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One Last Summer Reading Recommendation


It’s September and the autumn semester has started for most students, but before the leaves start to turn and the temperature plunges, we have one more summer reading book recommendation for you.

Amy Young, editor, book club leader, and connection groups coordinator over at Velvet Ashes—and longtime ChinaSource friend and contributor—recently wrote about City of Tranquil Light: A Novel by Bo Caldwell, a book that was read as part of the Velvet Ashes Book Club.

She makes a good case for reading the book not once, but three times. Although Amy is writing to her fellow book club members in this piece, we thought you should know about the book, too. So listen in on the Velvet Ashes Book Club!

My Heart is a Wound

I have a proposal.

City of Tranquil Light: A Novel by Bo Caldwell needs to become mandatory reading for anyone serving overseas. But more than that, it should be read three times:

  • Before a person goes to the field—to cast a vision of what a life of service really looks like.
  • Several years into living on the field—because aspects you couldn’t appreciate before you’d actually lived overseas will now make SO.MUCH.SENSE.
  • When the Lord has called you to leave—Will and Katherine verbalize the depths of this change in ways I have not seen anywhere else (and, hello, I even wrote a book on transitions and paid good money for debriefing. All worth it, yes, but so is City of Tranquil Light!).

Very unexpectedly to me— I think of all of our summer reading this has been the one I am most grateful we are reading. The poetry of language. The depth of emotion. The very ordinariness of life. The unending physical needs. The extra-ordinariness of a time period in history. The presence and seemingly absence of God.

Each section we have read has been rich and deep. This week, the stage of Will and Katherine’s life and ministry bring forth significant questions that you and I probably will face in a different form.

Do you buy opium to ease suffering? Katherine knew it was illegal, but with dying patients, she believed it to be the kinder path to take. “I am less sure of what Will would think, so he is unaware of this practice and I have no intention of telling him.”

  • How do you decide when to break rules/laws to alleviate suffering?
  • How do you navigate difference of opinion within a marriage, team, or organization on approach?

“Remember this well, I thought, this night is the gift.” The magistrate and city hosted a banquet for Will and Katherine after they all survived the war, presenting them with a beautifully carved chest.

  • There are times in our service, when those we came to serve, bless or acknowledge us in ways we never anticipated. But often it comes because we have suffered together.
  • Have you had a “Remember this well” moment?

“There was another gift, less tangible but just as real—the gift of trust.” And later on the page: “But those gifts came at a price, and although I was a grateful man after the siege of Kuang P’ing Ch’eng, I was also a haunted one. [He goes one to talk about the guns pointed at Katherine.]”

  • I appreciated how Will and Katherine shared with the reader the messy braid of ministry and how we hold equally true parts at the same time. True trust came after years of serving. Real suffering came with the years of suffering. Both were true, neither negating the other; instead, they informed each other.

“Finally he [the magistrate] met my [Will’s] eyes. ‘I believe the time is coming when you will need to leave us to protect us.’ His words stunned me. But I knew what he said was true.”

  • Oh the complexities and depth of emotions when our presence becomes a liability to the ones we love so much. I know some of you have had to leave very abruptly without enough time to process what is happening before it happens. Will held this in his heart until Mo Yun also pointed out how poorly Katherine’s health was and that leaving might be the only way for her to live.
  • There are no simple or easy answers to when to leave the field for political or family reasons. I also understand that this may not be the best forum to talk about what those discussions have been like for you and loved ones. But know this, you are not alone.

Katherine wrote in her journal: “But each year I have understood more clearly how vulnerable we are, and I find myself longing for something I’ve never cared about before: I want us to be safe.”

  • As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed this shift within myself as well. I don’t know if it is a part of the aging process or an increased awareness of how painful loss is. When I first went to the field I was young and healthy, it never occurred to me that I might become seriously ill and nearly die (so I think we could add ‘mildly foolish’ to the list!). How have you noticed this shift within yourself? Maybe your shift is in the opposite direction—maybe you were overly cautious before.

For the sake of time I’m going to hit on other themes more quickly. How about Hsiao Lao becoming a Christian? I could relate to Will wondering if I have done enough. That passage encouraged me that being faithful in what I do matters as much as what I say. Or when they returned to California, not knowing what was next professionally for them.

This line nailed how I think I’ll feel at the end of my days: “While the calendar tells me that Katherine and I spent twenty-seven years in China, that thirty-three years have passed since we left, and that I have been without her for nearly twenty years, these numbers do not ring true. I feel instead like a man who lived nearly all his life in China, with a few of his later years in America and a few of those without his companion.”

Space and time are weird, aren’t they? The numbers of my life do not ring true to me either.

I like Will and Katherine, and I was sad to come to the end of this book.

Fondly,

Amy

Originally posted on August 22, 2016 at Velvet Ashes; reposted here with permission and minor adaptations. Velvet Ashes is “an online community of women serving overseas.” 

Image credit: Velvet Ashes.
Amy Young

Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you, and watermelon. Today she blogs regularly at The Messy Middle  and is the director of global operations for Velvet Ashes. She has also authored two books written to help those who live and serve in... View Full Bio