About the Guest
A house is only as good as the foundation it's built on. Your legacy is the same way. Dennis Rainey talks about the importance of establishing visual milestones in your life as a reminder of God's faithfulness.
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
A house is only as good as the foundation it’s built on.
Bob: You think so?
You might have to do that on a day when I’m not here. I might have to leave the studio.
Dennis: I think I possess the ability to interview her for maybe 25 minutes. Now, I don’t know if I can hang with her for two of them, but she is a sharp cookie. If our listeners met her, they would understand where Bob gets his sharp wit and keenness. I mean, she may be about to turn 90, but she is one sharp . . .
Bob: She is spunky.
Dennis: She is spunky.
Bob: Spunky is the word we’ll use.
Dennis: She is spunky. Well I’m glad you mentioned the concept of stories, because you’ve driven out west.
Dennis: You’ve also driven east, and you know that as you go either east or west you will find these road markers, these little signs that tell the story of a . . .
Bob: The historical things, is that what you’re talking about?
Dennis: Yes, of a significant event. Maybe it’s about a trail that the wagons took to settle an area. It may be about mining, about what the settlers did, or some kind of key event or battle that took place at that place, or . . .
Bob: You can go downtown where we live and there’s a marker that says “This is the ‘little rock.’”
Dennis: La petite. . .
Bob: La petite roche. Right there.
Dennis: Just as the foundation of a nation leaves mile markers and the legacy that geography records, we also leave a legacy through the stories of our lives.
Bob: There are historic markers along the way for every life, aren’t there?
Dennis: There really are. And it doesn’t take a long time as you read the Bible to get into the stories that are told in the Old Testament where you realize that there is a spiritual principle of recording significant events that’s found in Scripture.
One of the first ones is Joshua chapter four where they crossed into Jericho. Of course the River Jordan stopped, and the whole nation walked across on dry land. They were told to pick up twelve stones and to pile them up, so when their children asked what those stones were all about, they could say, “This was where God stopped the water, and we ultimately became a nation at this point.”
Bob: I don’t think they called them “milestones” when they piled them up alongside the river bank there, but it carries the same idea. These are stones of remembrance that every time you pass by you point to them and say “something significant happened here.”
Dennis: Yes, that’s right, Bob. I think there are milestones in our lives that we need to collect along the way and pass those stories on in various ways to our children, our grandchildren, and those we have relationships with.
In fact, I want to go to a story that Bill Eliff tells. Bill is a pastor here locally. I think there are three Eliff brothers.
Bob: All in ministry, right?
Dennis: All in the ministry. The whole concept of their heart for God goes back generations. In fact, there is a story he tells about his great-grandfather playing checkers that is really a symbol. It’s one of these spiritual milestones that he passed on to future generations.
Bill Eliff: I took my 95-year-old aunt to Thanksgiving a month ago in Oklahoma City, and for eight hours going and eight hours coming, we just filled the car with conversation. We had the greatest time. She is sharp as a tack. I said, “Tell me about my great-grandfather.”
I didn’t know anything much about him, except that I had heard that he was a very godly man. He was a farmer. Came from England, through the Carolinas and Mississippi and then to south Arkansas, of all places. And my aunt Emily said, “Well, let me just describe to you Elisha Schrobel Carter like this.”
She said, “Every night after the meal was over, Elisha and his brothers would pull out the checker board and they would play checkers. Really, there wasn’t much else to do. And they had a great time.
“One morning Elisha came to breakfast and he said to his brothers, ‘Boys, I can’t play checkers any longer.’ They said, ‘Why in the world? What’s wrong with checkers?’ and he said this. He said, ‘you know, every night as I go to bed, I spend that time focusing my whole mind and heart on Christ. I talk to Him. I go through the things of the day and I think about the next day. It’s a very special time with Him. And last night, when I went to bed, all I could think about was the moves I could have made on the checker board.’”
“‘I vowed,’ Elisha Schrobel said, ‘years ago, that I would never let anything come between me and my relationship to Jesus Christ.’” Aunt Emily said, “He never played checkers again.”
Now you say, “Well that’s kind of silly. What’s wrong about checkers?” Well, really nothing. What impresses me was not the issue itself. What impresses me was the tenderness of his conscience, was the teachability of his heart, was the immediacy of his obedience and his desire to not let anything dilute a simple, pure relationship with Jesus Christ.
You say, “Well, what did that gain him?” Well, heaven knows. I know this. He raised six godly sons and daughters. That is the legacy of my life.
Bob: You know, you wouldn’t think that playing checkers would be a milestone, or not playing checkers anymore would be a milestone, but we make decisions every day that really do set the course for a lifetime, and some of those decisions become a part of the history of a family.
