In the summer of 2000, I was a wide-eyed Nebraska girl who landed an internship in Washington DC. I worked in an office, and I walked the halls of Congress.

Now and then, I had the privilege of listening to a great American Hero. We passed in the halls, and I shook his hand once. He wouldn’t know me, but I knew him. In our home, we read Military history and watched the news, and the first time I laid eyes upon John McCain, I stood up taller, and felt starry eyed. I knew he was a hero. I knew I admired him. But the most profound impact he would make on my life, would come much later…when he made me a better mom.

You see, I was pregnant with my first daughter, and I gave birth to her in the weeks before he won the 2008 Presidential Primary. My maternity leave was spent watching television, as I folded onesies and changed diapers, learning more each day about this everyday American who became a hero. As the summer sped towards fall where he lost the election to Barrack Obama, I returned to my career just as I was finding my way to be a confident mom, and I gave thanks to John McCain for much of that.

While I nursed my firstborn baby, with my feet propped as the news droned on, I thought about the courage with which John McCain lived his life. When offered a “deal” in order to leave his POW confinement, he refused. I thought about the darkness and hopelessness that many moms feel when they find themselves post-partum in the scary and unknown territory as mom, with no sense of when the hard season will end. Sure, being mama to a newborn is nothing like being a prisoner of war. But finding the courage to be the best mom we are capable of being, is a noble feat. I listened to media reporters ask John hard questions about that time in his life, and how he managed to get through those days, and I was always struck by the values of family and faith he held dear, and it reminded me to do the same as I waded through the first months of motherhood.

The second reason John McCain made me a better mom, is because he turned his mess into his message. How I envied this man, who put aside the feelings of hatred and bitterness towards the men who tortured and maimed him. He extended his hands to his adversaries, and smiled at those who criticized his voting record. His message was that, despite the mess he had experienced while in captivity, and the disagreements in the halls of Congress, he would persevere, because he wanted to serve others. As a young mom, who had suffered infertility and loss, I rocked my rainbow baby, while I cried for those babies I never held. Watching Senator McCain be bold about how he had suffered, in order to help other Veterans, gave me the courage to speak up about my loss, and what I wanted to do to help encourage other mother who had suffered in silence. He reminded me that I could use all I had been through to give a voice to those who were silently hurting.

The final reason I believe John McCain helped make me a better mom, is that he was a very imperfect person. As the media began to tear apart Senator McCain’s private life during the summer before the Presidential election, there were times I stared at the TV screen in complete disbelief. I couldn’t believe that the American war hero had words like “affair” and “divorce” in his biography. As the news played on, and I did my own research, I began to follow along in the private life of this man. I wept over the adoption of their youngest child, and how he and his children had all reconciled. His life reminded me that I would undoubtedly make many mistakes as a mom, and in my marriage, and career. But, I got to look over the sum of all he had been through to see how forgiveness, and hard work, and grace could all play a role in living out a full life.

Senator John McCain became the symbol of many things for Americans. For me, he is simply the man who showed me how life can lead us through ups and downs over again, but that we can choose how those experiences will define us.

For all his earthly struggles, I am grateful that he can now be at peace. Thank you Senator John McCain, for making me a better mom.

Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is a native Nebraskan, living on the ranch her ancestors homesteaded in 1878. She and her husband Matt, met at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and returned to the ranch in 2012 after working and living in Central Nebraska the past 12 years. They are parents to two daughters, Maggie and Lucy. Leah has an undergrad degree from UNL in Communication Studies, and a MA in Leadership from Bellevue University. Aside from her work at the ranch and opportunity to be a stay at home mom, she enjoys writing, photography, community involvement, spending time with friends and family and trying new recipes in her kitchen. Leah published her first children's book in 2011 titled "An Apple for Dapple" and enjoys traveling throughout the state to share her book with children and raise awareness about the importance Agriculture in Nebraska.