by Will S.
“Sphincter says what.”
“Sphincter says what.”
“Sphincter says what.”
This was the nonsense I heard over the security monitoring system while I was in my office. I’m sure you recognize the statement being made by this ornery, disrespectful little ten-year-old boy. It’s the famous line from “Wayne’s World”. To make it worse, the kid wasn’t speaking clearly, so he and Nick, my colleague who was running the register, went through this exchange several times. This little kid, decked out in his checkered Vans, saggy jeans, and crooked ball cap was laughing hysterically. Poor Nick was genuinely interested in helping this kid, and neither he nor the customers in line could understand why this kid was cracking himself up. But I’m sure you can imagine the look on this kid’s face when I came around the corner knowing full well what he was doing, and I purposed in my heart to put a stop to it.
As I approached the boy, he ran down the aisle and passed all of the gondolas. (Gondolas are what we Exxon gas station employees called the shelves that hold all of the product.) He made his way to the far side of the store. I attempted to haul him in and get him out of the store, but I had no intentions of running after him, as our nice tile floors were very slippery at times. After a few minutes had gone by, I figured he had his fun and would probably leave the store so, I went back to my office and got back to work. As I glanced at the security camera’s screen, I noticed he hadn’t left and was hanging around the coffee bar. I’ve experienced this before and wasn’t in the mood for cleaning up coffee, so I got up and approached him again, only to find he had opened the coffee valves seconds before I arrived and let the liquid gold run free. “I knew it!” I gasped. Once again the boy laughed and ran through the store. This is war.
After cleaning the coffee area, I set out to capture this elusive little punk, and sure enough I did. I cornered him by the hot dog toppings bar and cold sandwiches. As I approached him, I heard this voice in my head say, “What do you think you’re going to do to him? You can’t touch him.” Oh my goodness! The voice was right. What was I to do? I couldn’t just shoo him out the door; he wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t manhandle him; the company would surely get sued and I’d get fired. “Oh my goodness, this kid owns me!” I thought.
After standing there staring at his ridiculous smirk for a few seconds, I sheepishly put my head down, turned around, and walked back to my office. After shutting the door, I buried my head into my hands. “What is this world coming to?” I thought to myself. Remember the days when parents could grab little punk kids by their ear and walk them to their parents and their parents would gladly receive them and punish them for their wrong doing? Not anymore. I can’t even run a business in this hyper-sensitive society we live in now. This kid is walking around my store ruining product – literally squashing Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs. Maybe we need to start putting horrible parents over our knees instead of their kids. Maybe that will make the difference. Shaking my head in total disgust, I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was obviously unhappy. “God, what can I do? I’m at a total loss. How do I deal with this kid?” I prayed. Then it happened.
“Love him,” God said.
“That makes no sense. This kid needs to be spanked and put in his place.”
“What? How?” My face buried in my hands again.
“He must be thirsty,” the still small voice advised.
I made my way out of the office to the customer area and sure enough he was standing next to the drink station. We make eye contact. As I reached for a cup I asked him if he was thirsty.
“Uh, yeah,” he replied in a low, defensive, I-wonder-what-this-guy-is-up-to kind of voice.
“What’s your favorite flavor?”
“Uh, Coke”, he said, playing along.
I filled a cup up with some ice and Coke, capped it, put a straw in it, and handed it to him. “Quit messing my store up,” I said to him as he reached for the cup. He nodded.
“You’re not going to try and charge me for this, are you?”
“Nope, it’s a gift.”
“Because Jesus loves you. Do you know who Jesus is?”
“Kind of,” he responded with a shrug of the shoulders.
This was a chance for some meaningful dialogue between the boy andmeI. After a few minutes, he asked if he could come by the following day for another soda. I acquiesced his request. Tomorrow came and so did he. We shared a soda and some more conversation. Once again, he asked if he could come by the following day, but this time I played it a little differently. “I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’m going to give you a verse from the Bible. If you memorize it and recite it to me tomorrow when you come in, I’ll give you a soda.” He agreed and went about his day.
The following day he did as we agreed and recited Romans 10:9 – “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I was so proud of him and very encouraged. But I never would have expected what happened the following day.
“Hi, Mr. Will,” the boy said trying to be respectful.
“This is my friend Johnny.”
“Hi, Johnny, nice to meet you,” I said with a hint of suspicion.
“Johnny wants to know if he says the Bible verse if he can have a soda, too.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You mean to tell me this kid who was just terrorizing my store a few days ago is now sharing Bible verses with kids at his school? This is incredible! In an instant, God turned a problem child into a herald of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Of course he can have a soda if he recites the verse!” I exclaimed. Sure enough, Johnny recited the verse. The boys enjoyed their soda and went on their way. But nobody saw day three coming.
The following day, five boys showed up ready to recite Romans 10:9. I couldn’t help but laugh at what God was doing. “This is fantastic,” I thought to myself. I handed out the cups and smiled as I watched the kids fill them up. But then it dawned on me: this was getting expensive. I had to put a new strategy together. How can I continue to watch God do this wonderful work in these kids, save my store from their destructive tendencies, and not spend too much company money on these kids? “I got it! ICEEs!”
“Hey kids,” I said, “How would you like to have ICEEs?”
“Yeah!” they said with eyes wide opened. To the boys, this sounded like an upgrade. Little did they know ICEEs cost very little to make – actually about a third of the price of a soda. ICEEs are mostly ice, which is free, and air, which is free, and a touch of syrup. I also made them wash out their cups when they were done with their drink, and I stored them under the cabinet for the next day. This would also ensure the kids stick around while they enjoy their ICEEs which gave me the chance to talk to them about the Lord and their lives.
Before I knew it, there were up to twenty kids coming to my store to recite Bible verses in exchange for an ICEE. Each week I gave the boys a new verse and most of them were faithful to recite them daily. This became so fruitful that I began to offer free hot chocolate to kids in the morning while they waited for mom or dad to get their coffee. Parents began reporting that their kids were finally happy to learn about God and anxious to get out of bed in the morning and head to school on time so they didn’t miss their morning hot chocolate. I didn’t get much time to talk with the morning crew, but they were faithful to learn their verses. Parents were thrilled. In fact, when I was moved to a new store a couple of miles down the road, many of the parents drove out of their way to get their morning coffee at my new store rather than their regular stop.
It’s amazing how God was able to work in the heart of a misguided boy and so quickly turn him into a herald for Jesus Christ. From punk to precious; from lemon to lemonade.