PositivelyAnne Blog

Getting Lost in the Blessings

Snow in May. Idyllwild, CA

Have you ever spent an entire day analyzing the one thing that went wrong, instead of praising the hundreds of little things that went right?   Do you feel like positivity is always something you are constantly chasing, instead of embracing?  

If you answered, “Yes”, then let me reassure you, first and foremost, I’m right there with you and second, you are one hundred percent normal!

This pattern of negative self-absorption we are inclined to embrace seems as natural as breathing, but I am convinced that with dedicated mindfulness to think differently, it doesn’t have to be. For almost three years now, I have been training myself to get lost in the blessings and while it’s been one tough go, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

The journey to recognize I needed to do this was not an easy one and in fact, a bit humbling, because it involved deflating an ego, I didn’t even know I had.

I began to see this aspect of my personality reveal itself during the first few weeks after my cancer diagnosis in early 2016.   I’m a solution minded person.  I don’t like unsolved problems. Resolution without solution, in my world, leaves too many carrots dangling.  It didn’t take long after I started talking to cancer specialists to realize that cancer was not going to be a quick fix and no one, absolutely no one, was going to give me any guarantees.  

Well my solution-oriented mind just wouldn’t accept that.  So before work, after work and into the wee hours of the morning, I would click and scroll my way through negative LALA land (aka, the internet) to find a solution to my health issues that would prove all the experts wrong.   My world didn’t have to change.  Cancer did.  That was all there was to it, period, end of story!

I was going to be the miracle of all miracles. 

I began to feel resentful waiting around for test results.  Didn’t the labs know I had cancer?  Why were my doctors making me wait for things when I could be dying?   How inconsiderate everyone was to keep acting like everything was normal, when my world was crumbling and falling apart.

For weeks, I aggressively gave the front page of my world over to negative thinking.  My outward face to the public was a frozen mask of happiness, but inside I was truly frozen in a wasteland of negative thinking. 

That is until one day, about a week before my surgery to remove my cancer tumor, I had an encounter with a woman standing in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store that would change my life.

This woman was hard not to notice.  She was very pale, completely bald and her cheeks were distorted like a chipmunk, the rest of her face completely round like the moon. 

She was slowly loading all of her purchases onto the grocery conveyor.  Each peach, one at a time.  Each tomato, one at a time.   The line behind me was two people long.  The look of impatience on their faces was evident.  The woman continued, one potato, two potato, three potato, four.  I’m not trying to be funny, but I literally remember that children’s game popping into my head as she methodically stacked potatoes on the conveyor.   

Was this woman a nut?   Couldn’t she see the line was getting longer?   Hurry it up!  Hurry it up!

I turned around to look behind me again and now there were at least three more people in line.   

I started to ask her if I could help her.   She wobbly loaded a jug of ice tea onto the conveyor, turned to look at me and said:

“Before cancer, I would never have understood the blessing in a peach or a tomato or a banana.   I would come to the grocery store and rush to load my cart, rush home and put it all away and I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes I would forget about the things I had bought, things I absolutely had to have in the moment, until I would find them rotting on the kitchen counter or spoiled in the refrigerator.  You know how it is? But I don’t do that anymore.  Each peach, each tomato, each banana is a blessing to me.   I am lucky I can enjoy these things.  Their different tastes and the smells (I remember she held a peach out for me to sniff), the ability to afford them and share them with my family.  Before cancer I never understood the blessings in being able to pick up a jug of ice tea.   I have bone cancer and the chemo makes me a little loopy, so I count out my fruit and veggies to make sure I have what I need and I am grateful for each thing.  I hate that it makes you and all the others in line uncomfortable.  But I decided it was time to let my ego go…the part of me that had to control everything and just accept the blessings.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say to her.  How did she know what I was feeling inside, what I needed to hear that day, in that very moment?  Was she psychic?  I remember turning and looking at the man behind me and he had tears in his eyes.  He reached over and squeezed my elbow and in almost a whisper he said, “My wife died last year of bone cancer.”  

I blurted out, “I have breast cancer.”   The cashier stood there, a young girl, and she said, “my grandma is doing chemo now.”

The woman reached over to grab my hand.   “Train yourself to look for the blessings.  It’s not easy, but maybe we were all meant to meet today so that we could bless each other.  How cool is that?!”  

It sounds so dramatic, but it really was just a conversation.   Over in a matter of a couple minutes.  But it was a couple minutes of clarity that was life changing for me.

I had to deflate my ego, the thing that was so huge it was blocking my ability to see the blessings in the every day and had been letting my cancer diagnosis control my life.    My ego that had such a tight grip on my happiness that it was pushing negativity to the forefront.   My ego that thought it knew best, knew better, knew more than the doctors and specialists and trained medical professionals who were charged with saving my life.   My ego who sought out internet sites to verify my negativity and verify that “I was right!” 

I had to deflate my ego that said I can fix all things.  I can do it alone.  I don’t need anyone.

But I do. I need the blessings.

My wonderful husband who understands my rollercoaster of emotions better than anyone, and still loves me going on thirty-five years together.   

My two sons and my daughter who get my sense of humor, my quirky love of collecting chicken art and my drive to create, motivate and be the best I can be.  They make me proud to be their mama every day of my life.

My parents, brother, brother and sisters in-law, aunts and uncles and cousins, niece and nephew whose love and support have touched my heart and who have made me hungry and curious to know more about my ancestry.

My diverse group of friends who challenge me to think, to ponder, to wonder, to laugh and have fun.

My animals who have shown me the face of unconditional love.

My Pastors and church family who have inspired me to move my faith from something I practice to something I live.    

My medical team who believe in me, even when I do not believe in myself.

