Moving your life story from “I Can’t” to “I Can Do It!”

I sat in the car for a few moments before starting the engine, gathering my thoughts. I could literally feel my mind racing, like it actually had a heart beat and I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed. I must have looked like a loon to anyone driving by.

You see I was laughing at the fact that despite my intentional focus on positivity, it remains my truth that there are going to be things in my life that are beyond my control to change. Things I’m not necessarily meant to understand fully because, well, it’s pretty simple, I’m not meant to.

Lymphedema is one of those things.

Lymphedema has been on my radar since I underwent a bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer and was informed that there was a risk, a life-long risk, of my lymphatic system becoming painfully blocked in my arm, breast and/or hand due to the removal of lymph nodes from my under arm to test for rogue cancer cells.  When and if, that happened, I would face the possibility of an unknown level of swelling, pain and risk of infection for the rest of my life. Whoopee! 😦

Last week my hubby and I were looking forward to packing our bags for a much needed New England getaway when I began to notice that my right breast hurt, was red and was very swollen. I knew exactly what it was. Lymphedema had arrived in my life.

I’d like to say I took immediate action, but I didn’t. I waited.

You see this trip to New England was a celebration of the completion of three years of surgeries, a delayed 30th anniversary trip and birthday celebrations for my hubby and I all rolled into one. Nothing, nothing was going to get in the way of our special time together, least of all lymphedema.

The God I love could not be that cruel.

But, as I said there are things that are beyond my control. Things I am not meant to fully understand and I knew deep down that God was in no way responsible for this latest health issue, so I set aside my pride, my need to control things and made the phone call to my surgeon.

He took one look at me and I just knew. No words needed to be exchanged.

After a moment of awkward silence I said, “Um, so my husband and I have a plane to catch and a romantic adventure awaiting, so I’ll deal with this little lymphedema issue when I get back, o.k.?”

“Sorry, no flying…not until you get fitted for a compression sleeve and see a physical therapist who specializes in lymphatic drainage. Oh, and by the way, it looks like you have an infection in the lymphatic fluid surrounding your new implant, thus the reason you are not feeling well, so we need to put you on strong antibiotics, remind me what you are allergic to again?”

“Allergic, me? How well do you know the good folks at the Center for Disease Control, cause they pretty much have me on speed dial!”

So, instead of cycling around Long Island with my favorite guy; or cheering on the Red Sox at Fenway while drinking one too many beers; or learning how to make cheese in Vermont, I sat there in the parking lot of my doctors office laughing like a loon and thinking how in the hell was I going to make this wonderful new game plan sound as fun and exciting to my husband as the vacation we had planned.

But I needn’t have worried.

Oh, I’m not going to lie to you.  A few tears were shed, a few choice curse words, some I’m ashamed to say aimed directly at God and my husband was sad. I was sad. Everyone in my family was sad.

Yet in this moment of sadness, I’m choosing to see this whole lymphedema thing through a positive lens. This set back is no different than every other hiccup I have been through health wise and I know it to be true that blessings are often not what we have planned, but what is revealed to us in our journey.

I have discovered that God has provided me with an amazing opportunity to define my life not by all the things I can’t do, all the things, for example, that lymphedema will temporarily impact, like travel plans. Instead my life can be powered into infinity by the “I Can Do It!” moments.

And there is so much comfort and joy in that revelation.

Four simple words…

“I Can Do It!” 

Words that are considered high frequency use words and are a part of the first 100 words we learn as young children.  Words that young children are quick to embrace and use often, without prompting and adults quickly forget.   

“I can do it myself mommy!”  “Let me try that daddy, I can do it!”  

You see the older we get, we lose sight of the value and power those words “I Can Do It!” can have in propelling us forward through all the negative trials we face in our adult lives because we are constantly taken aback that adult hood doesn’t include morphing into a super-hero capable of keeping the “I Can’t” in our lives at bay.

