Saturday, March 21, 2015

Remembering Fred Rogers: You Can Grow Ideas

Yesterday would have been Mr. Rogers' 86th birthday. I didn't know much about Mr. Rogers growing up except that it was one of my favorite shows on PBS. I love the music video remix above that captures just a few ways Mr. Rogers helped unleash generations of creativity as he encouraged young people to use their imagination to grow ideas in the garden of their mind.

I love seeing some of the old props from the show when I have a little extra time in the Pittsburgh Airport. And I love learning more about Mr. Rogers himself. For example, I did not know when I was  little that he was a Presbyterian minister and that he went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary while he was helping to build the nations first community sponsored educational television station, WQED in Pittsburgh. Living within the broadcast reach of WQED, I have to say I really love the programming they offer that highlights some of the great venues, neighborhoods, and history of Pittsburgh and the region. 

I learned yesterday through an article on Huffington Post that Mr. Rogers' cardigans were hand-made by his mother, that she made sweaters for many, and that this was a one of the ways she showed her love. What an amazing testimony, and what an incredible family. I felt an echo of my own mom's generosity as I read that story. She used to make baby blankets for friends, neighbors, and relatives, and she made quilts that me, my brother, and sister still treasure to this day.

May we each take time to unleash our imagination, and grow ideas that can change the world. And may we each be instruments of compassion and good neighbors to those who God places on our path in this life. And may we aspire to leave a legacy for future generations as Mr. Rogers did for so many of us. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review and Reflection: Unbroken

As I mentioned in my last post, Jamie and I have a tradition of going to the movie theater in the winter time, and we look for movies specifically that move us, that stir us, that cause us to think deeply about this world we live in, our purpose in it, and how we can help it be better. We watch movies that help us reflect, to set our intentions, and to become a better version of ourselves as well.

And this past winter, we discovered the story of WWII Veteran Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was an Olympic athlete, a Japanese WWII prison camp survivor, and a deeply committed Christian. And this winter, Angelina Jolie told a portion of his story in the movie Unbroken. Unbroken is also a book, and I am sure it is a great one, but I have not read it yet.

Jamie and I had done some reading about Louis Zamperini before watching the movie. His life was amazing, and the movie only carried the viewer through a small portion of it. Zamperini, after the events of the movie, became a deeply committed Christian, and worked to be reconciled and to forgive his captors after his faith was re-ignited at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949.

As I watched the movie with Jamie, there were several points I found myself in tears. There's something about taking in a story of a person who perseveres, who overcomes, and who refuses to give up that ignites a spark deep inside.  Our world needs good stories like Louie Zamperini's. Our world needs you and I to also begin living a better story.

Would I recommend this movie to you? Absolutely! But, I must warn you. The pain that this man went through, and that was portrayed on the screen is pretty overwhelming. But maybe, in getting a glimpse of this man's story, you will find yourself more ready to engage in the trials that emerge in your own life, maybe you'll find yourself pushing your limits and refusing to quit, maybe you will find yourself more able to be reconciled to others. I sure hope so. The world will be better if more of us dig in our heels and refuse to give up when the going gets tough.

May we all grow in our resolve to do the right thing and to never quit!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Review: Selma

Every winter since we started dating, Jamie and I have a bit of a tradition. Neither of us can recollect making this an intentional tradition, but the pattern emerged, and we can both trace it back to winter 2008. Winter is our moving watching season, but not just any movies, we end up watching really serious historical/biographical films that give us an opportunity to think about justice and the perseverance of the human spirit. This winter has been no exception.

One of the movies we watched this winter was Selma, a movie that tells the story of the planning and events that led to the march 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 7, 1965. As I started writing this post, I just had the realization that today marks 50 years since that march. The march itself led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights act of 1965, and was a massive milestone in the civil rights movements of the 1960s.

