Conquest Over Addiction by Jim Noyes
Clearing out my “junk in the trunk” one piece at a time.
We all have stuff that we keep hidden, or try to keep hidden in our lives. We might legitimize bad habits or behaviors as “it’s a guy thing”, or “I’m not hurting anyone”, or “I’ll stop doing it soon”. I call these habits and hang-ups my “junk in the trunk”, and for many years the lid to that trunk stayed tightly sealed. I was quite content in my sinful ways, and I found ways to accept all of my bad and hurtful habits and addictions. Some of you in this audience may relate to what I’m saying in a big way, and my story today will show you that even a guy like me, who has lived in his own private cesspool of sin and shame for many years, can become free and clean and healed through the grace and power of Jesus Christ.
The front page of my “life so far” resume, when viewed at face value looks pretty successful indeed: I grew up in a loving Christian home, going to church every Sunday.
In high school I was a jock who lettered in baseball and soccer. I was an “A” student, a National Merit Scholar and was recruited by a number of colleges because of my exceptional grades.
I graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis in 1981 with a B.A. in Political Science.
I met my wife in 1984 and we were married in the fall of 1986. We’ve been married now for twenty-five years. She is a true blessing in my life, and I love her dearly.
My career in equipment leasing and finance has been very good to me; I have a nice home and a number of other things that make me a successful man by society’s standards.
Yet for the majority of my adult life I’ve been a mess of a person. For the better part of fifteen years of my marriage I was a man who lived only for me, a man who lived a life filled with addictions and empty of God. As time progressed my addictions became so powerful that I legitimized them as simply being a part of my being. My self- destructive habits took over my life, and I knew of no way out. On the other hand maybe I did know the way out – turning my life over to Jesus Christ – but I just wasn’t willing to let go of the “junk in my trunk” that I had come to treasure and identify with so much over the years. My addictions were a part of me, and I accepted the fact that I didn’t have the power or the will to change. In retrospect I was right – I didn’t have the power or will to change. That change could only come from one source – Jesus Christ.
My treasures were in worldly things, and I had all but left God out of my life as I followed my unending quest for money and all of the things that I thought defined a successful man.
That said, let’s look at the flip side of my “life so far” resume which paints the real picture of who I was before I allowed Jesus Christ into my life:
I was a career and money addict.
Kris and I were married in November of 1986 in suburban Minneapolis. Three days after our wedding we moved to Michigan for my first equipment-leasing job. Over the next 20 years we moved to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, Iowa, California, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota and back to Illinois again. That’s right – in the first twenty years of my marriage I dragged my wife through ten moves to ten different states. It goes without saying that God has blessed me with a very forgiving and patient wife.
What’s missing here are the effects of my career addiction on my wife and family. Kris got home to see her parents about twice a year; I was lucky to get home once a year to visit mine. My wife married me thinking we’d settle down somewhere and start a family within a few years. She wanted dearly to be a mother, but my career was far too important for that. For close to two decades I ignored my wife’s desires in my single-minded and unending pursuit of money. Kris got to the point where she couldn’t even discuss having a family with me or having me stick with one company and settle down somewhere. Any discussion related to my career was off limits – my temper would simmer if the subject were ever mentioned at any level. I was on the fast track to riches, and like the racehorses we’ll discuss in a few minutes, I had blinders on.
Despite my career addiction and other personal issues my wife stood by me and stuck with me. She was willing to accept that she would never be a mom in order to be my wife. I thank God every day that her love for me, and her commitment to our marriage was strong enough to keep her from leaving me. Quite frankly, if she had left me I would’ve in many ways deserved it. I was living in a self- centered world of addiction that was soon to become a whole lot worse.
My career and money addiction led to a severe gambling addiction.
When we lived in upstate New York in the early to mid 1990’s I was a VP at a major bank-owned leasing company. I thought I was pretty hot stuff, and we bought our first home. Kris wanted to start a family; instead I bought us a bulldog named “Kirby”. I figured that would placate her for the time being. (No, she wasn’t named after a vacuum; she was named after the famous baseball player on the Minnesota Twins – Kirby Puckett!)
