Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols

My wife works as an aquatic rehabilitation therapist, and each year at Christmas, she and her coworkers exchange gifts. This year, one of the items she received was a book called Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, Or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, And Better At What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols. When I saw the book, I have to admit I was a little intrigued. Even though it is Jamie and not I who spends much of the day in or near water, I really wanted to read what this book had to say. Anything that seems to offer me an opportunity to live better piques my interest, and so I was really curious what Mr. Nichols might have to say.

The book did not follow the path I had expected. I expected to learn more about how Jamie's job in the pool was simply adding to her joy and helping her to care for others better (but, with or without the book saying so, I know that it is). What I found was an amalgamation of different threads. Mr. Nichols clearly has a deep love for our liquid planet, and rather than just writing a book about why we should work to preserve and protect our waterways, he wrote a book that looks at strong data to make his argument. Personally, I love the angle he takes. Unfortunately, it is a little too easy to be written off as an 'environmentalist' or 'sentimentalist' when a person talks about taking steps to be a good steward of the created world. Unfortunately, the truth is that more and more of us are losing a sense of connectedness to the world around us. And not just to the world around us, but to the creatures, even the people who live around us. We are growing more isolated and more stressed, and we are starting to diminish our care for other things all in the name of efficiency.

Mr. Nichols' book shows us that there is, not surprisingly, a connection to our mental wellness and the time we spend in the creation. Not only is there a connection to our mental wellness based on time in creation, but, our time near water brings even higher levels of brain activity in the places where we need it most. Time spent on or near water has been shown to help rehabilitate those with PTSD and even people who are struggling with addictions. And yet, so few people make time to spend in or near the water.

One thing I was not clear about, but I assume there is at least a corollary relationship, is whether it matters if the water is from a "natural" source like a river or ocean, or if my wife's time in the pool is equally beneficial. My guess is that it is less beneficial, but that it is definitely better than being away from water altogether.

The book ends with what I believe is a tangent from the main thesis, but it is still a powerful point of connection. Mr. Nichols carries blue marbles with him when he speaks, and gives them to his audience. As he shares data about our blue planet and how spending time near the water benefits us, he takes his listeners down a different path with the marble. He encourages listeners and readers to reflect with gratitude for all of the memories we have made in, near, on, or under water, and then to think of one person for whom we are grateful. As we bring the person to mind, he suggests giving them the marble, and telling them how grateful we are for that person.

While it seems a tangent, I believe that it is an important gift to carry for this reason. When we are grateful, not only are we mentally better, but one small point of gratitude can help us to bring our entire life under the sway of gratitude. When we are thankful, we are more considerate, and that level of consideration extends toward every person or thing we encounter. By associating his audience's gratitude for a person with a blue marble that represents the earth, one cannot help but feel a bit of gratitude for the life we have been able to live on this blue planet, and to develop a "blue mind" in the process.

I recommend the book for anyone who cares about our planet and our waterways, and even for those who don't. Because if one doesn't care, maybe taking a look at all of the benefit we glean from this watery world might nudge one to a greater sense of gratitude and care for the gift of water.

May we each find some space to sit near, on, in, or under the water in the days and weeks ahead, and, as a result, may we find ourselves filled with gratitude, hope, peace, rest, and refreshment, so that we can bring our very best selves to this world around us.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reflection and Video: Silent Night Sung By Moriah and Clint Lawson

Earlier today, thanks to social media (namely Facebook), I was able to watch and enjoy the vocals, guitar and mandolin of a couple of members of my tribe as they posted a video of themselves singing Silent Night on YouTube. To me, it seems like a really great piece to post as Christmas is fast approaching.

This afternoon, Jamie and I were in Lake Floyd when I listened to the video. As I listened to Clint and Moriah sing, many memories from our tribe's ceremonial grounds came flooding back to my mind. All of us were kids back then, and it really makes me proud of Moriah and Clint that they have continued to develop their talents and that they are sharing with others too. Clint and Moriah used to bring their instruments to our land in western Maryland, and we would laugh a lot, take part in ancient traditions, and then stay up late talking about Jesus and singing Five Iron Frenzy, Jewel, and No Doubt, along with older bluegrass music and of course traditional Shawnee songs and hymns.

And tonight, as I think about those sacred memories and consider the weight of what we celebrate on this Eve of our Savior's birth, I am filled with joy. I'm filled with joy when I think about choirs of angels singing praises as they visited shepherds in distant hills. I am filled with joy when I think about all that Jesus was born into, and all that He redeemed. And, more personally, I am filled with joy when I think about how faithful He has been to me over the years since we were a bunch of Shawnee kids hanging out and talking about Jesus to these times when as "grown-ups" we are still struck by the mystery and majesty that somehow the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Bethlehem in a manger.

Wherever you are, may you find some quiet space tonight to celebrate the wonder of it all, and may we all look forward to a future day when shalom will be restored, and all will be made right in the world. And until that day, may each one of us persevere in seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Creator of the universe.

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reflection: Prioritizing and Intentionalizing

Over the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about prioritizing and internationalizing. It has  come up as a key piece of subject matter in some of the books I've been reading, and it has been a major topic of many recent conversations with others. How does one prioritize? How many priorities should one take on? What does it look like to make something a priority?

Recently, I read that it has only been in the modern era that the word took on a plural form "priorities" and in my opinion, that may be part of why it seems to be a great challenge for people today. It is hard to set just one priority, or at least only focus on one priority at a time. Because we live in a world where it seems like we are encouraged to move forward with multiple tasks at once, we can very easily find ourselves making virtually everything into a priority, but by definition only one thing can be a priority at one time.

Now can we do activities that can accomplish more than one goal at the same time? Of course! For example, over the last few weeks, I have been getting up early and exercising either by myself or with friends. Doing that helps me to grow in my own self-discipline but I am also becoming stronger, more fit, healthier, and more alert--I also find that this discipline carries over into other parts of the day. This one activity and priority is helping me accomplish a great deal in the day. And maybe that is part of the power of setting a priority.

