“Game of Life”

One of the oldest American board games is the “Game of Life.” Players spin a wheel on the board and travel along charted roads in small plastic automobiles according to the number on which the spin stops. Each car has six or eight holes into which pink or blue pegs representing people are added as players “get married” and “acquire children”. Throughout the game are spaces that emulate life, and require players to choose college, career, buying homes, cars, insurance, stocks, taking out loans, paying taxes, among others. Money is constantly exchanged, and when players reach the end of the game and retire in either Millionaires Estate or Countryside Acres, they must repay any loans and add up their assets and cash. The player with the most money in hand wins the game.

When I was a child I played “Game of Life” with siblings and friends. It was the air of being a grown up that enticed us. We could choose a job, college, buy a car and within a few turns get married and have kids — so many kids they didn’t fit in the car. Being an adult was effortless, and life was a game — literally.

Recently, I played “Game of Life” with the grand kids. With some modifications and updates to the game, it still has an attractive appeal to children. The game pulls them in. They are drawn to the two-option choices, the roll of dice revealing their fate, the purchase of properties and pricey items, the spin of the wheel, the trivial decision of a second home between the Dream Villa or the City Penthouse and the final measure of success… winning with the most amount of money.

As an adult, something about the game bothered me. It felt compulsory. I realized that even with all the choices available, I didn’t feel like I had much input into how I went about living. I was simply following preset rules of doing what I was supposed to do at the times I was supposed to do them. What if I didn’t want three children? What if I wanted none at all? Did I really have to buy a yacht on my modest teacher’s salary just because that’s the space I landed on? What if I didn’t want a yacht? In the game, I already owned enough things I couldn’t afford, including two homes, a business, a horse, and apparently all of my great uncle’s antiques. When I reached the end of the game I had a family of five that had been assigned to me, a collection of ridiculously pricey items, and a life insurance policy to cash in on which didn’t give me any sense of triumph or accomplishment. But this is a game with a set of rules.

As a grown woman and in the real world, I know I have more say in whether or not to buy a yacht, but there are still plenty of stops along the road of life where I’m expected to acquire or do certain things just because that’s the accepted general blueprint for living, and most of us follow it without thinking twice. In real life, if all I do is choose to follow the charted blueprint path, how will I ever open myself to moments of discovery? Those moments of spontaneity like walking in the rain, noticing the shedding of bark on the eucalyptus tree, or sitting on a sidewalk and marveling at the one seedling growing in the dirt between cracks in the concrete. And what about the show of kindness and love by people who influence me and build on my journey in the real world? Friends? Family? The “Game of Life” is fun as a child, but the underlying motivation that drives the player’s actions is money. (Perhaps that’s why I seldom won the game, as I am not of the conviction that “whoever has the most gold, wins.”) No amount of money or material validation will ever take the place of what you can achieve out of pure love exchanged in real life.

In the real world, you have roughly 33,000 days to play the “game” of life. When the end of the day rolls around, how will you decide whether you won or lost? By money amassed, or by who and what put a smile on your face and lit up your heart to keep the embers of your soul on fire? Will you measure your wins by money? Or by the beauty of human connections that help build on your journey through life?

How will you decide?

 

 

 

 

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Rejoice, Rejoice

This Christmas,

I pray,

For humanity to simply hold the hand of God
And with humility on bended knee
Feel the wonderment in the force of His sovereignty

He is parent, you are child.
The creases in His palm speak to say
Be kind, be gentle; don’t dismay.
Prove loyal in word and deed,
Rise up against malice; make it your creed
To discourage complacency;
Forgo strife, and forgive an enemy;
Celebrate the heroes in your life.
Keep a promise to seek forgotten friendships.
Express gratitude. Listen, and mend relationships.
Trust more. Don’t keep score.
Encourage youth and let go of envy.
Brighten the hearts of children
For they are the treasures of heaven.
Laugh with a roar. Share more.
Speak of love.
Speak it again
With faith, with hope and peace in your heart.

