Journeys that Define Us

There’s a steamer trunk in my living room. Dating from the early part of the 20th century, it’s black with brass trim and obviously well-traveled beyond its current stationary function as my coffee table. On its top is painted “M. Johnston, Oskaloosa Univ. Park, Iowa.”

M is for Maylou, my great aunt. She and her sister, Audrey (my maternal grandmother and whose mantle I carry as my middle name), were pioneers of a sort. It was the Roaring Twenties and the Cafe Society in Paris was booming. Two young, single sisters from a small town in Iowa, well educated but not wealthy, set off for a grand adventure in Europe. It was almost scandalous in that era, but they were accompanied only by each other and their steamer trunks. What kind of courage, grit, fortitude must they have had to take this audacious journey?

M is also for Maylou, my mother, my hero, and my best friend. She is generous, accomplished, and absolutely devoted to her family. At age 54, her husband, my dad, made a bold request. Would she, could she, uproot her comfortable life near her kids and move halfway around the world so he could devote the remainder of his career to his heartbeat: missions? With little hesitation she packed up her belongings and leaned into her brand new life. What kind of courage, grit, fortitude must she have had to say yes when it would have been easier to say no?

M is also for Manisha, my friend in India. Born poor and married young, she soon had three children and a husband addicted to alcohol. Although she has limited education, she has determination. Dignity. She rises from her cot each day, sweeps the dust surrounding her hut, fixes dal and rice for her family, walks her children to school, prays her husband isn’t angry tonight. In between, she stitches saris with skills she learned at a Good Shepherd tailoring center, to earn a few rupees. Tomorrow, she will get up and do it again. What kind of courage, grit, fortitude, must she have to maintain her dignity in such undignified circumstances?

In May, when we honor our mothers, that steamer trunk in my living room is much more than my coffee table. It’s a sentinel. A tribute. A reminder of strong, generous, faithful women through the generations. Women like Audrey and Maylou Johnston. Women like my mother. And women like Manisha. May their example and may their spirit inspire all of us to press on, wherever the journey takes us.


Stories are real, all names and photos have been changed for protection, and are representative.