The Blessing in Struggle

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

Theres power in struggle

By Dawn Onley

When I was younger, I use to cringe during testimony time in church.

In the Black church, this was the time when the preacher would ask if anyone had a testimony they’d like to give about how good God had been to them, how faithful He was to His word. If no one immediately stood up, the preacher would prod a bit more aggressively: “God has been too good for you not to give him the praise! Surely, someone has a testimony that they’d like to share about how God brought you out of something…”

Inevitably, someone would stand and offer up a story about how they had been down on their luck, but God delivered them from eviction or drug abuse or teenage pregnancy or sinful living. Once the first person started, that testimony would be followed up by a few others.

I didn’t understand why people would openly share such deeply personal stories of heartache and pain with people that they didn’t intimately know. Many of these stories had a happy ending, or at the very least a promising one, but the triumphs came after we sat through sometimes excruciating details of tragedy, abuse, costly mistakes and misjudgments.

These days, I have a better understanding of the power of testimonies – when they come freely and are not forced — and I have witnessed how they seem to lighten the load of those giving the testimonies and provide reassurances to those hearing them.

I also think my initial discomfort had something to do with my relationship with struggle.

For years, I thought struggle was something for which to be ashamed. I couldn’t fathom exposing my vulnerabilities in somebody’s pulpit under the glare of people’s eyes, and perceived judgments. Hell, I barely wanted to face them, myself.

Now I realize that struggle makes us tough. Struggle helps strengthen our endurance and resolve. Struggle is an important part of the process.

There is an allegorical story that helps crystalize the importance of struggle. It goes like this:

A man found the cocoon of an emperor moth and took it home to watch the moth emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point. Deciding that something was wrong, the man cut the remaining bit of cocoon with scissors. The moth then emerged easily—its body large and swollen, its wings small and shriveled.

The man continued to watch, expecting that in a few hours, the wings would spread out into their large natural beauty. That didn’t happen. The moth spent its entire life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never did fly.

Emperor Moth

The man consulted a biologist to discover what had happened to the moth. He learned that the constricting cocoon and struggle are both normal and necessary. The struggle actually causes fluid from the moth’s body to move into its wings, reducing the size of the body and making the wings strong and larger.

In the story, the man who attempted to do good by helping the moth, actually hurt it. The moth gained its wingspan through its struggle.

Struggle is a vital part of our growth. It builds strength and character. It teaches us vital life lessons. It teaches us patience. It can help us become more empathetic to others. We become wiser as a result. It makes us appreciate success even more.

Struggle is never pleasant while we are going through it, but it is necessary to build the people that you and I are today.

If you’re struggling with something right now, try to make peace with it. And know that, as the gospel songwriter and singer James Bignon sings, there’s often a blessing “on the other side of through.”

 

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The Places That Have Nourished Me

By Samantha McKenzie

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like the many places you’ve lived that have helped nurture you along the way.

Born in Nassau, Bahamas to Guyanese parents, I moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. when I was three years old. I didn’t leave my borough until I decided to attend Norfolk State University, in Norfolk, Va. After graduation, I headed to Washington, D.C. and worked at a small weekly newspaper. I left there and went back to New York before moving to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Then I traveled to Fort Worth, TX, to continue my work as a journalist. Longing for the draw of the East Coast, I set up shop in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a year later, I moved to Greensboro, N.C. where I lived and raised my children for more than 20 years.

This month, I moved to Raleigh, N.C. – a move that drastically reduced my commute to work. Since then, I’ve spent the past 23 days plotting out my future, reflecting on where I’ve been and the meaningful people I have met in various cities. These are the people and places that have nurtured me.

The many places I have called home. The places that have taught me much.

I pay homage to my place of birth – the place that opened its arms to my arrival. Beautiful, warm, with crystal clear blue-green waters, its strong winds are all still a part who I am.

I bow to the borough that cradled me – the place the took me under its wing and taught sharp lessons that shaped me into the person I am today. It made me smarter, tougher, and hip to the ways of a tricky world. Full of soul and culture, I came face to face with people from all over the world there.

