Begin the New Year with a new you

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

How do you define yourself? As a mother, daughter, wife, husband, dad, or a son? Or perhaps as a student, teacher, manager, farmer, salesman?

Every day you create your own self-portrait. You name the image you see in the mirror and assign various qualities and attributes that you think go with your title. Then you act accordingly.

Your picture may be influenced by others’ perceptions, however, or by what you believe others think about you or expect from you. And you are likely to allow past experiences — your failures and successes — to further dictate and determine your abilities and your limitations.

What happens when your profile changes? Your kids are suddenly grown and move away from home. You get laid off from your job or you reach mandatory retirement. Your marriage ends in divorce or a spouse passes on.

Nothing can be more daunting than trying to reconfigure yourself, reinvent your life, and redefine your future — especially when the task arrives unexpectedly.

A new year is upon you. You must make a new beginning. Your old narrative no longer fits. You’re standing at a new road titled “self-discovery,” but reluctance, fear and lack of confidence is keeping you from moving up a street you’ve never been on. You are either unwilling to give yourself an overhaul or you’re clueless how to begin.

But perhaps what’s needed isn’t about defining a new you but rather discovering the true you — your identity as created by your heavenly Father.

This kind of self-discovery results in learning more about your “true” nature as it is divinely intended — without human conjecture, opinion, or critique.

There’s a phrase in the Bible that has given me a glimpse of how God views His children: the “…dearly beloved and longed for…” (Philippians 4:1) Thinking of myself as God’s dearly beloved and longed for helped me begin a new career when a former job of eight years ended. This was also at the same time my only child left for college.

Knowing I was the beloved of the Lord made me certain God only wanted good for His child. And the idea that God longed for someone like me assured there was still a purpose for my life, even though at first it was difficult to imagine myself doing something new and different.

It turns out the mirror can’t tell us about the image and likeness of God — that’s you and me, by the way. (Genesis 1:27) Only by learning more about God and His nature can we understand our own identity as created in His image and likeness.

As you become in touch with your true spiritual nature, nothing is beyond your means. You get a sense of your unlimited potential. You understand that your purpose never ends because it is ever being defined and directed by your Creator. And you can approach each moment with the knowledge that it contains within it, the potential for any number of possibilities.

Indeed, you can begin the New Year with a new you or rather with knowledge of the true you — the “you” that is always seen in His eyes. And this knowledge can change your life — again and again.

Leave your mistakes and start anew

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

The women in my family have a tradition of watching “Gone with the Wind” each year. Perhaps it’s our Georgia roots that impel us to do so. The coming of the “new year” reminds me of a favorite line when Prissy exclaims: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies!”

Well, our new year has been born without any help from you and me. Thank goodness! Life keeps moving us onward and forward. The real question is: Now that our new year has arrived, what are we going to do with it?

Last year’s troubles are behind us, with disappointments and failures a fading memory — hopefully. But maybe we feel we didn’t do a good job with our last year, and we worry whether we can do better this year.

Many times in my life I’ve wasted days, and even months, grieved by past mistakes, overcome with regrets and buried in self-condemnation. At such times, even though I welcomed the idea of a “new year” with new beginnings, I seemed paralyzed and unable to walk into this land of promise and possibility.

Looking to Bible friends and their life experiences for insight and wisdom has often provided me with the boost needed. When I think of how to make a fresh start, the first person who comes to mind is the apostle Paul.

His sudden and total transformation from persecutor to preacher and healer has always amazed and encouraged me. He left his past of hatred and prejudice behind him and progressed effortlessly, so it seemed to me, into a life of selfless ministry unto others.

How was he able to put his horrible past quickly behind him and rebuild his life?

His own words offer some clues. Such as: “Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward. … I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal. … ” (The Message Bible, Philippians 3:13-15)

His words speak to the “now” of our thoughts and actions and the need to leave the past behind where it belongs — in the past. His words also don’t expect us to have all the answers for the future. We simply make strides, however slowly, however long it may take.

Perhaps you’re feeling you messed up so badly in the last year that you’re not worthy of a fresh start? Paul didn’t begin by ruminating over his many mistakes and wrongdoings. His new beginning commenced with a fresh view of his spiritual self. That’s a good starting point for each of us — our spiritual identity of innocence and goodness.

