Several years ago, I began working on the most ambitious and challenging project of my professional career, which has now spanned more than 44 years. After writing dozens of books and producing numerous films and videos to strengthen families, and after airing more than 8,000 radio broadcasts on subjects related to marriage, parenting, and righteousness, the Lord began leading me to give voice to what I believe to be the most important message I have ever addressed. Indeed, I see this work as “the capstone,” or the culmination, for everything that has gone before. That assignment has now been completed and a new book and video series are about to be released. Here are the details.
First, the video series consists of eight presentations taped before three large church audiences. It is titled, “Building a Family Legacy,” and will be premiered October 1 to 5, in a simulcast provided at no cost to churches across the country. I’ll tell you how your church can participate in a moment.
Second, my new book on this topic is being released on September 9th, and is similarly titled, “Your Legacy, The Greatest Gift.” Both the book and the series focus on winning your children (and others) to Christ while the opportunity exists. Nothing in human experience outranks this task in significance. Nothing!
To give you a taste of the theme of the book, let me say that it provides the story of my great grandfather, Rev. George Washington McCluskey, who was born in 1862. He began praying for the spiritual welfare of his family, not just those then alive, but for four generations of his family. I am in that fourth generation, and all of us coming down through my mother’s lineage have not only been Christians, but have been ministers or married to one. I am the only member down through my cousin, H.B. London, who hasn’t followed this path. Though I am not a pastor or minister, I have the same passion and purpose. The prayers of my great grandfather reach across four generations to influence our lives, each in our own time. That’s what I call a “legacy.”
Do you know the difference between an inheritance and a legacy? An inheritance is something given to someone. A legacy is something done in a person. Getting family members to heaven is “the greatest gift” that can be provided.
Here is a chapter from my book that is titled, “What It All Means.” I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 5 – What It All Means
The history I have shared with you to this point represents more than the biography of an American family from the late 1800s to our present day. If that’s all there is, why bother? No, the significance of this account is centered on how “the faith of our fathers and mothers” was preserved and handed down to the present generation. Theirs was a remarkable achievement when you think about it. The message of the gospel survived among my forebears for more than 100 years, despite an endless array of obstacles and challenges. They were not super human beings who escaped struggles and hardships. Life was no easier for them than for you and me. The McCluskeys and the Dillinghams, for example, dealt with the horrors of World War I in 1917-18, and the Spanish Flu that killed more than a million people in 1919, and the Great Depression that ravaged the economy in 1929, and the Dust Bowl that drove farmers from their land in the 1930s. The Dillinghams also lost a precious baby in the early 1900s.
My parents had their share of heartaches too. My mother loved Jimmy Dobson more than life itself until his sudden death at 66 years of age. One Sunday afternoon on December 4th, 1977, they were celebrating his sister’s birthday. Dad held a new baby and prayed a final prayer. Then they ate dinner, and moments later, he leaned into the arms of my mom. He fell on the floor and never breathed again. My cousin began CPR immediately, but Dad was gone. Five minutes later, after no other sign of life, he smiled broadly. I wish I knew who was there to greet him. I will ask him about it when we meet in heaven.
My mom struggled mightily thereafter. From the time of Dad’s death, Myrtle Georgia Dillingham gave up on life. She never recovered from the loss of the lanky “artist” she had fallen in love with on a rainy night in Shreveport, Louisiana. She lived 11 years longer than he, but died of a broken heart. She literally grieved herself to death.
Time and space do not permit me to tell the entire story of the intervening years, except to say that the love affair between my parents had continued uninterrupted for more than four decades. But all too quickly, it was over.
I found my mother's diary some years later and read an entry written on the first anniversary of her husband’s death. She wrote:
My precious darling. One year ago today you spent your last day on this earth. One year ago we spent our last night together. I have recalled our concluding activities throughout this day. You wanted to go to the shopping center to take your daily walk, although I thought you really wanted to look at the fishing rods. We window-shopped for a while, and then you said, "Myrtle, you have to let go of me. Let me be free to go in and out of stores by myself... just to wander about free and alone."
I took your arm and said, "Go where you want, but let me go with you. Just let me walk beside you."