I won’t go into the details of the film, but I do recommend you go watch it. I recommend it for a couple of reasons. First, it is a great film. Beyond being a great film, it carries the viewer back 50 years to a very different United States, and portrays just how overwhelming the opposition was to equal voting rights in parts of this country, and also carries the viewer to see how that opposition was overcome. Movies like Selma are a reminder that as Dr. King said many times, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” May we all remember that the path toward a better world may not be an easy one, but it is always worthwhile to labor for the betterment of others. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2015 Reflection

Although the actual day of observation was January 11, I believe it never hurts to be writing about the issue of human trafficking so more people can be aware of this issue and be watchful for signs of trafficking in their community.

Human trafficking is one of many forms taken by modern day slavery. Did you know that there are conservative estimates that there are 27 million slaves in the world today? That's more than at any point in history!!!

For many who are at least aware of the issue, they see it as a problem that is seen in other countries, but there are an alarmingly high number of people estimated to be trafficked within the United States. And honestly, even if one person is being trafficked or forced into slavery, the number is too high!

I have a friend who is doing preliminary research on different forms of aftercare available for victims of human trafficking including homeless shelters, safe houses, and job placement programs. Her plan is to pursue a graduate degree at Princeton to develop a model for quality aftercare. If you are wondering what I mean by aftercare, I’m talking about the long process of rehabilitation and restoration for the trafficked person. These people are often hooked on drugs by their traffickers as well as forced into prostitution. The trauma they undergo is unbelievable.

And this issue is not just a ‘big city’ issue. My previously mentioned friend who is conducting research recently met a woman who was trafficked from Columbus OH to Pittsburgh, PA to Morgantown, WV repeatedly. She was forced into prostitution for years and is currently working toward restoration after years of damage to her body, mind, and spirit.

Want to know a great way you can prevent trafficking? Get involved in the lives of young people. Runaways and young people who do not have a mentor or role model in their life are some of the top targets for traffickers. Support programs in your community that provide mentoring and a healthy environment for at risk young people. Groups that come to mind for me are Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girls On The Run, and YoungLife. While the focus of each of these groups is slightly different, they provide young people with options and potential role models.

Also, be aware of what is happening in your community. Are there strange vehicles rolling in and out of your neighborhood? Do you know your neighbors? Get to know them! Is there a business in your community that seems suspect? Keep an eye on it. If you see something suspicious be sure to document as much as you can and then call the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Hotline to share what you observed. As the saying goes, “If you see something, say something.” 

Friday, January 02, 2015

Family Traditions

Most families have traditions. Sometimes they become so automatic, we don't even think about them. Whether it is the tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner together, or sitting down for a meal together at least once a week, they become part of our annual life rhythms. And if you find yourself reading this without an ability to recall a tradition in your family, maybe this year can be the time to start one.

For as long as I can remember, my Aunt Flora and Uncle Russell have opened their home on New Year's Day for a family dinner. I can remember my mom making a couple of different desserts to bring over each year, and I can remember always finding a little extra room in my tummy for some of my Aunt Flora's homemade dinner rolls.

I remember one year my aunt said that how you spend the first day of the year is often an indicator of how you will spend your year. She didn't say it from a perspective of a resolution beginning or of some kind of superstition. It always felt to me like she was meaning that it was a good indicator of how we were using our time.

As I look back on many years of this tradition, I feel like there have been a few qualities that make it special and qualities with which I love to think, in the spirit of my aunt's comment, will fill my year.

People I love. While not all of our family is able to attend each year, I love the thought of spending the first day of the year with people for whom I care deeply. And while the folks gathered at my Aunt's may not be in the same space again for another twelve months, I love the thought of spending time with people I love as the year progresses.

Meaningful conversation. Whether on social media, or in person, it is all too easy to fill our days and hours with chatter that has very little substance or meaning. When our family gathers, I feel like it offers us all a time to catch-up, to reflect, and to talk about our dreams for the future. And to do that well, we need to be fully present with each other. Life is short and precious. Being fully present and experiencing the full presence of others as we reflect and dream is a wonderful way to spend our days and hours.

