Guaranteeing Time for Family in the Midst of Busyness

Sabbath Keeping-Big Picture PublishingI admit that I might be a work-a-holic, just a wee bit.

Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.

At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.

What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.

Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.

Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.

Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”

We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.

Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional, Saturday Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.

We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.

At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made.

Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”

We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people!)

For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m never burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.

If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.

My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!

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My Brother’s Heart: A Tribute

Hanging with my big brother on my first Christmas.

Hanging with my big brother on my first Christmas.

The world just lost another good man. He died peacefully in his sleep at age 57. No one knows why.

I was lucky to be his little brother. Growing up with Craig was a blast. He was hilarious. When we were kids his mind was always cooking up something interesting or mischievous. He could easily have led me into bad things, but that just wasn’t my brother’s heart. His moral compass was always oriented to creative and reasonably harmless pursuits.

Craig was passionate about everything he got into. He got me interested in drawing when I was just a little kid. I feel a little pensive about this now. He really liked drawing, and I wonder if he would’ve pursued a career in art if it hadn’t been for me. He was well above average in his ability, but I happened to be innocently but extraordinarily gifted. Everyone soon made a big deal about my art and assumed out loud that I would grow up to be an artist. This became part of my identity. I thought he simply lost interest in art. He ended up following my dad into construction work, which didn’t really work out well. I wanted to ask him about all of this someday.

Craig was a collector of things. When we were kids it was Mad magazines and Marvel comics. Beginning in his teen years, it was music. I grew up listening to the music of my older siblings – mostly my brother’s. For better or for worse, I still know all of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics to Elton John’s early recordings. As an adult, Craig amassed a huge, diverse music collection and became an avid concertgoer and music festival attendee. If you ever attended the Cornerstone festival in Illinois, put on by Jesus People USA, my brother was there.

Somewhere along the line, my brother devoted his life to following Jesus, passionately, of course. He was blessed with a great crap detector, but he didn’t use it to be harsh with people. He might privately call out a friend, but he used it as much on himself as on anyone else. Despite being outspoken for the truth, when he recognized that he’d been hurtful or wrongheaded, he was humble enough to ask forgiveness. I loved his heart.

As an adult I got to see his heart up close, when he endured a very painful divorce. I don’t know that I could have, or would have, been able to love and forgive as he did had I been in his situation. The depth of his forgiveness was astounding to me. During this time, after hearing his heart, it struck me that he had the mind of Christ. His example was inspired and inspiring.

Craig’s honest walk with Jesus enabled him to cut through and navigate the Southern Baptist, Evangelical subculture in which we grew up. He understood that the point was not to follow a religion, but to follow a person: Jesus. He understood that following Jesus is not about religious legalism and rule-keeping, but about relationship, while still holding to the fidelity of the Bible.

This could be seen in the testimony of two men who stood to speak during a public sharing time at Craig’s funeral – two different men, from two different backgrounds. You could guess their background by their appearance. One guy came from a Christian fundamentalist background. He described how my brother had helped him break free from religious legalism, and helped him to come into the freedom that the Spirit of Jesus brings, (…“where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” – 2 Cor 3:17.) Apparently their conversations often revolved around some of my brother’s “objectionable” Christian music.

The second guy came from an opposite place. He explained that when he came to Jesus, he didn’t so much mind letting go of the drugs and the drinking. But he was a metal head, and it was disheartening for him to entertain the idea of joining a legalistic Christian subculture with lame music. Somebody sent him to my brother, who introduced him to some legit musicians whose music didn’t fit this guy’s stereotype of Christian Music. They became buds. When I shook this guy’s hand afterward, he reminded me that I had met him once, camping with my brother at a Cornerstone festival – home of alternative Christian music.

In our immediate family, my wife and I have a saying: “Life is about relationships.” This idea often helps us choose where we spend our time and energy. This saying derives from the greatest commandment as stated by Jesus: Love God, and love people; all of God’s instruction depends upon these two things (Mat 22:36-40.) I never heard Craig say the words, “life is about relationships,” but at his funeral it was clear that he lived them as well as anyone I know. His life was all about pursuing God and investing in people.

