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Find PEACE during Challenges

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Photo Credit: Unsplash

By Dr. Clementine Msengi

The first six months of 2020 all too clearly demonstrated that challenges are an inevitable part of life. However, while we can’t always be prepared for adversity, we can build attitudes and skills that help us develop resilience.

W. Ian O’Byrne teaches literacy and technology at the College of Charleston and is a former Research Fellow at the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut. He states that “One way to understand the development of resilience is to visualize a balancing scale or seesaw. Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Resilience is evident when health and development tip [the scale] toward positive outcomes. This is true even as stress and other adverse factors stack up on the negative side.”    

Facing difficulties with resiliency and a proven strategy can  often mean the difference between growth and stagnation. As I was fleeing for my life during the Rwandan genocide, I was often forced to make life-and-death decisions quickly. Developing a simple matrix that helped me make decisions was imperative. 

The five steps below can help individuals, groups, and organizations face challenges with confidence and find PEACE in the process.

P: Pause and reflect.

Margaret J. Wheatley, Ed. D., a management consultant who studies organizational behavior, states, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Reflection reveals what we are doing well and where we need to make changes. According to Proactive Behavior: Meaning, Impact, Recommendations, “To be proactive is to change things in an intended direction for the better.” For instance, while I was living in refugee camps, I learned that when I expressed a need to someone in authority, they often tried to help me. Reflecting on this taught me that I was not powerless, and I began to advocate for myself and others. Because I recognized the power of proactivity, I was reunited with two of my sisters.

Reflection gives us the opportunity to evaluates our challenges, their root causes and contributing factors: for instance, poor planning, lack of preparedness, ineffective approaches, lack of experience, limited resources, gaps in knowledge, systemic bias, and other factors. Reflection helps provide tools to diagnoseassess, and address our priorities, processes, and even our values. For instance, what resources are at our disposal? What processes have been most effective in the past? Do we have a clear understanding of the source of the problem and contributing factors?

E: Examine options.

British author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek states the value of examining options this way: “Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see available options.” 

I found this to be true as I fled for my life in Rwanda. I constantly faced what seemed to be impossible chances for survival. Yet, my acceptance of danger made it possible for me to make rational decisions and take courageous steps. I walked undetected through an enemy checkpoint. I laid motionless for days on the rooftop of a building occupied by Hutu militants seeking to kill me. I made these choices after careful deliberation, determining that they were my best hope for survival.

It’s only after we examine our options that we can choose our best course of action. We must evaluate pros and cons based on available data. We must take time to consider multiple solutions.

As we walk through this process, we must embrace change, which is an inevitable part of life. Accepting change alleviates fear, creates anticipation, and allows us to prepare for the future and make contingency plans. 

A: Activate a well thought-out plan.

“For tomorrow belongs to the people who plan for it today.”
–African proverb

Methodically determine a plan of action, based on factors you can evaluate and control. Formulate goals, action steps, and assessment tools. Implement the steps of your plan, and be prepared to adjust as the situation changes and prepare for contingencies

C: Connect with support networks, create new partnerships, and create contacts.

One of the most vital tools we we rely upon when we face conflict is our support network. People and organizations can offer us needed resources, experience, counsel, perspective and insight, and compassion. 

If you have not developed a support network and key partnerships, it’s vital to do so. It’s also important to continually be making new contacts.

Connecting with networks, creating new partnerships, and collaboration help propel us toward the future. No one lives successfully in this world as an island. Connection and collaboration promote creativity and new solutions. Henry Ford said it well: “Coming together is a beginning. staying together is progress, and working together is success.” 

E: Evaluate by monitoring progress. 

Monitoring progress is essential. Benjamin Franklin stated, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Remember, your goal is continual movement toward your vision as you learn how to identify areas of needed improvement, hone your methods of facing challenge and conflict, and continue to target success, which can be a moving goal. 

The way we deal with challenges reflects our personalities, belief systems, priorities, and life purpose. We learn best when take time to evaluate multiple solutions.

 As you walk through this process, embrace change as an expected and necessary part of life. 

For more information on finding inner peace, check my recent blog.

Success and peace,

Dr. Clem 

Finding Peace

Photo Credit: Pixaby

During the month of December, the word peace saturated our world. We heard it in the lyrics of holiday music, Christmas messages, seasonal services, community celebrations, and read it in the greetings on our cards.

Peace on earth.

But what does it mean to “find” peace?

