Monday, December 5, 2011

Why I celebrate Christmas

We were singing this Sunday during the observance of communion and couldn't help but think of Christmas.

How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that he should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure! How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything; no gifts, no power, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom.

This is why I celebrate Christmas, to recognize and celebrate the coming of the one that paid it all for me yet passed His reward onto me.

Why do you celebrate Christmas?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Card Photo

When we first had B 16 years ago, it just sort of felt like fun to send out a Christmas card showing of our new bundle of joy. As this year's pic can attest, it just becomes an attempt to tame the chaos just long enough to get something in focus. Melissa's dad wanted family pics made when we were in Tulsa this summer, which included her sister and her kids too. There was no way we were going to attempt to even try and accomplish this again for Christmas cards so we found something from that batch. And when you look at this picture that we actually chose from the pile, you have to ask, what did the others look like if this is the one you picked?! At least in this one, we are all looking at the camera. None the less, the kids look great and are excited for Christmas. As you could probably ascertain from the photo, Melissa and I are just hanging on, in a good way though.

Tis the season!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Navigating Pink Meanies, the penalty box, and losing my jelly beans!

Well, it was about 5 1/2 months in the making but Saturday morning at Ironman Florida finally arrived! I made it down in time Wednesday evening to check in before the big rush on Thursday morning. It wasn't much different checking in for an Ironman than other shorter triathlons around the region except that I noticed on Thursday the lines were huge. Glad I got down Wednesday evening.

A friend of mine (he completed 2 previous IM's) who talked me into this, but later bailed decided to come and provide support which was huge! He and I went out Friday for a short practice swim as I had just purchased some new goggles. A weather system had passed through Thursday night and the surf was rocking and rolling! So much so that I eventually got slammed into a sandbar, up-ended, and lost my newly purchased goggles to the Gulf. I guess it was my sacrifice to the Gulf for what I hoped would be calmer conditions on Saturday morning.

Saturday morning began at 4:30 with the alarm. I quickly gathered my special needs bags (bike and transition gear were checked in on Friday) and dropped them off, put my bike computer and bottles on the bike, checked tire pressure, then went back to the condo to eat breakfast. This was huge as a lot of the athletes have to mill around the transition area waiting because they were staying outside of reasonable walking distance; it was dark and cold, so not ideal in preparation for a 10+ hour day. At 6:30 we walked down the beach toward the start area.

The pros went off 10 minutes prior to us so it got everyone pumped up and ready. I eased my way toward the wide side of the pack on the beach and about 4 rows back. The cannon went off and 3000 people merged into the Gulf. As an acquaintance of mine who's been age group XTERRA world champ multiple times says, it was asses and elbows everywhere! Even though I was attempting to stay wide and out of the middle, the first of the two loops was action packed with people everywhere. The swim is a 1.2 mile out and back loop, run on the beach and do it again. The 2nd loop thins out some, but turning around the buoys is an activity in self preservation in the water to say the least! 

By the 2nd loop, the sun was fully up, the water clear, and we could then see the plethora of Pink Meanie jelly fish all over place. At first the thought of, why are all of these plastic bags floating around out here came to mind until you almost swam into one to only realize they weren't plastic bags. I was fortunate to not have gotten stung, plenty of people did.

After an hour and 10 minutes in the gulf it was off to the bike. Getting your legs under you, grabbing the transition bag, and putting on gear in the scrum of men in the change area was a close body contact activity for 5 or so minutes for sure. Volunteers handed me my bike at the end of the rack and off we went. Overall the bike was good, albeit extremely windy for for the first 3/4 of race. So much so that the first 20 miles saw a ton of drafting penalties handed out because you simply couldn't get away from each other for fighting the wind. I was one of the unfortunate ones to get flagged and had to go to the penalty tent just after the 20 mile mark. There were so many people there the timers couldn't keep up and were having to time 3 and 4 riders at the same time to keep up. Fortunately the timers let use the time as a potty break and head off into the bushes so all wasn't lost by being put in the penalty box. It was a bit silly actually, especially when late in the race officials seemed to have disappeared and huge packs would roar past me like it was a weekend group ride with no consequences to be had. Oh well... 

Fighting the wind was tiring but with 3000 other cyclist out there you could shield yourself a decent amount, even if you were the legal 7 meters from someone and not incurring a penalty. Upon turning onto the infamous bumpity bumpity HY388 I was thinking it wasn't as bad as everyone had made it out to be. This positive mental outlook lasted for about 10 minutes before I was finally cursing under my breath and wondering what wanna be road engineer paved this road. Perhaps it was one of those orange clad prison crews and done on the cheap. It was a rhythmic jarring for miles upon miles! Our bike special needs stop was on this road which provided a welcome few minute break. I made a new drink mix for 2nd three hours of ride, scarfed a PB & J, made a quick break adjustment, threw my bag of jelly beans in my tri suit back pocket. I was set and ready to go for the next 60'sh miles with some well deserved sweet calories awaiting me. But alas, HY388 had other ideas. Not long after leaving the special needs area, the constant jarring of the road tossed my bag of jelly beans out! I was already into a full head of steam and didn't want to cause a pile up behind me by abruptly stopping and attempting to double back for candy so I had to reluctantly let my well planned out "treat" go by the side of the road. HY388 claimed another victim, arggghhh.

