The Legacy of a Faithful Family: A Son’s Tribute of Thanksgiving

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 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. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” – 2 Timothy 1:3-8

A few weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s Day and in a few weeks more we’ll mark Father’s Day. Both of these Sundays will have found me away from my parents as they worship with their church family at Woodlawn Baptist in Vicksburg, Mississippi (where my dad is a pastor), and I worship with my church family ten hours away at First Baptist in Henryville, Indiana (where I serve as one of the pastors).

If it is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, then my own absence from my family and home place has made me particularly thankful for the deep-rooted legacy that my family has passed down to me, a thanksgiving that is at both proper and biblical. Paul, in the passage above, remarks about his own faithful heritage, one in which his ancestors served God, and reminds Timothy of his own family’s legacy of faithfulness to God. The memory of their example is the call to continued and growing faithfulness and service to God.

So I want to follow Paul and Timothy’s model. I want to celebrate the legacy that my family has passed down to me, a family made up of my Mama and Daddy, Nana and Papa, Memaw and Pepaw – Campbells, Jacksons, Causeys, and Havards. Through the centuries they have been rooted not just in the farmland soil of South Mississippi since the early 1800’s but more importantly they have been grounded in the blood-soaked soil of Golgotha, as a gospel loving people.

In the gospel they displayed an ironclad commitment to one another and to the gift of a loving family. I have never known a single moment of my life in which I doubted to any degree the strongest bonds of love from every person in my family – from parents and grandparents, to uncles, aunts, and cousins. Some of us are no longer here. Three of my grandparents, most of their siblings, and my cousin Mac are all in the presence of Christ. Few of us are able to see one another as often as we would like or as often as we have in the past, and yet through the decades there has never been the slightest hesitation in my certainty of my family’s commitment to me (and to each other) and my commitment to them.

We have lived together, laughed together, and hurt together. We gathered together for every Thanksgiving and Christmas. We stood around the old upright piano and sang (pictured left). I can see my family at birthday parties, my Papa riding me on his three-wheeler, and my Pepaw trying to calm my cries after we had a flat tire on our way back to his house one Christmas night. We have sat together at hospital beds and in waiting rooms, and through more than one dark tragedy we have stood arm and arm around the caskets of those we love – living testimonies of the adjective that describes my family best – loving. I learned what love was from them.

In the gospel they displayed a soul-strong commitment to the Bible. I remember my Nana and Papa (my mom’s parents) reading over their Sunday School lessons. My Papa would be at the kitchen table with his lesson book, Bible, and a Bible dictionary or handbook. I remember my Memaw reading her Bible and preparing to teach her Sunday School class of senior adult ladies. She would have her Bible, Sunday School book, Biblical Illustrator, and Herschel Hobbs commentary close by. In my mind I can still hear my Pepaw reading the Christmas story from the Gospel According to Luke as our family gathered on Christmas Day night. I can still see my mother up early in the mornings to read her Bible and journal her prayers, and I can hear the sound of the thousands of sermons I’ve heard my daddy preach through the years. I learned the Bible, and to love the Bible, from them.

In the gospel they displayed a clear-eyed commitment to their country and to what was right, no matter the sacrifice. I’ve had ancestors fight in almost every American war throughout the last two hundred and fifty years. My great grandfather was severely wounded in “No-Man’s Land” between the trenches of WWI. My great uncle Robert Lee Campbell was killed flying a B-17 bomber over Germany in 1943. My Pepaw and his other brothers served in Europe, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and a hundred other places during WWII, and my Papa (who was turned down from enlisting because of his health) worked in the shipyards to build the boats that helped win the war.

My cousin Will Campbell, my grandfather’s first cousin, stood unwavering during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He stood so strong as to be threatened, but he was still the only white minister who was present at the formation of Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was surely influenced by the example of my great grandfather Jessie, who one Sunday night in 1925 walked out of a church service after representatives from the Ku Klux Klan marched down the center aisle of the church in their flowing white robes to present a gift to the congregation. Jessie was murdered a year later, when my grandfather was only two years old. I learned the meaning of courage from them.

In the gospel they sparked a love of reading. I have been surrounded by storytellers since birth, and not just the older man who lived down the road and who would come over to eat my grandmother’s biscuits for breakfast (Jerry Clower). All of my family instilled in me a love for words, beautiful words. My cousin Will (mentioned above) became a noted southern author of such books as Brother to a Dragonfly and Forty Acres and a Mule. Both my parents are beautiful writers. Both my grandmothers would story me to sleep. I was read to constantly from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. My Memaw’s home had big, full bookshelves where I was given the freedom to explore and to read. And she was the first person to encourage me to go to Southern Seminary to work on my Master’s degree, partly due to her great love and respect for SBTS graduates Herschel Hobbs and W.A. Criswell. I learned to learn and to love learning from them.