Parent and child, Rejoice, Rejoice,
For God the Word is man in Christ.
Revealed to us on Christmas day.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

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The Wait

It is the Advent season and in all stores, the rush of shoppers has formed long lines in front of cash registers. Everyone seems frazzled. I look over to the self-checkout stations originally designed to facilitate or eliminate the pains of waiting. The wait line there appears just as long. It doesn’t bother me. It is the Advent season, and I am patient. Still, I choose the shortest line in my estimation and wait to pay for a couple of items I hold in my hand. The person at the register is having trouble with her electronic coupons and credit card that cause the wait in line to drag. The person in front of me begins to huff and puff showing signs of restlessness. The person behind me is growing impatient. He’s in a suit and tie, and is anxiously looking at his watch. He says he’s in a hurry and doesn’t have time to waste. Which prompts me to think…why do we consider waiting a waste of time? Why do we have this nagging sensation that our life is slipping away, wasted in the “eternal” moments of waiting?

With the speed of the world today, where everything is for the here and now, we simply do not like to wait. We huff, we puff, our nerves tense, we stress and fidget impatiently to move to the “next” place in our lives once we have arrived someplace because it is not the someplace else, someplace else and someplace else where we think we have to be. The last thing we want to do in the numbered moments of our diminishing time is to “waste” it by waiting. But that’s what we do. We wait. We wait for our food at restaurants; we wait for our burger at a drive through window; we wait for tickets to see the newest movie or for the latest ride at an amusement center. We wait for packages to arrive that we ordered online in record speed; we wait for that phone call or text; we wait at the doctor’s office or at the DMV. We wait for test results, or for the acceptance letter in the mail. We wait for that great job to come along. We wait for our paychecks and tax returns; wait for our retirement to set us free from the binds of our career. We wait for that perfect relationship; for our families to reunite, for a loved one to come home from war. We wait for a child to be born. We wait for the sun. We wait for rain. It never ends.

We are so busy rushing through life, that we have forgotten how to enjoy the moments that make us live in the present. We have forgotten the fun of standing in line with our friends or family members deciding which to buy for whom or what to cook for a gathering. We’ve forgotten to let ourselves fall into the steady rhythm of life as we sit in a coffee shop huddled over hot drinks, hands rubbing against one another, and our whispers trying to keep each other warm. We have forgotten the tidbits we tell and stories we share as we wait for our waiter to come with our food. We have forgotten the beauty of a patient smile as we absorb the colors, sounds and scents. We have forgotten that the best part of Christmas is not Christmas Day, but like little children, the waiting for Christmas. This is the Advent season where the joy is in the waiting. With sleigh bell songs across the airwaves and on our lips resonating in our hearts, stringing of lights around the house, smelling orange and pine around the fire, cupping our hands around a mug of hot chocolate, (or cognac), we should be waiting like children. Waiting with a flutter in our hearts and tingling anticipation, faithfully waiting for that proclamation of love, the arrival of the birth of a child wrapped in swaddling cloths, the Messiah, Jesus.

As we wait in long lines this Advent season, or as we wait for anything in life, it is important to remember that we are ALL waiting for something. Wait, with patience, humility, and expectant hope in a state of prayer. To wait means to strengthen, means to hope, means to believe, means to love.

For God the Word became man in Christ, celebrated on Christmas day. Wait. And the world is sanctified.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Flow of Life

There was a time when I did not give money to peddlers and beggars and people on the street. It’s not that I was not generous. I was and I am. It’s just that I didn’t trust that the money I gave them individually would help improve their lives. A walk with my Dad and an experience years later brought me to understand the act of giving and receiving are a continuous process in the flow of one’s life.

Many years ago, I accompanied Dad on a walk around the block. I always enjoyed the time alone with him as we would delve into some form of philosophy that shaped our lives. We walked in and out of alleys just chitchatting, until we came across a tired looking woman with a baby in her arms asking for charity. Without hesitation, Dad reached into his pocket, took out paper currency and kindly handed it to her. “Why?” I asked. “How do you know that woman isn’t going to spend the money on things other than food? She could be using the child as bait for sympathy,” I continued. “Instead of begging at the corner and making an easy career out of this, she should be working and doing something with her life.”