Dennis: They get passed down. I mean, it’s not that playing checkers is wrong. That’s not the point of the story. For his great-grandfather, it was a point of where his affections would be, and for him, what he needed to do at that point was to step away from his love for that game so that he could focus more whole-heartedly on his Lord and his Master. And, Bob, that’s the point here. Are you passing on the stories to your children around God’s work in your life?
One of the stories our listeners have heard me tell here on FamilyLife Today about the founder and President of Campus Crusade for Christ, Dr. Bill Bright, who died a number of years ago, was my first encounter with him in southern California in his office at Arrowhead Springs.
I walked in and I noticed a little – I don’t know what you’d call it – kind of a nameplate on his desk, except it wasn’t a name. It said, “I’m no grasshopper.” And it was, of course, the story from Numbers chapter 13 where the twelve spies went into the land and they came back and the majority of them said, “We became as grasshoppers in the eyes of the giants who live in the land.” Of course the lesson was, “you should have been a person of faith, because there were two spies who came back and said, ‘Let’s go take the land.’”
Bill is one of those guys who wanted to take the land. He wanted to be reminded that he was no grasshopper and to have faith in a big God. That little plaque that sat on his desk, I think was a part of Bill’s legacy. It represented who he was. And we have these things in our offices. If you go back in my office right now, you’ll find a baseball bat.
Dennis: And you know about this bat. What’s laser carved in probably two to two-and-a-half, maybe three inch letters?
Bob: Just all across the barrel of the bat it says, “The Respect her.”
Dennis: Yes, It’s a bat that I had a few of the boys sign who I interviewed before they took my daughters out.
Dennis: Now someday I’m going to die. I’m going to be gone. I have a feeling that one of the relics or the artifacts in my office that our kids are going to argue and fight over is that baseball bat. Who gets to keep it?
And you know, here’s the thing: What does it represent? Oh, I’ll tell you what it represents: The love for my daughters; a fierce love of protection for my daughters and my family to go to the trouble to sit down with a pimple-faced sweaty-palmed teenage boy who didn’t want to meet with Mr. Rainey, and to talk straight with him about dealing as a man and being noble with my daughter. Now, that’s a value. That’s an artifact of faith and a part of my legacy.
Bob: So let me ask you. These milestones that you’re talking about, are these things we intentionally set out to establish? Do we build them in anticipation of pointing back to them, or do they pop up along the way and we just call them to mind?
Dennis: That’s a great question, Bob. In fact, that was one of the conclusions I came to at the end of preparing for this broadcast. I thought most of these things that have occurred I didn’t do on purpose. Like the tributes that I wrote my mom and dad.
Dennis: I just came to the conclusion that I needed to write a tribute to my mom because my dad had died without me saying some things to him that I wished I had said. So I said it to my mom before she died. She hung that tribute up above her breakfast table where she had breakfast every day of her life until she died at the age of 91. And those tributes now, both the one I wrote to my dad after his death and the tribute I wrote to my mom, are now hanging in my office.
It actually went on then to become a book, and that went on to become a stack of letters more than three feet high from people who have read the book about writing a tribute to their parents and who took the time to write me the story of what happened as a result of writing that tribute and reading that tribute to their mom or dad or both of them.
In fact, I had lunch with a gentleman just this week who said, “Oh yeah, I did that. My dad was 80, and on his 80th birthday I called for the entire family to get together for a birthday party.” He said, “I haven’t written many things in my life that were brilliant, but my last paragraph was fantastic.” He said, “The problem was, I was sobbing like a baby. My dad had never told me he loved me. I stood up and was crying and boo-hooing, reading this as a 47-year-old man,” and he said, “As I looked up through the tears, my dad was standing next to me with his arms outreached, wanting to hug me.”
And you know, Bob, that didn’t start out to be a legacy. That just started out as an act of obedience to honor my own mom and dad and then telling the story here on FamilyLife Today, and people doing it and sending in stories. Someday, our kids are going to have to throw away those letters, because I’m not going to throw them away.
Dennis: I love those letters. But that’s become a part of my legacy that I want to pass on to future generations.
Bob: So if somebody is starting off in a marriage or a family, do they start to think about establishing those milestones? Or let me jump ahead. Let’s say you’re where I am, and you’re in the middle of life, or you’re about to launch your kids. Do you look back and say “What have the milestones been?” and find ways to draw attention to them? How would you apply this milestone principle?
Dennis: I think you just start by writing down – and if I have a regret, it’s that I did not think about this when Barbara and I were first married, or maybe even before I married her, and gotten a journal and began to journal some of these things and write them down. I’m not a journal type of person -- but I think it’s really recognizing those stories.
