Monday, February 22, 2010

Aim for Perfection

Don’t settle for good enough. Aim for perfection.

The three words that title my business may seem to imply that I have “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable”[1]. I don’t.

I do, of course, attempt to present my best effort every time I publish an article or a blog post, but I really strive for the katartizo Paul urged of the church at Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 13:9, he prayed for their perfection, and in verse 11, he advised them to make perfection their goal. Did he want them to be flawless? No. He knew they’d make mistakes. Rather, he desired them to be complete in their faith, or to be completed by their faith in Jesus Christ.

The Greek katartizo, means to restore, put in order, mend; to make complete, equip, train, prepare, ordain; to complete thoroughly. Only by faith in Christ can I achieve these things in my life. Only by obedience to His plan can I achieve these things in my work.

I may never write a best seller. My words may affect only a few. But I believe the Lord has placed within me the desire and the abilities to accomplish His work by aiming for katartizo.

When clients seek editing assistance, I don’t expect them to produce error-free material. I do, however, expect them to work diligently to put each piece in order, to prepare each message for its task, to complete their writing thoroughly to the best of their abilities. In this way, their work will be perfected.

Today I will part with Paul’s adieu, “Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

[1] “Perfectionism,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, Springfield, MA, 2008.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Remember Whom You Serve

Sometimes the people who should be our number one fans crush our spirits and fill us with self doubt. A friend of mine, Christy, is a newly published freelance writer. In the business of freelancing, not all pieces receive monetary reward. Simply put, you don’t get paid. When Christy received her first freelance paycheck, she phoned her mom to celebrate. She also told her about a weekly, unpaid writing opportunity. Upon hearing this new column would be written pro bono, my friend’s mother offered these words, “Well, Honey, it’s not like you’re a real writer.” Ouch!

Those few words left my friend wondering, “Am I a writer? Why am I writing? Can I say I’m a writer if I don’t receive payment? Should I stop writing?” When Christy called her mom she was excited and confident; when she hung up the phone she was dejected and insecure.

My friend’s experience reminded me of when Jesus returned to his hometown. The people discounted him, saying he was just the carpenter’s son and asked each other where he got his powers. “But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor’” (Matthew 13:57). In Luke 4:24-30, Jesus explains it further, giving comparisons to Elijah and Elisha. The people responded to Jesus’ reprimand by driving him to the edge of a cliff and threatening to throw him off. While it didn’t come to that extreme with my friend’s family, her mother’s words left her feeling as if she were thrown off the cliff of success.

Even Jesus wasn’t supported by those who should have been his number one fans. Author Teresa G. Lusk discusses a similar matter in the “Dream Patrol” chapter of her book, Good Enough to be a Homemaker and CEO. She points out that some people appoint themselves to manage others’ success. They encourage and inspire until time comes to step out in faith and progress toward goals. At which point their true opinions are revealed and they spew forth insults. Teresa advises, “Don't take it personally...Receive it as a combination of useful circumstances. One, they offer an opportunity to remind you who called you to your purpose. And two, personal and spiritual growth comes about” (Lusk 62-63).

I’m sure my friend’s mother loves her very much and is proud of her achievement. However, Christy and we fellow writers need to remember whom we serve. I know we want our parents to be proud of us, but, “If [we] were still trying to please men, [we] would not be servant[s] of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Paychecks don’t define us. Others’ opinions don’t define us. Our Creator does, and it is He whom we should honor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Own Thin Place

On November 27, 2002, the veil between my world and God’s thinned and I glimpsed His glory.

Rachel Faith was born just after midnight. Blue and still, she gasped twice and was gone.  We held visitation Thanksgiving evening, her funeral the day after. My heart was shattered and crushed into fine dust, blown and scattered to all parts of the earth… irreparable.

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Be joyful Rachel died? Pray—in vain? Give thanks for what? This was God’s will?

I blamed myself. However, in John 9, Jesus said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Oh! This happened for God's glory.

Be joyful always.” Yes, I could rejoice. Through my heartbreak, God brought healing to others. A friend held Rachel and said good-bye to a baby she had lost. A young woman chose not to abort her child. Rejoice? Yes!

Pray continually.” I did, though I struggled. God knew my desires and the Holy Spirit interceded when I could manage only a moan.

Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will.” Had Rachel survived, she would have faced surgeries, paralysis, cognitive compromise. She was graciously spared such struggle.

Rachel’s birthday is near Thanksgiving and I have many reasons to give thanks. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful” (I Timothy 1:12).  

*Revised excerpt from "Ready for the Storm" article published in Winter 2008 Living With Loss and May 2008 McKinney Kids.This version was inspired by Mary DeMuth's memoir, Thin Places.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Judging Books by the Table of Contents

I read a blog post last week that was written by someone I respect, someone very highly regarded in the publishing industry, someone who is in charge of what books get published. I normally enjoy reading this person's articles, because they're very informative. I even follow him on Twitter and am a fan of his on Facebook. One thing he said in this particular post, though, struck a raw nerve.

Regarding how to read a nonfiction book, this writer gave a list of ten tips. Item #1 recommended NOT reading a book all the way through. He basically said not every word is worth reading. I was shocked to see this coming from someone in his position, especially when he went on to advise "reading" the book by skimming through the author's bio, studying the table of contents, and scanning the text (taking note of bold headers and block quotes). In his opinion, following these suggestions would give the reader enough information to review said book.

Now let me ask you, is it possible to form an accurate opinion of a book without reading it in its entirety? If you read the beginning and the end but skip the middle, are you getting the whole message? Can you grasp the complete concept by skimming the table of contents? Would your answers depend on whether the book is fiction or nonfiction?

My simple answer to all of four questions is NO. 

Now, I understand there are some books that don't hold the reader's interest all the way through. I've read plenty of books that tempted me to put them down halfway through and never open them again. But I persevered. Yes, some disappointed, but others picked up the pace and revived my interest. I would not have known the outcomes if I had not continued to read.

The tips offered in that article may help generate a book review, but picking and choosing only certain pieces of a book to represent the whole will not produce a very reliable assessment of the material. It is not alright to judge a book by its cover or by its table of contents.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mary DeMuth's Thin Places

If thin places are those moments in which we are allowed to peer through the veil and glimpse God’s grace, then Mary DeMuth’s Thin Places is itself such an experience.

With this moving memoir, author Mary DeMuth struggles to make sense of her life, to find answers to all the whys. Why was she molested? Why did her father die? Why did her stepdads leave? Why didn’t her mother love her more? The weight of personal violation burdens her shoulders. The grief of fatherly loss shatters her heart. The glare of the victim target illuminates her shame. Mary frets about incompetence until she reaches that thin place of acceptance and realizes that despite many deep and lasting emotional injuries, God is more than capable of restoring and making her whole. For He is all she needs.

God repairs wounds. He pacifies sorrow. He fills voids.

I share Mary’s brokenness. I too am flawed, helplessly selfish, needy, and clay-footed, as Mary describes herself on page 100. Though, thankfully, I have not been physically assaulted, I certainly have experienced ample portions of pain. And what I realize, the blessing I receive from Mary’s message, is that I need to stop attempting to fix those broken areas myself. I know that God is all I need, but I don’t always allow Him to BE all I need.

I have been a Christian most of my life. Although I am no longer an infant Christian, sometimes I still crave pure spiritual milk so I may taste that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2). Thin places remind me that I am ever in a state of maturing. Thin Places quenches my thirst.

A line from an old movie states, “I gave her my heart; she gave me a pen.” Mary DeMuth gave Jesus her heart and He gave her a pen. However, unlike the breakup scene of that film, Jesus’ gift to Mary was not meant to cover up a wound. His pen—or computer—enables Mary to expose human frailty and to reveal God’s grace to the world. Of the effects of her writing, Mary says, “I could say my writing is all for me, and it’d be a hint of truth…He shows me that my paltry words touch others…All I can say is: let the healing begin” (DeMuth, p. 70). For this reader it has.

Thank you, Mary, for allowing God to work through you in this mighty way. Thank you for reliving these memories, for recording the challenges of your life, and for offering your transparency as a thin place.

Compensation Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for reviewing it on my blog.

This sums it up ;)

This sums it up ;)