Still Holding Onto this Gift, 26 Years Later
When I was ten years old, my family and I did something that was rare for us: we went on vacation. During that weeklong trip, someone gave me a gift; and believe it or not, I’m still holding onto it today. I’ll never let it go.
We spent our vacation at this quiet, Christian retreat center called Lookout Mountain, which is nestled in the mountains of northern Alabama. Some would call the place rustic, with its old barn, log cabins, tiny chapel, and dining hall that housed a massive, taxidermied bear. But to us, it was heavenly – and believe me, we needed a taste of Heaven.
Just six years before, both of my father’s children from his first marriage had been killed with their mother in a tragic accident. My heartbroken dad emotionally hydroplaned in the years that followed, and no matter how much he tried to get control of his life, it only seemed to get worse. Naturally, as all of us watched Dad suffer, we felt the weight of his brokenness in our own ways.
Peace on the Mountaintop
Within minutes of our arrival at Lookout Mountain, our family’s burdens seemed to evaporate when we met an 18-year-old young man named Bennett Morrison, whose parents owned the retreat center.
Bennett immediately took it upon himself to teach my brother and me how to ride horses bareback. After giving me a horse named Shiloh, he helped me climb up, assured me I could ride, and gently corrected me when I tried to emulate the examples I had seen in cowboy movies. Pretty soon, I took off with Shiloh and began a week of fearlessly riding across the acres of Lookout Mountain, feeling free and real and alive.
It’s interesting that my memories of what we did with Bennett are very limited – what I remember so vividly was how I felt around him. Even 26 years later, I can easily bring up my little boy admiration of him. It was like having Jesus Himself around to say hello, to show interest, to make us feel like we were special. In fact, my brother and I were so upset after we said goodbye to him that we both got into the car and sobbed uncontrollably as we headed home.
In Search of Bennett
For many years, I wanted to find Bennett Morrison and thank him for whatever he mysteriously did in our hearts that week in August of 1988; but I had no idea where he was. A couple of weeks ago, though, I managed to locate his mother, Anne, using an old friend, Facebook, and the white pages.
Anne was delighted to hear from me, but she said that Bennett had been killed in a horrific construction accident at 24, “when he was in the glory of his manhood.” She said he had stayed the same, wonderful, young man as he got older. And although he did not get the chance to marry, he had touched so many lives that there were five boys who had been named after him since his death.
“In fact,” she said, “Bennett’s old friends still call me to talk about him. I had one of them call just this week.”
As I talked with Anne, I tried to put words to how much Bennett had meant to me, but it was obvious enough: I was a grown man who had spent just one week with her son; but nonetheless, I could still vividly recall my childhood memories of his kindness. That said everything she needed to know.
“Thank you so much for making this phone call,” she said, crying. “God sent you to me today. You don’t know how healing it has been to hear your story. Bennett loved kids so much; and when I hear you describe him, I can still see him there by the fence in my mind’s eye, teaching kids like you to ride horses.”
“I just wanted you to know how special your son was to my brother and me,” I said. “And you know, as I sit here on the phone, I think I finally realize why he meant so much: because God used him to give two hurting little boys a pure, unadulterated week of childhood.”
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Anne said.
“You can’t put a price tag on it,” I replied. “It’s one of the happiest memories of my life.”
Being Like Bennett
Most of us have children in our lives – they may be our own kids, our extended family members, or just the kids who run around at church or in our neighborhoods. When we get around those children, here’s an idea: let’s try to be like Bennett.
Let’s engage with those children, giving them our full attention when we speak to them.
Let’s be the adult in the room who manages to command respect from kids because we love them – and know how to have fun with them.
Let’s be so interested, so caring, so alive in their presence, that one day, they will feel that the hours they spent with us were some of the happiest of their lives – even if those hours were very limited.
Let’s be like Bennett Morrison, who was really just being like our Heavenly Father.
Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).