The How-To of Legacy

Wonderful thoughts last week.  Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, honesty, and wisdom. Just one of the many reasons I so admire you folks.

So here are my thoughts on this topic. As Connie Almony wrote, it’s not about the big things we do, it’s the small, everyday things. In fact, it’s about one specific thing:


Legacy stems from the multitude of choices we make every day. It’s not about overcoming our past, it’s not about how great our platform or reach is, it’s not about being a best-selling author.

It’s about our choices.

Each time we’re faced with a moment to act one way or another, we make a choice: with Christ or against him. That may sound harsh, but friends, it’s true. Everything we say and do reflects who sits on the throne of our hearts and spirits. I’m not saying we need to be perfect. I mean, talk about fiction! We can’t be. But we can be purposeful. We can make the decision to honor and reflect God. And when we fail—because if Paul couldn’t do it (“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”), we sure can’t—we can choose to be honest and seek God’s mercy. And then humble ourselves and apologize to those we’ve injured.

The thing I love about all this is that we don’t do it on our own, nor do we do it in and of ourselves. God’s laid it all out for us, in Psalm 19, especially verses 7-14:

The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the LORD are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are clear, giving insight for living.

Reverence for the LORD is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the LORD are true; each one is fair. They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them.

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

So how do we leave a legacy? By letting God’s Words infuse our actions, our joy, our self-worth, and our words.

Our Actions. In reading these verses, I realized I too often react in life rather than determine to act based on God’s instructions, decrees, and commandments. When circumstances derail my day, when I encounter angry or mean-spirited people (and doesn’t it seem they’re EVERYWHERE nowadays?), when I see or hear something I don’t like or that offends me, I react. With the same anger and mean-spirited attitudes that so offended me. What’s up with that?  Right on the heels of that question came the memory of high-school days, when my parents told me, “Decide now how you’ll respond if you find yourself in an unsafe situation. Work it through in your mind over and over so that if something ever happens, your response will be automatic.” Great advice, and not just for then. Great advice for now. Being purposeful in my actions means filling my mind and heart with those very instructions, decrees, and commandments mentioned in the Psalm.  God promises that doing so will revive my soul, make this simple person wise, and bring joy to my heart. With those things filling my heart and mind, how can I not act in ways of love? Having those Words of truth embedded in my spirit means stopping myself when I feel the oh-so-tempting desire to snark at someone. In fact, it helps me use that desire as a trigger to offer kindness and peace to those who don’t deserve it. I mean, isn’t that what I want when I don’t deserve it? (Like, you know, every day.)

Our Joy. I also saw that my joy was based on things other than reverence for the Lord. Oh, not on bad things, but on…things. And what does that do for me? Simple: breeds discontent. Makes me wonder why all the money, freedom, cool stuff goes to people who just don’t seem very nice. Why contracts, editing jobs, clients go to other people rather than to my remarkably talented self. Why…why, why, why? And a lovely legacy that is. Today, as I thought and prayed about this question of legacy, I made a decision. When I feel a desire for something, I will turn my heart to reverence for God. To obedience to His laws. To gratitude for all He’s given me. For the life He’s filled with His goodness and grace. For the forgiveness He’s granted this faithless, so human heart of mine. “Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever.” Oh, to have that as a legacy!

Our Self-Worth. Okay, admit it, some of us believe our own press. We think we’re pretty brilliant, special, just a bit…more than others. It’s okay, you can say that here. We understand. In fact, over the years I’ve come to understand that writers are this amazing, contradictory blend of ego and self-doubt. But neither of those things will spur us to a legacy-worthy life. Rather, let’s embrace the fact that we are God’s kids, created in His image, and we need Him to let us know what hidden sins we need to surrender to Him. We can’t cleanse ourselves, friends. But He can do it. He wants to do it. To use His holy Windex on the windows of our souls so that what people see when they look at us is…well, HIM. When I live my life steeped in the knowledge that my calling is to reflect Him, to submit to him, to seek His cleansing, that creates in me a spirit of compassion and grace for others. My mom was such a person. She never spoke ill of anyone, not even in private. She showed love and grace to those she encountered. And even now, 13 years after her death, people will say to me, “Your mom was always so kind to me. I loved her.” Legacy? You bet. Because she embraced her own weaknesses and rejoiced in the cleansing of the Spirit.

