Listen to this post—and step out into the garden with me—above!

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I keep thinking about it.

Over and over, since this pandemic began, one conversation with my mom from 18 years ago keeps coming to mind.

It was the summer after my junior year of college—September 11th had happened a few months earlier. As this tragedy did for so many of us, it made me question what I was living my life for. I needed something more sure to hold onto each day than applause and appearance. This was the year I asked a lot of questions. I wanted to know about what gave people the hope and peace they had, namely my grandfather.

On a country road in Alabama, in my Dad’s beat-up Chevy Tahoe, I asked a question that was a step into the uncomfortable. This question was a level deeper than our normal Mom-and-daughter college chats: “Tell me more about Grama and Grampa’s faith. What was it like when you were little?”

Grampa Cecil and the redhead who is writing this to you : )

We drove through green crop fields, past towering oaks, and along pastures of cattle as my Mom told me about tented revivals and country life. There were no church buildings around their home, so they had church in their living room. She and her brother helped set up chairs each Sunday and people came from miles around to open their Bibles. Grampa led the singing and lesson and prayer for their simple home church. After the service, they swapped goods from their gardens and stories and seeds. For his part, Grampa shared his tomatoes and any fish he hooked in the local swimmin’ hole.

They didn’t have much, but they had something sure: faith.

There—
right there as she spoke:
something happened inside of me.

Some people call it a “fire” inside.
Some call it passion.
Some call it curiosity.

What I know: something came alive in me. I wanted that faith—faith against all odds. Assurance. Solid ground to stand on each day.

Some 18 years later, that conversation keeps prodding me. My thoughts keep returning there in odd moments (watching the birds at our feeder?), in the middle of the night, as I open my Bible, as I walk through the oak trees in our park, and in the garden where Grampa Cecil’s sign reads, “God lives in every garden. He loves each growing thing. So forget your ills, get out and dig and sing!”

18 years later, I see it. That conversation in the car, somewhere near Clanton, Alabama, was the moment legacy was transferred to me.

Circa 1987 with our family harvest

Legacy feels like a big concept, but it’s simple. It begins in small steps—steps that add up over time. Steps and stories become seeds of legacy that continue to produce fruit year after year, generation after generation.

To create a legacy, something of value is passed from one person to another through stories, songs, the firsthand witness of a life well-lived, words on a page, art, and, among many other ways, through plants.

Yes, plants! They can become sown heirlooms, ones that accumulate new chapters with each year grown.

I see now how Grampa’s legacy led me to live for something different. My life has been shaped by his faith through those tented revivals, living room sermons, and of course, the tomatoes. He planted in faith, believing in what he couldn’t yet see.

I find myself doing the same, especially in this unique time.

As they gathered in their home to open the Bible, so have we for the last 8 years—and, more pointedly, right now.

As they shared seeds and garden gifts, so do we. The garden has become our place in this pandemic to dream, to hope, to nurture each other, and to exercise faith in planting small things that grow into big things over time.

My little farmer

Planting legacy is on my mind a lot these days.
Maybe yours, too.

What am I living this life for?
What is my life illuminating for others?
What am I leaving in my wake?
What will I leave behind if I were to finish my days in this pandemic—or whenever that day comes?

This more urgent call to pass good to my children—and the world—has rooted itself into all of my thoughts since this strange time began.

And for me, it starts here. In the dirt. Our modern day victory garden is rich soil for growing, these days:

We planted Grampa Cecil’s favorite: Early Girl tomatoes.

Rows of zinnia seeds passed to me from my Mom line our raised beds.

Jonquil bulbs from my great-grandmother, Irene, were blooming as the world shut down in March.

My grandmother’s purple iris decided to put on a show this year in the front yard, right near the tree swing where the kids have spent hours since school and playdates with friends came to a halt.

The perfume of honeysuckle lures us in as we play in the front yard, intentionally planted there to keep three generations of memories alive in tasting these sweet nectar treats as kids.

That peach tree we planted years ago? Rooted here to keep memories of Peach Park in Clanton, Alabama, as sweet as the fruit and ice cream we enjoyed there on many a family road trip—and on the very trip I took with my mom home from college 18 years ago.

There are many more. To tell you the whole list would only further confirm my Plant Lady status : )

Each of these plants means something to me. Each represents something I want to pass on to my children. So as we putter in this place together, we share memories and histories and lessons and values. With each story told, we keep the seeds of legacy growing—and one day, Lord willing, they’ll be tended by the hands of our three little gardeners.

Perhaps, for you, it’s not plants, but something else. What do you want to pass along and multiply in the world, right now and long after you’re gone?

The best part about this is that you don’t have to just look back. Perhaps some of your memories of the past are best rewritten in the future. You can pave a new path, and change generations ahead of you as you do! The fun of planting legacy is creating new stories to tell and values to pass on, too.

For us, that came in the form of a giant pumpkin two seasons ago. Giant gourds haven’t exactly been a staple in our family, but it seemed right for this crew. We made a new memory with Big Rita at 80-something pounds—and with it the legacy of adventure and trying new things just for the joy of it! You can write new legacies, too.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore more ways to cultivate legacy together. These are going to be simple, doable ideas you can start right now. From making a time-capsule journal of this unique time, to a “stay-at-home scrapbook,” to a simple home movie and more, we’re going to get some seeds of legacy planted together—one small-but-mighty step at a time.

Want to learn more about the basics of building a legacy? Start right here, with one of my favorite posts ever on the Cultivate blog!

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  1. Rachel Nordgren

    My mother’s favorite flowers were purple Iris, and that is just one small part of the legacy she left. Thank you as always for your words!