Just over 6 hours later I handed my bike to another wonderful volunteer and was off to put on run gear. The run was as expected for me, tough as I am a terrible runner. The first loop of 13.1 wasn't too bad for me, sub 11 minute pace. The second loop of course was considerably slower. At mile 17 I thought for sure I was done until I finally decided to grab a cup of chicken broth and almost instantly I had a burst of energy. I did a run/walk pattern for the whole 26.2 miles taking chicken broth every other mile from mile 17 in. My run/walk pattern paid off for me as I was able to continue this all the way to the finish, passing many who had finally packed it in to walk the remainder. Usually a 2 loop marathon can be a bit mind numbing, but given the time of day and my snail like pace, it got dark and much of the 2nd loop took on a totally different feel and perspective in the dark so it wasn't too mentally exhausting. Not to mention that at some point on the bike my right eye fogged over. No, not my sunglasses, but my actuall eye. I've never had that happen before so had all sorts of bizarre scenarios running through my head as to what was going to happen upon finishing and telling someone my right eye had totally fogged over. So needless to say I was a bit on high alert once it got dark and attempting to see out of 1 eye. Oh, and for those of you that don't know me that well, I wear glasses to see but don't exercise in them so you can imagine what a 1 eyed half blind guy might look like attempting to see straight 17 miles into a marathon. (I must have gotten sunscreen, salt, sweat in my eye because it was finally back to normal the next morning).

Coming into the shoot 13 hours later was exhilarating to say the least. It was well into the darkness by this point, but the last part of the finish is lit up like a runway with the entire route lined with screaming supporters on all sides. Always fun to give out high fives to kids sticking their arms through the barriers that you don't even know, but you can tell they are excited for you none the less! My longtime friend was in the chute screaming for me and I hit the banner with a huge smile and sense of accomplishment.

It was a great day!

Knowing that several people joined me in the journey and we were able to raise $1500+ for orphan care in the process is simply icing on the cake. Thanks to those folks for their support and willingness to partner with me and Lifesong for Orphans in this adventure.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

11 Takeaways from Together for Adoption including cottage cheese

For the past 2 days I've had the privilege of representing Lifesong for Orphans at this year's national Together for Adoption conference in Phoenix. What a great honor and blessing this has been to be in the middle of such an amazing group of people and to share about the great work Lifesong is doing!

I've got so many things flinging around my head that it's difficult to string them together, but a few takeaways from the 2 days in no particular order of priority or seriousness:

it's still seriously hot in late October in the middle of the afternoon in Phoenix (the exhibitor tables/booths were all outside!)
there isn't near the volume of hipster christians at an adoption/orphan conference as there is at a Catalyst conference, but they are still seriously committed and crazy about orphans!
young couples with no children who travel to an adoption conference to learn about advocating for orphans and knowing God has called them to this journey deserve a HUGE amount of praise, respect, and support (and no they aren't infertile and don't "have" to adopt)
Noel Piper can draw a crowd!
God never calls you to do what YOU can do, but rather what He can do so there's no doubt who's pulling it off! @JeffVanderstelt
American Christians have to figure out concept of "enough" to make big kingdom impacts in areas like adoption
Christians should be about social justice because we have God's grace, shouldn't do social justice to get God's grace
If I was anywhere near Memphis I would definitely be trying to get to Bryan Loritts' church Fellowship Memphis
Black people, for the most part, don't/won't eat cottage cheese (see Bryan Loritts above)
Young pastors with families who start new churches in difficult places amaze me! (see @JeffVanderstelt above)
There are some crazy cool organizations doing amazing things for orphans and adoption in general and I'm learning so much about God's grace through it all!! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Going the distance for the fatherless!

This past year or so has been a very transformational one for me and my family. We saw the 5th addition in a young and energetic 3 year old from China. Fisher is our 2nd adopted child and even though we already had adopted Eli five years ago, God really began a work on the hearts of our entire family for the orphaned, the fatherless.

We have truly come to believe in the redemptive picture we see in the earthly adoption and care of orphans in how God loves us, his children and has adopted us into his heavenly family.

Isaiah 1:17 implores us to "...learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause."

James 1:27 provides a directive for what religion should like: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

In that vein the Freeman family is committed to advocating and defending the fatherless in any way we can. Even in painstaking ways like swimming, biking, and running for 140.6 miles at Ironman Florida on November 5th! (yes, in one day)

I have had the fortune of partnering with Lifesong for Orphans along this journey. I'm hoping that you too would consider partnering with me, and Lifesong, to plead the cause for the fatherless and those who need defending, visiting, taken care of, and adopted.

