A different kind of Spring

Carlsbad Flower Fields March 2022

I am blessed to live in San Diego County where the glories of Spring live eternal.

Sure, like everywhere else in the world, COVID disrupted the mood here for a bit and for a time, I wasn’t sure our Spring would ever be the same.

Yet, Spring is finally here in the county and it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming of never ending blue skies, daytime highs consistently hovering in the 70’s, backyard gardens filled with the buds of new life, birds happily singing in the trees above the drone of the bees below.

Schools and parks are once again filled with the sounds of cheers and laughter; Concert venues, theaters and festivals in full swing. The Gaslamp District is hopping, church bells are ringing, the Padres are playing and thousands of colorful umbrellas dot the beaches like exclamation points on the fact that nothing, not even the still circulating remnants of COVID, can keep Spring from unfolding in all of its’ radiant glory in my town!

Yes, San Diego is blooming again and it is a good feeling.

And yet, I feel guilty, sad, uncertain, mixed up, destroyed inside by the news and images I see coming out of Ukraine.

For Ukrainians, it is a different kind of Spring.

One in which blue skies and bodies are black with the soot of exploding bombs.

One in which strangers huddle together on the cold cement for warmth, not at a park or concert, but in a subway turned underground shelter, under the only blanket that one of them had time to grab before their homes were destroyed, as a little girl’s angelic voice rises above their fear, telling them to “Let it Go.”

One in which the shade trees lining the once peaceful streets of Kyiv, where birds nests and blossoms only a few weeks before heralded the coming of Spring, lay like naked soldiers, charred canopies, forever dormant.

Even in black and white, there is no covering up the reality of what has happened to the Ukrainian people, the images are startling.

Regular folks. Mothers and fathers, the elderly, infants, pregnant women, kids with cancer, school teachers, doctors, nurses, all just trying to live their lives, do their jobs, get well, make their way to safety, systematically exterminated in groups and one by one, their negotiated safe passage destroyed by Russia, no care or concern they are not soldiers, no respect for human life, none at all.

What kind of a monster does this?

I recall learning about the Holocaust as a child, learning about WWII, about Hitler and his plan to exterminate the Jewish people to create a master race, ultimately the Nazi’s killed 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews. I really couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of that at the time, but I remember hearing these words from my teacher, “I am teaching you children about this evil because this must never happen again, never again!”

It’s hard to look at the images from Ukraine, the ravages of war on it’s people, it’s cities and towns. The bewilderment on the faces of soldiers on both sides, the millions of Ukrainians walking barefoot for miles, their past lives limited to a shopping bag, hoping for a crust of bread and a drink of water in a neighboring country where they do not know a soul, the dead bodies, both Ukrainian and Russian, piled on top of each other like cargo and wonder what happened to “never again?”

I wonder about the Ukrainian people and what they think when the buzz of bombs over their heads sound like a thousand angry bees, whom do they believe, trust?

Do they cry out, “Why God, have you abandoned me?”

Or do they know that it isn’t God who abandoned them, stole their Spring from them, but the result of the actions of a madman emboldened.

But emboldened how? The devil is in the details folks and I think the devil has been tempting Eve with the apple for years. Using social media and certain politicians, entertainers, business executives, and even church leaders, around the globe to facilitate divide. Setting up spin factories to pushing propaganda, fake news, lies, to turn us against each other, to focus our attention on what separates us, so that he can do his dirty work elsewhere. We’ve been so busy fighting and blaming each other over that apple that we left a big gaping, real world hole for the devil to get through.

Thank heaven for President Zelenskyy, who isn’t concerned about throwing our ignorant, Kim and Kanye, obsessed booties under the bus and instead is offering up practical solutions for how we can work together to weed God’s garden and rid the world of this pest once and for all. In my humble opinion, if Zelenskyy was a Marvel Superhero, he’d be the “God of Spring” for sure.

Practically speaking tho, beyond Ukraine, this Spring has been a wake up call for me. A reality check that my “never again” world needs my help, my attention.

I need to pay more attention to the darkness that has enveloped a part of the world I thought little about before the war broke out, to understand where freedom is in jeopardy around the globe and who the players are.

I need to seek out more opportunities here in San Diego County to be a light in my own community, to find ways to use my gifts to build a bridge where there is a divide, bringing people together in peace.

I need to continue to spread kindness and positivity through my platform, to demonstrate that it is truly possible to have civil discourse, to agree to disagree, to love others like Jesus loves me, while bringing attention to issues that are of importance to me.

I need to be brave and speak up in the face of tyranny, not just when it’s easy, but everywhere I see it, so that the mustard seeds of hate and divide have no chance to germinate on my watch.

Most importantly, I need to continue to bloom and grow in honor of those who no longer can, by tuning out the nonsense and planting my roots firmly in soil that is productive and worthy of my time and talents, worthy of all of those who have stood for and died in the name of freedom.

For if I don’t do these things, then I fear that the images of Ukrainian children on a train to nowhere in particular, their palms pressed against the glass in farewell to the only life they have ever known, will one day seem as normal to me, to the world, as the blue sky, as normal as the birds singing in the trees and the bees buzzing in the garden and the collective “we” will just accept all of it as Spring and forget all about “never again.”

I can’t let that happen to Spring. But for now, I will walk among the flowers here in my community, smile brightly and think. Think about it all.

It is a different kind of Spring for all of us. What will you do?

positivelyannesworld

It’s time to push the pause button on our online anger!

PositivelyAnne explores an alternative to engaging in angry online content.

A beautiful hike in nature feels so much better than posting an angry emoji!

Recently, I had a friend tell me that they were feeling like there was no place in America where people weren’t angry, outraged, ready to explode about everything, sound off on anyone, especially on social media.  Does this sound familiar to you, too?  They told me that every time they looked at their social media feed, it felt as if our nation was in the midst of one massive meltdown and it was causing them to be anxious. Sound familiar? They went on to say that because of all of the anger online, they found themselves scrolling through negative post after negative post and after a while, after literally absorbing all that anger, angry comments began to feel deeply personal, and they started commenting angrily back, posting angry emojis on all sorts of things for which they really didn’t know anything about, didn’t really care and didn’t understand why they were even commenting. It just felt to them like someone had to say something.

“But is that someone supposed to be you?”, I asked them.

My friend went on to say, “Anne, what does it mean when I now spend the majority of my online experience engaging with people who post angry emojis…that isn’t me…I’m not an angry person, what is happening to me, to all of us, to make America so angry?”

I agree that it does seem like America is in the middle of a cultural madfest at least online, but as I told my friend, we would have to agree on a few things for online anger to remain America’s reality.

IF we agree that our online experience should be determined by what Meta (Facebook) and the Twitterverse deem important for us to know and that primarily is posts rooted in anger, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we blindly accept that the computer algorithms of media giants have our best interest at heart and that media companies who continue to pushing negative posts in our feed really do care about the mental health of our citizens, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we accept that the seedier side of our American political system is more important for us to read about than the hundreds of thousands of untold positive stories found all across this nation of people who fight for our rights and freedoms without using anger and vitriol, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we rubber stamp as valid every social media post and poster in our feed, because we aren’t one of “those people!”, then yes, America will remain angry. IF we ignore the fact that tabloid journalism is a very different kind of reporting, intentionally designed to provoke and incite, whereas factual journalism is designed to inform and insight, then yes America will remain ANGRY because there is a difference, a big difference between  Incite and Insight!

Yes, I told my friend, I can see why America is angry, IF we blindly follow our social media feeds (as they are today) into the abyss and do nothing to change course.

But there is another way.  An idea that is not new to us as Americans, in fact it was still being employed all over America (as recently as twenty years ago), both in email and in person, before social media became the dominant way Americans communicate with each other. 

What was this magic anti-anger miracle?  Well, it was simply this:

Americans used to push the PAUSE button before expressing anger with each other. 

What is PAUSE you ask?

There was a time when it was the norm for Americans to take a deep breath, a PAUSE if you will, before outwardly expressing their anger when communicating in an email or in-person. 

To PAUSE, even for a few moments, meant that we had taken the time to consider the people involved and the actions necessary to resolve a situation positively before getting angry.  We were encouraged to choose the most useful communication tools/words that would result in a workable solution, and that was rarely, if ever, anger and we were all encouraged to remember to keep our egos in check to avoid unnecessary and unproductive angry confrontations.

Anger, except in the most egregious of situations, used to be seen as the communication strategy of last resort.  People who were angry all the time were not viewed as icons or people we wanted to emulate and we most certainly weren’t filming people being angry, or promoting our anger in a reel or a video or a meme and assigning labels to it (Karen and Ken) or retweeting it around the world. 

Anger was not taken lightly in America, it was something we respected, or at least we used to respect the power of it and used it sparingly in our communications.  

