Dr Pamela Prince Pyle

A Back Porch Legacy

It was a crisp afternoon on a February day in the South. I was going to meet my friend, Jodie, at the home of a man with who she had recently reconnected. Craig and his wife, Katie, had been one of two couples that had impacted she and her husband’s early married life with wisdom both by word and example. Jodie had been deeply moved by their lives. When we discussed meeting, he mentioned having a back porch talk. I liked that idea.

 I had met Craig many years ago at a movie theater. Life was different now for each of us, but especially for Craig. He had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The average life span is two to five years from diagnosis. 

Yes, life was different, and Craig was living with the end in mind.

By the time of our back porch visit, it had been two and one-half years since his diagnosis. Craig, it seemed was living on borrowed time. He had been told a year after his diagnosis that based upon his respiratory decline that he would most likely die within six months. His daughter’s wedding scheduled for the fall was quickly moved to beat the May “death deadline”.  

When he passed that six-month period, he told us he took great pleasure in telling the doctor that he was wrong. The doctor then stated, “It must be because you were in great shape before you were diagnosed.” He paused with the timing of a great comic or perhaps to build the effort for a deeper breath and then continued the story. I told him, “Well, that makes you wrong twice Doc”. We broke out in laughter. 

We laughed a lot that day. We also shed some tears. Craig could have shed tears over his losses, the “little deaths” which occur when disease chips away at the life we expect to keep living. However, Craig’s tears came when telling the stories of kindness that came his way. 

As the afternoon progressed, I begin to understand the breadth and depth of who Craig is and who Craig and Katie are together. I began to understand their legacy building. He shared many of these back porch visits sometimes with a laugh and sometimes with tears when the stories of kindness overwhelmed him. 

He asked about my work in Rwanda, and I could share how God spoke so very clear that Rwanda was my place and my purpose and yet it has evolved as God brought like-minded dreamers into my path and Legacy Builders to build a hospital in Rwanda with Africa New Life Ministries.  He grew quiet and then declared, “I don’t believe I have a legacy, certainly nothing that I could place my finger on.” 

Friends, lean in closer and hear this: We all leave legacies of some kind. They can be unintentionally good or unintentionally bad. My entire purpose of writing on legacy is to let anyone know that having a legacy that is chosen, tended to, and shared leads to a purpose filled life which leads to a meaningful life, and ultimately a very important ingredient of A Good Death.

Craig then asked, “Pamela, why did you come today?”.  Warmth exploded through my heart as the answer was not from me but from the Spirit within me. “Craig, I came to tell you about your legacy.” Actually, it was God who came to tell Craig his legacy, and Jodie and I just happened to be the vessels he used. Craig, however, was like many of us, he couldn’t see his legacy because he only thought legacy came in big packages. Well, it doesn’t.

Legacy comes in all sorts of packages and none matter more or less than another. Because true legacy lives on long after we are gone and impacts the lives of those who may never know Craig and Katie’s

I paused for a moment with the weightiness of that statement. “Craig, I came to tell you about your legacy.” That is a pretty bold statement to make about someone I had only briefly met before. However, it was all the back porch visits that came before mine that told Craig’s story. I felt them in that moment of revelation. I was changed. Wisdom moments, kindness moments, authentic moments, settling in like a blanket over my shoulders taking the chill from the air. 

 I paused for a moment, “The truth is Craig most folks don’t inspire others to return kindness.  They don’t inspire a back porch visit many years after crossing seasons of life together. It is all the years of your caring for others that has built a legacy of relationships saturated with kindness.

He lived on a porch of influence and was using what time he had left to continue to build into others. This was his wisdom and his legacy. And friends, if we could have those ingredients in our legacy, well, that would just be like “running the race as if to win the prize.”

         Living with ALS had changed their life radically. They were radically adaptive, radically optimistic, and radically thankful. Wow! As we left, I felt lighter, stronger, changed.

The next day, I thoughtfully considered his universal words of wisdom best expressed in a letter he had written to a class of nursing students that he and Katie had visited. 

         I am paraphrasing at times and quoting during others. Let’s learn together what the ultimate back porch visit would contain:

There are 4 things I would like you to think about today as they have given me perspective. 

  • Think about how lucky you were to be born in America. During my lifetime we put a man on the moon, air travel is possible for the average person, we carry a super-computer on our hip and wear its counterpart as a watch. Some of the greatest achievements in history took place during my 62 years. “Yes, we live in the best country in the whole world!”
  • Building into your family matters. I’ve been married to my wife, Katie, for 33 years this November. We have 4 great kids, all of whom graduated in the top 8 or better in their class. I’ve had a great life! I’m just going to miss the 4th quarter.  of you commented about how I helped put your life in perspective. But in reality, it is impossible to have complete perspective until you look back. So, let me challenge you:
  • Don’t be average.
  • Don’t just get a job and do the same thing your entire life. Remember, you live in the greatest country in the world and you can do and be anything you want to be.
  • Don’t settle.
  • Dream BIG!
  • Make a bucket list and start working on it…TODAY!
  • Go hot air ballooning, snow skiing in Vail, see the Grand Canyon, look over the edge of the Hoover dam, party in Vegas once…or twice, scuba dive with the great white sharks of Australia, or jump out of a plane…with a shoot!
  • You can do ANYTHING you want to do, and you only have to imagine it.
  • “Finally, you may not think about this much, but we ALL have the same EXIT strategy. No one gets out alive and none of us will truly know when.” Even with ALS, I don’t know for sure and neither did my doctors, if they did you would be reading a dead man’s writing now. 

For myself, I looked at my children as babies and marveled at the miracle of creation. From my back porch I now watch the big black starry sky and wonder what’s out there and how big is our universe? I realize with full confidence that there is something way, way BIGGER than us that created us, and I am thankful for our Creator’s imagination. Get right with God and realize all of us are here for a very short time…it’s what’s next is where it REALLY GETS GOOD! 

I realized from my time with Craig and in this letter that I witnessed a man that was using the power of his influence to teach truths about life. He was doing “big” things in small ways. This legacy builder continued to build his legacy even though he jokingly stated that, “he was in a race to the finish line.” 

I finished our back porch visit with a question. “Craig, could you summarize a mission statement from your life. He replied, “Always be kind, always be curious, and seek truth about God.”

Not long after this visit, I received a text from Jodie. “I visited Craig’s birthday parade. His legacy could be seen for miles.” 

Craig also texted me that day, “We raised $7500 for ALS. BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!”

“I love this!”

In my journey of discovering the legacy of others, I am encouraged by the truth that lasting legacy is most often found by the imprint we leave in the lives of others.

Mother Theresa so beautifully expressed this principle, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Craig and Katie have built a legacy around this principle and long after we are all gone, generations will be affected.

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