Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Recent Flooding In West Virginia And What You Can Do To Help

Over the last few days, my home state has been hit with massive amounts of rainfall which has led to intense flooding all over the state, but some of the worst areas have been in the southern half of the state. Entire towns were under water, and some people have even lost their homes.  I watched as my social media feed was filled with images and videos that my friends were capturing as they watched the waters roar. 

The waters have largely receded now, and now comes the cleanup. The cleanup is not what people typically imagine. People think about gathering scattered debris, or wiping down some surfaces in homes that remain intact, but it is so much more. I grew up on the Ohio River. There is a floodwall that surrounds my hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia. In my lifetime I can only remember a few times that the floodwall was sealed off. The longest time was during the flood of 1985, but even just a few years ago, the waters rose high enough to cover most of the small park that exists outside the floodwall where the Little Kanawha and the Ohio Rivers meet. As the waters receded, the park area was covered with mud and muck that was about 2 inches deep. The fire department was deployed to wash the mud off the walkways and roads of the small park, otherwise, it would have remained muddy, mucky, and nasty.
When my dad was growing up, the floods seemed to come annually to the small house he and his siblings grew up in along the same stretch of the Ohio River. They would evacuate, and then return when the waters had receded. He remembered having to get snakes out of the house that had washed in with the flood waters, or which had slithered their way in to a place of temporary shelter. And then it was time to get to work clearing out the mud and the muck, and trying to discern what was salvageable.

That same scenario is being lived out by thousands of West Virginians right now. Their homes, if they were not washed away, may be damaged beyond repair. Some of these people live outside what is considered to be the flood zone for their area, so there are questions about whether insurance will help them recuperate their losses. And they need to wait for a visit from the insurance agents to help them discern.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Right now, people are dealing with the immediate. They are working with groups like Team Rubicon and other first responders to begin the massive cleanup, to conduct search and rescue operations for missing people. There are still people unaccounted for, and there are more than 20 dead. Forty-four of this state’s 55 counties were declared in a state of emergency.

In a moment like this, it is easy to wonder what a person can do to help. The desire is there for most of us, but there is also a degree of uncertainty. There are shams being created to exploit people’s generosity, and there have also been rare instances of looting in the wake of this disaster. But that’s not the way of most of the people of this state, or of this world. We want to help, and many of us make assumptions about what is needed, many relief workers call this a “second disaster.” This is where good intentioned people send items that are of little or no use to the people in need. In this instance here in West Virginia, first responders and relief workers have done a great job being extremely specific about needs. West Virginia University students have an incredibly organized website and volunteer effort to collect needed material donations. If you can, donate some time to help organize resources to be sent to the areas of need.

If you live further away, you can donate to organizations like the United Way, Red Cross, or Team Rubicon to support disaster response efforts. Personally, Jamie and I chose to give to Team Rubicon’s flood response efforts. This organization is led by former Marines, and they are bringing their crisis response training to deploy volunteers in chaotic environments in an organized way. They are not only bringing their skills into the environment, they are also providing both civilians and other veterans an outlet for continuing to use their training to serve others. In every interaction I’ve had with their staff team and volunteers I have been fully impressed. In fact, as full disclosure, Jamie and I have also signed on to be volunteers and receive training.

Whatever you can do to help, do it. If you have time and skills that can help with the response in southern West Virginia, deploy with a reputable group like those listed above and serve. If you are not available to help directly, or you can’t donate goods like those listed on the United Way website above, donate to an organization you know does great work! I am incredibly proud of the way people in our state have rallied to support these efforts, and I know that my fellow West Virginians will always make the best out of a difficult situation. We are a resilient community, a community that supports one another, and one that holds firmly to a commitment to service.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Reflection: Congratulations To Kiva For Ten Years Of Changing Lives

Recently I was contacted by a good friend, world changer, and former Nuru staff member and asked if I would be willing to help her get the word out about Kiva's latest video and their celebration of 10 years and a deep global impact from their efforts. For me, the response was all to easy. In a country that has more than 1.5 million nonprofits in existence, I believe it is critical to share the stories of those who are doing great work. Kiva is one of those organizations.

