The Crying Child in the Woods


The air is thick with moisture and the distant mountain in my view is a grayish purple. The silence of the morning is so still that I can hear subtle little sounds, like the baby bird chirping quietly in its nest in the rafters of the porch. I can hear things in the distance I would never normally hear.

The light is flat. Somewhere the sun is nestled warmly inside a giant cloud, keeping the light from escaping.

Treetops gently sway to the mild breeze, like ballerinas rehearsing graceful moves on their toes.

I hear cries echoing in the distance, breaking up the gentle sounds of the morning. Coyotes, perhaps?

A Screaming Child

My ears perk up, my defense instincts kick in, and the adrenaline rushes to my heart. I’m suddenly hyper-aware, realizing the cry is that of a little girl. Though I cannot make out her words, her screams are deafening in the silent morning.

Should I call for help? Should I put on my shoes and run out into the distant woods to come to her rescue?

Three screams of desperation, and I make out “Daddy, help me! Daddy, help me!” She is screaming desperately, with all her might.

Tears well up in my eyes, I feel helpless, trying to make out the direction of the screams, but not knowing if I can get there in time, and what will I face. Surely a child is not alone in the woods in this early morning, just after sunrise.

Then, in the distance, a male voice is heard. “I’m coming! I’m coming, honey. I’ll be right there.” Relieved, I know I no longer need to be the rescuer. The screams stop. The silence returns. The mystery will never be resolved.

As I sit here I realize the moment has rattled me in so many ways, as tears continue to stream down my face.

Memories Flood My Heart

Memories of my own children at young ages flood into my heart, of moments they needed their daddy to come to their rescue. Though with triplets, those days were hard, it was wonderful to be the hero, to be needed.

Today those hero-seekers aren’t crying out for Dad’s or Mom’s help anymore. Instead, in their teenage years, they tend to be annoyed with us, relying on us for sustenance and coin, but little else. Though I used to be the knight in shining armor, now I’m just “Oh, Dad.”

The Speed of Parenting

Time travel really is possible; I’ve lived it now for 15 years as I watched little seeds grow into saplings and then young trees — in what seems like a flash. Though others warned me, no words can really prepare a parent for the speed at which our children grow ready to jump from the nest, hopefully prepared to fly.

Driver training will soon lead to drivers’ licenses, the first true freedom, and the beginning of our separation. Truly we are caretakers for but a brief period.

The prospect of life without our munchkins at home in just three years is both frightening and exhilarating. Life as an at-home parent ends while a whole new empty-nester chapter of life unfolds. In our case, we’ll see all three jump the nest at one time. No chance to try it once, then another a couple of years later, and then another. It will be cold turkey.

Looking Forward to the Empty Nest

I feel guilty for looking forward to days when driving them to school at 6:30 for band practice is replaced by awakening to go paint or to get to work early, or maybe even sleeping in. Yet my heart already aches knowing my little entertainers won’t be around to brighten each day.

Friends who have experienced this transition tell me it’s the hardest, yet the best time, seeing kids go out on their own. But of course parenting never ends. Thank God for small favors.

An Unexpected Gift

Hearing that child cry out hit me in an unusual way this morning, a way I wouldn’t have expected, a way that rocked my heart and made me wish I were more needed by my offspring. My hope is that, as uncool as I am today, maybe there is some double reverse psychology, and their hormonal convictions of my uncoolness are really hidden signs that Dad is needed still.

The little girl’s cries remind me that we all need someone to run to, someone to rescue us, to be there in our moment of need. Though our hardened shell of adulthood often does not allow those cries to be heard, they are there, somewhere under layers of self-protection.

Friends who have lost their parents tell me they would give anything for one hour more. We all need someone to run to, to rescue us, to reassure us, to let us know that everything will be OK.

A Lifetime Commitment

A parent’s role never really ends. My calls to my aging parents, now in their 90s, are still reassurance, even though sometimes we have reversed roles and their cries for a knight in shining armor have turned to us. Parent becomes child, yet still remains parent.

