Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reflection: Running And Community

While attending the Nuru all-staff summit I had the opportunity to run together with some of my co-workers/teammates at Nuru. Typically when I go running, its either with Jamie or by myself (most of the time with Jamie though). I knew that there were a few fellow team members who cultivated a habit of running, and so I thought I'd invite them to explore an area I discovered on my first day of the summit. We were able to get out a couple of days during the week until I sprained an ankle, and at the very least, ended my own runs. I really enjoyed these community runs for a few reasons.

1) I knew that we were going to have some long and full days at the summit, and that all of us who were able/willing would benefit greatly from an opportunity to move and to sweat.

2) Running together, helped each of us to have a rhythm that didn't push anyone too hard, but ensured that we each had a good workout.

3) We had some great conversations about work and life that likely would never have happened during the normal rhythm of the week.

4) I was able to get to know some of my teammates better, and that puts me in a better position to support them as together we work to take more ground in the fight to end extreme poverty.

5) Knowing that there were other people who were going to run/workout with me helped me stay motivated to get out there.

Are you starting a walking/running/workout endeavor? Find a group of friends or coworkers to do it with, keep each other motivated, and keep moving forward. May we each find people in our lives who will help us bring our best each day!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Heart And The Fist by Eric Greitens

Over the last several months in a wide spectrum of contexts I've been seeing the name Eric Greitens come up. He's an author, a Rhodes Scholar, a Navy SEAL, a humanitarian, founder of The Mission Continues, and currently a candidate for governor of Missouri. Because his name has been popping up in a variety of different contexts, I decided I would do a quick Google search.

When I did, among the top hits were a couple of books, one called Resilience, and the other was The Heart And The Fist. I decided to start by reading The Heart And The Fist because of its subtitle, The Education Of A Humanitarian, The Making Of A Navy SEAL. This title intrigued me on a few levels. First, given Nuru CEO Jake Harriman's background as a Force Recon platoon commander, I wondered what similarities may exist between the genesis of Nuru in Jake's mind and Eric Greitens' own experiences and conclusions. Separately, I find myself encouraged by the lives of others who have sought to work for a better world, and Mr. Greitens seems to be a person who has sought to do that with his life. I figure any time I can read a book where a person is willing to open up their life and share some of their personal lessons, I am usually made better through it.

And so I picked up The Heart And The Fist. What I love about the book is that there is a mixture of these biographical sketches from different seasons of the author's life that each include both humor and nuggets of wisdom. In even the most serious moments of life it seems there can be an occasion to smile, to experience gratitude, and an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. In the preface of the book, Eric succinctly articulates his thesis. The stories he shares reflect this truth, "...without courage, compassion falters, and without compassion, courage has no is within our power, and that the world requires of us--of every one of us--that we be both good and strong...For each of us there is a place on the frontlines."

In each chapter of the book, Eric focuses in on key experiences and individuals who helped him learn important life lessons, and who inspire him to bring his best into whatever he does. Although the book is a story about moments that shaped his life, it is just as much a testimonial and tribute to individuals who gave him inspiration and who by being written about, may have the opportunity to give us inspiration as well. In this book, he communicates with a vulnerability and an honesty that does not attempt to paint any of these individuals (including himself) in a perfect light, but rather to show that even amid our imperfections, we each have valuable life lessons to impart, and we each have a unique contribution on the frontlines, wherever they may be.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book, and soaking in these stories of hardship, heroism, and simple truths in the hope that it might help you to bring your best to wherever you have been placed, and further, that it might inspire you to be both strong and good. In the words of the philosopher John Stuart Mill (also quoted in the book), " The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."  May we be a people who are willing to fight for good, who are relentless in standing strong, and purposeful in laying down our lives and our comforts for the good of others.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reflection: My 2016 Goals Part One

Every year, as the year winds to an end, I carve out time to take a look over the previous year and consider goals and plans for the year ahead. Over the years, as I've taken time to do this, I notice that my goals are not so much resolutions as they are an opportunity to go deeper on the things I value highly. The year end/beginning is a time for me to do a checkup on my life and recalibrate and refocus for the present and future. I don't necessarily try to come up with ten goals each year, but it seems like that has become the average for me. And what I have found is that the goals themselves may appear somewhat nebulous or abstract, but the pathway to achievement is always found in concrete steps.  As I share these goals, I hope you will take time to encourage me through the year, and, that you will take time to set your own goals and plans for 2016.

