Her Words

Hope beats a flush every time

SetbackFrom the family that brought you “puzzles as death sport” comes “confessions of sketchy card playing.”

My maternal grandmother was a shameless cheat. To be her partner in Setback earned you immediate “guilt by association” status. She scratched her chest for “hearts.” She fiddled with her ring for “diamonds.” She blatantly mouthed “spades” and “clubs.” Robert Redford from The Sting she was not.

Even when the deal was not in her favor, Grandma often came out on top. How? What she lacked in subtlety, she made up for in sheer will to win.

This apple didn’t fall far from the competitive tree. I have managed to evolve from my genetic predisposition to cheat. (Although Jack might tell you otherwise from a particularly ugly game of Christmas Scrabble.) I’m all in when it comes to board games and cards. It’s at the game of life where I find myself sorely lacking the competitive will to fight.

It occurs to me: Maybe I don’t understand the game?

In cards, the best way to learn is by playing an “open hand.” Watching the choices players make with their cards during actual play gives you a better grasp of the game and how to win.

In real life, social media affords the same “open hand” advantage. According to Facebook, I’m sitting at the table with people who have been dealt some really crappy hands.

Though we all want kings and aces, straights and flushes all the time, sometimes it feels like we’re playing with a deck that has five threes. I see people who are facing divorce, illness, loss, unemployment, loneliness….

But here’s what I’ve noticed.

Some of the people holding the worst hands are still playing long after better hands have folded and moved to the bar.

So how is it that someone holding the cards of disappointment, betrayal, or cancer triumphs over another player’s better but folded hand?

Because hope beats a flush every time.

The people I respect don’t panic or wish for a better deal. They adjust their play. They understand the current circumstance is only part of a larger whole. They go all in on the bad days as well as the good.  They know the pot you can’t see is far richer than the one you can.

I heard a woman on a podcast the other day telling a story about her aunt who lives this way. On a recent visit the aunt said excitedly, “Guess what I got?!” Expecting to hear about a puppy or a winning lottery ticket her niece asked with anticipation, “What?” Her aunt’s reply? “Cancer! Isn’t that interesting?!”

We may not be able to control our crappy circumstances, but we can control our responses. And those responses matter for the good of our own hearts as well as for those on the journey with us. Some might call that bluffing. It smells more like hope to me.

Practically speaking, many people play their cards of chemo or dissolving families with more grace than I play my “charmed” hand of minor financial worry or dread of another nursing home visit. My cards look great by comparison, and yet I’m constantly throwing in the towel looking for a better deal. I believe the technical terminology is, “I fold like a cheap suit.”

Leanne StewartThis from a woman who claims to believe in a God strong enough and loving enough to carry us through—but not exempt us from—the worst of storms. Apparently I’m long on theory and short on practice when it comes to the Job-like streaks of life.

Here’s the rub: The people who have the greatest wisdom, integrity, and compassion have earned those qualities in the trenches of trials. They discovered it’s better to go all in than to be found sitting next to me drowning my sorrows at the bar of self-pity.

I may have learned a few cheats for cards from my grandma, but I am learning way more from friends and family who are playing out their lives with hope in spite of a bad deal.

I’m learning that hope beats a flush every single time.


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