Celebration of Life and Legacy

Boy swinging on a swing on a beautiful sandy beach with a pier and ocean in the background

3 weeks ago I attended my aunt’s memorial service.  We call it a “celebration of life” because of the life she lived on earth and because Aunt Marilyn is alive and well in Heaven.  I know she’s in Heaven, not because I heard her confess Jesus as Savior and Lord of her life.  I never heard her say that.  (In fact, I didn’t know Aunt Marilyn very well because visiting with her was just not a regular thing for me.)  But I know she's in Heaven because I see her legacy – God’s hand on the beautiful children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who remain on this earth.

To illustrate her legacy…

A week after Aunt Marilyn’s celebration of life, her 13-year-old great grandson described “true followers of God” as people who are “fully involved [in church], have a good time, and hold on to what they learned for life.”

He wrote this for an English assignment.
This is fruit of a godly legacy.

He continued, “Being Christian means to have full faith and know God is real...”

He also shared the Gospel:  “When it comes to salvation the Bible says you’re either dead or alive depending on whether you’ve accepted Christ.  We are dead because of our sins but God loves us so much that he died for our sins and made us alive (Ephesians 2:4-5).”

He wrote much more, but as he closed, he noted that, “…the definition of Christianity is to have a relationship with God and have faith that everything about Jesus in the New Testament is real.”

A relationship with God!

The New Testament is real!

This young man is extending his great grandmother’s legacy.

(By the way, a couple days later, his younger brother got awards in Kindergarten for kindness and good deeds; and a few days ago his cousin received an award for her teamwork and for being cheerful and positive.)

When I think about Aunt Marilyn’s legacy, I also think about the entire De La Vega family – the legacy of my grandparents.  They raised 4 boys who love God, seek Him, and follow Him to this day.  They remained faithful to God, even when difficulty would have overtaken the best of us.  And I marvel at their commitment to Him as they head into their 80s and 90s.  It was beautiful to watch:  When my dad got ready to leave, his oldest brother said, “Wait a minute…,” and they started in song:

God be with you till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you,
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

I see the accolades of their tireless devotion gleaming across the footsteps of everyone who claims the family name.  There were so many whom I’d never met, of all ages, at Aunt Marilyn’s celebration of life, but in my family, it’s like we’ve known each other all along.  There’s a Heavenly bond.  And when I step closer, I see hearts dedicated to our wonderful, living Savior.  I see family members acknowledging and serving God.  We enjoy a unity as a single body of Christ, a sense of partnership and common affection that's hard to find in some churches today.

We are living the legacy of our ancestors, and I am certain God has His hand in the development of our family tree.  When I think about this blessing, I imagine I have only two choices:

  1. Ignore this God-nurtured legacy and do my own thing, or
  2. Carry on the same tireless devotion to God as our predecessors.

Many of us are in similar situations, enjoying the same kind of godly legacy.  We are beneficiaries of something we didn’t initially create for ourselves, and we have the opportunity to extend this legacy to future generations.  Some of us aren’t in families like this at all, but we can be the bold dots on our generational timelines.  We can stimulate a godly legacy that our children can carry on, and we can watch our grandchildren follow suit.  I know people who chose to be that bold dot.  (Even if we don't have children, we can influence great legacies within our families or our social circles.)

Boy walking away from the view through a play gym tunnel, exiting the tunnel into a larger play area

In Israel’s biblical history, the success and failure of each of the kingdoms was a direct result of the decisions of one person:  the king.  Many kings led their people into sin and idolatry – often inhumane idolatry.  Few led them to honor, true worship, and obedience.  Read about how King Hezekiah turned the people of Judah away from idolatry toward honorable worship and obedience in 2 Chronicles 29 (thru 31, if you have more time).

What kind of legacy will we leave after God takes us home?
How will people remember us?
Will following in our footsteps be a worthy cause?
Will people say we lived for God?

Will they remember godly character in us:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?

Or will they respectfully speak well of us while they suppress their memories of discord, jealousy, envy, hatred, fits of rage, selfish ambition, self-indulgence, drunkenness, and impurity (partial list of Galatians 5:19-21)?

