Thursday, May 19, 2022

Creativity Expressed in Poetic Fashion - My Swan River Daisy

(At the bowling alley, Annabelle enjoys adult horseback rides on Mom's shoulders.) 

My last poetry collection, titled All His Gifts: Poems on Love, Life, and Loss, paid tribute to my wife, Lisa, in her honor. Therefore, in the same light, I also seek to create a poetry anthology that will also honor my daughter, Annabelle. As I continue to write and entertain my own muse, this poem, My Swan River Daisy, struck a chord of heartstrings for this new special collection to now come forward. Read and enjoy the love expressions for my daughter.

My Swan River Daisy

You are my swan river daisy!
For your fond smiles, I stand amazed.
Graced with your giggles and affections,
Daises sprinkled in sundials,
My love for you is crazy!

You are my swan river daisy!
The light pours in through the shaded trees.
Roots glisten in water that flows
From rain-shadowed clouds of blessings.
You are my swan river daisy!
Unexpected surprises teach me to flourish,
Even though my heart feels malnourished.
My mind no longer remains hushed.
You are my swan river daisy!
Turn towards my arms to encompass my love.
Raise those hugs surrounded by hope.
My fatherly voice will guide your way.
You are my swan river daisy!
I mix the soil for a simple rush of joy,
Especially with thoughts of a brotherly boy
Whose happiness will soon annoy.
You are my swan river daisy!
Turn towards what is good, what is calm,
What is peaceful, what is right,
Toward the valued wonders of this world.
You are my swan river daisy!
Choose the path of selfless yet esteemed.
Stand confident yet stellar in lights beamed.
After seconds asleep, your face shines dreamed.
You are my swan river daisy!
For your fond smiles, I stand amazed.
Graced with your giggles and affections,
Daises sprinkled in sundials,
My love for you is crazy!

Here are the latest photo captures of my dearest daughter and darling!

(Annabelle giggles and interacts with river otters at Grandfather Mountain State Park, although she calls them "puppies.")

(Annabelle plays peek-a-boo with Daddy's ball caps.)

(Annabelle finds a large egg during her Easter egg hunt.)

(Annabelle says, "Ooooh, I found a special egg that I really like.")

(While Mom loses at the claw game, Annabelle poses for another cute picture.)

#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #DaddiesAndDaughters #destinations #memories #story #narrative #inspiration #poetry #poem

Friday, April 15, 2022

Perfectionism Is Overrated! The Good Friday News Is Here!

(Annabelle loves driving her cart through the grocery store.) 

“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”

1 Peter 2:24 (New Living Translation)

If you tend to be a perfectionist like me, you probably also tend to set high standards for yourself, sometimes with expectations that may not even be humanly possible. Modern U.S. society promotes excellence in all things, sometimes even overlooking the health of an individual in the pursuit of professional and personal success. You might see these high standards often exhibited in professional sports, where putting your body at risk has become a common practice in order to win.

Sometimes Easter passes by quickly without me giving the holiday the proper respect it warrants. When the tomb boulder rolled aside to uncover the grave of Jesus, it was revealed that He had been resurrected on Sunday morning. He disappeared, and some feared this sudden disappearance of a missing body, perhaps someone stealing Jesus’s body out of the tomb. However, in Mathew 16: 21-28, Jesus reminds followers, even rebuking Peter, that he will be killed only later to rise again back to life.   

There is good news that remains evident in the title of Good Friday! Many Christians reverently celebrate this Friday two full days before Easter. This day is often described as “good” because of the holiness of the occasion when Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of man.

When I feel pressure from society or even within myself to perform at heightened levels, Easter gives me a glimmer of hope to let it all go. Perhaps I still reach for perfectionism, which is obviously impossible. I try to still remember that God loves me where I currently am in my own journey with Him. It relieves my soul knowing that Jesus paid a price so that I would not have to. In other words, I try to be perfect and sometimes beat myself up for not being perfect or for not attaining certain goals in a given timeframe. These loathing self-transgressions are very much counterproductive.

