Our lives play out like a game of Solitaire: We’re dealt experiences and asked to be faithful and live with intention.
By Annie F. Downs
My mom loves to play Solitaire. I remember watching her deal out the cards and stack them just so. She would play a lot at our lake house in North Georgia. Her deck of cards in the ’80s had purple and red hippos on them, with tiny flower patterns on the hippos’ backs.
I loved those cards. They remind me of my childhood. Even just the sound of cards being shuffled is soothing to me. It takes me back to late nights when my sisters and I would be in our twin beds on the screened-in porch, and I would be reading a book by flashlight. My parents and grandparents would still be awake, reading and playing cards. We didn’t have a television there, so we relied on every other form of entertainment available. And as I would fall asleep, I’d hear the cards being shuffled on the Formica kitchen table.
Some days when I call Mama, I can tell she’s playing Solitaire when she answers the phone. She plays on the computer now, but it’s her favorite game still. Which, by the way, I actually don’t trust computer games because they get to decide which card is next, versus the random shuffle of a regular deck in your hands. Technology cheats, y’all. And you can quote me on that.
The goal in Solitaire, you probably know, is to stack all the cards in their suit from ace to king. But you start out with them shuffled and then dealt out into piles. You’re then allowed to stack them in alternating color, descending in value from king to ace, until the aces are all found and brought to the top of the playing area, where you can build on them from there. You’re constantly working, looking, thinking, reconfiguring. You’re not just rolling stupid dice and leaving it all up to chance. Nor are you racing everyone else to the finish, declaring winners and losers when you’re done. Think of it instead like this: We’re sitting here together—you, working with the cards dealt to you; me, working with the cards dealt to me, trusting that the God who deals my deck of cards has done the same for you.
That’s more of what I think is happening here.
And as we do, our true stories begin to develop. Yours. Mine. In all their uniqueness and reality.
In my bedroom is a plastic tub full of journals from the last twenty years. I’m quite the journaler during most seasons. I talk a lot, I write a lot and I tend to journal a lot. I don’t run out of words, for better or for worse. But ever since I was a senior in high school, I have jotted down, in spurts or en masse, the stories God was telling in my life, the way the deck was being dealt for me. They’re all there—the miracles, the heartbreaks (which either turned out to be rescues or turned out to be pure heartbreak), the tragedies, the joys, the changing of seasons and the moving of time. The faithfulness of God.
If we could all bring our tubs of journals to the same party—out on the same Solitaire table—they would be so different. No two would be the same. Different covers, different spines (spiral only for me, please and thanks). And even if by some crazy chance we’d purchased and written in the same journal, the words inside would be different words, in different handwriting. No two journals would be the same.
I have three beside me right now, the three that have lived with me throughout these last few seasons of my life. I usually finish one and then end up putting it away pretty quickly. But this hasn’t been the case lately. Lately I’m flipping back through them frequently, reminding myself of what I knew then that maybe I can still know today. And as I flip through, I thank the Annie from the red floral journal for all the ways she believed, and I thank the Annie from the black and gold journal for not giving up.
I haven’t behaved perfectly in my life, and I’m not proud of every word I’ve written in every journal. I feel like, as my friend Bill Lokey says, I’ve done some things, in some of my life, rather clumsily. But when I look down into the mess that’s now twentyish journals stacked with no rhyme or reason, lying on top of each other, seasons mixed and mingled, I feel sentimental for all the versions of Annie that are represented in there and for the way they’ve all blended together to make me.
I want you to feel sentimental about you too. I want you draw some hearts around your own life too. I want you to look back on your life—in pictures or journals or knick-knacks—and see that you are you on purpose. Yes, you’ve experienced some tragedies. Yes, you’ve been treated in ways you didn’t deserve by other people. Yes, hurt exists amidst all the growth and joys and season change. Of course it does. I wouldn’t pretend otherwise.
I’m downplaying none of that. I’m not asking you to remember your life with rose-colored glasses. I’m just asking you to remember your life is yours for a reason. For a purpose. And the same is true for me.
I’m also asking you to believe in miracles. I believe in a God who still does the unbelievable in our lives and on our planet, things we cannot understand. I’ve seen it in my life. I’ve seen Him do what I did not know He could or would do.
Everything I have been through, even my current story, is serving a purpose that future Annie will look back on when these three journals that are sitting beside me end up in the container with the rest of them.