It’s an amazing phenomenon that parents raise us and prepare us for life, and eventually we become their caregivers in turn. My parents prepared me for that role, and my hope is that I am a thoughtful enough parent that my kids will one day be willing to play the role for me, and hear my cries for help in the forest when I’m feeling frightened and alone.

I realized this morning that we all have moments when we’re crying out for help, wanting someone to rescue us, to be there for us, to save us.

Seeing Through Misbehavior

Though people act out and misbehave in ways that make us want nothing to do with them, perhaps we need to understand that sometimes they just don’t know how to ask for help. Their arrogance or nastiness or negativity may be a hidden code that’s saying, “Be there for me, help me, pay attention to me, understand me, save me.”

Cowardly Hit and Run

Recently I ran into a critical person on social media — someone who has never met me, never attended one of my events, never gotten to know me, but who slammed me, berated me, challenged me, and was as nasty as it gets because of my success and their perception that I’m “raping the land” because I’m an “opportunist.”

It hurt badly, not so much because I knew this originated with someone I knew who had betrayed me, but because someone made assumptions when they did not know my heart and my passion to help people grow, improve, and find the creativity inside themselves. They don’t know that my life changed when I discovered painting and that my passion is to help others find what I found. They just assumed I’m all about the money.

Too often these things lead to Facebook duels where anything can be spoken by people who would never have the courage to say something face-to-face.

What if we were to look at such behavior differently and ask ourselves, “Is it a cry for help? Is it a cry to be understood? Is this anger and vitriol present because someone just wants us to see their side of the argument?” Then perhaps we could lay down our swords, listen, and find peace between us.

We all just want to be heard.

Stop Solving

As a husband and a dad, it’s something I struggle with every day because I want to spout my own opinions before I’ve properly heard what’s being said. And, in typical male fashion, I want to solve the problems even when people don’t want solutions, they just want acknowledgement and someone to listen.

The little girl crying out in the woods lives inside each of us. The rescuing daddy also lies in each of us. All the roles we are given can be reversed. One minute we’re the crying child in need while another moment we’re the rescuing father or mother. It’s a complex world.

Training Future Behavior

Sometimes I fail to remember that the way I treat my children today will determine if they are there for me in the future. And the way I treat my parents is a model for how I’ve trained my kids to treat their parents.

It’s not an excuse to let bad behavior off the hook, but it is a reminder that we all need to be treated with respect. As my kids have grown from babies to toddlers to young adults, I’m reminded that they can handle more, and have to be treated differently in each phase. Like me, they want to be treated with respect and listened to. And it’s a reminder that the same is true in my time with my parents, who devoted their lives to making sure I turned out OK (it’s still too early to tell), and I need to be there for them more.

I’m reminded to see the other side. To listen for clues. To react less and to listen more.

Unknown Behavior

We are all crying out for help at times, even when we don’t know it. A therapist I met with once helped me understand that sometimes when I clam up, don’t talk, and don’t share my feelings, it’s because I fear I’ll be hurt, and I fear that others won’t listen.

Today that child’s cry for help, echoing in the woods, is cemented into my brain, as a reminder that my primary goal is to be there to rescue, not be rescued, and that if I give to others as I want to receive, I’ll bring joy to them and rescue myself.

Why Now, Why Me?

I find it odd that as I stepped out onto the porch this morning, wondering what I was going to write, God placed that child there with a cry for help at the very moment I walked outside. A moment that lasted less than 30 seconds, and has never occurred before, the entire time I’ve been living here. And I have no idea why it struck me, why tears welled up in my eyes, and why I drew the conclusions that were laid upon my heart. But I’m happy it happened, because I needed a reminder to be a knight in shining armor for everyone in my life.

Today, as you enter your day, you will encounter others. Some will be gentle and loving, others may be angry or annoyed. Some may be downright nasty. We cannot control how they act, we can only control how we react. We can RE-act by reflecting their actions, or we can RE-act by changing the tone and the dynamic.

