Corey’s First Steps

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First Steps

When I say I have been journaling for years, it’s no exaggeration.  I feel like sharing a snippet from the early years about my baby son’s first steps in life.  I happened to catch them on camera and later made a drawing of the glorious moment.  That son is approaching his 23rd birthday in a few months but these are snippets from his first year:  “Taken completely by surprise I witnessed my baby son walk his first two unsteady steps in life!  What a milestone this is!  Never again will any steps he takes be as important as the first ones.  This marks the beginning of his autonomy.  After this his milestones are a chain of events all related to his developing independence….The changes he makes are so rapid in the first year.  I feel amazed by the miraculous process of life as I adoringly watch him emerge into a beautiful person, his personality revealed as his abilities increase….I have high hopes for the man he will be and I want to raise him with the love and guidance to become the best person he can be….After thinking on these things, I feel deeply connected to my eldest son, almost three years old now.  I remember his wavering first steps and how excited I felt…he has grown like a wisteria vine and has a lifetime of changing yet to be experienced.  How I hope I will be like a beacon that points the way to ships at night, a light that will shine and guide in all weather, at all hours, for all time.  My boys will grow secure and confident knowing they will always have a safe haven to return to when life’s wave of mistakes and failures has blown them into the thrashing waters, denting their ships against the rocks….When the waters are calm and the skies blue, it is easy to see the beacon, a comfort with its constant presence and stable foundation.  My love, like a beacon, is always there, sustaining my sons, guiding them as they grow….How true it is that I can easily see God as my beacon when the skies are blue and the waters calm, when my life is untroubled.  How easy it is to take His presence for granted when life is great.  How true it is when the storms come that I run frantically to God for help.  Teach me, Lord…help me to see that in spiritual growth like a baby taking his first steps, there will be many first steps throughout life.  Grant each of us the courage to keep taking those first steps.”

I didn’t know then that a year or so later a daughter would be born and I would have yet another opportunity to treasure my baby’s first steps.  If you are a mother, I encourage you to capture these precious moments in words – they will be a vivid memory in ways that images alone can’t express of your childrens’ milestones.  I sure missed writing down a lot of them, but the ones I got I cherish. 

Growth…

“We must not stay as we are, doing always what was done last time, or we shall stick in the mud.”  George Bernard Shaw

“There are about one million people who think that they can create masterpieces like Jackson Pollock’s just by dripping paint.  They never succeed because Pollock, from long practice, has the line of growth of nature instinctive in his hand.  There is a line of growth in nature, all natural things have it.  Think of the branch of a tree.  Sometimes it shoots out free and unencumbered; sometimes it must twist upward to find the sun; sometimes it must reinforce itself to bear the weight of other branches and leaves.  But grow it does, easily or tortuously – and when it stops growing, it dies.

And thus our own growth – sometimes easy, sometimes tortuous.  Our own suns and weights determine our direction of growth.  The physical and the psychological – lights and burdens.  We let ourselves be shaped like branches and we continue to grow like nature, into a beautiful thing.”   Edward J. Lavin, S.J.

This quote by Edward J. Lavin from his book, Life Meditations, is on a page next to a painting by Claude Monet, “The Garden at Giverny.”  The Garden is thick with purple and white flowers growing wildly on the earth; rich greens and burnt sienna browns glow in the full summer foliage and branches of the trees.  A narrow dirt path meanders through the garden, under the trees.  Oh how I’d like to walk there, especially where the light glimmers on the path!  The Great Artists are always an inspiration to me, a feast for my eyes to gaze on their works.  Our house is full of art books we can’t ever part with and don’t see why we would ever want to!  Fr. Lavin’s words strike chords in me that ring true for the ”Family Tree” I wrote about recently.  “Fr. Lavin is a Jesuit priest and an artist who has taught theology, art, and Zen meditation.  His book combines his love of all things beautiful and thoughts spiritual.”  Oh, how I’d love to meet him.  Great Books are my friends and guides, my teachers for living a more beautiful life that glorifies God.  Let me not be stuck in the mud!  I have been more times than I care to count, but even those experiences have been opportunities for growth.

I call this pen and ink drawing “Family Tree.”  We all have one, a family tree, that is.  We may not know all the ancestors that belong on the branches or much about the roots from which we come, but still we have a family tree to which we belong.  This is an actual tree in the backyard on Turkey Creek that I named “Family Tree” long before I ever drew it because of its two trunks, mom and dad, and three offshoot branches, our three kids, growing from the trunks.  This one represents my immediate family.  The extended family tree would be so much larger, with many more branches!  I don’t know if I could ever find a tree big enough to draw that would capture the size of the family from which I am a mere offshoot. Nevertheless, when I sit in the backyard and look at my “Family Tree” I can’t help but become quiet and still, listening for the echoes of our family’s growing days.  I can hear the boys catching fiddler crabs in the mud and my daughter jumping on the trampoline.   

