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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Mary and Martha

Grandmother Nimtz was Martha and Mary both. A widow for 53 years, she took care of her four children and three-story house with the unceasing activity of Martha. She blocked quilts I use 40 years later. She grew the tallest hybrid tea roses in town. On the cement cellar floor that she herself had troweled smooth, she set a crock of sauerkraut on its fermenting way.

But she wasn't distracted by these things. "Martha, Martha, you are distracted by many things. ... Mary knows the one thing needful." The times when Grandmother taught her young children their Bible stories or in later years prayed for her grandchildren, she was Mary, intent on the one thing needful, living and modeling her faith.

When her four children were tiny, she kept them out of mischief by perching them on small chairs near her kitchen table or laundry tub, teaching them to read. On the long Sunday afternoons and evenings, following morning worship, the only entertainment she allowed was reading their Bible storybook.

With few distractions on any day in that western Wisconsin farm home, they learned well the one thing needful. Two of her children became teachers, one at a Lutheran parochial school; one trained as a nurse at a Lutheran hospital; and one served the former American Lutheran Church's New Guinea mission.

In Grandmother's church, where I was married in 1960, one entered the sanctuary and then stood in one's pew in silent prayer, preparing for worship. On my wedding day I was Martha, fussing over veil, gloves and flowers, dodging arriving guests. A family friend later told me, "Your grandma stood and said a prayer for you." It wasn't part of the wedding etiquette of the day, but 37 years later I feel the power of Grandma's one thing needful.


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