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Understanding the Benefits of Stress

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Properly channeled, stress enables us to live happy, energetic, productive lives. It enables us to meet dangers and defend ourselves.

We live in stressful times, constantly bombarded with change and the need to go faster and faster while still maintaining a high level of productivity. As more and more demands are put on us, worry and anxiety become the norm.

But along with unexpected tragedies, adversities, losses, and unwanted changes, we can enjoy times of incredible joy and happiness. We can make stress work for us.

Stress Without DistressI became interested in the subject of stress years ago when studying the effects high stress can have on our lives. One of the books in my study was written by Hans Selye, MD, professor, research scientist and author of Stress without Distress.

He spent a lifetime researching and explaining the body’s physiological response to stress. He wrote, “Stress is the body’s nonspecific response to the demands placed upon it.”

In other words, it enables us to adapt to any new situation, whether it is cheering our favorite football team, responding to a threat, or completing tasks. It is how we are able to respond to life.

However, when that stress response is activated without a place to productively use that energy, it begins to work against us, becoming distress.

Other researchers in that time period also worked on the science of how our body adapts to the demands placed on it. I had the good fortune to attend many professional educational workshops on this same topic.

There will always be ups and downs and difficult times that require careful thought, planning and flexibility to meet our challenges. If we use our normal stress energy on endless worrying, anxiety and fear, we soon become exhausted and our ability to be proactive and productive becomes diminished.

Can we live without stress?

No, and we don’t want to. We need stress to live. It allows the body to function. It allows us to accomplish things.

We could liken ourselves to that of a well-maintained car engine. As long as it is taken care of, it will run effectively and smoothly for a long, long time. But when neglected or not taken care of, that engine will begin to break down.

How we respond to life’s difficulties makes a difference. When our focus is on problem-solving and creating plans of action, it is using that stress energy effectively.

In its truest sense, stress means energy.

Our body is constantly adapting. If we couldn’t adapt, we wouldn’t be unable to go to work, have families, make goals and do all the things we do every day. It is stress that allows us to adjust to whatever is happening, whether cheering at a football game or responding to a threat. It is our ability to respond to life – mentally, emotionally, socially and physically.

We are born with a certain amount of adaptive ability to use throughout our lifetime. When it is used up, we don’t get any more.

It is estimated that up to seventy-five percent of doctor’s visits can be attributed to high and prolonged levels of stress.

When used positively, however, we can live long and productive lives. Stress is not something to be avoided – but to be harnessed.

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIn the upcoming weeks, I will share more on how to use this adaptive ability work to help you live a productive life.

My book, Make Stress Work for You! 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force, contains information on how to recognize your stressors so you can change your responses.

Get the ebook, audio recordings, study guide, and four bonus resources for only $19.99.

Living Life to the Fullest

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In the quiet of a cave, God spoke to Elijah; in the stillness of the night, He came to Samuel.

It is in those quiet moments when God expands our awareness to live life to its fullest. But what does it mean to live life to its fullest?

Living life is a journey.

It is the time we have at our disposal every day. It is the clouds and grey skies as well as the moments of sunshine, beauty, and harmony. Every day we meld it all together for good.

It’s waging war while searching for peace.

If we spent all our time thinking about the future, we would miss today. If we dwelt on the past, we would remain frozen in time, stuck in the ruts of yesterday.

Life gives us opportunity – each day – each hour – each minute – to choose how we respond to whatever we are facing.

We decide what we will do with what we have been given. Sometimes we need to yell and scream and rail against the unfairness of it all.

“Why me?!” isn’t just a cry of self-pity, but a wounded spirit trying to understand and reconcile life’s indiscriminate offering.

But then we move on. Life is where we take the pieces that are broken and with God’s help, create a new picture, using them to construct a large collage of what we can accomplish.

“When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions. Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from troubles. Take it full-face. The ‘worst’ is never the worst.”

—Lamentations 3:28-30, The Message

We are a montage of good and evil and our challenge is to seek the good and let go of the evil; let go of the desire to return hate with hate, revenge, and retribution instead of forgiveness and understanding.

What is life? It is our existence.