“My dear girl,” said Dad, “Do you know what has brought her to the streets? She may not have had the choices or the capabilities to stay afloat in the social structure. Perhaps she got stuck in the flow of life. Perhaps the opportunities for her were very limited. Perhaps she was outcast. Perhaps misunderstood. Perhaps neglected. Perhaps she doesn’t know any better. Perhaps she was born in poverty.” And with a nostalgic shake of his head, he said, “And, do you know the state of mind associated with loss of dignity and humiliation that comes with poverty and desperation? You do not, dear girl, because you haven’t worn her shoes. I see degradation and humiliation in her eyes, and when I give her money, I see in her eyes a grateful heart. That’s all the reasoning I need.” Then he added with his usual huge smile, “And if, for whatever reason, she has made this a career of her own choosing, like all careers, they need a boost.”

Dad’s desire to help unconditionally was genuinely rooted in recognition of his human solidarity with those who were suffering, regardless of their circumstances.

Flash forward years from that day. I had been up for two nights straight tending to my seriously ill infant daughter who was in need of medication. I looked a mess in baggy sweatpants, a faded frayed T-shirt with drool stains on my shoulders, disheveled hair and eyes that screamed ‘exhausted’. I looked like crap. I felt like crap. All I could think of in that state of mind was to ease my child’s discomfort. I drove to a nearby drugstore with my baby (since I had no one with whom to leave her), and after what seemed like an eternity at the pharmacy, I picked up the meds and made a weak dash to the car and realized that I had locked the keys in the car. I found a pay phone, looked up the number to a car locksmith in the directory of a phone book only to discover that I did not have any change to place the call. (For those of you wondering, at the time, mobile phones were not yet common and credit/debit cards were not an option with which to pay.) With a sick infant hanging on my weary shoulder, I was desperate. With great self-conscious embarrassment, I grudgingly approached people in the parking lot for a dime or quarter. Many odd looks, quite a few rejections, then, one kind man gave me the dime. He must have seen gratitude in my eyes because he then took out a dollar and squeezed it in my hand saying, “Here, buy some milk for the child.” Painful humiliation, loss of dignity, and degradation. My eyes welled with tears. At that moment, in the eyes of a stranger, I was no different from that poor, tired woman with child of years ago asking for charity on a street corner.

Today, I give. I give to persons in need in recognition of my human solidarity with those who are suffering, regardless of their circumstances. Because for whatever reason they are on the street, for whatever wretched circumstances brought them there in the flow of life, they will never lose the ability to be gracious for the “monetary” gifts they receive… a lesson I will keep in my heart.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, from my grateful heart to yours.

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“Pity the Nation”

“…Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. … (Khalil Gibran)

I cannot let go of the weight on my heart as I, and many others, experience the depth of our sorrow when politics turns dark. In a phone call 10 days ago (at the time of this writing), President Trump gave the green light to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to invade northern Syria, and in the process, to engage in what Armenians have experienced and known for over 100 years, an ethnic cleansing.

Nothing new here. It is history that repeats itself with tyrants. And unfortunately, the grim and sobering reality of our current global crises of leaders among nations is frightening. Todays’ foxlike statesmen have “great” relationships with one another, weaving webs that bond them together over “nice” conversations. “Nice” conversations among them are merely an exchange of needs that serve narcissistic egos. And they will forsake anyone or a people who no longer serves their need. President Trump, whose appeal is founded on a backdrop of personal achievement, constant boasting of being unrivaled and a bully like toughness, will, like all the other tyrants with whom he has a “good” relationship and “nice” conversations, abandon anyone who no longer serves his needs. (Check the number of White House Staff, Cabinet Members, administrators on whom he has turned his back after letting go or resigning.) He has no empathy, no sympathy, no guilt nor shame. I pity the nation.

A year ago, President Trump was praising the Kurds as “great” allies, vowing to protect them. “They fought with us. They died with us,” Trump said. “We have not forgotten.” Predominantly Kurdish forces in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) played a central role in aiding the United States in fighting the Islamic State. The US armed them, used them, praised them, and just last week, the President dismissed the Kurds with the justification, “They didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy.” And the President of this nation did not call for the Turkish tyrant to observe the rule of law, or Western standards of justice. Instead, Trump distanced himself saying, “Turkey and the Kurds are fighting ‘over land that has nothing to do with us.’” The results have been swift and brutal with the displacement of more than 275,000 people (of whom 70,000 are children, according to SDF), executions of journalists, female politician, war crimes, and the escape of hundreds of Islamic State (ISIS) prisoners. If Islamic State fighters manage to get free, “they’re going to be escaping to Europe,” Trump said last week. As if Europe’s problems won’t affect the United States! I pity the nation.