The Oxford Online Dictionary defines peace as “freedom from disturbance; tranquility.” This definition can refer to an inner state of being or a description of our relationship with the world around us. Practically speaking, inner peace is always tied to issues of our daily life and the way we navigate those issues.

How does someone “find” freedom from inner disturbance and tranquility? Psalm 34:14 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” Romans 8:6 tells us “…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” The interesting thing about these verses in the Bible (and others) is that they describe peace as something that is the result of an active process. One of those processes is described as pursuing peace. Another process is described as controlling our mind.

Finding peace amid life changes has characterized my life.  In my journey of pursuing peace, I applied the following key principles:

Treat people as you want to be treated, and as much as possible, live peacefully with others.

Think the best of people. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Treat others with dignity and respect. Offer hospitality. Be generous. Listen and learn—especially from those who come from different cultures and backgrounds.  Sometimes different cultural perceptions can lead to misinterpretation and miscommunication. 

How do these practices help us find peace? When we treat people as we wish to be treated—with dignity and love—we often gain their respect, as well as a listening ear. Treating people well also frees us from bitterness and anger.

Listen for God’s voice.

No matter what circumstances may look like, you are not alone. Circumstances typically tell us that we should give up and people will always let us down. But even when our inner voice tells us otherwise, we can count on God.

When seeking peace from God, I often ask, “What is God asking me to do?”

I’ve learned from experience to begin looking for answers in His Word. God always supplies the wisdom we need for any task He asks us to do. What does His Word say about this topic? What is He saying to me when I pray? Ask Him for wisdom about what to do, then trust Him to help you move forward.

Live with gratitude.

When has God provided for you in special ways? How has He blessed you? Describe times when He’s intervened on your behalf in miraculous or out-of-the-ordinary ways. Never cease to be overwhelmed by all God has done for you.

Possessing gratitude doesn’t mean having a “thank you” on our lips when we receive something. Living with gratitude means that we live with a profound sense of thankfulness for all God has done for us. This gratitude drives what we do for others and the daily choices we make. For instance, a person who lives with gratitude will be generous and others-centered because of the enormous debt of love they feel toward God. Those who live with gratitude feel compelled to love, sacrifice, and serve.

One of my favorite family songs when I was growing up was a hymn titled, Count your Blessings.” This hymn was titled “Bara Iyo Migisha  Nonaha” in Kinyarwanda. Each time I sang this song it reminded me to take a deep breath and offer God gratitude for what He had already done. This gave me peace, knowing His blessings were still available to me. You can listen to the hymn by clicking on the link below.

Freely offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation.

When we understand that many things in life are beyond our control, we begin to release our grip. This often brings comforting peace. We no longer must strive to control our world. The Serenity Prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr states the process this way: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Live in the moment.

Learn to be content and make every effort to invest your life “where your feet are placed.” Investing in life means maximizing present opportunities because we understand that we are stewards of the present. Investing in the present helps create the best possible future as we make wise decisions and live according to a guiding, godly worldview. Living in the moment requires an appreciation for all we’ve been blessed with in the past applied to the decisions we make in the present to provide blessing for ourselves and those around us in the future.

Minimize things, people, activities and exposure to environments that are “peace killers” in your life

This requires reflection and self-assessment in order to identify what steals our peace. Sometimes our actions, words, thoughts and behaviors steal our peace.

  • What words, thoughts, and behaviors (yours) undermine your peace? Why? What do you think is a step toward positive change?
  • Do you need to limit your interactions with certain people, environments, technology, things or with the media because they steal your peace? Which ones and why?
  • Do you need to positively reframe your self-talk? In what areas?
  • Do you need to treat others with greater respect? Who? Why?
  •  Do you need to create healthy relationship boundaries for yourself? With whom? Why?
  • Do you need to create healthy work boundaries for yourself? Why?
  • What things do you do and say that disrupt peace for others? Evaluate why and the steps you need to take to change this.   
  • What you can do to change yourself and remove self-imposed barriers to your peace. We don’t need to engage in every argument, every discussion, every activity if they are robbing our peace.

