Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The One About The Gambling Problem: One Year of Freedom

How it all began

6 years ago I fell for something. I was the last of my friends to get into it,and I was the only one to get entrenched by it. In 2004 the poker boom took off amidst an average nobody amateur poker player named Chris Moneymaker winning the World Series of Poker main event and 6 million dollars. Suddenly teenage boys and grown men everywhere were playing no limit Texas hold em' with their friends, thanks to the 'everyman' hitting it rich in Vegas. Sure poker had always been a staple in some way. You always see it being played in the old westerns and sitcoms spanning back to the 1950's. The game was usually five card stud back then. But with Moneymaker winning the title in 2004, no limit hold em took off due to the TV coverage,the Internet accessibility,and the casino prevalence.

I had a few friends who started playing friendly five dollar games on Friday nights at their houses. I never wanted to play because I didn't want to learn how. It seemed complicated and I thought I would just be donating five dollars to the cause. I finally learned that If I wanted to do something on weekends, I better join in.

The first time I played I didn't know what I was doing. I kept winning hands just playing stupid and getting lucky. I had a cheat sheet that showed me the ranks of the hands that I had to check almost every hand.

At some point in the next few months I started playing online and depositing money. It started as 20 bucks. I remember the first time I lost 50 dollars online I was devastated. I said I was not going to do it again but a few days later I put in another 50. Somewhere around the summer of 2005, I started turning a slight profit. I would cash out a couple hundred bucks and leave a few dollars in my account to try to build it up again. Over the course of the next few years, what started as twenty dollar games turned into 50,100,200,300,500,and 1000 respectfully.

I became obsessed with the game. It was a game of math and Psyche. I would study everything and anything  I could; On TV, in books, atonline forums. I was a student of the game in every measure. I would go to the casinos and everyone else at the table would be socializing and I would just be staring at them and listening. I never said a word. Any little tidbit I could pick up was going to mean profit. And every little moment I let my guard down to fraternize with my competitors could lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars lost.

By September of 2006 I was making enough money to only work part time. I worked two overnights a week and played poker as my main source of income. I kept strict records of wins and losses and paid my taxes. It was a business to me. Many days I would sit at my computer for 16 to 20 hours without even eating. I would go to bed and do it again the next day. I was ranked in the top half of the top one percent of all online players for short handed sit and go's in the world. I would pay 500 dollars, play one other guy who also put up 500, and play until one of us got all the chips and the thousand dollars. These games would take about 10 to 20 minutes. Since we were playing the highest stakes on the site at the time, people would "rail bird" our games and try to chat with us. I remember one person telling me that I was their hero and they had been watching me play for weeks. On one site,within their online community, I was very well known for dominating the 200 to 500 dollar heads up sit and go's.

But I was masking many things behind that computer screen. I was sick and very unhealthy. My mind was one tracked and I would often torture myself over decisions that cost me large sums of money. I was in fact, numb to money. I was numb to winning.

But you never,ever become numb to losing. When I lost it would feel like an avalanche pouring down on my head. The thrill of winning never compared to the pain of losing. The turn of one card would often decide thousand dollar pots. I believed I was trapped in the game because being sick and all, it seemed like the only way to make a legitimate living. Years went by of being anti-social, distant ,and addicted to a game that in my own mind validated my worth. I knew I was good at it. Others knew I was good at it. I was finding the answers to my worthiness through this game. Today I know who I am through God.

How it all ended

I started feeling God tug at my coattails about this when my girlfriend broke up with me because of the poker lifestyle, in February 2009. To this day I believe that relationship was sent as God's way of saving my life. It wasn't meant to last, but the lessons learned were meant to change eternity.

Over the course of the next few months, I battled to quit, but never achieved true victory. In July of 2009, I had an afternoon which went like this. Around noon I sat down at a table with 3000 dollars. By 3pm I had ran it up to over 14,000 dollars. By six pm, all 14,000 was gone. Between your lunch and your dinner, I had won and lost enough money to buy a brand new car. This was my tipping point. I knew I had to quit. And I knew God's grace was the only chance I had at achieving that goal. What I got a few months later was more then grace. It was a miracle.