This becomes a complicated geopolitical battleground where many international and regional players, with varying interests and means, clash violently. Sadly, ordinary civilians will pay the ultimate price. We see this same scenario being played out over and over again. Go back 104 years to the Genocide of Armenians by Turkey; back 75 years to the Holocaust; back 45 years to the Cambodian genocide; 25 years to Rwandan genocide; 15 years and counting to the Darfur genocide; 8 years and counting to the Saudi led Yemeni genocide; 3 years and ongoing to the Rohingya (Myanmar) genocide, and beyond. For tyrants, other human beings don’t have intrinsic dignity or value. Human worth is determined in terms of what benefits them in their personal “great” relationships and ego boosting ‘mine is bigger than yours’ attitude. By now, this behavior should come as no surprise to anyone. When tyrants lead nations, it becomes the history of the world to interfere solely to suit their political game and agenda.

Where do we go from here? For the Kurds, Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians living near and around the northern zone of Syria, the consequences of America’s policy change will only get worse. Meanwhile we have played Syria into the hands of Russia. Our “ally”, Saudi Arabia, is ready and waiting for the green light backing of the US to pounce on Iran who holds the Hezbollah proxy. The proxies of Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are now spinning an even bigger web, in which millions of refugees continue to face an unknown future. One thing is certain: the biggest beneficiary of this will be ISIS, and with a possibility of resurgence we will all be under threat. Any ensuing conflict will be fought on the battlefield of civilian bodies.

I pity the nations.

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MYOB and Junk Food

“I mind my own business and I don’t eat junk food,” had said Besse Cooper when asked by the Guinness Book of World Records for the key to living a long life. At the time, Besse Cooper was the oldest person alive at the age of 116 in the year 2011. (She passed away shortly after that). There is much wisdom in Cooper’s advice, and I don’t doubt that her mantra of minding her own business saved her from unwanted stress and unnecessary drama of gossip. And by not eating greasy junk food, she kept a lean and healthy body for all those years. Woe is me, for I’m afraid I’ve broken her mantra on many occasions.

Sitting in a pub away from home and enjoying the best double fried chips and a pint of beer with my dear companion, I am relishing the finger licking and lip smacking goodness of one of the high caloric, cholesterol encouraging pairing of “junk” food. I’m minding my own business, yet I can’t help overhearing the conversation of a well-dressed man talking to a young girl about a job offer. His language is smooth, clean and educated. He is convincing her, with tactful coercion to engage in sexual activity for payment, not for himself, but for others whom he would recommend. Basically, he is a procurer; a pimp. She is an attractive, younger woman/girl who is not quite convinced and is making a few excuses about how she isn’t sure she should leave her existing job of housekeeping in a hotel. The slick man is working to recruit her, telling her it wouldn’t interfere with her current job. She could see to pleasing a customer or two, or, at most, three a day, and still keep her job if she wanted to. He continues to procure her interest by adding that she needn’t do any soliciting. He would send her the customers some of whom might conveniently be old men and would be less “work.” “It’s easy good money,” he says. “I send you the customer, you do the job, we split 50/50 on the fee.”

The conversation goes on for almost 45 minutes. I’m on my second order of fries and drink. He’s still insisting that she gives it a try, take a chance, her fears are unfounded, and that he’ll take care of her. She’s still hesitant… or is she playing him along? Is she being taken advantage of, or is she taking advantage of the situation?