Follow This Link to visit my fundraising page and help me in my efforts to stand with these children.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Were you building something? Yes, relationships

The first question we get upon our return from Zambia is some variation of the following:
Were you building something, a school, a house, a well, or what?
This seems to sum up the American Christian perception of missions; it's all about "doing" something. Or put another way, it's task oriented, it's about the accomplishment of something, the to do list of items to be completed, etc... There isn't anything inherently wrong with wanting to do these things for other people, but they seem to often take on the central purpose. Much has been written, spoken on, blogged about the whole short term mission idea and if it's even the right thing to be doing. Does it have to be all or nothing? Is there any worth at all in showing up in far flung places for a week with gifts, cameras, a VBS program, hammers, nails, and then leaving a week later?

There has actually been formal research on this and couched under the oxymoronic notion of When Helping Hurts. This is a great book by the way and should be required reading for any church sending short term mission teams out. It will challenge just about everything you probably thought you knew about taking the Gospel to the far reaches of the planet and especially the poor or "least of these". There has also been much anecdotal discussion from the perspective of those in the field and sometimes even heatedly so amongst fellow "brothers" and "sisters" in place like here, and here.

So what has my answer been to this ever present question of, so what did you DO?
We built relationships
We didn't build anything physical in nature.

We spent time loving on and playing with 200+ orphans and highly vulnerable children.

We listened to the Lifesong for Orphans school staff tell their stories, their testimonies, their dreams, their prayer request.

We listened to 12 and 13 year olds share their horrific life stories to date and how grateful they are for God's grace in rescuing them and a new found hope.

We listened to a caregiver in the local village share what she has to go through to scrape together enough for her $10/month rent and her dreams for her children.

We wrapped our arms around the missionary directors and their 3 children under the age of 6 and prayed over them.

We praised our creator and Father with a freedom rarely seen in the American Christian church.

I look forward to God cultivating these new relationships. And from these relationships will come true understanding of need, mutual respect/love, and Kingdom building opportunities.

Because at the end of the day, everything we saw Jesus model was relational in nature.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Prayer in the town square and drunks

Wow, what a day it has been! We started it off with the staff members of the Lifesong school getting their praise and groove on African style. You couldn't help but move yourself and grin imagining the angels in heaven singing along to such heartfelt praise.

We then got to see the children begin their day in praise and bible teaching. This isn't a passive activity either mind you. The Africans are the epitome of kinesthetic learners, always moving and grooving.

It is so apparent the love these staff and teachers have for the 200+ children here. It makes me want to take a sabatical and come teach with them for 3 months!

The picture of Dutch was taken just after the children surrounding him asked if he'd pray for them. So he did, right there on the spot! So proud of his heart with the other children this week.

Unfortunately just after this, a few of the town drunks started causing a scene so we found our way out of the market center. We had just walked what through what they call the compound and met with some of the children's caretakers or moms. Most either have only a mom or neither parent and are simply living with someone else or an aunt or uncle. It seems that while staying with an aunt or uncle is the norm after both parents die or leave, that's not much better than a stranger sometimes. I see my own children in their eyes and smiles and can only glimpse how God must look at us, His children, and his outpouring of love and compassion for us.

What a day!

We are ALL children of God

We have successfully arrived in Zambia at the Lifesong school! Needless to say we have been greeted with an amazing outpouring of excitement and love.

I can't help but walk around and sing, red and yellow black and white, we are all precious in His sight!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Riots in Zambia - trip canceled - trip back on...

What a roller coaster of emotions the last 24 hours!

I somewhat jokingly asked my Sunday School class who had not prayed as I had requested regarding the Zambia elections and potential unrest as news was reaching our team yesterday regarding riots and markets burning in Kitwe and Ndolo. This is where we are going to be traveling and working, the orphan ministry is in Kitwe and the missionaries there said to not come and had everyone staying inside for safety. Roads were blocked from the airport in Ndola to Kitwe!

Melissa and I had just made a run to Big Lots for school supplies, soccer balls, footballs, candy, etc... for me and D to take with us and were eating lunch when I got a call from Lifesong. Melissa said while I was listening it looked like my face was going to fall into my lunch. In lieu of the unrest, it had been determined to not travel today. Devastation! I just looked at Melissa and said, well it's God's timing and plan, but I don't have to like it! D cried in the car on the way to football practice.

Fast forward to mid day today and we receive the following via email:

Friends, you probably know, the election results came back, and the opposition supporters got what they desired - a new president. Looks like there is great celebration right now in Zambia & our contacts there have given the "green light" for safe travel. 
Below are the re-bookings we received from travel agent, for departure on 27th... Please look at your itinerary because some flights/times/city connections have changed slightly. 
See you all very soon!
Holy cow, we're back on and leaving Tuesday! God is great and I now have time to pack properly this weekend. :-)

As always, any help is appreciated on what is no doubt going to be a memorable experience if the last 24 hours are any indication:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Soccer balls, candy, elections, and prayer

I was talking with one of the missionaries in Zambia today about needs, including items and prayer. I didn't get a lot from him other than basic school supplies (pencils, spiral notebooks, etc...), candy, and soccer balls. He said they really go through soccer balls and can always use them. I had already picked up 2 today but if anyone has any used ones in decent shape, we could probably take those too. His main item on the prayer front was for stability in the city as the national elections were held yesterday. Votes are being tallied and he's prayerfully hopeful there will not be any issues. Great, just in time for us to show up! :-)

From what I've read, it's a fairly stable situation and doesn't seem to have much unrest although there were some recent demonstrations that turned ugly leading up to the elections yesterday. So I'd ask for prayer for the citizens and the process in the coming days. I'm also asking for prayer for the children and the native staffers we will be working with, that they'll be receptive to us and we are able to serve them appropriately.

