I am standing outside of the hotel ballroom I had entered less than half an hour ago as I followed a sign that pointed the way to a 10am church service.

Traveling for the weekend with my two young children to my once-hometown of San Diego, I had the desire for a quiet moment with God and opportunity to worship in community.

I had thought about driving with my kids an hour and a half each way to a church where our friends pastor in South Orange County.

I had thought about attending a couple other services in the area neither of which seemed the right option.

When I serendipitously stumbled upon this one, my heart filled with hope as I pulled its website up on my phone and scanned to find the words, “family friendly.”

And friendly the people were from the moment I walked through the door. Smiles, hands outstretched, pleasant questions. One mother wants to introduce us to her children who are in the nursery.

We meet her girls and while the kids and toys are initially exciting, my daughter isn’t ready to be left there today. We try for some coloring as entertainment in the service. It lasts for 10 minutes.

After a few more well-meaning attempts to help my daughter feel comfortable in the children’s service, I watch her look up at me as overwhelm takes hold of her now tense, tiny body.

I take her to sit in the hallway between the service and the nursery for a breather. She is crying. I want to join her but take a breath and hold her instead.

She quiets. The door to the church service is open, and hope rises again that I might be able to listen from here – our perfect medium.

Seconds later, however, a hand extends out through the doorway to the grab the knob, and the door to the service closes.

I gather my daughter and then quietly back in the ballroom our stroller. and we walk out of the hotel to the sidewalk.

She sits in her stroller and I on a bench behind her for a quick moment out of her view.

There it is, the familiarity of not belonging.

I look at my stroller and large tote beside it. Water bottles and snacks pour out of the handlebar drink holder attachment.

I feel like a spiritual outcast – hopeful, committed but never really fitting. I remind myself that Jesus is good at finding those – outcasts.

Later I am sitting on the beach, having found another quiet moment when my children are sleeping. I realize I got exactly what I was looking for today – the revelation of my aloneness.

I am left thinking about love and God and loneliness and belonging and how hard it’s been to find a spiritual home for my young family.

While I am clear in my devotion to choosing love, I notice how hard love can be to define clearly.

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