“What’s left?” I asked my friend Tim McConnell as we sat eating lunch at Roberto’s in Del Mar today. “What else do you want out of life?”

He paused, then said, “To be meaningfully connected to people.”

I like it.

I agree with Tim, and would like connection even more if I wasn’t also hard wired to adore places, plants and planetaries — plus various, sundry and other unspoken pleaseries and delightifications.

My friend Tim has it right, however, and nicely dialed in: To be with people — that’s the good stuff.

Last Saturday night I attended the wedding of two friends  — Violet Mendez and Mathew Opdycke — in the REFINERY Church courtyard.

After the ceremony — which was full of laughter and love —  the inner patio of the church was transformed as it filled with people laughing, drinking, eating, dancing and celebrating this new couple’s relationship.

In the warm, spring evening air we were suddenly living large, whooping it up with two beautifully connected young people who had just made one of the ultimate connectivity choices —  to get married, to fuse lives, to become union, unit and united force.

Several years ago, I hired the building of the stage that Matthew and Violet married on last Saturday night. I remember designing the stage, pouring over the plans, negotiating with the contractor, making it happen.  I knew it would become something good, but little did I know how good.

I didn’t anticipate something this gently gorgeous — the two lovers, my good friends, these two adorable aspirants — these two moving together, heads close, giggling, twirling  bonding there. As they danced — and we all watched in hushed reverence — the stage became sacred space for love.

Then later that same evening, on the same pavered stage we all danced, wedding party and guests, mutual celebrants, romping in the church courtyard, shaking sacred booty in the holy place, moving as one to the music — alive, happy, connected.

I love places — planned, planted, planet-making places — but like Tim, I love people more. To hold a lover’s hand and walk together through a park, to sit in the evening on a couch and read to a child, to kiss your grandma’s cheek, to sing with your friends, to lift a glass with mutual revelers, to dance with anyone — this is the good within the good of the unremittingly good.

Yesterday we celebrated my daughter Roz’s thirty-second birthday. I thought it might be painful. It wasn’t. I thought it might remind me of her losses — the lifelong loss of normalcy, of ability and of opportunity that have fallen to her and our family because of her developmental disabilities. It didn’t.

The party conjured no sad feelings; it brought up no regrets. Instead it was a delightful affair with a delightful group of her long-time friends, all who have disabilities, all who are amazing, fun, loving people.

Eleven of Roz’s friends came, and when each new one entered the house they were greeted by the rest with warmth, enthusiasm and great affection. It was markedly different  than parties where everyone is “normal.” This party was more demonstrative; they were more excited to see each other and it was more fun. They pointed more, laughed more and definitely hugged each other more than you see at most such events.

They ate pizza, gobbled brownies, scooped ice cream and opened presents together — a circle of friends, around the table, then on the floor,  practically levitated by kindness up into the living room air. One of the girls read Roz’s cards to her. It was a touching moment, one friend caring for another without even a pause for judgment or for surprise or analysis. Not being able to read is no big deal to this group, most of them can’t, it doesn’t matter, they don’t judge.

What is a good life? Is it being smart? Does one have to be beautiful? Is wealth required? Must one rise above the others, control the room, star on the stage?

Nope.

One must simply love and be loved.

We tumble from one stage of life to another. A while back I tripped and fell on my face on the lawn. No damage. But I’m not referring to that kind of falling.

Recently, one of my brothers retired, because of cancer. He lost his career, his work friends, his staff, his vocational identity. I’m thinking of that.

He is tumbling.

I’m thinking about how we are all blown along by the maturing process, by our own developing — our progressing or our deteriorating — our bio-chronological tumbling, our head-over-heals bounding down the aging hill.

Me too, tumbling, through the ages.

In contrast to my brother and I, one of my daughters was recently accepted in a Phd program. But this is also a tumble, a roll, a bounce into a new level of professionalism, responsibility — and debt. She will choose to do this or not — she probably will — but looking back she will see that she didn’t, just choose. Her skills, her economic status, her parents modeling, the opportunities afford her by race, nationality and era — much of what she is experiencing lies far beyond her control.

I’m not saying we don’t choose some stuff. I’m just saying that we grow up, have opportunity — or don’t — and end up doing things –or not anymore — and it’s a bit of a mystery how and why it all goes down, as it does, so fast, so hard, so soft, to us, so uncontrolled.

