Fortune Telling vs. Prophesying

After realizing that even the disciples cast lots (practiced divination), I began to wonder what the Bible says about signs and miracles occurring in present day. I was first led to remember that scriptures mention many great things done in God’s name by people other than Jesus. In the book of Exodus, Moses parted the Red Sea, spoke to God through a burning bush, and (along with his brother Aaron) performed many acts of wonder for the Pharoah of Egypt (including the 10 plagues). Peter waked on water (Matthew 14:28-31) and raised Tabitha (aka Dorcas) from the dead (Acts 8:36-42) amongst other deeds. Although I must note the fact that Paul and Silas cast a demon out of a fortune telling slave girl (Acts 16:16-18), I can’t help but wonder if they were actually bothered by the fact that she was following them around shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” or if the real issue was the fact she was enslaved because of her abilities and wanted to be free. Why would a demon make its presence known by advertising for God?

From there I was led to ponder how fortune telling was performed in Biblical times. I thought of people who entered a trance-like state to deliver the messages of the spirit(s) that entered them (i.e. the Oracle of Delphi) … and realized it sounded strikingly similar to the way the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost (Acts 2), making the believers begin to speak in tongues. Could it be that the process is similar, but some were open to receiving power from any source while others (who only believed in the God of the Bible) did not seek power but instead received it as a blessing due to their devout worship? Peter explained the believers’ newfound ability to speak in tongues with these words spoken by the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below… and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Acts 2:17-21

When I consider these words and the fact the entire book of Revelation is a prediction of the future which came after Jesus died – a vision of the apostle John – I can’t help but feel that the difference between “fortune telling” and “prophesying” is a matter of who/what is credited as the source of information. It seems that those who give the glory to God are prophesying whereas those who do not are fortune tellers.

Over the years, as I came to accept the life path I felt called to and pondered where and when to open up about the fact I believe myself to be a Christian who is meant to use fortune telling in poker, there is one verse that came to mind innumerable times:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

I had been taught to hear those words as proof that you must believe in Jesus to be saved. I thought it was a reminder that I shouldn’t need anything other than the example Jesus set in order to have faith. Yet, just a few verses later, after telling the disciples to believe in him based on the evidence of the miracles they have seen, Jesus adds:

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.

John 14:12-14

I have never asked God for any special abilities, but I have never stopped praying that I would live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. I haven’t attended church regularly in years, but I have prayed many times for protection against evil and guidance on what to do with my life. In time, I came to see why God might want to be a fortune telling poker player (more on that in the next post), but first and foremost, I had to accept this:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

Before I could conceive of why, I had to find the faith to believe that I could. (Reminder: Peter had to believe he could walk on water to stay afloat. Matthew 15:31) Multiple years passed between the time I began to feel messages coming through the cards and the day I began to analyze poker hands from a fortune telling perspective. I did not want to be different from all the Christians I know. I knew they would worry about my fate as soon as I declared what I felt called to do. I hoped there might be an easier way (i.e. succeed as a poker player before admitting the source of my intuition). Yet, what is becoming more and more clear with every word I type here about my spiritual beliefs is that it makes perfect sense that I would not find great success at poker before first explaining why I want to be a winning player. I want you to know that I do what I do because of my belief in God; that any special abilities I have are gifts from the Lord. I hope to be an example of the difference you can make in the world when you have faith. Although my path is one that can lead to fortune and fame, my goal is to fulfill my purpose on earth as God intended.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:6-7
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Fortune Telling vs. Casting Lots

There are 1326 different two card combinations in a deck of playing cards and more ways to arrange all 52 cards than there are atoms on earth. The odds of the cards falling the same way twice are essentially one in a gazillion bazillion. Given those facts, it is no wonder that many believe tarot can bring personalized messages. Of course, whether or not information can be revealed is often not the concern. The real question for most who object to divination is: where does this information come from?

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Matthew 24:24

There are many references to sorcery, divination, and fortune telling in the Bible. In general, they all say it is wrong… yet there are also instances where leaders “cast lots” to determine God’s will. Joshua used this method to divide Canaan amongst the 12 tribes of Israel (Joshua 18:10). God commanded Moses to instruct Aaron to “cast lots” to determine which goat should be sacrificed and which should be sent into the wilderness to atone for his sin (Leviticus 16:8). The apostles even cast lots to determine who should take Judas’ place after he betrayed Jesus (Acts 1:21-26). In fact, the words “clerk”, “clergy”, and “cleric” come from the same Greek word (kleros) as the word “cleromancy”. Kleros is the word for lot or inheritance. Cleromancy is a random method of determining an outcome and, in ancient times, positions in the church were often chosen by casting lots (1 Chronicles 24:5,31; 25:8-9; 26:13-14).

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:33

Casting lots was a method of tossing different length sticks, marked stones, or possibly dice and making decisions based on how and where they land. The closest equivalents in modern times would be to draw straws or flip a coin. Playing cards and tarot did not exist at the time the Bible was written, but the randomness offered by them is far greater than any tool that was used to cast lots. Although the New Testament does not instruct Christians to use any of the above methods to make decisions, it does show the disciples using them. Despite the fact they experienced Christ directly and wrote the Bible (which supposedly contains all the information we need), they cast lots to determine God’s will shortly after Jesus died.