Create an Inner Peace Plan

  1. Set limits. This may mean office hours, quiet times and bedtimes for your children, or limiting the ways your clients can contact you. You do not and should not be available to everyone in your life whenever they choose. Set limits on the number of things you will be involved in. Just because you can do something does not mean you should do something. Guard your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
  • Learn to breathe. Literally. Deep breathing exercises can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and help re-focus the mind. You can find techniques HERE.
  • Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t make mountains out of molehills, and don’t invest emotional energy in nonessentials. Let go of grudges, purge negative attitudes, eliminate draining relationships and behaviors. Focus on healthy attitudes and behaviors that keep you moving ahead.
  • Slow down. Unclutter your world and your mind. Streamline your commitments in order to create margin in your life. Plan ahead so you can arrive early and prepared.
  • Spend time with God in prayer and His Word. Nothing can replace time meditating on God’s Word, praying, and seeking His wisdom regarding your priorities and plans. He alone is in control, and you can trust you’re Him to lead your steps.
  • Engage in peace-promoting activities. Take time to get away alone, spend focused time with loved ones, and purposefully participate in things that help you find needed inner peace.

As I incorporated these and other principles in my life, I found increased inner peace. This deepened my relationship with God and drew me closer to those I love.

What has helped you find inner peace? What has or has not worked for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Peace and Health,

Dr. Clem

Belonging Matters

We’ve all experienced times when we felt we didn’t belong. That feeling can range from uncomfortable to excruciating. The human need to belong and form relationships refers to our need to associate with, be accepted by, supported by, and known by a group. We feel this need in many areas of life: our profession, family, school, on teams, among friends, and in our churches. The need to belong is a natural and universal need. We all want to be heard, loved, and cared for.

God, who has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Spirit, created humans in His image. As God’s image bearers, we long for the sense of belonging that exists in the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This need to belong is wired into our DNA and plays a critical role in our overall wellness. When we feel that we don’t belong, we may experience emotional, psychological distress and isolation.

Belonging influences motivation and behavior.

The desire to belong motivates us. This motivation can be both positive and negative. For instance, a longing to belong to a group may motivate us to conform to norms and relate positively to others. However, when our desire to belong is out of balance, we may conform to the point of compromising our values or identity.

We can also over-emphasize comparing ourselves to others in a group. This can create self-doubt and self-criticism. However, comparing ourselves can also be a positive motivator and initiate self-reflection and personal growth.

We are wired for relationships.

A sense of belonging increases happiness and reduces isolation. Belonging instills a sense of safety, where people feel they can be heard, understood, and known. Belonging encourages creativity and problem-solving because people in healthy relationships thrive. A sense of belonging promotes avenues for fellowship, service, learning, and stimulates personal and professional growth.  

In the fellowship of belonging, we cultivate and restore our sense of humanity. A healthy sense of belonging impels us to seek out healthy relationships. It motivates us to participate in clubs, teams, community service, and faith-based activities. Community is cultivated upon the foundation of belonging. This is because we are spiritual beings, and our need for love and acceptance lie at the core of our being.

Build a sense of belonging.

  1. Building a sense of belonging requires personal investment. Look for people with similar interests or aspects of life (children, marital status, vocation, etc.). Take a class or join a Bible study. Join a yoga or swimming class. Enroll in a college course or seek out specialized training.
  2. Work on accepting others. Get to know people who are different from you. Serve in an inner city ministry. Visit nursing homes and shut-ins. Participate in a prison/jail ministry. ‘Adopt’ a widow or single mother. Volunteer at a hospital, school, or community outreach.
  3. Focus on serving. It’s always possible to find someone to serve. Offer respite breaks to a caregiving parent or spouse. Offer free child care to a single parent. Become a mentor. Teach your special gifts/talents to someone who would appreciate learning.
  4. Take time for self-assessment. What do you enjoy? What kind of people do you enjoy being around? What special abilities do you have? What groups interest you? Pray and ask God to direct you to an area of need.
  5. Seek out churches, community activities, and ministries that create a sense of belonging.
  6. Be open to change. Ask friends and family who know and love you where you might fit and how you can best reach out to others.
  7. Evaluate your effectiveness at helping others feel that they belong. What qualities do you possess that create a sense of belonging in others? Where could you improve?

