The courage to try

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I suspect most of us are aware of the American cargo ship captain — Capt. Richard Phillips — who was held hostage by Somali pirates on a lifeboat in a five-day standoff. I’m writing this column only hours after hearing the good news of his rescue by US Navy SEALS, and no doubt there will be many more details published before this column is in print. But what I know now impels me to write.

“A model for all Americans” is how President Obama described the Captain’s courage. Rear Admiral Richard Gurnon, President of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy where Phillips was a graduate, said speaking of Capt. Phillips, “He was the good shepherd — he exchanged his life for the life of his crew.” And Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said, “The actions of Capt. Phillips and the civilian mariners of Maersk-Alabama were heroic. They fought back to regain control of their ship, and Capt. Phillips selflessly put his life in the hands of these armed criminals in order to protect his crew.”

The Captain’s decision to surrender himself to the pirate hijackers in an effort to safeguard his crew certainly epitomizes Jesus words, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

How fitting that news of the happy resolution of his saga came on Easter morning!

Evil didn’t win the battle against Capt. Phillips, just as it didn’t against Jesus. Jesus’ wrongful crucifixion was not the end of his story. His resurrection teaches us many lessons, but among them is to never give up our hope and faith in the power of good. I feel certain that Capt. Phillips didn’t give up hope.

I can’t help but appreciate the fact that a couple of days before his rescue, the Captain tried to save his own life by leaping into the ocean. Perhaps this is also an important lesson for us all.

How many times have I feared that I wouldn’t be able to do something successfully and I didn’t even make an attempt? Or how many times did I fail at something in my first try and became so depressed, disappointed and despondent that I never tried again? I suspect that given the opportunity the Captain would have continued to try to escape.

And consider his crew. They didn’t accept defeat in their initial capture and found their way to freedom from their hijackers by making the heroic effort to regain control of their ship.

There’s something very empowering as I consider the choices made by Capt. Phillips and his crew — choices that resonate with the Psalmist’s resolute declaration, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalms 118:17)

The model of courage we have witnessed inspires us to see that we all have the ability to take actions that can result in life — in our happiness, in our satisfaction, in solutions, improvement and progress. We don’t have to be overwhelmed, oppressed or overcome by uncertainty, indecision, rejection, failure, illness or debt and loss. Keeping our faith certain and our hope strong that good is omnipotent and God-ordained will make us courageous as we face whatever would try to capture our peace, our freedom, or our life and livelihood.

I love the many “un” synonyms for “courageous” such as undaunted, unalarmed, undismayed, unafraid as well as unswerving, unfaltering, unflinching, and unconquerable — all qualities that would keep us trying again and again until we reach our goal or solve a problem.

We may never face life or death choices like Capt. Phillips and his crew. But whatever our endeavor, we can choose to never give up. We can choose to not readily accept defeat. We can choose to never believe we are without hope.

May there come a day when humanity learns to live in peace with one another and no longer tries to rob another of what they could earn for themselves rightfully, legally and fairly.

Let’s continue our prayers for the safety and freedom of the many that remain hostages of pirates.

Facing down fear

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

“Trick or treating”on Halloween became one of my earliest lessons in facing down fear.

Although I was very comfortable and even boisterous in familiar surroundings, when confronted by what was new and different, unusual and uncertain, I was shy, anxious and intimidated. It was amazing, actually, how my fear in such moments could completely change my disposition and behavior.

Some say that fearful feelings are not always a bad thing, as they do cause us to pause and check for safety, which is a good thing. But being afraid doesn’t always mean we’re in danger. More often, fear is a debilitating and life-limiting emotion that creates much anguish, and generally all for naught.

Going “trick or treating” hand in hand with my mother provided me a sense of security and protection as we approached neighbors my mom knew and I didn’t. I loved candy, so the thought of filling my bag with candy was an incentive to go forward, even in doing that which I was most uncomfortable in doing.

Moving forward, walking the line between scary and safe, helped me to know that fear can’t and shouldn’t be allowed to stop my progress. My confidence was strengthened by my actions, and I learned a lesson in facing down fear — that fear is often baseless and has no other reality other than my attention to it.

Henry Ford once said, “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” Indeed, many people don’t live their dreams because they are too busy living their fears.

I had many more opportunities in my childhood to face down fear. At one time, sleeping in a dark room was scary to me because I was frightened by strange shapes and sounds in the night. I was paralyzed in my bed by fear, and I could not sleep without a light on or my mom sleeping with me. It didn’t matter that what I feared was illusion, nothing more than a feeling existing only in my imagination. Fear had become a bad nighttime habit that seemed impossible to break. I knew that I didn’t need to be afraid, and I longed to conquer the crippling feeling.

