When I was in seminary, we had a weekly poker game going.
Now, I probably was one of the weaker players of that group. I played conservatively (still do), which some might think is the only thing conservative about me here in Texas.
But I learned a lot about life through poker.
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…
(*insert rim shot*)
Seriously though — sometimes you’re dealt some awesome, seemingly unbeatable cards.
Other times, you’re dealt some bad hands, like a 7-2 off-suit.
But we also know that sometimes the seemingly unbeatable cards ends up as the losing hand and that the worst hand — played right — can be the winning hand (though why you would ever play 7-2 off-suit is the bigger question…)
The good poker players can see each hand as an opportunity, no matter what cards they’ve been dealt.
(And just because we’re talking about poker, I can’t go without quoting from one of my favorite movies ever:
“Listen, if you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table then you ARE the sucker.”)
And of course this:
When this post goes live, I start my 38th trip around the sun.
And, as usual, I spend the last few days before my birthday reflecting on the year that has been.
This is my 3rd birthday in Texas. Time does fly fast…
This year, Frustration decided that it wanted to cuddle with me and try to be my BFF. It seemed to be waiting for me at every turn and every corner, rearing its ugly face and trying to hold my hand.
Once in a while, it drove me to really reframe and question our move to Houston — did I make the right decision to uproot my family and move to a different country? Particularly when it came to Nathanael and just how slow and awful Texas is when it comes to special education (at least compared to California). But hey, as long as our schools have a football team…
(By the way, I still think it was God’s hand that led us to Houston.)
Frustration was nearby during a couple of minor health scares that reminded me that I’m not as young as I like to be.
I am grateful for the health plan of the Texas Annual Conference and the benefits we receive. But at the same time, I just can’t get my mind wrapped around how backwards our health system is.
Look, it’s expensive to be poor. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying we are poor. But sitting in the doctor’s room with ample time to think as tests were being done — I began to realize how truly expensive it must be for the poor to be poor. And how blessed I am to be able in a place where I don’t have to sweat the “small stuff.”
The poor don’t have the luxury to not sweat the small stuff because the small stuff quickly snowballs into major stuff.
I was almost going to not take some of the tests that were recommended by my doctor simply due to the cost. But my wife gave me a talking to and pointed out how stupid I was being. I took the tests.
But how many times are the poor confronted with the horrible choice of health or money/debt?
Why is being poor expensive?
Your tooth hurts, let’s say. But the procedure costs too much and the you can’t handle the debt. So you ignore it, praying that it’ll go away. But we know that it doesn’t. And because you were forced to ignore it, the pain and issue only grows worse. By the time the pain is so unbearable, the cost of what needs to be done is going to be greater because the problem is greater. And insurance … what good insurance can you have when you’re poor to begin with…?
On a side note — I have a slight fear of dentists because when we were living in South Carolina, we had some sort of subsidized health care or medicaid for me since we were poor. I had to go see a dentist in the network and I remember how dingy the office was. Now, I don’t know if it was the dentist or the quality of our coverage, but the tooth that had the cavity? This man just straight up got dentist pliers and yanked it out. Just gripped and pulled. No medication. No numbing agent. No anesthesia. Just yanking. I still distinctly remember the crunch I heard (felt?) as tooth was forced out of my gums. I think I was in second grade.
But I digress.
Here’s what I learned this year, though.
Stop complaining about the hands I got dealt and start doing what I can based on what I have and what my abilities are.
I can’t control what’s out of my hands.
I can’t control what someone does; how someone thinks; I can’t control someone’s reaction; I can’t control the weather.
So stop wasting time; energy; life trying to change what I can’t control.
However, there are things that are under my control.
I can control what I do; what I think; how I react.
I can control the weather. Wait. No. I can’t. At least not yet.
Let’s do the best with the hand that I got dealt with. No amount of bitching, moaning, complaining, and whining is going to change my hand. And sure, this time I around, I may have been dealt a crappy hand, but ride it out. There’s always the next hand; the next round. There’s always the next game.
The danger of Frustration is that it wants to start piercing your heart with pangs of bitterness until feel you so much bitterness in your heart, you can taste it in your mouth.
Letting Frustration linger is an invitation for it to take permanent residence in your heart. Once you ask it to move in with you — let’s just say it’s 100x easier to invite frustration in vs. asking it to leave.
It taints you.
Your heart. Your soul. Your vision. Everything affected. Infected by Frustration.
I think sometimes, it’s okay to be frustrated. It might help move things forward; put things into perspective; motivate. But it’s letting it linger that’s deadly.
And I think (at least for me) one of surest ways to teflon my heart from frustration is gratitude.
The truth is, I’m not grateful enough. I don’t find things to be grateful for when things aren’t going so well. And when things do go well, I sometimes forget to be grateful because I’m enjoying it too much or I think I’m at a good place because of my doing. (Ego, much?)
Besides, it’s so much easier to bitch and moan.
But you know what I started to realize?
Nobody likes complainers. Our dearest loved ones can only handle so much. What’s worse than a complainer? Someone who complains about the same thing all the time. And I don’t ever want to be that guy.
Perhaps my strength; time; breath can be used for something more productive and positive.
Perhaps instead of giving in to the desire of complaining, I should start looking for things to be thankful for in that context.
We will always find what we are looking for.
are we am I so inclined to always harp on the negative?
I can control what I look for.
I can control what I see.
I can control — or at least play a very vital role — in creating the world I live in.
And I choose to create a world built upon love, hope, grace, and gratitude.
Choosing gratitude helps me reframe the world.
If I get dealt a crappy hand.
Let’s acknowledge it.
Let’s name it. Let’s call it what it is.
But instead of lingering on what crap luck I have…
Let’s enjoy the fact — and be thankful — that I get to play.
Let’s enjoy the company and maybe learn from how others play.
Let’s see if there’s an opening to take a risk and make a bold move. Maybe a miracle can happen. After all, miracles rarely happen without risk.
If I really think about it — I don’t think I can ever run out of things to be thankful for; I don’t think I can count all the blessings in my life.
Especially if I’m choosing to focus on/ count what I lack or the way the universe seems to be stacked against me.
Gratitude turns what I have into enough.
And the more grateful I am, the more I’m prone to see beauty in this world.
I’m sure of it.
One more thought/thing…
I’ve learned about breath prayers during this cycle around the sun.
Breath prayers are short prayers that you say as you inhale and exhale.
The one I use the most — particularly on Sunday mornings — is praying “Here I am Lord” as I inhale and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” as I exhale.
The other prayer I’ve been using — well, I guess it’s more of a mantra is: this is what comes with it.
See — this past year’s theme seems to be about putting things into perspective.
No one ever said life was going to be easy.
But yet, we kinda expect it to be easy, no?
…this is what comes with it…
helps me control what I can; how I react; what I do.
Because no calling; no ministry; no work; no journey that is life giving; that is life transforming; that is worth it is going to come easy and with no cost.
This set back?
yea… this is what comes with the path I have given my life to.
This is where I need to be; this is where I’m called to be;
… this is what comes with it…
It just helps me put things into perspective and not be so caught up in myself.
Well. Here’s to the year that was.
Here’s to 38 and all the great things the next trip around the sun will bring!
If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. – Rabbi Kushner.