Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Reflection: Congratulations To Kiva For Ten Years Of Changing Lives

Recently I was contacted by a good friend, world changer, and former Nuru staff member and asked if I would be willing to help her get the word out about Kiva's latest video and their celebration of 10 years and a deep global impact from their efforts. For me, the response was all to easy. In a country that has more than 1.5 million nonprofits in existence, I believe it is critical to share the stories of those who are doing great work. Kiva is one of those organizations.

But it isn't just me saying so. Kiva has been fortunate enough in its early years to get a vote of confidence from former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey among others. And, back in 2009, Jamie received a Kiva loan gift card from my best friend in the whole world, Willie. Jamie has used the gift multiple times because every time the borrower repays their loan, she has been able to extend a new loan to a new borrower. I know Jamie has really enjoyed reading stories of how the loans would be used, and it has helped us both to grow in our understanding of what it is like to be an entrepreneur in different parts of the world.

And thanks to Willie's example, we have also bought Kiva loan gift cards for others who are lending and re-lending funds to people looking for a hand-up instead of a hand-out. Kiva finds entrepreneurs and connects them to lenders from around the globe who can help these entrepreneurs launch their dreams. Farmers are among those individuals Jamie has lent funds to--for folks familiar with Nuru, you know that having funds available to acquire high quality seed and fertilizer is a huge obstacle for farmers living in extreme poverty. But Kiva is not just helping farmers, they are helping people in a variety of contexts to begin turning a dream into a reality. Jamie has also helped invest in schools fees for a family in Lebanon, a businesswoman in Sierra Leone, and even invested in a medical clinic in Kenya.

If you have never set up a loan through Kiva, I highly recommend it. Regardless of other ways you may be investing your money to help others, extending a loan via Kiva is a great way to gain perspective with regard to the challenges of others around the word. Not only that, but it provides a great reminder that together, lasting change is possible!

I hope you will join me, Jamie, Willie, and others in congratulating Kiva for ten years of amazingness. You can share this blog, share the video above, or even Tweet with the hashtag #BeTheSpark to encourage and congratulate them.

Together, let's keep doing our part to make the world a better place, and take time to celebrate successes along the way! Congratulations Kiva! You inspire us, and remind us of the good work being done in our world!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Introducing A New Member To #TeamWilliams And West Virginia’s Newest Citizen!

 For Jamie and I, West Virginia’s birthday has always been a very special day. As passionate natives of this state, and as alumni of West Virginia University, one could argue that it is only natural that we have such a rich love for our home state and for these wild and wonderful West Virginia hills. It was a Father’s Day six years ago and West Virginia’s 147th birthday, that I asked Jamie to marry me, and in the spirit of that rich tradition, we have another announcement to make on West Virginia’s 153rd birthday. This fall, Baby Williams, will emerge to greet the world!

We are incredibly excited to meet this miraculous child! We have been hopeful throughout our marriage that God would provide Jamie with a child, but we also held the attitude that if He didn’t, we could potentially adopt, and we were already blessed to be surrogate aunts and uncles to many of our friends’ children. Jamie has a health condition, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), that led to an irregularity with her menstrual cycle, and also contributed to an inability to have a menstrual cycle without taking estrogen. Jamie knew that taking the medicine would also prevent her from having a child, even if she did have a menstrual cycle, and so she began studying ways that she might be able to improve her likelihood of having a cycle naturally (healthy food choices, exercise, rest), and of course we both (and many of our friends and family) have been fervent in prayer.

Earlier this year, Jamie noticed a gap in her cycle, and she ordered some pregnancy tests, just in case. She has been taking similar tests for the last couple of years, and while we have always been hopeful, we have never centered our focus on having a child. We have placed our hope in God using our lives to bring Him the most honor, and to best serve our global neighbors. When Jamie took the test, she was shocked, surprised, and questioning the validity of the tests, so she took a second one. It came out the same, we even considered having me take a test as a control just to be sure they actually worked (must have been the chemist and exercise physiologist in us!). These tests are incredibly accurate, and we are going to be parents!

This child, even before touching down on the earth has been all over the world. This child has been to four national capitals (Washington D.C., London, Paris, and Addis Ababa). This child has star jumped with its mother in London, Paris, and Acadia National Park. And soon, this child will arrive in Morgantown, West Virginia to greet this world.

Jamie and I are overwhelmed with joy when we think about the fact that God has given us this privilege. We have found ourselves more keenly observant of the world around us, and the little treasures that surround each of our days. And we are filled with trepidation in the same way every parent from Adam and Eve to this day has been—we are responsible for a fully vulnerable life. Every parent, no matter how many books they read or how many classes they take on the subject, questions how they will steward this gift, and prays daily for wisdom and grace from above. 