Cultivate my relationship with God. For me, it is as simple as this. Because my relationship with God is my anchor, my compass, and my lighthouse, this needs to take precedence over any other activity. That means that it needs to come first in my day, and that I need to daily start by connecting with God by taking time to listen, to pray, to read scriptures, and to cultivate spiritual disciplines. This goal helps me stay attended and aligned daily with my ultimate purpose, to be with Christ, become more like Christ, and to live more fully for Christ.

Pursue physical fitness and become physically stronger than I have ever been. I need to move. Barring injury, I plan to dedicate 30-60 minutes per day to movement of some type. If that means walking, I'll walk for at least 30 minutes. I am actually conspiring with a small group of friends to start doing some early morning/pre-dawn bootcamp style workouts in Morgantown. While a group of us have been talking about this for about a year, I need to give a shoutout to my good friend Stephen Beckwith and his friends at F3Nation for helping to give shape to this plan. This year, Jamie and I are already thinking through our training plan for Marine Corps Marathon and hopeful that Nuru International will be able to be a charity partner again.

Maintain a positive mindset. Again, this is a goal that is best worked out with a daily routine. That daily routine is simple. Aside from devotional activities and fitness, I have found that one of the most powerful contributors to a positive mental outlook, resilience, and tenacity is a sense of gratitude. Each morning, I commit myself to take a few moments to reflect on one or more things for which I am grateful. And when the events of the day seem like an onslaught of catastrophe, I am committing my mind to find the silver lining. I've noticed that it is just to easy for myself and for others to dwell on the negative. I don't want to ignore problems when they arise, but I do want to buffer myself against allowing a negative thought to spiral out of control and distort reality.

Write, read, and reflect. Every day, I will find time to write, read, and/or reflect. Every day is special and there really are no "ordinary moments" so I want to carve time to savor moments. I'm committed to blogging an average of at least once per week over the course of 2016. For inspiration, I am drawing on the encouragement I found last year from my friend and coworker at Nuru, Thomas Hong. I want to enjoy, savor, and learn from each day, and to do that, I need to be mindful and intentional about it.

Get outside. These days, it seems like more and more of our time is spent inside. Growing up, inside was probably among the last places you would find me and most of my friends while it was daylight. We were outside playing basketball, jumping rope, hiking, fishing, or pursuing the adventure of the day. This year, I want to spend at least 30 minutes per day outside. Of course there will be some days that won't afford this opportunity, but when possible, I want to go beyond the 30 minute goal. I want to soak in the sun and of course Jamie and I will be planning to plant a small garden again--planting and maintaining a garden on one's property is practically a guarantee to be outside. Just as much as it is important to get outside and enjoy creation, there's a valuable relationship with our food that most of us are losing because we've never grown it ourselves.

I'll share the rest of my top top goals in a future post, but in the meantime, I want to encourage you to consider (if you haven't already), what are your goals for 2016? Personally, I'm looking forward to a lot of growth this year! (And may none of us ever stop doing looking forward and growing!)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Reflection: Running And Solitude

A few weeks ago, I traveled solo to the annual Nuru All-Staff Summit in Costa Mesa, California. Most of the time I get the privilege of traveling with Jamie, but on this occasion, we felt like it would be better to save money for an upcoming fifth anniversary vacation, and also allow her to support her team better at Healthworks. btw did you know that one of her coworkers (another fellow West Virginian) is training to qualify for the US Olympic Marathon team? You can read/watch her story here and help support her efforts!

Any time I travel westward, my internal clock has me wake up really early, and this was no exception. What was fantastic about the early wakeup was that it allowed me an opportunity to continue to apply some of the habits I had been cultivating late in 2015. I woke up, I read the Bible and prayed, and I began a little personal fitness. As I started, I thought, "I wonder how far I am from water?", took a look at a map, and realized that I was less than two miles from Newport Beach's Back Bay and Nature Reserve. So I decided to get out the door and get moving.

