Sunday, February 27, 2011

Never Take a Wooden Nickel...

As a kid growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. For example, they would pick me up after school and take me wherever I needed to go. They would take me to sports practises, my weekly piano practise and youth church choir rehearsal at church. When I had days off from school and my mom had to work she would drop me off with them and I would go with them to walk in the mall or on their daily errands. During the summer I would travel with them too which is how I was able to see so much of our country. (At this point I've seen the majority of the 50 states except for parts of the northeast and northwest.)

Through the years I spent a lot of time with both of them, especially my grandfather because he was the one that usually took me to sports practices or at least picked me up from them. Ever since I knew how to run I was always playing a sport whether it was baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, track and field, volleyball or the sport I grew to enjoy playing the most - football. It was for this reason and others that I would spend a lot of time with my grandfather.

Because my grandfather's job, and from simply vacationing with my grandmother, he had been all over the world. Through his many experiences he always had a story for me and most of his stories included a life lesson. One of the lessons I'll never forget is the lesson to "never take a wooden nickel". He told me this constantly growing up and for the majority of my life I thought he literally meant what he was telling me not to do - don't take take any wooden nickels.

Growing up another thing my grandparents taught me was the importance of saving money. In fact they were the first ones to give me a piggy bank and along with my mom gave me a weekly allowance. My grandmother took this lesson to heart by teaching me this challenge on a weekly basis. Each Friday evening when my mom would come pick me up from their house, she would give me some change and my grandfather would too. As I grew older so did the allowance, going from just a few quarters to eventually dollars and a little more.

As I learned the importance of saving the money I was given I learned the value of accumilation and growth. Along the way my grandfather would chime in, "Chris, don't take any wooden nickels!" In my earlier years, I would sometimes find myself looking through the change he or my grandmother would give me and say, "Grandpa, you didn't give me any wooden nickels this week." He'd calmly reply, "I know but be careful because one day someone else might try to give you one."

Since those days of learning about money in an informal but important way, I've learned that my grandfather wasn't just trying to teach me about money. He was trying to teach me to be aware about life. So many times we get caught up in the rat race and to some degree get caught up in a daily trance. We go through the same routines. We talk to the same people. We even participate in the same activities and almost never break out of our "shells". This is where things can slip by us. This is where we can get careless. This is often times when we end up taking wooden nickels and before we realize it...its too late.

We must learn to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings. We must learn to make asking questions of others, especially those we're closest to, a habit in our daily lives. Its too easy in this world of instant messaging, text messaging, gmail chat and Facebook to allow ourselves to "instantly talk to someone" or even "instantly build a relationship" without truly communicating with them. We cannot allow ourselves to take our relationships with our family, friends, co-workers and others for granted. We cannot even allow ourselves to take our enemies for granted because even they have a place and purpose in our lives. In the end, we must remember...

...things aren't always what they seem.

Timing is Everything. Courage is ALL we need...

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”

-William Shedd

A lesson I've recently learned about life is that timing is everything. We can want something to happen or someone to walk into our lives until we're blue in the face, but if its not ready to happen then we're just spinning our wheels. In the end we'll know when we're ready because things will begin to fall into place naturally allowing us to do the rest.

Just recently I was able to conquer my fear of swimming in deep pools. I know that if the timing was off or if I had not been as comfortable in the water as I am now that I wouldn't have been able to successfully complete this challenge. The pool I've been training in and learned to truly swim in is more of what I like to call a "competition pool", where one side is maybe 4 and half feet on one end and the other end is close to six feet deep. Either way it goes for someone around my height I can stand up on either end of the pool. However, in a diving pool that's not the case.

A "diving pool" (or a pool made for diving) is a pool that has a very deep end for people to dive into usually going to a depth of about 12 feet deep. When you swim correctly your head is flat in the water with your head down. You have the ability to breath when you turn your hips which lifts your head to one side or the other so that you can breathe. When you swim with goggles you can see where you're swimming. In a diving pool there's a huge slope that drops from around 5 feet to about 12 feet in the middle of the pool. Normally as you swim its good to know that if something goes wrong you can stand up in the water. In a diving pool you must remain focused because standing up in the water is not an option during part of your swim.