If prayer and pure intentions are the things that make this practice not evil for the disciples, why can’t the same be done today? What if sorcery, fortune telling, and divination as described in the Bible are tied to belief in multiple gods and other evil practices though that is not always true today? Furthermore, is it possible for any person of faith to never practice divination? If defined as seeking to determining God’s will, then all those who seek divine guidance – whether praying, reading the Bible, or using cards – are practicing divination.

How do you “know” your spiritual practices are good (not evil)? How do you “know” that everything in the Bible is true and accurately interpreted? Do you think the fact that the Bible was written by humans (who sin like we do) 40 years after Jesus lived could cause inaccurate messages to creep in? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. I’ll share more of mine soon.

The Present is a Gift

I don’t often turn on my TV when I wake up to watch the news, but this morning I did… and the first thing I learned was that Julie Powell – the food writer who inspired the movie Julie and Julia which inspired me – died on October 26th of cardiac arrest. She was 49 years old. It wasn’t the first reminder I’d received recently that you never know when you’re going to go. There have been plentiful reminders of this fact the past few years, but this one came the day after I received yet another suggestion that I should ponder how practicing fortune telling may affect my afterlife.

Before that conversation I had been thinking about what I would next write about here – which part of my never-ending thoughts I should share. After the conversation about how I justify my present behavior given my belief in the Bible, the sniffles I had been feeling for two days turned way worse. I ended up up sleeping all afternoon and evening (except for a short bit where my splitting headache pushed my nausea beyond the brink and left me crying on the bathroom floor about the pain). Rising about 2 hours after I often crawl in bed (because I had already slept 16+ hours and could rest no more), I turned on the morning news for the first time in many months… and learned that the woman that my mind first turned to for guidance a few days ago while pondering how to move forward here is gone.

I was thinking I would mostly discuss the things that happen to me which seem like more than mere coincidence… and then this happens… and it feels like more than just coincidence. It feels like a sign. I tell those who ask that I’ve prayed about it and truly feel I’m doing the right thing, but doubts do still creep in my mind from time to time. I say I’ve read the scriptures and don’t feel condemned, but I struggle to specify why when asked. I have my reasons, but I wish I could explain it better. So, I’ve decided it’s time to work on that.

At the moment, I’m not ready to set a specific goal (i.e. 524 recipes in 365 days like Julie did) but I am ready to say I’ll be discussing all kinds of religious and spiritual things and will write as often as possible (hopefully every day). I’m going to examine my beliefs in every way I can imagine and research all information that may either support or disprove the validity of divination and/or whether or not such practices are evil. I don’t want to build a career around a spiritual practice I’ll later disavow as Doreen Virtue did. I’m sharing my knowledge of fortune telling with playing cards for free now (as an e-course and through my YouTube channel) because I believe it’s a gift I’m meant to help others recognize and understand. I believe I’m meant to use it in poker to show it can be done; to remind the world that God works in mysterious ways. Someone I looked up to once told me that there’s no way that writing and playing poker could be my spiritual path. I knew he was wrong then – before I accepted that I was seeing messages in the cards – and now I’m ready to prove it. Right or wrong, good or bad, win or lose, I’m all-in.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Matthew 5:8
First on my (re)reading list.

The Yoga of Jesus by Paramahansa Yogananda

The Mystical Teachings of Jesus by David Hoffmeister

The Bible

I would love to hear your questions, thoughts, and reading suggestions in the comments section below. Thank you for reading this post and joining me on this journey!

Down the Rabbit Hole

Today is the type of anniversary that makes me realize how long I’ve been working to build a full-time writer and artist income. Nine years ago I began participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time. I had already been working on my goals for five to ten years (the timeline is intentionally blurred in my memory for motivational purposes) and hoped that getting 50,000 words on paper would get me where I needed to go. I completed my goal to write 50k works in 30 days (a giant feat) but still am not sure where it got me.

I declared then that my novel would be called Laugh, Bet, or Fold and described the plot to be written with this synopsis:

Stacy Tracy gained two things from her grandfather: a rhyming name and a deep love of poker. She grew to despise rhymes after being told for the millionth time how cute her name is, but her love of poker had only grown stronger with time. Realizing she’s better at knowing when to bluff, bet, or fold at the card table than in life, Stacy declares a new goal. She wants to be the first woman to win the World Series of Poker Main Event and, hopefully, improve her ability to utilize those skills outside the casino along the way.

