by Mark Gregston
True legacy is left through building relationships. People ask me all the time “What are the most important things that a parent ought to be thinking about in a relationship with their teen?”. And I always tell them this. I tell them there’s two things. One is that you learn to listen. And the second one is that you maintain a relationship with your child.
You know, I can promise you three things. You’re going to die after you listen to this podcast, it’s going to happen sooner than you think, and it’s not going to happen the way you want it to happen, but there’s something about embracing it. The inevitability of life. Ending one day, has a way of focusing you and I on what’s important today, it helps you live smarter and, helps you to look at each day as a blessing. Yesterday, I went to a restaurant and I was sitting there, and this lady asked me, are you celebrating anything today?
And my comment was, yes, I am. I woke up this morning and that’s worth celebrating. You know, if you’re feeling that brisk fall, wind of change ushering in a transition of the seasons in your life. You’re no doubt also wondering a bit about what your life has been about. You start to focus on what will be remembered, you know, once you’re gone. Some folks don’t care when they’re gone, and their lives will be quickly forgotten except for an occasional search on ancestry.com or when somebody in your family is flipping through some of those old photos.
I’m one of those guys that just wants to pass something on. And I think it happens through relationship and listening as a component of that. But there is something about having a relationship with a teen, whether it be your grandchild or our own child, or even any kid around you.
It’s important to have that relationship because we want to know that our lives meant something more than mere existence. We want to see how we impacted somebody else. We want to make other’s lives better and our time on earth, just a little bit more significant. We want to know that we made a difference, and I would submit to you that how that happens is through a relationship.
I thought about that when my kids were born; Jan and I were so ecstatic about getting married when we were 20 and having kids. Oh, we were really scared to death about having kids. We didn’t plan on it, it just kind of happened. You know, we were managing apartments, going to school full-time and working two jobs while leading a young life club for kids.
And then when Melissa and Adam were born, we saw a miracle happen right before our eyes. We never regretted having kids early, but we weren’t focusing on our legacy back then. But then when our grandkids were born, we encountered these new feelings of getting older, wanting to make an impact and thinking about life from a different perspective.
Our kids change the way we live. Our grandkids changed our hearts and our focus. And so, as you get a little bit older and kids start to leave home and you start entering in that time that now you have grandkids, it gives you a perspective on life that I think is important for parents to know about.
The reason is if I find that out, when I’m a grandparent, then it’s almost too late in my parenting because I’m using it in my grandparenting. So, if I’m sharing things with you that I’ve learned as I’ve moved into grandparenting, that seemed to be more important things, you can use those in your parenting now and take advantage of the opportunity that you have.
There was something so different about having grandkids. My whole perspective on life changed. It was no longer about making money or doing a great job, building a career or involving myself in every good thing I could find. It was more about impact. And sometimes I think if parents had more of a concept of wanting to make an impact on their child, then they would quit always trying to make them perfect all the time.
They would quit being so authoritarian in their pursuit and they would maybe quit being so judgmental in their comments made toward their kids and look for ways to engage with them in such a way that they really change their life and offer them something completely different. You know, after my grandkids got here, I started to ask myself, what do I want to be known for. How I wish I would have asked myself that question when my own kids were in high school, how do I want them to remember me?
You know, here’s the thing, short of making history books or setting records or committing some heinous crime, most of us will be forgotten when our grandkids are gone. Our work may be remembered. Something we wrote or videotaped may be read or viewed, but our legacy will only extend as far as our relationships with our grandkids.
I would submit to you this, that our relationship with our grandkids is determined by the relationship we have with our own kids. And that’s why it makes relationships so important. You know, your legacy will be written in two places and one will be on your tombstone. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who run around cemeteries with the intent of gathering wisdom from the one-liners on tombstones.
This headstone monument thing seems a bit overrated to me, always being asked what I want written on my epitaph. Like there’s going to be thousands of people, you know, visiting my buried carcass to see what my life was all about. But I really don’t care what’s going to be on my marker. I’m sure it will say when I was born and when I died, like all the neighbors planted in my new neighborhood.
Even after the funeral, when does a person ever go back and look at somebody’s headstone? When you’re laying another family member to rest, you may look at somebody else’s gravestone, but there aren’t a whole lot of people hanging out in cemeteries.
The second place that your legacy is going to be written is in the hearts of those who know you. And in particular, those that you have known. Legacy is not about depositing a few golden nuggets of wisdom that will be remembered by all. You’re not a box of fortune cookies, clever, but maybe not that deep, a legacy is not just doing a whole lot of good for others.
A real legacy is the connection you made with family through the deep relationships you had with them. It is found within the hope and wisdom that you’ve passed down to your children and grandchildren, the truths they can pass down to the next generation. Parents who leave a legacy are not only remembered for what they contributed, but also for the life-giving qualities they provided to the people around them. It’s not everyone out there.
My main concern is the health and welfare of my own family. And I hope that is for you too. I hope you care about a million other things, but that you put the main thing into perspective and that’s your family. That’s where I want to make the most difference, in the lives of my wife, my kids, including my son and daughter-in-law, even though I can’t tell the difference between them and all the rest of them, and my grandkids.
I’ve been to too many funerals. And it’s interesting to see who attends when my mom died, the people who attended were a few of her friends, a couple from her Sunday school, a couple of neighbors, a few folks from some of the organizations where she volunteered and the remaining people attending were our family. There weren’t many others. The attendance at a funeral speaks loudly to the legacy that deceased person left for their family. All the wisdom shared through your legacy. Should it go any further than your life will go? As far as your grandkids and great grandkids, you know what, that’s good enough for me.
