A year and a half ago, we wrote “Carolyn’s Story,” the sequel to “Margaret’s Story.” You see, in her first book, Feminine Appeal, Mom told the story of her mom’s life in “Margaret’s Story.” We planned to surprise her and include “Carolyn’s Story” in our book, Girl Talk. However, a few days before the book was to go to press, Mom discovered our plan (you can’t keep anything from a mom, can you?!). Reluctantly, we yielded to her pleas to remove a tribute to her from a book with her name on it. But we’ve been saving it. And today—Mom’s birthday—seems like a good day for you and her to read it. So, without further ado, (and before Mom figures out what we’re up to!) the girltalk blog presents “Carolyn’s Story.”
(Mom, we know this makes you very uncomfortable. You’ve never sought the spotlight—in fact you run from it as fast as you can! But in keeping with the biblical tradition of Proverbs 31 we want to rise up and call you blessed. We want to sing your praises, that God may be glorified and many mothers and daughters inspired to follow in your footsteps.)
You may know our mom as an author, teacher of women, or pastor’s wife. However, she would prefer to be known simply as a wife and mother. Our mother.
After all, this is the ministry she always wanted.
As a little girl with white-blond braids, growing up on the beaches of Sarasota, Florida, she dreamed of being a wife and mother like her mom. Not everybody understood or approved of her dream. Mom was an honor-roll student in high school when she shocked her teacher by boldly declaring—at the height of the feminist movement—that her career ambitions were to be a wife, mother, and homemaker.
It was not long after high school that Mom met an enthusiastic preacher from Maryland named C.J. Mahaney. Dad was smitten the moment he saw her, and within a few months he asked her to marry him. They became man and wife on May 17, 1975. He was 21, and she was 19 years old. A thousand miles away from family and friends, Mom made their little apartment into a home with not much more than a card table, folding chairs, and a beanbag.
To tell Mom’s story you have to start with Dad, for Mom was a wife first—and she has guarded this role as her highest priority. We have never felt loved any less because she loves Dad most. Her fierce commitment to Dad formed the safe cocoon in which we played out our happy childhood. And perhaps the greatest legacy she’s given us, her daughters, is her model of a loving, respectful, submissive, and uncommonly helpful wife.
It wasn’t long before the wife became a mother, too. Nicole was born five days before their first anniversary, Kristin arrived one year later, and Janelle burst into the world four years after that. Then Chad surprised Dad and Mom twelve years after they thought that their family was complete.
As her family grew, Mom’s desire to follow in the footsteps of her own mother also matured into a compelling biblical conviction. Through her study of the Bible’s portrayal of the godly woman, she became resolutely convinced of the significance of her ministry to her family. Unmoved by the prevailing worldview that insisted she was wasting her time and talent, uninterested in selfish pursuits, and unaided by the encouragement and guidance of an older woman nearby, she set the course of her life by the compass of God’s Word.
Her biblical conviction invigorated her mothering efforts. Our mom is no half-hearted mom. She brought all the fortitude, resourcefulness, and commitment to excellence that she had learned from her parents and threw it into her mothering task. She elevated marriage, mothering, and homemaking to an art form—much as God intended it to be.
Mom doesn’t consider herself a particularly creative mother, but she made up for her lack with an energetic hunt for inspired ideas. Our growing up years were full of unforgettable memories like weekly family nights, “Family Olympics,” “Mystery Night,” “Fall Special Treat Night,” “Spring Celebration,” birthday meals complete with a personalized menu and a special plate, “Afternoon Out,” and of course, “The Shopping Trip.”
Not only was Mom’s ministry to her family the focus of all her passion and energy—it was also a ministry of sacrifice. This ministry was twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with no breaks, holidays, or even sick leave. It involved mundane tasks such as changing dirty diapers, cleaning up spilled Cheerios, washing mountains of laundry, and reading Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories over and over again.
It was a sacrifice of much-needed sleep, of personal friendships, leisure time, and other ministry pursuits. Mom gave up all her own desires in order to pour out her life for her primary ministry: her husband and her children.
She wore the uniform of a young mother—inevitably stained five minutes after she put it on. And her sacrifice was almost entirely in secret, out of the public eye, or anyone’s notice, really—except for Dad’s. Many evenings she gladly supported him as he was out serving the church, while she stayed home to wash the dinner dishes and put us to bed. But she was right where she wanted to be. She was with us.
