If you’ve been around this column for awhile, you know why I’m passionate about helping people prepare a practical and spiritual legacy: first, my father died in 2017, leaving very little guidance about his wishes despite the fact that he knew for 2 years that he had a terminal diagnosis, and second, my mother died unexpectedly in 2021, leaving clear guidelines and all of the information I needed to carry out her wishes as executor of her will. She also left a beautiful spiritual legacy of stories, values, and wisdom in a number of forms—grandmother’s journal for the kids as well as boxes of memorabilia she kept for them, cards I sent her, as well as stories of things like her favorite memory of me.
In the past seven months, though, I’ve discovered a new impetus for my desire to prepare my own legacy, especially my spiritual one—grandchildren. As I’ve enjoyed the privilege of rocking three precious newborns, I see their intense eyes gazing up at me, and I almost hear their questions: tell me about this world, Zizi, tell me about God, tell me about who I am and who these other people are.
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Despite my passion for legacies, though, I have procrastinated writing and recording the stories I want to tell them. So I am beginning the year with some planning and hope you will join me. Whether you have children or grandchildren, you have people in your life who will be blessed by your legacy, both practical and spiritual. Why not make some specific goals for preparing these legacies as the year begins?
1. Pray about your goals.
As you do so, ask the Spirit to give you a vision for what you would like to have accomplished on this day in 2023. You might want to write your vision as a story of what you will have done and how you will feel about it. Consider these examples:
“I will have seen the lawyer to update my will. He will have helped me think through the hard decisions, and it is done. I feel such a sense of relief to have made the changes I needed to make.”
Mine says, “I will have created a 24-page book on Mixbook that weaves together my favorite stories of redemption with some stories and photos from my childhood. It won’t be comprehensive, because I know I can always do another one. I will feel excited to share these books with my children and grandchildren.”
2. Spend thirty minutes marking times to work on your calendar.
Consider setting regularly scheduled times to work on your goals. I find that if I schedule in thirty minutes to an hour to work on something, I often spend more time doing it than I originally planned. I just need the event scheduled to get me going.
Add deadlines, false and real, to get things done. I might want to print the books as Christmas gifts for my family, so I would need to set a goal to work monthly on the book and to finish by late October.
3. Set mini-goals.
If I wrote, “I will finish the entire book by late October” my plan would be doomed to fail because it would be too overwhelming, and I would quit.
Instead, I might set the goal, “Write one redemption story in January, February, and March. Gather lists of verses in April. Gather photos in May and June. Write prayers in July. Edit and put together in August and September.”
You might write, “Find a lawyer in January. Make an appointment in February. Spend March, April, and May doing any research needed and making final decisions. Revisit the lawyer in June. Receive final copy of new will in August.” (And you’d be done four months early, so you could spend the last four months recording some favorite stories.)
4. Expect resistance.
Whenever we make plans to enjoy and glorify God in specific ways, we can expect resistance. Author Steven Pressfield nails the heart of resistance:
“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us.”
Pressfield’s definition of resistance reminds me of Peter’s description of the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Whenever we make plans to multiply God’s glory, the devil will seek to destroy our mission.
Armed with faith, the remembrance of how God has helped us in the past, hope, the vision of the joy we will experience when we share our legacy, and love, the blessing of others with the gift of our legacy, we can move forward.
5. Consider the obstacles.
Once we’ve recognized and named resistance, we can go on a seek and destroy mission with the obstacles. What’s keeping you from completing your goals? Make a list, trying to be very specific.
For example, one of the reasons I have not been recording my spiritual legacy is that until I wrote this article, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted it to be. I had a Grandmother’s Journal I didn’t like the look of, so I never wrote in it. Maybe you aren’t visiting the lawyer because you don’t know a good estate lawyer. Or maybe you don’t want to work on your binder of important information because it makes you sad to think about the day your loved ones might need it.
When we name our obstacles, we more easily find ways to overcome them. Writing this helped me clarify a vision for a final product and to name that I will still want to create more books along the way. You might ask your friends at church or on social media for the name of a good lawyer. You might have coffee with a friend and talk about the sadness you feel as you try to prepare your legacy.
6. Get help.
God made us to be dependent on him, and he made us to grow in the context of the body of Christ. Reach out to family and friends to help you overcome your obstacles. Consider enrolling in the next session of the Organizing Your Life and Legacy workshop, or contact me to discuss coaching. We all need cheerleaders to spur us on as we move toward our goals.
