My husband really enjoys playing poker with the guys. Next to golf, poker is one of his favorite ways to relax with friends. For Christmas 2005, the kids and I gave him a deluxe set of poker chips in a nice, sturdy silver case. A few months later, while my mother stayed with us, Bryan left for a guy’s night out, poker set in hand.
At the dinner table, my mom asked Caroline (then 4) to tell her what Daddy was doing that night. “He is with his friends. They’re putting a puzzle together,” she replied. I giggled. “How do you know that?” my mother asked, amused. “Because he has puzzle pieces in his lunchbox!” Caroline exclaimed.
I have a life-sized picture of that in my mind...a bunch of grown men just hanging out around the table eating Doritos, drinking Mountain Dew, and…putting together a puzzle! Caroline obviously didn’t have a clue about poker!
The rest of us, however, have at least a general knowledge of the game. Your success depends on several things (not the least of which is the ability to bluff, which is why I cannot play worth a hill of beans). It depends more, though, on the hand you are dealt—and your ability to play that hand well.
Two nights ago I was talking to a friend on the phone. She was encouraging me to participate in a weekend retreat that she insisted would help me heal. She prodded, “Of all the people I know who need this, you are the one who just HAS to go.” I know this friend’s heart, and I am confident she would not steer me toward something unless she thought it would benefit me. But, I had to wonder, what is it about me that makes me the ONE person she knows who needs it most? Pride getting in the way, I had to inquire, “Is there something you see in me that makes you want me to go? Is there something in my healing process I am overlooking?” “No,” she said, “I just thought about people I know who have been dealt a really crummy hand, and you come to mind.”
Nice. But, I get why she said that. Anybody who looks at what has happened to me in the past few years can see that I have suffered a lot at once. And, most of it has been completely out of my control. Taking in her remark, I began to get indignant with God. Yeah! I really have been dealt a crummy hand! What’s up with that, God?
Yesterday, I perused my pastor’s “e-votionals” and came across one titled, “Right Now with God.” He discussed the importance of (and the difficulty of) living in the present. He told the story of a woman in prison for murder who maintains to this day that she is innocent. She says she tries to think about what life was like before prison and what it will be like after she is released. She rarely thinks about where she really is. My pastor, mulling over her statement, asked, “How many of us who are free sentence ourselves to a prison of a lost yesterday and an unknown tomorrow?”
Great question. I often have a very hard time enjoying my present. Bryan and the kids, not so much. But, me? Yep. I’m flat out bad at it. It takes a lot for me to lose myself in the moment. It happened once this week that I know of…I was jumping on the trampoline with the girls, and I lost track of space and time. But, it was brief. And, for me, the occurrence is rare.
Last night I was looking at some family pictures from 2006. It was a tough year. I felt sick most of that year and didn’t know why for a long time. My mother-in-law was dying of brain cancer. Bryan and I were chunky—not just a little chunky. And, we looked tired. Because we were. We were young and overwhelmed (parenting three children under age 5) and we were just trying to stay afloat.
But, as I looked at those pictures, I realized that struggle was not the only story of 2006. I saw all three of my adorable little girls with their arms entwined around each other on so many “ordinary” days. I saw innocent times with lots of backyard play and summer fun. I saw dress-up and creek exploration. I saw mealtime and park time and snack time and birthdays and all of the regular stuff of life—all of the “present” moments. And, I remembered it was oh, so good. It was good!
I began to think about what my friend had said: “You have been dealt a crummy hand.” And, I thought about my heart’s subconscious agreement with that. Then, I thought about my pastor’s question: “How many of us who are free sentence ourselves to a prison of a lost yesterday and an unknown tomorrow?” I wondered how many moments I had missed in 2006 (or in any other year, for that matter) because I was imprisoned by my discontent with what had happened or my fear of what might happen. All at once, as if branding my soul, God opened me up and poured in the truth where bitterness had taken root: “You, my beloved,” He said to me, “have been dealt a very, very good hand.” He was right.
Maybe I don’t have a royal flush. But, who would call four aces and a two a bad hand?! We are so often tempted to define our lives by our disadvantages, our trials, our misfortunes, and our pain. I don’t know why it is, but that is just human nature—sin nature. I will always talk about my pain because it has certainly changed me. And, I believe that others who are hurting can benefit from knowing they are not alone in the struggles of life on this earth. There is much to be learned in the school of suffering. But, mark my words: my misfortunes do not define my life! And, they certainly have not dominated it! I pray that I will forever characterize my life by my blessings. They far outnumber my hardships. Furthermore, spiritually, I have inherited EVERYTHING that Christ has been given from God. The Bible says I am co-heir. It says I am entitled to everything the firstborn son has. Wow!
What cards are in your hand? How are you going to play them? Are you sentencing yourself to a prison of a lost yesterday and an unknown tomorrow? Or, can you freely rest in the present? Just because you live in this country and you can read this blog on your computer, it is likely that your present is very, very good indeed.
Learning to live in light of our present blessings is a form of worship. Will you try something with me? Look around you. What does your NOW look like? I see my little girls chilling out in a cozy living room glittering with twinkle lights. I smell the pizza I ordered an hour ago so that I could chill out, too! I hear the carefree sounds of an episode of Phineas and Ferb. I taste the ice cold Diet Dr. Pepper I am drinking so that I can “wake up” for Night of Praise rehearsal at church tonight. And, I feel the tap, tap, tap of the keys on my laptop while snuggling in the soft, red throw blanket on my couch. A pretty great present, if you ask me. In every sense of the word.