Where the heart is

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Was I surprised that I could be surrounded by everything foreign to me and yet feel strangely at home? Somehow this didn’t surprise me so much, but it did add to the wonderment of my trip to Italy.

It is a rather humbling experience to be somewhere and be dependent on the sensitivity of those around you to help you find your way and make you feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. When I returned to the United States, I became acutely aware — for the first time — of directional signs written in several other languages, placed to be of service to the many visitors our country welcomes from every continent of the world.

And since I lived in 12 different places during the first 17 years of my life, I am keenly aware of what it feels like to be the new kid on the block. During those years, I lived in houses, duplexes, mobile homes, hotels and a car. But I can attest that no matter where I lived, I felt “at home.” Perhaps this also helps to explain why — for me — home has never been confined to a single location. And maybe this fact also helps to explain how I could feel so at home in a country I’ve never been to before.

Still, I used to think of “home” as connected to a person. When I think about my childhood, I could say home was wherever my mother was. And since marrying my husband a little over 29 years ago, I’ve believed home would be wherever he was.

But my husband wasn’t with me on my trip to Italy and yet I felt completely and comfortably at home. This feeling has awakened my curiosity.

Home has been defined in many ways. Some say home is a safe environment — a place where you have no worries or problems, where you feel peace, where you love to be, where you feel comfortable and content. Or some say home is with a certain person or in a place you love most. But is home dependent upon person or place? My experience is telling me it isn’t.

It has been written, “Home is where the heart is.” Interestingly enough, trying to understand exactly where my heart is or what my heart is longing for, could describe the reason why I went to Italy. This searching of my heart was not something new. It began a few years ago when my only child left for college. But it has continued, and prior to my trip to Italy, my search had become more urgent.

Much has been written for those searching their heart. Some informative quotes include: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) But one of the most compelling ideas I’ve come across is one by Mary Baker Eddy: “We should examine ourselves, and learn what is the affection and purpose of the heart, for in this way only can we learn what we honestly are.”

For the first half of my life, who I was seemed simple — I was a daughter, a college student, a wife, and then a mother. For a while now, I’ve wondered if this is enough for my life — feeling like it wasn’t. And even more recently, I’ve questioned if I’ve been defining myself correctly.

Perhaps who I am has nothing to do with what I’ve done or how others see me, but everything to do with my own heart — my perception and understanding of who I am and the purpose for my life.

Because my trip to Italy felt very God-directed in my heart, I couldn’t help but feel His divine presence while I was in Italy. I was in a constant state of examining my heart and listening for what God would tell me next. And God had much to say about who I was and His purpose for my life. I took to heart every inspiration that came. And I am still pondering the meaning of it all.

But I have concluded that home is where God is. And guess what? There is no place where God is not! And this is the reason why I felt at home when I was in Italy — separated from the people and places most beloved and familiar to me.

And this is why you, too, can feel God’s presence any time, any place and any where! For where our heart is, God is — loving us, encouraging us, comforting us, and guiding us.

We’re making history

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

It’s hard to believe that I had almost forgotten that March was National Women’s History Month. It was, in fact, my husband who reminded me, after he heard a news story about a woman who had survived Indian captivity during the 19th century.

For years, American history curriculums have been void of women’s experiences, perspectives, accomplishments and contributions to our culture and society. It may be difficult to ever find and recognize all the women that make up our nation’s early history, since many of their stories were probably never documented, recorded or thought worthy enough to be saved.

Most of us hopefully know about those gutsy women whose bravery, courage and determination resulted in women having the right the vote. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul, to name only a few.

Many notable and ordinary women have blazed the trails women now walk. These were women who were visionaries, problem solvers and mentors. Some made headlines and some without loud fanfare, but all left their indelible mark in their homes, workplaces and communities.

And my women friends today need to remember that they, too, are part of making women’s history for future generations.

I think the women (and men, too, for that matter) who capture my greatest respect are those who do whatever it takes to overcome some impossible obstacle.

One of these women is Mary Baker Eddy. Larry Lipman, when serving as President of the National Press Club, said, “What do you do if you’re eighty-eight years old, you’ve already created a denomination, and the newspapers of the day start attacking you? Well, if you’re Mary Baker Eddy, you create your own newspaper, and you show them how it’s supposed to be done.” His speech was honoring The Christian Science Monitor, which Eddy founded in 1908 amid an era of rampant yellow journalism that dominated American newsrooms.

I find myself facing my own obstacle at this time in my life. I long to overcome whatever it is that is keeping me from understanding my purpose in this life. No, it’s nothing so earth-shattering or significant that it will make much of a difference to anyone else but me. But it feels like my world is at a turning point of some kind.

Since becoming an empty nester, I’ve struggled with feelings of regret and insignificance. I feel like there is more I’m supposed to do with my life, but I’m not sure exactly what that is. Many times I’ve pushed myself to try new things and explore ideas and possibilities never considered before. But still, the search continues.