Craig was a great dad, and he poured his life into his two lovely daughters, Jenna and Dana. Here are a couple of comments from their Facebook friends:

He valued the opinion of every person he spoke with, no matter what age you were. He taught me the value of presence. The art of conversation. Looking back, I can’t remember a time that I saw him ever leave first! Whoever he was with or wherever he was, he was fully there. Serving as our Sunday School teacher & one of our college group leaders, he taught so many of us young adults how to appreciate art & seek the truth & beauty of God in things like film, music or just being outdoors…He made all of us feel important; believed in. Like our voices mattered… – EC

Craig sought out God in everything and was excited to talk about it. To my group of friends, he was not just someone’s dad or the Sunday school teacher or the adult supervisor. He was our friend. We invited him to all of our parties, we went to the movies with him, we camped together, we ate meals together, we talked about life, we talked about God and His creation… – MT

There are many ways that people look at death. Some see it as a natural, even a beautiful, thing – a mysterious portal into the next stage of existence. Jesus didn’t see it that way. Jesus wept at death. He spoke of Himself as the resurrection and the life. Paul spoke of death as an enemy that Jesus came to destroy. He described the resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of a great harvest that would follow. The Bible describes a salvation that encompasses our entire beings – body, soul, and spirit. Death is a separation. God promises to restore total unity. I suppose we should expect nothing less from an all loving, all powerful, and all good God.

I loved my big brother’s heart. I admit that I’m frustrated and sad that he is gone. I expected to have a lot more time with him. We had a lot of catching up to do.

Here’s looking forward even more to “the restoration of all things.”

The last picture of my brother and me. Craig Lee Freeman -  January 5, 1958 to July 27, 2015

The last picture of my brother (on right) and me – Dec 2014.
Craig Lee Freeman – January 5, 1958 – July 27, 2015

New Storybook Release: Bear Island

Christian books for kids-Bear IslandI’m excited about this one!

Over the past few years, thanks to some great teaching by a couple of pastor friends, I’ve come to appreciate that one of God’s primary attributes is that He is relational in nature. As human beings created in His image, we are relational as well; created to live in loving relationship with Him, and with each other. Since our triune God exists in relationship within Himself, we can say that our need for loving relationship is not a shortcoming or flaw, but is rather an essential part of our Creator’s design for us.

The idea of a personal God who is loving and relational is not as inevitable as it might seem. This is unique to a biblical worldview. For example, the Allah of the Quran has always existed as a solitary being, and there is no indication that he desires relationship with man. Furthermore, Allah’s eternal aloneness suggests that love could have only existed in theory until man was created. In contrast, Jesus describes being in perfect loving relationship with the Father from before creation. Thus the scriptures can truthfully say that God is love, and always has been.

Marriage is one picture of the relational unity-in-diversity that God designed us for. The creation story explicitly states that “oneness” is God’s intent for marriage. Family is another picture. The church is meant to be yet another manifestation of loving, relational unity. The greatest commandments of Jesus reflect all of this. Even on a worldly level, everyone on the planet seeks community and unity in some form. This is all from God, and Jesus claims that His salvation is what makes relational unity – first with God, and then with our neighbor – truly possible. In this way we can say that our deepest desires are met in Jesus.

Bear Island is a simple story that was designed to capture these truths at the simplest level. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family.

Bear Island tells the story of an island that should be a wonderful place for bears to live. Unfortunately, all of the bears are lonely because they mistakenly believe that the way to be happy is to be selfish. The strongest bears push the smaller bears around, and there’s generally lots of fighting and grumpiness. Bear Island is not a very nice place to live.

Books for kids-Bear Island

One day an enormous, new bear visits the island and the other bears are immediately afraid of him. However, rather than behaving selfishly, as they expect him to, he brings love and friendship to the island, eventually transforming the whole island.

Christian storybooks-Bear Island

Christian picturebooks for kids“…Every day Burly Brown Bear made a new friend by being kind to another bear. Soon there was a whole party of brown furry bears sharing their berries and sharing their days together. Bear Island was becoming a more heavenly place!…”

Biblical worldview for kids-Bear Island

As a side note, the idea for this story came to me after my wife and I had completed a marriage class through my church that deeply affected us. This was also during the Ferguson riots, (near where I grew up.) At the time, I was struck with how seldom fatherlessness and the decline of marriage were a part of the ensuing discussions on race relations in America. I think the story of Bear Island came out a little differently because of all of this than it otherwise would have. I mentioned in a previous post that the characters in the story were designed so that children of any ethnic makeup would be able to identify with them. My hope is that this book can make inroads into the Black and Hispanic communities. Eventually I hope to offer a Spanish version as well.
Bear Island-Big Picture Publishing

Those are my thoughts and hopes for this little book!

Reinforcing a biblical worldview in the kids you love has never been more important. Storytelling is still one of the very best ways to do that. Thank you for letting me play a part!

To order Bear Island right now, CLICK HERE!

Shipping is FREE inside the U.S.

A Tale of Two Neighbors. (And Many Dandelions.)

garden gnome-scott freemanThis morning as I was out digging dandelions in the sun, I noticed myself unconsciously making choices. It set me to thinking about human action and freedom.

