If the Lord Wills; or, “Lord Willing”
January 23, 2020
by Amy Givler, MD
How does a Christian measure the substance of a life? By what was accumulated? Not hardly. At least no serious Christ-follower is going to pick that answer. What about by influence? Now that is something that may resonate. By influencing others, we carry on our earthly work beyond our lifetime.
But still, is “legacy” the Christian’s ultimate goal?
A 90-year-old friend of mine just died. She was someone who deeply influenced me, who left a legacy that will last my lifetime, and my children’s lifetimes, and probably beyond that. She was “Miss Madge” to my family—the one who helped me raise our children.
If my 32-year-old self, with a baby and seeking to go back to work part-time as a family practitioner, had been able to articulate what I wanted in a babysitter, I would have chosen Miss Madge. But by no means had I that foresight. Instead, she was an acquaintance who was willing to add a few hours of childcare onto her job as a live-in sitter for an elderly man. His family allowed me to drop Martha Grace off for five hours, twice a week. But when he went to the hospital, and then to a nursing home, Miss Madge needed a place to live.
So she moved in with us. She was a widow with children and grandchildren she was deeply involved with, even as she worked part-time caring for Martha Grace. My work hours increased, and a year later we added 8-month-old Chandler to our family by adoption, and a year after that I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while pregnant with John, who was born (healthy) in the middle of nine months of chemotherapy. Somewhere in there she met and married Sam and moved out, but she always worked for us. She had long since ceased being simply an employee; instead, she was a member of our family.
She was the glue that kept our family together, especially during the year I battled cancer. She was a steady presence for two toddlers wondering why their mother couldn’t care for them, and who then added caring for a newborn without complaint.
In fact, “without complaint” pretty much sums up Miss Madge’s approach to life. Remarkable, seeing that her life was pretty tough. She grew up in rural Louisiana and was married at 16—not too unusual for that time and place. She raised four children with minimal resources and little spousal support. Her faith wasn’t flashy, but God had taken hold of her heart as a young woman and she had never looked back. She trusted God implicitly and was grateful for what God had given her.
At her funeral, I was chatting with a group of friends and family members and someone said, “I always thought I was the most special person in her life.” Everyone else, including me, chimed in and said the same thing. I guess we were all her favorites.
Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Two of those on the list Miss Madge had in spades. Just as with fruit that grows on trees, the fruit of the Spirit only develops with time and tending. With the help of Jesus, Miss Madge tended all of those Galatians fruits. But two—gentleness and kindness—really characterized her. At her funeral, her grandson said she recently told him, “I could have been an old, angry, bitter person. But because of God, I am not.”
No, she most certainly was not. Neither my husband Don nor I ever remember her getting angry. And remember, she lived with us. She loved people, and when you were with her, you knew it. Her life inspired hundreds, across multiple generations. Angry and bitter people don’t inspire anyone.
So Miss Madge left a legacy. But my point is not for us to emulate her so that we can also leave a legacy. Legacy leaving wasn’t her goal. She lived to serve God—in His way, and on His timetable. Martha Grace remembers she never just said, “See you tomorrow.” She’d always add, “Lord willing,” in reference to James 4:15: “…instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (ESV).
Every plan she made was “Lord willing.” Every situation she found herself in was “Lord willing.” Goodness, in her mind every breath she took was “Lord willing.” Her life preached a wordless sermon every day. Lord willing, may my life do the same.