By Chris Johnson
Director of communications
A strange thing happened to me on the way to the convenience store … about six weeks ago.
I was walking in and someone yelled "Hey, Chris Johnson!" I turned and saw someone I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. He lived in Columbus, where I did from 1997-2011, and was an old friend of a friend from college. He also was a reader and fan of my newspaper column (which I still have every Sunday).
He works for the Georgia Lottery and his job is basically to visit stores in his district and make sure they are stocked up on all the latest games and such. We talked for a second about what a coincidence it was after not seeing each other for 10 years in Columbus to see each other at a convenience store in Americus. Then I cracked some stupid joke to the extent of "Hey, got some winning tickets in there for me?"
He responded, "Funny you should ask," and then handed me a stack of "free play" coupons for the Mega Millions game. At first I wasn’t sure what to do. I once thought the lottery wasn’t so much of a bad idea, but now I’m against it as I’ve seen so many people who obviously were struggling in life shelling out loads of money on these tickets. A friend calls it "a tax on the stupid." But I think of it as a "tax on the hopeless."
And, on the surface, a dollar for a 176 million-to-1 shot at winning a grand prize seems harmless enough. Until it becomes $10 and then $100 and then the kids’ milk money. Of course, it supports education in Georgia. But, as expected, it wasn’t long before beautiful college buildings rose left and right, tuition skyrocketed, professors’ pay soared, and the fringe fat cats grew morbidly obese. Now, the goose that laid the golden egg is on its last leg, or egg.
Of course, I’m not much for gambling anyway. I’m addicted to caffeine, but not gambling. I once spent $5 in a Detroit casino, and lost it all. I’ve never had a lot of interest in hitting the casinos of Vegas or Biloxi. Although, I did just win a free McFlurry at McDonald’s and you can bet I’ll cash that sucker in! Especially since the only thing I thought I was gambling with by ordering those McNuggets was a heart attack.
So, what was I to do? Hand those "free play" tickets back on principle? I didn’t. Why? Because something seemed so coincidental about our encounter, almost too coincidental. It set me to thinking, maybe somebody up there wants me to win the thing! After all, I’m a pretty simple guy and wouldn’t spend a whole lot on myself. I’d use the money wisely, to support my family and donate it to worthy causes. I decided if I won, I’d give a significant portion to The Fuller Center.
Of course, I wound up giving most of the tickets away … on the condition that anyone who won the jackpot had to give a big donation to The Fuller Center. It wasn’t exactly a legal contract, but every person I gave it to is a good person who wouldn’t waste such a gift.
I’ve played a few tickets … and I don’t think I’ve gotten a single number right. If there’s a prize for worst numbers, I might be in the running. So I guess coming into a stack of free tickets wasn’t the work of God, after all, but pure coincidence. Then again, the tickets expire tonight, so I played the last couple I had. The jackpot is $113 million. Wish me luck because if I win, so will The Fuller Center. After all, if I hadn’t taken this job with The Fuller Center, I wouldn’t have been there at that moment.
You just never know about those seemingly insignificant moments that shift the direction of your life. If as a young man my dad hadn’t run his Corvair into a cow in the road on his way to preach a trial sermon, he would have gone on to become a pastor and not build houses before moving into organizational effectiveness. (Dad took it as a sign from God he hadn’t received the call to preach, after all. And I suspect the cow took it as a sign not to play in the road.) Funny how all three of those paths he followed — religion, building houses and organizational effectiveness — are so intertwined here at The Fuller Center. Good thing he shared some of his knowledge about each with me. Hmm, maybe the cow in the road wasn’t a total coincidence.
Of course, if I hadn’t gotten this job with The Fuller Center, I’d be frustrated about my total lack of Mega Millions success so far. But I’m not. There was so much I was proud of during my 22 years as a full-time journalist, but I feel so fortunate to have this job with such a great organization, whose good work continues to expand and grow. I’m also closer to my family. I’m home. And I’m happy. For the first time in many years, I’m truly, deeply happy.
Perhaps that’s why I got that handful of "free play" tickets — so that I would look deeper and see that I’m already a very lucky man.
So many of us are. And so many people whose good fortunes include financial wealth have shared that with good families who are working hard to achieve dreams of home ownership through The Fuller Center. And so many people whose good fortunes include construction skills, people skills or just a good heart have shared those with families through The Fuller Center. We thank you all.
By the way, tonight is my last shot at that now $113 million jackpot. I’d ask you to wish me luck, but I’ve already had more than my share. And if YOU win $113 million tonight, be sure to click below and share your fortune!