Within that state of being, we have the opportunity to live life to capacity, to go beyond disappointments, and seek those moments of grace and wisdom and clarity.

How often we pray and then forget to apply the life tools we are given? Only remember to pray again when things go wrong, and we are up against a brick wall.

If our focus is only on tasks needed to be accomplished, life will pass us by, and we will miss the pleasures and struggles that inspire and energize.

woman praying on knees

I have discovered I need to come to God every day – sometimes every minute – to find the strength and courage I need to live through tough times. It is where I find resolve and motivation and truth. It is where my goals are clarified.

As I listen, I not only discover answers to my questions, but hear the questions God asks of me.

“God’s characteristic way of working is in quietness and through prayer… if we are conditioned to respond to noise and size, we will miss God’s word and action.”

—Introduction to Nahum, The Message

Life is an ongoing journey.

It is not just a set of rules to obey; yet we cannot live without guidelines. Without directives, we will constantly be trying to find the best way to live.

It’s not an “either/or.” It’s a blend, a balance, of what we ought to do and avoid doing. Even with carefully constructed roadmaps, life intervenes, and plans need to be altered.

It is a wilderness – a world of discovery and unexpected joys and devastating tragedies. We experience both exhilarating moments and naked and brutal truths that are revealed and gain valuable lessons from all of them.

The Phantom Ship

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Daylight was rapidly fading and night closing in as our sailboat glided through the calm waters along the upper reaches of the Columbia River, hurrying to reach a safe port before nightfall.

It seemed an eternity since we began our journey – crossing the wide and sometimes treacherous Columbia River bar from the ocean. We crossed at full tide and the water was smooth as glass in the waning afternoon. We considered stopping for the night, but the waters were broad, and it would take time to find a place to berth or anchor overnight.

We knew there was a tiny cove near the headwaters of the river as it began winding its way inland, and there was still daylight. Traveling at seven knots, it took more time than anticipated to get around that first bend into the river proper and nightfall was plummeting fast.

Although the river was very wide, we were careful to remain in the narrow channel. The expansive headwaters of the river teases sailors into believing that the river is as deep as it was wide. But charts reveal just how shallow it is outside the defined channel. Venturing outside those perimeters guarantees you will be grounded in mud in a matter of seconds.

As we rounded a familiar bend, we were confident we had beat the receding daylight and would reach the entrance to a tiny cove where we could possibly anchor for the night.

The shadows deepened as protruding rock blocked the receding sun and daylight hastened to bed. We pushed our boat to its maximum, as our eyes adjusted again and again to the receding light of day that seemed to grow darker faster and faster.

We were now hemmed in by projecting precipices on one side and stagnant pooling water on the other. Our search for the entrance to that tiny cove took on a heightened urgency as darkness descended and our eyes were at their maximum ability to adjust.

There. Is that the entrance?

We cautiously approached the shoreline, knowing the entrance opening was narrow and would be hidden by shrubby trees extending over the water.

Yes, there it is.

sailboat in cove on columbia river at dusk

My husband expertly navigated our 30-foot sailboat through the entrance. The cove was smaller than anticipated and we debated whether to continue down river to a port with docks instead of anchoring there for the night. We slowly nudged the bow of our boat out the second entrance of this cubbyhole hideaway as we considered our options.

I scanned the river, my eyes probing the deepening twilight, that twilight where sky met earth and melted together; where defining lines of sea and land became blurred and space was measured by a light blinking in the distance.

But how far that distance was in feet or even miles was difficult to determine. Landmarks faded into nothingness and lights were identified by the beams they cast on the water.

The charts showed where the buoys were in the water and the lighted channel markers on land threw beams of light that, when aligned, would show exactly where we were on the water. They became definitive roadmap markers.

As my eyes made that strategic adjustment from daylight to the netherworld of twilight and onto the black of night where landmarks could only be determined by these strategically placed lights, I noticed lights high in the air. As I peered into the deepening gloom, it seemed those lights were moving – they were not anchored onto land or onto a buoy – they were moving.

We were idling in that entrance until we had definitive bearings before edging into the channel. Like ghosts in the sky, the glimmers of lights definitely were moving. But they were so high – what could it be?