The more I learned about God, the more I believed He was always with me, loving me and caring for me. I began to get a comforting sense of His presence, just like I did when “trick or treating” with my mom, with my hand secure in hers. This knowledge increased my courage to face the fear of darkness.

Reading how Moses responded when God told him to throw down his rod and it became a serpent was also helpful. The Bible says that at first Moses ran from the serpent. God then directed Moses to grab the serpent by the tail, and when he obediently did so, it again became his rod (Exodus 4:2-4). It was an interesting direction that God gave to Moses, since generally speaking, grabbing a snake by its tail is the most dangerous way to do so. Moses’ obedience to God’s direction was grounded in his trust and confidence in God, so he didn’t question the wisdom of the instruction. Boldly grabbing the serpent by its tail resulted in the “false evidence” disappearing.

I’m reminded of what is known by many as an acronym for fear — false evidence appearing real. Moses’ example along with this acronym was the impetus needed as I prayed and spiritually reasoned, enabling me to grab my fear of the dark by its tail. Reassured with the knowledge that God was with me, each time I thought I heard or saw something, I simply turned off the horror show in my mind that was feeding the fear and got out of bed to prove there was indeed nothing to be afraid of. And soon enough, I was able to sleep peacefully alone — and without a light.

I once read an analogy that compared fear to a projector. If you step back with your fear projector, the images being projected get bigger until they become a formidable image. But if you move forward with your fear projector, the images become tiny and shrink into nothingness.

Confronting and challenging our fear will weaken its hold on us, and fear will soon diminish until it disappears. Knowledge of the facts — both spiritual and physical — dispels illusions and the dark imaginings of the mind.

Being afraid is not a natural, normal or God-ordained feeling. God certainly does not want his beloved children to be tormented. He surely gives us the qualities and abilities we need to be well, happy, successful and productive. “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God is giving us all we need to face down and conquer any fear and prove it powerless in our life. But there is never a fear we must face alone. He is always with us, helping us to do whatever we need to do. With our hand securely held by His, we are safe, secure and protected.

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.

Never beyond God’s help

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

I was alone in my bedroom lying on the bed. The pain in my chest was so intense that I couldn’t move. My daughter was visiting for the weekend, but she was still asleep in her room with the door shut and her husband was in the living room at the other end of the house watching television. My husband was out making a delivery to a hay customer. I couldn’t cry aloud for help – but I didn’t think anyone would hear me anyway. Was I helpless? What could I do?

Words from a hymn in the Christian Science hymnal were the first to come to my rescue: “God is my strong salvation; What foe have I to fear? In darkness and temptation, my light, my help, is near. Though hosts encamp around me, Firm in the fight I stand, What terror can confound me, With God at my right hand?” (Hymn 77)

Then the Biblical promise my mother often quoted assured me: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8)

I immediately felt calmer. The fear that had gripped me began to subside. What came to mind next was the first sentence from what Mary Baker Eddy called “the scientific statement of being” in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “There is no life, truth,  intelligence, nor substance in matter.” (p. 468)

Thinking of the pain as synonymous with matter, I reasoned, “There is no life in pain, there is no truth in pain, there is no intelligence in pain, and there is no substance in pain.” I knew these statements were true because God is the only life, truth, intelligence and substance. I knew that I was the reflection of my Father-Mother God, that every part of my being reflected God. I knew there could not be a moment when I was not reflecting the absolute perfection of God.

From the time I had first started studying Christian Science, the truth that “all things are possible to God” – at all times and in all situations – had become very real to me. Mary Baker Eddy’s study of the Bible, the healings she had, and those she helped others to have, resulted in her discovery that healing was a natural outcome of acknowledging, affirming and practicing the laws of God that are found in the Bible. For the benefit of all, she explained these laws in Science and Health, telling how to apply them in the practice of scientific, mental healing.

Often in the past, when I prayed, I had found it helpful and strengthening to walk around, literally pacing back and forth, affirming the laws of God as law to my being , applicable to whatever situation I was praying about at the time. I would liken myself to a lawyer on a case, arguing for the innocence of a client.

While this time I could not do my usual walking and pacing, I argued I could still mentally affirm just as powerfully that God was governing and protecting me.