As I write this column, I am only three days from doing something I’ve never done before and never imagined doing. All I can say is that I feel like it’s something I must do, even though I don’t fully understand why.

I was invited to travel to Italy with a couple of girl friends — without husbands.

I’m a mishmash of excitement and fear. I decided I could not allow my insecurities to stop me from making this trip, so here I am. Three days until departure and the packing has begun.

When I explained all of my uneasy feelings to my daughter, she responded with a quote she recalled reading somewhere, “It’s time to put your big girl panties on and deal with it!”

After doing a little research, I found these words published on countless things from t-shirts to magnets, from wine glasses to coffee mugs. I’m not sure who said it first. Regardless, I must admit it does rather sum up what I feel I must do about my pending trip and probably a few other quandaries as well.

I think it was Bette Davis who once said, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.” Perhaps that sentiment sometimes sums up our life, ladies and gentlemen, but I have a feeling that we may decide that bumpy ride was well worth it.

My life story may not be published in the history books, but my story, just like your story, is important. We are each a gift from God, and our life and purpose is precious in His sight. Each of our lives makes a difference in this world of ours — whether we know that or not.

Whether our story is one of survival or of great strength and ability, we are making history, and someone will be benefited by our example.

Follow your star!

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I just returned from a lovely autumn walk in Texas. Living on a cattle ranch provides a variety of trails for taking a walk. It turns out my stroll today involved passing the pasture where our cows were grazing. I was amused that as I passed by, they immediately stopped what they were doing and began following me. And as I reached the north end of our property and turned around for my return trip, the cows did the same.

Remember the childhood game appropriately titled, “Follow the leader?” I suspect many of you are familiar with the rules of this game — pretty simple really. The child in front is the leader, and all the other children follow and do whatever the leader does. I recall thinking it was as much fun to follow as it was to lead. But I never imagined myself playing leader to a herd of cows!

Actually, I think my days are more often spent in the following mode. Perhaps this is true for many of us.

There are goals to go after, dreams to pursue, advice to adhere to, rules to obey, directions to understand, guidance to accept, role models to imitate — the list is endless. And once upon a time three wise men would have said, “There is a star to follow.”

We follow because following brings the promise of success, accomplishment, satisfaction, and understanding — the finding of whatever we are searching for.

Like the wise men of old, we don’t always know exactly what to expect when we get to the end of our search. Yet all along our journey, high hopes and great expectations encourage us to keep going. And after reaching our goal, we conclude that our persistence, faith and effort were worth it.

This type of following is very different from the herd mentality that aimlessly follows without any thought, question or purpose. Indeed, following your spiritual intuition, your highest sense of what is right, and your lofty goals, will likely require courage, confidence, diligence and patience.

I’m sure some would have thought the three wise men were crazy to set out on such a long journey following a star. Perhaps they were confronted by people voicing their doubts. Maybe the route they had to take was difficult and challenging. I wonder if they were ever tempted to turn back, concluding the path was too tough.

No, I think the wise men never lost their confidence or focus and didn’t allow anything or anyone to distract them, diminish their hopes or lead them off course. What enabled them to be certain about the direction they were going? What guided their quest?

The wise men never lost sight of their purpose — finding a messiah. And so they found what they were looking for.

They listened to the spiritual guidance they received from God. Clearly, they had a deep faith and trust in this guidance. Yet sometimes following this instruction can mean a change in direction.

The Bible speaks of the wise men listening to God in a dream that warned them not to return to Herod, so they headed back to their country by going a different way. (Matthew 2:12)

And we must do the same as we move along the course of our life journey — keeping our high goal always before us lighting our way. And yet remaining flexible and teachable, open to new ideas and possibilities — ever listening for God’s wisdom and guidance.

We each have a star to follow — a timeless, God-given purpose. It’s never too late or too hard to fulfill one’s mission. The fact is our purpose is not some far away dream. We have a purpose each day and in each moment of our lives. Seize the potential of each moment and day, my friends. Let your spiritual intuition guide you. And you will find your path remains bright as you walk toward all of your life goals.

Who doesn’t want to feel God’s presence?

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Are you struggling with depression, loneliness or fear and wondering where God is? You’re not alone, my friend. Even David asked in one of his psalms, “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?” (Psalms 13:1)

It’s on dark and weary days that we desperately want to feel God’s healing presence more than ever.

Growing up with my mother taught me many lessons. I saw her overcome being homeless and jobless while having little means, education or so-called working skills to do so. I saw her conquer fear and uncertainty as she moved across country with her daughter following a difficult divorce. I saw her work her way out of poverty one day at a time — without government help I might add. One precious lesson can be summed up by the following Scripture — often quoted by my sweet mother: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8)

Of course — actually — God is always close by as the Psalmist concluded. “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me and your strength will support me.” (Psalm 139:7-11)

God is forever near — holding us, leading us and lighting our path away from dark troubled roads. So since we can’t really be out of God’s presence, I think it’s more about us needing to direct our thoughts God-ward that helps us feel and experience His presence.

