Wednesday Words

Today I begin something new. My plan is to post a quote each Wednesday that has helped me think about some aspect of life. I hope these quotes can do the same for you and that you enjoy them. They will be short and sweet, yet hopefully meaningful.

I still plan to write a longer blog post for each Sunday. Be well!

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Scanxiety

I have had more MRIs in my life than I can count. Some yielding good news that spots were getting more and more difficult to see. Others showed minimal growth, which medically was read as consistent and stable. Sometimes I stayed with the current treatment protocol and sometimes it meant beginning something unknown to me.

Almost every MRI for me brought on its share of anxiety because I have some degree of claustrophobia. Waiting for results also brings its share of stress. The machine itself is long and tubular with enough room to slide an average sized body in and out. It doesn’t look too impossible when I’m standing outside of it and plucking up my courage. Things change when the technicians strap me in, give me a panic ball to squeeze since they’ll be in a different room for the test, and roll me into the tube. Suddenly, I am alone. My vision is limited to sterile white and I can see only an inch or two above my face. I can’t get out on my own and that’s when the trapped feeling starts growing. The strapped in part is so unsettling for me. Breathing is going to be impossible in there, especially when I am to listen to instructions on when to breathe, hold my breath, and then relax. A contrast dye is shot into me that makes my heart and pulse race. It makes me feel a little sick, and then I hear the “take a breath” prompt. Sometimes I just can’t get it done in time because of my racing heart, which makes me feel like I’ve screwed up the most informative part of the test. Panic, panic, panic. I’m stressed out. It goes downhill from there. Much to my surprise, the test always gathers usable information.

I have heard from a few people lately who have been nervous about scans and various tests. I doubt how I’ve described things for me has lessened those feelings for them. Sorry. Others haven’t been reassuring or helpful either from what’s been shared. Instead anxiety levels have risen as “friends” have told them how awful these things are. Do they really feel this is helpful? Newsflash – it isn’t! Saying something is hard is honest. You can still be honest by providing a couple of reassuring comments.

My hope is something that I share about how I’ve dealt with scans, tests, etc. will be helpful for anyone with scanxiety. Scans have gotten easier with each passing one. I know that it’s going to be tough to catch my breath after the contrast injection and I can mentally prepare for it. If it takes me an extra second or two to start a breath hold, that’s what I now do and I don’t worry about it. The following are things that work for me, and they may work for others.

Tip #1: I like music piped in to relax me. This is a common practice. However, if music is unavailable I know what songs I can sing through in my head to pass the time.

Tip #2: I like a washcloth over my eyes with just a peeking place available so I still know where I am without having to be reminded the whole time.

Tip #3: Lavender essential oil on gauze placed on my chest provides enough aromatherapy for a calming effect. I suggest bringing your own if you are unsure if your facility provides this for patients.

Tip #4: Having the same technicians has a calming effect on me, too. My favorite tech actually hugs me when she sees me and that lets me know I am in a safe place. I also like a lot of communication and encouragement while I’m in the machine. It’s good for me to know when I’m halfway done and when I’m close to finishing.

Tip #5: Sometimes I try to reframe the overwhelming, closed in, trapped feeling with one where the machine is my own little personal cocoon where I am kept snuggly and protected for a short time. It’s a great place for prayers. I call on loved ones, spirits, and angels to be with me and protect me. Those are very warm and comforting thoughts.

Tip #6: It goes a lot easier if I take the time to have my port accessed beforehand than just settle for multiple arm pokes that are more like a hit and miss game of find a vein. Using my port doesn’t make my heart race or feel sick when the contrast dye is administered.

Tip #7: In general, the breath holds go much better if I count very slowly in my head until they are done. Some holds are short, some are up to thirty seconds. The long holds do get hard for me, but the counting lets me know that they have to be almost over.

Tip #8: Lorazepam. I have proven that I can get through MRIs without any extra drug help at all. I know I can do it if I have to, relying only on my other tips. The lorazepam relaxes me enough so I am both calmer, fully functional, and happier feeling in general.