In an e-newsletter a year later, I shared the draft I had worked on at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference that summer:

At first Stacy wasn’t sure if it was an epiphany or just really good weed, but as her high led her to contemplate the signs she became convinced. Her love of poker was no secret, but this was the championship. It was as old as she was and no woman had ever won – one of the few remaining male chauvinist strongholds in a supposedly equal society.
     Although in her heart she’d always been a feminist, until now she had never felt called to fight. She wasn’t denying the pang of jealousy that had struck when TrickySlick dropped the news link in the chat box to notify his tournament competitors that it was, “time to remind the ladies they truly are the weaker sex”, but it seemed plausible that comment was the code which unlocked her secret. There were signs.
     The table where Annette Obrestad stood being crowned champion of the first European World Series of Poker seemed strangely familiar, as if it was in that dream she had a month prior, the one from which she awoke remembering only one phrase, “Live like it’s all poker. In love, be the Joker.” The couplet of advice still made no sense in its entirety, but she figured that it was safe to assume it wasn’t offered to discourage her from playing.
     About once a week since Stacy turned thirty, she had pondered the significance of the fact she could conjure few memories from her childhood at will and usually the first to come to mind was the night grandpa had taught her to play. Clearly it was proof the allure was inherited.
     Her slow but steadily growing kitty at Poker Pub was like the Little Engine that Could. If she continued winning tournaments at her current success rate, it would only take… sixteen years… but just last week a late night stroll had led her to a bar where she’d gotten a strange feeling she was meant to play.
     The bartender had stoically declined to explain the thumps, thuds, and murmurs from above, but when a much louder crash compelled him to dash upstairs to investigate, the elegant bar fly he’d introduced her to dished the dirt. Poppy said the owner was really paranoid about the authorities discovering his poker game. The history etched on the walls of the preserved saloon had given Stacy the feeling that, no matter the quantity or color of chips being tossed into the pot, at the Horsemen Lounge they played for blood.

In 2015, a few months after I had the pleasure of meeting my poker hero, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the second time. I had become inspired to relocate the characters I had invented to a new location and twist the plot into something more exciting than my real life (which had inspired the first draft(s) on which I was stalled). I don’t remember exactly when I gave up on that draft or why. I believe I did not make the 50k words goal that year but kept working on it for several months. I think I simply couldn’t figure out where the story was meant to go. The characters wouldn’t tell me.

In 2019, I participated in NaNoWriMo a third time, once again using my life and a dear group of friends as the main source of inspiration. That time I called my novel to be You Betcha and summarized the plot in one sentence: “Five Horsemen and two Madames make one big bet against the Billionaire Boys Club to prove that what you do with your money is far more valuable than the money itself.” I don’t remember getting very far on that draft. I recall having trouble imagining the scenes and mentally beating myself up for not being able to write the way I wanted to… and giving up on that version rather quickly.

I hadn’t been able to play poker nearly as often since Black Friday – that dark day in 2011 when I lost my ability to play online for tiny sums I could 100% afford and work on building my bankroll in a responsible manner. From April 2011 until June 2021 (when I moved to Las Vegas), I needed a minimum of $100 to play most of the time and I didn’t often have that in cash to spare. I had available credit, but using my available credit too freely was the reason I had little cash to spare… so, I mostly refrained unless a friend hosted a game I could play at for less money… which wasn’t all that often… which made it harder and harder to write poker stories.

A few weeks ago I learned by watching an Embrace the Grind vlog interview featuring my new friend Jaman Burton (poker vlogger) that he enjoys journaling possibly as much as I do. The next time I saw him, I admitted to having a trunk full of little books full of stories about my life. He said he does his digitally. Then my childhood friend announced her plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year and my competitive spirit flared up. I was upset by the thought she might publish her book before I finish writing mine… until I reminded myself how much I have written here about me… and the fact that my stories as written are becoming more and more worthy of being my first book as I inch towards personal success as an artist and poker player. Actually, it’s possible all my stories really need to make a great book is the happy ending I continuously feel is right around the corner. Adding all those ingredients up, I decided I should start thinking about my website as my other journal and start writing my happy ending as it occurs.

Then, just before I finished writing the above words, while pondering whether or not I would mention the fact I believe my Prince Charming is someone who occasionally or regularly reads this blog to get to know me better but is not actually in touch with me day to day, I had to take a quick break from writing to get ready to go get my annual physical at the doctor… and the radio (first Pandora, then the local stations in the car) did that thing it’s been doing really often lately where it feeds me songs that sound like the movie soundtrack for my life… as if trying to erase any doubts I might have about whether or not I’m doing the right thing(s).

First, the lyrics implied my guy wants to be part of my story:

I will follow you way down wherever you may go
I’ll follow you way down to your deepest low
I’ll always be around wherever life takes you
You know I’ll follow you

Imagine Dragons, Follow You

Then they told me to stop thinking and start writing – let the words dance across the page:

Don’t think about it
Just move your body
Listen to the music
Sing, oh, ey, oh
Just move those left feet
Go ahead, get crazy
Anyone can do it
Sing, oh, ey, oh
… Show the world you’ve got that fire (fire)
Feel the rhythm getting louder
Show the room what you can do
Prove to them you got the moves
I don’t know about you,
… But I feel better when I’m dancing, yeah, yeah
Better when I’m dancing, yeah, yeah
And we can do this together
I bet you feel better when you’re dancing, yeah, yeah

Meghan Trainor, Better When I’m Dancing

Because it’s time to start the show:

But, oh my oh my God the entertainment’s here
Everything is suddenly amazing here
Sit back man, relax man
Sit back man

AJR, The Entertainment’s Here

And living in a Macklemore video sequel/parody by leading a scooter ride with my buddies down The Strip might someday happen because letting the words flow on this page more freely could give me a fresh start. In case you don’t know, I was a motor scooter sales person and scooter group leader when Maclemore’s song Downtown was released. It has only come up on Pandora perhaps a handful of times since, but today was one of those days.. just before it played this:

