Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Jawbone Up Activity Tracker

As the Apple Watch becomes the latest in a long list of wearable technology, I thought I would write a brief review of the wearable technology I have experimented with, and some pros and cons I see.

I was at a software developer's conference called UberConf in 2013 when I heard one of the speakers, Stuart Halloway, hold up his wrist to display a Jawbone UP activity tracker, and talk briefly about how far we have come in the realm of technology. Stu is an incredibly intelligent dude, a brilliant developer, a compelling communicator, and an avid runner. His display of the UP piqued my curiosity. So, as per usual, I began exploring different trackers and the pros and cons of each. I finally landed on the up band for a few reasons.

It was one of the first activity trackers developed and it worked well with older smart phones at the time (iPhone 4 and beyond), and I had an older phone. I thought the fact that I could plug it into my headphone jack to upload data to its partner app was pretty cool. It also seemed to have a less "tech device" look to it compared to other devices.

Now why was I interested in a tracker in the first place? Well, for starters, roughly from the beginning of Nuru, I had developed a habit of getting 4.5-6 hours of sleep a night instead of the recommended 7.5-8. I thought that a device that sort of "held me accountable" and helped me track toward a goal of a normal sleep pattern would be helpful. In addition, Jamie and I were training for our first marathon, and I also had a goal of mobility each day. The UP has a cool app that tracks sleep patterns as well as running and walking, and it syncs up with other apps I like such as Runtastic and My Fitness Pal. For folks who want to track things like drinking at least eight glasses of water, or keeping a digital food journal, the UP is helpful as well. In addition, you can set smart alarms, so if you have been staring at your computer too long, binge watching netflix, or just plain lounging, it will vibrate and remind you to not sit still. More and more studies are showing that a sedentary lifestyle is incredibly unhealthy.

So what were the results of my UP? Well, I was able to become more disciplined about sleep. I started getting the recommended amount of sleep, and I was able to develop a habit of 7.5-8 hours a night. The UP was incredibly helpful. I was also able to track steps taken, whether I was walking or running, and that helped me cultivate greater discipline in being active. Additionally, a few of my friends also had UP bands along with the app, so we could encourage each other when we hit our goals. Finally, the app provides articles related to health, motivational quotes, and a really cool visual display of activity and sleep patterns. I would highly recommend the UP for anyone who needs a kickstart to a healthy lifestyle.

But, I don't wear an UP or any other wearable tech these days. Why not? Well, my UP started "warping" (The rubber exterior came unglued from the device) a few months after purchase. Warping caused the button on the UP to not be able to be pushed, and I couldn't charge my UP or upload data to my phone. This happened to me twice in my first year of owning the UP. When it happened a third time this spring, I was 1) outside of warranty and 2) the version of UP band I had was no longer being produced. The folks at Jawbone were really nice and sent me a discount code for purchasing a new product, but I haven't been able to bring myself to purchase another. I had hoped Jawbone would produce a water-proof device--my wife is a swimmer, and I thought it might be a cool gift, and we could both have one.

But then I had this realization. The UP band had been an accountability partner, a coach, and a tool to get me moving and more disciplined with regard to my health, but now I had developed better habits. I didn't need the extra nudge for sleeping eight hours because I knew how great it felt to get enough sleep. I didn't need to to know how many steps I took during a day, because I knew I was being consistent with moving. So the activity tracker had served its purpose. In addition, activity trackers are not cheap, and if I just don't know if it is worth replacing one of these devices every 1-2 years, unless, you need the accountability and the nudge. Then, these devices are WAY cheaper than a personal trainer or something similar. Of course I am still a fan of the UP band, and super impressed with Jawbone's willingness to replace my band twice, and I would recommend their device to anyone in the market for an activity tracker.

Are you looking to push yourself toward a health or wellness goal? Maybe the UP or another tracker would be a good device to get you started. Regardless, may you rest well and get out and move toward a healthier life.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Home and Hospitality

For four straight weekends (and even some weekdays) Jamie and I have had an incredible privilege of hosting friends and family in Morgantown. We LOVE it when people come to visit, and we have had some pretty wonderful times with friends and family dropping in so far this year. We also love staying with friends and making new friends as we travel sharing Nuru throughout the year. There is just something really special and restful about having guests or being the guest of others. Whether crashing on a couch, floor, or bed, having a guest or being a guest allows us to enjoy and practice hospitality, which may be becoming a forgotten art in a frenetically paced world.

