Make time to play. Give yourself permission to be a child again.

“Regina, wake up! Pay attention.”

Growing up I heard these words often. School was exceedingly boring in contrast to the world beyond the classroom. When the recess bell rang, I was the first one out the door. I raced into an environment where my attention was heightened and everything was vibrant and captivating.

It did not matter what activity was planned for the day. From kickball and baseball to board games, play released me from the captivity of the classroom routine. It gave me the delightful freedom to move and be amused.

On weekends I went wild for play. Piling into the car on Sunday afternoons, we took off with my best friend, his brother, my sister, and our moms. The winding road to the park reminded me of a snake weaving in and out of tall grass. Passing duck ponds, a golf course, and a rodeo arena, we arrived at a place without swings, slides, or merry-go-rounds, yet it was a playground full of adventure.

The unspoiled Guadalupe riverbank was teaming with opportunity. Thick vines cascaded from sturdy live oaks that lined the river’s edge. Run-off channels rose from the river up to the street.

“I’m a pioneer!” my best friend exclaimed, scurrying up the gully on a mission to discover uncharted territory. Following quickly behind, I searched for wildlife.

It seemed only moments had passed when a car honk signaled the roundup to return home. Taking a final glance as our car reached the top of the hill, I realized it was going to be at least six days before we returned to the wonder of that playful place.

As a child, I was expected and encouraged to spend time entertaining myself in activities. Play remained a big part of my life as I grew into young adulthood, with softball, basketball, and other team sports. When I entered college, I continued recreational activities like tennis and volleyball.

As I moved into the world of work, home, and adult responsibilities, the activities of my youth were replaced with gardening and amateur landscape design. I enjoyed riding my mountain bike along wilderness trails, canoeing down the rivers of Alabama, and holding marathon card games with friends.

Then I got caught up in the race of life. Working too long and too hard to create what I thought was a successful life took its toll. Overworked, I was tired all the time, stressed, and consistently cranky. My relationships suffered because I was not budgeting any regular periods of recreational time.

One day I made myself take a break from the “all work and no play” routine. Taking my dogs on a long walk along the lake in a nearby national forest took me back to the days along the river with my friend. Memories of how it felt to be a child, regularly engrossed in playful activities, made me smile.

It was then I realized the time I took off from my busy life was not a waste at all. During the “down times” I get some of my most creative inspiration, renew my spirit, and feel relaxed and peaceful.

Today play is an important part of my life. I gather friends for cookouts and board games. I also enjoy gardening and birdwatching. Once a month I join friends for an outing to a museum or botanical garden. Three or four times a week I exercise at the gym. Each day around noon I take a walk through our neighborhood and spend time in the natural world.

Too often we get so caught up in the adult responsibilities of life that we dismiss the idea of recreational time with the belief that play is for children. Not true. Research suggests play is an important part of life, whether we are children or adults.

According to the National Institute for Play, “Play can dramatically transform our personal health and relationships, generate optimism, give our immune system a boost, relieve depression, foster empathy, and lessen stress.”

Make time to play. Give yourself permission to be a child again. Permit yourself to return to a more innocent time in life, when doing something just for fun was encouraged and welcomed. No matter what activity you choose, do something on a regular basis to bring pleasure to your heart. Doing so is not a waste. It is a vital part of creating a joyful life.

Proud to be a descendant of “Cheddar man”.

Jean and Reagan were unable to have children of their own, so they adopted me.

Since I was adopted three days after my birth, I knew nothing about my heritage. To find out about my ancestors, I did a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test and discovered my genetic family dates back thousands of years. It was interesting to learn some of my ancestors were not white. They had dark skin.

In fact, I am a descendant of “Cheddar man,” a fossil unearthed in 1903 in Gough’s Cave, located in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge, England. Thanks to leading-edge scientific analysis, we now know my very distant relative lived around 10,000 years ago and had dark brown skin and blue eyes.

In addition, I have another ancestor who lived between 1690 and 1780 who was one hundred percent West African black. And another who lived in the early1800s who was one hundred percent Native American. Rounding out my DNA ancestors are people who were Iberian, Balkan, Irish, English, French, German, and Scandinavian.

To love God and love one another like God desires we do, let’s recognize that having a skin color of white, black, or brown does not mean all of our ancestors were white, black, or brown. We also appreciate our skin is made up of three layers, with the color being found only in the outermost layer, the epidermis.

The job of skin pigment is to protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Dark skin is more effective at sun protection, while light skin is better at making more vitamin D using less sunlight. Our ancestors’ skin pigment changed over thousands of years due to their migration patterns and how they processed vitamin D. This is how our ancestors’ skin color adapted as they migrated out of Africa to populate the planet.

Isn’t it logical and loving to appreciate, and teach children, it is God’s design each of us—black, brown, and white—can trace our common dark-skinned ancestors back to Africa?

I am considered white, yet my DNA proves I am a combination of the colors and cultures of my ancestors. I am as proud of my dark-skinned genetic relatives as I am of my white ones.

Isn’t it logical and loving to admit we made up our race problem?

James King, author of The Biology of Race, states in the book:

Race is a concept of society that insists there is a genetic difference behind human variations in skin color that transcends outward appearance. However, race has no scientific merit outside of sociological classifications. There are no significant genetic variations within the human species to justify the division of “races.

We do not have a race problem. We have a racism problem, with rigged rules against black and brown communities. Which means we have a respect problem. Respect for one another’s experiences and life struggles. Respect for our sameness. Respect for our differences. Respect for the idea we are to look for the good in one another and treat each person as we want to be treated.

We practice the Golden Rule by associating with people of different religions, skin colors, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic groups. We expose ourselves and our children to different cultures, customs, and religions.

When we embrace all members of our human family, we will learn to have compassion for one another’s challenges. We will listen to one another in order to understand, not just respond. We will get to know one another in order to relate in intelligent and informed ways. We will appreciate our sameness and our differences.

Viewing ourselves as members of the human race, we will no longer judge or elevate ourselves, fear difference, disrespect other people, or devalue what they care for. We will focus on living with integrity in order to value compassion, responsibility, and kindness. We will teach these values to our children as important skills they need to create a peaceful, courteous, and successful life. Consequently, Jesus would ask each Christian, and follower of any religion, to remember: God looks past our outer human shell to determine the quality of our heart.

God desires we do the same, by leading with our soul to see ourselves in all people. God wants us to value the beautiful tapestry of humankind so we can create the world Jesus envisioned.