Our Words. Dear writers, you face a number of those moments of choice in the words you use in your books. As an editor and an agent, I’ve seen manuscript after manuscript where writers want to “push the envelope, just a little.” An obscenity here to reflect how people really speak…a graphic depiction there to draw our readers into the reality of darkness and sin…and so on. My vote, and we each get one, is that these “little” pushes are never all that little. They’re tiny seeds sown in the fertile soil of our writers’ hearts and our readers’ minds. And each of those little seeds can dig in, take root, and grow into huge, callused barriers to understanding what does and doesn’t honor God.

Just last weekend I heard a sermon that explains it well. People first start acting without God, making little decisions because they want to do so or they think it won’t hurt anyone. But enough of those little decisions leads to acting against God.  We go from determination to honor God, even when it costs us, to looking at God’s laws and decrees as archaic, out of touch, too restrictive, not real life, or, that horrid accusation: intolerant. And how can thinking people act based on such “hateful” or “intolerant” ideals. Not our country! No, sir! We’ve become a nation that will tolerate any and everything.

Except Christ.

Friends, I’m not talking about being legalistic Christians. I’m talking about being purposeful. And taking care with what we write. Will that obscenity really add power to your work? Will that graphic scene move the reader’s mind and heart toward God? It’s not about adhering to rules, it’s about choosing to honor God. And realizing that the images we create with our words can stay with readers for the rest of their lives.

Legacy is about choices, because each choice we make lays a piece in the groundwork of either obedience or rebellion. And that, in turn, builds the legacy we leave when we’re gone.

Okay, enough of my words. Let’s let God’s words be a benediction for us all, a call to use words in such a way that those who read them, years after we’re gone, will see Him:

 May the words of my mouth

and the meditation of my heart

be pleasing to you,

O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.


32 Responses to The How-To of Legacy

  1. Avatar
    Lora Young July 8, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    Such a wonderful reminder about living life intentionally. Definitely a reminder I needed to hear today.

    This is so good I’m sharing it on my church’s Facebook page. (I have the dubious honor of being the admin.) Thank you, Karen!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks so much, Lora. Hope they enjoy it.

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    Carol Ashby July 8, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Amen!!! I’m forwarding the email to my children who are in college. They have passed through the questioning time and retain their faith, but your description of the trail we should leave as Jesus’s followers is a powerful message they need to consider. Thanks for the beautiful presentation of the truth.

    • Avatar
      karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      I’m so glad they held to their faith! And you’re most welcome.

  3. Avatar
    Jo Huddleston July 8, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    Karen, your words in this post are spot-on! Thank you for sharing.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

      Jo, my friend, I’m always happy to see you here. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 8, 2015 at 8:26 am #

    Beautifully said.

    I’m not well enough to say much today, but if it’s OK, I will offer a link that will let some of my newest, and best-loved characters speak for me. It’s interesting that, obliquely, they are talking about legacy, and I think legacy of this very form. (Interesting because I wrote it yesterday!)

  5. Avatar
    Chris Storm July 8, 2015 at 8:38 am #

    Somewhat speechless because that hit home, I can think of only one thing to say. Amen!

  6. Avatar
    peter July 8, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    Karen, all you say is valid. Life is a choice. But here’s the thing. If a child doesn’t feel pain, will he learn? Will a student learn without pain? Will a youth learn to avoid sharp or hot things without the benefit of pain? Lepers yearn for the gift of pain, because their disease so dulls pain that they injure their limbs enough to lose them. The pain of learning carries through life, but it only is pain and will only adjust us, if we feel it and admit to it. Indeed, in our formative years we have so much happening that our suppressed pains bubble beneath our consciousness and never get addressed until a change in life or a crisis, brings the issues to the surface. Then God goes to work.

