Don’t distress over your mess

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

You can stop drowning in clutter and reclaim your home — along with your peace of mind. Not too long ago, I learned a life-altering lesson that taught me that a simpler lifestyle is achievable and also that it isn’t just about having less stuff.

Yes, I discovered that clutter isn’t confined to messy closets, overflowing cupboards, covered desktops, jumbled shelves or drawers that won’t open. It also includes our mental pantry which can be jammed full with indecision, worry, fear, stress, pressure, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, dread and countless medleys of other feelings and emotions. Such mental chaos robs our peace and steals our hope for a happy and satisfying life.

When my daughter and son-in-law recently purchased their first house, I offered to help with the moving, unpacking and organizing. I was especially excited about helping my daughter sort through their stuff and reach her great goal — to purge and pare down to create a clutter-free home. But in the process, I was reminded of some insights that lately have been buried in piles of new clutter I had allowed to accumulate mentally.

My lesson began the year prior to our daughter’s wedding a few years ago when my husband and I had the grand idea to remodel our house. We had lived in the same house for over 20 years, and, needless to say, we had gathered and collected lots of stuff.

The first requirement before a remodeling project could begin was to do major and significant downsizing. But this seemed like an overwhelming job, and it was difficult to know where to start.

I pondered some wise instructions that Jesus gave to us about what we esteem and hold dear. He cautioned against storing and hoarding needless and pointless treasures that have no long-lasting value. He told us that our best treasures are discovered in the desires of our heart (Matthew 6:19-21). This sounds like we determine what we value by answering the questions — What matters most? What are the things, people, occasions, events we value the most?

So with these questions directing our “housecleaning,” we decided what we were going to keep, take to a secondhand shop, sell, recycle or discard altogether.

Prior to this sorting and eliminating, I frequently harped on the fact that I didn’t have enough space — this house wasn’t big enough and there weren’t enough cabinets, drawers or closets. No one could have convinced me that cleaning house could result in more than enough space for our stuff. But it did! After years of complaining, I learned, much to my surprise, that my home was suddenly big enough. I now had space for all the things I had decided were truly important to me.

Around the same time of my house makeover, I became faced with making a career decision. A mishmash of uncertain and confused feelings buzzed around in my thoughts. It seemed impossible to determine the best course of action. Making a change is not always easy. You usually can’t see what’s down the road until you begin to make the drive. And you usually have to get to the top of the hill before you can see what lies at the bottom. So, sometimes you’re reluctant to make the turn onto a new road. Or at least I was.

I finally realized a decision was not going to be reached as long as my vision was getting obstructed by the maelstrom of emotions whirling around me. It was time for some mental inventory to be taken. Once again, I asked myself what was most important in my life. As I answered this question, I began ditching all the worry, concern and uneasiness that were cluttering my mind. The less cluttered my thoughts became, the more clearly I could envision the correct next steps and goals for the rest of my life. I was on the path to a simpler life, and it felt great.

Once again, I’ve been struggling over another big decision. It really is no surprise that I’ve been in such a quandary. I had allowed my life to become jumbled with so many self-proclaimed responsibilities, as well as needs and demands, that there were never enough hours in my days or days in my weeks. Being reminded of my life lesson on cluttering and de-cluttering was just the impetus needed to help me start trimming my duty list. I’ve been beginning with the obvious changes that are possible this very moment. And already my load feels lighter.

A simpler life is possible to maintain if we can remember what matters most to us and have those treasured and most precious values guide and direct us. Without a doubt, the list of what is most important to you will be far shorter than the list of stuff that is only unnecessary clutter.

When we let “what matters most” navigate and pilot our life — every moment of our day, every purchase we make, every choice, every decision, every goal — we can maintain a de-cluttered mind and house and live simply and happily.

The rainbow behind the trees

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

I’ve never really been a basketball fan, but since the Dallas Mavericks were in the championship series, my Texas pride made me watch. With each agonizing game (specifically the last four), I remembered why I’m not a basketball fan — the game seems filled with unfair foul calls. I know I sound like a sore loser — and I am. My Texas pride may be acting up again!

