Friday, May 27, 2016

Remembering and Looking Forward: Celebrating Our Fifth Anniversary!

I remember it as freshly as if it were yesterday. Eight of my closest friends joined me to stand on a boat dock in West Virginia on Lake Floyd, and we prayed together as the time moved purposefully to the grand moment. A text message came through indicating it was time for us to begin the journey. It had been raining earlier in the day, and all around the region, massive storms had broken out, but for us, there were blue skies and the lush greens of spring. The water was calm, peaceful, and inviting. The nine of us purposefully descended into three small rowboats, and began our journey across the lake.

Upon docking at the far side, we came walking in single file to a gathering of a few close friends and family (to be honest it was all family—our friends are our family as well). The music had begun, and I was looking over the crowd smiling and filled with anticipation of what was to come. And then, she came from around the corner of the Lake Floyd Clubhouse with her father walking alongside her. My eyes began to well up with tears of joy. They came down to the waters edge across a grassy field through a center aisle made by folding chairs brought out for the occasion. I breathed in deeply as I thought about the sacredness of this moment. I was about to commit my life to this amazing woman, and she was about to do the same.

She looked so beautiful as she gracefully made her way down the aisle in a refitted and redesigned wedding dress, made from her mother’s own wedding attire. Her eyes glowed in the same bright azure blue that I’ve enjoyed waking and looking into as we start our day together for the last five years. I can remember so vividly every moment because my heart was (and is!) so captivated by this incredible, compassionate, faith-filled, beautiful woman. We exchanged our vows, we participated in an ancient Shawnee wedding tradition, and we even had the blessing of my best friend in the whole world, Willie, writing an original song for us. The entire time we were surrounded in beauty and held in love by our gathered witnesses.

As the wedding came to an end, the celebration started, and honestly hasn’t really stopped! We were presented to our gathered family as husband and wife, and made our way down the aisle exceedingly joy-filled to the tune of Country Roads, a fine new West Virginia/Appalachian tradition. We made our way to the dance floor of the clubhouse and enjoyed the best wedding food I have ever experienced thanks to the generosity of Jessica Kerr—She even made pepperoni rolls from filo dough. (Jamie had told her dad when she was a little girl that she didn’t know all that she hoped for with her wedding day, but she definitely wanted pepperoni rolls—a West Virginia staple).
And here we are, five years into the future. As full of joy and vivid memories as that day was, today seems more full. We have both grown in our understanding of what it means to be husband and wife, and we have also both grown in our understanding of how deeply loved and cherished we are by God and by each other. On our wedding day, when Willie sang that song he wrote, we carried it aspirationally, and today we still carry it in the same way, but at the very least we can say that for the last five years it has held completely true. Our love has only grown stronger over time, and our understanding of just what a treasure God has given us in each other gets revealed freshly each new day.
As we left crossed Lake Floyd late that night on a paddle boat to the cheers of many who we hold very dear, we had no idea that the late night paddle across the lake and ensuing drive to our home in Morgantown would be not only the very beginning of our marriage, but it would be a foretaste of our adventures around the world to make new friends and connect with old ones. So many times we have been richly blessed by the hospitality of others, and we have been so privileged to share in experiences with them as we learn together how to live out the exhortation of the ancient Hebrew prophet Micah to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

And today, the journey continues. We are nestled on a small island off the coast of Maine, and enjoying a moment of respite and reflection before making the journey across another body of water and starting the drive back home. This time, instead of a paddleboat, the Swan’s Island Ferry will provide our transit.

We do not have any idea what the future holds for #TeamWilliams, but we are certain that if we continue to faithfully seek the wisdom and counsel of our gracious Creator together, He will supply us with absolutely everything we need for the adventure ahead. We are thrilled as we think back over memories that we have made with many of you during these last five years, and we look forward to savoring each new chapter of this story we are writing together with each new day. May we all take moments to soak in the joy of the present while we look forward to a future filled with hope and possibilities.

Reflection: Swans Island Adventure

This morning Jamie and I awoke to a light New England rain and gentle coastal winds on a small island off the coast of Maine. We are staying in a cozy space in the middle of a few thousand acres on Swan’s Island Maine. It is a bit ironic that here in the middle of the ocean and off the coast of the mainland, we still have internet access. I guess the folks who provided our lodging space felt like it may be a bit too spartan to not have access to the internet out here, but we were prepared for no access.

