Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflection: The Bridge

While watching The Good Lie on a Delta flight last year (highly recommend that film by the way), I started thinking about my friend Pavi and some incredible work that he and a group of friends have commenced in one of the most crime-ridden and poor communities in Columbus, Ohio.

Pavi has always exemplified a passion for serving international communities in the United States. While completing his PhD at Ohio State University, he launched an international student ministry that had hundreds of students participating. But what he started at The Bridge was very different.

Columbus has an incredibly huge Somali, Iraqi, and Cambodian refugee population. Refugee housing places these groups in one of the mostcrime ridden communities of Columbus, Hilltop. Most of these refugees do not speak English, and they are trying hard to adjust to the American way of life while working incredibly hard to maintain their traditional culture. They are outsiders in the greater community and have been made to feel largely unwelcome by many locals because they are so different. They have difficulty getting jobs, and not many roll out the carpet to welcome them.

So Pavi decided to create a community center that is specifically dedicated to helping these refugees develop critical skills to adjust to life in America. They express an interest in classes and then the classes are formed and taught by volunteers. The Bridge has a community garden where people can learn about the soil and gardening, and it also has a soccer field for the kids to play in. Some of the top classes requested by these refugees are English classes and math classes. They want to know how to count American currency and how to purchase groceries. They want to be able to exercise and not get ridiculed for their traditional clothing, or lack of understanding of American culture.

And the results have been incredible! Classes are full, and people are feeling a sense of community as they gather from myriad points around the globe to chart a new life in the United States. And Pavi and his team are incredibly excited by what they are seeing.

If you live in or near Columbus OH and are looking for an opportunity to serve neighbors from around the globe, I highly recommend you check out The Bridge. And if you don’t live in or near Columbus, I encourage you to make it a point to reach out to welcome our global neighbors who are working hard to chart a path toward a better future here in the US. Or just reach out to your neighbors in general—folks just don’t do that much anymore.

May we all grow in our commitment to serve and practice hospitality to our neighbors, whether around the block, or around the globe.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reflection: Meeting Mac At Lake Floyd

During summer 2014, while enjoying the annual fourth of July celebration at Lake Floyd with Jamie and her family, I had the pleasure of meeting Jamie’s parent’s new neighbor, Mac. Mac is a business professor at FairmontState University, and is originally from Liberia, a country on the west coast of the continent of Africa. Liberia has gone through some incredibly challenging times in recent news including incidents of Ebola, a leader who was tried by the International Criminal Court, and uprisings and civil wars initiated by militia groups.

Les, Jamie’s dad, invited Mac over to hang out for the afternoon and have a meal with the family. Mac came over and we began talking about life and our experiences. Les told him about the work we have been doing with Nuru and he applauded our efforts. He said that based on my experiences of living and being in ‘the bush’ multiple times for short stints over the last few years, I was "more African than he was," but in all seriousness, he grew up in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia. After some laughs about my “African-ness” as well as some serious conversation about lasting impact in addressing global extreme poverty, he shared something with Les and myself that was jaw-dropping.

He has been in the US for more than 20 years, and July 4th, 2014 was the first time an American invited him into their home, and invited him for a meal at that! He confessed to us that he was not sure what to do because he knew that Les was not just politely inviting, he really meant for Mac to come hang out. What started as a fun conversation among neighbors had taken on an unexpected additional layer of depth. Mac described experiences in the past where people in the US had made him feel unwelcome, uninvited, and even had sent falsified paperwork to his home encouraging him to leave.

We never really know the experiences, pains, and challenges of those who are around us. And for that reason, I think it is really important that we practice hospitality, and really strive to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Mac has been an incredible neighbor to Les and Kim, and vice versa. And none of this would have been discovered without hospitality.

May we each make the places we inhabit a welcome place for hospitality, conversation, laughter, and healing. The world needs it, and, truth be told, we each need it too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Reflection: Visiting With My Brother In California

At the beginning of the year, I had the privilege of being able to travel to California for a week filled with strategy meetings, vision casting, team building and celebration with the amazing folks I get the privilege of working with at Nuru, and as per usual, it was simply an epic time. From the time of Nuru's inception, these annual summits have been incredible times for our international and domestic teams to connect, get to know one another better, and be better equipped to support one another during the year ahead.

But, I also receive a small, but treasured bonus. My brother Chuck and his wife and son live in southern California. It doesn't always work out that I get to see all of them on a visit, but, at the very least, we try to connect and spend a few hours together during my first or last day in the area. My brother left West Virginia a few months after he received his degree in Chemical Engineering from WVU, and since that time, our visits have been far too infrequent. Alas, there is never enough time when you are with people you care about.

But, he and I have both resolved ourselves to make the most of every moment, and this time was no exception. Southern California had experienced a rarity during the time of my visit, and it rained nearly every day I was there, but early on the Saturday morning when we got together, while it was still overcast, the rains stayed away.

