Thursday, December 29, 2011

As The Sun Prepares to Rise on Another Year

Today I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Morgantown, WV, far from the view pictured above. I just finished a brief conversation with one of my old roommates, Joel Setal, and started re-reading a really cool book my friend Pavi suggested to me a few years ago. The book is called The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I highly recommend it.

Earlier today, Jamie and I took a walk across town to get a little exercise, and because she is going through orientation for a new part-time job. She's going to be teaching aquatics classes at a local fitness and rehabilitation center called Healthworks. I'm excited for her to launch into this new endeavor because I think she is incredibly gifted in both aquatics and with people. Her bosses are being incredibly flexible with her, and have built into her schedule time off to travel with me when I need to be on the road for Nuru.

This year has been incredible, and in the near future, I'm looking forward to posting more details and highlights from the last twelve months. Life seems like it has been speeding up steadily over the last twelve months, and one of my passions that has suffered has been my blog. This year marks the fewest posts I have been able to put up on this blog since I started it in 2005. It's probably the fewest since the first year I started blogging which was 2003 (Unfortunately, those old blog posts are no longer available--the site was taken away).

Over the next couple of days, I'm hoping to spend some extended time writing, praying, reflecting, planning, and resting as I prepare to welcome in the new year. Jamie and I have had a wonderful holiday season, and have had the privilege of being able to spend quality time with many members of our family, as well as many friends. I think we are both just craving more time with everyone (including the people we didn't get to see). As much as technology has made our use of time more efficient, and opened up opportunities that were never before possible for staying connected, I find myself always craving more time with people.

I imagine that craving will never be satisfied on this side of the veil, and I imagine I'm not alone in my craving. As 2011 winds to it's end, and the sun rises on a new year, my hope is that you and I will be able to savor every moment, and make the most of the time you and I have been given.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Prophet's Rock

During my visit to the village of Tippecanoe, a local told me about a place where Tenskwatawa was supposed to have gone to pray and to encourage the members of the confederacy. I'm sure that Tenskwatawa visited this place, as did his brother Tecumseh.

In light of my last post and Willie's statement about a Shawnee walking through this area 200 years after the battle, it was kind of cool to stand atop this rock, look out on what would have been the site of the Tippecanoe (Prophetstown) village, and think about what once was, as well as think about what 200 years hold for all of us on this planet.

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of these photos and taking a moment to imagine what this part of the world might have looked like 200 years ago. Imagine traditional home structures that represented a wide array of cultures (tipis, wickiwas, longhouses, and more).  Imagine large agricultural plots to meet the food needs of a diverse village. Imagine a community rallying together to maintain some semblance of a traditional way of life and a heritage.

It was a rainy day in Tippecanoe, and I am grateful for the ability to walk in this place as well as for the ability to imagine a different world. I think that this is one of the great gifts we have been given, not only do we have the ability ot imagine what the past was like, but we have the ability to imagine, and be active participants in creating a future world, and playing our part to make this world a better place for future generations.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Battle of Tippecanoe: 200 Years Later

On my way back from a recent trip to Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago for Nuru, I had an opportunity to stop at Prophetstown State Park and the location of the Battle of Tippecanoe. I have for a long time wanted to visit this site where Tecumseh and his brother were beginning to build a confederacy of American Indian tribes to resist the encroachment of western settlers into Indian territory. Over the last several years, I have made it a point to visit historic and sacred sites for my tribe with members of my family and tribe.

It was a bit ironic to me as Jamie and I took a break from our long drive to visit this historic site. The date we visited was November 7th, 2011--exactly 200 years to the day of the original battle. It appeared there were a number of people who came out for the weekend to commemorate and remember the combatants (based on the number of re-enactors I saw dressed as militia people walking around the grounds).

So a bit about the significance of the battle for me. My family is Shawnee. Tecumseh and his brother were also Shawnee. Tecumseh is seen by many as one of the greatest orators and military leaders in history. He and his brother had begun assembling an array of people from tribes all over North America to stand as a united front against the illegal encroachments of settlers into Indian territory. Not only was Tecumseh a brilliant orator and military strategist, he was also an astute diplomat and a champion of justice. He's one of my personal historic heroes, and holds a special place in the hearts and minds of all Shawnee people.

For every good thing that Tecumseh represented, his brother Tenskwatawa was the anti-thesis. In early November 1811, while Tecumseh was speaking to tribes in the southeastern United States to encourage them to join this confederacy, his brother was making claims to great power, influence, and medicine. And a young American leader named William Henry Harrison began driving a militia group to encamp near Prophetstown, the gathering place of Tecumseh's confederacy. Tenskwatawa told the gathered people in his village that if they attacked Harrison and his men, they would become bulletproof, and the bullets in the rifle's of Harrison's men would roll out of their barrels and turn to dust.

But that's not how it happened. Tenskwatawa rallied people to fight and early in the morning, they attacked Harrison's camp. Harrison and his men were ready. They routed the poorly executed attack of the confederacy (without their leader, Tecumseh), and destroyed Tecumseh's dream of a massive confederacy. It also secured Harrison's political future and he later became president of the United States.

As I stood at the site of the battle, I was overcome with emotion. I can't quite describe it. I began bawling my eyes out when I thought about the lives lost in this place, and the possibilities of a different future for shawnee people that were shattered during this event. After spending a couple hours walking around the battle ground and memorials with Jamie, we proceeded to drive to Columbus, OH where I was able to share the whole experience with my best friend in the whole world, Willie, who is also a member of my tribe.

He had really cool insight for me as I told him about the great sadness I felt standing in that place. He said, "You know, nobody who had been there for that battle could have possibly imagined that there would be a Shawnee walking over that land two hundred years later." His comment put things in a little better perspective for me. It was a bright spot of a different sort. It was a reminder of the power of perseverance.

In my tribe, we have a song called Itcheepon. As I walked the battlefield on November 7th, 2011, I found myself singing it. I'd like to share one of the verses here.

"Now you think that we're gone.
Look around you! Hear my song!
Aren't the skies still blue? Don't the rivers run?
We're still here on Itcheepon.

And as I close this reflection, I'm encouraged in the middle of walking through such a sad place, because there are still Shawnee people walking on this earth. Things look different than could have been even imagined two-hundred years ago, but we are still here. HeYa!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Reflections

Last Friday while looking out the window at Lake Floyd I enjoyed a brief period of reflection from one of the many places Jamie and I are thankful to call home. We've been incredibly blessed with loving families, with a wonderful community, and with each other.

More than this, we have been able to give our time and energy to meaningful work, to loving our neighbors, and toward a way of living that attempts to scratch the surface of the beautiful way of Jesus of Nazareth.

