Enjoy what you have

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

“You can’t take it with you!” This fact is often given as reason for enjoying what you have whether that is money or possessions. It’s also all the more reason to make the most of life’s moments and time spent with those important to you.

My inspiration for this column came after a conversation with my husband about money. We have different philosophies. Mine focuses on the joy of spending money.

Mind you, I don’t think I’m frivolous with my spending. But I suspect my husband would disagree — at least some of the time. And perhaps I’m biased in my opinion.

I find it interesting that when I recall the many years of my childhood when money was scarce, my memories are not filled with worries or lack but with joy in everything that we had.

I remember many, many happy shopping excursions with my mom! The amount of money that was in the bank was never a focus of concern. That is, until I got married and had more money in the bank than I ever had growing up.

Whether we had one gift or dozens under our Christmas tree each year, the joy was not diminished or increased by the number. No matter how many new school outfits were purchased, my joy was the same. And along with all the joy, was gratitude for everything!

I always had a job during my high school years. And regardless of how much money I had to spend, I only remember the fun in Christmas shopping for my family. I have always found joy in how much I had, and I loved spending my money.

My mom has been the queen of making a little go a long way. She utilized lay-a-way plans when stores offered that service. She saved one month for purchases she wanted to make the next. When it came to clothes, she also mastered the skill of bargain shopping and mix-n-matching. And she has always had fabulous credit. But regardless of which method of spending money she practiced, there was an appreciation — and joy — for everything she was able to buy.

Money has never been the source of worry for her. If there was a need or a desire, she found a way — eventually — to fulfill it. So I grew up never worrying much about money.

I guess that’s why I could head off to college without knowledge of how the tuition was going to be paid that first year, or even the years that followed. I never doubted there would be a way to pay my expenses — whether it would come from my mom saving money, or from me working, or from a grant or loan, money was never the source of my worries.

There comes a time after years of saving money, when we need to start enjoying the fruits of our labor. And now that my husband and I are well into our 50’s, I say there’s no better time than the present to begin doing just that!

Perhaps it was my mom’s perspective on being thankful for everything that provided the key to our enjoyment of what we had.

So maybe with a grateful heart, we will not only enjoy what we have, we will have what we need. Or we’ll be so happy with what we have, that we’ll believe we have what we need. I think it worked that way for me and my mom.

These days I say instead of worrying about what you don’t have, why not enjoy what you do! That’s my philosophy!

Because you are somebody special!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Since my trip to Italy, my husband and I have enjoyed a delicious breakfast routine that often includes French toast, fresh fruit and a yummy cup of cappuccino.

Breakfast has become not only good-tasting but a lovely beginning for each new day.

In Italy, food was delicious and a beautiful picture served on a plate. Since my return — especially at breakfast time — I get immense pleasure in arranging the food on our plates in some exquisite way. It’s amazing how taking the time to do this simple yet thoughtful gesture makes us enjoy our meal all the more, as well as sets the tone for a happy and satisfying day.

Today was one of the mornings when my husband takes his dad to have breakfast with some of his friends. And I thought to myself, “Why shouldn’t I fix myself a good breakfast?” So I did. I found myself taking the time to make my plate as lovely as I do when I’m serving both of us.

As I sat down to eat alone, I observed what I had done. My napkin and silverware were neatly in place on the table, and the arrangement of food on my plate and cappuccino served in an elegant cup and saucer were picture perfect. I thought to myself, “What a special breakfast I’m about to treat myself to.” I couldn’t help but also think, “And why not?”

Because I’m “precious in His sight” were the words that came to my mind!

And this, my friends, is also the reason you should do the same. You, too, are precious in His sight! In other words, you are somebody special!

Believing in our innate value and treating ourselves with care is imperative. If we don’t, we might be tempted to think we don’t matter, that our life doesn’t make a difference or is insignificant. These lies would fool us into believing we are not worthy, not good enough, not skinny enough or not capable enough. None of which is true, by the way!

You are special because you’re you! It is because we are different from one another that makes each of us special. We all have unique gifts and talents. So we can be what God meant us to be — ourselves!

Being special — or being ourselves — means we are exceptional, important, significant, unique, unusual, extraordinary, memorable and uncommon. We have a quality, character and identity that is distinguishable from everyone else. And I believe that each of us has been especially designed for a particular purpose. So my friends, each of us matters.

Many years ago I read a quote by Mother Teresa, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

This quote has often reminded me that my life does matter and is important in my world. And this thought has inspired and encouraged me all the more to want to reach whatever is my ultimate potential in this life.

Give your special self permission to be yourself. Don’t allow yourself, or anyone else, to limit your possibilities by saying what you should or should not do or what you can or cannot do. You must be “you” and whatever that entails!

Do what you love! If you love to write – write! If you love to sing – sing! If you love to farm – farm! If you love to teach – teach! There is a way to be whoever we have been especially created to be.

