Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy 150th Birthday West Virginia

Today, all over the great state of West Virginia proud citizens celebrate our state's 150th birthday! It is amazing when I think about how young and prolific our state's history is in the grand scheme of things. My dad has been alive for almost half of our state's history. I have been alive for more than 25% of it. 

There's something wild and wonderful about the fabric and fiber of this state that brings out the best in people. West Virginians are dedicated to family, to community, and to service. We share of our surplus when others are in need. Many of us have a heritage in this state that goes back farther than its founding. Shawnee, Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca, and more, this place is home to an array of ancient American cultures. This land has been a melting pot of immigrants from around the globe. From Germany to Pakistan, from Italy to Vietnam, West Virginians are diverse but united.
In these hills, many have found a safe-haven and a source of refreshment and restoration. Sunrise to sunset, and all through the night, these lands are awake with the songs of creation. The foot paths and waterways take their time to tell stories of a different way of life and of living for all who are willing and patient enough to stop their busy-ness to attentively listen. 
West Virginians are resourceful and free. Mountaineers are always free. Montani Semper Liberi. That freedom manifests itself an a never say die attitude, a remarkable resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, and and incredible sense of self-sufficiency. West Virginians figure out a way to make do with limited resources, and are quick to lend a hand to a friend or a neighbor, whether across the road, across town, or across the globe. West Virginians have been figuring out ways to re-use and re-commission tools and resources long before there was ever a green movement.
When I think about our state, my deep affection goes out to our beautiful land. From the top of Spruce Knob to the lowest point of Harper's Ferry, from the shores of the Ohio River to the jagged spires of Seneca Rocks, from the wilderness of Dolly Sods to the roaring falls of the Blackwater, I have been captivated by it's beauty. From the flight of the cardinal to the quiet footfalls of the black bear, from the blooming of the rhododendrons to the tapping of the maple trees, these woodlands take care of us, and invite us to share in a story larger than our 150 year history.
From the time of my youth, my folks had invested in my appreciation of our relationship with these lands. We fed ourselves with food grown from the soils of this state. We caught fish and swam in West Virginia's creeks and rivers. We hiked trails along major footpaths of the state, and spent many quiet moments listening to the sounds of whispering winds and roaring waters as we traveled these ancient Appalachian byways

And here in this great state I found my bride. We were engaged three years ago today! She was raised with a passion for this wonderful place, and a zeal for Mountaineer sports! She's a West Virginia lady. Intelligent, compassionate, resourceful, faith-filled, and beautiful, she is a representation of the best of our home among these West Virginia Hills. Our wedding took place under a tree along a waterway in the middle of this state, surrounded by friends and family who share our love for God, this land, and one another. Our roots go deep in this soil, and we look forward to a bright future here in the heart of Appalachia.

Happy birthday West Virginia! Thank you so much for all of the nurture and care you have given me and my family and our 1.8 million neighbors. You have taught us to appreciate one another, to appreciate you, and even when we leave your borders, your hills embrace us and welcome us back as soon as we can make our way back. Thank you for helping me become a better son, a better friend, a better husband, and a better steward. I pray I that the years ahead find all of us constantly growing in our love and appreciation for your treasures.

O those West Virginia hills, how majestic and how grand...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

River People and Hill People: Ohio River Reflections

Many years ago I had a an Indian friend tell me that there are really two types of people--river people and hill people. As much as I love the mountains, and as inspiring as it is to climb a summit, I'd have to say I'm a river person. I grew up on the Ohio River, or Pelewathiipi as my ancestors called it.

I've swum in this stream and pulled a wide variety of fish from its waters. I've boated to its islands, and I've hiked, biked, and driven along its shores. And I'm not the first in my family to have this intimate connection to what the French called La Belle Rivière. I've often watched the sun set along the rippling waters of the Ohio and found myself reflecting on the past or dreaming about the future.

You see, the rivers and the mountains, they both carry an array of stories of their inhabitants. Sometimes you can hear echoes in the ripples or in the wind. Last week, my dad, Jamie, and I stood atop a hill looking down on the river and into the Ohio country near Parkersburg. As I we watched the sun sneak behind some low floating clouds and disappear from our view, I found myself thinking about all of those who have come before to this place, and my own history with this river.

There are some places that we make a habit and a lifestyle of visiting. For me, the Ohio River is probably the most longstanding sacred space in my family. At times I feel as though something is missing or my visit is incomplete if I don't make it to at least gaze upon this river for a few fleeting moments before journeying onward. It's as though the river is one of my longest standing friends, and she always seems to have time to catch up, and after leaving, I always feel refreshed, renewed, and as though I've connected with something not quite supernatural, but still larger than myself. Maybe that's the way it is with all of the creation. I find, quite similar to Jonathan Edwards, that there is an image or shadow of the divine in the whole of creation. When I see the rolling mysterious waters of the Ohio, I'm reminded that there is Someone who is larger and more powerful than any river, and yet I can't even get my mind around the power and majesty of the river.

