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I love March. March madness, spring and the smells of spring. Not the spring forward part, where we lose an hour of sleep, but everything else. Spring to me is new, fresh. It is starting over.

I declared the year 2016 the year of change for our family. My husband, Dave and I will become empty nesters, he has re-launched his speaking career and I have started a new job as well. All things good and positive. Change is good.

Spring is also a sad and melancholy time as it is the second anniversary of my brother Ryan’s passing. April 1, 2014, of course, a day I will never forget.

I talk to Ryan every day. That peace of talking to a loved one who has passed way, gives a sense of calm in the storms of life. Some of my conversations this past few months have been asking him for a sign. Have you ever heard of the penny from heaven story? If not, it goes something like this. It has been said, if you randomly find a penny, it is a sign that a loved one is missing you or sending you a message that everything will be okay.

I ask for signs a lot from my brother. In the last two years, I have received two pennies. The latest one happened on a recent road trip to Kansas.

As I mentioned above, this has been a year of change. My husband, not coaching basketball anymore, took the time to launch his speaking career and took advantage of watching our son run collegiate indoor track. Something he was never able to do while coaching basketball.

We made our way to Pittsburg, Kansas a couple weekends ago, a seven hour fast trip. We loved it. The travel, watching Nolan run. All of it.

On Sunday morning, we got up in our hotel and Dave went downstairs for breakfast before me. I slept in, took my time getting ready. Nolan didn’t run until 4:00 that afternoon, so we were just hanging out. I walked downstairs and turned the corner to the breakfast area and saw my husband having a heart to heart with another hotel guest.

Not just any guest, it was Ron “Gus” Gustafson. Now, many of you may not know Ron but he is one of the most inspirational, motivational people on the planet. He lost an arm in a farm accident as a young child. Losing a limb never stopped Ron. He went on to become a very successful high school athlete and collegiate basketball player. He played for UNK.

Now, fast forward, Ron “Gus” Gustafson is a successful motivational speaker and author of “Fully Armed.”  As a speaker, my husband always admired Ron. In fact, he hired Ron in Hartington to speak when Dave was a principal there. I joined them for breakfast. Ron was funny, gracious and positive.

He talked about his son playing basketball for Pitt State and we compared notes about our athletic sons. Amazing conversation and morning. He then shared another story of Brad Bigler—a basketball coach from Southwest Minnesota University in Marshall, MN.

Brad was featured on an ESPN profile called E:60-Bigler’s Way,  about the heart breaking story of losing his mom in a kayak accident in 2011 and then the next year, losing his 5-month-old son in a car accident. He and his family were traveling to their cabin in Minnesota and broad sided by a drunk driver.

Coach Bigler wanted to recruit Ron’s son to play for him in Minnesota. When Ron and Coach Bigler talked, basketball was barely a mention. You see, Brad Bigler was still coaching but his world was spiraling out of control due to two very tough significant losses in his life. As one could only comprehend and imagine the pain this man was going through. Absolute heart break.

The ESPN E:60 story not only highlighted Coach Bigler’s tragic story, but interview Ron “Gus” Gustafson as a huge influence in turning Coach Bigler’s life around. The two met through a sports connection and ended up connecting on a very human and compassionate level.

I sensed that morning there was a reason Ron Gustafson and Dave Zimmer were having breakfast together. A human connection. Years later, their paths crossed again. Dave, getting his speaking career launched and Ron, there to cheer him on and to encourage him. Just as he did with Coach Bigler.

I stopped at the lobby and asked the clerk for a good lunch recommendation for later that day and right on the front counter was a penny. There was my sign, my gift from Ryan that all will be okay. In the storms of the past few years, there is always a silver lining and always hope. Thank you little brother. Everything will be okay.

Renae Zimmer

My name is Renae Riddle Zimmer. I was born in Iowa and raised in Nebraska. I am a Midwest girl. I married my high school sweetheart, Dave Zimmer and raised two awesome kids. Nolan, 21 and Kamryn, 17. As we approach our empty nest years—we reflect a lot on our life—our kids—and being a part of the “sandwich” generation as well. Taking care of teenagers and aging parents. All the joys and difficulties that are ahead. We are solid in our faith—solid in our family and we love each other, support each other. I work a corporate job and travel. My husband is an educator and coach. We love to cook, garden, landscape, watch sports and enjoy our kids activities. We follow up college-age son as he runs cross country and track for Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo. And support our daughter as she is in the last year of high school . Where did the time go?

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