But it isn't just me saying so. Kiva has been fortunate enough in its early years to get a vote of confidence from former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey among others. And, back in 2009, Jamie received a Kiva loan gift card from my best friend in the whole world, Willie. Jamie has used the gift multiple times because every time the borrower repays their loan, she has been able to extend a new loan to a new borrower. I know Jamie has really enjoyed reading stories of how the loans would be used, and it has helped us both to grow in our understanding of what it is like to be an entrepreneur in different parts of the world.

And thanks to Willie's example, we have also bought Kiva loan gift cards for others who are lending and re-lending funds to people looking for a hand-up instead of a hand-out. Kiva finds entrepreneurs and connects them to lenders from around the globe who can help these entrepreneurs launch their dreams. Farmers are among those individuals Jamie has lent funds to--for folks familiar with Nuru, you know that having funds available to acquire high quality seed and fertilizer is a huge obstacle for farmers living in extreme poverty. But Kiva is not just helping farmers, they are helping people in a variety of contexts to begin turning a dream into a reality. Jamie has also helped invest in schools fees for a family in Lebanon, a businesswoman in Sierra Leone, and even invested in a medical clinic in Kenya.

If you have never set up a loan through Kiva, I highly recommend it. Regardless of other ways you may be investing your money to help others, extending a loan via Kiva is a great way to gain perspective with regard to the challenges of others around the word. Not only that, but it provides a great reminder that together, lasting change is possible!

I hope you will join me, Jamie, Willie, and others in congratulating Kiva for ten years of amazingness. You can share this blog, share the video above, or even Tweet with the hashtag #BeTheSpark to encourage and congratulate them.

Together, let's keep doing our part to make the world a better place, and take time to celebrate successes along the way! Congratulations Kiva! You inspire us, and remind us of the good work being done in our world!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Introducing A New Member To #TeamWilliams And West Virginia’s Newest Citizen!

 For Jamie and I, West Virginia’s birthday has always been a very special day. As passionate natives of this state, and as alumni of West Virginia University, one could argue that it is only natural that we have such a rich love for our home state and for these wild and wonderful West Virginia hills. It was a Father’s Day six years ago and West Virginia’s 147th birthday, that I asked Jamie to marry me, and in the spirit of that rich tradition, we have another announcement to make on West Virginia’s 153rd birthday. This fall, Baby Williams, will emerge to greet the world!

We are incredibly excited to meet this miraculous child! We have been hopeful throughout our marriage that God would provide Jamie with a child, but we also held the attitude that if He didn’t, we could potentially adopt, and we were already blessed to be surrogate aunts and uncles to many of our friends’ children. Jamie has a health condition, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), that led to an irregularity with her menstrual cycle, and also contributed to an inability to have a menstrual cycle without taking estrogen. Jamie knew that taking the medicine would also prevent her from having a child, even if she did have a menstrual cycle, and so she began studying ways that she might be able to improve her likelihood of having a cycle naturally (healthy food choices, exercise, rest), and of course we both (and many of our friends and family) have been fervent in prayer.

Earlier this year, Jamie noticed a gap in her cycle, and she ordered some pregnancy tests, just in case. She has been taking similar tests for the last couple of years, and while we have always been hopeful, we have never centered our focus on having a child. We have placed our hope in God using our lives to bring Him the most honor, and to best serve our global neighbors. When Jamie took the test, she was shocked, surprised, and questioning the validity of the tests, so she took a second one. It came out the same, we even considered having me take a test as a control just to be sure they actually worked (must have been the chemist and exercise physiologist in us!). These tests are incredibly accurate, and we are going to be parents!

This child, even before touching down on the earth has been all over the world. This child has been to four national capitals (Washington D.C., London, Paris, and Addis Ababa). This child has star jumped with its mother in London, Paris, and Acadia National Park. And soon, this child will arrive in Morgantown, West Virginia to greet this world.

Jamie and I are overwhelmed with joy when we think about the fact that God has given us this privilege. We have found ourselves more keenly observant of the world around us, and the little treasures that surround each of our days. And we are filled with trepidation in the same way every parent from Adam and Eve to this day has been—we are responsible for a fully vulnerable life. Every parent, no matter how many books they read or how many classes they take on the subject, questions how they will steward this gift, and prays daily for wisdom and grace from above. 

This child will rely on us for every one of its needs, and then over time a mysterious metamorphosis will take place. One day, by the grace of God, this child will be engaging us and others in conversation, and will also grow to be someone who is able to serve, to bless, to protect, and raise up another generation.

