Five Minute Friday (on Monday): better

Found on my stove this morning.

I had to think about what day it actually is for the title, because sickness in the family has kept me out of all my usual weekly landmarks for a week and counting. The weather’s been yucky and the babies irritable, and I’ve not been much better myself.

My thoughts form into conditional statements: When the sun comes out again, when our pinkeye is gone, when the baby sleeps better, when the mud is dry, when I get to see people again, when the house is clean …. then things will be better. Then I’ll be better.

But God’s goodness doesn’t wait for sunny days. Seeking Him, we lack no good thing. If we’re His, we can follow out the logic that the God who withholds no good thing is giving the best things. And sometimes those best things are sick days, sad days, days when the sun doesn’t shine.

His goodness is better than my goodness, and He operates with glory in view, when I’m living often in pursuit of the next five minutes of peace. How much better it is that He, not I, orders the days.

Linking up with the Five Minute Friday community to write on 2019’s first prompt, better.

©️2019 by Stacy Crouch

Virgil Wander: book review

virgil

The dark, damp days between Christmas and the new year always seem designed for reading novels. I’ve devoured volumes of Dickens in that space before. This year, it was my Christmas book, selected from my Amazon wish list by my husband: Leif Enger’s October 2018 release, Virgil Wander*. I read it by rainy-day window light while rocking my baby to sleep for his nap, and by lamplight with steaming cups of Constant Comment tea. And for a few days, I lived in Greenstone, Minnesota.

It’s a testament to Leif Enger’s genius that when his title character, Virgil, recommended a movie — The Ladykillers from 1955: “You could fret all day and not choose a better picture” (173) — I chose to watch it that night, and, while watching it, found myself speculating about how the various book-characters reacted to this scene or that. I believed in them.

Enger’s first novel Peace Like a River captivated me when a friend gave it to our family fourteen or fifteen years ago. It’s one I seem to recommend to everyone. I eagerly read his second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome, when it emerged in ’08. And I’ve been waiting the past decade for this one.

Unlike the previous two novels, and in spite of “Wander” in its title, this book stays rooted in one small town in northern Minnesota, yet manages to still feel like a quest or chase: fatherless sons, fathers seeking their sons, Wander and so many others seeming to look for a reason to keep on living. Enger’s penchant for the supernatural, which emerged as miracles in his first novel, shows up in less orthodox ways in this one.

But Enger continues his habit of perfect prose. I could see and hear and feel all that he described, and his hyperbolic characters were perfectly real to me. I believed in Virgil, come back from the near edge of death, in Nadine who made neon signs into works of art, in Leer and every odious rumor about him, and in Rune launching kites against all odds.

I’ll admit: without the overarching travel narrative of Enger’s other books, this one felt somewhat  episodic. I didn’t wonder while I was reading it, but looking back it seems the various strands of story make an untidy braid: an immense sturgeon, a car bomb, an unlooked-for windfall all figure in the final chapters.

Yet the book left me satisfied. Enger wove echos of Eden into his closing pages, and I like a novel that gives me a happy ending.

Is it a novel I’ll say you have to read? No. But I’m glad to have read it. I think I’ll be glad to read it again.

 

*Enger, Leif. Virgil Wander. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2018. Print.

©2019 by Stacy Crouch

Book review: Susie

Confession: I’m not generally a biography lover. But I want to be. And when I saw that Moody Press was offering Ray Rhodes’ new biography of Susannah Spurgeon for their blogger review program, I knew I wanted to read it. It bears a photo of a Victorian lady — the eponymous Susannah, of course — on its front jacket, and I’ve a weakness for Victorians. It’s a handsome hardback edition, and I’ve a weakness for hardbacks. I didn’t know anything about Ray Rhodes, Jr., but Al Mohler wrote the forward for this book, and I consider Mohler trustworthy. And I knew enough about Charles Haddon Spurgeon — “Prince of Preachers” — to know that learning about his wife would probably be worthwhile.

I learned more about Charles through this book, and learned that his wife must have been a remarkable woman. Her husband maintained a rigorous preaching, teaching, and writing schedule, while also dealing with depression and physical illness for most of their married life. Rhodes details how Susannah, herself an invalid and in pain much of the time, supported her husband’s work, discipled their two boys — who both grew up to be pastors themselves — and founded and maintained a large book ministry to needy pastors.

I was impressed by Susannah’s dedication to her husband’s ministry and her early resolve to “never, never hinder him by trying to put [herself] first in his heart” (61). In addition to Susie’s devotion to her husband, Rhodes underscores both Susie’s love of the gospel and her perseverance in good works, supporting his claims with liberal references to first-hand accounts from Susie, Charles, and their sons and acquaintances.

I found myself inclined to be more critical of the Spurgeons than Rhodes is in his book: where he quotes a letter from Charles to Susie to show the depth of their marital devotion, I was appalled to find that Charles was away from his wife and writing letters to her at a time when she was so ill as to be in great uncertainty of survival (136). Nonetheless, the sum effect of the book was to leave me inspired follow Susie in serving the Lord, love my husband, and disciple my sons more joyfully and wholeheartedly.