Tips for Churches and Organizations

  • Foster an environment of service. Organize groups that offer practical help to widows, single mothers, the sick or injured, caregivers, people who are moving or need transitional housing or home maintenance. Wherever there are people, we find needs.
  • Teach your team to communicate compassion and grace. Train greeters, teachers, staff, and personnel in your church/organization how to nurture an environment of belonging. Training should be ongoing and be modeled by leaders who lovingly and graciously instill a sense of acceptance and care for others.
  • Teach your people to put themselves aside and reach out. Offer opportunities for service as part of membership training. Incorporate media clips that teach about and show your people reaching out to others and thriving in groups. Model compassion and soul care in leadership.
  • Know and pray over the needs of your members. Involve your church or organization in prayer chains and ongoing posting of prayer needs.
  • Walk alongside people. Create a sense of safety by living out a culture of transparency, welcome, and grace.  
  • Inventory the groups in your organization and evaluate how their need for belonging is being met: married, divorced, single, widowed, chronically ill, caregivers, parents, those without children, students, etc.
  • Become knowledgeable about barriers to belonging: health challenges, power imbalance, discrimination, shame, loneliness, emotional wounds, and lack of social attunement, socioeconomic and cultural factors, to name a few. Seek out training from experts about how to meet these people where they are.
  • Create environments for people to fulfill the “one another” commands of fellowship, confession, repentance, encouragement, forgiveness, friendship, and walking together in love: small groups, accountability, breaking bread together, prayer groups, hosting others, service groups, etc.

What about you? I’d love to hear how the need to belong has influenced your personal or professional growth.

What does your organization do to foster a culture of belonging? I’d also welcome your story of helping someone else gain a sense of belonging.

Peace and hope,

Dr. Clem

Caring for Caregivers

Category : Uncategorized

Family caregiving today takes many forms. Most of us are familiar with families who care for aging and elderly loved ones. But today’s family caregivers (often unpaid for their services) also care for relatives, friends, foster children, or loved ones who often have physical or mental disabilities. This includes parents with disabled children, grandparents raising grandchildren, friends assisting friends with chronic illness or disabilities, or friends co-caring for loved ones with a terminal diagnosis.

According to public policy, one in six Americans is considered a “family caregiver,” or someone who provides unpaid care for a family member. In a recent survey given by the Family Caregiver Alliance, 80% of adults over 50 reported being involved in a parent’s care currently or in the past. Today, over 435-million-unpaid-adult-caregivers-2018-07-20Americans are family caregivers.

The Slippery Slope: Ignoring Self Care

“Caregivers tend to be a special personality type: big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well-intentioned — people who are motivated by and take a deep satisfaction in doing right by their loved one,” says geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But that’s often to the exclusion of taking care of themselves.” 

Many caregivers slide down a slippery slope of neglect for their own needs as time goes on. They become inoculated to lack of sleep, routine stress, inconvenience, worry, and physical demands. 

Caregiver Burnout

According to the 2012 Stress in America Report by the American Psychological Association, caregivers rank among the three most-stressed groups in the country. A term often associated with this stress is caregiver burnout, mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that sometimes develops because of the responsibilities that are taken when supporting and caring for another individual. Caregivers often become so absorbed in the responsibilities of their loved one that they lose focus on caring for themselves.

Burnout Symptoms

How does a caregiver know when they’re experiencing burnout? Consider these questions:

  • You no longer enjoy doing things that used to give you pleasure.
  • Friends and family have expressed concerns about your mental or physical health.
  • You aren’t doing as well at work as you were previously.
  • You’re having problems with family members.
  • You’re experiencing recurring intense feelings of anger, fear, worry, or sadness.
  • You have a hard time concentrating.
  • You’re having trouble sleeping; you’ve gained or lost significant weight; or you’re experiencing other unexplained health problems.
  • You’re using a substance or other negative coping mechanism to cope with or suppress negative feelings.

Caregiver Self Assessment

Taking the Caregiver Self Assessment Questionnaire can be a first step for caregivers who feel overwhelmed. This simple 18 question assessment was originally developed and tested by the American Medical Association. It helps caretakers evaluate their behaviors and health risks and make decisions that are good for both themselves and their loved ones.

Tips for Self-Care

  • Practice self-compassion. Give yourself credit for taking responsibility for the challenging work of caregiving. Reject harsh self-criticism and step away a few minutes a day to take care of yourself. Practicing self-care makes you a more balance, compassionate, and effective caregiver.
  • Include relaxation techniques in your schedule. Learn simple breathing exercises. Practice yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, deep relaxation, or meditation.
  • Eat well and get quality sleep. Eat a balanced diet of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Limit your intake of sugar and caffeine. Creating a regular 15-30 minute routine before going to bed can help you relax and sleep more restfully.
  • Stay socially connected. Join a caregiving support group. Find groups that support your interests, such as book clubs, card clubs, travel organizations, or attend a church or synagogue. Attend dances, concerts, plays, movies, art exhibits, and markets. Or find an exercise or fitness group.