Stop. Listen.

Perhaps today, and all week, if you too remember the crying child in need of rescue, you can ask yourself why someone is saying what they are saying. What do they really need? How can I react with love? How can I listen more? How can I be there as their knight in shining armor?

And I want you to know that I’m willing to listen. If you have a need, if you need someone to hear your voice and there is no one there who can do it, or who is listening, drop me a line. I will respond.

And thanks for listening and letting me be heard. It means a lot. It’s probably why I write these missives each Sunday. I just want to be heard.


  1. Shere Chamness November 19, 2017 at 5:42 am - Reply

    Dear Eric
    Art heals. Keep up the good work. I always enjoy reading your posts. Then I get up and do art. Thanks!

  2. Carol Roark November 19, 2017 at 5:43 am - Reply

    Such a great read this morning!! I am amazed at all you do for artists like myself. I also admire the fact that you do not hide your faith. Thank you for all you do.

  3. Yvonne Colclasure November 19, 2017 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric for your beautifully written posts. This is lovely. It sounds like your children and your parents are very fortunate indeed. God bless you all. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions with us all each Sunday morning.

  4. Bobbi Miller November 19, 2017 at 6:13 am - Reply

    Lovely … Yes, only we can control how we RE-act.

  5. Krystal W. Brown November 19, 2017 at 6:18 am - Reply

    This week’s Sunday coffee was a sweet reminder to me of how common and yet unique each of our experiences are. How each of us has been the screaming child at some point and also the rescuer.

    Fortunately for me, or maybe unfortunately, someone nearly always came when I cried out for help. Did this make me stronger? Did this make me weak and enabled and more likely to cry out again? Or was it just what I needed to become the person I am today?

    I chose to believe it made me someone who not only hears the cry but is willing to show up. Weather to listen, roll up your sleeves and get to work or just be a presence.

    My hope is that each of us can hear the cry. Even if that cry is just a look in the eye or a silence where there used to be words. A hope that no cries go unheard.

    So when this momma bird is squawking as her last chick leaves the nest don’t turn a deaf ear. Show up and help her through her unique experience by sharing how you got through yours.

    Your story will add to mine and all the others that have come before and will come after. And in the knowing we will feel a little more connected. A little more human and a little more ready to proceed on our unique path.

    Eric, thank you for sharing your experience with us and giving us the opportunity to pause for a minute and look at the big picture and our part in it.

  6. Jeanne Rhoads November 19, 2017 at 6:21 am - Reply

    Rick, this brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing your heart. I love you very much. Mom.

  7. Maureen Tarazon November 19, 2017 at 6:31 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric , what a truly good experience to read your Sunday Coffee letter to start us on our week. I want to share with family and friends, this is so ” Just what we need “

  8. Gail Eckberg November 19, 2017 at 7:01 am - Reply

    Recently a friend verbally attacked me and it hurt because had thought we were friends these as years. I did not react, over react. Back home relived his hurtful outburst. Could he be envious? Was he coming from fear? From his own shortcomings? Is he thinking himself not successful in spite of his constant bragging on having a PHd (but not ever doing much with it?) Was he comparing himself to me or others at his life’s stage? Was he depressed? These were my views about him, but not ever talked, discussed, only my summation from knowing, listening to him over these years, maybe or not. What he said was not true about me, friends there assured me later. A light went off – he really does not know me or he could not have with anger uttered what he did! My thought is, whatever it may be, is his problem…he should own it. I live true to myself, am a doer, have ventured where some don’t, do not live in the past, rather way more for today. I hugged him although admit part of me hesitated then thought he may need a hug. I took a higher road – “they go low, I went higher.😇 ” Whatever! Future? have to take care, protect,myself, be prepared?…
    Thank you for your Sunday coffee views.

  9. Gloria Chadwick November 19, 2017 at 7:05 am - Reply

    A great article to lead us into Thanksgiving. So many reasons to be thankful while embracing the challenges and changes life throws our way. Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your wonderful family.