A few years back, I read a book by Henri Nouwen, called Reaching OutNouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest and a professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard at different points in his career. Reaching Out was not a large book, but it was packed with wisdom. Among the pieces that have stuck to me over the years was an interesting thought around hospitality. Nouwen also considered hospitality to be an art that was on its way to being forgotten. I cannot recall his exact phrasing, but he said something like this. When we practice hospitality, we are actually creating a space where people are free to be themselves and engage in meaningful conversation about things that matter. Not only that, but hospitality allows us to cultivate service toward others as a more central part of our lives.

When we share lodging, we are inviting others into our world, and being invited into theirs at the same time. We all, host and guest, change our rhythms and slow down. We spend time catching up, and we make the people we are with a priority, and to me, that protects us. It protects us from being possessed by our possessions--they become gifts for sharing just like we were taught as children. It also helps divert our attention and our focus away from ourselves, and toward others. When we are guests or hosts, we shift our rhythms and become better participants in community.

May we all make the spaces we inhabit, whether our physical homes, or even the coffee shop, or the bus stop, spaces where people feel free to be themselves and engage in meaningful conversation, and may we grow in our abilities to divert our focus from ourselves to the needs, the joys, and the trials of others. Personally, I think the more we create a space for hospitality, the more beauty we will see and cultivate in this world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Let’s Help Jake Harriman Win The John C. Maxwell Leadership Award

Hey West Virginia! Hey USNA! Hey Marines! Hey Stanford Peeps! Hey Nuru Crew!

Earlier this year, Jake was nominated to receive the John C. Maxwell Leadership Award, and he has made it to the Top 30 finalists. This week, he and the other Top 30 are being interviewed by a representative of the John C. Maxwell team, but they are also trying to assess the leadership of candidates like Jake by hearing from people who know these leaders.

"Please help us learn more about each of these candidates by sharing your positive leadership stories and how one of them have impacted and influenced you and your leadership."

Do you know Jake? Have you been inspired by his leadership, his drive, and his passion? Whether it was in the heat of battle, the tranquility of a faith community, or the passionate effort to see the end of extreme poverty, post your story on the Maxwell website.

If you know Jake, you know he is a pretty humble guy, and he really doesn’t like to talk about himself and his accolades. That’s why I’m asking YOU to share why he is the perfect candidate for the John C. Maxwell Leadership Award. Will you help me? It only takes about five minutes to share a story. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to do this either! Click this link to make a comment and share a story. 

Also, if it is helpful, here’s what I posted. J

When I think about Jake and his leadership, I think about the fact that he is “all-in” with whatever he commits himself to. I first met him during our freshman year of college at WVU.  As a freshman, he was incredibly committed to his faith, and offered to make his room available for a Bible study to anyone who was interested on his residence hall floor. Jake’s room  became a crowded space because I think people have always been interested in getting involved with whatever he is a part of because he is committed and he follows through, and honestly, people want to be part of what he is doing..

After two years at WVU, Jake was stirred by a passion to serve. That led him to not only to explore an opportunity to serve in the military, but also to pursue an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. Jake  attended the academy and graduated in the top percentile of his class while also becoming a Rhodes Scholar semi-finalist as well as captain of Navy’s rugby team. His pathway has inspired many other Midshipmen, and his graduating class (USNA 98) actually organized a campaign to raise funds to support Nuru where they raised more than $110,000 as part of their 15 year reunion. In addition Jake and his passion has inspired a group of current Midshipmen to run marathons and compete in triathlons to raise funds and awareness for Nuru. Jake's dedication to service inspires other people to serve.

As a Marine, Jake served as a platoon commander in infantry and in a special operations unit called Force Reconnaissance. I did not serve in the military with Jake, but in my conversations with those who did, and those who became part of Force Recon after Jake left to start Nuru, their comments are always filled with respect for what Jake has been able to do through Nuru and appreciation for him as a servant leader. Jake led his Marines on four operational deployments, including two combat tours in Iraq and disaster relief operations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the Asian tsunami. He was awarded the Bronze Star for actions in combat during his second tour in Iraq.  Jake's successes as a Marine leader were built on the trust of his peers. 