Assistance Options

Many caregivers feel compelled to provide care themselves. But help is available in various forms and can be used at various stages of need. Caregivers need to resist the idea of “going it alone” and work to create a caregiving support network. The following assistance options are available.

Companion Care. An elder companion helps with cooking, light housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, and running errands. Most importantly, they offer companionship and eyes-on contact with your loved one.  There are many sources for companion care, from volunteers and neighbors to professionals hired through agencies. One good resource is’s In Home Care Directory. Medicaid or a similar state program may help pay some of the costs of respite care from a licensed provider for those who have low incomes and few assets. Private pay will range from $10/hour up.

Personal Care Assistants. In addition to the tasks that elder companions provide, personal care assistants assist with bathing, toileting, dressing, and grooming. They can give medications and help people with disability limitations (if they have the proper training) but do not assist with diabetic care or other medical needs. Cost will range from $15-$40 per hour and daily rates for live-in care.

Adult Day Care. Assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, churches, and nursing homes are among the organizations that provide day care services. Adult day care can provide exercise, health monitoring, meals, social activities, and often transportation and other services. The safe, supervised adult day care environment provides respite for caregivers. Some communities provide tax dollars to offset costs. Many accept Medicaid or sliding-scale payment. Always look for a licensed provider, whose costs can range from $24/day to $150/day.

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to ask for a referral.

Assisted Living Respite Care. Many assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement homes, and nursing homes provide respite care for older adults who need assistance. Time frames are flexible: from a few days to a few months. Many facilities offer hourly, half-day, full-day, overnight, or extended respite stays. Costs average $100 to $250 per day, depending on the amount of care needed; some places impose minimums and maximums on the number of days for a respite stay.

Check with your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals.

Caregiver Co-op. Co-ops give caregivers an affordable option to take turns caring for one another’s loved ones in exchange for time off. The arrangement gives caregivers time for themselves while fostering a sense of community among the people who give and receive the care. There’s usually no charge. Members volunteer time caring for other co-op members’ loved ones in order to qualify for commensurate respite services. Check with local day care facilities or neighborhood association to look for a co-op in your area.

Veteran’s Facilities. Some Veteran’s Homes offer day care and respite programs. A program called Skilled Home Care offers meal planning and preparation, medication management, nursing, and social services to veterans who find it challenging to leave home. The VA also provides 30 days of respite care at home or in a VA facility to qualifying veterans. Services are usually free or minimal. Call 855-260-3274.

ARCH National Respite and Resource Center. The ARCH National Respite and Resource Center helps caregivers and professionals find respite services in their local area to match their specific needs for emergency or planned respite care. It does not provide an exhaustive search but is a starting point. The service is free and operated through State Lifespan Respite Programs.

It is my hope that these resources will help caregivers begin building a network of support. Caregiving teaches us that we cannot control disease, death, or destiny. But we can control how we respond to those who suffer. And we can take steps to steward our bodies, souls, and spirits as we give to others.

As U.S. Senator Cory Booker states in his poem “Sometimes,” asking for help sometimes can be the most meaning example of self-reliance.

My hope and prayer is that you move toward better competence and self-reliance as a caregiver as you ask for help and find rest and grace.

I’d love to hear from you. I invite you to share your  experiences, tips, or resources with our readers.

Peace and health,

Dr. Clem

Benefits of Conversation

Photo by Jason Schuklt

Conversation is on the decline these days. We have become a culture of Tweeters, texters, and emailers, but, unfortunately, technological communication does not give us the feeling of connection that conversation provides.

Happiness is directly related to our social ties and relationships—friends, family, and community—and a feeling of safety and security because we know we’re loved, cared for, valued, and won’t be abandoned.

We build community through conversation. Conversing with others also increases health, happiness, and longevity.

Engaging in authentic conversation takes time, focus, and dedication to building listening and responding skills. We must learn to ask questions that are appropriately timed, respectful, insightful, and probe below the level of superficiality. For instance, “How have you been?” will probably elicit a response of “Not too bad.” But if you ask someone what the best part of their week has been, they will probably answer quite differently.

Learn to listen as much as you speak. Monitor your conversations to be sure that you give the person you’re talking to equal time and attention while you’re talking. And remember, being right isn’t as important as a respectful exchange of viewpoints. The purpose of conversation is connection, not scoring a win. Express your opinion or point of view, but don’t press your position.

