Have you ever felt like you were playing a game of peek-a-boo with happiness? One minute, you are stoked and swimming in happy thoughts and feelings. The next minute, you can’t figure out why you are sad and why things just aren’t going your way. I sure do. Sometimes I wonder if that’s normal.
I want to tip the scales of happiness and work on the bursting with enthusiasm side more. I want to tend my happy garden to sow more seeds of delight and toss out the weeds that entangle my life.
I believe that happiness has to be cultivated. I think happy people have to work at it–just like anything else. So, here’s how I plan to do it.:
1. Continue to count my blessings every day. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal (you can check it out HERE) as a daily reminder of all the little gifts in my life RIGHT NOW. What an eye-opener to see the abundance of lovely things and people in my life.
2. Think about people and moments that evoke happy thoughts. Without fail, when I focus on these mental images, I’m transported to a happier moment. Usually these thoughts inspire me to write letters, post notes on Facebook, and call loved ones to tell them that I’m thinking of them.
3. Surround myself with people who are positive and uplifting. I am drawn to people who smile, show kindness, use encouraging words, and think of others. I like to be around people who choose to see the good in others. They are like vitamins–good for me! Likewise, there are some go-to people I can count on when I log on to Facebook who will post articles, stories, and statuses that lift my spirits and makes me smile. Conversely, I’ve hidden the profiles of those who are constantly negative. To be clear, I’m not avoiding sadness as I know that’s just part of life (and its also healthy to be able to process these feelings). I just don’t like to see people wallowing in complaints day after day who are blessed beyond measure but haven’t stopped whining long enough to realize it!
4. Serve those in need. Whenever I was going through my radiation treatments, I became very aware of other cancer survivors. The experience heightened my awareness that there are so many other people facing bigger problems and health issues than me. It was a humbling experience and reminded me of how we are all part of something much bigger. We can do so much–even if its as little as a simple smile and message to say “you are important”.
5. Be the kind of person others WANT to be around. There are periods of the past that I reflect on and cringe because I was the Debbie Downer of the group. I’m a little surprised by those long time friends that stuck it out with me even when I was stuck in a rut of misery. Then again, I have some amazing friends! Bottom line: if you spend all your days complaining and spreading negativity, don’t be surprised when people bail. No one needs toxic friends. Instead, build people up and find something special about everyone you meet.
6. Connect with nature. There is just no way to stay in a bad mood when you take the time to notice all the natural beauty beckoning to you. The shade of the sky, the brilliant colors of a sunrise or sunset, the variety of birds, flowers, trees, landscapes….all of it majestic and FREE! Stop and listen–do you hear the beautiful melody the birds are creating?
7. Turn up the music and dance. Music is always my mood pick-me-up. I play songs with a beat that gets me moving. When I’m having a bad day, I crank up the volume and dance all around my house. Sure, my kids think I’m nuts but 9 times out of 10, I feel better and get them dancing with me. Is it just me or is late 80s rap just MADE for days like these??? Go ahead, cut a rug. I DARE you not to smile!
8. Create, create, create! Find some way to tap into your creative juices. Take up painting, make an art project with your child, design a space in your house, build something, take fun photos, play with an art app on your phone, or write a story. Truly, your options are endless! If your mind is focused on creating, it can’t possibly be focused on the blues. : )
9. Pick an occasion and celebrate! Invite friends to join you. I’m a life-celebrater–I decorate for holidays like its my job. I love to bring a festive atmosphere to my home. I want my boys to remember that we had a lot of fun and shared a lot of laughs. We don’t spend a lot of money–we keep our decorations, food, and crafts simple. It’s about finding time to be intentionally happy!
10. Pray, meditate, study scripture–take time to understand your life’s purpose. You were created to be YOU and nobody else. Figure out how you can enhance your family, your community, your world. Seek spiritual guidance in understanding your role.
So those are my top ten ways I’m going to nurture my happiness garden. I’ll pray for many blooming, beautiful moments and be grateful for the occasional rain showers that help me continue to grow.
January. Oh crazy, turbulent January. I have such mixed feelings for this month. On one hand, it starts out chock full of promise. It tempts us seductively with the possibility of change. Some of us write down our resolutions and set goals. Others predict that it will be a better year than last year. We step into January with a renewed confidence.
Then came that formidable polar vortex, holding us hostage with its subzero temperatures and gusts of frigid air. Perhaps it froze our ambition and motivation along with everything else. Or, at the very least, trapped us indoors with our family for way too long. Suddenly, January became a never-ending month of long, cold, gray days.
I started to see my friends crumble. The vents on Facebook started swirling around like the cold northeasterly winds. Little things. People annoyed with teachers, their families, each other. It was as though a gray cloud had anchored overhead and settled into our psyches.