Like a sunrise on the longest night
Like a rescue coming just in time
Yeah, you save me when I cannot see the light
Like a heartbeat to a lonely drum
When I thought that, that the end had come
You remind me that it’s only just begun
Took my soul down to the water, mama
I came back a different man
Long as we got one another singing (oh, oh, oh)…

Everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright
Got a brand new, got a brand new, got a brand new lease on life

Andy Grammer, Lease on Life

So here I am, writing without much editing, letting the words fall out, being brave… because ever since my dream of becoming a writer, artist, and poker player began, I’ve felt haunted by songs that tell me to do just that. Especially this one:

And I’d give up forever to touch you
‘Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be
And I don’t want to go home right now

And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
And sooner or later, it’s over
I just don’t wanna miss you tonight

Goo Goo Dolls, Iris

I’m not putting myself on a 50k words in 30 days schedule right now. I can’t handle that kind of pressure on top of all I’m already doing. However, it’s possible I’m writing the rough drafts that will become my book or movie as happened in Sex in the City and Julie and Julia (two fictional flicks that inspired my life trajectory). Just now, when I got in the car to finish typing this post and drive home, this was on the radio:

So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself, and I
Didn’t know I was lost…

Aloe Blacc, Wake Me Up

These are not the only lyrics that spoke to me today nor the only signs I’ve seen that all my hard work may soon pay off beyond belief. I’m not sure I could ever have imagined a life quite like the one I’m living. So, I’ll be back to tell you more stories soon… after I clean my apartment to a point I would be happy to show it to Prince Charming when he shows up… and finish the next two videos for my new vlog… and perhaps play some poker online… but before I forget the amazing things that happen. I the mean time, if you haven’t seen it yet, click here to watch my first fortune telling poker hand analysis. I would love to hear what you think.

P.S. I dressed like the White Rabbit yesterday to work on Halloween and today I’m wearing my favorite hoodie with Q♡ art featuring Alice and the Red Queen… just in case such things hold the power to help me manifest my Wonderland.

P.P.S. I now work in the poker room where I interviewed my favorite poker player years ago.

Untitled altered playing card art by Rachel Hoyt

Who Fucking Cares?!

“You care too much,” they tell me. My coworkers said it when I scrubbed the floors of the coffee shop that they would swiftly wave a mop over (without sweeping first). They said it when I  polished the spots off the glassware that other bartenders would have filled with drinks. They say it when I tell them I never pretend to be sick in order to get out of a day at work. They even said it when I protested an illegal tip-splitting policy they chose to tolerate. They say it to help me have realistic expectations about the odds that my efforts will be rewarded proportionately. It reminds me of the way most poker players use the mathematical odds to guide their game play in order to ensure their success in the long run. Personally, I think odds are quite odd and you can choose whether they guide you or define you both in poker and in real life. I think people cling to the mathematically correct way to play a poker hand for the same reason they “don’t care” about the “little things” in life the way I do: they are afraid to be different. Unfortunately, not objecting to bad behavior or (worse) joining in because “everyone” else is doing it are two surefire ways to ensure that bad behavior becomes more prevalent. 

Poker pro Phil Helmuth is one good example. I haven’t been a huge fan of his over the years but I recently realized that I likely have more in common with him than many of the players I once wished to be like. He’s been known as The Poker Brat for as long as I can remember because he is sometimes extremely emotional at the table. He shouts, enthusiastically crediting “white magic” and “apex predator shit” when he wins… and rants, loudly sharing his dismay when he loses. He once said that, “if everyone played correctly, [he] would win every time.” His antics and rants have always made me laugh, but I wasn’t a huge fan because I didn’t want to encourage the behavior. Technically speaking, it is against the rules. However, because he is an accomplished poker player and many people find him extremely entertaining, no one has asked him to tone it down… until now. Recently, he dropped 40 f-bombs in 4 hands while on camera at the final table of WSOP Event #19, the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship. The public – the same people who had long encouraged his behavior – lashed out and told him he’d gone too far. 

While apologizing for the fact he had disappointed his friends and fans and embarrassed his family, Phil said, “I probably care too much.” He’s never been shy about admitting that he wants to be known as the best – that winning matters – but hearing him say those words made me feel it’s about more than that. Helmuth has more WSOP bracelets than any other player (16) and recently won a series of head’s up matches on Poker Go to show he’s not just a good tournament player… but many still harshly critique his game strategy (or lack thereof). His poker moves often don’t match what a solver would say he should do in that situation. They are mathematically incorrect. Sometimes they make sense to players who cling to game theory; sometimes they don’t. I believe that is what bothers him more than anything else. Being different from your peers is not easy. I think he knows that having moves no one else understands is what makes him great and winning is the only way he knows to prove it; that his antics have been amplified over the years because his entertainment value is what many liked most about him; that the public encouraged him to be the way he is and has no right to be upset he became that guy.