  • Don’t argue. It’s not worth what you lose in the relationship.
  • Don’t complain.
  • Give supportive feedback.

Use responsive facial expressions and body language.

  • Smile and laugh.
  • Nod your head in agreement.
  • Lean forward.
  • Laugh quietly.

Authentic conversations

  • Allow us to maneuver through difficult issues and arrive at new places in our understanding: innovative ideas, a creative way of working.  The ability to have robust conversations that cut through big issues to arrive at something new: an innovative idea, a novel way of working or a creative experiment.  Setting an inclusive, authentic and welcoming tone is important, right from the start.
  • Energize people. When individuals feel ‘seen’ and listened to, they are much more willing to give their best.
  • Align action. When team members talk about what matters most, people pull in the same direction.
  • Promote peace and better decision-making. When all voices are valued and respected, the best decision for everyone comes clearly into view.
  • Increase opportunity for self-awareness  and reflection.  By listening and having authentic mutually respectful conversation with others allow us to see our selves in a new ways.
  • Open our minds and illuminate new opportunities. When we take the time to listen to others, we open our thoughts to perspectives and insights we may never have considered before. Authentic conversation spurs reflection and forces us to think about life in new ways that illuminate our ability to relate to others.
  • Share collective wisdom. Conversation allows me to express the unique wisdom I have derived from life and draw that wisdom from others. These experiences allow us to grow and flourish beyond our individual abilities.


Bill Isaacs summarizes it this way: “Dialogue is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization in into a greater common sense, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and correlated power of groups of people.” (p. 19, AQZ Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together).

How can applying these principles transform relationships? Corporate cultures? Diverse communities? Experience has taught me that authentic conversation is the foundation for understanding, personal transformation, and inter-relational growth.

What about you? How has applying these principles positively influenced your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Peace & Health,

Dr. Clem

The Importance of Humor in Life

Most of us experience a certain amount of holiday stress: shopping, cooking, baking, locating and unpacking the decorations, decorating, shopping, attending parties, fighting holiday traffic and long lines, wrapping gifts, shopping, writing out Christmas cards, trips to the post office, and of course, shopping. It’s easy to become lost in exhaustion and busyness and lose our sense of perspective.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Christmas is first and foremost the celebration of the historical fact God Himself came to be the Savior of the world. God’s gift of love is our source of love for others. In spite of frustration and harried schedules, Christmas is a time to spare expansive love and grace to others.

Some of my fondest memories are of laughing with my family and friends over simple things as we enjoyed one another’s company. Those moments were often spent as we enjoyed delicious food, listening to  each other’s stories, playing games together, or sipping on  a cup of hot tea. But the most poignant memory is of our laughter—which bound us together.

Irish dramatist and memoirist Sean O’Casey said that “…laughter is the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.” Laughter and shared humor nourish our spirit and connect us to others.

Laugh this Christmas with your loved ones or as you make your way through the post-Christmas clean-up.

Laugher melts anger and frustration.

It bonds spirits.

It makes memories.

It offers grace.

It lifts the heart.

It heals wounds.

It refreshes the soul.

It is a gift to others, as well as to yourself.

Do you have a humorous story or experience to share? Feel free to share on my site or inbox me so we can laugh together.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May your days be filled with joy and peace.

Dr. Clem

What Are You Grateful for Today?

Conversations naturally turn to gratitude and thanks in the month of November. My mother always told us to be grateful for both the small and big things in life. She encouraged us to look around us, to other people, and inside ourselves to find things to be grateful for. As I walked to school in the morning, I observed nature around me, the classmates I played with and talked to, and the simple things that made my life enjoyable, and I found much to be grateful for.

What does it really mean to live a life of gratitude, and why is it important?

Benefits of Gratitude

Many studies over the past ten years demonstrate that people who continually assess their blessings and live with gratitude are happier and less depressed.

According to an article titled “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude that Will Motivate You to Give Year-Round” by psychotherapist Erin Morin published in Forbes, benefits of gratitude include

  • opening doors to relationships,
  • improving physical health,
  • improving psychological health,
  • enhances empathy,
  • reduces aggression,
  • improves sleep,
  • improves self-esteem, and
  • increases mental strength.

Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, believes gratefulness has a positive effect on mental health because it affirms that good exists in the world. A second reason is that sources of goodness outside ourselves—people or a higher power—give us gifts of help us create goodness in the world.

In other words, happiness is a byproduct of the appreciation we show others.