And back then America faced a lot of the same problems we do today, like corruption, poverty and housing insecurity, economic and social injustices, war and famine, gender and racial inequality, dogs who bark all night long, spouses who cheat, kids who died by violence, it wasn’t a happy emoji world by any means. But instead of angry responses, we were encouraged to consider the lasting impact and value of our words and when having spirited debates, anger was not considered a constructive means of communication. Also, there wasn’t an angry emoji at our fingertips or algorithms that rewarded anger by pushing angry comments and posts into our lives 24/7, enticing us to join the angry fray.   

Charles Speilberger, PHD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger, defines anger in his article, The Nature of Anger as “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.” He goes on to say that like other emotions, anger is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. (Source: Speilberger, PHD, The Nature of Anger, apa.org)

So what happens when Americans skip past the irritation phase Dr. Speilberger defines and every situation online becomes a match point for our collective fury? It’s as if we’ve run the outrage race, without running it.

It is no wonder my friend feels like she has woken up to a country intent on being disgruntled and tuned out to compromise.   When we spend all of our online lives angry, when our online platforms encourage that behavior and reward us for it, it’s bound to spill over into other aspects of our daily lives, make us question our own sanity and leave us worn to a nub by being thrown unwittingly into this fast and most definitely furious, American dream.

But I believe each of us can change that narrative IF we adopt the PAUSE approach to anger, especially in our online interactions.   

Look, you can’t solve America’s problems by yourself and most definitely not online.   We need each other and we can’t build a coalition if we are angry with each other on social media.   So, the first thing you need to do is cull your social media feed to what is mentally healthy for you.   If websites and posts of friends and family you have in your feed make you angry, pull the plug on those sites.  Trust me, nothing will happen to you.  No one will come to your door wondering why you aren’t subscribing to those sites or posting to them. And truly, is it good for your mental health to be engaging angry family, friends and strangers, all day long?

The second thing you need to do is to let go of this idea that YOU are important online.  You aren’t very important at all online, few people are.  Check your ego and maybe pick one or two topics you are versed in, or want to learn about and that make you happy, and then remember to PAUSE before you comment on any post and try and keep your messaging positive and constructive when you must disagree. No one listens to someone who is yelling at them constantly and anger online is akin to yelling.

When you read posts that upset you, if you PAUSE and allow the anger process to do its thing, I can pretty much guarantee you that what used to make you angry will probably not even be on your radar, or might cause nothing more than a slight irritation. It’s not that you don’t care, it’s that you are training yourself to care about what is important in your life and what you can impact in a positive way. Be a light, not contribute to the darkness.

Lastly, most of us wouldn’t walk into a room demanding that everyone in it think like us and openly express anger at those who don’t.  So why do you think it will work online? I mean has anyone ever truly changed their opinion because you called them a buffoon online? Anyone? I’m waiting….

Don’t be fooled into thinking that online anger is a powerful tool of change or that likes and follows of your angry posts are actually people who care about what you are angry about.  Don’t believe me, just sit with any social media influencer and watch them scroll their online feeds, watch their thumbs clicking over and over and over again and then ask them what they are doing.  They will tell you, “Oh, I’m reading and commenting on posts!”  But it’s impossible to read hundreds of posts and truly engage with the subject matter…and they smile and say, “Yeah, but if I don’t “like” a certain number of posts, or post some sort of emoji, then my own profile falls victim to the algorithms and I find my content buried in the bowels of the internet and trust me, angry posts are the most commented on, so I’m clicking away!”

And there you have it my friends, what you are seeing in your social media feed is not this huge call to action for you to be angry, you are merely a pawn, feeding the social media algorithm beast, we all are and thus the reason we all need to push that PAUSE button on our anger online, cull our social media feeds of negative content and find sites and follow people who bring us joy.  

Anger doesn’t look good on you, my friend.  It doesn’t look good on me and it certainly doesn’t look good online. So let’s change that for America in 2022 and who knows, we might change the METAVERSE!

P.S. I am 100 percent fine if you like, follow and repost this blog, without the angry emoji, of course!

Positivelyannesworld.com

 

 

Finding your way back to your inner light

PositivelyAnne explores the value of understanding positive toxicity in trauma.

In 2020, a movement called positive toxicity paraded across my social media feed, a sort of a counter culture narrative to those of us sharing positive messaging online.   It didn’t surprise me given social media’s courting of anti-everything platforms, but what took me by surprise was that the anti-positivity movement began to resonate with me, a positivity blogger.       

If you haven’t heard of positivity toxicity and I hadn’t until last year, the good folks at Merriam-Webster.com define positive toxicity as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.”

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the word positive would be equated with toxicity, let alone with death or serious debilitation, nor would I have ever imagined myself nodding my head in agreement with anyone who claimed such a thing.  But I spent most of 2021 coming to the realization that since my initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, I had been so focused on the positive physical aspects of my recovery and sharing those blessings, that I had not allowed myself the grace to examine my negative feelings about the entire experience.

I had forgotten an important reality that it takes both positive and negative energy to power a battery.  The human battery is no different.  One without the other leaves us feeling out of balance, adrift, disconnected and in my case, it took me to a place in my head I didn’t understand.  This place was sometimes dark, unhappy and yes, it did scare me to death.

I have a wonderful husband and three amazing adult children, extended family and friends and an incredible church family who have always been loving and incredibly supportive of me throughout my journey; and I have been blessed the past several years to have the opportunity to work from home, to write and expand my creative side, leaving me pretty much shielded from any job-related COVID pandemic concerns that might have impacted my health. 

Yet, 2021 came around and talking about positivity began to ring hollow and the more I tried to write about its benefits, the more it felt like a stranger to me.  It was a scary time and I remember thinking last February, “What in the world happened to PositivelyAnne?” when I just couldn’t bring myself to post what I had written. If I didn’t know, then how could I expect my readers to know?

I found my answer when I began to explore a bit more about positive toxicity.

Tabitha Kirkland, a psychologist and associate teaching professor at University of Washington School of Medicine says: “Toxic positivity involves dismissing negative emotions and responding to distress with false reassurances rather than empathy.”  (https://rightasrain.uwmedicineorg). 

Self-described radical psychotherapist, Whitney Goodman (@sitwithwit), whose best seller, Toxic Positivity, markets itself as a powerful guide to owning our emotions-even difficult ones-in order to show up authentically in the world, says that being bombarded by “good vibes only” and “life is good” memes is actually silencing negativity.

Now full disclosure, I am not a psychologist, a physician or a therapist and can’t evaluate any of the work of these two individuals on a scientific level, but it’s important to me to give credit where credit is due as both Dr. Kirkland and Ms. Goodman’s writings about positive toxicity really caused me to pause and examine the role of positivity in my life.

From the outset of 2021, I thought I had all the positivity tools I needed in life; family, friends, a beautiful home, a loving relationship with God and best of all, I had survived nineteen health setbacks and came out swinging every time, ready to get back in the game of life.   I was THE POSITIVITY CHAMPION! 

But I couldn’t ignore the fact that what Tabitha Kirkland and Whitney Goodman said was partially ringing true for me after almost six years of ignoring my own negative elephant in the room.  Positivity was now a vibe I was searching for, not an experience I was living. The more I dismissed my negative feelings out of some crazy notion that to acknowledge them would be akin to giving up on positivity, the more I became like a positivity meme, a feel-good reality star of my own making praying I could live up to the smiling image I had created for myself. It all felt fake and wrong on so many levels.

The interesting thing is that at the end of the day, I figured out that I was the only one stopping myself from addressing the negative things about my trauma, and that is where I disagree with Kirkland and Goodman about the root cause of positive toxicity. If you read more of their work they talk a lot about positive toxicity as something that comes at you via the actions of other people. People whose intentions, good or otherwise, seemingly discredit and devalue the negatives in one’s situation, thereby creating a positive environment that seemingly lacks empathy. That may be true on some level, but, in my experience, most people attempt to comfort others not for selfish reasons or a desire to erase/erode our traumatic experiences, but out of sense of compassion and love for us.

I just can’t critique anyone for attempting to comfort me the past six years, even if it is true that sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for it. God bless them for trying to take away my pain, more often than not they succeeded!

But maybe that’s because I see life through the lens of God’s grace which I believe should be afforded to those who “try”. I know if I had been open and honest with my own negative emotions since my ordeal first began, an innocuous comment from a dear friend like, “Anne, you look fabulous, no one would ever know all you’ve been through!” would never have felt like nails on the chalkboard of my psyche, and instead felt like the kindness of a person who only wanted the best for me. I wish I had come to this realization sooner…oh the joy I missed out on.

Empathy can’t only be an expectation of others, we must expect it of ourselves and practice self-empathy regularly by dealing with our own negative feelings with complete honesty and candor.

The honest truth is that I didn’t feel fabulous inside and it was my own fault for ignoring that part of me. It was a self-inflicted wound and I didn’t know how to tell anyone about it or how to stop it because I had let it go on for so long.   I was so grateful to God for sparing my life so many times and so ashamed that I didn’t know what to do with this new self. I was a master at bouncing back from surgery, the picture of vitality and health, but internally I was angry, so very angry, that breast cancer had robbed me of the life I was living pre-cancer and I felt so incredibly guilty for feeling angry at all.  

