How You Make Them Feel

By Samantha McKenzie

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Dr. Maya Angelou

One day, I walked into a local cafe for lunch and saw this excerpt written by the late Dr. Maya Angelou. It was mounted on the brick wall, nicely framed, about a foot away from some freshly baked cookies that competed for its attention.

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I read it over and over again, allowing the words to soak in and time to stand still on behalf of my starving soul. In hindsight, I realized that time was actually ticking away and hasty customers were maneuvering around me to get to the front of the line and onto their intended business.

As I waited my turn, I continued dissecting the short paragraph, realizing that the majority of the sentences began with the words, “I’ve learned.” What a privilege it is to learn something and to realize you still have a lot more to learn. It left a lingering message inside of me, just like the author once did.

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It forced me to ask the question. What impressions are we making on others? In the midst of our busy days, long commutes and chatter, are we leaving anything behind? Are we connecting with our fellow man? Are we sharing more pain than hugs? Are we learning anything worthwhile about someone who’s worth it?

Long after I vacated the cafe, I thought about this message, its impact, and the incredible wisdom. I wanted to take more time to congratulate others for their accomplishments. I wanted to press pause on the day and tell a friend how much her phone call meant to me or how the text she sent the other night left me both inspired and grateful. I want to give more hugs and make stronger, deeper memories. I wanted, like the author said, to be that kind of person who made you feel better, even after I’m long gone.

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My hope is for all of us…to make lasting impressions now and forever.

Those framed words.

Hung on the exposed brick wall.

Left me with a feeling.

I’ll never forget.

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Watch What You Water

“Weeds need to be pulled and removed from the garden or else they could choke the flowers to death. The same with life.” – Dawn Onley

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By Dawn Onley

If there’s one sure thing that I’ve learned in my 47 years of living, it’s this: Whatever we water will grow.

Obviously, it applies to vegetation and flowers, but it also applies to weeds. No one sets out to water weeds, at least not intentionally. Still, I’ll bet there are “weeds” in our lives that we are watering too much, like self-doubt, fear, worry, timidity, and insecurities. All of these weeds are hindering our growth. It’s time we uprooted them for good!

When we allow these weeds to grow wild, they can block us from experiencing the flowers.

Flowers are a metaphor for blessings, for beauty and love, for joy and contentment. Flowers represent our best lives. Weeds represent drama and stress and sadness and toxicity. Weeds symbolize people or things or situations. They are all around us and look for opportunities to infest our thoughts with negativity and our outlooks with despair. Weeds also symbolize our own thinking.

Sometimes it’s tough to avoid the weeds. They grow faster than we can rid our lives of them. They are in the disparaging remarks. They are in the situations that pop up overnight that cause us to fret and brood. They are in the people who suck out of our cups, who cause us to feel drained and depleted because of all that we give and all that they take. They are in the “I’m not good enough” messages that we tell ourselves over and over again until we believe them.

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Weeds permeate every square inch of land until they have overgrown any semblance of order and until they have hidden any sign of beauty. Weeds are neglected and through the neglect, they can create chaos, destroying stuff along their path.

We have to remain mindful at all times of the beauty in our lives. We have to take particular care and attention to water and prune the flowers. We need to cut back the weeds, although we need to learn the lessons that weeds bring us. Weeds are not all bad. Weeds help us to realize our triggers and to emerge victorious from the internal battles that rage and attempt to thwart our greatness. When we do, weeds help us to believe in who we are and what we have to offer this world. Weeds show us how tough we can be if we summon the courage to silence the demons. Weeds build something inside of us that can’t come any other way. Weeds grow, until we do, refusing to snuff out the perseverance that it helped create in us.

Weeds help us to appreciate the wildflowers that dare to grow, dare to resist and dare to cover the fields with an untamed beauty that is as regal as any rose.

California Wildflowers

 

Those Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

By Samantha McKenzie

Today, on Memorial Day, the entire nation will pause to honor men and women who died while serving in the United States armed forces.

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Many people will be visiting cemeteries to pay their respect to loved ones who gave their life in service to this country. Others will mark this special day by placing an American flag at the grave sites of the fallen. Millions of Americans will gather at cookouts to celebrate the joining together of family and friends.

memorialday12Memorial Day is said to have grown out of a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers. Prior to 1882, it was called Decoration Day. The practice was started by women. I imagine that they were regular women, like you and I, who grieved the loss of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons and wanted to honor their sacrifice. I’d like to think that they were women who hoped.

