The scene is forever etched in my mind. It was August in Ozark, Mo. I was 18 years old and about to leave home. In the driveway stood Dad and Mom about to face an empty nest.
For the first time in my life, I remember feeling an enormous sense of gratitude and appreciation to these 2 people who had given me so much of themselves.
As I looked them in the eyes, the emotion rose suddenly in my throat. I swallowed hard, fought off the tears and said, with a breaking voice, "Mom, Dad, I love you."
It was the first time I had truly acknowledged the love and sacrifice they had shown in raising me. For 18 years I had been, for the most part, a self-centered, ungrateful receiver of their love.
That day I began to take responsibility to honor my parents for who they were and for what they had done right in my life.
My father died in 1976 of a massive heart attack. There were no warnings, no goodbyes. Sixty-six years of life were summed up in a 30-minute memorial. It was meaningful, but it still bothered me -- it seemed too brief a remembrance for all he meant to us.
Dad was a great man. Impeccable character. Quiet. Hardworking. The most influential man in my life. I wondered, Did he really know how I felt?
I had worked hard to express my love to him for several years, but words seemed so hollow. Had I really honored him as I should?
I pledged then that I would not wait until Mom died to let her know about my feelings for her. So, I began working on a written tribute -- a formal document that publicly proclaimed my gratitude for what she did right, for the positive qualities and values she passed on to me.
As I jotted down memories, tears splattered the legal pad as I recounted lessons she taught me and fun times we shared.
I knew she would like it, but I was unprepared for the depth of her appreciation. She hung the tribute above the table where she ate all her meals. She shared it with family, the television repairman, the plumber and countless others who passed through her kitchen.
The results of honoring my mom with a tribute were so encouraging that I began to challenge others to write tributes of their own.
The verb "honor," according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, means to regard with respect. In Exodus 20:12, God commands, "Honor your father and your mother." In the original Hebrew language, the word for "honor" meant "to make weighty."
That is what a tribute accomplishes -- "weighing down" a parent with honor, respect and dignity.
God commands us to honor our parents regardless of their performance, behavior or dysfunction. For some, honoring our parents may be a "spiritual barometer" of our relationship with God. And if we want to walk in His ways and experience His love and power, then we need to obey His commands.
Honoring your parents isn't approving of their wrong choices, endorsing irresponsibility or denying what they've done wrong. But it is choosing to place great value on your relationship with them, taking initiative to improve the relationship and seeing them through the eyes of Christ.
If we honor our parents, there are the benefits of better communication, the possibility of peace with them, and greater freedom in relationship with them.
"I never felt that my mother treated me like an adult," says Diane. To Diane's mother, there was only one way to do things -- her way. So over the years, Diane began to withdraw from her.
Diane's feelings began to change, however, when she heard about writing a tribute for her parents. As she wrote, God slowly gave her a different perspective. As her mother read the tribute, she immediately broke down in tears.
"I think part of the problem," says Diane, "was that all those years, while I was feeling she didn't respect me, she didn't feel any respect and appreciation from her kids." The tribute allowed Diane and her mother to set aside their differences and begin building a relationship.
The Bible declares that parents are worthy of honor, and honor gives hope and encouragement when parents need it most. You can never totally repay your parents for what they gave you. But you can try.
A written tribute can be an island of appreciation in a sea of form letters and impersonal communications. I have found that parents don't care if you're a gifted writer, grammarian or spelling-bee champion. They feel honored by the fact that you are speaking from your heart.
Here are a few suggested steps in writing a tribute.
I wrote a tribute to my father nearly 10 years after he died. I have no idea whether those in heaven are able to see what happens here on earth, but I do know he would have been pleased. And I am certain of this: God sees, and He is pleased with the tribute I wrote because it honors my dad.
The only thing better would have been to have read it to him in person.
To download a personal guide to writing a tribute, to order the book The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents, or to see examples of others' tributes, visit www.familylife.com/tribute.
This year, we challenge you to start a new tradition with your family by capturing moments and memories and sharing them with one another at year’s end.
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Walt and Ann Bealke have been married for a long time, just not to each other. They are now 5 years into their marriage (the third for each of them), and are seeing God redeem their pasts and build a Gospel-centered marriage.
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