I didn’t know my Grandma Shirley. She died well before I was born, and my grandfather remarried a year later to the woman whom I call Grandma. But I heard a lot about Grandma Shirley growing up. She was after all my father’s biological mother and she raised him from birth until her death in the mid-seventies. All her children were grown.
She made an impact on their lives.
They never understood why I didn’t feel quite the connection to Grandma Shirley as they did, so they talked about her often, as if she was still around and still alive. Weird at first, I got used to it after awhile, and after I made it clear that my Grandma was not Grandma Shirley.
This impact that Grandma Shirley left on her children is lasting. They still talk about her today, forty or so years after her death. They tell stories, they talk about her, they share about her. While yes, you expect this with any child who has lost a parent, the way my aunts and uncle carry on about their mom is a bit different.
They don’t want to lose her essence. They don’t want to lose the legacy that she left them. It’s important to them. It’s what gives them meaning and purpose, and how they function and see the world. Not as children who lost a mother too early to cancer, but as children who grew up with this strong woman who loved them, who knew and was a part of high society in Boston, and who taught them how to act in this world.
I didn’t get those lessons. Like I said before, Grandma Shirley died well before I was born, and my grandfather wasn’t want to talk about her at all. She wasn’t the love of his life, even though they were married for so long. Shirley wasn’t a woman who loved him with her whole heart. But even though I didn’t know her, she still left a legacy in me.
This is her purse. Her church purse, to be exact. My grandma gave it to me when I was in eighth grade. For various reasons, she was worried I would never have anything of my Grandma Shirley to remember her by or to know her by, she was worried my dad’s sisters and brother wouldn’t think to give me anything, so she gave it to me before she died.
I was amazed when I received the gift. I opened it up, and my Grandma took me through each item in it. I should probably have mentioned that my Grandma and Grandma Shirley were best friends before Grandma Shirley died, so my Grandma knew my Grandma Shirley very well. They’d gone to church together. They’d spent time together, listened to each other, learned about each other.
This purse contains everything I have from my Grandma Shirley except her genetics. I don’t have any pictures of her. I don’t have anything else that was once hers. It has her gloves that she’d wear each Sunday—back in those days it was considered proper for women to wear gloves and cover their heads while in church. It has a little coin pouch for tithing and offerings. It has a tiny hymnal, which I can barely read the songs in there and I have no clue how she managed to do it. It has a New Testament, worn and worked as she would have opened it and read it many times throughout the service.
This is what I know of my Grandma Shirley. This is how I am connected to her. When I asked “What do these mean?” I was given the answer, the answer of generations past…this means she had faith, strong faith, faith that led her through life and taught her how to go about her day. This means my Grandma Shirley was a follower of God, going where God told her to and doing what was commanded of her.
This is her legacy.
We each have a legacy. Whether you think about it or not, our legacy is important. It’s not just what we leave with our children, or an inheritance, or our good looks. Our legacy is our faith. It’s the beliefs we hold true to our hearts, our deep connection with our Creator, the moments when we know God will part the waters and let us walk through the storm unscathed.
In this passage, Joshua was teaching his people the meaning of leaving a legacy. The meaning of leaving behind something for remembrance, something that would help tell the story of all God had done. Twelve stones. Joshua set them up in a place he knew his people would return to and be around, a place he knew these stones would be gazed upon and seen daily.
Our faith needs to be like that. Our children, grandchildren, our neighbors, and friends should know what we’re leaving behind, that we’re a God-fearing, God-loving people, a people who welcomes those who are hurting and suffering, who lifts up in prayer all those who are in need, who teaches the strength of faith that generations before us have had.
This church has people like that. You know the stories. I’ve heard them. I will continue to hear them as I talk to each and every one of you. These are our faith stories, our legacy, the impact that this church is leaving behind in this community. But we can’t stop now. We can’t stop making an impact, we can’t stop leaving our legacy.
When that stops, the faith dies, the church dies. The impact we’ve made in the past becomes less and less important until something else takes over for it. My family has not stopped telling me stories about my Grandma Shirley. They don’t stop telling my cousins, either. She died in the mid-seventies, but we know who she was. None of us met her, but we know what kind of woman she was and how she raised her children. My aunts and uncle did not stop her legacy from growing. They encouraged it, they nurtured it, they continued to teach what Grandma Shirley had taught.
My Grandma, who was not a familial relation by blood, continued to share Grandma Shirley’s legacy. She carried on the stories as an adopted member of the Smith family. Our calling is the same. Each and every one of us is adopted into God’s family. We are all members, and we all carry the weight of leaving the legacy of God’s impact in our lives, of our faith in those around us, those in this church and those in the community.
This is our legacy.