Would you give up your seat?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Who wouldn’t be willing to give up their bus seat to a pregnant woman, the elderly or handicapped? Or who wouldn’t consider taking advantage of an airline offer of a free ticket to give up their seat on an oversold flight?

A few days ago, we heard the story of the helicopter copilot who unflinchingly gave up his seat to an injured pilot he was rescuing. His Apache helicopter had only two seats, one for himself and one for the pilot. After belting one injured pilot into his seat, he strapped the second injured pilot to the gun mount outside the helicopter on one side and then strapped himself to the other side of the helicopter.

Unflinching — showing a fearless determination in the face of danger or difficulty. One wonders whether this courageous soldier even thought twice about putting his own safety second to a comrade. I think not.

Joining the U.S. military today is totally voluntary. Americans freely choose to enlist for service, knowing the potential risks and sacrifices. So perhaps it should be no surprise that an individual who has made such a choice would also make the voluntary decision to give up his seat, even if it means putting himself in harm’s way.

This warrior’s unblinking and unshrinking willingness to give, in this instance, his seat, is one of the purest examples of volunteerism. His actions could be described by Paul’s words “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God was surely smiling on this helicopter copilot’s selfless action.

Soldiers’ devotion of care to their comrades reminds me of how Jesus defined what it meant to be a neighbor with the famous parable frequently titled “The Good Samaritan.” A man traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. Apparently, during his journey he was attacked by thieves who robbed and wounded him, leaving him half-dead on the side of the road. Other travelers saw this poor man on the side of the road and didn’t stop to help him. Then, along came a Samaritan who didn’t hesitate to stop and render aid. The Samaritan cared for his wounded neighbor in the same way soldiers care for not only their comrades but also anyone in need of their assistance. Both are role models for us all.

The story of the Samaritan takes on even greater significance when one understands that the wounded man whom the Samaritan stopped to help was socially and politically his enemy. I guess Jesus was trying to teach us that humanity’s bonds in brotherhood transcend social, racial, sexual, political and religious segmentations that we often adopt in our lives. Compassion is a universal moral code for behavior at all times.

Maybe we will not have the same opportunities as soldiers, firefighters or police officers, who willingly and often heroically give assistance to others. But heroism is about character that includes qualities we would all do well to embody and practice — courage, strength, perseverance, compassion, faith, hope, selflessness, tenderness, patience, willingness, unconditional love.

Heroism is about how we live our lives. Heroes don’t look for glory or praise, nor do they seek recognition for their actions. They expect nothing in return and ask for nothing in return. Heroes live lives of deep commitment, believing in the greater good for all.

Every day we have opportunities to be someone’s hero — to offer assistance, to listen, to help, to care. Perhaps we can all ask ourselves: “Am I willing to give up my seat?”

Is war necessary in the 21st Century?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

I saw this question on a Gallup Tuesday Briefing recently and wondered how many future generations will ask such a question. For over thirty years, Gallup polls have asked Americans their views on the need for war, whether Americans saw war as an outmoded option or as sometimes necessary. I found it interesting, but not surprising, that American viewpoints on the necessity of war changed significantly post 9/11.

It was June 1971, when Gallup first polled Americans on war as a necessary means to resolve conflict and settle differences between nations. At that time when the number of American deaths in Vietnam had surpassed 50,000 and antiwar sentiments where high, 46% of Americans believed war was an outmoded solution while 44% believed war is sometimes necessary.

Against the backdrop of war in Iraq and an ongoing military campaign against terrorism, a recent Gallup poll indicated 24% of Americans felt war is outdated while 73% thought war is sometimes necessary.

What does this change of opinion say about the pulse of America? That Americans are struggling with a loss of hope? That we, individually, feel helpless and powerless? That we believe peace in the world now seems beyond the realm of possibilities? That we fear the war against terrorism is going to be a long and uncertain battle? That we have concluded military action will continue to be inevitable?

Maybe these latest stats speak to a war that is being fought here at home. And I don’t mean the threat against the security of our homeland. I’m talking about the war to crush the American spirit. The siege to conquer our hope, optimism, and faith. How do we fight this enemy?

Suppose every prayer, blessing, kind word or good deed, wears away unjust political, racial, social, economic and geographical distinctions. Suppose 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 the enemy that lurks from within our borders and our hearts.