And especially the thousands of strangers I have met along the way, in person and in cyber-space, especially in the last three years, who’s kind words, wisdom, laughter and strength have sustained me in my darkest hours.  Some have become dear friends and I am so very grateful for how they continue to bless my life.

Although I still have my negative days and still carry around a few pounds I’d like to get rid of, both literally and emotionally, the weight of negativity on my shoulders has been lightened. 

The more I train myself to look for the blessings, my burden is less and less each day.   I am happier, grateful and much more positive.   

I hope you try it.   What have you got to lose, except a few pounds of negativity?!

PositivelyAnne

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The Pull of Negativity

Do you ever have one of those days where life is cruising along on positive speed and then for some reason, you feel the pull of negativity and just like that, your day has gone from milestone to millstone?

I have a theory about that.   Maybe you will agree or maybe you won’t, but my theory is that we are supposed to have days like that, at least until we learn to think differently.  

The reason has to do with how we are wired as human beings.  We have a hard time unconditionally accepting positive anything without some caveat being attached to it.  For us to truly develop an understanding and appreciation of the joy that positivity can bring into our lives, our imperfect human selves need balance and as such we invite good ol’ negativity to the table time and time again.  

In other words, we need some negative sprinkled into our positive lives in order to continue our positive journey forward. 

That seems rather confusing I know and it’s taken me forever to figure it out, but here is an example that happened to me recently that illustrates what I mean.  

A couple weeks ago, I had a very good day.

I sat down to write about 730am and continued for the next six hours pretty much non-stop.  My hands were literally flying over the keyboard, the flow of the ideas in my head perfectly translating into the words I wanted on the page.  For those of you who write, you know that sometimes the vision of what’s in our head isn’t exactly what translates to paper.   So, when it happens, it is a very good day. 

My back started to ache from being glued to my desk chair for so many hours and although I probably could have continued to write, my positive self knew it was time to get some exercise and keep the positive momentum going. My office window looks directly down onto our garden below and I spied a few weeds sprouting, a couple rouge snails encroaching on my newly planted veggies.   A positive opportunity to check off a couple chores, while making my Fitbit happy.  All good things.  

Two hours and a chipped manicure later, I had won the battle of the weeds and snails and had added another three thousand steps to my Fitbit and decided to reward my positive achievements with a generous glass of wine (emphasis on the generous), a little dish of wasabi trail mix and some quality time with my book club read before my hubby came home from work.

Parking myself on the couch, I dived into Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War, mindlessly reaching for my wine glass and a few Wasabi nibbles every now and then.

“Psssst!” 

Absently I looked up from my book. 

“Pssst!”

It was only me and the cats in the house, but still, I distinctly heard what sounded like someone trying to get my attention.   

I looked across the room at the sixty-inch box of doom and gloom affixed to the wall.  

“Hey girl, heard you had a positive day.  That’s good, really, really good, you’ve got your wine, your wasabi trail mix, your book, but it’s all so positive….”

Is my television set talking to me?   Eyes wide, I grabbed my wine glass and took a big gulp.

“Girl, you worked hard all day.  Productive.  Positive all the way around.  But   deep down you are worried things have been just a little too positive today.  Too smooth, no bumps in the road.  That makes you uncomfortable, right? 

“I’m not worried things have gone too positive today,” I say out loud to the television, “I AM NOT!”

Still my hand started to reach for the remote control, hovering. 

“Turn me on.  You know you want to!  Aren’t you the least bit curious if the Hallmark channel will bring back “When Calls the Heart?”  I mean who would have thought a goodie-goodie like Aunt Becky (aka Lori Loughlin from Full House days) would be capable of buying her daughers way into USC?   C’mon, you know there are probably four or five channels green screened with Ex-Justice Department officials discussing all the days political dirt.   Oooh, how about one of those home improvement channels where you can listen to people whine about not having an open floor plan?  I think one of those commercials for the Humane Society is on…you know the ones that show abused pets as Sarah McLaughlin sings “Arms of the Angel?”  

All that juicy negativity!

I took another huge gulp of wine and choked.

“Pick up the remote…pick up the remote…c’mon you know you want to!”

“I’m reading my book!  I’ve got my wine and my wasabi nuts, why do I need to turn on the television set?”

I didn’t need to.  I had a good day.  A completely positive day!  However, despite the positive vibes still reverberating through my body the pull of negativity was calling me and I pressed the remote button.

Like some mindless idiot, I began flipping, flipping, flipping, between multiple cable news channels looking for some nasty gossip of Aunt Becky and Hallmark; waded through five stations of unemployed justice department officials talking about how everyone hates everyone and was sobbing my eyes out watching a commercial featuring a dog with mange, eyes pleading at me to save it, when my husband walked in the front door.

Has this type of thing ever happened to you?

There you are, ready to immerse yourself in a little “me” time to celebrate the fact that you’ve had a perfectly good day.   Maybe it’s not in your top ten of good days, but on the positivity scale, you have no complaints. You are all set to keep the positivity party going when for some reason you feel the pull to seek the dark side calling.

Sometimes it’s completely understandable.  Your life is cruising along great and then like a trip wire, you get news you have cancer or heart disease, your favorite aunt is dying or your job is being eliminated and just like that, you find yourself stumbling and tumbling into negative territory.     

We’ve all been there and if you haven’t, you might want to think about an Ancestry test to determine if you are a Vulcan, emotionless and related to Spock. 

But fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), most of us feel and that means we are vulnerable to the negative in these types of situations.

That being said, what about the times when there is no trip wire, no obvious stumbling block for you to overcome in your positive day? Just like the pretty great day I was having before my remote-control trigger finger went in search of everything Darth Vader!!!