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The Three “P’s”

Remember the Three R’s?  Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic?  I have learned some other triple letter acronyms.  There are the Three A’s I heard an art educator mention the other day: ARTS, Academics, and Athletics for a whole-child perspective on the necessary components of education.  I learned some other Three A’s today when I couldn’t remember one of the ones mentioned above and googled it.  Aside from AAA car club, I came across the Three A’s of Relationships: Attitude, Attention, and Appreciation; the Three A’s of Assertiveness: Acknowledge feelings, Address the situation and Ask for what you want.  This reminded me of the Three C’s I used to teach kids I worked with in counseling whose parent/s had problems with alcohol/drugs: you didn’t Cause it, you can’t Control it, and you can’t Change someone else, only yourself.  Well, today I created the Three P’s: Puke, Poop, and Peanut Butter. 

I should’ve known how the day would evolve when Pedro alerted me to the cat Puke in the den this morning.  Our sweet calico is bulimic and often leaves us puddled surprises when she can’t stop eating and later throws up.  At least, today, it hit the hardwood floor.  I have tried intervention with this problem cat by putting the food out of reach and only letting her have it available at certain times of the day.  But, it sends her into such a state of panic that her food isn’t available to her 24/7 that I cave in and put it back to restore her sanity and ours.  I cleaned it up and went on to work.  At lunchtime I came home to let the three dogs out and discovered Poop puddles in the den, on the rug!  Our son’s puppy had diarrhea – again!  And this time I had to clean it up.  Considering I only get a thirty minute lunch, I had about 5 minutes to cram down a Peanut butter sandwich and hurry back to work.  Unfortunately, my appetite was sufficiently suppressed and I had to eat the sandwich later.

Really, in the scheme of things I know what minutiae this is and I can’t let such frustrations get the best of me.  Just yesterday I read a quote from St. Francis de Sales that should have prepared me for the day’s unpleasantries: “Nothing so hinders us in what we are doing as to be longing after something else; in so doing, we leave off tilling our own field, to drive the plough through our neighbor’s land, where we must not look to reap a harvest; and this is mere waste of time.  If our thoughts and hopes are elsewhere, it is impossible for us to set our faces steadily towards the work required of us.”  I confess that last weekend when I was weeding flower beds I was coveting the manicured lawns of the neighbors across the street. And, I have to admit even after reading that wisdom again today, I find myself wishing for a new Three P’s: Peace, Painting, and a Pina Colada!  A fun challenge I may consider in my spare time is coming up with an alphabet of the triple letter acronyms.  Hmmm…

Sometimes the heart just aches…

A few days ago I wrote about the mother being investigated for drowning her two boys.  We have since learned that she confessed to suffocating them first then burying them in a watery grave in their carseats.  My heart aches for these babies and the family and community grieving their loss – today, pictures of the funeral were on the Post & Courier’s website.  I cried and couldn’t help pleading for mercy for this community, these precious babies, the family, and yes, even the mom.  In all my years of counseling and in my personal life, I have learned that sometimes hurting people hurt people.  Sometimes we don’t get second chances or opportunities to make amends for the pain we have caused.  Sometimes we do!  This I know, whether you have been the “perpetrator” of pain, causing harm to another; or, the ”victim” of pain, being the recipient of someone’s harm, we CAN heal with the restoration that only comes with forgiveness, compassion, and mercy.  We “all fall short of the glory of God” and, hard as we try, we may still stumble and fall.  I have come to know the redeeming forgiveness of Christ more fully when I have either needed forgiveness myself or have been challenged to offer it to another suffering soul, one often proclaimed to be completely undeserving and ”beyond saving.”   Let’s recall Paul’s life of persecuting believers prior to his own remarkable conversion.   If there is hope for him, there is hope for us all!  “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”  By nature of our fallible, blind, and hurting humanity, we are each capable of finding ourselves in a pit and clamoring for God’s mercy.  Beware of pedastols, either imagined or put upon us by others, they are the shakable, toothpick towers from which we are capable of a long, hard, humbling fall to rock bottom, where even then our merciful, loving Father awaits and says, ”Lo, I am with you ALWAYS.”  There’s so much in the world we can’t understand, so many reasons to shout ”WHY?”  Yet I can’t help but fall into the arms of Jesus and say “Lord, please save this mom!  But for your grace, there go I.  Lord, I am lost too!”   The Jesus Prayer simply says it all: ”Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”     

This pastel has traveled extensively…within my family.  It’s hard for me to believe I drew this thirty years ago.  I know because I just got a high school reunion letter in the mail this summer for the 30th reunion this autumn and I made this in my senior year.  For years it hung above the piano in my parent’s livingroom of the house they built and raised six children in Pa.; then it hung above the piano in their condo for a few years until my parents moved into an assisted living facility and there was no room for it.  Now it hangs in my livingroom in SC, a reminder of my dad who liked it so much.  But I also think of the three horses symbolizing my three children and the race through life we have been on together.  Of course, I didn’t know when I made it that I would have three children but that is the meaning I have attached to it through the years, appreciating their wild, free, and strong spirits – and I hope the splashes they make on their journeys in life will be as beautiful as they are!

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