My friend and neighbor from across the street introduced me one day to Saratoga Race Track, one of the more famous horse racing venues in the country. He quickly taught me his “can’t lose” handicapping system and I was literally and figuratively “off to the races”. I gambled with gusto, and I even won a few bucks every now and then. I became talented enough to drive to work at 60 miles an hour in the morning rush hour with the Daily Racing Form propped on the steering wheel so I could handicap that days races while still navigating traffic. Nothing could keep me from betting on the races, and I was now gambling on a daily basis. My gambling became an all encompassing obsession – I couldn’t even go to lunch with the few friends I had at work because I had to go to the off-track betting parlor every day over my lunch hour so I could place my bets on that day’s races. I just grabbed a quick sandwich on my own as I hurried back to the office.
Over the next few years my “can’t lose” handicapping system malfunctioned along with a major part of my brain. I estimate that I lost at least $30,000 and probably much more, and I had credit cards maxed out from cash advances that my wife didn’t even know existed (or so I thought). It got to the point where I didn’t even care if I won or lost (since I lost most of the time anyway); I simply needed the daily “high” that I got from betting. To illustrate my gambling addiction in its fullness, on one of my rare lucky days I hit a big win – $5,000 on an exotic bet on the last race on the card. I took home those fifty $100 dollar bills and I coveted them. In my mind I was finally going to hit a winning streak and get out of the massive debt I had accumulated. I was ready for the next day’s races with renewed vigor and newfound confidence in my “can’t lose” handicapping system.
You can probably guess the results. By the seventh race on the following day’s card I had lost the entire $5,000 and I found myself at a gas station near the track that had an ATM where I could borrow another $300 on the last credit card in my wallet that had some actual credit left on it. I hurriedly drove back to the track in time for the ninth and final race, and placed another wild and exotic bet. I then went home having lost $5300 for the day – a record I’m none too proud of.
I became careless as well. I kept a shoebox on top of the refrigerator where I threw all of my losing tickets from the track – tens of thousands of dollars worth. One would think that a guy would try to hide his losses; I was at the point where I didn’t even care to think about them any longer. Stranger yet, it never even crossed my mind that my wife might wonder why there was a shoe box on top of the fridge and that she might pick it up and take a peek inside. My ever-increasing recklessness was clearly an inward cry for help; I just wasn’t ready to outwardly admit it yet to my wife or to God. I was losing all of the money that my career addiction had brought me – and losing it at warp speed. I was also risking my marriage.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6: 24)
My master was money, and I worshipped it.
Since my wife had resigned herself to never being a mom our bulldog named Kirby was as close to a child as she would get. Kirby was a wonderful dog, and when she got cancer at close to nine years of age we were both heartbroken. On the day she died in July of 2000 I felt a piece of my heart break and I was absolutely devastated. For many years I had been a casual smoker, and I told God that day (in an ultra- rare conversation) that I was going to quit smoking forever in memory of my beloved Kirby. I’ve never touched a cigarette since, and I truly believe that the God I had left out of my life for so long had been waiting all this time for me to come to Him, and He was now just starting to ready me for the incredible changes that have happened in my life over the past eleven years.
Within a day or two of Kirby’s death Kris and I took a drive, and we went by a large Christian church in St. Charles, Illinois, which was near our home at the time. We felt powerfully drawn to it, and we decided to go there one Sunday. (We hadn’t been regular churchgoers for some years). The music was truly uplifting and the preaching was straightforward, Bible-based and very powerful. We started going every week and I even joined a men’s group for the first time in my life. Something was brewing in my heart and soul; I just wasn’t sure yet what it was. I found that I wasn’t gambling any more, but I was still addicted to my career and I had a lot of other “junk in my trunk” that I was still hiding.
Then a Sunday came that forever changed my life, and the life of my wife. After a particularly powerful message that bored right into the depth of my heart and soul, the pastor challenged the congregation at a whole new level – he asked us if we had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and if not how we could have one by praying a simple prayer. I had lived in my own personal cesspool of addictions for so many years that on this day I was finally broken down enough to ask Jesus into my life. Kris was ready to join me so we drove home, pulled into the garage and turned off the car. We held hands, and prayed together to ask Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Savior. The tears flowed, and our new lives in Christ had truly begun.
Strange and exciting things soon began happening to me, quietly and unexpectedly. I had totally lost the urge and desire to gamble on horses, and through God’s grace I haven’t bet on them in well over a decade now.
