Why be thankful in tough times?

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Country western singer, Carrie Underwood, once sang about being “low on faith and gasoline.” These were words from her song, “Jesus take the wheel.” I remember asking Jesus to take my wheel when I lost control of my car in a snow storm several years ago. Thankfully, I believe he did as my car spun across the highway and came to rest safely against a snow bank undamaged with no one hurt. It’s easy to be thankful when there is plenty to be thankful for!

But what about all the times when our life doesn’t feel brimming over with blessings and faith in a brighter tomorrow is getting lower with each passing day? It may be hard to imagine that a good dose of thankfulness could be the answer to our dwindling faith as well as the guiding light to everything we seek.

My life in my fifties is much different from what it was in my twenties. Back then, my anticipation for the future was filled only with enthusiasm, good expectations, dreams and hopes. But getting older doesn’t have the glamour it once did. Expectations have changed from longings to dread. Dreams have become fears. And hopes have become few.

Regardless of our age, our current life circumstances can be bleaker than we wish they were. When we’re struggling with depleted savings, job loss, limited income, separation from family or illness, it can be hard to see the light at the end of what feels like a very dark tunnel.

Lately, I just want to be happy. I want to feel happy — today — and not worry so much about what may or may not happen in the future. Or even if some say the future is inevitable, I don’t want to worry about it! I want to live my life today and make the most of each moment.

There’s one fact that I’ve become certain of over the years. The grateful are happy and the ungrateful are miserable. Yes, my friends, I’ve discovered it is impossible to feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.

Throughout my life, even in the most difficult of times, thankfulness changed my focus from what I didn’t have to an appreciation for what I did. And again and again, thankfulness enabled me to discover “good” that was previously unforeseen or unpredicted.

Gratitude has always brought my focus back to present possibilities rather than speculation about an uncertain or mysterious future. I’ve found that it’s having a grateful heart “today” that raises hope, boosts confidence, encourages ambition, lifts self-esteem, strengthens trust and provides peace of mind for tomorrow.

And gratitude is good for you! It seems many have concluded that the healthiest human emotion is indeed gratitude. The medical profession claims gratitude increases our immunities — making us less susceptible to illness.

The sign on my desk daily instructs me, “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.” I often need that reminder. So try a little thankfulness, my friends, and you just may find that dark tunnel you’re in is suddenly brighter!

Whatever the benefits, being thankful will make you feel better. And who doesn’t want to feel better — especially when dealing with tough times?

Nothing to be thankful for?

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

When life seems filled to the brim with loss, uncertainty and unwanted or unexpected change, it may be difficult to find reason for gratitude, much less joy. And yet the Bible tells us to “Be thankful in all circumstances.” (I Thess. 5:18) In all circumstances, you might ask?Recently I came across a blogger who asked the question, “Can we be thankful for the things we don’t want?” Perhaps I would phrase it, “How can we be thankful for the things we don’t want?” or even “Why?”

Country singer, Garth Brooks, once sang, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.” His song suggested that what he prayed for wasn’t what he really needed and God gave him what he needed, not what Garth thought he wanted at the time. Garth eventually realizes God’s wisdom and is grateful.

But what about when we’re coping with the loss of a job, or the end of a marriage, or the demise of our savings? Where is gratitude to be found among disappointment, sorrow and worry? As Thomas Paine wrote, referring to difficulties and hardships, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

And yet I have found the only way out of disappointment, sorry and worry is to count my blessings. No matter how dire my situation has been, there has always been something and someone to be grateful for.

Gratitude has the power to change our view from what we don’t have, to what we do have. And, inevitably, with this more hopeful perspective, we see the value of what is truly important, we expect good, and we appreciate progress. This vantage point leads us to new horizons and opportunities.

So perhaps what we most need in times of trouble is thankfulness.

When I ponder what I’m grateful for, I find myself also answering the question, “What matters most to me?” And it turns out how much money I have in the bank doesn’t make the list. What matters most are the people (and dogs) that I love.

Perhaps this is also why if I were faced with getting out of my house quickly — maybe because of fire or a tornado — besides making sure my family and animals were safe, I would attempt to grab as many photographs as possible. And I would hopefully get my computer, too, since many photos are stored there as well.

What matters most to me are not material possessions but those near and dear, along with the intangibles of experiences, feelings and the living of life itself. My love of photos is about cherishing my memories with loved ones. But even if I didn’t have the photos, the memories would be instilled within me forever.

I admit, however, that when I’ve been faced with extremities and tragedies, gratitude has not often been my first response. No one wants to experience sadness, and I certainly don’t believe that God wants His beloved children to suffer.

