I woke up this morning with a 50-year-old woman in my bed.
Carrie-Anne today hits the half-century mark, joining me in my fifties now, together, and beginning her sixth decade of life as an adorable little ball of fire with big hair, big opinions, and a big heart.
Valerie is coming home from OC today, just in time for our traditional family birthday dinner. Carrie-Anne is wearing her Mama Bear shirt today proudly. She loves our three daughters fiercely. And they all take after her in different ways: Whitney has her mom’s tender heart, Valerie has her mom’s looks and facial expressions, Carley has acquired Carrie-Anne’s relentless drive. They all three demonstrate C-A’s greatest attributes and character traits.
Me? I’m a much better man because Carrie-Anne is my wife. She keeps me grounded and humble, but she also encourages me and protects me. She shows me what it looks like to love our Lord faithfully. She reveals facets of God’s nature and his great love and grace I would never see nor experience without Carrie-Anne showing me.
She loves sleeping in, Blue Bell Buttered Pecan, and This Is Us. She wants foods of several different colors on the dinner plate every night, she bleaches everything, and she can’t find her keys or her phone. Carrie-Anne hates the Amarillo dust and loves the low Amarillo humidity — it keeps her hair, um, less big. And she unflinchingly reflects the glory of our God to every family member, student, friend, and neighbor she knows. What a beautiful, beautiful woman — inside and out.
I love you, darling. Happy Birthday.
For twenty straight years I’ve woken up my child or children on the first day of school with a loud, over-the-top, “extra” rendition of “School Bells.” At 6:05 this morning, in the pitch dark, I opened the door to Carley’s bedroom and laid into it one more time.
One last time.
Today is the first day of our youngest daughter’s senior year at Canyon High School. She’s got the ring, she’s had the senior yearbook picture taken, and now she’s starting class. Her senior year. Her last year.
For twenty years I’ve taken that first-day-of-school picture: new clothes, backpack, lunchbox, and three Wal-Mart bags full of crayons, paper, pens, and a box of Kleenex. Today? Carley might be wearing new clothes — I can’t tell. But there’s no backpack, no books, no supplies, and definitely no lunch box. She allowed me to take her picture with Carrie-Anne, who is starting her fifth year today as the Culinary Arts Director at Canyon High, and then took off in her little green car. Gone.
I don’t think “School Bells” is going to sound as good or be as irritating next year over the phone.
We’re tired. We’re bored. You can see it in the way we look down when somebody’s asking for volunteers. You can see it in the way we straggle in to worship and complain about it when it’s over. We’re traveling more and playing more sports and assembling together with the Church less. The problem is just getting us to admit it. If we could admit it — we’re bored, we’re tired, we’ve lost our fire, we’re plateaued — then we could deal with it honestly and get some help. And maybe we’d understand that this spiritual fatigue is understandable.
It’s in the very nature of the kind of commitment we’ve all made. Following Jesus isn’t an inspiring baptism and then it’s done. It’s not a spectacular mission trip or a set of summer service projects or a two-year Ignite Initiative and then it’s over. Following Jesus is a grueling marathon. It takes great endurance. Continual focus.
The people at work, the non-Christians at school, they all seem to be living pretty good lives. They seem fulfilled. They’ve got good families. They read the latest books on marriage and parenting and they seem to be doing well. They go to parties, they take weekend trips, they’re doing great. They have great attitudes and a real enthusiasm for life. Who are you to tell them they need Jesus to have a meaningful life? In fact, your life seems to be much more difficult since you took on Christ so long ago.
The problem is that we have so little to show for our hard work. Where are the results? Religious people always want visible, tangible results. Whether it’s burning a bull on a remote mountain altar or sliding into a pew at the local temple of positive thinking, people want a religion that pays off in ways we can see — bigger harvests, healthier bodies, more security, instant peace of mind. That’s the problem with the Christian faith. In this world of religious show-and-tell, in this world of “seeing is believing,” we don’t have much to show. Or see. All we’ve got is a cross that has to be picked up every day.