I didn’t understand this new me I saw in the mirror, the woman whose upper torso was disfigured, who was missing multiple internal organs, the woman who had been sliced and diced in the surgery room year after year and then suddenly it was over and I was just expected to get back to life.

With every passing day I found myself more bewildered by it all and unworthy of such a wonderful gift as a second, third, fourth, fifth…chance at life.  Why me Lord, when I don’t know what to do with it?

So, I took 2021 to explore all of this, positive toxicity, the negativity, the dark feelings.  Oh, not every day.  Not every moment, but for the first time in forever, I allowed myself entire days to acknowledge the rough patches I’d been through.  I discovered that by allowing the negativity of my trauma to wash over me and through me, I began to understand it and me.   

I’ll be honest with you, there were scary days, still are, and I do understand why people do not want to make time to explore their darker side.  For there are times where I feel like I am being pulled into the abyss of my own sense of unworthiness.  I truly have to thank my husband and adult children and some terrific friends and health care providers for getting me through this difficult time.   They have been there unconditionally to offer comfort and a kind word when I need it and more importantly to get tough with me when I needed to hear some tough things. It’s nice to know others understand how to clean my dirty windshield when I am blinded by my own vanity.   HA HA!

But the bottom line is that this is a process and what I am realizing is that the more I allow myself the time to acknowledge and grieve my trauma, to lean into exploring the negative feelings, instead of glossing over them, the more centered I feel.  In balance.  The more positivity and all the blessings in my life make sense.

I can’t stress this enough, whatever trauma you are going through, don’t gloss over it, give yourself the time and gift of acknowledging the bad stuff. It isn’t an instant fix, but…

Grief is an important tool in finding your way back to the light.  Your inner light.  

So, I’ve decided to reboot the blog as positivelyannesworld.com and spend 2022 year exploring this idea of light and dark in the human experience and how to find balance. 

Won’t you join me? Please like, subscribe and share with anyone you feel would benefit.

Positivelyannesworld.com

Saying “Good-bye” to the year of fearing everything

PositivelyAnne discovers letting go of fear is the key to ending 2020 on a positive note.

Hello, can you hear me? I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be, when we were younger and free. I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet.”

These haunting lyrics from the song “Hello”, by English singer-songwriter Adele, and her producer Greg Kurstin, were originally thought to be about the nostalgia and angst of a failed relationship. But just as quickly as we, the listener, latched on to that narrative, Adele set the record straight and said, “No my friends, the song is simply about reconnecting with my family. I was missing my little boy while I’ve been away making a record across the pond, you know, “Hello from the other side!”  (HuffPost 12/7/2015).”

But we didn’t like Adele’s explanation.  Why? Because we were afraid! “Hello” was OUR SONG!  OURS! A song that spoke directly to the core of an America that found itself crumbling under the weight of divergent opinions on everything from terrorism to gun violence, racism to immigration, religious expression, national symbols, taking a knee, gender equality, gender identity, same sex marital rights and oh yeah, we even came to internet blows that year over whether or not a dress was actually black or white.

God help the individual who was bold enough to post on his social media feed…

“Um, I think the dress is….(drum roll please)… GOLD!”

“GOLD??? GOLD??? DID YOU SAY FREAKING GOLD!!!?”  I’m surprised we didn’t yell a collective, “STONE HIM.  STONE HIM!”  

Poor guy, I think he had to change his identity and move to Siberia.   But no one likes a trouble maker, right?   

“Hmmm…Bet he didn’t even know what Adele’s song was about either!!! What a Loser!”

Forgive them father for they know not what they are doing! Luke 23:34

It’s now been five years since “Hello” and “The Dress” and does it surprise you that all of those issues that permeated our divide that year are still with us in 2020?  That is one thousand-eight hundred and twenty-five days and we are still drowning in a pool of our own inability to compromise on any of it and to compound things, we’ve iced the cake with a polarizing election and a global pandemic called Covid 19!  

No one would believe this isn’t the fictional tale of a James Patterson novel if we weren’t living it. But then again this is the era of “fake news”…maybe it isn’t our reality after all. I mean Hallmark movies are pretty realistic, right?

Still…. fifty years after Lucy Van Pelt explained “Pantophobia” to Charlie Brown and he exclaimed “THAT’S IT!”,  we have emerged an America steeped in fear, unwilling to accept that Adele wrote a song about something important in HER life, not OURS; unwilling to believe a dress can be black and white and gold; and questioning the integrity and patriotism of the M.D. in charge of the COVID 19 response, who kept us safe from AIDS, SARS, Ebola and Zika all because he’s asked us to wear a mask and social distance so we don’t have to spend Christmas with a ventilator.

Yep, Charlie Brown, America is officially now AFRAID OF EVERYTHING when we fear Dr. Fauci!

Afraid to look our neighbor in the eye.  Afraid to accept others who might think differently than ourselves. Afraid of being wrong. Afraid to take risks. Afraid to trust science and data. Afraid to trust people with years of experience and degrees. Afraid to be kind, considerate, empathetic. Afraid to speak out against injustices. Afraid of the immigrant, the stranger, the cop on the beat. Afraid to tone down the rhetoric. Afraid to stand up for what is right. Afraid to lose.

Afraid of admitting we are in over our heads and need help.

God’s Help. Anyone’s help. Anyone??? Hello???

Why?  Because we’ve bought into the narrative we’ve been spoon fed that it’s THOSE PEOPLE who are deplorable. THOSE PEOPLE who are snowflakes. THOSE PEOPLE who are ruining our lives, mine and yours.

THOSE PEOPLE who are plotting, plotting, PLOTTING our demise!!!

Did I mention plotting?!!!

Wow, with all of that plotting going on it’s amazing how we can still find the time to order a gourmet pizza, keep our Twitter feeds fed, watch the entire Netflix catalog, grab the last blow-up Minion from Home Depot to decorate our lawn for Christmas and order a growler from our favorite brew pub to be delivered right to our doorstep.

We are, if nothing else, an America resourceful in our fear.

But our fear is real and palatable and its’ impacting our ability to fix our brokenness because we have lost our ability to trust anyone or anything. We scream all day long, “We want proof” and yet we don’t even know what proof we need.

“I want proof, I tell you. PROOF!”

To quote Robert L. Short from “The Gospel according to Charlie Brown,” “If we require some kind of sign, or “proof” for our belief in God, then we believe, or place our trust, not in God, but in the sign of proof.”

Lucy Van Pelt had it right, We are Blockheads!  Blockheads that require a sign of proof for everything and anything these days in order to not be afraid, not just not afraid of God as Short pointed out, but not afraid of each other.

“Yeah Jesus, that turning water into wine thing is pretty amazing…but…what else you got buddy?” seems to have become our defacto motto.

My God what has happened to us? What has happened to me?

You see, I’m part of the problem. I don’t push a positive narrative enough myself. If I’m honest with you, I cast stones your way much too often.

IF THOSE PEOPLE WOULD CHANGE, THEN….life would….life would what? Go back to normal?

Do I even want the normal that has been our last 5 years? Our last fifty? Oh don’t get me wrong. I love life, my life. But this fear thing that has become the normal American response to anything new and different or challenging of the norms…it’s just not working for me.

Before she died earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, tried to tell America that there was great value in looking at the complex issues that face us from multiple angles. She encouraged us to cultivate friendships, like the one she had with fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonine Scalia, a conservative Republican, with whom she often disagreed, but enjoyed not only a wonderful professional relationship, but her most treasured personal relationship outside of her husband and child.

“We are different, yet, we are one.”

Sweet words, from a sweet lady, but well, Ruth, here we sit, an America divided and full of fear. A fear that has kept me from fully enjoying our life together. Enjoying all that WE had together.    You and me, America.

And the truth is, this being right all the time isn’t what I thought it would be. Especially now, when a pandemic prevents me from seeing your smile, from giving you a hug, from arguing while we pass the turkey and gravy, from welcoming you, the stranger into my life.

I’m hungry for my America again.  I’m hungry for you.

I miss thinking of you as my friend, my neighbor, my relative, the stranger on the street without fear. I miss our connection, our arguments, our making up.

I’m so very tired of thinking of you as THOSE PEOPLE.  I am ashamed of that.

I last blogged back in April.  I had just survived COVID 19 and was coming off 4 years where I beat breast cancer and survived a total of 17 other surgeries. In my blog I pointed out all of the things my COVID 19 experience taught me; the things we needed to do to come together, to heal as a nation, to get through this pandemic challenge with a positive outlook.   I hit send and felt proud of my words.  I meant them, or so I thought.  I was ready to step positively into a pandemic with you.

But one month went by, then two, three, and I found myself wallowing in my own fear, playing the nightly game of spin the dial with cable news jockey’s, and courting internet saviors whose only job it is is to peddle “division” and cater to my anxiety.   

THOSE PEOPLE!  THOSE PEOPLE!  THOSE PEOPLE!!!

