by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Was I surprised that I could be surrounded by everything foreign to me and yet feel strangely at home? Somehow this didn’t surprise me so much, but it did add to the wonderment of my trip to Italy.

It is a rather humbling experience to be somewhere and be dependent on the sensitivity of those around you to help you find your way and make you feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. When I returned to the United States, I became acutely aware — for the first time — of directional signs written in several other languages, placed to be of service to the many visitors our country welcomes from every continent of the world.

And since I lived in 12 different places during the first 17 years of my life, I am keenly aware of what it feels like to be the new kid on the block. During those years, I lived in houses, duplexes, mobile homes, hotels and a car. But I can attest that no matter where I lived, I felt “at home.” Perhaps this also helps to explain why — for me — home has never been confined to a single location. And maybe this fact also helps to explain how I could feel so at home in a country I’ve never been to before.

Still, I used to think of “home” as connected to a person. When I think about my childhood, I could say home was wherever my mother was. And since marrying my husband a little over 29 years ago, I’ve believed home would be wherever he was.

But my husband wasn’t with me on my trip to Italy and yet I felt completely and comfortably at home. This feeling has awakened my curiosity.

Home has been defined in many ways. Some say home is a safe environment — a place where you have no worries or problems, where you feel peace, where you love to be, where you feel comfortable and content. Or some say home is with a certain person or in a place you love most. But is home dependent upon person or place? My experience is telling me it isn’t.

It has been written, “Home is where the heart is.” Interestingly enough, trying to understand exactly where my heart is or what my heart is longing for, could describe the reason why I went to Italy. This searching of my heart was not something new. It began a few years ago when my only child left for college. But it has continued, and prior to my trip to Italy, my search had become more urgent.

Much has been written for those searching their heart. Some informative quotes include: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) But one of the most compelling ideas I’ve come across is one by Mary Baker Eddy: “We should examine ourselves, and learn what is the affection and purpose of the heart, for in this way only can we learn what we honestly are.”

For the first half of my life, who I was seemed simple — I was a daughter, a college student, a wife, and then a mother. For a while now, I’ve wondered if this is enough for my life — feeling like it wasn’t. And even more recently, I’ve questioned if I’ve been defining myself correctly.

Perhaps who I am has nothing to do with what I’ve done or how others see me, but everything to do with my own heart — my perception and understanding of who I am and the purpose for my life.

Because my trip to Italy felt very God-directed in my heart, I couldn’t help but feel His divine presence while I was in Italy. I was in a constant state of examining my heart and listening for what God would tell me next. And God had much to say about who I was and His purpose for my life. I took to heart every inspiration that came. And I am still pondering the meaning of it all.

But I have concluded that home is where God is. And guess what? There is no place where God is not! And this is the reason why I felt at home when I was in Italy — separated from the people and places most beloved and familiar to me.

And this is why you, too, can feel God’s presence any time, any place and any where! For where our heart is, God is — loving us, encouraging us, comforting us, and guiding us.