Give yourself permission!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010.  All rights reserved.

How many times in your life — or perhaps each day — have you said or thought, “I can’t…?”

I have an author friend — Susan Cobb — who has written a book titled, “Virgin Territory: How I Found My Inner Guadalupe.” The top line on the back of her book jacket reads, “Real virgins say, ‘Yes!’” Her book tells not only about her saying “yes” to a move to Mexico’s west coast but also about her saying “yes” to a new view of herself and her purpose. In the process, she discovered the need to do away with some old labels.

What resonated with me was the idea of giving yourself permission to think beyond the confines of what you’ve always done or what others have generally expected from you. This also includes permission to view yourself differently from what you’ve accepted for yourself.

I’ve said yes to many things this year that I’ve never said yes to before. This has included taking a trip to Italy without my husband, adding blond highlights to my hair, wearing purple nail tips, downsizing to a smaller purse and joining a ladies Bunco group — to name only a few.

After years of saying “I can’t,” “I don’t have time,” and even “I shouldn’t,” I have this deep desire to say yes to as many new things as possible — particularly things I’ve never done before. And at the risk of sounding selfish, I want to say yes to things that are only for me or of special interest to me.

There have been various times in my life when I struggled with feeling trapped, overwhelmed or stressed, as well as consumed with taking care of others. One such period was when I was a young mommy. Now don’t get me wrong — I sincerely loved motherhood. But I recall days when I longed to have a break — or in other words, to have a little time for myself. I was grateful to have a husband and a family nearby that allowed me to say yes to taking a nap, a walk or a soaking bath; to reading a book; to joining a health club or dance class; to getting my nails or hair done or to secluding myself in the bedroom to watch a movie.

There are times when a mom must simply say yes to herself and what she feels she needs or what she wants to do. And let me tell you, ladies, this is okay!

We don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed of wanting to do something for ourselves or by ourselves!
It will soon be a decade since I became an empty nester. When my daughter first left for college, I remember feeling that I had reached an “end,” and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with myself next. I resigned from a job around this same time feeling like I needed to do something different, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what that something was going to be.

Honestly, I feel like I’m still transitioning to my next chapter. Furthermore, it could be that this whole idea of finding purpose, understanding our identity and clarifying our values and ideals never reaches some grand finale. Perhaps there is no end to the discovery of who we are because it’s a lifelong journey.

I can live with that!

In fact, I feel like this truth gives me permission to make changes regardless of my age.

So, any labels that I’ve grown accustomed to as descriptions of “me,” don’t have to remain sewn into my collar. Sometimes labels are imposed upon us that don’t genuinely represent our style, tastes, preferences, interests or values. Or maybe we simply want to consider new ideas and inspirations. Why do we ever believe we can’t make a change?

I think giving yourself permission is about being honest with yourself throughout your life. It’s about not boxing yourself into a set-in-stone self-image, a set of viewpoints and opinions or even settling for a job that you no longer want. It’s also about realizing that possibilities and opportunities don’t diminish with age.

The more I eradicate limiting labels, the more I see the world in color instead of black and white. And what a lovely world I am finding — a world that is flexible, adaptable, resilient, creative, inspired, imaginative, receptive, open, unobstructed, unrestricted, boundless.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, give yourselves permission to do or be whatever you’re dreaming of or longing for. You may find saying “Yes!” and “I can!” feels pretty darn good!

Enjoy what you have

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

“You can’t take it with you!” This fact is often given as reason for enjoying what you have whether that is money or possessions. It’s also all the more reason to make the most of life’s moments and time spent with those important to you.

My inspiration for this column came after a conversation with my husband about money. We have different philosophies. Mine focuses on the joy of spending money.

Mind you, I don’t think I’m frivolous with my spending. But I suspect my husband would disagree — at least some of the time. And perhaps I’m biased in my opinion.

I find it interesting that when I recall the many years of my childhood when money was scarce, my memories are not filled with worries or lack but with joy in everything that we had.

I remember many, many happy shopping excursions with my mom! The amount of money that was in the bank was never a focus of concern. That is, until I got married and had more money in the bank than I ever had growing up.

Whether we had one gift or dozens under our Christmas tree each year, the joy was not diminished or increased by the number. No matter how many new school outfits were purchased, my joy was the same. And along with all the joy, was gratitude for everything!

I always had a job during my high school years. And regardless of how much money I had to spend, I only remember the fun in Christmas shopping for my family. I have always found joy in how much I had, and I loved spending my money.

My mom has been the queen of making a little go a long way. She utilized lay-a-way plans when stores offered that service. She saved one month for purchases she wanted to make the next. When it came to clothes, she also mastered the skill of bargain shopping and mix-n-matching. And she has always had fabulous credit. But regardless of which method of spending money she practiced, there was an appreciation — and joy — for everything she was able to buy.

