The morning my third-born left for school with her two older sisters, I wrote my first journal entry in a castaway notebook. Then I drove to our local library.

I could at last relax alone with a book until I picked up my baby from kindergarten.

Rather than another Little House on the Prairie story, I checked out The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Recommended by a friend, Bunyan’s Christian allegory first published in 1678 led my list of titles to read. Christy, a novel by Catherine Marshall published in 1932, followed. For several sunny mornings, I settled into the lounge chair on our backyard patio. There, I followed the pilgrim named Christian from the City of Destruction, through the Slough of Despond, and ultimately to the everlasting Celestial City.

Christy and I, however, relaxed in the living room’s wingback chair – the first piece of fine furniture my husband and I bought from J.L. Hudson’s Eastland store in 1972.

The main character in Marshall’s book, Christy, is also a young pilgrim who leaves the comfort of her home and family to follow a compelling desire. At age nineteen, Christy teaches the school children of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, a region located on the edge of the Appalachian and Great Smokey Mountains.

I related to Christy’s journey riddled with doubt, fear, faith and mercy. From that time and place in my life, both Christian and Christy and their stories became as tangible to me as those I’d read in my Bible from age nine. In the midst of making three meals a day, seven days a week, I did not comprehend, however, that my pilgrimage as a mother would come to an end and lead to other meaningful and productive paths and purposes.

That I would encounter the Slough of Despond along my way never trespassed my mind.

For Catherine Marshall’s story quickened a bright image that appeared so far into my future I couldn’t discern its shape or whereabouts – until our firstborn fell into addiction, and the empty nest approached in 1993.

“How did you fill your days when your boys left home?” I asked a good friend and mentor.

“Doing what I love to do,” she replied.

“Mentor young mothers?” I asked.

“Yes. What would you love to do?” she replied.

I remembered Christy. “Write.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Help people begin a personal journal. And I’d like to write essays of encouragement for newspapers.”

Margaret smiled knowingly. “We all need encouragement.”

In the midst of leading journal writing workshops throughout the Metro Detroit area in Borders Bookstores, libraries, and community centers, my firstborn daughter died in July 1996. For seven years I crossed the Slough of Despond until one bright summer day a vision of a lavender farm lifted me from the mire of grief and regret.

Dear Reader, this past Thanksgiving weekend, fellow pilgrims of our Underwood and O’Brien clans met to thank God for His faithfulness.

To encourage one another to live our purpose, walk toward the Celestial City.

Contact Iris at