Are you a river person or a hill person? Where are the places you find yourself journeying towards as though catching up with an old friend or relative? If you don't have a place, I hope you can find a little sanctuary in your neighborhood whether it be a hill, a river, or some other parcel of the created world.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day With Dad

This past weekend, I was able to spend a lot of time with my dad. It was Father's Day, and he kept asking us what we wanted to do. I explained to him that we were there to do whatever he wanted to do. And so we found ourselves driving to "The Point" at the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers, and then driving to Fort Boreman Park to look down upon the Shpelewathiipi. We were able to pack a whole lot into the weekend.

If you haven't met my dad, you are missing out. He is one of the most amazing people I know. He seems to form an instant rapport with strangers, and he absolutely loves people. When given the opportunity, he loves to serve and care for others. In fact, he has such a strong bias toward caring for others that often he stays silent when it comes to things that he wants--all the more reason that this weekend was an occasion for doing what he wanted to do. :)

When I was a little kid, I can remember him making the trip for almost every sporting event I was part of. He came to every choir concert, every special event, and no matter how busy his schedule, he had a knack for squeezing in more time. I can remember regularly hiking and fishing at Mountwood Park, and when we would go trolling for trout in the lake, sometimes he would even let me drive the boat. Even after a long day of work, gardening, and household work, he would make time to pass baseball, play basketball, kick around a soccer ball, or go for a bike ride. We used to take these epic rides along the Ohio River from "The Point" to up behind the Grand Central Mall.

And on Father's Day, true to form to how he has lived his whole life, he blessed me far beyond any way I could ever bless him. During the morning church services at 19th Street Church of God, I was able to hear one of the best messages on honoring your father I have ever heard. And as the service ended, the pastor called all of the fathers and grandfathers to the altar. And then he called the children of these father's to the altar. He then instructed the fathers to lay hands on their sons and pray a blessing on them.

Now this next part may seem a bit silly, but I don't care. For almost as long as I have been a Christian, I have dreamed of my dad laying hands on me and praying a blessing over me as the father's of Israel did for their sons from Abraham onward. Of course, as a son, it's not something you want to ask your dad to do; it's just something you want to happen on its own. And today, it did. I went to Parkersburg to bless my dad and spend time with him, and God had planned to answer a prayer that has been near my heart for nearly half of my life. As my dad gently placed his hand on my shoulder, I began to weep. I couldn't stop weeping. This pastor, who had no idea of my prayers with regard to this single act, had been used by the Creator of the universe to bring into reality this prayer of mine.

Let me be clear. I know my dad loves me, and that he wants the best for me. But there was something supernatural that I experienced this morning has he began to pray silently for me in front of a congregation of strangers who were also spiritual brothers, and sisters bonded to me by the mystical life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. God gave me a special gift through my dad today.

I am without adequate words to express my gratitude for my father's incredible gift to me on Father's Day, and I pray that I can honor him better and better as long as I have life and breath. I fail with regularity, but with God's help, I will do a better job each new day.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Sister And Her Husband--The Runners

 This past weekend Jamie and I made the drive to Parkersburg in an effort to celebrate Father's Day with my dad, see his new automobile, get an oil change and radiator flush, and pack as much visiting with friends and relatives as was possible. Unfortunately we were not able to see as many folks as we would have liked, but maybe during a future trip.

We awoke early Saturday morning to watch Becky and Ray (my sister and brother-in-law) run a 5K in Parkersburg. It's pretty cool to see them running. It was less than three years ago that my sister got started running. She won her age group, and Ray got second place in his. They were neck and neck the entire race. With Ray slightly ahead. Somehow Becky was able to turn on the jets to pass her husband at the end of the race.

What's even more impressive is that my sister managed to have enough energy to run four additional miles with me and Jamie a couple of hours after her race. I love catching up like that because it keeps you from getting distracted by other things that are really not super important or urgent. We live in a culture that is easily distracted, and I think that people have a hard time being fully present in the moment. There's so much we want to fit into a day, but there's only so much we can do with our waking hours, and do it well and with our whole heart. Running is one way to eliminate those other distractions.

More impressive than my sister's running exploits to me is the consideration that three years ago she didn't run. She stepped out of her comfort zone and tried something new, and what she discovered was that she had a gift and a passion for running. I love seeing my sister come alive the way she has. She and her husband have cultivated a habit that has led them to a healthier lifestyle in general, and that allows them to spend quality time together. She has also discovered a whole new array of friends who help spur her on and nurture her gift.

I believe that we all have gifts, skills, and talents that we may be letting lie dormant. My sister and her husband love running, and I feel like there are many friends that they would have never met had they not stepped out and begun to discover a talent and passion that they never knew they had.

What talent is it that you may be letting lie dormant? Is there a habit or discipline that you need to start or re-start? My prayer is that you discover your unique gift, begin to exercise it, and bless others through it. I believe that the world would be a much better place if we all began moving from thought to action. Maybe our gifts are one way God may want to bring healing to others, and to ourselves.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Morning Appalachian Mist

Early this morning Jamie and I found ourselves driving from Lake Floyd to Morgantown to get started with our day. I feel like there is something magical about early morning drives like this. There are not too many cars on the road, and after the weather we have experienced over the last few days, there is a mist that shrouds the day in a kind of mystery and beauty.

