Order vs. Chaos

Which side are you on?

Several Circles, 1926. Wassily Kandinsky.

It has been one of those weeks when life often felt like the other side of this Kandinsky – the one representing chaos.

And just like that – after time with friends, family and a little physical outlet – clarity kicked in.

I believe God puts people wiser than me in my life for a reason – to help me find answers to my questions or even ask the right (read: hard) questions of me, and to remind me who I am. Realizing that is clarity in itself.

Not that I know a lot about Kandinsky, but this work has fascinated me ever since seeing this scene from Six Degrees of Separation, one of Will Smith’s first films and still one of my favorites.

So you wanna work in nonprofit?

Woman holds up handmade jewelry for display

This proud mom in Dominican Republic shows off her handmade jewelry – skills she gained through a microenterprise program for single parents implemented by one of Compassion International’s church partners. Her small business helps her sustain her family’s livelihood.

It’s become such a romantic idea to work for a good cause. So romantic, many Americans would probably rather work for a cause than for the Man.

It’s certainly noble.
It’s definitely rewarding.

But don’t be fooled. It is also hard work. And I don’t just mean long hours.

I’m convinced there is an evil in the world that doesn’t want to see good to come of anything – including whatever good things you set out to do.

Whether it’s more red tape than is necessary to get something done to logistical nightmares to communication misunderstandings, it’s good to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Be alert and wary that the good work you do will meet resistance.

That’s when you pull up your big-girl/boy panties, stand up tall and fight your way through. I’m confident you will find reward on the other side. Fatigue too, but it will be the best fatigue you’ve ever felt.

In an Instant

Underwater

Photo by neil2580 @ sxc.hu

Tonight we watched a new ABC show called “In an Instant,” a series of mini-“documentaries” about how people’s lives have been changed in the blink of an eye, usually by adversity.

It brought to mind two important things:

  • How important cherishing family is, regardless of time, distance, estrangement, whatever. Much easier said than done. But the bottom line is, I have one shot – and only one – to give them my best, so I’d better make it good.
  • I need to take what has happened in my life, own my response to it and come out of it newly equipped and empowered to make the most of it. A reminder to let the waves carry me, rather than crash into me.

Waiting: How long is long enough?

If there’s one thing I’m learning from researching my family’s history, it’s that waiting for the right thing is worth it.

Looking for my great-grandfather Braulio isn’t the only thing I’m waiting for in my life, but it is symbolic of other things that have been on hold for awhile. Patience isn’t one of my stronger suits, so this lesson is as invaluable as it is counterintuitive to me.

I have decided I need to trust, somewhat blindly but mostly with faith, that the wait will be worth it. And with my luck, that’s when Braulio will show up.

You can do better

I’m really happy there is finally some representation of ethnic families with sitcoms like ABC’s “Blackish” and “Cristela.” Most weeks Blackish makes me laugh until I cry. Culturally, though, I relate most to Cristela.

While I don’t find Cristela’s mom’s character entirely believable as a first-generation American, I can appreciate the lessons she teaches.

Tonight’s episode especially hit home with me.

natalia

ABC’s Cristela’s mom Natalia (Terri Hoyos) defends a difficult parenting decision. (Source: Cristela FB page)

In this episode, Cristela’s mom, Natalia, reveals she had not entered Cristela, now a 20- or 30-something legal intern, into the gifted and talented program when she was a little girl because “people like us” didn’t belong in “fancy programs” like that. Basically, they would have been aiming too high, beyond their social status.

Cristela’s character eventually comes to appreciate her mother’s decision, made out of the desire to protect her. Natalia was, after all, a single mom doing the best she could for her young family.

This struggle triggered something in me I totally didn’t expect – a belated appreciation for my mom’s determination to ensure my best possible future.

It actually set off my tear ducts.

[Cue high school memory scene.]

One time, in high school, I came home with less-than-perfect grades – mostly As, with a couple of A- and a B+. I was so excited to show my mom! She would be so proud.

“You can do better.” That was her response.

What??? I can do what??? You mean, that wasn’t good enough?

I carried this disbelief, the shock and the sense that I’d disappointed my mom for – well, let’s just say it went on far too long.

What I didn’t realize then that I realize now – and, truly, especially after watching Cristela tonight – was that my mom was pushing me to aim higher.

Nothing at all wrong with protecting one’s kids from ridicule and humiliation. My mom, however, was willing to take that risk – taking me with her – of not being accepted for being different (which, by this age, I was pretty good at).

As someone who had to leave school at 12 to work and support her family, she knew working harder would grow both my character and my capacity. She knew I could do better.

My mom has never done anything less than teach me to be strong, have faith and, in the face of difficulty, get back up and dust myself off.

As we approach in a few weeks what would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary, I can’t help but be grateful for her strength and endurance since losing my dad nearly 30 years ago.

She remains my best girlfriend and biggest cheerleader. Even today, the way she lives her life is a reminder that we can always do better. So I will.

When the fog clears, you can see forever

golden-gate-bridge-fog

I miss our frequent visits to the Bay Area for conferences. I seriously could stare at this view. All. Day. Long. (Image: Axel Anta)

Or at least, what lies just ahead.

Work (or anything, really) can be like a fog, occupying our minds and keeping our lives busy, too full to accommodate one more idea or commitment. Certainly no room for dreaming.

After months on a fairly sizable freelance project, I’m taking off for a few weeks.

On this first day off, there was no pile of work to plow through. No emails to answer or meetings to attend.

Free to think, breathe and generally just chill, I found clarity like I hadn’t had in sometime. Oh, the peace.

Jeremiah 29:11