I grew up in the Midwest. I was born in the city (Torrance, California), but we moved to Wellington, Kansas when I was six, so while I had memories from California, most of my important formative years were spent on the plains. As we often do when we grow up in a certain geographical area, I began to find great beauty in my surroundings. To this day, I still find myself a bit breathless thinking of the wonderful things God put in the Midwest, glimpses into His creative spirit, fingerprints etched into my mind of His love for aesthetic beauty.
--The bluest sky uninhibited by clouds, stretching for miles in every direction over a flat horizon until it gives the illusion that you are underneath some great azure bowl, and if you could climb high enough you could tough its limits.
--The night sky uninterrupted by city lights. More stars than you ever imagined could exist. You never really understand why they refer to the sky as a sea of stars unless you've seen it miles away from any major city; they seem to swirl against sheer blackness until it almost makes you dizzy to stare any longer.
--The blowing winds. Feeling a tangible force pushing against you as you go for a walk, watching leaves and twigs float and drift through the air or scurry across the pavement as if pursued by something.
--The changing of four distinct seasons--the heat of summer, the cold of winter, the changing of the leaves in autumn and the resurgence of color in the springtime.
--Ready-to-be-harvested fields bowing to the prairie wind as you drive by. The heads of wheat roll like ripples on a lake.
--Sunsets. I've seen mountains, beaches, and deserts, and no place has sunsets like the Midwest.
--Storms. Lightning igniting the sky in dark purple hues for over an hour while thunder lazily rolls through the air, resonating in you house and all the way to your gut, before cracking suddenly and violently, just a reminder of the wild unpredictability that surrounds you.
To me, these things are all beautiful, and while it may sound hokey and over-spiritual, I really do see and feel God in all of them. I'm not going to lie, these are all things that I miss. These are all thoughts that make me think, "home." A lot of time, when I listen to Rich Mullins music, I see these pictures in my mind. (Not a big surprise, as Rich was from Wichita, about half an hour from where I grew up)
Moving from Kansas/Oklahoma to Houston was a big change. There are no horizons here, no sunsets, no winter-spring-summer-fall setup, no discernible storm "season", no gusty windy days, no fields, no stars. While some of these things do technically exist, once you've seen them all your life in a small Kansas town, the Houston variety simply doesn't compare.
Nevertheless, over the past few years, I have found God has been opening my eyes to His presence and His beauty in this hot, crowded, often-dirty metropolis:
--It begins in the diversity of the people. It is evident in our skin tones, but also in the many cultures that have assimilated in this city. Restaurants, festivals, art shows, churches remind me of what a vast and mysterious world we are in. There is great beauty in diversity.
--When I allow myself, I see beauty on the city streets. Every car contains a person, a family, someone going someplace to do something. Lives. Stories. Every person unique, with hopes and dreams and heroes and villains and circumstance fit to their own individual existences. Each one loved as individually and as passionately by God as I and my family are. And there's something awesome in that.
--The wonderful creativity of the human mind exhibited in artistic and architectural works seen all over: on sidewalks, in parks, in front of buildings, on buildings, and even illegally on street signs. A reminder that God is creator, and that He made us with an innate desire to be creative. As an artist, these evidences of human creativity are genuinely inspiring.
--The animals that dwell in the city. Pigeons, lizards, raccoons, and bats aren't exotic, but they're everywhere, vestiges of a natural world that have found a way to live in harmony within this concrete jungle of humanity.
--Winter days. As much as I miss the colder weather of the Midwest, there is something fantastic about wearing a T-shirt and shorts out the door in the middle of January.
--People helping people. I have seen more service-based organizations and more examples of self-sacrifice in Houston than anywhere else I have been. This is because it's such a large place, more of these organizations are bound to exist, but still, the fact remains that there are hundred of organizations dedicated to the homeless, the impoverished, the hungry, the desperate, the lost, the lonely, and the forgotten throughout the city, and it fills me with the hope that we, as a people, are not lost so long as we remember to love our neighbor.
These things, too, are beautiful. They are different, but they are reminders that there is beauty in the city just as there was beauty on the plains, because wherever God is, there is beauty.