Stephen Covey mentioned a concept in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that there are activities in our life that fall into one of four quadrants. They are either urgent and unimportant, important but not urgent, unimportant and non-urgent, or urgent and important. He says that the areas of our life that fit into the important but not urgent category are those most easily squeezed out and deprioritized. For example, I may believe my health is important, but it is very easy to allow activities that would benefit my health to be less of a priority than tasks that at least feel more urgent or important. If I believe/say my health is important, but I don't eat right and and don't exercise, then I'm not investing in this priority for my life.

For me, it has been helpful to develop routines around what I want to be prioritized in my life. If something is prioritized, that means it needs to happen, and that other activities must take a lower priority. We live in a world where we are told that we can do anything and everything with our life and our time, but it it is a lie. We cannot do everything. And in trying to do everything, we often miss out on doing the things that are most important.

Every year at the end of the year/beginning of the year I like to take a look back over the previous year and set goals for the year ahead. It's an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus. It gives me a chance to see what was the ultimate priority, and where I need to make adjustments. My ultimate aspiration each year is to grow in my relationship with God, and then let everything else in my life flow from that singular intentional priority. It affects how I care for my body, my time, my relationships, and my limited resources. Setting my priority toward cultivating my relationship with God keeps everything else in its proper perspective. During times in my life when I have let other areas of focus become the ultimate focus (health, work, relationships, time management, etc.) it seems like not only that area, but every area suffers by degrees.

As you go about your day, may you have wisdom in setting your ultimate priority and intention, and may you daily move the needle in the areas of your life that are of greatest importance to you, so that at the end of the day, you can reflect with satisfaction that the "main thing" was indeed the main thing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Help Clara Grandt Santucci Make WV Proud!!!

This morning, thanks to a social media post from Tony Caridi, Jamie and I learned about the video at the top of this post that was created by Pikewood Creative. The video tells the story of one of Jamie's coworkers, an incredible West Virginian named Clara Grandt Santucci. Clara grew up in Doddridge County, and Jamie can remember running against her in middle school and high school--in some ways they have been connected to each other for most of their lives. But I would say that their friendship has blossomed during the time they have worked together at Healthworks. I've had the distinct blessing of being able to connect with Clara a handful of times, and probably the thing that has stood out most to me is her humility.

For the last two years, she has WON the Pittsburgh Marathon (which is pretty cool because she's also a pretty big Pirates fan). She competed against some of the best in the world during that race and she came out on top. She's humble, but she is also tenacious. And personally those are two of my favorite qualities in any human being. I enjoy stories of people who are genuine, authentic, and relentless as well, and from all I can gather Clara is very bit those things. To me, she embodies some of the best character qualities of people from our state, and she is as committed to her faith as she is to training as an elite athlete.

She has created a Go Fund Me page to raise funds to help her get to the Olympic Trials this year so she can compete in the 2016 Olympic games for Team USA. A law office in the southern part of our state has committed to matching every contribution up to $2,500 to get help her get there. Personally, I know Jamie and I are going to help at some level, but we just need to determine the amount. When I watched her video earlier, I was inspired, and it thrills me to know that one of our fellow Mountaineers will be able to represent our great state on a global stage once she finishes in the top three runners during the 2016 Olympic Games.

Will you help spread the word about Clara and her quest to represent West Virginia and the United States of America in the Olympics? Thanks so much!

And Clara, we will all be cheering you on back here in Almost Heaven! Make us proud!!!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

#GivingTuesday 2015 and Nuru International

A generous West Virginian stepped forward to match every donation (up to $15,000) that Nuru receives in honor of Giving Tuesday today. And that has me doubly grateful. It's not just about the match that I'm grateful, its also incredibly gratifying to see more and more people from my home state step up and join Nuru's efforts. I'm deeply proud of the strong West Virginia roots of Nuru, and at the same time, I love the fact that there are people from around the globe choosing to join us in this fight.

A little over seven years ago, Nuru was an idea. But in seven years, we have seen incredible change taking place. In fact this year we are celebrating the fact that together with the help of generous and selfless people like you, we have been able to help more than 81,000 people lift themselves out of extreme poverty in Kenya and Ethiopia.

With your help, we will be able to do even more in 2016. We are planning to take Nuru's programs to even more families in 2016. Over the next month we are working to raise a total of $300,000 dollars. Want to help? Here's FIVE ways you can! 

1) Donate online to Nuru, and encourage others to do the same!

2) If you are on Twitter, Share the link to our Holiday campaign page. Here's a sample tweet.

Join me in supporting @IAmNuru. Up to $15K will be matched today! http://bit.ly/1MRAPH #GivingTuesday

3) If you are on Facebook, share the link to our Holiday campaign page on Facebook. Here's a sample post.

Friends, I'm a proud supporter of Nuru International. Watch the video in this link and you'll discover why. Will you join me in supporting Nuru as your way of celebrating #GivingTuesday? Each donation given today will be matched up to $15,000. Every bit helps! http://bit.ly/1MRAPHZ

4) Nuru sent out an eNews reminder December 1 about the campaign. Will you forward the eNews to five friends and add a note to tell them why you believe in Nuru?

5) Create your own fundraising page--you could invite friends and family to donate to Nuru this year. 

Your support means a lot to me and to our entire team at Nuru, but it means even more to our farmers. Thanks for all you have done and continue to do to help their lives become better! Let's keep changing the world together!!!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reflection: Tending The Fire And Tending Our Spirits

Yesterday evening, Jamie and I decided to take some of the brush that had been slowly accumulating around our house over this summer, and burn it. So, we pulled out a small portable fire pit we bought on clearance last summer, and began to build the base of the fire. Memories started flooding my mind as I first gathered small twigs for kindling, and took a few seconds to light this bundle. And as the kindling was consumed, I quickly started adding larger sticks until we had a small, strong blaze going. At the same time, the sun was slowly setting over the hills to our west.