Why do we constantly do this to our positive selves?  Why did I do it to myself? 

One possible reason is that our human selves seek out negativity in response to positivity as a result of guilt.  

“Maybe I don’t deserve all of this positivity!”

I know in my own life, I can recall many times I have talked myself into thinking my positive experiences were not all that positive by intentionally picking them apart, looking for the loopholes.  

I also know I’ve gone through phases where I thought that embracing my positive self would somehow makes me less relatable to my family and friends.  That somehow, someway, if I gave all the power to positive thinking, positive behavior and positive living, I’d lose sight of the negative and become self-absorbed and unable to feel empathy towards those going through rough times.

“Oh, there SHE goes again, everything’s perfect in her world all the time!”  

As an introvert, the idea of people thinking this about me literally tore me apart inside.  Even though no one has ever said this to me or implied it of me.

What I’ve basically done is unconsciously instituted a sort of cover for both of these issues by reinforcing my daily positives with negative reinforcements.  In other words, I go searching for something negative to remind me how truly blessed I really am.  That’s why I picked up the remote the other day to seek out something negative.

A negative capstone to my day.

How messed up is that? It’s pretty messed up. BUT I guess it just proves I’m human and not Vulcan.

But you know something, the more I delve into this positivity thing, the more I feel like maybe it’s o.k. if the teeter totter of life isn’t quite balanced.  Maybe I don’t have to go in search of something negative to balance out the good. Maybe life can just be good, period!

Why do Positivity and Negativity have to share the ride?   Up and Down they go.  Up and Down.   Up and Down.

Sometimes I’d like to just go up, up, up and stay there.  How about you?  

It’s something I’m planning on really working on this summer by developing my level of trust and acceptance that if life is going great, then it’s o.k. to be positive and leave it at that.   Total acceptance of the positive. Well at least half acceptance of the positive is a good start. I’ll try!

But until that time, I’ll placate my negative side with a few moments of cable nastiness about Aunt Becky and her demise and then I’ll get back to appreciating my very positive life by drinking my wine, reading my book and …

Oh crap, I think the cat just hacked up a wasabi nut on my carpet.   UGGGH!!!!

Positively Anne

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Steps to avoiding the rabbit hole of negativity

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I am convinced that quickest way to slide down the rabbit hole of negativity is to allow yourself to become a complacent participant in life by cutting off your connectivity with others.

Look, I get it, maybe you are going through cancer treatment or other health issues, or you are dealing with an unexpected financial burden, or maybe a break-up, death of a loved one, loss of a job.  All of that sucks!  It does.  It’s not fun, it’s not happy, it’s not joyful, so it’s understandable if you have some days where getting out of bed and facing the world isn’t exactly something you want to do.

So, give yourself permission to take a day or two to pay homage to the stress of your situation.   

The reality of negative situations is that they rarely resolve in a half hour like a television sitcom.    Anyone ever waited weeks for their cancer test results to come back?  I know I have.  What about watching your bank account dwindle and the bills pile up, or sitting in your staff meeting at work and being told that the company is being sold and your job is well, hmmm, sort of secure for now.  I can imagine a sea of hands are being raised right now.

Stress from negative situations is real, you feel it, so it’s important that you acknowledge it. 

Wallow in bed all day, watch some rom coms, eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and let yourself cry.   Whatever stress reliever works for you, as long as it’s safe and not causing you or anyone else harm, you are doing yourself a big positivity favor.

You are giving your mind and body the gift of time by acknowledging the truth that your situation is real, painful, uncomfortable and not at all what you had planned for your life. You are acknowledging that the road ahead may be challenging and uncertain and that you are scared.        

You are giving yourself a few valuable days to come to terms with the fact that you are human and the way forward out of the negative abyss is to make peace with your vulnerability, by acknowledging it and then allowing positivity to propel you forward.

But don’t let yourself wallow too long.  Say to yourself,

“ENOUGH! IT’S NOW TIME TO GET MYSELF UP,

PUT MYSELF BACK OUT THERE

AND LIVE MY LIFE!”

And my friends, that is a hard, hard thing.   Why?  Because we humans seem to be hardwired to handle stressful situations not by walking head first into the storm, but by sitting around and analyzing the “what if’s” and the “why me” until the negative of our situation becomes our security blanket.

The funny thing is negativity isn’t a warm and fuzzy thing.   Negativity is sterile and cold and lonely.

Kind of like concrete.  That’s why we feel so weighted down by negative thinking. The tighter we pull the negativity blanket around ourselves, the more we find ourselves feeling isolated, angry, frozen.  Heavy!

So, what can you do to stop being complacent, to feel confident that you can drop the negativity blanket and let positivity do its thing?

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First, it’s important to find good listeners.

You’ve allowed yourself to wallow in your misery for a day or so and now it’s time to get back out there.  But you have a lot on your mind.  A lot that needs sorted out.  A lot you have to say.  A lot you need help working through.   So, it’s time to find a good listener.

That person might be your spouse or partner or another loved one, a teacher, a counselor, a Pastor, a neighbor, a work colleague.  Approach them first with the fact that you are scared and feeling stressed and just need someone to listen.   Be honest, that you aren’t looking for them to solve your situation, only that you need to connect with another human being and share your thoughts.

If your negative journey is more than a quick fix, be prepared to be spend time cultivating multiple listeners.

