Friday, November 6, 2015

A Story About a Handbook

I just realized I haven't blogged in almost four months! What have I been up to, you might be asking?
Well, there's really only one way to answer that: URBANA!
The final cover design for the Urbana 15 Handbook! The conference theme this year is "What Story Will You Tell?"

It's hard to believe this is my FIFTH Urbana, and my third one with the twentyonehundred team. That also makes this the third time I am designing the Urbana Handbook. Wow.

It seems like every time, I start out optimistic about how it's going to go. After all, with each Urbana I gain more experience on the process, learning what works and what doesn't, how to be more efficient, how to solve certain design problems, etc. However, I seem to always set myself up for disappointment because the Handbook is the most stressful project I work on in any given three-year cycle. And Urbana 15 has been no exception.

One thing that I've realized though, is that even as I work to see God work in the lives of others--in this case, the thousands of people that will attend Urbana--God seems to always want to work in me too. He's kind of all-knowing and all-powerful that way. (SIGH.)

Here are a few reflections on what I've learned during the past 2 months of working on this massive project:


I am not a patient person. 

I already knew this about myself, but it gets highlighted when I am waiting for content that never seems to come on time. On the Myers-Briggs 2, I am off the charts on the "early starter" category under Judging. It makes me really anxious to wait until the last minute on anything. I'd rather give myself plenty of time to complete a project. But when you don't have control over the timeline, this normally-good trait can cause a lot of angst, frustration, and even bitterness. Which leads me to another revelation...

A few shots of the hundreds of pages of drafts that has now creeped onto the empty cube next to mine.

I really like working alone. 

As a designer, this can be a great strength. I am self-motivated to work hard and always get things done on time. However, it can also be very difficult, especially when your project affects thousands of people, with literally dozens of different hands touching parts of the content. Where to put a specific mark on a map, which way we are spelling the word "theatre," the new title change for a seminar, a phone number or room number correction. These details are all determined by different people. And it is MADDENING!

Working on the Handbook forces me to work with several different people, and I don't like it. It's not that I don't like the people... it's just that because we're all people, we have different personalities, work styles, communication styles, etc. And so it makes for a really messy, complex, inefficient (which we know is pretty much equivalent to sinful) process.


But messy is good for my soul.

As much as I hate the mess and come home at the end of work days exhausted, drained, and frustrated, I know that God is using this process to teach me about patience, being more understanding, and communicating how I'm feeling even if that feeling is not a good one--all things that make me more like Jesus. So, as painful as it is, I am learning to be grateful for the experience (one that God seems to want me to have every three years; I guess I need to re-learn a lot of things!).

One of the more tedious aspects of the Handbook: marking and numbering every restaurant on a map so people can eat lunch!

God cares about details.

One way that I have particularly felt God's care for me in this process has been through reading through the book of Exodus in the past month. Now, after the Golden Calf/Ten Commandments drama, most of us tend to see the rest of this Old Testament book as really boring. Who wants to read about the cubit measurements of the Tabernacle? Who cares that each curtain had 50 loops on their top edge? Why does it matter which specific jewels get attached to the priest's robe?

However, as I've been working in details like adding commas and "the's" and spelling out the word "California" about fifty times (seriously, are ALL our speakers/leaders UC grads?), reading the chapters of Exodus has been such a good reminder of who God is. He's a detail-oriented God! So much that he would spend a good 15 chapters telling Moses exactly how to construct his Tabernacle.

And just like the artists who were appointed to create each piece of the Tabernacle, I, too, am creating space for God to be worshiped. I am helping thousands of people encounter God in a significant way. It may not have seemed glamorous when Bezalel's hands were cramped from cutting stone day after day, or when Oholiab's fingers were tired of sewing all those curtain loops. It was definitely not fun when I had to renumber 150+ seminars when they decided to change the numbering system half way into the process. Or to have to change the layout of the bio section because new people were added in at the last minute. (And don't get me started on the Oxford commas!)

But the bigger picture is that all these details add up to something that God sees as beautiful worship to him. Because with the use of the Handbook, students will be able to find their way around Urbana, select seminars that will equip them to be missionaries in every sector, and connect with organizations that are the perfect fit for their passion. What I'm doing really matters. And I am glad for that!

What appeared on my screen the day before the final file was due.

This is spiritual work.

On Thursday afternoon, approximately 24 hours before the final file was due to the printer, I came back from lunch, and my Handbook file, which I had been working on for two months with no problems, would not open. The file had somehow become damaged and would cause the software to crash every time it tried to recover the file. After restarting my computer, it still did not work. I asked my teammate to try opening it on her computer, no success. I tried a few other things before panic started to set in. Because, you know, of course, of all days and times, technology would choose RIGHT NOW to fail on me.

Normally I feel sheepish about those emergency prayers that we usually only send up when we haven't studied for a test. But this time, I felt like God might understand. 

There was simply no way I would be able to recreate a 210-page file in one day. It just would not happen. In desperation I prayed, God, please help.

When my husband came down to my desk for morale support, I had a brief meltdown with lots of tears and what was probably the closest thing to heart attack I've experienced to date. And then I called our IT Help Desk. After a little while, they were able to recover the file. Our network backs up twice a day, and the most recent back up had happened just half an hour before the file crashed. So I only lost about a half hour of work! The momentary crisis was averted!


It occurred to me that this was not a coincidence. The enemy knows how important this handbook is to the success of Urbana. And he also knew that the day before it was due was probably the worst time to cause panic and stress. He certainly put forth a very good effort to cause this project to fail. But God prevailed. Again.

What can often seem like insignificant, tedious, hard work, can often be the places where God shows up in the most surprising way. I am reminded of God's intimate relationship with his people, even while he also has the power to affect thousands. Because while I know this Handbook will ultimately be used for the largest missions conference in North America, it has already been used in my life. And no one but God and me will ever know. Well, except you, if you've made it to the end of this blog post.