I put the blog aside.  I put positivity aside and I began to swallow the Kool-Aid of those intent on making big money off my fear, your fear.  Channel surfing for validation that my way is the ultimate truth.  The gospel according to Anne!

For eight months, I blinded myself to the fact that division, not truth, sells advertising and advertising brings in big money. Big money funds lavish lifestyles and we humans look at this and say, “I want that too!” and we keep consuming it, over and over and over again, until we believe division is our only path forward to the riches we so rightly deserve. Mine, mine…all mine!  

I tried to tell myself that what I was watching, what I was consuming had my best interest at heart. But…

Thou shall have no other God’s before ME! Exodus 20:2

Oh, how easy it is to forget dear Lord and elevate the language of hate when the riches of division are raining down on our heads. How easy it is to succumb to the f’bombs dropping on every crevice of American society, digging ourselves a tunnel into the mountainside of our pride, where sweeping generalizations, about who and what we are, rage like thunder through the vast canyons of our different so that we don’t hear anyone’s cry for help, but our own.

I am guilty of this, I admit it and it saddens me. I know better and I know you know better too. Maybe my excuse is the past four years of health issues has been a lot for me to process. I don’t like division, confrontation, and unpleasantness. I know the joy of being given a new lease on life time and again and I wanted the time to relish that. To wallow in my happy place.

But instead I sat, in my lounge chair gorging on cable fodder, sitting on the sidelines quietly waiting for “someone else” to make the first move.  The humane move.  The “What would Jesus Do” move. 

Know this, my beloved: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19

Still my thoughts, your thoughts, our ideas, our ability to express those ideas in a free and open society can be a hard pill to swallow and I’ve become bitter to a lot of it. Angry, resentful in fact.  I have hated seeing people tear each other apart on social media, especially strangers. I’ve wanted to shout at them,

“I know what it’s like to lay naked, prostrate on a hospital bed, my living or dying at the mercy of a single human who controls my oxygen source and to know with every fiber of my being that we aren’t given an indefinite opportunity to get it right!”

Folks, we only have this merry- go-round to live in the light. To bathe in our possible and to welcome the stranger.

But I forget too. I find myself yelling at the television set, ranting and raving about things that I have no control over. Wasting time depressed in the muck of all I can’t fix and hating every moment of it.  Maybe social media and cable news has made it easier to wrap ourselves in hate and fear.  I don’t know.  But regardless, we humans are still responsible for what we input into the machine and what we filter, myself included, and if I’ve become “woke” to anything this year, it’s that fearing my fellow citizens is not the key to my happiness and certainly isn’t good for my positivity.

For when we put our individual viewpoints into a box and say, “Only open if you agree,” we’ve ignored the very tenants of freedom and the power that the free exchange of ideas has on our ability to move the needle of change and propel our nation forward positively.   Each of us forward positively.

Maybe it’s because it’s hard?  Change is not easy.  Freedom isn’t easy.  Change is messy.  Freedom is messy. And messiness can be ugly at times, very ugly.

But looking at life through different lenses is our privilege for living in a free America and one I no longer want to take for granted.

The reality of life is we don’t ride the teetertotter of this great American freedom experiment by ourselves.  We share our air with each other.  Thus, the importance of masks (but I digress!). 

We need each other to go up and down.   

That’s America.  It takes two.  It takes us!  It takes you and me and he and she and it and they and whatever the heck pronouns you use to make it work. 

It takes all of us.  All 328.2 million of us working together to keep it pumping.  To keep it going across 3000 miles of sea to shining sea.  

So, how to fix it. Maybe it’s not that hard.

It’s time to do as Mark 12:31 says so simply:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I like the sound of that and the challenge in it.

To share our differences so that I open my eyes, my ears to your story, your injustice and pain and heartache, so that I may see the real you, no filter and without fear.

So, this Christmas, as I hang my box of treasured ornaments on my tree, I will think of you.

Some of you are old, wise and careworn; some of you are shiny and new and just beginning your stories.  Some of you are slightly broken, bent, misshapen, but in need of the same love and appreciation that we all crave. Some merely are here, there and everywhere, all searching for their voice, their place in the crowd. But all, equally important to the beauty of my tree.

God has told me to give you a seat at my table and do not fear. I need to listen to God. There is still time in 2020 for me to do that. For even thinking about it, giving up my fear, fills my heart with love and gratitude.

Love for you and gratitude for another chance to get life right.

America,  I love you. And I can’t think of a better Christmas gift to myself then to stop being afraid of you. What better way to salvage the memory of what has been a dismal 2020 then to give it a new and positive purpose!

Who’s ready to join me?

PositivelyAnne

A New Kind of Freedom

PositivelyAnne shares her perspective on how to stay positive and find a new kind of freedom during this time of corona virus isolation.

Forty days of self-isolation due to COVID-19 and I am slowly coming to terms with this redefining of our freedom and I suspect, for many of my fellow Americans, it may turn out to be the one civics lesson that sticks with all of us, that is, once we emerge from hibernation.

For one cannot look away from the terrible pandemic images gracing our televisions, our phones and computer screens night after night, of brave souls putting their lives on the line in hospitals and towns in every corner of this country; bodies lined up in hallways, and empty offices and mass graves awaiting funerals that will be devoid of family and friends; and not feel some sort of gut wrenching horror as to how the hell we got to this place of thinking ourselves, this Great American Experiment, infallible?

For although there is much mystery about this virus, it has wasted no time exposing our naiveté. Our America the Beautiful. A place I love so very much and proudly fly the flag and pray for every day.

But a place, just the same, that has buried it’s collective head in the sand when it comes to fixing what is broken, focused more on Vegas odds and clever memes, than scientific data or just plain common sense, because, well, it’s not as fun to talk about at the dinner table.

1)A nation that assumed freedom was an absolute, defended by our guns, our constitution and our military might, and yet, has been humbly brought to its’ knees by a communicable disease; an invisible, equal opportunity offender, for which statistics are proving that privilege plays a role in whether you live or die.

2)A nation who’s financial markets have thrived on making collective love to power and money and courting the vulnerable into believing the have-nots can play the game equally; the claustrophobic stench of their deception now revealed by unemployment figures that rival the Great Depression.

3)A nation of talented minimum wage workers, tradespersons, and the non-college educated, who modern society has systematically demeaned and relegated to the dustbin of professional choices, and for whom there is now no argument as to the high value they contribute to our very survival.

4)A nation of family, friends and strangers where the word hate would roll freely from lips, as we laughingly chose to social distance because they looked, thought or behaved differently; oh how we long to hug them close, just once, just once more.

5)A nation of teachers, coaches and mentors who we consistently underpaid and undervalued and for whom we now join our children in praying for each night, as we come to recognize just how big a role they have played in raising our children.

6)A nation of wanna be food critics, where our food supply was never gourmet enough for our palates, and for which we now have a new found appreciation of the magic of a seed, the immigrant in the field, and what farm to table truly means.  

7)A nation of leaders of all faiths that for the past thirty years, we’ve abandoned in droves, their buildings unappreciated shells, their sermons unappreciated truth, but for whom we now readily turn to for answers that make sense of all this madness.

8)A nation of caregivers of our elderly and infirm, whose names we barely took the time to learn before all of this, but who now act as our stand-ins with our loved ones, their careworn hands a lifeline of hope.

9)A nation who freely polluted the air, trampled the landscape and soiled the seas and now marvels with surprise at the blueness of the sky, the animals emerging from the shadows and the clarity of the oceans.  

10)A nation of first responders: doctors, nurses, police and firefighters, whose oath to save lives was something we took for granted, but whose willingness to continue to fight for us,at great risk to their families, has us believing in the possibility that God really has returned to earth in human form.

Its’ humbling isn’t it?   All the things we thought we knew about America, about each other.   Thought important.  Thought we valued. Thought we got right before this pandemic business.

It’s taken a viral pandemic to cause us to look in the mirror and understand that for all of its’ bravado, all of its’ bluster, all of its’ grandeur, America is first and foremost a nation of human beings, human beings that are not all equally blessed. Freedom is not available to all…not yet. And so sometimes, it requires others to give more. To expend more time and talent and energy to get the job done.

And I know that makes some people angry.   Some protest because it’s too painful to think about things not going back to the way things were, to a time where we could all ignore what the virus has revealed to us. Some shout the end is near, doom and gloom around the corner. Some could care less about any of it. Give me my normal.

I’m not worried. Messiness has always been a part of the American way and it’s from this diversity of choices, and thinking, that some of our greatest moments as a nation emerge.

But no matter our fears, I encourage you not to focus on the anger and to not look away from what the mirror has revealed. For to look away and not truly see what this virus is teaching us, is a missed opportunity. 

For the question being asked of us now is pretty simple:

When all this is over, will I be ready to listen, to change, to do what is needed for the benefit of all of America, this new freedom? Or am  I going to go back to the same old, same old and only listen to what I want to hear, what is easiest to hear, and what suits my own selfish narrative?   