My mom will soon go into assisted living in her retirement community. My mom is literally being tumbled by age and dementia into another reality. The move apart from my dad will be very difficult for her, and my dad. My father mused the other day, “How did we get here? It’s gone so fast.”

“How in the heck did we get here, all of us?”

What upheaval, what shifting tectonic plate, what smoking super volcano, what giant, crashing meteor, what mass extinction in the past, what new species lasting to the present created our story? What forces operating on us have rendered our racked, rifted, royal, rattled, ragged reality?

We are tumble weeds.

We live on and within the tumble dry cycle.

We uproot like trees in rain storms and tumble into the next street, the next house, the next new era, the next iteration of our maturity, our vivacity, our decline. And in the end, we will tumble, trip and fall into our graves.

I’m apprehending this: We choose less than we think.

And yet, in this, even in this reality turbulence, I find my North Star, my ever fixed point, my sheltered home and my final bed to rest in.

God is not missing. There are many forces operating, but God is present too, and he has our backs.

In Him, in powerful God, with the powerful name of Jesus the King — within his love and care and compassion — we live and move and have our tumbled, bumbled, humbled being.

Life is a series of choices about what we value.

What do you value? What about me? I like the advice in Matthew 6:19

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is a challenging, powerful teaching. It is a good word about our hearts

In Matthew 6, Jesus is challenging you and me with a provocative question, “Where is your heart?”

Jesus says our heart is where our treasures is.

This week Tasia, my office manger and I worked on the REFINERY Church youth center. We bought wood, and paint, and furniture.

We assembled a big black farm table and bench we bought for the youth. We carried out trash. We nailed some decorative wood on the walls. On Friday, we swept the floor, so the youth could have an nice environment for their Sunday group.

You could say, what we bought and worked on is the stuff that rots. The room and it’s furniture will age over time. The youth will sit on that new table, stand on that table, jump on that table. They will break the windows with game balls.  They will trash that room!

But remodeling the youth center isn’t about the stuff, it is about valuing young people, loving our youth, creating a safe attractive space for them, about attracting more of them to church so they can know God.

That matters. They matter. That they have a good place to meet matters.

They are the treasure that we use our treasure for. This is what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6. Keep straight on what the treasure is. Treasure the true treasure, not the lesser treasure.

If we treasure only temporary stuff that rots, stuff that people steal, stuff that goes up and down in value — cars, clothes, food, houses, money, although those aren’t bad — if we put them in the center of our hearts, then our hearts will be filled with insecurity.

The recent great recession, 2007 to 2009, showed us how insecure our earthly treasure is.

But If we treasures stuff that which lasts on into heaven — eternal stuff like young people, all people, Christian community, virtue, beauty, love, God himself — then our hearts will be secure, for these things were made to last.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.

God has put eternity in us. God has set a desire for what lasts in us. Our souls are eternal, our hearts are eternal, the kingdom of God is eternal. The Bible is clear on this, go for the gold Christians. Pursue what lasts!

Question. Hard question. One Christians have always struggled with.

Does God hate stuff? Is God anti-material? Does God hate earth? Does only heaven have value?

No, no, no. That is not what Jesus is saying here.

The church fathers, our best theologians, the famous historic church councils, the best Christian thinkers have always answered:God loves his creation, God loves nature, God loves earth — in fact heaven will be a new earth. God loves humans, and God loves buildings that his people can be safe in, live in and worship in.

God himself oversaw the building of the beautiful Jewish temple.

In fact I think our need and longing for a place to worship, and a safe place to live is our longing for heaven. It is the old Gnostic heresy that God hates evil flesh and evil material things and that only heaven and spirit are good. That is heresy. It is false.

The whole book of Matthew is about Jesus healing bodies, feeding crowds, loving humans, honoring the temple, teaching with examples from creation.

NT Wright puts it well, “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it.”

The beautiful thing of this world, nature, flowers, bodies, the beautiful accomplishments of human beings, art, music, literature, dance, our God loves and revels in these things and they are part of the kingdom of God and they will be a part of heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t directing us to be weirdly anti-material and super-spiritual, he is directing us to wrap our hearts around kingdom values, around what is most important:

People, not money
God, not stuff
The body of Christ, not our separated individual lives.

Jesus us saying, “I really care about your hearts. I want them to choose the best things. Matthew 6:19 is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well  spring of life.”

In my family, when it comes to technology we use Apple products.