On Friday I was given the opportunity to swim with the Shreveport Masters swim team. A masters swim team is a program open to all adult swimmers (fitness, triathlete, competitive, non-competitive) who are dedicated to improving their fitness through swimming (see for more information). My coach (who's awesome by the way) also coaches the masters swim team here in Shreveport. Through her invitation I was able to attend one of their practise sessions. Essentially this meant I was going to swim in a different pool than what I'm used to up until this point. Little did I know at the time that the new pool I was going to swim in was a diving pool. 

When I got to practise I was both a little nervous and excited. I was looking forward to watching and learning from some strong swimmers and hoping that I might be able to pick up some tips for my swimming along the way. As I walked next to the new pool to meet my coach I noticed that the new pool had a diving board. Out of nervous curiosity I asked my coach how deep one end of the pool was compared to the other side. Just as I suspected one side was "normal" the other side was "deep" - 12 feet deep.

In my previous blog post I mentioned how when external pressures come our way we must find that place where we know we can go inside ourselves and simply relax. We must know ourselves well enough to have that place and know how to get to that place at all times. When my coach told me about this new challenge I went straight to that place inside of me. It was there (along with a small prayer) that I found the courage and the energy to jump in the pool. It was at that point that I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

As I got started with that workout I was able to block out the drop off. As I looked at the 12 foot bottom and swam over it a couple times I realized that it wasn't that bad. I realized that much of my anxiety was made up and I was the author. In the end I realized that I could do this and I would be just fine as long as I stayed focused and kept my composure. In the end I did just that and had one of my best practice sessions to date.

One lesson I learned from this experience was that we should never sell ourselves short. We should never be our own worst enemy. Instead we must learn to dive right into life. Of course check your surroundings and make sure you're jumping into a safe place, but in the end we must push our limits - that's the only way we'll get better. Also, until we learn our own limits, how else are we going to know how far we can push ourselves?

“If you wait to do everything until you're sure it's right,

you'll probably never do much of anything.”

-Win Borden

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pressure Is a Privelege...

Sometimes while we're in the middle of things we just don't get it. Sometimes while we're in the middle of a situation things suddenly become harder than expected. That's when we must realize that we have an opportunity in front of us. We can either choose to play on and push forward or we can fold under the new unforeseen pressure.

When things get hard we must first identify the source of the pressure we are now experiencing. This is important to do because sometimes the pressure we feel unnecessarily may be coming from within ourselves. In these situations we become our own worst enemy especially if we're not used to the pressure.

In other situations the newly discovered pressure may come from an external source. A source that we just can't control. In these situations we must find that place inside ourselves that allows us to relax. Its important to relax because if we don't we could find ourselves begin to break under the pressure whether we realize it or not almost like this egg (see the video below).

On the other hand when we learn to recognize the situation we're in and we begin to see the environment around us for what it is we then give ourselves the opportunity to "bounce back" from our new circumstances. When we know who we are and push ourselves to begin to see our surroundings for what they truly are only then can we make the adjustments needed to not only survive but to thrive. Our ability to be flexible despite the unforgiving environment we may be in could be the determining factor in how high we bounce back from the new challenges we may now be facing (see bouncing ball video below).

Lastly, we must realize the great reward in conquering our challenges. When we choose to push forward despite our circumstances and surroundings we may discover that we were truly up for the challenge in the first place. Too many times we allow self-doubt to take hold of us instead of allowing our faith to raise us up. No matter how tough the situation may seem there's always a way to move through it and find our own success.

In the end we must recognize and trust the natural law that pressure makes diamonds.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Strength: Where Does It Come From?

I find myself in a place I've never been before. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I feel like I'm moving forward with what feels like the weight of the world on my shoulders. I feel pressure. I feel responsibilities. I feel eyes on my every move. I feel stress. However, through it all, the external pressures don't matter as long as I continue to look forward and not allow the distractions around me to slow me down or stall my progress.

Everyday there's something new. There's a new challenge on top of the other challenges I was already focused on conquering. Each day the stakes get higher, but at the same time the goal gets closer. In this sense I'm talking about more than just working towards swimming a large amount of yards in a week. What I'm referring to in particular is life. In fact, the training has become my escape, my way of relieving stress and doing something for me everyday.

When I'm in that water I feel like His angels are watching over me. I feel like the Lord is my lifeguard. I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be right now. I also feel like my grandfather's watching me. Growing up he came to all my sports games. From the time I played tee ball as a little kid all the way through traveling basketball tournaments on the weekends as a middle schooler and up through football Friday nights in high school. He was there and he's with me now.

