I’ve been feeling a little raw the past couple weeks.  My husband went back to work after three sweet months of sabbatical—time for him to rest from his work, and time for our family to slow down and rest from “the tyranny of the urgent” for a season. I think it’s fair to say I’ve been grieving the end of such a beautiful moment in time—weeks spent learning the art of living with hearts open to the gifts of each day, learning thankfulness in all things.

On top of trying to quickly regain my stamina for parenting without a partner at home, I was caught off guard by fear on the same day Corey left for the office again.  A lump that I had ignored for months was suddenly at the front of my attention—I had promised Corey I would get it checked out, but something about calling to make an appointment without him there rocked me.  I was paralyzed by anxiety about the potential for bad news that could dramatically alter the way I envision my life playing out. I imagined a cancer diagnosis that was beyond treatment because of my negligence. I found myself asking, “What if choosing denial has caused me to miss my opportunity for healing?”  Lord, have mercy.

The first few days that Corey was back at work, I was both overwhelmed with emotion as I reflected on our precious time as a family over the previous three months, and also shaken by heartache at the possibility of not watching my kids grow up.  But somehow through tears of sentiment and preemptive sadness, I was overcome with thankfulness, evidence that something has changed in me over these past few months.

Something about reflecting on the tender moments of agenda-free presence we had together while Corey was on Sabbatical has made me more sentimental than ever. (And that’s saying something, because I tend to be pretty sentimental by nature. I think I am the target audience of every Hallmark commercial ever made.)  My heart is overflowing as I look at my kids, adoring them and delighting in their uniqueness. People keep telling me to enjoy this time—it’s over before you know it—but I’m already painfully aware that time only moves forward.

Where did our three months together go?  It went on a road trip adventure with a minivan loaded down with snacks, travel prizes, Frozen paraphernalia, audio books, a pack ‘n’ play, and more stuff than we knew what to do with.  It went to the beach to see my grandma, to Arizona to bask in the sunshine, and to Las Vegas to watch cowboys in rodeo action.  It went to lazy mornings with no agenda, nap time lounging with books in the sun, date nights courtesy of grandparent babysitters, tennis matches and mini golf that brought laughter galore, pool days with peanut butter and jelly picnics, meals at Chick-Fil-A and In-N-Out, relationship building with Corey’s parents, long runs, driving ranges, card games, conversation, a barbeque class, children’s museum, trampoline park and more memories than we can even hold onto. And that was just the first half.

Once back at home we settled into life unhurried.  We were here, but hidden away.  No obligations, nothing on the schedule.  Evenings at home. Spontaneous sledding adventures. Home improvement projects.  A marriage retreat. Time together, uninterrupted.  My heart was filled back up by time, sweet time.  It’s funny how looking backward helps me forget the bumps and bruises we gave each other trying to figure out a new rhythm. Each time we changed venue (from home to Arizona, then to our families’ for the holiday runaround, and then back home) took multiple weeks of transition time, relearning in each new context how we operated with so much togetherness.  It wasn’t smooth, but the discomfort gave us opportunities to talk about what was underneath our frustrations—our needs, our expectations, our hurts.  We had margin for the types of conversations that are usually too exhausting to tackle.

Corey earned a new place of honor in our family: the right to sit on the dining room bench with Brooklynn during dinner.  Even bedtime, a privileged routine previously reserved only for me, became a domain that her daddy was invited to enter.  Wrestling matches, dance parties, pre-dinner frozen yogurt outings, marching band parades, tea parties, playing dollhouse and kitchen—he earned his new position of favor with both kids by the sweat of his brow.

For the first time since becoming parents together 3 ½ years ago, I didn’t feel alone in the daily responsibilities of child rearing.  Not that Corey hasn’t played a significant role in our kids’ lives, but for the first time he was a part of the mundane routines, the windows of time for activities before and after naps, the day in, day out repetition of games and clean up and needing to get out of the house before someone (usually me) loses it (again). I felt understood, and he grew in confidence realizing he is capable of meeting our kids’ needs in ways that only he can.

It was a season of rest.  I had help in what sometimes feels like one of the hardest stages of my life. We felt more like a team again, much like we used to in the days when we were first married and finding ways to serve together. But this time our ministry was to each other, to our kids.

I just wanted to savor it all.  Soak up the gift of time.  Cling to the precious memories.  Yet the tighter I grasp, the more I’m tempted to despair—there is nothing I can do to bring back the beginning of sabbatical.  It was incredibly sweet, but there is no avoiding the fact that it’s over. There will never be another season like this in our lives.  Yes, Corey will get another sabbatical in five more years, assuming he is still working for Young Life at that point.  But it will never look like this—our kids will be in school, I may be working again—everything about our lives could look different next time around.

Time is fleeting, yes.  Kids are the most obvious, potentially cliché measure of how quickly it moves. I look at my babies and I simultaneously long for time to stand still and fast forward.  I can’t wait to see how life changes as they grow (let’s be honest: I can’t wait to see how much easier things become), but I’m terrified of forgetting the sweetness of right now. I’m tempted to spend my days pouring over their mostly empty baby books, recording every milestone and describing how their skin smells. Although I see the value in writing down memories, I also see the danger in trying to cling to the present.  Clinging hands are tight and controlling—their embrace can feel more like a strangle than affection.

Instead of clinging, the past three months have taught me the beauty of surrendered thankfulness.  Naming my gratitude before each moment fades from my memory feels like a miniature ritual of closure.  Gratefulness helps me fully embrace the depth of this moment, absorbing its goodness while simultaneously releasing it into the past. Being thankful allows me to live with my heart wide open to receive the gift of each moment that comes, savoring it without holding on too tightly. And as any parent knows, gratitude honors the one you are thanking—thankfulness always brings pleasure to the heart of the One who gives all good gifts.

Even more, the discipline of naming my reasons for gratitude is cultivating a spirit of thankfulness—thanksgiving is becoming more like a default reaction than a choice.  And so, after hearing that the lump is benign—after a moment of such paralyzing fear of what could have been—I am reminded that thankfulness is not just possible when my husband is on sabbatical.  Thankfulness is possible no matter what is going on in my day, and no matter what lies around the corner.

I’m thankful for the reminder that God doesn’t owe me a long, healthy, easy life; yet no matter what life brings, I’m thankful for the reminder that he is always good, and he is always on my side.

I’m thankful for the renewed desire to make the most of every fleeting moment with my growing kids, to pour all of my heart into teaching them about the God who made them and loves them and created them for a good purpose.

I’m reminded that thankfulness is the only right response to the gift of another day.  And I’m thankful that today wasn’t my last, for another opportunity to respond with gratitude for right now.

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