You know, I’ll leave the next generation to take care of the next generation, but I’m just going to try to take care of those that are within my family. And I would tell you this again, like I’ve mentioned before, it’s all about relationship. When I’m introduced to people or run into acquaintances, and when someone introduces me to an audience before I speak, I’ve been described to crowds and individuals in so many ways that many times I chuckled, is that really, is that really how they see me?
At least a few times I’ve thought, is this really what I want to be known for? I was recently at a Texas Rangers baseball game and I ran into a fellow named Aaron Watson. He’s a country music artist and he’s just a wonderful fella. Him and his wife were standing there, and he looked at his wife and he said, hey honey, this is the guy that sends us that pecan pie for Christmas every year.
You know there’s other people that just know me as Jan’s husband, or they introduce me and say, “Hey, this is Mark. He’s the guy that lives with all those kids at Heartlight in East Texas.” And some people even say, “Hey, that’s the guy with the mustache!” Heartlight parents introduce me to their friends as the guy I was telling you about that cooks great steaks! And that’s something, what we’re known for. A few weeks ago, Amy Grant, introduced me to her husband. Her husband is Vince Gill, a country music artist. I was excited that I finally got to meet him. Amy and Vince are warm and genuine and so kind, and so Joe Kurt introduces me and says, “Hey Vince, this is the guy who lives with those struggling teens and has all those cabins.”
I’m not kidding. I thought, man, I’m known for a little bit of everything, but I didn’t know that. I can see it now, on my tombstone: Here lies Mark, the pie guy on the radio, who has a mustache and lives with kids. Who’s married to Jan, cooks a great steak and has cabins all joined by walkways.
It’s not exactly what I was going for in my legacy. It’s not quite what I want to be known for. I know this legacy and how I am remembered is all about relationships and not just my relationships with my kids, but really my kids’ relationship with me.
I recently heard a young lady say, “stop trying to be there for me when you know nothing about me”. It reminded me that having an impact on someone doesn’t just happen because we know them or when we can do something that benefits their life. It’s all about relationship, about getting to know them and knowing them well is communicating life across a bridge of friendship, which doesn’t stop. If they don’t respond, it’s offering your life to them, regardless of whether it comes back to you or not. And family relationships are a bit tricky. Many families tell me they can get along. If they don’t talk about religion or politics. Others tell me that they can get along as long as they don’t bring up certain topics, then the holidays will go well.
I’ve always thought that relationships need to be more than that. Relationships, true relationships, don’t need to be bound by restrictions, but rather need to be freed up a bit just to flourish. If you’re going to have freedom within your relationships, then you might have to accept the fact that it’s okay to disagree. At times you may be polar opposite, but the relationship that you have can still thrive. Most people think when their kids get into trouble and are struggled, then they lose the relationship with their child.
I would say that one of the main key elements that I tell people all the time is that no, it’s loving your child, even when they are a mess. That’s where I’ve told people, you need to say this a lot and tell your child, there’s nothing you can do to make me love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less. There’s something about that, that encourages a child. They know that they are loved when they do well, but they also know they are just as love when they don’t do well.
At times, when you’re at those polar opposites, that’s the time that your child wants to know that regardless of maybe what they think about things, how they present themselves or how they even communicate that to you, even if they’re wrong, that they’re still loved because your relationship with your kids not only can be but will be the most important relationship they have during their teen years. Don’t mess it up by requiring your kids to believe and act and present themselves the way you do.
The relationship is always the most important thing, because if you don’t have the relationship then you’ll never be able to have those much-needed discussions that bring about a different way of thinking. You’ll never have talks to disperse the wisdom that you’ve accumulated because they will ignore you. They won’t spend time with you and they’ll never have ears to hear what comes out of your mouth.
You’ll eliminate the chance to have influence and opportunity to shape their thinking and to mold their values. Parents, you know, this is the tough one. Even if you don’t accept their lifestyles and choices, all those that your children have made, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, because if you do, you’ll never have the chance to touch the hearts of those who long for your presence in their lives.
I meet kids all the time who were involved in activities I don’t approve of. I hear them spouting off comments and beliefs that I’ll never embrace. I see people living lifestyles I don’t agree with. I meet with girls who are making stupid decisions about their bodies, who are engaged in activities that are immoral at best and destructive at worst. I see young men making poor choices and countering anything that resembles biblical standards and moral principles. I can reject them and their lifestyles and never have an influence, or I can love them right where they are and hope to steer them in another direction.
I’ll say it one more time. Accepting them does not mean that I accept their choices, lifestyle, behaviors, or actions. I’m not condoning when I don’t correct. I can love them in spite of their behaviors. I know actions are an expression of their hearts and that’s what I want to influence. So, I’ll tell you again, relationship matters regardless of the differences of opinions or the inconsistencies in your beliefs. The relationship with your child is what matters most. You can have an amazing impact on the lives of your kids. Even when your beliefs are miles apart, you are the one that can offer hope when they are desperately looking for it in other places. You have the ability to leave a legacy that no one else can leave. A good one filled with family members who remember in detail the positive impact that you had on their life, just as others had an impact on you and changed your life. I’m sure you have a desire to have an impact on others.
Let me give you a scripture here that I think is important. It’s out of 2 Peter 1:12, and it says this, “Therefore, I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have”. Hey, legacies, don’t just happen. They’re made, so keep making yours today. And if you haven’t started, there’s no time to waste.