Peace among enemies

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

The “season of goodwill entered the trenches” were words that I read describing what some call the “Christmas Truce of 1914.” Others refer to the event as a “shining episode of sanity from among the bloody chapters of World War I.”

While the details of this event have often been embellished in hindsight, there is one conclusion that is never denied — the fact that Christmas managed to bring so-called mortal enemies together as friends for a time.

Some say the soldiers exchanged cigarettes and cake. Some say they joined in song and in a game of soccer. Whatever, it is indisputable that at least some of the men who were lined up in trenches along the Western Front — sometimes no more than 30 yards away from each other — on the first Christmas of the first World War, ceased fire and had the courage to meet one another face to face in no-man’s land.

The beauty of this moment was that it was spontaneous, unplanned, not orchestrated or scripted. With no interference by generals and politicians, the lower ranks — whose life expectancy during World War I was maybe two weeks — figured out how to create peace.

No, the peace did not last. Generals on both sides eventually ordered that the fighting continue. And there would not be another Christmas truce in the next four years of war.

I came upon this information only recently and I don’t recall ever learning it when I studied history in school. Most history books I’ve looked in since, only give the incident a fleeting mention as if it was pretty much inconsequential. But the more I ponder it, the more hope-filled I become.

I’m reminded of an email forward titled “Polar Bear: I come in peace” that made the rounds months ago. It was a collection of photographs featuring a polar bear’s approach to a team of tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada’s Hudson Bay. It was noted by Stuart Brown that the photographer, Norbert Rosing, was sure he was soon to see the demise of his dogs. But that didn’t happen.

The photos he took, to our point of view, might conclude that the bear and dogs played together. And it was said that the bear returned many nights to “play” with the dogs. Some dispute the interpretation of “play” and say rather the animals were just being curious of each other. Regardless, nobody died during the exchange — the point that captured my attention at the time.

And again, it seemed that peace was possible — dare I say natural — among supposed enemies.

I can’t help but think that among the disciples of Jesus were also some unlikely friends — fishermen, political activists and a tax collector who might never have become friends if not for Jesus. Jesus often associated with and helped those that some among him would have defined as their “enemy.”

And I can’t help but remember when Jesus was captured in the Garden of Gethsemane when a disciple cut off the ear of one of the arresting soldiers. Jesus stopped his disciples from fighting and healed the soldier’s ear. (Luke 22:51)

Jesus had much to say about those we perceive as our enemies including, “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Oh I know we live in difficult times these days when such instructions may seem impossible or crazy. We don’t often know who to trust. And there are those who are so consumed by their fears, hatred and misconceptions, that all they can think about is killing their enemies. How can peace be possible with such people? How could we ever be friends with people who want to kill us?

Almost ten million died during World War I and millions more were wounded. I suspect among those killed were many of the same ones who found a way to create peace on Christmas in 1914. If only they could tell us how they did it. Apparently both sides wanted peace that Christmas — if only for a day.

I suppose wanting peace is a good beginning.

For me, the Christmas Truce of 1914 showed that living in peace is the most natural action for humankind. Peace is our God-given nature that Jesus aptly illustrated for us during his lifetime. And if peace is more natural than war, then peace among all enemies is possible.

Surely if peace is possible for some — if possible in the midst of battle — then peace under any circumstances and at any future point in time can be a reality. We can live in the manner God intends for His creation. The thought of this peaceful possibility gives me hope.

Don’t let Debbie Down get you down

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

There seems to be one in every crowd — the naysayer, the voice of doom, the predictor of bad tidings. Debbie Downer or Gloomy Gus is always the pessimist who sees the downside of everything — the glass that is always half empty. And she or he generally shares a depressed view of the world with everyone they meet.

Perhaps among the disciples of Jesus, the unbelieving Thomas would come under the same or at least a similar category. Skeptics seem to have little or no faith in what they haven’t seen or experienced. Their dark perspective would have us all believe the possible is impossible unless they are proven wrong. And even when proven wrong, they consider it a fluke, a stroke of good luck, a chance occurrence, an accident.

Of course, Thomas did eventually believe, and his faith was reassured. But his doubting brought a lesson from Jesus. Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Perhaps a lack of faith or not enough faith is the culprit that leads to pessimism.

I’m no “Little Mary Sunshine,” but I just can’t subscribe to Debbie Downer’s view on life. I have firsthand experience in how a simple change in my outlook and attitude changes my experience for better or for worse. And who wouldn’t want to do whatever it takes to have a better, happier, more satisfying life?

One problem I see with Debbie and Gus is that they are too opinionated. In fact, they are so consumed by their own opinions that their minds are completely closed to divine direction, inspiration and intervention — even when they say they have faith in God.