Today I slept in, and stayed away from the special sales, the shortages, the lines, and the hustle and bustle. As G. K. Chesterton once said, "There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less. There are many "things" that we can acquire, and, living in this period of amazing innovations, those 'things' can be pretty cool, but they pale in comparison to the people with whom we get to spend our lives.

Each year at Thanksgiving, whether I write about it or not, I try to carve out some time to look at just a few of the blessings I have received in this relatively short life. I actually try to do this more often than thanksgiving just because I think there is a value in seeing how
much we truly have.

We get marketed many times daily and told about so many things that will "make our life better", but my limited experience (I'm still a young learner on the journey of life) tells me that the 'things' that make our life better are not what people lined up at stores for on Friday morning.

Rather, what makes our life better is a dedication to things like work we find meaningful, to people we love, a sense of purpose in our lives, and an opportunity to serve others rather than be served. This is an amazing world in which we live. I believe that it is filled with treasures that we tend to ignore while looking for something more. As the author Annie Dillard once quipped, "It is a poor person indeed who can't stop to pick up a penny." It's not an easy task, especially with so many entities selling us on other ideas of joy and happiness that aren't nearly as satisfying. My temptation is to write explicitly about what some of these treasures are, but I feel like I may never end this post as I start. Besides, I think there is way more excitement and adventure for each of us if we go out into our world with eyes wide open looking to discover what treasures we may be stumbling over just outside our doors or in our everyday routines.

As we are all amid the throes of the holiday season, I hope you are surrounded by people you love, and that you don't take for granted the little treasures that surround you. Stop, pick them up like pennies, and savor the moments of discovery, of laughter, of healing, and of togetherness.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven Eleven Eleven: Veteran's Day 2011

Or maybe I should have entitled this post "One One One One One One."

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had ample creative space for writing, but my life has not lacked content for consideration. I’m hoping to write more in the near future, and possibly even re-vamp this blog again for the new year. For the last few years I’ve taken advantage of a feature in Facebook that allows my blogs to insert as ‘notes’, but it appears this function will be discontinued in a few days. For anyone who reads my notes on facebook, I apologize for this change. But enough about all of that logistical stuff…

What an interesting Veteran’s Day! Having a number of friends (and a few family members) who have served in the armed forces, In light of the date as well as the holiday (and a day off), I thought this was the perfect storm for creating a blog post.

First a little bit of history. Veteran’s Day was originally called Armistice day, and it was a day celebrating the end of World War I. It was intended to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. And here we are today marking the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month during the eleventh year of the century. 

Armistice Day was changed to Veteran’s Day in the 1950s as a way to honor the lives of all of those who served in our nation’s armed forces, and not just those who served during World War I.

And today, as I think about my friends and family who have served in various branches of the military, of course I feel compelled to share the story of my friend Jake.

If you have been following my blog for a while, then you are probably familiar with Jake’s story, but if not, let me tell you a bit. Jake and I lived in the dorms together at WVU, and after his sophomore year, he left WVU to attend the United States Naval Academy. He graduated with top honors, was captain of the rugby team, and went on to serve in the Marine Corps as well as a special operations unit called Force Recon. During his time as a platoon commander, he saw a connection between terrorism, insurgency, and extreme poverty and this led him to Stanford University, where he pursued the creation of a non-profit with a new approach to fighting extreme poverty called Nuru International.

Of course those who know me know I’ve been passionate about this work from the moment I first heard about Jake’s research at Stanford. I’m honored to call him my friend, and I’m thankful for the life of service that he has embodied. I featured a video that I’ve shared in the past of him sharing his story. It is a story of his first hand experiences in combat as well as a vision for a world in which our global neighbors living in extreme poverty have the choice to determine their future. 

As I sit in a Starbucks with my wife enjoying a pot of French pressed coffee and write this post on this intriguing date, I am a bit overwhelmed. I'm overwhelmed at the work we have before us to help forge a better world. I'm overwhelmed at the potential we have with the tools, knowledge, and resources we have at our fingertips. And I'm overwhelmed at all of those one's in today's date. 

When we start counting, we start with the number one. If I look at this date as a series of ones instead of a series of elevens, I can't help but think about new starts, like the new start my buddy Jake had when he ventured into grad-school focused on ending extreme poverty. Or the new start that so many people journey into when they start the new year.

And when we think about the term the "eleventh hour" it reminds us of the urgency with which an undertaking needs to be commenced. Today, on Veteran's Day 2011, I feel like there is something beyond the federal holiday to consider, and that something is a new beginning that is taken on with great urgency. 

May we all take a moment to pause, reflect on our lives, and consider this an opportunity for a new start to be commenced with great urgency, and may we all be part of leaving a legacy and building a better world for generations to come as we seek to do justice in this world. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Invisible Children, Advocacy, and President Obama's Action Against the LRA

The year 2005 was an incredibly significant year for me. In 2005, I resigned as a chief of my tribe, I had my eyes opened in a life and career altering way to the issue of extreme poverty, and I was first exposed to an organization called Invisible Children.

My friend Dave Williams, who at the time was working with me as a leader in a summer-long character based leadership development program in Orlando Florida, shared a website with me. On the site, I was exposed to the brutality of child-soldiers in northern Uganda, and I saw the beginnings of one of the most impressive grassroots advocacy movements of young people I have ever witnessed, and I was thoroughly inspired. Less than a year later, representatives of Invisible Children visited the campus of WVU, and dozens in Morgantown and thousands around the country participated in a global night commute in solidarity with children in northern Uganda.

This organization, has catalyzed thousands of young people to take action against global atrocities like the work of Joseph Kony and the LRA in Uganda. I have met many people who trace back their beginnings of advocacy, justice, and community service work to their exposure to Invisible Children. Some of my closest friends have participated multiple times in some of this organization's awareness campaigns. These campaigns were designed to bring more than awareness. They awoke a desire in many for a different kind of world. 

Invisible Children, through one of their campaigns, came on Oprah Winfrey's radar, and because of that, came on the radar of millions. They have partnered with many other organizations and agencies, and have encouraged people to write their congressional representatives to take action to end the reign of terror caused by the LRA in Africa. It was because of Invisible Children that I wrote my first letter as a concerned citizen to Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, my state's Senators at the time. They encouraged a lobby day in DC that saw over 1000 grassroots lobbyists travel to our nation's capital to advocate for a bill of which Invisible Children played a strong role in its initiation.