In all the American wars, dating from the American Revolution to the Gulf War (1775-1991), there have been 651,008 battle deaths and approximately 1.2 million deaths during service in war time. Today we honor them.

In between the many celebrations that will take place today, I encourage you to take the time to remember these fallen soldiers and the families they left behind. Take time during your cookouts to have a moment of silence. If you know anyone who’s a veteran, give them a call and thank them for their service as well.

Today, let’s pay homage to all those service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and as always, let’s continue to pray for peace.

Let’s Talk About Money

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By Dawn Onley

Each year around this time, I relish the beautiful photos flooding my social media accounts of the graduates – often posted by their proud parents. High school graduates. College graduates. All of these pictures make me smile. They have put in the work and they are reaping the just rewards for their efforts.

In the coming months, parents will scurry about making sure these newly minted adults have everything they need for their dorm room or first apartment. They will prepare them as much as possible for the freshman semester or the first day on the real job. Somewhere, in between all of the excitement, running around, angst and preparation, I hope parents will consider sitting their children down for a discussion on a topic that is vitally important to their future success – financial management.

Parents play a vital role in shaping how our children view money, how they handle credit, how they embrace saving and investing, how they prioritize, how they live, what insurance coverage they elect, etc.

We are in the perfect position to use our past failures and successes to teach our children some important lessons on the best ways to approach financial decisions. We should drive home the point as early as possible because money mistakes are costly. Decisions, or lack thereof, that are made in our late teens and 20s have a way of shaping our 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. Getting a great jump start is crucial to becoming financially adept and stable, starting a nest egg and laying the groundwork of a firm foundation from which to build.

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Parents should stress the importance of paying down student loans and credit cards – if they have both or either – quickly and diligently. We need to let our children know how important good credit is and the numerous ways they’ll be penalized for bad credit – from high interest rates to even job denial. We should advise them to start investing early for retirement and to put a set amount of money each paycheck into a savings account earmarked for emergencies. We need to promote the benefits of giving back – not just financially but with their time and talents.

They need to hear from us that good money management requires them to be responsible. This doesn’t mean they can’t go out to eat, buy nice clothes and have fun, it means that all of this needs to be in proportion to what they earn and that saving should always comes first. They need to know about the stock market and how it works. We need to preach less consumerism and more money in the bank.

As they grow up, our children pay attention to how we handle money, how we discuss money in their presence and how much/little we save. To be honest, they have probably already picked up some lessons from us – both good and bad — on whether we overextend, run away from our financial obligations, donate to charity, have a rainy day fund, live within our means, live on credit, borrow, lend, and/or invest, just to name a few examples. They have probably watched us during the moments when we seemed anxious, worried, or when we experienced tough financial times. If we say nothing, chances are greater that they will mimic some of our behavior, particularly the bad stuff.

Don’t fret. We should view this as a blessing in that we are able to give our kids the in-depth advice that we probably never received from our parents, but that could have benefited us greatly.

Start the conversation. You can do this by: 

  • Telling them about the benefits of setting a budget and keeping track of their expenses.
  • Helping them with delayed gratification. (e.g. tying their immediate goals like a new car, vacation or graduate school to short- and long-term savings accounts and not credit cards and loans).
  • Discouraging significant new debt (piggybacking from above) unless they have the savings to pay for it or to pay significantly on it to reduce financing charges and decrease their monthly bill.  
  • Promoting healthy money habits that are not only beneficial now in their early adulthood, but will later guide them through their child-rearing, mid-life, and seasoned working years.
  • Encouraging them to sacrifice a bit now so they won’t have to do as much sacrificing later.
  • Explaining the importance of building a legacy that can benefit their children and children’s children down the line. Let them know that this is how the affluent have done it and that it is possible for them to improve the trajectory of their lives if they display the same hard work and diligence with their finances that they displayed while going after their diploma or degree.
  • Informing them that money is not evil. Money buys options.