Being ourselves can require some nurturing and tender, loving care. So, I have found it important to be sure I’m investing in my physical, emotional and spiritual self each day. This includes blocking out time to ponder what is important to me and to consider how precious I am in God’s eyes.

Enjoying your own company by fixing yourself a fabulous meal and serving yourself with elegant stemware is another way to treat yourself with tender and loving care. Why should you do this? Because you are somebody special!


The simple joy of flip flops!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Can anyone remember life before flip flops? I suspect not, since flip flops are at least six thousand years old! I certainly can’t remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t own a pair.

Actually, in the United States, the flip flop caught on during the postwar 1950’s boom — which explains why I’ve always worn them, since I was born in the 1950s. Becoming part of “pop culture,” flip flops became a defining example of an informal lifestyle and came to represent the surf culture in particular. Being a want-to-be beach bum at heart, this is probably one of the reasons why I love to wear them.

What I find especially interesting is that the flip flop has been part of a general overall change in fashion during the past 20 years. Some people call this change the “casual fashion movement.”

In the United States, the flip flop market is estimated at $2 billion retail. It is presumed that most flip flop purchases are made by those between the ages of 5 and 50, which is roughly a consumer population of 200 million. Since I don’t fall within this consumer demographic, I’m here to testify that the flip flop consumer population is at least 200 million and one.

I have a confession, my friends.

I am a flip-flop-oholic. That’s right. I am addicted to flip flops. In fact, I sincerely can’t get enough of them. Just last weekend, I bought three more pairs to add to the more than two dozen on my shoe shelves — or maybe there are more than three dozen on my shelves. I haven’t counted lately. But I really don’t care how many I have. And I have no doubt I will be buying more in the coming weeks, since summertime is upon us!

Lately, I’ve been asking myself why I crave flip flops. Besides the cool and sassy styles, snappy and elegant bling, funky and fancy patterns, and pure, delightful comfort, I think it’s the lifestyle they represent that really whets my appetite.

I’ve reached a time in my life when I want to take life a bit slower and easier. I especially want to take most matters less seriously. And informality is something I want in pretty much every area of my life — church, work, travel, meals or other day-to-day activities.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think “casual” can be taken too far. I still believe there is a right time and place for formality and tradition. I’m not advocating laziness and apathy. Nor am I throwing self-respect aside.

If you could see my closet, you would know I am very fashion conscious and enjoy dressing in the current trends. Living in Texas, where it’s very hot in the summer, I find it’s a pleasure to not wear hose and to have a variety of flip flop styles appropriate for any occasion — to the pool or to a wedding. Even within the casual fashion movement, there is still protocol and etiquette on what to wear and when. Yet, whatever the occasion, there’s something “footloose and fancy-free” about wearing flip flops to it. And I love anything that helps me maintain a carefree and relaxed attitude.

I wish I had learned how to lighten up when I was a young mother. I think I wasted much time and energy fretting and stressing over inconsequential things. I believe both my daughter and I would have been happier without so many rigid schedules to be adhered to. In fact, if I could do young motherhood again, I would opt for more spontaneity and impromptu decisions. And if things didn’t turn out according to my plans, I would be more adaptable and flexible.

My graduate school daughter is undoubtedly happy to have a more casual and lighthearted mom these days. And my advice to her is to not get so consumed by schedules and demands that she forgets to have fun and enjoy what she is doing. Jobs can be accomplished and done well while still maintaining a sunny and easygoing attitude.

So I plan to continue experiencing my simple joy of flip flops — probably much to my husband’s dismay. It’s all part of my plan to enjoy life as simply as possible. Life doesn’t have to be complicated. And I don’t think it is when you relish the simple joys of life — whatever that means to you!

Lighten your load!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

The day had finally arrived. I could hardly believe it. There I was — excitedly sitting on an airplane soon to be heading to Italy. And I was equally excited that one of the movies I was going to watch in-flight was “Up in the Air.” It was one of those movies I wanted to see but didn’t when it was in movie theaters. But perhaps it was more appropriate to see a movie with such a title when one was indeed up in the air!

I’ve been pondering some of the thought-provoking lines from the movie such as when George Clooney is giving his “What’s in your back-pack?” workshops. He explains how “we weigh ourselves down” in many needless ways and asks the question, “How much does your life weigh?”

I had been feeling weighed down with many worries and responsibilities before heading to Italy. And I must admit that while sitting on that airplane, I was already feeling lighter.

I had to come to the conclusion before I left that the same Father-Mother God who was going to take care of me on this trip was going to be taking good care of all my loved ones at home. I had to realize that they each had a direct link to God and didn’t require me to be their negotiator or mediator. And I had to relinquish my self-proclaimed ownership of various responsibilities and any opinion that I was the only one who could take charge of them.

My travel companions had advised me to check only one piece of luggage. This was to make for an easier walk from the parking lot to our place of lodging in Italy. I soon understood why one suitcase was important. The walk from our car was a long one — and very steep and downhill on uneven cobblestones! I’m still amazed at how my luggage wheels survived.

