Not Afraid of the Storms {Book Club}

Not Afraid of the Storms {Book Club}

First up, let me say, “Spoilers!” (Imagine I sound just like River Song from Doctor Who.) If you haven’t finished reading this section of The Voice of Melody, come back when you have.

Did anyone see Peggy’s death coming? I know we didn’t get to experience the birth of her third baby with her as we did the first two, but honestly I wasn’t expecting the book to turn in that direction. I am not sure I’ve ever read a story where we walked with someone in their passing from their perspective. Wow!

There was something so beautiful about Peggy’s last moments. The words whispered between husband and wife, mother and daughter, those last instructions and expressions of love and hope for the future. The people she cared about most were there, the ones who didn’t abandon her in the tough times, friends that stuck close when others walked away.

“All of them,” Peggy said, “serving quietly and steadfastly, loving me and the children.”

After Owen’s book was published telling the details of his survival in chapter five, many people shunned him and his family. Peggy bore the brunt of this shame, wondering if it was worth it. After a painful trip to the store, after also confirming she was expecting her second child, she said, “The house is warm and filled with pleasant aromas, and my little one is completely content. Why am I so downcast? Alone. I feel all alone.”

But in her last moments she wasn’t alone.

Many of us have felt that same ache of loneliness and isolation, and we have uttered those same words. Why am I so downcast? These scenes stirred up a desire in my heart to thank the Father for the people who have stuck with me, the ones who check in and care deeply for me in sweet and practical ways. I also want to pay attention to the people I need to stick close to. Who needs to know they aren’t alone? What was stirred up in your heart from these scenes and section?

The last chapter of this section switches from Peggy’s voice to her daughter’s, Phebe Ann or Annie as her mother called her. At this point she would have been four or five, trying to understand her mother’s death and changing family dynamics.

What did you think of this this perspective change?

One of the things I want to talk about at the end of the book is Owen’s career choices and his decision to continue going out on a ship. At the end of chapter eight, after just getting re-married to Nancy, Owen departs again as a new captain.

I think we have more to learn of his story so I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about him yet. Part of me has a hard time grasping the why of his decisions. What drove him to keep facing danger, leaving his family behind? A sense of purpose or calling? A strong desire to provide?

I know these are decisions we make too (although with a different sense of purpose and calling). We sacrifice proximity to extended family and comfort and make tough decisions that might be risky. What do you think of Owen so far? Does his decision to continue in the whaling industry feel similar or different to some of the decisions we make as cross-cultural workers? I’d love to hear your in-process thoughts.

I think we need a hot cup of tea or coffee after this section and a deep breath before we keep going! I’d love to know what you are thinking so far! Join us in the comments to share your thoughts, questions and insights.

Even if you are just jumping in now, there’s still time to read along and chat with us about The Voice of Melody! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book:

January 19th: Chapters 9-12

January 26th: Chapters 13-15 and Postlude

In February we will be reading Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman. Here’s a short summary of the book:

Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China. With the Sino-Japanese War waging around her, she struggled to bring the basics of life and the fullness of God to orphaned children. Time after time, God triumphed over impossible situations, and drew people to Himself. The Little Woman tells the story of one woman’s determination to serve God at any cost. With God all things are possible! (From Amazon)

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

14 Comments

  1. Michelle January 12, 2021

    I did not see Peggy’s death coming. At all. I actually felt the need to go back and re-read those final pages again once I realized it was true. I kept thinking that she would pull through. So well written. Those final words of Peggy… “I hear an unknown yet strangely familiar voice. It’s calling me by a new, more fitting name.” Makes me wonder what my more fitting name might someday be. I really liked how Sadie had such an eternal perspective and really called things like they are. “It all means the same. Being with Jesus forever. And, glory hallelujah, how sweet that gonna be. So you see, angel, your mama’s heading to a lovely place.” Over the weekend we received word that a friend in the USA is transitioning her cancer journey to a palliative, end-of-life, journey. She’s lived a life of ministry and remained an encourager even on the hard road she is currently walking. How much hope to remember that this is not the end of the road. I don’t think I’ll get to see her in person again on this earth. But to know that we will embrace in heaven again one day. What a gift.