We've made some modest headway on fundraising but have quite a ways to go. We'll still be raising funds upon returning. If you are wanting to partner with us, you can do so here:

I'll be trying to update everyone while we're there as time and access permits.

Thanks for everyone's continued interest in our trip. I'm looking forward to sharing upon our return!

Monday, September 5, 2011

He's party rockin fine, thank you

It's been 18 months since F joined our family from China. Having come to our family as a 3 year old, it's logical to wonder how a child of that age will adapt to a new family, new language, new culture, etc... We quite often get the question, "how has F adjusted?" Well let's see...

For better or worse, I'd say he's doing just fine, thank you for asking.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

But, but, but...

We've all been there right? We whole heartedly believe God wants us to do something spectacular, jump in with both feet, do something requiring stupid faith, right? Right! So we commit, and we tell people we have committed to _____, and we say to ourselves,
whew, glad I'm obeying that call, glad I've got some time to figure that out, i've got some time to figure out how to ask others for $$ to pull off this God sized project
And then.... it's "some time" later and we/you/I have that, oh crap! moment, it's just around the corner! We then go through the but syndrome.

  • but God, I'm so busy right now
  • but our septic tank just went out
  • but work is really chaotic and time off might not help my career
  • but that's a really long time to leave the wife and kids at home
  • but that's a stinking long way from home
  • but those travel arrangements are ludicrously difficult
  • but I feel REALLY cheesy/grimy/slimy asking people for $$ to do something God asked ME to do
  • but....
I'm now at that point where I asked God to open doors for me to use my education, training, experience in missional ways, and you know what, he brought them to me. But... they are in Honduras, Zambia, India, Liberia, etc... and those are a long way from home and cost a lot of $$$ to get there and back.

Dutch and I are going with Lifesong for Orphans  to their orphan care ministry in Zambia at the end of September. So here it is much closer than I had in my mind, and we don't have extra piles of $$$ laying around to get us to Africa and back (we do have 5 kids after all). Those of you who know us, know we've been to Guatemala and Honduras this past year or so, but didn't have to raise any money. Going to Central America isn't much different than California these days, airfare and other things included. But going to Africa is on another planet for airfare and logistics!

However, we are being faithful, committed to going, committed to using the skills and knowledge God has provided me to help their teachers and 200+ orphans and highly vulnerable children. Will you consider helping us go and serve these children by donating $25, $50, $100?

Will you help us begin to change their story? (link to fundraising page or you can talk do me directly)

Brush to Berries from Lifesong for Orphans

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tower of Babel

I don't think there is hardly a single day that E doesn't miss an opportunity to construct a fort and/or tower in our house. He's been doing this for several years now.

I joked to Melissa the other day that had he been born over 2000 years ago, I swear he would have been the architect and foreman for the Tower of Babel project. It's no surprise he LOVES this story every time we read it in the Jesus Storybook Bible.

So come to our house at any time and you are sure to find something looking like these:

I never hate to discourage his creativity, but I can't begin to tell you how many times I've picked up every single one of these pillows to just be able to sit down when I come home from work!

So in about 20 years, if you see a story about the tallest building being built, you should check and see if E is part of the project.

E is certainly having fun but as Christians we all seem to have our pride points and towers of babels. Mine seems to revolve around "justice", but in all of the wrong and misplaced locations. My tower comes out in what i've begun to call the "justice police" mode which in turn props me up as being more righteous than others, or smarter, or more... fill in the blank. We all seem to create works drivin pathways outside of faith and love to reach a higher level of recognition and "closeness" with our creator. The more I self reflect, the more I see that I too attempt to be a master tower builder nearly everyday!

What are your towers of babels?

After posting yesterday, I was greeted this morning with this after hearing, "Dad, come look how high this is!"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gas and go pit stops

On Friday morning we set out on what for sure has to be our most round about (i wanted to put circuitous here but Melissa says I shouldn't use big words like that too often) trip to Tulsa ever. As you can see from the map we had to first go nearly in the opposite direction to pick up D from camp before progressing toward the great plains. All was well until about 45 minutes from arriving at camp shortly after we exited the interstate and headed into the Smoky Mtns. Our van began lurching and not accelerating at all in low gears before it would "catch" and began to accelerate like a mini-van with a complex. As long as we were traveling along at a reasonable speed and didn't have to stop or seriously slow and go, it would limp along, begrudgingly. Upon hitting the windy 2 lane road snaking into the mountains, I thought I was going to have to go all Fred Flintstone to get there. We were lurching, sputtering, spitting, accelerating all over the mountain road. The only solace was it didn't look much different than all of the grammies and papas attempting to drive the same mountain roads and decide if they should stop yet again at another fudge store.