I’ll tell you another one that I realized in preparing for this. This is a spiritual milestone of God providing for our family. In 1976, when we started FamilyLife, we went through a very difficult year. Over the next twelve months, we had the loss of my father, short paychecks, just a number of things happened. At the end of that time, Barbara nearly died when her heart raced to over 300 beats a minute. Well, Barbara’s brother sent her some flowers that was an arrangement. Just after she survived her heart racing at 300 beats per minute, the flowers came and the flowers faded.
We started to throw them away, and we noticed that in that vase were some crook willows. I don’t know if you know what a crook willow is, but it’s just what it sounds like. It’s a willow tree that grows crooked. As it sat in that vase with water, while the flowers were dying, it was rooting, so I stuck it in the ground, back in 1977 in the summer, and today it’s a tree. It has all kinds of little crooked sticks coming off of it, and the other day Barbara said, “I think you ought to cut that thing down.” I said, “I am not cutting that tree down. It’s a part of what God has done in our lives. It’s a reminder of how he rescued you from near death, and really preserved and protected our family.”
Well that story, I mean that’s not going to be meaningful to many other people outside of our family, but it’s a statement of how God provided.
I’ll tell you another story, here, about FamilyLife. You know what sits out in front of the building, don’t you?
Bob: Right, the big rock.
Dennis: The big rock. And we’re talking about a big rock, folks. A five thousand pound rock. I paid cash money for this big rock, because I wanted to have an inscription on that rock that was a statement of how FamilyLife’s headquarters came about. We put our shovels in the ground just a few weeks before 9/11 in 2001. I mean that was not a good time to be building a building. Honestly, at that time, I did not have great faith, but God was a great God, and he rescued us and raised up some folks who ended up paying for our building, to the penny, totally paid off when we moved in. I mean, that was cool, and is cool.
I had a rock that we purchased that weighs 5000 pounds, had it carved and etched in laser that says, “Dedicated by families who wanted to give God all the glory.” It’s as close as I’ve ever been able to accomplish what it talks about in Joshua chapter four, where it says “When your kids ask you, ‘Daddy, what’s that rock doing out there?’ or ‘Grandpa, what’s that rock doing out in front of the FamilyLife building?’”
Well, let me tell you a story about that. That occurred because of the obedience of some people to God in the midst of some very, very challenging days. They were people who didn’t want their name on the building; they wanted God to get all the glory.
Dennis: There are a couple of other things in my office that are artifacts that I just want to conclude with. One is a collection of Bibles that I have, two of which are among my most prized: one is my dad’s Bible that he used to carry to church every Sunday, and the other is my first Bible, given to me by my mom and dad on May 10, 1958. It’s a generational statement that the Bible and its teachings have been passed down for generations.
But there’s one other thing in my office, Bob, that I almost omitted and I almost failed to mention. It’s really been what Barbara and I would say our lives have been about. I went around my office and I counted them: there are over 40 pictures of Barbara, and of the kids, and the grandkids. And in addition to that, there’s a picture album.
All of us are going to pass on, and you know what? Your legacy is wrapped up primarily and mostly around those little beady eyes that look at you at the dinner table at night, and the kids whose attitudes get on your nerves from time to time, and beyond your family, a few close friends that you’ve been in a spiritual bunker with. Bob, you’re one of them. That’s what our legacy is going to be about. It’s about people. So, whoever said it, “Write your words not on tablets of marble, but on human hearts.” That’s what matters and that’s what counts.
Bob: You know, I think one of the reasons why my favorite movie has always been It’s a Wonderful Life, is because at the end of that movie, that’s the message: that George Bailey’s life was a wonderful life because he invested in the lives of people around him.
And in the new VeggieTales DVD that they’ve put together called It’s a Meaningful Life, where they borrow from that story and from A Christmas Carol, and from Polar Express, and there’s even a little Babes in Toyland thrown in, and some I Love Lucy, but it’s still the same message. At the end of the day, when it all gets sifted away, it’s the lives of those we love that matter most to us.
I want to encourage our listeners, if you haven’t gotten a copy of the new VeggieTales DVD, we’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to order a copy from us.
Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com. Or, you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information. 1-800-358-6329. And inside the DVD there is a laminated card that includes some tips on how to have a more meaningful life and a more meaningful family that we’ve put together. So again, you’ll find that when you order the DVD It’s a Meaningful Life from us here at FamilyLife Today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.”
Let me say a quick word of thanks to those of you who, by investing in this ministry, have made FamilyLife a part of the legacy that you pass on to others and to the next generation. We appreciate your financial support and your investment in this ministry as we seek to provide practical, biblical help for marriages and families. And we’re grateful for your partnership with us in that effort.
We hope you can be back with us tomorrow when we are going to talk about finishing well, about running the last laps of the race in a way that continues to bring honor to the God Who has redeemed you. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another addition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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