It’ll Always Be This Way

My Beautiful Emmy (2)

By Dawn Onley

I dabbed tears from my eyes two times yesterday at the thought of my baby girl. It doesn’t happen often. Usually, I’m bubbling over with happiness when I think of her. But sometimes, those thoughts make me sad and they get the best of me.

That was the type of day I had. Thoughts of her made my eyes well.

She came into my life a few days after Christmas in 2012 and stayed with me as my foster daughter, off and on, for about seven months. But then she left for good and when she did, a small piece of me left too.

That’s the price of love. It’ll always be this way.

The whole experience has taught me to expect the waves and that some sadness lingers and never fully heals. Some things are out of our control and don’t go according to plan, leaving us to pick up the pieces. I’ve learned that with my heart, it’s impossible to fit a permanent love into a temporary situation.

I’ve also learned that we can still put the pieces back together in a way that makes the picture beautiful, as my husband and I have done, but that it will never be exactly the same.

The truth is I miss her terribly and I think about her all the time. She’s a handful with my baby boy and I always find myself drained and exhausted on those weekends when she comes to visit, you know the way two toddlers can make a middle aged woman feel.

But the moment she leaves, I start missing her again. In the days that follow, I find myself wondering what she’s doing. As I teach my son new words and read him bedtime stories, I think about books that she would like and wonder what new words she is learning. When I tuck him in the bed and kiss him goodnight, I pray that she is surrounded by love.

As I go to sleep, I vow to hug her a little tighter the next time and to give her more kisses.

I’ll see her this weekend. We’ll try to pack in as much fun and excitement that three days can hold. I can hardly wait!

I’m beyond blessed and thankful to have her in my life.

It’ll always be this way.


Find Your Lessons in Life’s Valleys

By Samantha McKenzie

Every once in a while, we all find ourselves in unfavorable situations. We end up in places we didn’t think we’d be. We face obstacles, make all the right choices and still find ourselves smack dead in the middle of a circumstance that we never imagined could have happened to us.

valleyMost people don’t plan for life’s glitches. They don’t anticipate getting pulled over by a police officer, having to go to jail or an emergency room. Most people don’t think they’ll ever end up in an altercation, until it’s too late. We don’t think we’ll file bankruptcy,  end up in a car accident or go through the loss of a loved one.  Try, try as we may, we all plan to make the best choices, err on the side of safety and avoid pain at all costs.

Unfortunately, life isn’t static free. The truth is, even when we weigh our options and make the best decisions, things still don’t work out to our advantage. I would love to tell you of all the great choices I’ve made in life. But life, being as impartial as it is, has shown me a thing or two. I’ve gotten myself stuck in a lot of jams, made the wrong turn down many unsafe roads and am glad to have made it through with just a few bruises.

struggle1I did learn about myself during my low points though. I guess we all do. Something about being on your knees that really helps you see clearer. These are the times we come face to face with our truer selves. We learn through trials what our real character is made of. We say the most authentic and sincere prayers during these times. We find ourselves asking the good Lord all kinds of forgiveness. 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 and build upon 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 actions.

daisyThese are the moments in life that we spend in the valley and in this valley there are many lessons to be learned. The valley is not a punishment, like some would like to say it is. The valleys are the classrooms of life. They teach us the value in struggle. They force us to find a greater strength. In these valleys, we endure much. It is the place that grows us up and prepares us for the next leg of our journey.

No one ever wants to stay in the valley. We do everything within our power to find a way out. But the valley won’t release you until it is time. It will hold on to you firmly, until you find the great lesson. It knows that after difficulty comes ease.

And even though it sits low, it knows too that the sun still rises in the morning.

And the price we pay is worth it.

Find your value in life’s valleys.

Experiences Trump Stuff




By Dawn Onley

Some people are into all of the latest gadgets. Before the next greatest thing is rolled out, they have already pre-ordered it.

Some people are like this with cars, choosing to buy a new one the moment their old car loan is paid in full.

I’m a big fan of experiences. I like to engage, as often as possible, in stuff that involves family and friends and a good time. I will save for lavish vacations and splurge on concert tickets or a Broadway play – all for the thrill of the moment and to feel engaged and alive. I will host themed parties – like I did twice this month – to see children smile and laugh and to celebrate Prince, one of the baddest musical geniuses to ever walk the Earth.

I do this because I love connecting with people and I love creating memories that will far outlast the actual experience. I love to delight my senses. It thrills me to create and to discover. There is no question that my dominant brain is right.

Experiences rule!