We limped into camp and hoped the short rest would do the van some good, but alas while attempting to leave and accelerate up a hill at a stop sign, we died. At least we had a view and an ice cream shop to enjoy. While the rest of the family enjoyed some fresh mountain ice cream, I began looking for the nearest Honda dealership I could find. Fortunately there was indeed one about 30 miles away in the direction we needed to be heading. We had to get there before they closed, it was going to be close. I'm sure the guys at the service center let out a big groan as we rolled into their service bay about 10 minutes before closing time. And of course, what happens anytime you attempt to take a car to the shop to diagnose a "mysterious" problem? Nothing! The 30 mile drive to the dealer was flawless, no lurching, no lunging, no sudden decelerations! So of course they couldn't find anything wrong. Great!

I will say they graciously tested, retested, drove around in it, etc... well after closing time in attempts to help us. Maybe it was the fact that kids kept pouring out of the van while I was desperately explaining the issue and that we were over 5 hours from home and 10 hours from our cross country destination. They surely felt sorry for us. None the less, despite their best efforts to reproduce the issue, none could be found. So off we went to dinner and then off toward Oklahoma. We had no further issues that evening. We headed out yesterday morning after staying somewhere in TN and drove most of the day yesterday without incident, before...
This was by far not as nice a spot for the van (which we have now named Lurch) to decide it was done for a while. So we grabbed some snacks, sat in the shade at a gas station for a while, topped off the tank and finally rolled on. We did this off and on for the last several hours until we finally got into Tulsa last night. For whatever reason, pulling over, topping off the gas tank and waiting about 5 minutes settled Lurch down for a while. It was like watching the later stages of a NASCAR race with splash and go pit stops, gas only, gas only! Don't you think we need 2 right side tires? No, just splash and go, go, go! We will be here until Thursday and will have to make some decisions about Lurch before schlepping back to Alabama. Of course everyone is voting for leave it, leave it! This is coming from everyone without a job, no financial planning time on their resume, and no responsibility other than to shower themselves occasionally and help do some chores, so we'll see what happens this week.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

No one comes for us, the teachers...

A week ago today, Dutch and I were resting from an action packed 4 day trip to Honduras. We had the opportunity to visit Plan Escalon which was in full swing as compared to my trip there in January. This time around we had some ground to cover with their teachers and staff as well as trying to work in a service trip into the mountains (food supplies and teeth pulling, ouch!).

Ever since the girls got to go to China to help us get F, and I took them on a mission trip to Guatemala, D has been like that little dog jumping up and down and nipping at your heels wanting to go on a trip out of the country. Honduras was a great opportunity for his first trip oversees and for some missions related activity. He was our de facto videographer and photographer for the trip. A long time friend from my doctoral program at Pepperdine who currently resides outside of Boston joined us. (this is a post in and of itself on how God brought us back together and his endeavor into this Gospel oriented outreach as a devoted Roman Catholic) We left on Wednesday and were back home Saturday night.

The main purpose this time was to work with a core group of the teachers at Plan Escalon (they teach about 550 students who live there full time) and begin the process of developing a plan and vision for utilizing their newly installed learning labs in their core curriculum. This was a major flashback for me as it is exactly what I used to do for public schools as a technology specialist and eventually director of technology for a school district. It's like God has taken everything I've been doing since I started a career in Education 18 years ago as a middle school teacher and all of my formal education up through my doctorate in Educational Technology and put it into a ministry context. It's hard to put into words other than to say, it's an amazing feeling to be in phase with God's frequency. And mind you when I say to be in phase, I'm not suggesting I worked hard myself to make it happen. I simply became open to God's urgings, prompts, external variables, and have found myself in a position where everything He's had me doing the last 18 or 20 years is pouring out in missional opportunities.

On many levels this was a hugely successful trip from the outward facing teacher aspect to exposing D to something much larger than the context he's used to and being shaped by in Vestopia, as well as my buddy Eric and God's pulling at his and his family's heart. The depths of how God works in 2 1/2 days is amazing! I've been summing up the trip by the following scene we found ourselves in the last night there.

Eric and I were enjoying watching all 500+ kids going nutty for their Honduran national soccer team put a beat down on Grenada (in a big revival looking tent used as the Church) and visiting with a few of the teachers and faculty when we started into a somewhat serious conversation in Spanglish with one of the teachers we'd been working with for the previous 2 days. He finally began telling us thank you and how much it meant to him for us to come work with them. He then started telling us how most people coming to visit them come one time and do a service trip; fix a wall, work on the soccer field, repair a bunk room, stairs, etc... And then he said the one line that caused Eric and I to pause, catch a quick glimpse of each other, and know it without saying it, we're committed my friend, there's no turning back now. Our new friend Ever said, "...and when they are finished with their service trip, we never see them again, no one ever comes to work with us (the teachers) and on the education of the children, you two can be our mentors." Eric and I of course smiled and thanked him for his kind words and assured him we would be willing to continue on this relationship and helping them as much as we can. Upon returning to our bunks shortly after I simply said to Eric, that's a heavy burden, are you ready? Without hesitation he said, I'm in! I don't know what this will look like moving forward, but I'm confident God knows and has an amazing plan that will blow my mind and heart out of the water! I can't wait for it unfold.

