The stars shine over the earth, the stars shine over the sea;
the stars shine down from heaven, the stars shine down on me.
The stars may shine for a million years, a million years and a day;
but God and I will live and love after the stars have passed away.
My Uncle Gerald finished his race in the wee hours of yesterday morning. And he ran well. He ran very well.
It was unexpected. A complete shock. He and his wife Bev of 20 months had just completed a vacation in the Texas Hill Country on Friday. I had told him about the bed and breakfast built into the old train cars on Inks Lake and reminded him about the coconut cream pie at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls. He attended a reunion at Dallas Christian on Saturday. He stayed home from church on Sunday because of some chest pains, got checked out by paramedics, and took it easy the rest of the day. He went to sleep Sunday night in his recliner and that’s where Bev found him yesterday morning. I’m still trying to wrap my brain and my soul around the news that my Uncle Gerald is no longer among the living on earth. I keep thinking I’m going to show up at the funeral this weekend and we’re going to laugh together about how weird it was when we all got those phone calls telling us he had died.
It’s hard to think of Uncle Gerald as dead because Uncle Gerald so ferociously represents life in its fullest form. He commands every room he enters with his warmth and his joy. He genuinely loves all people. He goes out of his way to pay careful attention to folks in their 90s and to play with and be silly with little kids and babies. He encourages the awkward teenagers. He brings an inexhaustible joy to every occasion. He accepts everybody. He engages everybody. He connects everything to a song and is not bashful about singing it. He loves to joke and laugh. He has a memory like a steel trap, so he has all the stories, all the history. He is the keeper of the family traditions and the 1930 Model A pickup. He is deeply sentimental about people and things. He remembers all the birthdays. He makes up games to play and goes at it with wild abandon. All sock monkeys are named “Whooping Cough” because of Uncle Gerald.
Some of my most vivid memories of Uncle Gerald are as a kid with the whole family at Bo-Bo’s house and, of course, at their place on Foxwood. But some of my favorites are as an adult, more recently, over the past twenty years, as our relationship changed into more of a friendship. I cherish the couple of times I spent several hours with Uncle Gerald in his office at Kilgore College, listening to his stories, sharing his love for our hometown of Dallas, reminiscing about all the siblings and cousins and our shared history. Walking with him around the downtown Kilgore square, eating lunch together at that sandwich place, being introduced to his friends and co-workers with such love and pride. The phone conversations about ecumenical worship and service to others between churches, the strange relationship between church elders and preachers, and the beauty of our God’s matchless grace.
Uncle Gerald has always been my favorite uncle. Hands down. Not even close. His geographic and social proximity to us is a big part of that – we all lived in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood of southeast Dallas, we all went to the same church, we all went to Dallas Christian School, we were with Uncle Gerald and Aunt Alice all the time. But, much more than that, Uncle Gerald always knows exactly how to make you feel like you are special, that you are important, that he really loves you, and loves being with you. He demonstrates an effortless love and a relaxed grace that isn’t so easily expressed in my clan. He really stands out that way. Every single trip to East Texas to see my parents is dominated by the question: Are we going to see Uncle Gerald? When is Uncle Gerald coming over? Are we going to Uncle Gerald’s house?
You want to be in the same room with Uncle Gerald because of his love and grace. He is very much like our Lord that way.
May all of us who know Uncle Gerald remember that his love and grace and joy come from our God and reflect his eternal glory. May the Lord bless Suzanne, Jeff, Chris, Bev, my dad and mom, and our whole family with his divine comfort and peace. And may God receive his faithful servant Gerald into his loving arms.
We celebrated the grand opening of the Midland Chuy’s last night and it was fabulous! Yes, every person in the world will tell you never to go to a restaurant during their opening month, much less their very first day. But we ignore that advice when it’s the opening of our very own Chuy’s. Yes, we waited in line for a solid hour to get our table, and it took another ten minutes before we saw a tortilla chip. But we love the excitement and the anxiety, the thrill and the nerves of that first day. We love the surprise of exploring all the unique art work and decorations. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth in a sequined, high-collared, Elvis jumpsuit? Of course!
The place was packed with a mix of curious folks who had never eaten at Chuy’s before and more seasoned folks, like us, who’ve been eating at Chuy’s for decades and have been anticipating this Midland store with great joy since it was announced during the winter. There were managers from Lubbock and Amarillo there to oversee a service crew that was still trying to get everything figured out. How do you close these blinds to block out the west sun? Do we charge for tortillas or not? Our poor server was raw and maybe a little overwhelmed. She brought us five drinks for our party of four and admitted she’s never eaten at a Chuy’s before. But it was all part of the fun. It’s a blast to be in the middle of a crew trying to do something together for the first time. They’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off and we’re trying to encourage them and keep them going.
