The lights dim and the video rolls. Out from the tunnel the team emerges.

There is my Nicole, dressed in red OU warm-ups, curled hair pulled back in a ponytail with a thick, black headband to hold it all in place.

I watched my daughter play an official home game as a Sooner last Sunday night.

It was the first I’ve been able to attend so far this season.

She played wonderfully.

And I didn’t shed a tear!

Afterwards our family went to dinner and proceeded to engage in passionate conversation.

That’s a nice way of describing our typical Kornet loud, often confrontational, dialogue.

We usually linger for a good hour almost every time we gather around the table as a family.

We talk religion and sports; the kids share stories from school and ask questions about sex, drinking, and other tricky topics; and we laugh. A lot.

During this particular talk fest, I found myself feelings things I’d never felt before.

I witnessed my daughter maturing right before my eyes, especially when she spoke about the new friends she’s making in college: She is meeting girls with diverse religious backgrounds and values. She is learning to love and accept the good in people, even if they indulge in activities she doesn’t think are right. She is experiencing the pain of believing in what’s right and wrong, and being one of the few trying to act on those beliefs.

We finished the evening at a local custard shop, where Nicole and I were laughing so hard, we literally almost fell over while standing on the sidewalk, saying our goodbyes.

She shared how her teammates make fun of how boisterously she laughs.

She then confessed: “Mom, I laugh just like you. I see myself becoming more like you every day!”

Can I tell you how that made me smile?

But my favorite moment was watching her 6’9″ daddy pick up his 6’1″ little girl, hug her with all his might, and tell her how much he loves her, how well she played that afternoon, and how proud he is of her.

Then Luke leaned down and followed with a bear hug for his big sister.

He also gave her a “Grandma kiss” on the cheek…which triggered more laughs.

I leapt in with a huge hug and kiss, too.

I could have stayed there all night on that sidewalk–all three of us surrounding Nicole with the kind of love every child should experience.

I don’t need a formal Thanksgiving meal this year. I already had it. In fact, I truly believe I have one every time I sit down and connect with those kids.

Family. That’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.