Cards, Life and the hand you are dealt.

7_playing_cardsMy first memory of playing cards was with my late grandmother, “Mom Mom Robinson.”   I enjoyed the various card games she taught me and have since played countless games of Poker, Rummy, Old Maid, Uno, etc. with my friends and family.  As the deck is being shuffled and the dealer deals your hand, it’s exciting to see what you will receive.   Once the cards are spread in your hand, it is your job to play the right card at the right time and see if you can win with what you have been given.  When my kids were younger, we played “Go Fish” regularly.  Competition coarses through my veins, even if my opponents can’t read or tie their shoes.  Even against my cute little seven-year old, I will find a way to leave him with the Old Maid.

I have learned that the game of cards is a lot like life.  You cannot control what cards you receive, only the cards you play.  We all receive genetic cards in our hand.   If blue eyes or heart disease or cancer runs in your family, the “chances” of you receiving one of those cards are high.  We all receive nurture cards.   If you grew up with a worrisome mother or angry father, you will probably receive a similar card in your hand.  Even the environment of the game is decided for you.  Some get to play in the freedom of America.  Others must play their cards in the poverty of Africa.  You have little control of the cards you receive.   You merely control what you choose to play and when you choose to play them.

For example, some receive the “Queen of cancer” card.   Their doctor diagnoses them with a stage four tumor and suddenly their outlook on the game of life is bleak.  How can they possibly win this game with that card in their hand?  Some receive the “Ace of unemployment” card.   The game has been going great until their employer hands them the dreaded “laid off” card.  Others receive the “Jack of betrayal” or the “King of sudden tragedy” card.   Of no fault of their own, they are given an undesired card of pain and must figure out how to navigate the rest of their life with this disadvantage.  Maybe the cards you have received aren’t face value cards.  Maybe it’s a “two of broken bone?” or a “three of minor car accident”?  Whether you receive a terrible face value card or a smaller, less significant card of annoyance, we all can relate to a hand of difficulty.

Of course, with every dealt hand, there are some good cards as well.   The “four of promotion” card can come from an employer after seeing your consistent hard work.  The “five of cancer free” card can come to those who fight the terrible disease and refuse to let the game end there.   Obviously, some of our cards are not tangible at all.  The “six of faith” card can be played by all – if you possess it.  The “seven of attitude” card is one we all have in our hand, though whether it is positive or negative is entirely up to the holder.  I love watching the “eight of humor” card in action.  Regardless of the current hand, those who play this card are just more fun to be around – even if they are losing the game.   The types of cards are endless.   Whereas a real card game gives you about seven cards per hand, life offers you much more.   Whereas a real card game might give you a joker or Old Maid, reality can provide some life changing cards in a matter of moments.

The truth is, most of us, at varying points, do not like the cards we are dealt.  When we compare them with others, we often complain and whine and wish we had their hand.   No hand is perfect and we cannot always attain desired cards.  Regardless of what we are given, we must figure out a way to play our best, play within the rules and do what we can with what we have been given.

  • Think about the cards Helen Keller was given.  Just shy of her 2nd birthday, she contracted an illness that left her permanently deaf and blind.   Without any of the advantages of modern medicine or technology, she became a world-famous speaker and writer, learning how to communicate in spite of the cards in her hand.
  • Jackie Robinson was given many cards to play.  Most impressive was his ability to play baseball.  He was also born black, a disadvantaged card to possess in the first half of the 20th century in America.  In spite of his race, Jackie played the card of resilience and by his example led the way for thousands of people of color to enter the realm of professional sports.
  • If given the choice, many would trade cards with Oprah Winfrey, a television talk show host, producer and philanthropist. The only thing more impressive than her successes are the cards she was given to play with.  Born to teenage parents in poverty-stricken Mississippi, she was repeatedly molested by male relatives.  To cope, she turned to drugs, alcohol and sex and gave birth to a premature baby when she was just 14.  The baby died a month later.  In spite of the beginning cards in her hand, she turned her life around and has become a true American success story.
  •  Chris Gardner could be any person reading this blog.   Married with one child, he invested his entire life savings into a business endeavor that did not work – financially devastating his family.  Soon after, his wife left him and his son.  If his loss of income and marriage were not bad enough, he also received “the card” of homelessness.  Chris took the cards he was given and learned how to win in spite of them.  In fact, so successful was his turn around that you can watch the story yourself on Netflix.  The movie made about his life is called, “The pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith.