Typically, I’m an optimist. Or, at least I call myself that most days. I tend to see life in a glass half-full sort of way. However, I had to work REALLY hard this month to find delightful moments daily. I’m participating with 365 Grateful so I have been snapping photos every day of all the little things that tickle my fancy. Truly, it’s been a challenge because I had to fight feelings of uncertainty and sadness too. I’ve been battling my own fears–fears that I won’t be able to be just “me”. I’m fearful that the medicine that prevents my cancer from recurring will change me, alter my moods, and steal my sunshine. I’m afraid that the little eyes that watch me will start to wonder what happened to mommy.
Perhaps that’s why I was elated to learn about an amazing, thumbing-our-nose-at-fear event. It’s called Lung Leavin’ Day and it celebrates life by encouraging others to face their fears. Basically, you write your fears on a plate and then SMASH the plate. How cool is that? Even cooler is the powerful story behind the day. Heather, a wife and mother, found out she had a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma and given a grim prognosis. After a surgery to remove her left lung, she beat the 15 months to live prediction and is now celebrating 8 years as survivor. Together with family and friends, she commemorates the event on February 2nd every year. BRILLIANT!
Do you have fears? Have you been overwhelmed? Frustrated? Check out the Lung Leavin’ Day interactive website by clicking on the link below. YOU GET TO CYBER SMASH A PLATE!
Seriously, do it. It’s therapeutic! Better yet, grab a group of friends and organize a Lung Leavin’ Day smash-a-thon on February 2nd, 2014. Add it to your Super Bowl party!
Let’s bid January adieu and roll out the welcome mat for February. Good bye fears!!!!
2014 has arrived and with it, all the hope and resolve for another great year. My goals are simple:
- Enjoy the little moments of life. Keep a gratitude journal (you’ll find mine HERE)
- Be more present with my kids. I’m guilty of sitting with them but looking at my phone and disengaging with their life. I want them to be hopeful, happy, respectful, and creative. I have to start with modeling the behavior I want from them.
- Stay healthy! I’ve never really put much thought into being healthy until my world was brought to a halt by cancer. I will focus on follow up appointments and spend time researching what’s new in the medical arena with breast cancer.
I resolve to laugh more, complain less, and BE THE CHANGE I want to see in the world. Cliché, yes—but worth it! : )
2014 is a YEAR FOR SPREADING SUNSHINE!!!!
My little angel,
I’ve been composing this letter to you in my head for seven years. I’ve started and stopped many times. Can I ever find the words to properly express what you mean to me? How do I explain infinite love? How can I explain how profoundly my life has changed despite the brevity of your life?
Seven years—yet the memory of your birth is etched vividly in my mind even today. There’s so much I need to tell you. The day you were born, you were more deeply loved than you can ever imagine. Although your time in my arms was brief, my love for you has never diminished. Saying goodbye to you remains the most difficult experience of my life. Oh how I wish I had held you longer. Even though your heart had stopped beating, I didn’t want to stop looking at you. I could not stop telling you how exquisite and perfect you were. I prayed that you were at peace and resting in God’s palm. I told you that you were in the most magnificent place and that you would be ok. I didn’t know if I would. A piece of my heart died with you that night.
I did not understand grief until I had to walk out of the hospital without you. We were given a stuffed bear as a bereavement gift from another family who lost their daughter, Peace. Today, I recognize the beauty of that offering—to be able to take something home rather than leave the hospital empty-handed. I should write a letter to that family—to let them know how precious their gift was to us on that day.
The days and weeks following were a blur. I was living on the outside but dying on the inside. I shed tears for months and thought I would never catch my breath again. My arms longed to hold you. My eyes yearned to gaze into yours and to see them sparkle. My ears desired to hear your coos and giggles. I sat in your room, clutched your baby blankets close to me and begged God for clarity to understand WHY. My heart broke into a million pieces. Life felt unfair. Every friend who bore a baby that year was a searing and painful reminder of your loss. I mourned every kiss, cuddle, and dream that would never be.
I tried so hard to get my head back into life for your brother’s sake. Antonio was too little to understand and yet, it seemed he was sensitive to the difficult days. When he was a bit older, we explained how lucky he was to have you as an angel brother. He says special prayers for you and often asks me questions about you. When he draws family pictures, he always includes you. He even raised money for the American Heart Association this year to honor you. Landon, you would be so proud of your big brother.
When I later became pregnant with your little brother, Santino, I worried and worried. The ultrasound appointment was tense as the fear of a repeated heart-wrenching experience creeped into our minds. We cried when they found calcifications on Sonny’s heart and begged God for grace. We would have to wait with trepidation to see what would be. Months later, his birth was beautiful and healing. He was healthy, alert, amazing. Yet I could not help but think of you. It was a joyous, loving birth and at the same time, a heart-breaking reminder of a baby lost.
