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!!!