Gathering sticks and adding them to the strong fire, I thought back to many memories and lessons learned from starting and tending fires from some of my tribe's ancient ceremonies. I thought back to the importance of a clean fire, and how the fire itself consumed, refined and purified. I reviewed and relived the process of methodically building the fire and tending the fire so that it didn't go out and so it didn't blaze out of control. I remembered occasions where an old fire would be stamped out, so that a new and fresh fire could be built, as a symbol of a new start, a new year, and of leaving the past.

After the fire was built up, and the brush began to burn down into a peaceful and deep bed of blazing red coals, it brought me back to many memories of tending fires for sweat lodges and other occasions, and the high degree of care and contemplation that always surrounded these activities in the past. Sitting together by the fire, Jamie and I took time to pray. We prayed for ourselves to grow in our love for Creator, our care for His creation, and our capacity to serve our fellow humans. We prayed for growth in capacity and discipline. We prayed for friends who are going through incredible challenges. And at the same time, we soaked in the rhythm of the day. We watched the sun slip silently behind the hills and daylight transition to dusk. There was something amazingly restful as the last moments of "the weekend" disappeared, and we gave ourselves a small space for reflection.

Just as I learned during my younger days that tending the fire demands extreme care, respect, and discipline, tending our spirits also demands the same. After our time by the fire in quiet reflection and savoring the tranquility of the fireside peace that probably all of our ancestors have enjoyed, I found myself refreshed and energized for the week ahead. Now I realize that we probably don't have enough wood around the house to enjoy a quiet moment by the fire every evening, but we could cultivate a habit of tending our spirits into our daily and weekly rhythms. And, this tending is critically important work! Without tending our spirits we run the risk of letting the interior fires grow dim, or we could let our lives run out of control.

It seems like every one I run into feels incredibly busy and tired and that there's very little space in life for reflection. Surely, it wasn't always this way. As each of us lives out our calling faithfully in this world, it is quite easy to erase margins and lock ourselves into both a sense of apathy (that this is just the way it is) and complacency (content to be on cruise-control with our lives), but this will rob us of incredible joy, and in many ways rob the world of each of us bringing our very best selves into our work, family, and community.

May we each carve out space in our schedules for rest, for reflection, and for tending our spirits. And by so doing, may we keep our inner fires steady burning and bring our very best into each day.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reflection: Marine Corps Marathon 2015

Last month, Jamie and I joined over 30,000 runners from around the world to run the 40th Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. We were part of a team that has run the marathon to raise funds and awareness for Nuru International over the last three years. Each year, on the afternoon before the race, we gather with runners from Team Nuru to share some laughs, tell our stories, and a little bit of the transformation taking place on the other side of the world as a result of our combined efforts. We also take a moment to grab a team photo. Not everyone can make it, but for me and Jamie this has been one of the high points leading up to the race. There's something powerful about seeing people come from all over the country (but especially West Virginia) not only because of a shared commitment to run a long distance, but also because of a desire to be part of making the world a better place. And this year, we had a couple of interesting additions. We had a second married couple run as well as a father and son duo. And one guy raised money for Nuru by selling sponsorships for his race shirt. Donate a certain amount, and he would put your name on his shirt. Donate a larger amount, and he would place a photo on his shirt. Donate a $1,000, and he would run the first mile with a cardboard cut-out of you (unfortunately no one took him up on the last offer).
The morning of the race the weather was slightly warmer than it had been over the last couple of years...and it was raining. It was a light rain, and actually was a bit refreshing as we began to build up the miles in the cool, humid morning hours along the tidal basin. As we ran, we looked around us, and there were just so many people running and working to encourage people around them (and themselves) to dig a little deeper, to consider others, and keep pressing onward. All along the course, there were men, women, boys, and girls holding signs, cheering, and spurring on the crowd of runners. We ran through Rosslyn, and across the bridge into Georgetown, and all along the way we were feeling good. 
And then we arrived at Mile 12 which is called the blue mile. A nonprofit that encourages runners to run in support of fallen members of the military and their families had placed sign after sign along this stretch of the race. Mile 12 is the point where you are almost half way through the race. You have left the crowds in Georgetown and DC, and you are making your way along a long solitary stretch of the race. And then you see the signs that serve as a reminder and memorial of the young men and women who gave their lives in service. Each year when I hit this point I get a bit emotional, and this year I found myself more emotional than I had ever been. As I passed by each sign, I thought about these individuals, their families, their friends, their aspirations, and the reality that their lives were cut short because of evil in this world. I silently prayed as I ran, and then I came upon a long column of American flags and men and women holding those flags cheering each of us runners onward. 
As I ran through this memorial, my mind went from those who had served and died to those who Nuru was serving--our farmers and their families. I began to get more emotional as I considered the challenges of my neighbors who are needlessly suffering in extreme poverty. I thought about the folks who had donated to Nuru because a group of us had decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that running a race could be a catalyst for many people to join the fight to end extreme poverty.  As the weather got warmer, and the miles kept adding up, I thought about the other folks who were running for Team Nuru, and I was really inspired. 
There was my friend Justin who has known me for a long time, and who was probably close to the finish as I hit the blue mile. And then, I thought about Erinn, one of our neighbors, and a woman who is passionate about justice, about the good things coming out of our great state, and who is one of the most disciplined and determined people I know. Then my mind went to Aaron--this guy (unbeknownst to him) had three of his buddies secretly sign up so they could run their first marathon together just a few days before he got married. Imagine his surprise when his three friends showed up the morning of the race to support him, and then, as the howitzer fired, they revealed their race bibs, and crossed the starting line with him (by the way, none of these guys had trained--they just wanted to support their brother!). And then, there was Andy. Andy was Jake's roommate during plebe year at the Naval Academy. Andy and his wife have been supporting Nuru's work from the beginning. And I knew he had approached his training with discipline and rigor--as he approaches all of life. I knew these folks and many others were out there running and sharing Nuru's story so that one day we might see the end of the desperation caused by extreme poverty!
Jamie and I continued side-by-side all the way to the finish line. When she and I started training for our first marathon in 2013, we made a commitment to each other as we trained that we would train together, and run the race together. I believe that this commitment helped us to be successful in our endeavor. As we closed in on mile 26, we committed to each other that we would run the last two tenths of a mile with whatever we could muster for the quarter mile uphill run to the Iwo Jima Memorial. We crossed the finish within seconds of each other, and we celebrated together. We had finished the race.
When I think about the time all of the runners put into preparation and even the race itself--its a powerful testimony to discipline, endurance, and perseverance. Each of these runners committed at least six months of their lives to preparation. I can attest to the fact that life is busy, and there were many mornings I did not feel like running or putting time in. But, just like all of our runners, I did it anyway. And that translates well to other areas of life. Whether you are preparing for a marathon, preparing for combat, or simply preparing for another day of life, developing discipline and endurance helps you persevere. And as I stand on the other side of the race, I feel a sense of pride (in a good way) as I've come through the challenge, I've tested my mettle, and I know I have what it takes. And so I look to continue the trend of discipline, goal setting, and quality routines for life. 

