The first time I heard it was at college. I am sure we were supposed to be studying, but Rachel, my good friend, and I were casually talking, surrounded by dozens of books, papers, assignments, pieces of sheet music, leftover coffee cup sleeves, one laptop, and a keyboard.
“We were having a family discussion one night around the dinner table,” she was saying, “and someone brought up the question, ‘Who is the happiest person you know?’ The vote was unanimous. Everyone decided it was Cathy Steele.”
The thought surprised me. Not because my mom isn’t a happy person; she is. The thought surprised me because my mom never strived to be the ‘happiest person’, nor would she put on a plastic smile “just because.” She truly carries the joy of the Lord with her at all times, but when we were young, and because it was always lived out before us as a normal way of life, we never saw it as out of the ordinary. After all, wasn’t this the way it was supposed to be? Mom cheered for us. Mom looked at a difficult situation and saw the good in it. Mom laughed. Mom praised our efforts. Mom smiled. Mom was our friend. In our small minds, through all those growing-up years, the idea was quietly, firmly established in our thinking and reinforced countless times that joy was a way of life because of what Jesus Christ had done for us, and that relationships would blossom and flourish when plentifully watered with it.
When people would ask my mom, “Why are you so happy all the time?” she would often reply, “I am just so grateful to be saved! Think of what Christ has done for us!”
My mom didn’t have anything like Created to Be His Help Meet when she got married. It wasn’t printed until decades later. She, from a radically different background, stepped into her role of being a wife and mother by revering and following the Word of God. Through the years, she formulated habits that served as crucial fibers for the fabric of our family. These are just a few of them.
She spoke of Dad respectfully, and joyfully served him.
She made a habit of telling us things like, “Daddy just got a raise!” or “Ask Daddy, he knows how” or “No, Daddy told you not to, and Mommy always supports what Daddy says.” She spoke well of him to us and to our friends. She chose to cook meals that she knew he liked. She let him have “down time” when he came home from work, not badgering him with honey-do lists or complaints about how hard her day was. She smiled for him.
When she had to sacrifice herself, her preferences, or her time, she chose joyful selflessness.
In our family of eight, there were often things that conflicted with scheduled plans. She was always the first one to offer to stay home with one of us sick kids, drive someone to a football game instead of going to that special dinner with her friends, or take one of us shopping who desperately wanted to go, even when shopping was not her favorite thing to do. One year in particular, she saved all her money from a home business and surprised Dad and the rest of us by spending it on a family vacation to Florida. We were too young to think anything like, “There are so many things she could have bought for herself with that money, but she chose us.” All we knew was that we were excited and happy, because Mom was.
When circumstances were stressful, or money was tight, she responded with joyful creativity and thankfulness for what we did have.
I never heard her compare what she had to what someone else had. I never heard her sigh, “If only...” She is an incredibly hard worker, and loves to exercise her gift of resourcefulness. I remember her coming into the house all excited one day because, “The people down the road are building their house, and said we could have their leftover bricks! We can make a sidewalk with those!” You would have thought they were bricks of gold. She was so happy and so thankful about everything; it really got to be contagious, even if none of us had any previous knowledge about laying brick sidewalks. She always praised Dad for being such a good provider for us, and respected the work he did.
When she was hurt, she chose joyful forgiveness.
I remember, as a little girl, perceiving when ‘Mommy’ was down or hurt over something. But it never lasted for long! Before you knew it, she was talking as cheerfully as ever, or suggesting something fun to do. We never had to wonder, “What kind of a day is Mommy going to have?” It wasn’t even a question in our minds. We felt peaceful and stable, because Mom was.
She did not spend her time entertaining herself, but joyfully invested in our lives.
If you want to know where you will find my Mom, it will be with Dad or one of us. She has constantly poured out her time, energy, love, skills, knowledge, patience, and prayers on our behalf, even when circumstances were extreme. On one occasion, the college house I was living in had a cat take up residence underneath the house and infest the place with fleas. We did what we could, but they kept coming back. We were all exhausted with our recitals, tests, and deadlines coming up, and were at a loss for what to do. Mom found out about it, told us she was coming, and drove over two hours to get there. She treated the carpets and bedspreads, washed all of our laundry, swept and vacuumed everywhere, opened windows to air out the place, put everything back in order, took us to lunch, and drove back home, all in the same day. The fleas didn’t stand a chance!
She freely blessed us to expand our horizons and joyfully let us go, even when it meant more work for her.
Through the years, several opportunities came up for me to travel and encourage other girls. The trips lasted anywhere from one week to two months. I am her oldest daughter and felt the responsibility to help around the house. But when the time came for another ministry opportunity, I never once received a guilt-trip discussion about all the work she would have to cover while I was gone, not to mention the continuation of homeschooling for the younger kids. She blessed me and encouraged me to go. She blessed my older brother, Joshua, leaving at the age of only sixteen to go on a mission trip to Hong Kong for two months. Other mothers questioned her “looseness” with the apron strings. But it was unspoken knowledge among all of us siblings that her blessing on our service to the Lord, regardless of where that happened to be, only made us want to serve and bless her more. We knew she was not selfishly possessive of us, and we loved her for it.
She gave us a legacy of joy that is now spilling over into our own marriages. Recently, my sister and I entered the biggest adventure of our lives. We became help meets. We now step in stride with our husbands, laughing, playing, working, learning, observing, growing, and rejoicing with them. God has blessed us tremendously through Mom’s example. We are joyfully fulfilled in our marriages, just like our mom, knowing that it is a privilege to respect and serve our husbands. Now that I am married, I fully realize what a heavenly gift she gave us.
She sent us out with joy.
“For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace...” (Isa. 55:12)
“Her children arise up and call her blessed...” (Prov. 31:30)
I love you, Mom. Happy Mothers’ Day.