Once, my daughter’s Apple device was stolen by a participant in her day program. But we had turned on the app Find My IPhone on the device. So we saw where the IPod went.

It was in Santee. At a shopping mall. Then a house. We contacted the director of her program. He knew the student who lived in Santee. The director called the mom. Surprise! Your son has a stolen iPod. Busted!

The iPod was guarded and protected by it’s finding app and it’s GPS system.

In a similar way, guard your heart. Turn on the GPS in your heart. Watch where your heart goes. Protect it,  don’t let it get stolen away by temporary things, by keeping it focused on that which lasts.

Jesus was so serious about this, he came at it again in Matthew 6:22

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is very confrontational here, very strong. The over-valuing of the kingdom of the world can darken our eyes, and darken our hearts, master and rule us.

Money can rule us. And keep us insecure.

How do we avoid this?

How to keep I keep my eye healthy? How do I serve the right master? How do I guard my heart?

Three simple ways.

1. Put the most important things first.

Put God first, not money.

Put people first, not things.

I like things. I have things. But to keep myself balanced, every month I give money to support a missionary, every month I pay for children’s education in TJ, every month I pay for my parents food at their rest home, every month I give generously to my church.

I tend toward being materialistic, but I purposefully counter this by choosing to use a significant portion of my money for eternal things.

2. To guard your heart, invest in the kingdom.

Invest in people. Invest in friends, invest in youth, and children and old people too.Place the value of relationships higher than the value of material things.

Use your time to stop and talk to people. Build up your relationships at church.Use your house or apartment for hospitality.Use your personal skills to volunteer.

Invest in your kids. Invest in family. Spend more time with them that with stuff. If you are a leader in the church, mentor someone, apprentice someone, disciple someone. Build into the life of a younger person

3. Finally, thirdly, go beyond using money for God. Use your skills for God.

N. T. Wright again gets at this perfectly, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself— that will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether.They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Here is how we have good hearts. Here is how we have secure hearts.

We remain clear on what the treasure is.

We put up-and-down things second, and we put lasting, eternal things first.

What?

I rounded the corner and stopped — tuffs of building insulation were blowing throughout the Refinery Church’s beautiful new wedding venue courtyard like little bits of yellow cotton candy, or maybe baby’s breath blown off the blushing bride’s veil.

My mind couldn’t make sense of it for a moment — as always happens when reality goes sideways — and I found myself looking at what I never expected to be looking at.

There is that pause —the stunned sentience before the implacable incomprehensible — the blank brain, then the neurons go to work, chug, chug, chug, and “Ahhhh! — I know what happened.”

Only a week before we had pulled a whole truck load of roof insulation out of the youth center, piled it alongside of the classroom building, and the coming rain storm — with its sweet, gusty, moist breath — had blown it around the corner, blown it into pieces along the backside of the building and was now coating our beautiful green lawn with it.

Yikes! Building insulation everywhere — you don’t want it!

I spent the next hour — as the wind picked up even more — chasing down insulation, stuffing it in the trash dumpsters, running back for more, and pining the rest of the pile down with some mobile fences. Little pieces covered my coat. I could feel my skin begin to itch. It wasn’t clear who was winning. A brawl with a crazed mob of building insulation in a winter storm — I was King Lear on the heath, all was lost, or not. Who would have thought?

But, that is how it has been. Over the last seven years we have brawled with the REFINERY Church buildings — all fifty plus rooms, in our effort to restore the site. The place has been blown apart by the winds of change, by the winds of the Holy Spirit of God himself, and we have put it back together again — better!

Bang, bang, bang — we have pounded the littered, dirty, broken, neglected status out of the church. We have beaten the ugly out of God’s house! Everything used to be blue, dirty blue carpet, filthy dirty blue pews, dirty blue walls, dirty gray tile floors, dirty blue dirt. Blue was once good. Then it wasn’t. Everything has it’s time. We banished blue — just in time.

With a divine passion for the gorgeous exquisite, with a burning and holy love for the consecrated excellent, with an adoration of the holy appealing, with a incurable addiction to the sacrosanct handsome, with beauty burning down our brains we have run down the supernatural good.

Our new courtyard, our new children’s play yard, our new landscaping (flowers and more flowers!), our new attractive name, our new sign, our new canopies, our new offices, new youth center, our new lights (everywhere — decorative lights and LED lights!), our new stucco, our new pavers, our new paint (fresh color, color, color), our new pews (not blue), our old-new oak floors, our new artwork, our new curtains, our new couches, even our new water-saving toilets.

