Church didn’t happen this morning. Oh, it happened, but we weren’t there, if you consider the church to be a sanctuary in which you sit for an hour on Sunday mornings. And I do.

I found my church 16 years ago as a young mom with a medically involved baby and a husband with boots on the ground in Baghdad. A sincere invitation from my little brother’s girlfriend led me to a building of believers that encircled a stranger like I was one of their own. And I stayed. And they prayed for me and over me and with me. And I for them. They included me and I didn’t become one of them, I simply was one of them—a flawed human searching for a place, for peace, for hope, and for direction. And in that church, I found God.

It wasn’t my first introduction. I’d known Him all my life, but I experienced Him in new and personal ways among a congregation of people in that little church building.

Over the years, the church was our home. My husband came home, we had another baby, our girls were baptized, my husband was deployed again, he came home again, and we parented, loved, and mourned our two daughters in that church. With that church. His church.

And then I couldn’t go anymore.

Without our daughters, I couldn’t sit with those people and sing those songs and say those prayers. It was all too much, and I told God so. And He didn’t hate me. Over a period of time, we tried to make it fit. I so desperately wanted it to still fit, but we eventually sought Him in new places . . . places that sometimes made me feel like perhaps what modern Americans call church isn’t exactly what God had in mind. But we kept trying, because though I was sometimes discouraged, my heart could not let go of the longing for community with His people—His church. So, my family engaged with a different congregation, worshiped in different sanctuaries, studied in new classes, met new people, and plugged into God’s church in new ways. And I learned that His church isn’t just one building or one group of people.

His church isn’t just one denomination.

His church isn’t just one congregation.

His church is in small groups and in living rooms.

His church is in hospital rooms and in delivered meals.

His church is in group texts and backyard barbecues and playdates.

His church is around the dinner table and the breakfast bar and the coffee pot.

His church is in service within community.

His church is new people and familiar people and young people and old people.

His church is not a place—His church is a people.

There came a time when we realized we missed our people. Somewhere along the way, while discovering God in new ways and loving new people, we began to long for tradition. My husband and I began to feel the overwhelming draw to return to our home church. And I was scared. I felt sad about leaving the community we had become a part of in our new church, but I knew we needed to go home. And so we did. And it was still home. It was both different and the same. The place is filled with old memories and big emotions, but it is also filled with family and love and hugs and prayers and traditional hymns and potluck lunches and it is our church. His church.

I’m grateful for the pull to step away and experience God’s church in new ways with new people. I am grateful for all we learned and the people we met and the ways in which we experienced God’s goodness and grace. I am grateful to hold on to those relationships and love those people, even if we no longer sit in the same row on Sunday mornings.

Broadening our definition of church has been a lesson in that we are all flawed and seeking His grace. This place is likely not better than that place and that place is likely not better than the other place. Together we are different and the same. Together we are His people. My little church and that big church and those people over there who haven’t yet found the building of believers where they fit. His church is where His people are, and we are His people. Me and you. And them. And all the rest. And news flash: we are everywhere. That means church can be in a sanctuary for an hour on Sunday morning, but it is also where two or more are gathered in His name.

We’re all welcome, and if you haven’t found a place where that feels true, I hope you keep looking. It might hurt a little. It might be uncomfortable. It might not be easy. Or it might be, I don’t know. But I know it is worth it. And if nobody has invited you lately, please consider this your official invitation.

I’m broken and flawed. This morning I overslept and didn’t make it to the sanctuary—but you better believe I’ll be having church in many places with those around me all week.

I’ll have church when I sit around the table with family and friends and bless the food before us.

I’ll have church when I read to my daughter and teach her what God’s love looks like.

I’ll have church when I watch the sun set over the hill with my family each evening.

I’ll have church in my home and in my community because wherever I go, He is with me.

And next week I’ll be sitting in the sanctuary of His church with my people.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog

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Mandy McCarty Harris

Mandy McCarty Harris lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband, young daughter, three dogs, and eleven backyard chickens. She writes about living happily in the messy middle of life. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and at HappyLikeThis.com

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