Two weeks ago I wrote about a video made to honor Paul Lee, a student at Seattle Pacific University whose life was ended too soon in the shooting a year ago. The video mourned his loss, but it also celebrated his life and showed the impact he’d had on those he met in his few years of life. When I first watched the video, it inspired and challenged me. Paul’s legacy is one of joy and dance and celebration. That made me wonder what people will say about me when I’m gone? How have I affected those I’ve met? What legacy am I building? And so I shared the video, and the challenge with all of you. What legacy are we leaving?
One of the responses, from Andrew Budek-Schmeisser, got me thinking when he wrote:
“I’ve thought a lot about legacy in recent weeks, under the press of circumstance, and the truth is, I don’t know much more than when I first considered the question.
There’s no legacy I can deliberately leave, now, without it being forced or mannered, and the only things that are really out there are one novel and my blog…I can’t really read a lot of faith or meaning into life at the edge of the Mystery.”
He’s right, we can’t force a legacy. That would be like doing a good deed for someone, then pointing it out to them, saying, “Please take note of this wonderful thing I’ve done for you. It is my way of leaving a legacy.”
Nor can we, where we are now in life, know what our legacy will be after we’re gone. We can’t, as Andrew wrote, “read a lot of faith or meaning into life at the edge of the Mystery.” Or…
Can we? Can we have a sense, here and now, of the legacy we’re leaving? But why would we want to? Why even think about legacy? Isn’t that kind of egotistical?
No, not if you’re pondering it not to know you’ll be remembered, or to be assured someone will make a video about you or erect a monument to your life. I’ve been spurred to think about my own legacy not for me, but for the witness I leave for the only One who matters. For the Master Wordsmith, the Creator of all. I want my life, my words, my actions—my legacy–to draw people to him.
So how do we leave a legacy? I have my own thoughts on this, but before I share them, I wanted to see what you thought.
So tell me, friends, how do we, in the here and now, leave a legacy?
One of my speaking topics is on leaving a legacy, and I can’t tell you how many women have told me they never thought about it until they heard my talk. If we don’t consider how we might influence the next generation, we may miss wonderful opportunities to make a difference. Perhaps a young mother needs a role model; perhaps a co-worker needs a model of integrity. Sixteen years ago, two women, young enough to be my daughters, asked me to mentor them. We began meeting to discuss Christian books. Eventually our mentoring led to ministry, and we did small things together, such as hold a tea to encourage someone. Then we prepared a women’s retreat for my one friend’s church, and today we speak 20 times a year as Friends of the Heart. Never underestimate how the influence and direction you offer others may turn into a wonderful legacy.
Shirley, love how your sharing led to them sharing, and then that has undoubtedly led to others sharing. That’s what legacy is about: lasting impact.
Thank you, Karen. And we’ve even written and published a devotional book together. 🙂
When I think of you, Karen, I think of an abiding faith and of laughter. And laughter can help people go through some deep valleys. That’s a good legacy.
Ane, thank you so much.
My take on this relates to how Abraham yearned for a son to extend his legacy. Yet at Moriah he traded “his boy” for a nation, “his dream” for a people and “his legacy” for a share in the unfolding mysteries of God. The ultimate outworking of His life was His seed, as of one, Jesus. To realize that, the baton passed through many hands, as faithful lives stewarded it all to its climax. Yet, Jesus did not claim it to Himself, but died to be an heir and co-heir, thus passing the baton to His church, because He knew what Abraham and others knew, that a legacy must be a living memorial, cast into the hearts of those who follow us, not one of lifeless stone or personal achievements. Whatever we leave, is just another page, another chapter in the unfolding mystery of an everlasting kingdom, in which we have a co-inheritance with Christ. Did I live to leave such a deposit in my sons and their children, sure I did and I did so with all care, just as Abraham took the trouble to ensure Isaac married well or that Jacob ran with his vision. Yet, neither of us would want our personal brand or stamp on what was never about us at all – it was only ever about Him who in turn did all He ever did for us.
“a legacy must be a living memorial, cast into the hearts of those who follow us, not one of lifeless stone or personal achievements.”
My families’ legacy is their faith. When I encounter life’s inevitable problems, I take strength in the fact that my ancestors prayed over all of us and shared their faith with us. The bible says that God is faithful, even to a thousand generations. The passing down of one’s faith, especially through prayer, is a wonderful legacy. If someone doesn’t have this history, they can start it with their own family (and I think that family can mean more than blood relatives). God’s gives each of us the opportunity to bless future generations through prayer, and we can start today.
I love that about legacies. It’s never too late–or, for that matter, too early–to be purposeful about letting Christ shine through your words and actions.