Look, it’s natural that you may automatically think nothing of purging your soul to your husband, roommate, best friend.   They know you the best, have been with you through thick and thin and always seem a willing ear.  But, it’s important not to let your negative situation blind you to the fact that what you are about to share with your trusted companion, may impact them in an emotionally negative way.  Compassionate people tend to blame themselves for things they can’t control.  Gee, if I had only seen the signs, maybe I could have helped prevent my child’s divorce.  Maybe if I had cooked healthier meals my spouse wouldn’t have gotten cancer.  If I hadn’t insisted on renting that beach house this summer, we would have had a little extra cash to cover my husband’s job loss.

So, as you are purging your soul to your trusted listener, look for the signs that maybe, just maybe, it’s more than they can handle.   Ask them if it’s too much and do not be offended if they tell you it is.   Just thank them for listening and work on cultivating other listeners.   

Around the time I got cancer, my husband, my “go to listener” had to deal with not only my situation, but with the rapidly declining health of his father, who lived 90 miles away.  One of the best decisions I made was to ask others: my older children, my church family and some wonderful women in my friendship circle to help me through my cancer journey so that my husband didn’t have to be the “ears” all the time.   I found these people to be gracious listeners and in fact once that door was open, it was their warmth, support and kindness that not only energized me, but seemed to bring us all closer together, empowering us to listen to each other.  The wonderful thing is the lasting impact of that experience has made me a better listener as well.

I am convinced that there is tremendous holistic healing power in being a good listener, so seek them out and make it a point to be one yourself.          

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Second, it’s important to share your vulnerability.

When negativity strikes, it is so easy to pull the blinds closed and hide.  Don’t tell me you haven’t done it, because I won’t believe you.  We all have.

No one wants to see me like this, I’m imperfect!”

But if we are honest, curling up with that negativity blanket and squirreling ourselves away from human interaction doesn’t make us feel any better.  In fact, I know when I have done this, I find myself feeling really lonely and more depressed than ever.

The truth is, that old devil negativity would like nothing more than to have us all to themselves, alone, and miserable.  To be able to toy with our vulnerable self, day in and day out so that our problems take center stage and push positivity to the back burner.  So, it’s critical that you must cast aside those tendencies and put yourselves out there in all your vulnerable glory.   

Now before you go and argue that you are an introvert and that sharing your negative side with others is impossible, let me share a secret with you. I’m an introvert too!  I am so much more at ease with the written word than the spoken one, so opening myself up to people, especially when I’m going through something negative, isn’t something that comes naturally to me.   I have to tamp down the jitters and just go for it.   But it pays off.

One day I was killing a bit of time browsing the aisles at Marshall’s before a doctor’s appointment that I was dreading.  I was standing there absently looking at a display of hand lotions and thinking,

“God, I am so tired of all of this health business.    Why does my life have to be so hard?”  

Suddenly this woman materialized by my side.  She looked wide eyed and she had two small children’s books in her hands that she held out to me.    She said in a rather frazzled voice, “I have never, ever approached a stranger like this before, but can you please help me?”

I have to admit my first thought wasn’t about helping her, but that maybe she was up to something no good.  But there was something about the anxiety in her eyes that resonated with me and I said, “I see you have two children’s books?”

The woman sighed heavily and said, “Yes, I do and I do not know what to do. We have a new grandchild, our first and I want to send her a book, but I don’t know what to send her.  I am so worried I will make a mistake and disappoint my daughter.  You looked like someone who might be able to help me, so I took a chance on asking you.”

What?  I certainly wasn’t wearing a label that identified me as a mom of three, a former preschool teacher, former preschool director, former Sunday school program coordinator, former youth director.   Although I am all of those things.

So how did she know I could help her?  Truth be told, she didn’t.

What she did do was take a chance on being vulnerable with a stranger.   And in doing so, I had my answer to my question of God.

Life is hard because it’s hard.  But when we share our vulnerability with others, our burden lightens and positivity takes hold.

In the scheme of things, the vulnerability this woman was feeling about picking out the perfect children’s book for her first grandchild, was equal to the vulnerability I was feeling about my doctor’s appointment.

I remember looking at both books and one was clearly for a child much older than a newborn.  I said, “Choose this one…it’s perfect.”  That’s literally all I said.  I didn’t tell her my back story as an educator, I didn’t share anything about me.   I said, “Your grandchild is so lucky to have you” and her face lit up and she said “Thank you, I can breathe again!” and she gave me the biggest hug.

Then without another word, she walked away.

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On the way to my doctor’s appointment, that hug kept playing over and over in my mind. I felt happy, light, joyful.  I could breathe again too.

Whatever your negative burdens right now, make sure to take a little time to acknowledge them.  Find yourself some good listeners who can provide support and comfort and open yourself up to letting others help you through your vulnerable moments.   

PositivelyAnne

Finding “Me” in a Photo

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I have always been fascinated with photography. 

Oh, not in a way that I ever wanted to pursue any sort of career with it.  No, I’ll gladly leave that pursuit to my very talented brother and sister-in-law who have spent decades mastering not only a variety of camera lens and filters to achieve a perfect shot, but also possess a level of chill and patience in waiting for that perfect image, that frankly God didn’t gift to me.

But thanks to some creative folks at Apple, photography novices, like me, can be pretty successful with an I-Phone.  Point, click, edit a bit and post.  Yep, that suits my purposes just fine.   Because photography for me is strictly about appreciating photographic images for their ability to capture a moment that at once appears stagnant, but who’s meaning is a free-flowing, ever-changing story.  A story that can evoke all sorts of emotions in humanity, and can sometimes be powerful enough to change the course of minds, even history.   Including my own.

I’m going to tell you a story of one such photographic image.  It’s an image I took in 2017 on a lonely stretch of beach in Santa Cruz, California called, “Natural Bridges.”     