The Miracle from Jesus

I was still gambling in September, when a friend of mine from work named Billy had became extremely distraught about a breakup between him and his longtime girlfriend. I remember he was very upset and one night was texting me that he didn't see any way out of the darkness. I felt God telling me to text him about God's love. It was very, very awkward because I had never spoken to him about God at all and I was coming out of left field with it. But I text him something along the lines of "There is hope with God" and he text me back " I can't see hope in anything right now, but thanks for trying." At least the ice had been broken  and God's hand had began writing the script that would save both me and Billy's lives.

A few weeks later was a night I will never forget. Things hadn't gotten any better for Billy. It was a Thursday night and my phone rang. It was Billy. I was gambling online and when I gambled online I rarely would pick up the phone. So I ignored the call and didn't think of it again..... Until the next day.

I got a phone call from another co-worker saying Billy was missing. To make a long story short, he ended up ingesting a massive amount of pills and alcohol that night in a suicide attempt. With the amount he took, for all intensive purposes, he should have died.

When I got wind of this I was shook to the core. A few weeks later when I saw him I asked him why he called me that night. We hadn't been particularly close at that point and for a few weeks I wondered If it was possible he was crying out for help to me for some reason. He told me that he didn't know why he had called me and that I was indeed the last person he thinks he tried to call. It bowled me over and instantly made complete and utter sense what God was doing.

He was using my gambling and the selfishness it had led to,to wake me up. I had laid the foundation in a struggling man's life of the love of God, and when the same man reached out to me only weeks later, I ignored him for poker. Sure I had no way of knowing that at the time. But God knew I wouldn't know until I needed to know. God knew exactly what he was doing moment by moment leading up to that night.

I confessed to Billy that I ignored his call that night because I was in a poker trance. I told him how guilty I feel and how guilty I would have felt had he died and I was the last person he had tried to, and unsuccessfully contact. As I apologized to him I knew what had to be done. A few days later I quit gambling.

And on the 40th day.....

When the previously mentioned ex girlfriend broke up with me she asked me if I would quit playing poker for 40 days and see what God would show me. I snickered at the notion when she told me this. But eight months later on the 40th day of not gambling there was a small electrical fire at the group home where me and Billy worked. When the smoke alarms went off one of the clients, who usually will get up and go on command, decided that she wanted to stay in bed. So she layed in bed as the fire was put out. The overnight was usually a one staff operation and had it been a bigger fire there would have been no way to get the client out with just one person. So management decided for the next month to have 2 staff on the overnights to carry her out in case of a fire. Why they did this only for a month and why not permanently I'll never know. Well actually yes I do know. It was all God.

During that month, Billy and I worked together many times on the overnight. Just me and him. We got time together to talk and God gave me words to say to him. He allowed me to tell him the way to heaven, which is acceptance of Jesus Christ as his saviour. I had been giving a laminated print out of the Roman's Road, from a Pastor that I sought out a few months before to help me stop gambling. The Roman's road is a point by point biblical reference of why we have fallen short of heaven without Jesus, and how simple the prayer is to gain eternal glory's access. One night on the overnight I gave Billy the print out and asked him if he was ready to pray Jesus into his heart and seal his destiny. He wasn't at that particular time but said he would take it home with him. I joked that If he didn't pray it soon I was going to be extremely mad at him. He joked back that it sounded like I might blow up his car.

The next day I woke up to the most significant text message I have ever received. It simply said " I prayed it. Don't blow up my car." The man who should have been dead without ever knowing God in September, was now alive and forever stamped in the book of life in November.

God's stories are perfect. This story is perfect. He needed my attention. He needed me to stop gambling because he had things he needed me to do. His timing was perfect. He wasn't going to let Billy die that night. He knew I wouldn't have been able to live with myself. And he knew Billy was meant to be a child of his. Only God can tie this type of story together. "Quit for 40 days and see what God will do." Satan is the only one snickering now.

Since he got saved Billy has been baptized and recently married the love of his life, whom he had been so broken hearted about losing last year. She is also a born again christian. Another example of God working. That relationship had to end temporarily, so that Billy and I could be saved.