    There were a few things in Chapter 5 that I highlighted. In my kindle the first was location 1101 where Owen is about to start working on his book. Peggy says “Somehow, I feel like he has more to say, and I’ve found my silence is often better for allowing the thoughts to flow out of him.” Such wise words when allowing someone to process hard things. Instead of jumping to fill the space, or ask probing questions, sometimes the best thing is to just be quiet and wait for whatever needs to come out to begin to flow.

    Also in Chapter 5 I appreciated the dialog about making the shift to join the Congregationalists. As Peggy processes how her family might respond, I love Owen’s response. “Quit trying, beloved. Live to love your family, to love your neighbor, to love your God. All else matters little.” Those of us who are in support-raising positions often feel the need to perform. We know we are being watched and evaluated by so many. Writing newsletters during difficult seasons can be challenging at best. But what great advice. Love God and love people. Don’t get hung up on others opinions or judgements.

    And finally, the closing words of Chapter 5. “You may not feel strong enough to weather this storm, but God is, beloved. God is.”

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2021

      So many good thoughts here, Michelle!

      I’m so sorry to hear of your friend. It’s one of the strange and painful parts of overseas life- not knowing if we will get the chance to say goodbye in person. Yet, just like you said, we have an eternal perspective that gives us hope in the midst of the hardship.

      I had highlighted those words that you shared from Chapter 5 too. Thanks for bringing up that thought about needing to perform. I have definitely felt that over the years- needing to be strong or have it all together or maintain a certain status for supporters (or the larger church in general). There was a time when it felt like the pedestal I had put myself came crashing down. And while it was incredibly painful and I felt like I had been buried under the rubble for awhile, I was able to get to the point that echoes Owen’s words- loving others, and loving and obeying God. Really little else matters.

  2. Bayta Schwarz January 12, 2021

    I was somewhat prepared but only because I had read up on Owen Chase on Wikipedia. Still found myself hoping against hope she might pull through… The way we journeyed with her through her final moments was so moving. I have never read anything quite like it.
    I have to confess I wanted to yell at Peggy to stop when she was talking to Annie, asking her to look after her Papa. I have a couple of friends who were the oldest in their family and who lost a parent quite young. The burden of feeling like they had to be strong for the surviving parent and the younger sibling was a hard one to bear, and one that impacted them for many many years. It was so sad when just a few pages later, Annie says something along the lines of “I know I promised to take care of Papa but I really need Papa to take care of me”.
    Last week, we were wondering why Peggy didn’t seem to have much in the way of community around her. From this section, it seems that partly distance was to blame but also that her church family were not much of a community.
    I was also wondering why Owen kept feeling drawn back out to sea. There must be something addictive about that lifestyle, awful though it sounds to me. I wonder what other options would have beeen available to him?
    Still enjoying her writing so much!
    And from one fan to another – THANK YOU for the wonderful Dr Who clip 😉

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 13, 2021

      Bayta,

      That Doctor Who reference was definitely with you in mind! 😉

      Ah, you actually did have spoilers! 🙂 I kept hoping she would pull through too, though not knowing the historical background. But I also know it was such a part of life at that time. It is amazing to me how difficult and dangerous childbirth actually was.

      Oh, what an interesting perspective on those last moments between Peggy and Annie! As an oldest I can definitely understand what you are saying about taking on the expectations and pressure. They feel like natural words to say at the end of one’s life- I know I would want to feel comforted knowing those I was leaving would be cared for with that intentionality. But I’m not sure I think about what you shared about the long-term impact that has on those who are left. Thanks for sharing that!

  3. Kaylene Powell January 14, 2021

    I LOVE hearing readers’ feedback. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts!
    After I finished my draft and asked some people in my community to serve as beta (first) readers, several people contacted me in angry surprise with variations on the thought, “How could you kill Peggy?!?” And my answer was generally a quiet, “I didn’t. It was history!” This is one area where Ron Howard’s movie does not reflect facts in the end but sacrifices them for the sake of a warm-fuzzy conclusion. Ironically, when I took my first chapter to a writing group for review at the very beginning of the writing process, members expressed caution that my development moved too slowly and readers would not feel invested in the life or heart of my main characters. Seeing the response of so many readers to Peggy and also Owen as well as Annie afterward, however, I feel justified in my gradual, life-based approach. Some readers have even shared they wept deeply during Chapter 7. That said, I am glad you also loved her and were attached enough to feel her loss with me/us. That makes me feel successful. (Oddly, while I am a very sensitive person, I shed few to no tears in the drafting of this whole manuscript.)
    However, I agree that her comments to Annie can cause us to cringe. Why do we put so much pressure on children at some points? I think back to some charges that were given to me as a child, both spoken and unspoken, while growing up as a preacher’s kid, and I have cried belated tears while naming the related pain and finding healing later in life. Ironically, a couple of beta readers were in angst because Peggy seemed “too perfect” to them. But I think moments like that show us that even the most admirable of people/parents among us still say or do things that may be harmful or cause trouble for those they love. We all need grace.
    Another repeated comment from a beta reader was over her frustration with Owen. All through the first half, she kept grumbling about how “selfish” she found him to be. That is not necessarily what I meant to communicate in how I painted him, but I can see how readers may be confused about his drive to keep going back to this job or calling. We may not be able to understand exactly, but in my research I got the impression that many men who were whalers developed such a dependence on the thrill of their work and the hunt that they felt depressed and useless if they had to come home and stay home. As a real example, when Captain Pollard came home in disgrace after a second of his ships ran aground (following the Essex tragedy), he ended up spending the rest of his life serving as a night watchman on the Island, which would have been considered a major kind of social demotion for him and at least somewhat of a shameful reminder that he was no longer serving greatly “out there.” (Sort of like how I felt for the first couple of years after returning permanently from the field for unusual medical reasons…) In some ways, I think this mindset is not unlike a career soldier who only feels useful and at home in a combat zone and feels completely lost when he gets home to live as a retired citizen in a sleepy community.
    Peggy’s death scene was somewhat inspired by a sermon I heard about ten years ago, when the speaker explored a related passage in Revelation and asked us to pray and think about what new name we thought or hoped God might have for us when we got to Heaven. It was thought-provoking and caused me to start to imagine the process of death in a different way. I am not God and don’t have absolute knowledge about how the mystery of the transition after death happens, but the way I wrote this scene gives my heart such peace and comfort…and I agree that the transition for those we love (currently facing this with a beloved aunt many states away) is more bearable in such a light.
    Finally, throughout the book, I tried so many times to point readers back to God as our true strength. It can be easy to look to a leader, husband, friend, etc. to be our source of strength primarily. But in the end, we must depend more on God. I just got married about two months ago (at age 41) and am learning how to keep this balanced perspective in my life with my new husband. A few nights ago, I woke up at 1 AM in tears over a troubling situation we were facing. My first instinct was to reach out and wake Paul up to ask him to hold me for a bit. But I heard a calm voice tell my heart directly, “You know Who your great shepherd is. Look to Him.” So I let Paul sleep and I prayed more. And when I got up hours later, I knew I had made the right choice in that case.
    Please keep your comments coming… What a rich discussion!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 15, 2021

      Kaylene, we’re so privileged to have you as part of our discussions! 🙂 Thanks for giving us so much insight into the book, your story and some of the background.
      I love that you are pointing us and those who read your book back to God. My heart really resonates with the story you shared here about God as our true source of strength. I’m almost 35 and single, and often think that my life would be easier in a lot of ways if I was married. 🙂 There are definitely gifts God gives in all seasons and life situations, but your comment about looking to your Shepherd has stayed in my mind. I have a Shepherd, a Comforter, right here and now. God does give us relationships and community to lean on, but He needs to be the one I run to.