  10. Barb Bush November 19, 2017 at 7:12 am - Reply

    This was beautiful. I look forward to Sunday mornings and your Coffee letters. They always speak from the heart and make me pause to reflect. I will remember the image of the crying child in the woods so I can listen to the hidden message underlying the words and respond with compassion.

  11. Holley Bell November 19, 2017 at 7:24 am - Reply

    The Crying Child in the Woods is a gripping story because each of relates. I appreciate the time you spend to write on Sundays.
    I rely on FAC to learn about the current and past art world. The DVDs that you orchestrated of master artists are an enormous gift to us.
    Thank you,
    Holley Bell

  12. Linda Filgo November 19, 2017 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your heart…it is refreshing to read your thoughtful perspectives on life. God bless you.

  13. chammi kaiser November 19, 2017 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Eric, this really touched my heart in more ways than one. It made me realise think deeply about the cry for help that see so often around me particularly amongst the old folks. They are often crotchety and demanding and sometimes downright awful but why? Many are alone, their children have emigrated to far off countries, their husbands or wives have passed on and there is anger and despair and we need to recognise that the frustration comes from loneliness and a ‘cry for help’. Your words and story have made me promise myself to take more time to listen and to love them although it is not always easy.

    Thank you so much for listening to me too.

  14. jim kowalczyk November 19, 2017 at 7:48 am - Reply

    As a long time empty nester who took up painting to fill the void in my life I thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

  15. George Kreutz November 19, 2017 at 8:04 am - Reply

    So profound Eric, that paragraph said so much! As a grandparent now, I am seeing those speeding moments go by again.
    So amazing to watch your child now become the parent of her own child.
    You will relive those child rearing times, enjoy!

    Thank you,

  16. Janet Bixkham November 19, 2017 at 8:11 am - Reply

    First of all, thank you for all of your hard work and encouragement for the art community, and especially the Sunday series. Today’s message is so on target, and I wanted you to know that you are doing far more good than you think.
    I am r ving across country and don’t always have wifi, but when I do I love your posts, they are a touch point for painting that I need. I will re subscribe to Plein Air Painter when I get back to my sticks and bricks home, but until then and even after I will enjoy this message!
    Have a blessed Thanksgiving!
    Janet Bickham

  17. Diane Larson November 19, 2017 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Wow Eric,
    This struck such an emotional cord on so many levels! It will remain with me for a long time.
    All I can say is thank you for sharing.

  18. Kathleen Alley November 19, 2017 at 8:40 am - Reply

    The ability to both see and hear; blessings as we age. Nice story. Thank you.

  19. john pototschnik November 19, 2017 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Eric, Thanks for writing this. It is so full of truth, spoken from a humble heart. God bless you.

  20. Paul Harman November 19, 2017 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Good morning Eric, I appreciate your coffee musings. They are far deeper than just musings because you care. That comes through loud and clear. Our writing brought back the feeling of loss I felt when my oldest son went on the road with a Christian singing group right out of high school. We were close and I really missed him and we saw him only a few times a year after that. Ffollowing his two year tour around the US he went to Liberty University for four years and our visits were sporadic. He is confident, successful and doing well, married and living across the country.

    We visit back and forth and cherish the time together. He chose graphic design as a major and loves it. I guess the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in creativity. I love my painting and the joy it gives me to capture our beautiful country. It is always a personal satisfaction to see one of my creations go to a good home.

    You do a lot of good in the art world and many thousands have benefited from your Plein Air teachings. Keep up the great work!