And now, President Obama has authorized 100 military advisors to travel to Africa to help local militaries bring an end to 26 years of terror, atrocities, and the abduction of 1000s of children who have been forced to become soldiers. I believe that Invisible Children has played a huge role in encouraging young people to participate in our government's processes, and I believe that for many, it has restored a belief that they can make a difference in this world, they have a voice that can be heard, and they have a role to play as citizen participants in our government as well as in bettering this world.

Today, remember that you have a voice, and you have an incredible opportunity to good in this world, and to help make the world a better place--don't take it for granted!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nuru International Partners with Sevenly T-shirts To Support Rural Farmers On World Food Day

As part of observation of World Food Day, through October 16, Nuru International is proud to partner with the Sevenly T-shirt Company to raise funds and awareness for Nuru’s agricultural program in Kuria Kenya.  For every Sevenly shirt sold, the t-shirt company will donate $7 toward Nuru’s work to equip poor farmers with the tools and knowledge they need to lead their communities out of extreme poverty. Sevenly’s mission is to raise funds and awareness for the world’s greatest causes, and at Nuru folks are excited to be featured for their campaign this week in conjunction with World Food Day.

Nuru’s agricultural program is a linchpin for it's holistic model. We based this model on an incredibly successful model that we witnessed from one of our partner organizations, One Acre Fund. At Nuru, we pursue a holistic approach to international development that capitalizes on synergies developed by simultaneously attacking multiple issues that lead to systemic extreme poverty. For example, most families in remote, rural areas farm their own land. We train farmers to increase their harvest using the best agricultural means available. An increased harvest means they will have enough food to feed their families and surplus to sell; with the money earned, families are then able to save for the future and afford healthcare interventions for their family, education for their children, and necessities for their home, like a latrine.

This year, millions of families in East Africa are suffering because of a horrible drought, but amid the drought, Nuru farmers who have participated in our agriculture programs, while producing a lower yield this season, still have enough food to feed their families, pay back their loan of inputs, and generate revenue from the sale of surplus maize. In a recent blog post, Nuru’s CEO, and agricultural program manager, Jake Harriman gave further detail about what these interventions mean for farmers in Kenya. Since Nuru’s inception, it's  agricultural program has enrolled over 2000 families as well as loaned or sold over 40 tons of maize seed and 400 tons of fertilizer. Farmers have seen an increase in yield of 250% and Nuru boasts a 98% repayment rate on loans disbursed.

It is incredible that Nuru  is able to participate with Sevenly’s T-shirt program during the week of World Food Day, because this offers many an opportunity to take tangible steps to alleviate hunger as part of a greater vision to end extreme poverty in remote rural areas. Will you join us in our efforts to engage more people in this work? Here are a few suggestions from the World Food Day website. Join with Nuru, and take a tangible step toward a world in which people who live in extreme poverty have the choice to determine their future.

Also, if you would like to buy this Sevenly t-shirt, you only have a few hours left...sales discontinue at 12PM EST Monday October 17th.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Global Handwashing Day

Today is global handwashing day! Now you may be thinking, "What's the big deal about handwashing?" That's probably because you have had the idea of washing your hands with soap drilled into you from a very young age. Remember when you were first learning about this though? Remember your parents telling you that you always needed wash your hands after you go to the bathroom and before you eat to make sure you got rid of dirt? 

I can remember arguing with my parents that my hands weren't dirty because I couldn't see any dirt on them, but through them educating me about germs as well as programs in my school, I learned that there are germs and bacteria which I can't see that I need to try to remove from my hands too.

Handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections which take the lives of millions of children in the developing world each year.  This habit, could save more lives than any vaccine or other medical intervention, and could cut the number of lives lost each year to diarrhea by almost half!

There is a ton of publicity around initiatives to provide clean drinking water to our global neighbors who are living in extreme poverty, but there is also a huge need for interventions like handwashing stations and the use of soap after going to the bathroom and before eating. Water and sanitation hygiene, according to Unicef, is a key ingredient necessary to make international development possible. At Nuru, our holistic approach to tackling poverty has enabled us to tackle several problems at once and overlap solutions between different program areas. A great example emerges in handwashing. Our water and sanitation team has been developing low-cost handwashing stations that can be constructed, and sold to individual families at a very low cost, and then revenues generated from the sale of these stations can be used to maintain and grow our water and sanitation program. At the same time, our community health workers travel through villages and reinforce the concept of handwashing to save lives by visiting individual homes and providing education on why handwashing is important. As they travel, tehy also bring soap and other commodities to these homes and sell them for a low cost. This easy access to soap, along with handwashing stations, and education on why both are important when it comes to reducing sickness and the mortality rate of children under five are making a huge difference in the communities where Nuru works!

The video I shared here is a recording of testing an early prototype handwashing station for durability. To read more about this prototype click here. Global handwashing day is focused particularly on educating children, not only because of their great risk, but also because young people can also be incredible agents for changing behaviors. Their energy and enthusiasm is even more contagious than the pathogens on their hands. Today, as we celebrate global handwashing day, may we together take action to help others, especially children, to live healthier lives!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breathing in the Creation

This past Sunday, Jamie and I decided we would attempt a little change of pace. Many weekends, we get the privilege of entertaining guests and connecting with friends both old and new, but this Sunday was different. We decided to take a trip to a nearby forest--Cooper's Rock.

In the past, I can remember going rock climbing with my buddy Steve in this park. We probably climbed at least four days each week. As soon as I was out of work at Mylan, we were in the woods. I also have many memories of hiking along a multitude of trails at Coopers Rock with my dad as well as with many of my friends.

Picnics, hiking trips, rock climbing, and just hanging out on an overlook have become a semi-annual tradition for me, and a wonderful part of the Morgantown area that I love to share with visitors.

This sunday was different for me. I haven't been out in the woods that much this year, and I think that time in the creation is something that we all need in our life. Otherwise, we miss out on so many smells, sights, and sounds, and find our only connection to nature is through video or some other media. I love photographs (as you can see above), but a photograph is no substitute for watching sunbeams break through the canopy and illuminate fiddlehead ferns along the forest floor.

I don't know if your work, your school, or your daily routine find you breathing in the beauty and peace of wilderness often, but it is my hope that we can all take some time to enjoy this wonderful world in which we live.

And as an added bonus, if you live in my part of the country, you get the joy of autumn bursts of color and the sound of leaves crunching under your feet real soon.

Wherever you are, may you find time to unplug, unwind, and make your way into the wilderness. Enjoy the fall, and maybe a little sunshine too!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nuru International Celebrates It’s Third Birthday

It’s really hard to believe it has been three years since Jake, Doug, Janine, and Nicole left the United States and flew for two days to arrive in Nairobi. From there, they hopped in a matatu (bus), and began the eight hour journey toward one of the most remote corners of Kenya, and the nation’s second poorest district (county), Kuria.