Remember the parable of the drowning man. It has a variety of versions, but one story says a man’s house is being immersed by a flood. Before the road is covered, someone in a jeep drives by and offers the man a ride. But the man refuses, saying he has faith that God will save him. As the waters continue to rise, another comes by in a boat and offers the man a ride. But again, the man refuses, saying he has faith that God will save him. Finally, while the man is standing on his rooftop, a helicopter arrives and the pilot offers the man a ride to safety. And yet again, the man refuses, expressing his faith in God. In heaven, the man asks God why He didn’t save him. And the Lord explains, “I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter.”

If this man had truly had faith in God, he would not have tried to interfere with, outline or limit how God’s purpose works out. He would have known that there are infinite resources and possibilities — that nothing is impossible or beyond reach. He would have accepted the jeep ride — without question, judgment or fear!

I’ve found having faith in God is easier when I begin with acknowledging that God is Love and good. I believe God’s plan for us is always good, and I’d rather trust in His wisdom than uncertain opinion or fearful odds.

Don’t let a Debbie Downer or Gloomy Gus diminish your hope or overshadow your confidence. Interrupt their pouting with some cheer, and perhaps you can give them some encouragement that brightens their spirits.

But what if you’ve been like the drowning man and refused the jeep and boat ride. Would you sit there, like I suspect Debbie or Gus would, on your rooftop with your head down on your knees — dismayed and depressed — condemning yourself for your mistakes, your lack of wisdom, your arrogance?

Since I’m quite certain that position will not save you, my friends, here’s a more certain plan of action. It’s not too late. Keep your chin up, your hope high, your view expectant. There will be a helicopter. Be ready to take it!


Why should we remember?

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

The 7th anniversary of what many consider the most abominable tragedy in our nation’s history is upon us — September 11, 2001. Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy.” These words became all too real to America once again seven years ago.I’ve been asking myself — Why should we remember? Not that I’ve ever forgotten!

I remember that morning — as I suspect we all do. I was in bed feeling about as sick as I think I’ve ever felt when my father-in-law called to say a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. So my husband turned on the television. I was lying there watching the news reports when the second plane hit. At that moment we all knew something was terribly wrong, and these crashes were not accident or coincidence. I was sitting up now and had completely forgotten about feeling sick.

With extreme fear of our nation being under attack, I began to make calls to locate our daughter who had left for her freshmen year of college only a couple of weeks earlier. I wished she were home! When we reached her, she was struggling to console her roommate whose dad worked at the Pentagon.

In President Bush’s five-year anniversary speech of September 11th he said, “On 9/11, our nation saw the face of evil.” The “face of evil” is certainly one way to describe the horrors many of us saw on television that day, which many others met face to face. But one cannot think of the heinous acts of 9/11 without also reflecting on the countless and extraordinary acts of courage and compassion that so many people displayed.

It does often seem harder to erase the bad memories and much easier to forget the good. But remembering the good will help us wipe out evil and not allow it to steal our peace, freedom and security.

I can’t help but think of Edmund Burke’s words, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Well, evil didn’t triumph over our nation on September 11, 2001 because good men and women did something! Many courageous men and women responded to their fellow citizens in need. Even though many of their lives were lost, they were given for a purpose and cause greater than their own – all in the fight against evil.

This message by Burke is all the more significant when you consider its source. Edmund Burke was an 18th-century Anglo-Irish statesman, political theorist and philosopher. He served many years in the British House of Commons, and he is largely remembered for his support of the American colonies in the dispute with King George III and Britain that led to the American Revolution. Burke stood up against many other points of debate in his day, even when his stance was not a popular one. He could never be called a man who did nothing in the face of what he thought was wrong!

While I do still mourn the sudden loss of over three thousand fellow citizens on that painful day seven years ago, I embrace their innocence, honor their heroism, and cherish their memory. I will always remember them!

Yes, our nation saw the face of evil. But we also saw the face of good. Our nation would not be brought down and would not be stopped, regardless of the villainy and wickedness that had been aimed at her. It is the faces of good that are important to remember and that I hope I may emulate in my own life.

All the things I’ve always wanted to do

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

No more can I say I’m approaching the half century mark. That day finally arrived recently, and I find myself asking what happened to all the things I’ve always wanted to do in my life.

It seems that I’m asking this question with the disheartened assumption that somehow it’s too late, that there isn’t enough time left to start something or reach a new goal or be whatever it was I wanted to be when I grew up.

In my weariness the other day, I shared my question with my daughter. In her encouraging way, she asked me, “What would you like to do?” Then she insisted, “Do it!”

She also shared one of her favorite quote books with me which her dad and I gave to her when she graduated high school. She pointed out a quote on one of its pages which gives a list of accomplishments by various people:

“At age 7, Mozart wrote his first symphony. At 12, Shane Gould won an Olympic medal. At 14, Leann Rimes topped the country music charts. At 17, Joan of Arc led an army in defense of Europe. At 57, Ray Kroc founded McDonalds. At 71, Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel. At 80, George Burns won his first Oscar. At 104, Cal Evans wrote his first book on the American West. (I believe in you compiled by Dan Zadra)

According to this list, it seems one is never too young or too old to achieve something new!