I learned so much more about myself outside the comforts of home though.

I learned the value of an education in Norfolk. It taught me that education was the great equalizer, a passport of some sort that opened doors and prepared me for opportunities that lurked around the corner.

I learned to hustle with southern hospitality and my NY wit in Washington, D.C. I learned about dirty politics and politicians who lied in a way I had never heard before. I soaked in American history at the museums, sat on the National Mall and marveled at its beauty and got giddy each and every time the President’s motorcade zipped through the capitol streets.

I learned about coal miners and lawsuits in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I saw white poverty and uncovered a new kind of struggle – the struggle of hard working people who wore pain quietly on their faces, surrounded by vacation resorts and developers who continued to eat up their so-called land.

I learned about real wealth in Texas, met billionaires who wore cowboy boots to banquets and saw farmland and oil wells that stretched beyond my imagination. They really did it big there. They had no other choice. It was a part of who they were. “This is God’s country,” I heard one Texan say and we were the other 49 states.

I met the kindest people in North Carolina. The kind of people who served you sweet tea and believed in everything good about family. I learned about the inside scoop on civil rights and racism here, rubbed shoulders with many firsts: the first African-American State Supreme Court Justice, the first to sit down at the lunch counter sit ins, the first to take advantage of redistricting to swing the votes in their favor. I saw my first racial slur spray painted on a piece of plywood that sat boldly on the front porch of a Winston-Salem home. It read “No Niggas Allowed.”

I embraced it all — the good, the bad and the ugly — and wouldn’t change any part of the places that helped nurture my soul.

These cities, laden with the most interesting types of people, helped peel the scales from over my eyes and removed the veil. I grew up in these places, willingly or unwillingly. These places defined my character, etching out the kind of person I was going to be.

Be proud of the places you have lived and your upbringing. Learn to appreciate your experiences, the places you’ve visited and the knowledge you’ve gathered up along the way. God puts you in places that you need, and that need you.

I wouldn’t change it for the world. Until my feet take me somewhere else, I’m going to enjoy learning more and seeking out what this city has to offer.

 

 

 

 

You Will Find What You Seek

You will find what you seek

By Dawn Onley

“For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

Whatever you think of yourself becomes a self-fulfilling truth.

Whatever you are searching for, you will find. Peace. Contentment. Happiness. Joy. Love. Whatever it is, the Bible says ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Buddhists believe whatever you are looking at is a projection of your own mind.

We see things through our way of thinking. Sometimes not as they are, but as we think they are. If we see the world as a cold, miserable place, it will be. If we see more good than bad, that’s what we will find. Our minds have the power to create and destroy. We can draw things to us — good and bad — by tapping into that power.

What we expect, we create.

So if you are not pleased with the outcomes you have been getting, you may want to challenge your thoughts and ask yourself what you are seeking.

Beautiful, Inspiring, Amazing Women are Everywhere

By Samantha McKenzie

Women who hope are all around us. Screenshot_20170208-115854.jpgOur world is filled with beautiful, inspiring, courageous and powerful women who embrace each day with renewed hope. They are next to us in the church pews, in the adjacent cubicle at work, in grocery lines waiting their turn and even in our living rooms.

We are everywhere. We yearn on this world’s behalf and work tirelessly for a better tomorrow. Some hope through our steady silence and others scream it aloud.

We see them every day transforming their hope into action.Image result for hardworking women

We open small businesses. We protest on picket lines.

We swing the gavel in court rooms. We protect our communities with badges and sit on PTA boards.

We work in factories. We teach in classrooms. We organize the missionary work.

We run for political office and win. We are prime ministers, presidents and sit on the city council.

screenshot_20170208-120038We go back to college. We work overtime.

We plan programs to help the less fortunate. We survive cancer and walk 5Ks to raise awareness.

We raise our grandchildren. And we still give birth.

We stay up late, get up early, gain weight, lose weight, have sore feet, get wrinkled hands, talk a lot, suffer in silence, laugh shamelessly, cry often, but pray even more.