Tip #9: I don’t find it helpful to tell people about upcoming scans. There are too many questions. It is so much easier for me to relax on my own before and after the test, and if anything needs to be shared later, later it is. There really isn’t a need to share when nothing really changes. If you get support from sharing scheduled tests with a lot of people, that is your choice based on the kind of support system you have.

Tip #10: Remember the goal of an MRI is to provide information about your health. I need the information – good or not so good – because either way it determines what choices are best so I can maintain a healthy lifestyle. My mother wasn’t open to MRIs and many other tests because of claustrophobia. I believe there also were other fear based and avoidant based thinking happening. Not knowing sadly didn’t work out well for her. I miss her terribly. She and I have many similarities, but as hard as it is for me, I have to get the tests so I know what’s what.

I know what to expect after so many of these. This is a place where I’ve become very vocal about what I need – the music, the lavender, the washcloth, the encouraging words and announcements throughout. I always take extra good care of myself afterwards, whether it’s a treat on the drive home, or a long walk where I can decompress and appreciate being free from the MRI machine.

All these scans would be a much better time if I could find a way to make sure every scan provides the kind of results I need and want. In the meantime, I have found a way get through them with less dread and a little more ease.

Scans are just one example of what causes people anxiety. Everyone has something that they find difficult to do or causes them to worry. Anxiety is often worse than the event itself. After you’ve done it, you realize it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe you’ve even developed a few hacks on your own that help you cope or dismiss your anxiety and stress entirely.

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Whether brought on by medical stuff or other anxiety triggers you have in your life, what helps you lessen anxiety?

Committing to the Hat

One thing that drives me crazy lately is wearing a hat. It is winter and hat wearing weather. On the pro side, it keeps me toasty warm. I am a fan of toasty warm. On the con side, taking off the hat usually shifts my wig. It has to be done carefully. One hand has to glide up past my forehead and underneath said hat. It rests between the hat and my hair, anchoring it in place. It doesn’t always work. It has become one of many extra processes in my life. It makes me feel self-conscious. I am not a fan of self-conscious.

When I put on a hat, I have to really commit to the hat. You see, I may have it on for a while. Even if I get hot, I don’t feel like I can easily take it off without possibly drawing attention to myself. The reality is probably no one is looking at me. But there’s still the self-conscious thing.

Committing to the hat is just one more thing I have to do. It’s one of the behind the scene consequences of living with cancer. Others include my independent pharmacy of mostly supplements that I ingest several times a day that I believe help me, neupogen injections every weekend to boost white cell counts, feeling anxious about many social situations, not knowing how I’ll feel when I wake up, and juggling an ever-changing schedule of appointments and such.

Committing in general has been up in the air over the past several years. Everything is more uncertain. Maybe that’s why the hat is harder to wear.

Ironically, I need to commit to uncertainty.

A hat seems like such a small thing. But it’s a small thing over which I would rather exercise some control. Control is a big thing for a lot of people. Some try to control other people through a position where they do not know how to be a successful leader. We can’t control how others respond. Ineffective leaders are met with lack of respect and people who undermine them in order to do what is needed. People who seek to manipulate in relationships are still alone inside. Others try to control themselves through self-destructive acts. Yes, we are responsible for our choices. A decision to inflict hurt on yourself is not within your control or a choice. It is the polar opposite of self-love. I have come across a few people in my life who have struggled with self-love. I can’t control them. I can show up for them with love, friendship, and support.

The hat is also about control– my need for control over something where I don’t have it. I’ve really not had much control since diagnosis.

Anyone have a hat for that?

Uncertainty and lack of control go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Chocolate and peanut butter are better.

I’d love to pal around in a vintage hat of the 1920s, go back in time, and meet my grandma when she was younger. It would have to be a special time traveling hat. We’d be friends. I imagine meeting at what was known back in the day as Stevens Point Normal School where she went for teaching certification. I’d love to see her passion of one of our shared interests and how her youth and experiences shaped the years when I knew her.

