As I was cleaning out some of my cabinets one day in anticipation of a possible move, I came across a box that contained cards and newspaper clippings from the year that my children’s grandfathers had both died. Those two deaths, so close together, represent two separate legacies for my family and me. In life, one of the men was harsh and angry, and the other was pleasant and well-respected in the community. In death, however, the unexpected truth about these two men lives on.
My father, the man who had been so callous and angry for most of my life, changed dramatically before his death. I came to realize that he loved me very much, and I came to love him very deeply. At the end of his life, with God’s help, he and I made peace, and I was able to understand how much he meant to me. I was at his bedside when he took his final breath. I was there when he was ushered into the presence of God. Now, I have good thoughts about this man and my heart is at peace. Looking at the mementos of my father, stowed away for years in a cardboard box, I realized how much love he had for me. He had shown it in so many little ways, and I choose to reflect on those cherished memories.
To me, the box represented a chance for change, and a chance to make a difference. I rediscovered this box of mementos at the same time that I was trying to write a letter of forgiveness to another member of my family. This one letter is still the most difficult one that I have ever had to write. God, why did I have to find this box now? It had been three years since my father’s death, and the pain still felt as if he had died only the week before. How is this box going to help me write my letter?
It all came back to a word I had written in my journal: legacy. Legacy is defined as something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation or time. What was my legacy going to be concerning forgiveness? Were my children or grandchildren going to write that I had caused them grief and pain? I was so afraid that this was what would happen if I were to continue along the path of anger, unforgiveness, and bitterness on which I had found myself. No, I did not want to leave that legacy to my family. Instead, I wanted to follow what the Bible says in Ephesians 4:1-3, “I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (NAS).
I wanted to walk in a manner worthy and to walk in such a way that my life would end without regrets. God’s timing was providential, because the week following my rediscovery of the box proved to be one of great pain and distress as I labored to write my letter and forgive and move on. I had to keep remembering that I wanted to leave a legacy of love and peace, and not unforgiveness and bitterness.
Though death is supposed to be final, a person’s legacy—whether good or bad—lives on. Sadly, my children’s other grandfather did not have the same healing effect on me. On the contrary, he left a legacy of hurt and pain to my family. To the outside world, he was an upstanding, respectable man but, to my family, he brought only hidden grief and severe pain. As I looked at his cards and clippings on that day that I found the box, I wept and wept for all the secret pain and sadness and grief that they represented.
What about you? Are you finding it difficult to forgive? Is your anger out of control? Then just as the apostle Paul did, I am entreating you to walk in a manner worthy and to choose to forgive. There are some memories that we just have to let go of, and then there are some for which God grants us peace and reconciliation. No matter what happens in your life, you can still be diligent and do whatever it takes to walk in a manner worthy. Come with me. Let’s walk this path together, handing down forgiveness, love, and peace as our legacy to those who will come after us.
Blessings – Lisa