Because while this virus has revealed an America that has some work to do, it has also revealed an America where there is much to be hopeful.  An America where love and kindness, compassion and caring for each define the character of many of it’s citizens. Where leaders and mentors come from all walks of life and step up to help. Where the hero is not always the most obvious person in the room and where the importance of human contact is valued more than the size of our wallets or the size of our egos.

It’s exciting.  It’s positive. It’s a new kind of freedom and it’s ours for the taking.

What will you do? How will you respond?

PositivelyAnne

In trauma, it is there we find gratitude!

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Last Monday began like any other day, except it wasn’t.  I woke up achy, a feeling in my sinus and chest like no other.  A slight cough.  A slight temperature.

Warning bells went off in my head.   “Oh, hell no!  No…No…No…No…NO!”   My mind began to shout, “Haven’t I been through enough?  Isn’t breast cancer, infection after infection, surgery after surgery, for 3 plus years, enough?”

But the virus, this strange animal called Covid-19,  had other ideas and decided to play games with me.   For seven days I let it.  I let it invade, I let it mess with my head, I let it run my life.

And then…I decided enough with the doom and gloom.  It was time to be grateful.

Not grateful for the virus.  Certainly not grateful for the strain it has put on my body and the stress it is causing my family, the pain it is currently causing the collective world.  But grateful, that gratitude is not beholden to a virus, but instead a gift that I could give myself and to all who know me, while I battled this microscopic beast.

So here it is, from my heart to yours.  Something to change perspective, to wipe the dirt from our weary souls.  To remove the fear and doubt and make me believe.  You believe.

Things I am grateful for this past week:

I am grateful for a house with creaky floors and the dryer that vibrates the ceiling.

I am grateful for two cats who, despite always finding a clean rug to hack up a hairball,  quietly curl up next to me, their deep vibrato purr a balm to this endless restlessness.

I am grateful for a bedroom with a picture widow where, between naps,  I can look upon the birds gathered at the fountain for a drink, fighting over the seeds that drip from the feeder onto the pink flowers entangled below it.

I am grateful for my older son who has taken to dressing up in silly costumes for his video conferences with his San Diego State work colleagues.  “It’s alright.  It’s alright.  We may not be able to be together, but we will get through this together!”

I am grateful for teachers who have found new ways to stay connected with their students on line through reading stories, singing songs, and reminding them that each day is a beautiful gift.

I am grateful to the friend from church who messaged me she wanted to bake me something to cheer me up and made me laugh when she prefaced the message by saying,  “I promise I’m really not that terrible a baker.”

I am grateful for my husband, a shy man, the love of my life, who quietly rises to the occasion each day to lead with a normalcy that wraps itself around me, “like the feeling of warm blanket on a cold and frosty morning.”  Cue Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk! Wink. Wink.

I am grateful for my mom and dad, who know I worry about them and text me often to let me know that the grocery store line was orderly, that they are managing o.k. and that they love me.   I can feel their resilience propel me forward across the miles.

I am grateful for my Pastors,  who long before this crises, trusted the people in their care to tend and nurture the mustard seeds, so that the church was and is so much more than the sum of it’s walls.

I am grateful for my daughter, whose artistry and vision somehow seem effortless in these troubled times and yet, this mother knows she is struggling to find a way to make sense of it all.  I wish I had the answer.

I am grateful for my dear friend who opens her door every week so that the notes of her piano ring out through her complex to all who are lonely and frightened.  “I see you.  I care” her piano sings.

I am grateful for Clorox wipes, and lavender hand soap and the Bergamot lotion that soothes my chaffed hands and reminds me of Paris.

I am grateful for my brother and his wife and their dogs.  Knowing Zeus and Athena are underfoot with their humans somehow brings me comfort.

I am grateful for my younger son, who accepted his sudden return to the nest from college much better than I would have, and figured out how to carve out a semi-normal existence while managing to keep both his school and engineering internship intact.   I know he’s suffering privately and it’s hard.

I am grateful for my book club and bible study and my dear friends who have texted and Facebooked and called to check up on me.  I love all of you.

I am grateful for my online garden community, once strangers, now friends,  connected by the marvel of God’s amazing creation and a belief that we will need it more than ever once this storm passes.

I am grateful for my brother in law and sister in law, that their cruise ship was not one of disease, but one that was able to find a safe port and a plane to carry them home.

I am grateful for all of the medical professionals and first responders and military who answered the call to serve something greater than themselves.  I owe you my life.

I am grateful for the bee that buzzes in my orange tree, reminding me that we do not always control our destiny, but we must work at it never the less.

I am grateful for my sponsor child Emmy, in Uganda, that he has a place to rest his head, a warm meal in his tummy, an education, and that he loves Jesus.

I am grateful for water that runs freely from my faucet, and toilet paper to wipe my bottom, and a toilet to flush it in.

I am grateful to the homeless, the impoverished, the less fortunate,  who remind me of all that I have to give.

I am grateful to all the caregivers, their masked faces in this new world order embody a strength and sense of purpose that I must learn from and  aspire.

I am grateful to the workers in the fields, the grocery and stockroom clerks, the truckers and warehouse helpers, the delivery drivers and all those who never asked to be first responders, but are responding to the call just the same.

I am grateful to the sound of the distant buzz of a lawn mower that reminds me of something normal.  I need normal right now.

I am grateful I can still curl up on the couch and find Lucille Ball and Andy Griffith still the same after sixty odd years and remember what life used to be like before all of this.

I am grateful for my God.  For in Him I find my rock.  My compass, my acceptor of all of my imperfections.  The one who time and again is willing to give me another chance to get it right.  To appreciate what I have not tomorrow, but today.

Finally, I am grateful for the P that calls to me from the mountain top that positivity is always a choice and well worth the climb.   I will keep trying.

So many I want to thank.  So many who came before me I wish I could thank.  I hope you know, I notice you in the shadows, all of you each and every week, and I am so grateful.  Stepping out of your comfort zones, to comfort me and the countless others who need to know, in this time of trial, that the world had not gone mad, but is very much alive with the vibrancy of the human spirit.  It isn’t by chance that the Easter story is before us.

We too will rise again.

 

Let gratitude lift you up and out of this dark place.  Practice it.  Practice it.  Practice it.

Thanks for reading.  I am getting better every day and looking forward to new beginnings with all of you.

PositivelyAnne

Caring for our kids in a time of crises

As a long- time educator and mom of 3, I would like to offer a few words of comfort to parents, grandparents and caregivers in these anxious times of the COvid-19 virus.  

Children, even very young children are very astute. They know something big is going on right now and they sense adult anxiety and their first inclination is to want to fix it.  They do not like seeing adults unhappy because most children see the world as a very joyful, happy place.  So, do not be surprised if during this time of crises, your children are overly clingy, act out, cry or become argumentative and ask you question after question out of frustration that they can’t fix what is going on and bring life quickly back to normal.   

In addition, don’t be surprised if your high school and college student is an emotional cyclone.  Suddenly their campus schedule that they were finally getting a handle on, has been quickly replaced with on-line learning, housing uncertainty, extra-curricular activities canceled and their friend group suddenly torn apart. This can all be very anxiety producing and it’s very difficult for a young adult to have the rug suddenly pulled out from under them when they have just started being responsible and making most of their own decisions.   So prepare yourself for a roller coaster of anger, frustration, protest, and maybe even unreasonable demands that you do something, anything, to put it all back as it was.   

My best advice to you is to acknowledge this sucks and give everyone the opportunity to voice their feelings. And dads, this means you too! You can’t very well expect your kids to open up and talk about their feelings if you are unwilling to do so yourself.   A child’s anxiety and fear, no matter their age, are often mitigated by a parent being open about their own feelings, so do the bold thing and start the conversation.

But while it’s important to be open to sharing feelings, it’s also important to be mindful that sharing does not mean dumping problems on your kids they have no means to solve.   You have to be mindful to have those difficult conversations, regarding things like potential financial loss and job uncertainty, away from the ears of your children.   And for goodness sakes, no one, not even you, needs to be parked in front of television pundits 24-7 filling your head full of supposition and unproven facts.

It’s good family lesson that in the immediacy of a crises, what matters is the facts. There will be plenty of time down the road to battle it out over what could have been done better. But the reality is that isn’t your job. Your job is to go about your daily lives as best you can and as safely as you can.

In other words, downsize the problem to what is yours to manage. Your plate is full enough already!

It’s also important that your children know that the facts about this crises might change as our government and the medical community understand more about the virus and what we need to do to prevent it.   Details may be sparse and then overwhelming, but ultimately, we will have them and it’s important to remain flexible and not panic.   

Our most important roles right now are to keep calm, wash our hands, cover our coughs, wipe our noses with tissues, practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary activities that might compromise your safety or that of others.

With this crises comes a greater emphasis on sanitation and if you think about it, there is an opening now without mom and dad begging, for all children to learn more about the importance of keeping things clean to prevent disease spread. So, let your kiddos participate in the household chores as they are able.  Now that you’ve stocked up on sanitizing supplies, you might even encourage them to look through their toy chest, books and comics and old clothes. Figure out what they want to donate and they can sanitize everything, pack it up and it’s ready to be donated when things settle down.