I remember when Nuru was just an idea that my friends Jake and John had started contemplating late at night over many cups of coffee. I remember talking with John as Jake was finishing up his first year of grad school at Stanford. His goal, to develop a holistic, sustainable, scalable model to help people who live on less than a dollar a day to lift themselves out of that condition. He wanted the organization to be results oriented with a clear exit strategy, and long term going into some of the most desperate places on earth.

Some ideas are good, but they never get legs and they stay on the drawing board. But Nuru has been different. Virtually everyone we have been able to talk to 'gets' what we are doing, and they want to be part of it. They know that the solution isn’t handouts or isolated interventions. They know from their own experience that when they have been equipped with tools and knowledge, they have been able to do amazing things, and the story has the potential to develop in the same way anywhere in the world.

Three years ago, there were a handful of people in Kenya who were willing to trust and collaborate together with Jake, Nicole, Janine, and later others. And now, there are over 10,000 people who have been able to experience lasting positive change in their community as a result of their own community’s leadership and willingness to work together to forge a better future for people in their own community and beyond.

And back here in the States, there has existed a small skeleton of staff, and a growing number of volunteers, advocates, investors, and supporters who see the condition of our global neighbors and have been inspired to act. Again, I remember when Nuru’s grassroots movement was composed of a handful of activist in the hills of Appalachia who believed together that we could change the world and make a significant impact in ending extreme poverty, together, one community at a time.

Now, there are literally thousands of people who have joined Nuru’s work. They follow us on twitter, friend us on facebook, tell their friends and neighbors, and invest their time and money into inspiring others to confront the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation—extreme poverty. Together, we have taken Nuru’s story to other organizations, to schools, churches, and to our workplaces. We’ve reminded people that there is hope, and they have an incredible opportunity to join with us in this work. And, they have joined us, and together, we are becoming a movement, an unstoppable force, a revolution, as we work to make a lasting impact in the world.

As Nuru celebrates its third birthday, I am grateful for the opportunity to work together with so many. I’m grateful that we have a panoply of significant and incremental successes that we can celebrate. But more than this, I’m excited for the future. We have learned so much over these last three years. We have become more focused in our efforts, and we have had a steadily increasing impact in our work. Together, I believe we can change the world.

As Jake so often says, may we continue to ‘stay in the fight’ and see even more of our global neighbors have lives filled with opportunity and choice instead of desperation. Together, we are ending extreme poverty, one community at a time. Thanks for being Nuru together with us wherever you are in the world. Your contribution is more significant than you know!

And as a small gesture, I want to make a birthday wish request of you. Will you share this video with at least three of your friends, and let them see some of what we have been able to accomplish together over the last three years?

Thanks for being Nuru!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nuru International and Hunger In East Africa

It’s kind of hard to get our minds around a drought and what it means for people living in extreme poverty when we live in the United States. I think it’s hard because many of us have lost the connection between the weather and our food. It’s hard for us to imagine arrival at a supermarket and finding the shelves empty because food isn’t being produced. Imagine, walking through the produce section and seeing people fighting over the last small bag of potatoes, because nobody is sure when or if there will be another shipment arriving soon.

For 70% of the world’s extreme poor, they live in remote rural areas. There are no supermarkets insuring that there won’t be a shortage of food to eat. Instead, they rely on the land and work to the best of their ability to insure that their families have food to eat. And right now, there are millions in the Horn of Africa who are starving because of a drought, and because before the drought they lacked access to life-changing tools and knowledge.

Even in Kuria, Kenya where Nuru works, farmers have been affected by the drought. My friend Jake recently shared about a walk he took with a Nuru Agricultural Field Manager, James about the impact of the drought in Kuria. Nuru farmers have seen a decrease in yield of 20-30% on average, but thankfully, they still have enough food to feed their families and pay back the loan of seed and fertilizer they received at the beginning of the season. 

Other farmers did not fair so well. On the same walk, Jake and James came across a Nuru farmer’s fields and they were filled with maize that stood ten feet high.  Next to this field was a field with maize that stood 2-3 feet high and many of the plants didn’t have maize on them at all. James commented to Jake, “The drought has come again to Kenya. There will be hunger here. There will be so many this season.” James eyes grew more and more sad as he and Jake talked next to these fields.

The World Food Programme has noted that about 13 million people will be affected by drought in Somalia alone. This famine is absolutely overwhelming. It’s utterly heartbreaking, and yet, it is so difficult to imagine that in today’s world there are people who are literally starving to death.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As I mentioned before, over 10,000 people who are participating in Nuru’s agricultural programs are beginning to turn the tide.  They were trained in best practices for growing maize, took out Nuru agricultural loans, and have enough to feed their families and pay back their loans.  Programs like Nuru’s are allowing our neighbors who are living in extreme poverty to bring about lasting change through simple, scalable and sustainable ideas that can literally save lives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Nuru International Board Visits Kuria, Kenya

After many hours of journeying from various points around the globe, Nuru board members John Hancox, Trey Dunham, and Don Faul arrived in Kuria, Kenya during late August for a one week visit to Nuru's project there. They have been part of the strategy and direction of Nuru since it’s inception, but this trip, slightly before the third birthday of Nuru, marked the first time they have witnessed with their own eyes, and heard with their own ears directly from the people Nuru has been involved with since 2008.

John, Trey, and Don (along with orginal board member Andy Cogar and new board member Kim Keating who were unable to join on this journey) have been involved with Nuru from times before it was even incorporated. They have provided wisdom and guidance from their various disciplines to help Nuru become what it is today.

And as they walked the dusty roads of Kuria, and shake hands with individuals whose lives have been forever changed because of access to tools and knowledge that have allowed them to lead their communities out of extreme poverty, they were also preparing for a return to the states with an even greater fire and passion for the work for which they have volunteered so many hours of their time.

If you know any of these individuals, now that they are back in the states, you should stop them and ask them about their experiences on the ground—I know they will be anxious to share! In fact, you should hop over to read John's recent blog post of reflections from his journey. Just click here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I woke up this morning, and I felt an overwhelming compulsion to write. Yesterday, I attended the WVU football game, and mixed throughout the game were a variety of points for reflection, for singing, for remembering, and for grieving the events that changed our country and the world on September 11, 2001.

I remember so vividly ten years ago. I was working as an analytical chemist at what was then the world's largest generic drug manufacturer in the world, Mylan Pharmaceuticals. We were listening to a small radio when the music was interrupted with an announcement that brought our work to a temporary halt. A plane had just flown into the top of one of the towers at the world trade center. We all continued working as discovery after discovery was made. A second plane flew into the other tower. We then were confirmed that this was not an accident, but a deliberate attack on a symbol of our nation's financial wealth. An attack that took thousands of lives.

