Maybe it is because fall is upon us, and I always think of fall as starting a new year. I suppose it comes from having been a teacher and thinking in terms of school years. Whatever the reason, this true story touched my heart, making me want to share it with you.
To me it is a story that bears repeating ever so often as a reminder that sometimes just a kind word can make a tremendous difference in the life of another.
The setting for this particular story is one of my favorite places, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where a seminary professor was vacationing with his wife.
While having breakfast one morning the couple noticed a very distinguished looking man moving from table to table as he visited with the guests.
Being on vacation, it was the professor’s first impulse to hope that the man would not stop at his table and interrupt their breakfast but as luck would have it, he did just that.
“Where are you folks from?”
“Oklahoma,” they answered.
“Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the man said. “What do you do for a living?” The man answered that he taught at a seminary.
“So you teach preachers how to preach. Well, I have a great story for you,” and the man pulled up a chair and sat down at the couple’s table.
Now if you’ve ever been in Gatlinburg, you know that it is surrounded by the Smokies, and the man said, “See that mountain over there?” Not far from the base of that mountain there was a boy born to an unwed mother.
“He had a hard time growing up because everywhere he went he was always asked the same question. ‘Who’s your daddy?’”
The little boy would hide from the other students at recess and at lunch time; he would avoid going into stores because that question always followed him, “Hey, boy, who’s your daddy?”
When he was about twelve years old, his church hired a new preacher. The boy would come in late and slip out early to avoid the question. One day the new preacher said the benediction so fast that the boy was caught and had to walk out with the crowd.
Sure enough, as the boy walked by the preacher, he put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Who’s your daddy, son?”
The whole church became quite and the boy could feel every eye looking at him. Finally, everyone would hear the answer to the awful question.
Thankfully, the preacher sensed something was wrong and with kindness turned to the scared little boy and said, “Wait a minute! I know who you are because I can see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God!”
The preacher patted the boy’s shoulder and said, “Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”
With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. From then on he answered the question by saying, “I am a child of God.”
With that the distinguished man stood up from the table and said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children I probably never would have amounted to anything.” And he walked away.
The professor and his wife were stunned. They called their waitress and asked her if she knew the man who had just left their table.
“Of course. Everyone here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper, the governor of Tennessee.”