The Intentionality of Leaving a Legacy


by Elizabeth Mansfield
CEO, Building Legacies International

Some legacies whether good or bad, happen by accident.  But the best, most significant contributions to mankind, tend to be intentional.  Think MLK, JFK, Mother Teresa and the like.

Not so long ago I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dr. Arthur Ammann.  He is the tremendously gifted, humble and kind-hearted man who is well known for his breakthrough work on the prevention of the spread of AIDS in the under-resourced parts of the world. What an amazing legacy to have saved so many lives!

Now, most of us are not likely to be quite as notable in our lifetimes. But, that does not mean the impact of our legacy can’t be every bit as important if we are intentional about the way we pursue it.  After all, Art was born from a mother and father who never completed elementary school – but God’s plan for Art was much bigger than anyone, even he, could ever imagine.  But can you imagine the cost in terms of lives had he not pursued his calling?

I’ve found this is often times the case with God.  His plan is not always congruent with ours. In fact, I figured this out after my first trip to Zambia back in 2010 when my missional journey began. Shortly after returning, I was attentively listening to what God might be saying to me through a talk given by a mission leader about his own trips to Africa. I felt certain I was supposed to be there to hear from Him (the Big “H”) and not so much the speaker himself. Surely, God was going to reveal his calling to me during this talk, I thought to myself. And then, since he already had my attention, I heard what God really had intended for me to hear. It was not, “Quit your job and go become a missionary in Africa”. It was not, “Go get a job at World Vision.” In fact, it wasn’t even, go do anything. God used the speaker to teach me an important lesson…

The speaker said he learned from his experience, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans (author unknown).”

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness (your passion) and the world’s deep hunger (need) meet.
~ Fredrick Buechner

Me talking to God: “You mean to say, I’m not in charge of my own calling?”

Needless to say, it was EXACTLY what I needed to hear and I’ve been a laughing witness to this truth ever since.

To quote the title of one of my favorite books by Dwight Robertson, You are God’s Plan A …and there is no Plan B. The title kinda gives you the gist of where this book is going, right? He talks about how discovering the good works for which you were created can be very difficult as well as how your own “ministry” does not need to be confined to the building in which you worship. So the sky’s the limit, so-to-speak. Yet, now I’d argue there’s a big difference between discerning God’s call and serving in a way that’s most comfortable.

In other words, in God’s economy, no one is “off-the-hook” regardless of whether or not you’re an active Christian. And the way we use even our ordinary, daily lives is NOT insignificant. We are all here to do good works according to His plan.

“Nobody else is going to do the things which are yours to be done in the world.” 
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

A Change in “Plans”
Flash forward to 2013: Ironically, a few years later a friend gave me a book with a strangely similar title to Plan A called, …wait for it… Plan B: What do you do When God Doesn’t Show-up the Way you Thought He Would? by Pete Wilson. As far as I can tell, the authors were not writing in cahoots with one another. In fact, B was written first, in 2009, and then A was written in 2010. The thing they have in common is that they both help to demystify God’s clear calling upon us in spite of why some things happen as they do.

You see, I received Plan B later on, after I was in the middle of my 1.5 year battle with breast cancer. While going through chemo you have the blessing of a lot of time to read, think and pray. Upon winding down my cancer treatments, I documented no less than 8 times (and probably a few more that I missed) receiving the clear, consistent, and authoritative message from God to “change the world” . I know what you’re probably thinking, “She’s nuts!”, right?

Well then I won’t add fuel to this conclusion by telling you about all the crazy mechanisms God used to send me His message. But here’s my dialogue with God during that time…

God: “Change the world” (June 2013)

Me:  “Change the world? Hah! Yea, for sure. OK, but seriously, God?!? You’re kidding me, right?”

 “I mean, with all due respect, why on earth are you sending me this crazy message? – especially right after I’ve been  beaten-up and hospitalized from the very treatment that is supposed to cure me?”

“What on earth am I supposed to do with this message? I am weak and I’m neither egotistical nor delusional enough to think anything I could do would ‘change the world’.”

God: “Change the world!” (7+ more times within June 2013)

So, the book Plan B poses a great question, right? “What DO we do when God doesn’t show-up in the way we thought He should/would?” Well, I’m not the spoiler-type so you’ll just have to buy the book and read it yourself but after a lot of processing, I can explain what all this means to me…

Plan A: I no longer buy into Satan’s lie that I am too small, too weak, or too unskilled to make a difference. I’m doing my best to faithfully listen to what God wants from me versus just staying in my comfort zone. I need to always be asking myself, how is He calling me to steward the gifts He’s given me for His Kingdom?

Plan B: Bad stuff is going to happen. We live in a broken and sinful world – and I am broken too. I needed to remind myself that life’s curve balls can have deep meaning. How am I made better for His purposes because of these experiences? What have I learned along the journey and how can I use it to make a difference?

Tall orders – Humble efforts
Thankfully, I read somewhere that, “God uses ordinary people to carry out His extraordinary plan”. Whew! That took a load off. But what really is the plan? Cancer was not the turning point when I became intentional with my life. I knew I needed a plan 6 years earlier after my first mission trip to Zambia. I had to do something to steward the gift of that life-changing experience. And yet along my “intentional” journey I learned that this will be revealed in God’s perfect timing – not mine. When you combine that with the complacency that creeps-up while waiting around for the next message from God, I may never have arrived at my calling had I not found out about my cancer. That’s where Plan Bs can be tricky but ultimately come in handy.

So, I thank God for my Plan B. Cancer served to re-ignite my passion for making a difference in the world. It was also a strong reminder that life is precious – and short. It was time to get serious about my intention to use God’s call to make a difference in the world.

Four years later and still patiently waiting, I re-read Plan B and this quote pretty much sums up how I hope to make an impact in this next phase of my life. Pete Wilson writes,

“My greatest fear for my life and for yours is that we’ll just get busy and distracted and settle for a mediocre, unexamined life. It’s that we’ll just settle into life as usual and never become the persons God intended for us to be.”

To date, I have done so much self-examination that I could’ve written a book too! So, am I single-handedly planning to “change the world”? Heavens no! Besides, God gets all the glory for things like that anyway. But I did graciously accept our board’s nomination of me to become CEO of Building Legacies International (BLI) and I’m in the process of taking a Christian coaching class so I can lead BLI’s practice toward helping others process their own values and callings.

I am SO excited about this new chapter in my life. I look forward to working with people/organizations to help them “unpack” their legacy so it may become intentional – to make a difference in the world.

It feels both scary and amazing to be living out my Plan B – perhaps the best possible plan of all – and maybe even have the chance to leave my own legacy in the process.

Please pray for us.

God bless,

Building Legacies International

Are you impassioned to make a difference in the world? Would it be nice if you had someone to help you process what that could look like? How do you discern God’s calling in your life? If you’ve ever had a life-changing experience and still need to unpack it, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a message – or let’s connect!