The Aim of Our Legacy
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In the Bible, children are referred to as “arrows in the hand of a warrior,” and arrows are meant to be pointed at something and released. Dave and Ann Wilson discuss building a legacy with a strategic aim.
The Aim of Our Legacy
Bob: Parenting is to be done on purpose; you should have a mission or a goal in mind. Dave Wilson says you need to know what it is you’re aiming for with your kids.
Dave: You’re going to launch your children. They are meant to be sent out: “Toward what?”—that was a question we actually had to sit down and decide: “Okay, what is our bullseye? What target are we shooting for?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 6th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a word for parenting without a goal in mind/without a purpose; the word is “floundering.” [Laughter] We’re going to talk about how to not flounder as your raise your kids today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think a lot of people back, ten or fifteen years ago, read a business book that came out that was a big, popular business book on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You remember that book?
Dave: Steven Covey, yes.
Bob: One of the principles in that book was that you’ve got to—
Dave: —“Begin with the end in mind.”
Bob: Yes, yes.
Dave: How did I know you were going to go there?
Bob: We’re talking today about parenting and, really, when we think about parenting, that’s a principle that ought to mark how we do what we do. I’m thinking back to when we became parents. I think I had the next week in mind/maybe the next day in mind. [Laughter]
Ann: I had the next hour in mind.
Bob: Yes; I wasn’t really thinking, “Okay, 20 years from now, what do I want the outcome to be?”
Ann: Although, I did think, “I won’t sleep in for 20 more years.” [Laughter]
Bob: —“a lot has just changed!”; absolutely.
You guys have just written a book called No Perfect Parents. You talk about, in this book, the realization that you do need to begin the journey with some objectives/some goals in mind. Dave, some of this came to you because you started off your parenting journey with a deficit to draw from/from your own experience. You knew, “I want to make sure my kids have more in the tank when they get to adulthood than I had in my tank.”
Dave: I don’t know how often I thought about being a dad, as a young man growing up; but obviously, after Ann and I were married, and then realized we want to have kids, I knew that I had a chance to do something I never saw. It’s interesting—I write about this story in the book of talking to a woman—who was 60/maybe closer to 70 years old—this conversation—her name was Jennice [spelling uncertain]—and I asked her: “Tell me about your family.”
She had this great husband/airline pilot. She said, “We had four sons and a daughter.” They lived in a gated community outside of New York because her husband flew out of Newark. Anyway, it was your All-American family in the ‘50s, really. I’m loving this story, and then it turned.
She says, “And then around year 25, I started to suspect that my husband”—who’s now a Captain with the airlines—“was having an affair.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” She says, “There were just signs that he was seeing someone, and I knew it was on his trips.” You know, back in those days, there weren’t cell phones, and you couldn’t call up a private; so she just thought, “I’m going to call the hotel, where I know he’s staying/where he lays over, and see if I can find out anything.”
Literally, she calls the front desk; the receptionist answers. All she said was, “Has Captain Ralph checked in yet?” Because they all knew him as Captain Ralph. This woman didn’t realize she was talking to Captain Ralph’s wife, Jennice; and the lady at the desk said, “Oh, yes; he just went to his room with his girlfriend.” Jennice tells me, “I realized, ‘I’ve caught him; he’s having an affair.’” I‘m like, “What happened?” She said, “When he came home from that trip, I confronted him, to find out this was one of several. He admitted it.”
The long version of the story is they ended up divorced. Jennice ends up moving to where her parents live in another state with her two little boys. She had a seven-year-old and a five-year-old. Then she tells me that, when she got to the new state and started her new life as a single mom, the five-year-old dies of leukemia like two months later. By this point, obviously, she’s tearing up; and I’m tearing up.
It’s not just a sad story; the reason I’m tearing up is—Jennice is my mom—I was the seven-year-old; and Craigie was the five-year-old, my little brother. Captain Ralph was my dad. He’s really Dave Wilson—but it’s Ralph David Wilson—so at the airlines, he went by “Captain Ralph.” That’s my legacy.
As I become a dad, I had the opportunity to continue that, which, honestly, many do—
Dave: —you know, whatever you’re sort of handed, unless you intentionally decide—if it’s a great legacy, you still have to decide, “I’m going to continue this,”—but if it’s a legacy like mine: of alcohol/both of my parents were alcoholics; my dad was having multiple affairs, if I don’t decide, I’m probably going to continue the sins of the father.