Thus the reason I sat in my car, after my doctors appointment, laughing at the irony of being a positivity blogger and yet, this one stupid thing, this lymphedema thing, I couldn’t fix even with all of my positivity efforts.

I know it’s wrong to beat myself up, but I guess the older we get, the more seasoned we become at choosing the “I Can’t!” in our lives first, until it is on autopilot.   I’m a grown-up damn it, this all should be so simple!

Maybe it’s not all our fault tho.

You only have to turn on the television, radio, your computer and promoting “I Can’t!” is nothing short of a global phenomenon, with billions and billions of dollars changing hands each day at the expense of our vulnerabilites.

Tell us whats wrong with us enough and we begin to believe it and we will pay to hear it over and over and over again.

Seriously, have you ever stopped to think just flipping through the cable channels how much messaging is geared to the “I Can’t” in us, then the “I Can?” Multiply that exponentially over the course of a life time and well, that’s a lot of “I Can’t!” At some point, we stop trying to think positively and focus on all the bad because it’s what we are conditioned to believe is of value. We promote it in our selves, we promote it in each other.

The irony is we are all banging the same drum.  “I can’t!” “You can’t” “We can’t” and the song is so stale and old and tired we’ve become numb to it.

I get it.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve embraced the negative more times in my fifty six years than I can count. Honestly, the past three years it has been so tempting to just bathe in all of that negative vibe.   I’m tired, I’m broken and done with all of the chaos my health issues have caused me and damn it, I wanted to go to New England with my husband, is that too much to ask?

There seems to be an unspoken kinship in us grown-ups, wrapping ourselves in that blanket of pain and sorrow and all that is lost?   We take one for the team of “I Can’t!” time and time again because frankly it’s pretty easy to explain all that we can’t do and so damn hard to explain our possible, especially, if we haven’t a freakin clue what it all means.

But I’m discovering that if I/we wallow in our own pool of what is wrong with us, we totally miss out on the joys of what we are truly capable of.

We all have within us the ability to move the needle from “I Can’t!” to “I Can Do It!” and all we need to do is stop complicating it and remember the child in us.

When my children were small and the years I spent as an early childhood educator, I discovered that, “I Can Do It!” flowed freely from the lips of young children, but not so much from adults.  

You see the difference between young children and adults when it comes to the eight simple letters of “I-C-A-N-D-O-I-T” is that young children don’t automatically reach for the “I Can’t” when things get tough.  They haven’t been tainted by advertisers and media and the collective security blanket of negative images and thinking.

When they face a physical or mental challenge, you will hear words like, “I want to try again”, “I would like another turn to try”, “I want another chance.”  All implying their possible.  

When they don’t feel well, once recovered, they have little recollection that they were ever sick and instead quickly get back to all they can do.

Thinking back to when I was a kid, I remember I got a bad case of chicken pox and learned to tie my shoes and ride a bike in the backyard while I was recovering. What the heck happened to that drive and motivation of that little girl? What happened to that kid, who despite being covered in itchy chicken pox, saw only her possible?

When did what I am incapable of become of greater value in my life than what I am capable of?

It’s interesting that failure is an every day thing in the life of a young child and yet, it just isn’t innate in them to automatically go to the dark side.

In fact, it is often during those really difficult moments when their “I Can’t!” seems to be the only possible outcome, that young children rally around each other, lifting each other up.  

“I can do it” becomes “We can do it” and it’s a marvel to witness.

You see, what we adults interpret as loss: of our health, our person, our God given right to control our destiny in every aspect; young children see as a forever opportunity to GET IT RIGHT! Whether that is by themselves or in a group, there is no negative drum beat, only:

“I can do it!”   “You can do!”  “We can do it!”   

Sounds like a pretty wonderful way to live, right?

Imagine a world where adults are no longer fearful of the inevitable obstacles, forks in the road, and jaw dropping cliff dives of life for which we have no control.

“I CAN DO IT!”

