Book Review: Of Stillness and Storm

Hello friends!

I have the great pleasure of reviewing Of Stillness and Storm by Michèle Phoenix, a leading voice for Missionary Kids (having been raised as one herself). You can read more about Michèle here.

Michèle also has history with Black Forest Academy, which is how our paths originally crossed. Learning that we are both writers, love Jesus, and love MKs, we’ve stayed in touch over distance and time.

Here’s a synopsis of Of Stillness and Storm: 

“I felt torn between two worlds. Each with its own mystery. One more captivating than the other, but the other more real and breathing.”

It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream—reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family’s undoing.

At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren’s past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It’s thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction.

As a mother serving in the mission field, this story hit close to home at times. No, I’m not in Nepal and my living conditions are considerably better (though you’d wonder on days where my internet services feels even less available than Lauren’s in the story).

Even so, this story has something for any person pursuing a life of purpose or calling or meaning. At what cost will we pursue that ambition? Whether we believe our “mission” is from God or we have a self-determined drive, what are we willing to give, or sell, or lose in the process?

That is something Michèle processes through her story of a family serving in Nepal. Even though the signs are everywhere, that their son is struggling, the she is struggling, her husband can only believe that God will work it out since He has called them to this service.

What do we do in these situations? How many well-meaning families have ended in divorce, suicide, depression, or complete burnout for the sake of what one or all believe is God’s purpose for their lives? How do we determine the difference between the God whose call trumps the health of the family, and a God who loves each and every one? The God who Himself rested? These are hard and deep questions, and while not given an absolute answer within Michèle’s story, are certainly addressed and played with.

Which makes it terribly uncomfortable.

Before that sends you running, let me explain.

Good and important themes often make us uncomfortable. And they probably should. They make us confront hard realities, stories we’d rather ignore or shove down, possibilities we want to believe don’t exist. What? A family serving God while having to deal with emotional affairs? Physical affairs? Troubled and rebellious children? Mental illness? Medication for depression? Suicide? Divorce? While not all of these present in the story of Lauren and Sam, the themes of their story make us look long and hard at the cost some families are paying in the name of “calling.”

Setting the mission aspect aside for a moment, Of Stillness and Storm also deals with emotional boundaries in a marriage and outside. Lauren finds herself in conversation with an old friend, right during a time where her heart toward her own man is muddled. Sam is gone a lot, serving the indigenous in their host country, leaving her to single parenting, transitioning into the new culture, and bearing the weight of a life that keeps catching her off guard.

Then comes Facebook and a new message.

Oh man, how I’ve had to guard my own heart at every instance in my marriage. How easily the enemy sneaks in with whispered promises of “better” or “more” or “see?” and how those lies can devastate whole families. Lauren knows this, of course, but refuses to really acknowledge the way her heart is moving toward this old friendship. This dangerous clinging to naivety only furthers her along the road of strain in her own marriage, family, and heart. Again, another issue that Michèle tackles with rawness and which, of course, made me uncomfortable. 🙂

But not so uncomfortable that I could put the book down.

No, the realness of their story kept me attached and I couldn’t let this sweet family go. I had to know what decisions they’d make. I had to know if Lauren would hand her heart over. I had to know if Sam would save his family or the villagers. I had to know if Ryan, their son, would finally adjust to life in this foreign country or if he’d crash and burn. Partly I had to know because my heart wants to know, too, what I think about God. Am I in a place to give my heart slowly and ignorantly to the destruction of my marriage? Do I believe God calls us to sacrifice our marriages and children for what we believe His causes are? Would I choose my children or our mission?

While I still have much to process in these themes, I found the story riveting. It wasn’t meant or written in such a way that I feel obligated to make big decisions for my life right now. But it did raise these themes to my awareness, themes that I’ve watch from the sidelines in some of the families I’ve served alongside… the quiet divorce and the family silently leaving the field. The expelled child whose actions send the whole family away. An affair amidst emotional and verbal abuse. It happens. And I hate that it happens. Of Stillness and Storm is one story of one family walking these tightropes.

It’s a worthy read. It’s an important read.

You can get it here.

A New Song for 2017

Abide. Rest. Comfort. Hope.

Another year gone, another word- but so much more -joins the list.

It was truly a year of practiced hope.

We’ve been raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder for about nine years… from foster care to adoption. It has been incredibly difficult and at times, I’ve felt helpless and hopeless.

My family has experienced trauma on a few fronts, all of which affected my marriage, bringing my husband and I to a year of counseling (which greatly helped). We also see individual counselors / mentors to help us navigate the emotional waters of raising a child of trauma (who re-injures in a home with other children.)

We live cross-culturally in a place we love, but in a place, all the same, that differs in language, culture, expectation, money, and norms. We weave in and out of Alemanish Germany, Alsatian France, and Northern Switzerland and a Christian conglomerate of individuals working together from every different denomination, from different countries, and from different cultures with a common purpose and many different ways of getting there. It would be enough to live within one of these cultures, but we daily navigate them all.

And to do that, we have to raise our own salary… which adds another layer of stress (I mean, opportunity to trust and hope and believe).

This is just a sampling.