The drizzle of rain and cool wind provides us with a natural incentive to stay inside, to write, to reflect, to enjoy the company of one another, and to celebrate. And there is so much to celebrate! Today marks our fifth wedding anniversary, and our hearts are warm and full from the joy that God has given us over these five years together. Every single day is a gift, and thankfully we have been able to spend the majority of the last 1,827 of them together with Christ as our center and exploring this majestic and magical world He created.

In our world today, we hurry about from event to event, and do not take time to savor the present moment, to remember the journey to this point, and to cast our vision forward to the enchanted future filled with opportunities and new worlds to discover. Jamie and I strive to make this a part of our daily rhythm, and during this time away, we have made it a central part of our daily adventures. Sitting on rocks by the ocean, we invite the crashing waves to awaken our spirits to the deep memories and then take time to savor even greater moments of gratitude for this life, the incredible friends we have, the unbelievable adventures we have experienced, and the awe we have for being privileged to enjoy this journey together.
Swan’s Island is a beautiful place, and the pace of life here is such that it affords a space for slowing down. There are about 350 inhabitants on this 80 square mile island and lots of wilderness to explore. Many of the locals make their living from the seasonal provisions of lobstering. In many ways, this island community is very similar to communities back home in West Virginia. People are hard working, friendly, and willing to help out someone in need. Everybody waves as they drive by us on the island.

There is so much in this world to savor and appreciate. For us, slowing down the pace of our routines is just disruptive enough to deepen our sense of gratitude for little gifts all around us. We have found ourselves curiously exploring wooded trails and rocky beaches and filled with wonder at the slow movements of sea crabs, snails, and barnacles along the coast as well as the darting of rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks, and the soaring of eagles and gulls among the treetops.

The really amazing part of this adventure is that there are similar treasures awaiting discovery all around us every day.  Having a moment to pause, Jamie and I have found ourselves sharing stories of childhood adventures from fishing trips at Mountwood Park (and elsewhere) on an almost daily basis each spring with my dad, my uncle Russell, and cousin Jo Ann, to journeys over the hill and into the woods behind her house for Jamie and her dad as she started her “Save The World Club” by collecting acorns for the squirrels around Lake Floyd. So many of our memories are connected to the wilderness, and every opportunity we get, we make moves toward the trees, the water, and the forests.

May we each take time to savor and create memories, and may we step out into creation as curious explorers of this world. God has provided us so much for which to be thankful, and even if we spent our whole lives trying to soak it all in, we would only be scratching the surface. May we scratch and play and uncover fresh treasures and make memories to savor, enjoy, and press us further into this grand narrative that the Creator of the universe writes through and with us.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