And as the day progressed, we all continued our work in the lab, and were shocked as more and more news came over the radio. Four planes in total. The third flew into the pentagon, and the fourth landed in a field about an hour away from us. As the work day ended, I invited all of my coworkers who wanted to come to join me in our break room for a short time of prayer. None of us were sure what exactly had happened, but we all felt a desire to cry out for answers, and to intercede and help, the best we knew how, on behalf of the people who had lost their loved ones, and on behalf of those who were first responders across our world.

I had planned on giving my two weeks notice on September 12th, 2001. I was starting a new career in ministry, but I couldn't leave just yet. Mylan was giving away a proprietary burn ointment to victims in need in the aftermath, and it just happened to be among the drugs I was working to test. I felt that it was my contribution to help in the aftermath.

Our country has gone through a series of changes in the aftermath. I remember flying for the first time as I was starting my new job, and no longer could one go sit at the gates of the airport with family and friends. I miss those days. I have some very special and emotionally loaded memories with being greeted or saying goodbye at my plane's gate. But much more changed for me beyond that.

I feel like I became more keenly aware of issues around the world. My eyes were opened in a far greater way to the hurts of the world, from slavery, to human trafficking, and from political injustice to extreme poverty, I began to see the world through a different lens. Actually, I think many of us did. No longer were problems of the world seen as far away, and not our concern, but rather we began looking for ways to help our neighbors around the globe.

Years later, I made another career change to begin working with my friends at Nuru International.  I was reminded by my friend Jake's Story (in the video above) of just how connected everything is. During his times of service in Force Recon, he saw a connection between terrorism, insurgency, and extreme poverty. He also came face to face with suffering and desperation to which most of us living in the west have no comparison. Those unshakeable visuals have led him and many others to begin working to serve others by equipping them with the tools and resources they need to lead their communities out of the desperate conditions of extreme poverty.

And so, as I remember the events of September 11, 2001, I feel a myriad of emotions. Even yesterday, while attending the football game, I felt a little disoriented. I wanted to be in the moment of celebrating a Mountaineer victory, and then I wanted to be in the moment of grieving and remembering as we took time as a crowd to spend a moment in silence, and allow the memories to flood in. But as I've had time to process it a bit more, I feel overwhelmed by hope.

Why hope? I believe that as much as our world has changed since September 11, 2001, collectively, we have become more caring about our world. Over the last ten years, I have met several people who have been willing to leave lucrative careers in an effort to dedicate their lives to the service of others. I have also seen more and more people become generous with their hard-earned income in a challenging economy, because they see the needs of others, and they want to help their neighbors, whether locally or globally.

Our eyes have shed many tears since that fateful day, and they have been opened to tragedy after tragedy, but they have also been opened to hope and dream of a better world, and to put forth the effort to change those dreams into reality. As you and I remember the events of 2001, may we be filled with the desire and the discipline to be part of creating a better world.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Margaret Matinde: A Nuru International Story of A Changed Life

As I mentioned in a post last week, Nuru has put together an online interactive annual report that includes two videos. Last week, I shared a video that told the story of Elias Sinda and how his life had changed as a result of Nuru’s work. 

This week I wanted to post a second video that tells a different story, the story of Margaret Matinde. Margaret’s story is not all that uncommon in Kuria. She lives in a home made from mud and thatch, and works hard to take care of her family. Because noone had ever quipped her with the tools and knowledge necessary to learn to save, her family rarely had money to help meet basic needs, and couldn’t afford to send her children to school

When Nuru came into the community, Margaret (and many, many others) participated in savings clubs. In these savings clubs they learned to save, budget, and invest their resources wisely. As a result of Margaret’s diligence and discipline in saving, she qualified for a small loan from Nuru and she used this money to start a business—a restaurant. Now, it’s not what people in the west are accustomed to when it comes to a ‘restaurant’ but it is an incredible example of local business and local entrepreneurship helping to meet needs in a community.

As a result of Margaret’s successful business, she can now afford to send her children to school, which in turn means that her children will have even more opportunities for a better life. Margaret learned how to do business, and she learned how to save and plan for her family’s future.

I love the fact that we have stories like Margaret’s and Elias’ that we can share. And there are many more people in Kuria who, just like them, are experiencing hope, choices, and opportunities that they would have never dreamed of before Nuru. If you have been volunteering, fundraising, or donating to Nuru, you have been playing a key role in helping Margaret, Elias, and thousands of other people to write these stories, and to have a new outlook for their future.

Our work is just beginning, but together we are making a difference in the world as we work to create a world where people in extreme poverty have choices and hope where there was once desperation and despair. Together, we are ending extreme poverty, one community at a time!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Squash Blossom 2011

One of the most beautiful flowers I believe I have ever seen is the squash blossom. My ancestors thought so much of this flower that it was incorporated into clothing, footwear, jewelry, and accessories for hundreds of years. The squash blossom in its simple beauty also served as a reminder that some of the bounty of the early harvest was coming soon. It was a portent of the late harvest to come as well.

It was and is a symbol of beauty and fragility too. For the last four years, I have kept a garden at my house, and every year I write a post as I see the squash blossom open early in the morning to sunbathe it’s delicate saffron petals. I feel like skills like growing food are becoming quickly forgotten in the West. In my family, we have always grown food, and we have had a longstanding tradition of sharing our harvest with friends and neighbors, and canning some of our harvest to store for the winter months as well.

I realized that I was missing a great deal by not having a garden. I was missing an understanding of where food comes from. I was missing an awareness of what it means to labor for my food. I was missing the joy that comes at harvest time when there is food to eat and grand celebration. My family is Shawnee, and many of my tribe’s ancient ceremonies are intricately tied to planting and harvest.

This year, I have had the distinct joy of planting together with my wife. It is the first time in her life she has planted any crop. And it is exciting to watch her eyes light up as well when she sees the seeds that she planted earlier this year provide food for our new life together and food that we can share with others.

There is an unexplainable sense of gratitude I feel to the Creator of the universe that I experience uniquely when I taste and see the harvest coming. All I did was prepare the soil and drop a seed in the ground, and then amazingly that seed becomes a plant and that plant produces food. Around the world and throughout the history of humanity, I believe that farmers around the world experience that wonderful mixture of gratitude and joy that happens when they see the growth of their crop and they prepare for the harvest and celebration of food to eat for their families.