In early 2002 God spoke to my heart in a powerful way. One evening I walked into the living room and boldly proclaimed to my wife “let’s adopt a child”. After reviving her I said it one more time – “let’s adopt a child”. With tears in her eyes, Kris’s dream of becoming a mother was finally going to become a reality, albeit about fifteen years later than she had originally planned. We worked with a Christian adoption agency and planned on adopting an infant girl from Guatemala, but after close to two years of unending paperwork and bureaucracy we found out via a letter and an e-mail that all adoptions were going to cease in less than two weeks due to problems with the Guatemalan government and other assorted issues. We were about to lose everything and Kris’s dream of being a parent, now my dream as well, wasn’t going to happen.
Then God stepped in, and in a mighty way. Although we had planned on adopting an infant, He had other plans for us. We received a call exactly one week before all adoptions were cancelled – there was a five-year-old little girl in foster care that needed a family badly. She had lived through more pain and hard times in her five years than many of us here today have gone through in our entire lifetimes. The adoption agency sent us two photos via e-mail and we were told we needed to make a decision within 24 hours. I got the photos, printed them and walked upstairs to my wife and said, “Meet your new daughter”. Kris was overwhelmed with joy. I knew immediately in my heart that God had planned for this to happen, and I also knew in my heart that I was 100% ready to be a father to this precious little girl who looked so tiny and so scared in those two grainy Internet photos.
In March of 2004 we flew to Guatemala and officially adopted a sweet, beautiful, malnourished and very tiny five-year-old girl. She weighed only 32 pounds and was barely the size of a three year old by U.S. standards. When she was first brought to the motel to meet us, she wore a pretty little white dress and a worn pair of sandals. This was everything she owned. She sat so still, and she was so scared. I walked up to her, knelt down and held her and told her in Spanish “Soy su papa nueva y te amo mucho”. I said that I was her new daddy and that I loved her very much. She looked up at me, and her first word was a soft but audible “papi”? She stole my heart from that very first moment. Dania Patricia Mireya Noyes was coming to America, and she was coming as my little girl. My heart was filled with a joy that I had never felt before. One of my “life verses” from the Bible is now Psalm 68: 5-6, which says, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God, whose dwelling place is holy. God places the lonely in families”. Dania is lonely no more, and neither are my wife or me. We are a family, and we were meant to be a family in God’s sovereign plan for our lives.
I was a daddy and loving every minute of it. My wife was finally living her dream of being a mother. But God had more work to do with me – I was still addicted to my career and to money.
In 2006, less than two years after adopting Dania we were back living in Chicago again (another career move), and Kris suddenly became sick with terrible asthma like symptoms. She coughed so hard she broke some ribs, yet not one of the numerous doctors she saw could pinpoint why she kept getting sick all the time. During this same time period her mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Kris had to go to the Mayo Clinic three separate times over the next year for her illness, and her mom’s cancer had now spread.
In January 2007, I flew Kris home to Bloomington, MN so she could be with her mom, who was in her last days before she would go home to be with the Lord. Delores was in hospice, and I know in my heart that God gave her the strength to hold on until Kris arrived. Kris held her mother’s hand as she passed away, and I thank God that she was there and able to do so.
After we were back in Chicago I knew, through these events, that God was moving me to make another bold decision in my life. I told Kris one evening that I would give up my career in equipment finance and leasing to move us back “home” to Minnesota, and that this move would be our last. I now wanted my daughter to be close to my folks who live in Golden Valley, to Kris’s dad in Bloomington, and to her aunts and uncles and cousins, all of whom live in Minnesota or Wisconsin. The truth is that I wanted to move home now too. I missed my mom and dad more than ever before. Family was now more important than career, and God was now more important than anything in my life. Quietly and gently, Jesus had reprioritized my life through Kris’s illness and her mother’s death, and I was now ready to leave my career and the “big” money that I had coveted for so long.
We moved back to the St. Cloud area almost four years ago now. God has blessed us in so many ways with a fantastic daughter, our health, being close to our parents and so much more. About a year ago the Lord placed a thought in my mind – I needed to build a company and become an entrepreneur. I thought God had the wrong person – I was almost 53 years old! But the idea kept coming back and it kept growing and maturing in scope. I was going to build a company that effectively put a “brand” around evangelism; we were going to make evangelizing cool, easy and effective as we work toward fulfilling the Great Commission found at the end of the book of Matthew.
