Sneak Peek Interview: Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre

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I always like to know a little something about an author before I sit down and open up his or her book. Today I’m interviewing Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre about their new book, True Feelings: God’s Gracious and Glorious Purpose for Our Emotions. (Tony Reinke just listed this as one of his top books for 2017.) For anyone who has emotions (and don’t we all?), it’s a needed topic. What are my emotions telling me? Are they right or wrong? Can I control them? Thankfully, Carolyn and Nicole address these questions and more in this relatable and helpful book.

Can you each tell us a little bit about yourself?

Carolyn: I have been the happy wife to CJ for 42 years. We have three married daughters, a son, and 12 grandchildren, all of whom live in the greater Louisville area where CJ is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church. I love spending time with my husband on our patio, making special memories with my grandchildren, talking to my daughters by the hour, baking for my husband’s interns, and taking my two youngest school-age grandchildren for nature walks after school. My favorite time of the week is Sunday evening, when my entire family gathers for dessert, laughter, and the occasional game of kickball.

Nicole: My husband and our four children live in a little farmhouse on the outskirts of Louisville where we spend a lot of time laughing, reading, and trying to tame our unruly yard. My days are delightfully ordinary, filled with taking kids to soccer practice or music lessons, redecorating our farmhouse, and cooking too many things at once. Amid all the hustle, I most savor quiet moments with my husband and children, a good book, a blazing fire, and a colorful Kentucky sunrise.

When did you first start writing?  What do you enjoy about it?

Carolyn: It happened unexpectedly. Years ago I did a teaching series on Titus 2 for the women in our church. Someone gave a cassette tape (telling my age!) of the final message—which was on the topic of submission—to his wife as a joke. She ended up liking it, and passed it around to her friends, and also to her pastor and his wife. This pastor approached Crossway and suggested the entire series be put into a book. My middle daughter lived in Chicago at the time, and when I came to visit her, the folks at Crossway met with me, and asked me to write my first book, Feminine Appeal.

I enjoy the research and study that goes into writing a book, and also, the stimulating conversations with my daughter. We each bring what we’ve been reading and thinking about and then we talk and talk and put off the actual writing as long as possible. I also enjoy, after weeks of hard work, experiencing the joy of seeing a chapter start to come together, with the Lord’s help.

Nicole: When I was about 7 years old, I submitted an article to a magazine that my father helped publish and received a gracious rejection letter from the editor. My desire to become a writer was only realized years later when my mom was asked to write Feminine Appeal. I began tinkering with the chapters and worked my way into a job. A few years after that we started our blog, girltalkhome.com, with my two sisters, and since then we have written four more books together.

For most people, writing is a solitary pursuit, but I love that I get to do it with one of my closest friends. We’re very different, so we sharpen each other as we talk and write. I love working with words. I enjoy the daily challenge and thrill of creating, of trying to put “the best words in the best order.” And I love the discoveries you make along the way as ideas take shape on the page.

Is writing ever difficult for you? How so?

Carolyn: The hardest writing days are the ones you start out thinking you have a clear direction and then it all falls apart, and by the end of the day you find yourself more confused than ever. Bad writing days can feel like such a waste of time, but I’ve learned that they are a necessary part of the process of writing. You just don’t see the fruit until many days later.

Nicole: If writing ever feels easy, I know I’m probably not going to like it the next morning. My sister has a good day/bad day theory that isn’t scientific but often proves true. One day I’ll spend hours and have almost nothing to show for it, but the next morning I wake up and out comes a new section in a matter of minutes. We sow ideas that are reaped in words and paragraphs days or even weeks later. And sometimes the only way to find out exactly what we want to say is to explore all the ways we don’t want to say it.

What led you to write True Feelings?

Carolyn: We all have questions and struggles with our emotions, so when I was asked to do a message on this topic, it increased my desire to study it more. As I prayed for an opening illustration, I was reminded of the rip currents at the beach that I went to as a girl. This ended up becoming the metaphor we used in the opening chapter of our book. I think all of us, at one time or another, feel as if our emotions are like rip currentsthey come out of nowhere and drag us out to a sea of turmoil and angst. But this is not God’s intention for our emotions, and so we wrote this book to point women to Scripture, the only source for hope and help for our emotional rip currents.

Nicole: I’ve always had trouble understanding my feelings, and spent years trying to read up on the topic, but never found the book that helped explain my emotions biblically or answered my countless questions. When my mom showed me her message manuscript, I immediately, and perhaps a bit selfishly, suggested we turn it into a book. I was eager for the chance to study and learn more about what God’s Word says related to emotions. As we researched this topic, it was a blessing for me to discover helpful books and articles and finally begin to understand emotions from a biblical perspective.