The first part of my run was anything but quiet. I was running along six lane roadways as people were beginning their early morning commute in LA. Within the first few minutes, I also ran past a cross fit gym. This was somewhat comical because there were people coming out of the gym to do a quarter mile run as part of their workouts. The folks I saw each gave me a somewhat puzzled look that was a mixture of "Great job! Keep at it!" and "I don't remember seeing you in the gym this morning, who are you?"

As I pressed onward past the traffic and the crossfitters, I made my way to the Back Bay. This was my Monday morning fortress of solitude. My run was my intentional space for reflection and contemplation. I watched as birds flew across the bay, and greeted the occasional walker, runner, or other fitness afficionado. And simply kept going. I had run through the Western edge of the bay along a dirt path and into a neighborhood. There was something meditative about the rhythm of my run, my breath, and the slow rise of the sun across the bay.

Running in solitude allowed me space for a few things that day. And as I think about it, offers us a space for these things each time we go.

1) It gave me an opportunity to test my intentions and resolve. No one would know if I took the day off. But I would know. Running alone gave me the ability to know that I can stick with a goal even if I'm the only person going toward it.

2) It presented me an opportunity to practice gratitude. My mind was filled with joy and my heart with gratitude as I looked upon the bay and thought about the fact that this incredible gift was just a few yards from the place where I was staying, and that by getting out the door, I could appreciate the world around me even more.

3) It it gave me a mental space to prepare for the day/week ahead. I knew that the day and week would be full, and activities would likely not end formally until 9-10PM. It was the start of the day and week. I wanted to bring my best. This run in solitude gave me a space to prepare for my time with my team.

4) It made a big and busy space seem smaller and more intimate. Here I was in one of the most densely populated areas of the United States, and I was able to find a park in the early morning that was quiet, expansive, not clothed in the same busyness and fast pace that seems to comprise much of a major metropolitan area.

If you run or pursue fitness in some way, my hope for you is that you can carve out some space for a workout in solitude where it is just you and the trail beneath your feet, and that you experience refreshment along that journey.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reflection: West Virginia State House and Senate Recognize Nuru’s Work

One year ago today, on Wednesday January 21, 2015 at approximately 11AM, Nuru was given a double honor in the home state of Nuru’sCEO and founder Jake Harriman. Along with board members John Hancox and Andy Cogar, Jake and I were invited to stand before the West Virginia House of Delegates to receive a citation honoring them for the work Nuru has done to fight extreme poverty and to celebrate the strong role West Virginians have played in the organization since its inception whether by working directly for Nuru, volunteering, or giving financial contributions to help Nuru grow from an idea to have incredible impact on over 50,000 lives in Kenya and Ethiopia over the last six years.

And as soon as the House of Delegates had finished honoring Nuru, Andy, John, Jake, and I were ushered to the other end of the West Virginia State Capitol where the Senate was waiting to pass a similar resolution and honor the work of Nuru.  After the Senate passed the resolution, all of the members of the Senate came together for a photo and shook hands with Nuru’s West Virginian representation.

The Honorable Corey Palumbo sponsored the resolution in the Senate, and The Honorable Stephen Skinner submitted the sponsored the resolution in the House of Delegates. It was truly wonderful to have both houses of the West Virginia Legislature take time to recognize the work of many West Virginians and WVU Alumni who have helped drive this mission forward.  In fact the resolution mentions staff and board members by name.

Personally, it makes me proud as a West Virginian to have the work of Nuru celebrated and recognized in our state’s Capitol, and additionally proud of all of the volunteers, financial supporters, staff, and board members from West Virginia who have helped carry this mission forward from its beginning, and I am excited for the next chapter Nuru and West Virginians will continue writing in the work to end extreme poverty!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our Amazing Delta Experience Part Three

It’s funny. A year ago, as we rushed to our gate to board our Orange County flight to Minneapolis after the Nuru Summit, I looked ahead to see the weather forecast for Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, our eventual destination. Very cold. Very, very cold. I then thought, “You know, with the weather looking as it does, what is the likelihood that we will encounter delays.”

