How to Measure a Life

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“For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”   – Moses 1:39


I stood in the back of a flatbed trailer with my sister.  We were at the county dump.   

Our parents needed us for another afternoon of dusty and tedious work. Dad was struggling with dementia and mom had her hands full with her own third bought of cancer.  They had moved from their Arizona home of 25 years, to be near their three married children in Utah.   

 Today it was our job to continue the whittling-down of their belongings.  It was no easy task either.  To go from a large three story home, to a small apartment at the assisted living center seemed impossible. 

We had been working all day to drag boxes from corners and closets, open them up, sort the contents, then haul anything that charity wouldn’t want to the truck and trailer waiting in the driveway.

At the dump workers signal, we scrambled out of the truck, onto the trailer and grabbed and chucked, grabbed and chucked.  The items grew into a pile of garbage.  But this wasn’t junk.  It was important stuff.  We kept asking one another, “Are we sure this should go too?”   

We were pouring file boxes full of rubber banded stacks of 4x6 index cards onto the ground.  They were Dad’s black-inked research notes.  They had been meticulously gathered and recorded for his Elizabethan English history book.  But the early onset of dementia in his mid 50’s had buried that dream of his. 

As his kids, we had explored the possibility of trying to complete it for him.  But even combining our college degrees, two of them in the field of history, still wouldn’t have been much use when it came to interpreting, organizing, writing, and drawing the same conclusions he would have.  It would be a monumental and hopeless task.

It’s a heavy feeling to know you are holding in your hands the result of someone’s life work.  Then dumping it.  Like it had no value.

Before we could do anything--like jump down and snatch the research back up--a loud yellow bulldozer rumbled over to our trailer.  It scraped its wide bucket along the cement floor, scooping up the piles of pastel notecards and pushed it on top of a mountain of refuse.

All we could do was catch our breath, watch, and wipe the tears filling our eyes.

It felt so wrong.  What a waste.  A lifetime of deliberate study and hard-won knowledge just gone.  And no one would ever appreciate it.

And then it hit me.  Those notes weren’t Dad’s life’s work…we children were.  His unfinished book didn’t matter.  Our unfinished lives and commitment to living the gospel did.

Dad’s legacy was not his academic brilliance, it was the life he lived and the family he raised.  How we built upon the foundation of the Christ-centered home he and Mom provided was how we could best honor his legacy.

With that thought, the doubt and guilt drained out of me.  What moved into its place was a rush of gratitude and determination.  I would make certain that Dad’s example, investment and sacrifice in raising his children to love God and serve Him with all their might, mind, and strength would not go to waste. 

When you realize that you are someone’s greatest work, you walk a little differently.  You hold your head a little higher, look people in the eye, and speak boldly about what you know to be true.

Knowing that we are among our Heavenly Father’s greatest works should help us do the same.

Delighted to be His,