So my brother and I made our way to the coast, and found a cool breakfast spot called Ruby's. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast, and our connecting time offered him the opportunity to scope out a new breakfast spot for a future date with his wife. After breakfast, we made our way to the cliffs of Corona Del Mar and enjoyed a walk that has grown increasingly familiar for me over the years. I had recently sprained my ankle so my pace was not incredibly fast, but it felt good to get some mobility going as I continued the recovery process. 

I've always had a deep respect for my brother. He was part of the first generation of my family to go to college. He actually led the charge in many ways in his life. He's an athlete, an outdoorsman, a deep man of faith, and a man who gives his all to everything he endeavors to begin. Our conversation meandered with our walk, but it always stayed rooted (as per usual) in things of substance and importance. We talked about his century bicycle ride attempt (that ended a bit early when dehydration and heat conspired against him), and we talked about the steps both of us continue to take to improve our health and maintain our fitness. We shared reflections from our faith journeys and steps each of us had been taking in our respective relationships with Jesus. And, more than anything else we savored the sights and sounds of our short time together, and enjoyed the sweet fellowship that is reserved for family. 

Our time, as I mentioned before, always seems too short, but as we made our way from the coast back to the airport, I felt energized by our time together. Although our moments of connection in person are rare, those times are a reminder that we are progressing together on a similar journey of faith and discipline. Although the miles between us are several, there is a refreshment that comes from being together with family, and in knowing that we are both in passionate pursuit of bringing the best of ourselves to our life, our work, our home, and this world. And, given that my brother is ten years older than me, he gives me inspiration that I can and will be stronger, more committed, and more focused as those years come racing toward me.

May we each savor time with family, and may we help one another to bring our very best to this world in every arena of our life. In so doing, I believe we can find encouragement for the journey as we strive to live out our God-given purpose for the good of ourselves and for the world around us.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: The Seven Minute Workout App

A few weeks ago I shared a review as well as my experience with TRX and the TRX Force SuperApp. There’s one other fitness app I would like to review, and for the discovery of this one, I need to give credit to my old roommate, Jimmy Shreeves. He pointed this one out to me, and so I determined I would check it out.

When you search for the app in the app store. There are a number of apps available all advertising a similar seven-minute workout that consists of 12 exercises that focus on functional strength across different muscle groups. The specific app I am reviewing is one that costs $2.99 in the app store.  While many of the apps are free, I chose the paid one (contrary to my normal modus operandi) because the folks who had developed the workout also included access to their academic paper written for publication in a peer reviewed general. In other words, they had done some pretty legit background research and testing on the validity of their workout regimen. They found that doing this series of twelve exercises across a seven minute period of high intensity demonstrated fitness benefits to an hour of a normal pace workout

Honestly I love the app. Here’s why.
  1.           It’s seven minutes. That means that if you don’t feel like you have time to workout, you should be able to squeeze seven minutes in somewhere during your day. Stay up seven minutes later or get up seven minutes earlier if notYou can do these exercises without any fancy equipment. No need to join a gym or anything like that. Crank them out in your office, in your living room, or in the middle of the woods. Seriously.
  2.            Incentives for consistency. While this app offers in-app purchases for three other variations of the workout, it also allows you to ‘unlock’ these other workouts if you can be disciplined enough to work out for 7 minutes a day for two weeks, one month, and two months.
  3.            Subtitute for cardio. Last winter, we had some wicked cold weather and I was not that enthusiastic about going for a run. Instead, I just changed the interval or number of cycles to increase the duration of my workout.

Separately, I love using the workout as a warm-up or cool-down after a run, a ride, or a TRX workout.

My only critique of the app is that there is not a social funcition. What I mean is, you can’t nudge friends or motivate them from within the app. My best friend in the whole world downloaded the app, but we can’t keep track and motivate each other from within the app. This would be a great addition in my opinion.

That being said, if you are looking for a quick and convenient workout—check out the seven minute workout app. Keep pushing forward!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Last fall on Veteran's Day, I mentioned a book I was reading that was written by two Navy SEALs about leadership called Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead And Win. The authors, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin also run their own leadership development and executive coaching firm called Echelon Front. To be honest, I probably would not have known about their book if it had not been for the fact that Leif and a number of his classmates from USNA class of 1998 rallied to the support of Nuru International CEO and classmate Jake Harriman as part of their 15 year class reunion gift. I had been following Leif on Twitter when I saw news of his book. As part of my ethos, I believe in supporting people who I have at least some degree of connection to as they work to bring good into the world. With Leif and Jocko, the connection was indirect. They were connected to Jake, and they had been supportive of Nuru's mission.

That being said, when I heard they wrote a book, I figured the least I could do was give it a read, and potentially write a review of it. So here I am, writing a review. And as I start, let me say this. I feel like most books on leadership are really just a repackaging of timeless lessons that are made more timely by their proximity to modern challenges, or by being etched into the minds of the author by the crucible of experience. In Extreme Ownership, we are presented with a book that comes from both.