Ten Habits of Grateful People

People who live with gratitude share common characteristics and practices that influence the way they think and see the world. Some of these habits include

  • Expressing appreciation for their life as a way of life.
  • Finding joy in the small things.
  • Looking for the good, even in challenging times.
  • Not making excuses and refusing to play the “victim” card.
  • Focusing on the good in others.
  • Looking for life lessons in hard times.
  • Focusing on what they have while working toward a greater goal.
  • Understanding the value of things money can’t buy.
  • Expressing happiness for other people’s successes.
  • Encouraging others enduring hardship or struggle.

Grateful people possess a healthy perspective on the bigger picture issues of life. They live with intentionality and purpose, and they understand that life’s most difficult challenges are opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.

Putting Gratitude into Practice

We all can benefit from increasing our gratitude quotient. These are some practical ways to learn how to “grow in gratitude:

  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Create a gratitude jar.
  • Write a letter expressing thanks to an old friend or mentor.
  • Give someone a call and tell them how grateful you are for them.
  • Set aside a specific time frame—two weeks or a month—to focus on cultivating the art of gratitude in your life—and focus on how it changes your perspective.

As my mother told me, when you live with gratitude, your are eyes open blessings and opportunities that ungrateful eyes don’t see. I am grateful to God for the many gifts in my life, and I say to you, Thank you for the positive contributions you bring to this world.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Dr. Clem

Tips for Becoming an Academic Success

Dr. Clementine Msengi ©2018

 What does it mean to be academically successful? You may think it means achieving the highest grades in your classes, but there’s much more to it than that. Academic success also involves the kind of person you are the influence you choose to have on others. Academic success can be measured by your investment in becoming the possible best version of you by maximizing your educational experiences. Here are a few tips for how you can achieve this goal.

Get involved and get to know people. Build a support system and become part of a support system for others. Get to know your school and its resources. Take advantage of organizations and campus events. Participate positively in class and outside the classroom from the very first day.

Participate. Go to your classes. Professors do not always follow the content of a textbook. Tests and exams are often based on lectures, discussions, and class participation. You can’t know a professor’s expectations unless you’re present in their classroom. Choose a seat in front, use body language that shows you’re engaged, answer questions, participate in discussions, come prepared, take notes, and work to the best of your ability . . . and put away your cell phone.

Don’t wait to ask for help. Make an appointment with the campus tutoring center to learn how to review material, master content, and maximize your learning. If you’re having trouble, talk to your professor right away.

Get to know your instructor. Visit your professor during office hours during the first few weeks of class and introduce yourself. Ask what you can do to be successful. Know each professor’s policies on attendance, missed classes, missed and/or late assignments, make-up work, due dates, penalties for late work, special circumstances, cell phone use, and other matters.

Accept constructive criticism. Professors provide valuable feedback when they critique your work. They provide their observations so you can learn. Approach your assignments with a teachable spirit. If you find your work marked up, be grateful for the significant time that your professor or teach invested helping you learn to improve. Instructors who provide little feedback rob students of the opportunity to learn. Accept feedback positively and learn from it.

Get organized. Use a calendar or planner.Schedule major assignments, quizzes, tests, and exams. Include study time, work, and campus activities. Professors assume that a student studies two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class. A student carrying an average load of 16-18 hours per week should study 32-38 hours a week in addition to class time. College is equivalent to a full-time job, and time management is critical for success.

Take comprehensive notes. Learn to summarize and identify main points.

Write down anything the professor writes on the board or presents by PowerPoint. If you have questions or are confused, ask for clarification during class or immediately after. If you have difficulty taking good notes, find someone in class who does it well, and ask if they can teach you how to organize as you listen and write.

Challenge yourself. Lean on support systems to help you study: use the campus tutoring center or join study groups. Look for student tutors who have passed the course already. Be open to thinking critically about new points of view and learning from people whose backgrounds are different than yours.

Remember, academic success is not about a grade—it’s about investing in yourself as you build the character and skills for a successful future.



Tips for Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

By Dr. Clementine Msengi

We all had favorite teachers as kids. But do you remember what made certain teachers your favorites? Carl Jung has said, “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

The foundation for effective learning is positive personal relationships and trust. Building a positive classroom environment is a critical first task for all educators. This requires forethought, consistency, commitment, and a heartfelt interest in helping all students learn. As a professor in education and also as an educator who teaches effective mentoring, I offer the following suggestions to all teachers who hope to build a firm foundation of trust from their first day of class.