I don’t care for the cancer hats, the kinds that are knitted or ordered through cancer magazines and online. This includes bandanas and scarves. They all are just so obvious. When I wore those years ago, I was fine with them, both physically and emotionally comfortable. It was too bad if others had a problem seeing me that way. Now, they are more of a reminder of loss. I am very aware of my losses and don’t need visual reminders. I am not some sort of public service announcement either. The cancer hat I wear is invisible, but it is part of that uncertainty and lack of control.

In fact, I still don’t know how to refer to myself. You think I would after nearly seven years. Am I a survivor? A thriver? The survivor label is used for someone who has been treated for cancer and thought to be cancer free. The thriver label is used to distinguish those who will never be thought of as survivors . . . yet. I’m not sure where this began. Perhaps it was well-intentioned. Perhaps it was designed out of need to give some of that sought after control back to people’s lives. However, there is even some discomfort within the cancer community itself with the term. As a result of that discomfort, sometimes thrivers are not included in discussions or are isolated into their own group because there is worry they will scare others, not have any similar needs in common with survivors, and be of no help. Abigail Johnston explains it better in her blog post Early Stagers vs. Metastatic Patients. Take a moment to read it!

Right now, I think I can wear both those hats. I’m surviving and thriving. Maybe I’m a driver (for change), a striver (for health), a troublemaking conniver (just because). I’m definitely feeling a Lin-Manuel vibe. At the same time, I really don’t like being labeled. Just let me be me.

And there it is . . . the reason I don’t know how to refer to myself.

Just let me be me.

Don’t call me anything. What bothers me is others who want to tell me what I am. Some are very firm about it. We’re all different. The survivor hat may not work for one person, but work really well for someone else.

If I could choose a hat, I would choose a sun hat. I can pull off a wide-brimmed sun hat and wear it well. I like that because with proper sunshades I can people watch (stare at people) and no one knows that’s what I’m doing (until now). Keeping cool in the hot sun is a priority, too. My fair complexion freckles and I burn easily. I must do what I can to remain youthful looking. Medications also require avoiding time in direct sun.

My favorite hat is a cream wool winter hat I used to wear with the brim flipped up. I guess it’s called a bucket hat (think Paddington Bear). I wore it during a golden time when all was well in my life. It looked cute on me. I had no problems committing to that hat. It was functional, attractive, and easy to wear. Stylistically, it was very simple and matched with many of my coats. My life was also much simpler when I wore it, but I’m sure I didn’t realize it because I didn’t know what I know now.

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Are there any positives to committing to the hat?

People who have let go of control seem to be happier. You can love and accept things as they are without a need to fix something. Surrendering control may present opportunities to relax. You may find you get what you need. Controlling less and doing less may give you more. Committing to the hat, committing to uncertainty, can help a person commit to more freedom. Spontaneity can take pressure off from a lot of choices. Do you want to know something? When I started this paragraph, I really didn’t think I was going to find a way to reframe this hat thing in a positive way. Anything is possible.

Committing to freedom, to relaxing, to ultimately receiving more of what I need all sound a lot better than wearing uncertainty day after day after day.

I know for everyone else wearing a hat doesn’t cause a second thought. It shouldn’t. Well, maybe it should cause pause for some folks because there are people who adorn some very questionable hat choices in my book. Remember though, it isn’t really about the hat. One last thing the hat is about is recognizing that there are things people do that aren’t visible on the surface. Everyone has these. Everyone has uncertainty. Everyone just wants to have the comfort of a hat that fits really well. My favorite cream hat calls.

 

Laughter As Medicine

“The earth laughs in flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

We need friends and laughter like we need sunshine, rain, and flowers. Today’s post combines all of these.

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My friends are beautiful flowers who fill the world with laughter. Sometimes we laugh together and other times we laugh at one another.