This child will rely on us for every one of its needs, and then over time a mysterious metamorphosis will take place. One day, by the grace of God, this child will be engaging us and others in conversation, and will also grow to be someone who is able to serve, to bless, to protect, and raise up another generation.

This fragile human being is beginning a life that, God willing, will see him or her grow to be a compassionate servant leader, a faithful steward of resources, and caring and considerate follower of the way of Jesus. We have found ourselves praying often for this child to know God and to bring glory to His name, that he or she would go so much farther than we have in our own faith journeys, and that others, would be blessed through the life this child leads.

We are so grateful to be able to share this wonderful news of a new West Virginian emerging this fall, and we are in awe of the fact that Jamie has this amazing privilege of carrying a new life in her body. We also know that the gift of giving birth is not a guarantee to every person, and we were both at peace if it was not a grace bestowed upon us. As we continue this journey forward we pray that just as we have prayed over the course of our marriage and relationship, that God would give us the discipline and wisdom we need to steward the gifts He has given. May we all faithfully and graciously walk together in the path that Love has set before us.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hiking In Acadia Part Three: Sun, Surf, and Soaking It In

After a heavy day of hiking, walking, and running through the wilderness paths of Acadia, Jamie and I decided to change our pace a bit for the next day. We had discovered an absolutely beautiful stretch of rocky coastline (there are several, but this one was ours) in Acadia where we could take time to read, to write, to reflect, and to soak in the surf. And so, our pilgrimage was a bit shorter and more intentionally focused. Rather than scrambling from trail to trail and taking in new experiences at each stop, we decided to make our way to one place and plant ourselves for a spell. Partially this was a decision based on a bit of a twinge in my Achilles from a speedy 9.3 mile run the previous day, but mainly it was a decision based on finding our Acadia surfside sanctuary.

We made our way quietly along this path in the early morning and dipped down onto the rocky shore of Mount Desert Island’s southeastern shore. The sun appeared in fullness and for a significant period for the first time since our arrival. The waves crashed violently on the rocks, and the whole of our being sat mesmerized by the sights and sounds surrounding us. After reading and writing for a bit in a journal, I just sat back and watched the sporadic clouds above me change shapes as they drifted along the coastal sky. The rhythmic crash and retreat of the waves provided an exquisite soundtrack for this quiet Maine morning.

As if the sight and sounds weren’t already filling my heart and mind with rest and refreshment, I picked up a recently acquired book and started through a few pages. The book was a World War II story about the battle for Crete and how these island people formed an incredible resistance that gave Hitler fits. The book was about this moment in history, but in these opening chapters, it appeared to be as much about people who were living in good relationship with their surroundings—an aspiration for both myself and Jamie.

Sitting and reading, reflecting, and writing, Jamie and I both felt like this was a very different Acadia experience. It was as though we were adjusting to the rhythm around us and we were starting to experience true rest and refreshment. We were not concerned about the future, projects to be accomplished, or even thinking about what we were going to do when we got back home. We were content and our hearts were full with the gifts of the day.

And now, back in West Virginia, we have carried a piece of that Acadia morning in our hearts and into our daily routines. There is plenty of time for planning and working through logistics and conducting mental models for possible futures, but what we desire more of, and dare we say what all of us need more of is a sense of rest and relationship with the present moment and environment, wherever that might be. May we all aspire to find ourselves soaking in the sights, sounds, textures, and flavors of the present moment if not daily, then maybe weekly. And, if the time and space (and weather) permit, may we look heavenward as we lie upon the earth and watch the dance of clouds in the skies.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hiking In Acadia Part Two: The Day We Hiked Our Faces Off

After a rip-roaring start to our first day of hiking in Acadia, we had decided that day two would be an attempt to explore as much of the park as we possibly could. We were due for 7.5 miles running as part of our training for Team Nuru International's Marine Corps Marathon exploits this fall, but we wanted to get some hiking in before our run. So we started on a fairly smooth and textured Ocean Path en route to Thunder Hole, but something about the path was just a little unappealing. It was a gravel path, and at least for the first few hundred feet it ran alongside a very busy stretch of road. We decided to backtrack and took another trail that took us along a small peninsula on the far side of Sandy Beach.

We looped around that trail and found a little rocky hideaway that I quickly became our favorite spot in the park. We enjoyed it so much that it became our place of rest and refreshment all of the remaining days we were in the park, but on this day, it was simply discovered and noted for a later time for further exploration.

After our first major hike of the day, we thought it was an appropriate time to venture toward Jordan Ponds House for some lunch including popovers-an interesting take on a roll that was pretty delicious! As we looked over the lunchtime fare, we decided on a buffalo meatloaf sandwich, and we were not disappointed. But we were pretty full, so we thought this was no time to think about going for a run. Instead we walked off the meal on a three mile hike around Jordan Pond Trail.

