A Journey with God – Part 1

This weekend’s guest blogger is Charlie Wiles.  Charlie is a local restauranteur and owner of Charlie’s Barbecue in Odenville.  Charlie’s is located at THE red light in Odenville and is open Mon-Fri from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

From December 2004 to November 2006 I had accomplished some pretty spectacular things with my business partners:

  1. Went from zero Dairy Queen’s to eight
  2. Constructed, staffed and opened 3 DQ’s in less than 90 days
  3. Obtained and purchased 2 high volume DQ’s
  4. Obtained and opened Pelham and Liberty Park DQ’s
  5. Opened the first of its kind DQ drive in
  6. Was voted in as Chairman of Birmingham DMA
  7. I was voted in as Chairman of Distribution Committee
  8. I was flown to HQ every September in Minnesota to represent Alabama.
  9. Grossed $8,000,000 in sales
  10. Had over 300 employees and adding more

At the same time, I was being called to a deeper relationship with Jesus.  This began with seeking God’s glory in everything we did as a company.  We made I Corinthians 10:31 our anchor in our business.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Life was good, but I had no idea what was about to happen.  This “house” I had built looked so solid, so set for the future.  I had the right people, the right locations, and a plan that I believed would honor God.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

Even though the business was solid, my body had begun to wear down.  My knees started to really trouble me.  I had been through many surgeries on my knees and I figured partial knee replacement was the logical next step.  Connie and I took a cruise up north in August, just before I went to see the doctor to discuss my options.  She urged me to take a cane, but at the spry age of 49, I had no need for a cane! Boy was Connie right.  I wasn’t able to walk more than 100 or so yards without pain during the cruise.

When we returned home I went to see Dr. Mark Elkus.  After reviewing my file and taking some x-rays, he returned to discuss the options. I was only 49, how bad could it be? I felt certain he would confirm my thoughts of the partial knee replacement.  Wrong again.

I remember as if it were today his words.  “The knees have been destroyed by arthritis, partial knee is out of the question, and the only relief will be a total knee replacement.”

I wasn’t prepared to hear those words.  As I look back now I believe it was the Damascus moment for my Christian life.  At that very moment God allowed my heart to be broken, and he began to teach me about a contrite heart.

After total knee replacement in November of 2006, it took 16 weeks to get back to some sort of normality to my life.  I had a lot of quiet time for reflection.  I was drawn by the Spirit to make some changes in my life.  But to make these changes, I had no way of knowing what God was going to permit to happen to get me there.  There was no way I would be able to understand or even begin to comprehend how challenging the coming months would be.

Because of my surgery, I had really been out of touch with the stores from November 2006 to the end of March 2007.  We had two stores broken into and both safes were stolen.  Cameras caught the thief, but the cash was never recovered.

Then in April, the Department of Labor came calling.  A 15-year old employee had erroneously been hired by the manager of the Liberty Park DQ.  I had always successfully worked with these governmental agencies in a spirit of cooperation.  When they made me aware of the 15 year old, I invited the DoL to our next monthly general manager’s meeting.  The DoL showed up and we held a very intense meeting in which I warned everyone “If you hire a 15 year old you will loose your job”.  The meeting ended and we went back to selling Ice Cream and Chicken.

In June 2007 the DOL did a surprise inspection of our Pelham DQ.  Now remember in May one month earlier we laid down the law, “hire a 15 year old and you are fired”.  Unbeknownst to me the GM had not hired one but two.  We reacted quickly, we terminated the GM, the 15 year olds, we provided and worked any way we could with the DOL to calm the fire but it was too late.  The DOL had been disrespected and they were going to go through everything with all they had to make sure we were taught a lesson.   They would get back to us.

I met with our partner in July to discuss the health of our sales and growth plan for the DQ’s.  He wasn’t happy with our progress on either front.  He wanted to see us build in Fultondale, I opposed that, we were such a young company.  It made no sense to take on more debt.  We needed to settle for a time and learn how to run this business.

It was like waiting on the other shoe to drop with the DOL.  It was quiet in August and September.  I got the call from them in October; they had completed their investigation and wanted a meeting.  They wanted us all there to lay out the details.  We met on a cold rainy day in October.  They said it pretty simply, they wanted $24,000, they wanted every partner to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and they would go away.  After the shock we had some discussion with the DOL, they wanted more documentation to consider and they would be back in touch.

While all these challenges were taking place, Connie and I had grown together.  We had sold our Misty Lane home that we had built together.  That is a story in itself.  We had begun to seek out prayer partners and began to learn more about intercessory prayer.  I still remember the Wednesday night before my knee replacement and the body of believers stopping to pray for me.  I was afraid and God gave me peace.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:26

I knew we were in trouble, but I had no idea how much damage lay ahead.


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