Defending against the Texas drought

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

It was a dog-day afternoon, as we say in Texas. The thermometer outside our farmhouse was registering 101 degrees . . . in the shade. Me and my dachshund didn’t want to do anything but nap on the sofa.

Scarcity of rain began in the spring and has continued into the summer months. The cracks in our ground and nearly-dry stock ponds remind us just how thirsty we are. My husband sold a few more cows this morning — another reminder of the impact of a disproportionate dose of heat and drought.

As we move into August, which is normally the season for dry and hot days, our ranch is looking pretty bleak and brown.

One need only turn on the television, while trying to cool off in the air conditioning, to feel even more like we inhabit a world out of control — raging fires, turbulent storms, rocket and bomb blasts, rampant random violence, and skyrocketing oil prices.

But is this the picture of a world created and governed by a good and loving divine Parent? Sometimes it may seem difficult to know if our prayers can really make a difference.

I’m not going to pretend to offer the perfect prayer to solve all the chaos in our world, but I simply cannot accept that life is subject to chance or uncertainty. Since God is omnipotent, it seems to me He can’t be powerless on certain occasions or over certain conditions.

So, an affirmation of God’s presence, goodness and power begins my every prayer.

Do we doubt the power of our prayers or do we expect healing results? I wonder what Jesus would say. Mary Baker Eddy, author of several books based on the teachings and healings of Christ Jesus, wrote, “He would mightily rebuke a single doubt of the ever-present power of divine Spirit to control all the conditions of man and the universe.” If we harbor a view of prayer as futile, why continue to pray? Eddy said discouragement with our prayers resembles “a pupil in addition, who attempts to solve a problem of Euclid, and denies the rule of the problem because he fails in his first effort.”

I find it helpful, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of some situation, to recall times past when prayer did have a positive and transforming effect. I often reason that if prayer — affirming the power of God and his divine laws governing the universe — helped in those instances it must surely help in this one.

As I rested on my sofa today, I started thinking back on other times when situations seemed out of our control, but I was certain prayer saved the day. Such as the many times our hay bales were saved from ruin because approaching rain dissipated before reaching our fields. Or the many instances when my husband’s faith, patience and perseverance nurtured a cow back to health. Or the time a newborn calf, almost frozen in an ice storm, survived with a hot bath and lots of love and prayer.

I’m sure everyone can think of experiences in their own lives when the power of prayer removed doubts and fears and brought healing.

I realize when pictures of tragedies, devastation and despair fill the airwaves or our communities, it’s easy to consider the age-old question — “How could God allow this to happen?” But there are always stories of survival and healing that protest, “He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He didn’t.” And it’s these healing examples that keep me praying and hope-filled.

I love the 23rd Psalm. I often think about the fifth verse that says the Lord will prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies. So in other words, we are promised a “table” in spite of the presence of our enemies.

This says to me that no matter how dire the situation I may be facing, I can be assured of God’s healing power and loving presence right there in that moment. That there is truly no condition or situation where God, divine Love, cannot reach me and rescue me. Or as Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? What cannot God do?”

Already this summer, even though we don’t have the promise of money earned from hay sales, an unexpected job opportunity has become available for me. And I have no doubt that God will continue to provide as many “tables” in this dreary Texas wilderness as we, and others, need.

Where’s your prayer closet?

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

My very favorite place to pray is by the ocean.

I’ve sat for hours by the seaside enraptured by the vastness and infinity of the broad view. There’s something about the wideness of the sea and the constancy of the rolling waves that makes my soul sigh in contentment and quiets my mind in peaceful reflection. I love the way I feel when I vacation by the ocean and have often thought, “How can I take this peaceful feeling home with me? How can I go back home and find freedom from the stress of life’s chores and responsibilities?”

Recently, it occurred to me that Christ Jesus provided the answer to these questions with his direction — “Enter into thy closet.”

In giving helpful instruction on how to pray, he said, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

I do love to pray when sitting on the seashore. It’s like my “closet.” I shut my eyes, not thinking about any troubles, fears or concerns. With each breath I take, I feel wrapped in God’s love. I hear the thunderous roar of waves crashing, but at the same time I feel the rhythmic and peaceful pattern of the waves rolling in.

I’m reminded of the biblical account of Christ Jesus calming the winds and waves when he and his disciples were on a ship caught in a storm at sea. As I sit on the shore, I feel as if Christ Jesus is speaking to my worries and proclaiming, “Peace, be still.” It’s as if a thought whispers to me, “You are safe. You are not alone. You are whole. All is well.”

I open my eyes once again to the vastness of the scene before me. Whatever problem, fear or concern that has been troubling me now seems very small, like a single grain of sand under my feet. There is clarity, and there is calm.