C-A got her tacos. I got my Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, the most perfect chicken enchilada in Texas. The girls got their cheese enchiladas. And we were extremely complimentary to the servers and the managers and wished everybody great luck as we left.
If I think about it honestly, Chuy’s is probably more nostalgic for me than anything else. When we lived in Marble Falls during the early years of our marriage, driving to Austin and eating at the original Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road was a real treat for Carrie-Anne and me. My Austin Grad seminary running buddies Charlie, Brooke, and Cynthia and I would open each new semester together with a fun lunch at the newer location on Lamar. Annual sermon seminars in Austin always include at least one loud dinner at Chuy’s with people I love but don’t see very often. And it’s always been our go-to Tex-Mex when we visit my brother Keith and his family in the capital city.
Now, finally, we have a location here in Midland. If we can only write enough letters and sign enough petitions to force them to bring back the green chili rice, it’ll be perfect.
I’m unbelievably honored to be delivering the keynote this evening for LCU’s Encounter. And a little terrified. Teenagers don’t fake it with a speaker.
Old people? They’ll fake it. If they’re bored out of their minds, if they’re not getting anything out of the lesson, older people will still sit there and pretend like it’s fine. God’s watching. Somebody’s watching. Older people act like they’re listening.
But not teenagers. If they don’t like it, I’m going to know and everybody in the whole room is going to know. Teenagers will lay down in the floor and go to sleep – they don’t care! They’ll start scrolling through their phones. They’ll start talking to each other, they’ll get up and start walking around the room, ordering cheese fries. I’ll know. It’s so scary.
Carrie-Anne and I returned home yesterday from our first ever cruise, a couple of shades darker, a couple of pounds heavier, and very, very, very relaxed. It was a six-day cruise to the Caribbean with my parents, my two sisters, and our spouses. Two of Rhonda’s kids and their spouses also came along, and Ro-Ro’s 15-month-old granddaughter, Joanna. We tried to do it all – the food, the beaches, the excursions, the entertainment, the sun, the water. There is video out there of me in a Karaoke club belting out Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” and struggling to reach a couple of notes that were higher than I anticipated. You’ll not find that video here. Instead, a few carefully selected shots of our Stanglin family cruise.
The adventure began with my nephew Paul’s wedding to the lovely Tara in beautiful Liberty Hill, Texas. It was an outdoor wedding at 3:00 in the afternoon during the last week of May in Central Texas. But the effects of the heat were mitigated mightily by the magnificent oak tree and the icy Dr Pepper served up in the frosted glass bottles.
From there, we drove down to Galveston and boarded the Carnival Dream, a 133-ton, 12-story ship that holds 3,700 passengers and 1,200 crew members. I think they were all in line for the pizza at the same time every day.
We snorkeled in Cozumel. Carrie-Anne and Sharon got their hair braided in Belize. We negotiated with shop owners in Costa Maya. We went to the comedy club five nights in a row. We made all the requisite Love Boat jokes and references. We ordered two and three appetizers and entrees at dinner. We played ping pong and miniature golf. We alternately romped and relaxed at several different beaches and resorts. We made fun of the cruise director. We met a lot of great people, mostly from different parts of Texas. We saw gorgeous sunsets. We competed in trivia. We ate alligator nuggets and fried frog legs. We tried a lot of different cakes. We celebrated my dad’s upcoming 80th birthday. And we slept really well.
Cruising makes sense to me now. I can clearly see the appeal. I don’t know exactly what my parents paid for us to do this together, but I think the cost per day – which includes lodging, food, and entertainment – was less than it takes to get a hotel room. I can’t see myself becoming one of those people who cruise all the time, two or three times a year. But I won’t be surprised if C-A and I find ourselves on a ship again in the near future. And I’ll be singing something from a little later in Tom Petty’s catalogue, something from Full Moon Fever or Into the Great Wide Open. A little more in my range.
It took fifteen years and a little peer pressure from her new friends in Midland, but my wife Carrie-Anne finally went with me to Israel and it was a blessing that defies description. Our youngest daughter, Carley, accompanied us along with 23 beautiful Christian friends from Midland, Amarillo, Henrietta, Fort Worth, California, and Hawai’i. What a thrill, personally, to share my love of the Holy Lands with Carrie-Anne and Carley, to show them the places that mean so much to me, to experience it in brand new ways through their eyes.
