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

Practicing Intentional Kindness

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No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  -Aesop

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, like so many of you ( or those you love), cancer figures prominently in my life story.  Specifically breast cancer,  but there were also a host of other medical issues that came about as a direct result of my cancer treatment (I will share some of that in later posts).  To sum it up, I became intimately acquainted with hospitals and medical professionals pretty quickly after finding that first lump and the next fifteen-month journey literally flipped my world on its head.  Now heading into my 2nd year post drama, looking back on that time, I consider it a gift.  For it was during those long months of struggle that I came to understand how important it is to live my life as positively as I can and to do that, I had to not only follow my doctors’ instructions for self-care, but I had to equip myself with a “Positivity Toolkit” to help me navigate my new world post cancer.  

One of the first tools I added to my “Positivity Toolkit” was to practice intentional kindness.

Prior to cancer, I would say it’s a pretty fair assessment that I felt pretty adept at being kind.  Kind with my family, kind with my friends, kind at work, kind at church, kind, kind, kind!  Yep, kindness was a natural part of my personality and I just never questioned it as being anything I needed to work on; let alone understand that the brand of kindness I was practicing wasn’t always leaving me feeling warm and fuzzy. 

In fact, looking back on my life pre-cancer, my brand of kindness actually caused me a whole lot of personal daily stress…maybe even downright misery. 

Didn’t my husband know I was just being “kind” when I said that?

My employee didn’t appreciate the raise I gave them…why do I bother being kind?

I do laundry all day and all I get for my kindness is more clothes on the floor?

 Yep, I was kind alright.   But the kind of “kind” I was practicing had a price to pay. 

I was fully expecting others to be kind back.

Well, isn’t that the way life is supposed to go?  I’m kind to you, you’re kind to me?  Seems logical right? And for over fifty years I lived my life with those expectations. Then during one of my hospital stays, I saw kindness modeled in an entirely different way (intentional kindness)by a graveyard shift nurse, and I began to understand the importance of making a change in my practiced brand of kindness.    Let me explain.

Hospitals are scary places, period!  I spent enough time in them over the past couple of years to feel pretty comfortable saying that no one goes to the hospital (except for hospital employees and volunteers) with the intent of doing anything other than getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible!  My observation is that in our vulnerability, as patients who have no choice but to lie prostrate, in a hospital bed, beholden to the wims of our disease and our bodies response to the remedy, many patients feel it’s also their inalienable right to morph into Satan and unleash every obnoxious, miserable and all around crabby thing that could ever be said to anybody on the nursing staff. 

Well nurses are trained caregivers, right?    It’s their job to take care of us in all of our crab- fueled glory.  It’s what they are paid to do!!!  That being said, it was shocking to me how many people in the waiting areas, in the ER, in the bed next to mine, in the hospital rooms lining floor after floor after floor, would treat the nurses as if they were the person responsible for them being in the hospital in the first place. 

  “Get me my water!”  “I don’t want to do what you are telling me!”  “You fix me right now or I’ll do something to you!” “Who made this pudding sh**, you?”  “Our family hates you!!!” 

I heard all of these things and much more coming from my fellow patients and even some of their family members.  Now you might be thinking , well people are hurting, a bit of nastiness is to be expected.   Maybe.  But what I saw and heard was this systemic spewing of “negativity”  that knew no bounds.  Nothing was off limits for people to say to their fellow human being, let alone their caregiver.   It made me feel sad and ashamed.

 “Had I ever said anything that nasty to someone trying to be kind to me?”

One particularly late night, I was attempting to sleep after back to back emergency surgeries and I could hear this man verbally tearing into a nurse down the hall.  