But I knew that, “I get to change the Wilson legacy.”
Dave: And I was on my knees: “God, could you use Ann and [me] to create a different path?—that our three sons would be raised by a dad who broke the cycle.”
Bob: Talk to me about that sense of intentionality, as a parent, and aiming for a different legacy; because I think that’s the exception and not the rule. I think most moms and dads—I’m thinking of Mary Ann and me!—I think, when we got married, I knew there were certain things I didn’t want to replicate as a parent; I didn’t want to replicate certain things in my marriage, so I knew a few things not to do. I don’t think I knew what to do.
Bob: And I don’t think I was pulling back and thinking, “Now here’s what I want the outcome to be…” I think I was thinking really short-term. I think most people are thinking short-term, and just thinking, “We’ll bump along, and I hope it all works out.”
Where did you get a vision for intentionality in terms of parenting and a legacy? Do you remember where that came from?
Dave: I think Ann and I would have the same answer; but initially, all I knew is what you just said; it was like: “Okay; I don’t want to do what my dad did, so here are some simple things: no alcohol in the home.” We didn’t have alcohol anywhere in our house; you couldn’t find a bottle of whiskey, or gin, or beer. It was just not there; because it was like, “I have two alcoholic parents. I’ve got to be very careful, because I don’t want to pass that on.”
I put extreme barriers around women, you know, and any relationship/just boundaries. That was, in some sense, the easy short-term.
Dave: But it wasn’t until CJ was four or five years old, I think—and now we had, probably, number two—that we sort of stepped back and said: “Okay, what is the long-term vision? What are we hoping to raise? When they’re 25/30 years old, what kind of men are we envisioning they become?”
Ann: And to be honest, I have great parents, who were married 70 years; but what I didn’t have, even though I had this great family, there was no spiritual component. Neither one of us had any idea: “What does it look like to raise a family centered on Christ, where the foundation of the gospel is what we’re aiming for?” We had never even seen it, until Dennis and Barbara Rainey—
Dave: Yes; FamilyLife® was critical—
Dave: —in our lives, from the very beginning, with a vision for what a godly marriage looks like: at the Weekend to Remember® and all the resources in our early years of marriage.
Ann: I think it was the first time we heard the word, “legacy.”
Dave: Yes; I mean, literally, the last talk—as we all know, we’ve been speaking at the Weekend to Remember for 30 years—is a talk on legacy. And sitting there, as an engaged couple, hearing that talk from Dennis in Chicago, two weeks before our wedding,—
Dave: —was one of the first times we thought, “We can change the legacy.” Again, can’t do it perfectly;—
Dave: —we can’t control it, but we can set a goal to say, “We want to change.” I knew for me, “legacy” was a visceral word; it had emotion! It’s like, “I get the opportunity to possibly, when you hear the Wilson name, it’s not connected to adultery; it’s not connected to alcohol; it’s connected to Jesus and a new way forward.” And again, never was the thought, “perfect.”
Dave: You know, like: “We’re going to do it perfectly,” “Our kids are going to be perfect.” But even in the subtitle of our book, it was: No Perfect Parents: Ditch Expectations. It’s like: “You know, the expectations you have of how it’s going to go? [Laughter] Just put those aside, because it’s not going to go that way.”
The second phrase was Embrace Reality, because it’s going to be really hard. You’ve got to embrace it. But then, the third one was Discover the Secret That Will Change Your Parenting. Of course, when you hear the word, “secret,” you’re like, “Okay, what’s the secret?”
Ann: Dave’s marketing strategy. [Laughter]
Dave: Of course! We have the same subtitle for Vertical Marriage; you know: “The secret of marriage is to go vertical.” Well, it’s the same thing with parenting; the secret is—I don’t know if you’ve found this as well, Bob—but when you ask most parents—and I think it’s most/maybe 75 percent of parents—“What are you trying to raise?”
Dave: Most parents have never answered that question.
Ann: What do you think they would say, Bob?
Bob: Oh, I think you’re right. I’ve talked to enough parents, who will say, “The goal that I’m looking for is: ‘I want my kids to be’—first thing—‘happy.