Try your best to keep some sort of routine during the hours your children would normally be in school or sports or other activities.   While your college age children may be doing some sort of on-line schooling, younger kids may find themselves suddenly with a lot of free time.   No more recess with friends.  No more afterschool sports, band or dance class.   But that doesn’t mean that learning has to stop.  

While some kids may view this extended break as a great thing, most kids will eventually long for their old routine, miss their friends, their teachers and the sense of doing their own thing that school and extra-curricular activities away from mom and dad provided.  

So, it’s important during this period of transition that you work with your child(ren) to set up a home and school routine with all sorts of educational and fun activities to fill the gap and give kids a sense of ownership over their lives.  

Set out Board games and puzzles, word searches, science kits etc… Pull out the old Disney DVD’s, the Star Wars Saga, the old black and white classics and not only watch them, but talk about the life lessons in them. Pull out the dress up box and create a play or tell jokes. Get out photo albums, year books and old home movies and maybe explore your ancestry on-line. Extend the activity by making a favorite family recipe. Put on some records and your favorite 80’s jams and dance your socks off.  Dust off that piano or guitar and have a jam session.  Write a song and record it.  If you don’t have an instrument, then make one out of an upturned bucket or a pan lid or cardboard box.  Put out water colors, crayons, paints and paper and let your inner Picasso out. Learn that video game your child is always playing.  Let them teach you about twitter and Tic Tok, YouTube and Instagram and Snapchat.   Use your phone camera to take funny pictures or make a movie together. Go out into your garden and weed and plant and talk about nurturing God’s creation. Make homemade cards for the military and homebound and look on line for ways to serve in your community, or speak with your Pastor about what is needed in your church family.   Groom your pets, make homemade dog and cat treats, visit online sites on nature and brainstorm what you might do as a family to help protect our natural world.  Grab a blank journal and write a story and illustrate it together. Turn on an episode of “I Love Lucy” or “Friends” or “American Horror Story” and make fudge and pancakes and popcorn. Write a letter, E-mail friends and family, or better yet, teach your child how to talk, not text, on the phone with their grandparents!

For those in high school and college undergoing an immediate structural change in how they learn is very stressful, so it’s important to keep engaged with their well-being and mindful that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Yes, the younger generation is much more technologically savvy than prior generations, but that doesn’t mean everyone processes information the same way. On-line learning is a whole different ball game then a classroom experience and your student may find they are frustrated with the pace of the course, with the inability to immediately ask a question, with the lack of student interaction and the lack of hands on learning. They may also find their teachers, who they thought knew everything, may not be up to the task of administering an on-line course. So you may have to have conversations with your child about patience and understanding and cutting people slack. And in some cases, you may have to help your child follow up with the appropriate campus entities if the online educational experience is really sub-par.

Also, a lack of extra curricular activities, which is so vital to most high school and college kids, can immediately turn your kind and considerate child into a feral beast. Help them by finding new ways to maintain their physical fitness if they were formally engaged in competitive sports or dance or cheer; explore together on-line courses and websites that might engage them in new and fun ways and do not be afraid to let them take point to help the younger ones in your family. And for gosh sakes, get out of the way and let them talk out what is happening with them with their friends. I know you want to be there savior, but right now, you need to remember that they never asked for any of this. So it’s important to give them the privacy and space they have been used to and allow them the time to work out what is happening in their own mind.

While these things might sound silly and corny in a time of crises, I promise you that if you do these things, several years from now, when you are all gathered as a family and your children are telling their own children about the “Great COvid-19 Virus of 2020”, their conversations will not be a story of tragedy, but a story of hope.  A hope that you instilled in them today, right now, in this time of crises. A hope that the promise of a better tomorrow is never at the mercy of a tragedy if we spend our todays positive and productive and always, always moving forward with the gifts God has given us.

Stay safe and well dear readers and feel free to add your own thoughts and comments that might help others during this challenging time.

PositivelyAnne

Reflecting on “my positive” in the New Year

A new year, a new decade is upon us and you know the drill. Grab a piece of notebook paper, or better yet a brand new journal of blank pages, a few pencils or a favorite pen and jot down all of the things that are wrong with you that need fixing in 2020.

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS 2020!

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Underlined. O.k. GO! Sounds simple right?

Well, I’m going to share a secret with you all. This year, I’ve decided that I’m not going to make any New Years resolutions. Any lists of what I’m lacking. Why? I’ve discovered that focusing on lists of what I haven’t accomplished, what I am deficient in, blinds me to what is positive about me in the present.

I’m so focused on the negativity in the lists, that I become joyless and miserable.

It’s overwhelming and self-defeating. How am I ever going to accomplish anything on my list this year, if I haven’t accomplished everything on my list last year?

The answer is simple. I’m not. I’m setting myself up for failure on day one of the New Year by acknowledging that I’m a failure on day one of the New Year!

And I’m convinced that lists of what I’m lacking is one messed up way to start a new year, let alone approach life.

I’m mean it’s no stretch of the imagination that most of us can probably recite every single thing that is wrong with us without writing it down. I know I can.

Maybe we are still out of work, or going through a messy divorce, or fumbling through a relationship or we can’t breathe in our size 10 jeans any longer. In fact, some of us are not only fine tuned in the art of making lists as to what is wrong with our own selves, but we can list every single thing wrong with our spouse, our kids, our parents, our jobs, our homes, our community, our churches, our world.

Lists of negative thinking are not in short supply, trust me.

But is this any way to embrace positivity, starting the year off by making lists of all the things that we aren’t doing right, everything we aren’t? Seems to me that is a rather depressing way to accept the gift of another year and at least for me, it’s actually shortchanging what my imperfect self is truly capable of.

I have faced a lot in the past year and come out the other side stronger, better and wiser.

My positive is so much stronger than my negative. I know this with absolute certainty. If only I’d stop making lists that tell me otherwise.

So yesterday, day one of 2020, instead of a litany of negativity, I chose to fill my journal with four reflections on some of the challenges I faced in 2019 by paying less attention to the detail of what went wrong, and instead rejoicing in what went right. I share them here so that you can see the difference in approaching life as a positive reflection:

Anne’s Journal 2020 Day 1

What a blessing it is to be alive another year. A New Year of happiness and joy and love. My heart is full of these things to give, to share, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful for so many things that God and others have provided in my life this past year. New paths, new relationships, a deepening faith and a family whom I treasure. Challenges continue, but so do solutions.

The side effects from surgically induced menopause continue to challenge me. I need to lose more weight and it isn’t easy with my changed metabolism. But I’m down ten pounds from last year and my Fit Bit says I walked 500 miles in 2019. Five hundred miles! That’s no small feat given I had major surgery in April and in September. Hell, that’s no small feat period! I can now hike and swim in the ocean and dance and sing and garden and paint and play the piano with minimal pain and fatigue and best of all the hot flashes that kept me up at night are gone!

Yes, it’s true that I am anxious to get back into the work force outside the home and utilize my skill set with the right employer, and it’s scary and a bit intimidating to be starting over career wise in my mid-50’s. But, I was not complacent in 2019, having begun a side career as a successful blogger, created an on-line following for my photography on a gardening website and completed the final draft of a children’s book with a good friend. I am writing daily and the ideas are over flowing.

Over the summer, I was disappointed that the romantic summer vacation to the North East that I had been looking forward to with my husband had to be postponed due to another surgery. However, in 2019, I enjoyed so many wonderful excursions with my husband to the local mountains, the beach, zoo, new restaurants, theater and plays, movies, art exhibits, street fairs, farmers markets, antiquing, sports events, concerts of all sorts and enjoyed a wonderful mother-daughter trip to Chicago exploring all of my favorite Chi-town haunts. My husband and I still share a love for exploring this great planet and I am so grateful to be able to enjoy so many wonderful adventures with him.

The past year was a bit of an adjustment for me (and my husband) fully stepping into the life of empty nesters and embracing adult children with minds and goals and dreams of their own. At times it can be confusing and there are moments when I miss the sweet faces that idolized my every word without question and I’m still learning when to curtail the parenting. But it has been a relief to watch each of our three children fly from the nest, fully capable of handling whatever life hands them. Each child has sought out positive friends and mentors and relationships that facilitate their possible and all three wanting to remain in the area, not because I, or my husband demand it, but because it is something they want to do, has filled me with so much joy. They genuinely love our little family, want to spend time together and that is about the best gift a parent could ask for.

Till next time journal…

So as you can read, the New Year for me is not without it’s challenges, but I’m not lacking for positive things to focus on and I bet you aren’t either. In fact, when I re-read my journal I was amazed at how much it lifted my spirits to write about all of the positive things. To take the time to let my mind and heart reflect on all of the good. I’m going to lean into that even more in 2020 and I hope you will join me in this journey.

