Joseph Hernandez and his wife of 47 years were preparing for retirement and discussing how they would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. At 67, Joseph was full of life and had just received a clean bill of health from his doctor.

Joseph loved people, and he devoted his life’s work to helping others build strong families. While attending a conference this past July where he was teaching on how to help families thrive, Hernandez became ill and passed away. In the blink of an eye, an undetected aneurysm took him from his bride, his family, friends and colleagues.

In the midst of tragedy, meaningful moments can offer powerful takeaways about living life.

When Mrs. Hernandez realized something was wrong and called the ambulance, team members and colleagues who had become friends immediately surrounded her. Some put their dinner plans on hold when they realized what was happening. Friends rushed to the hospital, orchestrated phone calls and tried to thoughtfully anticipate potential needs.  Although they had no idea what to expect, they wanted to be there and offer support.

Joseph left this earth doing what he loved, surrounded by the people he loved. While remembering him, many felt it was amazing that he died doing what he was most passionate about. They discussed the importance of doing what you love and making the most of every day. “Life is short,” they said. “Make what you are doing count.”

While it is hard to believe that Joseph is gone, it reminds those left behind to focus on what really matters in life – relationships.

At the end of the day, the relationships we cultivate make life rich. Life’s pace seems to move faster and faster. Relationships are often neglected while people pursue career aspirations, take care of children and fulfill community commitments.

Have you told your loved ones how you feel lately or taken time to catch up with a longtime friend? Have you forgiven those who have offended you? It is easy to assume there will always be tomorrow, but there is no guarantee.

Have you ever felt the nudge to visit a sick friend or provide child care for a busy parent? Have you thought about calling someone just to check in? If so, did you talk yourself out of it because it would throw your entire schedule out of whack? Or maybe you thought you weren’t the right person, wouldn’t know what to say or that it might have been awkward somehow. Perhaps you look back and wish you had taken the time because everything else wasn’t that important. You might even understand that whether you had the words or not, your presence would have been comforting.

During the ordeal and its aftermath, Mrs. Hernandez said it meant a lot that people came to be with her, knowing they had stepped away from important work.

Simply being willing to show up says you care. Life is short, so make your moments count.

Do you ever wonder at the end of the month where in the world your hard-earned money went? It’s like money is falling out of a hole in your wallet!

Consider this: if you buy a cup of coffee for $1.96, one chicken biscuit for $1.99, and a $3 magazine, you’ve spent almost $10 at the drop of a hat.

“Little expenses really add up,” says Laura Coleman, personal financial educator with LFE Institute. “Most people don’t think about where their money is going. They make money and spend it, but they don’t have a system for managing it.”

Coleman worked with one couple living paycheck to paycheck. With five children and a sixth on the way, the couple’s goal was to live on one paycheck so she could be a stay-at-home mom. When Coleman started working with them, they had basically decided they had to have a second income.

“Money was causing a lot of conflicts and they had no idea what was happening with their finances,” Coleman shares. “They moved to a smaller home, lowering their monthly payment and got rid of a vehicle, but still needed two incomes. I worked with them to open communication and develop an overall strategy to find extra money and plug leaks. Within a short amount of time, we found $1,600. They were shocked.”

Coleman contends that two of the biggest issues for couples concerning money are different spending styles and lack of open communication. When people don’t have control over their money and have no idea where it is going, they buy things they can’t afford, use their credit cards as part of their income, and there’s never anything left to save for the future.

“I have been helping people with their finances for many years, starting out as a mortgage originator,” Coleman says. “Our clients were buried in debt and struggling to pay their bills. What they needed was education and the skills to manage the money they had, not another loan. I wanted to provide solutions, not create more problems.”

As a financial coach, Coleman helps people develop a plan for managing their money. One of the first steps is to understand that spending is often a choice and as consumers we only have one chance to spend that dollar. LFE’s “$1,000 Card” helps people ask the right questions to make smart choices and save money.

  • Did I plan to buy this?

  • If I have to pay cash do I still want it?

  • What will happen if I don’t buy this?

  • Do I need this or just want it?

The next step is to discuss financial goals.

“When people tell me they want to be financially successful I ask them to define success,” Coleman says. “One person might consider success being able to pay down their mortgage while their spouse defines success as having money in the bank. We work together to establish goals the whole family can get excited about.”

But there’s more! Once couples have common goals, Coleman teaches them strategies to stretch their paychecks, reduce debt, avoid financial traps and ease family conflicts over money. “Financial freedom comes from taking control of your finances,” Coleman asserts.

The media often talks about the economy, and they usually say it will probably get worse before it gets better.

