In search of a happy ending

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Who doesn’t want a happy ending? I want to see the bad guy punished, the hero and heroine together and everyone getting exactly what they deserve. Some call this a craving for justice. I prefer the proverb — “All’s well that ends well.”

This is probably why I generally ask my daughter if I will like “this” book or “that” movie. (My daughter has her Master’s in English Literature and is a book and movie connoisseur.) She knows what I’m really asking — does it have a happy ending. If she answers “yes” to my question, then I know I can handle whatever problems the characters will face because I know the outcome will be good.

Even when I’ve been assured I will like the conclusion, the challenges characters face can seem so insurmountable that I begin to think my daughter’s definition of a happy ending is somehow different than my own. But it always turns out as she promises it will, even if the course to the happy ending is completely different than I expect or want.

I’ve heard it said that Cinderella doesn’t always get her happy ending, but I wonder if perhaps this is because she has concluded there is only one possible happy ending. And just maybe there is more than one way to find the happiness and satisfaction she seeks.

I recently finished reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and I must admit I read these four books faster than any books I’ve ever read. I had not read book reviews or commentaries, so I was completely in the dark about the story’s finale. But my daughter assured me I would be happy with the conclusion.

Even still, I read as fast as I could because I wanted to see if she was right. And now that I’ve finished the books, I’m actually wishing I had taken more time to ponder the unfolding saga of the story.

This wish has me contemplating my own life story. I know without a doubt that the author of my story is the best writer of happy endings. Actually, since God promises us eternal life, our story doesn’t exactly have an ending. “And this is the promise that He made to us — eternal life.” (I John 2:25)

Believing in eternal life is perhaps the best ending we can hope for — an ending that never comes. The promise of eternity pretty much dismisses the idea that it’s ever too late or that there is no hope.

Many aspects of my life journey have not turned out as I first imagined them. But I’ve learned, and continue to learn, that there is more than one way to obtain the “happy ending” in any circumstance. This has always required that I remove my own preconceived notions and limited expectations and remember that God has happiness as part of His plan.

God said, “I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I believe in a happy ending — or future. It’s just that simple. I don’t want to ever buy into the idea that the world is cruel and dark and people are damned. So expecting and anticipating a happy ending gives me hope.

Lately I’ve been thinking I need to slow down and enjoy my journey more. What’s my hurry anyway? If life is unending, then what’s most important is the journey. I don’t want to miss anything. Every moment needs to be cherished, every lesson treasured, every triumph celebrated.

So I guess I’m not really in search of a happy ending after all — but rather a happy future and journey along the way. And I’m learning that the more I understand that happiness is a God-promised present possibility and not something obtainable only in the distant future, the more happiness is within my grasp right now. The future is tomorrow as well as the next hour or moment of our day.

I’m beginning a new book, and this time I hope to take more time to enjoy what I’m reading. Of course, my daughter says you know it’s a good book when you can’t put it down until you’ve finished it. But as part of my new goal to relish every moment in my life journey, I do plan to try.

The appeal of “Twilight”

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

Unlike my daughter, I’ve not read Stephenie Meyer’s book series — yet. But I was probably as excited as she was to see the first movie in the saga. And now I look forward to reading the books. I don’t think I can wait to see the next three movies to know the rest of the story.

I can understand how Meyer’s books have become a cultural phenomenon. Forget the intrigue of an unorthodox love story between a mortal and a vampire. My husband wasn’t able to get beyond that image and didn’t go with my daughter and me to see the movie.

The concept of a forbidden love affair between two people worlds apart has been around for centuries. My daughter says we can thank Shakespeare for that.

But perhaps the idea of wanting what you can’t have is natural to human nature. Even a toddler is passionate with that desire.

I’m not about to give away any details from the story. You’ll have to read the books or go see the movie yourself — if you are, like me before today, one of the few left in the world who doesn’t know the story. But my daughter said something after the movie that possibly sums up the extreme appeal of Meyer’s story. She said, “We all want to be loved that much.”

I can concur that by Twilight’s end, I had an overwhelming feeling of the love that had just been portrayed — a love that protects without regard for one’s own safety. A love that cherishes every moment shared with the object of one’s affections. A love that wants what is best for another even if it means sacrificing one’s own happiness.

In spite of the conflict the story begins to unfurl, this movie ended with my sigh as I basked in the deep love shown by someone who loves another more than self. Interestingly enough, I found myself contented and satisfied by pondering the purity of such love.

And why not?

Who doesn’t want to be loved by someone who gives love without conditions?

I feel loved in this way by my husband. But after watching Edward’s love for Bella, I’m compelled to ask myself if I show my husband the depth of my love for him every day of our life together.

With the holiday season upon us, I can’t help but also think about Jesus’ teachings on love. He taught us to love others regardless of how they treat us — even our enemies. He said, “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” (Luke 6:31)

A good guideline for any and all types of relationships!

In other words, if we want to be loved unconditionally, we must give our love unconditionally.

As I anticipate the next movie in this love story, I’ll continue to think about the love Edward feels for Bella. I’ll put Meyer’s books at the top of my Christmas wish list. And I’ll do my best to show my husband how unconditionally and passionately I love him.