Imagine a world where adults are no longer vulnerable to the advertisers and media and the “I Can’t” of their reality and instead dream, imagine, cultivate all of their possible in themselves and in each other.

“I CAN DO IT!”

Imagine a world where we no longer table our child like wonder and the blanket we wrap around ourselves is warm with love, hope and all of the possibilities of our together.

“I CAN DO IT!”

We don’t have to wait. We have the tools in each of us to make it so and we only have to look to our childhood for a reminder.

I am going to work hard in the coming months to make that my reality. I know with the help of God, my family and friends, medical team and yes, even you, my fellow positivity seekers, that I do not have to give lymphedema any more of an audience in my life story then it needs to be. 

I truly am looking forward to discovering all of the “I Can Do It’s!” that have yet to be revealed in my life and share those wonderful stories with you.

I am excited.  I am hopeful.  I am blessed.

And I’m going to New England with my favorite guy as soon as I’m cleared to do so. My bags are still packed!

PositivelyAnne

I hope you will Like and Follow me as we journey together to figure this positivity thing out. PositivelyAnne.com on WP and FB and PositivelyAnne on Instagram and Linked In.

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Rejoice and be Glad!

Willis Tower 103 stories above Chicago

One of my favorite verses from the bible is from Psalm 118:24

This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In my humble opinion, the implications of this verse are powerful, less in the literally interpretation of creation and more in the subtext of opportunity…human opportunity.

As the sun rises and sets, we are given another chance to get it right.  To appreciate ourselves, our lives and to be joyful and glad for who and what we are.   

Now I’d like to ask you two simple questions and I am going to guess how you might answer them.

Are you glad, You, are you?   YES OR NO?    Do you rejoice in the You that is?  YES or NO?

  • “What do you mean by glad exactly?”  “I mean there are so many levels of gladness from extreme happiness to mild contentment and everything in between, so, can you further define the word “glad” for me?”
  • “What is there to be glad about, my life is in turmoil, period! “
  • “Of course, I’m glad! BUT there are hundreds of things I’m working on, so um, it’s hard to let others see the real me.  I’d rather envision the images of the “me” I want to be.  The perfect “me” I imagine myself to be.  The “me”, I’d be glad to know, not this mess of a person that I see in the mirror before me.  I can’t rejoice until I’m that person.”
  • “It’s selfish to be glad for ourselves when so many others are hurting.”
  • “People who are glad, are fake.  No one is glad.  Everyone is just going through the motions of life.  Anyone who posts “glad” things about themselves, happy pictures, happy stories, IS just catering to the fakeness that is life on this planet.     
  • If we say we are “glad” with ourselves, then we ignore all that is possible for us to be. We become stagnate, unable to move forward, past our own self-importance.

You may find my answers surprising, a bit bold, maybe even brash. Maybe you are even uncomfortable with my cynicism.   Isn’t this a positivity blog????

Well, if any or all of the above answers resonates with you, then I’m doing my job as a positivity blogger because we can’t move forward in our positivity journey until we accept the fact that we live in a world that makes money off the fact that we don’t like ourselves.   Lots and lots of money.  And we are being conditioned to think this way about gladness, about joy, about life because it lines the pockets of the few who don’t care whether we are glad or not as long as the money keeps rolling in.   

We’ve been led to believe that joy and gladness are counter culture to what the world wants for us.   So instead of rejoicing in the day the Lord hath made, we spend our days “oohing and ahhing” over our foibles to the degree that we give power to our own degradation.

We strip ourselves bare of any chance at happiness because it’s cooler to keep our happiness hidden, and more profitable if we are downright miserable.  

Hate of ourselves is a profitable business, it has been for a long time and we, the people, are its’ willing fuel. 

Countless advertising dollars are spent pumping our brains full of round the clock negativity.   Social media sites programmed to “push” our vulnerability to the forefront.   

Seriously, I can tell you it is nothing short of an uphill battle to be a positivity blogger in a world where likes and follows are freely given for negative content and positivity has become a pay per view proposition.