I’m quite fond of the quirky little piece of downtown property where my wife and I live and raised our family. I love my wife’s garden. I love our art studio. I like our fruit trees. I like that our yard is not fenced in. And I really like that there is no Homeowners Association (HOA.) This allows me to do things like dig a pit and cook a turkey in the ground at Thanksgiving. Or to add outdoor art to my property. Our “inner city” neighborhood has a lot of cool, creatively embellished properties, and a lot of urban farming going on. Several neighbors keep chickens and bees in their backyards. These are usually among the best kept properties. I love this.

Of course there is the occasional trashy property as well, and the occasional display of poor taste. This is part of the cost of freedom. I think it is a small price to pay.

This post is a brief tale of two neighbors. It’s a story about the dynamics of living in community. (I’m pretty sure neither of my neighbors reads my blog.)

I will call my neighbor on one side, Harvey. Harvey is a middle-aged, single guy. We’re buds. We’ve talked a lot about life, God, politics, and stuff, in a dude sort of way. I like a lot of Harvey’s views, though he can be a little pugnacious. But underneath his crusty, cigar-smoking exterior, as human beings go, he’s a good man. He volunteers his time and resources to help under-privileged kids. For years he has worked with the deaf community in one capacity or another. He has purchased my art and books on several occasions. He has given us pecans from his farm in another state. I like Harvey.

A few years ago, Harvey adopted an enormous dog. A black lab, or something. I’ll call him Dogzilla. Dogzilla is clueless and friendly. I’d say he’s a little too friendly. He often escapes his pen and comes immediately into our yard, snuffling around and peeing in our garden, where we grow food that we intend to eat. Dogzilla produces enormous poop that doesn’t decompose because Harvey feeds him cheap dog food. Sometimes at night, I’ve noticed Harvey letting Dogzilla out for a potty break, while he enjoys a cigar in our shared alley. Recently, I shoveled all of Dogzilla’s petrified poop back into Harvey’s yard. I haven’t told Harvey about this yet, but if he doesn’t like it, I’m looking forward to the conversation where he explains why he has a problem with me putting his dog’s poop back into his yard.

Harvey pieced together a make-shift pen for Dogzilla. The makeshift pen is quite large and consists of five-foot sections of chain-link fencing, held up with bungee cords and stacks of cinder blocks, with a tarp thrown over part of the fence for shade. With dandelions and goat heads growing all around. It looks like crap. It’s very reminiscent of a third world slum, or a refugee camp. Of course, I have nothing against third world slum dwellers or refugees, but I don’t believe that Harvey and Dogzilla are in a crisis situation. Unless you count the dandelion crisis. But even so, that’s really a first world problem.

So that’s on one side of my house.

Then there is my neighbor on the other side. I’ll call her Betsy. She is an interior designer. Her house and yard look like a greeting card scene. She’s like Martha Stewart without the prison record. Her property has been on the annual Loveland Garden Tour. It’s like a Disney movie over there, with rabbits and birds and butterflies hopping and flitting about. When I step out of my house to go to work in my studio, if I happen to glance over to the right at Betsy’s property, I often break into song.

Betsy is also a great neighbor and a giving person. She is from an old Loveland family, and it’s fun to talk local history with her. My wife and Betsy exchange gardening plants. I have painted several paintings in her sanctuary-like backyard during plein air art competitions. (I have never asked Harvey’s permission to paint in his “yard.”) During winter, she always has her snow removal guys do part of my sidewalk. At Christmastime we exchange Christmas cookies, and hers are amazing, and ridiculously Martha Stewart-like. (Harvey does not give us cookies, but that is probably a good thing.)

That’s the other side of my house.

So, when I went out for my first springtime dandelion digging, guess where I started digging first? I headed directly to Betsy’s side of my yard. I wanted to be sure she didn’t have to wonder if I was going to get rid of the dandelions next to her property. (Her yard is dandelions-free.) She has never complained to me about my sometimes lax grounds keeping. She doesn’t have to. Because she treats her property with care, it makes me want to do the same. Not out of guilt, or shame, or keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, but out of respect and appreciation for the effort and creative care she puts in. I’ve noticed that she likes to entertain guests in her garden, and I would like to not be the jerk who ruins the sanctuary vibe that that she has going on over there. All of this is unspoken. I could completely neglect my property, and the world would keep turning, but the fact that she cares helps me to care.

Isn’t so much of life like this?

All of us struggle every day against entropy and degeneration, in every aspect of life. The physical universe is winding down. Left to itself, our environment gravitates toward disorder and decay. Civil society naturally tends toward confusion and degeneration. Even the genes in our cells are continually mutating, causing our bodies to degenerate and eventually lose function. But we fight against this. By intelligence, creativity, and work, we rebuild, restore, support, and hope. Ultimately, our only hope for salvation is an intelligent, loving, regenerative Life-Source existing outside of creation, commonly referred to as “God.” But whether or not we believe in such a God, most of us still hold onto hope. I find this bittersweet.