I don’t think the healing power of this prayer requires sitting by the sea. We can follow Christ Jesus’ prayer instructions wherever we are — whether we are at work, sitting in a hospital waiting area, standing in line at the grocery store, or are stuck in our car in a traffic jam. We can enter into our closet, that quiet realm of our consciousness that knows God’s presence and love is with us and is as constant as the rolling waves and as infinite as the inexhaustible waters of the sea. We talk with God and hear the healing words needed in that moment. And there is clarity, there is calm — there is peace.

Sometimes I have hours to spend in my prayer closet. Other times I have only moments to find the healing answer needed.

Many times in the past when sitting at my desk working on a deadline, I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of pressure, and I’ve been fearful that I couldn’t get the task accomplished when needed. I would become a clock-watcher. In fact, the more I looked at the clock, the slower ideas flowed that were needed to complete the project.

I found the best way to overcome pressure was to enter into my prayer closet. Moments of stillness and quiet reflection of God’s presence and “allness” were all that was needed. Soon pressure disappeared and was replaced with calm inspiration. Then, the needed ideas came into expression, and the project was completed on schedule. This has happened again and again.

Following the insightful prayer instruction from Christ Jesus puts on “pause” whatever is troubling or challenging us. Then, we’re reminded that Love, the Love that is God, is always with us. Peace and healing answers are found when our thought is calmed. We can all feel the healing peace of God wherever we are and in every situation.

Yes, my very favorite place to pray is by the ocean. But I’m learning to pray anywhere at anytime.

Why pray?

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

Surveys have stated that millions of Americans pray regularly. And millions believe prayer can have a healing effect.

University medical school studies continue to test the medicinal power of prayer on recovery from illness or injury. And the findings remain varied and inconclusive. Consequently, newspaper headlines also tell an inconsistent story: “Prayer no help to sick” . . . “Prayer works as a cure” . . . “Prayer’s effect on health called nil” . . . “Healing power of prayer revealed”.

I suspect that no university study examining the influence of prayer on health would be considered definitive, even in the academic community. Therefore, the underlying question for me is why should scientists and physicians continue to test prayer?

Perhaps Christ Jesus knew the answer to such a question when he said, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Maybe the creators of these studies are unconsciously looking for “signs and wonders.” The very fact that such studies are happening cannot help but admit to the possibility of “wonders”, even if the motivation of some of them at the outset was to dispute such claims.

It’s not unusual to doubt or question when one hears of healings reported as a result of prayer. Even one of Christ Jesus’ closest disciples – Thomas – doubted that his Master could have been resurrected from death. But didn’t Thomas want to believe?

So one might describe studies exploring and probing the effects of prayer as symbolically crying out like the father of a sick son who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe; Help thou mine unbelief.”

I understand this hope-filled cry. My heart has sung that tune many times. Time and again I’ve caught glimpses of the omnipotence and allness of God and my inseparable relationship to God as His beloved daughter. I would be among the 41% of Americans who said they had been cured of illness or had their conditions significantly improve as a result of prayer. (Yankelovich Partners Survey 1999) Even still, moments of doubt, uncertainty and fear have brought me to my knees to reckon with my unbelief.

I can’t imagine a formula for testing prayer that can be effectively implemented, analyzed, measured or evaluated. Surely, prayer is as uniquely spiritual and individual as the individual doing the praying. Lack of healing results in a medical study on prayer would never cause the faith-filled to stop praying.

We read in the Gospel according to St. Matthew of a lunacy case the disciples were unable to heal. Jesus responded, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.” Jesus healed him. But his disciples asked why they could not heal him to which Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief….”

Christ Jesus instructed, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” In her writings on prayer in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “The Hebrew verb to believe means also to be firm or to be constant.” She explains the Biblical injunction, “Believe…and thou shalt be saved!” as demanding “self-reliant trustworthiness, which includes spiritual understanding and confides all to God.”

So why do I pray?

Because I believe Christ Jesus’ words are a promise. A promise for all people in all times. And surely for all conditions and situations. I mean Jesus did say “And all things.” I’m praying to understand more fully what this means.

On a wing and a prayer

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

“On a wing and a prayer” is a phrase that originated in 1943 with the World War II patriotic song “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer.” The song tells of a damaged warplane that is barely able to limp back to its base. Apparently, this popular phrase sometimes has been mistakenly stated as “on a whim and a prayer” or “on a wink and a prayer.”

Perhaps these misuses have occurred because some people tend to think that “on a wing,” “on a whim” or “on a wink” have similar connotations — such as an uncertain hope or perhaps a shaky faith or unlikely possibility. But to me, the song inspires anything but uncertainty or unlikelihood in its words: “Though there’s one motor gone, we can still carry on, comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.” No, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt in the minds of those on the crippled plane that they will most certainly make it home.