7. Be gracious with yourself.
You may have wonderful plans, and you may be making your way toward reaching them when you get a phone call that your mother has fallen and broken her hip. Suddenly, all of those Saturdays you had planned to work on your practical or spiritual legacy need to be spent helping your mom around her house. Recognize the divine interruption, and embrace the opportunity to serve your mom, trusting that the Spirit will provide another way and time for you to prepare your legacy.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your motivation for preparing your legacy? What goals do you have for the coming year? What obstacles are you facing? You can share in the comments or email me here.
If you’re reading this column, chances are you know a caregiver or act as a caregiver for a loved one. According to a 2020 AARP study, over 53 million people now act as unpaid caregivers in the United States. This study also revealed that caregiving can be hazardous to the health. We can help coming alongside caregivers and offering much needed comfort. Today we’ll consider six ways we can care for caregivers. If you are the caregiver, I hope you will consider telling others (including me) how we can help you.
1. Consider the caregivers’ story.
A person’s entry into caregiving can affect how they feel about it. Ask these questions of your friend or yourself to understand that story better:
Did you expect to become a caregiver?
Did you volunteer to become a caregiver?
What changed when you became a caregiver?
Did you feel equipped to be a caregiver?
What losses have you experienced as a caregiver?
What joys have you experienced as a caregiver?
Listening to the caregiver’s story can bring them peace and hope and understanding of their struggles. If you are the caregiver, journaling through these questions might help you in your own struggles.
2. Be aware of the emotional and mental losses that affect caregivers.
Common emotional and mental struggles include grief, anger, anxiety, depression, and guilt. As friends, we want to avoid giving quick-fix answers to the caregiver’s mental and emotional struggles. We can try to meet the caregiver with the love of Christ, who looked and listened and wept with Lazarus’ friends and family (John 11). We can try to offer the caregiver the presence of God, who had compassion for Job’s struggles, even as he firmly reminded Job who commands the cosmos (Job 38-39).
We can also encourage the caregiver to seek “common grace” ways of finding stress relief: seeking counsel, leaning into community, journaling, exercising, resting, and breathing.
3. Be aware of the physical losses affecting caregivers.
An American Journal of Nursing study showed that caregiving can result in an earlier and higher mortality rate: “Caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience…” including “physical and psychological strain,” “high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability,” and “secondary stress in work and family relationships.” (American Journal of Nursing).
A dangerous cycle often develops in which the caregiver forgoes her own needs to tend to the needs of the loved one. As Christians who have a theology of the body that calls us to care well for all God-given bodies, we can urge the caregiver to attend to her physical health.
We might offer respite care so our friend can go to the doctor or go for a walk or take a nap. We can also supply healthy meals to nourish the caregiver.
4. Recognize the financial struggles caregivers face and offer assistance.
Paying bills, filing for insurance, and making plans for long-term care are among the myriad tasks that add to the caregiver’s heavy burden. We may be able to help the caregiver with financial tasks in at least two ways. The first, for those who have gifts in this arena, is to offer help or guidance with financial tasks. Second, you may be able to help the caregiver procure financial assistance or help them financially yourself for a season.
As a caregiver, I was grateful that I managed to convince my father to make an advance directive soon after his diagnosis with late-stage prostate cancer. Even with a directive in place, my family was faced with making decisions about care near the end of his life that provoked conflict and turmoil. Better communication about end-of-life wishes can help in such hard moments.
We can also educate ourselves and help others understand the issues regarding end-of-life decisions, bringing a biblical perspective to them. Additionally, we can help the caregiver gather information they will need in case of crisis (advance directive, power of attorney, passwords, etc.)
6. Pray for caregivers when you pray for the sick.
Pray for the caregiver, and whenever possible, pray with them. Call or visit the caregiver, and instead of telling them you are praying for them, go ahead and do it. A praying voice soothes frenzied spirits, for prayer is a river of life poured into a thirsty soul. In the same way, if you are texting or emailing a caregiver, consider writing out a prayer to send. When our son had to have four brain surgeries in a seven-month period, I sometimes found it difficult to form the words to pray. Well-thought-out prayers sent to me by friends gave me the vocabulary and the voice to petition and praise God.