With that, I sent a quick text to my good friend Steve Powell in Minneapolis just to see if he was home. Again, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to connect with my friend during our brief stopover.” And then I thought, “And if something happens with our flight, wouldn’t it be amazing to hang for a little longer and see his family?” He was in fact home and planned to stay alert for our call. Steve and his wife are incredible people, and both of them were elite shooters on WVU's rifle team. 

When we landed in Minneapolis, we found out our flight was delayed for at least two hours. That meant we would be landing in Pittsburgh close to midnight, and then driving from Pittsburgh to Mogantown in some pretty nasty cold conditions. I decided to approach the ticket counter at our gate to ask about the likelihood of further delays, and told her that if the situation is looking uncertain, we would love to schedule a flight for the following day, and that we had friends we could stay with. She was amazed that we would step forward in that way and sent us to Delta’s help desk to inquire further. When we arrived, we were greeted by a young woman named Diamond who thought it might be likely we could make the adjustment and sent us to talk directly with a booking agent.

The big key for me was that I did not want to be trapped in paying a change fee or an exorbitant uprgrade fee—my concerns were quickly relieved. A gentleman named Ray helped walk us through a new itinerary which would allow us to stay the night in Minneapolis, arrive in Pittsburgh during daylight hours, get some rest, AND catch up with some amazing friends.

Delta offered us incredible flexibility, and we were able to connect with friends we had not seen in nearly three years. We also had the distinct experience of being able to travel through subzero temperatures in Minnesota with amazing company.

My wife and I are incredibly grateful to Delta for their flexibility and their willingness to help make a potentially difficult travel itinerary incredibly pleasant from start to finish. I am completely impressed with their customer service, and grateful for the way so many of their staff went above and beyond in service to help make our journey incredible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: Brothers Forever by Tom Sileo and Colonel Tom Manion, USMC (Ret.)

Last fall, as Jamie and I were entering into the final weekend of our preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon, we attended the Marine Corps Marathon Race Expo and picked up our shirts, our bibs, and  made our way along the rows of booths set up by vendors and non-profits alike. This was our third MCM, and this time we arrived for the opening of the venue. As we made our way through the rows of vendors we talked with folks and even made a few purchases based on some good deals we were finding.

Among the booths, we passed by one for the Travis Manion Foundation. At the booth they were selling copies of the book Brothers Forever by Tom Sileo and Colonel Tom Manion, USMC (Ret.). I knew very little about Travis, other than the fact that he was killed in action while serving in Iraq, and that one of our team members at Nuru, Mike Bigrigg, attended the United States Naval Academy and wrestled with Travis. I had also heard that Jake Harriman, my long time friend and our CEO at Nuru was going to be honored with an award from TMF. As I walked by the booth, someone handed me a bracelet that said, "If not me, then who..." that had an image of a Spartan mask on it. I decided it was time for me to learn more, so I picked up a copy of the book, and slid the bracelet on my wrist alongside my ONE and Nuru Kenya and Nuru Ethiopia bracelets.

I recently finished reading the book, and I found myself laughing one moment and then weeping the next. Here I was, sitting in the comfort of my home reading about the college days of a couple of people who would have been slightly younger than me today if they were still alive. As the book transitioned from their college days to their time of service in the Marines and Navy,  I started reading email excerpts and stories from others that were compiled to tell the story of how these two brave young warriors fell while serving this country and striving to help others in Iraq and Afghanistan. Too often, when we hear the news of a death, whether it is of a civilian or member of our military, unless we know the person directly we do not feel the weight of the loss. Tom Sileo and Colonel Manion in Brothers Forever help us feel the weight of the loss. They help us grieve the loss of young men and women whose lives were cut short as they served. They help us mourn together with the families of those who cry out to God, "Why did this have to happen?", of mother's who shriek and cry out grieving for their sons and daughters who are no more.