My personal tendency to swear a bit too much at inappropriate times was brought to my attention the day my cousins told me their dad said they weren’t allowed to swear at Thanksgiving dinner, “until Rachel says fuck.” I knew I had a potty mouth, but I didn’t realize I had shown it off in front of my family to that degree. It was then that I realized how often curse words fly out of my mouth without my full comprehension because I care deeply about the subject being discussed or have been injured. I use them to emphasize my opinion; to release negative emotions. I am a patient person always trying to spread positive vibes who sometimes sounds like a raging, whiny curse-a-holic. Why? Because I care. My heart is always on… and I dare say people like me because of it – that’s the reason they warn me not to care “too much”. They care that I care and don’t want to see me hurt by those that don’t care. What I don’t understand is why they refuse to believe in the power of caring. If the fact that others don’t care is reasonable justification for choosing not to care, what antidote is there besides caring?

The poker world is proof of how harsh the real world would be if no one cared about anyone else. You must exploit others’ weaknesses to succeed. It is the closest I’ve come to fighting a war. There are times when I’ve wondered why I love it so much; why I think it’s my destiny to play such a cold, uncaring game. Perhaps I was drawn to poker because it gives me a chance to fight back against all those who have hurt me – everyone who didn’t care when I thought they should. Maybe I want a windfall of money to make up for the hardships I’ve endured and enable me to give generously to the causes I think deserve it most. Then again, it is possible I want to prove that while caring when others don’t can be emotionally painful, it doesn’t impede you from succeeding in the long run. In fact, it makes you stronger.

I know my continued desire to be a full-time artist, writer, and poker player despite years of not achieving noteworthy success doesn’t make sense to most people and I don’t give a fuck. The thing I care about most is whether or not I am living the life I was meant to live; being the me I was meant to be. So, in my daily life, when needed to spread good in the world, I will continue to allow you to exploit my caring nature and have faith that it will pay off for me in the long run. I will take comfort from the fact that I am doing my best not to behave selfishly and give others reasons for doing the same. I will swear when I want to, cry when I need to, and continue trying to show you the value of following your heart. I am determined to be the change I want to see in the world, whether or not you care or think I should. Life is tough no matter what way you play the game and I fucking care how I play it.

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A Chip and a Chair

“Hope to see you at the WSOP this fall,” he said. I was unemployed, had just received a (no fault) eviction notice days earlier, and was feeling overwhelmed by the million and one worries I had about what was to come next in life. Yet, wanting to sound as optimistic as possible, I replied, “No plans to attend WSOP right now, but if I can find a bankroll, you know I want to be there!” I felt crazy for attempting to think positive about my dismal odds of attending the Main Event (ever, much less this year), but I knew that the only way to achieve impossible dreams is to believe that they can come true. I doubt Jack “Treetop” Strauss would have won the 1982 WSOP Main Event after having his chip stack cut down to a single $500 chip early in the tournament if he had not fiercely believed that he could live the notorious comeback which led to the saying, “All you need is a chip and a chair.”

The problem for me was that I no longer felt like I had a chip and a chair. My unemployment benefits were inexplicably delayed for the third time. I didn’t have a place to live or a job to explain how I would afford the rent at my new location. My parents were worried I was engaged in occult practices thanks to the fact I had begun discussing my belief in fortune telling with playing cards online. There were a few jobs I was interested in which would cover the cost of renting a studio apartment in Santa Barbara, but I was tired of having so little space. I was concerned I didn’t have the stamina required to continue the daily grind required to build and advertise my Etsy shop and get a job that would cover my bills after packing up my life and moving it to a new apartment. I was beginning to feel a bit insane. The logical side of me said that it might be time to accept that I may never achieve my dream to be a full-time artist, writer, and fortune telling poker player, but the optimistic side of me didn’t want to give up.

Eventually I realized that, if I moved to Las Vegas, I could get a lot more space for the cost I was paying in California… plus I might meet a lot more people interested in my art and jewelry made with playing cards… and I would be there during the World Series of Poker. It was the first idea that made me smile about the potential outcome of my difficult situation. The thought of leaving all my friends brought new tidal waves of sadness, but the way I felt when I viewed one particular apartment online made me feel I had seen my new home. A sense of relief and renewed hope for the future had washed over me as I wandered the virtual tour of this two-bedroom Las Vegas abode. Wanting to be sure there was a lot of logic behind my gut reaction, I thoroughly weighed the pros and cons of several new city options before calling my dad to ask for help executing my plan. After explaining that Las Vegas has the lowest cost of living and more job options… and doing my best to convince him that fortune telling is my way of communicating with God – an addition to the faith he introduced me to as a child – my dad agreed to loan me the necessary funds and volunteered to fly out to help me drive my belongings to a new state.

The move didn’t pull me out of my COVID depression as quickly as I hoped. A tiny view of The Strip from my new apartment made me feel I was looking at the land of opportunity and the fact I was surrounded by streets that seemed named after my friends, family, and favorite places seemed like a sign I had made the right choice. Yet, one month after arriving, I still hadn’t received a single call for an interview, secured any locations to sell my art, or finished unpacking (thanks to the fact I had fallen and injured both hands on move-in day). I did as much as I could to improve my situation, all the while worrying that I would always feel days late and many dollars short.