This fragile human being is beginning a life that, God willing, will see him or her grow to be a compassionate servant leader, a faithful steward of resources, and caring and considerate follower of the way of Jesus. We have found ourselves praying often for this child to know God and to bring glory to His name, that he or she would go so much farther than we have in our own faith journeys, and that others, would be blessed through the life this child leads.

We are so grateful to be able to share this wonderful news of a new West Virginian emerging this fall, and we are in awe of the fact that Jamie has this amazing privilege of carrying a new life in her body. We also know that the gift of giving birth is not a guarantee to every person, and we were both at peace if it was not a grace bestowed upon us. As we continue this journey forward we pray that just as we have prayed over the course of our marriage and relationship, that God would give us the discipline and wisdom we need to steward the gifts He has given. May we all faithfully and graciously walk together in the path that Love has set before us.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hiking In Acadia Part Three: Sun, Surf, and Soaking It In

After a heavy day of hiking, walking, and running through the wilderness paths of Acadia, Jamie and I decided to change our pace a bit for the next day. We had discovered an absolutely beautiful stretch of rocky coastline (there are several, but this one was ours) in Acadia where we could take time to read, to write, to reflect, and to soak in the surf. And so, our pilgrimage was a bit shorter and more intentionally focused. Rather than scrambling from trail to trail and taking in new experiences at each stop, we decided to make our way to one place and plant ourselves for a spell. Partially this was a decision based on a bit of a twinge in my Achilles from a speedy 9.3 mile run the previous day, but mainly it was a decision based on finding our Acadia surfside sanctuary.

We made our way quietly along this path in the early morning and dipped down onto the rocky shore of Mount Desert Island’s southeastern shore. The sun appeared in fullness and for a significant period for the first time since our arrival. The waves crashed violently on the rocks, and the whole of our being sat mesmerized by the sights and sounds surrounding us. After reading and writing for a bit in a journal, I just sat back and watched the sporadic clouds above me change shapes as they drifted along the coastal sky. The rhythmic crash and retreat of the waves provided an exquisite soundtrack for this quiet Maine morning.

As if the sight and sounds weren’t already filling my heart and mind with rest and refreshment, I picked up a recently acquired book and started through a few pages. The book was a World War II story about the battle for Crete and how these island people formed an incredible resistance that gave Hitler fits. The book was about this moment in history, but in these opening chapters, it appeared to be as much about people who were living in good relationship with their surroundings—an aspiration for both myself and Jamie.

Sitting and reading, reflecting, and writing, Jamie and I both felt like this was a very different Acadia experience. It was as though we were adjusting to the rhythm around us and we were starting to experience true rest and refreshment. We were not concerned about the future, projects to be accomplished, or even thinking about what we were going to do when we got back home. We were content and our hearts were full with the gifts of the day.

And now, back in West Virginia, we have carried a piece of that Acadia morning in our hearts and into our daily routines. There is plenty of time for planning and working through logistics and conducting mental models for possible futures, but what we desire more of, and dare we say what all of us need more of is a sense of rest and relationship with the present moment and environment, wherever that might be. May we all aspire to find ourselves soaking in the sights, sounds, textures, and flavors of the present moment if not daily, then maybe weekly. And, if the time and space (and weather) permit, may we look heavenward as we lie upon the earth and watch the dance of clouds in the skies.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hiking In Acadia Part Two: The Day We Hiked Our Faces Off

After a rip-roaring start to our first day of hiking in Acadia, we had decided that day two would be an attempt to explore as much of the park as we possibly could. We were due for 7.5 miles running as part of our training for Team Nuru International's Marine Corps Marathon exploits this fall, but we wanted to get some hiking in before our run. So we started on a fairly smooth and textured Ocean Path en route to Thunder Hole, but something about the path was just a little unappealing. It was a gravel path, and at least for the first few hundred feet it ran alongside a very busy stretch of road. We decided to backtrack and took another trail that took us along a small peninsula on the far side of Sandy Beach.

We looped around that trail and found a little rocky hideaway that I quickly became our favorite spot in the park. We enjoyed it so much that it became our place of rest and refreshment all of the remaining days we were in the park, but on this day, it was simply discovered and noted for a later time for further exploration.