My daughter recently completed an internship at a US Congressman’s office. A lesson she left with was every individual can make a difference. One instance in particular seemed hopeless. But the situation was resolved because hundreds of people made the effort to let their voices be heard. The situation could have been described as unjust and yet because of hundreds of compassionate actions and words, the unjust was changed to what was just and fair. The words of anthropologist Margaret Mead rang loud and true: “Never doubt that the work of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

September 11, 2001 resulted in many changes in opinions and actions. Some of these changes were short-lived and some have lingered. Sadly, some really good changes are among those that didn’t last. Remember those first few days following 9/11? When knees were bent. When we wept for people we didn’t know. When we sent money to folks we’ve never seen. When Republicans stood next to Democrats. When news headlines shifted from scandals and sports to families and the future of the world. Some journalists called the changes the “new normal.” We were reminded that the enemy is not each other. Have we forgotten?

An author who lived through the civil war of these United States and also overcome many conflicts in her own life, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “No greater hope have we than in right thinking and right acting, and faith in the blessing of fidelity, courage, patience and grace.” While I don’t make the decision for our country as to whether or not war is necessary, I can answer that question for my own life. And as my daughter learned, there is power in each individual, each one of us. Power that results in change. How I think and act can make a difference.

So, in pondering the necessity of war, I’m looking within. If peace begins with me, how about it? Is there peace or is there war? In my marriage? In my family? In my neighborhood? In my church? In my job? And if there is war, perhaps I need to ask myself, is it necessary? Is there another way to act or resolve any conflict?

Maybe peace does begin with each of us. Maybe we do have the power to change the world. Maybe that’s how the world is changed – individual upon individual, family upon family, and so forth. Maybe there is hope for peace in the world and we can have faith in our hope.

The choices we make

by Annette Bridges. ©2006. All rights reserved.

Service to this country through the armed forces has long been a choice made by many members of my family – my dad, two of my brothers, my uncle (who lost a leg in WWII), my father-in-law and currently, my son-in-law. I have great respect, admiration and gratitude for all who have made the choice to protect and preserve peace and freedom for all mankind.

Recently, I was humbled to learn about Pat Tillman’s choice to give up a lucrative football career to become an Army Ranger. His ultimate sacrifice has caused me to think about the purpose of Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day or Armed Forces Day. Why do we build monuments or designate days of honor?

Perhaps we need reminders of important events and people that have taught us invaluable lessons. Perhaps commemorating honorable acts encourages us to live that way in our daily activities.

For my family, Memorial Day has been a celebration of the end of the school year, completion of another year of dance lessons and the beginning of summer vacation. Honestly, I didn’t know the history of Memorial Day until doing an internet search.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed in 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. It wasn’t until after WWI that the day was changed to honor all American soldiers who died. More recently in 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed to remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day.

So, I’m taking a moment now to remember the courage and sacrifice of the United States military. Soldiers and their families make enormous sacrifices for the security of our nation and freedom throughout the world. I’m proud and grateful of the few that chose this path.

Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th century author and spiritual thinker who devoted her life to the service of helping those who sought healing and freedom from illness, made this profound statement: “The character and lives of men determine the peace, prosperity and life of nations.” As I appreciate the dedication and selfless commitment of these individuals, I consider how the choices I make in life impact others – my family, my community, and consequently, my nation. Perhaps we do all have a role in the peace, prosperity and life of our nation. Or at least some part of it.

I have a choice in what I think, what I believe, how I perceive, how I interpret. These choices result in a response, action, decision, and conclusion. They make me who I am. Maybe I make a difference in the world, in my country, by how I live my life.

President John F. Kennedy’s famous call to service comes to mind when he declared, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Some of us will serve our country in military duty.

Some of us will serve our country in volunteerism and community service.

Some of us will serve our country in government leadership.

But all of us serve our country by our character and lives. We have choices to make. Let’s make good ones.

A soldier’s wife talks about her prayers

United States, Great Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia and elsewhere have loved ones serving in the military in trouble spots around the world. This interview explores how the author’s daughter deals with the anxiety of having her husband serving in time of war. But any individual with a loved one in the military will recognize her concerns.

by Annette Bridges. ©2006.  All rights reserved.

Our daughter Jennifer married a little over two years ago, only six days before our son-in-law was to begin his Air Force training. In September 2005, his training completed, he left the country on his first overseas deployment. And our daughter came to stay with us.

In the hours we spend together, Jennifer and I talk about many things—her sweet husband, the spiritual ideas we are both learning from our study of the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings, and how the ideas are helping get her through the holiday season when her husband is so far from home. We thought it would be helpful to share these ideas with others.

