Monday, August 28, 2006

Lessons from the Kite Runner

The book, Kite Runner is by far one of the best books I've read in a long time. Being in an airplane for 20 plus hours helped me to get through this audio book quickly.

The four major themes/golden nuggets of wisdom for me were:

1. Every sin is THEFT

2. Being hard on myself is SELFISH

3. A man who doesn't stand up for himself won't STAND UP for anything

4. There are a lot of children in Liberia, but very few CHILDHOODS

Below is a breakdown of how these golden nuggets have impacted me:

1. Every sin is theft in someway. For example, murder is stealing someone's life from them. More personal, when Angel asks me "whatcha thinkn about?" and I lie to her by saying "nothin," I am robbing her of the truth and I'm stealing from her an opportunity to know my heart better.

2. Being hard on myself is selfish because the consequences affect others. This summer I've been very hard on myself for giving into certain struggles. I've not wanted to share it with Angel for my shame was too strong. So instead I was moody, distant and depressed. This book helped me put what I've been doing into perspective. The main character stuffs guilt deep down and for a long time, until it becomes too consuming. With the book in the back of my head, and a recent sermon from our Pastor of Congregational Care, Jeff Helton, who had everyone do a Marriage Intimacy Inventory, I was compelled to open up. During this intimacy inventory I finally shared my shame, let loose, allowed myself to either be accepted or rejected by Angel. Many things I shared were no surprise to Angel; she just wanted to know my heart, my struggles, my thoughts, and my dreams. I realized after that conversation that I was a theft, stealing intimacy from my wife because I was selfishly holding back from her.

3. A man who doesn't stand up for himself won't stand up for anything. The character's father would say this to him as a boy because the character's friend would always stand-up to bullies for him. This is a pretty bold statement, and throughout the book you see this truth. Standing up is not just about fighting physically, but standing up for oneself in normal conversations, meetings, and yes even blogs. I'm a pleaser, so this has consistently been something I've worked on for years. "You don't need to say anything right now, say it later when you're alone with that person, or when it is a better time," is what often goes through my mind when someone says something that I don't necessarily agree with. As you can image, that "better time" conveniently never comes. This played out yesterday with my realtor, I should have stressed more to him that we are serious about looking into Davidson County and not Williamson County and that yes, we are very serious about East Nashville. Instead after he talked about a few houses in Spring Hill and Franklin, I just said "OK." Not that we aren't open to those areas, but I should have stressed East Nashville.

4. There are a lot of children in Liberia, but very few childhoods. The same is true for the author when he goes back to Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, a few years after the Russians left. Liberia is coming off of 14 years of civil war, and many young adults and children were raised without there parents, or if they were, it was in refugee camps in the Ivory Coast. My heart breaks because I think about who will step into leadership, who will educate the children, who will create safeguards from allowing a tyrant like Charles Taylor to come into power? Children without childhoods rarely are able to act like adults when they are adults. Evidence is clear when after the war, the Liberians elected Charles Taylor in a democratic election. Granted he never took office due to the fact the UN went after him for many war crimes.

I hope you all go out and buy the book. It is well worth it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vacation in North Myrtle Beach

Aren't the sisters beautiful!!!! They love the beach. They will stand at the edge of the water, take a few steps into water when the tide is going out to the ocean, and when the waves come in, they laugh all the way back to "dry land." And then they do it all over again.
I think Jacob and Clive have been in the ocean the entire trip. They love it, except getting the salty water in their mouths'.
This was the view the entire way to the beach, my brother-law's Extera. Granted I was usually a little further away as he decided to act like Jeff Gordon the whole way by doing 85+ mph (South Caroline is only 65mph on the interstate. (sorry Mark, hope Donna doesn't read this post).
This the view from our condo.