“Families are getting hit hard on the basics like gas and food,” says Debbie Brown, vice president of investments with Raymond James & Associates.

“Studies indicated that close to 43% of American families spend more than they earn each year. People have been so focused on buying what they want regardless of the terms. Now, they are forced to rethink how they spend money.”

An analysis of Federal Reserve statistics in early 2015 revealed that the average U.S. household owes $7,281 on credit cards. Average indebted households carry $15, 609 in credit card debt.

“When people make decisions about spending they often operate out of emotion instead of thinking through the decision,” Brown says. “I know people who purchase items based on what their next paycheck will be versus what they have in the bank. In this economy nothing is certain. I encourage families to take a hard look at their spending, to set priorities and a budget and to live within their means. With energy and food costs going up, this can truly be challenging.”

Brown says these ideas can help families stretch their dollars as far as possible:

  • Establish a family budget. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about the cost of living. Involve them in the process so they understand what it costs for electricity, water, cable, eating out, clothing, insurance, etc. Ask them to contribute ideas for ways family members can help conserve like turning off lights when leaving a room, carpooling or riding the bus.

  • Take your lunch. Instead of buying lunch at school and work, take your lunch. The Browns figured they could save at least $50 a week ($2,600 a year) by not eating out.
  • Be intentional about running errands. Think about where you need to go and whether or not you will be in the area for some other reason during the week.
  • Examine your cable options. You may be able to significantly reduce your fee by agreeing to fewer channels.
  • Buy your specialty coffee at the grocery store. Instead of spending $3.50 on a daily cup of coffee, get specialty coffee from the grocery store and brew it yourself for about 17 cents per cup.
  • Go through the drive through to cash a check. Paying ATM transaction fees can add up to some serious cash.
  • Don’t buy on impulse. Many times we see things we think we need, but the truth is we can live without it.

“So many people think of budgeting as a negative,” Brown says. “I think this is a great opportunity for parents to challenge their kids to see how far they can help make the family income go each month. Most young people have no idea how much it costs to fill up the gas tank or buy groceries, much less heat or cool a home.”

As I started the new year, I chose a different kind of resolution. Instead of adding a new activity or giving up something, I decided to work on two skills: having balance throughout life and being intentional in my friendships. It’s so easy to let the business of life takeover, but I’ve decided to be intentional with the people in mine. If someone crosses my mind, I contact them just to let them know I’m thinking of them.

Yesterday, a friend came to mind so I decided to give her a call. My intention was just to touch base with her so she would know that I was in her corner no matter what! After we talked, I started to think about the word “friendship” and what friendship looks like now that we have social media…

I thought about my childhood, how I saw my mother and my aunts sitting around the table talking about life, parents, work, husbands… kids. There was an understanding that this was a “safe zone” – and what was said at the table stayed there.

I think about my life now and how I have a table that no one talks at. Instead, I sit with my computer, connecting with my friends on Facebook. I see their pictures, watch their Facebook Live videos and celebrate their personal wins by clicking like or sending them a message.

Do I acknowledge my jealousy and envy when I see the fancy date night pictures, the brand new cars or the spectacular couple trips to beaches and exotic countries? How do I figure out if I am being a friend to them or if I’m only being a fan of their life? And what is the difference? Where is the personal connection? How are we engaging our hearts and hands aside from pressing letters on a keyboard? Physical presence can not be replicated in an online relationship.

A friend seeks and wants joy and success, no matter what is going on in life. A friend walks beside, and supports when times are tough. A friend tells the truth even when you are afraid it might hurt. A friend spends time – in real time.

A few years ago a video, It’s Not about the Nail, went viral. Today it’s been viewed more than 16 million times. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the watch! 

The video shows a husband and wife arguing about a nail in her forehead that is snagging all of her sweaters and causing her headaches. When her husband tries to tell her that the nail is causing the problem, she becomes defensive and tells him he always tries to fix things – when what she really needs is for him to listen. When he listens to her describe how awful it is to have this constant nagging pain, he responds by saying, “That sounds really hard.” Relieved that she feels like he finally understands, she says, “It is. Thank you.”

Whether you are listening to your child, a co-worker, your spouse or you are the one wanting others to listen to you, something powerful happens when people feel like they are not only being listened to, but completely heard. 

When people were asked, “How do you know when someone is listening to you?” they said things like, “They don’t interrupt me when I am talking. They look at me. I can tell they are 100 percent zoned in to what I am saying and not distracted by their phone or who might be walking through the door. They ask questions to make sure they are on the right track.”

