In Texas, it’s not easy to find really old things. Our state (and country) are fairly young compared to other parts of the world. Therefore, when we do stand next to something that has existed in that spot for hundreds of years, it seems to be especially magnificent and awe-inspiring for us.
I teach Texas History, and I just finished teaching my students about the Spanish Missions built in Texas during the 1700’s, highlighting the successful ones built in San Antonio. I realized this year that other than the Alamo, I haven’t actually visited any of the other missions in San Antonio, though I visit the city often. I decided that this was the year, and I made it a priority to find time to visit Mission San José and Mission Concepción while in San Antonio last weekend.
As a history teacher, I have to admit to totally geeking out when I arrived at Mission San José. It’s so beautiful!! And it has been remarkably preserved, providing the opportunity to really feel yourself stepping into the past. I’m not sure if I’m allowed or if it’s encouraged, but I touched the wall…several times. I just kept thinking, “Native Texans touched this wall almost 300 years ago. They lived here. Their lives were changed here. And now, here I am; touching the exact same wall all these years later.”
Then I found myself at Mission Concepción, just down the road. While I wandered around some of the rooms, I stared in amazement at the paintings that had been revealed on the walls just twenty-eight years ago. Until then, they had been covered for many years by layers and layers of dirt. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.
It hit me that over 250 years ago, some man from Spain traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and found himself in the unsettled land that we now know as Texas. He was a real person with real talent. He had a family, friends, a personality, fears, things that brought him joy and pain, and an obvious talent for painting. He had no idea that the art he added to the walls of this brand new mission would remain there and be admired hundreds of years later. He didn’t know me; he couldn’t possibly have imagined me, a Texas History teacher in 2016, standing in the same room and staring in amazement at the wall paintings he left behind. And I don’t know him. I know nothing about him. I don’t even know his name. But I definitely see and appreciate what he has left behind.
All week this has stuck with me. Our lives are so short; so short. While we are real people with real feelings and personalities and talents and families and friends and giftedness, our lives will soon be over; completely forgotten. Our names and our stories will not be known. But what will remain is what we leave behind.
So, what is that? What am I leaving behind that will be appreciated hundreds of years from now? If it’s not art or something that can be appreciated with the eye, what else could it be? Could it possibly be found in the people who are living in that time, somehow indirectly touched by my influence, prayers, relationship-building, wisdom-sharing, and time invested with their great-great-great-great grandparents? Could it be a legacy left through people, namely students I’m able to pour into year after year or nieces I get to love on, pray for, disciple, and mentor? What lives can I touch now that will in turn impact other lives in the future? How can I leave a truly lasting legacy?
Whatever it is, I hope that one day, long after my name is forgotten, something is looked at with admiration and appreciated because of how the Lord used me hundreds of years earlier…today. May we always seek to live a life of significance now that will have a lasting impact long after our name and story is forgotten.