And for me and my wife this year, we look at the beautiful bouquet of squash blossoms erupting from our garden as an indicator of the harvest to come, and we are thankful.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My Dad: 70 And Going Stronger Than Ever

My dad is amazing. I could probably leave this post at that statement, but I won’t. He just turned 70 on June 1st (he also shares that birthday with my wife’s dad), and he works out 304 times each week at the Parkersburg YMCA. He rides an exercise bike, hops on a treadmill, and even does the elliptical machine during his two hour workouts.

In 2009 he had a heart attack, and at that time he was walking 12 miles a day. In fall 2008, he and I went on a bike ride that included four miles of an eight percent incline—thankfully he didn’t have a heart attack then, because we were in a remote area. We have made a tradition of journeying at least once each year to the top of Seneca Rocks over the last several years, and we took Jamie along for her first trek this past July.  When dad had the heart attack we wondered if he would be able to keep going like he has in the past. Honestly, he is amazingly fit. I venture to say he is more fit than the majority of people who are half his age.

Earlier this spring, my brother and nephew got a healthy dose of my dad’s fitness as he took them on 25 and 30 mile bike rides averaging 15mph+ in between his workout days.

For the last year, my dad hasn’t been able to walk longer distances because of some inflammation in his plantar fascia, but he has been continuing to exercise and push himself in areas where he can get good cardio work in.

Where many of us would see our setbacks my dad makes adjustments and keeps going strong. Last weekend he and I road our bikes around the course of the Parkersburg half-marathon so we could cheer on our family and friends who were competing. There was never a time I was waiting for my dad; in fact sometimes it was quite the opposite. He is a daily inspiration to me to always be pushing the envelope to be the best I can be in whatever I do.

We all encounter setbacks, injuries, and challenges in this life, but a big part of our the outcome of our life is how we respond to those challenges. My dad has lost his life-long best friend (my mom) to breast cancer, and suffered a massive heart-attack within two years of each other. But he perseveres. He gets up each day, and does his best to make the most of it. He doesn’t see it in himself, but if you spend much time around him, and observe the way he lives, he is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet.

None of us truly know the number of our days, but while we live and breathe on this earth, we have an opportunity to make the most of this time. I’ve heard it said that the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. May we find examples in our life who push us, and encourage us by the way they go about their days, and may we imulate the disciplined way of living that allows us to truly blossom, so that if we live to be 70 like my dad, we will also be going stronger than ever!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parkersburg Half Marathon: 25 Years

I remember when I was in junior high and I was running the one mile race in the wood county track meet, when I first started hearing about the Parkersburg Half Marathon. I had aspirations of one day running this race (in fact, it was one of my goals unrealized for 2011).  My friend Dan Van Valey and I would joke about me getting out there and running with world class athletes for about a hundred yards before I slowed to my mere mortal pace. This year was the 25th annual Parkersburg Half-Marathon, and while it is no longer the site for the US Men’s National Championship, runners still come from all over the world to compete.

Although I didn’t run the race this year (foot injury), my sister, my brother-in-law, and my wife all three did run it. For my wife it was her second half-marathon. For my sister and her husband, it was their first. Each of them finished with respectable times. Jamie ran a 2:16 (she had a knee flare up around mile 8), Ray ran a 1:55, and Becky ran an incredible 1:47, and placed second in her age group.

I was proud of all three of them for the races they ran. Jamie ran hers with very little training, but focused on following through on the commitment she made. (It would be easy to have quit or just not run, but she is not a quitter!) Ray has had surgery on both of his ankles in recent years and has lost 80 lbs over the last two years. He just turned 58, and he is probably in the best physical shape of his adult life. He is living proof that if you are disciplined about your habits, you can turn around your physical health pretty significantly. I’m super proud of he and Becky for their commitment to their health.

But the runner I was most impressed with is my sister. I can remember telling her (for years!) that if she ever got serious about running, she could be a really good runner. She would laugh at me sometimes when I said it, but I think Saturday she proved something to her self that I already knew. She has what it takes to be a great runner! She ran her race effortlessly, and had energy to spare at the end of the race. She picked up her pace during the last mile and I personally watched her pass six runners during the moments I saw her near the finish line. If ever my sister has doubts about herself, I hope she will remember Saturday and her confidence will return.

I’m super proud of all of the folks who got out there and walked, ran, and wheelchaired their way thirteen miles through the town of Parkersburg. Some were competing with other runners, but the wise ones were competing with their number one competitor—themselves. No one can push you harder than yourself, no one knows better when you are slacking than yourself. And at the end of the day, the other runners probably won’t be going home with you and talking about your performance.

Whatever race you are running today, whether it is a footrace, or a part of the ‘daily grind’ may you run in such a way to win and be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nuru International 2010 Annual Report: Stories Of Changed Lives

Elias Sinda's Story from Nuru International on Vimeo.

Earlier this month, Nuru released it’s annual report in a really different format. Some organizations send out a brief financial statement to donors; others send a more extensive printed annual report (Nuru did this last year). This year, we thought we would do something really different. We posted our annual report online in a really cool interactive format. I highly recommend you take some time to check it out here.

In the meantime, I thought you would enjoy watching this video of Elias Sinda and hearing about how Nuru’s work in his community has equipped him with the tools and knowledge to help his family lift itself out of extreme poverty. Elias’ story is one of hundreds being written in what is the second poorest district in all of Kenya. With Nuru’s help, the people of Kuria are turning desperate conditions into a world of opportunities. They are learning how to prevent waterborne illness. They are growing enough food to feed themselves,. They are insuring their children are enrolled in school because now they have income that will allow them to pay the nominal school fees. It’s truly wonderful to see.

In spite of the drought that has wreaked havoc across the Horn of Africa, Nuru farmers are thriving. It is truly a joy to know that lives are changing in Kuria, and that you and I get the opportunity to be part of it. Thanks for watching, and thanks for being involved. And if you haven’t gotten involved yet, now is a great time to start.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not Your Mother's Casseroles

As mentioned in a previous post, my friend Faith Durand just had a cookbook dedicated to the art of casseroles published, and she gave me an autographed copy; It's called, Not Your Mother's Casseroles. As has been my unofficial policy, when I have a friend who publishes a book, I buy a copy, and I try to review it and share it with others.

With Faith, the nature of the review has to be a bit different. For the last few years, she has been writing regularly on a blog as she experiments with recipes, foods and flavors, and in some ways this book is a focused extension of her blog work. She is managing editor for a blog at and also tweets @thekitchn.

I’m no expert on writing cookbooks, but I will say that my wife has been preparing a few of Faith’s recipes in recent times, and every thing I’ve had so far has been incredibly delicious.  In fact, one of the most bizarre recipes she tried was composed of carrots, mint, and feta cheese.  As strange as this combination might sound, I have to tell you that it was absolutely amazing!