When Jake was confronted with the issue of extreme poverty and the desperation it causes, he dedicated himself to studying humanitarian development and enrolled in the Stanford Graduate School of Business. While there, he involved more than 30 of his classmates and a half dozen professors in helping him build the first iteration of the Nuru model, and graduated with his degree and a well thought out business plan for addressing extreme poverty in June 2008. By September of 2008, he had recruited his initial team at Nuru and inserted to begin testing this model to address extreme poverty. Jake mobilizes those around him to get engaged and contribute their time and talents to solve a problem.

Seven years later, Jake continues to inspire individuals to address the issue of extreme poverty. Thousands of people have been impacted by Nuru’s efforts in Kenya and Ethiopia, and a growing number of people in the US and around the world have chosen to support Jake in his leadership and his efforts to address extreme poverty, and who are in turn leading and inviting others to join these efforts. 

In fact, earlier this year, Jake was named an inaugural Presidential Leadership Scholar, and has been benefitting from mentorship from former US Presidents and their staff including Lyndon B. Johnson, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. As the program draws to a close, his fellow scholars and faculty chose him to give remarks at the graduation ceremony for the scholars. Through the time of this program, Jake demonstrated leadership by winning the respect of his peers. 

Jake embodies servant leadership and the principles and practices that John C. Maxwell and his team encourage. In addition, Jake has helped me and countless others to live our lives with a greater sense of purpose, and a willingness to keep pushing ourselves because the world around us deserves us bringing our very best to whatever we do, and it needs more people who are ‘all-in’ for serving and inspiring others.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Morning Mileage

As spring transitions to summer, our miles are steadily increasing. For the third year in a row, Jamie and I committed to running the Marine Corps Marathon for Nuru International. In 2013, I can remember making the decision to sign up, more because I believe in Nuru than because I wanted to run 26.2 miles, and then, once I signed up, I knew I had to get serious about training. I had not been exercising consistently (beyond walking Jamie to and from work), and I couldn't really remember the last time I had run. So I went out that same evening, and tried to run as far as I could, but very slowly. I think I ran about 5 miles at a 13.5 minute pace. My feet hurt, and I was utterly exhausted.

Steadily as the summer progressed, my body began to wake from its slumber, and by the day of the race, I felt ready to run 26.2 miles. What helped me get ready was having an amazing training partner. Jamie and I ran together. We trained together. We prepared together, and we ran 26.2 miles. We didn't set a world record, but we did enjoy every moment of encouraging each other on those days when one or the other of us didn't feel like running. AND, we enjoyed being able to celebrate with approximately 30,000 other people (and about 30 Nuru runners), the discipline and determination that led us to running a marathon.

There are a wide variety of activities we can fill our limited time with, and not all of them are good. For me and Jamie, the last three years of running have been a really good thing. We get quality time together, we can pray together for friends and family, and we both feel like we are becoming more healthy as a result of going after the goal of a marathon. Even on mornings where we had to get up before daylight to beat the heat, we found we had more energy and were able to enjoy the rest of the day more than anticipated after waking up at 430AM. Before 2013, I never had aspirations of running a marathon. I wasn't sure if I could be disciplined enough to do it. But I could. And likely, so could you.

You see that's the really crazy thing to me. For most people, what it comes down to is self-discipline. You must be willing and able to plan and take steps toward achieving the goal. Most people, even serious athletes, probably can't just run out the door and crank out 26.2 miles without getting hurt. As Jamie and I were running recently, we were talking about the fact that many of our friends probably consider us runners because, well, we run. But when I think about runners, I think about people like my sister and brother-in-law. I think they run six days a week--they enter races at least twice a month. Jamie and I focus on three days of running each week--just enough to be able to build up to run a marathon.