More and more I feel my Dad too. I lost him when I was 16 to a sudden and massive heart attack. I miss him and think about him often especially since he was an Alpha and I am now one too. We never had the opportunity to "grip" each other up. If he were still here that would be the first thing I would do with him.

Anyways, this strength situation. How to do find strength to listen to your heart when you live in world that requires you to give 12, 14 or even 16 hours a day consistently day after day? How do you find time to keep some level of balance in your life when so many things, responsibilities and people are pulling on you? My answer right now is that you make time. In fact, you force the situation and you take time. No one can take care of you like you. No one can love you like you can love yourself. I learned this lesson the hard way. Its tough to take time, but you have to take the time in order to figure out what you want. Life is not about others. Life is about experiencing what you want to experience. Its about steering your own ship.

How can I say that? On the surface that sounds very selfish. However, I've also learned that until I give to myself I won't be able to give to others. One powers the other. If I'm sick and broken down (I mean that more than just physically sick) then how can I heal others. God comforts us so that we can comfort others.

It takes strength to say "no". It takes strength to let go. It takes strength to love yourself first so then you can give yourself the possibility to love someone else. I love me. I can say that openly and truly without a doubt in my mind. I love me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Because of this love, I have to be committed to patience, kindness and trust of myself and in turn it will open me up to the opportunity of sharing these things with others.

Monday, February 21, 2011

In Life and in Swimming, Put Your Head Down and Move Forward...

When things get hard in swimming we can sometimes find ourselves wanting to speed things up and move faster than we should through the water. We do this for many reasons including simply wanting to finish the lap that we're currently swimming. Many times this "speeding up" can hurt our form, dillute the power of our stroke and cause us to struggle through the water. In turn, if we allow ourselves to fight the water too long we end up more tired than we should be and more drained than ever before. What we should do instead is force ourselves to slow down, focus on the little things that make the big things go and simply put out head down and swim through the water.

Many times if we'd simply put our head down in the water and not worry about the other swimmers in the pool our form will come back to us and we'll find that other important things will simply fall in line after that. Once our head is down, our spine straightens out, which can allow our hips to move more freely which can help our arms clear the water faster and on down the line.

When things get hard in life we can sometimes find ourselves wanting to speed things up and move faster than we should here too. We do this for many reasons including simply wanting to move on to the next big thing, get the next big promotion on our jobs or simply accumilate more wealth or posessions. Many times this "speeding up" can hurt us more than help us. It can dillute the power of our minds and bring struggle and pain to us that we never thought possible. In turn, when we allow ourselves to chase after things we know we don't need or reach for people we shouldn't have then we end up wearing ourselves out and we end up more drained than ever before.

What we should do instead is force ourselves to slow down, focus on the little things that make the big things go and simply put our head down and look at ourselves. Happiness comes from knowing oneself. In swimming just like in life, if we'd simply put our head down in the water, stay focused in our own lane and do what's best for ourselves instead of what's best for someone else, we just might end up finishing our race in the best time possible, faster and better than we even expected.

My grandfather was good at this because he could tune out the distractions, focus on what was best for him and his family and keep moving forward. He knew how to keep an efficient stroke by knowing the direction he was swimming in and not worrying about the next person in the lane over from him. He made smart decisions, allowing for his resources to grow. He cared about his family and had a plan to see them prosper. Because he stuck to his plan I was able to benefit from his sacrifices. Because he was able to keep a steady pace in the waters of life he was able to travel the world, live a long and blessed life and give and serve others without hesitation.

My grandfather was a champion in his own rite and he gave me the blueprint to do the same. Its because of his courage and his focus that I'm able to know personally what its like to sacrifice and work hard. Its because of his example that I too work diligently each day to build the same type of life he built for me and our family.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life As We Know It...

This weekend I was fortunate enough to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institutute in Birmingham, AL. It was an awesome experience. One that I would recommend to anyone.

I was in Birmingham for work related reasons as one of my colleagues and I hosted a small group of international exchange students on an educational and cultural excursion so that the students could experience this unique southern city. Visiting the institute was apart of the itenerary for the weekend and going into this part of the experience I was most interested in the students reactions because of their personal backgrounds. (The students were mostly from France and Denmark with one from here in America.) However, little did I know that it was my own reaction that I wasn't prepared for that afternoon.