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For kids going off to college, it’s equally important for you parents to have the talk. Creditors have a way of seducing broke college students — eager to start taking on grown-up responsibilities — with sexy introductory offers that quickly balloon to insanely high interest rates. Get to them before these predatory credit card companies do. If you want them to start building their credit, help them find a credit card and negotiate the rate, even volunteer to help them manage it – to protect them from splurging.

Don’t stop there. Let them know early on about the health insurance you have them under – what it covers and how much you pay. They see the big annual tuition costs posted on the college Web site each year, but let them know what this translates to in monthly payments, after their grants, scholarships and loans are figured in.

Talk money to them now — no holds barred — to help them understand.

Sure, they’ll eventually figure it out if we don’t talk to them about finances. Yes, it would have been wise to start much earlier. But a frank discussion now may still help them avoid some pitfalls along the way. Plus it opens the dialogue to more money conversations in the future.

This is a good thing. We want our kids to be smart financially and to make good decisions.

They’ve graduated. You’ve celebrated. Now it’s time to have the talk.

 

Emotions: The Fine Arts of the Human Soul

By Samantha McKenzie

Emotions are a part of every human being. They are the fine arts of the human soul, the lighthouse that guides the ships to shore and the part of us that distinguishes the truth from the lie.

woman-praying_316x373_16We are women. We are beautiful complex human beings. This has both fascinated and perplexed mankind from the beginning of time. We’ve been described as enigmas by the ancient and sorcerers by the mystics. We’re even called crazy and told that we are from another planet.

But we are none of these things.

Truthfully, we are just the other gender that feels comfortable and quite natural expressing our emotions. Often. Almost always. Without any prelude. We just emote. We express our love as well as our anger, although we secretly yearn that the former significantly outweighs the latter.

We can care so deeply about everything and everyone, that when something hurts us or the ones we love, we display our feelings in very dramatic ways. Sometimes even in traumatic ways. But let’s face it, our emotions sometimes earn us a bad reputation. We’re in need of an emotional makeover.

There’s probably a host of reasons why, but for the sake of time, I’ll start with the obvious: stress. And lots of it. There’s been an acutely intense increase in the amount of pressure we have endured for the past 50 years. It’s almost unnatural. And while women are resilient, strong and incredible individuals, I don’t believe it was ever intended for us to carry so much upon our shoulders. Stress from work, home, family, community, responsibilities, you name it, the list is never ending. To further add to this crisis, we are also barraged with media intake and information overload. We are seduced by people’s lives – real or fake, we can be found watching, listening, absorbing, comparing and reflecting on the others. It’s left our emotions in a state in a frenzy.

We sound like we need a grown up timeout. The truth is our depth of emotions is what makes us so powerful and beautiful. When used for good, our emotions have given us access to our third eye and our gut feeling. When we are in tune with our emotional self we can sense danger, hurdle obstacles and ward off evil. We sense the sweeter things too, like sincerity and genuineness and goodness.emotions-fact-hope-life-quote-Favim.com-359875

It’s time we did an inventory of our emotions and refine our powers. Are we acting mad when we really are just sad and disappointed? Are we feigning happiness when we really are just indifferent? Are we melancholy more often than not? Is the hurt lasting longer than it used to? Are we still closed off to love? Are we hypersensitive? Scared?…Are we?

Let’s begin a rebranding of our emotions. How about we use hurt and disappointment as teaching tools instead of crutches. Try trading in pangs of jealousy with positive self-affirmations. Let’s agree to retool that powerful part of us. I’m all for letting go and enjoying my emotions that reflect cheer, and joy and laughter.

Let’s choose to master maturity and plug into the new and improved, slightly favorable and definitely more attractive you. Good luck!

Ready, Set, Fly!

“Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.” – Nelson DeMille

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By Dawn Onley

If you are sitting at home or at your desk worrying about how things will work out, stop.

Try not to waste one more second in this stressed out state. Refuse to let whatever it is rob you of your present and future states of being. Worrying never solves anything. It just leads to more worry. Trust that things will work out. Really believe it, take a deep breath, and let it go. Whatever it is.

Instead, use the time to center yourself and pray. Use the time reciting positive affirmations, believing that things will get better. Then, direct your actions accordingly.

That’s it. It can’t get any simpler than that, can it?