Most people believe they are good listeners, but when you get right down to it, we live in a society that is filled with noise, and most of us have a hard time slowing down enough to listen well. In fact, many have gotten so used to the chatter they literally have a hard time focusing when things get quiet. 

One thing is for sure: You cannot seek to listen well and also be doing something else. 

David Myers’ work as the director of the Brain Cognition Lab at the University of Michigan makes it very clear that the brain does NOT multitask. It may act in parallel functions (touch, sound, vision), but when engaging in distinctly different tasks, the brain operates like a toggle switch – jumping from one thing to another. You cannot be looking at emails and listening to someone talk about their day at the same time. It’s literally impossible.

If you want to enhance your listening skills, consider trying some of these strategies:

  • Be attentive. If you are in a place filled with distractions, move to a different room. If timing is bad, say so and propose a different time to talk so someone can have your full attention. 
  • Ask questions. Sometimes, asking clarifying questions can help to make sure you are tracking with the conversation and not making assumptions. This also helps cut down on the temptation to start crafting your response instead of listening to the very end.
  • Pay attention to body language. Even young children will grab their parent’s face and say, “Look at me,” when they are trying to tell them about their day. We can tell when people are present without really being present by the look in their eyes. Turn toward the person who is speaking and make eye contact with them – it shows them you are not just physically present in the moment. Taking notes can help you stay focused, but it also sends a message that you are paying attention.

Listening is a skill that takes practice. If we are honest, most of us would admit we can do a better job of listening to the people in our world, whether we agree with them or not. While listening well takes time and energy, it’s a worthwhile investment in any relationship, especially since communication involves both talking AND active listening. People know that what they say matters when you listen well. 

When a new year dawns, people often reminisce about all they have experienced during the past year. Others consider whether or not to make the usual and customary New Year’s resolutions. You know the ones – exercise more, eat healthier, organize better and spend less.

Contemplating another year makes me thoughtful. The past year has been a hectic one. In addition to the day-in and day-out routines of life, there have been exciting and scary moments, a few once in a lifetime opportunities and amazing celebrations. One thing stands out though – the unexpected goodbyes I have said to a number of people.

Most of us probably live life at a pretty fast pace. This year I have come face to face with how easy it is to take tomorrow for granted when it comes to relationships. For example, I recently saw a friend in the grocery store. We’ve mentioned getting together for coffee for months. We laughed about it, but in my heart I asked, “How can I be so busy that I can’t find time for coffee with my friend whom I love?”

My husband and I frequently talk at dinner about inviting friends over, but I know that if I don’t grab my calendar and look at dates, we’ll be having the same conversation about the same group of friends six months from now.

Here’s what I think bothers me the most about this:  Not only is my life’s work all about healthy relationships, but I have also been blessed with many special people in my life. No question about it, I thrive on relationship. As I have come face to face with losing people who are close to me, it has hit me like a ton of bricks that life really is short and there is no promise of tomorrow.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t necessarily my thing, but on the eve of a new year, I am absolutely resolved to spend more time with the ones I love.

I remember reading “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing,” written by Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse who interviewed hundreds of her patients. It was interesting to me that all of the regrets really had to do with living life to the fullest with the people in your life. Every male patient (and many women, too) Ware cared for said they wished they hadn’t worked so hard but had spent more time with their loved ones instead.

Another regret was not realizing the full blessing of friends until they were facing death. Many said they had gotten so caught up in life that their friendships had been sidelined. Yet in the end when they were getting their affairs in order, the money or status weren’t what was most important to them – but the relationships were.

I don’t want to look back with regret when it comes to the relationships in my life. I am definitely taking some intentional steps about creating space for the relationships that speak life to me.

I hope the new year 2018 brings you many blessings, including those of love and relationship.

Happy New Year!

“When I go out with a woman I can always tell on the first date if she’s from a divorced family,” says a young man. “The women from divorced families are over-anxious, eager to please. They’re exhausting.” (The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce)

“My parents have been married thirty-five years and I want a long marriage like they’ve had. I love my boyfriend, but he’s from a divorced family and, I don’t know, it just seems like he had to be a lot more independent growing up than I ever was. Frankly, it worries me.” (Between Two Worlds)

As a researcher and an adult child of divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt is all too familiar with statements like these.

“I will never forget a conversation I had with my ex-stepfather about the possibility of marrying the man I was dating at the time,” says Marquardt. “He suggested that because of my parents’ track record on marriage, that I might not make great marriage material. I was devastated, angry and scared.”

Ask a group of people what their chances are of making it in a lasting marriage. Practically everyone will say they have a 50/50 chance of making it. Additionally, many have heard that coming from a divorced home puts you at an even higher risk for divorce.

