Honor Your Father

Dena Johnson Martin

~~Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-2

Sometimes it’s really hard to lead your kids to obey scripture.

Over the last seven years, I have constantly encouraged my kids to honor their father, a direct command from scripture. In most areas, I am pretty good about taking the lead, about modeling obedience.

But when the father of your children has hurt you deeply, rejected you, caused you untold pain, it’s often hard to model to your children how to honor him.

I really have tried hard to walk the very fine line between honoring him and making sure they knew what behaviors were not acceptable (adultery). I’ve tried not to talk negatively, to make him out to be a bad person. We have prayed together for him, for his relationship with them.

And, I’ve done what I can to help the kids honor him. I always made sure my kids had opportunity and money to buy him a gift for every special occasion: Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Even when I wanted to be angry that my efforts were not only never acknowledged but also never reciprocated, I chose to keep my mouth shut.

My children had freedom to talk to their dad and see him any time they wanted, even if it wasn’t “his” time according to the visitation schedule. I can only think of one time when my kids wanted to stay an extra day, and I chose to make them come home (with good reason).

But now he’s gone.

My kids don’t have any more opportunities to honor their father here on earth. They only have their memories, the mementos from their brief years with him.

And so, on this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to help them have a special time of remembering him, of his service to our country.

My ex-husband was buried with full United States Military honors. The flag. The honor guard. Taps.

Cole, my younger son, is a military/police fanatic. He’s all about love of country, right after love of God and family. And I knew the military aspect of the funeral would be overwhelming to my kids. And I knew the flag would be a treasure. A treasure that was presented to the kids’ grandmother.

The thought was born on that very day, at the very moment when I realized there would be a military burial: I knew I needed to get three flags, one for each of my children. I had no idea how. I had no idea when. But I knew I needed to honor their dad’s memory.

Through the help of a small army of friends, my dream became a reality.

Thursday evening, I planned family pictures. What the kids didn’t know is that I had a full honor guard waiting for them. We approached these five uniformed Airmen, standing at attention, ceremonially still and silent. As the kids lined up, the honor guard went through the ceremonial folding of the flags. They then solemnly presented each child with a flag, one at a time, sharing heartfelt condolences and words of appreciation on behalf of a grateful country. Then, they silently and ceremonially walked away.

The final precious moment was when Captain Joshua Villalobos approached the kids and the four of them bowed in prayer together. What an amazing end to an amazing tribute.

Why do I tell you all of this?

If you have walked through a painful divorce, do what you can to honor your child’s other parent. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s the last thing you want to do when you’ve been deeply hurt.

But, your actions will go a long way to helping your kids grow and heal. They will see you put aside self for their greater good. They will know that you possess character and integrity in abundance. They will know you value obedience to God over anything else.

Some of the most memorable moments are often because we choose to put others before ourselves.

Don’t be hesitant to ask for help. My dear friend, Roy, was responsible for getting the flags. My friend, Aimee, helped me find Captain Villalobos. He lined up the honor guard. My friend, Sarah, took time out of her life as a newlywed to take pictures. My family dropped everything to watch, to support my kids. I’ve been told that we pulled off a feat that is nearly impossible outside a funeral service. I say we had divine intervention.

I could have never made it through this journey without the love and support of friends and family. Never underestimate the importance of surrounding yourselves with the right people.

For those of you have live in the United States, thank a veteran today. Sometimes it’s easy to become desensitized to the sacrifices of our military. They give selflessly, without regard for their own safety. When they are called upon, they are ready and willing to serve, wherever and whenever.

These amazing members of the United States Air Force had never met me, my children, or my ex-husband. And yet, they jumped in, embraced the vision, and made an evening my children will treasure forever.

My kids no longer have their father on this earth. They can never again hear his voice or embrace him. They have nothing left but the handful of pictures and gifts that he gave them.

But they now have a memory, forever etched in photographs, an evening they will never forget. The flags are safely tucked away in shadow boxes, and they will carry them throughout their lifetimes.

It’s certainly the least I could do to honor the man who gave me my three most treasured gifts.