This is a talk I was honored and humbled to give at a recent women’s ministry event. I reworked the language a little to fit better as a blog post.
A dear friend and spiritual matriarch of our church passed away last year. For the last 6 years we’ve written notes back and forth to each other. These lines have always stayed with me: “I’ve always told everyone if you think of me pray for me. My life now is the by-product of much prayer, by many people. There is no doubt in my mind my life today is the result of many making the throne of God a destination of their prayers on my behalf.“
Prayer. Presence. Love. Care. Legacy.
For me, leaving a legacy and the relationships we cultivate are deeply intertwined, and legacy means: making space and cultivating orchards. My husband and I have a running joke that as long as my relationships are good I could live in a cardboard box and be content.
I have been formed and re-formed by my local church and the people in it. You might even say that throughout my life, Kiokee gave me an extra 5 sets of grandparents, 10 sets of parents, and a bazillion siblings that have come alongside me in various seasons of life.
People made space for me and it inspired me to make space for others.
In high school, I had a few older girls pursue me, spend time with me, counsel me. When I got to college, a couple whose husband/dad had grown up in Kiokee like I did came alongside me as I adjusted to college life. They cared for me, prayed for me, taught me the Bible and invited me to spend so many hours in their living room. A few years ago, I asked an older woman who has loved and known me my entire life to meet with me each week to talk and pray. My marriage and faith were uniquely blessed by that semester.
It wasn’t until I started teaching Sunday school 5 years ago that I realized just how much I LOVE being with middle and high school girls. I knew how much I benefited from someone older but not my mom to share life with, and I knew I wanted to spend my life doing the same. It has varied from girls stopping by to hang out with us in the playroom, or a girl riding around with me doing errands, or the semester I picked up one friend every Friday after school for Starbucks and Bible study. John and I have a running idea in our home that it often takes quantity of time to establish quality of time. I have seen that especially true with my high school friends. It takes making space for simple, fun, casual conversations to unearth that deep, meaningful moment of vulnerability.
Those close to me will know I’ve had an on again and off again relationship with social media, and recently decided to step away indefinitely. A major reason for me was the realization that God has not designed me to carry the weight of all of the ups and downs of every person I’ve ever met via social media. And as a very empathetic, relational person, keeping up with the great number of ‘needs’ online was draining me of the energy to be present with the people God had specifically placed around me.
Because there is what God has given only you to take on. For me, it’s being a disciple of Jesus, wife to John, mom to two girls, friend to those in my community and faithful steward of the gifts He gives. No one else is accountable to these things but me. A question He posed to me, and to us all is this: what helps us as women in these roles and what doesn’t?
Jan Johnson wrote: To welcome strangers (and I would even say people in general) means cultivating an invitational spirit and offering a sense of “home” to others (see John 14:23). We pay attention to others, inviting them to be at home with us as they unfold themselves before us (as God invites us to do). We wait for them to be able to do that. “To merely welcome another, to provide for them, to make a place, is one of the most life-giving and life-receiving things a human being can do.”
Almost 6 years ago we started leading a small group for the first time as a couple, and those 4 women are some of my closest friends today.
Last Christmas our church put on a concert. Both my husband and close friend Ansley were part of the choir, so I sat with her husband and their 4 year old daughter. She sat with me for one of the songs and eventually fell asleep on my shoulder. Ansley, in a beautiful solo, sang these lines, And the Church of Christ was born, Then the Spirit lit the flame, Now this gospel truth of old, Shall not kneel shall not faint. I was struck by the sweetness and weight of it. Her daughter felt safe and comfortable enough to fall asleep on my shoulder because she knew me, from years and years of time together. I knew then that if something ever happened to me, my girls would have a handful of adopted moms who would love and care for them. And I was washed with emotion and peace, thinking this is it. The family of God being family. My girls belonging to this family. My belonging to this family. This is worth prioritizing. This will outlast everything else.
The idea of leaving a legacy might seem intimidating… but it’s not for the select few who have great power or influence or popularity. Legacy is crafted by our faithful everyday decisions.
It doesn’t have to be formal or fancy. It’s being available, it’s listening, it’s asking questions, it’s not packing your week so full you don’t have time for a phone call to a friend, it’s inviting friends along with you as you go. It’s presence. It’s pursuit. It’s pointing us both to Christ.
Sustainability is a popular idea, right? Composting, recycling, using glass instead of plastic, etc. That’s not REALLY what I mean when I use the word in this moment. In relation to this conversation, I’m defining it as seeing the moment you are in and the ones you won’t be present for, and living your life now with a long view.
Sustainability… Legacy… it’s a mindset of planting trees under whose shade you may never get to sit.
As much as we wish it was the case, the fruit of the Spirit isn’t something we can zip into Publix to grab off the shelf. It’s planting seeds, patience and surrendering the growth to God. It’s tending to the roots of your life in Christ.
Is your life producing fruit? Will those that come after you find shade or shelter or sustenance under your trees?
Because it isn’t your gifting or talents or accomplishments… but the fruit of your life… that will bless others, your children, your community… future generations.
I don’t really want my daughter’s children to say that their grandma was the best graphic designer ever or kept the cleanest home. I would love for them to say that I was the most joyful person they knew, or the most patient, or generous, or kindest.
In a hard week a few weeks ago, I was pouring out my very honest self to one of my best friends. I texted her later, simply thanking her for receiving me so wonderfully, for being a safe person. She responded with the affirmation that I was that kind of person for her and she wanted to be that for others. I realized how much our growth in God impacts other people. Audrey’s love for the Lord, and for me, actually changes me.
There are people attached to our yeses and our nos.
God can change a life, a generation of lives, through the person you’re becoming, through your discipleship to Christ, through your love for others.
There are trade-offs to every decision. What seeds are you planting? Negativity? Anxiety? Comparison? Anger? Peace? Discontentment? Peace?
Imagine the orchards!
Psalm 102:18 says, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord…“
Our choices today shape the legacy we leave for future generations. What will your legacy reveal mattered most to you?
Life keeps us running so fast and frenzied that we often lose sight of each day’s holy potential. We live in a world that loves flashy and fake. But none of that lasts; what lasts is the long game. The love that you build and give and receive. As a woman loved and called by God, your ordinary every day matters more than you could possibly imagine.
If you think you’re too old to make a difference, you’re not. If you think you’re too introverted or busy to build something lasting and beautiful with God, you’re wrong.
You are part of a story that has existed long before you and will long outlast you. And you can play a unique and irreplaceable role.
But we’re responsible for the seeds we plant. We don’t produce the miracle of God’s work in a life, but we are offered the chance to steward it, to be part of it.
Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.”
The women who have gone before us have left us a mantle to carry – loving and trusting the Lord, loving and caring for our community, being part of God’s mission for the world – may we joyfully and bravely pick it up and continue on as we walk the path God lays out uniquely for us.