You shrugged and allowed me to tag along for a while. For nearly three months I had been with you constantly. I seemed to know that you were to be taken from me suddenly, and I wanted to be there – perchance I could do something to keep you alive. But a few minutes later you said, "Look down this long mall. You can see to its end. I want to walk down there and back again.”
With that, I relented. But wouldn't you know, you took an escalator to one of the upper floors of the mall, removing you from my line of sight. I went looking for you frantically, and finally found you coming toward me with a grin on your face. You took me to a furniture store on the third floor and showed me a new chair that you had selected for my Christmas gift. It was your last day. Your last big fling.
On Sunday, December 4, you dressed early and then went downstairs to sit in your chair. I spent the morning upstairs. I wonder what you did those two hours. I know you read your Bible... what else? If I'd come down, you would have talked to me about it. Later we went to Elizabeth’s house, (Dad’s sister who lived in Kansas City.) You looked so handsome in your sports coat and beige slacks. I sat saying nothing, just watching you manipulate your long arms, legs and body. You held the baby... not too gracefully... since it was never easy for you to hold an infant. At the table, you sat by me and told a funny story about us. You prayed, and then gently, quietly, leaned toward me. Then your head and arm touched the table. They laid you on the floor. Bud breathed for you. He said you smiled once...your only sign of life. What did you see? Where did you go? My only comfort is that your last act on this earth was to lean toward me. Then you slipped away.
Very quickly I realized that you didn’t exist anymore. Your name was removed from the church register. The bank took your name off our checks. Our home address was rewritten to include only my name. Your driver's license was invalidated. You were no more. Then I recognized that my name had changed, too. I had been proud to be Mrs. James C. Dobson, Sr. Now I was simply, Myrtle Dobson. I was not “we” any longer. I became me or I. And I am alone. You were my high priest. Inside, I'm broken, sad, stunned, alone. My house has lost its soul. You are not here!
People have told me the first year was the hardest. It's been one year and three days since you died, and tonight I am frantic with longing for you. Oh, dear God! It's more than I can bear. The sobs make my heart skip beats. I cannot see the paper. My head throbs. The house is lonely and still. Visions of you have been as real as if you were here and had not left me. Today, I thanked God for letting an angel watch over me. But how desperately I miss you!
I moved into the smaller bedroom today. I wish you were here to share that room with me. There are precious memories there. When I was ill four years ago, you prayed for me in that bedroom during the midnight hours. You lay on the floor, agonizing in prayer for me. We both knew the Spirit was praying through you. Later, the Lord led us to a doctor who helped me find my way back to health. Oh, how I loved you. I love your memory today.
There was another source of grief in the Dobson house. My dad had rescued a pitiful little dog, sort of a toy terrier, from a filthy pet shop three years before he died. His name was Benji, and he was barely alive when dad found him. It took a year to get him healthy and by then, he had learned to worship my dad. Benji would sit on his lap hour after hour while his master read an endless array of sophisticated books. Dad and the pup were inseparable.
Benji watched my parents leave in the car on that ill-fated Sunday, but only one of them came back later that day. Benji had no way of knowing why the man he loved didn’t return, and he was perplexed by it. He would stand with his ears erect at the top of the stairs leading down to the garage, waiting for my dad to drive in. He stood there for months hoping against hope.
Eighteen months later I came to mom’s home in Olathe, Kansas, to help close my dad’s affairs and move Mother to be near to us. I put several suitcases on the bed and was packing dad’s clothes and belongings. Benji jumped up on the bed. He walked stiff legged over to the suitcases, and cautiously and reverently, stepped into one of them. He smelled the clothes, one garment at a time, and then curled up on my Dad’s coat.
I said, “I know, Benji. I miss him too.”
Five years after my father’s death, my mother contracted Parkinson’s disease, and before long she was unable to speak or even recognize Shirley or me. She remained in a fetal position for years. Then one Sunday afternoon, I went to the nursing home to make sure she was being cared for properly. I walked into her room and, unbelievably, found her sitting upright in her bed. She was entirely lucid. I was shocked and sat on the side of her bed. I cradled her hands and told her how much all of us loved her. We talked about my dad and their love for each other. Then she looked into my eyes intently and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking.” How strange it was for a woman to say she had been thinking, when she had been completely incoherent for years. Then she revealed what was going through her mind, at least in the hours before I came.