Focus on relationships.

Teacher-student relationships set the social climate of the classroom, which influences how students perform. Research demonstrates that when students feel respected by their teachers, they are more successful academically and contribute more positively.

Research conducted by Catherine C. Lewis, Eric Schaps, and Marilyn S. Watson with The Child Development Project has demonstrated that when kids care about one another, are motivated by important, challenging work, and are respected by their teachers, they are more apt to care about learning and be more successful. The opposite is also true. When students do not trust their peers or their instructor, fear and failure typically follow.

Commit to finding or making time to talk to students both inside and outside the classroom. Maintaining a high rate of positive interaction with students and show genuine interest in their lives. Praise students for good choices, and be specific. “Good job” and “Great work” can sound insincere. Recognize specific acts of character, integrity, and hard work or service to others. Challenge yourself to make at least two positive statements to each student in your class every day, then build from there.

Teach social skills.

What are these valuable social skills? Sharing, listening to others, disagreeing respectfully, honesty, sensitivity, concern for others, respect, reliability, responsibility, a sense of humor, and service, to name a few. Many students have never learned these skills because they never have been taught them. If this is true, these skills should become part of your classroom curriculum.

Teach problem solving skills.

Students aren’t prepared for life or the workplace until they have mastered problem solving skills. This is as relevant for preschoolers as it is for college students. Becoming an adult who can navigate competently in a complex world requires specific skills: communicating effectively, working well with others, respectfully expressing opinions and beliefs, understanding and respecting the viewpoints of others, and the ability to disagree, negotiate, and compromise. Skill in problem-solving increases student confidence, improves relationships and academic performance, as well as one’s overall quality of life.

Robin Wagner, Karen Blasé, & Hewitt “Rusty” Clark of the University of South Florida at Tampa devised an effective problem-solving framework that helps student work through a consistent process. It is called the SODAS Problem-Solving Method:

S          Situation

What is the problem (who, what, when, where, how)?

What are the facts?

What are the feelings?

O         Options

Generate possible options.

Reinforce students for their contributions.

What can be done to solve the problem? What is the goal? How can it be achieved? What else could be done?

D         Demonstration

Role-play a demonstration of the solution and take notes.

A         Advantages and Disadvantages

Explore the advantages of each option (Options can be revised or combined).

Positives and benefits. What is important?

Explore the disadvantages of each option (Options can be revised or combined).

How might people, including family members and others be affected?

S          Solution
Guide students in choose an option that is safe and resolves the problem identified in the first step. Is the step practical and possible? What will be required to implement it  (who, what, where, when, and how). Refine options as needed. Is the solution appropriate for the situation?

For more information on the SODAS problem-solving framework, go to

Teach students to respect school rules and policies.

Your classroom is part of the larger school culture. Reflect the vision for your educational institution, and develop classroom expectations that are consistent with a shared vision. Consistency builds trust and an environment of safety.

Be a role model.

An instructor who expects respect should demonstrate respect for students. Students often learn more by watching us than from what we teach. What do your speech, body language, and verbal communication say to your students? Are you open, warm, and approachable? Are you trustworthy and dependable? Are your evaluation and teaching methods fair and realistic? Do you create opportunities for success, or are you a teacher who “never gives an A”? You set the tone for success in your classroom. Your students will believe in themselves if you let them know that you believe in them.

Communicate clear expectations.

Your classroom policies and expectations tell your students whether or not your learning environment is positive and whether or not you believe in them. Your policies tell students that you believe they can achieve the standards you have set for them. Clearly state consequences for late assignments, absences, etc. Make sure your consequences are appropriate, immediate, and consistent. Equally important, they need to be delivered with empathy, not in anger.

State your policies positively. This helps create a positive classroom. Keep rules short and simple (“Turn assignments in on time”). Keep rules general (Be respectful and kind). Publish your grading rubrics and be sure that students understand them.

As educators, we may have a stellar knowledge of content and teaching technique. But if our students to not feel safe, respected, affirmed, or are not given the tools to solve problems or enjoy positive social relationships, our instruction will be ineffective. Communicate clearly, and always ask for clarification to make sure students have understood.

As Maria Montessori said, “The greatest sign of success for a teach is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”


I’d love to hear your comments, experiences, and positive suggestions for other readers.
–Dr. Clem

Note:  The statements and opinions in this blog are those of Dr. Clementine Msengi. They do not represent her employer or other personal/professional affiliates.