Still, even though I screamed out my frustrations over what I considered unfair calls, I also yelled for the boys to step up their game. I encouraged them to do a better job at making their shots, rebounding and so forth. Even if some foul calls were bogus, I still believed they had the ability to win the games.

Now that the series is over, I’m reflecting on how the game of basketball is sometimes like our lives. Or at least like my life.

Many times I’ve felt life was unfair — like nothing was going my way. And in those times anger, disappointment and depression victimized me: Poor me. “It wasn’t my fault.” “I didn’t have a choice.” “There was nothing I could do about the cards I was dealt but to accept them and suffer through it.”

Fortunately, my mama taught me a lesson long ago that has helped me learn how to pull myself up from what feels like life’s unfair dealings.

The lesson, or storm of events, began one September evening when I was ten years old. It wasn’t a hurricane or a tornado. But it was equally devastating and for me, and just as sudden.

I was taking my bath, getting ready for bed, when my mama unexpectedly came through the door. She promptly whisked me out of the tub to make a quick escape from her bitter and angry ex-husband — my dad. He hadn’t been able to accept the divorce. My mama had been warned by a relative that he was on his way to our place with violent intentions.

There was no time to pack, so we left with what little could be grabbed in a flash. I was never to see my home or my dad again.

For the months that followed, we were homeless with little money.

Many have asked my mama what enabled her to survive those times. I suppose some might call it a “can-do” spirit. Perhaps a positive attitude. Maybe a cheerful outlook. Or a “never-give-up” perspective. My mama could never be brought down — for long, anyway.

I can only explain that it had something to do with her faith — her faith in a new concept of God that she was learning. A God that is good and omnipotent. A loving God who will steer His children safely amid any storm. A God who has given His children the ability to prove evil powerless. A God who sent His son, Christ Jesus, to teach us how.

Her faith-filled outlook gave us hope. And her faith-filled perspective brought us the vision to see good and to find new opportunities — even peace of mind, and yes, joy. Her faith-inspired point of view led us to a new home in a new city, a career for her and a new life for both of us.

My memory of those childhood days is not of lack, uncertainty or fear. I never even thought of myself as homeless or poor.

I suppose I could look at my childhood experience with regret. But those days for me were a great gift — a lesson in how to beat the odds. How to overcome the insurmountable. How to begin anew when all is lost. How to find something good in every moment.

I learned that a different outlook can change the course of our lives. We have to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions every moment. Mary Baker Eddy wisely advised, “Your decisions will master you, whichever direction they take.” And she encouraged again and again to, “Stand porter at the door of thought.”

We can do this because God gives us the ability and the strength to govern our lives in harmony and peace.

After I married, my greatest battle with what I considered the unfairness of life began when our daughter was two years old. We were ready to continue growing our family. But more children didn’t arrive. Year after year, I struggled with disappointment and depression, as well as anger and frustration. My mantra was, “Why me, Lord?”

I can’t say that I overcame my struggle as quickly as I wish I had. But as I learned in my childhood, it would require a new outlook to move my life forward. As it turns out, a grateful heart was imperative. My love and desire for children didn’t end. And children did come into my life — just in a different way than I had expected. I became a kindergarten teacher. And not long after that, my teenage niece came to live with us.

I’ve concluded God does answer our prayers — just not always in the way we outline. When I’m certain of God’s ever-presence, I’m able to respond to whatever comes my way, calmly and confidently assured of God’s directing.

And God is always directing. I just can’t hear Him very well while whining about life being unfair. But when I stop whining, I see the solutions and new opportunities that God is providing that enable me to overcome and succeed in spite of what might seem like the “unfair fouls” of life.

Leave your mistakes and start anew

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

The women in my family have a tradition of watching “Gone with the Wind” each year. Perhaps it’s our Georgia roots that impel us to do so. The coming of the “new year” reminds me of a favorite line when Prissy exclaims: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies!”

Well, our new year has been born without any help from you and me. Thank goodness! Life keeps moving us onward and forward. The real question is: Now that our new year has arrived, what are we going to do with it?

Last year’s troubles are behind us, with disappointments and failures a fading memory — hopefully. But maybe we feel we didn’t do a good job with our last year, and we worry whether we can do better this year.