Our new staff, our new leadership team, our new finance team, our new decor team, our new counseling ministry, our new Lifegroup team, our new children’s team, our new youth group team, our new food ministry, our new support group ministry, our new community outreach programs and then this — our new beautiful and generous and diverse congregation with its upcoming weddings and its on-the-way new babies!

New — for God — it’s good!

Zeal for your house has consumed me!

May zeal for God’s house consume you too!

I urge you — coming alongside of us — to brawl for God’s house to be beautiful! Chase down the good. Do whatever it takes.

God wants it, and in truth, it is God who does it.

How fun is that?

Really fun!

My Infinity G37 stopped accelerating properly last week. I really like it to knock me back in the seat and roar from 0-60 in the low 5’s. It didn’t, and so it was a must-fix for me because very fast is stress therapy.

I took it to the Infinity dealer today. Fortunately it was still under warranty, so it was fixed for free, which involved reprograming the transmission. I waited for three hours — so it did cost me something — but on the plus side, they also fixed the motor mounts that were under a recall and tightened up a lose mirror, except that they couldn’t because it had been previous broken, and slapped back together in a make-shift fashion. Sounds like life. Sounds like me

Life lessens, leaks, lacks, loosens and putts and sputs and mirrors on imperfectly — except when it doesn’t — but it sometimes does with our cars and bodies.

Today my feet hurt. I should not have jumped off that scaffolding last week. Also my neck hurts. I should not have been hit from behind in a car accident a few years ago. Somebody wan’t paying attention. Yesterday my tooth may have stopped hurting— at least it is better — from the recent dental treatment.

And by the way, today, I got a cold.

But here is the amazing thing about this potentially gorgonizing mélange of imperfection. I have a car. I am mobile. I have a body. I have agency. I have eyes. I am sentient.

I have teeth. I can eat. I have feet; I can move. I have lungs and a nose — albeit a sore one. I can breathe.

It is such an incredible thing (a gorgeous, broken and somewhat fixed thing); it is such a good gift (a sick, sniffling, sensuous, torturous, italized sweetness) to have being, to have space and time, to have a brief, bright, barreling, biting 0-60 dash through the thin air of this amazing, spinning, sun-smacked, slap-dashed, broken and mashed, poxed and rashed blue planet, to live and move and stand and have our being within the joyful one, to lean over and into and beyond our imperfect lives and to be stunningly out of our minds, and wonderfully-terribly in, over our grace-filled, love-healed, God-milled heads.

“12,000!” she replied.

It was the number of steps she had on her Fitbit, and it was only 9 am in the morning.

I had asked. I did so after noticing the black rubber Fitbit, on her right wrist — lurking among her fine jewelry — bobbing up and down as she deposited the checks from my renters.

It is surprising what a little observation — and a dash and splash, and dip and blip of friendliness — can accomplish.

I love my bank tellers! They tell — if I ask.

We moved from exercise to food — she eats mostly veggies and fish — to her mom and grandma. Intimacy grows, when we hang out and talk. There was no one in the line at the bank, so why not?

Her grandma died at 107! Her mom is 105. How long will she live? We laughed about it — 120?

There are people, interesting people, people who are different from us, to be discovered in our world everyday.

Only  a few days before, I stopped at a craft vendor’s jewelry stand in front of a market place in Liberty Station. More people riches! He was from West Africa. I shared that I have traveled in South Africa, and Swaziland. We connected. We confabulated. I asked for advice on a bracelet I was trying to reconstruct. He gave me an idea.

We parted, with warmth between us and a handshake — Africa and America slightly bridged. Before I left, I asked him what the wealth of Africa was. He wasn’t sure. I shared my observation, “Her brilliant, beautiful people, especially her young people.” He agreed.

This is the wealth of the world, the wealth of life, the best investment that you and I can make — people. People are our gold, our diamonds. They are not to be feared; they are to be loved.

I don’t think I’ll live to 120, but I wonder what cool people I might befriend today.

I  can hardly wait!

Last week, one night for dinner, my wife made homemade stew.

The stew was very savory, full of sweet onions, fresh carrots, tangy celery and hearty beef chunks.We topped the stew with a sprinkling of sea salt and the flavors just popped out of it. The salt crystals were little flavor bombs that exploded with pungent delectability in your mouth.

Well they explode in my mouth, not yours, because you weren’t there.