In the gospel they displayed a tight-knit commitment to the local church. The vast majority of my memories seem to revolve around the church, which is fitting since so much of my family has seemed to revolve around the church as well. Local churches have been the sun in the solar system of my life. My great grandfather Frank Causey (who was wounded in WWI) came home from the war and farmed and served as the minister of music for Liberty Baptist Church. My Memaw taught GA’s at that church and was sitting on its front steps when she first saw a young man with jet black hair who lived out from town in the country – my grandfather Delton, Jessie’s son. After marrying him they soon moved back to his home place at East Fork where she helped raise six boys and taught Sunday School classes and sang in the choir.

My dad and his brothers were taken to church as a family week in and week out, and they all recall memories of being taken out behind the old church house by my grandfather if their behavior needed correcting. They grew up attending Vacation Bible School and learning the Bible through Bible Drills, and my uncle Clay even went on to become the National Bible Drill Champion one year. He’s now a retired teacher and still serving as a Minister of Music in South Mississippi.

They were raised in and saved in that old church, and as a teenager my dad would be singing in the choir when he came to believe God was calling him to preach the gospel the rest of his life. My mama and her brothers likewise were taken to the wood-frame Methodist church out in the country, where her grandfather and father served as trustees and where her grandmother taught her in Sunday School. Years later she would stand at the front of that church’s pulpit and marry a young Baptist preacher from the other side of the county.

My Nana (mom’s mom) attended another small country church as a child, a church that alternated every other week between a Baptist preacher and a Methodist preacher. She was raised Methodist (as was my mom) but believed the gospel on the Sunday when the Baptist was preaching and was baptized by immersion soon after. My great grandparents loved their local churches, so did their children and grand children, and today my family includes laypersons and ministers, Sunday school teachers, ministers of music, church organists, and my daddy who has been a pastor for over thirty years.

Finally, in the gospel they displayed an overwhelming and overruling love for Jesus. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory I can still hear my Memaw singing ”Oh happy day that fixed my choice, on Thee my Savior and my God…” as she rocks me to sleep as a small child. I can hear my Papa singing In the Garden. I can hear the thousands of Bible stories that I was told as a child. I can hear and see the joy on their faces because of what Jesus has done in their lives.

Please don’t misunderstand me. My family is nowhere close to perfect. We are far from it. Indeed those who know us best know that we have struggled with every sin and failure that haunts all of society and every person on earth. We are a family of strong sinners and struggling saints. We have been broken, fragile, and bad. We have given in to addictions. We have given in to fears. We have struggled to be faithful. Yet the legacy that remains is of a family that has been faithful because as much as we may have given into our fallen condition, we have always given in to grace all the more– the grace that only comes through Jesus Christ. Everything I learned about the gospel, I learned from them.

And so I come back to where I started – learning about grace and forgiveness because of the grace and love that my family has centered its life around, this love and grace that are pillars of my family – pillars that hold me up today and I pray every day hereafter.

That’s what I thanked God for on Mother’s Day, and that’s what I’ll thank God for on Father’s Day. And I’ll do so with the overwhelming gratitude for the memory of both my parents, my Mama and my Daddy, kneeling next to me in our living room by an old brown couch, on a June Saturday night in 1991 just before Father’s Day and introducing me to Jesus. I remember the tears they cried that night, which were tears of joy. And like Paul and Timothy I will thank God that they were used by him to tell me about Jesus. And I will pray that in following in their footsteps I will “not be ashamed about the testimony about our Lord.”

I am a Samuel who was brought to God. I am a Timothy who was brought to Christ.

In the gospel,


Leave a Comment:

Regina Davis says June 3, 2013

I enjoyed reading your tribute. You have a wonderful family, who we grew to love and respect during our years in Vicksburg. Thanks for sharing.

Claudette Rudolph says June 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing this well written tribute to your family through the memories that are so dear to you. This writing caused me to reflect on my own childhood. We share so many common memories about our families. I too am blessed to have christian family ties going back several generations. We still have in our family, an old German Bible that our dad’s Great granmother brought with her to America. I can memorialize men in our family who served and even gave their lives in service of our country dating back to the civil war. My mom’s family settled in Virginia when they came to America so we can boast southern roots and southern upbringing as well. Looking forward to your next post.

Judy Fortenberry says June 3, 2013

Your tribute to your Mom and Dad and extended family was so special! I am honored to have watched you grow into the fine young man that you have become and to be able to call you and your parents my friends. You all hold a special place in my heart. Oh, and by the way, I don’t stretch my eyes anymore!!!!

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