(My dear Aunt Martha would have turned eighty-two today. The week she died I wrote these reflections in another forum. She was a godly aunt and gifted teacher.)
While on vacation last week, I received word that my Aunt Martha died on Thursday, October 11. One of the great honors of my life came later in the day when my dad and uncle requested that I lead her funeral service in Memphis on Saturday morning and the subsequent interment service in Batesville, Arkansas.
Aunt Martha was born October 25, 1931 in Montgomery, Alabama, the third and youngest child of Tom and Dorinda Wingard. She was remarkable; I can say without fear of objection from any who knew her that she was a great woman.
First, and foremost, she was a deeply devout Christian. My earliest memories of her include her reading the Bible along with good study materials. She was a life-long student of God’s word. And how that word bore fruit in her life! For much of her adult life she was sick, and dealt with chronic hardship and pain. She underwent numerous major operations. I never heard her utter a single complaint, nor did her pastor of many years, who said that many times he went to the hospital to encourage her and left the one encouraged. He was with her once when the doctor delivered some particularly bad news and commented that she received the news unfazed. She modeled the truth: “there is great gain in godliness with contentment” (2 Timothy 6:6).
Unknown to any of us before last week, Aunt Martha wrote out some of her prayers. On her 74th birthday she gave thanks: “Oh Lord, how wonderful you are to me. How great have been your blessings these 74 years.” And another time: “Thank you for the sunshine, for your care through the night, for friends and relatives who love and care for me . . . Please guide me and help me to use the time you have given me wisely. Please guide my thoughts, words, and actions.”
Through the years she witnessed to and prayed for those who provided her with physical and domestic help, and, if occasion arose, she found herself tutoring their children. Which brings me to a second memory: Aunt Martha was a teacher. She was graduated from Arkansas College in Batesville, Arkansas and received her Master’s degree in education from Ole Miss. She taught both in the public schools and later at Spurgeon Academy in Memphis. A 1975 first grade student from Spurgeon was present at the funeral. One of her memorable phrases was: “You’re not teaching a book, you’re teaching children.”
Later, when her health kept her from full- time teaching, she continued to tutor in her home. For a time, she taught GED courses. When funding for the course was lost, she continued to work without compensation, but with the understanding that she could invite students to remain after class to study the Bible with her. And they did.
She took an interest in the Christian education of adults. Out of her very modest income, she bought many books to give away. I received a number of them. When I began my ministry, gifts to me included volumes by Calvin, Luther, and Spurgeon. Undoubtedly, she knew the value of reading the best the church has to offer. While I was in college or seminary, she gave me a stand that props books open while taking notes. It couldn’t have cost more than a few dollars, but I have gotten more use out of it than any present I’ve ever received. Everywhere I go it travels with me and reminds me of her commitment to my learning.
Aunt Martha remained a learner to the end. My last visit to her, along with son Tom, was in August. When I asked her if she needed anything, she said she had never read Pride and Prejudice. So, off to Barnes & Noble Tom and I went.
A final memory is all the birthday cards. She never missed a niece’s or nephew’s birthday, nor did she miss their children’s birthdays. As my Uncle John reminded us before the funeral, “She always remembered, always remembered.”
And I remember her. She fought the good fight; she finished the course. The crown of righteousness is now hers. (2 Timothy 4:7- 8) I thank the Lord for his servant, Aunt Martha, and for a life extraordinarily well-lived.