The Sovereignty of December 1st

You may have figured out by now that these stories of quitting occurred between September and November and you may be wondering what makes December 1st the one year anniversary. Well I slipped up after 2 months and played once on December 1st, 2009, online. On that day I took my computer and plucked it out per say. I brought it to my sisters and told her I don't want a computer in my house anymore.

Last night on the eve of my one year anniversary I decided I wanted my computer back (without Internet), so I could type out my blogs and save them to flash drive. I was setting my computer up a little before midnight and it wouldn't work. So I pulled down an old shoebox from the top of my fridge to try to look for the re-boot disc. In a shoebox full of papers, the first thing  I saw and grabbed was a small envelope. I pulled out what was inside and it was a sheet of paper torn in 3 pieces. Those 3 pieces of paper were my certificate of water baptism at my church in 2008. It had my name on it and a seal of approval with the date and a scripture verse. It's funny because In the Romans Road it says that after you get saved you should do 2 things. 1) Tell a friend. 2) Get water baptized. Billy told me he was saved, and got water baptized a few months later..... All the while I had no recollection that I had destroyed my symbol of water baptism over a poker game.

I realized as I pulled out the 3 sheets of ripped paper that I had torn it off my wall and ripped it up after an online poker loss a year or two ago. I decided to tape it back together and as I finished taping it, it hit me. I grabbed my phone to look at the time and it read, December 1st,2010: 12:05am. The time between finding it and taping it back together took about 5 minutes.

At exactly midnight on the one year anniversary of obeying God and giving up gambling, the Lord helped me find the remnants of a night of gamblings angst; and put it back together. All while trying to hook up a computer that I yanked out as a symbol of hope a year ago. Three pieces of paper torn; The Father,The Son, and The Holy Spirit. I had ripped them apart and made something else my God. And now they hang on my wall as one again. I knew that was a gift from God in that moment. His way of saying "One year Joe. One year. Do you see now how much I love you? I couldn't even wait one minute past midnight to say Happy Birthday to you. I am so proud of you."  All I know is this; When God says I am proud of you so profoundly, it is a slice of heaven on earth.

For non-believers it is so easy to say that there is no proof of God and that they just can't wrap their heads around something that isn't tangible. I don't know why God has blessed me so much to ensure that I can't doubt his existence,but I am thankful. Some may think my stories and the stories above are coincidence. But knowing what God has done and how real he has shown himself to me causes me to implore any unsaved who are reading this to believe me. This is not coincidence. We are not coincidence. There are so many ways to die, but there is only one way to live after we die. Jesus is the only way to heaven. If you want to join me and Billy one day with the Lord, please pray this prayer. It's no strings attached, and it doesn't require an audience. It's not religion. Does the love I describe above sound like ritual or does it sound like love?

A year later I am a free man. I have seen 7 people come to Christ. I want 8. Satan tried to devour me through gambling and sickness. God had other plan's. Pray this prayer from the Roman's road and check out the link. I wouldn't want to have to blow up your car.....

I want to thank Jim Carpenter,Dan Wallace,my Sister,my Brother and my Mother for helping me thru the gambling years and believing I could do this the past year. I'll never forget non-chalantly showing off and blowing a hundred dollars on one spin of a roulette wheel when Jim came to visit me at the casino once and me saying " Ah well" and him quipping back, " Next time just hand it to me. My kids need clothes."

And all my mom's words of hope that I would quit one day, even as I was setting up her 600 dollar, 32 inch TV as her Christmas gift one year. I couldn't have gotten thru it without you five guys love. Here is that Roman's prayer..a link to a great song of hope and a picture of part of the taped together certificate from last night. God Bless.

"Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner, and I am sorry. I need

a Savior. I know I cannot save myself. I believe by faith that Jesus, your
Son, died on the cross to be my Savior. I believe He arose from the grave
to live as my Lord. I turn from my sin. I ask You, Lord Jesus, to forgive my
sin and come into my heart. I trust you as my Savior and receive you as
my Lord. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me."

Link to full Roman's Road page :

Link to a beautiful song of hope. I think the link only opens in full screen:

Taped together Scripture on certificate of water baptism: