Your Chance to Win Laura Story’s new CD “Open Hands” (ends 3/22)

Are you a fan of worship music?  If you are, you’ll love Laura Story’s new CD, Open Hands.  Flyby/Propeller Promotions sent me a copy of this lovely new music to review…plus one to give away to a reader!

 

 

Laura Story…

Do you know Laura Story?  Sometimes, you can hear and love songs but have no idea whom they’ve come from.  This is my experience with Laura—until Open Hands, anyway!  You probably know the song “Indescribable,” it was recorded by both Chris Tomlin and Laura Story.  What about “Mighty to Save”–that’s another of my faves.  Her song “Blessings” won song of the year in 2012.  So obviously, Laura is a talented songwriter.  But, that’s not all that she has done!  Laura has led worship at Perimeter Church in Atlanta for 12 years.  She has won a Grammy Award; a Billboard Music Award; several Dove Awards; and even an RIAA Gold certification!  All this since 2008, when she published her first album.  She is even the author of a couple of books, about navigating life through hard moments or seasons while hanging on to God’s hand.

These are her, admittedly, impressive public accomplishments.  In her private life, she’s the wife of Martin Elvington, and they’ve had three kiddos together.  But the struggles they’ve experienced since her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor have provided the inspiration for the songs of her two most recent albums.  How do you live when God doesn’t fix things?  Laura has learned that keeping “open hands” — translated as keeping a loose hold on things & trusting that God’s got it, not holding them tightly and seeking to control them, are just what God may be asking of us.  She says, “I wanted to make an album so that each song I write would be just that seed of hope or that lifeline that someone listens to during that tough moment and thinks, ‘I’m going to choose to trust God, even during this.’”

 

What you’ll find in the songs

Open Hands contains 11 beautiful, thoughtful songs.  Some of them are familiar hymns with new bridges or choruses added, like “Awake My Soul (A 1000 Tongues)” or “For the Love of My King,” which takes from and adds to the old hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee.”  Reimagined for a new audience, both of these take the vital truths and compositions of the original words and music and add personal vignettes of praise and struggle.  They’re just as beautiful and worshipful as the originals, and I truly enjoyed the new versions.

Story shares the hopes of motherhood in “Give You Faith.”  What do we wish for our children?  What would we desire most to give them?  That they will have faith, and hope, but most of all the love that God has for them, that will never let them go.

In this most contentious of post-election years, Story’s “Grace Abounds” reminds us that in the darkness, in the trials, when we see hatred or terror in news stories; when it seems that there is no hope at all, that God IS there.

I have several favorites on this album; I love the songs I mentioned above.  But one of my best-loved is the song the CD starts with:  “Death Was Arrested.”  You might not imagine that this song is about the Prodigal Son, but it is…even as it’s about us as well!  I am so moved by these words (and the music is perfectly suited to them):

“Ash was redeemed only beauty remains…
My mourning grew quiet my feet rose to dance
When death was arrested and my life began…”

You’ll also find these songs:

  • The song from the title, “Open Hands”
  • “You Came Running,” the story of what God does when our dreams crash down around us
  • “Whisper,” where Story talks about how we can wait to hear His voice
  • “Every Word You Breathe:” we’ll cling to Him and His word, not our experiences or things we’re familiar with
  • “Majesty” reminds us all that God really is
  • “Extraordinary,” about God’s extraordinary love for us

My thoughts

Open Hands is a rich, beautiful, worshipful experience.  We’ve listened to it many times as a family; during morning times when we’re preparing for the day and getting breakfast made and eaten.  We’ve played it in the afternoons when school is over; and in the evenings during quiet moments.  I can honestly say that each time we’ve heard it I’ve loved it more.  The music and words are both contemplative; Story’s not trying to write the next top-10 worship hit.  Rather, she’s writing about the God that she sees showing up over and over in her life (and others’ lives); the God whose grace really is big enough; and the worship He deserves from us all.

Open Hands will bless you; encourage you; and help you to see God in all the portions of our lives.  Get a copy of this CD.  Play it during your quiet times; when you take your children to appointments; as you move through your daily life and tasks.  It will really speak to your heart!

And, you can enter this giveaway to win Open Hands below!

FlyBy/Propeller Promotions has generously provided a CD of Open Hands for one of our readers!  Just click on the pink “Enter here” to go to the Giveaway Tools form to enter.  Giveaway closes on 3/22/17.  Best wishes!

Enter here!