Carley endured the twelve-hour flight from JFK to Tel Aviv with earplugs, an eye mask, and an old Nike hoodie pulled together around her face. But once we arrived, she was all in. She would give our trusted guide Anton about 25-seconds at each site and then she’d be off with her camera, climbing the walls, going behind the ropes, breaking international laws. She never was as interested in what was happening as she was in what else might be happening. And her mood was a little too dependent on the kind of food that was available. So we were all much better off as a group when we found real Dr Pepper at that store in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter (where else?) and that delicious Papa De Pizza. Carley marveled at Caesarea on the Sea, hiked the ancient Serpent Path to the top of Masada, took the obligatory picture with an IDF soldier, climbed all those steps to the top of the tell at Beth Sha’an, and ate a lot of Slim Jims. We laughed a lot. We watched a generational storm together on the Sea of Galilee. And she read the Christ hymn aloud while we worshiped on the banks of the Jordan River.
I was a little worried about Carrie-Anne. She doesn’t like to sweat. Which is to say, she doesn’t like to be outside when it’s 73-degrees or hotter. And her hair requires an abundance of preparation and maintenance. But she did it. And I love her for it. She floated the Dead Sea, waded through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and tried falafel. Once. We sang “It Is Well” together at St. Anne’s Church next to the Pools of Bethesda and wiped the tears from each other’s faces when we were through. She was disgusted by the garbage at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and enthralled by the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. And she helped keep me organized and calm.
Carrie-Anne reminds me how to worship. And how to relax. And how to love Jesus. She is my partner. She reminds me how to receive and give the Lord’s grace. And I praise God that we finally did this together.
Doug never let up in his enthusiasm for the water and for the climb. Penny made sure we stopped at every single restroom from Dan to Beersheba. Elaine from Hawai’i brought the Macadamia nuts. Dale made sure we didn’t lose anybody. We never even lost Andy, whose motto must be: a picture is worth a thousand words and ten more minutes of everybody’s time. Betsey took a licking and kept on ticking, twisting her ankle and banging her leg up at Dan, but trudging on with grit and determination. Shelley never got her hair wet. Never. Kyle kept reminding us of the Scriptures and the Story. Kara showed us the kind of guts it takes to climb the Snake Path to Masada. Joe and Sara inspired us with their obvious love for each other and the Lord. Gary kept us laughing. Hans became everybody’s favorite fellow-tourist, within about two minutes of meeting him. Martha brightened the bus and every site with her gracious smile. Nanette showed extreme patience while we kept mispronouncing her name. DeAnn rode that camel as well as Kyle rides a horse. Gaye broke her foot the day before we left, but that boot didn’t slow her down at all; it just added a degree of difficulty to all her costume changes.
And Elaine was Elaine. As always, my dear ministry partner wisely and faithfully handled the schedules, the hotels, the keys, the tips, the luggage, the communion meal, the meetings, the brochure, the reservations, the COVID protocols, the questions, and the preacher. For ten years Elaine was at my side in Amarillo, keeping me from blowing my leg off, reminding me of names and dates, bailing me out of trouble, managing my impulsive behavior, and deserving so much more credit than she ever received. I miss her terribly and appreciate her very much. It was so much fun going to Israel with her again.
More than a couple of times, Anton told us that no tour group does more than we do in ten days. Kyle counted up at least 41 different sites we explored together, from Dan and Caesarea Philippi to En Gedi and Jerusalem and Jericho and Nazareth. We prayed at the Western Wall, recited the Apostles’ Creed in the Jordan River, sang at the Garden of Gethsemane, and ate more than our share of ice cream and shwarma,
Every paragraph of Holy Scripture contains geography, landscape, architecture, people, food, customs, dress, animals, agriculture, and ritual that serve to communicate the history and fact of our God and his activity in our world. And now we’ve been immersed in it – physically, emotionally, spiritually. We’ve explored the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes first-hand. We’ve embraced the story of our Lord’s faithful love as it swells and deepens to penetrate our hearts and souls in brand new ways.
And I can’t wait to go back.
We’re doing it again in November 2024. We’ll start taking reservations in October 2023.
Finally! We really are – finally! – going to Israel! After two-and-a-half years of COVID-related starts and stops, replanning and rescheduling, refunds and double-deposits, we are really heading back to the Holy Lands for the first time since 2018.
Elaine and I are taking a group of 26 this time: 15 of us from the Golf Course Road Church here in Midland, five from the Central church in Amarillo, and six other wonderful folks from Hawaii and California and Wichita Falls. This is my fifth trip to Israel and this time, for the first time, my wonderful wife Carrie-Anne is going with me. We’re also taking our youngest daughter Carley and I cannot wait to see the sites and share the experiences through them and with them during these eleven glorious days.
Of course, this means no cheeseburgers and no Tex-Mex until May 21. So after we took our PCR tests – three negatives – and filled out our Green Pass forms, we had our “last lunch” together today at Blue Sky and our “last supper” at Ajuuas.
From here on out it’s shawarma, schnitzel, and falafel in one of my favorite places in the whole world with some of my absolutely favorite people.