Here are some images courtesy of my son...

Short video from the mountain village we went into. Required some serious 4 wheel driving plus a hike to get into and out of.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

We are officially way over the white trash line!

There is a radio personality here in Birmingham who has a large family and is always cracking jokes about his non-environmentally friendly passenger van, the never ending "handles" a plethora of children can get you into, as well as the Lord's ultimate blessings through them. One thing he has always joked about is that once you hit 5 children, you are now white trash. To note however, there is absolutely no financial or socioeconomic consideration in this designation according to him. Once you have 5 kids, you've crossed over the white trash line, no matter how big your house is, the size of your 401k, or disposable income. It's of course all in fun and tends to go hand in hand with the discussion around what kind of defensive scheme does mom and dad have to play depending on the number of children.

So we've obviously already crossed over this line into white trash territory with our 5 kids and now that we live in a house with no garage, more often than not it looks like a toy box has exploded into the front yard adding to the WT moniker.  We are fairly old school and "kick" the kids (especially the boys) out of the house on a regular basis. I just know there have to be people who drive by and think, that's sweet that family lets their maid's kids come over and play when cleaning, until they realize we must have a maid over a lot after they continually see two ethnic children roaming around all the time.

We are now officially sprinting across the WT boundary and not looking back when it comes to kids in the Freeman household! It's sort of like that scene in Forest Gump where he's running the kickoff back for the University of Alabama and he just keeps running past the endzone and keeps sprinting into the tunnel of the stadium; run Forest run!
Yes indeed, those are adoption papers for the agency we work with here in Birmingham. We have submitted our initial papers to add number 6 to the quiver! I had told Melissa under no circumstances could we do this until she had completed the re-adoption paper work for both E and F with the state of Alabama. Melissa is a pro at getting the kids home, not so much on the follow up details after they get here. I guess that's what makes us a great team! (or something like that) She finally held to her end of the bargain and now I have held to mine. This had become such a running joke with our friends at Villa Hope that every worker there had a directive to not let us turn in new paperwork until we "proved" we had submitted re-adoption papers to the state for E and F, they love us!

Psalm 127 tells us, blessed is the man who fills his quiver with children, so I'm guessing we should be getting some serious blessing sometime, right? I like to think we are simply increasing our odds of a great retirement plan, or at least enough kids to share responsibility in taking care of what for sure will be two seriously ornery people in our old age. More details to come as we progress down this path with God again.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I AM Kungfu Panda, No I AM Kungfu Panda

One of our boy's favorite movies is Kungfu Panda. Until recently I had never actually seen the movie, but I had "heard" it dozens of times probably. It's one of the kids mainstay travel movies to play in the minivan. Because the wireless headphones are so stinking expensive we've never forked out the $$$ for more than the standard 2 that came with the van. The incessant bickering over tangling over the other "wired" headsets coupled with keeping up with the splitter for 2 or 3 more headsets has just about insured Melissa and I are destined to listen to every movie the kids watch on any road trip any more. We finally just figured it was easier to turn the sound to the back speakers and either talk to each other or sleep. All that being said, for years I had listened to Kungfu Panda many times over. It quickly became one of F's favorite movies once he figured out the entire movie took place in "his" China. As the sequel approached I figured it would be worth my while to actually watch the original. In true "guy" format, E and F just about recited the entire stinking movie line by line! I could hardly watch the movie with the boys sitting on either side of me giving me the play by play like it was the final game of the world series.

So it's no surprise we went to see Kungfu Panda 2 over the long weekend. E woke up Thursday morning letting me know it was opening day and we could go after I got home from work. It was like the always anticipated opening day of Major League baseball to usher in Spring! It was a great movie to say the least, probably as good or better than the first. It was always odd to me in the first movie that there was absolutely no explanation of a panda having a duck as a dad. This awkward and perplexing relationship turned out to be at the crux of the sequel. Po explores his adoption and seeks knowledge regarding his birth parents and his childhood. So the boys are now exclaiming, "hey, I'm just like Po, he's adopted like me!"

At one point in the movie Po tells one of the other characters, almost ashamedly that he has discovered his dad (the duck) isn't his real dad. The other character says, oh you mean the "duck" isn't your "real" dad, as if if to say duh, no secret there. While adoption seems to be more prevalent, we still get amused when people ask us this question, does E and F know they are adopted? I always want to say, you mean does the Guatemalan and Chinaman know that their caucasian blue eyed mom, dad, and three other brothers and sisters are vastly different from them, with a slight smirk? This has never been any secret and is a topic that comes up often regarding where everyone was born where they are from, how God brought us together as a family, etc... F who is 4 will sometimes simply say, I had a China mommy and daddy and now I have a new mommy and daddy with the biggest grin on his face, as if it to say, how cool that I have had more than 1 mommy and daddy, how many have you had? I win! (everything is a competition to him)

Anyway, Po discovers the story of his mommy and daddy and how he came to be orphaned. It was a great story and I believe one that will be like many adopted children's stories, minus the maniacal peacock who uses wolves as henchmen in attempts to kill all of the pandas. While E and F bring this up from time to time, it's like a different conversation each time as their maturity and comprehension gets greater with age. The story told in KP2 is one we can use to explain to our boys how they came to be a part of our family and it appears the writers received good input in addressing this topic.