And then, like a phantom emerging from the depths we saw it – a huge ocean tanker. It had shed its load in Portland and was making its way back to sea.

cargo ship on Columbia River at dusk

We were used to seeing tankers loaded with heavy cargo sinking their bulk low in the water. But when relieved of their heavy loads of lumber, steel, cars and whatever else they took from one continent to another, they rode high in the water.

It glided past us, its engines so quiet, we didn’t hear the motors until it had passed. We watched quietly and thanked God we had found that opening in the wall of foliage, as the ship consumed the entire river channel. We watched as it maneuvered the bend in the river and knew it would soon be crossing the Columbia bar on its way out to the ocean.

After letting out our breaths we considered again: should we drop anchor, or should we push on?

Just as a map helps identify highways and rest stops and gives a picture of towns and places in-between, the charts designed for navigation give similar information.

Not only does a chart show where the channel is that would be invisible if it weren’t for the placement of buoys that help define this invisible corridor through the water; it also gives depth of water and shows submerged rocks and sandbars adjoining the dredged waterway.

As we did a quick study of the charts, we saw that if we proceeded down river, there would soon be sufficient depth of water on both sides of the channel to safely maneuver out of the channel to let another boat pass.

We knew the identifying lights of boats: sailboats, motorboats and yes, even huge ships. We were tired – we wanted to tie securely to a dock and not just throw out an anchor.

We made our decision – we would push forward.

After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, we found a marina with docks. We tied up for the night and collapsed.

But I will forever remember the phantom in the night – that huge ship, silently bearing down on us. It was a reminder that whether in daylight or nighttime navigation, remaining alert is imperative.

You don’t take anything for granted. You don’t rely just on a GPS but keep charts and binoculars handy at all times.

And so it is with life. We need to be prepared for the unexpected – the phantom ghost ships that suddenly appear in our path.

Sometimes we assume there are safe coves waiting around the corner and sometimes we think the territory we are headed into is safe.

Define your pathway; define the road markers; prepare for the darkening sky of night and learn how to read beams of light by night.

My Special Guy

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Yesterday was just another day in the normal scheme of things. People went to work, business transactions took place in prestigious office towers, and the Internet took us around the world in seconds.

But for me, the world stopped. Once more I felt the deep pain of losing someone who made the sun shine and grey skies go away.

For, like my husband who died seven years earlier, my special little guy made life fun and full of meaning. And once again, I am caught off balance, struggling to find a way to move forward. Once again, my heart is torn, and tears keep falling and won’t stop.

Oh, he was small in comparison to many. But within his five pounds of Yorkshire terrier, there was more love, devotion, and frisky happiness than anyone could ever want or need. He wanted to please more than anything, and a single scolding word would send him into a devastated heap of remorse. And rarely were such words ever spoken to him.

I move around my house and “see” him curled in a ball in spots of sunshine.

I “hear” him bark to sounds only he could hear.

I hear the rattle of the little heart attached to his collar as he shakes his head.

And I am caught up short, with a pounding heart as I realize he is not there – he is not here. He is only in my memory that is still part of this world – this moment in time. He has not yet left me – although he is gone.

I wash his bedding and know that I am washing off a part of him. As he grew old, he would lick the fur on his polar fleece blanket. It seemed to comfort him as he curled up for his long morning and afternoon naps. Now it too is gone, like he is gone.

My rugs will be cleaned, and the spots removed; but then, what are spots in comparison to the joy of seeing him excitedly run to me, sitting up with paws in perfect precision, waiting for that treat he knew I would give him.

Did I betray your trust by taking you in for your last visit to the vet? Was I playing God?

Or had you been trying to tell me for weeks when you came and sat in front of me, looking into my soul with those steadfast eyes, that the end was here.

Whenever you came, sat, and simply stared at me without making a sound, it was always a signal that you wanted something. But when I went through the list of possibilities and none of them met your need, you slowly went back over to your blanket and lay down – and my heart would break. I didn’t want to accept the end was near.

Some might say, how can you mourn so much over a dog?

And I would reply, he wasn’t “just” a dog. He was my friend who gave unconditional love. He enjoyed being with me as I enjoyed being with him.

