The Day I Met the 80 Year Old Professional Poker Player
Laurie Coombs is a passionate writer and speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption, and the hope found in Jesus. She is the author of Letters from My Father’s Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness, an incredible true story of grace, mercy, and the redemptive power of God. Her story was featured in Billy Graham’s film, Heaven, as well as on many other national and regional radio and television programs. She is a contributor to Zondervan’s NIV Bible for Women and writes at LaurieCoombs.org. Laurie and her husband, Travis, make their home in Nevada along with their three daughters.
- 2013 Oct 02
"Where should we sit?" I question my thirteen year old niece.
I have a mind to go right. Emily, my niece, points left. "Right there," she says with resolve, pointing to a booth next to the window.
We sit down, McDonald's ice cream cones in hand.
I have a lot of kids with me. Two, my own. Three, my sisters, including my two month old nephew. At once, all four big kids eagerly take their first lick.
Soon, the baby begins to fuss, so I take him out of his infant carrier and stand, bouncing and soothing.
I notice the man sitting in the booth next to ours. He looks at me, sees the kids, and smiles a warm, inviting smile.
A whisper comes to my soul. Speak to him, the Lord prompts. Tell him about Me.
The man looks to be about seventy or so. He has warn skin, but seems to be fit, very fit, in fact, for a man his age. He lingers over his half-read newspaper, though his cup that once held coffee appears to be empty. It seems he has been sitting there for a quite some time, and it doesn't look like he will be packing up anytime soon.
He comments on all my children. "Oh, they're not all mine," I explain.
"Well, they're beautiful. All of them. Very beautiful."
"Thank you." Then after a pause, I ask, "So, how long have you lived in Carson?"
"Oh, I don't live here," he says.
He tells me more.
Turns out, he's an 80 year old professional poker player who has made it his life's goal to visit every town in the United States. A goal set over fifty years ago. A goal nearly met. And there's a map to prove it, marked with dots next to each city visited.
He lives a simple life. Only a truck and camper to call home, traveling from here to there, seeing the sights, with only poker winnings funding his adventure.
"Any regrets?" I ask him.
"Plenty. I never did have any of them," he says, motioning lovingly––or perhaps longingly––to the many children with me. "Never married, either."
He had a difficult childhood. He was adopted, more than once. But later, was orphaned, then entered into the foster system.
He was unloved. Unwanted.
"Then, when I grew up, I just became a loner. It's just who I am."
My heart aches.
If only, I think.
If only he had someone to love him in this life.
If only he knew that he has a Father. That he has always had a Father. One that loved him from the very beginning of time. One that knit him together. One that created him, lovingly, intricately. And One who still, eighty years later, beckons him to come home. To come to Himself. To come to know and be known.
"So, where do you want to go from here? What's left to do?" I ask.
"Nothing. I think I've just about done all I wanted to do. Honestly, I just hope it goes quickly now."
I know what he means. He hopes for death.
There's so much I want to say to this man. So many words he needs to hear. To embrace. To believe.
Give me the words, Lord.
The kids are finishing their cones, but I don't want this to end without being the light to this man in his last days.
He asks my niece about computers.
"Do you have a computer?" I ask.
"I'm learning. I have access to them at the senior center here in town."
I tell him that I write. I tell him about my blog. About my book, which opens the conversation to the topic of my writing––Jesus.
I tell him how I was saved. How I thought the whole God thing was a farce. How Jesus came and rocked my world. I tell him about my dad and how I was called to love and forgive his murderer. I tell him Jesus redeems, and that Jesus takes all our junk and creates beauty.
And he's moved. He writes down my blog address.
"Can I contact you here, if I want to?" he asks, pointing to what he's written.
The kids are ready to go.
Watching my interaction with the children, the motherless man tells me, "I wish you had been my mother."
I smile. Oh boy.
They all stand up, but I can't leave. I turn toward him, bend down, and hug this man I've only just met, telling him what a honor it was to have met him.
And I mean it.
It was an honor to meet this man. The 80 year old professional poker player, who was adopted, then orphaned. A man who chose a solitary life because (I can only assume) he felt unloved and unwanted throughout his life.
But how many others are like him? There are countless souls in this world who have never felt wanted. Who have never felt loved, honored, cherished, like they matter.
I leave and pray. I pray like crazy for this wonderful man to meet his Father in his last days here on earth. That he can know the love of God. That he can experience the joy that comes along with knowing and loving Jesus.
I prayed. And I will continue to pray.
Won't you please pray with me?