Also, my wife made some fluffy home-made biscuits to go with the stew. We cut them in half and put butter and honey on the hot, steaming bread. The honey melted into the butter, and made the top of the biscuit a sweet gooey mess while the bottom of the biscuit was still floury and crispy.

The savory stew combined with the honey-sweet biscuits like shooting stars in my mouth — to even remember it makes me salivate.

Salt is king of the taste buds! Sugar is its gorgeous queen!

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth.”

I want to remind you of something important that Jesus said about you. You Christians are the salt in the savory stew. We, as Christians, are the honey on top of the fluffy biscuit.

You season your community, you season the world.

How? Where? When salty?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

According to scripture, you can be salt, when you speak. How you talk.

By letting your words be encouraging, gracious and helpful to others — that’s salt.

So lets be clear. It is expected of you and me by Christ is to speak with grace our mouths.

We are to open our mouths, and pour out grace on others.
….
I was in Home Depot once. The checker was super slow. It took several decades for him … to process the person in front of me.

I waited, and waited and waited.

So when I got to the checker, I said, my heart was exposed when I said, “Could you possibly just go a little slower.”

That was of course before I was a Christian. Actually it was last week. Not really.

Negativity is so distasteful, in me, nasty sarcasm, it is yuck, it is embarrassing, it is life-sucking. When I said that, I felt shame.

With a positive mouth, we season the world; with a negative, unattractive mouth, our value is lost. Jesus said we might as well throw out the salt that has lost it’s saltiness.

This is straight up Jesus.

If you want influence, if you want to be heard, if you want a voice, for God, you must commit to being gracious. Otherwise, God will only see you as,  needing to go.

I have an uncle.

We went to his house for Thanksgiving a few years ago. We all brought food. My young nephew brought bread.

My uncle claimed it was the wrong kind, and got he so upset he went to the store for his choice of bread.

It crushed my young nephew. My uncle made a scene, over the bread.

To be truthful, I don’t like to go to my uncle’s house much.

Negativity — it demolishes hospitality, and it can ruin family relationships.

This was so important, this thing of being gracious, to Jesus, that he communicated a second image to talk to us about it.

Jesus went on to say, in Matthew 5::14

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What did Jesus say? He said be quiet more, let your actions talk for you.

Yesterday, two of the plumbers in our church came down and spent five hours putting eight new toilets in the church.

If you go in the women’s bathroom, you might have the honor of being the first one …

I like plumbers. They typically don’t say much. They just shut up, and create a good flush.

For being quiet and doing their jobs, these guys make like $60-$80 per hour, but yesterday we were the recipients of their work — for free.

That’s light; that’s kingdom light.

The light goes on, said Jesus, when we shut up more and just serve others.

What can we do to be salt and light.  To be so, a few things seem obvious:

Stop complaining.

Stop complaining about your job and be grateful you have one.

Stop complaining about those who think differently than you and be grateful that they and you have freedom of speech.

Stop complaining about your family and just love them. Be glad you have a family. Some people don’t.

Research shows that simply smiling at others produces chemicals in them that make them feel better.

Be grateful.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line. it isn’t hurry up and serve me. It is “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Listen more, and try to understand.

You can do that  with the people you disagree with by asking lots of questions, before spouting your answers.

As of course you know, there is lots of political conflict these days.

It is okay to disagree, even to protest, (lets uphold the right of free speech in America), but Christians, let’s not hate and make villains out of the other side, whatever the other side is for you.

What we need is more dialogue, more understanding … not more putting each other down

I called a friend this week who I think voted the opposite of me in the last election.

He told me he appreciated me, because of my willingness to be open, to always be trying to understand.

Graciousness, openness to try to understand others, that is salt and light. To keep friends, who you disagree with, that is maturity, that is the honey on the fluffy biscuit, the tangy salt on the savory stew.

And another thing …

Apologize when you are wrong.

I know people who never admit they are wrong. They don’t say I’m sorry.

But you can’t be salt and light if you won’t own up to your mistakes and apologize.

I was working with someone recently and we got tangled up over who was in charge. So immediately, after, I called them.

Why? I wanted to understand their side.

Then I apologized for over-stepping my role.

It helped.

Lastly, compliment people more.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line, “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Yesterday, I  bought pizza for the volunteers at the church. When asked what kind they wanted, the plumbers, who don’t say much, said anything, with meat. So I got the works: savory sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, salty sauce, flaky crust. It tasted so good, someone asked me where I got it.