Don’t get me wrong, I love nice things. I’m a girly girl. If you see my closet, you would soon realize that I may just have a purse and shoe addiction, and I possess more than enough other “stuff” – from clothes to accessories and from perfumes to jewelry — to start my own consignment shop.

Still, there is nothing that tops the experience of travel or the invigoration of learning something new. There is nothing like a brisk hike up a new trail or dining at a new restaurant. I will choose taking a walk on the shore and the smell of the ocean over the chance to buy more stuff. In fact, the choice isn’t even close.

Jet skies


Stuff doesn’t last.

Stuff is not fulfilling.

Sure, you might be saying, but experiences don’t last either. That is true for the actual experience, but for me, it’s so much more than that.  That new gadget is outdated before you can blink your eyes. That car loses its value before you even drive it off the lot. But the memory of that experience — the concert, the play, the sports outing, the dinner date with friends, the party, the vacation, even those trips to the library with your kids — will last forever, growing more valuable over time. When you are sad, you can draw from those memories. Bonds with friends and family are strengthened through our experiences. Kids perform better in school when they have family time. This is life-changing stuff here!

Increasingly, as I watch that show on tiny homes on HGTV, it appears some people are downsizing their lives to make more room for experiences. While I don’t desire to live in a tiny house at this stage in my life, I love the idea and think these people are onto something.

After all, it’s not the size of the house that makes life so beautiful. It’s the memories created with the people inside and outside of it.

Be Like the Trees that Bend

By Samantha McKenzie

If we pay close attention to nature, she will tell her story.

I’ve long admired the redwood trees that stand strong and tall. They live for thousands of years and can grow to heights over 300 feet. Their appearance speaks for themselves. If you’re ever in their presence, you’re bound to feel small. They are majestic.

But here recently, I’ve fallen in love with the story of the trees that bend, but don’t break. Like the palm tree that spends most of its day supplying shade to visitors and gently swaying to the rhythm of the ocean’s breeze. It reminds me of vacation and summer and everything good about life. But when strong winds arrive, and those harsh storms come rumbling in, that same tree bows gracefully into submission. Similar to the bamboo tree,  which after a storm has passed, bounces back to its original position.

We are the trees that bend, but do not break.

Many of us are going through stormy times right now. For some, we have had our fair share of rainy days. We’ve had to weather through a personal dilemma or brave through devastation. We’ve all witnessed the aftermath of destruction.

If you reflect back on those times, you may recall your ability to be resilient. You made it through to see another day. Whether you held to your faith that ‘this too shall pass’ or you ordered your own footsteps to carry on, you found a way to survive your storm.


When I quit my job last year, I bent. When my loved one was suffering with an illness, I bent. When you lost your house, your car, your wealth, your spouse, you bent. This is a part of every person’s story. We bend, but never break.

Life will offer us an opportunity to bow gracefully. It may persistently push us to bend. It sometimes will even force us to stoop all the way down to the ground. But it won’t leave you there. Instead, it’ll require you to be pliable, to curve, to flex, and to adapt to the strong winds that are beyond your control.

And when it’s over, you will bounce back to your original position. You will stand erect, stronger than before. You will learn how to wait out the storm. You will wink at your agility.

Be like the trees that bend. They never break.

Expanding My Circle of Friends


By Dawn Onley

All through life I’ve had a tight crew of friends. Ones I could count on one hand.

Most of my tried and true are women, although I have a few great guy friends, and most of us share a college, workplace, family, hometown, or similar upbringing in common. I’m sociable and friendly, the type of person who stops to chat with people at a party, still, when it comes down to the people I call to vent, to hang out, or to share life’s blissful moments with, I’m selective.

I’ve always thought it best this way. I never wanted a lot of friends.

Now I do.

I want to learn about things that are beyond my daily circumference. I want an even greater diversity of opinion. I want to add to my trusted group people who took bold moves so they could live the lives they dreamed for themselves. There are friends out there just waiting to be discovered.

Someone has insight on a career path that could benefit someone they don’t even know. Someone has a perspective that I haven’t even considered. I might be the person who gives someone I haven’t met yet, hope. I may be the one who answers another’s enigma. I may hold a valuable piece of knowledge that could make a difference in someone’s life.

How would I know if I never went beyond my circle? If I never opened myself up to the possibilities?

Life is about relationships. It’s about the back and forth exchange of ideas and discoveries. It’s a quest for community, to be understood, to belong, to be loved. If we close ourselves off from relationships, we limit the fullness that these relationships can bring to our lives. We limit the growth that new relationships can bring.

It’s a big, lonely world at times. We need as much support meandering it as possible.