Dear friends, we all know the strain and stress caregiving can bring. May we seek to care well for the caregivers in our lives.
“Who are you?! Where is Elizabeth, and what you do with her eyebrows?” So goes a morning conversation I frequently have with my mirror. My fading eyebrows are just one of many daily signs that my body is succumbing to the erosion of aging.
Indeed, aging changes us, and not always for the better. Hair turns gray, hair disappears, hair grows out of our ears. We face new limitations: we can no longer drive at night, live at home alone, or stay up late. We experience startling weakness: we forget our neighbor’s name, we need help carrying a bag of groceries into the house. We endure new levels of loneliness: our loved ones die, our children live far away, we can’t get to church. And perhaps worst of all, our own death hurtles toward us at a frightening pace. When you consider the many losses of aging, it’s little wonder we fend it off fiercely or simply pretend it won’t happen to us.
What if, instead of trying to mask it with wrinkle creams and hair color and cryotherapy, we faced the “evening of life,” as one friend calls it, head on, inviting God to meet us in this space and reveal his purpose in it?
But it will. Whether we like it or not, we’re all aging by the second. What if, instead of trying to escape it, we decided to embrace it? What if we moved toward aging, pondering it and praying over it? What if, instead of trying to mask it with wrinkle creams and hair color and cryotherapy, we faced the “evening of life,” as one friend calls it, head on, inviting God to meet us in this space and reveal his purpose in it? What opportunities of aging might we discover?
The Bible gives us every reason to hope that as we enter the losses and limitations of aging, we will discover God’s profound purpose for our advancing years. Aging affords the opportunity to grow more dependent on God and others even as we grow less dependent on our own strength. Aging invites us to grow more humble in acknowledging that we cannot save the world or ourselves. Aging helps us to become more adaptable as we relinquish our trust in our own competence and control. As we embrace the opportunities of aging, we might discover as Alice Fryling, author and spiritual director, did, “I need to trust that while there may be less of me, there will be more of Christ” (Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older, xiii).
Will you join me in considering at least six opportunities aging affords us?
1. To become more fruitful even as we may be less productive.
Fryling describes productivity as “tasks we accomplish” and fruitfulness as something that “comes from within and includes non-tangible ways I relate to others” (Fryling, 9).
Some of us enjoy our task lists more than others. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed my ability to be productive, and if I’m honest, I’ve even taken some pride in it. And yet, in the past twenty years, a joint hypermobility syndrome mixed with my years of athletic endeavors tore away at my body. Nine major orthopedic surgeries later, I’m simply unable to be as productive as I once was. When we need to move chairs at church for a women’s event, I have to excuse myself. When invited to lead a retreat in a faraway country, I have to say “no.” As I’ve become less productive, I have seen God transforming my task-oriented self. He gently reminds me that he doesn’t love me for what I can accomplish, he simply loves me. Aging, when we can accept the limitations, can grow fruit, the fruit of patience, the fruit of kindness, the fruit of empathy for others.
2. To learn to care well for our bodies.
Sadly, many of us learned to devalue our bodies and some of us harbor outright contempt for them. Somewhere along the way in church we got the idea that the spirit or soul is what matters to God, not the body. And yet, the bodies we inhabit were created by God, exquisitely crafted: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 13-14).
Our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit, have a purpose: to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:19). As we age, we can’t get away with pushing them through eighty hour work weeks. God invites us into a new relationship with our bodies, to care for them as he does, with rest and good food and exercise and breathing and general gentleness. As we face the limitations of aging on our bodies, we have a choice—to curse them for not working the way they once did, or to bless them with tender care.
3. To discover that God is with us as we grieve our losses.
As we noted earlier, we suffer many losses as we age—physical, mental, relational. Rather than denying our losses or embittering our hearts, we can receive God’s invitation to grieve with him. Throughout Scripture we discover a God who is with people in their grief. Jesus wept with his friends Mary and Martha, even knowing he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11). God counts the tears we shed as we say good-bye to work we enjoyed and gifts he gave us for a season (Psalm 56:8). As we mourn the death of beloved friends and family, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). When we draw near to God in our grief over the losses of aging, we discover a God who has drawn near to us with his kindness and comfort.