Those of us attempting to stoke the fires of glad tidings are left with the crumbs.  Crumbs that are readily available to multiply, but for which we are conditioned to think ourselves unworthy of the fight.  

Life’s algorithm seems to favor an economy where gladness is a four- letter word.  We are constantly looking in the mirror, both literally and figuratively, impressed not by what is good about ourselves, but by what is flawed. 

Now before I lose you to the doom and gloom, I have a quick fix for all of this.  The answer is simple. 

WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.   I repeat.   WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.   For those of you who do not like contractions, here it is again:

WE DO NOT HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.

Nope, WE DO NOT.   We can choose to be glad for ourselves.  We can choose to post our gladness.  We can choose to promote positivity, in all its forms.  We can choose to say “HELL NO!” to the negativity machine.

But to do that we have to arm ourselves with a new attitude.  An attitude that stops expecting the world to change for us and instead we change ourselves.   

As I stated, we do live in a world where we are rewarded for being negative and that world encourages us to push gladness, true gladness in our human selves, to the back burner.   Now the way this succeeds is it plays into our vulnerability that true gladness in ourselves is all about perfection. 

And guess what people.  None of us is perfect.  Nope, not me, not you, not anyone.  

So, first things first.  Say to yourself: 

I AM NOT PERFECT and THAT IS 100 PERCENT OK.

Simply put, Let Perfection Go!  

O.k., so none of us is perfect. What’s next?

Well now we need to open our eyes to what we like about ourselves internally.   Notice, I’m not talking about physical beauty.  

I hate to burst your ego, but physical beauty is truly subjective and it’s virtually impossible to get consensus on what is physically beautiful and it’s the reason companies and their advertisers, since time immortal, have spent billions of dollars trying to convince us that physical beauty is important because no one can agree on exactly what that benchmark is.   

So, forget your outside and focus on your inner beauty.  Most everyone has something they like about themselves internally.   Are you kind, considerate, compassionate, a quick study, a good listener, a good speaker, a motivator, focused, driven, energetic, positive, creative, romantic, resourceful, thoughtful, gentle, quiet, reserved, introvert, extrovert, comedic, entertaining…you get the idea!

Pick something, one thing.   My inner beauty is my intuition.   I can read a situation, a room, pretty quickly.   I wasn’t always aware I had this skill or aware of how valuable it would be in my life.   When I was an intern in my first job after college, a colleague of mine pointed out the importance of learning how to read the dynamics of a situation before jumping in with both feet to resolve it.  She told me intuition was an important skill.  I quickly realized it was a skill that came naturally to me, intuitively, and it is a skill that has served me well in every aspect of my life.

My intuition has enabled me to see the blessings in almost every situation.  I quickly understand that “drama” in my life can also be the stepping stone to something even better.  Be it tools to help me manage the situation or critical information that keeps me moving forward.   So, I’m less reactive to change and more proactive about looking for the blessings.

So, let your inner beauty have a voice and rejoice in it!

Third, we live in a world where we have access to “the world” in real time.  Anything we want to see and anywhere we want to experience is pretty much at our fingertips.  But, as I stated before, life’s algorithms push us to seek out the negative and feel guilty when we don’t.  

A couple examples:  How many of you spend time looking at all the negative comments about a movie, a concert, a place you want to visit or eat at before you decide to go there?  How many of you stress about all the negative things that can happen when visiting family and friends, instead of focusing on all the joyful possibilities?

Again, the push for us to choose the negative has us automatically second guessing everything.  Maybe the restaurant isn’t as good as we imagine.  Maybe travelling to Europe isn’t as safe as we hope it would be.  Maybe my dream job isn’t going to be so dreamy if what I’m reading on-line is true. Maybe my grandma will be crabby or my cousins boring.

