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!

Home of the brave

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

Our national anthem — most of us know the words, but have we all pondered their meaning? Many of us probably only know the words of the first verse since that is the verse we sing. Frances Scott Key’s poem, however, actually has four verses!Recently I received an email with a link to a powerful dramatic rendition (click to listen) telling the story that led to the writing of our national song — with details that I had never heard before.

Now some will argue that the facts told in this telling might not all be true since some of the details have not been recorded in history books. And I can’t shed any certain light to these questions. Regardless, I want to review some of these details because whether embellished or not, listening to this story has caused me to ask myself some significant and worthy questions about my own patriotism.

In this rendition, it says Frances Scott Key was sent to negotiate a mutual exchange of American and British prisoners. After successfully reaching an agreement while on board the British ship, he was not allowed to return to shore because of an imminent attack soon to be launched on Fort McHenry.

The storyteller describes an arrogant British ship captain who is quite certain of the fall of Fort McHenry to the mighty British fleet. And this captain suggests the negotiations would soon be meaningless because once Fort McHenry surrenders, Key and the American prisoners on board would once again be under British rule.

The story tells of Frances Scott Key expressing his concern to this British captain that Fort McHenry is predominantly not a military fort and includes many American citizens —- men, women and children. But the British officer tells Key that the citizens were given an ultimatum assuring them that if they lowered the American flag and surrendered, the shelling would stop and their lives would be spared.

After hours and hours of relentless bombing throughout the night, the British captain is mystified and exclaims to Frances Scott Key, “This is an impossible situation.” He could not understand why the citizens would not surrender and save their lives. Then the storyteller shares a quote he attributes to George Washington: “The thing that separates the American Christian from every other person on earth is the fact that he would rather die on his feet, than live on his knees.”

Twenty-five hours later, the British stop the attack and retreat from the shores of Fort McHenry. By morning’s light, the American flag — although in shreds and its pole leaning — is still flying.

This story goes on to tell of Frances Scott Key’s return to the Fort where he learns how the citizen soldiers kept the flag flying even though it had taken countless direct hits. The storyteller relates that the citizens knew all too well what it would mean if the flag was allowed to fall, and they knew — at all costs — the flag must remain high in the sky. The citizens held the flagpole in place, even though they were under constant threat of death as the flag and flagpole continued to receive direct fire. Many died to keep the American flag flying.

I can’t help but ask myself, “Am I willing to make such a sacrifice? Am I willing to stand up for something greater than self — an ideal, a hope, a vision — and would I sacrifice my life to ensure those ideals live on for the benefit of others”

It occurs to me that there are Americans who are willing and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice throughout the history of this great country. Today, our military consists solely of citizens who have volunteered and are willing to sacrifice their lives in service to our country — to preserve our freedom and protect their fellow citizens.

I pray that I be worthy of their sacrifices. I pray that I would do the same for them in an hour of need. And I pray that I never forget the sacrifices of all the Americans who have given their lives so you and I can be free today.

God bless “the land of the free and the home of the brave!” God bless America!

How prepared are you?

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

I’ve been visiting my daughter and son-in-law these past few days. As some readers of my columns may recall, my son-in-law is in the Air Force. And I continue to be ever humbled by his and other soldiers’ willingness to protect and defend our country.

The sacrifices these men and women make as a result of their commitment are vast indeed. My recent visit has taught me there is much more involved than the accomplishment of their many responsibilities and duties, however. Their “readiness” also requires much practice. They spend countless hours in readiness exercises and mission planning before executing their respective jobs and assignments.

I can’t help but ask myself, “Am I adequately equipped for each of my days?” Or perhaps this question includes other questions. Such as, “Am I prepared for the unexpected?” Or in the wake of the recent California fires, if I had to flee my house in the next five minutes, would I be ready?

Many books and websites provide useful and practical tips and suggestions for preparing for emergencies and disasters. But undoubtedly living through a major catastrophe in one’s life will require much more than an escape plan and survival kit, good and important though they may be.

Is prayer and Bible study more important to our life readiness than we realize?

Shortly after her divorce, my mom certainly illustrated for me the benefit of prayer and turning to the Bible for direction and guidance when she and I were forced to leave our home one night. We were attempting to escape from my dad, who we were certain was en route to kill us both before taking his own life. We grabbed what we could in about “five minutes” and left, never to return. I’ve written about this experience before.