In the end, the duck dad welcomes Po back from saving China with trepidation. Po says he figured something out in the midst of his adventure and with much worry in his eyes, the duck dad hears the following: "I figured out that YOU are my dad!" As an adoptive dad, I'd have to say that was a touching ending to a great kids movie.

While leaving the movie, E and F began arguing about who was like Po more. F finally trumped E by pointing out that while they are both adopted like Po, that he in fact is from China, just like Po. I think I heard E exclaim, ah man, I wish I was from China too. And then E's creative juices kicked in and said to F, hey there was a KP1 and a KP2, so we can both be like Po, I'll be like Po in KP1 and you can be like Po in KFP2! As long as they both continue to openly discuss their situation and that I am indeed their dad, they can both be like Po for as long as they so choose. Thanks Disney for a great family movie and one that includes such a positive adoption story.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tooth Fairy or Tooth Rat?

It's not his first, but seems to be the most memorable so far; E lost one of his front teeth a few days ago. Given that he is such a tender and weepy boy, it's no less than a miracle in and of itself we got it out.

A little back story... Melissa and I have to be the worst tooth fairy parents on the planet! I can't tell you how many times now going onto child number 4 we've had to pull out the "i'm sure the tooth fairy was just super busy tonight and will surely come tonight"... I'm sure you are on the list or the database given it's 2011, right? All the while feeling like such slouches for not thinking to run out to the ATM or scrounge around for some change in the cushions or something, sheesh!

The good news is the first 3 love their tender hearted little E so much, they can't stand to see him sad or heart broken. So now we have 2 momma birds and a daddy bird nagging at me and Melissa, DON"T FORGET the tooth fairy! Well D had a stroke of genius in the midst of reminding us and he said, hey you should give E some Guatemalan money from the tooth fairy. While we NEVER seem to have dollar bills or enough change to equal $1 (for those of you driving up tooth inflation cost by giving $5, $10, or even presents, please stop it! You are killing those of us with more than 1 kid and your economic model for valuing a tooth is stupid crazy) but we do have a bunch of Quetzales. And besides, it's about Q7.50 per dollar right now, so we are coming out pretty good on this exchange rate for 1 Guat tooth.

E was pretty excited he got something the next morning and when he figured out it was Guat money, he couldn't believe it. He said, "Daddy, the tooth fairy knew I was born in Guatemala!" He had the biggest, toothy grin knowing the tooth fairy knew this about him.
Turns out though, they don't have a tooth fairy in Guatemala, they have a tooth rat! Seriously, a rat? Now my friend in Guatemala says it's a mouse, but they still call him Ratoncito, which according to Google translate is still a rat! I have a little time to figure out what crazy creature will show up at our house when F begins to lose teeth, but I'll be seriously disappointed if it's not seem really cool dragon creature.

What fun cultural traditions do you attempt to bring into your family?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Orphaned in RIO

So I finally took the boys to see the new movie RIO on mother's day. For those of you with multiple children (especially multiple boys below the age of 10) you can understand this is actually a gift to mom! Not to worry, Melissa had already received her share of motherly appreciation from her children, including lunch to her favorite Chinese restaurant, and she had had her fill of "love" from them. Going to a children's movie these days for me is like looking for a needle in a haystack; find a theater NOT showing it in 3D coupled with a time that suits our schedule and is for the matinĂ©e price. I know why the movie companies want to pump all of these kids movies out in 3D, they charge $4 or $5 dollars more for them, cha ching! The little ones end up taking off their glasses or smudging them beyond usability with greasy popcorn fingers anyway, so the extra cost and "experience" is certainly not worth it. I can actually buy the popcorn for the price difference, sheesh!

The movie was cute enough and I'm sure there are plenty of good summaries regarding the story line and the main characters, the animals. I however was keenly focused on one of the non-animal characters playing a key role. You see there was an orphaned street boy that was being paid to steal exotic animals. At one point, the bad men (after paying him 1/2 of what they had promised him for stealing the birds in the first place) told him to get lost, to go home to mom and dad. He told them he didn't have a mom or dad, or no home to return to. To which they slammed the door in his face and the boy makes his way to a lean to overlooking the splendor of Rio. While the boy did play a redemptive part in the movie by helping the good doctor and bird owner rescue their birds, this orphaned street boy was not rescued. In fact, the movie ends with his ongoing daily plight unresolved. While my boys will not have realized this, it stuck with me like a serious case of heartburn (which I did have Monday after too much popcorn). At one point he was asked, why he would do such a thing; steal the birds that is? He replied something about how he knew it was wrong, but he just needed some money. 