As I began my experience in the institute I wanted to be open to new sights and sounds. I wanted to look for opportunities to learn new things. I wanted to see more than simply the facts and figures that I had been taught in school.

Frankly, by the time that I got to the end of the tour
I had tears in my eyes.

Recently, I've had conversations with close friends about reading and the power that lies in books. One of the newest things I've realized that I've always known is that people can be and always will be changed when they do two things: (1) meet someone new and (2) read a new book. Well I can now add to the second part of that and say that when you read a book you've already read, but read it at a different point in your life, you will more than likely see things in that book that you've never seen before. Because of the experiences we might've had between the first time and the second time, our mindset and our thinking could be completely different from then to now. That is exactly what happened to me as I explored the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Now that I'm a little older and now that I've experienced a few more things in life, all of the history I've read about took on a new meaning for me yesterday. Some of the things that I began to think about included the struggles that my forefathers lived through in order for me to be able to do things like vote, drink out of the same water fountain and swim in the same pool.

Another thing that came to mind were the stories my grandfather used to tell me about his struggles and the sacrifices he chose to make in order to provide for my family in particular my mother, uncle and grandmother. If it weren't for many of these people, I wouldn't be where I am today with the rights and privelegs that I have. 

One of the last exhibits at the institute included a video of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. The speech is awesome. I know the speech fairly well as a few years ago I recited it at my original home church in Lake Charles. However, when I listened to it yesterday it took on a new form for me and held a deeper meaning.  If you've not watched it in its entirety I invite you to do so as I have posted it below.

Lastly, for my preparations all is well. I had a great workout today and I'm up to 1800 yards swimming. My coach is really pushing me with four new workouts this week. I'm excited. I'm renewed and I'm ready to move forward with this mission, one day at a time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Grandfather: Part 1

Today, marks the end of my 2nd week of training. In two weeks time I have practically doubled the amount of yardage I could swim from 750 yards to right at 1500 yards this week. However, if I think about the distance alone I know I won't be motivated enough to finish this opportunity.

That's why tonight I want those of you following my progress to know a little bit about the man I miss and the man who inspired this campaign for cancer research.

The picture below is of my grandfather, Mr. Edgar Jean.

Amongst some of the values I learned from him that he lived by everyday are:
·         Commitment - He was married to my grandmother for 64 years.
·         Faith – He was a member of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Lake Charles, Louisiana where he was an Ordained Deacon, Building Fund Treasurer and member of the Board of Directors.
·         Dedication – He retired as a Warehouse Supervisor after working thirty-six years for Citgo Refinery in Lake Charles.
·         Service - He was a thirty-third degree Mason, member of the Shriners in Lake Charles and was a charter member of the Mid City Lions Club.

He was an awesome person. He is an awesome man.
  -When people meet me, they meet him. I strive for that everyday. People at work wonder why I consistenly wear suits and ties (or at least a sport coat and trousers) each day and its because he taught me how to dress in terms of my image and how a man is supposed to carry himself (and details like pocket squares).
  -He always had a smile and he always had a kind word to say. I know I'm young and still have more to learn in life, but I do commit myself to being an optimistic person everyday and seeing the glass half full vs half empty.
  -He was always talking to someone and always knew how to make friends. When I would go walking with my grandparents in the Prien Lake Mall in Lake Charles (my hometown) as a kid, he either already knew someone, someone would know him or he would make a friend everytime we went to the mall together. He could make friends with the best of them. In fact, he was a professional "friend-raiser", but his motives were never political or self-serving. He did it because he cared about people. He knew how to listen to people and that  simple act of listening can change someone's life. 

For the next two days I'm taking time away from the pool. I'm going to rest. I'm excited about next week's workouts. I'm already scheduled to get back in the pool with my coach Sunday afternoon. When I step back in the pool it'll be time to take it up a knotch. I'm thankful for this opportunity and I'm thankful for each of you who are reading this blog, "liking" my facebook pages, posts and status updates and contributing to the American Cancer Society through my efforts.

Next week will also mark a greater push for this campaign both in the Shreveport/Bossier community and beyond. We'll begin a mailing campaign, email campaign and greater push on Facebook. Please share these links, posts and pages with your friends. Whether you contribute to this cause or not my hope is that this opportunity can inspire others and we can all find a role and way to give back in our own communities. As I talked about in my post yesterday, life is bigger than us and each of us can make difference.

