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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:

Choices.

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.

Amen.

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