Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Visiting the Capitol

Just about a week ago, I was in Washington DC with my fiancée.  We had just attended a Christmas party, a surprise 30th birthday party, and a wedding during the weekend, and then we stayed with my friends JR and Christy Pittman and stayed the night with them.  On Monday, we rose early and made our way to the Metro and took it into the city.  We had a fun and adventurous day planned in the cold capital city, and among our stops was a tour of the Capitol.  We have a great friend who works there, and he had made plans to give us a tour during his lunch break.

We were able to see and experience the Capitol in ways not often experienced by tourists, as we were ushered past the crowds for a more detailed guided journey.  At the end of our time, the journey became a bit more exciting as we were given two tickets to enter the gallery to sit and watch the Senate in session.  As we turned over all of our electronics and made our way up the stairs and through security, I found myself reflecting on the fact that very few citizens of our country have actually sat in the gallery and experienced the senate in session.  While most of us have access to CSPAN, it’s not quite the same. 

The Senate was in session putting in long hours during the weekend voting on a couple of major pieces of legislation, but not everyone was in attendance.  West Virginia’s own newly elected Senator to replace the late Senator Robert C. Byrd, Joe Manchin, did not vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or the DREAM Act.  Of course, Manchin later made an apologetic statement to the people of the state for missing the votes. 

It was kind of strange sitting in the gallery and watching the senate at work.  During the 40 minutes Jamie and I sat in on the Senate, we only saw a handful of Senators present.  It was pretty amazing to sit and watch our government at work, but it was much different than I had expected.  I had assumed that when legislation was being discussed that every Senator would be present.  That’s simply not the case.  As the discussion took place, Senator Kerry was present along with a handful of other Senators who debated the nuclear disarmament treaty.  He was also using a Blackberry, which according to a recent New York Times article, is a banned object on the congressional floor.  I guess I had always pictured everyone sitting in on the debate and discussion to make the most informed decision before a vote, but very few were doing so while I was there.  I guess it is a bit naïve of me to make the assumption that these elected representatives wouldn’t have other responsibilities to take care of, but like I said, it was a learning experience for me.  I’m sure it’s hard to keep track of every detail and discussion point for every piece of legislation that comes by one’s door.

As I sat in the gallery and became much more informed on the disarmament treaty than I had been before that time, I was grateful for the opportunity to sit in on the process of how our government works.  I reflected on the fact that I was able to sit in the same room as the legislative branch of government for the most powerful country in the world.  How truly amazing that we have a government that gives us access to the process?  How wonderful that we have the right to petition our representatives and speak our minds about issues that are dear to us?  This isn’t the case in many parts of the world.  After leaving the Capitol, it is my hope that I will be able to become a more active and aware citizen.  And I’m hopeful that you will also take advantage of the many opportunities we are given to participate in our nation’s governance.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Serving For The Holidays

It was a little after noon, when I hopped in the car with Jamie and her parents and we made our way to the First United Methodist Church of Clarksburg.  Jamie had invited me into a tradition that had been part of her family since she was in middle school.  Each year, her family drives into town on Christmas day, not to take gifts to another relatives house, but to serve people behind the scenes.

We showed up and were given aprons and our charge—clean dishes until they were all done. “Why were the dishes dirty?” you might ask.  Well, they were dirty because the church had prepared over 1000 meals to be distributed throughout the county, and also enjoyed in the meeting hall of the church.  It was pretty amazing, and reminded me of serving  in a kitchen with my Dutch and American missionary friends one year in Amsterdam, but that is another story.

It was really special being able to give to benefit others as we worked on Christmas day.  It felt really refreshing to serve, and I hope that it is a tradition we can continue in coming years.   It is far to easy to make the holidays about us, about the presents we get, about the quality of the presents we give, or about other things that really have minimal lasting benefit, but there is something really special that happens in us as well as in others when we get out of our comfort zones and serve. 

Every time I spend time with Jamie and her family, I’m simply amazed at the way Christ shines through them in both subtle and profound ways, and I find myself learning and growing in my love for Him as well as for those around me. 

As I scrubbed out pots and pans, I thought about the generosity of the church for opening its doors to provide this service.  I thought about the 1279 people who had meals delivered to their homes by volunteers.  I thought about the volunteers who were driving around town with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and pumpkin pie and a little smile came on my face as I thought about lonely people who were greeted by a smiling face and a meal on Christmas day.  If only we would see more love of our neighbor, then maybe this world would be a much more beautiful and safe place for all.  

Christmas Reflections

Another Christmas has come and gone, and I’m sitting at my dad’s transferring some of his legendary Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass albums to his iPhone (yes, my dad has an iPhone) and reflecting on my time with my ever growing family.

I did something this Christmas that I had never done before.  I left the house and served others.  I love coming together with family, exchanging gifts (and laughs), singing Christmas carols and, on this particular Christmas, watching snow fall, but this Christmas was really touching for me.

On Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition, and exchanged gifts on the night before Christmas.  Interestingly enough, I can remember lobbying for this tradition to begin when I was really little, but to no avail.  I had heard legends on the playground about other families who opened gifts on the night before Christmas, but not my family.  That changed this year, and it seemed more like an exchange of gifts in anticipation of something greater that was coming—the gift of the Incarnation.

As I went to bed that night, I realized that things were changing for me.  I would no longer be “just hanging out” on Christmas day with Dad and Becky, but when I awoke on Christmas day, I would be driving with my fiancée’s birthplace to spend time with even more of our family.  We arrived a little before noon at Lake Floyd, and completed our second gift exchange (also filled with laughter), and I hopped in the car with them to take part in a new tradition.  We served others. As I think about it, I may make this service a blog entry of it’s own.  It was pretty incredible, and something I think that might provide more depth and meaning to us on a holiday that has ever increasingly become about us and less about others.  More to come on that though.