The only legacy worth leaving is that which honors Christ. So, whatever we do in His service creates a legacy, whether it’s writing that paragraph that will move someone closer to God, or giving a cool glass of water to a hot visitor, or showing forbearance to those who owe us or mistreat us. Jesus pointed out that whatever we do for the least ones in our lives, we do for Him. So, that’s our legacy (and His) and it’s not all that difficult. Once we are living in Him, we simply do what comes naturally. (Or since we are living in Him, we do it supernaturally!).
Diana, you and the others are giving me the perfect segue into my next blog.
Maybe we don’t ponder “making a legacy” but I suspect we all ponder how to “make a difference,” find meaning or purpose in our lives. After all, wasn’t The Purpose Driven Life one of the biggest selling books ever? And I suspect we all leave one—good or bad—regardless of whether or not we mean to. Think about all that wonderful time-travel fiction about how a small entrance into the past can dramatically change the future. The question for me is will my legacy be of value, be God-honoring—make the world a better place?
I almost don’t like the word “legacy” because it seems to make everyone think their actions need to be big to achieve big things. I often think of the small boy in the Bible with a few loaves and fish. He gave them to Jesus and his small offering fed five thousand. Sometimes we focus too much on the big we negate the small. I can think of a myriad of people who by doing small, meaningful things have impacted my life. Maybe I won’t remember all of their names when I try to list off those who’ve helped me along the way, but that doesn’t lessen the impact.
However, I can trace them all to one entity—The Holy Spirit. They were all being used as His empty vessels. So I think that’s the most important legacy I can leave—to say I’ve surrendered enough of my life that the Holy Spirit can enter and I can be used. And still, I look at the words I just typed “enough of my life” and realize I’m still on the journey to surrender it all. That’s what I hope my legacy will be.
We’re all on that journey together, Connie. Nice to know we have such wonderful traveling companions!
At the risk of falling into the trap of “a man who would make a pun is a man who would pick a pocket”, my approach to legacy is that of the Jewel-Thief…
“Only kindness matters.”
That is the most important legacy I can leave, in my words, in my actions, in my writing. Like ripples spreading across a pond, they’ll end up where they will, and then thereby reflect in different directions.
And those ripples of kindness and courtesy will join others, and perhaps through the magic of a metaphorical physics, add in height and mass to make a wave.
I will never know the end of that process, or even part of its larger fulfillment. But I can control what I do, to set the thing in motion, or add my bit to those waves of kindness that pass through my soul, sent by others,, friends, or perhaps forever unknown.
Yeah, I’ll take that.
Kindness is a key, absolutely. But there’s more…which I’ll share next week.
How’s that for a hook?
Whatever written legacy we do leave, we should well consider our words. I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to pop down from heaven and say, “Just kidding!” to our readers.
“we should well consider our words.”
Amen and amen!
I had this counter thought. Even if I somehow sell a million books, chances are I will be remembered for a little while, but not long, not in this faddish world. I have oft confronted that harsh reality as I reconciled myself to the costs and rewards of writing. It brought perspective to my writing and acceptance that what I wrote was potentially for my instruction, so how that affects me may have to be expressed through relationships and other more worthy works, not necessarily through writing. Sadly, the world will go on. Only a very few will be remembered across generations. Even if we do good, and I acknowledge the worthiness of that Andrew, few will remember or care 10, 20,100 years from now. However, if I can invest something into this generation that transfers to the next and the one thereafter, then even if my name is forgotten, my imprint will endure. To that end I drew a line on past generations and swore to steward my own marriage and children differently. That is paying off, but my sons will climb on my shoulder to reach further than I ever could with all my personal baggage. Even Paul, a great writer, is somewhat incidental to the New Testament and we tend to say, “Ephesians”, not “Paul’s letter to …” Yet, what He invested into the church, whilst not ultimately definitive, added much to what she became – and his reward will be in the glory she yet acquires. Thus, Paul had little concern for reproducing himself, for his goal was to see Christ formed in us – now that is a great legacy and the most living of all memorials, so worthy of a man with an empty tomb.
It is true that we can’t force a legacy crafted to perfection, but it is impossible not to leave a legacy. It is the sum of every interaction with every person we encounter, no matter how briefly. It’s in that conversation with a stranger on a plane that turns to a conversation about spiritual matters. It’s in inviting the new employee to join your lunch group where faith in Jesus is sprinkled through the conversations. It’s in the friend at work who watches you walk through the death of a family member and tells you months later how your peace in the passage made an impression and you get to share Jesus. It’s in using whatever talents we have not just for our own pleasure but in His service. We all hope it might be in the books we write strengthening a believer’s walk or opening the door to belief for someone who doesn’t know Jesus yet. It’s in every encouraging or discouraging word we speak and each kind or thoughtless action. (Legacy isn’t always good, and many times I’ve kicked myself for not reflecting the goodness and love of God.) In the end I want to hear my Father say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
Carol, okay, confess, you’ve been reading over my shoulder as I write the next blog.