We are loving our North Myrtle Beach vacation. Last night we stayed up with the adults and played board games, and yes (Baptists close your eyes) we played a dice game called 5000. Well, I better keep this post short because I had to go to an Atlanta Bread Co. to get internet service. Angel and I will be playing tag team, she will be coming back to clean up her emails. These condos need to get into the Info Age.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Breaking News!!! Wisconsin Drops Mike and Mike Show

This just in...Green Bay, Madison and Greater Milwaukee radio stations have officially dropped ESPN's Mike & Mike show. "The listeners are the ones who pay our bills; so we must listen to them about this outcry of anger," says one radio Program Director. Listeners have been calling in record numbers, demanding that their radio station drop the Mike & Mike Show due to irreverent and unholy-type statements regarding Brett Favre. "If Brett's not number 1 in Greenberg's eyes, then Mike & Mike won't be in ours';" says one die-hard Packer fan, and former Mike & Mike listener.

Mike Greenberg was not available for comments.

Also, in the news- local Wisconsin Ice Salesman just landed huge contract to supply ice to all inhabitants of the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada.

By Coming Home Chronicle Editor and Chief, Matt Pregont

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mike & Mike on Brett Favre

I just wanted to vent about my irritation at Mike Greenberg of ESPN's Mike & Mike. Thursday he stated that Brett Favre was the Nolan Ryan of the NFL. Meaning, that his personality, passion and likeability factor is what makes him a legend, not that he is one of the best. Greenberg says that Nolan Ryan is not one of the top ten best pictures of all-time, maybe not even in the top 20 of all-time. I think he's wrong there too. Nolan is at least a top 15 best picture of all-time. Come on over 300 wins (by the way, I saw Nolan 300th game victory at Milwaukee County Stadium- best game I've ever been to).

Brett Favre is absolutely one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time; maybe top 5 (I'm biased and would say he is a top 5). Yes, Favre is beloved and has a huge fan base like Nolan. Yes, Favre is tough and doesn't get hurt like Nolan. Both had great arms. That's where it stops.... Favre is number 2 all-time in wins, touchdowns and total passing yards. Not to mention in the top 10 in about every other QB stat (yes, maybe even interceptions). Then to top if off, Greenberg throughs in Joe Nameth, and he how is loved and how famous he was, but he wasn't one of the best at his position. True, Joe was inconsistent and died off into the sunset quickly. Not Favre....the man has played more consecutive games than any other QB, EVER. I get sooooo tired of Dan Marino being put above Favre. Dan never won a Super Bowl, Favre went to 2 and won 1. Oh, he won a Super Bowl faster than John Elway. It took John 3 tries, Brett 1. Brett 1, that sounds good- that's because it is true. He is and will always be in the debate as to whether he, Joe Montana, Fran, Terry, Unitus and Elway are the best.

My Trip to Liberia

Below is a summary I wrote for our Adoption Agency, Acres of Hope. Many people were asking me write my thoughts of Liberia and the adoption process. It has been humbling to receive positive feedback from this summary that I am embarassed to admit that I wrote between conference calls at work (sorry boss, if you're reading). Keep in mind the audience is for parents who are adopting from Liberia:

My trip to Liberia can be summarized in two categories: the Adoption Process and the Country of Liberia.
The Adoption Process: For those of you who are just starting the adoption process, please beware that the Liberian adoption process is new and everyone is learning something new all the time (AoH, Liberian Government and the US Embassy). We adopted our daughter, Isabel, from China in 2004, and one way to compare the 2 adoptions is that China was like a General Motors assembly plant - all the people have their assignments and execute it daily. It is very much an assembly line adoption process. No surprises, every step outlined and executed flawlessly. As a parent when you go there you are just told where to sign and where to be. While Liberia is like a start up company. Very passionate and excited about how the children are being rescued. New glitches in the system are found frequently and often times the customer who has their order in must wait. This is not to say one is better than the other, but to say that expectations need to be realistic. Two families who came before me to get their children had to stay in Liberia longer than expected, so you can imagine my fear this would be my fate. While there I understood how this could happen and realized I needed to show grace to all parties. This is all about the child and not the parent; so whatever it takes I was willing to do. My point in all this is that I came into this not having realistic expectations; therefore I was not always patient and understanding. My wife and AoH often felt the affects of this; which I am very very sorry.
If only one parent is traveling, please make sure you understand how the I600 form should be filled out with the parent who is staying in the US. Power of Attorney means nothing for this form, the parent in the US must fill it out. We had to fax (scan and email) the I600 form to Angel, have her sign it in front of a
notary public and get it stamped (never use a notary who uses the emboss type
stamp, make sure it is an ink stamp) and then fax it (scan and email it) back to
Liberia. Thank God for the Sheppard's, who I stayed with because, they have
email and a printer, without them we would have been in trouble.
We took all copies of the forms we filled out, but failed to bring receipts, please bring
all receipts because I had to pay 2 times for the I600 fee because the Department of Homeland Security did not communicate to the US Embassy that we had already paid this $545 fee. Now, AoH is working on the Liberian side to get us reimbursed.
The Country of Liberia: It is very hot there, but I forgot about my personal suffering when I saw the poverty and desperate situation of the Liberians. The poverty seemed similar to when I was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in the late 90s. The difference was at the airport in Honduras there were little children outside the airport begging for money, but in Liberia there were grown men begging for your money (actually, they wanted a tip for "looking after" your bags, even though they may never have touched your bags). The men and teenage boys were on me very quickly saying "I'll carry your bags." Fortunately, AoH was there, and they will get you through this hectic process.
Make sure to take small denominations of money for tips and other small purchases. What happened with me is that I just took $20s, so if something was $10, I got change in Liberian money or in Euros while I was in Brussels. If I would have had 5s and 1s it would have made it easier.
I fell in love with the people very quickly. Actually at the airport in Brussels. Harold Anglin and I were talking to a Liberian man, and all of a sudden he saw a former high school class mate. Many others who were going to Liberia would see old friends they hadn't seen in years. It was beautiful!! The women who saw me with Eva thought it was great that I would adopt a Liberian, but I did run into a few men that would say "why you taking away our wives?"When you get there you will most likely ask yourself "why can't things be better?" From what I saw, granted I was only there a week. The pot holes are the size of in ground pools. There is no such thing as a Sunday stroll in Monrovia because you are dodging the pot holes and dodging the other cars who are dodging their pot holes; all the time hearing every cars beep their horn. To fix the streets you need concrete, to get concrete you need concrete mix, rocks and sand. To get the concrete mix you can have it imported. For example the cost of the bag of concrete mix is about $2.00, but you have to ship it, but if it is shipped on a large ship that ship will have to go to a different port and then put your shipment into a smaller boat so it can get into the port of Monrovia. The Port of Monrovia is the deepest port in the world, but the port has about 6 or 9 sunken ships in it, so the large ships can't get in. So, you have your shipment in the Port of Monrovi! a and you have to pay off everyone and their uncle to get the shipment off the boat. By the time you get your shipment your bag of concrete mix goes from $2 to $50 per bag. This illustration was told to me by a guy who is doing some great humanitarian work and flies back and forth about every other month from the US to Liberia.
Also, the government employees only make about $20 per month, but a bag of rice is $25. The road is not only a tough one to recover from the war, but it seemed to me like they are running backwards up a steep mountain. The UN has a huge presence there, mostly to do check points and at night they work to prevent theft and other night crime. I don't know how the NGOs (Non-Government
Organizations, much like our Non-Profits) keep hope alive. The President is
working to improve things. I saw electric poles and transformers go up all over
the city. They say that by July 26th, Liberian Independence Day, that the city
should have electricity. The benefit for the people immediately will be lighted
streets at night, and for those who have money they can get electricity in their
homes. I was able to talk with a man who had gone to the Ivory Coast as a
refugee during the war. He had some amazing stories of survival and God's
provision. We often see sensational news stories about someone who walked
hundreds of miles to do such and such....that was a common thing for any
Liberian refugee during the war. All this to say that I encourage all of you to
experience Liberia because you will be better equipped to talk to your children
about their people, their history, and the country's future. You will get a glimpse of true struggle, and how people can still be so joyous and friendly.
In closing, expect delays and set backs, expect to be stretched in your faith, and know that AoH is doing everything they can to: care for children they have and make room for those who need to come, please adoptive parents, work with birth parents, process the court documents, arrange the Embassy paperwork, jump over new hurdles, all making sure they are beyond reproach so everyone knows they are not trafficking children.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mary Update, Home by Christmas?