I was reminded of this recently as I listened to a song by one of my dearest friends. She and a friend produced a beautiful CD titled, “Inhabiting Eternity.” (cdbaby.com) I’ve listened to their CD on numerous occasions, and every time a certain song begins, I have to stop whatever I am doing and get very still so I can be fully embraced by its message.

The song is titled, “I will come before the Lord.” Its lyrics describe God as “my song.” It reminds us, much like the Psalmist did, that whether in the stillness of morning, brightness of day, hush of the evening or darkness of midnight, God is our song — forever near giving inspiration, strength, hope, guidance, peace.

This is comforting news. So whether I am looking for solutions, clarity, calm, or freedom from stress, sorrow or pain, I know there is a powerful divine presence that can meet any need. And this gentle presence is so palpable that when I divert my thoughts to the divine whole-heartedly, I feel the angels of His presence assuring me all will be well — that all is well.

It’s sometimes far too easy when overwhelmed by problems and worries to give up or give in to whatever doom is on the horizon. But I’m learning not to do it!

When I don’t know which way to turn or what to do, my first step these days is again to get very still in order to tune in to God.

Whether we have hours or only a few moments, we can be filled with the nearness of His presence, power and love. We can feel the might and majesty of His goodness. And we will experience the power of His presence giving us the spiritual light we need.

You are never alone or forgotten, my friend. Turn your mind toward God and you’ll find He’s right there by your side lifting you up so you can find the answers you need. May you feel God’s love and presence in every moment during the upcoming holiday season and the New Year ahead!

Raise your bar

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Some say we generally meet our own expectations. In fact, whether our expectations are high or low, it could be said we will rise or fall to the occasion. This is how we live self-fulfilling prophecies.

We become either our own worst enemy or our own best ally. Whose side are you on?

When confronted by a challenge, do you meet it head-on or run away? Do you try extra hard, or do you give up easily or not even try at all? Do you resolve to do what is needed, or do you make excuses and do nothing?

If low morale has taken hold of your outlook and attitude, then you have boarded a sinking ship known as self defeat. Any ship will sink if enough water leaks into it. And nothing will take you down faster than the negativity and pessimism that self defeat incites.

A self-defeated person can only see the worst side. He will say what he is not rather than what he could be. He has little or no hope that change is possible. He gripes, complains, compares and criticizes. He thinks trying something new is pointless since he will fail or be disappointed. So either he condemns himself to be nothing, or he settles for anything but what he really wants.

Consequently, the self-defeated person gets no joy out of his life and is even more depressed about his future. He has nothing good to say about himself or his ability to achieve success. “Yes, but…” is his usual response when someone suggests he consider alternative solutions to his problems.

The bottom line is that despair and discouragement will hinder us from becoming all that we truly can be. The good news is, my friends, we’re not without help and we’re never without hope. It is only bewilderment that has caused us to be mistaken in our conclusions. But a fresh and inspired viewpoint can correct our faulty and flawed notions and propel us forward!

Maybe you’re tired of shooting too low for yourself — and having others who expect little of you or for you. Why not raise your bar as high as God has raised it!

God sees only the infinite potential of His creation — which of course includes you and me. His expectation has no limitations or boundaries. His desire for us is good. He envisions infinite possibilities. So why should our bar be lower than His?

What if there are circumstances that would bring us down, that would stop us from reaching for our dreams, that would have us feel lonely, abandoned, isolated, worthless, incompetent, useless, cheated, defenseless or ignored.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) Did you know this means the kingdom of God — His power, strength, knowledge — is within your reach, is a present possibility? Truly, we are instilled, equipped and furnished with everything we need to conquer any foe and accomplish our goals.

We are not struggling, weak and weary mortals but rather spiritual warriors who are confident, strong and determined. Our life has reason and purpose. We need only recognize, admit and embrace our God-given determination, resolve, ambition, diligence, tenacity and zeal to not only raise our bar but reach our potential.

I love the story of Jesus’ healing of the crippled man by the pool of Bethesda. Apparently, this poor man had been in his condition for 38 years — so perhaps it was no wonder he wasn’t very hopeful when Jesus asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” I think it is worth noting that the man responded with a narration of reasons why he had not been healed in all of those years. (John 5:1-9)

I’ve often thought how good I am at reciting all the reasons why I can’t do something or why I haven’t — instead of just doing whatever I needed to do to fix the problem, to accomplish my goal, to improve the situation. There is always an answer even if it is different from what we first thought was the right one. Jesus did heal the man. But it was in a way the man didn’t expect or probably considered possible. All the more reason for you and I to keep our mind open for the unexpected and unplanned!

Don’t let negativity — pessimism, cynicism, skepticism — sink your ship. My friends, you can raise your bar and set your sights on all the good God intends for you. You can be your own best ally. And you can aspire to practice your spiritual prowess which enables you to pursue the infinite possibilities of your infinite potential.