But hold on. Isn’t the Gospel about God’s great victory over sin and Satan and all the bad things that oppress human life? Isn’t the good news of the Christian faith about the resurrection triumph of eternal life over death? Yes, of course. But that victory is hidden right now. One day every eye will see that victory, it’ll be clear, it’ll be glorious. But not today. We don’t see it today.
“In putting everything under Christ Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” ~Hebrews 2:8
What we see is chaos and violence and disease. It’s everywhere in everybody around us. Abuse and brokenness and addiction and loneliness and loss. In our family. In my own life. All things are under Christ? I don’t see it.
The preacher of Hebrews knows this.
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1
Everybody in that Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11 is commended because they displayed great faith when they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see. Moses was looking ahead, he says. Noah acted on things not yet seen. All these people, the preacher says, only saw the promise from a distance. It’s hard to get excited about a faith where all the final results are hidden. No wonder so many of us would rather spend our Sundays watching football where at least we can see who’s winning.
There’s a gap. And it’s real. Everybody’s got it: this gap between faith and sight. We’re all there in this gap. Somewhere in that gap, I’ve got to have a conviction about God. I’ve got to believe that, yes, God is bringing all things to completion, even though I can’t always see it.
The victory of the Gospel cannot yet be seen. But it can be heard. The truth, today, can be heard.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful Word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3
The preacher calls this a “word of encouragement.” And it’s crystal clear from these opening lines that his spoken word is all about God’s spoken Word which is now made complete and fully known in the incarnate Word, Jesus, the Son of God. The Son of God is not a metaphor. It’s not a figure of speech. This Son of God is the heir of all things, he’s the one through whom God created the world, and he upholds us and everything we see and don’t see by his mighty Word of power.
“If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:7
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” ~Hebrews 12:25
“He who has ears, let him hear!” ~Jesus
You don’t necessarily have to turn on the evening news. In fact, do people even turn on the evening news anymore? All you have to do is not have your head buried in the sand to know that there is a great deal of anxiety and worry in our society. The state of things right now can very easily drag you down and steal your joy. How is it that the Bible commands children of God and disciples of Christ Jesus to always rejoice?
Well, where are your eyes? What are you looking at? What or who are you listening to?
As followers of Jesus, we are very well aware of all the things God is doing in us and through us. We can always rejoice in the knowledge and experience of God working among us. And that’s always constant. That never changes. God is always at work. We see the evidence of his great work, we sense the working out of his redemption and reconciliation plans, we feel his hand at work in us and through us, saving and changing lives all around us. The Lord is always at work among us and that is always reason to rejoice.
I see it in the Central teenagers who stop by my office on the way to Chick-Fil-A for a free promotional sandwich. Ellie and Justin are pouring into those kids the same grace that God has shown them and the kids are eating it up. I see it in the 30 men from Canadian Church of Christ with whom I had the great honor of hanging out with in Angel Fire this weekend. God is on the move with these men — moving in them and through them — and they are on fire for God’s mission in this world. I hear it when Valerie, our middle daughter, calls me from Arlington to tell me she’s changing her major from childhood education to youth ministry. God’s Spirit is changing Valerie forcefully and beautifully into a dedicated servant of the Gospel. I sense it when Carley, our youngest daughter, shows up in all the pictures from the Sao Paulo mission trip — painting, laughing, serving children, worshiping, leading. She’s finding her gifts and settling into her place in the Kingdom.
I see it when my brothers and sisters at Central join forces to do good deeds for people in downtown Amarillo. We’re making gift bags for the staff and clients at CareNet and Gratitude House. We’re cleaning the carpets and painting the doors at PARC. We’re painting the storage shed and spreading new wood chips on the playground at Elwood Park. We’re giving away 200 books and reading the children at Bivins Elementary. We’re treating the ladies at Martha’s Home to a dinner out at a nice restaurant.
Our God is working in and through everything that’s going on around us. That knowledge and that experience gives us a stable and deep-rooted joy — an inner joy — that enables us to not only cope with disappointments, but to see things as they really are. In any and all circumstances God is always at work among his people. And that is always reason to rejoice.
Becky McCasland ran up to me before church a couple of months ago. “We saw Carrie-Anne’s picture up at Applebee’s in Lubbock! Why is Carrie-Anne’s picture up at Applebee’s in Lubbock?!”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. What??