So after a wonderful afternoon, we came back, cleaned up, and headed out to Jamie’s Uncle’s house for a Christmas potluck dinner of sorts.  The food was delicious, and Jamie has nine relativess who are under the age of thirteen, so it was a fun-filled and entertaining time interacting with everybody.  There was an assortment of fun from charades, jokes, story-telling, karaoke, great food, caroling and smiles all around.  As the evening wound down, we gathered together to listen to Jamie’’s cousin Oscar read the story of Christmas from the Bible.

When we parted from Uncle Joe's, we took her 80 year old grandma home, and sang Christmas carols with her and Jamie's parents as we made our way along the snow covered wonderland of Harrison County, West Virginia.

I’m grateful for the ever-expanding family I have been given on this earth, and for time I could spend with such wonderful people on the most wonder-filled holiday. Further, I'm grateful for a greater understanding of the wonderful mystery that is celebrated at Christmas.  So beautiful!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Every Face Tells A Story

Prop Event #001: Every Face Tells A Story from thePROP on Vimeo.

That was the theme for the first major event for “The Prop” a non-profit dedicated to connecting people doing good.  This group of artists and “everyday creatives” calls the greater Chicago Illinois area home, and, they do some pretty amazing stuff.

The prop loves to host events that connect people to great artists and great causes.  And they chose Nuru International as the first cause they would share with their people.  On September 23rd, 2010 several artists and art lovers converged in downtown Chicago to share in the first ever event for the Prop.

The event was an art installation featuring the human face called, “Every Face Tells a Story,” and 50% of proceeds from the sale of art went to fund Nuru’s work in Kuria, Kenya.  Members of Nuru’s communications team visited the event, and Nuru Partnerships Director Nicole Scott shared a brief explanation of what Nuru does and how people can get involved with the work of ending extreme poverty in Kuria, Kenya and beyond.

The thing I love most about this organization is that they are simply doing what they are good at, and what they love, and they are using their gifts and their passion to not only further their own efforts as artists, but to take their art a step further and encourage individuals to become better global citizens.

Over 150 people came to the prop’s event, and all of them left with a not only an incredible connecting experience to the art, to other people, and to the work of Nuru, but they left with a vision of ways they can take their gifts and passions and use them to bring even more good into the world.

We need more people like Victor Saad and his team at the prop.  We need more people who are living for something more than themselves.  We need more people being Nuru and prop-a-gating light and hope in a world that needs it badly.

Will you choose to prop-a-gate good today?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Principle of the Slight Edge

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a principle I found in John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It was called, the Principle of the Process. As I read the chapter in his book, I was reminded of another principle I had the privilege of learning from a man named Olan Hendrix, and it’s called “The Principle of the Slight Edge.”

Olan Hendrix has served on the board of and advised many organizations during his incredible life, but it’s pretty remarkable to consider that he only had a sixth grade education, and enlisted in the military at a young age around the time of WWII.

Olan’s life was radically changed by Jesus Christ, and when the change took place, he started pursuing this principle that has defined his life. In 2001, he shared this principle with a group of staff with GCM who were about to embark on a career in vocational ministry. I was one of those staff.

The principle of the slight edge roughly paraphrased states,

Throughout history, the greatest achievements in any field have been performed by those who exelled above the masses in their area of expertise by only a slight edge.

For example, there are many great basketball players, but the difference between them and a Michael Jordan is ever so slight. But it is a difference.

This principle, when applied is very reminiscent of the law of the process. You see, it’s application reminds me of the incremental effects of diligence in our work. You see, it has to do with pushing ourselves to do a little bit more. For instance, I might not be able to read a whole book a day, but I can read one more chapter, or one more paragraph or one more sentence, and push myself by a slight edge beyond my normal constraints.

I might not be able to spend five hours a day giving myself to some area of discipline whether it be exercise or reading, but I can start with five minutes. You see it is better to push yourself with an incremental goal than it ever is to just not try. I may not be able to play basketball like Michael Jordan, but I can improve my skill level by a slight edge with practice.

I hope that as you read this post, you’ll find yourself desiring to take a little bit of time to push yourself in goals, whether they be geared toward faith, weight-loss, fitness, stewardship or some other arena. Push yourself incrementally, and you will be amazed at the difference it makes!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Happy Holidays From Nuru!

Happy Holidays From Nuru (Full Version) from Nuru International on Vimeo.

This holiday season is different for the people of Kuria, Kenya. Seven thousand people are beginning to experience a life filled with choices and opportunities. It's really hard to believe that just a little over two years ago, Nuru International sent it's first team on the ground to begin working toward a sustainable and scalable solution to ending the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation, and now there is hope where once there was despair and desperation. It's hard to believe that things you and I take for granted, like being able to afford to send their young ones to elementary school or having enough food for everyone in one's family to eat, are being experienced by many people in Kuria, Kenya for the first time this holiday season.

Together, we have witnessed change that has quickly moved from a handful of people to literally thousands. It is absolutely amazing to think that Nuru has had such a transforming impact so quickly, but there is still much more work to be done. A spark has caught flame, and candles are being lit. Lives are being changed, person by person, and family by family. People are stepping up and spreading hope, light, and Nuru.

This year, as you begin your Christmas shopping, will you consider making a contribution to Nuru? Three families have stepped forward to match donations that come in during the the month of December. This is a great time to double your impact and contribute to lasting change for people you may never meet, but who could benefit greatly from your generosity. Thanks for considering giving a special gift to Nuru's work this month.