Many times in my life I’ve wasted days, and even months, grieved by past mistakes, overcome with regrets and buried in self-condemnation. At such times, even though I welcomed the idea of a “new year” with new beginnings, I seemed paralyzed and unable to walk into this land of promise and possibility.

Looking to Bible friends and their life experiences for insight and wisdom has often provided me with the boost needed. When I think of how to make a fresh start, the first person who comes to mind is the apostle Paul.

His sudden and total transformation from persecutor to preacher and healer has always amazed and encouraged me. He left his past of hatred and prejudice behind him and progressed effortlessly, so it seemed to me, into a life of selfless ministry unto others.

How was he able to put his horrible past quickly behind him and rebuild his life?

His own words offer some clues. Such as: “Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward. … I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal. … ” (The Message Bible, Philippians 3:13-15)

His words speak to the “now” of our thoughts and actions and the need to leave the past behind where it belongs — in the past. His words also don’t expect us to have all the answers for the future. We simply make strides, however slowly, however long it may take.

Perhaps you’re feeling you messed up so badly in the last year that you’re not worthy of a fresh start? Paul didn’t begin by ruminating over his many mistakes and wrongdoings. His new beginning commenced with a fresh view of his spiritual self. That’s a good starting point for each of us — our spiritual identity of innocence and goodness.

More biblical perusing brings the assurance that it is God that renews us. We don’t have to muster up all we need for making a change. God is present with each of His children every moment — guiding us and giving us the strength and courage needed for our endeavors. As we proceed, keeping focused on our goal, as Paul says, we will feel the divine energy enabling us to overcome challenges and making us ready to face a new year.

We need only anticipate better times and acknowledge the presence of divine Love lighting and leading our pathway. We have a new year before us. Let us forge ahead. With forward motion, one step at a time is enough!

Life is like a game of football. No, really!

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Icy weather that kept me inside during the football play-offs created an unexpected writing experience. Watching these championship games leading up, as my husband says, to the defining moment in any football team’s season — the Super Bowl — has prompted me to review defining moments in my own life.

What makes defining moments? I think they are moments, sometimes major events, always memorable occurrences, that cause me to think in terms of “before” and “after.” They are the moments that define and redefine who I am. They are the moments that stand out — some positive, some not so grand. But they are the moments that have raised my awareness and helped me discover the truth of who I am and my life purpose.

This process began with me making a list of what I think of as the major events in my life to date. I suspect some on my list are not so unlike many of yours, including such occasions as meeting my husband and having a baby. These might be characterized as two of the greatest “touchdowns” of my life.

Then, there are the more challenging events, which for me include my dad’s passing when I was 10 years old; a homeless journey with my mom that landed us in Texas; my suspension from college. Some experiences are a mixture of happy and sad, such as the day my daughter (my only child) left for college and the day she got married. These events could be translated into a collection of tackles and sacks with a few injuries, dropped balls and penalties, as well as some unforgettable third-down conversions.

While my life appears to be the sum of four quarters of play action, these in and of themselves do not define my life. I realize that it’s been the way I’ve responded to each big and small play that delineates who I am.

It seems the secret, or at least one key ingredient, to being a good quarterback is how well I respond when forced out of my comfort zone. This is when the “pass rush” comes toward me, and I may feel I have no control. Do I get out of my comfort zone and make the essential play, or do I stay and take the sack and perhaps even fumble the ball?

There are times when I’ve wondered how to gain the skills to perfect my game, especially when the needed response would have me going outside the secure walls I’ve built for myself. Since I was introduced to the teachings of Christian Science — another defining moment in my life — I’ve been learning that I actually have all I need right now as a beloved child of God. I need only respond using my God-given abilities. The Bible tells me, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). These words remind me that God is always giving me everything I need to reach crowning achievements in my game of life. And when I have any doubts, I am assured, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). When I’m confused or unsure how to respond to whatever I’m facing, I can turn to God — what I know about God’s ever-presence, goodness and love — and I will feel the divine leading and guiding me.