After the death of my husband when I would sit and quietly weep, he would rush in from another room and jump up on the sofa beside me, frantically licking away my tears, trying to tell me, “It’s okay. We have each other. Don’t cry anymore.”  And it would make me smile as I reassured him I was okay.

Goodbye, my friend.

I will always remember the happy times we had together. I’ll remember when you came into our lives as a little black ball of fur fifteen and a half years ago.

You were a “Dickens” from the very beginning. You traveled everywhere with us and were happy as long as we were there with you.

You stood up to the giant stuffed black sheep I had in the house – the only time I heard you growl.

No dog or cat was too big for you to befriend and play with. And you raised many eyebrows of visitors when you ran into the room with your stuffed “humpy” bear.

Goodbye, my special little friend. Goodbye, Dickens. I can see you and Le Roy playing tug-o-war with an old t-shirt. Someday, I will join the two of you and there will be no tears to lick away.

On Eagle’s Wings: Let Go and Soar!

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I wrote this piece when I was making a transition from loss to a new beginning. You may be experiencing a similar time in your life.

“. . . but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

—Isaiah 40:31

I’m tired – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Grieving is harder than I could have imagined. Is there some magic formula that will make this journey easier?

I’m tired of wandering the dark canyons and dry deserts of my soul.

I’m tired of wondering when I will be able to leave.

There are days when the journey seems endless, and I struggle to find my way into a new life.

How do I preserve what I had while letting go of what was?

The memory of our love is still fresh in my mind, and I do not want to let go of what we shared.

Let go.

Many times, I have watched eagles from my deck, their powerful outstretched wings riding the thermal air currents, soaring upward until they were mere specks in the sky. How incredible it would be to be an eagle – serenely floating above my world and circumstances. But I can’t soar if I hang on to what I had. I can’t soar unless I let go.

Let go and soar.

They say eagles mate for life; so did my husband and I. Like the pairs of eagles around my home, we worked and played together. Now, I need to fly alone. To get through this sorrow, I need to believe my grief will end.

“In order to fly you have to let go of your fear and freefall, spreading your arms to catch the wind.”

It was something I had written in my journals months earlier as I was coming to terms with death, hoping for a reprieve.

Hope seemed like a two-edged sword cutting me to pieces. Yet without hope there is no purpose – no reason to believe in a future.

“In order to fly, you must have hope. Hope can energize. Hope is the wings that will let me fly.”

I re-claim those words today.

I close my eyes and become an eagle.

eagle soaring

As I let go of the branches of past security and comfort, I feel my wings spreading, catching the invisible air currents of God’s thermals. Rising higher and higher, I feel the ache in my heart and spirit melt away.

My mind focuses on the promises of God, confident that He will never leave me as I am shown a way beyond this and all situations.

When I need to fly, He will strengthen my wings.

When I need to think, He will sharpen my mind and eyesight to see new possibilities.

And He will always provide the thermal updrafts enabling me to soar high above any circumstance. I can let go and soar with the wings of an eagle, catching God’s thermals on the way up.

I allow myself to float on the security of God’s trust.

Step Out in Confidence!

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“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

—Jeremiah 29:11

The fears that prevent us from taking that first step out of our comfort zone are usually connected to feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy.

We don’t want to appear stupid or foolish.

We don’t want to be rejected.

We need people. We need to feel we belong. But we often sacrifice our ability to connect, achieve and overcome when fear takes center stage. We retreat rather than stepping out.

Each of us has a multitude of talents and abilities.

You may be good at one thing but not good with other things. For example, someone who excels in math may have difficulty working with people.

Another may enjoy or take great pleasure in working with people but struggle with the complexities of math or technology.

Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and accept both. Draw from your strengths to adapt or work with things that are not easy or unpleasant.

Focusing only on what we are good at or what we are not good at keeps us from expanding our capabilities.

There is so much we can accomplish.

We are more than just a carefully constructed career or role. My husband was an educator and musician. Yet, together, we planned and built two houses. After his death, I built one by myself.

Don’t limit yourself; you have skills and aptitudes that remain untapped or unidentified until you purposefully look for them.

