Generations of my family have lived in Arkansas for as far back as I can remember. Grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents and so on, all resided in some part of the state. Something happened between the 1950’s to the 1970’s, okay, obviously the civil rights movement happened within these years, and there was a massive exodus of my family members to various metropolitan cities. They were seeking opportunities to work, that did not exist in the areas in which they lived. Now, there seems to be a major disconnect in the way my generation, thinks and responds as compared to my parents and their parents before them. Part of me wonders why this is happening…then again, part of me thinks I know why this is the case. This turmoil that is afflicting my family makes me want to explore the topic of how to pass down legacy effectively. As I begin to explore this topic, I’m not convinced that I will discover the answer for my family however, I hope to explain to you what a legacy is and the significance of establishing a legacy in your own family before you are looking at the end result and wondering what happened and why.
In 2002, I had the wonderful opportunity to come under the teaching and influence of Campus Crusade for Christ as a fulltime staff member. Prior to that, I was very active in the group in my college years. During my time of being impacted by this ministry, I learned what it means to establish a legacy. In fact, the year that I joined, I went to an all staff conference where I listened to the philosophy and teachings of a great man whose scope of influence is proof that he understood legacy. His name is Bill Bright. At that time he was in failing health but he thought the message he wanted to share of such significance that he had video taped a message for present and future staff about the difference between a legacy and a monument. He went on to tell us about all the organizations that were started for the cause of Christ, like YMCA, which is still standing but most people don’t even know what it stand for. Those he said are monuments…their meaning is lost over time and sometimes they cease to exist. He was adamant about leaving a legacy through Campus Crusade for Christ.
A legacy, according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, is “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor.” The example given denotes for us that this “something” can be tangible or intangible. An ancestor can pass down traits like artistic abilities, thousands of dollars, feelings, like pain and suffering or love and respect. Get the picture? The word legacy comes from the English term “office of the legate.” Legate, in its broad definition, means that person who is sent by another for some representative office. In other words the members of a legacy represent those that have gone before them. They are sent out into the world and become leading examples in their communities and for their descendants who will follow after them.
Legacy should be passed down intentional. I should be able to say, this is what I want to pass down and this is how I am going to accomplish this task. The best legacies are when the one who is doing the passing down has a clear focus on what it is that is of significance that they want to be handed down. For example, I can tell you that in Crusade the clear mission is to carry out the Great Commission through discipleship and duplication. Of course, there are even more specific plans underneath that general umbrella. How I wish that parents would realize that this is the key to everything because the next generation may not always remember what you say but you better believe, they will remember what you do. They will model themselves after the parent. Some of the things that I have inherited from my family that I absolutely love is our love for family. If I was with any given aunt for the weekend, that aunt took care of me like I was her own child. I love seeing the elderly in my family so very well cared for. My grandfather had colon cancer and he never had to set foot in a nursing home because his children, my mom, uncles and aunts took turns caring for him. For many families, sibling rivalries and such is the norm but, I have never seen this. I absolutely love this about my family and I know I am a better person for having the ability to accept and “get along” with others…especially my family. I remember my mother telling me about my grandparents wishes for them to always get along. She told me many times and she lived out the example. It really is quite beautiful to see how my mom’s sibling take care of each other and never separate. Of course, they disagree sometimes but at the end of the day, they sit down and have dinner together. I have learned how to interact with my family and the value of it, by watching and repeating the behaviors I have learned.
When I began this segment, I talked about my generation and the ‘gap” that exist in my southern parents generation and mine. The problem that is happening in our family at current, is that the next generation isn’t really enthusiastic about “taking over” and being responsible to lead our family meetings and reunions. We have been having them every 2 to 3 years for the last 37 years. I can’t help but feel in this moment that we, my generation, missed something that our parents were trying to teach us. I’d love to tell you what that thing is but, I don’t know. A few of us have tried to rally the cousins to get more involved and to come up with solutions to this issues but, that effort has been extremely unfruitful. As I wrote this article, I realized that it really isn’t too late but, it will be up to the prior generation to figure out what legacy they want to pass to their own kids and to teach them the way to do this one-on-one. I can’t teach legacy in a lateral motion, it’s got to be from the top down. That’s why many families fall apart when the matriarch or patriarch dies. They failed to pass down the legacy that would keep the family together. So, if our parents are truly concerned about this, they will figure out how to pass the legacy down or perhaps they already have. The resolve for my own family is that time will tell. As for you, the things that are important to you, identify that legacy, teach the legacy and model the legacy.