It takes discipline to get there, but there are little rewards along the way, especially if you can run with your spouse or a close friend. Aside from that reward, there's the reward of quiet and an opportunity to explore and appreciate the world around you in ways you might not if you were sitting in a car (or a house). I took the photo at the top of this blog while running on the rail trail in Morgantown West Virginia. There was nobody out there. We saw deer, rabbits, and chipmunks, and we were also able to listen to a variety of birds. We were between a major roadway and the river, and all we could see was the path ahead, and the beauty of creation. I don't mind seeing people along the way too, but there was something nice about being out early with Jamie, carrying a Camelbak filled with three liters of water, and seeing nothing but the trail extending beyond us.

May we take the time to wake up early and get out there and move. Our body, mind, and spirit will thank us for making the time.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Squash Blossom 2015

Summer is officially here, and I haven't been able to put a garden in yet, but I received this gift growing from a pile of compost near the edge of the garden. Apparently, a squash seed was able to germinate in the middle of the compost. As long as I have been planting a garden, I have been enthralled by the beautiful flowers produced by the squash. My ancestors were also pretty fascinated by these squash blossoms and included representations of them in quill work and other designs. Each year, as the blossoms begin to bloom, I've attempted to document with a photo, to meditate and to reflect.

This year is no different, except for one change I have noticed trickling into my routines. I feel like it has been hard for me to slow down. I am not sure if the world is speeding up, or if I'm not giving myself "margins" to rest and reflect, but I am definitely taking notice of it, and being proactive to change.

This year, the lessons of the squash blossom are causing me to come back to some simple truths that I have learned, known, and forgotten. As I look at this simple yellow flower, it's almost like a megaphone booming loudly these truths that in our modern world of efficiency are easy to forget.

One of the foremost is this. There is beauty all around us if we slow down to look. We really just need to open our senses and take it in. Beauty is healing. Dostoyevsky once wrote, "Beauty will save the world." I agree. It puts us in touch with our humanity, with our relationship with the created world. Sometimes we need to stop and soak it in.

And this particular beauty, the beauty from this squash blossom, is coming from a compost heap. The Creator of the universe brings beauty out of waste and refuse. He takes ordinary dirt and seeds and crafts something that causes wonder to stir in our hearts.

We place a lot of emphasis on efficiency in this modern era. By efficiency, I mean doing the most activity in the least amount of time. I wonder if we are missing out on the beauty that can be created by 'wasting' time by sitting quietly, away from our gadgets, and away from the tyranny of urgent and often times unimportant activity.

As I write this, I find myself wanting to take more time to sit and observe, and I am grateful (and I hope you are as well) for the little treasures that are strewn about our path that nudge us toward a pause and a reflection.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy 152nd Birthday West Virginia, You Are Amazing!

WV Flag and Seal
Today is a very special day. Not only is it the 152nd birthday of the 35th state, but it is also the last day of spring. Every year I spend here in almost heaven, I find more and more reasons to love this state. From its people to its amazing natural beauty, there is much to cherish. West Virginia joined the union by Presidential decree on June 20, 1863, and it is the only state created by that process. Thank you Mr. Lincoln!
Germany Valley view from Seneca Rocks
 And thank you God, for letting me be born in a place with so much natural beauty. My parents instilled a love for the created world from a young age, and I still think back fondly to trips we took to places like Cass Scenic Railroad, Blackwater Falls, and many journeys to the summit of Seneca Rocks to look down on the Germany Valley as the sun slowly made its way behind these majestic West Virginia hills.

Hallé enjoying the Morgantown Farmer's Market
For me, West Virginia is not only a celebration of this great state, but also I've been able to make some additional memories tied to this day. For one, it's my friend Hallé Zakowski's birthday too. Hallé grew up in Ohio, but being born on June 20th, I think it must have been fated that she and her family would have so much love for West Virginia. She actually drove to Morgantown this weekend to ensure that she was celebrating her birthday on the terra firma of West Virginia.
The most important West Virginia Day memory I can remember happened in 2010. It was Father's Day, I had just shared a message at a friend of mine's church about Nuru and why I decided to join the fight to end extreme poverty. After church, I drove to Lake Floyd, West Virginia, and proceeded to row a boat to the middle of the lake, dropped on a knee and asked Jamie to marry me. Thankfully she said yes!