And…maybe you will get cancer or divorced or struck by lightning.   Yep, bad stuff happens to all of us.  That is a fact.   So, rewire yourself to seek out the positive without hesitation.  Don’t let the advertisers, the influencers, the negativity peddlers rob you of your joy.  And forget the guilt.  We can’t predict every negative thing in life.  And to be honest, if we could, life would be boring. 

I recently planned a trip to Chicago with my daughter and when planning for the trip, instead of just entering into the internet search engine, “Things to do in Chicago”, where I was guaranteed to see a plethora of negative feedback, I instead input the following:

“Fun and Positive Only” things to Do in Chicago.

Sounds silly I know, but…

Over 100 different activities popped up, all FUN and AFFORDABLE and there was not a single negative comment on any of the activities! The exciting thing was that these activities led us to discover other positive experiences (impromptu salsa dancing in Millennium Park comes to mind) and all told, it was one of the best vacations I have ever had.

So, my point is this, you can be glad.  You really can.  You can ignore the negative and seek out the positive EVERY SINGLE TIME!    See that movie you want.  Enjoy new restaurants.  Visit family and friends without worry.  

Let the world see the real you…your inner gladness.

Do not hesitate to post to your Facebook or Instagram the fun you are having.  So, what if someone thinks:  

What an ego!  What a self-absorbed narcissist!  What a phony!

Who cares what they think, because you will know the positive truth because you are living it!!!

You are the living embodiment of gladness and what Psalm 118:24 is all about.   

REJOICE.  OWN IT. SHARE IT.  Life is too short not to SHOUT IT TO THE WORLD!

I AM GLAD!!!

PositivelyAnne.com

This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

All are welcome to like and follow PositivelyAnne. Let me know what brings you joy and gladness? How do you push back on the negative in life?

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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Not all lemons make lemonade

Maybe the birds weren’t too smart after all. I mean I wouldn’t build my house with a potential disaster looming overhead like that.

As you go about your daily life, you will encounter many lemons.  Sour expressions, sour attitudes, sour auras!  The good thing is that if you don’t want to be a lemon, you don’t have to be! Just don’t let those lemons rub themselves all over you! And you don’t even have to save them!  Just let lemons be lemons! -C.  Joybell C.

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photo: Morning Accomplishments by PositivelyAnne

As the morning sun was just peaking over the hill behind our house, I sat in my favorite chair, enjoying my first cup of coffee, when through the window I spotted a pair of doves who had begun the process of building a nest in our lemon tree.

The nest was being built in the apex of two branches towards the back of the tree.  These branches were covered with dark green leaves and laden with bright yellow citrus fruit.  One of the doves appeared to be in charge of gathering the twigs to make the nest and I watched it as it scoured the ground underneath a nearby pepper tree, where it would bring back to the waiting dove a single twig of the exact same size as all the others lining the nest.  The other dove would take that twig and maneuver it in place using their beak, head and breast.  One layer of twigs laid vertically and then another layer laid horizontally on top of that layer and then all layers compressed to form a sphere. 

I got up from my chair, face pressed against the window, and I marveled at the architectural, construction and engineering skills of these two birds.   I’m supposedly smarter than doves and yet, I can’t cut a piece of lumber without measuring and remeasuring and here each twig this bird gathered was somehow proportionate to the previous twig.  How could that be?   And that spherical shape…what’s up with that? I certainly couldn’t build anything spherical without…well, I can’t build anything spherical period!!! 

What really caused me to pause was the fact that the doves were building this amazing creation completely surrounded by dozens and dozens of really large lemons.  Some of the lemons appeared to be heavier, and larger, than their tiny bodies, and many of the lemons were hanging directly, ominously, over their handiwork.  All it would take is quick snap of a stem, a wayward fruit dropping and all that these two industrious creatures had worked so hard to create would be destroyed.   Yet, the doves seemed completely unphased by the lemons and just diligently went about the work they had set out to do.

Maybe the birds weren’t too smart after all.  I mean I wouldn’t build my house with a potential disaster looming overhead like that.