It was an incredible feat for me to check one suitcase, however. I had never done this before, and it required a lot of downsizing of hair products and precise packing of clothes and shoes. I guess anything is indeed possible when one really wants or needs to do that something!

This brings me to another surprising accomplishment. I bought both my daughter and myself an Italian-made purse. The only problem with this lovely gift is that it again required some major downsizing by us both. However, in making the purse switch, we were equally amazed to realize how much we often carry around that isn’t necessary. And again, I was impressed to learn what can be done when we really want to do it.

Who wouldn’t want to lighten their load and lead a calmer life? Such was the bigger question that loomed over me as I traveled to Italy.

Reportedly, overpacking is the biggest travel mistake as well as the biggest life mistake we all make at times. Our life need not be backbreaking. Carrying around unnecessary burdens, fears and worries — especially those that belong to others — throws us off balance. But the main point for me was realizing how much is really unnecessary, pointless, serves no good purpose, and accomplishes nothing good for anyone. So why do we do it?

I’ve found it helpful to remember the Bible Scripture, “…the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chronicles 20:15) when I try to assert my personal responsibility for making life work just so for me and anyone else.

My goal — another lesson learned from my trip to Italy — is to lighten my load for the rest of my life. I can already feel myself shifting from overwhelmed to efficient and have experienced more productive peace-filled days. And remarkably enough, I’m seeing that others can take care of their own lives just fine with God at their helm instead of me.

So my friends, clean out, disencumber, unburden, unload, reduce your backpack, your purse , your wallet — your life — of everything that isn’t yours or necessary. You’ll be surprised at how much less you can get by with. And your life will feel weightless!

When simple is not-so-simple

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I’ve often felt if I could only find a way to simplify my life, I would be happier and my life would be less stressful.

Recently, I came across the opening statement of an online article that caught my attention: “In a world of overwhelming choice, technological complexity and diminishing free time, consumers are desperate to simplify their lives.” (Rob Tannen, director of research at Bresslergroup, a US product design consultancy)

Desperate to simplify is definitely me!

I can’t help but be reminded of the acronym that has been popular in the military, business and government for decades: K – I – S – S. Whether this translates “Keep it simple, stupid” or “Keep it short and simple” or “Keep it short and sweet,” its meaning is obviously focused on whatever simple entails — meaning whatever is easy, uncomplicated, effortless, manageable and fundamental. And I must say that simple does sound like a wonderful life!

Some say the KISS method or principle has its basis in various statements in history, such as Albert Einstein’s, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Or Leonardo Da Vinci’s, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

The Dalai Lama once said that simplicity is the key to happiness in the modern world, and yet for many of us, simplicity feels like the impossible dream. Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

It is certainly not my intent to make my life complicated. I asked my husband why he thought it was so difficult for life to be simple. He said, “People have too many commitments and responsibilities these days. The demands on our time are often too consuming.”

Of course, it can also seem impossible — or not very easy — to shorten our list of commitments and responsibilities. Perhaps we see no way to pare down our list. Then what?

My friends, I wish I could say I’ve figured out the simple solution to this not-so-simple question, but I haven’t. What I have started doing is remembering all the simple things that have made my life so sweet. And I’m discovering that what has brought me the most profound joy are the most simple of things.

When I was a child, simple joys would have been blowing dandelions, making flower necklaces, looking for a four-leaf clover — which required hours sitting in a field of clover, watching clouds and imagining what their shapes looked like, walking barefoot in the grass, or watching for falling stars. Actually, most of these are still on my “what makes me happy” list as an adult!

I would also now add things like listening to the sound of ocean waves, smelling evergreen trees as well as fresh cut hay, going for a walk at dusk, savoring my favorite dessert and relishing in the kiss and hug from a loved one.

Perhaps the simplicity the Dalai Lama was referring to has nothing to do with our human choices or the complexities of our lives. Rather, the simplicity that is central to our happiness is an understanding of the simple truths about God and our spiritual identity as his beloved children.

I can attest that basking in God’s love — even if only for a few moments — does make me feel comforted, nourished and strengthened, which is a lot when I feel my life is too complicated and overwhelmed with demands and choices. Truly, my greatest peace and deepest joy comes from prayerful pondering the infinitude and magnitude of God’s love.

The more I think about all the things that bring me joy — and peace of mind — the more I realize that happiness isn’t dependent upon or restricted by all the details and minutia of our day to day lives. The pleasure in the “simple” is found in our active appreciation of the present. Living in the now tells us there are no ordinary moments. Each moment of our life is extraordinary — a time to marvel at and be marveled by.

Downsizing, de-cluttering and prioritizing are all well and good and can certainly be helpful. Trying to maintain some sense of balance in one’s life is good, too. But I think this summer I’m going to start making sure each day includes at least one of the simple joys that has always brought me happiness. And this includes some quality time with my Father-Mother God, too.

Something tells me that these may be the first steps in simplifying the whole of my life. May you, too, remember the simple joys in your life and fill your summer days with as many as you can.