy of their 50th. I’m so in awe of them, and their love. The certainty of it. A half century of marriage. A lifetime commitment to their union and their family. Golden. Blessed by God. Happy Anniversary to my first loves!

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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)

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.

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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.

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

Love endures. For 50 years this Saturday, and then some, their love endures.

 

 

Surround Yourself with People Who Propel You

By Samantha McKenzie

It’s time for change.

This is not a political tagline, but an exercise in personal development. It’s time we surround ourselves with people who propel us.

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It’s not unusual that our friends and family – the ones we spend the most time with – are people we find comfort in. These are the people who see us for who we really are and who love us unconditionally. It’s human nature to seek comfort in others. But let’s face it, we tend to take advantage of these types of relationships. They often become security blankets for us. They listen to us. They endure our sedentary behavior. They give us room to pacify ourselves back to sleep. And whether we admit it or not, we love it.

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Who really wants to be challenged anyway?

It’s time we take inventory of what we say we want and then surround ourselves with people who push us to our limits. This means we may have to identify other people who’ll require us to “put up or shut up” and those who are willing to make us feel “temporarily” uncomfortable until we get to that next level.

comfortzoneFind a person who is doing what you’d like to do one day.

Find a person who is your opposite.

Find someone who has skills you are lacking.

Find a person who will help you set timelines, who will not accept excuses, and who will challenge you to be your very best.

Surround yourself with a new set of accountability partners, a select group of people who won’t let you off the hook.

It’s time we move out of our comfort zone.

 

Saying Goodbye to Negativity

Drama Free Zone

By Dawn Onley

If you are bringing negativity to my door, I’m no longer answering.

Bang all you want. Ring the doorbell. Tap the windows. Peer through the opening in the Venetian blinds. It doesn’t matter. I’m not letting you in.

I’m writing a poem. I’m turning my music up. I’m deeply engaged in a book. I’m singing a happy tune. I’m cooking a meal. I’m folding clothes and washing dishes. I’m chasing my toddler and giving him kisses. I’m boarding a flight. I’m doing whatever I can to ignore the noise because I’m simply no longer interested in engaging with negativity and drama. I’m too old and life is too short to deal with small-mindedness.

My new attitude is “be defeatist by yourself.” In your own space. On your own time. Don’t burst my happy bubble with nonsense about how you were wronged. Always you. Wronged.

This doesn’t mean I won’t lend an ear, a shoulder, and my heart if you’re sad or confused or heartbroken. I have time for you. It’s ok for you to vent, yell, or cry. I will listen, commiserate, pass the Kleenex (or wine) and tell you that this too shall pass.

It simply means if you are always “woe is me,” I’m too busy to listen. If you’re constantly spilling gossip, stay away. If you want to hear gossip, you’re better off tuning in to Wendy Williams and her ilk because I can no longer ignore the mean undertones, the snide judgments, the cattiness and the dishonest diatribe.

Avoids DramaOnce upon a time I wanted to know the 4-1-1 on any and everything. I stayed ready to find out who did what to whom (and what was done about it), who was dating, who was hating, and who was pontificating. This was both for people I knew, and for celebrities who made the news.

I wanted details. I wanted to dish. I was drawn to information, and it didn’t matter whether it pertained to me or not. As a journalist, I wrote about stuff that happened on my “beat.” It paid the bills, but it also fed my curiosity. In my spare time, I still craved that level of information, and at times my nosiness took a turn towards salaciousness.

That was in the past.

These days, I’m jotting down words that build up, quotes that motivate and passages that are awe-inspiring. I’m reading articles about triumphs. I’m supporting women who I admire. I’m praying for a kinder, less judgmental world. I’m spreading love instead of hate. I truly want the best for everyone.

I no longer have an appetite for negativity or drama. I’m not interested in any of the reality TV shows where women jealously put down other women, backbite, fight, steal each other’s men, and generally don’t support each other. I don’t find amusement or entertainment in any of this. All I see is sadness.

If it’s real life, and not a drama, and women are behaving this way, I’m not inviting that into my spirit. It’s not harmless. What we consistently view — just like what we consistently eat — has an impact.

There’s too much positive work to be done to continue to engage in nonsense.