A thought crossed my mind:

“Not all lemons make lemonade.”

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photo:  Lemon Reflections by PositivelyAnne

Practicing positivity requires a certain level of “intentional awareness” of life’s lemons: the people, the places and the things, that bring one down and impact a person in a negative way.   A few years back, I made a list of the lemons in my life and it was a bit humbling to discover that even positive folks like me can get caught up in some pretty sour situations, with some pretty sour people.   

But being “aware” of life’s lemons is a totally different proposition then feeling compelled to try and make lemonade out of ALL OF THEM!

Is that even possible to do?  To make lemonade out of all of the people, places and things that bring us down.  Or were the doves onto something?  Is it possible to be your positive self, do your thing, surrounded, just as these doves are, by life’s lemons?

When I was a little girl, I remember being very sensitive to anyone in my life, be it family, friend or stranger, who had a sour disposition or approached life in a negative way.  Although I didn’t have much life experience, I had a keen awareness that there were some people in the world, who preferred to stay sour lemons.  The folks who had no interest in making lemonade and made it their mission to make life difficult for others.  I didn’t understand that.  I wasn’t wired that way.

Now this did not include the folks I knew with horrible childhoods or who were poor, suffering from depression, mental illness or addiction issues.  As complex as those issues were for a little girl to process, I somehow understood that there was a difference between being a victim of your circumstances and “consciously choosing” to be a lemon in life by permanently wallowing in anger, nastiness and hate.

As I got older, my concern for doing something about these individuals who checked off “lemon” as a lifestyle turned into a compulsion to where I felt I had to turn these lemons into lemonade any time I encountered one!  

And that meant lots of sleep lost and lots of disappointment for me. 

Life, in case you aren’t as attune to it as me, is sure full of a lot of lemons! 

Families! Friends! Communities! Workplaces! Schools! Churches! Grocery Stores! Banks! Airplanes! The list is endless…

LEMONS! LEMONS! LEMONS!

Literally, I’m drowning in lemons…a heavy, depressive pile of lemons!   What happened to positivity in this world?  What happened to light and hope and peace?  

Social Media is the worst of it.  The divide and conquer mentality, the focus on all things that tear us apart, all the things that don’t matter in the end.  I’m a cancer survivor so I know how futile it is to spend one precious moment of life focused on negativity.  It’s a big reason I started a positivity blog.  A happy place in cyber-space. 

“Why does the world have to be so focused on the lemons, when it could be focused on making the lemonade?”  

I remember one night recently, I unloaded on my husband (I owe him one!) my concern that the world was being taken over by negativity, a bunch of lemons with no interest in making lemonade.   He said something along the lines of “Maybe, but they are not stopping you from doing what you do best. Be your positive self, which everyone appreciates and it’s natural for you.  No matter what you do, there will always be some negative folks,” aka, some LEMONS!

I won’t tell you how I reacted.  It wasn’t pretty. My poor hubby. Gosh I do love him so for putting up with me.  I think I argued something to the effect that it was a cop out for me to just give those negative folks a pass without even trying to make lemonade.

But in the end, not looking forward to another sleepless night, I had to agree my hubby was right.   My way wasn’t working.  I was worn to a nub worrying about all of the lemons I couldn’t fix, when I was doing so much good with those who were open to positivity.   

And truth be told, not a one of the stubborn lemons I had come across, either in my past nor in my present, was permanently stopping me from doing anything I wanted to do, least of all creating a successful positivity blog, talking about positivity, BEING POSITIVE! 

It was me that was stopping me!  Me that was so focused on bringing all of the lemons over to my side that I lost sight of the fact that I didn’t have to do that.

“Not all lemons make lemonade.”

I finished my morning coffee and looked out at the lone dove, work complete, sitting quietly on her nest, trusting life in the face of all of those lemons above and below and all around it.   In fact, the more I looked at the bird nest, I began to notice the beauty in the lemons surrounding it.  Their brightness of color, their different shapes and weights.  Their importance in providing a cover and safety for the doves and at the same time a reminder of their vulnerability.

