Looking at some old pictures recently I was struck by the fact that there are generations of people behind me whom I don’t know that have influenced my life. I’ve never met many of them. I’m acquainted by stories and by studying their faded faces in yellow-edged photo albums. There are faint images of others that I remember in my mind as I scroll back through memories of years past.
There were my sweet grandparents who were very little and cute that I only met a couple times. I loved their house, and I loved staring through the glass into the room we weren’t allowed to play in. I remember finding a box of romance books under a bed and sneaking a couple away to read. I have memories of visiting the church they served for years and walking around the streets where my dad grew up.
I think of my great-grandfather who had a drawer full of candy in his room. We didn’t know him well, but we would tentatively go up the creaky stairs with our mom when we visited to get a treat and a sweet hug.
There were so many others, going even farther back — family, friends of family, known only by stories and recollections, all a part of who I am. They’ve shaped so many parts of me: my faith, my family values, my work ethic, my relationships, my priorities — parts of me I don’t even know, trickling from generation to generation. It’s not just DNA that we pass along.
I recently came to the realization that as much as I love and adore my own family, in a few generations, there will be those who will be a part of my legacy who won’t know me. They will refer to me from a distance: Remember great-grandmother Shelly? Who was that crazy great-aunt you had? What was your great-great-grandma’s name again?
I’ll be honest: I can’t dwell on that too much because it breaks my heart. I think of how much I love my kids and how what we have right now won’t be forever. I think of my extended family and friends. I think of those I mentor and lead. I can’t be part of the next five generations that come after me. They will go on and live their lives. And their kids will live their lives, and on it goes. I’ll have some influence for sure, and I totally plan on being the coolest woman ever in the senior’s facility, living all my minutes to the fullest.
But I won’t live forever. My legacy though? My legacy will go on, and who I am right now becomes that legacy. How I live each day becomes that legacy.
I always thought legacy was what you left behind, and it is. But legacy is also something you can intentionally create and shape in the present. It doesn’t have to be a passive part of your life. You can decide what you want your legacy to be. Each choice you make, the words you say, the way you treat people are what lives on. You can do a lifetime of good, and one bad decision or life choice can alter your legacy forever. It affects your family. It affects your friends, those you mentor, and those you influence.
Legacy matters and is far reaching. So, what legacy are we living? Because a legacy lived becomes a legacy left.
I don’t just want to be remembered for my absentmindedness or my terrific ability to lose keys. I also accidentally put Mr. Clean in the fridge today, and I really don’t want to be remembered for that either. I know I make bad choices, have ugly moments, react in anger, and I don’t always treat people the way I should.
I know my legacy will not be one of perfection, but I want it to be one of goodness. I want it to be about how to face disappointment with hope, how to be brave in times of fear, how to persevere when it’s hard, how to love Jesus with passion, how to say sorry and live an authentic faith. I want it to be about being kind, pursuing crazy dreams, serving others, and showing forgiveness.
All this matters because a legacy lived becomes a legacy left. Pass on the best parts of you, and see those parts grow and be stronger in generations to come. How we live matters because who we are to those behind us ultimately shapes who they become too.
So, live the legacy you want to leave. Live out your best replicable self.
Sometimes I think of the future, and I imagine this sweet family looking at some old pictures, likely on technology that is ancient to them. There I am on an old digital photo — likely taking a weird selfie with a donut wall. And some sweet child whom I’ve never met but who is part of my family in generations to come looks at my face and asks, “Tell me about her.”
What will they say about me? I hope they will see the good parts of me living on in them because I decided to live with legacy purpose now.