Let’s be honest with each other. That impossible pursuit of perfectionism only leads to disappointment in results that will never fulfill the individual who seeks these insurmountable standards. While the Christian doctrine of the forgiveness of sins sounds so simple by principle, it still prevails that many individuals find it hard to accept. The gift of salvation is free in faith by simply believing in the dear name of Jesus and the sacrifice that transpired on Good Friday.

While there is sadness in death, there is freedom in this case. Christians are no longer bound by the performance of perfectionism in a task list or recorded goals not yet achieved. We are free from the bondage of records and self-imposed standards! We do not need to be our own worst enemy.

This devotional text does not mean to undermine the goalsetting ambitions of driven individuals. Rather, the intention serves to remind readers that God has given us the freedom to enjoy the journey in the pursuit of higher aspirations. Perfectionism is not achievable, however, appreciation and gratefulness for the price paid in the times before us sets the stage for a life well-lived in the goodness God gives us through His Son.

There is no need to be more, to do more, or to become more when God already reached the apex of sins forgiven. The best we can now do for ourselves is to enjoy the blessings and moments we have with those who cherish and love us most.

Enjoy the freedom that Easter provides in the reminders of a symbolic resurrection. There is goodness to experience this Friday. Like myself, do not forget the good in front of you. For me, that goodness is often experienced in the smiles I daily see in my wife, Lisa, and my chosen beloved child, Annabelle.

I hope these pictures remind you of the true meaning of Easter and that God is easily accessible to you in the words of a self-expressed prayer.   

(Annabelle was actually interacting with my brother-in-law, Bryan, during a recent visit to my parents' house in Franklin, Tennessee, near Nashville, Tennessee.)

(While you cannot see Bryan in these photos, he is actually playing with Annabelle and poking her lightly in the belly. She is obviously enjoying these interactions.)

(We recently visited Morristown, Tennessee for a day, including the Briarwood Ranch Safari Park. We had a very good time exploring the area.)

(Mr. Tim Webb gave Annabelle her first lollipop, and she thoroughly enjoyed his tutelage on how to eat the sweet treat.)

(Annabelle discovered "Kiki's Sugar Shack" but thankfully could not open all the packages to eat as much sugar that Mrs. Kathy Webb stored in the goody drawers.)

#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #DaddiesAndDaughters #destinations #memories #story #narrative #inspiration #JamesCartee #Christmas #HappyEaster #Easter #GoodFriday #goodness #lifelessons

Sunday, March 6, 2022

An Amazing Announcement – Baby Jace Is on The Way!

As some of you already know, Lisa is approximately five months pregnant with a healthy baby boy named Jace (at least all signs indicate the baby is healthy). Jace will be named as the fourth generation of James Louie Cartee's. In other words, he will have the same name as me, my father, and my grandfather. This idea is meant to honor the men of our family in the generations before his arrival.

I discovered that Lisa was pregnant in early November when I noticed she was not eating Annabelle’s Halloween candy. If you know my wife well, hence before this pregnancy, she cannot resist certain candies and sweets, specifically with her dark chocolate cravings. I immediately asked, "Are you pregnant?" She looked at me with large sulky eyes and said, "Yyyyeeessss!" While she experienced tears of joy, there was a slight panic in her voice as well, hence the reality of this news and the arrival of another tiny human to greet us.

We are both excited and a little nervous about these new stages of life as our family grows. Since I have become a father, I have learned so much about myself and fatherhood because of these tiny humans – Annabelle and Jace.

The following spiritual lessons come to mind when I think about Jace’s arrival….

1.) Be okay when the unexpected arrives. I was not anticipating having another child in the middle of the most stressful year of my Ph.D. program, however, God has different plans for my family. I must learn to be okay with myself when these unexpected life events transpire. As the popular saying goes, “Do not sweat the trivial things!” Let go and place your faith in God.

2.) Do not let fear get the best of you. If any internal force unsettles your inner peace, it is often fear. No matter what you do, try your best to not let fear bring you down. For me, I try to remember this Bible verse when I am feeling on edge in this context.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

3.) Embrace the moments as they are in front of you. I am a purposeful person, meaning the future often consumes my attention, rather than just being present. Children help remind you what matters right now. It is the small moments that pass quicker than a racecar at the Talladega Superspeedway. Like the previous lesson, I come back to Scripture to practice centeredness in my own spirit. You cannot get those past cherished moments back when they have already happened. This Bible verse reminds me how precious life is when the days pass by so quickly. 

