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.

Meet My Nemesis- Ordinary

5-minute-friday-1

*This post is a little out of the “ordinary” for me (ha ha!) but it’s a baring of my soul within the mood I have today… so, either enjoy… or accept my apology 🙂 

Ordinary.

Nothing distinctive or special. Common. Every day. Normal. Commonplace.

It says, “Let’s never change.”

My soul begins to wilt at the very thought.

The thought of a life filled with the mundane… the same from every angle… nothing marking it as different or colorful or adventurous.

Ordinary is the nemesis of my existence.

It crawls at my heels and grabs at my ankles… to pull me down, back, away from a life of newness and change.

To a pit of the darkness that overwhelms my heart and mind, wearies me with vision that gets cloudier and further from reach.

Ordinary perches on my door step and squawks, mimicking my hopes in a strained, high-pitched echo of human voice… taunting me, pulling my dread and fear from its shadowed corners into the light… “This is all life will ever be and it’s all you’re worth,” it screeches.

Ordinary calls to me from the dishes, the laundry, the mess of toys, the meals to be made, the dust in the corner… “Get cozy,” it croons, “your whole existence is for this cause… to be breath-snatching flesh taking up space on an already too-full planet… robotic and purposeless.”

Ordinary takes my form in the mirror’s jeer… a whisper… a reminder that regardless of adventure and thrill and change, I will always be ordinary by appearance. Too much here, too little there… a face in a sea of faces, a body in an ocean of bodies… useless.

Oh, how Ordinary sneaks up on me… in the midst of gallivanting and exploring and experiencing the new… it finds me like a hunter seeks its prey… finds a way to make the new ordinary.

I live with an eye over my shoulder, looking always for the familiar sight, the stench, the sense that Ordinary has found me again and schemes to find my end… to steal my breath and heartbeat and will. To leave a shell in my place.

Ordinary beckons as a friend, promising security, safety, and peace.

But I have held its hand before… and felt the drain of life as it slipped out of my fingertips into the other.

This is how I’m wired. To long for more than I am.

To feel life and hope and renewing in the midst of change and newness.

To soar on the wings of purpose and challenge.

I have tried friendship with Ordinary. I have succumbed to the sacrifice required for finding my freedom elsewhere. A Cinderella cleaning the cellar of Ordinary, waiting for the moment of release into throes of the life I need to live to survive and thrive.

Then God sneaks in, in the midst of my battle with Ordinary, and opens my eyes… opens my eyes to the purpose, the challenge, the lessons in the every day. He shows me my muscles… which have grown stronger through the drudgery and hard labor of not dying in the submission to my duties of mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend.  He wraps me up and says, “I am your security, safety, and freedom… whether life is ordinary or new, thrilling or mundane, special or average. You see Ordinary as your nemesis… I see it as your greatest tool. Your weapon, not your enemy, against the great, the honored, the magnificent of this world.”

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

“You see,” He tells me, “you are never so ordinary that I don’t know your every quirk, your every hair, your deepest pains and greatest joys… I see you. And you are not the same as everyone else. No one is. But you must have the eyes to see it. I have given them eyes only to see you plainly… so that when your uniqueness shines, it will be clear who the author of your story is. Me.”

So I wrestle. Struggle. Wait. Submit. Cry. Give in. Give up. Try again. This contention with my mask… my painted eyes, painted hair, painted clothes… perceptible to the world as nothing more than laundry and dishes and disciplining. Knowing that beneath the costume is a little girl, restrained, longing to run through the open fields of flowers until she can fly.

Five Minute Friday – Dive

5-minute-friday-1 It’s Friday!

I missed the last Five Minute Friday… the day, the week, the whole month of December… flew by. And here I am, almost missing it again.

But not.

I watch so many people… myself sometimes too… standing on the edge of everything beautiful and good and true. Seeing that, within reach, lie our hopes, our dreams… thrills that usher life into our hearts and souls.

Yet our feet stay rooted.

Because those dreams and hopes are within reach… but first a step is needed. One small step. And it happens to lead off of a cliff of all things familiar, known, and comfortable. This step becomes a dive into a sea of all that we’ve longed for.

Fear nails us to the stoney edge. The wind beats at our faces, tells us that to let go and dive in will lead to ultimate ruin, disappointment, failure. Because who are we to have what we hope for?

Inadequate. Insufficient. Insecure.

What would happen if we could actually live the life we want? Ruin? Sabotage? The wind is strong and convincing.

If we let it be. If we listen to its voice and agree.

But it’s a lie.

We must dive in! Who are we not to give it a try? Failure is no end… only an ushered step onto a better path… a guard rail that keeps us going the right direction. Closed doors are not rejection… no, they are direction. Our fears deceive us into thinking that the cliffy edge is a better place to stay… gazing upon our possibilities with hopelessness.

But not me, not this year. I want to dive in. I want to flail and fling and fail… so that I can get closer to succeeding. I want the doors to close like the formation of a grand arrow pointing me to my destiny… the purposes and plans for which God has already determined for me. How easily I would be distracted and lost if there weren’t bowling “bumper guards” of life to keep me from going down the gutter. Missing the pins altogether.

2013 will be a year of diving. Diving into a large city of other writers, strangers yet, to see how I can be stretched, grown, and mentored in my craft. Diving into teaching a Creative Writing course to missionary high schoolers… when I’ve NEVER been a teacher. Diving into new languages, new cultures, new experiences… all of which are terrifying and thrilling… knowing that there are so many opportunities for failure… for direction. For purpose.

Without diving in to the scary, uncontrollable possibilities of life… there is no purpose greater than the small, feeble ones we can manage on our own.

A fun video by Steven Curtis Chapman… Diving In 🙂

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXqXIicm8uU?rel=0]