My Friend and Mentor Mary Louise McDonald
Mary Louise McDonald is now enjoying sitting at the feet of our Savior hearing the best Bible Study ever, having conversations with family and friends and greeting every stranger who passes by, organizing praise and worship by all in her sphere of the heavenly court, and even getting ready for those of us she is expecting to join her soon! I am fortunate enough to be in that group!
Every time I was in Austin and could go by the McDonald home, Mary Louise prepared for my visit. First, she cleared her schedule so that I always felt that she had nothing more to do than talk with me—about our families, mutual friends, the institution in which we both had an interest, Austin Baptist Church, and a myriad of other topics. Second, she always offered me refreshments (and that was despite her being confined to the wheelchair and usually in the midst of discomfort at the least but more often real pain). Third, we did not fail to share prayer requests—not in perfunctory way but with details and passion—and never did we part without prayer. Fourth, she always sent me away with something tangible to remind me of our visit—an insightful and inspiring book, a F. R. O. G. bracelet, a Scripture card, or some culinary delicacy! Her hospitality was genuine and thorough, gracious and encouraging, refreshing and invigorating!
Mary Louise and I met through a mutual friend, whom both of us had known for decades before our own paths crossed. What followed was for me a God-anointed friendship. We had in-person visits no more than half-a-dozen times in a year, but our hearts were knit in such a way that it always seemed only yesterday when we last talked. Mary Louise was truly a “kindred spirit.” We shared a burden for ministries to women—winning them to Christ, discipling them, woman-to-woman teaching of Bible, offering biblical solutions to earthly problems of women who were hurting and searching for answers.
In our correspondence over the years, Mary Louise was never intimidated by my own theological training; rather she delighted in sharing the insights God had given to her, which were always edifying to me. She loved to teach the Bible and gave lengthy segments of time to her preparation. She had trained in Bible Study Fellowship and used the tools and preparation she had in that program first in her disciplined study and then in her own teaching. It was not unusual for her to devote 6-8 hours a day in studying the Scripture before she taught the passage. She also realized the importance of interacting with her students on a personal level. She did mentoring and nurturing teaching, the Titus 2 method described by Paul. The number of women she won to Christ and discipled in the faith over her decades of investing in teaching the Bible to women would be impossible to determine!
In addition to teaching the Bible to women, Mary Louise was faithful in devoting hours to the counseling room at her church and in her home as well as over the telephone and through her pen. She knew that every human problem had a God solution. She was not tied to pop psychology; rather she had so saturated herself in the Word of God that she could speak to hurting women words from God Himself to heal their hurting hearts and mend their broken spirits. Her “Exchange Life” counseling was a powerful tool in changing lives.
As with every aspect of her life and ministry, Mary Louise extended her personal touch to amazing notes and cards—sometimes hand-made valentines, which she designed and crafted even from that wheelchair to which she was bound. You feasted with your eyes on the beauty of her penmanship. The symmetry, the aesthetics of color and design, and each communication with a heart-felt message especially for you. Her notes always contained a bonus beyond the flowing update and information on what she was doing and the response to the note or gift she had received from you. She never failed to encourage, such as her message to my husband in 2015 when she commended him for “signing the letter standing tall against culture and for Scripture.”
The bonus was a carefully chosen verse of Scripture—again with calligraphy, matting, appropriate size and shape, you could not discard one. I have a voluminous file of almost every note I ever received and certainly every Scripture card, many of which are scattered throughout my home, from my precious friend. I still treasure these notes because of their personal nature. The one immediately before me now is from 2016 and alludes to a note in The Devotional for Women penned by Dr. Candi Finch from which Mary Louise penned an insightful quote. Or one from 2015 in which she alludes to “Christ-sufficiency” from Dr. David Allen’s sermon CD on 2 Cor 12:7-10 I had given her. She amazed me with the breadth of her interest, such as her 2012 note to me about Anabaptists after she had read and absorbed every article in Southwestern News on this subject!
Together with her husband Wayne, Mary Louise was also an investor of resources in the kingdom. One could not with any accuracy determine how many students they have helped over the years—scholarships, emergency needs, encouraging words—and that has continued until today and includes students in a number of institutions. They believed that institutions needed to find ways to help themselves—preparing for the future—and they gave generously to Institutional Advancement programs to put workers in the field to share the story of what was happening and to give many a chance to join them in investing.
The McDonald kingdom investment nearest to my own heart came in what they did to make possible the Mary Louise McDonald Library in the Horner Homemaking House. Although the seminary had a large and diverse library collection, adding to this facility a smaller and more specialized library especially for women, was a dream that they decided to pursue with me. The Library was beautifully appointed—worthy of the godly woman honored therein. It was one of the first Smart Classrooms on the campus. The McDonalds did two major upgrades to make the teaching taking place in this house some of the most effective taking place on campus. A portable system allowed the teaching to take place throughout the house, including very practical, hands-on instruction, which could be transmitted on-line with the very best and most effective technology.
Whether from her wheelchair or bed of affliction, Mary Louise McDonald has prayed for me and for many of you who might read this tribute to her. I have had no more faithful friend and mentor. Her legacy is seen tangibly in the Mary Louise McDonald Library as part of the Horner House on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. But beyond brick and mortar, you see her influence stamped on the lives of scores of women and men across this land and even around the world. You see her primary legacy in the lives of her husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and extended family into which she poured her foremost energies and creativity and unconditional love.
As a theologian of the home and family and woman-to-woman teacher, I shall delight as long as I have breath to use Mary Louise as a foremost example of all I try to teach on biblical womanhood and on the virtues of Christian character. She remained steadfast and unshakable in her faith and devotion to our Lord until He called her home. As a “woman who feared the Lord,” indeed Mary Louise McDonald will be praised by her husband, children, and all of us who watched her life and felt her touch of influence!