Leaving a Legacy

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I went to a funeral last week, of someone I had known all my life, a good friend of my parents, who had died unexpectedly a few weeks ago.

I find funerals strange occasions. There is such a mix of emotions, especially when the mourned and mourners are Christians. There is a sudden hole in your life that you know nothing will be able to fill, but you have to keep going. Yet there is always that knowledge, that hope, that you cling to that you will see that person again, and that they are in a much better place.

As I was a few stages removed from the family of the deceased, due to the distance that time and space brings, my grief on this occasion was secondary – I felt compassion for their sadness over their loss, and it brought back memories of when I lost grandparents, and created imaginings of how I would feel at the loss of my parents. I also seem to automatically cry when I see others in tears.

My own sentiment, and I hope you’ll not think me callous, was one of celebration of a life lived well. Testament to this was the number squeezed into the tiny church hall, overflowing into the lobby where there was a video link. The stories of remembrance were full of humour and light, memories of a man with a generous heart and ready wit, who always knew how many days it was until Christmas.

We sung some of his favourite hymns, which mostly had references to being received into glory, and I could imagine him gleefully running to join the cloud of witnesses, being reunited with his relatives, and smiling down on us and giggling at the irony of what we were singing.

The service got me thinking about legacy – what do we leave behind us when we go? Hearing the testimony of this man’s life – how he came to faith through the love and wisdom of his grandfather and in turn passed this onto his own grandchildren; how his strong work ethic and sense of humour made him a shining light in his workplace – I could see the fruits of his years of faithfulness to Christ and the beauty of that legacy. I thought about those, including this gentle-man, who have had an impact on my life and wondered: what trace am I leaving on the lives of those around me?

In the last year or so I have become more aware of my own mortality. I would not say I am afraid of death or believe that it is coming soon for me, I have just been struck by the realisation that people my age and younger can die just as easily as those who are getting on in years (there’s a cheery thought!) I am more conscious of not wasting time, and of focusing on all I want to achieve in life. I am also driving more carefully!

I want my life to be positive. I want to make a difference to others. I don’t need a big stage or a large following, but I do want to be faithful to what I have been called to do. I want to make the most of the gifts I have been given and the opportunities set out in front of me.

I felt God’s whisper as I listened to the funeral service. He has given me words, and my words will be my legacy. My words will remain long after I have gone. This is a great encouragement to me as I sit down to write and is also a reminder to be prayerful in my writing – whether in this blog, in my poetry or in my novelistic ambitions – to seek God’s purposes in the word-craft, in the stories I am trying to tell.

But it meant more than just writing to me. Like most people, I speak everyday. I talk to people, and they listen (usually). I converse with colleagues, have deep chats with friends, I instant message people all over the world. Those words have an impact too. Most of it may be forgetten, but some of the words we speak, positive and negative, leave our mouths and go straight to people’s hearts.

In the Bible, James compares the tongue to a fire that can burn down a whole forest. He says it is like the rudder of a ship, that can turn it and direct its route. I have done a bit of sailing in the past, and I know that if you let go of the tiller, the rudder turns the boat into the wind and you are at the mercy of the weather. We need to watch what we say, because our words have potential to heal or to hurt, every single time we open our mouths.

I hope I remember these lessons I’m learning along the way. I am determined to be more careful with my words – both written and spoken. I pray that I may leave as positive a legacy as that of the man we said farewell to this week.

And it is 116 days until Christmas.

The hard road to achieving your dreams

I skipped church again this morning. Some Sundays I feel that the last thing this introvert needs is small-talk with a load of people I barely know, which, even though I’ve been at my church for close to a year now, still seems to be the case, especially in the holidays. But that is not what this post is about.

I knew that even if I wasn’t going to church I needed to get my soul straight. Recently I have been struck with a strange lethargy, an inability to do anything remotely useful (by my own definition), almost a numb tiredness at times. I’d been feeling this way definitely since coming back from youth camp but probably before that too. Really, since handing in my last essay of the term, it felt like part of my brain had gone into standby mode, like I wasn’t able to reflect or process anything correctly. In part it was the adjustment to suddenly having a lot of free time again after a really busy academic year. And I knew that I needed to rest and recover from that busy time, but I didn’t even feel like I was resting successfully.

So this morning I stopped, and did something that I should have done a while ago. I picked up my too-long-neglected journal and I started to write. I wrote, I prayed, I tried to understand where this feeling of disconnect from myself was coming from.