    More than that, as bravery without fear is stupidity, so faith without its contradictions is an attitude. If we don’t feel the pain of a time of spiritual adjustment, the chances are high that we won’t hear what God is saying nor will we adjust our stance.

    Paul conceded that suffering is something to endure, for a season. It is not suffering if we merely rise above it when God may need us to listen. We all retreat to caves, so did biblical characters, but for the contemporary soul such withdrawal can present via diverse psychological defense mechanisms, namely withdrawal, wallowing, anger, facades, and denial.

    When I realized how much painful issues of my past had driven me into my own cave of coping and compensation, I needed counselling to confess that, because my posture had crowded God out of my crisis. That helped me to leave my cave, roll stones over it and walk with God into a better outcome.

    So, this all poses a dilemma. I absolutely advocate worship in adversity, because it enthrones God and drives back our spiritual enemies, but that could be mistaken for a worldly attitude that veers close to mind-over-matter, which is not faith in God at all – it is often denialism and self-confidence.

    CS Lewis rightly said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to speak into our deaf worlds”, and my experience is that God will allow the pain to deepen until we stop pretending and fall down in His presence to confess our need for answers and His love.

    The biblical foundation for all of this is referred to as the baptism of suffering, by which we learn about God’s will, just as Israel had to grow up in her own wilderness.

    So yes, have faith, look up, believe God is working through it all, but don’t deny the pain as that would be self-defeating.

  7. Avatar
    peter July 8, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    … as such James 1 confirms that trials instill perseverance and only when that has had its perfect outworking, which means enduring and pressing on through pain, will we be perfect and complete, wanting nothing. The resulting legacy is a transformed heart and mind that will provoke others to follow, as we too follow Christ.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

      Peter, not sure where you got the idea I was suggesting we deny pain. I even went back and read my post again and couldn’t find anything of the kind. But since you’ve brought pain up, I will say that yes, we need to be honest about it. I think if you look back through my posts I’ve said that any number of times and ways. But at the same time we need to be on guard because pain can drive us to choose against God. And when, not if, we let that happen, we need to acknowledge where we were wrong, take our sin to God for His forgiveness and mercy, and, if in our pain we’ve caused others injury, do what He says to work toward healing.

    • Avatar
      Carla Jo July 18, 2015 at 1:13 pm #


      You speak to the issue surrounding my short line that we, as Christians, do not teach how to get through difficulties, struggles, trouble, trauma, hurt, challenges, horror, pain, bad surprises, harm in the rough texture that life on earth can be infused with suddenly. How do we get to steady, strong, still? How do we manage to stay in soft and smooth? Where is grace, mercy peace and love?

      Sounds like part of the proposal I am writing this week.
      Yep, this might be part of the paragraph I am looking for.

      Living through this badness surprised and made small, give me a survival to overcoming mode that my work shares. Weak, little, less gave me a listening ear, searching eyes, tender love, stripped to the bone of earth to newer respect, newer hope, newer to the original ment- to-be, heart.

      Somewhere deep I read this is the glorification that G-d works in us to be more like him. What I know is that dying to self, being on my cross hurts bad. Real bad. So it better be worth it in the long run. I used up a lot of grace and mercy. I have more peace than I ever knew. We’ll see how this works out in my legacy.

      So hardness, earth, obstacles, natural desires, evil does not win. Sharing becomes my defensive mode of attack against wrong and evil. G-d’s grace, mercy, peace and love wins. Everyday, G-d’s goodness wins.

      I understand what you are saying, Peter. Pain has to be gotten through. Not denied. Legacy is finishing the race. Maybe exhausted, sweating, cramping, thirsty with a headache but to the finish line, winner.

      I watch Christians with chronic post traumatic stress working hard to just mind control with it instead of owning the bad and then working through it even with professional help. They attack if you see the passive aggression they use because they cannot be less than the supposed perfect Christian. This, put in a summary.

      Yes, I’ve known hardship but in each situation I went through it with information from everywhere including counseling to keep it going fast. I am not stuck. I aim for real, authentic, strong in the Lord. Good aim. I see that in you.