She said with feeling, “I almost have it done.”
“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.
She repeated the words, “I almost have it done.”
I realized she was talking about her physical struggle and her awareness that death was eminent. She would soon leave this life to go see my father. I thanked her for being such a great wife and mother and we chatted together like in days gone by. Then I kissed her and said goodbye.
It was to be our final conversation on this earth. When I came to visit her a few days later, she was not lucid. Her momentary “recovery” was never repeated. Though my mom lived several more months, she never recognized me again. I believe the Lord gave me that final opportunity on a Sunday afternoon to tell my good mother that I loved her. She slipped away on a subsequent Sunday, and entered the presence of her Lord.
There are other stories behind the life and death of my relatives, which I won’t share with you, except to say every member of my family went through similar trials. They encountered frustrations, rejection, disappointment, discouragement, failure, unanswered “whys,” hypocrisy and apostasy in the church, and finally, sickness and death. If given a foothold, Satan would have used these and other trials to weaken their faith and destroy their testimony. But with God’s help, they clung tenaciously to what they knew was right. There was no incident of infidelity, abuse, or divorce. Not one of them smoked or drank a drop of alcohol. Their lives were clean and upright. They had reached for a standard of holiness. But life isn’t easy, even for saints.
I’m reminded of a beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, which described the difficulties that characterized their journey. One verse says, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘twas grace that brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home.” I praise the Lord for the “grace” that sustained three generations of my family and now four. I would not be writing to you today if they had given up when the pressure was on. That’s why they are my heroes. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Tim. 4:7, “[they] fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” And I might add, they passed on their faith to the rest of us.
This is the “legacy” referred to in the title and content of this book. I have written dozens of books in the past 40 years, but this one is the capstone. All the others have pointed, either indirectly or by implication, to this “passing on” of the Christian faith to their children first, and then to preserving it for future generations. For this reason, I have quoted some of my previous works occasionally in this book. Legacy is a compendium of my thoughts about winning your children—and others—to Jesus Christ, because nothing comes close to it in significance.
Do you and I believe that? If so, then we should live every day with that objective in mind.
When I read the Bible today, I am aware that scribes and monks in the Dark Ages labored in monasteries or dreary caves and invested their lives in the tedious task of copying and preserving those priceless texts. What a gift they handed down to us. Now that treasure is in our hands. One of the most important questions Christians should ask is, how committed are we to the safeguarding of the faith for our progeny and for others they will influence. Those truths could be lost in a single generation. Will we hand down the “pearl of great price” to future generations?
That thought is addressed musically in the lyrics to another song written by a gifted writer, John Mohr, and recorded by popular vocalist, Steve Green.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful1
What inspirational words are expressed in these lyrics? Let me say it again: staying faithful to our beliefs should be our ultimate priority. It has meaning not only for you and me but also for those who are yet to be born. That was the essence of my great grandfather’s daily prayer as he pleaded with God for the spiritual welfare of his family. Are you also praying for those in your bloodline? If you walk away from the truth, the linkage to the gospel may be severed for your descendants. Is there anything in life that is more important than that?
Perhaps you understand now why I believe this message about passing on the “good news” to present and future generations is vital, and why I call it “the capstone” for my professional life. I hope you will read the book and see the DVD series, “Building a Family Legacy.”
You might also suggest to your pastor that he arrange to host a simulcast of one DVD and a synopsis of the other seven. They will be shown to churches at no charge between October 1 and 5. For more information, go to the buildingafamilylegacy.com website. You can also order the book, Your Legacy, by using the enclosed response card.
If you can help Family Talk financially this month, it would be most appreciated. Our contributions in August were seriously below budget. Perhaps you can send a gift of any amount as we move into the financial obligations of the fall.
Blessings to you all.
1. “Find Us Faithful.” Copyright© 1987 Birdwing Music (ASCAP) Jonathan Mark
Music (ASCAP) (adm. At CapitolCMGPublishing.com) All rights reserved. Used by permission.
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright © 2014 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S.A. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.