Check out more on Open Hands via social media:

Buy Link: http://smarturl.it/OpenHandsiTunes

http://laurastorymusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/laurastory
https://www.instagram.com/laurastorymusic/
Video links:
Open Hands (Official Lyric Video) – https://youtu.be/AABE–YR1No
Open Hands (Song Devotional) – https://youtu.be/NWWiyFlXdi0

Enjoy!  –Wren

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again.  Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

 

Win a Copy of “Choosing Real” ~ Responding to Life’s Unexpectedness (Giveaway Ends 3/19/17)

I was captivated by the idea of Bekah Jane Pogue’s new book Choosing Real.  How do you respond to life–and to God–when life doesn’t go as planned?  When schedules become overfull?  When suffering and difficulty press in?  I had the lovely opportunity to read Choosing Real when the BlogAbout Blogger Network provided a copy for me to review–as well as a copy to give away to one reader!

 

 

So what is Choosing Real?

Subtitled “An Invitation to Celebrate When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned,” Bekah Jane Pogue’s wonderful book addressed the questions that every woman has to face sooner or later.  We all have that image of the picture-perfect life; you know, the one we’re striving for.  The one that our list-making ought to be achieving (if we just get everything checked off and accomplished).  That our Pinterest boards should be illustrating.

But, life doesn’t work that way.  Although it feels as though it should at times.  Life intrudes with messiness; with suffering; with unexpected pit stops and sharp turns that we weren’t planning for (and, by the way, that weren’t even included on our to-do lists).

So what exactly do we do when we’re exhausted, or sidelined by illness or tribulation, or simply struggling with the fact that life doesn’t look like we thought it would at this point?  When we’ve served and volunteered and run ourselves ragged but we’re not satisfied and we’re not at rest?  And where exactly is God, what does He expect of me anyway, and how much more can I possibly do to meet His expectations?

Except maybe they’re not His expectations for me at all.

There came a day, after Bekah’s dad passed away unexpectedly, that she sat on a bench and told God she was done.  She had nothing left to give, no ability left to serve; no more smiles; she was empty.

And she discovered that He was okay with that.  In fact, maybe even happy with it.  Bekah had lived as though she was the pursuer of God; that she was the one responsible for everything; that the faith life was all up to her.  And the idea of God enjoying her, just as she was?

Until she came to the end of herself, I don’t know that she would have imagined that.  And yet that was what she found at that point.  The invitation comes from God, not from us.

Bekah said that this–that realizing that she could be completely REAL with God–actually saved her life.  (I can relate to that!)

So how do we live, being real with God?

Bekah shares about her experiences–that can also be our own.  Sometimes it’s an outlook we can pursue.  Sometimes it’s questions we can ask.  Sometimes it is just stopping and taking another look at the way we’re used to behaving or acting.  Here’s a list of some of the ways Bekah, and we, can inject realness into our lives:

  • Saying “yes” to God’s invitations
  • Learning how to really experience rest
  • Finding God in the middle of the loss
  • Understanding our identities in the messes and transitions of life
  • Knowing we are “seen”
  • And more

What Choosing Real is meaning to me

Have you ever read a book and thought, “Eureka!  Exactly!”

This is a book that so resonated with me.   I don’t know Bekah in person, only from reading her book.  But so much of what she describes was not just something I recognized, it was experiences I’d lived.  And I’d guess I’m not the only one!  I’ve definitely been a woman who took the entire responsibility of my relationship with God on myself; as if He weren’t going to be doing any approaching and it was all up to me.

Exhausting!

And not really even logical.  If my husband doesn’t just sit on the couch all day, ignoring me and our son and waiting for me to approach him and for him maybe to talk to me (which he DOESN’T–he is awesome!), why would I think that God is just sitting up in heaven waiting for me to do all the work in our relationship?

That’s not even a relationship.  But it wasn’t until I saw Bekah describing her own experiences that I could see the pieces missing from my own perspective.

So no spoilers, but…

here are some of the most meaningful things I’ve read in Choosing Real.

  • Learning to seek His presence when I’m feeling loss
  • Separating my identity from my roles or my emotions
  • Asking if I am sacrificing “my sanity or my family” to make things happen
  • Choosing to engage all my senses when I am in a place of “overwhelm”

There’s so much more.  But I want you to be able to experience it during your own read!

Finally…

Would I recommend this book to you?

Yes.  I love Bekah’s friendly manner of writing.  It really does feel that she’s writing to you personally–who happens to be her very good friend.  So the book is a pleasure to read.

But even more important, the themes she shares and the perspectives she offers are words of wisdom that I believe we as women desperately need to hear.  We all have questions about our value, our identities, and how we’re “supposed” to interact with God–and what He wants of us.  The way we answer those questions is often shaped by our own experiences (both painful as well as positive) rather than by God’s own truth and His own value of us.