It seems that Becky was eating with some friends at the Applebee’s on the loop in Lubbock when she strolled to the restroom and noticed a giant picture of a familiar gal hanging on the wall. Yes, that’s Carrie-Anne Stanglin, doing the hula hoop!
Becky showed me the picture on her phone. Sure enough, yes, that was Carrie-Anne. And I remember the picture well. Our youngest daughter, Carley, had a pool party at our house in North Richland Hills for her tenth birthday and, as part of the festivities, we held a hula hoop contest. Carrie-Anne won the hula hoop contest — she wins every hula hoop contest — and, yeah, I had taken a few pictures. This was back in September of 2009! This was in Fort Worth! I posted the picture on my blog along with a couple of other shots from the party. And that was it. Almost eight years ago.
How did that picture get blown up and framed and hung on the wall at the Applebee’s in Lubbock?
We finally got a chance to see the picture first-hand Thursday night, but we still don’t have any idea how it got there.
Bruce and Celia Tidmore took us to the Garth Brooks concert at the United Supermarkets Arena on the Texas Tech campus Thursday. (Don’t talk trash to me about seeing Garth Brooks; I was going for my wife!) We left Amarillo early so Bruce could buy something he needed at Cabella’s. And before we made it over to Chuy’s for dinner, we swung by the Applebee’s to see Carrie-Anne’s portrait. And, yes, there it was! Big as Dallas! Right there on the wall next to the restroom doors! My wife, in our backyard in North Richland Hills, doing the hula hoop, eight years ago!
We took a bunch of pictures of C-A and the picture and marveled all over again at the complete randomness of the experience. The waiters and waitresses we queried had no idea how the picture got there. The manager told us that the store had gone through a remodeling two years ago and all the staff had been asked to submit pictures of Lubbock scenes and Lubbock people to use as decorations for their walls. Yeah, we could see, the walls were covered with pictures of Texas Tech and Red Raiders sports teams and buildings, oil wells, the Buddy Holly statue, the Lubbock rodeo, and several other Lubbock landmarks. And then this random picture of my wife! It didn’t match up with any other picture in the place! The manager had no idea who submitted the pictures and how they were selected — two years ago he was waiting tables at the Amarillo Applebee’s.
We came up with all kinds of conspiracy theories as we dined on shrimp chili rellenos and chicka-chicka-boom-boom at Chuy’s. But we don’t have any definite answers. It’s a mystery.
Anything like that ever happened to you? How random is this? How would you even search on my blog for that picture? You have to find the post and then click on a link within the text to even get to it!
For at least the next couple of years, Carrie-Anne is hula hooping on the wall at Applebee’s in Lubbock. And nobody can tell us how or why.
It’s Opening Day! Rangers and Tribe tonight at the Ballpark. Yu Darvish on the hill and — yuck — Joey Gallo at third. Opening Day! It should be a National Holiday. We treat it like one here at Central. Every year we wear our baseball jerseys and caps to work. Greg grills the dogs and brats, we eat Cracker Jack and peanuts, nachos and ice cream sandwiches. We open up and trade baseball cards. And we dream about future glory for our teams and lament the heartbreaking failures of the past. It’s Opening Day!
I’ve checked the standings. The Rangers are in first place.
We ate at the Town Crier here in Abilene last night, a traditional stop in our rotation of local eating joints for us every year while attending the ACU Summit. But it wasn’t until I was sorting through my receipts this morning when I noticed that, for the very first time ever in my short life, I was given a Senior Discount. She didn’t ask. She apparently just punched it in. First time ever. Humiliating. Depressing. The only explanation is that the Town Crier must give the senior discount to those 40-years-old and over.
Our daughter Valerie is posting pictures of her friends and herself attending last week’s Delta-Theta Luau at Oklahoma Christian University. I reminded her that we have a picture of her mom and me at the same Delta-Theta Luau back in 1989. That’s kinda cool, huh? Weird. Seeing the two pictures side-by-side kinda got up in my feels. And I realize maybe the senior discount thing isn’t so far-fetched.