Leaving a Legacy

What would you do, if during your child’s last hour on earth, they asked you to make a promise to carry on their work?

Six years ago today marks the last time I ever saw my brother.  My husband, Austin, and I went to see a movie and laughed together.  I had no idea it would be the last, that the very next day he would be missing.  I think he did though.  I think he had a plan for the next day that we still don’t know all the details of, but meant that we would never see him again.  I think that night out might have been a gift, something he gave me without me knowing at the time what it meant.  Or maybe that night changed his plan, not wanting to bring pain into our home.  Or maybe there was no plan that night, maybe there was only laughter and the illness of depression took it’s final stronghold that next morning.  We may never know.  We have lots of maybes, and very few knowns.

I struggle with those questions, and with what he would want us to be doing six years later.  I don’t think he could have seen, in the darkness of depression, that what he did would still be so heavy on us.  His heart was too good and loving to want this for us.  But I do believe if he could see now, he’d be proud of what we’re trying to do.

Last week I had the great honor of hearing a man speak, a man who almost 18 years ago made a promise to his dying daughter.  She asked him to carry on her work.  Her name was Jenny Eller, and she’d battled Leukemia for almost four years.  During that time, she was a fierce advocate for donating blood, as she had herself needed hundreds of units during her treatment.  Her father, Dean Eller, started fulfilling that promise just a few days after her death when he spoke to a group about the need for donating blood, a group she was scheduled to speak to.  He went on to become a tireless advocate, and eventually to lead the Central California Blood Center where he helps ensure that there is always blood for any patient who needs it.  I’ve been in the beautiful building that he had a vision for, named for his daughter, and seen donors in the chairs fulfilling that promise.

He is fulfilling a promise.  He is leaving a legacy.

Since hearing Dean speak, I’ve been thinking more about my message and my legacy.  Not just for Austin, but for my own sons.  When I’m gone one day, what will I have left or impacted.  What do I want my message to truly be?

I want to help others find their purpose and leave their legacy.

Dean helps ensure that there is blood for everyone who needs it.  (And we should be a part of that by donating at our local blood center!)  My mom Christy works in Search and Rescue, helping families like ours, and is leaving a legacy of service.

What is your passion?  Where can you have an impact?  Never think that your story, your voice, or your life is too small.  Never think that what you do doesn’t matter.  It matters.  You may not have a platform like Dean, or the skills of my mom.  But what you have can have an impact of your family and the community around you.  And when you teach your children to be involved, to care, to donate, you are leaving a legacy.

This year, I have a new purpose, to grow out of my comfort zone and go where God is calling me.  This year I plan to speak to groups, churches, and my own community, about finding your purpose.

I can’t wait to see where that takes me.  It can’t take me back six years to another day with my brother.  But maybe it can help others facing that same darkness of loss.

 

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them.
~ Proverbs 20:7, NLT

Defining Beauty

While traveling today I read an article in the U.S. Airways Magazine by Brion O’Connor about a topic I barely remember.  It included the story of an artist, Fritz Drury, who studies and understands beauty better than most.  He spent some time with the author’s brother, and they were discussing what makes something beautiful, which is a concept very hard to define. 

They came to agree upon the one theme for defining beauty:  contrast. 

 

From mountains to oceans, to paintings to performing art, contrast is what awes us and creates the feeling of beauty in so many cases.  Sometimes it’s as simple as the contrast from our daily view, something so different than what we’ve grown accustomed to, that we can’t help but see it as beautiful.  But we might not have seen it’s beauty otherwise. 

Contrast is where we find beauty in life too, where God shows us His wonders. 

Watching an adult walk down the street is no miracle and is hard to see beauty in when you see thousands of the same every day.  But learn that the young man walking down the street in front of you is recovering from a stroke that partially paralyzed him, and that loved ones feared he may never walk again, and you see beauty in those steps. 

 

Hearing a story on the news of a person found deceased is sad and far from beautiful, when you know that someone has lost their loved one.  But learn that the family has been searching for 11 years and celebrates the selfless volunteers who gave their time and talent, and never gave up, and you see beauty in the pain. 