These terrific souls believe in the greatness within us all.

We hold the entire twisted world together because we can. And we will.

To all these hopeful women around the globe, we say thank you.

Thank the next woman standing near by you.

Letting Go and Changing Course

 

Kinda sorta

 

By Dawn Onley

Have you ever had something in life that just wasn’t working for you anymore?

It doesn’t matter what it is — a relationship, a job, a belief, an exercise regimen, whatever – the point is, if it’s no longer working, why are you still clinging onto it?

Heck, it may have never worked. Yet, month after month, here you are hanging on, as if it’s still better to hold out hope rather than chalk up your losses and go in another direction.

I’m all about hope. In fact, I co-write this blog dedicated to women like us, who hope. My optimistic brain usually leans to the possibility of a thing working out.

But I’m also a realist. Sometimes you need to know when to hope and other times you need to learn when to let go. Just like the Kenny Rogers song “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…”

When you have the persistent feeling that things will not work out, that things will not get better, that your heart is not into this, or that you need to try another approach, don’t wait. Do it. Hope was never meant to pacify us or keep us holding on, uninspired, in a state of lethargy.

diving

Don’t be afraid to change course. I’m writing these words to myself as clearly as I’m writing them to you. We can test the winds and adjust our sails. We can learn from our mistakes and from our experiences – good and bad. We can strive for better.

Let’s start today, planning our way ahead. Let’s become who we were always meant to be.

“Sometimes the place you’re used to is not the place you belong.” — Queen of Katwe

Faith: The Grain of a Mustard Seed

By Samantha McKenzie

“Faith  is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

I used to carry around a mustard seed in my purse many years ago. I wrapped it in a small tissue and tucked it away in the slit of my wallet. Every time I reached for some cash, I’d see it there in the corner. It was my way of reminding myself to keep my focus and to hold on to my faith.

mustard seedJesus could have used anything to describe this principle of faith. But instead, he chose to use one of the tiniest things to illustrate a grand message: If we would just have faith, the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains.

A mustard seed. It starts out small but grows into something greater. It has the potential to expand, just as we do.

hoeeFaith and hope and belief – all words that call on us to have conviction and patience to see the fruits of our labor materialize. Puzzles, like life, appear in pieces. Faith is about taking small steps without seeing what’s ahead. It’s about trusting in something, even when we can’t see the whole picture. Faith is a promise that each small feat can lead to greater things. And that faith, like a mustard seed, grows with each effort we take towards it.

“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Blaise PascalRelated image

I eventually lost that old wallet and the mustard seed that I carried in it. But I learned to live without the symbolism that it represented. And I never forgot this:

“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”  Matthew 17:20

Today , I renew my faith and trust that each obstacle that I face will be removed. That even though I worry about this and that, God has already made a way. My job is to believe and to just walk into it with my mustard seed.

 

 

‘Might as well be us’

 dream-catcher

By Dawn Onley

It might as well be me. It might as well be you.

Reaching for the top. Climbing the stairway of success. Panting and sweating and just about ready to give up, but holding on defiantly.

Someone will reach their dream. Or achieve a higher level of satisfaction. Someone will make it happen against the odds. Someone will reenroll in college in their 40s. Someone will set up shop and begin selling their original designs. Someone will invent the latest, greatest app. Someone we haven’t even heard of yet will write a bestseller or explore their musical and artistic genius. Someone will make an important discovery that will advance medicine and possibly cure diseases. Someone will break a record. Someone will win the race. Someone will overcome something that someone else couldn’t.

Someone will buy their first home. Someone will get pregnant with a world of hope. Someone will start to see the vision. Someone will make a connection that will lead to something life-changing. Someone will find out what they are made of. Someone will follow their intuition. Someone will pray. Someone will reconnect with a family member or friend. Someone will reach back and pull someone else up. Someone will mentor a child. Someone will ask “WHY NOT ME?” Someone will turn a negative into a positive. Someone will do something they never dreamed possible.

Someone.

Might as well be me. And you.

what-he-wants