Some of my friends are comical without trying. Fran is one such friend. I spent a lovely day with her and another dear friend Gayle at a garden last summer. Both make the earth laugh in flowers. Being together at a garden was a perfect choice. It was a beautiful summer day, punctuated with an isolated downpour that was brief but heavy. The three of us had been sitting in a little secluded resting spot, taking a break as we visited. We’d discovered an alcove up a short stone path of a few stairs with three Adirondack chairs positioned just for us. A canopy of green leaves kept us shaded and let just enough light to be filtered through to turn the leaves into shining emeralds. Behind us water gurgled its way in a peaceful stream. Life was but a dream. The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic. Fran regaled us with a humorous story about her mother.

It started to sprinkle and we all figured it would pass over quickly. The trees kept us from getting wet. However, when it didn’t stop in a couple of minutes and was getting worse with every drop, Gayle and I decided we wanted to take cover and headed to a covered shelter we had passed about a minute away at the bottom of the trail. Gayle got there first. I was a bit slower. The stone walkway was getting slick. The raindrops were getting much bigger and frequent, but I couldn’t risk running and slipping. I only had about ten more yards to go. I just made it as the sky let loose with a pounding rain that was worthy of flash flooding. Gayle and I were safe and mostly dry.

Where was Fran? Gayle and I stood and waited. We thought Fran was directly behind us. The shelter filled quickly with others, but no Fran. She couldn’t possibly be waiting it out. Another minute passed and finally there came Fran, slowly making her way down the stone staircase, step by step, toward the shelter. I was glad to see her even though she was already pretty wet. However, at the last moment, Fran darted to her left on a path off to the side. A row of trees blocked her movements. There was nothing in that direction, nowhere to go! What was she doing? I wasn’t going looking for her. Gayle wasn’t either. We were dry.

It’s as close to a Yeti sighting as I’ll ever get. One minute something incredible and unexpected was spotted, and the next minute it was gone with no proof of it ever existing. It’s both a moment frozen and lost forever in time.

I shouted out, “Fran, are you okay?”

Several seconds passed slowly.

“Yes,” came her eventual reply.

She sounded close, but wherever she was, she stayed put. Why?

A couple of minutes later Fran emerged on the path again. It seemed wherever she thought was a refuge, was not a safe haven at all. Sheets of rain showed no sign of relenting. At last she made it to the shelter. Time stood still while she made her way for the final ten or twenty yards. All eyes were on her. It was impossible not to feel sympathy for her. While that was true, it also was impossible not to find it funny. The heavy rain still pelted everything in its way. Gusts of wind blew the rain sideways, and as it happened directly at Fran.

Fran was completely drenched. She could not have been wetter had she been plucked from the ocean after falling overboard. It was so sad, but beyond funny. All I could do was shake my head from side to side as I repeated the word “No” over and over as I laughed unapologetically. It was hard to breathe. Fran stood there wringing out her clothes. Her wardrobe had surprising sponge-like qualities. She dripped. A lot. Fran tried to brush the whole thing off. All the dripping and puddles around her told a different story. Gayle whipped out her phone to capture the moment as a truly good friend naturally would, but didn’t get the shot after all. Such a pity.

Fran never really explained why she wasn’t following us or included a detour in her plans. I’ve never asked for an explanation. Somehow I think it would ruin the story if she explained her perspective. The sun came out, we regrouped at my car where I had some towels, and we moved on with our day.

That Fran.

Laughter really is the best medicine. Antibiotics can also be the best medicine. Laughter isn’t going to combat a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will do the trick there. I believe laughter is going to help in any cancer treatment plan because it will help lift spirits during dark days. But laughter does more than simply boost spirits. Laughing can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s been called a natural anti-depressant. Endorphins are released so you feel good. They even are said to relieve pain. Immune system functioning is heightened. Laughing has been linked to a healthier heart and increased levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). It can even tone your abs and that’s no laughing matter. I can handle less stress and anxiety. Feeling good inside with better immune system functioning while getting the benefits of a free ab workout works for me. All of these are incredibly healthy benefits from laughing.

Flowers do more than add color, fragrance, and beauty to the world. I believe they also have health benefits. “People flowers” make us laugh. They help us heal. I am lucky to have wonderful such flowers in my life. I’m not just keeping them around for my abs. I’m keeping them around because I love them and they are good medicine.

What makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh?

Unringing A Bell

You can’t unring a bell.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is very much the same. You can’t go back to the way things were even after surgeries, radiation, and treatment are finished, even if you are assured the cancer is gone. The fact remains that you had it. Everything you went through has inherently changed you in some way.

Others may not see it. Physical appearance doesn’t change drastically for many. Family and friends may tell you that you look the same to them. You are still the same you. It’s intended to be reassuring. There is some truth there. (I find it annoying.) To say you look the same on the outside and imply that you are the same on the inside is what some people mean. That is not fair, nor their call. I know of one marriage that ended because a friend’s husband didn’t understand his wife was still dealing with a lot of difficult emotions. She told him, but she looked “just fine” and everything was “done” and needed to get back to “normal” so he couldn’t understand why everything else wasn’t therefore fine by default. Certainly, there could have been other factors to this marriage ending. I know of another marriage that ended because the husband understood there were changes on the inside as well as on the outside, and he wasn’t attracted to the outside any more. What a guy! There could have been other reasons behind this marriage ending, too, but it seems like cancer became the impetus.

Then again others may see it all too well. Somehow a person who has suffered and is somehow different in a good way may be too much for others to accept. They would be very happy to go back to how things used to be in order to feed what they need. This is where disapproval, insults, and being told that YOU have done something wrong come into play as attempts to keep you in a place that works for them. These relationships should end. There is no room for toxic people in a life that has seen its share of toxicity. I personally deal with toxic drugs almost every week in my efforts to stay well. I can’t deal with toxic people or negativity. Whether finished with treatment, currently in treatment, or in ongoing treatment, do not choose to tolerate toxic negativity from any person. Enough. January is a good time to start fresh.

Maybe you feel not much has changed on the outside or the inside. My position is inside changes took place because you grew from what you experienced. Change accompanies growth. Those who don’t like change don’t have as much opportunity for growth. I used to be one of these people and it’s still hard for me. Change is uncertain and often I don’t understand why some things need to change. I’m trying to understand that changes are there to teach me something and I am working to be open to changes. Changes can be new beginnings. January is a good time for these, too. New beginnings after diagnosis and treatment may be a new job, home, or relationship. Maybe you look at life differently, and have reexamined your belief systems or time commitments.

One constant remains: You can never not have had cancer once you’ve had it. That bell was rung.

I’m tired of its clanging and repetition.

I believe you can ring other bells louder so the sounds drown out other bells.

Ring the bell of resiliency.

We are all capable of more than we know. Resilience is another one of those intangible factors that makes people rise up time and time again after tough times. Yes, problems are inevitable. How a person deals with them is what matters. Being resilient means you find a way to continue to thrive even when there are problems. Taking care of yourself is part of being resilient. Physical and emotional self-care are non-negotiable. Exercise, eat well, meditate, find joy. When your outer and inner self are strong, it means another layer of resolve has been added to resiliency that problems cannot break through, whether the problems present themselves as people, situations, or things.

Ring the bell of joy.

Do more of what you love. Have that cookie. Take a day off and do something fun, frivolous, and completely fantastic. No need to justify, or explain, or defend it. For me, I choose to walk trails and be among trees. I sit on my sun porch and listen to birds. I laugh at movies I’ve seen too many times. I call friends or get together with them. I enjoy exercising (usually) and enjoy it even more when I’m done and reaping the benefits.

Have another cookie.

Yes, I know I mentioned that one twice.

Ring the bell of gratitude.

I believe there is a richness and depth in appreciation that gives life both more purpose and meaning. That thing where you think of five things to be grateful for at the end of each day works. Feeling gratitude is easier when you feel healthy. What about when you aren’t feeling well at all? Knowing myself as I do, I know my emotional and physical health does impact what I’m capable of feeling in the gratitude realm. The other night I had one of these moments. It was about twenty-four hours post treatment and I was flushed and hot from the neck up while the rest of me had the chills. I was low energy and felt a little sick. But I knew if I could get to bed and fall asleep that it would pass and tomorrow would be better. That was about all the gratitude I could muster. My point is it was enough. We are human and do the best we can on any given day. That is the space we all share where health status doesn’t matter.