It was February and my husband and I had taken a drive up to Santa Cruz to spend the week-end with our oldest son. It had been nine months since my bi-lateral mastectomy for breast cancer, two months since I had completed radiation, ten days since I had surgery to control uterine bleeding and one month before my world would once again be turned on its’ end with five consecutive major surgeries having everything to do with my survival,  yet little or nothing to do with breast cancer.     It was a pretty scary time. 

But on this day, I was feeling happy.  The rain had been pretty fierce the day before, but today the sun peaked through the clouds in fits and starts.  Drizzling one moment and then seeming to lift so that the gulls and other sea birds could forage in the surf crashing on the rocks of the beach below.  My son thought it would be fun to show us his favorite spots around Santa Cruz and it was pretty spectacular, despite the drizzle.  Everywhere I looked, the light seemed to change from greys to reds to pink to yellows and back to grey.  Through my phone camera I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery.  It was as if every shot spoke to me somehow.

Our son told us about this special place where the water had worn a hole through a rock outcropping called “Natural Bridges.”  

“Mom, it’s pretty darn cool, a natural bridge, you just have to see this!”, he said.  

To view the bridge, we had a short drive, and then were going to have to walk a little bit through some brush and pretty deep sand and make our way to the floor of the beach below.  It was low tide, so access wasn’t an issue, but my husband and son were  worried the trek down to the shore might be a little much for me, given I was still recovering from surgery.   Maybe so, but I knew my boy and if he said something was special, it was special, and not to be missed.  So without another thought I said I’d be fine and off we went.

And I was fine.  I was totally fine…physically.  But emotionally was something else.

As I picked my way through the brush and sand, I could see this amazing rock outcropping in the distance about 300 yards off shore.    It was about the size of a football field and rose several hundred feet into the air.  Birds of all sorts were perched atop its’ smooth surface, almost like a football team lining up for the kick off.   The ocean was lapping against it’s surface, swirling and whirling, forming foamy bubbles that took on the hues of the changing sky. 

About three-quarters of the way through the outcropping an arched shaped hole had been worn through the rock by the water and the ocean was flowing in and out of it.   It reminded me of the natural bridges I had seen in Lake Powell, Arizona or a kind of imperfect Arc de Triomphe, that is,  if water were to flow through it.   

It was like someone just plopped a bridge in the middle of the sea with this really cool water feature.    

Excited, I picked up the pace and forgetting my recent surgery, I ran down a steep incline of sand so that I could take pictures.   Reaching into my pocket for my phone camera, I looked up and then I froze.

The rock was huge this close up.  Huge.  But all I could see was the hole in its’ center. 

A giant gaping hole! 

The hole, that reminded me of my mastectomy!   The hole, that reminded me of the pain of finding out I had breast cancer!  The hole, that reminded me of the pain of telling my family and friends I had cancer!  The hole, that reminded me of the pain of having to leave a job I loved because of cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain, both physical and emotional, that I tried so very hard to hide from everyone before, during and after my cancer surgeries and treatment.  

The hole, that reminded me that cancer took a piece of me.  Left a hole, where now I had some silicone, some fake body parts that for all outward appearances made me look normal, but would never be the real me. 

My new normal was a hole.  Just like the one I was staring at in that rock outcropping and it frightened me. 

Here I was this sturdy rock of positivity for my family and everyone around me and I had a hole in me…a big, ugly, negative hole that no amount of plastic surgery, no amount of anything could fill up.     

I felt empty.  I grieved. 

“Mom, come look at the driftwood over here,” my son said.  

“Just a second,” I replied, and raised my phone.  I pushed the button for the camera and aimed the lens at the rock outcropping. 

Once…Click.  Twice…Click! Three times…Click!

Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…

With each click, I could feel the grief rolling through me. 

In and Out!

In and Out!

In and Out!

Just like the ocean rushing in and out through the hole in that rock.

I’m not sure how many pictures I would have taken of the “Natural Bridge” if my phone battery hadn’t chosen that moment to die. I’d like to think it was God’s divine intervention, but whomever or whatever forces were at work in that moment, a dead battery was enough to snap me out of my grief and go in search of my son and the drift wood.

And except for that one, brief, moment in time at the “Natural Bridge”, everything else about that week-end was amazing and upon returning home, I was anxious to make a photo collage so that I could post to my personal Facebook page a memory of our trip for my husband and for our family and friends to see.   

The shot of the rock outcropping, (there were over 40 photos on my phone of that hole in the rock to choose from), was hard to include.  To look at it made me sad, uncomfortable, and lonely for the me that used to be.  But I put those feelings away and mindlessly popped the photo into an insignificant square of the photo collage, no more powerful or important than any other memory of that trip.

And there that photo stayed until a few weeks ago.

I was looking through my on-line photo albums in search of photos of the ocean I could use for my daily Instagram and there it was, sitting there in cyber space, waiting for me, in all of its “holy” glory.  That “Natural Bridge” in Santa Cruz where I came face to face with all that I had lost, with the hole in my person. 

I expected to feel a rush of negative emotions looking at that photo.  But they didn’t come.   In fact, when I looked at that rock, at the hole in it, at the ocean rushing in and out of it, I felt…well, I guess you could say, I felt happy.   It reminded me of a fun day with my son, but it also reminded me of how far I have come in the past couple of years.

The photos story had changed, because I had changed. 

I mentioned before that soon after our visit to Santa Cruz, I had several unplanned health setbacks.   Five major ones to be exact, with a myriad of other health issues as a result of those five surgeries.   While these setbacks were not pleasant, with each one I made it a point to be more open to the positive, to remember to focus on not what set me back, but what propelled me forward.  The more I did that, I seemed to grow stronger emotionally and fear less all that lay ahead of me.   