4. To form new community in seasons of loneliness.
Sadly, many of us as we age will be forced to live somewhere other than the home we have known and loved. With the loss of our home comes a loss of community, neighbors, friends, and churches. This loss presents us with a choice—we can either close in on ourselves or reach out—to God and to others. A ninety-year-old woman in our church lost her beloved husband years ago, but she refuses to remain isolated. Weekly, she hauls her well-worn Bible to women’s Bible study; by her mere presence she bears the glory of God’s wisdom and grace. In addition to reaching out to community, we can also turn to the Lord, where we will find a new and deeper intimacy.
It is never too early to prepare for the day when we will no longer be with our loved ones. Rob Moll, a thirty-something journalist, while working at a funeral home for a season, insisted that he and his wife discuss the details they would need if one of them were to die or become incapacitated. They could not have known they were preparing for a day that would come relatively soon—Rob died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 41, leaving a wife and four children.
We who are actively in the “aging” camp have a powerful opportunity to bless our loved ones by preparing our legacy. In addition to advance directives and wills and password information and end-of-life wishes, we can begin sharing our values and our stories now, the stories we want our loved ones to remember forever. We can “give with a warm hand rather than a cold one,” letting go of some things now so we might enjoy others’ enjoyment of these gifts. If you’re interested in a group coaching workshop to help you prepare your legacy, be sure to check out Organizing Your Life and Legacy.
6. To prepare to die well.
Before the advent of modern medicine, it was common for people to consider their deaths, to think about how to “die well.” Literature called the “ars moriendi,” (the art of dying) helped people perform the important tasks to close out their lives.
Dr. L.S. Dugdale, in her 2020 book, The Lost Art of Dying, describes an eighty-year-old woman who became enraged as she approached death, demanding of the doctor, “What happens to me when I die? I don’t know what I believe” (135). As Dr. Dugsdale pointed out, her patient’s anger likely masked her fear of the unknown. Christians have the assurance that death will be followed by resurrection, first of our spirit in heaven, where we will be in the presence of the triune God and all believers who have died before us. Later, Christ will raise our bodies and we will live forever in the new heavens and the new earth, a place where there is no more mourning or pain or crying or sin (Revelation 21-22). As aging shuttles us closer to the day of our death, we have the opportunity to grow confident and hopeful, to prepare to “depart in peace” (Luke 2: 29). We can do so by asking questions, raising doubts, expressing concerns, to a pastor, ministry leader, or friend. Many, including me, would love to walk alongside you in that normal fear of death.
Friends, be encouraged. Aging is hard and there is no escaping it, but as we embrace the opportunities, we will discover a God who is with us in it and who is changing us by it.
How about you? What opportunities of aging have you discovered, for yourself or as you observe others?
Pray for Me CampaignHow can we connect more adults with more young people more naturally than ever before? The Pray for Me Campaign was born out of this question. We believe every young person needs a team of Prayer Champions strategically praying for them. The Pray for Me Campaign creates a vast web of intergenerational relationships for young people and equips adult believers to pass on a sustainable faith to the next generation.
Finding God in My Loneliness by Lydia Brownback. Young or old, single or married, male or female—at some point in life, we’re all confronted with loneliness. We try to fill the void or change our circumstances so we no longer feel the pain. But what if our pangs of loneliness are meant to point us to something greater?
Making Sense of Suffering by Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni Eareckson Tada offers hope to people struggling with health and emotional challenges. Joni knows what it’s like to suffer chronic pain. Yet she has found comfort and meaning in the God of the Bible.
Alzheimer’s Disease by Robert Smith. It starts out as small moments of forgetfulness that can be chalked up to simply getting older. But as time passes and symptoms accumulate, you are forced to face the fact that your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease. Now you’re wondering how the course of the disease will run and how you will provide for their care. How do you help your loved one when you feel overwhelmed by the diagnosis yourself?
When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story. God may not fix everything. In fact, your situation might never change or get better, but you can get better regardless of your situation.
A Necessary Grief: Essential Tools for Leaders in Bereavement Ministry by Larry Michael. A handbook to enable ministry leaders to help others through bereavement. Grief is a difficult topic that ministry leaders deal with on a regular basis. Do they have confidence in helping those who are suffering the loss of a loved one? Do they feel equipped to meet the differing needs that occur in the life of a survivor? Can they lead someone through a process of grief reconciliation? Are they able to plan and implement a bereavement ministry in their church or parish? Here is a book that can help leaders in a practical way to minister to those who are grieving. In addition, they will discover essential tools to deal with grief?s difficult questions.