Reading a message from a woman who is getting ready for work seems mundane and ordinary.  But learn that she had been out of work for over a year and desperate, and you see beauty in that every day task.

 

Seeing a mom watch her son play at the park, just like a thousand other moms is forgotten in an instant.  But learn that she has tears in her eyes because her son is playing with other kids, and feels typical for a few minutes despite his disability, and you’ll see beauty. 

 

God’s work is best displayed in the contrasts.

 

Every few months I get upgraded to first class on a flight.  I try to hide my excitement and act like I have that special treatment all the time.  I look around at people who really do fly first class regularly, and realize that they aren’t enjoying it nearly as much as me.  They’re used to it.  It’s only so cool when you’re used to the back of the plane begging for water. 

 

Despite that, I still want first class all the time.  Despite the beauty of the contrast from struggles to overcoming, I still want no struggles.  But God’s work is best seen in the contrasts, I remind myself time and time again. 

 

Our two big valleys for God to use are Michael’s health and everything that comes with that (financial challenges, emotional challenges, logistical challenges), and our ongoing search for Austin. 

 

Right now, the only real contrasts in our life is the difficulty of circumstances vs. the attitude to persevere and find Hope no matter what.   But I keep believing that one day, the contrast God shows in our life will be that much greater and show His work that much more. 

 

I will keep believing.   

 

  

Abaco Islands, Bahamas

Abaco Islands, Bahamas

The Sisters

All my life I’ve seen my mom and her sisters as a strong trio of women, who would stand by each other no matter what.  Through the years they’ve had their disagreements, their differences, and times of wishing other things for each other.  They’ve put many miles between them, and sometimes gone long periods without being face to face.  But they’ve always shown unconditional love, and truly tried to support each other through all the good and bad of life.

When Austin went missing, they were both here right away.  When we celebrated his birthday and launch of Finder’s Hope the next year, they were there.  They’ve shown me the same love and support that they show each other.

On one particular occasion, I was actually upset by their display of love and support.  All I could think was that I no longer had my brother to share life with, wouldn’t have his support and love many years from now.  It didn’t seem fair as I looked at them thinking that together they could conquer anything.  But on that same occasion, they shared with the group about their 4th sister, the one no longer there.  JoAnn was the youngest of the four, and the next to youngest of the six kids (did I not mention they also have two brothers?) and was lost tragically in an accident as a teenager.

I realized, that though she’s not with them conquering the world, she’s always in their heart and on their mind.  They never forget that they aren’t three but four.  All they’ve been through, including losing her, combined with their faith, is so much of what makes them strong.

I may not have a sister, or any sibling to support me the way they do for each other.  But I do have them and I do have Austin with me in heart and memory, even if not here himself.  Like they have grown in strength from all their losses, here’s praying that so may I.  That I may one day be able to conquer the world too.

Little Brother Complex

I was officially diagnosed years ago with little brother complex. No, you won’t find it in any medical journals. Yes, it was a self diagnosis. It also started many years before I lost my brother.

What is it you ask? LBC is an innate desire to take young men under my wing and care for them in my own unique way. I blame the strong male presence in my life, from cousins to friends to co-workers to my own actual brother. I always had more males around me growing up, and that shaped a lot of my humor, preferences and personality. I feel like I can take the female perspective, along with that my unique understanding of the male mind, and help them out. They don’t have to be younger than me, just have to be someone I’ve come to care for like I do my little brother.

It’s possible… okay, it’s definitely true that my caring can sometimes seem rough. I give them tough love, with real honesty and often on topics they’d rather not hear from me on. From relationships to health to schooling and careers. I want the best for them you see.

For a time I think I backed off from offering this tough love…. it didn’t exactly work out for me to help my own real little brother, though I certainly tried. But last night someone made me really laugh with his response to my (inappropriate) advice and called me a life coach.

While I’d love to have that kind of influence, we all do make an impact somehow. I think with Austin my impact was real. I don’t believe he ever questioned being loved by me or that he could count on me, even when he chose not to.

One day when my boys no longer think I’m the ultimate authority, I’ll be glad if they have people they’ll listen to who love them enough to be tough. Hopefully when it matters most.

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