Illustration of a Diverse Group of Women

Outside of the family members who want to see us succeed, who’s invested in our wellbeing as much as a friend? Just as our families continue to grow, why would we then limit our friendships? There are plenty of good people out there, just like you and I. Are we meeting them?

Connecting with friends the way I always have, along similar paths, is a beautiful thing. Opening myself up to new voices and experiences will keep me growing. It’s what makes the world a much smaller, interconnected place.

Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold. Those Girl Scouts may have been on to something all along.



We Can Do Better, America!

By Samantha McKenzie

Everyday we see more and more media posts of people spewing hate or racist rhetoric. It’s become so common now that no one seems to be shocked. We are repulsed, but we aren’t really shocked.


Many of us have been on either side of this divisive talk. We are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. I choose the latter. I want to do something for my children. It scares me to think that they will have to grow up in America, one of the greatest countries in the world, and have to experience this type of unwarranted hatred. I want to do something for your children too.

It is taking a toll on us all. Let’s face it, we can no longer sit by in silence as this type of negativity chokes our nation. I still believe that we are all good people at the core. I certainly believe there’s still so much more work to be done.

Racism is America’s cancer. It has grown and taken over all parts of our collective body. It’s seen in the judicial system, the educational system and the political system. It’s no longer just what the KKK represents. It’s a part of the culture of everyday people…and national figures. It is America’s ugly secret that we no longer have to whisper about.The hate is being screamed aloud.


When I first moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., an anonymous call came into the newsroom one day. The person told me that there was a racist sign sitting in her neighborhood and then rattled off the address. When I arrived, with my camera in hand, there it was in plain sight. On the front porch of a single family ranch-style home sat a piece of plywood spray painted with the racial epithet, “No N*ggas Allowed.” This was my introduction to the South. The year was 1990.

Prejudice gives birth to discrimination, and with all the evidence available to us today, it still continues to infect our nation. It takes root in two ugly truths: we want to be superior and we are full of fear. To give it up, we would first have to relinquish the idea that we are better than others. Next, we would have to believe that there is enough of everything in this world to go around — enough homes, jobs, transportation, food, clothing and shelter…and certainly enough love. We can be equals and share in the goodness of what this world has to offer.

As a woman who hopes for a brighter future, I encourage all of us to participate in eradicating this disease. Challenge your own stereotypes. Challenge conversations without causing a disruption. Make a conscious decision to be a part of the change.

We can and should do better.

Never, Ever, Ever Give Up

Effort Equals Results

It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer. – Albert Einstein

By Dawn Onley

Get used to hearing the word “no.”

Get used to things not working out.

Listen to why, learn from it, and keep it moving. Don’t let “no” deter you. Try a different course of action, sure, but don’t fall apart when things get tough. Failing is a key component of success.

Never, Ever Give Up.

Like, ever. “It’s always the last key on the key ring that opens the door,” the ever sage Paulo Coelho writes in “Manuscript Found in Accra.” He was referring to love, but you can replace life for love and it works just as well.


I enjoy reading memoirs to understand the depths that people have survived and to learn the valleys from which they have traversed to become who they are. Most of us have heard “no” quite a few times. Many people stop right there. But successful people keep right on going. They submit yet another query to a publishing house. They go to another tryout. They interview for another job, or start their own business. They try another bank for a mortgage loan. They try a new approach.

Indomitable Will

There is something that happens with that type of indomitable spirit. Suddenly, doors open. Blessings rain down. Breakthroughs occur. Things that once seemed impossible become possible. Winning becomes contagious. Opportunities abound. You start walking in abundance. You meet the right people and forge great connections. Synchronicity happens at nearly every turn. God winks. You become fearless because when you know who you are and whose you are, what is there to really fear?

Yes leads to more yes!

Indomitable will

You begin walking in your gift. You are pulled by purpose. You begin making your time count. Trivial things and trivial people no longer matter. You are on a path that was destined just for you. Suddenly, you have guts that you never fully realized you had. You have courage and staying power.

You believe and so you achieve. As a woman thinketh.

Comfortable with No

And it’s all because of what you endured.

Harriet Tubman 2 Rosa Parks

To get to that place of divine serendipity, you have to become comfortable with no. You have to make peace with failure. You have to reconcile with second and third and fourth and fifth attempts. You have to be okay with looking like a fool, with people whom you love second-guessing you, or even talking about you behind your back.

You have to get so excited about the possibility of the thing that the threat of hearing no stops bothering you. You have to know, deep down inside, that every no brings you one step closer to YES!

JK Rowling

You have to know it’s your time. You have to be on a mission.

And you have to believe that there is not a “no” on this Earth, that can keep you from fulfilling your destiny — not now, not ever. Once you believe that, there isn’t.