Caring for Widows by Brian Croft & Austin Walker. Pastors and church leaders are responsible for countless things. Unfortunately, in many churches, ministry to widows remains largely neglected and forgotten. Highlighting the Bible’s recurring commands to care for widows with sensitivity and compassion, this book encourages church leaders to think carefully about how to serve the widows in their congregations and suggests practical strategies to that end.
Good Grief by Granger Westberg. Here is a volume to be kept close at hand. It can be used over the years as you encounter a wide variety of grief experiences or as you assist friends in moving beyond grief to “”good”” grief. With gentle wisdom and acute insight into human nature, Westberg guides the reader through the stages of grief.
Ministering to the Mourning by David Wiersbe. Addressing specifically difficult situations such as when the deceased is unknown to the pastor; signs of healthy and unhealthy grief, and how to help survivors cope. This new edition contains a chapter on ministering to victims of terrorism. It is also recommended for chaplains and hospice caregivers.
What Grieving People Wish You New about What Really Helps by Nancy Guthrie. When someone we love is grieving, we want to be there. But it’s easy to feel paralyzed, worried that we might say or do the wrong thing. Nancy Guthrie has personal experience dealing with pain and knows what words of encouragement are helpful and what words are harmful. Drawing from her own life experiences—including the loss of two young children—Guthrie has written this helpful resource for Christians who want to be better friends to those who are suffering. Practical and down-to-earth, this book includes examples and helpful tips from real grieving people who have been helped (and hurt) by friends who meant well, equipping readers to come alongside and comfort loved ones who are hurting.
Books for Those Touched by Loss
Becoming A Widow: The Ache of Missing Your Other Halfby Elizabeth Groves. No matter whether your husband’s death was expected or sudden, your loss is a total shock. Your world will never again be the same. You wonder how you can go on without him. And how will you manage the details of a life you built together? How do you get through each day when the grief feels like a tangible weight?
Facing the Death of Someone You Love by Elisabeth Elliot. Elliot has walked this lonely pathway of loss twice. She learned first hand that even this grief is not too great for the grace and power of Christ. In this tract, Elisabeth Elliot shares “six simple things that have helped me thought this valley and that help me now.” Her practical words of comfort will guide others through their sorrow and reassure them that God will never abandon them.
Grief: Finding Hope Again by Paul Tripp. With compassion and biblical wisdom, Paul Tripp shows us how to think and what to do when death enters our door. He reminds us that God often brings the most wonderful things out of the darkest experiences, just as he did at the cross.
Grief Undone by Elizabeth Groves. Grief Undone is the breathtakingly honest, yet hopeful account of how Elizabeth (Libbie) and Al Groves walked with God through Al’s terminal cancer. Their true story—saturated with in-the-moment Scriptural reflections, blogs, and fervent prayers—paints a stunning picture of how faith transforms the human experience of suffering.
Grief: Learning to Live with Loss by Howard Eyrich. Grieving is an experience in connection with many life experiences-not just death. Learning how to deal with these lesser “griefs” prepares us to deal with the greater loss of death, and Eyrich uses biblical illustrations to show that not everyone deals with grief in the same manner. This fresh look at grieving also tells you in a personally applicable way how to work through particular grieving processes to emerge on the other side grown and matured.
Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love by Lynn Brookside. In a series of thoughtful daily devotions, this book offers wisdom, insight, and comfort that will help hurting people through and beyond their grief. Ideal for those struggling with the death of a family member or close friend, as well as those trying to help others deal with the death of a loved one.
When Your Family Has Lost a Loved One by Nancy & David Guthrie. All families eventually face the loss of a loved one. When it happens, it can place great strain on a marriage, as well as on other relationships. That’s partly because we don’t know what to do with our feelings and partly because every family member grieves in his or her own way. In this book, Nancy and David Guthrie explore the family dynamics involved when a loved one dies–and debunk some myths about family grief. Through their own experiences of losing two young children and interviews with those who’ve faced losing spouses and parents, they show how grief can actually pull a family closer together rather than tearing it apart.
This is a work in progress as we try to gather resources from PCA churches across the country. If you have a resource you would be willing to share or a resource you would like us to develop, we want to hear from you. Email us.
The information below comes in PDF, Word doc, on-site articles, off-site pages or website and links to videos. Click the title of interest to view, download and /or print or watch.
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