Choosing Real reminded me often of a beloved childhood book, The Velveteen Rabbit, which emphasizes the importance of being Real; Real with a capital R.  It turns out that we don’t have to be well-worn and threadbare to be Real.  Rather, we can engage in Realness in the relationship that defines us the most clearly, which will affect not only our perspectives of ourselves, but also our relationships, and the work of our lives.

And it can set us out on the road we long to be on; the place of Rest with a capital R with the God who loves us.

 

 

And you can enter to win your own copy!

Just click on the pink Enter Here link below, which will take you to the Giveaway Tools page with the entry form.  Giveaway ends March 19, 2017 at 11:59 PM.

Best wishes!

Enter here!

 

Enjoy!  –Wren

DISCLOSURE:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

Art, Coloring, and Cursive? My Review of THE ART OF CURSIVELOGIC

Readers of the finchnwren blog might remember that we’ve reviewed CursiveLogic’s quality curriculum before.  Designed for both children and adult learners (even those who’ve never written in cursive before), their handwriting lessons are logical, understandable, and easy to follow for both instructors and learners alike.  Now, CursiveLogic has an incredible new product that I’m very excited to tell you about: The Art of CursiveLogic.  CursiveLogic sent me a free sample of this gorgeous new book to review.  And yes, it’s as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the cover!

 

Cursive Logic’s unique method…

is something that is designed to help students understand the way cursive works, and to be able to reproduce cursive letters successfully, based on these precepts:

  1. Grouping letters together by shape:  Instead of teaching each letter alone, CursiveLogic teaches about groups of letters which are shaped in similar ways
  2. Teaching a group’s letters in “strings”:  Students learn to connect letters together right away as they work on the letters in a group
  3. Using color to “code” letter strings:  Students are helped to remember the letters in a grouping because they’re all in the same color
  4. Mnemonic phrases to teach letter groupings:  Students learn rhymes for each string so that they can remember how to form the letters
  5. Students are encouraged because even by the end of the first lesson, they can write real words by using the CursiveLogic process

(You can read about our experiences with CursiveLogic in my review at this link.)

Now, CursiveLogic has taken these methods and incorporated them into a combination cursive writing program AND a gorgeous art coloring book!

For anyone who’s loving the current wave of coloring books for adults…

and would also like to practice or learn cursive, The Art of CursiveLogic is a truly beautiful and effective purchase!  (You can preorder this book via the link in the previous sentence; orders are expected to be shipped in May 2017.)

Adults or teens who need to practice their cursive, or really who’ve never actually learned cursive, will love this book.  CursiveLogic employs its effective teaching process (listed above) to enable students to practice and learn cursive quickly and logically.  The Art of CursiveLogic has the additional bonus of providing not only coloring pages (that are real works of art themselves), but coloring pages which incorporate cursive letters in them as part of the decoration.  It’s pretty astonishing!  You can see in the picture above a segment of the page I colored.  It’s from a decorative artsy page featuring a quote from Vincent Van Gogh.  (You can also tell that he’s being featured on this page because of the swirly nature of the drawing, CursiveLogic’s take on “Starry Night.”)  You can see that, tucked in among and actually becoming part of the art itself, CursiveLogic’s cursive letters are everywhere.

How I used The Art of Cursive Logic

I know that I can always work on improving my handwriting.  But really…as an adult/wife/mom/homeschooler/art teacher/reviewer, where I am going to find the time to work on my cursive?  Probably nowhere.

But.

When I received the sample of The Art of CursiveLogic, I absolutely fell in love.  No, I may not have time to sit down and purposely work on my handwriting.  In my leisure moments, that’s probably not what I’m going to choose to do.  But sitting down with my colored pencils and other art supplies, to create art using an astonishingly beautiful coloring book that will also help my handwriting?  That’s a definite yes!

As I mentioned before, we’ve done a few reviews for CursiveLogic.  I have the highest respect for the company and the work they do, and the way their curriculum really does work with students of all ages.  So when CursiveLogic offered to send me a sample of The Art of CursiveLogic, I was happy to try it out for them and share what we thought with our readers.  I knew to expect excellence.  But I didn’t expect to get truly blown away by incredible art coloring pages that I, myself, could use and delight in!

The sample book that CursiveLogic sent me has their time-tested instructional pages for the cursive alphabet.  But it also has 4 coloring pages that are designed around a particular quote plus a bonus one on the back inside cover that’s design-only.  (Obviously, the complete book will have many more than that!)  The coloring pages are fairly intricate (meaning that you won’t complete it in one sitting, perhaps) but all use cursive lettering as part of the art.  Both the art and the quotes are uplifting.  I always came away happy and encouraged after working on a page!

