Trudy Cathy White Reflects on Her Mother’s Quiet Strength
After finishing her first year of college at Samford University, Trudy Cathy agreed to join the family business for the same reasons most of us would: she loved her family and wanted to help them out. It was also a nice way to start earning a living—like an internship with the potential for full-time work. So, when her father, Truett Cathy, handed her the keys to the business, she took a year off from school to run one of the restaurants we know and love as Chick-Fil-A. She worked hard, supported her family, and hired a fellow Samford University student whom she worked alongside, fell in love with, and eventually married. “When John came in [looking for work],” she recalls, “I knew I needed to hire him,” admitting, “It didn’t hurt that he was good looking.” Like most of us in our young adult years, the idea of “legacy” wasn’t at the forefront of her mind. But that’s exactly what’s been on her heart lately.
“To me, legacy is all about the choices we make day in and day out.” Although a number of different people have positively influenced her, Trudy’s most influential example of a godly legacy was her mom. “A lot of people know about my dad, Truett, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, but nobody really knows my mother’s story. She was relentless in her support of my dad, and she had quite an influence on our family, and particularly, the family business. So, I felt like her story needed to be told,” Trudy explains. Her latest book, A Quiet Strength: The Life and Legacy of Jeannette M. Cathy, tells her mom’s story while challenging us to think about the legacy we’re each creating as well.
Realize Your God-Given “Why”
“A lot of legacy goes back to a root issue. It’s about understanding your ‘why’—like, why does God have you here, on earth, to begin with? When you get clarity on that, you begin to get clarity on your priorities and how you make choices and decisions,” Trudy points out, explaining how her mom’s why influenced everything she did. “My mother never knew her father,” Trudy divulges. “Her earthly father walked away from the family when she was only three months old, and she never saw him again. But when she was about five years old, someone shared with her some verses from the Bible that talked about believing and receiving Jesus Christ and becoming a child of God.” Those verses resonated deeply in Jeannette’s heart and promised to fulfill her desire for a father. “That was the beginning of an incredibly intimate relationship she had with God the Father,” Trudy adds. “She would talk out loud and sing songs to Him. She just lived every moment of every day walking with the Lord.”
The same is true for us. One of the best ways to build a lasting, worthwhile legacy is knowing, remembering, and acknowledging daily who we are in Christ. “My mother had this habit of standing at the back door when we were leaving out to go to school or on a date or wherever and telling us, ‘Remember who you are and whose you are,’” Trudy recalls. “That’s so important for us to remember as we go through life. We are created by the hand of God, and we actually belong to Him,” she emphasizes. “Knowing and remembering that guides and determines our life choices.” Those choices, along with our values, help establish a meaningful legacy.
Determine Your Values
“John and I have five core values,” Trudy reveals, listing them out. “Our faith is first and core to who we are. It drives and determines the decisions we make. Our family is very important to us. So, if you were to look at our calendar, you’d see that the first thing I do is block out time for the family throughout the year because I value that. The third value is integrity. We are people of integrity when we make choices about what we’re doing and going to do. And the last two values are generosity and gratitude. We live with a sense of gratitude for what we have, but at the same time, we’re very generous with what we have. Knowing your values helps you to determine what your goals will and won’t be. They also help us live a life of consistency,” she expounds, admitting that’s what she loved most about her mom and dad. “Every time my dad encountered challenges, my mom always directed him back to the truth of God’s word. My dad was a follower of Christ as well, but my mom was just so impactful.”
“They weren’t perfect people, so I don’t want anybody to get that impression; however, they were very consistent in how they lived their life. I didn’t know how to appreciate that when I was growing up, but as an adult, I realize that kind of consistency speaks volumes to other people who are watching,” Trudy says, continuing: “So, if young people are wondering, ‘How can I be a good leader?’ or ‘How can I encourage people to follow me?’ be consistent with how you’re living your life. Be intentional about living out the values you’ve identified as most important to you.” By doing so, we’ll be prepared to handle adversity and missed expectations with grace and faith.
Handle Adversity and Missed Expectations Well
“One thing I think we all tend to struggle with is managing expectations,” Trudy states. “My mother was in her seventies on her way to a doctor’s appointment when she had this conversation with me about managing expectations. She said, ‘I had all kinds of expectations for your dad and secretly thought as he got older that he would retire and we would have more time together. I’ve realized that he probably won’t ever retire from work because he loves it so much.’ And then she said, ‘I’ve decided to not have any more expectations for him.’ Then she asked me, ‘Do you have any expectations for John?’” Too often we find ourselves stepping away from our values and living inconsistently when we’re faced with missed expectations or adversity. But knowing when to push forward and when to let go is a key component of building a legacy that makes God smile.
“There’s this sense of determination young people need to have so they don’t ever give up. Adversity and challenges are going to come in life, and through them, you can grow stronger. Don’t be so quick to throw in the towel,” Trudy advises. “On the flip side, as we get older, we might have determination and perseverance to push through, but you also need to have discernment. At this stage, it’s important to know when and where you have to and need to quit and stop things, even though you never want to give up. You have to know when to slow down, take some time to think, and when necessary, to quit.”
“I witnessed this in my mom’s life. She was an extremely determined lady. But as I watched both my parents get older, I realized they became wiser in determining what were priorities in their life. They realized that sometimes they had to set aside some things to keep their priorities in order. Often times, they set aside things they really enjoyed and were passionate about. But they realized that life wasn’t about them anymore but that it was more about how they could have an impact on or influence others.” But one of Trudy’s most valuable lessons from her mom was that legacy doesn’t have to be forceful or brash.
Realize that Legacy Doesn’t Have to Be Loud
“We live in a very noisy world, and the Bible challenges us by saying our quietness and our trust will be our strength,” Trudy insists, referring to Isaiah 30:15. “Actually, when I finished the manuscript of this book, I struggled with the title. I just didn’t know what I should name the book. Finally, I realized after thinking about that verse in Isaiah, that Quiet Strength just fit. That’s definitely who my mom was.” More often than not, we think of legacy as grand accomplishments from assertive people who are quite the opposite of quiet. But Isaiah 30:15 reminds us that many times we’ll find strength while quietly trusting our Lord and Savior. That consistent, quiet trust informs our day-to-day choices, which, in turn, determine the kind of legacy we’ll leave behind. Just like Jeannette M. Cathy did, let’s build legacies that’ll make God smile.
To learn more about Trudy Cathy White and Quiet Strength: The Life and Legacy of Jeannette M. Cathy, visit trudycathywhite.com.