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

James 4:14 (NIV)

4.) Practice gratefulness before gloom. While this principle may explain itself, you can always be thankful for one more thing in your life. In other words, abundant blessings pour upon us as individuals in more ways than we know. We should not take these many privileges for granted. Gratefulness will overshadow gloomy thoughts if you simply say “thank you” enough times for all the good in your own life. Grateful, positive thoughts bring forth more grateful, positive thoughts.     

These lessons have often been my focus throughout this season of my life. I must remember to be okay with the unexpected, not let fear get the best of me, to embrace the present moment, and to practice gratefulness before a gloomy attitude. Perhaps you should follow these same observations if you find yourself on shaky ground when surprised by life-altering changes.

For your enjoyment, please see some of the latest ultrasound pictures where Jace swims in the spotlight and portraits where I try to hear and feel Jace’s movements in Lisa’s belly. 

Many thanks to the talents of Jack Horsley for the wonderful portrait photos of Lisa and me!

#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #DaddiesAndDaughters #destinations #memories #story #narrative #inspiration #JamesCartee #firststeps #babylife #friends 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Annabelle’s First Walking Steps....Get Up and Press Onward!


My daughter, Annabelle, recently took her first steps in long strides. Before this special moment, Annabelle walked three or four steps into the arms of this parent. She stood for extended periods in the same place, however, watching her walk through several rooms sparked my heart and soul. For everyone who was present, it was an extraordinary memory!

On the day of these magical experiences, Lisa, Annabelle, and I were among some close friends and family. In fact, I hired a professional photographer to take our photos, and of course, he captured Annabelle walking on the day of her first steps. Visiting from out-of-town, my parents (known by their grandchildren as CeCe and G-Daddy) were present for family portraits. While I planned the photography shoot beforehand, I never knew that Annabelle would be making baby history records to create a magical occasion.

In addition to Annabelle’s grandparents witnessing this event, we specifically met at the Beckers’ residence for our photoshoot. Their home is pleasantly well-designed on the interior level, and their property also creates a scene for a beautiful landscape and the foliage of nearby forest areas. We were introduced to this incredible family at a church we regularly attend in Knoxville, Tennessee. Originally from South Africa, the Becker family now permanently reside in East Tennessee. Gary and Jolandi have three remarkable daughters who love Annabelle in a familiar way. Lisa and I were blessed to share these exceptional moments with Gary and his three daughters!

My family celebrated Annabelle’s accomplishment with some of the most precious people present in our lives. With wondrous company, the Beckers’ residence contributes a peaceful, Spirit-filled atmosphere that makes an individual feel right at home, even if visiting this place for the first time. Their home environment establishes a harmonious melody in the heartstrings of the soul.

To recapture the ideal timing of this incident, we were among close friends and family in a unique place. A well-trained photographer took pictures. Annabelle just happened to start walking longer and longer distances in this quintessential setting. It felt like a miracle!

As I continue to watch Annabelle learn the concept of balance in strides, she falls down frequently. These falls sometimes cause minor injuries that then lead to crying. As a result, Lisa and I swoop Annabelle into our arms as one of us kisses her “booboo” to make it feel better. Even among the hurtful falls, Annabelle rises up and tries again! As she falls and gets back up, she gets better at the new skill of balance in walking. Soon enough, she will be running. Even though the pain of these plunges hurts, these downfalls lead to speed. Over time, Annabelle perfects the skill of walking and eventually will run as quickly as she can.

Annabelle’s walking journey reminds us of our own lessons of life. When we fall in the face of adversity, we experience a choice to get back up or lay down, dwelling on the calamities before us (speaking in a metaphorical sense). Annabelle often falls only to sit down again. While she cries on some occasions, she usually wants to try repeatedly. Annabelle gets up! It is quite admirable how resilient children become as they grow. Sometimes that is what we must also do, learning from the example of a child. Push forward. Get up again! And remember that we are champions, meant to develop into overcomers for Christ. When I need a reminder of this truth, I remember and meditate on the following Bible verses.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

For your enjoyment, I have posted pictures of Annabelle’s miraculous first steps. If you are a parent, I am sure you will recall your children’s first steps and how meaningful those moments meant to you and all who witnessed the occasion.    