Books like this one not only help bring the reality of our own mortality close to home. They help us take stock of our own lives. Just as Travis had said, "If not me, then who..."; the more I personally think about those words and read the words on the bracelet that is still hanging on my wrist, the more I realize it is a challenge and a call to service. As the Travis Manion Foundation reminds us, we are to "Honor the fallen. Challenge the living." Most of us will never know the extreme challenges of combat or what gentlemen like Travis Manning and his best friend Brendan Looney endured in an effort to serve this country. But, you and I can honor the lives of these young men and their families, and the lives of many other men and women just like them who laid down their lives in service. How do we do it? We look for opportunities to lead and serve. We bring our best into each and every day. Wherever we are, we can choose to give of ourselves for the betterment of others.

I recommend picking up a copy of this book, visiting the Travis Manion Foundation website, and asking yourself this question, "If not me, then who..."? In the closing words of the authors, "There is no inscription to define the meaning of their sacrifice. That mission is ours." Look for those opportunities to serve in your community or in the world. My guess is that you won't have to look very far for an opportunity to pop up. May you have the courage to step into that opportunity fully, for the good of others.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Day 2016

For the many of the last several years, I’ve written a post and shared video or audio from one of Dr. King’s speeches on MLK Day. This year, in the spirit of continuing that tradition, I thought I would post an excerpt and a photo taken at the MLK Memorial in Washington DC.

As people around the country are enjoying a day off, I wanted to write a quick note to encourage you toward an act of service. The world becomes a better place when we choose to serve, and the purpose and intent of the MLK holiday is to give people a space and time to serve in their communities and in the world. For those who have already made other plans for the day, this is not an attempt to shame or guilt, but a reminder.

I believe service can and should be a lifestyle. I believe the highest calling of individuals is a calling to service. And I believe that setting aside a day is a great start to cultivating a lifestyle, but I want to encourage you to take time as you plot out your year and your plans—carve out opportunities to serve others. Go volunteer with your church or with a community group. Set aside money and time to give back.

The world can be a better place if we choose to serve. And I believe your life will be more fulfilling by choosing to serve. When we choose selfishness, I believe it shrinks our ability to be who we were made to be, to live out our calling, and to make the world a brighter place.

So whether you choose an act of service today or not, go out and serve this year. Set the date. Be intentional. Make it part of your life rhythm. May we each aspire toward the greatness that happens when we commit ourselves to the service and welfare of others.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Our Amazing Delta Airlines Experience Part Two: The Good Lie

A year ago, after a layover that afforded us enough time in Atlanta to grab a meal at the Café Intermezzo (which I highly recommend in ATL), we boarded for our cross-country flight to Orange County for a Nuru summit. We were placed in a row with plenty of space and we were able to board with the first group. I personally loved the early boarding because it meant there was no question that our bag would be able to be stowed onboard without being checked. Jamie and I strive to travel light, and we had a brand new suitcase (an awesome Christmas present from her mom and dad) that we shared as our carry on (along with our backpacks).

We were seated, and then the in flight movie preview commenced shortly after takeoff. The movie? The Good Lie, starring ReeseWitherspoon. I can honestly say I have not seen many, maybe zero movies with Reese Witherspoon in it, but I can remember seeing the preview for this movie when it was initially released. Because of the nature of the work we are doing with Nuru, and the way God has opened our eyes to global issues, we were keenly interested in this movie. It is a film based on true stories of Sudanese child refugees who were named “The Lost Boys Of Sudan.” The film documents the 800+ mile trek of these children, who after losing their parents when warlords attacked their village, traveled across Sudan and Ethiopia to Kenya, where they spent 13 years in a refugee camp. They had to grow up way too fast—tens of thousands of children—fleeing their homes, and struggling to survive, but always holding on to their rich Christian faith.

The movie had us in tears. It was heartbreaking, inspiring, and soul moving. I’m grateful to Delta for choosing that movie as our in flight entertainment. As refugees are offered safe haven in our country, I can’t even imagine the difficulty of adjusting to a new culture as they work to make life-long dreams a reality. The movie stirred us in our mission to bring meaningful choices to people living in extreme poverty through our work with Nuru International, and made us appreciate Reese Witherspoons commitment to raise the profile of the challenges experienced by refugee populations abroad and in the US. Most of us have very little idea how incredibly blessed we are from a global perspective.

Delta could have shown us any film, but they chose The Good Lie. Hat’s off to you Delta for choosing to show a film that celebrates faith, perseverance, and family!