We always thank God for all of you ... How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy in the presence of God. (1 Thessalonians 1:2; 3:9 NLT)

Some things are just better when they're over.

Funny, you wouldn't think that having your picture made for the church directory would be such a traumatic event.

I just have a lot to think about when I get in front of a camera. I don't look good if I'm solemn. And if I smile too much, my right eye shuts. Not one of those cute wink-type expressions. Pop a pipe in my mouth and hand me a can of spinach and I'd be signing autographs down at the local movieplex with my girlfriend, Olive Oyl.

I don't really like having my picture taken. I do enjoy listening to the comedic banter from the photographer, though. To make the time pass more quickly, I try to estimate how many times he's cracked the same joke in the last week. They usually save their best quip for last.

This photographer surprised me — on the very last shot. Instead of something whimsical, he looked at me and said, "Where's your favorite place?"

Off guard, I hesitated and then blurted out, "Malibu!" He smiled. The flash fired. My session was over.

As I walked from the room, I thought about Malibu. It is a nice place. The beach. Movie stars. Those hills that Hollywood wants you to believe are in Korea during the opening credits of "M*A*S*H."

But my favorite place? I began to wonder ...

The places had no meaning without the people I shared them with.
Many years ago, it would have been my grandparent's place in San Angelo. Close to the river. Great food. Memories of my grandmother reading stories written long ago by Mark Twain. My granddad and his cane fishing poles — and his "occasional" cigar.

Roll down the road a few years and my place would have been at the lake. A place where Nancy fell deeper in love with me and my family. Where we skied and played cards until all hours and ate my great-uncle's fried fish. And saw the most remarkable mornings and evenings surrounded by people we loved. A place where my mom and dad labored tirelessly to provide the best in vacations.

A little closer to today and I would have thought of Nancy's family's farm in Rising Star. Some of you have tasted those peaches. But you have no idea of what it meant to put your feet under Ileta's table and share one of her meals. Or how much fun it was to ride around with Jack and hear about the cows and the pasture and how much he needed rain. And then, to watch him, along with Ileta, as they watched Jeremy and Justin run and play in the spacious yard and orchards.

Those places are gone now. Of course, physically they're still there. But, things have changed.

As I mourned the loss of those places, it occurred to me that the places had no meaning without the people I shared them with.

I've discovered that I have a lot of favorite places. Family Christmas — wherever it is. My feet under Nancy's table with her next to me. Conversations with my sons. Hearing about my daughter-in-law's classes as I thank God she married my son. Reading stories to my granddaughter. Coffee with the General. Prayers with friends. Birthday parties. Weddings. Hospital rooms. Even funerals.

"Real relationships with real people are my favorite place." That's a little hard to say in response to a photographer's question, but that's the place to be.