The day I received word that the owner of the Gallery to Go wanted to include my Fortune Telling Tiny Art Playing Cards in her art vending machines, I felt I had officially become part of the Las Vegas community. The day my neighbor texted to make sure I was okay because they hadn’t bumped into me in a few days, I realized my new friends are watching out for me more than some whom I was sad to leave behind. The day I got a job in one of the best poker rooms in the world, I began to feel lighter; more certain I am going the right direction in life. The day I happily admitted to a poker player I had never met before (on the fly while working), “I’m pretty crazy,” I began to feel more like myself than I ever have before. A few weeks later, when I was happily welcomed into a poker tournament at the casino with my lucky cat in a stroller at my side, I felt truly joyful for the first time in a long time. I wasn’t a winner on the felt that night, but I had a lot of fun. As some of my new coworkers predicted, it’s possible I was the player most distracted by my cat’s cuteness. She gave me high-fives most of the times I requested them and sat sternly staring down my opponents when I was playing, occasionally tapping me on the arm as if trying to tell me to bet.

Rachel and Harry (Harriet) heading to the casino to play poker.

The World Series of Poker has officially begun in Las Vegas. I don’t know if I will play in any of the tournaments, but I do expect to see many of the greatest players in person and a lot of other interesting poker action. I’m not here in the way I once dreamt I would be, but I am here… and you never know what could happen. Maybe a bunch of people will purchase poker hats, shirts, and hoodies. Maybe some of the local chapels will decide to purchase my King and Queen resin playing card rings for their brides and grooms. Maybe… just maybe… some day (now or later) an unexpected turn of events will lead to an opportunity for me to play in the Main Event. For now, I am grateful to earn my chip and a chair in Las Vegas by bringing chips to your chair; content to wait for the opportune moment to arrive; happy that I’ve found my muchness; thrilled that I have renewed my hope of reaching Wonderland; certain I will never achieve my dreams unless I continue to believe.

King and Queen Resin Playing Card Rings from Homemade by Hoyt

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The Hand Less Played

“Aren’t you worried you’re under Satan’s influence? The Bible is very clear about the occult…” my dad said. I had been expecting one of my parents to ask this for quite some time, yet I still wasn’t ready to answer when he did. I was a devout Christian once, just like my parents. I stopped going to church around the time I got divorced but don’t feel I’ve strayed from God even though I no longer live by everything the Bible says. I wanted to give them an adequate explanation for how and why I’ve begun studying No Limit Hold’em poker using fortune telling with playing cards (and selling tarot transformation tools and decks). I wanted to explain why the Bible was wrong on this point but I couldn’t because it boils down to this: I am uncertain. I don’t think anyone really knows. Like Pascal’s wager says, we must choose to believe or not to believe. Faith is a gamble. 

I was skeptical and afraid I might be fed a pack of well packaged lies the day I got my first tarot card reading but her presence was anything but evil. The woman’s words were the most comforting things I’d heard in years. I left feeling God had spoken through her, though I wasn’t sure if it was because I wanted that to be true or because she really seemed to understand me better than I understood myself and knew things that I had not stated. One of the things she told me is that I was due for a creative explosion and would be a pathfinder of sorts. I never forgot the statement because “pathfinder” is a term my dad would use. 

About a week after I failed to calm my parents’ fears that I’m on the wrong path, I had a dream that a small spot of my roof was on fire. It was raging hot but not spreading. I stood directly beneath it holding my cat and staring in awe. The next night I dreamt we moved to a larger apartment where we were much happier. Two days later, I learned that I actually do need to find a new place to live by June 30th because my landlord has her own problems and is moving in to my studio.

There have been few dreams I have seen and remembered as vividly as the two I had right before receiving my eviction notice. The first time I had such a dream was the night I saw myself at the final table of the WSOP Main Event. The dream felt more like a vision from God, but I didn’t believe it could or would happen. I loved poker as much then as I do now, but I’m not the type to risk $10k. I couldn’t afford to then and I definitely can’t afford to now. Furthermore, I was just beginning to learn Texas Hold’em. In time, with practice, I came to believe that maybe someday I would possess the right combination of skill and luck needed to play in the WSOP and that perhaps the courage it took for me to embrace the dream could inspire others. 

I was a full time office manager and extremely part time candle maker and writer at the time. I wouldn’t have predicted that I would start making playing card collage paintings or resin jewelry… nor that I would start designing hats and shirts… and never would I ever ever ever have predicted I would try to read playing cards… especially to try to improve my poker game… because I do very much believe in the math of it all… but I had always felt there was something extra tricky about A♤9♤ when I played at the casino… and I stumbled upon a fortune telling with playing cards book at a thrift store one day, let my curiosity flip to the appropriate pages, and learned that A♤9♤ was likely the worst hole cards in the deck according to that system… and the fact I had felt strangely about those cards before learning that information felt significant. 

I bought the book but didn’t spend much time reading it over the years. I felt able to dream bigger after receiving my first Tarot card reading but still didn’t think I had any similar gifts. One random dark and lonely day during COVID times I got to wondering if poker could be used to prove whether or not fortune telling is possible. I pulled up some videos of memorable pro poker hands, wrote down the details, looked up the card meanings in my book… and had my mind blown. Hand after hand, the cards were speaking – predicting player behavior and giving hints about who would win. I was shocked and excited. On the one hand I felt conflicted about learning how to read the cards, especially because the book says fortune telling decks should never be used for games, but on the other hand everything I have been working towards suddenly made more sense. I have long felt my spiritual journey, love of poker, and desire to be a writer and artist were intertwined, but couldn’t really explain why. 