I learned about the painful cards life can deal to you at the early age of five.   One month shy of my 6th birthday, I sat in the living room with my brother and sleeping father.   My brother and I were playing with some toys while Dad took a nap on the couch.  It was a rainy, cold December morning and I had no idea that I was about to receive a life-changing face value card of tragedy.   Without warning, a loud popping sound came from my Dad’s chest.  Immediately sensing a problem, I ran to get my Mom.  While I was explaining what I heard, another popping sound was heard.   When we reached Dad, he didn’t look good.  Something was definitely wrong.  Mom called 911 and within minutes the paramedics were there working on him.  Their efforts were in vain.  My Dad’s lungs (and my world) had collapsed.  He was 30 years old.  Cause of death: Viral Pneumonia. 

Nothing can prepare you for such a moment, particularly when you are five.  No one in my life had ever died so I was pretty unfamiliar with the concept.  A young child is not supposed to bury a parent.  A son is not supposed to face this world without his father.  Moms are wonderful but a son needs his Daddy.  When a boy grows up without his dad, he doesn’t just feel sad – he feels lost.  Navigating the woods without a compass is dangerous.  Navigating this world without a parent is terrifying.  That is the card I was dealt and it has impacted my “game” in profound ways.

I mention this card of mine, not for sympathy, but as a point.  We ALL have received unwanted, even painful cards in our life.  It comes with the territory of living in a fallen world amidst fallen people.  The cards we receive are up to God.  What we do with them is up to us.  As for  me, this particular painful card taught me some valuable lessons about hands and the cards that are in them.

  • Cards are not randomly given.  They are tailor-made for you.    Some may think we live in a random world or that our planet is governed by chance and luck.  It is not.  Like it or not, everything happens for a reason, even if you never understand the reason this side of eternity.  The cards you receive (good and bad) are in your hand for a reason.  You were given your specific cards in this century in your country in your family for “such a time as this.”    
  • The cards can help you grow.   Some are given a disability card at birth.  Others are given a card of privilege.  Regardless, each card can help you grow in ways you cannot fully appreciate in the moment.  For most of us, we have to lose the cards in our hands before we ever truly realize just how important they really were.  Some of you lost your Queen and are now holding a Joker.   Others may have lost their King but are learning how to play with a Two of Hearts instead.   Whatever you possess, play it wisely.   Your future is in your hands, literally.
  • The cards you play often benefit others.  How many times do we have a card in our hand and the moment we lay it down, someone else lights up with excitement?  The cards we discarded as trash serve as someone else’s treasure.  To us, they were not wanted or valuable.  To another, they are precious and useful.  Though I never want to imply that relationships are disposable, sometimes it is important to lay down certain cards (people, jobs, etc) so that another can pick them up and benefit their life.   Even if you were the one discarded, you still possess value.  Just like a card, your value is intrinsic.  Just because one player doesn’t want you does not mean that others won’t.  And sometimes, it is the card that is discarded that ends up winning the game for those who pick it up.  In the game of cards, we all know this is true.  Many times we slowly and hesitatingly lay down a card fearful that someone else will pick it up and make us regret the decision.   The discarded card can benefit others.

What are the cards in your hand?  Have you looked at them lately and really studied them?  Have you thought about discarding a few?   Perhaps your game is stagnant because you are holding on to cards you shouldn’t?   Perhaps you need a few “newer” cards from the draw pile to help you move on in the game?   Or maybe you need to stop laying down face value cards and begin learning the true value of what you have?   Maybe if we look at our personal circumstances as the cards that life brings us, it will change our perspective on this game called “Life.”

I have an old friend who was diagnosed with cancer a few years back.   She was treated and the cancer was removed.  Soon after, she joined a cancer survivors support group and quickly realized that so many in the group lacked hope, peace, comfort.   She found herself being the salve for wounded people.  After weeks of being in this group and getting to know its members, she was struck with two eye-opening truths about her experience:

  1. It is not a group that anyone really wants to join.  The price of admission is cancer.
  2. She realized that her participation in that group had a profound impact on fellow survivors.  She had become a source of encouragement and hope to those around her.  Then the thought hit her, maybe cancer was given to her so that others could see how a Christian handles it.  

Too often, we make the assumption that the things placed in our path are there for us alone.  God, however, is a multi-dimensional God.   Though there is always something we can learn from the experience, perhaps sometimes we endure a trial so that others can learn from our response to it.   Sometimes the lessons may not even be for those on Earth, but perhaps for God’s heavenly audience.   Ask the angels what they learned about their Creator watching Job’s saga unfold before their eyes.  

What cards have you been dealt?   Death of a loved one?  Disease?  Disability?  Unemployment?  Flat tire?  Speeding ticket?   What lessons have you learned from it?   Who are you helping as a result?  You have your particular cards for a reason.   Make it your mission not to waste the cards or the lesson. 

“…and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:4-5)