Some days it seems like the tune from Mission Impossible is constantly playing in the background of my life and work. Do you ever feel like that?
Disquieting voices tend to rise up inside and say words like “can’t” or “never.” Maybe it’s with a particular project or book or job or client or magazine piece or _______. You fill in the blank. I’ve been there in the past and I’m also there today—depending on the particular project.
When I consider the impossible, I recall a comment from Al Janssen, who has been in publishing many years in different roles as an editor and writer. Most recently, Al wrote a new book for Brother Andrew called Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire. Late one night at a writer’s conference, Al and I were sitting around talking about books and he told me, “Terry, every time I sit down to write a book, I wonder if I’ll be able to write it.” Talk about honesty! I have the same fears as I write. For example, I work hard, create a proposal and get a book contract from a publisher—but I wonder if I’ll be able to pull it off. You’d think as many times as I’ve done it that inside I would hear a resounding yes. It never comes—instead I get doubts, fears and questions—every single time.
As an example, I think about my first collaboration book project with Chris Woehr called One Bright Shining Path, Faith in the Midst of Terrorism. In the early 90s, the Shining Path brutally killed a national translator in Peru, South America. At the time, I was the manager of the editorial department at Wycliffe Bible Translators and in charge of their books, magazine and printed materials. I felt this story had to be told in book form and I was looking for the best writer to do it.
I called Philip Yancey and asked him to write this book for Wycliffe. He knew about the story and was interested in it but Philip has a busy writing schedule. The year before he had interrupted it to write a book about the Russian church—and he was determined not to interrupt his writing schedule again. He was polite but said no. I’ve heard the word no before and I was racking my brain trying to figure out who could write this book. Back then the Wycliffe office was a mile and a half from the beach in Southern California. I went out for my lunchtime run and during that time, I reflected on my own experiences in Peru and this part of the world. I had never written a full-length adult book but I knew I could taste the dust on those roads and I had been with the people and could describe them to the reader. It was like the Lord pulled on my heart and told me I could write this book. Chris Woehr and I combined our talents for this project and Crossway Books kept the book in print for many years.
That book looked impossible at different times. The work was hard—in fact none of my books have been easy—even though going into them I’m optimistically thinking they will be easy. Each one takes a lot of energy and hard work. When I’m in an impossible situation, I try and reflect on the words of the Apostle Paul, when he pleaded for God to remove a thorn in his flesh. These words are some of the few in red (from Jesus) past the gospels in the New Testament, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9m NIV)