Sleepovers were a way of life in my house for years. When it was the boys, there would be all-night video-game binges. With the girls, there was giggling, dancing and movies. I lost count of the mornings I tiptoed over children sprawled out on the living room carpet in the deep, contented sleep of children exhausted by fun.
The sleepovers ended for the boys in high school, but the girls continued. When Sarah left for college, I thought we'd seen the last of the sleepovers.
Sarah, my youngest, and two of her lifelong friends, Heather and Noelle, reconnected earlier this summer. They went out to eat and came back to our house. When I got home, there were unfamiliar pillows and backpacks littering the hall. Three grown young women were giggling on the couch.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"We're having a sleepover!" came the reply.
"What are you watching?"
"The Hannah Montana Movie!"
A time warp engulfed me. Had these young women slipped back to fifth grade? All the signs were there: an open bag of chips, five plates and cups for each girl and blankets covering everything but faces.
Just like in the old days, their desire to stay up was greater than my ability to stay awake. I bade them "goodnight" and went off to bed. As I faded into sleep, giggles continued.
It was the next morning when I realized things had changed. They were all up at 7:30 a.m. (that never happened before, I assure you). One had to go to work, another had to get ready for a trip, and another one had stuff to get done. I offered to go get them doughnuts or Chik-fil-A biscuits. "No," came the groans. "We just want coffee."
As they pulled out of my driveway, I thought of these remarkable young women.
I saw them grow up under my roof. They've gone from playing with "World Traveler Barbie" to being world travelers themselves.
In the crush of parenting, it's easy to forget to be in the moment. Older, wiser folks told me to enjoy the moments; they would pass too fast. They were right. Loving anyone means to be present with them. Loving your children means enjoying the years that come by only once.
Our Father in Heaven is the perfect parent. He teaches us how to "be there." One of Jesus' names is "Emmanuel" - God with us. God provides moments of joy and then celebrates them with us.
I admit I didn't celebrate the moments as I should have. But now, I miss the days of being the hero who brought the girls doughnuts (after sampling one or two for quality control). I miss the days of them sleeping all over the floor. I miss the days of dancing all night long to "Dance, Dance Revolution."
But for one wonderful night, there was giggling again. There was one last sleepover.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church, 1305 Loring Mill Road, www.adbc.org.