Build on your passions.

  • What makes you excited?
  • What could you work with for hours on end and not get tired?
  • What endeavors make you feel whole and complete?

Now, ask yourself, what is keeping me from exploring those possibilities, dreams or passions?

Identify the fears that keep you from trying. We can learn from our past and the choices we have made – both the good and the bad.

Failure is not a weakness. It is a learning tool.

Fears are not to be dismissed lightly.

They tell us to be careful. They can keep us from unnecessary disasters. At the same time, if you keep saying to yourself, I can’t, without exploring why you are fearful, you lose opportunities that are immeasurable.

If the fear teaches you to explore and be cautious it is a good thing. If fear keeps saying, yes, but what if I fail or make a fool of myself or . . . we need to explore further.

Step Out in Confidence!

Face your fears head-on.

Some are rational and others irrational. Rational fear recognizes, prepares, and avoids unnecessary danger. Irrational fears keep us from trying, from stepping out into unknown territory.

Sit down and have a conversation with your fears. What are they telling you?

Consider and accept your weaknesses.

Everybody has them. We just think ours are so horrific and repulsive that if others find out, they will think less of us. When we accept them, we find others have no problem with them either. In fact, others are more willing to become real and authentic with you when they see you being authentic.

Acceptance of our weaknesses becomes part of an inner strength as we work with them.  

Life is a journey.

There are risks that need to be evaluated and acted upon. Open yourself up to exciting possibilities. Step out in confidence and from a position of strength. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again.

Be the wonderful you that God made you to be.

“What If?”…Questions I Ask

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What if

We stopped trying to live the perfect life.

Would we become real?

What if

We stopped pretending we had it all together.

Would we fall apart, or would we finally recognize our need for help?

What if

We saw the Ten Commandments as a gift from a loving Father trying to teach us how to live non-destructive lives.

Would we use more of them?

What if

We really believed God cared about us more than any earthly being could.

Would we finally trust and believe?

What if

We could actually say, “I’m a sinner, Lord, forgive me.”

Would we finally be able to set down that bag of garbage we’ve been carrying around all these years? Would we stop struggling and find rest and peace?

What if

We gave our hearts to God instead of our good intentions and good works?

Would we be able to let go of our fake facades and be transformed?

What if

We accepted God’s forgiveness.

Would we find peace?

What if

We forgave ourselves.

Would we be more forgiving?

What if

We actually loved ourselves because God loves us?

Would we be able to love others more?

What if

We just came and sat with God every day:  talking – listening – being still?

Would we hear His quiet-but-strong voice?

What if

Instead of asking, “why, why, why – why did this happen, why did God allow this, why did I screw up again, why can’t I ever get anything right, why, why, why,” we simply said, “I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I just know God loves me – Period. He said it, I believe it.”

If He has the power to create this entire universe, this world, all the laws of science that maintain it, and you and me, do we really need to know all the whys?

What if

We saw service as a joy instead of a duty.

Would those we serve see the love and compassion of a God who loves them too?

What if

There was no God?

It would be the day I died, and life no longer would have meaning. The universe would no longer reflect light. The earth would stop rotating and on that day I would be joyless, lifeless. There would be no love – no laws – no protection – no joy – nothing! The earth would be full of nothing. It would consist only of facades, distorted mirrors, and with no way to get out of the endless cycle of lies, deceit, and greed. Everyone would be left with a life that has no meaning, rotating around and around on a merry-go-round that never stops, and we would experience hopelessness and despair.

No God? Impossible!!!

From Smoke and Mirrors to Discovering the True Meaning of Life

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“Smoke, nothing but smoke… There’s nothing to anything – it’s all smoke. What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes – it’s business as usual for old planet earth.”

-Ecclesiastes 1 (The Message)

“Write! Write! You want me to write, Lord! But I’m not accomplished enough and have not learned enough. What if I write things that expose my vulnerabilities, my fears, my stupidity, or my ignorance?”

For with all my education and learning, I have become acutely aware of how little I know. Just when I think I know a subject well, I turn a page and discover I have just begun to learn.

