I could’ve sworn there was no haystack there this morning

Field under a cloudy sky

Photo by OeilDeNuit

When it rains, it pours.

Such is the life of the freelancer. When not thinking about revenue streams several months out, they’re slamming project on top of project, usually to make up for possible gaps and often at the expense of personal margin and quality of life.

It comes with the territory.

After spending the last two-to-three years in that mode, I sense something’s about to happen that will force a significant choice – one that favors quality of life and doesn’t look anything like what I would have expected at this point.

Today, a whole lot of work-like “needles” piled up, almost in real time. Tonight, I’m sorting through the resulting haystack, in search of one or two “keepers” and some peace of mind.

I love how scary things often end up being good things. But for the moment, I’m still on the scary part.

It’s a red-flag kind of day

Today is one of those days that puts Coloradans on edge. It will be first of many this year.

It’s not our first Red Flag Warning (high fire danger) day, though I think it’s the second day with humidity <5%. One thing is for sure: the gusts have whipped up tonight. And my lips feel like paper.

While we’re adjusting quickly to the drier weather – following a wet winter, even – this early need to water everything has got us scratching our heads, licking our lips and crossing our fingers.

In fact, this fire just flared up today, one county west of here (in a rural mountain town). Thankfully, evacuations have lifted, though containment data is unknown (containment means the firefighters have been able to hold a line of the fire at least 24 hours).

I find myself praying for the right moisture at the right time and that we (residents and our many visitors) will be wise enough to:

  • Completely put out campfires in public parks and forests (if they’re even allowed);
  • Properly and responsibly dispose of cigarette butts; and
  • Refrain from burning leaves or trash on windy days, etc.

Sounds like common sense, but every year, we are amazed. We can’t be careful enough.

Most lives spared, but not their homes

640px-Waldo_fire_approaching_Mountain_Shadows_2

The west side of Colorado Springs. “Waldo fire approaching Mountain Shadows 2” by ttcosprings. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thankfully, casualties were minimal in the last two Colorado fires, but nearly 1000 families were displaced for at least a year, if not longer. Some still are figuring out how to rebuild.

The Waldo Canyon Fire scar stares drivers in the face as we sit, facing west at traffic lights. The Black Forest Fire scar, across the highway to the northeast, is Waldo’s quiet counterpart.

And both are part of us now.

The obstacle is the path
I love the Zen proverb quoted by fellow #YourTurnChallenge blogger Patrick Smith, that the obstacle is the path. Challenge, adversity, any kind of obstacle, really – they not only build character in us; they build beauty and identity.

The weather the last few years has been crazy nearly everywhere. I guess it’s our turn to brace ourselves for the season ahead, pray for the best and prepare for the worst – including the resulting beauty.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.

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.

Got perfection? Buh-bye

“Pretending to be perfect is the perfect way to not develop a relationship.” — Donald Miller, Scary Close

Full disclosure: I’m disinclined to short reads lately, so I haven’t yet read Scary Close, but I think I might. If nothing else, than for this quote.

I mean, with our culture’s obsession with perfection – at least, cosmetically speaking – could our world be headed in any direction other than away from building real relationships?

And who takes the time to actually stop and do that work?

The idea that the gap is widening between those who are willing to risk being honest and real and …. pure …. and those who won’t or can’t drop the act is a bit unsettling.

But it’s nothing we can’t change.

Why just start stuff (great!) when you can finish it? (AWESOME)

TheQuiltI come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I’m wired to start stuff. Ironically, when I have something big on my plate — especially if I’m passionate about it — I’m also driven to finish it.

Starters aren’t usually lumped in with finishers. There’s a reason for that. We love variety and hate routine. We look for the zig when everyone else is looking for zag.

We absolutely need the dynamic of seeing things develop, watching them evolve.

An old boss used to tease me about being a terrible finisher. That was years before I’d led a project to stand up a big, enterprise-wide system that’s now part of business as usual for a large global nonprofit.

Did I love all the details and meetings? Not so much. But the end product motivated me so much, it was worth slogging through it all (with a lot of help from my friends and coworkers, of course).

My quilt wasn’t anywhere near a big project vocationally, but personally it was huge. By the way, it’s officially finished now. (Full reveal soon.)

But not 15 minutes had passed before I wanted to start another one.

It reminds me how completing something significant spawns the need to do it all over again — warts and all.

My quilt is far from perfect, but learning to make it ranks high on my Things That Make Me Really Happy list. More importantly, my friend’s son, the recipient, can know it was made with so much love.

And the next two quilt projects — they’re already lined up!

When showing up to ship pays off

when apple wasn't cool

Back in 1997, before Apple was cool. That’s my then Mac-consultant hubby begging the technology giant not to fold. Through the good, bad and ugly, they persevered. (Note the really lax landscaping…yeah, it was that bad.)

* “Shipping” refers to a challenge lots of Seth Godin followers took in January with his project manager, Winnie to show up every day and deliver. It’s an example I’m trying to follow. (Some days are harder than others!)