      Said with more than a short line. Dry humor again.

  8. Avatar
    Nick Kording July 8, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    I love the verses and reminder everything we do contributes to the legacy we leave. We’ve been talking to our children about this for them and friends with the verses in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7… replacing your name or your friend’s/boyfriend’s for love. It’s challenging but every day is a new opportunity to be love- Jesus’ love. That’s the legacy I’d want to leave.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

      Nick, that’s a great idea. And amen on the legacy.

  9. Avatar
    Sandy Faye Mauck July 8, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    Excellent Karen. Only thing I can add is what someone once said, “Don’t be a nuclear ‘reacter’.”

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

      Okay, I’ve never heard that before, so it made me laugh. But it’s so true! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Avatar
    Linda Rodante July 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

    Amen, sister! I see myself in so much of what you wrote and strive to be so much better. Thank you for a heartfelt article. God bless!

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

      You and me both, Linda. You know I write these blogs to myself as much as to anyone else.

  11. Avatar
    Lisa Taylor July 8, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Bless you Karen: for your transparency and wisdom.
    You had me at “Holy Windex”. (Now that’s good use of a writer’s creative gift.)

    • Avatar
      Teresa Pesce July 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

      Me too! “Holy Windex” indeed.

      (I remember once enjoying the view through the windshield until I drove into the sun, and suddenly realized the windshield was a mess! From that, I drew the lesson that God’s light reveals things we will never know are there unless we let His light shine on them.)

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

      Thanks! I confess, the term made me smile, even though I made it up.

  12. Avatar
    Dee Kincade July 8, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    Karen, sometimes we are so focused on our writing that we, I, forget Who I’m writing for. I want my writing to bring glory to God and to help others come to know Him and His love.
    Thank you for the great post.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 8, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      Thanks, Dee. Always nice to see you here.

  13. Avatar
    Holly Varni July 8, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    If you can believe it, I’ve been waiting for this post all week. I read the ones leading up to this final installment and was hoping that you were going to come up with something wonderful for your personal response, and you did. Thank you. Legacy is not a blog, or a best selling book. It is our words and actions that leave an imprint. Those day to day interactions with the “invisible” people in the world. The clerk at the grocery store that I compliment, the garbage man who loves that I know his name and brings him a bottle of water, or the custodial staff at my kids school who I greet and ask about their families. Your mother had it right. Be kind. Be kind in your words and actions, and it will flow into your joy and define your self-worth.

    • Avatar
      Karen Ball July 9, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

      I love the idea of the “invisible” people. Good point.

  14. Avatar
    V. Colclasure July 8, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

    Karen – I appreciate your thought about writers going just a little bit over the line and planting unclean thoughts in the minds of readers. It relates to the biblical teaching that more is expected of teachers. Thanks for the article.


  15. Avatar
    Amy Sorrells July 10, 2015 at 6:41 am #

    “It’s not about adhering to rules, it’s about choosing to honor God. And realizing that the images we create with our words can stay with readers for the rest of their lives.”

    preach! 🙂

    And thank you for closing with that benediction. One of my favorites.

  16. Avatar
    Kim Vogel Sawyer July 10, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Karen, you addressed so beautifully, so openly, and so reverently (referencing God’s words rather than relying on your own) some of the things that have been burdening me of late. Thank you so much for you wise and very relevant post. I want to leave a legacy that reflects HIM. I will continue to be purposeful in that pursuit. Bless you!

  17. Avatar
    Carla Jo July 17, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    The blog and comments are profound and deep. I have been researching this week, in devotional times throughout the day, about brain, heart, and soul rewiring. Lots of pondering.

    This opens and consolidates many thoughts in others use of words and requires rereading a couple more times. And probably days of continued rolling around in moments of thought. The topic becomes one of habit and it’s eternal value.

    One tiny piece of contribution is the prayer many years ago that comes up in remembering: “Oh G-d, I want to be faithful like you are faithful.” Forty years later I reflect on the mundane, ordinary working out of that prayer in my legacy.

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