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The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Psalm 126:3

Ever since my oldest child left for college, something significant has gone missing: the sadness I expected to move in the moment she moved out. After all, when one’s baby leaves the nest, that’s what is supposed to happen, isn’t it? And each reminder of her absence should trigger a fresh ache of loss and longing, right? At least, that’s what I prepared myself for. Given all the stories of other parents, advice of college orientation leaders, and concern from sympathetic friends, I thought I should count on it.

Anticipating the sniper tactics of grief, I braced myself for numerous bouts with standard issue sorrow. However, each time I ran across something that should take me down, I only stumbled into delight. Like the time I took the kids—sans Katherine—to the movies, where I relished the task of smothering the popcorn in plenty of butter. (The “authentic” butter flavoring used to give Katherine a stomachache.) Or the day I hit the grocery aisles and reached expectantly for the fried shrimp I couldn’t serve until now. (Katherine is also allergic to shellfish.) What on earth was wrong with me? I should have been crying, and was laughing instead. I wasn’t glad she was gone—why was I celebrating?

Could it be that I was only giggling with gratitude? I have cried since Katherine left, but on the whole they have been grateful tears. We have so much to be thankful for—it seems to me that deserves some celebration.

For instance, when I pull up to her abandoned car in the driveway, I remember how fortunate we are that this indestructible vehicle always protected our precious cargo, especially through a couple of hair-raising fender-benders. When I finally took the “Midway Goal Tender” sticker off my car window, and removed the “Katherine-2013” dance team sign from the yard, I was just glad that my child got to spend four wonderful years doing something she loved with people she loved. To me, such reminders of her departure are not markers for sorrow, but souvenirs of a blessed life. And I am inspired to recount such blessings, appreciating all the many reasons we have to give thanks and rejoice.

Give thanks . . . and rejoice. It seems I have gratitude to thank for my happy. The reason I am happy is because I’m thankful, which in turn makes me that much more thankful that I am happy. While I miss my child and look forward to her return, her absence remains full of thanksgiving and joy. I am grateful—and happy—both for the past we’ve shared, and for the future that now lies before her.

Most of all, I am thankful for what God has done to make all these things possible.

Coming up next: Counting Blessings