Money has never been the source of worry for her. If there was a need or a desire, she found a way — eventually — to fulfill it. So I grew up never worrying much about money.

I guess that’s why I could head off to college without knowledge of how the tuition was going to be paid that first year, or even the years that followed. I never doubted there would be a way to pay my expenses — whether it would come from my mom saving money, or from me working, or from a grant or loan, money was never the source of my worries.

There comes a time after years of saving money, when we need to start enjoying the fruits of our labor. And now that my husband and I are well into our 50’s, I say there’s no better time than the present to begin doing just that!

Perhaps it was my mom’s perspective on being thankful for everything that provided the key to our enjoyment of what we had.

So maybe with a grateful heart, we will not only enjoy what we have, we will have what we need. Or we’ll be so happy with what we have, that we’ll believe we have what we need. I think it worked that way for me and my mom.

These days I say instead of worrying about what you don’t have, why not enjoy what you do! That’s my philosophy!

Can you read my mind?

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

What woman hasn’t wished her husband or boyfriend could read her mind? Perhaps we’ve thought, “Just once, could he know what I’m feeling or what I need without me explaining it to him or writing him a book?”

Sorry to tell you this, my women friends, but not even Superman could read minds, much to Lois Lane’s dismay.

I spent years in anguish and agony over my husband’s inability to understand what I was thinking. The thought never occurred to me that I couldn’t read his thoughts so why did I ever imagine — or hope — he could read mine?

I knew a couple who were married for almost seventy years. The wife wrote her husband weekly letters explaining to him — in infinite detail — her feelings, frustrations and longings. I used to think it was a funny thing to do. But it seemed to work well for them. I don’t know if he ever wrote her letters.

I must admit that many years of my marriage went by before my communication skills with my husband began to improve. Why was it so hard to talk with him about my innermost feelings?

I remember many days I spent crying that he didn’t understand me. And he didn’t. But how could he have without me making an effort to help him?

Perhaps the place to get to in a marriage is the desire to understand your husband as much as you want him to understand you. I think this is the essence of the “Golden Rule.” The idea of treating others the way you would like them to treat you.

Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals.”

“Exchanged” is the key word in this definition to me, as it suggests two parties exchanging — communicating — with each other.

Another definition of communication is “the exchange of thoughts, messages or information by speech, signals, writing or behavior.” From my experience, speech and writing have been more effective at getting my point across than signals or behavior.

Every time I’ve tried the “silent treatment” when I’m upset about something and go to bed in that mode, my husband just thinks I’m sleepy and he goes on to sleep while I lay there half the night stewing. When I wake him — eventually — he is totally clueless that anything is wrong.

I’ve almost always found that signals can get crossed, which then results in a mutual misunderstanding, or in other words, a failure to communicate.

Using words to effectively impart information could be considered an “art” — as another definition of communication suggested.

There seems to be an art in how we say what we want to say. Specifically, implementing the proper use of tone and emphasis as well as body language when speaking, are significant factors in getting our meaning across correctly. Without the correct usage, however, the “recipient” in the exchange could become defensive or get hurt feelings as well as totally misunderstand the meaning the “sender” intended.

I have definitely NOT mastered the art of communicating with my husband. And if there are wives out there who feel they have, I would sure love to hear from you. Tips and advice would be most welcomed!

Of course, it could be that women really are from Venus and men from Mars, so we’re destined to never completely understand each other. But perhaps recognizing that men and women have different needs and communicate in different ways is a good way to begin.

It’s probably important, too, to realize that words can have different meanings to men and women.

I heard a comedian explain this once. He gave the word — communication — as an example. He said women define communication as “the open sharing of thoughts and feelings with one’s partner” while men define it as “leaving a note before taking a fishing trip with the boys.”

Alas, without the ability to read each other’s minds, men and women may never be able to completely understand each other, but we can remember that we never will without trying. And that takes some form of communication!

Because you are somebody special!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Since my trip to Italy, my husband and I have enjoyed a delicious breakfast routine that often includes French toast, fresh fruit and a yummy cup of cappuccino.

Breakfast has become not only good-tasting but a lovely beginning for each new day.

In Italy, food was delicious and a beautiful picture served on a plate. Since my return — especially at breakfast time — I get immense pleasure in arranging the food on our plates in some exquisite way. It’s amazing how taking the time to do this simple yet thoughtful gesture makes us enjoy our meal all the more, as well as sets the tone for a happy and satisfying day.

Today was one of the mornings when my husband takes his dad to have breakfast with some of his friends. And I thought to myself, “Why shouldn’t I fix myself a good breakfast?” So I did. I found myself taking the time to make my plate as lovely as I do when I’m serving both of us.

As I sat down to eat alone, I observed what I had done. My napkin and silverware were neatly in place on the table, and the arrangement of food on my plate and cappuccino served in an elegant cup and saucer were picture perfect. I thought to myself, “What a special breakfast I’m about to treat myself to.” I couldn’t help but also think, “And why not?”