I'm sure other places throughout Appalachia reflect a similar ambiance, but to me there is nothing quite like watching the fog slowly rise from these West Virginia Hills early in the morning. If you have driven these or other roads in the early morning hours, you know exactly what I mean. It's as though the whole rest of the world is at rest, and the Creator of the Universe has invited you to have a personal viewing of his latest masterpiece.

These times, in my opinion, are some of the best times for reflection and for eliciting a sense of gratitude. Often people spend tons of money to have a glimpse of something like this early morning splendor. They go on vacations or pay for the 'ultimate' experience. Personally, I love the fact that we are given the opportunity to appreciate little treasures like this, and really, the opportunity is there every day.

Wherever you are today, if you are driving or on foot, I pray you are able to soak in a moment of the majesty of the created world, even if you are not so fortunate as I am and you are not able to look upon these West Virginia hills.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Spirit of the Marathon II

Last night I was invited to watch a movie by my good friend Crystal Messenger. It was called Spirit Of The Marathon II and told the story of seven runners from around the world who were running the Rome Marathon. It was an encouraging movie to watch, particularly if you are a runner, or know a runner. Crystal is among the 25+ runners who will be running the Marine Corps Marathon for Team Nuru in October. And surprisingly, so am I.

As an organization, Nuru International applied to be a charity partner of the Marine Corps Marathon. As people were signing up, I started thinking about the audacity of the goal. I haven't run with any consistency for about 13 years. My sister has been absolutely killing it running for the last three years. I thought maybe I should do this and be able to join her for some of her races one day as something more than a spectator. Jamie and I had talked about running a race for Nuru for a while, but the MCM gave me an opportunity to go beyond talk.

Since March 29th, I have been out pounding the pavement. Jamie and I have run in Chicago, Columbus, and even along the C & O Canal and Appalachian Trail near Harpers Ferry, WV. Last week we ran 13.4 miles through Morgantown, WV and for me that marks the longest distance I have ever run at one time in my life. Usually with that kind of distance, it is time to hop on a bike, or hitch a ride. ;)

But training has been going well. We have avoided any injuries thus far by taking it slow and easy. Jamie has been an incredible student of nutrition as well to help us recover well and be prepared for the next run.

And then, last night, watching these runners run and listening to their stories, I was tremendously encouraged. Everybody has a reason for running a marathon. Some run to win the race, others run to win their own race against themselves, represent their country or community, or support a cause.

I feel like running the MCM will be about a lot of things for me. I had always wanted to run the Parkersburg Half-Marathon growing up, but never did. Now I am training to run double the distance. And I'm going to be raising funds and awareness for Nuru in the process. I'm also going to be improving my health. And most importantly, I'll be running the race with my best friend. It has been absolutely amazing running with my wife for these last few weeks. We aren't even half-way to the marathon itself, but it has been such a wonderful time to decompress, pray together, and encourage one another.

As I watched the movie, I couldn't help but think about the people who will be traveling from much farther distances to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I couldn't help but think that I would be in the middle of a mass of roughly 30,000 people who were running through our nation's capital. I think it's going to be a pretty amazing time, and I look forward to enjoying every step of the journey there.

May we each run the race that is set before us to the best of our ability.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Getting Back Into The Groove

You know, sometimes people stop writing for lack of content or inspiration. For me, it has been a bit of the opposite. I feel like there has been so much going on in recent weeks that it makes it hard to determine where to start with writing. I look back on the experiences Jamie and I have walked through together over the last few months, and they have been unbelievable. We have seen many old friends and family members, mourned with some and rejoiced with others. We have journeyed through eight states and even made a short journey across our nation's northern border to Niagara Falls. We have engaged people to join our efforts to fight extreme poverty with Nuru, and begun our own training for running a marathon.

And I have been reading. Early in the morning and late at night. I find myself striving to learn more, grow more, and become the best version of myself I can be. I have been riding a bike, running, and even flirted with the idea of joining a gym so I could make my shape less 'round'. We visited old tribal friends, including my tribes oldest living member as we celebrated one of our younger members getting married. We have spent time in large cities and reclaimed strip mines.

It has been an incredible period. So much to write about, but I've found it hard to slow down to do the actual writing. But tonight, as tiredness began to set in, I decided that I the only way I'm going to get back into the groove is to just do it. It's just too easy to put off just about anything until tomorrow. Whether it is starting a diet, a fitness regimen, or writing a blog post, it is all easy to put off until the future.

But sometimes you've just gotta jump in and start doing things. There's no way I could sit down and write about all of my experiences and momentary reflections over the past few months in one sitting, but I can make a decision and write something. We can all start some new habit today and begin cultivating it. We can resume habits that we let go lax as well.

Is there a habit, a goal, or a discipline you have been putting off? Is it hard to find the time for it? While this may sound violent, I am of the opinion that there are times when we have to fight lethargy and inertia to begin to cultivate a habit. May we each make the time to persevere toward goals, and to take small steps toward resuming habits and cultivating new ones. The world needs people who are driven and who are pursuing good habits and goals. Let's go for it!