Listen to “Repaid by Love” by Fred Smith
Stories come in all shapes, don’t they? Today, there is an industry devoted to people anxious to understand their personal narrative and the arc of their lifelong story. What is the plot of my life? For others, it is merely a collection of anecdotes compiled as multiple stories. They have a beginning and an end. They may or may not be related to other stories in an individual life. Some lives, in fact, are anthologies of these anecdotes but not a single narrative. For a few, there are life-defining stories that are more than anecdotes but not as defined as a movie plot line. But they can re-direct the whole course of a life. In fact, such a story has the power to shape the characters of generations. St. Paul’s conversion is one of those. Not exactly one of many similar stories in his life, was it? But the power of it has changed the lives of multitudes.
My father once remarked about Billy Graham that he was one of the most gracious men he ever met. When asked about it, Billy said, “I had nothing to do with it. I inherited it from my father.” I was thinking about that while meeting with a longtime friend who, like Billy Graham, is the most gracious person I have ever known. When I asked him about it he said virtually the same thing as Billy – and then told me a story about his father. I’ll let him tell it:
“As a young man, my father worked several years overseas. While there he regularly sent a large part of his salary home to be put in a savings account that would one day allow him to start his own business. While he was out of the country, his father had an opportunity to buy the parcel of land next to his farm and went to the bank to take out a loan for the purchase. The banker said, “Why borrow money from the bank when you can borrow it from your son’s account and pay no interest?” While that made sense and was certainly a better deal, neither the father or the banker mentioned this to the son who had no knowledge of the loan and the effect on his savings account.
Soon after his return from overseas, his uncle approached him with a business investment proposal. The uncle was starting up a company and the amount of the investment would give my father a not insignificant share of the venture. However, when he went to the bank there was very little left of his savings and he had to pass up the opportunity to invest. Had he done so he would have been an enormously wealthy man as the company was not only successful but sold years later for a fortune. What a loss and disappointment. Not just the loss of the opportunity, of course, but the almost certain loss of a treasured relationship.
What to do? Demand the repayment? Take the banker to court for misuse of his funds? Let the loss create bitterness and resentment for years?
Instead, my father took the note from the banker and wrote across it: ‘Repaid by love – many times over.’
I don’t think my father ever felt the need for reconciliation with his father or siblings. He never even told me the story. It was just something you did for those you loved. No looking back, no anger, no sorrow over what might have been, no expectation of thanks or apology from his father. If you loved your family, you helped them. It was my mother who told me the story with such pride and respect for my father. I never spoke to my father about it but I never regarded him the same way again. He was an extraordinary man among ordinary men. He was not perfect but he was of special character with a heart full of love for his family. He loved to give presents to us and took great joy as we rejoiced in them. The unauthorized loan to his father became a gift of love that did not need to be acknowledged as it was a small payment back for many loving gifts to him as a son. As I told the story to my sons I could not do so without tears of admiration, respect, and love pouring down my face that we belonged to a family so bonded in love that we would do all we found for one another without expectation of payback. That is the legacy and heritage I have tried to pass to my sons to pass to their children and on and on. Unselfish love is waiting at the bank for your loved ones to draw down when needed.”
All I can say to that is “Amen”
p.s. I will be taking a two-week writing break after this week and will return on June 27.
*Art by Thomas Hart Benton