Former missionary honors her mother’s sacrifices

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

On her first Sunday as a young pastor’s wife in Birmingham, Elaine Herrin Onley was invited to play the piano. There was one problem — she didn’t play.

“They were so surprised,” Onley said. “Every pastor’s wife played piano. I didn’t fit the mold.”

What Onley did do well was write, and she has been using that gift for most of her life — a life that includes 14 years of missions service in Grenada and Guyana, and public relations work for the Georgia Baptist Convention and Truett-McConnell University in Cleveland, Georgia.

“I’m so thankful God could use what I could do,” she said.

Still writing at 82, Onley’s story “A Ragged Nightgown” is featured in “My Amazing Mom,” the latest in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The true story focuses on Onley’s mother, a hardworking woman who did all she could for her twin daughters, Elaine and Eleanor, and her son, Alan, despite being given little money from her husband, a man Onley describes as someone who didn’t really understand what it meant to provide for a family.

Double expenses

Having twin daughters doubled all the expenses, Onley said, recalling her senior year when class ring orders were due. Everybody was getting a ring, Onley told her father.

“‘But everyone doesn’t have to buy two,’ he said. And that was that.”

Of all the stories Onley has written, the story of her mother’s sacrifices for her children was the most important she’s written, she said.

“I wanted to honor the memory of my mother. It took me becoming older and looking back to realize how very much she sacrificed for us as children. I wanted to do this for her,” Onley said.

Other books

Onley has been published two other times in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

In “The Cancer Book” she shared the story of the death in 1983 of her first husband, Manget Herrin, who was diagnosed with cancer while they were on furlough and died nine months later. Then in “True Love,” she shared the story of meeting her husband Ed, a widower she served with at the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Onley is the author of three books and co-author of a fourth. Her first book, “When We Say Never,” was underway when Herrin fell ill, and Onley abandoned the manuscript in the wake of his illness and death.

“My faith was so challenged,” she said. “He was only 49 years old, so dynamic, and we had so many plans. … But I came through that crisis of faith.”

She also is the author of numerous missions studies, book reviews, devotions, articles and editorials that have appeared in a variety of publications.

Now retired in Dothan — where she and her husband are members of First Baptist Church, Dothan — Onley is working on a memoir about growing up as a twin and she continues to write poetry and nonfiction stories. Stories are important, she says, especially in the lives of believers, because stories communicate truths.

“If it’s condensed to two or three little things, you just don’t get it.”