If you like to cook, or know someone else who does, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Faith’s cookbook and giving it a whirl.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jeni’s Ice Cream and Northstar Café

Recently, I was in Columbus, Ohio for a few days to visit with my best friend in the whole world, Willie, for Jamie to attend a baby shower for one of her closest friends, Ally, and to meet with a few Nuru supporters in the area. While I was there, Willie and some other friends made it a point to introduce me to a couple of their favorite Columbus businesses.

The first on the list has to be Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Bexley. Jeni is a local Columbus business woman who has developed an array of gourmet and specialty ice creams with flavors including Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese With Red Cherries,  and Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries. The eclectic mix of flavors is brought about through natural ingredients, including local organic milk from grassfed cattle. If you are in Columbus, I highly recommend giving Jeni’s Ice Cream a try. My personal favorite is the Brown Butter Almond Brittle, but I must confess that I usually sample four to six different flavors when I visit.

I also had the privilege of visiting the Northstar Café in the Easton Town Center. My friends Faith and Mike introduced Jamie and me to this great local restaurant. The food was incredible and incredibly healthy. They charge a little bit more for their food, but they have set up their café so that tips aren’t part of the protocol, and, much like Jeni’s Ice Cream, they choose locally grown and natural ingredients. From what I’ve been able to gather, they even thought through the long term impact of the materials they choose for building out their restaurant space.

I probably could have dedicated separate entries for each of these businesses, but I thought I would lump them together for their similar philosophies. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to visit both spaces with friends and experience a bit of the local flavor of Columbus. Interestingly, while Jamie was at Ally’s baby shower, I randomly walked into a bookstore where Jeni was signing copies of her new book

While I didn’t get in line for an autograph, I did get an autographed copy of my friend Faith’s book, Not Your Mother’s Casseroles but I’ll have to save my comments on her book for another delicious post.

What are some of the local businesses in your neck of the woods that you would recommend?

Monday, August 15, 2011

U2 360 Tour Heinz Field Pittsburgh

On my brother's birthday, July 26th, Jamie and I went to our first concert together as a married couple (I know, it was such a thoughtful and selfless gift for Chuck). We were able to get two tickets to see U2 at their last show in the United States on their current tour, and I would have to say that it was the best concert I have ever seen. It was absolutely incredible!

There are so many aspects I'd like to write about, but I'm going to limit myself to just a few. First, I loved the way they interacted with the crowd all night. The band could remember their first show in Pittsburgh. It was in a small club in 1981. They have been returning to Pittsburgh for years (I had seen them with three of my friends during their last tour in 2005). They referenced cultural icons and built a rapport with folks in the Burgh quickly. Beyond this, they built a sense of community and togetherness with the fans in attendance. It was really something to experience.

For instance, as Bono started singing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," a song that was written as a modern hymn by the band, he stepped away from the microphone and the entire crowd in Heinz Field sang the first verse and chorus together. Bono picked it back up for the second verse, but it became one of many powerful moments for the concert attendees.

Beyond the feeling of camaraderie among the attendees, there was something special about the band themselves. They weren't just a group of musicians, they were a team of lifelong friends. They have been playing music together since 1976, and they have been able to bridge the gap of multiple generations. There were young and old alike in the crowd singing along to songs that spanned many years of their career. These guys have fun playing music together, and have been creating unique moments for concert goers for decades.

Beyond all of this, I think I appreciated most of all the sense of a long, persistent faithfulness to social causes and social justice. Sometimes, I think Bono is looked at as some rock star who just recently became an advocate for social causes, but the band has been serving as advocates for others for most of their career. In fact, two years ago, I saw U2 perform in Washington DC, and during the concert they made a focused push for freeing Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kii. They encouraged fans to write letters and use their voices as advocates for freeing Aung San Suu Kii. In November 2010 she was freed, and during the concert in Pittsburgh, she addressed the crowd by video and encouraged them to use their voices to fight for justice and to serve those who are in need.

As Jamie and I took in the sights and sounds of an incredible evening in Pittsburgh, I was reminded of the importance of perseverance and faithfulness, and I felt a renewed energy for approaching the causes I am passionate about with an even greater zeal. I hope that twenty years from now, I will be able to look back and see the impact that comes from longstanding faithfulness and tenacity.

May we each emulate these rockers from Ireland in the way that they work toward creating community, beauty, and seeking the good of others all the days of our lives. And, if you have an opportunity to see U2 on a future tour, take advantage of the opportunity. You won't regret it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Night Of Hope

I thought that getting back into the groove with my blog would be much easier than it has been. I had every intention of getting back into a regular flow, but I've found myself much slower in the process than I would like. I'm hoping to change that this week, and I'm starting with an event I attended last night.

It was called Night of Hope. My friend Eric Baldwin invited me, Jamie, and my best friend in the whole world, Willie, to attend this evening highlighting the issue of human trafficking both in the state of Ohio and internationally.  The event was hosted by Veritas Community Church in downtown Columbus. As my friend Eric was telling us about the event, I was excited to find out that an organization started by a friend who used to be on staff with GCM with me was among the groups who would be sharing, Doma International.

Doma along with representatives from three other groups shared some of their work on the issue of human trafficking.  One group, C.A.T.C.H. (I couldn't find a URL), works specifically to rehabilitate women who had been trafficked as youth and have since been caught-up in a cycle of prostitution. During the evening we were able to hear some of these women share how they had been abducted and forced into a life of prostitution during a young age, and how the CATCH program had helped them to leave a life of drugs and crime, develop job skills, get an education, and work toward reconciliation with their families.

Two other groups, As Our Own and Grace Haven shared even more stories of redemptive work in Columbus and in India as they work to rescue young girls from the world of prostitution. The stories were heartbreaking, and hearing them has made me even more fervent in pursuit of justice. I'm grateful to know that so many are laboring to make a difference in this world, and hopeful that many more will join with these and other organizations for more than a night of hope; we each need to start somewhere, and may we keep running until our part to play in building a better world is finished.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Rockets And Relaxation With Friends

Flying WV #3 Launch 2 from Ricky Beamer on Vimeo.

This past Saturday, I awoke with grand goals. I wanted to spend the majority of the day writing and ruminating on the events of the last two months and “catch up” with blogging.

This simply did not happen. Instead, I found myself getting out of bed early to join my friends Ricky, Jason, Justin and Sarah for a rocket launch. 

