By Tara Dowden
Catherine McMahan, classically trained Christian vocalist and Tupelo native lives by her statement, “When words aren’t enough, add music.” From a young age she loved music and performing. Her career began in her childhood home in Tupelo, Mississippi, where many days consisted of performing musicals such as, Down by the Creek Bank. Catherine often placed her cassettes in her Fisher Price tape player, hooked up the microphone and sang away on her playroom stage. Her younger siblings, Carrie and Graham, played the role of the adoring audience as she sang.
At a young age, the ministry of Christian artists such as Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, and Crystal Gayle moved Catherine. Inheriting her parents talent and love for music, she began to take piano and voice lessons. As her love for music grew so did her love for Christ. He began using music and His Word to draw her to Him. After reading Isaiah 43:21 where the Lord says, “The people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise,” Catherine realized her purpose—“to bring Christ glory.”
She believes, “Everything I do should bring Christ glory. This guides me daily and anything else is a waste of time and energy.” As a college student, she made a commitment before her hometown church, Harrisburg Baptist, to surrender to full-time Christian service. Though she was not clear on the exact service, she trusted in the Lord’s guidance. His “light unto her feet” would be sufficient.
Catherine continued in her classical training in college and minored in Music. In 2000, she married Jeremy McMahan, and they began ministry on a church staff in Dallas, Texas. God soon blessed them with their first child, Caleb, in 2004, and later their daughter, Ella Catherine, in 2008.
Jeremy had a burden to connect with the community “outside of the church through acts of service.” So the McMahan family moved back to Tupelo and began “Good Works Tupelo.” This is a non-profit ministry to single moms, widows, and anyone in need. “We serve people through Good Works in hopes of building a bridge on which to share the gospel with them.”
People often ask Jeremy and Catherine if they will go back into the ministry. According to Catherine, “We never abandoned the ministry, we just go about it in a different way now. We look to Jesus and see that He taught in the Temple, but also at a well in Samaria, on a hillside where He explained the Sermon on the Mount, he cooked breakfast for friends, calmed a storm on the sea, and went to Lazarusʼ home.” For the past six years and through “Good Works Tupelo,” Jeremy and Catherine have faithfully served the Tupelo community together.
In January 2013, Catherine had the opportunity to record her first CD, Let My Heart Sing. Afterward, she began traveling and sharing through music. In November of that year, she was asked to speak to a group of women on the topic of balancing the holidays. With those ladies, she shared a very personal conversation she had with the Lord that very morning. Catherine prayed, “Lord, I cannot go through these holidays the same way I have in the previous years. Make this year different. Help me to be solely focused on what truly matters.” In the next month, God answered her prayer and showed Himself sufficient in all circumstances.
County Road 41 is a beautiful winding road off of Highway 6. Many Tupelo natives know this as the road that used to lead to Maloneʼs Fish and Steakhouse. In July 2013, Jeremy McMahan was thrilled to win a bid on a beautiful piece of property on CR 41. The property was perfect for bonfires and four wheelers. The McMahan family began the tedious renovation work. They painted, changed out all the flooring, and installed new appliances. In July, they moved into what seemed to be a totally “new” home. By the end of November, they had settled into their house, unpacked the last box, and decided to host a large Hancock family gathering for Catherine’s side of the family. All their Christmas decorations were in place and the McMahan’s were feeling festive.
The next day, December 1, 2013, their family headed to church and lunch. After lunch, while Catherine and the children went to choir practice to prepare for Harrisburg’s Christmas cantata, Jeremy returned home to finish some outside work. After musical practice, Ella went home with her grandmother. Catherine, her son, Caleb, and his friend, Ty Russell, headed home. While on their way, around 4:40 p.m., Catherine received a phone call that her house was on fire and that Jeremy was very sick from smoke inhalation.
As Catherine and the children turned the corner onto CR 41, they immediately saw eight to ten fire trucks, along with smoke and flames billowing from their home. Catherine pulled into her neighbors’ driveway to drop the two boys off, and Caleb’s friend grew concerned over Caleb’s Legos and other toys possibly melting in the fire. Catherine recalls telling Caleb, “This is what faith is made of and this is how it is made stronger. If we have only our family and Jesus, we will be okay.”
As Catherine crossed the street, she arrived on a horrific scene. Eight fire trucks, numerous firefighters, fifty or more concerned neighbors and bystanders, and her house burning into ashes before her eyes. “I watched the flames pouring off the roof and at the same time all the doors were melting.” An ambulance was on its way to treat Jeremy for smoke inhalation and lack of oxygen. Attempting to save valuables, he had made multiple trips inside the burning house. He made sure to show Catherine that he had saved the portraits of the children. Catherine recalls thinking, “Blessed is the man who knows how much portraits of the kids mean to his wife!”
Although it seems strange, as Catherine watched her house burn she had never “felt more free and loved by God.” She felt free from possessions and free to love Him above all. “He had chosen to bless us in such a way that He took away everything that was keeping us from him.”
Forty-eight hours later, Jeremy was released from the hospital and they drove home to see what was left. Catherine remembers Colossians 1:17, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” being a comfort for her. As they walked around the outside of the house, they stopped at their bedroom window. The McMahan’s saw everything in their bedroom was destroyed except for their wedding photo, which was surrounded by crosses. The only items left in the study were a file cabinet full of Jeremy’s sermons, and Catherine’s music. “We felt reminded of His protection over His clear plan for us to preach His Word and sing His praise.”
As days and weeks passed many family members, church members, and friends pitched in to help Jeremy, Catherine, Caleb, and Ella Catherine with clothing and food. The family, who had ministered to so many others, now had the experience of being in need and receiving ministry. In the midst of it all, Catherine learned another valuable lesson—it is possible to “rebuild your life from Walmart”.
Jeremy and Catherine are currently serving at Richmond Baptist Church, where Jeremy is the interim pastor. He still serves the local community through “Good Works Tupelo” and runs his website for custom design woodwork, driftingantler.com. Catherine is continuing to homeschool Caleb and Ella Catherine and tour with her music. She has had the opportunity to open for Jason Crabb and Adam Crabb. She is now a part of A&G Entertainments Artist Development Program.
From the pain and blessings of losing her home and all her possessions Catherine has recorded her second album, Sacred Refuge. Catherine uses her love of music to exalt her love of Christ. “How Great Thou Art” is still her favorite song to sing, with her favorite line being, “Then I shall bow in humble adoration, and then proclaim, ʻMy God, how great Thou art!”
In Christ’s strength, Catherine’s prayer is that her music would be used to bring only God glory not herself. “If God were to use my life as an example for others, I want my story to read like Habakkuk 3:17-19, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
Through their experiences, Jeremy and Catherine have grown closer in their marriage, they have watched their children experience joy in Christ more than possessions, they have had restored faith in the kindness and generosity of the church, and they have experienced being in need and in total dependence on Christ. Catherine remarks, “He has burned away everything that was trivial and has left what mattered, my faith and my family.”
“The Lord gave and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Catherine’s CDs can be purchased by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, 662.871.5244 or from local stores in Tupelo, such as Joyful Creations Gift Market, Yellow Lovebirds, Room to Room, Jody’s Flowers and Fine Gifts, Corner Shoe Store, and Silly Simpsons.
Tara Dowden is a proud graduate of Mississippi State University. She has worked in interior design and elementary education. She is currently an Account Executive for Mississippi Christian Living magazine, a classical ballet instructor, and a volunteer children’s minister. She and her husband, Landon, live in Tupelo where he pastors The Church at Trace Crossing. They enjoy attending soccer games and ballet recitals with their four children: Arabella, Adalaide, Adoniram, and Alastair.