I’ve only used my colored pencils in The Art of CursiveLogic, and they worked well.  The paper is high-quality and accepts color quite richly.  You might be able to use oil pastels as well.

 

Where can you find The Art of CursiveLogic?

Simply click through this link The Art of CursiveLogic to find the preorder page.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I have loved this so much that when someone asked what I’d like for a gift for International Women’s Day, I told them that I wanted The Art of CursiveLogic!  So I’ll also be receiving the complete copy of this fabulous coloring book when it’s sent out this May!

I’m so excited.  In the meantime, I’ll just be working on finishing the other coloring pages in my sample book!

I’m happy to recommend The Art of CursiveLogic to you.  (Clearly!)  If you’re:

  • an adult who loves to color and would like to practice cursive writing at the same time;
  • or if you’re a teen who needs handwriting practice;
  • or an adult or second-language learner who’s learning English cursive for the first time;
  • or you just love to color amazing art;

…then you’ll want to check out CursiveLogic‘s The Art of CursiveLogic!

 

 

You can download a free coloring page here…

by clicking on this Share The Art of CursiveLogic link and sharing on Facebook.  Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to download the bird coloring page to print and color.

Enjoy!  –Wren

DISCLAIMER:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

 

 

 

H is for Happy: Blogging Through The Alphabet

Welcome back to Blogging Through the Alphabet!  My friends Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time are co-hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet.  This week’s letter is H, and I’m sharing a super-fun book/journal that beautifully exemplifies H…for Happy!

 

 

I received the most charming book to review that is just the ticket for getting ourselves into a happy frame of mind.

 

Karen Salmansohn’s fabulous new journal, Instant Happy Journal, is as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside.  Its subtitle is “365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude, and Joy.”  More than just an empty book with pages to be filled, it’s designed to actually enable its writers to, as the old song goes, “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

And how, actually, does Salmansohn do this?  She has created a journal with a blank page for each day of the year.  But, the pages aren’t completely blank.  Instead, each one has what the author calls “happiness prompters.”  It’s a wide variety of quotes, lists, thoughts, and information that will cause the user to stop and think, and to purposely call to mind things about each day that are good.  Or happy.  Or joyful.

In the journal’s foreword, Salmansohn mentions a study done at the University of California. Study participants were divided into three groups, and given three different assignments.  The first group was to write once weekly about 5 good things they were thankful for.  Members of the second group wrote 5 irritating things that had happened in their days.  The third simply wrote down five random things that had occurred.

 

 

Overwhelmingly, the first group (the ones who wrote things they were thankful for) noted that they were happier and that they looked forward more to good things in their futures.  Perhaps most surprisingly, they experienced more improvement in their health!

I was particularly interested in this book because I can see that it is and will be a very useful tool for me.  I’ve always been a pretty positive person.  But, difficult struggles in the past few years have really had an affect on my outlook.  I would love to be more grateful and more thankful for the blessings I have.  What a cool way to record these…at night after the day’s events, or in the morning as I recall the neat things of yesterday.  And then, there’s a wonderful record of all those very good things, any time I might need a lift!

Karen Salmansohn’s Instant Happy Journal is beautiful to look at, full of amazing prompts for your writing, and is, I think, something that will enable users to think about GOOD things. It’s a joy!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Enjoy!  –Wren

 

Lots of other amazing bloggers have written cool posts about their takes on the letter H.  Click on the Blogging Through the Alphabet button below to check them out!

G is for Grace (and Truth): Blogging Through the Alphabet

Welcome back to Blogging Through the Alphabet!  My friends Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time are co-hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet.  This week’s letter is G.

 

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Grace (and Truth)

John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

I have always liked this description of Jesus.  I’ve heard a number of expositions on what it looked like for Jesus to be “full of grace and truth.”  What did that look like?  Not only did He always completely tell the truth, He WAS truth  (John 14:6).  Vine’s exposition on alētheia (truth in Greek) says it is “truth” in all its fullness and scope, as embodied in Him” and also that Jesus “was the perfect expression of the truth.” Not just verbal truth, but “sincerity and integrity of character.”

And what about the grace portion of that character description?  The root word from which charitos comes, charis, is defined by Strong’s Concordance as “(a) grace, as a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ, (b) favor, (c) gratitude, thanks, (d) a favor, kindness.”  Charitos
is further defined there as “‘the grace of Christ,’ in that through pity for sinful men Christ left his state of blessedness with God in heaven, and voluntarily underwent the hardships and miseries of human life, and by his sufferings and death procured salvation for mankind.”