#MyMomIsStrongBecause Happy #MothersDay

Over the last few days at Nuru, we have been posting photos of a few of our staff along with their mom's in honor of Mother's Day. Although my mom is no longer with us, I thought it would be a great way to honor her. I'm grateful for moments like this to pause, to remember, and to consider just a few of the ways she shaped our family and led us by example. My mom was the kind of person people wrote songs about. 
I could list a number of reasons why my mom is strong. She and my dad both worked full-time jobs to afford being able to bring up three children. Just like any mom, she wanted her children to be able to go forward and experience more than her--to have better opportunities, and so she and dad ensured all three of us kids finished high school. All three of us also went on to college as well.
Today, there is a growing movement of women entrepreneurs and women leading businesses. My mom was a pioneer in that regard. Not only was she a full-time employee, but also she started multiple successful businesses (again alongside my dad--they did everything together). My mom raised shih tzu and poodle pups and sold them as one form of additional income. She gave the pups all of their shots, clipped their tails, and for the shih tzu pups also clipped their duclaws. She also raised and sold birds (parakeets, cockatiels, budgerigars, finches, canaries, and parrots). We must have had more than 200 birds during the hay-day of that business. She ran the business, and dad built cages and nesting boxes for the growing menagerie. She used the extra money from the sale of puppies and birds to pay for school clothes and Christmas presents for all of us. 
Mom also taught us kids to be thankful for what we had, and to do our best to take care of it. Sometimes she made clothes for us and for our relatives, and if our clothes got holes in them, she would mend and patch the garments so we could get more life out of them. And, she and dad both encouraged us to do our best in school, and she also encouraged us to learn responsibility by having pets of our own. We had dogs, birds, cats, fish, and rabbits, and we had to share in making sure they were fed, watered, and cared for year round growing up. My mom and dad gave us kids a great example of what a local economy looks like. Every one of us had a contribution to make to the good of the whole household. And each of us kids were made available to do work for our neighbors growing up as well. Each of us understood very clearly that it was our role to contribute to the good of the house as well as to the community. 
Mom was a life-long learner. She taught herself about caring for all of these different species of birds and dogs, and she taught us kids these same skills at the same time. She taught herself how to knit, crochet, and sew, and she would always make sure she had baby blankets available to any other mom who was expecting, and spare scarves and gloves on hand just in case she ran into someone who didn't have any of their own. 
Any time one of us kids was doing something extracurricular, my mom was out supporting us and cheering us on. From choir to basketball and just about everything in between, she would make sure she had time to come out and support our efforts.
But it wasn't just my family who benefitted from my mom's love and support. She extended that love to cousins, neighbors, and any of our friends growing up. My best friend in the whole world, Willie, has two children who are now approaching adulthood. My mom loved Willie as a son, and in the eyes of Willie's children (as well as from my mom's perspective), she was a Grandma to them...and to a number of other children as well. Although she never held any formal positions of leadership, she was a wisdom-keeper, and a care-taker for many, many people. 
Mom was deeply committed to her rich Christian faith, and to her heritage as a Shawnee woman. She and dad both really enjoyed spending weekends on our tribal lands and strongly supported me as I was elected into positions of service in our tribal community. Many of the children of our tribe looked up to her, and she was always making time to listen to them and encourage them. 
She always took time to listen to and encourage us as well.
I remember about a month before she left this earth, I was visiting her in the hospital, and it was time for me to leave. I was driving to Morgantown so I could walk across the stage and receive my master's degree. I leaned over her to give her a hug, and said, "I'll try to make you proud Mom."
She grabbed my hand, and looked me in the eyes with her eyes filled with love and compassion and responded, "Every day you make me proud!"
That's just the kind of person she was. She was strong raising three children. She was strong running businesses and working full-time for very low wages. And she was strong as she stared down death after being diagnosed with cancer. She never let her present circumstances dictate what was possible for her or for any of us. She faced cancer with a smile and with hope. She faced her last hours encouraging strangers, and loving her family. 
All of us really miss her. We each strive to honor her legacy and the lessons she taught us through her strength, her compassion, and her service. I often fail, but I personally strive to be the warrior, the leader, and the servant that I saw her and dad exemplify--and that they believed I could be. 
As a kid, I don't think I ever fully appreciated the sacrifices my parents made to ensure that us kids had more opportunities than they did. But, better late than never. If you have an opportunity today, let your mom, and the world know why your mom is strong. Post online #MyMomIsStrongBecause or just tell your mom how she exemplifies strength. May we each aspire to be the sons and daughters that our moms dreamed was possible, and may we savor those precious moments we have been given to learn from our moms for the good of our own lives as well as the good of the world.
Oh, and that comment about my mom being someone people write songs about? Here's the song in its entirety. So grateful for Willie taking the time to write this and post it on YouTube.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reflection: Visiting Fort Frederick's 22nd Annual Market Fair

Last weekend, Jamie and I had the privilege of traveling from Morgantown to Fort Frederick (near Big Pool, MD) with our friends Dan and Lori. The entire day was filled with memories to savor, and new ones to be made. There's something heart-warming about taking a road trip with friends in the first place, but this was the first extended period of time we had together for a long time. Dan and I grew up together, and so the drive was a mix of laughter over old memories and adventures, and in depth discussions about what is happening in our lives right now. An automobile, with no screens and no music is a great place for these types of discussions, but walking together in a park is even better, and that is EXACTLY what we did upon arrival at Fort Frederick.

Fort Frederick State Park has hosted Market Fair for 22 years, and I have probably attended about half of those years. My old chief used to love going to the event because the focus of the weekend was the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) era frontier. The event is a large rendez-vous and historic reenactment weekend with individuals donning the attire of British troops, militia, settlers, and some First Nations peoples wearing traditional regalia. Back in the 90s, going with my chief was like going with a celebrity. Everybody seemed to know him, and enjoyed having him stop by their weekend lodging. Hundreds of canvas tents scattered around the stone fort and these become the homes of participants for four or five days during the event.