  21. Joan Vines November 19, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Thank you for writing this, I take care of an aging parent that lives with my husband and I and just found out that my husband has stage 4 cancer in his bones that has spread from cancer of the prostate, needless to say we have been thrown for a loop hearing this news. To be honest sometimes I feel too spread out to be good for either one of them. I try to paint to get my mind off things and clear my head even though so much stuff needs done around me that is more important but if I didn’t make time for a few minutes to myself I just couldn’t keep up the pace. Your words this morning about the crying child just touched my heart so much and being a caregiver sometimes I feel like I am a crying child. Needing help that isn’t there but trudging on with everything that has to be attended to. So encouraging are your words this morning and I enjoy all your Sunday coffee writings, I save them and re read them at times and also pass them along to my brother who enjoys them as much as I do. God bless you

  22. Marilyn W November 19, 2017 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Dear Eric,
    Recently one of my daughters and I were on our way home from helping a close friend clean up one of her houses and my daughter started crying and said she was afraid she would not be able to care for me when I needed her help because I was not doing what I needed to do to be healthy and continue to care for myself.
    She is facing great challenges and continues to do everything she can to live healthy and productive life. All I have to do is walk for thirty minutes a day to get healthy again. I have the most amazing family; they not only help each other, they help others. I love all five of them and I know they all love me and loved their Dad.

  23. Ann Howell November 19, 2017 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this wonderful essay from the heart.

  24. Suzi November 19, 2017 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you Eric for your Sunday Coffee messages. This message especially hit home for me as we have faced one of life’s harsh realities today. Your message reminds me to always be true to who God has created me to be and treat others with love, compassion and understanding in spite of how they treat us.

  25. Robert Eugene Whittenburg November 19, 2017 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    A flood of memories as I read your letter. Thanks for the touching message.

  26. Lynda Pyka November 19, 2017 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Wow, what timing this is for me as I clean up all the left over junk and unwanted items from my daughters room .She left to live on her own last week . I am very happy not to see everything she does anymore and know she is smoking pot and being lazy . I have been calling reminding her of this and that and wonder if she feels safe or has met neighbors. As I went to outside trash this morning I got stabbed by a long sharp palm frond straight in my ear. I said to myself that is weird as at that moment I was contemplating if I just listen and not talk sometimes it may be better for our relationship. I took that as a sign to listen better. With this realization came the reality that I also need to let her fall a little and have faith she can pick herself up. Eric , I so appreciate so much about you. Sunday coffee is special . Grateful this thanksgiving for all you do for so many of us . Thank you

  27. Isabel Oliver November 19, 2017 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Eric. It is now after noon as I read your morning letter. It is as if you’re giving me counseling after my own rescue efforts, answering a cry for help from my daughter in college across de country, and from my mom with dementia, also across the country.
    It is that time in our lives and it helps to know we’re not alone going through some of the same inevitable issues. We also need rescuing and painting and community has to be the answer.
    Thanks again.
    P.s. I met you at the Plein air convention in San Diego. I recognized you and introduced myself to you. I just wanted to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to me.

  28. Aleada Aine Siragusa November 19, 2017 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    When our children start to separate from us in their teens and demand more independence it is a good thing to celebrate because we have raised them well. It is bitter sweet that they grow up and we grow old but we are all part of a dance of seasons. I can not imagine how much harder this would be without faith in God.

    You are doing a great service to the realist painting movement. I learn so much from Plein Air Magazine and my magazine’s pages are well worn and underlined. Please do not give much credence to naysayers because it is not good to reward bad behavior; just keep up the good work and be true to yourself.

  29. Terre K Ritchie November 19, 2017 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Listening. That is such an important part of being a parent and a child of parents who are elderly. When I watched my 92 year old mother pass away from Dementia, it was the hardest thing ever! She would talk of the past every day and I would listen, but then she forgot how to talk, how to swallow, how to breathe. But then 13 days later my Dad died of heart failure. I will never regret the time I spent with them before they passed listening to their stories of the past. My Dad always wanted to play horse shoes so in his memory I’m setting up a new horse shoe court at my house. Although Mom didn’t know me the last 8 months, I still wanted to be there in case she remembered something. My Dad was very alert and knowledgeable of what was happening to him…still another hard thing to be a part of. And yes, you do think a lot about how you’ve treated your children growing up so that they can treat you in a similar manor. There, I have no regrets.