More biblical perusing brings the assurance that it is God that renews us. We don’t have to muster up all we need for making a change. God is present with each of His children every moment — guiding us and giving us the strength and courage needed for our endeavors. As we proceed, keeping focused on our goal, as Paul says, we will feel the divine energy enabling us to overcome challenges and making us ready to face a new year.

We need only anticipate better times and acknowledge the presence of divine Love lighting and leading our pathway. We have a new year before us. Let us forge ahead. With forward motion, one step at a time is enough!

Beating the New Year blues

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Are you beginning the New Year with confidence and expectation or with dread and trepidation?

Certainly last year humanity struggled with wrenching challenges – tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, bombings, shocking terrorist acts. It surely does not make for a Happy New Year to start it with worries about what catastrophe will happen next in the world or in your own life.

I’ve become preoccupied lately with uncertainties in my life and anticipation of unwelcome changes in the future.

Recently, I came across a statement of promise written by Mary Baker Eddy in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

“The divine Love, which made harmless the poisonous viper, which delivered men from the boiling oil, from the fiery furnace, from the jaws of the lion, can heal the sick in every age and triumph over sin and death.”

These words prompted me to read again one of my favorite Biblical stories about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego when King Nebuchadnezzar ordered them cast into a fiery furnace for disobeying his orders. (Daniel – Chapter 3)

I’ve always been in such awe of this account. How even though they were bound and thrown into this fiery furnace, their lives were not destroyed. In fact, not only did they survive, the Bible says, “nor the smell of fire had passed on them.”

And they were not alone “walking in the midst of the fire”. When the King peered into the furnace, he saw four men and said the fourth was “like the son of God.”

In discussing this with a friend, she pointed out that they didn’t have to be pulled out of the fire to be saved. They were saved while in the midst of the fire. And the Christ remained in the fiery furnace with them walking by their side.

Pondering this Biblical story has brought me reassurance. It’s very comforting to know that no matter what situation I may face in the New Year, the Christ will be with me caring for me, protecting me, nurturing me, strengthening me. And I know this is true for everyone, too.

And this reassurance is increasing my confidence in a loving and all-powerful God that can conquer evil in whatever form it may appear. And encourages me to view the New Year through His eyes

Seeing through His eyes is giving me a different view than that of doom and gloom, illness and death. His vision is only that of the perfection and goodness He made.

Whether His children are walking in a fiery furnace or peacefully by the sea side, His beholds only His beloved children whom He will always care for. His sight never wearies or dims. His perception never changes. His outlook is hope-filled and joyous.

Such a view is helping me replace the New Year blues with an expectancy for a New Year of progress, restoration and healing.

What if you couldn’t fail this year?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Why bother making new year’s resolutions? After all, the odds are that you’ll fail to achieve them.

According to Self Magazine, 39% of women and 32% of men will make new year’s resolutions and almost twice those numbers will indeed break them after a month.

How you answer a single question could hold the key to actually accomplishing your new year’s resolutions or true desires.

Imagine a Christmas gift.

I bought it for my future son-in-law who had just graduated from college and was beginning his career. Then I bought it for my niece who had recently divorced and was looking for a new job. It’s a little gift that asks a powerful question that I think could change lives.

It was a pewter paperweight with the inscription, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” And the words have not ceased to replay in my head.

I’ve been thinking about how many times throughout my life fear of failure paralyzed my actions. In elementary school, when softball was the sport of the day, I would keep sneaking to the end of the line to avoid going to bat. In high school, I never auditioned for parts in the school musical productions. In college, I wouldn’t raise my hand and avoided making eye contact with professors during class discussions.

And what does this question mean to me today? My only child is a college grad, married and living in another state. I’ve resigned from a long-time occupation. I’m asking myself, what I would attempt to do if I knew I could not fail, and I wonder as I consider the possibilities.

Movies instruct me sometimes.

One was the 1987 movie titled “Stand and Deliver”. Edward James Olmos played Jaime Escalante, the real-life teacher who motivated his students through the power of possibility thinking. He guided a group of undervalued students to unparalleled levels of success by focusing on their potential rather than his students’ past limitations. The film illustrated that through confidence and determination nothing is too daunting. He told his students all they needed to achieve their goal was “ganas” – which he defined as the “desire” to achieve.

Is it really possible for me to attempt new career goals? Is it ever too late? Could I be too old to start anew?