It was true that my body was broken, bruised, battered, my energy depleted.  But somehow, someway, no matter how many holes in my person, deep down I felt a burning light, a strength that I didn’t know was possible because time and again the blessings flowed to me, through me, no matter how large the hole in my body. 

In and Out.

In and Out.

In and Out.  

And the more I opened myself up to the possibilities of the “new me”, to the fact that I was always going to have some “holes” in my life,  the more positivity flowed into my darkest recesses, planting seeds of faith and hope and blessing.  

The most amazing thing is that many of these blessings have come from strangers. People I would never have met or opened up to, if not for the fact that I had cancer or any of the other health issues. My life is so much richer for each conversation and there is a gratitude in my heart that kindness is alive and well and abundant in the world.   Do not let anyone tell you different! 

It’s as if this hole in me has become a welcoming portal to all that is possible for my life and I want to shout from the roof tops, “I AM BLESSED!”  

The photo I took of the “Natural Bridge” in 2017 told a story of a woman who was uncertain of her future, feared her destiny and felt she had to battle her demons alone. 

This same photo, viewed in 2019, reveals the story of a woman who has accepted her vulnerability, embraced her imperfectness and is working to conquer her fears one day at a time with a whole lotta help from the world. 

It is now a photo that tells a story of me. 

PositivelyAnne 

I hope you like and follow me here and on Facebook.   I also have an Instagram where I post daily positivity boosts.  Together we can change the world, one positive step at a time!  God bless you all!

Reflecting positively on life’s weeds

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There is good in the weeds!

I truly believe in the healing power of positivity not only to heal us physically and emotionally, but to inspire us to live our lives seeking not what is wrong, but what is right!   

That’s challenging because humans are curious creatures and it is our curiosity that pushes us into negative territory time and time again.

Now I’m not saying human curiosity isn’t a good thing.  If curious humans hadn’t questioned things since the beginning of time, we probably would have been extinct a long time ago. 

But when curiosity becomes synonymous with distrusting everything and everyone we come in contact with, that’s when we need to push our positivity button and say, “Enough!”  

A month ago, after a major rain deluge in San Diego, my daughter texted me that the rain had caused a super bloom of neon yellow flowers to cover the slopes surrounding her home.

“Mom, you have to see this, it’s like the hillside is covered in sunshine,” and then she added, “…of course, they are just weeds, but pretty spectacular weeds at that!”

A few years ago, my reaction to my daughters joy probably would have been to chuckle and remind her that weeds after a bloom look like the kiss of death! 

But I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.

I trusted the joy in my daughter’s text and I arranged to meet her the next day to photograph the hillside, hoping to use a photo for my blog.  

Her property is up a steep hill.  Natural terrain on one side, older, aging homes on the other and most with unmanicured yards…or yards in a natural state, depending on your perspective.  

I can state emphatically that a few years ago, my curious mind would have wondered into negative territory worrying about unsavory characters lurking somewhere in all that imperfectness.   

But as I said, I’m not the same person.  Positivity had changed me.

The minute I pulled into the driveway I could see the yellow blooms. They were everywhere. My daughter was there too, her face radiant.   “Mom, isn’t it great?!!!”

Reaching up the slopes to the palm nursery above her house, where little yellow blooms, dancing in the breeze and dappled sunlight.  The greenery below the blooms was thick, yet delicate, and I could imagine fairies and elves living amidst their canopy.

I had brought my camera and some props for my blog post, my old tap shoes, Moe and Joe, and some other things.  I started to set out all the props, but thru my camera lens I saw clearly that Moe and Joe would be just fine among the blooming weeds without the addition of any fanfare.

They were protected.  Safe.  Loved.  Bathed in light.

There was another area of my daughter’s property, where the blooms were reaching down the slope through a chain link fence to an old shed on the adjacent property.

My old curious self would have immediately conjured all sorts of unsavory images about who lived on the property below and I probably would have blown the moment of happiness with my daughter with some negative comment about her safety.

But as I said, I’m not the same person.  Positivity has changed me.

I began to photograph the shed and a thought came to mind that the old shed, sitting in a field of blooms, reminded me of the Wizard of Oz and my old, negative self.   

An old house dropped from the sky into a field of yellow.  And there I am, under the house, my negative-self withering in anger and fear, begging to be let out.

Let me out! Let me out!  Let me out!

But positivity takes over and the image changes.

Faded boards and rusty nails, aged and imperfect like me, welcoming the sunlight of the blooms creeping towards them.  The yellow of the flowers speaking to my soul in all ways positive:  happiness, joy, hope.   Representing all that is good in the past, all that is good now and all that will be good.  Welcoming positivity.

Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!

It’s not easy to think differently.  To train our curious minds to choose positivity first, especially among the weeds of life.   But I can tell you personally that the reward for doing so is worth every second of the struggle. 

For when we are able to see the good in the weeds, we are able to see the good in ourselves and in others.

Our human curiosity becomes not a tool for divide and conquer, but about a shared love for what is right in our world.    We are empowered by a curiosity that seeks to squeeze out every ounce of value in this short time we have on this planet and that curiosity propels us forward into a land of positive change.

PositivelyAnne

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Faith is not a label, it lives and breathes

For here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame…

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It was Palm Sunday 2004, and my husband and I and our three children were on a tour of Paris, France. Our tour guide asked us if we would like to see the Dimanche des Rameaux” (Sunday of the Branches”) at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, a Holy week celebration of Jesus arrival in Jerusalem.  Our kids, being huge Quasimodo fans, thanks to the 1996 Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, were thrilled.  My husband and I, while extremely excited, were still a bit unsure about putting our family in the middle of such a large gathering, only because the pain of 9/11 was still very fresh and we had already experienced a massive French military presence near our hotel and along the  Champs-Elysees due to the state visit between Queen Elizabeth and French President Jacques Chirac.   But children have a way of putting things in perspective and my little boys request, “I want to see QUAAAASIIMOOOO” sealed the deal.

