The final first. Faithful hope.

Today is the final first. There have been a lot of “firsts” since December 16, 2020. The past 365 days have included such “firsts” as…

  • The first time in 20+ years that I pulled into the gravel driveway of my childhood home without my mom standing at the door, waiting for me
  • The first morning I woke up in that home during a visit without the smell of sausage balls being baked in the oven
  • The first full day to spend in that home in over a decade without the Game Show Network being on at least half the day
  • The first Christmas without being able to give her a gift or call her on Christmas Day
  • The first Mother’s Day that did not include a phone call to her
  • Her first birthday without the ability to tell her “Happy Birthday”
  • My first birthday without her returning the favor
  • The first time I picked up the phone to call and tell her of an accomplishment of one of her grandkids, but realized halfway through the dialing process that she wouldn’t be able to answer the phone (that’s happened a few times)
  • The first time my dad would answer the phone and I would not ask to talk to her, nor would I hear him speak his familiar line when I asked to talk to her: “Here, Peg. It’s your boy.”
  • The first Thanksgiving we would gather at her house without her being in the kitchen
  • And today, marking the first year without her presence in our lives

I realize that moving from one day to the next is merely the earth rotating once on its axis. And I know that a year is just a measurement of one orbit of the earth around the sun. Yet we choose days and years to mark significant events. And I’m sure the idea of “the first year” is much more psychological than anything else, but it seems to be somewhat a sigh of relief to get to this date. More tears have dropped in the first few hours of this day than in the previous days and weeks, but I suppose that’s to be expected. So today, we’ll embrace “the final first,” and tomorrow we’ll have the “firsts” behind us.

My two biggest fans were my grandmother and my mother. Every time I preached at Corinth Baptist Church in Bodcaw, Arkansas, I could be sure that at least two people wouldn’t nod off. Regardless of how poorly I stammered and stumbled through a bumbling message, two people would act as if they were listening to Billy Graham. I can identify with Timothy’s lineage of faith, as Paul expressed in a letter to the young minister: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2 Tim. 1:5). I’m not certain that I can claim to have as sincere a faith as Timothy, but I do know that such faith dwelt first in my grandmother, Maxine Brown, and in my mother, Peggy Russell.

Sitting on my desk are two items that are among the most treasured I have. The Bible on the left belonged to my grandmother. She had many, but this one was the one she used the last decade of her life. The Bible on the right belonged to my mother. Inside it she has a picture of her “miracle baby,” a great-granddaughter. She printed it from Facebook and put it in her Bible just four days before she met her father, mother, sister, and a few great-grandchildren in heaven.

That Bible contains living, active, life-giving words, and some 31,000+ verses. One of those verses is 1 Thessalonians 4:13. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”


During this “first year” I have witnessed so many go through deeper and darker valleys than I have trod. Contexts vary. Circumstances differ. Much grieving has occurred. But, for those who have a relationship with Jesus, we grieve with hope.

My mom did not decorate much for Christmas, with it just being her and my dad. But she did place a few Christmas-themed items around the house. Hanging from a shelf in her kitchen was a Christmas ornament containing one word: hope.

As we gathered at FBC Milton last night for our MDWK Christmas emphasis, music played under the movement of people as they journeyed through different elements of the Christmas narrative. One of those songs, “Raise a Hallelujah,” contains these words…

I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!


My prayer for you today (and for myself) is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.

Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”

2 thoughts on “The final first. Faithful hope.

  1. Your thoughts are sweet to me. I’ve experienced the first anniversary of passing. Feb 2020 This year. Had the other firsts last yr. I’ll say The memories are sweeter on the seconds snd the grief is not as hard.

    Liked by 1 person

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