For I can’t think of a better gift we can give ourselves this New Year, then to approach it with a positive outlook and that includes seeing ourselves in a positive light from day one.

PositivelyAnne

Falling in Love with Me

…This post cancer life is so new and different and, in a way, disconnected from a lot of what I once was. It is by all accounts a rebirth.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  In case you were wondering, I haven’t stopped writing, haven’t stopped pouring my soul out on cyber paper.  I’m a writer and that’s what I do and I love it.   But I took a break from the “public” blog while I healed from my recent (and hopefully final) surgery because to be honest, I didn’t know what to say to all of you.  Why? Well, simply put, I was having a hard time understanding myself, my new and cancer-free self!  I needed to put the mental burn time in, a concerted effort to introduce the old me to the new me and try and make some sense of it all.   

But it’s been really hard.  Harder than I thought it would be and that’s been humbling. 

I have a great husband, great kids, great friends, great church, a truly great life, and yet the best way I can describe my life right now is that it is not yet my own.  It’s like it’s a bunch of pieces of jagged glass that do not fit together, that seemingly have no other purpose other than to tease me that my life has always been and will always be on the brink of fragility. 

This post cancer life is so new and different and, in a way, disconnected from a lot of what I once was.  It is by all accounts a rebirth.

Fall dawns in San Diego the end of August and with it, a sort of changing of the guard.  Don’t laugh, I know the calendar says Fall isn’t until mid-September, and yes, it’s true our beaches in August are still packed with plenty of sunburned tourists.   But it’s also true that by the end of August, although the days are still warm, downright hot actually, the nights are rather crisp and cool, dropping a good twenty degrees from the daily highs.  This drop-in temperature somehow serves as a signal to us California natives that it’s perfectly fine to start burning pumpkin spice candles, adding a fleece throw to the back of the sofa and warming our hands around a cup of homemade soup while watching the promos for Hallmark Channels’ Christmas Countdown.  It also signals the beginning of apple picking season, a sort of frenzied time that despite San Diego being a fresh fruit capital, we gather the troops and parade up the mountain tops to pay exorbitant prices for the opportunity to pick our own apples. 

It’s just the kind of kitschy juxtaposition that makes San Diego a great place to live. 

So, it was in the spirit of all things Fall, that my husband, eldest son and I, dressed in shorts and tank tops and oiled with sunscreen, crammed into my Volkswagen convertible and made the two hour trek up to the mountain town of Oak Glen on the 1st day of apple picking season.

It was also an activity I felt would help me cope with the stress of awaiting the final surgery I was having in September to remove my reconstructive implants.  The implants I felt, although there was no medical consensus, were at the root cause of the continued debilitating physical issues I had been having over the past three years.   

It was hot.  Eighty five degrees to be exact and with the top down on our convertible, I could feel the sun baking my skin, burning it as we wound our way up the mountain side.  I began to doubt myself.  “What a stupid idea Anne.”  “It’s freaking August, you should be at the beach.”

I remember silently praying that the trip wouldn’t be a bust.  But God it was so hot.

We pulled up alongside the orchard and the scenery was breathtaking.  Trees of all shapes and sizes and colors.   Scents of pumpkin and apple and something that we discovered was berry, filled the air.  There was the sound of a folk band, voices in harmony blended seamlessly with the strum of guitar and bow fiddle.   The sun was still blazing, but the sky was so blue and the surrounding mountains were still lush and green.  

Is this what heaven is like?

The three of us, my husband, my son and I, walked down a lane lined with blackberry bushes.  Off to the left was a little stand and a friendly man with a careworn face dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt, work boots and a cowboy hat who greeted us.  

“Hello folks, welcome, welcome!”

This must be what heaven is like!

The man with the cowboy hat explained to us the process of how to pick the apples, the trees available for picking would have yellow ribbons on them and there were several varieties.  The man handed us some bags to hold our pickings.   We would pay for what we picked on the way out.  There was a two-bag minimum and the price was steep, but the happiness that filled me was knowing no bounds.

With instructions and our bags, the three of us walked down the trail and around some very cute out buildings that had been carefully restored to look like a western town that had seen better days.   I felt an immediate connection to it. 

Life is like that, somedays shiny, other days broken, but always we push on.

Around the bend we entered the orchard.   It took a bit to find the trees we could pick from and we decided to split up so that we could pick a variety of apples.

One particular apple tree caught my eye.  This tree, one among the hundreds on the mountain side, had been picked clean on the exterior, but the interior branches were bulging with bright, red and green colored apples, and it reminded me of a mother holding her young to her bosom.

I studied the tree.  It seemed to be calling to me.

“Won’t you please come closer and tell me your secrets.  I promise I’ll listen to what is on your heart and then, as my gift to you, I’ll give mine…the fruit of my womb.”

I drew nearer, extended my arm as far as it would into the center of the tree and my hand enclosed around an apple and I gave it a tug.  But it’s stem held on tight, as if it did not want to go with me.  I tried again, tugging and pulling and as I was bracing my leg against the trunk of the tree for more leverage, I looked down and there underneath the canopy of that apple tree were literally hundreds of discarded apples in various stages of decay.  Pitted apples. Pockmarked apples.  Apples with brown holes.  Worms?  I picked several up and I didn’t find any worms.  But the pile of discarded apples was unusual, huge in fact and so out of character for what lay underneath the other apple trees around it.  Out of the blue a thought popped into my head:

“Is this apple tree holding on to its’ final offering because it is afraid to shed its’ old self, to make way for the new.”

What the???   Where did that thought come from? Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I knew the answer to that question.

Because the tree was me. 

The me that had shed so much of what was broken in me physically over the past three years was there on the ground in the form of all of those discarded apples.  But the me that held onto the memory of all that I was pre-cancer, my life before all of the drama, was there in the form of that tree holding on for dear life, afraid to give up the last of all that it was…of all that I am.  

Isaiah 41:10. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

All at once it seemed too much to ponder, too painful, too sad, this me that I once was and this me that I so desperately wanted to figure out, so I quickly joined my husband and son and focused on filling our bags full of apples of every sort.   We laughed and laughed and soon my momentary sadness was forgotten.  Bags full and caught up in the joy of the experience, we decided to also pick some blackberries. 

More money of course, and it was darn hot out and we were all sweating buckets, but something about the whole experience was having a cathartic effect on not only me, but on my husband and son, and in that unity my spirits soared.

It was as if God was saying to me, “I’ve got you Anne, I won’t let you go.”

So, baskets in hand we went off in search of blackberries.  There was one section of the orchard that had a kind of maze-like structure with groomed blackberry bushes, but there was another section, a less structured section, with tall, craggy bushes full of thorny bramble. 

You can guess which ones called to us.

Anyhow, without thinking, I reached in to said bush and instantly my hand was full of juicy berries and equally full of tiny, microscopic thorns.   I won’t lie to you, those tiny thorns hurt! But I couldn’t stop myself from reaching in again.

Further and further and further into the brambles my hand automatically went. 

“Oh, I see you.   I see you hiding your beautiful berries way back there in the dark recesses of all that you are.   Don’t worry, I know you are scared of me, but you know what, I’m scared of you too!   So, let’s be scared together.”

My stinging hands, black from the berry juice filled basket after basket.  Bags of apples lay at my feet. Enough for a pies and syrup and fruit pancakes and…I had to stop before the money ran out!  

Conveniently across from the blackberry bush there was a copse of trees, diverse in their variety, but similar in their leaves, which were all in various stages of color transition.  Some were evergreen, some a sort of mottled green-yellow, a reminder of the dry, desert climate that is Southern California and some were the palate that I most associate with fall: deep brown, burgundy, golden yellow and burnt orange.  It was this latter colored tree that, while casually picking the blackberry thorns out of my fingertips, that seemed to speak to me.   

The trunk of the tree was oddly shaped.   Instead of the typical circular base that begins wide at the bottom and then gradually tapers skyward, this tree’s base was extra wide, distorted in proportion, to the rest of the trunk.   It was as if it had taken a long pause before deciding that yes, it wanted to continue its’ journey skyward as a tree.

Moments of pause and reflection are good in our life journey.  Sometimes they are planned, sometimes they aren’t, but pausing never the less affords us the time and opportunity to access if we are headed in the right direction. 

Cancer for me was like that.   An unplanned pause that pushed me to reflect on all that was my life and what I wanted to carry with me forward in the journey, post cancer.   Now what exactly is that?

I noticed that the skin of the tree trunk was punctuated (every so often) with circular, rough-edged knots.  A few of the knots were superficial, their middles slightly grainy in texture, not much more than a fleshy surface wound.  Others of the knots, were deep, dark and cavernous.  Their center void indeterminant to the naked eye, as if mirroring infinity.      

As humans we share a common guarantee that our lives will be filled with all sorts of knots, anxious moments, that tear at our core, causing us to momentarily bury deep within ourselves to wait out the storm.

But in the past few years I’ve come to recognize that these sorts of troubles, while important and valuable in my personal growth, are more or less equal to butterflies in the tummy.  That quick quiver, that reminds me of just how fragile my life really is. 