Games. Every year, as we gather at Russ and Flora's, we end up playing games like Rook, Catchphrase, Scattergories, Win, Lose, or Draw, or some other fun group game. Sometimes our daily routine can be so serious, but life is meant to be enjoyed. I hope that my year can always be filled with play.

Laughter. Whether it is a new joke at the dinner table or remembering funny stories from the past, our New Year's gatherings have always been characterized by laughter. Laughter is healing and great medicine for our spirits as we prepare for the year ahead or the day ahead.

Prayer. Every year, amidst the laughter, conversation, and food, we take a moment to give thanks as a family for the past year, and to pray in anticipation of the year ahead. Even if it is just for a few moments a day, prayer helps us stay rooted and focused in a world that can easily be filled with distractions.

May each of us, regardless of our own New Year's traditions, find our lives filled with meaningful conversation, play, laughter, prayer, and people we love. As the author Annie Dillard has stated, "How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives." May we each spend our days well, and may we fill our family traditions with those qualities that we want to build into our lives.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

#Giving Tuesday and Nuru International

The woman in the photo above is a farmer named Amarch Sama. She lives in an area called Meteka Mele, Ethiopia. Earlier this year, she was sharing with Nuru that for the last several years her family has gone through a six month hunger season. This hunger season  has led to a lack of savings, and even difficulty buying seed and fertilizer for the next year. Rather than opportunities and choices, her life was defined by anxiety. “How will I be able to feed my children? What happens if someone becomes ill? How will we save for the future?”

This year, all of those anxieties began to melt away. Amarch and 487 other farmers in Ethiopia joined Nuru and began to learn better farming techniques. They began farming as groups, and the community grew closer. When harvest came, Amarch and her neighbors were thrilled to see incredible yields of maize and beans because they knew that hunger would not be part of their future.

And this year, Nuru is working hard to help 1,700 farmers like Amarch to begin to lift their families out of extreme poverty for good! To do it, together we need to raise $350,000 this month to begin implementing our programs. Thankfully, to help us get started we had a generous donor step forward to match every donation that comes in TODAY (December 2 2014), up to $15,000. So if you give to Nuru in honor of #GivingTuesday, your donation will be doubled! How cool is that?

Will you help us maximize this match by donating today? With your help, Nuru can raise $30,000 today and be far along the way to raising $350,000 by the end of the year!

Also check out this video if you would like to learn more about Amarch, about Nuru, and about Nuru's plans for 2015!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Joshua's Story

I just had to share this incredible new video from Nuru International with you!

Joshua Makira Chacha is from Ihore Kenya. He’s been farming with Nuru for the last three years, and his story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Heartbreaking because no one should have to go through the challenges he and his family had. They did not have enough food to eat. How heartbreaking would it be to look at your children knowing that you and they were hungry and not having any idea what you could do about it or when the hunger would end.

In Joshua’s words, “Not being able to provide for my kids and my wife made me feel like I was nothing.” When Nuru came,  Joshua learned new methods for planting and provided a loan of good seed and fertilizer. Joshua was able to go from growing five bags of maize to twenty two bags of maize on his farm.

Not only that, now Joshua is teaching other families, He and his family are not only able to address hunger, but they are practicing healthy behaviors like boiling water, sleeping under mosquito nets and using latrines—so he and his family can stay healthy. He also joined a savings club which helps him to save in case of an emergency the money will help him.

Very happy because he can now feed his family, has beddings, house, and cattle. Nuru didn’t give him a handout, but rather gave him the ability to provide for his family.  And now, the result is not only seen in the improved crop yields, but more importantly, in the restoration of Joshua’s dignity as a human, as a man, as a husband, and as a father. In his own words, “Now when I hang out with friends, I feels like I am somebody, a real father.”

And stories like Joshua’s are becoming reality for literally thousands of families in Kuria West, Kenya.  It is an honor to work together with you and Nuru to make this change possible.