Life isn’t just about the big plays, touchdowns and field goals. I’ve discovered many defining moments are those precious memories that happen in between the major events. So my next list was a list of memories that stand out, many that I now see taught me valuable life lessons.

One example among many is my earliest recollection, when I was nearly 4 years old. I recall the delight I felt in running up and down what seemed to me was a “huge hill” in the hallway of our house. I suspect it was some unleveled floor, as we lived in a very old house. But to a toddler, it was a hill that gave me much happiness. This dear reminiscence teaches me to remember the joy God promises in each moment and to respond with rejoicing as I run up and down the life-hills that I may face.

Needless to say, my memories list is a few pages longer than my major event list. This tells me that life truly is more about the moments — each individual moment, not just the grandiose events. Yes, watching the football play-offs this year has reminded me of the importance of staying present with my life so that I recognize and cherish all of the not-to-be-forgotten moments that teach me grand life-lessons.

May you and I reflect upon all the defining moments of our lives and be able to conclude, “I was there, I lived and breathed and played the game. I learned and I loved, I laughed and I cried, and I danced. Life is good.”

Multitasking madness

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

We’re the multitasking generation, and we’re proud of it. We believe we’re sufficiently skilled to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, alternating from job to job in rapid speed. Although, on the surface, we seem more efficient, in our haste we may actually be taking more time to reach our goals and sacrificing quality as well.

No matter how much you try to convince yourself, you actually can’t do multiple things at the same time, and do them well. As Clint Eastwood says at the end of one of his “Dirty Harry” movies, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

Why do corporations continue to assume that the few can be asked to do the work of many? It seems the business world’s mantra these days is, “Do more with less.” But recent studies in multitasking indicate that trying to accomplish several duties at once may in fact reduce productivity, not increase it.

A segment on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a few weeks ago caught my eye. It was discussing the steep price tag that comes with multitasking. A wife shared how she feels she never has her husband’s full attention because he’s constantly checking his BlackBerry, answering his cell phone and checking messages and emails. Imagine how your coworker, friend, spouse, lover or child would feel if every time they said something to you, you turned and gave them all of your attention — without thinking about what was next on your “to-do” list?

I’ve concluded that we really don’t multitask — we juggle. We actually juggle one task at a time, and whether we complete our various responsibilities quickly or slowly, we’re still only finishing one endeavor at a time. The problem is that not one undertaking has our attention for very long because we must focus immediately on the next item on our list. Certainly, the more we juggle, the greater the odds that we will drop some “ball.” Yet, juggling fewer duties or decreasing our priorities is not always the only answer.

Longing for a solution to multitasking madness, I turned to Jesus’ life and his three-year career. Here was a man who accomplished much in his brief ministry and whose eternal legacy still transforms the world generations after his work was completed. He taught and healed multitudes during those three years. How did he do so much in such a short period?

I decided to examine his typical workdays for insight. The book of Luke, Chapter 8 tells about many activities over what appears to be a very short amount of time — perhaps a day or a few days. During this time, Jesus traveled back and forth between two regions by boat, spoke to a large crowd, taught disciples in a private session, calmed a storm at sea, healed a madman, raised a little girl from death, and healed a woman with an issue of blood on the way to heal the little girl. All of this in only one chapter!

While it appeared that Jesus juggled many tasks, he really was about a single mission and purpose. His only work was being about his Father’s business. He never lost sight of this, regardless of the numerous details presenting themselves to him. This enabled him to focus on the needs of the moment and be responsive to each person he met. Jesus was always flexible, adjustable, listening, discerning. He was never rushed, pressured, stressed out or overwhelmed. He calmly went about accomplishing his work, fully attentive to each and every moment.

No, Jesus didn’t practice multitasking to accomplish his great mission — but, rather, the art of mindful living.

The fact of the matter is, we too have only “one” business — and like Jesus, it is to be about our Father’s business, wherever that takes us and in whatever we are doing. Perhaps the key to our success is to adopt “the mind of Christ,” as Paul says (Philippians 2:5). This means we, too, give our full attention to every moment and each person during those moments. We make mindfulness our approach to each day and every endeavor. I suspect such a mindful approach in our work and everyday life would result in greater achievement, fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness.