Tributes, for whatever reason, are often delivered posthumously. There is something released in our hearts at the event of someone’s passing that typically precipitates an outpouring of emotional platitudes and remembrances. This has been on display recently with the passing of legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant, as millions have taken to social media to express their grief and attempt to eulogize him as a man, athlete, and father.
A recurring theme is how a tragic event will often spark a pressing need to tell those close to you how much they mean to you. Most realize that saying or writing complimentary things about someone is always “nice,” but also recognize the irony of waiting until their death to do so. For whatever reason, we struggle to give timely tributes to those in our lives that deserve them.
Tributes will be the theme of this short Northstar blog series.
We want to take a few weeks to give a tribute to those in our lives that God has used in a great way. Whether they are still living or have passed away, it is powerful to reflect on how God has allowed imperfect people to make an impact on others’ lives for his glory.
As I considered who I would write about, I was drawn to what is perhaps a cliche selection, but one that I could not shake. So, I am going to write about my father. I could not help but feel that although God has provided me with so many people have poured into my life, I feel singularly blessed to have the parents that I do. I write about my father not because of any deficiencies in my mother, but simply because I recognize his impact on my growth as a godly man. Now as a husband, and Lord willing one day a father, his influence has become all the more tangible in my everyday life.
As someone that struggles daily with how to process emotions, this is a difficult task for me to undertake. I struggled a lot with how to express how I feel about my dad, and after many false starts I finally settled on this: I am going to share specifically three things about my dad that I believe God used to shape who I am today, and who I hope to become in the future. I hope they are encouraging to you, and that my convoluted effort at celebrating my dad will communicate effectively what he means to me and so many other people. Here we go.
I have never heard my dad brag about anything. Though he is accomplished personally, in academia and in the business world he chooses not to talk about it. The only way you would know is if in curiosity you drag the information out of him. He personifies the verse in Proverbs 27:2 that says “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”
He never had to “be right.” Even in the most unjust of situations I saw him consistently refuse to go out of the way to defend himself at the expense of others. He would always put us and our family ahead of himself and his own interests, and was seemed the happiest when others got acclaim and praise.
One of his best examples to me was his willingness to admit when he was wrong. He would remind us as kids that he and my mother were not perfect, and that they would make mistakes. He would then live that out by apologizing when he did something tha
t wasn’t right. I remember that even at moments when anger or frustration was justified (there are eight children, and each one of us was a unique test of our parents’ patience) he would apologize for losing his temper. My father exhibited to us the importance of humble confession and repentance and that lesson sticks with me today.
My dad exemplified the principle of working hard to provide for his family. He worked a full-time job and yet would still find time to take care of things around the house. I can remember Saturday mornings after he had worked all week and yet he would be up early with some project in store for us to do (I was not usually as enthused as he was). Even after a long commute home, he would forgo sitting on the couch and typically help us or my mom with something for the rest of the evening.
Reading through the book of Proverbs about the disparity between the lazy fool and the wise man, it was always helpful to have a real-life example to follow. After we moved to a farm when I was very young, I watched my dad work even harder, at times applying himself to tasks that he was unfamiliar with. I can see how observing him figuring things out, often on his own, implanted in me a willingness to work hard at learning how to do things without necessarily needing help every step of the way.
Even at close to 70, he is still working hard to support his family, and is a testament to the joy and fulfillment that working for the Lord can bring (Colossians 3:23-24).
Anyone who meets my dad is struck by his kindness. He would tell you that wasn’t always the case, and it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life. This is true, of course, and it is clear that God has done a work in his life to have kindness be something that sets him apart from many other people.
It didn’t seem to matter what the situation was, my dad was always going to be kind. Whether the person deserved it or not, or if the situation was tense and uncomfortable, he would be kind and gentle. I remember at times getting frustrated because I wanted him to get mad or to react in some way that wasn’t just so…kind. But that isn’t how he does things.
If we stopped at the grocery store and my dad ran in to grab something “really quick,” you were going to be in for a long wait. He would inevitably find someone to talk to, whom he often hadn’t met before. He really couldn’t help it, his infectious curiosity and interest in people would take over and make it seem like he could be friends with anyone.
I don’t know why we don’t celebrate people while they are still around.
Like the gifted philosophical sage Andy Bernard once said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.” Why don’t we take the time to thank God publicly for how he has used people in our lives? Maybe it’s forgetfulness, apathy, a lack of gratitude, or a mixture of all the above.
If I wanted a visualization of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, I could (and thankfully still can) always look to my dad. I am not saying that my dad is perfect, or was ever perfect. But the thing is, he has never pretended to be. This authenticity and admittance of imperfection reveals the sincerity of his heart that truly wanted to follow the Lord and be a good husband, father, employee, or farmer. I hope that by God’s grace one day I can become the type of man that he is.
The best way to summarize my dad is something that I’ve observed many times, but haven’t taken note of until recently. There will be moments where our whole family is gathered at my parents’ home, and among some level of chaos (caused by eight children, significant others, three grandchildren and an assortment of pets) my dad will often lean over and say (as some small person shrieks in the background), “I can’t help but look around and just think about how good God has been to me.”
Maybe that’s the secret.
In gratitude he found the ability to be humble, work hard, be kind, and more. He grasped the meaning of “unmerited favor” in a way that few ever will. Often people will say that they don’t deserve something as an awkward, falsely humble implication that they actually do deserve it. But when my dad says that he doesn’t deserve the life that God has blessed him with, he truly means it. He believes it, deep down and without question, and so he is able to present his life back to God in thanksgiving.
I don’t know what you will get from this bumbling attempt at a tribute to my father. But I hope you at least get a glimpse of two things. First, he grasps the reality of grace. A better understanding of grace, unmerited favor, frees us to live a life that honors God, because we no longer live it like we deserve it. Second, I hope this inspires you to give a tribute to someone in your own life. Maybe it wasn’t your parents that were great examples to you, but find someone that God has used in some way to change you. Then, tell them. Don’t let the months and years go by without sharing what those people mean to you. The encouragement it will be to them, you and others can’t be overstated.