“You get your damn behind out of my room, you witch.”  “I do not want you near me!” In response I heard a very calm voice say, “Oh I’m so sorry you are hurting there sweetie..I know it’s hard.  Get some rest and I’ll check on you in a bit.”   Then I heard something crash…maybe a chair…I don’t know.  But it was scary.   I hunkered down in my bed and pulling the covers over my head a million things ran through my mind, but the biggest was: Why would anyone in their right mind become a nurse?  She was just trying to be kind.  She was just doing her freakin job! 

Just then the door to my hospital room opened and this nurse walked in, her face lined with the years and I had no doubt it was the same nurse who the man was yelling at.  I peered skeptically out at her from the safety of the covers over my head.

“Hey there sweetie”, she said very softly. ” I’m sorry.  I’m sorry he’s so loud.  He’s upset and hurting and well, I’m sorry.  How are you doing my dear?”

 “Huh, sorry?”  “YOU ARE SORRY, WHY? (I think I was actually yelling at her)  That guy treated you so poorly, you were just being kind to him and he treated you like crap…you deserve better!” 

Taking my hand, in her careworn one, the nurse sat on the edge of my bed and said something that would change my life.  She said, “Yes, I do deserve better.  But I learned a long time ago that kindness is not what you get, it’s what you give.” 

And there, there in that hospital room, with a crazy guy screaming down the hall, was my introduction to practicing intentional kindness.   Plop…right there in my lap! 

To practice intentional kindness is to give kindness freely and openly, without attaching conditions or expectations that it will be returned.    Powerful stuff!!!

Wow, it’s hard to do.  It really is.  I stumble often.  But the more I practice intentional kindness, I find that kindness is not something I need others to see in me, but something that is living and breathing in my own mirror.  I no longer wear a “kindness” façade with expectations and objectives that no one can live up to.   I am kind because it pleases me! 

So this week, I encourage you to take a look at your own kindness meter and practice intentional kindness with me. 

Together we can do this, one positive step at a time!  PositivelyAnne

If you like my site, please click like so that it moves up the blog foodchain and others can find me.  I figure the more positive souls out there the better, right?!!!  Also, feel free to share briefly your thoughts on kindness and how it’s impacted your life.

All photos and images are my own, except where noted.

With what lens do you view life?

Positivity not Negativity equals a blessed life!

Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.

Dennis P. Kimbro

I have always been about “a good story”, having had a passion for the written word, in all its forms, since the 2nd grade when my teacher handed me an empty book cover and told me to fill it with words.   But despite my desk bulging with folders brimming with tales of adventure and passion, my own personal writing has mostly been a private journey until now.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the treatment left me temporarily unable to sit at a computer for any length of time, I grabbed my camera (nothing fancy, just my iPhone) and started taking pictures.  Through the lens, I could see so many things that literally made me smile.   The inner sanctum of a flower, a tree branch reaching towards the heavens, a solitary cloud wafting across an azure blue sky.   I felt happy, free, filled with positivity looking at these images.   Suddenly words and images merged together in my mind and I began to think:

“What if, the lens by which I choose to view my life and the way I choose to approach each and every day could have a positive impact not only on my own health and well-being, but potentially on the happiness of everyone I come in contact with.”

That’s where the idea of sharing my writing and photography to inspire others to choose to live life positively comes into play and what my blog, PositivelyAnne, is all about.  Each week, I plan to share with my readers a photo I have taken, captioned with my own message of positivity, along with one of my favorite positivity quotes and my reflections on life.

Trust me, the journey to viewing life more positively won’t be an easy one  Like myself, so many struggle with depression, health issues, personal life challenges and at times, it’s almost impossible to see through the filter of negativity these struggles bring to our daily lives.   But I want you to try with me.   Start small…one positive thing in your day.  Maybe it will be my blog page!  But do not stop searching for it.  

Together we can do this, one positive step at a time! PositivelyAnne

If you like my site, please click like so that it moves up the blog foodchain and others can find me.  I figure the more positive souls out there the better, right?!!!  Also, feel free to share briefly your thoughts on positivity and how it’s impacted your life.  

All photos and images are my own, except where noted.