Many of these participants are also artisans who specialize in various primitive skills. Every year when I go, I love seeing a variety of incredibly talented gunsmiths, knife smiths, blacksmiths, tailors, tanners, tobacconists, potters, silversmiths, and more. Some of the participants have spent weeks and months making absolutely beautiful quill work designs (they even dye the porcupine quills using traditional dyes). Still others make large belts of wampum, weaving the beads by hand.

In the early years of Market Fair, I remember my chief was brought in as a consultant for a group of Native American re-enactors who were interested in constructing a traditional eastern woodlands village. The photo above was taken at the edge of the woods where this village once stood--I participated in a wedding out on that. A number of native people from the region, including a strong contingent from our Native student group at WVU, would make the annual trek for Market Fair to trade, to find traditional wares, and to connect with other folks from various tribes as well as with other people who simply had a deep appreciation for history and simple living. For many years, this event served as an unofficial and unplanned reunion for many of us. We spent many evenings around the campfire swapping stories and drumming and singing very, very old songs and sometimes writing new ones.

This year was probably the busiest Market Fair I can remember. There were multiple overflow parking areas when we arrived at 1130AM. There's something to be said for perseverance, tradition, and time. This event has grown huge over the years. And, like every other time I have traveled to it, there was an unofficial and unplanned reunion. This year, it was with one of my former roommate's parents, Mark and Debbie Culp. Of course we had to take a group photo and send it off to their son Nic. We were able to enjoy a meal together, and I was able to introduce them to Dan and Lori as well as give them an update on the latest happenings with Nuru. Nic's parents have a love for wilderness, for traditional skills, and for history, but it was their first time visiting Market Fair--they LOVED it!

I highly recommend stopping by Market Fair if you find yourself near western Maryland in late April. The event itself has a longstanding tradition, and you never know who you might run into there. There's something really beautiful about meeting and connecting with individuals who are keeping old ways alive, and who are incredibly dedicated to their craft. There's also refreshment to be found by taking a step away from screens and devices for a few hours to breathe in the fresh air, and to engaging in the quickly fading art of conversation. May you find time and space in this hurried world to slow down and enjoy people and the beauty of the outdoors.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Reflection: Walking Through Muir Woods

Recently my travels took me to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley to welcome aboard Nuru International's newest team member, an amazing individual named Danny Perez. I had the distinct privilege of traveling to the West Coast to begin Danny's first week together with him, and start his on boarding and orientation process as he joins us in the fight to end extreme poverty!

