Nobody likes to think about their mortality, but the untimely deaths in 2012 of two young moms in my city of Birmingham, Alabama, really made me consider mine.
I never met Laura Black or Elliot Williams in person, but they inspired me. They were the moms/friends/wives/amazing women everyone knew and loved. For months I followed their stories on Facebook, praying as our mutual friends posted updates and crying at my computer.
Whenever I started to complain about my life, I thought about Laura and Elliot. Compared to two moms losing their earthly battles to cancer, my problems suddenly seemed small.
What Laura and Elliot made me mindful of was that good health is a privilege. All the ordinary events I take for granted -- driving carpool, grocery shopping, taking care of my kids -- would seem like incredible blessings if one day I woke up and couldn't do them. Because of Laura and Elliot, I became more grateful. I realized what an honor it is to be able to serve the people I love.
After these women passed, I sat down and did what I'd thought about doing for years: I wrote down long-term advice for my daughters. I thought about what I want them to know when they go to college... start working... get married... and begin a family. Just in case I'm not around.
Below is a list I've made as a starting point, something to add to over time. I'm sharing it to encourage other parents to do the same. While this was a little hard to compose, it was also a relief because with a written legacy comes a small peace of mind.
Please remember that you don't have to be a writer to create a list. Should something happen to you or me, our families wouldn't care about perfection. What they'd search the entire house for is anything that sounds like us and reflects our unique filter. What they'd want is a keepsake that keeps our memory alive as accurately and poignantly as possible.
With that said, here's my list. Here are some basic things I want my daughters to know:
Genuine interest in other people will attract you friends quickly. If you learn to be a good listener, you can find friends anywhere.
Nothing done out of love is a waste. Love is the best gift you have to offer.
You'll spend half your life waiting -- waiting for a test result, waiting for a relationship, waiting for a chance. But remember: What happens to you while you're waiting is often more important than what you're waiting for.
The world is full of talent. It's not a lack of ability holding most people back; it's attitude.
People will push you as far as you let them. Set personal parameters and learn to say NO.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's okay to be the only person in the room not doing something.
Be grateful. This alone puts you ahead of the game.
Character is who you are in the dark. It's doing right when nobody is there to monitor you. Character enables you to face yourself in mirror and like what you see. It's essential to a good life.
You will make mistakes. You will feel ashamed. You will know the sting of regret. Own your choices and use the past to your advantage by learning from it so you wind up in a better place.
When misfortune strikes, see it as a chapter of your life, not the story of your life. A storm in one chapter can lead to a rainbow in the next.
Practice forgiveness daily so your resentments don't build up. Forgiveness is about letting go and releasing anger. Not everyone who wrongs you will ask for forgiveness. Forgive them anyway and move on.
Don't judge. We all need mercy, and you never know what someone is going through.
Be real, be authentic, be you. What makes you different is what makes you great.
Stay away from toxic people, and don't enable or justify poor behavior. You can love someone without them being in your life.
Find a job that pays the bills. If it isn't your heart's desire, pursue that on the side. Not all passions immediately turn a profit.
Beware white liars. Small liars become big liars.
Trust your gut and value the opinions of your loved ones. When they all tell you the same thing, it's time to listen.
Speak the truth regardless of what the consequences may be. Sweeping the truth under the rug creates a mess down the road.
Believe in goodness. Don't let the bad seeds in your life ruin your hope for mankind.
Stay close to your siblings. Your sibling relationships will be the longest relationships in your life, so nurture the ties. Should the world desert you, I hope your sisters remain as your last friends standing.
Don't keep score in love. Keeping score is exhausting and breeds competition. Nothing about love should be competitive.
In both friendship and love, it's better to be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong reasons. If someone treats you poorly or puts you on an emotional roller coaster, distance yourself. A relationship is not about you keeping another person happy. It's about two people helping each other grow and get better, being stronger together than apart. (Think of it as synergy, where 1 + 1 = 3.)
Say what you mean. It's unfair to expect others to be mind-readers.
When you're upset, ask yourself if the issue will matter in one year, five years, twenty years... Chances are it won't.
Keep God first. He loves you madly and has great plans for you. Problems often begin when you drift away from Him. A strong prayer life can keep you anchored.
So how about you? Are you ready to begin your list? All it takes is a pen and some paper or time with your computer to get the ball rolling. Reflect on your past and empty your heart and mind until there's nothing left to tap.
Don't edit yourself either -- not until the end. The point is to get your thoughts down. What your family wants most is YOU. As long as you capture that, you can't go wrong. And whether you hold your list close or share it now, you're giving your family a priceless gift. This slice of your existence will only become more valuable with time and more meaningful to the people who know and love you best.