Meanwhile, my outrage at the situation is steeping inside like a dam holding back the waters. If I dare open one small hole, one tiny fissure, the pressure of that outrage would destroy and flood everything and perhaps jeopardize the girl’s safety. I’m about to burst. My companion holds me back. He says she sounds quite capable of handling the situation. “Maybe she’s undercover,” he says hopefully. He tells me to consider who is at risk. “You live life passionately, and sometimes, that can be dangerous,” he says. Fine! I could just pretend I didn’t hear the conversation and simply block it out. It’s none of my business. But that would negate everything for which I stand. All these years, I have been advocating against cultures that supports violence and coercion, human trafficking and the use and abuse of women and children. I can’t put a filter over my ears and eyes and ignore the situation by saying it’s none of my business, regardless in what part of the world I am. Minding my own business doesn’t mean evading responsibility or ignoring the world around me. It means knowing what I stand for, distancing myself from the unimportant and unnecessary drama of gossip, and doing what needs to be done by holding myself accountable to my ideals.

I search the internet for a help beyond the streets hotline. The man steps away from the table to get the girl another drink from the bar. My heart is pounding. There’s no time for conversation. I write the number of the help line on a cocktail napkin, turn around and place it by her hand, next to her phone. I see her expression of surprise, and then a faint smile of apprehension. I can’t honestly say that I feel victorious, but I must trust she’ll do what needs to be done in a way that serves her best.

I return to minding my own business and eating more chips. Unlike Besse Cooper, I have once again shortened my life years.

 

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Tug at my Heartstrings

This past month has been one where things on my mind truly hit my heart with a new depth of understanding.  I feel the pull on my heartstrings, a tug-of-war between letting go and holding on, which is familiar to all parents from the day their child is born. But this month, I finally understood what my parents and thousands of other parents have felt in their heart when their child or children make a choice to move abroad. My daughter and her family are moving to Europe.

When I consider that nearly twenty years of our lives as parents are devoted to raising, nurturing, and caring for our child/children, it’s easy to see why letting go of that role is a frightening task. Childrearing consumes our time, energy, concern and love for at least two decades. We invest our hearts, minds and spirits into our children’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual well being, and it can be very difficult when that part of our lives comes to an end. But does it really come to an end? With every separation, with every distance, our heartstrings are pulled again and again. We are constantly confronted with the reality of our children growing up. Whether it’s weaning them off breastfeeding, the first day in day care or kindergarten, sending them to camp, going away to college, or walking the bride down the aisle to give her away, or knowing that our son has found a soul mate, we experience the tug-of-war with our heartstrings. And with each step, we are faced with letting go of a parental attachment held from birth. We do so with a pull at our heartstrings and a prayer on our lips.

Years ago when the world was not as small and connected as it is today, my parents moved to the Arabian Gulf to make a life of new discovered opportunities. It was daunting for them and for the families they left behind. The families trusted their choices and sent them off with a constant prayer on their lips. When I was 16 years young I first chose to leave home to study abroad. When I was 20 years young I made the long trek to the US to continue an education, find employment, choose a spouse, marry, have two beautiful children, move to Europe and then take a huge leap of faith to relocate to the US, and from there, continue to add to my story. My parents trusted and honored my choices with constant prayers on their lips.

Now it is my turn. As a parent I must honor the choices my children make. I may not always like the choices, but it is their own life story they must write, just like I did mine with the trust and prayers of my parents. And yes, it is hard. It is a daunting task not knowing what lies ahead. But I do know I have taught my children enough and well. I do know I have given them the tools to make choices that contribute to the functioning of home and family. And I do know an immense pride for their accomplishments and wisdom that percolates deep beneath the surface of my heart. Hard as it is to face the unknown, I also know that my daughter, like me, loves the adventure that comes with the freedom to choose. It is at the core of our experiences in this life. Ever since she and her brother were children, I have allowed them choices that acknowledged mistakes, embraced pain, and required a deep level of acceptance and trust.  It also brought strength, passion, energy, a closeness and purpose to both our experiences.

I’ve loved.  I’ve taught. I’ve shown up to cheer. I’ve encouraged their independence. I’ve embraced them in their worst moments and in their best moments. I’ve set aside my own fears and let them know that mistakes are part of the journey and there is no shame in living and learning.  I’ve asked. I’ve listened. I’ve given support and guidance.  I’ve seen triumph in decisions made. I’ve gained from their wisdom. And today, I know their strength, I see their dreams, I feel their heart, and I trust in their path.

Today, I send my daughter and her family of four over oceans and across continents with a tug at my heartstrings and constant prayers on my lips.

 

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