“For a new generation of children of divorce leaving home and looking for love, I know the anxieties are there,” Marquardt says. “It is really hard to do a dance you have never seen before. But I don’t think it is totally fair to look at adult children of divorce as ‘damaged goods.’ I am 14 years into marriage with two happy kids. I have definitely had to learn some things about building a healthy relationship, including the fact that some days the way you make your marriage successful is by putting one foot in front of the other.”

Marquardt agrees that divorce on average makes life much harder for kids and for the adults that they become. She cautions people, however, against making the children bear the burdens of their parents’ decisions. She contends that:

  • Many adult children of divorce want to work extra hard at making a marriage work. They don’t want to go through what their parents went through.

  • Despite what you may hear in the media, 80-90 percent of Americans say they want to marry at some point.

  • There are approximately 40 percent of adult children of divorce ages 18-40. Research shows they can learn skills to help them be great marriage partners.

“To those who have married parents, hear this: We children of divorce value marriage because we know what life is like when it’s gone,” Marquardt says. “We grew up fast and we know how to take care of ourselves. Many of us are, frankly, quite wonderful. Marry us.”

True or False?

  • Cyberbullying victims are at increased risk for traditional bullying victimization, substance use and school problems.
  • Victims of cyberbullying suffer from anger, frustration and sadness.
  • Most victims of cyberbullying tell an adult about their experience.
  • Victims report that they are primarily cyberbullied by strangers.

If you answered “true” for the first two statements and “false” for the last two, you are correct.

News stories abound about young people and bullying. One of the most widely-known incidents is about Megan Meier, a then 13-year-old from Missouri. She became online friends with a person she thought was a new boy in town. The “friend” was actually a group of young people and adults who plotted to humiliate Megan because of a broken friendship with another girl. When Megan discovered the truth, she became distraught and later committed suicide.

Cyberbullying is defined as using the computer or other electronic devices to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. It most commonly takes place on the Internet among students from a given school or neighborhood.

Researchers and co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, collected data from more than 15,000 youth regarding their personal cyberbullying experiences. They found that:

  • Five percent of the youth they interviewed claimed to be scared for their own safety.
  • On average, 25 percent of youth have been a victim of cyberbullying.
  • Among this percentage, mean or hurtful comments, and spreading rumors were the most common forms of cyberbullying.
  • More than half of study participants feel that cyberbullying is as bad as, or worse than bullying in real life.
  • 41 percent of victims do not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38 percent told an online friend.
  • 16 percent admitted to bullying another individual online.
  • Most of the bullying offenders said they consider bullying to be fun or instructive; such as a way to strengthen their victims.

Your child uses cell phones, emails, instant messaging, websites, blogs, text messages and other methods to communicate electronically. All of them present a potential cyberbullying risk to your child.

What Do Parents Need to Know?

The impact of cyberbullying can be devastating. Cyber victimization can cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression and in some cases, suicide. These outcomes are similar to those of real-life bullying, except with cyberbullying there is often no escape.

Young people used to be able to avoid the “bully” once school was out. Today’s technology now makes it almost impossible to escape. Since few parents closely monitor their child’s digital use, it is far easier for bullies to get away with bullying online than in person. And as the quiz pointed out, kids rarely tell their parents about the bullying.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Establish that all rules for interacting appropriately with people in real life apply online.
  • Explain what cyberbullying is and why it is unacceptable to bully or to allow bullying to continue.
  • Talk with your teen about the nature of REAL friendships.
  • Encourage your child to talk with you any time they believe they or someone they know is dealing with a bully.
  • Model appropriate technology use.
  • Write a technology contract that includes any form of technology used in your home.

Cyberbullying can be a serious threat to the well-being of your child, but the best plan of attack is to be proactive. Being ignorant about technology in this day and age won’t cut it, so you’ll want to educate yourself as well as your children. As the saying goes, information is power.

For tips on parenting get our E-book “How to be a Guide for your Teen” Download Here.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV for more on this topic!

There has been much conversation lately about the number of people who have experienced sexual assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone experiences sexual assault in the United States every 98 seconds. Of those victims, 44 percent will be younger than 18, and approximately 80 percent of those same victims will be under 30. Research indicates that a college with a population of 10,000 can have up to 350 sexual assaults annually. And, in 7 out of 10 sexual assaults, the perpetrator knows the victim personally.

On a positive note, the rate of sexual assault and rape has fallen 63 percent since 1993, from a rate of 4.3 assaults per 1,000 people in 1993, to 1.6 per 1000 in 2015. However, only 6 out of every 1,000 rapists will end up in prison. 