      1. Kaylene Powell January 19, 2021

        Sarah,
        For most of the years of my singleness, I used to think the same. I have quickly learned that some things are easier being married, but some things are harder…and somethings are neither…just different! My wise friends who encouraged me to find my contentment in Him, no matter my relationship status, were 100% right. Keep on loving Him and trusting Him, no matter whether or not your own circumstances change at any point down the road. And He will get the glory. That is the point, isn’t it, ultimately? 🙂 I appreciate your beautiful heart, showing clearly here, even in your writing.

  4. Rachel Kahindi January 15, 2021

    I kind of expected Peggy to die because of the shift in perspectives between the first and second parts. That or a significant time lapse. That chapter was really beautiful and so sad.

    I related to Peggy a lot when Owen’s book came out, and he was preparing to leave again, while she would face the town and their judgment on her own. That frustration that, “I don’t want to deal with this on my own, but you want to leave again.” And of course the leaving has nothing to do with whatever hardship is going on (and my husband will have plenty of frustrations there, too), but when feeling overwhelmed, yeah…I respond much the way Peggy did.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 15, 2021

      Rachel, it can definitely be hard to be the one left to deal with situations and the fallout of things. It can even happen on the field with teammates who leave- or if we are the ones leaving. Such a hard place to be!

    2. Kaylene Powell January 22, 2021

      Rachel,

      I also appreciate your honest sharing. And I think all of us, no matter how kind or patient we may be at times, when we hit those points of great overwhelmed-ness or feeling alone in facing something, we can lose it. This was another part of my writing where I wanted to show the common struggles of humanity. Again, when someone criticized my writing and expressed that Peggy was too saint-like, I thought back to this scene where she faced conflict and the raw and honest moments of emotional exchange led to apologies and grace later on. I think so many people can relate to that response in their hearts. Both she and Owen were expressing emotions and ideas that many men and women have expressed or thought at one time or another. We all have our reactionary moments and we all have our moments of grace absorbing. Thank God for the latter.

  5. Kim January 15, 2021

    I really have enjoyed reading this book. I wasn’t really surprised about Peggy’s death because I knew a shift was coming in who was telling the story. But it was a beautiful scene and I had to reread it to catch it all.

    I did take me a while to get used to the shift of an adult telling the story to that of a your child. But I really am enjoying it and it makes it feel more the story of a family rather than just one person.

    I really appreciate the author commenting throughout our discussion. It really makes me get a deeper feel for the story.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 18, 2021

      Kim, I’m so glad you are enjoying reading the book!

      The shift in voices is different, isn’t it? But I agree, it does help us understand the whole family in a deeper way. 🙂

      I love having Kaylene comment along the way too!

    2. Kaylene Powell January 22, 2021

      Thanks for your comments, Kim!

      I am glad to hear your thoughts, especially about the shift in voice and perspective. From the beginning, I wanted this to be Phebe Ann’s story. But I realized that in order to tell it from the very beginning of her life and have a real-time perspective on her father’s experiences, I would have to be creative about it. I settled on this method and am glad I did. I have assumed it might take the reader a bit of time to adjust from reading from a very mature young adult’s perspective to that of a child who would grow into a woman with a slightly different personality. A beta reader suggested that as the two sections were so different I should actually publish them in two shorter volumes as a set. I am glad now that I didn’t. But I am also glad that the change in parts does require a shift in thinking because that signals to me that I did a good enough job of really capturing a believable age-level perspective for a young child at different stages in her development. I love little Annie in chapters 8 and 9, how she is slightly mature in some moments and so innocent in others. Since I haven’t read many books that tell a story with such a shift, I hoped this would also make my novel’s style unique. In the end, I do want their whole family to be understood together through the eyes of two generations.

      So happy I can join you on this reading journey. Enjoy the final chapters!

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