I know you’ve understood from the day you married there would be months of deployment. How did you prepare yourself for being separated from your husband?

At first the thought of my husband being deployed paralyzed me and brought my fears to a peak. I began having nightmares. I felt a sadness I could not define. I was struggling with fears of dealing with death. I felt anxious, not just at the possible loss of my husband, but anxious about dealing with the death of any of my family members, whenever that might be.

The laws of God apply to every situation.
I believe there are laws of God applicable for any situation, and that surely these laws must be effective anywhere, anytime. But I was feeling like I didn’t have the tools I needed to put them into practice.

So I decided to take a class on Christian Science. I felt this class would teach me more about God and how to apply the laws of God in the Bible for myself and my family, and especially for my husband.

I’ve been learning to focus more on the present instead of worrying about the future. To move from dwelling on death to getting a better understanding of Life—God. The more I study, the more confident I become that through God we’re all connected to each other; that all things are possible with God.

“All things are possible to him that believeth.”

Christ Jesus gave us this promise: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” This faith-inspired confidence has lessened my anxieties about separation from my husband. It’s given me a more certain hope.

How have you been praying about the idea of your husband being in a danger zone?

I affirm that he can never for one millisecond be separated from God. He’s always encompassed in God’s love. I know that whatever he is faced with, he’s protected. Paul’s words encourage my faith: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In my prayers, I affirm there’s nothing my husband can’t handle, because God is always there to guide him. He’ll have the clarity he needs and will be receptive to the ideas he needs to make the right decisions. And not only my husband, but also the entire crew on his plane. They will all make the right decisions to stay safe.

I don’t dwell on fear; I’ve found a peace.

Relying on God’s power and control have helped me overcome illnesses and other challenges in my life. Remembering these experiences, and reading about others’ healing and life-transforming experiences, increases my faith now and supports my peace. They give me reason to pray for my husband and trust in my prayers. So I don’t dwell on fear anymore. I’ve found a peace. As a military wife, you have to find your peace—whatever that means to you.

Sometimes you don’t hear from your husband for days. How do you deal with this?

I have to know, really know, he can’t be separated from God and trust in that. Sometimes my imagination can take over, but I keep my thoughts in control by knowing God is in control. Neither my husband’s life, nor mine, is governed by circumstance.

I’ve found great comfort from this statement of Mary Baker Eddy: “Understanding the control which Love held over all, Daniel felt safe in the lions’ den, and Paul proved the viper to be harmless.”

God is always guiding His children.

To be assured that God, Love, is always caring for and guiding His children, wherever they are, quiets needless fears. That assurance also brings me the peace that my husband can do his job—even though he may be in a dangerous situation—and still feel and be safe.

When you hear of others who are hurt or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, how do you feel?

I empathize with what these families are going through. I want to tell them that God is right there with them and with their loved one.

I’ve imagined all too often how I would react if I received that dreaded news. Hearing about other soldiers being hurt or killed brings home this possibility. You’re forced to think about this possibility even before your husband deploys.

I believe in Christ Jesus’ promise of eternal life.

The military makes families plan how they want to receive this type of news. If I had to deal with the loss of my husband, the only thing that comforts me is knowing death is not the end of his life. I believe in Christ Jesus’ promise of eternal life. And in the promise and hope that I will see my husband again.

How do you maintain your joy at the holidays with your husband away?

All my life, my grandmother has quoted Christ Jesus’ words, “Your joy no man taketh from you.” That joy is God-given—it can’t be lost or taken away. That joy is powerful and healing.

So I’m cherishing the time I’m spending with family and friends. Taking comfort and joy in these precious moments. Especially with my grandparents. But I’m also making plans to celebrate Christmas when my husband returns. I’ve decorated our house on base for Christmas and will leave the decorations up for him. In fact, my parents and grandparents are leaving their decorations up, too! I shop and plan just like he is home because I know we will celebrate Christmas together when he returns.

We’re setting a place for my husband at our Christmas dinner table and will honor his life of service before we eat. And then we’ll have another holiday dinner when he returns.

Has this experience made you more compassionate toward other military families, including those from other nations?

I feel a close tie with other military families, wherever they’re from. I cherish the knowledge that there are other families that understand what I’m going through. Whether we consider people an ally or an enemy, the struggles and losses families go through are the same.

I’ve always loved remembering what Abram said to Lot as they peaceably ended the tensions between them: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.”