From what I can recall now, some 40 years later, losing most all that we owned was not the end of our world. Nor did experiencing this unexpected trauma cause permanent emotional scars. Yes, there were undesirable difficult times I would never want anyone to experience. But it seems my mom’s daily practice of prayer and study, in spite of grave circumstances, inspired her with hope and encouragement, enabled her to feel gratitude and peace of mind, and gave her courage and vision to start a new life for us both.

I must admit that I don’t always set aside time daily for study and prayer. Sometimes I think I’m just too busy with the many details of my day to take time for what would make me more ready for implementing the details of my day. Remembering our American soldiers, I can see the import and value of readiness practice and how this practice enables one to accomplish exactly what needs to be accomplished in the most efficient and accurate way.

Paul gives us instruction that supports the idea of our readiness practice. He says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God …. rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I’ve always taken this to mean that Bible study would help me to better understand God and how to fulfill my divine purpose. And he says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I think Paul saw prayer as a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment guide to our life, not something we do only at bedtime, before a meal or on Sunday. How can we know and live God’s will for our lives without listening for His constant directing?

I’m making a commitment to be more diligent in my readiness practice each day. Perhaps some days I will spend more hours in study, but I’m going to remind myself that prayer is a constant between God and me. That no matter what is happening around me or to me, I will never forget for a moment that God is all, that God is Love, that God is omnipotent and ever-present. I’m pledging to maintain my post of spiritual observation and never desert it.

No task is impossible to do and no calamity is impossible to overcome with the divine Infinite guiding our every step. Daily readiness and preparation will keep us poised for action and equipped for progress and victory.

Free will’s blessing

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

We all face crossroads in our lives. We come to a fork in the road. And we make a choice. As the U.S. Memorial Day holiday approaches, I can’t help but reflect on a choice made by many in my family. The choice to serve the United States of America through the armed forces.

A choice made by my dad. Two of my brothers. My uncle, who lost a leg in World War II. My father-in-law. And currently my son-in-law. I have great respect and gratitude for all who have made such a choice. And I admire the reason for their choice — to protect and preserve peace and freedom not only for their country but for all humankind.

When I moved to Tioga, Texas, some 25 years ago now, I learned more about the town’s most famous son — Gene Autry. Many know Gene Autry as America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy. Particularly for his signature song, “Back in the Saddle Again.” But I wonder how many people know that this man made a choice at the height of his career, after World War II broke out, to join the Army Air Force and do his part.

I suspect most everyone remembers the choice Pat Tillman made in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, to give up a lucrative football career to become an Army Ranger. Sadly his choice resulted in the ultimate sacrifice of a fallen soldier.

Why do we build monuments or designate days for tribute and celebration?

Perhaps we need reminders of important events and people who have taught us invaluable lessons. Perhaps commemorating honorable actions of others encourages us to live in an honorable way as we go about our day to day.

There was an article published in the Boston Herald in 1898 at a time when there was strife between the United States and Spain. In the article, Mary Baker Eddy, then a world-known spiritual leader, made what I think is a profound statement: “The character and lives of men determine the peace, prosperity and life of nations.”

As I appreciate the dedicated characters and lives of our soldiers of old and today, I am beginning to consider how the choices I make in life impact others — in my family, in my community and nation and consequently, the world.

I have a choice in the way I think and in what I believe. I have a choice in what decisions I make and what actions I take. I have a choice in how I view my life. The old question whether I see the glass as half full or half empty exemplifies this choice.

Some choices are not easy. Some take us down roads less traveled. For me, one such choice was the decision to home-school our daughter.

Sometimes we can have doubts about the choices we make. We wonder if we’re doing the right thing. Making the best decision.

I’ve found examining motives provides a good basis for making choices. Christ Jesus taught how motives lead to good or bad decisions. When motives are sincere and unselfish, for example, our choices would be on a firm and solid basis. These choices lead to actions that are beneficial to yourself and others.

Our decision to home-school our daughter did turn out to be the best choice for her.

Some choices require confronting and overcoming our fears. I will be forever humbled by the Iraqi citizens who, despite threats and under great risk, voted. Who could forget the woman holding up her ink-stained finger, saying she felt like she had been reborn? Surely, the choice that she made, along with other citizens in her country, ultimately will bless their troubled nation.

