Honor Where It’s Due

   My son asked me the other day why someone we know routinely mispronounces the word “sword,” opening with the sound of the Nike symbol “swish.” The guy has an earned PhD and still doesn’t know that the “w” in sword is silent?

My guess is he learned to say “sword” as a child by repeating the way someone close to him said it, maybe a parent or grandparent. As a full-grown, well-educated man that pronunciation has stuck with him as part of his family fabric. His wife, who also holds a doctorate, is probably the only one close enough to him to correct him. She probably won’t, out of love and respect for him.

Then I told my son a story from my own childhood.

When I was growing up my Mom would come home from the beauty shop or grocery store and mention that she saw someone we knew, only she didn’t use the word “saw.” Typically, she’d say “I seed” so-and-so. As long as I can remember this was Mom’s way of expressing the past tense of “see.”

Mom was an intelligent and resourceful lady with beautiful handwriting and a love of newspapers, magazines and Paul Harvey. She’d left the South before graduating high school to go north for better opportunities and returned years later to work long hours in a textile mill.

In spite of all that (or maybe because of it), Mom valued and encouraged education. To her credit, all the girls who grew up in her home graduated from college and went on to earn advanced degrees. We never scrubbed toilets, did laundry or kept house for anyone but ourselves.

I’ll tell you something else we never did. We never corrected her when she said she “seed” someone.

I learned the English language well enough to earn a living as a writer, but I knew better than to tell my Mom how to speak. Some things are sacrosanct. My relationship with my Mom was one of them. What I am today, I owe in large part to the foundation she laid. Out of respect, I understood that it was not my place to correct her.

My place was to honor her. Not because she was perfect. Not because she was always right. She was neither of these things, but she was my mother. The position alone afforded her a respect that was inviolate.

 

The Bible says (and yes, I still believe the Bible is right):

 

“Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3

 

To honor someone is to recognize their value. We may have many friends, many mentors. Parents stand alone. We ought to appreciate them, to hold them in high regard.

Do I even need to say that biblical honor is all but dead?

Children routinely return from college to shove their “enlightenment” in their parents’ faces, rejecting and ridiculing everything their parents’ hold dear and everything they were taught to respect. The children feel smug in being liberated from their parents’ so-called ignorance and antiquated ways.

These “smart” young people are ignorant of a truth I learned early in my marriage: To honor your parents is to bless yourself.

I learned this after my husband took me to task for my being rude and disdainful toward my father. I justified my behavior by rehearsing how he was biologically my father, but never had assumed a father’s role in my daily life. So what did I owe him? My husband bluntly reminded me that wasn’t the point.

As a Christian, out of love and respect for God, he said, I had an obligation to honor my father for the position he held in my life. He was my father, period. Simple, but very hard to accept. I understood that my mother should be respected. She’d raised me. My father never had been a real father to me but was my “father” nevertheless. God’s clear command was to honor him for that alone. I could not escape that.

A lifetime’s bad habit is not easily broken. But I repented; and I worked at it .

Before my father died of lung cancer, less than a decade ago, I had the privilege of spending the better part of day with him at his home in the Bronx. We poured over pictures from his youth, his service photos, and neighborhood snapshots. I listened to his stories. It was awkward, but worth the effort. When he died, I had far fewer regrets than I might have.

Honor belongs to parents, but the blessing goes to children: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

As we approach Mother’s Day on May 11 and Father’s Day in June, consider that parents have a short shelf life. Both mine are gone. Honor yours while you can, even if they haven’t been what you might have hoped. Without them, there would be no “you.”

In an age of easy abortion, that your parents gave you life is blessing enough. If they loved and cherished you, were real parents despite their frailties, you are blessed indeed!

Have Anything That’s Fireproof?

We spend years and sometimes a great deal of money accumulating stuff: cars, homes, furniture, clothing, gadgets. And we can make a great fuss about what we “own.”

But what do we really have that can’t be taken away?

Some of us go for antiques, spend our Saturdays wandering small towns and flea markets looking for the odd piece to fill just the right nook. I have a neighbor who is into roosters. House is filled with them, every size and description.

Some of us are blessed with heirlooms: I inherited a carefully folded flag that was presented to my grandmother at the military funeral of her husband, a World War I veteran, in 1963. He died before I reached the age of two so this possession holds great meaning for me. I have a friend whose grandmother’s hand-made Christmas ornaments are a treasure her family enjoys each year. The grandmother wanted her to have them while she could see her enjoy them.

Maybe you inherited an original painting that has hung in your family’s homes for generations. I have two small pictures of flowers in vases that hung in the modest home my grandfather built for my grandmother with its tin roof and pinewood paneling. They are inexpensive prints but priceless to me because they connect me with my family’s past.