I recalled a statement from the chapter entitled “Christian Science Practice” in Science and Health: “Insist vehemently on the great fact which covers the whole ground, that God, Spirit, is all, and that there is none beside Him.” (p. 421) So although I could not move, I could “insist vehemently” that I was not alone and helpless, that God was always with me. I could “insist vehemently” that every thought, every hymn verse, every Bible passage, every statement from Science and Health, that came to me, represented laws of God coming to my rescue and affirming my innocence – my exemption from suffering.

After a short time, the pain abated. I could move close enough to reach the telephone, and was able to call my husband on his cell phone. He was just driving through the gate of our ranch. When he got to the house, he called a Christian Science Practitioner to further assist me prayerfully, because at that moment, I was leery of trying to stand and walk, fearing that the pain might return.

The practitioner assured me that I was completely safe in God’s care, and that nothing could intrude upon my perfect soundness. He also told me that I could trust the effectiveness of the prayerful work I had been doing. In that one call, the remaining doubt that I might not be totally free was completely dispelled.

I was soon able to stand and walk and get on with my family activities planned for the day. The pain did not return. I was fine and remained fine.

This experience has filled me with hope. Hope that says, “It’s never too late.” “We’re never out of reach.” “Nothing is beyond repair.” “No situation is too dire.” I truly believe there can be no extremity in our body, in our family, with our job – even on a battlefield – where the healing laws of God can’t rescue us.

Think your life is over? Think again!

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

In the past few weeks, newspapers and the airwaves have been filled with scenes and news of devastation and images of despair. Yet scattered among the procession of tragedies have been incredible tsunami survivor accounts. Stories that captivate the heart and fill the soul with hope. Stories that respond to the ages-old question – “How could God allow this to happen?” – with illustrations that protest, “He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He didn’t.”

One survival story has changed my life. Before I read her story, I had been having bad dreams, almost daily, imagining myself being overcome by massive waves. I would wake up in a sweat of fear vowing there can’t be a situation where God’s helping hand can’t reach me and save me. But during my dreams my heart would again sink with doubts and little confidence.

Reading her survival account has given me encouragement to meet disaster or catastrophe in life. I thought if she can survive a tsunami of this proportion, what can I not survive, endure or overcome?

I found her story on the website, and my attention was first grabbed by its title, “From a tsunami survivor: ‘I will not die’.” It was the story of a woman from Singapore who was in Sri Lanka for the wedding of her niece, along with other family members and friends. They were, like many others I’ve read about, having breakfast in their beach hotel when the monstrous wall-high waves hit. I was immediately drawn into her experience – not knowing how to swim, being crushed by furniture and other debris as she reached out for something to save her.

It took my breathe away when she told the first thought that came to her as she tumbled in the water. Words from the Bible, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” But this promise was not at first enough to give her assurance. More thoughts came to her, some giving her direction such as “Cycle…paddle…use your legs.” Remember I said she didn’t know how to swim. She thought of Jesus calming a storm on the sea with those powerful three words, “Peace, be still.” And also the words, “…know that God is here.” And again that declaration, “I shall not die, but live…” She said that it really is true how your life flashes through your mind at such a moment of life and death.

I was comforted that in her extreme peril, she received what she described as “angel thoughts”. In her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines angels as “God’s thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions…” As I read all the “angel thoughts” this woman heard or felt, Eddy’s words, “These angels deliver us from the depths” seemed poignantly true.

I’ve decided perhaps it’s not necessary to try and explain why bad things happen or where evil comes from. But the need is to learn how to conquer evil. How even against all odds, I could be victorious. I could be saved. I could be healed. And my survival is what destroys evil by proving it powerless over me.

I think to begin, I need to know that God is not a destroyer, but a Creator. A protector. A preserver of humanity. A God of love. As the book of Job says, God is not in the wind, earthquake or fire. But God is the “still small voice” that is present no matter how dire the situation and will direct me to safety. Then maybe my prayers based on this knowledge could help others, too.

Certainly, I may never be faced with a tsunami. But there are other faces of evil that cause me fear. The threat of tornados. Death of loved ones. Illness. Accident. Injury.

Do I give up? Do I believe there is no hope? Do I resolve to a life of chance, vulnerability, and uncertainty?

The inspiration I’ve gained from one woman’s victory over a formidable foe, has strengthened my confidence and trust in the mightiest power of all – the Divine. While I may face struggles and hardships that at times bring me to my knees, I can be assured that the “still small voice” will be with me, will lift me up and guide me onward and upward to a new day. To solutions. Freedom. Peace. Comfort. Healing.

May I have the strength and faith to look at my adversities and proclaim, “I shall not die, but live…”