I realised quite a few things…

First, that I was already worrying about next term and beyond – would I have enough money for the course fees? Would I cope with the workload? Would I be able to do all the things I want to next summer? Do I need to start thinking about my dissertation? etc etc etc. I know, and have been repeatedly been telling myself, that God is holding all this future stuff and that I need to trust Him, but that message hadn’t made it’s way to my heart quite yet, where the worries were starting to set up shop. So this morning I started to let them go, one by one, again. I know I will have to keep on doing this, regularly. Trust is one of my chosen words for the year, and I need to start acting like it…

Secondly, I acknowledged that I was feeling stuck. So many of my friends are getting engaged, getting married, having children, getting their own places… etc… Last year I chose to move back home and give up full time work to take up my course. It was the right decision (still is) but at times it feels like a massive step backwards. It has required sacrifices. And that is something we don’t think about when we decide to pursue a dream – choosing one thing means sacrificing every other choice. Even when you know you are making the right choice, it is often painful to let go of the others. I have given up independence, savings, free time, a social life, even some of my hobbies, in order to devote time to my studies. I love my course, and I’m doing well at it, but I need to let myself grieve for the opportunities I’ve had to miss out on to pursue my dream. And I need to remind myself that I’m in this for the long haul, but that it will be so worth it.

A year ago, I came up with five goals for the next five years:

  • get a Masters in theology
  • finish the first draft of a novel
  • move back out from my parents
  • find a job I really care about
  • meet the man of my dreams

(you can read the whole story here)

The problem is, part of me feels like I’m no closer to 4 out of 5 of my goals. Yes, I am a third of the way through the Masters (and when I wrote the list I hadn’t even been accepted onto the course), but I was struggling to see any development in the other areas. And with two more years of the Masters to go, I was finding it hard to see when I would be able to work on the others.

But… but… but…

These are FIVE YEAR GOALS! So what if years 1-3 are focused on goal 1? That still leaves two years for the others!

Sometimes one of our dreams has to take priority over the others, and that’s okay.

And when I really thought about it, I started to see how working towards goal 1 is helping in some ways towards the others – through writing essays my research, planning and editing skills have all improved, and the quality of my writing is better, which will massively help with eventually writing my novel. And the Masters will open doors for me into jobs which engage my interests and convictions. (And I do love the job I have right now!)

Again, when I stopped to think about it, it all came back to trust. A year ago I told God what I wanted to achieve in the next five years. And I have to keep giving those goals back to Him, seeking His will and trusting that because He gave me the desires of my heart, He will help me realise them.

I also remembered this morning what the ultimate goal of my life is, one that I have been sadly neglecting recently: to know God and make Him known. All my dreams, plans, and goals amount to nothing when I lose focus on that, but by seeking Him first, I will achieve the things He has called me to do.

One last thought: Sometimes I feel I am not coping with life. I have heard people say in the past: “God never gives you more than you can handle” but that is not true. God often, intentionally, gives us more than we can handle so that we recognise how much we need Him to help us handle it.

Youth camp revelations 

I was helping on a youth camp last week – and it was amazing and exhausting. I had a bit of an emotional rollercoaster week for all sorts of reasons that I’m not going to go into just yet, and I still have loads to process from the week. But for now I want to give you some of the top things I learnt from the week.

1) God’s plans are amazingly beautiful and intricate and we need to stop second guessing them (and Him). A year ago I went for a youth work job at a church where I had previously done some training. This was my dream job, and the timing seemed so perfect, I was sure it was God’s plan for me to get it. But I didn’t. Last week a friend who has been working with that church was helping out on youth camp. She is now engaged to the guy who got the job, and they wouldn’t have met if I had got it. A year on I can see how that job wasn’t the right into for me at that time, and how happy I am with my life right now… God is good, y’all.

2) It is so easy for each of us to be a different person in different situations, and we don’t even realise it sometimes. Last week I got a little frustrated with some of the young people who were so switched on and engaged in sessions, and seemed very spiritually mature beyond their years, but would go outside and be airheaded bimbo girls or laddish show-offy boys and forget everything they just said or did or learned. Part of this is just teenagers finding out who they are, but I think we all do it, we compartmentalise our lives and put on masks to be different people when we need to be. Can I ask that we drop the act, work out who we are and be that person the whole time? Be authentically ourselves? (Me included)

3) Never, ever, ever, underestimate young people. They are awesome. Our speaker, my good friend Neil, decided to pick as his topic for last week the book of Revelation. The whole book. In a week. And the kids kept pace. Sure they won’t have taken it all in but they definitely took it seriously and appreciated that we were willing to challenge them. Sometimes young people are referred to as the church of the future, but they aren’t. They are the church of today and until we really understand that we will keep wondering why they want to leave.

There is so much more I could say but, as I said, I need to do more processing. I am so thankful for the honour it has been to serve on youth camps for so many years and see the fruit of that investment in people’s lives.