I suspect that most soldiers know the words to Psalm 91 all too well. In fact, to many soldiers I know, this psalm is their daily prayer: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler … ”

The imagery in this powerful psalm became the basis for “On Eagle’s Wings,” a song that has been sung at many Air Force weddings, like that of my daughter and son-in-law, who is a bombardier on a B-52. The chorus of this song vows, “He will raise you up on eagle’s wings … ”

The words in this song and psalm compelled my purchase of a painting that shows an American eagle with wings spread, soaring across a roaring river and treetops, with mountain peaks in the background. When I gaze upon this eagle’s wings, I feel its mastery and majesty, and I have no doubt she will reach her journey’s end. This image inspires a sense of security and calm which affirms that the omnipotence and omnipresence of God can be leaned upon and trusted.

Doubts can confuse and confound us and cause us to forget that God is indeed present and powerful. Remember what happened to Peter when he doubted.

Jesus had told his disciples to get into a ship. After he had concluded his meeting with the multitudes and had gone up into a mountain to pray, he came down to join his disciples. He saw that the ship was in the midst of the sea being tossed by wind and waves. Jesus walked on the sea and approached the ship. After he assured the disciples that it was he and not a ghost who was approaching, Peter asked that he walk on the sea to meet the Master. And indeed, for a short time, Peter walked on the sea toward Jesus. But since the wind and waves continued to be strong, he became afraid and started to sink in the water and cried for Jesus to save him. After Jesus caught Peter, he said, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Do you feel the need for some protection from life’s stresses and problems? Perhaps you are longing to escape from a difficult situation? Or maybe your dad, husband, brother or son is not at home with you this Father’s Day and you’re struggling to find the peace of mind that assures you he will return home safely. Perhaps your heart is filled with doubts that there can be certainty, protection, solutions, help, healing.

My daughter had times when she struggled with doubts when her husband was on his first deployment overseas. She took her doubts to God in prayer and told me: “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. 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.”

She said further: “Relying on God’s power and control has 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 doubts and fears anymore. I’ve found a peace. As a military wife, you have to find your peace — whatever that means to you.”

“On a wing and a prayer” is not based upon the uncertainty of human muster and willpower but is a pronouncement of promise. It speaks of God’s divine sheltering and mighty wing, which is unwavering, unfaltering and forever protecting us and taking us on a sure and certain flight to confidently reach our destination.

What did I forget to pack?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

It’s about time to begin my packing list. Weeks before a trip is scheduled, I start my travel preparations with a list. Mostly I do this because I don’t want to forget anything I may want during our vacation. My husband would probably tell you that I generally overpack my bags with more clothes, etc., than I could possibly need or use. Nevertheless, his comments don’t deter me in the least as I move forward toward our trip countdown.

Did you know there are guides on how to pack a suitcase? Yes, over the years I’ve come across dozens of packing guides and many helpful tips. One such guide begins, “Packing a suitcase is a strategic exercise in maximizing space and minimizing wrinkles.” My mom has often boasted about my skillful ability to make the most of my packing space.

Yet another guide begins, “Knowing how to pack a suitcase is essential to being a good traveler.” However, 27 years of traveling with my husband have taught me a successful and happy trip requires more than the items I pack in my bags. Indeed, the most important thing I need to pack doesn’t require luggage. As the title of a recent online chat featured on put it, “Don’t forget to pack prayer.”

I’ve found that beginning trip preparations with prayer has helped me add items to my suitcase that I might not have thought I needed and then would indeed need during the trip. In addition to packing, planning for a trip can raise all sorts of anxieties. For me, this has included fear of flying, health concerns, inclement weather dreads or any other unexpected or unwanted catastrophes.

With plenty of worries to fear and fret about, it’s a wonder anyone can ever have a happy vacation. But prayer can help us find the perfect solution for every situation. During one trip on which everything went wrong, including a hurricane evacuation, prayer made the difference in turning the trip into a safe, and still fun, adventure.

Packing prayer means acknowledging God’s control and power before you pack — or rather, before you even make your packing list. Then, certainly every day throughout a trip, packing prayer is listening for God’s wisdom and knowing that He is providing us with the practical ideas we need. Packing prayer means we’re alert to the angels of His presence — the spiritual intuitions and thoughts God gives us. These spiritual guides will lead us on a safe journey and also deliver us if we get into any trouble. For the Psalmist promises, “For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalms 91:11).

The Psalmist also tells us how we hear the guidance our angel guardians give to us when he says, “Be still … ” (Psalms 46:10). Being mentally still may not always be easy, especially in challenging times, but doing so, if only for a few moments, will help us to hear God’s angel messages more clearly.

As we prepare for traveling and embark on our travels, we can be assured that God is with us to care for us each step — or mile — of the way. We can trust in the Psalmist’s reassuring message, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Psalms 121:8).

So, when you’re preparing to travel, don’t forget to pack prayer and have a great trip! That’s my plan, too!