And “heavy” on my heart are the questions – can I really lose enough weight to get back into clothes worn fifteen years ago? Or even five years ago? What is it that has been keeping me from trying?

One of my favorite authors, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “Our thoughts beget our actions; they make us what we are.” I wonder how often fear of failure held me back. Made me avoid new situations and experiences. Kept me from reaching my full potential. Stopped me from even trying to accomplish my dreams.

This reminds me of another movie.

The 1980 Star Wars movie, “The Empire Strikes Back.” When asked to raise his sunken starfighter from the Dagobah swamps, Luke Skywalker responded he would try. “No,” scolded Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try.” But Luke was not certain the Force could lift such a massive object. He failed. Yet Yoda, using the Force, did lift the x-wing fighter and place it on dry land. Luke exclaimed, “I don’t believe it.” And Yoda stated, “That is why you fail.” Mary Baker Eddy said it this way, “It is insincerity and a half-persuaded faith that fail to succeed and fall to the earth.”

My life has not been without failures. As I now reflect on these experiences, I see that each of those situations carried with it the seed for success. They required that I take what I learned and move forward. They required a new viewpoint. Instead of dwelling on a perceived mistake as a failure, looking at it as the outcome of an action, a decision, a choice. Changing an outcome required taking a different action. I’ve found success in this way before. I can again.

So, here’s my new year game plan.

Don’t let fear incapacitate me. Take bold, decisive actions. Persist. Keep trying. Try different approaches. Don’t take failures personally. Know failure is not a character trait, only an outcome. Don’t let discouragement take hold. Do things differently until I get the results I want. See failures as opportunities to learn and find the key to success. Be a possibility thinker. Find my child-like spirit with its unstoppable and boundless curiosity. Be more forgiving towards myself. Enjoy new challenges. Develop new talents. Have faith in my abilities. Be confident. Determined. Committed to the pursuit of my goals. Enjoy the ride as much as the destination.

Those thirteen words, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” have inspired me with a “can do” attitude. They have pointed me toward a Higher Power that is helping me replace fear and uncertainty with courage and assurance of success. How can I fail?

Gratitude is my new attitude

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

“If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I laughed about this at the time, but these words on the magnet I got for Christmas 1998 from my daughter, Jennifer, really described how she felt.

In fact, recently, she told me, “It was more of a joke than anything. But it was true that when you used to cry or become irrational about something, it affected the happiness of my day as well.”

My New Year’s resolution was to change this cycle.

Honestly, her mamma was not too happy in those days. I could have used that magnet to tack up a long list of gripes including being depressed that I was not able to have more children, and dissatisfied with the old house we were living in, and wanting to move—or burn it down. On top of that, we were living next door to my in-laws—enough said.

And yet, my New Year’s resolution that year was to change this cycle. I began to acknowledge that there is always something to appreciate, even in the worst of times. That a grateful heart begins with the present moment. That I could be grateful for goodness itself, regardless of what was happening.

I made some progress during the next few years, but I needed something more to help me maintain my improved attitude. I needed to understand more about the source of gratitude, lasting happiness and peace of mind. I believe that the source of all good is God, so I turned there in prayer to find the answers.

Good is all that was going on.

My prayers in the intervening years brought me to a book of quotes by Mary Baker Eddy called Moments of Gratitude. I read, “Hold to the presence of all good in which you live and have being.” This helped me see that no matter what the situation, I could acknowledge, expect and witness good in my life—in fact, good is all that was going on.

I decided to begin each day by recognizing the presence of good, God, in my life. Waking up with a grateful heart helped me see the good around me. This new attitude gradually transformed my days, until I no longer felt impatient, frustrated or depressed. In fact, my daughter told a friend, “The change in my mom was gradual over the years. I just think one day she decided to make a change in her life and began to grow in happiness from that point on.”

I cherish the many moments in my days.

Though my circumstances haven’t changed, what’s different now is the way I think about my life. For instance, I saw my house with fresh eyes, started a remodeling project and now can’t imagine living anywhere else. And the in-laws next door? I’m grateful for the years my daughter was able to grow up just steps from her grandparents.

And although I never had more children, I no longer feel I have been deprived. Gratitude for the very special relationship I have with my daughter, and all of my loved ones, has filled me full.

These days my life is calmer. I cherish the many moments in my days. And I find I want to bless others in whatever way I can.