For me, every creative act is worth something. While even our hoping and dreaming is imperfect, every hope and dream in the face of futility testifies that we were created for life, love, and goodness. Creative acts affirm life. Caring acts make the universe make sense to our neighbor. Loving acts transcend the futility of our hopeless trajectory, in some small way. To me these things signal that there is something better to come.

I’ll close with some gardening tips from the apostle Paul:
“…whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:7-10.)

dandelion

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Help My Son, and (Perhaps) Win an Awesome Painting by my Wife

Happy Family

A family photo from Thanksgiving 2013.
Caleb is on the far left with his finger in his nose.

My oldest son, Caleb, was born with some disabilities. The most significant of these is his visual impairment. Caleb can read large print, and make his way around a computer quite well. (He can type way faster then me, but I admit that’s not a terribly impressive feat.) Though Caleb has faced more physical challenges than most throughout his life, by hard work, faith, and perseverance he has often managed to surpass everyone’s expectations.

Mollie remembers teaching Caleb the routine task of learning to tie his shoes when he was a toddler. For Caleb (and Mollie) this became a character building experience. It took over a year. This has proved to be somewhat predictive of how Caleb’s life would be as he grew older – things that others take for granted are much harder, but usually not impossible, for him.

We generally haven’t tried to hold Caleb back from anything he’s wanted to do. In high school, Caleb’s favorite teacher happened to coach track, so Caleb decided he wanted to go out for the track team. When he told me this, I was concerned that he would only frustrate and embarrass himself. (In addition to being blind, Caleb has mild cerebral palsy on his right side, which affects his coordination.) I privately spoke to the coaches to see if they really thought it would be a good idea for Caleb to “compete” on the track team, and to be sure they understood this would mean more work for them as coaches. They assured me that they would watch Caleb’s back.

Once track season was in full swing, I went to a track meet where Caleb was slotted to run in the 800 meter race. I watched with very mixed emotions as the gun went off and Caleb was left behind; farther behind than he could’ve known. It was the best he could do to simply stay in his own running lane. At one point he strayed off the track, and a teammate ran over and helped to guide him back onto the track. By that point, the race was already over for everyone else. As a dad, I listened for the crowd’s response, expecting to hear snickering.

Instead something beautiful happened.

As the crowd realized what was going on, both sides spontaneously began to cheer him on. A huge smile broke out on Caleb’s face. As he approached the finish line, cartoonishly late, people were standing up, clapping, and cheering. For Caleb the event was not about winning. It was about being on the team and finishing the race.

I want to publicly thank Coach Heyrman and Coach Q for going the extra mile with Caleb during his Loveland High School years.

Mom to the Rescue
This brings me to today. Caleb is trying to run a different sort of race, and I’m hoping the crowd will support him again. Caleb is now 28 years old. He could live off of government aid programs for the rest of his life and play computer games all day. However, he hopes to be independent and get a job to support himself. After graduating high school, he spent two years at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Since then, he has been a student at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It has been predictably difficult for him, and he has had to maintain a light course-load. One year he was on academic probation after getting some bad counsel and taking physics and calculus in the same semester. (Had it been me, I would also have ended up on probation!) He’s had to modify his hopes of majoring in Forestry three times in order to find an emphasis with requirements he can actually fulfill.

During the last academic year, Caleb’s Vocational Rehabilitation caseworker on campus quit and was replaced by someone new. This happens fairly frequently as the Voc Rehab caseload is very heavy and there is a high caseworker turnover rate. Caleb made contact with the new person, but despite his best efforts, she missed the deadline for submitting his paperwork on time. Consequently, Caleb cannot afford to attend school this fall, his senior year. (His last three years were also his senior year, but he is scheduled to finish this coming year.) He is simply trying to finish school.

Unfortunately, this comes at a bad time for Mollie and me. So what we’re doing, since we can’t help him much financially, is this: Mom has come to the rescue! Mollie has set up a crowd-funding campaign. Everyone who contributes 25$ or more to the campaign will be entered in a drawing to win one of her paintings – one entry for every $25. It’s a very cool semi-abstract painting from her Jacob’s Ladder series, entitled, “All About the Ladder.” (I’m kind of bummed that she’s letting it go, because its one of my favs. See the painting below.) Having said that, I realize that people are primarily contributing to help Caleb. But it wouldn’t hurt to win some nice art as well, right?

We’re getting very close! There are only a few days left in the campaign. We send our heartfelt thanks for those of you who choose to lend support. Here is THE LINK for those who are interested:

"All About the Ladder" water media, 3 x 3 ft, gallery wrapped, by Mollie Walker Freeman - listed at $2200

“All About the Ladder”
water media, 3 x 3 ft, gallery wrapped,
by Mollie Walker Freeman – listed at $1950