Mother’s Day

Family Legacies

Middle Tennessee in spring.

The month of May means blooming azaleas and iris.

Frequent rains this spring make the greens extra sharp and the colors on ???????????????????????????????the blooms just pop.

My iris seem to have recovered from last year’s flop. I thought they were just too crowded to bloom, but I never got around to thinning them out.

IMG_1531This Mother’s Day I’m thinking of my mother, who has been gone since 1994. It’s time to begin telling her story, especially for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who need to know her story.

Martin Stephens Johnson grew up on a farm in a little place called Turkey Neck Bend, Kentucky. If you can’t find this place on a map, look for Tompkinsville, Kentucky. It’s along the Cumberland River not far from T-ville. She came to Nashville for one year of college at David Lipscomb College before she married Daddy and started making babies. 

She knew how to stretch a dollar and make a meal for six hungry bodies with some dried beans, a few potatoes, and cornbread. It’s funny how one of my favorite meals was pinto beans with fried potatoes, maybe some fried hog’s jowl and turnip greens. The best way to eat this meal is to break open the hot crispy cornbread and spoon the beans over it so it soaks up that soup from the beans. Not long after Daddy’s death she sat with us four kids reminiscing.  Mama said she knew our money was really tight the year Daddy had cancer, when we had that pinto-bean-meal three times in one week. Funny how I have no memory of that.

Mama really knew how to make something out of nothing. She used the cheapest fabric of the day, unbleached muslin, to create beautiful ruffled curtains for a huge picture window in the preacher’s house. She made my school dresses, church dresses, and often my winter coats. She even made my wedding dress. My first sewing lessons came from her when I was in the 7th grade; I made a dress for 4-H.

Since I was the oldest with three younger brothers, I always felt close to Mama. She was my role model:

 teaching Bible classes to children or women

making a home with little money

helping those with even less than our family

adapting and adjusting to new cities, small towns, churches as we moved from church to church

When she needed to find a job to help out when Daddy had cancer, she did.

When he needed medical support, she went back to college and earned her nursing credentials to be an RN.

When her partner in life was gone, she changed her focus and reached across oceans to minister to those without medical care.

Her story should really begin with the journey of a lifetime I mentioned in this recent  post. Three of us flew to Ghana, West Africa in January of 1994 to visit the dear friends Mama made in Kumasi,Ghana as she served as a clinic nurse for African Christian Hospitals.

That trip opened my eyes to her courage in traveling alone into developing countries. I saw the respect in the eyes of many people who loved her for her wisdom, her care for the sick, and her walk with the Lord. My brother Paul and I benefited from that respect, just because we were her children. We were welcomed as only the gentle souls of Ghana can convey. Visitors came to her door with gifts for us!

Her legacy is rich – from her skills in feeding a family of six on a preacher’s salary to clothing us in garments made with her hands, but her priceless legacy is her 66 years of walking in the path of our Savior.

When Jennifer died, I longed for my mother to comfort me in my grief, but my heart was eased when I thought of her greeting my daughter as she made the journey into glory in 2002.

I’ve always felt that Proverbs 31 describes a women who could hardly meet all those qualities, but I would say that Martin Stephens Johnson came mighty close.


Giving thanks this weekend for:

  • mothers who need more sleep, more energy, more time, mothers of young children!
  • mothers who lie awake waiting for teenagers to return home safely.
  • mothers who grieve for children who seem to have forgotten their training.
  • mothers who rejoice when grown children return home for a visit.
  • mothers who sacrifice everything so their children have food to eat.
  • mothers who never give up hoping for a missing child to be found 

Praying for women who long to be mothers, yet sit with empty arms. 

Praying for mothers whose children have forgotten how to show appreciation for a mother’s love and sacrifice.



One thought on “Mother’s Day

  1. Belinda Miller

    What a beautiful tribute, Martell. I especially enjoyed reading it today on my first Mother’s Day without Mama. I, too, thank God every day for a mom who walked with Him and taught us unselfishness and service toward others in His name. I love you!!!!


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