As I pick up pen and paper, the boldness with which I have written in the past is now tempered with a deep humbling awareness of the present.

The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that striving after something is like smoke and mirrors – or like dust blowing in the wind.

Yet we live in a world that requires planning, designing, and working toward goals. We have a legitimate human need for accomplishment and to feel good about it. To survive, we are required to learn and study and make wise choices.

To achieve anything requires self-discipline and training.

But if we accumulate or accomplish simply for our own gratification or the need to feel important, we will wake up one morning disillusioned.

Ecclesiastes teaches us that the meaning for life can only occur in God, with God and through God.

To me, that means following Him as he works out the particulars of my life according to His will and design. Otherwise, the work I do would be pointless; the things I accomplished would be like so much dust blowing in the wind and my writing would only be tinsel and sparkle on paper that entertained for a moment but held no real value.

Writing, for me, has become more than just therapeutic journaling. It has become a directive.

From Smoke and Mirrors to Discovering the True Meaning of Life | focuswithmarlene.com

Like any skill, writing is a discipline that requires time and effort and practice. But in the process, I have discovered more about myself and God’s great love and purpose than ever before.

Without the work involved in developing proper sentence structure, good grammar, and searching for words that illuminate the ideas I want to put down, my writing would simply be a jumble of words with no purpose or clarity.

My writing began with purposeful journaling. I resisted the impulse on gloomy mornings to turn on the TV in order to cover my pain with noise or push it away with lots of activities. Instead, I chose to sit down with pen, paper, and my Bible. Through conversations with God, I began to work out my pain. In the process, I was healing, and my soul was being fed with words God gave me to write.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World offers information and guidance to making that transition from loss to rebuilding your life. Available on Amazon.com.

Creating a New Beginning After Losing a Loved One

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When we lose a loved one, the way back to a normal new life often feels as though we are climbing a perpetual mountain with steep trails and unmarked paths full of uncertainties. We are required not only to mourn our loss but create a new meaningful beginning. This piece epitomizes such a journey.

Learning new skills requires perseverance, dedication, and hard work. It seems at times we are pushing that proverbial stone that doesn’t want to move. And then, one morning, we wake up and find ourselves sitting on top of it! We haven’t moved it… we haven’t gone around it… we have climbed on top and are on our way over it!

That’s how I feel this morning. I have reached the top! I don’t know how I got here, but here I am. Every morning I have written about my struggle to believe, make sense of what happened, let go of the past and move forward. I was developing a new skill.

Now, as I sit on top of this mountain, my proverbial rock, I look back and see the black canyons, deep abysses and steep trails that challenged me. I see what I couldn’t see while climbing those treacherous paths: the guardrails God put up for my protection; the “angels” He sent to comfort me and the green pastures that were sweet resting places along the way. He put people in my life for assistance and support and to be there for me. He provided protection, love, and strength to endure.

Since death toppled me off my comfortable perch in life, I have been reconciling to a new reality. I asked myself some challenging questions. Mental, emotional, and physical resources were stretched to the max and at the end of the day I fell into bed, exhausted. The next morning, I rose from a pool of tears and started all over again.

Creating a New Beginning After Losing a Loved One | focuswithmarlene.com

At times, the trail seemed endless or too steep. How would I make it through another day? But standing still was not an option, and with steel resolve and determination, I moved forward.

Yet, I was never alone on this journey. Not only was God with me every step of the way, but He gave me new friends to comfort and support me. He enriched old friendships. Those who loved me walked with me. Others pulled away.

This morning, as I sit from this new vantage point, I am captivated by the view extending far into the distance, revealing the many options available to me. As I reflect on the dark, deep, and narrow canyons I traveled, I am reminded that along the way there had been patches of blue sky.

When I had looked up, those walls expanded, and I felt new life and a new surge of energy and hope. And when the way out of those dark canyons of grief and sorrow seemed to disappear, God gave me toeholds, branches to grab hold of and hang on to until the path became clear once more.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers information and guidance to healing and rebuilding your life after the loss of a loved one. Available on Amazon.com.

Yes, I Can – Three Powerful Little Words

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Just three little words – Yes. I. Can.