Ring the bell of knowing yourself.

Take whatever time you need. It isn’t selfish to take time for yourself and know what you think. It isn’t selfish to do what is best for you. Live your beliefs. Others don’t have to like them or agree with them. You do. I thought I knew myself pretty darn well before the cancer diagnosis, but it sure caused me to be more deliberate with how I live. I am more sure of myself now than ever, even though I continue to be a magnificent work in progress.

Ring the bell of standing strong.

You may have to keep ringing a lot of bells longer than you had planned until the unwanted bells stop ringing. Keep at it. You’re stronger than naysayers. Statistics do not know you. You’re more than a number. I get tired of bell ringing, but remember that the sounds create important tones and vibrations. These bells make beautiful music.

Nope, you can’t unring a bell. You can’t let anyone else ring it for you either. Ring all the bells you need to ring until you hear a song fit for a carillon tower. Your song.

 

For reflection:

What bells would you like to stop ringing in the new year?

What bells would you like to hear ring more?

Living Hopefully

Superheroes are part of current popular culture. Super human strength, agility, and speed quicker than lightning save cities or planets. Right and might both outwit and outlast villains every time. I like to think of hope as its own superpower. It is its own light in the dark night. Hope calms the inner storm. Hope saves. There are days it takes a beating, but it is never snuffed out. It always resurfaces stronger and brighter. It is also transferable from one person to another which makes it even more powerful. I wish hope could be embodied in some type of physical form where we could call out for it and see it leaping over obstacles in a single bound and knocking out the bad guy. It sure would make life easier. We must do our best to take on that persona ourselves. Superheroes are good examples of what it means to adopt a hopeful lifestyle.

When we live hopefully, we become those superheroes.

Hope by definition doesn’t make you feel doomed. It provides strength and wipes out fear. Hope moves forward. Hope is a Stage V quality. Throw resiliency and toughness in there as Stage V qualities as well. One on its own creates a reaction. The reaction is greater when several of these qualities are combined. Stage V is also a superpower worthy to make a stand against villainous cancer.

Adam Sicinski is a life coach, founder of IQ Matrix in 2009, and has developed over 350 self-growth mind maps. I honestly can’t gush enough about these mind maps. One of his points in  “How To Nurture Hope When Life Starts Getting Really Tough”  is that hope can’t come and go from a person’s life as the need arises for it. Instead, hope is a lifestyle. Hope becomes an integral part of each day. It requires trust and faith in yourself that you can get through tough times and follow through with your actions and plans. He writes when you nurture hope you lessen doubt, anxiety, and stress which alleviates some of the uncertainty while facing these emotions. In turn, your levels of belief rise and you can act in a more positive way despite whatever trouble you face.

Pessimistic thoughts must give way to a sense of certainty. Hope becomes more proactive this way rather than a passive act. More of Adam Sicinski’s ideas follow as to what it means to be a hopeful person.

Living hopefully means . . .

  • You are grateful for the life you have. Even though you are living with gratitude, it does not limit you from seeking out a better life.
  • You want to make things better and look for ways to make your life better. Actions and opportunities pave the way step by step.
  • You will always do your best to make the most of every situation.
  • Every experience has some value. You remain hopeful that things will turn out in your favor.
  • No matter what happens, you maintain a positive outlook.
  • Living in the now. This means that by making the most of today, you increase your chances of making the future you want a reality.
  • You do more than just hope things work out. You work to make it so. Sometimes this means building on past successes and learning from what has happened. Mistakes can be helpful.
  • Living generously. Giving to others often provides a better understanding about your own personal struggles while allowing you to grow toward where you want to be.
  • Looking for opportunities where others can help. You can’t do it all on your own.
  • Ridding yourself of worry and regret. It breeds anxiety, stress, and hopeless thoughts.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. These are not perfect people, but people with a sense of purpose who work through challenges as cheerfully as possible with attitudes that keep them moving forward.