Many thanks to the talents of Jack Horsley for the wonderful photos!

#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #DaddiesAndDaughters #destinations #memories #story #narrative #inspiration #JamesCartee #firststeps #babylife #friends

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A New Year to Resolve Our Ambitions.…One Step At A Time.

(Annabelle learns to walk. She, indeed, has Daddy wrapped around her finger, hence the typography on the shirt.)

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
James 4:13-15 (NIV)

With each year that passes, I try to absorb a meaningful phrase or word, such as “Grace,” “Practicing Thankfulness,” or “My Very Best.” Then I set reminders in strategic locations to remember this theme, to reflect upon it, and to thoughtfully pray on the chosen phrase. This year I picked “One Step” as my personal mantra for self-improvement. I possess a tenacious personality with many goals every year, seeking to accomplish more in my life. I often focus too much of my energy on the future, rather than living in the present.

My daughter, Annabelle, has recently been learning to walk, one step at a time in stride. In fact, she is so fast that I sometimes run after her to catch up. The challenge to go faster and faster consumes her attention while physically walking on her own. I try not to get so caught up in future ambitions that I forget to enjoy the process of watching Annabelle grow up and learn to walk. As I grow older, certain seasons seem to pass more quickly than in previous years. Therefore, I seek to stop, absorb the feelings in front of me, and marvel at the wonderful pleasures and experiences of the current moment.

One might even say I try to stay focused on the bigger picture where these small moments represent the best blessings experienced. This principle is especially remarkable when I share them with the individuals I care most about, this example being my daughter. Like a walker that an elderly person might utilize, Annabelle tends to prop herself up against a standing toy with wheels. This object serves to assist her in this learning process to walk. She is now almost independently balancing herself without assistance. Occasionally, she falls forward or backward, flat on her booty. Then I applaud her efforts in hopes that she will not cry, and in unison, we yell “Boom!”     

Annabelle’s learning process reminds me of how I believe God wants His followers to view life. Rather than thinking about too many days or too many months, God desires for us to enjoy Him now in our current moment. I often pinch my arm to remind myself that I am here in this minute of this hour. One might think of this habit as my own applied mindfulness to intentionally focus on the now. I hope you can relate to my “One Step at A Time” mentality as I seek to improve my own mental health and psychological focal points. Today is the best day to live in my special moments! I would say the same for you, the reader.    

If you have not already written down your New Year’s resolutions, I would encourage you to pick a phrase or word as I have done. I recommend that you use these words or brief quotes to focus on an area of your life you hope to improve for your betterment, including mental health and spiritual reasons. When the end of 2022 approaches, perhaps we will be able to appreciate the current moment in the presence of the people we most cherish. Together we will learn “One Step” at a time.

Please reference some of the pictures below of Annabelle and Lisa from this past holiday season. We focused on each day to remain present in the new memories we cultivated together.

(I love my wife’s many kisses!)

(Annabelle thinks, "This cornbread is so tasty I cannot shove it into my mouth fast enough!”)

(Annabelle thinks, “Cornbread is my favorite!)

(Annabelle says, “I love jumping! This toy is like a sit-down trampoline.”)

(This wood rocking chair has been in my family for a very long time. It is a natural fit for Annabelle!)

(My Grandma CeCe hit the jackpot when Annabelle received a plastic kitchenware and a microwave as a Christmas gift.)

(I wonder how she will react when I buy her a real microwave for college. CeCe might be onto something here.)

(Annabelle learns to play the piano. She is musically talented just like her father.)

(Family picture at City Hills Church after the Christmas service in Knoxville, Tennessee.)

(Downtown Knoxville is decorated for Christmas. This is our decorative family portrait.)

#daddydestinations #daddy #dad #blog #family #DaddiesAndDaughters #destinations #memories #story #narrative #inspiration #JamesCartee #Christmas #MerryChristmas #lifelessons #NewYears #resolution #resolve