But before his on boarding began, I had an opportunity to visit Muir Woods National Monument. These woods are among the last uncut stands of coastal redwoods, and honestly being able to walk in this space was awe-inspiring. These woods were purchased by William and Elizabeth Kent in an effort to preserve them in 1905, and they are donated to the government. President Theodore Roosevelt used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim the area as a national monument. John Muir, when he heard that the couple wanted to name this monument after him said, "This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly found in all of the forests of the world." And all of this happened more than 100 years ago.
As I walked through this forest of ancient redwoods, I was overwhelmed by a series of emotions, the foremost being gratitude. Gratitude for these trees being preserved--trees that were older than the United States--trees that had seen empires rise and fall, and that had stood resolute for hundreds of years. There's a lot we can learn from an ancient grove of trees, waving in the wind but rooted deeply in the earth.
My gratitude spilled over into a more broadly experienced gratitude for the opportunity to experience ancient and sacred places like this one. There's something powerful about a walk in the woods. As John Muir once stated, "In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks." In my short time on this earth (particularly short when compared with trees that are more than a millenium in age), I have been able to witness some amazingly beautiful spaces. Many of which have been near home in West Virginia, but some in travels across continents. Beauty is all around us, but we rarely take time to soak it in. Dostoyevsky once wrote, "Beauty will save the world." In one sense, it already has in the beautiful life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but every time we are able to pause and soak in the grandeur of this beautiful world, our souls are the better for it.
Before I arrived in these woods, I was driving through rain and thick fog, and I was wondering if I would be able to see much at all, or if the rain and fog would negate majestic views. When I finally arrived, I realized that the rain and fog had probably discouraged others from traveling to these woods that particular day, and that they had granted me an opportunity to walk in this sacred space in solitude and silence. In fact, the park had set up signs along some of the paths encouraging visitors to walk quietly along and soak in the sounds of the wilderness.
My gratitude overflowed as I listened to the sounds of Redwood Creek churning along as it worked to make its way to the Pacific Ocean. It was actually kind of hard for me to grasp that these giant trees and stream were so close to the ocean. I made my way along these groves of trees thinking about the native coho salmon and steelhead trout swimming in this stream, and the many other wonderful memories I've had walking along similar streams back home in Appalachia.
I experienced gratitude as I walked for the rich tradition my parents and other ancestors had instilled in me and other Shawnee people to spend time walking in the creation and listening. Among the immediate rewards experienced on this particular day was the witnessing of a couple of deer crossing along the valley in which I was walking. In the silence and solitude, we can experience emptiness and boredom, or, more likely we can be filled beyond our imagination and comprehension with goodness, peace, and refreshment.
My walk took me meandering along a path beside these trees who had stood at the edge of this creek for centuries. Eventually, I was afforded an opportunity via footbridge to cross the stream and make my way uphill to another path that gave me a different view for the journey back to my vehicle.
When I made it back to the beginning of the path, I felt like it might be worthwhile to stop in the visitor center and gift shop to have a look around. When I was a kid, I always wanted to have a shirt or a hat or some remembrance to mark the experience that I had "been there," but as I have grown older, I have found that the best remembrances are the memory making moments themselves. But, I must admit I was tempted in the gift shop to spend $10 and buy a giant sequoia seedling. I recalled a poem by Wendell Berry about planting sequoias and investing in the millennium. The poem ends with the statement, "Practice resurrection," a fitting imperative at all times, but particularly in this Easter season. I didn't purchase the sapling, BUT, Jamie and I have been thinking pretty seriously about purchasing and planting one in our yard here in Morgantown, especially in light of Wendell Berry's encouragement. They grow about a foot each year once they have established themselves.
When I finally arrived back at my rental car, I felt energized, alive, and ready for a full week ahead. I was soaked from the misty rain, but even more fully saturated with gratitude. A walk in the woods, whether in a national park, or a local grove of trees or protected lands is good for heart and soul. May we each find frequent time to experience the refreshment that only comes from being outside and in this beautiful and majestic created world that beckons us to soak in its rejuvenating and healing power.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Reflection: Rend Collective Concert, Joy, And Music

Last Thursday, Jamie and I took an impromptu trip to Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, West Virginia to see a band that our good friend Hallé had told us about a few years back, Rend Collective. Little did we realize when Hallé told us about this Irish folk band that their music was already a regular part of our weekly worship gatherings among our local faith community. 
As we arrived, I found myself thinking about how music has changed over the last hundred years, and even over the last ten years. Thanks to apps like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music we can stream a wide array of music on our computers and mobile devices wherever we go. I remember when I acquired my first Mac, I was so impressed that I could take all of my compact discs and place them on my computer. I remember as a small child being tremendously excited about listening to eight-tracks with my parents at home, and by the time I was in junior high, I was able to listen to cassettes with my Walkman as I walked around the neighborhood, or even around the house. Mine was one with the ability to record, play radio music, and cassettes, and I can remember having a ton of fun listening to tunes.
But this wasn't always the way music was available. It's kind of hard to fathom because nowadays our favorite artists' music is readily accessible. But there was once a time when music could only be experienced live--our only way to experience music was to go to a concert, or to make it ourselves. As I listened to the band, they invited us to join in singing, clapping, snapping fingers and dancing. They were inviting us to experience the joy of music. Music is quite the gift!
As much as I enjoy listening to music of various genres, I tend to believe that music is best rendered as something we experience. I believe it was John Cage who said that once we record it, it ceases to be music--it is not able to be experienced in the same way as when it is live. It is the energy of a past moment that may be powerful as a memory, but it is a far different experience than making or creating music in the moment. 

As we enjoyed the evening with the band's performance, and as the members of the band switched rapidly among instruments that even included garbage cans, they were encouraging us to enter into the joy of song, singing praises to the Creator of the universe, and not allowing our cynic or our inner critic to rob us of laughter and joy. At one point in one of their songs, the lights went out and they were wearing panda heads. Later that evening they talked about how the Bible references both fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit and that seriousness does not make an appearance in either list. Making music invites us into the realm of joy, and they felt that panda heads while performing were a good reminder to the people who joined them at the concert to not fill their lives with seriousness. 