Anne of Green Gables talked a lot about kindred spirits. I love this blog site because I’ve discovered so many of them here. A legacy in cyberspace that illuminates each of our days.
Sandy Faye Mauck
I think about those who left their legacy for me to learn and grow in; the books that broke, touched and strengthened my walk in the Lord. The following lyrics came to me as I was pondering this. This was an awesome Steve Green song—
Find Us Faithful:
We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find
Wonderful Sandy. By the way, the Lamb’s Book of Life, alludes to the “King’s Book”, which biblical kings used to record notable events, “Sandy did this” or “Andrew did that”, which he held back until a major festival – then he would read the citations before the great assembly. That is what will happen to our own, oft insignificant moments, because Jesus sees what others don’t.
Sandy Faye Mauck
Yes, Peter- makes me think of Nehemiah.
And God’s own Book of Remembrance!
“Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.”
Powerful words, indeed.
Karen, you’ve got me thinking. As I watch my two boys growing into manhood, my biggest prayer for them is that they will see and hunger to know Jesus because of what they see in my husband’s and my lives. A relationship with Him would be the best legacy we can leave them.
I’m thinking a legacy is more lived out and passed on than instilled upon. People glean from their observations of how we live, not so much what we say. Words play a part in it, because they are powerful. Living life real, in the messiness and in the victories, and loving Jesus and loving others . . . I’m thinking these are essential aspects for leaving a legacy.
Martha, dear friend, I can attest to your impact on those around you. I’ve seen Christ in you, over and over. And you’ve made a difference for me.
I also have a workshop about leaving your legacy. To me, leaving my legacy is being sure my children and grandchildren all know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the power of prayer in their lives. It’s about telling others what Jesus has done in my life and living out my faith despite the circumstances and obstacles in my path. My grandfather left a book we found after his death. In it he had written about every great thing, every miracle, and every day encounters with his Lord and Savior. My sister put them together in a book and I treasure those stories and reread them when I face trial and tribulation knowing that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
It’s about sharing the little things and not always about the big things in our lives. It’s not bragging or boasting or pointing out to others, but simply living my life to point to Jesus.
I love the song Sandy posted, and that’s my prayer each day. I want to be found faithful and for others to see the fire of devotion in my life. As I face my 80th year of life, my prayer is that my life has made a difference in the lives of my family, friends, and readers.
Thanks for a great post, Karen. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always admired you.
Sandy Faye Mauck
That brings tears to my eyes, Martha. For those of us brought up in worldly homes, your grandfather’s book is a legacy we wished we could have had. I am sure your living faith is as powerful. I can’t be with my kids and grandkids because of health reasons so I pray and write. I hope I can be like your grandfather!
Amen, Sandy. I love the way the words we write in the course of everyday life can take on new life and meaning for those generations that come after us. What a wonderful gift.
I echo so many here today and feel that leaving a legacy is all about communication. Whether in action, listening, words on or off paper, it’s a verb. Saying something. The message we are supposed to share during this earthly life.
Jenelle, you remind me of another powerful worship song/prayer. Just a few words, but oh! The power contained therein:
In my life, Lord, be glorified, be glorified…
In my life, Lord, be glorified today.
I’ve sung it using the following in addition to “life”
In my words…
In my pen…
In my acts…
And so on. May God be so glorified in each of us!
Serendipitously, today I’m learning a bit more about legacy.
The day is spiraling into a waking nightmare, and facing a physical profile that offers pain which is proof against morphine, facing an abyss of despair and a fear which unmans me, I’m still here, and still writing.
That’s the legacy; not strength or courage, because there are others far braver, and much stronger. Just willing myself to write one line, even one word, at a time.
“…to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong…”
Pretty powerful legacy.
Oh, Karen…thank you. Just…thank you.
Andrew, your comments on this blog in the short time I’ve been reading it have left a record that will outlive the wiping of your zeros and ones from any server. What you’ve given all of us is a treasured part of your legacy.
Carol, thank you so much. I am honoured to be a part of this community; I’ve found spirits kind and kindred, who have made me laugh, made me think, inspired me…and who have carried my heart in their hands, when I could not go another step.
I count myself to be the luckiest man alive.
Reba Cross Seals
Andrew, you are on my prayer list to thank God for. Your life has made a difference, hence, you have left a legacy.
Reba, you don’t know how wonderful it was to read your words, just now…exactly the right time, as I’m struggling through rather worse a patch this evening.
