Hug your kids a little longer

by Tim Ellsworth, posted Friday, June 13, 2008 (9 years ago)

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Hanging in my son Daniel's room is a baseball rack that I've had since I was a little boy. It holds baseballs, bats, gloves, hats -– pretty much all you need to play the game.

Hanging from that rack in his room is a small, soft, blue, toy baseball bat. It's a bat that I see every day without thinking twice. But the other day, I did exactly that.

As I looked at that bat, I realized that it represented a precious stage in life that has now passed. Daniel and I used to play baseball in the living room, back when he was a lot smaller. I'd pitch soft baseballs to him and he'd use that soft blue bat to smack them all over the room. We had great fun.

He's too big to do that now, as our living room could not contain his mighty blasts. He hasn't played with that little bat in months. Now he's on to bigger and better things -– like T-ball, and real bats, and harder baseballs. But that little blue bat still hangs there in his room, a memorial to happy days gone by.

In my five years of fatherhood, I've become all too familiar with the paradox of parenting –- you're thrilled to see your children growing up and accomplishing so many new things, but you realize as they do that you'll never again experience so many cherished moments of the past.

My 21-month-old daughter Emmalee came in to wake me up the other day. My wife lifted her onto the bed and whispered to her, "Say, 'Hi, Daddy.'"

Emmalee's response? To bash both hands onto my stomach and belt out, "Bake up!"

It won't be long before "Bake up!" is gone. She'll learn how to say her W's, and hopefully she'll stop hitting me as well. Or maybe she'll just use the blue bat the next time.

What was it that caused me to look at that bat in such a way after all these months? I can't say for sure, but it may have been the death of little Maria Chapman, the 5-year-old daughter of Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman.

Maria was playing in her driveway when she was killed in a tragic accident. Apparently her big brother didn't see her and struck her while driving a vehicle.

I can't think of anything more devastating for a family to endure, and I can't begin to understand the pain that the Chapman family must be feeling. For the rest of their lives, they'll encounter all kinds of reminders of their loss. Distress and grief will be a constant companion to them.

But fortunately, despite the tragedy, the Chapman family has a strong faith in God that will pull them through the darkness. A few years ago, following the shooting at Heath High School in Paducah, Ky., Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song titled "With Hope" that he dedicated to the families of the students who died.

I'm sure he never realized how poignant the lyrics of that song would become for his own family:

"We can cry with hope/We can say goodbye with hope/'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no/And we can grieve with hope/'Cause we believe with hope/There's a place by God's grace/There's a place where we'll see your face again/We'll see your face again."

Parenting can be an exasperating experience sometimes. You grow weary of children who disobey, and children who make messes, and children who whine, and children who don't sleep, and children who don't eat, and children who fight with each other, and children who require constant attention.

But then you hear about someone like Maria Chapman, and it makes you put things in perspective. You hug your kids for a little longer. You enjoy being in their presence a little more. And you thank God for things like old blue baseball bats because they remind you of the ways He has blessed your life in the past, and they make you look forward to the ways He will do so in the future.

Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and author of the new book, "God in the Whirlwind," recounting stories of students and others from the Feb. 5 tornado that hit Union's campus in Jackson, Tenn.

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