Today, I’m sharing a most unusual book for my February offering in the #Keyword Reading Challenge 2017, hosted by My Soul Called Life. For the second month of the year, my challenge was to find and read a book with one of the following keywords in its title: And, Rose, Promise, Every, Deception, Blazing. My selection? Michele Phoenix’ thoughtful and heartrending Of Stillness and Storm.
Of Stillness and Storm
Of Stillness and Storm is the story of Lauren and Sam, missionaries called to Nepal, and their 13-year-old son Ryan. After Sam receives the “call” to go to Nepal, the family spends years praying, building a financial support base, and preparing to go. Sam is fully convinced of their need to go (and of course the need is great, whether it’s medical care, physical assistance, or the gospel) but Lauren isn’t quite so sure. And Ryan, who’s a kindergartener at the time Sam hears the call, doesn’t want to go at all. The years of preparation time, however, only solidify Sam’s certainty that they should go to Nepal. But during those years Lauren continues to question whether it’s best for their family to go, and as Ryan grows, his mind doesn’t change at all.
Finally, Sullivan, an old friend of Lauren’s and Sam’s provides the final bit of financial support that’s missing, and the family heads off to the mission field, with the same feelings and attitudes they’ve carried for years. I’d call Sam something of a “visionary builder;” he heads off into the mountains and villages of Nepal with his Nepalese friend and co-worker for weeks at a time. Lauren and Ryan stay in Kathmandu, in their home which has a few Western amenities (electricity for half a day at a time, fans, a water filtration system). Sam has rejected most other amenities for his family, however; he wants their own missionary life to be as similar to those they’re serving as possible.
Sam’s not really in Kathmandu that much; he’s generally off trekking and ministering. Lauren and Ryan have attempted to build a life there for their family, though. Ryan’s on a soccer team; Lauren teaches English at a semi-local school. They connect with some other English-speaking families and build relationships with them and with the local Nepali. They’re managing; but only just. The weeks of original culture shock have passed by; but each family member is becoming more isolated. Ryan barely speaks to Lauren anymore, and has become quieter and somewhat surly. Lauren is worn down and exhausted. Sam whirls in for a week every now and then, then heads off again. He can’t see it, but his family is breaking down. Lauren tries to tell Sam how his family is suffering; but all he can see is The Call, and the great need of the Nepali he’s serving. He’s just not aware, or willing to be aware, of the struggles of his own family. And then he’s off again to serve.
Into the empty space where their vibrant family used to live comes a Facebook request from a school friend of Lauren’s; Aidan, her high school best friend (and maybe first love) who’s an incredible artist. The renewed acquaintance brings joy and life to Lauren. Yet it may just end up being a catalyst for disaster not only for Lauren and her marriage, but for her entire family as well.
So what did I think?
Years ago, as a single young woman, I was privileged to serve overseas as a missionary for several years. I vividly remember during our pre-departure training, that one speaker stressed the importance of families caring for their children; specifically, that the mother’s chief ministry was her own children. I remember thinking “poor them! They don’t get to work with the nationals!” Of course as a single woman without kids with the life experience I’d had at that point, there was no way I could have perceived then just how vital it was for missionary families that one person was there providing love, connection, and stability for children who were still growing up themselves.
Of Stillness and Storm really speaks not only to that, but to how we as human beings interpret that call to serve. For Sam, The Call is the most important thing, his purpose for living, the reason he’s working among the Nepali. Lauren loves her husband and certainly cares for the Nepali, but she questions why they’re there and is worried about the fragmenting of her family and certainly, her son Ryan. Ryan hates Nepal, hates being away from home, and is turning into someone Lauren doesn’t seem to recognize. And trouble, for all three of them, is just a few missteps away.
So what did I think? I loved this book; this hard, beautiful, disturbing, heart-aching read. I loved the characters (though I wanted to shake Sam at times). I grieved over what I perceived as unteachability and ears that would not hear. I wished for the very best for them when sometimes what they were getting was the worst. I appreciated the way that Michele Phoenix grapples with the questions about missions, callings, marriages, families, and children with heartrending prose. I’ve seen Ted Dekker and others do the same thing.
It can be so hard for us as humans to get it right. We seek to hear God’s leading and follow it, but when we follow it, it’s from our own finite and limited understanding. Of Stillness and Storm not only is a beautiful, disturbing story; but a reminder of how to love, to walk in humility, and who “the least of these” God has given us can be. I definitely recommend this book; it is worth your time. Just be prepared to leave a bit of your heart behind!