And I want to encourage you to do the same. I've been reading a book by a couple of Navy SEALs, and in their community they have a saying, "Earn your trident daily." I like the sound of it. What if you and I made the decision each morning to bring our best to shape the world around us? What if we pushed ourselves just a little harder to make certain we are the kind of folks that those around us can count on?
May each of us apply discipline and rigor to our lives so we can bring our best to the world around us and spur others to do the same!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflection: A Long Obedience In The Same Direction

Today, celebrates the twenty-first anniversary of a special day for me. While I remember the event and the occasion clearly, I think I'm more aware of the changes the time wrought in me. In many ways they were unanticipated and unexpected, and honestly they have been pivotal in shaping me into the person I am today.

I was attending an inter-tribal gathering at a 4-H camp, Camp Muffly, near Morgantown. I was the president of the Organization for Native American Interests (ONAI) at WVU, and our group was invited to this gathering. It was my junior year at WVU. My good friend, Matt Thorn (ONAI's VP), had let me borrow his tent as me and my other friend Reza Marvashti would be camping for the weekend and representing our group. We were going to be connecting and spending time with members of the local indigenous community and exploring opportunities to serve. And that happened, but something more transformative and unexpected also happened that weekend. I became a Christian.

I had engaged in many conversations about faith and Christianity over the years with friends and family members, but when I came to college, I would say that I became a deep searcher. I really wanted to know God, and I wanted to live my life for Him. But the funny thing about it is that I didn't really grow up in church. I do feel like my family had a number of rich traditions grounded in a deep sense of right and wrong, but I don't think I gave a lot of thought to the why of those traditions.

But in college, I had a number of friends who were starting to explore a life of faith, and in their explorations, they were seeking to live out what they were learning. These weren't people who just attended a religious gathering on Sundays, but they were daily people of prayer and they were daily reading and applying the sacred text. And as admirable as their discipline was, I thought it was misplaced, and honestly, I was pretty judgmental of Christians--the irony was that I thought they were judgmental.

But that all changed on a weekend in November 1994 at Camp Muffly. To be clear, there wasn't an altar call or someone nudging me toward a decision--it was not what people refer to as a 'revival' weekend or 'camp-meeting'. For reasons that only God knows, he was choosing this particular weekend to illuminate to me His deep love for me, and that the very thing I had been searching for was Him. I had been praying earnestly for months that the Creator of the universe would reveal His truth to me and lead me in living out the ultimate purpose for my life. In all of my considerations about a life of faith, I was reticent to think about Christianity, but, that weekend, I found myself more and more convinced that Jesus was the person who I was looking for.  That somehow, there was something powerful about His death and resurrection, that in Him was hope, light, life, and redemption, and more importantly I was growing more and more cognizant that I was a sinner and I was in desperate need of the Savior. There were a few conversations that happened that weekend with various tribal leaders and friends that touched on areas of faith, but that was not the center of the purpose of the gathering. The gathering was about service and community among native people.

And yet, God was reaching out to me, and letting me know that I was loved. More than that, he was impressing upon me that my ultimate purpose was to be found in love. That my highest purpose was to love God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and in the wake of that love, that I was to love my neighbor as myself, and further, that there is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.

The weekend of November 11-13, 1994, I began to walk in obedience to this radical love, forgiveness, and mercy I received from Jesus. I became a Christian. And from that point in time I have been continually blessed with an amazing group of fellow sojourners on the journey, mentors and spiritual guides who have helped me to grow in my discernment and my capacity and desire to serve, and a deep and abiding relationship with my Creator who relentlessly loves me, forgives me, leads me, and guides me to be the best version of myself that I can be, and to be an ambassador of the love, mercy, forgiveness, and restoration that can be found in Him.

As I celebrate this 21st year of life in Christ, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the ways that God has given me a greater capacity to love, and a greater desire to keep following His gentle but strong leadership as I seek to make the most of my limited time on this earth. And my prayer is that we would all grow more deeply aware of incredible love, mercy, and hope that are continually being extended to us by the Creator of the universe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reflection: Veterans Day 2015

Each year, whether I write a post or simply set aside time, I find myself reflecting on Veterans Day. It's actually a bit inescapable if one is connected to social media. I see images posted by many of my friends as they take time to remember with pride the time they served and the people they had an opportunity to serve with. For those who have retired, and for those still serving, the rest of the nation turns its eyes, thoughts, and attention to these incredible acts of service.

Uncle Bill (left) with Dad and Jerry West.
Over my adult life, I have had the privilege of serving with and learning from many veterans. My Uncle Bill has always demonstrated the value of serving others first. He and his late wife always practiced hospitality and generosity when we would visit his house, and even today, I know that none of his family or their friends ever lack when there is a need. When I visit home, I always want to make it a point to visit with him and listen to the amazing stories of his more than 80 years of living.

