Monday, October 19, 2009

An Aspiring Lemonade Queen

For most of my life I have been what I think of as an optimist overall. However, when I was blindsided by a couple of very difficult years with cancer, a serious back injury and two major surgeries while facing other worrisome challenges, I found myself turning into a rather gifted pessimist. I had developed the habit of dwelling on my losses and limitations rather than accepting what I could not control and focusing instead on what I could do to make the most of my life.

Some things got better like the fact that I am in remission from cancer. And for that, I am very grateful. But others continue to challenge me. Thankfully though, there came a time when I realized that I had to, if I wanted to be happy, take the lemons life had handed me and make the best lemonade I could make, maybe even lemon pie.

A turning point for me came one day when I was in bed with a back injury that was so serious I could hardly move. We had just received the news that my father had cancer and all I could think was "This cannot be happening." I had just entered remission myself and thought surely my father couldn't have cancer now, not on the heels of mine. His cancer was inoperable and I was very worried about his future. I pulled the covers over my head, wanting it all to go away, wanting life to return to the life I had known so well just a couple of years before, a life where challenges didn't come in one tidal wave after another. But, there was no wishing this challenge or the others away. My husband reminded me of this when he said (in response to my father's diagnosis), "It is what it is and we have to deal with what it is."

It may seem strange to some, but as soon as he said that, I felt a load lift. The load lifted because I realized that any amount of railing against the unfairness of it all or any unwillingness to accept reality was not going to change things. The best thing I could do was to take the very sour lemons life had handed me and work with them to make something more palatable, even something positive if possible.

In the case of my father's cancer, I prayed for him. I prayed for his doctors. I talked with my dad on the phone a lot, mostly striving to be a sounding board, a listening support as he and my mom sought the best possible medical care for his cancer (which turned out to be M.D. Anderson in Houston). I sent him some books to support him in his cancer fight and others to take his mind off the fight. I traveled to visit him whenever I could. And I worked to let go, to surrender my worries and to choose faith instead.

With my Dad's cancer, the doctors (and our entire family) took some terribly sour lemons and turned them into an amazing lemon pie. My father has gone from having stage IV Melanoma to testing negative for cancer. Its a miracle. And one that we are grateful for. Things do not always turn out this way. We do not always experience the best possible outcome. I have lost loved ones and friends to cancer. My mother-in-law is fighting a tough battle with cancer as I write this. But, no matter what, we can always take the lemons we are given and accept them for what they are -- lemons -- and make the best lemonade or lemon pie possible. In the case of my mother-in-law, we pray for a miracle, seek to be there for her, and enjoy the time we have with her.

Over the last couple of years, as I have faced multiple challenges, I have learned that hyper-focusing on the lemons life inevitably brings leaves us swimming in nothing but a sea of lemon juice whereas taking those lemons and mixing in some sweetness and a few other select ingredients can bring us a measure of joy and satisfaction regardless of our circumstances.

My goal, for the rest of my life, is to be an aspiring lemonade queen. I am not talking about being a naive Pollyanna, acting like things are okay no matter what. After all, there are times when periods of heartache and grief are absolutely called for. Rather, I am talking about working with the realities of my life to make the best life possible for my family and me. This is my goal. I hope you'll join me. I'll report back on my progress in future posts. I'd love to hear your stories of how you've taken the small or big lemons in your life and made something meaningful and perhaps even wonderful with them.

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