Safety concerns aside, I silently hoped and prayed that some elfin creature would materialize from the bell tower of Notre Dame singing “Out There” or we were going to have some very disappointed children.   I wondered if Jesus would help me out here.

Palm Sunday itself had started off in typical April in Paris fashion: gray and drizzly!  But as our driver approached Notre Dame, the clouds broke to reveal a powder blue sky. The sun’s rays bouncing off the rose windows in the Cathedral tower reflected a kaleidoscope of colors onto the white robes of the clergy gathered on the steps below. 

Our driver, could not find a place to park, dashing any hopes of us joining in palm procession, but he quickly zipped into a red curbed driveway and rolled down the windows.

“Prenez vite vos photos!”  (Quick, take your pictures!). 

I didn’t think twice and just started snapping pictures.  Through my camera lens, I could see thousands of people, old and young, and somewhere in-between, locked arm in arm, standing in the shadow of this towering testament to gothic architecture and human survival.  Palm branches were waving everywhere.  I mean everywhere.  With my ears, I could hear a cacophony of voices: some angelic sopranos, some altos, tenors and bass, some off-key, literally hundreds of languages singing what I later learned was a hymn called, “The Palm.”   There were people who were not singing on the periphery of the crowds, but they were no less engaged.  Most of them were smiling, their teeth white against a myriad of skin tones, their eyes raised to the heavens in joy, to admire the bell towers or possibly the spire atop, or maybe in hope that the wafting clouds might part further to reveal the Christ they had come to praise.   Some were taking pictures like me. Others were silently holding hands with a loved one, or cuddling a small child.

I looked at my children, at my husband and gone were any thoughts of spying a Disney cartoon character.   For, here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame, not as a theological doctrine or a set of rules that I struggled to follow, but rather “faith” in its’ purest form:

Raw, human interaction.  Diversity in all its’ splendor.  A celebration of the human spirit, of all we can be together.   No barriers, no boundaries.

My three-year old son who was hanging out the window, turned to look at me, his tiny hands clapping, “Happy mommy, it’s happy.”    

Quasimodo was forgotten.   “Faith” had taken root instead!

I wanted so badly to get out of the car and walk with my family, arm in arm, towards those crowds outside Notre Dame and all of that “faith, but alas, our driver said we needed to move on and off we went in search of Montmartre and Sacre-Couer and all the other wonders of Paris.

But after we returned to the states, I thought about that moment at Notre Dame.  The cynic in me argued that I was romanticizing things.   Being a Christian and a regular church attendee, it’s natural that I would be excited to see such a diverse group of religious faithful joyously celebrating one of the most sacred aspects of Holy Week, at one of the most famous churches in the world.  

But deep in my heart I knew I had been blessed by what I had seen in a different way.  

And I began to wonder why I had couldn’t live out my life with a “faith” that simple and pure.  No labels, no barriers, no ridiculous expectations or judgements, just pure happiness.

I knew how to do it.  In fact, I think we all know how to do it.   

Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the death of a child…almost any tragedy, we move together without thinking as one “faith”.   Oh, not the “faith” of a specific religion, but a “faith” that lives and breathes in each other, in humanity and in our very human desire to be the light in the face of darkness.  

Yesterday, as the world watched Notre Dame burn, I once again saw the people gather, this time in the shadow of the flames engulfing their beloved treasure  Their tear stained faces,  reflecting the sorrow of what was lost, but in their eyes was a determination and hope that immediately took me back to that Palm Sunday fifteen years ago.   

It mattered not where they came from.  It mattered not their theology or lack thereof.  It mattered not their income, their gender, their skin color, or any other label we humans assign other humans.   

What mattered were the images of strangers, standing arm in arm, voices raised in song, defiant of the flames, reminding us that even in the face of darkness, happiness is just around the corner.      

I need to make it a priority to not lose “faith” in my fellow human beings.  There is much good there…SO MUCH GOOD!    

Hope is alive. Positivity is stronger than Negativity.  Let it in.  Let it flow.   

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That’s what Jesus would want us to do.   That’s what we should do! 

Happy Easter,

PositivelyAnne

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What’s Your Mission?

Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?

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Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?  

I’m not talking about the lists of errands and forgotten “To Do’s”.   I’m talking about if you could focus on something that would bring you happiness, joy, purpose, and encompass all that “You” represent to yourself and the world, what would your “mission” be?

My journey to uncover my own “mission” has by no means been an easy one.   In fact, it’s actually pretty fluid and right now, I guess you could say that in this particular moment my “mission” is to spread “POSITIVITY”  through my blog on PositivelyAnne.  

As my life ebbs and flows though, so does my “mission”, but it might help you to understand how to define your own “mission”, if I share with you a little back story on how I have been able to find and define mine.

My journey to find my “mission” began when one afternoon, at the age of eight, I happened to hear these powerful words spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (actor: William Shatner)of the starship Enterprise in the opening credits of Star Trek: The Original Series:  

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year “mission”: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

I imagine you are laughing now, but I am totally serious.  Totally!

You see I grew up at a time when space was on the minds of all of Americans.  Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in 1969, those grainy images on our television set of subsequent Apollo missions and the nightly commentary from broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, sent my imagination soaring.  The nursery rhyme of my childhood that talked of a cow jumping over the moon, was now replaced by real people traversing the “cheese” planet with lunar landers.   It all seemed so big and grand, a “mission” of the utmost importance.

