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!

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!

A marriage saved from the green-eyed monster

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

In my early married days, I often struggled with bouts of extreme sadness and anger as well as paranoia and fear. Unbeknownst to my dear husband — and myself, actually — I was suffering from a bite by the green-eyed monster. Jealousy is a nasty beast. And its wounds, if left undetected and untreated, can devastate a relationship. I was yet to learn that jealousy is not the same as love. Sometimes people equate feeling jealous about someone with loving them. I’m here to tell you that jealousy is not love but rather the fear of losing love.

Sadly, jealousy is all too familiar in human relationships. In fact, it has been reported wherever researchers have looked, in every culture, taking a variety of forms. Indeed, jealousy is an enduring topic of interest for scientists, songwriters, romance novelists and theologians.

Of the human emotions, sociologists say jealousy is one of the most powerful and painful. And it is deadly. Statistical studies rank jealousy as the third most common motive for murder. Jealousy certainly seemed to be Cain’s motivation for killing his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). It seemed to be what impelled Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Genesis, Chapter 37). And it probably was part of the reason the Pharisees hated Jesus.

But — is jealousy normal, natural and unavoidable?

Without a doubt, it is impossible to think clearly when you are jealous. Truth gets distorted, reason becomes clouded and emotion turns irrational.

For me, jealousy could have been defined as the emotional reaction to a scenario in my mind that was not true. I often perceived situations and people as threats. I also had a deep fear of loss or betrayal, although this belief was completely unfounded. While I sensed my insecurities were without basis, I didn’t know how to make a change.

Overcoming jealousy is like changing any emotional reaction or behavior. It begins with awareness.

In my search for help, I read Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on marriage and wedlock. The first statement that grabbed my attention was “Jealousy is the grave of the affections.” She wrote of the “narrowness and jealousy” that seeks to confine a wife or a husband. And she emphasized that home “should be the centre, though not the boundary, of the affections.”

I was beginning to understand that living by the “Golden Rule” was imperative in marriage, as in all walks of life. As Jesus put it, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). I certainly would not have liked my husband restricting my time spent with my friends or family. And I would not have liked being made to feel guilty about the time I did spend. But my husband was never the one who did these things — only me.

I knew my husband loved me and wanted me to be happy. He endeavored to do whatever he could to make me happy. He was a good friend to his many friends and a faithful and loving son to his parents. Should such admirable qualities and actions be punished by his wife?

So where did my unwarranted fear of losing his love come from?

It seems I needed to learn more about God’s infinite and unconditional love for me. And I needed to become more aware of my spiritual identity as the woman God created — a whole-souled woman who, too, loves unconditionally.

Such a woman knows well the spiritual strength and fortitude her Father endowed her with. And she knows well how to live love, as Paul defined in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. This love “cares more for others than for herself; doesn’t want what it doesn’t have; doesn’t have a swelled head; isn’t always ‘me’ first; doesn’t keep score of the mistakes of others; doesn’t revel when others grovel; always looks for the best; never looks back.”

She has great patience and sees and appreciates goodness in everyone. With a congenial temperament, she is not easily agitated. Her love is expansive enough to neutralize any friction. And she is determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant.

It turns out God had given me the antidote for bites from the green-eyed monster. It was my whole-souled womanhood. Putting these qualities into practice in my marriage healed my jealousy wounds and built a permanent and powerful defense, enabling me to ward off any future approaches of this nasty beast. And my romance and marriage with my husband is 28 years strong in love.

Be a landslide of one

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

You say you never vote? Or maybe you’re too busy to take time to vote? Why should you bother? Can one vote really make a difference?

The core of democracy is the right to vote. My vote is my voice. And I am duly aware that as an American woman, my grandmother did not always have the right to vote. August 26, 2006 marked the 86th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution giving women the right to vote. So, I do take that voting right quite seriously. I honor the privilege and duty of voting.

I believe a democracy is only as strong as its citizens’ participation in it. Therefore, I believe that a democracy needs the voice of each citizen. Without the voice of every citizen, a democracy will create a governing body that is not fully representative of the citizenry. Our voice, our votes, contribute toward a democracy functioning effectively.

Still, you may be wondering how your single vote by itself can really matter that much. I have two examples to share that have taught me more about the power of “one.”

You may not take me seriously about the first example, but truly, I learn many lessons from living in the country.

My husband raises cattle, and for years our herd, especially our calves, were plagued by ceaseless attacks from coyotes and packs of wild dogs. There seemed no answer to how to protect them.

In recent years, we noticed that many of our neighboring ranchers had a donkey in the midst of their herds of cattle or sheep. And we learned this addition to their pastures was keeping out unwanted animals. So, this year my husband decided to try this solution.

