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!

Giving thanks for our selfless heroes

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
Homecoming celebrations. Platefuls of turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce and pecan pie. Perhaps a feast less about food and more about family.

Americans gather with their loved ones and give thanks for the many blessings in their lives. Even when material treasures appear sparse, Americans remember the intangibles held close to heart, and are grateful to be together.

Days of thanksgiving began long before a national proclamation was made. For the Plymouth colonists, it was a celebration of food and feasting following their first harvest. During the 1700s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe a day of thanksgiving throughout the year, but it was a day set aside for prayer and fasting rather than feasting.

Later in the 19th century, states designated a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, the adoption of a state constitution or a bountiful crop. It was in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the observance of a national Thanksgiving holiday. And it was in 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the national holiday the fourth Thursday in November.

Yet every Thanksgiving, thousands of families celebrate without a father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister. This year is no exception, with thousands of American troops deployed overseas during the holidays. Last year was different for my family, because we were among those thousands.

Our daughter married a little over three years ago, only six days before our son-in-law was to begin his Air Force training. Training completed, he left the country last fall on his first deployment. And our daughter, with her puppy in tow, returned to mom and dad’s house.

Difficult times, yes. But we kept our soldier ever in our thoughts, conversation and prayers.

Although he was not present at our Thanksgiving dinner table, his empty place was set. We didn’t raise our forks until we first expressed our gratitude for his service to our nation. We honored his willingness to put the safety and security of his fellow citizens before his own. We paid tribute to his ideals, dedication, passion, patriotism, courage and conviction. And we prayed for and praised all servicemen and women and their families.

These words by Mary Baker Eddy summarized our daily prayer: “[M]ay their love of country and their faithful service thereof, be unto them life-preservers!”

I must admit, holiday seasons have come and gone year after year without me giving more than a passing thought to the sacrifices made by our military and their families. Last year I vowed to begin a new tradition — to have an empty place set at our dinner table every Thanksgiving. To never forget again the thousands who are separated from loved ones during precious holiday gatherings.

Perhaps you would like to join us? Set a place at your Thanksgiving dinner table, too. And from table to table, we’ll give thanks all across America for our selfless heroes. And pray for their safe return home.

My family had a second Thanksgiving feast when our soldier came home in January. A day for thanksgiving, indeed!

Gratitude – The path to joy

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

The season of Thanksgiving is upon us. For the Hallmark card company this means sales.

Annually, sales of thank-you notes spike in December and January, undoubtedly fueled by the 58 percent of moms who, according to the Hallmark Research Department, actively teach their children to write notes of appreciation for gifts they’ve received from family and friends.

My mom taught me thanking others in some tangible way is good manners. Certainly we appreciate kindnesses shown to us. But is that all there is to gratitude — expressing thanks for how much good we have or being grateful when something good happens?

What about when things don’t go our way? When we’re having a bad day? When we’re going through difficult times? When we’re stressed, anxious or sad? Where is our gratitude then? Perhaps we’ve become too dependent on outward circumstances, allowing them to dictate how we feel, rather than the other way around.

Suppose gratitude is not merely a passing sentiment. Maybe gratitude is not so much about what happens to us, but more about how we happen to the world around us.

Consider gratitude as an attitude, a point of view and a state of being. With gratitude as the premise for every thought, feeling and action, how would your day change? Do you doubt that your mental state impacts everything and everyone around you?

One Christmas, my daughter gave me a magnet inscribed, “If Mamma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy.” We laughed about it, but actually, that magnet expressed how she felt. I started realizing how my attitude affected my entire home. Certainly my attitude influenced my actions, my mood, my tone of voice. And consequently, my attitude impacted every member of the family, day by day, for better or worse.

I soon learned that my attitude didn’t influence only my family. You can test this for yourself. Walk into a store or workplace or a meeting. Think happy thoughts. Count your blessings. Hum your favorite song. Smile. Walk confidently with joy in each step. And watch the people around you. See how they respond.

Then try the reverse. This time think unhappy, miserable thoughts. Grumble to yourself. Slouch. Drag your feet. Frown. And watch those around you. I bet they run for cover and avoid even making eye contact with you!

I’ve found gratitude to be an unlimited and infinite resource. A wellspring that never runs dry. A resource that is available in any and every moment. How is this possible, you ask? Because a grateful heart is our divine nature, inherent in each of us as children of God — unconditional Love, infinite Good.

It’s no wonder that gratitude can transform even the most desperate of situations into one of hope, optimism, and certainty of a better and brighter day.

How can we live in a state of joyful expectation? A grateful heart begins with the moment. This moment. Make a conscious choice to be present in the moment. Get off automatic pilot. Think about what you’re doing, what’s happening around you. Ask yourself, do you feel gratitude right now in this moment? There is always something to appreciate, even in the worst of times.

I’ve started to begin each day with recognizing the good that is present. Waking up pondering my God-given grateful heart helps me see the good around me. Making gratitude a daily practice will change your life. It has mine.

What can gratitude do for you? Gratitude can quiet anxiety. Relieve stress. Soften anger. Make you feel lighter, happier.

Gratitude will lift you up. Build you up. Strengthen you. Nourish you. Sustain you. Comfort you.

Gratitude eases worry. Brings clarity of mind. Helps you forgive. Affirms that good is stronger than evil. Assures all is well, all will be well. With a grateful heart you can handle anything that comes your way.

Gratitude gives you a zest for living. Enables you to savor everything life puts before you. Helps you see your life as a gift instead of as overworked, mundane, or burdensome. You’ll find contentment. Satisfaction.

Gratitude makes you feel blessed. And impels you to bless others. So great is the healing power of gratitude.

Endless are the reasons for thanks-giving during this holiday season and in every moment of every day of the year.