That’s it! That is what we want, to be so delicious people ask us,  where did you get that from?

Then we can show them.

Places please us; they also make us who we are.

You are where you are from — you are all the places you are from — in part.

I was born in Long Beach, California. My family lived during my early years nearby, in Torrance. My later years — about two-third of my life — I have lived in San Diego. Thus, I am California-ized. I am a coastal, beached, palm-treed, coastal, diversified, somewhat edge-of-the-ocean liberalized.

When I was five my parents, my two brothers and I moved to Missouri, first to Kansas City, then to Warsaw, Missouri. I lived there for 15 years. Thus, I am a woodsy, lake-loving, landed, middled, Bible-belted, ruralized, familialed  — raised as a farmed-fed fellow.

I was twenty, when we moved to San Diego. I might say my formative years were in the Midwest — they were — but all years are formative years and all the places I have lived, or been, have added to me.

We are where we live, and we are where we have lived

I have lived in Missouri — five miles from Warsaw on State Highway 7, where it meets county road Z. During my years, there were woods, streams, farms and a town of 1,000 people there. Near Warsaw — at the Christian campground I grew up on — I hunted wild mushrooms around musty rotting logs after spring rains, picked and ate wild strawberries in the fields behind R-10 — my rural, consolidated grade school — copied art master-pieces for Mrs. Myers —my revered grade school teacher — fished for large mouth bass on small streams over-hung with trees, chased lightening bugs in front of the house on warm summer evenings with my brothers, watched huge bright flashes of lightening rip the roiling Midwest sky apart, water skied on smooth evening water on the Osage River, sledded in winter down a favorite hill to a small pond through trees sparkling with ice and worked in the local grocery store and threw hay into barns for two cents a bale to earn money for my first car.

I learned stuff there. How farmers live, how small towns function, what localism feels like, what natural beauty looks like, how the woods function as a refuge, how water feels under your feet, how snow tastes, what fish feel like at the end of a line, how a gun smells when fired, how the planet feels when it is only one-hundred miles in diameter, what if feels like to live one-mile from the nearest neighbor, how to read a lot on snowy winter days, to have dogs for friends and how to have your brothers as your best friends and favorite playmates.

And then I lived in San Diego, the city of Chula Vista, eleven miles from the border of Mexico, on Highway 5, in a bedroom community, on the San Diego bay, in the California inland hills, in a racially diverse community, in a desert — with yards and median planters made to look like the Midwest — and in a beautiful master-planned community called Eastlake, built around an artificial lake.

In Chula Vista I have watched winter winds whip the pepper trees into a wild street dance, attended San Diego State University and UCSD to earn degrees in literature, met my wife at a church, bogey boarded in the Pacific Ocean at Coronado and La Jolla Shores with my two little daughters, enjoyed Shakespeare at the Festival Stage in Balboa Park every summer, surfed the blue, curling waves of Tourmaline and Del Mar, tramped the bright blooming Torrey Pines State Beach Park, the gorgeous Anza Borrego desert and lovely Cuyamaca Mountains, taught in an inner city high school in Southeast San Diego and at a diverse community college in Chula Vista, pastored two churches, bought four homes, became a writer, became a traveler, began to know who I was — perhaps a little, a lover of beauty, a lover of places, a lover of the city and a lover of the country. I am, just perhaps, an odd and unique combination of two places — the Midwest and the West Coast.

On top of this, California became a bit of a launching pad for me, for from there I have traveled to Sequoia, to Yosemite, to San Francisco, to Lasen, to Portland, to Seattle, to South Carolina, to Georgia, to Hawaii (three times), to Alaska, to Arizona, to Washington DC, to New York, to Massachusetts, to Kansas City, to Montana, to Wyoming, to Maine and to many other US destinations too many to name, and also to other countries, to Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Nicaragua, South Africa, England (twice), to France, to Italy and other countries too.

I am my places — in part — and they have all shaped my perspectives on life.

Rural Missouri taught me to love oaks. San Diego taught me to love palms. Missouri taught me to love forests. California taught me to love parks. The Ozarks taught me to love streams and lakes and farms, San Diego to love the ocean. Warsaw showed me small and slow-paced; San Diego showed me large, and fast. Warsaw taught me cultural similarity; San Diego taught me cultural diversity. In Missouri I feel in love with the countryside; in California I fell in love with cities. At at the edge of the continent — voyaging out — I fell in love with the world, and the world taught me to love the world.