From there, we felt like we were ready, so we made a wardrobe change and donned our running threads. We made our way to Eagle Lake. It was a six mile loop, so we started thinking about creative ways to get extra mileage in. Where we landed was two different places on the mileage. Jamie made the statement that she was content with a little over six miles for her run since we had walked so many miles already, and that she wanted to run it easy. I decided the opposite, I wanted to run the distance a little harder, and try to push myself a little farther.

So we started the loop, and every couple of minutes, I would loop back to check on Jamie, and then dart forward again. In my mind, I wanted to push my pace, push my distance, and attempt to increase my steps per minute. The loop around Eagle Lake was a carriage road so it was graveled and even.  After our run we both felt energized and content. We finished together by walking up a connector road to our car and decided that we would call it a day after our run, order take-out, and make our way back to our room for rest and recovery. We logged about 19 miles that day!

Thinking back to it, there was something refreshing and enticing for each of us as we took different paths to push ourselves along trails both walking and running. It was as though the very wilderness was imbuing us with energy as we made our way along loops. I believe that as a result of our time, we are likely to incorporate more outdoor time into our weekly rhythms, and I hope that no matter where you live, your schedule affords you opportunity to do the same!

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Cadillac Mountain Sunrise

While away on our wilderness adventure celebrating our fifth anniversary, Jamie and I decided we would attempt an early morning sojourn to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and watch as the sun laid out its first golden beams on the United States mainland. Once inside Acadia National Park, there’s at least four separate trails that find their terminus at the summit varying in length with treks varying between two to four miles across uneven terrain and steadily increasing altitude. Earlier in the week, we had hiked a couple of the trails so we knew that the journey would be even more difficult in the darkness and thick fog that often settles on these coastal islands.  It would probably necessitate us arriving at the shortest trail head by 3AM to safely arrive at the summit by 4:55AM sunrise. 

And so, we decided to drive to the summit instead.

We woke up at 4AM and quickly hopped in the car to drive to the summit. We arrived at 4:43AM with a full twelve minutes to wait for the sun to rise. We joined ranks with approximately 20 other early risers and pilgrims seeking a glimpse of the sun’s beams as it touched the summit of this place in the land of the Wabanaki. We met a couple from Charlotte, NC who, similar to us, were making aggressive wilderness hikes daily during their time in Acadia. As we were talking with them, we also took a moment to share a laugh that the fog was so thick that the only clear indicator we had that the sun had risen was the fact that our watches indicated it. We laughed about the fact that we could just as easily have been on the summit of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina with the fog so thick.

As we were laughing, a soft-spoken Korean woman came up to us and shared a photo she took of this small group of early morning pilgrims who had united in pursuit of the first sunbeams to hit our country. It was truly stunning to regard in the midst of the mist and fog. She commented to Jamie and myself that she was so fascinated by the greys that enveloped the surroundings. She had made the drive from Long Island, New York to see her father in Bangor, but made a side trip to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and Acadia.

As we talked with her, she reminded us to enjoy the moments like this that are all covered in a thick fog. She said that everybody is looking for the peeking sun coming over the waters, but there is a beautiful mystery in the ways that shadow and light play in the fog and mist. She even stopped in the middle of her discussion to capture a photo of the drops of mist forming on Jamie’s eyelashes and skin. As we were all beginning to walk back to our cars, she told us that it was probably best for her to say goodbye to us right then because it would likely take her another ten minutes to walk the hundred or so yards to her car—she was so enthralled with the way everything looked in the fog and mist. We ended up discovering she is a professional photographer--it was lovely to see her so enthralled by the beauty she saw in the world around her!

We didn’t see the sun rise on Cadillac Mountain that morning, but we were given eyes to see so much more by our fellow morning pilgrims. We saw a common thread that stirred our souls to be among the first to greet the sun as it touched our continent. We saw common ties and stories that unite us. And, most importantly, we saw the marvel in enjoying the world as it is presented to us, and not always as we desire it to be.  May we continue to carry these messages with us the rest of our days.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Hiking In Acadia Part One: Journey to the Summit

Recently, Jamie and I had the privilege of traveling together to our Nation's easternmost national park, Acadia. We thought that one of the best things we could do to celebrate five years of marriage as well as our love for the created world was to spend some time in a national park on the 100th anniversary of National Parks!

We arrived in Acadia in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday shortly after checking in at this exquisite bed and breakfast called Coach Stop Inn (check it out if you are in Maine and please say hello to Jim and Anna for us!). After a quick stop at the visitor center in Acadia, we began driving the park loop and trying to decide where we would hike first. By unanimous vote, we decided to make our way to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. We saw a sign for Gorge Path, and we were off. But, we decided that instead of hiking the Gorge Path straight up, we would go the opposite direction and see where it started. We ended up hiking along a connector trail that took us to the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. We hiked steadily and smoothly all the way to the summit. Training with our good friend Derek Roberts over the last couple of years on 13,000 and 14,000 foot summits probably made this a bit easier than it would have been otherwise, but it was still a strenuous and awe inspiring hike.