Me and Jamie at Harper's Ferry visiting friends in 2011.
And now, as I write and think back to all that has happened in our lives, I'm filled with gratitude. Gratitude that we get to explore this state together. Grateful that we have stood atop Spruce Knob (highest point) as well as Harper's Ferry (lowest point), and watched the sun rise and set on West Virginia's hills and rivers from many vantage points. We have cheered on the Mountaineers, hiked along trails and sought to cherish every moment we have with each other in this amazing place.
Montani semper liberi! Thank you, West Virginia, for the memories you have given to us and to all who take the time to sit, hike, run, walk, bike, or relax for a spell in these majestic and grand West Virginia hills.

May we always treasure our mountain home, the memories we make, and the best aspects of our heritage as Appalachian people.

Mountaineer Field and the Pride of West Virginia, the Mountaineer Marching Band
If you are so fortunate as to live in West Virginia, make sure you get out and celebrate. And, if not, come visit sometime, but make sure you care well for our home among these hills.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Visit From Dad And Uncle Bill

This spring has been a season of hospitality for us at Chateau Williams, and we LOVE it! This past weekend was extra special because my namesake--Uncle Bill and my dad came up for the weekend. My uncle is fast approaching his 81st birthday and my dad just celebrated his 74th, and my uncle shared with us that he thought that it was probably only the third time in his life that he had stayed the night in another person's home. When he told me that, I responded, "Well, I'm not sure that this time really counts, because technically, your name is on the deed." ;)

We spent our evenings relaxing and playing cards, and each day, Jamie and I took my dad and uncle to explore a little bit of our area. We drove through the Fort Pitt Tunnel so they could see downtown Pittsburgh, and then took time to enjoy the view at Cooper's Rock after visiting the Coliseum and Mountaineer Field. If you didn't know, it's pretty much a given in our family to be Mountaineer fans. And the trip was made even better because we were able to visit the WVU Basketball practice facility and see highlights from Mountaineer basketball throughout the history of the program. The visit to the practice facility (and a stop by the WVU Field House) brought back a memory from high school for my uncle of seeing Mountaineer legend Mark Workman play in what is now Stansbury Hall. 

The entire weekend was a blast, but the high point for me was probably having my dad and uncle visit the church we are part of. As an added bonus I was giving the message. My dad and uncle both supported Great Commission Ministries, the mission agency I worked for from 2001-2009 for the entire duration of my time there, but my uncle never had an opportunity to see the incredible community I have been privileged to be part of from the moment I first placed my faith in Christ on November 12, 1994 (which also happens to be my sister's wedding date). He and my dad both commented on how encouraging it was to be able to hear me share, but even more encouraging to see and experience the wonderful faith community that Jamie and I are privileged to be part of. After the service, Dad, Uncle Bill, and I had a few moments of joy-filled tears flowing out of gratitude--gratitude for family, gratitude for community, and gratitude for our faith in a God who allows us to experience joy no matter what the circumstances. 

We all have been given so much. And I am so thankful for the opportunity to see through the fresh eyes of my dad and my uncle some of the wonderful gifts we have been given to share. And to be able to share in anything good is an incredible gift indeed. My uncle told me before he left that he almost didn't come--not for any particular reason beyond a desire to enjoy the comfort and familiarity of being home. But, he shared multiple times, he was really glad he came, and so were we. In fact, as we drove around exploring, my uncle and dad already started planning for their next trip. We can't wait!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Honoring An Emotional Milestone And Moment For Nuru

Seven years ago, that sign, that building, and that organization in the photo above did not exist... 

It was just about seven years ago that Jake was celebrating the milestone of graduation from the Stanford GSB. Even in that moment, he was focused on recruiting and training a team that could begin implementation and testing the Nuru model, and in September 2008, that team was trained and inserted in Migori County, Kenya. Together with that first team, a small movement of people began joining Nuru's efforts and learning more about some of the incredible leaders of Kuria West, including the late Philip Mohochi.

Nuru has witnessed an array of challenges during these last seven years and we have made our share of mistakes along the way. Each time, we were resilient. We made a way forward. We overcame the challenges. We continued to take ground. In my opinion, it's really hard to be involved in this fight unless you are all in. And when you are all in, you feel the weight of every success and every setback personally.