But I do believe God gives us everything we need — whether that is courage, strength or a change in direction. And I believe the words of Paul when he said, “…all things work together for good to them that love God…”(Romans 8:28) He did say all things! So eventually, I’ve come to realize that all things include all the things I don’t want, too, and I vow that nothing can stop me from attaining the good that God gives.

Imagine truly being grateful for everything in your life — every life experience and lesson learned — because you know that good is the ultimate outcome. Not that we must welcome and relish things we really don’t want, but we can resolve that good is what God wants and promises for us. We can remain expectant of God’s plan for good. And we can be confident that God’s plan for us is better than what we would design.

Jesus said, “No one can rob you of joy.” (John 16:22) I say no one can rob you of gratitude either. Gratitude enables you to make every day a happy and good day. Fill your mind with everything you’re thankful for and see how much better your world is right now. I suspect you have more to be thankful for than you realize. I always do!

Honoring our fallen soldiers

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

We’ve seen their faces and heard their names. We’ve learned their ages and where they were from. My heart breaks when I see television news reports informing us American soldiers have died.

This time loss of life wasn’t in battle. It was going to be what’s known as a “flyby” over the Liberation Day parade, celebrating the U.S. liberation of Guam from Japan. Flybys are something B-52s and some other military planes probably consider routine and I suspect the crews who fly these missions feel honored to take part. But this time, something went terribly wrong and six soldiers were lost in the B-52 crash off the coast of Guam.

When I first heard the tragic news of the crash, my heart sank when I considered the possibility that my son-in-law could have been part of the crew. We were relieved to hear of his safety, but our relief for him was soon turned to shock and sadness when we discovered that one of the crew lost was a good friend to our daughter and son-in-law.

Suddenly the loss of a soldier became “more real” as my husband and I reflected on our memories with this young man.

It has been difficult in these past few days to continue on with my daily activities and responsibilities without the dark cloud of melancholy hanging over me. In fact, I’ve found myself feeling guilty every time I laughed. In every happy moment, I couldn’t help but think about all the dear families and friends of these soldiers who were — in that same moment — consumed with grief.

I have to express my enormous gratitude for these and all American soldiers. Let us never forget that our American soldiers choose to be soldiers. They choose to put their life at risk when duty calls. They choose to do everything in their power to keep us safe and free. And their families, too, willingly and graciously live the life that puts “country” before all else.

It has recently occurred to me that we — all of us American citizens — are the legacy of our American soldiers. We owe them our lives — lives that must be lived to their fullest potential. And this is the greatest tribute we could possibly give to soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

So I will do my best, dear soldiers, to live a life that will make you proud. I will strive to live a life that is worthy of your life and death. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Soldiers must have extraordinary love for their country and their fellow citizens to be willing to relinquish their lives for others! I wonder if I could ever love that much.

Can you imagine a world where every citizen loves each other unconditionally and impartially? A world where each person is always ready to lend a hand when help is needed? A world where people believe the safety and welfare of others comes before their own? A world where respect, loyalty and trust is never questioned or doubted? Such is the world of the American soldier.

We have much to learn, my fellow citizens, from our soldiers. Their lives and sacrifices teach us many invaluable lessons. We are privileged to have our lives and freedoms in their strong and faithful hands. May we always be a grateful nation and never forget to show it. And may you and I remember that we must show our gratitude with our own lives well-lived!

Home of the brave

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

Our national anthem — most of us know the words, but have we all pondered their meaning? Many of us probably only know the words of the first verse since that is the verse we sing. Frances Scott Key’s poem, however, actually has four verses!Recently I received an email with a link to a powerful dramatic rendition (click to listen) telling the story that led to the writing of our national song — with details that I had never heard before.

Now some will argue that the facts told in this telling might not all be true since some of the details have not been recorded in history books. And I can’t shed any certain light to these questions. Regardless, I want to review some of these details because whether embellished or not, listening to this story has caused me to ask myself some significant and worthy questions about my own patriotism.

In this rendition, it says Frances Scott Key was sent to negotiate a mutual exchange of American and British prisoners. After successfully reaching an agreement while on board the British ship, he was not allowed to return to shore because of an imminent attack soon to be launched on Fort McHenry.

The storyteller describes an arrogant British ship captain who is quite certain of the fall of Fort McHenry to the mighty British fleet. And this captain suggests the negotiations would soon be meaningless because once Fort McHenry surrenders, Key and the American prisoners on board would once again be under British rule.

The story tells of Frances Scott Key expressing his concern to this British captain that Fort McHenry is predominantly not a military fort and includes many American citizens —- men, women and children. But the British officer tells Key that the citizens were given an ultimatum assuring them that if they lowered the American flag and surrendered, the shelling would stop and their lives would be spared.