Then I came across a statement made by William James who was a 19th-century American psychologist and philosopher and also the brother of novelist Henry James. He wrote, “Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.”

That reminded me of something a friend once shared with me. She was telling me about a senior friend of hers who was in his nineties and was remodeling his house. She asked him why he was remodeling his house, and he said because he would take his concept of home into eternity with him. And he wanted his sense of home to be something that was current, progressive, fresh and new.

So what are some of the things I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done yet?

I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve also dreamed of being a songwriter. I’m always thinking how cool it would be to invent something that would prove to be an indispensable product for many consumers. I’d love to remodel some historic building, run an art gallery, share a business with my daughter and write a book with her, too.

There are many places I’ve never been to and many things I’ve never done. I’m certain I’ve not yet become the person I’ve always wanted to be. But on that note, maybe we’re always in the state of “becoming,” and we never reach the point where we say, “There’s nothing more for us to learn or experience.”

You and I wouldn’t be eating Big Macs if Ray Kroc had thought there was nothing more for him to do just because he had turned 50. He had seven years to go before he would establish the first McDonalds. And I guess I still have another 54 years to get my first book published. I don’t see painting or acting on my horizon, but then again — who knows! Perhaps there’s some talent yet to be discovered and unleashed that I don’t know about.

I’m starting to get the picture. Living the life of our dreams never reaches a final destination. Our lifetime is always ahead of us. The journey continues. Since progress is God’s law, we will always be learning, growing, exploring, discovering and accomplishing. The best is always yet to be.

If we don’t do something, that something may never get done!

Let’s never stop believing in ourselves, in our potential, in the possibilities for our life, in our dreams, in our hopes. God never sees a young or old you. He only sees his beloved you.

I’m always telling my daughter to never stop dreaming and to never stop striving to accomplish her dreams. I guess I need to heed my own advice!

The last second before you die

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

When studying my weekly Bible lesson recently, I came across a powerful verse from Psalms that reads, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” These words took on a deeper meaning last year after I read a tsunami survivor’s account of her experience.

Who could forget, well over a year ago now, when the horrific tsunami struck Sri Lanka and the Asian coast? We’ve probably all read some of the incredible survivor stories scattered among the procession of tragedies.

My hope is that speaking about this woman’s survival will be strengthening to individuals who today may be feeling overwhelmed with challenges in their lives. Debts. Divorce. Unemployment. Injury. Illness. Devastation from tornados or hurricanes. A list that probably could go on and on for some, struggling to keep hope and faith to believe better days are even possible.

This tsunami survivor example has given me encouragement to meet disaster or catastrophe in life. I keep thinking that if she could survive a tsunami of that proportion, what could I not survive, endure or overcome? Maybe others also will be encouraged to find answers for overcoming their catastrophes.

The tsunami survivor was in Sri Lanka for the wedding of her niece, along with other family members and friends. They were, like many others I read about, having breakfast in their beach hotel when the monstrous wall-high waves hit. I was immediately drawn into her experience — not knowing how to swim, being crushed by furniture and other debris as she reached out for something to save her.

It took my breath away when she told the first thought that came to her as she tumbled in the water: the Psalmist’s words “I shall not die, but live.”

More thoughts came to her, some giving her direction such as “Cycle … paddle … use your legs.” She thought of Jesus calming a storm on the sea with those powerful three words, “Peace, be still.” And also the words “Know that God is here.” And again that declaration “I shall not die, but live.”

I was comforted that in her extreme peril, she received what she described as “angel thoughts.” It reminded me of spirituality and health author Mary Baker Eddy’s definition of angels as “God’s thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions.” As I read all the “angel thoughts” this woman heard and felt, Eddy’s words “These angels deliver us from the depths” seemed poignantly true.

Reading this woman’s story told me that perhaps it’s not necessary to try to explain why bad things happen or where evil comes from. But that the need is to learn how to conquer evil. How even against all odds, I could be victorious. I could be saved. I could be healed. And my survival is what destroys evil by proving it powerless over me.

To begin, I need to know that God is not a destroyer but the Creator. A protector. A preserver of humanity. A God of love. As the book of I Kings says, God is not in the wind, earthquake or fire. God is in the “still small voice” that is present no matter how dire the situation and will direct me to safety.

Perhaps you and I may never encounter a tsunami. But how do we contend with whatever we may be facing?

Do we give up? Do we believe there is no hope? Do we resolve to a life of chance, vulnerability and uncertainty? The inspiration I gained from one woman’s victory over a formidable foe has strengthened my confidence and trust in the mightiest power of all — the Divine.

While we all may face struggles and hardships that at times bring us to our knees, we can be assured that the “still small voice” will be with us, will lift us up and guide us onward and upward to a new day. To solutions. Freedom. Peace. Comfort. Healing.

May we too have the strength and faith to look at adversities and proclaim, “I shall not die, but live.”