    Listening works well in the painting world, also. Whether I’m setting up a still life or doing a portrait, or a plein air painting I always listen to my brain as it rewinds through my art professors and workshop leaders instructions. Look for the light…what’s on the surface and what’s at the back of the picture plane? Look for depth of shadows, value, highlights, etc. It’s all there but I have to listen to my brain recount it all every time I paint.

    So, listening is more than an exercise with teens and parents, it also works when laying down a story on a piece of canvas.
    Thank you, Eric, for your insight and conversation with us every Sunday.

  30. Kathie Bugajski November 19, 2017 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Dear Eric,
    I have to tell you I wait for Sunday Coffee time! You not only paint with a brush, but with your gift of words and story. You touch my soul in most every article. I was an attendee to the FACE event and wanted so badly to just talk to you and finally bumped into you in the expo area. Our conversation was short as I knew you were very busy than. From your writings and seeing you enjoy the people I could tell you are a man of great integrity and loves doing what you’re doing. Thank you for the gift you’ve given to all of us by sharing yourself and your heart. I’m an emerging artist sculptor/painter as our children have left our nest too. Even though I have more time now I still wish they were home with us. God bless you and know that I pray for you and FACE.

  31. SAM TURNER November 19, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Thanks for opening your heart.
    “We’re all just walking each other home..” Ram Dass

  32. Joe Hennes November 19, 2017 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    Love your posts. Been painting 60 plus years enjoying your posts every week. You inspired me to try plan air what a joy I am haveing fun thank you . I set up to paint plain air and people stop and watch we chat and some times they try painting .I have fun showing how to paint in watercolor giving them paint and paper and let them try . Thank you again. Joe.

  33. Kathy Brown November 19, 2017 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Lovely words. I look forward to your Sunday Morning Coffee letters. Please keep them coming. 😊

  34. P. JAY November 20, 2017 at 12:53 am - Reply

    I also wonder why this particular and well written and thoughtful article was placed where I would not only run across it but read it this morning ! at an appropriate time in my life’s newest adventures in my sunset years ! Thank you for the gift Eric – great timing – (as if either one of us had anything to do with this master plan ) KEEP writing as well as painting ! You are an inspiration to so many !

  35. Debra Meekins November 20, 2017 at 4:43 am - Reply

    I love reading your Sunday Coffee posts! Thank you for sharing your heart.

  36. Sharyn Lightfoot November 20, 2017 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Even though I was supposed to be elsewhere, I had to stop and read your post. So glad I did too. What a touching portrayal of the experience and further thoughts !
    You ARE needed. People will take actions that they would have let slide, after reading this.Thank you.

  37. Laura Wambsgans November 20, 2017 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Of all your writings, spoken words and events, your Sunday Morning Coffee musings are my absolute favorite and have become a “must reads” in my feed. 99% of the time, you hit home with a reality check, a gratitude reminder, true values simply stated, putting art in it’s honored place (after family). Please, know how much you are appreciated as a true gentleman and holding the brightest torch on art.

  38. Marilyn November 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I love your heart!! Receiving your posts in my email box is always a blessing. Thank you so much for sharing your words – your heart – and of course all the programs, magazines, etc. that so enrich our lives every day. You are a blessing and much appreciated.

  39. Ted Hess November 20, 2017 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I know the longing as our children grow up and leave home. In a few more years, God willing, you will have grandchildren. They are Gods payment for all the trouble and heartache that your children caused. And Grandpa is the greatest hero in the world. God Bless

  40. Connie Burnett-Ferraro November 28, 2017 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    Eric, I so look forward to your articles….they help me in my painting and they help me in my personal life. This last one brought tears…you are a very compassionate person and have a wonderful heart. As the post above says, You are a blessing and much appreciated….

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  42. Lindsey Decosta July 18, 2018 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Keep functioning ,terrific job!

  43. Synthia Frisbie July 31, 2018 at 1:39 am - Reply

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