Over the past 12 months, I have visited 22 of the 50 United States. Most of those trips have involved driving in circles; some big, some small, always starting and ending somewhere I called home, even if only for a moment.

The anchor point of my circle has recently shifted from the “come and take it” state of Texas to the midwestern farmland home of Hoosier Pride in Indiana. One of the most striking differences between the college town of Bloomington and the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex is the size of my circles. I rarely went anywhere in Texas without driving 20 miles, one way. To church, to see a friend, to see my kids – all of these required time and gas. Even thinking about the money I spent on gas makes my head hurt a little. There were times that my life was brought to a standstill because there was literally no gas in the tank to get where I needed to be.

Since moving to Bloomington I have rarely brought up a map from Google or Garmin that showed my target destination more that 5 miles away. Most of my world is within 2 miles of where I’m sitting as I write this. Work, church, the gym (which admittedly was not even part of my world in Texas) – should disaster strike and my gas tank once again is empty, they are all within a decent bike ride.

It’s not just the size of the circles that makes an impact on our lives, it’s what happens inside of them.

The pace of life, the opportunities to stop and notice things, the exposure to nature and other living, breathing things, each of these has an impact on the way we perceive ourselves and respond to the world around us. If our circles are small but filled with family or community that holds nothing for us but graceless contempt and judgment, that circle is just as likely to strangle us as it is to empower us. By the same token, I know that my figurative circle of support spans from the coasts of Australia to the Highlands of Scotland; from the plains of Oklahoma to the hills of Tennessee. Geography makes it global, but a common heart and soul make it warm and personal.

As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve been given good cause to question the state of our unity. There is no doubt in my mind we are still one nation: we rise together, fall together, hurt together, and celebrate together.  The fact that the South is distinct from the north and that neither bears much resemblance to the west coast or plains states would be a needless understatement. I can’t even begin to address where Texas fits into that blend of cultures and local personalities: no doubt in a category all it’s own as most Texans I know would prefer it. Still, all of that diversity finds its way neatly into both my literal, geographic circles and my figurative, personal circles.

Perhaps the most poignant lesson I’ve learned of late is that we don’t truly get to manage our circles, geographic or other wise. We can plan and scheme and maneuver and manipulate, however, I believe true contentment, true light is found in embracing our circles for what they are. It’s the light we find in them, the light we bring to them that ultimately determines their value and impact on our lives.

Nonetheless, I’m still grateful to be spending less on gas.

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