I remember the feeling well. I was in my late 30s and engaged to marry a man I had loved since we first met when I was only 17. It was an overwhelming feeling – more like a need than a feeling in many ways. I had two children who were by that time teenagers. I knew they would leave home in a few short years. Another child – just one more. I needed to have a child and it needed to happen soon or it might be too dangerous or else too late. This thought wouldn’t relax nor relent. It was persistent and insistent. It wasn’t a drive my husband shared and was a source of tension between us. Whether by my undeniable charm, clever persuasion or God’s divine will, our son was born when I was 39. His given name means “God has heard.”
There is no satisfaction to compare with a human drive that is thoroughly satisfied. I was as happy and content as I’ve ever been in my lifetime.
Fast forward 12 years. I have lived in a mixed bag of great life experiences and trauma: divorce (mine), graduation from Divinity School, marriage and subsequent divorce (my daughter’s), birth of two grandsons, death of two grandsons (pre-delivery), death of my mother and, tragically, the death of my oldest son. Within and during all of these things – both the good and the bad – I have tried very hard to continue to function within the realm of what I understand to be my identity and calling. It’s difficult to keep living well in the face of so much loss. It’s also impossible to continue living the same way as before. I don’t care about winning arguments or fans any more. The only thing I really care about is being true to what I understand about God’s design and calling on my life. Sounds like a cop-out to anyone who wants me to be more immersed in daily dramas. I just can’t.
In this context, a new drive has emerged in my life. At face value, it may seem to have grown out of a focus on death. It’s really focused on living, though – living the best life I can live while I’m here. Death surely informs life when we acknowledge its inevitability. The new drive has to do with legacy and leaving behind something that will matter. I realize that my children don’t listen to everything I say to them. They don’t remember half of what I’ve told them and they don’t know many of my life stories prior to their birth. How could they? And, if the children I raised have so little to remember about me as I know me, how much harder will it be for my grandchildren? But, I want them to know me and to learn from my mistakes. I don’t want to be remembered only for things related to what I cooked or what I liked to eat or something I would say often or a job I did well (or not.) I want to share wisdom with them and spare them as much of life’s pain as I can, particularly the avoidable stuff. I want to tell them in a million different ways that God is love and Jesus is our hope for now and eternity and that our lives and callings do matter because we all have been made in the image of God. I want all of my family and everyone in my sphere of influence to know that they are deeply loved and cared-for and that our life together is meaningful. I want to leave things behind that can be read and held and seen and heard to remind them of these things.
As I live each day now, I want to share my heart intentionally. The best ways I know are through writing, singing, preaching and having 1:1 conversations. I don’t always do these things well and not every encounter is what I would want someone to carry around as their lasting memory of me. Not even close. But, I remain mindful and hope to be more lavish and free in the ways I choose to spread love and hope every day that I’m here. And, similarly, every day, I hope to grasp more and more the truth that I am loved in amazing ways that don’t require any quid-pro-quo efforts on my part. God’s gift of love is pure grace. It’s who God is. And it is available to everyone. That includes you and it includes me. That kind of love changes who you are and it changes how you live.
Oh, that these thoughts would have prevailed in the years that I already lived. But, who knows how many years you or I have ahead? My grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 102. Perhaps? Regardless of how many, I pray that all of my years are lived fully and richly – truly abundantly – in the spirit of love and grace freely given and freely received. If my children’s memory of me is only that I love them abundantly – that I strive to lead them to know of God’s love, embodied as Jesus and followed as our road map for living well, then that will surely be enough. But, a few more decades of writing and songs and conversations can only drive home the point, right?
“I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4 (NRSV)