In late November 2011, our company Go Forth and Fish (“GFAF”) was born. Our website is goforthandfish.com and it’s truly amazing in its scope and how it helps bring people to faith in Jesus while also educating and helping current Christ followers in their walk with the Lord. GFAF also makes evangelizing cool, easy and effective with our logo gear that never fails to draw remarks from friends, family and even strangers! It’s a great tool to help anyone participate in the Great Commission and help save the world – one soul at a time!
Our new division called Shoebox Prayers is bringing personal prayer, prayer circles and the power of prayer to the world in fifteen different languages via our mobile app for smartphones and a desktop app for PC’s. We’ll blanket the globe in prayer while giving the tech tools that everyone uses an eternal purpose! Knowing that my team is helping to fulfill the Great Commission is simply indescribable. It’s really cool and intensely gratifying. It’s everything that I want to do with the rest of my life. Can you say “amen” to that?
God has truly shown me that when I put Him first, the rest of my life falls into place and I’m more fulfilled than ever. Would you like a little proof? Here are some of the most recent entries on my “life so far” resume:
For two years I ran the “Celebrate Recovery” group at our local church. CR was developed and started many years ago by Saddleback Church in California and it is truly an amazing and life changing program. To this day a close group of us meet often for a pot luck dinner at one of our homes followed by discussion time for men in one room and women in another where we can openly and freely discuss our issues and hang-ups such that we can keep each other on track through the power and grace of God. To this day you can rest assured that I’m still a work in progress and there’s still plenty more junk in my personal trunk. But God and I are now working on removing it, one piece at a time.
Because of Celebrate Recovery, I now have more Christian men as friends than I’ve ever had in my life. What a blessing these men have been and continue to be in my life.
My marriage to my beautiful and precious wife is stronger than ever and my relationship with my daughter is fantastic. These last eight years of being her “papi” have been the most fulfilling years of my life.
God has taught me that true riches come from the joys of being a daddy to my daughter, to being a husband who thinks of my wife and her needs before my own, and most importantly that my life will be in the proper order when I put Him first, each and every day. My prayer life has grown, my walk with the Lord is growing, and I can’t wait to see what He has planned for me in the future. Every day is an adventure and I treat it just that way!
I’ve spent the last twenty-five minutes or so trying my best to explain how my relationship with Jesus Christ has changed my life. I’d like to close with some words from my little girl who will do the same thing that I just did, but in about thirty seconds. In August of 2008 Kris, Dania and I were moved by the Lord to be baptized as believers, and I had the privilege and honor of baptizing my wife and daughter while my good friend Pastor Dave baptized me. Prior to our baptisms at the end of the church service, we all gave a short personal testimony in front of the congregation. Dania wrote her entire testimony on her own (she was nine years old at the time), and I am so incredibly proud of her. Please listen to the wisdom of her words that she spoke to our church family on that summer morning:
“I was born in Guatemala and I had very little food. I was hungry all of the time and I slept on a hard floor. I’ve had a lot of darkness in my life. When my mom and dad adopted me I didn’t speak any English and I was really scared. But they taught me about Jesus, and I learned to pray to Him and ask for His help when I was scared as well as thank him when I was happy. I think I learn something from Jesus every day of my life now. I’m excited to be baptized as a believer in Jesus today. Having Jesus in my heart has lifted the darkness from my life and put light into my world. Whether it’s a bad or happy or sunny or cloudy day I know that God is holding onto my hand. He answered my prayers by giving me a loving family that takes care of me. I know now that God had a plan for me all along”.
God had a plan for me too, and like our little girl, I also know that Jesus is holding my hand on every step of my life journey. God has a plan for you as well. If you don’t know Jesus, would you pray this prayer silently in your heart with me in closing?
Dear Lord, I am a sinner, and I know that I can’t earn my way into heaven. My only hope of salvation and eternal life is through faith in your son Jesus and what he did for me on the cross. I want Jesus to come into my life right now, and I will turn my life over to him. I will do my best each day to repent of my sins and grow into the person you made me to be. In Jesus’ precious name I pray. Amen.