When she first told me she wanted to go to Africa for two years to serve in the Peace Corps, I knew she would eventually do it. She does everything she sets her mind to accomplish.

My daughter, Charla, is 22 years old. She graduated with honors from Milton High School - dual enrolled at then-Pensacola Junior College. She attended Florida State University where she also graduated with honors. During her time at FSU, she traveled to London and attended school there for four months. That was in 2009. She took advantage of her location and traveled to eight countries while she was living in London. One of the most poignant moments for her was when she stood in a gas chamber at Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

She is amazing. She is my hero.

She left last year right after turning 21. She flew halfway around the world to Africa and began her training in the Peace Corps. I laughed when I found out she danced with the African performers who were there to entertain the new Peace Corps volunteers, opening night. She taught Zumba here in Milton the summer before she left to supplement her finances. Knowing Charla, I wasn’t surprised at all.

I know all of this sounds very formal but this is the history of my daughter who just came home for Christmas after being gone for 15 months in Africa. I have photos of her leaving at the airport last year, but for some reason when I saw her walk through the gate at the Pensacola Airport, I forgot to take a picture. I was too busy running to hug her. Rayna, my youngest daughter, beat me to it and we all had to wait our turn.

The days before she left for Africa, I felt a knot in my stomach begin to grow. I was in denial for a long time that it was going to happen. The last week, I watched her prepare and I felt like a mother watching her child drown and not be able to save her. I read her Peace Corps literature. I knew pretty much what to expect for her. I didn’t want her in a remote village with no protection. I was relieved when I found she was going to be in a place with other Peace Corps volunteers not far away. She ended up in her own home, no running water, sporadic electricity, and bars on the windows.

There is a place inside a mother’s heart for her children who take on huge adventures. It is where she tucks that child away as a sign of support and confidence. Charla lives there when she is gone. I don’t think about her as often when she is away because she is totally out of my reach if she needs help. If the phone rings and her name shows up on caller id, she is no longer tucked away. She is present and I am present.

There have only been a few tough times since she left. She was very sick with strep, feverish, weak, and alone because the other Peace Corps volunteers in her village were gone doing something. I stayed on the phone with her and listened to her sleep. She was bitten by dogs twice, the second time required rabies boosters. And she was on a “moto” – motorcycle is the way they travel around town – that crashed twice in just a few minutes due to muddy roads. Another motorcycle passed by while she was lying in the road, just inches from her head. Of course, I heard about that after the fact, so I felt scared and relieved at once.

She is home for three weeks. My heart is full. All of my children are nearby. When I kiss her cheek or hug her, it is with my memory card in full service. I breathe her in and take note of the smallest details. She will be gone again Jan. 3 and thinking of her departure brings tears to my eyes.

It is a tough job the Lord has given me, to mother these creative, brave, intelligent children. I watch my daughter live a life I know I could have lived…she has more education than her mother and she has been places I never thought I could visit.

I am blessed this Christmas season more than ever. My child is home.