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  • Writer's pictureJeff


Updated: Jul 8, 2021

Isaac – definition: he will laugh; referring to the Bible story when both Abraham and Sarah, who were in their 90s, laughed in disbelief when they were told by God they would have a child.

During one of our holiday seasons, my wife and I traveled south to a warmer climate to visit my sister. She is in a community choir and they were performing their Christmas concert at the university’s performing arts center. Passing the time while my sister performed at the matinée, waiting for our ticketed evening show, we did a little shopping and took in the Christmas decorations and energy of other shoppers

As we strolled by the Del Taco I reminisced of my late mother and her love for the Combination Burrito with Green sauce. I even remembered and told my wife of the time my mother and I went to a Del Taco and she asked me what I wanted. I responded, “The Lock Burrito”. My wife had a similar look on her face as my mom did when I made the request, What are you talking about? My young mind had confused ‘lock’ with the ‘combination’ of a lock.

When familiar smells overcame us as we walked closer it didn’t take much convincing my wife of going in a getting a snack. As we looked at the menu board I noticed a holiday gift card special. We occasionally do ‘Taco Tuesdays’ at our local Del Taco in our hometown and I’m always looking for a good deal, I thought I’d inquire. When I asked the early-thirty-something woman at the counter, her blank stare moved to a young man finishing up a drive-thru order. She asked him to come over and answer some questions about the gift cards. As she went to trade him responsibilities, my wife nudged me and whispered, “How old do you think he is?”

My answer would have to wait because he wasted no time meeting us with a big grin and a cheerful, “How can I help you?” Not only did he answer the questions I had, but upsold me to the best deal. Again, always looking for a deal, I asked if they did senior soft drinks with purchase. He responded, “Yes, but it’s either the use of a coupon for a free taco or a free drink.” I was impressed. This young man kept to the rules even though an elderly man was trying to bring his ‘cheap wad’ game.

When I got to the table with our water cups filled, my wife restated her earlier question and eagerly awaited my answer. “Maybe 13, what do you think?” With her answer on the tip of her tongue, she blurted out, “He may be that, but he looks 11 or 12.”

As we ate, we watched. This young man kept this establishment flowing. As he finished his current task, he would scan and gravitate to where he could assist. He knew what needed to be done and saw the vision of how it could be done efficiently.

We’d guessed his age, speculated his circumstance, wondered about his story, and marveled at his work ethic and sense of responsibility. My work with ‘severely delinquent youth’ (a term expressed to me the first day at my new assignment at a youth half-way house) and fighting the systems that puts timelines on corrections wears on me and this weekend of recovery was no different. This young man had not only restored my faith in humanity for the week to come, but I wanted to take him into my juvenile corrections classroom and have him speak to my students.

We had to know more. So I waited for the line of customers to die down and I made my way to the counter. As I approached, a young woman appeared from the back office and greeted me with, “Have you been helped?” I found the source of this young man’s focus and success.

Something whispered to me, ‘This is his mother’.

I responded, “Yes, we just finished and it was very good thank you. I want to inquire about that young man.” She straightened her stance, curling her pressed lips into a slight smile, and in a pleasing voice respond, “My son Isaac.”

As she called him over, I began to tell her of our experience with him and observations of him successfully not only doing his duties, but helping others with theirs’. When he moved within reach, I extended my hand, which he firmly shook. I asked him, “How old are you?” With shoulders back and pleasant smile, he responded, “Fourteen.”

I explained we had started all of our children at a young age working. Isaac’s mother leaned in, with tears in her eyes, and whispered, “I’m a single mother and I’m trying to keep him out of the gangs.” We praised her for the wonderful work she was doing with Isaac. I expressed a desire for Isaac to come speak with my students on finding purpose and avoiding distractions in life. Before I could finished she enthusiastically offered, “Take him.”

His smile couldn’t have gotten any bigger as I explained what type of students I work with and how I wish they could learn the traits he had exhibited while working. He was willing to come and share and was a little disappointed when I told him where I lived and worked a few hours north.

I did ask Isaac if I could retell my experience and his story to my students and point out the 5 life-lesson I learned watching him at work.

  1. Meet every situation with a pleasant, positive attitude; it overcomes all negatives in life.

  2. Learn all you can so you can address as many questions and situations you may face in life.

  3. Forgive others of their lack of knowledge; they will be uplifted by your humble service.

  4. Do not judge harshly, even if or when you are; a smile of kindness will always soften hearts.

  5. Love all you do and all around you. Examples of sharing inspire all. Especially acts of kindness.

I challenged him to continue his focused, passionate work and listen to his mother and mirror her example as she worked tirelessly to make his life better. I explained that in my 50 plus years of living, I had learned life is not always perfect, but as we continue exercising the skills and talents he was exhibiting, we can accomplish all we set our minds and actions to. We can laugh and experience the joy that only comes from focused, energized thoughts, followed by relentless, revising of pro-social actions. Living by adopted mottos, creeds, procedures, or practices are good. Taking personal responsibility of our own and our stewardship is better. Sharing all that comes from living life to the fullest is best.

- Jeff

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