Needless to say, the words abide, rest, comfort, and hope have been crucial to my last four years. Their deep meaning has carried me and comforted me and challenged me in ways I could never have expected. And as I said last year, each word continues on long beyond December 31st. They weave together into a more beautiful hug.

This year, for awhile, I thought my new word was going to be expectation. It’s close to hope… and I’m fine with a thread of hope continuing to weave through my life story. However, as I was recently on a walk and pouring out my heart to God, I heard myself asking Him for a new song.

Okay, that’s not a word. But I’m going with it.

My last few years have been heartache nestled among great beauty. I have so much to be thankful for, in spite of those things which have challenged me to the core. And, looking back at the me who arrived in Germany nearly five years ago… I’m a different person. Hopefully a better person. Certainly a person, though, that has been to the ends of herself multiple times. Who is clear that she is weak and only He is strong. Who lives in the constant reality of her inability to affect change in the circumstances around her and the incredible ability of God to be the Change-Maker. A person with deeper compassion for godly, loving parents who are struggling, suffering marriages, individuals with depression, the lonely, the lost, and the broken.

And I’m ready for a new song.

There are sweet glimpses of healing and growth and joy in my family’s future. This is where I thought expectation would be my anthem… but instead, I know the Singer and Dancer of my soul delights in this coming season with a new song.

A song of deliverance.

A song of joy.

A song of peace in storms.

A song of love.

For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

 

Picture Book Publishing – IngramSpark or Create Space: Quality Comparison

Before I launch into my next comparison between CreateSpace and IngramSpark, let me show you a short video of the day I received the first proof of my debut picture book, Tercules, in the mail (from CS). The “funny story” I refer to in the video is the one I share in my last post.

I FINALLY received the paperback version of Tercules from Ingram. Ironically, it beat the journal that I published half a month earlier, which still hasn’t arrived. Neither has the hardback format of Tercules. My previous post discusses all about that.

Interestingly, there were things I liked better about the CreateSpace printing of my book, and things I liked better about Ingram’s. After the disappointment I’ve experienced with Ingram, my expectations were low.

While pictures won’t do the images justice, let me show a few to show the differences.

The cover:

The CS print is on the left, Ingram on the right. Aside from the spine being on the front cover (which was my bad…) the differences are interesting. The CS cover is more vibrant. The colors are brighter. The Ingram cover, however, shows the leaves in the background a little better. Also, as noted by another reviewer of Ingram vs. CreateSpace, I did notice that the CS cover is more apt to collect finger prints and minor scratches. Even after being handled a bit, the fingerprints aren’t very noticeable on the Ingram version. At the end of the day, I think I’d still go with CS’s cover.

Here’s a close up of the two:

Interior:

So while Ingram had a darker, less bright cover, the interior was bright and colorful. CreateSpace had a darker image… which was fine until I saw how nice and bright Ingram’s was. I also pulled up the images sent to me directly from my illustrator, Megan Frank, to see which matched her art the closest. While neither perfectly match her work, Ingram’s is the closest.

Because I’d honestly rather not work with Ingram, I emailed CreateSpace to see what they could do about this. This is their answer (which I appreciated):

Hello Marcy,

Greetings from CreateSpace.

One of the most difficult aspects of desktop publishing is color matching–properly converting the RGB colors into CMYK colors so that what gets printed looks the same as what appears on the monitor or the same as another printed copy.

Unfortunately, we do not currently offer color management for books, and cannot guarantee that the printed book’s color will appear the same as another copy.

Each computer screen and printer has the potential to display and print differently than the printers we use for our print-on-demand process. For this reason we cannot offer an alternative other than adjusting your file accordingly.

You may want to make the images a shade lighter within your native files and resubmitting the files in order for you to check what the proof copy will look like.

If you are not satisfied with the color that is printed, you may need to adjust the colors in your file until you find the correct shade when the book is printed.

I understand that this might not be the response you were hoping for and I truly wish that I would have been able to accommodate your request, unfortunately this is a matter beyond our control.

I appreciate your understanding in this regard Marcy.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns. We’ll do our best to aid you.

Thank you for reaching out to us. Have a good day.

Aren’t they lovely people? I got this personal email one day after I asked the question. If I were an illustrator, I would know how to do what they said, and I’d go in and do it and try again. Since I’m not (and don’t want to hassle my sweet illustrator again), I’m going to leave it.

About Author Images:

It’s not as easy to tell by this image (sorry) but strangely enough, the About the Author image looks pixilated on the Ingram print, while clear and crisp on the CS print. Maybe the brightness of their print had this affect on the author image… I’m not sure. But I don’t love that it looks that way on Ingram’s print. Strange considering how well the rest of the interior looked.

Ingram: Top CS: Bottom

Really, at the end of it all, either one would do perfectly well. Because I have seen them together, I’m going with the Ingram printing. However, I’m pretty sure for my next picture book (due in February!) that I’ll go with CreateSpace and just let my illustrator know to lighten the art a bit so it’s not so dark. But actually, my next book has lots of light, bright colors so it may not matter as much.

I hope this is helpful! I have a hard time finding much information on self publishing picture books. I’m happy to share my journey!

My next post in the series will look at hiring an illustrator. See you then!