Okima. Mentor, leader, wisdom-keeper, and human being.
The foremost veteran I learned from was/is the former Principal Chief of my tribe. Okima (which I called him as a term of respect), served during WWII in the US Navy, and was not only an incredible spiritual leader and mentor, but wonderful role model with regard to service, discipline, respect, and honor. He was hard but fair, stern but compassionate, and resolute but gracious. He taught me much about what it means to give of one's self, and to never relent when it comes to hard work. He also demonstrated one of the most wonderful relationships with Jesus that I have ever seen. He set the standard for me to understand what it means to be a human being. He was a real human being.

And over the last several years, I've the privilege of working with some amazing veterans at Nuru. When Nuru was beginning, Jake Harriman, Gaby Blocher, and Don Faul brought the rigor and discipline that they had learned at the United States Naval Academy and in the Marine Corps to the work of fighting extreme poverty, and over the years, I've had the proud honor of learning from additional veteAlex Martin, Mike Bigrigg, and Brian Von Kraus are each bringing the fight to extreme poverty with a level of rigor and tenacity that is inspiring to see.

rans who have transitioned from military service to bring their skills, experience, and leadership to fight extreme poverty.

Additionally, over the last few weeks I've been reading a book by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink called Extreme Ownership. I hope to eventually write a formal review of the book, but one of the big take-aways I've had so far is that most of us in the civilian world have very little idea the level of chaos our brothers and sisters are working to bring order out of. Most of us live with a distorted sense of what a 'bad day' is. A bad day is losing a teammate, a friend, a member of one's tribe. A bad day is knowing that even when you bring your best, there are scars that we gather and gain, and losses we simply cannot prevent.

And when I think about the veterans I have had the honor of rubbing shoulders with, I am in awe at the resilience, the tenacity, and the discipline that each one of them continues to bring--whatever team they are serving on and wherever life's journey takes them.

On a day like Veterans Day, we remember those who have fallen, those who are still down range, and those who are working to transition into so-called 'normal' life. Businesses and individuals offer their thanks for service and their applause for sacrifice. But, I can't help but wonder if there is a better means for expressing gratitude and honor than words and applause. What if more of this world operated by a code of honor? What if more men and women chose to live their lives with an others first mentality?  What if we chose sacrifice over self-indulgence? What if we chose to emulate the example of those few who have set aside their own comfort for the sake of their fellow humans? To me, I feel like that would be the best gesture of gratitude that could be bestowed upon those who have served, those who have fallen, and those who are still down range.

May we all aspire to live courageous lives of sacrifice, service, courage, and commitment, and may we demonstrate honor and respect as we seek to build a better world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Countdown To The 40th Marine Corps Marathon And Celebrating The Warrior Spirit

In just a few days, Jamie and I will join with thousands of men and women from all over the world to run the 40th Marine Corps Marathon. While our training this year has not been as rigorous and regimented as it was in years past (challenges with travel, etc.), we are starting to feel ready for what is ahead.

While the training was not ideal (it almost never is), Jamie and I both feel stronger than we have felt for either of our two previous marathons, and we are ecstatic to be able to finally meet some of the folks from around the country who have chosen to run this year's Marine Corps Marathon for Team Nuru International. Over the last three years, nearly 100 individuals have signed on with Team Nuru, laced up their shoes, and committed themselves to running a marathon as their unique contribution to seeing the end of extreme poverty in our lifetimes. And for many, this is their first marathon. Each of us are actually working to raise money for Nuru to continue to change the lives of farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia; want to help with financial support?

When I think ahead to the race on Sunday, I think about three types of warriors, and how this event celebrates the warrior spirit. The most obvious type is the man or woman who is serving in the US or another country's armed forces. Marines line the entire course and coordinate the entire event. Each year, it seems like our timing at the metro stop is perfectly synced with the Royal Netherlands Navy marathon team as well.

The second type of warrior celebrated (at least for team Nuru) is the farmer who is working to see his or her family out of extreme poverty. This warrior gets up each morning before the call of the rooster to begin working the field, caring for children, and preparing for the day that will end after the setting of the sun. Want to learn more about this kind of warrior? Check out the video below.

The third type of warrior is seen all along the course, and if you are not paying attention you might miss him or her. If you are running, they are likely running next to you, behind you, or in front of you. This warrior is the one who exerted self-discipline for at least six months in an effort to prepare for the marathon. She sacrificed, in an effort to achieve a goal that may have seemed only a slight possibility at the beginning of her training. He may be running to honor a fallen family member or in an effort to show himself victorious in a fight against a disease. This runner may have started down this path to overcome obesity, or to prove that he/she has what it takes. And at the end of the race, they will receive an honor and recognition for their efforts.

The first year we ran the Marine Corps Marathon, I saw my wife demonstrate this tenacious warrior mentality in an incredibly powerful way. Thursday before the race, she left work sick. She came home with a 102˚ F temperature. Friday morning, she was feeling "better", and we made the trip from Morgantown to Washington DC. Friday night, she went to sleep and slept for fourteen hours. All along this three day stretch she was coughing. She had resolved in her mind that she did not train to sit out of the race, and so she came race day, and willed herself to the finish line.

I learned a lot from running alongside Jamie that day. I'd like to think that I would have gotten out of bed to run with the kind of resolve she had if our situation was reversed. She refused to quit and refused to let the bus pick her up. She gave her all to complete the race and was awarded with a medal at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

But I think she came away with something more. She tapped into her warrior mindset, tested her mettle, and walked away with a deeper peace and confidence that has only grown stronger since that race. She is one of the most mentally strong and resilient individuals I have ever met, and I am privileged that I not only get to run 26.2 miles with her this Sunday, but I get to spend almost every day running through life together with her!

And as Jamie and I countdown to the event, we look forward to journeying through our nation's capital with thousands of warriors who have trained, prepared, and are mission ready. We also take time to remind ourselves of our brothers and sisters around the world who are choosing to give their utmost every day to push through to create a better world for their family, their community, and themselves.