Growing up, even though I don't remember either of my parents playing an instrument, they encouraged us to sing, to play music, and to be joyful. It was never a command from them, it was more of a simple way of life for all of us. At some point in time before I was born, my dad and one of my uncles used to drive a garbage truck. They would regularly find treasures along the side of the road that people were ridding themselves of. One of those treasures was an electric organ. I have many vivid memories of plugging that organ in, and listening to a fan begin to spin; the keys on the organ forced the air through to create notes of music. Dad had also acquired a couple of song books for this organ that were numerically coded, so I could follow the numbers to play songs. This was before the advent of synthesizers and keyboards in the 80s. I don't believe anyone in our family ever became a piano player, but I can remember playing Christmas carols and other songs as Dad made home-made pizzas or Mom was making some meal for us all to enjoy. 
Even on my tribal grounds, we never really listened to recorded music. We made music. Our tribal drum was like a heart beat. Our ancient songs connected us with past generations, and brought forth traditions to a new generation. Every gathering had a time for music and a time for folks to circle around a fire as drumming and singing would begin and carry on often late into the evenings. Even during times of sadness, singing, drumming, and dancing, listening and creating music that echoed through the hills had (and still has) a power to move us toward deep joy, peace, and hope. 
Lots of memories came to my mind thanks to the experience of a concert with Rend Collective for sure. Music is such a huge gift, and, while Jamie and I definitely enjoy listening to music as we go through our days, there's nothing quite like experiencing it live with others, or creating music of our own. Even as I write this, I feel a tug toward spending a little more time during my daily and weekly rhythm singing, dancing, and playing guitar. Nothing like a little live tune amid the rhythm of life!
As we go about our days, our weeks, and our years, may we each take time to make music and invite others to join us in joy-filled songs. May we create, build, and share in the gift the King of the universe has given us in living amid music! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reflection: World Water Day 2016

This morning, I woke up after a great night of sleep on my good friend Sam's couch in Sunnyvale. I started my day with my usual morning routine of a time of quiet reflection, reading, and gratitude. Sam made some coffee for me, him, and his wife Truly and I hopped online to start my day. I started sipping water from a bottle that has traveled with me to multiple countries. I thought, "This bottle has kept me hydrated on so many occasions in so many locations, and it carries the logo of the ONE campaign, this really great organization that we have been privileged to partner with at Nuru International. And as I write this short reflection, my mind is running through a mix of gratitude, care and frustration about water.

Today is World Water Day.  It is a day to remember just how much of a gift water is. It is a day to think about ways to reduce the ways it is wasted, and to think of ways to conserve it. It is a day to consider that there are many in our world who do not have access to clean water.

Water is the universal solvent. Water is powerful--it carved the Grand Canyon and softens the edges of sharp stone. It provides electrical energy to whole communities. It can both give and take life with its power. 70% of our planet is made up of water. 60% of our body is made up of water. We need water to survive, thrive, and live. Each morning in the US, it is easy to take for granted that there will be water coming through the pipes in our homes as we take a shower, brush our teeth, shave, wash our hands, fix our coffee, cook our meals, clean our dishes, and And yet, many people in our world do not have safe, clean, water, coming from a spigot in their house. Many do not even have a spigot.

I remember spending two separate weeks in solitude and fasting in the Mojave Desert as I wrestled with a major life decision. I had to carry everything I needed in a large backpack. It included two large water bladders that comprised about 60 lbs of water. Water would not be accessible for me unless I brought it into the desert with me. Ironically it rained during one of these journeys and this desolate desert became abloom with life as vegetation soaked up the limited hydration offered by the clouds above.

For years, on my tribe's land in western Maryland, we would rely on a local spring to provide water for cleaning dishes and washing hands, a local stream for bathing, and bottled water for drinking because we had no running water.  

Back home in West Virginia, there are whole communities near where my wife grew up who are having water shipped in because their water local water has become contaminated. Two years ago a chemical spill contaminated the water supply around my beloved home state's capital. I remember being in that town to support a dear friend who had lost her father. The water fountains in the funeral home looked like they had not been used in weeks (they hadn't). People were skeptical about drinking coffee at the viewing, and friends and fellow mourners were bringing in cases of bottled water.

Just a couple of days ago, I was walking through the John Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. It was rainy and foggy, and my ears were filled with the sound of water flowing rapidly along Redwood Creek to the Pacific Ocean as a forest full of redwoods drank their fill and continued growing and standing strong as they had for centuries. As the rains fell heavily, I thought not only about this ecosystem, but also about the farms and families who would have a good crop thanks to this rainfall. The area was alive with greenery because of those rains.