Even if we’re not ready to let go of the angst. Even if we have doubts. Even if we think the deadline has elapsed on our dreams and that there’s no way possible, at our age, with our responsibilities, in our circumstances, that the dream can still come to pass, I’m here to tell you that it can. Dreams are like eggs that are still waiting for the right conditions and the right moment to hatch. It’s waiting for you to sit on it and give it warmth and let it know that it’s safe and it’s time. It’s waiting on you to whisper that the incubation period is over. It knows it, but it’s waiting on you and me. It’s waiting to be born. It’s waiting to develop wings and it’s waiting to fly.

What are we waiting for?

Oftentimes, it’s when we’re not prepped and ready and “on” when we need to make our next move. It’s when we have no idea what lies on the other side of the mountain, or up the road, or just beyond the bend. It’s when we’re scared of flying without a safety net not knowing that net is God’s hand holding us, we just can’t see it.

It’s often when things are going good that the internal voice tells us it’s time. Admittedly, it can feel confusing because, after all, things are going good so why mess up a known thing? A sure thing? For the unknown?

Because it’s time. Because, if you have a dream festering inside of you, it won’t let you be until you answer it. Because, this is the thing you were born to do.

Soar.

 

When Charity Comes from the Heart

By Samantha McKenzie

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”  Winston Churchill

There’s nothing more noble than giving to those in need. Every major religion, educational institute and non-profit organization would agree, that their work grows out of the spirit of a charitable person. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a helpful hand, you’ll also bear witness that giving is a necessary component to living and that charity is best when it comes from the heart.

Image result for give from the heartGiving is a part of human nature and it shows up in many different forms. We often refer to charity when we think of monetary gifts or providing financial assistance. When we contribute our time to a cause or donate some type of material object, we are participating in charity as well. It all adds up to the same amount.

We admire philanthropists and notable people because their charitable gestures usually make the headline news. I marvel at generous people like Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres, when they give super neat gifts to guests on their shows or the people seated in their audiences. I know for a fact that I’m overly excited when I see stories online about celebrity donations – like when the LeBron James Foundation donated $41 million to send students to college and when Colin Kaepernick gave $50,000 to Meals on Wheels and pledged to give $1 million to various organizations. Then there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has given away $28 billion to charities, $8 billion of which went to improving global health.

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I’m equally excited when I hear about regular people, people like you and me, who volunteer in their community or a local school. I work in Student Affairs at a university and I know for a fact that many of my colleagues have clothed, fed and paid for books and expenses, just to see some of these young people make it to the next semester.

I have always been in love with giving. I grew up in a family of people who gave willingly to others. I was surrounded by church members and neighbors who practiced it on a regular basis. No one moaned about helping. In fact, we responded to a need like we were called to a mission. My cup of joy always felt like it was running over. The act of helping seeped itself all the way down into my bones and became a permanent resident in my life. I remember the clothing drives and the car washes, the bake sales and the community extravaganzas – all the small ways we worked collectively to help raise money for someone in need. Image result for tutoring in classroom

 

Through the years, I’ve met countless families who lost everything in a fire or whose child was suffering with a terminal illness. I have met students who just needed a little extra tutoring after school or a warm plate of food and maybe a long hug. Their stories drove us into action, but it was the feeling of goodness that lingered on behind. It was on those days that I felt closest to humanity. It was on those days I felt acutely a part of the universe. It was on those days I felt the true and living God.

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Giving from the heart is not about size or quantity. It is a selfless act that requires you to sacrifice something for the sake of another. It is a blessing to you, just as much as it is a blessing for others.

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If you have the ability to write a big check that can help a great cause, then do so. If you have free time on your hand, try providing a service in your local community. If you have a special talent, then share it with those who can’t afford it. Give of your time, your treasures and your talents to those who need it the most.

My daughter’s friend visited the house on Sunday. He was a young man she went to high school with. After a brief conversation, I asked him about his intentions on going to college (a routine conversation I have with people of all ages). He stuttered for a little bit. (My daughter later reminded me that I asked him the same question a few years back). After a bit of hesitancy, he told me that he had some things to work out but he still wanted to go. I believed him, although I knew he had a few obstacles to overcome. I told him I would pay for his SAT test and application fee when he was ready. I’ll even take him on a college tour. There were no cameras around. I wasn’t required to write a hefty check. I gave what I had and I gave it from the bottom of my heart.

Give your heart to something, as often as you can.

“There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, from Pearl Harbor movie