No, we were not in Florida, nor were we going to observe the latest exploratory journey of NASA. Instead, we were driving into western Monongalia County for the launch. We journeyed just a few minutes outside Morgantown, and Ricky brought out his rocket, “Flying WV #3”. We had three video cameras and a single still camera recording the launch as we gathered on a rural hillside. I honestly felt like a close friend to Homer Hickam and his buddies in Coalwood as Ricky began setting up the launch pad.

The rocket had three engines and was anticipated to shoot into the air about 2000 feet. We hooked a switchbox to Ricky’s car battery for the launch and each of us prepared our recording devices to take in this historic flight. 5-4-3-2-1-BLAST OFF!

There was a malfunction. Only one of the engines fired. The rocket only rose a few feet off the ground.  After peaking at about 30 feet, the three pieces of the rocket separated, and drifted back to the earth. As the rocket slowly dropped, the second engine fired, but was not able to propel the separated rocket in any direction. 

Our chief engineer. Is currently reviewing footage and preparing for a future launch. Thankfully this launch did no damage to the rocket’s integrity, and a future launch should be able to take place later this year.  It was great connecting with friends on this little adventure, and even dreaming of a future adventure of either hiking, or camping, or a little bit of both with a great crew of incredible friends.

As we wound our way back to the house, we were visited by another friend--Joel Williams. Joel has been part of our community, for a few years, he was in the neighborhood, and he stopped in for a visit. We enjoyed good conversation, laughter, and some homemade popcorn.

While I didn’t blog during the day (or even open my laptop), I have to say it was incredibly relaxing to be able to spend time just relaxing. I actually took a nap in the middle o f the day, and went to sleep before 10PM. This was an incredibly different pace than I typically live, and I truly believe it was a much needed day of rest.

Somehow, over the last few months I’ve found myself getting out of the practice of Sabbath, but this day, was a great first step back into it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Lengthy Hiatus

Well, it has been approximately two months since I last blogged. In the beginning, this was the unintentional consequence of preparing for my wedding and heading off for a lengthy honeymoon. Since returning to “the real world” it has just seemed that there hasn’t quite been the time to write. And I guess that’s the irony; a life of adventure allows for plenty of content, but alas it has minimized time to write.

I have still made a habit of reflecting, and often, I will awaken early in the morning and go for a walk in my neighborhood.  I arise and slip on my sneakers and make my way through the quiet streets. I make my way to Mountaineer Field and Ruby Memorial Hospital, and then proceed back to the house. Part of my early morning walk is for the quiet and opportunity for reflection. Part is simply a matter of exercise and enjoying the created world.  I walk early partially for the quiet, but honestly it has been so hot and humid that I find it necessary to rise early in order to beat the heat too.

As much as I have enjoyed the walking in the early morning world, I have also greatly missed blogging. Since I first started blogging (in Winter 2003), I have found it to be a spiritual discipline of sorts, and an outlet for me to be able to write and reflect on places, experiences, and people with whom I’ve connected. It’s also provided me an opportunity to share the journey with others, including you.

If you have been disappointed by my lack of posts, I apologize. I’m really looking forward to getting back into the routine, and I believe my next several posts will be a mixture of reflections from the last few months along with some current happenings.

I’ve taken a lengthy hiatus, but I am back, and looking forward to diving deeply into the written word.  Thanks for reading, and for allowing me to share with you. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Ring Part 7 The Finished Product

After Doug had finished cutting the stone, I still had the challenge of selecting a ring for the stone.  Again, I was looking at silver, and Doug had warned me about a couple of challenges with silver.  Silver is usually very pure compared to other precious metals 98%+ versus gold being about 60% pure.  This means that silver rings are somewhat softer than gold rings (even though pure gold is very soft).  Also, most rings are made from gold or platinum, so he warned me that it may be difficult to find a silver ring that I liked.

We spent about two hours pouring through a catalog and I found about eight options that I liked.  There was one ring in particular with which the wedding band paired uniquely, and the engagement ring itself had a unique setting.  Instead of 4-6 prongs (which can break), the ring setting was comprised of two semi-circular clasps that hold the stone liked two clasped hands.

Doug was concerned that the ring may not be able to be cast in silver, but to my joy and our collective surprise, it could be.

Some of you may be wondering why I would go to such lengths over a ring and stone.  Let me explain.  Jamie is incredibly special to me, in fact, I would say that she is a precious gem and a treasure that God and her parents have entrusted to me, and allowed me the privilege of sharing her and caring for her.  She’s an incredible lady, and I consider her a gift to be cherished.  So often, the media encourages us to spend money to show our love for another person, and personally, I love to lavish gifts upon my friends.
With Jamie’s ring, I wanted her to be able to look at it, and know that it, much like she, is one of a kind.  I wanted her to know that I wanted the ring to be special and memorable, and that I wanted it to be a symbol of the same care that I want to show her for the rest of our lives on this earth together.  It’s also a symbol of the degree of care with which I want to live my life on this planet.  It’s not often we get an opportunity to pour thought and effort into a symbol, and an engagement/wedding ring is one of the most powerful symbols on the planet.

For you men out there, remember that he who finds a wife finds a good thing, and that your spouse is one of the most precious gifts God can give you.  Don’t take this person lightly or take this gift for granted.  For you women, the same is true.  You are called to support one another and to work together to accomplish far more good in this world than either of you could do alone.  That’s a lofty challenge, and the beginning of such a work is to be found in centering your lives upon the beautiful way of Jesus, and then taking this divine love and sharing it with each other, then letting it pour out to the rest of the world to add bring joy and peace to the earth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Ring Part 6 Some Spiritual Thoughts About The Process

As I was writing about the process of making Jamie’s engagement ring, I couldn’t help but think about a spiritual correlation.  I think God finds us on this earth as rough sapphires.  He applies heat and pressure, and begins to shave away aspects of our lives that do not reflect light brilliantly.  For us, the process is often painful.  Nobody likes having our rough spots grinded away until they are smooth as glass.
But God does this, and over time, there is a brilliance and light that emanates from us with increasing brightness, that is if we abandon ourselves to the trustworthy skill and expertise of God the gem-cutter.  If not, we may never develop our full potential.

But every time we yield another aspect of our life, to the Creator, he is able to create another facet.  And then, we reflect light.  We don’t produce it from within, but rather, the light enters us like it enters a gem, it bounces around, and then radiates outward like some kind of divinely orchestrated spark or sparkle.  When you see someone whose life seems to radiate a great light, it is a mark of the master jeweler who has been cutting away and working toward’s creating a masterpiece out of that person’s life.  You see, we aer God’s masterpiece, we are his precious gems that he created for the purpose of emanating love, joy, piece, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. In a world in which we need to see more of these things.

May you be yielded in the hands of the Master as he brings out your brilliance and enables you to reflect and shine His light in this world.