In addition, my father was an aerospace executive and one of my earliest memories is standing with him and my brother in front of a rocket as it was intentionally blown apart on a launch pad as part of its’ “mission” testing.    I have never heard a bang as loud as that since then.   It was truly awesome to witness, but more importantly it etched the word “mission” into my subconscious.  The idea of something powerful, something important, something BIG, really, really BIG!

I was too little to watch the original Star Trek series when it premiered on NBC in 1966, and if not for the growing interest in space after the moon landings, the show probably would have faded into obscurity, written off as a novelty, as were most of the shows in the early days of television.  But the moon landings happened and after it’s 3 -year run, Star Trek was blasted into syndication riding high on the possibility that the secrets of space were now within our reach.  I watched it as often as I could.

Now being so young, I had no real concept of the deeper meaning of Star Trek.   I didn’t understand the lasting implications of the diversity of its’ cast.  I didn’t understand its’ ground breaking storylines addressing differences, and inclusion and compromise    I guess you could say I didn’t understand much, if anything, of the historic context of the television I was watching.   

But, to be perfectly honest,  I didn’t really care about any of that.  I didn’t watch the show for its’ story lines, my little girls heart was captivated by the opening credits and Captain James T. Kirk’s hypnotic voice inviting us to be a part of his “mission.”

 “Space, the final frontier…”   

I was rapt with curiosity. I wanted to be a part of the “mission” of this crew.  To explore, to seek, to go where I had never gone before. 

It sounded so important.  I wanted to be important.  To do important work like the men on the moon and my father.  I wasn’t sure that my calling would be space flight…math was not my favorite subject, but I knew that whatever I did, I wanted my “mission” to matter, to my family, to strangers, to the world.

As I entered high school, America had long ago stopped going to the moon, both in real life and on television.  We discovered the moon was not everything the Gumby cartoons had portrayed it to be, let alone Star Trek.   My father now worked on a new space program, a space shuttle that would be able to return to earth…a sort of “space truck”, if you will.   While its’ initial missions seemed endlessly exciting to me and my heart soared along with my fathers at each successful flight, I was watching television both times the shuttle exploded.  First the Challenger, then several years later, the Columbia.

I felt the horror, along with thousands of other students across America, as our disbelieving eyes tracked the sky for the glittering remains of lives lost and dreams shattered.  Something in me decided that day that it was no longer practical to reach for the stars and the moon.  Keeping my feet grounded here at home, where I knew it was safe, seemed the best course of action.  At this point in my life, my “mission” was to get my head out of the clouds and remain rooted in practical tasks and goals here on earth, at least for the next several years.  Sometimes my “mission” seemed very trivial. 

I’m on a “mission” to finish my homework so that I can go out with my boyfriend.

I’m on a “mission” to pass my geometry class.

I’m on a “mission” to get my college applications completed before the deadline.

Then…

I’m on a “mission” to get my laundry done.

I’m on a “mission” to go to the grocery store.

I’m on a “mission” to finish this book I’ve been wanting to finish.

Lastly…

I ‘m on a “mission” to lose 5 pounds.

I’m on a “mission” to not have tan lines.

I really like those Mission Tortilla Chips!!!

Yes, the grandeur of Captain Kirk’s “mission”, the same “mission” that made landing on the moon possible and sent the shuttle into outer space, was now reduced to nothing more than making sure I had a decent tortilla chip to dip into my salsa. 

So much for the final frontier!  

But trivialities aside,  I did accomplish quite a bit after high school.  I graduated with degrees in Liberal Studies-Journalism and Business and launched a successful career, first in hotel management and then in higher education.  I met the love of my life in the dorms and got married and within a few years we were expecting our first child.

One day, in the first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on the floor of the bathroom wrapped around the toilet battling a terrible case of morning sickness.   I had pretty much memorized “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” and realized I needed to do something to take my mind off of the nausea.  Laying down seemed to make it worse, so bed was out, but I decided I could probably prop myself up on the couch and watch a television program as a distraction.  

I crawled out of the bathroom and over to the couch and turned on the television.  I had no idea what was on.  I heard the opening notes of Star Trek and Captain Kirk’s comforting voice:

“Space, the final frontier…”   I relaxed.  The nausea left me. I closed my eyes and I began to dream about all the “missions” that had come before me and were to follow.  

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I dreamed about those men who braved the odds to fly millions of miles above our earth to place their footprints and our flag in the dust, only to travel home to crickets chirping once we knew that aliens were not a part of the equation. They never gave up on their “mission”, even as America lost interest in them.

I dreamed of my dad and how tirelessly he and his team worked to make space flight look as easy as driving a truck and the sadness he must have carried inside him when all that was possible for space exploration, suddenly seemed impossible.  He never gave up on his “mission” of searching and seeking answers to mans quest to explore space.  

I dreamed of my unborn child, the bean inside me that soon would become our son or daughter and how much I wanted them to know that whatever their “mission” in life, their father and I would never give up on them, ever!

Lastly, but most important, I dreamed of my own “mission” and how I didn’t need to let life’s twists and turns stop me from progressing.  At times, I move forward at warp speed.  Other times, I sit quietly in the shadows taking it all in.   Sometimes, I am a great success.  Other times a great failure.  But, I am always, always compelled to keep trying, not only for myself, but to honor all of those who have come before me and risk it all.

I have a “mission” and it’s ever changing, like me.    But I’m all in.  I’m ready for the challenge and in doing so, I truly think I have a damn good shot at this whole live long and prosper thing.  

Thirty years of marriage, three kids, and four careers later, I’m still trying, one positive step forward at a time.   Won’t you join me?   PositivelyAnne

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