We’re all children of the same God.

No matter what is being fought for on either side, we’re all united in the brotherhood of humanity. We’re all children of the same God. Nothing can change that.

How is your husband dealing with being away from home? What has he shared with you?

It’s been a struggle at times. Life over there can become monotonous. It comforts him to know that I’m with my family and that we all love him. He values his experience as a lifetime learning opportunity. He is appreciating home more, even the little things. And he’s learning to not take things for granted.

Is there anything else you’d like to offer, particularly to other soldiers’ wives? Or to soldiers deployed or preparing for deployment?

My advice to other military wives would be to stay close to something you love a lot, whether it be family, a job, a hobby. Surround yourself with what gives you joy. But know you’re not alone. God is always with you. You can count on that.

To other soldiers deployed, I want to say, Know you’re appreciated. A lot of people back home value what you’re doing and are praying for your safe return.

God is there to protect you, wherever you are.

And if you’re a soldier preparing for deployment? You don’t have to be afraid. God will be with you to protect and guide you, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. The Bible gives you this promise: “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies . . . be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee.”

And to people everywhere in the world, including non-military families—Mrs. Eddy wrote an article titled “Prayer for Country and Church” in which she wrote, “In your peaceful homes remember our brave soldiers, whether in camp or in battle.”

And these words, from the same article, have become part of my daily prayer: “… may their love of country, and their faithful service thereof, be unto them life-preservers!”

Merry Christmas to my husband and to all soldiers in every part of the world! My mom and I are praying for your safe return to your families and homelands!

Giving thanks for solidiers around the world

by Annette Bridges. ©2006.  All rights reserved.

This is my family’s first holiday season with a loved one deployed overseas. Our son-in-law, Justin, is serving in the United States Air Force. It’s been a difficult time, but as we’ve been praying, the idea for a new tradition emerged.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving theme of gratitude, our son-in-law’s empty place will be set. Before we raise our forks, those of us at the table will express gratitude for Justin and his willingness to put the safety and security of his fellow citizens before his own.

We will pay tribute to his ideals, dedication, passion, patriotism, courage and conviction. We are very grateful for Justin and these wonderful qualities he expresses so freely.

We’re all the children of the one Father-other God.
As we’ve been praying for Justin, we are reminded that we are all brethren with one Father-Mother God who is loving and cherishing each of Her children.

Of course, the United States is certainly not the only country who has soldiers and families separated from each other. So we’ll also be thinking about all of those selfless and brave hearts serving their respective countries throughout the world.

I imagine that most families think about their deployed family members and friends frequently, and we’re no different. We keep our soldier close in our thoughts, conversation and prayer. We never leave him out.

We mail him packages and cards frequently. And we hold on to every word he says when he gets the opportunity to call. We appreciate technology that helps the world stay more connected via the Internet, and often look at photos he sends us by email.

Our prayers give us the most comfort.

We feel connected to Justin because of all these things, but it’s the prayer that gives us the most lasting comfort and peace of mind.

Through prayer and Bible study, we’re reminded that God is as near to our soldier as He is to us back home. There’s an implied sense of safety in this truth. We’re all together in God’s embrace.

But sometimes we get fearful about Justin’s safety. Like other military families, there are days upon days when we don’t hear from our serviceman. That’s when fears and anxieties run the highest.

We’ve found the Book of Psalms in the Bible to be particularly reassuring at those times.

“If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there.”

Psalm 139 affirms: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.”

We’ve discovered Psalm 91 is a very powerful prayer. We personalize it by putting our soldier’s name in place of the pronouns:

“[Justin] dwelleth in the secret place of the most High [and] shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Or “He shall cover [Justin] with his feathers, and under his wings shalt [Justin] trust….” As Justin is in the Air Force, we especially love the verses that mention wings.

It’s wise to turn to God for protection.

And these thoughts about safety aren’t just wishful thinking—they’re powerful forces for good. I’ve experienced the power of prayer in my own life, and I know turning to God in matters of protection is a wise thing to do.

I admit that in the past I didn’t give more than a passing thought to the sacrifices made by those in the military and their families, but our current circumstances will change that forever.

I’m making a promise in my heart to continue our new tradition. We’ll have an empty place set at our dinner table every Thanksgiving and Christmas to remind us to love and pray for the thousands that are separated from loved ones during precious holiday gatherings.

And most importantly, we’ll pray for their safe return home.