Even now, I don’t truly know that what I’m doing is right. I believe it is what God wants for me. I believe God sent that random stranger who convinced me that there are plenty of rich people with money who would love to invest in a long shot like myself so they could say they helped a nobody take down the Main Event. I believe God sent the friends and strangers who popped up at various times since then, giving me money to gamble when I couldn’t afford to play. I believe God created the opportunity for me to meet Jennifer Harman, James McManus, and Johnny Chan (and many other non-poker celebrities) – interactions which made me feel like the unknown member of the 1% and helped me have faith in myself. I believe God made silly stories about my four-legged children flow out of me now because I really needed some laughs to maintain hope… because I have never felt so down to “a chip and a chair” in my life. Most importantly, I believe with every fiber of my being that none of this would have ever happened if I had not believed.

I have absolutely no idea what to do about my current problems because I think I’m exactly where God wants me. I have found only one full-time job to apply for so far that truly excites me, but it doesn’t start soon and I haven’t heard back. I might like to move out of the area to somewhere less expensive, but I don’t know how to get an apartment there without a new job… and I don’t think I could find employment there first unless I’m capable of locating a place to rent, packing, and moving there within a week to start working whatever job I get. Of course the harder part for me is that either scenario likely involves a vast reduction of time and energy available for all the endeavors I’m convinced are my intended life path… just as I was beginning to feel I had unlocked my full creative potential. 

I have been completely honest with EDD about my self-employment and had hoped to eventually inform them of a big jump in income – enough to replace one or both of the jobs I lost – because I don’t really know how to take a new full-time job without feeling like I’m giving up on my dream. I am looking for one. I know I must pay my bills. I want to feel like a successful adult who contributes to society. I don’t want anyone to ever have to help me out. I hate asking for help more than I can explain. In general, I only care what God thinks of me… which is probably why my heart feels shattered right now. I don’t want to give up on the things I believe God wants me to do, but the odds currently indicate that is exactly what comes next. So, with only a hope and a prayer left, I’m explaining every bit I can behind my madness. I’m turning over my cards because I’m already all-in. I have nothing left to lose. 

Though it feels like I need a miracle to stay in the game, I believe I must do all I can to have faith that everything will work out as it should. I must scour the job boards far and wide for gainful employment and affordable housing, work hard to sell the products I have created, remember that God’s ways are not our ways, and hope that putting this information about my dreams out in the universe will help me accept whatever comes next. Failure is hard to accept but uncertainty is infinitely more difficult. The poker table is where I began to see that we have no choice but to accept it. No matter how much you know about any poker hand or moment in life, there are always unseen forces in play, whether or not you use God and Satan to explain the good or bad “luck” they bring. The only thing I really know is that I want to be an example of good and am playing my cards the best I can.


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Duh Gambling Bizness

“We should do this for our business dope ass idea,” she said. It was a Facebook post in a group for small business owners. Someone had tweeted an idea. Others had taken a screenshot and shared, calling it genius. She had merely continued the trend. The idea was to randomly pick one person from the Facebook group each week and have everyone else Venmo that person $1 so that each week someone would be blessed with a windfall of approximately $10k. There were more than 50 comments already. All approved of the idea except one person who warned that it was a pyramid scheme. “No, it’s basically gambling (a lottery),” I wrote, “with a smaller prize pool and better odds (that are still terrible).” I was mind blown that no one seemed aware of that fact and felt obligated to illuminate the truth.

The man who had first called it a pyramid scheme responded: “If 10k enter and commit to play…and your not allowed to win twice….its possible you win 188 years later and break even.” I didn’t feel the need to double check his math since the point was valid (in my opinion) even if it would take as little as 10 years to win. I laugh-liked his comment and replied: ” Don’t forget that those who’ve already won must keep paying in for that to be true…” The original poster read our comments, agreed that those odds sounded terrible, and suggested the group size should be limited to a few hundred so the luck would roll around to everyone sooner.

I resisted the urge to point out that a few hundred dollar prize wouldn’t excite many and stated the more important thing. I wrote, “I’m pretty sure it’s not legal unless it’s for charity,” even though I was fairly certain I was right, because I didn’t want to be the only one pointing this out. The man who had pointed out it could take 188 years to break even had eventually told the original poster that the idea sounded fun and many others had left positive responses to the idea since I began shooting holes in it. Thankfully, someone else was offering similar advice at the same time. I added to her list of wise questions, “also, who is responsible for the money distribution and who checks whether or not they are being honest? What’s to stop them from saying only 9k of 10k put in their $1 though 10k actually did.” That’s when I realized the idea is actually to send the money direct to the winner; to have people pay after they know they haven’t won.