My favorite parts of this book were the beginning chapters about Susie’s conversion and her early romance with Charles. The latter half of the book dragged on a bit for me, but I confess to very distracted reading and a general preference for other sorts of prose. Even so, I found the whole book well worth the time I invested in the reading, and suspect that — especially if you’ve a penchant for biographies in general or for C. H. Spurgeon in particular — you’d find it well worth your time, too. It’s a fascinating glimpse of two godly people serving the Lord — their historical situation was far different from our own, but their struggles and the faithful God who helped them to finish in victory are the same we have today.

©2018 by Stacy Crouch

Five Minute Friday: balance

I knelt by the tree and was able to see it again: the magical world amongst the branches, illumined by tiny lightbulbs on green wires and inhabited by festive animals and shining orbs. It’s a vantage point which takes no account of the larger picture, of the tree from top to toe, of balance in the placement of baubles, of the condition of bows or the number of needles on the carpet. I have to kneel down to see it now, but my boy sees nothing else.

I forget to kneel down sometimes, and am baffled by the devastation that moving the ornament box out of the living room — no more decorations! — can bring. But my boy notices the minutiae: the tiny piece of candy dropped on the car floor days ago which he lovingly rescued today, the capital letter R in a footnote on my Bible page, the glitter of green in the carpet where a flake of shattered ornament remains. He doesn’t see the bigger schedule of Things to Do; he cares for This Moment, when Duplo duck Bob is looking for Duplo duck Bobra.

Our Lord knelt down, so much further than I have to. He didn’t just get a perspective similar to ours. He completely inhabited our perspective, limiting omniscience to the blurred vision of a newborn baby, content that the God who fills all heaven and earth should inhabit a manger.

Surely He has known our griefs and carried our sorrows.

He sees the larger picture, so much larger than the tree from top to toe, or the list of Things to Do; and He knows, when I am caught in frustration at things not going my small way, that His better way is going forward. Yet He deals gently with me, helping me in all my tiny moments while He can see eternity, adorning my small view with lovely things — hints that one day, when I can see the larger picture, it will be glorious indeed.

Today I rejoin the Five Minute Friday community using today’s prompt, balance.

©️2018 Stacy Crouch

Five Minute Friday: repeat

I asked if he wanted to put his pants back on — when you’re two years old at nap time, they’re optional — and he’d been responding to my repeated question with incoherent noises and comments about unrelated things. Getting frustrated, I commanded, “Say yes or no!”

“Yes or no!” he obeyed.

It’s that kind of day. The kind in which I need the story of God’s grace to me repeated and repeated and repeated: that I am quick to be frustrated, but He is slow to anger; that I am overly attached to my own comfortable agenda, but He laid down His life for me. He chose, at great cost, to make me His child: I had no claim on Him by either blood or merit, had no loveliness to plead, and yet He made me His.

Tell me again please. He is good.

©️Stacy Crouch 2018

31 . close

I suppose it’s meant to be the verb close, meaning to end or shut something, or the associated noun, an end or conclusion. But I’m choosing the adjective close, meaning nearness or proximity in space or time, and I’m thinking of an hour we spent this morning — one of the inaptly named wee hours which are only the very longest in the twenty-four if one happens to be awake in them — crowded, all four of us, in the bathroom while tornado sirens wailed in the wet blackness out of doors.

October sent an ugly front of storms last night as its parting gift, and while my baby wondered at the extraordinary location for our ordinary wee-hours snuggle and my husband and toddler attempted a sort of sleep with blankets on the vinyl floor, I watched the red boxes move over the radar map on my phone screen and listened to the wind and rain roaring around our little old house.

The book of Job says that God makes the paths for rain and thunder, that lightnings go at His command. The gospel of Luke describes how even the winds and water obey Jesus’ voice. I’m powerless to stop even a drop of rain, yet I hold my phone close, as though somehow knowing where the storm is might protect me from its fury.

But whether I know or am ignorant of what is coming, my Lord not only knows, He owns and directs it all — all storms, all struggles, each ray of light, each drop of rain. He hold me close in His hand, from whence He has promised nothing shall snatch me. Shall I not trust Him?

©️Stacy Crouch 2018

30 . voice

He called me first from a hospital storage closet, so nervous to voice the question, afraid of being overheard. I was afraid to hear the question, afraid to answer yes, even for dinner, afraid of the enormous consequences that might ensue: the wedding less than a year later, the baby less than a year after that. We’re in it now two babies and nearly three years deep. It doesn’t scare me to answer the phone to him now.

I’m not an advocate, by any stretch, of voicing every thought, but I do think that many things in being spoken become less frightening or terrible. No longer exclusive property of the world of conjecture and speculation, ideas become real things which may be handled with real actions, or else show themselves to be ephemeral and foolish.

And sometimes they turn out to be better than could be imagined.

©️Stacy Crouch 2018