What is Your Legacy?

What is Your Legacy?

How will you be remembered after you’re gone?
What will you leave that has lasting value?
How you live your life will determine your legacy.

“By the appearance of some and the departure of others, we are struck by how fast time is speeding by,” said Pastor Alistair Begg in a sermon on this topic. “There’s something about the reality of death which brings clarity to the living of life.” I liked his colorful definition of what a legacy is all about:

“Our lives … are like an artist’s canvas on which we are painting every day that we live—sometimes dark strokes, sometimes bold, sometimes thin lines. But all of our lives, as they unfold, are increasingly becoming the canvas of who we are and what we are. And we will eventually create a picture that we will walk away from and leave behind. And people will look … and that will be the legacy we have left to them.”

As we begin to grasp the number of people we’ve known in years past who are no longer with us, we are forced to think about how our lives will eventually end and what we will leave behind. And thinking about our death is very hard for most of us to do because we prefer to live in the here and now, pretending that our life will keep going on and that we’ll always be able to do what we’re doing now.

I call myself a “Life Writer,” but death is a reality of life, even for the young, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to at least think about this important life-and-death related issue and how you want your family and friends to remember you after you’re gone.

Before I wrote my biographical memoir, Marcella’s Secret Dreams and Stories—A Mother’s Legacy, I’d never given a thought to the legacy I was going to leave my family. But after this book’s publication, I realized that part of my legacy would be this very book because no one else in the family could have written it. 

It isn’t easy to summarize one’s feelings about a parent’s legacy, but when my two sisters and I did that for this book, we found that what we remembered most about our folks were the traits and characteristics that we saw in ourselves. In the book excerpt below, I hope you can see the kind of things your family and friends are likely to remember about you:

“Our mother’s greatest gift to us was what we learned about ourselves and life in general as we observed how boldly she lived her entire life, how deeply she loved her family and friends, and how she always put the needs of others before her own.

“Marcella never realized her three secret childhood dreams of being a teacher, a published writer, and a pianist for the silent movies, but throughout her life, she played the piano for herself and her family and friends, and she gave her daughters an incredible written legacy in thousands upon thousands of words in her memoir and letters, personal diaries, and record-keeping notebooks.

“No school classroom ever benefited from our mother’s teaching, but she taught us and others by example all her life, and it should come as no surprise that my sisters and I all became teachers, writers, and pianists to one degree or another. We were never pushed in those directions but were simply encouraged to reach for the stars. Her constant encouragement to pursue our dreams and goals was the bridge that linked me and my sisters to a world of possibilities far beyond the borders of our hometown.

“She taught us to believe in ourselves and to work hard for the things we wanted. ‘There isn’t anything you can’t do or be if you set your mind to it’ was the simple philosophy that got her through life. We not only believed this but proved it to ourselves. She showed us the value of being honest, caring individuals, and she made us eager to do things in life that would make her proud of us. Of course, her life philosophy rubbed off on each of us.”

How You Die Will Be Part of Your Legacy

I was stunned when my dear friend Joan Green told me in April 2022 that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “I’m going to need a lot of help to get through all of this, but I’m trying to stay as positive and upbeat as possible, in spite of the magnitude of all of this. My brother sent me a neat quote that I’m trying to follow: Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow but only saps today of its strength.”

Joan decided to share the details of her cancer journey on Caring Bridge, a personal health journal and a place to rally family and friends during one’s health journey. When she reached the point of having to tell those who have been praying for her that she wasn’t going to live as long as she had hoped, she let all of us see that her faith had never wavered throughout the most challenging year of her life. She gave me permission to share the following excerpt from her April 29 message, “Things getting worse now.”

“As we all know, cancer is a dreadful disease, and a higher percentage of people are being diagnosed all the time. Knowing from the start that I had two of the worst cancers and a Stage 4B diagnosis to boot was the worst news I’ve ever been given, but I determined to approach the whole thing in the most positive way I could and to remain ever hopeful (and my strong faith has helped me to do that!)

“When I was responding extremely well to the chemotherapy and surgeries it was easy to think positively and remain ever hopeful that I might be the exception to the rule and actually go into remission. At this point, the reality of my situation is now painfully clear, so I’m forced to be much more realistic and am just hoping that this last treatment will extend my life at least a little and allow me to live out what remains of that life in the best quality possible. Family means everything to me, so I close with the hope that I will be able to enjoy many more of those special times.”

NOTE: Joan is currently figuring out a plan to have a going-out-of-business sale for her Joan Green Designs website, which showcases her original needlework patterns, kits, and supplies. If you can help her with a purchase, visit her website for details.

In all of Joan’s posts, I see what a great role model she is, not only for her children and grandchildren but for everyone who will someday have to “face the reality of their situation,” including me.

Regardless of our age, each of us is now creating a legacy we will leave behind for those who love us, and none of us can know what our last brushstroke on the canvas of our life will be or when it will come.

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“Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.” - Steve Saint, missionary pilot, entrepreneur, and author

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” - Dolly Parton, singer-songwriter

First published as a Brabec Bulletin on June 5, 2023.

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