May each of us fight tenaciously forward and never quit until our day comes to give up the ghost. As my friend and teammate at Nuru Alex Martin is fond of quoting, "All it takes is all you've got!"

Friday, October 16, 2015

World Food Day 2015: Why I Am Celebrating Farmers

Today is World Food Day, and for many that means writing and thinking about global hunger and nutrition. Those are important topics, but to me, it is important to celebrate the people who grow the food that the world eats. And who does that? Farmers!

I've written at other times about growing up eating food from our family garden, and even written about the reminders and celebrations of tradition that have come from having a small plot near our home dedicated to planting and growing food for our table. But today, I want to write in celebration of farmers around the world, starting locally.

For the last three years, Jamie and I have enjoyed being part of a local community supported agriculture program with Mountain Harvest Farm LLC. Each week we receive a share of what our farmer friends Mary and Chico have been able to produce from a plot of land just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia. As the weather changes and the seasons progress, we are able to enjoy a wide array of vegetables, according to the time tables of what can be grown and when in our climate. We also supplement this panoply of vegetables with occasional stops to the Morgantown Farmers Market, or with purchases from Working H Farms. Our support of local agriculture helps keep us rooted in the reality of where our food comes from. It comes from the ground. It comes from hard work. And it doesn't just magically appear in supermarkets. Somewhere there is a farmer working hard so that many can enjoy the fruit of his or her labor.

And farming is not just a local phenomenon. Today I also want to take a moment to celebrate the men and women around the world who are reliant on the bounty of their small farms to provide for their families and the needs of their communities. Wherever farmers are working, they are addressing the challenges of hunger and nutrition. They are working in concert with the cycles of weather, and they are growing in their understanding of the land, its care, and their relationship to it. Through the work I've been part of at Nuru International, I have met hard-working farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia whose work-ethic and care for their family and community would shame those of many in the West.

Today I celebrate farmers because they are the producers of the food we eat, and without food, none of us are able to bring our contributions to the world!

Thank you, farmers, on World Food Day and every day. Every step forward for humanity comes from the strong foundation you build. Farmers are the providers not only for their own families, but also for many others in their community. If you can, reach out to a farmer and thank them for their example, their work ethic, and their provision. And if you have a small space of land, I encourage you to plant some crops, and learn both the joy and the challenges of being a producer!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbus Day And/Or Native American Day

Today many people took time off from work to celebrate Columbus Day and/or Native American Day, and most of us give very little thought to celebrating Columbus' "discovery" of America. I can remember learning in first grade that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. But outside of some family stories around our own Shawnee tribal traditions, I learned very little about native people in school other than some very simple stories about  "The First Thanksgiving" and possibly a story about Pocahontas.

It wasn't until I was in college that I began learning more about the systemic destruction of native peoples, lands, and culture that Columbus ushered in when he landed in the New World. I remember reading some of the writings of Bartolomé De Las Casas in an English class and learning about his first-hand witness of atrocities committed against the Taino and others in the New World in the late 1400s and early 1500s. Bartolomé De Las Casas was a Dominican friar, and while he was once a participant in this exploitation and destruction, he began to be strong opponent to the injustices of which he participated and witnessed. Historians estimate that there were between 1-8 million Taino on Hispaniola in 1492, and that this number was reduced to about 60,000 in less than 30 years. In 30 years, hundreds of thousands were directly murdered, enslaved, or succumbed to diseases brought by their new neighbors.

The irony of this kind of exploitation is that Columbus wrote this of these new neighbors, "there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy." How in the world could these words be shared at the onset of one of the greatest combined genocide, land grab, and enslavement of a group of peoples that the world has seen?

Greed is the simple answer. An unquenchable desire for more is what led to this horrid beginning for the New World and the bringing together of cultures. 2% of the population of the US is now comprised of various Native people, and probably the reason why Columbus Day has not been replaced with a day for honoring Native people is because 98% of the US population is an immigrant population. Now that is a strange thing to consider, especially given the debates happening in our country regarding immigration and a potential influx of refugees from other countries seeking some safe haven, and maybe it is greed that keeps the door closed for a new wave of immigrants now.

It is all too easy to look back from the vantage of the present and see the sins of commission and omission of past generations, but what can we do to help prevent future generations from indicting us on similar charges long after we have breathed our last on this earth?

I wish there were simple answers, but when I think about it, there are so many different steps we can take, it is hard to know where to start. But, I believe there needs to be a starting point. If greed was the sin that led to thousands of tribes being wiped out, what can you and I do to curtail our own greed?

I think the key is to live a more simple life and to strive to do more with less. What does it look like? I think there are a number of simple activities that we can begin to build into our daily and weekly rhythm that can help us to let go of greed.

  • Give things away (time, money, resources). Most of us have way more than we need--why not share?
  • Walk or ride a bike when we can (traveling less than 1-2 miles) instead of driving a car. Not only is it good for the planet, but it is a reminder that for most of the world's history, people did not travel by using fossil fuels--they used their legs, or rode horses.
  • Use less energy. Turn off lights when you are not using them. Power down appliances. We've come to accept that it is normal to constantly use energy. It's not normal...at all.
  • Turn off the TV. Read a book. Talk to a friend or family member. Make a new friend.
When was the last time you did one or more of these things? I feel like activities like these help to cultivate simplicity and generosity in our life. When we cultivate simplicity and generosity, we are less likely to be consumed by greed. Saul of Tarsus once wrote that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil," but I would say that the love of things could lead us away from loving people

So as you celebrate or observe this holiday, I think the best way you could celebrate it is to cultivate some habits that reduce greed. And, rather than celebrating Columbus' discovery today or brooding on the injustices of the last five hundred years, set your mind toward simplicity, and cultivate a heart of generosity. There is always a place in this world for more of both. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Downtown Black Bear Burritos Benefit For Nuru International Monday October 5 2015 530PM-Close

I'm so excited! Two of my favorite things are coming together to smash extreme poverty in the face! Black Bear Burritos, one of my favorite Morgantown restaurants is hosting a benefit night for Nuru International October, 5, 2015 from 530PM to close at the downtown restaurant location! There will be live music AND proceeds from the sale of the special "Bowl Lotta Love" will benefit Nuru!!!

