It happened in the Holiday Inn at Sandusky, Ohio. Last month we enjoyed a fun “family weekend” visiting our youngest daughter on Lake Erie–where 100+ college students were involved in a summer project with Campus Outreach. All too soon, it was time to say our good-byes, pack up our belongings, and travel back to our “old Kentucky home.” As we placed our final personal items in our suitcase, I made my usual last pass through the hotel room just to make sure we didn’t leave behind anything valuable. You know the drill. As I visually combed through the room, the question in my mind was stuck on replay, “Am I leaving anything behind?”

The fact is, we all are leaving something behind.

Although we consider ourselves a “neat” family, when staying in a hotel we think nothing of leaving the beds unmade, the dirty towels on the bathroom floor, and the trash cans full. Maybe it’s the super fresh clorox scent that dulls our own cleanliness routines?

Most likely I think our carelessness results from knowing that someone will be coming behind us to clean up our pitiful mess. The loud thud of the heavy hotel door closing behind me jolted my heart to ask and answer these questions on a whole new level. “What am I leaving behind as a parent? Am I leaving behind anything valuable? Or am I leaving behind a big mess for the next generation to clean up?” Whether it be cleaning out a hotel room or a heart, this momma left Sandusky with a renewed desire to clean up after myself and leave as many valuables behind as possible.

As we leave our summer vacations behind us, let’s resolve to move toward our messes and leave behind a legacy that’s truly valuable.

Moving to our messes:

One of the important life skills parents teach preschoolers is how to clean up after themselves. You may be like us. We tried to make the cleaning process as fun as possible by singing a song while putting away toys or laundry. Our song went like this, “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!” Yep. Toddler truths still apply to teens and mommas too.

As the resident “head housekeeper” at my house, I try to keep things fairly tidy. However, there are still many hours each month I spend “looking for something.” Yes, “Lost and found” is not a place but a daily activity in my world. I try to be organized, but there are still spaces of “organized chaos” in our house I truly have every intention of cleaning…someday. Wow! I sure would hate for someone else to have to sort through all my junk in our house!

How much more should I be concerned for the corners of my heart that need cleaning? Habits that need Holy Spirit attention? Generational sins that still entangle my soul? I wanna dispose of my junk so my kiddos won’t have to clean up after momma! How ‘bout you?

Like a Holiday Inn employee, Christ stands at the door of our hearts with a knock and a helpful voice saying, “Housekeeping!” Sometimes we’re ready to let Him in. Sometimes He responds, “I’ll come back later.” Until we welcome Him in, the mess remains and usually grows.

Psalm 51 (MSG) paints a gracious picture of our Heavenly Housekeeper:

Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry…and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life… God, make a fresh start in me. Don’t throw me out with the trash or fail to breathe holiness in me!…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.”

With high school tennis courts close to our house, our family likes to play tennis. “Play” is the key word in that sentence because none of us are really trained and experienced in the sport. Because of our low skill level, when the children were younger, our tennis matches many times became a game of “clean up your backyard.”

The object of the game is to try to get all the stray tennis balls being hit onto your side to the other side of the net as quickly as possible until your side (backyard) is totally clean. It’s fast and furious. It takes tons of energy but usually leads to a whole lot of laughter and joy. The same is true with our homes and our hearts. Clean-up is not a one-time event, right? It’s a daily (hourly) process. But as we are faithful to clean up, God’s gift of joy is continually restored.

The other parallel to our tennis game is that we are each asked to focus on our own backyard. Not our parent’s. Not our spouse’s. Not our neighbor’s. Not even our kiddo’s. We can teach our children to clean up their own backyard. But at the end of the day, “everybody must do your share.” Whether it’s our homes, churches, schools, families, etc., one of my own mom’s catch phrases applies: “Try to leave each place cleaner than you found it!” As mommas, inviting our Spiritual Housekeeper to clean our hearts and our homes is an incredible gift to our children. Because sometimes the greatest gift is not what you give someone…but what you don’t.

Leaving behind a Legacy:

Okay. Total self-disclosure here. I am one of “those” parents who actually left a child behind. Yes. Once my husband and I left our oldest daughter behind following her spring harp recital! Please tell me that we are not the only ones who have done this.

Our caravan of cars held grandparents, friends, family…and of course a huge harp. (We wondered at moments like this why we didn’t encourage the piccolo more!) When our recital parade of cars got to the ice cream shop (where we traditionally celebrate these things), we realized that Teal was not present. She had been left behind. I do find solace in knowing that Mary and Joseph actually did the same thing with Jesus. But the fact still remained: We left what’s most valuable behind that night!

As parents, “what” we are leaving behind is directly linked to “who” we are leaving behind. God says His kids (including YOU) are what’s most val(you)able! Yes, we left Teal behind at the recital—unintentionally. But we left Tress behind in Sandusky—intentionally. We will be leaving our children (our valuables) behind us. Therefore, our intentionality in teaching them their value and God’s values are of utmost importance.

2 Timothy 2:2 instructs us, “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people (our daughters) who will be able to teach them to others.” My mentor paraphrased this by saying, “Each one, teach one to teach one.”

I love encouraging groups of women young and old through live large-scale chalk art presentations woven together with worship and God’s Word. However, my delight increases when I can leave the chalk drawings behind as a continuing reminder of God’s truth…a little legacy.

Even more exciting for me is to leave behind seeds and resources so that mommas and daughters can begin or continue enjoying God’s Word together through personalized HoW Bible studies. These provide just one more positive way to intentionally teach our next generation so they will be equipped to teach the next generation. It’s a line of legacy. Seeking to leave behind God’s valuables!

I’m blessed to come from a long legacy line of Jesus-loving women. So are YOU! Even if you are the first woman of faith in your family, a strong spiritual legacy has been passed down from your biblical mommas to YOU!

2 Timothy 1:5-6a traces our legacy line. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in YOU also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…”

More priceless than any vacation souvenir, if you have Jesus, you possess the most valuable gift to leave behind for your children. Like my own grandmother’s life verse, let’s value the power of our legacy as stated in Psalm 71:17-18. “Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” She left behind God’s valuables to me. Through me.

Now you and I may not have left anything valuable behind during our family vacations this summer, but when it’s “check-out time” for us here in this life, let’s be mommas who leave behind only God’s valuables to the next generation.