When we made it to the summit, we soaked in an enormous view of ocean and and islands in the distance and wilderness all around us. Of course the journey would not have been complete without a star jump from Jamie at the top to mark the accomplishment. :)

From the summit, we decided to loop back around to the Gorge Path and make our way back down to our car. The first quarter mile from the summit had some fairly steep descents and we found ourselves not just hiking but scrambling at points. The lower we descended, the more we were able to hear the steady flow of a stream journeying alongside us in the gorge. The trickle steadily grew in volume (both of water and of decibels) and by the time we had arrived to a flatter part of the trail, we were listening a much louder flow of water providing us pleasant background and acoustic accompaniment.

On both the upward and downward journeys we had to pause every few feet to bask in the beauty that surrounded us. Every time we stopped, the view was not only incredible, but incredibly different. One could probably make the case that every perspective is slightly different, but these views were as though whole new worlds were opening before us. Even though we were traveling at a far lower altitude, the splendor around us was reminiscent of Colorado mountains.

Eventually, we made our way back to our car, and traveled down the road to Bar Harbor for a delicious local meal that we thoroughly enjoyed. And looking back on that day, we were gifted with a good reminder to pause from time to time and enjoy the changes in perspective provided by the present moment.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Reflection: Remembering Mom Nine Years Later

It was nine years ago on this day that I cut off most of my hair as per Shawnee mourning tradition; one year later, I cut off the rest of it, and have kept it short since. It was just a little after 1PM when my mom breathed her last breath on this earth and went off to be with Jesus. I vividly remember those last hours in a hospital room surrounded by family and friends who had gathered to give one-sided goodbyes. The goodbyes were one-sided because my mom spoke her last words during the evening before. My last two-way exchange with her happened that evening. My last words to her that evening were “Goodnight Mom, I love you,” as I turned and walked out the door to her hospital room. Her last words to me were, “I love you” as I walked out of the room. She loved all of us so well.

In the weeks leading up to her departure, she had started calling me her warrior and my older sister her princess. To this day, when I hear the term warrior, I think of my mom, her battle with cancer, and her bestowing that name on me. She was one of the greatest warriors I have ever known, and she taught so many of us about what service and love look like.

Even during her last days, she was befriending the custodial and nursing staff of the hospital and looking to brighten their days. How she spent those last days was similar to how I watched her spend so many other days throughout her life. She was caring for others and speaking words of potential and hope into everyone. Those last few days, she shared visions with us, and so much joy. Her last morning and afternoon on earth, she was literally surrounded by people who loved her, who were praying with and for her right up to the point she departed this world into the world to come. Even at her funeral, it was less of a time of mourning and grief (although in our family culture we believe in slowing down and mourning in fullness), and more of a time of celebration and joy at heaven’s gain, as well as the fact that my mom would no longer suffer.

It’s nine years later, and as I write, the strong mix of emotions is just as fresh and as potent as it was on that early afternoon in a hospital room. My mom ran her race well and finished strong! She gave each of us who knew her a legacy and an example to which we could all strive to live in accordance—a legacy and an example of honor and compassion—a legacy of hope. I'm grateful that friends like Willie wrote beautiful songs like this one to help others who may not have known her get an idea of who she was. She was the kind of person people write songs about.

When Mom was diagnosed in summer 2006, her physician told her that she had a maximum of six months to live without treatment, and eighteen months with; she went to be with Jesus about 11 months after the news hit. When I talked to her about it she said the main thing she felt was sadness about leaving dad and us kids behind. She loved so much and so well.

A couple of months into her first round of chemotherapy, as her hair was starting to come out, she had made herself some bandannas to cover her head. The people of her church had gathered to pray for her and for another gentleman who had been diagnosed with another form of cancer. She looked that man in the eyes and reminded him, and all of us, “No matter what happens, we win!” That was exactly the kind of hope and faith my mom lived every one of her days with.

Each year, as the anniversary of my mom’s departure from this world arrives, I try to take some time to ruminate over different memories—not just of that last year, but of her whole life. The last months are among the most memorable because it seemed that every single one of those days, we had each committed our lives to living more purposefully. The beautiful irony of that intentionality is that it really wasn’t a significant shift for my mom or for any of the rest of us kids and dad. We lived the years leading up to her diagnosis with the same sense of service, compassion, and laughter—we were just more keenly aware of the limited time we had together after the diagnosis.

And today, as I think back on Mom and all that has happened from that last day with her till now, I am filled with joy and gratitude—her memory reminds each of us to stay on purpose, remember family, and look out for the needs for others. I pray that as the years keep rolling forward, that the rest of us who knew her will continue to live in that same spirit, and maybe that our lives will be a small piece of encouragement to others as well.