Remembering My Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 94th birthday, and I’ve been thinking a lot about him today. I’ve often said that he’s the best man I ever knew, and I really mean that. I wish everyone was able to meet him.

Below is the eulogy I wrote for him last November. Godspeed, granddad, I’ll see you soon.

William Thomas Martin of Winston-Salem, North Carolina passed away on Sunday November 24, 2019 after reaching the age of 93 years old. He died peacefully beside family and went home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

William (Bill) was born on April 16, 1926 in Spencer, NC to George and Julia Martin, the oldest of four children.

At five, at a camp meeting in God’s Country, GA he heard a Pastor read a verse from the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Bill became a Christian that day, and it would define him the rest of his life.

Later, not yet 18 years old, Bill volunteered for the Navy during World War II, requiring a signature from his parents to do so. He served on the USS Lacerta as a radio operator in the Pacific Theatre, and served on that ship from the time it was commissioned until it was decommissioned. He served as Chaplin, encouraging his crewmates in their faith while doing so.

When he returned he went to Mars Hill college and eventually went to work on transportation logistics for both Southern Railway and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He became President of Delta Nu Alpha, a professional network for transportation professionals and retired from R.J. Reynolds at 55. He taught classes on this profession at both Wake Forest and Forsyth Tech.

In 1959 he married Ann Martin at Hebron Church in Winston-Salem, NC and remained married to her for 60 years until his passing. They lived in Winston-Salem and raised two daughters, Susanne and Nancy.

Bill’s legacy is one we might all aspire to. To be a devoted and loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend is admirable. To be a patriot and willingly put your own life at risk for the sake of your country is inspirational. To be a superb professional, and work diligently to make the world a little bit better, day by day, is praiseworthy.

But the thing that made the life of Bill Martin so extraordinary was his faith, and how it made all that possible, and created the legacy that continues on even though he is now departed. Because of Bill, two children, 3 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren (so far!) will grow up in the teachings of Jesus. Because of Bill, scores of soldiers were taught the Good News in the darkest hours of World War II. Because of Bill, countless churchgoers were instructed on the relentless love of God, as he taught Sunday School for over 55 years.

Bill was struck when he was 5 years old by the idea that the pure in heart will see God. And that is why, we have no doubt, when he stood before God the first words he heard was “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Vocation In A Pandemic

Note: I am a board member in an organization named KIROS, a Christians in Business group in Seattle aimed at connecting, encouraging, and equipping Christians to integrate their faith with their business and career. This is a letter I sent to the community regarding my thoughts on the crisis.

One of the things I appreciate most about KIROS is the diversity of vocation present in the community. We are often siloed in our vocations while we’re at our places of business. Engineers work with engineers. Accountants work with accountants. In our churches we have a diversity of vocation, but a singular focus when we worship together. KIROS gives me a way to think of what it means to be a Christian at work alongside people of different vocations.

But recently, it seems to me, we have a different kind of diversity in our community: many of us have had our vocations radically changed, and in short order. Some of us are not able to work like we used to. Some of us were accountants, but are now homeschool teachers. Some of us still work in the same vocation, but what our work entails looks entirely different. Instead of trying to expand our businesses, some of us may be looking to keep it afloat. We are all having to make hard decisions about our career, our business, our customers, our employees, and how we help our community.

This reminds me of a sermon by CS Lewis in Weight of Glory named “Learning in Wartime”. The sermon was given to students at Oxford in the thick of World War II, attempting to answer some of the basic questions we often have when trying to persevere through a crisis: Do I continue on as if this isn’t a big deal? How do I keep focused on what is in front of me? I wish this had never happened, why am I going through this? What about all of my plans, when can I get back to them?

These are very real concerns, and Lewis doesn’t dismiss them. He writes that

A more Christian attitude… is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord”. It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

That is, he suggests that the Christian walk is about doing our vocation, whatever that may be, dutifully in the present. That is in fact exactly our duty in all circumstances, crisis or not. As to the questions “Why me? Why us? Why now?”, Lewis has an encouraging word:

The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation.

Our backgrounds, our talent, and our circumstances were ordained by God for all moments, certainly, but also this one. The decisions we make regarding our families, work, and community were given to us by God, and we should be encouraged that this was done with a purpose. We should remind ourselves that even though we, like those terrified students at Oxford in 1939, may wish this wasn’t our burden it was nonetheless given to us for a reason. God prepared us for our part to play in it.

Whatever your vocation looks like now, I think we should heed Lewis’ advice and remember that all of our work becomes “spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. This is true even, and maybe especially, if it wasn’t the work that we planned to be doing.