Martha Jean Martin. Born September 2, 1928 in Louisville, Ky., to Ann and Benjamin Ray Smith. One of five children, Martha grew up during the most economically challenging time in United States history.
I don’t know much about her childhood, except that she grew up in downtown Louisville when that was the place to be, and graduated from Manual High School before men were counted among the student body.
Her relationship with God always maintained a prominent role in her life, and from a young age, she committed to a life of care for others, servanthood, and fervent prayer for her family and nation.
A lifelong learner, Martha was the first woman in her family to attend college. Desiring to teach others and impact the lives of young children, she attended Eastern Kentucky University, where she would meet a young man named Elmo (but that’s a story for another day).
After college, she spent nearly three decades in the classroom teaching elementary students. Her passion for teaching is evident in the fact that, to this day, she has former students from Jane Hite Elementary light up with joy when they see her around Middletown.
In 1955, Martha became a mother to Patty and then Tony. And, in 1981, she took a new name. The name I know best: Grandma.
Of course, if you’re doing the math, you know that she didn’t become MY grandma for six more years, which is where I can begin to speak from personal experience.
I’ve known Martha Jean Martin for 28 years. I know there are many people who have known her longer. Many people who can tell stories that I can’t even begin to piece together. People who comforted her through the tragic losses of dear family members. People who celebrated with her when she married the man who would be her love and companion for more than 60 years and counting.
Yes, there are many people who have known my Grandma longer than I have, but there are only three others in this world who know her the way I do: as Grandma. And we are the lucky ones.
To know my grandma is to know love incarnate.
From the day I was born, my grandma’s selfless compassion for her family was abundantly evident. When my parents were in the hospital welcoming their second (and, of course, most precious) child to the world, Grandma stayed at our house to wake my sister and take her to school before ever getting to visit the hospital and hold the new baby. And when Meredith came to the hospital and infected me with chicken pox (also a story for another day), Grandma took her home to care for her so Mom, Dad, and I could rest in the hospital.
When I was a child, she spent most afternoons transporting me to piano lessons, ballet, and any other activities that took place before my parents got off work. And many of her weekends were spent taking me and my cousins across Louisville – to UofL games, the Science Center, and the ballet to name a few.
Having Grandma nearby was really like having another Mom. I always knew I had someone who cared about me, who would listen to me, and most of all, who taught me some very important lessons.
You see, Grandma is the kind of person who always puts others above herself. From a young age, she taught me the value of service to others. If you asked me as a child what my grandma did on a daily basis, I would have told you that she spent all her time volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, taking meals to seniors through Meals on Wheels, caring for the elderly at Parr’s Rest nursing home, and occasionally stopping by the hair dresser. As it turns out, even now that she’s older than most of the people she serves (and will be mad at me for saying so), her time is spent in much the same way.
She taught me the importance of family, and making time for the people you love. She loves her family more than any of us realize, and would do anything to make us happy. We don’t know what it’s like to feel unloved or uncared for, because she is a part of our lives.
Grandma also taught me about gratitude. In her mind, there’s not much worse than letting a good deed go unthanked. That may seem like a small thing, but saying, “thank you” has taught me to become more aware of the abundant blessings in my life. Today, I always have a box of thank you notes at hand, and I attribute that to my grandma.
More than anything, Grandma taught me to love God. As a pastor’s kid whose mom also played the church organ, I didn’t have a parent to keep me company in church. But, I was never alone, because I always had my grandma sitting next to me. I imagine I was a huge distraction for her, but throughout each service, she guided me through the elements of worship and helped me understand why they are so important. Much of my passion for worship can be traced back to her patient guidance when I was a child.
Every Sunday after church, Grandma and Grandpa would drive me to lunch. At my ordination a few years ago, they reminded me that I would sit in the back of the car and read the Bible to them. From a young age, they knew I was called to some form of ministry, and sought to foster that in me. They helped me “write the word of God on my heart,” and I am a better minister because of them.
Grandma believes in prayer and its power to heal and bring comfort. If you know my grandma, she has probably spoken a prayer for you more times than you know. Multiple times a day, Grandma prays for her family, friends, church, and world – most of them by name. I know that my grandma lifts my name up to God each and every day in prayer, and I know that I am safe in the arms of the One who hears her prayers.
When I started writing this post, I knew that my words could never do my grandma justice. Her life continues to be beyond description. She is a woman with great faith who paves the way for those who come after her. She takes advantage of every opportunity to learn, grow, and especially to serve others.
Knowing that my words would not suffice, I asked some family members to share a single word that they thought describe Grandma. Here’s what they said:
- “We love her loads”
On September 2, I celebrate the life of one who means so much to me and many others. I am grateful that 28 years ago, my parents named me Emily Jean Holladay, so that I will always carry of piece of this wonderful woman with me. After 28 years, I don’t know all there is to know about her, but I know that I am more loving, faithful, grateful, and generous because of Martha Jean Martin.
Happy Birthday Grandma!