Many are asking, how do we teach people to protect themselves from sexual assault? And, how do we teach them what respect looks like? These are important questions for sure, especially in light of recent findings in a study by Harvard’s Making Caring Common project. Based on responses from 3,000 young adults and high school students, the lead researcher found it troubling that at least one-third of respondents said:

  • It is rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television;
  • Society has reached a point that there is no more double-standard against women; and
  • Too much attention is being given to the issue of sexual assault.

What is sexual assault, exactly?

According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape all fall under the definition of sexual assault.

Here’s what consent DOESN’T look like:

  • Refusing to take no for an answer
  • Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting or kissing is an invitation for anything more
  • Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
  • Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past

According to RAINN, consent is about communication. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future.

Although there is no guarantee of personal safety for anyone, each of us has a role to play in preventing sexual assault. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself or someone else from becoming a victim.

  • Don’t trust everyone, but let people earn your trust over time.
  • Be careful about putting yourself in a sticky situation. If you are going out with friends you trust, keeping an eye on each other and planning to leave together can be helpful. 
  • Never leave your drink (alcohol or not) unattended or take a drink from someone else. 
  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Ask for an escort to your car if you feel unsafe. Lock your doors and secure the windows when you are asleep or leaving your home.
  • Be wise about posting your location on social media. Consider privately sharing your location with someone you really trust in case something goes awry.
  • Have a backup plan for emergencies, and anticipate how you would react in various scenarios. Memorize important phone numbers, keep some cash on hand and hide an extra set of keys in case yours turn up missing. 
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, leave or get a friend to help you out.
  • If you see a potentially dangerous situation, step in and say something, either by yourself or with backup.

Sexual assault is evidence that without respect for one another, people and our society suffer greatly. It is not ok under any circumstance, and silence about it can allow it to happen over and over again. 

It’s crucial that we promote healthy, respectful relationships in all areas of life if we want to make a difference. Everyone could benefit from recognizing that respect involves valuing the opinions and decisions of others without attempting to control them. A respectful person does not take advantage of another person and honors boundaries that are set. Showing respect also involves concern for others’ well-being and safety. 

You can play a role in changing the culture when it comes to issues surrounding sexual assault. Educate your children. Model respect in all relationships. Talk about this issue at home, in the workplace, at school, at your place of worship and in the community. If you see something, say something. 

Coming together around this issue can help everyone have healthier relationships, which is a good thing for people and a very good thing for our community and country.

As the news started spreading about what was happening in Charlottesville on Saturday, it made me sick to my stomach. It weighed heavily on my mind throughout the day, and it was the topic of conversation at the dinner table and beyond.

After watching the news and reading the Sunday paper, I posted the following on Facebook: “I am angry, dumbfounded, disturbed, sad, appalled and so much more over what happened in Charlottesville. Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. We cannot sit back and allow such sick behavior.”

The post received many comments mostly agreeing they did not want to sit back and allow the behavior. Some asked about actions steps we can take.

That’s what I have been mulling over the past couple of days. I’m a big believer that everybody can do something. In having conversations at my office and out in the community, several action steps have come to mind.

  • First and foremost, I think it starts with each of us committing to call out racism and inappropriate behavior when we see it. Too often it is easy just to look the other way and pretend we don’t see what is right in front of us. I remember learning the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We all know that is a lie. Words can cut like a sword. 
  • Second, relationship coach, Dr. David Banks, makes this statement in many of our classes: “What you don’t understand, you still have to respect.” Though you may not understand or experience what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, disrespect is not justifiable. Everybody has a story. It would probably help all of us to spend more time learning people’s story instead of making assumptions about them.
  • Third, see individuals as valuable regardless of their skin color, where they grew up, how much education they have, where they work, how they speak or where they live. What would happen if we spent more time trying to help people understand their significance? 
  • Finally, get to know people outside your own sphere of influence. This is probably the most powerful thing we all can do. While it may be uncomfortable initially, people usually find out they aren’t that different. We have more things in common than we realize.

Franklin and Tresa McCallie took this to heart a number of years ago. They began inviting people into their home for coffee, dessert and conversation. They intentionally invited a diverse group for a time of conversation around difficult topics. To date, more than 400 people have participated. Their goal was to have people participate and then replicate the experience in their sphere of influence – the workplace, school, home and community. You can actually download a toolkit from their website to help you start on the same journey.

This all boils down to relationship. When we take the time to get to know each other, we are more likely to focus on walking life’s road together in a healthy way. Hate is a learned behavior. We have to do better for the sake of the next generation.