I play 3-on-3 recreational ice hockey.  We skate full speed during our shifts on the ice, so the final period of the game is the hardest – the most tiring.  That’s also the time when our opponents can beat us if they work harder than us.  It’s easy to lose a lead and lose the game in the 3rd period.  Hezekiah wasn’t perfect.  His constant devotion to God wore on him, and he nearly threw in the towel like many other Bible personalities did.  But he didn't.

In recent months, the Holy Spirit has been urging me to finish my life well – to skate hard in the 3rd period.

I fear that I may not hold fast to God in my later years.  I doubt sometimes.

Even Solomon, full of wisdom, followed after other gods in the end (1 Kings 11:1-6).

Will I keep trusting Him and His Word?
Will I always claim Jesus, not only as my Savior, but continually as my Lord?
Will I stick it through as I tire and as my body grows weary?

Will I run the race as if to win like Paul did (Philippians 3:13-14), even after jail and torture; even after unrelenting hardships; and even after tireless missions and heartbreaking disagreements with ministry partners and those he loved as his spiritual children?

I have dusted off a book called Finishing Strong (Steve Farrar).  This book has been sitting on my shelf unread for at least 2 decades.  Believe it or not, as a writer, I don’t enjoy reading.  But I do it because I need it and, in this case, I want to finish strong.  (Men, maybe you can join me in reading this book and we can compare notes later.)

Young man sitting on a part bench that is along an ocean cliff, pondering his future

     To those of us who carry God’s banner of love and declare ourselves as members of His family, may we not give up.  May we pick ourselves up after we lose our way, and take God’s hand when He reaches back for us.  May we press on when the path crumbles behind us.

     To those who claim the De La Vega name, may we continue to extend the legacy of our forefathers and breathe spiritual wellness and rightness into the lives of those who follow.  I think we can claim godly sacrifice and devotion as our heritage.  I think it is the De La Vega way to establish and foster what God considers to be beautiful lives here on earth, before we live out eternity in Heaven with Aunt Marilyn and the rest of our extended family.

When we celebrated Aunt Marilyn’s life, we family members stood and sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness (Thomas Chisholm).  As we seek to remain faithful to God, be encouraged that He will remain faithful to His promises.  “Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,” “there is no shadow of turning with [God].”  He will pardon our sin.  He will grant us peace beyond understanding.  He will never leave us, and He will always guide us.  “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,” God will remain faithful.  His mercies are new every morning, so we always get a fresh start.  All that we need, God’s hand will provide.  And the best part:  “Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.”  Blessings for our generation and the generations that follow.

We also sang I Love You, Lord (Petra), a simple song for a worshiping heart.  Aunt Marilyn’s beautiful life that we celebrated was a life devoted to God.  Isn’t it remarkable that a heart that worships God in humble and desperate adoration is also empowered to live sacrificially for Him?  As it was shared during the celebration, Aunt Marilyn, along with her husband Daniel, gave her heart to people.  She invested in them.  This is how she showed her love for God.  This is how she worshiped Him.  Loving people – the spiritual lives of people – is the greatest act of sacrifice and obedience we can offer to God.  It is what God cares about the most.  We can be this love for our families.  It can be the legacy we offer – imperfect, as it is – while God emblazes it with gold until it fits into each heart with His perfection.

Young man standing on a beach facing the ocean of life's choices

It's good to be a branch in the family tree that produces vibrant leaves and fragrant buds.  It’s okay to start anew, if we haven’t already been thriving.  A new start is better than a withering end.  Every branch matters.  It makes the tree more beautiful, the aroma more pleasant for God and our future generations to enjoy.

I close with some Scripture about legacies:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything
in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,
punishing the children for the sin of the parents
to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
but showing love to a thousand generations
of those who love me and keep my commandments.
(Exodus 20:2-6) 

Praise the LORD.
Blessed are those who fear the LORD,
who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
(Psalm 112:1-2)

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  1. Hi Stephen.Thank you for the beautiful heartfelt post. Your story blessed me.Im sorry for your Loss and your familys loss.I could feel your Aunts love for God.Your words are powerful and encouraging.

    1. Hi Sydell. This happened about a year ago. About 3 months later, my uncle, Aunt Marilyn's husband, passed and we had the same kind of God-honoring celebration of life. It is encouraging to see how it is possible to live for God until the very end. I'm glad this post was meaningful for you. God bless you and your family.


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