With time, we gradually started to laugh more and allow ourselves to enjoy life. Nevertheless, I sometimes experience a familiar twinge of guilt when I’m happy with my two living boys. Please know that it doesn’t mean I don’t remember you. I’ll always remember you. It’s the delicacy of our situation I guess. As much as we want time to stand still, we must always move forward.
While there will always be some sadness inherent to your birth, there is also amazing, life-changing perspective gained. I learned that during our weakest moments, friends and family provide strength. They ask for nothing in return. I learned that our vulnerability helps us to relate to others in a much deeper and rewarding way. My heart aches every time I hear of or meet couples that have experienced infant loss. Yet I know that it honors you when we connect with them. We understand the incomprehensible. We recognize that every journey is different and that everyone heals in his/her own time. I hope that sharing our story can bring comfort and continue to reflect the value of your brief life.
When I found out I had cancer, I knew that I would weather the storm. The diagnosis, while still difficult to hear, was nothing compared to losing you. Because of you, I understand the fragility of life. I understand that our time is limited and that we choose every day how we will be remembered. I work hard to honor your name, Landon. I want to be a mother you would be proud of—one who helps others and makes time and effort to be kind always. Losing you has been a constant reminder that I can take no relationship for granted.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from you is that I need God and that I would NEVER make it through without His guidance. When I was in that deep hole and feeling helpless, I could not get out. I will never forget the moment I sat in church and felt the warmth wash over me. A healing I can’t fully describe. I was wrapped in love and my pain was lifted. I knew you were with Him and I finally found peace. I like to imagine that it will be your eyes I meet first and who will take my hand to lead me “home.”
Landon, I am certain that you would have been an amazing young man. Perhaps you would have shared the tender heart of your older brother, Antonio. Maybe you would have some of the spunk of your little brother, Sonny. I imagine you would have grown tall like your Daddy but been a little stubborn like your Mommy. Your heart may have been too big on earth but its made perfect in heaven.
You’ve taught me that love is endless and that there is good in every life challenge. Your loss taught me that I am stronger than I think. Your body may be gone but you will forever be on my heart.
Rest in peace, my baby.
Thanksgiving is almost here. Families will gather around the table to feast on delicious food prepared with love. Someone will pass the turkey, the stuffing and the potatoes. But don’t forget to pass a heaping plate of thankfulness.
Thanksgiving! What a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our lives and count our blessings.
Never have I felt more gratitude for so many reasons. Despite what would seem logical, I cannot overlook the very obvious life-changer element for me. A few days ago, these words leaked out of my mouth before I could stop them:
“I’m grateful for cancer.”
Does that sound crazy and impossible? A few months ago, I was angry and hated cancer. Why the change of viewpoint? Let me explain: Nearly every day since I’ve received my diagnosis, someone has shared with me healing words of encouragement, love, and support. We’ve had 19 meals provided for us in a 5 week period–some by friends and neighbors and others by complete strangers. I’ve received cherished hand-written letters and cards almost daily for over two months. We’ve received fruit bouquets to feed our bodies and nourish our souls. I’ve received meaningful jewelry, hand-knit scarves, gratitude journals, and care packages that took my breath away. In a culture that teaches us to compete and to be selfish, it’s been an amazing contrast. I’ve been afforded a rare opportunity to see the most beautiful and selfless side of human nature.
I am blessed. Moreover, I am changed for the better. I’ve been humbled to witness others with unspeakable pain and dire circumstances beam with gratitude. During this time, I’ve let go of my normal mind clutter. Worrying about eye wrinkles and other petty things suddenly feels very foolish…and small. How can I be upset about my misbehaving hair when I’m sitting next to a patient who has lost hers?
To be sure, cancer is still devastating to far too many people. I don’t want to imply that it’s glitter and unicorns. Cancer is difficult and scary and I’ve only faced one-tenth of what some others deal with regularly. Yet, even in this cancer darkness, there is light. Only during difficult times can we truly appreciate the strength required to overcome adversity.
Our vulnerability allows us to shine and that’s what brings us together. It connects us at a deeper level because we are raw and real.
I continue on this journey of learning and am ever aware of the amazing gifts I’ve been given.
Today is a tough day.
As I walk into the waiting room of the radiation treatment center where I’ve been “attending” for the last two weeks, I see a familiar face. A young mom, accompanied by a young child no more than 14 months old, sits in the chairs near by. I recognize her immediately. Madison, as I’ve come to learn the little girl’s name, moves about the chairs, busy as a little bee. She’s easy to spot in this large waiting room because she’s such a contrast to so many of the other patients sitting in the room. She’s energetic and her belly laughs can be heard from across the room. She’s a breath of fresh air in this otherwise serious place.
