No Footprints

Dearest Rachel –

It seems that I should write you about today’s (or rather, this weekend’s, since I get to listen to it three times over) sermon, because it hits fairly close to home, especially for the two of us. Not that it isn’t common to all mankind, but given where you are, there’s a certain significance to it.

The teaching staff is wrapping up the series on Joseph this weekend, and as almost all biographies do, it ends with the death of the subject. But there is more to this story than just that; among other things, he leaves instructions to be taken back to Canaan when the children of Israel return. In effect, he’s holding onto God’s promise to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather about making them a nation in His special location. And despite how comfortable and powerful it is – in no small part thanks to Joseph’s God-given insights and efforts – Egypt is not that place, and Joseph knows it, and he doesn’t want to be buried here, but rather where his descendants can come and see that God’s promise has (as always) been kept to them.

All very inspiring, but why write about this particular sermon? It’s not like I haven’t sat through plenty of services and sermons – many of them, like today, three times in a weekend – what’s so significant about this one? Well, in this case, Joseph’s story is almost peripheral to the application; the fact that, like with the Israelites’ stay in Egypt, it’s only a temporary thing. At best, we’re just tourists here; no matter how nice – or awful – this planet is, we know we’re eventually flying out at some point. We can’t get too hung up about what’s going on here; it’s not what truly important.

And yet, we’re exhorted to consider what our earthly legacy is going to be like. What do we expect people to say about us after we’re gone? Would it be what we would want people to say? What would be the key aspects of our life we would want other people to consider when thinking about us? Is it likely, based on how we live, that they would consider those things? Are we leaving a mark on the world that would reflect well upon us?

I find myself wondering why this exercise is necessary, to a certain extent. If nothing else, does it really matter to us what is said about after we’re dead? Do you ever get the chance to read any of these letters, for instance? And then, there are certain things that affect the answers to these questions that are beyond our own control. Part of what made your departure so noteworthy was its sudden, unexpected, and even untimely (although we have to assume that God’s timing is always perfect, somehow) nature. So many famous people who are almost best known for such passings might well have faded into obscurity (or their reputations would have lost their luster – or never achieved that luster to begin with) had they been allowed to live a full lifespan, or serve the terms they were meant to.

I’m also enough of a student of history to have read of people who put together a great organization – be it a country, a business, or a movement – that simply fell apart once they were out of the picture, destroying all their well-made plans in the course of a single lifetime after their own passing. The world goes on after we do, but it we leave too big a hole – or make no plans to fill it in after creating it by our footsteps – then all our plans will not be able to. Even the psychological trauma caused by our departure is a concern; I worry about Daniel having to go through this a second time, even though it’s nearly inevitable that he will, when I have to leave. I mean, hopefully, I’ll be around long enough that I can ease my way towards the exits, like with your folks. There was no shame in admitting that you felt a certain amount of relief mixed in with your sadness at their passing; they had both been struggling with physical and mental issues for some time, and that they had come to an end was as much a mercy as anything.

But am I weird for wishing to leave as little a mark as possible? If we are merely tourists on this planet, maybe the admonition given to tourists in certain natural wonders – ‘take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’ – is applicable here. Maybe we should even try to eliminate our footprints as best as possible – or at least, not be concerned as the waves of time wash over and erase them behind us.

Of course, perhaps the tourist analogy isn’t quite as applicable as that of a tour of military duty. This is our posting behind enemy lines, with an assignment to capture and bring back as many of the enemy’s troops (or perhaps as a better analogy yet, their hostages) out of captivity, and return with them to the heaven we were both meant to be a part of. And that’s where I worry about my legacy – and question why I was left here when you were more effective in your mission. I’ve always found myself tongue-tied at the point where I might otherwise close the deal. I still remember a time when, during my high school career, we were part of a group working in a resort town in upper Wisconsin, not too far from Fort Wilderness. One particular little boy, who I’ll refer to as Calvin, since he really was that sort of holy terror during most of the week (and because I really have no clue as to what his real name was), came up to me of all people on the final day, and asked how he could pray to receive Jesus. I was at a complete loss, having never expected him of all kids to do this – and coming to me, of all people. I waved over another of us, an upperclass friend of mine named Wendy, to walk Calvin through the process and the prayer as I retired from the scene. Those are the sort of stories I recall about my own soul-winning abilities.

Then again, it may be that I’ve been left here because I need to finish my mission, as opposed to you being more effective at it. You’ll recall that time we went to see Randy Stonehill at the Methodist Campgrounds back in 1998. It was shortly after Rich Mullins had been killed in that dreadful motorcycle accident, and Randy posited that God had decided that, since Rich had accomplished so much in such a short time, that he could just ‘knock off’ early. I’d like to think that sort of thing applied to you as well, but I’ll never know on this side.

Of course, if I’m taken by way of the Rapture, there will be no earthly legacy for me to speak of; no one will be left to really notice that I was here, or even that I’m gone. Most of my dealings these days are within the community of the church. I don’t have unsaved co-workers, for instance, because I no longer have co-workers. And so, those who might otherwise notice and be affected by my departure would be on the very same flight. That would be the way to go, wouldn’t you agree?

But that’s obviously not my call.

Anyway, until then – or more likely, until I can write you again – keep an eye out for me, and wish me luck; I’m going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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