Fifteen years. It really has been that long since I have seen your beautiful face, mom. How can fifteen years fly by so quickly yet seem like yesterday when I held your hand and watched you take your last breath as my sisters and I gave you permission to leave us for Jesus? I felt so relieved you were finally free of all the pain and destruction MS had given you but at the same time devastated at losing the security and love you provided. When I span the days and years that have brought me to today, the memory of your love is a cherished piece of my heart. One of my first memories is sitting behind our neighbor’s basement bar as the tornado sirens whistled and we took cover together because the dads were both out of town. I remember hiding in the cabinet like my big sister but being scared of the dark. When I rushed out of the darkness, your arms and pregnant belly were there to tuck me in close to your heart. That same protection and acceptance carried me for years because I always knew no matter where life took me, you would be there with open arms to love me through the next celebration and devastation. I miss your laugh, mom. I miss that contagious, uncontrollable laughter when tears would fall and the laughter kept going and going. Sometimes I would roll my eyes thinking you were so silly and ridiculous, and other times I would be right there with you giggling as tears rolled down my cheeks too. No matter the situation, you knew how to laugh and taught me not to take life too seriously because everyone needs to celebrate laughter and look on the positive side of life. And oh did you stay positive up to the very end. An eternal optimist, you were always looking at the good in others, always pointing to the positive. It is a quality I have always admired about you and strive to emulate. All those times when my sisters and I would sit at the kitchen table playing Nerts with you are memories so very near and dear to my heart. The competition was fierce and sometimes you would say “damn it” and I would laugh because my own mom, nearly perfect in my eyes, could cuss. As much as I hated your bland style of cooking (which Carrie, Amy and I still talk about), I loved the time in the kitchen with you. You let me experiment and help, never making me feel I was in the way. Instead, you let me cook right alongside you teaching me the foundations I needed. Most of the time I would sit on the kitchen counter as you worked and I would tell you every single detail of my life. I do not remember wanting advice or feeling judged by you for whatever I would share. Instead, you led me back to Christ, you accepted my emotions and opinions. You gave me your unconditional, complete attention. Sometimes you told me things I did not want to hear, and I would get frustrated knowing you were right…although I hardly ever admitted it. And what you taught me in those precious moments was I mattered. And now that I am a mom, because of your listening ear and gentle heart, I have learned to embrace those moments when my own kids open up and tell me the details of their day and share the essence of their souls. They are precious moments, with you and with them, brought together through the span of time, weaved with the knowledge that a mom has the ability to bring such peace and comfort to a child’s heart. My childhood was safe because of you. It was comfort and warm cookies and chocolate milkshakes for breakfast (with a raw egg blended in for protein of course). It was disgusting carob chips my sisters and I hated and farm fresh eggs when you joined the co-op fad. My childhood was watching you look in my closet and under my bed to make sure there were not any monsters or men who were going to grab my feet while I slept. It was shopping trips and walks with the dog. It was arguing and telling you I hated you knowing it would crush your heart yet secretly feeling bad for saying it. It was learning to ask for forgiveness and trusting you would always embrace me with love and grace when I was so mean and rude to you. I learned and embraced mercy because of your example in my teen years when I was hurt and rebellious and absent. I miss you mom. I miss the age spots on the back of your hands. I miss stealing your warm socks and sitting on your bed while you got ready for the day. I miss sharing giggles and enjoying Hostess Cupcakes and trips to KFC together. I miss calling you up at any time of the day knowing you would never tell me you did not have time for me but would patiently drop what you were doing to talk or more honestly, to listen. I miss the old days in Omaha watching you play the hand bells and sing in the choir. I miss learning how to quilt and teasing you for the piles and piles of material you collected over the years. I miss walking in the door and knowing where to find you. I miss swimming in our back yard as you and your best friend sat on the deck talking and laughing. I have so many wonderful memories of you. Your beauty was more than your sweet smile and engaging, accepting heart. You reflected the love of Jesus to everyone around you. Even in the height of your physical pain and suffering as you laid in that nursing home I hated so much, I saw the light of Jesus in your eyes. You always said if only one person came to know Jesus because of your suffering, because of the pain life handed you those last few years, then it was all worth it. Mom, you taught me the backbone of my own pain, the essence of my own trudging through disappointments and failures is Jesus. You showed me the heart of Jesus in how you lived your life every single day. So today mom, today as I get to spend time with my own children, know your love, your example, your sweet words of encouragement, your effort and dedication to raise me to know Jesus…it is paying off. You showed me how to be a mom, how to love my kids with grace, how to mess us and still receive forgiveness, how to laugh no matter what life hands me. You showed me the best of me is all because of the best of you. I love you and miss you, mom, and cannot wait to run into your arms one day when I get to Heaven. Oh what a giggle party we will have, tears and all.