From the first day I see her in the waiting room, my heart melts for this young mom. My mind wrestles with the question of who is receiving the treatment. Is it the mom? Is she experiencing life like me–trying to balance her health issues with small children in tow? Or, is it Madison? Could this sweet and innocent child be waiting here oblivious to her cancer? I can’t bear to think of it. Turns out, it is neither mom nor child. Instead, it is the dad. I remember when he came out from the changing area, walking deliberately and slowly with the aid of a walker. I immediately felt flushed when I realized I was staring at his bald head and he caught me. Like many others sitting among me in the room, he’s endured chemo. A man, in his late twenties maybe, fighting the battle of his life.
Today tests my ability to “hold it together”. Today the dad is having a tough day. I watch him rush off to the waiting room bathroom, as fast as his weak legs and walker allow, and hear him retching. I notice the look of sadness and fear in his wife’s eyes as she rushes over to assist him. All the while, sweet Madison entertains herself by playing peek a boo with the front desk staff. Today I want to shout to the world that THIS IS NOT FAIR. Today I want to hug and comfort the mom. I want to tell her that she does not deserve this punishment.
Friends, I want to see sunshine in every situation. I’ve been consciously focusing on the good of this cancer journey. Most days, I am blown away by kindness and thoughtfulness of everyone around us. I smile as I open my mail and get some precious note from an old friend–telling me they are praying for me, lifting me, thinking of me. I appreciate that total strangers have brought us meals and loved on us without any expectations in return. I love that I’ve seen community in my neighborhood as neighbors have rallied my entire family. I’m in awe of the workings that are happening to us all the time. Today, I search in my soul for courage to trust and pray for guidance that a plan bigger than I can ever know or understand is at play.
More than ever, I know that these patients need hope and I’ll continue to tuck little notes of encouragement in every nook and cranny of the treatment center. Perhaps this is how I fit into the puzzle and how God is at work in me through this journey.
A few months ago, I shared my 40 Rays of Light campaign. If you missed it, you can read about spreading sunshine HERE.
What a fun and rewarding project it turned out to be. Aside from the delight in writing to so many cherished friends and family members, I loved hearing how each person chose to spread his/her sunshine.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s the importance of expressing love and gratitude. When people pour into you, anything is possible. Even more uplifting is discovering the tapestry of beauty that surrounds us–in nature, in human actions, in generous children, and thoughtful teachers.
Recently, I’ve seen lots of grumbling about politics on Facebook and other social sites. So, I figured I’d balance all the negativity out there with some positive vibes. I’m sharing some of the responses I received from friends who participated in my 40 Rays of Sunshine request. These are just a few examples of the ripple effect of human kindness.
Operation: Spread Sunshine
- One beautiful friend and her 5 year old daughter drove around her local college on a rainy, spring day and offered umbrellas to students who were walking on campus without rain gear.
- “I wrote a letter to a friend who now lives in Paris, who helped me so much when I had my daughter in not feeling like “the only one” to feel the way I felt after the first child. I also wrote a card to a friend who is struggling on her own on a lot of fronts but that always has a positive attitude and a word of wisdom for me too, letting her know of how grateful I am to have her as a friend and letting her know how she helps me grow.”
- “40 Rays contribution: left a love note and flowers for a 90+year old lady from my old church. Haven’t seen her in forever so I thought I’d find her home and leave her flowers. “
- “As part of a birthday wish for “Operation: Spread Sunshine” I started a comedic sports blog about the trials and tribulations of being a Cleveland fan to make people laugh. ” She’s seriously funny and you can check it out HERE! Love a woman’s perspective on sports!
- “I spread my sunshine with a former student. Very fun!”
- “My little extra sunshine entailed reaching out to five friends who I don’t talk with often which ended up being fun. I also sent my mother a letter via snail mail – she’ll like that. I didn’t save the world, but in your honor tried to add one more ray of sunshine to others near and dear.”
- “I sent some ‘sunshine’ to my cousin, Kim, and her husband Paul who is dealing with some cancer issues right now. What a great idea!”
- A friend near to my heart came up with these FANTASTIC tees and is continuing the kindness wave by passing them out to her friends. I snapped up a few for my friends as well because I LOVE THIS IDEA!!! Yay KIM!!! ; )
It’s never too late to do something amazing! : ) Go ahead, grab some paper and write an encouraging note to a friend, neighbor, cousin, teacher, bus driver, or service person. Take the time to spread your sunshine.