Maybe the doves are a little smarter than me after all.  We all encounter lemons in life.  Some will make lemonade sweeter than we’ve ever known, but many, and in some cases most, will only serve to remind us that we need to stay focused on our goals, on what makes us happy and positive.

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photo:  Lemon After Storm by PositivelyAnne

Sometimes, we just have to let the lemons be and build our nest the best way we know how.  One positive step at a time.

You, Me, Us. Together.

PositivelyAnne

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“Turn off the Stove!

…and everytime before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind: “Turn off the Stove!”

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photo: “Goodnight Flame” by PositivelyAnne

At some point you grow out of being attracted to that flame 

that burns you over and over and over again.

-Taylor Swift

In 2016, my remarkably stellar health decided to make up for 52 years of an otherwise perfect track record.  I spent fifteen consecutive months floating in and out of stark operating rooms; their interiors filled with all sorts of monitors and robotic machinery sporting lobster like claws and dozens of masked strangers, whose eyes reflected the seriousness of my condition and yet, were somehow comforting.

After so many consecutive surgeries, it often times felt like I was dropped into the middle of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”.  But unlike the television drama, my encounters with Mr. McDreamy and company were a little strange to say the least, as each and every time before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind:

“Turn off the Stove!” 

Given everything I could possibly consider as my last conscious thought: gratitude for my life, love for my family, thankfulness that the doctor hovering over me with that long needle was pretty good looking…concern for turning off the stove” didn’t even register. 

Definitely not an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy!”    

“Maybe it’s just some crazy side effect of the anesthetic!” My family and close friends knew how often I fell into the “only one percent of the population gets this side effect” column, so the possibility that this was just some sort of reoccurring hallucination (brought on by some very powerful drugs) wasn’t unreasonable. 

“Maybe it’s just one of those random things we humans worry about, like turning off the lights or locking the front door, when we are going somewhere for an extended period of time.”  Possible, but…the fact that this idea of “turning off the stove” kept happening, surgery, after surgery, I had to think there was something more to it.

“Turn off the Stove!” 

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my family was already dealing with my father-in-law’s declining health due to dementia and so I was determined not to let a little thing like “cancer” rock my world any more than it had to.   My prognosis was better than good and I had no concerns that life wouldn’t soon return to normal once I took care of this little blip on my radar.

But as time passed, and complications arose for me and other surgeries were required to treat those complications, it became a daily chore for me to keep up the positive veneer.  

On the inside, I was angry.  A seething, burning flame!  A stove perpetually lit! 

Seething with anger that I didn’t have any control over getting cancer or the other issues that ravaged my body.  Seething that my perfect life plan was no longer perfect.  Seething, just to seethe because, well, just because!!!

One could argue that it’s perfectly normal to be angry at the cancer demon. I mean we are trained from the cradle to light a fire in our bellies to beat life’s demons, right?

But what if that that fire is always on,  not only to produce the energy and passion needed to conquer life’s demons, but to fuel perpetual anger and negativity?

“Turn off the Stove!” 

A stove doesn’t turn on unless you light it, and when you light it, it breathes flames.  Flames that can only be controlled by a knob.  Turn the knob to high and the flames rise like a beacon in the night.  Turn the knob down low and the flames simmer, barely visible, but always there, just under the surface. 

Now, it matters not if the stove is turned up high or turned down low… as long as a stoves flames are left on, they can burn, scorch and destroy everything they touch UNTIL THE STOVE IS TURNED OFF! 

My personal stove had been lit for fifteen months straight!

On the morning of my 15th surgery, I was handed a clipboard by a nurse with the usual paperwork attached and I began to fill it out with my usual nonchalance until I got to the line, “I understand that complications may arise that result in permanent injury, disfigurement, even death.”  I had signed my name to that line fourteen times before without giving it second thought, but today I paused, and the magnitude of those words hit me.  I felt the flames of my stove rise, higher and higher.  I COULD DIE! 