Because I’m “precious in His sight” were the words that came to my mind!

And this, my friends, is also the reason you should do the same. You, too, are precious in His sight! In other words, you are somebody special!

Believing in our innate value and treating ourselves with care is imperative. If we don’t, we might be tempted to think we don’t matter, that our life doesn’t make a difference or is insignificant. These lies would fool us into believing we are not worthy, not good enough, not skinny enough or not capable enough. None of which is true, by the way!

You are special because you’re you! It is because we are different from one another that makes each of us special. We all have unique gifts and talents. So we can be what God meant us to be — ourselves!

Being special — or being ourselves — means we are exceptional, important, significant, unique, unusual, extraordinary, memorable and uncommon. We have a quality, character and identity that is distinguishable from everyone else. And I believe that each of us has been especially designed for a particular purpose. So my friends, each of us matters.

Many years ago I read a quote by Mother Teresa, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

This quote has often reminded me that my life does matter and is important in my world. And this thought has inspired and encouraged me all the more to want to reach whatever is my ultimate potential in this life.

Give your special self permission to be yourself. Don’t allow yourself, or anyone else, to limit your possibilities by saying what you should or should not do or what you can or cannot do. You must be “you” and whatever that entails!

Do what you love! If you love to write – write! If you love to sing – sing! If you love to farm – farm! If you love to teach – teach! There is a way to be whoever we have been especially created to be.

Being ourselves can require some nurturing and tender, loving care. So, I have found it important to be sure I’m investing in my physical, emotional and spiritual self each day. This includes blocking out time to ponder what is important to me and to consider how precious I am in God’s eyes.

Enjoying your own company by fixing yourself a fabulous meal and serving yourself with elegant stemware is another way to treat yourself with tender and loving care. Why should you do this? Because you are somebody special!


Eat, pray, love without criticism!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Not only have I usually been my toughest critic, I have also been one of those women who has been equally critical of other women. After reading some of the negative movie reviews of Eat, Pray, Love, I find there is no shortage of women who are harshly critical of other women.

I decided some time ago that I didn’t want to be this kind of woman anymore. And I wish more women would make the same decision.

The most common criticism of the movie and book heroine is that she whines too much or she is too self-absorbed. Some assert that she has no reason to be unhappy.

The book, Eat, Pray, Love, is not fiction. It is one woman’s real life journey to find herself. It could also be called a journey of self-healing or the quest to find balance in life and love.

I think the story resonated with me because of my own feelings that there must be more to life than what it has been so far. It’s not that I’ve been unhappy. For one thing, I’ve been very happily married for almost thirty years. But there have been career choices that I have regrets about. And now that I’m in my 50’s, I’m rather consumed with the desire to experience and see all the things that have been put off for someday in the future.

I was impressed by the courage and audacity of the author to set out on a journey to find answers to some of the same questions I have. I was a cheerleader in her corner as I read her book and was excited to follow her example as I watched the movie version of her story.

There are no villains in her journey, other than her own potential to self-destruct. I’ve been disturbed by those who have ridiculed her honest and sincere desire to be happy with her life with a fuller understanding of its purpose, potential and possibilities. I don’t understand why some have seen this as something worthy of ridicule.

Yet, I know I’ve done the same in the past. And in my case, I finally concluded that such behavior was narrow-minded and self-righteous. And I no longer wanted to be a woman who was holier-than-thou and smugly virtuous in my judgments of others. And believe me — sadly — this does describe some of my past judgments!

And like I said, I believe women are often women’s worst critics. We have a tendency to be intolerant of the opinions and behavior of other women.

We need more empathy, my friends!

It’s no easy undertaking to put oneself into another’s situation or position in an effort to better understand. In fact, it may be pretty much impossible to do that. And this point is probably something that women critical of other women should consider — or at least recognize.

We don’t know the whole story of our fellow women. All we know is what they tell us and what is in our sight. We do not know every detail of their situations or the depth of their feelings.

So when I say we need more empathy, dear women, this means we need to give more respect to other women. We need an appreciation of and compassion for their lives.

It doesn’t matter whether or not we think we agree with them or think we would never do the same. We don’t even have to agree to disagree.

Why do we feel the need to have any opinion about another’s life?

I admit it is a tall order to stop judging others. I have not mastered this desire entirely myself. But that doesn’t make my desire less sincere and genuine.

Jesus explained it best. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” In other words, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.” (Luke 6:37)

And that is the truest fact of all. The less I judge, I find that life is not only easier, but happier and more satisfying.

We’re all on a life-long journey to discover ourselves. Undoubtedly, we have much to learn. My hope is that we can eat, pray and love without criticism of ourselves or of others. This is going to require a lot more loving and a lot less judging!