A marriage saved from the green-eyed monster

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

In my early married days, I often struggled with bouts of extreme sadness and anger as well as paranoia and fear. Unbeknownst to my dear husband — and myself, actually — I was suffering from a bite by the green-eyed monster. Jealousy is a nasty beast. And its wounds, if left undetected and untreated, can devastate a relationship. I was yet to learn that jealousy is not the same as love. Sometimes people equate feeling jealous about someone with loving them. I’m here to tell you that jealousy is not love but rather the fear of losing love.

Sadly, jealousy is all too familiar in human relationships. In fact, it has been reported wherever researchers have looked, in every culture, taking a variety of forms. Indeed, jealousy is an enduring topic of interest for scientists, songwriters, romance novelists and theologians.

Of the human emotions, sociologists say jealousy is one of the most powerful and painful. And it is deadly. Statistical studies rank jealousy as the third most common motive for murder. Jealousy certainly seemed to be Cain’s motivation for killing his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). It seemed to be what impelled Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Genesis, Chapter 37). And it probably was part of the reason the Pharisees hated Jesus.

But — is jealousy normal, natural and unavoidable?

Without a doubt, it is impossible to think clearly when you are jealous. Truth gets distorted, reason becomes clouded and emotion turns irrational.

For me, jealousy could have been defined as the emotional reaction to a scenario in my mind that was not true. I often perceived situations and people as threats. I also had a deep fear of loss or betrayal, although this belief was completely unfounded. While I sensed my insecurities were without basis, I didn’t know how to make a change.

Overcoming jealousy is like changing any emotional reaction or behavior. It begins with awareness.

In my search for help, I read Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on marriage and wedlock. The first statement that grabbed my attention was “Jealousy is the grave of the affections.” She wrote of the “narrowness and jealousy” that seeks to confine a wife or a husband. And she emphasized that home “should be the centre, though not the boundary, of the affections.”

I was beginning to understand that living by the “Golden Rule” was imperative in marriage, as in all walks of life. As Jesus put it, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). I certainly would not have liked my husband restricting my time spent with my friends or family. And I would not have liked being made to feel guilty about the time I did spend. But my husband was never the one who did these things — only me.

I knew my husband loved me and wanted me to be happy. He endeavored to do whatever he could to make me happy. He was a good friend to his many friends and a faithful and loving son to his parents. Should such admirable qualities and actions be punished by his wife?

So where did my unwarranted fear of losing his love come from?

It seems I needed to learn more about God’s infinite and unconditional love for me. And I needed to become more aware of my spiritual identity as the woman God created — a whole-souled woman who, too, loves unconditionally.

Such a woman knows well the spiritual strength and fortitude her Father endowed her with. And she knows well how to live love, as Paul defined in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. This love “cares more for others than for herself; doesn’t want what it doesn’t have; doesn’t have a swelled head; isn’t always ‘me’ first; doesn’t keep score of the mistakes of others; doesn’t revel when others grovel; always looks for the best; never looks back.”

She has great patience and sees and appreciates goodness in everyone. With a congenial temperament, she is not easily agitated. Her love is expansive enough to neutralize any friction. And she is determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant.

It turns out God had given me the antidote for bites from the green-eyed monster. It was my whole-souled womanhood. Putting these qualities into practice in my marriage healed my jealousy wounds and built a permanent and powerful defense, enabling me to ward off any future approaches of this nasty beast. And my romance and marriage with my husband is 28 years strong in love.

Let’s talk marriage

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

I want to talk about marriage. And not because it’s a political, social and religious hot topic .I just want to talk about what marriage is to me. Not what it could be or should be or isn’t.

I know I’ve said this before, but my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year. I suppose this is still worthy of recognition since the odds remain at 50-50 for marriages to end in divorce.

I wanted to be the first in my family who didn’t get a divorce. And… it looks like I’ve made it. These past 25 years have taught me much about the love that makes marriage go round and round.

I had heard that love often comes when you aren’t looking for it. Such was true for me. Toward the end of my college years, it happened in an unexpected moment. I fell in love with John while standing in line for an amusement park ride. City girl meets country boy. Seven months later, we married.

Of course, I admit “love at first sight” is ignited by infatuation. But a spark can grow into a blazing fire when given proper attention.

To me, marriage is a love story. It’s a union of two hearts. Not a way of life, but life itself. I believe when husbands and wives live love, they give eternal life to their marriage.

In his definition of love in his letters to the Corinthians, Paul explains how to live love. He says that love is patient and kind. Love is not proud or self-seeking. Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. Love never tires of loving.

God is love. The source of love — kindness, compassion, affection. So of course, husbands and wives must be children of love. Both are unique and individual expressions of this love. This knowledge has helped me pray through moments when I was tempted to see my husband (or myself) as anything but the expression of God’s love.

God has created us capable of expressing love. Understanding this has helped me see that it is my nature to choose and live love. With love as my center, it has become natural to choose patience instead of frustration. Empathy instead of criticism. Joy instead of sadness. Peace of mind instead of anger. Trust instead of doubt. Forgiveness instead of condemnation.