We all have irreplaceable family photos. I inherited my mother’s photo albums and those of my childless Aunt Margie, who knitted her way through her daily commute between Bronx and Long Island. These photos were collected over the decades before digital imagery, when picture-taking was rare and people dressed for the occasion and sometimes posed in a studio. There are even a few photos taken by my great Aunt Mary, for whom my mother was named, with the brownie camera that hung ‘round her neck on the Greyhound bus rides South from Pittsburgh.

These thick photo albums are filled with the faces of family, shielded by plastic sheets, living in the far-away lands of Chicago, Detroit, New York. Familiar people and nameless babies, old men, young women and longtime family friends are captured on glossy, square black- and-white photo paper with decorative edges and simple date stamps in black, some dating back to the 1940s.

And, of course, there are my own wedding photos, nearly 26 years old now, and pictures and negatives of my own children as they have grown through grade school, athletic competitions, state fairs, vacations, proms and graduations. Their baby books – they each have one – are filled with a lock of their baby hair, their first ultrasound views, their early footprints and congratulatory cards at their birth.

Then there are the childhood keepsakes: kindergarten drawings, that first wrestling trophy, the high school wood shop piece, the change maker from the first paper route, the winning pinewood derby car, first pair of ballet slippers, the signed high school annuals and trunks full of our own college books and journals that marked our passage to adulthood.

Now imagine all that stuff, those memories, those milestones… going up in flames.

All of it.

Ashes.

Not one solitary piece remaining except in memory.

Gone.

That imaginary moment may be your worst nightmare. But it’s no dream.

This actually happened to my neighbor’s daughter. A fire in the middle of a February night burned their Georgia log cabin home to the ground, even melted the siding on their car.

Everyone – both parents, two kids and a dog, plus some house guests – got out alive.

They have their lives, their love and each other. With that they can rebuild.

Relationships are fireproof because love never ends.

We need stuff: food, shelter, clothes. Extra stuff is useful; it makes life comfortable. It provides continuity and a sense of connection across the generations. But stuff is temporary. It comes and goes.

Better to treasure the people in our lives, and keep stuff in perspective.

“For we brought nothing into [this] world, [and it is] certain we can carry nothing out.” 1 Tim 6:7

Cleaning House

Tonight I did a very courageous thing. I looked under my bathroom sink and pulled out the stuff I have been pushing backward into the dark for years. I brought it into the light one bottle, jar and packet at a time. I looked each one over carefully, opened a few, smelled the contents and tried to decipher smudged labels to determine how long I’d had it.

Then I did what I have been avoiding for a long time. I made a decision. I began to toss those fancy plastic packages, one at a time, into my little green waste basket until it positively overflowed.

There was a lot to sort through. Most of it landed in the now bulging bin: mousses, masques, gels and creams; lotions, potions, waxes, oils and spritzes, even a few cute but empty containers. The brands were varied: Body Shop, Avon, Arbonne, MAC, Mizani, Neutrogena, KeraCare, Cream of Nature, Eucerin, Body Shop, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret.

A lot of wasted money. Some of that stuff, I’m not proud to say, had hardly been touched. Some of it felt slimy when I rubbed it on, broke out my skin or flatly didn’t deliver on the advertising claims. Finally, I let it go.

As I finished my little chore, spontaneously begun as I searched for something practical like a bottle of alcohol, it dawned on me that what I have been doing with cosmetics is a metaphor for what we sometimes do with life. We collect a lot of costly baggage over time only to realize later – if we are honest – that much of it is worthless garbage. Spiritually toxic waste.

Instead of discarding it, we keep it hidden in the back closets of our minds and hearts. We know it’s there, taking up space better reserved for more honorable and productive things. Getting rid of it would mean having to face our bad choices and poor judgments head-on, reliving some of our worst moments.

We would finally have to accept hard truths. We might have to admit that we picked up things along the way – things we thought we had to have, couldn’t live without – only to learn that they were poison. We know now what we are loath to admit: “I was wrong. I made a mistake.”

Confession is hard, but it’s also good for the soul. To confess simply means to agree with what we know to be true, to concede the point, declare it openly… no more denial.

Proverbs 28:13 says, people who conceal their sins won’t prosper, but those who confess and forsake them will have mercy.

I don’t know about you, but I need a lot more mercy and much less hidden junk. So, while it may be the dead of winter, it’s as good a time as any to clean house. I invite you to join me in getting into those dark places and starting to deal with your stuff. Time to start fresh. The best is yet to come!