It means a lot to have a local business championing Nuru, but it has even greater meaning because one of the owners of Black Bear, Jason Coffman, has been my friend since high school, and, while I always get super-amped when people join Nuru's efforts to fight extreme poverty, it is extra special when good friends and folks from our state get involved! Nuru's CEO, Jake Harriman, hails from Preston County, West Virginia and many of Nuru's earliest staff and board members are either native West Virginians or WVU alums (and sometimes both!). People from our state love to celebrate good things that West Virginians are doing and Black Bear and Nuru are two entities as a West Virginian that I love celebrating!

And Black Bear, aside from being a business launched by a good friend and high school classmate (senior class president I might add!), is a business that in my opinion champions good things in and from our state. For starters, the black bear is West Virginia's state animal! The artwork featured in the restaurants comes from West Virginia artists and many of the musicians who setup on the stage are either West Virginians or they hail from Appalachia. Not only that, Black Bear strives to host an assortment of West Virginia crafted beverages along with maintaining an array of ingredients for their food sourced locally. This benefit follows closely on the heels of Nuru getting recognition by official resolution from both the WV State Senate and House of Delegates for its work fighting extreme poverty in Kenya and Ethiopia.

In addition to these amazing West Virginia connections, I'm also proud to say that almost every one of our early staff at Nuru has eaten at Black Bear at least once, so Black Bear Burritos has become something of a legendary dining establishment among those early Nuru alums. And as Jamie and I have increased our travel to share Nuru's story with other people and invite them to join our efforts, Black Bear Burritos is one of the 'tastes of Morgantown' we look forward to enjoying when we return.

On a more personal note, I'm incredibly proud of what Jason and Matt have done in creating Black Bear Burritos. Jason, Matt, and their team have created what I consider a restaurant atmosphere that provides a common ground and a community space for people from a variety of backgrounds and tastes. A kid friendly space with frequent live music and local art, and a delicious menu with something for just about anyone is kind of a tall order for a college town (or any town for that matter). When friends visit from outside Morgantown, Black Bear is one of the first restaurants I want to introduce them to. And when friends visit who used to live in town, it's usually at the top of their list of places to dine upon their return.

I'm really excited about seeing some old friends at the event tomorrow, and possibly making some new friends too! If you are unable to join us for the event, will you stop by our event page and donate online? Every contribution helps!

Hope to see you there! And remember, together, we can end extreme poverty in our lifetime! Let's never stop believing we can change the world, because to not believe it would be downright silly!

Go Black Bear! Go Nuru! And let's goooooooo Mountaineers!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sustainable Development Goals: The Global Goals And What You Can Do

This image represents the world that is possible if we hit just ONE, of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.

Fifteen years ago, world leaders came together and set array of goals toward building a better world. Among the foremost in these goals was to cut in half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. Any time an individual or group sets a goal, the initial goal setting is met with a mix of hope, expectation, cynicism, and critique, and justifiably so. People make commitments all of the time, but what is often lacking is follow through. At the same time when people make bold commitments, our imaginations are enlivened as we visualize a different world coming into being.

Last Friday, the United Nations came together to set an array of new goals for the year 2030. Again these Global Goals have been met with a mixture of cynicism and hope. Personally I choose the perspective of hope, and here's why. Without a bold goal and a vision of what is possible, we can get satisfied with the status quo. We can get caught up in "this is the way things have always been and this is the way they will always be." I believe we have been given our imaginations to dream of a different world, and we have been given our bodies and our wills to take steps toward making those dreams a reality.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed upon. Want to learn more about what they are? My good friend Aerie Changala, Nuru's Director of International Operations, recently wrote a post listing these goals and how Nuru has already been working toward many of them. That's another part of the reason I'm hopeful. These aren't goals that have come out of nowhere. They are attainable, and if we increase the level of our commitment toward these goals, and more people choose action over apathy, these goals are well within reach. We, regular people like you and me, could be part of seeing these goals become reality. We each have a part to play.

So what can we do? To start, I recommend checking out the ONE Campaign's website. ONE is a movement of more than seven million members who are taking decisive action to see the end of extreme poverty in our lifetime. ONE advocates using your voice to keep these goals in front of our governments and on the minds of our neighbors.

In addition, I recommend looking into organizations that are doing great work toward hitting these seventeen goals. Commit yourself to getting involved in this worthwhile work. Join our efforts at Nuru and help raise funds and awareness for Nuru to take its model to even more households that are needlessly suffering in extreme poverty. (Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is one of the seventeen goals.)

Third, take decisive actions to lower your ecological footprint. I believe a large reason why we are seeing global injustice on the rise is because we seem to be focused on the pursuit of excess and ongoing self-indulgence. What if each of us chose to make do with a little less? What if we gave more of our time and resources to the betterment of others? What if we chose to walk or ride a bike instead of drive sometimes during our week? What if we made it a habit to turn off lights and appliances when not in use? Not only would these activities be good for our health and well-being and that of the planet, but they would also allow us to save money too.

One other thing you can do is nothing. You can choose to be a spectator, sit on the sidelines, and watch as the rest of the world takes action and sees these goals to their completion. But where is the joy in that? I believe each one of us is at our best when we not only make a commitment, but we take decisive actions toward improving the lives of others and choosing toward reflecting a little bit of the hope and light that comes from living with a diminished focus on ourselves.

So what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking,  and we have less than 5,480 days to see these goals become a reality. Let's do our part to hit these goals and build a better world for everyone!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tune In To the Clinton Global Initiative Live

I'll keep this post brief and to the point. The annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative launches today. A litany of world-changers have come from around the globe to make commitments to action to improve the lives of others around the globe. Among those attending this year's gathering is Nuru International's CEO, Jake Harriman. Want to be inspired by some incredible people making a difference in this world? Tune in to the Livestream and follow the event on Twitter.