I’ve not always made the best of choices and certainly have not always lived up to my own expectations for myself. Looking to models of good character and high ideals can help us make better choices in our life. Divinely impelled choices ally our hearts — and characters — with living more spiritually. More in line with the ultimate role model found in the life and works of Christ Jesus.

Certainly not all of us will serve our country in military duty. But maybe we all serve our country by our character and our lives. We all have choices to make that can build on the example of those who’ve given their lives for the peace, prosperity and life of our nation. Let’s make good ones.

The ‘D-Days’ of our lives

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

June 6, 1944, is famously known as “D-day,” which marked the day during World War II that the Battle of Normandy began, commencing the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described that June day to Americans as a “mighty endeavor” — an effort “to preserve … our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity.”

In military terms, “D-day” denotes the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. Its broader, general definition and usage designates the day that some significant event will occur or has occurred.

No doubt, each of our lives has been filled with significant events that have shaped us into who we are today. Perhaps these events are positive or negative in and of themselves, but nevertheless, they have become momentous and transforming landmarks in our life journeys.

Jesus had his share of “D-days,” as well. I think one was that day in a Nazareth synagogue when he read from the book of the prophet Esaias (Isaiah): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Then, after closing the book, he announced, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).

This bold and public announcement, it seems to me, marked his commitment to the mission he would go about fulfilling in the next three years of his life — a mission that is still revolutionizing humanity today.

Sometimes “D-days” are planned and expected and sometimes not. A “D-day,” for example, could be the day you got married or your child was born, the day a loved one passed on or you lost your job, the day you moved to a new city or graduated from college, the day you bought your first house or the day a hurricane destroyed it. Whether planned or not, days like this change your life or the course of your life in some dramatic way.

A “D-day” might also be the day you reached a major decision, gleaned a life-altering revelation, experienced or witnessed healing. I often like to imagine not only the many people who were healed by Jesus but also the impact on the folks who witnessed those healings. Such as the time Jesus healed a man lying on his bed, sick of the palsy. After Jesus healed him, we read, “But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (Matthew 9:8). I know myself, when I see or read of healings through prayer and divine revelation experienced by others, I am filled with hope, and my faith, confidence and expectancy of healing in my own experience become emboldened and reassured.

It seems many of my most memorable “D-days” are ones that were my mightiest trials. Yes, it’s been my challenges and heartbreaks that, quickly or eventually, pointed me in a Godward direction toward healing solutions. Again and again, I’ve learned that trials are overcome more readily with a divine staff in hand.

I’ve come to think of trials as temptations to believe that God is both good and evil or that God creates and sends evil or purposefully wants His children to be inflicted by evil. But we read in the book of James, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13). So I’ve come to think of trials — however bad — as opportunities to conquer the seeming power of evil and prove it powerless in my life. The most difficult trials in my life journey are the ones that have prompted epoch-marking stages of growth and progress.

When faced with “D-days” we haven’t planned or wanted, we may exclaim, “Why, Lord?” In such times, I find encouragement in the fact that even Jesus had to face temptations. We read in the book of Matthew of Jesus being “tempted by the devil” in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each time Jesus was confronted with a temptation, he immediately refuted it with a spiritual law of God.

We can do the same ourselves, when we’re faced with a temptation that suggests evil as a power and that we’re defenseless or helpless. Acknowledging and affirming the omnipotence and omnipresence of God’s law and word can enable us to defeat any evil temptation, just as Jesus did.

What I love most in reading about the temptations Jesus encountered and mastered is that after he had clearly won his battle, “angels came and ministered unto him.” It’s encouraging to know that when we grapple with our own temptations and prevail over them, we will have God’s angel messages of comfort and strength lifting us and sustaining us.

There’s a passage in the book of James which buoys my courage for any future unsought “D-days.” And Mary Baker Eddy’s definition of two words in this passage enhances its meaning. “Blessed is the man that endureth (overcometh) temptation: for when he is tried (proved faithful), he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).

Whatever the “D-days” in our lives, I think these monumental days become waymarks that guide us onward toward understanding the truth of our spirituality. And this truth liberates us from any evil trying to occupy our mind, body and spirit.