After hours and hours of relentless bombing throughout the night, the British captain is mystified and exclaims to Frances Scott Key, “This is an impossible situation.” He could not understand why the citizens would not surrender and save their lives. Then the storyteller shares a quote he attributes to George Washington: “The thing that separates the American Christian from every other person on earth is the fact that he would rather die on his feet, than live on his knees.”

Twenty-five hours later, the British stop the attack and retreat from the shores of Fort McHenry. By morning’s light, the American flag — although in shreds and its pole leaning — is still flying.

This story goes on to tell of Frances Scott Key’s return to the Fort where he learns how the citizen soldiers kept the flag flying even though it had taken countless direct hits. The storyteller relates that the citizens knew all too well what it would mean if the flag was allowed to fall, and they knew — at all costs — the flag must remain high in the sky. The citizens held the flagpole in place, even though they were under constant threat of death as the flag and flagpole continued to receive direct fire. Many died to keep the American flag flying.

I can’t help but ask myself, “Am I willing to make such a sacrifice? Am I willing to stand up for something greater than self — an ideal, a hope, a vision — and would I sacrifice my life to ensure those ideals live on for the benefit of others”

It occurs to me that there are Americans who are willing and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice throughout the history of this great country. Today, our military consists solely of citizens who have volunteered and are willing to sacrifice their lives in service to our country — to preserve our freedom and protect their fellow citizens.

I pray that I be worthy of their sacrifices. I pray that I would do the same for them in an hour of need. And I pray that I never forget the sacrifices of all the Americans who have given their lives so you and I can be free today.

God bless “the land of the free and the home of the brave!” God bless America!

Keeping our cool this holiday season

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

It’s seven days till Thanksgiving, and I’m not home cleaning house. Nor have I done my grocery shopping for our Thanksgiving feast. Actually, I’ve not even made my shopping list yet! What am I doing? I’m camping with my husband in a very remote location.

Solitude during the holiday season is a gift to be relished, I’ve heard. My daughter told me to enjoy the quietness and relaxation before all the hustle and bustle gets in full swing. But I did bring along some holiday catalogs and cookbooks to peruse. And, clearly, I brought my laptop, since I’m typing this column as I sit at our camper dining table enjoying the view — hills, trees, sky and our puppy basking in the sun on the camper window shelf. The only sounds I can hear are birds singing, and I think I hear some cows off in the distance.

As I sit here reflecting on the holidays ahead, I’m wondering why the season of peace, love and goodwill is also a season notorious for raising people’s stress levels. The demands on our time are steadily increasing — from work to parties, decorating, shopping, baking, cleaning and scores of other chores and responsibilities. Yes, there certainly are many things I want to do and little time to do them.

Perhaps we get caught up in trying to create the perfect Hallmark holiday. Or perhaps we attempt to re-create the Currier and Ives Christmas of our childhood. Whatever our motivation, we may feel the pressure of the fast-approaching holiday deadline and become consumed with fear and anxiety that we will not accomplish the memory we long for.

Our anxiety is a good indicator that we need to bring a healthy and holy balance to our goals and aspirations. This reminds me of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary. Jesus and his disciples were on a journey to Jerusalem and went to Martha and Mary’s home in a nearby village. Apparently, while Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing, her sister Mary was listening to Jesus as he taught.

Eventually, Martha approached Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But Jesus responded, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, Eugene Peterson, The Message)

I can’t help but believe that Martha had good intentions and was working hard to give her best efforts for her special guest and friends.

But I can also see that perhaps her overzealous focus on “details,” as Jesus described her busyness, was keeping her from listening and pondering the good news Jesus had to share. He was giving a feast that would provide an everlasting meal of strength and healing and an endless supply of inspiration and hope — sounds to me like a feast not to be missed!

Mary was not faulted for being attentive to Jesus’ teachings. It was clear she was not worried about anything else. She knew what was most important in that moment and made the choice to listen and grow in spiritual knowledge.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, ” … seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). This seems like good instruction for setting our priorities and making our choices. If followed, we could surely walk through holiday clamor and would experience the most wonderful time of the year blessing others and being blessed ourselves, too.

Then we will not allow time constraints to dictate and dominate our thought to the point of forgetting the reason for the season. We will leave room for quiet reflection, prayer and study, as well as rejoicing and praise.

And we will not neglect opportunities to spend quality time with loved ones. We will outline less what and how our holidays should look and be more flexible and open for new and spontaneous ways to celebrate. We will count blessings rather than what is missing or what remains on our to-do list. And we will observe and honor each moment, giving our full attention to whoever is with us sharing each moment.

No doubt we can keep our cool this holiday season if we keep our priorities in better, holier order, which will certainly help us make good choices as well as make lasting, special memories.