"We all have ability. The difference is how we use it."
-Stevie Wonder

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life is Bigger Than Us...

I am a man of faith.

On Wednesday nights I make time to attend my church here in Shreveport. My church is an awesome place where I have a wonderful church family and an incredible pastor. My pastor is an inspiring man with a serious and fervent faith in the Lord.

Tonight the topic of his talk (which you can view each Sunday morning at 6:30am on Shreveport television station KPXJ CW 21 or Cable Channel 10) was about Jesus Came to Serve. Now I'm not going to preach on my blog, but I am going to say that much of what he said stuck with me tonight. However, one thing in particular holds true. He ended his message with the statement, "Greatness Comes Through Service!"

Let's think about that for a second...

Greatness Comes Through Service.

Now I know many times we've heard that life is all about achievements or life is all about money and positions. However, is it really? I mean Martin Luther King, Jr. said it too..

"Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

In fact, just a few weeks ago at Centenary we had our 3rd Annual MLK Service Day. It was awesome! We had over 250 participants - college students, faculty and staff alongside members of our community doing good for others. The Mayor of Shreveport was there and his staff too. This is what I feel like life should be about. Its about what we're doing for others. You don't have to be a certain religion, race, gender or any other difference we can think of in order to do something nice for someone else. This is what we're called to do - not to take, but to give.

I invite you to take a look at this You Tube video. We showed it to the participants of this year's MLK Service Day before they left to go out and serve the community. Its awesome. Its inspiring and I admit I became a little emotional the first time I saw it because its moving. This what its all about.

A friend of mine on Facebook recently named a photo album of his "Service: The New Definition of Greatness". Well, I couldn't agree with him more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More than just swimming...

While I train to swim this distance I need your help and support. I am focused on individually raising $2,000 for the American Cancer Society to support cancer research. I am also seeking matching funds from businesses and organizations willing to contribute and help me reach an overall goal of $10,000.

If you’d like to support me in this endeavor, any amount that you would be willing to give is appreciated. I've created a webpage where people can go and give online or view contact information to mail in their contributions to the American Cancer Society. (Click HERE to visit my donations page)

To show my commitment to this cause I have been in training with a professional swim coach since the beginning of February. My coach is great and she's really been pushing my limits. I am making great strides to successfully complete this project and I am dedicated to this opportunity. I am seeking your help to see it through!

As I continue my journey I will use this blog to tell you about my story, the relationship I shared with my grandfather and why I believe it's so important for us to give back and share with one another on this journey that we call life.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 1 for the Blog - Day 7 for Swim Training

We're here. Welcome to my journey...

This blog is a record of my journey to remember the legacy of my grandfather, Mr. Edgar Jean, while raising support for cancer research and swimming as a form of exercise.

I believe that in each of our lives there’s someone who’s always there for us, someone who forever changes us in a positive way. This person may have a large influence on the way we think and interact with others and even help us develop our actions and habits. For twenty-four years of my life one man took time with me every day, sharing his life lessons and cultivating in me a spirit of service that will never be diminished. This person for me was my grandfather, Mr. Edgar Jean.

On March 5, 2009 my grandfather passed away of complications from liver cancer. As his only grandson, he meant a lot to me, my family and the community where he lived most of his eighty-three years of life. This year to remember his passing I will use the gift of service he gave me as I train to swim 2,000 yards a day for five days (or 10,000 yards total) the week after his 2nd year anniversary, March 7-11, 2011.

As a recreational swimmer, this will be a challenge for me because just over a year ago I had very limited swimming ability. I’m calling this opportunity “Swimming with Edgar” because his first name was Edgar and my middle name is Edgar. According to USA Swimming, the governing body for the sport in the United States, “sixty-nine percent of African-American children have little or no swimming ability.” That is a daunting statistic, especially for me as an African-American. However, like many of the things my grandfather did, he never let statistics stop him from doing what he felt was right.

At this point in my life, this is what I feel is right and that's why I pursue what many think may be impossible. However, as I move forward day by day down this path I have been given more reasons to believe in what I'm doing. Each day so far I've either meet someone new who's supportive of my mission or I find some new form of support that keeps me going. I realize I have a short period of time to train and an increasingly small window to raise my monetary goal. However, I believe in this opportunity with everything I've got and I'm going to do everything I can do see it through to the end.