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Unraveling History: Learning about Courage from an Old Suitcase

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.” – Eleanor Roosevelt



Never say never. Three little words spoken often by my mother during my childhood still ring in my ears to this day. My “never” would usually come in a statement like, “I’d never be able to do that.” Mom was always quick to respond with those three words. I learned pretty quickly, her words often proved true. Wise woman, my mother. Last January, I shared here about themes I felt a connection to, as I stepped into 2011. All three themes have woven their way through my year, but one keeps resurfacing, bobbing up and down like a buoy thrown about in rough waters. Courage. A reminder to persevere when those gale force winds blow my way.

The Suitcase

Christmas came early to my house this year. In a search for an old Christmas ornament in my parents’ attic, I unearthed an old suitcase, one I’d never seen before. Opening it, I found it was filled with all sorts of items from my mother’s life when she first arrived here in the states from the Philippines. It was the only piece of luggage she brought with her. The suitcase was filled with letters from friends and family, copies of letters penned by her own hand and old photos. She even saved the ticket stub and information from her flight, and a slip of paper recording her single piece of luggage. It was her first flight ever and after stepping on that plane, she’d never again set foot in her homeland. The flight took her far away from the home she knew as a child, bringing her to a place foreign to her, to stay.

I’ve always had an appreciation and respect for my mom, venturing out on her own as a single woman in a foreign land trying to make a better life for herself. The suitcase has given me a much deeper appreciation for the woman she was, the sacrifices she made and the hope she had even as she struggled to make it. I’ve mentioned before on my blog that my mom has Alzheimer’s disease. Although she can perfectly communicate her love and affection, she can no longer express the goings on in her mind clearly. Answering questions and sharing stories of her life doesn’t happen anymore. It can’t, not now. It’s strange to read through parts of her life, told in her own words, from so long ago. Quite a bit of what I’ve found in the suitcase, she never shared. I feel a bit intrusive searching out its contents. Maybe they’re stories she never meant to tell. Yet they speak volumes about the woman she was and still is. It’s an amazing gift to read the story of your loved one’s life laid out in paper before you. Unraveling my mom’s history has given me an even deeper respect for her and for the courage she showed, as she followed her dreams.


Psalm 27:14 says “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” According to Strong’s Concordance, this “wait” isn’t a passive sort of waiting, but rather a waiting in expectation. The Hebrew word used here for “wait” is qavah, meaning to wait, look for, hope or expect. During this time of alert and hopeful waiting, we’re told to be of “good courage,” to be resolute, to stand strong. As we do, God strengthens us. Our confidence isn’t in our own strength, but comes from the knowledge that God is faithful to help us, whatever our situation might be. We’re to stand and look for our deliverance in hopeful expectation, confident that God will strengthen us in our trial.

In a few of the letters, my mom shared her dreams, dreams she’d had since she was a child. Seeking after those dreams meant stepping away from the known into the great unknown. Yet she did it. She boarded the plane, confident, hopeful and determined to follow her dream. Facing the trials of the day, I hope to, like my mother, stand in courage, alert and confident that God will strengthen me, as I do.

 Sharing the Practice of Faith

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