And if those words came true, then would my husband, my kids, my friends remember a woman who had given life the best she had to offer or, would they, instead, remember a woman drowning in the flames and ash of her own imperfections? 

No, NO, NOOOO! I couldn’t let the latter be my epitaph. 

So, I turned down the flames of my stove to simmering and I signed my name on the line, put the clipboard aside and cheerfully asked my husband to pass me my purse.  In my purse, I found my makeup bag and I pulled out my trusty tube of cherry lipstick. My “happy” color always made me smile.   I painted my lips (without a mirror) and put the tube back in my bag.  I asked my husband if I looked o.k. and he said, “Great.” 

But as I said, I had left the flames of doubt on my stove still simmering, just there under the surface.  So I pulled out my compact and took a look at myself in the mirror:

WHO ARE YOU KIDDING GIRL?  A little cherry lipstick can’t hide the fact that YOU ARE TERRIFIED!  Yes, you’ve beaten the odds time and again…but, c’mon, it’s only a matter of time!

My stoves flames licked higher and higher beckoning me towards negativity.   

My anesthesiologist walked into the room at that moment, and I looked up from my compact, cherry lipstick smile quivering, our eyes met, 

“Look at you,” he said cheerfully.  “Wow, I needed to see a bright face this morning.”

“Bright face…me?”, I thought.  I’m dying inside.  Burning up.  Searing. Tears came to my eyes and I just stared up at him.  Everything in my heart, my soul, my entire being was in my eyes at that moment.  I could feel the flames of anger and sorrow that I had been carrying around with me for the past fifteen months rise up to the surface of my body.  My skin, like the flames within me,  felt so very hot.  Could he feel it too? Could he see the flames? Something in my eyes must have registered with him because at that moment he came closer, pulled up a chair and grabbed my hand.

“I will tell you a secret”, he said.  “It’s fine for you to be scared, I get scared too…I do, but keeping you alive is also what I do and I’m good at it.  I need you to trust me, but more importantly, I need you to trust in yourself. No doubts!   You’ve made it through fourteen other surgeries just fine and this is just another one. We’ve got this!”

I’d like to tell you that I had some profound words in response and we hugged and it was a true “Grey’s Anatomy” moment, but all I did was lightly squeeze his hand.  Two quick pulses of my fingertips against his palm.  A fleeting gesture of confidence in his words that I have no idea if he even felt.  But I’d like to think he did.

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photo: “Joy” Carlsbad Flower Fields by PositivelyAnne

But it doesn’t matter.  I felt it. I felt the sincerity in his words.  His willingness, like so many others before him,  to take on my lifes complications and face the fires of hell for me.  I closed my eyes and imagined my hand reaching,  slowly, slowly for my stoves knob.  I quickly turned it all the way off.  The flames winked out and unbelieving of what I had done, I reached out and touched the grate…it was cool to the touch.

Soothing.  Calm. Comforting.  A balm to my weary soul. 

It was then that I came to understand the immense value of what the words, “Turn off the Stove” meant the past fifteen months and for my life going forward. 

In times of stress, I had to let go of my ego, my pride, my fear that I, and I alone, could handle all of drama life was handing me.  God and a whole host of family and friends and medical professionals had been whispering in my ear each and every time I went into surgery and all along the road of my life, that I did not have to go it alone.  I didn’t have to fear things.  I had help…help to stay positive.  

I had to “Turn off the Stove” and trust others to light my way. 

As you sort through your own laundry list of challenges: health problems, difficult family dynamics, financial worries and all sorts of unresolved situations that raise your flame quotient higher and higher, just remember to keep your eyes, ears and heart open to those helpers, both familiar and stranger, who are there to whisper a reminder:

“Turn off the Stove!”

And then turn it off and go live your best life.  I can tell you it works!

PositivelyAnne