Every day is a blessing, and the warmth of this community, a treasure.
Because we have the seed-planter, seed-waterer view of life, with everyone’s participation being equal and God giving the growth, I think it may be difficult to know what our legacy is (not knowing the outcome of a long-forgotten action), and difficult to discern because it is intertwined with others’ legacies.
Who is Albert McMakin? A farm worker who suggested a kid go and listen to an evangelist.
Who is Mordecai Ham? The evangelist the kid went to hear.
Who is Charley Young? A pastor who encouraged a young man (who was almost expelled) not to drop out of a Bob Jones College because “…You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily.”
Who is Henrietta Mears? Her name is better-known, perhaps. She helped a young Christian man wrestle with the decision to accept the Bible as the infallible word of God.
Their combined legacy is Billy Graham. Perhaps their legacy includes everyone who came to Christ because of his ministry.
Our legacy is the result of everything we do for Christ. I don’t think we can even know.
Thank you, Karen. You lifted my spirits today.
Like Teresa, I immediately thought of seeds.
My husband, kids and I have planted over a thousand trees in the last few years on our little property in New Zealand. More than half of the $3.00 olives died. This week our geese devoured an entire banana tree (young one) in a few hours before we turfed them out of the orchard.
We don’t know which seeds will come to fruition. But anywhere the Spirit says… love, encourage, teach… you just do it.
I’m so thankful for the way some of my mentors have invested time, love and encouragement into me. I hope to be part of their legacy. I hope to imitate them, and see the seeds spread over an even wider field.
Thank you Karen for your thoughtful words and the way you challenge us. Maybe we’ll be part of your legacy (and you part of ours)…. maybe we’ll all be part of each others.
Mary in GA
I don’t generally think about my “legacy” per se, but I decided long ago that if I had a tombstone, I wanted it to read: “She lived love.”
When I came back into God’s arms after my wilderness years (or more accurately, when I recognized that no matter what I did, his arms had never stopped being wrapped around me), I had one prayer.
“Lord, make me yours, and teach me love.”
Love is what made people stop in their tracks, turn around, and follow after the Carpenter from Galilee. The love they saw in his eyes when he looked at them — through them, into the deepest, ugliest secrets of their hearts — THAT love is what I aspire to, and consistently fail to achieve. But I’ll keep trying, because God showed me that I had 2 choices for how I lived my life. I could live love, or I could become a bitter hag.
I still remember looking at God and saying: “You love them. I don’t want to.” And emailing my friends who are my prayer support, telling them “Oh, joy. I get to learn to see my family the way God does, so I can love them the way He does” (and yes, there was NO joy in that sentence when I wrote the email).
But God is faithful, and determined to complete His good work in us/me, and I now have family photos hanging in my house for the first time in probably two decades. And when I pass them in the hallway, I say “hello,” and “I love you,” and “I thank God for your presence in my life.” When bad memories come and threaten to turn my dreams to nightmares, I’ve been known to stand in front of a particular person’s photo and say “I forgive you,” over and over until the bad memory loses its sting, and the miracle of love comes back into my heart/mind/world. I don’t do it every time, but considering I never imagined being able to do it at all, I’m happy.
Living love…as long as I can get a handle on that, and be consistent about it, that’s good enough for me, at least right now.
I’m living my legacy so there will nothing to leave, only something to remember. I do what pleases God in the now. Therefore, it will be up to my friends and family to decide what in my living is worth savoring after my dying. After all, a legacy has value only to the recipient. 😉
Sorry I’m late to the conversation. To be honest, events in my life, usually a health scare to me or a loved cause me to think about leaving a legacy… or even what’s in my wake. I’ve come to realize that all we can do is love – and I don’t mean the superficial love given under obligation or because we want to be kind – but love – mad love like Jesus did for us. Madly loving my kids (to their embarrassment even), my husband, friend, and even strangers (sometimes harder) by being there, sharing in their lives and encouraging them. We can’t choose our legacy – but we can choose how we live and love. That’s my two cents worth.
Worth way more than tuppence in my book. Good on you, Nick.
–a week later, My keyboard died and it took a while to get back here. I’ve read all the words with an open heart. Sometimes I have things to say but you all have said them all with profound connection.
My niece is a big part of my legacy. I’ve poured love and time into her life the last 15 years and she appreciates it and loves with time back. Stepchildren have gotten my best and are good people. Children are still in process with glimmers of appreciation. Mom left with a great love of G-d as her legacy.
A fascinating experiment is to ask 25 people to fill in the blank with 25 words or less, I will remember…your name… because she/he is………. I did something like that 10 years ago and was astounded and encouraged.