And when I think of farmers, I find my thoughts going to our farmers in Ethiopia, and even to communities around the world who suffer from a lack of water. Two weeks ago, I was in the southern highland of Ethiopia. I saw crowds gathering with large buckets and jerrycans in small communities where there had been drought conditions created by El Niño weather patterns. People were standing in line for an opportunity to gather water from a source that may have been contaminated. They were not only wanting water to meet their immediate need, but they were also praying for rains to come so they could address hunger in their community and in their country. In fact, as the rains started falling heavily in Zefine, Ethiopia during my visit, the entirety of our Ethiopian staff team began to shout for joy at the gift of the rain, and what it would mean for our farmers.

As I look back across these myriad memories, I'm grateful for the gift of water that I have been able to enjoy and appreciate more deeply, and I'm hope-filled that days like World Water Day might nudge each of us toward a deeper sense of appreciation, and motivate us toward tangible actions that will help others enjoy the gift of clean water. As you go through your day today, each time you take a drink, enjoy food, wash your hands, shower, go to the bathroom, and witness growth around you, will you join me in taking a moment to express gratitude for the gift of water?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Review: Mountain Harvest Farm LLC (Community Supported Agriculture)

For the last three years, Jamie and I have been privileged to be able to be shareholders in a community supported agriculture (CSA) initiative with a couple of farmers who live near Morgantown. Their names are Mary and Chico and their CSA is called Mountain Harvest Farm, LLC.
I first discovered their CSA in winter 2013, when I saw a signup sheet posted in a local coffee shop, The Grind (which is a pretty fantastic place itself!). I sent an email to express interest to them and received a quick response, and began the process of investing in local agriculture.
Jamie and I have a small truck patch at the house, and we have been able to produce a decent amount of corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes from this little corner, but we had been reading and hearing a lot about community supported agriculture, and we regularly consider ways we can lower our footprint and invest in the local economy. Of course, we can always do better, but I think every one of us can benefit from taking even a small step. When we can, we strive to support local businesses, and buy food from local farmers markets. Investing in a CSA was yet another concrete step in the direction of investing locally. 
Mary and Chico, Mountain Harvest Farm's proprietors, have been renting and farming land just outside of Morgantown for a few years now. They offer their CSA members a weekly or biweekly share, and shareholders can choose between two convenient pickup locations. We chose the location across from Zen Clay Pottery Studio because it is in the middle of town and walkable from our house to pickup. The first week I went to pickup our share, I started chatting with Mary about what got her and Chico into this venture. She had been a Peace Corps worker in Honduras and that was where she had met her husband. 
Our conversation turned from local farming to international development, and she was a bit surprised at my knowledge of development. She asked what I did, and, thinking that I probably already knew just about everyone in Morgantown who knew about Nuru, I told her I worked for an international development organization. 
She asked, "Which one?" 
I responded, "Well, it's pretty new so you might not have heard of it but its called Nuru International." 
She looked at me with a grin and said, "I have a good friend who works for Nuru."
I was a bit shocked and asked "Who?" I thought I would have a really good handle on people in my part of the country who knew someone on staff. 
And then she told me that Matt Lineal, our Impact Programs Director (and previously Agriculture Strategic Advisor), had worked with her in the Peace Corps in Honduras. What a small world! And, it was the first time for me to have someone in Morgantown who knew about Nuru through a staff or board member who wasn't from West Virginia! When I told Matt about meeting Mary he was blown away by the connection, and excited that she and Chico had started the farm, and further, that Jamie and I were able to invest in this CSA with them. 
After that conversation and enjoying our first week of fresh produce from Mountain Harvest Farm, I was simply blown away by how much more our world is intimately connected than we realize. 
For the last three years--for 20 weeks a year, Jamie and I have made the short Wednesday evening walk to pick up our veggies, connect with Mary and Chico and their family, and get updates on how the weather is impacting how our crops are doing. They are wonderful people, and we are proud shareholders.
Recently, Jamie and I signed up for our fourth year as shareholders. And, if you are a Morgantown local, I wanted to encourage you to support these two West Virginia farmers by becoming shareholders too! You can sign up online by going to their website, and if you have more questions about their CSA shares you can ask them directly or just talk to Jamie or myself. You will love it!