What’s the central message you hope readers will take away from your book?

Carolyn: That emotions are a gift from God and that they perform a vital function in our lives. Also, that by the grace of God we can change our emotions so they align with the truth of God’s Word.

Nicole: That emotions may be (beautifully) complicated but they don’t need to be confusing. God has given us clarity and grace so that we can obey him with our emotions.

How has writing this book affected your own life?

Carolyn:  I was always a classic “don’t pay attention to your feelings” kind of person, but writing this book has opened up a whole new way of thinking about my feelings. Now I know that it matters to God how I feel, and I want to feel what I’m supposed to feel. Every day I think about how my emotions should be functioning in my life and how I can use them for the honor of my Savior. My prayers are that God would help me to grow in my affections for God, and that I would feel what he wants me to feel.

Nicole: And I have always been your typical “emotional” person. As we share in the book, whatever I feel, I feel it strongly. But I’m no longer confused by my emotions or think I am powerless to control my emotions. I understand why I feel the way I feel and I can repent from sinful feelings with clarity and conviction. In an unexpected way, studying my emotions has also helped me focus more on how I use my mind and will—all of my faculties—to bring glory to God.

Here are some quotes from their new book:

“When we clear away the clutter of misconceptions and take another look at what Scripture teaches, we will unearth some wonderful truths about our feelings. We can change the way we feel! Scripture shows us that emotions are not unreliable, but are one of the most reliable things about us. Emotions are not a hindrance to wise decision making, but are central to the Christian life. Feelings are not bad. Instead, they play a good and useful role with the other faculties. God’s Word doesn’t pit feelings and truth against each other but calls us to feel more deeply about the things that are true. In other words, Scripture leads us to have true feelings.”

“A cacophony of emotions tells us one thing above all: we must move to God. There is no feeling or jumble of feelings that we cannot bring to him. In fact, confusing emotions can be marvelous motivators, driving us to the only one who clears up our confusion. When we move to God in our perplexity and acknowledge that we need his help to understand our emotions, he will graciously help us to hear one or two truths above all the noise. We may not be able to trace the source of every emotion, but we can know what God wants us to do with every emotion: bring them to him.”

Here’s what others are saying about their book:

“This gifted mother-and-daughter team do it again! With striking clarity, insightful illustrations, and the wisdom that comes from walking with God, Carolyn and Nicole put to rest the ever-ready excuse, ‘I just can’t help how I feel.’ They teach us from Scripture why God gave us emotions and how to interpret what those emotions reveal about our actual beliefs and values. For anyone who has ever felt confused, guilty, or exhausted by runaway emotions, True Feelings is a must read.” — Jani Ortlund

“The best books are well-written, biblically sound, have universal appeal, and offer both penetrating insight and practical help. The mother/daughter writing team of Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre has given us such a book. Women are their primary audience, but nearly all the book is applicable to men. They’ll surprise you by showing how often the Bible speaks to the subject of emotions and thereby help you see fresh insights into familiar texts. Carolyn and Nicole are honest about the reality of negative feelings and avoid the simplistic, shallow, ‘turn lemons into lemonade’ answers. Emotions are a God-created part of each of us. They tell us what we value and move us to action. But like every other part of us they are affected by sin, yet can be sanctified for our joy and God’s glory. As every Christian can identify with this struggle, so every Christian can benefit from this book.” — Donald S. and Caffy Whitney

“Through their careful research and engaging style, Carolyn and Nicole will leave you glad that God has given us emotions, less afraid of the more painful ones, more able to listen to what emotions are saying, and expectant that they can be refined and sanctified.” — Ed Welch

If you had an afternoon to do whatever you’d like, where would we find you?

Carolyn: On a date with my husband or hanging out with my children and grandchildren.

Nicole: Taking a walk with my husband and children, antiquing with my mom and sisters, or curled up in my reading chair with a cup of PG tips.


Carolyn Mahaney is the happy wife of CJ (pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville), mother to three daughters and one son, and grandmother to twelve grandchildren. She is a homemaker and the author of Feminine Appeal, the coauthor of Girl Talk; Shopping for Time; and True Beauty, and writes for girltalkhome.com with her three daughters.
 
Nicole Whitacre loves being a wife to Steve, mother to her two boys and two girls, and homemaker. Nicole writes with her mom and sisters at girltalkhome.com, and is the coauthor, along with her mom, of Girl Talk; Shopping for Time; and True Beauty.

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