One month ago today, my father left us to go to Heaven. His passing, like so many passages in life provided for me an occasion to reflect about existential questions. For my husband Glen and me, he was the last of our four parents to pass away. Few people have a greater influence upon our lives than our parents and our parents-in-law. That was certainly the case for us. The passing of the last one marks the end of a part of our family history. Now our children have no living grandparents. Perhaps this end of an era focused my thinking about what it is they have left behind.
What is the legacy of our parents? I am not thinking about what they may or may not have left us materially. That will only be temporary anyway. I am thinking more about what footprints they have left on our hearts. These are those things they have left us, that will endure.
When my mother passed away two years ago, I became conscious of the legacy of love that she left us and was grateful. From the pile of notes that I have received from all over the world, I realize that my father’s life influenced people in diverse parts of the world. He left behind the books that he wrote and they have some durability. Several people have written to tell how what Dad wrote made a significant impression on their lives. These are valuable footprints on their hearts. Others can tell me of the specific sermons where he painted word pictures that made truths of the Bible come alive to them in a new way as he preached. These footprints he was also able to leave on lives.
Ironically when I visited him during his days in the long term care facility where he lived, he was sometimes troubled that he was no longer able to do much to serve the Lord. He feared he would be found unfaithful, when he finally stood before the Lord to give an accounting of his service. At those times, I reminded him how grateful we were daily for the support of his prayers. They were an investment in our lives.
The importance of these footprints that are left on the heart are clear from a tribute that I received from folks my father worked with in South Africa in the early seventies. Their note brought tears of joy to my eyes when I opened my inbox on Saturday morning and read it.
They told me that they received the communication of my father's passing from The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters last week. They wanted to write and express their sincere sympathy. They said, “We know that you will miss his love and also his interest in your work for the Master.” That is true.
They went on to tell how they remembered both my father and my mother, with warmth and pleasure as well as with a sense of deep admiration. They talked about working together under the leadership of my father and mother. They said of Dad, “Not only was he an excellent speaker and organizer but also a tenderhearted compassionate man.”
Then they went on to tell of a dreadful tragedy in their family when a brother and sister along with their twin daughters were killed in a motor accident. This couple travelled up to Johannesburg from Cape Town for the funeral. The leader of The Salvation Army in South Africa at the time, who they said was also a kind fatherly gentleman, invited the couple into his office before the funeral to tell him all about what had happened.
During this conversation, my dad was present and he sat and listened attentively to the story. He never said a word, but suddenly in the midst of the interview, great big tears began to roll down over his cheeks. They wrote that his tears spoke to them of a sympathy and love and concern for them in their loss. In their words, “That spoke volumes!”
It was quite amazing to me that more than 35 years after the event, these folks would still carry these footprints on their hearts, created by my father’s tears as he shared their pain.
Wouldn’t you like to be able to leave a legacy like that? I would. In some ways, we can do that with our writing. When we are able to capture the things that really matter and communicate them in a way that those who read will feel we truly care and have some inkling of understanding about the world in which they live, we will be able to create footprints on their hearts.
There is a risk involved in it. Some will find that we are exhibitionists, if we dare to show our emotions too much. Others will be uncomfortable with us revealing the doubts and fears that mark our vulnerability. Yet, there will be those who will feel comforted and encouraged to know that they are not alone in facing situations that are beyond anything they ever imagined, leaving them with no choice but to walk through these tough places. For them we must write honestly yet respectfully so our words can gently mark out those footprints on their hearts that sustain them long after we are gone.