That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  I’m very familiar, as I’m sure many of you are, with the “full of grace and truth” description of Jesus.  I’ve thought a number of times, rather than of these qualities being in full measure in Jesus’ character and being, of how they must have defined His words to others.  We ourselves (okay, I’ll speak on myself here) often seem to lean one way or another in our words.  We can be heavy on the truth yet speak it without kindness, thoughtlessly, or maybe at times when others’ hearts aren’t prepared for the truth and there is harm done rather than lovingkindness expressed.

Or maybe we lean too hard into grace, and don’t speak the truth God has given us because of fear or timidity.

What if we strive to combine hard truths with the grace Jesus would speak them with?

I think of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus didn’t yell “Sinful, unfaithful woman!” to her when she began to converse with Him.  Nor did He say, “Well, I know you’re kind of living in sin–but that’s okay!  You’re awesome!”  No, He spoke truth to her but He did it gently, kindly, and fully.

Resulting in her redemption and that of many in her village…even though they were of a race that the Jews disliked and avoided.

Pretty amazing.

Grace and truth…spoken together.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

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So, this week’s letter is G!  Visit Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time, the co-hosts of Blogging Through The Alphabet, to see more bloggers sharing about their thoughts and words about G!  Or, just click on the button above, which will take you to the link.

Enjoy!  –Wren

Great New Read from Katie Ganshert ~ LIFE AFTER (my review)

Katie Ganshert is one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers.  She creates flawed yet enormously appealing characters who move through challenges and relationships in an interesting fashion.  (She also writes engaging speculative fiction as K.E. Ganshert.)  I received her newest novel, Life After, to read and review, to my great anticipation!

life-after

 

The Story:

Autumn Manning boards a train one snowy evening carrying a box of items.  Distracted, she vaguely acknowledges those around her.  There’s a variety of people around her:  an older man wearing a John Deere cap; a mother with a small child; a professional woman with an expensive handbag; an artistic-looking young woman.  And others.  As Autumn returns a text she’s just received, the unthinkable happens and the train explodes.

Autumn survives the blast, with physical injuries that keep her in the hospital until she’s pronounced healed and is released.  But the emotional injuries, the invisible ones, aren’t so easy to diagnose or to fix.  Night after night, she is startled awake by nightmares.  And guilt.  Why did that man plant the bomb?  Why did 22 people die?  And why did she survive; 1 out of 23 people in that car?

Autumn doesn’t have any answers.  She doesn’t know why she survived, she doesn’t know how or when she’ll return to work, and she doesn’t know why she’s avoiding her fiance Chad, nor why she feels slightly angry when she sees him.  Also, she doesn’t know how to answer the letters she keeps receiving.

In another part of town, therapist Paul Elliott is picking up the pieces–or trying to–after having lost his wife, and the mother of his two children, in the same explosion Autumn survived.  He thinks his kids are doing better than they are; but he hasn’t really been able to fully process the loss with them.  He’s keeping food on the table, getting kids to school…but his daughter is reaching out for help in ways he’s completely unaware of.

Paul, Autumn, and the Elliott kids are pushed together in the most unexpected of ways.  And perhaps healing will finally come for them all.

 

My impressions:

I always approach a Katie Ganshert book with great anticipation.  And Life After completely delivered!  I really liked the main characters; and appreciated the supporting cast as well.  (Although I must admit there were times when I wanted to smack Autumn’s sister. )  The story is well-crafted and unfolds some quite surprising truths and events to all the characters.

I really liked Autumn, especially.  I thought Ganshert’s description of a person walking out life following an enormous trauma rang quite true.  Her questions, her (at first) fumbling attempts at rejoining the living, her reactions were all quite truthfully presented.  She was also an honorable and gracious person, when dealing with others’ “secrets” and losses.

Life After is excellent contemporary inspirational fiction.  It presents a person honestly trying to work through the “whys” of a tragedy; many of which those who suffer it might never know fully this side of heaven.  I also love the way Ganshert wove in mystery and even a little (but not too much) romantic interest.  It’s a great book, very timely for the day and age we all live in.

 

The Author:

You can discover more about Katie Ganshert and her writing and books at the following social media sites:

WaterBrook Multnomah Author Page
Katie Ganshert’s website
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest

 

Enjoy!  –Wren

From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

#Keyword Reading Challenge February: Michele Phoenix’s “Of Stillness and Storm”

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.

 

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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!

 

My Soul Called Life
Be sure to visit My Soul Called Life for more February book experiences!
Enjoy!  –Wren