The greater task for me is to make peace with the larger knots.  Those that seem ridged and permanently affixed to my story, no matter how hard I struggle to rid myself of them.  Would they disappear if I just “let them fall away?”   

I guess it is true that no matter what our battles some memories and scars are fleeting, parked for a bit waiting out the passage of time, while others remain, glaring, blatant and perfectly comfortable altering our person, our existence.  

My person.  My existence.

So, as I continued to pick out the last of the thorns, I wondered to myself:

What would happen if I just let go of the worry and just let myself fall into my new life?

But I don’t like letting go.  I don’t like falling.

The sporadic clumps of gnarled star-like bouquets affixed to the trees branches that stood before me in shades of orange, gold and brown and burgundy were stunning in the bright August sky, startling actually against the green of what is the norm for much of the California landscape and they should have made me happy.   But it was this difference, this odd combination of brilliance in the face of death that gave me pause.  Something that oddly felt like resentment welled up inside me.

“There you are Anne in all your Fall glory.  Wow, you look so great for all you’ve been through!” Should I look old and haggard?  Is that a choice I can honestly make and still be accepted? Would I accept myself as less than what I think I should be?

“Bright, Bold, Beautiful! What tremendous energy you radiate Anne!” What if I told you there are times that I feel void inside, would you run? What if I told you there are days when I’m barely hanging on? What if I told you that I’m afraid?

“Anne, how have you survived cancer and all of the other health issues you have been through with such a positive attitude?  Well, you know beautiful, I couldn’t do it.  I don’t have the strength you have.” There are days, lots of days that I don’t have strength either, did you know that?  Do you even want to know?  More importantly, do I want to know?

“Anne dear, what you have accomplished is nothing short of an inspiration.” I’m nothing special. I’m not.  I’m just as regular as this old tree. And I didn’t do anything spectacular.  I fought cancer, as do millions of other people each and every day, by putting on my game face and working my ass off to stay in the game.  Simply put, if I had a choice about my place in this world, and I was blessed to be given one, time and time and time again, I wasn’t ready to give up my earthly role, whatever the hell that is.   It isn’t any more complicated than that.

Or is it?     

As I stood staring at that gnarled, old, broken down tree, almost forty months of voices full of compliments and encouragement and every heartfelt sentiment filled my head. 

Sometimes I do not feel worthy of what should be a joyful noise as I get on with my life.  Instead my head is filled with a cacophony of disconnected notes, rising up into the sky to reveal, leaves that, upon closer inspection, are black at the tips, reminding me of myself, my fragility, a falling star, my brilliance slowly being extinguished as it streaks across the nighttime sky.   As I said, I am afraid.  

Hands still blue, and free of thorns, I felt tears well in my eyes as they travelled up to the crown of the tree, I noticed that many of the upper branches were denuded of any leaves, their fate sealed by the wind and their proximity to the heavens.  

There they sit, under the watchful eye of God and man, raw, naked, completely exposed.  As do I.  As do we all.

I suddenly felt a kinship with these stripped branches of this craggy, old tree.   These branches, the once proud harbingers of birds, and bugs and life.  How strange it must feel to hold such vast secrets within the warmth of limb and leaf only to have them stolen by the breeze, and left a barren landscape, void of what was once bright and beautiful and appreciated.   I understand.  

My once normal life has been bowed under the weight of its’ burden.  My limbs snapped under the pressure of accepting something for which I had no root cause.  Nothing I could say, “Well, that’s why I got cancer?” 

I’ve tried to remain colorful and brilliant and to hang on to every thread of what was good about my life prior to cancer, but the true story is that underneath my canopy, where my once bright leaves stood shimmering in all of their glory, they are now withered and crumbled, their dust scattered on the ground, just like those discarded apples and I don’t know what it all means, this transition.

I feel like I am someone I don’t know yet.  And that’s o.k. because God will continue to show me the way.  I understand why it was important for me on this extremely hot day to be standing here in the middle of an orchard with my family, hands stinging from bramble, nature’s bounty at my feet, learning to fall in love with me.  

The new me.

So, I stand here, a tree, naked of its’ leaves, branches askew, trunk soft and swollen under the weight of its’ burden, wondering what to do next. 

I know people will continue to come up to me and tell me how great I look.  What tremendous energy I radiate…

What an inspiration I am.   I love them for it. 

I’m still learning what I feel about this me that is still revealing itself.    

But I promise to keep trying to figure it out.   

It may take a little longer.  And that’s o.k. because I am not alone in my journey.

With God’s help, I’m slowly falling in love with me.  

PositivelyAnne

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TOGETHER WE CAN LIFT EACH OTHER UP!

Mastering the art of “resting”

Heading into my third week of recovery after my bi-lateral explant surgery, I have discovered the truth about myself:

I am an absolute utter and complete failure at the art of forced “resting”.

Now it’s silly because after sixteen prior surgeries, I understand the importance of physical rest in surgical recovery.

Rest equals healing. Healing equals getting back to life sooner than later.

But rest, true rest, is so much more than just closing my eyes.   It’s about shutting off that internal motor that powers my brain around the clock, creating to-do list after to-do list, until it runs out of gas.

In my recovery, I have support and plenty of it.  But I find myself day after day, night after night, pushing my mind at a fever pace to problem solve, to plan, to create, to design, to negotiate. As the lists in my head grow longer and longer, my stress level mounts.

Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Now you might be thinking I’m talking about not wanting to let go of control of my routine.  I’m am not. 

I truly have no problem letting others take control while I recover from my latest surgery and I am grateful that I have people I can count on to do just that. It is a luxury I know not everyone is blessed with and I do not take it for granted.

But, somewhere in my wiring, I’m not good at shutting off the planning department in my mind: the forward thinking minions racing around in my brain looking ahead.

In other words, I never fully allow myself to live in the moment when I’m just plain ol’ me, with no agenda, nothing to do but rest, physically and mentally.

It’s ridiculous isn’t it?  I mean I know people understand I’m out of commission for a bit and they are doing their very best to help me, expertly in fact.

So why don’t I just let them do their thing and leave the planning department shuttered in my mind while I heal?

Why does my mind race all the time, forever spinning through a growing agenda of imaginary problems and issues and things I should tackle? Why is it so hard for me to accept that shutting down and powering off for a bit isn’t a negative for me?

The other day my husband came home from work and asked if I had rested.  I said, “Yes!  I had a wonderful two hour nap with the cats.” 

I then proceeded to tell him that before that nap with my fur babies, I had scheduled window cleaners, household painters, tree trimmers, sorted through some paperwork my occupational therapist needed, had a friend over, texted with my parents and my brother and one of my kids and worked on my blog. 

He looked at me like I was …Well, let’s just leave it that he looked at me funny, shook his head and began to make dinner for us and a martini for himself! I honestly don’t blame him. What’s wrong with me?

Just as an aside, my husband is rock solid when it comes to housework and cooking and any honey-do projects.  We are a team and when one of the team is down, the other team member steps up to the plate without asking. It’s worked for thirty-one years and so why I felt the need to push through an agenda of projects that would make the Property Brothers on HGTV sweat and my husband need a martini, I have no idea.

Later that evening, as my husband and I finished the absolutely amazing meal he had prepared, suddenly the weight of all I had done during the day began to feel like an anvil on my shoulders. 

Yes, I had physically rested, had napped. But mentally, I hadn’t rested at all.

Uncertainty about whether or not I was going to be able to follow through on all I had scheduled, all I had planned, all of my forward thinking, was like an anchor around my neck, slowly pulling me into the abyss. 

I began to cry. I cried as if a dam were breaking and it hit me that to fully recover from this surgery,  I had to let go of this idea in my head that just because a part of me is on mandated rest, I needed to activate, full throttle, all of my other abilities, specifically my mind,  to compensate.  

No one is asking this of me, so why am I asking this of myself?

My wonderful husband pulled me close and told me not to worry. 

“Everything is going to be o.k.!”

He also reminded me that I’ve been through a lot in the past three years and that it was perfectly fine for me to check out of the “agenda in my mind” while I recover.

Life would go on whether we painted the interior of the house, had dirty windows or an overgrown tree.  He’s right.

I need to figure out a better way to push the pause button in my mind completely.  I need to give myself the gift of healing not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and in all ways that matter. 

Well, I’d like to say that I cancelled all of the honey-do projects, but I didn’t.  The window cleaners have come and gone. The tree trimmer is scheduled to show up on Friday and as I write this, I’ve been sealed in my office by plastic and painter’s tape. The painters assured me they would let me out in five to seven minutes after they get the ceiling outside of my office painted.

It’s now been 45 minutes! 

Damn, I really do need to pull the plug in my mind, power off and embrace my faulty wiring, let life go on for a bit without my input.   Then maybe, I’ll be able to say truthfully that I’ve finally mastered the art of “resting!”

“Hey Painters, it’s getting hot in here!” 

“Guys…c’mon guys…anyone there???…Hello???”

PositivelyAnne

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