I couldn't help but think of E and F and what they might be doing in Guatemala City and Hohhot at some point if God had not brought them to us. We've seen glimpses of what many of the boys end up doing in Guatemala City if left to the streets and it's not a pretty sight. In fact, Melissa and I were just talking about his gentle spirit the other day and how he would struggle mightily on the "streets". Getting to see the movie this week was also timely for me as I'm blessed to be attending the Summit VII conference being put on by Christian Alliance for Orphans this week ( In the midst of all that has been raging around us after the storms, this has helped me begin to focus on what God has in store over the next 3 days regarding His calling of orphan advocacy for me and Melissa. Through conferences and awareness opportunities like this, I can only pray we help find as many redemptive opportunities as we can for the children like the orphaned boy in RIO.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

You have 17 volunteers? No, 70!

Yesterday was a day I'm sure many from our church will not forget. We were allowed the opportunity to help in part of the clean up in Pratt City, one of the worst hit areas in Birmingham. Our church had done a little immediately after the tornado rampage on 4/27 that left so much destruction across a large swath of the Alabama landscape, but this was the first big organized attempt at getting deep into the community.

We had finally been able to get a bit organized and in touch with some relief groups in order to be able to bring a group of willing volunteers into an area in dire need. We didn't want to be one of those groups just showing up and getting in the way. The guys carrying big guns don't seem to care too much for that these days! I just happened to be the lay person asked to be an organizer for this Saturday trip with one of our youth leaders. When we got to the staging area in Pratt City I found the volunteer sign in location and began the process of getting our group signed in. It was chaotic to say the least but everyone was trying to be patient and helpful. Once they understood I had a large group out front they finally just gave me the clip board and asked me to get everyone's name down. I had originally thought we had about 40 people maybe when we lef the church parking lot. After we got everyone to put their information down, I counted 72 people that had caravanned out to help! The ladies attempting to get people signed in about fell out of their chairs when I brought the 2 pages of names back. One of them finally looked at me and exclaimed, "Praise Jesus!"

One of the ministers directing volunteers to head out (usually in groups of 4 or 5) was finally notified I had our group out front and ready. He kept thinking they were saying we had 17 volunteers ready to go. I kept saying, no we have 70. After restating this at least twice, he finally said, "oh crap". Then he asked, "do you have chainsaws?" Once I said yes, we have 4 or 5, his face lit up and said, "follow me"! We then regrouped our 70 folks with chainsaws and tools in hand, and he led us on a car caravan past the police and national guard barricades to the farthest part of the residential area that had not yet been cleared of trees and said "GO"!

We met some wonderfully nice families who expressed heart felt appreciation for the assistance. It was a bit overwhelming at first to see such destruction. We learned that whatever can get cut and hauled to the street will be removed within the next 30 days. After this, anything left will be up to the individuals to deal with. So we worked as diligently as we could with all of the leg work we had to get as much as we could to the street for these people. We got to hear their stories, let them talk, hug on them, and pray with them. It was a good day. Below are some images (click on each for larger versions) from what I have started to call the Covenant Presbyterian axe men.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tornadoes Part Dos

Ok so I never would have dreamed I'd be posting again about tornadoes, and certainly not 2 weeks apart! Unless you've been under a rock for the last week you are fully aware of the massive tornado outbreak last Wednesday.

As can be seen by this Google Maps overlay, it was a busy day to say the least!

It was a looooong day that began at 4 a.m. Melissa and C had to be put on a bus at school for a choir trip to Orlando for 4 days so I took them to school and dropped them off. About 5:30 or so the tornado sirens began blaring again and we lost power around 6 and the first wave of serious winds and weather ripped through an area about 3 or 4 miles from here. It then cleared up and was fairly decent for a large part of the day, until late afternoon. We spent all day on the front porch and playing outside because we had no power and could only get weather updates on the radio in the car. It turned into an entire day of listening to the inevitable headed our direction. Things finally exploded around 5 in Tuscaloosa. We didn't have any way to fix dinner and I knew we had about an hour so we rushed down the road to where they had power and grabbed some Arby's. Just as we were leaving the sirens sounded again and we raced home in time to listen to the massive destruction via the radio skirt by downtown Birmingham. Once I heard the all clear for our neighborhood I threw the gang in the car and drove up to Vestavia drive because I knew we'd be able to see the once in a lifetime tornado over the mountain tops. Here is how wide it was:
We watched it cross the entire way across the Birmingham metro area and out of sight on into Northeast Alabama. It was surreal knowing what was happening under the mile or so wide swath of destruction.

Since then it's been a whirlwind of activity, information, and support for the entire Alabama family. It's been amazing to see the faith based organizations and churches step up to the plate and swing into action. So far it's been a model that when fully exposed will likely dumbfound much of the country and our government as to what is going on between neighbors. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with needs, needs being met, mobilization of resources, distribution points, etc... It's been an amazing thing to be a part of as the social media tools have seriously expedited the relief efforts. Even during the storms because we had no power, I could get some cell service and was able to stay abreast of the situation via the constant flurry of Twitter updates as these storms ravaged across the Alabama landscape all throughout the day.

I'm thankful to say the Freeman abode had no further damage in this round, our roof has been repaired from the last tornado whacking, and now we are on to repairing the fences, yard, and storage house. I hope to not be writing about any further tornado events in the near future.