Last Saturday, as I was moving some of my stuff from my old residence in Carthage to my new living quarters in Joplin, I had an epiphany.

Most of the stuff I owned, probably 90 percent of it all, I didn't really need.

The thought came to me as I was carrying out a box of CDs that was slightly heavy. I was tired of carrying boxes back and forth to the car and I knew I had a lot more stuff yet to get, and I was disheartened. I thought that it would have been so much easier just to get rid of all that stuff rather than lug it every time I wanted to move.

I didn't realize how poignant of a thought it would come to be.

Since last Sunday's storms and tornadoes ripped through three area communities, I have seen more than one survivor shrug off the damage done to their homes and belongings because of the joy in their hearts at simply being alive.

"It's just stuff," one man told me. "You can always buy more stuff."

Most of the "stuff" was lying haphazardly everywhere I looked this week. The weather service in Springfield said there was so much debris outside of Pierce City that satellites picked it up.

Some of the images of the "debris" have really struck a chord with me this week. I've never been through or even near a tornado before. I grew up in Colorado and the worst we had there were 8-foot blizzards.

On Monday I went to Franklin, Kan., where the most intense of the three tornadoes in the area wreaked its havoc. It was measured at a Fujita Scale of F4, with winds upwards of 280 mph.

If you doubt the damage such a tornado can do, go to Franklin. There are no houses left, just concrete slabs that once served as foundations for the wood and brick houses. Insulation hangs everywhere and trees are either stripped bare or lying on their sides after having been ripped from the ground.

Pierce City, though hit by a slightly smaller tornado, looked much worse. The downtown strip of Commercial Street looked like a scene out of a movie. Buildings were rubble in the street and the ones that were still standing looked as if they had been blasted with bombs. You could barely drive down the street because of all the debris.

Carl Junction was the lightest hit, but to call that light would be to call a punch from Mike Tyson light. The once clean city had clothes, broken furniture and insulation tossed everywhere. It looked as if the entire neighborhood had been tossed in a laundry dryer, turned on the spin cycle for 20 minutes and then spit out with disregard.

And yet everywhere I went, at each of the three locations, people seemed to care less about their belongings. Sure, they were searching for the needed things, and were more than happy to accept the gifts given them by the Salvation Army and Red Cross, but the bigger things didn't mean as much to them as they once did.

The family and friends around them, alive and well after such devastation, were all that mattered.

Those are the important things. If you don't believe that, go to one of those cities and look at what can happen to the things we take for granted.

It's just stuff. Meaningless stuff that makes our lives a little bit better and a little bit more fun, but they aren't the things that make us who we are. It's the people we love and who love us that make us who we are. They shape us, mold us and make our decisions and our actions worthwhile. They help us to grow as people.

Our "stuff" just makes that growth a little more comfortable. But we can live without it. As long as we have our loved ones, we'll be all right.

There are some who lost their loved ones to the storms. It's never easy to lose a loved one, or a home, or even possessions. If you are one of those fortunate few, like myself, who have been lucky enough to be spared the grief that so many are dealing with right now, don't hesitate to thank God for your blessing.

More importantly, go hug your kids right now and give your spouse a big kiss. They need to know how much you love them, and they need to know that even if all the stuff gets taken away, as long as you have each other, everything will be all right.

This Week's Circulars