My husband, James stood behind me, arms around my waist. I leaned back into him and fought back the tears. Texas country music artist, Zane Williams was singing his song, “While I Was Away”– a song about missing the special everyday moments shared by his wife and children while he was away trying to make a decent living for them all.
I once asked my daughter, Michelle to listen to the song and she could barely stand to hear the haunting lyrics. That’s how close the words hit home. Our little ones don’t just stop growing because we have other things to do. In this, time is not our friend.
The next morning, I was thinking about the song, again. It caused me to remember this story:
Once,there was a young man who had small children. On a hot summer afternoon, he came home a little earlier than usual — not quite dinner time, and his youngest daughter ran to him crying, “There’s my Daddy!” He looked down on her. Her hair hung in damp ringlets, for she rarely kept still. She wrapped her tiny arms around his legs, undeterred by the filth of his work jeans. Sweat and dust still clung to his clothes. He had worked so hard that day. He worked hard every day, trying to get ahead. He had dreams of giving his family a better life than the one he had growing up.
He exclaimed in a fully animated way, “You are getting way too big! If you don’t quit growing so fast, I’m going to have to take you to Belittle, Texas!”
The little girl’s eyes got big. She could sense that her father was teasing her. He liked to tell her tall tales. “Belittle, Texas? Where is Belittle, Texas?” She asked.
He laughed and squatted to get down on her level. “Haven’t you ever heard of Belittle, Texas?” He asked. She shook her head.
“Why, Belittle, Texas is a town that has this special place. You can take your children there and they can make them stay little forever. That’s why they call it “Belittle”. You will always stay my little girl!”
The little girl laughed and said, “Nugh, ugh! You’re teasing me, Daddy!”
“Oh, no! I’m not! You better stop growing so fast!”
The father began telling this story to all his children every time he felt time was passing him by. They loved to hear him recite it even though they knew it wasn’t really possible. It became their term of endearment and they talk of it to this very day.
Well, you can figure for yourself what happened. The little girl did indeed grow up, along with her sister and brother. The father stayed extremely busy. His ambitions, he told himself, were noble and yet, he missed so much of those little ones’ lives. He missed their games. He missed putting them to bed at night. He blinked and it was all gone.
So many of us look on our children with our hearts exploding with love. We truly want what’s best for them. We see them playing with other children and we want them to have just as much as any other child. We look after their safety. We make sure to warn them about strangers. We make sure their carseats meet all the safety requirements. We make sure their day-care providers don’t have any criminal records. We move to the safest neighborhoods we can afford.
I wonder if, while we are buckling them in that carseat, we remember to teach them to love God. Will their providers or teachers make sure they learn to be kind? Who will make sure they know to love their neighbor as themselves? In a system that tells the children of our society that they can do no wrong, where the teachers are not allowed to punish a unruly child, can they learn the respect they will need for authority?
Please, remember!!! Our children are with us for only a very short while. Talk to anyone who has an empty nest. Let them tell you with what speed their children grew and left them. Mothers wake in the middle of the night, struggling to nurse a child who cries but seems unwilling to latch on to the the breast she provides them. Toddlers defiantly poop their pants and rub its contents on the walls. Teenagers look at you with a burning hatred because you told them to clean their room. You think it will never get easier. You will never get one moment to yourself to sit and think. Believe me…you will.
There will come a day when you can go to bed at a decent hour simply because you have no idea where your children are. They don’t live with you. You don’t know if they stayed out all night, or not. You say your prayers, asking God to put his wings of protection around them. It’s the only peace you’ll have.
You’ll come home to an empty house and turn on the television, just for the noise. That peace and quiet that you so longed for? It will drive you crazy. You’ll hear their sweet laughter as if in a faraway dream. You’ll long to drink in their faces, but their lives are busy, now. They will call you when they have time. That time will be very rare and precious.
Young mothers and fathers, this time that you have with your children is the most precious time you will have on this earth. What other pursuit could be as worthy as teaching and mentoring the young minds, hearts, and souls the Lord has placed in your care?
When my own children were young, I went to a community college for one semester. I wanted to be a nurse. Already, I was feeling guilty for the soccer games I had missed and the evenings I had been away from them. Part of me loved that alone time with other people close to my age. The teachers encouraged me. It boosted my ego. I pushed the guilt aside as I went to meet with my counselor for my second semester.
I will never know what led that kind woman in the words she said to me that day. I was forever grateful, though. She said, “Honey, your children are little. It won’t be long until they won’t need you so much. You have all the time in the world to go to school. You only get this one chance to be with your children. Can’t it wait?”
I thought about her wise words and decided it could wait. I never did go back to nursing school, but I spent all the time I could with my children and I’ve never regretted it. Sure, we sacrificed a lot for me to stay home with them, but God always provided what we needed.
I know there are many men and women who are led to a calling beyond raising children. I know there are mothers out there raising children all on their own. I know there are fathers doing the same. It is a tough time to be a parent. Many times it takes two incomes just to make ends meet. The world never seems to give you a break. We all have good intentions.
Just try sitting together each night at the dinner table and be truly interested in the tales your children tell you. Read them a story, or tell your own, when you tuck them in at night. Say prayers with them. Take them for walks and point out all the wonders of God’s creation. Remember the eyes with which you looked onto this world when you were a child. The wonder of it all is still there. You need only to look and listen.