Our team has grieved together as we have said goodbye to Philip and others, and as we witnessed hunger emerge when Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) and a drought both made their way through farms in Kuria West. And we never gave up, in spite of many reasons to do so. We kept going. Why? Because the reasons to keep going always outweigh the reasons to give up, especially when we invest so much of ourselves in this fight.  And, because moving this work forward means real and lasting change, choices, and opportunities for our global neighbors who are lacking those very things. 

And today, we mark an incredible moment in Nuru's history, in the fight to end extreme poverty in our lifetime, and in the lives of the people of Migori County. More than 78,000 people have benefitted from Nuru's programs in Kenya, and we are fully confident that Nuru Kenya's leadership will continue to grow and scale impact to help even more people even more quickly.

Me and Jamie with our good friend Julius Nyamohanga back in 2012.
In a time like this, all of us are experiencing a mix of emotions. We have a sense of excitement for the future of Nuru Kenya as it begins to grow and scale on its own and our expat staff leave, just like we planned from the beginning. At the same time we feel a sense of sadness as we make the transition from what our "normal" has been for the last seven years. If you are anything like me, you want to say something, share something, or do something to treasure, cherish, and honor this incredible moment with others, but sometimes it is challenging to find just the right words.

What I feel deep within me is this. I’m honored and privileged to be able to labor together with so many people in this overwhelming mission:

  • Our staff, past and present
  • Our supporters and advocates around the world
  • Our Nuru Kenya and Nuru Ethiopia counterparts

And most importantly…

  • Our farmers and their families who are lifting themselves out of extreme poverty for good.

Together, we are taking serious ground in the massive fight to end extreme poverty, and, as we move forward, may we always make time to reflect, honor, and celebrate the strides we make along the way.

Thanks you to all who made this milestone possible.

Getting Back In The Groove...One Step At A Time: Dedicated To My Friend Thomas Hong

In spite of having several posts written and an array of experience I'd love to share on my blog, I have been inconsistent at best. But, my hope is to change all of that...starting today. I figure the easiest way to get back in the groove is to start writing again, even if it is just this one small post.

There really is so much to write about and share--from my own faith journey, reviews of books I've been reading and the amazing adventures I have the privilege of sharing with Jamie. Sometimes it's hard to know where to start. But, that doesn't change the fact that I need to start somewhere.

I'd like to dedicate this post to my good friend Thomas Hong. Thomas is an amazing dude, and he has been working with me at Nuru from almost the beginning. He also just wrote this awesome op-ed piece for Devex. He's a genius, and has been leading the charge as Nuru develops its unique leadership development program to equip local leaders to research, design, implement, manage, and scale interventions to address extreme poverty in their communities. Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful guy, and he's dedicated his time and talents to serving others and living out his faith in a tangible and meaningful way.

A few years ago, Thomas had a traumatic experience that left him hospitalized and unable to walk. There were questions as to whether he would ever be able to walk again. There were questions about whether he would ever be able to travel back to Kenya where he served on the ground, or if he would ever see Ethiopia, the second country where Nuru is working. But Thomas worked hard, and rehabilitated well, and he is walking, and has been back to both Kenya and Ethiopia to connect with his teams on the ground. He could have been dead or permanently unable to walk, but miraculously and with a helping of hard work. He is walking.

Back in January, Thomas and I were talking about goals. We talked about the Marine Corps Marathon. We talked about my blog. We talked about fitness. And then we talked about the possibility that one day Thomas might be able not only to walk, but also to run. How amazing would that be! Over the course of this year we check in with each other every month or so. He subscribes to my blog. I ask him how his continued physical therapy is going. His response is always said with a wink, "About as consistent as your blog."

I consider myself to be pretty goal oriented, but for some reason I've had a hard time getting going with my blog this year. I really do want to start sharing and posting more. And Thomas has really encouraged me toward that goal. I also would love to see Thomas run a 5K one day (or maybe a Marine Corps Marathon in the future), but I know that goal won't happen without a disciplined focus on exercise and rehabilitation.

So today, I endeavor to start writing again with more frequency. And, I hope, my greater discipline will encourage my friend to pursue his goal of being able to run again!