One thing I failed to mention on my last post is that we are in the process of adopting a 6 year old girl, Mary, from Liberia. OK, I can read your, the Pregont's aren't crazy for having 6 kids. I would like to say I've always wanted 6 kids, but that isn't true. I thought we were done at 4, and then 5 but God ..... and Angel weren't. It wasn't until I really prayed about whether adopting Mary was what was best for my family that I understood the whole metaphor of a quiver that David writes about in Psalms 127:4&5, were he states: "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them..." Our quiver didn't feel full until we said "YES" to Mary. A couple of days after our decision to bring Mary home, Angel and I both were thinking that our family feels complete. It is the first time we've ever said that. I am not one that says "you have to have a big family." Each families' quiver is different in size, and this fallen man is not about to judge a family for having 1 or 2 children.

I read a great article in Christianity Today's August 2006 magazine called "The Case For Kids, a defense of the large family by a 'six time breeder." by Leslie Leyland Fields. It is great article on the inner reasons we have children, and how children who come from larger families are able to be more tolerant of others, able to work with different personalities in the workplace, and are exposed to leadership qualities earlier in life. Maybe this why I'm not more successful at work; I only had 1 brother and 1 sister.

Angel and I will often think into the future, wondering who are children will marry, and what nationality they will be. As a boy growing up I liked girls that looked like my mom and sister; well, our boys will have 3 different "looks" to like. I get excited about that. No, I'm not excited about my girls dating, they will have to wait till they are 35 :-).

Back to the topic at hand. We just heard from our adoption agency that Mary's paperwork is in the court process. What that means is now the court officials will seek out Mary's family (mom or dad, and then if they can't find them, then grandparents, aunts/uncles) to confirm to the court that they wish to relinquish parental rights. Keep in mind that Mary has been at this orphanage for 3 years, so it is not likely that someone will all of a sudden want to take her back in. We have been cautiously told 3 months, so we are just praying that she will be home by Christmas. While in Liberia I found out an amazing thing. Liberians name girls that don't have a name- Mary, like our John Doe/Jane Doe. So, there is a chance that she is not too attached to her name. Also, many of the children at this orphanage know that their name will be changed when they get adopted. When the court papers are complete and parental rights are transferred to us, we will be able to call Mary over the phone and I will say something to the affect: "I have named all my children, I would like to name you, would you like a new name." The names in contention are Anna, Hope, Ruby and a few others. Right now we can mail her some little things like lotion, ear rings, etc... It is hard at times when I really think about what she is going through daily. I just want to hop on a plane and get her.

I will keep everyone updated on Mary Coming Home. At the top of the post is the latest picture of her. Isn't she beautiful!!!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Family Picture

This is my family!!! For those who are visiting or those I know but haven't kept in touch with, let me introduce my family. From left to right is: Clive (5 yrs), Me, Jacob (7 yrs), Hudson (3 yrs), Eva (21 months), Angel (beautiful wife), Isabel (2.5 yrs). Yes, that's right I have 5 kids 7 yrs old and under. For those surprised by the size, yes they were all planned- no accidents.

To address the obvious, we have 2 girls that don't "look" like us. Isabel is from China and she Came Home December 2004, and Eva is 21 months old and she Came Home to us 4 weeks ago from Liberia, West Africa. As you can see Isabel is not all that thrilled, that's because this picture was taken when Eva and I flew into Nashville Intl Airport from Liberia. She was not and still isn't all that excited to have competition for mommie's attention. While they don't look like us, it is unbelievable how quickly you forget that. I could go on and on, and I will in a future post, about adoption, bonding, inter-cultural family, having a large family, etc....

We tell people that Jacob looks like Angel, but has my personality; Clive looks like me, but has Angel's personality; Hudson is a perfect mix between Jacob and Clive, and he has a little bit of both of our personalities. Angel is homeschooling Jacob for the second year. He is very excited to start first grade. Clive will begin kindergarten with Angel this fall.

Hope you visit my blog again. This is my first post, so please come back. It is my intention to write often, but let's see if aspiration meets reality.