This last idea is really important for me because positive people seem to have many of the other qualities needed for living hopefully already present. We gravitate toward one another and conversations about positivity and hope unfold naturally. I need to surround myself with these people as someone living with cancer. I also need to continue being the person living hopefully.

I also like that Sicinski doesn’t say that nurturing hope means nothing ever goes wrong. A perfect life isn’t realistic. Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to life’s challenges. When mistakes are made or unexpected circumstances are encountered, those who nurture hope will likely see these experiences as opportunities for growth. I think there are many similarities in hope as a lifestyle and being resilient.

A lifestyle that embraces hope involves gratitude, trust, positivity, happiness, and belief. Nurturing hope causes you to reflect a lot on your life and draw upon strengths and resources. These shifts in thoughts and lifestyle apply to anyone who wants to live with a mindset geared toward hope. Hope as a lifestyle also correlates positively with a Stage V lifestyle.

One of my most hopeful times of day is in the predawn of the morning. I’m still in bed, relishing that state of bliss between sleep and awake. It is quiet. In the summer, I can hear birds chirping melodically. When it’s winter, the gentle sound of the furnace is comforting. I feel refreshed and have the whole day stretching out before me. Anything can happen. I like to think about how I see my day unwinding and set a positive intention. Often I just appreciate the stillness and let myself be. Now, I understand mornings aren’t everyone’s best time, but I’m betting you can identify a time of day where you have an abundance of hopeful energy. Maybe it’s during your morning coffee or tea. Maybe you find it while out for a run. It could be much later in the day when you’re driving home from work. The point is to give yourself some time every day to be intentionally hopeful. It takes only a few moments to let gentle hopeful feelings and reminders have a positive impact.

May the coming new year offer many opportunities for living hopefully.

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What are you hoping for this year? What plans have you made to help turn your hopes into something real?

The Christmas Tree and Light

Many thousands of years ago, there were people who believed that evergreens were magical. In winter, evergreens stayed strong and green when all the other trees and greenery turned brown and bare. People saw evergreens as a symbol of life and as a sure sign that spring would return. Candles were used out of necessity, but were also symbolic of the light of spring triumphing over winter’s darkness.

Legend has it that the tradition of the first Christmas tree started with Martin Luther in Germany. He was a monk and church reformer who lived in Germany from 1483 to 1546. The story goes that as Luther returned home one wintry night he saw the stars twinkle through the tree branches. Luther was amazed by the sight and eager to tell his family about it. To help them understand, he went to the woods and cut down a small fir tree. Luther brought it indoors and decorated it with candles that represented the stars he had seen.

The custom spread through Germany and then throughout the world. The Christmas tree first appeared in England when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, who was German. In 1841, he set up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle to remind him of his homeland. Immigrants from England and Germany brought the Christmas tree tradition to the United States in the 1800s.

The Christmas tree with its boughs stretched toward heaven reminds us that Christ brought people everlasting life. The candles or lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.

I celebrate Christmas, so I take this opportunity to wish a very merry Christmas to those who also celebrate it. Christmas is very much about light. There are other celebrations this time of year that also celebrate light. Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. For eight nights, Jewish families light a candle on the menorah to represent the miracle of oil lasting for eight days and nights when there was only enough for one after the Maccabees reclaimed Jerusalem from Syria. Diwali is a five day festival of lights celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs across the world. New beginnings, good over evil, and light over darkness are celebrated. The Winter Solstice is the start of the solar year and celebrates light and the rebirth of the sun. Children of all ages may relate to the light on Rudolph’s shiny red nose illuminating the night sky. Some might even say it glows.

All these examples share the magnificent outpouring of light. All light is love and hope. When we celebrate any of these special days, we’re ultimately demonstrating what we have in common with one another. We’re celebrating light, love, and hope. Light overpowers the dark. Our differences do not define us. Our similarities should bring us together.

I wish you all much peace in whatever way you praise light and goodness.