A few months ago our jenny, affectionately named “Lizzie,” took on the important position of keeping our cattle safe. “Jenny,” by the way, simply means “girl donkey.”

Before Lizzie arrived on the scene, I wondered how in the world one donkey could make a difference among so many cows. But she does. Her presence has brought security and safety to our cows for the first time ever.

Lizzie is fun to watch. Now don’t laugh, but she seems very certain of her mission and purpose in our pasture. She seems confident. She has resolve. She has conviction. And she goes about her business accomplishing her duty. It doesn’t seem to daunt her in the least that she is the only one to tend to so many.

Yes, Lizzie has been teaching me the power that lies in “one.”

Another example that illustrated how each individual can make a difference was shared by our daughter. For a while, she worked as an intern in a U.S. Congressman’s office. Part of her job was processing mail and other communications from constituents. She learned that each phone call, letter and email does count — and gets counted, in fact.

In one case it seemed hopeless that anyone could help an individual who was facing what was clearly an unjust decision. But as it turned out, hundreds of people individually made the effort to let their voices be heard. Because of hundreds of compassionate actions and words, an unjust situation was reversed and corrected. This was not a case of cooperative action of a group. This was individual citizens speaking their mind one by one. But the result was an accumulated landslide of opinion.

I believe every prayer, blessing, kind word or good deed wears away unjust political, racial, social, economic and geographical distinctions. I believe every time we replace deceit with honesty, hatred with love or apathy with compassion we make way for freedom and brotherhood. And in so doing, we combat those suggestions that tell us our voice doesn’t matter, that a situation is beyond hope and that our best efforts are pointless and useless.

Yes, I’m convinced that we each do make a difference in others’ lives — in our family, in our community, in our country and ultimately, in our world. And this also translates into the power of our vote, individually and collectively.

Still don’t think your vote matters? Consider this . . . Your vote could be the one vote that makes the difference and changes the outcome of an election or decision that affects the lives of many (including yourself) for years to come.

A mother’s greatest gift

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

Imagine a quaint French tearoom … in Texas. Live jazz piano background music. Servings of hot tea, bite-size desserts and chocolate-covered strawberries. A lovely and charming lady surrounded by family and friends telling what they love about her. This describes the recent scene of my mom’s 80th birthday party.

Mother’s Day just around the corner seems a fitting time for me to recognize and honor the woman who has inspired and taught me most about life, courage, persistence and my own spirituality.

Most folks reading this do not know my mother and never will. But her story may sound familiar to some. By society’s standards, even today, she was a child bride. Unhappy at home with her mom and stepfather, she was easily wooed by a handsome young man in uniform. Her teen years were spent as a wife and mother of two. By 1967, she was the mother of four children — three of them grown. She had been married two-thirds of her life.

She struggled with a troubled marriage and health problems. What was next for her? When her marriage ended in divorce, she hit the road, taking me and little else. We often joke how she did manage to pack her ice cream freezer. There are certain priorities that a multi-generational Southerner from Georgia never forgets. This most definitely would include the ability to make homemade ice cream for her guests.

Our road not only took us westward. It would be a life-finding journey for my mother that would bless my life more than I have space to say.

Shortly after her divorce, my mom began studying Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy’s explanation of Christ Jesus’ healings and teachings. These ideas gave her comfort, hope and practical ideas about prayer and healing. It’s not that she didn’t know about God and prayer before. She had been a Bible student all her life, attending a couple of different churches. But now she was starting to gain a new view of her identity that proved to be health-giving and life-regenerating.

How can I summarize her next 40 years? My mother found a new life for herself, step by step. She never gave up, no matter how rough and bumpy the road got. Her belief in herself grew as her trust in God grew. Over the course of these years there were many firsts and accomplishments. From owning her very own car and house, her first bank account to college and a career. And there were also the intangibles of happiness, peace of mind, satisfaction and better health.

Her life has taught me that it’s never too late. Beginnings and first times can happen throughout life at any age. Happiness is not bought with money. Home is in your heart. Joy is God-given and can’t be taken from you. Never give up. I could go on and on!

I don’t think any words are truer than these of Mary Baker Eddy: “The lives of great men and women are miracles of patience and perseverance.” In my eyes and to many who know her, my mom is among the greatest of women, whose life is most certainly a miracle of patience and perseverance. God-given qualities she learned were hers as her identity grew from a struggling single mom to a whole-souled woman reflecting the motherhood and fatherhood of God.

Her achievements against great odds have instilled in me a conviction that anything is possible. Perhaps the greatest gift a mother could ever give to her child. So it’s time for me to say “thank you” to my mom for life lessons that have left indelible marks on me and many others, too. Happy Mother’s Day!