Bob: “’I want them to get a good job. I want them to find a good spouse and get married and have a happy marriage and family.’ If they can be successful/happy, in marriage and in their jobs, then touchdown! I’ve won—right?—that’s the score!”
Ann: And what do you think of that, when you hear it?
Bob: I think those are all good things, and I certainly want those things for my kids as well; but I remember Tim Kimmel being on FamilyLife Today. He had written a book called Grace-Based Parenting. He said, “Most parents, on a practical level, that’s what they’re emphasizing as they raise their kids.” They’re worried about their academics, because they want them to get a good job; they’re worried about their socialization/how they’re fitting in with other kids, so that they can be happy and so they can have good relationships and find a good husband.”
He said, “But they’re not spending equal amounts of time thinking about how their kids are developing spiritually—
Bob: —“or what the spiritual goals are.”
You know, Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, then all these other things will be added unto you.” That’s what you’re saying in this book, when you think about legacy; it’s: “Let’s make sure we’re propping the ladder against the right wall before we start to climb the ladder”; right?
Dave: Yes; we call it a bullseye in the book—or a target—like, “What are you aiming for?”
Ann: Do you think we stole that from The Art of Parenting? [Laughter]
Dave: We stole it from Dennis Rainey.
Ann: —and Bob Lepine.
Dave: —and Bob Lepine! [Laughter] And really the same passage, that is mentioned in The Art of Parenting,is the passage, Psalm 127, where is says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Children are a heritage, a gift from the Lord. Offspring are a reward from Him,”—and then he [the psalmist] writes—“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior”—so there’s the visual of you’re shooting at something—“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Obviously, he’s alluding to: you’re going to launch your children. By the way, parents, you’re going to launch them.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: Don’t hold them there forever! They are meant to be sent out: “Toward what?”—that was the question we actually had to sit down and decide: “Okay, what is our bullseye? What target are we shooting for?”
Ann: Well, Dave, even verse 1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” I remember reading that the first time, thinking, “Who is building my house? I say that it’s Jesus, but ‘How is that happening?’”
Bob: See, I think that’s a difference between the way you guys tackled this and the way Mary Ann and I tackled this—and the way, I think, a lot of Christian parents tackle this—I thought, “Well, yes, the Lord’s building our house; we’re Christians. We love Jesus.” We came from a church-going—but not a Christ-centered home—“So we’re going to have Jesus at the center of our home; Jesus is building our house. The legacy will take care of itself.”
I had a hope for—
Bob: —a godly legacy, but I don’t know that I had the level of intentionality. Here’s what I didn’t have that you guys had: I didn’t have a mission statement for our family. I didn’t have the intentional goals of saying: “To get the legacy that we want, these are the inputs that need to be happening during those years.” I just thought, “That’ll take care of itself if we go to church, and love Jesus, and do all of that.”
I would say to parents today, “No; it needs to go a little deeper. You need to be a little more purposeful and intentional.” Honestly, that’s something I came to realize as I’m hosting FamilyLife Today and talking to all of the guests, and taking notes, and going: “I need to go home and do that differently,” and “Yes, that’s a good adjustment I need to make.”
Ann: That was your mentoring process right there!
Bob: Exactly what it was; yes.
Ann: And I love/I remember someone saying, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it.”
Ann: And I think that’s what we do as parents. We get caught up in the day-to-day demands of life, and we’re not really aiming at anything. Why are we surprised that the outcome isn’t the biblical outcome that we were hoping?
Bob: I mentioned a mission statement. You guys actually have a family mission statement; right?
Dave: Yes, we called it sort of our target or bullseye.
Ann: Our kids never knew it!
Dave: Yes; we don’t want to sit here and act like, “Oh, we recited it every night! [Laughter] Everybody put on their halo and had the Wilson mission-statement moment.” Ann and I didn’t talk about it daily. I look back; I wish we would have; but it was something we sort of crafted.
Dave: We knew what it was; our kids didn’t. And I don’t think, for parents, your kids need to know.
Dave: Because even if they do, your kids might feel pressure: “Oh, this is what they’re trying to do.” But as a parent, you really do need to know, “What are we shooting at?” Because if it is: “I want my kid to be the most popular,” or “…happy,” or “…successful,”—there’s nothing wrong with those goals—but in my opinion, they’re not high enough.
