I read a lot of books. Amazon visits my mailbox almost weekly. This fills my bookshelves to overflowing and seeps out into piles on the floor so periodically I end up giving a lot of them away. I’ll have a party for friends and leave a basket of books by the door for them to take as they leave. Books make great party favors.
But other books stay here with me. Since my favorite reading is non-fiction sometimes I’ll keep the book to use as a reference. I’ve read some of these three or four times and always find something new. The test of a “keeper” is how soon and how often I highlight passages. With these books there will be a moment, usually in the first few pages, when I find myself looking around for a highlighter and realize that I want to keep the book to savor in the future. I might loan it out but will always clearly request its return. So I’ll take a pen and write my name in it. This is to say, “Please return this book to Jane since she is a little scatterbrained and will eventually forget she loaned it to you.” By writing my name on the inside page I claim ownership: “This is my book.” It becomes MY book and belongs to ME.
I finally got my hands on Journey to the Kingdom of God one evening last week. The printed, published, actual book. I’ve been on such a long journey with this book (pardon the pun) that having the real live paper and ink thing was not as exciting as I had always assumed it would be. The cover is so familiar to me by now that it didn’t register as a new sight. The words are old friends.
I glanced through it and immediately found about ten things I wanted to change about it. I always knew this would happen once it was a done deal and in print. But it was too late now and time to let go. Children need to grow up and go out into the world eventually, that’s the whole purpose, isn’t it? Then I went back to the new Elizabeth Gilbert book I was reading.
The next morning I started my new job as The Shipping Clerk Formerly Known as Author. The publisher had sent me my first carton of books and I had orders to fill immediately. I was deep into deciphering how to fit a 6X9 book into a 6X9 envelope (which amazingly doesn’t work so I was using 8X10 envelopes with some creative scissor work.) Then there was printing out the postage and label. And consulting with the post office to make sure I had done everything correctly. There’s just a lot that goes into the aftermath of writing a book that I never thought about. I’m sure Stephen King doesn’t have to do any of this but then we can’t all be Stephen King.
I had copies of the book littered all over the living room. But the publisher told me to keep one back to mark up with any renegade typos that escaped about a thousand proof-readings and re-writes. I kept losing that copy among all the ones I was shipping out. So I grabbed it and picked up the pen to write my name in it. “This is my book,” came my customary thought, “I need to write my name in it.”
And that’s when it hit me. “This IS my book.” “This is MY book.” “I am the author of this book. I wrote it. It’s mine. I don’t need to write my name inside because my name is on the cover.” It wasn’t quite a goose-bump moment but it sure felt damned good.
I started writing in the ninth grade. I took Journalism in high school and college where my only claim to fame was a front page by-line on the first student demonstration against the Dean of Women at North Texas State University. That experience taught me that I wasn’t cut out for hard-core journalism. It just seemed so nosey to ask questions people didn’t want to answer. I kept a half-assed journal in spiral notebooks for a few years when my kids were little. I’ve written witty Christmas letters and even a couple of sermons. But now I have written a book. I’m impressed with myself if nobody else is.
I have to thank Steve Walker for this. He’s a guy in our church who does some publishing on the side. He came up to me about three years ago when he saw a binder I compiled of mission trip reports. “You could make a book out of this,” is about what he said. And the whole thing fell into my lap.
But the person I need to thank most of all is Linda Terpstra and, for that reason, the book is dedicated to her. I’m convinced my entry into the world of mission and travel was through the urging of God’s Holy Spirit but God used Linda to get me started. It was Linda’s energy and passion for what we were doing that inspired me and gave me a running buddy. We complement each other. She’s into details and I step back to see the big picture. She buys the airline tickets and I catch the comments people make and sift through them for the deeper meaning.
But when all the books are sold, when everyone has a chance to read what I have to say, there is one basic reason that the book exists, one question I hope everyone will ask themselves: “How do I fit into this picture? Where do I sign up to go myself? What’s available right here in my own hometown? Where can I find this Kingdom of God?”
Start reading and start asking. Give me a call and I’ll sign you up.