Who am I? I’m not sure. Perhaps I am everywhere I have lived, everywhere I have been, who I have met and how they have influenced me.

Because I have lived more than one place, perhaps I am able to see some differences in places — perhaps not always accurately — but I do have a point of comparison. Because I have traveled to still other places, I am able to notice more of what is similar, and sometime different in people an places.

The effect this has had on me, is mostly likely unique, different than the effect would have had on anyone else. We are each one a custom filter. We are each one a special geographical sponge. We soak up different things from our environments. I do not think of myself as a Missourian, or a Californian. Although I am very California, I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I want to be cosmopolitan. I want to be international. I long, ache and pine to be universal.

I want to live in other places, meet other people, meet exotic people of the world. Indeed, there are no other kind. All people are exotic to me, all are interesting, all are maps, all may be read as a place, all are places or combinations of places, all add to me, all add to us.

In a time when some of my fellow American want to isolate, be with only their own kind, expel outsiders, mistrust foreigners, become provincial again, put up walls, get safe, I don’t.

I know I am an North American, I know I am most comfortable here, probably in California, I know this is a good home for me, but I know that I want to be from more than one place, and know more than one kind of person and value more than one town, state, country, culture and continent.

I want to be from everywhere — well almost. Let’s be honest. I have been places and read about more places that I don’t want to be from. But I do want to know everyone — well, mostly, kind of, growing towards this, wanting to adventure out more, getting there, on my way.

I’m excited to plan the next trip, buy the next plane ticket, make the next move — outward.

I am, in part — where I go next.

“I process my pain alone; you process your pain with other people. We’re different,” he said. “I’m an introvert and you are an extrovert. You like to talk to other people. I don’t.”

He said it so plainly that I was a bit taken back. I had never distinguished our differences in precisely this way, but it was a fair point, and it got me thinking. It’s interesting, but many of us — even within the same family — have processing preferences.

Some of us process life within ourselves; some of us do so with others, out loud — mostly.

Is one way better?

I think not. We need both ways — musing and effusing — to see our lives clearly.

I’ve recently been thinking about the family I grew up in. On my own, I remember many defining moments, I have given them symbolic value, created a family narrative, told it to others. I have processed my life in public, and out loud. For me it is fun, helpful, meaningful.

When I tell about growing up I tell the chased-by-the-billy-goat story, the I-shot-my-brother story, the we-ate-Moosehead story, the very-tragic-baseball-game story, the newspaper-in-the-pants story, the my-brother-taught-me-to-hide-my-shirt-under-the-bed story, the we-were-so-poor-we-all-ate-one-Dilly-bar story.

I have written them, I have embellished them, they have become myth, they make people laugh. My mom has always said about me, “You were a funny boy.” I was. I have always survived, though story, and humor. I am a narrator.

In the mornings, I used to tell my family my dreams. They would laugh at me. “You can’t have dreamed all that.” The dreams were too elaborate, but the family was wrong. I did dream all that — and more. I held back, so as not to astonish them. I was Joseph — kind of, or not. Even my subconscious mind was in the business of embellishment. It still is. The truth is always better — out of the bag, and slightly expanded.

My brothers have different stories, different memories, they have crafted a different family narrative. Perhaps they are more private about it all. They are. It is almost as if we grew up in different families — and in a way we did. We matured in different seasons of family life. We had different experiences of our parents. We had different personalities. It helps me to hear their stories. They don’t subtract from my story; they add to it.

So when it comes to processing life, to processing our families I believe that we need both — privacy and publicity, our stories and theirs. It is very helpful to ask other family members what they remembered. It fills in some of the gaps. Memory is malleable. Memory is unreliable. We need the heuristic of the other. We keep rewriting the story. We all do, even if only in our own minds.

We need our own below-the-surface processing, our own underground burrowing, our own ratting and mousing about in our own shredded nests. We each need to validate our own hunt, chew on our own kill, commune at night with own tortured souls, craft our own family myths, elaborate our own familial veracities, embroider our own sun-and-moon-and-eleven-star dreams. This is how we discover who were really are and what we really feel.

But we also need the other’s stories, their perspectives, their memories. If we don’t get these we may remain stay stuck with an incomplete hagiography — or in iconoclasty.

I command thee, my gentle readers: Go process, alone, and together.

This creates agency.

This is how we thrive.