Dave: That’s a low bar. You know, it’s like, really, “How do you even define success?”
Dave: —“and popularity.” And even as our kids got into high school, we thought, “You know, being the most popular is not a good goal.”
Dave: It’s actually not a goal you want!
When they were really little—and we put this in the book, not in a way to say, “This should be your mission statement,”—but we said: “Here’s ours; it’s an example. But the Lepines need to sit down, and the Joneses need to sit down, and say, ‘What would it look like for us, as parents, to say, “This is what we’re shooting at”?’”
You know, it’s like any mission statement for a business, or a church, or a corporation; every word matters! You take your time to say, “No, not that word; this word…” It simply became—and it doesn’t sound profound—but it was: “Train and launch L3 warriors, who make a dent where they’re sent.”
Bob: “L3 warriors”; okay.
Dave: Yes; and again, it’s a personal thing; so you’re like, “What does that even mean?!” In the book, we actually go through: “Okay, what does training look like? And what does launch look like?” Of course, launch comes from Psalm 127; you’re going to launch these arrows. Warriors is a key word, because it isn’t like we’re just raising kids; they’re actually kingdom-of-God warriors! They’re in a war—there’s a battle going on—that is something you never want to forget as a parent.
Ann: Yes; and it’s not about their personality, like, “Oh, they’re strong!”
Ann: It’s more: “They’re in a battle; so in a battle, we want to have warriors.”
Dave: Yes; and again, it isn’t like we raised these incredible men—who are wearing the breastplate of righteousness around—but there was a sense that this is epic.
Dave: And then the L3 was actually something that we had crafted at our church, as a staff on our leadership team, years before, to say: “Okay, what are we trying to raise as disciples of Christ at Kensington?” Lot of meetings and discussions about: “Well, at the end of the day, if you look at what Jesus said a disciple was, it sort of had these three values…” We called it L3: love, lock, live.
Love was: “Love God and others,”—
Dave: —the Great Commandment; Matthew 22, where Jesus said, “Rabbi, what’s the most important?” “That you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself,”—that was our first “L.” If our sons, when they’re 25, 30, or 35 years old, love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and they actually have a heart for their neighbor and others, that’s a good thing!
Dave: You know, that would be like, “That’s a worthy goal!”
“Lock” was lock arms. That’s the whole idea that God made us not to do life alone, but in community. Hebrews 10: “Don’t forsake the meeting together,”—in community/fellowship. We thought, “Man, if they understand, as men, they need other men in their life to sharpen them and keep them accountable to their walk with God, as husbands and dads/if they’re doing life with other followers-of-Christ men—that’s a good thing”; you know?
Dave: And then, the last one was just simply: “Live open-handedly,”—so love, lock, live—“Live open-handedly,” was: if our young men, when they become men, realize their time, talent, and treasure are a gift from God, not just for themselves, but to give away—you know, you can live with your fists closed, holding onto everything—or you can live open-handedly, which just means, “Man, I’m supposed to serve others with my time; serve God with my time; I’m supposed to give my money away; and I’m supposed to give my talents to the kingdom of God.”
Again, there are so many other things you could think about; but we just thought those three “L”s—love, lock, live—capture [the goal of discipleship]. Man, oh man, if we looked at our kids in their 20s and 30s, and they were living that and, hopefully, passing that onto their kids/our grandkids, that would be a dream.
Ann: And then, the “dent where they’re sent.”
Dave: Yes, the “dent where they’re sent.” FamilyLife listeners have heard me say this many times, but it’s simply the idea of you’re on mission. God wants to use you, where He’s put you. It’s really from Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” So wherever you are is where you’re sent.
If our sons knew, when they were 20—again, 30/35 years old—that God has placed them in this business, in this neighborhood, in this church—
Ann: —in this school—
Dave: —to make a difference for the kingdom of God, because you’re in a war and you’re a warrior—and again, I’m saying this, thinking, “Did that actually happen? Do they wake up every day thinking that?” I doubt it! But there is a sense that God has honored that. You know, it gives you something to shoot at, and then you can work toward that goal.
Bob: And that’s the point. I mean, the title of the book—No Perfect Parents—tells us that, even when you’ve got a goal like this, you’re not going to execute flawlessly.
Bob: There’s no guarantee that, if you’ll do this, your kids will grab onto it.
Bob: There’s no recipe or formula.
Ann: —or that they won’t rebel; there’s no guarantee.
Bob: Right; but to have a North Star, as parents, to say, “Here’s what we want to be intentional about…”—that shapes the daily decisions you make, as a parent—to say, “Does this align with the mission that we’re on?
Bob: “And will this produce the legacy that we’re aiming for?” Again, that’s in God’s hands. We talked already about expectations and surrender—a big theme in your book—you can’t force it to happen.
Bob: But you can be intentional about aiming in that direction and asking God for favor.
Dave: Once you know what the bullseye is that you’re aiming at, then you can develop a strategy—
Dave: —which the rest of the book is like: “Okay; once you know what you’re aiming at, you’ve got to step back: ‘So how would we get there?’” Every church does that/every corporation does that. Most families never do that; that’s why it’s so critical to say, “There’s a secret that you’ve got to understand, and it’s this!”
You know, we talked about legacy earlier. I’ll never forget, when I turned 50, I told Ann before that birthday—because she had thrown a surprise 40th birthday—and I’m like, “Please, please don’t throw a party! You know, I just want to slip into the 50s; and nobody will know.” She was like, “Okay, I won’t.” She was so good; she didn’t throw a party. I turned 50, and nobody even knew.
About a month later, I’m sitting at home on a Tuesday night, and one of the Detroit Lion players that I had mentored, was still on our ministry calls. He said, “Hey! You know, I’ve been trying to get you and Ann over here. Rebekah and I are really struggling, and you never have time. Is there any way? It’s an emergency; can you get over here right now?”
We rush over there. We get to the front door; nobody’s there. I’m like—you know, it was open—I’m like, “Luther! Where are you?” And he was like, “We’re in the basement! Get down here.” I go, walking down to the basement. I don’t know where Ann is—she’s behind me somewhere—I stepped into the basement; “Surprise!!” The whole basement is full of all of these people!
Ann: —of men!
Ann: —which was different from other birthdays that I had for him.
Dave: Ann says, “Honey, I had these guys come; and I instructed them to bring a gag gift and a tribute.
Ann: —a little bit of a roast.
Dave: “And I’m out; see you later!” She went upstairs.
And then, at the very end, Ann walks back down the stairs. She says, “Hey, I need to read you three letters from your three sons, who couldn’t be here.” Two of them were in college at the time. She reads a letter from CJ, and Austin, and Cody, who are now men. It was so emotional!
Dave: When she read those letters, I think it hit me so hard; it was like, “Legacy! I’m hearing from three warriors.” Again, they’re not perfect sons at this point; none of us are. But it was so powerful to hear their words. I’m like, “God did it! God has changed the Wilson name.”
I would say, maybe, the best night of my life; you know? Because it was like: “What you live for is: ‘God, I want to leave a legacy that honors You.’” Again, we are not saying our kids are perfect.
Dave: No kids will be!
Dave: But I got a chance to see that God is good, and He can do things you can’t even imagine with your legacy.
Bob: I’m thinking every listener knows somebody, who is pregnant for the first time right now. What a gift you could give them if you could help them, at the front of their journey: to think intentionally; to have a legacy focus; to give up expectations; to surrender, like we’ve talked about; to have that goal in mind; and to say, “This is what we’re aiming for,” and start that from day one.
If they could get a copy of your book, and pass it on to parents that they know need this kind of focus/need this kind of help, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and pre-order Dave and Ann Wilson’s book, No Perfect Parents. It comes out next week. Go ahead and sign up to get your copy now. Again, you can pre-order at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” The title of the book, again, No Perfect Parents by Dave and Ann Wilson. The subtitle is Ditch Expectations, Embrace Reality, and Discover the One Secret That Will Change Your Parenting.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about something that, Ann, you experienced a lot of when you were raising your kids; and that’s the whole subject of mom-guilt: “What do you do with that? How do you process that?” We’re talking about parenting this week with Dave and Ann Wilson. We’ll continue the conversation tomorrow. I hope you can join us again.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help today from Bruce Goff and, of course, our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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