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.

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