 

 

Facing Our Insecurities, Accepting Who We Are

By Samantha McKenzie

There’s a lot of pressure placed on young women to be a certain dress size or maintain a certain body type. While the messages may begin on the outside, they take root inside of us as we begin to internalize negative thoughts of not being good enough.

selfworth2With the influence of the internet and the entertainment industry, a desire to have everything exactly as seen on the big screen has grown tremendously in most of us. The beauty industry has skyrocketed. We want “beat” faces, long hair, larger breasts and buttocks, small waists and in recent years, over-exaggerated eye lashes.

The damaging effects of a world gone pretentious are riveting. It’s become harder for a mom to tell her teenage daughter that she is beautiful just the way she is, when the world is screaming the total opposite.

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There’s a greater lesson to be taught here and one we can’t afford to pass by: We must be the biggest champions of self-love. We must wave the banner to eradicate low self-esteem in ourselves and in our children and find the confidence to be happy with the way God made us all.

There is no such thing as perfect.

It should never be our goal.

This work begins in the home and takes root on the inside.

My experience in accepting myself began in my adult life. I wanted to learn to love my outside as much as I loved the rest of me. I took positive steps toward a new daily practice. I began to reimagine words like “perfect” or “flawless.” I took on new habits, like looking at myself in the mirror (yes, it’s hard at first) and saying thank you.

“You’ve carried me this far, helped me give birth to three incredible children, withstood a few bumps and bruises and for that alone, I am completely grateful,” I’d speak privately to my body. From blemishes, to stretch marks, to all that’s in between, I started to embrace the body that had long embraced me.

Perfectionist-quotes-24-BlogazineNowadays, I watch what I eat because I enjoy being healthy, and living as long as I possibly can motivates me. I care less about how I look in my photographs and more about the many reasons I have to smile in them. I don’t stress out about what’s too big, or too small, or what’s not enough or too much anymore. It’s all just my body. An imperfectly, perfect me.

Over the next 30 days, I challenge all of our “Women Who Hope” friends to take a selfie. Find something positive to say about your body and practice accepting yourself one body part at a time.

Cherish the Small Stuff

Women hugging

By Dawn Onley

Don’t overlook the small stuff: the hugs, the bedtime stories, the foot rubs and family dinners.

When you’re counting your blessings, these things are just as important — if not more — than the big stuff. It’s these little moments that create the memories of a person, place or time. The little moments, spread out over a span of time, paint a rendering of our stories and form the melody of our songs.

The little moments are the main course of our everyday existence. The big stuff gets all the attention, but when I look at my big moments, I’ve come to see them as the icing on the cake. My life was already sweet because of the small stuff.

Learn to cherish the small stuff. We are conditioned to think of success as something big, but in actuality success is found in the small stuff that we do consistently, over time. It’s the same way with relationships of all types. Not much is jumpstarted over night. It’s built by the small moments.

The bedtime stories. The phone call to a friend. A cup of coffee prepared just right. The talks with your grandmother. A movie with your spouse. The compliments. The smiles. The family time. An early morning stroll. A delicious meal. A hug. A kiss. A luxurious bath. Reading a good book. An inspiring word. Crossing off items on your to-do list. Being able to bless someone just because you have been so blessed.

Cherish it all. The small stuff is what life is all about.

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You Are the River that Connects Us

By Samantha McKenzie

As I flip through the channels, I am bombarded with news stories of controversy, conflict and an extraordinary amount of harsh criticism. Every day feels like a battle of some sort. We have more in common than we can ever imagine.

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We spend entirely too many man hours picking sides, placing blame and getting lost in the melancholy lifestyle of divide and conquer. Democrats vs. Republicans. Police departments vs. community protesters. Blacks vs. whites. Heterosexuals vs. homosexuals. Christians vs. Muslims.  We fight about everything. Abortion rights. Education spending. Legalizing marijuana. Immigration. Where does it end? Or does it? Seems as if we have drawn the lines so deeply in the sand that we eventually bury our sight. We stand tall in disagreement and stronger in dissension, but lack any voice when it is time to unite our thinking and provide real solutions.

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Our children are yearning for so much more out of us.  Why can’t we embrace the things that connect us? There are endless possibilities to building on common ground and capitalizing on a shared goal that brings value to the whole.

Our time can be better spent. It certainly should be.

Be a part of the change that we all desire. Create new dialogue that unites. Mirror behaviors that are inclusive. Indulge in appreciative and opposing views. Accept that we are all unique and valuable. Search for the road that carries us to the source.

Be the river that connects us all.