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.

The Longing- A Book Review

I’ve never done a “formal” book review before… and I hesitate to call this one. Regardless, it’s my attempt at honoring the work of another talented author by sharing some of my thoughts and encouragements (to you, my reader) to check it out!

You are called to something so much higher than a good self-esteem. –The Longing

I was so grateful when Joey trusted me with his new “baby” for review! I’ve had it in my possession way too long (the whole busy-mom thing) but at last I have joyfully completed my task!

It is now my deep honor to introduce you to The Longing: Embracing the Deepest Truth of Who You Are

Unless we know whose we really are, we will live like orphans who’ve long given up the dream of ever being chosen, loved, and accepted by another. –The Longing

In The Longing, Joey takes the reader on a journey through many life experiences that just about anyone can relate to- and some that we are glad we can’t relate to yet (Joey- my husband has asked that I not ever need to hand-write my books! HA!) He defines the ache and longing that we all feel or have felt. With tears in our eyes (or hearts) reminiscing our own struggle to belong and know we have value, he guides us to a solution for that emptiness we feel. Through a really good mix of quotes, scripture, and modern day banter Joey makes the Bible truths and principals palatable for the current culture.

Despite what you’ve been told or have experienced, you are not the sum total of your gifts and talents, your strengths and weaknesses, your victories and defeats. You are not your job. You are not your status, your inflated fantasies of greatness or lowest levels of self-hatred. You are not your roles as husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, boss or employee, sinner or saint. You are not your net worth in homes, assets, or possessions. Your net worth is in the invisible, inestimable, immeasurable love of God. –The Longing

The Longing even worked as a read-aloud! Feeling bad that I’d taken so long to read the book, I took it on a long family trip. The hours flew by (thank you God, and thank you Joey) as I read some deep and meaningful reminders of who we are and whose we are. My husband commented on how refreshing it was to hear things he knew in his mind and heart but often get tucked away in the busyness of life. The Longing is a call to slow down, give ourselves permission to embrace the ugly in our lives, find acceptance in spite of it, healing because of it, and freedom to be who we are meant to be.

After creating the world in six days, on the seventh day God rested. When you and I don’t rest, we are one day ahead of God, metaphorically speaking. –The Longing

I have also been reading 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp – slowly- as I simmer in the truths of my need for a slower-paced life, a quiet heart, and a constant seeking after gratitude. I loved how Joey also touched on the need for living in the moment to truly relish what we’ve been given. I don’t believe in coincidence, so the fact that both books are speaking this message into my life right now comes with a need to heed.

It is in community where we silence all the noise thrown at us throughout the day and affirm our true spiritual identity. In community, our hearts receive the ongoing restoration they so desperately need. –The Longing

I don’t know who you are or what stage of life you are in. But I’m pretty sure that whatever season of life you find yourself in, The Longing is a book that will answer deep questions of your value and gently guide you to a place of confidence and peace- regardless of the circumstances surrounding you.

Ever since we were children, our hearts have longed to belong. This is the longing… We have all longed to be longed for. Our hearts have always wanted to be wanted by others, but what all of us have experienced, in different ways, is rejection. –The Longing

Joey O’Connor  has written 19 books and is currently the Executive Director for The Grove Center for the Arts and Media. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

You can buy The Longing at Amazon, Barnes n Noble, and Sony’s E-Bookstore.

All Words Are Pegs to Hang Ideas On -Aesop

I love words.

I love that a combination of printed letters, together, form a word that holds much meaning. I am always careful to pick my words, intending them to say exactly what I mean for them.

Lewis Carroll wrote, in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

How true this is for me! No more, no less. It is not the quantity of words that I love. It is their precise meaning. “Words should be weighed and not counted” (Yiddish Saying).  It is that the simplest choice of a word can so entirely change what you mean to say. This love affair with language has caused me, often, to think carefully before I speak. Weren’t we told to do that growing up? I mull over my word options as if they were delicious delicacies. My mind thrills in the choices just as my mouth salivates with the aroma of something yummy. I mean what I say.

Unfortunately for me, words are not so carefully tended or admired by all. Many people speak with such carelessness that words spew forth as shallow as a baby’s wading pool. Empty. Void. Meaningless. This is the greatest tragic use of the word, tossed out in all vanity and selfishness. The speaker has forgotten that words are not just for them… but for the listener as well. “The more the words, the less the meaning, and what does that prophet anyone?” said the most wise man of all time, King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 6:11).

How I have often wished that I could go around communicating in whatever language piqued my fancy! To make up sentences using a variety of languages would be divine!  For example, I want to insert any one of the four Greek words for “love” in place of my English variant. How wonderful to use a word that specifically points to the kind of love I feel, rather than grouping them all into one sad and lonely utterance. How fantastic it would be to say, “I sure Phileo chips and salsa!” Then I could more appropriately say, “I eros you,” to my wonderful husband. Different loves.

Actually, I have a small confession. We use multiple languages in our house. We all speak, on varying levels, Spanish, English, Sign Language, and much smaller portions of Hebrew, Italian, French, and a couple others. We use them to say what we mean. It’s marvelous. A guest in our home may overhear (or, in the case of Sign Language, see) us communicating affection in any given language at any given time. My three year old has caught on and begun to create his own language and words to best express his thoughts and feelings. (On that note, I think most toddlers create language as they too, having been “mute” as babies for so long, enjoy expressing themselves in so many ways.)

Mark Twain said it best, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—‘tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

I will conclude this little dedication to the word with a “word” of caution. Many people have been hurt by words. Many have been so hurt that, sadly, words hold little value because the action behind them proved to be truer. I have experienced this loss of assurance in words handed to me as well. I have come to the realization that it is not the word that is false, but the heart of the person wielding it. Thus, I have chosen to be a person whose words speak their intention, speak the truth of my heart, so that my deeds are in accordance.

Nathaniel Hawthorne summed it up well when he said, “Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!”

May we choose to be people of profound integrity, honoring the gift of language that we have been given, being good ambassadors of our endowment of verbal understandings, and self-controlled enough to employ them at the best possible time in the best possible way. “A word out of season may mar a whole life” (Greek Saying).