Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tears and Typos

On the plane to Atlanta I decided to read through my book for the first time. I began working on this book twenty years ago. For the last year and a half I have spent almost every spare moment on this book about my father and his imprint on my life. My heart and soul are in it. I have read and re-read each chapter, struggled with each sentence, and revised and reworked every word. But until yesterday I had never just read it cover to cover. I was surprised. Reading the book brought me frequently to tears. I was surprised because the material is now so familiar I did not think it would touch me so deeply. I was pleased that it did. But I was also greatly distressed. After hundreds of reads and rereads, after a professional edit there are still so many errors! My deep sense of satisfaction at the emotional import of my father’s story was regularly dashed by typographical and grammatical errors in the preliminary manuscript! Just moments apart, I was taken from exhilaration to deep disappointment. I was brought to tears but I was also regularly distracted by the errors and resulting changes that would need to be made before this book is ready to publish.

Funny thing . . . life and ministry is like this too. Every day I find myself deeply moved by events and people, and within seconds I can be completely distracted by the slightest little glitch or idiosyncrasy. Seconds apart I can feel compassion and contempt. I can breathe in hope and as I exhale I can be brought to despair. Tears and human “typos” are the warp and woof of life. No matter how much I try to control my life and ministry, things happen. I am human. The people I work with are human. Human typos happen. The joy of victories and the agony of defeats are every day recurring themes.

On Sunday I was part of a team mediating conflict in a local church. The tears and typos were glaring. In this case, they were literal. Folks attempting to express their concerns and pain fought back tears. But in order to keep the conversation honoring of God and respectful of all who attended we had to correct verbal typos. The ground rules for conversation in times of disagreement require constant tracking of the words we use. “I felt disrespected” invites dialogue. “You are disrespectful” establishes monologue. One brings possible healing, the other further wounds. No matter what I am feeling the words I choose have the power to invite others also to feel and express what they feel, or, they have the power to shut them down. Tears draw us in, typos distract. But they are both regular and critical parts of life and ministry. Writing and speaking reflect life—full of tears, full of typos.

Reading my book through gave me great joy and significant frustration. But my reflecting on this experience has given me refreshing insight into my life and ministry. As I live my life and try to do ministry authentically from my life I will be less troubled by the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, tears and typos. I will revel in the deep emotion and I will work through the distractions wherever they come from. My manuscript will get better. But it will never be perfect. So too with my life and ministry. God is in the business of redeeming our lives and our ministries by using both the tears and the typos for his purposes and his glory. God in his grace and mercy is able to direct me through the ups and downs of ministry and life. I will keep reading, and I will keep improving the manuscript. And now I can better see the value in both.

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