After our first major hike of the day, we thought it was an appropriate time to venture toward Jordan Ponds House for some lunch including popovers-an interesting take on a roll that was pretty delicious! As we looked over the lunchtime fare, we decided on a buffalo meatloaf sandwich, and we were not disappointed. But we were pretty full, so we thought this was no time to think about going for a run. Instead we walked off the meal on a three mile hike around Jordan Pond Trail.

From there, we felt like we were ready, so we made a wardrobe change and donned our running threads. We made our way to Eagle Lake. It was a six mile loop, so we started thinking about creative ways to get extra mileage in. Where we landed was two different places on the mileage. Jamie made the statement that she was content with a little over six miles for her run since we had walked so many miles already, and that she wanted to run it easy. I decided the opposite, I wanted to run the distance a little harder, and try to push myself a little farther.

So we started the loop, and every couple of minutes, I would loop back to check on Jamie, and then dart forward again. In my mind, I wanted to push my pace, push my distance, and attempt to increase my steps per minute. The loop around Eagle Lake was a carriage road so it was graveled and even.  After our run we both felt energized and content. We finished together by walking up a connector road to our car and decided that we would call it a day after our run, order take-out, and make our way back to our room for rest and recovery. We logged about 19 miles that day!

Thinking back to it, there was something refreshing and enticing for each of us as we took different paths to push ourselves along trails both walking and running. It was as though the very wilderness was imbuing us with energy as we made our way along loops. I believe that as a result of our time, we are likely to incorporate more outdoor time into our weekly rhythms, and I hope that no matter where you live, your schedule affords you opportunity to do the same!

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Cadillac Mountain Sunrise

While away on our wilderness adventure celebrating our fifth anniversary, Jamie and I decided we would attempt an early morning sojourn to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and watch as the sun laid out its first golden beams on the United States mainland. Once inside Acadia National Park, there’s at least four separate trails that find their terminus at the summit varying in length with treks varying between two to four miles across uneven terrain and steadily increasing altitude. Earlier in the week, we had hiked a couple of the trails so we knew that the journey would be even more difficult in the darkness and thick fog that often settles on these coastal islands.  It would probably necessitate us arriving at the shortest trail head by 3AM to safely arrive at the summit by 4:55AM sunrise. 

And so, we decided to drive to the summit instead.

We woke up at 4AM and quickly hopped in the car to drive to the summit. We arrived at 4:43AM with a full twelve minutes to wait for the sun to rise. We joined ranks with approximately 20 other early risers and pilgrims seeking a glimpse of the sun’s beams as it touched the summit of this place in the land of the Wabanaki. We met a couple from Charlotte, NC who, similar to us, were making aggressive wilderness hikes daily during their time in Acadia. As we were talking with them, we also took a moment to share a laugh that the fog was so thick that the only clear indicator we had that the sun had risen was the fact that our watches indicated it. We laughed about the fact that we could just as easily have been on the summit of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina with the fog so thick.

As we were laughing, a soft-spoken Korean woman came up to us and shared a photo she took of this small group of early morning pilgrims who had united in pursuit of the first sunbeams to hit our country. It was truly stunning to regard in the midst of the mist and fog. She commented to Jamie and myself that she was so fascinated by the greys that enveloped the surroundings. She had made the drive from Long Island, New York to see her father in Bangor, but made a side trip to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and Acadia.

As we talked with her, she reminded us to enjoy the moments like this that are all covered in a thick fog. She said that everybody is looking for the peeking sun coming over the waters, but there is a beautiful mystery in the ways that shadow and light play in the fog and mist. She even stopped in the middle of her discussion to capture a photo of the drops of mist forming on Jamie’s eyelashes and skin. As we were all beginning to walk back to our cars, she told us that it was probably best for her to say goodbye to us right then because it would likely take her another ten minutes to walk the hundred or so yards to her car—she was so enthralled with the way everything looked in the fog and mist. We ended up discovering she is a professional photographer--it was lovely to see her so enthralled by the beauty she saw in the world around her!

We didn’t see the sun rise on Cadillac Mountain that morning, but we were given eyes to see so much more by our fellow morning pilgrims. We saw a common thread that stirred our souls to be among the first to greet the sun as it touched our continent. We saw common ties and stories that unite us. And, most importantly, we saw the marvel in enjoying the world as it is presented to us, and not always as we desire it to be.  May we continue to carry these messages with us the rest of our days.