The authors are honest in an admission that there are already plenty of books available on leadership, but they believe (and I agree) that their unique contribution to this sphere comes in the fact that they learned these lessons in the tumult of combat and have sought to extract from their experience the important principles and also worked to apply them to more conventional contexts in the workplace. The lessons and experiences are written vividly, and as one reads, there is a certainty that these memories and lessons learned were hard-fought, and life-changing for the authors. I highly recommend giving the book a read, not just for the leadership wisdom, but for the concrete way these two men have been able to write about their experiences in combat and bring the realities that most of us only experience through the filter of news channel pundits into the forefront of our own understanding. While the book is a great book about leadership, it is also a history lesson on the very real challenges that men and women who are my age have encountered over the last several years in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict zones around the world.

The three biggest reminders I took away from the book were these.

1) The person who bears ultimate responsibility for any mission, any project, or any objective in my life is me. We live in a world caught up in working to assign blame to others and displace responsibility from ourselves. If something in my life is not working out the way I want it to, I need to own it. I need to accept responsibility for my own failures, as well as my failures when leading others. I need to own it.

2) When I'm feeling overwhelmed, the most important thing I can do is prioritize and execute. We talk a lot about multi-tasking, but the reality is we will fail if we try to tackle several tasks simultaneously. It is up to me to determine the highest priority task and then begin there. If there are several tasks, I need to keep my head and do as the authors say, "Relax, look around, make a call."

3) Discipline equals freedom. Not only is this a great little mantra, but the premise is that increased discipline results most often in greater freedom. If we master a certain level of discipline, we can easily adapt. As we standardize and create routines, it helps us to be mindful and creative in our approaches to other areas, and by creating discipline around a few standing areas, we can easily adapt and create linkages when necessary. I like to think about this principle as the means through which I achieve results. If I want to attain mastery of my fitness, my spiritual formation, etc. I need to apply a level of discipline on an ongoing basis. At least this is my personal application of the principle.

So, if you are looking for a solid book on leadership, or if you are looking to learn from the stories and experiences of a couple of people who have been taught from the crucible of experience on the frontlines of combat, I recommend giving Extreme Ownership a read. Also, Jocko has started a podcast too. I was able to listen to a little bit of his first one, but I'm hoping to give these segments a listen on some future road trip or flight.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reflection: My Wife's Surfing Adventure

Last January, while we were in California for the Semper Fi Bowl and Nuru Summit, Jamie was able to really make the most of the time to plan, to relax, and to learn a new skill—surfing. I wasn't present for it so all I have are the photos and the memory of my wife looking super relaxed and chill after a full day of catching waves. 

But, before she went surfing, she did a six mile hike from our hotel to the ocean, and then rented a bicycle to go for a little 15 mile ride up and down the coast. In case you didn’t know it, my wife is amazing, and not just because she’s an incredibly fit athlete who inspires me daily to be a better husband and human being. She also has one of the most carefree and compassionate outlooks on life of anyone I know; I wake up daily with a sense of gratitude that she is in my life.

She lives life to the fullest every day, and it was no surprise to me that she took advantage of the opportunity to learn to surf while she was so near great waves. She had a couple of other friends join her for the surf lesson too--every adventure is more exciting with friends!

Many people have a hard time either with catching the wave, paddling into the wave, or with standing up, but not Jamie. She was a natural. And as a result, I anticipate some more surfing fun in our future. Special thanks to Ana Rahlves, Anne Emerson Leak, and Jesse Fleisher for the roles y'all played in this little adventure!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Clara Grandt Santucci Set To Compete In 2016 US Olympic Trials

Back in December last year, I wrote this post about fellow West Virginia native Clara Grandt Santucci. I felt like it was worthwhile to write another post and share the video below that was produced by Pikewood Creative in Morgantown, because Clara's story is one that all of us from the hills of West Virginia can be proud of. We need to be sharing these good stories more often in our world, and it has been encouraging to see my hometown TV station WTAP share a two part series about Clara as well.

Saturday, February 13 at 1:22PM EST, Clara will be running with 200 top marathon competitors in the 2016 US Olympic Trials, and this race will be broadcast on NBC, and personally, I'm incredibly excited and hopeful for her. From what I know of her, she is an very humble lady who is extremely dedicated to bringing her best to all that she does. She is a woman of deep faith and commitment, and she has been fiercely training and persevering toward this long term goal for the last four years.

Jamie and I have been sharing her story with everyone we know and encouraging them to tune in for the race on Saturday. Jamie can remember running track in high school against Clara (they went to different schools), and Jamie said, "Everybody knew that Clara would win the races in which she competed, and it didn't matter what school you went to, everybody wanted to see her win too--she was just that kind of person--even at a young age."

I want to encourage you to tune in and cheer her on Saturday afternoon, and if you live near the site of the marathon trials in Los Angeles, whether you are a native West Virginian or not (but especially if you are a West Virginian), get out there and cheer Clara on toward her Olympic dream!

Let's go Clara!!! You have already made us incredibly proud, but keep going!!!