Remember, I am sharing my conclusions about love and marriage after 25 years of practice. No doubt, my view has been shaped by years of progress, prayer and many tender lessons.

In marriage, two people choose to come together to honestly share their lives with each other. Being together is effortless. Being together is so enjoyable you want time to stand still.

Marriage is “being there” for each other. Taking care of each other. Making the other person feel special. Knowing what is needed without being asked.

Communication in marriage is a sweet interchange of openness and respect. Giving each other encouragement is the greatest of all gifts.

Having fun together and laughing together is natural in marriage. Laughter keeps us from taking our own point of view too seriously. Laughter can break the spell of anger or frustration. In fact, laughter helps me fulfill my grandmother’s advice, “Never go to bed mad.”

Romantic getaways and vacations nurture the love story — even if they last only moments. But they are moments for the husband and wife exclusively — walking in the park holding hands or having a candlelight dinner together. Or if you live in the country like we do — having a rendezvous in a hay truck parked next to the stock pond surrounded by cows is pretty darn nice, too.

Marriage is strengthened by trust. Enriched by passion. Brightened by sweet surprises.

Yes, I do love being married. So, how could I not talk about what I love most in my life!

Looking for love?

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

For the first time in American history, there are more singles than married folks. Yep, heard it on the morning news the other day! Of course, another statistic reported that most of these single folks still live in pairs; they’re just not too quick to officially tie the knot. Interviews with many single women indicated they do still hope and plan to marry someday.

Although marriage may not be uppermost in the minds of all single folks, it does still hold true that singles are looking for love — a companion, a partner, a date. This is a topic that I can’t approach without thinking about my mother.

My mother has buried two husbands and one ex-husband, and at 80 years old, is currently married to a very dear man. After each marriage, she declared to me, “I’ll never marry again.” Indeed, as far as I could tell, she never looked for a man and didn’t appear to want one. Yet men seem to be irresistibly drawn to her, like bees to honey. Perhaps my mother has some helpful advice for those looking for love.

Let me introduce you. She’s a Georgia peach, as some would say, born and raised in and around Atlanta. She may be among the last true Southern belles, but I hope not. She has a welcoming smile, engaging embrace, friendly tone of voice and thoughtful gestures. She has honeysuckle-sweet charm and a mischievous spirit that covers up (at least to the eyes of men) her smart and savvy ability to get what she wants and when she wants it.

She’s always been brutally honest with every man she has met. She had one true love that would come first in her life, and she made this perfectly clear the first time she met a new man. Her relationship with God would have top priority, and nothing would ever interfere with what God wanted her to do.

There’s a verse in Psalms that expresses the depth of her love for her Lord. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Psalms 42:1) Over the years, she has learned all too well that God’s love is a lasting love, a love she can count on. She knows God never takes His love away or disappoints, nor does His love die or have conditions. So, she has spent her entire life longing and endeavoring to know God better and cherishing His eternal love for her.

It was the first time she found herself without a husband that the Bible assured her, “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name. … ” (Isaiah 54:5) I think she believed these words and never again thought she needed a man to be her husband. Whether or not God thought she needed a companion throughout her life or thought the men in her life needed her, I’m not sure. That God meets our every need, there is no doubt. Only for very brief moments in her lifetime has my mother been without a husband.

She’s always been able to appreciate the goodness in everyone and, by the way, she’s convinced that there truly is good in every person. My mother would tell you that God created us good, that the first chapter in Genesis confirms this. In fact, the chapter concludes, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) My mother has yet to not find goodness in someone. Perhaps the men in her life were attracted to her recognition and appreciation of their goodness.

After a few years of looking for love in wrong places and faces, I decided to try “appreciating goodness” myself and see if this point of view could bring more good into my own experience — and love life. This was the year before I met the man who would become my husband of soon-to-be 26 years. A previous long relationship was so disappointing that I didn’t want to experience that type of heartbreak again. So, the year I met my husband, I decided to focus on completing my college degree and appreciating goodness everywhere and in everyone, including all the men I was meeting, being friends with and dating.

This viewpoint not only changed how I saw others, it changed my view of myself and consequently my actions toward others, too. You might say I started living by my Southern belle upbringing, which really is another way of saying living by the “golden rule” — treating others as well as you would have them treat you.

Who would have thought I would meet my husband in line at an amusement park ride? Each summer I took my niece to Six Flags over Texas to celebrate her birthday. My date had to work at the last minute and couldn’t go with us, so my niece and I set off for the park without him. As it turns out, my soon-to-be husband’s date couldn’t go to the park with him that day. We met in line and began a conversation. The rest is history. The old adage “Love comes when you least expect it” was true for us. But I believe with all my heart that meeting my darling husband was God’s plan for us both.

So you’re looking for love? My mother’s life-example teaches we can trust our loving Father to meet and provide for our every need. Being the loving children of God that we are means we spread good will, consideration and graciousness to all we meet. Before you and I know it, we will be like my steel magnolia mother with her captivating charm and impeccable manners. We’ll experience love because we’re giving it and living it — extravagantly.