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In Honor of Mother’s Day, Here Are Five Life Lessons I Learned From My Mom

I have been so blessed to have an amazing Mom.  Huge-hearted and high-performing, Mom set the example for what it looks like to be unconditionally loving, hard-working, loyal, and sass-tastic.  I mean it – my Mom has spunk for DAYS, y’all.

#1: Be Willing to Work For What You Want

Mom was and is the consummate military spouse.  It was a lot of hard work, often without praise or recognition.  The logistical head of our household, Mom supported Da’s career and our family through multiple relocations, several of which were international. 

But that didn’t mean that she didn’t have her own goals.  Mom’s life dream was to become a nurse.  At the age of 40, Mom started nursing school.

I was in elementary school at the time, and I distinctly remember Mom studying, writing care plans, coming back from class with crazy (and often gross) stories.  I remember her passion and enthusiasm for what she was learning.  I remember the hours of focused work, memorization, and study she put in.

She showed me that it’s never too late to go after your dream. 

She showed me what hard work and dedication look like – especially while still balancing the significant responsibilities of being a mom and an Army wife. 

She showed me what it looks like to work hard for what you want.

#2: Use Your Giftings and Talents

Mom is a tremendously gifted human. 

She is highly empathetic.  She can feel, perceive, and intuitively know the hearts of others.  And thankfully, she uses this power for good.  She is a skilled counselor and empathetic listener.  As an end-of-life-care nurse with credentials specifically in cancer care and Alzheimer’s care, these gifts made her invaluable to the patients and families she served.

Mom is also incredibly creative.  Mom sewed nearly all of my costumes – including a buffalo costume when we lived in Kansas.  (Hey – we were putting on a festival to celebrate the state of Kansas, so of course I had to choose a buffalo costume.  …because that’s simple and easy and I was totally not a pain in the hiney as a child…)  When we lived in Germany she took art classes, and the things she painted were stunning.  When she took up quilting she created blankets that were beautiful and functional.

She owned multiple catering businesses out of our home while we were moving around in the Army – creating and decorating absolutely gorgeous cakes, laying out spreads that were both delicious and aesthetically pleasing.

Mom has an eye for beauty – especially natural beauty – and she sees that beauty everywhere.  She taught me how to arrange flowers, and how to best arrange annuals in a front-porch planter.  She showed me how to find shark teeth in the surf at the beach.  She taught me how to identify backyard birds – and venomous spiders (which she also thought were beautiful!)

Mom had a gift for hosting, and would do insane things like make dinner for 80+ West Point cadets, or make midnight breakfast for 100+ students at Mary Washington College during finals week. 

She showed me how to discern my giftings. 

She showed me how to embrace the gifts and talents that I’ve been given, instead of wasting them by comparing myself to others and wishing I’d been given something different. 

She showed me what it looks like to use my gifts and talents to support, uplift, and serve others.

#3: Be Your Authentic Self

My Mom is unabashedly herself and it’s awesome.  She puts the sass in sasstastic.

When my parents met, my Da describes himself as “so square, I was cubed.”  The way he tells it, he was a pretty boring guy.  For example, the only spice he ate was salt.  He didn’t even like pepper.

In their early married life, when my Mom would make dinner, Da would insist on there not being any spices – he liked food bland.  Well my Mom was having none of that.  Sneaky queen of spunktastic spice-ification that she is, my Mom found white pepper.  It looks like salt, but has a peppery flavor.  Da loved it, of course, and there began his willingness to experience culinary adventures.  And given how amazing and culturally diverse a cook Mom has been, there have been lots of opportunities.

There’s more to this authenticity than just being spunky, though.  As I was growing up, my Mom created an atmosphere in which you could be totally honest and open with her.  We always used respectful, medical terminology for our bodies and bodily functions.  We always had open dialogue about literally everything – yes, even the things that teenagers don’t typically talk with their Moms about.  Mom modeled respectful transparency and comfort with open dialogue.

Mom is also not afraid to stand out or get a little silly sometimes.  In more recent years, Mom has become Da’s race crew at road races – and she’s easy to pick out.  Her outfits range from colorful to downright outrageous.  She is totally herself, and it’s so fun.

She showed me how to overcome challenges with a little creativity and a lot of spunk. 

She showed me how to be comfortable with open dialogue, even when the topic could be uncomfortable.  Frankly, we need more of this today. 

She showed me what it looks like to fearlessly stand out and be unabashedly and authentically herself.

#4: Invite. Welcome. Include. Host. Party.

Mom has a gift for welcoming and including.  She loves to host, and the people she hosts love to be there. 

In one of our Army homes, for New Years’ Eve we hosted a 1950s-style Sock Hop.  We cleared the furniture out of the wood-floor dining room, and Mom and Da gave swing dancing lessons for the week between Christmas and the New Year.  We affixed netting to the ceiling, and filled the netting with confetti-filled balloons.  Friends and neighboring families would come, leave shoes at the door, and dance in their socks. …and then in their socks in confetti once the balloons dropped at midnight.  For the three years we lived there, hundreds of people attended our NYE sock hops. 

They were the most fun parties I have ever attended. 

Every aspect of those events was my Mom’s idea. 

After Da retired and my parents moved to Virginia, my parents got involved with the Catholic Students Association at Mary Washington College. 

To the college students involved with CSA, my parents’ house became a home-away-from home.

My parents hosted multiple events for the college kids, including movie nights, cooking classes, and seminars on healthy relationships, but my favorite was ladies’ night.  My Mom arranged self-care stations with hot wax treatments for hands and feet, nail-painting stations, hydrating facial mask stations, and hot tub time.

Like the sock hops, these events were Mom’s idea – Mom’s creative, loving, inviting, hospitable, inclusive genius idea.

Mom showed me that it’s OK to kick your shoes off and dance like an idiot in an inch of confetti. 

Mom showed me how to host, invite, include, and welcome people into my home. 

Mom showed me that confetti is more important than cleanliness, and human connection is more important than just about anything.


My Mom’s super power is love.  She loves BIG.  She loves fiercely.  She loves unconditionally.  She loves them anyway. 

Fun fact: Grandma McKenna didn’t like my Mom.  My Da’s mom had someone else in mind for my dad to marry, and was disappointed when in 1966, he fell head over heels for Susan McPeek. 

Years later, Grandma McKenna beat breast cancer.  But when she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and it was clear that she was not going to win that fight, she needed in-home care. 

My Mom was in nursing school at the time.  She had not just innate gifts for caring for others, she also had acquired a level of skill.  She made the decision to hit “pause” on nursing school – a decision that didn’t just set her back in her studies, but also took her away from the pursuit of her dream – to take care of my Grandma.  My grandma who still didn’t like her.  My grandma who still thought that her Doug would’ve been better off with whats-her-name. 

Grandma McKenna moved in with us, and Mom provided her the in-home care that she needed until she passed away in April 1989.  During that time, Grandma McKenna admitted that she was wrong, and told Mom that she loved her – that she should have loved her much sooner. 

When Mom took over grandma’s care, she didn’t know that would be the outcome.  She did what was loving, despite not being loved.  She loved grandma anyway. 

This is just one example of the hundreds of times I have observed my Mom demonstrating Herculean feats of love-strength. 

During my life, and throughout my military career, my Mom was a stalwart source of big love and tremendous support.

Love is hard.  It takes grit and guts.  Love is not for the mentally or spiritually weak. 

My Mom has shown me how to love. 

She showed me how to love passionately, fiercely, without ceasing, and without condition. 

I’m grateful to have learned these five life lessons from my Mom.  

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma.  I’m blessed to have you as my Mom, and grateful for everything you’ve taught me! 

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