Within them, they hold the energy and power to make monumental changes, overcome the largest of obstacles, stay on course, and never give up. We can take time out to evaluate and make appropriate corrections, but we don’t give up. We continue with reflection, purpose, and intention.

I first discovered how powerful those three little words were years ago when my husband and I listened to doctors tell us that our ten-month old son was “A-mi-tonic quadriplegic,” a term I never heard before or since, but it basically told us that our son would have little to no control over his muscles. Oh, and they didn’t think he had much intellect, either.

For five days the doctors had performed intensive tests, trying to discover why our son couldn’t hold up his head. Phrases like “cerebral palsy,” and “little to no intelligence,” were spoken as casually as if they were a weather forecast. My husband and I struggled with the enormity of it as we left the hospital and tried to think of ways we could share this news with our other two children. How would we meet the needs of our family?

Growing up in a Christian home, I believed in God and the power of prayer. While I had always said prayers, I rarely said them on my knees. I learned a lesson in humility that day. At home, alone in my bedroom, I sank to my knees in prayer. I knew I couldn’t simply ask God to make everything return to normal – my son obviously had a serious muscular and structural problem, even if I could not agree about the lack of intelligence. He was unable to hold up his head, after all.

So, my prayer was for strength, courage, and wisdom to raise our son and to find ways to make his life as normal as possible. As soon as the words were spoken, I was flooded with an incredible sense of peace and confidence, and I rose from my knees energized, hopeful, knowing we could do this.

We were not only given strength and courage that day, but many other blessings as well. Several days later, we were told by an intervening doctor that Don did not have cerebral palsy, nor was he mentally challenged, and he was not a quadriplegic. But he had been born with missing and weak muscles in his neck along with other muscle weaknesses in his body. Although the diagnosis was less severe, his life was going to be a challenge for him and for us as parents.

We created a home environment where he could maximize his talents and abilities. He was extremely creative and had incredible drawing skills.

While the muscle weakness affected parts of his back and shoulders, it did not affect his arms or hands. Don was fitted with a specifically designed brace so he could walk, and he started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil.

Later in life he had surgeries on the Achilles tendon in both legs and a back fusion when he became a teen. As an extremely gifted and talented artist, he went on to college and lived an independent life as a conceptual artist.

I share this personal life event because I learned two important things.

First, the importance of prayer.

And second, that if God gives us hope and strength, we need to put them into action.

And that is where “Yes I can” became a permanent part of our vocabulary.

Because without a “Yes I can” attitude, it would have been impossible to give our son the independence and freedom it took to live life to the fullest. It meant allowing him to fall, get hurt, and try again. It meant trusting God in the process and believing in our son.

Without a “Yes I can” mindset, Don would never have gained that inner strength and confidence to become a conceptual artist and independent contractor in one of the most difficult industries and cities in the U.S. – Los Angeles.

Throughout his life, Don believed in himself and his ability to do things. He did not let anything deter him from creating a successful career as an artist. Although it wasn’t easy, he never questioned his ability to make things happen. And he never looked at himself as handicapped. He was loved and respected by many and developed a large circle of friends who never saw him as disabled, either. Cancer took my beloved son in 2009.

“Yes, I can” is a mindset that takes whatever life has to offer and turns it into something positive and productive.

Surrendering to God in prayer is an understanding that we can’t do it all by ourselves. It frees up our energy to move forward with confidence in meeting whatever challenges we face. It allows us to be pro-active, resilient, flexible, and roll with the punches instead of becoming resentful and angry. God gave us peace and strength so we could turn that initial shock into a will to make life happy and normal.

“Yes, I can” sets us free from self-incriminating doubts, uncertainty, and on-going anxiety.

Yes, we will doubt. Yes, we will feel overwhelmed. Yes, we will have anxiety and fear. But we can turn all of these into something productive when we choose to focus instead on what we can do instead of what we can’t do. It gives us the will to look for solutions, and the energy to carry them out.

Try it – you might be surprised. We choose our thoughts, our mindsets, and attitudes. These influence our responses to whatever challenge life throws at us.

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy book, Make Stress Work for You! 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force, outlines ways to overcome obstacles in life.

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