"So have you found a church family yet?" She leaned in over her coffee, meeting my eyes across the dining room table. I paused for a split second, my expression puzzled.

"No," I answered, shaking my head and laughing nervously. "No church family yet. We're working on it though; we're getting close."

I looked down at my hands wrapped around my warm mug, at the half-eaten blueberry muffin on my plate. Then, desperate to change the subject, I asked my new friend which brand of baby bottle she preferred for her newborn.

The truth was, I hadn't understood her question. I hadn't any idea what a "church family" was; I'd never heard the phrase before. At the time it crossed my mind that "church family" might be a euphemism for "cult." "Great," I thought to myself, as my friend debated the pros and cons of Avent versus Gerber bottles. "I moved to a state where I'm supposed to join a cult. That's just perfect."

Such conversational awkwardness was typical in the weeks and months after my husband and I moved from Massachusetts to Nebraska. More than a year after we'd settled into our new home, I stopped to chat with another neighbor, a stay-at-home mom who lived three doors down. I found myself telling her about my husband's brother, who had recently been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and as I took a deep breath, struggling to blink back tears, my neighbor asked if she could pray for my family.

Her request, though genuine and kind, startled me and left me stuttering a stilted response. Never in my life had anyone asked outright to pray for me. This woman and I were near-strangers; we'd exchanged just ...

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