Never mind that Nicole was probably throwing a temper tantrum, Kristin was most likely whining, and Janelle was certainly into mischief. She was happy just to tell her little girls how Jesus came to die for sinners like us, and how there is forgiveness and hope in His cross. For the gospel was, and is, her source and the reason for her ministry.
The gospel is also the explanation for why all of Mom’s effort and sacrifice were bathed in joy. In fact, many of her sacrifices slipped by our notice, disguised as they were in joy. She was—and is—a happy mom.
And as we three girls headed into the teenage years we never once doubted that Mom would be a constant, faithful friend. For her ministry of joyful sacrifice grew, along with us, into a ministry of friendship.
The hours she invested into creativity when we were small were no match for the hours she devoted to instructing, encouraging, and caring for us as young women. Mom was our greatest ally in our battle against sin and our biggest cheerleader for our growth in godliness. She was the first to bring encouragement and point out change. She faithfully watered and tended the gospel seed that God had planted in our souls.
And Mom loved to be with us. She was always eager to hang out with us. She laughed—really laughed—at our jokes. She cried with us when we went through trials. She attentively listened for hours and hours as we poured out our thoughts and feelings. We were the ministry that she had always wanted, and all these years later we were still the ministry she loved. We could tell.
This faithful mothering won the hearts of her daughters. There was no one that we enjoyed being with more, and no one whose friendship meant more. Mom was the Matron of Honor at all three of our weddings—not out of a sense of duty, but because she was our best friend.
Like Mom, we three girls are now wives and mothers. And our friendship with Mom is stronger than ever. What may have seemed at first like the closing of one season has actually been the opening of another.
For we’ve entered our own years of changing dirty diapers, cleaning up spilled Cheerios, washing endless mounds of laundry, and reading bedtime stories over and over again. And through it all, Mom is not only our friend, and encourager, but her life is our model and our guide.
Today we stand on the shoulders of her biblical convictions. We recall her passionate efforts and so we strive for excellence as wives and mothers. We remember her joyful sacrifice on our behalf, and so we are compelled to lay down our lives for our husbands and children. Mom’s ministry to our family is the ministry she always wanted—and now it’s the ministry we want too. And the fruit of her faithful ministry is our aspiration and our goal.
Mom, today, that fruit is plain for all to see. Your four children are whole-heartedly following the Lord. Each of us loves this family dearly and we all love to be together. Your son Chad, though only thirteen, wants to grow up to be a godly man like his father. Your three sons-in-law can’t stop telling you how grateful they are for your example and influence. And your five grandchildren—Andrew, Liam, Jack, Owen, and Caly—love their Mom-Mom with all their hearts.
God has taken your little ministry to our family and multiplied it far beyond anything you ever imagined. He has used your conviction and passion to spark a similar passion in the hearts of thousands of other women—women who have now chosen to make their husbands, children, and homes the most important ministry of their lives. Your ministry is still one of sacrifice, each and every day. And while it may not be in secret any more, its full extent remains to be seen. But one day, you will see the vast effect of your ministry.
On that day, when we stand before the throne of our heavenly Father, your family—the ministry closest to your heart—will surround you: Dad, us three girls with our husbands, Chad, your grandsons, and granddaughter. And Lord willing, we will be joined by great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, all the fruit of the ministry to which you dedicated your life.
And when we hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” pronounced over your life, we will cheer—loudly, being the exuberant family that we are. None will be louder than Dad, we are sure. We will give glory and honor and praise to God for His lavish grace in sustaining you to be faithful to the calling you received.
However, we won’t be alone. There will be children you have never met whose mothers were inspired by your example. There will be husbands whose wives were affected by your teaching. And they will join us in thanking God for your life and testimony. Because their mothers and their wives, inspired by you, devoted themselves to making their family the ministry dearest to their heart.
But none will be so happy as us. For we were the ministry you always wanted, the ministry for which you sacrificed with great joy and in secret. We were the girls who basked in the glow of your friendship. And so the three of us stand together and say, today, as we will on that great day: “Many women have done excellently, but you, Mom, you surpass them all!”
We love you,
Nicole, Kristin, and Janelle