Hope you are able to tune in to a session or two and that you are inspired as you listen!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Happy Birthday to Nuru International And Jake Harriman

Nuru CEO Jake Harriman and board chair John Hancox discuss Nuru during the summer of 2007
This week, as the world turns its focus to the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the visit of Pope Francis, I thought it would be a great time to write a short reflection on the last seven years of Nuru and wish Jake and Nuru a Happy Birthday!

Although Jake and I have known each other for more than half of our lives, it was during the summer of 2007 that I first learned about and was able to discuss in detail the idea Jake had developed for creating a nonprofit that could sustainably, scalably, and holistically address the challenges of our global neighbors living in extreme poverty with a particular emphasis on addressing those challenges in remote, rural areas—the areas of the world where 85% of those in extreme poverty call home.

During the beginning of September 2008, a small team went through a two-week intensive training in northern California before a short period of saying goodbye to friends and family as they made their way to southwestern Kenya. This team represented the beginnings of Nuru’s work in Kuria West. The first day in Kuria also happened to be Jake’s birthday (and he was struck by lightning, but that’s another story).

I can remember so clearly how excited we were that this idea was launching and even early on we were seeing higher than anticipated participation levels in programs. I believe that is because from the beginning, we were building Nuru on the belief that we should be working with, working through, and building capacity with local leaders, and that they would be the ones best equipped to bring lasting change long-term to their communities and their country. That first year alone, 450 farmers joined Nuru’s efforts and saw incredible increases to crop yield, food security, and economic income.

Over these last seven years, more than 80,000 lives have been changed in Kenya and Ethiopia. Local Kenyan staff are now preparing to scale impact to neighboring communities, and the Western staff have exited—which was also a key ingredient to the plan all along. At the same time Jake has been able to share Nuru’s story and encourage thousands of other people to join the fight to end extreme poverty. He’s been honored by the Dalai Lama, received awards for Social Entrepreneurship, named a White House Champion of Change, and even addressed two former U.S. Presidents at a gathering in Texas. And in the next week, he will be among a small convergence of global leaders participating in the Clinton Global Initiative in NYC.

As Jake celebrates his birthday, I hope each of us can take a moment to reflect and celebrate with him the amazing journey he has given us the privilege of joining as together we work tenaciously toward being the generation that sees the end of extreme poverty. The United Nations just committed to the Sustainable Development Goals as an early birthday present. World leaders are rallying to the call to see the END of extreme poverty. And together, we will keep pressing onward toward our goal. These last seven years have been amazing, but today, as a birthday gift to Jake, and as a commitment to our global neighbors, may we each set our sights even higher for what we can accomplish together to see end of extreme poverty in our lifetime. Happy birthday Nuru! Happy birthday Jake Harriman! And, your death knell is near, extreme poverty!!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis and His Encouragement To Us All At The United Nations

This morning, as the Pope took time to address the United Nations during his visit to the United States, he seemed to be speaking to a number of issues that have been on mine and Jamie’s hearts and minds for quite some time. I’m personally very grateful that Pope Francis is using his position, popularity, and influence to entreat the consciences of the global community. To read his full speech, click here.

First let’s consider his remarks regarding care of our common home. There will be some who want to transform the Pope’s statement into a debate with regard to whether climate change is real. But maybe rather than debating climate change, we should each realize we have a sacred responsibility to care for and wisely steward the limited resources of this world. What would it look like for each of us to begin to live more simply, and take into account the impact of every decision from travel, to energy usage, to the very products we purchase? What would it look like for you to live more simply? Is there a step you can take to be a better steward?

Although I started this post talking about the Pope’s perspective on environmental care, I have long believed that care for this earth is directly connected to care for our neighbors. Not just our neighbors in the here and now, but those who have not yet been born. In many Native American traditions, including my own, we are encouraged to consider the impact of our decisions on future generations. There is very little in the way we are culturally encouraged to live that encourages long-term impact. We gravitate to the immediate because it is convenient. We have become a self-indulgent culture with little concern for how our actions and activities have an impact on others. We have become polluters, not only of the environment, but of the very essence of shalom in this world.

And what does it mean to care for our neighbor? If you live in America, by default you are in at least the 95% percentile of the wealthiest people in the world. You are one of the top five percent of the global rich. So what does it mean to care for our neighbors who are poor? I believe it means that we practice a discipline of generosity. We look for opportunities to serve and to invest in the lives of others. We resist the tendency to care for ourselves first.

We live in a complex and complicated world. But we can exercise self-discipline and choose to live lives of greater simplicity. We can choose to live lives that are unencumbered by excess material goods. We can choose to resist the almost fanatical devotion our culture has to collecting stuff, generating waste, and treating people and things as disposable resources. Every person on this earth was created by God for a unique purpose. Every thing on this earth has been entrusted to us by an abundantly generous Creator who encourages us to care for this world, and calls us to greater dedication to wise stewardship.

The Pope, through his words, is encouraging us to consider the great power and influence each one of us has in this world. Instead of our own indulgences, what if we were using that power and influence to facilitate the improvement of the lives of our global neighbors. What if we were dedicating time and energy to equipping others with the tools they need to improve their lives, to be able to make meaningful choices, choices most of us take for granted?

May we take decisive action to be better stewards of this earth that has been entrusted to our care by the Creator of the universe. May we take decisive action to lower our ecological footprints. May we be a people who are not just “concerned” for our neighbors living in extreme poverty, but may we be people who are actively engaged in recognizing the inherent dignity of every person on this earth and working toward a better world for all.  May we use the power and influence we have been entrusted with to build a better world for others, for future generations, and for those who, for a number of reasons, we will likely never meet. And, quite simply, as we go about our day, today may we consider others around us more important than ourselves.