As of now, hundreds of people have left comments in support of the idea and/or asking to join such groups. They think those of us calling it illegal gambling do don’t know what we are talking about. They say we can’t understand that it’s just a fancy new type of crowdsourcing and that the winner is is simply the benefactor of a multi source donation… and that it’s 100% not taxable because it is a donation. A few people have shared links to groups offering this (apparently not that unique) opportunity. I rolled over the $10 I won on my Christmas scratchers I bought myself in honor of my Grandma Betty (who used to give us each a few tickets at the holidays) into two tickets for the Super Lotto and three for the Mega Millions… and left one more comment saying that, “Sending the money direct to the winner might create a helpful technicality for circumventing legal issues… but it opens up new issues of how to ensure that everyone who was involved in the drawing actually pays the winner.” I also left a link to an article about how to set up a legal raffle. I don’t think most of them noticed the girl who said she had already lost $1500 being part of this type of opportunity.

Continue reading “Duh Gambling Bizness”

You Have to Be Strong to Be Kind

All Up in the Club by Rachel Hoyt

“I’m going to burn these candles in your honor,” he said. “I think it will bring you good luck. This is karma insurance. ” I agreed with him and laughed because he seemed unaware of the fact he appeared content to personally incur bad karma and bad luck because our paths had collided. He had pulled out of a driveway without looking and driven straight into my car. Slamming on my breaks and swerving had made the candle inventory I had just removed from the pop up shop where I had sold handmade goods the previous two months (including several boxes without lids) fly through the car. Many candles bounced off the windshield and settled under my feet. It was extremely unnerving… but, once I calmed down, I shrugged my shoulders at the fairly large black mark he’d added to my hub cap and simply requested compensation for the damaged inventory (more than $200 in dented handmade candles). I only asked for $90 in exchange for about $110 of candles. I wanted to avoid the hassle of an insurance claim and help him avoid increased premiums. He wanted to either settle for the $61 cash he had on hand or make an insurance claim and try to get his entire front end fixed up through the claim. I chose the former because I felt it was the right thing to do. Poker has shown me over and over that holding the best starting hand (i.e. pocket Aces) does not guarantee a win. How I choose to play the game is what matters most.

Of course, I don’t feel the need to be kind at the felt, at least not in how I play the game. I think that even those who never play know that’s not what No Limit Hold’em is all about. For me, every hand I play is an opportunity to show my strength. The game has helped me learn how to spot a liar (a bluffer) and taught me a lot about just how strong I can be. My favorite poker memories are the times I called a giant river bet with nothing but a small pair (and won) because I knew the man who placed the bet thought he could scare me into believing my cards weren’t enough. Like most poker players, my least favorite memories are times I played well and lost… because the odds didn’t work out in my favor. Those days it took strength to walk away gracefully and accept the loss rather than risk more (which I couldn’t afford) to try to turn it into a win.

In my opinion, 2020 gave us all the opportunity to see just how unpleasant daily life can be when fear is a major factor in daily life like it is in poker. It made us ask ourselves how much we are willing to risk for the pleasure of human interaction. It highlighted the advantage that players with giant bankrolls have over those playing with cash they can barely afford to risk. Finally, it (and the first week of 2021) have shown us just how ugly things can get when people refuse to acknowledge that the odds are always against some and favor others; that often the underdog loses but sometimes he or she wins; that our democracy was designed with an intricate system of checks and balances to root out corruption the way shuffling and dealing a deck of cards evens the luck amongst players; that we all respond to fear differently and all desire to not be afraid; that the votes we cast with our money and at the polls don’t always have the effect we desire.

Each of us now has more power individually than we ever had before – the ability to control the number of people we are in contact with and our risk of spreading COVID (or not); the choice to buy local or support big business; the opportunity to take responsibility for whatever bankroll we do or don’t have and plan for the future; and, most importantly, the need to decide if we will support the system that has made our lives great so far and continue to push for alterations that make it even greater… or if will we join those who disrespect the system to (supposedly) root out corruption. Each of us needs to decide how we are going to play our hands in life and remember that the amount of fear that is or is not in our day to day life is greatly controlled by the way the players choose to play the game.

I plan to continue to play the game of life with as much kindness as I can muster and take my aggression out on my new punching bag and at the felt when I feel it is safe to return (both financially and for my the health of my weak lungs). I believe I didn’t merely save that man who crashed into me (and his insurance company) money by accepting less than I deserved for the situation. I showed someone inclined towards deception and taking advantage of a situation (possibly/probably due to his previous experiences) that there are still people in the world who do good just to do good… hoping that my choice to show kindness will make him do the same sometime (or many times) in the future.

Though we all respond to fear differently, we tend to respond to kindness the same. I want to be the change I want to see in the world – a light in these dark times – whether or not the darkness understands me (John 1:5). I will not shut out people who’s political views bother me because I know we are in the game of life together, whether we like it or not. I will stay strong and hopeful for a brighter future knowing I am trying to do my part to spread the light.

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If you, like me, believe that it takes a strong person to be kind, that anger and agression are merely responses to fear which we must learn to control, and that the thing we need most in 2021 is to remember how to get along when we disagree, please share this post to encourage others to spread the light.

P.S. Did you know that Ghandi never actually said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” though many have paired his name with those words? That’s what I call a successful life bluff. I had a coffee mug with that Ghandi quote for many years (until it broke).